Sales Tip Week: Part Four — Change The Conversation

“The prospects and Clients expect the conversation to go down a path.  Take it down a different path – the path of their choosing.  Let the story be about them.  Conduct the conversation from their perspective.”

–  Steve Heston, in a fundamental truth of the Heston Group Sales Training System

Perspectives matter more than facts.  No one cares about us or our story unless we can make it about them and their story.

Tell, pitch, close.  That’s what buyers expect.

Imagine their delight when they’ve done most of the talking.  Imagine their transparency when the conversation centers around what is important to them.  Imagine their amazement when the solution turns out to be their idea.

Changing the conversation is not difficult, but it is uncommon, and it does require curiosity, the willingness to be in the moment, and to sacrifice what we want to tell for what they want to know.

Unless it matters to them, it doesn’t matter.

Sales Tip Week: Part Three – Solve A Problem

“Know what problem they think they’re trying to solve, and what problem they really need to solve.   Whenever possible, solve them both.”

–  Steve Heston, in a fundamental truth of the Heston Group Sales Training System

Selling a product is an honorable thing.

Solving problems is the stuff of Difference-Makers.  So, fundamentally, it comes down to knowing what problem(s) need solved.  It’s like hockey player Dean McAmmond said, “I don’t have a concussion problem, I have a people keep giving me traumatic blows to the head problem.”  (OK, it’s not really like that, but that’s one of my favorite quotes…)

When we solve a problem, we impact the life of the person for whom we solved it.  And, if we solve enough problems for enough people, they’ll place more value on the product or service we sell, even if it doesn’t pertain directly to the problem of the moment.

By focusing on solving problems, we move the focus off of what we’re trying to sell, and the picture of a better life / outcome / feeling / circumstance than the buyer had before they engaged with us.

“Steve solved my ____________ problem,” is a lot more indicative of relationship-equity than “Steve sells me widgets.”

Widget-selling is an honorable thing.  Solving problems is the stuff of Difference-Makers.

Sales Tip Week: Part Two – I’m Glad You Asked

“One great question is better than fifty correct, but out-of-context answers.”

–  Steve Heston, in a fundamental truth of the Heston Group Sales Training System

Legend has it that Henry Ford only offered the Model T in black.  “Would you like it in black?” he supposedly trained his sales team to ask, in order to “make it the customer’s idea.”

Questioning in sales today isn’t trite, and it’s not about manipulating the buyer to a point he or she might not want to arrive.  Questioning today is about wanting to know the answer.

“That’s a really good question, Miss Prospect.  Do you mind telling me why you asked it?”

Questions based on preparation:  “I noticed during my research that you and your team were the first to patent a product in your market.  What was that like?  How does that play out when you’re brining on new customers?  How do your competitors try to offset that advantage?”

Questions based on connecting with their market:  “Why do customers choose your widget over all the other widgets they could buy?”  “If you ever lose a customer, do you have a way of knowing or tracking why they left?”  “What is the one thing about your company that you think makes the biggest difference for your customers?”

Questions based on their place in the buying cycle:  “It sounds like you’re pretty focused on solving this problem – what’s making it a hot priority now?  Is there something unexpected motivating you to consider this purchase now — a customer pushing for it?  A regulation change?  You’ve always bought from ABC Company before, is there a change in that relationship?  We’d love to help you, and if there’s a way to understand what brought you to the conversation today, that might help me help you more efficiently…”

We could do a month-long series on this topic — and maybe we should.  Yesterday we touched on no one caring about us or our story — the quality of our questions is our best bet to have them begin to care about us, our story and the way we can help them with theirs.


Sales Tip Week: Part One – No One Cares

“No one cares about you or your story, unless you can make it about them and their story.”

–  Steve Heston, in a fundamental truth of the Heston Group Sales Training System

Look, they just don’t.  Sure, occasionally, we’ll catch a break and have an early-blossoming with a prospect or client who invests in who we are.  But, ultimately, they don’t care that we can get on to ________ Golf Club, that we have tickets to The Book of Mormon.  They don’t care that our manufacturing process is more efficient, that our procurement team gets better prices on raw materials or that our engineers are certified in 27 different disciplines of Lean or whatever other certification-flavor-of-the day is hot.

They care about themselves.  And about their stories.

The “pitch” is dead.  The “tell to sell” approach hasn’t made sense for almost 25 years, and now, more than ever, connecting with the person on the other side of the deal, and with their story really matters.

So, what do we do?

  1. Ask questions, in a ratio of about 5:1 to every point that’s important to us.
  2. Do research in advance of the meeting.  Know, understand and connect the dots to inform the questions you will ask.
  3. Find a way to be genuinely curious about the business, the person / people in the business and their collective story — “I see in 2002, you announced ________.  How did that feel for your team?  For you customers?  What impact has that had on your job over the last 19 years?”
  4. Defer opportunities to tell about you and what you do.  “Hey, thanks for asking about the new ABC Corp consulting method.  If it’s ok with you, I’d like to validate a few more things about your company before I try to wedge our story into the conversation.”

No one cares about you or your story, until they do.  And when they do, the game has changed forever for the better.

Much is said about seeking a “win-win” set of outcomes.  Until common interest is established, whether or not we win won’t matter to the person to whom we’re trying to sell.

Sales Tips Series Next Week – Tweaking The Little Things

“Pleasure is a false god.”

–  Mark Manson in his book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a _______”

We all wish it was easy.  No matter what “it” is.

I took a golf lesson Thursday night.  Partly because I’m playing my favorite golf course on earth Sunday, and mainly because I have been playing really, really poorly.  I mean bad.  As in can’t-get-the-ball-airborne-and-forward bad.  As almost often happens, 18-minutes into the lesson, I was hitting it exactly where I aimed.  Over and over again.  As always happens, I asked if I had to pay for the last 42-minutes of the lesson, since I was already “fixed.”  Turns out the answer, as it always is, was “Yes.  Yes, I did.”

So, what’s the point?

It’s not easy, and taking a lesson every now and then is always a good idea.

What Andrew Reedy taught me Thursday evening was that four little things needed tweaking.  Grip pressure.  Ball placement.  Spine angle.  Tempo.

Next week, we’ll look at five little things that might tweak a sales pro’s performance.

Nothing earth-shattering.  Perhaps some counterintuitive approaches, but five little things that very well may make a difference for a professional seller.

So, what’s with the quote?

For several weeks I was trying so hard to find the pleasure in playing golf that all the pleasure was sucked out of the game for me.  The harder I sought the pleasure, the less pleasure I found.  The same can be true in sales. The more we pursue the deal, or participate in the fun parts of the career, the farther we might get from the outcomes we’re seeking and that our clients deserve.

Putting in the work.  Tweaking the little things.  Getting to (or back to) basics.

Next week, in The Diff.


A Reading Challenge

“The oldest books are still just out to those who have not read them.”

–  Samuel Butler (1835 – 1902), English novelist and critic

If there were a list of things that make every one of us better, reading would be way up that list — and I don’t care who we are, that’s true right there!

I made a commitment at the beginning of this year to read 26 books — and while I’ve only completed eight, I have 11 in progress right now.  Every time I read, I get better.  Somehow.  Some way.  Every time!

So, just for fun, I thought I’d issue a reading challenge.

  1. Read a book that is “just out.”  Could be new or, as Sam points out, could be really old but new to you.
  2. Re-read a book that you read a long time ago.  This Present Darkness might be my choice for that one…
  3. Read a biography of someone you love, admire, and / or respect.
  4. Read a biography of someone you loathe, or at least who bugs the crap out of you — and read it with as little bias as you can muster.  You might be surprised by what you learn…*
  5. Read a book that is just for fun; dopey, frivolous, caricaturish, or outlandish — something that will simply distract your mind from whatever the world puts on it.

If there’s a list of things that make every one of us better, these five items might be on it.


Why You Matters More Than We, And They Matter More Than You

A conversation at Heston House recently…

The Tallest of The Three, facing 100 or so thank-you notes for graduation gifts:  “Dad, can I just text people “Thank you?”  

Me, in reply:  “No, you can’t.  You need to handwrite thank you notes.  One, it’s the right thing to do, and two, if you text people your thank you’s, your grandma will come back from the grave and haunt both of us for the rest of our lives!”

It’s true.  Pat Heston would write a thank you note for a thank you note.  And her son, all these years later, still believes it makes a difference.

In 1997, I wrote a thank you note to a Chicago banker.  In 2004, he asked me to come back to the bank to talk about some new technology.  The seven-year-old note was still pinned on his back credenza.  That sticks with me to this day.

The first word in a well-written personal note should be “you.”

Contrast the following:  “I had a great time at your party.  I am so glad you included me…”

Or, would you rather receive this one?  “You are an amazing host!  Every detail was thought-out, your appetizers were unreal and your guests all had a fantastic evening, including me and my wife!  Thank you for hosting such a neat party!”

For y’all in the grammar police, the headline isn’t rife with errors.  In personal communication, and in marketing (which is, after all, quite personal…) “you” (the target, Client, prospect, etc) matters more than we (the marketer) do.  And, if we’re looking at it from the perspective of people who lead marketing teams, never forget that “they” (the people you’re marketing to) matter more than you.

It’s simple — and difficult all at the same time.

We love to talk about ourselves.  Our products.  Our experiences.  The great time we had at your party.

People want to hear about themselves.  How they’ll feel by using our products.  By trusting our expertise.  About how they’re the best party-hosters.

It’s simple — and difference-making when we get it right.

Who Is Our Benjamin Rush?

“You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

–  John Adams, in one of 158 letters he exchanged with Thomas Jefferson over a 14-year period

They were the closest of friends — except for one 20-year period where they essentially didn’t speak.

Coming off our nation’s Independence Day celebration and a couple of weeks of introspection – I am drawn to the state of affairs in which we live.

First, more context…

Peggy Noonan chronicled the Adams / Jefferson relationship in the holiday weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal.  Referencing in particular Gordon Wood‘s book Friends Divided:  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (2017), Noonan reminded me of what I’d read before.  That while our founders were fiercely divided on some issues, they were resolute and unified behind the issue — independence.  Wood (and Noonan) cite the role of Benjamin Rush in reuniting the two old friends.

Comments fly fast and frequent these days about how, as a nation, we’ve “never been more divided,” and that “it seems neither side has much in common with the other.”

Rush helped two friends-turned-adversaries realize that no divide is uncrossable and that there is only one side — when our focus is on the best possible outcome.

Left, Right.  Christian, Muslim.  Wealthy, poor.

There’s a place called “the middle.”  It’s a place for which we ought to plot a course.

Who will our Benjamin Rush be?  In Washington, the statehouse, or the boardroom?  And, how many opportunities will we face today to be Benjamin Rush for others, and for the betterment of all?

The Daily Difference Will Be Back July 6th

A little time with family.  A little PIT Time.  (Planning.  Ideation.  Thinking.)  A little reflection and redirecting time.

Enjoy the break.

Here’s to the difference we’ll make together when we reconnect after Independence Day!

Status or Philosophy

“Not-for-profit is a tax status, not a business philosophy.”

–  Brian Waller, President, Technology Association of Iowa

This roadshow is proving to be pretty compelling.  For Iowa-based subscribers and followers, follow the link, and let’s see you at one of the six remaining sessions.  For you folks sprinkled around the globe — let me introduce you to the guy who put this show together.

Brian Waller is one of the best association executives you’ll ever find.  And, tying to yesterday’s post, it’s because he’s decided to chase the future he wants. More importantly, he’s set the compass for the future his constituents want.

Waller’s not making light of his organization’s tax status.  Not at all.  He’s hard-wired with a growth mindset that makes him most comfortable with possibility thinking.  He’s a “what if” guy, in a risk-averse world.  And that’s why he’s making a difference.  His philosophy is to grow the pie.  Not his piece of it.  Not his share of it.  To make the pie — the whole pie — more bigger*.

If the decisions we make don’t hinge on our for-profit or not-for-profit status, but rather are led by our sense of “what’s the best outcome for all my stakeholders?” — the difference we make is magnified.

*”more bigger,” “more better” and “more gooder” are all technical terms at The Heston Group.  It’s a thing.  Just go with it…