I Have Owed You This Letter…

“I have owed you this letter for a very long time but my fingers have avoided the pencil as though it were an old and poisoned tool.”

  • John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968), American writer and 1962 Nobel Prize Winner for literature

Perhaps more famously, Mark Twain said, “If I’d have had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

If impact matters, and if making a difference is a goal, I ask only that you look at your mail when it arrives today. How many hand-written letters will you receive? How many did you send?

The power of a hand-written letter or note is almost immeasurable, especially when it is written to thank someone, tell them of a memory you share, acknowledge their efforts or input on your behalf or to simply tell them how much they mean to you, and why.

Yet we avoid the pencil as if it were poison.

My old rule was 6 per day. From 1995 to about 2008 I tried to send 6 per day, and probably averaged 4.5. As I re-establish the discipline, I probably send five per week now, and with Twain’s permission, they’re shorter and take a bit longer to write. Getting the message honed down takes time, and it feels really good.

Why did I start again?

Back in November, 2021 (the 16th, in case you’re keeping score at home) The Wall Street Journal ran an article on the value of reconnecting with old friends. It speaks to medical, emotional and sleep-related benefits. It speaks to bringing civility and closeness to an ever divisive and separated time. It was a powerful reminder, especially when about a week later a dear friend’s wife passed away unexpectedly. He became letter #4 – and we hope to see one another later this year, after six years of being “out of touch.”

There is value in writing the letter. There is magic for the one receiving it.

A former mentor. A friend whose path went a different way than ours. Someone we coached with. Someone who coached us. A teacher. A cousin. Someone with whom we had a falling out that never got resolved. Someone who might not remember us, but who made a mark on us that is worth picking up the pencil and letting them know they made a difference…

We have owed some letters for a very long time. Let’s take the time to write a few short, but meaningful notes that will make a difference for those who receive them. In doing so, let’s see if it re-connects us with the best of who we are.

The Calendar

Twelve months, either 365 or 366 days, right?

So, as we begin the first full week of the last month of a quarter, how will we treat today differently?

Should we treat today differently?

Maybe. Maybe not.

24 years ago today, She married me and is still married to me, so that seems significant. But, should we treat someone very differently on the 24th anniversary of a commitment than we should on any other of the 8,766 days during which they lived that commitment? Maybe. Maybe not. (A card and flowers are part of the day, for we romantics…who might also argue that a card and flowers would be appropriate on any of the 8,766 days…)

“I gotta make the month!” “I gotta make the quarter!” “Earnings calls are next week!” “I forecasted this deal. I’m toast if it goes sideways!”

Them there are some tidbits from the reality buffet.

Won’t we be better served though, if we set up every day to advance us a little further than math says we ought to?

If the month has slipped away, how can we adjust so that next month compensates? If the quarter is at risk, what actions must we take to put the next quarter in the “done deal” category? If our forecast is off — how quickly can we acknowledge it and adjust course and speed so that can re-forecast more better.*

If every day, we do our best; we plan our best, we execute our best, we focus, we flow and we stay in the moment, how much more better* will our months, our quarters, our deals and our 24 years be?

  • “more better,” for new readers, is officially a technical term…

Fake, Make, Break

“Fake it ’til you make it.”

  • A time-honored saying that once made sense but now is just plain dopey

I’ve been trying to hire a sales pro for almost eight months, and a candidate recently tossed this line out as one way they’d “get by” while learning a complex bidness. The glib attempt at humor didn’t make the candidate’s case, it broke the candidate’s candidacy.

It might have worked in a time when buyers were less aware. It might even work in a pursuit that doesn’t involve understanding strategies and complex business models.

More likely today — it’s “fake it and you’ll break it.” Break the trust you need. Break the deal you’re counting on to make the month. Break the benefit of any work you did to prepare for this moment when you can least afford to break it.

The point? Transparency counts. Buyers come to the game with more knowledge and perceptions than ever before. They may not intend to ask trap questions, but it’s likely that they’re gonna ask a few questions for which they already know the answers.

If we try to fake it, our credibility is shot, our deal is lost and our reputation is sullied. Instead, if we own our knowledge or experience gap, and say, “Great question, I don’t know the answer but I’ll get it for you,” we’re “real,” and probably still in the game. If we say, “Why do you ask?” we may find out that the context prompts something on our knowledge or experience base that gets us back on track.

Let’s don’t fake it. Let’s take it as an opportunity to get better every day, and make a difference.

The Diff Returns? At Least Semi-Daily…

Some things have a different effect at different times. Not writing this blog for a few months was, admittedly, a nice break. But, as I discovered during a prior hiatus, after more than 17 years, The Daily Difference is a part of who I am — and I’m less than the full me when I go without it for too long.

So, let’s give it a spin again, shall we?

One of the motivations has been the events of the past ten days. A horrific event in a Texas elementary school during a week that all three of The Three were home (maybe for one of the last times?) hit me right between the eyes and in a different manner than I expected.

A transition in our Friday Morning Lion Chaser’s Group to a really direct study of a really direct topic got my juices flowing, too.

Finally, an editorial in the June 1st Wall Street Journal lit the fuse.

Author David Bashevkin‘s point (and the headline on the piece) is that “thoughts and prayers do help.” Social media, its suckitude advancing by the second, has been a popular place to bash those who offer “thoughts and prayers” (especially prayers) in times of tragedy. The haters think it’s insulting — saying “is that the best you can do?” — while Believers know that, “Yes, yes it is the best that we can do.”

But it’s not all that we can do…

In 1865, at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, in his inaugural address said, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.” Lincoln has also been quoted often, “I have been driven…upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” Lincoln didn’t just pray, though, he worked hard — really freakin’ hard — to correct the things he believed needed correcting.

Should we speak out against wrongs, real or perceived? We should. We must.

Should we act in the interest of what we believe is right, within the bounds of decorum and seeking improvement over perfection? We should. We must.

Should we also offer encouragement (thoughts) and seek divine intervention if we’re so inclined (prayers)? We should. We must.

I hope you’re half as glad the Daily Difference arrived in your inbox this morning as I am to have penned it. Let’s be in touch, and as always, please, join the conversation.

Quality is Relative, Excellence is Less So

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”

–  Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), Greek philosopher

Not until Ricky Bobby had anyone captured the essence of excellence as Aristotle did.  (Candidly, the quote seems a little loosey-goosey for a Greek translation, but it’s consistent with some other things attributed to Aristotle, but I digress.)

Whether we’re a big, hairy, American winning machine, a waiter in a small-town diner, or a white-collar, client-facing business type — excellence is not just a habit, it’s an attitude — and perhaps most of all, it’s a decision.

There’s a video of Russel Wilson, an NFL quarterback with a broken finger (and therefore he can’t play — turns out fingers matter when throwing a football among 300-pound dudes trying to harm you) going through his entire pregame routine, knowing full-well that he wasn’t even going to be in uniform for Sunday’s game.  Wilson decided long ago that he was going to be excellent, and he maintains a ruthless, almost maniacal commitment to the habit of excellence.

Today, we’ll all be faced with a dozen or more decisions.  We’ll have to decide to be “just ok” at something, or really excellent at something more important.

The good news is, the choice is not an either / or, it’s an “ok, and” call.  Just ok, or average, or meeting the basic requirements of some element of our work is just fine.  Unless the decision takes place in the intersection between being excellent or average in the larger scheme.  An excellent quarterback might throw the ball away if his choices are 45% get sacked, 45% throw and interception, or 10% make an amazing play and look like he did it on purpose.  An excellent quarterback, in other words, might choose to intentionally be bad at a play, in order to be excellent in his role.

Think of yourself under pressure, under the gun.  The time is running out, the deadline is upon you.  The deal hangs in the balance.  Have we practiced this moment?  Have we role-played it in our mind, with our teammates, and in front of the mirror so many times that we know what we’ll decide and we know what we’ll do and we know what we’ll say and how we’ll say it?  Or will we “wing it,” and try to throw the miracle pass to a place where three defenders are hoping we’ll try to throw the miracle pass?

Today, someone may ask you to compromise on a value or a principle.  Excellence is knowing that you won’t and how you’ll make that decision an asset instead of a liability.  Someone might ask you to cut a corner, skip a dry-run before a big Client engagement meeting or “just wing it,” because “you’re the best presenter in the team!”

Decisions will be made in those moments, among them, the decision to be excellent — consciously, purposefully excellent — and we ought to cling desperately to the foundations upon which our success is built.

Repeatedly be excellent.  Make it a habit.  Decide to make it a habit and a reality.

Coming Out of The Tunnel in Pittsburgh…

“The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an illusion.  The tunnel is.”

–  Unatributted

I still remember my first business trip to Pittsburgh, PA.  It was about 2001 and on day one, we drove out of the tunnel from the airport to downtown in brilliant sunlight.  To say the view was breathtaking is an understatement.  A couple days later we came through the same tunnel on a pitch-black but starry night — only to see that the view had been upgraded by the stadium lights and the decorative light on bridges offset by the peace of the Three Rivers converging there.

On every trip I’ve ever made to Pittsburgh, a colleague, a fellow-traveler or a passer-by has disparaged the city, even though they’d never traveled there.

I could understand if he didn’t like the tunnel — until he emerged from it.

In selling for a living we’re tempted to sprint toward the light — to escape the tunnel and “break out.”

In reality, it might not even be something we need to emerge from, it might not even be the “tunnel” we perceive, so the smart money builds a process that gets us all the way through, instead of choosing to stay underground, in the dark.



Find A Way To Say…

“Choose the life that is most useful and habit will make it the most agreeable.”

–  Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), former (as in WAY former) Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England

In professional selling, we ought to…

Find a way to say “yes.”  Remember, it’s rarely what we can or can’t do, it’s often what we will or won’t do.

Find a way to say “thank you.”  For answering a question honestly, for asking a hard question, for declining our offer openly and directly so that we can spend our time chasing a deal that might actually happen, for telling us specifically why they said yes or no…

Find a way to say “what if?”  What if we tried…  What if we stopped…  What if we asked…  What if we took a completely different approach to…

Find a way to say “no.”  No, I won’t give that away.  No, I won’t compromise our delivery principles.  No, I won’t talk about my competition…

Find a way to say “it’s ok.”  This one might be one we need to find a way to say to ourselves.  It’s ok that I didn’t…  It’s ok that I made that mistake…  It’s ok that I missed that sign…

When we find a way to say these things, we’ll most likely find a way to grow.  Our sales.  Our reputation.  Our self-image.  Our usefulness.  Ourselves.

The Objection

“We can’t control the wind, but we sure can direct the sail.”

–  Unattributed

In professional selling, the objection is the point.

I mean, seriously, if there were no objections, we’d be completely obsolete.  “Why, yes, Pat, I would like to buy 100 of those widgets at full price!  Heavens, let me pay a premium, instead!” Ever heard that one?  Of course not!

In these lines, I’ve often stated that sales, by definition, is an argument, of sorts, and I believe that’s true.  It’s true inasmuch as a professional selling engagement is typically between two parties that have a different view of what the preferred outcome would be, if they could draw it up on the whiteboard, wave a magic wand, and have it happen.

It’s not, however, an argument that follows the ol’ “does not / does too!” structure.

The objection is the point — and the way we get to it matters.  Especially since the buyer doesn’t always know what their real objection might be.

The health club rep that identifies why we don’t go to the gym and addresses it in some way typically sells a membership that lasts longer to a buyer who uses and appreciates it more.

The professional services sales pro who learns why the problem exists, how the Client has tried to solve it before and what impact the problem has on the business day-to-day is in a better position to propose a solution that excites the buyer and unites the two parties in a shared vision of a clear outcome.

The objections might come from the east, west, north, or south.  In order to sail our boat to its destination, we’d better be able to tack — to direct the sail so it catches the wind that the market provides.

More on that tomorrow.


Making Sense Of…

“Jed, that don’t make no sense!”

     – Granny, to Jed, in The Beverly Hillbillies, in (what seemed like) dang near every episode

Seriously, the list of things that do make sense seems pretty short compared to the list of things that don’t.

Friends of She and me recently suffered their second unimaginable loss in less than six months.   That crap will drive you crazy if you try to make sense of it.  An amazing family.  An amazingly close family.  A family of exceptionally good people.  It makes no sense on any level.  (See “one” below…)

A deal I’ve been negotiating for two weeks took about three squirrely turns in five hours, including two turns that looked like the Figure 8 Demolition Derby at the county fair.  “Why would they demand that?”  “Why would they concede on that?”  “Why would we expect…”  It was sort of like a parallel universe mashup with a Glengarry Glenross remake…

It makes me stop and wonder, why do we try to make sense of things that don’t make sense?

One, in times that don’t make sense — Faith comes in pretty handy.  (Technically, Faith comes in pretty handy no matter what’s going on, but I digress…)

Two, maybe we have a distorted impression of what “makes sense.”

Three, what if our filter on “making sense” isn’t functioning correctly?

Four, what if our expectations are off?  Way off?  And, if we wanted to go to “4b” — why do we lean so heavily on expectations in general?

Making sense of things tends to be based on either our experiences (which influence our expectations) or our belief of what should happen next.  “Should” is one of the most dangerous words in the English language.

Maybe our energy would be better invested in focusing on what just happened and what is happening now.  And maybe, we ought to drop the veil of secrecy and ask:  “Hey, just out of curiosity, why are you asking for __________.”  Our firm’s contract calls for payment terms of “x” days.  Our Clients’ “standard” verbiage requires “x-plus-75-days.”  Neither position makes sense to the other party.

So, I went all goofy.

“Hey,” I asked, “you think our “x” days is dopey, and we think your “x-plus-75-days” is dopey.” Where’s a good place to settle that can get us both something to feel good about?”

We agreed to terms in less than five minutes.  It was over e-mail, so it might have been less than five seconds…

“What makes sense…” involves assumptions on one or both parties.

“What if we…” is a great place to move from “what makes sense” to “what might work.”  Possibility thinking is a powerful thing.

And it beats the heck out of trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense.


Lose The Deck!

“A picture is worth a thousand words…”

–  A figure of speech popularized in the 1920’s

Originally intended to guide people in creating print ads in early newspapers, no truer words have ever been spoken about public speaking / sales presentations a hundred years later.

Almost 30 years ago, IBM executives were preparing to meet their new CEO.  Staff spent hours and hours compiling Power Point® decks for the business line executives to impress their new boss.  Decks were built; pages upon pages, words upon words, charts upon charts with indices and appendices.  The first executive began his presentation, and about four minutes in, it went sideways.

“Lose the ______ deck,” Lou Gerstner is reported to have said.  “I don’t want to see your deck, I want you to tell me about your business!”

And at that moment, I became a Lou Gerstner fan for life.

No one wants to see our decks.  No one wants to read our decks, that’s for dang sure. Lose the deck.  Craft a better story, aimed at precisely what the prospect or Client needs to know to take the next step.

Yes, craft and tell compelling stories.  Use pictures to accentuate the points in your stories. Deliver ideas, because ideas are the currency of Difference Makers and stories are the means by which those ideas are conveyed.