When Leaders Get It Wrong

Responsibility, Characteristic of LeadershipAs the childhood song goes, “When you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” What about when you’re wrong?

Thursday, I received a phone call from yet another supplier that had the solution, but had no idea if I had that problem. Here is how the call began…

“Thanks for taking my call, Jeff. Do you have 5-10 minutes?” I replied, “I have no idea with whom I’m speaking, nor why spending 5-10 minutes would be in my best interest.”

SPOILER ALERT: This post is NOT about what he did wrong in the sales call. It’s about what I did wrong in my response.

How Should A Leader Respond?

I won’t go into details on how rude I became through the course of this 90 second call, but let’s just say my response to the rep was certainly punitive. Upon hanging up, I spent the next couple minutes mentally justifying my response and why it was okay for me to “teach him this hard lesson.”

This was the moment of truth for me…the moment in which I recognized something was wrong, and realized how I behaved next would be one of those ‘character-defining’ moments.

Fortunately, I had this sales rep’s email address from a previous attempt he had made, and I had the chance to start rebuilding, what I had so quickly and recklessly torn down. I apologized, taking responsibility for creating the low-point in his week, and for showing a lack of respect for him. Additionally, I committed to work on not treating others the same way going forward.

His response showed great professionalism, claiming that the subsequent interaction was the highlight of his week, not the low-point.

It turns out that this sales rep had learned more about the ineffectiveness of his approach through my respect for him as a person, than he did through my critique and rebuke of him as a sales person.

Leadership Tip

It is easy to critique, and call out problems we see in others. In our zealotry to uphold truth, right the wrongs, and teach a better way, we can leave quite a bit of carnage in our wake when our ‘principles’ trump our respect for ‘people.’

As leaders, our approach matters. While we may seek to ‘teach’ new and better ways, we must be quick to recognize the difference between Teaching and Preaching. As I have said before…

“A person who puts their own PR before [t]eaching is merely [PR]eaching.” (Tweet This)

How would you finish the lyrics to the song?
“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. If you’re wrong and you know it…”

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

The Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?

Whiteboard PowerPoint PresentationsA question I frequently hear raised in sales forums is whether a person should use PowerPoint or a whiteboard for their presentation.

I would like to suggest a different question, as asking which tool to use places inappropriate focus on the tool.

Lesson from the Woodworker

Imagine approaching a skilled woodworker and asking him, “which tool should I use, a hammer or a saw?” His response would be quite predictable…”What are you trying to build?” Depending on your answer, he may suggest one, both or neither. The key, of course, rests upon what you are trying to ‘build.’ So a better question is, “What are you trying to build?”

The Presentation Trap

Let’s look at a common scenario. A prospect or customer asks you to come and deliver a presentation to their team. We won’t get into it in this post as to why this might be a yellow flag, if not a red flag. For this example, let’s assume it is appropriate for you to meet with their team to present.

The prospect, knowingly or unknowingly, predetermined your communication to be a “presentation.” As a result, you are enticed to look through the lens of “presentation” and subsequently question whether you should use PowerPoint or a whiteboard. If this sounds familiar, you have fallen into the presentation trap.

TIP: When asked to do a presentation, don’t be hemmed into the same format your competitors will use. Ask the prospect if by “presentation,” (s)he means the ‘tool’ you should use (e.g., PowerPoint) or instead, means to effectively achieve the mutually predetermined outcomes in a way that will resonate with the audience. The question alone, begins to set a refreshing contrast between you and the competition.

Reps can get so excited by the opportunity to ‘present’ that what gets emphasized is the presentation, subsequently compromising your opportunity to present the case for change.

Common Mistakes

As a result, sales reps invited to do presentations will often prepare by addressing three areas – The audience, the message and the presentation. The three areas aren’t the problem, but rather the focus within those areas and the amount of time given to each is generally the bigger problem. For example, reps I encounter across a variety of industries often place inappropriate focus and time to each area:

  • 60% on Presentation: Building/designing the presentation, provided the same message isn’t used for everyone
  • 30% on Message: What’s intended to be communicated (e.g., Info about your company, product, solution)
  • 10% on Audience: Identification of audience members (e.g., Who will attend and what is their title/role?)

While the percentages are merely illustrative, not recommendations, I often see even lower time given to the audience with much greater time given to designing presentations.

Change the Focus

Instead of focusing mostly on the presentation and tool, and the least time on your audience, change your focus and amount of time spent in each area. Consider something more along the lines of the following:

  • 60% on Audience: While knowing titles/roles is necessary, it is not the goal. Know your audience well enough that even with a mixed audience of finance, operations, sales and marketers, you can tailor and speak specifically to the problems they face from their respective areas.
  • 30% on Message: The message should clearly demonstrate that the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. The proposal for change should ultimately lead to the areas your organization is uniquely able to solve.
  • 10% on Presentation: Shift your focus from building presentations to building a case for change (i.e., The message). The presentation of your message should heighten the case for change. If the tool doesn’t do so, don’t use it.

Important to note is that if you have not created a core message* that demonstrates the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change that generally addresses the problems of the industries you work with, the percentage of time spent goes up greatly for the message the first time you create that. This is not only appropriate to spend more time here, but is critical to your success.

*By ‘core message,’ I mean that given the industry you work in and the common issues those within your industry struggle with are at the core of the industry. The representative ’30%’ indicated above is therefore, referring to the amount of time it will take to tailor your core message into a specific message for your prospect, given the audience and unique problems they face.

In Summary

Don’t think and act like your competitors. When they hear “presentation,” they think ‘tool’ or ‘output’ (i.e., What do I want to present and in what format?). Instead, when you hear “presentation,” you think about the unique problems each of your audience members are facing from their respective areas, and ask, “What will be the most effective way to build the case for change that will lead directly, and exclusively back to my solution?”

Upcoming Posts on Presentations

Over the next two days, we will take an unconventional look at the unintended consequences of using PowerPoint and whiteboards for presentations. For quick reads on each, see the posts here:

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

The Problem with Whiteboard Presentations

Presentations, Whiteboards, WhiteboardingNow that we have taken a look at just a few of the Problems with PowerPoint presentations, let’s take a look at three of the problems whiteboard presentations can present if not intentional in design and approach.

Let’s be honest. When we see the work of masters at whiteboarding like RSA, whose work is pictured to the left, we think, “That’s cool!”

The way they marry the work of incredibly competent whiteboard artists, with a compelling story is second to none. But notice the two requisite points necessary for a compelling whiteboard presentation – 1.) Competent Artists and 2.) A Compelling Story.

The absence of either one of the two can compromise the whole presentation. For example, trying to deliver a compelling story with poor whiteboard skills, merely becomes a distraction. This distraction compromises the story by shifting focus from the story, to the clutter on the board (See picture below). On the other hand, even with an incredibly competent whiteboard artist, without having a compelling story, the value of the presentation is merely tied to watching an artist work. The takeaway from this kind of presentation is, “Wow, s/he can sure draw!” This is the wrong outcome.

Three Warnings on Whiteboard Presentations

To be clear, I am not against whiteboard presentations at all. I am quite the fan and personally use them for certain types of presentations, but my use of whiteboards has to meet the criteria I defined in my post on the Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?. Let’s take a brief look at two areas to consider before presenting by whiteboard.

Warning #1: Skills. This should go without saying, but it is amazing how often this point gets overlooked when a sales professional approaches a whiteboard presentation. In fact, it would appear that very little thought is given here at all, as if the rep’s thought is merely, “What’s there to think about…I will simply write on the board whatever I am talking about.”

You do not need to be as talented as the team at RSA to use a whiteboard, but you do need to have competency…and practice…telling your prospect’s story via whiteboard. The team at Corporate Visions have done some great work in helping people think through communicating stories with simple images via whiteboard.

WARNING!!! Without forethought on what to whiteboard and specifically how to present that thought, you are setting yourself up for a poor outcome!

Warning #2: Proficiency. This one is important. If you are not proficient at telling your prospect’s story through whiteboarding, you are likely to compromise the presentation in one of two ways. Either you will take too long to draw the ideas on the board, which creates some really awkward dead air, or you will be too quick to be effectively represent your point in the drawing like you see below.

Bad Whiteboarding | Whiteboard PresentationRegarding my previous point on taking too long, think of it this way. Imagine showing up to your prospect’s meeting with your laptop connected to a digital projector and saying to them, “I am going to build this PowerPoint on the spot while I present to you.”

WARNING!!! Without being proficient at whiteboarding, whiteboard presentations are analogous to creating a PowerPoint real-time in front of your prospect!

Warning #3: Message. The last area of caution is with regard to the message. Of course, this is critical regardless of what method you choose for presenting, but the criticality increases with whiteboarding quite simply because you are  developing the presentation ‘real-time.’ At least with PowerPoint, people have an image or slide in which to direct their empty stare while they think about what they need to get done once the presentation is over. Therefore, you need to make sure your message is spot on and finely tuned to the prospect’s story, and their focus should be squarely aimed at disrupting their status quo.

WARNING!!! Without proper attention to delivering a compelling message, your prospects will likely remember your whiteboarding skills…or lack thereof, since that is where you are directing their attention!

Repeatable Success Tip

Whiteboarding can be an incredibly effective way to lead prospects to the center of their own story in a visually compelling way. Like anything in life in which you want to improve, it takes practice. ‘Practice’ falls under the category of being Intentional, which is one of the three characteristics of the Repeatable Success model.

Our profession of Sales is a noble one. Great intentionality must be given on the front end of your presentation…from preparation through delivery. Those that have consistently repeatable success in presentations aren’t scripted, but choreographed. Prepare in a manner worthy of the outcome you are working to achieve. You are worth it…and so are your prospects.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

The Problem with PowerPoint Presentations

PowerPoint PresentationThere is an old adage that warns those ‘speaking’ that no learning about, or from, your audience occurs when you are doing the talking.

The premise for this assertion, of course, is that when a person is doing all the talking, they learn no more than what they already know. This makes sense.

But how does this apply to the sales professional in which presentations are a key part of their sales cycle?

We like to poke fun at PowerPoint and those that use it for presentations, as the cartoon above suggests. The aim of this post, however, is not to admonish against the use of the tool, but rather to point out problems sales and business professionals alike, may create for themselves when choosing PowerPoint for meeting with others.

Four Pitfalls of PowerPoint

In my previous post on ‘The Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?,’ I spoke of determining first, what you are trying to build or create as a result of the presentation, then prioritizing your preparation differently for where to focus and how much time to devote to each category. After this has been firmly settled, you can determine which tool — PowerPoint, Whiteboard or other — should be used.

Assuming you have a solid handle on your objective of the presentation, which should be more than a “closed sale,” as that is a byproduct of behaviors, let’s look at a few of the pitfalls or unintended consequences that PowerPoint can create.

  • Pitfall #1: Static vs. Dynamic Content. PowerPoint slides obviously need to be created, designed and prepared in advance of doing the presentations. Problem: If the rep’s presentation includes their solution, they are often doing so prematurely without having ever spoken with most of their audience members. Question: How would you respond, if someone approached you and said, “I know we have never met, but I have a solution for you?”
  • Pitfall #2: Orientation to Screen vs. Status Quo. The rep’s graphic-laden presentation has successfully captured the focus…or at least the place where eyes rest…of your audience. Don’t believe me? Try inserting a blank slide and watch how many people continue to stare at the screen while you speak. Problem: Eyes glued to the screen does not equal engagement. More often it is a conduit for concealed disengagement whereby the audience does not have to confront their biggest issues. Question: Is PowerPoint the most effective way to get your prospect to look at their status quo? Sometimes yes, but more often, not.
  • Pitfall #3: Defending Your Point vs. Their Point. Let’s face it. Once you put something on writing on your PowerPoint, you’re committed. Problem: If you have posed a point of view devoid of understanding how the prospect may counter, you are stuck to either defend your point of view (the typical course of action), or admit that you hadn’t considered their point of view when creating the presentation. Question: Have you created a presentation without knowing the problems your prospect will present?If so, you have no business presenting at all, especially if your solution is included.
  • Pitfall #4: Presentation vs. Conversation. I am currently working with a company who is looking to solve why people don’t go to church anymore. One of their key findings in the declining attendance is due to one-way conversations of pastor to congregation. Important to remember is that talking isn’t necessarily teaching, nor is listening necessarily learning. Problem: Research by the University of Texas found that people will only remember about 10% of what they read or hear, but remember up to 90% of what they experience. Question: Are you creating an experience worth remembering through your PowerPoint presentation?

“Talking isn’t Teaching, and Listening isn’t Learning!”

Tips for Presenting with Repeatable Success

We all can fall victim to ‘presentation bias’ as we tend to concentrate more on what we want to say, than what a prospect needs to hear. If we continue to emphasize the presentation vehicle, then the only reason for prospects to choose one supplier over another comes down to whose presentation was best.

There will always be a better presenter, or a better designed PowerPoint. Therefore, if I am to focus on where to be the best, I would rather focus my energy on helping my prospects get to the center of their own story. This is the place where the prospect sees themselves in a situation that is completely untenable, and realizes that their pain of changing pales in comparison to the pain of staying the same.

When I choose PowerPoint as the vehicle best fit for disrupting how prospects see their own circumstances, I do these three things:

  1. Use presentations to tell ‘A’ story and use conversations to tell ‘their‘ story. The difference between the two is often the difference between what their industry faces, whereas THEIR story focuses on them within their industry.
  2. Use an image [and words, only when necessary] in the presentation to enhance the emotional connection to the story. Heads nod in agreement when the story about their industry is on track. This primes them for leading them to the center of their own story.
  3. Keep the presentation to just a few slides to prepare them for the conversation we are about to have and use the blackout function at key conversational points. I aim for one iconic image to anchor our conversation to, that will allow me to point back to something tangible that will resonate with the prospects in grappling with their own story.

In my next post, I will look at The Problem with Whiteboard Presentations.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Is ‘Status Quo’ Perception or Reality?

Disrupting Status Quosta•tus quo

/ˈstātəs ˈkwō/ - Noun: The existing state of affairs, esp. regarding social or political issues: “they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo”

“Status Quo” – The condition we all are describing these days. Whether talking about sales, marketing, innovation or strategy, our aim is always the same…to “disrupt the status quo.” But, this is commonly misunderstood.

While my aim for this post will center around salespeople disrupting the customer’s status quo, I believe you will find this relevant in all of its uses.

The Current Use and Understanding

Many of us in the Sales and Marketing community refer to ‘Status Quo’ quite frequently, and I would argue rightfully so. In fact, two of the foremost thought-leaders in this area, from my perspective, are Corporate Visions and CEB as their research and descriptions of the conditions and need for change are quite compelling.

When we talk and read about the status quo as our biggest competitor in the context of customers, we can misunderstand what is really meant. There is a tendency to infer that the customer has two choices – stay the same or change. I would like to reframe how we view status quo, and more importantly how we help prospects understand there is no such thing as staying the same.

A New Understanding

To properly understand Status Quo, let’s reorient back to the original Latin definition – “An existing state of affairs.” What this is speaking of is a condition at a particular point in time. In other words, there are literally hundreds of thousands of things that took their course to lead a customer, prospect, business, etc. to the point where they are now…at this point in time. This all has led to an “existing state of affairs.”

Where this tends to be misunderstood, whether by the sales rep or the prospect, is to treat the status quo as a condition that will likely stay the same unless acted upon. This is a wrong understanding. In fact, the image I used above has it exactly right…Status Quo has a downward trajectory, but is most certainly not level.

Consider it from a financial reporting perspective. If you were looking at a P/L statement or Balance Sheet, you would have a snapshot of your business at ‘a particular point in time,’ which describes the existing state of affairs. While there could certainly be some predictive qualities inferred from either of those financial reports, it does not guarantee that doing things the same way will produce the same results.

On a side note, this is one of the  biggest problems I encounter when working with businesses whose growth has stagnated or declined. They tend to look back to more lucrative times and conditions and subsequently try to repeat what they had once done. This doesn’t work unless all of the other variables that were existent at the time years ago are exactly the same today. As you can imagine, this is rarely the case.

Don’t confuse what I am saying with companies that return to the fundamentals. Returning to fundamentals is often a good thing for organizations…provided their fundamentals were appropriate in the first place. I am referring more to organizations that try to recreate their past like the ‘no-longer popular’ college student that desperately tries to recreate his high-school glory days.

A Different Kind of Conversation with Prospects

With the perspective of financial reports not being a guarantee of future results, consider changing your perspective on what you are truly trying to “disrupt” when talking with prospects who are afraid to change.

Their perspective is most often one in which they believe what they are doing today is known and has some predictability that will lead to predictable results. Your conversations should help them understand that if they are not currently leading to improvements they were hoping and expecting to see, things will only get worse. You already know that if they are entertaining a conversation with you, that they are not seeing the results they had hoped for. Your proof points should be inserted at this point in your conversational choreography to bring the point home.

In Summary

If you are struggling to disrupt the prospect’s status quo, it most likely due to your failure to help them see the consequences of not changing, and leaving the prospect with the impression that what they are doing today will still work going forward. Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Corporate Visions, often shares the following comments based on CEB’s research conducted with 5,000 buyers and decision makers that speak with salespeople:

86% of buyers said that the rep’s message, what they communicated in a meeting or phone call, had NO commercial impact whatsoever to them. In essence, they came away with the belief that what they are currently doing right now, the Status Quo, is okay and they themselves are okay. How do they know? The Sales Reps led them to believe that was the case because there was nothing to suggest otherwise in their communication.

When you speak with prospects, does your communication suggest any reason for change?

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

The Challenger Sale & Sainthood

St. Francis of Assisi, Challenger Sale“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” These are the words ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi when addressing the Franciscans in his Rule of 1221 on how they should practice their preaching.

While there is some debate over whether he made the specific comment as quoted above, or simply addressed the principle through his writings, I believe his point is on the mark.

He is not admonishing those that use words, but rather imploring those following his teachings to demonstrate in life and in action what they were otherwise trying to convince people of through words.

His quote strikes me as being more about sequencing…behaviors followed by words…than it does for being one versus another. Both have their place.

If St. Francis were a Sales Manager…

With more and more sales leaders introducing The Challenger Sale to their team, we can all fall into the trap of ‘talking about’ the principles, traits and behaviors of a Challenger, in hopes that the profundity of our words compel new action.

Sometimes that happens, but more often people exposed to a whole new way of thinking, need to see repeated examples of these behaviors in action, especially when it comes to weighty concepts like ‘Reframes‘ and ‘Commercial Insight.’

If you have recently introduced Challenger to your team and are encouraging them to adopt new behaviors, guess who they’re looking to as their model? That’s right. Sobering, isn’t it?!

With that in mind, consider how the aforementioned quote from St. Francis might sound if he was a Challenger advising his aspiring Challenger Friars? Perhaps it might sound something like this…

“Teach the Challenger at all times, and when necessary use words.”

Mirror Test…

Question: If you could wave that magic wand and your team would automatically emulate Challenger as well as you demonstrate it to your team, what kind of Challenger team would you have?

Answer: Exactly the team you have right now. For some, this is great news and for others, it is simply a reminder that we need to be as diligent in the practice and execution of Challenger as we ask our reps to be.

Remember, we are held to higher standards. Therefore, let’s step up and re-commit to live out that which we have been proclaiming as being transformative, as we lead our team to the proverbial Promised Land. The rewards are so worthwhile for all involved.

As with any change effort, whether the implementing the Challenger Sale or instituting new governance practices with IT, the leader sets the stage of how each team member should respond, whether implicitly or explicitly. Let’s lead excellently…in a manner worthy of our calling!

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

1 Word that Undermines Your Value

Value and Credibility in SalesIs making phone calls a part of your profession? Do you find that getting returned phone calls is increasingly more difficult? If you answered “Yes” to either one of these questions, you may be undermining your value and credibility with a single word.

Take a minute before reading further to review what your typical message sounds like to a prospect when you leave them a voicemail. In fact, narrow it down to your opening line following your name (e.g., “Hi, this is Derek from ACME Corp, and I’m…”). What is the very next word you say?

No ‘Just’ Cause

While my primary aim of this article is for those in sales, this principle applies to anyone who uses a telephone, or even email with new ‘prospects’ for commerce. Whether working with B2C, B2B, or other, one word threatens to devalue your proposition, no matter how well crafted, before you even get to it.

Back to the example above…What is the very next word you typically say upon calling a prospect? For many, it is “just.” Do any of these ‘openers’ sound familiar?

  • “I’m just following up on…”
  • “I’m just calling to…”
  • “I’m just letting you know that…”

When calling a prospect, the minute they hear the voice of someone they don’t know, there is a tendency for defenses to go up as your calls and emails rarely happen at the perfect time for the prospect. They are typically interruptions. Therefore, from the prospect’s perspective, they are immediately scrutinizing your message from the second they see an unfamiliar name, and their filter becomes, ‘What evidence do they offer that this is worth the interruption?’

Hundreds of thousands of sales reps lose this battle daily. It’s no wonder why, with such a high bar and unfair scrutiny, sales reps better nail it right out of the gate.

A Better Way

When you come to terms with why you use the word as an adverb, you will likely find it is used as a word to soften or lessen the interruption. Ironically the very word you use to lessen the impact of an interruption heightens it instead.

Therefore, a different approach is needed altogether. The following steps will improve your value, and subsequently your credibility when calling prospects, thereby rendering the word ‘just’ as unnecessary.

  1. Know your value. If you see yourself as an interruption, you will be. If, on the other hand, you understand how critical your role is in helping businesses like those you are calling on to dramatically improve results, then you will find you carry yourself as such. Never arrogantly, but certainly confidently.
  2. Know your prospects. Considering prospect’s defenses are already high, you better demonstrate quickly that you know and understand them. They definitely don’t have time to educate you first before you can help them.
  3. Know their story. This is critical and often misconstrued. I hear reps say all the time, “How can I know their story if I’ve never talked to them?” This is only valid if they have never sold before and have done no research before making their first call. For all others, this is off the table. Your organization is in the business of selling products, solutions, services, etc. to others that have a demonstrated need. When you understand this, and the industries your prospect operates within, you have insight into what those in the same industry are experiencing. Doing so allows further conversation on the cost of inaction, and the importance of resolving…ultimately and uniquely with your solution.

I have covered in more detail, points two and three above in my post on Sales: Those that can’t close, can’t open. One last point to summarize all of this…I am contacted daily by sales reps trying to sell me on their products and solutions. I am amazed by how many walk through the call trying to just get through each step of their process.

Don’t call out of compliance, call out of conviction!

I don’t want to be a check box call on a list of prospects that need to be called. Your prospects don’t want that, nor do you. Let’s make sure we are bringing excellence to an honorable profession that truly makes the difference in other’s lives and businesses.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

10 Principles of Personal Leadership

Starbucks Coffee and Leadership

Image courtesy of Todd Clarke

I was recently working with some of my retail clients on ‘showrooming’ and leadership, and was reminded of some of the great principles Howard Behar spoke of in his 2009 book, “It’s Not About the Coffee.

Whether you have read the book or have yet to read it, I would highly recommend picking up a copy. Following are just a few reasons I found to be highly beneficial:

•  It’s practical, not just theoretical
•  It’s actionable, not just anecdotal
•  The focus is on People, not Product
•  The principles are timeless
•  Those you lead will benefit

Following is an excerpt from his book on the 10 Principles of Personal Leadership that I thought would benefit those looking to improve their own leadership.

10 Principles of Personal Leadership

1. Know Who You Are: Wear One Hat
2. Know Why You’re Here: Do It Because It’s Right, Not Because It’s Right for Your Resume
3. Think Independently: The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom
4. Build Trust: Care, like You Really Mean It
5. Listen for the Truth: The Walls Talk
6. Be Accountable: Only the Truth Sounds like the Truth
7. Take Action: Think Like a Person of Action, and Act like a Person of Thought
8. Face Challenge: We Are Human Beings First
9. Practice Leadership: The Big Noise and the Still, Small Voice
10. Dare to Dream: Say “Yes,” the Most Powerful Word in the World

[Download printable PDF versions of The 10 Principles of Personal Leadership (annotated) and the Checklist for Individuals, Leaders, and Coaches].

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Challenger Sale: Moving Beyond Rational Drowning

Rational Drowning to Emotional Impact

Growing up on the coast of Southern California, I was no stranger to the rip currents we would often see. For those unfamiliar, a rip current (a.k.a. ‘Riptide’) is when the wind and waves push water toward the shore, which then causes the water to travel sideways along the shoreline from oncoming waves until it finds an exit back out to the sea. Some rip currents can move as fast as 8 feet/second.

On one particular day at the beach, I remember seeing a grown man get caught in the rip current. Most of us have been caught in a number of them, and the solution was easy if you knew what to do. We knew to relax and ride the current until it equalized with the rest of the shoreline. It just meant a longer swim and a walk from where you were, that’s all. But for this gentleman, he chose a different course of action.

He began by waving off the lifeguard who was warning him of the strong current. With a wave, in pride he yelled back, “I’m fine.” His plan was to swim against it. Bad call!

It didn’t take long for him to be completely exhausted whereby holding his head above water became difficult. He began swallowing and choking on seawater. In a flash, his once prideful face that rejected help, now showed desperation for anybody to save him. The lifeguard made his way to him in no time as the current led him right to the victim.

I will never forget the look in the man’s eyes – The first look was the look of pride in the face of a dangerous situation. The second look was when he realized he was in over his head.

Temptation to ‘Keep it Above the Surface’

Prospects can have similar expressions, when they have that defining moment. For some, it’s an “Ah Ha!” moment, and for others, an “Oh no!” moment where they realize for the first time how severe the implications are of remaining in their circumstances.

In conversations where one seeks to change the behaviors of another, whether as parents or in sales, there is that point where the person first acknowledges the risks or consequences you are speaking about. When speaking with children, their response may sound like, “I know, I know.” For the business person, this sounds much more rational as they confidently proclaim, “Yes, I am aware of the risks and am taking precautions.” This is code for Status Quo.

This happened recently when I was speaking with the President of an organization about consequences he didn’t realize, and he would be facing in the upcoming months. At one point in the conversation, this President jokingly commented that he needed to do something different or the board would come after him.

He began to move on, but I stopped him dead in his tracks and asked, “Before we move on, in all seriousness, what will happen if we don’t solve this?” At first he chided me for taking things so seriously when he was simply making a joke, but I held out for the answer. I told him, “I’m the serious type, so seriously, what will happen?” He looked down at the table soberly, then slowly back up to me and stated, “I’d probably be fired.”

Within 30 days, he was fired. He had acted too late. His eyes told me a lot, much like the man’s eyes in the rip current. In an instant, pride turned to fear and desperation, and then he was gone.

Rational Drowning vs. Emotional Impact

When working through the Challenger Sale choreography, the third and fourth steps, Rational Drowning and Emotional Impact, are tightly intertwined. I describe these two stages as follows:

If a person fell overboard in the middle of the ocean, Rational Drowning looks like treading water. The victim initially says, “I’m alright,” which ‘feels’ true at that particular point in time. Not until they realize they can’t continue this way for long, will they pass from Rational Drowning to Emotional Impact.

This is not a place most prospects will go willingly. They would rather stand outside of the story…their story…like a casual observer, who can see things factually…logically, and yet remain unmoved, while mired in their own status quo.

Our role as professionals, is to care enough about them to be willing to expose them to the truth about their circumstances.

Tips to Lead to the Center of Their Story

In the aforementioned story of this President who was subsequently fired, I recognized that he was intentionally seeking to avoid getting deeper. I have seen his situation hundreds of times before, but simply telling him so would merely serve to keep him on the outside of his own story.

I could have told him, “You need to change or you’ll be fired” and would have been accurate. But his response would more likely be defensive than if he recognized aloud, as he did, when he said, “I’d probably be fired.” Asking intentional, targeted questions allowed him to begin narrating his own story as his pronouncement of the consequences carried more weight than mine would have. I just had to lead him to recognizing this reality.

Following are a few tips to remember when leading a prospect through these critical stages:

  • Prospects aim for the surface. Like a balloon filled with helium, so it is with prospects. There is a tendency to want to rise back to the surface as going deeper into the center of their own story is never comfortable.
  • ‘Comfort’ is not the aim. If you are not prepared [and skilled] to respectfully lead prospects to uncomfortable places…such as the center of their own story, you will continue to struggle with selling.
  • Don’t tell the prospect’s story for them. According to a study done by the University of Texas (Metzger, 1997), a person will remember approximately 20% of what they hear, but remember up to 80% of what they do and say. In aiming for the uncomfortable center of their own story, ask questions that lead them to tell their own story.
  • Ask targeted questions. Nothing is more maddening and exhausting to a prospect than questions that appear exploratory and aimless. Know where you are leading the prospect in your questioning.
  • Lead TO your solution, not WITH. Your questions, when asked appropriately, should ripen the prospect to a New Way. Don’t jump to your solution yet, as they need to be prepped with what will resolve their issue. This ‘new way’ should aim squarely at what your product or solution can uniquely solve. BUT DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR PRODUCT/SOLUTION YET.

One final note about these two very important areas of the Challenger Sale choreography – Because these two areas are so tightly connected, there can be a tendency to confuse one for the other. Over the years, I have seen countless reps struggle to even get into uncomfortable places with a prospect. When they do, the most common tendency is to resurface and provide ‘relief’ to their uncomfortable prospect.

Doing this will likely result in the loss of the sale as the prospect merely learned that you make them uncomfortable, but offer nothing but a product solution. They will avoid you going forward. Therefore, remain disciplined and stick to the choreography.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Constructive Tension through Insights

Constructive TensionIf you are anything like me, I learn best from real life examples. This morning, I was reflecting on a conversation I had with a major retailer a number of years ago, that not only got them to think differently, but caused them to adjust their whole strategy. Below is an abbreviated transcript of that conversation.

Background:

A major retailer saw themselves as ‘The Headquarters’ for our type of products and as such, having a broad assortment was a key part of their strategy. Regardless of how they perceived themselves, their sales in the category continued to decline. They had the wrong strategy, and  it was costing them sales and market share.

Following is an excerpt of my conversation with them:

Me: As I understand it, your corporate strategy for [X] category is to provide a broad assortment of brands and give a fair representation of each brand’s line. Is this still a key part of your strategy?

Buyer: Absolutely. Customers have depended upon us as their HQ for years.

Me: I would imagine carrying the top 3 brands in this category is important too…

Buyer: Definitely, it’s critical.

Me: Do you know who is #1 in market share for this category?

Buyer: If you are asking, I am sure it is you.

Me: You caught me, how about #2?

Buyer: (The buyer and Division leader make 3 incorrect guesses, naming our competitors)

Me: I’m afraid not. The three you just named only make up 8% of the market combined. #2 on the list is X [private] and they only sell through their own stores, so as you know, you aren’t able to carry their products. Any guesses on who #3 is in market share?

Buyer: Not if it is someone different from who we already mentioned.

Me: It is. The 3rd largest segment in the market is WYO (an industry-specific term), which rules you out altogether of carrying two of the top three that you said was critical to your strategy.

Buyer: Hmmm.

Me: Do you know what your $/Kit sold is for the other product lines?

Buyer: Do you mean how much in kits we sold?

Me: No. I mean how much ancillary product you sell for every kit sold.

Buyer: No, we don’t track that.

Me: Hmmm. That’s important to know. The reason is that with each of the other lines you carry, the purchase of the kit is all you will make of that sale since they don’t offer ancillaries. Were you aware that for every one of our kits sold, the typical sales on ancillaries are 9 times greater than the kit alone? In fact, that’s what is lost every time you sell another brand. Let’s multiply that by # of kits sold per store times number of stores.

[Figure calculated and presented]

Buyer: Wow! I had no idea. We hadn’t looked at it that way before.

Me: Can you name another category in your stores that achieves this same level of revenue and profitability during this same season?

Buyer: Nothing comes close. The other categories are down when you guys hit your peak.

[Light-bulb moment for the customer with new insights and discovery]

Me: Exactly right.

[The President enters the conversation]

President: What should we do?

Me: You currently have a strategy focused on promoting breadth and fairness to ALL brands. Research shows that 54% of consumers have predetermined the brand they will use before purchasing…

President: Is that your brand?

Me: …It is, and another 34% will compare with only 1 to 2 other brands. You carry 16. In just 2 months time, your strategy of ‘brand breadth and fairness’ cost your stores $xM in sales & $xM in profit. Even worse is that you have lost 7 points of market share. So, in answer to your question, I recommend a strategy change if you want to remain in this category, or otherwise allow us to help you successfully exit the business altogether.

[President pauses and is now at the crossroads with the Status Quo]

The President, after dismissing the buyer and division leader, asked how quickly we could reset the category and serve as category captains.

Doing so would require concessions, if they were serious. He assured me he was. We ended up getting key placement and dedicated signage in the stores, along with many other things that they offered to help them earn back market share and profitability. That following year, they had grown their business with us nearly 30%.

On a related note, we took this same approach with two other major players in the market who achieved even better results that year – One achieving 71% category growth, and the other in triple digits. They remain the market leaders today in their categories.

Summary

The questions I asked revealed that they did not know the answers to key questions. They were looking at things the wrong way. The questions helped to prepare them for a series of commercial insights that created a rich environment to hear a hard truth…that their key strategy was amiss, costing them market share, sales and profitability.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.