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Nov 24 21

On Giving Thanks

by David Brock

In the US, we have this custom of reserving one day each year of giving Thanks. It’s a time to get together with family and friends, over indulge in eating and watching football (The American version). And we do take moments to reflect and give thanks.

There is a lot that we, and specifically me, can be thankful about at this time of year. A year ago, we reflected on a year that most of us have never encountered–health, economy, social and other challenges causing us to rethink everything we believe in and do.

A year later, we face many of the same things. I’ve had friends/family dealing with Covid and other health issues. I’m thankful they have recovered. All of us have had to rethink so much of what we do, how we work, what home and family life means. And we have all had to rethink great social issues and what it means to be a member of a larger community.

As much as a struggle as it may be, it is important for each of us to go through these things. Too often, we get complacent and distracted. We don’t take the time to reflect, rethink, remember, and be thankful. So these events that have impacted each of us in different ways provide a forcing function to change.

Over this period of time, like everyone, I have had some both personal and other challenges. I’ve been disturbed by much of what I see going on in our societies. I am fortunate to have family, great friends, colleagues, and clients that help me, even though they may not recognize how helpful and important they are to me. Thanks, somehow, seems insufficient, but thank you.

A few years ago, a friend got me into a new practice. I am an avid journaller. Part of my journalling practice, every day, is to list three things for which I’m grateful. I do this every day. This morning, I was skimming through some of those items. Some made me laugh, some were things I’d forgotten, it was good to be reminded/refreshed. But the practice has been very helpful to me. It’s made me a little more open, patient, and less selfish. However good or bad a day has been, taking the time to think on what I’m grateful for–even if it’s just that a particular day is over, has been helpful.

For those of you who are looking for new practices, I encourage both journalling and taking the time, everyday, to identify a few things for which you are grateful.

Thanks for your patience in reading through this more personal post. It’s a rare departure from my commentary on sales, leadership, and business. It’s a departure from my whining about some of the stupidity I see in social media and business.

One of the great privileges I have in writing this blog is the ability to “meet” so many new people around the world, to share ideas and experiences. I learn so much through these interactions and am deeply appreciative of those that engage directly, through comments, or through social media. Thank you!

Nov 23 21

Buzzword Bingo, Sales Edition

by David Brock

Some years ago, partly to overcome the boredom of PowerPoint pitches, Buzzword Bingo was developed. Whether at a conference listening to speakers wax on about how fantastic their technology and companies were, investor meetings, sales pitches, people played this game. It came from the endless buzzwords that presenters injected into their presentations to feign credibility.

We would score certain types of words differently. For example things like “cloud, edge computing, data lakes, digital transformation, resilience, scalable, gamify” would get certain scores-with heavy multipliers based on the number of times they were mentioned in one chart or presentation.

Then there were the acronyms, things like “SaaS, XaaS, CLV, SEO, CPC, NPS, FOMO, IoT” generated double and triple points. The more a presenter packed into a presentation, the more the implied credibility. Even if most of us didn’t know the meaning of the acronym, it had to be important to get acronym status, and the presenter must be wickedly smart in using those words.

There is something attractive about buzzwords, the imply credibility, knowledge, and experience. After all, if you knew those buzzwords and could use them in a sentence, you must be very good.

Several years ago, I remember being at a conference, where in the middle of a presentation filled with the most current buzzwords, someone shouted out, “Bingo!” The crowd burst out in laughter while the speaker thought he had made a great point–eliciting the word Bingo–which can be used in several ways.

Sales and marketing is filled with buzzwords. Using them with other sales/marketing people immediately increases your credibility. If you link enough of them together in a sentence or paragraph, you become a thought leader. And, as with normal buzzword bingo, generating an acronym is even more meaningful.

Some of the biggest buzzwords, these days, are disrupt, transformation, and digital. If you could link them together in one phrase like “disruptive digital transformation,” you get a 10x multiplier for your score.

And as always, acronyms are important. We’ve long had BANT, ABC, AIDA. MQLs, SALs, BDR, SDR, AE are increasingly part of the language.

I sometime dream of hearing a pitch that is 70% acronyms. Something like, “SDRs, BDRs, AEs are ABC, using BANT and AIDA to increase MQLs and SQLs.” (We do need a few verbs, adjectives and adverbs to connect them, but the acronyms need to be the majority.)

Then there is the category of buzzwords used to imply trustworhiness. Using these words is supposed to make the prospect feel the sales person is more interested in the prospect success, even though all the care about is getting the order and separating the prospect from their money. Often sales people use the “T-word” itself: trusted advisor, trustworthy, and so forth. Surrogates that feign interest in customer success are “partner, collaborate, alliance.” I get prospecting letters suggesting a collaboration so I can buy their product.

Sometimes, I get sadistic pleasure in using those words in responding to prospecting outreaches. I contact the sales person, saying, “I’d love to collaborate…” I know the sales person is immediately thinking, “I won’t have to discount this one, let me close on a full price order.” But I continue, “It seems you need my services or may want to buy our training programs to increase your credibility in your prospecting outreach in demonstrating your value add to your prospects….” (Notice the subtle use of buzzwords in my response. I’m using so many in sequence, it overwhelms the sales person, plus I’ve been agile (double points) in how I have twisted collaboration on them.).

Usually, after I turn these collaborative and partnering outreaches back on the sales person, there’s a long pause. Eventually, there is a defeated response, “You don’t understand, I just want you to buy my product….”

I’ll stop here, but I want to create a challenge.

Respond to this post with your 5 favorite sales or marketing buzzwords and your 5 favorite acronyms. After that, we can get a virtual game of buzzword bingo going.

Nov 22 21

Our Selling Process Can Help Our Customers Buy

by David Brock

From my earliest days as a salesperson, I’ve been taught the “sales process,” and have tried to execute that process as effectively as possible. It’s always a structured approach to engaging the customer, working with them to make a buying decision.

The process has always reminded me of critical things I should be considering, to maximize my impact in working with the customer.

The sales process has always had multiple stages, stages that focused me on finding new opportunities, qualifying them based on a customer commitment to take action, understanding what the customer wanted to do, other things that may impact them, our competition and other areas. Inevitably, it drove me to present a solution and ultimately get the order.

It has been my checklist to make sure I didn’t forget anything and that I was managing the opportunity as effectively as possible. I’d check off critical activities, moving to the next, then the next. All perfectly linear and logical.

Every once in a while I’d skip steps, either through carelessness or wanting to push a deal through. Usually, I’d end up regretting that. I’d miss something important.

Sometimes, I’d discover I had to go backwards in my process. I’d think I was just about ready to propose our solution, then something would change with the customer. They would shift their priorities, new people would be involved, the direction would change. I’d have to erase all those check marks and go backwards in my process. I’d start going through it again.

Sometimes, I would be tempted to jump forward, skipping a lot of steps, because of the questions the customer was asking. It always worried me, because both the customer and I were missing things critical to their buying decision. I’d try to get the customer to consider those issues.

We developed our selling processes based on our experience of working with customers doing hundreds of deals, over the years. While each situation is always unique, we noticed certain patterns through those deals. Issues that usually came up. Things we needed to learn, things we needed to do in helping the customer through their buying journey.

Not everything applied to every deal. But the process helped us work with the customer in a structured way. We needed to be nimble, we needed to adjust and shift a little through the customer process. New things would arise, so we had to adjust what we did and how we’d work with the customer in a specific situation.

By this point, you may be really confused. You probably are thinking, “Dave has really flipped out. He’s always talking about aligning with the customer buying process. He’s talking about how we have to focus on that, not on our sales process. What gives???”

Yes, in some sense, I’m talking through both sides of my mouth. We have to focus on the customer and their buying journey. We have to align with the customer and what they are trying to achieve. We have to focus on the customer success, in order for us to achieve our goals.

But the customer really doesn’t have a buying process! We’ve always thought they had a structured process, but we’ve learned they don’t. They struggle in their buying journey, constant starts and stops, shifts in direction, shifts in who’s involved. They wander constantly and the majority of the time they fail.

When we think about it, it’s easy to understand this struggle. In complex B2B buying, they don’t buy very frequently. They only look to buying when they need to make a big change, or when they have problems that force them to think differently and do something new. As a consequence, they don’t have a process–since it’s not something they do every day or even every year. They don’t know what they should to, how they should do it, what questions they should be asking, who they should involve, and how to succeed. They invent the buying journey on the fly, struggling because they don’t know what they don’t know.

Our selling process is a result of working with 100s to 1000s of other customers going through similar journeys. We have learned what customers do to achieve success (whether they buy from us or not) and what they do that causes them to fail.

Our selling process provides a context or foundation to help teach the customer how others have succeeded in their journeys and what the customer might do to improve their success. It provides a starting point for the customer to develop their project plan to successfully complete their journey.

Our process can be very helpful to the customer in helping them buy.

But some important caveats.

  1. Too often we inflict our process on the customer. It’s the things we do to get a PO, not a tool the customer can use to help them develop their own process.
  2. Our selling process has a far narrower perspective than what the customer needs. We really need to look at the entire customer change or problem solving journey. Buying is just one aspect of it. Customers struggle through the whole process, not just the buying part of that process.
  3. (2) above reminds us that our “selling process,” cannot be focused just on the customer buying or getting a PO. Our selling process needs to focus on more than buying, but the entire customer change/problem solving journey.
  4. We use our selling process to help the customer think about their problem solving process. We can teach the customer, “here are things others do in looking at similar problems,” or “here are things we’ve seen others do to succeed,” or “here are issues you might find important.” What we focus on is less about our products, but more on what the customer might consider to achieve their goals.
  5. In the end, the customer develops their own process, which we must align to and support their efforts. While our process may help them develop this, they will have there own approach. So we have to continue to be nimble and adjust to work with the customer and help them succeed. We can’t rigidly follow our process, but instead use that process to help the customer discover their own.

Our sales process cannot be something we follow blindly and independently of our customers’ processes. But our process, can be very powerful to help the customer develop their approach and to succeed in their change journey.

Nov 18 21

Are We Accomplishing Enough In Customer Meetings?

by David Brock

Ideally, we are spending as much time as possible, working with our customers to help move them through their buying process. At the same time, customers are engaging sales people for only a small time in their buying process.

This raises the questions, “Are we accomplishing as much as we can in each engagement? Are we maximizing our contribution to the customer in those ‘meetings?’ Could we accomplish more, creating more value with the customer? Are we engaging the customer in a way that earns us more time and greater engagement for the customer?”

Unfortunately, I think we fail too often in all aspects, which exacerbates the situation, customers are investing less time with us, because we aren’t using their time as well as possible.

There are a lot of reasons contributing to this. We know, the customers can get much of their information from other sources, so they no longer need to spend time with sales to get this information. While knowing that, we tend to focus on those things they probably already know, talking about our products, talking about our companies, telling them we are the best solution. We become echo chambers for things the customer already knows, so we aren’t creating the value we might or that customers need.

We also have the tendency to focus on what we want to accomplish, being less sensitive to the work the customer needs to get done in the process and how they accomplish those things.

But these aren’t the only things that impact our and the customer productivity, there are other things that impact what we accomplish in these meetings.

Too often, we are unprepared, we may not have clear objectives of what we might accomplish. The thinking is, “I’ve been through hundreds of these meetings, I can deal with anything that comes up….”

Sometimes, we have a specific agenda, we’ve thought about the deal and the next step. We focus on that next step, getting what we need to achieve that next step.

And sometimes, we haven’t prepared the customer for what might be accomplished in the meeting, so they are ill positioned for the meeting. As a result we don’t achieve what we could and we have to schedule another meeting.

So we and the customer go through meeting after meeting, moving to the next step, completing that, then assessing the next step and the next meeting, and the next….

What is we rethink our customer meetings? Knowing the customer has less time for us, or for anyone, what can we do to accomplish more in fewer meetings?

Stephen Covey’s second habit comes to mind, “Begin with the end in mind.”

What if we started to design our meetings, rather than thinking of the next step, we began with the end in mind. We might start with understanding the work the customer needs to get done to solve their problem. We might think, “How do we help the customer accomplish this work in the fewest possible meetings, using their time as effectively as possible?”

We start thinking about how we accomplish not just the next objective, but how we might accomplish several things at a time. We help make it easier for the customer by helping them think in the same way, helping them organize themselves to accomplish more in less time than they might do otherwise.

Perhaps one of the most valuable things we can do in helping the customer is helping them think about all that need be done and how they might compress this work.

This changes the character of each meeting and how we and the customer accomplish more. We establish shared aggressive goals, both the customer and we make sure we have the right people involved in the meeting, and that everyone is prepared to achieve the goals of the meeting.

When we start thinking about the work the customer needs to get done to address their problems and issues, designing our engagement process around helping them do that as effectively and efficiently as possible, we change everything–creating much more value, as well as improving our own time utilization.