Subscribe to Making Rain by Email

Archive for November, 2009

There was a thoughtful essay by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal last weekend (November 14/15).  She feels that much current political rhetoric from the Obama White House is both condescending and convoluted.  She speaks to the point that the public wants direct talk.  She says, “Politicians in general no longer assume that we all operate on the same intellectual level, with roughly the same amount of common sense”. She quotes the actor Jack Webb on the old TV show Dragnet, playing Detective Joe Friday, “All we want are the facts, ma’am”. Ms. Noonan recognizes there is a strong universal longing in the current political body politic for simple talk and clear explanation.

But, for me, there is a larger lesson in Ms. Noonan’s useful essay.  And it is one that is applicable to both sales and entrepreneurship.

I am asked almost daily to strategize sales campaigns for my clients at Corporate Rain International. (My company specializes in initiating the sales process with high-level executives).  Often the biggest part of my consultative job is convincing clients to simplify their message.  More than half of the initial sales job is articulating a clear value that can solve a problem (i.e. increase profit, reduce cost, gain market share, etc.) for a potential buyer.  The complex brilliance of my clients is often of little interest to their audience.  Winnowing down a simple core value can often seem a process of almost insulting oversimplification to a client who has poured their heart and soul and essence into a product or service.  Yet it is only the final result that is the compelling factor in initiating a dialogue leading to a sale.

A buyer is interested in an end result, an outcome.  (“All we want are the facts, ma’am”).  If the result is compelling and clear, the client will then be enthused to explore the rococo details of how the sausage is made.  Otherwise — not.

Comments 8 Comments »

Andre AgassiI am very wary of celebrity autobiographical tell-alls.  These tawdry tales are often filled with narcissistic self-pity or ironic condescension or self-congratulatory grandiosity clothed in ersatz humility.

Not so the new autobiography of Andre Agassi entitled “Open”.

One of my jobs when I was younger was tennis pro and I’ve continued to follow tennis over the years. Even before this remarkable autobiography, I admired the grace, artistry and passion of Andre Agassi.  I admired his calm, his court savvy, his fierce spirit.  Barbra Streisand called Agassi “the Zen Master”.  While I agree with Barbra Streisand about very little, I do agree with her about this.

Last Sunday (November 8, 2009), I was deeply touched by an excellent interview with Mr. Agassi conducted by Katie Couric on “60 Minutes”.  In addition to being a fine piece of broadcast journalism, it limned Agassi’s spiritual journey with a superb dramatic arc.  For me, it was compelling television.  But more than the skilled professionalism of the piece, what stood out for me was the authenticity of Andre Agassi.

The interview was hyped on the revelation that Agassi admits he used crystal meth for a year during his tennis career and lied about it to the powers that be.  However, this rather minor revelation of a young man’s sin, to me, was not what made the piece extraordinary.  What made the interview powerful was that without real guidance or education (Mr. Agassi never graduated high school), he willed himself to become a deeply and profoundly authentic person – a person he didn’t even know he was when he began his journey.  His pilgrimage from liar, fake and lost soul to authentic human wholeness struck me as particularly heroic in that it was largely internal, solitary and autodidactic.  A profoundly lonely but determined odyssey.  While direct and confessional, Mr. Agassi was clear-eyed and without self-pity.  Admirable.  Even astonishing — and even more astonishing for the fact that he chose his path from a place of unanchored anomie: ungrounded in faith or family.

So you may say “How can you know Andre Agassi is not just a big ol’ self-absorbed phony out hyping his book”?  Well, I guess I can only point to the judge, who, when asked to define pornography simply said “I may not be able to specifically define it, but I know it when I see it”.  Me too.  Which brings me, rather elliptically, to sales.

I’m a salesman and my company, Corporate Rain International, is a sales company that specializes in c-suite sales, mostly of services.  For me, the key to successful salesmanship is simply authenticity.  That soulful core is the pure essence of good salesmanship.  A good salesman is authentic.  He knows who he is.  He tells the unalloyed truth from a centered space and people respond.  I hope I am neither a naïf nor disingenuous when I state with absolute sincerity that authenticity is the key to selling.  But you have to be authentic before you can sell authentically.  Though not a salesman, Andre Agassi is a remarkable case study and example of achieved authenticity.

So thank you Andre Agassi for becoming yourself.  You are, as Barbra Streisand so aptly put it, “the Zen Master”. Bravo, Andre.

Comments 6 Comments »

I ended my last post saying how uncomfortable change was for me.  For that very reason, I discipline myself to incorporate change on a regular basis.  I experiment with suggestions offered by my associates.  It keeps my 16 year old firm fresh and alive.  For that reason Corporate Rain International changes substantially every year.

I try to keep nothing sacrosanct.  Though it gives me a daily frisson of fear, it also keeps me fiercely alive.  Clients feel that intensity and it helps me as a salesman for my company.

My favorite example of creative change is The Beatles.  The Beatles essentially became a radically different band every year of their existence.  Every year, they abandoned sure repeatable success to push into a high-risk musical unknown.  Their work had integrity.  It was alive.

There is a paradigm for business in the example of The Beatles.  Things constantly change; never more so than now.  Flexibility and an active imagination are particularly useful to a sales entrepreneur in a constantly evolving marketplace. Even arbitrary creative destruction can have its place.  One of my favorite bits of aphoristic wisdom (which I associate with AA and 12-step programs) is “Insanity is defined as continually performing the same action and expecting different results”.  Obviously and utterly true.

Earlier in my life, I spent about 10 years as an actor.  One of my teachers was a man named Paul Austen.  One day in class he recounted a story about doing a Eugene O’Neill play with the actor Rip Torn.  Rehearsals were going well, but, with two weeks of rehearsal remaining, Paul felt he had fully realized his character and was ready to open.  He was in a quandary about what to do with himself for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to Rip Torn and asked his advice.  Paul recounts that Rip Torn thought for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and said “Fuck it up”.

So, even if it ain’t broke, it’s sometimes healthy to “fuck it up”.

Comments 2 Comments »

These are surprising times.  Certainly more so than my company Corporate Rain or I have experienced in 16 years.  The business atmosphere is confused and inchoate, ungrounded in the old verities and unmoored to any universal consensus.  It’s bloody scary, but also enlivening.

More than ever change is the one thing you can count on in this veil of tears.  As a salesman I have never felt more the urgency of being alert to both daily and systemic change.  Variations on “Black Swan” events are startling me daily.

For example, I read in The New York Times on October 26 that McDonald’s opened a restaurant in The Louvre. The Louvre!  The great center of French culture and art welcomes this icon of mass produced American gastronomic mundanity.   France, the last bastion of epicurean snobbery welcomes McDonald’s, the ultimate common denominator for fast food, into its iconic institution of French exceptionalism.  It is startling, and from my assumptions, impossible.

Or take, for example, a recent experience of my friend Ken Makovsky, CEO of Makovsky and Company PR located in New York.  Ken is an exceptionally savvy PR thought leader (check out his excellent blog at blog.makovsky.com).  Yet he was blind-sided recently when he told me of taking his son to see the revival of Hair on Broadway.  For Ken, Hair was a beloved iconic demarcation; a heuristic road sign that fundamentally changed his life perspective.  He loved the music.  He loved the time.  He excitedly anticipated sharing Hair with his son.  Imagine his stunned disappointment when his son was indifferent and bored by the show saying, “It has a couple of good songs, but how can you be so interested in such a group of dirty, lazy people?”

Life surprises.  Never have we been in such a fast-moving world.  Radical change occurs suddenly.  Assumptions can become invalid at the speed of light.  G.M. is bankrupt. Who’d have thunk it?  Hair becomes a dated period piece about dirty, lazy hippies.

As an entrepreneur (and particularly as a salesman), I find it is a constant struggle not to become too wedded to my assumptions, to stay open to the wonder of the anti-predictive.  An ambiance of constant and rapid change is so uncomfortable.  Yet shifting sands are the existential ground on which we operate.

God, I hate change.  Yet my personal and corporate business survival increasingly depends on quick adaptability and nimbleness.

Comments 2 Comments »

Corporate Rain International on Facebook