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Archive for December, 2009

Barack ObamaI think President Obama may be making a very simple sales mistake in his self presentation of late.

This came to me as I was listening to him give a speech last week. He was talking about Afghanistan. I found myself getting annoyed and couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t the content, which, on this occasion, I generally agreed with. It was something else.

As always it was a pleasure to hear the sonorous, rhythmic, euphonious incantations of this charismatic man. The phrasing was, as always, elegant and graceful.  But as I listened I realized what was bothering me. It seemed like every word was “I”, “me”, “mine”, “my administration”, or some other self-referential pronoun. This is not good salesmanship.

For me, good salesmanship cannot reflect such self-absorption. Eloquence and presentation can certainly dazzle initially. But a self focus eventually can result in a long term impression of solipsism or even jejune narcissism.

When selling a product or service what works is focusing on “the other”. What works is focusing on the “you”, “your need”, “your anxiety”, “your ROI“, a focus on how you can help your client (or your nation) to achieve.

This process requires a practical humility, a concentration on service, not celebrity. Most of the successful business entrepreneurs I know have this practical quality. This does not mean they are without enormous self-esteem. As CEO of my own company, Corporate Rain, I have always found the most selfish way to be is to be “unselfish”, to focus on the other.

For all his many gifts and attractive qualities, I think President Obama may ultimately prove a poor salesman for his agenda, if he doesn’t get the center of attention off himself.

Merry Christmas to all.

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Don DraperI recently was forwarded a posting from www.madmenshow.com by Robin Greene, who blogs frequently and well on sales initiation (with her partner, Sheryl Tuttle) at New Business Pipeline. Robin’s forwarded blog was a love bouquet to Don Draper of Mad Men as the best salesman of all time on television. However, the blog concluded with a list of, to quote, “…the best salesmen, con artists, sweet-talkers, swindlers, and bullshitters in movies.” Wow.

The juxtaposition and equivalency of salesmen, con artists, sweet- talkers, swindlers, and bullshitters is breathtaking. And yet it fully reflects the popular view of salesmen as somewhat lower than whale shit. The list includes such luminaries as Gordon Gecko (portrayed by Michael Douglas in Wall Street), Blake (portrayed by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross), Freddy Benson & Lawrence Jamieson (portrayed by Steve Martin and Michael Caine, respectively, in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Roy Waller (portrayed by Nicholas Cage in Matchstick Men), etc. You get the idea. A veritable concatenation of the villainous and the predatory.

Certainly when I began my late-in-life adventure as a salesman and entrepreneur, my idealistic and somewhat bohemian family didn’t quite know what to say. They probably thought I had become apostate to all that was fine and good. A Faustian sellout to filthy lucre. A crazed lemming descending into the rat hole of venality.

But what makes a good salesman in reality is the opposite of the amoral knaves of popular myth. You simply don’t win in the long term by fooling people. You win through sincere care and concern. That is a naive but very real truth.

Unlike the popular cliches about salesmen, long-term sales success comes from focusing on service and candor in all aspects of the sales process. A liar and a villain is eventually known by his works. Gordon Gecko aside, you don’t successfully sell with deception and legerdemain.

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Paul KrugmanMary McCarthy famously said of Lillian Hellman, “Every word she writes is a lie–and that includes ‘and’ and ‘the’.” In terms of his conclusions, that pretty much describes the depth of my disagreement with Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times.

I disagree with just about every opinion Paul Krugman voices. I am a believer in the free market, he seems to be a committed socialist. I am  a fiscal conservative with a fierce belief in balanced budgets, he an unapologetic Keynesian. I feel the current health care reform bill will be catastrophic for small business and employment, he feels it is salvific. (Note his most recent op-ed in the December 4 New York Times.)

Nevertheless, I view Paul Krugman as by far the most useful popular economic writer out there. He has a real didactic gift for simply explaining his process, analyses, and conclusions. I would love to have him as a professor (which he is at Princeton University). He’s a damn good (and unpretentious) writer.  He’s just a terrific explainer. He illuminates the most byzantine financial matters with a clarifying ease that is most helpful to me as an entrepreneur seeking to understand the world macro-economic picture.

I bring this up because I increasingly notice people of both liberal and conservative persuasions are losing a fair-minded and objective openness to quality argumentation.

It is a practical value for an entrepreneur to constantly be open to new thoughts, to consider the discomforting. For me, one way to enforce this discipline is to actively read and engage with those I disagree with. I really try to keep my firm, Corporate Rain, a forum for open discussion with colleagues and employees. Healthy dialogue and disagreement in a corporate community is creative and energizing. It fosters a frisson of aliveness and passion.

That said, ultimately there is only one boss, and, in the immortal word of Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be  King.”

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Still thinking about simplicity this week. One thing I have found is that if I try to sell everything, I sell nothing. It’s just hard as hell for me to stop talking sometimes.

In a sense, this is a case of “Physician, heal thyself“, as I am constantly pounding my clients to focus their sales message into a simple essence. When it comes to my own selling it is a learned discipline to know when to stop. When it’s your baby, every descriptive detail is a gem of rare price. But the fact is that loquaciousness is the enemy of illumination.

It’s really true that less is more, most of the time. I was reminded of that last Sunday in church, of all places. My minister told the following story in his sermon to illustrate a biblical point, but the story works fine as a lesson about simplicity.

Two ranchers from Texas are bragging to each other about the size of their respective cattle-raising operations. One of them says, “Well, I’ve got 15,000 head of cattle out there on the range all wearing my ‘Flying A’ brand.”

“Flying A!” the other one sniffs. “My brand is the Bar T, Circle L, Cross Creek, Flying Z, Bent Fork, Double Back, North Canyon brand.”

“Wow!” says the first rancher. “How many cattle are you running?”

“Well,” the second rancher confesses grudgingly, “Not as many as you have. Most of mine don’t survive the branding.”

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