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Archive for May, 2010

Here’s a simple, short thought for this week: No is good. No is the salesman’s friend. No produces efficiency.

I frequently tell my friends that rejection is my middle name. For myself and any salesman rejection will surely be the result of many, if not most, of your interactions. Certainly for high-end sales initiation, the specialty of my firm Corporate Rain International, that is the case. When we’re doing great for clients often we will still be getting 85% rejection.

I was struck by a recent blog posted by Anthony Tjan and published by the Harvard Business Review (April 21, 2010). Mr. Tjan is managing partner and founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball and is not a salesman per se. But his thoughts are very applicable to sales. He states, “A yes is obviously the answer you always hope to get, but the ability to get to no, especially if it is a quick one, is critical to maximizing efficiency and effectiveness. The sooner you get a no, the faster you’ll be able to look for that next yes.” Utterly true.

Beware of ditherers and vacillators. They will eat you up. They are the real enemies of efficient sales. There are ways to cut to the chase without brusqueness, discourtesy, or antagonizing a real prospect. For example, one simple thing I try to do early on in discussions with new potential clients is ascertain if my firm’s costs are manageable. Corporate Rain is a high-end service. With greatest courtesy I always want to make sure a potential client can simply afford my firm before getting in too deeply. This respects his time as well as mine.

But when your proposition is rejected it is important to keep focused on your core values. When I am rejected I strive to become even more courteous than when a sale seemed possible. I try to keep my mind focused on service, even when there is no business to be had. This brands a seamless tone of helpfulness, good humor and collegiality that carries over to the next sales event, hopefully a more successful event.

But getting to no is a real sales value in itself. Mr. Tjan quotes a friend of his as saying, “…a fast no is better than a long maybe.” Indeed.

So God bless no. Rejection can be a good and necessary part of sales. It is not a negative. It is a helpful efficiency. Handling rejection positively is a part of any healthy ongoing sales effort.

The Greek philosopher Diogenes (412-323 B.C.) was once noticed begging from a statue. When asked the reason for this pointless action, he replied, “I am exercising the art of being rejected.” As should all good salesmen.

Thank you, Diogenes.

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Chicken Little famously said, “The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!” Well, for small business it may be true.

Small business is much more troubled than is being acknowledged. Small business is also not being sufficiently covered in the national press. It is the canary in the coal mine, despite 3 1/2 quarters of continuing real growth in G.D.P.

I can tell you categorically, brothers and sisters, that small business is not recovering like the macro-economy supposedly is. While my own firm is chugging along OK, the bulk of the clientele my small company serves is other small companies, and the fear and uncertainty I encounter every day in my clients and colleague entrepreneurs is palpable. No one wants to take risk. No one wants to substantially invest in the future.

You may say I am one small business guy at a little pip-squeak company spreading counter intuitive anecdote and calumny. One of my friends calls me the “the Nouriel Roubini of small business” because of my bleak outlook. I prefer to think of myself as a cold-eyed realist. I do not enjoy writing jeremiads or screeds. Nevertheless, I fear small business is entering a permarecession. Here is why.

1.  No one wants to lend money to risk-taking entrepreneurs.  Despite the so-called rebound of the economy, entrepreneurial accommodation from banks and venture capital ain’t happenin.’

2.  Health care mandates will keep small business small and profit diminished. I don’t know a single entrepreneur–not one–who evinces a full-voice enthusiasm to expand his workforce in this environment.

3.  Federal taxes is acomin’ in. This is on two levels. The new statist fiats by Washington on health care will have to be paid for. But other increases in taxation will fall hard on small businesses and, also, individually on small businessmen. Why invest in your company? Investment is disincentivised. So entrepreneurial passion and creativity becomes muted.

4.  State taxes will also increase. A lot. This includes property, sales and income taxes, plus continuing fee augments. This is particularly true for the Greece of America called California. And, unfortunately, it will soon be true of my beloved New York (Greece, Jr.). Business, of course, will migrate to seven or eight tax friendly states that I don’t live in. (See April 13, 2010 blog, “Texas and Entrepreneurship“)

5.  Bureaucracy will increase exponentially. I can assure you small business is already groaning under the demands of governmental paperwork. I see no option but for this to augment vastly.

6.  Unemployment, now between 9.7-10%, must eventually be felt by business as loss in demand.

7.  The present “recovery” is a government financed phenomenon. Keynesian to the max. When it stops, as it inevitably must, either a double-dip recession will ensue or a Jimmy Carter, Japan-style stagflation will appear. Small business (or big business for that matter) will not be robust enough to buttress employment when government ceases goosing the public sector and union jobs. Apres moi, le deluge, mes amis. The piper will be paid.

8.  The Fed has shot its wad. It cannot save us again.

9.  Because both Republicans and Democrats lack the political will to honestly exercise fiscal sanity, a huge new tax called inflation will sooner or later monetize the debt. I guarantee it. We will not become the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe, but it will not be good.

Oh, dear. I seem to have gone on a bit. Mercifully, I will stop. There must be an end to such mordancy. I don’t like being a small business Paul Revere of the dour. But this is my view from the street.

Our country will not recover if small business does not do better. On a positive note, I’m glad to see there was some press attention yesterday to the small business conundrum. Meredith Whitney wrote on page 21A of the Wall Street Journal (May 17, 2010) a piece titled “The Small Business Credit Crunch.”  She states, “Unless real focus is afforded to reengaging small business in this country, we will have a tragic and dangerous unemployment level for an extended period of time.” The same WSJ edition has an article on page R4 titled “Tightening the Credit Screws“, about the difficulty of small business finance. And Robert Schiller, economics professor at Yale, discussed a long-term double-dip recession scenario in the Sunday New York Times (May 16, 2010).  He states, “I use a definition of a double-dip recession that doesn’t emphasize the short term.  Instead I see it as beginning with a recession in which unemployment rises to a high level then falls at a disappointingly slow rate.”  In describing certain parallels of the present to The Great Depression, Schiller describes a “…feeling of uncertainty that discouraged entrepreneurship, lending and spending, and, most important, hiring.

Hmm.  Sounds familiar.

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Words are wonderful.

They are much more useful in business than they get credit for–particularly in executive sales. But words are not much emphasized or particularly valued in current articles and discussions I see about sales. These sales articles are crammed full of an overwhelming amount of information about psychology, motivation, technology, social media, ROI, SEO, etc., yet seemingly never mention that simple cornerstone of human communication–words. Vocabulary. It’s as if words are unimportant or irrelevant to a modern salesman. Words are for poets and philosophers, academics and lawyers, journalists and judges. Words are old-fashioned. Words are of the past, supplanted by a world of Twitter abbreviation (OMG, NRN, LOL, TMI, L8R, etc).

This is utterly wrong. And it is particularly not true about high-end, quality business development, which is the specialty of my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International. Word usage and proficiency is important in branding a tonality of equal business stature when selling to real strategic corporate decision makers. CEO’s are especially well-educated, thoughtful people trained in the best schools in the world. Or, if they don’t have that specific educational pedigree, are fierce autodidacts. Either way, they are usually people of probing intellect and subtle ability to express and communicate nuance.

Corporate decision makers like to do business with their peers. They want to deal with people of equal business stature. A comfort level with precise and sophisticated word usage is one way of immediately establishing that tonality.

This does not mean to pepper your sales conversations with artificially grandiose phrases, fustian excess or arbitrary verbal whimsy. Precise vocabulary can be used simply. But words bring shadings of specificity and descriptive depth, even a sensual enlivening, to the most prosaic of sales conversations.

Last week one of my employees asked me to please write a posting not requiring use of a dictionary. Nah. It would remove too much color and delight.

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Give up. That’s right, give up. Every day. It’s not a bad thing to do before you begin your sales day. Have no hopes and no concupiscent desired expectations. Just begin to work. Here’s why. It makes you a free man. It keeps you in the present. It gives you license to be real. It allows the unexpected to occur. It makes the world funny and a delight. It imbues you with spontaneity and focus.

In Forbes Magazine, sports shrink Bob Rotella advises athletes to be like Manny Ramirez when he was with the Boston Red Sox, who famously said before the World Series that he didn’t care if he won or lost, that it wasn’t the end of the world. Ramirez took a lot of heat for his statement, but Rotella says Ramirez’ statement is insightful in that it showed his understanding of the need for relaxation and for being present in the moment for maximal focus and athletic achievement.

Sales is one of the least predictable and controllable of business functions. Success in sales is a result of many intangibles. It is not like analyzing a spread sheet. Successful sales come from instinctive, almost primitive, attributes among its quality practitioners. Perhaps a combination of charm, real caring for and sensitivity to other people, and a fierce, even vulpine, push for a final closing. These paradoxical qualities must exist simultaneously in a master salesman.

I know there is an army of sales experts out there who disagree with me. Their sales systems are legion and variegated. They all probably can work. But, unlike many other vocations, sales does not lend itself to iron control. If you’re a control freak, sales ain’t for you.

It can be overwhelming to sit down to a new sales or business development project. To create something out of nothing. To aggressively start to fill in a tabula rasa. It is an act of faith. Yet if you begin, the work takes its own form.

Spontaneity, though, can make sales such fun–a joy, a revelation. Even in rejection. And rejection will be the major result of most of any salesman’s efforts. (At least it is of mine.)

Per this, I remember the year I started my executive sales outsourcing company, Corporate Rain International, over sixteen years ago. A client in Atlanta was particularly keen to meet with the CMO of a company then called HBOC (now part of McKesson). I was determined to make this happen. Over six months I must have called and emailed this woman well over fifty times. No response. Finally, one morning I sat down at my desk, picked up the phone, called a final time and  told this CMO, “If you don’t call me back today, I’m going to kill myself.” She did! With great laughter. We then had a lovely chat and she then rejected my pitch for a meeting. Oh well. Yet it was a fun interaction and not an ineffective sales process, despite my failure.

Good things do happen if you create space for spontaneity, for freedom, for truth, for humor, for joy. Spontaneity allows for the non-rational to happen. Spontaneity is its own reward. It allows for miracles.

Many years ago I remember a song called “Greyhound” written by folk singer Harry Chapin. It’s a melancholy recounting of Mr. Chapin’s accidentally bumping into an old girlfriend while driving his cab and a wistful conjecture on the choices we make in life. But I remember the last line of the song well. That line is, “It’s got to be the goin’, not the gettin’ there that’s good.

Well said, Harry. Thank you.

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