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Archive for January, 2011

I was stuck in the dentist’s chair for an hour and a half last Tuesday. This was perfect for a bleak winter’s day in New York. I came in depressed and anxious about my business and some personal issues. After hearing the dentist’s usual homily on my dental sins (poor brushing, insufficient flossing, erratic check-ups), I grimly settled in to endure my dental cleaning penance.

I like my dentist Marvin. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of American popular music which he plays while drilling away. I learn a lot from him. Also, I tremendously enjoy his excellent laughing gas. (Last week’s aroma was piña colada. Yahoo.)

For my appointment, Dr. Marv’s musical play list was from radio broadcasts of the 1930’s. Enlivening and enjoyable, as always. In my existentially saturnine mood I found myself listening to a song I’d never heard, called, “If You Want To Have The Rainbow, Then You Have To Have The Rain.” It was a lovely, light depression-era ditty about looking on the bright side of life. Nothing especially deep. Yet it got me thinking positively again and jolted me out of my stultifying, self-pitying funk. It restored me to gratitude and clarity.

I treasure those blessed moments of unexpected captive stillness that can sometimes quiet the frenetic, unreasoning pace of daily business life. They can be both a palliative and a meditative grace. Even five minutes stuck waiting on a line or 30 minutes on the train can imbue a renewed centeredness and insight. These moments are a gift and make me a clearer, freer, happier man–and, I am sure, a more sure-handed and prosperous entrepreneur. I am so grateful when these captive moments find me, pull me up short, and bring respite and perspective to the headlong rush that is the essence of most of my entrepreneurial days.

German poet Gottfried Benn (Statische Gedichte) says,

“To represent some part,
Traveling to, and from,
Is the distinguishing stamp of a world
Which does not see well.”

Thank you, Gottfried.

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Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark is extraordinary. It seems like a brilliant idea. It is original. It is complex. It is cool. It’s cutting-edge. It is a $65,000,000 (and climbing) disaster.

This supposedly paradigm-changing musical, with opening now postponed for the fourth time to March, is based on the comic book and movie character and is conceived and composed by Bono and the Edge from U2 and directed by the gifted Julie Taymor. It was anticipated by many as the hit of the Broadway season.

What it actually is is a tuneless, undramatic high-flying ice show. It has no opening number, a laughable song about shoe-shopping, the leads can’t act, and it needs a totally new book.

It has been plagued by numerous serious injuries and an undependable set. To cite just one example, Spiderman double, Christopher Tierney, recently fell 30 feet, suffering skull fractures, broken ribs, broken wrists and internal bleeding. One night Spiderman was left floating and spinning for 20 minutes over the audience. The show is frequently stopped to fix malfunctioning sets and technology.

The musical is a sell-out for the present, but not because folks are going to see a Broadway show. They are going because they hope to see violence, mayhem and disaster. Like going to a hockey game to see the fights or going to the Roman Coliseum to see the Christians devoured by the lions. The drama, actually, consists of a ghoulish schadenfreude external to the essence of the play.

But schadenfreude has a limited half-life, ROI-wise. This project needs to be abandoned. It will not fly, no pun intended.

In terms of sales it is also important to know when to abandon the chase. No matter how right something looks in theory, one key to successful sales is knowing when to cut your losses and move on. As chief salesman for my company Corporate Rain, I certainly have had to learn to cut bait on even the most promising, exciting projects when they hopelessly begin to devour too much money, time, and creative energy. It is often a fine line between a focused determination to make an idea or project work and an inefficient investment of the time and effort poured into an abyss. A lot of a well-honed, healthy sales instinct is knowing when to persist and when to let go.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Thank you, Ralph Waldo.

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There was an extraordinary article in the NY Times in early December (December 6, 2010-David Segal). The article reports the arrest of Vitaly Borker, who perpetrated sales fraud through his Brooklyn-based web site He did this by manipulating Google technology and subsequently intimidating and threatening his customers.

Mr. Borker’s fraud involved sales of fake designer eyeglasses with the express intent of generating negative Internet publicity. Mr. Borker purposely set about enhancing his Google profile by escalating the many complaints he received through threats and through cyberbullying of his Internet clients. This in turn generated more Internet complaints and bad publicity. Thus, counterintuitively, he boosted his sales of DecorMyEyes because Google’s algorithm was unable to distinguish between praise and complaints. The large number of negative postings translated into buzz which pushed DecorMyEyes high in search results and boosted sales. Amazing. Immoral and reprehensible, but quite brilliant actually.

Being a certified Luddite and technology dinosaur, I am of course drawn to the negative implications of accidental technological consequences. (Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the efficiencies and wonderment of cutting-edge technology. My virtual executive sales firm, Corporate Rain International, could not exist without high-level technology much beyond my ken.) However, there is a danger in placing too much faith in the new magicalism of technology.

Sales remains basically a human function. People hire who they personally like and trust. There can be a dangerous seduction for the salesman in becoming too wedded to his PowerPoint, his GoToMeeting, and his Salesforce. These technologies and many of their cousins and brothers, can add a template coldness, a common-denominator oversimplification to the sales process. Brilliant technology can also breed an emotional distance and creative rigidity in the salesman. Much of a salesman’s work, by necessity, involves rejection.  This rejection can feel very personally painful. It takes energy and courage to forthrightly deal with keeping yourself open to the sometimes harrowing, but healthy and honest, personal sales process.

There are at least two treacherous seductions of technology that come quickly to my mind. One is simply just getting too enamored of the groovy. It feels cool to be using the latest app, whether it provides a real sales efficiency or not. But the other real danger is that technology can breed both spiritual and work-a-day laziness. For example, last week I took a sales meeting about a new sales technology. The salesman wanted to share the technical brilliance of his product with an extended PowerPoint. But, when I asked him to simply first tell me in practical terms the outcome per my specific issues, he got a bit defensive and uncomfortable, like the proverbial deer in the headlights. He knew how his product worked but couldn’t or wouldn’t help me cross the customized bridge I needed to judge his product’s practical efficacy for me.

Likewise, I consider Mr. Borker’s scheme, as reported in the NY Times, to be a crime ultimately grounded in laziness, albeit with a very clever understanding of manipulating the Internet. Successful sales remains essentially a human interaction that can be and is enhanced by technology, but technology is a tool and will always remain a tool for the real work of good salesmanship, not its essence.

Charles M. Allen said, “If the human race wants to go to hell in a hand basket, technology can help it get there by jet. It won’t change the desire or the direction, but it can greatly speed the passage.”

Or, as my friend Tom Chenault, CEO of Chenault Systems in Dallas, Texas says,  “Sometimes good technology just makes the same old mess go around faster and faster.”

Thanks, Charles. Thanks, Tom.

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