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Archive for March, 2011

When you’re in a rush slow down.

I’m a fairly hyper guy. That’s not an uncommon state for any entrepreneurial salesman. The day I am not up to my ass in alligators is the exception. However, though it may be counter intuitive to the credo of most entrepreneurs. I’ve personally found a multitasking frenzy ain’t the answer to this conundrum.

Perhaps I’m just slow and a dullard, but what occurs when I rush to get everything done in the seemingly inadequate time frames I’m presented with, is that I pay a price. And this  is particularly true in the micro niche of my specialty, executive selling, where I find refinement, service and attention to detail especially important.

The personal price I pay for speed is sometimes accuracy, sometimes quality, sometimes verboseness, sometimes oversimplification–but there is always a diminution in quality, exactitude and in depth of communication. That loss of precision is particularly a negative in presenting a compelling sales tonality to a corporate leader. Casual mistakes can sink you with these folks.

Finding time not to speed through things is a question of prioritization and time allocation. Any important project, RFP, or business communication needs to marinate. I personally have to allow the space for this.

One of my concerns about our burgeoning social media is simply the time it sucks up. How many online miracles and digital wonderments can I absorb? I personally find an overabundance of data makes important things fuzzy and harder to find. It actually impedes good decision-making  and my business intuition. For me information overload withers efficiency. So personally, if I have to eliminate my attentiveness to Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, that is a prioritization that creates time for me to find empathy, understanding, and subtlety in all my sales outreach. I simply decide not to speed through to cover everything our new media seems to demand I be up on. For me speed is the enemy of doing the core executive sales chores well.

(I’d love to get feedback on this one.)

The wisdom of the ages has cautions for the time-pressured entrepreneur. In the sixth century B.C. Confucius said, “Desire to have things done quickly prevents their being done thoroughly.” Or take Chaucer, who says in The Merchant’s Tale, “Ther n’is no werkman whatever he be/That may beth werken wel and hastily.”  Or Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.”

Thank you Confucius, Chaucer, and Shakespeare.

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MBA programs are changing. Programs are continually updating themselves and working to make themselves more viable and popular in a society tangled up in student loan debt. Accredited MBA courses have gone completely digital as distance learning becomes more of a popular option for those who decide to continue their education while still working. Corporate Social Responsibility has infiltrated an industry once driven completely by metrics and increasing profits. However, many business students, especially MBAs, lag behind in one area: writing. In many business programs, it is possible to take entire classes without submitting one piece of writing. Though the bulk of communication in business happens numerically, being able to effectively communicate in other ways is the difference between success and failure, especially for entrepreneurs. As technology progresses, investors and associates will require more frequent updates in language they can understand and without help, many will find they are not up to par.

There’s an art to business writing, an art that begins with good writing.

I was caught by an article on March 3, 2011 in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Students Struggle For Words” (Diana Middleton, page B8). It documents the growing complaints by employers of the inadequate writing skills on the part of newly minted MBAs. Anecdotal evidence includes complaints about business school graduates rambling, using pretentiously technical language, or careless and overly-casual emails.

There is some hard evidence to back up these complaints. Ms. Middleton cites evidence from the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the Graduate Management Admissions Test. GMAT essay scores have fallen from 4.7 out of 6 to 4.4 in the last four years. Or take Sharon Washington, executive director of the National Writing Project in Berkeley, says our high schools and undergraduate programs have de-emphasized writing and constant digital communication has eroded writing skills (LOL, WTF, OMG, BRB, etc.)

Arthur Levitt, former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bloomberg contributor, has been on a jihad to bring plain English back to business.  He says much business writing is incomprehensible. “It lacks color and nuance, and it’s not terribly interesting to read.

There is one quality I find essential in written communication with real decision makers at corporations. That quality is simplicity.

Executive face time has immense value. My firm, Corporate Rain International, only does one thing which is to create serious introductions for our clients with strategic corporate leaders. I strongly believe that, short of a personal introduction, the best way to initially reach out to corporate decision makers is a snail mail letter of utter simplicity. Ideally this letter on your best stationary should be able to be scanned in four seconds by a busy executive and be focused on ROI. Prolixity is to be avoided at all cost.

A written letter shows respect, personal seriousness, and class. While simplicity is the byword of the introductory letter, that does not mean you should limit the use of exact vocabulary. Don’t dumb it down. High level executives are usually educated, sophisticated people who respect the subtle and gradated use of language. However, the primary point of business writing is to simply get to the point with grace and exactitude. (For more on this scroll back to Dec. 7, 2010 Letters and Executive Sales.)

And perhaps most important of all is to actually have something of worth and originality to communicate in the first place. As Sholem Asch writes, “Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.” (New York Herald Tribune, 11/6/55)

Thanks, Sholem.

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God, that word sounds pathetic. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when pondering the entrepreneur. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever read an article about loneliness and the entrepreneur. Yet I know it’s a reality that exists. I know it certainly exists for me.

Most folks think of owners and CEOs as hard driving, autonomous, tough and energetic. Kind of mini-masters of the universe. And most of my business peers are that, in their very different ways. However, I believe there is a closeted yearning in most of us to connect communally, safely, discretely.

I remember sixteen years ago when I started my executive sales outsourcing firm, Corporate Rain International, a man named Fred Klein, a very successful lawyer, serial investor, and entrepreneur, invited me to join his group Gotham City Networking. I attended for about a year. Fred was quite kind in introducing me to his colleagues and friends. Though I got too busy to attend, I was deeply grateful from the time I was a member. (It also helped me feel less like a fraud as a parvenu businessman.) Fred was a generous nurturer and his group reflected this.

I started thinking about this again last fall when I reluctantly joined Lewis Schiff’s Inc. Small Business Council. While Lewis’ seminars sounded very useful (and were) I was quite reluctant to join. Mostly for time reasons. But I did. The reward I gleaned from this has been very different from what I expected. That reward has been a growing concatenation of real friendships and allayed loneliness. An easing of a hunger I was not even aware of.

Friendships, for entrepreneurs, are hard. We’re busy. Most of us have primary commitments to our families and homes in our little free time and we can’t even keep up current friendships. Most of our human contact is within our own firms. It is simply not practicable to have real open friendships with your employees, even your top executives. Being a boss requires a certain distance.

One of my all-time favorite TV series is The Sopranos. Tony Soprano is a kind of an entrepreneur when you think about it. I remember an early episode where Tony is worried about being yessed to death by his gang. He asks his wife Carmela what she thinks. She replies, “[Your subordinates] go around complementing you on your new shoes, telling you you’re not going bald, not getting fat. Do you think they really care? You’re the boss! They’re scared of you. They have to kiss your ass and laugh at your stupid jokes.” Unfortunately, Carmela is utterly right.

An easeful, peer community of shared assumptions and base experience is increasingly rare in our balkanized society. Yet the soulful amelioration of business aloneness is not a need that an owner should repress or shove aside lightly.

To quote Mother Theresa, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness.” Thank you, Mother Theresa.

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I was having lunch with one of my colleagues from the Inc. Small Business Council last week. He owns a very successful and growing marketing company but he expressed frustration with solving the HR conundrum. He was opening new offices and was trying to organically develop leadership and staff that would stick with him; that would want to cherish and help mold his company over a goodly period of time. He expressed concern that what he experienced from his younger employees was a ubiquitous generational sense of unearned entitlement and expectation of immediate gratification.

This problem is a growing one, if not an endemic one, for ambitious entrepreneurs. That is, the work ethic of the rising workforce.

To this point, Michael Goodwin of the NY Post recently wrote an article headlined, “‘Gimme’ Culture Imperils Nation.” (February 23, 2011)  He argues compellingly that the US has an increasingly spoiled workforce. He states:

“[Entitlement culture] is contagious and so ingrained in how we live and think that we no longer think twice before demanding total satisfaction and express outrage when we don’t get it. We are entitled to it now because we want it, whatever it is. If somebody else has it first, then we have been cheated and are doubly furious.”

John Krakauer, in his book “Into the Wild,” says, “It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it.

For my own executive outsourced sales company, Corporate Rain International, I decided many years ago to follow a non-traditional route of only using sales executives of a certain age. Without exception my sales executives are between the ages of 35 and 60. I’ve always preferred older, experienced sales executives because of their corporate experience from the client’s side and because of their  unteachable treasure of a “lived life.” All of us after a certain point in life have had some hard knocks and have experienced many things. I know this breeds empathy in a sales executive and ability to see from the client’s point of view. The other advantage of older employees is simply the stronger generational work ethic referred to by Michael Goodwin.

Mark Twain said, “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing: it was here first.” Thanks, Mark.

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The great secret of sales is that being good is the selfish thing to do.

I’m sure goodness is the last thing that pops into the popular imagination when anyone thinks of sales. Sales and goodness are immiscible, to most people’s way of thinking. Effective sales is as much a moral proposition as working for Greenpeace, the March of Dimes, or the Catholic Church. (Well, maybe more than the Catholic Church given the fallen nature of some of the priesthood.) Sales is a vocation that should be a calling every bit as “other” centered as any of the so-called helping professions like ministry, social work, psychiatry or nursing.

The cliche of the sales ethos is most memorably summed up by Michael Douglas playing the smarmy M&A corporate snake oil purveyor Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. “Greed is good.” (My personal favorite testosterone-fueled salesman is Alec Baldwin as Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross personifying a stone-cold amoral hunter–a fierce closer, a killer and a “winner” at any and all costs.) Or the TV car salesman riding on the back of a hippopotamus, screaming “Deals! Deals! Deals!” into the screen.

Vince Lombardi is famous for saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Much as I admire Vince Lombardi, I don’t agree with the tone of his statement even in football, and certainly not in life. But I can assure you as a salesman for my own executive sales company Corporate Rain International, the way of winning in entrepreneurial sales is simply the path of service, truth and genuine care for potential clients or buyers. The really good salesmen I know are people who truly care about their clients. And by this I mean a soul deep caring, as to a fellow inhabitant of God’s universe, not the ersatch empathy or facsimile fellow feeling of the manipulator.

The “winning” of the salesman, and a true “selfishness” leading to long-term sales success, lies in really being good, bone deep good. Or as close as we can expect to be as imperfect beings. Just as physicians owe their service first to their patients, so salesmen owe their truth and passionate caring to their client at a soul deep level. This is not a treacly, wussy, or pollyannaish idealism. It is a winning and selfish practicing of goodness.

In fact selfish salesmanship, in the larger picture, is serving all members of society by the way you do business. Capitalism itself, in it’s best form, is simply dealing with customers and suppliers in mutually beneficial exchanges of goods, services and money. That’s how I try to see myself as a capitalist. That’s how I see myself as a entrepreneur. That’s how I see myself as a salesman.


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