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Archive for the “Sales Calls” Category

I was reading a Maureen Dowd op-ed in the NY Times on October 5th. It was enjoyably full of her scathing, bitchy observations, on this occasion commenting on a recent “Get Motivated!” seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington. As usual, Dowd was funny and more than a little mean. And right on.

My general feeling about these massive feel-good inspirational gatherings is that they’re a bunch of hooey. Not wrong in their stated insights, just shallow and quite temporary in their efficacy. Kind of like a business pep rally. Certainly not my cup of tea.

However, amidst Ms. Dowd’s cynical reportage on talks by Terry Bradshaw, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes, Dan Rather and Rick Belluzo, I was caught by some business advice shared by General Colin Powell. His advice? Simply to be nice and particularly to be nice to the little people like the folks who clean your office and park your car. He also avers the value of small details. For instance, Powell reports writing thank you notes on personalized 4-by-6 inch cards. “I write with a fountain pen. Never a Sharpie. Never a ball point pen. A fountain pen.” Dowd reports.

It seems to me Colin Powell is quite on to a real truth here. It’s the little things that set the tone for sales–little considerations, little details. Focusing on the small decencies creates an ambiance of service and real carefulness in business dealings. It becomes reflected in the larger actions of a company.

To expand on General Powell’s concern for the small things, I always recommend to my sales outsourcing clients at Corporate Rain that any missive or serious communication they send out go on high-quality stationary and be sent by snail mail, ideally with a commemorative stamp. This is sometimes cause for eye-rolling impatience by some of my cutting-edge clients enamored of the wonders of tweeting, friending and linking-in. But there is a method to my antediluvian madness. Yes, it takes extra time and money to communicate in such qualitative ways, but the very effort communicates care and valuation on a subconscious level. There is a sensual subconscious statement that is communicated by the very feel of high-quality stationary. It creates an aura of seriousness, reflecting both respect for your client and the general business process. It unspokenly says exactly the manner you would represent a client and effectively serve.

Additionally, the very fact that the personal letter is increasingly not used gives special notice to those who use it qualitatively. It is not a dinosaur inefficiency. It is a notable differentiator that, in the long-term, makes a branding statement, as well as creating a subrosa gravitas.

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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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One of the joys of fatherhood is discovering the insights and blunt wisdom of children’s books. My eight year old daughter, Truitte Rose, had a favorite book last year titled “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. I couldn’t read it to her enough. It chronicles a day in a boy’s life where nothing goes right.

I too had a bad day last week at my company, Corporate Rain. I hit my chair dealing with client crises, fighting a cold, losing a valued associate, dealing with a minor credit card fraud, and reading a dense legal contract. On the side of my desk there was a Mt. Everest of overdue sales calls I needed to get to. And this was before 12:00. I was frustrated. I was angry. I was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

As an entrepreneur I’ve learned that a day like this can be dangerous—not because of the circumstantially difficult day, but because of my internal reaction to it.

On such a day I invariably feel I have to push hard—to move, move, move—to rush, rush, rush—to compensate. And when I give in to this feeling, I make poor judgments. I make mistakes. I insult people and lose my temper. My whole mien becomes frenetic, forced, faked and joyless.

The ScreamAs an owner, it’s hard to slow down while Rome is burning around you. You’re responsible. (Only you can prevent this forest fire!) I’ve had to learn the efficiency of hitting the pause button, of not trying to be more than I am, and, especially, not making crucial decisions on such days. For me, when I have a very bad day, everything sort of emanates from a dark, bleak, shrunken part where I exist only as a miasma of cosmic insufficiency; that essential place where dwells the cowed and frightened child, as well as the cornered beast. So my “professional” response is to assume the trappings of a sanguine and competent businessman and push through. But, in fact, the real good me is not present. The fact is that on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day I am in reality one dark, primordial, primal scream inside: a rootless Edvard Munch template, an enraged troll.

Over the years I’ve lost money, sales, friends, and reputation on days like this. While grinding my teeth and determinedly…getting…it …all…done, I have frequently caused myself harm under the guise of mechanically doing my duty to God, country and the capitalist way. Only slowly have I learned to overcome this hubristic folly.

Many years ago, when I was a callow, arrogant, idealistic, difficult young actor (often the bane of my fellow thespians and directors), one of my first professional roles was in a play in Los Angeles called “Darkness At Noon“, based on a novel by Arthur Koestler. I played a tortured political prisoner. It was an especially intense role and my rehearsal process was unhealthily over committed to the point of almost masochism. There was an old Portuguese actor in the company named Lorenzo. He’d had a long and picaresque life and he was kind, wise and a generous acting colleague. One day in rehearsal he took me aside, sat me down, put his hands on my very tense shoulders and said simply, “You can’t push the river, Timothy. Flow with it.” That’s all he said.

I think it’s hard for any entrepreneur to follow that advice. We live to push the river. But the fact is, you can’t.

So what’s the answer to the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?  Well, I guess my answer is just to stop on those days. Go to the movies. Or, as Scarlett O’Hara says at the end of a very bad day in Gone With The Wind, “Home. I’ll go home…After all, tomorrow is another day.

My special thanks to this week’s blog muse, my sweet daughter Truitte Rose.  Thanks, Truitte.

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