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Archive for the “Service” Category

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.

Selfish.

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Rosalind Russell once said, “Flops are part of life’s menu and I’ve never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses.”

I posted about failure and the entrepreneur last week. This week let’s consider failure and sales.  And I mean this in the most positive way. Really.

One of the accidentally formative experiences in my life was spending ten years as an actor. One of the key things an actor must learn early is dealing with rejection. An actor must accept rejection (failure) on a daily basis. He deals with constant and very personal rejection. It’s a splendid preparation for sales. Put simply, to survive my actor’s life I had to find satisfaction not in the occasional success–actually getting a role–but in the process of auditioning itself. Likewise in sales, happiness must be found in the process, as well as the results.

Rejection is a big part of the salesman’s life. My solution, and my company Corporate Rain’s solution, to dealing with this conundrum is simply to look on all interactions with potential clients as service. Every moment should be a variation on “How can I help?” This creates a tonality and a truth of caring and mutuality. It is the correct selling ambiance. And it is simply karmically efficient. Certainly long-term, reputation-based sales success is generated from many small, trust-building actions, including getting even more courteous when rejection comes, as it does much of the time in the sales process.

Earlier in my life I chanted as a Buddhist for a year. One of my favorite Buddhist prayers thanks God for challenges and failures, not successes. Thereby you learn and grow. The lotus flower is born out of the muck.

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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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There was a thoughtful essay by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal last weekend (November 14/15).  She feels that much current political rhetoric from the Obama White House is both condescending and convoluted.  She speaks to the point that the public wants direct talk.  She says, “Politicians in general no longer assume that we all operate on the same intellectual level, with roughly the same amount of common sense”. She quotes the actor Jack Webb on the old TV show Dragnet, playing Detective Joe Friday, “All we want are the facts, ma’am”. Ms. Noonan recognizes there is a strong universal longing in the current political body politic for simple talk and clear explanation.

But, for me, there is a larger lesson in Ms. Noonan’s useful essay.  And it is one that is applicable to both sales and entrepreneurship.

I am asked almost daily to strategize sales campaigns for my clients at Corporate Rain International. (My company specializes in initiating the sales process with high-level executives).  Often the biggest part of my consultative job is convincing clients to simplify their message.  More than half of the initial sales job is articulating a clear value that can solve a problem (i.e. increase profit, reduce cost, gain market share, etc.) for a potential buyer.  The complex brilliance of my clients is often of little interest to their audience.  Winnowing down a simple core value can often seem a process of almost insulting oversimplification to a client who has poured their heart and soul and essence into a product or service.  Yet it is only the final result that is the compelling factor in initiating a dialogue leading to a sale.

A buyer is interested in an end result, an outcome.  (“All we want are the facts, ma’am”).  If the result is compelling and clear, the client will then be enthused to explore the rococo details of how the sausage is made.  Otherwise — not.

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