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Holiday Gifts or Not?


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Many companies and sales professionals like to provide gifts or other considerations to their clients at this time of year. However, this display of generosity might backfire. Here's why:

In the United States, more and more companies are implementing strict rules about the types of gifts employees can accept from those soliciting their business. While a $10 Starbucks card seems unlikely to bribe anyone, it might violate a company's policy and put your contact in an uncomfortable position.

Before sending out anything of monetary value, check with your contact to see if a small gesture of goodwill will violate any of their company policies.

How You Present Has Mattered For Thousands Of Years


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In the fourth century BC, there was a very smart man with a very bad stutter. Because he couldn't communicate very well, people felt he was mentally incapable of contributing to Athens' bustling democracy. Because of this, he worked tirelessly to learn how to speak capably. And thanks to his tireless work, his name soon became synonymous with eloquence and clear thinking.

Demosthenes worked for years to overcome his challenges and ultimately succeeded. Interestingly, his thoughts and the quality of his ideas didn't change over those years, just his ability to present them in ways the people of Athens could understand. He soon became known as one of the leading philosophers of his time, which can be attributed solely to his ability to communicate the thoughts in his head. Isn't it amazing how not much has changed since then?

Negotiation Strategies for Thanksgiving Dinner


This week you will probably join millions of other Americans hoping to enjoy a dinner with family members, many of whom you haven't seen since last Thanksgiving. Perhaps you have an uncle of harebrained and aggressive politics, or a sister-in-law who despises you for your success, or maybe a parent who still wants to run your life. These are people you have avoided for the past year because you have nothing in common with them, you can't have a conversation with them that doesn’t turn into an argument, or you really just don't like being with them. 

You have probably seen articles on the web purporting to explain how to negotiate this situation. In our Socratic Selling Skills® program, we teach sales professionals to use a particular format for negotiations. It’s based on the idea that you never make concessions. You make trades, and trades follow a special process. Here’s what to do when the other party makes a request:

1)     Play back the request to clarify it and to show you understand it.

Let me be sure Im clear on what youre asking for. Youre saying you need it in 60 days instead of the normal 90-day delivery time, because by the time you get your people trained, it would be 120 days until you could use it. Do I have that correct?

2)     Explain why the request exceeds your limits.

I want to explain to you why thats more than we can do. Our plant is running at full capacity on a 90-day production cycle. As you know, this product is customized to your needs. We need 90 days to manufacture it. 

3)     Invite the other party to respond to a counteroffer.

Would you like to discuss an idea that might solve this problem?

4)     Present the counteroffer, together with the benefits it entails.

If you would agree to a 90-day delivery, then I would arrange for your people to train at our plant for 30 days before delivery, so you could be up to speed when the equipment arrives and be using it productively in 90 days instead of 120.

The reason this format is so effective is that it makes your counteroffer a subject of discussion. The other party may agree, may criticize it, or may present a counter-counteroffer. No matter what the outcome, however, you’re still talking, you haven’t conceded anything you couldn’t afford to concede, and the conversation is still alive.

Is this going to help you at Thanksgiving dinner? Frankly, I doubt it. To make trades, you need to have something of value to trade. Unless you’re going to bargain with the dish of mashed potatoes or the cranberry sauce, there may not be much you can offer. The reason you have nothing to trade is that in the culture wars, there is only one thing that either party wants: “victory,” which can never be a negotiation goal. 

My advice is to look to your original goal, which was no doubt to ensure everybody has a good time. That goal precludes anyone’s victory. How do you achieve it? Deploy another of the Socratic Selling Skills: listen. Whenever you feel like responding, listen some more. When you feel like your blood is going to boil, listen some more. It may be fatiguing, but it is the only way to achieve your goal. It’s also possible you may learn something. My authority on this is the inestimable Jimi Hendrix, who is reputed to have once said, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”

A Quote to Ponder


The late author Napoleon Hill said, "The best way to sell yourself to others is first to sell others to yourself."

The negative image of the salesperson as someone with no respect for  their prospect helps no one. Try to understand where your customer is coming from and that empathy will help forge a relationship where you don't have to work so hard to sell yourself and your product.

A Balanced Stance


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When standing in front of a group, how you stand sends a powerful message. Try standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart and pointed toward the projector or the center of the room, and your hands placed at your sides to start. This stance will allow you to turn your body from side to side without having to shift your weight or your feet. It will also help you control nervous motion. What's more, if you put your feet too close together you might appear either too stiff to your audience. On the other hand, if your feet are too far apart, you might appear aggressive.

Six Tips for Writing in the Age of the Text Message


Business WritingI think most people are at heart charitable, generous, and kind. But every human being has moments devoid of charity, generosity, and kindness. The trick to surviving and thriving in the age of the text message is to avoid touching the "send" button when you're having one of those moments. We live in an angry, unforgiving age, when a thoughtless text message or tweet can easily destroy your career or a lifetime's worth of networking. If it's in the commercial realm, it can cost your company sales, jobs, and market position. Here are my tips for writing clearly in a dangerous age.

Treat it as a draft. My most important writing tip for you is to treat your writing – whether it’s an email message, a text message, a status update, or a tweet – as a draft. Always review and edit before sending. Ernest Hemingway, who never shied away from earthy language, is reputed to have said, “The first draft of anything is s**t.” If you keep that in mind, it may help you to keep from sending messages and tweets that could make your life miserable.

All the rest of my writing tips are actually editing tips – things to do or consider when you’re reviewing your draft.

Read it out loud. There’s no better way to proofread. Reading the message aloud will help you find repeated words, missing words, or inappropriate tone. If you’re in a situation, such as business meeting, in which you can’t read your message out loud, give a second thought as to whether you should be texting or tweeting right now. If you’re texting while doing something else, you’re not giving your full attention to one or the other, and that’s not only rude, it’s dangerous.

Strive for Clarity. Plain, everyday language may seem boring, but its transparency highlights your ideas in a way elaborate writing – even very good elaborate writing – cannot. It’s not easy to write plainly when there’s so much jargon to choose from, but on a second draft, you will see many opportunities for honing.

Be brief. This hardly needs to be said for a medium with a 140-character limit, but what seems necessary in the first draft is often warmup material or pump-priming. If it’s not carrying its full weight in the message, cut it out – even if it’s a brilliant turn of phrase. (If it’s a brilliant turn of phrase, save it. You may find another message in which it belongs.)

Imagine yourself as the reader. You’re expressing yourself when you write a message, but you’ll get your point across more effectively if you try to take yourself out of the equation and think only about the interaction of the reader and the message. Does the message contain the word “you”? If not, see how you might work it in. That exercise alone dramatically improves the focus of what you’re saying. 

Save the best for last. Winston Churchill, who knew a thing or two about word order, characterized the Battle of Britain by saying, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Yes, we are supposed to use the active voice whenever possible, but just look at the progression. Churchill would have been brilliant with text messages. He knew how to pack his whole point into the final word, which increases impact dramatically. Don’t be such a slave to the active voice rule that you reduce the impact of what you’re saying.

For a more in-depth look at writing in the age of the text message, consider attending our webinar on November 19. “You said WHAT?! Hidden professional dangers of emails, tweets, and status updates” will show you how business writing has changed in this age of instant communication – and how to protect yourself and your company. It’s free, and you can learn more about it here.

Getting and Giving


Before you enter a negotiation with a customer, keep the following in mind: What do I absolutely have to get, and what can I give in return?

Creating a list of the key negotiating points and making a mental note of them will make it easier for you to remember once you enter the sometimes chaotic sales process. What's more, it will help you remain focused on the things you absolutely must accomplish.

You're Talking, But Are You Saying Anything?


"Blessed is the man who having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact."- George Eliot (whose real name was Mary Ann Evans Cross)

Before you talk a lot and say nothing, ask yourself, "Can I sum up my point in one or two sentences?" If not, maybe you shouldn't speak yet.

Sales Training: the Perils of Product Knowledge


TrainingIn the 1970's, sales professionals could see that selling complex products required ever greater technical knowledge, and some thought this would fundamentally change the sales process. A classic book from that period, for example, (The Skills of Selling by Roger W. Seng, [Amacom], 1977) devoted its second chapter to the need for technical mastery with the title, "Product Knowledge-The Prime Source of Selling Skill." Even now, if you do a web search for "product knowledge sales," you will get quite a few hits for pages that share this philosophy.

At Communispond, however, our sales training programs assume the learners already have product knowledge. It’s one of those goes-without-saying things. A sales professional needs to know every aspect of the product’s complexity; they need to understand its capabilities thoroughly. But that knowledge is a prerequisite for sales training, not its purpose.

If sales training emphasizes the product's functions and capabilities over the sales process, then the people it trains are likely to treat a sales call as a product knowledge dump. Dispensing product knowledge is not a sales strategy. Far from helping the sales process, dispensing product knowledge often hinders it. This is because a sales professional who is talking is not listening. A sales professional who’s not listening is not gathering information, which means the process is coming no closer to linking the product or service to the customer’s need.

In our sales training, we suggest that a sales professional spend at least half of his or her time in a sales call listening. The time for talking is in presenting the proposal, which does not happen until the sales professional has gathered enough information. Until then, talk should consist exclusively of questions designed to encourage the customer to talk. The exception is when the customer asks a question. When the customer asks a question, the sales professional should answer it as briefly as possible, then follow up with another question: “I'm curious. Why do you ask?” That follow-up question will elicit valuable, and often unexpected, information about the customer’s situation.

In this day and age, sales training programs – and everybody who sells – emphasize “solution selling,” but in product knowledge-focused sales, that’s just an empty buzz-phrase. When a sales person, for example, contacts a customer to “talk about the solutions we have to offer,” chances are good “solutions” is being used as a synonym for “products.”

In Communispond sales training, we work from the premise that to sell a solution, you must understand the problem. Don’t assume that because a customer is shopping for a light bulb, her problem is darkness. It might be a simplistic example, but to sell light bulbs successfully, you need to understand why the customer wants illumination. If the customer intends to read a book in the evening, perhaps a sixty-watt bulb is called for. But if the customer intends to decorate a Christmas tree, protect the grounds of her home, or offer someone a romantic dinner, she has a very different need. She might need an arc lamp or she might need a candle. She relies on your ability to understand her need and help her find the product that will best meet the need, which is not necessarily the next product on your list.

Keep Your Heads Up!


Two salesmen who haven't seen each other in weeks meet in a coffee shop for lunch.

"How's your day?" asks the first salesman.

"Great! I'm following up on several good leads; I have a great prospect I'm working with; and I'm waiting on a PO from another client."

"Yeah," says the other salesman, "I haven't sold anything today either."

No wisdom to share this week, just acknowledgement. Sales is a tough business, so hang in there.

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