Monday, December 24, 2007

No, Seriously, We Have Moved On

We've changed our phone number, we've returned blogger's stuff, we've lost weight, new haircut, yes we have moved on in our blogging lives.

You can find us now at www.thesaleswars.com (its been redirected to the new blog) or go directly to www.thesaleswars.wordpress.com

Thursday, December 20, 2007

We are Moving

We are moving over to www.thesaleswars.wordpress.com

I will be updating the www.thesaleswars.com shortly

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I Would Kill for a Hit Rate Like This One

According to the sales gods, the average close rate for a typical sales rep, across all verticals, hovers around 16%.

While this may sound like an 84% lose rate, it doesn’t compare that poorly to the performance metrics in other industries.

For example, we all know that if you hit .300 for your career, and your name is not included in the Mitchell Report, you have a reasonable shot at the baseball hall of fame, unless of course, you look like a total schmuck while testifying before Congress.

Seth Godin recently posted the following:

In a new study released in today’s Times, it turns out that the typical NY police officer only hits 34% of the time she fires a gun. Even from a distance of six feet or less, it’s 43%. Obviously, Bruce Willis is the exception.
Seth Godin's Blog Entry - Marksmanship

Now, the next time a police officer attempts to pull you over for a speeding ticket, do not get any bright ideas, this hit rate will still get them into the hall of fame.

FYI - You can’t expense bail.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Its About Balance

Candy let out a high-pitched shrill of excitement as she opened the next fantastic, and incredibly expensive, Christmas gift from her husband, Ben. Ben was off to a great start. His first gift was this huge necklace with enough diamonds on it that Leonardo DiCaprio personally sent them hate mail. The second gift was some sort of fur thing. Ben wasn't sure if it was mink, or sable, hell it could have been possum for all he knew.

There were five more gifts on the floor to be opened.

To those family members gathered in the living room that Christmas morning, Ben was looking like a rock star. To Candy and Ben this was one of the greatest fights, and, for Candy, one of the greatest victories, in their marriage.

Ben is the consummate sales professional. Not only was he the manager of the top performing sales team at his company, but also a mentor to dozens of others, including myself.

Ben's drive and commitment to the deal where his greatest professional strengths, and personal weakness. As people stare at the calendar in December, some see Christmas, others see Hanuka or Kwanzaa. Ben only saw one date, the end of the year.

So focused on his team's year end performance, Ben had forgotten to purchase Christmas gifts, for anyone, for three straight years. He made plenty of money, and the family did not lack for anything. However his wife, the only person for whom he had to buy a gift, was tired of spending her Christmas mornings listening to Ben apologize.

Candy decided that she would "help" Ben by buying the perfect gifts that she was sure he intended to buy her if he only weren't so busy. While we don't have exact numbers, judging by the look on his face as he shared this story, any bonus money and/or commission Ben earned during the past few quarters was now "invested" in the boxes laying on the floor.

For Candy, it was one of the best collection of gifts she ever received, but the best gift for her was that Ben never forgot another holiday, anniversary, or birthday from that point forward.

Merry Christmas Everyone.


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Monday, December 10, 2007

Sorry About the Recycled Posts

We are going through the older posts and adding technorati tags.

This is causing some of them to be republished as new.

If this were NPR we were refer to them as "The Best of" series.


Thank you



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Saturday, December 8, 2007

How to Reduce The Schmuck Factor

Anyone who has been in the workforce long enough has had the opportunity to work for, or with, someone who really didn't fit in, didn't perform up to expectations, and basically made you wonder if your employer received some sort of tax credit for keeping this individual employed. It is these individuals that we loving refer to as "Schmucks".

We all have Schmucks. If we are honest, we can agree that we all are subject to our temporary moments of Schmuckdom.


Based on the fact that, on average, 20% of the sales people generate 80% of the sales, the "Schmuck Factor" in most sales teams is higher than in the rest of the organization. Ever heard of "20% of Developers writing 80% of the code" or "20% of Client Supporting handling 80% of the issues"? Nope. Its just sales.

So where does it start? How do schmucks invade our teams, consume our time and resources, and still manage to under perform? Naturally it begins with the hiring process.

Hiring is the process of evaluating and projecting the productivity of human capital. One of the most common flaws is not having HR directly involved throughout the evaluation and hiring process. Most see it as an extension of the responsibility of those with little to no training in this area.

The sales manager hires the sales people, the VP of Development hires the programmer, etc. While these individuals have a level of mastery in their disciplines, that bears far less indication on their ability to evaluate talent than conventional wisdom would dictate.

Sales, Programming, and Hiring are all best executed when a team of professionals can come together and Plan, Prepare, and Execute on a strategy.

Conditions for Throwing the Schmuck Flag

While my track record is far from perfect on making hires, here a few items and practices that you can use to weed out the viable candidates from the next poster child for the Schmuckular Association of America.

Resume and Interview Red Flags

  • Long Periods of Unemployment

“I have been taking care of my sick mother/father/aunt/dog” is one of the most common responses you will see when there's a gap in employment.


  • Series of Short Term Jobs

Now you have to cut the candidate some slack with this one. In technology, mergers, acquisitions, and implosions are quite common. However if you are looking at a series of short-term jobs 6 to 12 months in length, and the companies are still around, that should be a red flag.


  • Many Unrelated Jobs in Work History

In close knit industries a really bad apple will have a tough time finding a job. So if you see someone go from widgets, to gadgets, to midgets in consecutive moves be aware.


  • Typos, Poor Spelling, Grammar on Resume

I'll admit it, Ive had a typo on my resume for a few weeks before someone clued me in. I'm a lousy speller and it just didn't catch my eye. For the record I had numerous professionals review my resume and it was my professional doc writer who caught the mistake.


  • Lack of Progression in Job History

“I have been an assistant bookkeeper for 20 years” = I haven't been promoted in 20 years.


  • Vague Descriptions, Rounded Dates

Can you imagine what the Enron team's resume's look like? “Worked for one of the fastest growing and dominate companies in the 1990s, then took time off to care for my sick father, mother, and aunt.”


Interview Red Flags

  • Late or Tardy without Legitimate Explanation
  • Dressed Poorly
  • Overly Cocky
  • Stresses Personal Beliefs Too Strongly
  • Overly Defensive
  • Perceived Vendetta Against Former Employers


A Lesson Learned

This guy comes to our team through a recruiter. The recruiter says that the candidate matches our "must have" criteria, but really doesn't share any additional or ancillary information or provide his "gut-feel" for the candidate. (Red Flag #1)

Given the candidate's background with one of our major competitors, we jumped at the chance to meet/hire him. We were a smaller, start-up and were practically salivating over the insight and competitive intelligence the candidate bought to the table. (Red Flag #2)

We flew the candidate in to our corporate HQ for an 11am meeting. He arrived, sans coat and tie and looking a bit disheveled. He explained that he spilled coffee on himself and he had to rush to the mall for a new shirt and pants. Looking back, and this will be important later on in the story, he smelled an awful lot like mouthwash.

The candidate spent the day in the office, meeting anyone and everyone under the sun. Everyone was impressed by his aggressiveness and take no prisoners attitude... we hired him immediately. We really didn't evaluate any criteria other than how aggressive he could be, nor did we do any background checking via personal networks, nor did we subject him to any standardized personality tests, because other than the overpowering aroma of mouthwash, the new change of clothes, and the demeanor that bore a striking resemblance to Al Pacino in the climatic shootout in "Scar Face", nothing seemed out of the ordinary. (Red Flags out the wazoo)

The biggest flaw in this process was us. The hiring team was so inexperienced and immature that there were numerous mistakes made based on sheer lack of expertise and alpha-male egos that dispelled any thought of asking for assistance.

Less than 12 months later the candidate would, as part of his retaliation for being fired, send a company-wide email that would eventually wind up on a blog.





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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Signs You're Having a Bad Sales Meeting

With "Annual Sales Meeting" Season right around the corner, we decided to put together a list of those elements that make these meetings so memorable.


Thank you for those who contributed including our friends at www.linkedin.com

Pre-Game Show

  • Your boss wants to share a flight and makes you change yours to a much later one. Then on the last day, he comes in late and announces he is too depressed to carry on the meeting because his prized Corvette broke down and he has to write the IRS a check for $25K because he made too much last year. Then you try to catch an earlier flight, all to find out they are all booked. Then your flight is cancelled and you are stuck there for another day and have to take a 6:15 flight that next morning.


  • The sales book that was purchased, and then paid to ship to each rep, so that they could prepare for an engaging and productive discussion during the sales meeting, hasn't been opened yet

  • The meeting begins with bumper music at 90db, from Mariah Carey's late 80s hits, while the lame managers attempt to dance a Jim Carey version of hip hop

  • Ignoring the lessons learned about knowledge comprehension and retention, the opening meeting is highlighted with the phrase "We have every minute planned out....." or "we have a team building event every night!"

  • In addition to the joy of traveling around the world for 30+ hours only to arrive at a crap hotel. You are informed that you will be sharing a room with a local who is too cheap to pay for a cab ride home.

  • You have been asked to watch the movie "Boiler Room" in advance of the meeting - and to be prepared with suggestions on how to implement some of the "tips" you picked up in order to improve next quarter's results.


  • Entire management team dresses in drag during an opening session and attempts to sing a lame song or act out a skit.


Purgatory Factor

  • You drink as much water as possible not to cure hangover, but to force restroom breaks

  • The sales rep from a warm client is closest to the thermostat and has the rest of the hungover, bad coffee filled guys sweating bullets by 9:04 am.

  • The wireless is mysteriously 'down' in an attempt to make people focus.

  • Most intense discussion is around describing the rules of NFL to the British colleagues

  • You bribe select customers to call your cell during the role playing exercises with some 'urgent end of year cash they have to spend'

  • The VP is asking individual reps to talk about how they successfully closed business. There are more I's in the story than in roman numerals

  • You have strategically mapped out exactly how you are going to execute your new job search as soon as "The Role Playing Exercises" are complete and VP of Sales allows you to go home (roughly around 8pm)....and dont forget kids "We have a hard start time tomorrow at 8am so be on time!"

  • The meeting co-chair begins to doze off....


The Elephant in the Room

  • The Department of Corrections could have provided higher quality food and refreshments
  • A speaker opens and says “I hope I’m not going to bore you, but….” and consequently does just that with death by PowerPoint… slides full of words… which he dutifully reads to you… and if that it not bad enough he also has a monotone voice… however, it gets worse… by slide 6 you look at anything that might look vaguely interesting and notice in the bottom right of the slide the heart sinking words… “slide 6 of 122”
  • The CEO doesn’t stick around to see the presentations given by the directors of the departments
  • The host has to continuously explain how funny his jokes are.

  • The company is too cheap to hire someone to present Spin Selling and simply ask one of the directors to read the book and teach it.

  • The most compelling directive comes from a VP that proclaimed that in order too have an effective User Group meeting you must put out brochures so clients could take them.


After Hours

  • CEO of the company gets so drunk he starts to hit on the ugliest sales reps

  • Sales rep stays out too late, gets too drunk, winds up in wrong part of town, at the wrong time. Never heard from again. VPs are pissed because his absence really screws up the schedule for next team-building exercise.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Great Sales Sins - Opera Singer Syndrome

When I go to my dentist, I wear an Ipod.

For the record, yes, I do consider myself clever for this innovative solution to the problem of having dental professionals practically "fisting" my mouth, while simultaneously being overwhelmed by the desire to be "chatty".

This is the typical scenario that happens in the chair:
"So Sasser, hows that golf games of yours? Whoops, holy smokes, I cant believe my whole Rolex fits in there! Wow. Hang on....we need to give you another shot for no darn good reason.....so anyway, your short game?"


The real problem is the assistant. Nice as she can be, but her lord has put her on a mission to share her life story, especially the tragic parts, with anyone in pursuit of good oral hygiene.

During a two hour session in which an old crown was being removed and a temporary put in its place, I learned the unabridged version of how her son-in-law had a series of unfortunate career turns. For the sake of screen space, here's an "abridged" version; he's a under-achiever who flunked out of welding school, impregnated her daughter, dumber than a stool sample, and couldn't find a job if it leaped up and bit him on the butt. But I'm paraphrasing.

A month later during the follow up visit to have the temporary removed and the replacement crown fitted, I wore an Ipod. An audio book loaded and I was set. The great thing about headphones, it tells the world to shut the heck up in a very direct, yet somehow polite, way.

While the plan was working flawlessly, there was one 15 second window of opportunity when one of the ear buds slipped out. As I reached up to replace it, the assistant seized the moment and screamed at me "I have three distant cousins with cancer!!!!".

A lovely woman really. Here I am, nervous as everything having more drills in my mouth that you find at Home Depot, and she needs to share this nugget with me.

Me....Me....Me......information without context or empathy is simply noise - just like an opera singer or a poorly planned sales presentation.

In that light, your favorite competitors should be your biggest ones. Especially those with the long histories, the great brands, and the customer list a mile long.

Why?

The odds are higher that in smaller deals they will not bring their "A game" to the table. A 100k deal a sales presentation their sales teams will spend the majority of the time talking about the greatness of the company, their "platform", their vision for the future, and then, in the twelfth hour, actually start talking about the reasons why the prospect met with them in the first place.

My team was competing against the big guys at a flooring manufacturer in North Georgia. We walked into a group of people who were very professional and friendly but whose body language cried "If I see one more mission statement I am going to take a swing at someone". They were viewing all vendors back to back to back. Two days, four vendors, each with half a day. We were in on the second half of second day.

We started our presentation with one slide that listed the major objectives of the project - lower costs, increased productivity, expanded branding, etc., followed by one slide each with a succinct description of how we would achieve each of the goals. We followed that with a practical demonstration, showing them what we discussed in the slides, followed by a brief overview of 3 clients with similar projects in the same industry as them.

Done - Start to Finish - 1.5 hours.

Vendor 1 took 6 hours, Vendor 2 took 5 hours, Vendor 3 took 2.5 hours and got into a fight with their technical expert.

One of the most common flaws made in presentations today is focusing so much on who you are as a company, your vision, yada, yada, yada, and you wind up burning the attention span of your prospects.

As recommended in a previous post, go through your sales pitch with a non-company person. At the end of each slide, ask yourself "Why would the prospect care?" or the shorter "So what"? If you don't have an answer remove it from your slides.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Share Your Ideas

With "Annual Sales Meeting" season around the corner, we here at TSW would like your help in building a top ten list of "Signs You are at a Really Bad Sales Meeting".

There is really no limit on what topic your ideas can cover as long as they are relevant to the Sales Meeting experience.

Here are a few examples to inspire you:
  • The lunch-time motivational speaker leads a cult in Utah
  • Some Segment of a Chris Farley Movie is Played
  • The President's huge butt proves to be a real asset as VP of Sales has to retrieve '08 revenue projections from within
Please email your ideas to sales.wars@gmail.com

Thank you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lessons Learned From A 911 Call

A few weeks ago, at a neighborhood meeting, we had a man collapse, become unresponsive, and, in general, scare the holy crap out of all of us.

In short,the neighbor, Charlie, had what equates to a stroke. The following are the lessons that made themselves apparent and the series of events surrounding this emergency as they unfolded.

It is natural not to immediately acknowledge a bad situation

This situated started as I was walking to check on the kids who were playing in the yard adjoining the meeting, I noticed someone laying on the ground, face down. If I showed you a photo it would be quite easy to describe the situation and what was happening. However, as I was walking toward the person on the ground, I kept trying to convince myself that what I was seeing was not what I thought I was seeing. Surely this had to be an odd shadow or a kid playing a game with the others.

As I continued to walk, I was six feet from Charlie when his wife saw what was happening, and cried out. This was the confirmation needed for my brain to take hold of the situation. I jammed my hand into my pocket, retrieved my cell phone, and called 911.

How many times in our professional lives have we looked at a dismal situation and tried to avoid reality?

  • "I don't cold call, I only talk to important people"
  • "All I need is to close 40% of my pipeline and I'm good"
  • "The next bug fix release will help us drive revenue"

Challenges to you and your company's established position will come from areas that you do not expect, and from players with whom you are not familiar. It is extremely difficult to build and maintain a competitive advantage, and it is far too easy to lose it by not staying focused and having visibility to the events and circumstances that surround you.

You have to know what you don't know

I reached 911 immediately and described the situation to the emergency operator.

The operator began asking me a series of questions in order to evaluate the situation and to gather pertinent information that she would relay to the ambulance drivers.

"Name? Age? What was he doing when he collapsed? Had he had any complaints about not feeling well before he collapsed?"

The answers I delivered included "Charlie, mid-50s, no complaints but has a history with a heart condition."

Next question "Has he taken any medication this evening?"

I asked the wife. She replied "He's on heart medication, he's taken other medicines in the past. He could have gotten his pills mixed up."

You need to know what you don't know.

  • What is the profile of your typical customer?
  • Why do you win (and lose) deals?
  • How does your competitor drive 30% of revenue through partners and you can't?
  • How loyal are your customers?

"I don't know" can often be the smartest thing you will ever say - it gives you space to think, research, and gauge your colleagues without losing face, or leading someone down a path that will not bear fruit. Never be afraid to admit you don't know something. You can always learn and win, but if you lie, you will lose.

In a crisis, people panic and will put themselves first

With the ambulance on its way, the next question from the 911 operator was "Is there a Doctor or Nurse in the area?"

I yelled the question to our group.

Ms. Houlihan came up and stood next to Charlie. She announced that she indeed was a nurse, a few years retired, but unfortunately she just had knee surgery and could not not comfortably get down on the ground to check on Charlie.

On the ground you have Charlie, my wife who is keeping track of Charlie's pulse, Charlie's wife who is alternating between caring for her husband and freaking out, and myself with my ear to my cellphone communicating with 911. We all momentarily stopped and looked up her. You could tell by her tone she was used to throwing out the whole "knee surgery" ploy to generate sympathy, pity, and maybe cut in line at local buffets, who knows?

When times get tough, two groups usually emerge, those who seek solutions, those who complain about problems.

  • "Its sales fault, they are the ones responsible for revenue"
  • "You can't cut my department we are too important"
  • "We are too busy to do any extra, you get your team to do it"
  • "We just need to keep what we are doing"

Assumption is not a replacement for intelligence

As Charlie was loaded into the ambulance and the 911 operator bid me goodbye, I looked around for my kids - ages 8 and 10.

In the commotion they had retreated back into our house. I went inside to survey the level of trauma and try to calm them down.

I found them in my home office with my son playing on the computer. He seemed reasonably unfazed. He is 10, and he didn't really know Charlie at all, so I took this to be a reasonable response.

My daughter however was sitting on the love seat, crying softly.

I breathed a sigh, and sat down next to her. At eight years old, she is definitely the tender-hearted one of the bunch. She has cried after seeing a good puppy food commercial, so this was what I expected.

"Whats wrong honey?" No verbal response, but tears and sniffles.

Mentally Im trying to recall the sage advice from the parenting books on how to communicate with your children during a crisis. I start to panic when I draw nothing but blanks. I flash forward 20 years, a therapist's couch, my daughter, her escort from the correctional facility, and a shrink proclaiming "So your dad royally screwed you up that night, now we know!!!"

I try again.

"Honey, can you tell Daddy what's wrong?" Waiting for the obvious. A moment passes.

Finally, as she chokes back the tears she starts to speak "I was playing hide-and-go-seek and the other kids where playing freeze tag and no one came to find me!!!!" More tears.

Soooo, the whole neighbor collapsing on the lawn and being unconscious, no biggie, BUT, the fact that she spent 10 minutes crouched down in our shrubs, now that was problem.

How common is this in business, where we assume we know marketing conditions, customer preferences, or competitive threats?

  • "They have been our customer for 17 years, we know what they want"
  • "That company has never been a real threat to us, so we ignore them"
  • "Do you know who we are? We do not have to worry about things like that"

I think you would have found these same attitudes at Kodak, Delta, and General Motors.


Charlie is still recovering. We wish him and his family the best.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Great Sales Sins - The Eager Beaver

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who was just a wee bit too happy? Specifically, they were just a little too eager to please?

In a normal, productive relationship, there is a balance of compromise and empathy where the needs of the individual are weighed against the corporate good of the couple. This is a nice way of saying that if you want sweet, hot, monkey loving, your sorry butt best get off the golf course and watch a little "Desperate Housewives."

Things can get out of whack when balance is not maintained. For example, if "Hey baby, me and my buddies are going to Hooters to get drunk and then embarrass ourselves to the extent that we may have to move," is met with a warm, sincere, "Well, you be careful. I wouldn't want anything to happen to my little love possum," then you may have an imbalance.

How many times in the sales cycle have we endangered our chances by appearing a little too eager?

"We won't lose on price"

"Want a reference? Here's my entire customer list. Call them all."

"You want us to be liable in case the Internet goes down? Sure, we'll put it in our contract."

Just like the lopsided relationship, you pipeline can suffer long-term damage by not maintaining a health balance of respect for both you and your prospect.

"Oh, we'll do anything to earn your business," is the personal relationship equivalent of "Hey, I'm a co-dependent stage-five clinger."

Your solution will deliver value to your prospect. It will lower operational expenses, increase revenue, and empower the enterprise to do more with existing resources. You have a strong position in your negotiations, don't give in too easily. You have the ability and the right to keep your negotiations in balance by asking for something each time you give.

For example:

Prospect: "We would like an on-site presentation."
Sales Rep: May I confirm the major details of the project with the Executive Sponsor?

Prospect: "We would like to talk to at least five of your existing clients."
Sales Rep: Out of respect for our clients' privacy, I am only allowed to release only one until notice that we are a finalist and/or on your short list.

Prospect: "We would like a discount!!!"
Sales Rep: "I would like a spouse that owns a liquor store and a golf course, not going to happen." OR "My discount authority only extends to the end of this month/quarter. If I provide a discount, can we agree that this purchase can be completed by then?"

Lesson Learned

When it comes time to negotiate contracts, it's always best to bring in a third party whose compensation is not tied directly to the deal.

Once you receive the "Selected Vendor" status, there is a euphoria that can lead to a little too much optimism. It's in this state that T&Cs can be positioned to effectively come back and squarely bite you in the hindquarters.

A few years ago, my team and I received the Selected Vendor notification from a very prestigious and widely known government agency. Their Chairman was practically a household name, and to have them as a client would be a huge ego boost for us.

There was only one special term that we needed to add to our contract. In the event that our web content management system could not publish to their website in a timely manner, they were entitled to a full refund and the contract would be cancelled.

No problem. A majority of the value of a web content management system is the ability to publish content. This was like saying, "Your car must be able to go into Drive." We had this one.

Yep, really should have talked this one over with my technical team. The new client's definition of "timely" was having the ability to specify, to the second, that the content would be available on the website. So, by the letter of our contract, if the client wanted to have some unknown amount of content published at 12:00:00, then that was the time it was to be available, e.g., 11:59:59 was too soon, 12:00:01 was too late.

Evidently, they were pretty damn serious about this requirement. After months of trying to explain the virtual physics around moving data from one server to another and striving to reach a compromise, they activated the term in the contract, a refund was produced, and the commission was quietly deducted from my check.







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Friday, November 9, 2007

From the Gate Keeper

In his book, "Swim with the Sharks" Harvey Mackay states that as CEO of his company he ranks the following two positions as the most key in generating revenue for any organization:

1. Vice President of Sales

2. The Office Receptionist

While the first is pretty obvious, he goes on to explain that the Receptionist, a.k.a. "Gate Keeper" has the power to set the tone of the business relationship. By being the initial contact for the majority of new and existing clients and business partners, their appearance, demeanor, and professionalism can have a significant impact.

In addition to being "the voice" of your company, the Gate Keeper often serves as the "filter" or "tie breaker" when it comes to new hires. If you have a borderline interview, the Gate Keeper can have the swing vote.

We are fortunate to have some words of wisdom from one of the good friends of the blog, Michele, who has graciously agreed to share her insight on the hiring process from the Gate Keeper's seat.

“Signs that your job interview is not going to go well” ….and this is before you even get past the front desk!

  • You did not bother to check the company website (or MapQuest for that matter) and print directions to your interview location and therefore you must call the company’s front desk and suck up the receptionist’s valuable time getting directions from her.
  • You arrive late and cannot remember the name of the person that is supposed to be interviewing you. You will have to play a game of “Name that Supervisor” with the receptionist till she figures out the name of your interviewer for you.
  • You have forgotten to bring a pen to fill out the application, thereby forcing you to sheepishly request a pen from the receptionist. (That look on her face is NOT one of concern, it is disgust at your most basic of faux pas.) If you DO forget to bring a pen, and the receptionist has to lend you one, make no mistake about it, it WILL be "THE RED PEN OF SHAME" and there will be a sweet smile as it is handed to you, with the claim there are no spare pens in black or blue. Going forward, the red ink will alert EVERY person with whom you interview, that you have committed the ultimate sin of not bringing your own writing instrument.
  • Then you ask what the date is……
  • You attempt to fill out the application but are interrupted by personal calls on your cellphone, which has rung out the most obnoxious tune because you forgot to turn the ringer off. (Trust me, the receptionist is NOT amused, she is annoyed by this.)
  • And finally, in the event that your nerves cause you to be a little more awkward than usual and you spill your coffee, clean it up. The Gate Keeper knows all, sees all, but is not responsible for your messes.


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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thank You to Those Who Contributed


If you ever have the chance to be arrested at work (for a good cause) do yourself a favor and take it.

This was fantastic. No one, outside a select few, knew that this was staged for charity.

I arranged for a deputy to come in and announce that he was here to arrest me. As he approached me I cried out "Dont Tase Me!!!"

When he put me against the wall and cuffed me, everyone got quite.

As we walked out, an accomplice emailed everyone with an email asking to help raise my bail. We got like $4.82.

But thankfully our loyal following on The Sales Wars came through and helped us raise over $800 in one day for MDA.

The ride to the "jail" in the cruiser was the coolest. The deputy asked "Will it be ok if we go fast?"

Pursuit Speed in a Police Cruiser should be one of the things you need to put on that list of things you need to experience before you die. Plan ahead though, blogging evidently gives you a weak bladder.

Thank you everyone.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

While this will not come as a shock to some...

I am being arrested this afternoon.

A few years ago, a secretary from our NJ office asked if I was going to see any family over the holidays. I explained yes, since most of the Sassers were housed in the same correctional facility it makes it extremely convenient around the holidays. She thought I was serious.

Anywho, I am being arrested for MDA this afternoon. If you would like to help bail me out so that I can keep blogging, feel free to make a donation.

https://www.mdaevent.org/ParticipantInfo.aspx?j=f383631c-aad9-4191-b718-bab84d4f67e1


Ignore the ($100,000 for a coffee cup donation) $5 would be great.

FYI, Cops are coming to my office to "arrest" me. I have not told anyone that its for charity.

Well see how this goes.

Sasser

Sunday, November 4, 2007

How to Reduce The Schmuck Factor

Anyone who has been in the workforce long enough has had the opportunity to work for, or with, someone who really didn't fit in, didn't perform up to expectations, and basically made you wonder if your employer received some sort of tax credit for keeping this individual employed. It is these individuals that we loving refer to as "Schmucks".

We all have Schmucks. If we are honest, we can agree that we all are subject to our temporary moments of Schmuckdom.


Based on the fact that, on average, 20% of the sales people generate 80% of the sales, the "Schmuck Factor" in most sales teams is higher than in the rest of the organization. Ever heard of "20% of Developers writing 80% of the code" or "20% of Client Supporting handling 80% of the issues"? Nope. Its just sales.

So where does it start? How do schmucks invade our teams, consume our time and resources, and still manage to under perform? Naturally it begins with the hiring process.

Hiring is the process of evaluating and projecting the productivity of human capital. One of the most common flaws is not having HR directly involved throughout the evaluation and hiring process. Most see it as an extension of the responsibility of those with little to no training in this area.

The sales manager hires the sales people, the VP of Development hires the programmer, etc. While these individuals have a level of mastery in their disciplines, that bears far less indication on their ability to evaluate talent than conventional wisdom would dictate.

Sales, Programming, and Hiring are all best executed when a team of professionals can come together and Plan, Prepare, and Execute on a strategy.

Conditions for Throwing the Schmuck Flag

While my track record is far from perfect on making hires, here a few items and practices that you can use to weed out the viable candidates from the next poster child for the Schmuckular Association of America.

Resume and Interview Red Flags

  • Long Periods of Unemployment

“I have been taking care of my sick mother/father/aunt/dog” is one of the most common responses you will see when there's a gap in employment.


  • Series of Short Term Jobs

Now you have to cut the candidate some slack with this one. In technology, mergers, acquisitions, and implosions are quite common. However if you are looking at a series of short-term jobs 6 to 12 months in length, and the companies are still around, that should be a red flag.


  • Many Unrelated Jobs in Work History

In close knit industries a really bad apple will have a tough time finding a job. So if you see someone go from widgets, to gadgets, to midgets in consecutive moves be aware.


  • Typos, Poor Spelling, Grammar on Resume

I'll admit it, Ive had a typo on my resume for a few weeks before someone clued me in. I'm a lousy speller and it just didn't catch my eye. For the record I had numerous professionals review my resume and it was my professional doc writer who caught the mistake.


  • Lack of Progression in Job History

“I have been an assistant bookkeeper for 20 years” = I haven't been promoted in 20 years.


  • Vague Descriptions, Rounded Dates

Can you imagine what the Enron team's resume's look like? “Worked for one of the fastest growing and dominate companies in the 1990s, then took time off to care for my sick father, mother, and aunt.”


Interview Red Flags

  • Late or Tardy without Legitimate Explanation
  • Dressed Poorly
  • Overly Cocky
  • Stresses Personal Beliefs Too Strongly
  • Overly Defensive
  • Perceived Vendetta Against Former Employers


A Lesson Learned

This guy comes to our team through a recruiter. The recruiter says that the candidate matches our "must have" criteria, but really doesn't share any additional or ancillary information or provide his "gut-feel" for the candidate. (Red Flag #1)

Given the candidate's background with one of our major competitors, we jumped at the chance to meet/hire him. We were a smaller, start-up and were practically salivating over the insight and competitive intelligence the candidate bought to the table. (Red Flag #2)

We flew the candidate in to our corporate HQ for an 11am meeting. He arrived, sans coat and tie and looking a bit disheveled. He explained that he spilled coffee on himself and he had to rush to the mall for a new shirt and pants. Looking back, and this will be important later on in the story, he smelled an awful lot like mouthwash.

The candidate spent the day in the office, meeting anyone and everyone under the sun. Everyone was impressed by his aggressiveness and take no prisoners attitude... we hired him immediately. We really didn't evaluate any criteria other than how aggressive he could be, nor did we do any background checking via personal networks, nor did we subject him to any standardized personality tests, because other than the overpowering aroma of mouthwash, the new change of clothes, and the demeanor that bore a striking resemblance to Al Pacino in the climatic shootout in "Scar Face", nothing seemed out of the ordinary. (Red Flags out the wazoo)

The biggest flaw in this process was us. The hiring team was so inexperienced and immature that there were numerous mistakes made based on sheer lack of expertise and alpha-male egos that dispelled any thought of asking for assistance.

Less than 12 months later the candidate would, as part of his retaliation for being fired, send a company-wide email that would eventually wind up on a blog.



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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Signs Your Sales Rep is a Moron

Some sales-centric publications claim that 65% of sales people do not belong in sales. As a sales manager you wonder at times if that number is a tad low. However, as a service to our readers, we've put this quick reference list together to help you spot those 65%'ers in your organization.

Signs Your Sales Rep is a Moron
  • They talk more than anyone else
  • They try to create some remote, third-party connection with prospects. For example “Yeah, my cousin did time in your state. So we are like family.”
  • They claim that your solution can do everything, just name it. For example. “You want an open, yet proprietary architecture that will randomly reset the credentials in your enterprise single sign on layer? Oh heck, no problem.”
  • They know nothing about the prospect, their business model, or even the city in which the prospect is located, but pretend they do. For example “Valdosta, GA? Oh yeah, thats where they grow those onions. Its like a second home to me.” (Vidalia, GA grows the onions)

  • Their presentation is focused on the history of the company, the great things about the products and services, yet says nothing about how they will help the prospect or why really anyone should do business with your company. For example “Now that we are done with our three hour overview of our products for DOS, lets talk pricing”
  • They wont get off the phone even though the prospect has given valid reasons to support the claim that they are not interested. For example “Ok, I know that your bank really doesn't do anything with South American Derivates, but can you at least watch our demo?
  • They trash the competition, a lot. For example “Im not saying that your current vendor likes to skin the pelts off puppies, but have you ever seen a puppy around their offices?”

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What Not to Wear

Back in my Federal Days, my team received the opportunity to work on a project with the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Damn near wet myself when it got setup.

After our inside team gave us the details, I called the project lead at the EOPOTUS and made introductions, confirmed the major details of their evaluation, and walked through the needs analysis. At the conclusion of this exercise we scheduled an on site meeting and presentation.

About a week before our meeting, I received an email from the lead asking that we make sure that our people dressed appropriately.

Initially, I thought the guy was slamming me on being from the deep south and somehow had formed a mental image of me and my team showing up with Appalachian-grade dental work, coveralls, and "We Love Willie Nelson" T-Shirts.

When I called him to clarify, the lead explained that sadly, it was simply a fact that they regularly had a series of outside vendors that did not dress appropriately for the dignity of their office.

Let me set this down for you, this is the President's Executive Office, they are across the street from the White House, you have to get Secret Service clearance to get into the building, there are very nice people there with guns who will shoot you, this is a serious place.

As a vendor, what in the hell are you thinking...."Hmmm.....Executive....Office.....of the President.........President is a Republican.....Their Color is Blue, No Red.....Red....Ok....Ill wear the Red Logo'd Golf Shirt.....that will surely get us the deal.

In case you ever wonder what to wear to a client's location, ask yourself what would a lawyer, management consultant, or executive coach wear to this location and go with that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Knife at a Gun Fight

Competitive intelligence can help you position your solution on higher ground if used properly, but if your are an idiot, it can be accelerate to a quick departure.

The best way to start this story is from the end. We hired a sales rep, Steve, who had recently worked at a competitor, "Blue Spot Technologies". After his hiring, the rep shared how, at his old company, he competed against us once at an account that was one of the most bizarre and easiest wins for him and his company. He barely put forth any effort and was sure that he had lost when he received a phone call asking for contracts and the client's desire to be implemented as quickly as possible.

Now, as we rewind a little, the situation was that "Horizons Corporation" was evaluating solutions and had narrowed the finalist down to us and Blue Spot.

As part of their due diligence Horizons decided to have an PoC or "Proof of Concept" exercise. A PoC is where a vendor comes on-site and installs a reasonable representation of the proposed solution and has the technical teams and client users perform scripted exercises. As a vendor I despise these things, but if I were recommending how to evaluate solutions, this would be it.

So we schedule the PoC with Horizons with Don (Remember Don?) as the Sales Rep and "DJ" as the Sales Engineer, the guy who would have to do the majority of the work.

As always seems to be the case, Horizons was located a good distance away from a major airport and our team had to drive several hours to reach their location. Because of scheduling conflicts DJ and Don had to travel separately.

DJ arrived early morning the first day and spent the better part of the day installing, configuring, and finally setting up our PoC system.

One of the issues that we were battling was that Blue Spot's user interface was perceived as superior and our team's job was to educate the prospect that the effectiveness of a user interface is relative to the task at hand.

While Blue Spot's interface was great for editing content that was already posted on a website, it was poorly designed for creating a multi-page document, one of our strengths. After numerous hours, DJ's attention to detail and thorough alignment of our solution with their challenges was yielding us some leverage in the evaluation.

With two hours left in the day, Don showed up.

Don enters the office, makes a brief exchange of handshakes and asks for a private office where he "could make some calls". Nothing like putting the prospect first.

After some time Don emerges and declares" Who want steaks!!!? Tell me your best steakhouse in town and we are going!!!!!" The legend continues that he finished this off with some neanderthal "booyaaa", but those reports cant be confirmed.

Two poor saps, who didn't really want to go, but felt awkward in not accepting this sudden display of generosity, raised their hands.

On a side note here, our marketing team was responsible for maintaining a library of intelligence on our competitors. The challenge is this endeavor is that your competition doesn't inform you of updates, so it was our understanding that we used this information only to help establish our position, not as a fodder for a full frontal assault. In fact at that time our intelligence on Blue Spot was pushing 18 months old. Don was given explicit instructions, DO NOT SHARE THIS WITH A PROSPECT!!!

So after some very expensive steaks, Don whips out the document and starts going down point by point. "Blue Spot cant do this, so that's bad" to which the prospect replies "No actually they do that, in fact, come to think of it, they do it better than you do".

At this point DJ, not one to enjoy witnessing career suicide, picks up his drink and goes to play Golden Tee.

15 minutes later, DJ returns to the table to witness the prospect actually defending Blue Spot, with a fervor and zeal that exceeded the pitch that they received from the Blue Spot Sales Rep the previous week.

Don, unfazed by the omnipresent sense of failure, continues on to the second page of the out-dated intelligence document. The prospects respond with a stunned silence that was on line with what you would hear if someone quite loudly broke wind in church.

The after dinner coffees are finished and the members of the Horizons team bolt out the restaurant like greyhounds.

Don decides to debrief DJ over a few beers.

Don: "Man, that went great. It is ours to lose".

DJ: "No......No...I don't think so"

DJ then points out that at one point Don threw this gem out there ""OK requirement one... interface. So our interface is... you know what, I'm just going to give that one to Blue Spot, lets take that off the table, ok?"

DJ was so enraged that he unconsciously snapped his pen while having the discussion. It was metal.

We lost the deal. Steve got his blue-bird phone call. DJ was reassigned away from Don. Don was arrested the following week on his way to a demo.

Who is Reading the Sales Wars?






Thank you for taking the time to read our blog. An extra thank you if you have forwarded our link to someone. We sincerely appreciate your efforts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Great Sales Sins - Trashing Your Competition

"Hi Bob, have you tried "natural" male enhancement? I saw the commercial on TV last night and immediately thought of you"

"Wow Barbara, that dress looks great. Did you get it in the "big girls" section at Lane Bryant?"

"So the wife and I just joined a swingers club......"

I would hope the readers of this blog would agree that these are lines that would exude a certain level of awkwardness and discomfort if they appeared in casual conversation.

However, as a sales professional we can generate similar feelings of discomfort with our prospects if we start to trash our competition.

I hate to burst your bubble, but you remember that great conversation you had where you felt like you and the prospect really "connected" and you shared how your competitor's solution has been linked to Herpes Simplex 10?

Well here's a news flash, your competitor had that same "connecting" conversation and when the subject of your company came up, he responded this with this:

"You are looking at ACME? You know they do very well in Java shops and I've seen some good press on them. However, knowing your internal infrastructure, project requirements, and with the fact that your CEO is sponsoring this project, I am confident that our solution, along with the reputation of our company, will not only surpass your technical needs, but offer a degree of comfort and validation that you are doing business with the industry leader."

See the difference? Herpes vs. Industry Leader?

Of course we need a real life example to really drive this point home. Next week, we'll share a life less from Don.

Remember Don?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Vendor to English Dictionary

VENDOR/
ENGLISH

“This is A Win/Win"
You didnt beat the hell out of me on price, and god how I love you for it.

"We are strategic platform for your entire organization"
We will own you, your data, and your little dog too

"We are not a vendor, but a partner"
We are a Vendor

"Our Value Add"
Those one or two things that we do different from the other 1000 vendors out there

"We are endorsed by your local association and/or user group"
Theres a good chance that I wrote a check to someone to be able to say that, and they will get a cut off any money you give me, and by the way, given a choice, I would rather be a partner with the Soprano family

"Our system is not compatible with 3rd party systems"
We want you to believe that we own you, and despite the fact that we sold you on our "open architecture" our system is more closed than Chik-Fil-A on a Sunday

"We provide a total solution"
We are one or two features behind the market on our technology so we compensate with Professional Services offerings

"This is cutting edge technology"
Beta Version

“Its coming in the next release"
I hope to all that is holy that this is coming in the next release

“Wow, thats really thinking outside the box"
You are an idiot

“Our RFP Response is Comprehensive, It tells you who we are as a company"
I have no clue what you are trying to pull off so I threw the kitchen sink into our response

"We are a best of breed solution"
We dont do much but this one thing

"Thats a pretty aggressive timeframe to be implemented"
Holy Crap, No Way Are You Going to Make that date

"So You are a consultant, well have a great time at the trade show"
Please get the hell away from my trade booth and get somebody in here that has the power to buy something

"This guy wins our door prize"
This guy has my contracts and is ready to sign

"We provide a platform"
We have two products

“Instead of providing you a local reference, I would like to provide you with a reference that shares more of your operational characteristics"
We dont have a reference in your area

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Rose By Any Other Name

There's a fine line between organic fertilizer and a big steaming turd, its all in the packaging.

Most sales professionals have honed a sense of "packaging" information in a way where it can be easily consumed by the target audience.

For example, instead of "you are going to have to upgrade all of your servers to run the new version" we will typically relay this information in a manner close to "with the power and robustness of the new release, its understandable that the hardware specs have been upgraded".

The old, bad joke goes a sales rep tried this in his relationships. Instead of "I'm having an affair with the secretary", he informed his wife that "he would no longer be making any more sexual demands of her" to which she replied "Thank you dear, that's very sweet".

"Jim" was one of our chief software gurus. I don't remember the pecking order of our developer food chain, but he was pretty high up there. "Pamela" was our head strong, hard charging, take-no-prisoners, SVP of Sales. From the moment they exited the respective wombs, it was written that these two would clash.

One thing I can say about Yankees, my affectionate term for anyone who lives North of Macon, Ga, is that they can party. Every time my Yankee-laden company would have a sales meeting the pattern was always the same; a lot of really boring, borderline unproductive meetings, followed by a great steak at some overpriced restaurant that at some point in its history made one of those lists than you see in airplane magazines, and booze, a lot of booze.

After dinner, as it was custom, our band of semi-intoxicated castaways, would find the nearest bar and spend the rest of the evening in our version of a team building exercises, aka, more booze and golden tee.

Earlier in the day, a long simmering feud among Pamela and Jim finally came to a head. There was shouting, screaming, and the slamming of doors, etc. Which, if you are dude, the worst thing you can ever do is that whole slam the door thing, very wussie-ish.

So some 10 hours later, we learned that the feud was not resolved, and that Pam and Jim were starting to ease back into their verbal boxing gloves. We were standing/sitting in a semi-circle and you could feel the tension.

As the first round of the rematch was set to begin, I was standing next to Jim when he burps. A little burp, nothing too loud. But his reply to the burp was an "oh boy, that's not good". You veterans know where this is going.

The next thing that happens, was one of those things that you can see in slow motion as it happens.

Pam was famous for her fashion sense. Love her, Hate her, the woman knows how to dress well. At the time, the over priced handbag of choice was about the size of a small Samsonite and Pam's was laying on the floor, wide open, like a receptacle.

Back to the slow motion thing, so Jim burps, realizes whats coming and stands up and in probably the most graceful of motions projects the contents of his stomach into the air in a fine rainbow arc. Visualize a water balloon rupturing in mid-flight, but only with puke, in a club. It seems to hang in the air forever, slowing wafting onto those who were unfortunate in their seating locations. Im not sure but I think the hit count topped seven.

For all of his brilliance, Jim was equally proud and humble and naturally was horribly embarrassed at his accident and made a quick retreat. In his haste however he failed to notice what gift that physics had brought.

The next morning, after discussing the evenings events with select members of our team, and receiving a little coaching, Jim's explanation of the evening to the curious masses went something close to this "Pam and I had a fight. She kept on disagreeing with me, so I puked in her purse. That's how the JDog rolls. End of story."

The curious masses were satisfied. Jim's "street cred" increased. And Pam had the opportunity to upgrade her "everyday" purse.

Its all in the packaging.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Top Ten Signs Your Sales Rep is About to Leave

  • During sales demo, explains that, while not proven, he suspects that your new product has proven to cause global warming

  • Shows up to work, exceedingly happy, like a lifer whose just been given parole

  • During cold calls, refers to your cutting edge solution as "that crap we sell"

  • On casual fridays, shows up wearing "Monster.com Job Fair - Fall 2007" T-Shirt

  • Instead of the customary "hey", greets everyone with a hug and the instructions "come with me if you want to live"

  • Asks for assistance in downloading sales database to his jumpdrive. The new one, emblazzened with your competitor's logo.

  • Chats up the boss by asking if ever noticed that his (the boss') Porsche boxter is more of a chick's car

  • His linkedin profile has more personal detail than his DNA

  • His last expense reports include items ranging from "Mileage" to "War in Iraq".

From the "Karma is a Booger" Files

Something About Mary

"Mary" was new to our sales team. Being a part of our virtual team, she worked from her home-base in the Mid West. As we all know, being the "new guy/girl" on the team is always awkward and we tried our best to make her feel welcomed.

Mary missed several of our weekly pipeline review sessions. Since this was the primary opportunity to interact with the rest of the team, and to show her progress on her deals, we were concerned.

I called Mary one day to get a "temp" check and to make sure she was going to make our next session. Mary was always enthusiastic when I called. We exchanged pleasantries, and then I asked if she was going to join us in our next pipeline review.

Mary shared that while she would love to join us, she was unfortunately not going to be able to make it because she had to go to court to keep our streets safe.

Mary shared with me the following vignette:

While she was returning from a downtown meeting, she grabs a cab. The cabbie, not realizing she was a local, begins to give her the "scenic tour" in order to run up the fare. When she confronts the cabbie, he evidently goes berserk and refuses to let her out of the cab. He then proceeds to floor it and is weaving in and out of downtown traffic at speeds ranging from 60 to 100mph.

Finally, after 40 minutes of her constant screaming he stops and dumps her in the ghetto and she had to use a payphone to get home.

A few days later the police caught the guy. He had pulled this stunt numerous times, and it was up to Mary to go to court and testify against him before he killed someone. God Bless Mary.

So I clearly understood why Mary would miss another weekly meeting. I wished her well, thanked her for her courage.

Yes, I am that gullible.

"So, did you hear about Mary's DUI?" came the off hours comment from one of my sales engineers.

It seems that Mary was going to court alright. She had gotten wasted at a party, was too drunk to drive home, did it anyway, and got caught.

What about Karma?

At some point in your career, someone will need to stand up for you. Either as an internal vote of confidence for a promotion, or in Mary's case, someone to help you hold onto your job. When that time came for Mary, that well was dry.




Sunday, September 9, 2007

Perceived Death as a Negotiation Tactic

This one is from a linkedin connection.

After training some great new sales people, I finished the course off with some reminders on the reasons people can employ NOT to buy - and in view of their inexperience, asked them to just use their first couple of presentations as 'target practice' and carry on with a full presentation if at all possible.

One of the trainees (a slightly built Norwegian lady) gave her first presentation perfectly, kept the price to the very end and delivered it perfectly too. The gentleman chose this moment to have a fit. Not throw a temper - a proper medical condition, falling from his chair and going into spasms on the floor.

I saw this going on and immediately went over to help. The guy was on the floor, foaming from the mouth and in need of urgent help. My trusty trainee unfortunately saw this as his reason to leave her presentation, leant over his body shouting, "SO, JUST HOW MUCH TOO MUCH IS THE DEPOSIT?" The young lady went on to be a super salesperson - but did learn to chill out a little from that point........

By the way, we did get a doctor on the scene, the man was OK after some insulin and a rest :-)

- John P.
www.linkedin.com

"Nice Shoes" is not sexual harassment

When people think of the topic of sexual harassment, they usually think in extremes, because "extremes" are newsworthy. We hear about workers who suffered prolonged humiliation, loss of dignity, and sabotaged careers under the oppression of a manager with carnal motives. On the flip side, we've heard of the frivolous lawsuits because an individual felt that "Your Shoes Look Nice" was some sort of secret code for "Let's go back to my place and play naked twister".

Lets be honest, try as we might, guys have a different view on sexual harassment. The odds are extremely low that it will ever happen to us. In fact, in the movie "Disclosure" where Demi Moore is throwing herself at a married Michael Douglas, and he stops her in mid-foreplay. Every guy is like "DUDE, NOOOOO!!!!". Yeah, most guys are really like that.

With my computer programmer physique, I have never been a candidate as a potential sexual harassment victim. However, one of my female associates shared her experience with me. Ill be honest, I didn't think this kind of stuff went on anymore. After she shared her story, I realized that my experience with mandatory "sensitivity training" had actually desensitized me to how powerful and destructive sexual harassment can be.

"During my tenure with a mid-sized professional services firm, I used to be given 'advice' from the CEO's secretary on what to wear to certain meetings. Depending on the location, purpose, and the number of existing or potential clients, some meetings required a little more exposed skin than others. One of my female colleagues, who used to travel with the big bosses, was asked to join the CEO, President, and a prospective client in a hot tub in her bikini. When I asked about what transpired beyond the hot tub and champagne the only feedback I received was "we landed the deal". Later I accompanied the CEO on a business trip to South Beach. Even though I was married, with a small child, the CEO kept flirting with me and repeatedly requested that I show him my underwear. I felt so disgusted that it permanently affected how I felt about the company, my job, and myself.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Legend of the Purple Squirrel

Part III

You are a sales team in an enterprise deal and here's the situation:

You're up against a behemoth of a competitor

The evaluation is poorly managed and you have been forbidden access to the decision makers

You have one last shot to win

What do you do?

To recap the previous installment, my team was working on an opportunity with a DC non-profit organization. We were hastily called in and provided a straightforward, sincere, presentation on our capabilities, followed by an awesome lunch at the Capital Grille, and we made the final list of two. It was down to us and Microsoft.

To win, we had to win. A "tie" and my competitor wins. And lets not forget the whole "No one gets fired for buying Microsoft factor". We were the riskier purchase. To top it all off, every bit of technology in that shop was Microsoft and we were written in Java.

All things being equal we really were a better fit. The prospect had over 20 sites that they wanted in multiple languages, with pdf download, and xml syndication requirements. This was our sweet spot. However, because we had limited communications with the prospect, we needed a hook, an easily-consumed message that would resonate with the audience and strengthen our claim as a better fit for their requirements.

"The Purple Squirrel" idea actually came about as a result of a conversation with a seasoned consultant who claimed that given enough time, money, and resources, you could build (in software) anything, even a purple squirrel.

Now, before you go nuts and try something in your sale pitch that has only been successful in the cartoons, it is important to know that there are three criteria for anything included in your sales presentation:

Relevancy

Uniqueness

Timeliness

In short, you want to be talking about the right things, to the right people, at the right time. Miss one of these criteria and you lower your chances of moving forward in the deal.

Cahill and I surmised that our most valuable advantage was that we had functionality relevant to the project that was part of our standard software install that would otherwise have to be custom built in the Microsoft software. The challenge was that the last scheduled meeting would be timed and scripted. When your meeting is scripted you can't veer too far off topic without looking like a real schmuck.

So we devised a way to draw a great deal of attention to our advantages, without veering off script.

We arranged our presentation accordingly with only the following modifications:

Early in the presentation we had a graphic of our purple friend with the words "Purple Squirrels = Time and Money" emblazoned across the screen.

Secondly we placed two types of small graphics throughout the presentation. The first was our friend, sized about .75" x .75", on those slides that discussed features that would have to be custom built in the Microsoft solution, underscoring the message that there was expenses involved with our competitor that where not applicable to our solution. For example in our solution you could have an unlimited number of stages in a document's work flow approval process. At that time, Microsoft's could only support five stages before custom code had to be used.


The second graphic was the squirrel with a red circle and line superimposed on it, in a manner that you see "No Smoking" signs. We placed those on the slides where we offered a feature out of the box that they would normally have to build. For example our solution would automatically manage embedded hyperlinks within content. So if a press release had a link to product information that had been updated or removed from the site, the link would automatically be removed or updated.

We pack up and fly to DC. We were a bit nervous, because if our audience didn't really "get" what we are doing, we are going to look real stupid, real fast.



We arrived for our meeting, exchanged introductions, and started on the first exercise in the script, using PowerPoint to explain what we were about to accomplish in the software and to highlight any relevant advantages of our approach, followed by a software demonstration. At the beginning, we explained that the squirrel logo was simply there to highlight those areas where we offer more value than our competitor. We proceed through each section of the script, without drawing any additional attention to the squirrel, but it was obvious the audience had conditioned themselves to look for the graphic as we progressed along, because every time the squirrel appeared the number of questions increased vs those slides without the squirrel.


After a meeting like this, you can feel good about it, but you really do not know how well you did. I have been in meetings where I thought we hit a home run, only to find out we were practically eliminated in the first 15 minutes. Conversely, we've all had those client experiences where you would rather have gone through a severe IRS audit, only to find out that you were the best presentation they had seen. After this stunt, I didn't have the courage to fathom a guess on how well we ranked.


"Sasser, what in the hell is a purple squirrel?" This is how my VP of North American Sales greeted me on our Monday Morning conference call the following week. A quick lesson, if you are going to try a Purple Squirrel Maneuver, and you have the experience and seniority to suffer the consequences if you fall flat on your ass, tell as few people as possible. It is usually those with the least amount of field experience that will try and stop you.


Anywho, my inside team had followed up with the prospect while I was on the plane ride back home. The prospect responded that they really enjoyed the "rodent" in our presentation, and went on to share that during the meeting with the other vendor, the phrase "Oh we can do that with a little extra code" by the vendor was answered with an almost group wide cry of "PURPLE SQUIRREL!!!!".


Yeah we won. My team looked like heroes and the Purple Squirrel became a legend.


Mainly because the circumstances never aligned where we deemed it necessary, we never used the squirrel again.









Sunday, August 12, 2007


The Legend of the Purple Squirrel

Part II

Being a virtual team we had people stationed all over the country. I lived in Georgia, my primary Sales Engineer lived in Providence, and our corporate office was in Boston.

A few years ago, in the middle of summer, our inside team finds an opportunity at a DC non-profit organization. This was a common event that was made special by the first phone call "Yeah, we meant to call you guys, but we forgot, but we have you scheduled for an onsite presentation this Wednesday".

"Whoa" was my initial response. Without giving us any written requirements, 36 hours notice, and no real contact to any of the decision makers, we were supposed to assemble our team and come into their organization and be relevant to their project based on one phone call. A project whose requirements where not going to be documented until after our first presentation. Lovely.

Frankly I wanted to take a pass, but unfortunately, it would have taken more effort to get out of going, than actually doing the meeting.

So Cahill and I meet up in DC, in July, wearing suits, looking suave, and with the lowest G.A.D. (Give A Damn) factor imaginable.

Its interesting, when your G.A.D. factor is that low, you come across as extremely confident. So confident in fact that when we met the project lead, who happened to be French, we corrected his English on our way into the board room.

We enter the board room and the consultant leading the evaluation(the one who was late on documenting the requirements) politely introduces herself and gives us the instructions. There was to be two segments to the presentation; "business requirements" and "technical requirements". She would monitor the questions during the demonstration and only the appropriate questions should be answered in each section. To clarify, if a technical question was asked during the business portion of the presentation, we were not to answer, but she would right down the question and we answer during the technical portion.

We had made reservations and announced to the consultant that we had a lunch meeting down the street from the Capital and would be finishing fifteen minutes earlier than the allotted time. She nodded her head in approval.

So the team for the Business portion of the requirements files in. Very nice people. After a brief conversation I realized it was the consultant's lack of performance that has caused the mad rush. But the G.A.D. factor still remained in the cellar.

We gave one of the most sincere, straight-forward presentations of our lives that afternoon. "No, our software doesn't do that", "I wouldn't try that if I were you, it will be expensive", and ,my favorite, "Our competitor does a better job in that area". I don't know if you ever had the Porterhouse at the Capital Grille in DC, but yeah, its worth it and I didn't want to be late.

During our meeting, no less than 20 times, our responses were interrupted by a shrill "Don't Answer!, Please save that for the technical portion!!!!". In fact the consultant stopped our presentation to scold the evaluation team (the people that were paying her) that they should limit their questions to only the topics listed on the requirements document (the one they told us that didn't exist 36 hours earlier).

So fine, we power through the business requirement, being polite, professional, and very succinct.

Finally, the consultant announces that we have reached the end of the business requirements. We were to take a 5 minute break and allow the technical team enough time to file in, and the business team to file out.

So we grab a coke, check our watches, and expect a mad rush of people.

One person gets up to leave.

And that's it.

No other people come in.

The exact same people are on both teams. The one who left was a secretary who was curious to what a content management system could do.

An group eye roll commenced in the direction of the consultant as we continued on.

We thanked everyone for their time. I had my steak, and we left DC.

Two days later we learn the evaluation was down to us and Microsoft. Microsoft hadn't actually shown up for their presentation, they barely returned phone calls, and no one at the client actually had seen the product. But they did know that it was doing the site for the XBox, so it had that going for them. (Disclaimer: My Microsoft stock is underwater right now, please buy as much Microsoft as you can).

So it was my team, who had jumped through hoops, paid prime travel dollar, and had 3 days invested in this, vs. Microsoft who was almost too busy to talk to the client in the final round.

It was time for the Purple Squirrel.

Continued......

Friday, August 10, 2007

Whats in a Name?

The post below was forwarded to me in response to a question posted on linkedin.com. After initially reading and laughing, a horrible thought struck me "Uh, oh I might be one of the guys he's talking about".

Thank you Gerald for sharing

"I've had business development people greet me in public places in a highly enthusiastic manner, which diminished not one iota after I advised them that I did not actually go by the name by which they addressed me.

In fact, I am an entirely different person and have an actual acquaintance with the real people they thought I was.

The five times this has happened, I was pressed to accept a business card and a luncheon invitation, both of which I have not further pursued."


-Gerald L.
www.linkedin.com

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Purple Squirrel's Performance Anxiety

Sales meetings come in many forms - educational overviews, service level negotiations, real estate tours. For those of us in technology sales, "Proof of Concept" meeting brings the sort of peril that can take three seasoned professionals and strip them of all their confidence.

Government agencies, unlike private industry, need to justify each step of a purchase process, documenting the many ways that their requirements, which often strain reality require a 50% discount for the pleasure of doing business with them.

Back in the early 00's, Sasser, "Steve," and I presented to the agency developing the project scope and specification for a website spanning all Federal agencies, and bringing information resources together in one spot. The agency compiled a panel of two outside consultants and internal technology specialists to compare and evaluate the companies bidding for the work.

Our instructions were to arrive at the appointed date and time with a virgin laptop (If you knew our company, there was no such thing. "bada bing, I'll be here all week, don't forget to tip your waitress") and await further instructions.

Upon arrival, we had a schedule timed to the minute, with sections charmingly titled -

"install software"
"receive materials"
"build site from scratch"

During the break, the three of us happened to be using the men's room at the same time, and luckily, all had brought all of our bags, jackets, whatever.

"Whaddya think? They're all inside, we could leave now, and just pretend the whole thing never happened."

"That's an option - they don't know our hotels?"

"You leave anything behind in there?"

"No, we're good - let's jet."

Of course, being wusses, we didn't.

Point being, even given a structured evaluation process and intelligent people running that process, the temptation to ask a company to create a Purple Squirrel out of thin air, on a moment's notice, keeps smart people and good products from getting to the market.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Back Button

A few years a go, one of my Sales Engineers was involved in a bake off at financial services firm in Manhattan. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a bake off in the world of enterprise software is used to described when a company, evaluating solutions, brings in a multiple vendors and submits their systems to a series of scripted tasks. The company's evaluation team monitors the performance and attempts to get a handle on what they can reasonably expect from the system, and look for those hidden gotchas that may come back to bite them in the butt.

So we make it into the bake off, and there is a lot of excitement around the office because if this financial services firm is a house hold name and to have them as a client would do wonders for enhancing our reputation as a major player in our field. Needless to say we threw our best people onto the project and sent a small army to pull this off.

Each vendor was assigned two days. We go in for our first day and things are going along reasonably well.

A word here about content management systems. The beauty behind them is that they separate content from its presentation layer. This allows someone to simply fill out a basic web form and have it published into HTML, PDF, XML simultaneously with the proper tags, formatting, etc. The user interface for our system was all browser-based. So you could have two windows open, one where you are typing in your content, and the other as your content appears on your website.

As I mentioned, things were going along great, and we were in the middle of showing how to create a press release by simply filling out one of our web forms, when a member of the evaluation team stops us. "Hit your the browser's back button right now" he ordered.

"Excuse me?" came our reply.

"Hit your back button. I want to see if it saves what you have typed so far or you would lose everything when it goes back to the previous page"

"Ok". Our Sales Engineer navigated back one page. Its at that point that the question was answered. Unless the user clicked on the "Save" button at the bottom of the screen, the newly typed content would be lost.

Awkward Silence.

The evaluation team left the room.

More Awkward Silence.

After 20 minutes, the head of the team came in, thanked us for our efforts, but politely dismissed us by stating that we have failed in one of the major requirements and that there would be no need for us to return the following day.

After our attempts to stay were politely denied, we left.

The bake off was held in Tower 1, World Trade Center. The date was September 10th, 2001.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Legend of the Purple Squirrel

Part 1

The argument can be made that in the majority of "deals" the winning vendor typically offers either A) the lowest price B) a unique, relevant solution to a pressing problem or C) a combination of both.

Not Really a Legend, the Story of the Purple Squirrel is centered on my team's efforts to create a unique, humorous, yet effective means in which to relay to a prospective client the value of our solution. To be honest it was the summer and my team had grown weary, some would say bored, with our own sales pitch. While it was true we were top grossing team in North America, we were starting to lose the "excited tone" in our presentations and we needed a change. Add to the mix that a newly found prospect, and their disorganized evaluation process somewhat pissed us off, we felt we had the opportunity to stretch outside our comfort zone a bit and doing something fun.

Before we go to much further, lets talk about what it takes to pull off a successful Purple Squirrel maneuver. First you need confidence in your solution and yourself (or your team). Next you need a combination of "uniqueness" AND relevancy. Every viable competitor offers a relevant solution to a varying degree so being one of those "who get it" is usually not enough. In addition being really unique, without being relevant, well, that just makes you a weirdo.

And there are limits to being creative and one should not throw common sense out the window when trying to think outside the box.

We came across an illustration of this a few years ago. My team was competing for the business of a Midwestern media company. We had made it through the preliminary stages of the evaluation and were invited in for the first of many onsite presentations. As we walked into the conference room and started to setup our equipment, the members of the evaluation team filed in. While not quite apparent at first, we eventually noticed a brand new pair of white tube socks sitting in the middle of the table. The tags where still on them. When asked, the head of the evaluation committee gave this amused look and said "Oh, those are from the last presentation *snicker*".

One of our competitors was a start-up. Brand new, without an established customer base or adequate resources, they tried to compensate for their organizational deficiencies with "scrappiness". When you're scrappy you try stuff.

Scrappy Plan A - send almost the entire company to the meeting.
I do not know why Senior Executives think this is a great idea, but, The President, Senior Vice President, Vice President of Sales, Vice President of Development, The Sales Rep, and Finally the Sale Engineer attended the first meeting. Everyone was eager (and scrappy), all wore dark suits, and all were there to make the commitment to the prospect that they were going to make them the best customer ,etc. And yes, the next release would satisfy all of their needs, professional, personal, and even sexual if need be.

Scrappy Plan B - start off with a bang.
So the socks. Im sure this sounded really good on the car ride over, but after the introductions were exchanged, the meeting started with the Sales Rep lobbing the new pair of the aforementioned socks on the table and proclaiming to the room "You are going to need these.....because what Im about to show you will.....(you see where this is going don't you?).......knock your socks off!!!!

Scrappy.

Scrappy Plan C - when asked a question, be scrappy

"So what happens if I have a problem after you close?" Our company - Our London Office handles our after-hours support, we forward our 800 support line to them at night.

Scrappy Company - You wont have any problems.

Needless to say, startup company didnt make the cut. Im assuming that the Sale Rep expensed the socks.

continued........