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 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.


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

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.

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.


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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