One of the key themes of this blog is outside-in thinking, so it’s no surprise that a book entitled, It’s Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone, caught my attention.
As an FBI agent, Robin Dreeke used these techniques to gain quick rapport in order to get people to open up to him, sometimes revealing far more than they expected to. I doubt many of my readers are trying to cultivate undercover informants, but it’s a useful skill to have in sales and just about any persuasive communication.
Many of the techniques will be familiar to the average reader of this blog, and many are common sense, albeit of the kind which we need to constantly reinforce and practice to turn them into productive habits. Examples are #5, suspending your ego so you don’t always have to win or be right, and #6, validating others to make them feel important, particularly by improving your listening attitude and skills.
But there are also many useful tips which were new to me (and I’ve read a lot on the topic, ranging from beginning with Dale Carnegie, through Daniel Goleman and most recently to Neffinger and Kohut), especially since the book is filled with anecdotes illustrating the use of each technique in real life. One example is technique #1, establishing artificial time constraints. When you approach a stranger to strike up a conversation, they generally feel uncomfortable because they don’t know how much of their time you’re going to take up. You can sometimes get people to put down their guard if you show or tell them up front that you’re only going to take up a quick bit of time.
It’s possible that some of these things could be seen as “manipulative”, but that depends on your intent. If you genuinely take an interest in the other person and have their best interests in mind, using the techniques will leave them feeling better for having talked to you, and that is a win for all concerned.
To put this book into the larger context of the sales world, the publication of The Challenger Sale ignited a debate about the relative effectiveness of challenger selling vs. relationship selling. While I personally give a slight edge to challenger selling, I don’t see any reason at all that they should be mutually exclusive. Relationships may not be all-important in B2B sales, but they certainly are important, and you don’t have to be disliked to deliver challenging insights about the customer’s business. Besides, if they like you, they are more likely to listen in the first place.
 As the old saying goes in sales: “If you want a friend, get a dog.” I have two, so what does that say about me?
In the golden age of the industrial era, the key resource was the means of production, best symbolized by Ford, which emerged and thrived because of its mastery of mass production techniques that allowed it to capitalize on vast economies of scale. Companies gained competitive advantage by making and selling more and better stuff. In other words, they dominated the upstream activities.
Today, as explained by Niraj Dawar in his book, Tilt: Shifting Your Strategy from Products to Customers, the center of gravity has shifted to downstream activities. Manufacturing and even new product development can easily be outsourced, so there is no longer any competitive advantage in controlling upstream activities. The key resource is now the customer’s mind. In this new world, companies compete on economies of scope: rather than asking “how can we sell more of what we make to customers?”, they are asking, “what else does the customer need?” A great example is Amazon, which doesn’t sell better stuff, it sells stuff better.
To succeed in the new tilted landscape, CEOs and marketers (and may I add, salespeople) need to be asking themselves new questions.
- Why do customers buy from us?
- Why do potential customers not buy from us?
- What else does the customer need?
- How else can we slash the customer’s costs and risks?
- Are we criterion takers, or criterion makers?
- My own addition: how else can we help them grow revenues or serve their customers better?
How does a company compete for downstream competitive advantage? Although the book considers both B2B and B2C companies, I’ll focus here on the former. In Part 2 of the book, Dawar explains how a company can use its “perch”, or higher and wider perspective of the market, to bring innovations and fresh insights to customers. Because they deal with large number and wide range of different customers, they can see the whole forest, and use their knowledge to relay and connect ideas, provide benchmarking information, and make predictions that add value.
The second section of the book dives deep into the scarce resource that we should all be competing for: the customer’s attention and cognitive effort. Dawar poses an interesting thought experiment. If Coca-Cola somehow lost all its physical assets, would they be able to raise funds to restart their business? The answer is clearly yes. But if somehow the entire world got partial amnesia and forgot about the Coca-Cola brand, would anyone invest billions of dollars in the business? Clearly not. The point is that a brand, or a customer’s perception of your company, is a critical asset because it lowers the customer’s costs and risks of making a decision to buy. They don’t have to expend much attention or think very deeply about their decision. That’s why downstream competitive advantage can be not just sustainable but accumulative. Through network effects, habit, and confirmation bias, the rich brands tend to get richer by gaining more and more mind share.
One interesting insight the book provides is that what is important is not being first to market, but first to mind. Anyone remember the Erwise browser or Chux disposable diapers? The incumbents have managed to define and dominate the customers’ purchase criteria, and the only ways for a challenger to overturn this dominance is to either provide an offering that is clearly superior in the important criteria, or change the criteria of purchase. You can either be a criterion taker, or a criterion maker.
There’s so much more I could write about this excellent book, but I’ll let you take it from here. Let me just say that if you aim to be an intrapreneurial sales professional, you need to read this book soon, and you need to sit down and seriously reflect on the six questions above.
P.S. If you don’t have time to read the whole book, read Dawar’s summary article in this month’s Harvard Business Review. If you don’t have time to read that, you have my sympathy.
Judging by the title, you would think that Quit Whining and Start Selling is one of those motivational books that is long on exhortation and inspiration and short on practical advice. At least that’s what I thought when Kelly Riggs asked me to review his book. I was skeptical—not because I’m opposed to motivation but because you’re not likely to find it in a book.
The book is actually very engaging and motivational, but, the title does the book a disservice, because its real strength is in its practical, solid sales advice. Reading this book is like having a wise and experienced sales coach looking over your shoulder providing guidance on the critical performance factors at each stage of the sales cycle. The book is arranged in eight parts, roughly in the order of the sales cycle:
Part I frames the discussion by defining the elements that lead to sales success. Riggs reminds us that none of us is destined to success or failure—“you are destined to whatever you have the desire and the discipline to create.“ The discipline part comes in the form of the next six parts: defining what your customers are buying, analyzing and planning your work and your sales approach, and improving effectiveness at each stage of the sales cycle.
Part II, What Are You Selling?, gets you thinking about what your product or service means to the customer. Kelly reminds us that superior products do not just sell themselves, and the standard trite talk about quality, service and value does nothing at all to differentiate you in the customer’s perception.
Part III is the shortest in the book, comprising only two chapters, but in my own opinion it’s the most important concept of all. It’s best encapsulated in the quote by Deming: “If you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” An effective sales process is the key to consistent sales performance, and the only way to know what is working and what isn’t.
Parts 4-7 show how to improve your effectiveness in each stage of the sales process: Planning, Discovery, Presentation and Delivery. This is where the meat of the book comes in with specific face to face selling ideas and techniques.
Part VIII is about personal success habits, and is the most “motivational” part of the book. It’s a useful reminder that you have to work smarter and harder to reach the top 1% of your profession.
Quit Whining and Start Selling is also a good read, full of engaging stories and examples that illustrate important points. I also appreciated that each chapter is book-ended by excellent quotes that set the stage at the beginning of each chapter and brief “1-on1 principles” that sum up the principal lesson.
I wrote earlier that you’re not likely to find motivation in a book, but upon reflection that’s not quite accurate. Motivation does not come from hearing things you already know; it comes from learning new things that you know can improve your results if you implement the process. Process plus discipline will carry you through even when short term enthusiasm fades away. If you look at it this way, Quit Whining and Start Selling is a quick read that can have lasting impact on your sales career.
 That’s my subtle way of introducing the fine print disclaimer. I provided a promotional blurb for the book. (Not that it made the cover.)
If you want to be different from your competitors, build your credibility with prospects and customers, and get your audiences more engaged in your presentations, Whiteboard Selling: Empowering Sales Through Visuals, by Corey Sommers and David Jenkins can show you how.
As the title of the book indicates, the authors urge salespeople to can their slides and conduct their presentations interactively using a whiteboard.
There are some strong arguments for getting away from slide decks:
- As I’ve written before, senior level executives (and probably everyone else) often dread having to sit through the standard sales deck, with its reams of slides displaying the “company history” and walls of words. If you show up and do something different, they will definitely pay attention.
- Some salespeople are just projector operators. They show up, connect the laptop, and read off the screen a presentation that someone else put together. If you could train a monkey to operate the projector, or better yet, just email the slides in advance, you would deliver equal credibility and value at a much lower cost.
- Sustainable agreements are much more likely when the customer is actively engaged in telling you their story and building the solution with you. The design of most presentations fosters a transmit-only approach and discourages questions and interactivity.
Whiteboard Selling shows how to encapsulate a large slide deck into a single whiteboard that builds the story you need for particular stages in the sales cycle, including qualification and discovery, why change, competitive comparison, making the business case, and closing. That’s a particular strength of the book—it’s as much about effective sales process as it is about presentations.
In their words, “it should be a cohesive visual that tells a singular story within a defined space”. This phrase neatly captures the two principal advantages of the whiteboard approach. It allows you to build a story with your customer while also harnessing the power of visuals. You’ll know you succeeded when the customer insists on saving what’s on the board so they can sell the idea internally.
Even if you don’t want to take the drastic step of getting rid of your slides entirely, the discipline of going through the whiteboarding process would definitely sharpen your thinking and your delivery.
Some people reading this review might shudder at the thought of unleashing your sales force onto the world armed with nothing but colored markers. How do you ensure quality and consistency? Have no fear; the book is actually written with sales and marketing managers as its audience, and devotes substantial space to the process of designing, training and implementing a whiteboard approach in your sales organization. As such, it’s not really a “how-to” for individual sales professionals, although any reasonably intelligent and experienced salesperson could probably design their own.
While the general approach outlined in the book makes excellent sense, I would guess that the challenge—and effectiveness—of rolling out the process to the entire sales force is not as straightforward as the book makes it appear. In fact, the close scripting required to ensure a consistent message would seem to detract from the flexibility and natural flow that effective sales conversations require, possibly defeating the purpose.
Maybe the ideal approach combines the best of both approaches. Ironically, the authors advocate using PowerPoint to design the whiteboard templates to begin with. That got me thinking: why not combine both approaches? Tablets running MS Office could be used to project slides, and the presenter could write and draw on the slides just as with a whiteboard. It’s worth finding out, and I plan to experiment with the approach and write about it in upcoming posts.