The Peace & Power of a Positive Perspective


Posts Tagged ‘Listen More’

First in, best dressed

Today, sales professionals often have to catch up with the “modern buyer” who is often ahead of us in their evaluation process.  Nothing new; here’s a tale from last century. 

It was a call-in… 

NewCo Mining was being spun off and needed a new payroll system – in 5 weeks.  What would you have done?  I scheduled a 9 am for the next morning.  Would wear my best tie. 

Carol in Finance escorted me into a conference room and introduced me to Judy from HR and Bill from IT.  (Bill was with IBM; assigned to help NewCo spin-off from the parent company’s systems.)  I started the usual way: “Thank you for inviting me to visit with your today…”  “I’ve prepared some information to share…”  “Before we get to my list, what do you want to cover?” 

Straight forward enough, but Carol just repeated the information she shared over the phone.  It was uncomfortable, until “he” walked in without introduction.  “He” sat at the end of the conference table.  No greeting, no handshake (no warmth).  Carol picked up the pace: 

We’re a new company being spun off from XYZ Mining.  We have approximately 1,000 union employees at 5 mine locations plus a corporate staff.  We need to convert to a new payroll system by the start of the quarter (5 weeks from now).  Bill is from IBM and will help us with anything we need; data conversion, interfaces, whatever.  We called you because your company is the biggest in the business; we also called your largest competitor – they will be here in an hour.  What will it take to get a proposal? 

First in! 

I described a 5-step process that would address their request: 

  1. Requirements Analysis (covering functional, technical, and financial considerations)
  2. Feedback on the feasibility of our findings; recommendations; and preliminary pricing
  3. Product and Service set presentation (functional demo, installation  requirements, interfaces; file format options; Customer Service Delivery; “Phase 2” options; and our Quality Assurance program)
  4. Final price quote review and preparation of order placement documents
  5. Joint development of the implementation plan (tasks; deadlines; responsibilities; “Go Live” date; post Go-Live phases; etc.) 

I cautioned that an implementation of their size and complexity often ran much longer than 5 weeks from the order placement date; and this was only our “Very 1st Meeting”. 

That’s when “he” spoke: 

We have Don Wall coming in next.  (FYI – Don was a Hall-of-Fame sales rep with my biggest competitor.)  Why should we buy from you instead of him? 

Again, no warmth; just eye-contact and a direct question. 

I’ve always been coached to answer direct questions with direct answers.  In this case, I said, “Well, I would answer your question this way:

  • It’s true; my firm is the largest and most successful in the industry
  • My role is to lead our most knowledgeable and experienced team to address the largest and most complex clients in the market (aka best dressed!)
  • Although we are considered the biggest and the best, I’m not sure even we can do your conversion in 5 weeks
  • With respect; you don’t have time to shop around” 

A direct answer, true? 

He looked at me for a moment, turned to Carol and said, “He’s right.  Cancel the 10 am.  Get me a proposal by close of business today.”  And he left the room. 

Carol turned to me and asked, “OK, what do you need from us?” 

First in! 


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Imagine: You’re all alone; in a sinking row boat; at sea; surrounded by sharks.  You have no oars; just a mirror.  You can see land; it’s about a mile off.  The sky is cloudless.  How would you survive this ordeal?  

Jot down your answer; we’ll come back to it. 

My Manager believes (and I agree with him) that Discovery is the most important aspect to a B2B sales process; yet it is an area that most sales people do poorly.  “Discovery”; “Analysis”; “Requirements Definition”; it goes by many names.  What do you call it?  I’ll refer to it as “Disco” for today, OK? 

Doing an effective Disco certainly is not easy.  Getting the prospect to tell you what their needs are; tell you about their current shortcomings; sharing their goals; permitting you to meet with their full staff; complete interviews with their executives; etc., etc., etc., requires the utmost of skill and discretion.  

And, of course, in competitive situations the prospect may not want to give you all of the time and the access you need to be thorough.  Worse yet:  The people you’re interacting with may favor a competitor – especially, our most tenacious competitor; “no change”.  

            Not to decide is to decide.

                                                           Harvey Cox 

When we’re doing a Disco in that situation, the people we’re interviewing will withhold key information (or worse, lie!).  Even if they favor your solution, they may still withhold information because they’ve moved past Disco into Negotiation mode, true? 

All valid – yet most often a bad Disco is due to poor skills on the part of us – the sales person.  We’re too anxious to sell; too high pressured in our questioning; in too much of a hurry.  We like to speak – not listen; we want to dwell on “us”, not focus on “them”.  And, we can over-think things instead of simply asking our prospect, “Why?”  Here’s our favorite, Unknown Sage: 

The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert.  After their tent was set up, they fell sound asleep.  One hour later, Tonto wakes the Lone Ranger and says, “Kemo-Sabe, look towards the sky.  What do you see?”  The Lone Ranger replies, “I see millions of stars.”  “What that tell you?” asks Tonto.  The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute and then says, “Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially millions of planets.  Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo.  Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning.  Theologically, it’s evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant.  Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.  What’s it tell you, Tonto?”  Tonto is silent for a moment, then says, “Kemo-Sabe, you dumb a@#.  Someone stole tent.”                                                                           

I opened today’s little ditty with a “Minute Mystery” – fun to play in a group; excellent drill for a sales team to practice their Disco skills.   One person states the mystery; everyone else works together to get to the solution.  The players can ask the leader questions that can be answered either “Yes” or “No” (only).  All-in-all, it should take about a minute to solve the mystery.  

Asking good questions; listening to the answers; and avoiding over-thinking; are all keys to solving Minute Mysteries.  True – today, you didn’t have the benefit of teammates to help you solve the mystery stated at the start.  Nonetheless, how did you do?  The answer, you ask?  “Stop imagining.” 


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Saved by Second City?

Yes, THAT Second City… 

This may be the coolest idea for sales professionals, managers, and business leaders I’ve seen in recent memory.  

I’ve always believed the sales profession has a great deal in common with the entertainment industry.  After all, who hasn’t sat through a dry presentation delivered by a really boring presenter and thought to himself, “Boy, I wish this wasn’t such a dry presentation from a really boring presenter”? 

And who hasn’t had to rely on a sense of humor when dealing with a difficult customer? 

A famous Chairman of the Board of a national airline, uses self-deprecating humor, such as the story he told about a woman who wrote a letter complaining about his airline.  She didn’t like anything: not the peanuts, not the color of the plane.  She didn’t even like the uniforms of the stewards.  She was just full of gripes. 

The marketing division took it over, spent a week writing a 22-page letter trying to reason with her, and showed it to the Chairman before he signed it.  

He read it, and tossed it into the wastebasket.  He asked for a piece of stationery and wrote; 

“Dear Madam, We’re going to miss you.  



Herb Kelleher 

Even the timing of our sales process and within each selling interaction with a prospective client is a key to our success.  Of course, timing is important to many professions, including an entertainment professional: 


I just heard the sad story of the comic who lost his timing.  He stepped on his own lines, tried to talk over the laughs, and lost his ability to build a strong close.  He got fired from one gig after another until he got so depressed, he decided to end it all.  He went down to the railroad tracks and threw himself behind a train. 

                                  The Jokesmith 

Expecting our company’s executives to understand our sales situation can also be quite the adventure: 

There were times when we lost money on every PC we sold, and so we were conflicted – if sales were down, was that bad news or good news?

                                  Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. 

Funny thing about our sales profession, though.  No matter how many mistakes we make, we can be very adept at repeating those same mistakes over, and over, and over, again, true?  And when we do, is our Sales Manager there to direct us?  Does she schedule practice time with our voice coach and our dance instructor?  Do we have regular, dress rehearsals at our company to perfect the intricacies of our profession?  I guess this is where the similarities between sales and the entertainment business part. 

And just when you think there’s no hope of anyone truly understanding and helping us improve the critical skills of our trade – Enter; Stage Right; Second City.  Really, THAT Second City. 

See if you agree that they have encapsulated some of the most common mistakes sales professionals make, while presenting these examples of our errors to us in their usual in-your-face, nowhere-to-hide, yet totally hilarious way: 


Pretty cool, yes?  

If you’d like to see if this resource is something your organization can benefit from; or, if you’re reading this little ditty after February 8th; please contact Second City for your own test link: 

Alex Hughes



Seriously, THAT Second City.


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Sorry – I wasn’t listening…

“I only have to be told twice; once.”

                                                                 Adam Katzenmeyer   

A very wise and profound statement, don’t you think?  In one, respectful sentence, Adam: (A) admitted he was not listening, (B) avoided faking it, or worse, arguing that he was listening when he actually wasn’t, and (C) acknowledged a commitment to listen, going forward.  Profound! 

Adam is a colleague of mine and this is an excerpt from a conversation he was having with one of our clients.  It is an example of lessons I often learn in my job that apply to my life.  One of the extra benefits of being a sales professional – I meet many wise and profound people. Occasionally, their profound statements hit me over the head like a 2×4; other times, the profundity is absorbed more subconsciously.  

Some advice stays top of mind with me each day; for instance, “Don’t be stupid.” Wisdom I picked from my friend and former colleague, Nick Ryder, in the late 1980s.   He and a sales support person from our company had just returned from a client meeting that didn’t go well.  His sales support person had argued with the client, which cost Nick the deal.  Afterwards, when she asked Nick what she should have done different and how she could improve in the future, he offered those three, profound words.  I try to live by them, too (although some days I probably need the 2×4). 

In 1979, my very first year in sales, I remember seeking advice from Rob Denkewalter (my first sales mentor).  I was constantly nervous when presenting to prospective customers.  His wisdom?  “Gary, for your next presentation, don’t wear any underwear.  You will be so self-conscious in front of the prospect that you won’t even think about getting nervous.”  Profound!  But I digress… 

Back to listening – have you ever found yourself in a disagreement with someone, perhaps even an argument, only to realize that you had actually mis-listened and the other person was right all along?  Did you quickly admit your mistake?  Did you ignore it and continue to argue?  Did you retreat to that neutral, face-saving place called a “misunderstanding”?  

I can get so busy multi-tasking at times that I just don’t listen.  (Drives my wife crazy when I’m present – but not present!)  Does that ever happen to you?  When it does, sometimes I can become defensive or I try to hide my mistake.  Not very wise I suppose.  It would be better to follow Adam’s advice, yes?  Of course, first I would need to become more comfortable with my mistake-making.  Do you think it’s pride that makes it hard to simply admit being wrong? 

I don’t think I’m alone with this affliction, though.  I have seen others argue, defend, and attempt to deflect the blame of being wrong almost to the point of absurdity before admitting that they simply weren’t listening.  In most of these instances, the matter was not of great importance to the other person.  But as the debate rages on, the level of irritation ultimately rises, true?  We might all agree that it is often much easier, and certainly more appropriate, to just apologize for not being present, and respectfully commit to being present going forward. 

But no one is perfect.  And if Adam’s profound wisdom needs further, more scientifically oriented reinforcement, Russell Kay offers us Grabel’s Law: 

Two is not equal to three – not even for very large values of two. 


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How to have a winning day

I’ve known several great sales professionals:  I worked along side many; managed a few; reported to one; and learned from them all.  I still stay in touch with some of these colleagues (thank you Linked In).  I have even created my own, personal sales “Hall of Fame”.  And next to the name of each of the best sales people I have known I have noted what makes them special.

These great sales people share some things in common.  For instance, they are all wealthy (Duh!). They have the “earned wealth” kind, not the inherited-from-their-families kind.  Also, they are all extremely competitive; very smart; absolutely skilled; unbelievably smooth; totally articulate; and quite worldly; again, no surprises here.  Some are more personable than others (yes, arrogance can creep into successful, self-made sales professionals); some are older than me; some younger; but all of them are the best-of-the-best in their field. 

I’ve always enjoyed surrounding myself with smart, successful, professional people.  Since I began my career in an innocent state of cluelessness, I felt the best chance I had for success was to do what they did – sort of a “paint-by-numbers” approach.  Well, three decades later I’m still in the profession (and if I can succeed, just think what you can do!).  I’m still learning too; almost every day.  But the key to success is not always found in “something new”.  There are many, time-tested, principles of success that a career can be built on. 

One great salesman I’ve known is Gary Givan.  A key principle I acquired from Gary was that of having a good day.  He used to say, if you focus on having a good day, every day, then the year will take care of itself.  Sage advice for all of us no matter our profession, yes?  Over the years I’ve found additions to his principle – more along the lines of the “How” vs. the “What”.  Here’s an example:

“How to have a Winning Day:

     1. You have to listen more than you talk…

     3. You have to smile more than you frown…

    10. You have to be fascinated more than you’re frustrated…

    15. You have to believe in yourself more than you doubt yourself.

    16. You have to work more than you whine.

    17. You have to do more than you don’t.”

                              Rob Gilbert

 Do more than you don’t – I especially like that one.  When you’re having a tough time a great remedy is to just go sell somebody something!  (Ok, that can be easier said than done sometimes; but a great remedy nonetheless.)  The nice thing about focusing on one day at a time is it’s just one day.  Some days we win; some we lose; and some get rained out; but tomorrow is always another day and another opportunity to succeed.  I guess I should add resiliency; mental toughness; and the ability to try and try again to my list of attributes great sales people have.  William Feather described it this way:

“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” 

Successful people can relate to this “hanging on” principle, yes?  And while we’re hanging on; day-by-day; one day at a time; we can narrow our focus to simply trying to make today a good day.  Oh, and one more tip (from an unknown pet lover I suppose) on how to have a good day:

“Wag more than you bark.”


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