NAVIGATE AN EVENT

Men’s Health magazine (September 2006) has a great article on the office. A sidebar article talks about navigating the office party (Titled ‘She’s hot. The boss is drunk. Make the office party work for you anyway’).

In my role, I am often put into situations where I need to ‘work a room’. A few of their office party tips are very relevant to sales people and/or sales managers, in no particular order:

1.       Hold your drink in your left hand: your right should be busy glad handing.

2.       Make sure your drink is empty before you join a new group. Use the empty vessel as an excuse to change groups. (I would also add that you should always take half drinks at the bar to ensure maximum flexibility of movement without drinking too much – see bottom)

3.       Always stay on your feet to increase social mobility, and introduce people. Be the one who is making connections. People will look at you and say “Here is someone you need to know, people will look at you as a connecting point and will return the favour”

4.       Hopping from conversation to conversation can make you look like a climber. Always looking over shoulders and you will be resented. Want to maximize face time, stand where there is lots of traffic.

Some other points from my own handbook:

  • Evaluate the crowd. If this is your event (You are the host), look for gaps. Important client alone or with the wrong people? Interject, be the connector, ensure they are comfortable. I remember a bad scenario where we had a big dinner and the rep did not control seating. The most important exec was last to sit (through the mingling) and was left sitting with a low level table. I looked on in horror as it happened (And ‘educated’ the rep afterward). As soon as I could break out, I hit his table and spent the rest of the evening at his table.
  •  Take control. When seating, take the time to think it out. Put the right people beside the right people. This applies to meetings and dinner events. For example, if in a meeting, think about breaking up tribes, of ensuring there isn’t an ‘us and them’ scenario (i.e. Where your team is on one side, they are on the other or your team is at the back, they are at the front. Intermingle).
  • Remember, always on. Want to enjoy yourself? Take your spouse out for dinner, go drinking with buddies. You are on the job. You are not allowed to sit in the corner, or stick with the ‘comfy guy/gal’ you like. You’re on, be on and control your drinking. Let someone else fall over.

CLIENT GOLFING: A FEW RULES

Once you have bought into the fact that golfing is important to sales, you also need to know the ground rules. Here are a few of the rules that I live by when golfing with clients:

  1.  I don’t let them win:  I have heard this time and time again, ‘let them win’. This type of false sincerity is inappropriate in my opinion. The wonderful thing about golf is that it is an individual sport so play your best.
  2. Tone down the competitiveness: While I don’t let them win, I also tone down the competitiveness. When I am out golfing with buddies, I might start some chatter to beef up the competition, which is inappropriate with clients (Unless, they open the door and enjoy this. But, be careful, they may start it but the tide can turn quickly).
  3. Be a good sport: Don’t make them put out that 1 footer, encourage them, don’t cheat (i.e. give yourself that extra inch) and whatever you do – don’t throw a temper tantrum (i.e. throw that club).
  4. Beware betting: Do you want to work with the client and take their PO or the cash out of their pocket? I don’t bet with clients and if I do, it is for fun on the course and if I win, I never take their money.
  5. Always remember you are the host: Pick up the flag, make sure everyone is having a good time, help them find a ball. Remember, you are there to ensure that THEY have a good time. Your enjoyment is secondary.
  6. Enjoy the duffer: The true test of a great salesperson is when they golf with a duffer or group of duffers. This is one of the greatest opportunities to build trust. If someone is having a really bad game or is really bad at golf, then ensure that you are a good host. Encourage (but don’t offer advice!), help out and ensure that they feel comfortable golfing with you.
  7. When you are the duffer:  Don’t apologize, but ensure that they know who they are golfing with BEFORE they arrive at the course. Make sure that you pick up, keep the pace of play and consider taking lessons (FAST) to get your game up to speed. Again, you are the host, don’t slow down the group.

Golfing is the greatest opportunity to build a relationship or ruin one. Make the most of the opportunity so they want to golf with you again. After all, they probably get hundreds of offers .. and they will golf with those that the have a good relationship with, not the jerk.

WHY I STARTED GOLFING

My brother was the kid who grew up golfing. A group of them saved their money, got golf memberships and that is all that they did in the summer: golf. He worked at the golf course with a bunch of my friends .. and loved it. He grew up a scratch or low single digit golfer, fated to be a doctor (He is a surgeon). I did not golf.

I started golfing when I was 29. I was working for Dell Computer as an Account Executive and began to quickly realize that the people I worked with (clients – specifically executives and middle management) golfed. Seemed to me that everyone golfed except me.

So, I started golfing. Candidly, it was something that I had to do and I have come to realize that in relationship selling, it is one of my top 10 ‘must haves’ for sales success.

Where else do you get 5 hours with a client? Surely not in a meeting (Although I have sat through my fair share of 5 hour meetings). It provides the opportunity for you to learn about their personal life and what they are like away from the office (serious, playful, thoughtful).

It is also a great opportunity for your clients to get to know you, what you stand for, who you are. All of these things help build understanding and that relationship bridge. It helps you build trust faster than 10 lunches or 20 meetings.

So, if you are in a sales role where relationships are important, I would suggest golf. It was one of the best investments I ever made. Plus, I love telling people that I ‘had’ to start golfing (smile). I wish I ‘had’ to more things like this ….

IT ISN’T ABOUT YOU

Had a bad day? Your boss isn’t treating you well? Your wife just ran off with the mailman and your pet ferret? Did some kids egg your house?

Well, if you are in sales, leave it at home. When you walk out that door, check your emotional luggage at the door because it is not about you. In sales, always remember it is about the person you are serving, not you. It is about what is bugging them, not you.

This point was brought home to me by my local vet. He may be great with my dog, but when I speak to him he:

1. Is always grumpy. I have never seen him smile.

2. Takes my questions as personal attacks and responds with indignation, how dare I question HIM?

3. He is rude. All the time.

4. He has a sense of entitlement, like I should be using him to support the local community.

He really ticks me off and so I use him as little as possible and his business is under performing (I have heard him complain about the lack of ‘local support’ and had more than one neighbor say they will not go back). The community votes on his sales skills with the mighty dollar, something that he does not see a lot of.

If you are going to use the vet’s approach, you better have the best product on the planet, more demand than supply and a strong propensity for saving because as soon as this dynamic changes your customers will flee.

Remember: It is not about you.

THE DANGER AND POWER OF A FIRST IMPRESSION

I am almost finished a very interesting (But dry) book – Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. Blink is about the first two seconds of looking–the decisive glance that knows in an instant. It is about how people thin slice information, making decisions at a subconscious level.

It is a fascinating read / listen . Chapter 3 focuses on a car salesman, imparting what I consider a few very good lessons. This salesman sells about 20 cars a month, roughly twice the average. He has three rules of success:

  • Take care of the customer
  • Take care of the customer
  • Take care of the customer

If you buy a car from him, he will call you the next day to ensure that everything is fine (Good follow-up, building a long term relationship that drives repeat business). If you don’t buy a car, he will call you the next day to thank you for dropping by (Reinforcing relationship, and opening the door to future business). The rep shares that he has a book full of Thank-you letters from happy clients, clients who refer him new business and return years later to buy more cars from him. These are a few simple rules that everyone can learn from.

What was really interesting was how he viewed the thin slicing approach (Thin slicing is making a snap judgment based on very little information). In his case, he avoids the natural inclination to make a snatch judgment based on appearance. He heavily overcompensates to ensure that his subconscious does not allow him to make a quick decision on whether or not the person in front of him will or will not buy a car. To him, thin slicing on appearance is the kiss of death.

He provides the example of a teenager who comes in, gets blown off by one rep and attended to by another only to return in the evening with her parents to buy a car, of the men who come in waving a cheque book saying they are ‘here to buy’ (9 out of 10 do not) or the farmer who comes in dressed in overalls and is ignored, but has tons of cash and buys quickly. I blogged on this topic here.

Instead, he focuses on the individual, working to heighten his senses as he tries to figure out if the person is suspicious or trusting, naive or knowledgeable, cautious or easy going.

First impressions or physical appearance, if allowed, can drown out all other data. The author refers to this as as the ‘Warren Harding Effect’, where the US voted for a handsome and charismatic president who was, by far, the most incompetent and reckless. You can read about Warren here.

As sales reps or managers, people must be very careful about first impressions, as they can be very misleading without experience. I will provide a personal example, while in University I worked in a high end men’s store. After 2 years of being the store lackey, I finally convinced them to let me sell while still doing my lackey job. I would pick up people who the full time staff would ignore or were to busy to service. One night, on a night that was not particularly busy, a man came in who looked a bit shoddy, and he was not ‘jumped on’ like the reps normally do, so I engaged.

Shortly into the conversation, it became clear that he was there to update his appearance. $2000 later, he was out the door a new man.

In business, people often judge by appearance. But appearance is not just physical, it can be also be organizational rank or the appearance of an office. Sales people are conditioned to look down on the entry level position or middle manager, in that senior sales management quest to get to ‘the top’ (A CXO of some type). Never make that mistake. Everyone is important, perk up your other senses to determine as much as you can about the person: are they a key influencer? are they an up and comer? are they smart enough to get around in the organization (i.e. Can they help you get your deal done)? do they have a backbone to push things through? are they looking to make a name for themselves (i.e. Looking for a successful project to attach their career to?).

Now on the flip side, sales people (and managers) need to really think about how their appearance impacts others as they will be thin sliced. The author took the time to describe the rep as someone who is well groomed, looking like a banker in his suit. He dressed to make a very clear impression – reliable, trustworthy .. someone you want to buy a car from.

Recently, this was reinforced to me by a few recent personal events:

  • I was asked ‘Why do you always wear the same color shirts, it is quite boring. You, X and Y all dress the same’. X and Y are senior people in the organization.
  • I had someone come into my office the other day, sit down and start looking around. I asked ‘what are you doing?’. His response, ‘Trying to figure out who your are’.

In the world of business casual, people really need to think about how they dress – and most don’t. I see junior people walking around in jeans or untucked ‘hip’ clothes all the time and wonder .. have they thought about what message they are sending? When you go into the office next or when you go to a client, have you thought about the image you are attempting to portray? Have you thought about how you want people to thin slice you? As I have said before, you can tell alot about a person by their shoes.

SAYING THANK-YOU

I have read hundreds of sales/management books and articles over the years and certain things stick with you, like this one: “Less than 10% of sales reps send thank-you notes”.

I am one of those 10% – not just as a sales rep, but as a sales manager and in life (In general). Why? For a few reasons:

  • We live in a fast paced world and I believe that as a society, we are going down hill. We move-move-move so fast that we don’t take the time for the small courtesies and saying thank-you is an important courtesies that people have forgotten.
  • In this fast paced world, it is easy to become lost in the crowd. I was in a furniture store the other day – one of those really big ones that all look the same and what did I see? It was a Monday and the sales rep was writing out thank-you cards. I read one, and you know what? That big box store and that sales rep will stand out in the crowd. When people win business, very few say thank-you.
  • I have walked into the office of more than one client and seen my card sitting on their shelf. That means that it meant something to them. People like to be thanked.
  • Lastly, because it is the little things that set you apart in everything you do. Recognizing someone’s good work, thanking an executive for spending time with you or thanking that administrator for helping you out. I recently thanked someone who, as I was ramping in my new role, went out of their way to help me out a few times. It meant allot to me that they helped and it meant allot to them when I sent a note to their boss recognizing and thanking them for their assistance.

I think this applies in all walks of life – be it sales, management or administration.

Say thank-you more often. It makes you a better sales person, manager and person.

STRONG RELATIONSHIPS

A true story: I was on a business trip at my company’s head office with clients. I had 2 people from my team with me and 4 clients. One of the clients was a rather cantankerous individual who kept throwing up road blocks for us, I will call him Bob (Although, he liked to spell his name backwards). The senior most person on my team made a valiant effort to get to know this client and break down that barrier. While enjoying the company of the others, I watched in amusement as he repeatedly crashed and burned:

“So, where did you go to University?”

Bob: “I went to Waterloo”

“Really, me too! I took …. (Insert long diatribe on his own personal story)”

Bob: “Well, that is interesting. I was there long before a young pup like that” (I wince, good one Bob. Shut down the conversation and insert a put down all at once)

Insert silence, followed by the sound of a big crash followed by a burning sound. So, why did this conversation fail? Why did he not get the opportunity to build a relationship?

Because he did not LISTEN. When Bob provided the PERFECT opportunity, he talked about himself. What did this accomplish? Bob got to learn all about him, whether he wanted to or not. Bob also got the message that he was not important. The sales person’s role is to build that bridge, to understand the client at a personal level. Only by understanding what makes someone tick, can you build trust on THEIR terms. The salesperson does not get to dictate the terms of the relationship (As he tried to do by talking about himself), the salesperson must conduct a reconnaissance and, as every single relationship is different, build the bridge of trust according to the terms that the client dictates.

So, how did this end? I stepped in, asked a few questions and LISTENED. Before I knew it, Bob was talking all about himself. Unlike my counterpart I was not listening to the conversation thinking ‘Gee that is nice, but let me tell you this about myself’. I SINCERELY remained interested and found the common threads upon which to build a relationship. To the amazement of my colleague, we spent the evening laughing and talking about some very diverse topics (I learned that he was a sci-fi nut, and I love sci-fi. I also learned that he has a cool hobby that I know nothing about and now know alot about). We started building a relationship while he sat on the outside.

Over time, that relationship strengthened. Bob began sharing his concerns about our company. We built a relationship and the barrier came down. We started doing business. An additional benefit was imparted, I learned from Bob (A side benefit that most people miss and a topic for another blog).

In summary, the key is sincerity and the ability to listen. Check the ego at the door, your opinions and views are not important, what you are about to learn is. So what do you do with that knowledge? With so many daily contacts – how do you keep track of it all when you can have a bad habit of forgetting names? (A topic for another blog)