Sell to who the customers are, not who you want them to be


being or bringing into harmony; a feeling of being “at one” with another being

I’m sitting next to an experienced salesperson.  Across the table an older couple smiles graciously as we chat.  The customers are older.  He is 89 years old.  His wife is 81.  Their mobile home is orderly and cozy and filled with family photographs as well as the almost required chotchski cabinet.  They need a new air conditioning system.

“You know at 89 I don’t need anything that’s got all the fancy stuff on it.  We just want to stay cool and comfortable…”

The man’s thinking of the end game.  His wife continues.

“And the budget is a big part of this for us.”

Eventually there are limitations that we all face–always time and usually money.

I asked the couple: “Have you budgeted for this project?”  Normally I wouldn’t ask this question but this wasn’t a normal situation.  These wonderful people were undertaking an expensive home improvement project late in life.

“We’d like to keep the project around $8,000,” she answered.  The entry-level system on the salesperson’s price menu was around that price.

As if she’d said nothing of significance the salesperson began pitching a product that was nearly twice that price.  He discussed advanced filtration, zoning, solar options. His “expert” opinion concluded that the couple needed a home comfort system that was upwards of twenty-two thousand dollars.

The couple wasn’t smiling at that point.  “We need to think about it,” she said.

Afterwards the salesperson and I talked about his decision to ignore clear buying signs.  He felt that he’d done right by the customers.  After all, he argued, “knowledge is power.”  Moreover, his straight commission comp plan encouraged him to sell up, sell up, sell up!

Unfortunately he was trying to sell a square peg in to a round hole.  Not every customer is a premium product customer with a keen interest in accessory items.  Not every customer can qualify or chooses to qualify for financing.  Not every customer is staring down the business end of life.  Attempting to up-sell these people not only demonstrated a clear lack of empathy and attunement but jeopardized the salesperson’s credibility.

Sell to who your customer is, not who you want them to be.  Listen–really listen.  Listen for understanding–not simply as a trigger to another canned answer.  Pay attention to their home, their circumstances.  Exercise the highest level of empathy and attunement.  Serve as a mendicant with disciplined, mindful humility.

Before a salesperson can sell something he needs to be attuned to his customer.  Lacking that attunement he runs the risk of being perceived as a pitch man, hustler, and runner-up.

10 Ways to Close More Sales

The era of the “hard close” and the “ABC” mentality has, thankfully, long since passed.  Nonetheless, talented salespeople are always looking for effective and low-pressure tactics that will help seal the deal at the kitchen table.  Here are some simple ways to increase a close ratio while preserving one’s integrity with a customer:

  1.  Understand the customer’s specific priorities.  As a young salesperson I was given a list of closed questions designed to build rapport.  “Do you have any rooms that are too hot or too cold?”  “How old is the home?”  “How long do you plan to stay in the home?”  Closed questions or questions that may cause unnecessary pre-judgement are ineffective in a collaborative economy.  Instead, utilizing open-ended questions that allow the customer to tell stories, share personal insights, and do not limit value-building opportunities best position a salesperson to fully understand the customer’s key buying motivations.  In lieu of this quality of understanding a salesperson will often miss the mark during the closing stage of a call–shifting in to “spray and pray” mode.  An open-ended needs analysis is the foundation to a successful close.
  2. In-group bias.  Humans are hard-wired to want to belong to a pack or a tribe.  From cliques in high school to the types of people we surround ourselves with as adults, we are all searching for a form of like-minded belonging.  Successful salespeople often utilize client testimonials, customer service ratings, video sharing, and other types of evidence that their service is exemplary to encourage a customer to buy and thereby join a popular and exclusive tribe.
  3. Checklisting.  A specific needs analysis allows a salesperson to design a meaningfully specific value proposition.  That, in turn, allows the salesperson to checklist all of the gains that he is able to provide based on the priorities the customer shared at the beginning of the sales call.  Checklisting is the act of targeting these specifics and the equally specific ways in which the proposal meets or exceeds these requirements.
  4. Limiting choices.  Choice paralysis happens when a customer is presented too many products or services.  Successful salespeople understand that product menus that limit product choices simplify the decision-making process while allowing the salesperson to tightly focus his benefit statements on specific criteria.
  5. Go back to square one.  Oftentimes a customer may need to be reminded of the priorities that he or she was interested in accomplishing at the beginning of the appointment.  By the end of an appointment there may be an element of exhaustion–especially with high-ticket items or products that are technically complicated.  Returning to the original needs analysis as a reminder of the customer’s initial priorities refreshes the value proposition while reiterating the salesperson’s care and attention to detail.
  6. Tell a story.  Stories are incredibly effective in that they do the work of sending a message without the salesperson having to do so directly.  Understanding benefits by affiliation, performance by extension, and gains in a story-based context help the customer visualize their own situation in a narrative.
  7. Compare the pros and cons.  If a salesperson has done his job well then the pros of accepting his proposal should greatly outweigh the cons.  Listing the pros and listing the cons helps the customer visualize the tremendous gains and improvements that he or she will have over the limited number of downsides.
  8. Make it easy.  Nobody wants to work in order to buy something.  If the customer is confused they won’t buy.  If they’re overwhelmed with choices they’re less likely to buy.  If they don’t understand the financing terms they won’t use financing.  If there’s a rebate or an incentive that feels tricky or cumbersome they’ll keep shopping.  As the old saying goes, “A confused mind says no.”
  9. Compliment them.  People love to be told that they’re making great decisions.  Most people like to be told that they’re intelligent, responsible, and thoughtful.  Great salespeople understand the emotional impact that positivity plays in the sales call…especially at the close.  “You’re making a great decision” is a subtle way of saying “You’re making a great decision with me.”
  10. Ask and ask again.  Very few customers say “yes” the first time.  The salesperson needs to be patient (but not too patient) and ask for the order once, twice, and perhaps three times.  As long as the discussion is not becoming tense or awkward the salesperson should be prepared to ask for the order, resolve the concern, and ask again.  Just don’t quit too soon.  The sale may be one conversation away.

Business Politics Can Kill Collaboration and Sales.

From: Matt Plughoff

To: Project Manager

CC: Leadership and Marketing

Subject: The project is stalling out.

Team: I don’t want to overstep my bounds here but communication is breaking down and I’m unsure as to who is responsible for X, Y, and Z.  The clients are not on board and I’m worried that we’re not going to meet plan.  Please let me know how I can assist.

Moments (literally) after I sent this email my phone rang.

Me: Hello?

Project Manager (PM): Matt?  You overstepped your bounds.

Me: That’s why I wrote “I don’t want to overstep my bounds.”

PM: But you did.

Me: How?

PM: You didn’t need to CC my boss and the marketing manager on that email.  I mean, the questions that you’re asking and the points that you’re making are right, but we don’t need anyone else involved in this discussion.

Me: Why?  Their teams were at the roll out meeting and maybe their perspectives can help get the project moving in the right direction.

PM: Well you’re right but now I have to explain to them why things aren’t rolling faster.  It’s just a slow process right now.  Plus I’m working with the IT team and that’s a long process too.  You should have just emailed me and not involved the others.

Me: I think it makes more sense to get everyone that has a say involved in the conversation–more transparency can’t hurt can it?

PM: Well no, and you’re right, I’m not saying that you’re wrong, I’m just saying that there are a lot of moving parts and we should just keep this conversation between us at this point…

Two days later, on a video conference with another client:

Me: We need to work at the branch level to ensure that their service reflects the quality that we’re promising to contractors.

Territory Manager (TM): I totally agree.  The service at my branch isn’t great and some contractors won’t even go in to the branch because of the crappy service.

Sales Manager (SM): Well, you know, we have a form that you can fill out and submit to the leadership team.  Every week we have a meeting with the district managers, purhasing managers, human resources, product managers, branch managers, the vice president and the president.  That’s when we review the forms and talk about improvements.

TM: I submitted one of those forms once and after I did the branch manager chewed me out and was pretty pissed off.  Now I won’t even bother filling out the form no-silos-640and I spend as little time in the branch as possible…

I see these breakdowns all too frequently.  Teams pitted against each other.  CYA politics that impede honest communication.  Accountability that is reduced to finger pointing.  The customer suffers without ever knowing why.

Regardless of a company’s size or structure, improving the sales process is systemic.  Exemplary sales teams need exemplary support from their teams.  Exemplary branch service needs exemplary outside sales support.  Improvement initiataives that involve multiple decision makers benefit from honesty and real-time communication.  Office politics and entrenched silos retard nimble decision making and accountability.  Replacing face-to-face dialog with sluggish forms and death-by-committee decision making erodes trust between all of the stakeholders.  Ultimately, the result is a lopsided and myopic belief that fixing the sales process is something that only concerns salespeople rather than sales systems.


Coach lands on the runway…

“Coach lands on the runway at exactly the same time as first class.” — Steve Jobs

Delta gave me first class upgrade today.  I went from 8B to 2C.  Past the curtain and in to an entirely “other” flight.  It was sweet.

There are two flights happening during every flight.  The first flight, the coach flight, is a jam packed mess.  The second flight, the first class flight, is nearly effortless.  That’s how the airlines want it.  That’s how they stack the deck.  First class travellers pay their bills.  Once they have a taste for first class service model they keep coming back.

We all arrived at exactly the same time this afternoon.  One big flying can full of people who want nothing more that to just get “there” and then get back home.  Yet we all had one of two experiences: Calm or calamity.

A curtain makes all of the difference.

The differences between coach and first class are simultaneously slight and significant.  A thin curtain between Us and Them symbolizes the divide between ease and strain.  A tumbler for your drink rather than a childish plastic cup.  A slightly wider seat as opposed to the elbow knocking turf wars that happen in coach.  First class snacks are marginally better, but marginal at best.  The differences fractional.

Here’s the real difference: a first class ticket (depending on destination and the time that the ticket is booked) will cost you significantly more.  Perceived value has a tremendous psychological, behavioral, and financial impact.  People willingly pay more for a first class ticket because of the perceived value and the small, subtle ways that the airlines makes a person feel…well…special.  In retail situations, customers who feel that they are gaining more than they’re sacrificing they will typically take action.

The question that every business owner and sales manager and sales person and installer and administrator and service technician needs to ask is simple: “Are you selling a first class ticket and delivering first class service? (nuanced as it is) or are you selling a coach ticket and delivering coach service?”

Any retail sales organization who is ready to stop battling price objections needs to honestly (and I mean non-cliched “our people are our difference” honesty)First+Class+Lounge evaluate the quality of the ticket that they’re selling.  Moreover, the quality of service that accompanies the ticket price.

Fully Committed: My Interview with The General

the general


When I began working with The General two words immediately defined the relationship: intensely professional.  There is a vibe to this remarkable company that sends a clear message to everyone who walks in the front door.  The General is a first-class company.  The General hires first-class people.  The General provides first-class training (every day!).  Perhaps most importantly, The General is a meritocracy.  Talent soars in The General.  The two current leaders exemplify these attitudes.

Patrick Somers is the General Manager at The General.  He and his busiess partner, Fransisco Rodriguez (Sales Manager), are friends.  The two are also assuming control of the company as a succession plan.  Both men are high-energy, focused, and live the standard of excellence that their predecessor Frank Harrison set many years ago.  I recently interviewed Patrick in order to better understand how he and Fransisco evolve and assume control of a company without compromising either their friendship or the company’s storied legacy.


M: Succession can be tricky business both financially and personally. How did you both view the succession process from a leadership perspective? How did you determine roles and responsibilities? Finally, how did you decide upon a working relationship that accomplished professional outcomes without compromising your friendship?

P: I look to the Dread Pirate Roberts from the Princess Bride when it comes to succession, When Roberts is ready to retire the chosen successor is put in charge with the soon to retire Captain Roberts staying on board. Once the crew accepts and becomes accustomed to the new Captain Roberts, the old leaves and enters retirement. For us it’s the same except it’s a General and not a Captain. For us the plan was well thought out with plenty of time for us to be mentored and for the reins to be gradually turned over year by year. The roles we have taken as partners are aligned with our strengths. We communicate a lot and most important is the level of trust we have with each other. Ultimately it comes down to a unified vision between the successor and the predecessor and a deep understanding that the culture has the power to bury you if you do not respect it and nurture it. That is something the three of us are very focused on, ensuring the culture remains intact and is strengthened, and that the team accepts the new leadership. Francisco and I both see General Air Conditioning and Plumbing as being something bigger than us and we have a responsibility to the brand to ensure a solid personal and professional relationship.

M: The General brand is well established in your market. From firsthand experience I’ve heard customers say: “Everybody knows The General.” How do you plan to maintain the brand legacy while evolving it to reflect a changing consumer? In other words, how will you respect the past while modernizing the brand?

P: General Air Conditioning and Plumbing is a very strong brand in the Coachella Valley, a lot has been invested to create it, not the least of blood, sweat, and tears. Our focus must always remain on the integrity of the brand and its alignment with our vision. Ultimately we have to never forget what business we are in, if we start to believe we are in the air conditioning, heating, or plumbing business we will eventually have a Kodak moment. We are in the business of changing people’s life by delivering unparalleled levels of comfort and convenience. To be successful in that business the brand must evolve with the consumer. The consumer’s wants, needs, and desires do not change so much as how they fulfill them does. Consumers never stopped wanting to capture memories, nor did they lose interest in music. The consumer simply evolved and those industries and businesses believed their brand was stronger than the evolution of the client. I believe they forgot what business they were in; ultimately they were in the business of releasing endorphins and stirring emotion. They failed to be aware of the evolution taking place around them and evolve.

M: Your sales consultants make great money and are first-class individuals. How do you keep a salesperson motivated when he or she is already performing at the highest level?

P: We do have a great sales team that we are very proud of. Keeping them motivated starts with hiring and identifying those individuals that are not easily satisfied and have a competitive nature. Identifying those individuals is not easy and we don’t always get it right. Additionally, we identify the motivators in each salesperson and it is not always money. For example, we have one team member who likes time off during our busiest months because that’s when his wife has off and they take family vacations. The initial reaction was to be angry that a sales professional wants off when we need him most. Once the initial reaction subsided, we met with him and his wife and said for every x amount of sales he will get one day off and can take that time whenever he wants. We know as does the sales team that no matter how high of a level they are performing at there is always more to learn and new levels to reach. Competitions help as well, for sales we typically have competitions that allow them to win the products they sell. Doing this we get results and the sales professional gets the products they sell installed in their home. Like everything else the most important element is to be united around a common unifying vision.

M: Our recent conversations have centered on full-team alignment and the General Experience. For many people in the service industry that type of thinking is obtuse. How do you translate The Experience concept to a practical “boots on the ground” level for folks who are more removed from leadership ideas (ex. parts runners, installers, administrative employees)?

P: It starts with communication, communicating the mission statement, the vision, and the values. Everyone has to know them and believe in them, additionally they have to know the role they play in achieving company wins. It is very important we make sure that they know what winning looks like, what a company win looks like, if we do not define them they will define them and that’s where alignment issues start. As leaders in the organization we also have a responsibility to inspire everyone, to make them aware of the contribution they play, to understand that no matter how small they believe their role to be there role is essential to our success. Lastly, most critical is having the ability to recognize when the individual is not a fit and not buying in, even more critical is being able to execute on eliminating them from the roster.

M: Training has always played an important role in your teams’ development. How has training changed over the years and how have your training needs changed over the years?

P: Training is like marketing, if you want to have successful growth you have to have it in your budget. Our training use to be very focused on the mechanics of a call, where to park, how to enter the home, how to present pricing, etc. While that still is a part of what we train on because systems and consistency is very important, over the last several years our training has become much more focused on creating an experience and differentiating ourselves. Floor savers, uniforms, guarantees are easily duplicated and companies are watching the successful company’s in their town and copying the things they are doing. We have shifted our training to be more focused on a higher level approach, understanding consumer behavior, interacting with a more educated consumer, and providing an experience for the consumer. That can only be achieved with a strong culture. We spend a lot of money and time on training specific to achieving that culture.

M: You two are friends. How do you compartmentalize business and friendship? When do you agree to disagree?

P: We became friends through our professional relationship, the more we work together the more we realized we were very much aligned in our thinking and beliefs. Of course we don’t always see eye to eye. We don’t really compartmentalize friendship and business per se, however we don’t let one interfere with the other. When it comes to business we don’t disagree, we work through where we have different points of view and one of us wins over the other. It has to be that way, we both have to have complete buy in or we will not have alignment and when we are not aligned the team will sense it and we start to get cracks in our foundation. Believe me we don’t just fold we have many heated discussions and debates; it can take time. However, when it comes to business what may have started as us having opposing views results in us emerging as unified front with each of our fully supporting each other.

M: Warehouse sales: Costco, Home Depot, Lowes. Mega retailers are a normal part of the service industry these days. Is that incursion a good or a bad thing? Why?

P: I do not believe it is good or bad it just is, it is the evolution of the industry driven by the consumer and partly us. We as an industry have done a great job of turning HVAC into a commodity, beating each other up in a race to the bottom, essentially allowing others into our space, relegating the contractor to an installer working for wages. What can be good or bad is our attitude toward it and how we adapt to this evolution. We participate in one of the programs and it is very good for us, we are careful to make sure our business outside of the box retailer grows faster than the retailer business, and that it does not exceed 20% of revenues.
I believe this evolution is a good thing because not everyone can adapt for the long term and it will take a certain sophistication to make it a successful part of your business while maintaining your own brand identity and growth. I believe it will thin the herd and make it more difficult for the companies that can’t set themselves apart beyond floor savers to compete. The down side to that is it will drive more of those contractors to become beholden to big box retailers and online retailers. To me that’s a down side because those retailers will have plenty of contractors to churn through to provide the services they sell. There is an acquisition taking place, the difference this time is it is not an acquisition of businesses, buying up brick and mortar locations. The big box and online retailers are making acquisition of customers. Ultimately the good is the struggle the retailers will face is managing the boots on the ground, managing the labor directly and providing a customer experience that is very difficult to control remotely. The companies that can do that and provide a client experience along with being easy to do business with will be victorious and that’s what we are positioning ourselves to be.

M: Marketing has always been a very significant cornerstone of The General’s sales strategy. How do you see your marketing decisions and financial allocations changing (if at all) in the future?

P: I have learned many lessons from my mentor Frank Harrison, the one that applies to marketing is you have to be consistent and we will always be consistent. However, I do see changes in marketing that will be required to stay relevant. Some of my answers above I have referred to evolution several times, with marketing it is more like a revolution! There is so much changing because of the change in consumer behavior and technology. It is going to be more and more critical for us to be at the forefront of those changes. Relationship marketing and employing more and more pull vs push style marketing is a part of our marketing allocations and I believe we will see more of it. With technology bringing us more and more collaborative and social communication channels focusing on customer retention and satisfaction are critical. Clients want to feel good about their purchases, they want social proof, and they want those they do business with to be a partner in providing a more satisfying transaction.
Overall I see more and more being allocated to social media, and grass roots community support. The more traditional marketing we use such as TV I believe will see a shift overtime to be where the consumer is, more and more people are cutting the cord and going to on demand streaming services and that will continue to grow. We are currently moving more and more into channels that help with social proof, I once hated Yelp and now I love it and it has become a revenue generator for us. This year we are going to be producing how to videos as well for our website, YouTube, and social. Consumers want to know how to “do it themselves” and if we help them with the little things they will look to us for the big things they can’t do or won’t do. The consumer is educated, they are going to find the answer and I would rather have them find it from us and look to us as that partner in ensuring a more satisfying transaction.
M: What are the most influential books you’ve read and why?

P: Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude – This is the first book I remember getting from my father when I was about 13. It has changed my life and I really credit it for teaching me how to keep my head up and my vision alive.
The Art of War Sun Tzu – These agent writings of military strategy and tactics are relevant today as much as they were when it was written. They apply to business and life, I can mediate on his writings daily and have a new take away every time.
The Seven Laws of Highly Effective People Steven Covey – This book is more like a handbook for life and is a great resource for taking yourself to the next level in productivity, life balance, and relationships.

M: Your company implements divisional goal setting. You also openly share these goals. What is the process involved in goal setting that ensures accountability?

P: Each year in October the management team goes on a retreat led by a facilitator to help keep us focused and on task. There we do a lot of SWAT analysis and build a “context Map” where we identify trends, political factors, economic climate, technology factors, customer needs and uncertainties. We discuss what business we are in and where we need to put our focus in the coming year, we come up with a budget and a plan. We then take that master plan back to the entire company and each manager works with their team to come up with their own department goals that are aligned with the master company plan.
The critical part of the accountability component is letting everyone know the plan and have a say in developing the plan on a departmentalized level braking down many of the department goals to the individual technician, CCR, office team member levels. Each member of the team knows what they must contribute and then they all sign the plan and it is hung on the wall. The second critical part of accountability is for us to continually talk about the goals and incorporate it into our daily conversations and training. Additionally, it’s important to add that we let the entire team know that we have a responsibility to hold them accountable and more importantly they must hold each other accountable and even the management team accountable.



Carrier Moves to Mexico. So what!?

My dad once told me that there was a time when Japanese automobiles were considered on par with rolling toys or death traps.  Obviously that’s changed.

In the 1960’s David Ogilvy exploded Volkswagon sales and improved their reputation with his brilliant “Lemon” advertising campaign.

My beloved MacBook is manufactured in a factory in which  conditions are so slavish and worker suicide is so prevalent that nets have been suspended along the roof line to catch jumpers.

Considering my current attire: my watch is made in Japan.  My boots are made in Australia.  My jeans are made in Vietnam.  My eyeglasses are made in Thailand.  My socks are from Costco…whatever that means.  Only my shirt and my briefcase are made in the United States.

And over the last two days my social media feeds pertaining to the HVAC industry have been plum full of articles and opinions regarding Carrier’s decision to move business to Mexico. Gloating, see-I-told-you-so quips, are being shared non-stop on Facebook and Twitter.  But the question is “why does it matter?”  My hope is that my friends will avoid the following slippery slopes:

  1.  “We’re good because they’re bad.”  Jeff Bezos is famously quoted as saying “We’re not a competition focused company, we’re a customer focused company.”  Simply because Carrier makes a decision that, in certain circles, makes them look evil does not automatically mean that other product services are good.  In other words, I hope my friends will not ignore their “Why Us” value building mandate.
  2. “Let’s waste a huge amount of time!”  How many hours will be spent shading Carrier for this decision?  How many meetings will now start with “So you heard about Carrier!?”  How many B2B sales people will turn this news in to a prospecting sales strategy?  How many B2C sales people will do the same?  My guess: far too many.
  3. “Quality is going to suffer!”  There are two problems here.  First, nobody knows that it will.  EVERY SINGLE HVAC MANUFACTURING COMPANY that I know utilizes international labor and resources.  Every one.  The Big 7 are all international companies.  They source, price, produce, ship, test, and assemble resources outside of the United States.  100% American Made HVAC unitary products are far and few between.  Second, there is a racist implication in the Carrier situation.  “It’s made in Mexico” implies that Mexicans can’t make things as well as we can in the United States.  The implication might be a turn-off when as of 2012 17% of our population is either Mexican or identifies as such.  For all we know there may be hundreds of Six Sigma Black Belts ensuring that manufacturing standards are met and errors are reduced to a fraction of a fraction.  I don’t know.
  4. Isn’t it about price?  Many of my friends sell a “private label” product because the product performs at a competitive level and at a competitive price regardless of the product’s origin or company heritage.  Their argument: This is exactly what homeowners want–solid product at a fair price– and it’s exactly how most salespeople sell.  In the HVAC industry the price-to-value equation is the foundation of our industry (unless you have a HERO program in your back pocket in which case you’re in the catbird seat.)
  5. Who really cares?  Control the things you can control and let go of the things that you can’t.  Why is YOUR company exemplary?  What does YOUR company do that leverages scarcity?  What unique processes or procedures define YOUR excellence? It’s the sales version of The Lord’s Prayer.

Peter Drucker sagaciously wrote: “Business exists to create and keep customers.”  The Big 7 companies that manufacture HVAC products all work toward this.  They have to satisfy shareholder expectations, provide a social good, provide a quality of life for their team.  The PE index reigns supreme.  In the public eye Carrier may suffer for this decision.  That’s out of my league.  How companies navigate that morray remains a mystery–I’m not that smart.

Carrier moves to Mexico and competitors attack like sharks.  My hope is that this feeding frenzy will not unnecessarily dilute the sales focus on what people do well, what they do uniquely, what they chose to discuss in substance, and their own humility that the global economy effects each of us on a daily basis.

For many salespeople the Carrier news is a boon because it is one more way not to have to answer two challenging questions: “Why are you special?” and “What do you do that I cannot find anywhere else in the market?”  My hope is that my friends will use this opportunity to take a candid assessment of the questions and define their “onlyness” and their exceptionalism as it is rather than as it exists in contrast to the competition. do shit that matters

Sales Lessons from a Bubble Gun Hawker

Two days ago The Missus and I returned from a vacation to Chile.  We stayed in a beautiful hotel in the Bella Vista district in Santiago.  Like most bohemian boroughs Bella Vista is chocked full of one-of-a-kind folks: artists, street vendors, ‘take a picture with a Llama’ guys, and food carts.  One gentleman in particular sold bubble guns on a street corner.  A bubble gun looks like a water pistol but shoots bubbles.  It also makes a whirring noise while bubbles fly out of the barrel.  Pretty cool toy.  The bubble gun guy hawked his wares every day we were there and I imagine is hawking them today.  His competition included a guy selling yellow fuzzy snake marionettes, a lady selling hand-brainded bracelets, and a huge array of booths selling sun hats and umbrellas.  Tough market.  Yet in the midst of the frenzy the bubble gun hawker always had an audience and always seemed to be captivating a new passerby.  Clearly the bubble gun hawker understood a few sales fundamentals:

  1.  Location location location!  The bubble gun hawker wasn’t selling in the financial district.  Nor was he selling near the university.  He was selling his product smack dab in the middle of tourist-central.  Families on vacation, near a hotel, with discretionary money to spend…that is where he sells.  Invariably many sales professionals find themselves selling in the same or nearly-the-same locations throughout the year.  Lead source, office location, service contracts all have a way of creating intrinsic geo-targets.  Most salespeople neglect to return to micro-markets in which their name or company brand is somewhat established.
  2. Make it fun and make it engaging.  Selling a bubble gun is fun because the product is fun.  It’s cool to see bubbles blast out of a barrel.  It’s fun to watch the salesman make a smiley face in the air with bubbles.  Plus the gun looks pretty sweet.  It is a salesperson’s responsibility (and craft) to bring a product to life and to make it sing.  Salespeople can transform the relationship between a customer and a product by engaging on verbal, auditory, tactile, intellectual, fact-based, referral-based, application-based, solution-based, and design-based modalities.  Make the product sing in order to make it desirable!
  3. Plant seeds.  We didn’t buy a bubble gun (I’m a Nerf man).  My daughter is 10 months old.  Had I purchased a bubble gun she would have tried to eat it.  That’s her thing right now.  Nonetheless, the bubble gun hawker let us know each and every time we walked past that she’d love to have one someday.  Maybe not now, but in the future.  Too many salespeople don’t plant seeds for their next lead.  They dismiss the basics: “Nobody reads a door hanger” or “I don’t have time to send my “Thank You” cards.  These small seeds may not yield immediate results–they may not satisfy a salesperson’s need for immediate gratification–but they will if done consistently and systematically.
  4. No leads to Yes.  We stayed in Bella Vista for nearly one week.  The bubble gun hawker pitched us every time we walked by.  He pitched everyone who walked by.  He didn’t quit.  Sales is job filled with adversity.  The best salespeople have the ability to hear “No” and not be dissuaded.  They also have the endurance to work through “No” in order to reach “Yes.”  That’s intelligent tenacity.  Simply because a customer says “No” does not mean they’re rejecting a proposal or an idea. It means they haven’t yet reconciled the loss aversion equation.
  5. Deliver a consistent presentation.  Every person that the bubble gun hawker pitched heard essentially the same sales message.  It was consistent and it was creative.  After thousands of pitches the hawker had his game down.  It was seamless.  It was also egalitarian.  I’ve heard salespeople say “I can read clients” or “I can tell right away if they’re buyers.”  Truth is they can’t.  Every customer should be treated as a legitimate buyer.  Every presentation should have a similar blueprint.  With practice comes mastery.  Only then can a salesperson color outside the lines.

It’s easy to look at a guy selling plastic bubble guns dismissively.  If you’re in sales, however, there’s a lot you can learn from someone like that.  As many people say, “sales is sales.”  In this case I couldn’t agree more.bubble gun

2016: Every Company is a Design Company

“Everyone is thinking about the User Experience–and that’s what makes the product so much better.” — Mark Kawano

“89% of companies surveyed plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience in 2016.” — Gartner Research

“The #1 innovation project for 2016 is Customer Experience.” — Gartner Research

“85% of customers are frustrated by dealing with a company that does not make it easy to do business with them, 84% by companies promising one thing but delivering another, 58% frustrated by an inconsistent experience.” — Accenture 2014 Consumer Survey

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.  Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs

“What we make testifies who we are.  People can sense care and sense carelessness.” — Jonathan Ive

Happy New Year my friends.  I hope this finds you well and rested!

Why is it that when I buy slippers for the Missus at Nordstrom the experience is flawless?  Why is it that I avoid shopping at Wal-Mart at nearly all cost?  What happened to the Pontiac Aztec?  Rhetorical questions.

It’s time to drive design through your company.  Design thinking–the aesthetics of your company, the functionality of your organization, the escapist aspects of the user-experience, and the simplicity–that invisible architecture that seamlessly guides a customer along a flawless path–the feel.  We’re all in a race for relationships.  And these days every company is a design company, even in the trades.

Customers crave great design.  It makes a product or an experience enjoyable.  Design transforms the ordinary in to the extraordinary.  Beautiful design contributes to a first-class experience.  A first-class experience allows you command a higher price for otherwise commodity products and services.

Design creates ease and functionality in products and services.  Meticulously crafted processes and procedures, products, talent. Continual refinement improves simplicity and consistency.


Design demands teamwork and deep levels of personal ownership among the people involved.  The result is massively improved functionality as the people executing the design are also the people who helped create it.

Design is merciless.  It demands the highest standard of refinement and discipline–attributes any smart business owner respects.

Design, truly brilliant design, results in a world-class differentiation.  We’re in an experience economy.  Differentiating your service business amidst the sturm and drang of the industry is growing more difficult.  Yet great design is unmistakable.  It cannot help but be noticed because it is also very scarce.

Finally, great design and profitability go hand-in-hand.  Think of the products that exceptionally designed.  Think of companies that continually design in exceptional user experiences.  They tend to be incredibly profitable don’t they?

Here’s the tough part: Van wraps aren’t design.  They’re part of it but they’re not it.  Smart uniforms aren’t design.  They, too, contribute to it, but they’re trappings.  Snappy phone greetings are an extension of design thinking but again, not design.  Building a design-driven company begins with a question:

“How do I want my customers to feel when they use my company or service?”

Now work backwards.

Design is a growth engine for your company.  Like it or not the technical aptitudes that were once the bedrock of your success have reached a point of parity.  Improving the sales process is one way to try to grow the top line next year.  But that’s only one silo and it’s dependent on expensive leads, weather, referrals, and the performance of the CSR and installation teams.  Better labor management is another way to try and grow the bottom line.  Another silo that is dependent on the sales team, inventory, ordering accuracy, and attitude.  Those are both fine ways to make more money next year.   But neither will be as effective unless your entire company functions flawlessly under a unifying, experience-driven design aesthetic.


Management by Checklist


“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” — The Who

“They supply a set of checks to ensure the stupid but critical stuff is not overlooked, and they supply another set of checks to ensure people talk and coordinate and accept responsibility while nonetheless being left the power to manage the nuances and unpredictabilities the best they know how.” — Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto

Yesterday the blog Quartz (recommend following) published an article about Chipotle and how the company has developed a specific and highly effective management checklist that combines qualitative and quantitative performance results.  In particular, the article details a vigorous 39 point performance checklist for managers.  Here are the links for the orginal article as well as Fortune’s follow-up piece:

I find myself spending more and more time with sales managers.  Every one of these managers is responsible for a high-performance team of sales professionals, generating millions of dollars of top-line revenue annually.  Every one of these managers has been a successful sales professional in his or her own right.  And every one of these managers is well-intentioned and motivated.  To the best of my knowledge they are also learning to manage through “trial by fire” circumstances.  Expectations are usually defined in obtuse terms of “Grow by 20%.”  I’m left asking: “Other than sales performance how else is their effective management defined and managed?”  Or, “Who manages the managers and by what criteria?”  Surely “sink or swim” or something in-between can be improved for small business managers.  Chipotle is proving that a specific checklist that holds managers accountable for financial performance as well as cultural/team development criteria lends structure, motivation, and clarity to a job that is too often defined in cloudy, broad terms at best.