Sales 101

Look, I am learning all the time. I probably blew a pretty major sale recently, but the reason I mess up sales, like the reason I mess up most things, isn’t that I don’t know how to do it. It’s that I have so many balls in the air that I fail to devote quite enough energy & attention to the one particular ball. Move too fast, get sloppy.
Get sloppy, make mistakes. Make mistakes, lose sales & customers.
It happens. No one is perfect. But hey it’s a learning experience. Won’t lose the next one for the same reason.
I’ve also been thinking about this recently because a) I am staffing up my sales team and especially the newest addition will need some training and b) I’ve been in buying mode recently. Shopping for lawyers, designers, partners, resellers; and then there are the random people who try to push unsolicited stuff onto me. A number of them have been actually really annoying me, which has led me to think about how to sell (and not to sell) to me, and how this should relate to our own sales process.
Enough background. My bias? I don’t want to sell someone something they don’t actually want just to win the deal. I don’t want to win the battle to lose the war. I don’t want to do something that is not long-term sustainable (i.e. sell under cost). I have always had this bias from my product manager days. Rather be in the ‘more for more’ or ‘more for the same’ quadrants than the ‘less for less’ and actually I can’t even remember the fourth quadrant. ‘The same for less?’ Ugg.
Same thing on the buyer side. I’m not made of money. Even if I were, I’m a New Englander, which means I don’t like to waste money. What I like wasting even less than money is time.

So I’m not going over the basic basics like sales stages, how to qualify a fit, do a needs analysis, talk about decision-making criteria (that’s the part I messed up recently, BTW, I think). Obvious things are obvious.
Losing before you begin
Some prospects can waste your time. Here they are:
  • The cheapskate: Almost everyone is price-sensitive. I bet even someone at Cisco blinked when they bought Meraki. But some people will buy the cheapest thing, regardless. If you’re not going to be the cheapest option, find these people out and don’t waste your time.
  • The already-decided: This happens a lot here in government tenders, but it can also happen in other areas. You already know who you are going to buy from and you’re just getting competitive bids to either negotiate the price down from your preferred supplier, or to make your boss happy, or whatever. I recently fell into this category and I told the competing vendor flat out that they were on the back foot since I already knew the other guys and they’ve given me a good price. They came back more expensive. Unknown quantity more expensive than the devil you know … you decide. Most people won’t tell you, though, they’ll just hang you out to dry.
  • The never decider: This sort of buyer may not actually want or need your product or service but will ask lots of questions anyhow, and probably won’t ever buy.

Not being a good match
Not every prospect should become a customer.
  • The bad match: Sometimes, you’re not the best match to what a prospect needs. Some deals you should lose to your competition or to a substitute.
  • The square peg: Sometimes, what they want doesn’t actually make sense and they aren’t open to hearing another alternative. This would be like the person who goes to a nutritionist and no matter what the nutritionist says, is convinced that a vegetarian diet is going to be the thing that helps them lose weight.
  • The ass: Sometimes, they are just not nice people and you can tell this from the start. If you’re in the service business you actually need to deal with these people. Some of them may wind up costing you time, money, hassle, and mental mindshare that should go elsewhere. 

You must understand your prospect.
  • The buyer: Who is the person who will ultimately make the yes/no decision or the vendor A/vendor B choice? How will they decide (note: what they say and what’s true are often not the same)?
  • The advocate: Who is a fan of your organisation or of you personally, and how can you play this to your advantage?
  • The objector: Who is there to make problems and raise objections?

There are quite a few other roles, and a heck of a lot of strategy for how to play the people in these roles. You want to know this, take a sales course. Or work with a rock star for a few years and learn by osmosis. But the general point is to understand the people involved.
People don’t buy from companies. People buy from people. People buy from people they like.
I was at breakfast the other day and I got an email from a guy who I happen to like quite a lot. He runs … well it doesn’t matter what he runs. Point of the matter is, I like the guy, had been a bit annoyed that he hadn’t communicated with me as much as I would have liked, then I saw his email and all was forgiven. Why? Because he apologised, because I know full well how it is to be busy.

But really because I liked the guy. That goes a long way. Although it still has to be the right solution. Fangirl or not, if it’s at my cost I can’t put in a product that costs 4x as much when the economics don’t support it.
Or, how not to be annoying.
You rarely close a deal in the first meeting. It’s happened, but not often. You must provide data, the prospect thinks, asks questions, etc.
That’s for when you’ve had a first meeting. What if you’re prospecting, and trying to set up that first meeting. Here’s what to do:
  1. Find out the prospect’s preferred method of communication. For me, it’s email. I am in meetings usually from 9-5. Call me in the day and I’m not likely to answer the phone, or if I do it’s going to be disruptive and I’ll be annoyed. Schedule a time and we’ll talk. And for the love of god DO NOT leave me a voicemail. But whatever, that’s me. Not everyone is like me. Some people prefer being called. Ask. Put it in your CRM.
  2. Make the objective of part of each communication to set a time to next talk. But don’t push it.
  3. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” There are many different guises in which this one can come up. If you get this vibe, mark the prospect down in your pipeline as ‘unlikely’ or ‘lost’ or if it’s because they are moving premises put down a time to call them in a few months.

Number 3 is a personal pet peeve. There is nothing more annoying to me, who already has far too many emails & calls coming in, than to get an email every so often: ‘Hi! I’m here. Any business for me now?’
No. And you know what? You’re starting to sound desperate and annoying.
I probably veer too far the other way in my own communications. I should follow up with my prospects more often than I do, especially during the early phase when I’m pulling information together from various sources to put together a quote or a proposal. If someone’s actively waiting or has just asked you a question, you should probably contact them every other day or so just to give an update. Matter of fact, I’m going to start doing just that from next week on.
Objection handling
My favourite. It actually is.
  • You’re sooooooooooooooooo expensive!!!!!: See the cheapskate above. I got this most amusing statement in an email recently around our conference & event services: “Adam mentioned that we could be looking at a pretty expensive solution which arguably isn’t great for a company that offers a free product.  This is more than we were expecting and is beyond our budget.” Let me get this straight ….. your ‘company’ offers a ‘free product.’ This is our problem WHY again? Well anyway. Back to strategy. Skyrove’s is either more for more or more for the same depending on the exact product/service/market segment. Knowledge is power. Know your comparables, and if you are more expensive, be prepared to back it up. Do not be afraid to lose because you’re too expensive. Unless you’re always losing. Then you are too expensive.
  • But “X” doesn’t work exactly how I want it to!!!!! Welcome to the real world. Is there a workaround? Is it operationally feasible? Is the feature in the roadmap? How important is the function to the customer solution? If at all possible, sell what you have. If you have to make an exception, check the ROI. Know your margins. Also, consider how adding a feature or making an exception for this one customer will affect your operations. Complexity kills. I’m a big fan of KISS. A BIG FAN.
  • Oooh look over at that lovely sunset …. Gotcha!! The distraction or red herring is another form of objection. If someone says they have issue X their actual issue might be Y. Maybe they say they are concerned about cost but what they mean is they are concerned that your quality won’t be good. Get to the bottom of why they are raising the objection. If you’re lucky this is actually another opportunity to create value or differentiate from your competitors.
  • Don’t make buying a mission. You may have heard of barriers to sale. I used to make banana flower salad all the time. All the time. Love that stuff. I haven’t made it in years. Why? I have no idea where to buy banana flowers. That’s a barrier to sale. Another example … in the U.S. you can just go to Valvoline and have your oil changed in 15 minutes without even getting out of the car. Here, you have to take your car in to a shop and wait, and wait, and wait, and … well it’s no wonder I haven’t taken my car in to a shop for a while. I should really do that. Make it easy for your customers to place orders. 

And for heaven’s sake, listen to your prospect. To what they are saying, not just the words that come out of their mouth. I recently got an email asking me to email my credit card details so the person could set up a recurring payment. I replied and said ‘good heavens that is horribly insecure, and since I just want to order so much I’ll make a one-time payment.’ The response? ‘I’ll just call you to collect your details and it’s very easy to cancel the recurring payment.’
…. Way to have understood my concerns, there.
Win/loss & analysis
We get a lot of inbound leads at Skyrove. Handling them is, literally, a full-time job. We win some, we lose some. We like to learn.
  • Source: how did the prospect find out about us?
  • Reputation: what impressions do they have coming in? What business do they think we’re in?
  • Win: if they sign up, why? Who were we competing with and how were we better?
  • Loss: if we lose, why?

Loss analysis is probably the single most powerful thing. Did we lose because they didn’t like the salesperson? Because we annoyed them? Because the solution wasn’t a good fit? Because we were more expensive? What did the competition offer that we didn’t? Or did we lose before we had begun but didn’t even know it yet.

OK. I’m sure you’re thoroughly bored by now. What have I been busy with this week? It was a short week, as Friday through Monday is a long holiday weekend in South Africa. So I was doing a bunch of things, but also made time for some long meetings/reflection times. Spent a long time with Doug on Monday, breakfast with Michael on Thursday, and lunch with a market analyst I’d met the prior week on Wednesday. That was very interesting. I probably told him 20x the information that he told me, but what he did tell me was very, very useful.
So Tim Ferriss claims you can become world-class at anything in about 6 months. I’m now at the 7 month mark at Skyrove and you know what: I’ve spent enough time in this Wi-Fi world that I sure as hell wouldn’t consider myself world class, but I can [apparently at least] not only hold my own but impress people who’ve been in the industry for years. What does this mean? Not a damn thing. Because I still need to execute on my visions.
I was at dinner this week at La Colombe with the amazing teams from Unreasonable at Sea. Social entrepreneurs. You know what was amazing to me about this? Well, the sweet pea risotto, crème brulee, and maple meringues were quite good. There was also a Saudi Arabian prince. But no, it’s that we were at dinner for hours and we talked about business, entrepreneurship, leadership, and that actually the most interesting person to me at my table was Kresten Buch, who runs 88mph, a tech accelerator. He’s Estonian, started 88mph in Nairobi, and is now doing it in Cape Town. 88mph is one of our customers (not of the typical sort), but their office has a lot of radio frequency interference so we used it to try out some Ruckus kit because Ruckus is supposed to handle such things well. Now Kresten and his team love us. So thank you, Ruckus.
Anyway, we got to talk about exactly this: how the talent shortage in Silicon Cape and in emerging markets generally is this capacity gap. You don’t have senior programmers with 10 years of experience. You also don’t have people who even understand what it means to execute on their visions. Vision is one thing. Plan is another. Leadership to get people to execute on a plan is yet a third, and arguably the hardest. That whole discussion around the jockey or the horse? You may have someone come pitch to you for funding and the horse (market & product idea) may be awesome. But you may take one look at the team and say: ‘I think you will fail.’ History is littered with funded failures, and also with people who’ve finally gotten funding, succeeded, and then thumbed their noses at the people who said they couldn’t do it.
The other reason that email about the ‘free product’ annoyed me? There was some guy, a gatecrasher, at this event, who was everything that gives social entrepreneurship a bad name. He was all over the show, everything from anti-capitalist to unclear on value prop to even sustainability. I’m sure a nice guy, heart in the right place, but demonstrating such unconscious incompetence. And Kresten was playing with him like a cat might play with a mouse. Now, this might be a bit mean, but I think he was actually trying to help him realise how he needed to tighten up his own sloppy thinking.
When people criticise us, it’s actually a gift.
But I was sensitive to it because I was thinking Kresten would also have torn apart the Ellie of a year ago, because at the end of the day, I was on an unsustainable path myself. That’s why I’m a bit sensitive. It’s one thing to know what to do, it’s another thing to do it.
Flipping beautiful evenings though. Harvest moon. Table Mountain silhouette in the background. My heart could break sometimes at how much I love it here. I wonder what it would take to get me to move, and I wonder what would be more likely? Moving for an opportunity, i.e. onwards and upwards, or moving away if there was strife or civil unrest?
I have been catching myself referring to myself as part of ‘South Africans’ a lot recently. I think the context has been mostly in business: ‘we’ being South African business people. But it’s been three years. I may be crossing that line. And I’m stubborn as hell. I live here but I am an American. If there was violence and civil war, would I leave? Or would I dig my heels in deeper?
Then again, America has its own challenges. The Defense of Marriage Act. My friend Nick had a great comment on this. Short version for those of you not following it: it was a law passed some time back by the Republicans to define marriage as being between a man and a women (i.e. specifically to exclude gay marriage). This is now being argued in front of the Supreme Court as to whether or not it is Unconstitutional. Or would that be unConstitutional? Anyway:
Yesterday’s DOMA transcript, # of named appearances:

Roberts: 53
Sotomayor: 36
Scalia: 26
Breyer: 24
Kennedy: 22
Alito: 19
Ginsburg: 11
Kagan: 9
Thomas: 0

Of course, Kagan got the zinger.

If you’re an informed American you know who these people are and how they tend to vote. You also won’t be surprised at Thomas’ and Roberts’ comment count. The zinger: “She pulled up a House document explicitly stating that the intent of DOMA was to express moral disapproval of homosexuality; she said that ‘might’ be a good ‘red flag’ that discrimination was involved.
Oh, snap. Look don’t get me wrong. I would never say one should not struggle & fight for equality in all its forms. I’m also saying pick your battles. There is nothing I can affect by changing my Facebook profile photo. But I do sure as hell hope the good guys win.
My first week at trying not to work too hard went pretty well. Except that my body was still not fully recovered from the flu. I trained, but nothing crazy. I was a bit flattered by all the people asking me if I was ok, and what happened after the last week of the Open. I suppose I do have a track record of injury to account for. Still, it’s kind of sweet.
More importantly, it’s amazing some of the insights that come when you’re a bit more rested and your head is a bit more clear. I don’t think I had any sense of humour failures in the week. Still too much to do and not enough time to do it.
The seasons are changing though. Autumn is definitely here; the air is crisp, the leaves are changing, and it’s getting dark earlier. I still get confused because I am thinking about autumn leaves in New England then realising that no, it’s crocus and snowdrop season. But I’m about ready laying the foundations for a big growth of our business, which means it’s time to get more lines in the water. Got a big meeting in two weeks which is wonderful & exciting, but I need more big meetings.
But we’ll get there. Right after 13.4.

  • “It’s my job to shoot stuff down.” “Huh. … is that your job? … I’d be really good at your job!” – Doug & Ellie
  • “Are they all red?” – Stefan
  • “It’s been running for two years so I hope it’s not wrong.” – Stefan
  • “Niche is very broad.” – Ellie
  • “I love it. And if *I* love it …..” – Dave
  • “If you have to ask that question, you don’t get it.” – Ellie
  • “I’m going to tell him you’re brilliant.” – Dave (the guy had just met me. Apparently I have this effect on people)
  • “Also thanks for eating all the fat.” – Doug
  • “Yeah. That’s a nice little flaw.” – Stefan
  • “I thought South Africa was spelled with an ‘S’.” – Adam
  • “False. It’s not nothing. It’s 30 seconds.” – JP
  • “I don’t care how rich he is.” – Ellie  
  • “A college degree is not what it used to be.” – Kresten
  • “Competition is good.” – Kresten
  • “I just coughed because I had wine. Not because you’re an anarchist.” – Daniel
  • “Yeah but that’s a different kind of entrepreneur. You have to be able to take advice.” – an entrepreneur
  • “How many fires do you ride through on a bike?” – Kresten
  • “Entrepreneur is a capitalistic term.” – Kresten
  • “I think you are a competitor.” – Doug
  • “That’s a question. Don’t avoid it.” – Ellie
  • “I do think a shape shifting sailing robot is way cooler than a Saudi prince.” – Ellie
  • “I think it’s real.” – Johan
  • “I was less impressed the third time.” – Johan
  • “Yeah. We’re on ‘n’ now.” – Ellie
  • “The tower on the hill can’t connect to France.” – Rudolph
  • “You’re going to have to hold the bar for the cleans and you’re going to have to hold the bar for the toes-to-bar.” – Chris 


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