Monthly Archives: March 2015

An open letter to anyone who is hoping to sell me a car in the next month

With the impending arrival of miniDiva/o, we’re in the market for a new car.  Our 2008 sedan Car_clipart-4just isn’t going to cut it anymore once we add a 2nd carseat.

I thought it would be most efficient to write a letter to anyone who might be interested in selling me this car to clarify a few things.

(If you’re just interested in the sales and marketing punchline, scroll past this list.  But I think it’s illustrative.)

1. My family lives in the city and we don’t drive a lot.  Let me say that again, my family lives in the city and we don’t drive a lot.  There are several corollaries to this, like (a) we don’t care that much about gas mileage, (b) we need something we can park in awkward and small places, (c) we don’t care about things that make it easy to get kids in and out of the car multiple times a day, because we don’t get kids in and out of the car multiple times a day.  We barely do it multiple times a week.

2. Our 2-year-old doesn’t watch any TV or other screen time yet.  Because I have no faith in humanity I will add that the new baby who arrives in June will likely not watch TV right away either.

In case those two sets of requirements were confusing, I’ll spell something else out.  We don’t want a minivan.  We’re not anti-minivan but we don’t need one because (see 1 and 2). Also, we live IN THE CITY, so car doors that can automatically slide open are not going to be of any use to us and in fact I don’t want my kids running down a CITY street getting in or out of the car.

3. We don’t need 3rd row seating.  Nobody comes in our car with us.  No we don’t anticipate a lot of carpooling because we live in the city and nobody we know drives.

4. We need heated, leather seats, and 4-wheel or all-wheel drive.  Yes, we know the difference.

5. My husband is tall, most of it in his legs.  A toddler who likes to kick or a fully-grown adult needs to be able to sit behind my husband in the car.

6. Safety ratings are not that important to me.  I am pretty comfortable with anything that says Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Volvo, Audi, Subaru, Volkswagen, or Hyundai without needing to hear about the safety awards you’ve won.

7. I can’t possibly decide whether to pay cash, finance, or lease, until you tell me what the rates are.  I don’t want to tell you what I can afford each month.  I want to negotiate the total price of the car.

8. Cubic cargo space is very helpful for those times when I’m planning to fill the car fully with Rubik’s cubes.  Otherwise, it’s not that useful for me.

For those of you who are not trying to sell me a car, but who read this blog for insights on sales and marketing, here goes.  Our customers are telling us what they want this clearly.  We are just not always listening.

Modern sales is complex.  Customers are more educated than ever, so the strategies for influencing them at the sales level has to change.  Take the car example; when I walk into the dealership, I might already know everything there is to know about the car – the cargo space, the packages, the safety ratings.  But if the dealer wants to sell me something, he or she needs to demonstrate some differentiation, or get me to think about something differently from how I have in the past.

But there is a difference between bulldozing me (“Everyone with kids wants a video screen – you may not think that you do, but wait until your next 7-hour drive,”) and educating me, (“I know you said that safety ratings aren’t important to you, but I’d like to explain which of those are most important to look at.”)  Or “You never know when 3rd row seating will come in handy” vs “I know you said you didn’t want 3rd row seating, but let me explain the relationship between the possibility of seating and total available cargo space.”

I love when my own consumer purchases teach me something about enterprise sales.


It’s just bettah

I was just a few years into my career, selling a brand new solution with a partner known for wanting to control deals.   This solution (“Widget”) cost the company a lot of money to acquire and develop, and everyone at the company (as well as partners like us) had been through endless training about how to position and sell it.

At the time, I was known as “the smart girl SE” as in, “Can the smart girl SE come onsite with us for this one?”

The smart girl SE came onsite with James* to meet a new customer.  James was a boisterious, friendly salesperson who called everyone “buddy”, punched them in the upper arm, and talked a lot about beahs (beers), the Sox, and his good old days on a college hockey team.  After a lot of chatter, we starting talking through the customer’s environment, their concerns, and needs. A few minutes of discussion and it was obvious that they were a candidate for this new solution.

“You may want to look at this new Widget,” I said.  “It is great for environments like yours that have qualities A, B, and C.”

And then I made an error in judgement.

In an effort to cede the conversation to the partner salesperson, thinking I was being a good partner by doing so, I said, “James, why don’t you tell them some more about Widget.”

I knew immediately it was a mistake.  James got a quintessential “deer in the headlights” look in his eye.  He started sweating.  He looked at his fingernails, at his shoes, and at his watch.  Finally, with everyone’s eyes on him, he stammered,

“It’s just bettah.”  (That’s how we say “better” in Boston.)

And that was the entirety of his sales pitch.

Relationships are important. Nobody wins deals by being the smartest person in the room – people win deals because they understand the customer’s environment, their concerns, and in cases of extremely good salespersonship, even act as an extension of the customer’s team.  But relationships are not everything.

Every person in an organization needs to be able to speak about their product and their value proposition.  Customers are looking for guidance, for honesty, and for advice.  But they are also looking for information about a specific solution, about a specific product.  Sure, they may be 57% of the way through the sales process by the time they approach the vendor directly, but that means the other 43% is still in our hands.

And just saying that the product is “better” isn’t going to cut it.

*name has been changed to protect the….

You gotta trust the person in the room

There is an episode in the West Wing (“Separation of Powers”) where Josh Lyman, top legislative250px-Josh_Lyman negotiator for the president, is “benched” because of personal problems. In his stead, a woman named Angela Blake is sent in to negotiate.  Josh is deflated, and angry. He feels like this is his role being taken away; he barely holds it together when he hears the news.

Negotiations go poorly.  Josh is frustrated, as is the rest of the staff.  However, when the president asks Josh his opinion of how Blake is doing, Josh says, “You gotta trust the person in the room.”

I think about that moment a lot, because it’s true – you do have to trust the person in the room. You have to trust that the salesperson is doing her best to close the deal, that your boss is doing his best to advocate for you, that product management is doing their best to prioritize features accurately.  And all of this happens when you’re not in the room.

This is where a lot of people get crazy.  Take the salesperson example – sure you might send the salesperson in to close the deal on their own, but if they don’t close it, then suddenly the sales manager is all over them asking if they did this, or did that, and can they get another meeting, and try this other strategy.  Or how many times has someone’s manager committed to trying to get them a raise or promotion, only to come back empty-handed; the employee often feels betrayed, or let down, or feels as if the manager had a lot of things to negotiate and his or her salary fell off the list at some point.

So the key is to find an organization, and a leadership team that you can trust in the room.  And the leadership has to trickle down to everyone – because the product management example above isn’t about a manager of yours going to do something, it’s about a peer organization trying to get things done. To me, that’s probably one of my top few yardsticks for assessing how I feel about an organization – do I trust these people in a room without me?

The key is also to remember that sometimes you are the person in the room.  You are the one negotiating and speaking for someone else.  And as such, you carry a burden of doing your best for them – of being worthy of their letting go of the opportunity to advocate for themselves, as they are not the person in the room.

A few weeks ago I caught up with a former colleague who, like me, finds himself in a leadership role at a startup.  His role is different from mine, but we find ourselves in some similar situations.  For example, we have both had the experience of off-handedly suggesting something and having it executed, almost accidentally. We both marvel at how much decision-making gets done in a startup, and what we get to contribute to.

And then he was explaining to me how there will come a time at his startup when his specific role in the company will need to be formalized and its scope determined.  He took the job with a few conditions, one being that he get to be part of that conversation when it occurred.

“You want to be in the room for those conversations,” I said.

“Exactly.  I get to be in the room.”