Social Media Attacks Not A Zero Sum Game

Early in my social media journey, I witnessed something unsavoury. My friend Tibor Shanto makes a huge contribution to professional selling around the world and is very active in social media, especially LinkedIn. Tibor is a positive, genuine thought leader and he did an interesting LinkedIn post on professional selling. People were adding comments and engaging in constructive dialogue... then wham – like a great white shark launching out of the water to devour a seal!

Someone had jumped in with an unprovoked, vicious attack.

It really was nasty and Tibor responded with an eloquent and factual rebuff (link at the end of this post). It’s all entertaining… people love to watch a car crash or schoolyard fight but here’s what shows me the beautiful power of the best social media platforms. Done well, they are communities and any community with positive values does not tolerate bullies or negative trolls. LinkedIn is a superbly moderated environment with 160,000 LinkedIn Publisher posts every month and over 187,000,000 monthly unique visitors. Dozens of people started posting in LinkedIn to support Tibor, and without getting nasty with the person who had attacked him. Nice, I thought, we need goodwill and good manners in the world – especially on social media platforms.

A few weeks later, I became very active in LinkedIn as my new blog platform. I deliberately don't use my posts as bait to take people to my website or capture names for marketing purposes. I simply give my intellectual property away. I do this because professional selling has been very kind to me; I have no debt with a family lifestyle I am grateful for. I also have a full book of clients I enjoy working with and I'm building a good reputation as a keynote speaker – time to give back.

Then this same person who attacked Tibor lunged at me in one of my posts. He blog-bombed me with negativity and sarcasm while seeking to hijack the discussion thread claiming his ability to have ‘insights’ about my writing was due to the fact he had written a book – and of course he included a link to take people to his website. (Click here to see my 6 Sins Of B2B Social Selling.) I chose to simply ignore him and his negativity – I’d seen his form with Tibor and elsewhere. After about 10 days, I simply took that particular post down but now I think I'll put it back up. Why should any of us feel censored or bullied into not sharing our views?

Shortly thereafter he blocked me, which meant I could not see his profile or posts. I initially wondered if LinkedIn had put him in ‘LinkedIn Jail’ but then a friend emailed me to let me know he was now bashing my credentials too. My wife signed in to LinkedIn and we had a look at his profile and posts. We read his negative comments about me and also saw that he had retroactively cleaned up his diatribe against Tibor Shanto to mask its initial intent. He will probably do the same with his negative post about me once he sees this.

Please note that this person was a complete stranger to me until he lashed out. I feel compelled to share here as a sort of public service announcement and it made me wonder, how many times has this person done this in social media or otherwise? He appears to be aggressively competing with other writers out there by piggy-backing off of their efforts while simultaneously defecating all over them. Is the motive to sell more books by attempting to discredit other authors? Maybe he thinks negative publicity is a good thing. Not in my opinion; I don't want any association with negative people or haters. My personal brand is extremely important to me and I don’t understand why this person seeks attention in a way that causes them so much brand damage.

I was persuaded to write a book after 30 years as a consistent high performer in the APAC sales trenches having personally won 7 and 8 figure deals; and then as a sales manager, country manager and managing director having helped countless sales people improve their abilities. For the last two years I've been a sales leadership consultant helping clients improve their teams and coaching them to win deals as large as $100M. So questioning my experience or dismissing me as a dilettante armchair consultant, amused me to the quick. Just as with "Tibor" he "looked into my background." But clearly he did not. Wouldn't an effective adversarial approach begin with an attack grounded in facts? Better still, don't throw mud at anyone – we all know the analogy.

I think it's incumbent upon anyone in the sales leadership and development community to encourage professional discourse in social, especially on LinkedIn. Yes, let's foster passionate debate and freedom of speech as we seek to help others hone their craft. But caustic and nasty criticism of someone who's earned the right to express a viewpoint is disappointing. Let's be egalitarian, everyone has a right to an informed opinion but unprovoked attacks such as the one on Tibor have no place on LinkedIn.

There's a more positive way to engage if you have differing views. I'm often surprised by spam bots leaving negative comments or angry folks blasting off on LinkedIn to game the system driving fast impressions and clicks. What a myopic view! Impressively, these instances are few and far between. Kudos to LinkedIn's team for keeping this forum a positive place to interact. To me, sales training and authorship is not a zero sum game. If you attack someone, their supporters will rally to enhance the person’s brand but your brand will plummet disproportionately.

Some write a bestseller. Others may not ever get global distribution or recognition but have written a masterwork worthy of global publication. They have brilliant ideas however small or large. Let's listen to all and celebrate each contribution. I learn from my mentees every day. There are genius-level sales people from all walks of life executing with excellence in the field as we speak on every continent. We can learn from them and LinkedIn provides a forum for limitless wisdom and helpful information exchange. Let's work together to expand the pie so that distinguished sales degrees can be offered in higher learning institutions worldwide and we can restore dignity embracing the highest form of what professional selling can be.

Has anyone else had a run-in with a malicious player in the sales training community? Tibor chose a rapid and assertive rebuff. I chose to simply ignore and eliminate, and I plan to continue doing so – when you argue with an idiot, it soon becomes difficult for observers to distinguish who is who. There is no right or wrong but I’m interested in what others think concerning the best way to handle unprovoked attacks? After ruminating on this question, I thought there might be valuable lessons to be learned here by bubbling this up to the global community.

P.S. You can see Tibor Shanto’s eloquent response to the hostile attack here.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Ryan Hyde

Myth Buster: Objections Help You Close The Sale

Early in my sales career I was taught that objections are opportunities to close. I quickly learned that objections instead highlight misunderstanding, create resistance, and damage trust which reduces the likelihood of making the sale. In modern enterprise solution selling, an objection can be evidence of a sales person’s mistake.

Objections are caused by attempting to close the sale prematurely or by positioning features that are not linked to genuine business value. Positioning features and benefits without aligning them to specific acknowledged business needs can create price concerns or the perception that what you offer is over-engineered.

All professional sales people should however seek to create progression in every interaction. In this sense, the concept of ‘closing’ occurs right from initial contact. Closing is not an event at the end of the sales-cycle; it’s the process of negotiating mutual commitments at every stage of the customer’s evaluation and buying process. Success is achieved through developing real trust, understanding, and then the buyer’s attraction to genuine value. ‘Closing’ is therefore best defined as ‘confirming’. The best professional sales people are not interested in pushing or applying pressure, because it creates distrust and unproductive resistance. Instead they concentrate on how they can offer the highest value and lowest risk, and they focus on securing agreement concerning the next steps in making a decision and then finalizing the commercial arrangements.

Professional selling can be defined as the process of helping someone make a buying decision that is in the customer’s best interests. This paradigm of selling demands cooperation, understanding, trust, and alignment with the buyer’s needs and processes. In this environment, the old-school concept of ‘closing’ is redundant. Instead of defining the ‘ABC of selling’ as ‘Always Be Closing’, think instead: always be consultative; always be confirming; always be committed to understanding before seeking progression.

Concluding business should be a natural next step rather than a point of risk for the sales person or unwanted pressure for the buyer. Focus on understanding their requirements and processes and then the next logical step to help the customer achieve their desired outcomes.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

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Is Narcissism Killing Your Brand?

Tweeting narcissistic spam or posting egocentric updates is the fastest way to destroy a personal brand. For B2B selling, no platform is more important than LinkedIn and it needs to be used to answer a key question for potential buyers of your product, service or solution: Are you a credible person worthy of initial trust?

For most sales people, their LinkedIn profile reads as an online CV, targeting potential employers or bragging about past sales conquests. This is the last thing that will appeal to a potential buyer who needs your social footprint to convey relevance, credibility and trustworthiness if they are to engage. Although social platforms rarely deliver leads in the world of complex B2B solution selling, the best buyers will check you out online before a meeting. Does your LinkedIn profile evidence your domain expertise and credentials as a trusted source of information and insights? Are you a hub for relevant content? Does your network show you are connected at the highest levels in the industry? Do you lead relevant conversations? Are you committed for the long-haul in the industry and with customers? Difficult questions I know but social means transparency and LinkedIn is not a facade, it’s the fourth dimension of sales reality. Do the work, make the investment… it’s not optional today.

The term ‘Social Selling’ is a misleading allure for those in B2B sales because social selling is more relevant to the world of B2C. In B2B selling ‘Social Projection’ will get you nowhere. Instead focus on the power of social platforms and tools for research, networking, warm introductions (rather than cold calls) and publishing thought leadership without pushing what you sell. Think ‘Social Engagement’ and about how you can attract the ‘market-makers’ into your sphere based on high value content and a genuine persona of positive goodwill. Also understand that social media activity does not equate to meaningful connection. The importance of trusted relationships in B2B selling will never go away. Your social profile must therefore support the initiation of relationships based on credibility and trust.

Carpe Diem! Seize the day. Revisit your LinkedIn profile now and update it to appeal to a prospective buyer rather than a potential employer. Start investing in building your network and value online.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Bexx Brown-Spinelli

The Tao of Churchill in Sales

I recently visited Churchill's War Rooms in London and was inspired by his leadership. Everyone in sales can learn from his tenacity and wisdom.

“I am easily satisfied with the very best.” So are your customers so put your best foot forward and work to impress them with insight and genuine listening. General is the enemy of specific and mediocrity is the enemy of excellence.

“We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.” Listening is everything in enterprise sales. You learn nothing while talking so aim to speak only 25% of the time. When we wing it, we will never fly. Be prepared, prepared to actively listen and be fascinated by the customer.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Sometimes the boldest card to play is silence. Sometimes the most powerful strategy is to take a conversation off-line and have coffees with other players in the deal, outside of the political power-base. The next time you sit down with a CXO, ask an insightful question about something you read in the annual report or in their social media stream. You’ll impress them that you took the time to provide research.

“Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Perseverance is critical in seeing major deals through. You must have the eye of the tiger burning bright, never faltering and never giving-in. Mastery of complex enterprise selling is hard, like climbing Mt. Everest hard. Those who have done it for decades make it look easy but make no mistake; they’ve earned the right to stand upon the mountaintop. It’s a humble road and a lonely one at that. When in doubt, go with gratitude and return to the fundamentals. Build pipeline proactively and get in front of your dream clients by knowing what an ideal prospect looks like.

“There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.” It’s imperative that you integrate new methods with traditional wisdom. Getting caught-up in the latest sales training that provides a silver bullet can really be latching on to a red herring. Respect the candor in your coaches; be open to constructive 360 degree feedback. It’s the only way you’ll truly be mentored and improve. I think this quote is also a call to leverage sardonic humor as a weapon for good.

“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”In baseball, you only need hit the ball 3 times out of 10 to look like a hero. In cricket as bowler, you’re only 3 deliveries away for completely turning the match. Keep that fighting spirit. Remember, the IASM in enthusiasm means: I Am Sold Myself. Champion salespeople give everyone their best. They refresh and restart each day treating each engagement as if it were their first or their last. Be fully there and give it your all when you’re in the arena. You are the face of your company’s brand. First impressions are crucial and the first experience she has with you, may have repercussions on all future interactions with her company.

“The price of greatness is responsibility.” It’s a very big honour to close a huge deal. You represent the precious brand of your company and your own reputation is also at stake. Understand that everything will rise or fall with delivery of the promise. Manage expectations all the way through. Closing the deal is the beginning of delivery – signing the contract is the beginning of a long-term relationship. You are only successful if your customer is successful and happy with your solution, service and support.

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Humbly choose your own destiny by being intentional with the sales activities that actually make a difference. Identify and commit to the KPIs that create results. These include the number of calls you make, contacts InMailed, meeting planned and executed. Take control by creating three times pipeline coverage as a minimum. Focus on the leading measures that influence the static lagging measures. Incredibly, revenue itself is a lagging measure you really can’t influence. Understand the causal relationship between your actions and the business outcomes that they drive.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” If it were easy then they wouldn't need you. Be a problem solver who is positively paranoid… that may sound like a contradiction, breakthrough entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs were described as thinking this way. Optimism can actually positively influence revenue and prospects can sense it. Running through every possible deal scenario and fully mapping the account strategically will give you the confidence to run a winning strategy that you deserve to feel optimistic about.

“I'm just preparing my impromptu remarks.” What I love about this quote is that even the extemporaneous can be planned. Be ready for what you will do off the cuff by role-playing with your colleagues. Never leave even the slightest detail to chance. Know the customer’s organization soup-to-nuts and your own solution, inside-out. Most sellers go about 10 feet deep into the water. You must dive deep into the bottom of the ocean to get the pearl… and avoid the giant squid of the status quo or enemies in the account seeking to eliminate you.

“Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.” In the end, it will come down to work-ethic applied consistently over time, persistently and with tenacity. (See my post on sustained self-discipline.) Many would say that selling is a numbers game but it is actually a game of strategy and sequence just like Chess. You can move the pieces ever faster and keep playing the game over and over again. Unless you get smarter with pattern recognition, deduction and predictive analysis, you will not see an increase in winning. Over time you develop more skill and a sixth sense at prediction. The harder and smarter you work, the ‘luckier’ you will become so embrace Churchill’s principle here.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.” If you have a great idea about how to transform an account and you present in the boardroom to a dozen executives, rest assured a few may try to block you. You may have made some ‘frenemies’ along the way here. People can be duplicitous due to competing motives or politics in play within the customer organization. Press on – it’s critical to crusade for ideas of integrity that are indeed good for the client. Have their best interest at heart and transcend negativity with cunning and goodwill.

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” We must learn from our mistakes and the wisest people also learn from the trials and triumphs of others. Be a student of history and of all those who have trodden the well-worn halls of your customer before you. Internal knowledge transfer is critical. Do not take a key account for granted. Take the time to study how it was won and why they bought – know the narrative and the hard data. Research the client’s success and any challenges they’ve had implementing the solution along the way. Study the history of the deal to improve your future ability to grow the account.

“Please be good enough to put your conclusions and recommendations on one sheet of paper in the very beginning of your report, so I can even consider reading it.” Such a genius example of the busy executive or world leader for that matter. Brevity is the soul of wit. Always write the executive summary first; well before anyone on the team starts providing detail. This keeps everyone on message and helps them link the ‘what and how’ to the ‘why and when’. A forty-slide deck is a quantum leap backward. Never forget that the purpose of the first slide is to captivate the audience to move to the next. When communicating to key executives, use powerful imagery and brevity of words – practice economy of language. Have a document to leave behind that provides all the data and verbiage. The best advice I could give to sales people looking to ascend in their career is to take courses on writing. The pen is mightier than the sword and senior level executives with MBAs will very much appreciate relevant displays of emotive yet logical eloquence backed with evidence in an appendix.

“If this is a blessing, it is certainly very well disguised.” There’s something somewhat zen about selling. Sometimes something very bad occurs and turns out to be a stroke of good fortune. At other times, your ‘happy ears’ may deceive you. You’re dead in the water by EOD but keep the boat steady. The best deals take time and build from a simmer to a boil. Count your blessings such as a warm referral but don’t be too quick to mistake a curse for a blessing in disguise. I’ve seen an in-the-bag million dollar enterprise deal, shrivel up in an instant based on internal politics, external events or a competitor who hacked their pricing at the last minute. Success is about being the person worthy of it, learn form every failure and challenge – it makes you who your are. Remember, lessons in life are usually repeated until learned.

“I like a man who grins when he fights.” Practice insouciance. Enjoy the negotiation. Enjoy the battle. When it gets grim, find the élan vital. Personally, the most fun I’m having is when I’m solving the biggest, thorniest problem. I love to coach teams who are in the heat of a major deal and need to find a way to get things unstuck. Just like a cycling professional in a grand tour, enjoy the suffering – it’s what eliminates the competition.

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” A positive attitude, thriving in the face of adversity, is how careers are made. Leadership is an inside job. I can think of several major deals that incumbents lost based on attitude issues with their sales person. Skills and qualifications do not differentiate – they’re just a ticket to the dance. Attitude and execution is what makes a person stand out.

“Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” The greatest challenge of your life will be mastering yourself, learning to keep cool, grace under pressure, wrestling your fears and self-destructive tendencies, doing what is needed at the right time whether you feel like it or not. Every time you conquer an insurmountable challenge, you build that mental muscle. Churchill understood that a diamond is created by extreme pressure. There is dark before the dawn just as he lead the world out of a darker chapter of history. If you’re sitting at the tail end of the quarter feeling defeated, know that your luck is just about to turn if you’ve earned it. That’s the fun of sales – the uncertainty and the unknown. The challenges make success all the more satisfying. If it were easy, it would not be as rewarding.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: cliff1066™

Great Sales Managers Spoon-feed Their Sales People

I know what you’re thinking – You’ve got to be kidding me. But hear me out on this. As a sales manager your job is to provide an environment within which everyone in your team can be successful. You need to train, coach, inspire and remove roadblocks. You also need to ensure they have viable territories, accurate competitive intelligence, and the necessary resources and tools to execute. And all of this built on strong intrinsic value in what they are selling to their markets. With all of this in place, you rightly expect them to be the positive differentiation needed to win business in hotly contested opportunities.

But how can sales people most effectively be the competitive advantage your business needs? How can they best be the difference that results in earning client trust and investment? Should you send them on training courses, drive a new sales methodology, implement a new CRM, engage expensive consultants to mentor and exhort, or perhaps an off-site team-building exercise?

There is an urban legend dating back to the height of the space race. NASA allegedly spent millions of dollars inventing a pen that could write in zero gravity. It was an amazing little feat of engineering. The USSR faced the same challenge… they used pencils. My point is that solving a problem does not need to cost huge sums of money and be a major feat of change management.

People are best motivated by reasons they themselves discover. This statement is true of prospects, customers, your CEO, management team… and yes, your sales people. Telling people something does not impart knowledge or create motivation for change… they need to feel it and own it. So what is the best tool for instilling transformational change in your sales people?

Here are some clues: It typically costs less than $40 per person, sometimes as little as $10 per sales person. The sales person then invests up to 12 hours of their personal time, rather than the company’s, in absorbing the information. They hear their inner-voice as they engage their imagination in applying the principles to their own challenges. Sound too good to be true. Every sales superstar I’ve worked with habitually uses this resource library and they are happy to invest their own money month after month. The answer is books.

Every sales manager must be a prolific reader to be truly effective. There is a book to help solve every sales problem and here are four examples. Yet it staggers me how few sales people are readers. The elite within sales, on the other hand, are naturally inquisitive and committed to lifelong learning, personal development and continuous improvement.

So, what is it should you spoon-feed to sales people? Certainly not criticism or unproductive pressure. You should spoon-feed them material to read that will inspire, educate and transform the way they think and operate. Training courses on their own just don't work; nor does forcing them to use some kind of methodology not aligned with their sales process.

For the next six months, put your team on a reading program. ‘Sales book club’ will make a huge difference if you make every individual in the team accountable. Insist that they read one book a month and schedule a monthly session to give them a written test concerning key principles in the book (have a serious prize for the person with the best test score – dinner for two at their favourite restaurant). Then discuss the book and what they learned. Finish the meeting with a workshop concerning how the ideas can be applied.

Importantly, don't let them get away with skimming content. Make your test a little obscure and with questions that can only be answered if they have read the entire book. You want them to go deep as they read. My own book, The Joshua Principle, was written as an emotional story to truly engage the reader and so that it cannot be skimmed. In the coming weeks I will be reviewing B2B sales books to help you decide what’s best for your team. Make 2015 the year of Sales Book Club!

In addition to book club, send your team a daily e-mail to read concerning sales leadership; a thought of the day with some commentary from you to inject your personality in creating relevance. Copy the leaders above you in your organization because you need them on the same page for supporting the difficult challenge of driving revenue growth. Find credible thought leaders to follow such as Anthony Iannarino from The Sales Blog, Jonathan Farrington from Top Sales World, Jill Konrath, Jill Rowley of #SocialSelling, Gerhard Gschwandtner from Selling Power or John Smibert from Strategic Selling who reads everything he recommends on social and it’s all relevant for B2B solution selling. My own blog corpus is here and feel free to plunder it to take your team on a daily 15 minute self-learning journey.

As a sales manager, invest 30 minutes a day reading blogs and LinkedIn posts to hand-pick the best to seed in your team. Harness the best minds in professional selling to work for you, getting inside the heads of your people to improve them… and all without paying for training or losing face-time with clients. This is how the very best sales managers operate.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Jessica Cross

Insight Selling Can't Be A Production Line

The pipe dream that we can manufacture insights en masse to be pushed out by marketing to align with ‘the buyer’s journey’ is akin to thinking a Henry Ford assembly line approach lends itself well to marriage counseling. Marketing automation will only take you so far. Using insights to attract buyers is a valid strategy but it’s a mistake to think that it can be executed well with spray-and-pray e-mail marketing or telesales environments for a hand-off to field sales or channel partners. Marketing automation has reached terminal velocity yet when you survey what's actually happening in the field, you'll often discover a resounding thud. Think about it yourself, when's the last time you personally responded to a generic templated drip campaign?

I realize it may sound contrarian but let's get to the deeper point. The click-through rates for e-mail have sunk to under 10% and phone calling contact rates are dismally less than 3%; with both trending worse every year. It definitely damages your brand and deafens your audience the more they feel they are being targeted with spam. The result is that when you’ve got something really important to tell them, chances are it will be ignored. Cultivating your inner Artful Dodger or Slick Willy to get past gatekeepers on the phone, requires some ninjitsu and can be done. Customers have heard everything and see it coming a mile away. But reps still boast about it! The latest script that insidiously promises a key insight report. Crafting a template that looks like an "authentic personal email" is also ubiquitous but customers receiving it tend to hit "delete." There is a better way! Executives are rolling their eyes in meetings these days within 90 seconds thinking, "Please teach me something I don't already know." Truth be it told, senior executives often seldom even see the bulk of their email. They do get LinkedIn notifications that vibrate in their pocket so making that count, prevents deleting your connection.

Predictable models for scaling revenue have been somewhat of a ‘Fountain of Youth’ concept since time immemorial. Just like any other growth industry, it's susceptible to the quick fix mentality. While seductive in concept, the predictable revenue assembly line model breaks down in practice. To achieve strong determinant growth you must have leadership, innovation, intrinsic value, strategy and great execution. It all comes down to people and it’s detrimental to business if you treat your team as expendable commodities.

Leading with insight means leading with insightful people. Teach your team to think strategically and to efficiently segment key targets, build domain expertise, understand industry drivers and trends, and to understand what a compelling business case looks like. Train them on how to leverage innovative methods to engage professionally with senior stakeholders within social communities to then be on the radar early in the awareness phase of the buying cycle. Any communications medium will always be limited by the power of the message transmitted by it. Teach your team to do their homework, to diagnose and prescribe leveraging the treasure trove of data that is increasingly freely available in the latest incarnation of the interwebs. Do they understand the true implication of trigger events in accelerating buying cycles?

Breaking up your team to make them more tactical in specialized or compartmentalized segments is the antithesis of teaching strategic thinking to even the sales people just starting out. It's a sexy idea that if they do less, they'll be more powerful. But teaching someone to fly a prop plane in flight school by darkening out the controls could spell disaster. Take a holistic approach so the sales force can think independently, collaboratively and be a trusted advisor to each customer.

I am not saying that inside sales call-centers and specialized sales roles won't work for transactional opportunities. It just seems to miss the mark for complex solution selling. When I ask sales executives to define ‘strategic selling’ I often get a very long awkward pause or an off-base answer. Here’s the reality in complex B2B selling – senior sales people are themselves best equipped to create their own early engagement pipeline. They need to personally build their brands, establish contact and engage with insightful conversations at senior levels.

The foundational key input for creating high margin revenue is, and has always been, early strategic engagement at the right levels. There are strategies and there are tactics – know the difference and use them wisely. A one-size-fits-all approach to B2B messaging is a clever mirage. Pundits will swear by the latest and greatest predictable system for driving revenue into a company but fads come and go. Any communications medium that allows blasting, eventually gets regulated. It's short-term thinking! At the end of the day, leading with insight in good old-fashioned targeted prospecting, backed with diagnostic consultative selling will continue to prevail. It's the type of approach that requires slowing down to speed up. Lincoln may have captured this ethos the best, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." The potential revenues and margins need to support the high level of investment. Beware the relentless commoditization of solutions and the trap of applying expensive business models to low margin transactional commerce.

The meta-skill of strategic selling will always sit above an engagement medium whether executed old school talking on a phone or new school in social. Strategic selling is not going away anytime soon. I've developed a road-tested framework for this that can be performed in real-time on the back of a napkin sitting at a café in Paris. How can we challenge ourselves to relentlessly think strategically in the context of any toolset? I've crafted it to withstand and be adaptable to the frenetic pace of technology evolution and change. All factors being equal, how we think will transcend the crutch of tools of the trade every time. It's the golfer, nary the club after all!

The medium changes, good messaging will always prevail.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Paul VanDerWerf

Do Nothing, Your Greatest Competitor

Every business operates in one of three modes: growth, steady state (even keel) or crisis. Only growth mode is sustainable but one of these modes is the most difficult and dangerous to engage. The way we sell is more important than what we sell and understanding the operating mode of your customer has a huge impact on the likelihood of sales success.

Every commercial enterprise is driven by a need to increase profit. Most government organizations are driven by a desire to improve service through efficiency and effectiveness (not that they have any idea what that actually means – I describe most government agencies as the blind leading the deaf). However, these outcomes for both commercial and government entities are ideally achieved without increasing costs or exposure to unacceptable risk. In essence, there is a universal desire to achieve more with less and any proposal or business case should focus on greater output or more revenue from existing resources, or achieving greater productivity (less cost or effort) resulting in better efficiency.

The pace of business (decision urgency and priority) is determined by the organization’s operating mode and it’s vitally important to understand which mode is in play when seeking to influence a purchasing decision.

When an organization is in growth mode decisions are made rapidly and the business drivers are usually productivity and profit. They also have an appetite to invest and this profile is the ideal prospect.

When an organization is in survival mode they have their own unique requirements and although they also make fast decisions, the business drivers are to reduce direct variable costs and improve cash-flow (not to be confused with profit). They are motivated to buy but you must manage the commercial risk for your side in providing credit.

When an organization is in maintenance mode (even keel or business-as-usual) decisions are usually made slowly and based upon incremental improvements in productivity and profit while also reducing costs. When dealing with a business in maintenance mode it can be difficult to identify specific drivers and obtain decisions.

Organizations in either growth or crisis mode are much easier to sell to than those who are in even-keel / steady state mode. Why should someone take on the risk and pain of change when they are operating in a business as usual environment? The answer is that there must be a compelling business case or a strong senior executive driving the initiative; otherwise you are dealing with the most frustrating and insidious competitor of all – ‘do nothing’. Ignore the status quo at your peril. Always ask: Why will they buy anything at all? Then ask: Why will they buy from me?

Winning business in complex enterprise selling is always difficult. The mix of variables can be mind-bending, as individual politics and agendas combine with corporate drivers and modes of operation to create a mine-field of explosive termination points for unwary sellers. Plan, prepare and strategize every deal – that’s what makes you a professional; you are someone who is masterful and aligning with the right agendas and managing risk.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: brett jordan

The Gift That Changes Lives. Thanks Dad

We live in unprecedented times and if you are a student of history or perhaps eschatology, the human narrative is accelerating at a mind-boggling rate. Technology is now enabling ‘the information age’ at the speed of thought. Artificial Intelligence is upon us – yes, the scary science fiction kind. The ‘web of things’ is linking cars, appliances, machines, assets and people. Wearable Bluetooth and mobility tracking are combining with beacons to create geo-context and proximity alerts via wireless networks and satellite communications that are ubiquitous. Big data is extending into micro predictive analytics. Social media has already democratized the internet and cloud computing is enabling the most complex of capabilities for the smallest of enterprises. Meta-algorithms are creating their own priorities and financial systems have a level of interdependency that no-one truly understands. It all seems to be creating an ever-consuming life of it’s own – real human interaction is taking a back seat.

We have never had more access to information yet we drown in the data, drinking from the proverbial fire-hose, incapable of digesting all that is overwhelming us. We seek clarity amidst all the voices clamouring for our attention – there are a thousand channels to watch yet nothing is on. Everyone strives for cut-through and the result is sound bites and fear inducing sensationalist headlines. We have never been more connected yet so disconnected – 1,000 friends online and no-one we can count on in a crisis. We struggle to be heard – we crave for meaning and purpose amidst all the activity and interactions.

The human condition is not addressed by technology. This is why machines will never replace humans in the field of relationship solution selling. Machines and technology cannot deal with nuanced context, nor can it create insight or transfer emotion. It is certainly incapable of navigating politics. No soul, no love, and no emotional connection.

So amidst a cynical world where destructive beliefs, narcissism, fear, prejudice and distrust seem to pervade everything; how can we make a difference? Let me share this true story.

My Dad passed away on Christmas Eve 2013. He was a committed atheist and he taught me the power of belief. My parents divorced when I was age 9 and Dad moved interstate. He was a workaholic and not around very much so I really only got to know him in my late teens when I moved to live near him. I then joined him in business and wow, what a ride. Dad was a Mensa level genius, bipolar (manic-depressive) and alcoholic. What a combination; he had a break-down and was hospitalized, and I was thrown in the deep-end to manage the business. My dad was difficult to work with, to say the least, and I was young and judgmental.

But months later, over dinner with just him and me – I asked him to tell me his life story. Judgment gave way to compassion and I started to become aware of the greatest gift we can give to another person.

Dad had an unconventional childhood where he lived with various foster parents, estranged relatives, in convents and boarding schools. By the age of 12 he had lived in 16 different places. This was because his father raised him as a single parent and was an Air Force officer during World War II. His mother, Winifred, incredibly beautiful, suffered from postnatal depression and was subjected to electroshock treatment – she descended into severe mental illness and, as was the custom of the day, was institutionalized and never spoken of. Dad only discovered that his real mother existed when he obtained a birth certificate as part of applying for his driver’s license at age 22. He was told that she had died giving birth to him – but this was not true and I was there when he finally met her for the first time, shortly before she died in her eighties.

From birth through to joining the Australian Air Force in 1952, Dad’s childhood was as far removed from normal as one could imagine. He had no real sense of belonging or being loved. To compound his childhood problem of being relentlessly moved from situation to situation, Dad suffered from a severe speech impediment – chronic stuttering. He was always the loner, the outsider, and the target of bullying and sexual abuse.

I asked Dad how in the world he had managed to survive and why he wasn’t a bitter person. Dad was a pacifist and never sought revenge. He answered by telling me about Ms. Beatrice Ternan, a speech therapist, who had the biggest positive impact on him as a child. His stuttering affliction was debilitating and he was sent to Ms. Ternan several times a week for speech therapy exercises. Once she got to know Dad, she let him sit and read, no speech exercises. She would quietly do paperwork and then take him to her home for biscuits and lemonade where he was then collected by his father. She told him that his stuttering was something that would simply pass and she showed him a kindness that he had never experienced. She gave my Dad the gift of believing in him. Beatrice also taught Dad two principles that stayed with him for life: “To be interesting you must be interested, and give generously and you will be rewarded many fold.”

As my Dad and I hugged that night, emotional and slightly drunk, he whispered into my ear. “Son, all you need to make it in life is someone who’ll believe in you.” He was that person for me and I became that person for him.

So, as you wrap presents for those you love and send notes and gifts to those you work with, think also about giving something that can change their lives – the gift of believing in them; the gift of encouragement; the gift of speaking positively into their future. There are people in your life – your children, your partner, your employees, even your boss; that need you to believe in them. Every word from your lips has the power to build or destroy. Your words can be precious gifts that help change lives because behind the façade of confidence is usually someone secretly feeling that they’re an imposter. Inside the shy or reserved, is someone great who just needs a little encouragement to break-out.

Here’s the biggest thing I’ve learned about leadership: ‘It all about you but it’s not about you.’ Leadership is an inside job – then it’s about serving others by finding a worthwhile cause that changes lives for the better. Read that again. Forget the pursuit of happiness, instead seek meaning in what you do. Happiness has nothing to do with what you have but instead is all about who you are.

Professional selling is changing but don't let all the technology and all the noise distract you from what makes you powerful – be human, and be a person of authenticity, generosity and goodwill. Make every relationship count in 2015 and be kind to those weird, unhappy or nasty people you meet because they too have their own stories that would change how you view them if you knew.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Andrew Magill

Your LinkedIn War Room

We’ve all seen the situation room at the movies – Martin Sheen in West Wing as President Bartlet down in the White House basement or Bill Pullman as President Thomas Whitmore in Independence Day. It’s an impressive scene with multiple screens displaying data on command. Profiles of the bad guys, enemy analysis and everything available at the click of a mouse to make the big calls based on the best available intel and ‘on balance’ probabilities.

Enterprise solution selling needs the same paradigm because complex selling is more analogous to war than sport. We need to defeat the enemy by navigating complexity. We need the very best intelligence about individual players, organizational drivers, industry trends, financial profile, political power, competitor incumbency, SWOT analysis, data about the customer’s customers, the consultants who influence them, their weighted decision criteria, approval gates, business case… we need it all and more. This is because a strategy is only as good as the intelligence and thinking that leads to it. Fact-based decision-making without supposition, ignorance or blind hope is essential.

Here's a secret weapon for your sales arsenal: Make the investment in your LinkedIn War Room and here’s why it’s a must. I’ve won massive deals as the lead salesperson selling to IBM at 70% higher prices than the competition. As the Managing Director of a software company, we won the whole of a government license deal after we’d been told that we were eliminated but managed to get back into their process. As the external deal coach, I recently helped a client win a $100M contract selling to a client with the power-base distributed across three countries. These career-making deals are earned with strategy, teamwork and excellence in execution.

Imagine this scene. A dedicated War Room in your company with screens on every wall; think Salesforce Social Media Command Center meets LinkedIn Navigator on steroids. There is a boardroom style table in the middle but higher than normal and with no chairs. People do their best thinking on their feet and meetings are faster and more productive when participants are not reclining. There is a big sign on the wall: If you’re here – be here! Turn your phone off and focus on the task at hand – how will we win? Every screen has a purpose. Skype or video conferencing for face-to-face interaction with customers and team members in other offices. See their eyes to ensure they are focused and engaged – human to human (H2H) interactions without distractions. According to Citrix case studies, video-conferencing can increase close rates by 34%.

Collaboration deal room software is displayed on one screen. Another screen is a Gantt chart building the win plan, capturing all of the interdependencies, milestones, events and dates; aligning with the buyers own internal process highlighting what has been validated. Everyone is side-by-side, collaborating with this Tiger Team of 5 or more with Social Selling Index (SSI) scores of 70+, scouring the contextual web for something that can make a difference: news, job changes, promotions, innovation, new product launches, funding, thought leadership content, tweets, curation, shares, comments and likes. Another screen shows the opportunity snapshot. CRM screens abound capturing every detail as the single source of truth for the account, opportunity, players and action-tracking.

In between the various big screens, the walls are glass white boards full of relationship maps, color-coded to highlight power players, supporters, enemies, competitors, and external influencers. Post-it notes are everywhere. The whole room is a living three-dimensional account and opportunity plan. Strategic maneuvers and purposeful tactics are played-out. On other screens, the constellation of social apps are provided on heads-up displays Minority Report style. Key targets stream down a screen, Lead Lists tracked passively in Navigator.

Twitter: Like stock tickers, lists representing all the players show who they follow and what they’re talking about in Social.

LinkedIn: For profiling and seeing social proximity, and for tracking human trigger events. Of all the screens in the room, the LinkedIn ones are most important to leverage 2nd and 3rd degree TeamLinking and networked intelligence.

LinkedInPublisher: Sales people become micro-marketers sharing subject matter expertise (SME) content based on business challenges universal to your sector on a daily basis back-linking to Forrester and Gartner reports.

Blogs: Anyone in the customer organization who blogs is monitored. Grass roots early signs of what’s going on inside, behind the barricades.

Facebook: Who are the key people connected to, personally and professionally? Competitors, consultants, influential players in their industry? And you thought Facebook had no role in B2B selling.

Annual Reports: The team is trained to read and understand them, they sit on iPads at the ready for mission critical intel to reflect CXO insight.

ROI calculators: A dedicated technical member of the team is at the ready to help collaboratively build the business case, making and proving out a value hypothesis, quantitatively not just qualitative.

Join all the dots, crack the code by managing this room with leading measure KPIs, know what you don't know and set tasks for further intelligence gathering. Develop a cunning winning plan based on best value and lowest risk for the customer. Everyone who enters the LinkedIn War Room leaves his or her ego at the door. Their job is simply to play their role and contribute where they add the most value. Regardless of your corporate methodology (Challenger, SPIN, TAS), apply the RSVP meta-framework for creating clarity amidst all the complexity. It represents a quantum leap for your social sales force. Do it simply by relentlessly asking these sets of questions to govern your metaphorical laser-guided tactical assault:

R)elationships: Do we have the right relationships? Followed by: Are we selling at the right level? Do they have genuine political and economic power? Do our relationships provide differentiating intelligence, insight and genuine influence?

S)trategy: Do we have an effective strategy for managing relationships and competitive threats? Followed by: Do we understand the power-base and have we identified the competition (external and internal including the risk of them doing nothing)? What's our strategy for winning while engineering a positive bias in the customer's requirements toward us?

V)alue: Are we leading with insight and uniquely creating compelling business value in the eyes of the customer? Followed by: Why will they buy anything at all and is there a risk of the status quo prevailing? How are we differentiating and evidencing our credentials as lowest risk and best value?

P)rocess: Are we aligned and do we truly understand the customer’s process for evaluation, selection, approval and procurement? Followed by: Do we understand how they define and assess risk with suppliers and solutions? Do we have a close plan validated by the customer?

I named it RSVP because 80% of success is simply showing up and being fully there. In Social, you can always be ready, listening proactively; real-time reconnaissance of your dream clients is finally possible. Be ready to make a relevant entrance to their conversation which they will find maximally refreshing.

It's a brave new world! Make the investment in your War Room and bring Social Selling 3.0 alive where tried and true selling methodologies are super-charged by social platforms and collaborative technologies. But make it exclusive by prioritizing for your best people and most strategic deals. Salespeople should compete with each other for access to it. Is their deal truly qualified? Have they earned the right to use it with enough base-level information and intelligence? Is the opportunity big and strategic enough?

How will you know that you are winning beyond any single KPI, even revenue? One word, one key metric: INTERACTIVITY

An ode to the Social Selling 3.0 War Room (The world's first LinkedIn Poem?)

Everyone who has ever bought from your firm

Every SOW engaged, tactically short or strategically long-term

Relationships and strategy trump technology for technology's sake

Listen closely to the leaders you seek, work a process and records shall you break

The dawn of true sales leadership, victory over shiny object syndrome

The customer is the star in this quirky B2B poem

The insightful message at the right time accelerates the deal

Pipeline explodes with qualified prospects in your zeal

Selling is social helping in the cloud, no spam allowed

Social Selling 3.0, shout it out loud!

Authentic connections and KPIs that lead rather than lag

Cracking the sales management code, the right activities mean it’s in the bag

This room is a place of active listening and engagement,

Of strategic thinking and quota attainment

Understanding the political power-base with fresh intel from LinkedIn

Provides the knowledge that’s needed to engage and win

Intelligent conversations fill the air, collaborative ideas tantamount

Disruptive selling at its finest, top gun mavericks, micro-content marketing is paramount

Challenging the status quo with insight selling aplomb

Strategies and tactics are iterated just like an agile software dev team in the era of dot com

Technology will never outpace human ingenuity, this human selling innovation will shine

Behold, the LinkedIn War Room a modern construct of our changing times

In the eyes of customers, we all look pretty much the same. It's not what we sell, it's how we sell it. Reinvent the way you manage complex strategic opportunities. Your CEO will be stunned by the quantum leap in execution through the Social Selling 3.0 War Room paradigm. She could even use it for M & A activity! There's been a chorus of management talk about driving 3.5X pipeline and this is a great insurance policy. What if you could drastically increase conversion rate by making said pipeline exponentially stronger filling the funnel via social omnipresence? Impressive revenue and margin will follow but remember, there is no magic bullet. Could this radically transform the face of B2B inside sales, further reducing cost of sales (COS) and accelerating sales cycles on six and seven-figure closes fully inside? Will the world's first SVP of Social Selling be hired this year? Yes, I believe it will happen. You read it here first! As Marc Benioff puts it best as a mantra, "Become a customer company."

I predict it will all be trending this way, freeing up sales executives' time for innovation and more meaningful interaction lower in the funnel where it counts the most. Closer to the customer, closer to the deal flow; a shift to service and fulfillment. You will have more time to nurture and grow your existing business explosively and in venture-backed companies this solves an age-old Achilles heel: too great a focus placed on net new logos, cutting off the nose to spite the face. After all, Gartner reports 80% of revenue comes from 20% of existing accounts. The coveted sales job of the future will somewhat paradoxically be Sales Writer/Researcher, once a soft skill transmuted into a hard skill. So perhaps Shakespeare himself would be a top sales performer if transported in a time machine to 2045?

Technology acceleration has implications on enterprise field selling as well and I'll be touching on that in greater detail in future posts. This may be 2020 but imagine an Account Executive wearing Google Glass or a SmartWatch getting real-time updates synced to CRM & Social Streams from the corner of a smart contact lens corresponding with a manager on another continent (sitting in the LinkedIn War Room no doubt!) advising her on the meeting agenda and strategic talking points at every crossroads. Imagine the implications on training and ramping reps if you can ride along with a rep digitally through wearable tech? Benioff is already running the whole company off a smartphone and CRM will at last be fully mobile, as every rep is equipped with a supercomputer tied to the cloud with more computing power than a warehouse mainframe mere decades ago, at there disposal with one tap.

Remember that selling is serving and you can be at peace in the war room, if you follow elements of this blueprint and make it your own. To quote Jill Rowley, "Your sales force is on the brink of EXTINCTION. They are being replaced by search engines and social networks. It’s time to adapt or die."

More on How to Build Your LinkedIn Center at this link. Inspirational credit is due to the following authors for concepts in this poem: Craig Elias and Tibor Shanto, Shift!, Cracking the Sales Management Code, Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana, Jill Rowley #SocialSelling, The Challenger Sale by Brent Adamson & Matt Dixon, Jim Holden's Power-Base Selling, David Meerman Scott's New Rules of Sales & Service & Marketing & PR, Reid Hoffman, The Start-Up of You, Jeff Thull's Mastering The Complex Sale. Special recognition to Neil Rackham, SPIN Selling and Donal Daly, Account Planning in Salesforce.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Robert Raines

Your Team Culture Is In The Mirror

The culture of an organization is defined and imbued by the leader; plain and simple. To identify and understand the culture, simply get to know the values and operating style of the leader. If you are the leader and seek transformation in your people then you need a mirror, not a manual to begin the process of change management. Vision, mission and values statements are not enough – you must be the change you seek in your organisation, especially when it comes to being customer-centric and market driven.

Although the leader sets the tone and defines the organization’s culture, people rather than vision and mission statements are the manifestation of culture and it is therefore essential to hire only those with the right attitudes and values. One of the leader’s most important roles is hiring for cultural fit but the problem with most hiring processes and job descriptions is that the focus is on skills, experience and qualifications. These are important prerequisites for hiring but rarely the reasons for firing. Instead, the rationale for dismissing an employee is most often ‘poor cultural fit’ and this can be a point of contention when seeking to manage an employee out.

Latent brand risk resides in any employee who is a cultural misfit or emotionally disconnected from positive values. For this reason, one of the most expensive mistakes an organization can make is to hire or retain misaligned staff. It is important to manage this commercial and brand risk by understanding that skills are easy to measure and evidenced but values often live behind a façade of salesmanship. Know what you are looking for beneath the surface of a resume and understand how to penetrate the persona being projected during an interview. Here are characteristics that the best leaders seek in a senior team member:

  • Guided by solid moral values. They treat others as they wish to be treated and place the well-being of the corporation, team members and customers above personal interests. They never bully or undermine others through gossip, negative politics or passive-aggressive behaviour. They clearly understand what is right and wrong and have the courage to always act with integrity.
  • Committed to being part of the team. They ensure everyone has a clear understanding of their role. They believe their personal value comes from the timely results they deliver and their positive influence; not from their position, knowledge or qualifications.
  • Cares about quality in everything they do. They actively listen and ensure understanding before jumping to solutions. Proposals are well written and follow the brief or address the problems articulated. They proof-read everything, including e-mail, before sending.
  • Driven to achieve results. They focus on what needs to happen daily to achieve the right outcomes. They have a bias toward action and focus on delighting customers. They focus on business-case and managing risk.
  • Strategic thinker. They gather intelligence to create insight before making decisions. They consider the politics within an organisation and the various self-interests at play in complex decision-making.
  • Strong work ethic. They work intelligently but also know there is no substitute for a strong work ethic.

All this begs the question: how do you hire for cultural fit and discover the truth about a person’s character? The psychometric tools that measure intelligence and identify dominant personality traits do not address the issues of values and attitudes. To minimise hiring risks it is essential to understand all the relevant factors, including how candidates think and operate. The best employers focus on the following elements:

  • Past performance is an indication of likely future performance. Reject any candidate with a resume that fails to document high performance against targets or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
  • Use candidate skills, experience and qualifications to screen individuals out of the process and then obsessively focus on cultural fit with the remaining applicants.
  • Thoroughly research candidates and use social media tools such as LinkedIn to find connections within your network to further eliminate or validate someone in advance of an interview.
  • Challenge claimed achievements and be weary of people who claim to have achieved great things with past employers yet regularly move on within eighteen months.
  • Ensure the candidate evidences claimed traits with examples of difficult situations they faced and the challenges they overcame. Ask them about their most difficult situations and failures, then what they specifically learned.
  • Use reference-checking early in the process, not as mere validation at the end. Most importantly, you select and request the referees you want to talk to.

Even with the right employees in place, the leader’s actions set the tone and define the culture that cascades throughout the organisation. So what defines a healthy culture in the context of business? Here is some food for thought. Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, chronicles what he describes as ‘level 5 leadership’. His research identified the attributes of the very best leaders who possess the following:

  • Face the awful truth in acknowledging realities.
  • Accept personal responsibility when things go wrong.
  • Attribute success to others when things go well (genuine humility).
  • Have quiet yet unbreakable determination in achieving success.
  • ‘Hedgehog Principle’ for developing unassailable market position.

Interestingly, the first four elements are attitudes and only the last item on the list is a skill. 80% of what Jim Collins identifies as essential attributes for sustained leadership are difficult to measure and not usually evident in a traditional resume or catered for in the job application process.

Use a Mirror not a Manual to Create a Customer Centric Culture. Everyone within the organization represents the brand and the leader needs to enthusiastically embody and live the culture of the organisation and make all values, vision and mission statements real and meaningful for everyone in the team.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Gavin Llewellyn

Let's Simplify Sales Before We Reimagine It

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein

Futurism rules the day and predictions abound including my own on how we can reimagine the salesforce in the digital age. Some human beings will be replaced by smart AI robots that sift through huge amounts of data to automate administrative processes... even automate our campaigns, parse our emails and deliver us warm leads.

Wow, maybe they can even close the deals for us. I hope not! A few lucky managers will work the largest select opportunities from inside. So is it time to hang up your suit?

I think there's a great deal of forward thinking among the sales intelligentsia. I am not convinced access to vast data, social insight and mobility has fostered deeper engagement or connected our world in a better way. This is why I truly enjoy thought leaders that promote the channel as a means to deeply build awareness, meaningful engagement; that stop and read. I see a preponderance of endless self-promotion, clicks, feed clogging and meaningless curation where quantity is winning a silent victory over quality.

The hardest part of this new paradigm is just to slow down. You can search a Twitter feed and find dozens of amazing articles to read but where is the time left in the day to produce? Shouldn't we still be spending most of our time communicating powerfully with our dream clients?

I would call for a return to the basics before going after all the cutting edge technology advancements in 2015. Excellence in sales requires excellence in sales process so you need a good one. I am a proponent of SPIN, TAS, eFox, Solution, Strategic and Challenger Selling. I even built a meta-framework of my own called RSVP. I feel it's valuable to learn many frameworks and methodologies, to then simplify them into something that you can always remember no matter how much pressure in your sales situation. You can make your own process and embrace your natural personality while selling.

One can take any system and make it simpler. Einstein's quote rings true. If you're going to leverage Twitter, why not know who every follower is? Why not pair it down to just an essential list of contacts that's manageable. If that seems impossible as you've already built out your strategy in an older era of Web 2.0, then at least build hyper focused lists by genre to segment your thought leaders so you can truly listen to them and engage in context.

As managers, let's ride along with our team members this year, joining our account executives on-site in the field. Let's challenge them to build a concise agenda. We should meet with them beforehand to talk strategy and afterwards for a debrief. What are the politics in the account? Who is in the power-base? Which competitors are in the deal placing it at risk, the biggest of which is usually "do nothing?" What is the strategy we will engineer to win the deal?

Each sales person should be paired up with a mentor and that mentor could be you. In the old world, apprenticeship was how sales was passed down. Great sellers taught the next generation how to read people, how to weave a strong story line, how to digest an annual report and how to diagnose problems, prescribing solutions.

Get on site with existing clients in 2015, hold quarterly business reviews, bring your insights on a giant poster-board and leave it behind to show you truly care. White board out the lifecycle with customers, let the customer show you in their own words and pictures, their own short-hand. Record it, reflect on it, get to know the accounts inside-out to foster explosive pipeline growth.

Could 2015 be the year of retention or will massive sales organizations hire 10 lemmings to send 6 off the cliff? I'm talking about retention of our sales talent and retention of our best customers in tandem here.

Why not take each complicated system we use in the enterprise sales force and simplify it. You will want to read Cracking the Sales Management Code by Jason Jordan and build a new dashboard in Salesforce that reflects the sales activities that you can actually influence, this could be connected calls, WebEx's and GoTo's held with Challenger demos, opportunities qualified or proposals sent out. Start to take a look at the Pareto Principle also called the 80/20 rule, the power law of distribution that governs your day in order to prioritize your opportunities. Step back with your manager and analyze the cause and effect relationship with your actions to outcomes.

Time management will be everything in 2015 with the onslaught of notifications buzzing in your pocket, updates from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+, [insert the next buzzy social craze network] in a dissonant cacophony of chaos, keeping you from those five inbound leads you need to call back or taking twenty precious minutes to read the updates from the CIO you're about to call on who just spoke at the tech conference. We rob Peter to pay Paul when we rush through our day, when we click too fast, when we act before thinking.

Take all your tools and give them a New Year's pruning; simplify them to their essence. White board out what your CRM needs to show, the key insight your marketing campaigns must convey, the one key metric by which you're measuring progress, the key clients you seek to grow and visit with. How can you move from value proposition to continuous value creation? Try to hold every meeting as a video conference to see your people face-to-face, rather than a voice on the phone.

Start to write LinkedIn Publisher posts once per week as a summary of the key insights you're learning from visiting with companies in the industry verticals you serve. Practice thought leadership and share your subject matter expertise. Pause for 10 minutes when you arrive to work each day to simply think and map the day, to organize your time. Build agendas prior to every meeting on your calendar. Be open to sharing those agendas with prospects and clients to get buy in. Send them snippets from something they wrote on Twitter or a mention before the meeting to show them you are listening. Send them a white-paper directly pertinent to their greatest objectives the night before. Mastering the details takes just a bit more time so create it.

There's a simplicity to what motivates people. They tend to move toward pleasure or away from pain. Most people don't change from the status quo until there's no other choice, the organization is literally burning down, hemorrhaging revenue. Look at what is happening with cloud computing eroding the hardware based on-premise enterprise tradition. “Software truly is eating the world”, as Marc Anddreessen said best.

The vast majority of marketing messages are focused on revenue growth, ROI and all the benefits customers can realize. But this makes all marketing messages sound the same. If you can move your campaign toward risk mitigation and away from pain, it's a very powerful differentiated message. It's a simple message. Executives are walking around with a major problem they need to solve. If they're seasoned, they've prioritized their biggest pain-point. They're obsessing on how to fix it. They've got a 10X moonshot in their head too. When you understand them and speak to these burning issues, you are instantly sent up the food chain. She will re-arrange her schedule to talk with you now.

So that's my advice. Climb out of the endless meetings with management and colleagues and focus the majority of time looking actual customers in the eye over Skype or if highly qualified, hop on a plane, train or ride your bike over there for coffee. Get off social media as a crutch, leverage it supplementally to make your real world interaction more meaningful. Fix your overcomplicated CRM, reducing the amount of stages to reflect a dead simple sales process. Collaborate with your team members in the field, in the arena. Get out from behind the desk, the flat screens, a manager's spreadsheet jockey comfort zone. Let's move from reactive to proactive management in sales and prioritize every action and system at our disposal.

Einstein also profoundly said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Let's iterate, test and fine tune our approach before we reinvent the wheel. When we do reinvent the wheel let's make sure to temper that discovery with a healthy dose of respect and understanding for what still rolls down the road as history tends to repeat itself and it's critical to factor in time tested wisdom and road-tested knowledge into the equation. Humanity remains a communications grid network so logarithmic technology tectonic shifts every ten years tend to have little effect on trend lines measured by tens of thousands. Are we clay or obsidian rock?

Infinite new sales inventions may come out but building trust and leading with new insight could remain the E = mc2, the constant or fundamental part which any future complex selling system can be distilled down into. Virtual reality, AI, wearables, holography, smart contacts, flying cars, interstellar sales, the singularity is near? The more technology, the greater the need for humanization. When you span your imagination out 1,000 years, it becomes evident that building trusted advisor relationships will still be the silver lining guaranteeing your success in any new medium. I predict Charles H. Green's books will be even more relevant in the year 3,000.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Bill David Brooks

How To Create Customer Centric Culture?

Everyone who touches a customer needs to be a steward of the brand and seek opportunities to deliver value and create revenue. Everyone else in the organisation ultimately supports people who interact with customers – back office and technical staff therefore have frontline employees as their internal customers. Customer service is the new sales model in a world where social media gives every consumer the ability to instantly damage or build a supplier’s brand. Unhappy customers tell everyone who will listen and they can do real damage to your brand. Your website, other digital points of presence and social media strategies must be used to empower staff to engage customers and stakeholders in meaningful conversations, not just to project your sales and marketing messages.

Rather than restricting staff in their internet and social media activities, consider thoughtfully implementing programs that educate and empower staff to be transparent and responsive to customers through any channel. Be clear with your employees that with freedom comes responsibility and accountability. Also be transparent and communicate openly to staff and customers that when mistakes are made you always seek to rectify the problem to the complete satisfaction of the customer.

To ensure productivity and control, provide tools to staff such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems with embedded social media feeds delivering a ‘single source of the truth’ about customers. Implement ‘web to lead’ systems so that when a customer interacts with your website you have a system to capture their interest or complaint. Especially reward staff who listen in social channels and convert unhappy customers into advocates – every complaint or negative Tweet about your brand is a sales opportunity! Reward staff who refer new business regardless of whether they work in the sales department. Most importantly, acknowledge staff who go above and beyond their job description or market expectations in delivering exceptional customer service.

Vision, mission and values statements are meaningless without validation through the actions and behaviours of employees. Personal attitudes and values must be aligned with the corporate ethos and connected with emotion. To achieve this consider your vision, mission and values statements and then write something new: ‘Here at our company we believe …’ Then define how these beliefs should manifest in the attitudes and actions of you and the team. Make it real with examples and acknowledge those who exemplify the culture and values. Consider the effectiveness of Richard Branson who personifies the Virgin brand. It can be argued that Richard Branson is the Virgin brand and he ensures that every Virgin business obsessively hires based on cultural fit. This is because they know they can train skills but it is very difficult to alter attitudes and values.

Conversely, look at the disaster of Enron where the appalling values within the leadership drove recklessness and greed that spread like a cancer to eventually destroy the corporation and harm hundreds of thousands of lives. Enron’s caustic culture was their biggest commercial risk and it festered behind a paper-thin facade of clichéd mission, vision and values statements.

The leader is the culture and poor hiring, especially within senior ranks, introduces significant brand and business risk. Corporate and individual reputations take years to build and can be lost in an instant through the misbehaviour of an individual. Because the foundation of positive culture is values, authentic leaders are committed to a solid moral framework regardless of whether anyone is watching. Anthony Howard is a thought leader on moral leadership and his white paper, It’s Time For Moral Leadership, is a must read for exploring this in greater depth.

The reality is that there will always be a gap between aspiration and execution but without striving to become better we do not grow. Look deeply at the value you bring customers and markets to identify the higher purpose of what you do. How do you impact individual lives and society? In what way are you a force for good in the world? Instilling a foundation of positive values and beliefs for making a difference is tremendously powerful in harnessing human energy to build your enterprise and brand.

As a leader, first strive to be a good human being who places customers and staff ahead of your own needs. Be a force for good and, rather than criticise, encourage and seek solutions. Be energetic and passionate about the success of your team and customers. Be accountable and driven to achieve results.

In summary: Define what you believe about yourself and your organisation concerning the value you offer your customers, markets, investors and employees. Then document how these beliefs should emotionally impact behaviours at every level. Begin with yourself and become obsessively focused with customer success and bring your entire team on the journey of change so that every individual can personally own the right values and embody the culture. The leader’s actions need to be the culture. Constantly ask yourself: How are my actions evidencing the culture we claim to have? Be the change you seek in your organisation and carefully recruit only those who share your customer centric values. Empower and liberate the team to represent the brand and trust them to step up and do the right thing.

These are the key ingredients for creating a positive customer-centric culture:

  1. Focus on your higher purpose relevant to customers when defining your culture and create emotional connections for all staff.
  2. Use a mirror, not a manual, to transform your organisation by living the values to transfer the culture.
  3. Carefully hire only those who are culturally aligned and have proven themselves to possess the necessary attitudes and values.
  4. Empower and liberate all staff to embody the culture and represent the brand. Trust the team to step up and reward and recognise those who create customer magic.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Nick Webb

      Decoding the CEO – Ten Rules For Engaging

      No matter how senior our role, we all need to sell to our boss or board and it starts at the job interview. Later we need approvals for various initiatives or projects we want funded. We also have agendas we want advanced, promotions we seek, and conflicts to resolve. Every organization is political in nature and competing agendas abound – this complexity creates a minefield that must be navigated to then engage with the person of ultimate power… the CEO.

      The buck stops with the CEO, but so does every decision – he or she has the power of veto. CEOs are the puppet-masters pulling the invisible strings in the background. Their agendas are the ones that win, their people rise to the top, and their priorities take precedence. But it can be intimidating dealing with the CEO, whether you’re an external consultant, sales person or an internal subordinate. Yet the CEO need not be a mystery. Every CEO is human, and he or she has needs that you can meet. Behind the façade is a real person with fears, insecurities, goals and aspirations. They have to manage the board, inspire their leadership team, deliver results and manage risk that could blindside or derail. They also need to build the corporate brand – but most neglect building their own.

      Strategic selling is first and foremost defined by engaging early at the most senior level possible. You may not need to engage the CEO of the organization, but you do need to sell to the ‘CEO of the problem’ that you can help with. The person who actually owns the problem or opportunity, the one on the hook for delivering the result, the person who controls the funding and authorizes the decision – this is who you need to engage. Everyone else is a mere recommender or blocker.

      So, how do you engage effectively at the CEO level? The very best leaders are focused on delivering results, making a difference, treasuring time, building people, and leaving a legacy. Here are ten rules to honor on your quest to engage successfully.

      1. Be a person of value – a domain expert who can help make things happen. No-one likes being sold to but they value relevant information, insight and perspective from someone with humble wisdom, a strong network and the gravitas to carry the conversation.
      2. Start at the end and lead with ‘why?’. Get to the point and be concise. Genuine insights are rare and never cliché, so do your homework and understand why the conversation is important. Only once you’ve anchored the conversation, should you talk about the what, how, who and when.
      3. Open powerfully by not talking about yourself. Make it all about them by showing that you’ve done your homework and that you understand how you can potentially help deliver their agenda, solve their problems, or realize their opportunities; both for them personally and professionally.
      4. Talk the language of leadership: positive outcomes and managing risk.
      5. Talk the language of business: delivering financial results and KPIs.
      6. Talk the language of legacy: sustained change that makes a difference in the lives of customers and staff.
      7. No faking-it and no bullshit. Know the industry and have evidence to support your assertions. Be masterful at telling great true stories but be conservative. Also be honest and transparent. If you don’t know, then say so.
      8. Always be early, have an agenda, respect time, follow-up in writing. In short – be a pro.
      9. Let them be in control. Ask them what they want to see happen after the meeting and what the next steps should be. But if they sponsor you down, always maintain your direct relationship – the right to contact them whenever necessary.
      10. Always deliver on every promise. Be rock-solid reliable.

      People are best motivated by reasons that they themselves discover. Never therefore preach, sell or lecture. Instead ask great questions that cause self-reflection for the person with whom you engage. All of the above is relatively straight-forward but here is something that could change the way you create value for the most senior people you work with. The fact that you’re reading this means that you could execute.

      Most CEOs are consumed by delivering for their company and many neglect their personal life and brand – burn-out is common. Every sales person should build their personal brand in social because people buy you before they buy what you’re selling. You should become an expert regardless of your age. It’s a skill that requires much research and nuanced effort but it’s essential. Why don't you offer personal education and assistance to the CEO on how to build their personal brand in B2B social?

      Here is why it could work. Domo and CEO.com recently published analysis on the social presence of every Fortune 500 CEO. Here are some of their findings:

      • 68% of CEOs have no social presence at all on the top five social platforms
      • Of those who are on social, 73% are solely on LinkedIn
      • Nearly one-third of CEOs on Twitter don’t tweet
      • Almost none understand social strategy and the interconnectedness of platforms

      Below is an incredibly well designed infographic from Domo and CEO.com and you can also download the full report here: 2014 Social CEO Report.

      LinkedIn is an amazingly power platform. Find ways to use it to research and then engage with the CEOs you can best help. Become the expert they trust and rely upon. Don't be intimidated – step-up after you’ve earned the right to do so. It’s not as scary as you think.

      Here is an excerpt from my book, The Joshua Principle – Leadership Secrets of Selling, where Joshua’s father, a CEO, is giving his son, a salesman, advice on how to engage at the senior executive level. We pick-up the conversation with Joshua asking Mark about potential insights gleaned from reading the annual report of Zenyth, his must win deal.

      “Anyway, there’s a lot to talk about with Zenyth. This meeting with their CEO is going to be critical. Do their financials reveal anything concerning what’s really driving their decisions?”

      Mark opened a folder he had brought in with him. “It’s actually quite interesting. If I was on their board I would ask the CEO what they’re doing about all the cash on their balance sheet.”

      “Isn’t cash a good thing?”

      “Not necessarily. Too much cash on your balance sheet can make you a hostile acquisition target because the cash can fund financing costs. Cash is also an underperforming asset; it means you don’t know what to invest in for growth.”

      “I guess Zenyth is conservative.”

      “It’s not about being conservative. Too much cash on the balance sheet is a wasted resource. I’m pretty sure that the new CEO will be under pressure to look at acquisitions or some other plan for expansion. But they have a bigger problem; I’ve analyzed the last five years of numbers and had a look at recent analyst guidance – well, criticism really. Their sales costs, as a percentage of revenue, have been going up for the last three years in a row. Their margins are also being squeezed and I found an interview with the new CEO that pretty much reveals his hand.”

      “Thanks for doing this. You must have spent most of the afternoon on it. Is that the interview last month written by Patricia Smith?”

      Mark was impressed that his son had also tracked down and read the article. “David Thomas stated that client retention is his number one priority and that he wants delighted customers. I bet the reason they’ve been losing customers is that competitors are targeting them. When you have market dominance you’re a sitting duck for niche players to pick off your vulnerable customers.”

      “Thanks Dad. I hadn’t made the connection with any of this. So would you say they were in growth, crisis or business-as-usual mode?”

      “Why do you think it matters?”

      Joshua explained the concepts he had discovered concerning the modes of business and the consequential motivation for decision-making. He fumbled with his own notes and showed them to Mark. “This is what I’m trying to figure out – the mode they’re in and how it translates to the things that are driving the CEO.”

      “If I think about their situation in those terms I guess I would say they have a mild crisis – customer churn is consistently eroding profitability. If I were David Thomas [Zenyth CEO] I would invest in things that help retain and grow profitable customers. All businesses invest in strategies to drive top-line revenue but many neglect the fact that it is far more cost effective to retain a customer than acquire a new one.”

      Joshua was busy taking notes as Mark continued in a measured tone. “The smart thing for David Thomas to do is invest money in limiting customer churn. That’s where he will get the best return on investment. He can continue the pressure on his sales operation to keep delivering new clients but he will only fix his profitability problem by stopping the defection of valuable customers.”

      “Are you sure? How can you know all this from looking at their balance sheet?”

      “All I know is that they have too much cash on their balance sheet and they’re suffering from eroding profitability which is positioned as a cost of sales problem. But one thing I’ve learned in business is that the problem is almost never the problem. Symptoms are not causes, and I think that if you get to have a genuine conversation with their CEO, he will admit that the real problem is customer churn rather than customer acquisition.”

      Joshua looked up from the notes he had been scribbling. “But how do I have that kind of conversation with a CEO? I’m just a salesman.”

      “You can have a conversation with your own CEO can’t you? Look, David Thomas is just another person but he’s under real pressure to deliver results. He needs to fix a problem he describes as a customer satisfaction challenge. His P&L describes it as a cost of sales problem. Their annual report describes it as eroding margins caused by competitors. They are a market leader defending their incumbent position. All you have to do is understand what keeps him awake at night – but don’t ask it that way. I hate it when salesmen ask that question. I usually say; ‘my wife – she snores rather loudly’... They always laugh too but then I ask if they have any other inane questions.”

      Joshua stopped laughing as Mark continued. “The only thing a CEO dislikes more than amateurs who waste their time, is sales people who waste their time. Josh, you seem to have done your homework and I hope my input is useful, but you must have a business conversation with him. He’ll open up once he sees that you have genuine insight.”

      Joshua rubbed his face with fingers combing back hair revealing a pensive look. “I can’t begin to tell you how far out of my depth I feel. If I botch this meeting with their CEO I’ll be finished with my boss.”

      “Son, even the most successful men have insecurities. We all secretly worry that we are going to get found out. I feel like I’ve been out of my depth most of my life; I really mean it. Maybe David Thomas feels out of his depth too and you’re someone who can help to get one of his problems under control. If you succeed it will make your career.”

      If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

      Main Image Photo by Flickr: DonkeyHotey

      LinkedIn vs. Facebook

      Social networks are fads, like fashion, like pop songs from boy bands. We saw it with MySpace, Friendster and AOL; the list is endless.

      If content is King and Context is Ace, how can Facebook last? It's almost all paid advertising now, at least in my feed when/if I log in.

      But I seldom use Facebook… my sister gives me enormous flack about it… I tell her I only have so many hours in the day and my B2B world is LinkedIn. Facebook is full of ads, has a very confusing UI, and is Shangri-La for wasting time and the trivial. I definitely see how it’s great for grandparents to help keep up with what’s happening with their children and grandchildren interstate… but the rest is mostly narcissism at its finest, as far as I’m concerned. There are better apps for sharing photos and one-liner updates.

      As a speaker and author, I can gain viewers if I pay for them on there. Why would I do that? I'd rather start meaningful business conversations in my RSVPselling Group on LinkedIn or go engage in conversations in other great ones likeStrategic Selling.

      Yes, there are ads in LinkedIn but they are unobtrusive and in the context of what I'm doing, just as they might be in The Australian or WSJ, out of sight - out of mind, unless something catches my eye.

      I could fill this article with a million statistics and prognostications but I can certainly simply empirically observe behaviors from my own life. My 18-year-old son isn't going to hang out where his parents are on Facebook. As he gets into University, he'll most likely start building a living resume on LinkedIn, sharing his internships, community service, extracurricular activities and student involvement to ready for the workplace. He could even utilize LinkedIn's YOUNIVERSITY to find the perfect university matched to his skill-set aspirations right now.

      Reid Hoffman is a humble visionary. He built LinkedIn with a slow burn marathon-versus-a-sprint mentality. He reimagined networking reducing the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon to 3 degrees of "everywhere you want to be" with millions of professionals. It took well over ten years to become an overnight sensation and generates the most revenue of any social network of its kind for B2B brands.

      Twitter has stayed relevant and will continue to be so because of its ability to be the megaphone, amplifying the blogosphere and arguably that blogosphere is moving inside LinkedIn with the network effects now made possible by its true breakthrough: LinkedIn Publisher. Paradoxically, users are starving for content searching desperately for signal in the noise amidst the glut of it on the web. LinkedIn gets that and is curating a patchwork quilt to capture the Millennial meets Boomer Zeitgeist. I recently made a bold prediction on here that LinkedIn Publisher will replace the blog as we know it. I followed that up with a show-stopping decision to stop blogging outside of LinkedIn. Perhaps WordPress will run within the platform via an API one day, only time will tell.

      My prediction: Facebook is a meme. We'll see 10 more like it by 2050.

      LinkedIn will keep on trucking along because of stickiness, CV reference necessity, career advancement, it's 10X moonshot quest to map the "economic graph," the fact they built the new Bloomberg Terminal with their Recruiter product and the fact that the articles I'm reading on here that YOU, yes you - my peers - are writing, are so downright phenomenal not to mention hyper-relevant to me.

      Straight talk: Executives are sharing candid insight about what it's really like out there from the polished halls of government [and the seedy backdoor corridors, I might add] to the trenches in the cubicles. Utility: The modern sales team can innovative with a 5-seat license of LinkedIn Sales Navigator for their LinkedIn War Room and has access to a full blown Social CRM plugging into Salesforce to unlock never-before-seen business intelligence and trigger event tracking functionality. The kicker: passive monitoring of what influential prospects are sharing rather than the awkward assumptive friend request. Ladies and gentlemen, behold Social Selling 3.0 and LinkedIn is ushering in a new era of disruptive sales thinking, along with the thought leaders and proponents of #SocialSelling who inhabit it, vaulting its status among the results-driven.

      LinkedIn is the telephone or light bulb of social networks from a technology evolution standpoint. Nobody needs to reinvent the wheel because their savvy engineering organization is adapting and evolving fast enough to continue to disrupt themselves. Kudos to Jeff Weiner for his operational excellence, keeping an agile startup mentality at this size and staying LEAN. They've adapted to mobile, they've adapted to content marketing, they've adapted to mass collaboration and embraced the Wikinomics principle of prosumption. Users are co-creating the dream with them.

      They're encouraging the world to read and write again proficiently. They're making it cool to get really good at it. It's cool to be smart, be mentored and learn from diverse cultures and generations. That's a message that resonates with me and why I'd encourage my son to log in to this network rather than turn another one off to go do his homework, study for an exam or complete a term paper. In fact, the resources on here could help him excel at just that. He could interview a veteran or tell a true story and find new context based on his life and experience. True, I've seen some "cats with snorkels" videos creeping in recently but LinkedIn does a staggering good job of policing itself.

      What is possible for LinkedIn? Becoming the modern-day newspaper. Oh, it's done that with Pulse. Becoming the social network to replace all social networks. Well, it's done that for me. In essence, a virtual reality that synthesizes the neural networks of the analog world allowing for networked synergy never before possible as a once separated global business collective, now inexorably united.

      Generations united. The true second life.

      What is possible for LinkedIn? Well studies have shown despite 68% of CEOs not being on social media, LinkedIn is the gateway where they dip their toe in the water. When they achieve their grand vision of mapping the social graph of a billion professionals [see the above Jeff Weiner keynote], the network effects will render the concept concrete like the telephone achieving total ubiquity. From this platform, almost infinite combinations are possible. Knowledge sharing and the synergy of human creativity, ingenuity, compassion and collaboration become possible in dramatic new ways we can only imagine in our wildest dreams. Not to mention, employment opportunity abounds in all its various and sundry forms including meeting the demands of the freelance explosion.

      Sorry Facebook, we get that ads drive revenue but LinkedIn has simply done this in such a more elegant, reliable way as of late. The argument will be made, well Facebook is for social and LinkedIn is for business. Not so! Outside of private time with my friends and family, consulting clients is my passion and since I do what I love, I seldom actually "work" a day in my life.

      The point being is that the lines between social and business have blurred since the recession for many. In weathering any economic crisis, the workforce of the world gets focused on economic advancement and success to find the light at the end of the tunnel. This requires tremendous time, effort and energy and personally, I'd prefer to blow off steam on a long bike ride than socialize over a network mobile, Virtual Reality or otherwise if it's not immediately relevant to my interests, life and career goals. Others may have a different view here and contest this. I understand - entertainment is important too. But the interest graph is not enough, it must be overlaid with the economic and social graphs to build a four dimensional matrix, a garden where it's a joy to wander and even get lost (or found!).

      They say the Millennial generation is poised to become the greatestentrepreneurial generation. This research also tends to support my thesis here. If this is true, they too will take to LinkedIn like a duck to water. And guess what, on LinkedIn, it is cool that parents and older people are in the mix. Every budding entrepreneurial Millennial will study Sandberg, Rometty, Wojcicki, Mayer, Whitman, Burns, Catz... ad infinitum. Many will go one step further and connectwith them!

      I was inspired to write this after reading Nicholas Carlson's brilliant missivecomparing LinkedIn to the Yahoo of yore. I think he gets a lot of things right in this article and I noticed some heated debate erupt. Tea leaves aside, history will be the arbiter as YOU cast your vote with every mouse click. Zuck is a brilliant entrepreneur. Never-to-be-underestimated, he will endure. Is he one step ahead anticipating this to pivot in time, MANY TIMES?

      Let's analyze: Instagram is the undisputed Queen of photo sharing (although some of us now eschew any publicly posted photos or data whatsoever, yearning for true privacy) and Oculus Rift may usher in a new era of commerce in virtual worlds. It would be amusing indeed to see a B2B meeting with conservative executives resplendent in their VR goggle headsets! Lest we forget, FB could carve out a strong niche in gaming with its wearable tech going up against Microsoft Xbox. Facebook is also experimenting with business networking for which they'll face the existential chicken-and-egg Branchout problem. Will they adapt fast enough to meet the market ahead of the cusp? Recently this Darwin riff has been floating around LinkedIn feeds and I think it's most applicable to theorizing why tech companies can win:

      In the classic words of Dennis Miller, "Of course that's just my opinion, I could be wrong." What do you think? Comparing Facebook with Yahoo back in the day is one unique take on it. The other is just sizing up our own personal usage and each social network's ongoing utility and efficacy toward 2015. Any technology arc will typically play itself out in a winner-take-all denouement. For this reason, I believe LinkedIn to be the sleeper hit that will endure. They're adapting to change fast enough and continue to surprise and delight us upon each log-in by bringing us closer together.

      It's an author's paradise right now; I'm humbled and grateful to be developing a strong following. My recent tribute to a real world hero, pilot Richard de Crespigny, who saved hundreds of lives with an emergency landing in Singapore has exceeded 60,000 views and is about to eclipse 600 shares. What's been most impressive are how people from all walks of life are coming out of the woodwork, reading the entire thing and contributing so thoughtfully in the comment thread. They're watching all the documentaries, reading his book and adding so much intrinsic value and nuance back to this incredible story in near real time. They're amplifying this with Twitter. So far I did find one share on a Pilot News Magazine's Facebook Page but unless they're paying to boost exposure I'm thinking under 15% of their 6,000+ followers may see it. My followers on here have doubled in under two months at a faster clip than any concerted effort I've made in the past to organically grow my Twitter or a Facebook Page traffic. I'm very excited to see where this networking, publishing and career building powerhouse phenomenon is going in 2015.

      Who will be the first to map the economic graph? The world of virtual reality is definitely not flat.

      If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

      Main Image Photo by Flickr: Bratislavská župa

      Sales Professional's Oath

      The world is changing faster than ever and this is going to be the year of leadership… real leadership, naked, transparent, values-driven, human centred leadership. Technology will continue to accelerate at break-neck speed, the noise with increase by decibels, visual pollution online will swamp us. Distractions and gimmicks will abound. But here’s what won't change – the importance of quality relationships in doing quality business and making a difference. All business is done at the speed of trusted relationships.

      The way we sell has always been more important that what we sell. This is the biggest differentiator in the world of B2B selling; and it’s what will set you apart in creating your success. Will 2015 be your break-out year as an entrepreneur, manager or leader? How will you leverage technology and social platforms to accelerate the time it takes to create trusted relationships?

      Here’s a law of life: Things only change for the better when we do. Make this the year you embrace social and live the law of reciprocity. Whether you subscribe to the principles of sowing and reaping, or believe in karma, or the reality that we attract what we radiate, or the golden rule of do unto others; it all boils down to one thing – YOU need to be different.

      We must be the person worthy of the success we seek! Personally commit to The Sales Professional’s Oath here by hitting the like button. Then cut-n-paste the following and adapt to be your own affirmation; print it and stick it up on the wall at you desk. Read it every day – make it part of who you are.

      The Sales Professional’s Oath

      1. I am a loyal person of integrity and positive influence. I am values-driven and make a difference with a sense of purpose in all that I do. I lead by listening and serving others. I have an optimistic attitude and gossip has no place in my life. I do what is in the best interests of my client and my employer. I will do no harm – no lies, no half-truths, and no duplicity. I am transparent in my motives and values as I do what it takes to deliver for those I serve.
      2. I open powerfully by not talking about myself. I positively challenge the status quo and believe in the value I offer. I am a subject-matter expert and problem solver, always diagnosing fully before prescribing solutions. I know exactly what a well qualified potential employer or customer looks like and I seek strong cultural alignment in choosing those with whom I work.
      3. I always lead with ‘why?’ and I get to the point by starting at the end but with context before detail. I am concise yet connect emotion with logic and provide credible facts to support any assertion. I am masterful at telling relevant powerful true stories and only after the ‘why?’ is established, do I discuss the who, when, what and how. The last thing I discuss is my product, service or solution; or who we are and how we operate.
      4. I talk the language of leadership – positive outcomes and managing risk. I talk the language of business – delivering financial results and KPIs. I talk the language of legacy –sustained change that makes a difference in the lives of customers and staff. I am positive yet conservative and I possess gravitas in how I operate – energetic yet never in a rush.
      5. I treasure time and use it wisely, investing it rather than wasting it. I distinguish between the urgent and the important. I build quality relationships of trust, online and in the physical world. I research and prepare for meetings; especially with the insightful questions that I plan to ask.
      6. I am always early, have an agenda and am fully there for people when I am with them. I actively listen, take notes and follow-up in writing. I document and validate the customer’s critical events, dates, timing, approval and procurement before forecasting.
      7. I thoughtfully build my brand and network, embracing social platforms to be a positive contributor. I carefully choose those I follow and I happily promote others who I believe in. I share and collaborate well with others.
      8. I am the best employee my boss has in the team – positive, reliable, and professional. I make things happen and deliver results but I also care about people. I always deliver on every promise, big or small. I am rock-solid reliable. I keep our systems up-to-date and I provide accurate and timely data so those above me can make informed decisions.
      9. I am a life-long learner and I read a minimum of one hour every day from leaders online and one book a month to improve myself personally and professionally.
      10. I pursue meaning and purpose rather than entertainment and happiness. But I never take myself too seriously and I have a well-honed positive sense of humor.

      Could this be the year for you where personal leadership and professionalism becomes the hallmark of execution, internally and with customers? Be the change that your world needs. Great execution is more important than strategy. How will you execute the plays this year? How will you eliminate distractions and make a difference? How will you transform the way you lead? Here’s what I’ve learned about leadership over three decades.

      If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

      Main Image Photo by Flickr: Rob Chandler

      Abracadabra: 8 Epiphanies From 80 Posts

      Here's a little list of light bulbs that went off in my head as I've gained my sea legs with the LinkedIn Publisher platform in the early days, endeavoring to leverage it in building a platform of my own, as Michael Hyatt would encourage. These truths still apply today:

      1. Reciprocity rules. I like, share and comment on others posts at a rate of 10 to 1. Why? Because I am curious and it pays to pay it forward. I do my best to take the time to personally like and comment anytime someone ever interacts with me in any way. I realize this is not scalable but it pays dividends accelerating the speed and quality of the platform I am building here as an author and speaker. It's manageable because I can batch process this returning to it in scheduled intervals.
      2. The network effects on LinkedIn are sensational and exponential compared with any other platform I've personally used, especially when one nails a great story line.
      3. It's possible to grow an entire social media footprint just by focusing on writing great content on LinkedIn. Making this the core of my strategy was risky but has paid off rapidly. Publisher has been the hub and the other networks like Google+ and Twitter are spokes playing key roles in the supporting cast. Twitter is the best amplification strategy, hundreds of retweets yield massive likes, comments and shares. I always thank people when they add commentary.
      4. The perfect length of a post is 1,600 words or approximately 7 minute read, data has been analyzed on this (some studies say 1,900). It's shocking how many professionals love long form content. A frequent response I get on the longest ones that I share is ironically, "Great concise read." Moral of the story: readers are leaders so there are some incredible readers out there and writers who will reply with incredibly profound comments. They even take the time to research the story and add incredible intrinsic value.
      5. Quality still trumps quantity: When I invest significant time on a weekend to craft just one post, I do notice that effort pays off dramatically. Super high quality content is given wings on LinkedIn. Variety is the spice of life so switch it up a great deal and experiment. As soon as you're sure you've cracked the content code, a post will fall flat. Formulaic posts can create consistency but there is little rhyme or reason beyond this maxim, "If it truly inspires you, your true audience will find you and be inspired." So write from the heart with passion about what you know!
      6. Don't be shy to contact powerful people you admire and engage in relevant and meaningful conversations. The time to start doing that is now, don't wait another minute. When you tweet at bestselling authors or thought leaders, they often will Tweet right back, impressively within minutes, even seconds. Yes, they're that good and always on. They practice what they preach: #socialselling
      7. Leadership seems to be at the core of a great deal of the problems in business right now, maybe even the world. My readers wish that more people in any position of power operated with greater integrity. It's been gratifying to evolve the content from a sales discussion to a greater leadership discussion and realize in many ways, it's one and the same.
      8. Remarkably, readers on LinkedIn seem to enjoy overwhelmingly positive, inspiring posts as opposed to conflict and controversy which is typically not what the internet is known for, particularly in social media. It's been my experience that dry B2B brochure-like content typically falls flat. Astonishingly, if you truly put yourself out there, almost no one hates on you (OK, maybe a couple). This too is remarkable when thousands of new people cruise past your profile to learn more about who is writing and many write in.
      9. BONUS, I had to add one more as a runner-up because I haven't seen many people mentioning this word lately but it's still a key arrow in your quiver. Mash-ups are here to stay. Comparing sales to Cricket or piloting an aircraft to being a brand ambassador, taking a bunch of wildly disparate elements and finding things in common while mashing them up, tends to create enormous hybrid synergy and remarkable, Power-of-Wow, Purple Cow content. Mash-ups are also a great way to source content from evergreen and recent topics. There are millions of human systems that one could draw inspiration from by comparing them to situations in business. There are unlimited lessons from history, art, music, philosophy, science, sports and especially walking in nature that apply to sales, marketing and leadership excellence. Perhaps that's why Steve Jobs loved to take meetings while he strolled...Cross train, get away from the computer (yes, your smartphone is a computer!), experience life and bring your own unique perspective back to the fray. Being uniquely you is the strongest card that you can play. Social media isn't going away anytime soon so you can make your mark and perhaps a little bit of magic by infusing insights from your life experience.

      If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

      Main Image Photo by: Eva Peris

       

      The Tao of Jobs in Sales

      “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

      Is there still room to innovate in the world of sales? Emphatically, yes! Study the masters, the greats, study all styles and build your own. Realize buying habits have changed so study research from Corporate Executive Board (CEB) and make sure to factor in the real-time nature of the internet, as Andy Paul talks about in his books. The great salespeople I’ve managed and trained have had an inherent sense of curiosity, always questioning, always innovating, looking for new ways to blend the technology of sales: Old school meets new school. SPIN questioning is a technology, so is Challenging with new insight.

      “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

      Intuition is key in navigating deals of all sizes but especially in reading big complex deals with ultra long sales cycles. Many of you reading this have put in your 10,000 hours. My advice to you is simply, “trust your gut.” Sometimes you get split seconds to make a call, the Gladwellian thin-slice, nanoseconds to read people and pressure to react. Great managers empower their people, they train them through role play and ride alongs to hit their marks. There’s a temptation to play a character, to 'fake it until you make it' but ultimately, being yourself which requires that you muster courage and confidence, is going to trump everything else. Even a seller leveraging weaker tactics who believes in herself will outsell any contrived facade masking insecurity. 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice and 7% is the actual words spoken so the nonverbal cues will be huge for you. Be comfortable in your own skin. Develop this. Seek to enjoy the selling process. To do this, simply move from interesting to interested, wholeheartedly hang on your customer's every word. It’s about them!

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

      There’s something to be said for customer experience design, the design of a CRM, your Salesforce Automation, your enablement programs, your pitch and the insights themselves. It’s all a grand design, think hard on it. Measure twice, cut once. Coming from a design perspective is actually a unique way to look at it. “And one more thing…” Jobs was a master of suspense and showmanship in his legendary keynotes.

      “Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?”

      Salespeople will like this. It’s definitely a field that requires pirates and ninjas level freedom of improvisation and creativity. Ultimately your gauge of success will be revenue and customer satisfaction/retention so it will be up to you to structure your day, week month and quarter to optimize the ultimate outcome. Perhaps the greatest form of rebellion is pushing yourself to total mastery of the art and science of sales which is a triumph over self. This requires extraordinary levels of patience. I’m not suggesting you fly the Jolly Roger from your computer but thinking differently is the Jobsian hallmark. There’s no one right way to success! Approach the playing field with out-of-the-box ideas and a lion share of intensity coupled with fresh energy. Never to be discounted, there are many lessons to be learned from military strategy also.

      “.. almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

      Passion dictates performance. Find your niche, do what you love. If you figure that out, you’ll never work another day of your life. Jobs figured this secret to life and business success out early on. Fall in love with helping customers solve problems. Fall in love with serving and helping others, the time will fly!

      “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

      Setting expectations is key, always level set with customers. That being said, anytime you exceed expectations, you’ll blow their minds. Do you know how rare it is to receive a handwritten note these days? How about the Dale Carnegie simple strategy of just remembering someone's birthday. Dale kept it on notecards, you get notifications every day from social networks directly to your inbox; there’s simply no excuse. Customize, tailor and research for your presentations. Make agendas thoughtful. Be strategic. Take time to learn about clients before you meet with them. Winging it is the opposite of a quality experience. You are the face of your brand and the company. Going the extra mile is actually about little personal touches in this digital, always-on era. Excellence is in the execution.

      “A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

      There’s an optimism conveyed in this quote. Know that you can sell, believing wholeheartedly in your product and the company you represent. Join a company that is growing where the energy you contribute can have a synergistic effect: 1 + 1 = 5. From acorns, oaks.

      “To turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, it requires a lot of disciplines.”

      Discipline meets disciplines, we wear multiple hats as entrepreneurial sellers. We must stay laser focused on the daily activities that drive outcomes that we can influence. The therapist, the doctor, the technician, the customer service rep, the personal trainer. The analogies are endless. It’s a long game and you will gain the greatest payout sticking it out more than 18 months in one role. Outlive the enterprise sales cycle and set your sights on a bright horizon, knowing you can get there with consistent inspired effort each and every day. A positive attitude is your edge. It’s how Jobs continuously silenced critics and skeptics, creating something out of nothing, even releasing a phone when so many in the industry panned his breakthrough idea as "already done," predicting failure.

      “In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

      When you think about confusing sales processes or a hodgepodge of CRM data you get a sense for a need of design inspired thinking. With the customer defining the new funnel, designing a set of procedures to reflect this and allow reps to be nimble is critical. Customers being 57% through the decision making process, creates a bizarre asymmetry. Engaging upstream with critical insight requires designing a new sales process for your organization, getting closer to the buyer. "53 percent of B2B customer loyalty is a product of how you sell, not what you sell," according to CEB research.

      “You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.”

      This quote has profound implications on sales. It may be the most relevant one when you talk about B2B complex selling in enterprise environments. Nine times out of ten, a customer will surface a symptom they believe is the problem. It’s up to us as sellers to peel the onion and to do much of this in advance. We can collect enough data during due diligence to provide an informed diagnosis, refine that diagnosis and work collaboratively on a prescription. We can come to the table with a rock solid value hypothesis and work to prove this out together qualitatively and quantitatively (Jeff Thull). Clients don’t always know what they want, what's wrong or what a solution could look like. They're often enamored with the status quo or a shiny object that they think will solve it. They've often been misdiagnosed and are drilling off into infinity compounding the problems. Executives do understand their core business drivers but sometimes they’re so close to it, they're blinded by familiarity. Moving off the solution to focus on their pain is a Mahan Khalsa principle that is an ingenious perspective on this. Fixing a set of symptoms is just a band-aid approach. Bring your subject matter expertise to the table to close this gap in understanding and help point customers in the right direction of incremental progress.

      “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

      Iterate quickly, take 100% responsibility for your mistakes. Own them to your manager, to your customer and to the executive team. If you operate with good intentions and integrity as your compass, you’ll inspire confidence and become a trusted advisor.

      “The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay.”

      This is the Jobsian distillation of management science at its finest. Hire rockstars or train them to be so (take responsibility for grooming them) and then get out of their way, remove obstacles and push them out of the nest so they can fly. Watch the magic then unfold when you empower and enable gifted sellers. Drive comes from within in so unlocking this in people creates star performers who take pride in their work and self manage to an extent. I like this quote because it highlights the simplicity of the viewpoint of building a team of talented people and getting out of their way. Jobs lead by example and created a world class culture of innovation. He demanded this by the example he set. He brought in people he felt were even stronger and more talented than he was like Jony Ive, to expand his ability to put a “ding” in the universe. Despite foibles, he did not act alone even though catching heat as a misperceived solo flyer.

      “I think we're having fun. I think our customers really like our products. And we're always trying to do better.”

      Spirit of play, élan vital, esprit de corps, there are so many ways to express this concept. Put into practice: have a blast, work hard and play hard. A sense of joy in what you’re doing is contagious with customers. In fact, "fun" unto itself can create customers even entire markets.

      “I want to put a ding in the universe.”

      I love this quote. You’d think setting huge goals would be demotivating. The old adage, "reach for the stars and you just might hit a mountain," is more realistic. I actually find I’m even more motivated when I think bigger. Set achievable goals but also put forward stretch goals to anchor your progress.

      “So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.”

      This quote is about handling rejection graciously and persistence. Jobs didn’t take no for an answer. He was hell bent on selling his vision. The sales will come, you have a good product, just know that it takes consistency and persistence over time.

      “Pretty much, Apple and Dell are the only ones in this industry making money. They make it by being Wal-Mart. We make it by innovation.”

      Brazen, yes I know but Jobs was always willing to stir the pot. I really just think it shows the faith, tenacity, and unerring vision in the company he’s building. The takeaway here is to have an unwavering belief in what you’re selling.

      “It took us three years to build the NeXT computer. If we'd given customers what they said they wanted, we'd have built a computer they'd have been happy with a year after we spoke to them - not something they'd want now.”

      Challenger selling vs. relationship selling. You can give clients exactly the product they’re looking for and risk being commoditized out. Or, you can diagnose the larger complex problem which is typically comprised of many facets and build out a suite of solutions that even see around corners. This will protect your margins and buffer you from competitors nipping at your heels.

      “Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

      Steve Jobs was a game changer and polarizing force but he changed the world as we know it, millions would agree. His technologies live in our homes and most of our pockets. Market share? He created and won by literally creating new markets. Sales and product teams can unite with those in marketing and design. Getting the silos out of the organization and making sure to have meetings of cross-functional teams is critical to stay ahead of the breakneck pace of technology acceleration. Product can inform Marketing, can inform selling. Front line sellers are closest to the customer after all and can bring incredible insight back to the product team from the field. Sellers run the gamut in unique ability and life experience. I’ve found many that are extremely talented in another area like music, swing dancing, language learning, philosophy, Sudoku or Jai alai. Through his "reality distortion" field and Jedi Mind Trick intent, Steve Jobs was able to push through the barrier of skepticism and actually change the world. There is a great amount of resistance to change. We need to puncture through this wall with our advocates in the buying organization to foster true disruptive innovation from within, especially when we vault like David vs. Goliath against megalithic incumbents.

      If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

      Main Image Photo by Flickr: MIKI Yoshihito

      A Job Interview Is Not About You

      Selling yourself is always the most important phase of a sale because people are only interested in what you have to offer once they trust you. It’s not easy – it’s a cynical world, that’s why you need an impeccable social presence, especially on LinkedIn, with a profile that attracts people to you. Avoid the ‘quota crusher’ persona and instead show yourself as a domain expert with strong values who is well networked. Also, have a CV that is well honed and tailored for the role you're seeking. LinkedIn does not replace a resume.

      But before you can sell someone’s product, service or solution; you’ve got to secure employment with them. Selling yourself is everything at the job interview and there is a key rule to follow if you are to succeed. It will seem counter-intuitive but here it is: It’s not about you – it’s about them! That’s strange, you’re thinking, they’ve asked me in for an interview and they’re asking questions about me – of course it’s about me! They want to compare me with others. No, they want to know what you can do for them compared with what others can do for them. There is a very important distinction – what can you do for them? Not, tell us everything about you. Avoid the temptation to waffle-on about yourself… can you hear the snoring? Instead, show insight in your understanding of what they need from you and how you can deliver for them.

      Think about what’s going on in the mind of the potential employer. After all, that’s what masterful selling and negotiating is all about – obsessing about what’s happening in their world. Employers hire someone because they have a problem or an opportunity but they worry about hiring the wrong person. This is because it’s one of the most costly mistakes they can make. It’s expensive in terms of money, time, market momentum, credibility and emotional energy. Recruitment fees are significant but lost time and effort is much more costly. They also worry about the risk to their business and reputation if they entrust their brand to someone who fails to deliver or damages relationships through incompetence or unethical behavior. The best recruitment consultants focus on cultural fit as the number one key criteria once they have a short-list of candidates.

      Employers always have a range of candidates that appear to be equally qualified but skills alone are not what make a sales employee successful. Qualifications and skills are prerequisite rather than differentiators. What the employer cares about most is the person’s ability to influence and deliver results while also being a good cultural fit within their team. There are myriad qualified and knowledgeable employees that don’t get promoted because of poor attitude. The sad thing is that they often never know the real reasons they were passed-over for promotion.

      No-one really cares about what you know or your qualifications. They care primarily about themselves and what you can do for them. All employers, consciously or not, seek the three Cs in hiring someone: Competence, Commitment, Character or Cultural fit.

      If you’re older, then you need to show that you’re energetic, healthy and technology-savvy. If you’re younger, you need to overcome the stereotype of being a casual, impatient, itinerant, ‘click and flick’ technology distracted, unwilling to diligently serve and prove yourself before being rewarded with promotion. Your LinkedIn profile and online social presence therefore needs to break the stereotypes and address any concerns before you can make it to the interview stage. Remember, a LinkedIn profile or CV will be used to screen you out of their process if not crafted masterfully.

      Success is a 50:50 proposition in that both you and your employer are needed in the equation. Do your research online and within your network to assess whether your potential employer is Competent, Committed, and of good Character or Culture. The issue of alignment is not a sales ploy, it is genuinely important and goes both ways. You need to know your boss is committed to your success and able to deliver.

      In addition to the three Cs, you need them to discuss the three Ps. You should evaluate the potential for success within their organization based upon their response to the following topics: People, Proposition and Patch. Your employer has an obligation to provide an environment within which you can be successful. This means they need to have people you are proud to work with (competent, committed and of good character), and a value proposition that is strongly differentiated in the market; and a territory (patch) that is viable with an achievable target. During the interview process, you should gently and humbly explore all of these things.

      You should also gain an understanding of their expectations for the role and the process for selecting and then hiring the successful candidate. Here is a phrase that could transform any job interview if delivered well.

      ‘I think the most expensive mistake you can is to hire the wrong person in this kind of role. But equally for me I can’t afford to accept a role with the wrong employer. Rather than sell to each other I would like to understand whether this is a good fit for both of us. Like you, I’ve done my homework for today so may I also ask some questions I think only you can answer?’

      Adjust the phrasing to suit your own style but the important thing is to establish genuine empathy for their difficult task of evaluating candidates for the role and assessing cultural fit.

      Experienced managers however often regard the interview persona as a façade. They can be cynical so be prepared for what they may ask and be ready with your own insightful questions. If you are asked direct questions, then provide candid direct responses. Never avoid answering a question.

      Remember, you wouldn't be at the interview if they did not already believe you to be qualified and experienced. They are fishing to see whether you are a cultural fit and ‘the real deal’. Provide examples of situations you’ve navigated to convey the strength of your suitability.

      Here is an excerpt from my book, The Joshua Principle, where Joshua Peters is being interviewed for a sales role slightly beyond his qualifications:

      Joshua sat with Janet Reynolds in the CEL boardroom. She possessed a disarming manner that masked a laser-like ability to get to the truth. She had granted him an interview because she liked his direct approach and evidence-based validation of performance and capability. It didn’t take long for Janet to get down to business.

      “On paper, you don’t make the grade for this job but you sold me on giving you an interview. Tell me, why should I take the risk of hiring you?”

      Joshua looked her in the eye. “I know that hiring the wrong person for this role is the most expensive mistake you can make. It will cost you time, energy and revenue. Worse than that, it could damage your reputation and brand. Equally for me, I can’t afford to take a job with the wrong employer. I’m looking for a long-term successful career move. Rather than sit here and sell to you, I’d like to explore whether there is genuinely a good fit for us to work together. Is that an approach that works for you?”

      “Sure, but you haven’t answered my question.”

      “You see me as a risk because I don’t have specific industry experience or a CV that shows stability and long term performance. Are these your main concerns?”

      Janet didn’t like losing control of the conversation. “Let’s come back to all that later. You’re right in saying the biggest mistake I can make as a manager is hiring the wrong person, but what’s the biggest mistake most sales people make?”

      Joshua paused before answering. “The two big mistakes are pursuing business that cannot be won and selling to people who cannot buy.”

      “So how do you avoid wasting time and resources?”

      “I qualify properly. I then invest with people at the right levels to set an agenda that creates value and an advantage.”

      Janet was skeptical but Joshua leaned forward. “Janet, I know this all sounds cliché but I’ve done my research. CEL is who I want to work for. I’ve done more than visit your website, LinkedIn profile and read analyst commentary. I’ve met with some of your customers. I believe I can learn from you in selling real solutions to serious business problems for large organizations.”

      “That’s all very well, but how does this overcome your lack of experience in our industry?”

      “All risk comes from not knowing what we don’t know. In the case of hiring me for this role, the issues are whether I’m competent, will I be committed and am I a cultural fit. Employers usually hire based on skills yet have to fire based on poor fit or performance. I would like you to get to the truth of who I am and what I offer by talking with the most qualified people.”

      Janet said nothing.

      “I know that what I’m about to suggest may seem unconventional but I would like you to meet with the CEO of my biggest and most recent customer, and also with my current boss. I know that references are usually used to validate the decision at the end of the process but in my case I would like the reference phase to occur early. Is that something you would be willing to do?”

      Janet sat back and a wry smile appeared as she spoke. “I’m intrigued as to why your current boss would be willing to act a reference. Is he trying to manage you out?”

      “Actually, it’s the opposite. He wants me to take a promotion to sales management but maybe that’s the first question you should ask him when you meet.”

      There was a period of silence before Janet finally spoke. “Let’s come back to that at the end of this meeting. Right now I would like to focus on your approach to selling. Do you regard yourself as transactional or are you strategic in how you sell?”

      Janet had unwittingly but instinctively set the scene for Joshua to talk about RSVP. “Both are important and require good relationships and effective tactics but it’s also essential to offer unique value and have complete understanding of their buying process. Relationships need to be managed strategically which means positioning early, starting at the top, understanding the power-base within the organization and then aligning with winning agendas. But more than that, I know we have to become part of a compelling business case.”

      Joshua continued, focusing on strategy and changing the rules on competitors. The conversation demonstrated real substance in Joshua’s knowledge and maturity. Janet was impressed with what she heard and progressively became more open. Joshua knew he needed to sell through asking questions and, more importantly, he needed to understand Janet’s process for evaluating and hiring the successful candidate. He changed the direction of the conversation.

      “Janet, what happened here at CEL to create the opening for this role?”

      “To be candid, we hired the wrong person, they didn’t perform. It was as you described – they appeared to be qualified for the role but they were not a good fit.”

      Joshua already knew this from meeting with one of their sales people. He was glad she had answered honestly. Janet had passed the first test and he seized the opportunity to begin to understand her selection criteria.

      “What will make the right person successful in this role? What defines a good fit?”

      Their meeting lasted ninety minutes and Janet agreed to speak with Michael Blunt and David Thomas as the next step. Joshua would brief both men concerning what he needed them to cover in their conversations with Janet. His adaptation of Damien’s interview phrases had worked. At the next interview Joshua would do a lot more of the questioning and move on from the three Cs to the three Ps. He would focus on how CEL uniquely created value for customers and also the caliber and style of the People with whom he would be working. Lastly he would discuss his territory – Patch – to ensure he had a viable market within which to operate.

      If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

      Main Image Photo by Flickr: tec_estromberg

      "Boulder Management" by Sisyphus

      Let's just assume Sisyphus finally summits to the mountaintop and rests the boulder in place. Rest assured, he'd have an instant business management bestseller on his hands that every MBA would be required to read forevermore. Implementing the below methods and drawing inspiration from these books will certainly help you breathe a sigh of relief as you right the ship and navigate it through a frenetic 2015 sales management maelstrom.

      For those of us who’ve dedicated our lives to a career in sales, we’re all too familiar with Sisyphus, the Greek Myth of the man pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity only to have it fall back down upon him, time and time again. So much of what we've traditionally done to succeed has been mind numbing repetition but all that is changing thanks to things like automation, social selling, trigger events and new ways of connecting with target prospects.

      Perhaps you've felt like Sisyphus in a deal. It’s even a trendy tech word "Sisyphean" which is often interchanged with Herculean, although these dimensions are highly juxtaposed when it comes to the concept of conquering a massive challenge or reaching a "wildly important goal." This post is all about the WIGs, so that I'll get right into that in a moment.

      Luckily, the challenges of professional selling are not insurmountable but if you do not heed the following advice, you too may find yourself banished to a seeming eternity of rock pushing if not enjoying selling much less. In sales, we thrive on the challenge of battling time and exceeding our number. We thrive in going up against the incumbent, our competitors and the two horsemen of time and the status quo. Whether your boulder is conquering your personal best, renewing a key account with ACV growth or disrupting legacy dinosaur business models, the following ideas could help you prevent it from falling back down on you, even lighten the load:

      I read the book Four Disciplines of Execution recently and was struck by its deconstruction of lead measures versus lagging measures which drew a parallel in my mind to Jason Jordan's bestselling management book, a modern classic. It was very interesting to witness Sean Covey focusing on WIGs or "wildly important goals." I’ve written about the rocks and the sand, my 80/20 inspiration for daily time management and extensively about Cracking the Sales Management Code, which espouses leading indicator driven KPI management in prior posts, so I think these points are worth underscoring in recommending this superb, foundational work.

      Both books got me thinking about the meta concepts of Leading versus Lagging Indicators and their corollary Leading & Lagging Measures. It's an important question to relentlessly ask ourselves? Which actions am I taking that are driving results?

      How can we tangibly effect change on our external environment, increase our pipeline, impact the current sales cycles we’re in and accelerate our progress as professional sellers? One major way is to focus on leverage. The levers that push that proverbial boulder up the hill. They are most certainly leading measure activities in contrast to the static lagging measures that "follow," levers to hurtle the metaphorical missiles of enterprise tactics from your trebuchet of strategy over the parapets into the stronghold of Castle Status Quo. I think I just hit the TILT switch on metaphor usage.

      Ironically, revenue itself is a lagging indicator and cannot be managed in a CRM. Management can bark at pretty dashboards projected at a wall and send consternation down the command chain but this typically just creates an end-of-quarter fire drill and is much ado to no avail in helping your team qualify their deals more stringently, make that 5th to 12th contact (where 80% of sales actually close) or engineer a competitive strategy to close the deal more efficiently and effectively.

      Things like reporting, endless meetings and constant revenue check-ins coupled with unrealistic goal setting and vanity metrics really don’t move the lever toward the Wildly Important Goal. This is a big goal each one of us sets that harnesses our inner drive. The 4DX book makes many recommendations but one I appreciate is weekly WIG sessions between managers and direct reports to recalibrate, checking in on the progress of the goals set the week before. There's a new science of change management in play here that is worth studying and applying to bring your organization to a new level. Rather than review the entire book which is a jewel in the crown of Franklin Covey’s flagship global training, I thought I’d simply hone in on a few key concepts.

      As a supplemental side note, Mahan Khalsa who's trained sales squadrons at blue chips, the likes of Microsoft, Oracle and Accenture is also doing brilliant things over at Franklin Covey and wrote Let’s Get Real or Let's Not Play which is another sensational treatise centered on authentic "get real" sales processes to grow revenues. It features amazingly useful and thought-provoking flowcharts throughout that I recommend to help sustainably grow revenues in 2015. Key takeaways for your team:

      • Surface new business opportunities in a holistic way that all parties can be invested in
      • Build a conversation structure that gets to the bottom of the true client needs and fosters a trusted advisor relationship
      • Ask the hard questions is a finesse way, then practicing active listening
      • Increase propensity of deal closure by building mindshare and openness
      • "Move off the solution to diagnose before you prescribe," see Mahan's brilliant YouTube video below:

      What are the actions that you can control in your day to move the needle as a front line sales manager or sales executive? Step one, take a look at environs you can play in where contact rates are the highest. What activities can you execute each day to engage most effectively? Hint: that’s rarely still email or a telephone (under 5% engagement rates). I’ve tested my ability to contact senior executives in companies and granted, this is the software and technology sphere, but Twitter can often garner a refreshingly rapid response and effectively personalized, Group-driven or InMail-driven digital outreach can yield incredible results i.e. higher conversion rates to appointments set. Another leading measure can even be the research phase itself. Rather than rattling away endless calls to Executive Assistants, performing due diligence to get smart about segmenting and targeting a healthy base of the key clients based on trigger events, goes a long way. This helps you avoid the "busy fool syndrome" I've talked about and is one of Konrath's Paradoxes: "slowing down to speed up."

      When asked about how to measure the success of social selling and get to ROI by Gerhard Gschwandtner in a recent Selling Power interview, Jamie Shanksresponded, "There are a couple of leading indicators you should be looking at. One of them is the size and the effectiveness of your LinkedIn Network and it's called your social reach...And 'How is my voice growing over time?" Linked & Twitter are providing you these baseline metrics...Those are leading indicators. The lagging indicators are the opportunities and the revenue you are driving. And if you’re not driving that money, then you need to look back at your leading indicators and say, ‘what am I not doing? Are people listening? Is my social reach terrible because my network is small? Whatever that is." I would add that generating super high quality influencer content via LinkedIn Publisher will be a new lead measure activity this year as sales people become micro-marketers.

      If your goal is to close 5MM in new revenue this year, you'd better have a realistic concept of where those sales cycles began last year to land some of those in the first and second quarter. Otherwise, have the courage to level set with management and your CEO that these will most likely stack up in Q3/Q4 because you'd rather do it right and nurture the account rather than destroy the natural order of paradise by being pushy or rushing. Real-time selling is real but it's no longer a sales cycle, it's a buying cycle so customers are leading the dance.

      Relentlessly focus on strategy in qualifying the exact companies you will seek to penetrate based on trigger events, the strongest of which are stakeholders who were just promoted or transitioned to new companies. Keep this list a short list and go deep to the target rather than widening the approach. (Mike Weinberg) If your company has sold to these executives before and they’ve moved into a new world they are already champions of your disruptive solution paradigm, so getting back in touch with them via a referral / warm introduction can help you to gain ground in the new account.

      Static and active is another sound way to look at KPIs from this vantage point. Bernard Marr wrote the book on KPIs as a mechanism for accurate business forecasts so peruse his prescient corpus at this link. Jason Jordan found that only 17% of sales metrics captured are activities that contribute to a sale! Jason and Michelle Vazzana unpacked 306 metrics, breaking them into 3 buckets: sales activities (17%), sales objectives (59%) and business results (24%). The first are highly manageable, the second directly influenceable and the third are not manageable but relate back to sales objectives. “Activities can be managed – outcomes cannot."

      If I could only obtain 6 metrics (in addition to deal value) from a CRM, and assuming the data is accurate, here are my choices:

      1. Qualified pipeline as percentage of quota/target
      2. Opportunities by deal stage
      3. Opportunity qualification scores (with snapshot versions)
      4. Deals stuck at stage beyond defined period
      5. Meetings that progress the sale (with call plan in the CRM)
      6. Opportunities with close plans (versioned and in the CRM)

      What would your six key metrics be to drive the team and ensure they are building pipeline and progressing the best opportunities effectively?

      If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

      Main Image Photo by Flickr: AK Rockefeller