Become a Must-Have Expert Everyone Wants to Work With

There are two assessments buyers make that can put you into nice-to-have status. First comparison: our insights vs. what they already know. I call this the invisible Vulcan mind meld. Decision makers invest in what they don’t already have. So the question buyers ask themselves is do you know something they don’t?

Must-have experts show the market that they have something not readily available. Many talented, nice-to-have folks focus on the clever title or analogy. Buyers see right through that. They are looking at the insight, the point you are making. The analogy, the story, and the cleverness make your point come alive. If your writing is better than your insights, you are a nice read but not worth reaching out to. If you give a speech and hear, “Hey, nice reminder of what I already knew,” you failed the invisible Vulcan mind meld and are in the nice-to-have category.

After passing that test, buyers make a second comparison: your high-end services vs. information they don’t have but can easily get from you. The second bias—all things being “good enough,” the low-cost or free route will prevail. Notice what I didn’t say: equal. Even if you are better than the free resources you provide, even when prospects have a budget, buyers want to make sure they are getting the best option for their money. So another question they ask is can they get your insights from other free sources such as your book or white papers on your website? Is that “good enough” help for them?

This economy has created a lot of free and low-cost education. And it’s good stuff. A must-have expert provides high-quality content but always leaves the impression that “there’s more where that came from.” My favorite example of this strategy is Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics. His way of thinking appeals to so many situations that folks can’t get enough of him. And yet everyone knows that if they want their situation examined, they have to pay him his fees.

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Some thoughts on better contact management…

I recently came across this post from my Internet buddy Brandon Henak and I’ve been thinking about it all week. It was about using Plaxo for unified contact management and it went like this…

“The people in your network and the relationships you develop with them are some of your most valuable assets as a young professional. You look to them first for advice, job opportunities or just to discuss the latest events in your life. How you keep track of all the contact information you have collected in your personal and professional life is crucial to your success.

Contacts Everywhere!

In the poll we took earlier today we saw an interesting breakdown of contact management solutions, from relying on a cell phone to store contact information to using Microsoft Outlook, Facebook and other online sites. Each one of the solutions have their advantages and disadvantages. I have tried every one of the solutions listed with various degrees of success but, what if you could use each of them where they work the best, Outlook at the office, Mac Address Book at home and Plaxo online, without having to manually update each? I recently found a way to centralize and standardize all my contact and calendar information across all the services I use, automatically!

Sync them up!

Enter Plaxo 3.0 beta with Sync Points. After setting up an account, all I had to do was click on the “Add Sync Point” link for each of the programs I wanted to use (in my case Google, Mac Address Book, Outlook, and AIM) and it walks you through the process of putting in your login information for Google and downloading small add-ins for Outlook and Mac Address Book. Now, all of my sources sync together and I can sync all my contacts to my phone through Address Book. Any addition anywhere flows across the systems and is easily accessible.”

This was particularly interesting to me because I’m a Plaxo subscriber, but I’ve experienced a lot of problems with contact management. So what’s the problem?

A little background info…

I’ve been in marketing, sales, and technology for 25 years now and I have collect over 5,000 vcards and thousands more business cards that aren’t documented. I use 7 computers spanning three platforms and I want to access my contacts on all of them.

The answer?

The answer for me, like Brandon, starts with Plaxo for the following reasons:

  1. It’s platform and browser independent.
  2. It offers ‘sync points’ for the tools I use or have access to; Outlook, Thunderbird, a Treo 700wx running Windows Mobile 5. [Many more are available…]
  3. Members can choose to link to give one another the latest contact information as soon as it changes.
  4. The duplicate merger/remover is among the best I’ve used.
  5. There is a growing social network component which is a cross between Facebook and LinkedIn.

So if Plaxo is the answer, what’s MY problem? In a nutshell, using Plaxo was causing, not eliminating duplicates. Or, better said, using Plaxo with ActiveSync was causing duplicates. When I made the decision to stop using two synchronization tools simultaneously, my problems went away and I got closer to the promised land that Brandon was describing…

More background. I’m currently in the process of moving to Linux; I don’t want to pay ransom to Microsoft anymore and although I’m a former Apple account executive, I don’t want to pay for Apple’s industrial design when I can have the benefits of a Linux based operating system on inexpensive Intel hardware. The answer for me is Linux.

For now, however, my solution set consists of Plaxo, Microsoft Outlook 2003 [I only said I didn’t want to pay anymore – I’ll still use what I have], Gmail, Google Calendar and a Treo 700wx. I see myself moving off Outlook to Thunderbird/Lightning [Mozilla’s answer to contact and calendar management – Mozilla is only going to get better at this!] and off the Treo onto either a Blackberry or the Google Android platform. Thankfully [?], Sprint is forcing me to keep my current phone until September when the outlook on Google’s approach to cellphones should be known…

A big part of solving my problem was also to realize [thanks to David Allen] that some contacts are context sensitive, namely, that I don’t need to be able to call all 5,000 people from my cellphone – some I only need to be able to access when I’m sitting at a computer. I was actually synchronizing contacts for which I didn’t have a telephone number to my phone! Why? Because I was going to send them an email from the phone? Unlikely. In reality, I have found that after careful analysis, I actually need to synchronize less than 200 contacts between my phone and my computer and if I really were honest with myself, there are probably less than a hundred people that I call on a regular basis. So, I copied all my contacts to a folder called ‘Master’ in Outlook and deleted all contacts that I either hadn’t called or didn’t anticipate calling this quarter [there’s a copy of the deleted contacts in Master, remember?] As a result, I’m only synchronizing what I have to now. This is a HUGE savings of time and energy and silly as it may seem, actually represents a massive epiphany for me. Call me Captain Obvious?

The underlying idea here is getting closer to a world where it doesn’t matter what computer or platform you’re using – your information is accessible from anywhere! Plaxo can get you a good part of the way there…

By the way, if you’re not using Google Desktop, start! It can unify all the computers you’re using and allow you to search your Gmail and your computers in the same way you search the internet now…

12 Ways to Keep Your Business Relationships Alive

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Image via CrunchBase

“Every businessperson leads a busy life. There are marketing meetings to attend, RFPs to reply to, and client projects to finish. With so much work demanding so much attention, many of us never make the time to keep our business relationships alive, and wish we did: ‘What does he do again?’ ‘Does she still work there?’ ‘Didn’t I know someone at that company?’

Rather than regretting not staying connected, pick some of the twelve ideas below and use them to start conversations with people you’ve met before and want to speak with again.”

You might want to also check out the RainToday series on LinkedIn 101.

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Startup Strategies: Aim Your Sales Efforts

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At my first company, we had four or five sales reps who’d been around since the early days. They intuitively knew how to position the company and how to sell the products; they didn’t need (and we didn’t have) sales materials, pricing strategies, or elaborate service-level agreements (SLAs).

We then increased the sales staff to about 10, and even hired an SVP of global sales and marketing. Because he was a big-company sales exec, he was very critical of some of the missing tools at my company. He pushed for more standardization of pricing, marketing collaterals, sales processes, etc.

He told me, “There’s no standardized way for me to onboard new people. There’s no way for us to easily roll out changes to pricing, positioning relative to competitors or new sales tools. We need standardized tools to arm our sales teams with the information they need to effectively do their jobs, and we need to better aim them at the right opportunities.”

I was stuck in startup culture, and he was stuck in big-company culture. There was a chasm between us that couldn’t be bridged. But he was right about one thing: We needed to change as we grew. I think this happens at a lot of startups. Like my company did, startups get stuck in this middle ground where process and tools become more important.

This is the first in a three-part series in which I’m going to talk about some of the scaling issues startups face. In this first post, we’ll talk about aiming your sales staff at the opportunities most likely to pay off…

Author Mark Suster is on to something here. You can follow the ‘via’ link above to go to the source and read the rest of the article if you like — I’ll try to be sure to capture the rest of the series…

The Fine Art of Asking Questions

Tom Hopkins
Image by vaXzine via Flickr

Many salespeople who haven’t yet reached the professional stage in their careers think selling is exactly the opposite of what it really is. When you entered the selling field, you may have thought, “Now my job is to talk and talk and talk.” So off you go. “Here it is folks. Won’t ravel, rust, or rip. Can’t blister, break, or drip. Oh, you’re going to love it. You’d better buy now!”

The professional salesperson, the true Champion, realizes that people have two ears and one mouth, and that they should be used in that proportion. This means that after talking ten seconds, you switch your mouth off, switch your ears on, and listen for 20 seconds. This also means that instead of overwhelming your potential clients with words, you encourage them to talk. Let’s compare the two methods.

You can follow the ‘via’ link above to go directly to the source to get the whole story if you’d like. I quoted Tom Hopkins here because he really nailed it! I attended one of his sales seminars in the late 80’s in San Jose and this question based methodology has been with me my throughout my entire career…

imho, no one has done a better job of turning this approach into an art form than Sharon Drew Morgen. Here’s an interview I did with her a couple of years ago…

Her ‘Buying Facilitation‘ model remains the best tool in my toolkit after 30 years in business development. If you’re interested in ‘the fine art of asking questions’, learn more about Sharon Drew Morgen and Buying Facilitation — Sharon Drew is the master…

The Birth of Product Evangelism

Image representing Scott Klososky as depicted ...
Image via CrunchBase

Over the last decades, salespeople often used the power of personality, or the development of a relationship to build trust and heavily influence what a sales prospect would think of the product. In other words, the better a person was at the art of sales, the less the product they were selling even mattered. Hence the phrase, “he can sell ice to Eskimo’s.” It might be true to say that the harder a product was to sell, or the harder it was to get someone to spend a large chunk of money, the more you needed the human element involved in order to influence the prospect into signing the agreement. For example, I spent about three months of my life at 18 years old selling Kirby vacuum cleaners door to door. Now these are good machines that do the job, and they are also very expensive compared to competing products. We sold them door-to-door and it was commonly known that some of the easiest people to sell were those that would struggle the most to afford them. However, these were the people that were easiest to influence from a human level. In fact, one of the top sales guys targeted people living in trailer homes.

The reason this kind of sale worked was because the salesperson could parachute into the lives of the prospects and whatever came out of the salespersons mouth was hard to verify easily. Today, things have changed. Even a person in a trailer home can go online and in an instant type in a product name and see what others have paid for it, how it stacks up against competitors, etc. The reality of where we are headed is that people are becoming less and less willing to be pushed into to making decisions with the only information coming from the sales person. It is just too darn easy to check the Web to gain more information.

This change in human behavior is going to drive us to a world where we still can promote products and services by influencing, but the influence is going to have to be supporting and evangelizing a products strengths, and those strengths are going to have to be supported by information that can be found online. Not only that, people will also be able to verify pricing ranges because buyers and reviewers will post this information so the salespersons ability to unfairly get in the pocket of a prospect will diminish.

I had the chance to hear Scott speak in the springtime — his perspective on the impact of social media on sales is an interesting one. You can follow the ‘via’ link above to go to the source and read the rest of the article if you’re interested in reading the rest of his article…

Do you commute?

“Commuting doesn’t have to be the hellish experience it has been made out to be. You can learn a lot while commuting. I used to despise jumping on the train or taking the bus, but not anymore. I have everything set-up for my commuting adventures.

I always have a book ready, or my iPod loaded up with material for me to listen to. I like to read and fill my brain with knowledge, so finding material is easy. The biggest problem you’ll face is preparation. You have to prepare yourself for your commutes, otherwise you’ll most likely not bring the best material with you.

I’ve learned a lot while sitting on trains, buses and airplanes. It feels more cumbersome to bring something with you, but you’ll be thankful you did when you’re sitting there with nothing to do.” Source: 7 Productive Things You Can Do While Commuting – by Dumb Little Man

My commute to the office is only 3.5 miles, but clients are another matter altogether — some of them may be 2 hours away! Go to the source to get some great ideas on implementing what Zig Zigler used to call the ‘automobile university’, 2010 style…