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My Interview with SMT

I was recently interviewed by Lori Champion from SMT (The Professional Society for Sales & Marketing Training) as part of the ramp-up for their annual conference in Orlando October 14 – 16, 2009.  I’ll be keynoting at the event.  The topic will be Sales Excellence 2012: Overcoming Tough Obstacles,  Achieving Measurable Results.

Lori’s interview begins:

What do a CEO, a Trumpet player, a computer software programmer, a VP of Sales, and an expert in landing “very big contracts” have in common? They describe the background of one man and he is Dave Stein! Let’s add “Opening Key Note Speaker” to the list. He is, after all the Key Note for SMT’s 2009 annual conference in Orlando, Florida this October.

I had the privilege of sitting down and speaking with Dave about a week ago. I wanted to find out more about this very versatile CEO who will be addressing us this fall.

Dave Stein is the CEO and Founder of Massachusetts based ES Research Group, Inc. (ESR) which provides Gartner-style, independent advice about sales training programs, sales performance improvement tools and approaches. It also does  evaluations and comparisons of the companies that provide them.

Read the rest of the interview here.


Strategy 18: Become An Expert At Competitive Positioning

Hey, I have a proposition for you.

I had a really bad experience with Dearborn Trade Press (now Kaplan Financial Publishing) with my book, How Winners Sell, Second Edition. It’s no longer in print, although companies seem to be able to find copies somehow when I come in to present at their sales kick-offs and other events.  (I will write about the whole nasty Kaplan situation one day.  In the meantime, anyone considering publishing with Kaplan needs to give me a call.)

I was thinking about putting How Winners Sell up on Amazon’s Kindle. After a long, long effort, I finally got the rights back.  I wrote the Second Edition in 2004, but most of it is still very relevant.

The proposition.  Here is a free chapter.  All I ask is if you get some value from it and are interested in reading the whole book on either the Kindle or an e-Book format, let me know.  I may decide to republish it.

Strategy 18: Become an Expert at Competitive Positioning

I don’t know about you, but I get a big thrill when I watch a high-integrity, seasoned sales pro competitively position his company and offering. It may happen during a presentation or during a sales call as objections are raised by the buyer.

When you think about it competitive positioning begins when you formulate your strategy. From that point onward, your messaging, talking points and objection handling are driven off the same thing—the unique value you can provide to your client.

Here are some examples of how winners I’ve worked with masterfully handle competitive positioning:

Situation 1: Selling Against Goliath

If you sell for a smaller company that competes against the big guys, the age-old story of David and Goliath might come to mind. In this story, the giant, Goliath, was beaten in a fight by the small boy, David. I often see “Goliaths” beaten, but it takes flawless execution of a well-designed plan.

The most important thing of all when selling against a much bigger competitor is to be certain that if you meet or exceed all the prospect’s requirements, that size—for size’s sake—does not matter. That’s an issue of qualification. You may have the best product, innovative service capabilities, committed people, stellar customer satisfaction levels, top product quality, most respected investors or anything else that you consider of value, but if size matters, little else will measure up. And if size does matter, and you can’t convince your prospect fairly quickly that it shouldn’t, you need to get out of there—and quickly on to another opportunity. Know your prospect’s history regarding doing business with smaller companies. It may mean nothing to them, since they do it all the time. On the other hand, you may be the first and may have a long, bumpy road ahead.

What all this means is that there are certain opportunities for which you should not compete, because you can’t win them. Sorry, but that’s a fact.

Now What Do You Do?

You’re going to need to influence your prospect’s decision criteria, so that the perceived value of your competitor’s size as well as other size-related capabilities are diluted, neutralized or, in the best case, seen as a disadvantage. Many salespeople are accustomed to highlighting a competitor’s weaknesses. In the situations where you are competing against a bigger company, you will (professionally and subtly) dilute their strength.

Here is a simple, well-proven example. Let’s say I sell for a smaller professional services firm and I am up against a major player. Based upon preferences and needs of the buyers, I may decide to use the “small-fish-in-a-big-pond” approach.

It goes like this: “Ms. Prospect. There are few people who would not be impressed by my competitor’s size, global reach and financial as well has human resources. I’m sure they proudly reference some very prominent customers. However, you might consider that a project such as yours, although highly critical for you, might very well not have the same level of importance for them and therefore may not generate the ongoing attention within executive levels of their company that their premier customers’ projects would. It’s only natural…”

From that point, you would discuss how you would meet their technical requirements and establish a business relationship going forward, stressing attention that would be paid to the progress by your executives. You’d convince them that your company’s success would depend directly on their success, not the other way around. You’ll be portraying them as big fish in a small pond, with the driving message being how important their business is to you.

If you are effective with this approach, you will have moved down in importance the size and impressiveness of their customer list and up in importance the attention paid to them by your executives as well as your company’s interest in their success.

Here are challenges you might face in a David and Goliath situation and some alternatives to consider: Continue reading

What’s A Salesperson’s Time Worth?

Here’s a 10-minute discussion I had with Bill Caskey.   I think you’ll find it a worthwhile investment of time.


Having been a professional trumpeter, early on I learned the word “chops” as it is used to describe a player who has a powerful embouchure (the use of the muscles surrounding the mouth in order to create a sound on a wind instrument).  Here is Japanese trumpeter Eric Miyashiro providing a dazzling rendition of Over the Rainbow (that perhaps only a trumpter player could love).

Both the sound quality and video are poor in this example, but if you listen all the way through, especially the last half, you’ll hear what super chops applied to the trumpet sound like.  Eric is a disciple of Maynard Ferguson (1928-2006) who pioneered playing jazz in the upper registers of the trumpet.

With an ear sensitized to the word “chops”, I’ve heard it applied to many different skills over the years:  Tiger Woods’s golf game, Obama’s facility with the TelePrompTer, Yo-Yo Ma’s fingers on his cello, NASCAR drivers, a strong software programmer.

Here’s a question for you: Which of your salespeople have chops?  In what areas are those chops applied to winning business?  Competitive chops?  Presentation chops?  Negotiation chops?  Can you isolate any specific aspect of their approach, skill or behavior?  Can those be understood and taught to others?

One of my trumpet teachers years ago, the highly esteemed Roy Stevens, had a wonderful Great Dane, whose name was Chops.  Cute!

If you’ve got eight minutes to spare, here is Eric playing MacArthur Park recorded at a rehearsal in London.

UPDATE 12/29/2008:

I just learned that Freddie Hubbard, another trumpet king, died today.  Here is a fine example of Freddie, his own unique style, and chops galore!

The Care, Feeding (and Training) of Salespeople

Brian Lambert of ASTD hosted a webinar this week where I presented The Care, Feeding (and Training) of Salespeople.  It’s targeted at learning and training organizations leaders and managers.

Registration will get you access to an archive of the event.

Errr… Ahhh… Ahem. Can Any Of You Passengers Fly An Airplane?

When people find out I’m a pilot, some invariably ask, “Could you land a jetliner if something happened to the pilot?”  I’ll answer that shortly.

You might think that such a sitation never arises.  But it does.  Claire McBride sent me this article just a few minutes ago, Pilot sought help of passengers to land jet, from yesterday’s Irish Times.

In February 2002, Ronald Crews, a Cape Air pilot, suffered a low blood-sugar episode in the middle of a 15-minute evening flight from Martha’s Vineyard to Hyannis.  I should mention that there is only one pilot on Cape Air flights.  According to the Cape Cod Times,

Crews ignored a flashing red light and beeping alarm on board the twin-engine Cessna he was flying. Soon, the plane jerked side to side and up and down, according to court papers. When Crews passed Hyannis pointed toward the open ocean, the four panicked passengers asked him where he was going.

One of the four others on board was Melanie Oswalt, a Cape Air security supervisor who, as a pilot-in-training, had just 48 hours of flying experience. She called Cape Air on her cell phone but lost the signal. She moved to the co-pilot’s chair to help, but Crews pushed her aside, court papers said.

Oswalt told the three businessmen on board that she was a student pilot and the only way they could land safely was to restrain Crews, who was incoherent, and fly to Provincetown Airport. Two male passengers grabbed Crews’ neck and arms, subduing the pilot, court papers said.

The Provincetown Airport was closed, and no one was on the ground to assist Oswalt. The Cessna’s landing gear hadn’t lowered. Still, she skidded the plane down safely on its belly on a grassy strip next to the runway. 

…In U.S. District Court in Boston, Crews was sentenced to 16 months in prison and two years supervised release for lying to the government about the diabetes that caused his in-flight collapse, according to federal prosecutors.

I fly Cape Air regularly from Martha’s Vineyard to Boston.  I always tell the other passengers that I’m a pilot and would like to sit in the co-pilot’s seat.  Needless to say, they are delighted with that idea.  Could I land that plane?  Sure.  But that’s no Boeing 747-400. 

On a related subject, did you know that in July 1983 a Boeing 767-200 jet, Air Canada Flight 143, ran completely out of fuel at 41,000 feet?   The crew was able to glide the aircraft safely to an emergency landing at Gimli Industrial Park Airport, a former airbase at Gimli, Manitoba. 

None of the 61 passengers were seriously hurt during the landing.

Before September 11, I would ask for and almost always be given permission to sit in the jump seat on the flight deck during flights and landings.  JFK and Auckland, NZ were my favorites.  There were never any emergencies on any of the flights where I would have been the first passenger on line to take over the controls. 

So, could I land a large, commercial jetliner?  I am very confident that if I had very competent coaching and guidance from air traffic control I could.  Without that?  It’s highly likely that a significant amount of metal would get bent. 

People always ask me if I’ve had any “scary moments” flying my plane.  Yes I have.  If you want me to write about one or two of those, leave a comment.

More to read on the subject of civilians landing commercial airplanes: Ask the pilot

Photo of the Gimli Glider, bent metal and all: Wikipedia

Hey! Stop Plagiarizing My Content!

This blog will not become a platform for me to attack individuals (or companies, for that matter), even when they are dead wrong.  But everyone has a limit.  I reached mine today.   I’m genuinely looking for your opinion on how to handle the situation I’m about to describe.

I spend a lot of time learning, reading, thinking, pondering, strategizing, researching, and speaking with customers, sales executives, sales reps, sales trainers, and their clients and customers.  I never pirate anyone else’s content.  When I do discuss someone else’s content, during a speech, or in a seminar, I always provide the source.  That’s the professional (and legal) thing to do.  Other’s don’t take that approach.

I’ve written before about a well-known management consultant in Boston who has a website containing dozens of pirated articles, tools, and presentations. He removes the name of the person who actually created the content, along with any copyright information.  He’s got a few of my articles on his site.  He has a dozen or so other sales experts’ articles and tools on his site as well.  This person not only represents all this pirated content as his own, but refuses to remove it from his site. 

Here’s what happened today:  I got an email from a client whom ESR is assisting with a sales training company evaluation.  They received an email (below) from a well-known sales trainer and author who had been told that he was no longer in the running.  My client told me that as they read the email, they thought of me.  It’s no wonder. 

Try this:  Open up another browser window and bring up this newsletter I wrote in June 2006.  (I recently republished it in a slightly different form on this blog.)  You can compare the email sent to my client (below) to my copyrighted content in the newsletter.  In the newsletter, where prompted, click on the link to read the rest of the article. 

Here’s the email the sales trainer sent to my client:

From: Xxxx Yzzz [mailto:XYzzz@snnnnnn.com]
Sent: Tuesday, September 02, 2008 1:23 PM
To: [VP of Sales of ESR’s Client Company]
Cc: The two people responsible for the evaluation
Subject: Sales Training-Methodology

Hi [VP of Sales],

I had another conversion with your team regarding the need for adopting a sales training approach for the [your] sales organization. From my experience with taking three software companies’ [sic] public and developing  a training approach  that has been taught in ten countries with unsurpassed results, I thought I would offer a perspective you might value.

Sales professionals need and have the right to be educated, trained, motivated, and prepared to leave a training session with improved selling capabilities, no matter how much experience they have. The world we live in has changed, how business is done has changed, so it only makes sense that individuals and organizations consider how they need to change their sales approach

While [your company] is in the mode of cycling through /evaluating sales training vendors,  I believe  you are hoping to provide your team with a repeatable and successful sales approach they will use effectively and buy into.  This being the case you might want to rethink your notions about the big methodology programs.  Even though this might have served you well in the past, as you know a lot of things of changed lately.  In this market most companies are not going to benefit for years from a mostly rehashed big sales methodology class.  Let me be direct:  From my experience and from speaking with thousands of sales people worldwide, the “Big Methodology Sales Training” approach doesn’t really offer the reps what they want and need. 

I recently spoke with a colleague who is a partner in a tech consulting firm.  I know him from his past life as a sales rep.  He worked for big name technology companies and was consistently the top performer.  He is a sales heavy-hitter if there ever was one.

We were discussing sales training.  He said, “I can’t tell you how many sales training programs I’ve sat through, I’ve experienced every major methodology vendor.  The programs were too long, didn’t provide me with value, and frankly were an incredible waste of time.”  Here is what got me.  “I was offended that management would think so little of me to force me to sit through that.”  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that exact same thing over the years, not to mention I experienced the same type of thing in my sales career. This is why 10 years ago I didn’t just buy a sales training methodology franchise and instead developed the [name of his sales training program].

Do sales professionals need sales training? Sure. Most will admit they do. But the training they need has to provide them with almost immediate business value–it’s go to help them do a couple of things–sell more immediately and offer an approach they can buy into and use over and over again. In general ‘methodology sales vendors typically violate the sales professional’s code on many levels.

Here’s are some of the violations:  [From this point on, it was just a cut & paste.]

  • Being trained by someone who hasn’t been in the field selling for years.
  • Being trained by someone who doesn’t know anything about how your buyers buy.
  • Being trained by someone who clearly doesn’t understand how tough your competitors are.
  • Being trained by someone who is more focused on entertaining you than helping you get your job done, so they get good marks on the post-program evaluation.
  • Being trained by someone who tells you what to do, but not how to do it.
  • Being trained by someone who lectures every moment without the necessary balance which would include workshops, exercises, discussions, debates, etc.
  • Forced to sit in a training class where 80% of what you learn is irrelevant to you, even though it may be to some of the people in the program.
  • Being trained on a skill or a process only to find out after the program that the tools are too cumbersome to use.
  •  Being trained by a person whom you don’t respect and who doesn’t have the track record your team will respect.
  • Spending three days in a class where you’ve gotten an hour of value.
  • Coming out of a class confused about what to do next.
  • Not having an integrated program for services.  
  • Not taking time to understand how you sell currently.
  • Not relating to the people in the class.
  • Training the same methodology they used and trained 5, 10, or even 20 years ago.

There are more but these are all things to seriously think about.

Why is this going on?

When violations like this happen, there is generally plenty of blame to pass around.  But the blame rarely falls in the lap of the sales professional.  As I said your team has the right to be educated, trained, motivated, and prepared to leave the training session with improved selling capabilities, no matter how much experience they have. They have the responsibility of walking into a training program with an open mind, ready and willing to learn, share their experiences, and to do what it takes to elevate themselves to get to the next level of sales performance.  They do not have the responsibility of having their time wasted and their experience and intelligence insulted.

Here are some possible explanations:

  •  Sales management want  to do “something” so they invest in a big methodology training that will only truly be used if forced on the team..  [The trainer inserted a few bullets in my list to support his incorrect assertion.]
  • Sales management didn’t have their training requirements match the sales people on the front lines who are responsible for putting the wood on the fire.  They have quotas and want help to exceed their numbers. When there is a heterogeneous sales team, for example experienced and new reps, or reps who sell different types of products into different markets, there is a big challenge.  A big one.  If it is not managed properly, the program will be irrelevant to half the audience half the time.
  • There is weak buy in to the foundation of the methodology and related processes /measurements because the team doesn’t see how it will immediately impact their results, so the training has no foundation.  It’s just a bunch of unrelated skills.  Some of those may help win some business, but in the long term, they won’t amount to much. 
  • The sales training vendor did not provide a competent facilitator that could relate to the group with a track record of unsurpassed sales success.
  • The training program content was not relevant to the team’s current pipeline of prospects or issues they are facing.  It may have come off-the-shelf, or have been designed for customers in another industry.
  • The content may have been relevant, but it was not delivered to you in a way that would promote learning.
  • Training the sales force was a strategy but was really needed as skills training with the tactics of how to succeed.

 To the Point [ESR has been using “To the Point” in all our content since we started the company.  This is the smoking gun!]

Getting sales training right can be a challenge and confusing. If you have the sales team applying the right skills that meet today’s market conditions everyone wins.  I have found methodology sales training takes a pretty generic approach like training someone to answer a support call or balance the books.  Many companies try, but get it all wrong. 

You might consider offering [your] sales teams the skills they need to improve their results as a first step. The [trainer’s program] training offers a solid skills training that certainly could be augmented at a later date if you deemed that to be a requirement.  Frankly I think you will find the skills, the approach, the culture change, the integration to other parts of the company, and the gained results to be very satisfying and you won’t need to go any further. All I can tell you, better let him tell you, [name of executive] at [well-known company] had no sale methodology- completely has embraced [trainer’s sales methodology] and last quarter attributes [$x] of additional business to the approach. There are others that can share similar results. They too thought perhaps having a big methodology vendor was the right first step but then happily learned skills training showed much more results.

I hope you don’t find this email too assertive but I felt strongly about some the things I heard you are considering and wanted to at least share my perspective and years of experience for your benefit. Please let me know if you would like to discuss this. I would very much like to be a big part of the [client’s company name] solution and help your team.

Best Regards,
Xxxx Yzzzzz
Trainer’s website
Office: xxx-xxx-xxxx
Cell:    xxx-xxx-xxxx 

I am very serious in asking you, my readers, this question:  How do you think I should handle this situation?  Please leave a comment, send me an email (dave.stein @ ESResearch.com) or give me a call.  Thanks.