Don’t argue in front of your customer!

We’ve all been there. You’re in a meeting with a prospect or customer and someone on your team says the wrong thing. You’re infuriated and your knee jerk reaction is to correct your teammate in front of the customer. Or get angry with your teammate. Not a good idea.

This can happen when you take a junior engineer into a meeting and she feels she has to tell the customer everything that’s wrong with the product. Or a senior executive who commits you to a schedule you know you can’t make. Or a loser sales person who can’t stop talking. Or a hungry, skilled sales person who is trying to pull a deal in earlier than you think makes sense. Or a tired customer support person who is down a cynical rat hole.

When these things happen, or the thousand other ways you can see the wrong thing being said in front of the customer it’s up to you to keep a cool head and manage through without getting angry or embarrassing your teammate in front of the customer. A customer is in the room with you to get as much out of you as he or she can to solve their problem. They don’t want to know about your problems. And they certainly don’t want you to air your relationship dirty laundry in front of them.

So how can you prevent or manage this?

First prepare. Hold a prep meeting and try to anticipate the issues and questions that may come up. Be as clear as you can what the pot holes could be and who is playing what role in the meeting.

Then, if your teammate is saying something you know is wrong, try to deflect by going on a tangent. Don’t say “John is wrong… we can’t commit to that”, instead ask a question of the customer to take the conversation in another direction.

If you are still on the wrong track let the issue go unless it is going to seriously damage your project or company’s future. There are not many issues discussed which can’t be changed with a follow up conversation. “I know John committed XYZ to you but when we got back to the office and did some more digging we realized XYZ is not the right answer (timing, service etc) for you.” Customers do that to vendors all the time!

And finally be sure to debrief with your team. Great coordination in front of the customer comes with practice, practice working together as a team. Learning who should speak on what issue, who has command of what topic. You won’t get it right the first time you work with your team, but over time you’ll build the muscle memory to navigate tough issues in front of the customer. But in the meantime, don’t disagree in front of her!

Photo: Tapestry in Sevilla, Spain © 2018 Penny Herscher

Career Advice

Selling with Silence: How the power of the sale is in the silence you create

What do you think of when you think of being sold to? A salesman? Speed and feed? Talking your ear off with feature function? Closing you with obvious closing questions?

Sadly, still today, despite everything we know, many people sell this way.

But actually true selling is just the opposite. The sale is made in the silence.

There are a thousand B2B sales training classes and self help books you can read but they all basically say the same thing. Do discovery, qualify your customer, understand the org chart, understand their needs etc. etc. And yet, despite what we know, the simple concept that the power is in the silence gets lost and sales teams talk too much. They talk more than they listen.

One of the best enterprise sales people I ever sold with told me “Ask a question, shut up, and the first one who speaks loses”. People are fundamentally uncomfortable with silence and they speak to fill it up. And when they do they reveal what they are thinking.

When you are selling working with silence allows you to truly deeply listen. Prepare and ask your questions about their needs, process etc. and then listen carefully. Let them speak and then be able to speak some more because you don’t jump in to fill the silence they leave.

It also allows you to show respect. I’m always astonished at how often sales people talk over the customer or interrupt them. There is respect in silence. I am giving you the respect to fully express your needs and interests before I jump back in and tell you how great my mousetrap is. People buy from people and showing respect is a critical step to establishing trust.

And it allows you to close. When you ask for the order ask and then shut up. Too often people ask for the order and then immediately gabble on about why, when etc., justifying why they are asking for the order. You should not ask for the order until you know you can provide real value to your customer, and when you know you can, then ask, and wait. Don’t explain, talking will not help by this point. And if they speak, they either say no (and you talking wasn’t going to change that) or they reveal where they are at and you’re on the path to close.

And the same concept applies whether you are selling an idea or a product. People want to be heard. Master the art of asking questions and being silent. Present, silent and listening.

Career Advice

5 Ways to Deal with a Workplace Bully ( Who is Your Customer! )

Customers are usually really fun to work with, but sometimes you run into a difficult one, a classic “tough customer”. So what do you do when you have to work with a customer who is a true bully? You know, the customer who throws his weight around, talks over you, raises his voice if you push back, disrespects you and insults you with aggressive behavior.

I’ve dealt with my fair share of bullies over time and learned the following approaches to defusing the bully behavior. Note, all these tips refer to “him”. I have never encountered a female bully (I am sure they exist), but then again, I have not worked with many female customers, so I will say “him.”

1. Get to know him 

Most bullies have a hard time keeping up the aggressive and domineering behavior once they are on a familiar, social ground with you. Not always, but often. Invite your customer out to lunch with no agenda; don’t talk business, just get to know one another. Be sure to ask lots of questions. Most bullies are insecure, so make him the center of attention. Ask about his family and interests, and listen attentively. You are more likely to enable him to relax around you, and you’ll learn something new about him. This knowledge will help you connect with him in the future.

I had a customer in Arizona many years ago who was awful to deal with–short, angry and aggressive in every meeting, convinced, we, (the vendor), were trying to mislead him. By investing the time getting to know him I earned his trust, and we sold a significant contract to him. In the process I learned what he was deeply worried about; buying the wrong tool and losing technical credibility.

A word of caution–you need to be genuinely interested. If you are faking it your customer will know and you’ll lose his trust.

2. Don’t take his behavior personally 

As I said, most bullies are insecure. If you watch them carefully, you will notice their behavior is no different towards you than it is towards other people. They tend to also bully those below them in the power structure. So while their tactics may push your buttons, or make you so mad you want to punch something or cry, (this had happened to me more than once), remember it is not about you. It’s about him; his fear, his need to assert himself to feel better. Take a step back from the onslaught, take a deep breath, and let it go. This small gesture will turn into a big investment in the long run.

3. Get to know his boss and peers 

This is your insurance policy. In most organizations the other people in his company will know he’s a bully. They usually won’t admit it, but they know. They might have a culture where it serves them to keep him around, or maybe they don’t let people go, (more popular in the 80s than today). Find ways to meet and develop professional relationships with his peers. Discuss areas of common interest such as a mutual customer. Make sure you get to meet his boss, even if he keeps telling you that you don’t need to (which is classic blocker behavior). This way you establish your own credibility, independent of how he portrays you. You will both gain from what you learn about the business as a result: you will be more useful to his company because you’ll understand more of their needs, and your knowledge will help you cement a relationship with him when you are.

4. Stand your ground 

With all that said, you do not have to cave and agree just because someone raises his voice, talks over you or becomes aggressive with you. If you are in the right on a discussion point, or you need your customer to understand an aspect of your work together, hear him out and then gently assert yourself. Let him talk, let him bluster, wait him out. Don’t disagree or cut him off or he’ll increase his bullying. Think tai chi in your head. Let his energy flow over you, and then, when he gives you an opening, tell him what you believe he needs to hear.

5. Move on 

Finally, sometimes you are just incompatible with a bully. Either you trigger something in him, or he triggers something in you. If you’ve tried building a relationship, you’ve been professional and diligent in your service of the customer, and still he’s a bully then maybe you are not the right person to work with him. It’s important to recognize when you can succeed in changing someone’s behavior towards you and when it is hopeless. And if it’s hopeless, stand down and ask your team to put someone else in instead.

Of course, if you are the CEO this is almost impossible. But even so, you can usually find someone compatible to front for you, someone you can bring into judicious scenarios and protect you from your bullying customer, and protect your customer from your temper!

Repost of my latest posted in Inc today

Career Advice

How to Deal with a Horse’s Ass (in your head)

I love my job and I love meeting 90% of the people I have the privilege to meet, but sometimes, just sometimes, I have to spend professional time with someone whom I have a hard time respecting. Of course I don’t let on, and of course I am professional and respectful, but I have to find ways to manage myself through my reaction to the behavior.

What is the behavior I have to manage my head around you may ask?

What I find really hard is the person who has to be the smartest person in the room, and makes sure you and everyone else reflects that back to him/her. The person who is so sure they have the answers they don’t listen. Who talks over people more junior than them. Who is dismissive of other people they consider lower in the power structure. Who posture to make a point, instead of just being open and direct.

I’ve seen this behavior by execs to people on their teams (sometimes in front of me when I am the vendor). I’ve seen it towards my employees, and sometimes to me because I am selling, or because I am female, or because I threaten them in some way. I’ve seen it in groups which should be peers but where one person thinks he’s better/senior/more experienced/smarter and so throws his weight around. In board meetings, on panels, at dinner parties.

So it happens. You’ve seen it. But enough of the negative. How to deal?

I am inspired by Caravaggio in this circumstance. Caravaggio was commissioned by Tibero Cerasi to paint two paintings for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome in 1600. One of the conversion of St Paul, the other of the Crucifixion of St Peter. At the same time Cerasi commissioned Caravaggio’s competitor Carracci (a conventional Baroque painter, and Caravaggio’s contemporary) to paint the altar piece.

The first versions Caravaggio painted were rejected by Cerasi (only one is known to survive and it is glorious), and the history hints to their rejection being maybe motivated by Cardinal Sannessio’s desire to take them into his private collection. But whatever the reason, the net result was Caravaggio had to paint two more, and this time he chose to paint them in rich, high drama, and to send a message.

Meanwhile, Carracci painted the altar piece and the Assumption of the Virgin takes center stage of the Cerisi chapel. The Assumption is a beautiful, classically baroque painting in romantic pinks and blues replete with cherub angels, but it’s no match for Caravaggio’s stunning, dramatic flanking paintings.

So how did Caravaggio make a point of his opinion of his competitor Carracci?  He painted a horse’s ass pointed towards the Carracci painting!

Here’s the chapel. The Assumption is in the middle above the altar.

You can see the Conversion of Saint Paul on the Way to Damascus is on the right. The horse’s backside is directed squarely at the Carracci painting. And it’s been expressing Caravaggio’s opinion for 415 years.

This is a truly glorious, extraordinary painting. It is Caravaggio at the top of his game, changing the world of painting forever. It has incredible depth, drama and detail and the horse is alive!

So when I have to play the game and be respectful and polite to someone I don’t respect I think about this painting, and how Caravaggio had the last laugh, and remind myself not to take any of this too seriously.

Career Advice

Your customer needs more than an email

It’s an old saying “people buy from people” but with our dependance on digital communication sometimes salespeople forget and rely too much on email and texting. It feels safer, you can plan and think out what you are going to say and you won’t surprise the person you need to communicate with. But it’s just not effective, even in a world where we are all fast iPhone typists – as the WSJ wrote last week: Bosses Say “Pick up the Phone”.

The reality is, despite our growing dependency on text and email, you can’t sell that way – well not enterprise level solutions anyway. Big deals, thousands of users, game changing applications – they are sold through human relationships and at many levels of relationship.

For example, you can’t develop a champion in email. Champions help you get the deal done and they help you get it done on your timeline. They help you because they believe in your solution, and just as importantly they help you because they like you. They learn to like you based on your voice and some personal exchange as well as professional from and/or in person interaction, not text. Even better an in person meeting — they are your champion because you connect at a human level and so they’ll go to bat for you.

You can’t develop a coach by texting and Tweeting. Coaches tell you the lay of the land, who has what political agenda, what the buying process is going to be and who’s going to approve it. Coaches tell you things you probably should not know, and that they would never put in writing, but they’ll tell you in person over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine because they think what you’re doing is good for their company and they want to see you win. People don’t take risk for people they’ve never spoken with or met.

You don’t get referred up and across a Fortune 100 in email. In a big company up-and-coming players know the power of face time. If they are going to take you to a CxO or GM they are going to do it in person, and that means they need to know you’re presentable and going to make them look good. That means they’ve spent enough time with you to trust you. Can you imagine being referred to the CIO of a sister division of a giant global company by someone you’ve never talked with? Trust isn’t built digitally.

So if you want to be a killer enterprise sales rep pick up the phone, or better yet get in the car or on a plane, because there is simply no substitute for meeting in person, although you probably don’t have to get as close as Donkey.

Career Advice

Why Stress is Good for Sales People

Published in the Huffington Post earlier today:

With so much riding on closing the sale, making quota and generating revenue, sales reps are some of the most stressed out members of the
workforce. Yet some stress may actually improve your performance. Recent
research found short bursts of intense stress can improve your
cognitive functions and make you more productive, even boosting your
overall health. While many studies advise workers to reduce their stress
for better health, just a bit can help you to improve sales productivity
and stay focused. But be careful to note what type of stress you’re
experiencing and make sure you don’t overload yourself — the key is to
recognize deadlines are good, but burnout is bad.

Stress Improves Your Brain Power According to New Scientist, a technology and health resource, recent research identified short periods of stress can increase a person’s cognitive functions, resulting in brain power improvements. Researcher Kirstin Aschbacher
of the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues
sought out to examine if small intervals of intense stress produces the
same adverse effects as chronic mental strain. However, the researchers
found the opposite to be true, with the short bursts of stress improving
an individual’s concentration and making them better able to handle
future mental strain.

Aschbacher described smaller periods of psychological stress as a way
to make your mental muscles stronger. “It’s like weightlifting, where
we build muscles over time,” Aschbacher said.

In fact, the research highlighted short quantities of stress causes
the body to release the hormone cortisol, which can improve immunity in
small doses. But you mustn’t overdo it because too much stress can
result in excess cortisol, which suppresses your immunity.

As a sales rep you want to be able to use stress to your advantage, as health expert Lisa Evans recently advised in Entrepreneur.
You don’t have to be stressed all the time, but knowing if you are the
kind of rep who works better under a deadline or you need to plan ahead
to be productive can improve your mental functions and your overall

By embracing stress, hormones like cortisol and adrenaline enter the
blood stream for a short amount of time, increasing your memory and
cognitive function. With the flood of hormones in your system, you may
be able to think faster and become sharper. This can be beneficial right
before you enter that client meeting, make the sales pitch or negotiate
the deal.

Most sales reps know that feeling of intensity right before the call,
and the let down afterwards so pay attention to how your body feels.
When you use stress to improve your short-term performance it’s also
important to take some time to recuperate afterward to recharge your
body and de-stress.

Career Advice

The balance between marketing and hype with a new product

Sometimes it’s hard to contain your enthusiasm when you have a new product to market and the temptation is to get carried away and over hype. It’s this behavior that can give engineering a bad rap with marketing and marketing a bad rap with sales.

Here’s the classic typical scenario

R&D truly believes the product is way ahead of where it really it. It’s ready, it’s fast, all the functionality is basically there, it’s usable today etc. This comes from (often justifable) pride in the technology that’s been developed. Note technology, not whole product.

Marketing, trying to bridge the gap and get revenue going on a new product presents the product to sales as ready to do. You can show it to customers and start them using it, it’s got 80% of the functionality and the rest is coming in the next release, yes take it to your best customers and get them using it. Sell it now.

Sales lives with the ultimate reality – what the product actually does, how easy it is to use, how fast, and how much functionality is really ready for prime time. Often sales stubs their toe, has to work through who they can really take it to and who should wait for the next release? Seasoned sales team are naturally cautious.

Typical right?

Sometimes however, it works the other way around and hype can be used as a carefully orchestrated momentum builder – the Steve Jobs reality distortion field is a great example. If you say it enough with enough integrity and conviction it will become truth.

It’s the tension between the normal experience sales and marketing teams have with new products, and the extreme of Apple’s strong stance on every new product that makes this new video from Palm (below) so funny.

Roger McNamee (a wild and crazy guy – but a really good guy) is known for his hyperbole, especially about the new Pre coming from (his majority investment in) Palm. Jon Rubinstein is ultimate innovator and product designer – the brains behind the iPod – and a much more low key guy.

I’m happy to say that as we bring out our new research engine into the market my team, while human, is working hard to balance the process pretty well and manage our natural enthusiasm for what we think is really big. But it’s tempting…

Career Advice

What sales needs to do

As my regular readers will have figured out by now, we hold a sales “kickoff” at the beginning of every quarter. It’s a pretty standard agenda:

– how the last quarter went – good and bad – by rep
– what the targets are for the new quarter
– guest speaker – someone inspiring – this time Keith McCullough from Research Edge
– what’s coming from the product and marketing in the next 90 days
– sales process review and training
– celebrate!

This quarter I took the opportunity to talk with the team on how we are going to get to the next level of growth. Our client count is climbing well, we’ve got a trained team, and now it’s all about focus and top line growth. So I talked about three areas that seemed profound to me when I was preparing, but once the words were coming out of my mouth I realized how basic and universal they are.

For a sales people to beat quota (which is, after all, where the money is) s/he really has to do three things very well.

1. Know the product really well. Work with it, know it to a level where you can demo it, configure it and engage customers in the information you are finding. Understand what it means to systematically use the web for investment research.

2. Know your customers really well. Understand their business, their challenges, their every day tasks. Study them and their market – understand their internal politics and how they make decisions – understand the nuances in research needs between CFO and CMO, between a value-based hedge fund and a long-only investment advisor.

3. Work hard in a disciplined sales process. Use the systems and tools, aggressively build pipeline to 3X your quarterly quota. Bottom line: sales success comes from discipline and hard work not luck.

…. so my message was discipline and focus in each of the three areas.

The sales team was pumped up after kickoff this time – although I don’t think it was anything I said! I think it was excitement about the new product releases over the next 60 days which will make the service even more compelling and useful to our customers.

Career Advice

The art of closing a quarter

We’re closing our quarter today and – as I sit on a conference call waiting for the client to finish debating changes with their lawyer – I am musing on what it takes to get all the business closed.

I asked the guys I am sitting with on this end what they’ve taken away as learnings this time …

– Deadlines are a good way to get focused. As a small company quarters don’t matter the way they do in a public company, but we treat them as if they do.
– Have your lawyers teed up and on call – you don’t want to lose time finding them.
– The customer won’t drive the deal, even if they want the system. You have to drive it and have the uncomfortable conversations early, testing price, determining their true level of interest.
– Have a CEO who is a utility player (!). We’re working on a large contract where I needed to jump in and be conversant with all the contract terms and issues. I had to call the CEO of the other firm very early this morning and be able to discuss everything they wanted to see addressed.
– Beware of happy ears. These are sales people who don’t want to hear the bad news behind a customers words and so forecast too optimistically – it’s back to making sure the sales people are having those uncomfortable conversations.
– Don’t schedule any other meetings on the last day of the quarter.

And most importantly – don’t let up. Don’t stop until you’ve got all the business in.


How to review a sales team

Sales teams thrive on a balance of structure and freedom. Enough structure that they know what they have to work with and what’s expected of them, enough freedom that they can be creative, run their own territory and make money.

I have found that taking a sales team through a territory review process a couple of times a year can help them, and help me, find that balance. I am on my way to New York tonight to participate in one of the team’s reviews tomorrow with my VP Sales, Todd Rudley.

The first thing that is important, before you can ask a sales person to walk you through his/her strategy and plan, is to be clear on who has what territory. At FirstRain we have defined over 30 territories in the US and Europe (we don’t sell in Asia yet). Every territory is defined by accounts (eg. US majors #1 has a list of named large accounts), by alphabet in a geography (eg. New York A-D), by assets under management (eg. SouthEast