Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do you have a Library idea or a Bookstore idea?

Bookstore ideas stand up over time, are typically high level (like, "The Tipping Point") and might change the way your audience thinks. Bookstore ideas are akin to purchasing a book from a bookstore because you plan to reference the idea occasionally, like the ideas in The Tipping Point.

Library ideas evolve, impart specific knowledge and are typically tactical (like, "Survival is Not Enough"). Library ideas are akin to taking a book out of the library to learn a specific bit of information, like a new method for making bread. There's no need to buy the book because you'll remember what you need after the book is returned to your library.

To come up with one bookstore idea, you'll come up with some library ideas and, as Seth Godin says, a lot of bad ideas.

How does your idea generator work?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Value of Role Playing

When you're getting ready to make your pitch, someone might suggest role playing. Don't. Role playing will hurt your pitch.

I appreciate that this runs counter to almost all accepted sales training methods; however, I have yet to be shown how role playing actually results in more successful pitches.

There is a lot of value; however, in practising your pitch before delivery. What's the difference between role playing and practising?

In role playing, not only are you practising your pitch you are also pretending that the person listening to your pitch is your final audience. Reality is, that person is also pretending, they are pretending to be your final audience. Simply practising your pitch removes the layer of make believe from role playing and allows you to focus on the most important aspect of your pitch - your content!

Give you an example. You are pitching the VP of Human Resources at your organization. A colleague agrees to "role play" as the VP. Why is your colleague qualified to pretend to be the VP? Are they and the VP personal friends? Have they worked together closely? Is your colleague a trained actor? Probably "none of the above." You will spend most of your role play responding to your colleague, who is inventing feedback they think the VP would say instead of focusing on your content.

Some of you are thinking, "role playing is valuable. You wouldn't give the same pitch to a peer as you would a Director, a VP or a CEO." I agree absolutely; however, how you pitch to each type of individual goes back to Communications 101 - know your audience.

Once you know your final audience - for example, your CEO responds best to visuals or your VP wants to see an implementation plan - you build your pitch to suit that audience. Then, when you ask a colleague to help you practise, that individual can focus on how well your content fits your final audience instead of trying to invent things your final audience might say.

What do you think? Does role playing have a place outside a stage or screen?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I'm Not Here to Talk Business

What is your approach to a networking event?

Most individuals I see at networking events, I attend 2-3 per month, fall into 1 of 3 categories:
1) Attending to hang out with current acquaintances or clients only
2) Attending to start a relationship with 1-2 new people and reconnect with current contacts
3) Attending to hand out as many business cards as possible in a 1-2 hour span

The last group makes me crazy and, I feel, is the reason for this common interaction at networking events.

Common Acquaintance - Hamish, meet Fred. Fred is the VP Marketing for A Consumer Brand Corp.
Me - Pleased to meet you Fred, Hamish Knox with A Marketing & Advertising Agency
Fred - We do all of our ad work in house

Hmmm. No pleasantry, no "how do you know our Common Acquaintance," just "I have no interest in talking to you because I assume you're going to talk business with me."

I appreciate this is a defensive move honed over years of pushing away salespeople who see networking events the same way a shark looks at a school of tuna; however, to completely cut off the opportunity to get to know a new person just because Fred thinks I might talk business is ludicrous to me.

If business is truly about relationships then shutting down the opportunity to develop new relationships makes me wonder why Fred would attend networking events at all when he could maintain current relationships elsewhere.

What do you think? What would your response be to Fred's reaction?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Budget Question

Most companies are well into budget planning for 2010, using what's known as "incremental" budgeting. I prefer "zero based" budgeting, a process I shared with students at Mount Royal University earlier this week.

Essentially, zero based budgeting is the opposite of incremental (aka “use it or lose it”) budgeting. With incremental budgeting, if your department had a $50,000 budget in 2009, they will automatically get a $50,000 budget in 2010 with a small percentage increase based on negotiations with management.

With zero based budgeting, you negotiate for your entire budget each year based on your strategic plans for the upcoming year. Under current economic conditions, incremental budgets are being maintained (after cutting earlier in this year) or being reduced for 2010.

By taking a “zero based” approach to your projects, you should go into a presentation with management with all relevant quotes and estimates from your suppliers in hand so when management says, “so as part of our awareness campaign you want to do a direct mail campaign to every household in Okotoks, how much will that be,” you can confidently respond, “we received 3 quotes and the best value is $0.50 per house or $3,125” (Okotoks caps their population at 25,000, assuming 4 individuals per house, there are 6,250 houses in Okotoks). That response, as opposed to “I don’t know” or “Um, we’ll get back to you on that” increases your chances of getting close to the budget you asked for.

So which do you prefer, incremental or zero based budgeting? How are you doing more with less going into 2010?

Special thanks to Amy, who inspired this post.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Commodity Sellers

Ideas are like opinions. There's a cliche about opinions that's not coming to mind right now, help me out in comments.

Essentially, ideas are a commodity and there's supposed to be no value in commodities, right?

What I've found though, is if your idea a) saves your audience time (like consolidating suppliers) or b) adds tangible value to your audience (like creating a new market segment) ideas elevate from commodities to valuable assets.

Next time you're prepping to pitch an idea highlight the ways your idea would meet the criteria above to your audience. You'll have greater success in selling ideas if you do.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time Management

A client once told me about a salesperson that used to call them "just to chat." My client said to me, "just to chat? I'm busy! Tell me something new, ask for a meeting or don't call!"

It should be obvious that the people to whom we pitch our ideas are busy; however, when we take focus off to who we are pitching and focus on the pitch itself respect for our audience's time drops down our list of importance.

What works best for me is to acknowledge my audience's limited time for me then ask for a specific amount of time at a specific date and time. In some meetings I've brought and oven timer and let my audience set the time for our meeting.

Any successful pitch revolves around trust and respect. If your audience feels you respect their time and trusts that you will execute your commitments (more on that later) your pitches should be regularly successful.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Greyhound Opportunity

Greyhound’s announcement of service cuts is a fantastic opportunity for Canadian entrepreneurs. Small, nimble companies with a focus on serving rural customers could fill the void left by Greyhound and make money doing it.

Here’re my ideas on how it would work.

1. Copy the Southwest Air model – instead of the hub (Winnipeg) and spoke (everywhere else in Manitoba) system used by Greyhound, run point to point service between rural communities. This would end up being less expensive because smaller coaches could be used (see below) more frequently

2. Use smaller coaches – growing up in rural Canada, I used to ride Greyhound. Their 50+ seat coaches were never even half full until we stopped at a mid-major centre like Kelowna, Red Deer or Brandon. Smaller coaches mean fewer seats which translates into few fares to break even

3. Automate as much as possible – Reduce overhead by equipping drivers with mobile credit card scanners for last minute purchases and routing all other purchases through a call centre. As Internet access is slow at best in rural Canada, an e-commerce option wouldn’t be highly used, but should be available

4. Increase frequency – as many rural towns, including my hometown, lack services such as a grocery store, doctor, dentist, video store and registry, increased frequency of service between “small town A” and “slightly larger town with services small town A doesn’t have” would provide steady, recurring revenue

Admittedly, the above ideas are just a shell of a plan. Let me in comments would it work? Wouldn’t it? How would you tackle this opportunity?

Monday, August 24, 2009

What, Specifically is Your Idea?

One of the more frustrating aspects of most pitches I see is vagueness. Mark Cuban did a fantastic job of breaking down a hilariously vague pitch in his blog recently.

I see vague pitches most often from volunteer groups (including not-for-profits and amateur sport organizations). These pitches can generally be summed up as “we will do stuff and it will be wonderful.” Occasionally a target group that might benefit from said wonderful program will be tossed in to make a pitch less vague.

This isn’t to say that these pitches aren’t created by intelligent individuals who may achieve some degree of success with a program; however, by leaving specifics out of their pitches they fail to maximize the potential for success (or as Seth Godin said, minimize potential for blame if that program fails).

Some of you reading may disagree with this post so far, if so I hope you’ll be public with your disagreement by commenting, as you had success getting a “yes” to vague pitches. Vague pitches may work; however, by adding specifics to your pitch you accomplish two things.

1. More individuals will pay attention so you increase the potential target pool for your pitch

2. Individuals who aren’t committed to your idea will lose interest

Seems counter-intuitive, no? Think of it this way. At this point in our careers, all of us have worked in a group. Group theory says that in a majority of groups a small part of a group will take on more than their fair share of work, most of a group will do their fair share of work and another small part will be “free riders” who do little to no work. Number “2” seriously reduces the potential for free riders.

Out of the theoretical and into the practical...

· Initial idea – “to increase moral, we will create an employee blog”; interesting, but

o how will an employee blog increase moral

o by how much do we want to increase moral

o who will create the employee blog

o who will monitor and publish the blog

o what content will be published on the blog

At first blush the initial idea is great; however, without answers to the above questions (and several more I’m sure you can come up with) the idea lacks substance and is destined to collapse.

Don’t walk away from this post thinking that your ideas must fill a 3 inch binder or 120 PowerPoint slides to be effective. At the 2008 TechCrunch50 conference, finalists from the 52 companies selected to present at the conference were asked to describe their revenue models in 5 words or less.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Communicating versus micro-managing

Had an interesting conversation with a friend recently about managing a team of direct reports, specifically as it related to inter-team dynamics and informal leadership.

My position was that inter-team issues would arise from a lack of communication around where each team member fit within the team. I felt that it is the responsibility of the team's manager to establish role clarity and inter-team communication norms.

My friend's position was that my position sounded too much like micro-managing, which got me thinking. Where does the line exist between effective communication and micro-managing?

To me, the line exists in follow up communications.

If, after expecations are communicated clearly to a team, observation of the team and individual communication between manager and team members doesn't uncover any confusion with expectations, no follow up is necessary. Reiteration of expecations at this point crosses the line into micro-managing either at a group or individual level.

If the team's manager identifies a disconnect with expectations by one member of their team, follow up communications should occur solely with that individual.

Where is your line for effective communications versus micro-managing?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Who's pitching?

Is it you or your PowerPoint? If your PowerPoint is pitching your idea for you, you are wasting your time and your targer audience's time.

My stance on PowerPoint has softened a bit recently as some ideas, software and marketing specifically, do lend themselves to visuals.

Visuals, including financials, should only come into play after your target audience has bought into your idea at a high level. For example, a very common response to any idea pitch is "how much does it cost?" Reality is that unless your idea is free your pitch will be unsuccessful because your audience is looking for an easy way to say "no."

Getting your audience to buy in conceptually, saying for example, "so if the numbers are right, how do you see this idea working for you?" opens a door for you to produce your visuals to confirm in your audience's mind the reason why they said "yes."

Remember that you're pitching your idea to a person whose first response to most pitches is "no." Falling back in visuals or pounding through PowerPoint slides helps them say "no" more than it helps you get them to say "yes."

Having confidence in your ideas, getting high level buy in and then confirming buy in with visuals will give your pitches more chance of success.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cold Calling

I love cold calling. This puts me in a minority, even among my peers in sales. In my experience, the individuals who suffer from "call reluctance" focus more on the recipient of their pitch than on themselves.

You're busy. Your prospect is busy. If your prospect doesn't like your pitch they will hang up and forget about you in 20 seconds! If they can move on so easily so can you.

Relying on your current clients to buy all of your ideas is a losing strategy. To grow yourself you must pitch your ideas to new individuals.

To successfully cold calling, you only need 2 things:
1) An Internet browser - one of my former colleagues pointed out that I used to make most of my cold calls with no more information than my prospect's website. Remember, the goal of a cold call is to get a chance to pitch in person
2) Confidence - as discussed in "over qualified," one the biggest reasons for failed pitches is lack of confidence. Lack of belief in your pitch comes through like a air raid siren on the phone and makes hanging up that much easier for your prospect

The rule of thumb I live by is it takes 7 "nos" to get 1 "yes." Sometimes this ratio is lower, sometimes higher, but it helps guide me when I pitch ideas.

Since I'm in the minority, I'm interested in your thoughts on cold calling. Why do you avoid it? What do you do to overcome your reluctance to cold call?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Time and Money

When building a pitch keep in mind that your target audience wants to hear 1 of 2 things.

1) Your idea will save time

2) Your idea will save or make money

Really, the list above is 1 thing, saving/making money. Time savings should save your organization money in the short term and allow it to make more money in the long term through increased productivity.

How your idea will save time or save/make money for your organization may not be readily apparent. On the surface many ideas may not have an obvious connection to the list above.

The chances of your pitch being successful will increase if you take time to look below the surface and connect your pitch to a number that is important to your audience (more on that later).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Profit and loss

To say selling in a recession is hard should elicit eye rolling and something sounding like "duh."

It seems organizations have taken one of two strategies to manage their revenue during the current economic downturn, an aggressive new business development campaign or a conservative "retention" strategy. The former works best for relatively new market entrants, but is unsustainable long term because the reduction in service or value is not enough to maintain clients won over on price. The former sort of works for established market participants; however, while an organization pursuing a "retention" strategy may keep current clients, they won't retain the same level of revenue.

Consider this example. A client who is currently worth $100 per year to your organization says they need to cut costs and may be considering the competition. At best, you can hope to keep that client at $80 per year, but reality is that client will probably be worth between $50-60. Already you are in a $40-50 hole from last year with one client no matter which direction you go.

I feel there are three simple things "retention" organizations can do to actually maintain or grow their revenue in a downturn.

1) Increase service for the same value - keep your client at $100, but offer $150 in services; ideally this is done proactively so your client doesn't have time to start casting about for different services, but may be a defensive move to counter a competitive attack. At first blush, this approach would appear to work best in high margin industries; however, the extra $50 in service could come from faster delivery time, increased maintenance or preferential access to new products.

2) Focus on the bottom 20% of your client base - when was the last time you spoke with the client bring in $5 per year? How many of your products do they buy? Do they even know you offer other products? That $5 per year client could turn into a $20 or $25 per year client with minimal effort on the part of your sales team.

3) Organic new business development - at the start of our example, your $100 per year client is now a $50-60 per year client, leaving a $40-50 hole to fill. You might be able to fill in some of that hole by following strategy #2; however, the only way to get back to net zero or positive revenue growth is to seek out organizations that aren't doing business with your organization. Yes, your competitors clients are the easiest place to start (how happy is their bottom 20%?); however, a quick rethink of how you position your services should open up at least one new target market for you to pursue.

"Blue ocean strategy" is on the way to being a business cliche, but the reason phrases become cliches is there was some truth to them once. Being the first to reposition your products into new a market forces your competitor to act defensively, allowing you to take your competitors' clients who are being ignored in your original market and make further plans for new business growth.

How is your organization attempting to maintain or grow in this economy?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Over qualified

One of the biggest reasons ideas fail to sell is because they are over qualified. Think of the times you have used or heard the following phrases at work.

"These are my thoughts, you can take them or leave them"

"Here's what I think, do what you will"

"Do what you will with my input"

"Its only my idea"

With the first three, what I do with the idea is flush it, usually before the individual is finished speaking. If someone can't own their thoughts, I have no interest in whatever comes after their qualifier.

With the last one, I want to jump up, grab the individual pitching and scream, "THAT'S GREAT! ITS ONLY YOUR IDEA! YOU DON'T HAVE TO SHARE CREDIT WITH ANYONE!" Fortunately for my colleagues and clients, I have restrained myself so far.

Instead of enhancing your idea pitch, qualifiers communicate your lack of belief in your idea to your audience. 

If your idea is well thought out, your pitch doesn't need any qualifications, you are qualified to pitch already.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

So what?

To give your ideas the best chance of being sold answer the "so what"? 

It's not enough to know that 2+2 = 4, what you do with 4 provides real value to your organization.

Unfortunately for those of us trying to sell our ideas, our managers' time is short. Last year, at a presentaiton by Christensen Investor Relations in Calgary, the presenter mentioned a study showing CEOs will switch their attention every 60 seconds unless they see value in the infomation they are reviewing.

So how do you avoid being 1 (minute) and done with your manager next time you pitch an idea?

Someone, I really wish I could remember who, gave me the following system, which they called the "60 second report".

15 seconds - summarize current situation (shareholder revolt, product recall, quarterly earnings call)
30 seconds - identify 3 options for resolving current situation (the "what")
15 seconds - recommend 1 option for resolving current situation and why (the "so what")

Instead of just summarizing the current situation and staring blankly at our manager for direction, the 60 second report quickly gives our manager (who is probably dealing lots of other issues as well), some guidance on how to resolve the situation you're describing. 

As much as "Free Agent Nation" sounds exciting from an employee perspective, employers will look for their current crop of free agents to not only provide "what"s, but "so what"s to justify their investment.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Update on "what" versus "who"

Reading the excellent, "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, one of the 100 best business books of all time. 

As a previous post mentions, I feel the "what" is more important than the "who"; however, Collins talks at length about how the "who" is more important. 

Based on Collins definitions of "what" and "who", I feel the "what" is still more important as Collins talks about "getting the right people on the bus," which to me is a "what" that leads to a "who."


Monday, March 2, 2009


Our collective fear behind more personal information migrating to online databases isn't really the loss of privacy. Instead, our fear is that that information can strip away the lies we tell ourselves and expose our true selves, not to others, but to us. 

This thought slapped me across the face while reading Super Crunchers, by Ian Ayres. Ayres points out that Visa, based on purchase history, can predict with relative accuracy if a married couple will be divorced in 5 years. 

To most, this information probably carries a terrifying "big brother" connotation. On the other hand, wouldn't you want to know this information? Having watched several divorces unfold from the periphary, it seems most divorce announcements shocker the individual receiving divorce notice. What if, 5 years before you were served, you had a brief conversation with your Visa rep who adivsed you that you were on a path towards divorce? I would certainly be happy for the chance to correct the course of my marriage.

Let's leave what most consider "personal" information for a second. Anthony Bourdain writes in Kitchen Confidential about a server who showed up late for work after returning from vacation claiming that her plane was delayed. Her boss called the airline, discovered that the plane had arrived on time and promptly fired the server for lying. 

Today that server's boss wouldn't need to call, he could find arrival times on a myriad of websites.

With so much of our information available online or through easily sourced databases, our chances of getting caught in a lie are exponentially bigger than even 10 years ago. 

At the same time what are the mental and emotional costs of facing up to our true selves? To paraphrase Joe Thornley at the CPRS national conference in Halifax last June, I have one life online. 

Having one life would make it easier to be truthful. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The “what” is more important than the “who”

In fables, animals often take place of humans. For example, the fable of the Frog in the Well teaches a lesson about being boastful.

Imagine for a second though, that you told this story to a colleague and their response was something like, “well yeah, but frog's can’t talk.” Silly response, yes? Well, here’s an example that may hit closer to home.

You’re chatting with a colleague. Your colleague says, “did you hear that Steve got our manager to increase our customer surveys from 4 to 6 this year?” Wow, big news. Your colleague got approval to increase an expense when your expenses were cut 20% and you have the increased deliverables.

Now you have two ways to react. You could focus on the who, Steve, and be jealous that he got a budget increase while you got your budget cut. You may think things like, “well Steve and our manager always go for coffee so they’re buddy-buddy, no wonder he got approval.”

Your second choice, which is vastly more productive, is to focus on the what, Steve got approval to increase customer surveys from 4 to 6. As Malcolm Gladwell laid out in his excellent new book, Outliers successful individuals don’t just happen they have help along the way. Steve didn’t magically get approval from your shared boss he had help (not the “buddy-buddy” help mentioned above).

You want to find out is what Steve did to get approval from your boss because that information will help you get approval for your next idea. Was it charts and graphs; an amazing PowerPoint; statistics that linked surveys to increased revenues? There’s one person who knows, Steve – ask him.

Yes, it might suck that you are being asked to do more with less; however, reacting emotionally only drives you farther away from your goals. By focusing on the what of your situation instead of the who you will bounce back from adversity faster and be more likely to get approval for your ideas in the future.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Closing Time

60% of all ideas fail to sell in North America because the seller fails to ask "so we're going to do business, right?" A prof at BCIT laid that stat on me almost 10 years ago and it stuck with me throughout my varying careers as journalist, marketer and salesperson.

Think of that stat like this. If 5 Honda Civics are available at a car dealership, and each is worth $20,000, 3 of those cars (and $60,000 in revenue) will not sell because the dealership's salespeople don't ask, "so when would you like to take delivery?"

Shocking, no?

Let's go away from a traditional sales situation. Imagine you are sitting across from a colleague. You are in your organization's conference room, both of you have notebooks, you have extra papers that explain the idea you want to sell to your colleague. You explain how you came up with your idea and why you feel it would be beneficial for your organization. Your colleague asks questions, you provide answers. You feel your colleague has "bought in" to your idea so you end the meeting and leave feeling satisfied. 

Now you're presenting your idea at a group meeting. Again you explain your idea and the benefits you perceive your idea will bring to your organization. Your colleagues put your idea under scrutiny so you look to your colleague mentioned above for support. To your dismay, that colleague picks your idea apart further! If you had only asked, "is this an idea you would support?" in your first meeting.

If your ideas are good enough to present, make sure you close the deal, batting .400 is only good in baseball.