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Arbitrary Boundaries November 13, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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Recently, I received notice that one of my vendors had added me to their online customer portal and made me part of the “Eastern Region Group.” Apparently, this gives me access to certain forums and resources shared by everyone in the East.  I’ll confess: I don’t get it.

I understand why this vendor might divide their customers into regional groups.  Presumably, they assign local resources to each group to improve response time, reduce travel costs, and increase customer satisfaction in some way.  But does this have any value or meaning from the customers’ perspective?

It seems that in this day and age of global communication, sequestering customers by geography is so… last century.  The idea that you are doing so in an online forum that transcends time and distance is delightfully ironic.

But it doesn’t just happen online.  How many customer receptions have you attended where tables are arranged and labeled by geography?  Is it really important that I sit with other people from the East?  Aren’t there interesting people from the West that I might want to speak with?  Why not just divide us by height, or middle initial? I suspect that’s just as effective in creating good conversation as anything else.

What’s really happening here?  An internal organizational tool is being exposed and applied externally, without providing value to the customer.  Those internal tools have clear value in managing costs and personnel.  Externally, they are confusing and create false divisions in your customer base.

This problem doesn’t just exist in sales organizations. How often do we expose architectural limitations or development constraints, much to the dismay of our customers?  Try explaining size limits on email to someone who just wants to send a big, business-related file to a customer.  They get annoyed and you look petty.

The root of this lies in our failure to identify with and become champions for our customers, from their viewpoint.  While we may have many useful internal mechanisms that allow us to operate effectively, very few of those mechanisms have any meaning to our customers.  Instead, they seem arbitrary and restrictive.

We need to develop a service model and world view that makes sense to our customers.  We need to interact with them in that model, and never ask them to step outside of it.  As needed, we need to translate their requirements from that space to our internal world.  Our internal model is probably more complicated than our customers think, and that’s OK.  We are supposed to translate from their simpler model to our complex one on their behalf. There’s a special name for that translation: “customer service.”

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Hairdresser CRM September 23, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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I get my hair cut about every six weeks or so.  I’ve been going to the same woman for about two years now.  Every time I show up, she picks up the conversation right where we left off, six weeks prior.  How does she do this?

She sees a hundred or more people in those intervening weeks.  She has similar, if not far more engaging, conversations with all those people than she has with me.  Yet she remembers everything we were talking about and is able to resume a pleasant conversation for thirty minutes or so.  She also remembers how I like my hair cut, and notices subtle changes in how it has grown (or not).

I am pretty sure that my local hair salon is not running Seibel unbeknownst to me.  I do not see the various stylists pulling up salesforce.com on their phones moments before engaging a client.  They don’t even write anything down, for heaven’s sake!  Yet they have an almost elephantine memory for details about their clients’ lives.  And this is not unique to my current stylist; this seems to be typical behavior among the vast majority of hairdressers in the world.

They realize, of course, that this intimacy and sustained attention is what provides them the repeat business they need to survive.  Whether they are born with the skill or develop it over time, successful stylists know how to draw out their clients and remember what they hear.  Darwinian selection weeds out the stylists with poor memories, I suppose.

We could all learn a thing or two from them.  The foundation of good IT service is that old maxim:

People don’t care what you know, they want to know that you care.

Showing that you care means listening and remembering things that are important to your customers.  Dale Carnegie knew it; much of his advice involves understanding what is really important to people and then providing it.

My best vendors have hairdresser-class people skills.  They have taken the time to get to know me and my company, and they prove it every time we get together.  I don’t know how they remember it; I do know that it makes sustaining our relationship across intermittent points of contact much easier.

Bad salespeople could never cut hair.  They don’t take the time to learn things, and don’t try to remember what they do learn.  I’ve had salespeople schedule time for an intro call and admit that they do not even know what my company does.  Really?  You couldn’t spend five minutes with Google before heading to my office?

Social media tools make this even easier for savvy salespeople.  Like many other people, I am throwing out bits of trivia about myself all the time, through this blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, and Facebook.  I have a Google-friendly name that makes web-based stalking easy.  It is not hard to put together a few facts to create the illusion of caring when you first meet me.

Cynical machinations aside, we would all do well to acquire the skills that are crucial to hairdressers.  Listening, remembering, and showing interest are the foundation of all our relationships, not just at the office.  Maybe your next leadership coaching session involves scissors and a smock.

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Partnering For Success September 4, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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I do more than my fair share of beating up vendors for poor sales practices (to whit: regarding honesty, inappropriate emails, and unsolicited appointments).  It is only fair, then, to highlight a really good thing that happened recently with a few of my key vendors.

I like to meet with vendors on a quarterly basis.  We split the meeting in half, discussing everything new in their world, and then everything new in mine.  The idea is to keep everyone up-to-date and see what, if any, opportunities have arisen since our last meeting.  Sometimes actions arise out of the meeting, and sometimes we jsut agree to see each other in three months.  Either way, this method seems to work well in maintaining an appropriate relationship.

Recently, my VAR (Value Added Reseller) threw me a curve ball.  What if, they suggested, we brought three vendors in at once, and had a joint meeting? Each vendor would talk about their areas, of course, but we could also explore overlaps and potential synergies between the vendors as well.

Well.  I had never tried this before, and for the most part, neither had they.  So we decided to give it a try.  The vendors arrived, prepared to present using a pre-determined agenda.  My team attended, anxious to see what they had to say.

It was great! As each vendor got up to speak, we started deep conversations about their technology as it related to the other vendors.  In some cases, we jointly explored how this stuff might all work together.  In others, vendors had to address conflicts and points of competition with respect to their peers.

My team learned a lot more in this one session than we would have from three individual meetings.  I think the vendors got a better feel for how my group assesses technology as a whole, pulling from various vendors to create our solutions.  Best of all, we had substantive conversations that went well beyond traditional vendor presentations.

I applaud the salespeople that agreed to present within this structure.  They went out on a limb to take care of their customer, and we really appreciated it.  It would have been easy to pass on the opportunity, but they stepped up and did something a little out of the ordinary.  I also appreciate the efforts of my VAR who worked to arrange and coordinate the meeting.  That “V” stands for “value,” and they clearly brought it to us that day.

I could write dozens of “bad salesman” posts for this blog. That’s not fair to the many good salespeople out there who never get a mention. This time, I offer a heart-felt “thank you” to all those salespeople who work so hard to creatively serve their customers.  What’s the most creative thing you’ve had a salesperson do for you?  Share it so we can all appreciate what good salespeople do.

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Not Now. Or Ever. July 31, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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I have been known to rant a bit on what I perceive to be annoying sales practices.  Just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone comes up with yet another way to completely irritate a potential customer.  The latest trick is the “presumptive appointment.”

With the universal adoption of calendaring systems, most everyone has grown accustomed to receiving appointment invitations via email.  While such appointments are very common within an organization, they’ve generally not expanded beyond organizations.  Recently, however, people have been sending more invitations to people outside of their email domain, which is generally useful and makes scheduling a meeting a little easier.

That’s where the annoying salespeople come in.  Lately I’ve gotten meeting requests from salespeople for meetings I did not agree to attend.  In the body of the message, they do not ask for my time; rather, they ask me to supply a different time if their proposed time is not convenient.  The real question, whether I want to meet with them, is ignored.

This is like someone showing up at your house, unannounced, looking for dinner.  When you awkwardly try to refuse their request, they innocently ask, “Oh, is this not a good time to have dinner?  When would be better for you?” Well, how about “never?”

A responsible salesperson goes about this in a different way. After a productive introductory conversation, he or she might ask if a follow-up meeting is in order.  If I agree, we then compare calendars and find a mutually convenient time.  To close out that negotiation, I’ll ask them to send a meeting request to confirm the appointment.  The calendar entry represents the result of our negotiation, not the starting point.

I am constantly amazed at how rude a small subset of salespeople can be.  All the hardworking, polite salespeople that go about things in the right way should beat these ignorant few with a stick. Are there large groups of people that accept these invitations without prior discussion?  If so, stop!  Like the insane people that respond to spam email, you are only encouraging more bad behavior.  We’re all suffering as a result.

Bad Salesman! April 15, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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I get a lot of cold sales calls.  I can only take a few, and most get either redirected or ignored.  I know that sounds harsh, but that is the reality. My people get a lot of sales calls.  They can only take a few, and most get ignored.  I know that sounds harsh, but that is the reality.

If you are a salesperson, and you are cold-calling me or my team, and we do not return your call, you have your answer.  That may not be the most polite way of conveying the answer, but please, move on.  We’re busy and you’re busy.  Spend your time with a more lucrative customer.

I have tremendous respect for salespeople and how hard their job is.  I really appreciate the great salespeople that partner with me and make me successful.  I get really frustrated when a bad salesperson makes the rest of them look bad.  Like the other day, for example.

Out of the blue, I get blind-copied on an email sent to my systems manager from some salesperson.  In it, the salesperson is complaining about how my manager won’t make time for him, and how we could be saving so much money if only he would return the salesperson’s call.  The inference, of course, is that my manager is negligent and that I need to step in and do something about it.

In reality, I am pleased to see that my manager has been ignoring an incompetent salesperson.  He scores brownie points, and the salesperson (and their company) is banished from consideration by me for the rest of my career.

What kind of salesperson actually believes that this is an effective sales technique?  Are they sitting back in their office, confident that this will break things loose on our end and result in a big sale?  If so, they are sadly mistaken.  When faced with a choice between some anonymous outside party and a member of my hardworking team, who do they think I am going to pick?

What kind of leader would take action based on this email?  Clearly, someone must have at some point, to give all these bad salespeople some hope that this tactic would work.  Let’s put it this way: those leaders are not making smart choices.  Imagine how demoralizing it is for an employee to be taken to task by his boss based on an anonymous outside comment by a salesperson!

Salespeople who resort to this kind of tactic give all the good salespeople a bad name.  Leaders who respond to it make the rest of the leaders look bad as well.  Let all make good choices, no matter which side of the sales process you are on.