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Consulting Lessons In Sales – Empowering the Champion

There are many subtle lessons I didn’t recognize from consulting that have been hugely valuable since building startups, especially in the role of sales. One of those lessons is (two-part) the role of the champion and empowering the champion to overcome internal hurdles.
I remember a project I was working on many, many years ago. We had just done a tremendous amount of work after developing models and recommendations on the client’s technology stack. We also helped the company choose a large transportation management system (TMS). We delivered our recommendations and findings to the company’s C-suite. We completed our 3-hour discussion, and yet, were only able to get through half our recommendations. As a consultant only a few months in, I thought things went well other than missing half the slides. Our internal debrief, however, highlighted how our team had missed the mark. Our recommendations focused too much on the TMS and did not deliver on IT infrastructure improvements we neede…

Growth-Oriented or Lifestyle-Oriented Entrepreneurship – It Begins with Why

I was talking to a mentee this weekend, and he made reference to the lifestyle entrepreneur vs. the growth entrepreneur. He believes he’s a growth-type of entrepreneur, or at least, he’s growth-oriented. This led to friction when he was working with a friend who was more lifestyle-oriented. He pointed out how the business could have done more. He came into his friend’s company with suggestions on where and how to grow. The business owner, however, was less than interested. They eventually went separate ways.
There’s an important realization here– we have different aspirations. As much as everyone wants wealth, we should recognize that wealth comes in many forms. To that, folks have varying views on what their purpose and drives are. Where do they want to go? Why?
Yes, lots of folks these days look at successful entrepreneurship as billion-dollar exits. That’s extremely, extremely rare. Getting to millions in revenue is difficult. It requires lots of work to build a sustainable busine…

What Now Before Then?

I chuckle to myself at the irony when I see gym-goers drive their cars up and down aisles in the parking lot. They’re looking to win the lottery to be as close as possible to the doors. Though, travel two aisles over and there are spots aplenty. Getting fit seems to start only through gym doors, but not leading up to them.
I love the gym because it’s a setting where you see the gamut of those who work hard, those who go just to go, those who make excuses about not having time, etc. There’s a lot to absorb at the gym, and lots of great lessons from observation.
When it comes to achieving greater goals, consistency is absolutely key – true for building a startup and true for being fit. Few transactional decisions and actions achieve long-term objectives. Worthwhile objectives are achieved through journeys. It’s this very reason that time management, then, becomes the tactical execution of consistency – to balance priorities.
 But if we stop for a moment and think about Day 0, Day 1, …

Context Shows the Value Beneath the Counter-Intuitive Surface

I was shared a lesson about context through a story of the fabled NASA rockets that helped NASA reach space, orbit the earth, and reach the moon.
Paraphrasing, the rockets evolved a great deal, especially captured in their sizes with the Saturn rocket (took the astronauts to the moon) greater than 35 stories tall. The earlier iterations propelled the rockets only so far. To reach the moon, the rockets had to be bigger. Common wisdom would suggest that bigger rockets added heft. Heft is counter to the goal of going farther and faster. Except, size hid the real need for “bigger” – more fuel.
Greater context can reveal the real value of an investment. What looks on the surface to be counter-intuitive can actually be a catalyst for a desired outcome.
A few examples where this plays out: Instead of working, taking an hour off. That one hour may seem counter to the need for greater productivity. However, context of that hour may reveal an hour of exercise which has shown time and time aga…

The Silent Benefits of Working in a Startup Co-Working Space

It’s been about a year and half of working in Atlanta Tech Village (ATV), and being in the office full-time. There are a lot of advantages touted about when working in a co-working space/ startup hub. Being one of the largest spaces of its kind, ATV boasts some great strengths including: Fantastic facilities with the latest tech gear (this is Atlanta TECH Village, of course)Energy from 300 startups, >1,000 people buzzing aboutNetworking opportunities with companies in similar stages as well as a bevy of individuals who have “been there, done that”
I had been in and out of ATV before joining SalesWise, so I was well-aware of many of the benefits. Prior to then, I worked out of Starbucks quite often, and camped out at other offices of companies I knew. But as I said, 18 months working full-time at ATV has taught a few things I didn’t consider before… A sense of normalcy amid fast pivots and new “tests”. Though many elements of an early-stage company change (sometimes on a weekly basis…

Management Keys and Recommended Reading

There’s something in the water because I’ve run into several instances in the last week where people have become new managers. I’ve managed folks in many different capacities over the years including soccer teams/ organizations to consulting project teams and to direct management like today.
There’s an art and science to management of people, and as I think back to those who have managed me (or do still), the key ingredients include authenticity, trust, and goals/ challenges.
Here are some thoughts on management and accompanying books I recommend: Maximize total motivation (TOMO) by implementing the Play, Purpose, and Potential motives while mitigating Emotional, Economic, and Inertia motives. (Check out Primed to Perform.)Understand the role of culture as the “invisible hand”. Build a culture that enables emergent opportunities while mitigating “slippery slopes”. (Check out How Will You Measure Your Life.)Managing a team requires a leader to effectively communicate, trust, and deleg…

Taking a Look at Bezos’ Letter to Shareholders

Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon, recently published his letter to Amazon shareholders. It’s a good, inspiring read into Bezos’ vision for Amazon, and how he pushes the company to constantly stay ahead of its competitors. Here are a few key tenets: “Day 1”. Bezos opens the letter describing why he constantly focuses on Day 1 – customer obsession, eager adoption of external trends, etc. Beyond Day 1 is Day 2, “stasis” which leads to irrelevance and then decline and death. He focuses every day on Day 1.“True Customer Obsession” is at the heart of Day 1. Bezos claims every customer, no matter how much s/he says is happy, is dissatisfied. Customers always want more, better – even if s/he doesn’t know it. For Bezos, he pushes Amazon to always innovate on behalf of the customer.As part of true customer obsession is the notion of getting to the true crux of how customers feel about a product or service – “resist ‘proxies’” like surveys.“Embrace External Trends”. In this case, Bezos is referring to rea…

Book Review: Primed to Perform

In late October at the Sales Force Productivity Conference, I kept hearing whispers about a great speaker that I didn’t get a chance to hear – Lindsay McGregor. She talked about culture and what motivated employees. She also co-authored a book about high performing teams. This has always been interesting to me, so I sought out Lindsay to talk to her about her talk. I ended up running into her several times. When I told her all her books at the conference were sold out, she happily told me to send her an email, and she’d send a signed copy.
Well, I got the book in November – Primed to Perform – that she cowrote with Neel Doshi. After reading the book, it’s one of my favorites! I finished it a while ago, but I wanted the material to sit a little while longer before writing a review of it. Yes, it was that good.
McGregor and Doshi studied hundreds of companies and other studies about high-performing companies to find the key factors of what drove their successes – developing the Total …

Menu Options for Sales

In sales, you don’t always get the inbound lead who tells you exactly what their problem is. Even more uncommon is when your prospect just tells you how your solution can solve for said problem. Especially when prospecting, it matters to help a lead think about a problem you solve. In this way, menu options are a great way to do this.
Menu options are the value levers or benefits your product/ service can enable for prospects. A menu can uncover what a prospect truly cares about while tying directly to your product or service. Think, first, of three menu options. Tie each with a story/ path so you can demonstrate how your product or service meets each option.
The menu options for a prospect considering Airbnb may include: Experience an authentic experience in thousands of cities. (Experience value.)Explore a new destination by living with locals. (Experience and social values.)Save on lodging with hundreds of unique options. (Economic value.) For early-stage companies with few cust…

The “New Normal”

Atlanta is notorious for stress-inducing traffic, and it’s going to be even worse since one of the busiest roads collapsed on March 30th due to a fire.
Collapses (read: “failures”) have their way of teaching us. So, I want to take a moment to share a few reactions from this debacle. Enabling New Day-to-Day Experiences Atlanta’s traffic is well known, but to be honest, traffic is on par with other major cities. The difference is perhaps volume due to our limited public transportation options. (And poor take-rate for the options that do exist.)
This new challenge will motivate many daily commuters to try travel alternatives. The key here is how this will affect the day-to-day. By integrating public transportation into the daily lives of so many for an extended period, commuters can more accurately reflect on how public transportation can affect their lives.
Too often, in the past, public transportation services like MARTA have discounted transportation for special events. Commuters f…

Questions to Ask (and Answer) for Customer Case Studies

Continuing from last week’s 7 Tips for Customer Case Studies, here are some questions to think about asking (and answering). What does [Customer Name] do?What is your role?What was the challenge(s) you were trying to solve with [Product/ Service]?Why didn't existing solutions work for you?When you first used [Product/ Service], what was that initial impression?What are the results [Product/ Service] has been able to deliver for you? Your team?Was there another benefit [Product/ Service] enabled that you weren't expecting?Why would you recommend us to someone else? The goal of the case study is to, obviously, highlight your product or service. You also want to highlight the success and significance of the customer. This adds credibility to the customer, which gives you credibility.

7 Tips for Making Customer Case Studies and Testimonials Awesome

Sell, sell, sell. That’s what you’re going to do, and that’s what you’ll aim to do. But, your prospect will need more assurances. They need to know they’re not the only buyer. They need proof. Enter testimonials and case studies. “Nobody gets fired for choosing IBM.” Ever heard that before? The notion speaks to risk mitigation for the buyer. The subtle message: IBM is a reputable company with thousands of customers. As a buyer of IBM’s products or services, if it doesn’t work, surely it wasn’t because you chose a bad partner. (Versus choosing a riskier partner.)
Testimonials mitigate risk with social and professional proof – who they are, why they chose you, and what were benefits have they achieved.
Here are 7 keys to be mindful of when creating case studies and testimonials: Who is the case study coming from? Who is the buyer (person) and company? You want this person to be reflective of your target persona(s).90% about the customer’s experience and how you enabled them.Pain-Solutio…

Lessons from Soccer and Recent Mistakes

I recently recalled one of my most vulnerable experiences. (You can find a cut at the story here, too.) In this case, it was how I was cut from the varsity soccer team both my junior and senior years. I shared the story to illustrate the lessons I’ve learned through soccer.
As I reflected on this experience again and while meeting with a young entrepreneur recently, I recalled the following lessons from soccer: You’re only as good as your last game. This is actually not true, but it sets up for some great motivation for your next game.You will make mistakes during games. However, the game keeps going. You need to, too.You and everyone else will be caught up in the game. Realize that what happens on the field can affect what happens off it. Realize when mistakes and emotions occur. Realize there’s a season full of games. Realize there are years of seasons. I’ve thought about these a lot recently and the need for authenticity and vulnerability. In this way, a couple mistakes that have …

Understanding the Four Buying Modalities for Conversion

Angus Lynch of CrazyEgg.com posted an article about buying modalities titled, “35% of Web Visitors Are ‘Spontaneous’ Buyers. Are You Alienating Them?”. He describes the four buying modalities: Competitive (5-10% of web visitors) – buyer makes smart, quick decisions. These buyers are all about speed and quality to gain an advantage. They want to be the best… oftentimes, the first (advantage).Methodical (45%) – buyers are very logic-oriented. They want to understand everything about buying a product or service including advantages and disadvantages of competitive options.Humanistic (10-15%) – buyers believe in emotional/ altruistic purchases. They are looking for validation among consensuses.Spontaneous (25-35%) – these buyers make purchase decisions based on feelings and gut. That is, they make quick decisions.
The four buying modalities help to understand the type of prospect you are engaged with, and what their preferred buying process looks like. Lynch’s article touches, specificall…

Customer Dysfunction and Its Effects In Today’s Sales

I read an interesting article on LinkedIn the other day titled, “The New Normal in Sales: Customer Dysfunction” by Nick Toman, a sales effectiveness professional. The gist is buying processes are increasing at an alarming rate, and it is the dysfunction at the customer that drives this and “poor” sales outcomes.
I thought about this for a while, and related it to my post, “We Appreciate Everyone Except Our Vendors, and It’s Killing Sales”. Toman’s article provides a perspective at the customer and the ailments killing sales.
A few take-aways from Toman’s article that I’ve noticed over the last year in modern B2B sales: 2.5 years ago, the buyer group consisted of 5.4 stakeholders. Today, that number is 6.8 from 3.4 different functional areas. When you add heads into the buying process, there’s an expectation of a need to get consensus which, ironically, is the result of indecision due to more heads.Customers citing high amounts of dysfunction are 60% less likely to make an ambitious …

12 Years Later, My Lessons from Being an Intern at a Big Corp

As my journey through consulting, post-grad education, entrepreneurship, and startup leadership continues, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for my co-op experiences at a big corp more than 12 years ago.
Especially now as I’m recruiting, oftentimes, less experienced candidates than in my past, I’m realizing the value of spending more time at a big corporation.
At Georgia Tech, I was a co-op for four semesters at a major 3rd-party logistics provider in Atlanta. I remember falling asleep at my desk more than a few times that first semester. It wasn’t the most exciting as I was the spreadsheet analyst at first. Over the semesters, my projects became more complex, and I earned my stripes with my own special projects.
It was some of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and laid the foundation for things to come. Here are some lessons now looking back at what I’ve learned. Politics – Implementing changes at a big company is like steering a massive ship – it takes time, and a lot of effort.…

De-Risk for Investments

I was talking to a Producer and Director recently who is starting out his business. He’s got his business set up, and is seeking investors for a film. He’s got the script. He’s ready to go. Except, the investors want him to slow down. The investors wanted to “de-risk” the investment. New to being an entrepreneur, the Producer shared the nuances he wasn’t quite prepared for. Expected Returns – SaaStr states that a 10% return on the total venture capital (VC) fund is good while aiming to earn its total VC fund in profits is the goal. Understand what the goals of the investor(s) are, and have the model to illustrate goals can be met with even conservative achievement.Legal Collateral – The Producer was shocked to learn how much he had to spend to validate the authenticity and originality of the script. Investors are looking at legal terms and insurance to not only cover risks of copyright infringement, but also the leveragability for greater valuation.Long-Term Strategy – Are you a one-h…

What to blog, or what not to blog? That is the question.

I recently received a question from an entrepreneur about how to start blogging. He saw me posting last week at a conference, and shared how he’s always wanted to write. However, he wasn’t sure how. One of the questions he asked was about blogging at a “personal” level or at the “company” level. I’m interpreting this as if he should blog on the company website about company interests, or on a personal blog about personal things (company interests, too).
As always, I’d say, “it depends.” Though, he added that his goal was for his company to succeed – “whatever leads that way would be great”.
Knowing he’s new to blogging and has a direct motive to help the company, he should write on his company’s blog about his company’s interests for a couple reasons. First, it’s clear he wants to grow the company’s presence and brand first. Given he’s the CEO, his personal brand will be tied to the company at this stage anyways.
Second, starting out blogging is simple. The difficulty is being consis…

Book Review: A Message to Garcia

I recently finished Elbert Hubbard’s A Message to Garcia. It’s a quick 30-minute read.
The book praises the result of a man named Rowan who was tasked by President McKinley to deliver a message to… well, a man named Garcia. This story occurs during the U.S.-Spain war in the late 1800s. Obviously, there was no cell phone, no email, or other rapid way to reach Garcia. In fact, Garcia was, at the time, buried in the forests of Cuba.
Rowan was tasked to deliver this message with no other instruction or details as to Garcia’s whereabouts or how to communicate with him. It was a simple need. Rowan had anything but a simple task. However, he dutifully took McKinley’s message, and delivered to Garcia.
This mini-book has been printed millions of times over, and has been used in business, in the military, everywhere. It’s message is clear – with no other instruction, does a mission get accomplished. There were no other details, and Rowan set out to accomplish said mission. There were no ifs,…

My 5 Recommendations to Build Your Website

Being a blogger (of many blogs), it makes sense many new and want-to-be bloggers reach out to me for advice. I’ve even recently launched another blog for another passion project. I've also helped at least a dozen start up sites. With each iteration, I’ve found my go-to recommendations on what to use.
If you’re looking to start a website or a blog, these are my recommendations. Buying a domain – GoDaddy or Namecheap. Both are very simple. Go Daddy can offer as low as $2.99 for the first year of owning the domain with a 2-year commitment. The second and following years go up to $14.99. You can find domains on Namecheap for $10.69 annual (first, second, so forth).Website builder/ content management system (CMS) – Wordpress. This blog (as of 03/09/17) is built with Blogger. It was real quick to get up and running several years ago when I started. However, Blogger lacks the power of flexibility and a strong theme ecosystem to customize like Wordpress. The themes make your site stand o…

We Appreciate Everyone Except Our Vendors, and It’s Killing Sales

Customers. We love our customers. They’re the best. They help us do the great things we want to do. We love our customers. Team members. We love our team members. We wouldn’t be “we” if we didn’t have the team. We wouldn’t be able to execute and flourish without the right team members. We love our team members. Shareholders. We love our shareholders. We appreciate their guidance and commitment so that we can execute on our grand vision. We love our shareholders. That’s covers it, right? I hear it so often from leaders these three constituents. We care about and tend to these groups of people. Maybe we sprinkle in there the community we’re in, too. Okay. But are we missing another group who help us get from scrappy to growth to the Dream? I think so, and they’re our vendors.
Take a pause for a second to think about your vendors. Why are we not thanking them? Maybe because we see our vendors as websites and applications. Working in a SaaS high-tech company, it’s easy to think of our ve…

Always Be Cl—No, Please Don’t

As a sales guy and an entrepreneur and loving what I do, it’s hard to contain my excitement when talking to others about what I’m up to. Couple that with the day-to-day role of selling and serving customers, it can be quite a lot of listening and talking and finding opportunities to… well, sell. But damn, that’s tiring, and I must be cognizant to not do this all the time.
Alex Baldwin is famously quoted among sales professionals for his role in Glengarry Glen Ross as a sales motivator – “A-B-C. A-always, B-be, C-closing. Always be closing! Always be closing!!”
I’ve got a few conferences and events coming up. I’m both looking forward to them and weary of them. These are sales conferences. As much as I’m there to learn and to, yes, sell, I’ll also run across many who will only want to meet if they, too, can sell. That’s fair.
But at some point, I’ll start wondering if we’re networking and connecting as individuals, or if we’re only connecting to sell to one another. Should I care? Sho…

Conscious Decisions – Realizing the Opportunity Costs of What You Address Now

I’ve been thinking of these two concepts intersecting today about what we choose to do – Be conscious of what is not getting done“If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” – John Wooden Both of these touch on the economic principal of opportunity cost.

Especially in a startup with limited resources, opportunity cost is a big deal. On one hand, you can deliver an MVP or hack something together to test knowing full well that if it works, you’ll have to do it over.
The question comes to the question of value. What can you do now that perhaps is not scalable, but becomes a great problem to have later? What “best practices” can you stiff arm so you can focus driving max value areas? Should you focus on retention more than new sales now?
Realize the resources you have. Realize how you can deploy these resources in the most value-driving ways now. Be cognizant of what you’re consciously not delivering now. Realize what’s in store to (re-)address lat…

5 Common Excuses that Fail to Realize the Real Problem

Common excuses and expressions that fail to realize and address the real problem: “I’m waiting for the right opportunity.” Except, upon digging further, they’re really looking for the “perfect” opportunity. Problem is that there’s rarely any perfect opportunity. We strive for improving and crave being better. That’s incongruent with seeking perfection because by definition, perfection cannot be improved. Instead, realize how imperfect makes perfect.“I’m not flexible enough!” most people tell me when I recommend yoga as a supplemental exercise. That’s silly. You can develop that flexibility through yoga. Too often I hear excuses like this for things like starting a company and starting a blog because “I’m not a writer!” If you start writing a blog, you’re a blogger. You’re a writer. You have to start somewhere.“I don’t have time.” No, no, you’re not making time. You always make time for the things and people who matter like that big interview coming up, or the pipe that burst in the wa…

Sales Relationship Continuity

From Common Roles in a Startup, I mention an excerpt from Predictable Revenue, specifically the batons (“processes”) that crosses functions. To keep our teams aligned and to ensure the best service and delivery for our customers, our teams overlap during the sales process.
Here’s how this might look: Business Development Rep (BDR) à Account Exec (AE) – the BDR ensures the prospect is sales qualified and ensures the demo with the AE is performed.AE à Onboarding – the AE works hand-in-hand with the onboarding team on who and what is needed to launch a pilot. This starts when the AE has received verbal confirmation of a pilot.AE à Customer Success (CS) – the AE involves the CS upon verbal agreement of a buy decision. CS now has the who, the pain points, the pricing needs, and other educational aspects of the deal. Each prospect and customer is hard-earned, and so it’s crucial each transition point is seamless for the customer while enabling better engagement from the internal teams. Some…

Marketing vs. Sales Qualification

Want to continue from the revenue-theme from Tuesday – Common Revenue Roles – and quickly look at the differences and the importance of two types of leads – marketing qualified and sales qualified leads. Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) – these are prospects have been vetted to be the right type of person to engage with. Commonly, these leads could have taken some action like filled out a gated content form that has effectively identified this lead as someone to engage with.Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) – these are prospects that are typically engaged by the BDR or SDR, and who are viable opportunities.
It’s important to understand the differences between these two to effectively engage and sell. If leads are not vetted from an MQL perspective, SDRs can be wasting a lot of effort speaking with leads who either will not buy for many months down the line, or worse, never buy.
Market-qualifying leads includes verifying the lead fits the target market for the product or service. For SalesWise…

Common Revenue Roles at a Startup

“Pay special attention to “batons” that cross functions. Whenever a process crosses teams (Marketing handing leads to Sales, or Sales passing new clients to professional services, etc.), a “baton” is passed. These handoffs are the cause of 80% of the problems and defects in your processes. Redesign how the batons are passed to ensure they are passed smoothly and aren’t dropped.” Aaron Ross, Author, Predictable Revenue As we continue to scale at SalesWise, it’s important to pay very special attention to our sales process, and the many different hands involved in sales. Especially as I’m hiring in both sales and marketing, it’s important for candidates and existing team members to understand the flow.
Here are the roles for us throughout the revenue-side of the business: Marketing – Can go into many facets here. Specifically, the different ops sides of marketing, but from the beginning, it’s likely marketing is involved to serve up leads for sales to then engage on. (More on these later…

Losing a Sale Due to A Non-Competitive Comparison

Losing a deal sucks. I won’t paint a prettier picture or use more eloquent words. It just sucks. You’ll lose deals as a sales guy. You may lose a lot of deals over the years. However, there are some opportunities that sting more than others.
This happened to me recently when a prospect decided not to move forward with a pilot. The prospect cited an infrastructure and a missing feature issue. The infrastructure was actually the nail in the coffin, and was an internal issue. Not much can be done. However, I was also thinking about the feature issue. Though this wasn’t the real concern, it made me think because we’re selling a new product and building a nascent category. In this way, we can get compared to existing solutions that are similar-ish, but actually very different.
When it comes to buying, prospects want comparisons. Comparisons help understand solutions and offerings. Think about how often people say, “it’s the Uber of X” or “it’s the Facebook for Y”. They can be completely d…

Finance of Startups: For Dummies (Part 13 – Snap Inc. S-1)

Last week, Snap Inc. (company behind the Snapchat app) filed their S-1 for an initial public offering (IPO). I haven’t done a Finance for Dummies post in a while, and Snapchat’s an interesting company to look at.
I remember a couple years ago when there was a rumor of a $4B acquisition offer from Google ($3B from Facebook). Was wondering if the company would try to be acquired, or go for an IPO. Looks like I have my answer.
Let’s take a look at what’s in the registration statement… The company defines itself from the get-go as a camera company. They cite the camera as the greatest opportunity to improve how people live and communicate.Snapchat started life as Picabook around mid-2011, and later renamed as Snapchat. Months later, they hit 1K daily active users (DAU). (Still before 2012.) They hit 1M DAUs before 2013. 100M DAUs 2015.Snapchat’s first ad was for the film Ouija in 2014.Snapchat averages 158M DAUs today generating over 2.5B Snaps a day. (Snap = short videos and images sent…