I recently bought some 1400-thread count bedsheets. I never knew there was even such a thing. I was, however, in the market for bedsheets for a while now. So, when a salesperson approached me in a big box wholesaler, I happily picked up a set.
I remember a lot about the interaction, and remember how the salesperson used an “assumptive” closing technique. I remember, also, being perturbed by it. However, I was in the market for bedsheets, so picked up the set anyways.
The interaction went something like this:

I’m walking with my brother with a cartful of things. We’re nearing the checkout lines when a woman approaches us.

The woman talks about these ultra-soft bedsheets she’s got. I happily listen while my brother continues to the registers.

Woman places a set of bedsheets in my hands. “These are 1400-tc sheets, so you can feel they’re incredibly soft”. (Okay, I’m paraphrasing.)

Me: “Yeah, they are.”

Woman: “These sheets also have a warranty of 3 years!”

Me: “Okay, great.”

Woman: “They come in these three colors. What color would you like?” She walks over to her stash of sheets, looks at me while extending her arms like she’s reaching for whatever color I say.

Me: “I think the beige works fine, but…”

Woman: “Oh, we also have a special with {{Big Box Wholesaler Name}} where you get a second set free. Do you want beige for the second set, too?”  

At this point, I’m thinking, “well, heck, if I’m already wanting new sheets, I might as well ask if my brother and his wife want new sheets.” 

I respond to the woman, “Not sure. Let me ask my brother’s wife,” as I pull her in. The sale was pretty much wrapped up here.

I just so happened to be in the market for bedsheets, but had been lazy to go shopping before. Otherwise, I found the salesperson’s tactic of handing me a set and walking away to get a second set annoying.
This is an example of assumptive closing. The salesperson is assuming the sale is made and is just putting the final touches on the sale – color selection. She started by showing off features of the sheets including thread count, colors, and warranty before getting to closing.
This is also an example of a simple, transactional sale where I knew what I wanted, and didn’t care about the annoyance of the sales tactic. Here, I realized that I was just buying bedsheets. I wouldn’t have to interact with the salesperson ever again. The product was the most important piece to this interaction, not the relationship. As such, making a quick buy was a simple choice. 

All the brainstorming and hypotheses about a new product or feature mean nothing until it’s in the hands of users (customers). They’re all ideas, but ideas don’t build great companies – execution does.
I catch myself being quiet in a lot of brainstorming sessions for new products and features. I start out hot speaking based on whatever thoughts I have before quickly going into silent mode. I’ll speak up when something is so counter to what I believe, but otherwise, I find myself quiet.
I’ve noticed this a lot, but was never sure why my default mode is quiet, absorbing. I always thought I just had to think more to myself until I read this passage from SPIN Selling.

“I remember going to a product launch in Acapulco some years ago. The event was splendiferous. Big names from the entertainment world had been hired at unbelievable cost, and the place swarmed with public relations people, media specialists, communications consultants, and a variety of similarly expensive people. The salespeople, eagerly awaiting the great event, filed into the main hall to hear one of the most spectacular and costly Feature dumps of the decade. I was depressed at the enormous expense my client had gone to in order to make the sales force communicate the new product ineffectively, so I decided to wait outside until all the fuss and spectacle subsided. As I sat by the pool, I noticed two other people who had slipped out of the same presentation. Talking with them, I found that they were both very experienced high performers. ‘It’s just another product,’ said one. ‘When the fuss dies down, I’ll go back in and figure out which customers need it.’” (Rackham, Neil. SPIN Selling. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988)

It clicked for me that I’m quietly deliberating how this would be valuable in the hands of customers. I’m close to prospects and customers, oftentimes, so I’ll start out sharing what I know. I then go quiet to think and absorb because, for the most part, new products and features must be put in the hands of those who will use it. Till then, I won’t know for sure. Focus groups and interviews only go so far, and require real usage to test real-world value.
Consider that for a moment. How do you speak of new products and features today? For yourself? For your customers?
I’ve had a couple wantrepreneurs ask me recently what administrative tools to use – email, website, CRM, etc. to which I’m happy to help with. However, those are all moot points compared to the most important question of all – How can you build a business around the product or service?
Of course, I’m speaking broadly when I say “how can you”, “build a business”, “around the product or service”. I break up the question this way to capture the most important facets of starting a company –
  • “How can you…” – the entrepreneur (or team) referred here. This includes experience, skills, network, and emotional capacities of the entrepreneur or the co-founding team. The “how” touches, too, on the execution.
  • “…build a business…” – is there is a sizeable market? Is there a trajectory for success? Are there competitors? Are there other pieces required to build and sustain a business?
  • “…around the product or service” – this one is pretty self-explanatory – do you have a product, or are you still building it? Do you have an MVP? This also includes patentable/ defensible facets. Let me point out the word “around,” too, because it’s likely the product/ service will pivot. The core of any product/ service is critical here with flexibility on how that core delivers value.
  • “How can you build a business around the product or service?” – Successful ventures require the ability to bring it all together –execution (“how”). Each facet is powerful on its own, but rarely enough to build something meaningful and sustaining.
In the words of Metallica, “Nothing Else Matters”. There are plenty of general administrative tools that if you’re successful, can be changed and employed. It all starts with the simple question.
I’m reading a couple books right now including: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie  and SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. SPIN has been a big focus in my day-to-day at SalesWise. However, Dale’s composition is arguably the focus of every day life.
This weekend led to a perfect opportunity to employ one of the lessons from How to Win Friends from Chapter 3 – “Be empathetic”. What could have started out as a formal complaint or accusation, instead, turned into a moment of empathy and understanding.
The situation: I was at an apartment complex when two women were talking to one another while looking visibly curious and annoyed at an apartment balcony. It turns out that they were looking at the balcony because water was being poured intermittently from the top door to the two balconies below. The two women happened to live on floors directly below.
The women mentioned the water was landing on their balconies and it smelled terrible. We started hypothesizing what was happening including a flood, a nuisance neighbor, etc. At first, there was talk to go straight to the leasing office to lodge a complaint. However, we finally discussed walking up to the neighbor and ask if everything was alright. I accompanied the women in case there were any problems.
As we approached the neighbor’s door, one of the women still seemed perturbed while the other was coming from a place of empathy. After explaining to the man what was happening, the man apologized and explained how he was trying to clean and dilute his pet’s sickness. He was sympathetic and offered to clean the two women’s balconies. He was remorseful, and was tired explaining how his whole weekend had been spent cleaning. However, the dog was starting to feel better, so the situation would not continue too much longer.
The women felt more relieved to know that everything was temporary and empathized with the man’s predicament. In fact, the women who was the more annoyed early on had her own dog with her, so she understood the problem even better.  Everyone left the discussion with better understanding, feeling heard, and no doubt they will all be better neighbors from this.
It’s easy to jump to conclusions and accuse a neighbor of being rude and ignorant. However, approaching the situation with this perspective can create enemies. It’s far better, far more productive to approach from a place of curiosity and empathy.
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 needed to hit home on for our champion, the Director of IT. The President and CFO moved forward with the TMS, but the rest of the scope where the Director wanted to achieve didn’t make the radar. As such, he never got budget to move forward with key initiatives.
In today’s B2B sales world, there are 7-8 folks involved in the buying process (Gartner). The role of the champion is as important as ever, and empowering the champion is critical. Empowering can come in the form of delivering a set of recommendations to the C-level suite, and to providing the champion with information and a ROI to gain buy-in internally.
In a complex sale, most of the selling does not involve a vendor’s sales professional. Instead, the real selling is done internally. It’s important to remember the role of the champion. Then, ensure the champion has as much ammunition as possible to power through his/ her agenda – hopefully, includes you. 
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 business.
Instead, many entrepreneurs may find happiness as lifestyle entrepreneurs – those looking to grow organically (if expansion is even a top priority) and one that maintains a small infrastructure. Here, the pressures of board members, high infrastructure costs, growing payroll, etc. are limited. Instead, lifestyle entrepreneurs are building a business that maintains a way of life. They want to achieve and maintain a level of living and business.
Most businesses in America are lifestyle – making up a large chunk of small businesses (those with 500 or less employees). In fact, small businesses also make up 99.7% of all U.S. firms. (SBA)
Also, the type of entrepreneur can shift depending on situation. I’ve watched many entrepreneurs shift from growth-oriented to lifestyle-oriented. There’s nothing wrong with being one way or another. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with notwanting to be an entrepreneur. In today’s age of glorifying entrepreneurship, there’s little recognition of the difficulties of entrepreneurship. This causes many to plunge into entrepreneurship ill-prepared and not recognizing their WHY and PURPOSE. Why are they interested in this direction?
When considering any venture, be it growth-oriented entrepreneurship, lifestyle oriented, or even a new job change with a big corporate, think more about WHY. How does this new focus align to the why?
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, Day n, we realize there are gaps between tasks. These gaps, then, are prime opportunities to lead us from each task to the next. If we were to fill these gaps, perhaps they help us achieve an objective faster, or perhaps these opportunistic gaps allow us to achieve greater results.

Opportunities that fill in the gaps can be learning a new skill from reading a book, meeting a sales savant, or maybe an opportunity to do more stretches in the gym.
Back to a gym example! The other day, I went to the gym when it opened – 5AM. However, the person opening the gym was late, so there was a quiet group gathering outside the gym. Folks were just standing there waiting and staring at their phones. Here, gym-goers are presented with an opportunity to take a few minutes and stretch. They could have spent the time outside getting ready for the time inside when the doors opened. Instead, people stood there doing nothing, and when they entered the gym, the started to stretch.
Realize the subtle opportunities we are all presented with in our day-to-day. What’s the objective? What are you trying to achieve? Where are the shortcuts that counter what we’re actually trying to do.
Before then, what can you do now?
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 again massive benefits mentally, emotionally, physically, etc.
  • Regular coaching of employees. Everyone’s working hard, right? There’s a lot to do and things seem to be working fine. Why coach or have periodic touch-points? Because there’s context happening that aren’t visible on the surface. Because being a B-player works, but being an A-player works better.
  • Slowing down a sale to learn more about the challenges a prospect faces. The more we close, the more money we make, right? Glengarry tells us to Always Be Closing. However, always aiming for the close can scare off prospects without understanding and value creation. It’s not just the one-time sale. It’s the consistent selling of a vendor-customer relationship. (Well, for complex sales anyways.)

It turns out we’re pretty smart, but we are also quick to jump to conclusions. What seems counter to a goal or objective can actually be a catalyst. All it takes is context for understanding.

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 about
  • Networking 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) it’s nice to have the grounded effect of having a place to call “home” – a desk, a chair, a place to eat, etc.
  • Feeling of inclusion. I’ve connected with other entrepreneurs, heads of sales, rising customer success teams, etc. It’s like a “Cheers” episode – people know your name, people know your business, people know the aches and pains and opportunities…
  • Just as easy to stay focused and disappear. There can be a lot going on at ATV at any given time. Case in point: Easter Eggs were hidden everywhere the Friday before Easter. However, it’s just as easy to come in, get sh!t done, and then leave, without ever interacting with another soul outside your company. The opportunities to stay isolated and to connect are equal. Take advantage of what you want.
  • The shiny features that everyone talks about are rarely used. All those ping pong tables, video game stations, beer on tap, etc., they’re rarely used. Recruits and passers-by admire and talk about these amenities. But once you’re getting down to brass tacks, the real work amenities (like kitchen, fast internet, whiteboards) are what you really care about.

Check out a co-working space near you. Coffee shops are great, but when you need a place that can be quiet, a regular place to call home, co-working spaces have your back.