What is your “why”? It’s a question I’ve blogged about numerous times; “purpose” included. It’s resonated to me from Simon Sinek’s Start with Why to Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi’s Primed to Perform. So when I started reading Blue Apron’s S-1 filingfor an IPO, their mission made me think to the why –

Blue Apron’s mission is to make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone. 

We believe that sharing home-cooked meals with our families and loved ones is an important way to demonstrate our values and affection. It is at our kitchen tables, over a meal, where we often celebrate our milestones, acknowledge our setbacks, and appreciate the comfort of each other’s company. Modern life has made this more difficult—many of us are too busy to grocery shop, lack the skills or confidence to cook, or cannot easily find the quality ingredients that make home cooking enjoyable.

I spent a few minutes thinking about “incredible home cooking” and accessibility wondering about its place as a purpose. Then, I recalled one of my old MBA professors who talked about “universal human truths” as the driving force behind company missions.
Real quick – from Nigel Hollis, EVP of Kantar Millward Brown, a global marketing agency, said this when trying to define universal human truth –

often heard in marketing in the context of global branding, where the accepted wisdom is that your brand’s positioning should be based on a motivation that transcends cultural boundaries. (Nigel, “What is a universal human truth?”)

I couldn’t place my finger on the validity of home cooking as a universal human truth. Perhaps an alteration to accessibility of healthy foods could’ve been more human truth oriented – being able to provide food to everyone, everywhere. After all, all humans must eat. Providing healthy options, then, would further that necessity to yield greater benefits.
Here are a few other mission statements. Do they align to a universal human truth?
  • Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  • Facebook (newly released, too!): “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
  • General Electric: “to usher in the next industrial era and to “build, move, power, and cure the world.”
  • Telsa: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

·        Apple: “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced iPad 2 which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices.”
Of course, companies do not need a universal human truth. It’s arguable that it’s also a marketing ploy. However, many companies are incepted not to just make money, but because there’s a deeper desire to solve some pain. Many companies aren’t even started to build behemoth companies. Instead, they start with a problem, and they are approached by entrepreneurs – some ideological, some profitable, some competitive, or some other reason.
If you were to build a company (or are building one now), is your mission aligned to a universal human truth? Do you care? Does it matter?
I admit I was struggling to find a topic for this blog post. I sat at my computer with writer’s block which is uncommon for me. So, what did I do? I left. I left, read, and went to a meditation class. Ironic, then that my head wanted to race during meditation. After this, I realized that meditation is a great subject to share with entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs. 
I’ve been attending group meditation classes for a couple years now, and I admit that I don’t always get to that meditative state. I probably only get there 20% of the time. (Okay – 10%.) Like today, I struggle to be mindful, stay focused on my breath, and meditate.
What I’ve realized and was appreciative of was the effort to sit there for an hour and try. I also appreciated the effort to sit there and think. I didn’t meditate, but I did hop on that mind-train and rode that for a good bit. That, in itself, can be a wonderful thing because I don’t take enough time to sit in peace and think.
Meditation is supposed to provide all sorts of benefits to which I can summarize: lower stress/ cortisol levels, practice mindfulness, develop patience, etc. Many entrepreneurs have practiced meditation to help cope with the stress and go-go-go life including Jeff Weiner (CEO, LinkedIn), Marc Benioff (CEO, Salesforce.com), Oprah Winfrey (a media mogul), etc.
The gist is to make time and effort for the things that matter. The benefits can be realized with diligent practice. Realize, too, the use of the word “practice” because that’s important. “Anything worth having never comes easy,” as Bob Kelso from Scrubs once said. Meditation is a constant practice. Though one practice (or many) may not achieve the goal, there’s the next practice.
One of the most important sales lessons I learned from my retail days when I was younger was the concept of options. Specifically, I was taught to offer no more than 3 options. As long as the options fit what the customer was looking for (or at least fit by some prioritization of features), 3 options drove customers to buy. Anymore and you risk of overwhelming customers.
Today, this is still true, too, in B2B sales. I’m using a similar offer of three options in everyday life, even. Though, in my current role, I am not offering three products. I am providing three options to get an advancement of a sale.
Curious about where this Rule of 3 came from, I did a little research and found a study between professors Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and Mark Lepper of Stanford University – “Why Choice is Demotivating”.
In the study, Iyengar and Lepper provided samples of 6 or 24 flavors of jams or chocolates to passers-by. With 24 flavors, 60% of people stopped to try the flavors, while only 30% stopped when shown 6 flavors. Clear winner for flavors, right? Not exactly.
When the researchers looked at who actually bought, only 3% of those provided the 24 flavors made a purchase compared to 30% who were shown 6 flavors. When you shake out the numbers, fewer choices drove more than 6 times the sales.
I’m not sure where 3 came from, however, providing options (and few of them) drives sales. Providing options provides confidence for the customer. It provides a sense that the sales professional knows the customer’s needs. Too many, then, overloads the psyche – we can only remember “3 data points” before degrading.
Remember when sell or getting commitments – provide options, but stick to fewer.
Given my recent finish of SPIN Selling, sales qualification/ discovery processes weigh heavy on my mind. So, it’s no surprise then, that when I run into a new acronym that I wonder what it’s about – and how it’s different.
Here are a few sales qualification acronyms:
  • BANT– this is a real popular one that was the foundation for many sales processes. It stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing.
  • ANUM– evolution from BANT and heavily promoted by InsideSales.com for years, this stands for Authority, Need, Urgency, and Money.
  • SPIN– this is more about the process rather than qualification criteria. However, this comes from Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling – Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need pay-off.
  • MEDDIC– this is a new one for me after hearing about this from a sales leader recently. This stands for Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identify pain point, and Champion. This one is more comprehensive than the others. It aims to understand the buyingprocess.

I’m sure there are hundreds more sales qualification processes and acronyms. The former two are all about qualifying opportunities. The latter two are more aligned to leading a prospect through the buying process/ understanding the buying process, especially in MEDDIC.

What are some sales strategies and acronyms you’ve used to advance sales? Which were not helpful, and why?
Yes, this is my 300thpost!
My very first post was back on May 3, 2012 – “To be an effective consultant”. Yes, back in the day, I started the blog as SC Ninja Skills (SC = Supply Chain). I remember it – I wrote the first post sitting in a hotel in L.A. I went there before starting my MBA program at Emory. I remember having this idea to start the blog a year or so before. However, I thought I needed more experience. What did I have to offer?
In that seemingly random moment in the hotel room, though, the question flipped: “why do I have to wait till I’m in my 40s to influence others? To teach? To be influential? Haven’t Fortune 500 companies been hiring my consulting firm or requesting MEas a subject matter expert? I do know a lot even in my short career so far!” This was a huge moment for me as I realized my own worth. Confidence just flowed from there.
I started my pivot in September 2012 towards startups and entrepreneurship. I was in the throws of building Body Boss, and was helping another entrepreneur launch his startup. The energy and action was exhilarating, so I took those experiences to fuel Entrepreneurial Ninja. In fact, I remember responding to a David Cummings post about part-timing a startup – “Bootstrappers, we don’t have it easy, but Magic Pens gives us hope!
It’s amazing reflecting on the journey from the beginning.

I’ve overcome a lot, and I’ve adapted perhaps even more. (Just like a startup!) I used to hate writing and reading till I shifted the context. And perhaps that’s the most important lesson from Post 1 to 300 – I’ve consistently approached my curiosity by shifting context and doing.

Looking forward to the next 100 and beyond.
Continuing my quest to read books and get more educated on all things sales, I wrapped up SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. I went through this book twice. First, to pick up the low-hanging fruit, and then a second go to better absorb.
SPIN is one of the preeminent B2B sales books. In fact, the book broke ground on the factors for successful complex sales vs. transactional. In fact, Rackham identified why many sales training methods at the time were ineffective –methods were well-suited for transactional sales, but fell short for complex sales. The book lay the ground work for other sales studies like The Challenger Sale.
My take-aways:
  • Transactional vs. complex sales… The book did a great job at identifying why many closing techniques worked for simple sales, but failed for complex sales. Two of the more important points here were how the product/ service held such a primary role in the buying process of transactional sales. However, complex sales were about risk mitigation and addressing specific buying criteria.
  • Successful B2B sales persons excelled in the discovery process of sales – identifying pain points, understanding the implications, and illustrating the pay-off of the product/ service they were selling. This can be broken down in to SPIN – situation, problem identification, implication of problems, and needs pay-off.
  • Most sales professionals can perform situational and problem identification questions. However, successful sales more closely related to implication question and need pay-off questions. Implication questions can be thought of “sad” questions (lead to some quantitative cost or pain). Need pay-off, however, is all about “happy” questions (lead to some positive outcome, i.e. “what type of lift would this provide your sales team?”).
  • Though the preliminaries of a call are important in establishing some baseline of rapport, the goal of the call is to get an advancementof the sale – “a commitment”. Rackham identifies every successful sale can be broken down into four parts – preliminaries, investigation, demonstrating capability, and obtaining commitment.
  • There’s a big difference between features, advantages, and benefits. Though, many times, advantages are misconstrued as benefits, they are different in how they address explicit pain points to a prospect. This is the primary difference as Rackham states – benefits address the customer. Advantages can be fact-based – a prospect will be able to do XX. A benefit is what a prospect would experience – YY outcome. It’s important to note that selling by features is a major selling mechanism for low-cost, simple products/ services.
  • The best sales professionals address potential objections early so they never become objections. In this way, the best sales professionals experience less sales objections. If there’s an objection, it’s possible there has not been a strong enough understanding of the needs of the customer, or demonstration of how the solution can solve the explicit pain.

Rackham’s SPIN Selling is another fantastic read for… really anyone. We’re all in sales in some way shape or form. It’s beneficial to understand sales from a psychological perspective, if not to also understand how others sell to us.

I’ve talked to several people recently who have voiced their desires to strike out on their own and others who are toying with joining a large company. So, the question becomes of staying employed or being employed. I admit that I’ve struggled with this one, too, as I’ve now been an employee since early last year. Truth be told, I struggled with this a month-and-a-half into employment. (Yikes.)
Over the last several years I’ve spoken to many who jumped in both directions only to regret the jump only months in. Then, they’re looking to change again. No surprise many jumps occurred because not “feeling valued” – either in responsibility (/ growth) or pay – most commonly.
My advice (and yes, the same advice I give and take for myself) is to think about the bigger goal (the WHY) and realize what you (read: “I”) hope to achieve here and now, and the near-future. Yes, near-future – not necessarily long-term.
It’s easy to get enamored these days with something shinier… something that pays more… something that seemslike it’s more rewarding. However, there’s a beauty in the present struggle. Why do I feel the way I do today? How can I change this feeling? Why did I move here in the first place? What am I implicitly learning?
We fail to see the incredible lessons in today’s struggles. We gloss over them while focusing on the next thing that is supposed to be greater, better. There’s a lot to learn in struggles. Remember, I wrote a book on it (see Postmortem of a Failed Startup).
And to that, focusing too much on the long-term could mean losing focus on the boundless opportunities closer. When we stare out too far, we ignore what’s in our peripheries – the very things that have a more immediate impact that can change our trajectories altogether.
Don’t jump. Walk. Walk in your current shoes, and absorb all that you can. Realize the opportunities hidden in the struggle. Then, see if you can run where you are, or if you must jump onto a different track.
I just completed Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve been excited for so long to read it as it’s all about psychology.
The book was different in style than what I was expecting. Perhaps because I’ve read many sales books recently like The Challenger Sale and SPIN Selling (review to come). The book was focused from a point-of-view what Dale Carnegie’s identified as effective tactics as well as stories from either his students or great leaders – notably several U.S. Presidents.
Each chapter was a lesson, and as I read the book, I was wondering how I would employ each lesson. However, I realized it’d be too challenging being literal and narrow. Instead, the book could be best understood and employed by collapsing the lessons into broader concepts.
Here are my take-aways then:
  • It’s never about you. Influencing others and creating a positive relationship starts from a place of empathy. Whether someone has done something wrong or has a contentious point, influence needs to come from a place of wanting to learn why the other feels that way. Arguments are never resolved by more arguments. Instead, arguments are resolved from a place of conciliation, coming to the “right” answer by the other (not by arguing to the point of “convincing”), etc.
  • Flattery, praise, and humility go the only way. The book stresses how arguments tend to come from a place of proving selves right. In doing so, the other party can feel embarrassed, guilty, etc. The best way to win friends is to praise others and help guide them to understanding a counterpoint. This way, the other can save face. The other can feel confident and comfortable coming to a conclusion that s/he realized on his/ her own.
  • Make others the model of distinction.No, this does not mean making an example out of someone. Instead, to influence someone, speaking highly of him/ her. Even go so far as to give him/ her a high distinction or responsibility. In this way, the person may live up to the distinction, and thus, be influenced to the act in a desired way. To be told or given the responsibility of being the best, you must be just that – and they’ll try that much more to live up to it.
  • Stay positive. Always. This book stressed positivity in every lesson. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it reinforces the importance and power of the “simple” positivity. This can start as a smile. This can also include faking a smile. Akin to living up to a high distinction, faking positivity can create positivity.
  • Being supremely tactful is perhaps the best way to start. I can recall several instances recently where I’ve been… less than enthused. There have been times I have argued. Each time, I’ve realized a better way afterwards. Each time, I’ve acted more impulsively. What this book has taught me (or reinforced strongly) is to take a moment and be tactful in the face of disagreements and criticism. I will no doubt feel knee-jerk reactions, but I will have to take a moment think before actions (like the event at the apartment complex recently). With constant practice, I think my knee-jerk reactions will then be more positive and empathetic than today.

Check out the book. Reinforce things you may know, or may not have thought about. But also, take a moment to reflect on how you interact with others and the silent impression you give off.

What and how can you change to create more friends, or be more influential?
Tuesday’s post about an assumptive close (link) got me thinking of other recent events where sales pros used closing techniques – both were at car dealerships.
Car sales seems to elicit the shudder of many people, and my recent experiences at car dealerships just played into the common stereotypes. I have both bought a car and went perusing with family recently.
Here were two primary closing techniques used:

The Alternative Close

I went to a dealership recently to buy a new 4Runner. I already knew what I wanted having owned a couple 4Runners including the vehicle I was replacing.
I’ve always loved having 4×4, and I wanted the following options/ packages: Limited, dark exterior, and a redwood interior. I first saw the redwood interior and loved it, and knew that’s what I wanted. I had pretty much closed the deal for the salesperson – coming in to buy. However, the exact vehicle was not in stock, and needed to be custom ordered. This would incur two months of delays.
The salesperson kept pushing me with questions, and providing options of vehicles that were on the lot – showing me red Limited 4Runners that were 4×2 and another Limited 4Runner 4×2 in the redwood interior. He was offering me alternativevehicles – nudging me towards available inventory. I had to keep pointing out that I knew what I wanted, and that I was willing to wait.
I knew the owner of the dealership. Otherwise, I would’ve taken my business elsewhere. I knew what I wanted, and I did NOT want anything otherwise.

The Ask-the-Manager Close

My father and brother were window car shopping recently. They were curious about the new F-150 Raptors. The salesperson was using every tool in her arsenal to get my brother and dad to buy a vehicle today even after explicitly saying they weren’t going to.
After one of the final attempts to get at least a money-down order for a vehicle to be custom ordered then, the salesperson brings in the manager. This is very common in car sales – bring in the manager to signal your importance, and to help wiggle a deal forward. However, my father stuck to his guns, and said thanks and walked away.
Though I might’ve been perturbed in some of these experiences, I’ve also appreciated them. It’s a fun experience to take a step back, and try to assess what tactics others employ. Also, by being on this side of the table, it’s good to remember how our own sales practices make our prospects and customers feel.