Is This Truly The Number One Meeting Whiteboard Trick

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The Venn Diagram.

Lovely to see it accorded such prominence in the meeting room satire of Sara Cooper’s debut book.

 = sweet spot.

I can see this turned into a knowingly cheeky sales flipchart routine.

Draw only the two interlocking circles and label their intersection.

Then get the audience to suggest what the titles for A and B could be.

With you setting the parameters, naturally.

Whenever I meet a new salesteam, I am always slightly stunned how little they use the whiteboard as a selling tool.

Even having this sole trick up your sleeve – albeit one grounded in parody – can enlarge, encourage and enliven any selling forum.


Message Clarity Check via Tennis Grudge Match

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I had the unusual pleasure of watching a women’s tennis tournament second round contest in full this week. All three hours of a captivating Monday-night thriller.

Madrid’s clay court battle was hyped up as the opponents had engaged in well publicised public spats. Sharapova v Bouchard on paper was not one for the Canadian. On a rotten streak this year herself, she’d failed to ever beat the Russian who was returning after a doping violation enforced absence. The infamous Court of Arbitration for Sport suggesting it was a punishable misunderstanding over a prescription medicine, the rest of the sport supposedly smelling a drug-cheat rat.

Against the odds, Eugenie prevailed. She never looked likely to cross the line until the final point had been won. But this sales angle is not about her. Nor Maria.

It hails from Sven Groeneveld and Thomas Högstedt.

For these pair are the current coaches of the athletes.

An innovation these past two seasons at this level of events on the women’s tour is for the coach to be able to speak to their player.

It is not one I admire. The men’s game are against it because they wish to keep the gladiatorial, man-o-man element intact. Problem solving on court yourself.

In this case, the coach runs on during the inter-game changeover, mic’d-up, and delivers their “wisdom”. On screen the viewer sees and hears the entire exchange. Except it is never a conversation. In every case the coach drops a monologue. And it is in this speech a telling sales coaching lesson emerged.

Sven’s whole demeanour was fairly aggressive. Crouched down, his instruction to Sharapova felt like a roasting. And his recommendations were several and scattered about.

Thomas on the other hand, was far more restrained. Gentler. Encouraging. Clear and concise. In the critical rest before Bouchard served for the match, he gave two quick steers on where to place serves, reminded his charge that if her opponent played a good point to put it behind her and move on to the next, all the while telling her how “great” she was doing.

The contrast was stark.

And look who pulled through.

Encouraging, not roasting. Regardless of whether you think someone responds better to a kick up the backside rather than arm round the shoulders, there’s usually only one way.

Clear not scattered. Too many ideas always distract whereas the simple, preferably singular message when repeated gains results.

Just like on this day for the winning underdog.


Is Your Pitch Transformative Or Accelerative?

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I was recently struck by the analysis of a lecturer in contemporary politics.

Newcastle Uni’s Dr Martin Farr had an interesting opinion on the impact of war.

“The question to ask with wars is always,

‘are they transforming things, revolutionising things, or are they merely accelerating existing processes?’

And I think it usually has an accelerative effect.”

These remarks immediately brought to mind studies that suggest a ‘new’ product tends to succeed better (in terms of quicker take-up) when it is pitched as an evolution as opposed to revolution.

Fighting your sales battles, perhaps it’s best to look at what movements are already in play and attach yourselves to speeding them up, rather than suggest to all and sundry you’re the crash-bang-wallop option to wholesale change any and everything.

How does your current pitch shape on along these poles?


Paint Your Colour Name On The Prospect Palette

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I caught a potted history of colour naming from a telly magazine piece.

Who knew the current trend for treating colours as if they were racehorses is by some placed at the door of Crayola. Their crayons begin with standard names in 1903, yet by 1949 their range expands to such an extent that they feature thistle, cornflower and orchid.

The ‘reporter’ cited the vast number of blues in one selection, including lunar landscape, bermuda cocktail, and even cuddle.

Discussing the idea at paint maker Valspar, the intriguing ‘marmite’ angle appeared. It seems they see glory in the concept “if nobody hates it no one loves it”. They seek to cultivate either of these two extremes, never a neutral middling mediocrity.

They want colour labels to be “flamboyant, make people laugh or say ‘ooh I don’t really like that’ “.

They deliberately want to “encourage people to spend a bit more time looking at the colours , thinking about what this could mean to them in their home, so we worked hard to see we had really lovely, exciting names”.

A separate “colour expert” who makes his living helping allocate right names to right colours then talked further about “evoking different emotions [to put] a feeling or image in the mind”. He gave an example of a name gone wrong. Yellow being to him stimulating, ‘the caffeine’ of the colour wheel, so he’d never call a shade of it “lullaby yellow”.

Even the self-styled trailblazers can make a mess of this tricky skill. Pantone’s latest colour of the year has the (ahem) vanilla title “greenery”. Which, apparently closely beat out their other (equally misguided) option, “peasoup”.

But we can do better. As this bbc article from the same week noted, “every colour conveys its own message and meaning”, and “colours have to make sense to the living environment”.

Each bid likely has some kind of ‘colour’. Even if the prospect doesn’t have a corporate logo to shade your slides in, there’s something somewhere you can build from.

Time to get your naming hat on.

If only for a little bit of light presentation slidedeck relief. You’ll be thinking about the improvements set to get wrought. And crucially, from the buyer’s viewpoint. Especially using terms they themselves aspire towards. So, what name given to their colour could make sense in their buying environment?


Slidedeck Bonfyre

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Glamping now so ordinary. Try a luxury festival in the Bahamas. Or not. Given the disaster that was this weekend’s Fyre Festival.

Widely reported, relief tents and cheese sarnies greeted astonished revellers. Which caused much mocking for the wildly expensive shindig that appears to have gone spectacularly wrong. “Disruption everywhere, but not the fun startup kind.”

Yet sellers can be thankful for Vanity Fair’s further uncovering of the initial $25m funding pitch 43-slide deck for the “fiasco” labelled as “one of the most preposterous invitations for outside capital that I have ever seen”.

They refer to “deceits”, the worthlessness of ending with a philosopher-poet quote of “seek those who light your flames”, and a $100million lawsuit already in train.

As it is not often a slidedeck makes global news, what can we day-to-day solution sellers take from it?

Vanity Fair select their own “most absurd” 15 of the total 43. There’s certainly plenty of slidewoes to avoid. Which in part is surprising, as pr firm 42 West associated with this I’ve mentioned before and you’d have thought knew better.

Yet looking at the wider canvas, the deck follows none of the best practice such a doc ought to.

Pretty much everything seems askew. Framework, theme, filters. Purpose, personals, priorities.

There is an attempt to outline ‘problem’, ‘vision’ and in the shape of the slide up-top, ’cause’. But they can still all be both meaningless and incorrectly labelled. Why should “reimagined” be so desirable above worldclass, niche or simply functioningly good?

You see too the purpose of the doc, as seen with this slide;

Which provides more questions than answers, and not in a good way at all. Then perhaps the most startling of the business-y slides. If their “360 methodology” doesn’t ring alarm bells loud enough, they then hit you with “ideate”;


Buzz Session Squidly Fails

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This week a buzz session made big news.

There hasn’t been a salesroom I’ve been around that turns their nose up at such rah-rah motivational breaks.

But when they go the way of this particular Manchester insurance reclaim (PPI) sales call centre, even the Wolf of Wall Street is made to look like a mere puppy dog.

Two teams vie against each other for top sales numbers over the week. By Friday those in the ascendency get to choose a booby prize for their falling short colleagues.

As the Daily Mail gleefully reported;

The smartly dressed sales agents [were] lying on the floor covering their suits with a large bin liner, leaving only their faces revealed.

Then, as a forfeit, an entire squid was dropped onto their faces beak first.

Yes. A squid. Beak first. And if you squirmed, the creature was pressed onto your face to stick.

It’s fair to say that, regardless of any consenting participation, this is readily taken as the kind of corporate hazing, workplace bullying and managerial malpractice that give call centres and selling a sewar-swilling bad name.

The day of blogging this, the web’s top search result for buzz session read like this;

short, focused, cross-functional team sessions designed to get people involved, voices heard, and ideas captured for feeding great content into the strategic planning process

So much for the generic slant. Salesteams know them as gee-ups

After a six-month undercover exposé inside a life insurance boiler room, academic Jamie Woodcock is withering. I précis;

Intense supervision coupled with bullying styles of management brings the expectation that at the beginning of a shift workers will go through a buzz session. To motivate selling. This often involves singing children’s songs. In many ways a humiliating experience for people. If you were to just read the script you’d never sell. So there’s a real challenge to mobilise emotions and invoke challenging situations with customers to sell. Sub-standard work, low paid and very difficult.

Monitored by the minute, 300-400 calls a shift, prospects’ pavlovian aggression, oppressive supervisors, 50% staff churn.

If your sales dna includes mantras like, “remember, every ‘no’ is one step closer to a ‘yes’ ”, sees meaningless “values” plastered around the walls, combined with the kinds of activities you feel fun yet a reality check unveils a demeaning core, then change the culture – or your job – at once.


What Pithy Quote Adorns Your Salesroom Wall

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Pithy? Or one mandated? Perhaps even, one pinned up to ward off the thought police?

Early UK snap general election skirmishes continue to throw up selling tidbits.

Here’s one from a hired hand that helped guide the 2010 victors home.

He revealed that prominent on their hq wall was a quote from Tony Blair’s autobiography. Vacuously entitled A Journey. This is doubly surprising. Said former PM was from the other side. Despite having won the previous three in a row, was considered a polling liability. Some might have suggested toxic, given “sexed up” non-existent Iraqi WMD.

The aide suggested the idea was to keep candidates focused on what mattered. Big picture rather than boggy details;

“for most people politics is an irritating fog that they push into the corner of their lives”

The nearest text online I found came from this lengthy citation;

“The single hardest thing for a practicing politician to understand is that most people, most of the time, don’t give politics a first thought all day long. Or if they do, it is with a sigh… before going back to worrying about the kids, the parents, the mortgage, the boss, their friends, their weight, their health, sex and rock ‘n’ roll.”

The pronouncements of Blair are not something I’d advise anyone to follow should they seek success.

Yet there’s this 2010 case. Causation or coincidence?

I’d say the latter. But there is something steely in their thinking.

It would have been so easy to have huge wall real estate given over to a luminary from their own ranks.

Margaret Thatcher springs to mind as an obvious source.

Even a mission as encapsulated by something Cameron had said (if indeed, any such utterance existed).

They chose something from outside. They chose something counter-intuitive. They chose something from the devil.

So what marvellous messages cover your salesroom walls?

Chief Exec purrings? Ad campaign straplines? HR deepisms?

Maybe it’s time to look beyond. From your competition, industry names or (target) client base.


The Essence Of Selling From Heavyweight Champion Of The World

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Joshua-Klitschko. A classic heavyweight bout. In front of a whopping 90,000 crowd. A sensation is born.

During the glowing media plaudits after, one seasoned hack quoted Jack Johnson, America’s first black champ a century ago. Talking about how the elder statesman surprised commentators by boxing unexpectedly different, with attacking tactics from the off, he cited cutting insight in his arena. Paraphrased as;

the essence of boxing is to fight away from your weaknesses

Not focus on your opponent’s weaknesses. Nor play to your strengths. Rather, specifically, know where you’re weak and make sure the fight doesn’t take place there.

Note that world champion nuance.

How far away from your weaknesses are your sales being bought?

footnote – fruitlessly searching online for the source material, look what the ‘genius’ that is google autocomplete prompted. That bottom one in particular an insult to Turing. Always a winning slide idea in this though…;


Strong & Stable Message Repetition

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You can spot the most successful leaders around the world right now fairly easily. By successful, I mean the ones destined to win. Stick around a while. Considered a natural helmer.

It’s when you ask someone else what the hopeful leader stands for. And they duly rattle off one of their sayings.

In the UK’s surprise, snap-election six week campaign on at the moment, such insight arises once more.

Only this time, from the transparent attempts of the leading jockey to impress said values on the electorate.

At the final parliamentary set-piece, Team Theresa May time after time robotically delivered the phrase “strong and stable leadership”. The idea being to implant upon voters that she stood for this most vital of present currencies, whereas her ‘coalition of chaos’ opponents flounder nowhere near such desirable waters.

It is a clear plan of attack. She may even have said this slogan 57 times already over the past few days.

When discussing the tactic, the promising Chris Mason suggested that this trick was not only a modern-day essential, but that however load the groans may grow that greet them, only when your own side are sick of hearing one, your opposition are sick of them, journalists are sick of them, people with an interest in politics are sick of them, only then will they perhaps strike the conscious of an ordinary voter.

Hear to stay.

I remember in the dark ages (The Nineties) a presentation skills workshop. The jazzhand stage presence with 1970s children’s tv presenter wardrobe suggesting each slide must trigger you saying your key phrase at least three times. Apparently, only after the seventh time of dropping it would the audience take it away with them.

Regardless of this preaching’s validity, it’s enough to make you wonder why presentations aren’t simply half-dozen slides with your key pitch written in snappy soundbite form upon each one. The same every time save for maybe a slight colour, font or background change-up. No matter the spiel you employ alongside.

I also noted this week a focus grouper from Britainthinks announcing that voters right now most valued strong, authentic and charismatic leadership. Current PM May seems to tick the first of these boxes with her public to the exclusion of anyone or anything else getting a look in come polling day.

Indeed, this construct of “strong” surpasses all others to the extent opposition parties are trying to claim it as their own key quality. Alas, they are not setting, but chasing the agenda. Normally a recipe for failure.

And so it must be with us in the solutions field.

There’s usually a cheesy concept the target chief exec rates above all others. Acolytes and dissenters alike will know of it. Our job is to uncover it before the competition, reframe it as our shared quality, and repeat ad infinitum.


Failed It! Erik Kessels (2016)

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Having noted snaps of his slides, then watched his 50min Design Indaba show, I bought the book.

Wisdom on the essential glory of failing from the collected photographic oddities that would normally adorn the modern-day equivalent of the cutting room floor.

I was glad I did. The filmed presentation is almost wholly a showreel for his adworld greatest hits. With occasional text slides of insight. In addition to his opener I show up top, these include;

Confusion Makes The World Go Round

If No One Hates It No One Loves It

A Good Idea Has No Borders

Embrace Impossible Ideas

Mistakes Are Good

The premise of his thoughts is admirable. The advertising industry is over-focused on perfection. He doesn’t like that it surrounds itself within perfect imagery. So he seeks beauty of the non-perfect.

He displays dozens of examples. Disasters of public signage, architecture, toilets. The overexposed, the viciously cropped out, camera strap obscured, ever-shrinking central figures, black dogs as mere silhouettes. Not to mention the x-rated penicopia section, by the way. He is Dutch, after all.

He runs through his first ever client. Amsterdam’s Hans Brinker Budget Hotel. Refreshing and successful. You’ve got to love his rock solid metric on impact. The measure of annual occupancy, “overnights”, rose from 60,000 to 150,000.

I hope we can all provide something similar.

He’s grown since. Lately behind the terrific huge supergraphic artwork;

I amsterdam

Which he points out wasn’t a hit widely at first, but now is rightly a fixture.

So how can a salesperson “make an idiot out of yourself (at least once a day)” and both avoid the sack and make good? His answers include showing people light by seeing the world in a different way.

Do you understand your grades of fail? He cites the “prophetic” to “epic” passing “happy” and all manner in between. Familiar tales of serendipity (Coca-cola, pacemaker), multi-rejection (KFC, Harry Potter) and that “even robots make mistakes”.

The photographic editing he curates of sliced negatives, folded pics and anti-photoshop imperfecting generate many an idea for a sales presentation.

It’s always fascinated me that as a profession, a Sales failure rate of 2 in 3 is considered as what the stars achieve. Lack of success in-built. No-one can ‘win’ every deal, right?

So here’s a key para;

These major and minor catastrophes I’m referring to aren’t mere learning experiences – after which wrongs are righted, instruments recalibrated, courses reset – but are themselves early brushes with success

Yes, as a by-product, we’re also “wading through the swamp of inspirational platitudes”. But his main point – of accepting failures for their true worth – leads you to a place where you wish you were trying out more varied, more interesting and more full stop different ideas.