Find A Need And Fill It

The first company I worked for had a motto.  They had several unofficial mottos, but one stuck with me more than any other.  It was “Find a need and fill it”.  Can you think of a more fitting saying for a sales person?  It wasn’t sell our stuff, it was find a need.  It set us up to look for needs to solve.  The only way to do that was to use our brains.  We had to know what we could sell and ask questions to determine if they had needs around those products or services. 

Of all the things that I emphasize with the clients we work with, great questions to determine needs is first.  We need to research and verify what their initiatives are.  That drives needs for the individuals.  We need to ask questions to understand the individual’s needs.  We need to ask questions to understand their buying process.  All this needs to happen before we ever start to “sell”. 

Nobody likes to be sold to.  What we want help with is making the right decision to buy.  Give us options. Show us how your product or service is different.  Show me (not tell me) why your offering is different and worth more money than competitive offerings.

In reflecting on my career, nothing has influenced me as much as those 6 simple words.  “Find a need and fill it.” 

I had beers with a friend who was an investor in private equity.  I was telling him about my business and he shared another version of the same philosophy.  I had said that we get paid for solving problems.  He shared that “The bigger the problem, the more money people pay you to solve it.”  Find big needs and fill those needs….

As you think about your business, what needs are you filling?  What differentiates you and your offering that makes you the logical choice?  Why should someone pay more for your offering than competitive offerings? 

I often tell people that in the 12 years I worked with Black & Decker they sold millions of cordless drills, but nobody ever bought one.  I get some inquisitive looks for that statement.  The point is nobody buys a drill; they buy what the drill will do for them.  They buy a way to make a hole, or run a screw, or pound in a nail.  Really.  Some people use their drill to hammer in a nail or sink a screw.  We “sold” more drills because of that.

Find a need and fill it is basis for all of business.  If you aren’t filling a need, whether is a “need” or a “want”, you won’t last long.  Most of our clients’ sense that something isn’t going as well as they would like in their business.  They may not be able to identify what it is, specifically.  That is why asking questions to scope the challenge is a must.  Do you do that in your business?  Do you understand what need you are filling?

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We Are One

This past weekend we stayed at The Palmer House in downtown Chicago.  We enjoyed a weekend with our close friends, and we enjoyed some of the restaurants and bars of Chicago.  We also spent several hours in the Art Institute. 

I am not an art critic.  I just realized that I like the paintings more than the sculptures, and the furniture.  I like people more than landscapes.  I like classical period art more than contemporary and modern art.  I had never thought of it before, so it helped open me up a little. 

I also noticed the complete diversity of the patrons.  There were multiple languages being spoken, multiple sizes, and types of bodies, and multiple people enjoying art that I didn’t particularly enjoy.  They were different and so was I.  And it was just fine. 

In a time when we are so polarized, based on political beliefs, it was so refreshing to see people who think differently, in the same area and respecting each other.  It made me think that the vast majority of people, are not looking for differences.  The majority is respecting each other’s beliefs and giving them the space, they need.  That is not to say we must endorse other beliefs, but we can respect the need to feel differently.

Last evening, we were walking down Michigan Avenue, and it was getting cold.  We thought we should step inside The Drake and find a ride share.  It was nice, warm and inviting, so we went to the bar and sat down for a drink.  People all around us were dressed in suits and ties, and nice dresses.  We were in jeans.  They were older than we were, and they were there to dance.  The band was a smooth jazz band, that had the crowd up dancing with the first song. 

I found myself looking at the social gathering in a different way, based on the time we had spent viewing art earlier in the day.  I found myself observing the behavior and wondering.  The patrons were ethnically diverse.  Everyone was changing dance partners after every song.  All seemed to be enjoying themselves. 

There were two men at the bar that didn’t dance.  They just sat and watched the others dance.  They seemed to be regulars, because the wait staff knew them.  I was struck how it was similar to the dances I had gone to in my junior high and high school days.  There were always those that sat on the sidelines and didn’t dance.  They watched but didn’t participate.   Why?  Did they not know how to dance?  Were they too shy?  Were they just there to watch?

I really don’t know why I was so locked into observing behavior this weekend.  It was not judgmental, it was just observant.  It has made me think of how we can be blind to unskillful behavior.  How we can just go through the motions and not enjoy the richness of the moment.  Diversity makes us stronger and better.  Diversity of thought allows us to be more creative.  It allows us to participate in something bigger than us.  It allows us to create an energy that can carry us through difficult times and soar through great times.  We are all of one spirit.  We are not broken into separate groups.  Let’s value those who think differently than we do.  Let’s be grateful for their positive affect on us.

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Becoming Self Aware

I spent some time on Saturday working on building furniture for my soon to be born granddaughter.  My daughter and son in law ordered in great furniture that needed to be assembled.  I offered or was offered by my wife, to help put it together.  This is not an easy task to take on.  It’s physically and mentally demanding.  My son in law and I managed to hold it to one beer per furniture piece.  That probably didn’t help with the mental side of it, but it did make it more fun. 

My son in law is a great athlete, and a very bright man.  He loves my daughter and he is excited about his baby girl coming soon.  He is thoughtful, planful, and energetic.  All things I admire greatly.  While I miss my son and daughter in law, who live in St. Louis, it’s nice to have Max and Jess here.  I feel the same about Max as I do about JP.  They are great young men with amazing impact on other people’s lives.

Max and Jess moved into a new home a couple of weeks ago.  It’s in a very nice area in a neighborhood that is being slightly gentrified.  They have infrastructure to support their local needs.  They are near Max’s gym, and they have easy access to freeways that can get Jess to her office quickly.  They too, are settling into their lives, just as Kelly and JP are.  Our role as parents have changed to a different mode.  We are now shifting into a phase that I really can’t describe. 

I’ve had a consulting business for 13 years now.  I find that my business relationships follow similar patterns, in a much shorter time span, than my personal life has.  I mentioned in an earlier article that I had treated my family like a business until I realized I should not.  I now treat my clients like family.  By that I mean we really work to understand them deeply and help them solve their challenges.  It usually takes us outside of the scope of our initial agreement.  Over time, by design, our business “family” doesn’t need us so much.  Our role changes.

It’s hard to pour yourself into something that you know will end at some point.  It’s difficult if you are selling solutions, not to be a part of the solution when it becomes a success.  I’m not complaining about this, just describing a situation.  I have friendships that have come from what initially was a business relationship.  I’ve been fortunate to watch companies grow through the years as I’ve come back for additional project work. 

Have you experienced the same feeling of loss and perhaps sadness as your customers need you less and less?  If you are selling in a consultative manner, it may be a byproduct.  If there isn’t a sense of loss, there isn’t anything wrong with that.  We all sell differently. 

I had a recent prospect that chose to utilize someone else’s offering.  There was a sense of loss and frustration, but I feel they will come back to us for assistance.  They wanted me to work with them in a more strategic role and they hired the other company to work with them on a more transactional role.  At least that was the way I wanted to take it.  I’m optimistic that they will come back, but I’m the reason they didn’t hire us initially.  I’m to blame for not providing a strong enough value.  I felt they would give me another opportunity, but they made the decision before I could get the second look. It’s on me.

My take away from all this is straightforward; I need to be more aware in my personal life and in my business.  I must step back from the situation and view it from a different perspective.  I need to be aware of what is important to my customers and my family and be supportive.  It’s not all about me.  I need to understand, which comes from asking the right questions.  I’m still learning.

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Breaking Limitations

This morning I went through my normal routine.  Part of that routine is walking my dog.  We try to get out early in the morning before everyone else wakes up.  The intention is to avoid other dogs.  Bo doesn’t like other dogs when he is on his leash.  He feels either protective, or fearful.  I’m not sure which.

This morning we were headed down the stairs to go out when I saw a gentleman, with his grandson, and their dog, heading into the building.  I promptly turned Bo around and we headed back up the stairs so that there wouldn’t be any opportunity for him to growl.  He does that, and it sounds menacing.  Even though his is a softy, he sounds like he isn’t.

The grandfather had on jeans and a light jacket.  The grandson had on shorts and a tee shirt.  It started me thinking about limitations.  I know that makes me sound a little strange, but it really happened.  Part of my morning routine is to check the weather app on my phone when I wake up.  Because I walk my dog every morning, I check the app for the temperature, the wind direction and speed, and the “feels like” temperature.  I dress accordingly.

This morning it was a wind chill of 54 degrees, with a north wind at 15 mph.  For my friends who live in the north, that may seem balmy.  For me, it was chilly.  I had on sweat pants and a jacket.  Again, the grandson, who was about 5 years old, was in shorts and a tee shirt.  He didn’t look like he even felt the cold.

As I was walking outside it occurred to me that when I looked at the temperature on my phone, I was developing a preconceived notion of whether I was going to be cold or not.  This small boy had not had that notion.  He didn’t feel the cold like I did.  He accepted the weather, just the way he wanted to.  He wore what he wanted to, and it didn’t bother him.

Thoughts proceed words, and words proceed action.  Or maybe words generate thoughts, which leads to action.  Either way, we set our expectations based on our past experiences and then proceed to make them a reality.  I knew I’d be chilly, so I dressed accordingly.  If I felt that 54 degrees with wind wasn’t cold, I would not have dressed the same and would have been just fine.

In our businesses, we become a product of our environment.  I recently worked with a client who shared that two of her salespeople said they agreed with the strategy, and the goals, but also shared that they couldn’t possibly reach the goals this year.  I shared that they were right.  If they felt they couldn’t reach their goals, there is no way they would.  They had been in the role and territory they were in for such a long time that they felt they were unable to make any changes.

Just because we assign a number to a sales territory, or an objective to an individual or group, it doesn’t mean it will happen.  They need to believe it will happen and visualize it.  They need to understand how they will reach the goal on an emotional level.  We need to provide them the tools to allow them to reach it.  It could be new product, new information, new adjacent markets.  They must be able to see the end results and an outline of how they will get there.  We all put limitations on ourselves, based on our experiences.  By providing a vision of, and an outline of the path to reach the vision, it takes the past failures and limitations off the table.

I have another client that I’m working with that has an outstanding, tenured sales leader.  The company has been providing a service for 15 years.  They have become a mid-size company, but the sales team has developed a view that the sales cycle is 12-18 months long.  The sales leader is looking to capitalize on growth much sooner.  He has set some aggressive stretch goals.  The main difference is he has provided a path to his vision.  First, he tracked the selling cycle.  It’s 7 months.  His goal is to reach close in 6 months.  To do that, he has reconfigured the sales pipeline, and set up a rigorous sales process to move the opportunities through the pipeline.  They sellers and sales leaders can see the vision and see the path.  Not all, but most see the path. 

What limitations are you putting on yourself and your teams?  What are you doing to remove those limitations?  Can you show the path to your vision?

All this occurred to me from seeing a 5 year old wearing shorts and a tee shirt when it was 54 degrees….

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Weeds To Flowers

My wife and I had dinner last evening at our good friend’s house.  They live on an airstrip tucked into a neighborhood in Lakeway, TX.  As we walked into their home, I looked over their deck and patio to see the airstrip.  It’s really an incredible view.  On the other side of the runway was a lush patch of bluebonnets.  It was a large patch and the beauty of the purple (or blue, I’m a little colorblind) flowers against the green grass of springtime, made a breathtaking picture. 

Several years ago, I hired an accountant who had an office in his home in south Austin.  He was an interesting person.  As I parked by vehicle in front of his house, I was taken aback by the weeds in his yard.  Most of his yard was made up of what I thought was weeds.  I was not alone.  Weeks after that experience, I read in the newspaper that his neighbors had complained to the city and asked that he plant grass.  What made it interesting was the fact the weeds were not weeds.  They were bluebonnets, that had not bloomed yet.  Bluebonnets are the state flower of Texas and his neighbors and I didn’t realize that until they bloom, they look like weeds.

There is a lesson here.  For 11 months a year, they look like weeds.  For one month a year they bloom, and they are glorious.  There are fields of bluebonnets in central Texas.  It’s not unusual to see cars parked along the side of the road and people taking photos of themselves and their children sitting in a patch of bluebonnets.  I would never do that.  I don’t like bugs or snakes or whatever else I can imagine that might be lurking nearby. But the photos of people sitting in bluebonnets flood social media, so it’s only an issue in my mind.

As sellers, how often are we viewed as weeds?  We are aggregated into a group of pests, knocking on the door to try to sell someone something.  Most sellers are pitching a solution that they hope the influencer will buy.  Most sellers have little empathy for the person they are selling to.  But not all sellers think that way.  The true star seller, the true professional, helps their customer buy.  Nobody wants to be sold to.  They want you to help them buy.  They want you to provide a solution to their issue.  They want you to listen to their needs and offer a suggestion on how you can solve them.  They do not want to have you list all the things that you can do, and then must choose from the entire menu.

As a professional salesperson, you may be a weed until that one moment.  That one moment when you can solve a problem for your customer.  That one moment when you bloom into a beautiful solution; a bluebonnet.  Eleven months of being a weed to have that one glorious moment when you are a star.  The difference between you and a bluebonnet though, is that you can remain a star, once you prove yourself.  In a couple of months, the bluebonnets turn back into a plant that looks like a weed.  Helping your customer make good decisions on what to buy sets you up for a strong mutually beneficial long-term relationship.

Are there other parts of your life like the bluebonnet?  If you are working to be more self-aware, you likely have spotted these opportunities.  As my kids have matured into productive, generous adults I’ve noticed my relationships with them changing.  My advice to them is not needed as much.  I’m more of a weed than a flower.  They have now become a great source of pride, as I watch them bloom in their careers and businesses.  Its okay that I’ve become less of a flower for them.  I still believe I will have that moment where I will be a flower for them.  I know they have been for me.  I’m still learning…

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Hitting from the rough

Last Friday was a holiday and we closed our office.  I took advantage of the day off and called a friend to play golf.  I’ve not played much over the past year and my handicap continues to climb.  Last Friday was no exception to the trend I’m following.  This time I captured data.  I analyzed the data and came away with some obvious things to work on.  But I saw something else.  When I hit an errant shot, I compounded the damage by trying to hit another “hero” shot, well beyond my skillset.  Apparently, golf can be like business.

In 2017 I was preparing to launch a second company and I let the prospecting lapse on NineRuns.  To jumpstart 2017, I doubled and tripled my efforts.  I worked hard to develop new products, and new relationships.  While I’ve been successful in both efforts, it created unbelievable stress.  I had a friend describe my life as stacking up pancakes, and I have a tall stack right now. 

There are days, weeks, and months that everything seems to go right.  There are times when everything seems to go wrong.  What is the difference?  What drives this?  Is it the alignment of the stars and planets?  Is it just plain luck?

I was recently with a client and they shared a formula they use to determine potential of their staff.  It was an interesting mix of attitude and skills.  They spoke of one individual who had strong skills, but a bad attitude.  He was considered a cancer in the organization.  He was being asked to leave the company.

Skills can be taught.  Attitude is much more difficult.  There have been a few setbacks on a personal level recently, that several years ago, would have put me into a tailspin.  But not now.  I was trying to figure out the differences.  I believe it’s attitude.  I believe I’ve learned to see things in a less “personal” manner. 

When I’m on the golf course and I hit those poor shots, I must smile now.  I used to berate myself, but I don’t enjoy practicing, and I am just not that good.  I have learned to step back and recognize it.  It doesn’t mean I don’t want to improve.  I do.  I just need to be more strategic in how I look at the game.  I can develop skills if I work at it.  But if I have a more positive attitude about the game, I certainly enjoy playing more.  If I pay attention to a doable recovery shot as opposed to trying to make a professional level hero shot, my handicap will improve.

In our business lives if we analyze our wins and our losses, and work to determine our next steps with an attitude of humility, we are much better off.  Not all sales people take the time to learn from both.  We feel like we are the victim of a loss and we are afraid to ask why we won.  What drives this behavior?  Perhaps its fear. 

If you were to self-assess what is your mix of skill and attitude?  Do you learn from your wins and your losses?  Do you get mired down in the rough?  Do you start to expect trouble?  Step back and look at yourself in the mirror and see your challenges and your successes for what they are.  I’m working to do just that.  I’m not perfect, but I’m improving.  I’m still learning.  My golf will improve.  I just need to play more. That’s what I tell my wife.

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