nce upon a time, there was a consultant who wanted their business to be successful far and wide, because she cared about people, the earth and longed deeply to make a difference.
Everyday, she would beat herself up for not being able to sell her wares or write pithy articles that were relevant to their clients.
One day, she read a book ‚Äď To Sell is Human
Because of that she developed greater skill (and confidence) and credibility with her clients, and more courage to find a financial win-win while helping the people and organizations she cared about.
Because of that, she saw their sales increase.
Until finally, she saw their business grow far and wide, making a difference to more people than ever, (and even wrote a relevant, pithy and timely book review).
(Example of a “Pixar pitch”, one of six successors to the elevator pitch)
‚ÄúI‚Äôm not a salesman. That’s just not who I am‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
A client echoed my own thoughts last evening. Inwardly, I smiled. No, I may not be a sales person, but I am really good at helping people succeed, at holding their vision, at connecting others, and at marshaling knowledge and resources in their service. That, according to author, Daniel Pink, is the new world order of sales -¬†a world where, like it or not, every one of us is in sales.
Information changes everything:
Of course, for many of us, the old world of selling conjures images of real estate agents and car salesmen wielding secret books of data, and the cry of ‚Äėcaveat emptor‚Äô – buyer beware! Pink observes that information is now equally available to both sides of the sale. Buyers come to a transaction knowing as much or more than the salesperson, so the value of the sales person as holder of knowledge has greatly diminished.
When we make a major purchase, Gary does his homework. When we got our last car, Gary knew more about price, availability and fit to my preferences than either the sales person or me, steering me to a car I never would have considered. Prescient? No. The information is readily available for consumers, along with the tools to make sense of and personalize it.
This information parity is perhaps most apparent in the real estate industry, where the old guard competes with agents more attuned and more wired to the new reality of how buyers approach their research and purchase. The typical home buyer today, smartphone in-hand, has walked through the house, scanned satellite images and toured the neighborhood, all virtually, before ever asking to step into a home. They have at their fingertips market pricing, school district grades, crime statistics, “Walkability” scores and the impressions and opinions of their social network living in the neighborhood. ‚ÄėCaveat venditor‚Äô – seller, beware. (Agent, plug-in!)
If not “gatekeeper to information” what is the value and role of the salesperson in the new order?
The new ABC‚Äôs of selling:
In researching the book, Pink has delved into many diverse fields, weaving them into surprising and sometimes counterintuitive insights. He follows with practical resources and useful thought experiments at the end of each section. These little ‚Äėsample cases‚Äô are grist for the reader‚Äôs personal reflection, insight and skill development (and yes, make us squirm just a bit).
In the old world of selling, ABC stood for¬†Always Be Closing. Ugh. Thankfully, Pink has come up with new ABC’s:
Attunement¬†‚Äď being aware of yourself, your actions and attitudes in the current context,
Buoyancy¬†‚Äď mental resilience before and after a sales opportunity, and
Clarity¬†‚Äď finding the right questions to ask to help the client gain clarity.
As Gary and I reflect on the evolution of our approach to sales, these principles ring true.
The final section of the book focuses on what to do in the ‘new’ sales process. He draws from Pixar and others as he walks through six ways to ‚Äėpitch‚Äô, and reaches into improvisational theatre to help the reader move from a world of scripted sales to deeper listening and awareness in working with customers and peers.
In closing, Pink talks about a fundamental shift in values underlying selling. Taking a page from Robert Greenleaf‚Äôs ‚ÄúServant Leadership‚ÄĚ philosophy, he creates a version for the new world of sales‚Ä¶ He calls it ‚ÄúServant Selling‚ÄĚ:
‚Äú It begins with the idea that those move others aren‚Äôt manipulators but servants. They serve first and sell later. And the test ‚Äď which, like Greanleaf‚Äôs, is the best and most difficult to administer is this: If the person you‚Äôre selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve? When your interaction is over will the world be a better place than when you began?‚ÄĚ
The book, like Pink‚Äôs previous work, is a fast read, a bit cheeky, and packed with useful tidbits. Most important, for the many of us who protest “I am not a salesman!”, it touches our core of doubts, fears and biases. It offers the opportunity and a pathway to change our frame from sales as something to be avoided to sales as a caring service aimed at helping both parties succeed.
This is certainly true for me. I‚Äôm far better off for having read this book.
‚Äď Ann Ralston
¬© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.
Link to Kindle e-book at Amazon.com:¬†To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
For over 30 years, growing up in BC, I sang ‚Äď in choirs and bands, and summer stock theatre. While I wasn’t big on hymns, I’d carol at Christmas, and I even wrote a song or two.
Then I fell in love with Ann, joined her family in Midwestern USA, and life so filled and crowded and rushed with consulting and raising kids and caring for parents and teaching and volunteering. While I started the decade in song, by the end I had elbowed singing into the shower, where I’d occasionally hum a few bars and snatch a passing fragment of lyrics from memory’s mists.
Thinking back, I came to see singing and many forms of joyful expression incompatible with the “serious, credible” pursuit of business and consulting and organizational transformation. In many (not all) of the business settings I worked in across North America, including my hometown on the decidedly New Age west coast, suggestions of opening up and expressing and connecting more deeply were not usually well‚Äďreceived. “Now all together, let’s join hands and sing Kumbaya!” someone would scoff, and, well, that was that and it was time for something more productive.
I know my experience is not unique, and that many are coming to view this “us” and “them”; this disciplined corporate compartmentalization of mind and intellect and power and ambition from heart and doubt and expression and vulnerability ‚Äď from the generative spirit ‚Äď as unworkable for the complexities we face in the decades ahead. Without question, much has been accomplished, both great and terrible, with such a mindset, and we owe the majority of our today to it. I just wish very much we hadn’t borrowed so heavily from our future, and from our kids’ future to pay for our today.
The fundamental shift facing anyone who has modeled their leadership on predominant patterns of prior centuries is one Richard Barrett captures so eloquently in a phrase from his paper: ‘The New Leadership Paradigm ‚Äď A Response to the Global Leadership Crisis’ “‚Ä¶the shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world.”
It was at my blackest, lowest point in my relationship with my chosen craft of catalyzing organizational transformation for the greater good that I realized my own complicity in reinforcing old roles ‚Äď patriarchal models that would not serve our future. I discovered it through my work with First Nations clients in Canada, through my interactions with my closest colleagues, friends and family, and even in my act of exiling my heartfelt musical expression to the shower!
So imagine my hair-blown-back surprise at rediscovering music and song during a corporate engagement where I was introduced to two new colleagues. These alchemists of corporate culture who, in addition to wit and wisdom and insight, brought their extraordinary gifts as¬† musician / composer and singer / songwriter, respectively, into the corporate arena.
Did I get what these two remarkable beings were offering? Was I humbled by their vision and courage? Did I immediately see the error of my ways and re-integrate? Heck, no! First, I scoffed to our team lead and said: “Like THIS is going to fly with the client. Now all together, let’s join hands and sing Kumbaya!”
This was not my proudest moment.
A couple of years later, with the love and candor of my family, friends and colleagues, a good deal of stumbling, soul searching (soul‚Äďscraping?), and a stubborn determination to learn in support of my aspirations (thanks, dad!), I’m told I’m making good progress. I now sing with real COMMITMENT in the shower!
I also might be better prepared to join the community putting their hearts and minds and backs to the impossible but worthy task of finding and amplifying what’s right with the world, and shaping the future we want to live into.
I study with my singer / songwriter friend when I get the chance, and it was she who in January suggested I select, with clear intent, songs that fit the coming year. While many I chose have been favorites for years, one in particular hit me as I was driving home after receiving my assignment, listening to a cappella groups on internet radio. The King’s Singers were rendering a truly beautiful, straight-up version of “The Rose”, by Amanda McBroom. The second verse:
It’s the heart, afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live
What will you choose for your soundtrack in 2012?
- Gary Ralston
February 11, 2012
A TEDx video featuring Simon Sinek, author of the book: Start with Why, came to my attention as we were scanning for engaging pre-session material for a client project. From TED.com:
Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers …
In essence, he observed that while most will tell you first WHAT they do, HOW they do it, and then WHY, great leaders reverse the order. He asserts this works because our brains evolved that way. While I’m not all the way on board with that part of his theory, Simon is a great storyteller ‚Äď upbeat, interesting and thought-provoking. Really, really thought-provoking.
After taking the video in, Ann and I set out to re-draft the story of our company, starting with Why, and were surprised at the result. We hope you enjoy the video, and then invite you to part two, where we share our latest draft message and ask you for candid feedback!
At a recent strategy update retreat with one of our clients, we introduced scenario planning as a front-end to their strategy process. The improvement was dramatic! One of the partners even queried us if we had been actively using scenario planning at the time we’d done their original strategy session. (We assured him that we hadn’t, that it was a new offering, and we had NOT been holding out on him!) He thought it added tremendous value and insight, and maintained that it should be part of their strategy process from here on out.
Much credit for the tremendous improvement between the two sessions goes to our associate, Nicole-Anne Boyer, founder of Adaptive Edge LLC. Since 2009, Ann, Charles and I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Nicole. From the start of our association, our strategic planning offering has been turbo-charged with the addition of robust scenario planning, strategic foresight and futures thinking. While I had thought I knew something of scenario planning before, I have been learning at a furious pace to come up-to-speed on the state of the art in scenario planning.
Scenario planning has been around for a very long time, but took significant strides forward, notably in the planning department at Royal Dutch Shell, and at the Global Business Network. It is now used widely in planning processes in business.
‚ÄúAccording to Bain & Company‚Äôs annual survey of management tools, fewer than 40% of companies used scenario planning in 1999. But by 2006 its usage had risen to 70%.‚ÄĚ
‚Äď The Economist, September 1st, 2008
I have been learning that there are as many forms and methods of scenario planning as there are practitioners, but there has been a clear evolution in the purpose and motive for scenario planning.
- Inform Planning: Use the output of a scenario planning exercise to inform a conventional ‚Äúout-think the future‚ÄĚ strategy session.
- Adapt to Future: Scenario planning becomes part of 1) a way of thought for leadership, and 2) an early warning system to help a company to adapt to future changes. One of the funders of modern scenario planning framed it so:
‚ÄúThe test of a good scenario is not whether it portrays the future accurately but whether it enables an organization to learn and adapt.”
‚Äď Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View
- Shape the Future: The scenario planning process might be taken beyond the walls of the organization and involve the wider system we are trying to influence. The scenario planning process is then a catalyst in a broader, generative effort to shape our desired future. Put another way:
‚ÄúThe best way to predict the future is to invent it.‚ÄĚ
‚Äď Alan Kay, Scientist and Apple Fellow
In our work at Ralston Consulting Inc., we have always focused on helping our clients develop the orientation and capacity for generative change to create their desired future. Our collaboration with Nicole has given our mission a tremendous boost!
In Profiting from Uncertainty: Strategies for Succeeding No Matter What the Future Brings, authors Paul J. H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther make a point about the discrepancy between the forces shaping a sector‚Äôs future, and where management tends to focus. Their claim is that about half the forces shaping the future value of a business – developments in the industry, and in the larger global environment – ¬†are not monitored by management, and thus, ‚Äúleft to fate‚ÄĚ.
Instead, management is compiling backward-looking internal and industry trend data to forecast future conditions. This is backed up by informal surveys by Gary Hamel & C. K. Prahalad, suggesting that senior management devote less than 3 % of their time and energy to building a collective vision of the future. (Competing for the Future, Harvard Business Press, April 1, 1996, p 4)
We need a working understanding of our external environment and the many possible futures that may emerge, as making plans based on a single notion of the future can increase risk even as, paradoxically, it reduces our sense of conflict about an unknown future. The world is simply too uncertain and complex for such single-point predictions; and they give a false, sometimes dangerous, confidence that we are in control more than we really are.¬†At the other extreme, we cannot become paralyzed by what we perceive as too much uncertainty, as we become obsessed with avoiding risk.¬†We must plot a course between prediction and paralysis, thinking about the future in terms of multiple possibilities in order to better create our desired future.
Action Plan: Make a practice of ‘learning from the future’. To kick off your 2011 strategic planning cycle, take your leadership team through a facilitated scenario-planning process. In the course of co-exploring 3-4 possible futures, defining a ‘desired future’ and gleaning strategic insights, your team will develop a much deeper capacity to mine profit in areas of high uncertainty – an area your competitor is likely¬†spending 3% of their focus on!
We had drafted our pithy review of the book: DRIVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us, when Ann discovered this very effective animation based on Dan Pink’s talk at the 250-year-old (but surprisingly hip!) Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).
This 11-minute video is highly-watchable for both content that challenges conventional wisdom about motivating knowledge workers, and an innovative combination of a graphic artist and time-lapse filming. Enjoy!