Friday, April 11, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Role Playing for Salespeople

Over the years, honing presentation skills has been a regular part of "getting the job done" in all the sales jobs I've had. At a certain point, the time comes to "role play"; a practice of giving your sales pitch to a pretend audience made up, usually, of co-workers.

This can cause anxiety and perspiration. There will even be those that feel aggravated that they have to go through this. But the bottom line is that if you're in sales, you need to know your product, your pitch, and feel comfortable speaking to a room full of people.

Most often, the bad sentiments associated with "role playing" come from the make-believe construct ("I know this isn't real. You know this isn't real. I know you know this isn't real. You know I know you know this isn't real. Who are we fooling?") and the relationships we have with co-workers ("My gaffs will be happy hour fodder", "You judgin' me, bro?").

But there are ways to mitigate these issues and get productive. The key is to make sure it doesn't come across as remedial or feel like a tribunal. How do you do that? Here are my thoughts...

- Call it "show n tell". This is less intimidating and not encumbered with preconceived notions of putting salespeople on trial and in front of hard-nosed prosecutors.

- By not calling it "role playing", you're not asking sales people to be someone other than themselves. Salespeople need to be themselves, feel comfortable in their own skin. Let them use their own words and style to convey the message. If it's scripted and memorized, it comes off sounding...wait for it...scripted and memorized.

- Have only one or two people play the prospect at a time. Everyone else is a silent observer. Too many prospects and it turns into a pile on.

- This isn't a game of "stump the chump". No one wins or learns when the prospect tries to trip up or agitate the sales presenter. (See bullet point below on addressing client objections).

- Break it down into its component parts. Presentation pitches have multiple parts (e.g. The opening, the intro, etc.). So, one idea is to have the salespeople break it down and just "show n tell" their opening or their product benefits.

- Open such a session with a white board exercise on the most common client objections and the best way to handle them. This positions the session as more than presentation skills and kicks things off as a team exercise.

- The first person to run through their pitch should be a sales manager, not one of the team members. If you can't step up, or don't know the pitch, you have no business running such an event.

- Don't have the role of the prospect played by the sales manager or a senior exec. The salesperson should not see this as a job performance review, but rather the training session that it is. Have a peer or person junior to the presenter act as the prospect.

- Video tape it. Yeah, this is awkward and often more unsettling to the presenter than the issues mentioned above. But it's incredibly enlightening (and eventually empowering) to see yourself in action. It also gives the team a chance to review in "slow mo" - step by step - what worked, and what didn't, without interrupting the flow of the live presentation.

- Don't make this a one-time big event. Pitches, narratives, and strategies change in response to products and markets evolving. Do it regularly and it will feel less like a final exam, and more like a team scrum.

Would love to hear what you think. Drop a comment below...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Does Federer Bring His Racket on Vacation?

This post isn't about tennis  ;-)

I've been on vacation for the last 2 weeks - it's been great to get away for an extended period of time. I'm not sure I've ever taken 2 weeks off. Definitely not in the last 10 years.

I've tried to balance staying off the grid and staying in touch. A few emails here and there, and work colleagues tell me to get back to vacationing. A little online time, and well, similar looks from the family.

But I bet that Roger Federer brings his racket on vacation, and no one complains or expects otherwise.

Vacation is about unwinding - and we've done plenty of that. But it's not about stress. And the build up of emails and action items is stressful to me. I don't want to return home to a load of inbox stress.

I have a feeling that Dave Matthews brings his guitar on vacation, and no one complains or expects otherwise.

As it is, I decided not to buy a local SIM chip (I'm in Canada). So, I'm only really online (WiFi) in the mornings and evenings...with a few intermittent spats online if we hit a WiFi zone.

I'd be surprised if Fred Wilson didn't blog while on vacation.

So, that's why I do a little work*, while on vacation.

*not really work if you love what you do.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Disqus - My New Gig

Image representing DISQUS as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase
I'm really excited that next week I'll be working for Disqus, the leading commenting platform on the web. My role will be Head of Publisher Development, based in NYC where the publisher-facing team is based.

About 6 months ago, Tynt, the company I've spent the last 2.5 years with, was acquired by 33Across. We built a great network of publishers at Tynt. And that network continues to grow under 33Across. I'm excited for the 33Across team because I think they are at the intersection of two compelling trends: social media and online advertising. I look forward to tracking their continued success.

The acquisition brought with it a lot of inbound interest from other start-ups wondering if I was available. But it wasn't until the last few weeks that I started to consider the many interesting opportunities out there.

I talked with some great early-stage companies that I think are on to some great ideas. But the team, the traction, the latest release, and strategy at Disqus really impressed me. And it helped that I was already an active user and have known some of the guys there for a few years.

Thank you Ro and Daniel for reaching out and giving me this opportunity. I can't wait to get started! Speaking of thanks...

Fred Wilson had a great blog post earlier today that compelled me to thank him for his support...and clue a few of that community's members into this news.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

iPhone 4 Can Survive Being Run Over by NYC Taxi

On November 21, 2011 I was exiting Grand Central Terminal and waiting to cross 42nd Street, when I looked down at the pavement. There I saw a pulverized iPhone:

As you can see, the glass wasn't just cracked - as frequently happens when an iPhone is dropped - but it was shattered. There were the tiniest of glass shards dropping from this device. I carefully picked it up and carried it by the metal band to my office. I figured I'd charge it up and see if I could identify the owner. It wouldn't charge. And then it occurred to me that I might be shorting out the circuitry because it was wet due to the rain from the night before.

So I wrapped it up and brought it home where I dried it out with the help of some desiccant we had in the basement. I left the iPhone in some Tupperware full of this stuff for a few days. I also ordered some tools and parts to see if I could replace the back glass, and the front (actually called the digitizer and LCD). Then on the next weekend, I took the iPhone apart:

Getting all the glass and grime off it wasn't easy, but in the end, I succeeded and was surprised that most of the guts looked like they were intact.

By yesterday, all the spare parts had arrived and I was able to re-assemble the phone. YouTube is a great resource with many "how to" videos. I followed this one to disassemble and reassemble the iPhone:

And I was able to easily find the parts I needed through Amazon. $63 spent. Well worth the expense to geek out on a project like this.

After charging the iPhone for a little bit, I was able to get to the home screen (there was no screen lock passcode needed). From there, I opened a few apps like Twitter and picture gallery, and was pretty sure I had the owners name. To be sure, I opened up the email app and found a non-personal email to the owner from Amazon. Within the email, I clicked on the "to" field (obviously, the email was sent to the iPhone's owner) and found the owner's email address, full name, and telephone number. The telephone number was likely the number associated with this iPhone - or perhaps a new iPhone.

I suspected that the owner had bought a new iPhone since it took me 3 weeks from finding the pulverized device until I got it repaired. So I called the number, and he picked up.

I confirmed it was him, introduced myself, and asked him if he had lost an iPhone. He had (duh!). I told him the whole story - he had no idea where he lost it, or the circumstances. So he was surprised and very interested in the details - even though he had a new iPhone. I think he was mostly relieved to know what happened and to come to closure.

I offered to meet him and hand it off. He thanked me and said I could keep it. Now I'm struggling with how to use an iPhone 4 as a glorified iPod Touch with a SIM chip that's obviously been marked as lost/stolen. Might have to jailbreak it.

By late this afternoon, I couldn't even get it to boot up. I'm starting to suspect that Apple or AT&T have disabled it. I might just have a $63 brick on my hands.
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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Paying for Bundled TV or Cord Cutting?

TelevisionImage by largeprime via Flickr

Ryan Lawler over at GigaOm has an interesting post up regarding pay TV services. The high-level point that he's emphasizing is that kids and younger adults are not paid subscribers to a Multichannel Video Programming Distributor (MVPD) - basically Cable TV, and the like. The post's headline declares, "The Children are our Future, and They're not Paying for TV" (link below under Related Articles).

When I read that, I immediately said to myself, there was no paid TV when I was a kid. My parents didn't pay for TV until some time in the 1980's. Paid TV is a relatively recent phenomenom.

The GigaOm blog post goes on to cover some interesting data points regarding the trend towards a la carte programming - or at least consumers' demands for a la carte programming. Who needs 500 stations (or wants to pay for them) when there are only a handful of shows that are of interest?

And that's the reason I've cut the cable TV cord. In our home we do pay for programming, but we get it through streaming services (like Netflix). I'm no young adult - I have two young children - but there's plenty of content to keep everyone entertained.

There's a strong trend towards unbundling of content programming. And it's happening whether or not the cable TV, satellite dish, or telephone companies want to participate. Just like the music business, kids will pay for the content if it's packaged and priced in an appealing manner.
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Friday, October 7, 2011

My Way or the Highway

Self madeImage via Wikipedia
There's been a lot written about Steve Jobs in the last few days. He was a remarkable man.

David Pogue's piece in the New York Times, among others, does a great job describing Steve Jobs' strengths, his creativity, his genius, his focus. We've also heard the stories that he was, at times, hard to work with.

I think the "hard to work with" sentiment is a direct symptom of working with someone that has a clear and confident vision and controls, if not demands, having the final say. There's an expression, "My way or the highway" - In other words, "We're going to do this my way, otherwise you can drive off into the sunset".

That doesn't make everyone happy. But running a business isn't about making everyone on the team happy or coming to some sort of compromise. After all, isn't "compromise" often a euphemism to describe a less-than-ideal outcome?

Too many boards, product, and management teams at start-ups are paralyzed because everyone's opted into management-by-committee. Five people; five different opinions.

I'm not sure who said it first, but I heard it first from my pal Scott Rafer: "Start-ups are not democracies."
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Saturday, October 1, 2011

If Everything is Shared Automatically, Nothing has Significance

SHAREImage by SHAREconference via Flickr
I often struggle with how much to share on this blog, on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on other social media platforms that I participate on. There are so many factors that come into play, such as the audience on each platform (some are more business focused; others more personal), the "who cares" factor, TMI (too much information), and other influences. In the end, "over-sharing" has become one of the problems with social media. It's no longer social or helpful if it's overwhelming.

I've felt this way for a while now, but couldn't really articulate it well until I read a great piece by Jeff Sonderman of the Poynter Institute. In his post regarding "frictionless sharing", he brings it all home with this:

The fact that people choose to keep most things private places significance on what they choose to share. If everything is shared automatically, nothing has significance.
“Sharing without intention is not social, it’s overwhelming, it’s noise,” social media consultant Jeff Gibbard observes on his blog. “Not everything I read, I endorse. Not everything I watch, I like. Not everything I listen to, I want to share. Without intention it’s simply surveillance.”
Their target here are services that automatically broadcast what you read or the music you listen to. I believe my settings in the music service Spotify are set to broadcast every song I listen to into my Facebook stream. So far, none of my friends have complained about that - but I suspect it's overkill.

Sonderman brings up a great point that news publications have to be careful how they deploy these broadcast tools. They could end up alienating their readers if their readers' friends feel overwhelmed.

Let me know in the comments what you think and how you balance sharing versus over-sharing.
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