Monday, December 5, 2011

Why We Love Sports--It's All About the Stories

In the latest edition (Nov 28, 2011) of
Sports Illustrated there was an article titled "Sport in America,
In My Tribe" by Terry McDonell.

Here is the opening of a paragraph in the article I'd
love to share.

Its not about scores and stats, it's about the stories.
The players' skill and athleticism can be mind-blowing,
but without the back stories there is no connection.
The excitement comes from knowing enough about the
athletes to care who makes the last shot and who misses.
Would Jazz guard Derek Fisher's hitting a key three-
pointer in the 2007 playoffs have mattered as much if
you didn't know that he had just flown round-trip to New
York from Salt Lake City to see his ailing 10-month-old
daughter? This is why Sports Illustrated puts rooting interest (mostly)
aside. There are no home teams for us. We root for the


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rediscovering the Human Connection

I believe change in the sales world is right around the corner.

Once upon a time, before information technology, businesses had to rely on good old-fashioned, face-to-face human contact to build and maintain relationships with their employees and customers. This high level of personal interconnectedness fostered strong corporate cultures. An employee knew his or her company’s story, values, and beliefs—and so did customers. A strong corporate culture, in turn, fostered a sense of corporate responsibility from one generation to the next, a commitment to developing people and their careers.

But in recent years, things changed. As one of our clients put it, “When I was at IBM in the late eighties, the company felt a sense of responsibility to develop the next generation of leaders. Now, nobody does it.”

That change can be attributed, in part, to the advent of the Information Age. I.T. promised to make us all more connected, more informed, more productive. But if I.T. has broadened our capacity to connect, it has also led to a shallower brand of connection. We don’t have to connect person-to-person anymore, so we don’t.

Other changes in the business climate, such as deregulation, contributed to a broader shift in corporate America. The conceptual, right-brain outlook that once guided so many companies to success was replaced by a more myopic, left-brain outlook focused on profits, processes, systems, and technology. Corporate responsibility and personal connection took a back seat to P&L statements. Automated systems replaced people. Numbers trumped values and beliefs.

Even the sales profession, where interpersonal relationships have always been so important, felt the effects. The traditional emphasis on personal, emotional connection got shunted aside by automation, forecasts, and expertise. (We should know; we were the ones who developed the era’s prevailing, left-brain sales paradigm.)

The result? An economy-wide disconnect between companies and their employees and customers. Granted, a few companies, such as Southwest and Apple, managed to buck the trend, effectively communicating their values and preserving their identity. But the business world in general suffered a decline in its collective emotional intelligence.

I believe the pendulum is about to swing the other way. The current financial crisis has served as a wake-up call to corporate America. Businesses have been forced to acknowledge that there has to be a better way. Change is always slow, but the crisis brought the pain necessary to set change in motion. I predict 2012 will be a groundbreaking year, one in which corporate America will begin to raise its collective “Emotional Quotient (EQ)” once again. By looking to other professions and disciplines, we’ll start to relearn the value of working from our beliefs (why we do what we do), rather than from a tunnel-vision focus on profits (what we do). By heeding new scientific discoveries about human behavior, we’ll start to gain a better understanding of why people buy into ideas, how they’re influenced to change. By following the example of companies like Southwest and Apple, we’ll start getting back to sustainable, nourishing corporate cultures. In short, we’ll begin to rediscover the value of human, emotional connection and its capacity to enrich not only our personal and professional lives, but also our bottom line.

-Ben Zoldan

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mike's Ah-Ha Moment

In 2008, at our then annual Customer Centric Selling Affiliate meeting, my partners and I hired Greg Alexander, founder of Sales Benchmark Index, to be our keynote speaker. As he started his presentation, Greg put up a slide with two numbers on it: 87 and 13. He told us that the 80/20 rule was no longer so. Instead, in B2B sales, after indexing 1,100 sales organizations—including many of our clients who employed thousands of salespeople we had trained—he’d found that it was now 87/13. The top 13 percent of salespeople were now responsible for 87 percent of the revenue.

At the time, I truly believed with all my heart, that both the Solution Selling and Customer Centric Selling methodologies held the key to helping the bottom 80 percent, but his slide told me otherwise.

I stared at the slide. The net effect of decades of sales training hadn’t helped the great mass of salespeople. Instead, systems like Solution Selling and Customer Centric Selling had made the best salespeople even better, leaving their peers even further behind. A few days later, it really hit me. Despite my best intentions, I hadn’t accomplished what I set out to do—help the bottom 80 percent pay their mortgages, send their kids to college, take vacations, provide for their families. I realized that my confidence in our methodology had turned into intellectual arrogance.

At first, I tried to cram that uncomfortable realization back into the bottle. The 87 percent must be lazy, stubborn, or resistant to change, I told myself. If they really tried,they could learn how to do it. After all, it had worked for me. And I thought I had evidence that our training wasn’t the problem. The number one complaint I heard from sales managers was that the bottom 80 percent of their salespeople quit trying to use the methodology within 10 days of the workshop, whereas the top people had an easy time putting the methodology into practice and therefore, stuck with it. It stood to reason that the few top sellers were successful because they used our methodology, while the rest underperformed because they didn’t.

At Customer Centric Selling, we prided ourselves on eating our own dog food,
so I took out a pad and ran the numbers, hoping to prove myself right. No such luck. Of approximately 40 affiliates, five of them had brought in 90 percent of our revenue—and it was the same five people every year. In theory, if all 40 were using our methodology,the revenue spread would have been a lot less disproportionate. But the real a-ha moment wasn’t that 87/13 was alive and well within my own organization. That moment came a little later when I looked under the hood at those top five Affiliates and considered what set them apart from the others. And there it was: they were the ones who had what we used to call “the mojo,” the ability to forge real emotional connections with their customers. They weren’t necessarily using the methodology they were selling. They were doing something above and beyond the methodologies to connect with their buyers.

-Mike Bosworth

Monday, May 30, 2011

Courage, Vulnerability & Connection

Over the past few years, perhaps because I am known as a "marketing and messaging" guy, a number of friends and acquaintances have asked me for advice regarding their profiles. a month ago, I was having the discussion with my friend Juliet. Juliet is in her mid 40's, very fit, very vital and very good looking. she gets LOTS of inquiries on is a recent cancer survivor. she beat a very aggressive,fast growing cancer. now she is ready to start dating and we were talking about when she should share her battle with cancer. Most of her friends advised her NOT to mention that she is a cancer survivor in her profile. yet, it is a very big deal and has to come out sooner or later. I suggested that if she did put "cancer survivor" in her profile, even if she got ONE response a month, at least on that date she would go out knowing her date already knew and she would not have to dread bringing up the subject.I was with Juliet today and she shared with me something shocking. Her 'winks' and matches DOUBLED after she put cancer survivor in her profile. For me, hearing this validated what we teach about vulnerability in our story leaders workshops and increased my faith in human nature. the courage to be imperfect leads to compassion and authenticity from others which results in emotional connection. If this subject interests you, check out the TED video featuring Brené Brown titled, "The power of vulnerability." we show it in our workshops.

Mike Bosworth 5/31/2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Maybe We Had It All Wrong

It was early 2008, I’m teaching a CustomerCentric Selling class to a long time client. On day three of this four-day workshop, one of the students asked if I’d like to sit in on a sales call he had scheduled for the afternoon on the last day. I had a couple extra hours before my flight home and it was in the same building – perfect.

I had worked with this client for a while by this point and I had trained almost everyone in the company: all their salespeople, engineers, marketing, services, everyone except one person: their CEO, John.

It's Friday afternoon, I'm done with the workshop, feeling good; my student, Jason and I walk over to a conference room down the hall to meet the prospect. There were 4 people already in the room: the CIO from the prospective client, with two of his I.T. Directors, and an unexpected fourth person: John, my client’s CEO.

At first, I didn’t think much of him being there, but quickly realized it would be a great opportunity to showcase my stuff.

So, the sales call began with Jason, fresh out of my workshop, using everything I had just taught him: a consultative selling model based on asking effective questions in order to learn about a prospect’s situation, then building a solution that matches their needs. Jason starts by probing the CIO with a series of diagnostic questions. The prospect, however, wasn’t responding the way that he was supposed to. Although Jason’s questions were perfectly reasonable, the CIO’s answers became increasingly abrupt. Worse, his body language – arms crossed, sitting stiff, brow creased, zero eye contact -- was registering what could only be described as total irritation.

So, a few minutes into it, I get nervous - my guy was doing everything ‘right’, yet the sales call was unraveling. My anxiety became a queue to rescue Jason. I jumped in and I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember the CIO cutting me short and saying: “Guys, stop! You're not getting me; stop asking me questions and tell me what you do.” Ten seconds in, I had crashed and burned.

Just then, I glanced over at John, the CEO, and thought, “S_ _ t, now what?!” I could only imagine what he was thinking: “This is what we’re training our salespeople to do?”

The feeling in the room became more and more uncomfortable. So, John leans forward and with a calming voice, says, “Hey guys, that reminds me of a time when I was at MCI...” And he tells a story about a time when he used to work for MCI and what had happened after a merger. He described how he and his management team made a series of mistakes that led to a series of problems. As John began to share this personal experience, you could see an immediate change in the room: the CIO's posture completely changed: he relaxed, he uncrosses his arms, he set aside his Blackberry, which had been consuming his attention, and he leaned forward towards John and started to really focus in on what he was saying. I don’t know how to describe it other than he looked mesmerized by John's words. John ends with, “What I learned from that experience was….”. The story lasted no more than 3 minutes, and when he was done, silence. John didn’t ask anyone in the room any questions, just silence. I had no any idea what to do at this point. I had nothing to offer. Neither did Jason. There was zero dot zero chance that I was going to jump in at this point.

After a few seconds of silence, the once tense CIO calmly says, “You know John, I was a client of MCI at the time and here is what I went through…”. And then he launched into a relevant story about a similar experience. And, John listened; not just listened - but really LISTENED. I didn't totally get what John was doing at the time, but it was like he was helping the CIO build his story in real-time.

The room is quiet again. A few seconds later, John added another story, but this one was more personal. It was a marginally relevant experience, but this one included his kids. Then, the CIO topped that one with a story about his kids and progressed to his in-laws. This went on for probably another 30 minutes, bouncing between personal and business stories. About 45 minutes into the meeting, the CIO stops and said, “But John, here is the deal; we’re on 3 continents: can you guys scale?” It got serious all of a sudden. After a few seconds of silence, John looked at him and said, “I have no idea, we’ve never done this before.” I looked over to Jason and I could tell he wanted to reach over and strangle John; his mouth was literally wide open. Then, John added, “but we will do this together.”

After a few seconds, the CIO looked over to his 2 I.T. Directors and said, “OK, what do we need to do to get started?”

John and the CIO stood and shook hands, and the meeting was effectively over, details to be worked out later, deal closed. The CEO and the customers left the room.

I’m sitting there with my guy Jason and the only thing that’s going through my mind is: “WTF just happened?” Once John stepped in, the meeting went from interrogation and defense, to a mutual sharing of ideas; almost like two people letting each other in, one at a time.

Anyways, I left to catch my flight home, but felt completely out of my league because of what just happened in front of me. I had just witnessed the perfect sales call, but I wasn’t able to make sense of it. So, I get to the airport, went straight to the lounge, had a drink, and I wrote down everything that I thought John did:

  • He told stories; some professional, some personal. But these were different than the normal business dialogue stories.
  • He was vulnerable; it was weird that all his stories included some form of admission of his own mistakes.
  • Although I didn’t know this at the time, he had a point to everything he shared.

  • He didn’t come across as ‘Superman’; he just seemed ‘human’.

  • He was patient and demonstrated an unbelievable intent to listen - real listening beyond anything I knew was possible.

  • Lastly, and I didn’t recognize this while it was happening, he got the CIO to reveal everything a salesperson would want to get out of a prospect on a sales call: his issues, his goals, his personal experiences, his beliefs.

Here is the kicker, it’s what John didn’t do: He never asked a single question – not one. He got a once guarded, arm-crossed CIO to completely open up and reveal himself without asking any questions. John didn't do any of the things that were being taught in any of our sales trainings and did things that weren't being taught.

This experience began a whole new journey for me. I had to figure out exactly what John did, how he did it and how I could learn to do it myself. Nobody was teaching the 'John' method, but everything he did just seemed to work like magic. This was the good stuff.

The most frightening part of this experience was that I had to question everything I knew to be true. I had just realized that there was a better way...

- Ben Zoldan

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Top 13 Percent of Sales People

Here's a little insight regarding the top 13 percent of sales people: They are a group of people who connect emotionally with others. They form this connection through vulnerability. When something sensitive is revealed about a person, it’s a reminder that they are “just human”. This emotional connection is the starting point. From there, through storytelling and story “tending”, the relationship grows.

In a well-crafted story, it’s the emotional conflict that will open the hearts of the listener. Hearing an emotional story will inspire the listener to share their own story. As this happens, trust is formed between two people that may not have been there before.

In order to be emotionally connected, you need to be vulnerable.

In order to be vulnerable, you need to have courage.

It’s not easy to share emotional conflict with others, in a personal or a professional story. Most people are conditioned to hide what might make them appear weak. Learning to show vulnerability through storytelling will help you make more emotional connections, develop trust with people and have greater success.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How Do I Know When I Have Listened Enough?

Over the years, in all the 'effective listening' courses or books I have been exposed to, I have not seen where these methodologies have helped a seller or a partner know when they have listened 'enough'.
This past week in our public Story Leaders™ StorySelling workshop, I had a breakthrough in understanding about listening. In past workshops we have avoided building our "Who am I" stories until we first learned the building blocks in the much less emotional subjects of "Who I Represent" or "Who I Have Helped".

This time, because Ben and I now realize how important vulnerability is to connection, we decided to have our participants build their "Who Am I" stories first.

This enabled us on day 2 to use those stories in our Story Tending exercises. When the 'seller' in those role-plays purposely tended the buyer's "Who Am I" story, magical, emotional connections started happening—even in the 'lab'.

It struck me that once you 'get' the building blocks of your own story [point, setting, complication, turning point & resolution] you now know what building blocks you need to 'get' of your buyer's or partner's story in order to listen 'enough'.

The process of tending the others story until you have 'enough' was magical.