The Danger of Crocodile Sales

Posted on Feb 3, 2010 | 72 comments


crocodile with mouth openThis is part of my series on Startup Advice.

When I worked in London there were a ton of Aussies.  I love working with Aussies because their outlook on life seems very similar to what I grew up with in California.  Pretty laid back and non-hierarchic.  I also loved learning all of their sayings.

My favorite was when a guy told me to beware of Crocodile Salesmen. What’s that?  “You know, big mouth and no ears.”

That’s always stuck with me.  Crocodile Salesmen are people who are always talking.  They’re pitching to you.  They don’t take the time to realize what your true motivations are because they’re too busy telling you what they THINK you want to hear.

Trust me – your chances of selling are much lower if you’re talking rather than actively listening.

I’d like to talk about Crocodile Salesmen in 3 scenarios: 1) when YOU are selling (or someone on your team), 2) when you are trying to recruit a sales person and 3) raising VC

1. YOU Selling – My wise old friend & mentor, Ameet Shah, once told me after a meeting we had with clients (when I worked at Accenture), “there are two ways to run a meeting: asking or telling.  You’re a persuasive guy but be careful not to always be telling people the answer.  Nobody likes that.  You learn much more about how other people think when you’re asking.  And you get to better results.”

That stuck with me long before I was ever a CEO (aka chief salesman).  It is my natural style to want to “tell.”  I’m an ENTP.  Many of you are “tellers,” too.  I know because many entrepreneurs I spend time with I can tell are in their own brains when we’re meeting rather than trying to understand what my position is.    You’re in sales mode.  I still do this sometimes, too.  But I’m keenly aware afterward when I’ve done it and kick myself.

This point is also echoed by the author of my favorite business (life) book of all time – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (by Stephen Covey) – in which he says as one of the habits, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  If you follow that mantra I assure you it will lead to more positive results in whatever you’re doing.

But how to apply “listening” in a sales meeting?  Let’s assume you run a Customer Support software company.  Do you simply begin by asking, “I’d love to understand what your objectives are in customer support?  Where are your current pains?”

Never.

You need to first establish two things: credibility and rapport.  I recommend starting the meeting with a VERY brief introduction of your company, your background and why it’s relevant to the job you currently have.  I would then always say, “Obviously we know a little bit about you but if you feel comfortable we’d love to know just a little bit more about you and about your role.”

Too many people are racing through the pitch, pitch, pitch that they don’t realize it’s polite to let the “opposing team” talk and do intro’s also.  They’re into crocodile mode.

After that you need to begin discussing your company.  You need to identify a customer problem and talk about how your solution meets the needs of that problem.

What I personally recommend is that you use “What We Find’s.” Highlighting a few problems that you have seen in some of your existing  customers.  You can mention them generically.  Even better if you have permission to discuss actual names as a “reference client.”

So you would say (in the Customer Support example), “What we find is that many of our clients have existing ‘trouble ticketing’ systems.  But many of these aren’t integrated with the way that their customers want to communicate with them in 2010.  They don’t handle Twitter feedback, emails or IM.  So ‘what we find’ is that many of our customers are using separate tools for managing these but don’t have a holistic view of the customer.”

So you’ve identified a problem.  But DO NOT crocodile into your solution page.  You have hopefully established enough rapport and credibility by this point to enable you to ask a question.  Start very simply and subtly, such as, “do you find similar challenges at your company?”  Hopefully this will elicit a long-enough answer for you to engage in a discussion.

If you get no love after that you might be in for a tough meeting.  You have no choice but to jump into solution mode for a bit to see if your case studies on a successful implementation at other customers opens up the person you’re meeting a bit.

The end goal in your meeting is to get the customer to trust you enough to talk about their existing problems.  You should be actively listening the whole time (actively listening as in listening, writing important things down and asking relevant questions as they talk about their problems).  At the end I normally like to say “I’d love to list out what I  think I heard are your issues to test whether I had properly understood them.”  Normally after I read off my summary they clarify points a lot and I realize that I was only directionally correct.  Always “test your understanding.”

The art of building rapport, establishing a base of credibility and then shifting to a discussion is how the best sales processes work.  The quicker you slip into Crocodile Mode the greater the chance that you’re telling somebody about solutions you have to somebody else’s problems – not your prospect’s problems.  Or you’re not speaking in their company’s vernacular so they’re not making the connection.

Beware of Crocodile Sales.  They are seldom productive.

2. Hiring a Sales Person – So you’re running your own startup and you need to be able to hire a sales leader and ultimately more junior sales people.  You conduct an interview.  How do you know if you have the right person?  The best sales people understand that an interview is a sale and they demonstrate that they understand the process by conducting your interview in the format I outlined above.

If they start the meeting with, “I’d like to know what you’re looking for in your VP Sales person – what’s important to you?” then it’s going to be a long meeting.  They clearly don’t understand that until they’ve established rapport they haven’t earned the right to ask that question.  This happens in about 10-15% of the candidates I interview.

The much more common is – you guessed it – the crocodile sales person.  After some basic banter of getting to know each other I turn to their resume and ask some questions.  A good sales person knows to answer each question briefly and then check back with you, “would you like me to go into more detail in that area?”  A Crocodile Salesperson is off to the races.  Turn on your stop watch – they’ll be talking for the next 12 minutes about all of the great and successful campaigns they’ve led – even before you’ve asked.  Zzzzzzz.

I always politely listen even though I may have already written them off.  I probably will jump in with a few questions about their industry and start a discussion.  I know they’re not going to get the job but I don’t want to be rude and end the meeting in 10 minutes.  But to spare me from 50 minutes of totally wasted time I figure I might as well use it as a chance to learn a bit more as an industry.  Unfortunately this happens in at least 40% of my sales person interviews and confirms my theory that at least 40% of sales people suck.  Probably higher.

The GREAT sales people know how to turn an “interview” into a “discussion.”  This is a rare gift since the interviewer often feels empowered to run the meeting as he / she sees fit and doesn’t intend to cede control.  But I’ve had situations where I’ve intended to interview a candidate and he’s flipped it to a point where I feel like I’m trying to convince him what a great opportunity this is.

It’s subtle and slow.  It starts with the basics: rapport and credibility.  Then it moves to politely answering questions as asked and short bursts.  But after a few of these I’ve noticed some great sales people then throw in a question.  They are not generic questions.  They are specific ones that show that they’ve done their research.  “I noticed that you’ve had some success with your customer support software on Twitter accounts, but how do people using Salesforce.com typically respond?  Do they want it all in one solution?  I’d love to understand how that part of your sales process goes, if that would be ok.”

BOOM.  Now I’m selling.   And just when I thought I’d answered it he finds a clever way to ask a follow on question that demonstrates both his research / knowledge of my company AND he’s asked a question in a way that he’s demonstrating his sales knowledge so that he’s still scoring points, “when I was at Oracle the problem we ran into competing with Salesforce was A,B,C.  We found some success when we tried D, E, F.  Have you guys faced similar experiences in selling?”

3. Pitching a VC – As I said in a previous post – the best VC meetings are discussions and not sales pitches.  Let’s be honest – raising money IS a sale and you need to treat it as such.  You’re running a sales campaign to raise money.  You have target customers, you have competitors and you have a product to sell.

So all the same rules apply.  Prepare for your meetings by doing research before you go.  Try to find out who in the organization is most likely to buy your product.  It’s always best to “sell high,” which means to get in front of the most senior team if you can.  But also to focus on somebody who is interested in your area – not just the partner you can most easily get intro’d to.

And importantly – when you have your meeting: build rapport, establish credibility (if you haven’t seen why I believe the first slide in your deck should be your bio’s see this post), and find a way to flip it and ask the VC to respond with their point of view on topics.  VC’s have a crocodile aversion as much as the next guy.

  • Allen Rohner

    In the last paragraph, you say “if you haven’t seen why I believe the first slide in your deck should be your bio’s see this post”, but there's no link.

  • http://www.blackbeltguide.com/ Marc Winitz

    I always enjoy your blog, Mark – especially your sales views. This is well written. Let me throw in two thoughts here:

    1. On questioning a prospect/potential customer – I am going to assume it is a given that some rapport building will occur and a reader of your blog gets this. Once that has happened it is far better to be asking a lot of questions as much as you can reasonably get away with throughout a pitch. Want to know what the customer's major pain point is? Ask. Want to find out their budget or buying process (you do) – ask. I am not saying do this all up front but I want to point out that the entire purpose of the selling process, especially where you are in front of the the customer which is usually your most valuable time, is to get as much information out of them as possible. Product demos are for morons. Sales pitches are all about extracting information and using it in real time (as you state) to demonstrate why your widget/service/whatever gives the customer/prospect what they need. An old saying in sales is “pitching is vomiting”. True if done the wrong way where you get nothing back.

    I once grilled the CEO of the largest bank in South Africa about his needs/reqs for a payment system my company was selling. I did it politely but made him talk about 70% of the pitch, including our PPT/demo spiel. We won the deal. After the preso he laughingly told me he felt like he was interrogated which I took as a compliment. Don't be afraid to ask.

    Also, I am all for subtly but you don't have to be, just don't be obnoxious (your point). It is totally acceptable after some rapport building and back and forth exchange has occurred to say something like “I have a few specific questions I'd really like to understand prior to getting into my presentation. It will help me gear the presentation specifically to the problem you are trying to solve.” They will usually say its fine and you can start asking. Your method above (which is smoother) doesn't always work for those that haven't sold a lot before. At least this way the CEO acting as chief sales guy gets the necessary info. You don't get penalized for asking. You do for being overly polite and not asking, meaning you didn't give yourself the best opportunity to make the sale.

    2. On hiring sales people here are two things that work for me: 1) Ask the candidate to present themselves to you on a whiteboard. Literally make them sell themselves to you. Why? Because it puts them on the spot (they'll be getting lots of that when they get in front of the “C” check writers) so you get to see how they respond. They also should be experts on their best topic-them. If they can't literally sell themselves what makes you believe they can sell your product or service that they will have studied, rehearsed, etc…I usually ask them a few questions about their background, something I see on the resume, etc…before I ask them to sell themselves to me. This way you don't get the pre-canned answers of “so where do you see your career in 5 years” which the guy rehearsed.

    The other part is after you are done (this whole thing should take 3 minutes) they all want to know how they did. It provides the result you speak to above regarding a discussion.

    For newer CEO's that have not had to hire sales people before, and assuming you know what you will be paying in terms of on target earning (OTE) – such as base + commission at plan the person should make $150K – ask them how much they want to make. Not how much they have made previously but how much they want. Sales people that are successful will know this job is paying $150K so they will say something like “I'd expect to at least make $200K+” which is what you want to hear because you want people to blow through their plan. If they hesitate at all and say something like “$100 to 120K”, you know they have never made $150K+ before so the BS meter goes up.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks for spotting. Fixed.

  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    Funny, my wife is an Aussie and my co-founder is as well; clearly I share your like of the Aussie spirit. Oi Oi Oi

    In my previous enterprise software life, I hit a few situations where the prospect, usually technical and suspicious of sales, was determined to play “No talk. Just show me.” If you're lucky and have a dependable engineer with you, you can take yourself out of the equation until they establish some trust, and draft off that trust with intelligent comments of your own. But if you don't, it's about killing any marketing-speak from your language and, even though the prospect has said he just wants to listen, basically trying to do what you describe anyway to crack them open. If you're non-technical, to successfully pitch this kind of person, you have to *really* know your product and how it is used.

    congrats on TheFunded list, etc. I'm jealous of the folks across the continent who get to share their startup plans with you and get your feedback.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Marc, awesome input. I agree wholeheartedly with 100%. When I'm talking to CEO's one-on-one I always tell them
    - you need to take risks
    - you need to get very close to the line of acceptability without going over it
    - you need to push hard on questioning.

    The only reason I don't write quite as forcefully in the post is that many of the CEO's of startup techs really have no sales experience. Without working closely with them I hate to give advice that forces them to aggressive when they haven't learned the fine art of active listening. If anybody feels they already have pretty good natural sales skills then I would follow Marc's advice hook, line and sinker.

    As for how to interview – I've now got my new technique. I love it. I plan to use it on my next interview. Shame: just finished a major round of interviews – would have been useful 3 weeks ago!

    thanks for the input. I'm starting the series on my sales method very soon. I'd love to have any and all input (including if you disagree on points).

    Best,
    Mark

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. I literally laughed out loud – heartily. My son's name is Andy. He's 4. Since he was born we have a routine where my wife and I yell, “Andy, Andy, Andy” and he yes, “Oi, Oi, Oi.” He still doesn't know why. If anyone's interest what we're on about check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HfELRbhZw0

    re: teh “no talk, just show me” I obviously know the type. To Marc's point above – if you're trained you can usually swing them but you need to work harder to build rapport first. And if it's not working, yes, you can fall back on your sales engineer to have a technical chat. Or … you can take some risks and try to ask questions anyway ;-)

  • http://www.blackbeltguide.com/ Marc Winitz

    Completely my pleasure Mark. Regarding the tone of the post I fully understand the advice you are giving and the way you give it due to the audience. Your CEO readers would do well to heed your advice. I used to consult to BoDs and CEOs of early stage startups on sales force restructuring. A fine line on how to communicate the advice based on the audience and their comfort level. It is clear you understand sales in your post above.

    PS – I am putting a new post up on my new blog tomorrow and it references you and BSOT2. Hopefully you will find it as a compliment. The way you have started this one and have grown it, and the manner in which you share your expertise inspired me to start this one.//Marc

  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    yeah I thought Marc's comment was great. My particular angle was always focused on building trust; helped me beat out a lot of bigger competitors with slick sales reps.

    great vid :)

  • http://www.appwhirl.com Richard Jordan

    I think it's not so much that 40% of sales people suck – if you're going for a simple binary split I'd not be surprised if the 60-40 goes the other way. IMHO it's that 80% of sales people suck some of the time.

    It's a bit like sports. A small number of players are real stars from the moment they wake up till the moment they crash at the end of another high-energy days. The rest are likely to have periods of high performance followed by troughs where they can't close a door, or inconsistent all the time (if that makes sense). We've all seen how a loss beyond-their-control can cause a performance crash in a closing machine, and a lucky win can make a mediocre performer get their tail up and start to show the confidence needed to push some of their pipeline over the edge.

    That being said, great advice and thought provoking, as always. I got the chance to sit with a top-notch VC for an informal chat for few mins yesterday and worry now I spent all that time talking his ear off. Now I'm hoping I didn't come off as a crocodile CEO. Doh!

  • Allen Rohner

    In the last paragraph, you say “if you haven’t seen why I believe the first slide in your deck should be your bio’s see this post”, but there's no link.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Awesome! Send me the link. Where are you living these days? We should connect.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    LOL. I'm sure you did fine. But the funniest thing is the most people enjoy talking and it's strange that the more they talk the more they like you. Especially ENTPs, which is at least 50% of VCs.

    re: %'s that are good / suck and whether it is permanent or temporary – I understand your analogy. I don't know the right number. My mantra has always been, “1/3 of your reps will suck, 1/3 will be ok and 1/3 will be stars” and the thing that sucks is it often takes 6 months to separate out the top 2/3rds.

  • http://www.blackbeltguide.com/ Marc Winitz

    I always enjoy your blog, Mark – especially your sales views. This is well written. Let me throw in two thoughts here:

    1. On questioning a prospect/potential customer – I am going to assume it is a given that some rapport building will occur and a reader of your blog gets this. Once that has happened it is far better to be asking a lot of questions as much as you can reasonably get away with throughout a pitch. Want to know what the customer's major pain point is? Ask. Want to find out their budget or buying process (you do) – ask. I am not saying do this all up front but I want to point out that the entire purpose of the selling process, especially where you are in front of the the customer which is usually your most valuable time, is to get as much information out of them as possible. Product demos are for morons. Sales pitches are all about extracting information and using it in real time (as you state) to demonstrate why your widget/service/whatever gives the customer/prospect what they need. An old saying in sales is “pitching is vomiting”. True if done the wrong way where you get nothing back.

    I once grilled the CEO of the largest bank in South Africa about his needs/reqs for a payment system my company was selling. I did it politely but made him talk about 70% of the pitch, including our PPT/demo spiel. We won the deal. After the preso he laughingly told me he felt like he was interrogated which I took as a compliment. Don't be afraid to ask.

    Also, I am all for subtly but you don't have to be, just don't be obnoxious (your point). It is totally acceptable after some rapport building and back and forth exchange has occurred to say something like “I have a few specific questions I'd really like to understand prior to getting into my presentation. It will help me gear the presentation specifically to the problem you are trying to solve.” They will usually say its fine and you can start asking. Your method above (which is smoother) doesn't always work for those that haven't sold a lot before. At least this way the CEO acting as chief sales guy gets the necessary info. You don't get penalized for asking. You do for being overly polite and not asking, meaning you didn't give yourself the best opportunity to make the sale.

    2. On hiring sales people here are two things that work for me: 1) Ask the candidate to present themselves to you on a whiteboard. Literally make them sell themselves to you. Why? Because it puts them on the spot (they'll be getting lots of that when they get in front of the “C” check writers) so you get to see how they respond. They also should be experts on their best topic-them. If they can't literally sell themselves what makes you believe they can sell your product or service that they will have studied, rehearsed, etc…I usually ask them a few questions about their background, something I see on the resume, etc…before I ask them to sell themselves to me. This way you don't get the pre-canned answers of “so where do you see your career in 5 years” which the guy rehearsed.

    The other part is after you are done (this whole thing should take 3 minutes) they all want to know how they did. It provides the result you speak to above regarding a discussion.

    For newer CEO's that have not had to hire sales people before, and assuming you know what you will be paying in terms of on target earning (OTE) – such as base + commission at plan the person should make $150K – ask them how much they want to make. Not how much they have made previously but how much they want. Sales people that are successful will know this job is paying $150K so they will say something like “I'd expect to at least make $200K+” which is what you want to hear because you want people to blow through their plan. If they hesitate at all and say something like “$100 to 120K”, you know they have never made $150K+ before so the BS meter goes up.

  • daytulu

    A good friend/mentor of mine once said “No one learns anything by talking”. It was short but to the point. I strongly believe listening and knowing when to talk is the most important of all “people skills”.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks for spotting. Fixed.

  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    Funny, my wife is an Aussie and my co-founder is as well; clearly I share your like of the Aussie spirit. Oi Oi Oi

    In my previous enterprise software life, I hit a few situations where the prospect, usually technical and suspicious of sales, was determined to play “No talk. Just show me.” If you're lucky and have a dependable engineer with you, you can take yourself out of the equation until they establish some trust, and draft off that trust with intelligent comments of your own. But if you don't, it's about killing any marketing-speak from your language and, even though the prospect has said he just wants to listen, basically trying to do what you describe anyway to crack them open. If you're non-technical, to successfully pitch this kind of person, you have to *really* know your product and how it is used.

    congrats on TheFunded list, etc. I'm jealous of the folks across the continent who get to share their startup plans with you and get your feedback.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Marc, awesome input. I agree wholeheartedly with 100%. When I'm talking to CEO's one-on-one I always tell them
    - you need to take risks
    - you need to get very close to the line of acceptability without going over it
    - you need to push hard on questioning.

    The only reason I don't write quite as forcefully in the post is that many of the CEO's of startup techs really have no sales experience. Without working closely with them I hate to give advice that forces them to aggressive when they haven't learned the fine art of active listening. If anybody feels they already have pretty good natural sales skills then I would follow Marc's advice hook, line and sinker.

    As for how to interview – I've now got my new technique. I love it. I plan to use it on my next interview. Shame: just finished a major round of interviews – would have been useful 3 weeks ago!

    thanks for the input. I'm starting the series on my sales method very soon. I'd love to have any and all input (including if you disagree on points).

    Best,
    Mark

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. I literally laughed out loud – heartily. My son's name is Andy. He's 4. Since he was born we have a routine where my wife and I yell, “Andy, Andy, Andy” and he yes, “Oi, Oi, Oi.” He still doesn't know why. If anyone's interest what we're on about check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HfELRbhZw0

    re: teh “no talk, just show me” I obviously know the type. To Marc's point above – if you're trained you can usually swing them but you need to work harder to build rapport first. And if it's not working, yes, you can fall back on your sales engineer to have a technical chat. Or … you can take some risks and try to ask questions anyway ;-)

  • http://www.blackbeltguide.com/ Marc Winitz

    Completely my pleasure Mark. Regarding the tone of the post I fully understand the advice you are giving and the way you give it due to the audience. Your CEO readers would do well to heed your advice. I used to consult to BoDs and CEOs of early stage startups on sales force restructuring. A fine line on how to communicate the advice based on the audience and their comfort level. It is clear you understand sales in your post above.

    PS – I am putting a new post up on my new blog tomorrow and it references you and BSOT2. Hopefully you will find it as a compliment. The way you have started this one and have grown it, and the manner in which you share your expertise inspired me to start this one.//Marc

  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    yeah I thought Marc's comment was great. My particular angle was always focused on building trust; helped me beat out a lot of bigger competitors with slick sales reps.

    great vid :)

  • http://www.appwhirl.com Richard Jordan

    I think it's not so much that 40% of sales people suck – if you're going for a simple binary split I'd not be surprised if the 60-40 goes the other way. IMHO it's that 80% of sales people suck some of the time.

    It's a bit like sports. A small number of players are real stars from the moment they wake up till the moment they crash at the end of another high-energy days. The rest are likely to have periods of high performance followed by troughs where they can't close a door, or inconsistent all the time (if that makes sense). We've all seen how a loss beyond-their-control can cause a performance crash in a closing machine, and a lucky win can make a mediocre performer get their tail up and start to show the confidence needed to push some of their pipeline over the edge.

    That being said, great advice and thought provoking, as always. I got the chance to sit with a top-notch VC for an informal chat for few mins yesterday and worry now I spent all that time talking his ear off. Now I'm hoping I didn't come off as a crocodile CEO. Doh!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mrjain Manish Jain

    Mark,

    As usual yet another great post.

    I've always said sales/preso 101 should be taught in school.

    You want a new car? That's really a sales pitch.
    You want to go somewhere for vacation? That's a sales pitch to friend, spouse, etc..

    This post just reinforces that you need to frame it more as a “discussion” then a hard core sales pitch.

  • http://www.astramatch.com/blog pemo

    Wow thanx Mark for complimenting us Aussies. I found out only after I left Oz 10 years ago to live in Ireland that in WWII the Aussies had the best team spirit, better than Americans & English. Since then I have seen that in Europe for real, compared to other nationalities & I surmise because we are so isolated 'down under' and live in such a harsh environment (mainly desert & humans cling to a few scattered cities on coast) that we have to pull together to get things done. Aussies also have a genuine friendliness that can't be beat, and this is very obvious when you meet them against the European backdrop. It took leaving Oz for me to appreciate my kinswomen & men.
    I also picked up on your point about listening. I am an ENFP, not too different than your profile & also found that I used to like to tell everyone everything. Well I still do but training as a business coach many years ago, I really worked on the listening piece & also asking good questions. These are such brilliant tools so that you don't end up in a soliloquy – they really work for me.
    I think the other piece about selling & now I have to bring the F = FEELING piece of my MBTA to the fore (& so this may just be personal for me) is that I have to really believe or feel passionate about something to sell it well. I often find when people are motivated by other things rather than PASSION or CONFIDENCE that the sell falls flat. This has gotta be where the A for AUTHENTIC shows up?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Awesome! Send me the link. Where are you living these days? We should connect.

  • http://www.astramatch.com/blog pemo

    Oops almost forgot – congratulations on running 2nd in the voting for the best VCs on TheFunded.com
    You have contributed to entrepreneurs in so many ways through your blog & authenticity. And hopefully, like TheFunded.com itself you may be encouraging other VCs to lift their game???? I live forever hopeful.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    LOL. I'm sure you did fine. But the funniest thing is the most people enjoy talking and it's strange that the more they talk the more they like you. Especially ENTPs, which is at least 50% of VCs.

    re: %'s that are good / suck and whether it is permanent or temporary – I understand your analogy. I don't know the right number. My mantra has always been, “1/3 of your reps will suck, 1/3 will be ok and 1/3 will be stars” and the thing that sucks is it often takes 6 months to separate out the top 2/3rds.

  • http://damiansen.com damiansen

    I also tend to be very observant and I found several times that other's body language shows sometimes that they are uncomfortable with the need to talk, specially if they are engaged. even if you are talking to much, just stop since the fact that the other guy is talking can mean he's hooked to the topic.
    I'm ENTP with an questionmark on the I/E (45-55 kind of result leaning to I).

    When using English as a communication language or handling a subject I am not comfortable with, I tend to jump into the E crocodile version of me: I realize that this is in a way dumb because I could leverage the listening attitude to win some time instead of just trying to show off / command the situation by doing all the talk.

    Does anyone experience something similar?

    I don't know much about sales and have been trying to improve that so this article points some good directions.

  • daytulu

    A good friend/mentor of mine once said “No one learns anything by talking”. It was short but to the point. I strongly believe listening and knowing when to talk is the most important of all “people skills”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mrjain Manish Jain

    Mark,

    As usual yet another great post.

    I've always said sales/preso 101 should be taught in school.

    You want a new car? That's really a sales pitch.
    You want to go somewhere for vacation? That's a sales pitch to friend, spouse, etc..

    This post just reinforces that you need to frame it more as a “discussion” then a hard core sales pitch.

  • http://twitter.com/PhilipHotchkiss Philip Hotchkiss

    Great post. In my startup experiences, I've found that when the business gets to the point where you need a VP of Sales it is the hardest position to hire. I've come across a bunch of Crocodiles, and in one case, hired one.

    So the experience went like this, I took the guy with me to close a sale with a tier 1 publishing brand in NYC. I made it clear to this yet unmasked Croc, “This is a listen and learn trip-do not try to sell.” As the founder and CEO, I was the closer in chief, but the business was growing so fast we needed to scale.

    Long story short

  • http://blog.tumbledesign.com/ Nicky Hajal

    I was happy to come across Mark Goulston on This Week in Startups and grabbed his book 'Just Listen'. (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0814414036/)

    It was an excellent read on the subject of listening and it's importance in getting through to people. It's convinced me to really focus on building that as a skill going forward.

    -Nicky

  • http://twitter.com/PhilipHotchkiss Philip Hotchkiss

    My last comment did not make it all the way through for some reason, just edited it to complete the story:-)

  • http://www.astramatch.com/blog pemo

    Wow thanx Mark for complimenting us Aussies. I found out only after I left Oz 10 years ago to live in Ireland that in WWII the Aussies had the best team spirit, better than Americans & English. Since then I have seen that in Europe for real, compared to other nationalities & I surmise because we are so isolated 'down under' and live in such a harsh environment (mainly desert & humans cling to a few scattered cities on coast) that we have to pull together to get things done. Aussies also have a genuine friendliness that can't be beat, and this is very obvious when you meet them against the European backdrop. It took leaving Oz for me to appreciate my kinswomen & men.
    I also picked up on your point about listening. I am an ENFJ, (not too different than your profile haha) & also found that I used to like to tell everyone everything. Well I still do but training as a business coach many years ago, I really worked on the listening piece & also asking good questions. These are such brilliant tools so that you don't end up in a soliloquy – they really work for me.
    I think the other piece about selling & now I have to bring the F = FEELING piece of my MBTA to the fore (& so this may just be personal for me) is that I have to really believe or feel passionate about something to sell it well. I often find when people are motivated by other things rather than PASSION or CONFIDENCE that the sell falls flat. This has gotta be where the A for AUTHENTIC shows up?

  • http://www.astramatch.com/blog pemo

    Oops almost forgot – congratulations on running 2nd in the voting for the best VCs on TheFunded.com
    You have contributed to entrepreneurs in so many ways through your blog & authenticity. And hopefully, like TheFunded.com itself you may be encouraging other VCs to lift their game???? I live forever hopeful.

  • http://influads.com/ damiansen

    I also tend to be very observant and I found several times that other's body language shows sometimes that they are uncomfortable with the need to talk, specially if they are engaged. even if you are talking to much, just stop since the fact that the other guy is talking can mean he's hooked to the topic.
    I'm ENTP with an questionmark on the I/E (45-55 kind of result leaning to I).

    When using English as a communication language or handling a subject I am not comfortable with, I tend to jump into the E crocodile version of me: I realize that this is in a way dumb because I could leverage the listening attitude to win some time instead of just trying to show off / command the situation by doing all the talk.

    Does anyone experience something similar?

    I don't know much about sales and have been trying to improve that so this article points some good directions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1216775849 facebook-1216775849

    The sales meeting is controlled by the one who isn't talking but asking the questions. Associated principle: Demos of features and functions are, essentially, useless sales tools.

  • Tereza

    Great post Mark.

    As much as we try we can always do better.

    A few months ago I re-read Spin Selling. When it came out was seminal in enterprise sales. He basics are not so basic! They take practice, thoughtfulness and honest self-reflection.

  • Shane

    Thanks again Mark for writing such poignant material, this is really great. I wanted to point everyone in the direction of a great website I found when I was doing research about how to cold call effectively (read: was at my wit's end) ;).

    Anyway, it was a great tutorial, and they had tons of additional essays and information about building rapport and how to effectively sell to a new prospect. http://www.businessballs.com/cold_calling.htm

  • http://twitter.com/PhilipHotchkiss Philip Hotchkiss

    Great post. In my startup experiences, I've found that when the business gets to the point where you need a VP of Sales it is the hardest position to hire. I've come across a bunch of Crocodiles, and in one case, hired one.

    So the experience went like this, I took the guy with me to close a sale with a tier 1 publishing brand in NYC. I made it clear to this yet unmasked Croc, “This is a listen and learn trip-do not try to sell.” As the founder and CEO, I was the closer in chief, but the business was growing so fast we needed to scale.

    Long story short, 5 minutes into the meeting with the prospective customer, this guy starts talking, then he starts talking about stuff he knows nothing about and then he starts SELLING.

    That was his first and last week on the job-fired.

  • http://blog.tumbledesign.com/ Nicky Hajal

    I was happy to come across Mark Goulston on This Week in Startups and grabbed his book 'Just Listen'. (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0814414036/)

    It was an excellent read on the subject of listening and its importance in getting through to people. It's convinced me to really focus on building that as a skill going forward.

    -Nicky

  • http://twitter.com/PhilipHotchkiss Philip Hotchkiss

    My last comment did not make it all the way through for some reason, just edited it to complete the story:-)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Authenticity certainly matters. To be truly passionate you need to be authentic. If you're faking it people know. Both A & P matter a lot. And, yes, Aussies are about the friendliest people you meet.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Non verbal communications (body language) is 90% of all communications. At important meetings I would often ask a colleague to watch for body language. It's hard to be the lead at a meeting AND pay attention to that. In Japan they have people trained to go to meetings and shut their eyes and only listen so that they're not influenced at all by the body language. Super interesting.

    And, yes, I often fall back into my “talk” mode when I should be listening. It's hard to break habits but if you remind yourself before key meetings it helps.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Great story – thank you. I agree that VP sales is very difficult to hire for. I often try to help my companies recruit that role just to have one more perspective since it is something a lot of people struggle with.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks for the book tip. I'll add it to my queue.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    re: features & functions demos – totally agree.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Always great to be able to take courses like Spin. I never got the chance but I have taken 3 courses in my career and learned at every one of them. I sort of think sales is one of those things that you need a refresher course in every few years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1216775849 facebook-1216775849

    The sales meeting is controlled by the one who isn't talking but asking the questions. Associated principle: Demos of features and functions are, essentially, useless sales tools.

  • http://www.blackbeltguide.com/ Marc Winitz

    The link is http://bit.ly/bdX2zy. Would love to connect. I moved up to
    SF area last year and live in Marin County.

  • http://terezan.tumblr.com/ Tereza

    Great post Mark.

    As much as we try we can always do better.

    A few months ago I re-read Spin Selling. When it came out was seminal in enterprise sales. He basics are not so basic! They take practice, thoughtfulness and honest self-reflection.