Month: January 2016

Buzzwords Can Kill Your Presentation

By Peter Cohan, Principal, The Second Derivative

When you use meaningless buzzwords and phrases in a presentation or software demonstration, you risk loss of credibility. Presentations and demos need to focus on facts – not supposition. Using real-life statements will encourage your customers to respond with a more positive, open attitude – which will help you in achieving your objectives.

“Our powerful software is flexible, intuitive, easy-to-use and integrates seamlessly with your other tools. Robust and scalable, your organization can enjoy the benefits of our best-of-breed world-class offering.” How many times have you read this in marketing materials for software? Does it provide you with any real information – or is it simply a string of meaningless buzzwords?

When you or your team uses these words and phrases in a presentation or software demonstration, you risk loss of credibility. Presentations and demos, in particular, need to focus on facts – not supposition – in order to achieve technical proof or generate a real vision in the customers’ minds.

Here’s the list of words that can get you and your team into trouble – we call it the “Content-Free Buzzword-Compliant Vocabulary List”:

1. Robust
2. Powerful
3. Flexible
4. Integrated
5. Seamless
6. Extensible
7. Scalable
8. Interoperable
9. Easy-to-use
10. Intuitive
11. User-friendly
12. Comprehensive
13. Best-of-breed
14. World-class

How can you communicate the ideas behind these buzzwords and stay in the land of facts? Look for concrete, fact-based examples that illustrate the ideas.

For example, instead of saying, “Our software is robust”, you might state “This software is deployed and in day-by-day production use by over 10,000 users around the world today.” Or, alternatively, try “Our users enjoy a 99.98% uptime on a 24/7/365 basis.” The more specifics and numbers you can provide make these statements more credible and support your claim.

Similarly, you can replace the trite and hackneyed “user-friendly”, “easy-to-use” and “intuitive” claims by being focused and sticking to the facts. You can cite the specific number of mouse clicks necessary to complete a task, for example.

A good test you can apply to your own material is to ask the question, “In whose opinion?” If it is a quote from a customer, then that’s terrific, and you should identify the quote accordingly. However, if the answer is that it came from your marketing department (or your lips!), and then you should find a way to rephrase.

For example, if you find a phrase in your literature or presentation materials such as “Our powerful software…,” then you should ask in whose opinion is it powerful? You can turn this from useless fluff to real stuff by providing a working example: “Our customers state that our software reduces their typical workflow cycle time from several days to less than an hour.”

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software is a key topic of discussion in many organizations today. Nearly every CRM software vendor says their tools are “powerful”. In whose opinion? Are they able to lift tons of steel or send satellites into orbit? What makes their software powerful?

Replacing items on the Content-Free Buzzword-Compliant Vocabulary List with substantive claims provides you the opportunity to differentiate from most competitors. Compare “Our powerful software is world-class…” with “Our software enables 10% increases in close rates, 14% reduction in sales cycles, and customers also report substantial increases in the quality of leads generated and pursued…”

Two of the worst offenders on the Content-Free Buzzword Compliant Vocabulary list are “seamless” and “integrated”. Everything, it seems, is “seamlessly integrated” with everything else. Why, then, is there so much work for companies that provide integration capabilities?!

Once again, providing real-life, fact-based examples is a solution that enables you and your team to rise above the competition and earn a positive reputation for being fact-based. “Our Sales Force Automation solution automatically enters all tasks, appointments, and telephone calls onto your Outlook calendar, without requiring a single mouse-click. Set it up once from the Preferences Menu and our software keeps all of your calendar operations synced and up-to-date with Outlook.” Much better!

“Scalable” is easy to improve upon. With regards to the number of users, how about: “Implementations of our software range from single users in sole-proprietorships to over 2,500 users in Forture-500 companies.” If you are referring to concurrency, consider something like “Our ASP installation is currently supporting companies with a handful of daily transactions to organizations who are processing well beyond 10,000 transactions every hour.”

When a vendor says their software is “flexible”, are they talking about software capabilities, or their willingness to be flexible with their licensing policy or pricing? Use specific examples that are focused and relevant to the customer at hand, whenever possible. Using verifiable, real-life statements will encourage your customers to respond with a more positive, open attitude – which will help you in achieving your objectives.

Stick with the facts, avoid meaningless buzzwords, and enjoy increased success with your presentations and demonstrations!


The Chosen Few – Finding the Right People to Work for You

By Jim Dion, Founder and President, Dionco Inc. 

No best practice, or rather business imperative, has been consistently the same over the years and as important for a large organization as it is for a small operator, like building a strong sales team. Arguably, this is the most important aspect of a company’s success and yet it is still one of the most challenging. Why it is so difficult to find the right people and what can you do to succeed?

Finding the right sales professionals to work for us has always been and will always be one of the biggest challenges of managers and business owners. Some of the changes that have occurred since Gen-Xers and the early Gen-Yers joined the workforce have complicated things even further and the selection game (and the retention one) is now full of new rules. The good news is that if the task is now more complicated, the solution is incredibly simple. It’s called ‘Planning’. Talented sales professionals don’t just fall into our hands. We need to have a solid recruitment and selection strategy. What follow are some of the key steps and activities that we can plan for to ensure we hire and keep the best.

Recruitment is the process by which we seek to create a pool of suitable applicants from which new sales professionals are selected. A proper recruitment strategy and plan requires a very proactive approach, meaning that we need to plan for it.

Have a Constant Stream of Applicants
If you have a small staff and somebody leaves without giving notice, you need to be able to replace them quickly to avoid being short-staffed. However, you don’t want to hire them quickly and bring people on board that are not qualified for the job. That’s why you should always strive to have a stack of current applications available (no more than 6 months’ old) and you should even consider meeting with some of the strongest applicants regularly even if you don’t have anything available at the time when you are meeting them (be upfront, though, with them and tell them that you are meeting with them in case you will need them in the future).

Identify the Best Source
In order to determine the best recruitment source, you first need to familiarize yourself with the job description and job specifications (each position at your company or store should have a job description). This information will tell you the characteristics of both the job and the people who will fill it. So, for instance, if you are hiring for a roadman responsible for selling sports uniforms to coaches and schools, you will not only need to make sure that you seek individuals with a past experience or studies that reflect great communication and interpersonal skills (job requirements), you should also identify where (best source) to look for to increase your chances of finding the right individuals for the job.

  • Students
    They are most definitely one of your best recruitment options in this example, and pretty much in general in retail. This is not just because most of them want and need to work, but because they can in many cases relate and identify with the product, the brand and the experience very well being users themselves and can be therefore more effective salespeople. Never underscore the importance of finding individuals who are truly passionate about the job, your company, your brand and your products. If you manage to find these people, your success is almost guaranteed, as they will see their job as an opportunity to turn a passion into something profitable. Advertise open positions in student newspapers, or place a notice on dormitory or student union bulletin boards. As well, consider contacting department offices within the school or the Placement Department to find out if they have work-study or internship programs.
  • Personal Friends and Colleagues
    Ask your own personal friends and acquaintances if they know of anyone who would be great to work for your store or business. Referrals are an incredible source as they yield a lower possibility for turnover and more likelihood of better performing employees.
  • Current Employees
    Promote a ‘recruitment culture’ within your store and company and encourage your current staff to be recruiters of talent themselves. This is a great way to attract suitable candidates as your current employees tend to refer their friends, who are likely to have similar work habits and work attitudes. Offer a bonus or incentive for recruiting new people. This way, you not only ensure that your employees feel motivated to fulfill the recruiter role, but you also have a way of thanking them for their efforts (bonus should be paid after a 90-day trial period with the new hire).
  • Permanent Recruiting Brochure
    Professionally printed material that publicizes the benefits and opportunities of working for you should always be available at the store. Small wallet size cards highlighting the company’s positions, culture and benefits, the requirements of the jobs and providing directions where and how to apply can be very effective. Make them fun and catchy so potential candidates will notice them and will be more inclined to take and use them.
  • Sports Events and Functions
    By attending events such as soccer, softball, little league games, etc. and by networking amongst the people you meet there, you increase your chances of meeting with the right individuals who are your target audience for your hiring activity (remember to bring your wallet size recruitment cards to give to them).
  • Sports/Professional Magazines & Professional Sites Ads
    Written/posted ads can reach a wider audience and they are the most familiar form of employment advertising. For highly specialized recruits, ads should be placed in professional (sports) magazines.
  • MySpace (Outside-the-Box Recruiting!)
    Well, this might be the future!! More than 80% of the site’s registered members fall into the core demographic of 16-to-34-year-olds, a large number of whom are college-educated professionals with as much as 13 years of work experience. Retail workers are a diverse group, and MySpace offers access to hundreds of thousands of retail workers from top brands. For example, retail giant Best Buy has a member-supported group on MySpace full of current and past employees. There are also special-interest groups like softball and skiing, which are great sites if you run a sporting goods store or ski resort.

‘Sell’ the Company (and the Brand)
No recruitment strategy will ever work unless you sell your store, the job, the brand and the company. Emphasize your benefits (health, flexible work hours, part-time, vacation pay, etc.), any kind of educational assistance programs available, the training available, growth opportunities, and the culture of the company. Yes, money is very important, but candidates are more and more interested in learning and growth. Without these no money will keep them in place and no money will motivate them to do a good job for you.

Selection is the process of deciding which recruits should be hired. Selection is a formal, in-depth conversation conducted to evaluate the applicant’s suitability for the job. Basically, the goal is to answer the questions:
Can the applicant do the job?
Will the applicant do the job?

How does the applicant compare with others who are being considered for the job?
Selection interviewing is not just asking questions. Selection interviewing involves a series of steps that need to be followed in logical sequence. In a word, it requires careful planning.


  • Step One: Prepare for the Interview


Review the Job Description
Review the job description to identify the job objectives – specific responsibilities, tasks, duties, and outcomes that the employee is expected to produce – and the knowledge, skills and personal traits that are required to attain those objectives.

Review and Screen the Candidates’ Applications or Resumes
The screening of the application forms and resumes is done by comparing the information they contain – skills, knowledge and experience – with what you require for the job (as you find it in the job description for the position available). If they match, you will want to see the candidates. If they don’t, you will file those resumes for future uses (other job openings). It is a good practice to sort the resumes into three groups:

      • Yes candidates: you want to see them
      • Maybe candidates: you will only see them if the yes candidates do not fit your needs
      • No candidates: their resume does not match your requirements for the job and therefore you don’t want to see them.

Prepare Information about the Job to Exchange with the Candidate during the Interview
Store/company history, business, culture (you give the applicants information that keeps their interest in working for you high without overselling it – career opportunities, training opportunities, fun and casual, work environment, etc.); job responsibilities, duties and the skills you want; performance standards; hours; location; pay; benefits; introductory period; vacation time; working conditions.

Arrange a Suitable Place for the Interview Free from Interruptions and Schedule the Appointments
You need to make sure to allot plenty of time for the interviews. It can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour or more. You don’t want to rush. Allow about 30 minutes between each candidate so you can review and summarize your notes and have a break and clear your mind.

Prepare an Interview Schedule
If more than one person is to interview the candidate, make sure that everyone is present to interview when a candidate comes in for the first time.elop a Schedule for the Interview Process

If possible, communicate the schedule to the applicants prior to their arrival. Let them know what to expect by listing all the steps in the process: Type of interview, time, location, other.

Be Prepared That Not All Candidates will Show Up/Be Prepared to Hire Immediately
If a candidate has great references and your gut says this person is right, then it is wise to make an offer immediately. You don’t want to lose a great candidate.

Prepare the Interview Questions
Based on your list of requirements for the position (as in the job description) you can create your interview questions aimed at determining to what extent the candidates possess the required competencies and if they will be able to achieve the position’s goals.

  • Step Two: Conduct the Interview

Step two consists of conducting the interview, including:

Open the Interview
Establish rapport; provide an overview of the interview process.

Ask Questions and Take Notes
Gather information. Make sure to use open-ended questions (how, what, when, etc.), and always follow up a yes or no answer with an open-ended question (i.e., “Tell me about a time when you were able to sell an item that was a lot higher in price than the customer’s original request. What happened? How did you manage to do it? What was the customer’s response?”). Ask the same questions and record responses systematically to have a reliable base for comparison. Also, ask contrary evidence questions or questions that ask the applicants to give you examples of times when they were not able to perform a certain task (i.e., “Tell me about a time when you were not able to answer an objection. What happened? How did you feel about it? What did you learn from it?”).

Give Information and Answer the Candidate’s Questions
“Sell” the position, the company, the brand and the product.

Close the Interview
Thank the candidate for his or her attention and interest. Indicate what the next step will be and the time frame within which it will occur. Ask for references. Tell each applicant that no employment offer will be made until satisfactory reference checks and a drug test are made (when applicable).

80% of the interview time should be devoted to asking questions. No matter how long the interview will take – 1, 2 or 3 hours – the percentage of time devoted to each task should not change. For example, in a two-hour interview we would still spend 80% of our time asking questions, which is equivalent to 96 minutes (80% of 120 minutes).
Interview Timeframe


  • Step Three: Evaluate Your Notes and Compare CandidatesComplete an evaluation form or firm up your notes, noting specific information about the candidate wherever possible. Rate the candidate. This is crucial. You may not trust your memory to recall the detail of the interview at a later point in time. Don’t make any notes about the applicant that could be discriminatory.
  • Step Four: Project a Professional Image
    The image created during the hiring process tells a lot about your store and company’s values and culture. Pay attention to the image you create to attract the best and most highly skilled job candidates. Link the hiring process to your company values. For example, if you value “customer first” and “employee empowerment,” be sure to demonstrate that in your hiring process.

…AND Don’t Forget the Baby Boomers Retirees

According to AARP, the nonprofit membership organization for people age 50 and over, there’s been a 40% increase in job-hunting retirees and a 20% increase in companies seeking such experienced workers in the last three years.

  • Why?
    Young workers need extensive training, close supervision and seasoning that comes only with time and experience. Whereas, retirees are ready, skilled and willing to work right away.
  • Who are They?
    Many of these individuals are early retirees, or workers who lost their jobs due to mergers or downsizing. The majority of these people want to work, many of them can’t afford not to. And they bring years of experience, skills and knowledge to the workplace.
  • Why Do They Want to Work?
    According to an AARP/Roper Report, when asked about retirement plans, 80% of 60-year olds said they plan to work at least part-time during retirement. They want to be active and productive, not idle; they enjoy a heightened sense of self-worth; they take pride in their work; and they enjoy working with others.
  • What Are They looking for?
    Flexible work schedules and assignments, opportunities to learn new things and the ability to advance.


The Bullshitization of Sales Coaching

By Paul McCord, President, McCord Training

Sales coaching is one of the key elements in turning knowing what to do into the actual behavior, the effective conversion of the knowledge into action. The importance of sales coaching has come to the forefront in recent years thanks to a great extent to people such as my friend Keith Rosen.

Unfortunately, along with the rise of the recognition of the importance sales coaching and the accompanying increase in companies and individual sellers hiring professional coaches, comes the rise of those who want to make “easy” money off of those companies and sellers seeking coaching. Today there are a growing number of “sales coaches” who have never been in sales or if they have, they have minimal experience. There are also a number of websites offering “coaching” courses that claim that if you take their course, you too can enter the multi-billion dollar sales coaching industry and make a six figure income in just three to six months.

Selling is a complex activity. To become a great salesperson means you have to acquire very specific skills; you have to develop a number of characteristics such as self-discipline, focus, curiosity, and a desire to solve problems; you have to have thick skin; you have to be able to overcome adversity. Selling requires knowledge, skill, character, attitude, and action. Becoming a top seller isn’t a journey of self-discovery; it is a journey of being taught, of being encouraged, of being corrected, of being pushed, pulled, prodded, and praised.

My friend Dave Brock is in the middle of publishing a great bog series on coaching. I encourage you to start with his first postand read them all. My intent here isn’t to duplicate Dave’s work. Instead of talking in specifics about what sales coaching is and how to coach, I want to contrast what sales coaching in general is vs. what sales coaching isn’t, about the increasing numbers who are turning sales coaching into bullshit–the bullshitization of sales coaching.

I’ve been talking to Keith, Dave, and Jonathan Farrington a good deal recently about sales coaching and where it stands today. And although we all have the same understanding and view of sales coaching, we each bring our own experiences to the table. One common experience is noticing the explosion of unqualified “sales coaches” and the equally damaging coaching training courses that promise big money even for the most unqualified who complete their course.

I think Keith said it very well: “There’s the person who has been told and even trained by some of these coaching programs that, ‘You don’t need the answers or the experience to be a good coach.’ This is why you have a large population of unqualified people who think they can coach or simply change their title to ‘Coach.’ Conversely, there’s the coach who realizes you can’t take someone where you haven’t been before. This illustrates the importance of the coach to have not only the experience but is a walking and living model and example of what is possible for their clients to achieve.

Sales coaching is not a Zen self-discovery experience. Many coaches have been taught, as Keith points out, that they don’t have to know, all they have to do is ask until the client discovers their own personal answer. Ask the right questions and sooner or later the seller will discover their own unique answer.

The model of sales coach as Zen Master simply doesn’t work. Again, I’ll defer to Keith’s description:

“Unfortunately, due to the lack of experience and subject matter of many coaches, they can only speak to the self actualization type of questions and because they’ve never sold before, or managed a team before, or sold successfully or sold in that person’s similar type of selling environment, they don’t even know the right type of questions to even ask. This sometimes leads to ‘killing the client/person with coaching’ as in, continually asking questions until they arrive at the solution themselves. However, sometimes as the coach, you need to provide the answer. Then, it’s the coach’s job to uncover the gap to determine what the right solution is rather than continually asking more questions. For example, if you have a salesperson who never cold called before, coaching isn’t the initial approach. This person needs to be trained in the core competencies and best practices first, in order to develop a baseline before you can refine their performance through coaching.”

The model I think most appropriate for sales coaching comes from sports coaching. Think Mike Ditka. For those old enough to remember Ditka as a coach, he didn’t take any crap off anyone. Yet he was admired and respected by his players. And he was an extremely effective coach. Why?

First, he cared about his player’s success. Coaching wasn’t a paycheck, it was a passion. Ditka’s success was tied to his player’s success. He wanted them to succeed as much as he wanted to succeed himself. For him to be successful his players had to be successful. He had skin in the game.

Second, he cared enough to help them become fully prepared to face and conquer the challenges they were to face. Can you image Ditka standing on the practice field helping a linebacker work through the process of self-actualization to discover for himself the proper techniques to shuck a blocker? Of course not. He knew when to guide and when to teach; when to ask discovery questions and when to tell.

Ditka wasn’t interested in self-discovery; he was interested in instilling in his players the proper attitude, skills, and knowledge that would allow them to reach their goals. He understood that football isn’t about becoming; it’s about being—being the best you can be. It is about having and using the skills that lead to great performance. He had a very specific purpose—help his players become the best football players they could be. If in the meantime, they had an enlightening self discovery, all the better—but not necessary.

Third, he demanded performance. Frankly, Ditka didn’t care if the player learned anything new about himself or had a feel good discovery; he cared that the player performed–and whether we like it or not, that’s the exact same demand that is put on every salesperson. Every one of us is judged on our performance, not whether we have warm/fuzzy feelings about our work or whether we discovered anything new about ourselves that day.

A sales coach, like Ditka, must hold their client accountable and must demand performance. Warm fuzzies are all well and good but they are meaningless in the sales world. That’s not to say that a sales coach doesn’t know when to guide through questions or when to give praise and even warm fuzzy feelings. She does. But for her, those are far from the only tools at her disposal. In Dave’s words, “The coach should set high standards and expectations, teach, motivate, challenge, correct, praise, correct, discipline, chastise, ask, tell, coerce, cajole, shame, and sometimes beat the crap out of the person being coached.” Sounds a lot like Mike Ditka.

Fourth, he had been where they wanted to go. Ditka knew how to help his players get to the top because he had been there himself. He knew what it took. He had paid the price. He had invested the time and effort and sacrifice to be successful. He didn’t ask his players to do anything he hadn’t done himself. He had the experience and credentials to demonstrate that he knew what he was talking about. He knew the game not just because he had studied it or read about someone else’s experience and learned a bit of lingo, he knew the game because he had invested his life in it. He lived it. He had real street cred.

There’s a great deal of bullshit in the sales coaching market today. Everybody thinks they can be a sales coach because after all, it’s easy, right? Print up some business cards; learn a bit of sales related jargon–metrics, win/win, customer centric, value added, consultative selling, pipeline, and such; write out a few “discovery” questions you can ask clients; and you’re in business.

If you’re thinking about acquiring a sales coach for your team—or for yourself—take a close look at your options. Be careful. The more visibility sales coaching gets, the more bullshitization will take place. Yes, that former telemarketer who has taken a coaching course and printed a business card may be a whole lot cheaper than that known sales expert, but what you save in a coaching fee now, you’ll have to spend later to get real coaching.

You need a coach, not a warm, fuzzy experience that leads nowhere. You need someone who can get you where you want to go, not someone who has read a book or two and learned how to ask a couple of “deep” questions. You need a Mike Ditka, not the latest pseudo Zen Master.