Communication Is a Dirty Word

Cool Hand LukeThere is a classic scene in the movie Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman is beaten down by a cruel warden, who then utters the famous line, “What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.” Ever since that moment first appeared on the silver screen, it has become imbedded in our vernacular.

I just wish a failure to communicate was the problem we often rely on claim it to be.

You see, I can’t tell you how often I hear serious weight being thrown behind things like communication breakdowns, communication gaps, miscommunication, and so on. I even use the “c-word” when I want to oversimplify the problem. But communication is not the issue. Information flow is. Let me explain.

Communication is about you speaking and me listening. And vice versa. It requires that we both participate at the same time. It is a very active kind of interaction. As soon as one of us is not available (or no longer interested), communication starts to break down. So what do we do? We push people to stay actively engaged with the communication. We get louder. We get creative. We even get repetitive… just in case you weren’t listening the first few times.

But in today’s extremely insane fast-paced world, where people literally check email before they get out of bed and before they go to sleep, communicating more is not actually helping. It’s making things worse. So I have to ask – is communication really the problem?

I don’t think it is.

I believe that the real problem is a lack of information flow.Water moving What I mean by information flow is that the knowledge that we collect should be designed to move. Up, down, and across. With all of it available when I have to use it. Not only when someone is actively willing or available to give it to me, but passively – waiting for me to both access it and to add to it.

Great information flow means that the information does not wait for someone else to initiate the flow of information to me. I shouldn’t have to worry if I got that email, joined that teleconference, or was invited to the meeting (that kind of stuff only makes me join the email chains/telecons/meetings out of fear that SOME HOW I will be missing critical information – what a waste of time). Great information flow is never about waiting for the information to be sent to me period. I can – and should – always be able to go to it on-demand.

Too much paperworkImagine if the data we needed most was available to us like Wikipedia, Yammer, and SharePoint combined. The technology to do that exists today. What would that do to work flows and processes? How much copying from one data source to paste it in another data source (sales reports and forecasts, anyone?) would be eliminated? The experts in information flow that I talk to tell me it would reduce as much as 75% of administrative time by simply eliminating the hunt/copy/paste activity we all do waaaaaaay too much of. Can you imagine that? I know I can. And I get giddy just thinking about it.

And that, my friend, is a future I would encourage us all to push forward with. Look for ways to start small. Start by separating what is genuinely sensitive to other eyes from everything else. Compare your definitions of sensitivity with your team mates. Make the “everything else” stuff accessible on common drives. If you can, stop answering requests for information to be emailed, etc., and tell people to go to where the information is sitting for them – to be accessed any time. Tell people not to take the information out of the shared space, but to simply work with it there then leave it for others. Fight against hoarding information. And above all else, stop communicating this information. You are only making the chaos worse.

I mua. Onward and upward.

2 Tips for Boosting Your Sales Dramatically

Business pawnIf you want to boost your sales dramatically, there is no single tactic to help you. Not buying a CRM. Not investing in online advertising. Not starting a new sales process. You can only boost sales dramatically by developing a genuine system, by integrating all of your tactics into a dynamic whole.

And that is so much easier said than done.

So let me offer a couple tips that will make it easier to do.

FIRST, you must make sure that your tactics, whatever they may be, are tied directly to your sales strategy. Don’t have one? Tackle this before you spend any money on tactics. Seriously. And please don’t tell me that your strategy is a bunch of outcomes. Growing by 10% percent is not a strategy. It’s a dream result. And you cannot “do” a result.

If you have a sales strategy, you are then able to prioritize which tactics will move you closer to your definition of success. You can choose what to do – and what not to do – wisely.

SECOND, put your tactics into four categories. The categories are:

  • Skills (the behaviors that you bring to sales conversations)
  • Training (the process and product knowledge that you bring to sales conversations)
  • Tools (the resources that you bring to sales conversations)
  • Insights (the special information that you bring to sales conversations)

The obvious conclusion here is that if you need to boost your sales, make sure you are leveraging from all four categories. But the extra comment I would add is that you work to integrate all four categories. Integrate them into a dynamic whole. Make sure your tools increase your skills, your training enhances your insights, and so on. This is one of the biggest “fails” that I see consistently.

Just yesterday, I had an old colleague tell me about his last national sales conference a few weeks ago. It was for a very large company and the meeting was in Las Vegas. And it sounded like two days of pure torture. It was the classic revolving session format – go to this room to learn about program X, go to this room to learn about product line Y. And the amount of time spent effectively teaching people how to integrate this knowledge dump with their other sales tactics? Almost zero.

Keep moving, folks. There’s nothing interesting to see here.

My guess is that they are going to have a decent year because they lowered their expectations to the point that “hitting plan” will now be achievable. But certainly not anything dramatic.

As they say in South Africa… shame.

 I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Where to find more frequent posts

I have NOT abandoned this page, but I have been using my Facebook page to post shorter rants musings. Here’s the latest one…


Take it from a guy who’s done it twice: burnout is no laughing matter.

So why do we push ourselves so hard? For some, it’s about the pressure of being successful. For others, it’s just fun to do. Regardless of your motivation, you MUST understand three critical concepts.

First, there’s your breaking point. This is the point where you physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually shut down. In four words – it sucks to be you. You are not happy, satisfied, or focused in any legitimate way. Yet you are still pushing yourself to stay the course. If you have approached (or passed) this point, stop. Now. You are only creating massive problems that will make your current fears go limp in comparison.

Second, there’s your losing point. This is the point where you begin to not be as sharp as you could be. Where you begin to “let things slip” – be they tasks or even relationships. You are tired but not weary; functional but not sharp. And you are likely telling yourself to back off a little bit (which is good) or are telling yourself to go just a little bit longer (which is bad). Or even worse, you may be telling yourself that as long as you are avoiding your breaking point you are okay. In fact, you can only justify yourself being at this stage when you compare your choice against living past your breaking point. Which brings me to my third point.

The third concept is your winning point. This is the point where you are operating at peak performance on all cylinders. This is the anchor point of top athletes. You see, after years of watching the IronMan in my hometown of Kona, Hawai’i (God forbid I would ever actually DO that race), I consistently saw the champions and top finishers run their race at the winning point. They would watch their times, monitor their heart rates, maintain their targeted pace, and so on. EVERY time I saw someone pass their winning point, their performance suffered. And the same principle applies to top performers in any profession.

Mirror moment: Do you actually know your personal breaking, losing, and winning points? At what point are you operating right now?

In closing, let me offer one more thought. Champions always have an amazing amount of FOCUS and PASSION about what they are doing. If you are losing (or have lost) one or both of these ingredients, you are not going to be a champion in this field. You must either (A) figure out how to get it back or (B) choose another field. BOTH options are legitimate. You decide which one to choose.

Your life has purpose. Live that purpose.

I mua. Onward and upward.

Ending my radio silence

Radio SilenceTalk about radio silence. My last post was almost 2 months ago. Wow. I am definitely not a blogger. Nor is my desire to be a blogger.  I just want to be a guy with a perspective. One that others find valuable. So, please know that while I am committed to posting more often than every two months (yikes), please know that I will only post when my comments have meaning. And the next “End of the World” post is coming… some day.

In the mean time, I would like to take a moment to share the main points from a key note I gave to representatives of South Africa’s banks yesterday in Johannesburg.  The theme was “5 Things Your Customers Want” and here they are:

  1. They do not want your products or services. They want their problems solved.
  2. They do not want to be your “market.” They want to be unique.
  3. They do not want to follow your rules. They want you to follow their lifestyles.
  4. They do not want your volume of choices. They want integration.
  5. They do not want your process. They want relevant conversations.

Clearly, this is fuel for my next series of blogs. But my point here is this: the number one desire of customers is that the people who sell to them would be trusted advisors. Trusted advisors solve problems, treat their clients as unique, follow their clients’ life (and work) styles, integrate their value, and provide relevant conversations.

Mirror moment: How consistently do you offer all five of these things?

Since I am still in Africa for another week, my internet access will be somewhat spotty. But I will do my best to respond to your comments as I am able.

I mua… Onward and upward.

P.S. For those of you who care, I am extremely honored to have been mentioned one of the top sales influencers on Twitter. THANK YOU so much to all of you who retweet my ramblings.

The End of the World as We Know It (pt. 3)

Well, we survived. 12/12/12, that is. Or is it supposed to be 12/21/12? Whatever. Thank God that the Mayans were not describing the end of the world. Apparently, the whole thing was mistranslated. Unfortunately, there is now a Mayan god named Bolon Yokte walking around Manhattan in underwear and a really big headdress. And people are tossing him their coins in pity. C’est la vie.

With that clarified, let’s head back to the next installment of my version of the “end of the world.”

The second topic of our infographic is the key economic generator. In simplest terms, this asks: what produces the money? (And if taken to the extreme philosophical conclusion, what produces wealth?)

Stack of MoneyIn the Agrarian Age, selling the fruit of your land was the way you made your money. If you didn’t have good, fruit-producing land, you didn’t make money. Instead, you worked for the people who owned the land. In the Industrial Age, selling the fruit of your manufacturing and equipment was the way you made your money. If you didn’t have great machines – or knew how to maximize their use – you didn’t make the money. You worked for the people who owned the machines. And now, in the Information Age, you can make money selling your problem-solving abilities. Or work for someone who does.

Note that all of these definitions included the word “selling.” Not acquiring. This goes back to the idea from my last blog that the economy is derived from consumption. What we consume most becomes the foundation for making money. If that is true (and it is), then selling provides the easiest way to consume.

Think about that for a second. I can make my brain workMillionaire really hard to solve my problem or I can be lazy pursue another option. That other option is usually to call a friend (followed quickly by ask the audience – anyone want to be a millionaire?). But when all else fails, I go find someone who is offering the answer to my problem — and buy their solution. People need stuff. Stuff they can’t always readily acquire. This is why selling is the oldest profession in the world (sorry, but that last statement is totally true).

Now, let’s get back to the topic. As the focus of consumption for each Age changed, so did the key economic generator. When nature was the focus, selling was attached to what was consumed. The same can be said for the other ages. But the completely insane difficult bit of this last shift in consumption is that it isn’t about consuming a “thing.” It’s a concept. You can’t grab it, hold it, or shove it into the trunk of your car. But it’s real. Very real.

And the reality of it is determined by the problem(s) that the information solves. Or to put a finer point on it, the value of your information is determined by the problem(s) that it solves. If you want to quantify the value of your information, explain how it solves a problem. Shucks, you can even go so far as to demonstrate how to use that information to solve a problem. Using information to solve a problem is a tangible asset today. And this, my friend, is the currency of the Information Age.

Pause. How much “currency” do you carry in your virtual workbox every day? Or in other words, how much problem-solving information are you ready to access and share with your clients? Do you position whatever it is that you sell as a product – or as a problem-solver? And I am not simply talking about a “solution.” This concept is the more evolved definition of a solution.

Which causes me to shift gears one more time. (I can’t help it – it’s the ADD.)

What exactly is a problem? I mean, what is the definition of a problem? We have to be crystal clear on this idea if we are going to go any further. And instead of trying to be long and drawn out clever, let me just offer this: a problem is the result of unmet expectations with limited alternatives to address them. Notice that meeting my expectations is only half of the Problemidea here.  It also has to address the idea that I have limited alternatives. So, if I don’t have any expectations, or the expectations that I do have are not very big, your “problem-solving” isn’t very valuable. And just as critical to this discussion, if you are one of many alternatives, or your alternative is nowhere near as valuable as the one I currently have, your “problem-solving” isn’t very valuable. Problem-solving is about addressing unmet expectations AND limited alternatives (which is why I say that this concept is the more evolved definition of the old-school “solution”). Simply hooking into a perceived need is not enough in the Information Age. You have to sell your value as the answer to a complex problem.

Modern sales professionals need to be excellent at solving these kinds of problems. And at communicating their value offering in the context of the problem(s) it solves (not the features it has or the benefit it provides). And if your own marketing department isn’t capable of producing the right content and tools you need to communicate your value offering in problem-solving terms, you are going to have to develop your own content and tools. Which, as our research shows, many of you are already doing.

Hello, Marketing? Anybody there?

I could on and on (and I will in another blog, trust me), but I want to close with these two thoughts. First, make absolutely every effort to understand the structure of the problems that your products and services solve (especially the expectations and the alternatives that define the problem). If you find that the expectations are big enough AND the alternatives are limited, you have the ingredients to bring genuine value to the conversation. Second, and more importantly, make absolutely every effort to understand the problems that YOU solve. Get past your products and services. Create an interpersonal exchange of value where you, as a trusted adviser, are solving problems with your clients. Look for ways to meet expectations that have limited alternatives. Become the rare and special relationship that your clients desire, regardless of what you are selling. If you can do this, you are a modern seller – and are on your way to a bright, bright future.

I mua… Onward and upward.

The End of the World as We Know It (pt. 2)

Cough, cough…

Well, what started out as a minor illness a couple of weeks ago turned onto a bit more, then started knocking dominos in different directions. The blog, consequently, took a hit. So much for starting a revolution. C’est la vie.

But I’m back. Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Breaking down that infographic.

To begin, I want to discuss the concept of an economic philosophy. Let me define two things. First, let’s talk about “economic.” What I DON’T mean is simply the exchange of goods/services for money. What I DO mean is the entire system required to make economic exchanges possible. This includes things like labor, resources, trade, governance, and — perhaps most importantly – consumption. That last word is vitally important, because consumption is a major driver of economies. Whatever is being “consumed” becomes the basis of the economy, giving us examples like oil economies, tourism economies, and even war economies. Which explains why folks living in the farthest jungles could care less about money to buy things that they don’t need consume.

Second, let’s talk about “philosophy.” In my last post, Anthony Iannarino brought up the difference between philosophy and drivers. It’s an important distinction. Drivers are the elements that produce a shift. In terms of the three Ages (Agrarian, Industrial, and Information), the economic systems that were shifted in each age were driven by getting more out of nature, machines, and now information. But when I talk about philosophy, I am talking about the culmination of knowledge, values, beliefs, and lifestyles that are dedicated to a certain view of the world. And that’s what we have with an economic philosophy. People are dedicating whole chunks of their lives (or even more) to an economic worldview, driven primarily by what they consume (and the systems they build to support their consumption).

In (perhaps overly) simplistic terms: drivers create the philosophy.

This means that in the Agrarian Age, the wealthy (people who actually had more than they needed) transformed their lives around understanding — and even idolizing — Nature. Thomas Jefferson articulated this well when he said, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.” This also means that every time I hear some old hippie talk about “it’s the earth, man,” I think to myself, “Ah, trying to get back to the 1700’s, are we?” But I digress…

In the Industrial Age, the shift went to understanding — and even idolizing — Machines. Nature got shoved into metal boxes as steam, coal, and oil were harnessed to change our lifestyles. Consequently, he (or she) who owned the machines built entire systems to both generate and protect wealth. And if you wanted to get wealthy, the best way was to attach yourself to the machine-based system.

But, now in the Information Age, the shift is going has gone to understanding — and even idolizing — Information. The reason Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other nerds from high school tech gods became so wealthy isn’t because of their amazing machine-making skills. It was because of their great information-harnessing skills. And they have changed how we live as a result. Just consider how often you try to harness information to be successful at work/home/play/etc.

So what does all of this mean? A number of things.

First, we have moved as a society waaaaaay past meeting our basic needs (a la Maslow). The economy and our lifestyles that support it are now based on consuming Information. But to what end? Knowing the answer to that question, especially for your clients, will generate wealth for you.

Second, if you want to generate wealth in today’s age, you have to become a student of information. And that is not simply being able to spew facts (though there are many sales people who think this is the best way to sell). It’s about understanding how information is created, discovered, accessed, harnessed, leveraged, shared, and wasted. Being able to skillfully apply that understanding will give you (and your clients) a very bright future. Ignore it, and have fun drowning in the chaos.

Third, you likely work with someone who does not recognize this truth. This last point is the saddest one to me. Too many folks are stuck in the 1900’s. They push you into using machines to solve your problems (CRM, anyone?) without actually making sure that the information you need to be successful is available to you. Whole organizations (both buyers and sellers) try to hide information in siloes, never realizing the negative impact they are creating. Buyers struggle to follow your attempts to help them improve their use of information because that is not how they are defining their problem. It’s a sad topic, to be sure.

But there is hope.

Hope that more and more people are recognizing the problem needs to be redefined. That information is more than just a collection of data bits. That sharing information, collaborating with it, can create a whole new economy. This is the philosophy we are being steered toward. This is where the revolution is taking us.

I mua… Onward and upward.

The End of the World as We Know It (pt. 1)

I’m a context guy.  What I mean by that is I like to must see the big picture.  Some might call it the bottom line.  Whatever. If I don’t see the greater context, I struggle with listening to the details.  It’s like some form of torture, where I’ve been tied to a chair and have to listen to the endless explanation of some fraction of a micro-concept.  Just mind-numbing.

So, for me to explain myself better in this blog (and continue the revolution), I have to set the context.  For the blog.  For my whole philosophy.  For the modern profession of selling.

And the context is this.

We are the lucky few, in the entire history of mankind, who have been given the chance to live through MASSIVE change.  And not just change, but literally a global shift in what we commonly call “ages.”

Pause.  Think about that for a moment.  We use the term “ages” to describe some pretty cool things.  The Stone Age.  The Iron Age.  The Age of Reason.  The Age of Aquarius (sorry – I couldn’t resist).

Ages transcend generations.  They transcend geopolitical boundaries.  Shucks, they don’t just transcend them – they transform them.  And economies, too.  Which is why I’m going there (since this is a mostly-sales blog).

So back to the rant topic at hand.  As the infographic below shows (Lord, I hope it got attached – don’t even get me started on my technical deficiencies.  Starting this blog was hard enough), the most recent ages we have dealt with (and was prominently displayed for us at the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics) are the Agrarian Age (from as early as 10,000 BC to the early 1700’s AD), which gave way to the Industrial Age (from the mid 1700’s AD to late 1900’s AD), which has now given way to the Information Age (late 1900’s AD to current).  Or as the Olympics tried to brainwash tell us, enabled digital technology so that we could listen to British rock (and since U2 is Irish, I say “rubbish” to the whole lot).

What’s the big deal?  Simple.  The transition from Agrarian Age to Industrial Age was full of upheaval.  Some might even say it was chaotic.  And that is the point I am making now. About the current transition.  From Industrial Age to Information Age, that is.

You see, every time I hear some leader try to tell me how to leverage an Industrial Age solution to make an Information Age problem go away, I think to myself, “This guy’s trying to sell me a loom. An honest to goodness LOOM. With steam-powered attachments.”  I shudder even now as I think about it.  What in Miss Molly’s underwear drawer are they thinking?!  Get away from me, 1900’s thinking!  And take your pencils, telegraph, and sales funnel with you!  You are just creating more chaos.  Clearly, sir (or madam), you do not understand the chaos of the current Age.

And how does one understand this chaos?  By understanding the threads that create it.  By looking at the patterns that appear in each age and analyzing how the patterns have evolved.  By identifying where old rules have become outdated so that new rules can take their place.

Since I am not some full-blown futurist, I can only speak to the threads that tie directly to generating revenue in the swirling mass of today’s chaos.  And of those, I would like to highlight the following six topics:

  • The economic philosophy (of each age)
  • The key economic generator (of each age)
  • Where to find customers (in each age)
  • The phases of labor (of each age)
  • The target of innovation (for each age)
  • The source of energy and thrust (in each age)

Obviously, you can see some of my thoughts already in the infographic that I hope was successfully added to this post (I’m still twitching from the g-force on my learning curve here).  But I will also tackle each topic individually, sharing my own observations and dumb-luck discoveries research, over the coming weeks.  My hope is that by understanding how the chaos works, we can all begin to harness it.  And actually enjoy it for a change.

I mua… Onward and upward.

Viva La Revolucion!

I want to start a revolution. Not some rise against corrupt, imperial authority. And not some post-modern rant against the machine. I’m talking about the  kind of revolution that describes a worldwide  shift in how we live. And more specifically, sell.

Technically, the revolution has already begun  –  and  I  didn’t  start  it.  When computers were reduced in the 1970’s and 1980’s from vacuum-tube monstrosities that filled entire buildings to become compact, desk-top devices that slowly took over our lives, something happened that has largely been overlooked. Or worse, been intentionally ignored. The complexity of the world around us was exposed grew.

I’m NOT talking about the complexity in terms of the massive wave of information that has bombarded us.  You know what I mean. People often reduce the complexity that I’m talking about to the evolution of getting our data with the tap of a button or swipe of the finger until all the tapping and swiping became an addiction. (Seriously, though – ever lose your smart phone for a day? Torture.)

No, I’m talking about the complexity of being connected to a global system of relationships.  Before the complexity, people could literally live (and sell) in a bubble.  Your customers had the same last names as the kids who grew up in your neighborhood, you mocked the Canadian dollar, and most international experiences were limited to the annual vacation to Mexico or the proverbial backpacking trip through Europe. Now, people are trying to figure out the different tones in Mandarin, Canadians vacation in the U.S. to “get a good deal,” and you speak to India on an almost daily basis (Help Desk, anyone?).  With this rise in complexity, a new part of the human brain was unleashed, one that screamed “more” and “faster” in the same breath.  The connections became 24/7. And the demands expectations of everyone became just as hard-wired.

And these expectation-driven connections are not just constant.

They’re also non-linear.  Nothing happens as planned any more.  You can tell yourself that you will plan your week in advance, but how often has the calendar morphed between Monday and Friday with cancellations, additions, and adjustments?  Shucks, how about since lunch?  Straight lines have become legends the greybeards at executive row the soda/pop/coke machine tell us.

And that is exactly my point.

People still act as if the complexity is just an obstacle to be overcome. As if it’s just a passing phase of increased noise. We say that we can work our way through it all. Just keep on keeping on.  In the mean time, go fill out that sales planner, play the numbers game, and follow that sales process.  And remember, it’s easy to do because that’s how I did it when I was a kid.

Frankly, I’m tired of it.

The rules of “more” and “faster” have become ingrained in every aspect of life. But the complexity of the world today has seeped into every buyer’s world, creating more chaos than can reasonably be “managed.” If we (as people who sell for a living) don’t change how we live, we will get buried in the chaos.  And I can’t watch that happen. Not when I genuinely believe that I think I have figured out how the chaos works.

This blog is dedicated to living and selling differently.  To embracing the chaos instead of trying to shut the door on it.  If that doesn’t intrigue you, well… I hope you really enjoy the ride you’re on.  The seat belts don’t get bigger.  But if that does intrigue you, stay tuned.  And join me.  Be a part of shifting how we live and sell.

And viva la revolucion.