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Toastmasters: Persuasion project 1

I did my first project from the advanced manual on persuasion. Learned
a lot from it, too – and not necessarily what the manual might’ve wanted me to learn… <laugh>

They remarked once again on my lack of energy. I was too low-key for
them. I decided not to use sugar-high-enthusiasm because I want to
learn how to talk to suits. I’m good at enthusiasm. I can bounce up
and down, wave pompoms, whatever. I need to learn how to speak to
people’s serious sides, not just amuse them with my antics and my
enthusiasm. I need to learn how to provoke thought and establish
credibility. I’m not going to be this young forever, and I want to
learn how to speak properly by the time I need it!

Fortunately my evaluator also pointed out that I used a pleasant pace
– accessible! – not like my usual rush of words. Still, this is the
second time I’ve tried my serious voice on Toast I.T., and the
reaction’s always been iffy. They like me breathless with enthusiasm,
bubbly, sparkling – but I’m more than that! I’m having a hard time
getting past this with Toast I.T., even if I wear a blazer and glasses
and everything. I want to be both. I want to blend seriousness and
joy.

Maybe I can save my “low-key” voice for IBM Toastmasters. Hmm…

The three- to five-minute roleplay situation for me seemed constrained
and unnatural. This is strange because I’m perfectly fine with
elevator pitches. I think I just need to get better at roleplaying.

I should probably have tried selling something concrete that I wasn’t
too familiar with instead of selling something intangible. People seem
to think that selling ideas is easier than selling something concrete
because ideas don’t cost money, they just cost time. I wish I could
make _them_ try to sell other people on ideas. Time is money. In fact,
time is a lot more expensive than the gadgets many people would
casually throw money away on.

One Toastmaster was particularly vocal about my being an absolute
failure at “real” sales and how I’d be fired right away if this was
the real thing. He insisted that sales was a hypercompetitive,
cutthroat world and that salespeople are paid tons because of the
competition. Personally, I believe that salespeople are paid a lot
because they clearly contribute to the bottom line in a quantifiable
manner. I also suspect that any numbers-driven sales that’s just
concerned with how much the salesperson makes is totally not for me.
I’m more interested in relationship building. Fortunately, my mentor
called him to task and told him that there were other perfectly valid
ways of selling.

… And this guy also wondered why I didn’t have any flashy slides. After
all, we all know that Powerpoint is _essential_ for sales. Mph. Well,
he was trying to be helpful, and there _are_ some audiences that need
a slide deck. For what I was doing, that was definitely out of the
picture.

The same person thought I didn’t control the conversation enough, and
that I let my roleplay partner do too much of the talking. I thought I
did too much talking and not enough listening. I felt that I broke
into too many long passages, and I hate that. I feel that I’m most
effective when I listen to people, suggesting something after I’ve
understood their situation and validated them by paying attention to
them. I hate it when people fake listening, when they just care about
when they get to speak next. I hate it when people pretend they want a
conversation with you but they really just want to sell you stuff and
their message isn’t individualized at all..

Wish I had my mom’s books to whap the guy with! <laugh> Well, he
_was_ just trying to be helpful, and _his_ world is probably the
dog-eat-dog world he described. I’m 22 and I’m new to the subject, but
I get the feeling that there aree zbetter things out there.

Oh well.

I think I know what I’m going to “sell” for project 2 – houses. Or whatever.

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Random Japanese sentence: 机の下から猫が出てきた。 A cat appeared from under the desk.

The power of sales

Simon just finished a sales call that came in through a referral. He’s
got a pretty nifty voice messaging system (for non-profits that don’t
do evil!), and he’s starting to realize that he doesn’t have to spend
a lot of time doing development when he’s already got a totally cool product
that he should be selling the heck out of. =)

Yay!

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Kudos to Kevin Magee: sales and networking tips

I had a terrific conversation with Kevin Magee
over coffee and chocolate chillers at Second Cup this morning. I met
him very briefly at the Mesh planning party—in fact, while I was on
my way out—but within a minute he had set me at ease, established a
connection, and left me looking forward to chatting with him some
other time.

We finally had the opportunity to catch up today, and I’m glad we did.
He had read my blog (and even some of my homework assignments!), so he
knew of my passion for evangelism and my enthusiasm for sales. (Awww!)

Role model

And boy, did he have a lot to teach! He’s the kind of salesperson I’d
like to be. Many people both inside and outside sales think of sales
as a nasty, cut-throat business. Kevin Magee proves that not only do
nice guys finish first, but that it’s really the only sustainable way
to go.

“Have we met?”

Kevin told me about the benefits of having the kind of face that
everyone thinks they’ve seen somewhere. “Have we met?” is one of his
favorite techniques for getting people to talk about their backgrounds
and interests. Looking back, I realized that he must’ve deftly pulled
that on me too! Wow.

You just need 60 seconds

Kevin also shared some of the ways he taught other salespeople to
handle cold calls. He said that for the first 10,000 calls, it’s
truly, truly horrible. After that, it’s just horrible.

You know how many people start their call with, “Have I called you at
a good time?” Kevin shared that “Have I called you at a bad time?” is
much more effective. There’s never a good time to receive a
telemarketing cold call, after all, but in general, people will be
generous and say that it isn’t a bad time.

Then Kevin told me how he taught sales people to ask for 60 seconds,
just 60 seconds to find out if this is the right conversation they
should be having. They would then time themselves, stop at 60
seconds—preferably in the middle of a sentence—and ask for
permission to continue. By so clearly respecting the other person’s
time—and piquing the other person’s interest!—they might be able to
get permission to continue for 5 minutes. And then maybe a meeting in
person. Asking *permission* draws people further in because you
respect their time and allow them to control the conversation.

Recruiters rock

Even with the 60-second technique, though, cold-calling is tough tough
tough tough. You can warm up the call by connecting with people in the
organization. Kevin found that recruiters are *great* for doing that,
which is why he’s happy to help them however they can. See, recruiters
are in the business of connecting with people, and they form special
bonds with the people they place. When Kevin wants to crack open an
account, he’ll ask his recruiter friends if they’ve placed anyone
there—almost always yes—and then he’s in with an introduction!

Wow

So for an hour and a half, this experienced, wonderful salesperson
shared all sorts of sales tips that I would probably have had to spend
years learning. I’ve read lots of books on networking and sales, but
it’s different hearing from people who are actually doing it and doing
well.

I’d love to help him grow, too. Kevin told me that reading my
reflections on this blog had prompted him to think about how he was
doing things and how he could improve. For a 23-year-old, I’ve learned
a fair bit, and that’s because of kaizen – the Japanese
principle of constant improvement. I love experimenting, reflecting on
the results, sharing my thoughts, and working on the next step.
Sharing what I’m learning about life has led to so many more insights
from other people. Wow!

Next steps

So, how can I act on his advice?

His “Have we met?” trick will be very handy for me. I meet so many
people at the local tech get-togethers. That’s one way to make that
connection and to naturally tell people about these events if they
haven’t heard of them yet.

I can look for ways to be more useful to the recruiters in my network.
I would love to introduce them to teachers who are interested in
helping their students find cool work, for example. I can keep an eye
out for students and professionals looking for work at the events I go
to. Still, I’m not adding much value that way, but at least referrals
are handy, and if I vouch for the recruiter, that’s at least a little
bit. If I get to know people better, then I can add more value.

And the things I want to do for my career? I think there’s a big
market for it, bigger than I’d realized… I can do so much to help
people connect!

I’m looking forward to getting to know Kevin Magee better in February. What a way to start my day!

Random Emacs symbol: set-fringe-mode – Function: Set `fringe-mode’ to VALUE and put the new value into effect.

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Salesdogs: I’m a Chihuahua!

Are you turned off sales because you think everyone has to be a pit
bull? When most people think of sales, they think of in-your-face
salespeople who just won’t take no for an answer. I have to confess
that even *I* have a hard time remembering that I don’t have to be
like that in order to enjoy and do well at sales.

I’ve read a lot about sales, but books tend to be generic sales tips
that try to apply to everyone. How to start. How to ask questions. How
to close. How to build relationships.
Salesdogs
was the first book I read that talked about personalities. Salesdogs describes five “breeds”.

  • Pit Bulls: will always go for the jugular
  • Golden Retrievers: love customer service and will do anything for clients
  • Poodles: intellectual, classy, appearance-oriented, but a little high-strung
  • Chihuahuas: combine passion with product knowledge; tends to yip if overexcited
  • Basset hounds: loyal to the end, great at building relationships

I’m a Chihuahua through and through. (No, not just because I’m small!)
I *love* absorbing vast quantities of information, and ferreting it
out myself if I must. Learning the product inside and out? Combing the
Web for testimonials in order to find differentiating points? Getting
inside people’s heads? That sounds exciting! I’m always reading,
always trying things out, because I love knowing that one obscure
little thing that’ll get someone hooked. My weakness is that when I
get really excited, I tend to overwhelm people… <laugh>

Pick up the book and find out what kind of salesdog you are. Better
yet, find out how you can improve your performance and that of other
people around you. Don’t have time or can’t stand cheesy metaphors?
Coral.net.au has a great summary of the
different Salesdogs breeds,
including tips for managing them.

You don’t have to be a pit bull. Figure out your personality, play
to your strengths, and cross-train.

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Random Emacs symbol: custom-save-faces – Function: Save all customized faces in `custom-file’.

Creating Rainmakers

I spotted an intriguing book today. Creating Rainmakers: The Manager’s Guide to Training Professionals to Attract New Clients. The book is expensive, but I’ll go back and browse through it tomorrow to see if it’s worth buying.

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Random Emacs symbol: muse-file-regexp – Variable: A link matching this regexp will be regarded as a link to a file.

Experiment notes: Accounting, sales, and marketing–all the other parts of a business

When I started my experiment last year, leaving the familiarity of web development at IBM for my own adventures, I wanted to dig into several big unknowns that I had little experience with: the paperwork and accounting required for business, and the sales and marketing that’s even more crucial to business survival. I had tracked my personal finances and prepared our taxes for years, but business finances were new to me. I’d loved reading sales and marketing ever since I could clamber up my mother’s bookshelves, although my understanding was still abstract. So I expected to do favourably, but I was still a little nervous. After all, this was one of the key differences between an independent life and one inside a company. My experiences with this would determine whether I could survive on my own or whether I’d do better within a structure built by someone else. Would the benefits of managing my own business outweigh the overhead? Would the experiment be a long, hard slog, or could I get the hang of the fundamentals?

Accounting and paperwork was the first hurdle. I wanted to incorporate right away to have that separation between me and the company, so that any mistakes I might make wouldn’t bring us all down with it. It was probably unnecessary, but it was good to know that as long as I paid attention to the details, we’d be okay.

For the most part, D.I.Y. paperwork has been sufficient. I filed my articles of incorporation online, registered my company with the Canada Revenue Agency. It took me a while to sort out getting a business credit card, but it was straightforward once I did so. There were a few stressful evenings of forum research and fact-checking on government websites, such as when I decided to cancel my cellphone claims and ended up owing additional taxes. (It turned out to be just a few dollars’ worth.) Reading entrepreneur forums like the ones at Red Flag Deals helped me watch out for common pitfalls, such as the installment payments that automatically kick in after you reach a certain income tax threshold. I’m still postponing the paperwork needed to figure out how to get money out of the company. One step at a time.

I’ve grown to like that separation of saying, “This contract is between your company and my company,” or “The business will invest in buying ____.” It forces me to make decisions: is this worthwhile for the business? I have a trade name now, although I’ve kept the main company as a numbered company so that I can stick all sorts of other experiments underneath it.

If I were to do it again – or even now – I’d love to have an accountant whom I could e-mail questions periodically. I’d still want to keep a close eye on my books, and my transaction volume is low enough that I can handle things myself with Quickbooks. It would be good to have someone doublecheck things, though, and answer my questions.

One of the things that makes it easier for me is knowing that this too is an experiment, and that I can start up a different company with a different structure in order to try out other things. I don’t have to get everything gold-plated the first time around.

That’s the paperwork and accounting part of the business, which is usually a thorn in people’s sides, but which has turned out to be doable and even a fulfilling Friday afternoon routine.

Sales and marketing were other parts of business that I’ve heard many fellow geeks gripe about, so I wanted to find out what both of those were really like. Most freelancers I know have their plates full with referrals and repeat clients, and many don’t actively sell their services. I was lucky to have had clients for consulting and contracting right away, thanks to personal networks and my blog.

In the past few months, I’ve been making myself scale back consulting so that I can force myself to learn more about sales and marketing. Digital conference sketchnoting gave me a great excuse to try it out. Sketchnotes are visual. People have built businesses around this before. Businesses have bought services like this before, although generally in other cities. The sales approach would be to reach out to conference organizers and event agencies, while the marketing approach might involve posting sketchnotes and resources for organizers. Illustration is a complementary service, too, and there are other services I can cross-sell.

Here’s what I’ve come to enjoy about sales:

  • I like the process of mapping what I can provide (based on my own skills or including others) to what could create value for people.
    I like negotiating: cutting out the non-essential, adding options that people are curious about, and finding creative ways for everyone to get what they want.
    I like coming to an agreement on value and deliverables.
    I like receiving cheques and depositing them. Winking smile
    I’m even fine with following up and with turning down clients. Sometimes there’s a better fit elsewhere.

My marketing has been a gradual process of building up my website and sharing more resources. I enjoyed designing a logo and thinking about how to explain what I do. I’m glad I can build my own website and tweak it based on the ideas I have. New entrepreneurs are usually advised to outsource web design and development, but I think there’s value in creating my own simple site and evolving it over time. There’s still so much more to learn.

Looking back at this first year of my experiment, I think that the overhead of building my own business has been more than worth it. Many people see paperwork, sales, and marketing as distractions from the fun stuff, the work that they actually enjoy doing. For me, these activities are like programming, although in a slightly different form. It’s like learning more about the APIs (application programming interfaces) of the world, exploring the standards and specifications to find out what’s required from me and what’s possible. It’s like developing procedures, dealing with bugs, and improving algorithms. It’s like playing around with an interface until you figure out something that flows.

I’m glad I started this experiment. It’s difficult to imagine a career path within a company that would shift me from development (which I’m good at and which I still enjoy) to learning more about sales, marketing, and finance (which I’d have no qualifications for, and which I’d probably be terrible at in the beginning). It isn’t optimal. It doesn’t make sense. On my own, I can make that decision to temporarily give up some productivity in favour of building a useful combination of capabilities, and then see where I can go from there. I am less awesome a developer than I could have been if, say, I’d spent a year intensely working with Rails in a boutique web development agency, but this combination of tech and business and creative and communication will probably come in handy someday.

I think this will give me a great foundation for further experiments. I spent the first year of my experiment learning that it’s not that scary to create something and get to the first sale. I’d like to spend the next year getting even better at taking a business from the sparkle in one’s eye to a prototype that people can look at, sign up for, or buy, learning more and more about de-risking ideas. Then three years to see what I can do with those skills, and then my first evaluation: back to the world of other people’s ideas, or onward with developing mine?

I’ll still need to keep working on the fundamentals over the next year, of course. Some of the things I want to learn or practise include:

  • Moving money from the company to me (good for replenishing my opportunity fund!)
  • Elimination, delegation, and automation
  • Identifying prospects and reaching out to them
  • Following up with people
  • Building a library of resources not just for marketing but also because it’s good to share, like the way my blog has led to so many great conversations over the years

This experiment rocks.