Saturday, April 24, 2010

My big sales secret

Last year was a good year for my consulting practice. And while I was doing my taxes, it struck me that my income came from nearly 20 sources. Each a client with a story to tell. This got me thinking about how many of these client relationships spring from one core sales secret. Here it is:

I don't sell. Ever.

Seriously. If you've ever met with me, you probably noticed that I could care less whether I make the sale. I don't "close." I don't "overcome objections." I don't have a "sales cycle." Instead, we talk honestly about what you need, and what I can offer you. If I am not an outstanding choice for you, in your judgment or mine, I am happy to suggest other options. And then we'll shake hands.

Likewise, if you work with me, you may have noticed I am not constantly angling for more work. There is a thoughtfully chosen reason for this. I believe you are an intelligent person who knows what you need and when you need it. And I want you to feel every bit as welcome coming back to me three years later as you do three weeks later.

Is this a stupid, naive, or lazy way to sell? No. Here's why:

Think about all the people you've met who really wanted to make the sale. People whose partisanship toward their product or service was obvious. People who would probably never, even on pain of torture, suggest something other than themselves. Do you trust them? Would you go to them for impartial advice? Do you seek to create long-term partnerships with them? Well then. I'll bet that any purchases you made from them were despite their so-called sales efforts, not because of them.

You see, many of my clients are people I've partnered with for a long time. I cherish these partnerships, whether they use me every week or once every couple of years. They already know I am really good at what I do, and even when they don't cross my palms with silver I value being colleagues with them. Most of them probably would have gone running for the hills if I was constantly - or, for that matter, ever - foaming at the mouth to sell to them.

I learned this philosophy from, of all people, a car salesman. For years and years, Jeff has always patiently let my wife and I test drive one car after another, never presses us to make a decision, and knows his products cold. He never asks us stupid questions like, "Are you prepared to buy a car today?" or "What would it take to get you into this vehicle?" That's why we've purchased close to $100,000 in cars from him over the years, and hope to purchase $100,000 more. And why he's always busy every time we see him. If Jeff's employers ever make him read a sales manual, they're toast.

There aren't a lot of Jeffs out there, either on the car lots or in my profession. But I do feel there is a reason that he and I both seem to do really well most of the time: people like dealing with us. So stop caring about making the sale. Throw out most of what you've read on selling, and start thinking about building relationships. And above all, completely blow people away when you work for them. Then all sorts of good things will start happening to you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rich Gallagher unplugged: A truly "lights out" presentation

This week I was the guest of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce, as the keynote speaker for the annual business awards breakfast. Five minutes before I was scheduled to speak, the power went out, plunging the meeting room into darkness except for candles that were fortuitously lit at each table.

One great thing about having done this for 15 years is that nothing surprises me anymore. (In fact, this was my second power failure as a speaker!) So with no PowerPoint, no microphone, and no lights, we all moved forward and had a great time anyway. Here's a clip from the event:

Friday, April 09, 2010

The ministry of communications

Normally you don't have to look very far to find examples of people who don't communicate very well. Or worse, seem to have no clue how their public statements will be taken by people. But frankly, I expected much better lately from Pope Benedict and the Vatican.

First of all, I am no Pope-basher. I am, in fact, a devout Catholic who grew up wanting to become a priest, albeit open-minded enough to respect everyone's faith and support things like gay rights. And it is from exactly this position as both a Catholic and a communications skills expert that I find myself increasingly gritting my teeth: Catholicism has been taking a beating in the public eye lately.

Which leads us to the latest issue to rock the Church - its response to how it handled pedophile priests decades ago, often shuffling these child abusers to other parishes to keep molesting children, and bottling up these cases for years at the Vatican. As more details come to light, and as they circle closer to the Pope's own past, the Vatican has been issuing a raft of heated denials as well as condemnation of the press.

However you feel on this difficult and sensitive issue, from a communications skills perspective we are simply hearing too much about the Pope and not enough about the children. The Pope is not just the CEO of some big spiritual corporation. He is the Vicar of Christ. And as Christ's representative on earth, he is supposed to at least try to sound less defensive than your Aunt Mabel from Yonkers. Think about how some of the recent headlines about the Vatican might sound if Christ had uttered them:

"Christ decries press conspiracy against Him"
"Christ claims subordinates shielded abusers, not Him"
"Christ silent about abuse crisis during Easter Week"
"Christ calls accusations 'absolutely groundless'"

Not exactly what you would expect to hear from someone who willingly gave Himself up on a cross, right? While I can't speak for Him, I picture Him weeping for the children. I see Him doing everything He could to tend to them. Above all I see Him following His signature trait from the New Testament, which is doing the right thing, whatever the cost, and not caring a whit about how people judged Him personally. So for starters, if Christ is your boss, we expect you to sound a lot more Christ-like. Especially when we are talking about children who were sexually abused.

So what would I say in a situation like this? Here is how I might advise the Pope, not that he is asking me. First, man up and take ownership of what happened. If, as we are learning, US bishops begged your office to defrock child abusers and there was no action taken for years, then as Ricky Ricardo would say, you have some 'splainin to do. Do it. Second, stop blaming other people: it is not the press's fault this is an issue, nor can you lay this at the feet of some vast anti-Catholic conspiracy. It is ultimately your problem to deal with, and hopefully learn from.

Finally, and most importantly, don't just sit on your throne and ignore the rest of us. We are talking about abused children here, not to mention people leaving the Church in droves. Unless you want to risk going down in history as the Pope who made Catholicism irrelevant in the 21st century, you need to show remorse, humility, and a genuine horror at whatever you were part of, and then learn from it. Not just the "this is bad and we wish it hadn't happened" apologies issued to date, and the ecclesiastical butt-covering that has followed. That's a little like me trashing your car and then saying, "we understand the horror of damaged cars."

Ultimately, I feel that this crisis will end the same way that apartheid, the Holocaust, and so many other atrocities ended: when the victims forgive us. That will ultimately depend on the words and actions of the people at the top. For this to happen, their communications need to be a little more Divinely inspired, or at least pass muster with any lay corporate communicator. Good luck and God bless.