Friday, January 22, 2010

Gradual Progress

It's a basic fact that the forces of inertia and entropy are at work in all spheres of life. In order for us to impose a direction on things it is "beneficial to have a place to go."

If we are sensitive to the changes in our environment, this becomes a process of continual course correction.

"Both in a straight line, and in all directions, simultaneously."
" If you can't get destination, go for direction."
~ Boyce & Gimian - The Rules of Victory (Commentary on the Art of War)

For optimal growth in sales, as well as any field of endeavor, we must test ourselves in order to find our edge, and then lean into it. Goals can do this, however.....

If the goal is too far out in front of our edge we can set ourselves up for failure. Goals that are excessive can be demotivating.

In military affairs, troops placed on "death ground" can achieve miracles. But this cannot be sustained for long without exhausting them.

Leaders of all types must be mindful of this.

"Better stop short than fill to the brim,
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt."
"He who stands on tiptoe is not steady."
~ Lao Tzu - Tao Te Ching

"A sudden movement of the ridgepole under great stress will snap it, bringing the whole roof crashing down."
~ Balkin - The Laws of Change

If gradual progress is made continuously, then true mastery will ultimately be achieved.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nothing Extra Added

"A Good Walker Leaves No Tracks" ~ Lao Tzu - Tao Te Ching

Life in general, and sales in particular contain one challenge after another. There are moments of incredible success and beauty, and other moments of substantial challenge, disappointment, and loss. And the only constant is change.

I have observed that many people seem to hold a belief similar to the following:

"If there are no observable signs of stress when a person is dealing with a challenge, obstacle, or goal, then that person is not taking the situation seriously enough."

I would argue just the opposite. If one is fully engaged in facing and dealing with whatever life throws at her, then there is no energy left for indulging in self-defeating thoughts or actions. Observe any athlete at the top of his game (for instance a Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan). Don't we say about such people that they make their incredible feats look easy or effortless? This is because there is "nothing extra added." Just as a fire that burns hot enough leaves very little ash, a person who brings the totality of their attention, resources, and presence to the task at hand, leaves no trace of herself in the process. This is a shift toward pure action, and is similar to what has been called "being in the zone."

In training salespeople, I have often taught them about the concept of "Present Time Consciousness." All that we do in sales must be focused on our ever changing relationship, on the spot and in the moment, with our prospect or client. It's like in the the martial arts or the boxing ring. If I drop my guard for a split second, and get hit with a jab, I don't have any time to start questioning myself, or for getting angry at my opponent for hitting me (when I should fully expect him to do so), or for beating myself up about my poor technique. Beating ourselves up is the most destructive of these three responses, as now the fight becomes two against one. In any case, allowing our attention to wander in any of these directions simply enlarges the gap, allowing our opponent to hit us again, and again. If you question what any of this has to do with sales, ask yourself if you have ever felt beaten-up after an interaction with a prospect or client.

The key to this, and the thing that we have control over, is where we choose to focus our attention. The human mind has a tremendous capacity for imagination. In any given moment our attention can be directed to a past memory, future dream, some fictional story. To use another analogy, the movie screen can show an infinite range of images. Some images can be attractive, and some repulsive. But if we want to be maximally effective in our action, our attention must be focused in the here and now, on the spot. Try hammering a nail into a piece of wood. What happens when we allow our attention to wander?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Technique, Strategy, and Naturalness

In this post I want to quote an extended passage from Larry Phillips' excellent book, Zen and the Art of Poker. Little comment on my part is needed, and you will see that the parallels to the game of sales are fairly obvious.

"You are luckily all right by yourself, yet you struggle artificially." ~~ Zen master Dazhu

Steve Hagen, in his excellent book Buddhism Plain and Simple, gives us the example of a maple leaf falling on the ground under a maple tree and joining the natural pattern of other leaves that have fallen there. He asks us to imagine how difficult it would be for willful action on the part of humans to create such a pattern -- requiring struggling, planning, effort, and toil -- a pattern that is quite naturally and effortlessly created by nature........

The same think occurs in poker. When you finally become a good poker player and look back at your early days, you will see that often you were pressing. You were like a person trying to force the maple leaves into a pattern, when it was naturalism that was required all along. You were probably overplaying; there was no harmony to your actions. You were not attuned to the rhythm of what was going on, the game in front of you, or yourself within the game. Your emotions were probably under dubious control, you weren't reading the other players very well (and they were probably reading you very well), and you were likely playing the wrong cards. Even though in a technical sense you may have been playing correctly at times, there was no real soul to your game -- you were missing opportunities that were occurring within "the flow.".......

You find that once you learn the game well and stop pressing, stop trying to bull your way through, and get into the rhythm and flow of it, it arrives magically, as if by itself. A Zen-type rhythm has been reached.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rocks and Mountains

And so one skilled at battle
Seeks it in energy and does not demand it of people.
Thus one can dispense with people and employ energy.

One who uses energy sets people to battle as if rolling trees and rocks.
As for the nature of trees and rocks--
When still, they are at rest.
When agitated, they move.
When square, they stop.
When round, they go.
Thus the energy of one skilled at setting people to battle is like rolling
round rocks from a mountain one thousand miles high.
This is energy.
~Sun Tzu

What in the world do rocks, and mountains have to do with sales, relationships, or motivating people generally? The reason that military and business leaders, and leaders of people in all spheres of life have found the Sun Tzu a source of wisdom and inspiration for over 2,500 years, is that it articulates universal principles applicable to situations of conflict and chaos. The images contained in this work depict basic universal patterns and strategies leading to effective action in any arena. Central to this material's staying power and effectiveness is the fact that is not a book of cookbook strategies. Rather, it is collection of images, that when reflected on in a contemplative manner yield insights valuable in whatever specific context they are being viewed.

The word "motivate" means to "place in motion." To motivate someone is to create movement. In sales, we are looking to move the person we are dealing with from the position of prospect to the position of customer or client. But according to the text quoted above, the first step we need to take in working with a "rock" is to evaluate it's shape, and present state. And for the purpose of this posting - think "large boulder" rather than "small stone."

  • "When still, they are at rest, when agitated, they move" ~~~ If we are making cold-calls to prospects, we need to find out where they are in relation to the product or service we have to to sell. We need to find out whether or not they have ever used our product or service before, or are they currently working with a competitor? If not, are they dealing with a problem for which our product or service is a solution? If so, how big of a problem is this for them? The level of emotional content they express relating to this problem is a sign of how likely they are to move. Note the relationship between the words "emotion" and "motion." In the end, if there is no emotional content, the "rock" is at rest, and it takes various degrees of energy on our part to create movement, depending on how big the "rock" is, and how far we need it to move (large sales require large movement). If leads are warm, or the prospect has contacted us, we can assume at least a minimum degree of agitation. But we should be cautious about this, as large rocks with small agitation do not move very far.
  • "When square, they stop, when round, they go" ~~~ Square edges are like the objections that prospects express. In sales, we encounter "square rocks" all of the time, and we must deal with them. If the world were filled only with round rocks, there would be little need for sales professionals. In a sense, we can think of ourselves as people engaged in the task of smoothing the way for the sale. But this is another area in which we must work with an effective strategy, or else we risk failure. So, picture yourself in the following situation: You are faced with a boulder as large as yourself, heavy, massive, solid, like granite. This boulder has plenty of sharp square edges. How would you go about moving it? Well, you could get a bulldozer, but for the sake of this thought exercise, you will have to use lower tech tools. You could get out some dynamite or a jack-hammer and try to eliminate the rough edges, but the results would be very unpredictable, and would probably do great damage to the boulder. Since the boulder is equivalent to our prospect, this would be very undesirable, and most likely unsuccessful. We could get out a hammer and chisel and pretend we are Michaelangelo. This would be very time-consuming, and, therefore, probably also unsuccessful. At this point we might feel very discouraged with this task, but it is important to remember two things:
  • There are many more than only this one boulder to choose, to start with, but before we discard this boulder we should check carefully to see if:
  • What looks like a square boulder, may in reality be a round one. We must investigate carefully, asking probing questions again and again to see if what looks like a sharp edge is, in fact a sharp edge. Many apparently square rocks turn out, on further investigation to be round ones.
  • The softest thing in the world (water) overcomes the strongest substance in the world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Open To Knowlege

"Know yourself and know the other - 100 victories in 100 battles" ~ Sun Tzu

A college professor went to visit a Zen master to find out about enlightenment. During the conversation, the professor went on and on, sharing his knowlege. The Zen master went to fetch tea for the two of them. As he was filling the professor's cup, he kept on pouring after the cup was full, until it overflowed onto the table, and onto the professor. Shocked, the professor asked the Zen master, "What are you doing, you're getting tea all over me!" Nonplussed, the Zen master calmly replied, "you are like this cup, full of knowledge. In order to receive anything new, the cup must first become empty."

In order to be of true service to our prospects and clients through the sales process, it is imortant for us to learn as much about them as we can. We must learn about their aims and goals. We must learn about their expectations of us, and of our product or service. We must learn about their decision process, and their budget. Ultimately, we must learn how they like to be sold.

Like the college professor in the story, each of us has all kinds of prior assumptions that we bring to our relationships, even when we have never made contact with this person before. In order to be successful, we must become like an empty cup. We must become genuinely curious about this person we are dealing with. This entails asking questions, and listening to the answers. In addition, we must never allow our curiosity to be easily satisfied. The first answer to any question is rarely, if ever, the true or complete answer to the question. We must be thirsty for this knowlege which will allow us to win "100 victories in 100 battles." We must be willing to go one more step and ask one more follow up question, until we reach an answer that has the ring and weight of that person's truth. The other person may not even think that they know the truth of their situation, but through a genuine dialogue, mutual discovery can occur.

In asking questions, we must be mindful of our own intent. We can ask a question from three basic positions:

  1. We can ask a question in such a way that it is a true invitation to explore, an open process of discovery. If this is done in integrity, the open space created between us will elicit some truth from the other person, and they will feel connected to us.
  2. We can ask a question in such a way that it is a demand or some form of manipulation. Usually, in this case, we are striving for some specific answer that we have predetermined as valuable, ahead of time. This approach may be successful, in the short term, but will not help to build the type of relationship with the other person that leads to success in the longer term.
  3. Thirdly, we can ask a question from rote, as if we are reading from a script. This gives the person no feeling that we have any real interest in them or their situation.