Try Starting a Conversation Before Starting a Sales Conversation

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The above quote was from an email that Rick Roberge sent me. 

150%?  I know, I know, but Rick’s been grumpy lately so I didn’t feel like arguing.  But he’s right.  Social Selling in particular seems to be a particularly divisive topic these days.  I’ve been in some sort of sales capacity my entire career, which admittedly isn’t that long, so I know I still have a lot left to master.  If you read this post, you know that I’ve knocked on doors.  I’ve cold called, cold emailed, networked; but the idea of using social media to generate leads has been new to me.  I’ve made all the excuses: 1) I don’t have time. 2) Mine is a complex B2B sale, I’m different. 3) My prospects aren’t on social media….

The idea of using another channel to start conversations is appealing to me, but I don’t want to do it the way it’s been done to me.  You accept a LinkedIn request, only to get “the pitch” moments later.  Or you get an Inmail from someone you have never talked to before and it’s about 6 paragraphs long and all about them and their product.

Has this ever happened to you?

I decided this week I was ready to start using LinkedIn for prospecting, and I’d like to share one of my success stories with you.

Came across Jon, Director of Remediation at Possible Dream Client and sent him this message:
Jon, I was surfing LinkedIn and noticed that we are connected to a lot of the same people, including _______. When I looked at your profile, I was going to ask him to introduce me, but then figured I would just reach out directly. I wonder if you have ever seen this article:https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/could-answers-questions-costing-you-3m-michael-douglas Mike

He replied:

I typically will accept invitations if the person asking works in the environmental industry, does not necessarily mean I have worked with that person on a project in the past. Jon

To which I said:
Jon, understood. I am protective of my network as well which is why I wouldn’t ask you to connect unless we found some common ground first. Did the article not resonate with you?
His response:
In some ways yes in other ways no. Tracking remediation projects in the same manner as capital project is a bigger issue that timing and turn around on invoices. Jon 555-555-5555
So I said:
Great point Jon on the difference between remediation projects and capital projects. I noticed you included your number in the last reply. Does that mean you would be okay with starting a conversation offline?
And he said:
You can call me on Friday if you want I am pretty open then. Jon

I talked to Jon on Friday as he suggested.  We had  a short 15 minute call that resulted in a lunch meeting on the calendar in a couple weeks.

So why did this work?  I think a few reasons.  1) I didn’t talk about me or my company, not once.  2) I gave first.  I had an article that I had written, that I thought, based on his role, he might find value in.  3) I tried to start a conversation before starting a sales conversation.

This last point has been a challenge for me I admit, but one that I have started to overcome over the last year.  I used to think that my product, was the way to start a conversation, it was the value that my customers paid me for.  I realize now the importance and the value of perspective.  That’s what our customers pay us for, how we think about problems in their world and help them solve them.

Do you think my outreach to Jon would have worked if I didn’t provide him a piece of content to show him how I think?  I doubt it.

Are there problems that you have solved for your customers that you could write about?  What would happened if you shared those with potential customers?  Are you providing value through social media or is it just another avenue to spam?  Are your dream clients out there waiting to hear from you in a way other than a voicemail or an email?

How Record M&A Activity Affects the Environmental Professional

I originally wrote this post on December 30, 2015 and posted it to LinkedIn.  You can find it here.

Are you still trying to do more with less?

Since about 2009, many have made an obvious observation that large corporations in the world are asking their employees to accomplish more with less resources.  For purposes of this post, I mean resources to be money and people.  Around 2010, I started reading how the “long-awaited recovery” was under way.  Fortune 500 companies as a whole, increased earnings by 335%, the second largest jump in the 56 year history of the list.  Earnings not revenue.  How?  Well, labor accounts for roughly two-thirds of costs, so the 821,000 jobs lost in 2009 (I’m only talking about Fortune 500 here) probably helped.  In fact, in many cases, revenue remained flat or even fell.

Many of these jobs have not come back and companies are still asking their professionals to do more with less.  There was a great article by Workforce in 2014 that included research from CEB and Towers Watson that found employee burdens have continued to increase over the past two years.  24% of workers surveyed said that their hours have increased and 29% said reported the amount of work they are expected to complete after hours has risen.
Fast forward to 2015, a record year for mergers and acquisitions activity.  This same overburdened workforce now finds out that their company is merging or divesting assets.

How does this impact environmental professionals?

For the environmental professional, this can easily double the workload.  Setting up the project management “war room” can be a painful exercise.  Just getting all the needed due diligence information together, in one place can be extremely difficult for some organizations.  Buyers are becoming more judicious about quantifying the ultimate cost of an acquisition.  This means putting environmental liabilities under the microscope more than ever.  Justin Hofmeister did a guest post on our blog on what happens when companies fail to do so.  Examples Justin gave from pertinent case law include:

  • An independent contractor excavating contaminated soil and displacing it on a separate, uncontaminated portion of the same parcel.
  • During construction of a housing subdivision on a former wood treatment plant, a developer filled creosote pools with soil and then graded the area.  This spread contaminated soil across the entire development site.

In both these case, the parties were found liable under CERCLA regulations despite not being the original contaminators of property.  CERCLA defines disposal as simply “placing of any hazardous waste on any land.”

The burden of uncertainty under a microscope.

There are numerous other examples in recent years.  There is just so much uncertainty and massive amounts of data.  Buyers must consider possible future sites, defined remedial action plans at known sites, and whether or not there have been sufficient cost estimates completed.  Since GAAP allows companies to only carry a portion of total cost to closure, the full picture of environmental risk is often unknown.  Whether you sit on the buy side or the sell side of the transaction, chances are, everything about your program; processes, documentation, workflow, etc. will be scrutinized.

How can you be confident that all this will be used as as strategic asset and not just a liability at the negotiation table?  Does an environmental organization managed according to industry best practices ultimately have the upper hand in this scenario?

How do you to turn a liability into an asset?

John Rosengard has a great presentation available about assessing and valuing Counterparty Risk 

I like what this article article says about using a statistical approach for estimating future environmental costs.  It forces the buyer to select a cost estimate based on their risk tolerance.

Although controversial to some, I’ve always loved Greg Rogers’ stance on estimates vs. disclosures.  I’ve referred many people to this article on CFO.com.

Finally, I think Kathryn Pavlovsky is a thought leader in the role of sustainability and environmental management during the M&A and divestiture process.  You can read some of her stuff here and here.

When Is It Time To Let An Opportunity Die

“You can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months over-analyzing a situation; trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could’ve, would’ve happened…or you can just leave the pieces on the floor and move the f*ck on”

–Tupac Shakur

 

Yesterday, I received an email from a prospect, let’s call him Jon, after following up.  At the risk of boring you with the back story, let’s just say I inherited this from a previous sales rep.

Here is some of our exchange:

Jon to Me (Yesterday) :

I am getting there.   After I received your message, I requested an update on the status, but I have not received a response yet.

Me to Jon (After New Year) :

Jon, have you dug out from under your holiday inbox yet?

Jon to Me (Before Christmas) :

Hi Mike,

I do not have any new information, and with the holidays, I will not be able to get any.  We can connect in the new year.

Jon

When he says, “I am getting there” he means catching up on email, not getting this deal done.

I have gone back through the history of our interaction in Salesforce and I cannot find a single documented instance where Jon returned a phone call.  I have been pushing and pushing and pushing with minimal engagement from him.  I have my doubts that this will ever get done if we leave it to him.

So here is what I am proposing:

EITHER

1) I stop responding to Jon.  Let him come to us when/if he is ever ready.  This will take a lot of self control, but he relies too much on my emails and prompts.  He needs to be in the driver seat if this will ever happen.

OR

2) I call Steve (the VP) with a message like this:

“Steve, I am about to call Jon and retract our offer to working with your company.  But before I do, I remembered that he told me that you were making this a high priority project and I wanted to give you the chance to intervene.”

IF I DON”T GET STEVE

3) I call Jon with a message like this:

“Jon, I apologize.  I know you really want to this to happen, but I have handled this wrong since your group was reassigned under Steve.  I should have been more persistent to meet with Steve to understand if he wants this to happen as much as you do.  If he does, then he would need to step in now to get this done.  If it’s not as important to him as it is to you, then we need to both agree this will never happen.  I am tired of my boss always asking me when is Jon going to make a decision, so I think the best thing to do is you tell me, “Michael, this will never happen; and I can stop bugging you.”

You might be thinking I am nuts.  This will end badly.

If Steve or Jon REALLY want this to happen then neither of them would let us let the opportunity die.  And if they do, well, then we know that we would have gotten a “NO” eventually.  It’s just a matter of how much more time and money will we spend to get there.

Now, the fact of the matter is, I shouldn’t even be in this position right now.  This is a result of poor qualification and hitting the gas through yellow lights when I should have either slowed down or stopped.  The best way to handle this issue is to not let it become an issue in the first place.

The best way to be comfortable about letting the opportunity go it is to have a strong enough pipeline so that it doesn’t matter.  Having the ability to focus on the winners and cut bait with the losers will only help, not hurt.

So what would you do if you were me?

 

This post originally appeared on the Unbound Growth blog.

The Buy vs Build Debate: Why Is It Still Happening?

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn Profile January 25, 2016

January 25, 2011, I was driving back to the airport from a meeting with a potential client, my CEO in the passenger seat.  “How do you think it went,” he asked.  “I think it went okay.”  I was kidding myself.  We were ambushed.  We never should have flown out for the meeting.  I had a few follow up conversations after the fact, but I knew I was wasting my time at that point.  The problem was, I completely underestimated who the actual decision makers were in the room.  I was trying to solve a business problem for the environmental team; yet their own internal IT group wanted to solve the same problem, by building a custom solution.  We were essentially invited into the room to help them scope it out.

The Buy vs Build debate has been a heated one in many organizations.  I am reminded of a quote from Mark Lutchen, former Global CIO for PriceWaterHouseCoopers.  Mark said,

“Everybody knows that the more you buy off-the-shelf, the more cost effective it will be for both implementation and ongoing maintenance.”

Well, if everybody knows it, why is it still happening?

When DIY Doesn’t Happen

There are many reasons.  Ego could be one.  Perceived competitive advantage by having something nobody else does could be another.  What I find, more often than not, is simply underestimating the scope of the project from the onset.

In the absence of a specification, needs analysis, software architecture, data model, development work plan, resource requirements, screen design and so on, building a custom solution looks very attractive.  Most software companies invest millions of dollars and 1000s of hours to build their product.  Most industrials can’t do the same thing—it’s just not their core business.  Why should they when someone else has done it for them?

Here’s the rub: building custom one-off software applications is difficult, expensive and rarely economically feasible given a commercial alternative.  Without a detailed engineering specification, I have doubts that any consultant or developer could give an accurate price estimate.  With Off The Shelf software, you know the cost right now.

Additionally, you may be compelled to take short cuts, avoid building certain key functionality or configurations because at the time it doesn’t seem important all in an effort to keep costs down.  In other words, you probably won’t end up with the application that you want or the one that will generate the highest overall benefit.

It becomes impossible to take into account the magnitude of the level of effort required to develop and document decisions, requirements and specifications.  Ultimately you probably find out that “buying” software is a great deal.

Fast forward to this past summer.  I get a call from that same company, only different people.  The old guard was gone and the IT group didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.  The business never got their solution.  All the problems remained and the manager of that group lost his job.  So my question, “What’s different now?,” was greeted with a laundry list of reasons why they were ready to be a customer.  We took our time though, essentially starting over to make sure we didn’t miss a single detail.  In the end, they had underestimated the scope and the requirements.  The business, to their credit, refused to settle for a half-baked solution, and just before Christmas they became a customer.

So you are probably wondering if I felt vindicated in anyway.  The answer is no.  I would have preferred to help them 5 years ago and help someone save their job.  A lot of the issues that still exist would have been solved, they would have already gotten their ROI and now moved on to creating additional value for their company as a whole.  You never want to see people make mistakes that you have watched others make.  As a parent, I definitely understand that.  So hopefully, this cautionary tale could help you or someone you are working with avoid similar pitfalls.

So have you experienced this? How did it end up? What did you do?

Read this paper and see if it’s what you are looking for.  Learn more about the complexities and challenges of creating your own environmental management system.

The Greatest Salesman in the World

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile December 22, 2014

Don’t worry; this is not a post where I try to convince you that I’ve found the secret formula to sales. Far from it actually. I have always approached sales like a student, in a constant state of evaluation and education. I think a lot of us get discouraged about things that are completely out of our control. However, we fail to recognize the one area of our lives and careers that we have total control over – our emotions.

I relocated a few months ago and am still unpacking boxes. I recently came across a book, The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino. Hands down, this is my favorite book written on the subject of sales and ranks very highly with my favorite books of any genre. My copy is nearly destroyed. Dog-eared and tattered, filled with underlines, highlights and notes. I received the copy in 1998 at the end of my freshman year in college.

I was embarking on my first job in sales – a summer “internship” with the Southwestern Company. If you’re not familiar, here is your crash course. I drove from Ohio to Nashville, TN in a caravan with about 15 other students for a weeklong sales training with other kids from all over the country. Then we were given a territory; mine was West Memphis, AR. I knocked on doors that weekend to find a room for rent and then I opened my business as a student dealer, selling books door-to-door. I was essentially broke, homeless and isolated from friends and family. This was a situation where I certainly needed to control my emotions.

I learned some of my best life lessons that summer. Nothing builds character quite like having your teeth kicked in over and over again for 8-10 hours a day, in person, at someone’s front door. After one especially taxing day, I was picked up by the police in front of an apartment building. Apparently one of the residents was not amused when I slyly told her I thought the “No Soliciting” sign instead said “No Smoking.”

Throughout the good and bad days in West Memphis, I kept that book with me. I would read a couple passages each morning. I would read a few while I ate my lunch (usually warm PB&J and water on the sidewalk). I would read after making a sale and after getting rejected. This is a practice I’ve continued throughout my entire sales career. Sure, I’ve read other books, lots of them, but I always come back to Og’s wisdom.

If I become overconfident I will recall my failures. If I overindulge I will think of past hungers. If I feel complacency I will remember my competition. If I enjoy moments of greatness I will remember moments of shame. If I feel all-powerful, I will try to stop the wind. If I attain great wealth I will remember one unfed mouth. If I become overly proud I will remember a moment of weakness. If I feel my skill is unmatched I will look at the stars. Today, I will be master of my emotions.

Are you always in control of your emotions? Ever let one bad call or meeting dictate the rest of your day? Have you lost a customer and allowed that defeat to ruin the rest of your week? Or did you crush your goal and then try to rest on your laurels? All of these reactions ultimately waste time and as we all know, time is a non-renewable asset.

Weak is he who permits his thoughts to control his actions; strong is he who forces his actions to control his thoughts.

All Quotations from The Greatest Salesman in the World, Og Mandino, 1968, Bantam Books.