PBTO S2E2: Jill Konrath – More Sales in Less Time

Who is on the show:

In this episode, we host Jill Konrath. As a business-to-business sales expert, Jill’s ideas and insights are ubiquitous in multiple forums, both on and offline.

Jill’s newsletters are read by 125,000+ sellers worldwide. Her popular blog has been syndicated on numerous business and sales websites.

Why is she on the show:

She was recently named one of the most influential people on sales by LinkedIn, among many other recognitions.

What did i learn in this episode:

As sales professionals, we are constantly busy and we are to find time on ever more busier executives so we can position ourselves as someone who can add value to them and their business.

We do a lot of our work online (from checking our emails to researching our clients and their social profiles to reading more about the financial results of our customers. And some of the most brilliant minds in our era are working tirelessly to keep us hooked on their products by using findings from neuroscience research.

When we add both of the above, it is extremely difficult to not get lost in the rabbit hole that is the internet.

Some things that Jill recommends:

No notification policy: Notifications are one of the most important way that we get distracted and sucked into rabitholes. So, the first thing to do to gain our time & focus back is to remove all notifications. I only have notification for when either my wife or my boss reaches out to me.

Batch our work: She recommends that it is easier to focus and we become a lot more productive when we batch our work. Fixed time for emails. Fixed time for online research and so forth.

Shut down the distractions: As sales professionals, we need to be able to think deeper and find insights. The ability to shutdown our gadgets and thinking deeply is  important to refresh our brains. We need to give our brains some rest.

Focus: Think about and decide what is the one thing that we can do today/this week that will have the biggest impact and focus on accomplish that.

Learn how to work in a digital world: As a species, we have not evolved to deal with the digital world. And this is not going to go down but only going to get worse. So, we need to consciously learn how to live and work in a digital world.

Take a break: The higher level thinking which is required in order to connect with different thoughts, identify patterns and gain insights require that we take breaks so that we can replenish & rejuvenate our brains. Work on 50 – 10 mins bursts – 50 mins work followed by 10 mins of active break (walk, drink water, stretch, etc).

Work on what matters: With the time saved by becoming more productive, we as sales professional can continue to do more high value activities and self development.

Unclogging our pipeline: So much of deals or opportunities are in our pipeline because we hope that they will happen. Just like it is important to be more intentional and focused on our time, we need to be as focused and intentional about keeping our pipeline unclogged. By unclogging our pipeline, we can find common themes among the opportunities, thereby helping us address these concerns. Another high value activity.

Best Prospects are the one’s undergoing change: The best prospects who will be open to change are the one’s that are already going through some kind of flux. This change makes them more open to challenging the status quo.

Overcoming Overwhelm: By becoming more focused and productive, we can use the time we save to not only do high value activities but also help our customers by giving them information that can help them overcome their overwhelm.

Best part of her job: Solving challenging, complex,  sales problems.

Biggest challenge of her job: Difficulty to decide which ideas to go after.

Whats on her bucket list: Iceland.

Recommendation: Hidden Figures, the movie

What superhero would she be:  Jill, the time master

What is so obvious to her which people miss all the time: Overwhelm is the biggest problem at the root of almost every challenge.

2 action recommendation: Minimise distractions. Find out your own ways to avoid and minimise distractions. There no hacks, only lasting change.

Where can you connect with her:

You can find all her great work on her website – www.jillkonrath.com and on LinkedIn. You can buy her latest book here.

Entrepreneurship – Creating Opportunities Where None Exists

It was April of 1976. It was one of those evenings when Gary Dahl, an advertising professional was having beer with his friends. His friends were going on and on complaining about their pets. In jest, he remarked that he had no complains about his pet. When probed about which pet, he said, that he had a pet rock.

This got a good laugh among his friends and that was that. Just like at time there is a tune or some thought that is stuck in our heads, this entire idea of having a pet rock was stuck in his head. So, he did what any entrepreneur would do – going about creating a product around his idea of pet rock.

It is now October and he has been working on this idea on and off since April. He got hold of rocks, created a carefully designed package – (with holes for oxygen to go through to the rock), soft base of straw so the rock feels comfortable and most importantly the 32 page pet rock training manual.

This manual (you can buy a kindle version here) had clear instructions on how to train your pet rock to sit, sleep, roll down (of course assisted by a slope) or attack the bully who troubles you ( of course with the assistance of the pet owner) and many more skills that can be taught to the pet rock.

He then sent press releases to various media outlets. Some of them picked the PR for the sheer absurdity of the idea. It even got him on the Tonight show. Twice.

The fad lasted for about 3 months and Gary sold about 1.5 Million pieces in those  100 days and netted a million dollars in profit. Each piece sold at about 4 dollars then with a dollar in net profit.

In an interview he said that no one except himself believed in the idea. Not even his wife.

Entrepreneurs have this unique ability to trust their intuition and their ability to make something work. Combine it with marketing smarts and you can make a market for almost anything – even a pet rock.

The crazy thing is that you can buy a pet rock even now – here  on its official site &  here on amazon.

Trust entrepreneurs to create opportunity where none exists... Click To Tweet

Lessons in Entrepreneurship from the Pet Rocks Experiment:

  • Any idea can be made to work, if we can put in enough effort and creativity.
  • Idea alone does nothing. We need to act on our idea and launch it. It is critical for any product. We can never guess which products can take off.
  • Self-belief and the ability to back ourselves is critical for success. Gary ended up taking loans from investors to launch this product. He invested in the packaging (both material and labour).
  • Anything that can catch the imagination of people can become marketing fads and do brisk business but for a brief amount of time.
  • Packaging is critical. If it were not for the packaging and the accompanying training manual, no one would have bothered about this pet rock. As Gary once said, it is not the rock that he sold, it was pun or humour that sold.
  • It is almost never about what we are selling, it is always about the story we create for our customers about what they are buying. Enable them to tell an impactful story, create meaning for the customer and they will buy your story, thereby your product, however effective or absurd it is.

I came across this story when listening to Terry O’reilly. Please do listen to his podcast. It is one of the best produced and most interesting podcast that i have come across on the topic of marketing. You can find more info about the podcast @ Under the Influence and you can subscribe on iTunes here. Highly recommended.

PS: Here is a video where a new pet rock is being trained by his owners.

PSS: Here is another video which explains in detail about the pet rock story.

Building a Better Version of Ourselves

Premise:

I strongly believe that irrespective of where we are in our lives, there is always a better place to be. We can always be a better person than we are today, we can have a better impact on our world than we are having right now. There is always a better future to look forward to. There is always a better goal to aspire for. If we agree about this, what is the force that can propel us to become the better person that we can become, create the bigger and more meaningful impact that we can create or even create the better future that we can envisage? Once we truly believe this to be true, we need to figure out what is it that we need to learn in order to create the better future or the better version of ourselves.

Reality Check:

The process of creating a better version of ourselves or a better future always starts with a reality check. We can do a reality check by asking ourselves questions like:

•What is working well? Why?
•What could be better? Why?
•What needs to stay as it is? Why?

Vision:

Once we have identified, what needs to change, we need to think about what does it need to change to? This is where our imagination and vision comes into play. Since we are imagining the future and building a vision, we can as well imagine something truly remarkable. Something that can take our breath away. Something that we truly believe will bring in the better future that we aspire for. In this process, it is okay to dream big, for that matter, it is better to dream big and imagine a future that is worth working towards. This future vision needs to be compelling enough for us to continue to put in hard work, even in the face of hardships and challenges, which will definitely come along.

Skill gaps:

Once we have a compelling vision of the future that we want to create, we need to look at ourselves and our teams (yes, I believe that there is nothing worthwhile that can be achieved without working with other like-minded people as teams). We need to self-reflect and find out what are the skills that we might need to build in order to work towards the future that we want to create. Some of these skills could be meta-skills that everyone of us in the team needs to work on (learning to learn, team work, collaboration, conflict management, communication, emotional intelligence, etc) and some of these skills could be specific skills that specific people in our team need to learn (coding, marketing, finance, selling, operational excellence, PR, etc). Not all of us need to learn these skills but someone on the team needs to have these skills.

Learning:

Once we have identified the skill gaps that we need to cover, we then need to go about acquiring these skills. In today’s world, we are both fortunate and unfortunate to be living in a world with information abundance. There are a lot of channels through which we can learn, without having to spend too much time or money. Sue Beckingham has put together a great list of resources where we can learn a new language or a new skill or take an online course. You can checkout all the resources she has put together here. The sheer volume of the sources is both an opportunity and a challenge. There is so much available that there is a possibility that we can get overwhelmed and not start learning anything at all.

Here I would like to suggest three strategies that we can use to learn better and continue our march towards the better future that we envisage.

Habitual Learning:

We all know that we are creatures of habit. Anything that we are able to commit to habit, we can be sure to do. There has been a lot of focus on habits, how can we create, replace or stop habitual behaviours. The key points that I have learnt from all this research can be summarised as below:

•It is easier to instill a new habit when you combine it with an existing habit.
•It is easier to replace a bad habit with a new habit (hopefully less bad) than completely stopping that habit.
•Every habit needs a cue to be triggered.
•Most habits are triggered in a specific place or a specific time (usually both).

Based on this knowledge, we can surmise that it is infinitely better for us to create a habit of learning than to depend on our willpower to do so.

We can find more information about how to create the habits here, here, here and here.

Deep learning:

Once we create a habit of learning, we need to learn the skill to do deep learning. There are multiple ways to learn deeply and thoroughly. However, one of the best learning techniques that I have seen is the Feynmann Technique. Richard Feynman posited that if you can’t explain a concept to a child clearly and simply, you haven’t learnt and understood the concept well enough. Here is a blog post (https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2012/04/learn-anything-faster-with-the-feynman-technique) by Shane Parish who runs the immensely popular Farnam Street blog (https://www.farnamstreetblog.com) which explains this technique really well.

It is critical that when we learn something, we are able to learn it well and enough to be able to teach someone else the topic and answer any and all of their questions. If we are unable to answer the questions posed, it is a good sign that there is still a lot to learn about the topic.

Communal learning:

There is only so much time that we have in our days and there is so much more to do. There is a lot more to be done if we are going after creating a better future. This means that the total amount of time that we have that we can use for learning is a small fraction. The question that we need to answer in this case is the following:

“How do we use this small amount of time to maximum impact?”

One technique that I have used in my career really well is what I would call communal learning, i.e., we learn not as individuals but as a community. What this means is that each one of us or we divide ourselves into pairs and each pair goes off to learn something new and once they have been able to learn the topic deeply, they then teach the topic to the rest of the team members who need that skill. They in turn will teach what they have learnt to the others. This way everyone is teaching something (having become experts) and at the same time also learning something (keeping them humble and hungry for more). This also helps create a good side-effect. By this process, we are able to build teams that have “T” shaped people. People, who are great at something and good at a lot of other things. We used a half the time we had for our weekly team meeting, for a pair (or an individual) to teach the rest of us what they learnt. This not only helps everyone to learn but also bonds the team really well.

Execute:

Once you have a vision, a strategy to execute the vision, learn well to ensure that we have the skills necessary to achieve the vision, the only thing left to do then is to execute on our strategy. This is the step where most of us stumble.

This is also where an analogy can help us a lot. All of us know how to drive our cars and reach our offices and homes. These are the behaviours that we already know. Now, imagine, if we have to do a cross-country drive (from Bangalore to Jammu or from New York to Los Angeles). You need to be able to drive but, in order for you to do well and not stress out, we also need to learn a few more things. We need to know how to read maps, basic understanding of the car to be able to do some basic repair if needed, knowledge of the service centers of the cars, some plan of how much we will drive in a given day, which cities will be rest at, what routes to avoid and the general direction that we need to go in. Knowing all of this will not take us to Jammu or Los Angeles. We need to sit in the car, start it and move. Once we start our journey, there will be times when our plans would come to life really well and days when it will not. We don’t just give up mid-way. We course correct based on our current situation and continue our journey, until we reach Jammu or LA.

In Conclusion:

The same it is here. We need to take action and commit to the future. We will run into obstacles. As someone said, these obstacles are put in place to make us stronger and test our commitment to our journey. People who are committed to the journey and push through these walls or obstacles will find that not only do they reach their destination, they have become stronger in the process as well. So much so that they can now go on a much more tougher journey.

The point is that as long as we are alive, these journey’s will never end or rather it’s better that they never end. We constantly strive for a better future. Every time we build that future, we start again.

The important point is that we enjoy this journey. If we don’t enjoy the entire process of learning, doing and repeating, we will never be able to act on it.

So, the question is:

“What is the future that you are working to create?”

Quest for the elusive Innovation Framework

Premise:

I have read countless blog posts, wrote a few myself, watched videos, did innovation courses, read books on innovation, all in the quest to learn what makes innovation happen and if there is a way to institutionalize innovation. While there are people who claim that they can do so, I have come to the decision that it is an elusive quest, one that we may never be able to complete.

Innovation and Parenting:

As is usual, when I was taking a walk post lunch today, I was thinking about innovation and if there is a way to institutionalize it. I then realised that the process of innovation is very similar to parenting.

As parents, we want our children to do well in life and turn out to be good citizens. We try to create the right environment for our children to grow in, take care of them, ensure that they develop the right habits, send them to good schools so they learn well, coach them, get them to sports events, music classes, etc. We do this in the hope that they can find their passions and build their lives around these passions.

As leaders, we do very similar things to foster innovation. We try and create the right environment, help build the right practices, employ the right frameworks, bring in external experts to help our teams. We send our teams to conferences, to workshops and creative retreats, all in the hope that they learn something and can come up with interesting breakthroughs.

However, just like parents we can’t guarantee that every one of our children will turn out to be good citizens and a successful professional, we as leaders can’t guarantee that any of this will result in a successful product.

We have seen siblings grow up in the same home, with the same parents, under the same conditions, yet turn out to be very different from each other. So can two different products being developed by the same team under the same conditions, using the same processes and frameworks can have different results when it comes to success.

There are times when we have children growing in tough conditions go on to become really great men. There are times when we can see that products that were developed in not so great conditions for innovation go on to become extremely successful.

In Conclusion:

Realising this, I believe that just like we as parents can’t fully control the destiny of our children but only control what we can (teach them good habits, give them a good loving, caring environment, teach them well, allow them to make their own mistakes and learn) and hope that they go out in the world and do well; as leaders responsible for innovation should do the same (help our teams build good habits, allow them to make their mistakes & learn from them, give them a good loving, caring environment, let them learn well, etc) and hope that they come up with interesting and successful products.

There is no institutionalizing of innovation. So, instead of spending our time to find this ever elusive framework, it is better for us to behave like parents and allow our teams to innovate, in their very own pace and using a framework, the one that works for them. And see magic happening.

PS: This post is in part inspired by a book that I have read by Prashun Dutta (https://in.sagepub.com/en-in/sas/systems-thinking-for-effective-managers/book259327).

The Role of Marketing in Scaling a Small Business using Customer Centricity

One way that small businesses can continue to be not only relevant but in some ways even compete (or out-compete the large competitors) is through obsessing about their customers and creating meaningful experiences for them.

Marketing can play a very important role in this journey by not only knowing who the customer is for their product or service but also ensuring that the entire organisation knows about it as well. This shared understanding enables everyone in the organisation to align and find ways to make a difference in the lives of the customers.

– The product development team now knows exactly for whom they are building their product for. They understand the reality of their lives and what challenges will their product or service address for them.

– The customer service team now knows the context in which the customer uses your product and the kind of importance they place on your product functioning the way it is supposed to function. They can also understand and build a process to ensure that they keep this information at the center of how they respond to the requests from customers. They might even find ways to eliminate issues by learning the most common ways that your product might be creating troubles for the customers.

– The accounting team now knows more about the customer and can find ways to make their interactions with the customers a meaningful, delightful or an efficient one (depending on how they would like to engage). The accounting could make the invoicing, payment and any other process that they use to interact with the customers meaningful for them.

– The sales teams would know how to position the product and create meaningful interactions based on the knowledge of the customers. They can create powerful and meaningful moments out of their sales closures and even when they lose deals, find a way to make it memorable for the customers.

– The HR team would now know what kind of people that we need to hire to do well with this kind of customers & what kind of work environment do these people need. This will inform their HR policies, perks and the places they will go looking for the prospective employees.

– The leaders would know what kind of culture they need to create in order to retain their employees so that they can, in turn, do well to retain our customers.

– The procurement teams would know the kind of vendors that they would need to work with, in order to be able to help the company create meaningful experiences for the customers.

– The partnering team will know what kind of partners do they need to identify and partner with. Where and what kinds of partnerships, distribution and/or channel partners do they need in order to not only reach these customers but also to serve them in meaningful ways.

When every part of our organisation obsessed over how to deliver meaningful experiences for our customers, the customers tend to reciprocate by staying loyal and growing their relationships with our business. This is probably one of the fastest ways for a small business to create a competitive advantage for themselves and at the same time scale their business really quickly.