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Hello 2012!

Another start of the new year!

The beginning of the year is always an exciting time as we look forward into the year ahead. It's full of possibilities! What do I want to do? What goals to set for myself? Where do I want to travel?
As always, before looking at the new year, I always like to take a look at my past resolutions. 2011 marked some important milestones in my life. Bought a car, bought a house, did reno work, traveled to Europe for photo-shoot, and got married. It had been endless list of to-dos and projects.

2011 Resolution #10: Pick up meditation.
FAIL. Somehow this one fell off the radar very early on. Tried it for a while, but lost steam. I recognize it's a good habit to develop. I may look at this again in 2012.

2011 Resolution #9: Sunday is Lunch with Family day.
SUCCESS! I think this is due to constant reminder of my wife.. Yes, I can say happily that in 2011, I've spent more time with family :)

2011 Resolution #8: Friday and Saturday is Connect with Friends day.
FAIL. I think I've failed big time on this. Mainly because throughout the whole year, I've been busy with the wedding and stuffs :(

2011 Resolution #7: Get rid of clutter @Home.
FAIL/ somewhat. I moved to a new house! So while my old room is still messy, my new place is neat and tidy! :)

2011 Resolution #6: Stretch 30 consecutive days.  
SUCCESS! I did stretch 30 consecutive days at the beginning of the year. But I quickly realise firstly that stretching does not necessarily means I become more flexible, and secondly, 30 days is not enough :(

2011 Resolution #5: Round-off into back-handspring.
FAIL. First, my wife torn her ligament. Then I hurt my wrists. These two events cut short my goal.

2011 Resolution #4: No food after 10pm.
FAIL. For the whole year? Who am I kidding?

2011 Resolution #3: Read 24 self-help/business books.
FAIL. Stopped tracking amongst the busy schedule of my wedding planning.

2011 Resolution #2: Have a great wedding.
SUCCESS. We had a great wedding this year on 11.11.11 :)

2011 Resolution #1: Start my family. 
SUCCESS. We moved into our new home :)

Overall, in terms of number of goals achieved, this has got to be one of the worst performing year in the past decade. However, considering that much of my time and effort was spent on the wedding and the new house, I must say it was a great year for me :)

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Call or Email

Which is the best channel of communication with your prospects and clients, a phone call or an email?

Advantages of a phone call:

1. A conversation allows discovery.

This is perhaps the most important advantage of a phone call. Your clients or prospects will hardly volunteer any information on an email. But a phone conversation can usually uncover more information like roles and responsibilities, hints on budgets, buying processes, timelines.

2. Clients always behave better on a call.

This goes in the following order, client always behave better in person than on a call, and always behave better on a call than in an email.

3. The human touch.

The tone of your voice speaks more than the characters on an email.

Advantages of an email:

1. Information which can be used as references in the future.

Emails are great for collection and capturing of useful information which can be filed for future references. This includes address, phone contacts, or even documents like proposals and white papers.

2. Does not show anger.

Similar to point #3 of the advantages of a phone call, the tone of your voice can give you away if you are not in a great mood. When you're in a foul mood, but still need to revert, it's better to avoid a call. In this case, a short email response is much better.

3. Non-urgent correspondences.

In a typical business day, you can assume everybody's calendar to be filled with back-to-back appointments. The more senior the person you are corresponding with, the more unlikely you're going to reach him or her on the mobile or desk line. In fact, some of my clients are always traveling. In this case, emails are great as a tool to communicate important but not urgent messages.

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New clean look for 10 Calls A Day

Clean beginning to H2 2011. Clean new look to 10 Calls A Day.
  1. In process of simplifying and solidifying a GTD system for work and personal life.
  2. Cleared and reorganized my office Inbox. Currently Inbox (0).
  3. Re-organizing my life leveraging my iPad and iPhone plus cloud services.

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Simplifying for my clients?

B.G. (Before Google): Sales person provides all product information, reviews, and technical know-how.

A.G. (After Google): Client can find out everything he needs to know about product information, reviews, and technical information himself.

While I do not think the Internet has killed the Sales occupation, the role of the sales person is more challenging than before. It is no longer enough to be the "catalogue". In this age where information is readily available on the Internet, what do you think is the most important value a Sales person bring to the table?

Amongst the various possible answer, I believe the ability to simplify is one of the top value.

In today's world, before a prospect enters office on Monday morning, his Inbox is already filled with more than 50 unread emails. He has to rush off for his internal meeting by 915am, and his boss calls for an urgent evaluation of a project. He needs to delegate 3 jobs, and has to fire-fight when a server goes down. He is chasing his current vendor for SLA while his internal users are calling his phone non-stop to report about the server down status. He requests for a solution, and 5 vendors spin 5 different stories about why they are the best answer to his problem. He posts his problems on his online peer group, but is too busy to read all the replies. And before lunch time, 7 different sales person cold-called him to pitch their products and services.

Welcome to the world of information over-load. While the Internet has "connected" everybody and makes information more readily available, it has also created an overwhelming barrage of "noise". So much so that if you visit any decent forums these days, many posters append their posts with a TLDR paragraph at the bottom. What's TLDR? Too-Long-Didn't-Read. It's a one sentence summary of the entire post.

How many times have you seen a Sales proposal which appends 5 pages of "Company Background", 10 pages of a comprehensive coverage of all products and services provided by the company (i.e. the company brochure), and another 10 pages of impressive looking tables and charts, but all not-related to what the prospect needs? And very commonly, these are mandated by the company! I.e. All proposals going out to clients *must* include these information.

I've been guilty of sending 40 pages documents for very simple services. And a lot of times, the clients get back to me asking...

"So what exactly are you providing?".

Well, it's all in the proposal, if you refer to section 16, item 2.

"And terms?"

Section 18, item 1.

"Any exclusion clauses?"
Section 21, item 3.

"I still don't get it. It seems so complicated and I'm afraid to sign off to this in case there's some hidden clauses that I missed..."

Why so much noise? Most of the proposals I've seen can be summarised in two sentences.
  1. In return for paying me $X, I will provide Y to you, within Z days/months.
  2. How we're going to do this is by....
So I propose, the best way a Sales person can bring value to the client, is to simplify the buying decision for the client. Make the proposal as simple as it can be.

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Gatekeeper, Influencer, Decision Maker & the Champion

Have you ever met a decision maker who cannot make the decision to buy?

I do. All the time. It seems that the bigger the corporation, the less likely the buying decision is done by one single individual. Every multi-million project that initiates from the CEOs office must go through rigorous buying process. It must be veted by the domain experts, then presented to management, and sometimes, pass through one or two rounds of user-testing, before being presented back to the decision maker... hopefully for the sign-off.

Decision makers do not decide until his team members have done thorough analysis of the purchase. In short, decision makers do not decide alone.

If that is the case, why is "decision maker" the holy grail of every lead-gen exercises?

Perhaps it is because it is more comforting to make ourselves believe that just because we lined our products infront of as many decision makers as possible, we will sell more. The more senior sounding titles in each sales campaign the better. CIO, CTO, COO, Regional Director, Country Manager, Network Director, SVP of Infrastructure... All big sounding titles that we wish for in every campaign.

Am I saying that decision makers are not important?

Not at all.

In Strategic Account Sales, these are the "common" types of people.
  1. Gatekeeper
  2. Influencer
  3. Decision Maker
  4. Champion

I find that while decision maker is very important, there are two other groups of people who are equally, if not more important. They are the influencer and the champion.

Influencer is easy to define. Basically every worker in the organisation who are in the loop of the buying process. They may be the users, the managers, the in-house domain experts, or the purchasing manager (person with the budget). These are the people who will breakdown every proposal you wrote, every presentation you gave, and every quotation you sent. They will ask you every questions imaginable from every angle possible. Answer one question wrongly, and you might be out of the game.

So who is this "champion"? I define the champion as anyone in the organisation who is able to "champion" your cause. Basically, they are your sponsor. I believe in every major sales, there must be a champion within the organisation who is on your side, and believes in your product or service. This champion can be anyone from the influencer group. Or he can be out of this group, but with direct connection with the decision maker, or key influencer. Or this champion may be the decision maker himself!

Whatever the case, I believe that conversion of champions is the key of any major sales.

p.s. What about Gatekeepers?

In my personal experience, Gatekeepers are only important for Cold Accounts. I.e. you need to do a cold call in. They might be your first contact with the company.

So here, I propose a Sales Objective for Strategic Accounts:

  1. Get pass the Gatekeeper and identify the Influencers and Decision Makers as soon as possible.
  2. Identify potential candidates to convert into your Champions.
  3. Sell.