The Bug-out Bag of a Sales Professional

I believe in being prepared. Not ‘bunker in the backyard with 25,000 rounds of ammunition’ prepared, but…Boy Scout level prepared. The kind of prepared that anticipates both likely and potential scenarios and has a plan for each. The kind of prepared that involves knowing how to do stuff and having the right tool for the job.

A fundamental component of preparedness theory is the concept of a “bug-out bag.”

A bug-out bag is a portable kit at the ready that can be grabbed if one has to bug-out, or leave quickly. Potential scenarios include earthquakes, forest fires, or even social unrest triggered by the impending end of Game of Thrones. But not zombies. There are no zombies coming. I’m reasonably certain about that.

A bug-out bag contains enough food, gear and clothing to support you and your family for a few days in the event that you need to leave your home with little warning. Recommended items include a first-aid kit, flashlights, necessary medicines, water, packaged food, copies of important papers, warm clothing, toiletries, etc.

This is not a fringe concept supported only by camouflage draped survivalists with a strange penchant for machetes.

This is basic good planning. The American Red Cross recommends and sells them. I have one packed and ready in my garage.

Which brings me to my work bag. I treat the bag that I bring to presentations and meetings as my professional bug-out bag, containing all of the gear that I may or may not require to conduct or support a successful meeting with my team or to deliver a talk to an audience.

Everything I may need is always in this bag.

I take nothing out of it unless I’m using it. I have 100% confidence that when I grab this bag to head to the airport or drive to a meeting, what I need will be in there.

I also have a backup of a lot of these items in my office, car or other bags so that I never have to pull something out of my core work bag.

Here is a list of the items in my bag, which is a Briggs & Riley Relay Convertible Brief. I like this bag because it is clean and professional but can serve as a backpack when needed with straps that stow in the back padding. It also travels nicely when set on top of my rolling luggage and moves easily through an airplane aisle.

  1. Video dongles. Both HDMI and SVGA. Not having a dongle is unacceptable. Period. Apple makes a Mini Display Port to VGA adapter, but for some reason they don’t make one to HDMI so you need to get an aftermarket adapter for HDMI like this one from Belkin. I don’t know what people with Windows machines do, presumably something involving string.
  2. Slide advancer. These make for a much smoother and professional presentation than hunching over a laptop to advance a slide. I like the Logitech R400.
  3. Dry-erase markers. My good friend and colleague Jon Ott turned me on to this idea and it’s genius. Whiteboarding is a critical skill, and meeting room dry-erase markers are notoriously unreliable – dry and faded. Bring your own.
  4. Portable Bluetooth speaker. Video is a great tool in presentations, ensure you’re able to provide your own amplification. The JBL Flip 2 is a good size and less than $100.
  5. Laptop. I have two laptops, a souped-up MacBook Pro in my office and a MacBook Air that I use for travel. The MacBook Air is lighter and slimmer. I keep everything synchronized between the two with programs like DropboxBox and iCloud so it’s easy to move back and forth from one system to the other and not lose work.
  6. Chargers. Phone, tablet, laptop – especially laptop. Plug in your laptop when presenting so the display doesn’t power down, unless you’ve changed your energy settings properly. And you probably haven’t, even if you think you did.
  7. Phone/audio headphones. It’s difficult to move through an airport and hold a phone to your ear at the same time. I have multiple sets of the standard Apple EarPods (some pilfered from my children) and keep them (and all my cords) bound with Nite-Ize cord ties so they don’t get tangled. I also have a pair of Klipsch in-ear headphones that are noise canceling and can be used for phone calls.
  8. Notebook. Don’t take notes typing on a laptop. It’s distracting and potentially disrespectful. Use a regular notebook. Moleskine notebooks are timeless.
  9. Pens. Good ones. Have extra in case someone in your meeting needs a spare. Sharing is nice.
  10. Business cards. You’re a professional. Always have business cards.
  11. Toothpicks. Minor in the grand scheme of things but very important when you need them. Nobody wants to watch a presenter with food in his or her teeth. Whole Foods carries these great Tea Tree Therapy mint toothpicks.
  12. Tissues. No explanation required.
  13. Meal replacement bars. Sometimes we don’t have time to eat – have a backup plan. I personally like Clif bars – they’re resilient, avoid getting horribly smushed in a crowded bag and are substantial enough to cover a skipped breakfast. I keep two in my bag and am happy about it at least once a week.
  14. Personal stationary. Handwritten thank you notes are a professional courtesy that is worthy of the time and effort. Have personal stationary in your bag so you can send a quick follow-up letter to the people with whom you’ve met. Have some stamps, too.
  15. Non-work book. Not everything in life is about work. Take advantage of airplane time or unexpected downtime by reading something that has nothing to do with work. Here’s an amusing piece from The Awl on how to read more.

What do you keep in your bag that I may have missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you enjoyed the post, please share it with your network and click the ‘Like’ icon to let me know.

Ethan Zoubek is Regional Vice President of Sales at Krux Digital, an advisor and speaker, and author of the Self-Aware Sales blog.

How to Handle the “How Much Does It Cost” Question – Part 1

It’s a fair question. “It depends” is not a fair answer.

Interested is seeing a sales professional stumble and squirm for a bit? Ask them how much what they’re selling costs.

Anyone outside of the selling profession can be forgiven for thinking that talking about price would be one of the first things we learn as sales professionals. After all, the concept of pricing and cost is one of the most central and fundamental components of a business transaction. Trading money for something is the quintessential representation of a value exchange.

Those of us who make our living selling know that it’s not that easy.

Why?

We’re taught how to  dodge the question by well-meaning sales leaders.

No one really teaches sales professionals how to handle the question. What we’re taught is how to dodge the question by well-meaning sales leaders who tell us that we should defer the question until later in the sales cycle. That we should be selling on value. That we’re to understand the budget of the buyer first. That we’re not supposed to show our cards too early.

Those positions aren’t inherently wrong. They just don’t answer the question. And it’s a fair question. Prospective customers have a right to ask their salesperson what a solution costs, and we have a responsibility to give them a clear and direct answer.

We have a responsibility to give prospective customers a clear and direct answer.

For anything that’s not a fixed good with a readily quoted unit cost (professional services, enterprise software, consulting, etc.) the pricing tends to be variable and that’s part of what makes it difficult to provide an answer early in the sales cycle.

Most customers haven’t been trained in how to evaluate and purchase something.

Most customers haven’t been trained in how to evaluate and purchase something, and they may only do it a few times in their careers. As professional sellers, who do this all day, every day, it’s our job to help them frame their thinking around “price” or “cost” in a manner that will allow them to make the most informed decision.

What something costs is one factor among many in a purchase consideration. For less sophisticated buyers, however, price is the most concrete factor and the most logical to which they can go, which is why they ask about pricing so quickly. Even more sophisticated buyers can press the price question early. It’s easier.

“It depends…” are the two words that most commonly tumble out of a salesperson’s mouth when asked about price.

We know that early in the cycle we don’t have enough information to provide an accurate price – the prospect isn’t clear on their requirements, there’s more for everyone to learn, etc. This is why “it depends…” are the two words that most commonly tumble out of a salesperson’s mouth when they’re asked about price. We then proceed to explain, using far too many words, why we can’t actually give them a price. But that doesn’t answer the question and it frustrates the buyer.

Provide a framework with your response.

Here’s how to answer the question.

Provide a framework first – this gives your prospective customer a sense of what goes into your pricing and why you structure it the way that you do. Don’t just give a number. Explain to them the components of your pricing. What they’re asking for (the price) isn’t what they actually want to hear (which is how you’ll help them determine value to their organization.) The framework gives structure to the how you’ll help them determine that value.

For example, if you sell enterprise SaaS software, this is sample framework:

There are three components to our pricing model – annual subscription, utilization, and professional services.

  1. The annual software subscription is the cost for accessing the core platform that we’ve had in market for years and continue to enhance and improve.
  2. The utilization is a variable component based upon how much you plan on using, and this is different for every customer. (Note: ideally this utilization is based on whatever the value metric is – users, storage, messaging volume, API calls, etc.)
  3. Professional services costs are based upon real human beings doing work to help implement the software and train you on its use and are scoped with you as part of the project planning.

So that’s it – we price on those three things: annual subscription, utilization, and professional services.

Our average selling price when you combine all three of those components is about $300,000. Lots of things impact that, which is why we always setup a discovery and strategy session with your team to help map out a path and plan. We’d like to do that once we both have a sense that there’s a good fit between what you need and what we do. That session will allow us to provide you with a thoughtful and accurate proposal, which will be based upon the value you’ll receive as a business across those three components.

Then stop talking. Please. Stop. Talking. Let them process what you’ve just told them.

This framework gives the prospect’s brain what it wants.

What have we accomplished? We’ve given a structure to our pricing model that the customer can consider. We’ve given them buckets into which they can place their assumptions and ideas to organize their thinking. The human brain likes to organize into groups (for example, grouping everything our eyes see into semantic neighborhoods.) This framework gives the prospect’s brain what it wants.

We’ve structured what we deliver into three discrete functions instead of one monolithic block, which allows us the opportunity to articulate not just a general value statement, but specific instances of value in each of those areas.

We’ve also established some qualification criteria – for both us and the prospect. If they hem and haw all over the $300,000 number, then we know something is off – either there’s total misalignment, we’re talking to the wrong level of buyer, something. But we now know that we have work to do, and we know that early in the cycle.

It also helps the buyer understand where this kind of purchase fits into their budgeting cycle, levels of approvals that will be required, etc. It establishes a baseline so we and the prospect can work together to craft an engagement plan to guide the evaluation. 

It doesn’t really matter what you’re selling or what the pricing structure is – always provide a clear and consistent framework.

There are infinite variations and ‘what if’s’ that come up with the question of positioning price, but I contend that it doesn’t really matter what you’re selling or what the pricing structure is – the method of providing a clear and consistent framework allows you to help educate the buyer with how to think about your solution and it puts your initial, general price figure in some context. Use a framework, pick the right three things to be in the framework, and then answer the question by introducing the framework.

Without context a number is just a number. Maybe too high, occasionally too low, never just right – so spend your energy on articulating the framework, not equivocating on a number.

A structured response should roll off the tongue of every sales professional in your organization.

Practice this with your team and colleagues. A structured response should roll off the tongue of every sales professional in your organization. You and your teams should feel empowered to answer this perfectly appropriate question early in the cycle – because it will be asked early in the cycle – and to answer with clarity and conviction. Doing so is a signal of professional competence that your prospects will appreciate it and it will be a point of differentiation from your competitors.

This post is the first in a series of three on the subject of discussing price and cost in selling situations. The next two topics are “When to Present a Proposal” and “How to Frame Your Price Negotiations.

Treat Sales Presentations Like Performances

You will see a dramatic improvement in the delivery of your sales presentations with the application of techniques from public speaking and dramatic acting. Sales professionals that want to deliver killer presentations would be wise to consider pressing their comfort zones a bit and exploring new ways to structure and prepare for these engagements.

The shift is to approach presentations like performances and I’ve been fortunate to learn from two of the most recognized leaders in the discipline of effective public speaking.

The first is master coach Bill Hoogterp, founder of Own The Room in Montclair, NJ. I spent two months working with Bill and his senior team and had a chance to observe and participate in a number of day-long coaching sessions with their corporate clients. Own The Room boasts an incredible roster of repeat customers including the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, Siemens and Twitter and the impact that their coaches have in the span of eight hours on individual speaking skills and executive presence is nothing short of remarkable.

The second experience was with the legendary Michael Port, renowned actor, speaker, trainer and author of the recently published Steal the Show. At the suggestion of my friend Jay Baer – a world class speaker in his own right – I attended Michael’s three-day Heroic Public Speaking workshop in Ft. Lauderdale with more than 300 other individuals and professional speakers determined to sharpen the saw and improve how they communicate their message to the world.

The idea of approaching speaking engagements (and by extension, sales presentations) as performances is one of the core concepts put forth by Michael Port. It’s a little uncomfortable. It’s a little weird. But the fact of the matter is that the most effective and compelling sales presentations are disciplined and thoughtfully planned performances.

The most effective and compelling sales presentations are disciplined and thoughtfully planned performances.

Sales presentations are often the culmination of long, diligent sales processes in which great care is taken to uncover customer needs, align solutions, and craft a narrative that will tell a compelling story of delivering business value.

When it comes to show time, however, too often sales professionals just dust-off their most recent PowerPoint, change some logos and copy, and deliver their routine. The difference between “ehh, it was OK” and “wow – that was really something” is the degree of rigor, care and precision that is taken with the preparation, the content, and the delivery. In short – how much it is treated like a performance.

As you approach your next big sales presentation, here are some key tips and performance concepts to consider:

PREPARATION

The camera is the best coach. – Bill Hoogterp

Do the work. You’re not as good at winging it as you think you are, so practice and rehearse. With other people. Collaboration is incredibly important and constructive feedback is a gift – so ask for it. There is always something to improve, press your colleagues to tell you what it is.

You play like you practice. When preparing, try to replicate the conditions of your delivery. Role play like it’s live and don’t break character. If you blank on your delivery, stay with the audience and keep pressing forward, even when practicing.

Prepare thoroughly. People expect you to be incredibly prepared. When you’re letting it go and letting it come to you at the same time – people can tell. The space for that to occur can only be created with practice and preparation.

Rehearse. Presenters tend to push back on rehearsal. They think that it will make them stiff and the delivery feel staged. They’re right – when one tries only a little bit of rehearsal, that’s what happens. When you rehearse enough, though, you can step on the stage or into the meeting space and let it all go and be there in the moment. It will not feel staged; it will feel inspired.

Do it on camera. The best way to identify areas to improve is to take out your iPhone and film yourself delivering the material, little bits at a time. The camera is the best coach – there’s no place to hide.

CONTENT

Performance isn’t fake. Performance is authentic behavior in a manufactured environment. – Michael Port

Be clear in your objective and go there. Know what you’re going after and push through, that’s what moves a performance forward – the authentic pursuit. The audience wants to take the journey with you whether they’re conscious of it or not, even in a pitch meeting. They want to see the objective reached because they know that there’s something in it for them too.

Utilize the three act structure. Exposition, conflict, resolution. It’s been around for thousands of years for a reason. Let it be your guide.

Frame it out. First work out the following, then start creating your content:

  1. The big idea
  2. The promise of what they can expect
  3. How to convey that you understand the way the world looks to the people in the room
  4. How to articulate the consequences of not taking action
  5. How to demonstrate the rewards of achieving the promise 

People don’t buy ideas, they buy protocols. They want a very specific process that has a beginning, middle and end; if your audience can see where it goes then they can see the delivery on your promise.

DELIVERY

Most people coast on talent. They never really go out and learn advanced techniques. – Bill Hoogterp

Be aware of filters. Your job is to get through to the audience. Everyone has filters that block the information coming at them; your job as a presenter is to get the filters down so your message can get through to them and help them see a new way of doing things.

Start differently. Almost everyone starts their presentation with “Hi my name is X from Y, it’s great to be here at Z and I really appreciate you taking the time today…” Don’t ever do that again. It sends the filters flying up. Open with a (short) story, an insightful question – something, anything other than what everyone else does.

Engage the audience. Use people’s names to keep them engaged or draw them back in if you see that their filters are up. Eye contact helps you connect with people, but lock eyes for a few seconds so you actually make that connection, otherwise you’re just skimming faces.

Give yourself some space in which to operate. Use the space you’re given – it’s your stage. Lean in to your message, and propel key points forward with forward motion. Stay off your heels – you’ll end up leaning back which weakens your position and makes you look unsure and amateurish. Stagger your feet a little, which will keep you from rocking side to side.

Punctuate with your voice and movement. There is no punctuation when speaking – you need to use the inflection of your voice and the movement of your hands and body to provide structure and contrast. Harmonize the movement of your hands and your body with your content.

If you care more about being in service than being impressive than you can do this. – Michael Port

There are scores of other tips and tricks that you can employ to up-level the quality of your presentation. I encourage you to seek them out and try them. Experiment.

The important thing is to accept that you can always improve and that a new perspective, a new approach, is often the way that improvement is shepherded in. The job of selling is, above all else, a job of communicating, of identifying obstacles to understanding and removing them, of seeing paths to clarity and illuminating them. Your performance is the story of that journey, and it deserves to be done well.

Break a leg.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you enjoyed the post, please click the ‘Like’ icon below to let me know and share with your friends and colleagues.

When and How to Present an Engagement Plan

In last week’s post (Stop Calling it a “Close Plan”) I wrote about the criticality of incorporating into the sales process a mutual plan with the customer. I continued by calling attention to the folly of sales leaders using terms internally (read: Close Plan) and not expecting that some of their troops in the field would, consciously or unconsciously, use those same terms directly with customers. Words matter, and leaders have a responsibility to choose them carefully and deliberately – for their teams repeat what they say.

I recommended as an alternative to Close Plan the term Engagement Plan (Evaluation Plan is another good substitute) and promised that I’d review what I’ve found to be the best approach for presenting and structuring such a plan. I’ve also included a link to download a sample plan layout at the bottom of this post.

When to Present The Plan

When we consider the sales stages with which sales organizations manage a qualified deal cycle, we’ll find a discovery stage at the beginning. This observation is akin to stating that the sun will come up in the morning. Every sales engagement must have as its foundation deep discovery.

Immediately following that is a stage in which we look to establish clear answers to the “why change? why now?” questions. When we know that an evaluation exists, that the customer has agreed that they are going actually do something and they are considering doing it with us – that’s when we present the Engagement Plan.

An Engagement Plan is not a tool to be used at the end of the deal to make sure you get it in for the end of the quarter. It belongs at the beginning, when it can most help.

The intent of this plan is not to help us close the business. It will help us do that, and it will dramatically improve the chances of that happening – and at the highest possible value – but that is not the intent. The intent is to help the customer conduct their evaluation thoroughly and responsibility and to move through their engagement with us in a clear and deliberate manner.

Our Customers Need Help Buying

Our prospective customers don’t know how to buy what we sell. We spend all day, every day thinking about our particular corner of the market and the solution we have been trained on, believe in, and – in some cases – truly love. Our customers do not. They have demanding jobs with requirements that go far beyond just procuring our particular type of product, something they likely do no more frequently than once every few years.

As stewards of our company, our industry and our profession, it is our responsibility to help our customers through this process – independent of whether or not the end result is a sale or order that benefits us. That’s what professional salespeople do.

What to Say

When I have my teams present an Engagement Plan to their prospect, the objective is to help share all of the steps that we know a company must go through to conduct a complete and thorough evaluation to find the right solution to meet their business needs. The words they use are quite literally something like:

“Look – I know that you don’t buy (marketing software / spaceships / combat robot waffle irons) every day. But we do this all the time, and our customers have always found it to be helpful to have us put together an Engagement Plan with them. We’ll include all of the things that typically have to happen for a complete evaluation so you don’t miss anything, and then we’ll go through it with you. That way you’ll have a full checklist with dates, all working back from the day you told me you wanted to have this live and ready. Would you find that to be helpful?”

Many sales executives resist doing this, however, and as a result this incredibly useful tool – a tool that sets clear steps and dates for everyone – goes unutilized. Why? Putting aside those who are simply lazy or undisciplined, some sales executives feel uncomfortable – they fear that the customer will resist this as a tactic designed to get them to buy something. And the customer should resist it – if it’s a tactic designed to get them to buy something. But if the real and true intent behind the presentation of this plan is to help the customer, independent of outcome, then they will welcome it.

Be Conscious of Your Intent

Motive and intent. Motive and intent are the differentiators here. They are the differentiators everywhere. When we approach a situation with an intent that is clean and a motive of helping others, people respond. It is human nature. We are then in a position to help and to be of service. If we are providing the absolute right solution to solve their problem, if we are clear about the value we deliver and the business case that supports it, then an orderly and smooth business transaction is a natural extension of this alignment. When we detach from outcomes, all finds itself in order.

Components of the Plan

Some items to consider when you’re crafting and presenting an Engagement Plan:

  • Include anything that you know most buyers don’t think about, even if it’s not always necessary. An example is a security review by IT. They may not need to do it, but you want to find that out sooner rather than later. This is not a monster under the bed – it won’t go away just because you’re not looking at it. Surface these things as early as you can. Nothing kills the timeline of a deal and gets in the way of the customer getting what they need like an IT security review. See you in six months.
  • Do not make the last item in the plan the signing of the contract – that is self-interested and self-serving. The signing of the contract is the beginning of the next phase for the customer, which can include things like project kickoff, key milestones for the customer, etc.
  • Ensure that, if possible, you review this plan in person. Go through each item, confirm the necessity of its inclusion, validate that the target dates you’ve included are attainable, and note any changes or comments. Then revise the document and send to them.
  • Use the review as an opportunity to ascertain decision making authority, purchasing protocol, approval chains, etc. Remember – this is about helping your customer attain what they need to solve their business problem. A clear understanding of the process helps the customer get what they need in the time they need it, and sales professionals are better than anyone at figuring out that process. If it feels too early in the cycle to dig into those items, don’t – but list them and tell your customer that you’ll come back to them in a future review.
  • Revisit this plan with your customer routinely. Just like an entrepreneur’s business plan, an Engagement Plan is never right the first time. Or the second time. Or the third time.

For a sample layout of an Evaluation Plan, click here to download. This plan is an oversimplification, but provides a general framework for how to structure a plan that will work for you or your team. Tailor the particular line items to reflect the important milestones in your deal process and the important steps for your customer to consider. Remember – the intent is to help your customer conduct the most thorough evaluation they can.

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