Consigning all selling to the past – post 2 of 2

In the first of these two posts, building on earlier material about why selling is inappropriate in today’s society, about the new ABC of Sales, and about the death of the sales force, I argued that putting ‘Up’ or ‘Cross’ in front of ‘Sell’ doesn’t change my position one jot; and I highlighted the wrong-headed approach of the Post Office in the transformation programme they are currently implementing, focusing on a strategy heavily reliant on ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’.

upsell_cross sell

I committed in the last post to provide a strategy that delivers a far more effective approach to growing the revenues (and thus the profits) of businesses than the traditional tools, techniques and tricks of the classic sales approach. I suggested that a little patience by you would lead to everything falling right into place. Thank you for your patience; your wait is over, here’s what you waited for.

Here’s my alternative – start with the customer. Find a way of identifying what the customer places most value on, what would be the best offering for them right now? Have no pre-formed idea of what you want to provide to them. Instead stay in a very simple question for as long as possible – ‘can I provide the best solution for this customer right now?’ There is very interesting social sciences research that shows how surprisingly effective this approach is.

The Post Office has a major, strategic challenge deriving from the demographic of its customer base and adopting my alternative strategy can better position the Post Office with newer, younger, time-poor potential customers. Other businesses can deploy it with great success. Some of my clients are already doing so; with the sweet spot of deployment being in highly bespoke person-to-person complex professional services environments. Think of businesses where the nature of the service is that it is derived from the knowledge, skill and expertise of the people within the business. Think of ‘solopreneurs’ deploying their personal capabilities to delight their clients (perhaps designers, including graphics designers; maybe HR professionals; possibly Healthcare and Well-being practitioners). Think of Professional Services firms such as law firms, accountancy practices or Insolvency Practitioners/Financial Advisers). All are operating in highly bespoke person-to-person complex professional services environments.

Can I_question

Many sales trainers teach people tools, techniques and methodologies that purport to improve sales effectiveness. Included amongst these approaches is often the application of ‘Positive Mental Attitude’ as an approach. It is far more effective to tell yourself you can successfully sell to the person in front of you than it is to have doubts about your ability to do so. I had years in this sales environment of P.M.A. and A.B.C. (Always Be Closing) and have no doubt that the attitude of this positive group is more effective than a second group that constantly has doubts and insecurities regarding their abilities.

However, the social science research indicates that there is a third group who are even more effective than those who use P.M.A. as the bed-rock of their success. This third group have been shown to be 50% more effective than the P.M.A. group who use assertive self-talk when in the sales process (‘I can do this!’) Instead the third group stay in ‘interrogative self-talk’ (‘Can I do this?) for as long as possible. I think it would be far more effective for the Post Office, along with other service organisations, to train people how to use this interrogative approach when interacting with customers and potential customers. The resultant jointly-crafted solution is far more attractive, and valuable, to those whose needs have truly been listened to and honoured.

Adopting this strategy would enable them to grow their businesses without selling but with a strategy of using ‘max-serve’ to provide the best solution to their customers. If they cannot provide the best solution it is better to let the prospective customer walk on by. The ‘max-serve’ strategy recognises that only delighted customers will join the army of ardent advocates that recommend your business to others. If you merely satisfy a customer they are very unlikely to stick their head above the parapet and recommend your business to friends and loved ones. Disappoint them and they will tell many people. Delight them and they will tell those they love and trust – the people they have high standings with who are more likely to change their behaviours as a result of a recommendation from them. I will be writing more about the ‘max-serve’ strategy in the near future – once I have completed the review I am currently undertaking of extensive research.

An army of fans

In my business, I use the ALIGNED framework as a way of ensuring I deploy the ‘max-serve’ strategy in every customer interaction. I also teach others how to use the ALIGNED framework to shift the focus of their customer interactions. The ALIGNED framework, concentrating so much as it does on understanding the situation of the prospective buyer, constantly asking the question ‘can I find the perfect solution?’, and avoiding premature searches for possible solutions, greatly improves the alignment between seller and prospective buyer. By staying as long as possible in the question, using interrogative self-talk instead of assertive, the potential seller creates the opportunity to identify the resources needed to provide the perfect solution and crafts internal, intrinsic motivations over externally referenced drivers. Keeping alive the possibility that the answer that may emerge could be ‘No, I cannot provide the perfect solution’ multiplies the effect of the interrogative approach.

There is still hope for the Post Office, but only if they can revive their moribund customer base and can attract new customers to establish a squadron of sincere supporters to supplement and replace their dying customer base. It was once widely held to be a much-loved and revered British institution. I hope Chief Executive Paula Vennells acts quickly enough to move it into this century, realising last century isn’t good enough.

I hope you consider carefully the growth (or survival) strategy for your business. Which of the three groups above are you in currently? If you are not in the third group – the one that is most effective – what are you going to do? If you want to get into the third group, how will you do it? A goal without a plan is just a dream. Don’t just dream, do.






Consigning all selling to the past – post 1 of 2

Those of you who have read my newsletters this year will have noticed I have written about why selling is inappropriate in today’s society, and about the new ABC of Sales. If you follow my blog posts you may also have seen me writing about the death of the sales force. Putting ‘Up’ or ‘Cross’ in front of ‘Sell’ doesn’t change my argument one jot; and I decided to highlight the wrong-headed approach of the Post Office in the transformation programme they are currently implementing, focusing on a strategy heavily reliant on ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’.

Post Office

I think there is a far better strategy, not only for the Post Office, but for all organisations aiming to survive, even thrive, nowadays. The articles that can be reached from the hyperlinks above advance the case that selling is inappropriate nowadays. Recent social science research has identified that there is a far better approach to growing the revenues (and thus the profits) of businesses than the traditional tools, techniques and tricks of the classic sales approach. The aim of the ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’ strategy is to capture a bigger share of the spend of the customers, to leverage the relationship between buyer and seller such that the seller takes a larger slice of the buyer’s spend. On the face of it, it makes sense that a company that has invested in acquiring a customer reaps the relatively easier additional revenue and profit streams. After all, it typically costs somewhere between five and ten times more to acquire a new customer than it takes to sell to an existing one. The problem with the ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’ strategy of any business, whether or not it is a British institution, is that it doesn’t really address the issue of acquiring new customers.

I am all for building deep and meaningful relationships with customers. Businesses, especially those involved in providing services, which successfully deploy a strategy of attracting and retaining an army of ardent advocates are on the right track. However the way to foster such fervent fans is not through up-selling and cross-selling – far better to focus on finding ways to ‘max-serve’ customers. In their transformation programme, Post Office staff are being trained to routinely offer additional products and services from the portfolio that they were taught about in an extensive training programme. Staff are being helped to understand where the most profitable products are in their portfolio and to then find ways of offering them to those who stray into their bazaars. Many companies have employed this strategy for years. I too was trained to Up Sell and Cross Sell; it was one of the sales mantras in the nineties and noughties in the ICT companies I was then working for. Times have moved on, even if the venerable British institution is still trying to drag itself into the nineteen nineties, so new strategies are needed.

In the second and final post on this subject, I will outline my alternative solution to the Up Sell and Cross sell strategy being pursued by the Post Office and many others including law firms, accountancy practices, and many technology companies, to name but a few. As I wrote above, social science research has identified that there is a far better approach to growing the revenues (and thus the profits) of businesses than the traditional tools, techniques and tricks of the classic sales approach. I won’t keep you waiting long; the second instalment will be posted next week.

in time things will fall into place_patience


Marketing and the ‘Rule of Three’


I have long argued that, in our increasingly complex world, selling is inappropriate. This means our marketing becomes ever more important. We must be able to communicate well in all our marketing, so I thought I would share some pointers.

Storytelling-techniques-quote-seth godin

There is a general rule in speaking, in writing and in music that concepts, arguments and ideas presented in threes are inherently more interesting, more enjoyable and more memorable. This ‘Rule of Three’ provides an elegant communication framework.

So what is the Rule of Three? What are some examples of the Rule of Three? How can you use the Rule of Three to be more effective? Before I explain, did you spot the Rule of Three in operation in the opening to this paragraph? The Rule of Three is simple, it is powerful and it works. People can understand your messages more easily, become more engaged with your business, and remember more of what you communicate when you use the Rule of Three.

It’s no accident that the number three is commonly used in well-known stories. The Three Little Pigs, The Three Musketeers and The Three Wise Men – to name a few. It’s no accident that commonly known phrases often come as three-part quotes such as ‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, and ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’. It’s no accident that the best magic tricks are organised into three phases – ‘the Pledge’, ‘the Turn’ and ‘the Return’. This paragraph illustrates another aspect of the Rule of Three. The first time you say or write something, it’s an accident. The second time, it’s a coincidence. However, the third time you say something it becomes a pattern. Three is the smallest number of elements you can use to create (or break) a pattern.


Here are three quick tips to help you use the Rule of Three. (Did you really expect any other number?)

Tip 1: Arrange any talk, presentation or speech into groups of three.

Maybe you are familiar with the old advice about structuring a speech. I believe it was Dale Carnegie who said ‘Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them’. To people who are new to public speaking this advice is particularly useful because it addresses the common mistakes that new presenters often make. It reminds the beginner that they need to preview and summarise, and not just start and end in the middle.

If you have more than three ideas you want to present, then you should group your ideas into three bigger categories. Each of the three bigger categories should then also be organised appropriately in groups of three.

Tip 2: Use a three-part organisation structure.

A good analogy here is dividing a pie, cake or pizza. The pizza can be divided into equal thirds representing the beginning, the middle and the end of your presentation. However it may be that the middle itself has three parts. Now you have three parts in the middle and one part each for the beginning and the ending – so you want to divide the cake into five slices. If you have a lot of content to present, it may be that the three parts in the middle each need to be divided into three to accommodate all your material. The pie now needs to be divided differently into 11 portions – one each for the beginning and the ending, and nine for the main content. I hope you are beginning to appreciate how this works.

In the body of each of the slices of your content, you should arrange the material to support your argument, your proposition or your explanation using the Rule of Three. You can use stories, examples or statistics. Analogies, comparisons and quotations may be effective in helping to get your messages across. Within each slice, the hardest part is choosing which three (and only three) points will make the biggest impact, and then choosing the best supporting mix of evidence.

Tip 3: Use the Rule of Three for phrases, sentences and words.

It’s useful to think about applying the Rule of Three to specific phrases, sentences and words. Look back to the third paragraph of this article material. Did you notice that I repeated the phrase ‘It’s no accident’ three times? Why did I do that? Well, it was no accident. The repetition helped to emphasise the point I was making – that purposely presenting ideas in threes helps make them more memorable.

no accident

It also serves the purpose of breaking up a larger list of examples. I thought it was important to provide more than just three examples of the Rule of Three, so I decided to give you three groups of three. When choosing the specific words that form your grouping of three, it’s important to select words that are parallel in structure – that is, they work well in combination. For example, ‘Today, I will buy a hat, scarf and coat’. Each of the items works with the verb. As opposed to ‘Today, I will buy a hat, scarf and wallpaper the dining room’. It’s also helpful if the words you choose follow a similar cadence, but that is not an absolute requirement.


A final point about the Rule of Three.

You don’t always have to follow the Rule of Three. Like all other rules it’s meant to be broken from time to time. However, before you break the Rule of Three, it’s a good idea to understand it better. Think about a recent presentation you gave, and imagine giving it again. How could you use the Rule of Three to make that presentation more powerful? What organising structures might be more effective? What word choices would be better? That’s it. No more questions. Three is enough.


The CREATE process – blog post 3 of 3

get creativeA process for creativity – post 3 of 3

This is the final post of this series covering the CREATE process which was developed to optimise the creativity of both individuals and teams. I use it when I am working alone and want to maximise my creative capacity. I also use it when working with teams of people or with individual clients. Let me explain the acronym once more:

C Cosmos
R Roster
E Enhance
A Assurance
T The Funny Side
E Emancipated

Posts 1 and 2 covered C to A, so let’s finish with T and E.

Funny sideT is for The Funny Side. Seeing the funny side, being unafraid to be humorous, keeping the mood light and playful, all give access to the quickest and most effective ways of moving into the creative mode. Often we limit the use of humour because we regard it as inappropriate when discussing important, weighty, serious matters. So often we confuse seriousness with solemnity, but it is wrong to equate seriousness and solemnity. I would argue that solemnity is the defence of the pompous and self-important, who need to protect against their egotism being punctured by humour. Humour might impact their self-image. The lack of humour is used by them to argue they are more serious, and their arguments therefore carry more weight.

In reality, humour is an essential part of innovation, of playfulness, of creativity. Enabling the introduction of humour is a vital component of the process of innovation. Creativity lives and thrives on the funny side. Seeing the funny side may be a little more difficult when working individually, but it is just as important as it is when working in teams. When I am working individually and want to be able to see the funny side, I find a mirror is helpful. It is not about vanity; it is a mechanism to check if I am seeing the funny side. The mirror reminds me that I should be smiling, smirking, laughing out loud. The visual evidence shows me whether or not I am being effective at accessing the funny side. 🙂 or 😦 in the mirror?

E is for Emancipated. This goes to the heart of fully engaging ourselves as creative individuals and to getting maximum creativity from groups. Emancipation is defined as ‘being not limited socially or politically’. So why choose this word? Let me start by linking back to the funny side. The emancipated see no limit to what is regarded as humorous on the funny side. Their humour mocks convention, attacks widely held taboos, and can be regarded as shocking by more conventional people. This is my point. True creativity lies beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom, of the rules of society, of what we regard as normal behaviour.

The same emancipation applies in the earlier Enhance step. There should be no limit imposed by conventional wisdom on how far our ideas can be enhanced and stretched. Often when the idea is stretched as far as the absurd, new ideas and new thoughts emerge that would not have been considered within the boundaries of what is regarded conventionally as acceptable.

creativity-takes-courageIt is clear to me that pushing the boundaries, stretching the ideas, going as far as the absurd are actually the keys to accessing true creativity. I also recognise, particularly in group situations, that this can be a fairly daunting, anarchic and maybe even dangerous activity. Walking the tightrope that balances accessing the absurd on the one hand and moderating the impact of doing so on the other is challenging. Walking this tightrope is a learnable skill.

Having a skilled observer, facilitator and interventionist to help a group to navigate their way through this process of creativity is, without doubt, helpful. Be sure that whoever fulfils this role has the right focus. You want someone who is focused on future possibility, on creativity and on pushing the boundaries. You don’t want somebody taking on this role mainly owing to their past experiences, as these may lead to a limiting framework. I have a lot of respect for mentors, but the CREATE facilitator role is not for them as their strengths derive from their previous experience. Far better to choose a skilled coach whose focus will be on you and your future possibilities.

I wish you good fortune using the CREATE process. Have curiosity, have courage and have fun!


A process for creativity – blog post 2 of 3

get creativeThis is the second of three blog posts on the CREATE process which has been developed to optimise the creativity of both individuals and teams. I use it when I am working alone and want to maximise my creative capacity. I also use it when working with teams of people or with individual clients. Let me again explain the acronym:

C Cosmos
R Roster
E Enhance
A Assurance
T The Funny Side
E Emancipated

The last post reviewed C and R, let’s move to E and A.

E is for Enhance. So often our creativity is limited by our discomfort at not having the solution to a problem, by our desire to make a choice or to take a decision. This part of the process is about patience, belief in the process of creativity and giving time, more time, and even more time, if necessary, to enhance the emerging ideas.

more timeIt is about giving ideas the time to flourish and the opportunity to be considered without a rush to judgement. The ‘gold standard’ here is to be able to access the child-like wonder and sense of exploration where there are no limitations, no fears and no limits on how much we can dream and create. I recall hearing John Cleese speak about the creative process used by the Monty Python team, and he emphasised this need to give time, more time, and even more time to ideas that weren’t quite working; eventually the really creative (and hilarious in the case of Monty Python) idea emerges.

This ability to really enhance is a learnable skill if you create the right conditions in which to build up your practice time, whether practicing on your own or with other people in a team setting. The right conditions include the physical environment, the right state of mind and a way of being with you, and with others if applicable, that is conducive to creativity. The first two are factors you will most likely understand already; the third is less immediately obvious.

Before I explain, let’s consider the modes we adopt in our work and in our lives that are relevant to creativity. We humans operate in two different modes. The first is the closed mode, which is the one we operate in most of the time at work. In this mode we are very purposeful, with a sense that there is much to be done, and that we need to get on with it. It is a very active, perhaps even anxious, mode. In this mode creativity is very difficult, if not impossible to access. We get lots done, we are very decisive, and action is the focus of our being. Quite often it is seen as a very efficient way of operating – one that is purposeful, productive and proficient.

Contrast this with the open mode. This is the creative mode. It is often seen as the antithesis of efficiency, the enemy of progress and the domain of the feckless. It may be portrayed as ‘lying around’, ‘shooting the breeze’ or ‘daydreaming’. While this open, creative mode may be seen in this way by the action junkies who thrive in the closed mode, it is the open mode that is necessary for creativity to exist, flourish and enhance your Big Dreams. But the open mode in itself is not enough.

children-playing-with-blocksSo what more is needed to create ‘the way of being’ that is conducive to increased creativity in the open mode? Firstly, you should give yourself and others permission to be creative, to be imaginative, and even to be silly. Secondly, there should be no limits here, no restrictions brought about by conventional wisdom, and no strictures. Any statements of criticism or disapproval will snuff out the candle-flame of creativity. Finally, a feeling of fun, a dose of child-like naivety and playfulness and a good sense of humour (which will be needed when you get to T, so start now) all enable you to really enhance the ideas.

This moves us nicely into A is for Assurance. An assurance is a promise. The promise is that no idea will be regarded as irrelevant, unworthy or stupid. This promise attacks the very heart of the biggest potential block to innovation – the fear of making a mistake. It’s important to enable complete confidence that whatever evolves is okay, to create the child-like delight with the playfulness of experimentation and to remember that you cannot be spontaneous within reason. The promise helps people to really harness the innovation that lies in the art of ‘What if?’

If you’re working individually, it is a promise you must make, and keep, to and for yourself. In group working, it is helpful to have a non-judgemental environment where everyone knows they will have an equal opportunity to contribute. In the first case of individual working having a skilled coach can be very efficacious. In the latter situation it is often useful to have a skilled facilitator helping you to create, maintain and enhance the assurance that is so important to your collective success.

creativity without limitsI wish you good fortune using the CREATE framework. Have curiosity, have courage and have fun!

The CREATE process – blog post 1 of 3


get creativeThe CREATE process was developed to optimise the creativity of both individuals and teams. I use it when I am working alone and want to maximise my creative capacity. I also use it when working with teams of people or with individual clients. Let me explain the acronym:

C Cosmos
R Roster
E Enhance
A Assurance
T The Funny Side
E Emancipated

This is the first in a series of 3 blog posts examining the CREATE process, considering the practical use of C and R.

CosmosC is for Cosmos. The choice of word is deliberate in that it represents moving to a ‘different world’ – a world that is away from the hurly-burly of the day-to-day operations of your business. It is important to create the right environment for creativity and innovation to emerge. Moving to a different Cosmos tells you, both consciously and at the level of the other-than-conscious mind, that this is going to be different to what you were just doing.

Often the changes needed to move to the ‘different world’ are tangible, are physical, but the intent is to affect changes in the intangible, in the mind and mood of the subject or team. Obvious things such as logging off from email, switching off the mobile, and putting on the right ‘mood music’ (for me it is often the highlights of an opera) come to mind. I also often move away from my usual work location, at my desk in front of my laptop, in favour of a comfortable sofa or perhaps I will grab a pen and notepad and embark upon a riverside or country walk. If I am particularly organised I might swap the notepad and pen for my dictation machine. One technique I used quite frequently when writing ‘Dance with the Elephants’ was one I learned many years ago and adapted to increase my writing creativity. The concept of ‘job and done’ was that one completed the tasks that needed to be done that day and then ‘knocked off’ or finished for the day. In my case, I analysed my ‘to-do’ list and identified only the ‘must-do’ items. My bargain with myself was to complete the required tasks and then spend the rest of the day on my book – thinking, planning and capturing trains of thought that could later be turned into draft text. Responding to the immediate needs of my business meant my ‘work day’ usually ended after 3pm (sometimes well after), leaving me perhaps a few hours ‘creative time’, but it is surprising how much creativity can be squeezed out of as little as thirty minutes.

RosterR is for Roster. It is the process of carving time out of the diary in order to be creative. It is important to ensure that not only is the time allocated within your schedule, but that you also respect the time allocated. It is so easy (I write from personal experience) to schedule time to work creatively on a task, but then continue doing email at the start of your roster of creative time. Before you know it, the 90 minutes you scheduled is down to 60 because you just wanted to clear the in-box! Or you fail to switch off your mobile, and half way through your creative time you get a call or a text (they are always immediate but not necessarily important).

If you have people around you, tell them in advance that you are going to have a period when you will not be available because you will be working creatively on something. If you don’t have people around, then email some people you know to tell them about your creative time. Do whatever you can to publically commit to your creative time, and let your public commitments help you to adhere to getting the best out of your planned creative time.

When you have actually honoured your commitment to your creative roster, give yourself a treat, a reward, a gift that recognises and reinforces your achievement. Think about telling others about the outputs from your creative time, increasing your commitment to those outputs. Better still, tell them – don’t just think about telling them.

One tip I will share with you about Roster is to not schedule too long a period of time to be in the creative mode. I have found 90 minutes to two hours is about right. Over two hours is too long for many reasons. These include the fact that we do still have businesses that require our attention and decisions, the creative process can actually be quite tiring, and after two hours you have other bodily needs to attend to.

creativity_EinsteinI wish you good fortune using the CREATE framework. Have curiosity, have courage and have celebration!

Winning sponsors…

Highway Signpost "Business Transformation"How can you be a successful Sponsor of business transformation? A winning Sponsor PACES FAVOURS. Here are my top tips for what Sponsors must have.

Power – the organisational power to sanction or veto change, to support or oppose targets.

A public face – the willingness and capability to exhibit the public support that is necessary to deliver change through strong organisational backing.

Capacity to monitor – the determination and capability to establish and nurture monitoring systems and processes to track progress and setbacks.


Effects – the ability to make sure that what ensues from an action is appropriate. Promptly rewarding those actions that support the change and sanctioning those that do not.

Scope – the capability to comprehend the scale of the impact and consequences of the change.

Foresight – a thorough understanding of the effect the changes will have on all stakeholders, and a comprehension of their likely reactions.

foresightA private face – the ability, willingness and emotional intelligence needed to convey strong personal support privately to key individuals and groups.

Vision – a clear definition of the change that will occur, the ability to define, express and embody the Big, Well-Crafted Dream that Engages All.

visionObstinacy – the sheer determination to succeed and the ability to reject short-term actions that are inconsistent with the long-term goals. Without compromising the ability to recognise flexibility is needed, the stubbornness to maintain course when that is the appropriate choice.

Understanding – a comprehensive understanding of the organisational resources (time, people, materials, money and so on) needed for successful implementation combined with the willingness and capability to commit them.

Ruthless compassion – the ability to fully understand and empathise with the significant personal issues major change raises, combined with the determination and ability to do the right thing for the transformation in the face of these issues.

Ruthless compassionSacrifice – the commitment to pursue the transformation, in the sure knowledge that it is likely a price will have to be paid.


You can find out more about being a winning sponsor from the ‘Dance with the Elephants’ Bonus Material ‘Successfully Sponsoring Transformation’ available here