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.


Enabling clients and prospects enthusiastically to say ‘Yes!’ – post 6 of 7

So here we are at last, you are going to be able to fulfil that natural desire to problem-solve, to finally construct your solution, to meet all the needs of your prospective client. We are at the penultimate stage of the ALIGNED framework – ‘Elegant Solutions’.


A Assume control
L Learn their situation and desires
I Injuries and pains
G Get commitment
N Nirvana – the Well-Formed Outcome
E Elegant solutions
D Decide or die

aligned posture

Once you have permission to move to the next stage, pause to explain briefly what will happen next. You are going to take a moment to consider everything that has been discussed and will now, for the first time, think about whether or not you can provide the solution that is the best for them. Remind them of what was discussed right at the beginning of your conversation with them – that you will only have them as a client if you have the best solutions for them, and that you will try to find an alternative if you and your company do not have the best solutions for them. At this stage, I may choose to also remind them of my commitment to them (that is, to enable them to be the best they want to be).

Now take some time to weigh up everything you now know. Be creative in building your possible solutions for them. Don’t just trot out in your mind the ‘same old, same old’ for you to consider using. Honour and respect your prospective client by diligently answering the questions ‘Can I provide the perfect fit?’, ‘Can I truly delight them as a client?’, ‘Can this client become one of my fans?’ Ensure your solution is elegant in form, that it enables them to achieve their nirvana and that it addresses any barriers to success you discovered earlier. This is the most important moment in determining whether they will say an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ to you.

Don't sellIn crafting your solution, give them what they want or graciously decline their business. It is time for a congruence check before you outline your proposed solutions. Are you absolutely certain you are the best fit? Have you truly taken into account everything you know? On a scale of 1 to 10, how certain are you? If you do not have the best solution, the perfect way of addressing all their needs and desires, that which will make them an ardent fan and advocate, tell them that and agree that you are not the best provider for them at this time.

If you rate 10, then it’s time to present your proposed solution. How you present your proposal must be congruent with you, so you must develop a way of presenting it that shows your genuine sincerity and your congruence. This is another learnable skill.

What you present should cover your proposed solution, how it will solve the problem and what consequences it will have for your prospective client. Bear in mind your ‘Weapons of Influence’ when presenting your ‘what’. For example, emphasise the scarcity of the totally bespoke solution you have crafted and honed for them alone, if that is what you have done. Explain how the Well-Formed Outcome will be achieved, what life will be like for them as a result and the value they will get, from the least valuable to the highest. (In our previous example, that would be everything from saving time in unproductive conversations, through more sales and more profits, and everything else leading to the more highly valued quality time with their loved ones.) You should also cover the pain that will be taken away and the value that will be created for them as your client. You should outline how your solution elegantly avoids any of the potential obstacles identified earlier. Outline your proposal using appropriate and collaborative language (‘you’, ‘your’, ‘our’, ‘we’ and so on).

jigsawDon’t rush when presenting your solution. Make sure you do so at a pace that is comfortable for your client. Remember to match their words and their body language. Allow them sufficient opportunity to assimilate your solution so that it can become your joint commitment. Then ask if they think they fully understand the solution and the consequent impacts on their pain (using their words) and the value that will be created for them (in their words). If they indicate they do fully understand, and you agree that they do, tell them you know they understand. Specific and explicit agreements should be verbalised, honoured and celebrated.

The next post is the last in this series – ‘Decide or die’.

There is greater detail about the ALIGNED framework in the book ‘Dance with the Elephants’ available from

Enabling clients and prospects enthusiastically to say ‘Yes!’ – post 5 of 7

We have reached the fifth stage of the ALIGNED framework for enabling clients enthusiastically to say ‘Yes!’ to doing business with us. To manage expectations right from the beginning, we are still not yet at the point of identifying what our solution might be, although we are getting close. So stay focused on the prospective client, and guard against thinking about possible solutions for a little while longer.

A Assume control
L Learn their situation and desires
I Injuries and pains
G Get commitment
N Nirvana – the Well-Formed Outcome
E Elegant solutions
D Decide or die


Nirvana: the Well-Formed Outcome

The next logical step is to build the Well-Formed Outcome with your prospective client in order to create their nirvana, their state of perfection. The Well-Formed Outcome is their Big Dream, Crafted Well, Engaging All, as outlined in ‘Dance with the Elephants’. Building the Well-Formed Outcome with potential clients is a learnable skill that improves with practice. Remember to get them to express their Well-Formed Outcome using all of their senses – hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting and smelling.


Over time, you will form your own unique and congruent way of building the Well-Formed Outcome with prospective clients. I am deliberately not giving you the words, questions and interventions that work for me as these are only congruent with me. You must find a way of building the Well-Formed Outcome with prospective clients that is congruent with you.

At the same time, help your prospective client to discover those things that might stop them going ahead. It is far better to recognise these things at this stage. The more skilled you are at building the Well-Formed Outcome, the more committed your client will be to getting around the obstacles that could prevent them achieving their Big Dreams. The bigger the Well-Formed Outcome, the more trivial the potential obstacles seem to the client.


When you and the client have finished building the Well-Formed Outcome, summarise and reprise it, playing their exact words back to them. Tell the client you think you have fully understood everything. If there is anything at all that you are not totally clear about, resolve that lack of clarity with the client now. Don’t be tempted to proceed based on the 90% you do understand. You must be congruent here – if you have not really understood it all, you won’t be able to decide whether or not you can provide the perfect solution that will truly delight your prospective client and enable them to attain their Well-Formed Outcome. When you are certain you have understood it all and are ready to decide, question them to find out whether they think that you have understood everything. It is important for you to obtain their permission to decide whether or not you have the perfect solution. I might ask questions such as ‘Are you as sure as you can be that I understand?’ or ‘Is there any doubt in your mind?’ When you have their permission, you can move to the penultimate and most important stage. Only now are you finally about to be freed from the confines of staying on task, focusing on them.

We will explore how you can use your newly-found freedom in the next post as we examine the next stage in the ALIGNED framework – ‘Elegant Solutions’.

There is greater detail about the ALIGNED framework in the book ‘Dance with the Elephants’ available from




Enabling clients & prospects enthusiastically to say ‘Yes!’ – post 4

In this 4th post in a series of 7 covering the ALIGNED framework we reach ‘Get commitment’ on our journey to enabling people enthusiastically to say ‘Yes!’ to working with us without deploying any sales techniques.

A Assume control
L Learn their situation and desires
I Injuries and pains
G Get commitment
N Nirvana – the Well-Formed Outcome
E Elegant solutions
D Decide or die


Alignment_MandhyanSo far we have assumed control, learned about their situation and desires, and their injuries and pains. It is now time to find out how much your prospective client would like to change their current world of pain. Will they make the sacrifices needed to move from what they have tried in the past to the wonderful world that will exist when they realise their Big Dreams? The sacrifices may be in the form of financial outlay, changes of behaviour or working with different people (including you) in the future.

Be specific when asking how committed they are. Use questions such as: ‘In order to realise your Big Dream of … (use their exact words), how committed are you to absorbing the pain it will take, on a scale of 1 to 10?’ Don’t be judgemental about their rating, but do challenge their responses to reveal their level of passionate commitment. A rating of 7 or less probably means they are not sufficiently committed. If they answer with an 8 or 9, ask them what would be needed to make them change their answer to a 10. If a client answers quickly with a 10 (or 11 or 12), I will mildly challenge with a gentle ‘Really?’ in order test the veracity of it in their minds.

1 to 10Check they have the necessary power to deliver on their commitments, or can get that power. Help them understand what they can control and what is outside their control. But neither of you should assume that they will be limited by the confines of their span of control. Just because something is not within their direct control does not mean that thing cannot be changed in favour of their Big Dream. It depends on the balance between worth and cost.

So now you are at the point where they really, really, really know what they want. They really, really, really know their pains. They really, really, really are committed to the solutions. They just don’t yet know what the solutions are. Nor do you, if you have truly been focused on questioning and listening, and on building rapport and empathy.

Don’t worry if you have had a fleeting thought about the solution which you had to extinguish to get back ‘on task’. The ability to focus on the task is a learnable skill that comes with practice. Even when you are very skilled at staying ‘on task’, the other-than-conscious mind will occasionally fire a random thought about the solution into your conscious mind. Just get your conscious mind to banish it. Stay with this focus on them to the exclusion of any thoughts of solutions. We are still not at the point to think about solutions, so hold your nerve a little longer yet.

subconsciousWe are exactly half-way through the ALIGNED framework. In the next post, we will go through the next step, ‘Nirvana – the Well-Formed Outcome’.

There is greater detail about the ALIGNED framework in the book ‘Dance with the Elephants’ available from







Helping clients and prospects to say ‘Yes!’ – 3rd post of 7

In this series of posts, I am outlining the ALIGNED framework for enabling people to enthusiastically say ‘Yes!’ to doing business with you. This third post will cover ‘Injuries and Pains’ – the third of the seven stages of ALIGNED.

A Assume control
L Learn their situation and desires
I Injuries and pains
G Get commitment
N Nirvana – the Well-Formed Outcome
E Elegant solutions
D Decide or die

From the second stage, your prospective customer now has a very clear grasp of what they want, and what the value of having it is to them. At the moment, though, they have neither the solution nor the value. So it’s time to connect them with their injuries and pains. The principles in this stage are the same as in the previous stage. The quality of your listening will affect the quality of their thinking. Listen and understand their pain(s) and don’t let any part of your brain start working on solutions.

Good ListeningBuild the value with them – albeit negative value this time. In the last stage of ALIGNED we had the Value Escalator; in this phase it is time for the Pain Spiral. Try to understand not only the symptoms but also the impact. Understand they are wasting time (how much?) in unproductive conversations with prospective customers, but also understand the pain of not spending enough quality time with their loved ones as a result. Do not do what I just did: I went from wasted time to insufficient time with their loved ones in one step. Tease out all the intervening steps (they don’t have enough sales, they don’t have enough profits, they don’t have a stress-free life and so on). Build the (negative) value – their real pain. It is just as important as in the last stage that you give time to the process of discovering just how significant their injuries and pains are.

Pain scale

Your language and body language again need to demonstrate your sincerity, empathy and compassion. Do not diminish your focus on their pain by starting to think about your solutions! Instead give them your time and full attention, and allow them to see that you understand both their injuries and pain and their Big Dreams equally.

Take time to understand what they have tried in the past. Be curious not judgemental, as judgement will conflict with building empathy and rapport. Remember to acknowledge their partial successes as their failures are part of their pain. ‘Failures’ are the way we humans learn best and helping them to understand the feedback their experiences offer them will build deep rapport between you.

It may be useful to contrast and compare their injuries and pains (and the negative pain associated with them) with the benefits of their Big Dreams that you discussed in the second stage, however beware the danger of wallowing in the misery and balance it with the positives of their Big Dreams.

One more reminder, do not think solutions at the stage. Focus instead on them, not on you.

Next time, we’ll move on to stage 4 – the ‘G’ of ALIGNED.