Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"See" What You're Missing

Sales trainer Anne Miller recently relayed an excellent story in her newsletter to remind us to look at the whole picture. The story and subsequent exercise are great for the entire sales team. Try them out today!

"As the pressure builds to develop business in 2009, it is appropriate to briefly re-visit the lesson of the story of the blind men and the elephant," says Miller. "You'll recall that three blind men stumble upon an elephant. Each blind man grabs onto a different part of the animal. The first man, feeling only the elephant's leg, declares the object they have come across to be a tree trunk. The second man, holding the elephant's tail, assures his friends they have found a snake. And the third man, touching the elephant's ear, announces that it is most certainly a fan. Since they do not have the benefit of vision, they cannot see the big picture -- the whole animal -- and, as a consequence, they draw the wrong conclusions."

"Similarly, in a difficult market, sales pros often miss opportunities to build business that they would otherwise have, because they often lack a way to step back and see the big picture."

The following 5-step exercise forces you to step back and see these opportunities in your business (allow 2-3 hours).

You can try this exercise by yourself or, even better, with your sales team. (Remember: Two heads are better than one.)

1. Select a category of accounts (or a single account) whose business you want to grow or win (e.g., the hotel industry).

2. Hang four sheets of flip-chart paper around the room. On the first sheet, list all the things that are Going Well for that industry. On the second list all the Problems or Challenges that specific industry faces. On the third, list all the Trends that could affect this industry negatively or positively. On the fourth, list all your Assets, Capabilities & Resources.

3. Brainstorm. For each item on the first list, look at your asset list and write how many different things you can do/combine that would add value to what is Going Well. (e.g., If you sell advertising space, can you offer an email marketing idea? sweepstakes? sponsorships? leverage databases?).

For each item on the second list, look at your asset list and write how many different things you can do/combine to help address each Challenge (e.g., an offline tie-in that drives users to an advertiser's site? a joint effort with another complementary advertiser, a give-away how-to booklet filled with past articles?)

And for each item on the third list, look at your asset list and write how many different things you can do to play off each Trend that is occurring in the industry (e.g., develop a new size/type ad? an in-room customized, travel CD? a tie-in to their loyalty program?)

Collect ALL the ideas that come up, whether they are practical or not. In true brainstorming fashion, build on one another's ideas, and don't immediately dismiss any. You will wind up with lots of ideas in a relatively short time.

4. Evaluate. Review the ideas that you like, those that fit, those that leverage your expertise and resources, and those that will have a high bottom-line payoff.

5. Implement. Decide who will do what and when.

"At a minimum, these ideas give you a good reason to see a client and bring him/her something new to think about, which helps build your relationship with that client," says Miller. "Does it cost you selling time to do this? Absolutely. But in today's competitive world, where you are only as good as your last idea, what's the cost of not doing this exercise on a regular basis?"

Anne Miller is the author of Metaphorically Selling. Check out her site at

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