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Dual Focused Sales Efforts

Lately I have become fascinated with the sales process.  Those of you who know me well, are not surprised, since sales has always been a Black Hole area for me.  But my fascination is really directed at a certain type of sales process.  Let me explain.

When you think of sales, you normally think of a company who has a product or service and has to find customers for that deliverable.  There are a lot of folks writing articles about and perfecting their sales processes to get that prospect to sign on the dotted line.  Everybody from Boeing to the local deli has their own process down and understands what they need to do to ensure that the income keeps rolling in.

In the past several weeks, I have had conversations with several businesses that have a dual sales process.  That is, they have to sell someone on the idea to sell a product to the end user.

At DePaul University’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, I attended a Blueprint Connections networking event recently.  These events give student entrepreneurs an opportunity to talk with and present their ideas to experienced business folks.  I am always excited by the future of business after attending these sessions; there is just so much energy there.

At this event, I met a student named John.  John had started a business of providing real estate services to college students.  His goal was to match students to the perfect apartment.  John had a good sense of his market, he understood the value of high quality service and he made a compelling case.  His challenge, though, was that in order to make a sale, he actually had to make two sales.  He had to develop relationships (and contracts) with landlords, so that he could show their properties and get paid for the successful lease process.  Then he had to sell the students on the need for his services and the “inventory” of properties that he could show.  It is a devilishly hard process to manage.

Another company that I have been working with sells a licensed commodity to a large retail chain.  The owner needs to get legal authorization from each licensee (think over 15,000) to sell their licensed material.  Then he has to work with the store manager (there are over 5,000 of those) at the retail chain to offer his products.  Even though corporate has given the green light to selling the products, they want the store managers at the local level to make the final decision.  It is a balancing problem.  You want to go out to the licensee and get the authorization so that you have something to provide to the retail chain, but it certainly is helpful if you have the local retail store already on board to sell the products and can go to the licensee with a pre-order.

These opportunities are golden opportunities, because they have the benefit of a contractual relationship between the parties and that makes it more difficult for others to enter.  When we talk about investors funding ventures, one area we normally talk about is barriers to entry.  These dual-focused sales efforts do provide some level of barrier.  The challenge is  how to balance the sales efforts in a knowledgeable and responsible way to grow your business.

Books, Books and More Books

Recently I had the opportunity to see Tim Sanders speak. His book, Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends talks about how nice, smart people can do good by sharing. One of the things that he proposes is that people read more and share what they are reading. In that spirit, I wanted to share some of the great books that I have read recently.

Non-Fiction

Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, looks at topics as diverse as Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer to copyright law to the history of hair color ads and their effects on feminism. The book is an anthology of some of his favorite articles that he has written for The New Yorker. This medium gives him the ability to write long form articles that delve deeply into the subject matter. I highly recommend this book. Malcolm is a smart guy that follows his curiosity and writes well. It is a winning combination.

My favorite book last year was What Would Google Do?, by Jeff Jarvis. This book is not about how Google runs their business per se. In this book, Jeff looks at other industries and applies Google business practices to radically change the business model of that particular business. Jarvis is a journalist and he applies the Google model to newspapers, but also to restaurants, music and retailers among others. For anyone truly interested in business, this book will make you think about your business in new ways.

As an advisor to companies, I find that many of the issues that I encounter are rooted in organizational problems. One of the best books that I have read and recommend often is called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (J-B Lencioni Series), by Patrick Lencioni. Patrick writes a business fable about a Silicon Valley start-up and the travails of a new CEO with an executive team that just doesn’t get it. The book is a quick read and Patrick deftly gets the symptoms and cures woven into the storyline.

And for those of you who are looking for financing, a great book on what venture capitalists look for when evaluating companies is also told in fable form by Randy Komisar in The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living.

A. J. Jacobs is a writer with OCD. In prior books, he lived by the rules of the Old Testament for a year and read the entire Encyclopedia Brittannica and wrote about his favorite articles. In his latest book, The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, he becomes a human guinea pig and tells the story of each encounter. Included in this book are his experiences in Outsourcing his Life to an offshore firm in India and the Nakedness Experiments, where he and Mary Louise Parker pose naked for a photo in Esquire Magazine. A. J. has been compared to the George Plimpton of our age. In this he succeeds, with a bit more droll humor.

Fiction
John Irving is a true American superstar storyteller, easily in the same class as Stephen King or Mark Twain. He develops quirky characters and builds complex storylines that keep the reader engaged. His latest – Last Night in Twisted River: A Novel – takes his readers on a ride through a life time of love, betrayal, vendettas, loss, Italian cooking and naked skydiving. Somehow it all works marvelously.

Audrey Niffenegger doesn’t write often, but her writing takes on a luminous quality that fully sucks you in to the very end. Her latest book, Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel, explores the life of a set of twins.

Let me know in the comments if you have specific books that you have read recently and would like to recommend.