Jul 042012



The Contrarian Effect Why It Pays (Big) To Take Typical Sales Advice And Do The Opposite is a short book in which the authors, Michael Port and Elizabeth Marshall, implore the readers, sales professionals and companies hiring salespeople to abandon the old-school sales processes involving prospecting, objection removal and pressure tactics for more people-friendly and customer-sympathetic practices. A special scorn is saved for `closing’ techniques. The authors’ logic and thoughts regarding modern selling and proper and advantageous 21st Century sales are valid. Indeed, I have spoken to many people over the last several years about how the paradigm for selling has interminably changed in the information age given the advent of modern communication or the Internet. The authors are not about to get too many conceptual objections from this reader. But…
There are several problems en route to goal. First, it doesn’t take long for the reader to discern that the authors are more marketing-oriented than sales. The larger an organization, the more specialized the functions like newsletters, webinars, special offers and such are and become the domain of the organization and its marketing function not the sales team. Secondly, the book largely – not completely read on – ignores how salespeople and sales departments are controlled by the president, CEO, board of directors and shareholders all of whom are looking for quarterly or monthly results and long-term relationship building be damned or at least be relegated to secondary status. Real-socialism was a phrase that was discussed in political circles during the late Soviet era. Let us call the current reality of sales departments Real-saleism. And if Michael Port and Elizabeth Marshall have a beef with the short-term instant-result system that is de facto and in place I sure hope they are part of the Occupy Movement. Attraction Marketing takes longer than sales quota periods and is typically not in sync and thirdly and finally, there are customers that (yes, still!) are sadly swayed by old-school and manipulative tactics, which disadvantages the `enlightened’ salesperson. So, let us be real. The ideas in The Contrarian Effect are positive, trending correctly and beneficial in the idealized world we hopefully are inching closer towards, but they are not quite there and no amount of calling `conventional’ sales folk `Neanderthal’ or whatever will immediately change the status quo.
In the meanwhile, as we grow closer to The Contrarian Effect what are the ideas espoused here?

1. Build Relationships And Make Connections: treat customers as humans first. A very good idea and noble one at that, but when was the last time a company treated anyone as a human being? By definition, employees come and go at the leisure of corporate profits and investor relations. Customers are certainly “acquired” and “churn” is measured in the quarterly results. While the authors insist that the principles are in fact advantageous to the sales effort – and they are partly correct – their notion here clashes with the reality of our corporate personhood status quo.

2. Respect Your Customers And Honor Their Wishes: customers are in control. Understand and respect this truth-ism.

3. Target Specific Group Of Individuals And The People With Whom You Do Your Best Work: this is a rational argument that clashes with the school of thought that insists sales is a numbers game and playing the odds, if the prospect pool is big enough, is the way forward.

4. Make Relevant And Timely Offers: this makes sense, even if the book is stereotypically short on specific examples, even if the delivery is a marketing function. Being relevant; however, requires listening, which salespeople for which, as the frontline of any company, are ideally suited. 5. Increase Your Likability Factor: Sounds like point number one and there are not any details on how this could be achieved. Perhaps the authors believe everyone knows how to do this, but they do not offer any specifics either.

6. Practice Radical Transparency: it helps build a “stellar” reputation.

7. Establish Yourself As a Trusted Advisor: This is achieved through implied and shared expertise.

8. Collaborate With Strategic Partners To Leverage Your Efforts: this one always sounds good in theory, but rarely pans out in reality. Prospects are too busy to be attending joint meetings and to be introduced. Likely partners are also similarly busy and need freeing from short-term deadlines.

9. Think Bigger About Who You Are And What You Offer Your Clients: Think outside the box and exercise creativity, counsel the authors. Alas, no specifics.
One criticism of this book, like so many others, is the stereotypical habit of disseminating advice without having specific and concrete examples to back it up. Page 142 offers a modicum of particulars, but only in general terms and partly in marketing terms. Costco is cited as an enlightened organization that is profitable and growing, while paying its employees above average wages to better serve its customers who are willing to pay membership to shop there. In contrast, there is Wal-Mart, which is anything but enlightened. Perhaps the market is segmented between bad and less bad? Incidentally, there is a fascinatingly surreal story surrounding the Titanic in this book that was new to me. It is an interesting read. Concepts are fine, but books without actual examples are just like real-estate/money making/motivational symposia. They are teasers designed to lure the customer in just to leave them with a yearning only satisfied with more expensive subsequent course or private lesson. Coincidentally, both authors are speakers and coaches. On page 51 the book advises that salespeople can save time and money by 1- isolating and defining customer subgroups, 2- Investigating how to reach the key decision-makers of these subgroups and building rapport with them and 3- determining the best way to communicate relevantly with them. Great advice – I am ignorant and wanted to cure the affliction with this book – but how?
Regarding the `real-saleism’ page 123 attempts a comeback of sorts by acknowledging how sales departments work before admonishing salespeople for participating in the dated system at the expense of one’s integrity and health and ending with a wishful statement that “Many sales professionals are not required to use the typical tactics. Hopefully that is the case for you.” The book explains that self-interest is fine so long as it does not degrade into selfishness. This latter trait is counterproductive to serving customers and, ultimately, winning. Page 89 makes a case against the current insistence for immediate results – it damages the long-term and sales overall – but alas the system is the system until there is mass change. Sales tactics are largely out of sync with the market and need to adapt. Value to customers including offering truth, reliability and transparency are competitive advantages. The authors are correct. Things will only completely change when customers demand it, stock and money markets adapt to it and social pressure makes anything else unacceptable. The Contrarian Effect has aided the discussion. But…

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