MAY 2019 Newsletter

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The Story Leader is a new monthly newsletter for revenue leaders. We aim to be a source of fresh ideas for applying human-kind's most powerful communication tool to business development.

Your Company Strategy Story

A few months ago I started working with the BD team for a major Australian electricity utility. The first story we worked on was their company strategy story. That's the story that explains how your company came to exist, why you do what you do, and where you are going as a company. 

Our objective was to create a baseline story that everyone in the team could tell.

It wasn't an easy task. They had more than a 100 years of operation and a convoluted history of ownership and organisational changes. How to select the most important events for a two-minute story?

We discussed the company history, purpose and strategy in one-on-one meetings with senior leaders and in a team workshop. Eventually, everyone in the team was ready to tell the company story in their own words via video message (our preferred story practice tool).

From my coach's perspective, the story was coming together but I wondered whether the team members would tell the story in commercial situations? It goes without saying that a story left untold is of limited value.

So I was pleased when the team manager informed me that he'd practised telling the company strategy story to job candidates for an open role in his team, and it seemed to go well. That's a start, I thought.

A few weeks later I met the successful candidate and she shared the experience of hearing the company story in her job interview. "It was inspiring! So different from all the other companies I interviewed with. I just knew this was where I wanted to work!"

Its fascinating to reflect on the myriad of ways that stories weave their magic. Influencing clients, partners, investors, competitors, your own staff ...and even job candidates!

Craft the story,  tell the story and observe the magic.

The Secret to Sales Storytelling (Its not what you think)

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I explain in three minutes the true secret of sales storytelling. Most business storytelling instruction is about leadership and change management. But sales storytelling is different ... <watch the video here>

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Thanks for reading, please reply and tell me what you think. I'd love to hear your story.

Mike Adams
The Story Leader


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The Blockbuster Discovery Meeting!


What are you trying to achieve in that all-important first meeting?

Here is a STORY METAPHOR that may help ...


The Discovery Meeting. The first meeting with a potential client. I think it's the most important meeting in business. If it goes well, you might have a new client for decades. And if it goes badly. You've probably got nothing.

Most of those books over my shoulder teach questioning frameworks. Ask this question… then this question, then this question. When I teach salespeople how to conduct a discovery meeting, there's a couple of pretty serious problems with that approach.

One is understanding the correct intent. And it's not apparent in those (questioning) models. And the second is most salespeople struggle to follow those models.

I'd like to introduce the concept of a STORY MEETING - a different way to think about the discovery meeting, that first critical meeting. And I want to introduce a metaphor. I'd like you to imagine yourself (the salesperson) as a MOVIE DIRECTOR.

You are the movie director and you're looking to see if you can make your client THE STAR of your new movie. But why should a famous actor even meet with you the movie director? Well, if you think about it, there's only two reasons. The first would be, you've had a lot of successful hits in star's genre.

So you have some SUCCESS STORIES. OR, you've got a great idea - a great PLOT idea that they could star in. And that's the equivalent of an INSIGHT STORY.

So you get the meeting with your INSIGHT STORY or your SUCCESS STORY. And now you're going to consider your job in the meeting is to get that movie plot. To flesh-out that movie that you're going to make with your client.

You probably remember that there's four parts to a business story. We've got a setting, complication, a turning point and a resolution. But the movie you're going to make has four different names to the parts. The setting is called the BACK STORY. You need the backstory and then we need to SAVE THE HERO from dying. Because in a movie the hero nearly dies three or four times. So that's the complication. Then the hero SUCCEEDS the hero wins the battle and finally we have the LEGACY, what's… what's the follow on sequence.

When the star of the movie is sitting on the porch at the end in that last scene. With his bride or with one of his children. Looking back at that victory and thinking, yeah, that's what it meant. That's the legacy. That's the legacy of the hero’e success.

So we need to get those four parts. We just need to have four conversations within the discovery meeting. We'll start with the backstory and the way we do that is by telling our personal story mixed with that company story. That's the normal story we would tell first and we tell that story to ask the question - "What about you? How did you become a movie star? get into your role? How did your company get to where it got to?"

We exchange stories to get the backstory.

Then I normally coach you to skip the complications and talk about the success. How is success going to look? Then we can come back and look at the ways the hero could nearly dieAnd introduce our LIGHT SABRE, our special tools, those MAGIC KEYS that will prevent the hero from dying in this story.

And then we need to talk about the legacy. In the big picture where does it fit in with their whole company? What's it gonna mean a couple of years or five years down the track? And what would that mean for their career?What would be the legacy of this project that we're going to do?

... this movie that we're going to shoot?

So those are the four parts. If you can remember the four parts of the story. You can remember the four parts of the conversations that you to have. Of course, there are going to be questions. But really we're thinking about this as a natural conversation in four parts. We don't have to get the four parts in the right sequence. We can put the story back together afterwards.

And the beauty of this is that the proposal that we write is simply that story - It's the movie plot. That's the proposal. The best proposals read like a movie. Furthermore, we tell that story back to our boss When the boss asks how did the how did the meeting go? Most bosses, I can tell you, I was a sales manager for 20 years and most of my clients share this frustration - The salesperson comes back from the meeting and cannot answer the basic questions about the client situation.

But you can!!… You can lay out the entire plot - the backstory, how they going to win with your products and services and what it's really going to name for their company. That story is going to help you get the critical resources that you need internally to be able to deliver that project. Furthermore, your client, on receiving your story, your plot, will be able to share that story within their organization and persuade the other stakeholders. Maybe people that you don't even meet. So that people are being persuaded to make this movie. They like that plot because you put it in a story format that they can understand.

So when you think about the discovery meeting, think about being a movie director,and making your client the STAR!

The movie director and the star of the movie are on the same social level. You're not "helping" or trying have a "relationship" which is what a lot of people think that sales is about, that puts you at a low social status and you're not a detective using questions like an inquisitor to find out logically why they must buy from you, or someone challenging them and pretending you know more about their business tahn they do. That's above them on a social level.

No, you're meeting as equals, you are the director and they are the - star and you're gonna do this together.

And that's the right - it's the right social status to have in the discovery meeting, and it's much easier to remember the Hollywood movie and the four parts of the movie, that you need to have a conversation about to conduct a great discovery meeting!

Tell me what you think in the comments. I'd love to hear what you think, I'm Mike Adams.

The Leads are Weak! Telling Half the Story

Mike’s Article in Smart Company


““The leads are weak!”

“The <expletive deleted> leads are weak??? You’re weak!”

This exchange between ‘salesman’ Jack Lemmon and his boss Alec Baldwin in the classic movie Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) is repeated every time salespeople are presented with a lead list from a misguided marketing campaign. Are the leads weak or is the salesperson weak? Maybe both.

Here is how to use stories to both improve the leads and help the salesperson close them. There are only two types of lead and you must have a story lure attached to each. Prepare the stories before you start the marketing.

Insight lead

Your marketing campaign highlights an insight that your company has about your client’s market or business — something they do not know or appreciate but would profit from if they knew.

The problem with insight is, by definition, it’s not obvious. If it was obvious, it’s not insightful. But a direct challenge with the insight ‘facts’ is unlikely to be accepted because your clients are pretty sure they know how to run their business. So how does one present a non-obvious challenging idea to a client that knows what they’re doing?

The answer is in the insight story. That’s the story of how your company learnt the insight. It’s also called the researcher’s story. We tell the researcher’s discovery journey, describing the research setting, the false leads and trials, then the Eureka moment of discovery and finally explain what the discovery means. With this story, your client will co-experience the insight, understand it and accept it.

Success lead

Nothing attracts buyers like stories of people like them, that succeeded. The success lead is created from a success story — that’s a story of someone like your buyer, that succeeded with your products and services. To use a success story, it’s critical your marketing campaign targets buyers that can identify with your success story.

But a success story is not a case study. The classic three-part case study starts with your client in a terrible situation, your company rides in on your white horse and fixes the problem, and then you have a happy client. That case study format is terrible for generating leads because you will have made your company the hero, and future buyers do not identify with you, they identify with people like themselves.

The hero of your success story must be the client that succeeded with your help — you are just the guide! Start the story with your client, then introduce the challenge they were faced with. Then describe how they met your company and the plan you gave them. Finally, explain how your client avoided failure and achieved success. A well-told success story lets your future client experience your service before they buy.

Now that you have developed your lead stories it’s time to plan how marketing and sales can tell the story together in a coordinated way. The trick is in the way you create story curiosity.

Telling half the story

In many B2C sales situations, the objective of the marketing campaign is to get a conversation with a potential buyer. Marketing gets the conversation appointment and sales has the conversation to make the sale (or not, if it’s a poor fit).

The key to getting the appointment is curiosity, and the ‘half story’ creates intense curiosity.

‘To be continued …’ is the phrase that gets you yearning for next instalment of your favourite TV series. Netflix has created a $150 billion business from ‘Next episode starting in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1′ seconds…

By telling the setting and complication events of either an insight story or a success story, you’ll attract the right buyer and get them wanting to know more. That’s exactly what salespeople need — the right buyer-type wanting to know more.

How should the salesperson approach the lead? Again, with half the story.

‘I’m calling you because you expressed interest in <this setting> and this <complication> …’ The setting and complication will either be insight or success story events.

Notice we are not leading with the resolution of the story. That’s what most salespeople do. Think: ‘I’m calling to talk about how client X saved $200,000.’

That’s leading with the story resolution and that kills curiosity and screams ‘saleperson alert’!

Stories align marketing and sales

Neither the leads or the salesperson will be weak if they collaborate with strong stories. The new year is a prime time for selling. Is it time to align your marketing and sales departments with stories to take full advantage?

Mike Adams

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Mike is the co-founder and chief storyteller at The Story Leader and author of Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell. He has managed sales teams in the UK, Russia and throughout Asia for international corporations such as Schlumberger, Siemens, Nokia and Halliburton and has sold over a billion dollars of products and services over his career.

Why you shouldn't take success advice from Richard Branson


You shouldn't take success advice from Richard Branson!

You shouldn't take success advice from any highly successful person and there's two reasons. The two reasons are related to each other the first reason is:

  • They were lucky! and the second reason is -

  • What works for them won't work for you!

Let's look at luck. Michael Lewis the author of Moneyball and Big Short says that successful people don't like to acknowledge the effect of luck on their career but more importantly the world - the rest of us - don't want to acknowledge that either why is that?  

In 1972 Richard Branson started his own record label virgin records he had no business he had no artists but he used to let struggling artists lease his studio and the first release of Virgin Records was Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells it's the tune playing in the background right now.

It didn't do very well except a little while later it was picked up as the theme tune for the smash movie 'The Exorcist' - tubular bells had unbelievable success it became the third largest selling album of the 1970s and it propelled Virgin Records into stardom.

It was a one-hit wonder Mike Oldfield never had another hit it's a quirky funny tune it's an an anomaly it's luck! it's luck ....

Okay, let's look in detail about why what works for successful people won't work for you - to do that we need to understand a special curve it's called the Pareto curve - now most people are familiar with the normal distribution - the normal distribution is what we think applies to success and failure we think that successful people are talented in some dimension such as intelligence or entrepreneurship, whatever and that if we could just learn that talented thing with a bit of hard work we would be successful - and we're wrong!

This isn't the curve to understand - the curve to understand is this curve the Pareto curve.

The easiest way to understand the Pareto curve is the game of Monopoly. In monopoly we start off with a number of players - it's a board game -you all start with the same wealth and you buy and sell properties as you go around the board and there's some chance involved and what happens over time is some people get poorer and some get richer until ultimately the winner takes everything!

That is a perfectly natural thing - it happens in nature - it happens everywhere in business and you need to understand that like in monopoly good and bad fortune (we call that luck) plays a huge role in the process. If you lose at the game of Monopoly you don't think wow! what special character did that person who won have? You don't think that - you think 'let's play again I'll probably win the next one' - and you'd be right!

So what happens when someone gets on that uphill slope of the Pareto curve I call that position that top position a NAME IN A PLACE you become a name in a place.

And it's a very special position in business. Richard Branson has the name entrepreneurship and the place is the whole planet that is a massive business area - he owns that name in that place. Google is the name in the place of search they have 70% of the search market they probably have nearly a hundred percent of the profits - Microsoft is second everyone else is no where. Pure Pareto curve!

You need to understand how strong the Pareto effect is in your business is it like the rock star index with with Paul McCartney up here and all the other rock stars making no money down here or was it more like say dentists where some might, in a big city, make two or three times their country peers but every business, every market there's a Pareto effect and someone is 'the name in that place'. In that marketplace.

You can calculate it for yourself simply find out for yourself. Find out what the wealthiest makes - look at their profit if you can or just their income and compare it to the average of let's say the (bottom) 50% people the people who are sort of average your business.

If you get a factor of times 10 that's pretty normal if you get a factor of one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand - as happens in Internet companies or in the music business then you're looking at an unconstrained Pareto situation. It's there's no tax there's no regulation to control that and the winner takes everything. [ Btw, Pareto index for the finished game of monolopy is 'infinity']

It's estimated that the top nine wealthiest individuals on this planet have more wealth than the bottom four billion - people pure Pareto.

That's the Pareto effect. So what does it mean for you? and WHO should you take advice from? Well the first thing to understand is that everyone from this line this way high on the Pareto curve - those people - all strategies work! Everything they try to do works! The business comes to them. Everyone on this side (the rest of us) in most of our markets no strategy is great - every strategy needs to be trying to become a name in a place so who should you take advice from?

You should take advice from people who have proven themselves to repeatedly get people like you from down here up there. That's it. Don't take advice from anybody else because for those people any strategy works.

I'll take a simple example in B2B sales. There are plenty of people up here (high on Pareto curve) that tell you that cold calling doesn't work - and just make some great content and the business will come to you. Well that's fine for them! The business comes to them anyway if you're down here (bottom of curve) you need to go out and get the business you'll probably have to cold-call. 

(Paradoxically) Should Richard Branson decide to cold call, by the way, he could just cold call Donald Trump and Donald Trump will take his call! Everything works for these guys down but here (at he bottom) you have to be proactive you have to be finding your place and becoming a name in that place - that's the only thing that will work for you - you've got to go out and get that place.

Up there (at the top) the business comes to them.

So I'll repeat it - you shouldn't take success advice from Richard Branson or any highly successful person because - they were lucky! you probably won't be lucky like them and what works for them won't work for you!

Something to think about Let me know what your Pareto index is - tell me in the comments see if you can calculate the pareto index for your company.

Mike Adams

Testimonials lead to Referrals and MORE business!

Your customers like and appreciate your services more than you think!

How do we know? Because we routinely talk with our client's customers in 'testimonial calls' and the results are usually gratifying and surprising.

However, most of the business and sales people we work with really do not appreciate the true value of the products and services their company provides.

If you think about it, it makes sense. When your customers contact you its usually because something isn't working as promised or they need something. In each case they are thinking about themselves, not you and your business.

We all know that the single best way to win a new customer is to be referred or recommended by an existing customer but what is the best way to get referrals?

There are three broad approaches:

  1. Wait for your customer to refer you

  2. Ask directly for a referral

  3. Use a testimonial gathering process and be offered referrals

The first approach, known as the HOPE strategy, looks problematic for most businesses. Even if your best customers would happily refer you, they probably won't think to do so and if they do, they probably do not appreciate what a good referral would be for your business.

In the second approach (the ASK strategy) most people will either wait until the customer has expressed satisfaction or they assume benefits have been received and ask directly

"it looks like this is working well for you, do you know anyone else that would appreciate our services?".

The persuasive principles in play are LIKING (Customer thinks, 'I like you so I'll give you what you ask for') and/or RECIPROCITY - 'You've given me something(good service, for example) and I should give you something in return'. This approach certainly works but most people are not comfortable asking.

The third approach is more subtle, much more effective and is the main focus of this article. This technique uses priming or 'presuasion'** to invoke the more powerful persuasive principle of CONSISTENCY so that a customer will become, as a matter of identity, someone who routinely gives you things including referrals.

It starts with testimonial gathering. Rather than fish for complements yourself, it works better if you use a third party (like us) to ask on your behalf. You introduce us to your best customers, we call them and gently guide them to say nice things about your service. The recorded phone calls are typically 10-15 minutes in duration and we average one testimonial per minute of call.

So, if we call five of your best customers, you will likely receive about fifty testimonials you can use for your website and marketing materials

But it gets better.

Towards the end of the call we ask two questions:

"Have you ever referred <my client> to others in your network?"  


"Would you be willing to refer them?".

Your customer is now thinking about the best referral possibilities just after they have praised your service - this is ideal.

There are several other advantages to this type of testimonial gathering;

  1. Your sales people get to hear the recording of your customers describing the true value of your services. Sales people often have a mistaken opinion about the true value of their market offering and consequently use the wrong language and voice tone in their sales conversations.

  2. Your operations and customer service staff also hear the true value of your services - a motivating and pleasant change from being routinely beaten up!

  3. Your best customers are primed to be even stronger supporters of your business.

  4. Mystery buyers browsing your website will be powerfully persuaded by reference examples in their own language - the language of the buyer.

Does it sound too good too be true? Ask us about this service and we'll refund our fee if you are not delighted with the results.


*In this article we use the word 'customer' to denote either 'customer' or 'client'

**Presuasion - a term coined by the psychologist Robert Cialdini and the title of his

latest book.

Photo credit:

The Coaching Habit - Seven Questions to Manage Sales People (Book Review)

A few years ago I received a call from one of my sales managers to tell me that our best sales person had just resigned. I was new to the company and the sales person didn't report directly to me, none-the-less this news was like a punch to the stomach. It hurt. I knew he was leaving because of the company's actions and that losing him was going to impact our overall sales performance.

Sales Leaders do you know what's troubling your sales people right now?

Which ones are motivated? How committed are they to their sales objectives? Will they stay with you? What would help them perform better?

Like to find out ...?

Then read and apply the lessons in

The Coaching Habit

.A brilliant, beguilingly simple book by Australian turned Canadian author Michael Bungay Stanier. This book gives you tools to understand an otherwise opaque and unpredictable entity - the mind of a sales person - and it will help you get (much) more from your people. I love this book.

The book is structured around seven 'type questions' for coaching and is supported by the latest neuroscience on habit management.

Here is a brief peek at the seven questions....

1. What's on your mind? [The Kick start Question]

What's on your mind? <silence>. No prompting, no teaching no instructions. Just a simple question and wait for an answer. When you get an answer, no comment or advice, just ask the next question:

2. And what else? [The AWE Question]

The awe question allows your coachee to think more deeply and create options that can be prioritised with:

3. What's the real challenge for you here? (And what else?) [The Focus Question]

What is the real challenge for you? This focus question combined with the awe question will provide answers to questions posed at the beginning of this article. Now you know what is troubling them...but don't need to do anything. Lets help our coachee learn to solve her own problems

4. What do you want? [The Foundation Question]

The foundation question and the lazy question(below) gets your coachee doing their own problem solving. Your role is to listen carefully and prompt for more.

5. How can I help? [The Lazy Question]

This is not an offer of help, its just asking how could I help - they must think about it. You may make a gentle suggestion but as far as possible let the solution grow from them.

6. What are you saying no to? [The Strategic Question]

Often when we are overwhelmed and unsure the best path its because we fail to consider this strategic question.

7. What was most useful for you? [The Learning Question]

Your have just taken someone through a mind opening exercise, helped them layout solution options and prioritise the best next step. The learning question allows them to appreciate the process, replay it in their minds and solidify their learning.

What a remarkable series of questions! Buy yourself a copy, if you have people reporting to you this book will repay itself immediately.


The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

Feb 29, 2016


Michael Bungay Stanier

The Lost Art of Cold Calling [Book Review]

Book Review:

The Lost Art of Cold Calling

- by  Matt Wanty, 2017

Perhaps no topic in the sales blogo-sphere inspires more religious zeal than the topic of cold calling.

"Cold calling is dead!", "Social media is king!"-  shout the LinkedIn headlines.

Then along comes a short book that quietly and humorously shows that cold calling is far from dead in 2017. In fact it is more effective than ever, as our customers drown in email and social media 'cadences',

The lost art of a conversation on the phone is still a critically important sales skill.

Matt Wanty claims that the ability to "open a door with a cold call is

“The single greatest feat a sales person can accomplish”

It's the grand slam in the World Series, a Royal Flush at the Poker Championships ..."

and I agree with him.

"Cold calling is control, I decide to call you when I want to call you".

Here is the reason that cold calling is totally relevant in 2017; The true value of your products and services  cannot be explained in an email, marketing flyer or a voicemail. If it could, then your company doesn't need sales people. The true value of your products and services can only be explained with a conversation!

. That means that new business can only come from:

  • A referral - good if you can get enough of those

  • A chance meeting, for example at a network event - also great but a limited source for many companies

  • Cold calling

I was going to summarise some of the excellent techniques from the book but its simpler to just recommend you buy* and read it - its a short read that will easily pay for itself!

You will learn

  • How to select the most appropriate people to call

  • How to avoid irritating that person as you attempt to connect

  • How to effectively mix email and voicemail with telephone calling

  • How to persist

  • What to say when you manage to get through

For a comprehensive prospecting training course that includes all of Matt's techniques and more, please have a look at our

Story Prospecting Online Course course.

*There is no commercial arrangement between Growth in Focus and the author or publisher.

Sales Competitions - Do they Work? Really?

When I joined a certain North American company as hemisphere head of sales (don't check my LinkedIn! ) they had just announced the President's club winners. The largest deal of the year was made in Anonymesia.

I wanted to understand that deal and interviewed the main players and the customer. There's no doubt that our Anonymesia country manager was the deal architect and main sales person. She was a personal friend of the customer CEO and she made the deal.

So who went to President's club?

The rookie sales guy ....and ....the country manager's boss who was not even based in country! Two people that contributed almost nothing to the deal of the year. That president's club decision triggered a collapse of the entire workforce in Anonymesia including the loss of a great country manager.

Let's play a different movie ...

My first job out of university was as field engineer with the oilfield services multi-national, Schlumberger.

Our training cohort assembled in Singapore in bright new coveralls for fire-fighting and first aid training; three Indonesians, two Australians, two Americans, two French, two Egyptians, one Japanese, one Lebanese, one Venezuelan, one Malaysian one Thai and one Palestinian on a forged Tunisian passport (another story) We were to be trained to operate electronic survey instruments which are lowered deep in oil wells to measure rock and fluid properties.

After a week in Singapore there was one month familiarisation on an oil rig, before three months intensive training. During the familiarisation, I got a picture from experienced engineers of what that training would be like:

“Its hell! You have an exam every week and if you fail, they kick you out. You hardly get any sleep and there is a 24 hour exam at the end”.

When we got to the training centre, a few kilometres south of Medan in Sumatra, the regime was indeed, tough. Long days of theory and practical tasks through the week and all day Saturday to study for a weekly exam. Sundays were free but we were mostly exhausted from unfamiliar labour.

Within a couple of weeks, both Egyptians and one of the Indonesians were fired for failing tests.

Their failure was not through lack of intelligence, trainees were selected from the top of their universities. No, the weekly competitive 'scoreboard' showed the obvious reason; good English speakers at the top, poor English speakers at the bottom.

The failures were affecting group morale and the schedule was too intense. We got together and hatched a plan.

A deal was offered to the training school manager; we guaranteed a 100% pass rate in return for testing on Friday evenings to allow a full weekend for relaxation. The training centre manager was sceptical, this was unheard of in 33 previous schools, he was convinced we would fail, but he agreed.

We changed our study routine to include intensive tutoring for the non-English speakers and we studied in mixed-nationality groups.

The results were instantaneous, a dramatic improvement at the bottom of the list. Our weekends were spent exploring North Sumatra, touring the volcanic island in Lake Toba on motorcycles, crossing Sumatra to the west coast surf beaches, climbing an active volcano and lazing on the beach on the East coast.

By graduation day we were a tight knit team of friends with the highest pass rate in the history of the training centre.

So, Sales Leaders, before you create internal sales competitions you may like to consider:

Is the competition fair? 

Does everyone in your team even speak the language? It’s common that only a small proportion of sales teams can speak 'sales'. Furthermore, I’ve yet to see a sales team with equal territories, so what is the basis for competition?

Can your objectives be achieved another way? 

Maybe your team can achieve your objective on their own terms? Are you willing to listen to what they want?

You are not the only leader.

It is likely that you have team members that can also lead, are you willing to give them an opportunity to show what they can do?.


Here are some photos from that happy time. Apologies for the poor image quality.

Top photos - At the Medan Training Centre ITC34, Nabil and Heru

Lower Photos - First month oil rig familiarisation, offshore Sulawesi

The Author operating state of the art technology, circa 1985

Our happy band of brothers weekend touring - Lake Toba, Padang, Volcanoes and Beaches, 

Francois, Katsuaki, Jeswant, Jim, Nabil, Peter, Phil, Jose.

Seven Ways to Win Tenders by Thinking like a Military Commander

Imagine how easy selling would be if you knew exactly what was happening with your future customer, if you could read your customer's mind?

A long time ago I was a new account executive for a large international conglomerate and responsible for selling mobile network equipment to an Australian telecommunications company. Our product range was vast but our insight into the customer's situation was limited as we were not incumbent in their network.

We were invited to tender for a mobile network sub-system.

I didn't know much about that technology, so downloaded the 150 slide PowerPoint pack. Behold! It appeared that we were quite credible and had significant success delivering this technology to other companies around the world.

Our senior management was keen to bid even though we had little idea about our customer's specific situation, how they perceived our technology or how they viewed the market.

It was an expensive tender response requiring several man-months of effort by technical experts in Europe, Asia and Australia. Post submission, international experts were flown in for presentations and everyone was hopeful for success in what would be a several tens of million dollar deal.

After a couple of weeks we were told that we made the short list and there followed a barrage of clarification requests. Good news!

And then nothing ....

Then, more nothing ...

Calls to the procurement were met with a polite

"We are still in the evaluation phase"

Our management was getting nervous.

"Maybe we should drop the price?"

 my boss suggested.

"But, we have no way of knowing whether price is an issue, we're prevented from talking with the customer"

 I said

"Well it can't hurt ..." 

was the reply.

We dropped our price twice by more than a million dollars.

No response.

Four months later, we received a one paragraph message informing us that our bid was unsuccessful.

After the tender communication blackout period, I met with the customer's lead technical representative to find out what had happened.

I learnt that our two competitors were the customer's main equipment supplier of other sub-systems (Let's call them A) and a niche company (B) that was the incumbent supplier of the sub-system being tendered.

Incumbent, B, was not well regarded and there was a clear intent to replace them. Our solution was considered the best overall fit by the customer's scoring system taking all factors into consideration and systems integration rather than price was the key scoring factor.

So why didn't we win?

Well, after the tender submission, Competitor A engaged in a negotiation far wider than the tender scope and the customer saw an opportunity for significant savings in other parts of their network. Eventually those negotiations broke down.

By that time, however, Incumbent B's contract was expiring and there was insufficient time to proceed with any supplier other than B. So the least preferred supplier won the deal. 

This a sales failure story. It was my responsibility to know what was going on and in this deal I was mostly clueless. I didn't even know that the customer had a high opinion of our technology.

Like a General in war you normally don't have the full picture in a sales engagement, if you could, the job would be easy, none-the-less ...

It's the sales person's responsibility to know what is going on!

How to see through the fog and plot your way to victory with better visibility?

Let's think like a General.

1. Reconnaissance

Only foolhardy commanders charge into battle without knowing the lay of the land and the distribution of the enemy's troops. Reconnaissance means carefully mapping the customer's organisation and the personal and business goals of the buying committee, well before the tender. You can do this with networking events, demonstration events, teaching opportunities, technology trials even charitable events.

Even more effective is a pre-battle skirmish

2. Skirmish

A skirmish is a minor engagement before the main battle that allows a commander to gauge the quality of the enemy troops and their fighting style. In sales, a skirmish is selling a small thing before you sell the big thing.

If we had sold a one million dollar item twelve months before the tens of million dollar tender, we would have learnt who the main players were, the customer's decision making style, their politics and their procurement and contracting process. This technique is so effective that it is worth building into your sales process.

3. Propaganda

Otherwise known as marketing, propaganda is an attempt position your solution via advertising and other means, well ahead if the battle. A powerful form of propaganda is a well-crafted oral story that self-propagates through the customer organisation. These stories often go under the acronym of FUD - fear, uncertainty and doubt but hope, vision and success stories are more powerful. You can read one of one of my favourite propaganda stories here

4. Espionage

Alright, I'm on shaky moral ground but this has to be mentioned. When you are selling to large organisations there is always someone that will say more than they should. I've noticed, for example, that smoker's seem to know more about a customer organisation than non-smokers. Why? Because they stand outside the customer's office and chat with the customer's smokers, there is a secret brotherhood there.

The customer 'coach' that you read about in sales text books is really a double agent and other vendors in adjacent technologies have sister spy networks. I won't say more.

5. Night vision scopes and drones

These are the questioning, listening and observation skills that help you to figure out what is really going on in each customer engagement.

Think of your questions like rifle shots

"Are you the decision maker?"

- answer, yes (This is wild shot in the dark and a MISS - you probably learnt nothing and wasted ammunition)

"Could you explain how this sort of decision is normally made in your company?" -

Detailed customer response (HIT, we scored reliable information)

There is an entire library of these information seeking questions that every sales person needs to master. Our Story Meeting online training course is great place to start learning these questions.

6. Surveillance

Social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook provide us with far more information about our customer organisations that I could have dreamed of at the time of my tender story. These  networks are like listening devices planted throughout customer's offices, all you need to do is tune in!

7. Interrogate Captured Customers

I'm not suggesting that you sneak out and kidnap key customer representatives (that's illegal, by the way), however if you know how to pull it off, your customer will willingly volunteer all the information you need about their critical needs, preferred buying patterns, how they view your competitors and what they really think of your company.

It's performed, usually as a consulting service, in the form of a face-to-face survey called an

Industry Perspective Audit

, or similar. These surveys can be extremely informative but they must be carried out by a skilled practitioner well before a tender so you can act on the results.

Sales people, to win competitive tenders,you need to think like a military commander and figure out what is really going on in your future customer's organisation. That is your job!

Ask! And you shall receive

One of the most important lessons in sales...

Here we look at one of the training videos from our

Story Prospecting online training course

This video is about asking for the business.

You're reaching out to someone you don’t know and you doing it because you want something. You want to do business with that person

How are you doing it?

Are you asking directly for it? Or are you giving something first?

That's what this video is about.

We’re calling a potential client because of the problems that we can solve for them and at some point in our call we need to explicitly or implicitly ask for something.  [Pointing to Framework Image] This is the zone where we need to ask.

But do we ask or give?

Let’s start by thinking about your company’s brand awareness and with the differentiation of your products and services.

When I was selling for big corporations like Siemens and Nokia I had high brand awareness. When I picked up the phone to call a client I’d say “This is Mike Adams and I'm calling from Siemens”. I had instant brand credibility. (Unfortunately I often didn't have a highly differentiated product so it wasn't such an easy selling environment.)

[Points to graph] If you have a highly differentiated unique product and a very high brand awareness, you don't need sales people.  You just need marketing and your customers come to you.

So normally we're in a situation where one or other of these [Pointing to graph] is not working so well - we need to move up to the easy corner of the graph.

It's very difficult if we have low brand awareness - they've never heard of us - and we have poor offering differentiation.

When I started in our consulting business I went from working for a large corporations with high brand awareness to no brand awareness at all. In fact, when we first started we also had poor product differentiation. We were pitching general sales training and that's a poorly differentiated offering. 

Eventually we worked out that we needed to be more differentiated and we started offering free tickets to companies that had sales teams to come to our Story workshops. That served two purposes; people came along and suddenly we were not an unknown brand - they spent a whole day with us. Our brand awareness increased but also our differentiation increased because they got to see our products and services and understand how we were different and unique.  So, giving away a ticket was a way to get ourselves up that path.  [Points to graph]

Just step back a minute and think about prospecting. We are reaching out to people we don't know [Points to diagram]. There is an alternative to reaching out, as in a sales effort, and that is with marketing we can try to draw a prospect company towards us.

We normally do a combination of marketing and sales. Good sales people really do understand marketing and they get involved in marketing. The big advantage for sales people doing targeted marketing is  that it increases their brand awareness and their product differentiation and it takes a difficult prospecting call and makes it that little bit easier. 

Thinking further about the outreach that you could have in terms of marketing. Can you associate with a well-known brand?  Can you partner with a better known brand or a better known product or service? Maybe you can be the agent for a better known product or service?  That's another way to increase your brand awareness.

If you have a variety of products and services, then lead with your most differentiated service. That should be obvious but we didn't do it when we started it our consulting business. It wasn't until we really differentiated some services and we were able to lead with those differentiated services that we could bring in the other services. 

As you become a brand, once you're understood and known it’s much easier to introduce less differentiated services. 

Now to the main point of the video - asking and giving.

If we think of a continuum, where all the way over here [Points to line on graph] is what I call the big ask -  I'm going to ring someone up and ask them directly to buy on the phone, for example. That’s very difficult and you would need a highly differentiated very good offer.

But I could ring them up with a small ask such as 10 minutes on the phone at another time or a 20 minute meeting.  Those would be small asks.  

But it's also worth thinking about a small ‘give’ or a big ‘give’. 

With our Story Workshops, we gave away tickets which was was a fairly big ‘give’ but it got us a lot of business. It was a way in.  So think about giving something which, by the way, is still asking because the customer has to send somebody which costs them time.  There's always something that the customer has to give you when you give them something but it can be a very good way to overcome the problem of unknown brand and poor differentiation from the customer’s perspective. 

So what we are doing by giving something away, in the case of our Story Workshops is moving up the brand awareness line here [points at graph] and increasing our offering differentiation at the same time. 

There are two psychological principles at work. 

The first is called reciprocity.

That's is when I give something.  If I give you something, you feel obligated to give back. In some cultures that's a very powerful thing. When you go to countries and they are commonly giving gifts you can be pretty sure that reciprocity is playing a big part in that culture. It can be highly uncomfortable for people in these cultures to not be able to give back.  They feel obligated.

And that's the reason, by the way, that there's lots of free downloads on the internet - download my free eBook etc. They're getting your email address (a small ask) but they're also creating an obligation so that they can ask for something a little bit further down the track. The classic Internet marketing trick is give once, give twice, give three times and then ask for something.

However, Sales people have known for a long time that more powerful than reciprocity is the persuasive principle of commitment to consistency.

This happens when your future customer gives you something.

When they give you something it's a wonderful thing because when they give you something they identify with the fact that they are someone who gives you something.  So if you were to ask for something else, the chance is high that they will give again.

Your chance of getting something from someone who has already given you something is much higher than with someone who has never given you anything.

And that's why getting a small thing such as a meeting, such as time on the phone, such as information, such as complete this survey … means that they're much more likely to give you bigger thing in the future and that's actually how big deals are done. Big deals are not done all in one go. They're a progression of small give and take.  You ask, they give, you ask for more, they give more, you ask for even more…. and that's the principle of commitment to consistency - their internal consistency – and it's a wonderful thing.

Here's the critical message from this video;

You need to ask!

You absolutely have to find a way to get to the next step.  It's no good having a conversation with your future customer and not getting them to give you something.  You can get them to give you something by giving them something, or you can directly ask. In my opinion both are ‘asking’. But you need to ask.

This is a very important sales lesson.

Magicians, Marines and Medics - Understanding Sales Roles

A long time ago, when working on oil rigs, I was told there are two types of welder; the type that can weld all day on a pipeline and the type that can perform intricate repairs.

“Don’t ever mix ‘em up!” I was admonished.

We’ve been told forever, there are two types of sales people, hunters and farmers. The problem with this classification is there are two types of hunter and you had better not mix them up!

So, allow us to introduce three sales personas that will help you think more effectively about managing and developing sales teams.


These are the new business developers who can open up a new geography, crack the first market with a new product or bring in unexpected mega deals. Every sales person likes to think they are one but true sales magicians are rare, exceedingly rare.

Also called rainmakers, magicians work without a sales process because they have to create one for each new sales problem.

Magicians may carry a business card titled “Business Development” but it could also say Founder, General Manager, Business Manager, Principal Consultant, Product Specialist or Market Strategist.

Magicians are extraordinarily curious and creative in the process of moulding and sculpting their own organisation and a future client organisation into two shapes that match each other.

The Magician’s work may sometimes look like good fortune but if you make the mistake of thinking that and of allowing others to take credit for their success, then be ready to find another magician.

After Magicians weave their magic, sales and business managers can create a sales process and send in Marines to systematically expand from the beachhead.


Marines work a territory and follow a well-understood sales process. Through training or by character, Marines are well suited to a type of dirty work that most do not enjoy; such as contacting people they don’t know, being rejected on occasion and handling the pressure of meeting financial targets each quarter. Great Marines are also rare but not as rare as Magicians.

We need not concern ourselves about whether they are ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ Marines, there are plenty of drone pilot Marines these days but they all follow a process and they all count their wins.

Marines are disciplined, focused and appreciate that the harder they work the more business they write, so they play the numbers game. Magicians do not work this way, indeed, casual observation of a magician may lead you to describe them as lazy.

Which leaves …


Medics care about the long term health of their client patients. These are the account managers and customer care specialists that ensure a healthy outcome for the company’s customers.

Software as a Service companies, call this role Customer Success Manager, and these have become the most important sales people in that industry. Medics carefully grow a nascent customer from zero and quickly patch up any haemorrhages.

Medics are concerned about  maintaining a long term healthy customer relationship. They are highly qualified in their technology area and held in high regard by the customers they support.

Let’s use this terminology and thinking to shed light on some otherwise difficult to understand sales situations.

Start Up and Fast Growing Companies

We are often asked about the best type of sales people for start-up and fast growing young companies. Hiring the wrong type of sales person at an early stage can be catastrophic for a new company.

Early stage business development usually requires Magicians, if the company founders don’t have that skill, they need to find one and pay well. After the market entry has been cracked, start-ups need a sales consultant (or sales manager) to design a process for the Marines. As a rule, neither Magicians nor Marines are well suited to designing a sales process.

The typical sales role sequence as a business grows look like this

And another way to visualise this is by considering the market adoption cycle


ales roles required as a market develops

Mixed Roles

What if you need one person to be a combination of Magician, Marine and Medic?

That question just about answers itself doesn’t it?

Of course people are somewhat adaptable. You could get medic work from a magician but that would be a waste of talent. A Marine can be more customer focused but neither the Medic nor the Marine is likely to succeed at the Magician’s role.

For each of your sales positions you should be clear about whether the role is primarily Magician, Marine or Medic and look for candidates that fit those skill sets.

Personality or Skill?

It might seem that we are describing personality types but these are skill sets that exhibit certain behaviours and that is an important distinction. A recurring error in sales recruitment is to recruit based on personality type. Research shows only a weak causal relationship between personality type and sales success, so we strongly recommend that you test for relevant skills.

Almost every sales candidate will try to present themselves as a Magician. If you need a Magician you better have a process for testing whether they have those skills. If you need a Marine or a Medic, don’t hire a Magician and similarly, test for Marine and Medic skills.


The next time you read or hear


advice ask yourself; 

      "What type of sales role is this advice relevant for?

Few sales 'tip' articles will make the distinction but generic sales advice is generally useless unless it distinguishes between the Magician, Marine and Medic roles.

Next Article

In my last article I posed the question "How do you keep good sales people?". Next article I will answer that question using the insight of Magicians, Marines and Medics.


Picture Credits - images adapted from

Sales Skill Training in Pictures

Pretty much every sales team we work with has a ranked performance chart that looks like the one above.

If only every one in the team was as as skilled as your best sales person! (Green Bar). You could more than double your revenue.

How to increase Sales Skill Level?

You could put them all in a general training class, which they will probably enjoy and receive some benefit (Yellow Boxes)

But it costs you a few days of lost selling time,  not all will benefit and ...they forget fairly quickly without reinforcement ...

Then you lose some people ...and that general training investment return really looks slim.

What about  a program of assessed coached development instead?

Each sales person works first on the most important skill for their role and development level

Each person is motivated by the coaching attention and increased success.You retain your staff and they are more successful. Coloured boxes below represent the impact of different focussed training modules

Five steps to Landing the Deal

A few years ago I read Propellerhead, Antony Woodward’s highly amusing account of learning to fly. The book starts with Antony’s friend Richard returning to England from Africa with a pilot’s license and instant sex appeal! The magical effect of a pilot’s license on conversations with the fairer sex fuelled Antony’s motivation to learn to fly.

Richard and Antony could only afford part shares in a flimsy microlight but they found a third partner with inexpensive hanger space and low cost instruction in country Norfolk where they would escape to from London for weekends flying.

Unfortunately, Antony proved to be a singularly unskilled pilot. While his friends quickly acquired their microlight certifications, Antony struggled with all aspects of piloting but especially landing. He had absorbed the theory, practised with instructors but when it was his turn to land it all went horribly wrong.

The epiphany for Antony was the realisation that 'the plane lands itself”!

All Antony needed to do was put the aircraft on the right landing path and the plane lands itself. Antony had an erroneous belief that there was a complex action that he needed to perform at the moment of touch down.

And so it is with sales.

There is a widely held, erroneous belief that there are secret tricks to ‘close the deal’.

Yes,there is a secret but it’s not in the landing, it’s in understanding and managing the landing flight path.

Flight Path Step 1 – Buyer Commitment to Change

Every sale involves change for the buyer. If the buyer doesn’t feel the need for change then, not surprisingly, nothing happens! Depending on what you sell, more than half of stagnant deals in your pipeline can be attributed to failing at this first hurdle.

Questions to ask:

“So what are you planning to do about <this issue>?”

Asking potential customer’s about their plans for solving their own business challenges is illuminating, it signals intent. Few sales people ask this question. You can lock in that intent with another question:

“Would you say there is an important need to change < Situation >?”

Rather than you say there is a need to change, you want them to say they will change. Then the psychological law of ‘consistency’ comes into play. People want to be consistent with their own pronouncements.

Flight Path Step 2 – Commitment to Change Now!

The larger and more significant the deal, the more important it is for there to be a compelling event. In general, we humans don’t like to change and we won’t unless we are compelled somehow.

These questions can tease this out:

“Where does this project fit in your priorities?”

“What is it costing you to continue like this?”

“What will happen if you don’t make this change?”

Cost of delay, Success and Future Success (promised land) stories can persuasively move a future customer to take action now.  All of these stories should be in your sales team Story Library.

Flight Path Step 3 – Commitment to your Solution Type

For every business challenge there is normally a range of solution possibilities. You may propose productivity software (for example) but your customer could also choose to outsource or hire low cost labour to solve her productivity problem.

Gaining commitment to your solution type requires a good understanding of your competition and the relative benefits of different solution types. Many sales people think far too narrowly about who their competitors may be.

Having understood the competitive landscape, your job now is to get the customer to commit to benefits of your solution type and disavow the failings of competitive solutions.

“Would you say that <insert your advantage> is a critical requirement?”

“So you are seeking to avoid <competitor’s weakness>?”

Again we are employing the psychological law of consistency to get the customer to announce intentions in favour of your solution type.

Flight Path Step 4 – Commitment to You

The customer is now committed to your solution type but why buy from you and not a similar competitor?

Often this commitment is personal and the psychological principle of “liking” comes into play. All things being equal people will do business with people they know and like. The most natural way to invoke ‘liking’ is to find your future customer likeable. The persuasive law of reciprocity says that if someone likes us we will like them back. Engaging in rapport building with two-way personal stories also increases likeability.

Again the psychological law of consistency applies. If you have persistently asked for and received small commitments from your future customer, you become someone your customer gives things to. To be consistent, she should also be inclined to give you the final deal.

I wouldn’t like to give the impression that the sales person need only apply persuasion techniques to win business. By this stage of discussion a solid financial business case should also have been created. Ideally co-created with the customer buying team.

Flight Path Step 5 – Commitment to Pay

Finally we are at closing the deal. At this stage there is often an emotional disagreement over price or terms and conditions. Be aware this is just a normal desire by the buyer to reduce the risk of making a mistake - your buyer's natural fear of a crash landing!

Your future customer is asking herself Will I be fired?, Will it work as advertised?, Am I paying too much?

Your task as the seller is to reassure the buyer that she is on a safe landing path, If you have locked in the first four commitments, it will be ok, reiterate those commitments and retell the ‘promised land’ story.

Happy Landings!



For details on psychological laws and principles of persuasion in sales, see Robert Cialdini’s,

Influence The, Psychology of Persuasion

, Harper Collins 1984, in which six basic forms of influence are described

The Master Persuader

Trump Image2.JPG
Donald Trump addresses his supporters in Hershey, Pennsylvania - 4/11/16

DISCLAIMER: This is a technical analysis, we do not support or endorse any political candidate

Us salespeople use persuasion techniques everyday in our business interactions - with varying degrees of success.

Donald Trump is a master of persuasive speech and this article shares some observations on why he is so persuasive so you may understand an otherwise baffling phenomenon.

If you’ve been following previous posts you’ll know that we use a graphical display to get a one page view of sales conversations. To date, we have not tested a salesperson who employed than five persuasive elements in a single sales conversation.

Donald Trump, by comparison is off the charts for use of persuasion elements, and we had to invent a range of new symbols just to show what he is doing with seventy separate persuasive elements in a single speech.

Without making any commentary or assessment of his political skill or suitability for the presidential role, we have analysed a 48-minute speech delivered in Hershey Pennsylvania on the 4th November 2016 solely to understand and expose his technique.

You can see and listen to the full speech here, our analysis graph starts at the 2:07 minute mark.

First let's look at Donald's conversation chart and then the symbols will be explained.

Conversation Analysis of Donald Trump's Campaign Speech.
(Hershey Pennsylvania, 4th Nov 2016)

The persuasion techniques highlighted by the colour symbols in the conversation graph are:

Social Proof - Others are doing it so you should too.  Trump uses social proof seven times in this speech. "...there are 7000 people outside that can't get in "

Authority - This <authority> believes in me, so you should too. Used five times in the speech. ".. I'm honoured to receive the endorsement of more than 200 admirals and generals"

Story - Stories are used to wrap a message in an emotional container and deliver it unrecognised to the emotional brain. Trump tells five short stories and brings onto the stage the mother of a Trump campaigner that died (in a road accident, I believe). The Mother, spends six minutes delivering a story whose only purpose is to show Trump is person who cares about the common people.

Liking - Subtly mixed with the persuasive technique of reciprocity, Trump states that " a matter of fact, I like you much more than you like me"
Scarcity - Buy now because this is your only chance! Trump uses scarcity at the end of his speech. " more chance like this ..this is your last chance "

Flattery - Needs no explanation. Used three times. " ...we all have great ideas "

In-Group - we are powerfully inclined to support and agree with those in our group. Trump uses 'in group" persuasion on seven occasions. "Maybe because I went to school in Pennsylvania"

Language Techniques

Trumps use of language is unusual and persuasive. There is frequent repetition with hypnotic pacing and rhythm. 

Word Play - In this category I include metaphoric language and alliteration. Good or positive messages are repeated with verbs and soft consonants such as "...real change, repealing and replacing Obama Care". Bad or negative points are made with hard consonants "Hillary's pay for play corruption ..."  or "bad instincts, bad judgement"  repeated three times.

Metaphors - More than thirty examples in the speech. When Trump calls for the audience to "drain the swamp"  (The Washington political elite), he foreshadows the metaphor by saying he thought it was a bit hokey (cliche') then gives himself permission to use the cliche.

Hyperbole - depending on your definition, there are at least five examples of extreme hyperbole, "...killing innocent Americans, threatening schools and destroying communities"

Contrast - Old way vs. new way, good vs. bad. "Hillary Clinton is the failed politician of yesterday" - then Trump contrasts with a future story of tomorrow.

Humour - particularly in-group humour as a means to get people to accept you. "just a little rumour regarding the FBI, you may have heard?”

Repetition -  A hallmark of Trump's speaking style - measured, rhythmic, hypnotic repetition. The instances are almost too numerous to count. "we win, we win, we win" repeated over and over

Number Play - Hijacking our numerical prediction engine with carefully selected numbers. "not 700 -  not 7000 - but 70,000 American factories closed down

You can see a table describing the 70 persuasion elements and the emotions triggered by each element here. >>>

The entire speech appeals to emotion, there is almost no attempt to persuade through logical argument. As part of the analysis we also list the emotions engendered by each persuasion element. The count is as follows and you can also see them listed in this full table

Emotions Engendered (by frequency) in the Pennsylvania Speech

Pride - 10 times, Anger - 9, Belonging - 7, Fear - 6, Disgust - 2, Sadness/Loss - 1, Urgency - 1

Existential emotions such as fear and anger are the most persuasive.

As you can see from this analysis, Donald Trump is a master at persuading others to take action and sales people can learn from him. However, like a black belt in martial arts it is the responsibility of the master to use these weapons judiciously and ethically.


The author does not support or endorse any political candidate. The purpose of this blog is to make visible psychological persuasion techniques utilised by one of the candidates. Like any tool these techniques can be used for good or evil, depending on your perspective.

Your Personal Story

In mid 2015, The Story Leader CEO, Mike Adams, met a Perth-based managing director (MD) and company owner in Melbourne at an industry trade show. They had a brief chat about sales team performance and agreed to meet when Mike was next in Perth.

Unfortunately, each time Mike went to Perth, the MD was somewhere else in the world. It seemed like they would never meet. After five attempts to schedule a meeting, Mike emailed the MD and suggested that he meet his Perth-based business partner, Sue Findlay, instead.

Mike received a one-line email reply:

"Ok I'll meet her, but we're not buying anything".

Hardly a response to motivate an already nervous Sue, whose background is in procurement and not sales.

Mike and Sue setup a practice meeting via conference call and Sue practised telling her story about why she founded our consulting company.

That story is about Sue's frustration with sales people who seemed unable to supply the critical information required for the tender submissions - submissions that Sue crafted for her clients in her tender-writing business.

Sue went to the meeting while Mike waited anxiously in Melbourne.

A couple of hours later, an excited Sue called Mike and explained how she had told her story and the MD responded with:

"Welcome to my world, lets go to a whiteboard ..."

We are happy to report that this company is now a valued client.

By telling her personal story, Sue connected with the MD on an emotional level. They had a shared frustration with sales performance and the story made an immediate connection. Of course, there was more work to do to prove our credentials but our fledgling company had a new client.


Your Company Story

Do you know that telling the story o how and why your company exists can be a secret sales weapon?

How do your sales people describe your company today? Many describe their company rather than tell a story and it often sounds like this;

"We are the largest/best/most innovative/most successful company in <pick your sector>".

There is a better way.

For thousands of generations, humans have used stories to memorably engage, inspire and educate. Your sales people can use the same technique with your company story,  

IF you take the trouble to prepare that story for them.

Our consulting company, has only been in existence for eighteen months but the story about why we exist has helped us engage with several early clients.

Here is an example of a company creation story that we helped create for one of our clients.

If you work for a large corporation then a story about your company division or geographical territory may be more persuasive such as Mike's story from 

Schlumberger in Russia

Zen Mind - Sales Mind Games - Part 2 [Video]

Video Transcript  >>>>

Mike Adams, back with part 2 of sales conversation mind games.

In Part 1, I talked about how a sales person with a bright shining sales idea can use questions, teaching, metaphors and stories to prove the value of that idea to a prospective customer.

Most vendor organisations (and I've worked in quite a few) put tremendous focus  on the bright shining idea – they stockpile them, count them, forecast them, track them on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis .... They make PowerPoint presentations, write blog posts about them …all this effort directed at the bright shining idea.

Unfortunately, your customer can tell that you are 


 mainly only your idea and not on them – it’s a difficult thing to hide.

But what if you were able to meet  - with no sales agenda? With an empty, Zen mind?

That's something good business development people can do. I define business development as creating and proving a new sales process and you just cannot do that while 


 on your products and services - the green square.

It’s interesting, that often non-technical people and outsiders from your business can succeed in business development where insiders fail.

That's because they don’t know about and are not wedded to the green square – they take a curious, imaginative and open attitude in their customer conversations.

A conversation, 


 on the customer’s outcome, is simply not possible with an overt sales agenda. 

But an open agenda, a blank mind, allows the business developer to learn about the customer’s goals, challenges and plans (draws yellow shapes) and importantly to see the white space – the shape of areas that the customer does not appreciate about his business and your area of expertise.

When you have understood and built this mental picture you are in a position to facilitate meetings between your own organisation, the customer 

and relevant third parties to develop solutions that can radically affect your customer’s business.

If you have been in sales for a while, I challenge you to have an agenda-free conversation 


 only on the customer’s outcome and see how that feels and what results.

So in part 1 we looked at the mind of the sales person using effective persuasion techniques such as questions, stories, metaphors and teaching. Now in part 2 we see the mind of the business developer. Both mindsets are critical to growing your business.

I'm Mike Adams. Please post a comment and join our story selling group. You can see the link below.

Thank you

Mike's other posts

Sales Mind Games - Part 1 - How to Sell

The Power of Stories. The Art of Persuasion (Part 2)

Mindjacking with Metaphors. The Art of Persuasion (Part 1)

Chasing Shadows? Three Thinking Traps to Avoid in Sales.

Six reasons why technical people don't sell and one good reason why they can

Warning! Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield

The Ponytail and why your stories must be true

Have you heard the story about how NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would work in zero gravity but the Russians were smarter – they just used pencils!

The story is told to mock profligate government spending and love of complex technology.

Checkout the story leader.png

There is only one problem with the story – it isn’t true! It’s an urban myth.

It turns out that in the early years of space travel both the Americans and the Russians used pencils in space but pencil tips can break and float into sensitive electronic equipment so a solution was needed. A private inventor developed a pen that would work in zero gravity (at a modest cost) and NASA and the Russians purchased the design.

Not such an interesting story.

What happens if you tell a story that isn’t true and you are found out?

Of course your credibility is gone. We teach sales people to use purposeful stories to build rapport and to progress their business opportunities. And credibility is a critically important resource for sales people.

So you need to find true stories …

Christmas day, 1985, I was operating an electronic survey instrument two kilometres deep in an oil well in the rice fields of Java in Indonesia. I was sick from food poisoning, homesick and in the world’s most populous Muslim country there would be no Christmas.

The oil well I was surveying had a leak – a hole in in the steel casing - and I was running an experimental ultra-sonic scanning tool that, theoretically, could measure the thickness of the casing with enough accuracy to locate a hole.

That was the theory but all I got was unintelligible data.

We winched the tool to the surface to see if it could be repaired. On the rig floor, as I was explaining to the company man that my fancy piece of equipment was not working, a rough young man with southern US accent piped up with:

“Y’all looking for a hole? I can run ya a ponytail”

It turns out that a ‘ponytail’ is a length of frayed rope attached to weight and run down hole on a slick line cable. When the frayed rope passes a hole in the casing it catches and a spike on the cable tension indicates the depth of the hole causing the leak.

A one dollar piece of frayed rope did a job that my $300,000 worth of electronics could not.  

And I had one more thing to be sick about.



Mike's other posts:

Zen Mind - Sales Mind Games - Part 2

Sales Mind Games - Part 1 - How to Sell

The Power of Stories. The Art of Persuasion (Part 2)

Mindjacking with Metaphors. The Art of Persuasion (Part 1)

Chasing Shadows? Three Thinking Traps to Avoid in Sales.

Six reasons why technical people don't sell and one good reason why they can

Warning! Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield

How to sell - Sales mind games

This video post is about the most important skill in sales - mastery of the customer conversation. 

[Video Transcript]

Hi, I'm Mike Adams.

This video post is about the most important skill in sales - mastery of the customer conversation.

To assist me with the video, I have two minds – a sales person, that we'll call ‘you’ (or me) and a prospective customer we will call ‘them’.

You’re talking with the customer because you have a bright shining idea that you are pretty sure the customer will value (Green Square).

You just need to tell the customer about how great the idea is and surely they will buy?

Unfortunately telling the customer doesn't work. All your words bounce off. All your selling statements, elevator pitches, value statements. They just bounce off.

Some bounce off here on the “I do not trust you” force field and some bounce off this thick skull – but they all bounce off because Telling(or pitching) does not work

Your pitching doesn't penetrate because the customer does not trust you and because their mind is full - full of this red stuff.

That full mind has no concept space for your idea – you see - no green square.

It would help, if we could remove the barrier and get an idea of what is going on inside your customer’s mind.

We can remove the barrier by showing that we care and that we are credible. A fantastic way to do that is to tell a short story about who we are and why we do what we do. That removes the barrier and puts our story in the customer’s mind... (there is always room for stories).

Then we might prompt the customer may tell their story – which is great! (and that story goes in our mind).

We use questions to see into their mind and uncover their aspirations, challenges and plans.

We also use questions to get the customer thinking about the issues that we think we can solve. But notice, there is still no green square in there. Questions can illuminate and they can draw attention but they do not teach or persuade.

To place the green square in the customer's mind, we could tell a story about how we helped a similar customer and encourage them to imagine themselves in that situation. We could also ask the customer if it is ok for us to teach them about green squares. To teach, we need to start with a point of reference that they already understand. Such as these red squares.

If we are really clever, we may think of an analogy, simile or metaphor which can make our green square magically appear attached to existing concept in the customer’s mind. We call this persuasion.

When we persuade in this way – with stories, teaching and metaphors, a wonderful thing happens when, later our customer meets a colleague – and transmits your green square to the colleagues mind!

Because you taught them how.

I hope you enjoyed these sales conversation mind games and I would love to read your comments.

In Part 2, I'll talk about advanced mind games and a different way to be. That is when you approach the conversation with no sales agenda - no green square.

Until then, thanks for listening. I'm Mike Adams.

Mike's other posts

The Power of Stories. The Art of Persuasion (Part 2)

Mindjacking with Metaphors. The Art of Persuasion (Part 1)

Chasing Shadows? Three Thinking Traps to Avoid in Sales.

Six reasons why technical people don't sell and one good reason why they can

Warning! Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield

The Power of Stories. The Art of Persuasion (Part 2)

I think the first time I noticed the power of stories in sales was when I was managing a sales team in Russia for Schlumberger in 2000.

Schlumberger was formed in 1926 after the invention of a technique to measure the variation of resistivity in oil wells and hence locate the oil. Today, Schlumberger is a $35 billion revenue company which dominates the oil and gas services business. But the company suffered a huge setback in the 1930s when Stalin nationalised its assets in Russia.

In the mid-1990s when Russia was opening up to western companies after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Schlumberger needed to make a decision on whether to re-enter the market. Then CEO, Euan Baird was asked how much money he was willing to risk on a Russia re-entry. Ewan’s answer was “$200 million”.

With that answer, Schlumberger set about placing senior experts and investing in two of the top six Russian oil companies. The results were astonishing. Using western techniques, the two Russian oil companies achieved dramatic production increases while their competitor’s production was falling.

I told this story many times and heard it re-told by my customers. The story’s effect was remarkable and unmistakable. The power of  stories to capture our attention lies in the narrative journey; the complications, trials and mistakes that expose the hero's vulnerabilities. Without the setback of Stalin's nationalisation the story would not have the same power.

More recently, while working to build our sales consulting company, I listened to my business partner, Sue Findlay, tell her story to a prospective customer who had already told us that he was “not buying”. Again, the story’s impact was striking and immediate. The managing director reciprocated with his story and opened up about the sales challenges they were experiencing and we have started to work with them.

The wonderful thing about learning how to use stories in sales is that it is so much easier and more natural than any other conversation method.

Mindjacking with Metaphors. The Art of Persuasion (Part 1)

Mike's other posts

Chasing Shadows? Three Thinking Traps to Avoid in Sales.

Six reasons why technical people don't sell and one good reason why they can

Warning! Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield