Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Vale Simon Price

Simon always encouraged me to add to this blog so in keeping with the theme of the blog, the sub-heading is: How to Create Demand in your client base.

Last month I attended the memorial for a much admired friend, Simon Price.

I first met Simon in about 1984 when he stuck his head around a corner and asked if I was interested in buying some ergonomic furniture.  I was working for the Country Roads Board in Kew and, in turn, had my head stuck in a PC probably trying to figure out if the GEM Desktop was going to be replaced by Windows. That he had found his way onto the first floor, along the corridor and around the corner into a small office to find me, spoke to the determination that he showed for the rest of his 48 years.

As it turned out I did not need the ergonomic furniture, but he did turn the account into a multi-million dollar revenue stream for his employer, and we forged one of those strong friendships in the IT industry that endured, albeit with some gaps in continuity.

Simon was just building his career and he was moved onto another account and I lost track of him for a few years.  His successor managed to lose the account by insisting that I buy into the IBM PS/2 architecture.  He forgot that the relationship had been built on a trust that he was not a part of.  The relationship was not with the company, it was between two people who were trying to help each other.

Some ten years later, after I had opened the Melbourne office for a NSW Distributor, Simon re-appeared as a Business Developer at a reseller of the distributor.  He wasn’t there for long but his move was to a reseller with whom the distributor had some existing business.  I was still new to sales and hadn’t developed sufficient processes to ensure a strong funnel.  I recall having lunch with Simon and calling on his advice to shake some business loose.  Without hesitation he asked me if I was interested in selling to Holden Special Vehicles.  As was his practice, he was straight onto his mobile phone call to call HSV and organise an appointment.  He was someone who acted upon his ideas.  He didn’t wait to lose the initiative. The trust that he was able to establish with his clients meant that if Simon said that I was worth meeting, then that was all that was needed. 

It was also a lesson in backing yourself and understanding that business is done between people, not companies.  It took me about five years to repay the favour which I was happy to say, worked well for both Simon and the client.  The reason that I was able to replay the favour was the trust that I had built with the client in the same way that Simon had shown me.

Simon always enjoyed himself and took great pleasure in catching up for a beer.  The last time that I caught up with Simon was about five weeks before his passing, which was around two weeks before he was told that his cancer was terminal.  He bought lunch so I’ll have to find another way to repay him.

Just in case you did not know Simon, I want to point out that he could also be a bit of a larrikin.  I recall a story told to me by another of his long term clients.  The story was told around a table at a charity luncheon that Simon did not attend and I can’t recall if I ever checked the veracity of the story with him.  However, I assure you that the teller of the tale is a highly respected CIO currently on an international assignment.

The story was of Simon when he was new to the sales profession.  He was working for a pest control company and was given an inner Melbourne suburb to prospect.  After knocking on a few doors, Simon realised that pest control was only valuable to the client if the homeowner had some pests to control! Showing confidence, initiative and the wisdom to invest in creating clients, he bought a packet of icy poles.  He then walked along the street and tossed an unwrapped icy pole into the front year of every other front yard.  The next day he revisited the same street and knocked on the doors of the homeowners who now discovered that their front yard had a sudden influx of pests that needed to be controlled.  Simon didn’t create the infestation; he just made it obvious in the same way that he made his friendship obvious; he took the time and initiative.  I, along with the many friends he created, will miss him.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sales substitution lessons from my Dad

Some of you may recognise that my surname is Maltese. My father grew up in Malta during the second world war. It was only after his passing in 2001 that I learned how he and his younger brother would leave air raid shelters to bring more food and water to his family. They weren't even teenagers. At the end of the war, my father was apprenticed to an uncle as a carpenter and it was with this skill and background that he emigrated to Australia as a nineteen year old.

Of key importance here was that my father learned to be inventive and could build anything from wood. He eventually became a troubleshooter for the state roads department in fixing bridges.

Before he retired he bought and renovated a beach house so he could indulge in his passion for fishing. Fishing seems to be a birthright for anyone with a Maltese heritage. Dad was never one to spend money on material items if he could build it himself, unless there was sufficient gap in the functionality that he desired but could not achieve.

Two examples come to mind:
1. He was happy to spend money on a fiberglass fishing boat and fit it out with an endless array of paraphernalia  because he could not easily replicate the strength, lightness and maneuverability that he needed to get through the rip into the open sea. Spending this money helped him achieve his goals.

2. Dad loved to sit back after dinner and watch some television. Because it was a beach house he did not spend where it wasn't warranted. His problem was that the old push button television did not have remote control. Rather than spend hundreds, or thousands, of dollars on a new TV which would have given him more functionality including a remote control, Dad took a long piece of timber dowel (otherwise known as a stick) and shaped the end of the stick to fit the buttons on the TV. So he substituted a completely different product that fully complied with his required functionality at a fraction of the cost. Fights over the remote control took on a completely different aspect.

Often there is a danger when we sell specific products and services that we become focused on the benefits and features of "our" products. We do this in order to line up against a competing product and overcome objections by differentiating our product from a competitor's product. When we do this we forget to focus on the customer's goals.