When what they are selling doesn’t match what you really need…

When buying something that you don’t have today, it’s really hard to figure out how this new thing will actually fit into your world. For example, moving from Excel-based Lease Administration to a formal Lease Admin system seems like a no-brainer. Listening to a sales pitch, it has all the same functionality but better! But when you get it, you suddenly realize all the additional time and attention to detail that is required. It’s nothing like the Excel-based world. It’s so different as to be something new entirely.

If technology decisions were only about the tool itself, they would work 90+% of the time. Instead, we live in a world where many (if not most) new systems fail within the first year. The reason? People don’t understand that the thing they are buying will change how the work is done.

Change management is the single biggest obstacle to overcome when dealing with something new. It could be a new phone, new computer, new shoes, new color of pen. To some people, the change itself is the problem.

When talking to a salesperson, they will usually make their solution sound simple. And in a business-as-usual world where it is setup and running, it may be. But they will often gloss over the change challenge unless you bring it up yourself. But that is the challenge when getting something new – you don’t know all the right questions to ask.

I’ve always found the network to be key here. Someone somewhere has dealt with your same question, problem, or vendor. Covering all of your bases at the start will save you a lot of time and frustration later.


Does the story you are telling include the sales pitch?

Anytime you are trying to convince someone of your way of thinking, you are selling them. It doesn’t matter how large or small the decision is. Sales is a natural part of everything we do. It’s the foundation of trust. We tend to trust those who sell to us honestly, and not trust those who use shady techniques.

When you are the boss, it’s easy to sell as your customers don’t always have many other options. Most options they do have are more extreme – leave the company, disobey the direction, or go over your head. None of those are great for their short-term success.

When you are selling to the boss or a colleague, they have more opportunity to say no. It’s almost always easier for them to say no than yes. Saying no keeps things as they are, it minimizes change. If tomorrow is much the same as today, it’s hard for things to go too wrong. Converting that natural no to a yes is all about sales.

Before you make your pitch, think about what they are going to consider when making the decision. Most decisions are made immediately based on their learned instincts. They are going to ask themselves a few rapid-fire questions (often without even thinking about it) and then return an answer. If you don’t provide all the answers or information in advance, you won’t get the “yes” you are looking for. It’s all about selling it right.

Your use of buzzwords is not impressive.

You think you are ready to wow your client with your impressive new knowledge of the future issues they are going to be impacted by? Maybe you plan on asking them how new technologies are going to be impacting the future of their business. Maybe you have a list of tech like Big Data, AR, VR, AI, and Robotics that you are going to throw out there.

Here’s the reality, you may sound really impressive for putting that all on the table, but you likely just turned your client off. They aren’t thinking about those things yet. They are still being kept awake at night by just making sure they know all of their addresses. Sure, maybe one or two offices are pushing ahead with some innovative thinking. But those locations are the butterflies, it’s everywhere else that are the actual problems.

Most things fail today and will fail tomorrow due to basic blocking and tackling. Even the best AI cannot prevent data gaps. AR isn’t going to help you if you don’t even know how many seats you have in the office.

Just because you’ve heard something new doesn’t mean the old stuff isn’t still the biggest problem.

Telling the story versus doing the work.

I remember the first time that I was taught the power of stories in business. A vendor salesperson had come in to help us better understand their product and how we could use it. He started his time with us, not by opening up the tool and showing us examples. Instead, he had us close our laptops and chat for a half hour.

There we were, 4 technical people sitting around a table. This salesperson opened up by saying something along the lines of:

You can never get anyone to do something different if they don’t buy into the story you are trying to tell them. No one has ever bought a story that starts with “look at how many features this tool has.”

Getting people to change requires getting them to invest time into doing things differently. You need them to make the mental leap that it is better for them to take the risk of making the change than continuing on as they are. The only way you can do that is by planting the story in their head of what they get from the change. Tell them the true story of how their job will get better.

You can sell a lot of solutions by focusing on the raw numbers that you can impact: 12.3% ROI. $1m NPV. Payback in 24 days! You can sell even more solutions by getting people to understand (and believe) the story of what you are going to do for them: sell more per person while making your customers happier! Deliver faster with greater consistency. Give everyone a single place to go when they have questions.

Stories aren’t measurable, but they still have an impact. Getting people to believe a story may be harder than showing them raw numbers but it generates greater stickiness. Maybe give it a try.

The secret behind 90 day transition windows

In many industries (definitely across CRE), you will find yourself needing to transition something. It may be an outsource provider, moving from one vendor to another, implementing a technology system or simply testing a new tool. If you are talking to a third party to assist you, you will likely come across the generic 90 day transition period.

It’s funny how often transitions of very different things always take exactly 90 days. It’s almost as if people got together to agree to 90 days as the perfect standard. In many ways, that is exactly what happened. (Not that people physically got together and defined this from the shadows, just that they came to the same conclusion through independent paths.)

90 days is the perfect amount of time to make it seem like real effort is being put in but it’s also quick enough to seem aggressive. If I were to say go today, 3 months to implement something feels like it could be realistic. Psychologically, a non-expert is unlikely to question this period of time. If you were to advertise 60 days people will immediately think of all the little things that can delay the solution by that long without batting an eye. If you say 120 days, it crosses that triple digit barrier and starts to look long.

The other variable in the equation is what “transition” really means. Many organizations take a very fuzzy definition of transition. Often it may be something along the lines of:

Transition: the sequence of activities that ends in 90 days that allows us to show how good we are at listing things on gantt charts.

That’s very tongue-in-cheek but not terribly far from the truth in many cases. The actual “transition” (defined as everything needed to actually reach a new Business-as-Usual state) is difficult, painful and can take a very long-term. Often you can’t even clearly define where the transition ends and BAU begins in larger projects.

The 90 day transition is just another marketing ploy but designed as an operational reality. Remember that marketing doesn’t stop just because the sales process has.

Just because a document is comprehensive doesn’t mean it actually says anything.

It’s funny how often 1-page documents can tell you everything you need to know about a topic while 100-page whitepapers barely address the meat of an issue at all. Many people feel like most readers judge a document’s comprehensiveness by its weight and length. Some will even give active support to an idea simply because it is long.

I have a few rules of thumb for documents. For PowerPoint presentations:

  • For sales: No more than 1 slide for every 2 minutes. More than that and all that can possibly happen is being presented at.
  • For decision making: No more than 1 executive summary slide for every 2 to 5 minutes with as many appendices slides as needed.
  • For case studies/general information: No more than 1 slide per minute.

For Word documents, things get a bit trickier as they tend to be meant to address topics in greater detail anyway. My biggest rule of thumb is around proposals:

  • No more than 1 page for every 2 weeks worth of work (based on calendar days).

It is surprisingly easy to make documents longer, especially those built over a long period of time with a large participating group. Editing down to make the language both precise and concise is a wickedly difficult task.

Brevity is the key to successfully selling an idea. There’s a reason that elevator pitches are important – if you can’t summarize your idea down into less than a minute’s worth of speech then you can’t understand the value of your idea. TV commercials are typically 30 seconds for the same reason – people don’t give a lot of attention to sales pitches.

There is a difference between the story that is told and the reality of the situation unfolding.

The best storytellers in the world take events that aren’t real and spin them out in stories that bring the picture in their head to life. Storytellers of the top caliber become marketers, politicians, consultants and maybe even novelists. However, the majority of storytellers don’t end up writing books.

The best piece of sales advice I was ever given was to not tell someone why you are the best or about your features or about how valuable your product is. Instead you should tell them stories about all of the ways that you are going to make their life easier or better. Paint them a picture so that they can see themselves in the situations that you are trying to help them with. Make them feel their current frustration and make them realize how quickly and easily you can take that frustration away. Make the story of your product about them.

Notice how journalists are often writing their articles about big topics by focusing on a single person impacted by the issue? They write about the single mother that only lives because of Obamacare. They write about the small business that is going under because of Obamacare. They give you a story of why their position or angle is the right one. They simply don’t tell you that in this enormous world you can find a single case study to support any position that may have happened to want to take up. Some was hurt by every decision just as someone was helped by that same decision.

Storytellers know that their message needs to have an audience and a moment. They have to capture the feeling of the time while giving the audience something to believe in while also giving them something to run with.

I always hated case studies to show how products made someone else’s life better. You are never handed a case study showing how the product wrecked a person’s organization. You never are given the case study about where the implementation failed and nothing went right. You are given the ones that look the most like you and that went really, really well. Because case studies are simply stories. It’s something to make you feel comfortable without giving you the rest of the context that is being left out.

When you start to experience the stories around you always ask yourself what the broader context is. There’s really no such thing as fake news, only news that has the wrong context.