Creativiste

EINTKABILFR: 5 Sales Rules for Introverts

Posted by Paul on August 3, 2007

*EINTKABILFR: Everything I Need To Know About Business, I Learned From Rock

Sales is one of the hardest aspects of business for a lot of people to learn, because the methodologies and strategies are rarely cut and dried. Instead, the prevailing way to view sales is that it is the province of “naturals” and con-men; that simply being a fast talker can make or break you as a salesperson. This leads to both fear of the actual process, and contempt for people who are truly good at it among those who aren’t.

Managing a band requires a lot of sales skills, and they can be tough to learn and practice. For one thing, if you’re in the band, your ego is at stake; you’re not just selling life insurance or something else that originates from somebody else, you’re selling your art! Here are the lessons I’ve learned from the experience:

  1. Avoid discounting; either give something for free or charge your rate. The first time a band ever plays, and many times after that (particularly for “big” opportunities), they’re grateful just for the opportunity to perform. Add to that the fact that most clubs and other purchasers of music are, well, kind of poor, and it sounds like discounting would be a great idea. It’s not. The problem is that it changes the perceived value of what you’re selling. Not only will you get paid less than you’re worth, but you’ll have to deal with sub-par performance on the buyer side everywhere. Back in my college days, we played frat parties for $100 and beer, and others for $1000. The difference? At the $100 gigs, we’d have to scrounge up a PA, play without a stage, load our own gear in and out, and fight out way through the lines for the aforementioned beer. By any reasonable measure of time and effort, we were operating at a loss, and it wasn’t helping our public image or marketability at all. At the $1000 gigs, we’d have a pro soundman there to make us sound great, a stage, and a horde of fraternity brothers to move our stuff and bring us drinks. We were treated like rock stars because they were paying for rock stars. Their parties were also much bigger, since they wanted to get their money’s worth out of us. They just cared more. We probably could have gotten that caring out of the $100 gigs if we had just said, “look, our rate is $1000, but we like you guys. Just provide the PA and we’ll play and make sure everybody’s having a good time.” Either way, you’re a $1000 band; it’s just a question of whether a particular night would pay.
  2. Promise and deliver big. It’s often said that you should “under-promise and over-deliver”. This may be true if you are well-known, or operating in a very protected or stable market; but most of us aren’t. In the music business – and most others – getting people’s attention is a critical first step to proper selling. And to do that, you have to make some big promises. You don’t necessarily have to be “better” than the alternatives, but you do have to be exceptional in some (positive) way.
  3. Be willing to negotiate the extras. For most business relationships, it’s only the first interaction that “feels like” you’re selling. Once your band has played at a certain club, you know the people there. Assuming that neither you nor the club’s management are impossible to deal with, and the first gig was at least a moderate success, you will be able to play there in the future. (This coming from a guy whose band was banned from several clubs in the mid-Atlantic for various reasons…) So that first time, recognize that – while you shouldn’t discount (see #1 above) – you should at least be flexible on the non-essential parts of the relationship. It’s really not THAT big of a deal if a club insists that you use the drugged-out house soundman the first time you play. With any luck, you’ll build trust in the future and be able to make other requests in the name of making your shows there successful.
  4. Have faith in what you’re selling. This one may or may not be within your control, but… it’s a lot easier to sell something that you know is worth what you’re asking. A lot of people get nervous when asked to sell because, at heart, they know it just isn’t that great of a product or service. This is doubly-complicated in a “knowledge-worker” kind of job, like music or consulting, since the value of the service is so subjective. At the risk of sounding preachy: If you don’t believe the product is good enough, then work harder on it or find another product to sell. There aren’t a lot of shortcuts around this.
  5. Be nice. The bottom line, as hinted in the earlier tips, is that just being a pleasant, easy-to-deal-with person is half the battle; maybe more than that. The reason is simple – as soon as you cross the threshold from “person trying to get the business” to “person who can reliably deliver what they promise or better without being a prima donna or other variety of pain in the ass”, you can build on that and your need to do “sales”, per se, goes down to just a bare minimum.

Posted in benefits of creativity, EINTKABILFR, management, sales | Leave a Comment »

The Paradox of Talent

Posted by Paul on July 5, 2007

Recently, I stumbled across a bunch of one-liners er, “slideshow”, on BusinessWeek’s site from last June in which Marissa Mayer of Google divulged her secrets for corporate innovation. Some of these were well-known nuggets about Google’s famously open culture (e.g., “Employees get one day off a week to work on their own projects”); some were obvious truisms of the sort that your typical BusinessWeek reader would find innovative (e.g., “launch early and often in small beta tests”). Most of them seemed like good ideas, in general. But there was one that stuck out because it’s a mantra I’ve heard a few too many times:

“Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin approve hires. They favor intelligence over experience.”

I was immediately reminded of a fantastic work by Malcolm Gladwell entitled The Talent Myth. Writing in October 2004, in the wake of the Enron scandal and the accompanying widespread loss of faith in American businesses big and small, Gladwell wrote a compelling analysis of the role that Enron’s “talent first” culture played in its demise. In a nutshell, he argues that the company – spurred by McKinsey – repeatedly rewarded people who appeared brilliant by virtue of confidence, apparent intellectual prowess, test scores, and other superficial metrics. In the process, Gladwell says, Enron created a culture where potential (fuzzily measured) was valued far more than results (precisely measured, but usually far after the fact), and promoted people at a pace at which it became easy to outrun the consequences of their decisions.

Intelligence is obviously important. But intelligence doesn’t guarantee performance. So how do you find people that will really drive your company forward?

Marc Andreessen has an excellent post up that argues convincingly that “Intelligence, per se, is overrated,” citing the mythology around early-90s Microsoft and present-day Google for promoting the idea that hiring the “smartest people around” will lead to insane levels of success. Andreessen hires for drive, curiosity, and ethics.

Personally, I think “drive” is overrated as well – it’s really easy to hire assholes when you focus on that, especially when it’s motivated by the wrong things, and they can do a lot more harm than good.  I don’t have the answers (although I’ll propose some in a later post)… so I’m curious to hear what others think the most important traits of a good recruit are.

Posted in benefits of creativity, management, talent | Leave a Comment »

Next year, we can get Powerpoint drunk…

Posted by Paul on June 21, 2007

PowerPoint turned 20 yesterday, triggering a couple of laps around the blogosphere for the old “Tufte vs. hapless speakers everywhere” debate. A couple of interesting articles included one focused on its founders (here at wsj.com; h/t Freakonomics) and another that sent me towards a couple of older posts by the likes of Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki on how to use it without sucking. (I mean, “eat protein”… now that’s advice you probably wouldn’t have come up with on your own.)

Still, in a perfect world, PowerPoint would only be used for karaoke.

Posted in performing, public speaking | Leave a Comment »

EINTKABILFR: 5 Ways to Accidentally Become Better at Public Speaking

Posted by Paul on June 20, 2007

This blog is mainly about freeing the creative impulse from the confines of those fields we typically think of as “creative” – the performing and visual arts, for instance – and understanding how it can create better results in other domains. But just as the world of business has its creative aspects, the world of performance has its business aspects as well. Every so often I’ll put up a EINTKABILFR post about that relationship. Today: public speaking.

I was thrust into the lead singing role in my first band as a matter of necessity. We were in high school, had been “booked” for our first big performance – playing a school dance – and were rehearsing desperately when we got the news that our singer Craig, a popular and handsome guy who also happened to be the student body president, had mono. Craving the attention that the gig would bring us (and, let’s be honest, it was mainly about attention and girls), we vowed that the show must go on. But none of us could sing. I gamely stepped forward and offered to do it. I was a distant Plan B from Craig on almost every dimension, but more than anywhere else in the charisma department. I had a deep-seated, paralyzing fear of public speaking.

By the time I was 22, I was standing on stage bantering with audiences with the best of them, 10 or 20 times a month. I had discovered a few techniques, some well-known and some unorthodox, that made my lack of charisma less damaging – and maybe even a strength. Years later, after being told by a corporate executive coach that I was “a good speaker for a short person,” I realized that performing had taught me those secrets and turned a liability into a strength. Here they are:

  1. Content is king. It is kind of depressing that this is not always obvious, but if you don’t have a good message that is relevant to your audience, it doesn’t really matter how it’s presented. And if a band has terrible songs that aren’t memorable, it really won’t matter how well it plays them. (This assumes that you are neither a virtuoso guitarist like Joe Satriani nor a brilliant showman like Robin Williams; at the extremes, somebody can be so good technically that audiences are astounded and their content isn’t important, but it’s very rare and has little lasting impact.)
  2. Practice until it’s automatic. If you are singing a song and you don’t know all the words, you will waste valuable mental cycles trying to remember them. Like pretty much any multitasking, this will result in both activities (singing and remembering) being distracted and half-hearted. If you are speaking about a subject, there is no substitute for knowing the content cold. If there is some element of the subject that has you a little confused or turned around, take the time in advance to understand it and be able to explain it without notes. If you don’t know the topic that well, maybe you shouldn’t be speaking about it in public.
  3. Don’t fake anything. Maybe you’re an actor and can be completely convincing as a boisterous, Tom Peters-style showman, but you’re really a shy geeky type on the inside. But most likely, assuming a fake personality will just give you one more thing to think about other than communicating with your audience. It’s not worth it. When I first started singing, I thought I had to be rock-star cool, and act like the guys I saw on MTV. David Lee Roth would be doing cartwheels and backflips… the least I could do was a little “Hello, Cleveland!”, right? Wrong. Acting like you’re playing a stadium when you’re really at a frat party is disingenuous and off-putting. Lose the attitude and be who you are.
  4. Stay in the pocket. The thrill of live performance, either at a concert or an important presentation, is enough to make your heart race. But your material has a natural pace and tempo of its own, and you ignore it at your own peril. People go too fast for a variety of reasons – sometimes involuntarily, or other times to give the illusion of power or forcefulness. Either way, playing or talking at the right speed will work better than going too fast.
  5. They don’t want you to suck (or, it’s not you, it’s them). You might think that because you’re at the front of the room and have a microphone, you’re the most important part of the experience. Not true. People are basically self-centered – they are the most important part of the experience for themselves. If you’re a little insecure or nervous, this is actually a wonderful thing. They don’t need to hear the most brilliant song or sales pitch to have a good time; they just need it to be good enough that it doesn’t distract them from their own internal cues. A guy who goes to see a concert with a beautiful woman he’s in love with is going to have a better time than one who just got dumped, unless the band is so egregiously awful that it intrudes upon his inner monologue. A potential client will be excited about your sales pitch to the extent that your analysis of her problem and potential solution agrees with her own. You need to know as much about the audience’s situation as possible so you can connect your message with their needs.

If you have good content that you know inside and out, you approach it honestly, you keep a sensible pace for the material at hand, and you know what the audience would think a successful presentation would feel like – usually, by the way, it will feel brief – then it’s pretty hard to give a bad presentation. Even if you’re short.

Posted in EINTKABILFR, fear, music, performing, public speaking | Leave a Comment »

Why be a creativiste?

Posted by Paul on June 18, 2007

By now, you get the gist of where we’re headed here:  creativity is not just for performers, artists, or advertising agencies.  You may be in a “dull” white-collar job, but thinking new thoughts and trying new actions is still possible.

But I’m not simply making the claim that your work can be creative.  I’m saying that it necessarily has to be if it is to be successful.  Here in the US, there has been a constant drumbeat of reports detailing the shifts in offshoring from blue-collar to white-collar industries.  In almost every field – even medical care – highly specialized providers have emerged to compete with the established “best of breed” companies and individuals using major cost advantages.

The end result, whether you live in Boston, Berlin, Bangalore, or Bangkok, is that you face competition that can pretty much do what you do, but more cheaply.  There is only so far that costs can be reduced; therefore, to resist this dynamic you need to create a difference between “what you do” and “what they do”.

 In short, what you know won’t save you.  But maybe how you think will.

Posted in benefits of creativity, offshoring, uniqueness, why | Leave a Comment »

Intro: crunching numbers vs. crunching riffs

Posted by Paul on June 15, 2007

A few years ago, I had a job for which I traveled a bit doing recruiting. On one recruiting trip, I was sitting at dinner with my colleagues in a restaurant near my alma mater, where we were searching for new recruits, and a young woman came to our table.

“Excuse me, is your name Paul?” she asked shyly. I replied that yes, it was.
“Are you in ‘otis wants bread’?” she asked.
“I was, but we’re not around anymore,” I told her.
“Well, that’s too bad. I love your CD – I still play it in my car all the time!” she said.
“Thanks, I appreciate it,” I responded with a blush.

As she left, my stunned co-workers stared for a minute, and then began to interrogate me. They hadn’t known that I had been a musician, or at least a musician successful enough to have people recognize me in restaurants.*

They asked a few questions, I told a few road stories, and so on. Then, finally, the last question was:

“So, uh, why are you doing this?” By which he meant, why are you working for a credit card company crunching data when you could be a rock star living the high life, or at least the interesting life?

I was stumped. I’m sure I came up with an answer that had something to do with the relative incomes and working conditions of the two professions. We moved on to talk about different things, and the moment was gone.

But two things always stuck with me about that conversation. First, my co-workers clearly felt that they were doing what they were doing because they “had” to; since they didn’t have the miraculous gift of creativity, went the reasoning, they needed to find dull office-type jobs in finance and human resources where they could do well. And second, they could not believe that somebody like me, who apparently was blessed with the gift, would choose to work where they did for a living.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in administration, flow, music, soccer | 2 Comments »

 
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