Category Archives: Business Development Ethics

Social Media Privacy Loopholes: Is This Real Life?

Originally published 5/21/10

In 2009, people who proclaimed that social media had shifted information power from producer to consumer weren’t thinking Facebook in 2010. But social media providers and advertisers love the “consumer power” smokescreen. It keeps people’s minds away from the off-screen re-direction of the data. Advertisers and social media companies see plenty of ka-ching from a perfunctory “thumbs up” on Facebook. There’s even a cryptic IT term for it, digital exhaust. But if you’re mining data and performing analytics, you’re inhaling it by the lungful, and holding it in for the count, because it has intoxicating properties. Digital exhaust smells a lot like money.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reported “Facebook, MySpace and several other social-networking sites have been sending data to advertising companies that could be used to find consumers’ names and other personal details, despite promises they don’t share such information without consent.” (Sites Confront Privacy Loophole, May 21, 2010)

In case you’re suddenly a little uneasy about where the information power pendulum is swinging, maybe these vendor explanations from the Wall Street Journal article will assuage your concerns:

MySpace: The site is “currently implementing a methodology that will obfuscate the ‘FriendID’ in any URL that is passed along to advertisers,” according to a MySpace spokeswoman.

Twitter: “Passing along the Web address happens when people click a link from any web page. ‘This is just how the Internet and browsers work,’” according to a Twitter spokeswoman.

Digg:“Although Digg said it masks a user’s name when they click on an ad and scrambles data before sharing with outside advertising companies, the site does pass along user names to ad companies when a user visits a profile page. ‘It’s the information about the page that you are visiting, not you as a visitor,’ said Chas Edwards, Digg’s chief revenue officer.”

Google: “Google doesn’t seek in any way to make any use of any user names or ID’s that their URLs may contain,’ a Google spokesman said in a statement.”

Yahoo: “We prohibit clients from sending personally identifiably (sic) information to us. We have told them. ‘we don’t want it. You shouldn’t be sending it to us. If it happens to be there, we are not looking for it,’” according to Anne Toth, Yahoo’s head of privacy.

Yep. It’s real life, alright. And George Orwell would be proud!

Proving ROI Doesn’t Mean Squat Without Disclosing Risk

Originally published 7/8/10

Put a big, fat glob of risk in your product pitch, package it as “excitement,” and you have a powerful sales tactic. Even a disclaimer plays a crucial role, not that it would matter to a buyer to read one:

“Do not attempt. Really. Do not do this. Stunts performed at sanctioned events. Specially equipped rally vehicle. Professional driver. Closed course. Obey all traffic laws, always drive safely and wear your seatbelt.” Right! Where can I get one of these cars to test drive? Such statements are motivating when the target buyer is male, 18 to 29 years old.

In a different, far away sales universe, the B2B salesperson sells his or her product to an older, equally risk-aware buyer, but without testosterone’s helpful property of making risk seem wildly appealing. B2B buyers avoid stupid risks. But salespeople frequently toss all risks into the same negative bucket, and choose not to discuss them. Finding risk transparency in B2B sales is about as common as finding a teenager without a PDA.

It’s easy to say you’re transparent, but harder to be transparent. Here’s a personal example for how not to do it: One prospect I worked with had installed—and de-installed—two mid-range ERP systems in four years. I was there because the company was preparing to rip out #3 as well. As vendor-victim #4, the company’s CEO told me point blank, “we need you to tell us everything that could go wrong with your solution.” “What don’t you already know?” was the unsaid reply that flashed into my mind. But even that sarcastic response would have been better than the feeble one I offered. I was totally unprepared for the conversation he wanted.

Why? Risk discussions weren’t part of my sales tool kit. My kit had the expected implements: Problem/Solution/Benefit statements, features and capabilities collateral, key differentiators, and a smidgen of Return on Investment fluff. No risk insights adding weight to the bag. Salespeople are rewarded for mowing down concerns about their own products, and for raising them about competitors.

Would a street-smart salesperson disclose that just yesterday, his company’s chief software architect took an unannounced sabbatical to go mountain biking in Peru with his girlfriend? Or that his CEO has discussed selling the company in the next 12 months? Stuff happens, and it’s classic FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, & Doubt) material. When our sources are credible, we spread this about the other guys, never about ourselves.

How transparent a salesperson should be about such sensitive matters tiptoes into the shadow of the Ethical Elephant, and I’ll stick to the periphery. Anyway, there’s a more pragmatic side to this discussion. Prospects aren’t deer in sales headlights. Not anymore. They’re fully capable of learning about risks. But as many salespeople know from we’re-putting-this-on-the-back-burner-for-now conversations, prospects are also prone to the stasis of no-decision purgatory. Could risk confusion be one cause? Could salespeople be more valuable by intelligently guiding buyers to recognize and consider the risks that change creates—even if it means discussing their own?

Author Sharon Drew Morgen believes they can. In her book, Dirty Little Secrets: Why Buyers Can’t Buy and Sellers Can’t Sell, and What You can Do About It! she wrote, “Until buyers understand, and know how to mitigate, the risks that a new solution will bring to their culture, they will do nothing.”

Risk matters. If it didn’t, the shortest closing sales pitch, “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM,” could not have helped sell tons of IBM iron and services against arguably superior technology. But the sword cuts both ways. One thing I’ve learned: when I haven’t identified my risks, they will be identified for me—never a good thing. Too much perceived risk and my opportunity is toast. Too little, and I might win—but when the first glitch occurs, my prospect will never forget how I over-promised and under-delivered.

Back to “Proving the ROI.” Accounting Professor Bob Kemp told me this year that business decision makers ask three questions about value: what do I get, when do I get it, and how certain are the answers to the first two questions? Déjà vu. That’s what the CEO wanted to know. And because his company was a candidate for the Guinness Record for Most Scrapped ERP Systems, he was screaming for help. But without a clue about my own assumptions and without understanding the CEO’s risks, I was only slightly more useful to his decision process than a Ouija board.

Which risks did he need to learn? Ideally, the causes for the failures of his first three ERP systems. But most salespeople don’t have the luxury of performing detailed project retrospectives. A general rule of thumb: any risk that has high likelihood and high impact on a financial claim, estimated performance improvement, or outcome is a candidate for discussion.

Had Steve McConnell’s 660-page book, Rapid Development, been available at the time, I would have presented this adapted list of project risks:

Feature creep: escalating the project by adding new feature requests

Gold-plating: insisting on the “latest and greatest” technology, instead of “good enough.”

Software defects, interoperability problems, and operating system instability

Schedules developed without factoring constraints

Inadequate software design and poor usability

“Silver-bullet” syndrome: expecting software or technology will solve problems they’re not intended to solve

Weak personnel: not having the right talent in the job at the right time

Communication problems and interpersonal friction between developers and customers.

You’ve probably already recognized the same risks can occur for customers and vendors. But discussing these risks would have provided me the opportunity to describe how my company managed them.

How much better would my meeting have been had I brought these risks to the forefront? How much more effectively would my prospect have been able to make calculations about financial return and estimate time to value? How much more trust could I have fostered in the buying experience? Much. For all three questions.

Oh—the outcome of my sales call? Despite fumbling the CEO’s question, I won the order. After three failed vendors, he was running out of alternatives. Best of all, my software ran on IBM.

Honest Selling Has Never Been More Important!

(originally published 8/6/10)

Business development consultants are great opportunists. We never lack for creative ways to grow revenue. And when prospects lack compelling motivation to buy, well, we just go right out and motivate the American way—by inventing something! Last month, I knew it wasn’t déjà vu when I read

“Budgets are getting tighter.”

“Customers are more demanding than ever.”

“Competition is getting more intense.”

“We’ve never faced tougher sales challenges.”

I could swear that I’ve read these urgent statements before. If budgets are trending in a near-constant negative slope, when will we reach the nadir? Hopefully not soon, so we can keep playing the message. If customers are getting more demanding every year, are vendors at risk for buckling under the stress? And nowhere in my twenty-five year catalog of sales experience do I remember any time when I could say “oh yeah, that was the period when competition wasn’t intense.” Last but not least, “tougher sales challenges” are just symptomatic of another problem: many companies haven’t kept pace by updating tools and skills. The statement works into perpetuity!

I began to wonder how much longer business developers could tell the world that the sky is falling before payback time. But I wasn’t going to say anything until last week, when I received this emailed platitude:

“There has never been a more important time to be seen as a valuable resource by your customers, company, colleagues, and strategic partners.”

With all due respect, what did the writer take me for? An idiot? Was he expecting me to sit there slack-jawed and glassy-eyed, mindlessly nodding in agreement with every pronouncement, no matter how inane? Was he suggesting that last year, being seen as valuable wasn’t critical for a salesperson? I considered contacting the sender to let him know that I could not think of a moment in anyone’s sales career when being valuable wasn’t Job #1, but I didn’t. For all I know, he’s still sending the email. Automation is a wonderful thing when what you’re communicating is valuable, but it’s plenty damaging when the message is just plain dumb.

Clearly, that marketer’s penchant for trying to make useless statements seem wise isn’t unique. Credibility is at stake. When people question facts, evidence, or research, there must be a more compelling response than “because I said so.” Similarly, if a statement is backed by anecdotal observations, they will be questioned about whether they’re extensible to The Big Picture. (But at least having first-hand observations is a step in the right direction!)

I know it’s a generalization, but generalizations mislead. Situations and context matter. An expert can say “profit margins have never been lower!” But the statement is useful only as it relates to an industry, market, or company. Or when it’s backed by sound research. Airline profits are down and commodity grain margins are up. That’s useful. Environments and forces effect different industries in different ways. Let’s dig in and understand how. Otherwise, how can real insights be distinguished from self-serving marketing hype?

Here’s mine: “Honesty in sales has never been more important!” I have no research to prove it, but who could argue?

Toward a Social Sales Force: Ominous Lessons from Rutgers

In late September, two Rutgers University students clandestinely videoed a fellow student’s private liaison with another student, and tweeted about it as events were unfolding. The victim, freshman Tyler Clementi, committed suicide on September 22d. An incendiary mix of circumstances fueled outcry from around the world. Mr. Clementi’s partner was male. His privacy was invaded. Social media technology played a significant role. A promising life, needlessly lost.

Did the actions of Mr. Clementi’s fellow students cause his suicide? Did they catalyze his despair? Were the perpetrators naïve, hateful, or both? These issues merit open debate. But they should not obscure three painful truths: 1) the outcome of this incident was tragic beyond anything that words can express, 2) the behavior Mr. Clementi faced was undeniably cruel, and 3) vast space surrounds limited legal protective boundaries—especially in the digital age.

Sadly, we’ve only started to see the dangers emerging on the horizon. And they’re coming to your sales force. The two students implicated in this incident, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, aren’t archetypal evil misanthropes. According to a segment on NPR yesterday, friends describe them as “outgoing, bright, athletic, and computer savvy.” Attributes anyone would want in a new sales hire.

But could this tragedy occur outside a college campus? Say, in a sales organization? A better question is what would prevent it? An unpleasant topic, but one that must be confronted. According to the Christian Science Monitor, (Rutgers Student Death: Has Digital Age Made Students Callous?, October 1, 2010), Dartmouth freshman Nina Montgomery, who attended high school with Clementi in Ridgewood, NJ, “says her generation of digital natives is getting bored and looking for ways to experiment with new technology. As a result, she believes, more cases as severe as this one at Rutgers will occur. ‘I don’t think people understand the great responsibility that comes with the power of the Internet,’ she says.” Corporate risk managers, take note: information technology might be a strategic enabler, but it’s a force multiplier for stupidity, bad judgment, and malice. Get ready! The class of 2011 will have resumes online before summer.

The article continues, “Other observers of youth culture and media culture believe the media environment – including reality shows that use hidden cameras – is desensitizing young people to the hurtful effects of their actions. One recent University of Michigan study found that college students’ empathy declined by about 40 percent between 1979 and 2009 . . .”

Empathy down by 40%? So much for customer-centricity and outside-in process. Great ideas while they lasted, though. There’s more. A picture is coming into focus, and it’s not pretty. In an interview with New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, NPR’s Robert Siegel said “I haven’t heard you answer the question about Photoshopped images of the Obamas dressed up as a pimp and a streetwalker.” Paladino’s response? “I apologize to anybody, okay, who may have been offended by my resending of emails. I didn’t create them. I re-sent them.” Nice try. Paladino proves that the failure to see a connection between social media use and personal responsibility isn’t limited to millenials.

Malicious broadcasting of videos and emailing disgusting altered photos–who thinks this stuff up? Apparently, very ordinary people. And that’s the point. If you were interviewing a sales candidate, how would you uncover such bizarre proclivities? Which is why corporations face insidious risks when they don’t monitor the online behavior of employees, and when they don’t prescribe guidelines. What would Carl Paladino, Dharun Ravi, and Molly Wei do if they were competing for a top sales rep bonus? If they wanted to discredit a competitor that was gaining an advantage in a key account? Or if they had a former boss who, in their view, stiffed them on a commission check? If those questions don’t cause you to shudder, check your pulse.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social sites have mingled personal and professional social media content—probably forever. So when we discuss “the power of social media,” we need to understand the risks imposed from the darker, negative side, and not to simply assume a positive connotation. We need to understand how people, absent an ethical compass, can warp ordinary goals by taking malevolent actions, or by taking ordinary tools and using them for malicious purposes. We need to understand how technology can propel those actions at warp speed, and what this means for enterprise risk. Finally, we must understand, in every dimension, the damage that can result.

Nina Montgomery, the Dartmouth freshman, is right: we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Trust, Shmust! We Need a Sales Mensch

A shondah* that in 2011, people have to teach these skills to adults:

How to build relationships
How to be a trusted advisor
Three ways to build rapport
How to build trust in a sales relationship

But it’s no surprise. Being an adult simply reflects the passage of time, which has nothing to do with emotional maturity.

So who can create great sales outcomes without having to being told how? That, I can tell you in one word: a sales mensch! “Like who,” you ask! Like Dicky Fox! There’s a mensch! You should be as sincere and honest!

A sales mensch is more than an Experienced Professional. More than an Honest Salesperson. More than a Trusted Advisor, even. “You’re a mensch” is the highest accolade one person can give to another. To be a real Sales mensch requires nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, and a sense of what is right and responsible.

When you are a sales mensch, you don’t need the oft-hyped rapport-trust-relationship stuff, because you’ve got that—and more. And you don’t pick up mensch-ness on Day 2 of a sales skills training program or from bullet-ized tips on a PowerPoint slide. Which explains why there aren’t more sales mensches.

Nevertheless, here’s what sets sales mensches apart from the Everyday Salesperson:

1. A sales mensch helps people who cannot ever return the favor.

2. A sales mensch always strives to do the right thing in the right way, and he or she never says, “Well, at least we’re not as bad as (fill in the blank)!”

3. A sales mensch helps people without regard for their station or status within a company or society.

4. A sales mensch recognizes that mensch isn’t a title that is awarded, rather a quality one always strives to maintain.

5. A sales mensch is humble, and recognizes the contributions and sacrifices that others have made toward his or her personal achievements.

6. A sales mensch‘s zeal is always tempered by recognition of context–that is, a sales mensch keenly understands that a prospect’s situation and world view right now has many competing priorities. A sales mensch shows empathy.

The best quote on menschness I’ve seen comes from Alan Gregerman on CustomerThink: “We win in business and in life when we respect the value of customers and prospects. And when we seek to be worthy of the trust they put in us.”

That’s a sales mensch! What’s not to like?

* Shondah: yiddish– shame

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