Category Archives: Revenue Risk Management

Airbus versus Boeing: Why Losing Your Risk Appetite Might Leave You Hungry

Forty Billion Dollars! 460 aircraft!

You think your sales job is high pressure? These numbers are at stake in a single deal at American Airlines as Boeing and Airbus compete for one of the largest orders in the history of commercial aviation. “Get your foot in the door” for Airbus, versus “lose the farm” for Boeing. Fasten your seatbelts and brace for impact. Oh, first grab some Maalox from the beverage cart when it rolls by!

This deal isn’t just sales versus sales, or EU versus US. This is Sales versus Sales versus finance versus product development versus engine technology versus supply chain versus corporate strategy. I’m sure I’ve left something out, but this gives you a thumbnail of the Gordian knot of competing interests and cross-departmental drama that’s going on behind the curtain. If knock-down, drag-out sales competition gets your heart pumping, you won’t find a reality show more exciting than this.

As incumbent, Boeing has an interesting conundrum: the company might not want American’s business. OK, I’m wrong. They do want American’s business. Badly. After all, Boeing’s the incumbent, and what Boeing exec wants to see even one shiny new Airbus jet painted in American’s colors landing at DFW? But there are two words about this deal that scare the living bejeebers out of Boeing Finance executives and the company’s bankers: insolvent American. According to The Wall Street Journal, (American Leans Toward Airbus, July 19, 2011) “American is the financially weakest of the major US carriers, so Boeing and its partners have balked at increasing their financial exposure to it.” “Balked”? Such aplomb! If any number with nine trailing zeroes was at risk in my investment portfolio, I’d be white as a sheet.

In this staredown, Boeing just blinked, and being European, Airbus couldn’t resist saying carpe diem, y’all! “American was attracted (to Airbus) partly by a rich package of almost $6 billion in aircraft financing that Airbus has put on the table,” the paper reported. Give the customer what they want, even if it means going belly up. Next time you’re in Tolouse, don’t order anything caffeinated, because they stopped serving it. People are already tres jittery.

Win, lose, or draw, Airbus has played its risk card superbly. By taking on risk their competitor eschews and by connecting that to what their prospect values, Airbus is exploiting a knock-kneed, risk-averse Boeing. They’re offering American a tantalizing sales carrot—financial security. That got their CFO’s attention! Sure, there’s more to this deal than financing terms, including engine technology and total cost of ownership, but when the game is tied with two out in the bottom of the 9th, it’s ironic to think that selling machines as complicated as passenger aircraft still depends on lowbrow devices like hand calculators and sharp pencils. And some salespeople assume product features, benefits, and quality rule customer decision making! Imagine!

Logically, it’s not a mental stretch that higher risks are bad and lower risks are good. But over time, all of us have learned exceptions, like the joy of riding a bicycle without holding the handlebars, or things we did in college. Whether or not you agree with Airbus’s account strategy, the company’s executives believe they can sustain higher financial risks to win American’s business. Before ink is applied to the American Airlines contract, we can emulate how Airbus has used risk management as a strategic sales weapon.

To fly past your competitors, here are some risk levers you should consider pulling:

Financial: If you can sustain it through lower costs of capital or better credit terms, and your competitor can’t, go for it!

Time horizon: Some salespeople get frantically nervous if a sales opportunity takes longer than six months to close. Can you simply out wait your competitor because you’re better suited for long decision cycles? That’s the reason we have large government contractors.

Experience or expertise required: if you can handle implementations because you have the talent and expertise on staff, you can pursue opportunities at companies that might seem prohibitively under-resourced—and risky—to your competitors.

Outsourced capabilities: companies that can quickly coalesce outside teams that can offer solutions can be more agile and tolerate more risk because the expertise can be readily disbanded if the opportunity doesn’t materialize.

Level of risk and opportunity identified versus level of investment: You can be more speculative on opportunities that are in your geographic backyard if your competitor must pay travel and expenses every time the prospect wants to meet.

Phase of innovation development: Companies that seek to share future development costs can sometimes absorb risks that companies recouping them cannot.

Leverage existing customer base or capture new: Long production runs and mature products enable companies to absorb other risks that would be undesirable to competitors undertaking the risks of entering new markets or developing new products.

A few months ago, a Tom Toles cartoon published in The Washington Post depicted a Wall Street executive seated in an office bearing a sign that reads “For bigger profits, take bigger risks!” Surrounding him are images of Japan, BP, climate change, the economy, and housing. The anonymous man in front of him quips, “Maybe it’s time we took that down.”

Whether that wisdom proves true for the outcome of the American Airlines deal remains to be seen. Stay tuned!

Salespeople Can’t Sell Without Making Assumptions

“When would it be convenient for you to talk next week?”

An innocuous question many people ask. But one that’s chock full of assumptions on the part of the person asking. Did you catch them?

  • that you consider a conversation useful and valuable?
  • that you want to converse?
  • that you have time next week?
  • that you have time at all?

Without assumptions, we’d be stuck having to nitpick every bleeping detail, and never getting our discussions out of the gate. In selling, assumptions are as natural as breathing. Yet salespeople are beat up for having them. You’ve heard it ad nauseum: “Assumptions make an (idiot) of you and me!” A recent blog advises, “above all, never make assumptions.” Another sales blogger observes, “The number one sales trap that people fall in with selling is to assume.” I understand the appeal of Total Certainty, but it ain’t gonna happen. In case you can’t tell, I’m a card-carrying Assumer, and proud of it!

So why do assumptions get such a bad rap, especially when humans are wired from birth to make them? I don’t know, but I can’t sell without assumptions, let alone get out of bed, walk down the street, drive a car, or write a blog. So recommending to a salesperson not to assume anything makes as much sense as telling a resident of Baku, Azerbaijan not to breathe. Sure, the atmosphere is foul, but holding your breath indefinitely will kill you faster than inhaling ambient carcinogens and industrial filth.

Before the bad vibes about assuming were popularized, assumptions and selling had a happier relationship. Remember the assumptive close championed in sales training courses? “Would you like your Pontiac Aztek in Electric Blue or Fusion Orange?” OK, maybe the technique has an ugly history, but it still has merit.

I’ve assumed lots of things throughout my sales career. Some of my assumptions continue to work fabulously well, and they’re the nucleus of my sales approach. In my prospect universe, I generally assume that

• the people I work with represent themselves honestly
• they don’t have malicious intentions
• there is a gap between their current business situation and where they want to be

Assumptions don’t come one-size-fits-all. If you’re selling encryption solutions to agents of foreign governments, the first two are dubious, but I would take the third one to the bank!

Other assumptions I’ve made have failed miserably. For a long time I assumed that customers want the best solution for their business needs. Admit it. You’ve assumed that too, right? Bad assumption, though—at least in my experience, because I lost an opportunity when my decision-maker prospect said, “Andy, you’re assuming I want the best solution. I don’t. I want a system installed by November 17th.” (True story. And the prospect was a Federal agency. You can rest assured our tax dollars are being spent wisely.)

“Assumptions make an (idiot) of you and me.” Maybe. But try “no assumptions” for a day, and see how much you accomplish. That’s why when you read an annual report for a publicly-traded company, you’ll find assumptions are given well-deserved prominence. Without assumptions, you cannot have a strategy. No shame! Be out there with your assumptions!

What’s needed is a kinder, more-nuanced attitude about assumptions, not blanket prohibitions from making them. My recommendations:

1. Know what you’re assuming. Many people don’t, and that’s how they get in trouble. After wrongly assuming my government prospect wanted the best solution, at least now I know I’m assuming it! (though I now ask some different questions).

2. Know the risks to your sales objectives if your assumptions don’t come to fruition.

3. Continually test your key assumptions for validity.

4. Get rid of assumptions that have a pattern of biting you in the rear. Replace those assumptions with questions that are effective in exposing the truth.

So whether you’re an executive designing strategy, or a salesperson developing an account plan, know what your assumptions are, and embrace them, because nothing in sales happens until someone assumes something!

Out of B-School and into the Sales Call: Why Porter’s Five Forces Beats Triggers

What sparked these decisions?

I suspect that each didn’t follow a single, cataclysmic event. “OMG! Steve in South Dakota just lost the keys to his truck! We’re changing everything!”

These decisions were influenced by many developments that percolated over time. Wal-mart felt pressure to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and to overcome consumer perception that management doesn’t care about economic parity for women. Rolls Royce realized that luxury car exhaust was as damaging as emissions from Fords, Fiats, and Suzukis. And UPS recognized that the lingering global recession required the company to achieve greater logistics efficiencies.

Major announcements keep sales adrenaline flowing. Who can’t spot one or more right-now selling opportunities in these announcements? There are good reasons Jill Konrath dedicated eight pages to explaining how to capitalize on trigger events in her popular book, SNAP Selling. “Trigger events shake the status quo to its core,” she writes. Go us! Keep those newsfeeds rolling!

But there’s irony. No doubt that salespeople are moved by status quo-shaking news. But well before trigger events begin to trigger, subtler forces shape, influence, and motivate major business decisions. That disconnect creates strategic sales problems. If your salespeople don’t get plugged into buying networks earlier than your competitors, you’re missing opportunities that emerging forces sent into motion weeks, months, or years earlier. You hear the symptom every time a prospect tells you “we’re already working with another provider on that project.” Translation: your competitor wasn’t sitting around waiting for a trigger event.

And although it’s borderline impossible to pinpoint conception for a buying activity, I’ll wager that it falls between the moments when someone in an organization becomes aware of an escalating force, and when he or she believes that a strategy must be adapted in response. Which probably explains why there are no Senior Managers of Corporate Panic, and no Vice Presidents for Unplanned Capital Acquisitions. I just checked on LinkedIn.

Sales Triggers vs. Strategic Forces

You already sense the conflict: opportunistic, alerts-monitoring salespeople, swooping in on the prospect at the ideal moment—the more dire the motivation, the better. “Press hard, fifth copy is yours!”—except now it’s done on an iPad. Call them ambulance chasers. You won’t hurt my feelings. Salespeople wouldn’t suffer from that ugly image if their radar were tuned to longer-term developments, and if they followed a strategy of opening relationships before everyone begins to hyperventilate.

Opposite the ravenous salesperson sits the strategy-driven prospect—frustrated, angry, and disappointed with street smart, but strategically clueless salespeople whose problem-solving zeal lasts just up to his or her commission check. In Silent Spring, author Rachel Carson wrote over 60 years ago, “. . . events are much easier to spot than trends. But fixing the problems isn’t necessarily better or easier.” A prescient observation in many ways. Perhaps she foresaw customer-vendor friction as a component of global warming.

Teaching salespeople about forces and their impacts can be difficult. Forces are not always apparent, and once forces are recognized, they combine in nearly infinite permutations, creating outcomes that are fiendishly hard to predict. Forces unfold in what seems like geologic time. Yawn. If you want excitement at your next sales kick-off, remove the Emerging Forces slide from your PowerPoint deck. Instead, just announce the latest customer or executive defections at your archrival competitor. No one will be playing Angry Birds or checking email while you have the podium.

But force effects are quickening. According to The Economist, “… in today’s world, gale-like market forces—rapid globalization, accelerating innovation, relentless competition—have intensified what economist Joseph Schumpeter called the forces of ‘creative destruction.’” Add frictionless interaction platforms (I just call it Social Media), next generation mobility, social network effects, information superabundance, inherent transparency and openness, rise of social capital, Green (and all that comes with it), outsourcing, virtualization, and cloud computing. The list goes on.

Forces—and the risks and opportunities that accompany them—keep decision makers up at night. No need to ask. Most of all, forces drive change, and change creates uncertainty, which executives, their bosses, and shareholders eschew passionately. Think of the trillions of dollars spent every year to make things more predictable! Hello! People coalesce around ideas that are influenced by forces. (Check with your prospects. It’s happening as you read this.) Force effects remind us that the customer decision mega-cycle has a longer timeline than we once imagined. So quit assuming major events like plant openings or new executive hires initiate buying momentum or catalyze purchases.

But for salespeople, knowing about forces is one thing. Conversing about them, and uncovering what they mean to prospects is another. Add to those talents the ability to prove to your clients that their business strategy will flat-out fail without your company’s products and services, and you’re one step closer to owning Irresistible Value! And that’s where the Porter’s Five Forces model can help.

Porter’s Five Forces

When I first saw the Porter’s Five Forces model, I had a Eureka moment. “This is what keeps my prospects awake!” I immediately knew it packed power for sales.

Porter’s Five Forces model organizes forces, places them into strategic context, and enables people to identify the impact of change. Porter’s Five Forces was originally developed to analyze the profitability potential of an industry—something any VC or investment analyst would love. So you’re probably wondering why salespeople should care. I’ll cover that at the end, but the answer will become apparent after I explain the basics, which I promise to keep mercifully short.

The five forces are: 1) intense rivalry among existing enterprises competing in a market (red box), 2) bargaining power of suppliers to those enterprises (left box), 3) bargaining power of customers (right box), 4) threat of new entrants to the market (top box), 5) threat of substitute products (bottom box). So far, so good? Great! You can relax, because you’re already about 80% of the way toward mastering the model.

The horizontal axis represents the Value Chain in an industry. The vertical axis represents the new players considering entry into a market, and helps capture which developments might rip apart or replace the dependencies between members of a value-chain community. Forces influence change on both axes: the power of the trading partner relationship on the value-chain, or horizontal axis; and the vulnerabilities for companies entering a market as direct competitors or providers of substitute products, or vertical axis. The forces connect to each other, but all have impact on the central box, Industry Rivalry. By recognizing forces, and how they fit in Porter’s model, you can understand the stresses, fissures, fractures, destabilizations, and general tumult that cause your prospects to keep a bottle of antacid within arm’s reach. And you understand the risks and opportunities your prospects perceive—or should perceive—along with their magnitude.

I already sense the questions that are flowing. What meaning do the forces of virtualization and cloud computing have on how executives view barriers to entry? How do they threaten or enhance strategic goals? How do the efforts of women to achieve global economic parity affect the retail value chain? What do the Clean Energy and Green movements mean for the transportation choices consumers are likely to make? What does e-commerce, globalization, and transparency mean for changing relationships in a value chain? Why wait for a trigger to get in touch with a prospective customer who needs the love right now?

Limitations of Five-Forces Selling

Porter’s model is not perfect. When I’m working in the Washington, DC area, people often ask, “Where does government regulation and compliance fit?” No worries. If you’re more comfortable, add a Sixth Force, and personalize the model by substituting your name for Porter’s. This is sales, so why be constrained by rules? Besides, a model’s strength rests in its ability to extend its explanatory power to new situations.

There are some other limitations you should know about. According to Wikipedia three not-always-true assumptions underlie Porter’s Five Forces:

  • that buyers, competitors, and suppliers are unrelated and do not interact and collude.
  • that the source of value is in creating barriers to market entry
  • that uncertainty is low, allowing participants in a market to plan for and respond to competitive behavior

Valid observations, but nothing that should cause people to give the model a heave-ho. And there’s nothing wrong with assumptions, so long as you know what they are.

I’m bullish on Porter’s Five Forces, despite the warts. If I could sum up what Porter’s Five Forces model does best, it’s connecting things in a meaningful way, and providing a better crystal ball. Think of what it can do for your prospects. The model helps salespeople work more intelligently, offer far greater insight and value to customers, and hold discussions just a tad earlier. Trigger events don’t do that. Call me a snob.

You’re already asking the right questions:

  1. Which industries and companies offer the best selling opportunities?
  2. Which developments are most likely motivating change for my prospective customers?
  3. How do I formulate questions, discussions, and communications with my prospects so that I’m perceived as valuable to them?

Take Porter’s Five Forces to your next sales meeting, and find out if you get closer to answering them.

Further reading:

What Do Tech Buyers Really Think of Salespeople? Three CIO’s Tell All!

Several years ago I phoned a colleague about a customer’s technical problem, and asked her to transfer me to Tom in Hardware Support. “Sure. Hold on,” she said. Then, assuming her preamble was private, she said, “Tom, I have Andy Rudin on the line—that short whiner.”

As a VoIP-enabled voyeur, learning what others really think was enlightening. Still, the male ego is a delicate thing. I revealed my presence by saying, “Mary, I am not short.”

Last week, I had a similar opportunity for insight when I attended a panel discussion at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, Virginia, What Technology Buyers Really Want from Marketers. The session was full of candor, so I wasn’t disappointed. First, the bad news: as sales professionals, our reputation is checkered, to say the least. You already knew that. Now, the good news: technology buyers need salespeople. But what you might not know how is how buyers perceive our interactions with them.

The Tower Club reeks of consumption. Suits and ties. No unshaven faces or flip-flops, even for twenty-something technology entrepreneurs. The club is located on the 17th floor of an office tower which the locals call The Shopping Bag Building, owing to its conspicuous pinnacle that resembles two shopping bag handles. The imagery is not accidental. The building casts its huge shadow on the country’s seventh-largest shopping mall, Tysons Corner, and it’s a stone’s throw from the headquarters of Capital One. I’ve heard that paper money flitters through its ductwork.

A fitting venue for the three CIO panelists—David Roth of The Carlyle Group, Bruce Mancinelli of Inc.spire, and Vijay Samalam of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute—whose cumulative career IT purchases approach $1 billion. Divide that number by 1,000, and you know the total number of PowerPoint slides they’ve endured through countless sales presentations. A battle-hardened group.

Here are the highlights:

Question: What advice would you give someone who’s new to tech buying about working with technology vendors? David Roth responded, “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten much more cynical: don’t trust what they tell you.” He described his struggles to keep his team focused on required outcomes when they meet with vendors. When he hears business IT users say “I didn’t like that sales rep,” or “I really like the team that presented,” he encourages them not to allow those biases to permeate their evaluations, adding, “Demos screw up the buying process. Don’t see them until you understand your business requirements.”

Question: Outside of your organization, what are the top sources of influence in your buying decisions? The panelists agreed that peers hold the greatest sway. David Roth shared that “CIO’s of private equity firms get together every three to four months, and just to talk about what we’re doing . . . it’s like looking at yourself in the mirror.”

Question: What do you consider the biggest recent changes in the buying process? There were several insights:

• The acquisition of technology no longer requires investing in capital assets, such as hardware (I recommend reading this twice while inhaling deeply and slowly. If there is any development more significant for IT vendors, I don’t know what it is.)

• Business users are more involved in IT buying than they were in the past. A challenge for IT executives is how to include them in the procurement process, and how to achieve balance between business unit needs and IT requirements.

• The traditional developer concept, “build it and they’ll come” is no longer true. Today’s technology buyer sees ease of operations, maintainability, and user support as offering greater value than “jazz factors” of technology.

• Technology buyers are no longer perfunctory when discovering the experiences other companies have had with a vendor’s technology. Today, such discovery is done early and often in the buying process–not just after the purchase decision has been made. Bruce Mancinelli shared that such rigor helps buyers “pick up patterns of good, bad, and concerning.”

• Demands for shorter time-to-value are driving unprecedented requirements for simplicity, ease-of-use, and customer support. This development creates faster buying cycles, a counterpoint to what many say are lengthening sales cycles.

• Having a path for IT evolution is a major buying consideration.

Do these developments mean you should siphon funding from marketing communications into customer support? No, but they do mean that your sales training program, product leadership and nifty website won’t get you very far sales-wise if your customers don’t have anything good to say about you or your company.

They mean that sales people who are stuck in demo-mode, with little tactical training outside promoting feature/capability/benefit, won’t make quota, no matter how hard they’re flogged. They mean that your company’s ability to make its revenue plan now depends as much on the selling skills of your customers as it does on those of your sales force. A year ago, you would have been forgiven for thinking of that idea as a tad facetious. Not anymore.

Do these CIO’s foresee the end of the road for salespeople, as others contend? I didn’t hear it. IT buyers need salespeople. They need them to walk their company’s walk and talk their company’s talk. In other words, they want salespeople with backbones, but packaged in a less product-centric, more strategic wrapper. David Roth told of one sales representative who repeatedly said, “Oh, we can change that . . .” when he talked about his company’s offerings. He contrasted that approach with a more resolute salesperson who said, “. . . we heard you, but here’s what we think . . .” It was obvious which salesperson won his respect. Steve Jobs said, “. . . a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Agility is great, until it gets in everyone’s way.

Even with gobs of information available through Internet and social media channels, IT buyers still value salespeople who can educate them. Not by reciting product specs laden with bits, bytes, feeds, speeds, features, and functions, but about tacit stuff that’s harder to uncover online: relationships. Each panelist shared how IT decision makers are focused on the expectation of trusted, long-term relationships. It’s hard to assure that vendor-client collaborations will go well by showing a PowerPoint slide, or by saying it on an “About Us” website page. So salespeople will have to dust off touchier-feelier relationship skills that were less in demand when cold technical product knowledge coupled with “show ‘em the sizzle and the steak” could truly rock a group of techie buyers in a sales call.

But education can go wrong, as Vijay Samalam shared. “Howard Hughes Medical Institute conducts pure research. Some cold calls I receive are about clinical trials or drug trials. I tell the salespeople we’re not involved in that.” Are these errant sales conversations educating prospects? Yes, but not in a good way, because these vendors are teaching prospects to devalue their efforts. Selling is complicated, but this part isn’t rocket science. A little pre-call homework goes a long way.

My mind goes back to David Roth’s succinct summation, “don’t trust what they tell you.” Like “short, little whiner,” it’s a wee bit harsh, but hearing it offers the listener the opportunity to know what to change.

Sgt. Dakota Meyer Is Right: Some Sales are Wrong

“We are taking the best gear, the best technology on the market to date and giving it to guys known to stab us in the back . . . These are the same people killing our guys.”

A Marine Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. Dakota Meyer, wrote that in an email quoted in The Wall Street Journal (Decorated Marine Sues Contractor, November 29, 2011).

If you’re following this story, you already know that Sgt. Meyer is suing his former employer, BAE Systems, alleging that they “retaliated against him after he raised objections about BAE’s alleged decision to sell high-tech sniper scopes to the Pakistani military. He says his supervisor at BAE effectively blocked his hiring by another defense contractor by making the claims about drinking and his mental condition.” If you want to contact BAE’s Investor Relations about investing, you might wait until their damage-control staff has handled the last seething caller.

But put aside Sgt. Meyer’s legal case for a moment, and recognize that he won his Medal of Honor for “braving enemy fire as he tried to save the lives of fellow Marines who had been trapped in a Taliban ambush.” And what’s the relationship between the Pakistani military and the Taliban?

No matter how sure the answers might be from BAE or the US State Department, they’re not sure enough. So Sgt. Meyer’s objection to BAE’s pursuit of this sale makes poignant sense. Sgt. Meyer found a point when revenue becomes filthy, and he spoke up. We need more people like him.

The pending BAE rifle scope sale isn’t the first in which revenue pursuit has collided with public policy issues, or with moral and ethical beliefs. Ambivalence over a prospect customer’s business mission, products, and services occurs more often than people might expect. Here are some examples from my selling past:

1. Cigarette manufacturing

Cigarette manufacturing is huge part of Virginia’s economy. The Philip Morris Richmond Manufacturing Center alone is located on 200 acres, with six connected buildings that cover 43 acres, totaling 1.6 million square feet. An outsider cannot appreciate the size of the industry until he or she drives on I-95 through Richmond and experiences the smell of ambient tobacco leaf in the air. Then you know. The huge network of providers—from production machinery to carton printers to filter manufacturers to warehousing—have the same logistics challenges that all manufacturers face.

For years, the technology I sold to companies in the tobacco value chain helped them manufacture and distribute a legal-lethal product better, faster, and cheaper. Not exactly a conversation starter at parties I attended with members from my masters swim team, or with my relatives in the health care profession. You see where I’m going with this. I overcame my dissonance because I rationalized that cigarette smoking is voluntary—as long as I suspended the nicotine-as-addictive-drug idea.

Had I stood on principal and refused to help these producers, my competitors would have gladly filled the void. Just as important, could I subtract tobacco-related revenue from my account portfolio and still make quota? Answer: no. But what happens when you can? (see #2)

2. Firearm manufacturing

One of my prospects was a large handgun manufacturer. While some might find my choice heretic, I decided not to call on the company because I didn’t need the revenue to make quota. Unlike cigarettes, theirs was a “stand-alone” plant, without an ecosystem of suppliers in my sales territory.

OK. Before we get into a heated philosophical debate over the intended meaning of the second amendment to the US Constitution, let’s agree that it’s perfectly legal to manufacture and distribute firearms in the US. No controversy. Done.

So what was my objection? Once again, it’s the lethal thing. For me, it would have been indescribably strange to walk the production floor, looking at bins of forged parts and watching Quality Control test bays, knowing the likely use of the finished product. I imagined speaking with the same clinically-detached operational terms used for the production of automotive seats and headlamps, but unable to escape knowing the ultimate purpose of the precision and quality was to deliver bullets better. Just writing about it still makes me a touch queasy. Call me a wimp. I can handle it.

As in life, nothing in sales ethics comes easily. Was my idealism fair to my employer? Was it fair to my resellers? Probably not. I referred the gun manufacturer to a VAR who was not conflicted. And I still made commission on the sales—a twist to the story that I’ll save for another day.

3. Meat production.

Full disclosure: I’ve been a vegetarian for over 30 years. OK, I’m not really a vegetarian, because I eat fish. And I only mentioned that because it’s an important fact for wrapping this up with a not-so-neat ethical bow at the end, which I promise to do in just a moment. That said, it doesn’t bother me when other people eat meat, just that I don’t.

Yet, I don’t sell to meat processors for the same reasons I don’t sell to tobacco processors: for me, it doesn’t feel good. Yes, I did write about a big sale I made to a meat plant following an e-coli outbreak. Yes, I got a great shot of adrenaline, and yes, there was a nice commission for my sale. But—and I’m not trying to win converts to veganism here—there are times in sales when you have TMI (Too Much Information). Vegetarian or not, if you’re selling to the meatpacking industry, you should have the appetite for it (pun intended).

My friends say, “Andy, you won’t eat meat, but you’ll eat fish. You won’t sell technology to a handgun manufacturer, but you will sell systems to automate navy supply warehouses—what’s the difference?” Great question, worth a conversation over a beer, at least. As author David Quammen wrote, “not every crisp line represents a triumph of ethical clarity.”

Back to Sgt. Meyer, BAE, and gun sight technology for the Pakistani military. Few will argue that a core idea for sales success is belief in your product or service. But belief in the value of your customer’s mission and purpose is just as critical—maybe even more. Sgt. Meyer’s story is important, because in tough economic times, being moral about how you produce revenue is difficult enough. Having the courage to be vocal when something seems amiss is truly remarkable.

Penn State Board of Trustees, are you listening?

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