Month: August 2012

Sales Fundamentals…They’re Not Complicated

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of Aug. 5th)

Nothing clears the head like a crisis in sales. You’re worried about how to sell this or that. You spend days, weeks, months, and sometimes longer trying to figure out your plan of attack. Then before the ink is dry on your 47th revision of your master formulation to increase sales it hits. You have inventory about to spoil, and no customer to be seen on the horizon. – Or. – No customers, and the bank wants to see your sales book for the next 90 days to ensure your credit line stays active. All of the sudden all that planning on what to do tomorrow is scrapped for “Whom can I see today. Now!”

One time I was giving a sales presentation to a group of very driven commission only sales people. This group did not suffer fools gladly and they had heard just about every so-called “Sales Guru” with a slide show try to sell them on some “New or Improved Sales System” hogwash. Many are intimidated when they get in front of a group like this, but you shouldn’t. They can actually become your best fans. Many have customers whom resemble this same group. They too can become your best customers. Why? Because they know what they want and they don’t play games. Offer them real advise, or real solutions that are actionable, measurable, without the dog and pony show and they’ll respond with thoughtful respect or business. And when you need to sell something, and need to sell it now, this is the group that will actually buy when you’re in need of sales. Cultivate this crowd for customers and you’ll end up saving time, money, and panic in the future.

I learned this valuable lesson from a person named Mason years back. I was at a conference and we were discussing over dinner a sales presentation he did that changed his career where he went from average salesman to V.P. in a heartbeat. He was in long drawn out negotiations with a client that involved 10’s of millions of dollars in revenue. Yet every time he tried some technique to close the sale it would just once again go down another path. Till finally he said, “Look. Here’s my cost. You fill in a price that works for you. If I can do it and make a reasonable profit, I’ll do it. Let me know what you come up with, if not have a nice day.” He was serious. Everyone in the room went quiet, and looked at each other. After a few moments of pensive silence the main negotiator laughed and said, “You know what, you’re right. Let’s stop all this round and round stuff with angling for whom slices the last penny and get something done that works for both of us.” He closed the largest contract ever for his company that day, and was quite a feather in his cap. I never forgot it.

A sale is about offering a client actual value. If you have something of value, you can dispense with all the classroom debate skills and actually start selling and asking for business. Anything less and all you’re doing is trying to pick their pockets, and they can see it a mile a way. Offer solid business that’s beneficial to both and selling becomes much easier.

And what about that group of sales people at my presentation? As I was being introduced there was a collective sigh of  “Oh no, not another one.” So I walked up to the easel took out a marker and stated, “I created the only proven sales formula that matters now, and will matter in the future.” Then I wrote in big bold letters the acronym S.A.L.E.S.
I said, “That stands for Sell A Lot Everyday….Brainiac! Any questions?” In what was only seconds but seemed an eternity, the room went from eerie silence to an explosion of laughter. We then went on to what turned into a great success.

Stop trying to complicate the easy stuff. Sell them what you know they need. Not what you want.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

In The Eye of The Beholder?

“There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.”…Mark Twain

If there is anything that remains constant in the world of advertising or sales it’s this:
Spin the stats in any way shape or form so that if you want to lie (or need to lie), you can always point to the stats with a shrug of the shoulders when called on the rug. Then without flinching recite the line…“Well that’s how I interpreted them. Not like I lied about it.”

For me the most enjoyable aspect I get out of so-called “Guru’s” in the social media world is how they loved to shout from the rooftops the value of the web because it is an absolute correlating, number crunching, real-time data machine. You knew exactly to the person whom looked, bought, and more. They shouted lines resembling. “Forget all that radio, and TV stuff. How do you know who actually bought?” to now you hear, “Oh well you or we can’t give exact figures. It’s about getting in front of the eyeballs!” I am nearly brought to tears from laughing so hard many times. I have some standing on this matter because I was an actual Sales Manager for a radio cluster station years ago. So when I say I know the lines used for data or statistical manipulation. Trust me, I know. (Be warned I always like to point out that when a media sales person says “Trust me” be on guard. Just saying.)

So as a followup to my FTWSIJDGIGT article on my web presence I present without further ado what we found when doing some research. Of course like always yours truly is the sacrificial ego.  So when I was alerted that if I just change the criteria a bit I could get more favorable results I shrugged it off. Of course I knew this but who’s kidding who in the end. But curious I said: “Show me.”

As we all know if you put parenthesis i.e. ”  ” around your search term you’ll only get results with that term or name in it.(or at least most) So how much higher could I get my claim of nearly a million “impressions” higher? 10%-20%-50%-100%? How about this much:

Yes, That’s right…3 BILLION 850 MILLION!

I was so impressed I ran down to my favorite coffee house an ordered my usual triple espresso. When I was asked to pay I stated: “Hey, don’t you know who I am?” When she replied no I thought I would impress her with my new found fame. Didn’t work she still wanted cash. (The nerve!) Then I suggested an alternative, “How about some “Likes” from articles of mine I’ve seen on Facebook®?” Nope, she said not acceptable. Then I said, “Having that many hits on the internet must be worth something? I mean c’mon I’m closing in on 4 BILLION!” Undeterred she stated rather calmly that pictures of cats frequently get exponentially more.
So I said,”Well then I guess I it really doesn’t matter squat. I guess I’ll never get a freebie.” To which she replied:

“Hey, who knows. Maybe if you ever get recognized on LOLcats(dot com) you really will have hit the big time.”

Good thing I have a habit of keeping change in the ashtray of my car. Or this could have gotten far more embarrassing than it already was.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Facebook: Why It Wasn’t “Different This Time”

There are a plethora of so-called “experts” running to and fro commenting on why Facebook® the former darling of the IPO (Initial Public Offering) investment world dashed all their hopes and dreams. Most are missing the point in my view because it was pretty clear to anyone whom looked at their developing love affair without the rose-colored glasses. All one needed to do was put down the rose spectacles and view the model through the prism of business for a clear view. The business model showed cracks right from the beginning.

Let me state right here that I have great respect for Mr. Zuckerberg and what he’s accomplished, and is still trying to. However as of today the IPO and business model that was used to bludgeon anyone critical of its claims is currently trading not only lower, but near half its original price. For those expecting to be rich by year-end they now might be facing losses of nearly half their money, and quite possibly more. But what’s the real reason why? Here’s how I see it…

First, you have to remove the debacle that was the IPO’s opening day. Although this hurt it originally why were there not buyers at these now discounted prices? If Facebook was everything they claimed shouldn’t everyone be clamoring for as many shares as they can get at such reduced prices? Can’t use the excuse of it’s a horrible market because the S&P 500 and other major indexes have screamed to new highs. Yet Facebook at this same time hit new lows trading at what some call “teenager” levels. If only hitting the “Like” button could bolster the stock. But as of this writing, banks and others don’t accept “Likes” as legal tender.

We heard and we still hear that FB has 900 million users or “eyeballs.” All they have to do is find away to convert them and it was off to Shangri-La. All one needs to ask is, if that were true, why aren’t every billboard advertiser the richest on the planet? Last time I looked billboards barely break even for advertisers. But billboards and other forms of media have a very distinct difference that is currently unavailable on FB. Control of its presence, or in other words, you don’t control your layout on FB. They dictate what you can and can not do. Why would a company that spends millions of dollars trying to perfect or maintain an image subject themselves to looking the same as everyone else within FB? And that’s not even including that wonderful feature that everyone hated and is now nearly unstoppable by dictate from FB…TimeLine.

Another hurdle that FB defenders never truly addressed right from the start was very telling. You didn’t need to be a genius to understand intuitively that the vast majority of users don’t buy, won’t buy, and wouldn’t spend a nickel to use FB if they had to. All one needed to do was either watch or ask any teenager interacting with social media sites. As soon as you ask or hint at money or information they’re gone. Just ask yourself this question: If FB charged $1 per month for access and MySpace® or others remained free, just how many of FB core audience or users would move to the free site? I’ll contend 10’s if not 100’s of millions of them. Just like they migrated from where they were originally. That’s not an easily resolved  kink in any business model in my book. It’s a possible fatal flaw that might just be non-correctable or worse, inevitable.

In the case of business models and pleasing investors (rightly or wrongly it’s part of being a public company) Mr. Zuckerberg was heralded as not caring about stock prices or valuation. He was about building a social platform in the tradition or views held by Steve Jobs. This was easily seen as a disaster waiting to happen. First off, the comparison of M.Z. to S.J. is misplaced at best. S.J. came back to Apple® after both himself and the company he founded had been totally humiliated in many ways. S.J. came back not only with a better understanding of what he wanted or needed to accomplish, but brought a company that was near the edge of oblivion to its current day incarnation. M.Z. is starting near where S.J. ended. What he does from here will be how he should be compared. (If there is a one) Not the other way around.

The investment, and social media world was far too eager to pat themselves on the back before the ink was even laid to paper, never mind before dry. This is where you heard the incantations of “It’s different this time.” Everyone, and I mean everyone from so-called social media “Guru’s” to angel investors to true Venture Capitalists were touting their satisfaction on how brilliant they were or why happy days were here again. It’s the Dotcom era 2.0! This is where many set themselves up because all you needed to do was look, and you could see things all too similar in justifying why it wasn’t different this time. It was more of the same, and would probably end in a similar way.

For an understanding of the tenor that surrounded FB here’s a sample. It’s an excerpt from August Capital’s David Hornik on his blog named VentureBlog.com.
dated 5/18/12.
“It is impossible to ignore the economic impact of the Facebook IPO. It will make many people very rich. And it secures what has been known for a long time — Facebook is the best Venture Capital investment in the history of the industry. The individuals who made that investment deserve a huge amount of credit for seeing the value that could be created there.” You can read the entire article here.

Understand I am not throwing barbs at Mr. Hornik. I have great respect for whom he is, what he has done, and his prowess as a venture capitalist. I have great respect and admiration for him as I know many others have.  What I am trying to demonstrate is what the tenor was everywhere from everyone almost in a synchronized chorus. It’s also one of the most dangerous aspects of business. It’s when one finds their heads are not above the clouds breathing rarefied air but instead they’re inhaling their own exhaust. Not only did the investment world suffer this but come to find out the State of California is now bemoaning the fact that the BILLIONS of dollars they counted on from the tax revenues from all the millionaire’s created has gone up in another puff of smoke. Everyone was on-board the bandwagon. Except the band.

It’s quite possible that FB can turn itself around and be the dominant force that so many believed it would be. But as of this writing what happens next resides in the hands of Mr. Zuckerberg himself. Hopefully there were never any orders placed for a mascot at any sock companies.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

F.T.W.S.I.J.D.G.I.G.T.

(For those who say I just don’t get it…Get this!)

A few days ago I posted an article titled “If It Ain’t Broke.” The theme of that article inferred that for as long as politicians or central bankers can manipulate the markets with words that’s exactly what they will do. I also stated the following:

“Remember the Wizard of Oz? It’s all the financial education one needs to know in today’s market. Commonsense, business prowess, balance sheets, CEO’s acumen, along with any $200K education in business. All of it, irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what a politician or central banker says over tea or tee time.”

Well that short paragraph had some in a little bit of a huff. So I just thought I would defend my position and argument in real-time.

As of the writing of this post the market that was teetering on the edge of the abyss once again has erased everything bad in the market and gone even higher! How could all this bad be so good for the markets? Is it fundamental analysis of corporate earnings? No, they are actually faltering. Was it the unemployment statistics released today? No, although the headlines at first blush looked promising, they actually appear to be just shy of where a dismal print would be. The more you looked the worse they were. If my math is correct 8.3 is worse than 8.2 but who am I to say anymore. How about stability in markets where you feel safe with your broker? No, actually once again another major broker (Knight Capital Group) used by many large firms and banks teeters on collapse with rumors of “will customers money be safe?” So why would everything be just hunky dory again? And in less than 24hrs? It must be that everything is solved correct? Alas, no. Just like Mr. Draghi of the ECB (European Central Bank) rumored that he had what it takes to solve everything with the Euro only to find out the other day “The Emperor had no clothes.” and reversed any gains, lo and behold all that has been nullified and it’s back to the gravy train mentality. But how you ask? I reply, “Surely you jest?”

Just like clockwork on a Friday before going into the weekend, and before the markets here in the U.S. opened as they were up over 1% even before the so-called “better than expected” jobs numbers were released. The European markets were on fire. Up some 2 then 3 then 4%! Closing on their highest points of the session. What could cause such a move? Without further ado I give you the line that came out right before the European markets closed (Source Bloomberg):

Merkel Coalition Members Show Acceptance of ECB Bond-Buying

“Members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition parties signaled they won’t stand in the way of European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi’s plan to buy government bonds.” (You can read the entire article by clicking the headline)

Just so we’re all clear, “signaled” is a term that’s used when you want plausible denial. As long as it’s a “signal” it’s no more than a rumor. But for the purposes of getting broken markets where the computers are in control (or out of control as demonstrated by Knight Capital Group) to push higher on innuendo. Rumor mills trump any specialized knowledge of markets. And as long as the markets remain broken, then there will be no shortage of jawboning because what today proves:
Why do anything if just talking about that you’re discussing that maybe you might talk about resolving talks about discussing the talks works just fine.

Till it doesn’t.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

If It Ain’t Broke: Addendum

I was reminded of something I wrote a while back when all this craziness started. It’s probably more relevant today that ever…

“Markets right themselves with pain… That’s Capitalism.
Back room manipulation to avoid pain only increases the severity of the pain to be felt down the road.”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

If It Ain’t Broke…Why fix it?

As anyone remembers when working on their own cars before they became computers knows the old sage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So why are the media channels full with tantalizing teasers to make sure you’re tuned in to hear how once again a problem that has supposedly been solved 375.83 speeches ago is in need of another speech to tell everyone it’s once again solved?

For quite awhile now I have written (some might argue pontificate) that the Euro crisis has never been settled regardless of what has been expressed throughout the financial media outlets. I can not help myself but to break out in sheer laughter when someone argues with either myself or in a discussion with the talking heads on television that the crisis has been averted. Or as one buzzer banging commentator used to say “That issue is off the table!” I say to that...”Really?…Oh Really?”

The markets have gone on an incredible run over the last week. Yet, is this run attributable to anything positive? You hear, “Earnings are coming in once again better than expected!” Although that might be true what were expectations? If you’ve been paying attention the bars were lowered from where they stated originally by many. Also in relation to these lowered bars, the bars being set for next earnings “beats” have been lowered still. Economic numbers whether credible or not have been nothing but lack luster. People whom are honest looking at the data points agree on one theme. They’ve been dismal at best. And here we are with the markets in the same areas set in 2007 when to everyone’s knowledge or thoughts the gravy trains would run forever. But we all remember what happened later don’t we?

According to reports less than 50% of reported companies have actually beat their revenue expectations. To further shed light on that which in my view is the most important of figures, they have also once again lowered the projections going forward. Or to say it differently, not only did they not meet these lowered numbers, but the numbers ahead are going to be even lower. China’s earnings are missing the mark. Greece is still in free fall economically. Spain as of last week seemed to be in free-fall in respect to its interest rates, and yet the market rallies towards new highs for the year. How can all this bad be so good for the markets? Easy…Remember the Wizard of Oz? It’s all the financial education one needs to know in today’s market. Commonsense, business prowess, balance sheets, CEO’s acumen, along with any $200K education in business. All of it, irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what a politician or central banker says over tea or tee time.

Some like myself will argue that the markets are no longer functioning as the bastions of free enterprise they were designed to be. They are broken and need to be repaired. They are currently a modern-day Frankenstein creation waiting to turn on its creator at any moment. Just when that moment is – is anyone’s guess. But what’s just as dangerous as the creation are quite possibly the actual creators themselves because of the one fact that has yet to materialize. Losing control of the abomination.

Why would they do anything different if all they have to do is talk about how they talked about resolving an issue they discussed before to resolve the issue they think might be discussed to make plans in preparation to put in place plans that are to be discussed and finalized at a date that are due any moment that the discussion on whether or not action is needed should be discussed? Because that seems to be working just fine. So I guess “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” continues.

Till it doesn’t.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr