Marinate in the Pain

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All decisions made by humans are to seek pleasure and to avoid pain - we are by nature hedonists.  However, people are more motivated to avoid pain then to seek pleasure. People are more motivated to avoid a current pain than a future pain. Adding an emotional component to it magnifies the desire to get out of pain. If you are being chased by a lion would you stop to grab a suitcase of money on the side of the road? Obviously not, the desire to not get mauled (avoiding pain) is more powerful than the desire to have the money (seeking pleasure). This applies to business as well, however most companies don’t take advantage of this human propensity in their sales strategies.

The goal is to get your clients to marinate in the pain, to just sit there in the muck and agony.  The more painful you make your clients’ current situation seem, the more desperate they will be to address it and, voila! you are there to offer them a solution. Don’t let your excitement to show off your product to the client displace a true sales strategy. All sales people know the power of a good discovery before jumping into the heart of the meeting. Discovery is a great time to start the discussion about current pain. Then, in your pitch, start with a slide about the art of the possible, the vision of what a perfect world looks like. Get everyone in the room nodding, agreeing, yes, that would be ideal!

The biggest mistake made at this juncture is to take your client on a path to seek pleasure (your solution) versus avoiding pain (deeper discovery). Smart pitches, after taking the client to the high of what is possible, plunges the client into the depths of pain - why this utopian vision is not possible today. Skilled sales people get the client creating a list of pain points, then they stay there and let the client marinate in it.  They have the client tell horror stories or illustrate frustrations to fully flush out the pain. And then they take it deeper, make it personal - “Did you have to come in and miss a weekend with your family? That stinks.” They stir them in the pain until they can almost feel them begging to be rescued. Time to come in on your white horse and show them how uniquely qualified the solution is so they do not have to go back to the depths of pain ever again. 

The idealists in the room are saying: that is manipulative, the client will inherently see the value, I don’t need to do that. However, the reality is taking your client on an emotional journey is an essential part of sales. How many commercials tug at your heartstrings to get you to feel a connection to their product? As a salesperson you are one big commercial for your product. That is your job - to create a powerful experience so your client bonds with you and the product.

The basic flow of your sales call after your discovery is as follows:

1.     Show the vision of the possible

2.     Show why this vision is impossible today

3.     Get your client to articulate their current pain

4.     Flesh it out, go deeper, make it personal

5.     Stay there as long as feasible, don’t piss off your client!

6.     Demonstrate your unique ability to rescue them from the pain

7.     Get confirmation from the client your solution solves their pain

8.     Go in for the close while they are basking in the relief of no longer being in pain


The bigger pendulum of high highs and low lows you take your client on, the better chance you have of getting the deal. Don’t be afraid to try, remember hedonism is human nature!  Good Selling!

You Are Not Paranoid Enough


Do you have that feeling that someone is watching you? That everyone in the room is talking about you? That maybe your relationship isn’t exclusive?

If you don’t, you should.

I was fortunate enough to work for Intel when Andy Grove was CEO.  One of his most famous lines is “only the paranoid survive”.  This term is as relevant today as it was in the 90s.  Being paranoid, in the right way, is essential for all companies and especially startups. It’s what will propel your business forward.  What does being paranoid “in the right way” mean?

1.     Look over your shoulder.

2.     Be self-aware.

3.     Realize you’re not the only game in town.

1.     Look over your shoulder: Assume if you have this great idea, someone else probably has it, too.  Once the word is out about a new way to grow an audience or solve a problem, there will be a crowd of imitators jumping in the fray.  The movie industry is a great example of this.  You can google “similar movies coming out at the same time” and see the same trending themes from 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down to 1997’s Volcano/Dante’s Peak.

Once you realize that others are close on your heels, you need to run like hell.  I have watched and worked for companies who lost their competitive edge because they weren’t paranoid enough and were having too much fun telling everyone how great their technology was versus how it will transform the client’s world.  The result: a window of opportunity for the competition.  Someone is going to try to catch you. It’s your responsibility to not let anyone preempt your narrative with a more compelling story.

2.     Be self-aware: Assume people are talking about you. Today, with social media, your missteps go public overnight and have the potential to throw a wrench in your progress.  So yes, you need to run like hell, but you need to be running in the right direction and not skipping steps that affect quality, preparation like Q/A and alpha and beta clients. And don’t overpromise the initial capabilities of your product.

Reputation is everything, especially in the beginning as you build your brand.  Tell a great story and deliver as promised; stay close to your early clients; be responsive and become the company that is trusted, that is essential to your clients’ success.

3.     Realize you’re not the only game in town:  If your customers are talking to you, they are probably talking to others. There are two ways you meet prospective customers.  They asked for you to come in or you or a partner convinced them to let you pitch your product.  If they asked you, this typically means they are looking to improve some aspect of their business and are probably exploring multiple options. If you convinced them to let you pitch and stimulated new ideas and solutions for them, as grateful as they are, they’re going to do their homework and see what else is out there.

Make the choice easier for the customer:  Be ready to stand out from the competition by reassuring clients through your acumen that they’ve made the right choice, that they can count on you, that you know your stuff. So be prepared to wow them.

Do you know what makes you unique?  Can you articulate it?  Do you know your Unfair Advantage?  Set the bar so high that the competition can’t get over it and the only choice is for your customer to choose you.

This may seem obvious, and you may think you are already doing this. But remember 20% of startups fail from being outcompeted.  Another reason startups fail is they don’t get outside help.  Be paranoid that someone may do it or sell it better if you give them the chance. So don’t let that happen. Run fast. Run hard. Run smart. Get help.


Alison Arnoff
Unfair Advantage Consulting

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A Shinier Bucket Doesn't Hold Any More Water

Startup : I have a new shiny bucket for you to give your customers AND it’s cheaper!

Reseller: But my customers are able to already move water from A to B….

Startup: Yes, but my bucket is shinier and cheaper and it makes the liquid lighter so your customers don’t have to work as hard to carry the water!

Reseller: Okay, so their life “may” be better but by making their life better I have to lose money and put more time into telling them about your new bucket? Why would I do that? Plus, I know and trust the guy my customers get the buckets from already.

Startup: If you help your customers life be better they will be grateful and give you more business!

Reseller: You can’t guarantee that and I have a quota to make and bills to pay and a reputation to maintain...

Startup: FINE! if you don’t want to tell your customers about my new bucket I will find someone else that will!!

Resellers are an amazing way to expand your reach and grow your company.  If you can align with resellers it can be a fast-moving train in accelerating your business.  The biggest mistake companies make when trying to engage resellers is believing they will be as excited about your technology as you are.

Before you showed up, the reseller most likely had a successful business, good relationships with their customers and with other vendors.  You may get lucky and find a visionary reseller that wants to be the first to present their customers new technologies, and see the long-term benefit. However, the bottom line is always what matters most.  Many resellers will choose to wait until the new technology gets closer to mainstream before presenting it to their customers, as this means lower risk to them and less disruption of current business. Ask them what their appetite is for new technology.

Respect the path they are on.  Instead of asking them to take you to customers that are already buying buckets from them, ask them to introduce you to customers that are buying shovels and picks from them, but buckets from someone else.  See if they can get you the bucket business.  This wedge strategy is a true win-win.  You are taking advantage of the reseller’s existing relationship, the reseller gets the opportunity to make more money, and together you are building trust. 

The other path is to give the reseller initial business. “ Hey Mr/Ms Reseller, I have this customer who wants to buy my buckets and instead of me selling it to him directly, I would like you to sell it to him.”  Believe me, I can already hear the groans from salespeople regarding this approach.  Why should I do this?  What have they done for me?  I am going to make less on the deal than if I take it direct!  Of course, there is no guarantee that this will result in the reseller bringing you in on other deals, but you have to start somewhere.  At this stage, you need them more than they need you.

Resellers can be an amazing partner in your growth strategy.  Make it a win-win for your resellers, understand their priorities, be a good vendor and the train will start rolling!


Alison Arnoff
Unfair Advantage Consulting

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Would Your Partner Marry You Again?

In the world of personal relationships, it can often be a mystery why some people stay together, ever got together, or seem perfectly happy, but then split up. In the world of business relationships, it should never be a mystery why a relationship succeeds or fails.  

One of my longest-married friends told me that every year she and her husband review where they are, goals for the year and make sure they are on the same page. Unlike a lot of couples after they become empty-nesters and look at each other and say, “Who are you?” These two actually still like each other and are one another’s favorite person to be with.

Let’s apply that same concept to our business relationship. Nobody wants to be with someone in any relationship because it is too expensive to get “divorced”...

In your relationships:

  • Are they looking for the first opportunity to dump you? 
  • Are they feeling neglected, and starting to have a wandering eye?
  • Are they bad-mouthing you to their friends so no one else will ever date you?

Just like in our personal lives, our relationships can provide us with the most insight and growth potential if you are willing to ask the questions and really listen. In business, everyone knows it takes less time and resources to up-sell an existing customer than it does to acquire a new one. Even more importantly, your existing customer base is your best source of product marketing information. However, most companies don’t take the time to slow down and mine that data.


One area many companies fail is asking customers the hard questions, which must include:

  • What are we doing right for you? 
  • What are we doing wrong for you?
  • What do you think our strengths are? Weaknesses?
  • Did we represent the product, its benefits and capabilities accurately?
  • Who do you consider our nearest competition?
  • Where would you like us to go next?
  • How do we become a better partner to you?
  • What features if we added would have the most positive impact?
  • Who else do you think would benefit from our solution?
  • And most importantly: Would you marry me again knowing now what you know?

Just like in a personal relationship, you may not like all the answers you get, but these are the answers you need to hear. Don’t get defensive, say: “Thank you, that was tough to hear but we will be better because of it. I want you to know you have been heard; let’s do this every quarter and make sure we are moving forward.”

This conversation is pure gold. Not only have you just strengthened a relationship, you received invaluable data, for free, that will help you build a better product and company. You don’t need expensive market research; the experts are the people using your products.

I have been fortunate to work for one company that did a great job in creating a customer success organization and see them becoming an integral part of emerging companies. However, these organizations are only as good as the questions they ask. Remember the hardest questions to ask are the ones that are going to give you the best information.

Once you get your customer to say “I do”, a card on your anniversary is not enough to keep the romance alive. Keep courting, ask the tough questions and say "thank you, you are right"-- often.


Alison Arnoff
Unfair Advantage Consulting

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14 Words Will Set You Free

If you have been in sales any amount of time, you undoubtedly have suffered through more sales training than you can remember.  You have been trained on products, sales methodology, do’s and don’ts, presentation skills, and objection handling ad nauseum.  You leave, brain saturated, excited to take on the world and put your new skills to work. Unfortunately, you will be lucky, even with your best note taking skills and an amazing memory, to retain 15% of what you heard.

Every now and then a real golden nugget falls in your lap and gets imprinted on your brain causing a shift.  Not a seismic shift, if you have been doing this successfully for a while, but enough to make a direct impact on success. For me, one of those moments came after my startup was acquired by BMC Software and I was at my first training. The trainer was discussing fatigue that executives experience sitting through sales calls with vendor after vendor telling them all about how wonderful their product is, while failing to grasp the executive’s world.

We sales people love to show up and show off all our knowledge about our cool technology.  Then we grow up and learn to do some proper discovery, learning what is important to our customers before we spout off all our great knowledge.  For me, 14 words changed this dynamic, and shifted how I prepared for meetings. The best part was, this added at most, 15 minutes to my prep time.  

These 14 words were the biggest complaint executives had about sales people:

“You don’t know me.  You don’t know my company. You don’t know my industry.”

That’s it!  The keys to the kingdom!  So, what do we do with them?...


You don’t know me.  It can be a simple quick LinkedIn search to see how they described their role, where else they worked, how long they have been there, where they went to school, any connections you have in common and if they published on any topics.  You can take it further and add twitter to the mix, see what they tweet about and who they follow and retweet.  You can take it a step deeper and check Instagram and FB to see if you have any personal connections, or hobbies in common.  Remember that walk from the lobby to the meeting room, if escorted by your prospect, is a key opportunity to loosen things up with conversation on a personal topic, “Hey I see you went to USC! Did you see the game this weekend?”

You don’t know my business. First and foremost, always, always, google the company and look under the news tab.  I got caught once when I was put on a call by inside sales and had no idea the company was just purchased.  Shame on me for not doing the minimum and googling the company first! If they are a public company you should be automatically downloading their 10K.  In time, you learn to scroll through it in less than 5 minutes, learning about their goals and challenges to help fine tune your message. These documents are detailed and usually indexed to make it fast and easy to get to the sections that are most relevant.  

You don’t know my industry. Again, Google is your friend.  Google: trends in the industry, industry leaders and challenges, top experts, predictions for the industry. Google to find their competitors. Now you can be a knowledgeable advisor and partner, not just a sales rep.

3 steps, 14 words, 15 minutes are all you need to set yourself apart.  Somebody, maybe you, probably worked pretty hard to get that meeting, 15 more minutes and you will stand out from the pack and more importantly add real value to your customer!  



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Why You Didn't Get a Second Date (Meeting)

Ever go on a date, have a great time and wonder why you never hear from them again?  Well, you probably are guilty of committing one of the cardinal sins of a first date:

  1. You talked all about yourself;

  2. You didn’t ask your date about himself or herself;

  3. You talked about your ex.

These same rules apply on your first meeting with a customer.  You finally got that meeting with the big fish, the guy/girl you have had your eye one. THEY SAID YES!! You are so excited! Then you blew it… You spent the whole meeting telling the client how wonderful your product is. Or you just came back from sales training and are armed with all these amazing nuggets and can’t wait to tell them ALL to the customer. Ever been on date and they go on and on with a story, don’t pause or ask you questions, and instead deliver a monologue?  Don’t be that date!  It is even worse when you have a transformational technology and are so excited to tell them what it is and how it works without even finding out first if they are remotely interested.


Basic sales 101 is discovery, discovery, discovery.  So many salespeople are so excited about their technology they are like an overwound windup toy and just jump in and go. Just like a date, people want to feel important, special, that you want to get to know them, and what is important to them.  You wanted to go out with them, isn’t the point to get to know them better? You already know your stories; don’t you want to learn theirs?


Remember, he who talks most on the date had the better time. Make sure your date/client has the better time.  Not only ask questions but be genuinely interested, read their 10K report, google their industry in the news to know trends, study the people you are meeting on LinkedIn, see who they follow on twitter.  If you did that before a date it would be a little creepy, but in business it will show that you are there for them, not for you.

Trash talking your competition is just like talking about an ex.  You should be putting your best foot forward and creating a positive impression.  The competition usually has their own successful customer base and happy references to counter your arguments.  Plus no one wants to work with a negative nelly -  they want someone positive, interested, self-assured and compassionate.   When I worked at Intel selling embedded processors to a very large imaging customer, the competition was AMD and Motorola.  HP printers dominated the world at this point and were selling millions of units a year with each of our processors in it, so saying they were a bad choice would have backfired on us. Instead, by focusing on our strengths and why the partnership would be successful, made us a safer choice to the customer and we won the deal.  

You worked so hard to get that first date, be prepared, be grateful, be curious, let your best self show up, and it may be the start of a beautiful relationship.



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