Epilogue – And Then There Was 3D

18 months later…

Joe didn’t get more than two steps into Matt’s Denver office before Matt was on his feet to greet him with a delighted handshake. “It’s great to see you, Joe,” Matt said. “How was your flight?” “Everything went smoothly. Can’t say I learned much, though, except that it’s pretty flat between here and Chicago.” The notion that airline flights were supposed to be learning experiences had become a standing joke between them. “How are you doing, Matt? It’s been, what, four months since I’ve seen you? How are Linda and the kids? ” “Never better,” Matt said. “Life is good.” This was true, and it showed. Matt had told Joe before about the surprising spillover benefits that Action Selling ® gave to his family life as the system became second nature to him. (“Joe, it’s amazing what happens when you actually listen to your wife and Ask the Best Questions until you truly understand her! Is this normal? Does Action Selling ® do this for everybody?”) Matt was, quite plainly, a happier man than the one Joe had first met on that memorable swing through Seattle. His whole demeanor spoke of confidence and a sense of competence that was entirely new. And even if your manner didn’t tell the story, your numbers would, Joe thought. You’re one of our top salespeople, Matt—no small achievement in a sales force that is lighting up its industry since everyone got trained in Action Selling ®. After a little more catching up, the two settled into Matt’s office and got down to business. “Is everything set for our call on RWS Advisors tomorrow?” Joe asked. Matt nodded. “We’re on for 9 a.m.,” he said. “We have one hour with the four of them: John Williams, my original contact, plus Kevin Robb, Al Shaffer, and Julie McNeil. It really helped that I was able to play you like a trump card, Joe. My relationship with Williams might have been strong enough to get me a meeting with all of them, but when I said I wanted to bring in our national sales vice president, that sealed the deal.” “Yes, when it comes to getting the ears of decision makers, like titles attract,” Joe said. “I’m really looking forward to making another joint call with you,” Matt said. “Wow, who’d have believed 18 months ago that I’d ever be saying that?” Joe laughed. “You think you’re surprised?” Matt let the jab pass. “That’s not the only reason I’m glad I called you for help last week,” he said. “And from what you said, it sounds as if I’m going to be gladder still. Action Selling ® 3D? Is that what you called it?” “That’s its name,” Joe replied. “It’s a new course from Action Selling ®. It zeroes in on how to manage complex sales–you know, deals with multiple decision makers. Your call came at a perfect time because RWS is a perfect example of how 3D applies to our business. This will be a great opportunity for us to use it in the field.” With that, Joe reached into his briefcase… One week ago… Matt’s phone call to Chicago had found Joe at his desk. “I think I may be in trouble,” Matt said. “How much do you know about accounting firms?” “OK, I’ll play along,” Joe said. “Practically everything I know about CPAs comes from a golfing buddy of mine who is one. I don’t think he’s typical, though. He’s an extrovert. You know how to tell when you’re dealing with an outgoing CPA? He looks at your shoes instead of his own.” Matt had heard the joke before, but gave it a courtesy laugh. Then he explained his problem. Matt had been calling on John Williams, one of three partners whose name was on the masthead of RWS Advisors, a mid-sized accounting firm based in Denver. “John heads their tax unit, which is their largest business unit, a little bigger than their audit division,” Matt told Joe. “I thought John was the decision maker for a product like our All-in-One software. He talked like the decision maker. He gave me the needs I was looking for to prepare a presentation. I was ready to price the deal out and submit my final proposal.” Matt explained that he was trying to schedule a final proposal meeting when Williams, looking over his calendar, mentioned that he had an executive team meeting the next week, a partner’s meeting the following week, and something involving his practice development manager—whatever that might be. “He began to sort of think out loud about his schedule,” Matt told Joe. “He was using terms and titles I’d never heard—or, if I did, I hadn’t paid much attention: ‘principle, partner, director, manager.’ And he talked as if the ‘executive team’ was something distinct from ‘the partners.’ “All this time I had been excited because we do practically no business with professional services firms, and I figured this deal might help open a new market for us,” Matt continued. “But suddenly I had two horrible thoughts. First, John Williams might not be the decision maker after all. And second, I didn’t understand how my customer’s business was structured, or who the players were, or how their relationships worked. And now it was too late in the game for me to admit that to Williams.” Over the phone Joe heard three thumps that might have been Matt slapping himself in the forehead. “And I thought I had gotten really good at Act 3,” Matt said. “I feel like a complete jackass.” Matt had left Williams’ office an hour ago. His Commitment Objective for the call had been to schedule a final proposal meeting, and he did. “But the more I think about it, the more I worry that a price proposal at this point will be premature,” he said. “I suspect there are other buyers and influencers hiding in the weeds, maybe including the real decision maker. Instead of presenting a final proposal to John, I probably should be conducting a needs analysis with some other players. But I’m not even sure where to look for them. If they had titles like CEO, CIO or Marketing VP, I’d be on steadier ground. But with this firm, I just don’t know.” You may feel like a jackass, Matt, but you don’t sound like one, Joe thought. You aren’t trying to hide your mistake or blame anybody. You just want to know how to land the deal. This is how capable people ask for help. You really have come a long way. Joe briefly explained what he knew about the structure of professional services firms, beginning with the fact that “executive team” probably referred to the partners on the masthead (as opposed to any number of other partners), and that one of them most likely was the key decision maker. “I think you’re right about the need to find and talk to some other buyers,” Joe said. “The good news is you’ve caught me at an opportune moment. What you have on your hands is a complex sale. It so happens that I just previewed a new Action Selling ® course that focuses specifically on how to navigate your way through a complex sale. It’s called Action Selling ® 3D.” Matt was silent for a full five seconds. “You’re not kidding?” he asked finally. “There’s something more to Action Selling ®, like an advanced version? It’s going to save my bacon again?” Joe laughed, delighted with the effect of his news on Matt. “Am I the world’s most remarkable boss or what? Hey, I’ll tell you more next week, before we call on your CPAs,” Joe said. “And, I’ll show you a neat cube that illustrates the 3D process.” “Whoa, back up,” Matt said. “We are going to call on my CPAs?” “Well, you know I’m coming to Denver next Tuesday anyway for a branch performance review, right? And you need to convince Williams to let you meet with some other decision makers. I can be flexible with my branch review to accommodate their schedules. It might help you land the meeting you want if you can say you’d like to bring your national sales vice president into the picture.” Matt pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it as if he expected a rabbit to pop out. “You’re right,” he said finally. “You really are the world’s most remarkable boss. And thanks. But now, how do I get Williams to put the right people in the room with us when I have no idea who they are?” “Come on, you know this,” Joe said. “You let him lead you to the right people by Asking the Best Questions. If your new Commitment Objective is to gain his agreement for a meeting with other key decision makers, what kinds of questions might you ask to reveal a need for such a meeting and then get him to identify and enlist the appropriate players?” Together, they quickly came up with three questions for Matt to put to Williams:
  • When you have initiated projects like this in the past, how important has it been to get input from other key people inside your firm so they have some equity in the solution that you recommend?
  • What other key decision makers would it make sense to involve so they can voice their ideas and concerns?
  • Leverage Question: What could happen if we didn’t give these people a chance to provide their input into the plan?
“My meeting with Williams is scheduled for next Wednesday,” Matt said. “If all goes well, we can keep the date and just change the cast of characters. I’ll know for sure before you come into town on Tuesday. Thanks again, Joe.” “See you next week,” Joe said. “I’ll be the guy with the 3D cube.” Back in Matt’s office… The colorful object that Joe pulled out of his briefcase in Matt’s office was actually folded flat, but Joe tucked and creased it neatly into its intended shape—a cube. “Action Selling ® now has a full training course built around the ideas illustrated by this little gizmo,” Joe said. “You and the rest of our sales force will be taking that course. For now, I’m just going to give you the basics.” Action Selling ® 3D, he explained, teaches that in any complex sale there are likely to be three distinct types of buyers. They play different roles in their organizations, have different goals, and therefore have different buying criteria. Joe pointed to the three people icons in the Buyer Type graphic on one side of the cube. Specialist Buyers have expertise with the product category. Their role is to screen various product options. They care about whether the product meets certain specifications. Their key goals are career enhancement and job satisfaction. End User Buyers either use the product or supervise people who do. They care about how well the product performs. Like Specialist Buyers, their goals have to do with career enhancement and job satisfaction. The Ultimate Decision Maker (UDM) has the authority to approve the final buying decision. UDMs have bottom-line responsibility in the organization. They care about the financial outcomes that would result from the purchase. The UDM’s goals are efficiency and return on investment. These different buyer types must be sold to differently, Joe explained. In Action Selling ® terms, this means that in every call, each Act must be tailored to the appropriate buyer type. The types require different Commitment Objectives, different questions to draw out needs, and presentations that are aimed at different target desires. Matt nodded enthusiastically and began to speak, but Joe raised a hand and cut him off. “I know,” he said. “You’ve been doing some of this tailoring intuitively. The reason I know is because that’s the only way you could have won some of the major accounts you’ve landed this past year. But you haven’t had the language or the concepts to approach it systematically. Neither did I. That’s what Action Selling ® 3D provides. It lets us treat complex sales situations in a way that’s much closer to a science. And, 3D makes complex sales far simpler to manage.” “I’ll bet I know something else that Action Selling ® 3D teaches,” Matt said. “I’ll bet it teaches that all three buyer types are important – that the End Users and Specialists are not just hurdles that the salesperson has to jump or avoid on the way to the UDM.” Joe smiled like a teacher proud of a star pupil. “That’s something else that your sales numbers lately would tell me you’ve figured out.” But Matt was already thinking ahead. “My guy John Williams? I think he’s actually an End User buyer,” Matt said. “So is Al Shaffer, who heads the firm’s audit unit. He’s John’s counterpart and the third name on the masthead. The UDM will be Kevin Robb, the managing partner. “But John and Al are going to be hugely influential in any buying decision,” Matt went on. “I suspect that either of them could spike the deal in an instant. That’s what made me think of the fact that the UDM isn’t the only buyer who’s really important. Everybody has to be onboard.” “What about the fourth person in tomorrow’s meeting? Julie McNeil, was it?” “Yes, Julie is the practice development manager. That’s professional services lingo for business development. She was hired two months ago to help market the firm and increase revenue in each of its business units. I suppose she’s our Specialist Buyer. Obviously she’ll be a key player in any decision about our All-in-One product. And I didn’t know she existed until I finally asked John Williams the RIGHT QUESTION!” Matt shook his head ruefully, still angry at himself. “Stop beating yourself up about it,” Joe said. “If any of us ever reached a point where we had nothing left to learn, there would be no need for Act 9. Let’s talk about how we’re going to work tomorrow’s call.” “Well, since it’s a sales call, and we’re professional Action Sellers,” Matt said, smiling, “we know that most of our time will be spent asking questions and listening carefully to the answers.” Joe smiled back. “I’m tied up this afternoon with the branch review, so I’m going to let you figure out some of the best questions we can ask. But let’s talk a bit about how those questions should be tailored for each buyer type.” They agreed that questions for Julie, the Specialist, should be designed to reveal ways in which the All-in-One package would meet the specifications she was looking for. Also, how would she personally be better off if the firm chose All-in-One as a solution? Questions for John and Al, the End User Buyers, should reveal different information: How will the product allow their staff to perform better? Will anything hinder them from adopting it? How will the product make the business unit leader’s job easier? How will it improve the image or status of their individual business unit as a whole? As for Kevin, the Ultimate Decision Maker: What is the financial payback for an investment in the product? What would success look like in terms of ROI for the firm? Matt agreed to prepare some specific questions for each person, designed to draw out ways in which each buyer type would benefit from the key capabilities of All-in-One. “I’ll have them ready before our call,” he said. “Well, I’ve got other things to do and you’ve got some things to figure out,” Joe said, preparing to wrap up their meeting. “I look forward to working with you tomorrow, Matt. And, I think you were right when we talked last week: This could be a door into a new line of business for us in professional services.” Matt looked at him with open admiration and affection. “I don’t think I need to say that I look forward to working with you again, Joe,” he said. After reflecting for a moment, he added, “You know, you told me I was going to make a lot of money after I learned Action Selling ®. And I have. But I think that once I learn and master 3D, I’m going to make a lot more.” Joe gazed at the cube as he handed it to Matt. “I think that’s true, Matt,” he smiled. “I think we’re all going to make a lot more money.”