Half a million deal on the strength of personality

By Christmas 1997 I was the MD of a multi-million pound IT services business and bored to tears. My partner and I had our usual festive lunch and based upon this fact and our firm belief that “if you lose passion for your business sooner or later you’ll lose your business” we decided the time had come to sell up.

The last remnant of the once mighty Software Knowledge - a coaster.

The last remnant of the once mighty Software Knowledge – a coaster.

We had connections with two of the big four consultancies: one through a “fastest growing private company” thing we used to feature in and one through a mutual friend and so we approached both.

After the initial meeting they both asked for very similar information with which to do their research and produce their pitch. So far so good and all very exciting. Then the day came for them to present to us – we arranged for both presentations to be on the same day.

The first team did a great job of presenting their approach and what they felt they could get for us and if I’d needed to make a decision there and then I would have gone with them. What you’d expect from one of the “Big 4″ I guess.

After lunch we sat in the second presentation which was remarkably similar to the first. In fact if you hadn’t known it was impossible you could’ve been forgiven for assuming that both teams had written their presentations together in the same room they were so identical. But we had to make a decision.

In the end we went with Mark Asplin and his team at KPMG, for 3 reasons: -

  1. He seemed to really understand us as people: our fears, what we wanted and the enormity of what we were about to do.
  2. He insisted I call up at least one person he had recently sold a business for and take a personal reference. That impressed me a lot!
  3. We just got on with him more than the other guy.

The reason I’ve written this blog is simple. In today’s corporate world of tenders, supplier lists and purchasing departments its sometimes easy to forget that given the choice people will always buy from those that they like, trust and feel valued by. 

Mark’s fee was £500k; he earned every penny and he won the deal because he demonstrated his abilities (Big 4 – never in question really), his understanding of us as people and we liked him and his team.

Never underestimate the power of personality.

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Posted in Business Development, Differentiation, New Business, Relationships, Uncategorized

Proxy measurements: how some numbers can be misleading and dangerous

Lies, damned lies and statistics.

Lies, damned lies and statistics.

People like numbers. Read a piece of text and our eyes are naturally drawn to any numbers it contains: percentages, ratios, fractions, money and even plain old numbers just draw us in.

The problem is that some people use this to their advantage by measuring things that have no real effect upon the end-goal. Check these out: -

  • Number of inches of published PR/how much it would cost if you’d paid for it.
  • Number of people who attended an event.
  • Number of business cards collected at a trade show
  • E-Newsletter subscriptions
  • Number of connections on LinkedIn; followers on Twitter, blog subscribers or friends on Facebook.
  • Numbers of likes, shares or retweets on anything.
  • One law firm I know (not a client) even measures the total number of words in their blogs – how desperate is that!

None of these numbers have a direct connection with how much revenue a business makes. People like to think they do but it’s mostly anecdotal evidence and therefore so much hocum-pokum.

So here is the definition of a real performance metric. Anything that you can relate directly to your end objective – in most cases revenue or bottom line profit.

Now, I’m not saying don’t collect numbers and statistics (I love to see how many followers I have on this blog – “oh vanity thy name is Michael”) but what I am saying is either treat them as a bit of fun and attach nothing important to them (budgets, pay rises etc.) or gather additional data that will allow them to become meaningful performance metrics.

So for example recording the number of new prospects added to your pipeline each month really doesn’t tell you anything useful (they might all be poor candidates). But if you also happen to know the average conversion rate of prospects into clients this figure takes on a completely different importance. If you also happen to have an average revenue per client figure you can estimate the effect on your  revenue an increase in prospects is likely to lead to. Now that’s a performance metric I can get behind!

Measurement by proxy is often championed by those who can’t prove their worth but feel the need to do so. They’re pointless, misleading and sometimes delusional statistics. My advice? If you see them simply ask “and so how does this affect the bottom line?” and see what happens.

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Posted in Business Development, Communication, Efficiency and Effectiveness, Lead generation, Leadership, New Business, Targets, Uncategorized

Beware: not all good profit is good profit.

Not sure I'd sleep easy knowing this.

Not sure I’d sleep easy knowing this.

Recently Avana Bakeries, a cake factory based in Newport Wales, announced that 650 jobs were under threat of redundancy. A well run and profitable company only a short time ago and now this. How could it possibly have happened?

Simple really, 85% of their turnover was from one client. The client decided to buy elsewhere.

This is what we can learn from Avana’s fate: a good profit is not always a good profit.

Too much revenue from too few clients is easy to manage and so more profitable but it’s also highly dangerous; a bit like living on the slopes of a sleeping volcano: sooner later it’s going to blow and when it does it’s going to feel mighty unpleasant.

You might argue that like Avana you have no choice; the revenue is there so you take it and I’d agree but I’d also stress that your sales function should be utterly focused on winning business elsewhere. If they are unable to do this you must either change the way they sell or change them.

Active analysis and management of your revenue/client spread is a vital element of businesses these days. You decide the mix of small, medium and large clients you want and then set your sales team to achieve it.

It takes time. It takes focus. It takes a sales team able to achieve it but in today’s fickle world active client portfolio management is vital.

Be in control of how your business grows! 

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Posted in Business Development, Lead generation, New Business, Sales, Uncategorized

How to get a win:win deal when negotiating.

My new oil painting – beautiful!

I recently bought a painting from an art dealer in Birmingham. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to have it and my wife was even keener than I was. Not really a great place to start our negotiations.

Anyhow, we engaged the sales person in conversation and she did everything right. I did what I was trained to do and got to a certain stage of negotiations (established basic grounds for the deal) and then announced we were going to clear off and think about it and could they have their “best price” ready in case we came back.

So 45 minutes later and with a glass of Australian Chardonnay sloshing around inside me (they didn’t train me to do that in sales school) we headed back. Bless her – she had moved the picture into a separate room and set everything up for a private viewing – damn I hate to be a foregone conclusion!

We arrived back to see a 7% price reduction, a good start but we could do better, we proceeded to present a split front: Mrs Ames was keen with me less so (lies lies lies – I wanted it more than she did) and we had researched the painter on the internet only to find his works were going in America for less.

“How much less?” she asked – first chink in the negotiation armour methinks. I was honest and told her which represented a 15% reduction from the original price. She frowned, said she would have to check with a director and left the room. A little too soon she came back and said it was my lucky day and she could do the deal. Result! Or was it.

I’m now left thinking I could have got another percent or two off the deal and maybe she’s feeling she should have come back with a counter offer so neither of us are entirely satisfied.

What she should have done was come back with a long face and suggest that despite her best efforts that price could not be allowed. However she could knock off 12%; would that do? Fantastic! I accept; sign the check and everybody goes home happy.

Negotiation is a very important aspect client customer care – without it nobody knows if they have really got the best deal.

The important thing is that everybody feels they could not have done any better in the deal. So keep slogging on until you reach a stone-faced “no” and then decide if the deal on the table works for you. Done!

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Posted in Business Development, Sales, Uncategorized

The 1st Rule of Hi-impact Presentations as Practised by Steve Jobs

"Goldfish, goldfish, goldfish, goldfish..."

“Goldfish, goldfish, goldfish, goldfish…”

Most people who’ve been on a presentation course have been taught to “tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; tell ‘em; tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em”. And then the internet came along.

Whether you want to get a song on your iPod that you’ve just heard on the radio; download an ebook onto your Kindle or find something out you can can do it in seconds. No waiting; no build up; no preparation just click, click, click, done.

The upshot of this is that our attention spans have been slashed. We’re not quite sure what we want but we want it now and we want lots of it!

Back to presentations then. Start a presentation with an agenda screen followed by one about your company and you’ll have the audience reaching for their Blackberry’s faster than you can say “and we have 9 offices throughout the UK”.

Nnnnnnoooooo!!!!!! Just face it, NOBODY CARES and if they do they’ll Google you.

Imagine Steve Jobs starting one of his famous presentations with an agenda screen and then telling us all about Apple. We don’t  want to hear that – we want to hear about the next cool device Apple are going to bestow upon us and that’s exactly what he gave us. What we wanted.

So here it is folks; the 1st rule of High-Impact presentations: always start your presentation with something that they can relate to.

  • A topical story with a message
  • Something controversial
  • A bold statement followed by a declaration that you’re “going to show how this is true”
  • An audience participation exercise
  • Anything but an Agenda or an About Us screen.

In other words if you were presenting to a room full of pussy-cats you’d start off by talking about goldfish. So the next time you’re building a presentation the first thing to do is figure out what their “goldfish” is and open with that!

This is the first of 7 blog posts all dedicated to the same end: delivering hi-impact presentations. 

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Posted in Communication, Differentiation, Presentation Skills, Uncategorized
Mike Ames

Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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