Keeping sane while on the go

In the second half of last year, our start-up Statice really started to take off. That meant that we spent a lot of time on the road, which was a bit of a shock to the system after my 3 week summer workacation in Australia. Having been involved in early stage companies for 7 years now, I’ve been to my fair share of conferences, trade shows, and last minute client visits, but August onwards was a totally different level for me. I’m quite a homey person, and I like to have a bit of a routine. The first few months after the summer, that went out the window, big time. This had adverse effects on getting enough sleep, exercise, time with friends, and downtime, which resulted in stress and some pretty negative energy. It took me a while, but I found a couple of useful ways of maintaining balance (definitely not perfected yet though) and wanted to share them here:

  1. Keep up the exercise – try running or swimming: I normally climb, ride bikes, or play underwater sports, but all those things require specialised equipment or venues. Not keeping up with sports makes it harder to keep fit, and (for me at least) leads to lower energy,  worse moods, and poor quality sleep. I found that (at least while travelling in Europe, you can find pools or places to run nearly anywhere, and the gear is compact (and in the case of running shoes can often be repurposed for casual wear anyway). I only started running mid-year, but it was a great change, and it was super nice to see different parts of cities I normally only see for work, like Munich, Zurich and London.

  2. Use your downtime wisely: if you’re travelling anyway, use the time you’re in transit to polish off tasks, if you can. Ticking off those BAU (business as usual) tasks stops them from piling up, and gives you peace of mind that you’re not going to come back to a shitfight in your inbox.  For me, knowing that I’m keeping up on BAU means that I get less stressed, which in turn means I sleep better. You still need to manage your brain energy, and not overdo it, but sometimes taking care of business while on the go is great. Sub tips: 
    1. Find a good, comfortable place to work.  If you’re taking the train, take a seat reservation. Make your company pay for it – the €4 will make you more productive and knowing you have a seat will help you stress less. 
    2. Buy a decent set of noise cancelling headphones.  Best case, make your company pay for them. You’ll be way more productive. I use the Bose QC35 II, and although they’re not perfect, they do the job in most situations. 
    3. Figure out your hot-spotting. Expense data excess to the company if you can – it’s worth it for them, and saves you stressing about excess costs.

  3. Don’t eat junk food if you can avoid it, and don’t drink too much: seems intuitive, but eating crap food and drinking too much (for me at least) seriously impacts my mood, energy level, and ability to sleep. Alcohol-free beer is easy to get in most places, and finding something green and fresh to eat is also getting easier and easier.

  4. Plan in downtime: last year I was on the road 2-3x per month at least. Add in family and friends commitments, and there isn’t a lot of time left for relaxing. There’s nothing worse than knowing you have another trip coming up, and knowing you have zero time to recharge between arriving home and leaving again. Plan in an evening of doing nothing, and spend it consciously recharging. Eat well, stretch, do whatever (I find screens kill the recharging, while books help a lot – but you do you). 

  5. Make sure packing is easy: one of the things that stresses me the most is not feeling ready or having open question marks on my list in the days before leaving. Two things that really helped me get a handle on this were:  
    1. Buying second set of quality clothes that are always ready to go. For t-shirts, I go with Asket (sustainable, not ridiculously expensive, wide variety of fits), and for pants,  the ABC from Lululemon are a godsend. They never seem to crease, pack easily, and can go with everything from a running shirt to a shirt and jacket.  They’re pricy, but they last well, and once you start, you’ll never want to wear anything else. 
    2. Having a ready-to-go toilet bag with essentials ready to go. In DM (and I guess in equivalents in other EU countries..) one can buy travel sized stuff, which can be refilled easily. Saves a lot of waste, hunting for things in new cities, and last minute packing/forgetting stuff before running to airport in  the morning.  

These were the big actions that made travelling regularly easier for me. Some people manage travel better than others, but  if you’re like me and need your home base and your routine, developing things like this reduce stress, increase quality of life, and make you more productive. Travelling for me is still a WiP, so if you have tips of your own, please let me know!

Learnings from 6 Stages in 4 Days

My colleague Omar (Statice Co-founder and Data Science/Privacy Lead) and I spent the past 2 weeks on the road (my learnings about plane-free travel here). It was a very productive trip: we met great people, and closed some exciting new deals. We also spent time on stage in Nürnberg (pitching as finalist at the UP19 Awards, part of Germany’s largest IT and CyberSec fair), Zürich, and Bern, and I wanted to summarise some of my learnings from the concentrated stage time.

One caveat: I hate being on stage, and I’m not good at it. I’m trying to get better though, and these musings about what worked, and what didn’t, is part of that. These are personal observations, and YMMV.

Short presentations are hard. Most of the short presentations we did were pitches, and one is never sure how relevant the audience is, to which level they understand the details of your area (Statice is a relatively specific solution for data anonymization, and people don’t always get the problem right away), or to which level they’re interested at all. I think to get better at these I just need to go for rote learning. So far I’ve been trying to wing it a bit, and that doesn’t get the result I’m looking for – it’s not terrible, but it’s not great, and I’m very uncomfortable.

Presenting about an area you are really excited about makes it a whole lot easier. I was lucky enough to get invited to present at Panter’s AI Morning’s event, and was able to present my thoughts on building data businesses on enterprise data exhausts. This is an area which I’m super into, and could present specific value to that audience.

Not that I’m not super excited about presenting Statice in general, because I am. It’s just harder to judge what the audience is expecting during a pitch, vs when they turn up as a response to an event/content that you put together yourself.

Having a memorable anchor works well. In our slides and pitches we use a comment about “data being the new oil”. We iterated on this during the trip, and started adding “and at Statice, we want to help our customers avoid being the next BP”. This often got laughs, and people approached me about it afterwards several times. All credit to Omar for that one, it was his idea, and it works great.

Takeaways for me to work on going forward:

  • Prepare short pitches without slides (1-3 minutes) by simple rote learning. My hypothesis is that this will make me feel more comfortable and less nervous, vs pitching on the fly.
  • For longer pitches with slides, learn the crux messages by rote. Doing them on the fly works fine, but having it memorised in advance would reduce pressure and nervousness upfront and let me focus on delivery (this wasn’t really an option on this trip as we were building decks every day!).
  • Prepare more in advance. Building decks last minute is always hectic. Sometimes leads to great iterations, but is high stress. This wasn’t much of an option on this trip, as we are simply too thin on the commercial side at the moment, but it’s something to aspire to once we hire more (if you’re interested in working at the cutting edge of B2B privacy technology, drop me a line!).

Business by Train

I just got back from a successful two weeks away on the road for Statice, and although I’m exhausted, I’m kind of stoked. We closed two new deals, met great people and hit the stage 6 times across 3 cities – and all without taking a plane! Friends challenged me to fly less, so I thought I’d jump in the deep end, and try a whole trip cold turkey. The route was Berlin –> Bern –> Zürich –> Munich –> Nürnberg –> Zürich –>Bern –> Zürich –> Berlin, over about 12 days. All in all, it was a great experience, and didn’t cost any more than flying (though I did book a little more in advance than I probably would normally).

What went well:

  • It’s definitely nice to see a bit more of where one is going. The landscape in the south of Germany and in Switzerland is breathtaking, and especially the early morning train from Bern to Zurich, with the sunrise over the mountains, was great.
  • Not standing in line, ever, and no being not able to use one’s laptop during takeoff and landing. I estimate that one loses approximately 30 minutes at least at each end of a domestic flight, as well as about 30 minutes on the plane in laptop-ban mode. If I’d flown, I would probably have flown the legs Berlin–> Bern, Zurich–>Munich, Munich–> Zurich, –>Zurich–>Berlin. At least 6 hours of working time would have been lost – so not losing that was great.
  • Having an internet connection (via tethering) that works 90% of the time is pretty great. My iPhone XR might not be the fanciest one, but damn, do I love the battery life, even when tethering for hours on end.
  • Being able to get up and move. It’s awesome to be able to focus on a task, and then reward oneself with a quick walk without bothering climbing over 2 other people. Being able to walk around the connecting area in the carriages to take calls without annoying anyone is also great.

What didn’t go so well:

  • Of course, it wouldn’t be travel with the Deutsche Bahn if one didn’t experience at least one delay. I got extra “lucky” and had several. Unfortunately, one delay was en-route to Zurich, where I should have had a meeting about 45 minutes after arriving. Missed that one, which was a bummer.
  • The 9.5hr trip from Berlin to Bern is a long ass way. It’s even longer when you forget food and water, and don’t have € bills on you, and the DB doesn’t work with N26 cards. Needless to say, upon arriving in Bern at 5pm in the evening, I was famished.
  • Vodafone. One pays an arm and a leg, and doesn’t get free roaming in Switzerland. In comparison, a €20/month Aldi PAYG subscription does. I’ll be having words with them, paying €6/day for internet, and then still using data allowance is not a great experience.

Would I do it again?

Heck yes. The combination of more time spent more productively, and a lot more comfortably, is really nice. It’s a bit more planning, and it’s not always easy to sit in a train/bus combo for 9+hrs, but it feels better than being in a plane!

What I’d do differently next time / Tips for people who want to give it a go:

  • Take snacks! You never know what fun surprises you might run into with card payment, or whether the train bistro will be open, so BYO, and don’t be shy about it. Long trips + high productivity make one snacky!
  • Take a spare t-shirt for travelling, especially if you’re doing meetings before jumping into the train. On Friday, I had a meeting in the morning, and then had to dash to the train. Shirts are great, but they’re not awesome when you’re lugging your stuff at high speed through hordes of people while stressed about timing. Pack an extra t- shirt, for you (and for the comfort of your co-travellers).

2 Sales Training Exercises To Get Your Team Customer Focussed

One of the things that bothers me the most in pitches is reps that are not customer focussed. If I wanted to get a rote explanation of each feature of your tool, I’d read the website! Recently though, I had an excellent pitch and follow up process from an AE at Crunchbase, which reminded me of how a great customer focus can make a vendor process not only significantly more effective, but also much more pleasant! It also reminded me of a couple great customer focus exercises that I learned back in my days of slinging bikes at 99 Bikes, back in Australia.

As someone who gets overexcited about the technical details (and it was even worse with bikes – there is so much to geek about!), I found exercises likes these very helpful. After all, people are usually not coming in to buy a bike with a particular carbon part, they just want a bike that is light, so they can go faster, and impress their mates. In the same way, B2B buyers don’t always care that you use the latest TensorFlow and Keras tech to do NLP  – they want a chatbot that makes their customers happy, saves their employees time, and makes them look great in front of their boss. These exercises will help your team focus on what the benefits to the customer of your product are, and are great for onboarding new hires, but also periodically for reminding your team to focus back to the customer, and away from individual product features/specs.

1. Circle, Square, Triangle 

This is effectively a listening and summary exercise, paired with customer discovery. Have one person role play a client, and have the rep write down the 3 important items for them in deciding on a product or service like yours (more info on some ways of getting this information here).  Examples of these could be specific functionalities, business models, budgets, challenges they’re looking to solve, etc. Have the rep doing the exercise ask relevant discovery questions, and then summarize back to the person role playing what their 3 key factors (their circle, square, triangle) were.

Things to watch for:

  • Is the rep asking relevant questions, and responding to the answers enough that the role-player doesn’t feel interrogated?
  • Is the rep summarizing correctly? Are they using the vocabulary of the “prospective client”? This is key, as generally people recognize subconsciously that they are being listened to in this way (at least, this is what I was taught, and it’s worked well for me).

2. Which Means…?

This is a feature-benefit exercise. Too often, reps fixate on the vocab of their own team, and on their own product, and reel off a rote pitch explaining their product features. This can be boring for the prospective client, means that you are using a lot of their time, and can make the client feel unimportant. This is a particularly important exercise

To practice explaining your product in terms of benefits, have your team practice explaining the benefits of the features of everyday objects toward funny goals. We used to do this with “getting a hot boyfriend/girlfriend”, but you can use whatever works for your team.

Example:

This teapot has a nice handle, which means you can pour tea more elegantly, which means you will look sophisticated, which means that you have a better chance of getting a date with that guy/girl you like, which means you have a better change of getting a hot boyfriend/girlfriend.

While you can (and should) also do this with your product, what you’re aiming for is that your team become more flexible and creative in fitting features to customer benefits, and benefits to customer goals. Start with random goals and object/feature combinations, and when the team has had some fun, move to customer personas and use case goals. Better yet, play this after playing circle square triangle to get your team discovering and summarizing better!

Things to watch for:

  • Are your team getting to the customer goal? If not, have them try to add more “which means” steps, or repeat the customer discovery process.
  • Are they able to think creatively to solve for the customer goal? Is their summary fluid and does it demonstrate a proper understanding of the use case?
  • Is the rep making enough steps to clearly show their thinking, and make it easy for the customer to understand the benefit?

I found these exercises really valuable while learning to sell consistently. I hope they prove useful to your team, and if you try them out, let me know how you go. If you have other great exercises, send them my way!

Practical Sales Process Advice #1: Framework, Opening, Gathering Requirements

I’ve seen a couple of really great early stage companies here in Berlin founded by super smart people, but with early teams lacking much/any dedicated sales firepower. That’s fine, if it means you can build an amazing product faster with the same resources, but at some point most teams need to find people to buy that product, and that can be a stumbling block for some – especially when it comes to building a repeatable process that can be handed off to new team members and scaled.

In this series of three blog posts, I want to dig into one way a sales process can be structured in a practical, implementable way. The first post will cover a general overview of the process, and go into detail on building rapport, getting the information you need to find the right solutions for your client, and how to phrase that initial information for the client. The second section will cover product demonstrations, and the third section will go through feedbacking, objection handling, and closing.

 

The skeleton of the process:

Regardless of what you’re selling, there are some core steps that help to ground your process and help you focus during selling. I structure them as below, but there are probably as many right ways to do this are there are good salespeople – this is only an example and you should feel free to adapt it for your use case.

  1. Meet & Greet / Build Rapport
  2. Understand Requirements
  3. Summarise & Get Them Saying Yes
  4. Wow (Product Demo or Solution Presentation)
  5. Feedback and Objection Handling
  6. Ask For The Sale!

 

  1. Meet & Greet / Build Rapport

People buy relationships (1). Despite what HBR says (although it’s worth a read), there are not too many more effective predictors of sales success than a good salesperson building a relationship, and crucially, being able to see (and of course communicate to the prospect) the value their tool will create in the prospect’s organization (2). To do this effectively, you need to break down at least some of the barriers in an initial contact (phone, video call, in person, or whatever). Some people do this really naturally, some don’t. If you’re in the latter camp, you can use some of these points/questions to guide you:

  • Where are they based?
  • What experience did you have there/ have in common about that place? (after linkedin scouting)
  • I saw we have X person in common – how do you know them? Funny story about interaction with that person, if you have one/appropriate. If appropriate and authentic, a question around a recent news item about the prospect’s company.
  • How did they come across your service?

The key to success in this stage of the process is being authentic. There is not much more annoying than a salesperson who is overly familiar and chummy, so make sure you spend time preparing for this phase of a sale, and have a couple of good openings ready (Inc has some good advice for this).

 

2. Understand Requirements / Qualification

In this stage of the process there are a couple of objectives: you want to get 6 or 8 pieces of relevant information from the prospect, so you can provide the right solution, you want to show the client that you have an understanding of their space and can ask relevant questions, and you want the client to understand that you’re gathering information to provide a helpful recommendation, not just selling them something. You should aim for at least 70/30 here – that is, you should be talking less than 30% of the time. There are a lot of questions you can ask here, so I won’t try to list them all, but your goal is to understand the following:

  • What problem are they trying to solve / opportunity are they trying to exploit?
  • Who in the organization has this problem /opportunity?
  • How big is this problem/ opportunity?
  • How urgent is this problem/opportunity for them?
  • What factors play into their decision to make a purchase?
  • Have they used your type of service before?
  • Are they looking at competitors?

What’s key for me here is to listen very carefully, and pull out the 3 biggest motivators for the prospect to do the deal. I call these the “Circle, Square, Triangle” for a client. An example of these might be “we need to simplify reporting” (why), “my boss asked me to look into this (why + who) and “this quarter”(when).  I make sure to link back to these points throughout the rest of the discussion, and always use the prospect’s phrasing!  This is important (i don’t have stats for this, but it makes sense to me and works..) because the client feels that you listened and understood their requirements, and that makes the subsequent stages of the process much easier.

In the next post I’ll go through how to take the Circle, Square, Triangle of your prospect and translate that into a summary of their requirements, and then we’ll look at how to use that to make a strong case for your solution or product. To summarise for now, in the first two stages of the process:

  1. Prepare well, and have questions/icebreakers ready
  2. Be Authentic
  3. 70/30 Listening/talking (more asking questions than anything else)
  4. Listen hard and get a good handle of the client’s Circle, Square, Triangle

 

Links

1) The impact of customer relationship strength on sales effectiveness and relationship profitability in services selling.

2) B2B relationship calculus: quantifying resource effects in service-dominant logic