Act One — The Great Epiphany
A colleague of mine at Bloomberg L.P. blessed me with the term Vendor-Puke after a long afternoon of writing enhancement requests for the programming team (A.K.A. DRQS & FYI Bloomberg customers, reps are very diligent about capturing customer feedback).
“At the end of the day were just Vendor-Puke with some of these users”
I laughed really hard and then thought about my experiences as a TOMS representative. I identified as Vendor-Puke and also knew why. I puked functionality at TOMS users during a majority of my training sessions. I absolutely hated standing over a traders or salespersons shoulder waiting for the right moment to TRAIN the user on how to use THEIR Order Management System.
It was a delusional method of training that worked 1 out of 10 times. My emotions would go from stable to full on William Wallace during training sessions. Instead of training, I would spew features and functions at users. Sweaty palms, shake voice and short breathes were the norm during the training. I was either in a rage or complete panic and did not know why.
As a recovering puker I would like to share some advice for customer facing reps that have the desire to no longer puke out features, functions and updates on users.
Understanding Why You Puke
A majority of the training session or sales pitches for a customer facing rep stays in the social engagement stage. A sense of calmness connects the customer facing rep to the customer and information is exchanged in a compassionate manner.
If a customer facing rep senses a threat or problem then the sympathetic nervous system is activated. A fantastic rush of chemicals in the brain send the customer facing rep to a stage of rage or panic. Puke mode is in full swing and the customer facing rep turns into a puker.
The classic signs of puke are short breathes, dry mouth, shake voice, increase in heart rate and sweaty palms. Once a puker recognizes the shake voice or dry mouth, there is usually no turning back. The puker should (but usually doesn’t) warn the user to find an umbrella or a safe place because a F5 information hurricane is about to hit the immediate area.
Perceived Threat versus Actual Threat
All pukers will have a common reaction when the nervous system faces a threat during a customer meeting. That threat is usually a perceived threat that stems from a condescending comment about the customer facing rep’s company or possibly a question that the customer facing rep doesn’t know. This not a real threat to the customer facing rep’s life and should not activate the sympathetic nervous system. However, if you have an appointment at a firm like Stratton Oakmont, a real lion might pop out of a closet and roam the trading floor. The lion on the trading floor is an Actual threat.
How to Avoid Puking
Soothe and Move
Have you ever heard anyone in sales or account management say the following: “Thank god we have a LEED certified building” or “Wow! These fish tanks are really helping my sales skills”. I haven’t.
Management needs to get a clue on this topic. Customer facing employees need an atmosphere of SOOTHE AND MOVE.
The best way to get the sympathetic nervous system in check is breathing behavior and exercise. A repeat offender of puking needs exercise or a breathing coach to help a puker realize that they are usually facing perceived threats .
If the board room would pay attention to the outlets for exercise, then they might recognize the win win win possibility. More sales, happier customers and lower costs for health insurance.
Customer facing reps need access to exercise at anytime of the day because they might need to workout pre and post meeting. Studies show that sitting at a desk and drinking coffee will lead to a puke session on a customer.
Learning how to breathe when the sympathetic nervous activates will drastically help customer facing reps. Multiple breathing coaches and meditation rooms will relax reps and help concentration. Most firms do the opposite. They pit salespeople against each other and sometimes create themed rooms for outgoing sales/customer calls.
*While at Bloomberg I will never forget the rooms setup for THE HOUR OF POWER. An alarm would go off and I would trot into a room with phones and terminals. An insane British man would occasionally scream at us for motivation and then we would make outgoing calls for one hour straight. Just an FYI to any firm that practices any behavior remotely similar: Liars Poker was written in the eighties so please stop trying to mimic the sales atmosphere in the book.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
This is vital for anyone walking into a meeting with a customer. Knowing your audience will dictate what you say and how you say it. Nancy Duarte stresses in her book Data Story that the content and style of a presentation depends on the audience. Understanding your audiences background will frame the time necessary for the meeting. Most decision maker’s time is precious so a customer facing rep must a have a tidy presentation ready. A story will speak louder than any statistic according to Chip and Dan Heath. In the book Made to Stick, Chip conducted an experiment with his students that tested the memorability of facts versus stories. Only 5% remembered individual statistics. Yet 63% remembered stories.
All of the preparation shouldn’t fall on customer facing reps. Product managers need to help with developing a story for reps upon the release of a product or new feature. Powerpoint presentations filled with stats don’t paint an engaging story. A product manager should setup a story committee that includes sales, account management and management. It should be a creative space that builds a good story that customer or prospects understand.
You can’t control other people’s thoughts
A good book for customer reps is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
The agreements are the following:
1) Be Impeccable with your word
2) Don’t Take Anything Personall
3) Don’t Make Assumptions
4) Always Do Your Best
The second agreement is especially important in customer meetings. Don’t take a comment from a prospect or customer personal. Remember
-You can’t control what they are thinking.
-You can only control your reaction to a comment.
-You can try and influence their thoughts but you can’t control them.
Hopefully this helps customer reps guilty of puking recognize the signs and gain some coping mechanisms.