SalesRants 14: Pigeon Feed

Swat ’em away, but they’ll still keep coming — those ‘pigeons’ of corporations that can’t stop flocking to consultants’ birdseed

Remember that television commercial featuring the two consultants talking to a corporate guy? It went something this like this:

Consultants: First you need to optimize your sales force using a state-of-the-art CRM tool, align your marketing message across multiple media to drive your quarterly goals, and implement a company-wide monitoring system to insure message optimization across multiple business units, resulting in huge gains across multiple metrics. This plan is sure to turn your business around.

Corporate Guy: Great! When can you start doing it?

Consultants: [Break down in gales of laughter]. We don’t actually do anything… we just tell you how to do it! [They dissolve in paroxysms of malevolent laughter].

Anyway, you get the drift. Despite the almost universal reckoning that corporate consultants do little more than sell glorified PowerPoint presentations full of the latest business jargon, companies such as my beloved Big Media Company continue to employ them. Let me introduce you to the very best consulting scam ever invented, one that Big Media Company fell for hook, line and sinker.

 

Scarily enough, it’s called “SPIN Selling.” “SPIN,” of course, is an acronym. Let me save you $500,000 and give you the S.P.I.N. Selling overview in a nutshell: First, find out what people want before you try and sell them something. Then, tailor your sales pitch to address their needs. Sounds simple, right?

Instead of barging into some agency, breaking out your media kit, and telling your customer your circulation, readership, and what special issues you have coming up, why not sit down over a cup of coffee and ask him a bunch of questions. Like: How is your business? (a Situation question); Is the price of paper leading to an increase in your costs? (Problem); Why is it important to solve this problem (Implication); and, If I lowered your rate, would this help you reach more potential customers? (Need/ payoff).

So, you SPIN a customer, slowly walking him through his situation, how it affects his business, and how you — his savior — may solve his problems using whatever it is you happen to be selling. It’s how probably 90 percent of all salesmen and 100 percent of successful ones approach their business. It’s called consultative sales or, put more simply, selling something that people need. What the company that sells the SPIN program offers, however, is more ingenious than anything that’s gone along with products I’ve ever hocked. They take what is a very straightforward and simple sales process (ask questions, provide answers) and pile a bunch of meaningless process and acronyms on top of it, creating a sales pseudoscience that, like Boggle, is “easy to learn, impossible to master.”

Let me tell you how it works (applicable not just to SPIN, but all bullshit media sales consultants and sales consulting in general): The Consultant comes into Big Media Company (the Pigeon) with a long list of corporate stooges who have used their product (IBM, Honeywell, or any Fortune 500 client whose size exceeds that of the Pigeon, and whose CEO is likely to be impressed by). The Consultant says they can increase sales by 20 percent a year using their new patented sale methodology. The Pigeon’s CEO cuts that estimate in half and still figures he’s up a few million net, even after paying the Consultant a healthy $500,000 fee. Soon enough, the Pigeon signs up, and mandates sales training for everyone on staff.

Naturally, since the test is based on the yet-untaught sales principles offered in the coursework, the results are terrible. Pigeon’s people are way behind the curve!

The Consultant comes in for about a month, and trains everyone, 20 at a time, using the same off-the-shelf Powerpoint presentation, with Pigeon’s name sprinkled throughout for that customized look. People are asked to take a test before the training to establish a “baseline” of sales effectiveness. Naturally, since the test is based on the yet-untaught sales principles offered in the coursework, the results are terrible. Pigeon’s people are way behind the curve! Compared to (insert Fortune 500 company’s results here), Big Media Company is a non-player in the 12th percentile!

The training commences, filled with obscure terminology and acronyms designed to turn what is essentially an easy-to-understand concept into something on which you can slap a patent. After the trainings are complete, another test is administered to make sure Pigeon’s salespeople have absorbed the expensive, mandated training. Lo and behold, the results come in, and Consultant has really made an impact! Compared to the initial baseline results, the latest monitoring shows that Pigeon’s staff is really embracing this new sales dynamic! Sadly, however, there is still work to be done. We show that IBM’s salespeople achieved a 15 percent higher result on their post-training assessment, so we recommend a further dose of advanced training (at a discounted rate of $250,000).

You get the gist. By the time Big Media Company — or any other Pigeon — realizes that their sales are about the same as last year, and that Consultant’s package is perhaps better suited to selling something like consulting services, rather than classified advertising, it’s too late.

Moral of story: Never buy something from a salesperson who is full of more shit than you.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 8/30/2006]

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