Anyone who knows me, knows that I love Superman. I love everything about him. Even as a wee little tyke, I intrinsically knew that Superman stands for everything that is great. He is a true light unto the world. Other than a brief stint in my youth when my parents bought me a spectacular pair of Spiderman pajamas, which I may have worn every... single... day..., both inside and outside the house, I have always looked to the skies for Superman. Let’s not even talk about Batman. Aside from what the new comics and movies have done in regard to Batman vs. Superman, let’s get it straight, Superman is exactly as his name implies, he is Super-man. Batman is just a rich guy with fancy toys. No contest. Therefore, it pains me both physically and emotionally to write what I am about to write. Pay attention as I only have the strength to write it once. If you want to be a solid salesperson with clients who will value you, don’t be Superman, be Bizarro.
What could I possibly mean by such blasphemy? Well, I’ll tell you. For the uninitiated, Bizarro is the absolute antithesis of Superman. He was created by Alvin Schwartz during the Silver Age of comics and he first appeared in Action Comics' Superboy #68 in October 1958. While trying to create Superman’s negative, he created Superman’s reverse. His “S” is a mirror image, instead of “Heat Vision”, he has “Freeze Vision”, instead of being harmed by Kryptonite, he is empowered by it, etc. You get the picture. He does everything in direct opposition to Superman. My first thought is, if you want to be successful, run away from the herd. Go in the reverse or opposite direction.
Here’s an example. One of the most influential and often-used sales books is The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. I have a confession, I absolutely hate it. Over the last 5-7 years, I swapped roles and companies a few times and without fail, the first item of business for any organization trying to improve their numbers was to test the salesforce on why they weren't adhering to the principles of the book. I think I have about five copies of the book and my collection is likely still growing. Let me be clear, I admire and agree with the premise of the book. I think the concepts are on point and the research seems infallible, however, through no fault of the authors, when the principles get put into practice, they seem to get bastardized.
People take the notion of “challenge your customers and create constructive tension” to mean that they now have a license to be argumentative, obtuse, and frankly, just plain rude. Maybe it is simply the cultural differences in the South African manners instilled in me, but I disdain the rudeness. To my way of thinking, you can’t just impose your will on the client, you must understand their culture and know how to read the situation and the organization's people before you assume you have the right to be argumentative or antagonistic. Call me a people-pleaser, but as a general rule, I believe once you’ve alienated your client upfront, good luck getting them to tune you back in. In the world of A-type salespeople and “Rockstars”, they are all too happy to demonstrate their machismo by being a bully. Not a recipe for success. So, realizing that probably 75% or more of the software world’s salesforce is behaving in this manner, be Bizarro. Do the opposite.
Rather than coming in like a bull in a china shop and being all blustery, how about you try listen to your customer first and learn about why they are having the issues they are experiencing? You may be the expert on your solution and you may even have some domain knowledge having worked with clients in similar circumstances, but I highly doubt you know more about their industry or their business than they do. You are there to progress their mission, not add more headache. There is a way to offer insight and alternative viewpoints without being rude. Be Bizarro.
It’s not just about being rude, it’s also the danger of potentially railroading your client. My experience has been that typically when you bully and force a client to buy what YOU want them to buy, in the time that YOU want them to buy, you end up with a predictable result, Buyer’s Remorse. This helps no one. You may have tactically got your order in and you may have crushed your number, but your client likely feels SOLD. When the dust settles and the pain of implementation, or use-case mismatch, or futures not being delivered hits them, you will be Persona Non-Grata. It won’t be easy getting to work with them again. I said in a previous blog that I am an experiential learner. Unfortunately, this was a concept I had to learn first-hand. I know I have been guilty of this. For that, I apologize. All I can say is that hopefully I’ve matured, and I will not be making those mistakes again. I’m in this with you, in this for the long-haul.
So, let’s move forward. Let’s bring civility and consensus-building back to the art of client-focused sales. I look forward to learning about what you are trying to accomplish and how I can be of assistance.
Oh, and If you look closely under my suit, you may notice the tell-tale, trademark “S” of my Superman undershirt, but I promise you, I’m trying to be like Bizarro, not Clark Kent.
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P.S. Images may be copyrighted and all rights remain with DC Comics/Action Comics. There is no commercial use of this image. As above, he also appeared in Action Comics' #254. July.