Selling services: It’s not about the money

By Michael Di Lauro 

I spoke in December at a networking meeting of sales professionals. Imagine that, me, an ex-accountant, being invited to speak to a room full of sales representatives. And it wasn't even tax time.
 
Nor was my presentation about tax. No, what I was asked to speak about (and this by someone who fully understands my views on the topic), and what I disclosed during my brief presentation is the following: Sometimes it’s just not about money.
 
Yes, that’s right. I got up on stage and attempt to explain, to all those hard-working sales professionals, that their focus, for who knows how many years, may just be a little off kilter. I told them, rather than concentrating on undercutting their competitor’s prices, and rather than figuring out how to achieve this month’s quota, they should actually try exploring, in effect, something different—something that offers more powerful, and more far-reaching, results.
 
Let me explain.
 
Early in my career, I provided part-time CFO services to both business and not-for-profit clients. At times, the task of keeping my clients on the right side of their lines of credit, or of meeting next week’s payroll, was a trick that even the best magicians would find daunting. Nonetheless, being an idealistic, good-intentioned sort, I’d soldier along—advising them, preparing budgets, crunching cash-flows, finding money somewhere—all in the hopes of leading them, once and for all, out of the fiscal wilderness. Only to find them, mere weeks later, smack in the middle of another liquidity crisis.
 
In a fruitless attempt at getting them to see the light (while, at the same time, wondering why this always happened to the very same clients), I’d deliver, in those early days of my consulting career, a dissertation on the importance of prudent cash management and responsible stewardship, and I’d then, once again, roll up my sleeves to solve the latest in what was, for so many of them, a series of never-ending financial shipwrecks.
 
It was only years later, after studying social science programs that some might describe as innovative (and others as wacky), that the answer came to me. While learning about, among other things, perceptions, behavior, and strategies, my mind wandered back to those penurious clients, and I suddenly realized I had been going about it all wrong. The issue, I grasped in a giddy moment of inspirational lucidity, wasn’t about cash-flow and budgeting. The issue, rather, was about the clients themselves. It was about their perception of money, and it was about their beliefs, values and attitudes and how they shaped their views about their business and their position within it.
 
I then fully understood something that Albert Einstein had emphasized years before. And it was this: A problem is never solved by using the same thinking that created the problem in the first place. In other words a business-owner’s cash flow problem is rarely solved by focusing on cash flow itself.
 
That, for me, was my “Eureka” moment. From that point on, my objectives changed and my focus shifted. I created and delivered small-business workshops and seminars, and I spoke about perceptions and about strategies, raising questions that addressed purpose and meaningfulness, and money. Questions such as:
 
“Is money scarce or abundant?”
 
“As you (the business owner) grew up, what do you remember hearing from your parents, siblings, or teachers about money?”
 
“What does more money equate with? Happiness? Success? Accomplishment?”
 
The answers, from those willing to embrace such a discussion, were enlightening and astonishing. Many unearthed deep-rooted notions about money and about business; beliefs that they hadn’t even realized existed. Some discovered that their perceptions on money had shaped their behavior in ways that, from a financial-management perspective, were at best counter-productive and, at worst, akin to sabotage. And, of course, there were oftentimes many who simply weren’t up for that kind of a chat. Either through a lack of readiness or because of an unwillingness to “even go there”, some preferred to sit by the sidelines and not engage. (Just as some of you, as you read these words, may not consider any of it as the domain of the accounting professional. And that’s okay too. Just turn the page – metaphorically speaking – and move on to the next article).
 
Then, one day, I abruptly decided to suspend my “money chats”. It was best, I arbitrarily determined, to write it all down. I began with an outline, which became an editorial essay, which morphed into a novel – which I just finished last July. It’s called, by the way, The Net Present Value of Life.
 
And so, with the book out of the way, I’m free to reengage with small-business owners and pick up where I left off. I’m not sure, to be honest, how far I’ll go with this exploration into a business-owner’s relationship with money, but believe me it truly does make for an interesting philosophical discussion.
 
My message to you, then, is if you find yourself with clients similar to those I’ve described and if they keep breaking what you keep fixing just remember that it’s not about what it seems to be about. Just keep telling yourself that. And try to tell them that even though it seems counterintuitive (and even though they may not believe it to be true), it really isn’t about the money. Then when they look at you and begin to question your sanity, just blame it on me. Go ahead. It’s okay. I’m used to it.
 

About the author:

Michael Di Lauro, is Certified Management Accountant who writes, advises and teaches business management and software, Michael also writes fiction. Visit www.dilauro.ca or http://michaeldilauro.ca for more information. If you’re a Twitter fan, you can follow Michael at http://twitter.com/Writing_Is_Fun


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