The Exciting New ABC’s of Selling


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“Selling is changing faster than ever! Selling is changing faster than ever!”

Stir up some worry, and people will follow you. That idea was Tweeted before Twitter – ask anyone who has read Chicken Little.

It’s hard to find anyone who can credibly deny that there isn’t a force or two upending our status quo. Still, I offer to debate the whole faster than ever thing. Care to discuss? Over beer, please! I’ll buy every other round, and in case our meeting requires double-digit refills, I’ll also pony up every round that’s a prime number – assuming that we’re still keeping track. For now, I’ll stick to what I solidly know: a centenarian sales professional would find today’s sales lexicon utterly incomprehensible:

“Leverage gamification to incentivize customers to share ideas (with contests or leaderboards, for example), or host special events for top performers.” Or, “Quickly build and deploy apps that engage and impress customers. The [product name] platform allows you to accomplish this faster by providing back-end infrastructure, so you can focus on creative solutions.”

Oy. For just a moment, let’s step away from this jargon, and return to the centenarian’s sales yesteryear, a world described a 1912 book, Salesmanship and Business Efficiency. This primer, sandwiched on my crowded shelf between The Challenger Sale and Thinking Fast and Slow, appears a wise, but curmudgeonly grandfather next to its younger neighbors, which ooze business bravado. Just opening Salesmanship and Business Efficiency provides a unique sensual experience. Ahhh – that old-book aroma! Its 406 brown pages don’t bend. They crack. Handle with care. And there’s that large, enigmatic image of the author, James Samuel Knox, whose serious, angular face confronts the reader. Did people smile back then?

Entries from the index hint at the trending topics when the book was published:

Being a gentleman, Consequences of . . . . page 109
Greatness, The secret of . . . . page 68
Habits that lessen service . . . . page 104
Honesty . . . . page 101
Imagination, value of . . . . page 249
Noses . . . . page 154

Noses? Yes, noses. “The shape of the nose is a very good and reliable indication that certain characteristics exist. The straight or Grecian nose shows refinement, love of peace, and a regard for justice. The arched or Roman nose indicates a love of power and a tendency to put forth great effort to attain it.” “Pug, Turned Up, Drooping,” and “Hooked”—all lovingly hand-illustrated on page 158, should you care to examine the book. Compare to your own nose, and you, too, will have keener self-awareness. Move over, Myers-Briggs!

Whether you buy into the idea that a prospect’s Grecian nose portends a pacifist demeanor, it’s comforting that someone could write so thoughtfully and eloquently about different nasal anatomies, and what each one means. Clearly, if Jim were alive today, he’d have to get hip to some pretty sophisticated lingo before he could sit down to write Part II.

Here’s to what 100 years of technological and social progress have done for our contemporary business development parlance! To supplement Knox’s now-antiquated index, I offer The Exciting New ABC’s of Selling.

A –

Actionable: (adj) able to be done or acted on. Used commonly in PowerPoint and email to describe almost any item.

Administrative assistant: (n) person who supports collaborative teams through performing a multitude of tasks. Formerly called secretary or gatekeeper.

Agile: (adj) being nimble in the face of change.

Algorithm: (n) well-defined set of instructions for creating a result, terminating at an ‘ending state.’ (See self-service).

At-will employment contract: (n) a contract that can be cancelled by either party on short notice. The prevailing arrangement under which sales employees work.

B –

BPR: (n) Business Process Re-engineering – the analysis and design of new methods for accomplishing a program, function, or task.

Balanced scorecard: (n) A representation of a strategic plan outlining grouped sets of objectives linked in cause-effect relationships.

Bandwidth: (n) mental, or schedule capacity.

Benchmarking: (n) comparison of a vendor’s product offering to a standard. Sometimes, done fairly (see transparent).

Bicycling: (n) For salespeople, the new golf.

Bleeding edge: (n) technology or innovation that’s way, way, way out in front of anything done before (see leading edge)


Collaboration: (n) The act of two or more individuals deliberately working together to achieve a shared goal or result.

Column fodder: (n) denotes a vendor’s poor position in terms of buyer preference. Originally, a vendor designated as column fodder had a position on an Excel spreadsheet that magnified the company’s statistical or performance shortcomings, especially in terms of price, and financial return.

Connection: (n) a person who you have a direct relationship with via social media. Note: this word carries no connotation of trust.

Consultant: (n) Person who consults. A now-common job title for sales professionals.

Content: (n) pretty much anything that’s available for consuming on the Internet.

Content marketing: (n) Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action. Capiche?

CXO: (n) Chief-something-Officer. Replace the X with the first letter of your favorite business buzzword, and you’ll probably find someone at your target company with the title.

Commodity: (n) A product with no differentiation, so that raising prices above that of competitors results in zero demand.

-centric: (adj) pertaining to an asset which a business process is designed to improve or enhance. Examples – customer-centric, brand-centric, user-centric, employee-centric.

D –

Death-by-PowerPoint: (n) effect of overuse of Microsoft’s presentation software (see pitch).

Decentralization: (n) the dispersion of power and resources away from a single department or entity within an organization.

Decision maker: (n) a person who decides.

Deliverable: (n) a product, service, or a combination that is provided from one party to another.

Do-more-with-less: management-speak for “we can’t figure out a way to re-engineer this process, so you have to.” (see workaround)

Drill-down: (n, vb, adverb) move from summary information to detailed information.

E –

Entrepreneur: (n) a person who starts a business.

Engagement: (n) interaction with prospects and customers that’s measurable and supports business development strategy.

Extrinsic motivation: (n) A desire to accomplish an objective because doing so offers rewards, typically financial compensation.

F –

Fail forward (v): to learn from mistakes – or sometimes, to take intelligent risks.

Flat organization: (n) An enterprise structure with few management layers.

Front-line: (adj) employees or business functions that have direct interaction with customers and prospects.

G –

Game plan: (n) Plan – but more sporting.

Gamification: (n) The process of incorporating game elements into employee or consumer decisions.

Gap analysis: (n) formal comparison of predicted to actual results.

Glengarry Glen Ross: (movie) a popular drama that exposes uglier machinations of a sales organization.

Green: (adj) – Connotes a company’s abiding commitment to preserving the environment.

H –

Handshake: (n) an IT term to describe the protocol for two hardware devices when establishing a digital connection (less-common meaning: the physical activity between two people when a purchase transaction is concluded).

Heavy lifting: (n) – work or tasks that are hard to perform, tedious, or onerous.

High-level view: (n) – perspective that’s devoid of detail or tangential issues; the PowerPoint slide title that always precedes the demo.

Holistic approach: (n) – relating to an entire system, rather than sub-systems or component parts.

Hype: (n) publicity or promotion that is extravagant or overly-gratuitous (see content marketing).

I –

Ideation: (n) the process of conceiving an idea and implementing it.

Incentive system: (n) incentive system – a synchronous combination of processes and controls that link sales compensation to management reports.

In-the-loop: (adj) describes a person who is involved in the communication about a specific matter or initiative. (antonym: out-of-the-loop)

Incentivize: (v) providing someone with a reason for taking a specific action.

Innovate: (v) the act or process of finding a new ways to use existing tools or technologies.

Insource: (v) to perform a function or service within an organization (see outsource)

Intrinsic motivation: (n) a personal desire to meet an objective because it is psychologically rewarding.

Involuntary retirement: (n) a situation in which an individual is forced to separate from an organization before he or she planned (synonyms: RIF, fired, terminated, let-go).

K –

KPI: (n) Key Performance Indicator (see ROI).

Key player: (n) person who holds high importance in a relationship between buyers and sellers (see decision maker)

L –

Leading edge: (adj) new technology or innovation, often not yet widely adopted. (see bleeding edge)

Leverage: (v) to exploit the capabilities of something to greater advantage.

Low-hanging fruit: (n) a reward or desirable outcome that’s relatively easy to attain.

Loyalty: (n) – A strong feeling of support and commitment (variations: brand loyalty, customer loyalty, product loyalty).

M –

Make or buy decision: (n) – whether to produce a product or service inside the organization, or to purchase from an outside supplier.

Mass customization: (n) – A production process in which every process repeated, but output is customized by altering which processes are included in a particular product or service.

Maximize: (adj) – to make maximum. According to most marketing literature, this is something every product does for a beneficial KPI.

Methodology: (n) a set of processes, rules, and ideas that govern a system.

Mindshare: (n) the relative dominance that marketing and sales has over a prospect’s attention.

Mission-critical: (adj) vital to the desired outcome.

Monetize: (v) to transform something into money.

Multi-task: (v) to do more than one thing at a time.

N –

Net-net: (n) the most succinct possible way to state an idea or insight. (Synonyms: net, net-net-net, net-net-net-net)

Network: (n) group of people who are connected (see connection)

No decision: (n) a sales self-deception in which it’s commonly believed that a prospect failed to make a choice.

Non-value added activity: (n) An activity for which the value to customers is less than its cost to the producer, and therefore a candidate for elimination (see value-add)

North of: (adj) above

O –

Offline: (n) Not right now, and not in front of everyone else in the meeting.

On the same page: (adj) when two or more people possess mutual understanding.

On my plate: (adj) I have responsibility for a particular task, problem, or challenge. (antonym: on your plate)

Opaque: (adj) concealed or hidden.

Optimize: (v) to make perfect, usually offered as a platitude via content marketing.

Out-of-the-box: (adj) unconventional, or creating the illusion of being unconventional.

Outsource: (v) to perform a function or service outside an organization (see insource)

Oversell: (v) to inflate a prospect’s expectations beyond what can be reasonably provided.

P –

Paradigm shift: (n) fundamental change in underlying approach, assumptions, or methods.

Partner: (v) to engage in an activity with a person or company.

Ping: (v) to contact a person without confirming the communication was received.

Pitch: (n) a statement or set of statements intended to persuade a prospect to purchase a product or service.

Proactive: (adj) active. (Not sure how this entered the lexicon.)

Pushback: (n) objection or resistance.

Q –

Qualify: (v) to learn the potential value or expected outcome of a sales opportunity.

R –

Rain: (n) inflow of cash to an organization in exchange for producing and delivering goods, which customers purchase.

Ramp-up: (n) the period in which knowledge or know-how is acquired and deployed.

Resonate: (v) cause a person to have an emotional connection to something.

Rightsize: (v) to change staffing requirements – usually through force reductions – to achieve equilibrium between demand and the resources required to supply it. (see optimize).

Robust: (adj) a product that is well-designed, well-built, and by extension, unlikely to fail.

ROI: (n) basically, any financial measurement that purports to prove the value or efficacy of a product. (see Hype, KPI, and smoke and mirrors)

S –

Scalable: (adj) capable of growing or expanding.

Seamless: (adj) boundaries between point of data capture and point of data use that are invisible; often a marketing platitude. (see pitch)

Self-service: (n) a process or software application in which customers can facilitate a buying transaction (see algorithm).

Shiny object: (n) something that has unproven worth, but people want anyway.

Skillset: (n) within an individual or team, a collection of useful capabilities.

Smoke and mirrors: (n) deliberate distortion about a product’s construction, capabilities, or results.

Social: (adj) of, or relating to anything involving social media.

Stakeholder: (n) a person who has a direct interest in the outcome of an activity or strategic initiative.

T –

Talking points: (n) essential ideas to communicate. Also, words presented on PowerPoint slides (see Death-by-PowerPoint).

Tire kicker: (n) a person with a superficial interest in making a purchase.

Touchpoints / touches: (n) the moment of any communication or interaction between buyers and sellers. (see engagement)

Train wreck: (n) a very bad result, usually with a known cause.

Transparent: (adj) honest and open (antonym: opaque)

Turn-key: (adj) describes a complex product or service that can be easily integrated into a company’s operations; often, a marketing distortion.

Twenty-four/seven or 24/7: (n) in a global economy, the period of time during which during which salespeople must work.

U –

Unpack: (v) to expose the details about something’s meaning (antonym: summarize).

V –

Value-add: (n) the comparison between the pre-process or pre-transaction value of something, and its post-process or post-transaction value.

Viral: (adj) a strategy or tactic that exploits spreading information from person to person, especially through social media.

Virtual office: (n) the place of employment for many workers engaged in business development, usually in located in a primary residence.

W –

WIFM – (n) What’s In it For Me?

Win-win: (adj) describes an outcome in which both buyer and seller share the benefits.

Winner’s curse: (n) quagmire that vendors fall into when a customer becomes chronically unprofitable (see oversell).

Workaround: (n) a modification or change that rectifies a deficiency or problem – often temporary.

Z –

Zero-sum game: (n) a situation in which a gain on one side is matched by a comparable loss on the other.

The centenarian sales rep has lots catching up to do if he wants to stay in the sales game and ably compete with his millenial brethren. Plus, in the last 100 years, a new pronoun has arrived in town: she.

Yet, I wonder how much has really changed. What would happen if you took the great modern sales books on my shelf and shook them hard enough for the biz-dev jargon to fall out and tumble to the floor. What would remain? Just the unpretentious, humble ideas for interpersonal selling contained in Salesmanship and Business Efficiency. As Knox wrote, “You cannot be a great success as a salesman until you bring [your] winning qualities out where they can be seen. They vouch for your honesty, your sincerity, and are a proof of your interest in others. They are your letter of introduction and will gain you admission when everything else fails.”

Some words last forever.


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