Becoming a Better Salesperson

How_To_Handle_Rejection_400x265February is staring me in the face like Punxsutawney Phil, the angry Pennsylvania groundhog about to be jettisoned out of his hole to predict the weather. A whole month of 2016 has flown by, and I still haven’t made much progress toward setting up my book-selling goals for the year. I have some, I do. Nebulous, dreamy-eyed plans to get more eyeballs on my work. It’s what every indie author wants. If I were a beauty pageant contestant, I might be rhapsodizing about world peace right now. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

One thing I have learned about goal setting and goal keeping is that those aspirations need to be specific and achievable. And I’m usually pretty good about that. I make plans, I fill in spreadsheets, and I even look at them once in a while. But so far this year, I’ve stayed so far in denial I might as well hunker down with Phil.

I think part of my avoidance is that the market for books is changing and I haven’t gotten my “sea legs” yet. You might have seen this by the flood of book-bargain emails in your inbox. There’s more competition than ever—for your attention, for advertising slots, for pretty much everything. Having a good sales plan is more important than ever, and deep in my little introverted heart, the word “sales” makes me want to barricade myself into my writing room and watch kitten videos until my pulse returns to normal.

But I am a grownup (mostly) and I have chosen this business, so I made a commitment to learn how to become a better salesperson.

To that end, I asked Mama Google for assistance. She gave me an article about the biggest ways salespeople fail. What’s the most common reason for going away empty-handed? Failing to actually ASK for the sale.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Get acquainted; offer a pitch; transaction made. So why the disconnect on the transaction part? I know, as an author, many factors in the promotion arena are out of my control. Book bloggers are busy people, marvelous people who write about books for the love of them, but they have lives that don’t stop because I want them to pay attention to my work. Also, no matter how much advertising spaghetti I toss at the wall, for any number of reasons my books won’t always connect with readers exposed to them. And of those wonderful, wonderful readers who do choose to take a chance on me, only a small percentage will write a review or tell their friends. But I like to think I’ve been paying attention to all the advice I’ve heard over the years about spiffing up my book descriptions, writing more engaging newsletter posts, and generally doing a better job of connecting with potential readers everywhere I happen to find them. And, you know, finding them.

Then it hit me: I could be a better salesperson if I actually started ASKING for what I want!

Yes, sometimes it’s tough for me to get bold and ask for help. I want to be able to handle everything myself, otherwise I’m afraid I’ll look needy, and who wants to play with someone like that? Then I had one of those facepalm moments: I actually AM a salesperson! In the past, I’ve sold my own skill set: I’ve convinced various employers to hire me, even when they didn’t have specific jobs advertised, and they were happy with my results. I’ve asked for things and gotten them.

So, if I could ask total strangers to hand me actual cash money for my labor, what was my problem with asking for a little help to get the word out? Granted, there are nice, polite, professional ways of doing these things. But it can be done. I’m doing it. Not everyone says yes, but most do. And all I had to do was ask.

Now it’s your turn: What are you not asking for?

Why You Should NEVER Trust Your Spell-Checker

It’s all Maria Mariana’s fault. She was one in a group of six linguists from Georgetown University who, back in the 70s, first developed an automated way to check spelling and grammar on word processing programs for IBM. Perhaps, though, she meant well. Thought it would be a good thing to create this seductive monster that can batch-attack the often time-consuming and ponderous human task of checking one’s work for errors.

Backfire, Maria. Semi-total epic FAIL! Spell-check has made us lazy. It has lulled us into a false sense of security with its offers to change your grammar or correct that questionable word. We all have stories of spell-checking failure, some with embarrassing and humorous results. Here are a few more reasons you should never trust that pathetic plug-in with your important work.

1. Spell-checkers are notoriously obtuse. Consider the following passage:

My physical therapist worked out a weight-bearing routine for me that stimulates my osteoblasts, which are the cells that build new bone.

The spelling and grammar checker in my version of Microsoft Word wants to replace “stimulate” for “stimulates.” It believes that the subject that is being stimulated is plural…actually, I have no plucking idea what it believes. It’s just wrong.

2. Spell-checkers can’t parse your intentions. Like this one:

“Pete’s working again.”

Spell-check suggestions for this alleged error in “subject-verb agreement” include “Pete’s is working” or “Pete’s was working.” The writer’s intention was to state that Pete is once again gainfully employed. But good old SC doesn’t know this, and assumes that something of Pete’s is now or formerly was functional.

3. Spell-checkers can’t find missing words. “Ted raced the sink” has a rather different meaning than “Ted raced to the sink.” In a long document, particularly one you’ve been poring over draft after draft, your brain will supply the missing word. So, you may miss it in the proofreading and lead your readers to believe Ted has been imbibing and sincerely believes he and the sink are in competition.

4. Spell-checkers can auto-correct you into situations in which you do not want to be auto-corrected. A former colleague, who normally relied upon his assistant to correct and send out his correspondence, decided to give her a break and take care of some of his own. In an e-mail that went out to the entire sales staff, he intended to ask for their opinions on a new sales program. He ended with, “I look forward to seeing your evaluation.” Only, because of his less-than-stellar keyboarding skills, his spell-check program decided he meant to type “ejaculation.” Yeah. It went out that way.

5. Spell-checkers won’t tell you if your formatting is inconsistent. This is one reason why you should never abandon something as format-dependent as your resume solely to the eye-chips of your computer program. It won’t tell you that you’ve ended some bullet-text items with periods and left them off others. It won’t tell you a heading is in the wrong font or tabbed in too far. These sorts of things are CRUCIAL to swing by your own eyeballs, especially if the job you desire has anything to do with attention to detail.

6. Spell-checkers don’t measure up to humans…at least not yet. Flawed as we are, we’re still better than machines at certain tasks, like knowing what we meant to say. Don’t have time to proofread or can’t tell if your participles are dangling? Hire a human.

Have any good spell-checking horror stories?

5 Things The Designated Hitter Rule Taught Me About Business

On January 11, 1973, Major League Baseball’s American League enacted the Designated Hitter rule. It’s a stupid rule, in my opinion, and many baseball purists agree with me. The rule states, in part, that the position in the batting order normally taken by the pitcher may be replaced with a “designated hitter,” and therefore the pitcher may remain an active player (on the mound) without having to hit and, you know, break a nail or something. Since professional baseball, outside of its art and poetry, is also a business, here’s what the consequences of this rule have taught me about the business world:

1. Keep your skill set updated. Have you ever watched an interleague or World Series game and noticed that the American League pitchers (when they are forced to step up to the plate at a National League team’s park) look like little leaguers taking their first swings at the ball? Since they don’t have to bat, they lose the ability, while some of the National League pitchers, like current free agent Dantrelle Willis, are pretty decent at the plate. Therefore, if you’re in the market for a pitcher for a National League team, one who doesn’t embarrass himself in the batting box is a much more attractive option.

2. Think strategically. Part of the manager’s job is to think strategically. The game of baseball has many moving parts, including where you position your fielders, how your batters fare against left- or right-handed pitching, and how to keep tabs on a speedy baserunner like the New York Mets’ Jose Reyes. The designated hitter rule removes from the manager’s purview decisions about keeping the pitcher in the game as the ninth spot in the batting order grows closer. This is a huge part of a National League manager’s responsibility. Letting the American League managers off the hook is doing them a disservice. Yes, it can be said that relieved of this responsibility, AL managers can better focus on other parts of the game, but I believe a NL manager is more well-rounded in his strategic thinking. At work, too, if you opt out of some aspects of strategic thinking, you could be letting your competitors hit your hanging curve out of the park.

3. Change can be good…if you allow it to happen. In the American League, a heavy hitter who is no longer as effective in the field, like Boston Red Sox DH David “Big Papi” Ortiz, is very often put into the designated hitter position. This allows a player who has grown slower or battles chronic injury to extend his career. This, some say, also saddles a team with yet another player on the roster with limited abilities when they could shop for a player who can hit and field well. In the business world, many people are afraid of change, even hanging on to concepts and practices that no longer work as well as they used to.

4. Don’t hide your talent. If a pitcher comes up to bat with a man on first, he may attempt a bunt to move the player into scoring position. Because this happens so frequently, many National League pitchers are excellent bunters. In the National League, a random position player may not be able to lay down a killer bunt or even an effective one. American League pitchers, although they might have this ability, rarely get to try. It deprives them of a chance to show that they have other ways of helping their teams win than just on the mound. Maybe you can help your business succeed by using some hidden talent.

5. Life isn’t fair. Historically, American League teams score more runs than National League teams, and some say have an advantage in interleague and World Series games. This is, I believe, because National League managers are saddled with more responsibility. Until Major League Baseball decides to either enact the DH rule for the National League or get rid of it entirely, this inequity will continue. But that’s life, and the faster you accept that some things are not fair, the better you can focus on continuing to do your best. And maybe work on correcting those inequities for the future.

Use Your Brain To Increase Your Productivity

Welcome to my world, and my sometimes-messy writing room, filled with books, toys, pens, coffee mugs, and various adapters to computer components I no longer use or possess.

Welcome to my day. At any given moment, I could be working on a myriad of tasks. Compiling research for the first draft of a web article. Writing an e-mail to a source in order to score an interview. Conducting that interview. Drafting a proposal on why a prospective client absolutely must give me her next writing project. Editing the random commas and overused “thats” out of my novel manuscript. Managing my in-box. Or, ferreting through the web to find out how the human body would react if set upon the Martian landscape without oxygen. (I’d tell you why, but then I’d have to kill you.)

Basically, I am a ping-pong ball with a keyboard.

I love being a writer. It’s one of my main reasons for living, but it’s tough sometimes. Okay, it’s tough a lot of the time. Sometimes the enemy is my own brain. Even the most facile thinker can have problems bouncing from project to project, reorienting his or her brain toward the required task. You’re tapping away at your magnum opus, when BOOM, the phone rings- your best client, who needs to talk to you right away. You scribble down notes about revisions to the project, and then go back to your computer to find fifty new e-mails waiting for you. One of those is a request for proposal for a job that’s only going to be hot for the next couple of days before the marketing manager must choose a vendor.

So how on Earth (or on Mars) can you shift your focus and apply your best self to each task?

Discipline, yes. Those things you’re supposed to do, like keeping a to-do list, blocking out spaces of time for each project, returning messages promptly… those Highly Effective Steps all of those Highly Effective People use every day.

But there’s much more to the task of balancing tasks than mere paperwork. According to Dr. Nick Hall, internationally recognized psychoneuroimmunologist, (try fitting that on a business card) we can work with our own biology to become more productive.

For instance, some studies show that our brain hemisphere activity cycles every 90 to 110 minutes. This is a brilliant method the brain uses to manage its energy throughout the day. The trick is to harness and work with the brain’s natural rhythms.

The first step is to figure out which brain hemisphere happens to be switched on.  According to Dr. Hall, you only need to pay attention to your breathing. More specifically, your nostrils. Sit very quietly, inhale through your nose a few times (blow your nose if you’re congested), and note which nostril feels less constricted as you breathe. As I’m writing this, my right nostril is definitely doing more than its fair share of the work. Using Dr. Hall’s hypothesis (cribbed from ancient India), my left-brain is more active. So it’s a good thing I’m using my right-brain language skills now.  And in about 90 to 110 minutes, I should switch to my left-brained tasks, like sorting out my inbox or updating my contacts list. Theoretically, this will make performing all types of tasks more efficient.

Another way Hall recommends you improve productivity is to match your breaks to your tasks. After spending 45 minutes composing a proposal (language skills), don’t hop on down to chat with your friends at the water cooler (or the virtual representation of the water cooler) for a break. This is not a break. This is a continuation of language skills. Sure, we need breaks. But if I hang out on Facebook for five or ten (okay, fifteen or twenty) minutes and then return to that proposal, my brain is already tired and hasn’t rested. Probably a better break for me at that point would have been a quieter activity like fetching a cup of tea, going for a short walk, or taking a few deep breaths. Then I can go back to my linguistic pursuits refreshed.

One method I use is to work with my unique biological rhythms. I am more energetic and more creative in the morning. That’s when I do the bulk of my writing, or tackle tasks that require more energy. After lunch, I work best at editing or revising. At around four or five o’clock, though, my energy plummets. This is when I normally exercise. And from banging my head against the wall time and time again, I’ve learned that the part of my brain that makes sentences checks out after about seven o’clock, so I have no business writing then. Better to perform a more rote task, or even better, eat dinner and relax.

You probably know when you’re at your best for certain things and not for others. It’s much easier to fit your tasks around your rhythms than trying to muscle your way through something your brain is just not up for.

But I know what you’re thinking: “I’m at work, and my report is due in two hours. According to my ‘nostril clock,’ I’m on the right side of my brain. So I’m screwed, right?”

You might not be. Some studies have suggested that you can change which side of your brain is “switched on” by closing the currently active nostril and forcing the other to do the work. I haven’t gotten this to work yet. Maybe you’ll have more success.

What are your favorite productivity tips that don’t involve your nostrils?