An Odd Couple

A pair of books I liked, oddly paired:

Jeff Thull, The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale.

I’ve vigorously championed “solution selling,” recently influenced by the amazing transformation story at IBM (where IBM Global Services alone has become a $50 billion business), and similar unfolding tales from UPS, Deere, and others. Now Jeff Thull offers a superb book that takes this essential idea and translates it into practical sales advice. The problem, and a big one: to sell—and implement—a “solution sale” means a willingness on the part of the selling organization to muck about (exactly the right term) in the Client organization. Per Thull: “The business of selling is not just about matching viable solutions to the customers that require them. It’s equally about managing the change process the customer will need to go through to implement the solution and achieve the value promised by the solution.”

To frame his argument, Thull offers a useful typology, the three “eras” of sales:

Era #1/Obvious Value: “Our ‘it’ works, is delivered on time” (Seller’s task: “Close”)

Era #2/Augmented Value: “How our ‘it’ can add value—a ‘useful it’ ” (Seller’s task: “Solve”)

Era #3/Complex Value Networks: “How our ‘system’ can change you and deliver ‘business advantage'” (Seller’s task: “Implement culture-strategic change”)

All this rang especially true to me courtesy my McKinsey experience. Old McKinsey, my McKinsey, circa 1980, sold “augmented value,” per Thull’s model. We dug in deep and offered a tailored solution … for the Client to implement. Part of my project that resulted in In Search of Excellence suggested that the work wasn’t done until the Culture Change in the Client organization was done (the “dreaded, missing, last 95 percent,” as one of my caustic McKinsey friends, Allan Kennedy, put it). In fact, in the years following Search, McKinsey radically shifted gears to emphasize implementation-culture change (“sustained impact,” in McKinsey-ese). I now “sell” in my work the meta-idea that survivors in the Age of Outsourcing will-must transform themselves/their group into a full-fledged Professional Service Firm—the hallmark of which will be a “dramatically different point of view” implemented through “hands-on attention to culture change in the Client organization.” This holds, I’d add, for a one-person accountancy serving local businesses as well as for McKinsey (and for that matter, IBM).

All this fed my interest in Mr Thull’s book … which I heartily commend to your attention.

The second part of this odd coupling: Dave Smith’s To Be of Use: The Seven Seeds of Meaningful Work.

I simply loved this book by the unsung half of the founding partners of Smith & Hawken. (Paul Hawken has gotten a lot more ink over the years.) It more or less begins with this wondrous poem by Marge Piercy:

to be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shadows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. …

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again. …

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. …

The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Chapter titles are pretty much a compact review, or at least provide a flavor: “Faith: True Belief”; “Hope: Soul School”; “Justice: Action Heroes”; “Temperance: The Briarpatch Way”; “Prudence: Reclaiming the Soul of Business”; “Courage: Creative Action Heroes”; “Love: Useful You.”

A handful of others that are new to me:

Creative Company: How St. Luke’s Became “the Ad Agency to End All Ad Agencies.” Recommendation: The late, great Jay Chiat called it “the book I wish I had written.”

Frank McCourt’s new Teacher Man. How could you not appreciate a teacher who perceives that the most creative work his kids do is forging excuse notes—so he gives a creative writing assignment on writing excuse notes? The “teach to test” zealots, of course, will vigorously shake their sorry little heads.

Now for something light: MacArthur Fellow Mike Davis’ The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu.