Member of the Week: Rick Wong, author of Winning Lifelong Customers with The Five Abilities®

Rick WongName: Rick Wong

Book Title: Winning Lifelong Customers with The Five Abilities®

What is your book about? There are five things corporate decision-makers look for from salespeople when making strategic buying decisions—I call these things The Five Abilities. The Five Abilities framework offers a simple and quick situational assessment to determine which of The Five Abilities need to be shored up, at any stage in the sales cycle, so that the customer ultimately chooses you. The Five Abilities also gives you tools to determine your immediate best next actions for addressing any shortfalls. The framework makes sales oriented problem-solving a habit whether you’re a salesperson, CMO, or CEO, resulting in more wins and more lifelong customers. The Five Abilities are:

  • VISABILITY (Seen in the right way, at the right time, by the right people)
  • CREDABILITY (Show superior knowledge and experience)
  • VIABILITY (Solutions that fit needs and readiness for all)
  • CAPABILITY (Deliver on the personal reasons that drive people to make business decisions)
  • RELIABILITY (Be accountable when the unexpected happens)

What inspired you to write your book? During 30+ years of sales, sales management, and executive management, I observed that the biggest challenges for salespeople were associated with the personal connection requirement that is so important with enterprise decision-makers. People make business decisions for personal reasons, but most sales and marketing activities are focused on the logical, analytical reasons a company makes decisions. These are important but in very competitive industries the differences between products and services is naturally small because everyone is building proposals to solve the same problems for the customer.

Winning Lifelong Customers With The Five AbilitiesEven in today’s digital/social world, decision-makers still want to know the people they will rely on to ensure the success of their strategic investments. When you dissect how these decisions are made, you see that the data and analytics are often used to justify a decision-maker’s personal preference even if the latter is never documented. The Five Abilities doesn’t ignore data and analytics but instead augments that part of the sale with the personal connection element that is often the real difference between winning and losing.

Can you describe your writing process? Most of my content is based on personal experiences by me and people I’ve been blessed to work with. My framework and writing is a narrative of what I’ve observed from many successful salespeople. The Five Abilities represents the common ways in which I observed successful salespeople go about winning more business than their peers and competitors. So my writing process was mainly about collecting actual occurrences and turning them into stories that illuminate the components that make up The Five Abilities.

Other than my MBA thesis I had never written anything longer than an executive summary or report, so learning how to write in a voice that sounded like me was the first step. What I thought would be a quick process ended up being four years and 17 total rewrites. Not just editing old copies but complete restarts.

The final copy was almost 100 pages shorter than earlier versions. My goal was to have about 125 pages in the book knowing that today’s professionals, especially those in sales, don’t have the time or desire to read long “how-to” books. I also tried to write the book as a series of blogs so that it could more easily be used as a reference rather than something you have to read cover to cover. 

How did you come to do what you’re doing today? After 30+ years in corporate America doing mainly sales and marketing roles, I wanted to use my learning to teach others how to work better with customers. I was the beneficiary of many wonderful examples of great salespeople and I had many strong mentors, some of whom have continued to coach me throughout my career. With the increased mobility of employees in today’s business environment, I think it’s become harder to have mentors in the traditional sense. We are now firmly into the “gig economy” where people treat jobs like projects. They know the day they start that they’ll be looking for a new gig in 3-4 years.

There is a lot of good sales training out there but too few focus on the personal connection element that is even more important now. Winning Lifelong Customers is about executing on The Five Abilities such that people want to do business with you no matter who you work for. Salespeople certainly follow decision-makers, but the best salespeople get decision-makers to follow them.

Can you describe a typical day in your life? I’m a night-owl—always have been. Friends attribute this to my years as a professional musician but it really started as early as three years old. I remember hiding under my covers with a flashlight to play solitaire and other one-person games, late into the night, after everyone else was asleep.

The technology industry was a good fit for me because an 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. start time was normal. Likewise, late nights and all-nighters were common. Today, bedtime is about 1:00 a.m. and I start the next day at 8:00 a.m., usually with a workout. My business day starts at 9:00 a.m. After that it’s coffee and clients—in that order. Quad-shot Americanos, calls, or emails that require reading and responses. I read faster and comprehend more in the morning, so if I don’t have client engagement I do my business reading then (e.g., books, news, web).

Reading and client engagement often give me new ideas for blogs, so I typically write and work on social media in the afternoon and early evening. I like to finish an idea once I’ve started. This goes back to my songwriting days where I was coached by a producer to finish the song, even if it’s horrible. Nick Venet would say, “Get it out of your head so you don’t do it again.” As a result, I start many blogs that never make it to print, just as there are many stories that never made it into the book.

As I write this I’m observing Lent, for which I’ve given up national network and cable news along with impulse shopping on Amazon. So my evenings are the few TV shows we watch and pleasure reading. A television staple is The Voice. For pleasure, I’m currently reading The Boys in the Boat and Three Days in January. I typically read all books digitally.

What do you most enjoy about what you do? I think simplification is one of the most helpful forms of lasting help you can give a person, team, or company. If I boil down the help I received from great managers, mentors, and peers, it’s that they gave me knowledge and experience that helped me simplify my approach to complex tasks which made me more productive. Whether it was processes, methodologies, frameworks, or step-by-step instructions, the common element was simplification. It seems obvious but I can remember many times when people, from professors to managers, tried to make complex topics more simple and yet did just the opposite.

I had a micro-economics professor who seemed more focused on showing us how smart he was than on teaching us about his subject. If you got a test question wrong his explanations made things more confusing. We often encounter coworkers who have the same focus and while they may be extremely smart, they have limited success in helping others be better because their coaching starts with their perspective and knowledge rather than that of their coworkers.

Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey? Even though my dad died when I was 10 years old, he is still my role model. He was a natural relator who developed strong relationships easily. I can only try to emulate what I observed before he passed and what people have told me about him. He had very memorable advice like, “If you have to ask for recognition you probably don’t deserve it.” He also used to preach, “If there’s a will there’s a way.” Obviously not his words, but he lived that belief and passed it on to me. He was partners with my uncle in a very successful frozen food business that is now archived in the Smithsonian. I didn’t know it at the time, but in talking with relatives my uncle was the operations guru while my dad was the chief rainmaker. Interesting how I ended up so passionate about sales.

Jim Kreiter, (District Manager, American Bank Stationery) was my first sales manager and he taught me the basic truth that you must sell yourself before you can sell anything else. Irene Bjorklund, (GM Northwest Area, HP) was my first senior mentor who wasn’t my direct manager. She taught me the value in systemizing and simplifying things that I had to repeat in order to be successful. Richard Fade, (SVP, Microsoft) taught me to trust my gut and to stretch the rules a bit if I thought there was a better way to do things. That really was the Microsoft culture, but it didn’t really sink in until I worked for Richard. Steven Guggenheimer (CVP, Microsoft) is an example of a hard-charging, very smart leader who hasn’t let ambition get in the way of watching out for his people and peers.

From Stress to Strength by Robert S. Eliot, M.D. taught me the value of routine or what today might be called habit. His advice was to routinize the simple things so you have more capacity to deal with more difficult things that can cause you stress. For instance, when I have to park at the airport for extended periods, I always park on the seventh floor in the same part of the lot. By going to the top floor, I don’t have to hunt for spaces and I never forget where my car is. At Microsoft, I always parked on the top floor of our parking garage, where few others parked. It helped me avoid having to hunt for parking spots and it forced me to walk the most amount of stairs.

Ken Blanchard’s books showed me that with most complex topics, there is a simple way to think about it that helps you manage problems better. Stephen Covey (Seven Habits) also taught me that high-performing people get there by doing just a few things well. Selling with Noble Purpose—Lisa Earle McLeod—was affirming for me because she emphasizes the human side of doing business no matter what your role or discipline. 

Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you? When my kids were toddlers I started to make up songs to play and sing to them at night. I was tired of listening to the same old songs played by children’s artists of the day and thought my kids would appreciate more variety. Making up songs led to formal composition and eventually to the recording studio. I hired a producer and 22 musicians and we recorded an album of 12 songs, five of which got on national radio via Disney Radio and Radio AAHS.

That led to a series of lucky circumstances where I felt something unexpected but incredible was happening to me every day. I was reviewed in Billboard magazine, the bible of anything music, without ever talking to them. A number of big named artists like Kenny Loggins, Carly Simon, and Nicolette Larsen had recorded children’s albums with the intent of, as Loggins said, “creating children’s music that parents also wanted to listen to.” My album was deemed by reviewers to be part of this new trend in children’s music, so I got a much-coveted mention in Billboard in the same article that reviewed the artists mentioned above. A dream come true.

Later that year, I got reviewed in USA Today when the headlines told us of Hugh Grant’s exploits with a prostitute. It was the top-selling issue of that year. From the press coverage came an invite to do a live radio show from Disneyland which, again, got lots of coverage because I was considered one of the new breed of kid’s music entertainers. My 15 minutes of fame.

What’s next for you? I want to use the book to beef up my visibility with the goal of significantly growing my consulting practice. Writing this book was the longest marketing program I’ve ever undertaken. I’m hoping The Five Abilities® framework succeeds in helping business people simplify this thing called sales so that they and their people can be more successful in winning business and lifelong customers.

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