Fraud – if it’s a ‘victimless crime’ is it still a crime?

Some months ago I was invited to invest (a relatively small initial sum) into a ‘fund’. A fund, I was told, that had been remarkably successful last year. – and was due to start again shortly (this back in February 2018). The fund was called the ‘Samson fund’ . The fund would ostensibly seek to profit from the apparently over-priced nature of many of the world’s stocks.  Some might call this ‘short selling’ – I saw it as more like making use of market mechanisms to (hopefully) redistribute wealth more widely (ideally with some coming in my direction). It was also promoted as a way of benefitting, rather than suffering, from the current market ‘volatility’.

Having for the previous three years and more invested my life’s-savings directly into an innovative technology startup, as its CEO, a venture that ultimately failed (as so many do), I was naturally keen on an investment that, whilst ‘a little risky’ in the words of my financial adviser, might produce a bigger return than conventional funds (this at the time of the egregious revelations being made in the Australian Government’s Royal Commission into Financial Services). My way of redressing the balance, as it were. So arrangements were made. I had several phone calls with the so-called fund’s ‘staff’ – including with the chief dealer who would be setting the investment strategy. His strategy seemed compelling  – go “short on Tesla” and other over-valued Tech Stocks and pick at Eurobonds and other opportune politically initiated market movements (of which there are many these days). On reflection I may have even suggested this approach myself in an earlier conversation with one of his staff. Hoist by my own petard?

Being cautious, and less than flush with cash, I elected a small, 5000 Euro investment (1/2 a ‘unit’ – which, surprisingly, they allowed – a missed warning?). The funds were duly transferred to Bank Millennium S.A. in Poland, after a last minute change of instructions by the fund from the original target of The Bank of Cyprus (a second missed warning?) which they said was due to ‘oversubscription’ (I’ve never heard of a bank turning down business due to unexpectedly high demand!).

Once all funds were (irrevocably) transferred and received by‘the fund’ they promptly (and I’d acknowledge, with better than industry average speed and professionalism) established me on ‘their’ trading system so that I could see ‘in real time’ the performance of my investment. Or at least see something that might excite me (profits rising – winning deals ahead of the market – that sort of stuff). Of course, there was the occasional bad bet – losses – sometimes quite large would ripple through – but by the end of the week all would be good again. The ‘balance’ would be (very) positive (again, a missed warning?). By now I was both suspicious and resigned to my fate (total loss) but decided to play along with the charade as I was deeply interested in seeing how it would actually pan out. They were creating a tremendous facade of highly believable ‘trading’ (’though it was likely fictional), they were sending me daily emails with attached ‘market reports’ (which actually made quite interesting reading – clearly written by a market-informed Englishman with good style and dry wit). Just the merest particle of me hung on the slim chance that the profits were ‘real’ – I guess the reported losses were carefully put there to exploit a quirk of psychology.

The so called ‘chief dealer’ even called me (once only) to chat about how he saw the market (and to ask if I’d “like to invest further funds given how well it was all going?” – another warning message – this time received and understood). I made my excuses (truly all of my available funds had been invested in Acoustic 3D Limited and Vastigo Ltd – and I wasn’t expecting any return with which to further invest). Needless to say I never heard from ‘Robert Sarin’ again.

Why do I tell you this? In part to ram home to myself the lesson I have just paid 5000 Euro for (summarised thus: if it sounds too good to be true, it invariably is!) and partly to act as a warning to anyone else considering such ‘investment’. Of course, it might be argued by the founders and operators/perpetrators of the ‘Samson fund’ (or more correctly ‘Samson scam’) that I went in with my eyes open – and that it was my own greed that led me to make the poor decision to ‘invest’. In other words they might argue that I was not ‘their victim’ but ‘a victim of myself’ hence no crime was committed by them. Thus they may be of the opinion that they are , at worst, guilty of a ‘victimless crime’.

I however see it somewhat differently. They had wittingly used a number of sophisticated techniques to draw me, and others, into their fund – and then had fabricated an ongoing ‘trade’ to ensure that I didn’t alert authorities whilst they continued to attract ‘investment’ – or rather ‘con’ a few more unsuspecting individuals. Thus this is a crime every bit as pre-meditated as a bank robbery.

To my mind this crime must not go unpunished. The perpetrators need to be brought to some form of justice, somewhere . The Internet may be their hiding place for now – but from experience it can also provide the tools for their identification and tracking – and it can put them out of business, for now and forever. I intend to make it my mission to find these men – and close them down – with malice aforethought! Of course, the more grown-up part of me (the bit that learned the lesson?) might have some sympathy for the perpetrators – what was so bad in their childhood that they were able to turn to a fraud of this type for income and self-actualisation? I feel sorry for them.

Network Marketing – the future?

I’m of the view that when it comes to consumer sales ‘Network Marketing is – or soon will be – ‘the only way to go’ – in as much as traditional retail (retail stores and ‘clicks and bricks’) will be disrupted by the inevitable rise of consumer-to-consumer selling. You see, robots don’t do empathy, and algorithms don’t tell of their ‘personal experiences’, whereas Network Marketers excel at both.

As old-school retail scrambles to provide a ‘shopping experience’ (often with staff that appear somewhat demotivated) many consumers prefer to go ‘online’ for cheap commodity buying – and often express the opinion that the mall-based stores  ‘are all selling the same stuff’. Such consumers are however, always open to an invitation from a fellow human – and when that ‘potential friend’ gives them an empathetically delivered ‘product experience’ – it is, or at least feels like it is, tailored to their personal needs!

3 feet from the Gold?

Having only recently read Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich’ I find myself in a bind. “why so late in life?” I hear you ask. Because they didn’t teach that sort of stuff at my school – or at my university for that matter!

For over three years now, I’ve been putting my heart, soul, and our savings, into a seeming ‘black hole’. On any number of occasions I should have walked away – cut my losses and quit.

I guess it’s just as well that I was never a smoker – ‘cos I sure ain’t a quitter (based on the evidence to date).

But – whilst I have many times felt ‘we’re about to cut loose’,  I (and my colleagues) have been constantly disappointed when interest from prospective licensees of our A3D technology simply evaporated.

Well, we’re here again. Having strutted our stuff and having presented our peer-reviewed science to the Acoustic Engineering Society (at last!), we got some seemingly keen interest from some of the ‘household names’ (and some of the industry legends). MNDA’s have been executed and now we wait whilst various people try to influence their colleagues said companies, to take a ‘next step’. Meanwhile we, again, worry about whether we really are just three feet from the Gold – or are we in the wrong seam?

Where have you been?

As you will see, it has been a long time between posts! My excuse is that “I’ve been busy” (a VERY weak excuse I’d suggest).

For the intervening period I’ve been both cat-herder at one of Australia’s big-4 banks (trying to get their collaboration tools in working order whilst teaching their two IT-provider ‘Gorilla’s’ to Tango) and, for the last two-years, as CEO of a couple of companies developing and launching a new approach to sound amplification and playback (Acoustic 3D Holdings Ltd – and their commercialisation-arm and Licensee, Vastigo Ltd) .

The bank job made use of my guile and cunning – and some technical understanding; the later actually required me to polish my scientific understanding!

As CEO of a smallI, lean start-up in new technology, I’ve essentially been head of sales, chief cook and bottlewasher. That I must sell something that we are constantly re-defining – that is occasionally ‘broken’ by our ‘improvements’ and, more importantly, goes against 139 YEARS of ‘conventional-wisdom’ is no small feat.  To make the job possible I’ve had to learn much new stuff. Studying psycho-acoustics and nuero-science online has been both rewarding and challenging – and again, time consuming.

Still, it has been ‘a real education’ to deal with all of the various issues raised by a start-up public company – fund-raising, governance, product manufacture, supplier negotiations, etc, etc… And, at last, it looks like it may at last turn all this hard work into money – as a few of the sound industries more enlightened companies begin to show interest in the first of our patented technologies!

Gamenomics

I’ve just been to a CPX meeting hosted by Deloitte at their Bourke Street office – the presentation was given by Dr Stefan Walz, leader of the GEEL (Gaming and Emerging Entertainment Laboratory) at both RMIT and Stuttgart Universities. The theme he explored was that of ‘getting off the network’ – in short, how we might address our increasing addiction to being online.

Now, this may sound odd coming from someone who clearly spends much of his career looking into opportunities for ‘gamefying’ business and life processes – but as Dr Walz pointed out, that only goes to show that the majority of folk these days see games as only existing ‘online’. Once upon a time, and not that long ago, no games where online – online didn’t exist as a concept, nor as a technology.

I’m not telling you this because I long to re-instate board-games – or because I’m entirely against electronic games (I’m not entirely against them). I’m telling you this because, for me at least, the penny has finally dropped! I have finally realised that ‘gamification’ is a technique that can be used to influence human behaviour (online, or IRL – In Real Life) in exactly the same way that ‘economics’ (or should that be ‘economification’?) is used to influence human behaviour. Hence the study of how games influence – and can be tailored to deliver specific behavioural outcomes – should perhaps be known as ‘Gamenomics’.

Of course, Gamenomics might then also have a role in sales? After all, Economics are critical in selling (or at least those who sell purely on price, would have us believe) – so perhaps the next ‘great leap forward’ in selling is to figure out how to engage our customers in some form of ‘game’ that they might enjoy, and which rewards them for winning (i.e. buying from us). Clearly the ‘reward’ cannot be financial (that would be economics – or possibly corruption!) but should be psychological – it should appeal to their inner being (their inner child, their competitive streak, their need for validation, etc…) in much the same way as World of Warcraft does ( the ‘crack cocaine of gaming’).

There. Think on that.

Cold call experiment continues

Following further ‘experiments’ in physical cold-calling, I think it is safe to say that the ‘surprise’ factor (shock and awe?) of doing something so very out of the ordinary (i.e. walking in off the street and asking for assistance from the receptionist in getting to talk to someone in their organisation) fails to engage. Worse still, the shock seems to trigger the organisations defences!

Admittedly I only tried very large companies – and the approach may work in smaller companies that still function on a human scale – but clearly such a direct approach to large targets is futile. A more informed approach is required, I think. The need to “have a name” was apparent – many receptionists don’t actually know who does what these days.

So, how to get “a name”? The company website may offer the names of the executive – seeking that person will likely garner you their PA. But that probably only works if you want to go to the very top as your opening gambit – and in many cases, those folk are based in another country. Perhaps a Google search – with sufficient search criteria to narrow it to the country and role you seek? This too largely fails, invariably you will get hundreds, if not thousands of results – almost all of which are job ads, or news articles about sexual harassment, with names withheld to protect the innocent!

The ‘social network’ might be next. You are looking for a name you don’t have – so Facebook won’t work. Linked-in it is then. Linked-in provides a fairly useful search function which, whilst inclined to overwhelm you with options (some relevant) does provide profile info that you may use to further refine your search. Of course, it can only find folk who are themselves members of Linked-in, and it doesn’t give you a phone number or email contact – but it does offer a linked-in connect request. I personally won’t send a connect request unless I’ve met (or at least spoken to) the person -I just think it’s rude and smacks if spam. Anyway, the key outcome is that you have a ‘name’ so you can call the organisation and ask for an individual (not a role) and hopefully the human firewall will revert to ‘maven’ and connect you up. Or will they?

The cold call experiment #1

My experiment in cold calling has now commenced. I figured I’d start with the hardest, it’s a bit like choosing to tackle the biggest guy on the opposing team first – after that they’ll all be easier (or you’re so trashed by the experience that you spend the rest of the game on the bench – or stretcher). Anyway, I chose to try and get to IBM’s Victorian Sales Managers’ PA.

I will grant you that IBM’s customers never cold call – and folk selling to them don’t do that either (hence my decision to try) but they do have large offices which clients visit and which also house many bright IBMers who are trying their best to make the world a better place  – and to grow the IBM business.  The former, clients (and partners) are met by a receptionist (the ‘Director of First Impressions’ as we called our brilliant receptionist when I worked at Motorola). The receptionist I met on my cold call was Melissa (I asked) and she was very courteous – but entirely unable to help me in my quest to talk with the Sales Manager’s PA. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to – it was simply that without a name she couldn’t even begin to search, such are the processes in place. Melissa kindly offered me the email address of the folk that “deal with sales” (dealhub@au1ibm.com if you’re interested) and further proffered a phone number (132426) and opined that, as far as she knew, sales are dealt with from St Leonards in NSW.

Now, when it comes to all of those bright IBMers striving to make the world a better place, etc. – how does one get to them with an idea that might really help them achieve that goal? The receptionist can’t help (even if she wants to). Of course, it could be that IBM don’t need any help – with anything – they are after all a very old, very large and very capable company who have invented much of what we rely on these days, at least in terms of IT. However, they got that way by being open-minded, open to new ideas and able move on them quickly (or quickly for a company of their size). I would suggest that their defensive processes might now be too good! Instead of being the ‘Director of first impressions’ the receptionist is largely a ‘human firewall’. Of course, this suggests that external sales folk just became too pesky with their cold calling, causing too much interruption to the smooth flow of work being done by the staff the firewall is in place to protect.

Still, I shouldn’t base my views on a single experiment. On to the next few cold calls!

The 1st quarter is over – how are you travelling?

You know, questions are seen by many as the only tools used by salesmen. We ask questions: to establish need; to gauge readiness and willingness to buy; to establish the clients understanding of our proposal, and ultimately; we ask for their purchase instruction. If we’ve done it right – more right than the competition – then, in theory, we win.

The problem is that questions aren’t always the answer (pun intended). Sometimes our seemingly innocent and (we believe) relevant questions can offend. Sometimes customers don’t want to admit to their true current state. Continuing to drill down on any reticence the client displays merely compounds their discomfort.

This blog entry’s title “The 1st quarter is over – how are you traveling?” would likely be well received by those of you who are on, or ahead, of plan – doubtless you would answer and expand on just how far ahead of target you are and how much you are looking forward to the next quarter. However, those who were behind plan might well be uncomfortable with such a question.

Similarly, when you ask probing questions of a customer, look for the signs. If they happily answer then that’s great – if they hesitate, squirm, re-direct, or just look in any way uncomfortable, then back-off. Don’t merely rephrase the question but move onto something where you feel they will be more comfortable to open up. It may be that you don’t really need to know their current state in detail – and both you and the client might much more enjoy talking about the future state the client envisages (and which you might help to flesh-out). Perhaps rather than a question it might be more appropriate to make an observation, or propose a vision, or tell a story?

Differentiate – In person

In this time of surging social networking, our (thankfully) e-equipped world easily, and all too readily, inundates everyone with a relentless torrent of marketing communications. On top of which businesses are constantly exhorted to ‘do more’ with targeted on-line advertising, Tweets, Facebook and the like. A kind of ‘get digital or get wiped-out’ notion is spooking the herd.

Obviously, some of this works (Google and Facebook seem to be making money!) but as in all things, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. Getting your message through the cacophony of ‘targeted’ messages is increasingly difficult. Or is it?

Like all sales folk, I am aware that there are times when I must push myself into a ‘discomfort zone’ – and strangely mine currently presents as ‘Cold-calling’. I say this is strange because I have been immensely successful with cold-calls – I once even sold an IBM mainframe and associated disk and print hardware in a 48 hour sales cycle that started with a cold call to talk about CCTV! I must admit that in my early career I did at first fear the cold call (issues with rejection?) but a six month stint door-to-door selling “Yellow Pages” to the nascent business markets of the United Arab Emirates in the 80’s soon got me over that. It turned out that I really enjoyed the risk/uncertainty (= excitement) that came with the unknowns of cold-calling – I guess it’s as close as I get to sky-diving.

Now, it also turns out that the vast majority of salesfolk are similarly fearful or dismissive of the cold call – perhaps believing that it doesn’t apply to their market or brand proposition, or that it smacks of desperation, or is somehow ‘low rent’. Possibly their marketing department have oversold themselves – promising an endless stream of qualified leads. Whatever the cause, too many sales folk are willing to rely on others, or on the internet, to do their prospecting.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my early career was in Advertising – and one of many lessons I learned there was to “eat your own dog-food” – i.e. consume what you sell or do what you tell others to do. To that end, and in order to differentiate and get my message through, I am about to embark on a cold-calling campaign – where I will seek to meet first with the target Sales Manager’s Personal Assistant. I will apply my ‘One Minute More‘ techniques to establish a human connection with same, and seek their assistance in getting my message to their boss. If I get it right (and I’m bound to get it right sometimes) they will personally carry my message to their boss, and ensure it gets that person’s attention (added to which it will probably carry the PA’s recommendation, which is a powerful influencing factor in my experience).

Now you may well ask why have I told you this? Surely the secret is now out and others will be able to steal my initiative and make the calls before me? The truth is that, in part, making it public like this will force me into going through with it (a bit like committing to a weight loss program) and the other aspect (and the primary purpose of this blog) is that I want readers to think about selling, all aspects of selling – and surely getting the initial attention of your prospect is the single most critical aspect of the sale, is it not?

Vague – I hope so!

I’m writing this sitting in a busy Italian Café – “Origini” in Castlemaine, Victoria. It’s Monday morning and the place is packed. My salesman’s ear can’t help but drop in on the various conversations that erupt around me – snatches of sentences here and there – none heard as a contiguous detailed story, but each with snippets that give me some vague notion of what went on in their world last weekend.

I’m telling you this because, of late, I’ve been thinking about becoming more vague  – as a conscious decision to appear less decisive (and opinionated). You see, I have, until now, always striven to be clear, comprehensive and correct.

In my early career, armed with a strong understanding of technology, I was always sought as a source of answers. I was the geek who could explain stuff, could design solutions to solve problems and could then sell that solution – and even install it if necessary. Naturally, in order to do this I had to ask questions; to define the problem and to garner the customers expectations of the solution. My line in questioning – back then – was famously peripatetic; it would wander around seemingly (actually) without structure, certainly without ‘closing’ or even ‘trial closing’ questions. This was because I was usually selling ‘one offs’ – unusually complex and bespoke solutions based on emerging technologies about which I myself was still learning – and about which the customer wasn’t 100% certain either. Whilst I was striving to appear all-knowing in order to instil confidence, my rambling demeanour may have suggested something else.

Despite this apparent lack of focus however, my sales results were excellent. This frustrated my managers over the years, almost all of whom tried to change me, convinced I could be even better with a  little ‘discipline’. I was continuously pressured, and indeed trained, to follow the ‘conventional wisdom’ i.e. become more focused, more structured in my sales approach. I guess they eventually wore me down, and by the late 90’s and into the 00’s I too became more procedural in my questioning – driving toward the closure of the sale of  very specific solutions based on a structured analysis of the clients problem. My sales success didn’t increase as a result, but my market had evolved so it was hard to gauge the efficacy of my changed approach.

Back to Castlemaine. The many conversations around me – all incomplete – allow me to imagine what each of those stories might be. The very absence of all the details encourages me to ‘fill in’ the missing bits and make my own interpretation of their stories. Now, this may sound bizarre, but if you think about it for just a minute, this is ‘flexibility’ that I can exploit to suit my needs (personal amusement in this case) . Similar to the flexibility available to a customer when both they and you are a bit vague. When things are left a bit vague, the fit is a bit looser – a bit more comfortable and adaptable. Clients seldom know exactly what they need – and even more rarely know how to contract to get that need met.

Vagueness not only creates flexibility (and hence opportunity) but it also enables outcomes to be interpreted to suit immediate requirements. We need only look to politicians and the public service to see how such vagueness has been elevated to an art form – where policies and project outcomes can be easily ‘reframed’ to turn failure into success (and occasionally, as political expedience dictates, the other way around).

Of course, the real value of vagueness (particularly to me) is that by being a little vague, I can put the customer at some ease. Customers may be vague themselves – either because they don’t know something when perhaps they should, or more likely, because they don’t want to expose or confirm something that is less than flattering, of them or the company they represent.

Also, when I’m a bit vague I risk looking like I don’t know everything – which, by the way, is certainly the case. When I’m a bit vague therefore, it is less likely that I’ll appear arrogant – hubris is a near impossibility for the vague.

If the client sees me as vague and doesn’t want me to be that way, they will let me know through their questions – and through the information they impart to me in their attempt to make me less so. If, on the other hand, the client is happy that I appear as vague as they feel, then we have the basis of a relationship of equals – an excellent basis for a win-win sale.

So, consider the power of the vague! I will. Perhaps. Possibly. Maybe. I think.