October 27th, 2013
Michael Gove’s speech, as he sped through Hertfordshire this month, didn’t exactly hit the high spot of public speaking skills!
He actually spoke very briefly and spent the rest of his 45 minutes answering questions. Although it has to be said this was Hertfordshire and therefore very polite, if not quite reverential, questions. In true genteel Hertfordshire style, even the handful of protesters outside the venue had left before Mr Gove actually arrived, any unpleasantness thus avoided!!
Mr Gove has the look of a permanently surprised schoolboy and has a choppy, staccato, slightly breathless delivery style. This of course may be a function of his whistle stop tour of Hertfordshire that allowed him a 45-minute post lunch slot and then off to another 6 engagements, but in reality I think it’s just his style.
He certainly had the politician’s knack of making even the implausible sound eminently reasonable, but was he convincing? Was he engaging? Did he take his audience with him? No he did not.
Why not? He lacks warmth … his tone always makes him sound rather off hand and matter of fact and it doesn’t feel like it comes from a place of real conviction. In fact he sounds a bit like the Mr Chumley-Warner character from some of Harry Enfield’s repertoire.
He also sounds like more like he is delivering a lecture than actually speaking to you. Excellent speakers are able to make their audiences feel like they are being talked to directly, personally almost. When Gove congratulated someone for being brave enough to be opening a free school, the stiffness and coldness about him was incongruent with the words of praise and so the net effect came off as patronising.
Even his warm words about the local conservative MP and how very splendid she apparently is, and how we should therefore all vote for her at the next election, all felt a little stained. The staged hug/ kiss felt positively excruciating… The lack of warmth, the discordant feel between his words, tone and body language made me wonder if they in fact hate each other?!
What would improve Mr Gove’s speaking?
He needs to relax a little, perhaps be himself more, a little humour or self-depreciation might have taken the harsh edges off. Perhaps if he slowed his delivery somewhat so we didn’t have the feeling that he was just churning out the answers as quickly as possible so he could get off to his next gig, might also have helped!
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October 3rd, 2013
“The deepest principle of human nature is to be appreciated” (William James)
People crave meaningful connection at work, with their bosses and their peers, people crave acknowledgement and appreciation but few are satisfied with the quantity or quality of the connection at work and fewer still feel appreciated. And this is despite all of the communication technologies companies have at their disposal. Research indicates that the typical workplace seems to be “dysfunctionally connected” with people having the tools necessary to stay in touch, but not having the communication skills or common language needed to get the most out of those technologies.
What do we mean by lack of communication skills?
Technology allows us to increase the quantity but often not the quality of communication. I’ve read several articles recently with people mourning the death of etiquette in communication and human interaction. We’ve all experienced being with someone who is only half present with us as their eyes fly regularly to their smartphone and away from engagement with the real live human being in front of them; only to come back to us clearly disengaged and distracted from whatever it was we were trying to communicate. That’s probably a daily occurrence for many of us and how does it make us feel? Understood? Appreciated? Even acknowledged? Absolutely not. The tragic thing is that it’s a classic lose-lose communication scenario. The person communicating feels any or all of ignored / snubbed / unacknowledged / misunderstood and unconnected and the person who’s attention went elsewhere is struggling to really understand or take in whatever it was the person in front of them made the effort to be there to communicate! This often leads to misunderstanding, confusion, lack of clarity and ultimately ineffective decision making. So lack of focus – basic rapport building skills is one, big issue.
Another huge area of dysfunctional communication is people hiding behind their machines. Technology allows you to send an email rather than talk to someone (even if they are just down the corridor!). Emails can often be abrupt and expressed in a tone that is transactional and abrasive rather than one that builds relationship and is encouraging, nurturing or indeed persuasive. Technology can have a dehumanising effect; people will say things online and in emails that they would not say face to face. The horrifying abuse that Caroline Criado-Perez got via twitter for her campaign to get Jane Austin put on a bank note was an extreme example, people unfriending others on Facebook or dumping partners by text or altering their relationship status to single are also examples but more routinely, people can just be harsher and less polite digitally than they would be in front of another human being.
What do we mean by lack of common language?
For all that we talk all day every day; it’s surprising that communication is so difficult! Actually communication is easy; it’s good communication that’s tough. Because we all filter communication through our own individual lenses we all have different interpretations of any given situation or communication and this can make it hard to be really understood. Given that many businesses these days are international places, and there are people with many different 1st languages, that phenomenon is exacerbated.
Organisations have historically addressed this by having their own common languages that organically grow- phrases, terms and acronyms that were commonly and regularly used and that helped promote understanding within that particular organisation. Some add to this by adopting certain processes or methodologies that have a defined common language within them. This however is being disrupted by the pace of change and the churn of personnel through organisations that often means that common languages fail to get established or ones that were there atrophy. Organisations and individuals now have to work really consciously and actively to promote and maintain common language if they are to reap any of the benefits of this.
So if you or your organisation want to get the most out of people, (be they internal or external customers) and be best placed to influence and persuade them, encourage them and lead them; then you need to think about how you can deploy communication skills to make people feel acknowledged and appreciated and work out how you can establish a common language or framework for communication that is mutually clear and understood (and that doesn’t mean send out an email!).
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September 17th, 2013
For sales organisations, making it up as you go along isn’t good enough any more! Skillful improvisation may have worked in the past but not now.
Technology, the internet and access to information are making each and every customer much more demanding and well informed. Customers are looking for products and services that are more complex, offer more customised solutions and often with different levels of sales support.
This environment is changing how sales teams need to operate in order to be successful.
It is no longer sufficient to show up and tell customers about the product. Companies accustomed to selling products and walking away, are being forced to prove how they can add real value.
Successful sales people and organisations large and small are following the lead of business-to-consumer (B2C) retailers such as Amazon and Tesco by making smarter use of customer data to predict behaviour, drive sales, and deepen relationships. Ernst and Young identified “Big Data” as one of the top 5 mega-trends effecting business today, so “Big Data” and it’s importance to commercial success is the big topic of the moment.
By using big data effectively, top B2B sales organisations find a way to add more value to customers, to provide differentiated, tailored solutions, not products, and to devise delivery and service models that are more effective.They are using granular customer data and predictive analytic s ( just like B2C sellers such as Amazon.com) . B2B sales teams who have successfully taken this approach report that the rapid adoption of these techniques has increased the volume and quality of sales leads and improved conversion rates.
Predictive analytics are beginning to be used both in markets serving smaller customers (larger data sets facilitate predictive modelling) and in those with large customers (companies can examine statistical variations in performance across accounts to highlight opportunities).
These analytics are prompting sales and marketing teams to create additional strategic and operational roles. They are also forcing frontline sales people and their managers to become sophisticated data users, reducing the influence of old-fashioned gut instinct in driving the decisions of sales teams.Sales organisations must now re-train staff, re-tool processes, and allocate time in new ways.
The million $ issue however, is that, as a start point, you need good, robust data that you can rely on to analyse and to provide insight. That insight then allows you to make smarter decisions. AND you then need to execute with consistency and rigor.
The issue for many sales organisations is that they are still struggling with step 1 here, which is to gather truly reliable customer data. The challenge of implementing disciplined sales methodology and robust CRM systems, which are the bedrock of robust data, is a huge one. Research suggests that although an increasing proportion of sales organisations (c80%) now have CRM systems only about 25% of those who do, actually believe they have successfully implemented it such that they derive any value from it.That suggests that in the race for a competitive edge for 21st century sales , many sales organisations are falling at the first hurdle.
Next month’s blog will deal more with how sales organisations can create the foundations for robust data that will enable them to enhance the sophistication of their operation and respond effectively to the dynamics of the 21st marketplace.
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August 14th, 2013
Differentiation is dead!
Differentiation has a long and obvious history. It’s a tired business buzzword easily ignored.
The theory has been Sales are simple. When you see competition, you differentiate.
Buy mine; I can prove it is different.
They offer X, I offer Y. They cost this, I cost that.
The trouble is that now customers can easily Google the offer and costs, so what are sales people now? Waiters that just show up to take the order?
The thing is, true differentiation is selfish; it’s individual and only really works at the customer level. It’s the act of the sales professional with intense knowledge of and interest in his or her customer, with deeply thought through reasons why a customer should buy their “thing” instead of the competitor’s “thing”.
Remarkable has little to do with Marketing, certainly in B2B sales. Remarkable is in the eye of the customer, the person who ‘remarks’. If people talk about what you’re doing, it’s remarkable, by definition.
The goal, then, isn’t for the marketing department to draw some positioning charts and a weighty presentation and announce that you have differentiated your product.
No, the opportunity is for good sales people to actually work out what their total offer of goods services and support can deliver for their customer that the customer finds exceptional and then chooses to talk about, to remark on, regardless of what the competition is doing.
Then you have differentiation.
Then you have a competitive advantage.
Don’t be different… be remarkable!
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July 3rd, 2013
In every working life there’s at least one person or group of people that you’ll find difficult to handle and you find yourself thinking that everything would be better if only it wasn’t for them. Sometimes it’s a customer, sometimes a particular colleague and sometimes a member of staff.
The truth is that “it takes two to tango” and you can influence the behaviour of others by managing your own behaviour and the key to it is to understand more about that “if only they weren’t there” person.
One particularly helpful framework for understanding people is the DISC system, which is a behaviour style profiling tool.
In the early 1920′s, an American psychologist named William Moulton Marston developed a theory to explain people’s emotional responses. Until that time, work of this kind had been mainly confined to the mentally ill or criminally insane, and Marston wanted to extend these ideas to cover the behaviour of ‘ordinary’ individuals.
In order to test his theories, Marston needed some way of measuring the behavioural styles he was trying to describe. His solution was to develop his own technique to measure four important factors. The factors he chose were Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance, from which the technique takes its name – DISC.
Marston published his findings in a book entitled The Emotions of Normal People, which included a brief description of the system he had developed. From these humble beginnings, the DISC system has grown to become probably the most widely used assessment tool in the world.
DISC is a tool for looking for people’s individual styles and their differences; it promotes self-knowledge and outlines strategies for working with those differences. For example for salespeople, DISC demonstrates how to prepare a winning presentation to the different buyers. In the workplace, it addresses conflict resolution; it looks at the habitual communications styles of the people you work with.
If for example you are an energetic, outgoing, big picture / ideas type person, then you may find the person who is detailed, precise, and methodical irritates you beyond measure! Your immediate and often sub-conscious emotional reaction is that the individual concerned is being perverse or is out to get you. Using the DISC framework to think through situations, means that you can analytically understand your emotional reaction to your diametrically opposed styles and are therefore in a much better place to deal with it positively.
To get a DISC profile is relatively inexpensive and takes 10 minutes to do via an online questionnaire. People always remark that the resulting report is amazingly accurate.
If you’re interested in a free trial call or email us to find out more. Click here for contact details
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June 4th, 2013
Let me come back to that.
Why is it that we so often read of spectacular failures of grand initiatives? The government that bought aircraft carriers that didn’t actually work with the size of planes they had, the massive rebranding exercise that had to be reversed to return to the original brand within months, the billion $ IT system that crashed and had to be almost immediately replaced?
Similarly the research tells us that most organisations experience similar failures in trying to implement new initiatives well, whether that initiative is a new sales process, an HR process or a CRM system.
Is it because the people employed by these organisations are idiots, too stupid to look at the data and reach the right decision? Seems hardly likely, so why then?
There are undoubtedly many different reasons behind these types of epic failures, but there is often one common denominator, one powerful factor that is the root of the problem. Someone, in an influential position, makes a decision and will not move from it. Someone decides that this is the right aircraft carrier or CRM system and if they say if often enough, emphatically and loud enough, then other people start believing it too. Eventually it becomes received wisdom that that no one dares challenge, regardless of the facts or the practical details.
So the answer to my question about connections at the beginning of this article then is the Emperor’s New Clothes. The initial sponsor who took the original decision is like the Emperor in the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale who was beguiled by the miraculous claims of the tailors and who decided that it was true that they had created a fabulous suit of clothes that only the wise and learned could see and so against all logic and better judgement he wore the “clothes” and paraded butt naked through the streets of his kingdom!
Managers are similarly seduced by claims of wonderful new systems, and while many of these systems or initiatives probably have tremendous potential they do need a lot more effort, resource, work and adaptation than there appears to be initially. Having taken the decision, managers then feel fully vested in defending their original decision come what may. They close their minds to other inputs, to any flaws or issues that others may point out, insisting instead that they are right and others just don’t understand the situation well enough. They often drive through processes or initiatives that are patently flawed simply to justify their decision.
Why do they do this?
The Chinese fully understand this concept and they call it “face”. Loss of face or damage to someone’s credibility, reputation or standing in their community is something they will do anything to avoid. Having made a public decision, retreat from that decision represents loss of face and so must be avoided at all costs. Chinese society understands that you should never put someone in a position where they lose face, unless you want to make an enemy. Robert Chaldini, a leading expert in influence and author of “The 7 principles of influence” talks about the deep rooted human need to be right. This psychological driver is incredibly powerful and often subconscious. This is maybe to do with our caveman origins when you needed to make the right judgements when the sabre tooth tiger came bounding towards you, in order to survive. To be wrong was to die.
So in this context we begin to understand why otherwise intelligent, committed people are capable of passionately defending wrong decisions to the bitter end. But what explains why other people around the decision maker do not stop them and pull them back from the precipice of disaster?
In the fairy tale, none of the courtiers stopped the Emperor; none of them furnished him with the simple truth that he was in fact naked. As the story continues, still nobody tells him. As he paraded, none of the townspeople spoke out; they all went along with the fiction to the extent of commenting and marvelling at the wondrous suit of new clothes. It was in fact a small child who uttered the immortal words.. “but he’s got no clothes on”.
In the story the reason nobody pointed out the obvious nudity of the Emperor was because the scenario that the swindling tailors created was that the new suit of clothes was woven out of such a unique and fine cloth that only the wise and the discerning could perceive it. The Emperor, the courtiers and all the townspeople were therefore terrified of appearing stupid and ignorant by saying they could not see it.
Herein lies one of the key reasons that sometimes people do not stop decision makers from progressing with clearly flawed plans. They are afraid. They fear perhaps that they don’t understand it fully, they don’t want to risk looking foolish, or they don’t want to be the one to stick their neck out and say something different from what everyone else is saying. They don’t want to risk being seen as the trouble maker. The other important part of this is that the more senior or influential the decision maker, the less people are prepared to challenge or question the decision.
There was a story in the press recently of a UK “businessman” that made £50 million by selling fake bomb detectors. The plastic casings he sold turned out not to even have a battery inside them! How was he able to sell 50 million pounds worth of fake plastic boxes? Where was testing and due diligence? The interesting part of this story was that he sold his devices in war torn, chaotic societies, where he would get to a relevant senior leader or General and convince them. Once they “bought” all their minions then just did as they were told to unquestioningly, to complete the purchase. Whereas this story seems bizarre and extreme, in fact I don’t think it is. There’s an irony that often senior leaders are necessarily not at all close to the detail that might inform the accurate assessment of a situation and hence the best decision, yet often they take the plunge and make the big decisions, which then they and their subordinates feel compelled to tenaciously defend.
How then do businesses avoid these classic mistakes?
Firstly if you are in the decision making role, and particularly if you are “the emperor” (a senior manager), be sure that you are very well advised, by a broad variety of stakeholders before making any decisions, certainly any publically announced decisions! Be cautious of which mast you nail your colours to! It doesn’t need to be an endless consultation process but it does need wide input.
Secondly be flexible and willing to adapt. Be prepared to admit mistakes, yours or your organisations and move on wiser and stronger. All the world’s great thinkers and leaders acknowledge that we only grow by mistakes. The pace of change in the world is such that fewer people today are critical of the need to change course.
If you are involved in the execution of key decisions, you are a “courtier” or a “townsperson”. Be prepared to speak up. Just because your view or your data isn’t consistent with the mainstream view does not mean it’s wrong. That doesn’t mean you have to create a scene and shout out in the crowd, like the little boy. There are ways of communicating more subtly that avoid loss of face for the decision maker that will enable you to influence for the good and perhaps save the day, avoiding a classic failure situation for your business.
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May 9th, 2013
The very definition of “Pitch” should put you off. “A message issued on behalf of a cause/ product or service”, “to throw at a target” . Pitching is a one way, megaphone broadcast and an attempt at “Tell-Sell” which is the territory of the unsophisticated if not the scoundrel!
- Nobody likes to be “sold” but most people like to buy. So smart sales presentations are not about pitching or hurling information at people, they are about helping your buyers in their purchasing decisions.
- If at all possible make your sales presentations interactive and always seek customer opinions and feedback.
- “Ask not what your customer will do for you but you can do for your customer!” Make sure you can clearly but briefly articulate your value proposition: what can you do for them? And more important still, what can you do that nobody else can?
- 1st impressions count. When asked to present “a sales pitch” remember that most of what you’re doing is creating a positive impression. Less is more, what are the 3 key things you need them to think about you/ your product/ service? How do you prove those 3 points? Don’t ruin the impression by drowning them in “too much, too soon” detail.
What if they won’t talk to you and you don’t know their needs but they just say come and pitch?
See Rule 1! You’re probably just making up numbers in the “beauty parade”.
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March 10th, 2013
We are training people for jobs that don’t exist, with technology still to be invented, to solve problems we don’t yet know we have … (see “shift happens” on youtube)
What does it mean? What are the implications for successful business in 2013?
- We need to move, adapt / change and be flexible
- We need to move quickly and decisively
All easier said than done. How do you make that happen, how do you “operationalise” that knowledge? Here are a few key factors to consider.
- Dealing with threat
- Quality of thought
- Good data, better insight
First, recognise that in the way our brains are wired, change equals threat, or at the very least discomfort. If you’ve ever tried that exercise where you try and cross your arms a different way than you’re used to then you’ll know this to be true. Therefore consciously, or unconsciously our instinctive, default mode, is to resist change or at least slow change down. So the first key is to override the default and to mentally embrace the need for constant change, adaptation and movement. Despite what your instincts may tell you, it’s unlikely to be life threatening!!
Second, you haven’t got time! You’re far too busy to actually stop, think, and reflect. Who has time for that? With calls to make, emails to answer, texts to send and tweets to tweet!! The reality is that life is pressured and intense and feels like it’s lived headlong and time is just not available for deep or reflective thought. Wrong!! You may need to move fast but it doesn’t mean you can move randomly and expect good results!! You do have to cut through the “low scope clutter” – what Stephen Covey described as urgent, but not important, and make time to think things through in a rigorous and structured way to be able to make not just fast, but also good decisions. Good commercial processes, such as Miller Heiman’s sales methodologies, are a vital tool in enabling you to keep structured, rigorous, and disciplined despite the melee of life and business.
Third, to make good decisions based on quality of thought you need a good basis for your decisions. Technology such as CRM and consumer data gives you the potential for good decisions, but too often the data provided is incomplete, inaccurate or inaccessible. “Big data” that works well analyses and provides insight, rather than swamping you with difficult raw data. So, ensuring that you have access to a reasonable amount of well-structured and useable information is key for your swift and proactive decision-making. Sometimes this may mean having to wrestle your CRM system to the ground to get it to do what you need, but doing so is critical to your ability to respond and react quickly.
Finally, another way to help handle the pace of change is to be aware of what support and expertise you can access that helps you handle some of these factors. You need the 7th cavalry not the Lone Ranger! Partnership, collaboration and teamwork are major features of successful business in the exponential age.
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January 25th, 2013
1st Impressions count
We all know that we make up our minds about people in seconds, but what causes us to do that? What mental processing is going on in our brains that cause such a swift and decisive reaction? The supercomputer, that is our brain, is taking in visual and auditory inputs and is quickly deciding if what it sees “adds up”. Does the visual appearance match the tone of voice? Does the tone of voice sound confident; does the body language match the confidence? If these things look positive and critical, if they add up, then we form a favourable first impression. So the best tip for creating positive first impressions in business is to project warm confidence and a great start on that is to smile even when you don’t feel like it! Your physiology can lead your emotions, so smiling can make you feel better as well as making you look positive and confident.
Standing out in a crowd
If you get off to a good start and create a strong first impression, how then do you capitalise on that? How do you set yourself apart from other people presenting, pitching, or interviewing that day?
Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, forget what you did; they will never forget how you made them feel”. To stand out in a crowd you need to connect with your audience on an emotional, as well as, a rational level. Many in business remain absolutely clinical in their presentations and lose the human appeal. So, in addition to the data, the argument, and the facts you are delivering don’t lose sight of what that actually means to your audience and look to make them feel good about their achievements or aspirations.
Holding audience attention
21st century business is suffering from a collective case of ADD (attention deficit disorder). In the fast pace of today’s business world people are finding it increasingly difficult to focus and concentrate for any length of time. How then do you deal with that when you’re tasked with delivering a 20 minute plus presentation?
In the immortal words of Bananarama (the original girl band!), “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. Holding an audience’s attention is not really about what you’re saying it’s more about how you say it. Can you get your message across in an entertaining and engaging way rather than just downloading the bare facts onto your audience? For example, can you use relevant stories, jokes, or analogies that illustrate and dramatise your key points? In essence, the difference between a sound presenter and a great presenter is someone who gives at least as much attention to the HOW as the WHAT of their message.
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December 4th, 2012
2013 Sales Strategy
”It’s not the big that eat the small it’s the fast that eat the slow”.
Ernst and Young have identified 5 disruptive mega technology trends that are shaping the global economy and they are:~
1. Cloud computing
2. Big data analytics
3. Technology convergence
4. Smart mobility (Tablets / smart phones)
5. Social networking
So while the rest of the world wallows in recession and debt, the technology sector remains in growth. A particularly interesting phenomenon is a businesses that started off as technology businesses that has transformed the industry when they went into Wonga, for example, the short term lending company that started as a technology company based on a website, and fast, clever risk assessment algorithms, but you would now argue it’s a financial services business. It’s certainly challenging some of the more traditional lending businesses.
But what does all this mean to sale leaders and sales strategy?
• Faster change in client organisations
• More informed customers.. quicker to switch
• More informed customers, more demanding on price, therefore commoditisation pressures
• Small competitors coming up fast and being able to compete on almost a level playing field as size and scale become less relevant in many areas.
• Company reputations can be built and destroyed quicker than ever. Million dollars for your sales strategy “Good strategy defines what you mean to your customers”
• How do these trends affect your customers?
• Do they represent threat or opportunity to your customer’s business?
• How can you help them respond?
So ensure that your 2013 sales strategy doesn’t just look at a product and how many more products you’d like to sell to whom next year, make sure it reflects deep thought on how these massive trends effect your customers and what you and ideally only you can do to help them capitalise on the opportunities they represent and minimise any threats.
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