Thursday, October 2, 2014

You never have another chance at this

Many people take this for granted on a daily basis - that you
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only have one shot at a first impression.  When someone looks at you for the first time they are making almost instant judgments about you - trustworthiness, age, authority, conservatism or liberalism, financial resources, self image - even your level of organization and values.

Is this superficial?  Yes.  Is it accurate?  Not always, and that's why it is so important that you are aware of it.  When you are aware you can take steps to manage it.

What do you want the new introduction, the passerby to think about you?  To some extent the impression you make doesn't come from you at all, but rather from the individual's memories of other people with whom the person has already had experience.  The individual will take a look at you and his habits of thought will place you into a category based upon who you are seen to be "like".

For instance, a suit can give a first impression of authority and credibility, but to some people a suit represents someone who will try to overuse authority to control.  They knew a person in their past who wore a suit and who engaged in those behaviors.  Lucky you to be painted with the same attitudinal brush.

This isn't all about clothing and grooming.  First impressions can be derived from a piece of correspondence - spelling and grammar in an email, a Facebook post - or a tone of voice.  It can be delivered by the car that you drive, and its state of repair and cleanliness.

Feeling a bit self-conscious right now?  That's not the goal here.  The idea is that when you have the opportunity to do so, you choose the message that you are delivering.  You can choose language, behavior, attire, etc. that is likely to build bridges - or at least not likely to burn them before you have the opportunity to start the relationship.

Does this mean that you need to rethink going to the grocery store in pajama pants and a ripped t-shirt?  That's up to you.  Not everyone is in prime form at 6:00 a.m. - or at 11:00 p.m.  But what if the future love of your life or potential employer is in that grocery store when you are?  You wouldn't want your first impression to be the giant spaghetti stain or the grouchy way that you address Sally the checkout clerk, would you?

No, you don't have to embody perfection.  Appropriateness and "good impression" are variable, not constant, standards.  Be yourself, but pay attention to the communication you're sending in the first few seconds that other people notice you.  You won't get a second shot to get it right.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Have Goals? Make like a chicken!

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The pecking order isn't only an expression. Chickens have a dominance hierarchy, and one of the behaviors they use to demonstrate dominance is pecking.  Through the pecking order (literally) chickens determine who is the "top chicken" and the "bottom chicken," and they do this even in hen houses that have no rooster in residence.  (Who ever said that leadership was gender-based?)

Here's how chickens relate to you and your goals.  If you have been paying attention to what we've been saying in this blog you have developed a list of your key goals. It's in written form and you refer to it regularly to keep yourself on track.  But if you're like many people, some of your goals might have a built-in conflict with others of them.  It might be a time use conflict (you only have 1 hour to work on something and have to choose what it will be).  It might be a resource conflict - investing money on item A or item B but not both at the same time.

Your goals need a pecking order.  They need to be prioritized.  You determine the top chicken(s) so you won't simply default to working on the goal that is the smallest or easiest, or the one that's sitting right in front of you.  You determine which is the most important.  Then you align your resources with the intentional choice.

You might choose from a variety of criteria to figure out your top chickens:
  • Seasonality - summer is the best time for some of them, winter for others
  • Biggest bang for smallest resource outlay
  • Key stakeholders want one of them ASAP
  • Customer impact if it's completed - or not
  • Committed time deadline or delivery date
  • Integration with goal of a larger group - the next person needs yours to be complete before they can do theirs
  • You have more passion about them
We're not going to prescribe what the best criteria for prioritization are.  You work and live in your own environment, with your own values and your own overall intentions, so only you - ok, maybe your boss or your spouse is in on it too - can determine which goal is more important than another.

When you don't prioritize - when you don't identify your top chickens - you increase the likelihood that you will be feeling conflicted and pulled among your goals.  That often results in scattered energy use or lack of real action toward any of them.  Go count your chickens, and line them up.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The secret motivation that leads prospects to buy

This post is for you, salespersons who are out on the road
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meeting with prospective customers. Wouldn't it be nice to invest less time to track down real potential clients?  Wouldn't you love to help more people see the value in the products and services you provide?

Unfortunately for you, this prospective customer hasn't been thinking about you or what you might have to offer, no matter how great you and your products or services are.  Instead, he or she is thinking about the problems that are creating cost, stress, and negative customer impact in the business.  This preoccupied potential buyer does have needs - but they are latent, in the background.

The shift in thinking that's required for him or her to make the decision to buy from you is the shift from latent needs to active needs - ones upon which they are ready to act.  Fortunately for you the salesperson, there are tools for helping this shift occur.  This is client-focused communication.  It doesn't persuade or pressure.  It helps the prospect think through the situation and understand the urgency to solve the problem.  Then the prospect wants to buy - and right away.

If you want to uncover latent needs, there are a few prerequisites for the needs discovery process:
1.   Favorable attention – take time to make a friend.  In order to discover the latent needs, some trust and a perception of your credibility in being able to address the issues at hand is necessary first. If you don’t have this, save your breath on the probing questions, because the prospective client won't reveal the uncomfortable (and most important) information.  Instead, he is likely to tell you that everything is running swimmingly, and before you realize what happened you'll be out the door.

2.   Time and setting – an introductory phone call or networking function is not the appropriate place to ask needs discovery questions.  Remember the favorable attention that you need to establish?  That won't be instant .  In addition, if this individual is going to share sensitive information they won't do it without privacy.  Set an appointment and find a quiet spot where you and they can be uninterrupted and comfortable.

3.    Direction and pacing – commit to an agenda and a time frame and stick to it.  This is a busy person who will not be happy about wasting time.  If you don't handle this properly you might never earn the opportunity to present your solutions.  If you need more time, ask for agreement to continue, and either do it now or set aside a later time slot.  (Hint:  a second, later conversation will give you time to absorb the information so far and to construct good questions for the next meeting.)
Tools for discovering latent needs:
·     Open ended questions – allow the prospect to think out loud without over-steering.  This will help to ensure that the conversation is on the prospective client’s agenda.  “It’s easier to ride a horse in the direction that it’s already going.”  Set aside your own opinions about their situation or you risk eroding their trust

·     Goal oriented questions – what is the desired outcome or result?  These questions establish the context for the questions that follow.

·     Prioritization questions – which of the topics or problems is at the top of the prospective client’s priority list?  (You want to go there first if you want the momentum of the customer’s own motivation to pull you along)

·     Implication questions – what happens if the situation improves and what happens if it doesn't?  If the customer hasn’t already identified this item as a priority or activated this need, the implication questions will help to create a sense of urgency.  These questions also assist the prospective client in calculating the potential return on investment (ROI) associated with buying from you. 

·     Connection of the implications to key business results – impact on customers, impact on finances, impact on ability to manage, impact on ability to grow and innovate.  These are often dotted lines that are not connected (and the full impact revealed) in the foreground of the prospective client’s thinking unless you ask.

·     Obstacle questions – what’s in the way of the desired outcome?  This is where you match your products and services as solutions to overcome the customer’s identified obstacles.
Wait – don’t present solutions yet!
It might be tempting to jump to solution as soon as you hear something that contains even a hair’s connection to your products and services.  Stop going there in your head, and continue listening to your prospective client.
A general test of whether you have “enough” information upon which to base a recommendation is to see whether you have helped the business owner identify implications in each of the key business results buckets (customers, finance, management and growth) for the issue at hand.  If the implications can be quantified in dollars, great – that makes it a more straightforward process to determine the ROI on the potential investment.  It helps you make the decision to set a follow-up meeting and construct an appropriate solution to present then on the basis of generating a positive ROI.
The rush to recommend creates a risk of not addressing the “right” issue in the mind of the prospective customer.  (And by the way, they – not you – determine what the right issue is for you to be addressing at this point in time.)  In addition, given that your prospect has been up all night thinking and/or worrying - if you come in off the street and outside of this business’s context with an instant answer you will
  • destroy your credibility.  It is probably not that simple.
  • risk making the prospect feel stupid or inadequate for not seeing the answer himself.  And that feeling of self-doubt won’t help him choose to move forward with you.  It generally causes him to slow way down or even stop, and it will especially do so if he perceives judgment or evaluation coming from you.
In Summary
Latent needs are the salesperson’s best friend if they are, through an effective process of helpful inquiry, identified (converted to active status).  This is not necessarily the low-hanging fruit, but the door to an ongoing relationship as a trusted advisor.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Noticing - and pursuing - the possibilities

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Ding!  The alarm rings and you're off and running.
Another day, another week, and within five minutes you're into your usual groove - dog out, breakfast, newspaper, shower and other grooming, dressed and out the door.  You're probably headed down the same old route to work, too.

What if you were to use a different sequence today?  What might happen if you were to drive a different road to the office?  Would your day be turned upside-down, or might you notice something that you haven't seen in a while?  Might you pass an object along your route that spurs your thinking down a new path and reveals a new solution to a longstanding problem?

When you're at work do you have a handful of reliable go-to answers and techniques?  How long have you been using them?  Are you sure that they are truly the most effective ones for this situation here, now?

Yes, there is comfort in routine.  You don't really have to engage your brain.  Like the horse that knows the location of its barn and can return without direction from its rider, you can execute the tasks of your day on autopilot.  The outcomes are predictable, and you like being able to project the outcome without effort.

But there's another reason why the standard paths, the standard methods are replicated over and over.  There's an underlying assumption that if this method works this must be THE method rather than just A method.  After all, there can't possibly be more than one way to succeed, right?

That's not necessarily so.  There is more than one right answer, more than one path to work, more than one successful morning regime.  You're simply not noticing them.  You're in a state of mental detachment as you go through your routine, with possibilities passing you by every moment, unseen.

Maybe the alternate route to work takes a little bit longer - or maybe it doesn't. Maybe the other option passes a beautiful view.  Are you willing to risk a little bit of variation in exchange for the possibility that another choice might be quicker, or slicker, or stimulating, or higher quality?

Today's reliable methods may have expiration dates - no, not printed on the bottom or affixed with a label.  You might only realize that they are outdated once you look around for the new ones, or when you experiment by changing them up a bit.

Shake something up today.  Keep your eyes open for the possibilities.  Challenge your assumption that things have to be in a certain order, or cooked with certain ingredients every time in the same proportions in order to taste good.  Who knows what glorious flavors you might discover?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Favorites - Are you emotionally mature?

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You probably thought that the tormenting and occasional hair-pulling would end with grade school, didn't you?  You never thought it would translate into workplace versions of the same behavior.  You've probably had more than one occasion to observe the difference between chronological age, intellect, and emotional maturity. And you've found that one does not necessarily correlate with the other, much to your chagrin.

You can develop your intellect - schools do it every day, and you can continue the process by being intentional about developmental reading programs, what you choose to watch on TV, even games you play. You can develop your body to forestall signs of chronological aging (thank heaven) to some degree.

Are you sometimes one of the immature ones?  No worries.  You can also develop your emotional maturity by paying attention to it just like you do to the physical and intellectual aspects of yourself. Here are signs of emotional immaturity as presented by Jerome Murray, Ph.D.:
  • Volatile Emotions: Emotional volatility is indicated by such things as explosive behavior, temper tantrums, low frustration tolerance, responses out of proportion to cause, over-sensitivity, inability to take criticism, unreasonable jealousy, unwillingness to forgive, and a capricious fluctuation of moods.
  • Egocentricity: Egocentricity is self-centeredness. Its major manifestation is selfishness. It is associated with low self-esteem. Self-centered people have no regard for others, but they also have only slight regard for themselves. An egocentric person is preoccupied with his own feelings and symptoms. He demands constant attention and insists on self-gratifying sympathy, fishes for compliments, and makes unreasonable demands. He is typically overly-competitive, a poor loser, perfectionistic, and refuses to play or work if he can’t have his own way. A self-centered person does not see himself realistically, does not take responsibility for his own mistakes or deficiencies, is unable to constructively criticize himself, and is insensitive to the feelings of others. Only emotionally mature people can experience true empathy, and empathy is a prime requirement for successful relationships.
  • Stimulation Hunger: This includes demanding immediate attention or gratification and being unable to wait for anything. Stimulation-hungry people are incapable of deferred gratification, which means putting off present desires in order to gain a future reward. Stimulation-hungry people are superficial and live thoughtlessly and impulsively. Their personal loyalty lasts only as long as the usefulness of the relationship. They have superficial values and are too concerned with trivia (their appearance, etc.). Their social and financial lives are chaotic.
  • Over-Dependence: Healthy human development proceeds from dependence (I need you), to independence (I don’t need anyone), to interdependence (we need each other).
    Over-dependence is indicated by: (a) inappropriate dependence, e.g. relying on someone when it is preferable to be self-reliant, and (b) too great a degree of dependence for too long. This includes being too easily influenced, indecisive, and prone to snap judgments. Overly-dependent people fear change preferring accustomed situations and behavior to the uncertainty of change and the challenge of adjustment. Extreme conservatism may even be a symptom.
Sometimes it's easier to take a look at your emotional development by setting targets for yourself, not dwelling on the "as-is" state and instead focusing on the "can-be." Here are Murray's signs of emotional maturity:
  • The Ability to Learn from Experience: The ability to face reality and to relate positively to life experiences derive from the ability to learn from experience. Immature people do not learn from experience, whether the experience is positive or negative. They act as if there is no relationship between how they act and the consequences that occur to them. They view good or bad experiences as being caused by luck, or fate. They do not accept personal responsibility.
  • The Ability to Give and Receive Love: Emotional maturity fosters a sense of security which permits vulnerability. A mature person can show his vulnerability by expressing love and accepting expressions of love from those who love him. An immature person is unduly concerned with signs of “weakness” and has difficulty showing and accepting love. The egocentricity of immaturity will allow the acceptance of love, but fails to recognize the needs of others to receive love. They’ll take it, but they won’t give it.
  • Just as Interested in Giving as Receiving: A mature person’s sense of personal security permits him to consider the needs of others and give from his personal resources, whether money, time, or effort, to enhance the quality of life of those he loves. They are also able to allow others to give to them. Balance and maturity go hand in hand. Immaturity is indicated by being willing to give, but unwilling to receive; or willing to receive, but unwilling to give.
  • The Ability to Face and Deal with Reality: The immature avoid facing reality. Overdue bills, interpersonal problems, indeed any difficulties which demand character and integrity are avoided and even denied by the immature. Mature people eagerly face reality knowing the quickest way to solve a problem is to deal with it promptly. A person’s level of maturity can be directly related to the degree to which they face their problems, or avoid their problems. Mature people confront their problems, immature people avoid their problems.
  • The Capacity to Relate Positively to Life Experiences: A mature person views life experiences as learning experiences and, when they are positive, he enjoys and revels in life. When they are negative, he accepts personal responsibility and is confident he can learn from them to improve his life. When things do not go well, he looks for an opportunity to succeed. The immature person curses the rain while a mature person sells umbrellas.
  • The Ability to Accept Frustration: When things don’t go as anticipated, the immature person stamps his feet, holds his breath, and bemoans his fate. The mature person considers using another approach or going another direction and moves on with life.
  • The Ability to Handle Hostility: When frustrated, the immature person looks for someone to blame. The mature person looks for a solution. Immature people attack people; mature people attack problems. The mature person uses his anger as an energy source and, when frustrated, redoubles his efforts to find solutions to his problems.
  • Relative Freedom from Tension Symptoms: Immature people feel unloved, avoid reality, are pessimistic about life, get angry easily, and attack the people closest to them when frustrated—no wonder they are constantly anxious. The mature person’s approach to live imbues him with a relaxed confidence in his ability to get what he wants from life.
Emotional maturity doesn't rely on you being an introvert or an extrovert. It's a matter of seeing yourself clearly, choosing your actions consciously, and finding something outside of yourself (a purpose) on which to focus your energy. If you think you're OK in emotional maturity but want to get even more effective, this might be a scope of work for a coach. If you think you have longer-term baggage that you want to get rid of, perhaps a chat with a counselor would be helpful to determine an appropriate course of action.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What will be your legacy?

A friend lost her father five days ago.  As young marrieds, and then
Sac, Yvonne's dad
with young children, our family spent hours and afternoons and evenings together hanging out at my friend's house.  And her dad, who lived about a four-hour drive away, was often there.  He created an indelible impression.

Sac would come to town for the weekend, ready to tackle his daughter's "honey do" list, saving his son-in-law from some tedious home improvement work and at the same time continuing to care for his "little" girl.  He'd join into the conversation with his daughter's friends and hold court in the living room while his wife and daughter engaged in one of their favorite pastimes - cooking for crowds.  He was laid back and good natured, and always had a big, enveloping hug ready at hand.  It seems impossible that he's gone.

Thinking of Sac brings the question back to mind, "What will people remember about you when you're gone?  What will be your legacy?"

The contribution of some is very personal - deep and near to home.  Mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts and uncles - some people specialize in creating a safe and loving space for those near and dear to them.  That was one of Sac's gifts.

Some people embrace their work life, finding meaning in serving customers and collaborating with other talented folks who share their interests.  They create satisfied customers, and sustain families by creating jobs for others in the community.  They innovate, and sometimes their products and services outlive them.

Others make their mark by the time, emotional energy, and dollars they commit to the larger community.  Volunteers do the work for free that nobody else will do, or that nobody else is doing without expecting a paycheck.  They do so because it's important, not because they stand to gain anything from doing it.  In many instances they never know the people who benefit from the work they do.

This day will be gone when the clock strikes midnight.  It's a tiny 24-hour span.  But during this one short day you are adding building blocks to your legacy.  You are creating memories for someone whose life you touch.  Your legacy is far more enduring than your life is, and once you're gone you won't have the opportunity to change it.  Someone else will decide what your legacy is, regardless of the intentions you have today.  What can you do to create a legacy of warmth, of caring, of contribution, of significance?  What can you do to add to it right now, today?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

There's almost never a good time to do this

Stephen Covey talked about it more than 25 years ago in his best selling book,The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and it still holds up. There's never a good time for doing planning, for building relationships, for training, and for preventing crises.
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All of these activities are, as Covey described them, important but not urgent.  Nobody is pulling at you to connect with the department across the hall.  Unless you choose to put it there, nothing is in your calendar to say, "Your skills are going stale - time to sharpen the saw."  And if somebody in your company is telling you, "We have to do something about Problem A sooner rather than later," you might be labeling him or her as a Chicken Little who has chirped one too many times that the sky is falling.

Where's the sense of urgency?  There is none - yet.  You as a human are programmed for crisis, so the non-urgent items might be slipping past your notice.  Right now you are responding to the calls that are demanding your attention, to the squeakiest wheels in your company.  These non-urgent items don't shout or make an alarm ding on your phone.  They don't make your pulse race or your forehead perspire or your stomach twist into knots.  They whisper from the background.

Wait a while, though, and they might raise their volume.  Wait a bit longer and the ramifications will start to tap you on the shoulder, perhaps even knock you to your knees.  You can ignore the important things for now, but not forever.

  • If you choose not to plan you could be caught unprepared for a downturn.  You might even be unprepared for an upturn, and miss a huge opportunity because you are not ready to act when the moment is right.
  • If you skip the "foo foo" relationship building step because it seems off-task, you might find yourself needing to use a bridge later and find that it's not there.  You have to build it to be able to use it, and you won't have time to build it when you need it.  There is no cycle time reduction in interpersonal relationships.
  • If you don't invest in training, even the best skills will eventually become obsolete.  Changing business conditions can take people off-track.  And the process of tribal knowledge transfer can dilute best practices into unreasonable facsimiles.
  • If you let things go long enough, you'll place yourself in the position somewhere down the line to react to crisis.  When that time comes you may not be able to afford to do it right, or to move as quickly as you need to.  You won't be initiating on your own terms - somebody else will be calling the shots, and you will be reacting the best way you can. That might not be good enough.
What's in the way of doing what Covey called "Quadrant Two Activities"?  Is it everyday production?  Is it a never-ending meeting schedule?  Is it the crisis du jour that is preventing you from working to avoid another crisis tomorrow?  Is it that these activities aren't fun, or attractive to you, or attracting enough of anyone else's attention?

If you're waiting for a good time, there isn't going to be a "good" time.  You are going to have to choose one.  You are going to have to set other things aside, even if it feels as though they are pulling at you.  But you will be better for having done so.  Your business will be better for it.  You might not see it now, but you will realize it down the road when your blood pressure has gone down and your crises are smaller and farther between.