Friday, May 30, 2008

How high is up for you?


Sky Blue Sky
Originally uploaded by supernova9


In my daily travels I used to pass by a sign that read, "567 days without a lost time accident." The total, of course, would change every day, and I remember wondering how long it was really possible to go, no matter how safe the company made the processes. How high is up when it comes to performance?

How do you know what you're doing now?

In a company that positions itself on the basis of quality service I asked someone how quickly they respond to quotes. They gave me a time frame. Then I asked what percent of the time they deliver on time and they didn't know. It's not something they are tracking.

This isn't an uncommon phenomenon. We're talking about what we're doing (or not doing) but we're not measuring it. Therefore performance quality and performance potential become questions of opinion, not of data, creating the potential for unnecessary blaming, complaining, and chasing of wild geese.

What assumptions are you making about how high you can go?

Are you assuming that your processes will remain the same? That people won't be willing to do things differently? That there's no better way to accomplish your goals? That the big cheese won't consider your improvement ideas? That you won't be able to do any better, so why bother?

What if you knew you couldn't fail?

What would you attempt? How would you test yourself to see just how much performance you could develop in yourself and your company? Just like success isn't a destination, but rather a journey, failure isn't permanent unless you take your ball and go home - unless you quit.

Isn't the possibility of that blue sky worth the attempt?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Making your messages memorable

Why settle for being the primary transmitter of your message when you can leverage the word of mouth capacity of your audience and get the word out farther and faster? But how to make it memorable?

Think in terms of memes. The word "meme" comes from the Greek word "mimeme," which means something imitated. There are examples of memes everywhere, from computer slang to proverbs and sayings to fashion.

One of the challenges in creating a message for your business is that you're so close to it that it's hard to avoid the "too many words" trap. In addition, if your business revolves around technical knowledge or some version of intellectual property you might be used to talking to the non-layperson, or talking on paper, where you can use $50 words more readily. To be memorable you need to translate your message out of your language and into the language of your target audience.

This might sound like another blazing statement of the obvious. But I see it happen month after month as I work with entrepreneurs who are trying to position their businesses in the marketplace.

There's a reason why sound bites have become the method of politicians - they are nugget sized pieces of information, easily memorized and easily transmittable from person to person. Even if they're not completely representative of a person's position on an issue who can't remember, for instance, "a chicken in every pot," most commonly associated with President Herbert Hoover? As a matter of fact this was from the Republican Party campaign in 1928, but originally from 17th century France, King Henry IV. Talk about a phrase having legs!

This particular example points to another aspect of being memorable - making it concrete and visual. A chicken in every pot symbolizes prosperity for every person and connects at an emotional level with hunger and satisfied hunger in anyone.

If you want to make your message more memorable,
  • start by writing it out
  • identify the positive results you'll achieve
  • determine whether there's a metaphor or a concrete way to express your results
  • continue to edit it down to a few words

Don't worry that your work is too big and important to be summed up in a few words. What's important is that it sticks in a positive way. Happy wordsmithing!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Building personal production capacity


Close your Eyes and Sleep
Originally uploaded by Ketosea


Output, output, output - on a daily basis we're measuring ourselves on the basis of what we produce. But what if we were cars instead of people? What would happen to us if we would drive and drive and drive without stopping. Sooner or later we'd run out of gas and drift to a stop. We would have expended our entire production capacity.

Perhaps it's the change in the seasons - perhaps it's the life stage of knowing my youngest will enter kindergarten in the fall - yikes! - but I'm planning some big personal production capacatiy building over the summer months. Yes, this post is all about me, but maybe it'll give you some ideas that you'd like to pursue to build your PC as well.

  • I'm getting up a little bit later to increase my sleep hours. For me this means 6 a.m. rather than 5 a.m., but I think that extra hour will help me be be more productive. Not to mention that it will help me keep more similar hours to the summering kids in the house. If they want to stay up until ten I won't have to watch them through my eyelids.
  • I'm getting back on my walking regime. I now walk my dogs every day a couple of times, but that's a matter of walk walk, stop and sniff (them, not me!,) walk walk, chase a rabbit - you get the idea. Not very aerobic. I'll be doing 2 extra miles.
  • I'm going to the pool with my daughters. This has become a family tradition - for 8 years we've spent a couple of hours almost every single day playing and hanging out at the most sensible place to be when it's hot - in the water. We race around all year long, and this is our face time that reconnects us.
  • I'm going to the beach for a week with my extended family. My brothers are spread out from our home town and we don't get to see one another very often. This is the time we can count on to turn 10 again and play cards and box games, passing the blood-thirsty competitive tradition to my daughters.
  • I'm finally going to attend my neighborhood book club. I'm an avid reader, and very independent in my choices. This is a stretch, to follow someone else's recommendation on how to invest my reading time. But I want to reconnect with my neighborhood friends and expand my thinking, so I'm in.

I'm not going on a complete summer vacation and checking out of my work life (a complete sabbatical is fun to contemplate, I'll admit.) I'll still be serving clients and pursuing new business leads. But this is the season to regroup, to reconnect, to renew, and I'm taking full advantage of it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Preventing burnout


261-Anti-stress
Originally uploaded by gillespinault


Have you been accumulating stress without realizing it? Are you now at the point where you're beyond stressed out - you're burned out?

Although they are related, stress and burnout are two different things. When you're under stress you're overengaged from an emotional standpoint - adrenaline is flowing, and you can start to feel unfocused or frazzled. Some people tend to lash out at others, or to overreact to situations when they are under stress. There is some research that says that the cortisol released under long-standing stressful situations contributes to overweight.

Burnout, on the other hand, is a state of emotional disengagement, not overengagement. The stressor has caused enough feeling of futility and hopelessness over time that the individual feels like nothing they do will have any positive impact.

If you are wondering whether you're stressed or burned out, here are some symptoms from Helpguide.org:


Stress vs. Burnout

Stress

  • Characterized by overengagement
  • Emotions are overreactive
  • Produces urgency and hyperactivity
  • Loss of energy
  • Leads to anxiety disorders
  • Primary damage is physical
  • May kill you prematurely

Burnout

  • Characterized by disengagment
  • Emotions are blunted
  • Produces helplessness and hopelessness
  • Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
  • Leads to detachment or depression
  • Primary damage is emotional
  • May make life seem not worth living

Source: Stress and Burnout in Ministry

If you'd like to deal with the stress you're under before it results in burnout, there are two primary styles of coping:

Action-based coping
Action-based coping involves actually dealing with a problem that is causing stress. Examples can include getting a second job in the face of financial difficulties, or studying to prepare for exams. Action-based coping is generally seen as superior to emotion-based coping, as it can directly reduce a source of stress.
Examples of action-based coping include planning, suppression of competing activities, confrontation, self-control, and restraint.

Emotion-based coping
Emotion-based coping skills reduce the symptoms of stress without addressing the source of the stress. Consuming alcohol, sleeping or discussing the stress with a friend are all emotion-based coping strategies. Other examples include denial, repression, wishful thinking, distraction, relaxation, reappraisal, religion, and humor. There are both positive and negative coping strategies that can be defined as emotion-based. Emotion-based coping can be useful to reduce stress to a manageable level, enabling action-based coping, or when the source of stress can not be addressed directly.

Friday, May 23, 2008

When you poke the jello...

Sometimes in an effort to keep improvement efforts at a "controllable" scope and pace we're tempted to do pilot projects or to isolate one area to fix. Unfortunately sometimes those incremental improvements don't work or don't stick because they have unforeseen or unintended impact on other areas. Your improvements have the same effect as when you poke a jello mold - when you poke it over here and the whole thing starts to wobble.

In order to take a more systemic look at your resources and creating alignment I've found this model, developed by Alignment Consulting International, to be particularly helpful. The ultimate goal, of course, is to provide customer value and achieve results, because that's what creates sustainability for your business.
Regardless of where you stand regarding strategy, people, process, rewards and structure, your alignment efforts begin within the context of effective leadership. Without effective leadership you can't create the working environment you want, and it will be difficult to maintain focus on your overall improvements.
The most frequent sequence is to look at strategy (your really big goals) first to create the road map, then work to develop the leadership culture, and from there prioritize projects in the areas of process improvement, structure, rewards and other staff development. In other cases process is the best first place to start because fairly immediate cash and time can be found by overhauling the processes that are wasting resources.






Thursday, May 22, 2008

What's your solution to the health care crisis?

Being in business for myself for the past 18 years I've seen the burgeoning costs of health care with my own two eyes. My own premiums are almost quadruple what I paid when I first started in 1990. I've seen families choose not to see a physician because neither spouse's employer provided coverage, and I've seen company owners struggle with how to afford to provide health care security for their employees.

For me it was the icing on the cake when I heard a physician say that their practice could no longer afford to provide health care coverage for its staff. A physician's practice! I'm throwing no stones at the doc who said that - in many businesses now the economics of the issue are smacking the ethics of the issue right between the eyeballs.

I've also seen the health insurance industry and how many layers of profit come out of my premium to pay sales commissions, etc. I've seen health practices whose lunches are literally bought and paid for five days a week (and some breakfasts as well) by pharmaceutical reps who want physicians to market their products for them. Geez, I wonder who's paying the costs associated with that? (Like we don't already know!)

This is a federal policy issue far bigger than the war in Iraq in my thinking - it's the elephant in the room that must be dealt with. But it's going to take major cojones on the parts of lawmakers for them to say, at long last, "Hey, wait a minute! Enough is enough!" and start taking care of the day to day wellbeing of every American. The huge challenge, though, is that the American way of business is to take care of our owners first, and the interests of shareholders are pulling counter to the interests of people needing top quality health care.

I'd like to hear from you.

  • What do you think the solution to the health care crisis is?
  • Do you think the government should administer the payment for our health care system?
  • Do you think a one-payor system that's not the government is a better solution?
  • Do you think we should keep going just the way we are? Why?
  • Who do you think should be leading the charge to make change? Business owners? Consumers? Congress?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

So you're thinking about a partnership...


Partners
Originally uploaded by sugaree_gd (Kerrie)

So you've decided that you're not going to venture out on your own - you're going to take on a partner. Whether business or personal, partnership can create some of the best synergy or some of the worst conflicts. So before you proceed to take the partnership process to the next level, consider these points:

  • What goals and values do you have in common?
  • What skills and/or assets do you have individually that add value to the partnership?
  • Who is the ultimate decision maker, on what topics, and how will you determine whose "area" is whose?
  • Who or what will serve as the tiebreaker when you are at an impasse?
  • What legal, financial or reputation legacy does your partner bring with him or her? Are these things you're willing to take on as yours?
  • What official documentation (like a partnership agreement, prenup, etc.) do you both want to put into place to clarify expectations and hold one another accountable?
  • How effectively do you communicate with one another?
  • How well do you deal with not being the ultimate authority or with being overridden?
  • What characteristics or qualities do you have that will make you a good partner?
  • What characteristics or qualities will interfere with you being a good partner?
  • If you already have a personal relationship with this person, are you willing to place it at risk in order to work together?
  • Are there other individuals in your life who you think deserve a say in this matter?

It takes knowledge of the other person and knowledge of yourself to determine whether you should pursue this idea. Some folks prefer to be the undisputed monarch, and like to do what they like to do. Others thrive on collaboration. Others need external resources in order to achieve their goals, and the best way to acquire them is to recruit partners.

Partner up, or don't partner up - just do it with your eyes open.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Keeping the child at bay


Parenting Your Children
Originally uploaded by Mint Software

Remember this feeling? I'm talking about when you were a child and your parent was scolding you and you felt like you were just a tad smaller than a ladybug. That feeling never really leaves - it lurks under the surface of our adult consciousness until somebody says something that hooks it - then there we are again - reliving it and responding from that state.

If you're a leader who's trying to develop people the challenge is two-fold:

  • Help them understand what they need to know (without making undue assumptions,) and
  • Do so without tapping the child inside that makes them feel weak, inadequate, and therefore gun-shy about taking risks in the future.

Any kind of communication is a two-way process. When you've been angry and you pronounce to a third party, “Well, I told him!” you reveal that you didn't have real communication with the party in question – you had a speech, a lecture, or a rant - you had parent ego state on a tirade.

Feedback is a critical part of the teaching process, because it’s during feedback that you find out whether the message you thought you sent was the message they received. But here's this person now thinking about responding to your rant as his feelings are making him grow shorter in stature and his feet are now swimming in his shoes, his too-long trousers puddling around his ankles. Not the best mindset to be in when you're trying to explain something effectively to an authority figure.

Adult to adult ego state tends to be the language of business – sharing information back and forth and asking questions to clarify understanding. But when parent ego state (judging or criticizing) rears its head during a transaction it can hook the child state that’s lurking inside the other person. When child responds to parent it’s often defensive – not exactly what you want when you’re trying to gather information or build a relationship with that other person.

The most obvious word to use to find out what the person is thinking (and then to help them better discern a better path than the one they just took) is to ask why - but the simple word “why” is tricky. When used in a question it can easily morph into “why in the world?” (judging) in the receiver’s interpretation and can spark the child ego state defensiveness I’m talking about. So how many ways can you ask why without asking why?

  • Tell me your thought process regarding…
  • Could you share your rationale about…
  • What criteria did you use to determine...
  • What were your considerations regarding…

Sometimes the action taken doesn't make sense to you, but the thought process behind the action will have been right on track. But you can only find out by asking - adult to adult. Then you can help the person explore different options for the next time.

If you’re in frequent situations where you’re asking questions and you want to prevent yourself from hooking someone else's child, develop a list of questions that will help you find out why without using the word. Sit down, grab a piece of paper, and start writing a series of options for yourself. Keep it handy so you can refresh the ideas in your mind from time to time, or so you can refer to it when your own emotions are making it hard for you to recall them.

As always, tone of voice and body language speak even more loudly than the words you choose. So even if you have developed the most neutral, nonjudgmental, adult-to-adult words in your questions, check your tone, pacing and physical messages. If you’re angry, your eyes are narrowed and it’s evident in your voice, “What were you thinking?” will transmit a parent ego state message, even though it doesn’t use the word why.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Helping them to see in black and white


Toscana in BW
Originally uploaded by Massimo Pelagagge


I went to the movies with my family this weekend to see the Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian. As often happens with me, I saw some parallels between parenting and my work life. I thought about how I had to help my younger daughter understand the movie and how we as leaders in the same way often need to help our less experienced staff get the big picture of what's going on to help them be effective.

I had my four-year-old daughter beside me during the film, and I was struck with the sort of dichotomy of how she was viewing the story. On the one hand, she was constantly asking me, "Is he a good guy or a bad guy?" or "What are they doing?" On the other hand, she was able to look at the ending and exclaim, "Yay! They saved the world!" and give me a big hug.

I had to help her get the lay of the land, but by the end of the story she was able to see the theme even more quickly and clearly than I was - she saw it as though it was printed in black and white.

Shades of gray in character and plot aren't easy to perceive when you're new to the game. And sometimes even if your boss tells you there's an open door policy you don't know the questions to ask if you were to walk through the door. It requires knowledge of the context, to know who the good guys and the bad guys are (figuratively speaking, of course) and to understand the intentions of the company, department, initiative, etc.

That's information best not left for you to figure out on your own unless it doesn't matter if you don't get it for a while, or if you mess up while you're learning. If you're the "young one" it's incumbent on you to ask the questions. And if you're the leader, it's your responsibility not to wait for the questions - tell them what they need to know before the time they need to know it. That way they can have confidence in their choices and make the best ones possible for your company.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Choosing to do what's important

You've entered your office to today's huge project you have to complete for a client. Your calendar today includes a scheduled coaching session with one of your direct reports, who you've been trying to develop to take on more of your responsibilities. Suddenly, the phone rings. It's a prospective new project with a high sense of urgency. What's more important, and what should you do?
  1. Do you call your staff member and cancel the coaching session for today to make room for the new sales call?
  2. Do you postpone your own project time for the existing customer in order to generate a new business opportunity?
  3. Do you estimate how much time you'll need to complete your current project and then schedule the new opportunity for when you're done?

What criteria did you use to make the decision of what to do? Does your decision reflect that you're primarily working in the business or working on the business? What are the longer-term ramifications of today's decision, especially if you use the same criteria tomorrow and the next day?

If the effective running of your company depends on you, that's a problem unless you've chosen to buy yourself a job instead of owning a business (if you haven't read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, check it out.) You're working in the business, but not on the business.

This can particularly be an issue in professional services, where an individual's technical knowledge is what started the company and enabled it to attract its initial cadre of clients. If the owner is the chief technician with no real backup,

  • the company's revenue stream is at risk if they would become ill or unable to work for some reason
  • the company's growth is limited to the quantity of work that one person can process

From a macro perspective this point is pretty easy to see. It's where the rubber meets the road that things get dicey. I know in concept that developing staff is the way for me to gain leverage and build production capacity, but it's hard sometimes not to choose the immediate personal productivity, especially if I like what I'm doing.

And what about the "bird in the hand," that existing client that I want to dazzle with efficiency and quality? Sometimes rather than chasing the other opportunity right now I need to have faith that doing this job well will result in referrals and/or repeat business. I can't be acting like a guy in a disco who's constantly looking over the shoulder of the girl with whom he's dancing in order to see whether anybody better looking has entered the room...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What do you do to keep learning?


Learning
Originally uploaded by linda yvonne


The first person I remember reading about the concept of the learning organization was Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline. The concept caused all kinds of discussion about how much of our corporate budget should be dedicated to ongoing training and learning - the numbers that were bandied about ranged from 2-5%, by the way.

I'm sure it was relatively easy for me to embrace the idea that ongoing learning should be formalized in the structure of the company. I'm a confessed reading addict, to the point that I drive my husband crazy reading the billboards when we're driving in the car - oh, and I tend to do it aloud sometimes. Before becoming a coach I prided myself on being a "fiction only" person, but now, doing the work that I love, I can hardly get enough information.

If you're talking about continuously sharpening the saw (thank you for the terminology, Stephen Covey,) what things are you actually doing? You know, the old "are you walking your talk?" question. Since you're reading this post I already know that blogs are part of your resource reservoir. What else are you doing?

  • Do you camp out at Barnes & Noble with a coffee and a magazine?
  • Check out regularly at the library?
  • Listen to books on audio while commuting?
  • Register for conferences and/or workshops?
  • Join trade associations and get involved?
  • Network over breakfast or lunch?
  • Hire an expert when you need access to specialized knowledge?
  • Go back to school?

It doesn't matter what you're doing - just that you're making the decision to do it, and then of course that you're applying what you learn.

Hey, one more thing - I participated in a contest at Slacker Manager the other week and won a book called Don't Ask Stupid Questions: There Are No Stupid Questions by Tim Brownson. It's on its way and I'm really looking forward to reading it, but if you'd like a sampling of Tim's writing, check out his blog. Tim, you crack me up, and you make a point at the same time. Deadly great combination in my never-to-be-humble opinion.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Persistence and success


persistence
Originally uploaded by ed ed


A Tom Peters philosophy that's become a mantra for me is "test and measure." So many good ideas get squashed in the up front debate, the dueling egos who argue whether the ideas are too futile even to try. In many cases time and energy would have been saved and relationships preserved had the involved parties decided to try the idea and let the results tell the story of whether it was good or not.

Sometimes the idea requires more than one test - the idea takes persistence. If I'm creating a recipe for a new variety of cake there are many variables that I have to get right in order for the cake to turn out exactly the way I want. I need to have the right ingredients, mixed in the right way, baked for the right amount of time and at the right temperature to know - really - whether I've got a good recipe or whether it's back to the drawing board for me.

In tests that require interpersonal interaction I've got less predictable ingredients than the flour, milk, sugar, and eggs that go into my cake. I've got somebody who has needs and wants that are as yet unknown to me. I could have an outstanding recipe, but his or her particular situation might not be the right one to enable the recipe to work - even when I'm executing correctly.

When a coaching client expresses frustration at their lack of results my initial question is almost always "How big is your sample size?" Have you really tested this enough times to say that your experiences are representative of the whole? Or do you need to be more persistent, to try again in the same way several times, only in different venues with different people, to really know whether you're doing it right or not?

Sometimes our lack of patience or our urgency for results shortcuts our improvement efforts before we can do an adequate test of our methods. One person's persistence might be viewed as stupidity by another. But given that ferns and water can penetrate rock, who are we to stand on the sidelines and sling arrows at another person's persistence? We, not they, might be the ones with the lesson to learn.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Build a superreserve to increase attractiveness


abundance
Originally uploaded by stijn

How do you feel when you know you've got a lot of food in the pantry? Calm, secure? That's the feeling my grandmother was seeking when she filled a room in her basement with such a reserve that her adult kids could go grocery shopping there!

She built her superreserve because she lived through the Great Depression and realized what it was like not to have enough nutritious food to eat - and she didn't want to be there ever again. But building a superreserve doesn't only decrease fear - it increases your ability to attract success. You could make a point of building a stockpile of:

  • Cash in the bank
  • Canned goods in the cupboard
  • Nice socks in your dresser drawer
  • Toilet paper in the closet
  • Office supplies (only if you're buying your own - it's tough on the company budget if everybody does it!)
  • A full tank of gas - all the time
  • A full calendar of social activities

The idea behind the superreserve is that the feeling of lack or shortage creates an emotional undertone of fear and worry, while abundance creates an emotional background of security and confidence from which you can operate. You're not distracted by thinking about whether this particular opportunity is going to turn into something significant. You're already full and content. When you're secure and confident you reach out more, you smile more, you're more creative - and all these things are attractive.

What things are important enough to you that you want to build a superreserve of them?

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's all in the details


drops in drops
Originally uploaded by Steve took it

If you look closely on this photo you can see the flowers reflected in the drops. If you look REALLY closely you will see that the flowers on the drops have drops of their own. The beauty in this photograph comes in part from the details. The colors are beautiful and the composition is lovely, but the point is all about the depth of the image as revealed through the details.

As we're rushing through our day we're sometimes only noticing the macro elements of our life - what time our meetings are scheduled, what route we're going to take to go to work, etc. In this process of constant motion, how much of the importance of the picture are we missing because we're not noticing the details?

  • What's the expression on our child's face when we blow right by without saying good morning?
  • What does the sky look like as the sun is rising?
  • How does our breakfast smell and taste?
  • What are our customers experiencing at every point of connection they have with us?
  • What are the goals that our staff members hold for their careers and their lives?
  • Where are we repeating the same mistakes unnecessarily?

Sometimes the most effective way to view our work and our lives is to step back and look at the big picture. This longer perspective helps us in times of emotional intensity and stress, so we don't become overwhelmed. But sometimes we get so caught up in what's happening next, or later today, or tomorrow, or overall, that we're not completely aware of the information that's available to us right now.

What are you hearing right now? As I'm writing this post a heavy rain is bouncing off of my office window, with waves of drops driven by intermittent wind. What are you seeing right now? The low light of my pre-dawn office isn't able to hide the clutter on my desk that's accumulated from two weeks of intense activity. The water in the pitcher of flowers is evaporating and starting to become discolored.

You can become more effective by noticing and managing the details. But you can also live your life with greater intensity if you open your senses to the information that's surrounding you right now.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Managing your sales cycle


For sale
Originally uploaded by William van Dieten


One of the ongoing challenges for salespersons and their managers is keeping activity levels high. If you're not paying close attention it's easy to rest on the last victory (or service the most recent deal) and let the pipeline go empty and then....oops! You've got to build from scratch again and wait for the entire sales cycle to complete itself.

Do you know what your sales cycle is?

How long does it take to go from the point of generating a lead until you say "Press hard, third copy's yours?" One day? Two weeks? Three months? The longer your sales cycle takes, the greater the risk associated with not doing something TODAY to keep things moving.

Does the process have to take this long?

Are there ways to shorten the timeline or reduce the number of steps required to go from "hello" to "I'm buying?" When we talk with manufacturers about production cycle times one of the ways they do it is to set everything up well in the beginning, much like a soda bottle drains fastest when you spin it to create a vortex. What things could you set up well in the beginning that would help the downstream process move faster or more smoothly?

If you were to make your initial contacts based upon referrals rather than cold contacts, what difference would it make to the initial steps in the process? If you were to become known as an expert in your field would prospects be more receptive? Would they call you instead of waiting for you to call them? Is there an efficient way for you to keep in touch with prospects and current customers regularly to help your name stay top of mind with them?

Is the sales cycle the same for every prospect category?

In selling corporate accounts the sales cycle might be 90 days at the quickest, up to 6 months or a year, depending upon the complexity of the project or the structure of the potential client's decision making process. In a small business setting it might be only 2 weeks, because the project investment isn't so great and there's only one person deciding - the owner. Some businesses I know make their decisions on who to work on right now based upon the extent of their cash reserves and on their patience (or lack thereof) for the whale hunting process. They might be thrilled to sell a big gig, but it won't matter if they can't feed themselves until the project materializes.

Can you place a monetary value on each step of the sales cycle?

One person I've worked with was very big on doing cold phone contacts to get things ramped up. At one point he looked at his results and did a calculation to figure out what the dollar value of each phone call was. That way he felt motivated to keep going, because every extra call was earning him $X. Over time he focused on increasing the size of each sale, which translated into a higher value for each new phone contact. That kept him motivated.

Build your business every day - the four point method

One successful method for managing the sales cycle is called the four point system. Your goal is to earn 4 points every day - yes, every day. You get 1 point for acquiring a new lead, 2 points for scheduling an appointment, 3 points for holding an appointment, and 4 points for making a sale. If you have a particularly good day today and sell two projects (8 points) you'll still need to come up with your 4 points tomorrow.

What's that old phrase, "Slow and steady wins the race?" I don't know many sales managers who are all that thrilled about the concept of "slow" but if "steady" is getting results I think that'll do.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

How problem solving creates (or reveals) company culture


You can tell a lot about a company and its culture by how problems get solved. Take a look at these bullets and see whether you've heard any of them in your workplace.

  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
  • "Whatever you do, don't tell Harry about this."
  • "Maybe it will go away on its own."
  • "They won't do anything, so why bother bringing it up?"
  • "Let their department handle it."
  • "Maybe we should bring in a consultant."
  • "Let's form a team to figure this out."
  • "Let's not just put a band-aid on it - let's get to the root of this."

Process

You have process for handling problems - or maybe you don't. When a company has effective formalized processes for dealing with issues it keeps problems relatively small. Some companies deal with customer problems by allocating budgets to front-line staff to resolve them - a hotel housekeeper might have the funds to buy Tylenol, toast and tea for a guest who's not feeling well. In another company issues get referred to a quality team to be addressed.

When there's no process it's more likely that problems will be ignored or hidden, or at the very least put off or handled inconsistently. That might be no big deal for some problems you face, but with others you'd better get on the real thing right away or you'll find yourself with a mission-critical situation on your hands.

People

There are the leaders and the followers, and both can be contributors to effective (or ineffective) problem solving. Leaders who foster effective problem solving create an environment where people aren't assassinated for making mistakes. They want to hear the unedited bad news as well as the good news. Otherwise they'll be running a company based upon fiction, and ultimately it will come back to bite them.

As for followers, there are only two roles to play - that of victim or that of creator. Sometimes the victim feels that way with cause - perhaps they've shone a flashlight on a problem before and gotten reprimanded rather than encouraged. But other times the victim role is played by someone who's uncomfortable with authority figures, or who considers it to be "easier" not to take responsibility.

Culture

Culture is comprised of the rules that a group shares - written or unwritten - that organize their everyday activities. Many of the culture clashes that arise do so because "insiders" assume that everyone knows the rules and will behave accordingly. When someone doesn't follow the accepted rules they show themselves as an outsider, and in some instances are disciplined for it.

If you want to change your culture you'll have to incorporate formalized, communicated changes to process and behavior expectations. Over time your people can re-learn how they can solve problems effectively in your organization. It'll take time, though, for a new culture to develop.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The introvert's advantage in sales

Have you ever heard the riddle, "What's the difference between an introverted engineer and an extroverted engineer?" Now, I come from a family of engineers, so don't tell me I'm being mean - "The introverted engineer stares at his shoes - the extroverted engineer stares at the other person's shoes!" That cracks me up.

We just finished two days at a local business expo where, of course, the goal of every participant was to gain visibility or obtain sales leads. But it was obvious that some people were way more comfortable talking to strangers than others. As a matter of fact, one or two of the exhibitors actually approached me and told me that it was obvious to them that some people there were just too introverted to be there. It was making the extroverts uncomfortable.

Just to make sure we're clear on definitions:
  • Extrovert - We think of extroverts as being high energy, outgoing types who like to talk. Technically the definition of extrovert is someone who gets his or her energy from being with other people.
  • Introvert - Say the word introvert and some folks picture a wallflower who is staring at his or her shoes. But the true introvert can be very effective in social settings - it's just that an introvert derives his or her energy from being alone. They can talk and socialize - they just need to recharge afterward.

So, for the introvert's advantage in sales - the stereotypical salesperson (now mind you I'm saying stereotypical) is sociable, likes to talk, is good at presenting information, etc. Sounds like an extrovert to me. But the extrovert isn't necessarily good at what effective, needs-based selling is all about - listening. That's the natural domain of the introvert.

I've seen formerly high-powered sales folks crash and burn because they applied pressure to a prospect - not on purpose, but by practically jumping over the desk in their enthusiasm and their desire to share product features and benefits. Meanwhile, the introverts surprised everyone at their success because they calmly asked questions and listened to the answers before they suggested anything to a potential customer. I guess you could say that the introverts weren't selling - they were helping someone buy.

Just to be clear, good listening isn't the sole domain of the introvert. We more gabby folks can do it too if we want to be successful in sales. It's just that we might have to make a point of standing on our tongues every now and then.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Attracting success


Sweet attraction
Originally uploaded by cattycamehome


The intention behind being more attractive is to draw opportunites, resources, and people to you like a bee is drawn to the flower. When you're chasing success instead of attracting it you're sometimes doing so by forcing situations that aren't really ready, or you're engaging in emotional arm-wrestling with other people. In the short term it's too much of a struggle, and over the long term it saps your energy and erodes relationships. Think about the flower - it doesn't strive to attract the bee. It just stands there in all its glory, soaking in the sun and swaying gently in the breeze until the bee just can't stay away.

Thomas Leonard, founder of Coach University, was one of the thought leaders about attraction as the foundation for business and personal success. In his book The Portable Coach, Leonard wrote about 28 strategies to implement to increase your attractiveness and thereby stop chasing success - however you define it.

  1. Become Incredibly Selfish - Without you, there is nothing, and attraction isn’t possible.
  2. Unhook Yourself From the Future - Attraction works in the present, not in the future.
  3. Overrespond to Every Event - By over-responding instead of overreacting, you evolve, which is very attractive.
  4. Build a Superreserve In Every Area - Having enough is not nearly enough for you to be irresistibly attractive
  5. Add Value Just For The Joy Of It - When you add value because you enjoy it, people are naturally attracted to you.
  6. Affect Others Profoundly - The more you touch others, the more attractive you’ll become.
  7. Market Your Talents Shamelessly - If you’re embarrassed about what you do well, you won’t be very attractive
  8. Become Irresistibly Attractive To Yourself - How can you attract others if you don’t feel irresistibly attractive to yourself?
  9. Get a Fulfilling Life, Not Just an Impressive Lifestyle - A great life is attractive; a lifestyle is usually seductive.
  10. Deliver Twice What You Promise - When you consistently deliver more than was expected, new customers are drawn to you.
  11. Create a Vacuum Which Pulls You Forward - Being pulled forward is attractive; pushing forward is not.
  12. Eliminate Delay - Time is expensive and thus delay is very unattractive.
  13. Get Your Personal Needs Met - Once and For All. If you have unmet needs, you’ll attract others in the same position.
  14. Thrive On The Details - Subtleties, details and nuances are more attractive than the obvious.
  15. Tolerate Nothing - When you put up with something, it costs you. Costs are expensive and thus unattractive.
  16. Show Others How To Please You - Don’t make them guess.
  17. Endorse Your Worst Weakness - When you can accept and honor the worst part of yourself, you are more accepting of others.
  18. Sensitize Yourself - The more you feel, the more you’ll notice and respond to the many opportunities in the present.
  19. Perfect Your Environment - The attraction OS is a sophisticated system which requires a first-class environment.
  20. Develop More Character Than You Need - Integrity is not enough to become irresistibly attractive.
  21. See How Perfect The Present Really Is - Especially when it is clearly not.
  22. Become Unconditionally Constructive - High levels of respect are very attractive.
  23. Orient Exclusively Around Your Values - When you spend your days doing what fulfills you, you are attractive.
  24. Simplify Everything - Abandoning the non-essentials leaves more room for you to attract.
  25. Master Your Craft - Being the best at what you do is the easiest way to become successful.
  26. Recognize And Tell The Truth - The truth is the most attractive thing of all, but it requires skills and awareness.
  27. Have A Vision - When you can see what’s coming, you don’t need to create a future.
  28. Be More Human - When you are genuine, you are attractive.

If you'd like to read an interesting article about becoming irresistably atrractive, click here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Making the most of your trade show involvement


Trade Show
Originally uploaded by chartno3


You're never too small a business to participate in a trade show. Even if you're located in a small town, chances are that you can get involved with your local Chamber of Commerce's show, which highlights local businesses rather than a specific industry. Here are some tips to make your trade show involvement well worth the investment in dollars, time and energy:

  • Know your goal. For many service-oriented businesses there aren't "products" to display, nor are there big storefronts where passers-by can see your name. At the trade show people can see your name in lights (literally) and can meet your real product - you.
  • There are two ways to work a trade show - from the booth out and from the aisle in. Even when you're an exhibitor you'll want to make the rounds to see who else is there. Often the other exhibitors will be some of your best contacts. And even if you can't afford to be an exhibitor you can make contacts with potential customers who are.
  • Remember that the exhibitors are there to sell, not to buy. Don't park yourself in their booth and pitch them, or you'll just wind up eroding rapport with them. They've invested a lot in their participation and want to fulfill their agenda - not yours. It will also help if you make your visits when the show is in its slower times of the day and you're not competing with prospects for the exhibitor's attention.
  • Do some things to generate involvement with your booth - a game, giveaways, something multisensory. That will help you get the conversation started.
  • You're typically going to the show for leads, not for sales on the spot. It can feel easier to keep talking to the potential customer you're with, but in the meantime ten more are walking past, one of whom might be ready to talk seriously with you. Schedule an appointment with this one, say thank you and move on.
  • Someone who is truly a prospect must (a) have a need, (b) have the ability to make a decision, and (c) have the money to buy from you. Count on not being able to qualify prospects fully at the show - you might be able to disqualify someone, but it will take a later meeting to truly close the deal in most cases.

Good luck with your trade show. Your involvement can help demonstrate that you're a "real" business. And what could be better than the opportunity to generate a bunch of warm leads in just one or two concentrated days of activity?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Strategic planning for startups - a waste of time?


Compass 2006
Originally uploaded by Ray Fenwick


The whole idea behind a strategic plan is that it should serve as a compass, an indicator of true North, such that you can focus and guide your activities effectively. Circumstances and business conditions change, but you can always refer back to your plan to map out your next move. Yesterday a new business owner approached me and expressed frustration that she really didn't have enough information to do a really good plan. The process has felt like a waste of time as a result. She's not the first startup owner to share this concern with me, so here are some thoughts:

Pros of planning in a startup

  • Vision and values will help you know how you want to behave from the very first day you're in business.
  • If you identify target markets as part of your plan you'll better be able to target your marketing approach, from logo to advertising channels, to the content in your message. Your business will look very different from Day One if you're appealing to teens vs. corporate entities.
  • If you need to get financing of any sort your banker or other funding source will view a well-developed plan as an indicator that you know what you're doing, so you'll be more likely to be successful in obtaining funding.
  • Going through the entire process will help you find out what you don't know. This feeling of conscious incompetence won't be comfortable, but can help guide you to find out what you weren't able to answer when creating your plan.

Cons of planning in a startup

  • The business owner who approached me does have a point. She does not yet know what her target markets will be. She provides services, so it's not like she'll have a storefront and a bunch of inventory at risk if she hasn't narrowed down her focus. She wants to treat her first 3 months as labratory time, learning where the most receptive prospects are and determining what her "sweet spot" customer profile looks like.
  • The learning curve in the first 3-6 months is typically quite steep. If the new business stays too grounded in whatever sounded good at the beginning they could (a) miss some great opportunities and/or (b) stick with something that doesn't work for too long because it's on the plan. If cash is tight this could be deadly.

Even when a business is past startup phase the concept of planning can be controversial. Yes, it sounds like the thing to do, but some businesspersons still resist it because they want to remain flexible and open to opportunity. The issue really becomes one of how to allocate resources, and if there's no game plan the business might have to take a pass on the most promising opportunities that arise due to lack of funding, time, etc.