Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What keeps business owners up at night...

Insomnia... by Moe M
Insomnia..., a photo by Moe M on Flickr.

The business owner tosses and turns, awake at 2 a.m. for the third night in a row.  A persistent problem cycles through his brain in fragments, because although he’s not asleep he’s not awake enough to think through it completely and develop a course of action.  He’s tired enough from his stress-related sleep deficit that he has difficulty focusing during the day, and he’s grouchy both at work and at home.

This business owner has a latent (underlying unacknowledged) need.  The problem, not its resolution, is in the foreground of his mind.  He might not realize that there is action that he could be taking to shrink or resolve the issue.  It is also possible that he has considered a few potential courses of action, but the choices are distasteful enough to him that he wants to avoid implementing them, hoping that another avenue will appear to him if he lets it churn around in his brain for a while longer.

The first step in resolving the issue is to identify it.  When this guy wakes up for the third time he might be able to write it down and then go back to sleep.  His brain, having committed the topic to paper, will be less likely to continue its 7-minute short term memory loop, “Remember to take care of _________.”  Then he can deal with it while in a more alert mental state.

The owner can recruit thought partners.  These might be experienced and trusted employees, peer business owners, community resources that serve businesses like SCORE, or he might talk the issue through with a relevant sales representative or trusted advisor.  Probably the worst thing the owner can do is to keep this to himself, and for a few reasons:

·         He sees the situation through a certain lens, and is likely to have developed habits of thought around the situation.  These habits may interfere with him seeing the issue and its causes fully, and may cause him to subconsciously and automatically rule solutions in or out of consideration.

·         The negative emotions attached to an unresolved and persistent problem can interfere with effective thought about the issue.

·         The owner may not have the information needed to resolve the problem.  There might be technical expertise that’s needed, or process and structure to help him get the job done.

When the owner transitions from focus on the problem to focus on solving the problem, the latent need becomes an active need.  When the business owner calls a product or service provider and says something like, “I need a new computer system,” he is in active need mode.  He is reaching out with a perceived solution in mind, but the solution he seeks might not be the only or best one to resolve the issue.  It might address only the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem.

Product and service providers benefit business owners most when they can help them uncover latent needs – the problems that are keeping the owners up at night.  They can bring their needs discovery skills to assist the business owner in identifying potential causes, and then in providing the products or services that are appropriate for the situation.  An effective salesperson can earn trusted advisor status with that business owner when he or she is an effective thought partner who places the owner’s interests in the foreground of the conversation. 
If you are a business owner with a problem, talk to somebody.  And if you are a product or service provider, get out there and meet business owners.  The fact that they haven't called you yet might only mean that a) they don't know about you, or b) they are still in latent need mode.  You might be their best remedy for getting a good night's sleep.
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Summit helps business owners sleep better at night by helping them identify latent needs in the areas of planning, people development, and process improvement.  Summit provides process and structure through which owners and their teams can solve problems at their root causes.

1 comment:

Ron Tester said...

Julie: I know it's been a while since you first posted this but I think you're spot on. Thank you for your insight! I struggled in silence for a long time as I built my first company, and those were dark days indeed. I didn't know anyone that I could talk to and I was embarrassed that I didn't have all the answers. It seems ridiculous now, but I was terrified that one of my friends or family members would discover the truth... that I was not all-knowing and all-powerful. I wish I had spoken up earlier.