Focus is a Business Strategy™
For the latest post from Elizabeth Usovicz, pull up a chair and read on…and check her monthly web column on Thinking Bigger Business Media.
Thank you for your visit and your comments!
unlocking business growth opportunities
Focus is a Business Strategy™
For the latest post from Elizabeth Usovicz, pull up a chair and read on…and check her monthly web column on Thinking Bigger Business Media.
Thank you for your visit and your comments!
In her Ted talk and new book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth explores why some people – entrepreneurs, students, rookie teachers in the urban core or West Point cadets – succeed. Her answer? Grit. Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” even in the face of challenges.
I’ve been thinking about grit and entrepreneurship lately. I saw a lot of both on a recent project in Malawi, Africa. In the literal sense, rural Malawi is one of the grittiest environments on the planet. The average per capita income is $255 a year. Most homes are one-room huts with no electricity or running water, and the red-clay soil fills your shoes, if you have a pair, with grit.
Grit may be a teachable or learnable trait in developed economies, but it’s a daily survival skill in Malawi. Here are three examples, among the dozens I observed, of grit in action.
Solar-Charged Opportunity: Traditional communications infrastructure has limited reach, but mobile phone use is pervasive. People who did not have access to electricity or running water in their homes eagerly showed me photos of their children on their phones. In most villages, it’s easy to spot the entrepreneur who runs the mobile phone-charging business: just look for the hut with the solar panel propped against a milk crate in the front yard.
A Recipe for Perseverance: Michael supports his five children and relatives by preparing meals for visiting project teams – a skill he learned during a 9-year stint cooking for a Dutch family. Late one afternoon, the guest house lost access to water and electricity while Michael was preparing dinner. He quickly shifted gears and built a charcoal fire outside. With the help of candles and my flashlight, he finished preparing the meal on the kitchen stoop. Then he mounted his bike for the hour-long commute, in pitch darkness, to his village. True grit.
The Next Big Fish: I first observed English at the Lake Malawi shoreline, chatting with the fisherman preparing their boats and nets for night fishing. The next morning, I found him on the guest house porch with the work of the village painters and carvers he represents displayed for sale. A day later, he was back with fresh-caught fish from the boats he represents. English is a salesman who gets results. He works from sunrise to sundown because his goal is to buy a boat, hire fisherman and run his own fishing operation.
Grit requires sticking with the hard tasks and working hard to make future goals a reality. By that definition, some of the grittiest people I’ve ever observed live in the rural villages of Malawi.
Got Grit? If you’re curious about your own grit quotient, check out Duckworth’s Grit Scale.
I had a client who was good at solving problems. He was so good at it that he unintentionally trained his team and customers to bring their problems to him for resolution. For every question, request or issue, Dave prided himself on having the answer and finding the solution. He was so overwhelmed with other people’s work that he had little time to focus on new business opportunities.
He had what I call “Silver Platter” Syndrome.
Maybe you have it yourself. You want to be helpful, and it’s ego-boosting to be viewed as the problem-solver. If you cultivate that perception, as Dave did, your steam and customers will see their problems as valuable to you. And they’ll present those issues to you on a silver platter. Here’s how to break the cycle – and resolve issues.
Four Simple Steps
Most “Silver Platter” situations can be resolved with four simple steps. The steps are consistent, although the sequence in which you choose to use them may vary.
State the Facts: Clarify the facts about the situation as you/others currently understand it.
Listen: Avoid stepping in with a solution. Let others do the talking – even if that means waiting patiently through awkward silences.
Ask Questions: Help others clarify the issues, explore options and choose the best alternative. Keep your questions focused on how they can solve their own problem without taking it on yourself.
Set Expectations: Clarify the responsibilities and decisions that you are delegating and the specific timelines for getting them done. Mutually agree on interim status reports.
The chart below describes common situations and how to apply these steps.
Your Team Has/Says:
Missed a deadline.
“I assume you’ll do this?”
“I have a problem.”
|State the Facts
Example: “The assessment deadline is today. The assessment is not complete.”
Keep silent and let the other person(s) talk.
State the Facts
Examples: What are the issues? What are your options for getting this done? What do you think is your best option? How can this option be executed?
Example: “Based on your best option, you’ll get it done by 5:00 today. Let me know how it’s going at 2:00.”
(Re)State the Facts
As Dale Carnegie challenged more than 80 years ago, “Don’t you have much more faith in ideas that you discover for yourself than in ideas that are handed to you on a silver platter?” One of the best ways to develop leadership skills, for yourself and others, is not solving their problems for them.
“I just told someone about you.”
If you’re business owner or salesperson, you’ve heard this statement countless times. It’s a compliment to be mentioned – but it doesn’t necessarily help you to grow your business.
According to online community Top Sales World, salespeople who actively seek out and leverage referrals earn four to five times more than those who don’t. The missing link? You may have to teach your best sources how to make referrals. Here’s how to turn a compliment into a customer.
Frame the Ask
Tell your source in specific terms what type of referral you are seeking and can serve best. For example, if your source is an accountant and your ideal customer is the Director of Finance for a manufacturing company, provide your source with the names of specific companies that are a good fit for you. If your source is a customer who fits your ideal customer profile, help them to think about similar people among family, friends, work colleagues, neighbors, professional and social groups, or business contacts.
Define the Process
Give your source a clear process for referring.
Provide the Tools
Even your biggest fans won’t make referrals unless it’s easy for them.
Targeted referrals are an effective way to grow your business. They also require a give-to-get mentality. Make it easy and mutually beneficial for your sources to make referrals, and you’ll convert compliments to customers.
Knowing the difference can have a significant impact on your meeting outcomes. Early in my career, I worked for a global consulting firm. I vividly remember one of the first meetings to discuss a new initiative that I had been assigned to spearhead. I laid out the opportunities, expecting an animated exchange. What transpired instead was a detailed discussion of the possible implementation challenges.
That meeting was a Eureka moment in my career. I had approached the meeting as an opportunity seeker, while most of my colleagues had approached it as risk managers.
Since that time, I’ve seen countless examples of meetings that have gone awry because of similar opportunity/risk miscalculations. Chances are you’ve experienced a few yourself. Why does it happen? Most people have a dominant mindset along the spectrum of opportunity seeker to risk manager, and will frame their meeting participation according to that mindset. What’s the difference? These two comments illustrate the distinctions:
Risk Manager: “We must make sure that the trains run on time.”
Opportunity Seeker: “Why does it have to be a train?”
A Meeting of the Mindsets
There’s nothing wrong with either point of view. Each mindset is valuable in developing an idea, project or initiative. The key is to find a balance that allows both ideas to be explored and challenges to be uncovered. How do you give risk managers permission to think in terms of possibilities, and encourage opportunity seekers to consider the downsides? Here are two simple ways.
Ideal Scenario: Begin by discussing the ideal scenario. Ask each participant to describe the ideal scenario for the idea, project, or initiative, from his or her point of view. Remind everyone to focus comments exclusively on the ideal scenario.
Pre-Mortem: After you have documented the ideal scenario, shift gears using a technique developed by James Macanufo. Fast forward your idea, project or initiative into the in future (next year, end of next quarter, next month). What could go wrong? Ask everyone to focus discussion on aspects of the idea, project tor initiative that might not go as planned.
Spend the remainder of your meeting identifying steps and processes for implementation that maximize the opportunity and limit the risks.
Opportunity seekers and risk managers both bring useful skills to the table. When you balance their perspectives, the result is a meeting of complimentary mindsets.
She generally makes good business decisions, except when she’s under pressure. A week before the most important trade show of the year, Susan decided to create a holiday-themed video. She spent several 20-hour days working on the video, pulling staff away from important show preparation.
At the trade show, the video got only passing glances from attendees. Susan was too exhausted to work the company’s booth effectively and hadn’t prepared her staff to step into her role. The company’s show orders decreased 30 percent from the previous year.
Maybe you’ve been in Susan’s shoes. You have a significant project to complete, a month-end quota to meet or a looming deadline. Just thinking about the work overwhelms you, and your knee-jerk reaction is to focus on something else – anything else. The decision you make in that moment will move your business forward, or set it back.
You can break this bad-decision cycle with one simple question:
Here are three simple ways to manage your time for the results you want.
Write down your goals in an easily accessible format. Two options are to store them on a mobile device or keep them on a card in your wallet. As you review your goals, ask yourself: What is the best use of my time right now? Identify actions that will move you toward your goals.
Chances are that the tasks on your daily to do list exceed the time you have to accomplish them. Start by categorizing your list by:
Review the tasks in each of these categories and ask: What is the best use of my time today in each of these categories? Then select the most important items for the day.
Every business day has schedule gaps. Some are intentional windows of time between meetings; others take shape due to cancellations or unexpected adjustments. Examine how are you using those gaps in your schedule, and ask yourself again: What is the best use of my time right now?
Fifteen minutes between meetings can be a coffee run, or a time to connect with a high-value customer. Having lunch with a friend could be time better spent having lunch with a new business contact. That 40-minute task could be halfway to completion in 20 minutes
Deciding to take action is not the issue. Deciding to spend your time wisely is. Using this simple, powerful question on a daily basis can help you manage your time for results.
Early in my career, I landed a meeting with the CEO of a prospect company. When I arrived for the meeting, the CEO’s assistant told me that the CEO had been called out of the office, and that if she wanted to reschedule, she’d contact me. I had committed to the meeting, but I hadn’t closed the CEO’s commitment. It was a tough and valuable lesson.
ABC – Always Be Closing, the sales mantra of Alec Baldwin’s hardball character in the film “Glengarry Glen Ross,” doesn’t have to be aggressive. Always Be Closing is a mutually beneficial way to confirm buyer commitment. No matter where you are in the sales and buying process, continually and respectfully confirming your prospect’s commitment is smart and proactive. Here are two examples.
Setting Your First Meeting
A first meeting should be focused on learning about your prospect’s business needs and issues, and determining if there’s a fit with your products or services. Be candid with your prospect and yourself. Make sure that your prospect is willing to invest the time needed for a productive meeting. Confirm your prospect’s commitment through questions such as:
If your prospect waivers on a date and time, ask: Is he genuinely interested in resolving his business needs and issues? A “no” at this point may be disappointing, but it saves your time and effort for qualified prospects.
The Signal that You’ve Missed Something
The definition of a successful meeting with a prospect is a clear next step. Many salespeople focus on describing their own next steps, such as, “I’ll send you those specs” or “I’ll call you next week.” Focus instead on confirming your prospect’s commitment by asking:
Never leave a meeting with “I’ll think about it” as your prospect’s next step. It’s a sign that you missed something. Follow up with questions that address the gap:
Give your prospect time to respond, even if that means a long silence. You’ll uncover information that will help you to determine the next steps – or if the next steps are worth taking.
The sooner you intentionally apply ABC throughout the sales and buying process, the more time you’ll spend with people who have a true interest in your product or service.
Air travel during the best of times can be a drag– but it’s especially challenging on summer weekends.
I recently endured one of those long, drawn-out delays at an East Coast airport. A broad band of thunderstorms was moving through the southeast and central states, causing both take-off and arrival delays.
I sat in the back row at the gate and watched the passengers booked on the first of three flights to Chicago. The flight was already delayed by forty-five minutes and the new departure time came and went. A lone agent, working two gates simultaneously, had no updates until he announced the inevitable: the first flight to Chicago was cancelled, and the second was delayed.
About a hundred passengers from the two flights mobbed the ticket counter for re-routing, demanding answers. I called the airline’s customer service number and waited until the delayed flight boarded and the re-routed passengers left. The third flight to Chicago was now delayed. I started a new line at the counter.
Another passenger joined me in forming the new line. He introduced himself as Mark, and we shared information on our respective flight alerts to Chicago, and our options for connecting flights once we got there. With the lone agent now loading gate-checked bags onto the plane at the adjacent gate, there was no official information source onsite.
Passengers approached us at the empty gate counter, and Mark shared his airline alerts with them. A line started to form in front of him, and passengers started referring other travelers to Mark for information, even though he had no official role. Mark even announced a gate change alert, and like the Pied Piper, he led passengers to the new gate assignment before it was officially announced.
Mark demonstrated five behaviors that work for more than just messed-up travel plans. They’re good practice for business leaders, too. Here’s what he did:
These five behaviors influenced how Mark handled himself, his information and his relationships in a critical situation. As a result, he emerged as a leader in less than twenty minutes, with people he had never met before.
When an unplanned situation arise in an airport, on the job or with a customer, people look for leadership, not management. The first step to managing the problem is leading the people.
There are nine Fridays between the Fourth of July and Labor Day. How much new business will you generate with yours?
The idea of working on Fridays in the summer seems counterproductive. It can be easy to talk yourself into not working or leaving early: everyone’s on vacation; no one’s serious about business on Fridays.
Here’s the surprise: research indicates that taking Fridays off during the summer can be counter-productive. In a survey conducted by Captivate Network, fifty-three percent of those surveyed said that reduced hours on Friday lowered their productivity and increased their stress. Leaving early on Friday and dreading Monday all weekend is the ultimate waste of time.
Summer Fridays are the time to work smarter, not harder. Take advantage of the relaxed vibe and the slower pace with these tips.
Schedule Friday Morning Meetings
Busy executives wind down on Fridays and their calendars are often more open than other days of the week, especially during the summer. Meeting at a breakfast or coffee spot that is convenient to your prospect’s office can provide a brief change of venue without taking up much time. This approach can be especially effective as a follow-up conversation to an initial meeting. Nine Fridays? That’s nine opportunities to move nine potential buyers closer to a close.
Do Lunch, Get an Introduction
Summer Fridays are an ideal time to schedule lunch with former colleagues or business associates. Always confirm that you’ll meet at their offices, and ask in advance if they’d be willing to introduce you to their boss or other executive at the company that you’d like to meet. When you meet your new contact, be sure keep the conversation brief and informal. Remember, it’s not a sales call; it’s an introduction. By the end of the summer, you’ll be back in touch with nine colleagues and you’ll have nine new business contacts.
Send “Three by Three” Emails
Fridays are also a good time to refine and test your email messages to prospects. Pare yours down to three sentences, then test sending a few by 3:00 p.m. on Friday to three types of prospects:
The typical business executive receives over 600 emails a week. This inflow slows down as the work week closes, and your email may get more attention on a Friday afternoon than on a Tuesday morning.
Clear Your Desk and Your Head
When I worked for a global consulting firm, we had an unwritten rule: don’t leave the office on Friday until your desk is clean and your week ahead is planned. It seemed restrictive at the time, but it’s a practice that pays big benefits: it frees up your head space for weekend pursuits. Nothing boosts productivity like coming back to a clean desk and a game plan on Monday morning.
If you work smart on Fridays in the summer, you won’t be alone. But you will be ahead of the competition.
Watching with your ears pays off in improved business relationships
When I lived in Latin America, frequent trips to government offices to keep my visa status updated meant a lot of bus travel. I learned to close my eyes as soon as I got into my seat. By being “asleep” I could avoid any unwanted attention I might cause by looking around. It also developed my listening skills. Watching with my ears taught me to observe my surroundings and still focus on information about my stop or connection.
This came in handy during an especially crowded second-class bus trip during Easter week. My seatmate was a woman traveling to market with a live chicken in her lap. I can still hear that chicken’s off-beat clucking as Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical” played through scratchy speakers. Despite all those layers of distraction, I still managed to hear the driver announce my stop.
About forty-five percent of a typical business day is spent listening, so watching with your ears is not only a smart travel strategy. It’s also a valuable skill for business owners and salespeople. Here are three ways to practice watching with your ears to maximize the value of every business interaction.
Asking and Listening: A former colleague of mine kept a roll of duct tape on his desk. It was his reminder to ask questions, shut his mouth and listen. Listening starts with asking open-ended questions that begin with what, how, who or where. In a business negotiation, examples of open-ended questions might be:
The key is to ask, and then listen without interrupting. Practicing this skill with a friend or colleague can help you to notice and modify your interruption tendencies.
Listening through Layers: Listening through layers is a technique that can help you to uncover underlying issues or motivations. Try listening through three primary layers: listen for facts first, then thoughts and beliefs, and then for feelings. Often you’ll discover that you or others have made assumptions at one or more of these layers. Listening through them helps to clarify what’s important to each person and help to identify the next steps you can take together.
Taking Action after Listening: Listening is half of the process. Identifying the next steps to a common goal is the other half. Asking additional, open-ended questions can be useful in reaching workable future steps, such as:
It’s not always easy to step back from telling or interrupting. Perfecting your listening skills takes a little practice, but it’s worth the payoff in avoiding in tense negotiations and improving the quality of your business relationships.
Ever experienced a sales or business slump? Congratulations – you’re normal.
Everyone has a slump now and then. In business, just as in any other sport, turning around a slump starts in your head. Yogi Berra’s insights are equally true of a business slump: “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”
Moving out of a slump quickly requires mental work first, then action. So take Yogi’s advice and clear your thinking. These steps can help.
Remember Your Successes
A slump is temporary. Keep that in mind by remembering your peak times. Make a list of your top five sales or business successes. Replay how you felt and thought during each success. For example, several years ago I closed a major sale to a global beverage manufacturer over the phone. I never met the executive who made the buy decision in person, and that sale is one of my peak times. Make your own success list and review it periodically throughout your day.
Think Small: Set Micro-Goals
Take your thinking down a level or two – or three. A slump in sales or business can cause you to think about missing your quota and losing revenue, or the financial consequences of quota and revenue loss. That’s thinking big in a downward spiral. Save your big thinking for opportunities and growth. In a slump, it’s best to think small.
Instead, set and accomplish micro-goals. Your goal for a three-hour morning timeframe might be to draft and send five emails and make ten follow-up calls. Document your results, and consider testing one adjustment in your next round prospecting or follow-up. Focus on setting and achieving your micro-goals until you begin to see positive results.
Get Four Points Every Day
A slump can lead to desperate and unproductive action. Jeffrey Fox, author of “How to Become a Rainmaker” (a classic must-read), suggests this simple daily strategy: Allocate one point for getting a referral to a prospect; two points for setting a meeting with a prospect, three points for meeting with a prospect (whether that’s in person, over the phone or via the web), and four points for closing a sale or taking an action leading to a sale. If you consistently focus on getting at least four points a day, you’ll build positive micro-results, which can lead to bigger, positive outcomes.
Get Back to Basics
When a ball player experiences a slump, a coach reviews mechanics. If you don’t have a business or sales coach, ask a friend or trusted business associate for insight. For example, if your target customer is an attorney, invite an attorney friend or two to lunch. Explore their perspectives on your product or service, how they perceive its value and how they respond best to inquiries. An informal lunch meeting also provides you with an opportunity to ask one of the most valuable business development questions: “Who else should I be talking to?”
In baseball as in business, a hitting streak is just one swing away. Replay your successes, set micro-goals, and focus on the basics – and your batting average will improve.