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You are currently browsing the The WhiteBoard blog archives for September, 2014.

Strategy: What the Greeks Knew

September 19th, 2014

The Greeks knew it. The Trojans learned the hard way. From its political and military origins thousands of years ago through the current business climate, strategy – how to develop it, execute it, out-position your competition with it, achieve results with it – is essential to business success. Results matter more than ever to business owners and company leaders, who expect more from the strategy development process than a plan in a binder.

Ask yourself or your team about strategy, and you’re likely to uncover long-held assumptions about the process. Here are two of them:

Assumption #1:  Strategic planning is a logical, intellectual exercise. True, the strategy development process is partly logic-driven, and it’s also very much colored by emotions. Strategic planning involves people – individuals and teams who have a stake in the outcomes. Some may initially see the process in terms of an evaluation of their performance, as a challenge to the ways they’ve become accustomed to working, or as a change that alters how their value to the company is perceived.

The variations on these perceptions are as numerous as the people who hold them. When emotion-based perceptions are not acknowledged, the collaborative benefits and outcomes of strategic planning suffer. Participants can become defensive and competitive. The process can be compromised by hidden agenda, or take on a tone of risk management. These unintended consequences are avoidable. Leaders that recognize and accept strategic planning as a non-linear, often emotional process can make a significant difference in the outcomes.

Assumption #2:  Classic strategic planning is the only valid approach. Classic strategic planning emerged in the 1950’s. Assessment and analytical tools such as SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) evolved during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The classic approach can be effective. It’s also one of many approaches. I sat down recently with a company president to discuss his company’s upcoming planning retreat.  When I suggested that the company could consider a range of options in addition to a classic approach, he visibly relaxed and commented, “I didn’t realize we could do this in other ways.” 

The optimal approach and tools for your company depend upon a range of factors – your current business situation and market position, the personalities involved and your expected outcomes from the process. Exploring a range of approaches to strategy development can be energizing, especially if you aren’t aware that you have options. You do.

Strategic planning is big thinking about the big picture. And it’s only part of the story. Developing and implementing strategy also takes continual refocusing on the intended outcomes. Refocusing doesn’t end with the retreat, the whiteboard diagrams and the carefully bound document. It’s an ongoing and constantly evolving process. As the Greeks knew.

Does Your Sales Process Pass the Integrity Test?

September 9th, 2014

“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

What Warren Buffet said about hiring is especially true in sales. You can’t develop trust in the relationships you form with prospects – whether you sell in person, over the phone or online – unless your sales process and techniques pass the integrity test. Here are four ways to build integrity into your process.

Get Four Points Every Day. Lack of a pipeline leads to desperate measures, which never pass the integrity test.  Jeffrey Fox, author ofHow to Become a Rainmaker” (a classic must-read), suggests this simple daily strategy for keeping your pipeline full.  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 always have an active pipeline and a foundation for building integrity-based sales.

Always provide your prospect with a suggested agenda in advance of your meeting, whether it’s in-person or virtual. Your prospects are busy people. They don’t have the time or inclination to second-guess your agenda. Provide an agenda in advance, with prospect-centered items such as, “Your (or your company’s) current perspectives on making (X) more cost-effective.” A prospect-centered agenda will allow you to ask questions, listen and learn what’s important to the prospect. Include three or four items, and always invite your prospect to change or add items to the suggested agenda.

Own the most effective and underutilized sales tool: the handwritten thank-you note. Courtesy and consideration for every prospect should be standard operating procedure for any sales professional. Nothing demonstrates that better than sincere thanks expressed in your own handwriting. If you don’t have company note cards, invest in understated, business quality thank-you notes and keep them in your briefcase. It consistently surprises me how few sales professionals use this elegant and effective means of communicating with their prospects.

Develop your own approach. Every sales professional needs to adapt sales techniques to fit his or her values and capabilities. If the techniques you’re using don’t pass the integrity test, your prospect will see right through the gimmicks. Always be on the lookout for tools and techniques that can improve your sales, and always integrate them into your approach with sincerity and integrity. Because that’s how your prospects want to be treated.