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Living Your Personal Brand

April 22nd, 2015

Sometimes, setting an example for yourself sets one for others.

I recently accepted an invitation to speak at a business school forum. I typically don’t charge a fee for speaking at student events, but since I would be booking a flight, I asked if travel costs were covered. I was assured that they were, and I purchased a ticket. Then, a week before the event, an administrator apologetically informed me that that there would be no travel reimbursement. Somehow, despite several conversations and email summaries of the arrangements, the students had misunderstood the budget.

On the plus side, this was the first and hopefully only time I have ever encountered this situation. I have to admit that my first reaction was disbelief. Did this business school really expect me to fly 1,500 miles on my own dime to speak for free?

As I moved from indignation to introspection, two questions kept crossing my mind:

  • How can I turn my response into a positive learning moment for everyone involved, including myself?
  • How could I use this situation as an opportunity to live my personal brand?

I’d gotten a good deal on the flight. With a little effort, I could arrange business meetings before and after the event. I could catch up with a longtime friend over dinner that evening. I could also choose to be insulted, turn down the invitation and end my interactions on a polite but unpleasant note. What kind of message would I be sending about my personal brand if I did that?

The next day, I sent a brief email message to the students and the administrator:

The mixed messages were unfortunate and I appreciate your apology. I honor my commitments, and I will honor this one. I look forward to seeing you next week.

During the forum, the administrator apologized again and reimbursed my flight. I had a conversation with another speaker that led to new business for me. Most important, my decision to speak despite the miscommunications allowed me to make a quiet and potentially powerful statement about my personal brand, and perhaps set an example for the future business leaders who attended the forum.

This situation reminded me that, regardless of external circumstances, we always have choices. We can allow our choices to be determined by the decisions and behaviors of others. Or we can make our own, intentional choices, based on what we stand for and what we intrinsically know is the right thing to do. The learning moment for me? It’s easy to find a substitute speaker. But there is no substitute for the integrity of living your personal brand.

Finding Your Champion: A Field Guide for Sales

April 1st, 2015

Elvis. Sasquatch. The ivory-billed woodpecker. In business-to-business sales, finding your champion in a prospect company can sometimes seem like the quest for an elusive creature. The truth is, most champions don’t announce themselves; they need to be identified.

Champions don’t sell for you. They are your guides – your channel through the purchase process from the prospect’s point of view. If your contact provides you with information about the product/service decision-making process, introduces you to the decision maker and helps you navigate the obstacles, you have a champion. A champion has the influence and the ability to help you and their company to complete the purchase.

How do you identify possible champions? Here’s a field guide to observing and listening for them.

End user clues: People who use your product or service in their daily tasks are often the most enthusiastic. While they often lack the influence to be a champion, an enthusiastic end user can help you to identify the touch points a level or two further up in the company. In the case of a software application, for example, an end user might access the application in their daily activities. The end user’s supervisor might generate reports for their boss, who in turn makes business decisions based on the reports. Finding the highest-level user in the chain can often uncover a champion.

Behavior clues: The behaviors of the people who participate in a first meeting, demo or even a conference call can provide clues to their champion potential. Listen for individuals who open discussion and raise questions about relevant business issues, or those who offer points of view that challenge yours in a respectful way. Seating order in a physical meeting can also reveal possible champions: watch who sits near the decision maker or leader. Observe their responses to your comments and how others respond to them.

Motivation clues: Champions support a purchase decision because they have something to gain. A rising star may be eager for advancement and may see bringing in your product or service as contributing to their record of success. A long-term employee may value professional recognition and the respect of colleagues. Champions who want what’s best for the company might be motivated by helping to maintain the company’s competitive edge. Finding the common ground between your product or service and your champion’s motivations is one of the most influential factors in moving toward a purchase decision.

In the past seventy years, there have been only twenty-two alleged sightings of the possibly extinct ivory- billed woodpecker. If you look for the telltale clues, your next sales champion will be much easier to find.