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Slow, The New Fast

June 10th, 2014

What happened to that white-hot prospect?

Every business owner and sales person has asked this question. You had their attention and mobile number. They had a need; your product or service practically sold itself. You had rapport, and then –

Silence. 

You replay the conversations in your mind and retrace your steps from your notes. Did you miss something?

Perhaps. But maybe it’s not what you think you missed.

Maybe what your prospect took was a break. Some time away from a business pace and information intake that is increasingly head-spinning and demands an increasingly rapid response.  

A business owner I know unplugs once a month, reserving a day to think through all of his pending business decisions and related information. Many executives can’t or don’t schedule intentional “think time,” and they temporarily escape by postponing decisions. Your prospect’s balancing-act response to an overload of information, decision-making and the need for speed? Slow, the new fast. 

Before the next hot prospect turns into a whiff of smoke, consider your prospect’s capacity for information, rapid change and rapid response. Integrate the following questions into your interactions with them:

  • What are you getting from me that is most helpful?
  • What am I doing that is not helpful to you?
  • What could I be doing to be more helpful?  How does that help?

Information overload affects all business professionals and their activities, including you and  your prospects. Think through your sales cycle and build in time for your prospect to gain perspective on their future use of your product or service. It’s one of the routes to yes in slow, the new fast.

Good Advice I Never Followed

April 28th, 2014

Good or bad, you own the outcomes of the service you provide

Early in my career a boss told me, “Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.” Good advice I never followed.

Many people do follow that advice, like the presenter of a webinar I attended that became the webinar that wasn’t. Shortly after his introduction, the presenter’s comments were out of sync with his slides. He didn’t seem to realize that there was a problem. I sent a polite comment through the chat function but the problem persisted. A few minutes later, the slides stopped advancing entirely, and for the remainder of the webinar I sat eyeball to eyeball with a photo of Bill Gates staring back at me.

The webinar support technician eventually told the presenter that no one could see the slides he was referencing. So the presenter tried describing the unseen slides – an unsatisfying process for everyone. Finally, he gave up and moved to Q&A, only to be informed that all of the questions submitted by attendees had been lost.

I felt for the presenter. Like every business professional, I’ve been in situations where the best of plans for service delivery don’t unfold as intended. For a few days after the webinar, I expected to receive a follow-up email from the presenter acknowledging the issues, or at least an apologetic reference on his blog. Like the webinar, that didn’t happen.

Two weeks later, I received a broadcast email announcing the same webinar. I didn’t click through to register, and not because of the glitches in the first webinar. The presenter lost my participation because he didn’t own his outcomes.

Technology, logistics, information or preparation – regardless of the source of success or disruption, we own the outcomes of the service we provide. Ignoring the outcomes doesn’t change that. Disruption can be an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity and willingness to see the situation from the customer’s point of view.  All it takes is a simple apology and a good-faith effort to make it right. That’s not a sign of weakness; it’s good business.

Stuff happens, and everyone makes mistakes. The webinar that wasn’t is a vivid reminder of how your customers feel when you don’t deliver and don’t own it. A sincere apology may not be the most innovative customer service effort, but it’s often one of the most effective.

What’s Behind Your Sales Pitch?

March 5th, 2014

I recently reconnected with a business acquaintance, the founder and CEO of a successful company, at a networking event. We hadn’t seen each other in a few months and exchanged news on our respective businesses and mutual acquaintances. 

John mentioned that Derek, an inveterate pitchman we both knew, had contacted him. Derek was involved in yet another business and made another pitch to John. “Did you consider it?”  I asked.  John shook his head. “Why not?” 

John stammered something about the services not being a fit for his company, and being too busy. Then he shrugged, palms up, and sighed, “Because there’s no there, there.”

John had articulated a hard truth about the difference between a shallow pitch and a meaningful business dialogue.

This kind of candor doesn’t often surface in casual conversations, and the fact that it did set me to thinking. What does it mean to have there, there?

No there means you’re not here.  If a prospective client, customer or business partner thinks that you have no there, it means they’re not willing to invest the time, energy and ultimately their hard-earned cash to work with you. 

It’s often said that every business relationship involves give and take. I prefer to think of it as an exchange. If your exchange isn’t a blend of substance, character, and space for the prospect’s point of view, there’s no there behind your pitch. And no chance to develop the mutual trust that transforms an exchange into a sale.

Yes, it’s important to craft a short, compelling value proposition and use it skillfully in conversations with prospects, clients and customers. But when a prospect starts to feel like Dorothy wishing for a little dog to pull back the Great Oz’s curtain and reveal the person behind it, perhaps it’s time look behind your pitch for deeper substance. 

Where’s your there?

Looking for Opportunity? Look Where it Isn’t

February 3rd, 2014

“Look where it is not, as well as where it is.”

 So says a centuries-old French proverb, and there’s truth in that saying where strategic partnerships are concerned.

My client, the president of a technology company, wanted to target new customers in a highly regulated industry and needed an entry strategy. He believed that a partnership with a large, global provider of information technology (IT) security hardware that had a track record in the industry was the way to go. To find out, I went to the source – the CEOs of 10 companies in the industry – and requested a brief conversation with each of them.

Figuring out which companies or experts these CEOs relied on for IT and regulatory-related services was the key objective for my conversations.  

Looking Where it Isn’t

I went back to my client with the name of a small law firm in the Southwest. My client was skeptical – a law firm? That’s it? According to several CEOs I spoke with, this small law firm  was one they relied on for guidance.

My client and I researched the law firm. The off-the-shelf website template did not impress my tech-savvy client. We dug deeper. One page on the website included information on the law firm’s hard-copy regulatory guides, which it provided along with highly specialized legal consulting. Aha. Instead of assuming that the law firm and its low-tech approach were not a fit, my client began to see the potential opportunity in a partnership based on complementary expertise and interests.

Taking Cues from the Clues

We contacted the law firm, taking our low-tech cues from the website: we wrote a hard copy letter and sent it postal mail.  A few days later, we got a call from the firm’s principals and an invitation to meet. It turned out that the law firm had a client base of more than 1,000 companies in the industry that my client wanted to target, and was looking for an alliance to address the technology-based regulatory needs of its clients. That meeting was the start of a mutually productive partnership and a steady pipeline of prospects for my client.

What would your company do with 1,000 new prospects?

Maybe it’s time to drop your assumptions and look where it isn’t. Not every high-tech/low tech or other seemingly contrarian pairing develops into a high-yield relationship.  But sometimes, looking where you think opportunity isn’t, as well as where you think it is, can reveal an unexpected path to profitable growth.

 

When the Status Quo is Your Biggest Competitor

January 16th, 2014

Whether your company is the market leader or a new entrant, sometimes your biggest competition isn’t the 800-pound gorilla or the new kid on the block. It’s a prospect’s decision to do nothing – to maintain the status quo.

Signs of the status quo can surface at any time in the sales process. In the initial stages of engaging a prospect, the status quo is often expressed as “Thanks, we’re all set.” Those repeated requests for more information, long after you thought the prospect was purchase-ready?  Your foe, the status quo again.

The reason that the status quo is such a fierce competitor is the same reason that change management is so challenging for both individuals and organizations. It’s fear of the unknown. Your product or service represents change. And people don’t have an emotional connection to change in the same way that they have an emotional connection to what they know.

“We’re all set” can mean “I know what I have, even if I don’t always like it or it doesn’t work the way I wish it would.”  Repeated requests for more information can mean, “I’m not the (only) decision maker and I don’t know what will happen if I risk addressing this with the decision maker.”

When the status quo is your competitor, it’s up to you to think like a change manager and replace fear with trust. Here are a few questions to challenge the status quo.

Replacement, complement, option or upgrade?

When a prospect says “we’re all set,” it’s an opportunity to manage change by adding to the status quo. Think beyond replacing what is currently in play. Consider positioning your product or service as a complement to the status quo, an option for contingencies and overcapacity or an enhancement for a specific functional area or department.   

What’s in it for your prospect?

If you are running into repeated requests for information or justification for your product or service, it’s often a sign that the resistance is emotional and personal, not factual. The logical, dollarized benefits of using your product or service may be clear, but chances are your prospect isn’t clear on the impact your product or service will have on him or her personally. Explore the positive outcomes that your product or service can have on your prospect’s role, job satisfaction and relationships with peers, employees and boss. 

Why don’t we do it together?

A version of this question can be one of the most effective ways to dislodge the status quo. When your prospect repeatedly drops the ball on a task required to take the next step toward a purchase decision, asking this question will build trust or reveal an underlying objection to moving forward – or both.

You can’t reason a prospect out of resistance to changing the status quo. You can think like a change manager by building trust and creating an emotional connection to the positive outcomes of change.

You Made My Day: Enhancing Business Relationships in 2014

January 2nd, 2014

“Go ahead, make my day.”

 More threat than invitation, Clint Eastwood’s line is the ultimate relationship dare. Making Inspector Harry Callahan’s day in the film “Sudden Impact” was a challenge that included a robbery and shoot-out in a diner where the waitress put too much sugar in Harry’s coffee. 

 My role model for early rising, Benjamin Franklin, approached the idea of making someone’s day a bit differently than Dirty Harry. In the margins of his daily calendar, Franklin wrote the question he pondered throughout each 24-hour cycle: “What good shall I do this day?”

 Most of us don’t get up in the morning thinking about how we can make someone’s day as Dirty Harry did. Most of us also don’t wake up thinking that we have the ability to make someone’s day better, easier or more pleasant. Making someone’s day is one of our greatest opportunities to connect with friends, colleagues, clients and prospects. It’s also the opportunity we most frequently miss.

 A few years ago on January 1, I committed to making at least one person’s day every day. Finding prospects for this activity wasn’t hard; I only had to look as far as my inbox and voicemail.

When I receive a message that compliments or thanks me, I respond to tell the sender that he/she has made my day. It never ceases to surprise me that telling people that they have made my day almost always makes their day, too. When someone does something beneficial for me, or I recognize someone’s influence on a project or activity that is going well for me, I send them a note or email, or call them to thank them for their specific impact on my success. Sending an unexpected email early in the morning is especially appreciated, since it can impact the recipient’s outlook for the whole day. 

The opportunities are endless and surface everywhere. Call a customer service help line and reach a rep who has great communication skills? Meet with a client and interact with an administrative assistant who is especially gracious and efficient? Tell them. 

Both Harry Callahan and Benjamin Franklin were right: our relationships are heightened when we dare to make a conscious impact on other people’s experience. If you dared yourself to make someone’s day every day, what kind of impact would it have on your business in 2014?  That’s a question worth pondering every morning.

So go ahead – make someone’s day.