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How to Handle “Silver Platter” Syndrome

February 18th, 2016

Are you taking back your team’s work?218px-Mint_Julep2

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.”

 

 

Step 1

 

 

State the Facts

Example: “The assessment deadline is today. The assessment is not complete.”

 

 

Set Expectations

 

 

Listen

 

Step 2

Listen

Keep silent and let the other person(s) talk.

 

Ask Questions

 

 

State the Facts

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3

 

Ask Questions

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?

 

 

 

Listen

 

 

 

Ask Questions

 

 

Step 4

 

Set Expectations

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

 

 

Set Expectations

 

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.

From Compliment to Customer: Teach Your Sources to Make Referrals

December 4th, 2015

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 “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.

  • Find out who the referral is and what your source said.
  • Make sure you get the referral’s contact information such as: “Thanks for thinking of me. I’ll reach out to Tom and mention that we spoke. First, let’s make sure I have the correct phone and email for him.”
  • Suggest an email exchange, such as: Why don’t I send an email to Jane and copy you, so that all three of us are in the loop? If your source prefers to make the introduction, agree upon a timeframe: “I appreciate your making that email introduction for us. Will this afternoon work for you?”

Provide the Tools

Even your biggest fans won’t make referrals unless it’s easy for them.

  • If your source talks to people face-to-face, provide them with several of your business cards with the message “Referred by (source’s name)” on the back.
  • If you have sources that communicate primarily through email, provide them with a brief referral message that describes the positive outcomes of working with your company, product or service. Add your email address to the cc line, and add a link to your LinkedIn profile to the body of the email. Your source can simply forward this email to the referral.

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.

How to Be a Leader in Twenty Minutes: Lessons from a Delayed Flight

July 22nd, 2015

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:

  • He gathered as much information as he could from his own sources
  • He validated his information against other information sources
  • He calmly shared his information and updates with others
  • He made decisions based on the information he had gathered
  • He took action and called others to the same action

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.

Work Yourself Out of A Slump

June 9th, 2015

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.

The Art of Following Up

May 1st, 2015

How to turn that business card into a business contact

You met a business professional recently at an industry event, professional association meeting or informal gathering. A week or two goes by, and the business card you exchanged is still sitting on your desk. Why haven’t you followed up?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner, salesperson, executive or job seeker: following up is an art that you can master. The first step is to move beyond your excuses. Here are some common ones:

Too much time has passed

You got busy and that business card sat on your desk for a month. Now you think it’s too late. Will the other person even remember you?  The best time to follow up is within a week of your first meeting – but even a month later, it’s not too late to reach out with an email. 

The other person would have contacted me if he/she really wanted to connect

Don’t assume lack of interest because you’re the first to reach out. Making the first move may feel a little unfamiliar at first. Remind yourself that it’s a small price to pay for cultivating a meaningful business relationship. 

I don’t know what to say

You start to write an email to your new contact and your mind goes blank: what to say? You don’t have to be profound; just be sincere. Simply thank the person for an enjoyable conversation and let him or her know you’d like to stay in touch.

Reconnecting after an initial meeting

Reconnecting by email is an easy way to follow up. Think about the conversation you had, and draft a message that incorporates the following elements:

  • Tell the person that you enjoyed meeting at the event
  • Thank the person for your conversation
  • Mention a mutually interesting topic from your conversation
  • Suggest meeting for coffee (or a phone call if distance is a factor) in the near future to continue the conversation
  • Tell the person that you look forward to staying in touch

A sample email might look like this:

Subject Line: Nice Meeting You

Karen,

It was nice to meet you at the IOGA meeting recently. I enjoyed comparing notes about financial software with you, and also appreciated our conversation about major league baseball. It’s always a pleasure to meet a like-minded fan!

I’d enjoy continuing our conversation. Are you available for a cup of coffee over the next few weeks? Please let me know some dates and times that can work. I look forward to reconnecting with you.

The next time you attend a networking event, remember that the goal of exchanging business cards is to turn them into business contacts. And if there’s a business card or two on your desk right now, you have a golden opportunity to practice the art of following up.

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.

Putting Off That Sales Call? Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time

February 2nd, 2015

During World War II, Creighton “Abe” Abrams was the only military strategist that Patton regarded as his peer as a tank commander. Abrams is perhaps best un-known for coining the phrase, “When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.” Think about that as you look at your list of sales calls you never made.

You can’t and shouldn’t place a call if you’re not clear on why you’re calling. Yes, you want the business, whether it’s a million dollars or a few hundred dollars, but don’t try to eat that elephant in one call.

Greg, a business owner, set ambitious goals for growing his business. A Chamber of Commerce colleague introduced Greg to the CEO of a company that could use his products. Greg and the CEO chatted and exchanged cards, and Greg agreed to follow up. For two weeks, all Greg could think about was how big a sale this could be. The pressure of an all-or-nothing proposition prevented him from making the call.  

Getting out of elephant mode requires getting clear on why you’re calling in the first place. One option is to review your initial contact or conversation for comments that reveal ways that you can help your prospect and open the door to a meeting. Keep summaries of your conversations so that you can mine them for business-relevant infobytes.

In his conversation with Greg, the CEO mentioned that he was looking for inventory management software. Greg had a knowledgeable employee who suggested several applications that could be helpful to the CEO. By providing this information, and then suggesting a mutually convenient time to meet, Greg can take one bite of the elephant. Each clear and helpful bite will bring Greg closer to making the sale.

Placing a sales call seems simple enough. If you’re putting it off, you may be trying to squeeze an elephant into the conversation. Get clear on why you’re making that call, and eat that elephant one bite at a time.

Five Things Your Holiday Gift List Reveals about Your Ideal Customer Profile

December 17th, 2014

Tis the season for appreciating customers. As you review your holiday gift list, maybe you’ve also been commenting to yourself, “That’s a great customer!” or “That one? Not so great.”

When you’re sorting through decisions about gifts, cards or thank you notes, your good customer radar is on high alert. That makes the holiday season an ideal time to refine your ideal customer profile for 2015. The only resources you need are your customer list and these five statements.

  1. Your relationship with this customer generates significant annual revenue or steady ongoing revenue for your business.
  2. Your customer does not request major adjustments or customization to your products or services.
  3. Your customer does not require frequent, specialized customer treatment and/or does not require frequent, significant customer service time.
  4. The interactions you and/or your employees have with this customer are mutually beneficial and cordial, even when these interactions involve an issue.
  5. Your customer has referred other customers to your business, and/or has introduced you to additional contacts in the company.

For each customer, rate your answer to the statements on the following scale: 

A: Customer’s behavior meets consistently matches this description

B:  Customer’s behavior generally matches this description, although sometimes does not

C:  Customer’s overall behavior does not match this description, with an occasional exception

Your mostly A-list customers deserve your highest appreciation, not only during the holidays, but also throughout the year. Finding ways to ensure their loyalty and satisfaction should be at the top of your business to-do list for 2015.

Predominantly B-list customers deserve more research in 2015. Start by quantifying the statements above, and measuring your B-list customer behavior against those numbers. For example, if your typical A customer makes four to six referrals to your business a year, and your B customer makes one or two referrals, make customer satisfaction and asking for referrals your B customer priorities in 2015.

Your C-list customers require soul-searching. Have you been operating from different expectations? Are you tolerating their C-list behavior, or even inadvertently encouraging it? Figure out how to move these customers up to the B list – or move on.     

An ideal customer relationship is a year-round gift that pays mutual benefits long after the popcorn and cookies disappear from the break room. It’s not too early to start building your 2015 A-list now.

How to Answer, “How Are You Different?”

December 1st, 2014

At some point in the buying process, your prospect is likely to ask, “What makes your product or service different from the competition?”

If you answer with a checklist of the bells, whistles and features that your product or service has that other products and services don’t, you’ve missed the point. The question is not permission to trash-talk the competition. If you answer by second-guessing what you think your prospect wants to hear, you’ve lost momentum. It’s not an invitation to play mind games.

When a prospect asks this question, he or she is really asking what your company and its people stand for and believe, and how your product or service reflects those values. The question is a golden opportunity disguised as a challenge, and two simple steps can help you to use the opportunity wisely.

Step One: Answer the question by finishing the following sentences:

We believe in/We believe that our customers…

That’s why we….

Dig below the surface answers and explore your company’s values. Describe a benefit or situation that reflects those values. The salesperson for a software company finished the sentences this way:

“We believe that our customers deserve a reliable, local expert to answer their support questions. That is why we take a client service approach to supporting you. We don’t route you through an anonymous help desk or call center that is thousands of miles away. We assign a member of our local client service team to each of our clients, and you know exactly whom to call when you have questions.”

Step Two: Follow your answer with a question for the prospect to consider.

For example, the software salesperson might ask: “Do you agree that having a dedicated, local client service person is important when you need assistance?

It’s true that people do business with people that they know, like and trust. The question, “How are you different?” is your chance to build these business fundamentals into your sales process.

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.