Habits that Kill Growth

Habits that Kill Growth

Every business leader wants to see their business grow. All too often, the business owner that launched the business relies on their intuition to sustain it. While Operations professionals study process and collect data, rarely does that practice extend to the front office. Growing skills to build relationships, implement measures, and collect relevant data are vital to growth. Here are three growth-inhibiting habits to consider:

prooduct-acceptanceAvoid what you don’t understand – Whether it is business planning, Internet marketing, or appreciating the difference between order taking and sales, it is a good bet that the skill set that helped start the business will not sustain it. Many business owners forego writing a business strategy because they do not appreciate that the underpinning of all marketing activity is built on the business strategy. If one can answer these questions, “Why are we in business?”, “Why will people buy from me rather than my competitors?”, and “How much revenue can I capture from this market over the next three years?” their business plan will be better than most of corporate America. The fundamental skill is engaging customers and prospects so to understand what they want and the trends that are driving their interest. This skill comes naturally to a small group of gifted people. The rest of us need to learn a process and practice, practice, practice.

Avoiding development of high-skill employees – The skills and traits that make managers and sales professionals successful are almost identical. The most important of those skills are leadership and interpersonal skills. When I talk to business owners about how they evaluate sales performance, the most frequent response is, “My folks are very skilll-continuumexperienced.” While this response dodges the question, interpersonal skills are usually developed with maturity and growing self-awareness. In the sales world, experience can be a two-edged sword. On-the-job experience needs to be balanced against how professionals have updated skills to remain relevant with the changing nature of sales. Skill development does follow a logical progression. A sound “on-boarding” process should engage an employee with the position and company. Skill in setting and managing goals will accelerate development of interpersonal skill. Development of interpersonal skills requires modeling of desired behaviors and coaching employees on how to achieve results. While engagement and goal management can be measured with surveys and percentage of goals achieved, evaluation of interpersonal skills and leadership require close observation to verify desired skills.

Misconception that the value is the product– Pride in company and product offerings is almost always a good thing. Customers, however, focus on what value they might gain by consuming the product rather than the product itself. Customers’ perceived value can only be fully understood by objective, yet empathetic inquiry with the customer. Again, interpersonal skills are essential for sales and marketing staff to understand current and future customer wants. Business leaders that shy away from developing interpersonal skills will shy away from gaining adequate customer focus.

Accelerated Achievements is an advocate for Marketing Quality Management (MQM). Lasting improvement is achieved through a comprehensive assessment of process, people, and skills and implementing real-time performance measurements. Please contact us, and we will be happy to share ideas on how you can upgrade your marketing capabilities.

How Good People Lose Sales

How Good People Lose Sales

 

happy salesmanThe only thing that separates lay people from sales professionals is that sales professionals receive incentives to be good at sales. Some people conclude that sales people are born with the gift of gab and scary, manipulative skills. But know this: all sales skills can be learned and all sales people are better at some skills than others. Even talented, well-motivated sales people have blind spots that allow some opportunities to go by the wayside. Some sales people are stronger at counseling and reassuring; while others have the talent to simplify complex concepts and help apply technology. Here are four examples of how good sales people can lose sales:

  1. Lack of focus and articulation on the value of their solutions. It is common for technology and commodity sales reps to develop a belief that simply describing the product is sufficient for a prospect’s buying decision. In an age where people can get all the data they need on the Internet, what prospects really want to know is how representatives’ products and services can improve their business and make their lives better.
  2. Lack of appreciation for how people want to make their decisions and be communicated with. Some people just want to understand how a purchase will effect their bottom line, while others are more concerned about how their company will perceive them if they make the purchase. A sales rep’s ability to perceive a prospect’s style and motivations will impact their success.
  3. Misreading who will really make the purchase decision and the timing and resources available for a project. When the person across the table is really excited about a solution, it’s easy for a sales rep to lose focus on key logistical questions that will impact a sale. When prospects are confronted with the capital and manpower needed to implement a solution, they will sometimes opt for an approach better suited to their constraints. It is also important that the sales rep identify when a prospect is stalling and holding up objections without basis. Correctly handling a stall can get a sale back on track.
  4. Not being able to position a solution benefit against a real want. Sometimes a sales rep will make a solid presentation to a prospect and learn that there is no interest in going further. This happens when the sales rep is unable to discover the issue that the prospect really cares about. When that pleasure or pain point has not been identified, prospects will dismiss solutions arbitrarily for one of many possible reasons. In this situation there often is no opportunity and the real loss is the time invested by the sales rep.

While these problems may seem obvious, missing an important cue can leave the sales rep bewildered when the opportunity fades. By learning to focus attention and ask questions that will lead to a thorough discovery, sales performance can improve. For readers in the Branford, CT vicinity, I will be leading a ten-session class beginning September 20th that develops key sales skills. For more information, click here.

 

Is Anybody Listening?

Is Anybody Listening?

ConversationIt’s only July, and most everyone I meet is sick, if not distraught, with this campaign season. While I have seen glimpses of positive persuasion and leadership, most of the current news stories illustrate what we should not do as leaders. Personal attacks and political spin invariably make me stop listening. To be a great orator, you have to be a great listener, first.  The candidates have me asking myself the question, “Is anybody listening??” As listening is quintessential to all leadership positions, it is worth reflect on your own listening skills. Here are the three steps you can take to be a better a listener.

Stop Talking – This may seem obvious. But if you are speaking more than 25% of the time during a conversation, you’re at best doing a marginal job of listening.  I sometimes find myself thinking that sharing my experiences, suggestions, or reactions will be helpful to a person seeking to be listened to, when I know that it’s not. In business, executives, sales people, and service professionals all need healthy egos to be successful and the ability to restrain their egos to be exceptional.

Discern the consequences and possibilities a speaker is focused on – By simply noting whether a speaker is focused on possibilities or consequences, the quality of communication will greatly improve.  Discovering sources of excitement or concern will deepen connections and build trust.  Attentive listening is required to make these discoveries; as speakers are often not aware of the true root of these emotions.  We all have habits of thought and a good listener is required to disrupt those patterns so situations can be seen in a new light.  

Make it personal During the course of a good conversation, you will discover hopes, goals, and fears. There is a temptation to take these conversational gems at their face value; when asking one more question might change the course of the conversation. The question is, “What does realizing (or failing to realize) this goal mean to you personally?”  Even though most of us appreciate being asked such a question, our social conditioning can make us reluctant to ask a personal question.  Ask yourself, “What does completing my goals mean to me personally?” If this question doesn’t give you pause, think about setting a goal you are really excited about.

Effective leaders know that meaningful conversations with collaborators are a source of creativity, innovation, and unity. Engage in a conversation today and try it out!

 

Dangerous Circumstances

Dangerous Circumstances

dangerI enjoy speaking with teenagers about their ideas of career and success. In this sluggish economy where it is difficult for young people to find work, I often hear teenagers complain that success is a product of circumstance or luck. These young people perceive acceptance to a top school or an exciting job requires a “parting of the Heavens and the appearance of a guiding light.” Adults associate these attitudes with teenagers who have yet to discover their worth and take responsibility for their lives. Adults, however, are not immune to resigning to circumstances at times and can pay dearly for the relapse. These are my three warning signs that you might be in danger of missing the next turn on your road to success.

Mid-life complacency: When starting out in life or business, the key goals are starkly obvious and centered on survival. But once you get to the point where you can cover the car payment and mortgage and have a little left over, setting new goals can be trickier. Climbing Masloff’s Hierarchy of Needs requires us to clearly understand what will bring us satisfaction and fulfillment while setting goals. And, more important, to believe we are worthy of such success.  When people avoid introspection and hope that life will continue just the way it is, they often get a surprise.

Ignoring our environment: Whether considering business, family, or ecology, it all changes daily. We can either accept change or change. Staying connected to the people and customers around you and understanding their evolving needs is critical to mastering change. By actively negotiating how to serve others’ needs and your own, you lower the risk of encountering new circumstances.  The key word is “actively.” It is a delusion that people can solve this complex problem in their head.  Only clear communication, deliberation and writing down identified goals will clearly guide successful change.

Yielding to unreal obstacles:  There are two types of obstacles: real and unreal. When people think about being hindered by circumstances, they usually think of real obstacles like money, education, and discrimination.  However, the more crippling obstacles are the unreal obstacles rooted in habits of thought.  Self-defeating attitudes and unwillingness to explore new possibilities are far more limiting. Simply put, you have to play to win.

A good coach can help clients discover possibilities and overcome circumstances. Please reply if you want to learn more or argue about circumstances.

3 Measures for Customer Focus

3 Measures for Customer Focus

customer-focus-image

Many clients seek my services when they lack customer focus and are not achieving the order growth they had planned for.  One of the ironies I observe is that people, who lack customer focus, will often resist obtaining it. A symptom of being “unfocused” is the belief that if people were only aware of the excellent products and services, they would buy them. Businesses following that logic will invest in advertising and social media; only to observe disappointing results. This reminds me of the American who believes foreigners will understand English if they just speak louder.

Business people generally care greatly about their customers. Customer focus, however, is acquired by developing a new attitude toward business and customers.  An attitude is a habit of thought and, like any other habit, it can be difficult to break an old habit and acquire new ones. These are three measures to gauge your customer focus.

 

Have a list of customer-validated desired results:  What customers want will drive buying decisions. Wants are associated with feelings and experiences people yearn for. A result is the observed change in measures or perceptions that occur after the purchase of a product and go far beyond the function of the product. Customer focus is identifying the expectations buyers have for what will result after a sale. A self-centered focus only studies getting the sale. Simon Sinek has described how successful companies focus on why customers want to buy their products rather than which products customers buy.

Have data from your customers regarding what they find satisfying and dissatisfying about your business and a plan to improve: Customer loyalty, or the willingness to purchase a business’ product repeatedly, is based on the complete purchase experience. The ease of ordering and paying, the warmth of product displays and service employees, and the ability to resolve product and service issues are as important as the product. And because customers’ perceptions are relative to your competition, it is impossible to understand how customers perceive you without asking them.

Desired results, product benefits, and product features are in clear alignment:  The value of products and services is determined solely by the customer.  Advertising and sales presentations will have little impact unless they touch on what customers want. The first bullet addresses what customers want. This bullet addresses how clearly a business satisfies a want. In short, how many of your customers are raving fans?

I welcome all comments regarding customer focus. If you have concerns about the focus of your business, please contact me at Charles@accelachv.com.

The 3 A’s of Sustainability

The 3 A’s of Sustainability

The topic of sustainability has been a source of stress since the earthday_picbeginning of humanity. Around 600 B.C, Aesop wrote the fable of The Grasshopper and The Ant. The Grasshopper was the opportunist who lived for the day and enjoyed the summer sun while the Ant industriously stored food for the winter. The Greeks understood sustainability to be obtained only through the most moral and noble virtues.  The continuity of nations, civilizations, and institutions could be preserved only through sacrifice and the acceptance of change for the common good.

Whether your concern is for the planet, your business, or family, your attitudes toward change will determine your future. While some experience the Green Movement as an unwelcome intrusion on their lifestyle, “the Ant” understands that reducing, recycling, and reusing are the keys to preserving cash, growing the bottom line, and a cleaner planet. For me it’s not so much that I want to hug trees; rather it’s just that I want to have trees. I believe there are three key elements to sustaining the institutions and world around you.

Awareness:  It is vital that leaders succeed in building a shared understanding of what’s valuable, what’s essential, and what has the potential to disrupt. Like the Greeks, it is best that value be defined outside of yourself. Successful businesses give their customers exclusive purview over value. Enduring communities look at what its members commonly hold most dear. What’s essential is that necessary to build the value and what’s disruptive is that which can destroy the value.

Accountability:  Planets and businesses are sustained when each of their members allow examination of their actions and decisions by the rest of the community. If a business wants to improve the performance of a department, there’s no better way than to have the employees measure their individual performance and report the results to the department. Accountability is built on the clear, shared goals and values described in the previous paragraph.

Adaptability: Aesop wrote about the small reed that will bend in the wind to survive the storm. For planets and business to be sustained, the members of the community must be willing to undergo constant change. After laboring hard to create something we’re really proud of, most of us will succumb to the temptation to impede change in order to preserve the status quo.  We’ve all heard the expression, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The fact is that impeding change assures failure.

This Earth Day I hope that you will all pause to think about what’s truly precious and what changes you can make in yourself to best preserve what is precious. And then tell everyone who shares that precious thing what your intentions are and request they keep you accountable to your plan. Happy Earth Day!

Managing Like the State of Connecticut

Managing Like the State of Connecticut

connecticut-flagI cannot remember a time when government had such a deep credibility problem. The juxtaposition of reality TV actors with long-time incumbents reciting the same tired lines has energized the electorate. But, energized to do what? As one who follows Connecticut politics closely, I am exasperated with the leadership being modeled by our legislators. Ironically, I observe many businesses that mirror this style; albeit on a smaller scale. What follows, are two leadership patterns that make me cringe the most:

Murky Intentions and No Measures: Last week I studied SB 1, a huge bill titled to suggest it paves the way for Connecticut becoming an Innovation Center.  The bill talks about creating a new quasi-agency that performs functions already are performed by existing agencies, renovating communities to provide a lifestyle attractive to younger professionals, and expanding access to technical education programs. Nowhere does the bill state the results these costly changes are intended to create and the measures the State can use to evaluate success. The logic is that if we copy the activities and environment of successful innovation centers, we will become innovators. The question is whether these investments address the critical barriers to innovation.   For example, does beautifying our communities change young professionals’ behavior if they still cannot afford the cost of living in Connecticut? The lack of measures eliminates accountability and explains why government programs never die.

Businesses can also launch projects without clear intentions.  It is common for managers who are feeling strapped for cash to direct their sales force to get more sales. A sale is the result of a customer identifying a need that your product can satisfy. There are many obstacles that can prevent sales and most of them are outside the control of a salesperson.  Weak products, noncompetitive pricing, ineffective marketing, and lack of sales productivity can all be a problem. Without measures that clarify where issues lie, sales initiatives can fall flat and frustrate an organization.

Allocating Inadequate Resources to Be Successful: Connecticut has many unfunded mandates that direct agencies to take an action without identifying where the resources will come from to carry out the act. This can be an environmental regulation where the agency lacks equipment or expertise to consistently enforce a new regulation or a call center that has been tasked to deliver a new customer service without clarifying the existing services to be discontinued.

Resource allocation is the most common reason I observe for strategic plans failing in small businesses. The underlying cause is often that executives lack clarity on how their human resources are being spent. Executives will assume a staff can juggle a key initiative without delegating at least some activities tied to customer product and service delivery.  The result is that businesses miss opportunities to grow due to an inability to adequately identify the tactics that will obtain the goal.

As always, feel free to comment. Please take a deep breath and stay engaged in the electoral process.

Three Ways Executives Stumble

Three Ways Executives Stumble

Intention is everything when creating strategic and business plans. Too many executives use annual plans as a “snapshot” or “State of the Enterprise” presentation rather than a dynamic instrument of changestumble. AH Maslow is credited with developing the Cycle of Change which identifies three transformations to achieving change. They are: awareness that change is necessary, identifying what needs to change, and understanding how the change can be achieved. If managers are not deliberate with each step, much can go awry. These are my top three ways to stumble:

Failure to recognize how fast customers will evolve: Companies are sustained by learning to time product introductions to a market window. A proven process to capture customers’ future preferences and strategies is a given requirement. Even the best market intelligence, however, will only render a hazy outline of how your product offerings need to evolve. Understanding key material, tool, and process trends provides more clarity on product cycles. Intuitive customer understanding and the ability to predict schedules and cost, however, is the “secret sauce” for a winning product program. And while the biggest prizes are awarded to disruptive products that leapfrog the competition, ideas cannot be so innovative that customers fail to understand their value. Apple is recognized for the graphical computer interface and personal audio player; but was not the first to market either of these products.

Reluctance to lead change: I have seen executives who desire organizational change stumble when they did not factor how they need to change. When people are presented with a new idea, over half the population will respond by rejecting the idea until it can be proven to their satisfaction that it’s a good idea. While clear communication regarding what the change is, why change is needed, and how the organization will benefit is vitally important, leading by action is equally as important. Allowing employees to participate in planning change, working to build trust, and involvement in demonstrating the changed behavior will help achieve success.

Inadequate reallocation of resources: Executives worry how change in their business might unsettle customers’ willingness to buy. Businesses will often attempt to maintain both old offerings and services while the replacements are being developed and introduced. The decisions businesses make regarding capabilities, skill development, and capital are impactful. How often have we seen?

  • Acquisition of new systems while skimping on the necessary implementation training
  • Jobs eliminated while neglecting to resolve how responsibilities will be reassigned
  • Incumbent employees assigned to master new technology while restricting ongoing education

The ability to forecast capital requirements and cash flow is an invaluable skill. The discipline to release high-skill employees from marginal product lines without disruption will lower stress on the organization.

I have seen attitudes toward strategic planning jaded by these missteps. The rewards of management team learning to be proficient at planning, however, make learning worthwhile.

 

 

Donald Trump’s Wisdom on Employee Engagement

Donald Trump’s Wisdom on Employee Engagement

D TrumpFor months, pundits and experts have been predicting the demise of the Trump campaign. As we start the Republican primary season, Donald’s campaign is stronger than ever. While theories abound regarding the Trump success, it is clear that an angry, disassociated electorate is demanding wholesale change. Business executives would also be wise to observe how Mr. Trump has ridden this wave of discontent.

Anatomy of Disengagement Last month I discussed how traumatized employees can disrupt and derail an organization with active disengagement. Business restructuring, extended periods of unemployment, underemployment, and the increasing number of jobs offering partial employment are all sources of stress for American workers. Add the inability of Federal government to act, mindless “tax and spend” State government policies, and the threat of violent crime and domestic terrorism, and we have an electorate ready to toss institutional conventions and embrace radical change promised by Mr. Trump, Cruz, and Sanders.  Mr. Bush, national political parties, the news media, and other fading institutions are being ignored pushed aside.

On Politico.com, Matthew MacWilliams presented research that concluded the most dominant trait of Trump supporters is an inclination toward authoritarianism. People with this trait are obedient to authority, drawn to strong leaders, and react aggressively to outsiders. MacWilliams estimates that 49% of Republican voters have this trait. Whether through profound wisdom or sheer luck, Donald Trump has done an outstanding job resonating with this voting bloc and it is becoming increasingly clear that this group has little interest in candidates tied to past government dysfunction and the institutions that have supported them.  Will skipping this week’s debate over a disagreement with a Fox journalist harm his popularity? Not likely.

Readers familiar with style assessments, like DISC or Meyers-Briggs, might see an analog in the business world. Business organizations have a group of decisive, results-oriented executives and a much larger group of detail-oriented workers that build and deliver the products of the organization. The latter group prefers consistency and is usually loyal to the organization. When this group accumulates enough traumas and stress that they disengage, bad stuff happens. In addition to deteriorating productivity, key employees can quit in mass, executives get fired, and boards get dismissed.

Recovering Engagement Restoring an organization’s trust in leadership requires time and commitment on the part of the leaders. There are three general steps to recovery: emotional connection with the disengaged, validation of their worth and role in the organization, and a clear vision for how the organization will move forward.

While Mr. Trump’s comments about Muslim immigration, the “Mexican wall,” and labeling some candidates as low-energy have mortified much of the country and global community, they have struck a chord with his target group and demonstrated an understanding of their frustration and insecurities. I believe Establishment candidates’ difficulty in getting traction with their campaigns is rooted in a perception that they caused workers’ distress and their inability to establish an emotional connection.  Without that connection, their candidacies are going nowhere. In the book Critical Conversations – Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, the authors write of the importance of an executive publicly owning their role in creating a conflict or crisis and hearing workers’ upset before any discussion on how to move beyond the problem proceeds.  The goal of the conversation is for workers to feel their worth to the organization has been revalidated.

Many executives stumble by failing to articulate a vision for how the organization will move forward. Mr. Trump has yet to address such a vision and could stumble, as well. The vision requires enough detail and thoughtfulness that an audience of detail-oriented people can understand the plan and their role in it.

Watch Out for New Paradigms  Many of the articles I have read recently about Mr. Trump’s success share the idea that Mr. Trump’s campaign is revolutionary and a harbinger of what is to come in American politics. David Von Drehle, in the January 7, 2016 edition of Time, presents the term “disinter-mediation.” Mr. Trump entered politics which an established brand highlighting an aggressive, successful businessman. He has bypassed the national party, big-money PACs, and the news media to take his message directly to the people over social media. Using Twitter, @realDonaldTrump gives access to people to ask questions and feel closer to the candidate without mediation from traditional power centers.

There are changes afoot in the business world that will impact employee engagement. America has long celebrated the “hands-on” manager who remains involved with vocational activities while juggling managerial responsibilities. The increasingly critical scrutiny that all leaders are facing will drive managers to focus more on management. The ever-tightening labor market will give talented workers increased leverage to demand that managers focus more on leadership, communication, and employee development. Disappointment will result in turnover.

One Strategy that Will Improve Profitability, Quality, Healthcare Costs…

One Strategy that Will Improve Profitability, Quality, Healthcare Costs…

Gallup ImageWhile perusing a digest on LinkedIn, I came across a link to a Gallup report entitled “State of the American Workplace 2013” (http://bit.ly/1RQ5Bpa to register and download.) This is an informative report that establishes a quantitative value for employee engagement. When measuring employee engagement, the companies in the top quartile reported 22% more profit, 41% fewer defects, and significantly lower healthcare costs than the bottom quartile. Of America’s roughly 100 million workers, 30 million are engaged, 50 million are not engaged, and 20 million are actively disengaged. Actively disengaged workers sabotage, obstruct, and steal to act out their unhappiness and cost the US economy $450 to $550 billion annually. Of the industry sectors measured, manufacturing has one of the lowest levels of engagement, customer service is the job function with the lowest engagement, and Connecticut has one of the highest levels of actively disengaged employees. The bottom line is that an unpopular supervisor may be costing you a lot more than you think.

I encourage all my clients to manage engagement. Per Gallup, engaged employees create most all innovations, win most new customers, and provide the most entrepreneurial energy.  So as we prepare to roll into a new year, here are my top suggestions for improving engagement:

Tie Employee Goals to Vision and Strategy: First of all, make sure you have a vision and strategy that employees can read and understand. All employees realize fulfillment by feeling connected to a mission that is valued by their community. Sense of mission is the most fundamental and necessary element of engagement.

Managers that Motivate and Measure:

It used to be common wisdom to treat all employees equally. Today, great managers recognize the diversity of their team and tailor how they approach team members to satisfy individual engagement needs. For some, a sense of belonging may be essential; for others it might be mission. The ability to connect with employees needs to be balanced, however, with an objective accounting of results and helpful feedback.

Flexible Work Rules:  Employers that accommodate employees’ needs outside of work grow employee engagement. The Gallup data shows that remote workers had higher engagement and worked more hours than in-house employees. Of note, employees who were permitted to work less than 20% of their time remotely had significantly higher engagement scores than both the in-house and 100%-remote employees.

Invest in Employee Development: Anyone under the age of 50 gauges their loyalty to an employer by the employer’s willingness to create opportunity and develop careers.  Millennials comprise over 30% of the workforce today and perceived lack of advancement opportunities is the #1 reason for changing jobs.

This is just a sampling of ideas. Please share any tactics that have worked for you or examples of employers who are great to work for.

Wish you every success in the new year!