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

 

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?

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

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.

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!

 

More Sales Lessons from the Campaign Trail

patriot flags

Politics is one of my favorite spectator sports; as it brilliantly illuminates the best and worst aspects of our humanity. This month I return to the campaign trail to uncover more lessons in persuasion and perception that can be applied to the sales profession.  The evening news continues to deliver material that’s better than anything I could make up.  So here we go….

They have to buy you before they’ll buy what you sell.  The emerging standoff between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush illuminates a couple points. In August Mr. Trump accused Mr. Bush of being weak. Mr. Trump has upped the ante by refuting Mr. Bush’s assertion that his brother kept us safe after 9/11. In August, Jeb Bush chose not to respond to an attack on his character, and instead, focused his campaign on policy positions. What stuck with the public was “weak.” By forcing Jeb Bush to defend an unpopular chapter in his brother’s presidency, Mr. Trump continued the focus on Mr. Bush’s character and has stymied the Bush campaign’s progress. In sales, it’s important to make a friend and earn credibility before you give your pitch.

Pick your target audience.  The argument whether “George Bush kept us safe” brings up another observation. Safety is a question of how one perceives their immediate surroundings. People who still feel unsafe after 9/11 often feel that the US government failed the country; where people feeling more secure may see a more complex situation and feel Mr. Trump’s criticism unfair. In a Republican primary, Mr. Trump is chasing the “unsafe” group. Sales people and marketers often must take a position that will endear them to one customer group while distancing them from another. Always endear the audience you favor.

Stay clear of emotional landmines. The attack on the World Trade Center is a horrible chapter in American history and we all hold deep memories of that day. By calling out 9/11, Mr. Trump is gambling that his own character will not be called into question.   Sales people are wise to tread carefully when meeting prospects. Recently departed executives, failed product campaigns, and missed promotions are topics that must be discovered and discussed with sensitivity.

Never help the competition sell.  I will never understand why Bernie Sanders excused Hillary Clinton’s email scandal in a public debate while surging in the polls. Between Bernie and the Indianapolis Colts handing over a game to the New England Patriots by lining up in an illegal formation for a fake punt, we’ve had a week where the underdog seemed firmly committed to being an underdog. This can too easily happen when a sales person takes their focus off the sale and needlessly volunteers information that places the competition in a better position. Sales people who believe a technology or product will sell itself can be lulled into complacency.

My caution to the sales community is stay aware and alert or you’ll end up like a politician. As always, please share your observations and comments.

 

Avoid Costly Training Mistakes

A survey by The Economist of over 1100 Millennial employees and 150 managers revealed that 91% of Millennials felt they would spend less than three years in a job before moving on.  Noted author, David Burstein, wrote that it is possible that the Millennial generation will have had 14 jobs by the time they are 38 years of age. This attitude will challenge manufacturers and other technology organizations with extensive training programs and depend on employee retention to grow intellectual property and “know how.”

As noted in an earlier blog titled “Overcoming Obstacles to a Younger Workforce,” a clear business strategy and managerial transparency are essential for attracting younger workers. Commitment to executing the strategy, developing employees, and showing how employees support the strategy are critical to retaining them. Having spent most of their lives in a down economy, Millennials evaluate their opportunity for advancement and employer’s commitment to their development more carefully than their elders did. Communicating a clear career path strengthens employee engagement.

When developing a training strategy, it is important to consider how teaching methods have changed over the last couple decades. As a Boomer, I was very comfortable sitting in a lecture hall building a vast reservoir of knowledge before attempting to solve a real problem. Feedback on how I was doing was limited to two, perhaps three, examinations during the semester. Today learning is more focused on problem solving skills and assumes that all the knowledge details can be grabbed as needed off the Internet.  Students are accustomed to two-way feedback all through the learning process.

My suggestions for a positive employee development program include:

  • Structured Orientation – Graduates today starting their first or second job expect some training and orientation. Many organizations lack a resource to plan how an employee is brought into the company. I know from my own experience, there are costs associated with skipping or skimping on orientation.
  • Challenge – Younger workers are more schooled in critical thinking than my generation. There is value to assigning trainees a “real” problem and let them figure it out. Younger workers learn better with on-the-job training. “Spoon feeding” information risks losing the trainee’s engagement.
  • Autonomy – Self-paced training based on interactive technology has many advantages. Letting trainees control the pace assures that they won’t get bored and makes it possible to receive the instant gratification they wish for.
  • Structure the Training Path – The greater the correlation between skill proficiency and compensation, the better. Breaking training into small increments is cost effective for the employer and makes it easier to point to the next step in the employee’s development.
  • Appreciate and Encourage – Young workers are accustomed to receiving far more encouragement and monitoring than older managers are accustomed to delivering. In flat organizations, managers might want to assign peer mentors to trainees if the manager cannot allocate the time.

This may seem counterintuitive, but Don Tapscott wrote that, for managers unclear on how to best train the Millennial generation, task them with the problem. They will appreciate the collaboration and you will be pleasantly surprised by what you receive.  Please share your training successes!

Skills Managers Need for the Digital World

Digital OrgThe successful manager in the digital age will foster innovation and collaboration, respect employees’ desire for work/family balance, and guide workforce development in a rapidly changing landscape. These managers will often cede their place “at the top of the pile” and behave like another node in the organizational network. Managers that rely on authority and structure to achieve organizational goals will frustrate and flounder. Managers with the courage and compassion to lead will thrive.

Our politics, commerce, religion, and increasingly mobile lifestyles demonstrate a decline in highly-centralized institutions and a rise in flatter organizations where decision-making is distributed to gain its full knowledge and expertise. This period of powerful social and technological change are shaping business leaders to have a balanced focus on innovation and quality processes.

With the challenge of bringing change to large organizations, corporate leaders are already sensitive to this “sea change” and are well on their way to adapting. I believe leaders of small and medium-sized business will prosper by growing their skills as described below:

  • More ability to inspire and persuade and less focus on direct and control
  • More ability to extend the length of their planning horizon and less focus on reactive problem solving
  • More ability use a long-term vision and purpose to assess the importance of short-term issues and lead the organization
  • More ability design roles and incentives that foster collaboration and encourage personal leadership and initiative
  • More ability to coach and develop employees so to build their trust and confidence in carrying out responsibilities that the manager might normally hold onto for themselves
  • More ability to match employee responsibilities to their natural skills and less “pigeon-holing” employees by credentials and their entry position in the organization

While many people already associate these skills with exceptional managers, this type of skill development requires persistence and commitment. Small business leaders often have not been afforded an opportunity to develop these skills. Executive coaches can play a role in preparing small business leaders to play in the digital world. This is my vision for future business leaders. I welcome all comments, questions, and differing views.

Five Points for Retaining Young Talent

Many Connecticut businesses, particularly manufacturers, are concerned about how they will replace their aging workforce. These concerns are elevated by graduating students’ perceptions that some industries hold no future for a career where they can find prosperity and fulfillment.  While parents, teachers, government, and industry need to set accurate perceptions, businesses need to honestly assess their readiness to attract younger employees.  A wise mentor once reminded me, “Every time we bring someone new into the organization, the organization changes.” An organization that is slow to adapt to change will struggle with retaining talent.

The following is a list of five issues every company’s leadership team needs to consider:

A Sustainability Vision: Every employee needs to have a sense why the business exists and how its mission will impact the community around them. Clarifying how young people’s talents will support the mission during recruitment will raise favorable attention.

Consideration of New Ideas: Innovative companies take the time to understand suggestions that at first seem a bit strange. Growing up with evolving personal communication services has instilled a new world view with young people.  Companies with a process to hear these ideas and give constructive feedback will nurture employee loyalty.

Flexible Work Rules:  Today’s technology enables professionals to collaborate effectively when not collocated. Work rules that allow some flexibility for employees to address family needs and reducing commute time will be appreciated and valued.

Training and Development: The need for some level of training and development may seem obvious. But I have heard executives express reluctance to develop young employees for fear that they will lose their investment if the employee leaves. I have found, however, that companies that do not develop their star performers are likely to lose them if they don’t develop them. Training decisions are strategic.

Career Planning:  Regular discussions with young employees that identify their valued talents and identify realistic career goals keep them engaged and loyal. To set realistic goals, it is important the management team have clear understanding of strategic investments and succession plans.

At Accelerated Achievements we help companies address these points. I would enjoy hearing any questions and experiences you have had with employee retention.

Three Dimensions of Successful Time Management

Effective use of time is a vital tool for business success. A business leader’s ability to use her time to delegate and motivate will grow an innovative and productive organization. A salesman’s ability to heighten a sense of time scarcity in his customers will close sales.  A passive, reactive style of time management will lead to disappointment and unsatisfying results. I have found three necessary foundations for effective time management: clarity of intention, focus on effectiveness, and desire to innovate and improve.

Clarity of Intention:  Having clear goals is an obvious requirement for managing time. Clear intentions require both an understanding of all the results you want to achieve and how you need to contribute to the result. The best goals are directed at what is going on in the present. For example, revenue and profit measure what’s been going on over the last few months. Winning five new customers in a specific market segment or achieving a 50% gross margin on a bid focuses a business on what is happening right now. The other question is what are your effective behaviors? Managers organize and clarify, salespeople empathize and persuade, and production workers need to be precise and consistent. The suggestion is to identify the activities that will boost your personal productivity. I would caution that another requirement for personal productivity is having clear goals for your life outside of work. A lack of life balance will disrupt your time management.

Focus on Effectiveness:  Clear focus is engaging in the activities that are important to achieving the result and reducing the unimportant. The focus needs to be broad enough that it addresses both the activities and the relationships necessary for success. While the purpose of a business is to satisfy customers, focus needs to be on delivering products and services that are pleasing to your customer; and not just pleasing your customers. Whether it is a relationship with customers, a boss, or a personal relationship, once you surrender your focus, your effectiveness is lost. The amount of courage required for maintaining confidence in your mission and integrity in your relationships should never be underestimated.

Desire for Improvement: Measurement is the basis for all improvement. Effective measurement includes metrics for all the important activities that lead to a result; rather than just measuring the end goal. A willingness to keep an open mind and experiment with new approaches and tools is vital. In the Internet age, we are bombarded with new ideas and information. The trick is to pay close enough attention that you can identify the ideas that may be of use to you. A mentor early in my career advised that managers should always take phone calls. (This was back when businesses depended on the telephone.) His argument was that one call in twenty will guide you to a really great idea. Stay vigilant and keep changing it up.

I enjoy helping organizations tune their productivity. Please post your own suggestions or any questions on how to make time management work.