Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The secret motivation that leads prospects to buy

This post is for you, salespersons who are out on the road
Google Images: planetperplex.com
meeting with prospective customers. Wouldn't it be nice to invest less time to track down real potential clients?  Wouldn't you love to help more people see the value in the products and services you provide?

Unfortunately for you, this prospective customer hasn't been thinking about you or what you might have to offer, no matter how great you and your products or services are.  Instead, he or she is thinking about the problems that are creating cost, stress, and negative customer impact in the business.  This preoccupied potential buyer does have needs - but they are latent, in the background.

The shift in thinking that's required for him or her to make the decision to buy from you is the shift from latent needs to active needs - ones upon which they are ready to act.  Fortunately for you the salesperson, there are tools for helping this shift occur.  This is client-focused communication.  It doesn't persuade or pressure.  It helps the prospect think through the situation and understand the urgency to solve the problem.  Then the prospect wants to buy - and right away.

If you want to uncover latent needs, there are a few prerequisites for the needs discovery process:
1.   Favorable attention – take time to make a friend.  In order to discover the latent needs, some trust and a perception of your credibility in being able to address the issues at hand is necessary first. If you don’t have this, save your breath on the probing questions, because the prospective client won't reveal the uncomfortable (and most important) information.  Instead, he is likely to tell you that everything is running swimmingly, and before you realize what happened you'll be out the door.

2.   Time and setting – an introductory phone call or networking function is not the appropriate place to ask needs discovery questions.  Remember the favorable attention that you need to establish?  That won't be instant .  In addition, if this individual is going to share sensitive information they won't do it without privacy.  Set an appointment and find a quiet spot where you and they can be uninterrupted and comfortable.

3.    Direction and pacing – commit to an agenda and a time frame and stick to it.  This is a busy person who will not be happy about wasting time.  If you don't handle this properly you might never earn the opportunity to present your solutions.  If you need more time, ask for agreement to continue, and either do it now or set aside a later time slot.  (Hint:  a second, later conversation will give you time to absorb the information so far and to construct good questions for the next meeting.)
Tools for discovering latent needs:
·     Open ended questions – allow the prospect to think out loud without over-steering.  This will help to ensure that the conversation is on the prospective client’s agenda.  “It’s easier to ride a horse in the direction that it’s already going.”  Set aside your own opinions about their situation or you risk eroding their trust

·     Goal oriented questions – what is the desired outcome or result?  These questions establish the context for the questions that follow.

·     Prioritization questions – which of the topics or problems is at the top of the prospective client’s priority list?  (You want to go there first if you want the momentum of the customer’s own motivation to pull you along)

·     Implication questions – what happens if the situation improves and what happens if it doesn't?  If the customer hasn’t already identified this item as a priority or activated this need, the implication questions will help to create a sense of urgency.  These questions also assist the prospective client in calculating the potential return on investment (ROI) associated with buying from you. 

·     Connection of the implications to key business results – impact on customers, impact on finances, impact on ability to manage, impact on ability to grow and innovate.  These are often dotted lines that are not connected (and the full impact revealed) in the foreground of the prospective client’s thinking unless you ask.

·     Obstacle questions – what’s in the way of the desired outcome?  This is where you match your products and services as solutions to overcome the customer’s identified obstacles.
Wait – don’t present solutions yet!
It might be tempting to jump to solution as soon as you hear something that contains even a hair’s connection to your products and services.  Stop going there in your head, and continue listening to your prospective client.
A general test of whether you have “enough” information upon which to base a recommendation is to see whether you have helped the business owner identify implications in each of the key business results buckets (customers, finance, management and growth) for the issue at hand.  If the implications can be quantified in dollars, great – that makes it a more straightforward process to determine the ROI on the potential investment.  It helps you make the decision to set a follow-up meeting and construct an appropriate solution to present then on the basis of generating a positive ROI.
The rush to recommend creates a risk of not addressing the “right” issue in the mind of the prospective customer.  (And by the way, they – not you – determine what the right issue is for you to be addressing at this point in time.)  In addition, given that your prospect has been up all night thinking and/or worrying - if you come in off the street and outside of this business’s context with an instant answer you will
  • destroy your credibility.  It is probably not that simple.
  • risk making the prospect feel stupid or inadequate for not seeing the answer himself.  And that feeling of self-doubt won’t help him choose to move forward with you.  It generally causes him to slow way down or even stop, and it will especially do so if he perceives judgment or evaluation coming from you.
In Summary
Latent needs are the salesperson’s best friend if they are, through an effective process of helpful inquiry, identified (converted to active status).  This is not necessarily the low-hanging fruit, but the door to an ongoing relationship as a trusted advisor.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Noticing - and pursuing - the possibilities

Google Images: inspiremonkey.com
Ding!  The alarm rings and you're off and running.
Another day, another week, and within five minutes you're into your usual groove - dog out, breakfast, newspaper, shower and other grooming, dressed and out the door.  You're probably headed down the same old route to work, too.

What if you were to use a different sequence today?  What might happen if you were to drive a different road to the office?  Would your day be turned upside-down, or might you notice something that you haven't seen in a while?  Might you pass an object along your route that spurs your thinking down a new path and reveals a new solution to a longstanding problem?

When you're at work do you have a handful of reliable go-to answers and techniques?  How long have you been using them?  Are you sure that they are truly the most effective ones for this situation here, now?

Yes, there is comfort in routine.  You don't really have to engage your brain.  Like the horse that knows the location of its barn and can return without direction from its rider, you can execute the tasks of your day on autopilot.  The outcomes are predictable, and you like being able to project the outcome without effort.

But there's another reason why the standard paths, the standard methods are replicated over and over.  There's an underlying assumption that if this method works this must be THE method rather than just A method.  After all, there can't possibly be more than one way to succeed, right?

That's not necessarily so.  There is more than one right answer, more than one path to work, more than one successful morning regime.  You're simply not noticing them.  You're in a state of mental detachment as you go through your routine, with possibilities passing you by every moment, unseen.

Maybe the alternate route to work takes a little bit longer - or maybe it doesn't. Maybe the other option passes a beautiful view.  Are you willing to risk a little bit of variation in exchange for the possibility that another choice might be quicker, or slicker, or stimulating, or higher quality?

Today's reliable methods may have expiration dates - no, not printed on the bottom or affixed with a label.  You might only realize that they are outdated once you look around for the new ones, or when you experiment by changing them up a bit.

Shake something up today.  Keep your eyes open for the possibilities.  Challenge your assumption that things have to be in a certain order, or cooked with certain ingredients every time in the same proportions in order to taste good.  Who knows what glorious flavors you might discover?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Favorites - Are you emotionally mature?

Google Images: qatarcultureclub.blogspot.com
You probably thought that the tormenting and occasional hair-pulling would end with grade school, didn't you?  You never thought it would translate into workplace versions of the same behavior.  You've probably had more than one occasion to observe the difference between chronological age, intellect, and emotional maturity. And you've found that one does not necessarily correlate with the other, much to your chagrin.

You can develop your intellect - schools do it every day, and you can continue the process by being intentional about developmental reading programs, what you choose to watch on TV, even games you play. You can develop your body to forestall signs of chronological aging (thank heaven) to some degree.

Are you sometimes one of the immature ones?  No worries.  You can also develop your emotional maturity by paying attention to it just like you do to the physical and intellectual aspects of yourself. Here are signs of emotional immaturity as presented by Jerome Murray, Ph.D.:
  • Volatile Emotions: Emotional volatility is indicated by such things as explosive behavior, temper tantrums, low frustration tolerance, responses out of proportion to cause, over-sensitivity, inability to take criticism, unreasonable jealousy, unwillingness to forgive, and a capricious fluctuation of moods.
  • Egocentricity: Egocentricity is self-centeredness. Its major manifestation is selfishness. It is associated with low self-esteem. Self-centered people have no regard for others, but they also have only slight regard for themselves. An egocentric person is preoccupied with his own feelings and symptoms. He demands constant attention and insists on self-gratifying sympathy, fishes for compliments, and makes unreasonable demands. He is typically overly-competitive, a poor loser, perfectionistic, and refuses to play or work if he can’t have his own way. A self-centered person does not see himself realistically, does not take responsibility for his own mistakes or deficiencies, is unable to constructively criticize himself, and is insensitive to the feelings of others. Only emotionally mature people can experience true empathy, and empathy is a prime requirement for successful relationships.
  • Stimulation Hunger: This includes demanding immediate attention or gratification and being unable to wait for anything. Stimulation-hungry people are incapable of deferred gratification, which means putting off present desires in order to gain a future reward. Stimulation-hungry people are superficial and live thoughtlessly and impulsively. Their personal loyalty lasts only as long as the usefulness of the relationship. They have superficial values and are too concerned with trivia (their appearance, etc.). Their social and financial lives are chaotic.
  • Over-Dependence: Healthy human development proceeds from dependence (I need you), to independence (I don’t need anyone), to interdependence (we need each other).
    Over-dependence is indicated by: (a) inappropriate dependence, e.g. relying on someone when it is preferable to be self-reliant, and (b) too great a degree of dependence for too long. This includes being too easily influenced, indecisive, and prone to snap judgments. Overly-dependent people fear change preferring accustomed situations and behavior to the uncertainty of change and the challenge of adjustment. Extreme conservatism may even be a symptom.
Sometimes it's easier to take a look at your emotional development by setting targets for yourself, not dwelling on the "as-is" state and instead focusing on the "can-be." Here are Murray's signs of emotional maturity:
  • The Ability to Learn from Experience: The ability to face reality and to relate positively to life experiences derive from the ability to learn from experience. Immature people do not learn from experience, whether the experience is positive or negative. They act as if there is no relationship between how they act and the consequences that occur to them. They view good or bad experiences as being caused by luck, or fate. They do not accept personal responsibility.
  • The Ability to Give and Receive Love: Emotional maturity fosters a sense of security which permits vulnerability. A mature person can show his vulnerability by expressing love and accepting expressions of love from those who love him. An immature person is unduly concerned with signs of “weakness” and has difficulty showing and accepting love. The egocentricity of immaturity will allow the acceptance of love, but fails to recognize the needs of others to receive love. They’ll take it, but they won’t give it.
  • Just as Interested in Giving as Receiving: A mature person’s sense of personal security permits him to consider the needs of others and give from his personal resources, whether money, time, or effort, to enhance the quality of life of those he loves. They are also able to allow others to give to them. Balance and maturity go hand in hand. Immaturity is indicated by being willing to give, but unwilling to receive; or willing to receive, but unwilling to give.
  • The Ability to Face and Deal with Reality: The immature avoid facing reality. Overdue bills, interpersonal problems, indeed any difficulties which demand character and integrity are avoided and even denied by the immature. Mature people eagerly face reality knowing the quickest way to solve a problem is to deal with it promptly. A person’s level of maturity can be directly related to the degree to which they face their problems, or avoid their problems. Mature people confront their problems, immature people avoid their problems.
  • The Capacity to Relate Positively to Life Experiences: A mature person views life experiences as learning experiences and, when they are positive, he enjoys and revels in life. When they are negative, he accepts personal responsibility and is confident he can learn from them to improve his life. When things do not go well, he looks for an opportunity to succeed. The immature person curses the rain while a mature person sells umbrellas.
  • The Ability to Accept Frustration: When things don’t go as anticipated, the immature person stamps his feet, holds his breath, and bemoans his fate. The mature person considers using another approach or going another direction and moves on with life.
  • The Ability to Handle Hostility: When frustrated, the immature person looks for someone to blame. The mature person looks for a solution. Immature people attack people; mature people attack problems. The mature person uses his anger as an energy source and, when frustrated, redoubles his efforts to find solutions to his problems.
  • Relative Freedom from Tension Symptoms: Immature people feel unloved, avoid reality, are pessimistic about life, get angry easily, and attack the people closest to them when frustrated—no wonder they are constantly anxious. The mature person’s approach to live imbues him with a relaxed confidence in his ability to get what he wants from life.
Emotional maturity doesn't rely on you being an introvert or an extrovert. It's a matter of seeing yourself clearly, choosing your actions consciously, and finding something outside of yourself (a purpose) on which to focus your energy. If you think you're OK in emotional maturity but want to get even more effective, this might be a scope of work for a coach. If you think you have longer-term baggage that you want to get rid of, perhaps a chat with a counselor would be helpful to determine an appropriate course of action.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What will be your legacy?

A friend lost her father five days ago.  As young marrieds, and then
Sac, Yvonne's dad
with young children, our family spent hours and afternoons and evenings together hanging out at my friend's house.  And her dad, who lived about a four-hour drive away, was often there.  He created an indelible impression.

Sac would come to town for the weekend, ready to tackle his daughter's "honey do" list, saving his son-in-law from some tedious home improvement work and at the same time continuing to care for his "little" girl.  He'd join into the conversation with his daughter's friends and hold court in the living room while his wife and daughter engaged in one of their favorite pastimes - cooking for crowds.  He was laid back and good natured, and always had a big, enveloping hug ready at hand.  It seems impossible that he's gone.

Thinking of Sac brings the question back to mind, "What will people remember about you when you're gone?  What will be your legacy?"

The contribution of some is very personal - deep and near to home.  Mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts and uncles - some people specialize in creating a safe and loving space for those near and dear to them.  That was one of Sac's gifts.

Some people embrace their work life, finding meaning in serving customers and collaborating with other talented folks who share their interests.  They create satisfied customers, and sustain families by creating jobs for others in the community.  They innovate, and sometimes their products and services outlive them.

Others make their mark by the time, emotional energy, and dollars they commit to the larger community.  Volunteers do the work for free that nobody else will do, or that nobody else is doing without expecting a paycheck.  They do so because it's important, not because they stand to gain anything from doing it.  In many instances they never know the people who benefit from the work they do.

This day will be gone when the clock strikes midnight.  It's a tiny 24-hour span.  But during this one short day you are adding building blocks to your legacy.  You are creating memories for someone whose life you touch.  Your legacy is far more enduring than your life is, and once you're gone you won't have the opportunity to change it.  Someone else will decide what your legacy is, regardless of the intentions you have today.  What can you do to create a legacy of warmth, of caring, of contribution, of significance?  What can you do to add to it right now, today?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

There's almost never a good time to do this

Stephen Covey talked about it more than 25 years ago in his best selling book,The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and it still holds up. There's never a good time for doing planning, for building relationships, for training, and for preventing crises.
Google Images: thesilvertelegram.com

All of these activities are, as Covey described them, important but not urgent.  Nobody is pulling at you to connect with the department across the hall.  Unless you choose to put it there, nothing is in your calendar to say, "Your skills are going stale - time to sharpen the saw."  And if somebody in your company is telling you, "We have to do something about Problem A sooner rather than later," you might be labeling him or her as a Chicken Little who has chirped one too many times that the sky is falling.

Where's the sense of urgency?  There is none - yet.  You as a human are programmed for crisis, so the non-urgent items might be slipping past your notice.  Right now you are responding to the calls that are demanding your attention, to the squeakiest wheels in your company.  These non-urgent items don't shout or make an alarm ding on your phone.  They don't make your pulse race or your forehead perspire or your stomach twist into knots.  They whisper from the background.

Wait a while, though, and they might raise their volume.  Wait a bit longer and the ramifications will start to tap you on the shoulder, perhaps even knock you to your knees.  You can ignore the important things for now, but not forever.

  • If you choose not to plan you could be caught unprepared for a downturn.  You might even be unprepared for an upturn, and miss a huge opportunity because you are not ready to act when the moment is right.
  • If you skip the "foo foo" relationship building step because it seems off-task, you might find yourself needing to use a bridge later and find that it's not there.  You have to build it to be able to use it, and you won't have time to build it when you need it.  There is no cycle time reduction in interpersonal relationships.
  • If you don't invest in training, even the best skills will eventually become obsolete.  Changing business conditions can take people off-track.  And the process of tribal knowledge transfer can dilute best practices into unreasonable facsimiles.
  • If you let things go long enough, you'll place yourself in the position somewhere down the line to react to crisis.  When that time comes you may not be able to afford to do it right, or to move as quickly as you need to.  You won't be initiating on your own terms - somebody else will be calling the shots, and you will be reacting the best way you can. That might not be good enough.
What's in the way of doing what Covey called "Quadrant Two Activities"?  Is it everyday production?  Is it a never-ending meeting schedule?  Is it the crisis du jour that is preventing you from working to avoid another crisis tomorrow?  Is it that these activities aren't fun, or attractive to you, or attracting enough of anyone else's attention?

If you're waiting for a good time, there isn't going to be a "good" time.  You are going to have to choose one.  You are going to have to set other things aside, even if it feels as though they are pulling at you.  But you will be better for having done so.  Your business will be better for it.  You might not see it now, but you will realize it down the road when your blood pressure has gone down and your crises are smaller and farther between.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Your vendors - necessary evil or partners in profitability?

As the owner of your business, you are not going it alone. 
Google Images: daxthink.com
Unless you are a lone eagle you have employees that help to generate revenue and run your daily operations in delivering value for customers.  They are partners in your profitability - what they choose to do day in and day out makes a direct impact on your business success.
There is a category of profitability partner, however, that sometimes is lost in the wings as discussions of organizational structure, internal communications, performance management, etc. occupy center stage - your supplier of the goods and services that you use in the course of your operations.  You have one group of these partners "above the line," in the direct costs of the goods you sell, and another group of them "below the line" in your general and administrative areas.
What are your assumptions about what your company's relationship with suppliers should be like?
  • Is it appropriate that you disclose to them whatever is going on in your business, or is it important to keep such things to yourself, assuming that a slip of the tongue on your part could lead to being manipulated into extra purchases and excess costs?
  • Are you assuming that they will take you for as much as they can, and so should be treated with a healthy proportion of suspicion?
  • Are you operating on the basis that they should be squeezed as hard as you can on pricing, so your costs can be kept in check?
  • Do you spread your business around so that no one or two suppliers has too much control over the success of your business?
Suppliers can be effective partners in the ongoing profitability of your business, not adversaries or unpleasant necessities.  When you have found some that have been consistent on timely delivery, quality, service, etc. - hold onto them, because they can be key players in your future.  When you cultivate a partnership relationship with your suppliers you may be able to:
  • Make special arrangements for deliveries, pricing, and even design.
  • Take priority in their production schedule.
  • Stay up to date on developments in their respective product areas, enabling your company to stay ahead of the competitive curve.
  • Include them in your efforts to reduce cycle times, thereby saving time, cost, errors, and as a result, secure more stable customer relationships.
  • And more.
If you believe in holding your suppliers at arm's length and in the dark about the realities of your company's operations you may miss out on some, if not all, of these benefits.  And if you squeeze too hard on pricing with them you could create a level of unsustainability for them that creates risk for their company - and yours.  What good does it do you to be so "smart" a buyer that you put a key supplier out of business?

If you have had the kinds of supplier experiences that create cause for keeping your plans close to your vest, maybe it's time to look around for other options.  A vendor relationship is like any other relationship - if it's not satisfying to all parties it might be better to end it and move on to something that better meets your needs.

Last, if you want to learn about the culture of a company, perhaps the best place to look is not at how it treats customers, or even its employees.  It may be that the most telling element of company character is its relationships with its suppliers.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Real communication and relationships are NOT coming to an end!

The fact that so many people communicate now through their
thumbs (or through more traditional touch typing) is not the end of the world as we know it.  There is not a decline in communication - instead there is a sea change in how, when and where communication takes place.

Do you miss part of the overall message when you are reading rather than seeing and listening?  Yes.  Is there no good substitute for in-person connection?  No, but the stand-ins are becoming more and more effective now that you can have in-person communication even though you might be thousands of miles distant from the person(s) with whom you want to connect.

It's not even particularly important whether an individual wants to address you or U, or C U L8r.  Concerns about new modes, new vocabulary words and new spellings are red herrings.  Here's what's really important:

  • Can the other party understand you, and you understand them?  This means the main message and the nuances that need to go along with it for the main message to be received accurately. You can tell whether your message is being received by whether the other person replies in sync with it, or whether it causes the other person to change behavior.
  • Are you conveying the person that you are (and want to be) by the methods and quality of your communication, online or not?  Here's where things like spelling and grammar come into the picture.  Whether you like it or not, people who read your writing make assumptions about your intelligence and education based upon your grammar, spelling, formality, etc. Fun fact:  If you look closely you'll realize that the writer of this blog is of a certain age because there are two spaces at the end of sentences and after semicolons and colons instead of only one.  So much for anti-wrinkle creams and covering the gray!  Age outed by a double space!
  • Are you basing your communication channels and methods based upon what you're comfortable using, or based upon what your intended receiver will understand and/or appreciate?  Many a parent has vowed never to text "K" as a reply to their teenager (or even text at all) and yet finds himself or herself using the smartphone's text capability to talk undercover with their kids and the K and C U before they realize the significance of what they just did.
Yes, this post is written by an English geek.  It's easy to say "Get Thee Online!" when you're somebody who tends to think best through the keyboard.  But truly, the world isn't going to Hades in a communications hand basket.  It's shifting modes, and if you want to be relevant you're well advised to jump in.