If business proposals were judged solely on their weight and volume (rather than content and focus), then most of them would be very successful.

The problem is that, somewhere in sales folklore, there are two fairy-stories about proposals that, most proposal writers appear to believe, will cast the magic ‘buy-this-one’ spell over any prospective customer.

The stories are:

1) Lots of ‘bumph’ is better than too little.

2) The first thing proposal-readers are looking for is information about us.

Driven by an almost universal belief in these stories, the assembly order of most business proposals tends to be as follows:

– Title page
– Information about ourselves- how long we’ve been in business etc
– Pictures: Our directors (with career backgrounds), Our office/ warehouse
– Detailed information about our services and products
– Confirmation of the amount of product/service the customer wants to buy
– The Price the customer will have to pay
– The Installation and implementation requirements
– Terms and Conditions and copy of our contract
– Conclusion

The first, horrible truth I have to set before you, in an effort to wean you off this mythical-magic-proposal- template, is written below. It is so fundamental to the whole sales process that I would like you to do this for me right now: (write, paint, draw, daub the following words on a very large piece of paper and place it over your desk where you can see it every day:

“NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS”

The word ‘I’ (alongside its close companion words, ‘We’ ‘Me’ and ‘Our’ ) is the weakest and least persuasive word in the World. And yet it is the commonest word in all business communications. Yes, despite the fact that every bit of research on business-persuasion says that, ‘stuff about you and what you think’, has no positive effect on the selling process, business people still cram their proposals full of it.

If you want to read up on the research and books about why this is not the way to do it, you can start back 75 years ago with Dale Carnegie’s seminal work: “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (still a best seller and still in print) and work through to all of the most recent business books. But they will ALL tell you the same thing: (Apart from your family and close friends) Nobody cares about you….nor what you are…nor what you do….nor what you think. And ‘no’ your business is NOT different. And ‘yes’ this does apply to YOU too.

So, if you kick-off your proposal with a whole lot of guff about you and your business, it will soon have a key position in the pile labeled: “Same As All The Others”.

Not only do the majority of proposal-writers pad out the first few pages of their proposals with stuff about themselves (“Yeah-this is what they want to know…this’ll impress them!”), but they go into tremendous detail about it too. You will find full ‘Bios’ and CV’s of all their key players, smiling head-shot photos, photos of the premises, pictures of warehouses and offices and even photos of the trucks and vans used for delivery.

As the reader ventures further into the proposal, in a vain search for that which he truly seeks, he is next confronted by ‘the product brochure’. This usually consists of a description and/or pictures of the products the customer is interested in, plus – for good measure- all or nearly all the other products and services offered (just in case). This is several pages long and often includes detailed technical specifications.

After that comes the price list and bottom-line quotation for the job in hand. Plus a full description of payment terms and penalties for not paying on time and other ancillary costs.

Finally comes the killer's conclusion: “Do not hesitate to call us if you require any further information. We look forward to hearing from you soon.”

OK, You’ve got your wish: You’re dead.

So what’s to be done?

Would you like me to show you how your proposal can go in the rare pile marked “Winner.”

OK, it’s not difficult…here goes:

First, let us remind ourselves of the reason your business exists. It exists, like all businesses, companies and commercial organisations, to solve at least one problem. That’s it!… If you are not clear about the problem your business solves then you probably don’t have a business.

When your customer made contact with you -or responded to an overture from you- the only reason they did it was that they thought you might be able to solve at least one problem for them. What that specific problem is (and there may be more than one) depends on the type of problem your business is set-up to solve.

So the first thing that needs to appear in your proposal is something about ‘the problem’. Because the first thing your prospective customer will be saying to himself, as he opens the pages, is: “My problem... where is it?… Was this person listening when I was telling him about all my problems- the ones he might be able to fix?… Does he show, somewhere here, that he understands my problems and the effect they are having on me?”

To satisfy this basic customer need, the first few pages of your proposal must, therefore, feedback to the customer, in his/her own words if possible, that you were listening and have understood all the problems that your customer wants fixing. There should be nothing ‘problem-solving’ in your early words. It should be a mirror-summary of what the customer said to you.

Immediately following this opening section, start at the top of a new page.

In this next section, you will be outlining what, ‘might’… ‘has’… ‘could’ happen if these problems are not fixed. Enlarging on the knock-on effects of not fixing a problem, starts a process of psychological reinforcement which increases the desirability of your service. This is especially powerful if you have previously managed to get the customer to tell you what he thinks could happen if the problem rolls on unchecked. And it is even better if he has revealed how much the problem is costing or might cost him. If he’s told you put it in (but don’t invent anything).

So in these first two sections, you have shown the customer that, unlike probably ALL the other proposals on his desk, YOU were listening to what he was saying. This is as rare as a ’90 cent Bill’

Only at this point is the customer sufficiently ‘softened-up’ and therefore open to read about how your service and/or product will be able to address the previously described problems. Having been reminded of his problem he is ready for the solution.

But beware; DO NOT at this stage be tempted to talk too much about what the product ‘is’ or about your company and its background. Rather set out the way and manner in which your product or service will solve the problem. In other words, concentrate on the solution (‘the benefits’) rather than the raw-facts (‘the features’)

And DO NOT be tempted into the common trap of adding-in a load of other features and benefits which don’t address the specific problems given to you by the customer. Spurious bits and pieces added in, like sprinkles on a cake, in order to give a proposal substance (and generally pad it out a bit), will usually not have the desired effect.

Far from making a proposal more desirable, research shows that there is a direct correlation between loads of unrequested bits and pieces and the prospective customer complaining about the price!

Yes, sometimes, despite your huge arsenal of products, they only want ONE thing from you…that’s it; and in that case, that’s enough!

So if, for some vague masochistic reason, you want to generate price objections, do add in more un-asked for stuff. If you don’t want them then DON’T.

Having now taken the trouble to pay the customer the compliment of clearly having listened to their problems and shown how you can fix them, he/she will be looking for the price.

So, in the next section (new page) set it out very simply. And always endeavor to have already given them a good idea of what it will be in previous conversations. The proposal should, whenever possible, NOT be the first time the prospect learns about the price. If there has been no opportunity to do this, you must do everything in your power to deliver the proposal in person and go through it with the customer face to face.

If your proposal is actually a response to a Request for Quote (RFQ) or Request for Proposal (RFP) received from a potential customer out-of-the-blue (no prior face to face discussion possible), then I have to tell you something rather alarming: You are probably very late to the table and the whole deal is more or less sown up with someone else. You are being used!

Invariably another preferred supplier has already quoted. But during the decision-making process the boss asked for a few comparative quotes just to cover himself if anyone asked. The problem is that the tender document is based on your competitor’s existing quote (and strengths) so you are, from the outset, fighting a very tough battle.

Most out-of-the-blue requests (with no discussion possible) will result in a massive amount of time-wasting and mostly no deal.

Well, here you are…the bulk of the important work is now done.

You may, if you wish, now add, towards the back, some brief sections about you, your company and how long you’ve been in business, but DO keep it short. People don’t have time or the interest to wade through loads of stuff…would YOU? And, as a general rule, no pictures of warehouses, factories or trucks…one looks like another. Nobody’s impressed.

It is often good to offer references at this point but only if they have asked for them. Remember that the proposal reader has usually and subconsciously made a decision by now. This is because people (your customers) primarily accept ‘you’ based on the amount of interest you have shown in them.

The final part in the compilation of your ‘Winning Proposal’ should concentrate on telling the customer what he needs to do next. This should be expressed in very positive terms with none of the usual, ‘Please do not hesitate to call me’, stuff which accompanies the majority of business offerings and covering letters. Remember that the human brain can’t hold a negative thought and fails to register the ‘do not’ leaving only the, “Please….hesitate to call me”, as the final message.

Make sure too, that you print and bind your proposal with a decent front title page and a see-through front cover. Do several top-copies too in case your prospect wants to distribute it to her colleagues; much better they all have a top-copy rather than a misaligned, gray copy, of a copy, of a copy. If you can’t do it take it to your local copy-store, on a memory stick, and ask them to do it for you. If you do this DO check that the pages look the same on their P/C and that there are no formatting differences that cause words, titles and sentences to leak across on to the next page.

Now print it on very good quality paper (Not the usual 60-80gm copier-stock). Check for spelling mistakes -especially people’s names- and use a good clear font (NOT ‘Comic Sans’ it makes you look ‘stupid’ not ‘quirky’). And do number the pages and, after the front title page, add a contents page….it makes the document look more professional.

There is nothing more I need to add and it isn’t difficult to do.

– Title page
– Contents Page
– Problems in need of fixing
– Knock-on effects of not fixing
– Our Focused Solution
– Price
– Who we are/experience/background
– References
– Any other relevant material (keep it short and simple)
– What to do next

Following the method outlined above is going to make your proposals more interesting, readable and effective when presented to your customer.

It is also going to differentiate your offering from the many, even if your product looks very much like your competitors. And best of all it will bring you more business.
That’s not a fairy story

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Tuesday, 31 March 2020 14:13

Charm Power- Gaining The Unfair Advantage

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Presence, Charisma, and Charm (PCC) are seemingly intangible attributes that you either have or you have not.

And yet the lucky few who are labeled with those titles are not always the ones we would expect. They are often not conventionally handsome or beautiful and yet, undeniably they have ‘The X Factor’.

And, whether you like it or not, having the X factor and working hard to develop it, is well worth the effort!
Psychologists have witnessed that ‘PCC’ or ‘X factor’ people are listened to more and are given many additional opportunities. They are forgiven their sins more often and other people are prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. Their friends make excuses for them and endlessly try to please them.

So what if you were able to generate that same desire in other people? How valuable would it be to your social and business life?

Luckily.. things may be ‘looking up’ for those of us who are not so spiritually blessed. As the charismatic ‘few’ have to live here in the physical realm with the bland and samey ‘many’ of us, scientists have studied what it is that they (the blessed) do with their body and mind that gives them their attractiveness. After all, they, being human like us, have bodies that work in the same way as ours, so there must be something we can copy that will make us as charming and charismatic as they are. And it turns out there is.

As the main desire of each one of us is to have others pay attention to us and listen to what we have to say (and there is even a new profession called ‘Professional Listener’ ) it should not come as a surprise to learn that PCC people are all-time great attention payers….this is their big secret.

In the time that they spend with you will find that a PCC person concentrates totally on YOU; their focus will be 100%. A PCC person will make you feel as if she is genuinely interested in liking YOU and will not be concerned about trying to make you like her.

PCC people indicate that they are giving you their total attention in six measurable ways.

1) Eye contact.
A PCC person will hold your gaze for much longer than anyone else. You will not catch their eyes flicking over your shoulder or out of the window while you’re talking to them So to begin communicating your charm and charisma look directly at the other person for as long as you can.

2) Alternate Signal
Once you have established unerring eye contact, you need to ensure that the person you are charming doesn’t find your gaze intimidating. To do this let your concentration shift from the other person’s left eye to the right eye every few seconds. This will indicate to their subconscious that your interest is still 100% and you haven’t drifted into a glassy-eyed day-dream.

3) Smile.
PCC people accept you as you are. They are not judgemental nor critical. They let you see that they are enjoying your company. The charismatic movie and TV actress Helen Mirren when asked how she projects her obvious charisma said, “It’s simple…I adopt an expression that suggests I am just about to tell the other person a wonderful secret”.

4) Nods and Winks
If you have ever been interviewed on TV you will have heard of ‘nods and winks’. Often a camera operator and a journalist will turn up and do the interview with the one camera focused totally on you. Afterward, you will see that the operator turns the camera on the interviewer who will ask all the questions again to the now empty chair where you were previously sitting. After that, for about a minute, the interviewer will simply nod and smile at the camera and occasionally tilt his head as if listening. Later that night you will see the edited version on TV News with the nods and winks mixed in with your replies. This illustrates to the viewer that real interest was being shown in your replies and that the communication process was very much ‘two way’.
So when you are charming your way into the heart of another person, make sure that you too nod, tilt and slightly narrow your eyes occasionally to indicate your total focus.

5) Undo your body
All practiced and experienced communicators know that Body Language accounts for 55% of received human communication. One particular trait of charismatic people, observed at parties, meetings and other social functions, is that they show the palms of their hands to other people much more than ‘normal people’.
They also never fold their arms whilst listening to somebody else. Their body remains open at all times and they use their arms in an animated way when talking. They face other people directly during a discussion and convey a feeling of energy by keeping their weight on the balls of their feet, dropping their shoulders and unlocking their knees.

6) Voice of approval
Slow and deep are the key signs of charming verbal reassurance. Whereas the masses on the planet tend to talk fast and move quickly, what differentiates the ‘charmers’ is their complete lack of hurry and deep warm tones. In the movie ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ ( Michael Caine and Steve Martin) Caine’s ‘suave’ character educates the brash Steve Martin in the skills needed to charm unsuspecting rich-widows. As the plot opens up we see the American being slowly educated in just these verbal skills.
In the real world to make any other person feel the charisma emanating from your persona simply slow down and deepen. Every so often, when the other person is talking, encourage them with little verbal reassurances: Really?…. Uh-hu…Mmmm….I see!…oh no!… and they will feel that your concentration is total.

And finally (as “Inspector Columbo” would say): “Oh..I nearly forgot…there is just one last thing!”
Charismatic and charming people are not interested in being ‘right’ all the time. They are quite willing to let the other person be right. As Dale Carnegie said in his famous book: “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, first published 75 years ago: “Just let the other man feel good about himself and he will love you forever”

Pretty good advice I’d say for any PCC apprentice.

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Tuesday, 31 March 2020 14:07

To Be a Top Negotiator – Just Behave Like One

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Negotiating is the ‘poor cousin’ of ‘selling’; simple as that.

It is highly probable that you would prefer not to have to ‘negotiate’ if you can do a deal using your standard terms and conditions. This reluctance to negotiate is most likely if you are from somewhere outside the classic negotiating centres of the World, like South America, the Middle East and Asia. For people in these places ‘negotiating’ is a way of life. For most of us (mainly Caucasians) however, negotiating can seem like a nightmare…a sort of verbal game of chess or poker in which our every move is being read by some clever, cunning opponent. He who blinks first loses’ and all that stuff.

Well, if you’re fool enough to enter into a negotiation without knowledge of the basics you will get crushed. On the other hand, the basic behaviours of successful negotiators have been researched and are very easy to copy and this is what this article is all about. There are four basic things that top negotiators do all the time and four things that ‘average’ negotiators do which top negotiators avoid getting dragged into doing.

Before we get into the four ‘do’s and four ‘dont’s something needs to be said. Because it is a cold hard truth that, in business, if you ‘sell effectively’ in the first place, you probably won’t have to negotiate. Effective selling is based on finding out what a customer wants to buy (in other words the specific problem he wants to be solved) and then focusing, laser-like, on that alone. Most sales are messed up to the point at which negotiation is required because the seller couldn’t or wouldn’t shut-up talking about all the other spurious benefits of his product.

The golden rule of effective selling is: ‘Never miss a good opportunity to shut-up’.

But let us say (unhappily for you) that the straight-forward sale has been messed up and you DO now have to negotiate. First of all, it is probably not, “all about the price” as so many of my clients tell me. Most negotiations are about value and not price. If you sincerely believe that price (and price alone) is what it is all about then you probably need an article on ‘haggling’ rather than negotiating.

The word ‘negotiation’ implies ability and a willingness on your part, to vary your terms in some way. It is highly unlikely that you will make any progress at this stage by just standing on your side of the negotiating table (hypothetical or not) making demands and digging your heels in. So start by using the most powerful persuasive tools you have: “Questions”. The first behaviour of top negotiators is that they ask a lot of questions.

A ‘question’ gets your information. And you can’t start ‘negotiating’ and investigating areas in which you might be able to vary your normal terms until you get an idea of what is going on in the head of the other side. A top negotiator never makes a statement when she could ask a question. A top negotiator constantly seeks Information, Information, Information before and during every negotiation. A top negotiator will always be thinking, “Why did he just ask me that?” and will be saying things like, “Suppose we could offer you that concession…then would you be prepared to agree our contract period?”

Always think ‘questions’ rather than statements whenever possible.

Each question will potentially raise another agreed point or result in rejection on the way to finalising the whole deal. There can be many such twists and turns on the way to a successful outcome. So the second ‘top-negotiator’ behaviour is to regularly summarise and agree the items covered so far. Failure to do this can and often does de-rail complex negotiations if summarising is either omitted or left to the very end. We, on our side of the table, believe that something has been settled (sometimes days ago) only to discover this is not the understanding of our counterparty. Summarising throughout and at least once an hour is the second noticeable behaviour of top negotiators.

Having advised you, a couple of paragraphs ago, to ask questions rather than make statements, I’m now – for the third ‘top-negotiator behaviour’, going to back up a little and tell you to open up a bit too. Many of the executives I teach to negotiate, tend to take the ‘ask questions’ theme to the extreme and virtually refuse to give away anything when the other side asks them questions. This is not what it’s all about. In fact, a top negotiator learns to treat both questions and answers like ‘negotiating currency’.

Of course, before sitting down to negotiate, he will have decided what information can be released to the other side and what highly confidential and sensitive information cannot. But having decided what can be given away, he is quite careful how it is done.

He will often, having answered two or three questions in a row from the other side, say, on being asked a fourth question, “Well OK…now we’ve answered three of your questions, if I answer this one as well I will need you, in turn, two answers three important questions that we have and in particular…..”

So the process of asking questions and surrendering information is played very carefully…nothing is given up unless something is gained in exchange.

The fourth and final ‘top negotiator behaviour’ is the way in which impossible requests are handled.

For most of us, faced with an unexpected outrageous request from someone we would like to do business with, our reaction is an outright immediate rejection: “Oh please!… you REALLY can’t be serious with that request…the answer is NO!”

However, skilled negotiators never give such an instant knee-jerk response.

Instead, they spend time, before they say NO, explaining the situation and never give advance warning that a rejection is coming up.

They will give an explanation first and say something like, “Reducing the contract period to one year is a very interesting proposition, John. As you know, the way we operate in this market sector is to offer every customer exactly the same 3-year contract. As you have already said, we are quite flexible on price, size and colour so that your needs are fully accommodated. On the other hand, the contract period is kept the same for all so that no customer can accuse us of ‘horse-trading’. If we vary it for one customer we will lose the trust of all the others who will inevitably find out. So, for this reason, I hope you can understand why the contract period must be the same for all.”

This willingness to give a clear explanation before rejecting a request usually results in a more ready acceptance than a straight ‘NO’ followed by an explanation if required.

So your four desirable negotiator behaviours are:

1) Seek information and ask questions constantly
2) Summarise regularly to avoid late misunderstandings
3) Be prepared to surrender information but always exchange it for reciprocal favours
4) Explain the background to something you must say ‘no’ to before you say, ‘NO’

On the other side, this article is the far more common behaviours which you may find yourself drifting towards and which you should try to reduce or eliminate.

The first of these is the natural human desire to argue. After a day or so ‘negotiating’ the teams are getting a little tired. Suddenly ‘somebody’ says something ‘daft’ to which the obvious reaction is something like, “Oh do shut-up!” The problem is somebody does actually say it! “Don’t you tell me to shut-up! I’ve been sitting here listening to your drivel for the past 7 hours!” “You’ve been listening to MY ‘drivel’ …I like that!” “Look here, I want to say something!… We came to see you in good faith and……” and so on and so on. A slow, spiral descent, into a negotiating black hole.

The automatic charge and counter-charge of a classic argument, each trying to out-do the other, will not get you anywhere.

In short: Arguments can be ‘fun’ but they are not persuasive negotiating behaviours: AVOID.

The second ‘poor behaviour’ indulged in by average negotiators is the speed at which counterproposals are produced in response to the other side’s suggestions. To explain the folly of doing this, a negotiator must appreciate one particular facet of human psychology. That is that the point at which another person is least receptive to another person’s idea is if he has just presented one of his own.

So, if a counterparty has just presented a proposal: “How would it be if we agreed to a five year deal with your company and all our servicing is guaranteed to go through your workshops?” and you reply… “Well maybe….but we were thinking of a completely different approach…..” , then you are already en-route to a pretty well guaranteed disagreement in the next few minutes.

As a top negotiator, you can avoid this ‘average behaviour by ALWAYS being seen willing to consider and discuss the other side’s suggestions – however crass you may think they are – before introducing any counterproposal yourself.

The third poor behaviour is a false notion – beloved of untrained business-persuaders and amateur negotiators- that facts are persuasive. The result of this folklore is that, the more somebody disagrees with you or fails to accept your proposition, the more facts you pile up in order to prove your point. Alas, this is not what happens in the collective mind of those on the other side of the table.

The more facts that are brought in to support a proposal, the more confused the other side becomes and the more – horror !! the more the price or the cost will become the central feature.

Knowing this interesting ‘fact’ however, can provide you with an interesting and effective negotiating lever.

Next time you need some way to demolish or weaken a proposal from the other side simply act as if you are not convinced by the initial argument. You will find, inevitably, that another supporting fact will be produced. But you still act ‘unconvinced’. Keep this going: “I’m still not sure that this is a good idea”.

You do this until four or five new supporting facts have been produced.

You will then discover something very interesting is happening: each new fact produced by the other side is successively weaker than the one before. It won’t take long, therefore, until a very weak supporting fact is produced. At this point you say, “Hang on just a moment….are you really saying that you can’t deliver on Saturday because we only open Monday to Friday?..well that’s easy we will get somebody there to meet you! So there’s actually no serious issue.”

You will discover that it is very rare for a counterparty to reverse back into their previous stronger supporting facts and you win the point. Just beware of being trapped into this ‘ploy’ yourself.

Finally, when it comes to unhelpful negotiator habits, there’s the old standby which, alas, is spoken by nearly every business executive on the planet at some time every day. We negotiators call it an ‘annoyer’.

An annoyer is an annoying phrase or sentence thrown into the mix in a misguided attempt to give the other side confidence. The two most common are, “To be honest with you…..” and “Look we are offering you a really great deal here”.

In the first case, the psychological effect on the other person (or persons) is, “So are you saying that up until now you haven’t been honest?”

In the second case, telling somebody that you (in your opinion anyway) are making a ‘great offer’, has a very negative effect on the counterparty mind. Far from convincing the other side that you are making a generous offer, it actually implies, in one sentence, that you feel that the other side is not being ‘great’ if they reject your offer.

Both of these ‘annoying’ phrases and others in a similar vein are aimed at increasing confidence. But they have a very bad effect on other people’s perception of you as a negotiator.

So in summary, whilst incorporating the previous top negotiator behaviours take good care to avoid the following average behaviours:

1) Defend and Attack arguments of any sort
2) Your own counterproposals introduced, without first discussing the other side’s proposals
3) Too many facts to support your proposals
4) Using very common and unintentionally annoying phrases.

Being a top negotiator isn’t difficult if you behave as you should. Sometimes you won’t win -that’s life- so when the deal looks daft from your point of view be prepared to walk away. And the more times you are prepared to walk away you will be amazed how often the deal chases you out of the door.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020 14:02

It’s Networking [Jim] But Not As We Know It

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“I don’t mean to be rude but…….”: has become the unofficial catchphrase of Simon Cowell the owner and main judge of the UK/ USA TV talent show “The X Factor”. Often in the past 6 months, these words have sprung to my mind when attending face-to-face business networking events. Do the attendees really know how to network? Have they any talent for human interaction or do they sincerely believe that just showing up with a pocket full of business cards and a few sentences about their business is all it takes?

I am willing to bet that if you’re ‘in business’ you have somewhere, in or around your desk, or in your wallet, or at home in your bedroom chest-of-drawers, a veritable pile of business cards. I further bet that you can’t recall where you got most of them…or the person who gave you the card… or what his/her business could do for you.

So if you’re going out ‘networking’ in the next few days it is probably a good idea to have a rapid re-think about your strategy. How are you, personally, going to make more of an impact on the people you meet, than the average networker?

There is an old saying in the sales profession: “Telling isn’t Selling” and it applies directly to networking which is, after all, just one stage in the sales process. And the thing to remember, when you’re selling anything to anybody, is that NOBODY else cares about you and your business. Apart from your family and close friends, your relationship with other humans is largely conditional on you being able to assist them in some way.

So the question to ask before you set out networking is: “What problem(s) does my business solve for other people?” That is why your business exists…if you cannot identify one or more problems that you can solve you don’t have a business.

The four main areas of concern for most other people -your potential customers- are: ‘Money’- making more or losing less, ‘Power’ – getting an edge over their own competitors, ‘Prestige’ – looking and sounding more important in their market place, and ‘Pleasure’ – ease of use, good times and the simple life. Provided your product or service potentially solves a problem in one of those areas, you have something which somebody somewhere will buy from you.

From this little exercise, you can now plan a response when somebody asks “What do you do?” you won’t have to un-memorably say: I’m a solicitor… I’m a consultant… I’m a website designer…. I own a cleaning business….I own a training company or any of the other yawn-inducing stuff that your competitors spout.

Now you can say: “We take away all your business headaches caused by unforeseen legal minefields” or “I make your business start producing additional profits in less than 12 weeks from now” or “We design your website so that customers keep returning and buying from you”

This type of opening statement is much more likely to gain interest and questions like: “How do you do that?”, “How much can you save me?”, “Do you offer guarantees?”

It isn’t the proverbial ‘rocket science’ but it will place you in the top 5% of networkers at your next event.

And one last word or two about networking.

When you do arrive at the venue, do get into the conversation very quickly….don’t just stand there by yourself drinking coffee…waiting for somebody to approach you. The best ice-breaker, if you don’t know anybody, is to walk up to the nearest group or solo person, smile and say these words. “Good morning….My name is I don’t know anybody here…will you talk to me?” I GUARANTEE that you will NEVER be rejected with this approach….never! In fact, whoever you’re talking to will see you as some sort of brave networking hero. After that ice-breaker tries not to tell the others what you do until asked. Ask questions whenever you can and show undivided interest in what other people are saying – try not to let your eyes flick from side to side in search of someone more interesting to talk to. This total-focus trick is espoused by all those people who are said by the people they meet, to be ‘charming’ and ‘charismatic’.

Finally when you get back to your office DO follow up with interested prospective customers. They are NOT going to chase YOU.

In the past six months, in the process of setting up another new business, I have attended approximately one networking event per week and met over 800 business people and secured 37 new customers for my business. But also in that 800, I found about 15 companies that offered services and products I would buy or would have bought. These varied from book-keeping to brochure printing, accountancy to office supply. I have registered my interest during these networking events and told each one to call me as soon as possible. Do you know how many have made contact since?
I don’t mean to be rude but the answer is none of them!

My name is Bob Etherington and I can make your customers buy from you. Whether your customers are internal (colleagues, bosses, team members, staff) or external (customers, shareholders, partners) the processes of persuasion are universal. In fact, you rarely persuade other people to do anything…they actually persuade themselves. You can make that process happen once you understand how decisions are made. You can read my books “Presentation Skills for Quivering Wrecks” and “Selling for Complete Amateurs” And you can attend the seminars we offer. 

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Tuesday, 31 March 2020 13:58

You Are an Imposter But You Don’t Have to Be

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About 25 years ago a major global airline conducted a light-hearted survey amongst its First and Business Class passengers. They wanted to discover what type of people traveled in the front cabins of their airplanes. The most surprising discovery they made, was that 80% of these outwardly successful and confident travelers, when asked anonymously, confessed that they thought they did not really deserve to be there. Sooner or later, they thought, somebody was going to realize that far from being responsible, confident, executives (as they appeared to the outside world), they believed they were actually faking it!

A quarter-century on and nothing much has changed it seems. I still travel the World assisting senior business people to communicate effectively and I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that most of the people I meet are playing a very unhelpful tape-loop, over and over again inside their heads.

The message on the tape is still: “What will they do when they discover I’m only me?”

For all their bluster, success and outward confidence most people are as full of self-doubt as well…me.

This condition actually has a name: ‘Imposter Syndrome’. A constant feeling that, despite (in my case) 40 successful years in business, at any moment we may be revealed as corporate frauds or business fakes.
Every time we succeed we count it as a fluke or an error. Whenever we (occasionally) get awards or hearty thanks from clients we feel we should almost apologise. Either we have done the trick again and fooled them all or we are once again dealing with this company’s village idiot. Quite soon somebody is bound to take any one of us to one side and say, “My friend all is discovered… You haven’t got a clue to have you?”

‘Imposters’, find that each new obstacle [ a seminar, a promotion, a contract, an airfare ] only increases the anxiety that next time we WILL be discovered.

But there is help out there. In her 1988 book “The Imposter Syndrome: Overcome the Fear that Haunts Success”, the American psychologist Pauline Rose Clance says that 70% of us (men and women) professional people, share this anxiety. The second thing is, she says, that it mainly affects high achieving, very intelligent and highly motivated people. The ones who appear to ‘have it all’. Wah-hay!!
But that doesn’t make us feel any better, does it?

So what can we self-taught ‘imposters’ do about this unworthy feeling? The book by Pauline Clance, has some home-learning exercises any one of us can use.

She tells us: Keep a record for a week on how you respond to compliments and jot down how you feel And what you said to the other person, especially if you changed the subject. Do a reality check: count up the supervisors, teachers, bosses who say you are talented and have given you praise or promotions in the past. Is it possible for so many people to misjudge you consistently? ” (What? You’re a real imposter? Don’t answer that!)

We imposters require a lot of back-up and encouragement. We need to accept that other people are not just sucking up to ‘make us feel good’….These others genuinely see our talents in a way that we do not.

Our daily affirmation might be the last words spoken by AA Milne’s Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh: “Promise me you’ll always remember you’re braver than you believe and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”

I’ll do that Christopher Robin- thank you.

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Tuesday, 31 March 2020 13:54

OK, You’ve Had the Training – Now Change

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I would like you, if you will, to join me in a little mental game. Ready? OK... In your minds-eye imagine that you have recently accepted the job of Sales Director at a well known international company. After a few weeks of observation and inquiry inside the company, the following 4 facts are obvious.

1) A year ago your company took over a competitor and now has to merge the two competing sales forces.

2) Because of the Global recession, your market share is shrinking and your sales team seems to be relying on price-cutting in an attempt to gain more business.

3) Your once ‘unique’ market benefit is slowly being eroded by competitors’ product improvements.

4) Your customers are in trouble themselves and are squeezing you on price and other contract issues.

Now (typical !) as you are about to send your initial analysis to the CEO she preempts your email with one of her own: “I know things are tough out there [Bob] but we brought you in to change things for the better..... So now that you’ve had a few weeks with us, what’s the plan?”

Now you’re on the back-foot. But your reputation in your marketplace is that of a decisive and determined sales leader. So you set up a teleconference with your various country sales managers around the Globe, to decide on the action plan. This teleconference has revealed a clear need and an overwhelming desire amongst your team to DO something... anything... they are all relying on you. They’ve tried Knock-on-more- doors (the old ‘numbers-game’ sales approach) but that didn’t work. Also wait-and-see (The ‘something will turn-up’ strategy) and price-cutting (Because ‘price’ is always an objection).

But they have both proved fruitless too. So you -the decisive one- have decided that wholesale re-training of the sales force is the only way forward. [For goodness sake there must have been considerable advances in sales training in the past 10 years; there must be some new ‘intergalactic techniques that can be used by our sales force!]

You can feel that your Global team of direct reports is not particularly enthused by your decision. They have seen similar big-projects before you arrived. There was the “Leadership 3000” initiative organized at MIT. This involved sending up-coming young executives to the USA to learn how to become ’empowered’. Problem was, when they returned from Boston, all-fired-up after three weeks, they were universally advised, in their individual departments, to return to normal ‘ASAP’. This failure to capitalize on the new-learning cost a small fortune and gave rise to a great deal of cynicism.

So here you are.. this is your dilemma. You have to do something otherwise nothing will happen and you will inevitably get fired. But experience shows that doing the usual sort of ‘something’ will also result in ‘nothing’ so you will eventually get fired.

So why does all this happen? Why do the vast majority of companies spend lots (and lots) of money on training -especially sales-training- for which they get virtually no measurable benefit. I asked my last boss (when I was ’employed’ rather than, as now, self-employed in my own business) why our very large and well known financial information company, constantly ran these expensive retraining projects. “You know why”, he said with a wink, “it’s just to keep everybody busy!”

Right.... so what’s it to be: Training or Results?..You choose. The first focus addresses the need for a feel-good, tick the box solution: OK I’ve organized the training what’s the next project? The second focus is on finding a way to make the desired change stick.

In my experience when selecting an outside training company for an employer, we (the committee) always tended to make our final judgment solely on what the short-listed company presented to us by way of ‘content’. The more unusual or new ‘nostrum’ the more we seem to like it. Ah! the fresh air of some new ‘New stuff’ -breathe it in! But content is only one part of the story. The bigger question that I (you) should be asking each training company is this one: “Just how are you going to make this training of your effective and long-lasting?”

When you approach training from the point of view of “How?” you are- probably for the very first time- on your way to achieving some real measurable change in behavior. Why does an effective approach to training need to be from the “How?” rather than the “What?” point of view?…because we humans find changing our habits very, very difficult for four deeply rooted reasons:

1) Organizations rarely make changes quickly or because of some authoritative, top-down, dictate. 2)Classroom training costs a lot of money and is most effective only for the part of the training process where interaction with the trainer and fellow students is required. 3)We humans only willingly change our behavior if we can see how it will help us personally. 4)Unless our behavior-change-progress is regularly measured and fed-back to us we will usually be back where we began within 30 days [‘That which doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done’]

To address these issues (and avoid the school of hard knocks) here’s how I’ve finally learned to make training effective for my clients:

1) In most companies there is no-time. Everybody is searching for the new-new thing, allowing no time for the last new-thing to take effect. An effective training organization makes sure that line managers are rewarded and measured for their role as ‘coach’. It is regular coaching that makes training work and sticks. Spending time training your managers in field-coaching skills is like a miracle-pill. When salespeople go into the field with their coach once each month and reinforce what they are doing right, the results are usually amazing.

2) When I learned to fly an airplane (part of my mid-life crisis) we did spend a lot of time in the club-house on the white-board looking at dotted lines, sketches of runways and cross-sections of airplane wings. I honestly don’t remember any of it; nothing…but clearly a lot went in. It was, however, a safe non-dangerous environment in which I had a chance to ask questions about meteorology, navigation and ‘Air-law’. But the only serious memorable learning happened when we got into the plane and I had a chance to do it- for real. So for introducing new subjects and problem-free practice, use the classroom. For reinforcing the real skills and for long-lasting change, get out into the real world with your coach.

3) If training is seen as some generic, off-the-shelf ‘thing’ introduced to your sales force in a classroom setting, after which they are left to work out how to apply it themselves, then it will fail. Adults – that’s you and me- learn best when a new idea is presented in context. Each salesperson must be able to see the track they can follow with the new skills which will eventually bring them more sales. New skills need to be practiced in realistic role-plays using realistic data and with colleagues acting like realistic clients. New procedures must be presented in terms of company values and company culture. (I was once trained to be very firm when customers endeavored to negotiate a price reduction. When I politely applied the training in the field, a customer complained to the CEO who instantly caved-in. He then sent me a nasty note telling me not to ‘go round beating customers up with base-ball bats’..... not good training)

4) The most important question for you, or the person who has been asked to organize training, to ask at the start of your training project, is as follows: “What problem are we trying to solve here?” It is the first question I ask all customers who call my company out of the blue to inquire about training for their sales force. Many times it is a show-stopper…I can hear the enquirer's mouth hanging open. So I help them by asking the second question, “Well could you describe what things will look like at the end of this training program?” They usually find this a bit easier to describe until I ask them to put some measurable milestones (usually some numbers) into their description. But without something to measure, how will we know how effective we’re being? One customer told me that his objective was ‘customer satisfaction’ but struggled with the definition: service? price? delivery? colors?… We got there eventually but it wasn’t easy.

All these things may appear common sense but they are rare. The only company I have ever worked in where the application of the 4 steps outlined above was a religion, was an American copying machine company in the UK in the early 1970s. Their training program was constant, consistent and nobody was exempt. If it had not been for this carefully coached approach I don’t know where I would have ended up. I certainly would not have been able to make a successful career in sales. I would not have set up two successful training businesses. And I definitely would not have written this article.

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Tuesday, 31 March 2020 13:51

The Great Presentation Scandal

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There should be a law against most internal company conferences. No ..really there should!

My name is Bob Etherington and I am a veteran of at least 100 such ‘do’ s in the past 40 years and nearly all of them should never have been allowed! Well..let me rephrase that, just a bit: the plenary sessions should never have been allowed. That’s the bit where the audience sit row upon row in the semi-dark, theater-style, while their bosses and peers talk at them. They admonish them sometimes; congratulate them mostly and generally show them PowerPoint slides every time. “This is what they want!” Yeah right!

I asked one senior manager of a large British company what was his primary objective when he stepped on the conference platform. He replied, without hesitation: “I try to impress them!”

But Geoff (that is his name so now, if he reads this, he’ll know it’s him) your audience doesn’t want to hear about ‘You’. They are not the slightest bit interested in ‘You’. And You [dear reader] are not the slightest bit interested in Bob Etherington…..that’s just the way it is.

Of course what the conference audience is asking themselves -to a man- is the same unspoken question that you have in your head reading this: “What’s in this for ME?”

Your audience -any conference audience- seeks to be generally and personally inspired to work hard so that the company may make even more money in the next fiscal year. You know from all the management courses you’ve attended that the art of management is to get staff to do voluntarily that which must be done anyway. So telling them all the good and worthy works YOU’ve completed isn’t going to make them do anything. Remember the David Brent (Ricky Gervais) address to his staff in the early 2000 BBCTV comedy ‘The Office’. “I have some good news and some bad news today. The bad news is we are amalgamating with the Swindon Office so some of you will be made redundant” [Silence and shocked faces] …But the good news is… I’ve been promoted !! [More dumbfounded silence] …Oh..I can see some of you are still on the bad news!” We wince with embarrassment because we have witnessed this type of crass statement in the real business world. It is not as rare as we hope.

In a recent HR survey, it was firmly established once again that what staff value most of all in their jobs is not what many managers think it is. The most important factors are:

1) Feeling appreciated.
2) Having something interesting to do.
3) Being kept on the inside track.
4) Sympathy for personal problems.
5) Money.
6) A happy working environment.
7) Promotion prospects.
8) Job Security.

So to get the serried ranks of your employees inspired to come in early, stay late (and work hard while they are working for you), tell them how good they are and congratulate them. If times are tough keep them on the inside track by telling them what’s going on. Cut the rumor mill off at the pass and tell them what you are doing to fix things for them. Tell them how they will benefit, personally, from doing what must be done.

Have good manners also to rehearse your presentation in front of a person of similar standing in your company and ask for genuine feedback on how the message is coming across. Just showing up with a memory stick containing all your PowerPoint slides half an hour beforehand and hoping for the best is not inspirational management. The Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli stated that “Everybody loves flattery….but with Royalty, you lay it on with a trowel” Your staff, just like my staff in Bob Etherington Group, are your Royalty and without them, nothing happens. Your ‘stuff’ all about your department and your personal triumphs are not what most internal audiences want to hear. They are there to be inspired. To inspire them..flatter them…Say, “Thank you”…. “I’m proud of you”….” Well done!” (the rarest and most powerful words in the management lexicon)
Now you’re talking business!

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Tuesday, 31 March 2020 13:46

“I could have told you that would happen!”

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People in my family and many of my friends are blessed with ‘20/20 hindsight’ …they love to be ‘right’…they frequently remind me that they “told me so”. They particularly love my business mistakes and mishaps and use these as a reason to predict my imminent downfall. They have been predicting it now for several decades.

One particular very close family member recently told a mutual friend (who of course immediately reported it straight back to me) that: “Bob’s biggest problem is that he doesn’t know his own limitations”. They may be right.

Indeed there is a whole medical/psychological condition (identified in 1999) called the Dunning Kruger effect in which “..persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is”. I’m open to the possibility that that’s me… but I’ve rarely claimed abilities outside my range of knowledge or experience; people seem to assume I have them.

In the 30 odd years that I was an ‘employee’, I was frequently targeted as the person who’s ‘fault’ some major corporate catastrophe was. I was also frequently promoted upwards out of jobs I’d ‘failed’ at into jobs I wasn’t really qualified to do so no wonder I made mistakes. I once told my boss that I knew nothing about a managerial position I was told I was being given. “But I don’t know anything about this market“, I wailed. “I know you don’t” he replied…”But everybody thinks you do!”

On another occasion (as a new sales director), without asking permission, I hired entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Nekker Island in the Caribbean for a week as the top prize in a sales competition. The top 12 global sales executives would spend a week in absolute luxury and he company would achieve its annual sales targets 4 months early; Result! News of this incentive rapidly spread through the company to the very highest levels and clearly those ‘in-the inner-power’ circle made sure the CEO was made aware of my permission-less transgression. Indeed a few days later I received a very loud and extremely vitriolic phone call directly from the CEO. “Idiot” “optimist” “ fool” “stupid” “a*s*h*l* “ were some of the more polite names directed at me. Finally, after 15 minutes the tirade stopped and I readied myself for instant termination. But instead, he said, very quietly, “Right official reprimand over!………………..well done!! ” and put the phone down. The ‘mistake’ sales competition was a massive success.

Being prepared to take a risk and/or make mistakes, I have discovered, is really important for your corporate success. ‘Postit notes’ ‘Nitrous Oxide’ [170 years later still today’s main medical anaesthetic] and ‘Tippex’ are all the result of well-known mistakes. Thomas Edison in the US and Joseph Swann in the UK between them made 1700 mistakes before coming up with a working electric light bulb. Edison was once asked if he was disheartened by all his mistakes. He replied, “Not at all I’ve just learnt 1700 ways not to make a light bulb”.

As a result, I am starting to formulate a business philosophy:

· You rarely get sacked for doing things. You may be severely reprimanded but sacking is usually a result of not doing things.

· If you ask middle management for permission to do something different they will generally say ‘No’ so why ask them? If it says ‘Manager’ on your door then go and MANAGE!

· Mistakes only become failures if you repeat tomorrow the things which didn’t work today

· If a subordinate asks for guidance on resolving an issue ask them what they think should be done. (i.e. Bring me solutions not problems). When they tell you to have the courage to reply “Go on then!” (With every pair of hands you get one free brain.) I learnt this one from a great manager of mine at Reuters, ’Dave Brocklehurst’ Thanks, Dave.

Finally, I have a client in NYC right now into whose corporate structure across America we have introduced a “*c*k-up of the month club”; the person who this month has made the biggest corporate mistake but with good intentions is rewarded with a weekend away (with partner/spouse) in the nearest big city all expenses paid. But if they (or anyone else) then make the same mistake next month they will immediately be placed on the official termination list because we now know something that doesn’t work. They tell me sales turnover is already up this calendar year by 29%…..I may be wrong!

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]

www.bobetheringtongroup.com

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There is a little list of common phrases sentences and questions that unintentionally murder (or at least ‘self-harm’ any persuasive encounter.

Successful business persuaders never use them…or at least they struggle not to. The vast majority of average sellers, persuaders and managers use them all the time then wonder why they fail to persuade or why they lose their followers.

1) “We’re making you a really generous offer here.”

(Or, “We think we’re being very fair” , or “I’m sure you’ll agree this is a very reasonable deal” etc) indeed any of these and similar stock phrases is an instant subliminal deal killer. The speaker clearly thinks that pointing out what a ‘great deal’ the customer (employee subordinate) is getting will make them think, “Wow…until Bob said that I hadn’t realized how great it was. Now I will definitely sign up!!.” Instead, from several buyer research projects, we now learn that quite the opposite feeling is generated. The customer actually thinks (or worse ‘feels’): “What did he just say?!! he’s clearly suggesting that I must be pretty stupid if I haven’t already figured out that this is a good offer. I don’t like being thought of as stupid by him; I’m not stupid….. I think I’ll leave it

2) “So…did you close it?”

Probably the commonest sales manager question to returning sales executives around the World. It is also the biggest sales executive ‘morale killer’. Getting to ‘yes’ (and the signature-on-the-line-that-is-dotted) is generally quite very tough. And, ‘sorry no…not at the moment’ and ‘we’re still thinking about it’ and ‘ we’ll let you know soon’ are ten times more likely to be what the salesperson has just heard. As no seller wants to have to admit to their manager, “Sorry no. I didn’t get it today”, they find answering the question disheartening. So Mr (or Ms) Sales Manager…what alternative uplifting question or questions could you ask next time instead of “So ..did you close it?” (OK.. manage the situation more motivationally…Don’t look at me…Think of something…. It says ‘MANAGER’ on your door…so ’Manage’)

3) “You really must improve.”

At the end of the ‘Annual Appraisal’ or ‘360’ or whatever you call your annual performance review, it is quite the norm to hear SM’s or SD’s tell the subordinate that they must ‘work harder’ ‘do better’ or generally ‘improve’ their performance in one or more areas. And yet these vague and woolly terms mean absolutely nothing to the person they’re aimed at. I recently asked a team manager (in a team-building seminar in Scandinavia) if they all understood their group’s current overall performance targets and their own individual goals and targets. The manager confidently told me (in front of his team) “Yes in my team they definitely do!”. I then asked the team “So DO you all clearly know your team and personal targets?” To a man, they all said in unison, “No we don’t”. The art and science of permanently improving and changing people is to make sure that what you’re asking for is measurable ie ‘with numbers’. (“What gets measured gets managed” ). Exactly how much money? Exactly how many calls? Exactly what date will you launch? Once these are agreed there is no lack of clarity and people know what is expected of them. That’s how to trigger the improvement you seek.

By the way, the opposite of the quote above is equally true: “What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done”

4) “To be honest with you….”

Along with the first example in this article, “To be honest with you” sets of quite the opposite thought process in the other person’s mind to the one intended. Far from changing the tone of the meeting from high-level generalities into confidential specifics…it just doesn’t; it sets up doubts. The throwaway phrase, “To be honest with you….” actually triggers the thought (or feeling): ‘So what he is actually saying is that he hasn’t been honest so far; well I don’t think I trust him now’ . So as trust and honesty are the two golden requirements of selling you’ve just wrecked the whole foundation on which you are endeavoring to ‘persuade’. Back to square one!!

5) “Well yes I’m sure that’s one way... but first of all we were thinking…”

In Dale Carnegie’s 1935 magnum opus: “How To Make Friends and Influence People” (still in print today!). He states that, in order to influence another person, you have first to make them feel good about themselves. And people feel good about themselves when you make them feel important. The problem is that most of us when they endeavour to persuade regard the words out of our own mouths as 10 times more important than anything the other person wants to say. So if the other side opens a meeting or negotiation with an idea that is either ignored or quickly shut-down by your side, how important does that make him feel? And if he doesn’t feel important how open is he going to be to hear your idea?

Top business persuaders know that their first duty is always to hear out the other side’s idea(s) first and even discuss it (them) at length (however bonkers you think they are) before presenting their own idea. It is only this way that the other side might be open to hearing what you have to say. Being too early with counter-proposals is a sure route to disaster ….but still, most of us do it (sigh!)

6) “Don’t hesitate to call me”

Quite simply the human brain can’t hold a negative thought. If I tell you, “Don’t think of pink elephants” what do you think of? ………… quite! If I say “Don’t worry” or “Don’t get upset” then what part of those phrases remain and what words are discarded?

In exactly the same way if you sign off a sales letter or a meeting by saying “Now remember…dodon't hesitate to call me if you have any questions” What subliminal instruction are you sending to the other person? Exactly…now you know why they don’t call you; you told them not to.

You can add to the self-harm list yourself (e.g. at trade shows) “Can I help you?” (On the phone) “How are you doing today?” and (in a one-to-one meeting) “Sorry I really must take this phone call”. You are not immune but neither are you a special case to whom none of this applies

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]

www.bobetheringtongroup.com

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(The above answer to my question, “Could you define the word Strategy?” came from one of Asia’s top public company CEOs…he wasn’t laughing. He told me I could tell this story but not his name

The truth is most people in business haven’t got a clue what differentiates a ‘strategy’ from a ‘plan’…. or from a ‘goal’ or from an ‘objective’.

I am regularly told by executives ranging from Directors of huge public companies down to young entrepreneurial start-ups :

“Our strategy is to increase turnover by 10%”

“Our strategy is to undercut our competitors”

“Our strategy is to ensure that all our sales staff receive two week’s off-site training per year”

Or even as one London based client told me “Our strategy is to have no strategy”.

None of the above is a strategy!

Not ‘understanding’ the difference between having a real strategy and having a strategy in name only, results in large High Street chain stores believing that all they have to do to profit like a ‘Pound Store’ is to cut their prices and sell more packets. Or large airlines, in competition with highly profitable Easy Jet or Ryanair, to come up with a decision to cut some of theirs. Or to state that: “Our sales strategy is to get everybody working harder …knocking on more doors. That’s what we’re going to do! ” The results of these misguided ‘strategic change’ ideas are usually somewhere between non-existent and suicidal.

To set a strategy is to take into account the entire environment, your corporate desire, market atmosphere, audience, current situation, future assessment and have each item backed up with hard detailed facts and evidence. ‘Strategy’, demands that you can answer questions like: “ ‘Double your profit in the next 12 months eh’?…..What makes you think you can?” (And the answer isn’t “Because we did it last year”)

OR

“ You say you will, increase your ROI by 10%’ …. Compared with what?’ “

Your strategy is in fact your whole business philosophy.

And it is from this alone that springs your action plan, your goals, and your objectives.

To start you in the right direction so that you can start to create a real ‘business strategy’, here are eleven questions you must be able to answer in some detail.

1) What is our raison d’etre? What problems does our business solve for our audience? What outcomes and solutions do we, (our people, our company and our product or service) provide? What makes us different from our competitors?

2) Who is our target audience? Describe in detail (The right answer isn’t, ‘everybody’)

3) What does our target audience want? What major headaches nightmares issues and problems do they typically have that we can solve? What will be the knock-on effect of not solving them?

4) What do we want? In most markets, we can choose to be somewhere between The Rolls Royce or the cut-price runabout. There is profit in both but the ways of going about achieving it are different. So what will make us happy to get up and deliver each day?

5) Are items 3 and 4 (above) congruent? Is what we want compatible with what our audience wants? Is there a good fit between our business and theirs? (Don’t invent answers that look good…you’ll only be kidding yourself). If what they want to receive and what you want to deliver are different you have a strategic problem. [ e.g. The company I employed to do my gardening at home were excellent gardeners but the owners were more interested in proving that they were ‘right’ in any minor dispute than preserving my custom. They are no longer my gardeners]

6) How does our audience know about us? What do we do to make sure we are in the eye of our target audience in every possible way? [e.g Is our website an exercise in corporate vanity or an effective problem-solving advertisement? The big test: Would a Martian landing for the first time in front of our home-page know in 14 seconds (average surfing time)what problems we could solve for them?] If your answer begins with, “ Well…errr…….” You have a problem.

7) How does our perspective audience contact us? The complete absence of (or cunningly concealed) phone numbers and email addresses on marketing materials is alarming. The speed of reply to inquiries even more so.

And FINALLY, now that you have a lot more strategic information:-

8) What is the current market for what we offer?

9) What is the future market for what we offer? (And “Business as usual”.. is not a credible answer)

10) So (based on the above) how are things changing?

11) So (if this is how things are) where are we going?

This is not the definitive: “How to Really do Strategy” book. Answer each question honestly and don’t worry if you duplicate ideas or add things that I’ve missed.

It’s just a way of showing you how to start coming up with an effective ‘thingy’.

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]

www.bobetheringtongroup.com

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