I don’t buy clothes, I buy style and sense of enhanced self image. I don’t buy a car, I buy safety and financial balance. I don’t buy books, and buy value in my future and a bigger paycheck.
Confused? You shouldn’t be. While you may walk away from a store with a physical product in a nicely designed plastic bag, you’re not really buying the hunk of material that many companies are marketing. What you’re actually buying is a better and brighter future for yourself and those you share these products with, and the benefits that accompany them.
Why does this matter? Well, if you’re in marketing or sales it matters a whole hell of a lot. The better you can speak directly to the brighter futures of your target audience, the easier it will be to A.) Stand out from a crowded marketplace B.) Sell your ‘stuff’, and C.) Get people to tell their friends about the ‘stuff’ you’re selling.
Apple is an easy, well-known example of taking this concept and putting it into action like it’s no ones business. They don’t sell computer hardware and cool tech gadgets…although I’m sure plenty of people would argue that. What they actually sell is a cooler self-image and a sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves. Their customers, not excluding me, are a part of a culture and movement in the world of technology. It’s cool, wanna buy some? Millions of people have answered that question with a resounding ‘YES’!
TAKE ACTION: At the top of a sheet of paper (or a digital doc), write down the product/service you market and sell. Then below that start writing all the cool ‘brighter future’ things your customers receive by purchasing with you. From this, hopefully lengthy list, you can then start to branching off each ‘brighter future’ category and list what features allow your customers to achieve those things. Lead with the brighter future, connect the dots with features (the how).
I love me some Beatles- And as John, Paul, George, and Ringo once said….”come together right now”. Those four words, in the context of a business environment, are very important. They are important because no team or company wins or loses alone, based on one component or division of the business. All the moving parts have to ‘come together’ to make a community that generates and fosters customer loyalty and subsequently generates revenue and bottom line results.
Here are three reasons coming together in an organization really matters:
- Clarify Expectations: Most things start with clear expectations. After all, if no one knows what to expect, how are they supposed to determine if outcomes are good or bad? Get on the same page with all stakeholders and make sure challenges of meeting expectations are discussed.
- Build Trust: To sustain a healthy working environment, stakeholders need to trust one another and feel everyone has the same interests in mind. Sales needs to trust that support will take care of their customers, support needs to trust that sales is setting proper expectations, and so on. Trust is a building block of relationships, and business is all about relationships.
- Learn: Last, but definitely not least, is the desire to learn together. Everyone experiences different things in an organization, but the collective knowledge of all those experiences can be a very powerful thing if managed correctly. And the learning process should be ongoing. It’s not sufficient to have one meeting a year and ‘hope’ things get better. Regular conversations and forward movement has to happen.
TAKE ACTION: Have lunch with someone from a different division of the company, start building those relationships, and start learning how you can work together to enhance the things you do for your customers.
Customers are the lifeblood of a business. Some may further define this as ‘good’ customers are the lifeblood, but I won’t spend time on that argument right now. There are a few fundamental tactics everyone should use to get closer to the customer and build deeper value and relationships.
5 Ways to Show Customers You love Them:
- Stay in touch. This may seem obvious, but it’s easier said than done. Staying in touch with your customers requires discipline and planning. Decide how often you want to touch base with your customers, for what reasons, and build a contact schedule. Then, and this is the hard part, stick to it.
- Develop a way to track their requests. There are probably 1000 ways to skin this cat. You can use a CRM like salesforce.com, or you can use something as basic as Microsoft Excel. I’ve even spoken to sales and support reps who still use pen and paper- Do what works best for your business, but do something.
- Respond to their requests quickly. This is a big one. In our fast paced world of ‘gotta-have-it-now’, your customers are impatient and they’re expecting to hear back from you very soon. 24 hour response times that were acceptable a few years ago are now rubbish. Think of the last time you waited 24 hours or more to hear back from someone on a question you asked…Annoying, isn’t it.
- Ask if their needs have been satisfactorily met. Remember my post on ‘Assuming confusion until proven otherwise’? Well, assume your customer’s are not happy until they tell you they are. Just because you answered a question doesn’t mean it actually solved the customers needs. And it definitely doesn’t mean they are happy with your response.
- Pay attention to how they are using the product. This can be done through analytics, or simply the old-fashioned way of physically observing someone using your stuff. Customers cannot always tell you exactly what they like or dislike, but you can quickly figure it out by watching their actions.
TAKE ACTION: Talk with your customers, regularly. Ask them questions about their experience and what would make it even better. Schedule time to do this, now.
I apologize in advance for potentially giving credit in the wrong place on this, but here’s an interesting tip I picked up from the book titled ‘Judgement on the Front Line’, by Chris DeRose and Noel M. Tichy. It goes like this…
“Until otherwise proven wrong, assume confusion.”
Now, I realize that without context that six-word statement may seem a bit obscure, but it is in fact a powerful message. Consider this- How many times have you sat in a meeting where a bunch of information is delivered, and everyone walks out not remembering 98% of what was said? And how many of that 98% shook their head agreeing their understood everything before they walked out? I’ve been to those meetings. Hell, I’ve been the naieve one presenting at those meetings.
In my experience, we tend to assume the opposite. I know I have. We assume that everyone is giving us laser-like focus and absorbing every last drop of information we’re spewing at them. [This is where I would insert the giant red buzzer that makes that annoying sound when you're wrong on a game show [eerrrrrrrrr!!].]
“Until otherwise proven wrong, assume confusion”, means, we need to get out and validate that people truly understand what we’ve asked them to do, with perfect clarity and uniformity. Ask follow-up questions. Offer knowledge assessments. Watch people in action to see how they are executing on the information. Test it!
TAKE ACTION: This advice is aimed at managers, but I’m sure it can apply in many other areas. The next time you deliver information to your team, expecting everyone to ‘just get it’, spend some time afterwards validating that they actually ‘got it’. To make it interesting, calculate the ‘information retention’ rate by dividing the number of people who truly understood what you were saying, by the number of people in attendance of your meeting.
Let me first start by saying that I am not always a fan of ‘all-things-Jack-Welch’, but do think he hits the nail on the head when it comes to a few topics- One in particular is the topic of ‘candor‘. The dictionary.com definition of candor is simply, ”the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression“. And while this definition is exactly what Welch talks about, I think his definitions are a tad more harsh.
I was listening to a 2009 Stanford Business interview with Jack Welch, on my way to work this morning, and it reminded me of some of his important, and all-so-true points on the topic of candor. I think most people and organizations can stand to practice the art of candor a little more frequently in their day to day.
Jack Welch’s 3 Key Points on Practicing Candor:
- Candor gets more people in the conversation, and when you get more people in the conversation, to state the obvious, you get idea rich. More ideas get surfaced, discussed, pulled apart, and improved.
- Candor generates speed. When ideas are in everyone’s face, they can be debated rapidly, expanded and enhanced, and acted upon. The approach is Surface, Debate, Improve, and Decide.
- Candor cuts costs. You may never be able to put a precise number on it, but it eliminates meaningless meetings and b.s. reports that confirm what everyone already knows.
Here’s one important, albeit contradictory tip on being candid. Use it wisely and in the right company. No matter how awesome it sounds to just tell it like it is, there will always be feelings and politics involved. So while you should still work towards candor, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
TAKE ACTION: Sometimes it helps to actually ask for permission to be candid when you’re speaking with someone. This offers something like a warning to the other person that what you’re about to say may come off more harsh than they would expect. Make sure they understand why you are being candid, are your true objectives. Hey, maybe you can even teach them about being candid, and its benefits.
To conclude this series of things-to-avoid-as-a-leader, here are the remaining 10 ‘to-don’ts’. If you still haven’t read the other two posts in this series, see ’20 Things to AVOID as a leader’ and ‘Accelerate Your Personal Growth By NOT Doing These 5 Things’.
As a leader, it’s not about you, it’s about ‘them’. Meaning, your primary responsibility is to ensure growth and the pursuit of excellence among your people. The higher up the leadership ranks you move, the more people you are responsible for. With this in mind, consider the following 10 things to avoid as a growing leader.
- Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
- Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
- Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.
- Playing favorites: Failure to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
- Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.
- Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
- Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners
- Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.
- Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
- An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.
Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them.
TAKE ACTION: Get started by identifying any of these things you may be doing in your day to day. Start small by making changes in a few areas, maybe the ones that can have the most immediate and sizable impact. For example, if you don’t normally say ‘thank you’ that often, get started now! These two words are some of the most powerful in a leaders vocabulary. With that being said, I’d like to thank you for reading this article!
Most people probably don’t associate Michael Jordan with failure too often, but here’s a few facts about the basketball god himself:
He missed more than 9000 shots in his career. He lost almost 300 games. 26 times, he was trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. He failed over and over and over again in his life. And, according to him, that is why he succeeded.
Here are a few ideas about failure, and its necessity in success:
Fail Forward, Fail Fast, Fail Better
The cost of inaction is far greater than failure. An idea without action is not worth the space it occupies in your brain.
Break items into small chunks which allows for more experimentation, leading for more chances for success.
Learn from what didn’t work, but continue toward what will work.
The best way to increase our amount of learning is to increase our amount of failure.
For me, personally, I’ve lived most my life afraid of failure. Only recently have I realized that I can actually speed my personal and professional progress by taking more risks, experimenting more, and as this article suggests, failing more.
TAKE ACTION: The first thing to understand is that, in most cases, failure is not the end of the world. Especially in the context of business, small failures, and even larger ones sometimes, are necessary milestones in learning and improving. Of course, this does not suggest you make haphazard decisions, but instead take more calculated risks- Move faster. The next project or task you work on that is supposed to take you 1, 3, or 6 months- See if you can cut that time in half. Set a shorter, more challenging time constraint and see what you can do.
Source: Digital Leader, @equalman
As a follow up to my last post, ’20 Things to AVOID as a leader’, here are the next 5 things (6-10) to avoid as a leader, and to move your career and life to the next level.
As much as possible, DON’T do the following:
- Tell the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.
- Speak when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
- Negativity or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.
- Withhold information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
- Fail to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward for a job well done. And don’t reserve recognition for only the giant, extraordinary things. Give praise to those who do the job their asked to do, well.
Take Action: Use the 5 second rule (not the one about eating food off the ground)- This rule explains that you should pause for 5 seconds (or 10 if you need it) before replying to questions or statements. By doing this, you can teach yourself to respond, when necessary, in positive, growth contributing ways. Additionally, and in relation to recognition, practice ‘catching people doing good’.
By nature, we seem to be programmed to seek out things-gone-wrong so we can fix them, punish for them, and in a lot of ways, be the hero. Flip the script for a month and instead focus on catching people do things well, and praising them for it, publicly. Others will see this and want the same recognition.
Check back tomorrow for the next 5 things in this series!
p.s. If you missed the previous post, see ’20 Things to AVOID as a leader’.
As you grow into leadership roles, the way you deal with stuff changes dramatically compared to when you’re rising up the ladder. In order to continue your growth, here are some invaluable tips from Marshall Goldsmith, Bestselling author of ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’.
There are 20 tips total, but we’ll get started with the first 5:
- Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations- when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point. This applies to your spouse/significant other as much as it does to co-workers, trust me.
- Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion. Don’t do this- You know who you are.
- Passing Judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
- Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty. They don’t make you sound sharp and witty; they make you sound like an asshole.
- Starting with “No”, “But”, or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right and you’re wrong”.
Take Action: Start practicing these tips as soon as possible. You will reap the benefits and realize you’re actually better offer by not wasting energy in these areas, both in business and in life.
p.s. Check back for the next 5 tips!
The hit TV show, Undercover Boss, follows big business executives (many times CEOs) around their own companies while they pose [undercover] as in-training frontline workers. The show illustrates how very different the big boss’s view is in comparison to what’s ACTUALLY going on, and keeping their businesses running on a day to day basis- The blood, sweat, and tears of their [sometimes forgotten] frontline workers.
It’s fair to say that the CEO of a large, or even smaller organization has a lot on their plate and can easily be once, twice, or a hundred times removed from where business is actually taking place- Between customers and frontline workers. That being said, there are [big] risks involved in losing sight of this ever-so-important area of the business.
The concept of this TV show should not be restricted to only CXO’s and presidents, and rather shared even with divisional managers and supervisors of frontline workers- And here’s why….
We live in a time of ‘do more with less’, and as a result, our managers and supervisors are ‘doing’ so much other stuff, it’s easy for them to lose focus of the people they are there to support and ensure success. Whether it’s being buried in reports, attending meetings, or working on various projects, all these things mean less and less time interfacing with staff- The folks talking with customers; the ones with the intimate knowledge of customer needs and problems; the ones who cause [or don’t’ cause] positive and negative social buzz; the important ones.
Of course, there’s hope for all of us- We CAN train ourselves to create habits of involvement. And believe it or not, pretty cool stuff happens when you do.
Take action with these 3 steps:
- MBWA- This stands for ‘Managing By Walking Around’. Get out of your office (I know it’s hard sometimes) and just walk around amongst your frontline staff and see how they’re doing. See if there’s anything you can help with, ask how the day is going, or just say hi. Most times, just the fact that you walk by will prompt conversations and insights you may have otherwise missed.
- Plan for it- Simply saying you will walk around each day is typically not enough to really make it happen. Plan for it in your day, put it on your calendar, and create a sign to remind yourself (I have one taped to my monitors). Don’t just hope you get time (because you won’t)- PLAN FOR IT!
- Have fun- The cool thing about this is that it really can be fun. Being stuck behind a computer screen all day is not fun. Talking with people and learning new things is, though. Chatting with your staff on an informal basis let’s you learn more about them, and it’s also the next closest thing to talking directly with your customers. So enjoy it!
One last thing…..this takes practice and discipline. I still would not consider myself a pro at it, but I’m not giving up!