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Sunday, 15 July 2018

Are Your Salespeople Hunters or Farmers? You Need Both!

My old sales mentor, the famed Phil Copp, Sage of Wythenshawe, was the embodiment of the classic salesman, unwilling to accept defeat and always ready to look at another innovative approach to solving a problem for his customer.

Phil was meticulous in his planning and knew every week precisely where he was going, who he was visiting and why.

I know that the world has changed significantly since those days and the dramatic developments in communication online have led to equally dramatic changes in marketing and sales methodology. 

There is no doubt that email, websites, LinkedIn, Twitter et al are fine and frankly have become essential components of business development today.  However it is still vital, perhaps more than ever, to meet your customers face to face, eyeball to eyeball, and build a relationship that cannot be done electronically.

Indeed, wise online marketers emphasise that every touch we make online should be looked upon as a conversation and designed as such.

Phil Copp would have loved today’s world and would have exploited it mercilessly to his advantage.  He would have been equally certain that he needed to make a specific number of calls at regular intervals to ensure that the personal relationships were kept warm and productive.

The key to his success was that he understood the difference between the sales hunter and the sales farmer, and most unusually, he combined the two because he understood that the world doesn’t stand still and like it or not, customers move on for many reasons.

He knew that, on average, he would make around 30 valid sales calls a week and that meant not just putting his head round the door and saying (metaphorically) “Owt today?”

On that basis he then divided his annual total of calls into 70% existing customers and 30% prospecting.  He would then plan the calling schedule for each week based on those ratios.

All very simple and nothing new, but he stuck to it religiously and consequently grew his part of the business significantly.

It was a combination of great relationships built on trust, and vast experience which led to his unsurpassed expertise and domain knowledge.

The problem in many cases is that often people in sales have been classified as either hunters or farmers and never the twain shall meet except to complain about each other’s activities,

The very title of Business Development implies searching for new outlets  and then presumably handing them over to someone else who will develop the relationship without any thought as to whether this can be done effectively.

Great sales people realise that it is far better to research the market, identify the potential, go to see them and open the door to building a relationship.  It’s not easy but it is the most satisfying part of any sales person’s business life.

Hunter or farmer?  You need to be both!    

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Sunday, 8 July 2018

How Trustworthy is Your Business? Are You Living Your Values!

One of the most overused and under achieved words is that of trust.  Indeed, it forms the essential basis of good relationships and lack of it can ruin them.

A quick look at the various definitions of trust in Wikipedia shows how difficult it is to define an emotion because that is what trust is.

Rather than define trust it is perhaps more useful to look at some of the various components particularly appertaining to relationships that demonstrate that a business is trustworthy:

  • Honesty
  • Competence
  • Reliability

Take a look at pretty well every website, mission statement, catalogue and leaflet describing the ethos of a company and we can guarantee that they will all stress the honesty and integrity that underpins the way that they do business.

It is patently obvious that no-one in their right minds would mention that their business dealings can be dishonest so the claim of honesty and integrity becomes pointless.

Honesty in business has to be demonstrated and proven.  For example when something goes awry do you contact the client or customer to tell them what has happened and what you are doing to correct it?

That is the sort of visible honesty that we all admire and moreover consider to be above and beyond normal run of business life.

Far too often we quietly omit to mention the problem in the frequently vain hope that it will go away which, of course, it usually doesn’t.

Competence again has to be demonstrated. It is all very well to claim that we have the best and most competent people in the organisation but until that is proven by the way that we interact with clients and customers then it becomes just another empty claim.

Problem solution, because that is what we are in business to achieve, becomes mandatory.

How often have we heard, for example, of great new software being installed into a company and the long  term problems that occur. That is not to take exception at the way that all IT companies do business nor are they the only ones at fault.

Competence covers a very wide spectrum and everything that we do must demonstrate that we know what we are doing, are in control of the situation and are honest in our dealings with our marketplace.

Reliability is possibly the most difficult to define and achieve.  Once again claims can be viewed as hollow until they are proven and that means that there must be a level of trust (or even hope) on both sides in order to prove the claim.

It has been wisely said that the first order is not the most important.  It is the second and subsequent order that demonstrates that claims have been justified and there is a beginning of trust on both sides.

Trust is not often an instant emotion.  Some people can take a great deal of time and effort to engender a level of trust that enables them to do business.

Equally there are some who are willing to take the risk to see whether the claims are justified or not.  In the end we have to decide whether we believe a person or a business to be trustworthy.

It bears some risk of course but as long as we maintain a culture that under no circumstances will we ignore our own ethos then the overall claim of being trustworthy will be substantiated.

Like communications, trust is a two way exercise and should always be treated as such. Like many emotional transactions trust is a delicate flower and it needs to be cared for and proven without exception.

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Sunday, 1 July 2018

Meetings, Bloody Meetings? Try The Single Topic Method!

For some reason productivity in the UK stays stubbornly on the low side and it is worth taking a look at possible reasons and solutions.

The Office for National Statistics list the measures of productivity as follows:

Economic productivity measures, including output per hour, output per job and output per worker for the whole economy and a range of industries; productivity in the public sector; and international comparisons of productivity across the G7 nations.

If we consider the measure of the value of output per hour there are has hidden anomalies (thank you Roger Martin-Fagg).

For example a barman in London serves 100 pints of beer per hour at £5.00 per pint so his output is  £500 per hour. At the same time a barman in Salford also serves 100 pints of beer but this time at £3.50 a pint  resulting in £350 produced.

Presumably the geniuses at the Office for National Statistics have covered all the bases or have they?  For example, if we look at measures covering an industry does that include everyone employed in the industry or only the “productive” workforce?  If it covers everyone as seems likely then the measures can mask any over-staffing at management level.

Some credence has been given to this thought recently with an announcement that a major UK business is intent on shedding some 6,000 jobs from a total of around 45,000 mainly from “middle management and administrative” jobs.

This, to me, suggests that in the good time businesses have tended to increase their head counts by the creation of positions that in some cases could be construed as vanity appointments.  The public sector is not above reproach by any means.

The question is, how, if at all, can this be rectified?

Merely scrapping the livelihoods of thousands of people does something to alleviate the position but it is dramatic and in personal terms, traumatic and must be handled sensitively.  Remember, it is management who created these jobs in the first place.

If we want to improve productivity just take a clear and honest look at some of the meetings that we have attended recently and ask ourselves these questions:

  • What was the purpose of the meeting?
  • Was everyone there aware of the purpose?
  • What actions resulted from the meeting?
  • Who was accountable for the action/s, to whom and by when?

Simple stuff but we have all been to meetings that last two or three hours and we come away wondering what was that all about.

In a very exciting period of my career I worked in the Slater Walker Group, one of the businesses in the 1970s that cleared out a great deal of dead wood from British industry by the simple expedient of acquiring under priced companies with fat balance sheets and then using a 100 day project to slim them down and release assets

Jim Slater, the Chairman and CEO (pre-Cadbury of course) ran board meetings with a rod of iron.  Finance was discussed for no more than twenty minutes followed by a rigid adherence to a short agenda covering points for action.

The minutes were exclusively a list of actions to be taken, by whom and by when with accountability to the the next board meeting, and it worked.

Meetings can be the bane of our lives if we are not careful so why not reduce them to the very minimum?  Why not have a meeting with just one single topic. Exclusively?

The people attending should have direct interest or responsibility for outcomes and the timing needs to be absolutely strict.  Agreed actions are then reported as usual with no excuses for lateness.

We expect the shop floor and the wealth creators in the business to produce their output with the greatest possible expediency and attention to purpose so why not transmit that ethos to the overall management of the business?

We can’t create more time but we can allocate it more sensibly and certainly we can implement methods to reduce the wastage of management time.  

That should have a salutary effect on productivity in the end.

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Sunday, 24 June 2018

Finding Mistakes in the Business? “We Gotta Accentuate the Positive!”

Vistage UK speaker, Marcus Child, tells of hearing the pre-match briefing by the coach of his son’s football team.  He was enthusiastic, engaging, practical and...almost entirely negative.

That does sound strange until we analyse what he was saying to the team.  The exhortations were all about “we must stop passing sideways”, “we need to stop them…”, “don’t waste your efforts on…” and so in in the same vein.

All very sensible but negative as the  use of the words such as Stop, Don’t, Can’t and so on have a subtle effect on the subconscious.

The fact is that in many situations in business meetings we do tend to emphasise the correction of errors and the sorting out the results of negative events.

There is no doubt that we need to do something about these situations but not to the exclusion of positive events.

If we concentrate on the correction of mistakes then they take on an importance that is possibly unrealistic.

It is always enlightening to check the financial impact of any error that has occurred and then to compare it to the financial value of something that has been accomplished.

More often than not there is an imbalance, in that the cost of the error is less than the value of the success.

In other words we need to get these matters into perspective.

Certainly we need to consider any errors or mistakes that occur but primarily so that we can learn from them and ensure that the systems, processes and procedures are sufficiently robust or need to be adjusted to eliminate as far as possible any repeat.

More importantly consideration of errors must never be used as a present day star chamber to allocate that dreaded word, blame.

I have posted recently about this toxic approach and it bears repetition.  There is too much enthusiasm to allocate blame for something that has gone awry and it seems that one factor is to make sure that the world knows that “it wasn’t me, guv’nor”.  It is so easy to find fault, to allocate blame, to ensure that “heads must roll” and all the other unpleasant effects of the blame culture.  Unpleasant they are and toxic because they generate an atmosphere of fear that, heaven forfend, it might happen to me so I will keep my head down.

Meetings that emphasise errors and failures psychologically have a negative effect on the participants so it is better to design the agenda of the meeting to counterbalance that effect with positive messages.

In essence it is better to reduce the emphasis on stopping errors and start boosting positive accomplishments.

In some of my one-to-one sessions with the members of my Vistage CEO peer group I tend to start the meeting by asking what problems have arisen in the business since we last met.  This must then be followed by a celebration of what has been really successful. Starting the meeting with negative issues followed by discussion of successes can really help to put problems into perspective.

Another question to ask ourselves is why do we put so much emphasis on analysing an error that was relatively minor and then almost disregard the positive effects  and the value realised of our accomplishments?

Professor Steve Peters would say that it is the chimp (emotional) brain taking over from the human (rational) brain.  The problem is that the chimp is five times more powerful than the human so we need to work on remedies to correct the imbalance.

Simply said, in the words of the war-time song:

“Man, they said, you gotta accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with mister in-between”.

What else do we need say.

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Sunday, 17 June 2018

Need to TaKe Action When Times Are Tough? Be Prepared and do it Now!

One of the alumni of my Vistage CEO peer group used to say that your average CEO/MD is confident, outgoing, decisive, energetic, far-sighted among many other desirable personal attributes and underneath they are a bubbling mass of insecurity.

Rather over the top perhaps but it does illustrate the exigencies of the responsibility for a business and its people.

Above all is the feeling of impending problems perhaps when the economy shows a reluctance to improve and a marked tendency to decline with all the consequent implications for the business.

For example, the effects of the weakness in sterling, the uncertainties of the Brexit process, increased costs due to business rates and pay legislation, have all contributed to a slowdown in retail activity  and in the consequent loss of many high street outlets and jobs.

There is a good deal of hand wringing going on with businesses, unions and, of course, the media about how dreadful is the situation but few cogent ideas as to a solution. The cry goes up:  “The government needs to do something about it”.

Not so. We need to understand and accept that, at best, government can do little to achieve anything more than some tinkering around the edges of the economy.  Global influences are far more relevant these days in their effect on the domestic economy.

I was struck last week during a one-to-one with one of my members when he asked  a very thoughtful question.
Why is it” he said, “if it is the right decision to make in response to a downturn, that we do’t do it now?”  

I did mention the wise advice of Mark Twain who said: “I am old and have known many troubles but most of them never happened”.

Of course part of the answer is that we go into defensive mode when these external influences result in problems not of our making and when we are then forced into remedial action.

The problems arise from that group of external influences under the acronym PESTLE (political, economic, sociological, technological, legal and environmental) over none of which we have any significant influence.

Indeed, the only action we can take is reactive as the event hits home and by then it is often too late.  Or is it?

Back to my member’s question. Agreed if we wait for  events to arise we can only react to mitigate any harmful effects but how often do try to anticipate events?

It has been said wisely that nothing happens suddenly. There is always a progression of smaller events leading up to the major one, even happenings like road accidents, weather and Heaven forfend, wars.

If that is truly the case (and check it out for yourself) then we ought to be able to do something about it now rather than wait for the cataclysm.

UK Vistage speaker, the wonderful Jo Haigh, says that Health and Safety needs to be a constantly recurring item on the agenda of any company board meeting.   Why not extend that philosophy to items under the PESTLE headings that maybe significant to the business?

Indeed, it seems to make sense for every member of the management team to take responsibility for investigating the potential impact of a particular and potential PESTLE event that could have a bearing on the business.

You won’t be right all the time but it may just save you from a last minute reaction to save a situation. Time spent in preparation is seldom wasted.

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Sunday, 10 June 2018

In Decision Making Mode? Try This Ancient Technique!

It has become a cliche to say that there is nothing new under the sun.  Kabbalah, the ancient Jewish religious mysticism holds ten emanations as central to the ethos. A group of three of them are totally relevant today and have great resonance for me.

The acronym for this group in transliterated Hebrew is Chabad signifying Chochma (wisdom), Binah (understanding) and Dat (knowledge)

This group covers three of the most significant tenets of modern leadership and deserve some further discussion.

Some years ago my Vistage CEO peer group had the pleasure of hearing US speaker Herb Meyer, who had been the senior counsellor at the CIA, give a paper on the difference between data and intelligence.

In the extraordinary growth of data availability that we now enjoy, to a large extent there is far too much data quickly available out there than we know how to handle.

We can ask any question that we like on Google and within a nano-second be given access to a range of sites with all the information that we need.

I heard a great story recently. A hermit who had been holed up in a cave for fifty years decided to rejoin the world. In conversation with the first person he met he suggested that things will have changed somewhat.

They certainly have” said his new friend, “For example, I have in my pocket a device that gives me access to all the knowledge in the world!”

Gracious me” said the hermit, “What do you use it for?

Mainly for looking at pictures of dogs, cats and other people’s dinner and having arguments with total strangers” was the reply.

It is almost embarrassing to confess that we all understand that one.

Another problem lies in the fact that we are now data-rich and time-poor so the question is, how can we be more usefully selective in the vast opportunities now open to us?

Kabbalah demonstrates the route from knowledge, through understanding to the ultimate objective of wisdom. It encourages us to seek genuine knowledge, to work with others to develop understanding and thus to reach the ultimate goal of wisdom.

This was thought in those early days to be so powerful an insight that only men over the age of forty were considered to have sufficient experience to be allowed to study Kabbalah.

Herb Meyer put it into modern context defining the route as data leading to information resulting in intelligence.

With almost limitless access to data the need for filtering and contextual research is evident in order to make it manageable, usable and relevant.

The next move is to analyse this information to develop intelligence that will allow us to strengthen our understanding and most importantly  to make relevant decisions.

It is all very logical.  Good desk research can be of enormous importance in moving a business forward.

At one stage in my career I produced multi-client market research projects for a US company, using both field and desk research methods.

To my surprise, even then, I realised that there was a vast amount of published data out there that often was of more value than that resulting from interviews in the field.

It is remarkable that an ancient religious and mystical philosophy not only has relevance today but can also give us an insight into the effectiveness of our  current decision making processes.

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