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Monday, 26 May 2014

I Can Sell, I’ve Got the Gift of the Gab, Right? Wrong! You Need to Solve Problems!

I had the pleasure a couple of weeks ago of hearing a great presentation by US Vistage speaker, Ian Altman, on his theory of sales called Upside Down Selling.

There are multifarious articles, books, blogs, videos and much else on sales and selling but Ian treats the whole matter in a really uncomplicated manner with tips and angles to help along the way.

One of the basic factors is the fact that selling is not telling.  It consists of asking pertinent questions and then allowing the customer to bring out the issues.

In other words, sales people do not sell as such.  They are, in fact, problem solvers on behalf of the customer.

Think about it.  Every need of any of us relates to an issue that needs to be solved.  Even if we find a hole in a sock and decide to buy another pair, then the vendor is solving a problem for us.

The trick is to uncover that particular need so that the problem can be solved to the mutual satisfaction of the customer and the vendor.

To illustrate this, I recall that now many years ago I was in darkest Accrington with my old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the sage of Wythenshawe.  We found ourselves outside one of the many cotton
weaving mills in the town.  Phil stopped the car, got out slowly (he never leapt anywhere if he could help it), sniffed the air and said in commanding tones:

“Come on, we have business to do here!”

We went into reception and Phil demanded to see the works engineer who eventually appeared in his oily boiler suit and wiping his hands on a filthy rag.

Phil immediately told the engineer that he was running a particular process and he knew that they would be having problems with it.

Slightly surprised, the engineer agreed and Phil then demanded to go down into the shop to look over this process.  He told the engineer that he could solve the problem and sure enough, he did just that.

He could smell the problem and he could and did solve the problem.

That takes a large measure of experience to say the least but by asking the right questions any similar problem can generally be identified.

The key to all this is top understand that when a customer calls us they are doing so because they have a problem and they want someone to solve it for them.  This is one of the universal great truths of selling and sadly we often miss the opportunity.

If we sell to a customer based on our knowledge of our product or service that we offer then we are arrogantly assuming that we know best and we know better than the customer what they want.

If, however, we look back at our business from the outside we can see then precisely what the customer needs and to do that we will have to ask the aforesaid pertinent questions.

We need to discover why people need us, not what it is that we are selling to them.

Asking questions like this will uncover and satisfy the needs of perhaps 50% of customers and that is a high hit rate.


Remember, telling isn’t selling.  It is the problem solving that entices the customer into doing business with us.  It is WHY they need us, not WHAT we are selling.

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Sunday, 18 May 2014

What Do You Mean, You Didn’t Have the Time? You Have Exactly The Same as Everyone Elses

There probably more quotes about the subject of time than any other subject other than, perhaps, love.

Typical are:

·      Time and tide wait for no man
·      I would have written a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time
·      Time after time

It’s all very well but have you ever taken time out to try to define the concept of time?  Here are a couple of examples:

·      The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.

·      The continued progress of existence as affecting people and things:

These are philosophical concepts rather than scientific and they make nonsense of the idea that we can “manage time” as espoused by many consultants specialising in Time Management.

I frequently hear from clients that “I just didn’t have the time to get round to it” or phrases to the same effect.  What they are saying, of course, is that they didn’t manage themselves to allocate the time in which to do the task.

It is equally illogical to say that we need to “make time to do something” when this is obviously a nonsensical idea because if we find difficulty in defining “time” how can we possibly “make time”.

Alright, I am being pedantic but it is wroth examining why time takes up so much of our daily conversations and discussions as well as, sadly, many reasons and excuses for non-performance.

The fact is that modern living has changed and indeed shortened our concept of time.  A mere few years ago, we managed to exist on letters sent by what is now know as “snail mail”, the telephone and by some magical modern inventions such as fax and telex (remember them?)

The development of the Internet and mobile communication has completely revolutionised our lives.  How did we exist without the ability to make contact with someone irrespective if what they are doing, whether they are busy or whether they want to speak to us in the first place?
Because of this ability many customers are becoming ever more demanding, telling us that there is a meeting scheduled (by then) for a couple of days hence and our attendance is required, and so on.

Look back not too far into the past.  We would normally give at least a couple of weeks notice of a meeting to discuss important matter and isn’t that a matter of courtesy anyway?

I like the idea that if we as leaders plot on a quadrant Important against Urgent, in the Not Important, Not Urgent, square the obvious response it to put on the back burner or the waste bin.

In the Urgent but Not Important square we can ask the question, “If it is urgent, what is important about it? And in the Important and Urged square, then some thing does of course nee to be done.

The square which the leader should note as special is the Important but Not Urgent because this implies that the future is the time when the leader needs to devote energy and thought.


So remember that we can’t make time, the best we can do is to understand that priorities must be established and we can them allocate the time to make sure that they are achieved.


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Sunday, 11 May 2014

As CEO How Do I Run The Business? Stand Back, You Need to be Hands Off!

One of the members of my Vistage CEO group has just been through the abortive sale of the company and, as a consequence, he has looked at the governance of the business going forward.

His decision initially was to promote his deputy to the role of Managing Director and take on the new role of Chief Executive Officer himself.

This caused me to think about the definition of roles, certainly at a senior level in a business, and how these definitions can and should be communicated to everyone to ensure the minimum of overlap.

The role of the CEO starts, I would suggest, with the statement that the CEO does not run the company although he/she has the responsibility for ensuring that the business runs effectively.

Moreover, that responsibility covers not only the successful performance of the business but also the vision, the strategic direction of the business, the need for the maintenance of the values espoused, the personnel and HR policies, and the overall financial health of the company.

These are not day-to-day operational matters but are crucial in the effective running of any business.

Perhaps it makes sense to point out that the role of the CEO is much closer to that of the Chairman rather than merely a promoted Managing Director, with all that that implies.

There are certain areas of activity which are part of the CEO role which include a constant monitoring of capital expenditure, the recruitment policy, the health and safety policy, maintaining the virtuoso aspects of all new recruits and constantly looking for talent both outside and even more importantly, inside the business.

On the other hand, the role of the Managing Director under these circumstances is a far more hands on role with full responsibility for the successful operation of all the facets of the business and without the temptation to micro-manage.

In short the difference is that of a “hands on” role as distinct from a “hands-IN” or even worse, “fingers-in” role.

For some people, the change from a hand-on role to a very much hands off role can be difficult to cope with and I have heard it said on occasion that:

·      “I feel almost embarrassed at apparently having nothing to do when the people are working hard for the business and I seem to be doing nothing”

Please note: the word at issue is DOING.

One of the our US speakers, Ole Carlson, during the time that he was a Group Chairman in Vistage, used to put up a banner at meetings which said, in effect:

  • ·      “We only do CEO stuff around here”


and that neatly encompasses the difference between a strategic and an essentially tactical role in the business.

In the Vistage peer group system there is often a tendency for members to bring to the table issues which are essentially operational and which, frankly, should be considered on an operational basis.  The people running the business know far more about how to run it than a group of people without having any domain knowledge.

On the other hand, the leadership role theoretically can be transposed from one company to another simply because the role has broad similarities, company to company.

That is a massive generalisation, of course, and some domain knowledge is very valuable in the management of the business but it does say that many functions of leadership are transferable.

Overcoming the pain of not being involved day0to-day takes considerable persistence and dedication, and mainly, a determination by the CEO that his/her hands don’t need to be dirty.  There are other and better ways of demonstrating the value on the CEO role to the business and that starts with “hands off”.

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Monday, 5 May 2014

It Is Impossible and It Won’t Work? Dare to be Different, and Give it a Try!

Vistage chairs met this week in Manchester for an excellent National Meeting and, as usual, there were a great many invaluable “take-aways” both during the formal meetings and in chat afterwards.

One which struck me forcibly was:

·      “SMART Objectives Are Boring!”

When one has a deeply ingrained conviction and has used the SMART acronym on many occasions, hearing someone rubbish it is shocking, that is, until a little circumspection is applied.

Starting at the beginning, the SMART acronym says that all goals or objectives need to be defined in a SMART way, that is:

·      S – specific
·      M – measurable
·      A – achievable
·      R - relevant
·      T  - time base.

All very logical and indeed sensible.

Setting of the goal must be done in a carefully crafted manner with specific outcomes defined.  I have seen goals defined in the past by someone seemingly attempting to write the next great British novel or so it appeared from the volume of words which were supposed to encapsulate what it was intended to achieve.

A couple of short bullet points should always suffice in defining the objectives.

Similarly it must always be possible to measure the progress and ultimate result of the project otherwise the definition of success will vary from person to person.  Equally unless a project is time based with finite deadlines specified, there will never be a satisfactory conclusion (or is that just stating the obvious?).

However, when we look at the middle two, achievable and relevant, it is perfectly possible to argue that both of them will lead to a mediocre result and will not, in any way, stimulate progressive thinking or action.

Indeed, they both would lead to a boring and probably predictable outcome with everyone feeling comfortable and unchallenged.

The fact is that mediocrity in thinking and planning leads inevitably to mediocrity in everything else and probably, in the event, to a mediocre result.

The question is therefore, can we work towards an objective which is not achievable or, at least, seems to be?

In so many cases the easily achieved objective becomes the norm and hinders any progression in the business.

Lee Thayer, US Vistage speaker and a great business thinker, tells the story of a discussion with a CEO who was aiming towards the conventional 10% increase in sales for the next few years.

When Lee suggested that this should be re-written doubling turnover in the next year, after the shock had dissipated somewhat, all the old clich├ęs about the impossibility of achieving it came out.

Lee listened and after the CEO had spent his emotion, said to him:

“The question is, if we were to double turnover next year to $40million, what we need to do in order to achieve it, in specific terms, department by department?”

That was the light bulb moment for the CEO and eventually, with the enthusiastic input of his team, they went for it – and failed.

In fact they achieved $37.5 million and went on to grow at a great rate for some years.

The bald fact is that unless we use B-HAGS (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) we will achieve, at best, mediocrity which would give us more time to watch the competition speeding past us.

Henry Ford said “If you say you can and you say you can’t, you are always right” and great Vistage speaker Marcus Child says “You can if you think you can”, both of which just emphasise that positivity can overcome most obstacles to success.


Dare to be different, involve everyone and just watch the build up of engagement and enthusiasm in the people.

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