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Sunday, 28 February 2016

Has Your Chimp Taken Over? Try a Little Autosuggestion!

In Vistage we have the privilege of hearing many world- class speakers on a wide range of subjects ranging from hard business topics right through to intensely personal subjects to help our members in the difficult task of leadership.

This week we have had the special privilege of hearing psychiatrist Professor Steve Peters give a captivating presentation to one of our Open Day audiences in Manchester on “Optimising the Performance of the Human Mind”.

Professor Peters came to public fame during the 2012 Olympic Games in London when he acted as consultant to the Team GB Cycling which was extremely successful gaining many medals including several gold.

His wonderful and readable book, The Chimp Paradox, has become essential reading for many members of my Chief Executive peer groups and his presentation emphasised that we can all change the way that our minds work given that we can understand how it works.

In the days of my youth I discovered the work of a French psychotherapist, one Emile Coue (1857-1926) and his philosophy interested me.  He became very fashionable in the 1920s with his concept of autosuggestion for self-improvement that has become almost proverbial.

In essence, and it was very simple, he advocated clasping the hands fairly tightly and then saying:

“Every day and in every way I am getting better and better”

What was particularly interesting was that this mantra needed to be repeated frequently and quietly.  Coue said that this would achieve its objective; that is, to increase self esteem leading to continuous improvement.

Coue came to mind when I heard a piece on the radio this week when a contributor told the story of how he had been able to minimise the effects of a serious illness through autosuggestion.

When he was a child he was diagnosed as having asthma and his doctors told him that if ever he had an attack and for some reason did not have his inhaler with him, he should lie down, close his eyes, clasp his hands and repeat continuously, “It is passing”.

It happened that on a trek in a forest at the age of 12 with a companion, he had an attack and would you know, he hadn’t brought his inhaler.  While his companion went for help he took his doctor’s advice and repeated the “It is passing” phrase continuously.

When help arrived he said that he had felt the muscles in his chest start to relax and he had come out of the worst of the attack.

There are many resonances with Coue here.  His experience demonstrated that we are able to affect our own well being by this technique of autosuggestion.

The Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah has used meditative techniques to develop its philosophy for more than 2000 years.  It is fair to assume that there must be something in it.

We all go through times that are taxing and difficult to comprehend.  It could be a loss of some sort, financial problems, marital and relationship issues and many others.

At the same time we always seem to exaggerate the issue and the potential outcome probably inaccurately.  Professor Peters says that it is the Chimp brain taking over.

I tend to use two very simple mantras:

I ask myself  Does it matter, does it really matter?” and if the answer is “no” then I am on the way to solving my problem.

The other, and this I have used before I heard the radio piece, is:

         “This too shall pass”

which is a medieval proverb dating from around 1200CE and originating in both Persian and Hebrew.

It is all a matter of understanding and accepting that the only constant in the universe is change and all situations, both good and bad, will change in some way.  Autosuggestion is a technique that we all can use at the right time and in the right way.

Read The Chimp Paradox.  You won't be sorry that you did.

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Sunday, 21 February 2016

Why Is Sales a Dirty Word? Treat it Like a Profession!

I constantly find it strange that so many companies and people for that matter look upon sales and selling as rather rude and something not to be mentioned in polite company.

Too often do we hear the description of a person as a “used car salesman” which frankly is demeaning to the person and indeed to used car salesmen.

I recall interviewing a potential sales person and the young lady proved to have a pleasant personality and gave a good overall impression.  This lasted until she said “I would be good at sales because I have the gift of the gab”.  End of interview.

The fact is that, in this country we don’t look upon sales as a profession and one to be treated as such.  We use descriptions like Business development Executive so that we don’t have to use the dread word, sales.

In fact it is the sales effort that drives the top line of the business and even if a large proportion of revenue accrues from existing customers or clients, nevertheless, they were originally contacted by someone selling something to them.

In other countries and especially the USA sales is looked upon as an honourable profession and one to be admired.  Would that this attitude prevailed here.

So many companies leave the selling of their products or services to people who are operational in the business and just expect them to bring in business without any thought as to how they are doing it or what methods they are using to achieve success.

Networking is a vital part of the marketing effort that is used by many businesses especially in the professions and rightly so if it makes it easier to develop contact’s and even friendships that can mean gaining business.

The question to ask is how professional are these people who are manifestly good in their professional activities but we just don’t knowhow good they are at developing sales from the contacts?

I know of several professional practices using this technique and a constant moan is that people build contacts but nothing happens after that.  The whole point of networking in this context is to achieve sales for the business and if the individual is left to their own devices then we just don’t know how they are progressing (or not) the contact they have made.

There needs to a radical change in approach.  While I am not averse to the operational individual generating business we go about it is a very haphazard way.  We expect them to have all the operational skills for which the business or practice is known and also to have the ability to sell to potential customers.

Quite frankly this is a vein hope in so many cases that I have encountered.

It is time to change the approach to sales and selling.  It is just as important, even more so, than the skills for a particular position in the business and any realistic leader will recognise that.

If you want people to sell your products or services to the outside world then it is essential to give them training in the techniques that are available to them.  We seem just to assume that people with functional skills will be able to sell them to the markets and that again is too often a vain hope.

It would be nice to think that businesse3sin the UK will take this in board and start to accept the importance of selling in a business.  It is not marketing which is a research function that should generate leads.  It is a face-to-face meeting between a potential customer and a person who understands that asking questions is far ore valuable than merely listing all they thighs that we can do.

Train your people (including your sales people) by the way) treat then like professionals and then see how they operate.  Sales is the most measurable function in a business and you will quickly see where there needs to be training.  Do that and you won’t go far wrong.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" fro Amazon
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Sunday, 14 February 2016

Football as a Metaphor for Business? You Must be Kidding!

In their brilliant book, The Puritan Gift, Kenneth and William Hopper make the point that the original settlers in America took with them certain truths that became the centerpiece of their life in the New World.

There were four major principles that underpinned their creation of a new society in what became America, one of which was that the needs of the individual would always be subsumed to the needs of the group and the community.

This led to the principles of organisation that again led to the building of the great engines of growth, those companies that led the world in technology and production methods in the 19th century.

I don’t often take much notice of the stuff (rubbish even!) on Facebook but one post this week took my fancy:

It doesn’t matter of they win the league or not.
In the end what matters is that they have proved to the world that football isn’t just about money or a team filled with world-class players.
It’s also abut passion, determination and teamwork

What a wonderful metaphor for business and note how it matches the great principles of the Puritans so long ago.

I am not a particularly avid follower of football.  It suffers too much from the venality of the system and the tribalism of the supports to be enjoyable.

The focus for this piece of epic prose nevertheless is a football team, Leicester City that a year ago was fighting for its place in the Premier League of English football and faced a real threat of relegation.

Only a year later Leicester City are leading the league table and have a margin of four points over their nearest rival.

Pundits on TV and radio have many reasons (in their minds) for this amazing recovery most of which they consider hinge on the technical aspects of the game.

We hear a raft of clich├ęs like “top third of the pitch, plenty of width, attacking the near post” and other similarly mystifying opinions.  Leicester City certainly have two strikers who have scored many of their goals during the season but in general, they don’t have many with international experience and certainly none who could be called world class.

How then have they achieved this remarkable turn around and confounded most of the critics of the game of which there are legion?

It seems to me that the answer is both simple and very difficult to achieve.  It is a matter of teamwork with all the players working for the team and for each other rather than acting as prima donnas.

The previous manager who left the club last year started to develop this team ethos and it has been carried on with great effect by their new leader, Claudio Ranieri, an avuncular and fatherly figure who absolutely refuses to discuss the real possibility of the team finishing the season as League leaders. Certainly he has given the players the chance to express themselves without overpowering them with theory.

His response to questions from the aforesaid pundits is always on the lines of “We work as a team and we won’t know how successful that has been until May”.  He doesn’t even discuss winning marches; rather that they play in the way that has given them these results so far and one that has been manifestly successful.

Whether they don or they do not finish the season in top place is, in a sense, academic.  The fact that they have achieved remarkable results so far is testament to how they all think about the game and more importantly their place in the team.

Once again, this is a great metaphor for business and leadership in general.

Why should people at work not operate ion the same way?  Companies which recognise the value of morale, team working, leadership that assists rather than directs and above all, gives resect to everyone on the team are demonstrably successful.

Ken Saltrese, my good friend and the first Managing Director of Vistage in the UK, used to say:

“No-one is as smart as all of us”

and that, for me says it all.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Lots Of Lovely Customers? You May Have Too Many!

One of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group recently noticed that while the number of customers was growing, the turnover and certainly the profitability didn’t seem to match up.

He did some checking and using the ubiquitous Pareto analysis (80:20 rule) he discovered that, as usual, the top 20% of the customer list on his sales ledger accounted near enough 80% of sales turnover and much the same for profitability.

It is a simple analysis but it seems to me that not many business leaders make the check.  The member of my group did a little more searching and discovered to his horror that not only were 80% of his customers doing, in general, little business on a regular basis with the business, but they proved to be the ones that caused the most problems.

This group placed small orders and not on a regular basis, they were slow in paying and had the majority of complains, many of which seemed to be allied to the payment date.

In total the business had around 250 customers and he made the brave decision to prune the list in order to deal with larger outlets and to reduce if possible the problems associated with the small ones.

This meant that he would reduce the customer list to about 50 so what to do with the balance?  He didn’t want just to stop dealing with them; rather he wanted to arrange something that would keep them as a customer in some way but without the hassle of everyday contact.

His business supplied food products to a range of outlets; small retailers direct in some cases, small and larger wholesales and, most importantly, major high street supermarkets.

He made contact with one of his larger customs, a major wholesaler in the field, and offered then a deal whereby he would pass over about 200 customers at arranged a pricing structure to suit both sides.

It worked remarkably well and the consequence was that he was able to deal with the significant customers in his business on a far more profitable basis and giving better service as well.

Pareto still applied of course and eventually he reduced his customer list even further with even more success.

Naturally you can go so far and no further because at some time the customer list would be reduced to single figures, which would probably, imply severe vulnerability a most undesirable factor.

The fact is that there are very good customers, good customers, average customers and some about whom we wonder why on earth we deal with them?  The question is, what are we going to do about it?

A judicious look at your list of customers will almost certainly throw up some that are problematical, small quantities bought, poor and from Amazonlate payers and are the most adept at complaining. 

The cost of these customers is not restricted to their lack of contribution; it needs to cover all the time taken by sales staff, dispatch departments, accounts departments and all the other people associated with satisfying the customer.  The results can be a shock.

Another of my members was dealing with a very large and extremely demanding major client who gave him a very difficult time.  He did a cost analysis and discovered that while the business was adding significantly to the top line, the actual value of the customer was very low indeed.

He took the really brave decision to stop supplying them and this to their considerable amazement.  They came back to him in six months or so and on terms that made much more sense.

The old adage of “Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king” always applies and a careful look at your customer list can make significant improvements to your performance.

Download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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