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Sunday, 28 January 2018

Having Difficulty Closing the Sale? You Need to Ask AIDA to Help!

One of the perennial faults with many sales people (note: Sales, not Business Development) is the tendency to talk incessantly rather than to ask questions and then shut up and listen.

I well recall a young lady who came to us for a sales position and she proudly told us that she would be ideal for the job as she “had the gift of the gab”.  She was right. End of interview.

It seems to me that not only do we need to ask pertinent questions and then listen but we also need to be very aware of what might be called buying signals from the buyer.  I am using that description although it encompasses any individual sitting across the table in a sales pitch and they can be in any function of their business, not only in the Purchasing role.

Again I remember being taken to a sales call with a senior colleague a lot of years ago and I was there to learn from the master.  He started out by showing the buyer our brochure with some lovely photographs of the Managing Director and the factory and eventually got round to discussing the reason for the call.

The buyer listened to the sales pitch which had been delivered without any reference to his possible needs and started to nod from time to time and make interested noises.

This is called a “buying signal” and the great sales people like my old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the Sage of Wythenshawe, would immediately take the hint and start in on the detail and possible ways in which we could help to solve a problem.

Not my senior colleague.  He prattled on until the buyer’s eyes started to glaze over as he looked at his watch and shuffled some papers. Even then my colleague didn’t take the hint until we were courteously but firmly shown the door.  My colleague appeared satisfied with this result and said that we would meet again in a couple of months time etc etc etc and off we went.

The moral of the story?  Not only do we need to ask questions and then listen but we also need to keep a very close eye on how the buyer reacts to information.

In fact I was given a great mnemonic this week to ensure that we do just that.  It is:

·      AIDA

which stands for

Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action those being the stages through which any buyer would pass during the sales pitch.  Please note, that is what would IDEALLY pass.

The initial route is to ask relevant questions to elicit, if at all possible, the level of need on the part of the buyer followed by at least a modicum of information to create the awareness of your product or service, always answering the WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) question.

At this stage we need to look out for expressions of interest and ideally expressions of desire (that would do the job, it sounds just right for us, how much?) and so on.

Finally there is the action phase and surprisingly that seems to be the one which gives so many sales people the biggest problems. 

Heaven protect us from those sales people who create great relationships and don’t ever close them out. In the end, we have to Ask For The Order (another acronym - AFTO) and there are many ways in which to do that.

The key to the whole discussion of effective selling techniques is to realise that we don’t sell, but people buy from us and they buy from us because they have a problem to solve.  They are in the driving seat and it behoves us to use that charming lady, AIDA to encourage the buyer along the path to success (ours, that is).

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Sunday, 21 January 2018

Too Much Negativity Around? Aim To Be The Best!

Good, better, best
May I never rest
Until my good is better
And my better, best

It’s a neat little verse that expresses the views of motivators and the motivated over the years.

It is however just one aspect of life.  What about the reverse approach:

Bad, awful, worst
May I never burst
Until my bad is awful
And my awful, worst

The fact is that behaviour and attitude are all on a continuum with evil at one end and angelic at the other, with most of us hovering at some point hopefully towards the “good” end.

Indeed the philosophers would say that there can be no good without evil to counterbalance it.  If there were no evil then there would still be levels of good and we would then tend to regard the bottom end as bad.

The vast majority of us, thank heavens, would go with the verse at the top with the caveat that it is easy to say but not as simple to achieve.

It is said that we need to do something on a regular basis for at least thirty days for it to become a habit and self-motivation can be and should be a habit.

In the 1920s a French psychologist, Emile Coue, propounded a simple technique that does help in building habit.  He suggested that we clasp the hands tightly ad repeat:

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

and regular repetition will make that into a habit.

The point is that motivation is not a “one-off” exercise.  It has to be done a continuous basis so that we take adversity as it comes and handle it with a belief that it is just a hurdle that needs to be overcome.

We all enjoy the masterful expositions of motivational speakers but like a good meal the effect can wear off quickly if we don’t put some procedure in place to make sure that it doesn’t.

It is all about positivity in the end.  I am constantly irritated by the moanings of the protesters, naysayers and gloom mongers who seem to populate television and who loudly express indignation at the very thought that someone can disagree with them.

Sadly they don’t often offer ideas as to how their protests can be solved; the protest becomes the only reality.  They are people who can only suggest a problem for any opportunity and that is totally negative.

We should take Coue’s advice and look positively at how we look at life.  If we make a real habit of being positive and taking on real opportunities positively then we can move further up that continuum towards “best”.

Perfection is not in our grasp but a great improvement certainly is.  What’s more it makes us feel better and that is no bad thing.

A smile is a good start.  One of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group has a notice in his large retail store that says: “If someone doesn’t give you a smile, give them one of yours” and that is a great thought for the day.

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Sunday, 14 January 2018

Experiencing Bad or Good Luck? The Answer Is Be Prepared!

It is strange that some people seem to wish others Good Luck in the most odd circumstances. For example why would we wish some good luck when they are about to have an operation?  Far better to wish the surgeon a good night’s sleep and a steady hand.

The dictionary definition of luck is “the force that makes things happen, for good or evil, by chance and not as a result of effort or ability”.

Let’s take an example. We bet on whether a tossed coin will com down heads to tails and, lo and behold, it comes down heads ten times consecutively.   For obvious statistical reasons the more we toss the coin, eventually it will come down 50/50 heads and tails.  Ten times running is a statistical aberration and will eventually be absorbed into the 50/50.

However the luck effect depends on the original decision; whether we bet heads or tails and then on the number of times we are right (or lucky).

In any case we are not in control of the outcome and we are betting on chance that we will win.

One of the very valuable exercises that are regularly practiced by members of my Vistage CEO peer group is PESTLE; the analysis of events that might occur and that might as a consequence affect our decision making and consequently the business.

  • P - political
  • E - economic
  • S - sociological
  • T - technological
  • L - legal
  • E - environmental

None of these factors can normally be controlled by the individual as they are all the results of outside influences.  However, each one can be debated ahead of time to assess the potential impact on the business.

Each one therefore is a harbinger of luck; would a change in the situation affect us positively or negatively?  In other words would we be hit by bad luck or encouraged by good luck?

It is a good plan to make sure that potential PESTLE events are debated at top team level on a regular basis, perhaps six-monthly.  Brainstorming each factor can bring to light areas of activity in the business that are perhaps under-resourced or even unconsidered.  

At some point in time the unexpected can hit and it is better to be prepared at least to some level than have to reply on reactivity plus the “bad luck again” syndrome.

The psychological problem is the luck seems to be catching, be it good or bad.  How many times have we heard the moan that “we are having a run of bad luck right now” accompanied by a shake of the head and plenty of tut-tutting?

Seldom do we hear that we are having a run of good luck that is presumably the result of brilliant decision making together with compliant and loving customers.

The answer is to be prepared at least to some extent and make assumptions that if an event occurs then we will be prepared for its effects.

My old friend, brilliant economist and top Vistage speaker, Roger Martin-Fagg says that economic predictions are either wrong or lucky.  Events can have exactly the same effect.

Even more cogently the great South African golfer, Gary Player says that “the more I practice the luckier I get” and that puts it into perspective.

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Sunday, 7 January 2018

Do You Like Kipling? I Don’t Know, I’ve Never Tried It!

Earnest young man to bright young lady: “Do you like Kipling?”
Bright young lady: “I don’t know, I’ve never Kippled, you naughty man!

It’s rather hard on such a moral author as Rudyard Kipling to make cheeky jokes about him but after being extremely popular with books including The Jungle Book and poems like The Road to Mandalay his fame declined after his death.
He was an archetypal late Victorian poet and author, very moral and also with a great mutuality of what were then referred to as “the working classes”.

One of his classic poems and probably one of the most quoted is “If”, an example of Victorian stoicism and one that bears some examination by leaders today.

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tried by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good or talk too wise:
If you can dream and not make dreams your master;
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve e spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stop and build ’em up with worn out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never break a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they have gone
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will that says to them “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue;
Or walk with Kings nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but not too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run
Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it,
And what is more – you’ll be a Man my son!”.
Given the old fashioned gender specific language of the poem and the rather patronising tone, there are so many lessons that we can learn from the work.

It exhorts us to stand back from problems and take action after due consideration; it encourages us to make allowances for people who perhaps don’t have the same attitude as we do and it encourages us to take risks without worrying about losing.

It says that we should be able to talk to anyone at any level and especially not to lose the common touch, and crucially to make every second of every day meaningful in some way.

Add to that the exhortation to treat those imposters, Triumph and Disaster the same and we have at least a start to developing a set of values if we haven’t already started.

If that doesn’t describe the virtues of great leadership, I don’t know what does.  Read, mark and inwardly digest.  You won’t be sorry.

On a slightly cynical note I recall a great man once saying in a meeting:
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, then you haven’t heard the news yet!”.

Renewed apologies to a great Nobel Laureate, Rudyard Kipling.

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Monday, 1 January 2018

Some Team Members Being Mutinous? It’s Time For Confrontation!

A couple of cases recently have brought to mind the occasional need for leaders to be more assertive in their relationships with some people in the business.

Leaders need to be more assertive?  Are you kidding, I hear you say?

Not at all.  It is very surprising how diffident leaders in business can be when it comes to dealing with even slightly difficult members of the team.

First things first.  If the leader has an inclusive and collaborative relationship with senior members of the team which is always desirable, rather than any “top down” direction then that freedom can from time to time be abused or at least tested.

If we give our people the freedom to express themselves then we must expect occasional strange thoughts and ideas to be expressed, sometimes forcefully.

Leaders need to lay down ground rules of behaviour that should be an integral part of the statement of values that underpin the whole of the ethos and culture of the business.

There is a fine line to be drawn between disagreement and outright mutiny.  We should welcome some disagreement from time to time because that will engender debate whereas mutiny implies entrenched positions that are unacceptable.

The two cases in mind are different but the answer is much the same.  In one case the team member has started to express strong opinions about his role and responsibilities that run counter to the needs of the business and he is becoming a problem.  Focus on specific activities is what is needed, not a radical change in his functions.

In the other case a small department that to some extent has legacy issues mutely and deliberately refuses to do as the leader directs and visibly does what they think is required and what they obviously prefer to do.

There comes a time when the leader has to exert or at least assert authority for the greater good of the business. This can often run counter to the innate instincts of the leader and can lead to that often feared situation - confrontation.

It really is curious how many outwardly strong and confident leaders are reluctant to confront difficult situations and difficult people. Not surprising therefore that some situations can run on and on and get out of hand.

Most people in the business know full well when one of the team is becoming a problem and it can cause friction when there is no action.  One of our Vistage speakers from the USA says that after visibly taking action you can expect people to say: “What took you so long?”

At some stage a solution is essential and only the leader can make that decision.  However, confrontation can be achieved in different ways primarily by assertiveness or by aggression.

My great friend and renowned Vistage speaker, Lynn Leahy, taught me long ago that there is a huge difference between being assertive and being aggressive.

Signs of aggression include direction in a raised voice, finger pointing, obvious signs of anger, signs of raised stress levels and general body language.  Professor Steve Peters says it is the Chimp that is out and raging.

Assertiveness, which generally modifies chimp behaviour, means that instructions are given with respect to the feelings of the team member whereas an aggressive approach rides roughshod over anyone’s feelings just to get the job done.

What is required in both these cases is assertiveness, a firmness of approach that permits no discussion but only a change in attitude and an acceptance on the part of the individual of the needs of the business.

It is called “biting the bullet” or “grasping the nettle” and is a necessary and hopefully seldom needed part of the armoury of leadership.  There comes a time, however, when it must be done.

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