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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Do You Want to Know the Answer? Then ask the Right Questions!

Too often we need to know what is going on or what people are doing or even what outcome is expected and we find it difficult to drag out a precise answer. 

My old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the Sage of Wythenshawe, always used to tell me that asking what seems to be the right question doesn’t always get to the right answer and a good sales person has to have some other weapons in the armoury. 

In fact Phil was a master at very persistent and forensic questioning and he always seemed to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion which generally meant an order.  Primarily this was because he was also a great listener. 

One of his techniques was to keep on asking “Why is that?” and he said that he had to ask five times to be certain of getting to the truth which he did more often than not.  The potential problem with the “why” question is that it can be construed as aggressive so it needs to be modified in some way. 

A slightly softer alternative to that question is “and what else?”  and continuing until either the customer gets fed up or gives a reason for the sales person to say “We can do something for you on that basis”.  We call it peeling the onion. 

One of the persistent problems of the sales person is the temptation to talk rather than to listen.  The fact is that they never seem to answer that great question which is always in the mind of the customer: 

“What’s in it for me?” also known as the WIFM question. 

The customer is only interested in what is right for him/her and until the right questions are asked and answered fully and comprehensively, then there will be no meeting of minds and certainly no likelihood of a satisfactory conclusion. 

I remember interviewing a presentable young woman for a sales position which went very well until she said: 

“I will be great at sales - I have the gift of the gab” 

End of interview. 

I know that everyone who has been on a sales training course is strongly encouraged to use open questions and only use a closed question to strengthen an answer, in other words to get a “yes” or “no”. 

Open questions start with Who, Why, What, Where, When and How?  Simple examples are “Why do you want that product”, “What are you trying to achieve?” or “How do you think that can best be done?” 

Closed questions start with a verb like Do, Have, Will and so on, all of which will give either a Yes or a No answer. 

It is simple but needs a lot of concentration to make sure that we use the right questioning technique because it is all too easy to fall back into asking closed questions.  Just listen to the Today programme on Radio 4 to hear that.  Most people will expand on the monosyllabic reply but try it on with a child and that is what you will get – Yes or No. 

The answer then is the question and questioning and it doesn’t only apply to selling.  It covers virtually every facet of conversation when you think about it.  Finally always remember that the prime subject for conversation in most people’s minds concerns themselves so make sure that you give them that pleasure.  

Just make sure that you are listening not just hearing.
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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Having Difficulty Challenging the Team? Try Being Carefrontational!

In my long experience in Vistage International, I have collected several great techniques and methods which have stood me in good stead in chairing my group. 

For fairly obvious reasons, a major part of the process is to challenge the members, to make sure that they drill down into an issue to establish the root cause and then to help the group to offer their opinions as to the solution which is the bit they enjoy the most. 

This can, however, be a painful process for the presenter of the issue because while they know, deep down, the solution they do not like the answer and would prefer not to take that action. 

We realise that the whole rationale for joining a peer group like Vistage is to learn from each other and to have someone to listen to them in a safe environment.  However, when the chips are down, it can be difficult to absorb and to accept. 

A wonderful word borrowed from colleagues in the USA is: 


which neatly encompasses all that is good in a business relationship. 

So how does it work?  In essence it emphasises that challenge is essential; not, you will accept, on the basis of reprimand but rather in the mode of questioning and constantly searching, as Thomas Edison said, for a better way to do things. 

However, the human psyche being what it is, there is always a possibility and sometimes a probability for defence mechanisms to be unleashed whenever an idea or a method is challenged. 

There is nothing worse than the defensive rebuttal to challenge.  It slows everything down, promotes argument which is usually unproductive, and generally drains energy from the situation. 

The question to ask, then, is why do people become defensive when they are challenged?  In some cases it can be a matter of pride, even a matter principle, in some a fear of seeming inadequate and under certain conditions, even a feeling if rejection, none of which add to the effectiveness of the individual. 

The whole carefrontational approach means that although the team member is challenged (and why not in a go-ahead business?), it is done in a way which maintains respect and that, to my mind, is an essential in all working relationships. 

My friend, mentor and top Vistage speaker, Lynn Leahy taught me long ago that there is a major difference between being assertive and being aggressive although it can be a short step from one to the other.   

Lynn says that being aggressive implies top-down authoritarian management whereas being assertive means that while a point can be made in a forthright way, it will always be made with respect to the feelings of the other person. 

In other words, people can be challenged in a confrontational way but still showing that combination of care, understanding and respect that is the right of everyone to expect.   

The result is far less likely to be defensive and is more likely to be positive and productive, an outcome always to be desired.
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Sunday, 14 April 2013

What Are You Doing About Innovation? You Need to Take it Very Seriously!

“If an idea isn’t dangerous then it has no right to be called an idea” 

Oscar Wilde postulated this thought and it seems to me that he has got it (as usual) just about right. 

Sensible leaders, if they have anything about them would welcome innovative ideas from anyone in the business and indeed take steps to implement them if they were to the benefit of the business. 

Sadly, if the idea has merit, it can only too often be re-branded as belonging to a superior or, heaven forfend, the leader him/herself.  It is a great way to stem the flow of ideas. 

Oscar’s view was that an idea needs to be, as he put it, dangerous and we can rewrite that as innovative or daunting or impractical or even revolutionary. 

All of these responses are the province of the nay-sawyer who will always find a reason NOT to do something is it will cause them effort or which would involve change.  They much prefer the even tenor of existence to the potential excitement of change. 

After all, if an idea isn’t likely to engender change or even make waves, then it can be implemented and probably no-one would notice the difference. 

It is the big ideas, the big change agents which can make a significant difference to the success of a business and often to the people in it and conversely it is those which will cause the most turmoil among the non- believers. 

The key is to have a system which encourages the flow of ideas, assesses them independently and then, of the assessors agree, implements them positively and, most importantly, visibly. 

There is nothing more depressing than for someone in the business to have an idea for change which is then pooh-poohed and quietly shelved because implementation would cause problems.  All of this, of course, ignores the possibility of benefit to the business. 

I know of an automotive manufacturer which has a very formalised way of generating ideas and which has proved to be extremely successful.   In essence, anyone on the business can put forward an idea for change which must include potential savings or productivity improvements properly costed.   

The idea is then assessed by an “innovation” department which is tasked to search for methods either in manufacturing or administration, which are likely to show value to the business. 

All ideas are published so that everyone in the business is aware of them and if the innovation department decides to proceed, then the idea is allocated a budget and implementation commences. 

It may all seem formal but it does eliminate the “not invented here” syndrome which is the bane of innovators everywhere and the fact that the whole system is transparent makes people feel safe to put their ideas forward. 

And what is in it for those people?  Certainly not financial gain because there is no offer on the table.  Rather they are shown to be interested, innovative and this is publicised throughout the business.   

Revolutionary?  Yes, it is, but all good ideas are revolutionary.  Just refer back to Oscar Wilde’s maxim and rewrite to say so.
Postscript:  My sincere thanks to everyone who has downloaded my book, "Leading to Success" from the Kindle Store on Amazon and also to those of you who have been kind enough to send feedback, all of which is greatly appreciated!
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Sunday, 7 April 2013

For Goodness Sake, Stop Talking and DO SOMETHING! It’s All About Taking Action!

A big issue which is constantly in the minds of leaders is that there seems to be a vast amount of talk and discussion, meetings of every sort and interminable correspondences on email with everyone copied but in the end, nothing seems to have been accomplished. 

All very frustrating and there needs to be a significant change in culture to make things happen. 

When meetings become merely an exchange of reports on everyone’s personal position then some action needs to be taken to sort it out.  The amount of wasted time and hence costs can be monitored and I would guess would shock most people. 

Add to that all the other wasted effort and we can see how the concept of LEAN thinking became so popular. 

Wise business sages have always advocated approaches like customer focus, stakeholder focus, people first and many other but I want to put forward a new one and that is ACTION FOCUS. 

It is self evident that talking and discussion within the top team is essential but I will always remember the instruction from Jim Slater, Chairman of Slater Walker when he insisted that the minutes of all meeting s at both Board level and below must include a statement of the action required, the person responsible and the date for completion. 

Woe betide anyone who was tasked with taking some action and had to report at the next meeting that it hadn’t been done.  All sorts of excuses like, “I didn’t have the time”, or “If you want me to do that then something else will suffer” and son, were heard and dismissed peremptorily.  

The key is that until action is taken and visibly, then all the talking in the world won’t achieve anything.  Just ask delegates to climate change conferences. 

Moreover, there is a strong case for making sure that the message has got through particularly at management level and we all know that a nod from the recipient doesn’t necessarily imply agreement or even understanding. 

So a good idea when saying that something needs to be done, to demonstrate rather than just saying what is needed, and then to ensure that the task is repeatable.  The military are very good at this with small arms training as an example. 

Finally, don’t just make promises which will are remembered more in the failure to come up with the good rather than successful fulfilment.  It is incumbent on the leader to engender trust in the people and that can only be successfully accomplished by proving rather than mere promising.  Not easy, but who ever said that the position of leader was easy? 

All in all: 

Don’t just talk: ACT
Don’t just say: DEMONSTRATE
Don’t just promise: PROVE
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