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Sunday, 13 October 2019

Creativity, Invention, Innovation? We Are All in it Together!

There is nothing new under the sun

From time to time politicians decide that they need to be up there and trendy so they decide to latch on to the need for innovation.

Innovation, creativity, development all imply change but considered change and preferably for the better.

I came across a very interesting book recently that now resides on my iPad audiobook collection and which explodes the myth that creativity and innovation are the province of genius.

It's called How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton and everyone in business should read it.

Ashton left school at 15 with one useless O-level and through his determination to be successful has achieved great things in business.

The very word creativity which was coined only in 1926 is derived from the word create and it generally implies something emerging ex nihilo meaning out of nothing.

Science has shown that the universe is expanding so if we calculate backwards at the same but reversed rate then we should arrive at the starting point of the Universe and the Big Bang theory.

All well and good but what was there before the Big Bang?  Professor Stephen Hawking says, somewhat dismissively, that asking that question is like asking what is north of the North Pole.

An interesting philosophical concept maybe but doesn't get us anywhere.

The facts seem to be that the Universe was created ex nihilo and crucially, is the only example as such in all the 13.4 billion years of its existence.

On that premise then the word creativity cannot apply to what we do. Everything that we achieve is based on or derived from something already in existence.

Kevin Ashton makes the point that Homo Sapiens 150,000 years ago developed simple tools from easily found materials in order to feed themselves and stay alive.

Oddly there was apparently no development of these tools until around 50,000 years ago when noticeable changes started to appear.

One of our ancestors thought that these tools could be made more efficiently and to greater purpose.  Perhaps this was the birth of innovation.

Please note: this change was not derived from nothing. It was developed from existing knowledge and skill with the input, this time, of conscious thought.

Fast forward to today. Can you think of any invention, innovation that has been derived ex nihilo without any input from existing knowledge? (The only example that comes to mind is Graphene).

In truth, every innovative idea, any new and even revolutionary idea is born out of existing knowledge and skill.

In fact, great innovation is the offspring of a need; the innate need to improve, change and develop and is usually derived from a problem that has to be solved.

If we look at some of the inventions that have changed our lives such as the automobile, the railways, modern shipping and manned flight, they all stem from these inventors wanting to improve and develop existing forms of transport.

Few of the great inventors would class themselves as geniuses; indeed most of them were working people with a thirst to change and improve the way they lived.

In short, everyone has inbuilt innovative skills and abilities. There is no need to wait for the next passing genius in order to accomplish positive change.

Leaders in business and industry know this instinctively. The question is, do they exploit effectively this inborn ability to be innovative?

It is often said of this country that we have great innovative ideas that are taken up and developed in other countries.

I am not sure whether this is still the case or is it just out normal self-effacing view of life.

Leaders need to understand the vast pool of existing talent in their workforce and to set up initiatives to develop and exploit the resulting opportunities.

We don't need to be a genius; Thomas Edison said that invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

He also said:

"There is a better way to do it.  Find it!" 

Innovation results from hard 
work and to a greater or lesser extent the talent is inbuilt in us.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Getting Some Sales Rejection? Qualify Your Leads With Research!

My old sales mentor, the sage of Wythenshawe, Phil Copp, was an inveterate and committed cold caller in the days when sales forces could afford to swan off into the wide world to see if they could generate some business, anywhere and anyhow.

Phil would just call in on a company if he was passing and it looked interesting, go to reception, demand to see the Chief Engineer and then wait.   On occasions he was lucky and the Chief would come to see him, but generally, he had the usual rebuffs of "nothing today, thank you" (irrespective of the fact that nobody knew what he was selling) or "he's in a meeting" or "just leave your brochure and he will call you".  Oh yes?

I asked him once how many cold calls he made and didn't see anyone and he said, "Probably hundreds".  In something of a state of shock I asked him how many times he made a sale and he said: "Probably once in a hundred".

In even more shock I questioned: "How on earth can you accept all that rejection and keep on cold calling?"

His answer has stuck with me ever since.  He said, quite simply: "Because the next call might be the next sale".

Strangely I met a colleague in the USA at a conference and he said almost exactly the same thing.  His rather old fashioned and uncoordinated method was to drop in to a company, just like Phil, and ask to see the CEO to talk about joining our per group.  His statistics were about the same as Phil’s which does show that it is a very hit and miss technique and mostly miss.

We really can’t afford to spend hours just dropping in on the off chance that there might be some interest.

Sales methods however have changed radically since those times.  Noted speaker Grant Leboff exhorts us to "stop shouting at the customers"; to organise your approach so that the customer comes to you.

A little research would bring far better results and that research is so simple these days.   For example you can set up a listing of companies in any sector, check their websites, use LinkedIn to identify the name of the CEO and other executives, send messages, and generally find companies with whom we would like to do business.

Even so, Phil's message still holds good because selling is an art not a science, however much the sales gurus want make it so.   Think of it as a philosophy.  However we manage the interaction between ourselves and a potential customer or client, in the end we have to put over a message that will entice the customer to make a decision and hopefully a positive one.

It is obviously far better to generate qualified leads than to cold call although that message doesn't seem to have got through to the many unwanted telephone calls that we seem to get these days.

Even with qualified leads, however, if conversion rates are generally low, Phil's philosophy holds true.  The next discussion might be the one that is successful - even better, the next discussion WILL be the one which is successful.

It is important to understand that what we say to potential customers and how we say it, is key to success as well but the overwhelming aspect is complete self-confidence that we will succeed.  It is only by that self-confidence that we can overcome the fear of rejection and move on to the next opportunity.

As long ago as 1952, Dr Norman Vincent Peale wrote his book, "The Power of Positive Thinking" and that concept is still valid, perhaps even more so in these competitive times.

"The next sales meeting WILL be successful" is a maxim that many people in business could well take on as a way of life.

Ivan J Goldberg
Author, professional writer, content producer and leadership specialist.      

Email me me for a discussion via ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

Sunday, 29 September 2019

"The Customer is Always Right". Always? Really?

The old adage that the customer is always right is generally true from the customer's perspective but is it always the same case for the supplier?

I had a consultancy client who was importing finished and packed foods mainly from Europe and selling to wholesalers and large retailers.

He sold to a total of around 250 wholesale outlets and had perhaps 10 major retailers on the books.  He decided to do a Pareto analysis (80:20 rule) of the customer list and it changed his life and the life of the business.

As might be expected approximately 20% of the customers generated 80% of the turnover as well as gross profit.

In addition he found that a high, too high, proportion of his staff were involved daily dealing with the orders from the smaller customers.

What was more, the number of complaints, returns, arguments about price and very slow payments meant that most of the people were engaged in the wholesale sector and the important group of customers was not being given the attention it deserved.

Accordingly he took a major decision, a very brave one, and wrote to virtually all his wholesale customers telling them that he would no longer be supplying them from three months hence.

He also negotiated a deal with a major food service company to take on the 250 wholesale customers and the job was done.

In fact their new ability to devote more time and effort to the major retailers resulted in enhanced relationships with the result that his turnover and net profit almost doubled within a year.

In another case the client was in thrall to a major national outlet with in excess of 50% of his output (about £3million) going to the one customer.

Reading the values statement of the retailer would normally lead one to believe that they loved their suppliers, that their relationship was all-important and they desired mutual satisfaction and success.

Really?  They could have fooled the world at large that they were a lovely company to deal with, but certainly not my client. He came to a meeting one day and announced that he was stopping supplying the intransigent retailer and would give them 3 months.

Another brave decision. In fact he replaced the lost business within six months at better prices and then took the major retailer back (at their request) on very enhanced terms.

What it says, of course, is that we need to look as carefully at customers as we do our suppliers. For example how often have we heard sales people complain that we can't chase an unpaid account too hard for fear of "losing a good customer"? For my money a good customer is one who pays on time with a cheque that doesn't bounce.

If we really analyse the true cost of a slow payer we would be surprised. For example how about all the telephone calls to their accounts department plus the cost of the hours taken up? Add to that the fact that the customer is using you as a bank and ask yourself do the prices charged really reflect the costs incurred?

Start with a Pareto analysis and take a good look at the 80% of customers to see which ones are good to deal with and are profitable.  Then check on those that take up an inordinate amount of time and effort compared to their level of profitability.

Derive a list of dodgy customers and tell them that there will be an immediate price increase in order to bring them to a level at which it is worthwhile trading with them

If they decide to go elsewhere congratulate yourself that they are now diminishing your competitor's profits, and then search out the good ones on your sales ledger.

If a customer can’t deal with you on an adult and commercially viable basis then it is time for the sailor’s farewell. On the other hand identify the good ones and remember that great service leads to great relationships and great customers.

Tidy up your customer list and make sure that, as far as possible, you are optimising the returns from your efforts.  The results can be startling.

Ivan J Goldberg
Author, professional writer, content producer and leadership specialist.      
Email me me for a discussion via ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk