Are You Too Ambitious for Success? Be “Whelmed” Instead

It’s the new year.  A time when everyone makes resolutions to lose weight, save money, be a better spouse, or run a marathon.  In business, it’s when we set new goals for the coming year.  We’re going to open a new market, double our sales calls, hire a new admin, and document our procedures.  And let’s aim for the sky when we set goals.  After all, if you aim super high and fall short, it’s still a big success.  Right?  Well, sort of.  If aiming high means setting individual goals that are very ambitious, then there is truth to the concept.  Setting a big goal helps you to think above and beyond your current reality and think about what could be.  If aiming high means setting a whole lot of different goals for the year, however, I’m not so sure.

Juggling in Business

In my college years, I took up juggling.  It wasn’t exactly the “chick magnet” I expected it to be, but it was fun.  Here’s what I learned.  Juggling 3 balls or pins was easy.  I got pretty good at doing all kinds of fancy moves, and could pass pins with another juggler quite proficiently.  Juggling 4 balls was harder but pretty attainable with just a little practice.  Juggling 5 balls, however, was a whole different thing.  It’s just really hard to shift your focus so quickly from one ball to the next.  As a result, they all came tumbling down around me and my progress as a juggler stopped.  And my dreams of running off to join the circus died, too.

I think that this concept applies perfectly when setting goals.  If you set too many, you’re likely to accomplish very little.  If you set just a couple really big ones, however, you can make a lot of progress (learn to juggle them really well) on them and have a big impact on your business.

Git ‘Er Done!

Setting a few big goals is great.  But execution is king.    Without an execution plan, goals are only dreams.  Break those goals into tiny, bite-sized tasks, set deadlines for each one, and set time blocks on your calendar to execute on them.  Use that task list as a driver of your focus every time you have a spare half hour during the day.  Only then are you showing how serious you are about your goals.

Focus on the Few

If you set 10 big goals for 2017, you’re almost a dead lock to become overwhelmed.  Don’t be overwhelmed.  Be “whelmed” instead.  Set 2 or 3 Goals for the entire year.  We can juggle those, give them appropriate focus, and move our businesses forward.

Have a great 2017!

1 Simple Step to Narrow Your Target Market Focus

canstockphoto13702796Biggest Selling Challenge

One of the biggest issues I see in selling is that many conversations with prospects go nowhere.  The initial conversation seems to go well.  But that second conversation becomes a real challenge to set up.  And if it ever happens, it doesn’t appear that the sales process advances.

What’s going wrong?  It could be a number of things, but we’re going to focus on one biggie right here: many of the conversations are not with well qualified prospects.  If we haven’t narrowed the focus of how and where we get our message out, we end up with many “prospects” that we simply shouldn’t be talking too.  Either they don’t have the pain point that we can solve, or they haven’t got the pocketbook to afford our solution.

The Solution

So how can we solve this?  One of the easiest ways is to get to know our best clients better.  Ask them a lot of questions.  If they are consumers, what are their interests?  How old are they? Are they married? Where do they shop?  What do they do for entertainment?  If they are businesses, what are their challenges?  Why do they buy our product or services (what problem do we solve)?  How do they make decisions?  What is their industry segment?  How large are they?  Ask, Ask, Ask.

What are we going to do with this information?  We’ve got to figure out where we can get in front of more of them: consumers or businesses with the same profile as our best clients.  By narrowing our marketing focus to hit more of the right prospects more often, our selling conversations will more often be with prospects we can truly help, and with whom our marketing message will resonate.

This simple approach doesn’t require an increase in marketing spending.  It does require  an increase in critical thinking!

In Selling, Trust Trumps Everything

canstockphoto2584233Does this scenario sound familiar?  You are deep into a selling conversation and decide to attempt a “trail close” or other closing technique you have been taught.  Suddenly, the prospect unloads a whole series of objections.  Her body language changes, too.  She sits back in her chair and crosses her arms.  The room becomes more tense as you try to “right the ship.”

What you perceive as objections could be serious roadblocks.  Or they could actually be buying signals: an indication that she is trying to clarify how your product will solve her needs before making a purchasing decision.  In the scenario above, her body language makes it clear that her objections are serious roadblocks.

So what happened?  I believe that the culprit here is almost always a lack of trust.  For any sale of anything to occur, a threshold of trust must be achieved.  The trust bar is pretty low to buy a pack of gum, but you must trust the brand.  The bar is much higher to hire a financial advisor.

How do you establish trust?  First, I suggest you search for common bonds.  Pretty basic stuff.  Do you both root for the same team?  Enjoy fishing?  Attend the same church?  Have kids of similar ages?  The list is endless.  Human beings are psychologically tribal.  By identifying a few common bonds, you are discovering that you belong to some of the same tribes.

Is this first step a form of manipulation?  I do not believe so.  It’s how people get to know each other and decide to like and trust each other.

Next, Ask, Ask, Ask.  Get to know the prospect, and let her get to know you.  Learn about her pain points, her personal and professional goals, her passions in life, etc.  Also share a bit about yourself, by the way; this shouldn’t be a one-way interrogation!

I suggest that you develop a formal library of profiling questions.  I have a two page library, laminated, that I carry with me most of the time.

How important is this Trust stuff?  I would argue it is the single-most critical step in selling.  The better you get at building trust, the less you’ll have to know about “closing” because the prospect will trust that your recommendation is in her best interest.

“Wait a minute!” you may be thinking.  “This isn’t true for transactional sales.  If I’m selling shoes I don’t need to do this.”  Wrong.  Often, a level of trust has been established because the buyer knows and trusts the shoe brand.  Great!  But you will always be a better shoe salesperson if you ask a few quick questions.  “How will you be using these shoes?  In what part of your foot do shoes start to hurt late in the day?  What kinds of outfits will you be wearing these shoes with?”  By doing this the buyer will understand that you are trying to customize your shoe recommendations to her specific needs.  And her trust in you will increase.  You’ll sell more shoes.

Go sell some shoes!

Why Does Planning Fail?

Game Plan StrategyHow many times have you lived through it?  Late in the year, you are gathered with cohorts to build a business plan for the following year.  Your team invests many hours of thoughtful time strategizing and developing a detailed plan.  Everyone is tired but optimistic that the plan will lead to a big year.

12 months later, you gather again.  You dust off the plan (which hasn’t been referenced all year long) to see how you did!  Lo and Behold, you didn’t get most of the strategic objectives completed.

What’s happening here?  You’re all smart, hard-working people who are effective in many other areas.  The problem is that your planning system is missing important steps.

The most important part of a plan isn’t the strategy section; it’s the execution section.  What is the Plan to Execute?  We have found that getting hyper-granular with execution is the key to actual progress.  Let’s demonstrate with an example.

Your number one plan for 2017 is to develop an e-commerce site to sell your widgets online.  Your plan outlines the target market, the messaging, price points, operations setup, etc.  Nice Start.  Now to the important stuff.  What is the execution plan for Quarter 1 (first step in getting granular)?  Perhaps the biggest objective for Q1 is to hire a web design firm.  Good objective.  Now let’s get more granular.  What are the individual tasks required to hire a firm?  Develop a list of criteria that you desire in the firm.  Develop a list of candidates.  Develop a list of interview questions and other steps to assess each candidate.  Interview candidates.  Make a selection.  Negotiate a contract.  Good.  Now we have tasks.  Who is the accountable person for each task?  What is the due date for each task?  How often will the team meet to review progress and adjust the plan if necessary (We suggest at least monthly)?

The tasks listed above could all be broken down into smaller tasks by the accountable person, but you get the point.  By creating a plan in which each team member can review his task list every day to know what he or she must execute on, with an assigned due date, the plan becomes concrete rather than abstract.

We facilitate an annual and quarterly planning process with our clients.  We have found that the execution on those plans increases significantly if each objective is broken into tasks as suggested above.

Why does planning fail?  Because it doesn’t get granular.  How can your planning succeed?  Get granular!

Love the Ones You’re With

au bureau_0015It’s a natural tendency when growing a business to focus on obtaining new clients.  After all, isn’t that the way to take it to the next level?  Revenues can’t grow without new clients.

But too often we love the prospect more than we love the client.  We are so focused on the next opportunity that we forget to provide excellent service to our clients.  We don’t ask them for feedback.  We don’t show appreciation.  And some of our clients move on.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  A client had to develop trust in you, and find you credible, in order to hire you.  Once they have done so, they’ll look for reasons to confirm that they made a good decision.  It’s human nature.

Getting a new client is much harder than keeping an existing client.  To get a new one, you have to establish rapport, prove that you are credible, and build trust.  Then you have to convince the prospect that your product or service can solve their pain point.  You’ve already done ALL OF THAT with your current clients!

So just a little more communication with your clients will go a long way.  Ask for feedback.  Show appreciation.  If you screw up, apologize and tell your client what you’re doing to fix your mistake.

Sure, you’ve got to continue to fill a prospect pipeline, attract prospects online, or get customers to walk in.  But if you shift 10% of that effort to making sure that your “bucket of clients” doesn’t have a hole in the bottom, it will pay off big time.

Leadership Book Review: Extreme Leadership

Extreme_OwnershipLots of books about leadership have been written by academics of the field.  Others still by retired business executives with impressive resumes indicating they were good leaders.  But this is the first Leadership book I’ve read by authors whose decisions were literally life and death.  The authors, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, were the officers commanding the SEAL platoon that included sniper Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame.  They now run a highly successful Leadership Development consulting firm.  Their bona-fides to write this book are pretty darn good.

Extreme Ownership applies military concepts to the business world.  Each concept is explained in detail.  Next, an example of its application in actual battles in Iraq is discussed.  Finally a true example of the concept in a business setting is discussed.  It’s a strong learning technique.

The overriding theme of the book is that Leadership should be found at EVERY level of an organization.  A culture where everyone up and down the chain of commend takes complete ownership is the cornerstone of superior performance.  If your team is not performing at a high level, who owns the problem?  You do!  You hired the team, trained the team, and lead the team.  But your team should also own the problem!  They should own the fact that they didn’t provide feedback, and didn’t drill hard enough to ensure that they could perform at a higher level.

One of the best examples in the book is a story from BUDS, the SEAL’s training program near San Diego.  The leader of a raft team that had been consistently finishing last in races complained to the instructors that he had a bad team.  They wouldn’t try harder and pull together as a team.  The instructors swapped him out with the leader of the raft team that had been winning virtually every race.

You guessed it; his “bad team” won the very next race.  But the story doesn’t end there.  The weak leader’s new team, which had been winning almost every race came in second.  Why did this happen?  Because their former leader had instilled a culture of extreme ownership in the team.  In essence, they carried their weak leader to a second place finish.

A great read.  See on Amazon.

Hire for Talent, not Resume

TalentResumes are a really bad tool to use in narrowing down a candidate field. Why? To start, they list experience. But they don’t tell you if the person performed well in the job. Or if she had the right talents for the position.

They also give you no insight into how the candidate contributed to the team. Or whether job moves were voluntary or forced. Oh, and it is estimated that something over 60% of all resumes contain factual errors.

So not only do resumes fail to provide the information needed to narrow the field, the information they DO contain is suspect!

Talent Trumps All

There are many aspects to effective hiring that we won’t cover here today, but will in future articles. What we will mention here, though, is that the focus of the selection process should be around Talents, not skills or experience.

Talents are inherent parts of a candidate’s personality and makeup that can determine his upside potential as an employee. Talents are things like math intelligence, verbal intelligence, nurturing nature, creativity, and assertiveness, to name a few.

If you are hiring a nurse, wouldn’t it be good to identify how much of a nurturing nature she has? Just because she has 11 years of experience as a nurse doesn’t mean she was kind, caring, or gentle with her patients (or that she cared!).

When searching for a door-to-door salesman, would assertiveness e an important talent?

How do you identify talents? You interview for them, and use a Job Scorecard during the process. Determine IN ADVANCE the talents desired, craft interview questions or assessments to measure how much of the talent the candidate has, and DIG, DIG, DIG.

More on this later, when we’ll be posting an intensive series on improving your hiring process.