If your clients, suppliers and staff are telling you that “your business is difficult to engage with” – you have a real problem.
Even more in the Digital Age, instant responses are the norm, and a sluggish or bureaucratic reaction will reduce the likelihood of customers returning to your business. Staff, also, hate papering up the cracks and you will find staff turnover is greatest where the operations do not hit the spot.
Processes, poorly thought through or having evolved over time, can be the barrier not the solution to improved visibility of the customer experience. In these circumstances, you might not even notice that the client has been relegated from being king to working in the kitchens.
Recognition and acceptance that this gloomy situation needs improving is the first step. The next requires the development of, what we call, a “lean mindset” across the business.
So what is a lean mindset?
A lean mindset is based on creating flowing processes that help the customer achieve their requirements, profitably.
Clients sometimes forget that last word - “profitably”, but your job is not to do everything the customer wants but only those things that help them admire you, pay you and want to come back.
Once you understand what the your customers want you need to surface what is happening at the moment. We use a basket of tools and techniques to do this and are, in particular looking for signs of non-productive tasks, wasted effort and moments of customer misery.
Lean thinking will the help you strip out those tasks and create moments that the customer value and want to pay for.
Although it might seems counter-intuitive, one of the first lessons effective sales people learn, is how to overcome customer objections.
Why? Well, because they know that customers will hardly ever buy a product or service without first going through an important psychological routine of justifying it in their mind first and buying time through objecting. Any of the following sound familiar?
"I don't think I need it, right now..."
"Yes, we tried it before, but we didn't like it"...
"It sounds great but its too expensive for me"....
If, like me, you've had customers say "yes, we'd love to use you" almost immediately but then all goes quiet, it might be that you have failed to help them understand why they truely need your help.
Now this isn't new, businessmen and women have known this for years, but the tried and tested tricks to overcome these objections are easily forgotten with either difficult discussions ensuing or, even worse, the potential customer being let off without even a murmur......
So how do you do it?
Rudyard Kipling isn't the obvious choice when considering how to overcome objections but in his poem The Elephant's Child he recounted the lines:
“I keep six honest serving-men,
(they taught me all I knew):
Their names are what and why and when
And how and where and who.”
"If you have dead wood in your organisation it is because you either hired dead wood in the first place, or you hired live wood; then killed it.”
W. Edwards Deming
.....if you ranked the most influential people in your business life how many of you would put your nearest and dearest within the top ten, the top 20, or even the top 100? I won't embarrass you by asking you for your answer.
It's strange, isn't it, but we manage to possess incredible short sightedness when we view our business lives despite the fact that the so-called work-life balance has all but disappeared. The truth is:
"In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king" Desiderius Erasmus
Rather than accepting this supposedly inevitable outcome, perhaps you might consider Erasmus' words and move in synch with this emerging world but without ostracising those you love.
Why not try to learn to:
Be distinctive, be distinctive, be distinctive, be distinctive, be distinctive.
Get it? No?
Well, be distinctive, be distinctive, be distinctive.....
The universal truths out there are:
1. Social media is ubiquitous. There are over a billion websites, more mobile phones on the planet than people and even my father is an internet surfer.
2. We have less time than ever. We work longer than ever, sleep for less hours, and are unable to differentiate between work and home when we switch on that laptop/ipad/mobile....
3. Consumers have more choice than ever. If you are in a competitor free environment then it won't be in the "free world". Consumers can choose anyone, anywhere, anytime....
So what does this mean to your business?
If you want to be visible, there really is no choice you need to have a social media presence. Not just a website page that gives anyone who bothers to click on it a rough idea of what you do and how to contact you, but one that grabs their attention, elicits a response and make them act. It's a harsh world out there but if you haven't grabbed their attention in less than 3 seconds you have already lost their attention.
The halcyon cry that "marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department" is truer than ever. Consumers know it and hate it when they are bored by the same old twitter tripe that is knocked out in seconds by the newly appointed marketing assistant.
Ok I get it, so what next?
1. Work with your staff to consider what emotions you are trying to evoke. Do you want them to be excited, curious, horrified, anxious, mystified, or desperate.
2. Develop a social media strategy that drives attention in the chosen way and, please, don't compromise. Take one look at your competitors' websites and you will realise how dull they are. Probably the only people looking at them are their staff and competitors like you....
3. Create an approach that engages all staff, getting them involved. Ask them to be creative and trust their instincts.
4. Test it with your clients or your potential clients and monitor their responses carefully. If they hate it, is it because they are offended (clue - that's bad) or because it makes them uncomfortable (that could be good)?
5. Measure the impact. Not just in terms of followers and hits, but whose talking about your approach?
5. Be brave. Enjoy the frisson and excitement of knowing people are talking about your business, whilst they are certainly not talking about the competition.
6. Connect the virtual to the real. Make sure those consumers who have been inspired to contact you are greeted with a consistent approach - you have done the difficult bit of attracting their attention, don't lose them now.
When it comes to feedback, "Please sir, can I have some more?" is not the gentle refrain oft repeated.
"Can I give you some feedback?" is a phrase that to some of us is as welcome as a bout of measles and our natural reaction is to run for the hills or respond with a curt and assertive "no". Alternatively we will smile blithely and prepare ourselves for the onslaught. Our wired response may be so extreme that even if the feedback is positive, we sometimes react as if we have been mortally injured.
Why is this?
The tragedy is that although we would like to consider ourselves as sophisticated professionals when it comes to feedback we revert to our child like state, seeing feedback as criticism and potentially something that could get us into trouble. It is a deeply felt emotion and one that needs time, practice and a new mindset to overcome.
This response creates an inevitable outcome of imperfect communication, insecurity and, potentially, an unwillingness from the source of advice to offer any further help again. Oh dear.
“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” —Charles Darwin
Business people are often caricatured as hard-nosed, competitive and single-minded – their mantra “my way or the high way”. But the truth is, this stereotype is not accurate and all organisations are waking up to the fact that to survive, let alone flourish, collaboration strategies are crucial for success.
Collaboration can positively impact in a number of dimensions. Below is a checklist of just a few of the possible choices:
So what to do if you want to collaborate?
7 Steps to Collaboration!
1. Articulate why you want to collaborate and consider whether this could be achieved through other approaches. What is your key driver: Cost reduction? New customers? Innovation?
2. Identify the potential partner(s) and research them. Are they really the right ones for you? Do they have the capabilities you require? Could you work with them?
3. Approach them direct or through a trusted adviser at the right level and identify whether they are keen to talk more. At this point you should be careful about giving too much information away but also you need to generate sufficient rapport. Remember most collaboration breaks down at this stage through a lack of trust.
4. Identify an agenda of areas you can discuss. You might want to agree confidentiality arrangements.
5. Agree a timetable and approach. You don’t need to go the whole hog…why not build trust through piloting an approach? There are a whole range of collaboration options from preferred partner status to full mergers. Consider what approach will suit you both.
6. Even for limited collaborations it is important to document the agreement, considering areas such as:
· Purpose and objectives of the collaboration.
· Key targets.
· Escalation routes.
· Review and termination dates.
· Allocation of costs and revenue.
· Ownership of intellectual property and assets.
7. Have regular reviews to discuss progress – remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Reaching out beyond our own world is a business skill.
Possessing the confidence and poise to talk to anyone is a capability we all yearn for but when asked, most believe they do not have it. For many, the fear of rejection, of looking “silly” or betraying their inner failings to the outside world is too big a barrier to overcome and they take the alternative option to retreat to indirect approaches: email messages, social media, marketing campaigns….
Quite by accident, on a train journey, I met a man once who I can only say was blessed with a quiet self confidence that was immediately impressive. He asked me about the book I was reading and took time to ask me about myself and, it seemed to me, was actively interested in my plans and aspirations. He gave me a few tips and insights which I wrote down and he made a useful suggestion of someone I should talk to.
Stupidly, I did nothing, until weeks later I found the notes I had written and the details of the suggested contact. I made contact with the person and followed up with an exceptional meeting which saved me many hours of fruitless effort. Whilst packing up to go, I asked this new contact, about our mutual friend. “Yes, I asked him once how he was so well connected”, he said, “and his response to me was Hebrews 13:2 – it was helpful to me and it might be to you, you should look it up”.
Now although I have had a privileged education my knowledge of the Bible was, shall we say, inconsistent. Hebrews 13:2. Getting home that night, I found a battered copy of the Bible and looked up the chapter. It said “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.
People often talk about making their own luck through doing the right things.
The lesson I drew from Hebrews 13:2 is that I had to be more welcoming and connected with my fellow man. I realised that only through conservation do we make the connections that can be invaluable to our business careers and the achievement of our aims.
Conversation, uniquely, creates bonds, responsibilities and emotions that prompt action.
Now social media is a wonderful thing, but you can’t look into the eyes of a facebook friend, linked in connection or twitter contact and know whether they want you to be successful, will honour their promises or empathise with your situation.
So what to do?
Practice each day by making a new connection, real ones not social media ones and develop conversations. Who knows? That new relationship may have been entertained by angels unawares.
Top tips on how to develop rapport with strangers
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Mike Tyson World champion boxer
Consultants tell us that "if we fail to plan, we plan to fail" and we are pre-destined to wander the world in a directionless fug of confusion.
Traditionally, the structured planning approach, identifies a vision, goals and key priorities, aligns roles and responsibilities, and articulates targets, with wider communicating to the key staff. It is a well worn path that has lasted the test of time and earnt many a consultant a healthy crust. However, this approach has 4 key weaknesses which have been exposed in the modern post-recession world:
1. Out of date before it's finished. We used to say that the next competitor threat would take only 6 months to develop. It may have been true then but now with the power of social media to reach global markets within hours, 6 weeks is a more realistic timeframe. This means that as important as it is to align the business, there really isn't the time to follow an overcomplicated planning approach that eats up time and resource.
2. Comprehensive but not actionable. The approach will leave you with a plan that has considered all angles and creates multiple tasks and responsibilities. However, ultimately, unless the plan is implementable by hard-pressed staff, who are already juggling a number of balls, then it risks gathering dust on the shelf with other previously abandoned plans.
3. Structure over behaviours. The traditional planning approach purposefully follows a process that can be followed by all staff, given time and space, with careful facilitation. It does not, however, develop the capabilities of the participants helping them to respond intuitively to future business challenges.
4. Episodic. Even the best written plan has its shelf life and unless your organisation is able to support the luxury of employing people to continually update the plan (believe me - this happens, especially in public services) then it will soon be yesterday's plan.
Guess what? Further on down the road, you'll want to start again.
The ABC planning approach
This new approach requires a focus on "doing the right things, not doing things right". It accepts that speed is of the essence and that it is better to act decisively with 80% of the information not wait to collect 100%. It emphasises building staff capabilities to spot opportunities, identify competitor threats and deliver value rather than create and monitor plans. In short, it is action oriented. Finally, it focuses on excellent communication of the aim and approach, not the plan itself.
So how does it work?
It has 3 components which are the A,B, C of planning:
Compiled by the senior managers with all key staff, this is a one page document (written or drawn, it doesn't matter) that sets out in simple terms:
The approach is important but of equal value is creating a culture where all staff are the exhibiting behaviours that will support the organisation's progress. In simple terms, short term targets will achieve short term impacts but recruiting and rewarding exceptional behaviours has a longer term impact.
This requires the organisation to identify the key behaviours that staff need to exhibit to achieve the overall plan. These might be as varied as "quality focused", "delighting customers", "integrity and honesty", or "partnership driven" and each will require a lower level of descriptors that will help describe to staff what exceptional behaviours look like. The organisation also needs to develop an expertise on providing feedback to staff so they know when they are achieving these
The essential element to ensuring that the plan is adopted and cherished is ensuring that it is discussed regularly (weekly or less) as part of the organisational culture. The messaging and vocabulary needs to be consistent with those promoted by the plan and through the behaviours. The communication needs to be action-oriented, constructive and participative, encouraging all employees to have a stake in the future direction. Ideally, it should be face to face not remote so that 2 way feedback can be picked up on.
Have a go. Try it.
The ABC approach needs to be owned by you and your organisation. It can not be delegated to a consultant, the communications manager, strategy manager or anyone else.....
If you want some guidelines on how to do it, speak to me and I'll coach you to lead this change, helping your business become resilient to the next punch in the mouth...
It is one of the best kept secrets in the world of business support but a Government backed scheme to help aspirational businesses make the business breakthrough they require is available for organisations that turnover below £40m with staff numbers below 250. The scheme, called GrowthAccelerator, provides access to one to one support for up to 6 days through experienced business coaches who have expertise in supporting growing businesses. Additionally, businesses can make the most of an investment in training through access to matched funding of up to £2,000 per senior staff member to support specific areas of development.
Research suggests that businesses that seek external advice and information are 50% more successful than those that do not (BIS , 2010). Equally, evidence suggests that businesses are often more likely to adopt new practices when they are introduced from outside the organisation. "There are many invisible barriers to growth" commented Chris Lorimer, one of the approved and registered business coaches, "however, it is often difficult to see them when you are confronted with the day to day activities involved in running a business".
The cost for eligible businesses can be as low as £600 plus £700 VAT for businesses employing up to 4 staff and only £3,000 + £700 VAT for businesses employing between 50 and 249 staff.
"When you consider the value of the training and coaching support can run into several thousands of £s," Lorimer continued, "if you are an aspirational business, you would be mad not to at least consider this support".
For further information contact Chris Lorimer who will put you in touch with one of the GrowthAccelerator Managers.
Telephone: 07774 827305
Even with the best will in the world sometimes the harder you try to be successful in business, the more difficult it can be to make an impact.
You must have known the situation when you’ve:
Chris Lorimer is an
experienced management consultant who has helped many owners, Directors and staff to achieve more.