3-Second Rule for Customer Insights

3-Second Rule for Customer InsightI am going to take a guess here that if you are reading this post, your reason falls into one of two groups. The first group believes that no meaningful customer insights can come within 3-seconds, and you are reading to confirm your belief. The second group is hoping against all odds that insights truly can be gleaned that quickly.

The 3-Second Rule for Insights

When speaking with your current customers, ask them this simple question…

“What are you doing three seconds before using our product?”

The answers you receive may be quite different from what you expected. What I have found over the years is that this very question gives specific insights into the circumstances that customers find themselves in when preparing to use a product, service or solution. As I would continue to ask the question of a variety of different customers across a variety of industries, similar patterns began to emerge. Let me share a few examples.

Example 1: Computer Accessory Company

In working with one organization that made computer accessories, one of their products was a Presentation Remote. I conducted a number of in field interviews and focus groups, and one of the most common responses to the ’3-second’ question was that they were looking for their flash drive with the presentation and loading it onto the laptop, then ejecting the drive to replace with the dongle for the presentation remote.

The result not only led to a better understanding of how customers used their products, but it also resulted in a whole new product that turned the presentation remote dongle into a flash drive as well. The perceived value was huge, and subsequently led to further points of separation in the marketplace.

Example 2: Curriculum Resources

Once again, applying the same process with another organization that creates Sunday School curriculum, I was leading a workshop at a national event and asked the ’3-second’ question to a room full of teachers and leaders. A pattern emerged in that one of the most common activities they do right before using Sunday School curriculum is to scramble to the supply closet to gather all the supplies necessary for the lesson.

This is a distraction from what they are supposed to be focused on…and with distractions, comes opportunity. Once again, I was able to gain valuable insight into the circumstances customers find themselves in when using the company’s products. These customer insights are what led to the creation of a Curriculum that includes everything they need “in the box.” The marketing reinforced this message and drove the point home by saying that, “The only you need to prepare is your heart.”

Summary

When you understand the nuances of the circumstances in which your customers are dealing day in and day out, you will find that you have increased your credibility when speaking with prospects.

For the aspiring Challenger Sale rep, if you are going to have any chance at getting prospects to think in new ways about their status quo (i.e., Reframe), establishing credibility (i.e., Warmer) is critical. Without credibility, even the most brilliant Reframe will be dismissed as quickly as your introduction was.

Give it a try, and keep sharing your results with me, whether in comments below or via email.

What have you got to lose? You can’t learn any less!

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

The Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?

Whiteboard PowerPoint PresentationsA question I frequently hear raised in sales forums is whether a person should use PowerPoint or a whiteboard for their presentation.

I would like to suggest a different question, as asking which tool to use places inappropriate focus on the tool.

Lesson from the Woodworker

Imagine approaching a skilled woodworker and asking him, “which tool should I use, a hammer or a saw?” His response would be quite predictable…”What are you trying to build?” Depending on your answer, he may suggest one, both or neither. The key, of course, rests upon what you are trying to ‘build.’ So a better question is, “What are you trying to build?”

The Presentation Trap

Let’s look at a common scenario. A prospect or customer asks you to come and deliver a presentation to their team. We won’t get into it in this post as to why this might be a yellow flag, if not a red flag. For this example, let’s assume it is appropriate for you to meet with their team to present.

The prospect, knowingly or unknowingly, predetermined your communication to be a “presentation.” As a result, you are enticed to look through the lens of “presentation” and subsequently question whether you should use PowerPoint or a whiteboard. If this sounds familiar, you have fallen into the presentation trap.

TIP: When asked to do a presentation, don’t be hemmed into the same format your competitors will use. Ask the prospect if by “presentation,” (s)he means the ‘tool’ you should use (e.g., PowerPoint) or instead, means to effectively achieve the mutually predetermined outcomes in a way that will resonate with the audience. The question alone, begins to set a refreshing contrast between you and the competition.

Reps can get so excited by the opportunity to ‘present’ that what gets emphasized is the presentation, subsequently compromising your opportunity to present the case for change.

Common Mistakes

As a result, sales reps invited to do presentations will often prepare by addressing three areas – The audience, the message and the presentation. The three areas aren’t the problem, but rather the focus within those areas and the amount of time given to each is generally the bigger problem. For example, reps I encounter across a variety of industries often place inappropriate focus and time to each area:

  • 60% on Presentation: Building/designing the presentation, provided the same message isn’t used for everyone
  • 30% on Message: What’s intended to be communicated (e.g., Info about your company, product, solution)
  • 10% on Audience: Identification of audience members (e.g., Who will attend and what is their title/role?)

While the percentages are merely illustrative, not recommendations, I often see even lower time given to the audience with much greater time given to designing presentations.

Change the Focus

Instead of focusing mostly on the presentation and tool, and the least time on your audience, change your focus and amount of time spent in each area. Consider something more along the lines of the following:

  • 60% on Audience: While knowing titles/roles is necessary, it is not the goal. Know your audience well enough that even with a mixed audience of finance, operations, sales and marketers, you can tailor and speak specifically to the problems they face from their respective areas.
  • 30% on Message: The message should clearly demonstrate that the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. The proposal for change should ultimately lead to the areas your organization is uniquely able to solve.
  • 10% on Presentation: Shift your focus from building presentations to building a case for change (i.e., The message). The presentation of your message should heighten the case for change. If the tool doesn’t do so, don’t use it.

Important to note is that if you have not created a core message* that demonstrates the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change that generally addresses the problems of the industries you work with, the percentage of time spent goes up greatly for the message the first time you create that. This is not only appropriate to spend more time here, but is critical to your success.

*By ‘core message,’ I mean that given the industry you work in and the common issues those within your industry struggle with are at the core of the industry. The representative ’30%’ indicated above is therefore, referring to the amount of time it will take to tailor your core message into a specific message for your prospect, given the audience and unique problems they face.

In Summary

Don’t think and act like your competitors. When they hear “presentation,” they think ‘tool’ or ‘output’ (i.e., What do I want to present and in what format?). Instead, when you hear “presentation,” you think about the unique problems each of your audience members are facing from their respective areas, and ask, “What will be the most effective way to build the case for change that will lead directly, and exclusively back to my solution?”

Upcoming Posts on Presentations

Over the next two days, we will take an unconventional look at the unintended consequences of using PowerPoint and whiteboards for presentations. For quick reads on each, see the posts here:

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

The Problem with Whiteboard Presentations

Presentations, Whiteboards, WhiteboardingNow that we have taken a look at just a few of the Problems with PowerPoint presentations, let’s take a look at three of the problems whiteboard presentations can present if not intentional in design and approach.

Let’s be honest. When we see the work of masters at whiteboarding like RSA, whose work is pictured to the left, we think, “That’s cool!”

The way they marry the work of incredibly competent whiteboard artists, with a compelling story is second to none. But notice the two requisite points necessary for a compelling whiteboard presentation – 1.) Competent Artists and 2.) A Compelling Story.

The absence of either one of the two can compromise the whole presentation. For example, trying to deliver a compelling story with poor whiteboard skills, merely becomes a distraction. This distraction compromises the story by shifting focus from the story, to the clutter on the board (See picture below). On the other hand, even with an incredibly competent whiteboard artist, without having a compelling story, the value of the presentation is merely tied to watching an artist work. The takeaway from this kind of presentation is, “Wow, s/he can sure draw!” This is the wrong outcome.

Three Warnings on Whiteboard Presentations

To be clear, I am not against whiteboard presentations at all. I am quite the fan and personally use them for certain types of presentations, but my use of whiteboards has to meet the criteria I defined in my post on the Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?. Let’s take a brief look at two areas to consider before presenting by whiteboard.

Warning #1: Skills. This should go without saying, but it is amazing how often this point gets overlooked when a sales professional approaches a whiteboard presentation. In fact, it would appear that very little thought is given here at all, as if the rep’s thought is merely, “What’s there to think about…I will simply write on the board whatever I am talking about.”

You do not need to be as talented as the team at RSA to use a whiteboard, but you do need to have competency…and practice…telling your prospect’s story via whiteboard. The team at Corporate Visions have done some great work in helping people think through communicating stories with simple images via whiteboard.

WARNING!!! Without forethought on what to whiteboard and specifically how to present that thought, you are setting yourself up for a poor outcome!

Warning #2: Proficiency. This one is important. If you are not proficient at telling your prospect’s story through whiteboarding, you are likely to compromise the presentation in one of two ways. Either you will take too long to draw the ideas on the board, which creates some really awkward dead air, or you will be too quick to be effectively represent your point in the drawing like you see below.

Bad Whiteboarding | Whiteboard PresentationRegarding my previous point on taking too long, think of it this way. Imagine showing up to your prospect’s meeting with your laptop connected to a digital projector and saying to them, “I am going to build this PowerPoint on the spot while I present to you.”

WARNING!!! Without being proficient at whiteboarding, whiteboard presentations are analogous to creating a PowerPoint real-time in front of your prospect!

Warning #3: Message. The last area of caution is with regard to the message. Of course, this is critical regardless of what method you choose for presenting, but the criticality increases with whiteboarding quite simply because you are  developing the presentation ‘real-time.’ At least with PowerPoint, people have an image or slide in which to direct their empty stare while they think about what they need to get done once the presentation is over. Therefore, you need to make sure your message is spot on and finely tuned to the prospect’s story, and their focus should be squarely aimed at disrupting their status quo.

WARNING!!! Without proper attention to delivering a compelling message, your prospects will likely remember your whiteboarding skills…or lack thereof, since that is where you are directing their attention!

Repeatable Success Tip

Whiteboarding can be an incredibly effective way to lead prospects to the center of their own story in a visually compelling way. Like anything in life in which you want to improve, it takes practice. ‘Practice’ falls under the category of being Intentional, which is one of the three characteristics of the Repeatable Success model.

Our profession of Sales is a noble one. Great intentionality must be given on the front end of your presentation…from preparation through delivery. Those that have consistently repeatable success in presentations aren’t scripted, but choreographed. Prepare in a manner worthy of the outcome you are working to achieve. You are worth it…and so are your prospects.

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted on this site typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

The Problem with PowerPoint Presentations

PowerPoint PresentationThere is an old adage that warns those ‘speaking’ that no learning about, or from, your audience occurs when you are doing the talking.

The premise for this assertion, of course, is that when a person is doing all the talking, they learn no more than what they already know. This makes sense.

But how does this apply to the sales professional in which presentations are a key part of their sales cycle?

We like to poke fun at PowerPoint and those that use it for presentations, as the cartoon above suggests. The aim of this post, however, is not to admonish against the use of the tool, but rather to point out problems sales and business professionals alike, may create for themselves when choosing PowerPoint for meeting with others.

Four Pitfalls of PowerPoint

In my previous post on ‘The Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?,’ I spoke of determining first, what you are trying to build or create as a result of the presentation, then prioritizing your preparation differently for where to focus and how much time to devote to each category. After this has been firmly settled, you can determine which tool — PowerPoint, Whiteboard or other — should be used.

Assuming you have a solid handle on your objective of the presentation, which should be more than a “closed sale,” as that is a byproduct of behaviors, let’s look at a few of the pitfalls or unintended consequences that PowerPoint can create.

  • Pitfall #1: Static vs. Dynamic Content. PowerPoint slides obviously need to be created, designed and prepared in advance of doing the presentations. Problem: If the rep’s presentation includes their solution, they are often doing so prematurely without having ever spoken with most of their audience members. Question: How would you respond, if someone approached you and said, “I know we have never met, but I have a solution for you?”
  • Pitfall #2: Orientation to Screen vs. Status Quo. The rep’s graphic-laden presentation has successfully captured the focus…or at least the place where eyes rest…of your audience. Don’t believe me? Try inserting a blank slide and watch how many people continue to stare at the screen while you speak. Problem: Eyes glued to the screen does not equal engagement. More often it is a conduit for concealed disengagement whereby the audience does not have to confront their biggest issues. Question: Is PowerPoint the most effective way to get your prospect to look at their status quo? Sometimes yes, but more often, not.
  • Pitfall #3: Defending Your Point vs. Their Point. Let’s face it. Once you put something on writing on your PowerPoint, you’re committed. Problem: If you have posed a point of view devoid of understanding how the prospect may counter, you are stuck to either defend your point of view (the typical course of action), or admit that you hadn’t considered their point of view when creating the presentation. Question: Have you created a presentation without knowing the problems your prospect will present?If so, you have no business presenting at all, especially if your solution is included.
  • Pitfall #4: Presentation vs. Conversation. I am currently working with a company who is looking to solve why people don’t go to church anymore. One of their key findings in the declining attendance is due to one-way conversations of pastor to congregation. Important to remember is that talking isn’t necessarily teaching, nor is listening necessarily learning. Problem: Research by the University of Texas found that people will only remember about 10% of what they read or hear, but remember up to 90% of what they experience. Question: Are you creating an experience worth remembering through your PowerPoint presentation?

“Talking isn’t Teaching, and Listening isn’t Learning!”

Tips for Presenting with Repeatable Success

We all can fall victim to ‘presentation bias’ as we tend to concentrate more on what we want to say, than what a prospect needs to hear. If we continue to emphasize the presentation vehicle, then the only reason for prospects to choose one supplier over another comes down to whose presentation was best.

There will always be a better presenter, or a better designed PowerPoint. Therefore, if I am to focus on where to be the best, I would rather focus my energy on helping my prospects get to the center of their own story. This is the place where the prospect sees themselves in a situation that is completely untenable, and realizes that their pain of changing pales in comparison to the pain of staying the same.

When I choose PowerPoint as the vehicle best fit for disrupting how prospects see their own circumstances, I do these three things:

  1. Use presentations to tell ‘A’ story and use conversations to tell ‘their‘ story. The difference between the two is often the difference between what their industry faces, whereas THEIR story focuses on them within their industry.
  2. Use an image [and words, only when necessary] in the presentation to enhance the emotional connection to the story. Heads nod in agreement when the story about their industry is on track. This primes them for leading them to the center of their own story.
  3. Keep the presentation to just a few slides to prepare them for the conversation we are about to have and use the blackout function at key conversational points. I aim for one iconic image to anchor our conversation to, that will allow me to point back to something tangible that will resonate with the prospects in grappling with their own story.

In my next post, I will look at The Problem with Whiteboard Presentations.

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted on this site typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

Is ‘Status Quo’ Perception or Reality?

Disrupting Status Quosta•tus quo

/ˈstātəs ˈkwō/ - Noun: The existing state of affairs, esp. regarding social or political issues: “they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo”

“Status Quo” – The condition we all are describing these days. Whether talking about sales, marketing, innovation or strategy, our aim is always the same…to “disrupt the status quo.” But, this is commonly misunderstood.

While my aim for this post will center around salespeople disrupting the customer’s status quo, I believe you will find this relevant in all of its uses.

The Current Use and Understanding

Many of us in the Sales and Marketing community refer to ‘Status Quo’ quite frequently, and I would argue rightfully so. In fact, two of the foremost thought-leaders in this area, from my perspective, are Corporate Visions and CEB as their research and descriptions of the conditions and need for change are quite compelling.

When we talk and read about the status quo as our biggest competitor in the context of customers, we can misunderstand what is really meant. There is a tendency to infer that the customer has two choices – stay the same or change. I would like to reframe how we view status quo, and more importantly how we help prospects understand there is no such thing as staying the same.

A New Understanding

To properly understand Status Quo, let’s reorient back to the original Latin definition – “An existing state of affairs.” What this is speaking of is a condition at a particular point in time. In other words, there are literally hundreds of thousands of things that took their course to lead a customer, prospect, business, etc. to the point where they are now…at this point in time. This all has led to an “existing state of affairs.”

Where this tends to be misunderstood, whether by the sales rep or the prospect, is to treat the status quo as a condition that will likely stay the same unless acted upon. This is a wrong understanding. In fact, the image I used above has it exactly right…Status Quo has a downward trajectory, but is most certainly not level.

Consider it from a financial reporting perspective. If you were looking at a P/L statement or Balance Sheet, you would have a snapshot of your business at ‘a particular point in time,’ which describes the existing state of affairs. While there could certainly be some predictive qualities inferred from either of those financial reports, it does not guarantee that doing things the same way will produce the same results.

On a side note, this is one of the  biggest problems I encounter when working with businesses whose growth has stagnated or declined. They tend to look back to more lucrative times and conditions and subsequently try to repeat what they had once done. This doesn’t work unless all of the other variables that were existent at the time years ago are exactly the same today. As you can imagine, this is rarely the case.

Don’t confuse what I am saying with companies that return to the fundamentals. Returning to fundamentals is often a good thing for organizations…provided their fundamentals were appropriate in the first place. I am referring more to organizations that try to recreate their past like the ‘no-longer popular’ college student that desperately tries to recreate his high-school glory days.

A Different Kind of Conversation with Prospects

With the perspective of financial reports not being a guarantee of future results, consider changing your perspective on what you are truly trying to “disrupt” when talking with prospects who are afraid to change.

Their perspective is most often one in which they believe what they are doing today is known and has some predictability that will lead to predictable results. Your conversations should help them understand that if they are not currently leading to improvements they were hoping and expecting to see, things will only get worse. You already know that if they are entertaining a conversation with you, that they are not seeing the results they had hoped for. Your proof points should be inserted at this point in your conversational choreography to bring the point home.

In Summary

If you are struggling to disrupt the prospect’s status quo, it most likely due to your failure to help them see the consequences of not changing, and leaving the prospect with the impression that what they are doing today will still work going forward. Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Corporate Visions, often shares the following comments based on CEB’s research conducted with 5,000 buyers and decision makers that speak with salespeople:

86% of buyers said that the rep’s message, what they communicated in a meeting or phone call, had NO commercial impact whatsoever to them. In essence, they came away with the belief that what they are currently doing right now, the Status Quo, is okay and they themselves are okay. How do they know? The Sales Reps led them to believe that was the case because there was nothing to suggest otherwise in their communication.

When you speak with prospects, does your communication suggest any reason for change?

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a 25-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted typically emphasize 1 of 3 requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

The Challenger Sale & Sainthood

St. Francis of Assisi, Challenger Sale“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” These are the words ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi when addressing the Franciscans in his Rule of 1221 on how they should practice their preaching.

While there is some debate over whether he made the specific comment as quoted above, or simply addressed the principle through his writings, I believe his point is on the mark.

He is not admonishing those that use words, but rather imploring those following his teachings to demonstrate in life and in action what they were otherwise trying to convince people of through words.

His quote strikes me as being more about sequencing…behaviors followed by words…than it does for being one versus another. Both have their place.

If St. Francis were a Sales Manager…

With more and more sales leaders introducing The Challenger Sale to their team, we can all fall into the trap of ‘talking about’ the principles, traits and behaviors of a Challenger, in hopes that the profundity of our words compel new action.

Sometimes that happens, but more often people exposed to a whole new way of thinking, need to see repeated examples of these behaviors in action, especially when it comes to weighty concepts like ‘Reframes‘ and ‘Commercial Insight.’

If you have recently introduced Challenger to your team and are encouraging them to adopt new behaviors, guess who they’re looking to as their model? That’s right. Sobering, isn’t it?!

With that in mind, consider how the aforementioned quote from St. Francis might sound if he was a Challenger advising his aspiring Challenger Friars? Perhaps it might sound something like this…

“Teach the Challenger at all times, and when necessary use words.”

Mirror Test…

Question: If you could wave that magic wand and your team would automatically emulate Challenger as well as you demonstrate it to your team, what kind of Challenger team would you have?

Answer: Exactly the team you have right now. For some, this is great news and for others, it is simply a reminder that we need to be as diligent in the practice and execution of Challenger as we ask our reps to be.

Remember, we are held to higher standards. Therefore, let’s step up and re-commit to live out that which we have been proclaiming as being transformative, as we lead our team to the proverbial Promised Land. The rewards are so worthwhile for all involved.

As with any change effort, whether the implementing the Challenger Sale or instituting new governance practices with IT, the leader sets the stage of how each team member should respond, whether implicitly or explicitly. Let’s lead excellently…in a manner worthy of our calling!

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

10 Principles of Personal Leadership

Starbucks Coffee and Leadership

Image courtesy of Todd Clarke

I was recently working with some of my retail clients on ‘showrooming’ and leadership, and was reminded of some of the great principles Howard Behar spoke of in his 2009 book, “It’s Not About the Coffee.

Whether you have read the book or have yet to read it, I would highly recommend picking up a copy. Following are just a few reasons I found to be highly beneficial:

•  It’s practical, not just theoretical
•  It’s actionable, not just anecdotal
•  The focus is on People, not Product
•  The principles are timeless
•  Those you lead will benefit

Following is an excerpt from his book on the 10 Principles of Personal Leadership that I thought would benefit those looking to improve their own leadership.

10 Principles of Personal Leadership

1. Know Who You Are: Wear One Hat
2. Know Why You’re Here: Do It Because It’s Right, Not Because It’s Right for Your Resume
3. Think Independently: The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom
4. Build Trust: Care, like You Really Mean It
5. Listen for the Truth: The Walls Talk
6. Be Accountable: Only the Truth Sounds like the Truth
7. Take Action: Think Like a Person of Action, and Act like a Person of Thought
8. Face Challenge: We Are Human Beings First
9. Practice Leadership: The Big Noise and the Still, Small Voice
10. Dare to Dream: Say “Yes,” the Most Powerful Word in the World

[Download printable PDF versions of The 10 Principles of Personal Leadership (annotated) and the Checklist for Individuals, Leaders, and Coaches].

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

Case Study: Is the Problem Marketing or the Marketer?

Lead Generation and Lead QualificationThe Phone Call…

“Am I going crazy?” Having just answered the phone, I had no idea who was calling and asking such a question of me. I responded with a courteous, but cautious chuckle saying, “Well…I think I’ll need a little more to go on. With whom am I speaking?”

She paused, told me who it was, laughed rather distractedly, then proceeded to dive right into describing her dilemma from today’s meeting with the Marketing Director from her “problem division.” She is the Sales Director of a firm in which I knew a bit about, particularly with the company’s background and this particular division’s struggle.

In summary, sales were strong across all of her other divisions and lines, each of which had their own marketing leader, while she led the Sales across all divisions. Things were great, that is for all but this one division. Sales continued to decline year over year and had high lead dependency from Marketing, thus her concerns.

The Rest of Her Story…

The sales model is B2B with an outbound sales team that sells consumer products ranging from $200 – $1,000. As described earlier, they are highly dependent upon Marketing to deliver leads.

The Division Head and Marketing Director were both new to this division in 2011 and had stepped in with a new, radical, $1M cost-reduction strategy for marketing. The new marketing mantra became for the next two years, “Less Quantity, More Quality!”

This strategy resulted in lead reduction of 60% in 2011 compared to 2010. In 2012, the leads dropped another 40% from 2011. Not surprisingly, sales had correspondingly declined steeply, more so than any other recent period. While sales did have a dramatic decline, it was nowhere near the rate of decline for the lead volume.

The Sales leader saw neither quantity nor quality from marketing, and as she describes it, the numbers supported her version of the story. Despite the numbers, the Marketing Leader and Division Head remained committed to defending their original strategy a year and a half into it with major revenue losses, and subsequently showed no openness to a different, or better strategy.

Towards the end of 2012, she managed to get a commitment from Marketing for substantially more qualified leads in 2013, although to the Marketer, ‘qualified’ apparently meant email, number and “Request for literature.”

Additionally, the Marketer’s commitment was simply to an aggregate number of leads on a monthly basis, but not by geography, firmographic, demographic, product type or other. His tactic? Email marketing….it’s part of the ‘cost-reduction’ plan.

Today, prior to the call and after her meeting with the marketing team, she made her plea for more qualified leads as the current lead quantity left her outbound team with capacity in excess of 60% going into their largest quarter of the year.

After her meeting, she shared that in addition to the quantity of leads being a third of what they needed, 80% of them were for two of  their 10 product lines. This meant that they had on average  a half-lead per rep to call on each day for the remaining products….not enough to meet the sales plan.

“A Lead is a Lead is a Lead!”

Through frustration, the Marketer responded to her plea for more balanced and qualified leads with saying, “A lead is a lead is a lead. We know that regardless of what product type we market, more than half of the prospects will want something different anyway. We could collect leads on just one of our products and it wouldn’t matter. All that matters is that you have leads of any type, then your team can determine what they really need.”

Again, the sales exec says to me…this time through tears…“Am I going crazy? Do I have my expectations set too high? Is it unreasonable to ask marketing to know the customer well enough to hit who they’re aiming at? Maybe I am the problem. I don’t feel like I am but it just seems like we need to change our approach to marketing.”

I responded, “Being crazy and unreasonable is not your problem, although your 2-year tolerance may be a part of the problem. It sounds to me like there is a much larger issue at play here…”

Change the Marketing, or the Marketer?

I speak with people in Sales and Marketing roles from all over the country. From executives to analysts to reps. Lead generation and qualification is by far, one of the most common frustrations I hear.

No matter who I am working with or from what field, I am pretty quick to keep the responsibility and accountability with each respective group I am working with. Most companies needing my help typically don’t have their respective ‘houses in order.’ Therefore, I keep Sales concentrated on their own responsibilities and Marketing, theirs so I don’t create an all out Game of Thrones. I work with the executive leadership on cross-departmental improvements before circling back to the departments.

For these reasons, offering up an anecdotal recommendation to this Sales executive to “change the Marketer” after merely an hour-long conversation would be ill-advised, no matter how apropos that may seem. There is always more to the story, especially when it comes to Sales and Marketing alignment.

What Advise Would You Give?

Given the very limited facts we all have here, what advice would you give and to whom would you target your comments? The Marketing Director? The Sales Director? The Division Head? Who would you love to spend 15 minutes with and what would you tell them?

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

Does anyone remember your corporate vision?

Corporate VisionAfter laboring with your leadership team to set a compelling vision for 2013, the chances are, your staff won’t even remember it only 30 days into the new year.

Don’t believe me? Take this simple test:

Ask 3 staff members about your current vision.

Be prepared for the results you will likely find.

For those that found that all three remembered the vision with clarity, you are part of a rare few. This would suggest that you already know the success was not due to a catchy, compelling headline, nor was it because you were so engaging in your delivery of the vision. Both may have been true, but were not the reason.

Most, on the other hand, fell into the broader category of the ‘forgotten vision.’ Following are a few steps to take before it’s too late and your staff forgets you even spoke about the vision. Before doing so, let’s make sure the reasons are clear for why this is often forgotten so soon after being delivered.

The Forgotten Vision

Last October, I was invited to conduct a Vision & Strategic Planning workshop at a conference in Chicago for leaders from all over the country. The preliminary surveys of the audience members showed that most had led and/or participated in vision setting exercises with an even larger number showing the vision had no measurable impact on their year-end results. Here are a few of the most common reasons cited for the vision failing to make an impact:

 From leader’s perspective:

  • Nobody remembered the vision
  • They didn’t buy into the vision

 From staff’s perspective:

  • The vision failed to connect with staff
  • The vision is an exercise leaders do

Do any of those reasons look or sound familiar to you? What is interesting is that both, in the workshop and in working with other leaders in this area, is that most believe they need help with vision casting, believing that they just needed a better story or a better way to tell the story. While I do give some guidance and attention to that part in my workshops, my primary emphasis is on vision execution.

Two Steps to a Vision Remembered

When you reflect upon the vision setting exercises you have been engaged with, you are likely to remember the sense of relief you had when you finally completed the vision. Most see this process as putting in the hard work up front whereas all that is left is to deliver the vision to the team and expect the results. I have significantly oversimplified how most actually go about this, but the truth of the matter is that people too often place inappropriate emphasis on the front end of vision casting and little to no work in executing the vision.

The truth is that the vision casting is the easiest part of the process. The harder part is in distilling the vision down into executable actions that connect directly to each team member’s behaviors. The second part is in having specific, measurable evidence of where the vision is being carried out for each staff member to call and reinforce further behaviors. Here is a closer look at these two steps.

Step 1: Connect vision to behaviors. As a leader, credibility is one of the most important attributes you have, and should not be taken lightly. When it comes to making your vision a reality, failure to work through your leadership team to connect specific behaviors to the vision not only sets the vision on a course to fail, but erodes your credibility altogether. Therefore, make the time and make the connections. I recommend each leader meets with their direct reports one-on-one to maximize impact. The task itself is not difficult, but rather the difficulty is in committing to the time investment necessary to make this step effective. Don’t bail out on this one. The stakes are too high.

Step 2: Reinforce contributing behaviors. While Step 1 is a great start towards your aligning your staff to the overall vision, assuming it meets standard vision protocol and resonates with staff members, that alone will not be enough. To keep the team on track and to change behaviors leading to a successful progression towards the vision, they will need consistent feedback and reinforcement of how their actions are contributing. Therefore, after having invested the time to connect the vision to individual behaviors, the second critical step is to reinforce behaviors daily, weekly and monthly as you see evidence of the behaviors that lead to success.

As the leader, you know the pressures you experience to get things done with fewer resources. Your staff feels these same pressures, just in differing degrees. Therefore, if you feel that you don’t have time to take these steps to carry out the vision, how likely is it that your staff will naturally commit to carrying out the vision along with their other responsibilities? They won’t! Without you taking these aforementioned steps, they will simply see the vision as an interruption to getting their regular work done. Their everyday responsibilities [as they define them] will win out every time. That is, unless you define and connect the two, then consistently reinforce those behaviors. Is your vision worth the investment?

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

Leadership Lesson from X Games

Tucker HibbertTalent Alone is not Enough

January 27, 2013 marks the first time an athlete has ever achieved a six-peat…six consecutive gold medal performances…in the winter X Games. Tucker Hibbert did so in remarkable fashion in the Snowmobile Sno-Cross event Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t his talent alone that won the finals for him. The X Game analysts were quick to point out that this was one of the most experienced and capable field of champions they have ever seen.

What they did point to as the differentiator, rightfully so, was his preparation. You see, in between the semi-finals and finals, Tucker chose to spend his time walking the course to evaluate how the snow conditions had changed. He also spent time evaluating where the shadows were falling on the course along with identifying the intended lines he would take. It turns out that he was the only competitor that did so.

Assimilating all of that information resulted in his selection of starting lane (afforded to him because of his semi-final finish), which was counter-intuitive to where most others wanted to start from. By the time they all completed the first lap, Tucker was in the lead and on his game plan. More than half way through the race, conditions continued to change as the shadows continued to shift and the snow conditions on the track worsened.

Lap 9, Tucker was jolted by hitting a rough patch in his originally chosen line. He adjusted his line to his plan B approach by the time he reached that same rough section on lap 10 and continued to put distance between himself and the second place competitor. Six laps later, he had finished the race creating a phenomenal 13 seconds of distance between his next closest competitor.

The Mark of Effective Leadership is Reflected in Their Preparation

Tucker prepared in a way that his competitors failed to do. In fact, all things being equal, each of the competitors had the opportunity to win with similar experience, equipment and conditions. Yet, it came down to Tucker’s preparation that enabled him to respond asymmetrically to an otherwise, equal playing field. Tucker clearly had an advantage over his competition. An advantage also available to each of his competitors, but they declined, instead relying upon their own experience to see them through.

For leaders, you can certainly attest to the pressure to perform while leading your team to do the same. With the level of responsibilities a leader typically carries, the tendency can be to approach business as just another day. merely showing up and reacting to whatever the next day has in store. This is certainly no way to lead, and definitely not a recipe for intentional, predictable and repeatable success.

So how can you tell if you have fallen into this trap? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do today’s actions reflect about your preparation to lead your team to success?
  • Specifically, what have you done today to ensure your team’s success?
  • Does your to-do list focus more on tasks than it does in leading your team to success?

If these questions have exposed some vulnerabilities in your daily approach, you are not alone. Be encouraged as you have taken the first step to acknowledge complacency. Complacency threatens all of us if we don’t intentionally disrupt our own status quo. Here are three steps to help you prepare differently, much like Tucker had done for his record performance. After all, wouldn’t we all like to succeed in intentional, predictable, repeatable ways as Tucker did?

3 Ways Effective Leaders Prepare Differently

  • Intentionality. Evaluating ever-changing conditions in the business environment requires being prepared for anything. This includes anticipating problems before they happen, and even planning how you will respond to the unanticipated. To have this ability, the leader will need to take intentional steps and set aside time to address these areas. Action: Schedule this into your calendar to address consistently and frequently. This needs to become an habitual routine.
  • Predictability. After you begin intentionally looking for ways to be better prepared, you will begin to see patterns. These patterns often come in the forms of team member behavior that leads to lesser performance, complacent reactions of competitors, or even economic rhythms that you can predict and address now that you see them. Action: Practice predicting outcomes privately. Start developing this capability and pay attention to predictions and what surprised you along the way before you go public.
  • Repeatability. When you have devoted the time to be intentional, others begin to notice your seemingly innate ability to predict outcomes and that you are well-prepared, you will find that repeatable successes happen with much greater frequency. This makes you an invaluable asset and resource to your team and your organization. Action: Look for ways to repeat your success without relying on repeating the same exact actions. Life usually doesn’t work that way. But for the effective leader that knows how to succeed repeatedly, do as Babe Ruth did and call your shots before they happen. Then make good on it by developing your intentionality and predictability muscles.

The most meaningful things in life take time to develop. Effective leadership is one of those meaningful areas worthy of pursuing. But it’s up to you. What will you choose? What will you do differently today, that will make a noticeable difference in what you and your teams do tomorrow?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you found any aspect of this post helpful, take 2 seconds to Like, Tweet, +1 and/or Share with others using the buttons below.
 

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.