Closest To The Action

“The future of an organization is in the hands of the privates in the field, not the generals back home.”

–     “Krulak’s Law,” by General Charles C. Krulak, Retired, USMC (b. 1942), the leader charged with re-tooling the Marines for “modern” warfare

Krulak led in an era when war was changing dramatically, just as we lead in a time when business is changing, albeit with much greater stakes.  Krulak retrofit, or at the very least changed the conversation when it came to military planning and execution, resulting in two majors shifts.  First, tactical and immediate decisions were empowered closest to the action and it also cast a new framework for strategic and tactical planning.  That framework is known as the “Three Block War” theory; within three city blocks, troops might be engaged in 1) full-scale military operations 2) a peacekeeping mission and 3) delivering humanitarian aid.

All three at the same time. Calling for different skills, presenting vastly different risks, immeasurable possible outcomes and KPI’s, all in play at the same time.  Success required putting the decisions in the hands of the privates in the field, if for no other reason than there simply wasn’t time to get input from the generals back home.

Business faces the same challenge today.  Retail, according to the number of boxes on our doorsteps and the reduced traffic at the mall, has changed completely.  B2B services are being delivered, in some cases, by people who work remotely and will never be in the same room with the client, even during selection and negotiation.  In many cities, we can “see” a doctor on our smartphone!

The “changing the conversation” link is from 2012-ish post.  I am sensitive to linking military examples to our workaday lives, and do so only when doing so is the best way to illustrate the concept at hand.  Changing the conversation is a no-one-gets-shot-at perspective on perspective.

What is the new perspective difference makers must adopt?  When we put power in the hands of the people closest to the customers, and equip them to change the conversation in a way that matters to the customer, we’ll use Krulak’s Law to get better every day.

 

Reconnecting

“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

–     Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882), American writer, poet and philosopher

Seven buddies, a micro-brewery and 14th row at Lambeau Field made for a weekend that was…..well….needed.

There are people that consume energy and people that replenish it.  Making sure we get ample time with the latter means that the former won’t drag us down, and I think we all got at least a medium-sized boost from the gathering.

Laughter, according to the old Reader’s Digest, is the best medicine.  We do laugh, this group, when we’re together.  It was, in fact, good medicine.

Reconnecting is a good thing, and it’s worth applying some effort to make sure that we never get really disconnected from those that boost our energy and make us laugh.

Also, thanks for your patience during last week’s mysterious e-mail snafu.  In case you missed it, here’s the link to last week’s post on how to avoid a slow, painful death by Meetings Without Meaning

 

 

Meetings? We Don’t Need No Steenking…

Badges?  We don’t need no steenking badges!

–     One of a hundred great lines from “Blazing Saddles” — a turn on a phrase from the classic Western “The Treasure of The Sierra Madre

Meetings.  Handled poorly they become the bane of our existence.  The lion’s share of the meetings I’ve been invited to fall into (or are dangerously close to) the “handled poorly” category.

Here are three steps toward better meetings

1) Make sure everyone is aware of the goal for the time together.

There are two foolproof ways to get this done.  Ask “What is it you’d like to have at the end of our time together that you don’t have now?” and say “My goal for this time is _____________, does that work for you?”

If it’s worth getting together, we should drive to outcomes.

2) Be relentlessly respectful of everyone’s time.

Start (and end) on time.  If a meeting begins with “we’re just waiting for everyone to gather,” we’re rewarding those that are late at the expense of those who were on time.  A tip:  Schedule 25-minute or 55-minute meetings and then nail the start and end times.  Better yet, schedule 20-minute or 50-minute meetings, starting at five past the hour and ending at five before the hour.  It’s amazing how the overtness of the calendar entries impact culture…just sayin’…

3) During the meeting ask, repeatedly, “How are we doing? Are we on track? Just a check, are we mapping to the expectations we covered at the beginning?”

Then, wait for — and acknowledge — the answers.  If we’re off-track, it’s important to adjust, reschedule, agree to move on toward a different outcome or end it, agreeing (or not) to reconvene when it’s productive to do so.

These three simple-yet-compelling fixes will help us all avoid “death by meeting,” which is not an easy way to go out!

Why is this a hot-button topic — even if it’s unstated — in your organization?

Time is the second-greatest gift we’re given We should treasure it even more than the Sierra Madre!

Editors note for leaders:  There are times when a meeting calls for leaders to break ties, decide or redirect the conversation.  If consensus is your goal, you might want to review the REELAX Model for Leadership.

PS — We’re aware of a glitch in e-mail delivery on Thursday and Friday.  Sorry ’bout that!  Here’s hoping we have that fixed.

 

Subject Line — All We Need?

“Pick up the danged phone!”

–     admonishment from one of my mentors

Full disclosure:  I fully understand and appreciate that this blog about “e-mail as Satan’s spawn” is being delivered by e-mail to regular subscribers.  Irony.  Yep…

E-mail is Satan’s spawn.  At least when it takes the place of voice-on-voice or, better yet, face-to-face communication.

A few years back, I was checking in at a remote office location.  As I walked among the team, one guy was instant-messaging a teammate in the cubicle next to him.  I wasn’t creeping him, looking over his shoulder, either!  I said, “Hey, Rob, what’re you up to today?”  He said, “Just IM-ing Daniel…”

Doh!

It would be difficult to function without electronic communication.  That said, e-mail has been the second-biggest time suck of my career, even though I admittedly sometimes fall into its trap despite my best intentions!

Here’s one fix:  Use the subject line as the message.

“Action:  Please call Paula by noon tomorrow…” followed by two or three bullet points in the body of the message. “Tell her thank you for the business.  Remind her about the customer reception on Friday.  Ask her for any feedback she has on our engagement.”

“Awareness:  My report will be delayed until noon tomorrow…” followed by a reason (or, in this case, excuse…) “My flight was delayed and my laptop battery died” or “my dog has the flu,” or “I’m dopey and didn’t prioritize it well enough…”

“Preparation Required:  Please read this report and come prepared to challenge the concept…” A great way to frame a meeting agenda, and if no one needs to prepare for the meeting, cancel the “steenking meeting,” lest we get on the subject of the biggest time suck of my career; meetings with no meaning.

“As You Requested:  The answers to your three questions from this morning…”

And so on…

When we use the subject line as 80% of the message 80% of the time, we’ll have ample opportunity to focus on how to fix the whole “meetings with no meaning” problem.

A great topic for tomorrow…

 

 

Fit Change

“When the rate of change outside is more than what it is inside, be sure that the end is near.”

–     Azim Premji (b. 1945), Chairman of Wipro, unofficial Czar of the IT Industry in India

Kinda scary, isn’t it?  At least it should be.  If it is, we might be ok — because we’ll more than likely be prompted to do something about it.

If it doesn’t — those bells you hear in the distance?  Ask not for whom they toll…  The game might already be over.

Too heavy?  “Heston,” you’re saying, don’t be such a Debbie Downer!  Don’t be such a Pete Paranoid!”

OK, let’s take a slightly less dark-and-gloomy angle.

“If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

–     Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell‘s character in Talladega Nights:  The Legend of Ricky Bobby

Oh, if I had a nickel for every time Premji and Ferrell get brought up together…just kidding…

In this case, though, call me what you will, but I’ll side with Premji.

Of course there is room for places between first and last.  Not everyone can or should aspire to be the market leader.  That said, if the pace of change in the market is lapping our business, we’re falling back in the pack quickly, and viability, let alone relevance, becomes a top concern.

If you find yourself in the “aware yet unsure how to change” camp, there’s an important lens through which we should view your situation.  The “fit” lense.

In hiring and evaluating talent, fit comes first.  The most talented person in the world will struggle, as will the team, if they’re not a fit.

Yet, channeling my inner Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend!”

If the market is changing faster than our business, the first thing we have to change is what “fit” means.  Look, the only thing scarier than staying the same in a market shift is changing.  “Change will only occur when the fear of change is overcome by the pain of remaining the same,” says my friend Tom Graf, PhD.  We have to bring the pain to the surface, and that means redefining “fit.”  What “fit” before got us to this point.

As uncomfortable as it might be, we have to change the culture, then the talent.  A surprising number of folks will adapt to and embrace the change.  Augment them with change agents from outside, people who have done it, relish it and can lead it in the place of those that won’t or can’t feel the pain or see the end approaching.

Then, we’ll be “goin’ fast, Mama!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The Problem Lives In Our Own Skins

“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live; it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”

–     Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) Irish poet, as quoted by Roy H. Williams in today’s Monday Morning Memo 

(Click that MMM link for a fascinating story that will change your mind the next time you’re at LaGuardia International Airport…)

During #salesweek, we focused on the profession of selling, which, at its core, still relies on persuasion.

Since everything starts with “Why?” time spent understanding why we want to persuade someone is well spent.

It’s ok if the money is the motivator.

It’s ok if the goal in the motivator.

It’s really cool if belief and making a difference is the motivator, especially if it helps us make our goal and get paid.

It’s exceptional if solving a problem, together, is the motivator.  That tends to get both us and the client paid.

When we solve problems — our own and others’ — we move forward.  We help them move forward.  We make a difference.

If we’re simply expecting others to see things our way and live the way we want them to live…..that’s a problem.  Perhaps the first one we should solve.

 

 

 

 

Selling — Preparation Before Persuasion

“It’s not being at the right place at the right time but rather about being prepared when the time arrives.”

–     Jeff Dunham (b. 1962), ventriloquist and comedian

Dunham, one of the funniest (though certainly not the most politically correct) comedians of my lifetime talks about multiple auditions before the time he made it on to Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.  That was THE make or break moment for comedians for at least two decades, and Dunham’s repeated disappointment turned to wild success by being ready when the time arrived.  He was “invited to the couch,” which almost never happened, and when it did, it meant you had “made it.”

This was before Comedy Central, before Netflix, before YouTube.  Heck, if my data is correct, this was before 31% of you subscribers were born!

Today, in an “instant-gratification, look-it-up-on-the-fly-on-your-phone” world, it is tempting to wing it.  It is tempting for salespeople today to under-prepare and over-persuade.

Yes, selling, at its fundamental core is still an “argument.” There is still a need to persuade, to change someone’s mind and stir them to action.

But there was a time that “closing” trumped most other aspects of sales.  Those times are gone.  Preparation has to come before persuasion, or we risk wasting our time, and everyone else’s.

Said differently, today it is not ok to not know.  LinkedIn is a spectacular tool.  Most other social media platforms provide insight.  Yesterday, an associate and I had a fantastic meeting, primarily because the preparation allowed us to know, in advance, what was bugging the prospect, who we knew in common and where we already had credibility bridges built.  He got “invited to the couch” the minute he walked in the door because he was prepared.  Once we’re “on the couch,” the persuasion gets much, much easier.

How many times have we practiced, out loud, our greeting?  How many times have we practiced, out loud, key questions that will tell the prospect that we’re focused on them and their outcomes?  Have we left anything to chance that could have been taken care of in advance?

We’ve spent some time during #salesweek on skills and tools.  Without preparation — our tools and skills won’t be enough in this day and age.

Selling, Storytelling and Magical Thinking

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”

          –     Robert McAfee Brown, (1920 – 2001) American theologian and activist 

“Magical thinking is not to be confused with mere exaggeration. Liars and con-men exaggerate. But persuasive storytellers enchant us with magical thinking, stating the obviously impossible as though it is perfectly reasonable.  The next time you need to persuade someone, might it be useful to put them in a frame of mind to consider new and different things? Do you think it might be helpful to entice them into the realm of infinite possibilities, where anything and everything is possible?”

–     Roy H. Williams (b. 1958), “The Wizard of Ads” and one of commerce’s best-ever storytellers

“Professional selling is the passionate transference of belief.”

–     Cornerstone of The Heston Group sales training philosophy, delivered custom for your team by Steve Heston

Ideas are the currency of the difference makers.  Storytelling is their means of transacting and persuading, of passionately transferring belief.  Storytelling requires magical thinking and is “the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.”

The world today seems focused on the sound bite and the exaggeration at the expense of the idea, suspending magical thinking for hyperbole.  The world today tries to draw us to the sensational, at the expense of the important.  The world today wants us to believe that 280 characters is all we need in order to understand, and that a snippet on YouTube can stand in for storytelling.  The world today provides ample incentive to take short cuts, yet the on-ramps to difference making are rarely short-cuts.

Storytelling makes a difference, because it gives ideas sunlight, water, oxygen and good soil, so that roots can run deep and hold strong.  Storytelling sets an idea apart, because it allows the idea to become “perfectly reasonable.”  Storytelling enables difference making because it engages the audience emotionally, “puts them in a frame of mind to consider new and different things,” and helps frame the “obviously impossible as though it is perfectly reasonable.”  (That right there is some powerful stuff from The Wizard!  Just sayin’…)

The anti-storytelling movement is built on blind internet auctions; on closed envelope bids.  The anti-storytelling movement is led by procurement departments who are paid to commoditize offerings that can not and should not be commoditized.  The goal of the anti-storytellers is to minimize ideas.  They trade in the currency of fear.  Avoiding blame is their means of transacting.

Ideas are the currency of the difference makers.  And storytelling is their means of transacting.

Find a platform from which to tell your story.  And, tell it like it makes a difference.  Because it does.

 

Selling — 3 Conversations We Need To Change

“Sometimes being different feels a lot like being alone.”

–     Lindsey Stirling (b. 1986), pop violinist, entertainer and trendsetter in musical performance

If we’re willing, being transparent — being different and feeling alone — is the best way to change the conversation.  It can be the best way to draw a team together for the common good.  It can darn sure be the best way to draw a prospect into a deeper conversation.  Combining today’s post with Monday and Tuesday’s gets us over the hump in our five-part series during #salesweek.  When we free ourselves from the script we become genuinely transparent and Tom-Bodett-real.  When we’re intentionally, relentlessly and selflessly curious we’re in a better position to change the conversation.  And, when we change the conversation, we become, by Seth Godin’s definition, remarkable.

“Ask dumb questions, propose dumb solutions,” suggests Patrick Lencioni, in “Getting Naked; A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty,” one of his fantastic business fables.

That’s just one way to change the conversation, and there are three conversations we need to change.

The first is the conversation inside our own head.  The things that we tell ourselves, the things we assume and the perspectives / opinions that we have must be challenged, and the best person to challenge them is us.  It makes those around us more comfortable with the idea of changing the conversation in their heads, which tees up the second conversation we need to change…

The conversations in our team.  Challenge the team to take on different roles, especially in a planning or brainstorming session.  If Joe is always the voice of reason, we’re missing the opportunity for Joe to ask dumb questions or propose dumb solutions, the kind that makes the rest of us approach the matter from a different perspective.  If Tammy is always the “Hey, what if…?” person, having her adopt the voice of reason might be powerful.  It’s not about playing “devil’s advocate” either, it’s about altering the way we see and process information.  It’s about challenging the status quo with the intent of improving it.  It likely won’t be easy the first few times we engage, either…but the best stuff is rarely easy!

Here’s one idea.  We all know “where we sit” in meetings, right?  It’s pretty common for the boss to sit in his or her seat, and the rest of us to sit in ours, even though there are no seats assigned.  Want to get a start on changing the conversation?  The next time that meeting starts, have everyone move to a different seat.  You may be surprised; a) at the initial level of discomfort and b) at the long-term benefit and impact on perspective — the free-flow of new ideas — simply by altering the locations in the room from which the conversations flow.

Finally, our ultimate goal has to be to change the conversation in our market.  If we’re a market leader, it’s particularly important, because, as Ries and Trout taught us way back in 1987, only the leader should attack the leader directly.  If we’re not the leader, we need to change the conversation to be about the prospect, yet in the context that brings them closer to us, our solution, our ideas – our manner of making a difference for them.

When we talk to ourselves differently, and we talk with one another differently, we’ll be ready to engage the market differently, and the market will respond.

Changing the conversation is table stakes for professional salespeople.  Changing the conversation makes a difference.

Selling — Curiosity

“Here’s the secret that we don’t seem to understand, the wonderful connection we’re not making:  Curiosity is the tool that sparks creativity.  Curiosity is the technique that gets to innovation.”

–     Brian Grazer, in A Curious Mind:  The Secret to a Bigger Life

It’s simple, yet we stopped understanding too long ago.  Curiosity is a tool and a technique.  It’s a building block for a more fulfilling life, one where we never stop learning.  While we may not instinctively think of curiosity as a tool, Grazer’s point is that we’re taking something very important for granted.

Curiosity can be God-given, but it need not be God-given.  It can be learned, just as it can be unlearned.  In fact, as 3-year-old children most of us have a deeply ingrained curiosity that causes us to ask “Why?” without ceasing.  As children, we’re fascinated by the new thing, the new kid, the new pet or the new flavor.  We’re intrigued and insatiable in our pursuit of understanding — in short, we ask, we dream, we try things.

Until some dopey adult(s) sucks all the curiosity out of us.  Maybe it’s a standardized test.  Maybe it’s a parent without the patience to teach little hands to do something their big hands have done thousands of times.  Maybe it’s a teacher who long ago left the kids behind — all of them, not just one of them.  Maybe it’s a crappy boss, a bully in the hallway or a coach that intimidates instead of inspires.

Just as we somehow unlearned curiosity, we can, and must, re-learn it to be successful in selling professionally.  My friend, Nathan Baumeister, gets it – #unlearningourlearning…

Dad taught me to take care of my tools.  My push mower is 27 years old.  My chainsaw is 24 years old.  My kitchen knives are 25 years old.  My 41-year-old baseball glove from high school and college is pristine, perfectly broken in and ready for my next game of catch, even though all my joints are telling me that I’m done playing.  But that glove is ready.  My mower still cuts like it’s brand new.

So, why does my curiosity occasionally get rusty?  Why is it sometimes left outside where the rain might rust it, remove all its suppleness and dull its edge?

It’s a tool and technique worth taking care of.  It’s fundamental to successful, professional selling.

As #salesweek continues in the Daily Diff, for now, let’s just pledge to get some glove oil and apply it to our curiosity.  I’m curious how much of a difference that will make.

#salesweek #curiosity #teachercoach #unlearningourlearning