Do Your Homework to Improve Sales Results

Do you want to improve revenue and the performance of your sales team? Then do your homework! Now that’s a pretty obvious better business basic!

Last week my partners and I began a new consulting relationship with a new sales team in the energy management industry. We coached them on ways to improve sales performance. And what did we focus on? Do the research!

How much do you know about the company you’re approaching? Do you know who the CEO and CFO are? Are you familiar with the organization chart? Have you been tracking them on the Internet? Are you connected with anyone who knows them through LinkedIn? For their key deciders, how much do you know about their values, what’s important to each of them? Have you spent time building productive relationships with them?

Most sales people who approach potential customers about a big or complex sale think they know enough about their prospect, but they don’t. In many cases we’ve found they don’t even have basic information like what I just listed, and more.

Effective sales people are all about building productive relationships. They do that by gaining information and knowledge. They do that by understanding the prospect’s situation. They do that by understanding the needs of the prospect and how their solution might fill that need. They do that by being honest and sincere, and building credibility with that prospect. They do not do that by pushing a prospect into buying a product or service that they do not need!

So I raise the question; have you built that productive relationship with your prospect? Are they really ready and wanting to buy from you? Have you done your homework?

Just a little common business sense folks…

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Improving Results through Servant Leadership

Servant leadership may be perceived as a “fad management technique” but I actually find it to be one of those better business basics I keep talking about.  Here’s why…

If you’re with me on the idea that you improve results by improving performance and that performance is personal before it is organizational, then the question is, “What have you done to help your people improve their performance?”  As a manager, your responsibilities include guiding your direct reports, setting expectations, monitoring performance, and providing feedback on their work.  But what have you done to clear away barriers that prevent them from performing up to their full potential?

Your primary responsibility is to deliver results and protect assets through the wise use of resources within your area of responsibility.  How do you do that?  You set your people up to succeed.  If you aren’t addressing their needs, and clearing away those performance barriers, you are limiting their ability to perform up to their potential, and you are failing to deliver the results that your function has the potential to deliver.  You are also failing to develop productive relationships with your people.  After all, your people are your most valuable resource!

As a manager you may need to employ authoritarian, participative or hands off leadership approaches depending on the situation within your area of responsibility.  You may even need to be the benevolent dictator.  Regardless of the leadership approach you use, integrating elements of servant leadership will help your people achieve their full potential, and help you deliver the results expected of your team.

So communicate with your people, develop productive relationships with them, learn what is preventing them from delivering the best results possible, and clear away those barriers or point them in the direction of other sources of help that you may not be able to offer yourself.  Be a servant leader and you’ll see improved results through improved personal performance.

If you want to learn more about servant leadership, read James Hunter’s The Servant, or The Servant Leader by Blanchard and Hodges.  Both are a good read, the latter with more religious overtones but still very applicable in the work environment.  And don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like some help.

Improving Results – Where Do I Start?

When results aren’t running as expected, profits declining, customer complaints rising, employee morale slipping; where does a manager look to find the cause?

If the results relate to dollars and cents we often leap to the idea of cutting costs or raising revenue or fixing a broken process.  If it’s customer satisfaction we jump on product quality, or maybe we start heading in the right direction, our customer service team’s performance.  If it’s an employee morale issue we look at the culture, or specific events that may have triggered some negative employee feelings toward management or owners or each other.  Again we start drifting in the right direction, performance.

However, we often incorrectly define the situation as a problem of organizational performance.  What we frequently forget is that performance is personal before it is organizational, and what your people are, or are not doing, is directly affecting results.  How do you zero in on the personal performance issue?

There are many aspects of personal performance we could focus on, but two seem particularly important and they’re not job skills so much as they are life skills; building productive relationships, and communicating effectively.

You knit together your entire organization through formal and informal communications.  Communication about anything from mission, vision, and values to individual performance expectations must be clear, concise, received, fully understood, and converted to specific actions by the intended recipients.  If that doesn’t happen your people won’t know what is expected and may end up performing unnecessary tasks and demonstrating inappropriate behaviors, or not performing necessary tasks or demonstrating desired behaviors.

Effective communication contributes to the formation of productive relationships between employees, between managers and direct reports, between customer representatives and clients, between the business and the community, and … well any connection involving two or more people.  Giving attention to effective communication throughout your organization is a good place to start resolving performance issues and getting those results back to what was expected, and beyond, but this isn’t an easy task.

Many organizations have tried repeatedly to improve communications without success.  If you want to learn more about an approach that has proved successful in numerous situations, try this link www.pdsgrp.net/alex.html and visit the contact page to ask me about improving communications in your business.  After all, communication is just another one of those better business basics!

What a Novel Idea!

February 8, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday afternoon my daughter and I were discussing my business.  In fact she was asking me lots of questions about it such as, “What do you do?” “How successful have you been lately?” “Can you give me some examples of your results?” “Are you actively networking?” “Can you make it more affordable?” “Who’s your audience?” “What’s your elevator speech?”  …

About two and a half hours into this conversation she had proposed an entirely new business strategy and marketing plan and given me a kick in the pants about making it happen.  My first thought was, “I think I need to hire this woman as our newest consultant.”  Then I asked her how she got so smart about running a business, and she told me she had a really smart dad who taught her a lot.  “Oh yeah”, I thought.  She just spent over two hours feeding back to me a whole slew of business basics, honed by her own experiences over the last few years, that I seemed to have forgotten, or at least failed to regularly revisit.

The lesson?  Remember the basics; and, if things don’t seem to be going as expected, revisit them. Every once in a while, get a look at your business through someone else’s eyes.  Then evaluate your key performance drivers.  Are your mission, vision, and values still sound?  Does the strategy support the purpose?  Do the plans (marketing, finance, operations, etc.) support the strategy?  Are your processes still working effectively?  Does your organization structure still make sense and support your business activities?  Are your people still capable, on the same page and focused on results?

Many thanks to my wise entrepreneur of a daughter, who looked at my business through fresh eyes and reminded me about the most important better business basic: don’t lose sight of those sound business basics!  They’re the essence of success!

(By the way Sunshine, are you available?  Love, Dad)

Categories: Foundation

Personal Performance vs. Organizational Performance

Why do we believe performance (and change) is personal before it is organizational?  It’s not just because a colleague once told us.  It’s because we see it every day in every organization we interact with.

When is the last time you walked into a store, had a bad first contact with a customer service representative, and yet still purchased something from that store?  What about when you had a good first contact?  Much more likely isn’t it that you bought something from the latter store rather than the former?

Have you ever had an unresolved disagreement or argument with a friend?  Not too conducive to continuing the friendship, was it?  What about a relationship with a co-worker that went negative, still conducive to a productive working relationship?  Probably not.  Is your employer impacted?  Probably so if your continued interaction is essential to service or product delivery.

Let’s say you and your co-worker agree to work together, even though you disagree on a particular functional issue or expectation you have of each other related to your jobs.  Will your work relationship and communications be speeding along in overdrive, or stuck in second gear due to the tension or stress you experience?  Ever tried driving a car with the parking brake on?  Found yourself going nowhere fast, didn’t you?  How can an organization possibly perform up to its full potential if people aren’t performing up to theirs?  It can’t!

Am I stating the obvious?  Of course I am!  And yet these situations occur and fester daily in every organization to some degree.

So what can a business leader, or a worker on the shop floor do about it?  It doesn’t matter whether you choose a top down or a bottom up approach because somewhere along the way everyone in the organization needs to get on board, to get themselves on the same page with each other, improve their communications, and begin strengthening their working relationships.

It may start with a boss and his or her direct reports making clear their expectations of each other, and agreeing to accept accountability for delivering results.  It may start with two co-workers seeing and acting on an opportunity to improve how they work together to get better results, and talking with others about their success.  Regardless of where the effort starts, the focus is on communicating, clarifying, and delivering what is expected and necessary.

Do you want better organizational performance?  Then regardless of your place in the organization, make performance personal, develop your communication skills, express your expectations, don’t assume others know what you need or want, and hold yourself accountable for your commitments.

Is this easy?  No.  Is it necessary?  Yes.  It’s a matter of common business sense, and a better business basic.

Precisely My Point!

Quoting from Vault / CNBC yesterday, “At a recent Conference Board event for marketing executives, Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh gave a controversial presentation in which he opined that innovative and collaborative company culture should trump profits.” 

Further, “Hsieh was followed by Ogilvy & Mather’s Chairman (and former CEO) Shelly Lazarus, who took the podium ostensibly to discuss the challenges ahead in marketing.

“Ever so subtly, however, Lazarus turned her address into a tutorial on corporate social responsibility (CSR), and why it is going to eventually become an unavoidable part—and expectation—of everyone’s job profile.

“Her argument: Being market-driven is not an excuse to avoid discussing your company’s corporate social responsibility, but the very reason for the discussion. She drove the point home with some eye-catching statistics:

  • In 1960, 70 percent of consumers felt business acts responsibly.
  • By 1980, that sentiment had fallen to 30 percent.
  • Today, that number is in the low teens.”

Here are two corporate leaders who get it!  And congratulations to Vault for picking up on it!  But I would take issue with Mr. Hsieh’s observation in a small way; profit and innovative and collaborative culture are NOT mutually exclusive!  Profit need not trump CSR.  Profit can directly result from an innovative and collaborative culture.  Given that point, I agree that the American consumer is tired of greed-based capitalism and begging for corporations to operate transparently and in a socially responsible way!

I believe Hsieh and Lazarus understand that successful organizations of the future will be principled, people-centered, servant-led, purpose-driven, community friendly and environmentally responsible.  Beyond that, they will make responsible business decisions that don’t throw the consumer or their employees or the communities in which they operate under the bus!  And, they will define their purpose as fulfilling an individual or collective consumer need, and recognize that profit is not the purpose, but is the reward for being successful.

To Lazarus’ point, “it [CSR] is going to eventually become an unavoidable part—and expectation—of everyone’s job profile.”  Of course it is, because performance is personal before it is organizational!  Every person in an organization will at some point be responsible and accountable for a piece of their organization’s social responsibility.  And, it will extend beyond the job profile to specific tasks and behaviors that will be expected of everyone in the organization from its board of directors to the shop floor staff.

We’re talking about a substantial shift in corporate culture for many organizations; but there are some, like Zappos, that are already there.  And, the profit is following the culture.

If your organization wants to earn back the consumer respect that business has lost in rather dramatic fashion over the last 50 years, be prepared to shift gears and let your mission, values, ethics, and responsibility to society drive every decision you make and action you take!  Culture and social responsibility, that’s where the money will be, and that’s where your organization had better be!

Here are some steps your organization can take:

  • Review and restate or redefine your mission, vision, and values
  • Redefine your purpose in terms of satisfying individual or collective needs
  • Make sure your ethics are real, not situational and that you have a code of conduct embedded in your organization, and FOLLOW IT
  • Create awareness of and measure your organization’s impact on the community and environment
  • Identify and clear away barriers to your employees’ success
  • Get all of your people on the same page
  • Clarify and communicate expectations and accountability throughout the organization, from the top down and the bottom up
  • Let profit be the measure of how well you are doing, not the purpose of your business
  • Make these changes personal for everyone in the organization

Yes, that’s fundamental and difficult change, but it’s a matter of survival, and yet another of those pesky little “better business basics!”

Change – Make It Personal

November 22, 2010 1 comment

Implementing successful and sustainable change is tough, strategic change initiatives fail two thirds of the time in North American business (Kotter, 1996, and McKinsey, 2009).  How can your organization succeed?  You can succeed by making change personal!  Remember, performance is personal before it is organizational.  This is another one of those “Better Business Basics” and a matter of common business sense; but most of the time it just doesn’t happen.

Many organizations start with a plan for their change initiative, communicate it to their leadership team, tell the organization to watch for it, set some goals and measures, and incorporate the goals in their team and department objectives.  Then the change dies and the leadership team wonders why.  The answer; the change was never translated into personal action!

If change is not embraced by the people in your organization (including your customers and vendors) it will fail.  Why?  Because performance is personal before it is organizational.  If your people do not understand the change initiative, buy into it, and integrate it into their daily activities, it will not work.

There is a natural human resistance to change because it involves moving out of a comfort zone.  Consequently planned change won’t be translated into personal action because people are skeptical, don’t understand why, don’t see the need, and don’t know what’s in it for them.

So how do you make change personal?  Define, communicate, delegate and track it using the “expectations approach.”  We usually get the organization’s side of change, define and communicate, pretty well.  Where we fail is in putting the personal side of change, communicate, delegate, and track, into play.

First, define the change in terms of broad categories of activity to which everyone in the organization can relate, and specific results that benefit the organization and its people.

Second, communicate the change initiative, and include the message that leadership will be expecting everyone to participate by defining specific expectations of each other necessary to carry out the change.

Third, communicate more, and here is where things start to get personal by focusing on the individual working relationships in the workplace.  Have each person on the leadership team identify specific expectations of each other as to what they must do to successfully implement the change.  Make sure the expectations are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time and budget bounded, and ethical.  Make sure they are recorded.  Have each leader discuss his or her expectations with the partner who will execute the expectation, and make sure each accepts accountability for each other’s expectation.  This helps to create a productive relationship and integrate the change into the business at the leadership level.

Fourth, delegate by carrying the above process to each leader’s direct reports, peers, and business partners throughout the organization or at least those teams that are considered key players in the change initiative.  Ensure the people are delegated not only the responsibility for, but also the accountability for, and the authority to execute each expectation.  In this way each person owns the expectations that others have of him or her.  This step integrates the change throughout the organization as it becomes a part of each person’s work responsibilities and commitments.

Fifth, track the results of each expectation.  This means each person holding accountable the person who agreed to the expectation for completing and reporting completion.  Accountability can be a scary thing to many people who haven’t truly experienced it on the job.  On the other hand, the expectations approach opens this challenge between leaders and their direct reports from a business rather than a personal perspective and serves to foster improved communications between them.

The expectations approach makes change personal by pushing accountability for implementing change throughout the organization in a way that people can understand the reasons for and expected results from the change, and buy into it.  We’ve found it one of the most effective ways of implementing successful and sustainable change in organizations.  The side benefits of this approach are that it improves accountability throughout the organization, and encourages creation and development of productive relationships between people, leading to improved organizational performance.

We have successfully employed this approach in Fortune 500 companies and family owned businesses, from new selling strategies to management transitions.  It works in for-profit and non-profit organizations from large to small, and it also works in government organizations (it’s been used in the British Navy by its developer, John Machin).

If all this sounds complicated, it is, because, as we at PDS Group LTD believe, “change is hard and real change is real hard!”  If you want to be successful at change, you have to be prepared to tackle the hard part of change – making it personal.  But that’s OK, because we at PDS and our North American consulting partners at IMC can help and, we have an “app” for that!  Check us out at www.pdsgrp.net/alex.html and www.pdsgrp.net/Resources/ALEX%20Intro%20-%2023.pdf .