A while back I wrote a post called Are You Working In or Working On? Working in the business is a ‘head down, bottom up’ thing where you’re getting stuck into the everyday tactical stuff. Working on the business is the strategic, directional side of it.

I want to tweak that question slightly in this post, to this: are you working on something, or towards something? This to me is a pretty fundamental question. There’s no right or wrong answer. In fact, I think you have to do both.

Working on something means you’re in the moment, dealing with the present tense, getting it done. Working towards something means you’ve an eye to the future, or to a destination. It’s like the difference between the journey and destination. A means in itself, or a means to an end.

If we don’t know where we’re going with something it’s hard to shape what we’re doing right now. Conversely, if we don’t know where we’re going with something we can learn from the journey. After all, we can’t necessarily see the finish line but we can see the next few hundred yards and that’s enough to keep us on track.

Keeping an eye on what we’re working on sets us up for what we’re working towards. Keeping the other eye on what we’re working towards improves the quality of what we’re working on. Sounds like a pretty virtuous circle to me.

 

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My word of the moment – as I write this, but not necessarily by the time you read this, such is the fickle mind – that I use a lot in business meetings is ‘dovetail’.

I like to use it with rather too many prepositions, for example ‘perhaps we should get that to dovetail in with the other initiative.’ Dovetail presents a nice image of two things coming together. It’s one of those coming together words that business is very fond off, like connecting, aligning, meshing with, joining up and so on.

Business loves to join things and people together, as it’s the very basis of human society and indeed of commerce. The joy of the fair exchange!

Which is why it’s such a lovely word for me. It’s the most picturesque word for describing bringing things together – or ‘pictureskew’ as my mother would say.

Do you remember the phrase ‘there’s an app for that’? You’d hear it all the time, until apps started to tail off a year or two ago, to be replaced by web-responsive-designed websites. So now it’s a case of ‘there’s a website for that.’

The other day I landed at Galway train station for a meeting, but I wanted to post a letter first. I don’t know Galway city well enough to remember where all the post boxes were, and I’ve mentioned before how they’re quite scarce compared to their UK counterparts.

‘Wouldn’t it be great if someone designed a website that told you where your nearest post box was,’ I thought. ‘Wait a minute, may be there is.’ A minute later, a search for ‘post box near me’ led my phone to offer up postboxmap.com. I located the nearest postbox, a 1-minute walk away, and I was off to my meeting with 5 minutes to spare.

Maybe I could have simply asked my smartphone verbally rather than through google, and maybe I’ll be tapping keys much less often in future, but I was still very pleased to have found what I needed in such a short space of time.

A picture tells a thousand words, as the well-worn phrase goes. Most of us would find it very easy to use up a thousand words describing a painting, picture or diagram, and a good picture kind of does all the work for us. People find it much easier to retain something visual, so as sales people, marketers and storytellers we rely on a picture to bring people along. I tend not to do it so much myself, but a lot of people at work tend to want to whiteboard what they’re explaining.

I’m a words guy rather than a picture guy, but that’s not to say I don’t appreciate a good picture. A good picture is simple, powerful and influential. Pulling against this force is the desire to put everything in, include all the thousand words so that nothing gets left out, or left to chance in the mind of the person we’re trying to communicate with. When we do this we risk the simple message being lost, so we’re back to square one.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped me trying, at every business I’ve been involved with, to draw picture of everything that goes on in the organisation, so we can show how it all fits togethers, all the elements and interdependencies. Every time it gets too complicated, too difficult, and I run out of space.

The other day I mapped all the sales, marketing and service functions for your typical organisation serving a customer through their entire lifecycle, from not-yet-a-prospect through to an active advocate customer. It came out as a multi-ringed circle diagram, and I quite like it. I might have cracked it. It helps me help companies see where the gaps are in their coverage and strategy, where the holes are in their 360-degree view of their customers. Of course, it’s not exhaustive, you’d probably need ten thousand words for that, and there’s not a powerpoint slide, poster or whiteboard that could do justice to that level of detail.

You have to stop somewhere, and I have. It’s my new shiny ten thousand word picture. Now I need to test on my market and see if they get the big picture.

Our American business friends love the phrase ‘peeling back the onion’. It’s used a lot as a metaphor for life, but I hear it in business most of the time. People use it to describe how you can layer a story or a whiteboard to get your message across, or to reduce something complex and muddle to something simpler to grasp, but for years I was never sure I knew exactly what they meant.

Sure, I get the analogy of how you can remove the layers of an onion, and there is a satisfying feeling to doing it that probably dates back to six-year-old-birthday-party games of ‘pass the parcel’, but there’s not much to it when you peel away the inside layer. There’s no reward in the centre of an onion.

For me, the direction is wrong. Even though I’m an outside-in kind of a guy – by which I mean that I need to understand the whole picture so I can see how the little bit I’m dealing with fits in – I much prefer the inside-out onion layers approach, starting with the core and adding back in the onion layers, or the concentric rings of a diagram, as you go.

Adding the onion layers, rather than peeling them back, starts with something small and simple and builds as you go. It’s not a breaking down or disassembling process, it builds from the nub, the core, the kernel, and layers on the colour, complexity and detail.

‘I’ve had nothing back from her.’

‘Radio silence so far.’

‘She’s not come back to me yet.’

‘Nope, still waiting, got nothing back.’

This is par for the course when you’re trying to reach people in business, at work or at play. It’s not even confined to sales people trying to reach prospects and customers. We’re all busy and we’re all trying to reach other busy people whose agendas and priorities don’t necessarily mesh with ours.

It still makes it tough to get through your work and keep on track if you rely on input from others. You can get all scientific and favour certain days of week and certain times of the day, and then you’ll have those days when you get nothing back from anyone, which can be pretty frustrating.

We have to keep plugging away. We have to use all our skills and powers of persuasion to make sure we package those emails, voicemail messages and chats in a way that’s going to appear minimum impact to the recipient, with the maximum chance of a positive response.

Funnel and Hubspot Flywheen

Funnel and Hubspot Flywheel

For decades we’ve been talking about funnels – or hoppers – to talk about how we manage sales, especially in B2B circles. Marketing throws leads into the top of the funnel, perhaps helps leads advance down the funnel, and sales pushes them down through the bottom until they emerge out of the funnel as a customer, a sale. It’s also assumed that the funnel has holes in the sides, since leads and opportunities get qualified out or are lost during their journey, but that’s not really talked about and not what I’m talking about either.

Then there’s the flywheel. The flywheel analogy and image is a Hubspot creation, – at least I think they originated it – and aims to better integrate the customer, ideally the delighted customer, into the selling process from an advocacy point of view. After all, with the funnel, once the opportunity emerges as a customer there’s not a natural way for it to come back into the funnel as a repeat customer or as an influencer to a new customer.

I like the flywheel approach, although I prefer a wheel analogy myself, and I can see where they’re going with the idea that a flywheel increases in speed due to the rotational energy of delighted customers feeding fuel to the marketing and sales engine.

Hubspot acknowledges that you still need funnels in a business that measures its success, and argues that you can put funnels within the various stages of the flywheel. That doesn’t seem particularly elegant and they don’t even try to present it visually. But, viewing your customer’s buying journey as a circle rather than a straight line certainly helps you keep your focus on developing your existing business and leveraging customers to bring in new business.

Apparently it takes between 12 and 17 touches before a prospect engages with you. A touch being a call attempt, voicemail, email, ping and so on. I’ve heard varying numbers around that, but in any event it’s a lot. And there’s a load of reasons why they don’t engage with you before then:

  • They’re not interested
  • They’re not around
  • They’re too busy
  • They have other priorities

Even if you happen to pique their interest, still they might not respond, which is for another reason:

  • They can’t retain anything!

Your average crazy busy prospect is so busy skim-reading everything that even if they do want to act on something but don’t do it right away, they forget about it. Even if they have a vague recollection of something they wanted to act on, they can’t remember who the email was from or what the subject line might have been.

So you have to absolutely catch them with good topics and good timing, when they can follow the AIDA process through in one go. Awareness – see the email; Interest – read it and be engaged; Decision – decide to take action; Action – they actually take action, in your favour, hopefully.

17 touches…

I have appalling mobile reception in the west of Ireland. I use my mobile phone a lot. I work from home. It’s not a great combination. Having to wander around the house looking for an extra half a bar of signal when you really want to be in front of your laptop is unproductive. Thankfully, I had a Vodafone Sure Signal box to boost the mobile signal. Until it broke, with Vodafone no longer supporting it and no longer selling the boxes. Yay!

I have been asking Vodafone when they’re bringing in Wifi calling for about 18 months, at least. Wifi calling lets you piggy back on your wifi signal to make mobile calls. The infrastructure provider Eir has had it for ages. Every time I phoned or tweeted Vodafone the rep either didn’t know or said it was on the list but couldn’t give a date. Aargh!

I tweeted Vodafone again about it recently, and some kindly soul – not associated Vodafone at all – saw the tweet and said that Vodafone had actually been providing it for ages, at least for iOS phones, which I have. Well, would you believe it, it’s just a setting in your phone and takes 10 seconds to do. Found it, and now have blissfully clear mobile calls from the home. Hello 21st century!

Pity Vodafone Ireland isn’t a bit more joined up. According to this kindly soul, about half of Ireland’s mobile subscribers can use wifi calling to take and make calls, but maybe 1% know about it.

Make that 1.00001% :-).

"Streets Clock Acrylic Orange 2" by Individual Design is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Streets Clock Acrylic Orange 2” by Individual Design is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When you’re publishing something, or thinking about publishing something, it’s great to have images to lift and amplify the message. Better still are those copyright-free images you can use without having to go to the photo stock library vultures.

If you’re getting an image that’s in the public domain or is free to use, you want to be able to attribute it properly. After all, some generous soul is putting out their creativity for you to use gratis, so the least you can do is to give them the proper thanks via the proper shout out. This can be tricky to do:

  • You have to find the image
  • You have to check the copyright or licensing for it, to make sure it’s OK to use for your purposes
  • If it fits your requirements you have to collect the name of the image, the author and the type of creative commons license it falls under

This is fiddly, especially if you’re sourcing a lot of images. Enter the Creative Commons automated image attribution feature. You can access it here. As I write this it’s in beta, and it hangs and falls over a fair bit, but who cares? It’s invaluable. You search for your image, click on the one you like and the entire attribution text is pulled together for you in 3 different format options, like in this example.

A massive time-saver. Genius.