Archives for category: Sales

I skim-read a fascinating article the other day that covered an interview with former FLOTUS Michelle Obama.

In it, Ms Obama talked about what she described as Imposter Syndrome, the feeling that sooner or later someone’s going to uncover you as someone who’s blagged their way in to position of status or seniority that’s above their station. I hadn’t heard it described that way before but I immediately latched onto it.

Who else feels that from time to time? More accurately, who hasn’t felt in a weak moment that they’re one misstep away from being exposed as a fraud, or at best under-qualified for the role they’re performing?

This is a normal reaction from time to time, normal at least for people who are pushing themselves, moving up the ladder trying new things, joining new groups, doing the one thing every day that slightly scares them. It’s a natural symptom of progress. The first time you step up there’s new things to learn and uncertainty before you get dug in. Then you have to move again before you get too dug in.

It seems too that since the article above others have identified with it and shared their stories, which you can read about here.

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Gaze towards the top of this webpage and you’ll see the eyes-through-the-letterbox image of a Paul Dilger looking enviably young for his 50-some years. That’s because the picture is at least 10 years old.

I’m not alone in this. The world, especially the professional world, is full of the slightly false advertising of profile pictures and avatars. Shining faces, full of hope and ambition, that belie the experience they claim to have in their bio.

This makes it somewhat tricky when you have a first meeting with someone who you’ve only met online or on the phone and whose photo you’re going by. I think if you add a decade to the picture it provides a far better calibration for your field of view. Otherwise you might be unprepared for a conversation that might spiral out of control.

‘Oh hi! I was, er, expecting someone a little…’

‘Younger?’

‘No, no, of course not! Just, a little different I guess.’

‘Different how?’

‘I’m not sure. Ah, here’s our server, would you like coffee or tea?’

It’s a tough one. Do we go with a current pic and possibly deflate the initial impression, or do we go young and have some tap-dancing to do when it comes to the meet and greet?

Think of the last book you read that was a real page-turner. Got it? Right, was it fiction or non-fiction? I’m betting it was a work of fiction.

A work of fiction is a story. It tells you a story. It brings you along, imbuing you with a gradually deepening sense of the main characters and how they interact, propelling you to the end. A work of non-fiction tends not to do that. Of course it should tell you a story, but often it’s not that easy to do, especially if it’s not a historical account but a business book or something like that.

That’s the difference between fiction and non-fiction: a story to engage you and for you to invest in.

I’ve written a book, as yet unpublished. It’s non-fiction, so it lacks the pulling power and retentive power of a created story. Conscious of my own very short attention span, I’ve written it as a book that’s light on text, heavy on pictures, and, controversially, I’ve made it a page-stopper rather than a page-turner. There is a story in there which has an autobiographical theme, but I’ve designed the book to be ‘coffee-table-putdownable’. It’s easier to finish because it’s easier to pause. It doesn’t overstay its welcome before it offers you a rest.

I think non-fiction books have to work harder to get you to complete them, because there’s no story. Regular signposting and benches help.

I want to revisit the theme of an erstwhile post on how I often give businesses one chance and then they’re gone. When you think about it, it’s no chances, as their first slip up is their last. One chance would be their second chance. Anyway, with the irony of the blog title behind me, let me tell you a story.

I used to have almost all my insurances with one company: houses, cars, even tyres. I’d inherited them as a supplier from my Dad. Anyway, one day I had a car accident. A tourist driving a hire car in front of me and my boss – we were heading to hit some balls one lunchtime – missed his roundabout turn-off for the motorway, took the next turn, which was also ours, went 10 yards and attempted an immediate u-turn, forcing me to take evasive action and break my suspension on the far kerb.

The tourist admitted no blame – in fact he said .’you did not see me?’ – we exchanged details and so began a sorry saga which took months to resolve. My boss was not deemed an independent witness, I provided all the information I could, and ended up chasing the insurance company’s insurance company to try and resolve it. The last time I phoned I was told, ‘oh we’ve already settled the claim 50-50 with the other driver’s insurance company.’ I was furious, not at the injustice of the other driver lying, since many people will lie and cheat to get out of something, but at the fact that my insurer had let me down as a customer and failed to even let me know the result of the case.

I immediately cancelled all of my insurance policies with them. Their customer service team called me back, stuck to their version of events and that was that. It was like dealing with an enormous slippery snake, with staff hiding under its slithery skin.

Once chance – and gone.

Strategy and execution, as any good business school will tell you, are the Siamese twins of success. They both need each other, and they both need to keep each other close. One doesn’t work without the other. To strategise without executing is to do nothing, to put nothing into action. To execute without strategy is to ‘spray and pray’.

While the two exercises are equally valuable, in the consulting world they’re not deemed the same. Strategy work is the stuff that happens at the beginning and is of a relatively high value since the inputs directly affect the end result. Execution is following through on the decisions of the strategy, doing the work, putting the work out there and reviewing the results. It is perceived as of a lower value, since executing is basically doing what it’s been told to do by the strategy. A junior officer following the orders of a senior commanding officer if you like. Still a vitally important role.

This perception of value can have a direct effect on day rates and fees. From a consulting perspective, strategy is generally a collaborative exercise, at the customer’s premises and involving a number of people, where skills of facilitation and leadership come in. Execution can often be done on one’s own, from the home office, as it might involve building product, designing messaging, writing content, and putting together the communications assets to help deliver the message and transfer the information.

Indeed, you could almost say that strategy is consulting, whereas execution is about contracting. Strategy happens less often, and commands a higher price, whereas execution lasts for longer and involves more days’ work, but at a lower rate.

And this is the double-edged consulting sword of strategy and execution, as we strive to find the right balance between days in the saddle and fees coming in, between more stimulating work and less stimulating work, and between taking on work directly and delegating it to others.

Down for maintenance

The other day I was in a hurry to check the status of a flight I was taking later that week. I needed to know if I could fit in an appointment before leaving for the airport. When I went onto the website this is what I got.

For a company of this stature, and for a company that transacts online at this kind of scale, I find this flabbergasting. Such a website shouldn’t ever be down, certainly not at peak hours. This was 17:00 on a week day.

When I worked in the cyber-security business, the standard service level agreement for a cloud-based service was what they call ‘five nines’, or 99.999% availability. In some quarters, four nines wasn’t seen as sufficient for an enterprise’s mission-critical systems. To put this in perspective, five nines availability allows for total unscheduled downtime – assuming uptime is calculated on a 24/7/365 basis – of just six minutes, for the entire year, if my calculations are correct.

Which leads me to conclude either that this is one of those moments of unforeseen torture for a company that sets itself the highest standards of transactional availability, or that the company is in fact a bit sloppy or laissez faire with its customers’ goodwill.

In the time it’s taken me to write this post, I checked back on the site and it was back up, so perhaps we can give Ryanair the benefit of the doubt on this occasion.

There are two types of business-to-business client. I found this out in my first job after my MBA in the 1990’s when I worked for a design and marketing agency and had to get out there and sell.

The first type of client is the type that respects your work, trusts your expertise and domain knowledge, and generally takes your advice.

The other type of client is the type that wants it done his or her way, tells you what they want, because they know better, even though what they want may not be the best for them. They respond to what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.

The one factor that affects this division is the amount of experience and and expertise you have with regard to your client’s industry. The less you have, or can demonstrate, the less likely they’ll be inclined to take your advice and the more command and control their approach becomes.

You know the saying: ‘you get the clients you deserve’. Clients also get the agencies, suppliers or delivery partners they deserve.

The term ‘client’ is also problematic for me. We used it in the agency and some companies still use it, depending on their sector. It puts the customer on a pedestal. I agree that everything stems from the customer, and that we all should be customer-centric, but when you elevate your customer to almost divine status it makes it hard both to have a peer-to-peer relationship that’s based on trust and to strike a fair deal. Then you have a vendor/supplier-client relationship that’s unequal and approaches that of a slave-master relationship. That’s what the term ‘client’ feels like to me.

Our French friends use the same word – faire – for both ‘to make’ and ‘to do’. Perhaps some other languages do too. You get the sense from the French of which word it translates to in English.

When it comes to combining the sense with the word ‘work’, however, it’s a really good job we have two separate words, and with every justification, as they’re fundamentally different things.

Making work is making work for yourself, to keep yourself busy, or in a job, or making work for other people to have to do, in various uncharitable and unhelpful ways. It’s the creating of a system that keeps people and organisations in a job, rather than serving the community as a whole usefully. It’s the overcomplicating of things to discourage people from applying for or claiming what is either rightfully theirs or what they’re entitled to. It’s preserving the complex, the difficult to understand, the proprietary or the difficult to join in order to justify whole departments or maintain the exclusivity of a club. Huge swathes of the public sector are guilty of this.

Then there is doing work; creating outputs, producing things, executing on plans, the act of getting something done. Productivity and performance lives at its heart. It’s about closing sales rather than preventing sales. It’s about accelerating motion, rather than retarding it. It’s about access over exclusion, encouragement over discouragement, others over oneself. It’s about knocking through barriers rather than putting them up, and it’s about telling people what they can do, rather than what they can’t.

So the question to ask yourself, obviously, is this: are you making work, or are you doing work? And the sanity question is this: what would others say about you?

I introduced the notion relatively recently that I might stop blogging on this page after 1,000 blog posts. I produce 3 blog posts a week, always on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and that cadence works for me, so 1,000 posts will take me a fraction over 333 weeks, the guts of 7 years.

And then I read Seth Godin’s post yesterday, which talks about the first 1,000 blog posts being the most difficult…Mr Godin’s blog is one of the inspirations for me starting my own back in 2013, but then again he writes a daily blog post, and we aren’t talking weekdays only. That’s over twice my input. That cadence obviously works for him.

His first para reads: “For years, I’ve been explaining to people that daily blogging is an extraordinarily useful habit. Even if no one reads your blog, the act of writing it is clarifying, motivating and (eventually) fun.” I could have written those words myself, except substitute ‘thrice weekly’ for the daily bit, because the sentiment is spot on.

Some of Mr Godin’s posts are very short indeed, and then some of them are quite involved, whereas I try and stick to a 4-to-5 para, 250-or-so words, couple-minutes-to-read kind of a thing. That said, his output is prodigious, helped no doubt by an enviable book-publishing remit that allows him to kill two birds with one stone.

Interestingly, Mr G sees a trend where people get the bit between their teeth after 200 posts or so, which is a little over 6 months. Maybe the time in the saddle is more important than the cadence, since 200 posts take me 15 months, which is a different proposition altogether. Or maybe it’s the cadence that counts…

As for the first 1000 posts thing, for me it could well be the only 1000 posts, and I think the daily discipline would become a daily drag, perhaps for you too, as the ‘customer’.

 

Many of us are in the business of imparting knowledge or experience. Teachers, lecturers, supervisors, mentors, trainers, consultants, managers, advisors. I think we all hope that what we impart is useful, in that it can be used.

I was reminded of this when I met with a colleague the other day. We were exchanging information and insight on various luminaries in the sales effectiveness and sales training business.

She shared an anecdote from a session she had attended with an internationally renowned sales trainer who is known for speaking her mind. After the keynote had finished, my colleague complimented the speaker on the session and said her talk provided much food for thought.

The sales guru, paused for a moment and said, ‘or food.’

And that’s a very important distinction. Food for thought means that we might think about what we’ve listened to and learned, but not necessarily act on it. We might not change our behaviour and ‘do’.

Food is something we actively consume and use, which gives us energy to progress, and do work. It influences our behaviour.

What about you? Are you providing food for thought, or food?