Archives for category: Strategy

As I write this post it’s 10 years to the week since the great financial crash of 2008, followed by years of turmoil and hardship, certainly in Ireland at any rate, before the provinces – by which I mean, in the English sense, the areas outside of the capital – started to recover, slowly and not so surely.

Not so Dublin, which probably recovered 5 years ago and is once again in the throes of a giddy period of boom. I’ve blogged before about the amount of construction going on in the city. The hotels are full – and I don’t mean some of them, I mean the city’s hotel capacity is maxed out – during the summer; you can’t get a room for anything reasonable. The roads are gorged with traffic all year round. You can’t get anywhere quickly, except by a fast walking.

I’m regularly in Dublin, but on my last visit I couldn’t help but marvel at the divide between the capital and the provinces, some of which are only just getting back on their feet. After fighting through town in a taxi – yes, even the bus lane was a car park – to make my train, I saw that, as usual, the train for Galway was departing from the group of 3 platforms that are two hundred-plus yardss further than the rest of the platforms. Not only that, but the train sits beyond an empty redundant train at the very top of the platform, a hundred and fifty yards further.

It brought it home to me, as provincial people in any country probably feel, that there’s Dublin, and then there’s outside Dublin, which doesn’t really matter much.

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A long, long time ago I was in a fish and chip shop in Edinburgh, very close both to the tennis club where I’d just played a couple of sets and to my home. In fact it was a handy stopping off point from one place to the other, solving dinner at the same time.

I was with another English chap that I didn’t know very well. He was in banking, very ambitious and very clear on his career and financial goals. We weren’t very alike but we shared an interest in tennis, that was about it. There were half a dozen people in the queue.

I noticed a scruffy looking small dog come into the chippie and start sniffing around. I said to my tennis pal, in quite a low voice, jokingly, something along the lines of ‘is that a dog in the place where I’ve chosen to get my dinner?’

This drew the attention of an equally scruffy looking man in the line, the owner of the dog as it turned out, who said, not jokingly, something along the lines of ‘of course it’s a dog you [insert anglo saxon epithet of choice here, in a broad local accent]’, which also carried the clear threat of ‘what are you going do about it?’

I instantly raised my eyebrows, as many of us do as a stalling mechanism as we consider the multiple different ways this conversation should progress. My tennis pal shook his head. We moved on, got our food, and left.

What he said afterwards has stuck with me ever since. ‘That was a no win situation. You can’t go there. You’ve so much more to lose than him.’

This is true not just in life but in business too. If you risk being drawn into any competitive situation with a bottom-feeder, be very careful before you decide to engage.

I realise that are two ways you could interpret the title of this blog post. I don’t mean that the good ones want to be measured in their approach, in other words, considered, careful, circumspect, even though that might be a good thing in many situations. I mean that they want to be measured, by us.

Good sales people are confident in their abilities and want to be measured. The better measured they are, as long as the system of measurement is fair, the clearer their effort is, the better they sell, the better they’re rewarded.

The less good don’t want to be measured, or want to be measured less. The less they’re measured, the more they can hide in the grey areas that are equivocal and open to interpretation, wiggle room and excuses. Same for marketers too.

If you’re hiring sales people, and you know you have a product that sells well – not that you can sell well, that other people can sell well – look for the ones that want to be tied down to targets and measurements. They’re the ones who want to see their progress, be judged accurately on their efforts, and be rewarded accordingly.

 

August is a deceptively busy month.

On the surface, everyone’s on holiday and you can’t get anything done. If you’re relying on getting stuff back from suppliers, partners, or customers, you’re done for. It’s the holiday month. Don’t ask me for an answer, a budget, or a decision, it’s not happening.

But August is a deceptively busy month because everyone comes back on the first of September and immediately has to hit top gear until the next silly season hits around mid-December til the second week of January. To be ready to go in September we have to do the work in August, getting everything ready and managing our projects and our lead times.

August is a great month for getting the work done, undisturbed, so you’re ready to go when the wheels start screeching in the autumn.

As long as you don’t need anything back from anyone, that is. It’s a great month if you only need you to produce what it is you’re producing. But, interaction, collaboration? Forget it. Shoulda got that done in July…

Every month or so over the summer I declare a war on weeds at the front of our house. We have what you might call a low maintenance front area, with a lot of it paved for a car and the border is a mixture of pebbles over weed-block tarpaulin and plant areas.

The thing with weeding is that it’s a bit like sales and marketing. It’s all or nothing. You either do it properly or you don’t bother. You can do a half-cocked job and they’re back 2 weeks later. I thought they were growing up through two layers of tarpaulin, but, following a root and branch – see what I did there? – analysis of the blighters they appear to be growing between the pebbles and then pushing down through the weed-block with their sturdy little roots. They’re all over the edges of the borders, or perhaps I should say the borders of the borders, sneaking in between the concrete and the weed-block edge, and helped by the zealous over-watering of the overhead balcony plants by Mrs D. Getting at the roots is tricky.

I can almost see the weeds looking up at me when I turn up with my trowel and my brown bin, and saying. “Here he is again. We’re not going to go through this charade again, are we? You realise you’re just giving us a haircut, right? Give us a couple of days and we’re going to be looking even better.”

So I’m turning up the heat on my war on weeds. No more Mr Nice Guy. No more vinegar mix and organicy stuff that cosies up to the weeds. I’ve bought the real deal, armageddon in a bottle and spray. This stuff will kill everything in its path, only stopping and evaporating at the earth’s core.

I just need to wait for a dry spell, in the west of Ireland renowned for its lakes, rivers and soft days…

 

The importance of focus is hard to overestimate. As salespeople and marketers, if we don’t focus we’re not successful. Better to do fewer things well. Better to win 4 out of 7 deals than win 3 out of 10, spreading yourself too thin and chasing bad deals that you shouldn’t be chasing. Focusing specifically on something means that you are actively choosing not to focus on other things.

Focus also relates to a post I wrote relatively recently on the power of positive thinking. If you think an eventuality is going to arise, if you can almost will it to arise, then you have more chance of seeing it arise. Visualising yourself hitting the treble twenty at darts, or hitting the outside corner of the service box, or winning that piece of business…

I recently read an article on the BBC website about the ‘quiet eye‘ and how it relates to the success of athletes, especially when the stakes and the pressure are highest. It has a lot to do with focus I think, both in a general sense and in a specific situation.

This ability to focus in the heat of battle is what defines and distinguishes the best athletes, the best sales people and the best marketers.

Flies looking at the sky the wrong way

It’s the beginning of the second half of the year, a chance to review how the first half went and figure out where we want to be by the end of the second half. A chance to step back for a moment, take stock and ask ourselves if we’re looking at things the right way.

There are lots of business books, concepts and parables to help us do this. One that comes to mind regularly is the parable of the boiled frog from Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline. The story goes that the frog will react to sudden changes, like being dropped into boiling water, but will not notice and respond to gradual changes in temperature if you put it in cooled water which you then heat slowly.

I’d like to offer another parable: the fly in the skylight. We’ve all seen moths round a lamp or flies on a window. They’re both in search of the light. I was reminded of this recently when I noticed the skylight in our sun room. We were enjoying a spell of warm weather and this had drawn a number of flies inside and into the recess containing the skylight. You can probably see them in the picture. The flies can see the sky, their way out or so it seems. They will constantly bang against the skylight, searching for a way out, until they die of exhaustion and lack of food.

Their problem is that they’re looking at the sky the wrong way. They need someone to show them the open window or door lying a few metres away that are 100% better ways for them to get to where they need to go.

So as I embark on the second half of the year, I ask myself this question? Am I choosing the right path for trying to get where I want to go, or am I stuck in the recess, looking at the sky the wrong way and not noticing the glass which blocks my path?

Hope springs eternal

There was a famous sales book doing the rounds about ten to fifteen years ago, called Hope is Not a Strategy. In the interests of disclosure I should say that while I was working full-time in the area of sales effectiveness a decade ago I haven’t read the book. Suffice to say though that the author built a successful business around this concept that you need to plan and execute a sales strategy rather than hope a deal will come off.

The idea of a sales methodology is that you plan to a degree that removes – as far as is possible – things like hope or luck from entering into the decision as to where the customer awards their business.

Hope is good though. It’s good that hope springs eternal. We need hope, we need to hope. It keeps us going, keeps our head up, and keeps us feeling that onwards and upwards are just around the next corner or over the next rise for us. While we can’t legislate for the luck of the lottery, we can plan for and execute most other things so that we increase our chances of winning, success and happiness.

That’s why I’ve always liked the realist approach of the Jack Reacher character in the Lee Child novels. We hope for the best, and we plan for the worst. If we engineer it so that the worst case scenario is the bare minimum we’ll accept, and we plan around achieving at least that, then we should do pretty well, and with luck and hope, we might achieve even more.

As the publication of this blog post coincides with the remaining draw date in the ticket above, I’ll let you know if I win anything. I’m hopeful…

 

There are some jobs where deadlines are constantly present. Journalism for one.

There are also people who can’t seem to work unless they have a deadline in front of them. Are journlists in that category too? Some of them I guess.

The thing that many of us experience with working to deadlines is that the closer the deadline is, the more we get done. When you have to make a deadline you cut through the unnecessary and get to the nub of what your project is all about. This is fine for creating something with words, but when you’re involved with something that has an already defined process, like a complex sales process, one that you can’t bypass or cut short, then you’ve got problems. Then, it’s not your deadline, the end of your sales month for example, that counts, it’s your customer’s deadline.

With the more undefined processes, though, like writing for example, it pays me in my daily work to create deadlines to maximise my productivity. If there aren’t deadlines on a job, or the deadline is a long way from now, create an artificial deadline to work to. Or, split the project up into pieces and create mini-deadlines. For example, can I create two blog posts before lunchtime? Can I get the last page finished before this meeting starts? Can I reach the half way mark before the end of the day?

Of course, the risk you run with this approach is that you’re always producing shoddy, rushed work, work that would have benefitted form a little more time, and a less demanding deadline. That’s the balance between the two that we strive for: the best we can strive for versus the commercial reality imposed by time being money.

If you want to relax on your time off, and simply while away the time in those most luxurious moments when you have the luxury of time, then simply set no targets for the day, no objectives.

As an example, yesterday I set myself the goal of thinking up a blog post topic in the three minutes’ time I had before a call started. I came up with this one, and wrote it today.

By some estimates there are about 2 million books published per year in the world. That’s an awful lot of books. By other estimates it also constitutes a very small percentage of the total number of books written. The publishing bottleneck is such that demand will only ever support the supply of a far smaller proportion of books than the total written.

For every 1,000 books written, perhaps 25 get taken on by a publisher, and perhaps 5 of those get published, and perhaps 1 of those becomes a best-seller. These are the kinds of odds you’re up against as a potential writer of published work. The kinds of odds I’m up against.

Of these 2 million books, maybe half a million are self-published. The writer has written the book, then used a self-publishing platform to typeset, lay out, proof read and publish the work herself or himself, so that the book can be available in both electronic and print-on-demand formats.

Unfortunately, by bypassing the traditional publishing industry, the self-publishing writers also have to market and promote the book themselves, and that’s the rub. Promoting takes time, more work and money. After all the effort of self-publishing, for the vast majority of self-publishers the numbers of books sold – and the consequent revenues accruing – are tiny.

So the publishing bottleneck, and the publishing conundrum, continues for every budding author.