Allowing for Divergent Opinions

Personally, I believe that a strong leader allows for opinions that are contrary to their own.  In fact, I have at least one employee that disagrees with me on a regular basis and I foster that contrariness.  I am not infallible and certainly do not know everything.   I do not want “yes (wo)men”.

As a leader, part of the role is to understand the larger scope of things and the long term strategy behind decisions.  In really comprehending this, you NEED people who are contrary to your opinion, your work style, and your thought patterns.  This allows you to round out areas that you’re blind and avoid making a decision that is wrong simply because you don’t have the visibility.

I equate it somewhat to having a passenger in the car who happens to look out your side-rear window and yells “Look out!”, even though you’ve been checking all of your mirrors.  They have a different vantage point that is more focused (only looking at the side) where as you are responsible for all aspects – front, back, and both sides.  You need to trust that someone who is focused on a specific area might have a better view, better information, or better knowledge about what’s occurring in that arena.

This, however, does NOT mean that a strong leader allows an individual to derail everything or to argue with everything.  At that point, you have a backseat driver in your car and should probably ask them to tone it down or step out.  There is certainly a fine line between constant disagreement with your employee and strong leadership accepting the varied opinions of your team.  If your employee is constantly diverging from your vision and direction, there comes a time when you (and they) need to make a decision on whether or not the individual belongs on your team.

In the case of my employee, s/he agrees with the vision; s/he agrees with the direction.  S/he just doesn’t always agree with my direction and is willing to stand up for what s/he believes.  Once the decision is made and the direction is given, s/he accepts it and moves on.  There is true mutual respect and it boils down to a simple fact: I have the final say. Someone has to.

That is how your, as a leader, should allow your team to bring their strengths to the table.

 

Two quotes I love

David Ogilvy is widely known as “The Father of Advertising”, so the image above may be true in nature… if you’ve read this far, just realize you’re in the elite 20% that read the body copy of something!

For me, he has two quotes that always strike home when I read them.

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.

and

Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.

There’s not much to say about these other than I hold them as a true.

 

Leveraging Customer Loyalty to Improve Sales

In my past blogging attempts, I posted some thoughts that are still very salient.  At least in my opinion.  This is one of them.   In today’s environment, I believe that if you leverage your loyal customers, you have a much better chance of making a sale successful.  The main component of this success, however, is driven by a simple thing:

“Does the person you’re selling to actually need your product?”

If they don’t, why are you pushing them?

Date: June 12, 2006  – Title: Bullies and Sales 

Its an interesting phenomenon that some sales people believe that bullying is a valid tactic. Used car dealers, for example, have brought this to a whole new level and are still stuck in the concept that if they breathe down your throat, you will buy from them. Personally, I’ve never bought a car from a used car sales person that hovered and consistently pushed me.

My family-in-law is looking for a house in Austin, TX. They’re not sure what they are looking for or, for that matter, where in the city. They’ve looked from 30 miles South to 30 miles North along the main highway out here, just to see what the areas are like, the new home models and communities, the pricing, the resale houses.. We spent almost eight hours on Saturday and a same amount of time on Sunday driving around just to identify the right places (we still haven’t, but that’s not the point behind this story!). In doing so, I’ve been into a number of the new home models and spent a bit of time talking to some of the sales representatives as well as listed to my wife and her mother talking after they’ve met with some of the sales people.

The largest complaint?

Bullies. High Pressure. Harping.

A person that comes TO you to look at your product is an immediate positive. They are interested in something to fill a particular need, even if they’re not sure what. It is your job, as a sales person, to show them how the product meets their needs. If you’re talking to them because they called you, then its obvious that there was a reason they called you — identify the reason, identify what it is what need they’re looking to fill, and do your best to fill that need. It is not your job, however, to force a round need into a square product. I realize that, often, your compensation is based on a commission structure, but forcing a round need into a square product will usually result in someone unhappy with you who isn’t going to buy anyway. It is much better to have a person who doesn’t buy from you walk away with a good taste than a negative — perhaps they know someone that could be referred to you that does need your product.

For example, one of the last new housing complexes we saw yesterday had a salesman (we’ll call him Scott) as they all do. Just prior to coming to Scott’s complex, we had finished spending two and a half hours with a gentleman named Jeff who was extremely pleasant and helpful. Jeff did not once — in the entire two hours — ask the question “So, can we get you started today?”. He simply discussed the options, let my mother in law talk and listen, and gave suggestions. He had also sent us to Scott’s complex (a sister area owned by the same company) to look at a model that he didn’t have available, but felt that may work for my family-in-law’s needs.

We arrived at Scott’s complex and went in. As soon as we met him, we said “Jeff over at X sent us to take a look at your models. Would that be possible?” Scott’s response was “Oh, of course! Let me get price sheets and everything for you.” He then proceeded to speak with us about the benefits of his area and asked whether we liked the community. My wife’s response was “Its not really something we like. We like area X and Y much better.”(she always tries to be nice, but in truth she hates the area). He nodded and said, “Ah.. I see. Well, we’ve got a special going today that’ll give you a $5000 discount on your house. So .. can we get you started today?” We looked at him as though he had just grown two heads and said, “No, thank you. We’re just looking. We’re looking at all the different areas before we make any decisions and still have a few other places to visit after this. Can we take a look at your model?” He led us through the first of two models and talked the entire time — not once did he really give us any time to explore on our own, to look at what we liked or did not like, and to privately discuss options that may have worked. As we approached the exit to the first model, he said “So .. did you like it?” Our response was that it was too small for the needs that we had. He nodded and said, “Ah.. I see. Well, if we start you today, you’ll be done in less than four months. So .. can we get you started today?” Again, we looked at him oddly. Did he simply not listen?

By now, you can see how the rest of the discussions went. We toured the third model and talked a bit in the main office before leaving. By the time we had walked out the front door, he had asked “So .. can we get you started today?”a total of six times. In the span of less than an hour. Our first reaction when we got back to the car was “Well, even if we were going to buy today, it wouldn’t be from him.” His entire attitude exuded the fact that he was after nothing but his commission, nothing but ‘closing the sale’ regardless of the circular fit of his houses to our square needs. It seemed irrelevant to him that Jeff had sent us down, it seemed irrelevant that the area wasn’t the right one for us, and it seemed irrelevant that houses weren’t right for our needs. I expect that, had we decided to buy a house from him that day, he wouldn’t have given Jeff any credit either!

When you’re talking to someone on an inbound sales call, LISTEN to their needs. IDENTIFY how your product fits and HELP the client see how your benefits meet their needs. If they don’t, then so be it — don’t keep slamming your ‘closing’ hammer down in an effort to make things fit.

What comes first? The business or the people?

The other day, I saw an image floating around and it struck me as a good way to live and run a business. Whether it’s sales, service & support, an operational business, or some other way that you’re running your business, it’s the people that you build off of; it’s not the business that builds itself.

Too many companies, both large and small, believe that the business will sustain itself and that the people in it don’t really matter a great deal.  I hold this to be a fallacy and have never seen a successful department, organization or business that treats its employees without respect.  At a macro level, a large company may be able to succeed (and succeed well) when a single department or organization doesn’t hold their people as a treasure mine, but once you get down to it, the fact is that particular group is likely failing itself and being propped up by the larger company.

It’s a fairly simple concept, though.  Support your team, lead your vision, and your team will execute towards success.  Build the business without the people and you’ll likely be alone when everything comes crumbling down beside you.

Why differentiate? Customer Loyalty vs Customer Satisfaction

A little bit ago, I wrote on Micro vs Macro and the customer experience. In there, I alluded to separating the two typical terms of customer experience measurement.

Why should we differentiate between loyalty and satisfaction? I’ve been asked this a lot in the past while and, really, it’s a good question. We’ve been targeting Customer Satisfaction for years. What’s wrong with this measurement?  At its root, there probably isn’t anything wrong with it and if it’s the measure that works for you and your business, then I would suggest continuing down that path.  That having been said, maybe it’s time to broaden your view and elevate your expectations.

Here’s some relevant definitions for this discussion:

  • What is a Customer: one that purchases a commodity or service (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/customer)

  • What is Satisfaction: a result that deals with a problem or complaint in an acceptable way (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/satisfaction)

  • What is Loyalty: the quality or state of being loyal (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/loyalty) …. Don’t you hate it when definitions seem a bit circular…

  • What is Loyal: having or showing complete and constant support for someone or something (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/loyal)

Now that we have that out of the way, which seems more appealing to you? A one time result that deals with a problem or complaint in an “acceptable way” or a customer that shows complete and constant support? I know which one I’d prefer to have as someone doing business with my company.

The only way to do this, however, is to really understand the lifecycle of the customer and the entire process.  It’s not always possible to satisfy someone 100% of the time (at least not while also staying in business), but it is possible to build a person’s loyalty by treating them right, providing them stellar service, great sales, and excellent interactions throughout the start to finish of their partnership with you as a company.

 

Level 5 Leadership

Jim Collins, author of “From Good to Great” (a great read in and of itself, mind you), created a concept he called “Level 5″ leadership.  In 1996, his research began on what separates good from great in terms of companies and leadership.  He started with over a thousand companies and narrowed it down to 11.  In doing so, he also came up with the concept of “Level 5 Leaders” and defined the leaders of these 11 companies accordingly.

There are not many Level 5 leaders, but if you can attain this level of leadership, your employees will find that your company is generally great to work for.  The levels are defined as such:

Level 1: Highly Capable Individual

At this level, you contribute a great deal — with your job and your personal action. You have talent and skills, but aren’t necessarily leading yet.

Level 2: Contributing Team Member

Your knowledge (level 1) is used to contribute to your team and making sure that everyone succeeds.  You’re proactive, you’re effective and you raise the productivity of those in your group.

Level 3: Competent Manager

You can organize a group and achieve goals.  At this level, you’re still able to succeed and bring value to the organization.  Many people fall in this category.

Level 4: Effective Leader

This is where the pack begins to fall away. Many of the top leaders fall into this category — able to bring together a department or organization to achieve a vision and drive towards (or exceed) performance objectives across the board.

Level 5: Great Leader

If you’re able to achieve this pinnacle of leadership, you have all 4 other leadership levels AND the unique trait where you can pull humility and will together to succeed as a great leader.

It is possible to learn, train, and grow to any of these levels.  It takes significant effort and certain work to get there. In order to attain this, you need to:

  • develop humility — you’re not perfect. Stop being so arrogant.
  • ask for help — use the expertise of those around you to strengthen your execution.
  • take responsibility – you’re the leader. If something goes wrong, it’s up to you. No excuses and definitely don’t throw your team under the bus.
  • be disciplined – commit to a course and execute on it. Listen to opinions, but don’t let fear drive your decisions or force you into  changes that you’re not sure about.
  • find the right people – you CAN’T succeed on your own. It’s simply not possible.  Surround yourself by the best.
  • believe – be passionate about what you do. Show that you love and believe in what you’re doing. This leads by example for your team.

All in all, it’s possible to truly elevate your skills … focus on this list and  even if you never hit the top, your team will still love you all the more for it.

Corn, Teamwork, and Decisions

Back in 2006, I was reading a blog by “The Rainmaker”, Rick Roberge, that I wanted to dredge up from the annals of history.   The MIT class president of 2006 told a story about corn.  Fascinating, isn’t it?  Well, honestly, the story itself made a lot of sense and drives home how working together brings the best food (foot ;)) forward for everyone.  This farmer was both a good neighbor (sharing his corn) and a selfish one (looking to ensure his corn wasn’t degraded). Yet the net of the matter is that everyone benefited — a positive impact. Be aware that your decisions and your choices can have a lasting impact on yourself as well as those around you.

Here’s the story…

“There was a farmer who grew corn. Every year his county held a contest to determine which farmer grew the best corn. Every year he won. Year after year this farmer grew the best corn in the county and he won the award. One day, a visitor noticed that this farmer gave some of his best seed to one of his neighbors. The visitor asked why he was sharing his best seed with his neighbor. Wasn’t he concerned that their corn would be better than his? Wasn’t he concerned that they would eventually win the contest for having the best corn in the county? The farmer explained that the winds in the county pick up the corn pollen from all of the neighboring farms and deposit it to all of the other neighbors, so some of his corn pollen ends up on his neighbors’ farm and some of his neighbors’ corn pollen ends up on his farm. If his neighbors’ corn was very inferior and it was deposited on his award winning corn, wouldn’t his own corn become less superior. By sharing his best seed with his neighbors, the pollen that was deposited on his farm was better than it would have been had he not shared and his corn wasn’t degraded by the blown in pollen.” (Kimberly Wu, class president of MIT, 2006 as posted by Rick Roberge).

Customer experience pitfall — focusing on the micro

Michel Falcon is a public speaker and business coach in the space of customer experience.  He posted something a little while ago called “Customer Experience isn’t Customer Service.

In that blog, he had a single line that struck me as excessively poignant.

Customer experience is the premeditated design of what your customer experiences when doing business with you from beginning to end.

Too many companies focus in the micro-transaction instead of the macro-experience around the customer. Elevating the experience from mediocre to phenomenal takes a lot more focused effort than how do I handle this single transaction, this single event.  There is a massive difference between how someone implements their business and focuses on the customer.

All too often, companies make the statement of “we’re customer focused”.  What does this mean?  In many cases, it means that they handle the individual micro-transaction with the customer well or it means that the company is rated A+ on the BBB or it means that they have a 5 star rating for customer service on Yelp.  When you drill down into the depths of this, the fact is that the majority of the BBB or Yelp ratings are based on a single event – a single opportunity to do well or badly. It doesn’t mean that there is a strategic, concerted effort to build a customer experience from start to finish for the entire lifecycle of that customer.

Similar to the difference between Customer Loyalty and Customer Satisfaction (which I’ll cover in another blog post), Customer Experience and Customer Service are two separate entities.  One speaks to the way that you service a complaint or deal with an order.  The other, the more broad reaching, speaks to the overall impact that your business can have.

Customer Service leads to Satisfaction. Customer Experience leads to Loyalty. 

 

Blogging & Me

I’ve blogged on and off for years (mostly off), so please realize that this won’t be a traditional “posts once a day/week/etc” blog. The purpose behind setting this up is to bridge professional, networking and personal drive in a location that I can write at a more strategic and global level than I can in my regular work environment.

Posts will likely be varied in nature with a focus around customer loyalty, service functionality and support organizations.  Posts will be made as things draw my attention across the news, issues that come up in discussions or I feel the need to write about something.

Please feel free to contact me or add comments if you have specific topics you’d like me to discuss!