Did you know that humans and chimpanzees have only a 2% difference in DNA. In 2005 the University of Washington in Seattle sequenced the genome of our furry forebear and found him to be more of a sibling than an ancestor.
But that 2% difference accounts for penicillin, the space shuttle, computers, the Eiffel Tower and liquid soap whilst our hapless cousins continue to swing around in trees and throw poop at each other.
It just goes to show a little difference in composition can make a huge difference in production.
Why is this useful then?
Well, when we are trying to set ourselves apart from our competitors and rivals we always imagine we have to be vastly different – we don’t. A little more organised; a little more proactive, a little more creative, attentive, focused, reliable and visible all add up to a very different person to the one that can’t be bothered.
Want to stand out from the crowd? Look for small differences and nail them.
My first sales mentor used to rub his hands together in glee when we had a problem with one of our clients. “Any fool can do it when it’s going well but only a real star can do it when it’s not” he would say. He was right.
I’m not saying you should go out with the intention of pissing your clients off - far from it but when a problem occurs why not use it to your advantage. Try this 7 stage approach to dealing with client problems: -
- If it’s a major problem get on site, if it isn’t get on the phone.
- Apologise first then dive straight in and understand what the problem actually is.
- Even if it’s not your fault don’t get into the blame game.
- Come up with a plan to put it right and get the client’s buy-in for it.
- Fix the problem.
- When problems occur client satisfaction always outranks profit!
- When it’s all sorted head back to the client and see how this can be avoided in the future.
Problems can cost you time and money but they needn’t dent your reputation. In fact they can significantly enhance it building your personal brand and helping you stand out from your competitors as you go. As my friend Graham Davenport always says “Usually after I’ve sorted a problem out I end up coming away with another order”. I bet you do Big G.
So next time the phone rings with an irate punter on the other end rub your hands together with glee and get stuck in!
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Earlier in the year I wrote a post explaining why being great wasn’t really all it was cracked up to be (here it is). But some people; a small number of people actually, really want to be great and are prepared to do what it takes to realise their dreams.
This post is for them.
Over the years I must have read hundreds of “how I became successful” books from Robert Townsend’s excellent book Up the Organisation in the late 1970′s through Thriving on Chaos, Good to Great and Seth Godin’s masterpiece Outliers. Added to that I am also an avid reader of biographies.
So what you have here are the top 5 things that most of those people seem to be able to do all presented in bite-sized portions.
1 – Sweep away the barriers – believe anything is possible.
At the beginning of 1954 some 100,000 after modern man evolved nobody had run a mile within 4 minutes. Roger Bannister changed all that and by the end of the year so had another 4 runners. Why? Because once the mental barrier had been removed people began to believe and with belief comes achievement.
We clutter our lives with all sorts of self-imposed barriers that only serve to hold us back. Sweep these aside and REALLY believe that you can do anything you set your mind to and your world will change forever.
2 – Become obsessed with quality.
I looked up the definition of the word “obsession” and here it is: “a persistent idea or impulse that continually forces its way into consciousness”. Say what you like but consistent high quality always differentiates and the greats have never settled for anything less.
If you want to be great make absolute quality a daily obsession with the small things as well as the big.
3 – Give yourself time to improve.
I’m in the improvement business and let me tell you people do not give themselves enough time to change. Olympic athletes don’t win gold medals without practising, great golfers spend a lot of time with their coaches on the range and you won’t get fit and lose weight without finding the time to look after yourself and work out.
You can’t improve without investing some time and the more you invest the better you’ll get. Full in-boxes, blocked-out calendars, needy staff and the inability to say “no” when you should all conspire against us but if this sounds like your life then I’m afraid your chances of becoming great are as slim as my son’s wallet when we go do the pub.
I suggest 20 minutes a day to learn or experiment (both are necessary for change) – add that up and it comes out to about 10 days a year all invested in making you better. Now that’s time well spent!
4 – Fail, fail and fail again.
You need to experiment to improve. fact!
You will fail sometimes when you experiment. Fact!
Therefore if you want to improve you have to be prepared to fail, learn from the experience, decide what to do differently and then try it all over again.
Persistence is omnipotent!
5 – Feed yourself with greatness.
Should you reinvent the wheel every time you wanted to go for a drive? I think not.
Should you work out the best way to deliver a presentation from scratch? Nope.
So should you really spend time working out how to do something when somebody else has almost certainly done it already and written a book about it? Of course you shouldn’t but people do.
These days there are plenty of ways to absorb data but until we can have an implant into our brains like in the Matrix (I would start with learning how to play the piano or any kind of dance) we have to do it ourselves. Here are my top four sources of information: -
- Blogs – there are millions of them. You can find them through Google or better yet, by following the right people on Twitter and they’re concise enough to be read and absorbed quickly. Fast food learning right there dear readers.
- Books – still my favourite because of the range and depth of material covered and the fact that the author can take their time conveying their message. Of course you do have to find the time to read it…….
- People – every thing you need to know is known by the people you know and the people who they know. Go out of your way to mix with the right people and soak up what they know and what they can do. Most people are flattered to be asked too.
- Videos – with YouTube and TED.com stuffed with fascinating, informative and extremely easy to watch video content you are never short of something to watch. Check out my top 10 TED video’s here.
What next then?
- Decide if you really want to be great – how much are you prepared to sacrifice?
- Print off this blog post and stick it to your fridge door.
- Do what it says.
This morning I attended the funeral of John Ashcroft originally my driver but later he became a good friend. Please don’t stop reading I’m not going to get all sentimental on you but he did leave a strong legacy we can all share.
As I was sitting in a packed out chapel listening to the excellent eulogy by one of his old clients something became obvious to me: John had an incredibly strong brand without all the usual cost, time and hoo-har involved in building one.
He was a freelance professional driver; a one-man band who did everything from arrange his work, drive his clients around and attend to his finances all the way up to looking interested as we droned on about our own little lives. So how could somebody who did all those things still have time to build a strong, really really strong, brand?
Well truth be told John didn’t care for brands (“and all that jazz”) but what he did care for was: -
- Making sure his clients were always delighted with what he did for them
- Living his favourite quote “the answer’s ‘yes’ now what’s the question”.
- Never letting them down – EVER!
- Always being able to react to the last minute changes his clients subjected him to.
- Always making his clients feel special.
- Always being cheerful, happy to listen and open to anything new (he was a regular Facebooker).
- Never being late and so never needing an excuse.
You see John had no need of a fancy logo or a mission statement or an elevator speech or a strap-line. He just consistently did what it said on the tin: delighted his clients and as he did so his brand took care of itself.
So next time anybody mentions branding to you think of John and think of what he stood for and you’ll know exactly what to do next.
Even those people who hate PowerPoint (like me) love it really. I mean come on, it’s so darned easy to knock out a few screens, in fact these days PowerPoint has become synonymous with presentations “How’s your presentation coming along Alice? Oh, I should have the PowerPoint finished by the end of the day”.
But, I have to fess up I have a real problem with it, not as a tool because I think it’s actually an outstanding piece of software, but rather because of how it makes people behave. PowerPoint seems to drain people of their originality and suck the life out of their performance.
The big challenge we all face is that despite Keynote, which is the Apple equivalent, there’s no real alternative. Or is there?
Allow me to introduce you to Prezi – its a completely different presentation tool that looks different, can be used differently and will certainly make you stand out from the bullet-point-and-diagram crowd. Here’s a Prezi that examines the recent US Election results – despite the subject matter well worth a couple of minutes of your time – US Election Prezi.
For good measure here’s one I prepared earlier on Why Business Development is so Hard - different enough for you?
A good proportion of my job is helping people to stand out and be distinctive well if you’re prepared to invest a little time to become familiar with this alternative to PowerYawn you’ll be sending the needle into the red on your client’s not-the-same-as-all-the-rest-o-meter.
You owe it to yourself to be different.
Sometimes it’s Ok to run over when you’re presenting but most times it isn’t. I have spoken on countless panel events where I was one of 3 or 4 speakers and the cumulative effect of speaker-over run was a real headache for the organisers.
Finishing on time makes you look in control, like you’ve actually prepared for it and ultimately very professional. The alternative is over-run or racing through the last screens at breakneck speed to finish on time. Tres pathetique!
So is there a simple and easy to use technique to guarantee finishing your presentation on time every time? You bet your ass there is: Flex Screens.
What is a Flex screen?
It is a screen which can be covered in 5 seconds or 5 minutes and the audience will never know any different.
What would a Flex screen have on it?
Typically it would be a picture or a graph or some other visual device. It would NOT be lots of bullet points or any other sequenced list of information that you would need to work through.
Where would you place then in the pack?
Towards the end of the presentation. On an hours presentation I would have two: one about half way through so I could get back on track if I was already running long or short and then one about 10 or 15 minutes from the end.
How would you use it?
You must choose something that can be interpreted in two ways. Here’s an example. Imagine I am presenting about the future of business development in the law (which I do by the way) and I have reached the last 10 to 15 minutes of the presentation when up comes a screen with two pictures on: one is of a man fishing from a boat and the other is a huge automated trawler: -
- Short of time: “so before I move to the last part of my presentation let me just recap what I have been talking about for the last 50 minutes. On the left we have how law firms have traditionally tackled BD and on the right we see how the new law companies are dealing with the challenge. Is it time to send out for some new and used trawler catalogues I wonder? Well let’s move on and find out.”
- Long on time: “So let me recap [I then explain why the fisherman is like the traditional law firm and the trawler is like the new breed - I then ask for comments".
I can make the difference in these two about 10 minutes!
What other examples can you use?
For a start you can have some audience participation. If it's a small group go round the room and see what has resonated so far with each person. For larger groups you can pose a question and ask for an answer or invite somebody up to partake in a demonstration or Q&A session with you.
You can display a graph or chart and either summarise what it tells you or explain the detail behind it.
You can have a list which is slowly and automatically displayed behind you whilst you speak and then refer to the them as examples. "These are some of the ways we can engage new clients. My favourites are [and then discuss as many as you need to fill the time]“.
Have an anecdote or case study prepared and memorised and when you have presented a screen full of information say “Let me illustrate what I have just told you with a real-life story” if you need to fill time or leave it out if you don’t.
One last tip for the presenter eager to look more professional.
It’s better to prepare a 45 minute presentation to be delivered in an hour’s slot and fill the extra 15 minutes (which you will probably use up anyway) with some Flex screens than it is to time your presentation to fill an hour and then run over.
Crammed and rushed presentations NEVER make you look good and are rarely engaging for the audience.
Doesn’t matter what you buy a surly shop assistant will make the buying experience an unhappy one.
Even if your lawyer gets the result you want you won’t feel good about the deal if they constantly failed to return your calls.
The electrician may have fixed the problem but you’re unhappy because he left a mess behind him.
Your accountant did your books OK but she never smiled once during the whole time you were with her.
We can get good products and services anywhere these days but the thing that keeps us coming back for more and compels us to tell our friends they should do the same is based largely upon how the experience made us feel.
Just delivering the required result isn’t enough any more – the experience has to be fulfilling too.
How fulfilled do you leave your clients when you’ve done with them I wonder?
Some years ago a tractor manufacturer decided to stop making tractors in England and move their production to South America because it was cheaper. What followed was a little weird. Those third world countries who bought the tractors because they were made in England realised they could build tractors every bit as well as people in South America. So they turned up in the UK, bought all the redundant tractor-making machinery, went back to where they had come from and built their own tractors. But why?
Some years ago Mercedes got mixed up with Chrysler – 9 crazy years during which Mercedes quality took a dive. But they still sold cars and the good times continued to roll. But why?
People can either buy water out of the tap for a fraction of a penny or they can buy it in a fancy bottle for obscene amounts – and they do. But why?
You can buy your legal advice from a magic or silver circle firm for a kings ransom or you can hire lawyers who used to work there but now work for a mid-tier firm for a fraction of the price but we don’t. But why?
The answer to all of the above is BRAND. Brand causes people to pay over the odds, buy from one supplier over another or help you through a rough patch.
A brand is like a house: protects you from the elements, keeps you warm and safe and all you need to do is look after it and repair it if it breaks. Outside its dark and cold and raining and there are wolves. And they have sharp teeth.
So there you have it. The 10 most important assets you or your organisation can ever own are: -
- Your brand
- Your brand
- Your brand
- Your brand
- Your brand
- Your brand
- Your brand
- Your brand
- Your brand
- Your brand
Build it. Promote it. Protect it.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This is a guest post from Paul Caris who is the CIO at international law firm Eversheds. His ability to get the most out of his suppliers without bullying or threatening them is legendary so here’s Paul’s take on what he looks for in his suppliers.
It has been suggested that the way we manage our suppliers at Eversheds is somewhat unique and that we may have some tips to share to help suppliers approach organisations like ourselves in order to establish and maintain valuable transacting relationships.
However, when I considered what we do differently I realised it’s as much about how our suppliers manage themselves as it is about how we manage our supply chain, so here are my top five tips that I think you should embrace.
TIP NUMBER 1: Don’t call your relationship a “partnership” if it isn’t.
Partnership is the most over used term in a supplier / customer relationship. A partnership is where all parties have the same interest in success and equal amounts to lose and gain. This is very rarely the case when suppliers have many customers and organisations have many suppliers.
Over use of the partnership tag line will raise too many expectations. I believe you should be candid with your suppliers, have a rating system and let your suppliers know how they sit on it.
I also like to make our future intentions towards them clear: retain, grow or exit.
If you plan to exit a supplier then let them know, you can then have grown-up conversations to avoid unnecessary costs on both sides in managing a situation that will end in termination.
If growth or retention are your objectives then try to understand the revenue recognition model and how the supplier is rewarded for performance. By understanding the supplier’s commercial make-up you may find it possible to help the supplier achieve their financial goals without too much compromise. Discover if cash-flow is more important than a month-end target. Is revenue growth more important than gross margin? Your supplier will respond well if (without compromising your own commercial requirements) you can help them achieve theirs. The key is to become a valuable customer.
So there you have it. If you are a supplier be honest; ask to know your position and what the future looks like; share what is important to you and try and establish a mutually beneficial relationship. Oh, and avoid banging on about “partnerships” all the time.
TIP NUMBER 2: Do not diss your competitors
This one is very important: never say a bad word about your competitors.
It just makes you look vindictive and offers nothing to your client other than the opportunity to gossip. Also it’s insulting to the customer when you talk about your competitors and their lack of quality, features or services; it suggests that as a customer we are too lazy or too stupid to do our own market analysis.
It is equally frustrating to hear relentless arguments about the risks or issues as a supplier you can solve, instead find a way to understand the value you can bring to your customer. This is all about asking the right questions and then listening to their answers.
TIP NUMBER 3: Get to know the decision makers.
This is an obvious tip however many sales representatives spend their time trying to create an often fruitless connection with the wrong person!
As an example: although I am accountable for all the purchasing decisions in my organisation, I very rarely make them. I accept the recommendations made to me by my teams. There is very little point inviting me to play golf or go out to dinner as it won’t be me that you need to impress. Moreover I have little time for a supplier who attempts to influence me over my team or my boss. Some of the larger IT suppliers in the past used to reward their sales representatives if they went “over the head” of their contact if they weren’t getting the results they wanted. Thankfully I haven’t witnessed this type of behaviour for some time, however, if I did the supplier would quickly end up in the exit category.
As a customer punch above your weight. Get to know the suppliers executive team and the CEO. It is your right, you pay their wages, nothing is more powerful than having a connection with the CEO and that all important mobile number for emergencies. And of course as a supplier make sure you introduce your clients to other people in your firm especially your boss.
TIP NUMBER 4: Empower your negotiators.
This is my pet hate.
If despite the tip above I am meeting and negotiating with a supplier directly I expect the individual on the opposite side of the table to have the empowerment to negotiate on their company’s behalf. It is infuriating the number of times a supplier sends a sales representative that says “I’ll have to take that back” when presented with a perfectly reasonable offer, which is subsequently accepted.
The amount of time wasted by the wrong level of sales people being presented to senior customers is obscene. Make sure the right people turn up to commercial meetings with equal levels of negotiating powers to deliver a fruitful outcome.
TIP NUMBER 5: Bigger is not better
During a recession the ability for an organisation to be agile is a crucial prerequisite. The bigger a business gets the less agile it tends to become. As a customer in a recession I have learned that the ability to leverage the benefit of scale is far less important than working with companies that can change direction and make decisions quickly.
We have made a conscious decision to develop relationships with an eclectic mix of small owner run suppliers as well as working with the usual big businesses. They tend to be far more entrepreneurial and exciting to work with and so are very valuable to us.
If you are in sales for a big company; my advice is learn to be behave like an entrepreneur. If you are a small business; use the recession as an opportunity to demonstrate agility. If you are a customer, maintain only the most essential procurement processes in your organisation, be a customer that can act quickly on a deal, be a delight to sell to.