Outcome Selling Customer-Centric-Selling to Next-Level: Its Outcome-Achieve-Economy…Sell Value-Deliver Results…

“Buyers are stratifying their suppliers into a caste system, increasingly delineating strategic vendors from commodity providers.” To prevent being relegated to a commodity provider, fighting it out on undifferentiated offerings and discounts, a new set of sales and marketing best practices are emerging. ~Scott Santucci

An outcome is an end result. It is consequence of your actions or your lack of actions. Outcome-based selling is an approach designed to identify, and then incorporate a prospect’s needs, dreams and fears into a solution that benefits both the buyer and seller.

Great salespeople achieve results, not only for their company in the way of sales, but also for their clients in the way of improved performance. This improved performance is the ‘outcome’ that they sell: ‘Salespeople don’t sell product or services; they sell outcomes’. Buyers are more empowered, skeptical and frugal, changing the way they assess and purchase solutions.

Focusing on the buyer’s problems, patterns, path, and proof, the new 4Ps, help sales and marketing teams understand what is needed. Thereby, sellers can gain substantial benefits including:

  • Sit at the table to help drive business strategy.
  • High value sales with more reliable growth.
  • Maximized client satisfaction for improved up-sell/cross-sell and references.

Likewise, buyers also get significant benefits as well, which is what makes outcome (value) selling successful, including:

  • Unbiased insight to help diagnose and illuminate issues.
  • Assistance in setting priorities and building solution roadmaps.
  • Business case justification.
  • Measurable performance improvements.

According to Forrester’s Scott Santucci, this shift to the ‘value-outcome’ requires that sales professionals and marketers move from the legacy 4Ps of sales and marketing; product, place, promotion, price, and move to a new mantra; problem, pattern, path, proof. The 4-Ps of ‘outcome-selling’ includes:

  • Problem: What are the customer’s problems?
  • Pattern: How will your solution solve their problems?
  • Path: How will it be purchased and can you help facilitate the decision cycle?
  • Proof: What is the quantified value the solution will deliver?

The recommended course to elevate sales and marketing to ‘outcome-selling’ includes:

  • Diagnose Buyers Issues and Needs: Buyers may need help on properly identifying and diagnosing issues & opportunities.
  • Build a Value Framework and Financial Justification System: Buyers may need help in understanding the “cost of doing nothing” and the potential value of making a change.
  • Exploit Competitor Weaknesses and Prove Superior Value: Buyers demand that they get the best deal on every purchase.

In the article “The Big O – Outcome Selling” by Tom Piscello writes: Buyers are more empowered, skeptical, and frugal than ever before, which provides a greater than ever challenge to sales professionals and shakes the very foundations of traditional selling models. At the ‘Forrester Technology Sales Enablement Forum’, Forrester introduced an umbrella term to describe these practices: ‘Outcome-selling’ and it’s defined as “a go-to-market approach where you design your value communications system to optimize the value your customers realize.”

On the surface, this may not seem like a big shift for many companies, but when you think about the current way most sell and market, it is no less than dramatic. The good news is that many B2B marketers have recognized the issues with the product selling approach and have advanced to solution or strategic selling, where sales and marketing tries to uncover buyer pain points, an inquiry of “what keeps the buyer up at night”, and map solutions that can help quiet the indicated ailment.

However for sellers, solution or strategic selling focuses stakeholders on remedying the immediate pain, but often fails to deliver a cure by not focusing on the outcome: the tangible value the buyer may or may not receive as a result of the solution. Do buyers think solution selling is working? When asked, buyers categorized over 41% of sales professionals as — “listening for keywords and then quickly diving into prepared pitches, without truly understanding the true business outcome that the buyer is seeking”…

In the article “Outcome Selling Takes Customer Centric Selling to the Next Level” by Janet Gregory writes: Customers don’t want your stuff, they want outcomes!  The optimal approach is alignment to the customer’s problem solving lifecycle. The time when the customer is becoming aware, concerned, and assessing the problem puts sales and product portfolio consideration into the right conversation.

Outcome selling is the next step beyond customer-centric selling.  To be successful at outcome selling; sales, marketing and product management must all be well grounded in customer-centric selling. This is major shift away from the tradition, outdated 4 P’s (circa 1950): product, place, promotion, price.  It is a transformation into 4 new P’s of outcome selling: problem, pattern, path, proof

“As your customer, your value(seller) is not in what you want to sell to me; it’s in what you can help me accomplish.”

In the blog “Outcome Based Selling – Next Generation Sales Success by Aspire! Group writes: The most successful sales people share a number of common skills, behaviors and methods.  The problem is that many people are looking for the silver bullet, the one thing that will make the customer stop in their tracks and buy from you and no one else. There is no silver bullet…just a lump of sliver that you need to work into a bullet for each unique executive engagement you have with a prospective customer.  Each engagement will be unique with unique points of differentiation.

Evidence from various engagements actually show this approach can be significantly faster in the “buying cycle”.  The reality is most sales start very late in the buying cycle resulting in demand reaction, highly competitive sales. In this economic climate, sales success requires a new thought process on selling.  An outcome-based approach that is not about what you are selling, but about partnering to help customers achieve their desired outcome…

In the article “IBM’s New Way of Selling IT” by Wayne Kernochan writes: IBM aims to change its approach from meeting customers’ demands for functionality to providing solutions that achieve a desired outcome. In other words, the metric for success is less TCO (total cost of ownership) or speeds and feeds, and more helping clients realize specific goals, e.g., 5 percent reductions in operating margin or 8 percent increases in revenues year-over-year. IBM says that it perceives the outcome-driven sell as eventually their main engagement strategy with customers and prospects; whatever the final sale, IBM leads with promising an outcome.

This is not necessarily a radical departure from traditional vendor approaches; after all, it is pretty similar to selling services with an SLA (service-level agreement), but it does have a couple of interesting implications. In the first place, “outcome” is more future-oriented than “functionality” and therefore more potentially risky for any vendor. It takes an uncommon degree of confidence to commit to a customer that a particular product or service will indeed provide a specific improvement in, e.g., book-to-bill speed a year from now.

One way of looking at the outcome-led sell seems to summarize its advantages: The question for prospective customers, in many cases, moves from “Does IBM [or any vendor] have the right solution at the right price point for me?” to “What type of IBM solution can I use most effectively to deliver on my company’s long-term strategy?”…

In the article “4 Ways Salespeople Can Better Manage Outcomes and Achieve Results for Their Clients” by S. Anthony Iannarino writes: Sales has changed. It has shifted dramatically in ways that make it unrecognizable to some and impossible for others. We no longer sell products. We no longer sell solutions. We now sell business results and performance acceleration.

Understanding this shift isn’t difficult. Taking responsibility and acting according to this shift is as complicated and difficult as any modern business problem. Instead of ensuring that your product was delivered on time, you now have to ensure that the client achieved the result that you promised when you sold the product.

Instead of ensuring your solution worked as promised, you now have to ensure that the solution produced the result it was intended to; be it greater profitability, lower costs, greater competitiveness, or any number of business outcomes: “This is not your father’s Chevy!”  The key here is not only to get your team and their team engaged in whatever needs done to get the outcome, but to get them in early and often. Successful salespeople manage these outcomes for their clients and their companies, ensuring that they achieve the results and the outcome that they sold.

Outcome selling; moving from buying things to buying results or outcome, is an important development in the buy-sell relationship. The concept is not new, as expressed in the quote attributed to the president of a well-known manufacturer of tools, “Our customers want holes, not drills.” What is new is the practical application and methods for achieving it.

The move to an outcome-selling or outcome-sourcing in an outcome-economy encompasses dramatic changes in the core elements of the way business is done. It requires a whole new way of thinking on the part of both buyer and seller; from buying and selling things to buying and selling outcomes.

If you focus too much on your “solutions,” you’ll either lose the sale or fight an uphill battle. This isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of lower-level functionaries who think of business almost solely in terms of problems. But they’re not the decision-makers. From the perspective of a real decision-maker, all products (even when re-labeled as “solutions”) are basically the same.

You may think that customers should care that your “solution” has superior features. They don’t. Customers — decision-makers, that is — don’t have the time, energy or inclination to learn enough about your product category to understand why those features make your solution better.

Decision-makers want results and they want ’ you’ to take responsibility for those results. In today’s crazed business world, the only reason that a real decision maker will talk to you about those results is that they want to outsource a function that your firm is, hopefully, capable of performing.

In fact, if your customer contact ‘does’ appear to care about product feature/functions, and wants to get into a long discussion of ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’, you’re not talking to a decision-maker; you’re talking to a speed-bump…

From customers: “The salesperson clearly shows they understand my business issues and can clearly articulate to me how to solve them. We do not care about what you do; we care about how you make us successful.”And, how often does that happen?  13% of the time!

Avatars in Business, Marketing, Workplace, Learning … Enablers for Virtual-Worlds of Markets & Economies: New Reality or Creepy?

As crazy as it might sound avatars are becoming big business. The corporate avatar trend went public when IBM established guidelines for how its employees would use avatars and participate in business situations in virtual worlds. You might not have realized that the use of avatars in business settings is growing. With the rise in online virtual meetings, virtual training & learning simulations, and virtual businesses, not to mention social media within and across organizational boundaries, business avatars are becoming more common.

Simultaneously, the processes for adapting and crafting an avatar’s appearance and movement are becoming both more sophisticated and easier to use. Since avatars are becoming more common and easier to individualize, there will be more variation across avatars representing any one company.

According to a report from ‘Gartner Research’, it predicts that by year-end 2013, 70 percent of enterprises will have behavior guidelines and dress codes established for all employees who have avatars associated with their organization when they’re online. Gartner suggests six tactical guidelines that organizations can follow to make the best use of avatars in the business environment:

  • Help users learn to control their avatars.
  • Recognize that users will have a personal affinity with their avatar.
  • Educate users on the risks and responsibilities of reputation management.
  • Extend the code of conduct to include avatars in 3D virtual environments.
  • Explore the business case for avatars.
  • Encourage usage and enterprise pilots.

Others have added four more:

  • Encourage employees to consider how their avatars will appear to others in different cultural environments: what’s amusing or looks cool in the UK, for instance, may have very different reactions from people in, say, India or Brazil.
  • Help everyone understand and respect the intellectual property rights of others: if someone wants to use an image or artwork created by someone else, they must ensure that the creator has given permission or that it’s clear what type of usage by others is allowed.
  • Produce some simple how-to tutorials that help employees with the practicalities of avatar creation: the objective here is to help ensure that everyone is able to create their avatars to a high quality and that images look good however they’re sized.
  • Involve employees in different areas of your business in defining avatar usage best practice: don’t just create a policy and simply cascade it out in the traditional way.

In the article “Crafting Business Avatars: An Authenticity Exercise” by cv harquail writes: The use of avatars for business has gotten ahead of our understanding of how to use avatars well. Business avatars are not “normal” avatars. If you say “avatar” to your average business person, they’re thinking the movie, not the 3-D animated visual representation of themselves somewhere virtual working away. If they know about avatars online, then these employees are probably thinking about the kinds of avatars are common in online games.

Although it was predicted that businesses and employees would adopt avatars as professional tools, this growing use of avatars actually goes against the grain of the norms of conventional avatar use. Researchers who compare and contrast the ‘real person’ with the ‘virtual avatar’ note how, on several dimensions, the real person and the avatar are on opposite ends of a spectrum.

These contrasts between ‘entertainment avatars’ and the ‘real people’ behind them are similar to the incipient contrasts between play avatars and business avatars. Business avatars need to reflect the organization’s identity, and employees need to learn how to craft avatars that express the organization’s identity…

In the article “Avatars in the Workplace” by Byron Reeves and Leighton Read write: The movie “Avatar” is a stunning and vivid depiction of a fantasy world unimaginable without serious help from a visionary director. And as strange as it may sound, thousands of real-world employees are beginning to use avatars as part of their regular jobs.

Our research has shown how employees at American companies like IBM, Accenture, Cisco, State Farm, Intel, BP and Wells Fargo log into virtual worlds and use avatars to brainstorm with colleagues, recruit employees, sell to customers, attend leadership training, manage programs, direct operation centers, and collaborate with company groups around the world. Why would a company want its employees to go to work as avatars?  

First, they’re practical — it’s easier, cheaper, greener, and healthier to meet people in a virtual world. Second, you can do things with avatars that you can’t do in the real world at all. Research at Stanford University shows that people enthusiastically occupy avatar bodies to collaborate, compete, diagnose, search, inspect, calculate, audit, analyze, schedule, organize and communicate in ways quite similar to real life.

We have found that the ability to represent oneself within media fundamentally changes the psychology of interactive technology: hearts of the people that control avatars beat faster, the areas of people’s brains that regulate social interactions are more engaged, and people care substantially about how their avatars are treated…”

As a result of this intensity, avatars create the emotional and social connections necessary for the most valuable business conversations;  those where innovations are first cooked up and debated, passions are exposed, and people win, lose, or accommodate via personal connections.

In the article “4 Ways Avatars Can Help Business” by AllBusiness.com writes: “Does my business site need an avatar?” If your web-site handles a lot of customer questions that are unique to the user and can’t be answered through an FAQ or a general search, then avatar virtual agents can make a real difference in your web-site’s function.

“Companies implement avatars when they really want to take charge and assist customers in resolving their issues,” says Mark Gaydos, VirtuOz, a company that creates avatars for major companies such as eBay, Michelin, PayPal, and H&R Block. According to Gaydos, avatar virtual agents can help companies in four major ways:

  • Avatars are quicker than a live chat agent, search for answers much faster than a live person, and address an infinite number of customer queries. Avatars are fast, accurate and can respond to 80 percent of customer requests.
  • Avatars are more cost-effective. It costs money to employ customer service reps to operate live chats and call centers.
  • Avatars are more engaging. Reading an FAQ section or using a web-site search tool leaves a huge gap in the customer experience that creates loyal shoppers.
  • Avatars provide customer insight. Some avatars are able to capture conversations and auto-categorize them into customer trends.

According to a study from Microsoft and the Universityof Washington, employees are generally open to using avatars for email and instant messaging, with co-workers, and for training — but prefer that these avatars not be too “creepy”. Study authors, Kori Inkpen of and Mara Sedlins, surveyed more than 1,000 employees of an unnamed “large company.” Respondents were very comfortable with using avatars or interacting with avatars for instant messages, email, with co-workers, and in development training and forums, the paper said.

They were slightly less comfortable using avatars when working internationally or with customers, and least comfortable during a job interview. “Realism in avatars is a delicate issue,” the study authors said. Some realistic avatars were rated positively, but other realistic avatars “were felt to be eerie or creepy,” they wrote. “The results from this survey demonstrate that people are open to the idea of using avatars for workplace communication,” the authors said. “However, the choice of avatar can significantly impact people’s comfort.”

In the article “How Businesses Are Adapting to the Virtual World” by G. Anthony Gorry writes:  The idea of the ’avatar’ (a Sanskrit word for the incarnation of a god) was until recently best known for its appearances in science fiction. Eventually avatars made their way into the real world (so to speak) in the form of characters in primitive computer games. For example, Linden Labs, the developer of the popular game ‘Second Life’, reports over a billion user-hours spent so far in its system. Businesses –especially high-tech companies– have been exploring ways to put these virtual spaces to use.

Cisco, for example, has employees who use ‘Second Life’ both for internal communication and for customer education and training. Similarly, IBM recently assembled 150,000 employees and stakeholders in an electronic “town hall” meeting that included an island in ‘Second Life’.

These early corporate explorations of virtuality continue the abstraction of work that has already put so many of us at the verge between two worlds: the solid and substantial realms of products and offline services, and the digital workspace, which places its own demands on workers and imparts its own discipline on work…

In the article The Demise of Second Life?” by Paul Hemp  writes: The tide of journalistic hype about real-world business opportunities in the virtual world ‘Second Life’ is turning. ‘Wired’ had an article that argues Madison Avenue is wasting millions of dollars getting clients to create virtual stores that rarely get a visitor. ‘Time’ labeled Second Life one of the “5 Worst Websites” because of its user-unfriendliness and called Fortune 500 forays into the virtual-world “a case of some CEOs trying too hard to be hip.” ‘Forbes’ catalogued examples of the vandalism and pranks that have beset real-world brands in ‘Second Life’.

Are these naysayers onto something? But this wave of skepticism misses some key points about the potential for marketing in online virtual worlds. In my article ‘Avatar-Based Marketing’, I noted that brand-building initiatives by real-world companies in virtual worlds must engage users, and that a mere presence in this world isn’t enough. Granted, ‘Second Life’, with its occasional lawlessness and somewhat clunky technology, may not survive as a mainstream marketing venue.

But other virtual worlds will emerge. More importantly, companies will end up creating (and governing) their own online 3D environments; for example, standalone virtual shopping malls where users can meet with the avatars of real-world friends, try on virtual clothing, and make purchases of the real-world equivalent. It would be a grave mistake to dismiss the notion of marketing and selling in virtual worlds simply because of the shortcomings of ‘Second Life’

Avatars seem to be a logical next step, taking the narrative imagination of fiction, the aesthetic imagination of cinema, and the self-styling power of social networks, and combining them into virtual worlds that seek to mimic real-world interaction. Companies might then create virtual environments that encompass not only analogues to conventional office settings, but a host of diversions as well.

Avatars may well enrich our opportunities for play, escape, and fantasy. And as they will inevitably appear in the business world and alter the nature of work itself, moving it further into the realm of image and abstraction.

However, among the many important challenges confronting businesses and workers, as they adapt to the virtual workplace, is fostering full & real-human relationships in a world increasingly dependent upon artifice and illusion.

Excellent Customer Service –Win with Service: The WOW Factor for Business to Compete, Grow, Prosper.

“A widely quoted statistic gets to the heart of the value proposition behind customer service: The cost of acquiring a new customer is five times that of retaining an existing one. For businesses that succeed by forming a bond with the customer, the disparity is surely even greater.”

When ‘customer service’ is well-conceived & properly-executed it’s often the ‘wow’ factor in business success.  According to Turban et al; “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.” From the point of view of an overall sales process, customer service plays an important role in an organization’s ability to generate income and revenue. A customer service experience can change the entire perception a customer has of an organization.

The key for customer service is to focus on areas that really matter to the customer and re-inforces the overall customer & sales engagement strategy, i.e., areas that deliver the most value to the customer, e.g., cost saving, efficiency, up-time, performance, etc. In addition, customer service must be such that the staff sincerely believe that they can make a difference to the customer.

One of the most important aspects of a customer service is often referred to as the “Feel Good Factor.” Basically the goal is to not only help the customer have a good experience, but to offer them an experience that exceeds their expectations. Several key points are:

  • Know Your Products/Services – Be fully prepared and know all about your company’s products/services. It’s okay to say “I don’t know,” but always follow-up with “I will find out”. Don’t leave your customer with an unanswered question.
  • Communication/Body Language – Communicate clearly and effectively, and body language is an important element for positive communication. Look your customers in the eye and show them that you are listening, and a smile is much more inviting than just a blank look on your face.
  • Anticipate Needs – Surprise your customer and go the extra mile to help them. Always look for ways to serve your customer more than they expect. In doing so it helps them to know that you care, and it will leave them with the “Feel Good Factor”.

In the article “8 Rules For Good Customer Service” by Susan Ward writes: Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business. You can offer promotions and slash prices to bring in as many new customers as you want, but unless you can get some of those customers to come back, your business won’t be profitable for long.

Good customer service is all about bringing customers back. And, about sending them away happy; happy enough to pass positive feedback about your business along to others, who may then try the product or service you offer for themselves and, in their turn, become repeat customers. If you’re a good salesperson, you can sell anything to anyone once. But it will be your approach to customer service that determines whether or not you’ll ever be able to sell that person anything else.

The essence of good customer service is forming a relationship with customers; a relationship that the individual customer feels they would like to pursue. How do you go about forming such a relationship? By remembering the one true secret of good customer service and acting accordingly; “You will be judged by what you do, not what you say.”  Providing good customer service is a simple thing; just have a good plan and work at it…

“When customers have a problem and you fix it, they’re actually going to be even more satisfied than if they never had a problem in the first place. It has to do with expectations.”

In the article “The Ten Commandments of Great Customer Service” by Susan A. Friedmann writes:  Customer service is an integral part of our job and should not be seen as an extension of it. A company’s most vital asset is its customers. Without them, we would not and could not exist in business. When you satisfy our customers, they not only help us grow by continuing to do business with you, but recommend you to friends and associates.  The practice of customer service should be as present in any sales environment.  My ‘Ten Commandments of Great Customer Service’ are:

  1. Be a good listener. Take the time to identify customer needs by asking questions and listen to their words, tone of voice, body language, and most importantly, how they feel.
  2. Identify and anticipate needs. Customers buy solutions to problems and good feelings. Most customer needs are emotional rather than logical, and the more you know the better you become at anticipating their needs.
  3. Make customers feel important and appreciated. People value sincerity. It creates good feeling and trust. Customers are very sensitive and know whether or not you really care about them.
  4. Help customers understand your systems. Your organization may have the world’s best systems for getting things done, but if customers don’t understand them, they can get confused, impatient and angry.
  5. Appreciate the power of “Yes”. When the customer has a request (as long as it is reasonable) tell them that you can do it. Look for ways to make doing business with you easy.
  6. Know how to apologize. Deal with problems immediately and let customers know what you have done. Make it simple for customers to complain, value their complaints, and when appropriate apologize.
  7. Give more than expected.  Consider the following: What can you give customers that they cannot get elsewhere? What can you give customers that is totally unexpected?
  8. Get regular feedback. Find out what customers think and feel about your services. Listen carefully to what they say. Check back regularly to see how things are going: Get their feedback.
  9. Provide a method that invites constructive criticism, comments and suggestions. Have an open-communication policy with contact information for key managers in your organization…
  10. Treat employees well (imperative). Employees are your internal customers and they need a regular dose of appreciation. Treat your employees with respect and chances are they will have a higher regard for customers. Appreciation stems from the top.

“Studies show that a satisfied customer will tell 2-3 people about his experience with your company. A dissatisfied consumer will share their lament with 8-10 people and some will push that number to twenty.  But here’s the opportunity. An unhappy customer will become a loyal consumer if you fix his complaint and do it quickly. Eighty percent (80%) of these folks will come back to you if you’ve treated them fairly. That percentage rises to the upper 90s if you respond immediately.”

In the article “Creative Customer Service – How Far Will You Go to Wow a Customer?” by Mary Sandro writes:  A large part of customer service success is creating a seamless experience: Customer needs are anticipated, systems are in place, employees are trained.  The company runs like a well-oiled machine.  But what happens when the unexpected happens?  Customers have an “unusual” request or they simply don’t know the rules of the system?  The unexpected, I suggest, provides the opportunity to stretch the system, improve the system, or even forget the system and ‘wow’ a customer.

For companies with excellent systems in place, the next frontier in customer service is ‘wow’, handling the unexpected creatively.  I have observed that companies and professionals practicing creative customer service successfully have two things in common: First, they care…management cares…employees care. They like to help people solve problems.  Second, employees have authority.  Even when people care, if their hands are tied they can’t help.  In addition, employees who aren’t especially “caring” might be motivated to be creative for customers simply because it feels good to exercise their authority…

In the article “7 Secrets to Providing Excellent Customer Service” by gabe writes: “Our company always provides excellent customer service and support”: But do you? Here are 7 easy ways you can build customer loyalty and keep smiles on your customers’ faces:

  1. Use common sense: Providing excellent customer service; be it sales-, technical-, or service-oriented; isn’t rocket science. It simply requires some common sense. Remember the Golden Rule? The whole “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” thing? Use it…
  2. Be responsive: I can’t stress this enough: Respond; to emails, voice mails, tweets… It ties into the common sense thing. The most important thing in providing excellent customer service is to respond. And, do it ASAP.
  3. Make it easy to contact you: In order to be responsive, your customers have to know how to reach you. Give your contact information; email, phone & mobile number, Twitter & Facebook account… Don’t be afraid of your customers.
  4. Listen: The old adage about ‘the customer always being right’ isn’t really right. But, the important thing is that you listen to the customer; let him vent. Then acknowledge the issue, and try to reach an agreement…
  5. Adapt: Let customers drive how you interact with them. Though you may not always be able to offer the type of communication channel your customers want, you can still be responsive to their behavior. Remove barriers.
  6. Embrace social media: Make sure you’re active on Facebook and Twitter. If that’s where your customers are spending their time online, make sure you’re there to engage directly with them.
  7. Honor your word: If you tell someone you’ll follow-up with them by end of day then, do it. Stand-by your word.

Companies renowned for their customer service — treat employees as they would have their employees treat their customers. “Employees take on more responsibility because they know they are appreciated and an important part of the team,”

‘Excellent’ customer service is essential in today’s competitive economy. Businesses that want to compete, grow, and prosper must return to the priority of excellent customer service.  It starts with creating a customer-focused culture and practicing excellent service every day, relentlessly. Often we think of customer service as something that occurs when there’s a problem that needs to be solved.

However, if we apply the term more broadly, we open up to the possibility of not just proactively solving problems, but more important, soliciting user feedback before problems arise. Your customers hold a valuable trove of information: Use it, and that will improve your product/service as a whole… Offering to help customers before they have issues not only makes their experience better, but it helps to anticipate better ways of serving and supporting your customers…

“The Five A’s: Richard Proffer says it’s helpful to think of resolving a customer issue as a five-step process called the Five A’s: ‘Acknowledge’ the problem. ‘Apologize’ even if you think you’re right. ‘Accept’ responsibility. ‘Adjust’ the situation with a negotiation to fix the problem. ‘Assure’ the customer that you will follow through.”

Effectual Pricing Strategy: Walking a Balance Beam between–Customer, Sales, Competition, and Profit.

“Pricing is a tricky business. You’re certainly entitled to make a fair profit on your product, and even a substantial one if you create value for your customers. But remember, something is ultimately worth only what someone is willing to pay for it.”

Building an effective pricing strategy for products or services is the key to a successful business. Selecting the pricing strategy for your price setting methodology means that you need to have a good understanding of a number of different strategies, for example: loss leader pricing, market penetration pricing, value pricing, price skimming, product line pricing, promotional pricing, psychological pricing, and other alternative strategies and pricing methods, such as captive or companion pricing, premium pricing, generic or economy pricing, differential pricing

Many businesses take a very traditional pricing approach: add up their costs and up-charge by the profit margin they wish to achieve. Other businesses take the approach that the market sets the price and that they need to meet that mark.

From the marketer’s point of view, an efficient price is a price that is very close to the maximum that customers are prepared to pay. In economic terms, it is a price that shifts most of the consumer surplus to the producer. A good pricing strategy is balance between the price floor (the price below which the organization ends up in losses) and the price ceiling (the price beyond which the organization experiences a no demand situation). The basic elements of a pricing strategy are:

  • achieve financial goals of the company (e.g., profitability).
  • fit the realities of the marketplace (will customers buy at that price?).
  • support product’s positioning consistent with the marketing plan.

Pricing is the most effective profit lever, and it can be approached at three levels.The industry, market, and transaction level:

  • Pricing at the industry level focuses on the overall economics of the industry, including supplier price changes and customer demand changes.
  • Pricing at the market level focuses on the competitive position in comparison to the value differential of the product to that of comparative competing products.
  • Pricing at the transaction level focuses on managing the implementation of discounts away from the list price, both on and off the invoice or receipt.

According to Bernstein’s article “Supplier Pricing Mistakes”, many companies make common pricing mistakes and he outlines several which include:

  • Weak controls on discounting.
  • Inadequate systems for tracking competitor selling prices and market share.
  • Cost-up pricing.
  • Price increases poorly executed.
  • Worldwide price inconsistencies.

In the article How Much to Charge for Your Product or Service?” by Scott Allen writes: While there is no one single right way to determine your pricing strategy, fortunately there are some guidelines that will help you with your decision.  Here are some of the factors that you need to consider:

  • Positioning:  How are you positioning your product in the market? Is pricing going to be a key part of that positioning? The pricing has to be consistent with the positioning. People really do hold strongly to the idea that you get what you pay for.
  • Demand Curve:  How will your pricing affect demand? You’re going to have to do some basic market research to find this out, even if it’s informal. But however you do it, chart a basic curve that says that at X price, X’ percentage will buy, at Y price, Y’ will buy, and at Z price Z’ will buy.
  • Cost: Calculate the fixed and variable costs associated with your product or service. How much is the “cost of goods” and how much is “fixed overhead”? Remember that your gross margin (price minus cost of goods) has to amply cover your fixed overhead in order for you to turn a profit.
  • Environmental Factors: Are there any legal or other constraints on pricing? Also, what possible actions might your competitors take? Will too low a price from you trigger a price war? Find out what external factors may affect your pricing.

In the articleThe ABCs of Pricing” by Charlie Gilkey writes: Buyers are irrational, and  predictably so. If you product or service provides legitimate value to your customers, then make your prices match their perceptions an economic reality. If those are grounded in a bit of irrationality, so be it—our business is about our customers, which means we need to meet them where they are, not where we think they should be. A framework that will help you with setting prices is knowing about: Anchors, bumps, and charms…

  • Anchors: Every established industry already has anchors in play. The art of pricing, though, is determining how you’ll use those anchors. Significant value-adds allow you to use those anchors as baselines rather than straight jackets. But you still need to recognize that established anchors have a very, very strong effect on your prospects’ first reactions to the pricing of your product.
  • Bumps: If anchors set the baseline, bumps let people know what grade of product they’re getting. When you’re setting your prices, you have to make sure you haven’t unintentionally set a bump that either blurs or mistakenly mismatches the grade of product or services. For instance, a $19.99 and $22.99 pricing methodology isn’t nearly as clear as a $19.99 and $29.99 framework. In the latter example, it’s pretty clear that there’s a bump in grade rather than something relatively minor. At the same time, if your competitors have anchored the price at $19.99 and yours costs $29.99 then, you must re-position at another level.
  • Charms: A price that’s a little less than the round number is called a charm price; for example, $19.99 rather than $20. As annoying as we might find charm pricing, it’s a market dynamic that affects buying decisions. Many people think that using charm pricing is somehow demeaning or tricky to prospectsor that playing such games diminishes the seller’s credibility. Still others think that charm pricing doesn’t work on savvy, smart buyers.

In the article “Pricing Strategy as Part of Your Internet Marketing Plan” by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson writes: You can’t do business on the Internet without having a pricing strategy. One of the first questions you need to answer is What are your site visitors like? Are they bargain hunters? Or, shop for products based on their prestige value?

What does it cost you to purchase (or produce) and market this product or service? Your price will have to be above your costs — most of the time. Here are the various pricing objectives you’ll want to consider. Two main pricing objectives stand out:

  • To maximize short-term profits: Squeeze as much money out of sales as possible, even though fewer customers may make a purchase. Your strategy may be to charge premium prices (i.e., maximize profits), even though you end up with less customers, but you can make more profit off each customer.
  • To gain marketshare: The other main strategy is to price your service lower to gain marketshare. You may want to maximize the number of customers, even though you don’t make as much on each customer. But you know that later you’ll be able to sell these customers other services.

These two objectives are the key ones to understand, but there are two others:

  • To survive: Survival is a worthy goal. Sometimes companies lower prices so they can generate enough revenue to survive short term. But this isn’t a very good long-term strategy. There’s an old joke about the businessman who said, he was losing money on every sale, but he expected to make it up in volume. Good luck. Sometimes it’s better to call it quits before you lose even more.
  • To help society: You might keep the price lower than “what the market will bear” in order to make essential products available to the consumers who would otherwise be priced out of the market. Altruism has its place. Consider, also offering an economy product/service at a lower price, but with clear limitations.

In the article “How to Think About Pricing Strategies in a Downturn” by Nick Wreden writes: When sales and profits are plummeting and customers are demanding better deals, the instinctive response is to cut prices. Pricing decisions should not be viewed as ‘band-aid’ solutions for bleeding income statements, says Reed K. Holden and co-author (with Thomas T. Nagle) of ‘The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing’. Rather, they should be part of a long-term strategy for fiscal fitness.

When economic storm clouds gather, trim your production levels, postpone expansion plans that aren’t absolutely vital to your future growth, and slash nonessential costs wherever you can. Crafting the right strategies will not only strengthen your business now, it will also prime it for growth later. To bolster sales while avoiding a price cut’s dampening effect on long-term profitability, keep the following advice in mind: “Profitability is not the only prism through which you should view pricing”.

In the article “Six Powerful Rules for Pricing Excellence” by Patrick Lefler writes: Pricing is a key element of your brand. It sends a message to the market and creates expectations about value. It’s often the first impression you make, either attracting buyers or repelling them. And it can create the last, and lasting, impression, depending on perceived value for price paid. Think about it: Is your price sending the message you intended? Pricing is complex, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Follow these six powerful rules for pricing excellence to find the pricing strategy that gets the most for your services.

Rule #1: Always price for value.
Rule #2: Anchors aren’t just for ships.
Rule #3: Never underestimate the power of free.
Rule #4: Innovate with price.
Rule #5: Let price drive value.
Rule #6: Price wars are a fool’s game.

In the article “Selecting an Appropriate Pricing Strategy” by Nancy Giddens, Joe Parcell, and Melvin Brees write: Selecting a pricing strategy for your product is critical, because price is most highly visible element of marketing efforts. To price products, you need to know the following:

  • Costs and profit objectives.
  • Customers (demand).
  • Competition.

To determine the price, given price flexibility, the producer will need to factor in the effects of competition and profit objectives. To ease subjectivity, most companies subscribe to one of five main pricing strategies:

  • Premium pricing.
  • Value pricing.
  • Cost/plus pricing.
  • Competitive pricing.
  • Penetration pricing.

Pricing strategies and methodologies are a good bit of science coupled with an equal amount art. To make sure your price is right, you have to continually balance your own cost structure and profitability with customer perceptions of value and your competitors’ tactics.

The good thing when it comes to pricing is that a lot of the work is done for you if you know what to look for. When searching, however, you have to understand that the buying process isn’t as rational as our old economics professors or common sense would have us believe.

It’s irrationalpredictably so. If you try to look at the market from a strictly rational point of view, you’ll end up setting prices that make sense to you but not to your customers. The far easier path is to have a pricing strategy that plays to your customers’ own irrational behaviors.

“Your price should never be lower than your costs or higher than what most customers consider “fair”: Simply put, if people won’t readily pay enough more than your cost to make you a fair profit, you need to reconsider your business model entirely.”

Business Networking Essentials: Its Who-Knows-You … plus Knows-What-You-Know… NOT…Who-You-Know…

“Contrary to popular belief, networking isn’t about racing around the room handing out business cards and trying to close deals – networking is about building solid business relationships that are mutually beneficial. To accomplish this you have to focus on what you can do to help the people you meet.”

Business networking is the process of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with other business people and potential customers. Business networking is a long-term strategy and its purpose is to increase business revenue… Businesses are increasingly using business networking and social networks as a means of growing their circle of business contacts and promoting themselves.

People do business with people they like, know, and trust and networking allow professionals to build up their circle of valued and trusted business partners. Businesses are rapidly expanding globally and networking is an essential part of their strategic initatives to develop key contacts around the world… The world has gotten smaller, and through your networking activities you are surprisingly close to critical information, resources, and people…

In the article “Five Secrets for Successful Business Networking” by Kristi Blicharski writes:  With the climb in popularity over the last few years of online business networking and social media platforms, the popularity and number of in-person networking events have also increased, offering infinite opportunities for those who take the initiative to venture out and see what’s happening in the business world, away from the computer screen.

In addition to large networking organizations, i.e., the general one-size-fits-all networking events; there are other groups that focus on particular niches or industries providing more targeted opportunities for meeting new contacts, mentors, and potential customers. So, how do the savviest networkers make the most of all these opportunities? They follow a few key practices that greatly increase the value of what they take away, as well as what they have to offer others they meet. For example:

  • Approach each event and the people you meet from the stand point of “What can I give?” rather than “What can I get?”
  • Don’t hand someone your business card within the first 2 minutes of meeting in an attempt to manufacture a contact without even knowing anything about the person. Random card dropping is generally not productive, and can be perceived as disingenuous.
  • When someone gives you his or her business card, think of it as a great compliment. Follow the traditional Japanese custom of treating the card, and therefore the person, with great respect.
  • Give the person or people you are talking to your full attention. This may sound like a no-brainer, but think of all the people whose eyes are darting around the room to see who else is there while they’re half listening to the people they’ve just met.
  • Your smile is one of your greatest commodities. It’s absolutely, 100% true, and I can’t stress it enough.

In the article “How to Profit From Networking” by Kelley Robertson writes: Networking functions provide the opportunity to expand contact, particularly when we create and nurture quality relationships. It is not enough to visit networking groups, talk to dozens of people, and gather as many business cards possible. Since every networking function has tremendous potential for new business leads; it’s critically important that you have a well-defined strategy to make networking profitable, such as:

  • Choose the right networking group or event.
  • Focus on quality contacts versus quantity..
  • Make a positive first impression.
  • Be able to clearly state what you do.
  • Follow up after the event.

In the article “Men vs. Women: Who Dominates Online Professional Networking?” by Kristin Burnham writes:  Which gender reigns supreme in the world of online professional networking? According to data from LinkedIn, it’s the men—both in the United States and across the globe. The reason: According to Nicole Williams, author of ‘Girl on Top’, women tend to equate networking with “schmoozing” or handing out business cards. “In reality,” she says, “[networking] is about building relationships before you actually need them.

To declare a winner, LinkedIn developed an “online professional networking savviness ranking,” a formula that examines the ratio of connections that men have versus those of women, and the ratio of male members on LinkedIn to female members. LinkedIn also sliced the data by industry, surfacing some interesting tidbits. In female-dominant industries, such as cosmetics for example, it’s the men who, once again, beat out the women in online professional networking.

According to LinkedIn, they’re the ones sending out more invitations to connect and they have larger networks. Other top industries in which men are savvier online professional networkers include medical practice; hospital and healthcare; law enforcement; and capital markets.

On the flip side, in male-dominant industries such as tobacco and ranching, female professionals are savvier networkers than their male counterparts. Other industries in which females dominate networking include; alternative dispute resolution; alternative medicine; and international trade and development. 

LinkedIn data analysts say this could be because women have to work harder to break into male-dominated industries, and vice versa. A few areas in which men and women were equally as savvy include: market research; media production; dairy; individual and family services; and paper and forest products.

In the article 5 Rules for Professional Social Networking Success” by Dan Klamm writes:  Social media is messy. Across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other Networks, we are connected to a mix of close friends, college buddies, high school classmates, co-workers, bosses, former bosses, I-met-you-at-a-party-once acquaintances, and people we’ve never even seen face-to-face.

It’s important to understand the particular platform that you’re using, as well as, the type of relationship you have with a person; before attempting to leverage that connection for professional gain.

Each social media platform has a certain reputation. For instance, LinkedIn is generally a ‘business’ site, while Twitter is more ‘laid back’ and often mixes professional and personal content. Respect the way that people use these sites. Adding a professional acquaintance as a friend on Facebook can be invasive, especially if that individual is a traditionalist who uses Facebook purely for personal contact with friends and family.

Likewise, asking an old friend for a recommendation on LinkedIn might create awkwardness, if the person has no experience with you in a professional capacity. When you approach someone for career help via social media, know what you want out of the interaction and ask specific questions that show you’ve done your research. Be direct!

In the article “Effective Networking for Busy People” by Buzzy Gordon writes: It is estimated that the average person knows about 250 people. And each of those people knows, in turn, another 250 or so people. This means that for each new person you meet, you gain access to a potential pool of 62,500 people separated from you by just two degrees!

Imagine the odds, then, that out of so many people, you would NOT find one person who would be a source of information about a better job, additional clients or customers, a speaking engagement or writing assignment, an investment opportunity, where to shop for better value, and much more.

Networking is one of the most profitable activities in which one can engage. Fortunately, like any endeavor, one can get more proficient at it with practice. Moreover, it takes very little time or effort to get it right, and a conscious decision to become a ‘networker’. Then, all it requires is a slight shift in attitude, and adopting one simple trifurcated rule: “Greet each new acquaintance with an openness to learn more about that person, a willingness to help, and an offer to stay in touch.”

This approach is equally applicable to every form of networking, whether in business or social contexts, and whether the encounter takes place in person or, as frequently happens today, online.  It pays to network in person, not only to meet new people, but also to keep your vital communications skills sharp.

If you feel you are too busy to go to networking events, attend only those vital to your professional or business standing. Make the best of chance and casual meetings that occur during the course of your normal workday.  The power of online networking is in the viral effect so unique to the Internet.  Lack of time is no longer an excuse for failing to “reach out and find someone”…

In the article “Online Professional Networking” by Gary H. Jacobs writes: In today’s uncertain business environment, online professional networking has become more important than ever before. In addition to the obvious use of maintaining a network of contacts in the event of a job loss, layoff, or business setback, these networks also provide access to:

  • Almost unlimited number of professional contacts.
  • Opportunityto help friends and colleagues.
  • Exchange ideas and materials outside of one’s normal circle of contacts.
  • Staying up-to-date with industry trends.
  • Establish a public profile and online identity.
  • Re-establish contact with long lost friends and colleagues.

In online business networking, the principles are much the same as networking in person. A networker must start out by giving information and expertise with no expectation of return. As a result, the networker will gain visibility and experience, both inside and outside of his or her industry, and will develop a reputation as someone who can help others.

According to Jan Vermeiren, networking expert, he refers to the networking cycle as “Giving-Asking-Thanking”. Networking has been around a long time, and that’s why it’s not only the way of the past, but the wave of the future. It’s where business marketing is going, and it’s where you need to go if you’re going to stay in the game.

As the great Wayne Gretzky’s father said, “skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been”.  Whether you’re just starting out in your career, launching a new business, or advanced in your profession, effective networking know-how is one of the most important skills you can possess.

“Networking Rule of Two: Your goal for any type of networking event should be to meet 2 people that you’d like to get to know better. After the networking event you follow-up with these 2 people, 2 times”. ~Julie Wickert

New Normality–Thriving in Business Crisis, Uncertainty, & Turbulence: Survival & Growth in a Chaotic World

Business Crisis. “Crises, or situations of chaos, are simply opportunities that lead to change and to growth. A change leader sees change as an opportunity and not as a crisis”. ~Peter Drucker

Organizations that exist on the edge of chaos are forced to find new and creative ways to compete and stay ahead. Organizations are re-inventing themselfs not just for survival but also to prosper in an otherwise dismal market. These organizations are embracing the element of chaos due to crisis, so that self-organization and re-invention can occur.

Self-organization, as opposed to natural or social selection, is a dynamic change within the organization where critical changes are made by recalculating, re-inventing and modifying its structure in order to adapt, survive, develop, and grow. Organizations existing on the edge of chaos due to crisis can, in fact, flourish, develop, and grow…

In the article “Chaos Theory: The Uncontrollable Factor in the Development of Management Systems by Heidi Mina writes: “chaos theory” or simply “chaos” could be considered a core management theory for the 21st century. According to McNamara, “chaos theory recognizes that events are rarely controlled”.  When management systems grow in complexity, they become more susceptible to cataclysmic events. One way to plan for such chaos is through “contingency management”.

Contingency management is defined as having an alternative plan to fall back on when chaos strikes, which allows for critical internal processes to continue and meet the desired outcome. However, contingency management is often overlooked, and until management recognizes its importance it could have a catastrophic impact on the business. According to Bertelsen & Koskela, an organization can manage chaos but it requires; good management team, contingency planning, tracking critical factors, and issuing early warnings…

In the article “Can Your Company Survive and Even Prosper in Chaotic Times?” by Axel Chaldecott & Alan Moore write:  The corporate world is dividing into two sections; insurgents and incumbents. In the book ‘Blown to Bits’ by Evans & Wurster they write:  “In the vast majority of traditional competitive situations, the ‘incumbents’ has the advantage. But when the economics of information are shifting, ‘insurgents’ are advantaged precisely by their lack of legacy systems, legacy assets and a legacy mindset. Having nothing to lose becomes an advantage.”

Evans & Wurster write: “the glue that holds today’s value chains and supply chains together is melting; even  the most stable of industries, the most focused of business models, and the strongest of brands can be ‘blown to bits’ by new information technology.”  Your competitive advantage is up for grabs. The internet and other digital technologies are changing everything… Corporations are built on the assumption of continuity; their focus is on operations.

Capital markets are built on the assumption of discontinuity; their focus is on creation and destruction? Unless companies open up their decision-making processes, relax conventional notions of control, and change at the pace and scale of the market, their performances will be drawn into an entropic slide to mediocrity.

Most companies are fighting over the spoils of existing marketplaces, when they should instead be seeking to create new ones. The ‘surplus society’ has a surplus of similar companies, employing similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, coming up with similar ideas, producing similar things, with similar prices and similar quality. These are chaotic times requiring businesses to rethink their existence, innovate, and get ‘out-of-the box’…

“…crisis is a perception or experience of an event or situation as an intolerable difficulty that exceeds the business’ current resources and coping mechanisms.” ~James and Gilliland

In the book “Funky Business” by Kjell Nordstrom and Jonas Ridderstrole write: “To grow, companies need to break out of a vicious cycle of competitive benchmarking, imitation and pursuit … Aiming to beat the competition has the opposite effect to the one intended. It keeps companies focused on the competition. When asked to build competitive advantage, managers typically rate themselves against competitors, assess what they do and try to do it better.”

The central question is whether companies, be they on-line, “clicks and mortar” or just ‘bricks and mortar’ can continually ‘re-imagine’ themselves to keep pace with technical convergence, and the consequent change in customer behavior. As Gary Hamel says, “Customers become harder to find and more difficult to keep”. The crisis is here; unfortunately, many businesses just don’t know it...

In the article What Is The Key To Survival In A Constantly Changing Environment?” by DK Matai writes: Look beyond competition and market share to more fundamental questions of survival and sustainability in a turbulent and continuously changing environment. We are in a time of extreme turbulence accompanied by rapid evolutionary change, which means ‘understanding the role and responsibility of the organization in the context of the entire environment is absolutely critical’.

The key to success in dealing with crisis is change — at an individual and at an organizational level. It is normal to resist change: to try bargaining and negotiating things back to the way they were; and to feel frustrated when the change inevitably continues. It is equally important to understand that these feelings are within the leader as well as all team members and must be dealt with, if the organization is to surivive and grow as a cohesive group. In order to survive in a globalized society that is constantly changing, we need to see crisis for what it is: the natural order of things…

In the article “The Four Myths of Crisis Management” by Dr. Billie Blair writes: Management in the modern organization, of necessity, requires managers that are fleet-of-feet and able to manage ever-changing conditions. When the term “crisis management” was coined forty years ago, organizations were still rather staid and unchanging entities. Consequently, it was deemed an unfavorable sign if an organization of that time was regularly in a state of crisis, or, change.

And, the management of that organization was viewed as needing to exert more influence to obtain control of events at the firm. All business managers have been warned against operating in an environment of crisis management. To be a more effective manager and leader, they need to know that there are prevalent beliefs about crisis management that need to be understood and discounted.

To examine beliefs that have been assumed for many years, I’ve described these prevailing ideas as the myths of crisis management as follows: Crisis Management Myth #1, experiencing frequent change in organizations, (or “crises”) is a bad thing. On the contrary, an organization in today’s business climate that is not in a constant state of fluctuation, change, and growth will not be able to survive. Organizations that understand the nature of change and its usefulness are those that do well. These organizations know that:

  • change is inevitable, as nothing is certain, except change itself.
  • changes that are faced with courage and confidence are readily managed.
  • change brings a certain amount of ambiguity and turbulence.
  • change brings company cohesiveness, and better alignment with customers and community.

Crisis Management Myth #2 – Inherent in the beliefs about crisis management and its consequences, is the assumption that managers should have full control over all events in the organization. Fifty years ago, that might have been an accurate depiction of appropriate corporate management. Today, however, events are rarely “controlled,” but are, instead, managed or orchestrated for best effect. And, only in the rarest of organizations will any one single individual have the ability to fully control all of the events and “goings-on” in the organization.

Crisis Management Myth #3 is a corollary to Myth #2: The “crisis manager” has no focus, because there is no control when managing in a state of crisis. The simple remedy for lack of focus is to engage in a sound strategic planning process. The sole purpose of the strategic plan is to serve as the focus and the ballast for the organization when faced with serious questions and challenges. For an organization that has developed a solid strategic plan, there should be no question of straying from the central focus.

Crisis Management Myth #4 goes like this: When you’re dealing with crises, you’re not dealing with business. In today’s business world, in fact, crisis is a part of business. There are many people in the management ranks who are  “change-aversive” and do not relish change. For these individuals to function effectively they must either, be coached to understand the importance that processes of change can bring to an organization, or they may not be the right person for the business.

“Any business that does not have some measure of risk assessment and risk management embedded in its operational structure and culture is most likely a static and non-innovative enterprise. It has no true situational awareness and thus, in the long term, will have no long term — because it will have neither means for preventing and mitigating crises nor for identifying and optimizing opportunities.” ~Tom Ridge

The Changing Face of Sales Leadership and Professional Selling: It’s a Reality…New Age Leadership for Changing Times.

There is a difference between leadership and management. Leadership is of the spirit, management is of the mind. Managers are necessary, but leaders are essential. We must find managers who are not only skilled organizers, but inspired and inspiring leaders.” ~ Field Marshall Slim

Sales productivity is a strategic issue. For companies to remain competitive in these economic times, sales leaderships and organizations must change to the new realities. As businesses strive to re-establish customer orientation, sales partnerships, and strategic approach to selling; there are greater demands on the sales organization and salespeople to be productive and adaptive.

And, sales leadership must provide the assurance that the appropriate sales methodologies are widely practiced and smoothly implemented. This includes any problems that stem from salespeople being unclear about company’s priorities or strategy (i.e., messaging, products/ services, value proposition, and target customers). The sales manager’s role is changing with industries’ trending to more ‘flat’ organizational structures, which removes layers of management between the sale force and the general manager.

This highlights the changing sales manager role as the essential link between company strategy and customers. Sales managers must not only grasp the corporate vision but be able to communicate it to the sales force in terms of its real effects on sales best practices and customers.

In the article “The Rapidly Changing Face Of Sales Leadership…And I Mean Rapidly!” by Jonathan Farrington writes: Old ways of doing business no longer work: the increasingly intense competitive challenges of the world economy challenge everyone, everywhere, to adapt in order to prosper under new rules. As business changes, so do the traits needed to survive, let alone excel. All these transitions put increased value on emotional intelligence.

Star performers show significantly greater strengths in a range of emotional competencies, such as the skills of persuasion, team leadership, political awareness, self-confidence, and achievement drive. Empathy, one of the key elements of emotional intelligence, is central to good management; it is difficult to have a positive impact on others without first sensing how they feel about and understanding their position.

People who are poor at reading emotional cues and inept at social interactions are very poor at influencing others in the workplace. Coaching is an important element for effective salesmanship, and trust is crucial – when there is little trust in the coach, advice goes unheeded. This also happens when the coach is impersonal and cold, or the relationship seems too one-sided or self-serving.

Coaches who show respect, trustworthiness and empathy are the best. One way to encourage people to perform better is to let others take the lead in setting their own goals rather than dictating the terms and manner of their development. This communicates the belief that employees have the capacity to be the pilot of their own destiny…

In the article “The Changing Face of Professional Sales Leadership: A Roundtable Debate” by Paul McCord writes: We know that the role of a sales leader is to translate the organization’s vision, mission, and values into a meaningful context that sales teams can relate to and feel excited by. If this is achieved, then the sales leader will have created a sales team with a shared mental model. This transforms an ordinary sales team into a high performing one.

We also understand that for a group of people to remain “consciously competent” at optimum performance levels, they require frequent injections of stimulation, motivational guidance and prompting, otherwise they can easily lapse into “unconsciously competent”, or worse “unconsciously incompetent” After all, the primary objective of a professional sales manager has to be: “To achieve consistently superior results, through the performance of every sales individual on the team.”

Today, more organizations are waking up to the value of building a strong coaching culture. Analogies to athletic coaching are common, but especially apt. Training alone does not guarantee that a great athlete will deliver a gold medal-winning performance. Equally, top sales professionals need expert coaching support from their managers to stay at the top of their game.

Whether coaching is delivered face-to-face, on the telephone, or via e-mail, those organizations that have a strong coaching culture attract and retain the best salespeople.  This is why the sales leader’s role is evolving, and – in fact, it is becoming crucial to the success or failure of most commercial organizations…

In the article “Increase Sales through Effective Account Manager Coaching” by Jim Searls writes:  Our job as leaders is to accomplish our goals and objectives by developing other people. This requires coaching them until they are able to stand on their own. Every time there is a change in the way you do business, then you are required to coach your team until the new skills needed for success are part of their everyday behavior. Here are three tips for effective coaching:

  • Invest the majority of your coaching time with your “B” players: Why not the “A” or “C” players? Because “B” players have the greatest potential for growth. Most leaders spend an unbelievable amount of time trying to make “C” players into “B” players. That’s like a head football coach spending all his time coaching the 3rd string quarterback. I have not yet seen that as a successful strategy. At best the “C” player becomes a “C+” player.
  • Use your “A” players as mentors for your “B” players; Coaching is the most important activity for leaders. Even so, there are many other demands on a leader’s time. Additionally, many people work remotely these days which makes it difficult for leaders to coach their teams. “A” players are a good source of support, because they have already demonstrated that they excel at their job. Mentoring helps them grow in their coaching skills and prepare them for future leadership roles.
  • Know your stuff: Don’t try and fake it…

In the article “What Makes A Great Sales Leader?”  by Jayden Briggs writes: Sadly, most superior sales performers, when promoted to leadership positions, are unable to truly lead. They have trouble analyzing and teaching their personal sales processes in such a way that their sales teams can properly digest. Typically, when a salesperson moves into the management sphere they tend to manage people versus coaching critical competencies and behaviors…

To be effective, sales leaders must understand and know how to integrate knowledge of sales systems and processes to their staff. They need the majority of their salespeople to accept it, own it, and benefit from it. Going one step further, it is crucial for sales leaders to have experience in identifying and measuring critical core competencies and essential performance metrics. True sales leaders shine a light on the most critical competencies, enabling the highest percentage of their sales force to routinely win.

Sales leaders, like great business leaders, spend time developing systematic approaches to essential competencies. And they do it so that their people can outperform the standard. It’s important to set realistic goals that are in line with performance expectations, then set “benchmarks” for each competency and train specifically to those benchmarks. Sales leaders believe that sales people will be accountable for results, provided that leadership does it job:

  • Identifies the important competencies, expectations, accountability for success.
  • Supplies targeted training with appropriate structures for learning and application.
  • Provides the relevant coaching and measures the degree of improvement.

In the article “Jesus CEO…The New Age Leadership Concept” by Saji Daniel writes: This concept of leadership may be the new mode of leadership for the corporate world for the 21st Century, but many will recognize it as a First Century idea. It’s the “management program” set forth by Jesus. Jesus taught that you did not have to be a hero to be a leader. He taught just the opposite; that to be leader you must be a servant. He taught that there is no need to pull rank on each other and that “the greatest among you will be your servant”… Think about it

  • One person trained twelve human beings who went on to so influence the world that time itself is now recorded as time in memorial.
  • This person worked with people who were totally human & not divine…a staff that in spite of illiteracy, questionable backgrounds, fractious feelings, and momentary cowardice went on to accomplish the tasks he trained them to do.
  • His leadership style was intended to be put to use by any of us.

Now, two thousand years later, Jesus has over 2.1 billion followers, which makes Him the undisputed greatest leader of all time. No one else comes close!  Jesus as a leadership role model is offensive to nobody. To be a good leader, you have to study the patterns of the most effective leaders who have ever lived. “In my opinion, the most effective leader was Jesus. He spearheaded the concept of servant leadership — Jesus knew who he was and showed that being a servant is the best way to behave in leadership.”

The management concept that has been shaking the corporate world is the idea that hierarchies in corporate management are dead. The leader’s authority does not result from the position or degree but from the shared vision and acceptance by members of the organization.

This concept is called “post-heroic” leadership (or “servant” leadership) because the focus is off the single magnetic leader at the top of a hierarchy (the “hero”) who authoritatively sets policy. Above all, post-heroic leaders are willing, as Time magazine says, to “walk the talk”, to “live by the values they espouse.” In studying Jesus’ leadership style there are three leadership strengths:

  • The strength of action.
  • The strength of self mastery.
  • The strength of relationships.

Let’s face it, the business world has changed and is changing every day. It’s changing at a pace faster than anyone has ever experienced. My question to you is, “Are you changing?” I continue to see people using outdated leadership methods, outdated sales methods and expecting the same results as in the past. They are surprised when the results aren’t there. Continuous learning is a must in our business world today…

“One of the very few things to come out the deepest recession in living memory was that sales leaders in most industries, faced with decimated training budgets, were forced to roll up their sleeves and coach their teams themselves. As a consequence, I believe that more and more sales leaders will develop their coaching skills, and look for external mentors themselves, because it is highly likely that sales skills training budgets will never be the same again – ever. And therein lies the clue – sales leaders will expand their roles… ~Nancy Bleeke

Extreme Methodologies for Group Decision Making, Problem Solving, and Consensus Building: Brainstorming, Delphi Method, Nominal Group Technique (NGT)…

“For any business, group, or organization to function effectively, it must make decisions that are in the best interest of the entity: How should those decisions be made? –Consensus? Voting? One-person rule? Secret ballot?”

Consensus building is a recognized method for groups, businesses, and associations who want to resolve complex issues. It is based on a set of management principles where the main goal is reaching consensus through facilitated dialogue and interactive methods.  A facilitated consensus building session is designed for group decision making and complex problem solving.

Examples of some typical meetings for which we employ consensus building include: bringing executives, entrepreneurs or stakeholders together in order to identify the key barriers to their business; helping representatives from an organization with diverging views find a common position; facilitating representatives of an interest group to define options for action on a given issue; or finding common ground for stakeholders who disagree on the best way to tackle an issue through legislation.

In the final analysis, how you make decisions at the strategic level is just as important as the decision itself. The best decision in the world is nothing without a powerful consensus for action. People who enter into a consensus decision-making must come armed with critical and creative thinking skills that will allow them to efficiently and effectively function at the strategic level.

Building consensus is a slow process, but it’s necessary to get everybody on board before taking a decision. But there’s one big misunderstanding about consensus, and that is ‘compromise’: It’s tempting to dilute other team members ideas to reach consensus or ensure that everyone gets a bit of what they want, so that they’ll agree to go along. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. In the book “Extreme Toyota” the authors show how Toyota embraces conflicts and doesn’t settle for compromises. They identify six contradictions that are central to Toyota’s way of working:

  • Moving gradually and taking big leaps.
  • Cultivating frugality while spending huge sums.
  • Operating efficiently as well as redundantly.
  • Cultivating stability and a paranoid mindset.
  • Respecting bureaucratic hierarchy and allowing freedom to dissent.
  • Maintaining simplified and complex communication.

The Japanese call it ‘Nemawashi’ and it is an informal process of talking to the people concerned, gathering support and feedback, so before a formal meeting starts, participants have already drawn conclusions regarding information to be presented at the meeting. The original meaning of the word “Nemawashi” is to smooth around roots before planting. Although we may not be able to emulate the Japanese culture, there are other methodologies, for example: Brainstorming, Delphi Method, Nominal Group Technique (NGT)…

Brainstorming: In brainstorming a facilitator briefs the meeting attendees and asks the participants to name their ideas about a given subject. The facilitator encourages the participants to name any idea they can think of, even ones that seem silly, and makes a list on a board or flip chart.

What happens in brainstorming is that the ideas of one person generate new ideas from another person, and a kind of chain reaction takes place, producing the identification of many ideas. However, unless you have an ‘excellent’ facilitator, there could be minimum participation from the attendees and few ideas will be identified, and that could affect the success of the session.

Another problem affecting participation is when there is a large difference in the status of the individuals attending. A person who is the supervisor of some of the participants may intimidate them or dominate the meeting…

Delphi Technique: Is based on the Hegelian Principle of achieving ‘Oneness of Mind’ through a three step process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.  In thesis and antithesis, all present their ideas on a given subject, establishing views and opposing views.  In synthesis, opposites are brought together to form the new thesis.  All participants are then to accept ownership of the new thesis and support it, changing their own views to align with the new thesis.

Through a continual process of evolution, ‘Oneness of Mind’ will supposedly occur.  The power of the Delphi method in gaining consensus are; comments are anonymous, which helps people avoid defending their original position; it allows people to be gradually swayed by the majority without undue direct social pressure; it sees what others have said or scored and then they can rethink their own position…

Nominal Group Technique (NGT): In ‘nominal group’ the participants are known to one another as in brainstorming, but the ideas are submitted to the facilitator as anonymous written lists. The facilitator lists the ideas on a flip chart or a board, and the participants add more ideas in other rounds of written lists until no additional ideas are added. This technique reduces any status concerns or intimidation that might be present in a brainstorming session but does not eliminate it entirely.

The process prevents the domination of discussion by a single person, encourages group members to participate, and results in a set of prioritized solutions or recommendations.  Some of the obvious advantages are; voting is anonymous; opportunities for equal participation; and distractions inherent in other group methods are minimized. As to disadvantages; opinions may not converge in the voting process; cross-fertilization of ideas may be constrained; and the process may appear to be too mechanical…

In the articleNominal Group Technique” by Mycoted writes: Nominal group technique (NGT)’ is a structured from of ‘brainstorming’ or ‘brainwriting’, with up to 10 participants and an experienced facilitator. Various forms of the procedure can be undertaken, however, the classical form uses the following steps:

  • Anonymous generation of ideas in writing, begins with the facilitator stating the problem and giving the participants up to 10 minutes to jot down any initial ideas privately. The facilitator also writes down his own ideas.
  • Round-robin recording of ideas, allows each person in turn to read out one idea, which the facilitator writes up on a flip chart for all to view and numbered sequentially. This is repeated going around the groups until all ideas are exhausted and any duplicates are eliminated.
  • Serial discussion to clarify ideas and check communication is encouraged by the facilitator. Working through each ideas systematically asking for questions or comments with a view to developing a shared understanding of an idea.
  • Preliminary anonymous vote on item importance is usually carried out.
  • Further discussion and voting, takes place if the voting is not consistent. Steps can be repeated and any ideas that received votes will be re-discussed for clarification.

One major advantage of NGT is that it avoids two problems caused by group interaction: First, some members are reluctant to suggest ideas because they are concerned about being criticized. Second, some members are reluctant to create conflict in groups. NGT overcomes these problems.

NGT has the clear advantage of minimizing differences, ensuring relatively equal participation, and generally is very effective at producing large number of ideas, which often are not found in less-structured group methods. Major disadvantage of NGT are; the method lacks flexibility; conformity of the members; structure of the method; and the time required to prepare the activity.

Delphi Method and Nominal Group Technique:  Although the methods use different processes, the ultimate point of both methods is intelligent brainstorming. The Delphi Method “is effective in improving and clarifying the collective judgment of experts”. Any expert around the world can be included in the Delphi Method. The NGT technique on the other hand is “a structured method for group brainstorming that encourages contributions from everyone”. So either method can be used…

In the article “Prioritization Process Using Delphi Technique” by Alan Cline writes: The Delphi technique was developed by the RAND Corporation in the late 1960’s as a forecasting methodology. Later, the U.S. government enhanced it as a group decision-making tool, which established a factual basis for its workability.

Delphi is particularly appropriate when decision-making is required in a political or emotional environment, or when the decisions affect strong factions with opposing preferences. The participants (or panel) might be employees of a specific company or experts selected from the outside for their in-depth knowledge of a given academic discipline or manufacturing process.

In the original technique, no matter who they were or what their specialties, the experts were to be kept isolated from one another. Later elaborations of  the methods eased such restrictions when circumstances seemed to warrant it; indeed, in some cases the panels met in person in a highly structured conference setting.

The purposes of keeping them apart, or at least tightly structuring their communications, were to restrict undue influence that individuals may wield in group situations and, if necessary, to protect participants’ anonymity. The essential steps in a traditional anonymous Delphi study are as follows:

  • Articulate a problem.
  • Ask participants to provide potential solutions through a series of carefully designed questionnaires.
  • Participants complete the first questionnaire anonymously and independently.
  • The results of the first questionnaire are tabulated at a central location, transcribed, reproduced, and forwarded to each participant.
  • After reviewing the initial results, members submit new solutions.
  • They may make new estimates, and each round of results invariably triggers new resolutions.
  • The submission of new solutions based on reiterations of the questionnaire process is repeated until the participants reach a consensus.

Generally, three to four cycles of the process result in a consensus among the participants. There are several advantages to the Delphi technique; it can be used in a wide range of environments, e.g., government planning, business and industry predictions, volunteer group decisions; it protects participants’ anonymity and from criticism over their proposed solutions, and from the pitfalls of “groupthink”.

On the other hand, the technique has its drawbacks; it’s time consuming; it requires much thoughtfulness in preparing the resolutions. And, as with survey and other respondent-dependent research designs, the results are determined in large part by how they are framed and conducted…

In 1939, a team led by advertising executive Alex Osborn coined the term ‘brainstorm’. According to Osborn, “brainstorm means using the ‘brain to storm’ a creative problem and to do so in commando fashion, each ‘stormier’ audaciously attacking the same objective.”

Any and all ideas are considered legitimate and often the most far-fetched are the most fertile. Done right, the methods tap the human brain’s capacity for lateral thinking, associations, and consensus. The outcomes: Better decisions, Better implementation, and Better group relationships.

“Typically, these are NOT a democratic vote. Ultimately, the manager guides the group to a level of agreement and then the manager makes the decision. It is NOT made by the group, but WITH the group.”

Characteristics of World Class High Performing Organizations: These are Clock Builders rather than Time Tellers

“People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps” ~Mary Kay Ash

World class high performing organizations are built around vision, strategy, people (employees & customers), and leadership. All major policies, systems, and programs are rooted in market realities and customer priorities, and a deep recognition that employees are essential for success. Market realities and customer priorities determine the strategy the firm chooses and, in turn, the business strategy determines which core competencies and organizational culture are necessary.

Building a high performing organization requires planning and execution with the customers buying criteria (customer needs and expectations) as the basis to determine strategy, capabilities, and culture. The organization must be all about people and getting people (i.e., employees, customers, partners, and stakeholders) what they need, from skills and tools to information, authorization, and internal service; and provide them when and where they need it. Most important, the systems and practices must be strategically relevant in formulating business strategy around value creation for customers, appreciation of employees, and good citizenship in our communities.

In the article “What is a High-Performance Organization?” by Leigh Goessl writes:  So what exactly does ‘high-performance organization’ (HPO) mean? An HPO is an organization that concentrates on bringing out the best in people. An organization that positions itself to produce continous improvement and sustainable results. Defining characteristics:

  • People are Assets: Embraces a perception that their employees are assets.
  • Mobilize Teams: Cohesiveness and teamwork are an essential.
  • Integrates the Newest Technologies: Technology greatly enhances productivity.
  • Focuses on Growth and Development: Thrive on learning and advancement.
  • Goal Objectives: Dedicated to meeting and exceeding goals.
  • Oriented to Achieve: Dedicated to quality results and continuous improvement.

In the article “Sales Force Effectiveness: A ‘Street Level’ View of Sales Effectiveness in World-Class Organization” by Forum writes: ‘Management practices’ that are linked most closely to sales performance and play a pivotal role in the success of top performing organizations are:

  • Develops strategy for the sales team and their accounts.
  • Being a coach and providing regular feedback.
  • Creates a motivating environment.
  • Being accountable and providing support around disciplined sales process.

In an electronic survey of 391 salespeople and 557 customers from a cross section of industries, including business and professional services, health care, hospitality and retail, telecommunications and high technology. And, within these populations, selected 93 sales representatives and 130 customers who were involved in purchasing products or services costing $50,000 or more; which represented a ‘complex buying/selling process’ that required the salesperson to apply consultative selling skills. This study provided a unique, ‘street-level’ perspective on factors that lead to an effective organization, specifically:

  • Demonstrating unique value. Sales forces’ greatest common challenge is differentiating their offerings and adding value. Sales managers can improve their results by paying more attention to communicating the company’s sales strategy and providing coaching and direction in how to demonstrate distinct value in every part of the sales process.
  • Focusing on the customer. Customers value service quality as much as the products and services they buy. Most salespeople seem to have a good understanding of the customer’s viewpoint, although they tend to overestimate the value of advice and information.
  • Improving sales manager capabilities. Salespeople who view their managers as most helpful in facilitating their sales performance give them high marks in four aspects of leadership: Strategizing, coaching, motivating and providing training, and support around sales process.

In the article “Best Practices of High-Performing Organizations” by Colleen Stanley writes:  The best organizations emulate top athletic teams; they have a playbook and practice. Phil Knight, founder of Nike, said it best: “You must act world-class before you become world-class.”  These organizations also are excellent at sharing daily success stories.  For example, one sales manager makes it part of his weekly sales-management activity plan to recognize members of his team for executing a specific sales skill, hitting the activity quota and, of course, closing business.

The result is a jazzed sales team that’s winning business… The sales team lives by the slogan, “manage results, not excuses.” Salespeople on these teams score high in interpersonal skills and empathy. They truly know how to walk a mile in their customers’ and colleagues’ shoes. These teams are good at sitting on the other side of the desk and figuring out what’s of highest value for the customer. They turn off the WIFM (What’s In It For Me) channel and turn on the WIFY (What’s In It For You) one…

In the article “The Best Practices of High Performing Sales Teams: Effective Sales Coaching” by Steve Andersen writes: Sales managers are told to ‘get out there and coach,’ yet most aren’t being provided with the ‘how to’ that is needed to effectuate field sales coaching. Field sales coaching is an essential management discipline for high performing sales teams, and let’s be clear that this does not mean or imply that only sales managers serve as coaches: some of the most effective sales coaching can occur when peers, colleagues or non-reporting managers engage with salespeople and create value for them ‘in the moment’ by listening, assessing and coaching.

But an expectation of field sales coaching must be ‘front and center’ in the role definitions and job descriptions of today’s sales managers, and this expectation should be supported by opportunities for training in field sales coaching best practices. Those organizations that ‘raise the bar’ by re-defining the role of the sales manager to include proactive sales coaching (and then equip and enable their managers accordingly) can expect to realize increased sales productivity, more consistent sales execution and competitive advantage within their markets.

In the article “Building a High Performance Organization” by Joel Shapiro writes: It is not a coincidence that high performance organizations remain competitive through successive generations of leadership. It is by design—their leaders build their organizations for adaptation, innovation, and lasting success. The implementation rules are summarized as follows:

  • Selection: If you are not hiring the right people for your organization, you can triple your investment in training and still not get the results you desire.
  • Measurement: If you are not measuring the right things, your people will be looking in the wrong direction.
  • Rewards: If reward and recognition programs are not aligned with your vision and strategy, you will be rewarding your employees to strive for the wrong goals.
  • Structure: If organizational structure restricts customer contact, your employees will not understand customer needs, and they will make poor decisions and customer service will suffer.
  • Alignment: You can invest in a world-class teamwork training program, but if you still bonus people for individual achievement, you will neutralize your entire training effort.

The bottom line is simple: align human resource and management practices with your mission, vision, and strategy. Use these practices pro-actively and strategically to build, reinforce, and sustain a high performing organization. We know that culture has a huge impact on the bottom line and on an organization’s competitiveness. To have a positive long-term impact, an organization’s culture must:

  • Be strong and unified.
  • Fit its strategy.
  • Be adaptive to an ever-changing world.

Michelle Darling got it right when she said; “the rate of learning by individuals, teams, and the company as a whole must meet or exceed the pace of change in the external environment”.  In the words of Arie de Geus; “the ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage”. Yet most companies create huge bureaucracies that hinder learning, change, and adaptive behavior. Many companies fail because they do not pro-actively build a drive for progress and innovation into their cultures. This is obviously not intentional. They simply haven’t stopped to think it through or make the necessary changes. Their oversight can be your opportunity. Culture matters!

In the book “Built to Last” by Collins and Porras they use the metaphor: We have to be ‘clock builders’ rather than ‘time tellers’.  They write: Having a great idea or being a charismatic visionary leader is ‘time telling’; building a company that can prosper far beyond the presence of any single leader and through multiple product life cycles is ‘clock building’… The builders of visionary companies tend to be clock builders, not time tellers. They concentrate primarily on building an organization—building a ticking clock—rather than on hitting a market just right with a visionary product idea and riding the growth curve of an attractive product life cycle.

And instead of concentrating on acquiring the individual personality traits of visionary leadership, they take an architectural approach and concentrate on building the organizational traits of visionary companies. The primary output of their efforts is not the tangible implementation of a great idea, the expression of a charismatic personality, the gratification of their ego, or the accumulation of personal wealth. Their greatest creation is the company itself and what it stands for… The continual stream of great products and services and individuals from highly visionary companies stems from them being an outstanding organization, not the other way around… Once you make the shift from time telling to clock building, most of what’s required to build a visionary company can be learned.”

It is not enough to be able to ‘tell the time’ accurately: Great leaders build world class high-performing organizations that ‘build clocks’ that can tell the time consistently; over and over again, well into the future.