Everyday you face something that can seriously impact the success of your business and you probably give it little thought.
Everyday you face something that can seriously impact the success of your business and you probably give it little thought.
Last week, I presented to one of my clients. I worked with this client regularly throughout last year, helping her create and deliver her strategy for the long-term growth and expansion of her business. The result has been a doubling of revenue generated, a doubling in the number of employees and a more than doubling in the value of the business to eight figures.
This fast growth, understandably, hasn’t been without its challenges and seeing my client and her management team at the start of this year, I saw the Christmas break being quickly forgotten, stress levels rising and people becoming more reactive.
I felt they needed to step back out of the business and so I presented an overview of the 2014 plan that we’d put together to remind them of where the focus will be and how this will help the business consolidate and stay on course. Looking at the wood and not just the trees and being reminded of their vision, I saw people relax a little and kind of reset.
I also presented what had been achieved the previous year. This time, I saw faces light up, I saw smiles, I heard whispers and I felt the room start to buzz. They knew they’d achieved a huge amount, but seeing the milestones that they’d hit through the year presented on one slide, really brought it home. I told them to give themselves a break and take a moment to think about and be proud of what they’ve achieved. The moment actually turned into about 10 minutes of talking as they remembered all that they had done and the positive changes in the organisation.
My client didn’t know what I was going to present but trusted me when I asked for 40 minutes of their time and said I thought it would be worth it. Afterwards, she thanked me for dragging her and her people out of the business and told me that she felt like everything had re-focused, that she was back in control and that she was excited again.
The renewed energy didn’t just come from showing the way forward; it also came from showing them what they’d achieved. If you haven’t done so, take some time out and look at what you achieved in 2013. If you’re part of a team, present your successes to them. If you don’t have any employees then still do it and give yourself a pat on the back. It really will help you face the challenges ahead.
I’ve done it, I’m proud of what I achieved in 2013 and, with my plan in place and my mind set right, like my client, I know that this year is going to be even better.
Is you communication clear and well understood or do you suffer from the curse of knowledge?
Most mornings, when I listen to an interview on the Today programme on Radio 4, I hear one of the team, like John Humphries or Sarah Montague, stop an interview in order to clarify an acronym that the interviewee has used.
I’m sure we’ve all done it many times, especially when talking about our work. For 20 years I worked in the electronics industry and once when my fiancée asked me about my early career I told her that for a time I was an FAE.
“A Field Application Engineer.”
It threw me for a second when she stopped me to ask what ‘FAE’ stood for and doubly so when I had to explain what a Field Application Engineer is. I was suffering from the “curse of Knowledge”; I’d spent so many years with people who knew what an FAE was that I used the acronym again without consideration for the knowledge and experience of the person listening.
But at least she asked…if she hadn’t I’d have lost her attention and interest whilst she thought about what the acronym meant and whether she’d look and feel dumb by asking. (Don’t feel bad for her; she’s an expert in her field and sometimes suffers the same affliction…or is she just getting her own back?…hmmmm.)
I read about the curse of knowledge in a book called “The Art of Explanation” by Lee LeFever. The idea being that when we know a subject so well we struggle to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Our depth of knowledge on a particular subject “interferes with our ability to see the world from another person’s perspective and gauge their confidence level accurately.” (LeFever.)
I’m sure you can recall a many occasions when your explanation has been met with blank stares. It can be a little frustrating when trying to help your son or daughter with their homework but when you’re trying to explain your solution to a potential customer it can turn them off and seriously impact your business.
Because of the curse of knowledge:
• The CEO of a technology company which has developed some amazing disruptive technology that could save prospects many thousands of pounds, may feel the frustration of not winning the contract because the prospect didn’t ‘get it’.
• The doctor or care provider may struggle to receive the consent needed to give the care required because their explanation wasn’t clear and didn’t reassure the relatives that this was the best option.
• The principal of a college may not get the intake of students or the support of the community she needs because they don’t see her vision or how her college can contribute to the prosperity of that community.
Are you getting your message across or are you suffering from the curse of knowledge? Are the benefits that you’re communicating clear and easily understood, not by you, but by those you’re talking to?
Review all of your communication and make sure that, if you were in their shoes and listening to, reading or watching, any of your messages, you would ‘get it’too.
Have you suffered from the curse of knowledge recently?
Image courtesy: Foxinflight.com
Being clear when it comes to talking about your business and your products and services is pretty obvious, but it’s amazing how badly it is done. Clarity is vital, especially as we’re surrounded the fog and noise of 21st century communication and information.
Recently a politician explained that the reason why MPs rebelled against legislation that he was pushing, was because they didn’t understand it. He made it sound like it was their fault for not understanding rather than his for not explaining it well enough.
If your explanation isn’t understood then that’s your fault. Not being understood by, say a child, can be frustrating. Not being understood within your business can be very damaging.
Investment can be won or lost, your people can be on board or not, your audience can be hanging on every word or sound asleep and your prospects can be happy to part with their money for what you offer or walk away.
As leader of your company, organisation or group, clarity needs to be present in all areas, from your thoughts to your actions and of course your communications.
Step back and check all your communication. Is it clear enough? Will someone without your knowledge and experience understand the message you’re trying to get across? Can you deliver this message without losing its meaning, without diluting its importance? As Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
What techniques do you use to ensure your message is getting across?
If you have empathy you can wear someone else’s shoes. If you wear others’ shoes you can build stronger relationships and can communicate better because you can think more like them.
Your biggest asset is your people and having empathy means you connect with them better, understand their challenges and encourage them to talk to you about their ideas… you’ll bring out the best in them.
Your second biggest asset is your products or services. You have brilliant products or services that could make a huge difference to a person or a business. If only your prospects understood, if only they ‘got it’ as much as you do. So who’s shoes should you be wearing now?
The best way to have your prospects or customers understand and appreciate the benefits of your offering to them, is to put yourself in their shoes. If you were in their shoes, what would you want to hear that would make it a no-brainer for you to purchase that product or service? This is the starting point for your marketing.
Have empathy and walk in the shoes of others. You will be a far stronger leader and more successful for it.
You know how to speak to prospects and customers, how to build relationships, provide the information they need and show that you can meet their needs.
But what about your people?
Who in your business, whether on the phone or by email, could potentially speak to a customer? If you don’t know or haven’t checked that they speak to prospects and customers as you would then you may be losing business without knowing.
Here are a couple of examples to illustrate my point.
Two different small businesses have lost business recently…mine. In both cases I walked away because of a frustrating experience with someone who worked there.
One was a graphic design and print outfit who created something that wasn’t particularly good. I asked for some changes via email and the designer (not the owner or manager) replied using exclamation marks.
Using exclamation marks is the equivalent of shouting which killed any relationship building and I found another to do the work. I have now used this second company for a number of jobs and spent thousands of pounds which could have gone to the first company.
The other business that l walked away from was an IT company whom I asked a series of questions by email with regards to the hosting of a new web site. I specifically asked that they answer my questions because they came from my web developer and with these specific answers we could decide the best way to host this site and whether to use them or not.
This email went to the business owner who immediately passed it to an engineer to respond. The engineer said I could have whatever I wanted, threw a load of jargon at me and gave a monthly hosting price. He didn’t answer a single question directly and gave me nothing that I could do a comparison with. It was quite an easy solution to not go with them.
Whoever can answer the phone with an outside line, receive and send emails, network or even bump into someone who might be interested in your products or services can potentially lose you business without you ever knowing. And what if it’s a new prospect that could have turned out to be one of your best customers?
Make sure your people can talk to prospects and customers, can extol your vision and the benefits your company offers just as well as you can. Provide training if necessary.
No only will it help you keep your current customers happy but might just win you new customers and lucrative new contracts to boot.
What is the purpose of your business? Why does it exist? How does it benefit others?
When I ask I‘m usually met with a blank faces followed by explanations of what their business does.
As a noun it is the reason for which something exists. As a verb it is an object or result towards which one strives.
Even if the purpose of your business appears obvious it’s worth spending some time to define it. Why? Because no matter how your company evolves over the years it’s the one constant that will never change. It will be there to remind you why you began this journey and where you’re heading.
You can view your purpose as the soul of your company or as a light that guides you and keeps you on the course you originally set out on.
A clearly defined purpose will keep you and your people focused. It will essentially bring everyone together for a common purpose.
When people understand better why the company they work for exists, they feel a part of that core purpose and know better how they contribute to that purpose and to the company’s success. So many good things come out of this.
From your core purpose, your vision, mission and values are formed and from them your goals and objectives. When the dots are connected in this way a company is more productive, more effective and more likely to stand-out in its crowd and enjoy long-term success.
Have you ever been in a situation where someone is explaining something to you and you’re just not seeing it…that light bulb just isn’t going on? (If this has never happened to you, check out quantum physics.) People are stimulated through different mediums. I’m not great at understanding a concept that is aurally described to me (ask my accountant) but do pretty well if it’s written down.
You may see things clearly but others need it presented in a different way in order to join the dots and for that light bulb to burn brightly.
I’ve been looking at my messages and have been refining and testing them and have now created a new process which breaks the 4 strategic planning phases into 7 steps. The positive feedback I’ve had from those I’ve shown shows that this paints a much clearer picture of why strategic planning is vital and how to get it right. This process will become central to the help I give from now on.
When was the last time you looked at your messages and considered if there may be a better way to communicate them to customers and prospects? Have you lost opportunities or possibly not captured as much customer value as you may have done because the prospect or customer didn’t fully appreciate all you could do for them?
If you’re in Q4 of your annual cycle you should be assessing where you are now (step 1) and identifying your strengths and weaknesses before forming new ideas and goals to make your next year more successful than this one. As part of this exercise, take a long hard look at your messages and make sure your customers and prospects really do understand why they should engage with you and why their business will be better for doing so.
Every day we instinctively make decisions. If we didn’t, then we and those around us would grind to a halt. If we couldn’t decide what to eat we would go hungry. If we couldn’t decide what to wear we wouldn’t get dressed. If we sat in our car not able to decide which way to turn at a junction we would never reach our destination (and you would inevitably create a jam and become pretty unpopular).
If you make a wrong decision you may get stomach ache, get questioned about your dress sense or make a wrong turn and need to turn around. Nothing drastic but its clear that making the wrong decision is preferable to making no decision at all. And yes, these are trivial examples in order to make a point.
As subjects become more important and decisions more difficult the question of which is worse – no decision or the wrong decision? – becomes more prevalent. Making the wrong decisions, be they personal, business, political, can have dire consequences. But would making no decision be better?
Take politics…right now it appears that the European political leaders don’t know what to do about the Euro crisis and those countries that cannot pay their debts. They appear to procrastinate whilst the situation gets worse but one thing is certain, if they do nothing then this house of cards will collapse all around them and who knows where this will leave Europe and the rest of the world. Doing something has to be better than doing nothing.
When in 2008 Alistair Darling sat on the decision to suspend stamp duty the sales of houses plummeted and the already stricken property market arguably worsened as everyone waited for him to make a decision.
We can all think of many examples (including I’m sure in our own lives) of situations made far worse when no decision was made over the wrong decision. A wrong decision may be damaging but at least it is a decision that you can learn from and would more likely be better than making no decision at all.
In your business you have to make decisions. If you don’t, situations will deteriorate and your people and partners will lose confidence in you. If you make what turns out to be the wrong decision but can demonstrate good reasons for making it then your business may hurt for a while, but you will learn from the experience, your people and partners will in the main understand and appreciate a decision had to be made and you can always do something to rectify it. Strong leaders are those who can admit they made a mistake. Strong leaders are not those who cannot make a decision for fear of making the wrong one.
Today, in your business, are there decisions you need to make that you’ve been putting off? If so, then take time out, weigh up the pros and cons, talk to others if you need to and make a decision.
Whether it turns out to be right or wrong you’ll feel better for making it than you will if you sit on it.
What tough decisions have you had to make recently?
Have you ever experienced the moment when you’re sure you’ve thought of everything, covered all the bases and checked from every angle only to have someone make a comment that just hadn’t occurred to you? If you answer “no”, think about past relationships, I bet there’s an example there somewhere.
For example, in business, when it comes to simply naming a product, huge amounts of money are spent by large manufacturers to check what the name of their new product may mean in other countries. A classic example of not getting this right is the Vauxhall Nova car, which apparently failed in Spain because “nova” means “It doesn’t go” in Spanish.
No one person can think of everything, which can a problem for small businesses comprising one or two people. You are so involved in your business that as time goes on you can become blind to what others may see. Always seek the opinion of others. Have a group of confidants that you trust and who you know will give you their honest opinion and not just say it’s brilliant because you’re family.
For larger organisations, the same problem may arise as employees tell the CEO what he wants to hear because they fear saying anything else could be detrimental to their career. The best leaders are the ones who know they don’t know everything and who welcome the differing opinion of others because they know their company will be stronger for it.
I am lucky to have a close group of people who support me and are happy to check stuff I’m doing and offer their honest opinions. They all help me refine what I am developing and to them I am eternally grateful. One in particular makes me think long and hard when I ask his opinion. He’s one of the smartest people I know and will come up with thoughts that kick-off long debates. If I don’t agree with him, the debates will continue until one of us sees the other’s point of view. It can be exhausting, frustrating and demoralizing, but it is ultimately the best exercise for me in order to have the confidence that I have created something that will be of worth to others. Thanks Phil.
For major decisions it could be well worth seeking the views of someone who has no relationship to you but has experience and knowledge of the industry. Paying for this kind of professional, objective opinion is an investment that could save a lot of wasted effort, time and cost.
Where do cows come into this? This post was triggered from a conversation I had with a near neighbour a few days ago. We bumped into each other early one morning when walking our dogs and had a rare 10 minute chat. She told me that she would soon be losing her job and was thinking of starting her own business. We talked it through and she said she was going to have a look at my site.
In case she hadn’t remembered the name, I told her “Anchorage” and she said “Yes, I remember…cows.” “Excuse me? Cows?” “Yes, cows…milk…butter…Anchor butter…Anchorage.” I burst out laughing and said, “No…stability in the tumultuous ocean of business.” “Oh…I straight away thought of butter and pictured a field of cows.” We chuckled some more and I told her she’d made my day.
Apart from the city in Alaska I only thought of a ship’s anchor and how apt the name was for the products and services I offer. Cows?…Never occurred to me.
Have you been so sure of something only to have someone come up with a view-point that hadn’t occurred to you?