Vol. 10, No. 5 – April 05, 2010

April 5, 2010


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Sales And The Titanic Factor

The Titanic sank because it hit an iceberg, but contributing to the sinking were two crucial elements: the 90 per cent factor, and a bad assumption. That’s an argument made by sales consultant Jill Harrington, on the Selling To Big Companies blog, and she warns the same two elements can sink your sales initiatives.

The 90 per cent factor refers to the iceberg mass lying below the water line, and out of sight. In selling, Harrington says the 90 per cent that can crush your hull is information beyond the “stated needs” that your clients volunteer and the “traditional facts” you gather. “The 90% is information that the customer doesn’t immediately think to share until your powerful questions bring it to the surface,” she writes. Some examples:

  • The meaning and implications of the facts from the client’s point of view
  • The “informal” influences on this specific buying decision
  • The buyers’ disposition to you and to your competition
  • This purchasing decision in the context of bigger corporate priorities

But even with all the facts, you also have to beware you don’t make false assumptions. The Titanic’s owners assumed it was unsinkable, and so there were insufficient lifeboats. We make assumptions in sales when we listen selectively, ask biased questions, fail to accept information that doesn’t justify our assumptions, and focus on the wrong opportunities. “Shift from a place of ‘knowing’ to a place of ‘curiosity’ so that you don’t send your sales results to the bottom of the ocean,” she concludes.

2. Changing The Event-Reaction-Outcome Pattern

About five years ago, consultant Peter Bregman took on a new client for whom he had an instant disliking. The leader he met, whom he calls Hunter, began their initial meeting with an off-putting comment: “There have been several consultants before you and there will be several more after you. If you think you’re going to change the way we do things here, well, you’re mistaken.”

Bregman was going to pass on the client engagement until his uncle, a successful businessman, noted he didn’t have to like the guy but just needed to do business with him. The deeper message, Bregman explains on Harvard Business Review blogs, was that he was succumbing to a habit that costs many of us tremendous opportunities: Our reaction to an event creates an unproductive outcome. Think of it as event-reaction-outcome. “The event was that Hunter told me I wouldn’t be effective. My reaction was to dislike Hunter and avoid working with him. The outcome would have been the loss of that client,” he notes.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can focus on the outcome, and then choose your reaction. Bregman wanted to grow his business, so he let that guide his reaction.

If someone snubs you, take control. “When an unsettling event occurs, pause before reacting. In that pause, ask yourself a single question: What is the outcome I want? Then, instead of reacting to the event, react to the outcome,” he urges.

3. Tell A Great Story

The traditional advice in presentations is to open by telling the audience what you are going to say, then say it, and then conclude by telling them what you said. But consultant Randall Craig, on his Make It Happen Tipsheet, says that approach leads to a stultifying presentation and a bored audience.

Just as, in the previous item, Peter Bregman told a story that led to his advice, you need to first tell a story and then connect it to one of your key points. Observes Craig: “Story-telling is effective because it elicits an emotional response. Think about the best speakers you know: They usually will speak to your head, and also your heart. (And then bridge their story to the point).”

And that applies to business presentations, where your passion for your subject will be taken as an indicator of its importance.

4. Leaders As Coaches

Today’s leaders must be coaches, helping staff to improve performance. In Executive Excellence, consultant Bob Schwieterman points out there are four modes you need to employ to be effective:

  • Advocacy: Share your thoughts, experiences, facts, and feelings that support your viewpoint.
  • Inquiry: Ask genuine questions to develop an understanding of a staff member’s point of view.
  • Listening: Show understanding following your inquiry.
  • Feedback: Provide clear messages about the impact of your staff member’s behaviour.

Often, faced with a time crunch, managers don’t have the time to use all four modes in conversations. Schwieterman counters: If you are not ready to devote your full attention to a staff member, postpone the coaching conversation until you can.

5. Zingers

  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed (or more overwhelmed than usual), decide that you will not say “yes” to any new requests this week and decline politely. (Source: Zen Habits blog)
  • Unemployment may plague your web site as well as individuals seeking a job. Marketing consultant Ardath Albee uses the term unemployed for copy that loiters on your web site without any clear goals or ambition, such as information that piques a reader’s interest but offers no obvious way to learn more or take action. (Source: Get To The Point newsletter)
  • Want to generate innovative ideas? Sit down with a pad and paper — or an open computer file — and list the first 20 inspirations that arise, advises blogger Ali Hale. Then reject the first 10, since they’ll almost always be normal and bland. You have to get through those easy ideas in order to be really creative. (Source: Dumb Little Man)
  • Most of us have a passing familiarity with Google Alerts, which allows us to receive a notification from Google when certain key words or phrases appear anywhere on the Web. You probably have a Google alert on your name and your company, to monitor what’s being said about you. But marketing consultant Sara Mannix says you should also be using Google to track your competitors, maintaining alerts on your competitors and their top executives. (Source: technology.inc.com)
  • When people are quick to bring up reasons why a new idea won’t work, ask them a simple question: How will you solve the challenges you raise? It’s easy to point out why something won’t work but more important to figure out how stuff can work. (Source: The Business Evolutionist)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:
Stakeholder Engagement

Question: We hear a lot about “stakeholder engagement”. When is it worth the effort?

8020Info President and CEO Rob Wood replies:

Stakeholder engagement can take many forms, from facilitated focus groups, one-on-one interviews and “town hall” consultations to online surveys, ordinary phone calls, planning meetings and more involved collaborative ventures. Each method achieves different results. And they can engage different groups: clients/customers; staff; management; partners; or various types of neighbours, regulators or funders.

Here are five situations where stakeholder engagement can make a lot of sense:

  • Design Projects: for instance, when you need to consult a decentralized network of offices to implement a new centralized system or policy.
  • Research: when the stakeholder group has information you need to make a wise decision.
  • Regulatory Needs: you may be required to consult with stakeholders by law (or tradition).
  • Partnerships: where you need to build relationships for a coordinated effort of some kind.
  • Change: when you need “buy-in” from the stakeholder group(s), a sense of ownership and motivation for implementing a change that may feel uncomfortable at first.

Some factors that may discourage you from actively pursing stakeholder engagement include:

  • Practical constraints: lack of time, money, expertise or available resources.
  • Stakeholders who can’t/won’t engage: for example, when a group lacks the ability, knowledge, or experience to engage in a meaningful way, or has no incentive to participate.
  • Conflicting interests: stakeholder groups may not trust you as a result of past history or have competitive interests that make it difficult for them to participate in good faith.

A careful, balanced review of the costs and benefits of stakeholder engagement will help ensure you pursue the appropriate course of action.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:
Welcome to Michelle Godin

Over the years, 8020Info has benefitted in many ways from its long association with St. Lawrence College, not the least being the talents and skills of its graduates. Ellen Bruce, Chantal Borst and Alison Sortberg all came to our practice after stand-out accomplishments as students at the College. Last month Michelle Godin joined our team on a six-week internship.

Michelle has a background in English and Psychology from Nipissing University along with skills honed in the Advertising and Integrated Marketing Communications Program at St. Lawrence. She’s been a competitor in the Ontario Colleges Marketing Competition and developed event planning skills as the Marketing Chair of the College’s annual PD Conference. She also brings a passion for language and media to her role as well as the self-discipline of her long-time involvement as a gymnastics coach.

In just two weeks, Michelle has already been actively involved in six client projects. It’s a pleasure to introduce Michelle to you — and welcome her to 8020Info.

8. Closing Thought                                                                 Top

“Knowledge is power only if a man knows what facts not to bother about.”

— Robert Lynd