Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Art of Being Thankful

 

Thanksgiving is upon us and countless families will gather around a table overloaded with turkey and all the trimmings, and one by one, state those things for which they are thankful. Some will express their gratitude for family or health, while others will give thanks for professional or personal success. Regardless, it’s a holiday that encourages us to reflect and be grateful for what we have (or in some cases, don’t have). It’s also the only day of the year where giving thanks is heavily promoted, encouraged and celebrated.

Why wait until Thanksgiving to give thanks? Being thankful is something we should aspire to do each and every day. It’s not as if there aren’t many things for which we can be thankful. Perhaps your spouse hands you the butter knife at the dinner table, or at a work meeting where you forgot to bring a pen, a colleague lends you one. Many times throughout each and every day, we’re presented with opportunities to express our gratitude for something that someone else did. You never know how much “Thank you” will brighten someone’s day.

It’s easy to say thank you when you:

  1. Receive a gift
  2. Land a significant client
  3. Get the job offer
  4. Hear people say “congratulations” to you

Other, less obvious, but just as worthy “thank you” moments include:

  1. Someone, either directly or indirectly, says they believe in you
  2. You feel inspired by something you’ve read, or after a chat you had with another person
  3. Hearing words of encouragement when you’re having “one of those days”
  4. The muse strikes as a result of a conversation you have with another person
  5. Being let go from a company on the verge of it folding and subsequently having an epiphany about what truly inspires you
  6. Prospects that say “No”, since we learn more from our failures than successes
  7. Receiving feedback from colleagues, clients, prospects or managers that redirects your efforts

While there are seemingly endless “thank you” moments, the gist of this post is to say that we should all be willing to express our thankfulness.

I get it. It can be hard to say “thank you” to someone when things go awry. You might need time to pass to fully appreciate the situation and how it ultimately helps you. Having the humility to give thanks when any of the more difficult situations arise makes us stronger. It gives us courage and hardens our resolve to see things through. So, for me, having experienced each of the seven moments listed above, I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

#artofbeingthankful

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How To Use Power Questions To Boost New Business

 

 

 

 

 

Why?

As a parent, I’ve heard this simple, yet powerful, question countless times from my three kids. It’s effective as it forces me to answer, lest they continue to barrage me with follow-up “Why” questions. I have to give more than a “Yes” or “No” response. I also have to provide information explaining my answer. Whether it’s the answer they want or not, my kids will continue to probe. They want to uncover my real objection or position, so they can try to overcome it or change my views. It’s no wonder that the axiom, “Kids make the best salespeople” is not just a catchy phrase, it’s also completely true. My kids, like so many others, are master intelligence operatives.

The same principles hold true in business. Questions are used to obtain critical information to learn what to do, how to do it, when to do it and most importantly, why to do it. Whether it’s acquiring another company, considering enterprise software updates or crafting the company’s long-term strategy, questions play a key role in a company’s ongoing viability.

The right questions get us the information we need to make smart decisions and plot the course forward. This is especially true for marketing and business development professionals. Uncovering prospect needs is a key success factor in the sales process. When you don’t ask the types of questions that elicit the right answers (information), it’s difficult to create value for the prospect. If you can’t demonstrate value, the risk of not getting the sale increases. As I summarized in a previous post discussing the concept of selling Benefits vs. Features, Value = New Business.

Finding value when conversing with prospects is about asking the right types of questions. Closed-end questions that allow prospect to answer with “Yes” or “No” won’t cut it. Open-end questions (also known as “power questions”) are thought provoking and result in key details that facilitate the sales process. One important, albeit basic, thing to remember: when you’ve asked a power question, stop talking, listen and take notes. This does two things: (1) shows the other party that you’re actually interested in what they have to say and (2) helps you remember important details later.

To get the information you need to build value and new business, ask power questions that:

  1. Make them think before responding. Like the above example with my kids, when you ask questions that don’t encourage only “Yes” or “No” answers, you’ll obtain the information you need.
  1. Qualify needs. If you can’t uncover a prospect’s needs, it’ll be hard to create value that entices them to move forward.
  1. Compels your client or prospect to consider new information. By making them evaluate other details (downstream impacts, other possible stakeholders, etc.), you’re demonstrating value…the kind that comes from experience.
  1. Focus on personal and company goals. One of the best ways to add value is by helping the decision maker, and their company, meet goals.
  1. Distance your company from the competition, not tie them together through comparison. Power questions allow you to cleverly highlight how your products and services add value by identifying their unique value, while indirectly illustrating the competition’s shortcomings.
  1. Touch on improved operating efficiency, productivity, revenue and cost savings. Asking power questions with this focus will allow you to simultaneously uncover needs and the product or service benefits (not features) they’ll find most valuable.

While there are countless examples of power questions that should be asked, for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on a few. An important note: ask questions from a positive perspective.

For example, don’t ask something like, “What don’t you like about …”.

Reframe it as, “What would you change about…?”.

The first question will only elicit a negative reply. However, the second example prompts the other person to think about how they’d change things for the better. It’s a slight difference in wording, but a powerful difference in the tone and result.

Below are examples of a few power questions you can ask (and a few non-power questions that you shouldn’t ask). I have the financial services industry in mind for my sample questions, though as you can see, they are easily adaptable to other industries.

Ask This: To what extent is outsourcing a part of your company’s business model?

Not This: Does your firm do any outsourcing?

 

Ask This: What’s been your experience with accounting platforms like (insert service provider names)?

Not This: What accounting platforms do you currently use?

 

Ask This: How does your firm determine which trading or reporting systems to use?

Not This: Do you use (insert service provider)?

 

Ask This: What is one thing you’d change about previous system implementations?

Not This: Are you satisfied with previous system implementations?

 

Ask This: What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of a new product or software implementation?

Not This: What usually goes wrong during an implementation?

 

Ask This: To what extent does a new client improve profitability?

Not This: Is a new client worth a lot to your company?

 

Ask This: In what ways have regulatory or client initiatives influenced project decision-making?

Not This: Do business needs change project decision-making?

 

Ask This: What makes your firm choose one product over another?

Not This: What would it take to get your business?

 

Ask This: How will the decision be made?

Not This: Are you the person that makes the decision?

In the movie, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Indiana Jones is told by a centuries-old knight to choose the cup from which he will drink water from the fountain of youth. After a brief, but harried deliberation, Indy chooses a cup and gulps down the water. The Knight looks at him and says, “You have chosen…wisely.” The same applies to the questions you ask client and prospects.

Ask (wisely) and you shall receive.

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Filed under business development, Client Relationships

Rock The Vote: Getting Constituent (Customer) Feedback

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is Election Day, and across America, people from a wide swath of life and experiences will cast their votes for an array of candidates and ballot initiatives. This process will unfold in big cities and small towns alike, all with a singular purpose: giving constituents the opportunity to voice their individual opinions. In some cases, the feedback will result in significant, wholesale changes; while in others, voting results will reaffirm an existing direction. Nevertheless, the premise is the same: getting constituent feedback to plot the course forward.

This scenario can, and should, play out in the corporate setting. Companies should welcome the opportunity to get constituent (customer) feedback, and seek it out on a regular basis. Too often, business gets in the way, and customer input isn’t received until it’s too late to do anything about it. Smart organizations recognize the value of getting feedback about the products and services their customers are using. Listening to what your customers have to say isn’t a one-shot task; rather, it’s a fluid, ongoing process that incorporates multiple business groups and client segments.

Should your company ask for customer feedback? In a word, yes. When companies create a business plan, an important part of the plan is a comprehensive competitive analysis. This is critical in understanding the company’s position in the marketplace. To accurately compete this process, a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) should be conducted. Asking for, and receiving, customer feedback on a regular basis has many benefits that, together, resemble a SWOT matrix. These include:

Strengths (What Works Well)

Everyone wants to hear that someone else thinks they are (insert superlative). Companies are no different. Getting customer feedback helps companies understand how their product or services add value. Knowing why customers are staunch advocates for your products or services is invaluable competitive information. Get it, and use it to your advantage to crush the competition.

Weaknesses (What Could Be Better)

It’s been said that when people have a bad product or service experience, they will tell ten other people about it. While this describes individual consumer behavior, it also has meaning in the corporate world. By actively seeking customer feedback, companies will uncover product or service issues that clients are experiencing. Understanding and improving the customer experience is not optional. Customers want to know that their voices are heard. Ignore them at your own peril.

Opportunities

Who knows industry trends better than your customers? If your customers are investment firms, then you know that they operate in a heavily regulated environment that requires them to anticipate change. Obtaining regular feedback from these firms will help your company stay abreast of industry trends. Using customer feedback to anticipate future needs and then design practical solutions opens the door of opportunity. If it knocks, will your company be there to answer?

Threats

Whereas customer feedback helps companies pinpoint opportunity, it also identifies threats. These are threats that could challenge the future viability and success of your company, such as:

  • Changing regulations that could render your company’s flagship products and services obsolete
  • New competitive forces that may arise where competition was previously scarce
  • Industry trends that would adversely impact your company’s operations (i.e. reduced demand for outsourcing)

Getting customer feedback will help your company identify potential threats before they arrive. Adaptation is a key to the longevity and staying power of companies. Adapt, improvise and overcome.

Strategic Roadmap

Roadmap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Companies create and follow a strategic roadmap that guides all business functions, including product development, marketing, sales, operations and finance, among others. To build a flexible, scalable strategic roadmap, companies often solicit customer feedback. For a company providing analytics software to the investment industry, obtaining insight from customers about current/future needs is invaluable. The feedback may help prioritize product development objectives (if enough customers, or the biggest customers, are asking for something to solve pain points), along with sales and marketing efforts. If your clients are willing to give you a blueprint to follow, why not follow it?

There are several ways for companies to obtain customer feedback that are well known, though often under-utilized:

  • Formal client surveys (email, newsletters, tools like SurveyMonkey)
  • Online and print polls
  • Social media interaction and engagement (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter)
  • Information gathering through business development processes

Regardless of the method, companies need to get regular, open feedback from customers. Don’t be afraid to ask clients to give you their honest opinions. They’ll appreciate you asking for their input, and you’ll get invaluable information about how to keep them as a customer.

Ask and you shall receive.

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Filed under Client Relationships, Small Business