Friday 10 May 2013

Are you (really) listening to me?

It’s a busy old world, and we are bombarded with so much information coming from many channels of communication. Much of this is one-way and we are just passive recipients. We are ‘talked at’ and it’s hit and miss whether we actually listen to and act on what we see and hear.

And that’s a very big problem, especially when you are actually speaking with someone.

I’m sure you’ve all met someone who can’t wait to talk about themselves and what they do. When you talk, they seem to tune out and if you say you’ve done something, they’ve done something similar or usually better. This maybe because they want to appear superior, or it could be because they haven’t learned how to listen.

With these people, it’s difficult to get a word in and after a while you tune out and just let them get on with it. You take little if any notice of what they are saying, and you take your leave as soon as you can. These are very irritating and boring people!

In selling there is no greater asset than listening 
Listening is the way you learn what challenges the buyer faces, and it’s how you uncover their needs and motivations to buy. But many salespeople still believe that telling their story to as many people as possible is what it takes to succeed. Where you directly interact with people in a sales situation, listening should be your number one priority.

Asking questions is the precursor to listening 
The best way to start a conversation is by asking a question. This will deliver a response that you listen to and act on. You can then either ask a qualifying question, or tell the part of your story that’s relevant to that point. 

Notice I said “relevant to that point” because that’s key. This isn’t an invitation to start a monologue, this is an opportunity to find a point of mutual interest and develop the conversation further. And the best way to do this is … you guessed it … to ask another question! Then you listen to and respond to the answer.

You maybe reading this and thinking “this is so obvious” and that’s the whole point - it is! And that’s why I’m always surprised, and a little irritated when I meet someone who obviously either doesn’t want to, or hasn’t learned how to listen.

Listening is an essential skill in any walk of life from personal relationships to the way we work with colleagues and business contacts. 

Listening is a skill that can be learned, but you must work at it. Think about how you operate. Are you really a good listener? Be honest and ask others how they rate you as a listener. 

You maybe surprised at the answer - that’s of course assuming you’ll listen to it!

Thursday 25 April 2013

“There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”

Is “Free” a viable business model? 

I was recently asked this by someone who runs a software business and they are introducing a new product into a well established market. They have big ambitions to “shake it up a bit” and they are thinking about all there different ways they can attract attention.

There's no such thing as a free lunchOne of the biggest challenges any business has, is deciding how to set the price of their product. This is a balancing act because if the price is too high they may not achieve the volumes hoped for. If it’s too low they could be perceived as an inferior brand or they could be making less revenue than their product is actually worth. 

Some people think “Free” was developed with the spread of the internet. Of course it’s a big factor, but it’s been used in various ways for a long time before that. Free is very widely applied to software (all social media is basically free) and knowledge-based products such as ebooks, because the only costs of production are usually time and effort. 

There are a number of scenarios where “Free” has been used successfully:-
  • Allow potential buyers to use your product for a limited period to try before they buy;
  • Provide a less functionally complete or feature rich (lite) version. If they want to do more, they pay. This is very commonly used and if the balance is right, the subscribers effectively subsidise the free users.
  • Support the free version through advertising 
  • Get sponsorship from people or organisations who want to communicate with your audience to create awareness for their cause, belief or brand; 
  • Loan a new product to a carefully chosen group of people who will write flattering reviews, which in turn will attract paying buyers;
  • Give the product to a person who has influence and is able to attract other buyers by endorsing your product;
  • Buy one, get one free, which is a way of achieving increased volume;
  • If your product has components, you can ‘give’ something away when a system is purchased. Look at how the price of printers are now so low. Often, a full set of ink cartridges cost more than the printer. How long will it be before you get a ‘free’ printer when you buy a complete pack of ink?
So, can you actually build a successful business using this as a pricing model? 

The obvious answer is no, because it’s a fundamental driver for any business to generate income. But “Free” can and does work very well for consumers. This blogging platform is free, but I need the technology to access it. I know, I could go into a public library and pay absolutely nothing, but I’m sure you get my point.

As a business, “Free” only really works when you use it as a way to drive income from other sources. And that’s the key thing to keep in mind, whatever business model you work with.

Friday 12 April 2013

Driving Growth from Two Fronts

Maximising the potential of people and optimising cost and process efficiencies drives growth and profitability

Ithaka Leadership Development and EPI International announce a strategic partnership to work together to on selected client projects.

EPI works with organisations to identify and eliminate waste, improve efficiency and reduce costs. Their software and consultancy service is called iCEO or Intelligent Cost and Efficiency Optimisation. iCEO combines EPI’s proven expertise and consulting methodology in an innovative software platform called CEOportal. This was developed in collaboration with Warwick University and it has achieved impressive results. For example Computer 2000 saved more than £1.3 million, £500,000 and TNT Logistics more than £180,000.
The EPI team consists of vastly experienced business improvement consultants with many years global experience working at IBM, AT&T and Profit Focus Group. They also have a strong track record in Finance, Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Retail and the Public Sector.

Managing Director Peter Sturrock said “We like the EPI approach because it’s based on decades of proven experience and we feel it will add significant value to our clients.  Because it’s a holistic process, iCEO considers business process efficiencies and cost reduction strategies as part of an overall programme of continuous business improvement. This has many parallels with the Ithaka model and we share similar values on how to drive and sustain improvements in an organisation.”

 Ithaka has a unique approach to developing excellence in organisational leadership, management, sales and marketing. Their Leadership Development Model is based on decades of experience, and it defines the best practice processes and strategies that deliver  exceptional results. Ithaka provides coaching and training to clients across all sectors.  Their key programmes are ‘Leading a Business Through Growth” and “Drive Sales Growth”. This is complemented by “The Leaders Forum” a group for Managing and Senior Directors to share experiences, ideas and resolve issues in a confidential environment. 

EPI Managing Director Nick Close said “Ithaka has a very impressive track record. Their work on leading a business through growth and their holistic approach to sales and marketing development is unique. The fact that they are also approved coaches under the GrowthAccelerator* scheme makes their services even more attractive to some of our clients and we look forward to developing this partnership.”

More information:

(* GrowthAccelerator is a scheme that offers matched funding for management training and coaching to organisations in England who employ fewer than 250 people and have a turnover less than £40m)

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Is Leadership and Management the same thing?

These terms are often used interchangeably but they really are distinct and very different.
  • Leadership is about creating a vision and strategy which inspires and attracts Followers. 
  • Management is the process of taking action to achieve results.

Every organisation needs Followers who can be clients, citizens, students, patients or anyone else defined as your audience. And you attract Followers by being a “Thought Leader” - someone with a unique viewpoint which makes you stand out from the crowd. 

But attracting Followers is the first step; you really want to create Advocates who continue to follow you and spread the word, because this attracts even more Followers.

Leadership must be woven into the fabric of an organisation, because it covers everything from how you create the environment to attract the brightest talent, to the way you develop products and services and how you describe and communicate these to your audience.

Some Leaders also have the capacity to be great Managers, but are the best Leaders really good at the detailed stuff? Some are, but the best of the best know what they are good at and they leave the detail to others. They delegate and make it their primary goal to attract Followers - or at least they should!

Maybe we need a new metric of performance, a new KPI called the Fi or Follower Index? It may sound slightly odd but that's the basis on which many businesses were built. In the dot-com era that I was intimately involved in, it was all about attracting 'eyeballs'. Maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea after all!

Tuesday 5 February 2013

The key to success in sales is ... Asking Great Questions!

There is an urban myth that great salespeople are good talkers but in reality, the opposite is true. Great salespeople are in fact wonderful listeners.

Sales Conversations
They ask excellent, incisive questions that uncover the information that helps them to solve problems and win business. The key skill needed here is called Fact Finding and Qualification (FFQ).

Understanding where you are in any sales cycle is critical to your success. It’s an ongoing process to ensure you are spending your sales-time wisely; with someone who is interested in what you sell, and has the ability to make a decision to buy. This is why FFQ is so important. 

At the heart of FFQ is the ability to ask the right questions and the best way to do this is in a conversation. And remember, a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. This is where many salespeople fail, because they try to talk a prospective client into buying. 

Grilling someone to demand information on budget, timescale and decision making process on an initial call is a very bad idea. One of the keys to success is to establish rapport and build trust. And you only really do that by sharing information and delivering on your promises.

The questions you ask will depend on what you are selling, but as a minimum you must understand the following;

  • The problem they are trying to solve (this is what drives a decision to buy) 
  • What is driving the urgency (this is the motivation to take action)
  • How they make a decision (the process, people and criteria they use to decide)
  • When they will make a decision (this is related to urgency)
  • What you need to do to win (unless you now this you have no plan ... and that's very bad!)

When you think about it, FFQ is something you should do all the time. It makes sense really because the more you know about the people you do business with, the better you can serve them. And that's ultimately what drives strong and sustainable sales growth in any business.

Friday 1 February 2013

14th Century lesson for today's complex world

Occam's Razor is a principle for understanding the world that was developed over 600 years ago by an English logician and Franciscan friar, William of Ockham.

He wrote "Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem" 

... and if your Latin is as patchy as mine, this translates as "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." 

The term razor describes the act of shaving away unnecessary assumptions to get to the simplest explanation. Occam's Razor is often used to illustrate simplicity in many areas such as Science and Philosophy, but it also applies to business for example;

"The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct."

We are bombarded with information from so many different sources today that it's hard to focus. The ability to develop messages that are clear, concise and compelling is more important today than ever before. William of Ockham was clearly onto something! 

Thursday 31 January 2013

Thinking differently about how to succeed in business

A business that’s in balance has a clarity and simplicity of focus. 

It develops great products and services and There's a laser-sharp focus on building relationships and winning business. There’s almost an obsession to provide excellent customer service. 

And because everyone shares a determination to continually improve, achieving success is that little bit 

To do this requires a different way of thinking, and that’s where the Holistic Sale comes in. 

This is a model of best practice business development processes, strategies and actions based on decades of research and experience.

It’s an integral part of the Ithaka Leadership Development Model, and we use it to identify the underlying causes of underachievement in performance.  Then we provide with the right mix of training, coaching and mentoring to help you achieve your true potential.

Learn more about the Holistic Sale Model