Thursday, August 26, 2010

CUSTOMERS - What Do They Want????!!!

Have customers changed since the downturn in our economy? You bet!

What's different? Plenty but mostly it comes back to lack of confidence in what's ahead (as in predicting what will happen during the next 90 days or so) and hunkering down in response to recent events (like investment loss and non-availability of funds).

The organizations that are successful are the ones which are asking their customers and clients what they want and need, then providing it. Others are doing 'business as usual' in these unusual times - seems like an oxymoron to me - and wondering why sales are lagging (or missing).

'What can I do to help' is a productive start to a conversation that can end in a sale - sure is better than 'we're here when you are ready to buy.'

So as leaders, what how do we proceed?

  • Realize it is NOT business as usual, but that the fundamentals continue to be valid;
  • Initiate conversation about what is wanted and what is needed (may be different);
  • Be open and flexible and adaptive to new approaches and ideas, BUT also take counsel from your 'gut' and experience;
  • Keep in clear focus that the desired outcome is a successful result -- do not let ego or saving face frustrate achieving it; and
  • Know that in a service business, you are providing service - and its effectiveness is in the eyes of the recipient, not in the energy or activity expended. 
If we apply these elements to addressing our customer's needed, will we be overwhelmed with success and business lined up at the door?  Well, there is no magic here, but it will yield far better results than pretending that the world and its markets are the same as they were.

What can you add to the discussion?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Recommendations – Honor & Obligation

The other day a long-time friend and professional colleague ask if I would arrange an introduction to one of my clients and give a recommendation of him as well. Two assignments easily done, as I know and respect the skills and abilities of the individual.

With this fresh in mind, I did some thinking about recommendations – they carry both honor and obligation for both parties.

For the person asked to offer the recommendation, it is an honor to be considered someone whose opinion carries weight and credibility with others; a person recognized as accomplished, knowledgeable, and trustworthy to speak in real terms about the subject person. For the requester, the honor is a notable person stands up for you and speak to the accomplishments and skills you possess.

There is also a dual obligation associated with a recommendation. For the requester follow-through is very important – if a recommendation has been offered you must follow-up promptly – sounds obvious doesn't it?. To ignore the individual, perhaps changing your mind about their relevance after being recommended to them, does damage at some level to the relationship between your recommender and the individual – 'you said that Sam is a good guy and wanted to speak with me about an idea – what happened?' No follow-through is likely to have a negative effect on your relations with your champion as well – after all, she had to expend some effort and time to offer up the recommendation and lack of action simply negates that time investment.

There is a concept in Eastern philosophy that if you save someone's life you are then responsible for them. There is a similar axiom in business and human relations – if I stand up for someone, my reputation and credibility are on the line, based on the actions of that individual. Obviously, you are not a surrogate in her place, but if you said 'Nancy is a wiz with spreadsheets and analysis' and she can't boot a computer, you appear foolish! Once you have offered a recommendation you retain some responsibility for the actions of that individual – at least initially AND your reputation is on the line too.

As the recommender, give some thought to who you recommend and the scope of your comments. Keep in mind that at least some of the goodwill and credibility you've earned is in play when you offer a recommendation – do not take it lightly. When writing a letter to an individual, you are thinking about how the reader will receive the information and how they will view you for recommending the person. However, who you recommend is also a consideration when writing a Linked In recommendation as well – while this may seem more indirect, like a passing nod to the individual (or a shout-out at a rally), IT IS NOT. These recommendations will be seen by many people, not just one, and will hang around forever. Give it the same care as you would a letter to a specific individual.

Harvey Mackay (I like him a lot and have followed him for decades) tells a story in his book We Got Fired about a referral/recommendation this father made for him when he was a teenager and Harvey got a summer job at a men's store. Shortly after he started to make sales, he would 'trim' time from the day by coming in late, leaving early – and quickly developed a reputation as unreliable (and unlikable by employees covering for his absences). When he asked for a day off to play golf, the owner called his father saying Harvey had to go! As he tells the story, Mr. Mackay had a discussion at top volume with Harvey that evening and the wayward son learned an important life lesson – he had failed to live up to the recommendation to the store owner and both Harvey's and his Dad's reputations suffered as a result!

Recommendations are an honor and an obligation for both parties – however discretion and diligence are required.

Any life lessons about recommendations and referrals you'd like to share?