Little bites

I know a guy who is really, really good at what he does. He maintains a terrific big picture view while still understanding the details which can make or break the success of his projects. He’s a deep thinker, and when I ask him a question about his realm of influence, I know I’m going to get a thorough and thoughtful answer. Everyone needs a guy like this on her team.

Sometimes, though, this guy becomes his own biggest obstacle. When he has an idea, his mind is off and running. He has gone through steps J, K, and L before most people get beyond A, B, and C. He’s busy solving problems that haven’t yet occurred and probably won’t occur until somewhere down the timeline–by which point a lot of variables could change. He often hesitates to pull the trigger on a project until he can work out the answers to those problems.

Many times, that’s exactly the right approach–but many times it’s not.

Not every project is an all-or-nothing proposition. We don’t have to go from A to Z in a single step. We can launch our project or product and service before we get to Z if

  • The new solution is better than what came before it, i.e. it makes people happy.
  • Each step is a (fairly) natural progression, not a complete rework of the one before it.
  • Showing continued improvements or making updates signals progress/activity/forward motion.

Think of a website, for example. Little improvements over time can actually be a positive thing. It keeps your audience feeling as though your work is fresh, the content is dynamic, and there’s always a new reason to visit. That’s not a place where you want to publish a TA-DA! product and sit back. Yeah, I know, building the infrastructure requires a fairly specific vision for the future, but once the infrastructure is in place, you can always make improvements along the way. The trick is understanding when to forge ahead and when to wait.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Persistence vs. perseverance

perseverance2“Mom, isn’t there some rule of salesperson etiquette that says when a customer tells you ‘no’ three times, you stop trying to sell him something?”

My son asked me that question last night as we left a store. We had just purchased a mirror for his room, and the sales clerk wanted to partially bag it to offer some protection from the freezing rain outside. She asked us every way possible, and we politely declined each time. We finally capitulated when we realized that the scene would go on forever otherwise. That woman just wouldn’t quit.

One the surface, I totally agree with my son. She kept pushing; we kept saying no. She eventually got her way, but we left feeling mildly annoyed. Annoying your customers doesn’t seem like an effective long-term sales practice. Somewhere there’s a line a salesperson just doesn’t cross–and it’s called respect.

On the other hand, the world is filled with stories of people who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, people whose perseverance eventually earned them wild success.

So what’s the right path?

Actually, I don’t think the answer is that complicated; I think an effective salesperson (and we’re all selling something, right?) does both. When a customer says no, particularly when he says it repeatedly, a salesperson has to honor that. Continuing to push is not only inappropriate, it’s also disrespectful. And it’s lazy.

That’s where the two strategies converge. Instead of pushing, pushing, pushing, a salesperson should back off and reevaluate. Something about his pitch isn’t working. When it becomes clear that it doesn’t appeal to the customer, the salesperson should look at the issue from the customer’s view and make sure he’s speaking the customer’s language–and in ways that are meaningful to the customer. The salesperson needs to find a new strategy, and that takes work.

The key is that we’re trying to capture the customer, not the sale. When we look at it that way, we should be willing to take a few NOs in the short term to get to the bigger YES in the long term. It’s the difference between being persistent and being perseverant.

Have it your way

burger kingYesterday must have been one of those days. I don’t know what got into me, but I took it upon myself to provide Burger King some feedback at the corporate level.

I was trying to be nutritionally responsible and plan my lunch, so I looked up the stats on the salad I wanted. Unfortunately, BK had listed the composite totals for the salad, with no breakout for each ingredient. Since I always leave off the blue cheese and only use half the dressing–both of which have a significant impact on the nutritional values of the salad–it was important to me to know how those broke down. Other fast food sites do this, so I knew it wasn’t a far-out idea.

Feeling like Holly Helpful, I decided to pass my suggestion along to BK. After all, their “Have it your way” motto has been stuck in my head for years; I was sure this would make sense to them. Besides that, their competition was doing it. I massaged all of this into the maximum 500-word limit and submitted it via BK’s online contact form. I had done my good deed for the day, end of story. Or so I thought.

A few hours later, an email from BK guest relations dropped into my inbox. A bit surprised but pleased they had responded, I opened the message. It read:

Dear Tammy Davis,

Thank you for taking the time to contact BURGER KING restaurants Guest
Relations with your inquiry.

All of our nutritional and allergen information can be found at the website below:

http://www.bk.com/en/us/menu-nutrition/index.html

We value your patronage and look forward to serving you in the near
future.

Sincerely,
BURGER KING restaurants Guest Relations

What a bummer. Clearly they hadn’t really read my message. I told them I had reviewed exactly the site they referenced and had found it lacking. Pointing me back to it only told me they didn’t get it. Instead, I wish they had responded with, Thanks for your suggestion. We’ll look into whether it makes sense for us at this time. In fact, NO response would have been better in this case.

These days marketers talk about customer interaction, responsiveness, and online conversations. What we often forget, however, is that interaction is not enough in itself; it must be meaningful interaction to be valuable. Don’t just send me an answer. Send me an answer that makes sense and addresses my question–or don’t send one at all.

Carpe diem

DSC_5635Some scary stuff has been happening in my town. Someone has been lying in wait at apartment complexes and attacking residents as they come and go. As part of its reporting on the story, a local news program decided to include a segment on self-defense, including a demonstration of technique. Out of the blue, my brother got a call to lead that demonstration.

My brother is an expert in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. He operates a dojo in his hometown, where he offers instruction, hosts seminars, and provides a gathering place for fellow students of the art. He’s still trying to get some traction for his business, as it’s not yet widely recognized in the area. He was thrilled to get the call from the TV station, but he was also pretty surprised.

The filming went off without a hitch, and the segment looked great. (Watch it HERE. Tell me he’s not awesome!)

During the course of the filming, curiosity got the better of my brother. Before the crew left, he asked the reporter why she had selected him over anyone else. Her answer offered an immediate object lesson:

You were the first person to call me back.

No one will argue that hard work and a good product are essential to success. Others would extol the necessity of good marketing, the right price point, and brand building. And I agree wholeheartedly. What I learned in that TV reporter’s answer, however, was the importance of seizing the moment. I have to be ready to jump on opportunity–which means I must also be alert and watchful for any potential.

My brother’s business wouldn’t have suffered if someone else had returned that call first. He would have kept doing what he’s doing, working hard to bring students into his dojo and share his passion. In fact, he’ll keep doing that anyway. Since he did call back, though, he’s certainly better for it. A few more people know about him, he has a terrific video segment to boost his credibility, and his confidence got a shot in the arm.

When opportunity knocks, make sure you’re listening–and then open the door.

Note: Visit YourLivingArts.com to learn more about my brother’s dojo. Please excuse my shameless promotion; I’m a proud sis.

Pulling a Truman

buck stops

People are grousing about the price? Sounds like a sales problem to me.

Customers don’t understand our product? Sounds like a sales problem to me.

No one came to our seminar? Sounds like a sales problem to me.

One customer thinks another customer is getting preferential treatment? Sounds like a sales problem to me.

People don’t like the new program? Sounds like a sales problem to me.

A friend and mentor used that phrase all the time. His point was that rather than simply acting as a conduit for every voice from the field, we should engage with those voices and address their concerns. Instead, we often throw up our hands and shake our heads, decrying those jerks back at the office whose ridiculous ideas caused the issue in the first place.

We don’t get to make all the decisions ourselves, regardless of what job or position we hold. At some point, we’re going to have to stand in the gap between someone else’s decision/policy/precedent and our constituency. We have two choices: commiserate or moderate.

If we commiserate, we do nothing to help the situation. And we give away any power of our own. Really, we become part of the problem.

If we moderate, we hold the power to improve an unfavorable situation. We become part of the solution.

Let’s take another look.

People are grousing about the price? Let me show you what you get for your money and why it’s a good value.

Customers don’t understand our product? I must not have explained it well enough. Let me give it another shot.

No one came to our seminar? Let me help get the word out next time. I can stir up some excitement.

One customer thinks another customer is getting preferential treatment? What can I do to help him feel appreciated?

People don’t like the new program? Let me show you its benefits and how they could improve your situation.

Don’t think I’m pointing the finger at salespeople; we ALL have to sell ourselves and our work every day to our customers, colleagues, friends, or family. If the buck doesn’t stop with you, it sounds like a sales problem.

By the way, the friend who said that was a VP of sales. How’s that for taking responsibility?

Ducks and horses

The Backstory:

Yesterday a friend and I were discussing the recent NYU-Replyallcalypse and he got stuck on one of the goofy Reply-All messages sent to the giant list of recipients. (Really, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click the link I provided.) To poke him a little, I whipped off an email response in blog post format. Although it was intended to be a wry attempt at humor, I wondered if it might have real merit when I re-read it this morning. You can decide for yourself.

My Wry-Attempt-At-Humor-But-Hey-Wait-It-Might-Have-Legs Response:

Would you rather fight a 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? You’re probably laughing at the absurdity of this question, but I’ll bet you find yourself revisiting it throughout the day, however unwillingly. After a while, you’ll realize that you are taking up precious brain power pondering a what-if that has about a zero percent chance of becoming reality.

Even if you don’t think about mutant ducks and horses all day long, I’ll bet you tie up your brain waves pondering scenarios that probably won’t come true. All of us do it—and it’s probably a healthy exercise if we can keep it in check—but when we’re thinking of stuff like that, what AREN’T we thinking of?

When you’re worrying about ducks and horses [insert your favorite diversion here], chances are you’re NOT thinking about your customers and how to help them make their lives better. Or your business and how to do what you do more effectively. Or how to nurture your kids’ talents. Or what to make for dinner. Or, or, or.

Personally, one of my favorite diversions is what-if-I-had-done-this-differently-way-back-when. I ruminate about how my life might look today if I had just answered that one question differently, or chosen a different major in college, or taken a different job. While I’m sure there’s something to be learned in hindsight, I’m sure I spend way too much time on the what-ifs I can’t recapture rather than the ones I can actually make happen today.

The next time you find yourself thinking about ducks and horses, use them to propel yourself into productivity.

Aim high

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting the number one rated provider for a nationally known moving truck rental company. While you might think the shop she operated was big and bright and beautiful, sporting gleaming counters and huge fleet of vehicles, reality looked much different. The shop was tiny, sharing space with a couple of related businesses. The fleet consisted of just a few trucks, and the woman behind the counter was the sole employee.

How did she rise to the top of more than 15,000 locations in the country? By relentlessly, intentionally taking care of her customers. She keeps her trucks spotless, inside and out. She makes sure her fleet is meticulously maintained. She keeps her moving blankets so neatly folded and creased that customers ask her if they are new. She always gives her customers the benefit of the doubt, and she stays awake at night wondering how she could have handled each tricky situation better. Really, she does.

This woman’s attention to detail not only got my attention, it also made company officials take notice. Surprisingly, however, their reaction wasn’t what I expected. Rather than looking at her business as a model for helping others grow their franchise, they instead felt threatened. Her high standards frightened them, and they reacted in a paroxysm of nonsense:

“You’re going to raise the expectations of our customers!”

Holy moly! Yes, you read that correctly. The company officials even asked her to back off; they told her she was making other locations look bad. Thankfully, she has no intention of changing her business model.

The bigwigs are right, you know. This special woman will likely raise the expectations of her customers–and I hope she does. After all, isn’t that the point?

That dirty word

Ah, meetings. I could rant all day about them. I sit in too many; they go on too long; little gets done. Time management and focus issues seem to be the two driving factors, often combined with a liberal dose of posturing. Consider this if you don’t believe me: the following passage was listed as a requirement in a bid specification for one of my projects.

2.b. Do not raise issues at Progress meetings that do not involve other participants at that meeting, and that could be handled more efficiently at the level of the Vendor’s coordination with its own subvendors and suppliers.

Translation: stay on topic (focus) and don’t waste anyone’s time (time management).

Holy smokes. Since when do we have to spell that out? Shouldn’t that be common sense? Although I was flabbergasted to find this as part of the spec, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was, Oh please, oh please, can’t we apply this to all meetings, everywhere?

I’ve been thinking about this for days. It has stuck with me so hard that I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I dreamed about it last night. (Please, no inferences about my lack of social life!) I woke up thinking that perhaps I could make a new career for myself as a meeting facilitator. I could hire myself out to various organizations just to lead meetings. As an outsider with no personal involvement in the organization or the topic, I could impartially keep the meeting on point. I wouldn’t accept the job without an agenda and a list of goals or necessary decisions to result from the meeting.

Actually, if more meetings had those items up front–an agenda and goals–they might be a lot more productive on their own. They wouldn’t need me, but then again, I already have a job.

Anyone have a meeting nightmare you’d like to share?

Happy accidents

It’s funny how we sometimes stumble into the things we enjoy. A chance encounter, a sliver of opportunity, a mention in passing. Sometimes it’s a new hobby, other times it’s a new genre of music. It can even be a new job or a new role in an existing job.

I never intended to be an event planner. Comfortable (sort of) in my role as a marketing analyst, I attended my first company sales meeting many years ago–13, to be exact. After two seventeen-hour days of information cramming and intense networking with the same 50 people (read: meetings all day, followed by carousing till the wee hours), I was exhausted and frustrated.

After the first few hours of each day, my brain was fried. The intense format, followed by zero downtime to process the information presented, left me questioning whether I would retain anything at all. And if I wasn’t retaining much of the information, I wondered if anyone else would. If not, why were we even there? There had to be a better way.

Following the meeting, I made a list of the things I didn’t like or that I thought were ineffective. In an uncharacteristically bold move for my young, upstart self, when the VP of sales later asked me what I thought of the meeting, I told him that I thought it could have been done better. (Yikes!) Ever gracious, this man suggested that we get together for a more detailed discussion. The next thing I knew, I had a slot on his calendar.

Appointment made and back in my office, I panicked. I couldn’t go to this man with my laundry list of complaints and simply drop it in his lap. Unless I also brought some specific suggestions for improvement, I’d be lucky to get a pat on the head and a kwityerbitchen–and I’d probably never be granted another audience with this guy.

With four days till the appointment, I worked frantically to come up with a plan. When the day came, I was nervous but ready. We sat down together and the VP gave me the stage. He asked me to tell him what I thought in specific detail, and then he listened intently. When I finished, he posed the question I knew was coming:

How would you make it better?

I have never been so thankful to have been prepared. I presented him with three alternative meeting formats, and it took him all of about 36 seconds to tell me that I had just earned the next year’s meeting planning duties. I walked out of that meeting stunned but thrilled.

After that, I planned a lot of meetings, eventually adding trade shows and a few other events. That chance opportunity helped build a bridge from my then-job to corporate communications, which is my current playing field. I love what I do today, but you wouldn’t have found it on my radar all those years ago.

Sometimes, life’s best opportunities are happy accidents. Pay attention; don’t miss the next one that crosses your path.

P.S. Thanks, KMN. Every day I realize something new about how you quietly mentored me.

It’s always personal

After I wrote yesterday’s post, I couldn’t stop thinking about how sometimes the smallest actions have the most significant effect on the customer service experience. As I ran through different experiences in my head, I realized they shared a common theme: at our very core, we simply want to be acknowledged.

Consider these examples.

  • Years ago, I decided to trade my car and buy a new one. I took my then-boyfriend along for moral support and set about visiting car dealerships in search of the perfect vehicle. Unfortunately, the salesman at the place that interested me most wouldn’t talk to me. He addressed every question to my BF, even though I was the person with the checkbook. When he called later to follow up, he couldn’t remember my name. Guess who didn’t get my business.
  • Fast forward more than twenty years to another car buying experience. This time, my dad was with me—not because I needed moral support or advice, but because I needed a ride. The salesman did all right, but his sidekick in the finance department tried to direct his conversation to my male counterpart. In this case, however, my dad quickly set him straight in no uncertain terms. The experience took a turn for the better when I had the finance guy’s undivided attention.
  • Last weekend, I talked to a colleague who had recently purchased a new vehicle. When asked why he had chosen that particular make and model, he replied that it had all come down to the salesman. He had visited several dealerships, and only one salesman had remembered his name. Not surprisingly, that guy had also been able to answer all of his questions, but the name thing stuck with him more than anything. My colleague went with the guy who made him feel that he (his business) was important.

Although these examples all revolve around car buying, I can think of many more across all walks of life. Regardless of the scenario, they all boil down to one thing: the customer wants to feel important. Look at me. Listen to me. Acknowledge me. Recognize me. Remember my name. It may be a business transaction, but there are people involved. And whenever people are involved, it’s personal.