Monday, December 17, 2007

Less Talk And A Little More Conversation

Yesterday I was watching CBS Sunday Morning. One of the segments was on conversation - something this world of technology has helped us lose. Sure there is a lot of "talk" - emails, SMS's, blogs, countless mobile calls, social networking tools.

Words flow between all of us, but are we really communicating -- are we having conversations -- something where we are engaged, listening, actively participating with someone else? Having a conversation -- authentic communication requires a lot of each party. Each person has to commit themselves to the other, at least for a few moments in time. A conversation requires us to engage, to listen, to be involved emotionally. We are forced to connect at a human level.

One of the greatest resources on the art of conversations is a book, Fierce Conversations, Achieving Success At Work And Life, Once Conversation At A Time, by Susan Scott. It is an important book, critical for anyone interested in genuine conversations rather than words flowing back and forth.

Having conversations is tough, but imagine what you can learn.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Being A Good Customer

As a sales professional -- sometimes frustrated with certain customers, sometimes I feel like saying: "I'm doing the best I can in selling to you---you need to start being a good customer!!"

Actually, that statement is not as arrogant as it sounds. Professional sales people seek to create meaningful value for their customers. They want to establish relationships--partnerships with customers. In today's tough procurement environment, sometimes customers do themselves a disservice by putting barriers in place so these true value based relationships can be established.

I just saw a John Quelch's blog on Harvard Business Review Online: How To Be A Customer, posted September 18. Here is an excerpt of some key point---but go read the article, it's worthwhile.

Here are five behaviors that, in the eyes of vendors, make for a good customer:

Be Demanding. Make sure the vendor knows you have other options, that you’re going to seek out more than one bid. Ask for references, a good supplier will be glad to provide them. Don’t be afraid to negotiate and pin the vendor down, but don’t overdo it.

Be Respectful. If you want your vendor to do a good job, respect him (or her). Treat him as a professional. Don’t be haughty. Be on time. Ask his opinion. The golden rule applies to customer behavior as well as vendor behavior.

Be Reliable. Do what you say you’ll do. Don’t keep the salesperson waiting if she’s come to your office for an appointment. Pay on time. Don’t try to nickel and dime the seller. Don’t ask for free value added services that weren’t part of the original deal.

Be Surprising. Reward a job well done. Leave a tip. Pay a little over the contract price if the seller’s costs clearly exceed expectations or promise to refer the supplier to a friend. You may want to do business with the same supplier again (Why waste time on selecting another vendor from scratch?). You’re going to enjoy more timely and more customized service next time if you leave a good impression.

Be Engaging. Differentiate yourself as a customer by engaging the seller in some friendly conversation. You may get an extra shot of whipped cream in your cafĂ© mocha if you’re nice to the barista. Treat the seller as an equal, as a problem solver rather than a mere order taker. The seller may be able to confirm or broaden your perspective. In some cases, you may even have expertise that can help the seller do a better job for you.

"Listening Labs" - Unpacking Core Drivers and Barriers

I'm a terrific fan of Fred Reicheld's book, The Ultimate Question, and the Net Promoter approach. Paul Marsden of Satmetrix just put a terrific post in his blog on these topics on using Listening Labs to understand the customer experience and understand core drivers underlying why customers buy (or don't buy). It's a great post and I consider it must reading for anyone seeking to enhance the value of their offerings to their current and potential customers.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

One Way Networking--Is This What Networking Is About?

I just read in interesting article in the Wall Street Journal: How To Network Without Sabotaging Your Own Job Hunt. It discusses a number of issues very appropriate to effective networking.

There are many people in my close networks who see value in staying connected. We talk or email each other, we exchange ideas, we continue to look for things of interest to each other. These are effective relationships that I value and invest in.

There are those other people "in my network." These are people who I may have tried to build a relationship with, who for various reasons have been unresponsive to the communication. However, out of the blue, I get communications from them, and always, it is a plea for help: "I've lost my job, can you help me?" "I need funding for a new company, will you invest in the company?" The list goes on.

I am confused by the expectation of people who spurn communications and contact until they need something. In addition to their request for help, they seldom ask about me. When they ask, it is always nominal, because their concern is about themselves. I find it difficult to invest in those people.

Finally, there are those who are going after quantity, seeing the number of connections or friends they have in LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace or others as a competition. "He who has the most listed wins."

On a daily basis, I get people asking me to join their network. Many come from people I have never met and do not know how they reached me. Some come from people who I have encountered. For each, I always respond: "I would be delighted to join your network and have you join my network. Can we arrange to speak soon so that we can get to know each other and how we might help each other out?" On over 90% of those, I get no response, yet I get reminders to join their network or other pleas to join.

Here, I have a criticism to the suppliers of these tools. I think their tools need to be more focused and purposeful in developing networks. People should think and value those they invite. Instead, they offer to send invitations to everyone in your Outlook Address Book. My Outlook Address Book captures many addresses of people I do not know, but are on the same distribution I am on. This automated processing of networks reinforces the mentality of quantity over quality.

The Wall Street Journal Article offers a few nice sound bites:

  • Networking is supposed to be mutually beneficial.

  • Giving back is important.

  • Bothering contacts excessively also can weaken networking efforts.

Read the article. Think about it. I encourage everyone to build networks that create value and quality for everyone involved.