Forget About It

Many years ago, okay, many many years ago, I was making cold calls with my Sales Manager. We had a solid process (at the time) for cold calling. We would walk into a company and ask to leave some literature with the receptionist. We would then ask the receptionist for the name of the person they would be passing the literature to so we could follow up directly. It was an effective way to learn the name of the decision maker. 

We were part way through a full day of prospecting when we made a call on a paper company. I greeted the receptionist and asked if I could drop off some literature for the person who made training decisions. She cheerfully said sure and I handed her the first piece of literature I was planning to leave behind. As I was taking the second piece of literature out of my folder I noticed the receptionist putting the first piece beneath the desk. 

I handed the second brochure over and the receptionist again placed it beneath the desk. I asked what she was doing with the literature and she said she was “speeding up the process.” I asked what that meant and she said that her boss would throw the “crap” away so she was speeding up the process. 

I was not exactly happy with her answer. So I asked if she thought that was an appropriate way to treat people. She said she would never treat people that way but it was fine for salespeople. 

Before I could “discuss” this any further my Sales Manager thanked her for her time and guided me to the door. 

When we got back to our car I asked my manager if he could believe what just happened. He said he didn’t see anything unusual and I should just “forget about it” because we had lots more calls to make. It wouldn’t be productive to let a poor call affect my effectiveness on the next call. 

As I said earlier that was many many years ago so I haven’t exactly forgotten about it. But I also haven’t forgotten the point my Sales Manager was making. 

The point was do not let one bad customer experience allow the next customer interaction to be negatively affected. The idea was to sell in “call tight compartments” so that each call was “fresh.”

Selling one call at a time protects you from becoming overconfident when things were going well. It also keeps you from bringing disappointment and maybe even anger into your next call. 

That’s not only good advice for a salesperson, it’s good advice for everyone. Do not let a poor interaction with one person carry over to the interaction you have with the next person. This is particularly important for leaders to keep in mind. 

Everyone will have negative experiences involving other people. No one has to allow that to make them negative. Staying positive in the face of negativity is a choice. It’s a choice we should all make everyday.

You Could be Wrong

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know that my first job in management came as quite a shock to me. I was a very good salesperson until one day I was pulled into the office and asked if I would be interested in jumping several levels of management to become the General Sales Manager. 

I wasn’t actually sure what the General Sales Manager did but I did know the job came with a new car, a huge office with a private bathroom and a whole lot more money. Lots and lots of money. 

So of course I said yes and the following Monday I was in charge of a large sales organization. I didn’t let the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing keep me from doing it. We were selling soda pop and I sold more than anybody. How tough could it be to make sure everyone else was selling all they could too.

To say I made a few mistakes would be a rather large understatement. The worst part was everyone but me could see the mistakes coming from a mile away. I might have been a little too proud to ask the more experienced people for help but eventually I made the sales organization more of a democracy so others could share their ideas. But I made the final call because I was the boss and that’s what bosses do. 

Shortly after I was promoted I faced the biggest decision I would ever make in my new role. There were two major convenience store chains in the city where I was working. Vendors in both of those chains paid for the best shelf space. I only had the budget to purchase “eye level”  cooler space in one of the chains. The chains appeared to be about the same to me so I very strategically picked the chain with a location closest to my house. 

We would still have shelf space in the other chain’s stores but it would be “bottom shelf. ” Customers would have to look long and hard to find our products. 

My decision looked good for a few weeks. A few weeks. Just 3 weeks after making the agreement with one convenience chain it was acquired by the chain I decided not to make an agreement with. 

The chain that did the acquiring tossed all the vendor contracts from the chain they acquired. That meant in every major convenience store in a large metropolitan area, my products were now all bottom shelf. 

I was pretty lucky that my boss didn’t think that disaster was my fault. He chalked it up to bad luck and we agreed there was no way I could have seen that coming. But to this day I suspect I could have seen it coming. I know for a fact I should have seen it coming. 

I managed to mitigate much of the damage with some new sales programs and by out hustling the competition. I also learned a ton about making decisions, making mistakes, and “fixing” poor decisions. 

But what I learned most of all is to accept the fact that I could be wrong. About almost anything. That meant that people I disagreed with could be right. About almost anything. 

Authentic Leaders must make confident decisions based on the facts they have available. They must also be open to discover new facts that become available and have the courage to change a decision based on the new information. 

Leaders who cannot accept that one of their decisions may need to be changed are very limited leaders. Leaders who refuse to accept that they could be wrong have no ability to learn from their mistakes. Leaders who believe that accepting responsibility for a poor decision is a weakness will never fully have the trust of their people. 

Leaders who do not have the trust of their people are leaders in name only. For anyone hoping to truly lead making a mistake need not be fatal, refusing to admit that mistake most often is. 

Yearning for Some Learning

Successful people have a yearning for learning. The most successful people never stop learning. They know that curiosity might kill a cat but it helps a human being grow. 

A bunch of great things come from learning everyday. 

Consistent learning makes you consistently more interesting to other people. You always have something interesting to pass along. Be aware however that nobody likes a know it all so use your hunger for knowledge to better yourself, not look better to others. 

The more you learn the easier it is to relate to people different than yourself. You’ll find more in common with others. You will value the opinions of others and have more empathy for them. That empathy will make it much easier to communicate with people who you don’t normally associate with. 

Learning helps build self-confidence and self-esteem, two big factors in your success. When you know you can learn anything it’s easier to believe in yourself. It’s easier to believe you can do anything. It’s easier to believe that because if you’re willing to learn it’s a fact…you can do anything. 

If you’re a leader, or hope to one day lead, then consistently learning sets a great example for the people you lead. It’s also a great example for your kids. The people you influence will do what you do far faster then they will do what you say. You have a much better chance of helping them become consistent learners if you’re a consistent learner too. 

People who know more tend to make more…more money that is. The more we know the more we can do. The more we can do the more we can help other people. The more we help other people the more likely it is that benefits follow. The benefit of knowing you did something good follows. The benefit of making a difference in the lives of other people follows. Leaving behind a legacy of caring when you’re gone follows and yes, the benefit of more money follows as well. 

Never in human history has it been easier to learn. The internet is loaded with good information. Much of it is even true but one of the first things you need to learn is that much of it isn’t true so choose your sources of information carefully. 

There are a ton of excellent podcasts. Even more highly informative blogs. TED Talks are informative AND free. 

Plus there are books! Leaders are readers. 15 minutes a day can make all the difference between learning something new and being stuck with old ideas and old ways of doing things. 15 minutes a day. If you have convinced yourself you don’t have 15 minutes a day to read then let me suggest the very first thing you need to learn about is prioritizing the important things in life. 

You have all the time you need, what you don’t have are the right priorities. Once you figure that out you will be unstoppable. Remember, you read it here first

Successful Communication

Good communicators know that just because something was said doesn’t mean it was heard. Great communicators know that even if it was heard it doesn’t mean it was understood. 

Lack of communication can be deadly for an organization, most people realize that. What some people, and unfortunately some leaders, don’t understand is that miscommunication can be just as deadly. Wars, including world wars, have literally been caused by miscommunication. 

One cause of miscommunication is an ill informed communicator. One thing I often tell people who want to be a better presenter is that if you know what you’re talking about there is no need to be nervous. I also tell them that if you don’t know what you’re talking about there is no need to be talking. 

Even well informed communicators can sometimes miscommunicate. But the very best communicators don’t. They consistently apply the following four principles for successful communication. 

First they simplify their message. They skip the lingo and use easy to understand words and phrases. They don’t use more words than required. They don’t use four syllable words when a two syllable word will do. Lessor communicators want to be impressive. Great communicators want to make an impression. 

The best communicators see the person or people they are talking with. Notice I said talk “with.” They do not talk to and they certainly don’t talk at people. They know their audience and try hard to speak in the interests of those people. 

Great communicators know that the communication doesn’t end when they leave the stage or meeting room. They know people will be watching them to determine if what they said was the truth. So they don’t only speak the truth, they show it as well. Their actions match their words. Those actions reinforce and bring their message to life. Their actions add integrity not only to the words just spoken but to their future words too. 

Top communicators know that a good dialogue is better than the best monologue. So they engage their listeners and seek a response that indicates what they said matches what was heard. They ask a question or two to determine if what was heard was also understand. 

They accept 100% responsibility for the success of the communication. They never assume because they said something that real communication has taken place. 

Communication is a skill and by definition a skill is something that can be developed. But that development depends on a desire to in fact become a more effective communicator. Effective communication is a vital skill for an Authentic Leader. Successful communication leads to successful outcomes. 

Decide today that you will develop your communication skills and the people who you lead will thank you tomorrow. 

Customer Deflections

Companies spend tons of money to attract customers. They invest a small fortune to train their salespeople to professionally represent their products. (At least the good ones do) They hire people to provide service to those customers after the salespeople earn their business. 

The best salespeople “sell” that customer service as a benefit of doing business with their company. 

Those things have always been pretty much standard business practice. Finding new customers and earning their repeat business has always been considered a good investment for a company.

But today some companies are developing something like a split personality. While they continue to invest in attracting new customers they are beginning to see retaining those customers as an expense. 

As we all know well run companies look for new ways to reduce expenses at every opportunity. That’s not the problem…the problem is seeing customer service as one of those expenses to be cut.

Some companies are investing in research to determine an acceptable level of customer intolerance. That means they are trying to figure out just how crummy their customer service can be without losing their customers. Providing a higher level of customer service than the company absolutely has to is considered waste. 

Those same companies send their people to training but not to learn how to better serve their customers. The training is on how to “deflect” customers away from the customer service department. “Progressive” customer service departments “deflect” customers to ChatBots or websites. Sometimes even into an endless loop of holds and transfers. 

This might be upsetting to the customer but just so long as the customer’s intolerance level isn’t exceeded all is well. The customer might not agree. They likely believe they deserve better. 

Some service organizations are actually showing reports with the number of customers they “successfully” deflect each month. I pity the poor salesperson who works their tail off only to have their customers “deflected” to some ChatBot. 

Can you tell I’m a little irritated with this new way of thinking? One thing I can say with a very high degree of confidence is that this will never become an old way of thinking. That’s because companies who adopt it won’t be around for long. 

The consultant who “sold” these companies on the word “deflect” should be embarrassed. 

The word should be banned in any conversation that involves a customer.

Words matter. When a customer care manager tells their team they are trying to deflect customers the signal it sends is completely wrong. It negatively affects even the calls that are accepted. The calls tend to be shorter, more abrupt and less helpful. The goal becomes to get the customer off the phone as soon as possible.

Here’s a couple of questions for companies who have adopted this “deflection” strategy. Do you think your customers would like knowing they are being deflected? Are you willing to show your customers the charts and graphs about how many of them you “successfully” deflected?

Remember if you have to hide information from your customers then you may have an ethics problem. 

Companies that invest in technology to help them deflect customers see it as improving their bottom line. I look at it as decreasing their integrity. That’s because their salespeople are still trying to sell excellent customer service as a benefit. Except excellent customer service has become a mirage.

I’ve never seen a stupid customer in my life and if you’re honest neither have you. They may have been misinformed or misunderstood something but that doesn’t make them stupid. They will eventually figure the goal is to “deflect” them and they will respond exactly the way we all would. 

There are still plenty of companies that have no plans to deflect their customers away from their human customer care teams. The customers who experience being “deflected” will find one of them. Then companies that deflect won’t have to worry about the “expense” of having those customers anymore.

Characteristics of Great Followers – Part Two of Two

Most Great Leaders I’ve known were once great followers. Many still are from time to time. The skills and characteristics of great followers are in many respects similar to the characteristics you’ll see in Authentic Leaders. 

In our last post we discussed characteristics possessed by great followers. This post will address 4 additional characteristics vital for genuine Followership. 

Great followers are prepared when they request the time of their leader. They know the information they need and they know the questions they need to ask to discover that information. They anticipate the questions their leader may ask of them and they are prepared to answer them. They don’t merely bring problems to their leader, they also bring possible solutions…if they haven’t already taken the initiative to handle the problems themselves. 

People who follow well don’t say yes when the answer needs to be no. They know when to push back on the leader and when to back off. They share the unvarnished truth with their leader at all times. They aren’t afraid to point out the flaws in a leader’s thinking but they do it in a thoughtful and compassionate way. They will hold their leader accountable for the things they say and do. If that surprises you then you need to know that in the strongest organizations accountability is a two-way street. 

Great followers will be better tomorrow than they are today. They seize every opportunity to learn and train themselves for success. They don’t wait to be “forced” into training. They try new things and you’ll never hear “because we’ve always done it that way” from them. They know what works and why. They know what doesn’t work and why. Great followers know that the minute they stop learning they stop growing. Great followers are always open to trying something new.

You’ll know you’re dealing with a great follower when you see someone who is willing to invest in relationships with almost anyone. They realize the value in different viewpoints and are willing to work with the best idea even if it isn’t theirs. Similar to Authentic Leaders, great followers come from great people. 

Whether you choose to be a leader or a follower you still need to make a commitment to be the best leader or follower you can be. Whether you decide to lead or follow you still have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. 

We know leaders can make a difference but you need to know YOU can too, even as a follower. The only question is…will you?

Well?

Everybody Needs to be Somebody

I’ve met people who said they didn’t matter and they claimed to be okay with that. I think they were so afraid that they didn’t matter that they just couldn’t admit how important it was to them that they actually did matter. 

Everyone wants to matter. Everyone needs to matter. We all want to be somebody. We want to be needed. We want to make a difference. And we want others to acknowledge that we make a difference. 

Authentic Leaders invest time daily to make certain that the people they lead know they matter. People who are fortunate enough to be led by an Authentic Leader never have to wonder if they are making a difference. Authentic Leaders communicate with specificity and frequency how each of their people make a difference. 

But here’s the thing…helping other people know that they matter in the world is not only the responsibility of those in leadership positions. We can all do that for each other and we should all be doing that for each other. Seven days a week. 

Think for a moment of the person most important in your life. The singularly most important person. When was the last time you told them that? Straight up. No beating around the bush. No worrying about looking foolish. No concerns about having your motives questioned.

Just flat out told them how much they matter to you. How huge a difference they make in your life. Told them pure and simple?

Tell them now. Tell them right now. Come back and read the rest of this later if you want but stop for now so you can tell that person right this minute. Don’t let another second go by. Tell them now!

I hope you’ve had to come back to this post and are not just continuing to read. If you told someone how much they mean to you then you’ve done a good thing. But don’t stop there. 

Pay attention to those you interact with. Watch for how they matter and tell them as well. Let them know how they are making a difference in your life or the lives of others. They need to hear it and you have the opportunity to be perhaps the first person to tell them in a long time.

Hearing that you matter to someone never gets old. Knowing people see and appreciate your value is priceless.

Be more present so you can notice the value in others. Then tell them what you’ve noticed. This isn’t hard work, if you pay attention you’ll see value in everyone and you’ll make their day, maybe their year, when you tell them what you’ve noticed.

Everybody needs to be somebody. Today, this very day, someone will rise up to become somebody. Will you be the one to help them? If you are it will be one of the best days of YOUR life.