The other day, I heard someone described as a “proper, old-school salesman”. It made me smile; I like the idea of being a ‘proper’ something.
It sparked a bit of nostalgia too. I grew up with ‘proper, old-school’ salesmen and women for whom selling was an art, a craft that used a neat and tested methodology to get results.
There’s some kind of implied weight to being proper. For instance, what mental image is brought to mind if someone is referred to as a ‘proper’ decorator or a ‘proper’ chef? It’s something that puts you at ease; it’s reassuring, positive – after all, if someone is ‘proper’ it is a given that they are trustworthy and competent, right?
Or how about a ‘proper’ graphic designer, a ‘proper’ marketer, a ‘proper’ accountant or a ‘proper’ consultant? I’d say it is of someone knowledgeable, confident and reliable. A person that gives sound advice, has proper controls and methods, takes their time and delivers quality work – The kind of person I want to work with!
So why do we make these associations? Well, it’s simple. To be ‘proper’ implies you know how things should be done, there’s mastery to what you do and an inference of:
When taken together, these qualities distinguish you as the real deal and signals to peers, partners, clients and prospects alike, ultimately that you’re not playing at it.
So, should we all be striving to be more proper?
Surely, the answer is yes? After all, the natural trajectory for anyone that wishes to be an authority and a go-to resource for information is the level of mastery one achieves by being ‘proper’.
Well… hold on...
There is a counter-argument, that ‘proper’ can be self-limiting, something that stifles innovation, a synonym for the traditional and even the outdated. Those who embody it are stuck in their ways, reluctant to diversify and flex in response to change. Woolworths was a proper shop, HMV was a proper music retailer, Kodak was your proper photography brand.
What’s my point? – Be careful how you interpret and implement your own proper. Even market disruptors like Uber, Amazon and Airbnb, who have consciously shunned the ‘proper’ business model for their industries, still operate their own version of proper. They’re not unplanned, or reckless. In fact, a common theme amongst pretty much all the sustainable, successful innovators that I have met is that they run perhaps the leanest and most disciplined businesses I have ever encountered. They have to be, or their scale would just create chaos!
Conclusion: As your marketplace becomes ever more competitive, fluid and complex, the kind of mastery and confidence that proper proper represents, will be the very thing that sets the professionals apart from the imitators.
Let’s face it, social media and easy PR allow anyone with a computer and access to the internet to create a profile and generate exposure and noise. There has to be some other way to differentiate yourself.
And, unlike many other credentials, this kind of mastery has tenure and weight and it cannot be faked.
What do you think about ‘being proper’? How do you strike a balance between ‘tried and tested’, and ‘innovative and flexible’? Let me know in the comments below.
In Part 1, we looked at the inward impact of VUCA and how we can make our own business resilient to external factors. But we also need to think of our customers and key connections in terms of the VUCA factor, particularly those VUCA ripples that we inadvertently create for them.
How many times have you had someone:
It doesn't feel good does it?
You'll recognise these examples and you'll have your own. We all inevitably have to endure elements of this (although do also read my Golden Goose and How to Sack a Client posts!), but they are apposite examples of others creating VUCA splashes in our ponds.
Actions like these create ripples. Cause enough of them and the ripples become a pattern of behaviour, that creates a reputation, and a source of problems, that can be traced back to you. Which would you rather be known as, the source of problems, or solutions?
So by inference, while it’s tempting to see VUCA purely in terms of the difficulties it presents, it also provides the opportunity to demonstrate your appreciation and respect for the time and value of those you come into contact with.
With this in mind, take these four steps to flip the dynamics of Volatility (to Stability), Uncertainty (to Certainty), Complexity (to Simplicity), and Ambiguity (to Clarity) to minimise the VUCA vibe you create for others:
In an ever changing and shifting environment, you need to be seen as totally dependable and consistent, so avoid 'dipping in and out' of your activities, especially your marketing and other highly visible/client-facing initiatives.
As it’s easy to let these activities slip during busy periods – the “monthly” newsletter that became bimonthly and the once active social media accounts that now gather dust – look at outsourcing or automating them instead. Email lists, web sign ups, content scheduling and many other tasks can all be managed and maintained this way. Take a look at the Making Time post for tips.
If you handle your marketing outreach activities well, not only will it promote trust in your brand, but it will also help customers form a more enduring relationship with your business.
Your clients are relying on you to get the job done. Promises and assurances, mean little unless they’re backed by action. Delivery is key.
If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of booking a taxi that's failed to show, or a scheduled delivery that doesn't arrive, you will understand. Let a customer down, even once, and it can plant a seed doubt that undermines your integrity and the relationship you have established. As a result your hard-fought client advocate may decide to take their business elsewhere or share their experience with others.
For this reason, your customers’ trust should never be taken for granted. Instead, show you value it, prove your reliability, and follow through on any undertaking.
Do this, and your clients will see you as an easy choice rather than a risky one.
Your customers, like you, have multiple demands to juggle and much to think about already, so respect their time and avoid complicating things.
Review the experience you provide from their perspective. More likely than not, it could benefit from a little streamlining.
Examine your processes, weed out those that are long-winded – do you really need that many questions on the client take-on form? Also, consider your offering. Is it overwhelming or difficult to understand – is it totally necessary to have all those product variations and pricing options?
While it’s good to give customers options, too much choice can hamper decision-making and stall your client take-ons.
Instead, opt for a clear and manageable set of choices, and a simple logical (obvious) sequence of next steps to follow. This will make life far easier for your clients, and ensure you stand out as a more confident and favourable option compared to your competitors.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you how essential transparency and understanding are. Make sure these elements are a core part of your 'corporate values' and that your team get this too – the “computer says no” parody may be relatable, but it’s not an association you want.
In the eyes of your clients, your website, marketing collateral, and customer-facing team members and processes are your business. They’re responsible for helping clients on their journey, and explaining the critical details of what’s going to happen and when. To communicate all this effectively, your team need clarity and understanding themselves. Don't just tell them what to do, tell them why.
Nail this, and your customers will feel like you are on their side, acting in their best interest and helping them through their journey (as opposed to putting up barriers and bureaucratic processes for your own mysterious purposes).
Final word… the idea that 'change is the only constant' is hardly new, but it does sometimes feel like it's stepped up a gear of late. Regardless, if VUCA is the new normal, it doesn’t mean we have to just accept it.
Rise to the challenge. Prime your business for resilience (VUCA Part 1) and make things as un-VUCA as possible for those you come into contact with.
Master this and you will not only navigate your own VUCA seas with confidence, you will also enhance your reputation, earn respect, and achieve deeper relationships, while others around you flounder in reactive disarray!
What VUCA waves have you had to battle? How do you make things stable, certain, simple and clear for your customers? Let me know in the comments below.
Guest blog from Trisha Lewis, Professional Communicator
Let’s dig deeper - what are the ingredients of this ‘doubt’ that you are ‘doing’ to yourself?
Try these questions out for size:
Do you ever:
Would it help if there was a technical term to sum all this up?
Well the words won’t help as such - but it is good to know that these feelings are not unique to
you! When something has been through the process of rigorous research it tends to suggest
that it is real and worth investigating.
The research I refer to was done in the 1970’s by Clance & Imes - and the name they used for
these ways of thinking was ‘Impostor Phenomenon’ (and yes I did just use spell check).
Fortunately this ‘condition’ is now more commonly referred to as ‘Impostor Syndrome’ - easier to
say and spell, whilst not so technically accurate.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
It’s what I have right now as I scour my overflowing bookshelves for yet another reference for
this blog. It’s what I had an hour ago when I came across yet another person on google who
does something similar to me and seems to be having massive success and they look different
and talk different and have a good ‘ebook’ and ….. nobody will ever take me seriously.
It’s what I did at the last networking event I attended - looked around the table and associated
‘credibility’ to every person other than myself.
It’s spending 10 times as much time as needed to ‘perfect’ a presentation, piece of work,
business card, website…..
It’s completely ignoring every achievement and qualification you have already and considering
taking an open university degree to make sure people believe that you ‘know your stuff’.
It’s NOT GOOD! It can hold you back if you let it - and it’s exhausting.
Checklist of symptoms
Effects on your business
There is a concept in marketing known as AIDA - how to lead a person to buy basically:
That makes perfect sense for persuasive communication - I certainly explore this sequence
when coaching clients and indeed use this AIDA approach frequently in verbal and written
However - let’s chuck all the above ‘impostor syndrome’ ingredients into the mix - and do so
even before you start this sequence. How does this influence the ‘action’ part? You want to get
the ‘prospect’s’ attention, interest, desire - but there is a voice in your head saying : ‘I’m a fraud
and they will catch me out any minute’. You therefore ‘pull back’ at every stage. You underplay
the benefits of what you do and more than likely you fail to get them to take action.
A quick look at the above checklist of symptoms will allow you to imagine many more ‘negative’
consequences of Impostor Syndrome thinking - the very worst being ‘giving up’ and reverting to
comfort zones to hide away where nobody will question you - where nobody will notice you -
where no mistakes will be made. You might even spend all your energy seeking ‘validation’ from
others rather than getting on with the job and seeing the results which lead you to give yourself
Is there a cure?
Firstly - you have to want a cure. It is very possible to get into a love-hate relationship with the
Impostor Syndrome - and fighting it might feel like you are fighting your very identity - which
after all you are already a bit ‘wobbly’ about.
In the words of Diana Ross:
If there's a cure for this
I don't want it
I don't want it
If there's a remedy
I'll run from it
So - having decided that you DO want a cure - the bad news is there isn’t one! Sorry.
However - having decided that you are up for doing something to change the thinking pattern -
there is a way forward. This way forward is simple to say and less simple to do. Don’t be too
hard on yourself while you are trying - keep at it and the patterns will start to change as our
brains have an amazing capacity for re-wiring connections.
The way to make this change?
You have already done step one. Remember - you are totally the boss of all this - it is only you
creating it in the first place.
Final point to consider
The Impostor Syndrome is not confined to a group of people - it can be found in well over 70%
of the population - both genders, all ages, all backgrounds, all personalities ….. It is wildly
rampant amongst the highly skilled and outwardly confident - it lurks amongst academics and
Can you imagine winning 3 Oscar’s and still saying this:
‘You think, “Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act
anyway, so why am I doing this?”‘
These exact words were spoken by the actor Meryl Streep.
I frequently explore this topic in coaching sessions - and I am so pleased to have delivered talks
to students on this prevalent mindset barrier - the discussion needs to happen.
Brilliant short animation from The School of Life
Trisha Lewis - Professional Communicator
Helping individuals and organisations remove the barriers to effective communication
How do you recognise Imposter Syndrome in yourself and your work life? Let me know in the comments below.
You may already be familiar with the term, but even if not, it’s likely you’ve encountered it.
I came across VUCA only recently and immediately it struck a chord. It represents how we understand and cope with the environment around us and in turn, how our behaviour and business activities impact on that environment and our clients.
So what is VUCA?
For an acronym, VUCA has a colourful past. The U.S. military conceptualised it after the Cold War, but it was also used to navigate the chaos of the financial crash in 2008.
VUCA describes situations that are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Now if that doesn’t reflect the space in which we all operate in the present day, then I don’t know what does!!
As you’d expect, a VUCA environment is a less than helpful one to work in because it affects our stability, confidence, planning and decision making. That said, while VUCA is generally used to describe external factors or influences over which we may have limited control, it doesn’t mean that we should just roll over.
Strategies for success in a VUCA environment
1. Remove - Avoid - Reduce
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf” (Mindfulness and meditation guru Jon Kabat-Zinn)
Here’s how you can manage the VUCA dynamics and turn the tide on the effects it has on your business…
Next Up: VUCA Part 2 – As well as looking at how our own businesses respond to VUCA, we also need to consider how we can reduce the VUCA ripples we create for our clients.
To ensure you don’t miss the second VUCA instalment sign up to the Boardroom Blog mailing list here!
By Kevin Sheldrake
Everything that moves, meets resistance. If you want to move quickly, or move a lot, then this resistance becomes a big deal.
And your business wants to move! In today’s fast-paced business environment, everything is about flexibility, speed of innovation and reaction. Your ability to innovate and bring to market, or to learn and re-design and pivot, can be the making or breaking of your hard-fought business.
So identifying, and removing, your points of drag, is important stuff.
In your business there’s a number of factors that can lead to drag: complex approval lines, lack of funding, cumbersome manual processes, excessive administration and human factors like under-motivated staff or slow, out of touch, partners or suppliers.
Whatever the cause, the outcomes are often the same: efficiency declines, growth stalls and innovation is inhibited.
So the challenge for business owners is spotting and alleviating this resistance before it becomes destructive or debilitating.
What does it look like? What should I do?
If you recognise any of these drag factors, it’s time to take action:
By the way, reducing drag in your business doesn’t necessarily mean cuts and reductions. Quite the opposite in fact - it usually requires effort and investment.
Either way, it’s tough work, especially if the causes and behaviours have become ingrained in key processes and procedures or the mindset of staff or strategic partners. If you can’t catch it early, then you may need to dial down certain non-critical efforts so you can give due focus to your streamlining.
What kinds of drag have you experienced in your business? Do you have any tips of your own to remove friction and boost productivity? Let me know in the comments below.
By Kevin Sheldrake
It’s an inherent contradiction. We’re confident in our work and want our clients to be happy, yet the idea of offering unlimited revisions makes us feel nervous. One round is fine, perhaps even two or three is feasible, but beyond that, it’s like writing a blank cheque isn’t it?
Well no, not quite.
There is no denying that some clients can be picky, but it’s not in their interest to spend unnecessary time asking for endless minute changes. The reason for this is simple; no one wins when a job is delayed. However challenging they can be, clients do understand that you both have the same goal: the best job possible, with the most efficient use of resources – time, money and physical assets.
But nevertheless, there are still things to consider before you provide this as a standard part of your service.
Balancing risk against reward
When you offer revisions, you are essentially guaranteeing the quality of your work or service. The more this includes, the stronger that guarantee appears.
Unlimited revisions are therefore a powerful and bold proposition. The client wants certainty, and from their point of view, it shows that you are skilled, that you stand behind what you do and that you pride yourself on doing a good job. Ultimately this increases their confidence, strengthening your relationship.
This has obvious benefits, as customer retention is far easier once you’ve earned their trust and demonstrated your value.
But there are of course risks too, you will, therefore, need to manage client engagement from the start and right the way through to the project’s timely completion – but surely you do this already?
The crux, however, is the balance you strike between being flexible – so you can actually make changes – and being efficient – so resources are not squandered and work with other clients isn’t jeopardised.
Project planning and management
Some of this risk can be offset by investing a little more time upfront negotiating a job’s spec and planning its delivery. Here are some considerations to bear in mind:
Unlimited revisions are a big step, but the risk that a client would make endless requests for changes is unlikely as they’d be wasting their time as much as yours!
Plus, when you also consider that a returns policy is a relatively standard part of any sales process, is it really that different? Surely, it’s just good customer service.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
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Could you be looking in completely the wrong direction?
Are you polishing your website to add that extra 10% when instead you should really be trying to find new customers?
Are you putting all your efforts into generating leads and prospects when your products are tired and off-target?
Or, maybe you’re busy building up a fantastic network of strategic partners to deliver new leads to, but failing to bring in business for yourself?
Why do we do this?
Well, there are a number of reasons. Often it’s the little things that have the greatest power to divert our attention, like an unexpected visitor, an intriguing email, and all too frequently the invitation for a tea break.
But we also do it to ourselves. How many times have you spent a Monday morning or Friday afternoon skimming your emails rather than tackling anything big or new? Perhaps it is a form of self-sabotage when we delay in tackling difficult projects, or answering unpleasant questions; preferring instead to let them stew while we graze on easier tasks.
But while it is true that we all need (and benefit from) a breather every now and again, it can lead to a false sense of security. We are enticed by the lure of a comfortable place away from challenging tasks and decisions. And once there, we fail to innovate and grow, settling instead to tread water and busy ourselves with less important things.
How can we combat it?
Be conscious of the risk of distractions and instead become more self-aware. If you know the common culprits that tend to derail your attention, you can take steps to manage or remove them.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Distraction is a common problem, but it can be overcome. The key is to concentrate on the bigger picture, remember your mission and keep your goals front of mind. It is unlikely you will enjoy every task that comes with running your own business, but with your attention focused on the job at hand you will at least power through it quickly.
Do you have any tips of your own to boost productivity and combat distraction? Let me know in the comments below.
You know, I think convenience is possibly THE most influential strategy in our New Age of Differentiation. Why? Because, when push comes to shove, convenience will over-ride all other considerations: price, quality, service… everything!
Let’s be clear. Convenience isn’t about laziness, poor decision-making or lack of market intelligence. No, convenience is a conscious buying choice. It’s a recognition of finite time, and greater priorities.
To turn this into your own competitive strategy, you have to be:
* Yes, ‘Easy to exit’. You can’t create a sustainable business by locking your customers in against their wishes. Instead, it’s up to you to keep creating and proving value for your customers, so that there is clear benefit in their wanting to stay with you.
Conversely, INconvenience creates barriers and reasons to defer. We have enough of these coming from the environment around us as it is, without creating more of our own.
Now, put the word ‘Difficult’ in place of ‘Easy’ in the list above and re-consider what that looks like for your customers.
So, which are you?
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In my last blog update I said there was a new competitive strategy in town - ‘The Experience’.
Fact is, there’s a whole posse! The traditional formula for differentiating by price/quality/delivery is no longer enough. Customers expect more, and let’s face it, we really shouldn’t expect a medal for merely delivering what we’ve said we would, at a decent quality, and for a reasonable price. Sure it’s good, but it’s not differentiation. It’s meeting expectations.
So if this is where the bar is now set, what do we have to do to go beyond it? How do we stand out from the mainstream in a new age of differentiation?
I can see five distinct strategies.
The first is my previous point about creating experiences and making emotional connections - Read the Experience post here.
And the second is Trust. In a world of massive commercialisation, consolidation, and impersonal delivery at scale, trust is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. So, on the rare occasions it does materialise, trust is noticeable, and valued.
I’ve talked about trust before, and the argument remains the same - trust is not some fluffy statement about caring and good intentions. In practice trust is only earned, and it comes from both capability and intent. You must want to do the right thing, and be capable of doing so.
Oh, and when push comes to shove, it tends to be capability that we prioritise. Why? Because all the good intentions in the world don’t count for much if they’re just talk. We’re all ultimately looking for outcomes.
And so this is the challenge for small/er businesses: Without the resources, marketing budgets, brand presence... of your bigger rivals, how to you evidence the weight of your capability, the provenance of your claims, the credibility of your networks, and the kudos of your experience and track record?
What are you doing to convince to your network that you not only want to, but can, do the right thing?
Next up: Part 3, 'Collaboration'.
This is article 2 of 5 in the 'The New Age of Differentiation' series. Keep up with the rest of the series, plus future unique updates from The Boardroom Blog, by joining The Boardroom mailing list here!
By Kevin Sheldrake
There’s a new competitive strategy in town, and it’s called ‘The Experience’.
Experiences create emotional connections. If you can surround your offering with experiences, then your clients are more likely to feel engaged, and less likely to have a distant transactional view of you.
The best Experiences go beyond the familiar ‘try-before-you-buy’ or extended trial period, approaches, and are about bringing like-minded enthusiasts together, creating strong emotional connections, and fostering loyalty and advocacy.
I’ve seen it with:
Your Experience will be most successful if:
And the best thing about creating Experiences is that it is extremely difficult to do impersonally, or at scale. That’s how you tackle the internet discounters, and better-known national brands; with genuine personal and community engagement.
Welcome to the age of Experience... What's yours?
This is article 1 of 5 in the 'The New Age of Differentiation' series. Keep up with the rest of the series, plus future unique updates from The Boardroom Blog, by joining The Boardroom mailing list here!
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