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that ‘proper’ can be self-limiting, something that stifles innovation, a synonym for the traditional and even the outdated.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.
In anticipation of our next Breakfast Board on the role of social media in personal branding, we asked Clare Groombridge, Founder and Director of South Coast Social, to write us a special guest blog...
If you’re a business owner, you’ve probably often considered how to portray the best possible image of your brand through the company social media accounts. However, many business owners I speak to are so focused on the way their company is perceived online that they often neglect a key factor - their own personal branding.
A quick Google search of your name and company will confirm that social media is one of the strongest ways for someone to FIND information about you and your business – and it’s also the best way to help DEVELOP this information into the online personal brand you wish to portray.
So why is developing your personal branding so important? Well firstly, by having a strong personal brand you will also help to boost your company profile. Research from Neilson shows that 77% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company when they hear about it from someone they trust. By ensuring your presence on social media is consistent, you can have a real influence on your company’s sales and reputation. 84% of people start their buying process with a referral (Source: SalesBenchIndex) - and Google is the very first place people look.
By creating a strong personal brand, you’re also effectively marketing yourself as an expert in your industry and demonstrating WHY people should trust you and your opinions. The same Neilson research also showed that 92% of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over brands!
Customers researching your business will also be looking at you and every social media profile you own is promoting your personal brand - and they WILL be evaluated and checked! It’s an old cliché but it’s very true - you only get one chance to make a first impression and how your personal brand is perceived could be the difference between someone choosing your business over a competitor.
However, as a business owner it’s key to ensure that you carefully research which social media networks are right for you and your audience – you should also consider each profile set up, tone of voice, content (what do you want to share), who you are looking to target and how you will engage with influencers and potential new business contacts as well as the feasibility of how often you will be able to post.
What’s been your experience of developing your personal brand, and balancing this with that of your business, on and offline? Let me know in the comments below.
Clare Groombridge, Founder and Director of South Coast Social
South Coast Social are a Bournemouth based social media agency exclusively for small to medium sized businesses that are focused on growth and expansion.
With a prestigious client list spanning a wide range of sectors, South Coast Social work with brands to develop an effective social media presence based on their unique industry knowledge and years of experience.
“If you would like some guidance on crafting YOUR unique online brand through social media, we are excited to launch our first ever bespoke Personal Branding Social Media Package – affordable and tailored to YOU, whatever your niche or experience. We’ll guide you through every step of the process, reviewing your current social media (if appropriate), evaluating your individual requirements and creating a personal branding strategy to set you apart in your industry. We can also create a package for your business partners or employees – after all 53% of decision makers have eliminated a vendor from consideration based on information they did or did not find about an employee online (Source: HubSpot).”
Want to know more? Simply email email@example.com / call 01202 985022 to book your package and start investing in YOUR online reputation!
Can you remember why you started in business? Why you decided to do what you do, in the way you do it?
Why you are in business is the most important question to answer. Knowing your ‘why’ frames every decision you will make, every person you will hire and every client you will take on. It gives your business direction and has the power to differentiate it from the competition.
Without it, anything will do, and while that seems acceptable when you first start out, down the line it can cause you real problems.
If you regularly find yourself hesitating when making decisions, doubting past actions or ruminating about the future, then you’ve perhaps lost sight of your ‘why’.
If this sounds familiar, your first task is to reconnect with it.
What is your core belief, the driving force behind what you do? Even if you’ve never said it aloud or immortalised it in your business plan, the likelihood is your business began life as a spark of inspiration or perhaps even a desire. Succinctly define it!
But, while a clear description can give you clarity and purpose, without action it is nothing more than an idealised concept. You need to use it! Take your ‘why’ further and consider how you can apply it:
And finally, the ‘why’ should inspire what you do. Whether you sell products or services, your ‘why’ should be reflected in what you offer your clients as well as in the operational processes and practices that support it.
So, with all these things in mind, don’t neglect or overlook it any longer. Think of your ‘why’ as the very essence of your business. It should guide your decisions and actions with laser-like precision, focusing and unifying your efforts to ignite momentum.
What's your 'why'? Have you ever lost sight of your ‘why’? Do you have any advice of your own? Let me know in the comments.
So this is your chance to impress. Your ‘elevator pitch’ - A 60-second window to capture the interest of a potential new connection, sparking a few thoughts, planting a few seeds, deepening the engagement and hopefully encouraging them to take some sort of action.
You’ll need to speak clearly and make sure your counterpart/s understand the fundamentals (your name, position and company name), plus what your business does (some form of punchy description of the business, its products and typical clients).
And of course to make that essential good impression you’ll also need to drop in:
And, that’s all within the moment of a brief handshake or introduction.
So how can you possibly do it? Well, the answer of course is that you can’t possibly.
It’s impossible to cram all that information into any kind of civilised two-way conversation. Believe me, I’ve seen people try and what results is a desperate, rushed stream of garbled words and mixed messages.
The smarter alternative, that avoids overwhelming your prospect, is – the art of inference!
Rather than awkwardly rattling off a list of points, instead focus on planting key facts that will project a story about yourself. Give just enough information to allow the person you’re talking with, to infer the rest without the need for a lengthy explanation.
Think about it - Your goal is merely to pique interest. Your pitch is an invitation to talk more, rather than a full audition. You want your prospect to choose to take things further.
So, with so many opportunities to network over the coming weeks (dare I mention the Christmas season looming upon us?), now is the time to perfect your powers of inference.
Here are ten thought prompts for developing an introduction that is distinctive and memorable (for all the right reasons):
The key to the perfect pitch is simplicity and brevity. Keep it succinct, people don’t like to be over-sold to. No one will retain the detail if you go on too long. They’ll just remember how you made them feel – probably like they wanted to escape.
How do you introduce yourself? What’s your ‘elevator pitch’? Let me know in the comments below.
For more networking survival tips also check out our 'Survival Guide To Networking' free e-book.
Ronseal introduced its infamous ‘Does exactly what it says on the tin’ slogan in 1994. Dubbed the anti-line, it was an enormous success, rocketing sales and making Ronseal brand leaders. Such was its power; it even entered the national lexicon and is still popular today – including our nation's our nation's esteemed leaders.
The 90’s may be long gone, but this fuss-free marketing approach seems here to stay as it continues to grow in popularity amongst advertisers, marketers and their audiences.
But, why is this? If marketing is about differentiation, the ‘it is, what it is’ approach should fall flat.
Conventional wisdom suggests that to stand out from your competitors in a market where commodity products are interchangeable, you should add extra value, emphasize an X-factor and sell a lifestyle, not just a product or service. You should talk about how your products make customers feel.
Yet, Ronseal does the opposite and is a success regardless. It focuses almost exclusively on the process (what it does) at the expensive of the outcome (what you get) and neglects the features of benefits that would set it apart from its more upmarket competitors.
So, why does this work?
Ronseal avoids directly differentiating itself from competitors and in doing so, successfully manages to differentiate itself.
While competitors are busy listing all the ways in which their product is better than any other, Ronseal has already won over their market with three words: ‘quick-drying woodstain’. This alternative approach works because:
In short, Ronseal gives its target market exactly what they want –something that does what it says it will do – and that is why their approach is successful.
So, contrary to best practice, success in a competitive marketplace might not necessarily be rooted in giving something extra, but in getting the basics right:
Could your business strategy benefit from a ‘Ronseal’ approach? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.
Who are you looking to meet? It’s a very simple question, but rarely gets a straightforward answer.
More often than not we come up with something vague and generic, probably along the lines of “anyone who wants my services” or basically ‘whoever’s willing to pay me’, and this kind of response misses the point, and also an opportunity.
For example, me, I’m looking to meet:
There. Its transparent, and specific, and gets people thinking ‘who do I know who fits this profile?’
And that of course is what you want. An unashamed to-the-point answer generates a very clear call to action, where previously there might have been little more than a vague planting of information.
So, really, who are you looking to meet?
.. well, you know how it goes. Like it or not, we start hearing, and thinking, about Christmas earlier every year.
For some of us, it’s time for one final push before the shutters go down, to end the year on a high and invest in new momentum for the new year coming. Equally though, it can be a time of frustration as your hottest contacts become distracted, elusive, and internally focused.
So alongside my usual ‘Winding Down For Christmas?’ reminder (download it as a PDF here), I’d like to humbly plant a couple of seeds of… well, let’s call it seasonal empathy… as we move into the final month of 2015.
As we enter the festive lead-up...
…what kind of different issues or opportunities will your clients have?
…what are they going to be doing differently?
…how will their mindset be different?
Think about what your customers and key contacts are focusing on, and looking for, towards the end of the year.
Now, with this insight, what can you do that’s timely, and to-the-point, and supportive, and different?
We all have an inherent aversion to (/fear of) failure.
Some of this is about how we might be perceived by others: The word ‘failure’ can sound alarmingly close to mis-management, poor judgement, even incompetence.
And some of this aversion reflects our own internal conscience: We're all operating with finite resources, and when something we do fails, we have to recognise that we have lost (/wasted) those resources for no results. Too many of these and you won’t be around for very long.
So it makes perfect sense; due to a mixture of pride and conscientiousness, we want to be associated with success.
In fact it further makes sense that, to avoid all these negative attributes, the best thing to do is follow tested and proven techniques, err your decisioning on the side of caution, and avoid risk-taking behaviour.
And you’ll already be guessing where I’m going with this, ‘cos mankind’s most amazing achievements and biggest discoveries came from doing the exact opposite: experimenting, innovating, and stepping into the unknown.
Just check back to my previous series on differentiation (especially the Leadership one); if we avoid the risk of failure we’ll never be the ones to stand out and lead movements and be known for our passion and innovation.
It needs a compromise. Something pragmatic, founded on encouraging experimentation, and managing/anticipating/allowing for fallout.
However, ultimately, you also need to recognise that our environment is just too complex to model and control every single variable and potential outcome. Sometimes you just have to put it out there, releasing new energy into the world, and seeing what happens.
How about it?
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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