A to Z of Marketing

A to Z Marketing

The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines Marketing as “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”

I think I prefer Seth Godin’s description:

The art of telling a story to a customer that they want to hear, that lets them persuade themselves to buy something. Inherent to that story:

1. You have to have something they want. You must not force it on them.

2. You have to be authentic. Tell the truth.

3. Your story has to be so remarkable that people want to tell your story to others.

Whilst the principles of marketing have remained largely the same for some time, the execution, planning, tools and techniques have significantly evolved over recent years. In this A to Z, I’d like to cover some of the fundamentals of Marketing Strategy as well as touch upon some of the newer terms and techniques used in today’s marketing toolkit.

A – Advertising

Advertising is used to describe the whole creative process of communicating a message. This message can be about the social or commercial benefits or the characteristics of a particular product or service. Advertising has evolved into a vastly complex form of communication, with literally thousands of different ways for a business to get a message to a prospective customer. Examples include broadcast (e.g. TV & Radio), print (e.g. magazines and direct mail), outdoor (e.g. billboards and street furniture) and social media (e.g. facebook and twitter).

The process of advertising (or marketing communications) is used to acquire a customer, to keep the customer, and to satisfy the customer’s need (want or desire) for the particular product or service.

B – Brand

A brand is NOT a logo.

Perhaps brand expert Marty Neumeier said it best:

“A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.”

A brand encompasses the sum total of how a business, product, or service is perceived by those who interact with it. For employees, it represents their pride in belonging. For suppliers, it governs how they optimise their operations to better serve us. And for customers, a brand is both their belief in who we are and a badge they wear that communicates something about who they are.

For marketers especially, they are ambassadors for the brand and therefore your marketing strategy must stay loyal to your brand, its values and its vision.

C – Customers

Customers should be at the heart of any Marketing Strategy for any organisation. Their characteristics will vary depending on your marketplace, products and services but you ignore them, their needs and their behaviours at your peril. Having a deep understanding of your customer will be at the heart of success of your Marketing Strategy.

We’ll cover a few areas of customer understanding in this A-Z because it is so important, but two specific piece of advice I would give above all others are:

  1. Talk to customers – As many of them as you can, as often as you can, as early as you can. Don’t just trust your marketing strategy and its effectiveness to what Gartner or CFI may say (that insight is useful though!) or what a marketing agency may say alone. Talk to customers or prospects about their business, or their personal circumstances; what their challenges area and what’s important to them.
  2. Put on your customer glasses – Look at all your customer touchpoints from your customers’ perspective. How would you like to receive information about a new product or service? How would you like to be billed and when? Would you expect to be able to get in contact with a business 24/7? Would you like to buy online or have someone call you or make a visit? And so on. You’d be surprised at how many businesses do things for their own convenience and not that of their customers!

D – Data

Data will make or break your Marketing Strategy and execution. Do you know who your customers are? Do you know what they buy from you, when, how often and why? Do you know what they’re saying about you and where? How happy are your customers and are they recommending you to friends, colleagues or their contacts? What products or services would they like to buy from you in the future?

I would hope you could answer most of these questions, but many companies struggle. Data collection, quality and analysis should form a key part of any business process and getting a single view of your customers in one place is critical.

E – Everything ‘E

Even if your business is traditionally offline, you should actively consider what your online presence needs to be in the future. You also need to consider how much you have to invest in your online presence, what technologies you will need to use and also whether you have the skills in-house to achieve what your strategy dictates. The good news is that there are plenty of really good technology providers and online marketing agencies that can help you, as well as plenty of online cheap resources that you can tap into.

Keep a look out for future posts on Everything ‘E’

F – Focus Groups

Focus groups can be an important and really useful tool for getting feedback regarding new products, packaging, names or new services before they are made available to the public. Focus groups can provide invaluable information about the potential market acceptance of the product or service.

Focus groups are normally conducted by a trained moderator among a small group of respondents which could be prospective customers, actual customers, a combination of the two as well as cross sections from across your marketplaces. The session is normally conducted in an unstructured and natural way where respondents are free to give views from any aspect.

They are normally recorded and attendees are often paid in some way for attendance.

Top Tips:-

  1. Attend the session yourself if you can – purpose-built focus group venues often have secondary rooms where you can view the sessions live. By attending yourself, you not only get the see the session and get feedback immediately, you can tweak questioning and throw in ideas during a break in the session to get more out of them.
  2. If you can’t attend, watch the audio / video in full. Sometimes well-meaning agencies / staff will distil feedback that will distort the message coming back from the group. I’ve often found discrepancies in feedback in my experience.
  3. Focus groups are often expensive and time-consuming to run, and therefore you may not run many at any one time and therefore the sample size is small. You should be cognisant of this and be careful not jump to conclusions if one or two people like / dislike a particular idea /feature / price point etc.
  4. Lastly, DO listen. Even if it was your idea and you ‘know’ it’s a good one, if 80% of your focus group don’t like it….don’t do it! I’ve known some stubborn product managers, business owners and senior managers that didn’t listen, went ahead anyway and reaped the appropriate reward!

G – Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing “works because it’s simple to understand, easy to implement and outrageously inexpensive,” says Jay Conrad Levinson, the man who coined the phrase.

Consumers have grown immune to big budget advertising, but marketers that expend a bit of time, effort and creativity can generate effective results with inexpensive, small-scale stunts.

There are some great and some extremely cost-effective as well as expensive examples here

H – Hits, Likes, Shares and Followers

Social Media is increasingly becoming more important for marketing in organisations of all sizes and segments. Whether for brand awareness, tracking customer perceptions, driving sales leads or simply to have more conversations with your customers Social Media is here to stay for a good time to come. The important thing to decide is what are you going to use it for, why and how and with what resource?

Please see the following previous Think Oak posts for more information:

A to Z of Business Social Media

The New SMS – Social Media Strategy

I – Internal Marketing

In medium to large businesses Internal Marketing becomes much more crucial to the success of achieving your marketing and organisational goals. Effectively engaging employees in your Vision, Strategy and Goals can have a significant positive impact on sales and profitability as well as the emotional well-being of your people.

A previous post Communicate or Fail will give you a few pointers.

J – Joined up

Joined-up marketing is all about recognising the different ways people interact with your brand. It’s also about putting in place collateral at each of these touchpoints which work together to deliver the right level of engagement and – of course – sales.

Most marketing campaigns and certainly overall strategies these days are not simply delivered via one marketing channel. A mix of online and offline activity is used to get the most impact for your brand.

There are a couple of pitfalls I’ve come across in my career from a marketing strategy execution perspective that I would urge you to think about as part of your marketing planning:

  1. Ensure that all your front line people understand your marketing plan, activity and messaging. Your front line people need to know that the phones are going to start ringing and what offers and products are being promoted PLUS they need to be trained on what to expect from customers in the way of questions.
  2. If you have commissioned sales people, either direct, telesales or via another channel, you need to ensure that they are ‘motivated’ to sell that product or service, both financially and that they know how to sell it.

K – KPIs

Any Marketing Strategy must lay out and actively monitor and manage key performance indicators (KPI’s).

Below are some suggested must have metrics to measure whatever your marketing strategy is:

1.      Return on Investment (ROI)

This KPI is the single most important KPI for your marketing team to monitor. It provides an honest assessment of your performance so you know which campaigns are generating revenue.

2.      Incremental Sales

This KPI is closely related to ROI and measures the contribution your marketing efforts make to sales. This KPI emphasises the importance of monitoring the effectiveness of each of your campaigns – top marketers meticulously measure each lead, win, and failure that results from their campaign. To formulate this KPI, you need to establish baseline sales and clearly define which channels your marketing efforts are going to affect.

3.      Cost per Lead

This KPI puts the focus on the effectiveness of your campaign at generating leads for each pound / dollar / euro spent. This helps to keep your marketing activities in perspective. Even if you have a pet project that you are particularly attached to, the numbers will not lie. If a campaign isn’t panning out, you need to be prepared to go back to the drawing board.

4.      Conversion Rates

These types of metrics are important because they provide a benchmark for gauging a campaign’s success through to a sale and help you understand where, if anywhere, you are losing sales. As important as it is to monitor your ability to convert visits to leads, you should also measure what leads turn into wins (and what channel they came through). This will help tell you which channels resonate with people ready to make a purchase.

5.      Online / Social Media Reach and Engagement

Whilst some social media activity is connected to customer service and brand building, you do need to demonstrate value for the effort and resource you are investing into social media. Capture the growth in reach and engagement (likes, comments, retweets, shares, etc) for all channels each month, then get to the bottom line.

# Lead Conversions assisted by each social media channel

# Customer Conversions assisted by each social media channel

# Traffic associated with social media channels

L – Lessons Learned

I’ve found that as part of building any strategy, it’s useful to openly review successes and failures from the past, not only from within your business or your market, but from other industries. What can you take from these that you can learn and build upon for your strategy. This should be an ongoing process throughout the life-cycle of your strategy anyway, but as a minimum should be done as part of your strategic planning process.

M – Marketplace Analysis

As part of any Marketing Strategy and its delivery you need a deep understanding of the following areas:

Market Size – Current and Future

Market Growth Rate

Market Trends – Historic and Future

Market Profitability

Customer Segmentation

Competitor Review

I will be covering these areas in much more detail in future Think Oak! posts.

N – Net Promoter Score

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is used by many of today’s top businesses to monitor and manage customer relationships. It is a useful measure of the likelihood of successful WOM (Word of Mouth / Word of Mouse) of your customer base. I would argue that it is only one measure of customer satisfaction that you should be measuring, as by itself does not give you the breadth of detail you’ll need to address any issues that arise.

NPS is calculated from a single loyalty question, “How likely is it that you would recommend this company to your friend or colleague?” Based on their rating of this question using a 0 to 10 likelihood scale where 0 means “not at all likely” and 10 means “extremely likely,” customers are segmented into three groups:

Detractors (ratings of 0 to 6)

Passives (ratings of 7 and 8)

Promoters (ratings of 9 and 10)

A company can calculate its Net Promoter Score by simply subtracting the proportion of Detractors from the proportion of Promoters.

A successful Net Promoter program includes several factors that work together. Although NPS is useful, the most prevalent cause of failure in Net Promoter programs is the inability of the organisation to go beyond the metric and build out a complete operational model with NPS as its centerpiece. The breakthrough in Net Promoter comes from shifting the entire program from a research model to an operational model and embedding it in the business.

O – Organic Growth

Organic growth means expanding your business and increasing turnover by carrying on doing what you’re doing, rather than through acquisitions (buying other businesses) or through moving into new markets. You might move into a new geographic region or use a new sales channel, but you’re still using your original business model. You don’t force growth with outside investment and the rate of growth is more natural – hence the name organic.

As part of your marketing strategy it’s key to understand how you want to grow your business and which growth strategy you’re pursuing. It’s not easy to do more than one at once, without a great deal of 100% focussed resource working on each.

P – Planning

An output of your marketing strategy will be your marketing plan. If your strategy is the what, where and why, the plan is the how, who and when!

Your marketing plan outlines specific actions that you will take to market your product or service potential customers. These actions work to persuade these potential customers to purchase your products or services.

Your marketing plan does not need to be long and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to complete. Marketing plans can be a part of your overall business plan or as a singular document. If you think of it as your “roadmap” that will provide you with detailed directions on how to reach your marketing goals.

Top Tips:

  1. Ensure that each element of the plan has a clear budget, targets for leads, sales and other outcomes as well as a clear timeline of what is to happen when.
  2. Understand how your marketing plans and their outcomes match your overall marketing budget, and forecasted revenues and sales.
  3. Have some plan B’s and C’s – What will you do if you don’t generate enough leads and therefore sales as part of your plan?
  4. Depending on your businesses markets, products and services you may have very different sales cycles. You need to have a clear understanding of these in order to work on your plan and your targets.

Q – Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Simplistically, research can be quantitative or qualitative:

  • Quantitative research provides statistical information – for example, how many potential customers there are and what their average incomes are
  • Qualitative research examines people’s feelings and attitudes towards your brand, product or service, and what motivates them

The traditional boundaries between qualitative and quantitative research are beginning to blur. This is occurring as marketing research moves away from a mass-market orientation into an era of ever more precisely targeted niche markets, particularly business and professional markets.

Increased interest in marketing to small niche markets, particularly among business and professional markets has created new opportunities for survey researchers and businesses to include qualitative components to their quantitative research.

I would argue that a key part of your marketing strategy, should be to capture both types of data as part of your business as usual activity so that you can continually monitor sentiment to your organisation and its services.

R – Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing is all about developing long-term relationships with customers so that they provide you with ongoing business. An organisation must meet customer satisfaction expectations consistently to retain and develop long-term trust and relationships with customers. Traditional transactional marketing used to focus on attracting customers for one-time sales rather than repeat business. It takes a lot of work to persuade customers to make their first purchase with you, but if you can persuade customers to give you repeat business it will cost you less money and time…and build Word of Mouth and in today’s world of social media, Word of Mouse.

Not all business relationships are created equal however. Some customers generate huge revenues without much work on your part. Others make you feel like you’re squeezing water from a stone, and require enormous nurturing and work to extract even a small amount of value. You will be much more successful when you learn to evaluate different types of business relationships, and then focus effectively on those that offer the highest potential.

S – Sales

Marketing is everything that you do to reach and persuade prospects. The sales process is everything that you do to close the sale and get a signed agreement or contract. Both are necessities to the success of a business. You cannot do without either process. By strategically combining both efforts you will experience a successful amount of business growth. However, by the same token if the efforts are unbalanced it can curtail your growth.

I’m referring particularly here where you have telesales or field sales people in your organisation (or outsourced to a third-party).

Marketing has increasingly become about creating and maintaining conversations with customers. There has been a shift from talking at people, to talking to people. This just so happens to be sales peoples’ area of expertise!

A key part of your marketing strategy should include the answers to some of the following questions:

1. Is there a gap between what’s being marketed and what’s being sold? What is it and why?

2. Are the leads you deliver to the sales team of high enough quality to be converted?

3. What has the Sales team learned after a successful, and unsuccessful campaigns? How can this information better prepare your strategy going forward?

4. What information can marketing provide Sales to better complete a prospective customer profile?

5. Have you created a system to ensure continuous feedback between both sales and marketing?

T – Testing

Unless you have an unlimited budget, and you don’t, a key strand of a successful marketing strategy is testing.

Before you invest 20% of your marketing budget on putting an advert in big national newspapers for one day in the year, you may want to test whether the types of customers you wish to attract will a) see the advert, b) read the advert, c) do anything about it.

By testing your market and customer segments using different creative and media, you will be able to get a better view as to what attracts leads to your organisation and what doesn’t. More importantly you need to find out whether those leads convert to sales. It may be that some content may drive significant volumes of calls into your sales teams, that because of the marketing execution, do not convert to new business. Invest small amounts of your budget into new marketing initiatives to test their effectiveness with your prospects – It’s worth it!

U – USP – Unique Selling Proposition

Before you can begin to sell your product or service to anyone else, you have to know what differentiates your product / service from that of your competitors. This is especially important when your product or service is similar to those around you. Very few businesses are one-of-a-kind. Just look around you: How many clothing retailers, air conditioning installers, marketing agencies or supermarkets are truly unique?

The key to effective selling in this situation is what marketing professionals call a “unique selling proposition” (USP). Unless you can pinpoint what makes your business unique in a world of similar competitors, you cannot target your sales efforts successfully.

One way to start finding your USP is to analyse how other companies use their USPs to their advantage. This requires careful analysis of other companies’ marketing messages. If you analyse what they say they sell, not just their product or service characteristics, you can learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from competitors.

Top Tips:

  1. Put your customer spectacles on again! – What do your customers really want?
  2. Know what motivates your customers’ behaviour and buying decisions
  3. What are the real reasons customers buy your product instead of a competitor’s

V – Value Proposition

Now you know your USP, you need to think about how you put that to your prospects – Your Value Proposition. A value proposition is a short statement that tells your prospect why they should buy from your company. It is focused on outcomes. Your value proposition distils all the complexity of the value you provide into something that your prospective customers can easily grasp and remember. This helps spread word-of-mouth marketing and it differentiates you from the competition.

Regardless of the size of your organisation or the type of industry you are in, you should have a value proposition. To help you, here are some guidelines to follow in creating one. A strong value proposition does the following:

  • Creates interest, so that your prospects ask questions and want to learn more.
  • Differentiates your offer from your competitors’ offers
  • Increases the quantity and quality of your sales leads and makes conversion to a customer much easier
  • Wins your business greater market share in your targeted segments
  • Aligns your business operations more closely to customer needs
  • Focuses on your customers’ perspective

A good value proposition includes demonstrated results that will catch the attention of decision-makers – results like increased revenues, decreased costs, improved operational efficiency and so on.

W – Website

Business websites still beat social marketing as a more successful digital marketing method, according to a recent Gartner survey.

A web-site is still a hugely important part of the marketing mix and marketing strategy for the majority of businesses. You should also consider your web presence for mobile devices also, as recent figures suggest that mobile users are more likely to buy if your site is mobile optimised, and more likely to leave immediately if it’s not.

No matter how popular Facebook gets, or how much traffic Pinterest generates, people still turn to Google (and to a lesser degree, Bing,) to find suppliers. Additionally, if you generate a good proportion of your business locally, you really need to step up your local search engine optimisation.

Keep your content fresh, informative and above all make it easy to find information and to buy – it may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at even the largest businesses that don’t refresh their content more than twice a year!

Digital marketing is expected to grow significantly in importance over the next couple of years according to Gartner with 75% of respondents said it will be very important one year from now, as opposed to 48% who reported it is very important today. And almost 90% of respondents said it will be very important in two years.

X – X, Y & Z Generations

Each generation has unique expectations, experiences, generational history, lifestyles, values, and demographics that influence their buying behaviours. Accordingly, many companies are reaching out to multi-generational consumers and trying to understand and gain the attention of these diverse buyers. Multi-generational marketing is the practice of appealing to the unique needs and behaviours of individuals within more than one specific generational group, with a generation being a group of individuals born and living about the same time.

Generation X was born during 1965-1977 and are in the 36-48 age range

Generation Y was born during 1977-1994 and are in the 19-36 age range

Generation Z was born after 1994 and are less than 19 years old

Depending on your marketplace, generational considerations should be made as well as demographic or vertical ones!

Y – Yesterday’s News

The headlines have been full of business failures over the last 12-24 months. Some very big companies have collapsed because of their lack of marketing vision, strategy and execution. Do not become one of them because of a lack of thought and planning. Invest heavily in your strategy, listen to your customers and learn quickly from executional failures.

Z – Zoom

By Zoom, I mean injecting pace into your marketing strategy and execution. Pace in marketing is more essential today than at any time. In order to move at the pace of the digital and social era, marketing teams must move at blazing speeds. Technology has created a quantum leap in how fast we receive customer feedback, campaign results, and questions from the CEO. Companies that complete rapid cycles of test, execute, learn, and optimise gain competitive advantage. The definition of success is increasingly speed based and you need to keep up!

Quite a lengthy post, so hope you managed to reach the end and got something useful from it! As ever, I’d love to hear from you and get feedback on the post. Until next time.

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A to Z of Direct Selling

Direct Sales, Direct Selling

Selling is at the heart of business, even if you’re not in ‘Sales’.

Think about the following scenarios:

  •        You’re trying to convince your manager to develop a new product, but can’t get him or her to take things further
  •        You’d like to introduce a new system into your team but can’t get people’s support
  •        You’re trying to convince a new person to join your organisation
  •        You need to get a business case written and signed-off but need help from a number of people as well as sign-off by your boss

Are all of these not selling something?

Whether you’re in a traditional sales role or not, it’s good to know some sales techniques. Knowing how to sell is a great ability to have, and it’s one that’s sure to be respected strongly within your organisation. And if you’re not in a ‘selling’ role, having some knowledge of the challenges faced in sales, may help you to build stronger relationships with people who are! Whilst this post will focus on selling in the field, many of these methods can be used to ‘sell’ internally within your organisation too.

A – Ask the Right Questions

Throughout a sales relationship with a customer and even before engaging with a prospective customer you need to ask yourself and the customer the right questions.

Too many people assume that they fully understand their prospects’ problems. You need to ask questions at the right time about the right things in order to get the information you need to make the sale, or else you might lose credibility and lose the sale forever.

B – Benefit Selling

Having spent my career in technology companies, I know from personal experience that technologists, including technology sales and marketing people, love to talk about features and the latest advancement in a particular product area. That’s great if your customer loves technology and knows what all the features can do for them, but very often you’re not selling to these kind of customers.

What tangible benefits does your product or service bring to the customer and her business? Will it make them more productive, and if so, how? Will it save them money over their current product or service, and if so, how much? Will it give them a competitive advantage over their competitors, and if so, why? Will your product or service de-risk their business in some way or help them sell more, make more, or use less? If so, why and by how much? The more specific and tailored you can be in your answers to these questions with the customer, the better chance you have of getting a sale.

C – Closing the Sale

Closing the sale is obviously one of the most important parts of selling. Without going into every technique on how to close, I would say that you should think about the following:

You do need to ask for the sale! I’m amazed at the number of sales people I’ve interviewed that haven’t asked me for the job – the sale. They didn’t get a second interview.

Always have your closing materials with you – not having the relevant ‘paperwork’ ready does two things; it tells the customer you’re not prepared and it gives them an opportunity to change her mind.

Be prepared to counter objections with reasoned and tailored responses

If you’ve ‘opened’ the sale well, spent a lot of time, energy and mental agility on learning the precise nature of the customer’s needs and their ability to pay for it, and if you’ve crafted a proposal that matched those precisely, then the close will be much easier.

D – Demonstrations

When done well, demonstrations of your product and service to customers can be extremely effective in moving them to a different stage of the sales cycle and ultimately a sale. Demonstrations act as an explanation of what your product is or does, proof that it works and is effective and relevant to your customer and can motivate them to want it after seeing it in action or using it. They can take many forms depending on what you’re actually selling.

Examples might be:

A case study or white paper on the use of your product or service

A face to face, online or video demonstration of your product in action

Try before you buy experiences – in the home, at a supermarket or a car showroom

A simulator or virtual walk-through

Two top tips:

  1. Test everything at least twice on your demonstration before you’re in front of the customer
  2. Have a back-up plan in case it doesn’t work!

E – Expert Advice

Customers want to feel that they’re buying from someone who knows what they’re talking about or at least that you can bring in the right subject matter experts if the solution you’re selling is a complex one.

F – Forecasting

A key part of a sales person’s role is the ability to forecast their sales regularly so that the business supporting them can plan in advance for:

Stock / resource availability

Gearing up production – placing demand on suppliers/production to ensure supply

Allows marketing to ramp up or down marketing activity, or shift their messaging

Gives management a view on whether budgeted growth is being met and whether further remedial action will be required to meet any under / over-performance

G – Getting Your Foot in the Door

You can’t make a sale until you at least get ‘your foot in the door’. How do you get noticed in a positive way by a potential customer so that you don’t get your metaphorical or actual foot crushed by the door closing firmly on it?

Knocking down doors is a hard business, especially in a difficult marketplace.  If your company’s marketing department isn’t driving leads for you then you have to do it yourself. Here’s some tips:

Who are your target customers and why?

Research the customers you’re targeting – Who are the decision makers? Have they been in the business news? How are they doing financially? Have they had any recent successes?

Build and use your business network to drive introductions to the right decision makers.

Have a strategy as to what will grab the interest of these customers and tailor your approach accordingly.

Don’t give up. Even if you get knock-backs, be persistent, be professional and focussed.

H – Help the Customer

Often-times the customer doesn’t actually know what the best product or service is to suit their needs. They know they have a problem that needs a solution and maybe an understanding of the direction they need to take, but not a thorough worked through list of detailed requirements, especially for a complex problem or solution. Through a process of listening, asking the right questions and collective knowledge you can point the customer in the right direction.

I – Investigate Thoroughly

Whether it’s prior to engaging a new customer or during the sales cycle, it’s important to know as much as you can about a sale, a prospective customer, an existing customer, your competitors and innovations in your marketplace. Being armed with all of this information will put you on the front in conversations both with your customers and internally when you need to fight for resource or help.

J – Juggling Balls

Sales professionals, especially successful ones, need to be extremely organised and have the ability to juggle a number of balls at any one time. They need to be managing their pipeline of sales (more on that later), writing proposals, building target lists of prospects, re-signing existing customers, and often dealing with customer queries and pricing requests. They also need to be on top of their marketplace, maintain their knowledge on new products and services as well as keeping an eye on the competition.

K – Knowledgeable

Great sales people are sponges for knowledge. Constantly looking for opportunities, they keep an eye on their market, the latest trends and build up enough knowledge about key vertical sectors and their customers so that they can converse knowledgeably on a range of topics.

L – Listening

Listening is a core competency for anyone wanting to get ahead in business, but no more so than sales. Great sales people listen intently for buying signals, doubt, time-wasting and potential barriers to a sale. By listening for the said and the unsaid, a  great sales person uses their two ears and one mouth in the right proportions.

M – Motivation

Self-motivation is a crucial skill in sales. When the going gets tough a sales person needs to dig deep and find the energy to keep motivated and keep focussed on their target. In sales you often get more knock backs than sales and it’s important that you find ways to be able to bounce back and keep going.

N – Networking

Networking is massively important for a sales person – offline and online. If you want to be really successful in sales, you have to make time, often out of normal working hours to build your network. If you want further information on see a previous post – Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

O – Objection Handling

In sales you will always have to handle objections throughout the sales cycle. One very effective way to deal with objections is to pre-empt them as part of your discussions. If you have done your homework, you will be aware of the four or five concerns that your prospect may have so you can incorporate them into your presentations and discussions. This can be effective at promoting you and your organisation in a professional manner. Rather than operate a head in the sand approach, you tackle these reasonable concerns as part of your pitch coming from a position of strength and demonstrating that you do not run from the hard questions.

Here’s a four step approach in dealing with objections:

  1. Ensure that you make the prospect aware that you understand where they are coming from and their concern is not unreasonable
  2. Qualify the objection, so that you understand exactly what the objections is
  3. Sell the business benefits again, taking into account their objection. Be aware that your approach first time round didn’t quite work so you will at least have to expand and take different angles to re-enforce the point
  4. Ask them if they are happy and understand what you said and that you have been able to relieve their concern

P – Pipeline

Managing your pipeline effectively is hugely important, not only for you, the sales person, but for your management team and the wider business.

A sales pipeline works by placing all leads or prospects at the different stages of the sales cycle, and then measuring their progress through the pipeline, from unqualified lead to satisfied repeat customer. If you use a tool such as Salesforce.com or Goldmine, you can manipulate and analyse your pipeline quickly and easily, if you’ve kept it up-to-date, to report upwards and help you plan your activity for the days, weeks and months ahead.

Q – Qualifying

Qualifying is the art of determining what the customer needs and therefore wants, when they want it, whether they can afford to buy it and whether they’re holding the purse strings. A simple 5 step process should give you some of that key guidance – PACTS:

  1. Product Need – What need is the customer trying to fulfil and will your product or service meet that need? It pays for both sides to be honest at this stage, so neither of you are wasting your time.
  2. Authority – The decision maker is ideally who you have to qualify. If you are not talking to that person,you can capture the rest of the information and get in front of the decision maker as soon as possible.
  3. Cash – Can the prospect afford to buy your product or service? If there are no major issues they will gladly answer and back it all up, easing any worries that may be present.
  4. Timing – When does the customer require your service or product? Business situations can change quickly and your prospect may be interested to get an offer in now, but be straight with them and ask if the timing is right and ask them the likely hood of requirements changing. Looking out for the customer is important to build a good relationship, getting all of the possible time constraints out in the open will help with the final decision.
  5. Stakeholders – Who are the key stakeholders you need to influence to get the sale? It may be that there are a number of people you will need to influence before you will get a decision.

R – Relationships

Having strong relationships with customers is really important for a number of reasons, and yes one of them is to sell more. But having a good relationship also reduces a customer’s tendency to move somewhere else, allows you to learn more about their business and their marketplace, open up their network to yours through introductions and recommendation, and in one or two cases you may build up strong and lasting personal relationships which is always a great thing!

S – Solution Selling

Solution selling has been a buzz term for a couple of decades now, if not longer. It is predicated on discovering customer needs and aligning your solution to those needs. Sales people show customers how their solution better meets their needs than any competitor solution through a process of questioning and exploration. However, I think there is a shift happening in certain segments of the market, as customers become more informed via the web and their social networks. Customers are more aware of their needs and the kinds of solutions available probably more than at any other time. Selling a solution is still important, but it has to be outcome focussed, and potentially you may need to put some ‘skin in the game’ to close the sale. How confident are you in your service levels? How confident are you in the savings you’ve promised? Are you willing to put that to the test with Service Level Guarantees or revenue share on savings?

T – Trust

The number one attribute of a great sales person is trust. If you cannot be trusted within your organisation you’re not likely to last long.

What do I mean by this?  – If you continually over-promise customers things as part of your solution in order to close the deal, you’re going to disappoint or lose the customer when your internal teams can’t meet those requirements either to time, or to budget, or at all. You’re going also going to upset the customer, possibly enough for them to go elsewhere or at best not want to buy anything from you for a while, if at all.

U – Understand Who are the Influencers and Decision Makers

When you’re selling into larger organisations you really need to invest time and energy in finding out who all the key influencers and decision makers are for that prospect. You need to be aware that some of those influencers may not even work in that organisation. Who does your decision maker play golf with – do you know her? Do you know any of the senior people in the organisation through people in your business or social network? Getting the inside track on the people you need to meet and influence, could save you months in a long sales cycle.

V – Value from the Customer Perspective

I have mentioned this indirectly a couple of times within this post and it’s not by accident. Throughout the whole sales cycle from lead to close you need to be thinking about and talking about what value you’re bringing to the customer. If there are multiple influencers and decision makers in the loop, you’ll need to think about their individual ‘hot buttons’ and press them. The Finance Director will be wanting the best deal, for the lowest price with the best payment terms. The Marketing Director will be wondering how this will help her drive more leads of her own. The Managing Director will want both of those things, but also peace of mind that once the deal is done, the solution will go in smoothly, that her business won’t be affected in any way to the negative and that she has the phone number of your bosses boss, should anything go wrong.

W – Wining & Dining

Hospitality is still a big part of sales, but you need to ensure that you are mindful of the relevant bribery acts in your country and the bribery and hospitality policies of your prospective and existing clients. That said, spending quality time with customers, new and old, in an informal setting over dinner, watching the big game or race is a great way to strengthen relationships, build new relationships and have some fun.

X – X Marks the Spot – Getting the Contracts Signed

The deal is NEVER done until you have the proverbial signature next to the ‘X’ on the contract. Many times in my career have I been told that the deal was done, only to find that the contract was sitting with lawyers for 6 months, or the customer changed their mind, or they actually awarded the contract to someone else. You haven’t closed, until the contract is signed (plus any cooling off period if that applies).

Y – You are a Differentiator

As a sales person, you are representing your organisation’s brand probably more often more than anyone else. You can be THE differentiator between a win and a loss, a loyal customer and an angry customer, success or failure. Something to think about!

You need to come across as being confident in yourself and your abilities. To be truly successful in sales, it’s also really important that you have a firm belief in the products and services you’re selling as well as the brand you’re representing. A customer can see right through a sales person that doesn’t!

Z – Zone of Influence

As a sales person, the more you interact within your customers, the more time that you invest in  your business and social media networks, assuming you’re doing all the right things, the more your zone of influence will increase. I’ll leave you with a personal story that I hope will resonate with you. I remember attending a networking event, when I was new into a role, and looked out upon a sea of unfamiliar faces, except that of a competitor. That competitor knew everyone in the room by their first name. Let’s just say that since that time, I’ve made it my business to  network and build my zone of influence!

I hope you enjoyed this A-Z and as ever, would love to hear your views and feedback.

A to Z of Employability

A to Z Employability

I often get asked by teachers, lecturers and students what are the key skills and qualities that businesses are looking for in young people leaving full-time education for a career in business. In this A – Z I’d like to give some pointers on the very important topic of Employability. I would suggest that there are some people already in business, who are looking to progress their career that could also enhance their skills in some of these areas covered in this post.

A – Attitude

A positive attitude is the key foundation for employability – this can be summed up as a ‘can-do’ approach, a readiness to take part and contribute, openness to new ideas and a drive to make those ideas happen.

B – Behaviours

I’ve listed below some of the key behaviours I would expect to see in any of my employees:

Being courteous and having good manners

Being punctual for meetings

Generous listening of others

Honesty – always be up front

C – Commitment

If you commit to something, then follow through with it. If you do what you say you’ll do, and consistently, you will quickly be recognised as someone who can be trusted to get the job done.

D – Digitally Literate

The nature of knowledge is changing and, in this digital age, our definition of basic literacy urgently needs expanding. With an estimated 90% of UK jobs requiring some level of IT competency, the notion of digital literacy – those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society – is one that needs to be taken seriously by schools, colleges and universities. In fact, 16 million people in the UK aged 15 and over still don’t have basic on-line Skills.

Examples of Digital Literacy:

  • Understanding how to use web browsers, search engines, email, text, wiki, desktop publishing, and office software such as spreadsheets, word processors, presentation suites and databases.
  • The ability to evaluate on-line resources for accuracy/trustworthiness of information.
  • Understanding of social media and on-line etiquette
  • Ability to use basic hardware such as projectors, electronic whiteboards, printers and so on.

E – Enthusiastic

Whether you are just starting out in the workplace or you are looking to further your career, enthusiasm for work and the organisation you are targeting is hugely important.

Interviewers / hiring managers love enthusiastic people. They love them because they convey a sense that they will go the extra mile to excel in the role. They’ll do everything on the job description and a bit more.

F – Flexible

Flexibility of an employee is very high on my personal list of qualities I am looking for in candidates for any role. Someone who is prepared to roll their sleeves up to help someone meet a deadline or take on extra responsibility for a special project, even if it’s not their job, will get noticed for all the right reasons.  Going the extra mile for internal or external customers and being willing to adapt to change is crucial for many roles and many organisations.

G – Goal Oriented

People who know what they want are always more likely to get it. The most successful people in business are those who have clear goals to aim for. So decide right now what your goals are in terms of income, lifestyle, and so on. When your goals are clear in your own mind, you dramatically increase your chances of reaching them. In other words, you need to be organised, deadline driven, and do NOT always rely on others to give you a task.

H – Helping Others

Whether it’s showing someone how to insert a picture into a presentation or proof-reading a proposal, helping other people is a great way to build relationships, shows a willingness to succeed and increases the likelihood of you receiving help when you need it. We all need help sometimes!

I – Impact

Presenting a strong, competent, positive image to others throughout your career is important. Having the ability to converse confidently one on one and in groups is something the majority of people need to do in their careers. It’s worth investing time and effort in working on you presentation skills early!

J – Judgement

Judgement is needed for any job. The ability to make a sound decision based on the facts and implement a plan can make the difference between failure and success. Assessing the strength of your judgement skills and those of others can help you learn to improve your chances of employment and success.

K – Knowledgeable

Whilst you can learn many things on the job, any role will demand a certain base level of knowledge. The more knowledge you can build up about your chosen career path, the better. Whatever field you are looking to work in, there will be boundless information already published on-line and in periodicals. Get into the habit early of reading around your industry vertical and keep up-to-date. As an employer, you can tell very quickly who is well-read and informed and who isn’t.

L – Learner

Each of us can always learn and learn every day.  You can learn from people in your teams, your customer interactions, a mentor, your business network, podcasts as well as from reading and more formal structured training. Make learning a habit that you never break.

M – Manage Your Time

Time management is the effective use of a range of skills, tools and techniques used to organise or manage time when accomplishing specific tasks, projects and goals. Effective time management is underpinned by a range of additional skills which include planning, allocating, goal setting, delegation, monitoring and analysis of time spent, organising, scheduling and prioritising. In most roles you will be expected to juggle all of your work load and hit deadlines.

N – Numeracy Skills

Numeracy involves an understanding of numerical data, statistics and graphs, it is also part of making decisions and reasoning.  Numeracy skills are very important, irrespective of whether you consider a job to be “working with numbers”. Having competence and being confident in working with numbers is a skill that can be used to your advantage in a wide range of employment settings. For example, knowing how profitable a company is, understanding value for money for purchasing and ordering supplies, following a budget or just calculating your holiday time. Being able to understand and analyse data in different formats is considered an essential skill in many organisations.

O – Organised

Being organised is a requisite for any job that involves other people or working to time frames. Employers will want to know that you can be relied on to deliver projects and information on schedule. It’s largely about being logical and controlled.

P – Professional

It is important to remain professional at all times when engaged in a business environment, whether for an organisation or your own business. Being professional not only lets people know you are a reputable person to work with, but also conveys intelligence and poise regarding your position.

People who are professional are unfailingly polite, courteous and well-spoken, no matter what the situation. Being professional means you keep your cool and remain calm under any circumstances. No matter how upset a co-worker or customer makes you, you don’t react; you deal with the situation rationally and calmly.

Q – Quality of Work

Maintaining a high quality of work is essential in the workplace. People do not expect to have to check grammar and spelling, spreadsheet formulae, formatting of documents or monitor your work rate on an hourly basis. Assuming you have been trained on the task at hand, you are expected to perform your work with minimum intervention.

R – Resourcefulness

With the recession forcing us to make do with what we have, being resourceful is now a necessary skill for today’s generation of leaders AND employees. It is not simply a matter of doing more with less. It’s about being able to find innovative solutions to problems; it’s about thinking about things differently and about calling on creativity and imagination to get better results with limited resource. Being able to demonstrate this skill will push you further in your career faster than many other qualities listed here.

S – Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to recognise moods, emotions, and drivers of our behaviour and understand their impact on others and your job performance. People with strong self-awareness not only are able to identify their feelings but also understand why those feelings occur. They are also aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to talk about them. That awareness also helps them avoid setting themselves for failures due to overpromising or overstretching on tasks.

T – Teamwork

All employers are keen to recruit people who are able to co-operate and work in teams. As less hierarchical organisations have emerged with project teams, self-managed work teams and management teams, so the requirements to ‘Get on well with people’, and to ‘Work with and through others’ become increasingly important.

Teamwork involves working confidently within a group, contributing your own ideas effectively, taking a share of the responsibility, being assertive – rather than passive or aggressive, accepting and learning from constructive criticism and giving positive, constructive feedback to others.

U – Understand the Business

I’m amazed when someone comes to interview and hasn’t researched the company, looked into recent successes or in some cases even clicked around the company website. This tells me that they’re not enthusiastic about joining my team.

Managers expect their team members to be interested in their business, understand the organisation’s vision and values, as well as the key goals and metrics of their department.

V – Verbal Communication

Effective spoken communication requires being able to express your ideas and views clearly, confidently and concisely in speech, tailoring your content and style to the audience.

Be clear and concise – Vary your tone, pace and volume to enhance the communication and encourage questions

Persuading and Negotiating – Arriving at an agreement that is agreeable to both sides: a Win-Win situation. Back up your points with logic. Show tact to those you disagree with.

Making a speech in front of an audience – presenting your message in an interesting way, structuring your presentation, using audio-visual aids effectively and building a rapport with your audience.

Communicating effectively in a team – Giving and receiving feedback, listening to what others are saying and often more importantly, what they’re not saying as well as motivating and supporting others are key skills you can work on.

W – Written Communication

All organisations rely on some form of written communication, so you can increase your employability by developing strong skills related to writing reports, composing concise and effective emails, and courteous, compelling correspondence with suppliers and customers. Employers want to see evidence that potential employees have mastered basic spelling, grammar and business tone in their written communication. Employers want workers who can write simple, direct and effective communications that convey specific messages in keeping with a company’s goals, vision and values. Demonstrate strong written communication skills from the outset by submitting perfectly composed CVs or resumes, cover letters and emails when approaching an organisation for a job.

X – X-Ray Spectacles

What on earth am I talking about? Employees that can see through the noise and get to the heart of an issue, opportunity, or challenge quickly are, in my experience, rare but extremely valuable people to have in any team. The ability to ask probing questions of the right people, research around topics quickly and make informed recommendations or judgements are key skills to practice .

Y – Your Personal Brand

Suffice it to say your Personal Brand is what makes you employable or not. It is a summation of every one of the characteristics, qualities and skills listed in the A-Z of Employability and a whole lot more. I have a whole series of posts on Personal Brand which can be downloaded here –  The Brand New Brand You.

Z – Zealous

You normally hear the word zealous with the word ’over’ before it and then normally a horrendous customer service or HR related story follows. Being zealous is a good thing however! Passion for what you do, for your customers and your colleagues is a great starting place in your career and a great place to finish the A-Z of Employability.

As always, I hope you enjoyed the post and would love to get your feedback.

The New SMS – Social Media Strategy

Social Media StrategyFollowing on from my last post the A-Z of Business Social Media, I’ve had some feedback that whilst the A-Z was really useful, for people who are new to social media, particularly in a business sense, they don’t know where to start and how to get the most out of their limited resources, time and money.

So, with that in mind, this post will focus on how to build your social media strategy and where to focus your energy and money.

Your social media strategy needs to be tailored to what your organisation does, who your customers, or potential customers, are and what you are aiming to achieve. I’ll walk you through a framework of questions you need to ask yourself and give you some pointers as to where to get started in a cost-effective way.

Explore

Before you start to build your strategy, it’s a good idea to explore social media channels to determine which will be the most appropriate for your organisation. The A-Z of Business Social Media mentions a number of sites you can check out as well as a few more in this post you may want to think about.

Create a personal account on a few of the most pertinent to your particular business or organisation and explore what people are saying and how they are interacting with each other. As a starting point, whatever your organisation does, I would suggest LinkedIn and Twitter as a minimum if you’re not already using them. Once you’ve spent a bit of time browsing around and becoming familiar with the social world, you’ll be better placed to start thinking about how you can use it to the best effect for your organisation.

Goals and Objectives

What are you trying to achieve from your social media activity? This is a really important question you should ask yourself before putting finger to keyboard. I’ve made a short list below, but it’s by no means exhaustive. You may answer yes to more than one:

Do you want:

Increased brand presence across social channels?

Increased positive sentiment about your brand?

Development of relationships for future partnership opportunities?

Increased traffic to your website?

Improved customer service?

Increased sales leads?

To improve your personal or organisational profile?

Build your network of contacts?

To be perceived as a ‘Thought Leader’ in a segment, market or technology?

Depending on your answers above, you will need to tailor your strategy and focus accordingly.

Social Footprint

Unless you’re a start-up business, chances are that your organisation will already have a Social Footprint. How come?

Your customers, suppliers, employees and the media may already be talking about you online.

Type your organisation’s name into Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and you’ll be surprised at who’s being saying what about you.

This is useful for a number of reasons. You’ll be able to;

  1. Determine whether you have a footprint or not and the size of it.
  2. Understand the sentiment towards your organisation – good, bad or indifferent.
  3. Discover whether your target audience is present and engaging in dialogue about you and importantly where.
  4. Find out if you have employees that are advocates or disparaging your brand.

There are a number of tools that can help you do this for free:

Twilert: A great and simple tool to consolidate and keep up with the Tweets on your brand. This tool will email you whenever there are Tweets regarding your brand name and/or other search terms you set up for your convenience.

Kurrently not only searches Twitter for mentions regarding your brand or other search term, but also checks out Facebook and Google+ so you are even more up to date on what’s being said regarding your brand.

Topsy indexes and ranks search results based upon the most influential conversations people are having every day about each specific term, topic, page or domain queried. Therefore you know whether a specific mention has been influential or not, and what type of positive or negative effect it may or may not have.

There are organisations that can carry out this work on your behalf, but would recommend you have a try yourself first.

Analyse Your Social Space

Analyse what people are talking about in your industry – about you, about your competitors, the marketplace, trends, news and reviews.

Who are the most influential brands and individuals in your space? Who are the key social influencers – are they individual thought leaders, news organisations, journalists, politicians, consultancy firms, bloggers or even customers?

You do need to know this, as networking online is as hard, time-consuming and as important as offline networking, if you feel that social media is an important part of your marketing mix.

Once you’ve done some detailed analysis, you understand what you want from Social Media, and you know where your target audience spenda their time and how they interact, you can decide on which social media platforms you invest your time and effort and in what ways.

Choose your Channels and Content

Whatever channels and tools you decide to use you will need to have some content. The richer the channels the more the content you will need. Of course you will hope to reach a stage where the conversation and interaction you achieve will form part of the content. But be under no illusions, tweeting, blogging, sharing, casting, whatever you do will take content and you need to find it. So, review your existing content, and consider where more might come from. What format will you need? Can you subcontract its generation?

It is important to recognise that in a social media context sharing and drawing on others’ material is all part of the inclusive behaviour you need to adopt. If you are tweeting be sure to re-tweet other material that is useful, and spend time responding to others’ posts. Social media is not about one-way broadcasting, it is about conversation and acknowledging and contributing to others’ work. It is part of the deal, and it helps get you noticed as well. So consider your mix of self-generated,  found  material  and  commenting  activity  you  will  use  to  create  content  and engagement.

Define metrics and benchmarks

The most important part of developing your strategy is determining how you are going to measure your success. These should be revisited regularly to ensure you’re measuring the right things, doing the right things, and having the desired effect. I’ve listed some examples below:

If your business goal is to … Then you should measure… Followed by measuring
Generate leads Number of leads generated through social media Sales
Increase customer satisfaction Positive sentiment around your company and brand Customer Satisfaction
Lower customer service costs Number of incidents resolved through social media Headcount Costs
Improve product / service quality Feedback +ve / -ve about your products / services Returns / Complaints
Improve your brand’s awareness Number of product-related issues posted. Brand Awareness

Create and publish content

Publishing content, and regularly, is crucial to any organisation wishing to grow their online brand.

Whichever social platforms you have chosen to engage your audience, it’s important that you’re visible at the right time, with current information and engage in the right way.

Think 70:20:10

70 percent of content should focus on your customers’ interests and needs. This can be accomplished through how-to tips, answers to frequently asked questions, and links to helpful resources. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes – “Would I find this content helpful?” If the answer is yes, then go for it.

20 percent of content should be other people’s content. That means a willingness on your part to allow user-generated content on social channels you manage, such as a Facebook page. This gives your customers a sense of ownership in the conversation and serves to foster trust.

10 percent of content should be promotional. If you are willing to focus 90 percent of your content on others, then, hopefully, no one will complain when 10 percent of it calls attention to your products and services.

Think about timing when you publish your content. As an example, if your target audience is the UK, US and India, 12.30 GMT is a good time to post (start of day in US, lunch in UK and evening in India). If you’re targeting a youth audience 1600-1800 during the week and at weekends is a good time. If you have a mixed audience, you may wish to tailor the message to the audience and post the same product or service at differing times with subtly different content and calls to action.

Engage in Conversations and Help Others

It’s not enough to push out content – Social media is not just another marketing channel you can use to reach your target audience.   The biggest mistake companies and brands make is to use social media as a way to just sell a product. Content should be created with a view to inspiring and participating in conversations.  Social media is about a two-way flow of conversation. People are no longer willing to be passive bystanders – they want to take an active part of the conversation. Think about the kinds of topics and interests that your audience have and engage with them on those topics too. It shouldn’t all be about you!

Followers, ‘Likes’ and traffic are good, but are people engaging with you?  93% of the Internet users active in social media say they expect a company to have a social media presence and to be able to actively engage with that company. 93%! [Forrester]

The key to success with social media is to keep your eye on where your target audience are talking, what they’re saying and more importantly what they’re saying about you. Track these things, adapt accordingly and engage positively and you’ll do better than most!

I hope you enjoyed this post and I look forward to hearing your views and comments as always. Until next time…

A to Z of Business Social Media

A to Z Business Social MediaA – Alerts

You can sign up for Google Alerts quickly and easily. Using those keywords and phrases from your preliminary research online, you can elect to have any instance of those keywords and phrases as Google finds them sent straight to your inbox.

Enter the topic you wish to monitor, then click Preview to see the type of results you’ll receive.

Anytime Google indexes any mention in search results of the alerts you’re signed up for, you receive an email notification into your inbox. The notification is a direct hyperlink to the article, website, blog, product review, etc., wherein the keyword or phrase appeared.

B – Blogging

Blogs have been around for over a decade. The word stands for ’web log’ and they’re effectively online diaries. Anyone can set one up, that’s the easy part. Thinking of something interesting to say each time you blog is the tricky bit.

There a number of blogging tools available for free and you don’t need any programming skills to use them. A couple of the more popular are WordPress and Blogger.

C – Crowdsourcing

The term “crowdsourcing” was coined by Jeff Howe back in 2006, in a Wired article which described a new way of sourcing people who are willing to help or work on a project. Enough people with sufficient time can transform into a lot of available manpower. I’ve highlighted below a number of different types of Crowdsourcing

Crowdfunding: Projects are funded by a large group of people. Crowdcube is a great example of an online business in the UK which has raised millions of pounds for all kinds of projects across multiple sectors – with all the funds coming from people interested in supporting the project and not just investment institutions.

Crowdsourced design: Projects are funded for a large group of people to design something, for example, a website.  There have been many successfully crowdsourced designs, one of the most famous ones being the Rally Fighter car, which was designed by the community and built by a company called Local Motors.

Crowdwisdom: Where users ask questions in front of a large pool of people willing to answer, like Yahoo Answers. A more serious form of crowd wisdom can be found at InnoCentive, which is a community where large corporations post technical or scientific problems to people who can help to solve the questions.

D – Digg

Digg is a social news website that can help you share blog posts and web pages. If you find a page you want to share, you can “digg” it by submitting the URL and a brief description of the page through the Digg website. Other Digg users will see your submission and “digg” or “bury” it. Submissions that get a log of “diggs” are displayed on the home page of the Digg website where many people will see them and will be likely to click on them.

In short, if your blog post makes it to the home page of Digg, you can expect a huge bump in traffic. Since most bloggers want more traffic, hitting it big with a post that gets featured on the home page of Digg is like winning the lottery. Unfortunately, making it to the home page of Digg is very difficult.

E – Ecommerce

Social media may not be huge source of traffic to retailers yet, but there are signs that sites such as Facebook are, nonetheless, influencing shoppers. According to research conducted by Sociable Labs last year, nearly two-thirds of consumers say they read product reviews from friends on the social network, with three-quarters of that figure saying that they click through to retailers’ websites afterwards. Once there, 53% claim that they made a purchase, making social recommendations as important a shopping tool as Google search. The statistics are a positive for brands and retailers, highlighting the role social media could play influencing consumers’ online purchasing activities.

F – Facebook

Facebook pages are incredibly useful to businesses as a means to engage consumers. They can be used to grow revenues, support customers, extend marketing campaigns, generate extra web traffic and boost brand awareness. Creating the perfect Facebook page for your business takes time, planning and resources. But judging by some of the success stories, it is worth it.

You can set up a Facebook page for free, but if you want to do things properly it is going to require a budget. It takes time and effort, and potentially people power, if you want to get the best out of Facebook.

G – Google+

With a growing list of new functions, tools and features, Google+ is slowly becoming a front-runner in the social space for businesses looking to increase their market appeal to an online audience. The number of active users on Google+ grew 27 per cent in the last quarter of 2012 to 343 million users.

The first step in creating a Google+ presence should be setting up a business brand page. Ensure relevant information is added to the ‘About’ section, and visually appealing cover image and avatar are used to catch the attention of Google+ users. A number of appropriate links should also be added to the ‘About’ section as these can have a positive effect on the business’s search engine ranking. As with all social media platforms, it’s important to keep your content fresh and engaging.

Google+ Local is a useful tool that allows users to discover and locate businesses that have opted into the service. When a business signs up, it can add information including address, contact information, opening times, photographs and reviews. While Google+ Local is more applicable to SMEs that have a physical location rather than being based solely online, Google+ users have the option to add their own reviews to a Local page, helping to influence the choice of future users.

H – Hootsuite

HootSuite is a social media management tool that allows users to update and post any pages or profiles for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress and others from one place – the HootSuite dashboard. When you sign up, you are essentially given a dashboard with tabs organizing all the social profiles you connect to HootSuite.

Users can implement and analyse marketing campaigns across all social profiles without needing to sign in to each social network individually. For premium accounts, users get advanced features for social analytics, audience engagement, team collaboration and security.

I – IFTTT

IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That, lets you create connections between different web apps and services through what it calls “recipes.” To create a recipe all you have to do is tell IFTTT what the “This” and the “That” in your equation are.

The service integrates with a number of different applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Google and bit.ly and offers a sizable amount of integration options for each to get you going.

IFTTT is simple to use, and there are thousands of pre-made “recipes” to choose from or even to help you think of what you could use IFTTT for. It helps to keep you organised, save you time, and reduce the time spent wading through the masses of information you see in a day.

J – Joining or Not to Join

Few areas of business and society have been untouched by the emerging social-media revolution – one that is not even a decade old. Many organisations have been responding to that new reality, realising the power and the potential of this technology for corporate life: Wikis, SharePoint and Lync enable more efficient virtual collaboration in cross-functional projects; internal blogs, discussion boards, and YouTube channels encourage global conversations and knowledge sharing; sophisticated viral media campaigns engage customers and create brand loyalty; next-generation products are co-developed in open-innovation processes; and corporate leaders work on shaping their future strategy.

However, many companies still hesitate when venturing into public social media networks, harbouring fears of possible customer criticism such as negative comments on the company’s website. While care does need to be taken when planning social media activity, there are undoubtedly significant benefits of integrating social media into small business operations:

• Social media is a low-cost, low-barrier communication channel that allows businesses to interact with internal and external contacts on a regular basis.

• Social media enables businesses to engage with millions of potential customers and investors available at the click of a button.

• Social media and analytic tools used within a company’s private network can allow employers to track employee sentiments and discover possible areas of contention faster than through traditional means.

My view…Join!

 K – Klout

Klout measures influence based on the ability to drive action across the social web. Any person can connect their social network accounts and Klout will generate a score on a scale of 1-100 that represents their ability to engage other people and inspire social actions. Klout enables everyone to gain insights that help them better understand how they influence others. Klout also provides people with opportunities to shape and be recognized for their influence.

L – LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a must for all professionals and businesses alike. It is not merely a social network aimed for business users. Rather, it should be viewed as an online network of influential people all over the world. Whilst there are many uses of LinkedIn for your business, I’ve highlighted three of the top ones below:

Find new suppliers, business partners and clients – Simple searches in your field will reveal thousands of experts, service providers and potential clients. If you do not personally know an individual, you may request to be introduced through a mutual contact or can send an introductory email. Upgrading your membership gives you improved searches and direct access to more people.

Recruitment – LinkedIn can provide easy access to potential candidates. There are both free and paid options Businesses can search for candidates that fit their required level of expertise and approach them directly, provided they are at least ‘2nd degree’ contacts. In order to search further afield, a monthly subscription is needed. However, even the basic or ‘business’ package allows users to contact any individual with a LinkedIn profile. Businesses also have the option of posting a job ad for a monthly fee dependant on location.

Groups – Groups represent a fantastic opportunity for businesses to network and grow. If you are looking to drive traffic to your blog or company website, think seriously about setting up a LinkedIn Group. The key challenge in some industries is to make your group stand out. The key is to find a niche/area of your business that is under-represented and aim to be the authority on the subject. Nevertheless, based on perception alone, the owner is naturally viewed as the thought leader for that niche unless proven otherwise. The more quality content you produce to back this up and the more effectively you run your group, your community will support you and look to you as a leader in that niche.

M – Mobility & Social Media

According to Ofcom in the UK, 55% of adult smartphone users have used their phone for social networking, with one in four (40%) doing so regularly. This rises to 74% in teenagers with 62% doing so regularly. Ensuring that your websites and content are easily viewable via smartphones is becoming more and more crucial.

N – Newsreaders

If you happen to read articles from the same websites every day, then Google Reader might be just for you. Reader consolidates your favourite websites and blogs into one, easy to manage interface. Think of Google Reader as your personalized online magazine. It’s easy to set up and easy to use.

O – Online vs Offline

Social media is still only part of your marketing mix and strategy albeit an increasingly important one. Depending on your industry or sector you will need to consider which will be the important communication channels and how much time, resource and money you invest into which. Ignore Social Media at your peril however!

P – Pinterest

Pinterest is a relatively new, but rapidly growing social network that allows users to visually share, curate, and discover new interests by posting, also known as ‘pinning,’ images or videos to their own or others’ pinboards (i.e. a collection of ‘pins,’ usually with a common theme). Users can either upload images from their computer or pin things they find on the web using the Pinterest bookmarklet, Pin It button, or just a URL .

As with any other social network, Pinterest offers a range of activities you can initiate to market your company to a new audience. The goal here is to gain brand recognition, drive traffic to your website and be successful at converting the new visits into leads.

Q – Quora

Quora is an excellent platform for organisations interested in showing open and transparent thought leadership. You won’t be able to post your news release as the site is moderated and people will contest and question your viewpoint, but if you really know your subject matter, it can be an amazing way to establish your authority in a given field.

Even if you’re not in a position to use the network to demonstrate thought leadership, Quora can still be a useful tool for gathering customer intelligence. You can get insights into how users feel about all kinds of subjects and even ask questions of your own. It’s not a substitute for traditional surveys, since the user base isn’t a representative sample, but it can be an easy way to start getting a glimpse into how your customers think.

R – Reddit

Reddit is a social news website driven by user-generated content in the form of a link or a self-post. Most users view Reddit as a modern-day bulletin board system enhanced for the web. Users submit content on forums, which are split into multiple “subreddits”. Subreddits focus on a specific topic, and there are hundreds of thousands of them. The most popular forums have over 1 million subscribers and more than 100,000 subreddits.

Reddit users rank the content other users submit by voting it “up” or “down. Submissions voted “up” by large numbers of users get listed on the front page of Reddit and usually receive large amounts of engagement from the Reddit community.

Reddit has 2.5 billion page views per month and 34.9 million unique views each month.

Businesses can use Reddit for link building and traffic generation as well as for market research and getting your message out to target audiences with tailored messages. A note of caution though – anything that seems overly promotional or advertising-focused will be very negatively regarded by the community.

S – Stumbleupon

StumbleUpon is a social media bookmarking site that allows users to “like” websites and add them to their profile. These websites are then shared with their friends through their profile and by using the “stumble” button, which is added to a user’s browser toolbar when they sign up. The stumble button basically sends a user to a random website, usually one previously liked by a friend. StumbleUpon boasts more than 30 million users. Each user fills out a survey of their interests, so there is definitely the potential for your business website to reach a broad and targeted audience.

StumbleUpon asks their users to define the categories that interest them, everything from archeology to zoology. If your business fits into one of these interest categories well, your site can get a lot of new visitors that are more likely to be interested in your business. Additionally, you’re going to get a steady stream of visitors if you use it properly and regularly.

T – Twitter

It took Twitter three years, two months and one day to reach their first billion Tweets. Today, there are over a billion Tweets sent every three days. These Tweets represent conversations related to almost any topic imaginable.

For businesses and brands, these conversations provide a rich canvas and a powerful context in which to connect your messages and your brand to what people are talking about right now. It’s a canvas for telling engaging stories, for participating in cultural events, for broadcasting content, for connecting directly with consumers, and for driving transactions. Businesses can influence and participate in real-time conversations on Twitter to drive consumer action with integrated paid, earned and owned campaigns, delivering results throughout the marketing funnel.

U – User Generated Content

In recent years we have developed into a society which likes to share …digitally. User (or Customer) Generated Content is content that we upload to a website or social media platform, examples of such content include audio files, photographs, videos, presentations, documents and reviews.

Research carried out has shown that more than 8 in 10 say user generated content from people they don’t know influences what they buy and indicates brand quality, while 51% say it is actually more important than the opinions of their friends and family, and far more trustworthy than website content. [Source Talking to Strangers Millennials Trust people over Brands Jan 2012]

V – Voice of the Customer

With incidents like United Breaks Guitars now commonplace, it’s painfully clear that social word-of-mouth has tremendous consequences when brands give a poor customer experience. Of course, there’s upside too. Social media is a veritable goldmine of insights that can help a company innovate and improve its competitive position.

Participating in social media—via online communities, blogging and networking sites—is now thought of much like the internet a decade ago. A company is conspicuous in its absence of a social media plan, especially if it sells to consumers.

W – WordPress

Think Oak is written using WordPress. It’s a very versatile blogging tool that is easy to use, has a range of free and chargeable templates, great analytics and has built-in search engine optimisation for Google and Bing. It’s open-source and can be hosted (WordPress.com) or un-hosted (WordPress.org). Even some of the world’s biggest brands use WordPress – Ebay, Ford, Sony and CNN all use it for their blogs!

X – Xbox 720, Playstation 4 & Next Generation TVs

With announcements of the next generation games consoles imminent, it will be interesting to see whether any increased elements of social media are woven into the new Xbox and PS4 operating systems. With 55% of homes having games consoles that can link to the internet plus advances in Smart TVs that already connect with social media channels, I would expect significant growth and opportunity in this space.

Y – YouTube

Though Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter were the leading social networks that swept through the business world in recent times, YouTube continues to be the most valuable video marketing and advertising tool for businesses of all sizes. By far the web’s largest and most popular online video archive, YouTube offers fantastic opportunities for a business to show off its expertise, share knowledge, market products and connect with customers, colleagues and prospects.

Z – Zero to Hero

With some investment of time, energy, enthusiasm, creativity and a little bit of know-how you can rapidly build up the social media presence of your organisation. This is Social Commerce: Turning Social Media into Sales by Guy Clapperton is a new book that I would recommend to get you started,  together with his previous book – This is social media.

Ultimately, you need to choose the social media services that are right for your business. You can’t be engaged with users everywhere and on every medium. If you try, you’ll quickly be focusing only on social media and not on your business. Stick with a handful of services where you can build a following and engage customers on a regular basis.

Hope you enjoyed this A to Z. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

A to Z of Building a Winning Team

a-z team

Being part of a winning team is a great feeling! Building a winning team is hard work, but can be great fun with some amazing results! Below I’ve detailed Think Oak’s A-Z of Building a Winning Team:

A – Audit Abilities

The very first thing to do when you take on a team or you’re building a new one is to look at the skills you need to win, starting with yourself. What are you good at and where are you lacking? What does your management team need to look like? What types of roles do you need in your team? What skills are needed? It’s really important that you think about these things up-front, before you look at the people you have, are available to you or the gaps you need to fill. Once you’ve answered these questions at the right level of detail, you’ll be in the right position to look at your options.

B – Breakdown Personality Barriers

At any point in a team’s lifecycle there can be conflict. A difference in management or leadership style, a difference of opinion, personal enmity for one reason or another or simply a clash of personality. It’s really important that these are dealt with quickly and you find ways to resolve them without disrupting the team’s momentum. In my career, I’ve found it really useful to take people out of the work environment for a day or two to do some straight talking from the heart about your aspirations, motivations, concerns and ambition as well as taking time to relax and have some fun together.

C – Choose to Win

We all have choices in our lives, but it’s critical for the whole team to be behind your vision from the outset. Everyone needs to make a choice to be part of a winning team and all that it entails to get there. People that don’t want to get on the bus or want to stay along for the ride shouldn’t be given a ticket!

D – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

It is extremely easy to spend inordinate amounts of time on things that don’t contribute to becoming a Winning Team or your end goal. Keep an eye out for them within the team and on yourself. If you find them, stop them immediately. If people are working on things that aren’t central to the plan, you need and they need to be asking ‘Why?’

E – Energy Management

Ensuring that there is high energy in your team at all times is not an easy task, but an important one for building a winning team. Effective energy leadership is the ability to read the energy of the group and then alter one’s own energy level to get the group to where it needs to go. You can see this at play in sports, or equally so in the classroom or in board meetings. If people are starting to get discouraged or disheartened, you need to step up, raise the energy level and bring more enthusiasm into the room. Quickly, the team starts to feel more optimistic, the energy of the group shifts up and success, and whilst not guaranteed, is much more likely.

F – Focus on Focus

By aligning everyone’s personal objectives to yours and that of the wider organisation you can ensure that people are focussed on the right tasks. Review performance against these objectives on a regular basis and ensure the objectives are SMART.

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Make individuals accountable for key deliverables and reward them for delivery.

G – Get Out of the Engine Room

Your people will not develop, unite or learn from their mistakes if you deal with every problem that comes up or, if you tell them what to do in minutiae of detail. As a leader you shouldn’t be in the engine room, except for the odd inspection. You need to be on the bridge watching for icebergs and pirates!

H – Help Each Other

The best performing teams in business watch each other’s backs. If they see someone struggling with a task, they’ll help. If one department is really struggling for resource they’ll offer another pair of hands. Passionately investing in other people’s success will ultimately raise their performance and that of their teams and ultimately the organisation. As a leader, a good proportion of your time should be spent coaching, supporting, developing and promoting the rising stars within your team. It strengthens your team, protects it for the future and motivates individuals.

I – Ignite Passion

Find out what motivates your people. We are all motivated by different things and a good manager and leader gets to know what motivates their people and tailors their communication style, delivery and behaviour to get the best out of everyone. Praise and recognition for success and cheering the progress goes a long way too!

J – Just Do It!

You can have the best business strategy and business plans, but they are little use if they are not executed effectively. Decisions deferred, reversed or not made at all will not drive your team forward.

K – Knowledge Share

Winning teams share information, and I’m not just talking Key Performance Indicators. They share best practice when they come across it, they share customer and competitor news, they share any lessons they’ve learnt from a project or product launch. By pooling collective knowledge within and across departments, the organisation can reap dramatic results.

L – Learn From Your Collective Mistakes

Things go wrong. Learn from them, fix them where you can, and move on. We can often spend ridiculous amounts of time brow-beating ourselves and others on things that went wrong. Spend that time working on ensuring that those mistakes don’t happen again by changing process, putting controls in place or ensuring that we watch out for those banana skins we slipped on last time. Should the same mistakes keep happening, you need to look more deeply into the problem and find a way quickly to resolve it – Change the process or system, develop the people or change the people.

M – Measure, Monitor and Manage

The key to long-term success for any winning team is measuring the right things, setting appropriate targets, monitoring your performance against them and altering course or taking action when required.

N – Never Give Up

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up – Thomas Edison

In a previous post ‘6 of the best…failures’ I talked about some famous names from all walks of life who persevered with their objectives to reach their goals. Building this ethos into your team’s behaviours will go a long way to driving success.

O – Organise Yourselves around Your Objectives

Many established businesses organise themselves in traditional hierarchies and functions – sales, marketing, finance etc. Sometimes, especially when changing course with your strategy, it is worth challenging team structures to ensure that they are still optimal to meet the strategy. Some businesses build multi-functional teams that are focussed on one particular project or programme at any time, allowing complete focus on delivery and then breaking the team up again on completion. This approach can have significant benefits over traditional team structures by focussing the right people on the right project with the right skills and motivation.

P – Performance Manage All of the Time

Don’t wait for a quarterly or half-yearly review to give feedback – good or bad. Many people need to know how they are doing every day – ask them what will help them most. Most people need feedback at least once a week. A few can get by with feedback once a month, but even for seriously capable high-level strategic people this is not enough.

R – Robust Dialogue

Being able to challenge team members positively is a key part of building a winning team. In winning teams, people trust each other to challenge ideas, ways of working and strategic plans. By being challenging of each other, for the good of the team and your customer experience, the team gets better. Challenging each other to gain personal advantage or to score points over one another are the signs of a losing team!

S – Set Out Your Expectations Clearly

A huge proportion of performance problems can be traced back simply to a failure to explain and agree expectations and/or a failure to understand and provide the help that the person needs. Don’t assume everything is understood and perfectly within people’s capabilities. Instead, take time to explain, check and ask until everyone concerned is happy and sure of what needs doing, how, and most importantly why.

T – Treat Everyone with Respect

I love this quote from Winston Churchill – “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

Whatever your level in the organisation, treat people as equals and with respect.

U – Understand Your Business

This may seem obvious, but I am frequently disappointed by people’s lack of knowledge of their business. Whether you’re on the front line in Marketing, Sales and Service or supporting these functions in IT, Finance or HR, you need to at least understand your company’s vision and strategic objectives. In winning teams, everyone knows these things as a minimum plus they know how their team is performing against Key Performance Indicators as well as what they’re doing to improve against them.

V – Values & Vision

In my view, these are the fundamental building blocks of a winning team. A shared vision together with values that are lived every day ensure that your team is heading in the same direction.

W – Win / Win

This is a personal philosophy, which I’m sure that many in senior positions will disagree on. I believe in openness, especially when it comes to recognition and reward. If the team does well, then the managers and leaders should be rewarded. Obviously levels of reward will differ according to responsibility and personal performance, but if the leaders are remunerated differently on different targets you will not get synergy in the organisation, and certainly not on a sustainable basis.

X – X Marks the Spot

X = the end result on your map – treasure! Whatever your winning team does, there will be an end goal – a successful product launch, a sales target, an improvement in Customer Satisfaction, improved production and so on. Your treasure map is your plan and your team’s focus is reaching the ‘X’ as soon as possible, and before anyone else! Your team need to have a copy of the ‘map’, understand how to read it in case they get lost, and know the importance of beating the competition. They should understand the potential pitfalls along the way, but you need to give them enough tools to make their journey possible and ideally enjoyable!

Y – Yell Success from the Rooftops

Celebrating and publicising success breeds more success, both within your team and organisation as well as externally. People like to associate with winners. You only need to see the number of Olympic medallists on TV at the moment to see that. Success, especially in today’s gloomy climate, is newsworthy, and will put your team and your business in the spotlight, for all the right reasons….and will hopefully bring you more business, and more success.

Z – Zigzag around Barriers

There is rarely a single solution to a problem in business. Winning teams find ways around problems that would leave other teams scratching their heads or giving up. Find out who your ‘Can Do’ people are and keep them close!

Hope you enjoyed this A-Z. As always I’d love to hear your thoughts…

A to Z of Leadership Qualities

Leadership Qualities

Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes, genders and cultures, but they all possess many of the qualities I’ve highlighted below in the Think Oak A to Z of Leadership Qualities:

A – Agile

In today’s economic climate, it is more important than ever for leaders to be agile. Agile leaders are not only exceptional at coping with change, but also in driving it, anticipating the markets, or even creating new ones. They have high tolerance for ambiguity and are actually energised by the possibility of creating something new and different.

B – Balanced

Balanced leaders effectively juggle the importance of meeting their business objectives – sales, revenues, margins and cash flow, and the importance of looking after the needs of their people – committing to their success, motivating their people to be the best they can be and caring for their safety and wellbeing at work.

C – Communicator

Great leaders are great communicators. Regardless of whether you’re talking about business, politics, sports or the military, the best leaders are first-rate communicators. Their values are clear and solid, and what they say promotes those values. Their teams admire them and follow their lead. Likewise, if you want your company to reach new heights of achievement, you must master the art of clear communication and employee engagement.

D – Decisive

Making decisions is the defining aspect of leadership. There has never been a leader who made only right decisions. An effective decision made at the right moment is far better than no decision at all. A decisive leader carefully weighs the potential effects of each option and chooses the opportunity that works best for his or her organisation. To be decisive, you must also feel comfortable taking responsibility for the results of your decisions.

E – Energetic

Energy, and specifically positive energy, is hugely important for successful leadership. Having a reserve of positive energy has a tremendous impact on your ability to navigate to success with less stress.  Positive energy attracts people for better networks and recruitment, motivates and inspires people in your organisation, and enables you to thrive and overcome any obstacles that may come your way throughout the day.

F – Focussed

Leaders have the potential for numerous distractions. The tougher the times, the more you have to focus. Leaders must choose wisely what to focus on and they must judge the context of any situation well enough to decide what to drill down on and what to ignore as background noise.

“Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and take disciplined action: this framework captures much of what separates greatness from mediocrity”Jim Collins, Good to Great

G – Genuine

Effective leaders are honest. Be upfront with your people and trust them enough to communicate openly and authentically together. It’s important to build a level of mutual trust within your team so that each person feels comfortable addressing his or her concerns with you. People will very quickly see through leaders that say one thing and do another.

H – Helping Others

Investing in the success of others – your people, your peers and your customers is a quality found in the greatest of leaders. They recognise the importance of investing precious time and energy in supporting growth of other people, helping them to be the best they can be. They see potential in others and want to create opportunities for them to grow and advance, and they seek opportunities to empower them to succeed.

I – Inspirational

Great leaders believe that people determine a company’s success or failure. It is not the size of the building, how cool the product is, or even the best equipment or process that determines success. What propels and sustains a successful organisation is its diverse team of talented, motivated people.

The ability to inspire people to reach great heights of performance and success is a skill that leaders need. Passion, purpose, listening and meaning help make a leader inspirational. The ability to communicate that passion, purpose and meaning to others helps establish the inspirational culture of your organisation.

J – Just

Great leaders can be just or fair and still make bold and decisive leadership decisions quickly. Being just is perhaps the trait most noticeable in great leaders and that which separates them from the ordinary, old-fashioned status quo style of leadership. If people perceive a leader to be unjust or subjective in his or her judgment, the inspiration to follow will slow the entire leadership process to a snail’s pace.

K – Knowledgeable

Leaders must have a large range of information and knowledge at their disposal.  This means they read widely and communicate this knowledge effectively to the people they lead. Great leaders never stop learning about their industry, themselves, their team, and how to best motivate their people. They realise that there is never a point when you know everything; there is always something new to learn. I’m not saying you have to know everything and do everything. No one person should do it all — and if they are self-aware, most people will realise that they really aren’t capable nor knowledgeable enough to do it all.

L – Listener

Great leaders understand the 2:1 ratio—two ears and one mouth. Leaders don’t just give orders. They listen to their team, their customers, their peers, and their competitors because they know it is the best way to understand a situation so they can make the best decision possible.

“We should never pretend to know what we don’t know, we should not feel ashamed to ask and learn from people below, and we should listen carefully to the views of the cadres at the lowest levels. Be a pupil before you become a teacher; learn from the cadres at the lower levels before you issue orders.”

— Mao Tse-tung

M – Motivated

It’s possible to teach someone to be a leader, but truly effective leaders are already passionate and motivated about what they do. Your enthusiasm and level of commitment can inspire your team members and motivate them to do better work. Modelling the attitude you want each person to have is one of the most effective ways to lead your team toward a successful destination.

N – Nurturing

There’s a big difference between managing others to success—and teaching others to find success themselves. Great leaders find satisfaction not only in teaching others but also in nurturing them—in showing others how they can become more than they ever believed they could. These types of leaders have a strong drive to invest in people not for the return it will give them but for the rewards it will bring to people personally.

O – Open

Leaders don’t always have the answer. They need to understand that they may not always be right and know that at times they will be wrong. It is important to stay open-minded and to consider the views of others.

In today’s fast-paced, globally hyper-connected business world in which we live, an organisation’s successes and failures can be tweeted across the internet in a matter of seconds. A knee jerk reaction of many leaders is to clamp down on the amount of information shared internally, with hopes of minimising risk to the organisation. Many times this backfires and ends up creating a culture of risk aversion and low trust. For organisations to thrive in today’s competitive marketplace, leaders have to learn how to build a culture of trust and openness.

P – Personable

Personable leaders are responsive to the needs, feelings  and interests of others. They enable, empower and challenge followers. The mutual relationship is equitable and considerate, showing genuine concern for others. These types of transforming leaders provide support, and they are helpful to others, including coaching and mentoring. In addition, because they challenge followers to stretch and take reasonable risks, these leaders are forgiving when efforts do not succeed as expected.

Q – Questioning

Leaders question. Even when they think they know the answer. Questions can be used to facilitate discussions. Questions can be asked about how people are feeling about change, what contributed to a recent success, what customers want, how to support diversity, how the world is changing, what might be needed in the future and so on. Questions are also a great way of challenging people to take a fresh look at an issue or problem, and helping them to think about the outcomes they want.

R – Results Driven

Whether you work in a public, private or voluntary organisation, great leaders need to produce results. Whatever leadership role you’re in you will have objectives and / or goals that you need to meet to be a success. Ensure you build a good team around you, build and communicate and enrol them in your strategy, set the right objectives, measure and manage performance and be prepared with plan b’s and c’s to ensure results are achieved.

S – Strategic

All leaders must set time aside on a regular basis to think about the future – the marketplace of the future, your future customers and their needs, your competitors and what they might be doing and the wider economy. As we have seen with several UK companies in the last few weeks – Comet, Jessops, Blockbusters and HMV, a failure to anticipate and change at pace, in light of the changing face of the retail marketplace and the ways that consumers purchase, has led to businesses entering into administration and putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

T – Trusted

Trust is the cornerstone of a healthy, positive, productive organisational climate. Without trust between leaders and those whom they lead, progress is slowed and even simple processes can become politicised and approached with caution. Risk-taking and innovation, is reduced, and collaboration is rendered difficult or impossible. Within a low trust environment, change is often approached with fear, not curiosity or hope. The actions or behaviours of leaders set the tone for trust within an organisation and once trust is broken it becomes difficult to build again.

U – Urgency

As I have said in previous posts, a sense of urgency is crucial for leaders engendering change in their teams or organisation. ‘Sense of Urgency’ by John Kotter is a great read if you want to find out more.

V – Visionary

Jack Welch said “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Although he talks about business leaders, this leadership characteristic is far-reaching across all dimensions of leadership. Without a vision of where you want to take your organisation and the ability to communicate it effectively, you will struggle to drive any form of significant change or growth.

W – Work-Life Balance

Getting a ‘Work-Life Balance’ is important. All great leaders work hard and sometimes have to put in long hours to deliver results. Take it from someone who knows – Working ridiculously long hours on a sustained basis, is not good for you, for your family, for your relationships, for your health, for your productivity and for your people and ultimately your organisation. Find a balance that works for you and stick to it.

X – X Factor

In his book, ‘Great by Choice’ Jim Collins states – “The x-factor of great leadership is not personality, it’s humility”.

Great leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness. The dictionary defines humility as modesty and lacking in pretence, but that doesn’t mean humble leaders are meek or timid. A humble leader is secure enough to recognise his or her weaknesses and to seek the input and talents of others. By being receptive to outside ideas and assistance, creative leaders open up new avenues for the organization and for their people.

Y – Yardstick

As a leader, your behaviours, values  and actions will be monitored by your people, whether you like it or not, and they will become the yardstick of measurement for your team or organisation.

Z – Zest for Life

Leaders enjoy what they do. They get a buzz when they hear of their team’s success – a new customer, a great sale, a customer compliment, a team winning an award or someone getting a promotion. If you don’t enjoy what you do and get a thrill from achieving great results, I would suggest it’s time for a change!

I hope you enjoyed the A to Z of Leadership post. As always would love to hear your views and other suggestions….

Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 2

Managing Poor Performance, Think OakIn part 1 of this two-part post I covered the potential impacts of poor performance, the causes and your responsibilities as a manager. In part 2, I’ll be guiding you through a seven-step process to help you deal with a poor performer.

Tackling Poor Performance

Many businesses do have policies and procedures around performance management and I’m not suggesting you don’t follow them. However, I’ve found a more informal, coaching approach to improve performance works in the vast majority of cases. Only once this approach is exhausted would I move down a more formal approach and this is normally the exception rather than the rule.

1. Prepare

Before you engage in a meeting with your poor performer, ensure that you have a detailed understanding and examples of poor performance as well as the impact that this under performance has had on the team, your customers, the business, yourself and the individual. Also, think about examples of good performance and behaviour that the person has shown in the past.

By spending some time preparing for the meeting,  you will have had a chance to gather your thoughts, examine the evidence, think about the evolution of the relationship and mentally frame the meeting in broad and flexible terms.

2. Set up a meeting with context

You should set up a meeting with at least a couple of days notice. You should be very clear in explaining exactly why you are arranging the meeting, that you will be discussing their recent performance and that you would like to have a discussion around how you can work on an improvement plan going forward.

To help your employee prepare for the meeting, you could suggest s/he gives some thought to a few questions, for example:

• How successfully do the two of us work together?

• How good are our communications and overall relationship?

• Which aspects of your job do you find easiest?

• Which are you most comfortable with?

• And which do you find most difficult?

• To what extent do I help you perform?

• Are there things I do that make life more difficult for you?

• Overall what can we do to improve your performance, my performance, our joint performance and our relationship?

The Performance Meeting

3. Agreement with your employee on the symptoms of the problem

It’s really important that you and your employee agree that there is a performance problem and agree the specific examples of when performance has been poor, the impacts that this has had and the importance of getting back on track. Try not to get into the why’s and wherefores at this stage. We’ll come to that. Just get agreement that behaviours or deliverables were not at the desired standard required for your team and business.

4. Understanding the causes of underperformance

Together, you and your colleague need to arrive at a common understanding of what might be causing the weak performance. This step assumes the person will be willing to participate in a genuine discussion of his/her strengths and weaknesses. Very few people will see themselves as perfect and in no need of any improvement. However, some people do overestimate the quality of their work performance and are unaware of their weaknesses. A major reason for this is likely to be that their previous managers have been reluctant to confront the employee’s shortcomings. In the absence of past negative feedback an employee could be genuinely shocked by your feedback and tempted to reject it as biased and personal.

It might be useful at this stage to review the answers to the preparation questions you gave them in step 2 to tease out some possible explanations. Ensure that you also point areas of performance or behaviours that are good, or have been in the past and spend some time on these also.

This stage of the process can be emotive. Keep calm and spend time working through the detail if necessary. Don’t forget that you already have agreement that there was poor performance. If you can’t agree on the why at this stage, you may need to move on to offering some suggestions on a way forward.

5. Creating and agreeing an Improvement Plan

Find out what motivates the individual: People are motivated by very different things.  Find out what’s important to the individual and shape and ‘sell’ the development plan accordingly.

Fit development action plans to learning style: Different people learn in different ways and this should be considered when planning development.  Understand which is the best learning strategy for that individual and shape the plan accordingly.

Focus on development priorities: Don’t overload people with too many things to focus on.

Use a range of development techniques: Development doesn’t solely result from attending training courses.  The success of development efforts will depend upon picking the right blend of development activity for the individual.  Good development plans draw on a combination of learning, practice and reinforcement.

Ensure that the plan has SMART Goals and by SMART, I mean:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Ensure that the individual owns their plan: Getting them to come up with ideas and to actually write the development plan themselves will ensure that they buy-in to the plan and feel that it is their own.

Make sure the plan is documented – either fully during the meeting or an agreed skeleton is produced during the meeting and an agreement that plan will be delivered back the following day.

6. Create Confidence and Commitment

A good manager wants their people to succeed. This stage is all about building confidence in the person and inspiring them to improve, to develop themselves and to take the initiative.  People with high levels of self-belief set themselves more demanding goals, show greater effort and persistence in trying to achieve, and cope better with stress and difficulties.

Put a lot of energy into encouraging the individual to develop themselves and improve. Spend some time making the individual believe they can turn their performance around. Offer structured support as part of the improvement plan, but tell them it’s their responsibility to deliver against it.

7. Follow up

You must follow up on the agreements made. You and individual will have agreed to make certain changes, perform certain actions and/or reach certain performance targets by a given date. The onus is on both of you to ensure maximum high quality communication occurs during the period of the agreement. Don’t wait until the end of the process to discuss progress. Ideally the agreed objectives will be specific enough and the communication process during the contract period effective enough that both parties will agree on the assessment of the outcomes.

By implementing timely follow-ups and encouragement throughout the process, you should start to see demonstrable improvement.

Should performance not improve during the process then you must then set the expectation of the consequences which would be a more formal process. Although this process was not part of your company’s formal process, the documentation produced and meeting notes would be able to used as evidence as part of most formal procedures.

You won’t always succeed in turning around poor performance, but by following these steps you will have given your poor performer every opportunity to turn performance around.

I hope you found this post useful. As always, I’ love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

RQKN74WYW5KE

Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 1

Managing Poor PerformanceEarlier this year the Roffey Park Institute published their excellent annual report – The Management Agenda. A staggering 46% of UK managers reported that poor performance is not tackled at all well in their organisation, rising to 60% in Public Sector managers.

So what do I mean by Poor Performance? Simply put, poor performance is the failure of an individual to do his or her job, or to do it at an acceptable level. As a manager, you have a responsibility to manage the performance of your people. If you have witnessed poor performance (including inappropriate behaviour), or you are in receipt of a complaint or grievance, you must address this with the people concerned.

Impacts of Poor Performance

In my experience, the impacts of under-performing individuals run much wider than the results of their own performance, or lack of them. Poor performance observed by a supervisor or manager is normally only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the issue and is only observed after a period of under performance already being noticed and talked about by members of the wider team.

If these behaviours or lack of performance  goes unchecked then the minimal implication for the manager who allows this to continue, is a loss of respect from the team he or she manages. Under-performance in key roles in your department could have a serious impact on you meeting your own department or business objectives, which may have wider personal or business consequences. If you are committed to performing at a high level, and if you expect high performance from everyone, then you as the manager must address poor performers and quickly.

By failing to address poor performance, you are sending a clear message to other team members that they need not meet their performance expectations and they should not expect any consequence for their unacceptable behaviour. Poor performance normally gets worse over time – rarely does it correct itself without action on the part of the manager or supervisor. Taking action against one individual does not lower morale amongst other team members. In fact, the opposite is often true. Often taking action leads to a more productive work environment.

Causes of Poor Performance

I firmly believe that no-one comes to work with a desire to fail. Although at times it may appear that an employee tries to perform poorly, most people actually want to do a good, or at the very least, an adequate, job. So why is it that people sometimes do fail at work? Poor performance can normally be attributed to one or more of the following:

  • Lack of clarity of the Why, the What and the How of their role
  • Lack of feedback and action from their previous or current management
  • Lack of skill, knowledge, or motivation
  • Inability to manage perception or pressure
  • Failure to prioritise
  • Conflict of personalities or styles
  • Over-promotion, where the person is actually out of his or her depth
  • Lack of resources, support, training or cooperation from others
  • Personal issues manifesting themselves at work

Given the cost of recruiting and training new people, helping under-achievers move  from poor to acceptable or better performance is almost always worthwhile.

Your Responsibilities as a Manager

Before moving into tackling the poor performance of your poor performer, you need to ask yourself some key personal questions:

1. Have I set out my performance expectations clearly? – If the person concerned doesn’t understand what is expected, it will be very hard, if not impossible, for them to meet those expectations. Providing clear expectations doesn’t necessarily require you to lay out precisely written, detailed instructions on every performance component. Generally, the question you should ask yourself is: “Would a reasonable person understand what was expected?”

2. Have I been having regular reviews with the poor performer and been giving them feedback? – Such feedback, both positive and negative, whether given in regularly scheduled meetings or in unscheduled discussions, is crucial to ensuring that expectations are understood. Frequent feedback lessens the likelihood that an employee will be surprised if it becomes necessary to take formal steps to resolve poor performance.

3. Have you provided the individual with the tools and training to do their job effectively? – What support have I / could I be giving to help raise performance going forward?

4. Is poor performance a new issue? – If the person in question has always performed adequately in the past, what has changed for them for their performance to dip? Is it a one-off mistake or has there started to become a pattern of events?

If you have answered these questions honestly and you answered ‘No’ to any of them, I would suggest that the poor performance starts with you. It’s never too late to start however!

In part 2, I’ll take you through a 7-step process to guide you through improving people’s performance.

As always, if you have any comments or feedback, I’d love to hear from you.

Avoid the Mushroom Culture – The Seven Deadly Sins

Mushroom CultureI’m sure many of you have heard people say – ‘They treat us like mushrooms. They keep us in the dark and feed us manure or nothing at all!’

Nothing stifles an organisation’s possibilities more than poor communication. Actually that’s not strictly true. Three things do – telling lies, partial truths or nothing at all.

In this post, I’d like to highlight some of the common pitfalls around communication or lack of it.

Common Communication Pitfalls – The Seven Deadly Sins

1. Not Communicating The ‘Why?’

As Simon Sinek says in his fantastic leadership book , ‘Start with why‘, he says ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’. In your organisation, do your people know the ‘why?’ Do they know why they didn’t get a pay rise this year? Do they know why headcount needs to be reduced? Do they know why you’ve just restructured the organisation? Do they know why their job is important to the organisation? Do they know why your organisation exists at all? Do they know why customers buy from your organisation?

As Simon also says in his book, and I paraphrase – ‘Every single one of us knows what we do. Most of us know how to do our jobs, but how many of us know the ‘Why?”

When communicating any message, good or not so good, it’s hugely important to impart the ‘why?’. In my experience, people who are motivated, passionate, and really good at what they do, tend to understand the ‘Why?’. In fact I’d go further and say that I believe the ‘Why’ drives the passion and motivation. It might be a personal ‘Why’, but it will be there.

In today’s economic climate, most people understand that difficult decisions need to be made, but you need to tell them AND the authentic reason for them to buy-in to the message.

2. Communicating Too Slowly or Not At All

People assume the worst when they hear nothing. Good and passionate employees want to know what’s going on in their organisation, and beyond their department boundaries. They want some visibility into the organisation’s plans and where they fit within them. Senior managers who can’t  or won’t discuss their organisation’s goals, strategies, vision and performance are all but guaranteed to spend a great deal of time recruiting. Marketable top performers want to be engaged and involved and won’t stand for being left in the dark without the information they need to do their jobs well.

Just as damaging can be when senior managers hold out for so long on making an announcement that employees start walking the corridors for information. Very often, they are forced to draw their own conclusions (and often the wrong ones!) about the reasons for what’s going to happen or has happened. Perceptions about the company withholding information are often more damaging than providing the “negative” news in the first place.

3. Not Being Honest

The very worst you can do in communicating a message is to lie and only marginally better, to not tell the whole truth. You WILL be found out, and your personal credibility and /or that of your organisation will be damaged, possibly irreparably.

I will make a bold statement. Your people can handle it. You don’t need to couch your message in fluff or half-truths. If your organisation is publicly owned or the message or timing is sensitive, be as honest as you can be without breaking confidence or legislation AND when you are able to say something more, make sure that you do at the first opportunity.

4. One Size Fits All Communication

People process information differently. For some of us, we like to be walked through in a great level of detail in order to fully understand a change or a message. For others a quick email will suffice. For others they may need to hear the message a number of times before the impact of a change on them is understood. Organisations that send out a  single global email imparting important news are failing to get their message across and failing their people. A mix of communication channels need to be thought about carefully when delivering important news or change. Face to face communication is always best, but with the geographic spread of many organisations and service organisations with call centres and shift patterns, this may not always be practical.

I find that a mix of communication channels is the most effective. Further detail on communication channels can be found in a previous post Communicate or Fail Part 1 and Part 2.

5. Assuming Your People Wouldn’t Understand

Organisations don’t employ stupid people. If they do, that’s a whole different blog topic and a short-lived organisation! People have mortgages, children, debt, cars, bills to pay, personal challenges to deal with, bereavement, stress, relationship challenges…I could go on. They can deal with difficult messages. They may need support, but they can handle it! They are also very aware of when a message is being dumbed down or the full story is not being told. If you have a complex message to deliver, make sure that you consider how the message is going to land, what reinforcement might be needed, whether you need to engage with external agencies to help you and what you want and need the outcome to be.

6. Not Checking That The Communication Has Been Understood

I am astounded at the number of businesses that do not measure whether messages or change initiatives are understood, never mind effective. In some cases huge sums of money are spent on internal ‘campaigns’ that are completely ineffective at best or actually have a negative impact on the people that they are trying to motivate. It’s hugely important that all communications campaigns – either external or internal are measured. Even anecdotal feedback from across key influencers within your organisation will give you an indicator of how a message has landed and whether further work is required.

7. No Reinforcement Of Communication By Managers and Supervisors

The ‘Marzipan’ layer as I call it, is rife in many businesses and public sector organisations. Information often stops at the senior management layer and gets no further, at least not consistently if it does. It’s not news that managers are key to effectively delivering messages and engaging employees. When leaders and managers convey confidence to employees, they build trust, which can help stoke employee engagement. In many ways, managers and more importantly team leaders and supervisors are the face of the organisation for employees, vital for translating mission, values and strategy into behaviour and action.

The best companies recognise this connection and go beyond simply providing managers with information to pass along to employees. They prepare managers to move away from cascading corporate messages and toward sharing the meaning of these messages with their team – back to the ‘Why?’. This requires engaging with managers, listening to their reactions, supporting their personal change journeys and crafting content that can be delivered in a manager’s own voice.

By avoiding these 7 deadly sins you’ll have a much better chance of engaging your employees in change.

As always would love to get your feedback and thoughts. Until next time…

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