Consigning all selling to the past – post 2 of 2

In the first of these two posts, building on earlier material about why selling is inappropriate in today’s society, about the new ABC of Sales, and about the death of the sales force, I argued that putting ‘Up’ or ‘Cross’ in front of ‘Sell’ doesn’t change my position one jot; and I highlighted the wrong-headed approach of the Post Office in the transformation programme they are currently implementing, focusing on a strategy heavily reliant on ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’.

upsell_cross sell

I committed in the last post to provide a strategy that delivers a far more effective approach to growing the revenues (and thus the profits) of businesses than the traditional tools, techniques and tricks of the classic sales approach. I suggested that a little patience by you would lead to everything falling right into place. Thank you for your patience; your wait is over, here’s what you waited for.

Here’s my alternative – start with the customer. Find a way of identifying what the customer places most value on, what would be the best offering for them right now? Have no pre-formed idea of what you want to provide to them. Instead stay in a very simple question for as long as possible – ‘can I provide the best solution for this customer right now?’ There is very interesting social sciences research that shows how surprisingly effective this approach is.

The Post Office has a major, strategic challenge deriving from the demographic of its customer base and adopting my alternative strategy can better position the Post Office with newer, younger, time-poor potential customers. Other businesses can deploy it with great success. Some of my clients are already doing so; with the sweet spot of deployment being in highly bespoke person-to-person complex professional services environments. Think of businesses where the nature of the service is that it is derived from the knowledge, skill and expertise of the people within the business. Think of ‘solopreneurs’ deploying their personal capabilities to delight their clients (perhaps designers, including graphics designers; maybe HR professionals; possibly Healthcare and Well-being practitioners). Think of Professional Services firms such as law firms, accountancy practices or Insolvency Practitioners/Financial Advisers). All are operating in highly bespoke person-to-person complex professional services environments.

Can I_question

Many sales trainers teach people tools, techniques and methodologies that purport to improve sales effectiveness. Included amongst these approaches is often the application of ‘Positive Mental Attitude’ as an approach. It is far more effective to tell yourself you can successfully sell to the person in front of you than it is to have doubts about your ability to do so. I had years in this sales environment of P.M.A. and A.B.C. (Always Be Closing) and have no doubt that the attitude of this positive group is more effective than a second group that constantly has doubts and insecurities regarding their abilities.

However, the social science research indicates that there is a third group who are even more effective than those who use P.M.A. as the bed-rock of their success. This third group have been shown to be 50% more effective than the P.M.A. group who use assertive self-talk when in the sales process (‘I can do this!’) Instead the third group stay in ‘interrogative self-talk’ (‘Can I do this?) for as long as possible. I think it would be far more effective for the Post Office, along with other service organisations, to train people how to use this interrogative approach when interacting with customers and potential customers. The resultant jointly-crafted solution is far more attractive, and valuable, to those whose needs have truly been listened to and honoured.

Adopting this strategy would enable them to grow their businesses without selling but with a strategy of using ‘max-serve’ to provide the best solution to their customers. If they cannot provide the best solution it is better to let the prospective customer walk on by. The ‘max-serve’ strategy recognises that only delighted customers will join the army of ardent advocates that recommend your business to others. If you merely satisfy a customer they are very unlikely to stick their head above the parapet and recommend your business to friends and loved ones. Disappoint them and they will tell many people. Delight them and they will tell those they love and trust – the people they have high standings with who are more likely to change their behaviours as a result of a recommendation from them. I will be writing more about the ‘max-serve’ strategy in the near future – once I have completed the review I am currently undertaking of extensive research.

An army of fans

In my business, I use the ALIGNED framework as a way of ensuring I deploy the ‘max-serve’ strategy in every customer interaction. I also teach others how to use the ALIGNED framework to shift the focus of their customer interactions. The ALIGNED framework, concentrating so much as it does on understanding the situation of the prospective buyer, constantly asking the question ‘can I find the perfect solution?’, and avoiding premature searches for possible solutions, greatly improves the alignment between seller and prospective buyer. By staying as long as possible in the question, using interrogative self-talk instead of assertive, the potential seller creates the opportunity to identify the resources needed to provide the perfect solution and crafts internal, intrinsic motivations over externally referenced drivers. Keeping alive the possibility that the answer that may emerge could be ‘No, I cannot provide the perfect solution’ multiplies the effect of the interrogative approach.

There is still hope for the Post Office, but only if they can revive their moribund customer base and can attract new customers to establish a squadron of sincere supporters to supplement and replace their dying customer base. It was once widely held to be a much-loved and revered British institution. I hope Chief Executive Paula Vennells acts quickly enough to move it into this century, realising last century isn’t good enough.

I hope you consider carefully the growth (or survival) strategy for your business. Which of the three groups above are you in currently? If you are not in the third group – the one that is most effective – what are you going to do? If you want to get into the third group, how will you do it? A goal without a plan is just a dream. Don’t just dream, do.

all-you-need-to-succeed

 

 

 

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Consigning all selling to the past – post 1 of 2

Those of you who have read my newsletters this year will have noticed I have written about why selling is inappropriate in today’s society, and about the new ABC of Sales. If you follow my blog posts you may also have seen me writing about the death of the sales force. Putting ‘Up’ or ‘Cross’ in front of ‘Sell’ doesn’t change my argument one jot; and I decided to highlight the wrong-headed approach of the Post Office in the transformation programme they are currently implementing, focusing on a strategy heavily reliant on ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’.

Post Office

I think there is a far better strategy, not only for the Post Office, but for all organisations aiming to survive, even thrive, nowadays. The articles that can be reached from the hyperlinks above advance the case that selling is inappropriate nowadays. Recent social science research has identified that there is a far better approach to growing the revenues (and thus the profits) of businesses than the traditional tools, techniques and tricks of the classic sales approach. The aim of the ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’ strategy is to capture a bigger share of the spend of the customers, to leverage the relationship between buyer and seller such that the seller takes a larger slice of the buyer’s spend. On the face of it, it makes sense that a company that has invested in acquiring a customer reaps the relatively easier additional revenue and profit streams. After all, it typically costs somewhere between five and ten times more to acquire a new customer than it takes to sell to an existing one. The problem with the ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’ strategy of any business, whether or not it is a British institution, is that it doesn’t really address the issue of acquiring new customers.

I am all for building deep and meaningful relationships with customers. Businesses, especially those involved in providing services, which successfully deploy a strategy of attracting and retaining an army of ardent advocates are on the right track. However the way to foster such fervent fans is not through up-selling and cross-selling – far better to focus on finding ways to ‘max-serve’ customers. In their transformation programme, Post Office staff are being trained to routinely offer additional products and services from the portfolio that they were taught about in an extensive training programme. Staff are being helped to understand where the most profitable products are in their portfolio and to then find ways of offering them to those who stray into their bazaars. Many companies have employed this strategy for years. I too was trained to Up Sell and Cross Sell; it was one of the sales mantras in the nineties and noughties in the ICT companies I was then working for. Times have moved on, even if the venerable British institution is still trying to drag itself into the nineteen nineties, so new strategies are needed.

In the second and final post on this subject, I will outline my alternative solution to the Up Sell and Cross sell strategy being pursued by the Post Office and many others including law firms, accountancy practices, and many technology companies, to name but a few. As I wrote above, social science research has identified that there is a far better approach to growing the revenues (and thus the profits) of businesses than the traditional tools, techniques and tricks of the classic sales approach. I won’t keep you waiting long; the second instalment will be posted next week.

in time things will fall into place_patience

 

Marketing and the ‘Rule of Three’

 

I have long argued that, in our increasingly complex world, selling is inappropriate. This means our marketing becomes ever more important. We must be able to communicate well in all our marketing, so I thought I would share some pointers.

Storytelling-techniques-quote-seth godin

There is a general rule in speaking, in writing and in music that concepts, arguments and ideas presented in threes are inherently more interesting, more enjoyable and more memorable. This ‘Rule of Three’ provides an elegant communication framework.

So what is the Rule of Three? What are some examples of the Rule of Three? How can you use the Rule of Three to be more effective? Before I explain, did you spot the Rule of Three in operation in the opening to this paragraph? The Rule of Three is simple, it is powerful and it works. People can understand your messages more easily, become more engaged with your business, and remember more of what you communicate when you use the Rule of Three.

It’s no accident that the number three is commonly used in well-known stories. The Three Little Pigs, The Three Musketeers and The Three Wise Men – to name a few. It’s no accident that commonly known phrases often come as three-part quotes such as ‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, and ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’. It’s no accident that the best magic tricks are organised into three phases – ‘the Pledge’, ‘the Turn’ and ‘the Return’. This paragraph illustrates another aspect of the Rule of Three. The first time you say or write something, it’s an accident. The second time, it’s a coincidence. However, the third time you say something it becomes a pattern. Three is the smallest number of elements you can use to create (or break) a pattern.

liberte-egalite-fraternite

Here are three quick tips to help you use the Rule of Three. (Did you really expect any other number?)

Tip 1: Arrange any talk, presentation or speech into groups of three.

Maybe you are familiar with the old advice about structuring a speech. I believe it was Dale Carnegie who said ‘Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them’. To people who are new to public speaking this advice is particularly useful because it addresses the common mistakes that new presenters often make. It reminds the beginner that they need to preview and summarise, and not just start and end in the middle.

If you have more than three ideas you want to present, then you should group your ideas into three bigger categories. Each of the three bigger categories should then also be organised appropriately in groups of three.

Tip 2: Use a three-part organisation structure.

A good analogy here is dividing a pie, cake or pizza. The pizza can be divided into equal thirds representing the beginning, the middle and the end of your presentation. However it may be that the middle itself has three parts. Now you have three parts in the middle and one part each for the beginning and the ending – so you want to divide the cake into five slices. If you have a lot of content to present, it may be that the three parts in the middle each need to be divided into three to accommodate all your material. The pie now needs to be divided differently into 11 portions – one each for the beginning and the ending, and nine for the main content. I hope you are beginning to appreciate how this works.

In the body of each of the slices of your content, you should arrange the material to support your argument, your proposition or your explanation using the Rule of Three. You can use stories, examples or statistics. Analogies, comparisons and quotations may be effective in helping to get your messages across. Within each slice, the hardest part is choosing which three (and only three) points will make the biggest impact, and then choosing the best supporting mix of evidence.

Tip 3: Use the Rule of Three for phrases, sentences and words.

It’s useful to think about applying the Rule of Three to specific phrases, sentences and words. Look back to the third paragraph of this article material. Did you notice that I repeated the phrase ‘It’s no accident’ three times? Why did I do that? Well, it was no accident. The repetition helped to emphasise the point I was making – that purposely presenting ideas in threes helps make them more memorable.

no accident

It also serves the purpose of breaking up a larger list of examples. I thought it was important to provide more than just three examples of the Rule of Three, so I decided to give you three groups of three. When choosing the specific words that form your grouping of three, it’s important to select words that are parallel in structure – that is, they work well in combination. For example, ‘Today, I will buy a hat, scarf and coat’. Each of the items works with the verb. As opposed to ‘Today, I will buy a hat, scarf and wallpaper the dining room’. It’s also helpful if the words you choose follow a similar cadence, but that is not an absolute requirement.

 

A final point about the Rule of Three.

You don’t always have to follow the Rule of Three. Like all other rules it’s meant to be broken from time to time. However, before you break the Rule of Three, it’s a good idea to understand it better. Think about a recent presentation you gave, and imagine giving it again. How could you use the Rule of Three to make that presentation more powerful? What organising structures might be more effective? What word choices would be better? That’s it. No more questions. Three is enough.

 

Ethical marketing – increasingly vital in business

Ethical marketing“Ethical marketing – isn’t that an oxymoron?” I hear you ask. I think it need not be. Marketing should be true to the brand and, for me, a brand is a promise kept. Brand is vital for small businesses. So often, the business owner is the brand. We may have some brand extensions such as our qualifications or accreditations, but the core of the brand is us individually. Our brand is what we do, who we are; it is our values and beliefs and our overriding sense of purpose. We know the risks to our brand of not being ethical in all ways at all times.

As our lives become increasingly fast-paced and ever-more complex the opportunity for marketing to trick us increases exponentially and this is why I think ethical marketing is increasingly important. Let me develop the logic, the emotion and the response.

Technology develops faster than we do as a species. We know that often our modern day actions and reactions are little different from those of our cave-dwelling ancestors. We all recognise the “fight/flight” reactions that certain situations automatically produce within us. How often do we see groups of people all doing the same things and looking very similar – the “pack instinct” in us? As technology develops ever-faster, our natural capacity to process more and more information is increasingly likely to be insufficient to manage the excess of choice, change, stimulation and challenge presented to us by our increasingly complex world. I recently read a report identifying that the amount of data in the world is now doubling every two- to two and a half-years. This baffling complexity makes our brains hurt because the brain is unable to process the bewildering array of messages, possibilities, implications and interpretations presented to us. We need a mechanism to enable us to cope.

Fortunately, we have such a mechanism that we use without cognitive recognition. In many ways, the use of this mechanism is similar to other species who cannot cope with complexity. If we look in the animal kingdom, where there is less brain power available to the species, we see how they cope. Their intelligence is often insufficient to process all the information available to them, so they don’t. Instead they rely on single pieces of information.

An experiment by the animal behaviourist M.W. Fox, undertaken in the 1970’s, illustrates my point. The study involved turkeys, specifically mother turkeys. These creatures spent (and still do spend) great effort looking after their chicks; warming, cleaning, tending and generally looking after them and huddling the chicks underneath them. Fox identified that the turkeys doled out their tender loving care based on one single piece of information. Available to the turkeys was a range of information to enable them to identify their chicks – their smell, their feel, their appearance and so on. However, Fox concluded that the turkeys relied solely on one piece of information, the “cheep, cheep” sound of young turkey chicks.

Unconvinced? Fox’s experiment introduced individual mother turkeys to a stuffed polecat (it was an experiment conducted in America) – the natural enemy of the turkeys. Unsurprisingly, the introduction of the stuffed polecat invoked a response from the turkeys of squawking, clawing, pecking rage. However, if the stuffed polecat had within it a small recorder that played a recording of young turkey chicks making “cheep, cheep” sounds when the stuffed polecat was introduced, a very different response was invoked. The mother turkey not only accepted the stuffed polecat, but drew it underneath her. Switching off the recorder led to the vicious attacks seen without the identifying noise. This behaviour is known as fixed-action patterns. Similar experiments have been reproduced in other species, for example substituting the red feathers of a stuffed robin with blue feathers produced different behaviour.

Surprisingly, we see humans frequently also rely on single pieces of information. To take one example, how often do we look to see what other people are doing in a situation where we are uncertain, and then mimic their actions? If everybody else is acting the same way, that must be the right thing to do – right? Often we don’t bother to process all the information available to us, we just rely on one piece – in this case what everybody else appears to be doing. Just because everybody else is doing X doesn’t make it right. Everybody else is walking past the man collapsed on the street, so we do the same – ignoring his moans and clear distress. Maybe everyone else knows he is drunk and it is his own fault. Why bother to process any more information than the single piece of what others are doing?

Narita

It works in reverse (what people are not doing) too. When I lived in Japan, I had a visa that permitted me to enter the country through the passport queue used by Japanese nationals. Narita Airport queues were often long, and frequently there was great disparity in the size of queues at the respective passport checks for nationals and for foreigners. After a long flight, and before a long train journey from Narita to my home in Tokyo, the last thing I needed was a long queue. Accordingly, I went to whichever queue was shorter. If that was the queue for foreigners, I passed through without incident. Almost without fail, when I went through the queue for nationals there was pandemonium and great unease and muttered conversations around me, and several people would earnestly explain to me in halting English that I was in the wrong queue. My explanation in Japanese that I was permitted to use the queue for nationals led to even more earnest urgings to use the other queue. One piece of information, my looks, was all those around me (apart from the passport inspectors) needed to govern their behaviour.

So as the world becomes ever more complex, our brains come to rely more frequently on fixed-action patterns and single pieces of information. This makes us vulnerable to unscrupulous marketers who bombard us with erroneous information, as we exhibit more of a tendency not to process all that is available.

I want to be very clear that I recognise the benefits of fixed-action patterns and using single pieces of information. Their use can make our lives easier; I am not an advocate of the brain ache caused by considering every single piece of information all the time. When making decisions, we will less frequently enjoy the sumptuousness of a fully considered analysis of all the information. Instead we will rely increasingly on a focus on one single, usually reliable feature. Where those single features are truly reliable, there is nothing inherently wrong with our shortcut approach of picking a single factor and using fixed-action patterns to arrive at an automatic response. The problem arises where something causes the normally trustworthy to lead us to errant actions and wrong-headed decisions.

The “something” in the previous sentence is often the result of unethical marketing, aimed specifically at tricking us into the rather mindless and mechanical nature of our shortcut approach. This can be as crass as marketers adding canned laughter to a TV programme (everybody laughed, so we laugh too) or making up statistics to try to convince us that their products are the “fastest selling” products (Where? For how long? At a fraction of the price you are now offering it to me?) This is why I think ethical marketing is so important, and will become ever more important as our world becomes increasing complex. Marketers can help us to cope with complexity by giving us information that is genuine and does not pervert and distort. The treachery is when the profit motive tempts them to make their profits in a way that threatens the reliability of our shortcuts. To avoid brain-ache we have to have reliable shortcuts, faithful rules of thumb that we can depend on. These are no longer luxuries for us; instead they are increasingly becoming vital cornerstones that allow us to cope with modern life. Where we see unethical marketing we should shout about it from the rooftops and shame those who use it.

Better still, we should boycott the product or service being unethically marketed, and let the marketer know why we are so doing. Maybe I am being too cynical, but when I see a retailer, who has a price-match promise, increase the price of an item by 40% I begin to think. They get 40% more at the till, and give you a coupon so you get the money back when you next shop there. “No harm, no foul”? I think not! This is unethical marketing. You may get your money back off your next shop, but they get the cash flow and the return visit. The hyper-cynic in me is just waiting for the future promotion that proclaims “Great Price Reduction, Previously Priced 40% Higher!!!” Leave the item where it is and tell the store manager why! Better still, don’t use the retailer at all and tell them why.

It’s time to fight back against unethical marketing. Ensuring we market our businesses ethically is no longer enough, because unethical marketing is compromising the vital cornerstones and faithful rules of thumb that we need to thrive in our increasingly complex world.