Culture: Your MVP for Growth

Let me begin with this. Humans are social, intelligent, dynamic, learning, caring, resourceful, and reactive beings who are strongly inclined to make emotional connections and associations with others. We are driven by some sense of togetherness. It is one of the things that has allowed our species to thrive on this planet.

We need culture in nearly every aspect of our lives!

Yet businesses continue operate on a different mindset and rely heavily on various ‘carrot and stick’ approaches to management.

Here is what that produces:
A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn reveals that 64.7% or professionals claim they decline job offers, projects, and promotions if they don’t know, or do not agree with their culture. 52% of them claim to be actively looking for employment with places that align with their own beliefs.

The Gallup Organization has formally been studying and monitoring employee engagement since 2000 and estimate a low engagement contributes to a negative impact of over $400Billion in the US alone.

Despite this information, thousands more reports, articles, consultancies, and resources being available; nearly 80% of companies to not have a formal strategy regarding their culture.

Building a thriving culture comes down to formalizing three simple ideas with absolute clarity, dedication, consistency, and transparency.

Mission:

This is the WHAT that you are doing, assigning, targeting, or building. It is as much about the macro, big-picture notions as it is about the micro, daily details and tasks. Everyone remotely related to the process should know and be excited about the mission to which they are contributing.

Values:

These are the beliefs, attitudes, and actions that are important, supported, accepted, tolerated, and inexcusable. These five distinct lists are more important than any specific mission because when people come together based on values, they will almost effortlessly adapt or completely change the what if it doesn’t align with their shared beliefs.

Purpose:

This refers to the WHY that inspires us to contribute, and sometimes contribute our very best. It can be aimed towards a social endeavor or problem, supporting a non-profit cause, community, environmental, technological, artistic, entertainment, religious, fun/adventure, or be purely altruistic/philanthropic. It can be anything besides ‘making money’, growing, selling products, increasing profits, or any similar ilk.

Bringing clarity and sharing your MVP is the foundation of your culture. It also allows people to build emotional connections to it. These emotional connections are THE MOST IMPORTANT thing you can build. They will be created whether you focus on them or not. The difference is in the number and strength of those that support your growth efforts.

Here are a couple ways your culture determines your growth.

Talent attraction:

Because of the interconnectedness of humanity (as in the six decrees of separation concept), your current workforce is likely already connected to the next 2 rounds of talent you need to hire. Social media sites (LinkedIn is most powerful) help facilitate and visualize these connections if we use them properly. The missing factor is your culture.

Your employee Bill has a great friend named Suzan, whom you want to hire. It is very likely that Bill is in one of the groups at the top of article who is not aligned with the company, and will try to dissuade Suzan from leaving her current position even though it pays 20% less.

The opposite is also true. Suzan absolutely loves where she is working, so much that it always shows up in her smile – even in the carpool line where she and Bill regularly talk as they wait to pick up their children. Her attitude is infectious and makes Bill wonder if the extra money is worth the headaches of his culture.

The situation of Bill and Suzan occurs thousands of times every day and has likely already happened to your company on more than one occasion. In her role as Development Engineer, she developed breakthrough products for your competition. Remember, we are hiring humans. Emotional connections are crucial!

Customer attraction:

Rebekah is looking for a new car. She talks with friends about what they drive, how they like it, and service it needs. Though all of her friends can easily afford the purchase of new cars, Ramon still drives one that he has had for 15 years, and he loves it.

She had previously never considered that brand because she never heard any stories. Because Ramon (not a car salesman, employed, or affiliated by the brand) was the only one of her friends who displayed any passion for the car he drove, she went for a test drive and was comfortable making a $50,000 purchase. Her other friends talked about the next car they were thinking about buying because they were bored, unimpressed, or frustrated with their current one.

The situation of Rebekah and Ramon also happens thousands of times daily. The purchase had almost nothing to do with marketing budgets, the dealership price, or salesperson’s skill. Remember, all purchases are made by humans. Emotional connections are crucial!

 

Culture impacts marketing more than most budgets do and it comes into play in all industries and price points. It is time to invest into understanding and shaping your culture so that it becomes the MVP of your growth. Feel free to connect with me to start a conversation about it.

Four Keys to Building Trust

There are millions of books and articles written about the value of trust and how to build it. More are produced every year. In spite of this, it seems people in roles of marketing, sales, and leadership find themselves challenged in how to build trust in their roles.

I offer four simple concepts that have been effective throughout my life and career. These concepts are as easy to do as they are to ignore. Just writing them to share today is part of me renewing my commitment to them.

Keep Your Promises:

Do what you say and say what you’ll actually be doing. It sounds simple enough, but I know from personal experience that it can be easy to say what people want to hear. Early in my sales career I thought I wanted to be known as agreeable and accommodating. In my eagerness to please potential customers, I would agree to requests (discounts, expedited delivery, rushed production, etc.) that lead me to a couple situations where I couldn’t keep my promises – making the reputation and the deal backfire on me.

One of my solutions was to reserve blocks of time where I would make sales calls/presentations. And reserve other blocks of time to make good on my promises. During calls, I would write down all the things I said I would do and schedule a deadline verbally with them – “I’ll have that information to you on Thursday by at noon.” One of my favorite ‘keep promises’ blocks was Thursday mornings.

As I got more comfortable in my system, I learned how powerful this was at establishing trust with clients and prospects. Phase two of it was to ask busy owners when and how they wanted to have certain information presented to them (email, phone call, visit/meeting, etc.) so I could schedule each one as an appointment on my calendar.

Communicate Openly, Truthfully, and Timely:

If doing things the right way were easy, they wouldn’t call it ‘the right way’. It is not easy to bring up difficult situations, especially when it makes you look bad. When we look at mistakes and errors as opportunities to learn, improve, or impress; we can begin to understand their true power.

There is an adage that tells us, “not making mistakes means you aren’t trying hard enough.” You’ll earn more trust by pushing the envelope at the right place and pace. When errors happen, own them. Communicate proactively and quickly.

Not that I liked having my orders get messed up, or I liked calling clients to report a problem; but the results were always positive when these situations were followed in this manner.

Act Consistently With Beliefs:

The phrase, action speaks louder than words remains true, but it overlooks the synergies created by actions and words supporting each other. This is more important in today’s age of social media and the variety of ways we are represented digitally because each profile offers a history of our interactions.

Potential employers, employees, customers, partners, investors, board members, and more look to social media to form opinions about a company, its products, leadership, and culture. We want to engage with businesses and people who are aligned with our beliefs. Credibility is built on ALL of our actions, not just when we are face to face.

Deliver More:

Add something more to what you do – a bonus, something extra, an unmistakable part of YOU. It could be a smile, hand written thank you note, or a comforting story about how you made the same mistakes they made. It can be reassurance, positive thought, sharing of your passion, or something creative. These gifts strengthen the relationships because they connect us on a emotional level beyond the scope of the transaction.

These gifts are more valuable than favors, chits, or I-owe-yous because they are volunteered and therefore not tabulated and tracked. This is exactly the type of human interactions that keep us together as groups, tribes, and even society itself.

 

These are not limited to business relationships. They can (and should) be applied to interactions with friends, family, volunteer opportunities, and romantic relationships with the same zeal and consistency.

Connecting Sales With Purpose

Sales as a career can indeed be noble. This is the position/department responsible for generating the revenue that essentially pays everyone’s salary – including the CEO.

Under ideal circumstances, it can be very lucrative as well as personally fulfilling (as you bring value to everyone involved). Too often, circumstances are less-than-ideal and this reveals the ugly, cutthroat, gimmicky, self-serving tendencies that push people away rather than build value.

One way to attract and bring out the best in sales professionals is to connect sales, marketing, and other revenue-generating activities with an authentic and consistent mission or purpose. This purpose can be either altruistic in nature (unselfishly giving to others) or it can be product/customer-focused. Both tend to bring about the same benefits when supported well.

Altruistic Purpose

Funding a non-profit organization that operates to benefit others is one of the easiest ways to align with a purpose as long as it is a noteworthy cause and an amount that is enough to do good and catch people’s attention.

Another way to align with an altruistic purpose is to commit your entire operations to it. TOMs Shoes provides one of the best examples with their One For One program. From their very beginnings, the company donates one pair of shoes for every pair they sell. This was a key element in their rapid growth in an already saturated space of footwear. They launched in May of 2006 and have already given over 60 million pairs of shoes!

Patagonia sportswear calls itself The Activist Company, and sells sustainable outdoor clothing. Their mission statement reads: Build the best products, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. It is easy to imagine that they are very active, and vocal about minimizing their environmental impact. They live and breathe their mission every day.

Once these principles are indoctrinated into the books, operations, and cultures of the organization; they become amazingly easy to implement and expand through growth.

Product or Customer-focused Purpose

This sort of purpose is considerably more delicate to get right. Using words like ‘the best’, ‘great service’, or ideals related to ‘customer experience’ are easy to claim, but very difficult to define, implement, monitor with any consistency. Thus, they often become petty lip-service that lacks any connection or inspiration.

Microsoft is a great example. Their mission reads: To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. It has essentially been the same since the day it was founded! This led to the creation of numerous programs to make it easier to navigate and harness the power of computers. Customers truly win by having such tools at their disposal.

It is interesting to think that the Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation is still living out that same purpose of helping people achieve more. Instead of using computers, they are focused on some of the most overlooked populations. Imagine what they can contribute to the world with core knowledge and without hassle of fighting diseases like malaria!

How It Works

Connecting sales with purpose brings out the humanity in the business. It helps to build connections with audiences and provides compelling reasons to feel good about the purchase. In highly competitive situations where price often seems like a major concern, a compelling purpose often wins them over better than a discount.

Unless 100% or your people (staff, team, associates, leaders, contractors, vendors, partners, etc.) know and can recite your purpose in their own language; it isn’t clear enough. We know some folks who can help you discover and communicate your purpose in ways that help drive sales! My purpose is to engage, create, and help organizations grow. Let’s start a conversation.

Designing Sales Processes Part 2

In part one of this article on sales processes, I stated that sales is like a jigsaw puzzle where pieces are replaced by emotions and events to make a complete picture. This article builds on the foundation questions we began last week  and continues to build the puzzle with insights into additional questions.

What do they want?

Henry Ford brilliantly claimed that if he simply asked people what they wanted, they would answer that they wanted faster horses. Rather than simply asking potential prospects what they want, it helps to actually BE a customer or potential prospect and align your passions with ideal solutions.

Understanding them as a peer sends powerful signals that build genuine trust with audiences. Intimate knowledge helps you ask questions that spark better conversations. Ask about their challenges, needs, and/or problems in ways that are relevant to what you offer.

One thing customers almost always want is a complete vision of the solution. They can likely only put a portion of the solution into words. Often, answers will be in terms of what they already know (and already know doesn’t work). ‘Faster horses’ is framed around the known method of travel. Such answers are not to be taken literally, but as sub-conscious indications that essential needs are not met

Your questions and responses can help them refine the problem at hand and see the entire solution (i.e. you, or someone else) more clearly.

When do they want it?

It seems counter-productive to try drinking from, or even watering a garden with a fire hose. It can be tempting to dump all our information and solution options on a prospect, but this tends to overwhelm them into not making a decision at all.

Part of your sales process is about timing the delivery of critical information to meet their needs and interests. It is about adapting your sales process to their buying process.

Besides matching this cadence, it is about delivering in formats they can use. Products and services for sale are only a basic level. Extending this to resources like budgeting, long-range planning, performance reviews, how-to-guides, ebooks, and audits are essential to building raving fans who receive maximum benefit.

This is clearly one of the most critical overlaps between outside sales, inside sales, new marketing, existing marketing, and client support efforts. Invest the time to collaborate share information as getting it wrong here can easily push clients away.

How is it delivered?

There is so much that goes into making a sale. Some think it stops when the order is signed. Be sure to put the same care into how the product/service is delivered as went into getting it purchased in the first place. Consistent branding is key!

I cannot offer any hard-set rules, other than being consistent. Individual people are the driving force behind your brand. Attitude is far more important than appearance. Delivery, service, and instal personnel often serve as critical intermediaries between buyer and seller. They can provide critical information back to all departments as to the performance, reliability, and packaging of products and services of all types. The best sales processes find ways to incorporate this feedback into their systems.

 

Like what you read here? Share it with others or leave a comment below. Better yet, let’s start a conversation about how we can build or update your sales processes.

Designing Your Sales Process

Sales is like a jigsaw puzzle. Instead of physical pieces, it consists of emotions and events that are connected together to create a detailed image of a completed deal. Some emotions and events might be easier to identify while others might be more interesting or exciting. But the puzzle is not complete until ALL the pieces are in their proper place and linked together.

Here are a couple ideas to help outline the framework of the best sales process for you, your clients, and your business.

What do you want to have happen?

Before we can make anything happen, it is crucial that we understand exactly what it is that we want. That’s why puzzles come with a reference image of it completed (except the extremely difficult ones). It helps to share this vision with others so they can see their own role in it.

Start with the most obvious.

Get the YES!, place the order, or sign the contract – at mutually-beneficial terms. (mutually-beneficial is the cornerstone of win-win and long-term success). But this is likely a long journey away, so it helps to build several small ‘sales’ as milestones to keep everyone motivated and ‘on-track’.

Depending on the industry and type of products/services being served, the maturity and branding of the company, the confidence and personal style of the sales professional, as well as market timing and dozens of other factors; this list could be as short as 8-10 points or as long as 25-30.

Some ‘small sales’ might include: Acquire contact information; Get permission to market to them (establish interest); Set appointment; Meet all the decision-makers and influencers; Learn pain-points and desires Understand scope of needs; Be seen as trusted advisor; Receive referrals and introductions to key influencers.

Before we can make ANY of it happen, we need to get them all on paper and organize them by priority. This naturally leads to action steps. Go ahead and write down any that come to mind, but DO NOT take action yet.

Who is ideal audience?

We really must get past thinking our target customer as ‘people who want/need products and have funds to purchase them.’ Traditional demographics should also be tossed out as well.

Smartphones are not just great for users to conveniently check/update social media status and take selfies. They are extremely powerful tools that help (savvy) marketers understand audiences in different ways. This leads to highly customized solutions and offers that make sense for specific individuals rather than gross demographics. This allows us to identify unique ways to communicate value with both new and existing audiences.

Here are some lifestyle criteria to get your thinking started: household income, home value, education, hobbies, digital subscriptions, print subscriptions, preferences, habits, locations frequented, conferences or major event participation, retail orders, loyalty programs, and much more. Once you determine what information is most relevant, you can start leveraging it to attract your ideal audience.

What products/services are available?

Start with a list of each inventory item or or service that can be offered. Define each of them in terms of key features, benefits, distribution models, pricing, and (most importantly) ways they can be used to solve problems.

I challenge clients to make a list of at least 100 unique ways to use products (or problems it solves). Even seasoned sales pros will struggle with this – the point is not necessarily to complete the 100, but to get creative and discover alternative ways customers/users they might use it. This will open countless niches that were never anticipated.

Here is an example you might understand. MP3 players existed long before Apple launched their iPod. They all solved the problem of making music portable. The first iPod made it faster to transfer from computer while giving a luxurious user interface that told other people that you appreciate the intersection of music and technology. The real breakthrough, however, was with the launch of iTunes that made it easy to organize and manage growing music collections and eventually to legally purchase digital content.

Making a list like this provides an incredible arsenal of talking points to help build connections with audiences and help them identify their pain-points.
With these as a foundation, the process can begin to take shape. Be sure to check out next week’s article where we continue with additional steps. This list contains plenty of ideas to get you started.

If you would like a personal consultation on how to build a sales process that fits your business, drop me a line and start the conversation.