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Subtle Cues And Crabs

15 Apr

If you tug too quickly on the string, the crab drops the chicken and sidesteps away.  If you drop the net in the water too aggressively, the ripples frighten off your prey.  It’s only when you pull the string in one finger width at a time, when the crab realizes it’s being hunted only after it’s in your net, that you land your catch.

Crabbing

Click to see some crabbing on a string!

I recently began using an iPad in sales calls.  It’s a powerful tool for product demos, but it scared away my prospects.  Why?

To ensure I could quickly launch into a demo, I flipped open the case cover and logged in before sales calls.  In an industry where prospects give sales people a very limited amount of time to present their wares, I thought having my iPad ready for action would be a strategic advantage.

But as soon as I walked into a prospect’s office, his eyes shifted to my open iPad and his pupils dilated in fear.  The iPad was my net, and I had clearly dipped it into the water too early.  Before I even got to qualify, nonetheless demo my product, the prospect darted away like a crab.

Revealing our sales tools too early and rushing to make our pitch is a sure way to scare off our catch.   And sometimes, it’s just a subtle cue, a signal of the demo to come, that alarms our prospects.  In my case it was the open iPad.

As soon as I realized my mistake and closed the case before walking into offices, my prospects opened up to me again.

Are you scaring away your crab?

My Office Gave Me A Reputation

8 Apr

When I began my new job, I didn’t decorate my office for months.  Why?  Because I wanted to really hit the ground running.  Beautifying my work space could come later.

My high level of productivity and my Spartan office led co-workers to form these first impressions of me:

1)      I’m an extremely hard worker (which I am).

2)      I’m not creative.  Why did they think this?  My bare, slightly dirty walls gave off the impression of someone who hadn’t thought creatively about his office, and my colleagues took this as a sign that I wasn’t very creative.

I’ve struggled to shed this uncreative label ever since.

Your first weeks in the workplace are like your clothes on a first date.  They’re used by others to form opinions of you.  And for good or bad, work reputations tend to persist, whether they’re entirely accurate or not:

  • You will be given work based on these first impressions that will only strengthen that initial reputation.  If you’re deemed a creative thinker, you’ll be given creative projects to work on.  Your creativity working on these projects will strengthen your reputation for being creative.  Conversely, you may miss out on opportunities based on first impressions, which makes it harder to shed or alter those labels.
  • First impressions aren’t always reassessed.  The colleagues we work closely with  have constant contact with us on which to reassess and alter their opinions.  However, especially in larger companies, there are colleagues with whom we rarely interact.  These co-workers rely on their first impressions and hearsay when deciding what we’re like.  With these colleagues, a first impression is sometimes all you get.

 

My office today...still needs a little work, but at least there's something on the walls!

My office today…still needs a little work, but at least there’s something on the walls!

I’m not saying that first impressions in the workplace can’t be changed.  If you’re at a company worth working for (like mine), your work will eventually shine through.  But first impressions are an important reality of the work place, and we’re all served well by doing three things:

1)      When you start a new job or join a new team, think hard about how you want to be known and take action to convey those things about you.

2)      It’s worth taking the time to get to know people you don’t work closely with.  You owe it yourself to give these colleagues an idea of who you really are.  Don’t let first impressions or office talk determine what people think of you.

3)      Make extra effort to brag about yourself.  It’s worth doing modest self-promotion to highlight the qualities you want to be known for, especially when first impressions are so sticky.  My colleague posts an impressive day-by-day itinerary of her business travel on her door when she’s out of the office.  It’s a subtle, but effective way of demonstrating how hard she’s working.

And of course, decorate your office right away.

A New Type of Grading

23 Feb

A teacher scribbles a breakdown of the last exam grades on the projector: 65 A’s, 107 B’s, 98 C’s, and 43 F’s.  Average: 82.5.

A number of students feel great because they easily beat the average.  Others feel shitty—they blew it and seeing all those A’s is salt in the wound.  And then the grades are erased from the board.

But instead of just reporting the grades, what if the instructor offered this instead: if the class average on the next exam increases by five points, everyone gets five bonus points on the next exam.

Or what if she went a step further, putting students in small groups with an equal distribution of A, B, and C students in each group?  And offered each student five bonus points if his group’s next exam average increased by five points? 

Would students work harder, knowing that classmates are counting on them?  Collaborate more?  Form study groups and foster a community of learning rather than just trying to master the content solo?

Group incentives in higher education are on my mind, but the logic applies to everything we do:

The next time I run a contest for my sales force, I’ll break the reps into small groups and incentivize the performance of each group, not just individuals.  The result I expect: sales reps will not only work harder, feeling accountable to one another, but share valuable advice with other members of their group, teaching their colleagues how to be more successful.

Too often in life, we reward winners and brand others as “losers” without providing any reason for individuals to help one another.  What we should be doing is incentivizing collaboration and the success of the entire group.  If we want better results, we need a new type of grading.

That Big Project Can Wait. Just For A Little Bit.

20 Feb

Google “Do the hardest thing first” and you’ll find ten articles like this one. These articles implore us to tackle the toughest task on our to-do list first, which is sound, practical advice on productivity.  But it’s all wrong.

Don’t start the day with your most onerous project.  Start with something else first and then take a crack at that tough task.

Here are two reasons why:

1)     Too often, I’ve slogged through my toughest task for an entire morning of work, only to realize that I still haven’t finished it and have 15 other chores to complete before heading home.  This causes PANIC.  I rush through the rest of the difficult task, a chore that by definition can’t be rushed, so that I can move down my to-do list.  Paradoxically, by trying to give the toughest task the most attention by starting with it first, I often give it less attention than it deserves because I feel pressure to get it done and move on to the other projects waiting for me.

On the other hand, when I spend the first hour of the day crossing off one or two other tasks before tackling the doozie, I’m more relaxed and less compelled to rush through the big project when it takes multiple hours to complete.  With an item or two already completed, the stress of needing to move on subsides, allowing me to devote more energy to that tough task.

2)     I believe in momentum.  Starting with a task that’s difficult, yet able to be finished in a reasonable time frame sets a tone of productivity that lingers the rest of the day.  If I’m able to cross off a task or two in the morning, I’m often amazed at my momentum.  The day turns into a steady march through a variety of projects—and a stress free one at that.

I’m not telling you to procrastinate tackling that one hard project looming over your head.  But by finishing one or two less difficult projects before starting, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment that will allow you to devote your full energies to the big project.  

Which, of course, is the goal in the first place.

The Scoreboard is Scoreless.

9 Feb

Business is a lot like football.  In both, we need to acknowledge two things when looking at the scoreboard:

1)     The final score is often a product of the environment in which we compete.   

A football team’s success is determined by much more than just team performance.  The strength of the competition, injuries to key players, even the referees have an impact on the season record.  Similarly, outside factors often determine our success in business.  A good market environment sometimes ensures success, even when we just show up.  A bad market environment?  It can crush even the most sound strategy.

2)     Results, therefore, don’t tell the whole story. 

Three point victories over an arch-rival and a cupcake, while the same on the scoreboard, usually mean very different levels of performance on the football field.  So too does 3% growth during a bullish market versus 3% growth in a bear market.

If the scoreboard doesn’t reflect the entire story, should we just ignore it?  No, but we must evaluate ourselves differently.  We need to track our processes, not just end the results.

In my career, a few processes I track include 1) returned correspondence from customers 2) conversion of focus group attendees 3) number of sales calls per day.

These processes are smaller metrics.  They no doubt affect the scoreboard, but aren’t swayed or skewed by the landscape in which I compete.

The point of focusing on process is not to ignore end results.  The scoreboard does matter–we should never afford ourselves excuses when the other team wins.

The point is that when you focus on process, you take the business context or environment in which you work out of your measurements.  The ups and downs that can be attributed to competition and the situations we inherit begin to smooth out.  When we have excel at the right processes, results ultimately begin to care of themselves.

Which football coach talks most about process?  Nick Saban, when he’s not busy winning back-to-back national championships.

nick saban

The No Name Game.

7 Feb

“How long can you last without mentioning our product?”

That’s the question my sales manager asked me my first week on the job.  He wanted to know this: in a sales call, how long could I have a conversation with a potential customer without mentioning the name of our product?

When the A, B, C’s of selling are “Always be closing,” this game seemed counter-intuitive.  How could I sell anything to anyone without telling him about my wares?

Only with serious suspicions did I at first play the “no naming our product game.”  By the end of my time as a sales rep, I played it religiously.  It was clearly making me highly successful.

Stopwatch

Nearly every book on sales mentions the importance of establishing relationships.  My sales manager had a deeper insight.  He taught me that as soon as you mention the name of your product, the nature of the conversation changes.  What was once a chat about the customer and his or her needs now at some level becomes transactional.  When you name your product, you’re now a salesman trying to make a sale, no matter how aggressive or pushy you are.

My manager begged me to hold off on mentioning my product because he knew that I needed to get to know my customers before becoming a salesman in their eyes.  He knew that as soon as I mentioned my product, I could no longer ask qualifying questions freely.

In your next sales call, should you bring a stop watch and clock how long you can last before turning the conversation to your product?  Maybe or maybe not.  But I beg you to ask yourself this question:

  • Am I ready to change the nature of the conversation by mentioning my product? 

When Content Isn’t King

22 Jan

Telling someone content isn’t king is like telling a mom that you think her baby is ugly.  It always leads to a shocked look, and sometimes a slap.

Which is why I’m hesitant to tell you this.  When it comes to achieving higher click-through rate (CTR) in marketing emails, the content of the email is DEFINITELY not king.

In my first year as a marketer, I wrote prose worthy of publication, copy that extolled the virtue of our beautiful wares (textbooks…).  But I still had average to below average CTR.  I spent significantly more time than my colleagues worrying about the body copy of my emails, but that extra time didn’t lead to more customers clicking on links in my emails.

Which led me to examine more closely my marketing emails.  Which led to the conclusion that if I were a potential customer, I would have NEVER clicked on the links in my own emails.

That was humbling.  But also helpful.  I realized that the reason that I wouldn’t have clicked on my own links had nothing to do with the copy I wrote.  It had to do with what I now know are the two critical components of CTR:

  • The subject line
  • The link we ask customers to click on

For you to achieve high click-through, customers 1) have to open your email and 2) click on the link you provide them.  It doesn’t matter how good your copy is (and mine was good, damnt).  If your subject line is spammy or doesn’t convey that there will be clear value within the email, customers will just delete it without opening.  And if they open it, the description of the link you want them to click better be specific (“Learn more here” just doesn’t cut it) or they won’t click on it.

I now spend all of my time worrying about subject lines and my links…and my click-through rate is the best in my marketing team.  When I write the actual body copy of my emails, my goal is not to pen magic that will allure customers.  It’s only to keep the content short so customers make it to my link.

The content isn’t king.  It’s so intuitive to me now when it comes to CTR, it’s shocking I didn’t realize it sooner. 

Change your perspective on CTR.  Focus on the subject line and the link, not the copy.  And enjoy more success.

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