One of the interesting aspects of working with many client managers is hearing how they’ve experienced or observed the Major Mistakes Managers Make. One such manager described this fatal error (concentrating on problems not objectives) to us as follows: "One reason for the lack of effectiveness on the part of so many managers is that they major on minors." When we asked him what he meant, he said he had observed many managers spending as much as 90 percent of their time dealing with problems that only influence 10 percent of their productivity. In many instances, they become so involved with problems that they totally lose sight of their objectives.

Turning Problems into Opportunities

Managers will often approach us seeking a personal conversation. Given a supposedly sympathetic ear, we find very few talk about their objectives or goals. Almost invariably they’ll concentrate on problems, so it seems that managers could use some tools to help them avoid this flaw.

A number of years ago we consulted with a company that recognised this failing of management. In response they attempted to eliminate the word problem from the vocabulary of their managers by having them referred to as opportunities. We found it fascinating to participate in their management meetings and hear managers say, "I'm faced with an opportunity I'm having difficulty solving." They may have changed their vocabulary, but they didn't have the tools to eliminate the fatal error. One of their managers revealed the futility of this exercise when he described his attitude to a new marketing approach by quoting Pogo. He said: 'We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunity."

Business Creativity

We call the opposite of concentrating on our problems and losing sight of our objectives "creativity." Creativity fails us when we become absorbed in problems and ignore the end results we want to obtain. Creativity dies, or at least withers, until we shift our attention back to our objective. In our opinion creativity in business can best be defined as "the ability to understand the forces impacting upon us, and being able to utilise those forces as a means of reaching our objective." More simply stated, it means ‘the ability to understand your business environment and conditions and to use these to your advantage’. The very issues and circumstances that first appear as roadblocks to our success can often be used as levers that make success a reality.

To achieve this we must first stop dissipating our energy on being obsessed with our problems, and fighting the environment or situation. Far too many managers act like they are total ‘non-swimmers’. If you put a non-swimmer in a boat, take them a kilometre offshore and toss them in the water, what will they do? Certainly they will try to swim, but in their panic, they will fight the water. The more they thrash about, the more they fight the water, the faster they dissipate their energy, and the faster they drown. Put a competent swimmer in the same situation and they will do something quite different. First, they’ll relax, float and tread water. In treading water, the expert swimmer is using the environment, using the conditions to sustain themselves. Next, they set an objective, the shoreline, as a destination; then at a reasonable pace, keeping their shoreline objective in sight, they swim to shore. Throughout the entire process, they use the water (their environment) as the means of achieving their desired result. Whenever we abandon or lose sight of our objective, we begin to drown, because we’re killing our creativity.

Why do we do this? Our educational system has conditioned us to view any situation that might disrupt our plans as a threat. For the most part, when we were in school we were taught that we must have a "right answer"; this conditioned us to develop a ‘one-answer mentality’. That may be true in mathematics; however in the business world, things are more variable. There is always more than one way ‘to skin a cat’. When we have a set of objectives and we’ve developed a plan, the factors that may interfere with its achievement can disturb or frighten us, because we can see the right answer (our plan) ‘running off the rails’. French philosopher Emile Cartier described the danger in our one-right-answer approach when he said, "Nothing is as dangerous as an idea, if you have only one."

Creative managers versus those who fall into the trap of concentrating on their problems think differently when challenged. Faced with a roadblock, the problem-obsessed manager asks the question "what?" "What will happen to me if I fail?" The creative manager, on the other hand, asks the question "how?" "How can I use this situation or condition to my advantage?" The very use of the question "how?" presupposes success, and that the objective will be reached.

The need for creativity runs through every segment of business. Management is essentially a thinking, not a doing job. The lifeblood of every business lies in ideas and creative thinking. Just look at Apple as an instructive example! Truly successful managers not only learn to view the environment as the vehicle for reaching their objectives; they train their people, their team, to share this creative perspective.

In our next post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #6 "Being a buddy, not the boss".

Posted: 30/08/2012 12:37:37 AM by Brett Morris | with 1 comments
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In order for salespeople to help their prospect sell internally, they must understand the sales environment. Therefore, in the last two posts of this series we've covered two key components that define environment: (1) where the prospect is in the purchase cycle and (2) who is on the prospect's buying team. With a full appreciation of these, you'll be better positioned to develop the most creative and effective sales strategy.

But before jumping right into forming a sales strategy for your prospect to execute, there's a critical step that must come first: defining objectives. All sales calls or presentations begin in the mind of the salesperson with a clear one sentence statement of purpose. A sales strategy without objectives is useless, so skipping this step – a common temptation for many – is a colossal error.

Before you initiate any sales process, regardless of whether you have direct access to the buying team, ask yourself: What's my purpose? By identifying one, it forces you to think about your environment, drawing upon the knowledge outlined in the previous two posts, and what you need to do to transfer your belief in your solution throughout the rest of the target organisation.

In general, there are two types of sales calls, and a salesperson's objective will differ greatly depending on which one they're entering.

  1. Transactional sales calls

    These are calls in which you expect a sale to take place at that time. They're going to be mostly simple sales that don't require a large investment of time or resources on the prospect's behalf.

  2. Developmental sales calls

    These are the sales calls we engage in most of the time as a part of the overall sales process, those for which you anticipate you'll need to put in a significant amount of effort, working with many people over a long period of time. They require that you take a multipronged approach and lead, coach and counsel the prospect throughout the entire purchasing process.

When you're faced with the challenge we're addressing in this series of helping your champion sell internally, you're clearly dealing with a more complex sale that requires multiple developmental sales calls. Because of that, you should begin the process by defining not just one objective with a simple endpoint, but a cascading series of objectives, starting with a broad, overarching one and becoming more and more focused on immediate goals.

These objectives can be broken into four levels. For each, we've provided a generic example of what the actual objective might be:

  1. Overall objective: What's your ideal end result?

    For example: Prospect organisation makes long-term commitment to your product or service.

  2. Intermediate objective: What will help you fulfill your overall objective?

    For example: Prospect trials your product or service by investing in one part of it.

  3. Short-range objective: What will help you fulfill your intermediate objective?

    For example: Your contact (within the prospect organisation) presents the case for trialing one part of the product or service to the buying team.

  4. Immediate objective: What will help you fulfill your short-range objective?

    For example: Your contact arranges a meeting with the buying team.

As you consider each of these levels of objectives, it's crucial that you couch them in regards to the actions that the prospect must take. Too many salespeople concentrate on inputs, thereby framing objectives around what action they're going to do. But the purpose of a sales call isn't your activities. Instead, it's about getting the prospect to take desired actions that lead to a result.

What's your purpose? Regardless of whether you're entering a transactional or developmental sales call, you'll need to devise an effective sales strategy and tactics. And what makes for good strategy development? We will cover this next time, in our last post of this series.

Posted: 10/04/2012 3:59:09 PM by Brett Morris | with 1 comments
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