Sunday, 17 February 2013

It Costs Big if you can't say 'No'

I read a good article recently on Psychology Today by Peter Bregman about how to say 'No'.
This is a very under-rated skill to have. Saying 'No' is vital to keeping work and customer expectations at manageable levels. I have been guilty in the past, of failing to say ‘No’ when I knew immediately it was the right answer in the long term. What ensues is usually a lengthy and awkward process of realigning customer expectations and eventually telling them ‘No’. In the meantime, you probably have damaged customer relationships and wasted time figuring out how to get the message across.
This happens quite a bit in software start-ups that code their own product. Release versions and source code control run a little loose and it’s easy to say ‘Yes’ to an important client when they inevitably ask for a function or change request. At start-up phase pretty much any client is an important client.
However, you will find yourself making promises you can’t keep, burning the candle at both ends (working late / weekends) to come good on commitments when you should have said ‘No’. That leads to endless firefighting where you neglect the basics of making sure your strategic business systems are running properly (sales pipeline, support documentation, credit control, cost benefit analysis of activity).
Key staff will get frustrated at constantly working under pressure or jumping from one ‘priority’ to another and probably leave. You will more than likely rehire in a hurry because you need someone straight away. Because you have taken your eye off the ball on the fundamentals of the business you may neglect your sales process, prospect call backs etc, so the clients that made the initial request now become even more important (as other sales haven't grown as planned ). It then gets even harder to say 'No' to their next change request. On and on it goes.
If you are a start-up company in firefighting mode or constantly find yourself avoiding calls from clients, end up working weekends, late at night, ask yourself how often you have said ‘No’ to a request in the last week. Chances are it’s not very often. There is nothing wrong with being busy and firefighting, just so long as it’s for a strategic or commercially sound reason. If it’s purely because you could not say ‘No’, then it’s a problem

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Potentially Important

It’s possible that this is the most useful article you will read all year. If that opening got your attention, then your reaction matches a number of  studies which show that we're charmed and enthralled by someone saying what they can achieve. We're suckers for ‘Potential’.
This has real applications for sales and recruitment. We often lead with or dedicate large sections of websites and brochures to our past achievements. These can be awards we have won, ISO accreditation, academic credentials of key staff, large prestigious clients we have worked for, large numbers of current customers.  We spend a lot of time saying "Look what we have done”. Similarly on our CVs we spend most of it saying where we worked, how well we did in college or some other achievement. It’s all about the track record.
It turns out, this approach may not be always right. A paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,  by Zakary Tormala and Jayson Jia at Stanford and Michael Norton at Harvard Business School, tested the appeal of potential in a number of experiments with  hundreds of volunteers.
Their research showed that people playing the role of basketball coach preferred young novice players with great potential over an established player with a sound record. They were also willing to pay the young potential star more than the proven pro. Similar preferences were borne out for recruiting managers who went for potential leaders rather than guys who had been there and done it.
In an experiment that could be directly applied to your Social Media marketing campaigns, the researchers tested the effectiveness of ads on Facebook for 8 days for a real US comedian called Kevin Shea. Advertisements that played up Shea's potential ("he could be the next big thing") generated more click-throughs and "likes" than ads that highlighted his achievements ("he is the next big thing").

When you hear lotto companies advertising, they will always say how much the jackpot is heading towards in the next draw and 'it could be you'. Only rarely in regular advertising do they highlight the track record on wins. Whatever about your awareness of the actual odds involved, the lotto ticket is all about potential.
The authors do however, qualify the influence of potential by saying you can’t expect high potential to compensate for a genuinely poor track record and truly outstanding achievements (they mention winning an Olympic medal) would outperform potential.

The point remains, if you are going for an interview, emphasise the potential you can bring with you to the new job, don’t just rest on the laurels of past achievements. Just because you have loads of great customers and reference sites for your current product, don’t expect this to be enough. Sell the potential of how your product could transform the lives of your customers. What you have done should only be part of the story. Then like Kevin Shea, you could be the next big thing.