How to find the right words

Recently I was working with Julian, a client of mine that is in the process of starting up a sales and marketing organization to serve the spirits industry. After years of industry involvement, he had a reasonably clear view in his head about the value he wanted to deliver to clients, yet he was struggling with boiling it down to a concise elevator speech. He had put pen to paper, yet the end result was a little bit off; just enough off to confuse potential clients. He had rehashed it time and time again, but, unfortunately, he had been unable to achieve the result he was shooting for.

To accelerate his progress, I suggested that he use a technique I oftentimes use when looking to achieve clarity- 1) turn the paper over 2) visualize talking to someone 3) record what you have said.

The technique works, based on a couple of factors. First, turning the paper over frees you from what you have already written-usually deleting, pasting, and moving things around, when you’re measurably off from the mark, just increases the confusion. A fresh start, which may seem like the most time-consuming path, is usually just the opposite. Second, many of us, particularly salespeople, find it easier to collect our thoughts into a cohesive whole by visualizing a situation where we can use our strong suit, namely talking, instead of just thinking it through.

How did it work? Great. Together, we flipped over our papers to get a fresh surface, and Julian simply said what he might say to the prospect. Together we captured the words he used, made a tweak here and there, and nailed it. Within minutes, the elevator speech he had struggled with for almost an hour was complete. And Julian was one happy camper.

Just Shoot Me, Now!

It’s a well known fact that many people fear giving public presentations almost as much as death. The events, when objectively compared in the light of day are obviously very different, but that’s true of many situations.

The other day I met with Nancy, a small business owner who was getting ready to deliver a presentation to a group of investors, and to say that she was nervous would be an understatement. Here are some of the tips I shared with Nancy to help her deliver an effective and relatively stress-free presentation.

1 – The goal of most presentations is to persuade, and studies have shown that people are much more likely to be persuaded by an organized presentation, with visuals, than through a simple conversation.

Use structure, and visual props, to significantly increase your odds of success.

2 – People justify “purchases” based on facts and logic, but actually buy on feelings and emotion.

Consider how you can avoid being a “robotron” full of facts and figures only; make sure you acknowledge the audience’s personal side.

3 – Audiences have to be open to receiving a message in order to be convinced by it.

In the early stages of presentation development, reflect on the perceptions of your audience. If you’re introducing a consulting practice focused on educating foreign arms manufacturers on “best practices”, be prepared to highlight how missiles can be used to protect, not just destroy.

4 – To act on your presentation, the audience will have to be clear as to how the idea will benefit them and what you want them to do.

When developing the presentation, think about what’s in it for them (WIFT) and make sure you bring that out. And if your own personal goal is to get the audience to invest money, make sure they do not have to read between the lines to understand that.

5 – Audiences have memory limits.

Create a presentation which crystallizes on three key points, if at all possible. Your phone number begins with three numbers-that’s because most people can remember three digits or pieces of information. Don’t bury people under details; keep returning to the three key points.

6 – Business audiences are interested in relevant, credible information delivered in a clear and concise fashion.

As you craft the presentation understand that more successful your audience is, the busier they are likely to be. Information that relates solely to the subject at hand, backed up by third party “facts”-numbers, references, quotes or testimonials will typically be well received. And, if you can use examples, graphs, pictures, samples or demonstrations that will only add to the convincing nature of it.

7 – You’re the expert; practice putting your points out there smoothly.

Prior to delivery, many people get nervous because they feel some fatal flaw will rear its ugly head during the middle of the presentation causing their ship, the SS Persuasion, to sink, quickly. While it’s important to acknowledge that an important overlooked detail can arise, it’s more important to reflect on the fact that in most cases, you’re likely to be the expert in the room and the chances of anything coming up that you’re unable to address adequately are slim. That said, smooth presentations are typically built on rehearsals, or dry runs, to ensure the mental transitions from idea to idea go smoothly.

8 – Audiences are most strongly convinced by solid presentations delivered by people that believe in them.

Solid points, clearly and coherently outlined through effective visuals, are the foundation to an successful presentation. But, audiences also want to feel that the presenter is confident in the proposal at hand. Creating the impression of confidence during presentation delivery can take some time, but some targets to aim at include: a professional appearance; sincere, warm presentation style; lots of natural gestures and movement; healthy eye contact; and a firm and clear voice with varied voice pitch and pace.

Effective presentations will, absolutely, help you succeed in your small business. As with any endeavor, you likely won’t go from tenderfoot to pro, overnight, but if you apply the tips above, you’ll certainly gain ground as Nancy did. She gave her presentation, got the funding, and felt good about dealing with one more challenge on her way to business success.

Paul Jermain is an experienced business counselor with over 20 years of business consulting experience. Mr. Jermain leads an Entrepreneurial Training Program for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in partnership with Northern Essex Community College in Lawrence, MA.

Patriots 36, Bears 7 – Competitive Analysis Pays Off

Recently, the New England Patriots NFL team played the well-regarded Chicago Bears in a Chicago blizzard. They won handily, outscoring the Bears by 29 points. Both teams had excellent track records going into the late season game. What happened?

Well, a lot happened, as it always does in exciting professional sports, but I believe one of the keys to the Patriots game win was superior competitive analysis. It’s been at the foundation of their continued winning streak, and to consistently win in your business, you’re going to need to pay attention to this area of business as well.

Winning scores on game day reflect a variety of factors: communication clarity between the coaches and quarterbacks, the active roster of players, playing conditions, etc. However, I believe, the scores are more heavily influenced by the pre-game analytical exercises from watching hours and hours of game films to sending scouts into the field for closer looks at competitive talent. What are they looking for? Well, basically the same things you should look at in your competition: strengths and weaknesses and the strategies that evolve from them.

Just as in a card game, where you play your strong and weak cards in a strategic way, to get the most favorable outcome, winning coaches look to capitalize on the weak “cards” of the opposing teams. For example, if the opposing team is weak in dealing with running attacks, the coaches will plan running plays, or if they’re unable to adequately cover pass receivers the coaches will plan a number of pass plays.

Strong business cards, competitively speaking, include: monetary resources, established loyal customer bases, solid supplier relationships, experienced, talented management, widely recognized brands, among others. Business weaknesses include, naturally the reverse of the strengths and other things such as poor customer service, disorganized processes, poor employee motivation, sub-standard technological infrastructures, etc. Once you understand the other business’s “hand”, you can plot your strategy to win.

For example, if you’re opening up a senior move management business and your competitor’s have shunned technology, you might exploit the opening by establishing a web portal where seniors, and their adult children, involved in moves can always check on the status of things via the Internet. Or, if you’re in the interior design field, where the competition has minimal and precarious arrangements with premium kitchen cabinet suppliers, you could strike exclusive distribution contracts with the cream of the crop, effectively boxing out others from the high end market. Another example might be learning about and subsequently capitalizing on temporary “bad press”. A foreign auto manufacturer recently suffered from a tarnished brand image due to shipping cars with faulty brakes. As you can imagine, the other large auto companies exploited that weakness as quickly as possible. The business situation is almost identical to the professional sports. Neither the teams, nor the companies, typically cause the weaknesses of the opposing group; they just effectively leverage them to their advantage.

So, if you want to post a winning record in your business, take competitive analysis seriously. Professional coaches study game films for hours to truly understand the strengths and weaknesses, which drive the strategies and on-field actions, of their future opponents. You should do the same. Invest time and effort in learning of the strengths and weaknesses, and resulting actions of your competitors, and you’ll enjoy success as well.

Effective Mission Statements- Keep You Energized and On Course

Mission statements are among the most powerful tools that you can develop and use in your small business. Unfortunately, these tools are commonly among the most overlooked and misapplied ones as well. Simple, effective mission statements can help you “stay the course” and maintain your energy through challenging times.

Properly crafted mission statements, based on your personal and work values, document your company’s purpose or reason for being. In this role, they can stimulate very different behaviors. For example, imagine two police departments, housed in adjacent buildings that have the same number and type of officers, equipment, and resources. One department is told that their mission is to prevent crime. The other is told that their mission is to enforce the law. Given a common situation such as roadway speed control, the first department might put up road side signs which flash car speeds, while the second department might conceal their cars and radar guns behind large billboards. As the example highlights, two virtually identical organizations can take dramatically different directions when driven by different missions.

Now, just as houses are built on solid foundations made of stone or cement, small business mission statements are based on core personal and work values. Your values are represented by qualities and behaviors which are naturally important to you such as: adventure, creativity, education, hard work, innovation, order, problem-solving, relationships, self-expression, wealth, etc. These values, once identified, provide the foundation for a simple, but effective and powerful mission statement.

Some people are keenly aware of their core values, while others are not. If you fall into the latter category, an effective, time-proven, approach is to write a couple of short stories on “peak experiences” in your life. You might pick one from your personal life and another from your business activities. The stories do not need to be lengthy; three to four paragraphs will do, but try to make them as descriptive as possible. Invest perhaps 30-45 minutes in writing them, perhaps during a lunch break. Then, once the stories are finished, review them with an eye towards values similar to those outlined above. Value lists are easily accessible over the Internet. If you have a willing friend or business associate, share the stories with them to learn of their feedback.

The idea is to create a list by identifying four or five personal values, and the same number of business values. And, then to pare the list down to three to four business-related values, recognizing that values which bridge the personal and business worlds are often the most critical to capture. After the prioritized list is established, take those values and draft a single sentence mission statement.

Recently an entrepreneur that I was working with wrote a story around helping an elderly couple navigate some health-care insurance issues. The story illuminated some of her key values such as dignity, empathy, and respect for elders. Her mission statement for her senior care service business, created to help seniors downsize from large houses and relocate, was “Provide downsizing and relocation services to seniors in a caring, respectful manner which recognizes the dignity of the individuals involved.”

Another entrepreneur that adopted this process to the development of an effective mission statement penned a story that revolved around her role in high school as a journalist. The story illuminated her values of accuracy, education, decisiveness, and truth. Her mission statement, designed to support her new business as an independent information professional, was “Deliver accurate information to business clients that educates them on key areas in which they plan to make important business decisions.”

Your story will be unique to you and reflect your core values. When these are wrapped up into a single sentence mission statement, the effect will be profound. It will serve as a constant reminder to your employees and customers of key business values, which can make a real difference when dealing with “gray” area problems that require non-textbook decisions. Perhaps even more importantly, the mission statement, by reminding you of why you started the business in the first place, will enable you to stay true to your original reasoning and keep you connected to your most important values, serving as a source of emotional energy when things get tough. As many an entrepreneur has remarked, “It wasn’t the fancy accounting that got me through, it was my mission statement.” Don’t ignore the power of this important business tool-write some stories, create a values list and wrap them up in a powerful mission statement; you’ll be glad you did.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Just yesterday, when I was working Sandi, a small business client, who was worried about time management, I was reminded of the above title to the popular song by the band Chicago. In business, successful people know what time it is, and how they’re using time to get to their goals. Here are a couple points that I shared with Sandi.

First, focus, and concentrate on being effective, then efficient. Lots of folks think that good time management is about getting 10 things done in the time it usually takes to do 5. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad goal, however, the key is getting the important things done, activities which are really going to make a difference in the business.

Before our discussion, Sandi was investing her time in talking to potential prospects and referral sources such as clean-out specialists, movers, and auctione Continue reading “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”

Anything, But Sales Prospecting, Please

That’s the comment I got from Bob, a start-up client with 35 years of civil engineering experience earlier today. Well educated, seasoned, and competent, he had worked in a variety of types and sizes of firms, which all had some sort of separate sales and/or marketing department. Bob had little experience setting up meetings for the sole purpose of explaining what he could offer in the way of personal services, and he was decidedly unhappy about the prospect of having to do so.

Many start-up entrepreneurs find themselves in the same position as Bob, having spent their careers focusing on their technical discipline. They struggle with the sales role with no formal training and oftentimes less than a natural affinity for the area. Two primary issues typically involved are a) fear of being found incompetent b) fear of rejection. The two fears are often “joined at the hip” as many professionals fear that they will be found “lacking” which will lead to rejection. The truth is that most professionals are good enough to do a satisfactory job for their clients, so that’s an ungrounded fear. While illuminating this fact to Bob, I suggested “focus on delivering extraordinary value.” Assure referral sources that if they toss some business your way that the work you do will be of the same or higher calibre than they would have done themselves-enabling them to address the clients needs and maintain account control while delivering a uniformly high level of quality service. Same thing with straight prospect clients-convey the fact that you’ll amaze them with the value received from the investment in your services.

Now, you obviously can’t say one thing and do another. But, if you seriously plan to deliver more and better service than might be typically expected from a specific dollar investment, then referral sources and straight prospects would be crazy to reject you. If they’re half-way knowledgeable, they’ll know it and you certainly will. It’s difficult to feel really rejected if you know that your offer really is a “no-brainer.” If people don’t take you up on your offer, you just recognize that they’re part of the less intelligent minority and keep moving with little to no rejection-related emotional baggage.

I believe Bob will put my advice to good use. It’s a proven approach. I’ve personally used it as a professional sales person and in my consulting work over the years. I know it works and that it will work for Bob. I’m eager to hear of his successes, soon.