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How am I doing?

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“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” ~~ Ken Blanchard

The winds of change are always blowing. Most business owners are too busy delivering products and services to take much notice. Ignore it long enough, though, and you won’t know what hit you until it is too late.

It is essential to develop a system that solicits and deals with feedback on a regular basis. There are five main reasons that most small business owners do not engage in this arena.

The biggest reason is a fear of negative feedback. Humans are wired for approval and have a huge fear of rejection. It may be hard to believe but all feedback is valuable and constructive. Often there are side benefits of our service we didn’t expect and do not appreciate without the positive feedback that identifies it. Once known, we can strengthen and systematize it for greater effect. The same is true of negative feedback.

Your customers can identify new strategies and products that enhance your current offer, if you ask and listen. They may have developed workarounds that are unnecessary with training or are worth addressing with redesign.

It is important to listen completely. You should not ask for comment unless you are willing to accept negative responses.

Another set of reluctance reasons revolve around who to ask, when to ask, how to ask, and so on. Human resource professionals often employ a 360-degree review that includes supervisors, peers, cross-staff, customers, support personnel, and so on. As a business owner, consider asking everyone. That would include customers (of course) as well as vendors, staff, business advisors, and the like.

When to ask is initially tied to touch points in the process. After initial delivery, for instance, or upon project completion.

It is always advisable to build the feedback loop into your delivery process. Cleaning companies will often checklist what they accomplished and encourage feedback. Ideally, the same format is used with every visit. You can solicit feedback on portions of your process as they occur. How easy was it to place an order? How helpful was our sales rep?

One last reservation that holds business owners back is a concern that they do not want to waste anyone’s time. I submit that this is a cop-out. If you solicit feedback every time you won’t see 100% response. Adults will choose to respond or ignore it if they truly are too busy. Silence is not golden, though, and you should always work for a high response rate. Simplify the questions, incentivize the response, and value the feedback to raise the rate.

Your action this week is to take three specific actions. First, examine your sales process and identify feedback points you can use. Once marked, develop a simple tool (survey, perhaps) and begin to gather and track results. Finally, seek out 360-degree systems in place with your business partners and model their effort as possible.

The underlying key is to incorporate this into daily activity.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

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Written by bniguy

October 15, 2017 at 4:59 am

Posted in HowTo, planning, results

The Rubber Meets the Road

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“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”~~Herbert Simon

Testimonials influence us in many subtle ways and range from professional to personal. Advertisers appreciate this and pay for celebrity endorsements, despite a healthy skepticism from consumers. At a subconscious level, though, people that admire Michael Jordan might reason that, “If it’s good enough for him its good enough for me.” Pressed to consider this point, most would deny the influence and yet advertisers that study cause and effect can measure the influence regardless of how independent we think we are.

The next level of professional endorsements that influence buying decisions come from reviewers. These include movie reviewers, restaurant critics, product advisors, and so on. At a simple level we might check a movie review when deciding whether or not to see it although we can appreciate that the reviewer doesn’t know or perhaps even share our taste exactly. We can get a more convincing endorsement from a friend who has seen the film and knows our likes and dislikes. These personal endorsements (or warnings) are much more powerful, although less frequently sought.

A third category emerges, sandwiched between the professional and personal and that is the testimonial provided by non-professionals.

This is the focus of this week’s topic.

Testimonials from other customers can be powerful in moving us to take action. Many customers offer them in an informal, unsolicited manner. One way to encourage this behavior, by the way, is to give away an item with your logo on it. People like to help one another, generally, and will recommend a proven solution and include a personal story of the benefit received. Most satisfied customers will provide more formal testimonials, if asked.

Often, however, when willing they get hung up on exactly what to say and by providing guidance you can resolve that, too.

There is more of an art than a science as to determining when to ask. Once you start to recognize this, opportunities will present themselves regularly. Let’s consider this scenario. One month before completion of a long-term project you ask your client how they are enjoying the process, so far. If they announce that you have made a huge difference in their operations and saved them a lot of time and expense, ask if they would be willing to share that with other customers by writing that on their company letterhead. Coach them on pertinent issues such as why they chose to work with you, what benefits have they experienced that they did not expect, and so on. This conversation will make it easier for them to complete this favor. Negotiate a delivery date.

Once you have these testimonials in hand then consider placement. Some companies print them and leave them in the lobby for waiting room clients to see. Others have a page on their website or sprinkle them in various places throughout the website. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

Whatever model you use, be certain to revisit these testimonials regularly to cull those that are out-of-date and request more current entries.

Your action items this week are to ask for three written testimonials. Make it easy for the author by specifying what should be emphasized. Negotiate a delivery date and decide how you will deploy the information once received. Finally, develop a strategy to regularly ask for and review these comments. It goes without saying that you must earn these and seeking them regularly is an effective method to place your customer service level on a constantly improving plane.

 

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

September 17, 2017 at 6:02 am

Elementary, my dear Watson

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“Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.” ~~John Buchan

Continuing with the importance of communication think of yourself as a detective. Questions are your best resource. Listen much more than you talk. My friend, Marty Clarke, wrote an excellent book entitled Communication Landmines which goes into this in much more depth.

In this post I simply want to point out three main communications errors we all make and often experience. Master these and your networking skills will soar.

The first major problem is talking too much. We’ve all experienced this from the receiving end and felt trapped. Once you got locked in how much listening did you do after that? Most likely your attention was turned to finding an exit or trying to figure out how they are breathing or just focusing on the pattern their spittle makes. When the other person talks too much it is a horrible experience. That said, we are also guilty of the same mistake at least once in our life. As a detective turn your attention to assessing when the other person is starting to experience these symptoms. They start to avoid eye contact, begin stepping backwards, look over their (and your) shoulder, yawn, glance (or stare) at their watch. As soon as you see any of these reactions immediately turn the conversation to them and ask a question.

More importantly how do you avoid this landmine? Practice and preparation are the best tools you have. There are a few questions you often get at networking events and you should be prepared to answer them quickly and completely. When I am on the phone I count my words and always try to get to the point in 25 or less. Try that the next time you are in a conversation over the phone (tick your fingers up one-through-ten and then back down ten-through-one and finally once more one-through-five. Stop and consider, “What was the point of the last twenty-five words?” If you are just getting to it—accept the fact that you are taking the long way home. Find the shortcuts and tighten up your conversation.)

The second common communication error is reliance on jargon. We talked about that in more depth last week so I won’t elaborate. However, this week’s action steps meet each of these head on and we’ll examine it more in that section.

The third common communication error is vagueness. Many of these posts address that, as focus and clarity are keys to your success. When you ask a Realtor who they would like to meet and get the answer, “Anyone looking to buy or sell a home” who did you think of? Is that the result you want when someone asks you the same helpful type of question? If the Realtor is more specific we can be of more help. “I specialize in empty-nesters. This is a great time to move into a home more suited to their lifestyle without kids.” About twenty words and I imagine you actually thought of someone. If you are an engaged listener you may ask for more clarification of the term empty-nesters. “Their kids have moved out or are in college.” The more specific you are the wider the listener’s mind opens. In fact, if you know exactly who you want to meet this is an excellent shortcut, very appropriate for business-to-business clients or strategic alliances for any provider. A business banker may have a competitive rate to offer and knows of an automotive company looking to expand. She asks for Woody Toe, the owner of a local auto body shop noting that, “Our bank understands automotive equipment leasing and we work well with repair shops like Woody’s”

This week’s action involves meeting each area directly. First, develop a one-minute or less response to the following questions (from two weeks ago—repeated here.)

  • Who is your target market?
  • What sets you apart from your competition?
  • What is your most popular product (or service?)
  • What is new in your business?
  • Why did you choose to go into your profession?
  • What do you like best about what you do?
  • What is your biggest challenge?
  • What do you do?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Where are you located? Why there? If you could choose a perfect location, what would it be?
  • How do you generate most of your business?

Second, eliminate jargon. Create two columns and list every term you use (trust me; your company literature is rife with it.) Look for terms like full-service, turnkey, small business, and so on. Develop layperson language and simplify it so a twelve year old could understand it.

Third, write out a complete referral request identifying the person you want to meet—listing their company, department, title, and industry. I recommend doing as many of these as you have target markets. Once written, then practicing asking from the specific to the general, just as the banker example above.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

July 30, 2017 at 5:37 am

WIIFM: What’s in it for me?

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“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.” ~~Clifford Stoll

This week we consider some fundamental communications skill in sales. That is, understanding and stating the difference between features and benefits. Features are simply facts. They neither engage nor inspire. They do not impel action or transfer an emotional connection. Features are a list of what that never considers why or, as the title notes, “What is in it for me?” Your prospect wonders, “Why should I care?”

Dr. Ivan Misner includes a good example of this in the 29% Solution, by listing the features of a car.

“V-6 engine, dual exhaust, front-wheel drive, sunroof…heated seats, heated glass.”

As you can see, this is a list of features you may or may not entirely understand or appreciate.

What are some of the benefits of these features?

  • The V-6 engine helps you pull out into traffic quickly. It may impress your friends.
  • Dual exhaust improves fuel efficiency, provides more power when starting out, and adds a “throaty” sound to the engine (which may also impress your friends.)
  • Front-wheel drive provides more legroom, since the driveshaft tunnel is not needed.
  • The sunroof provides the open road feel of a convertible while retaining the added structural security of a hard-body sedan.
  • Heated seats provide a warmer environment on chilly mornings and better comfort on long road trips.
  • Heated glass allows the convenience of clearing the windows in winter without manually scraping them clean.

These benefits put the prospect “in the driver’s seat.” Some of those benefits appealed to you while others did not. The professional is aware of the benefits and can align them to the prospect. If the person you are talking to is most interested in fuel efficiency then you can recommend a good automotive choice and highlight the features that support fuel efficiency. In fact, the same vehicle may appeal to two very different buyers as long as the emphasis is on the areas of interest to them.

How does this apply to networking? Since we are meeting other business owners and sales representatives many networkers do not consider the benefits and only list features. Feature lists are certainly more precise and, when shared with a colleague, can be very effective. Network administrators, for instance, can share industrial terms with each other and successfully impress with their technical grasp and currency of knowledge. However, all that jargon leaves the rest of us out. In fact, it disenfranchises us from any ability to refer them or connect them to someone they could help since we are so clueless in that arena.

If instead they spoke in terms of response speed, data security, recovery time, and reliability we could recommend them to others with confidence.

My litmus test is to imagine sharing what I do, what my product or service does, and how this can help you by imagining I am explaining it to a twelve year old. I don’t want to wear out your attention span or go over your head.

Your action this week is to highlight the benefits you provide. Consider some of your favorite customers and remember what problems you solved for them. A simple (and highly effective) shortcut is to ask them. You have been meaning to call and say hello anyway. Here’s a good excuse.

Find out the main reason they chose to spend money with you? They sought a benefit, not a feature.

The second action is to list all the features of your product or service and identify as many benefits as possible for each one. I highly recommend that you complete this portion before proceeding to next week’s blog entry.

 

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

July 23, 2017 at 8:49 am

The Man in the Mirror

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“When you want to win a game, you have to teach. When you lose a game, you have to learn.” ~~ Tom Landry

We have been together for sixteen weeks and are on the cusp of making excellence a habit. Most behaviorists consider seventeen weeks the yardstick for establishing a new habit. I imagine there are some of the past sixteen week exercises that have provided paradigm shifts and excited you. I am also sure that some of those same areas have not had any action applied.

This is human nature and stems from a few main reasons. Generally, strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the very same coin. The paradigm shifts were most significant to you because they are so far from what you already know and do. That very distance makes taking action so challenging. Set that against a backdrop of competing deadlines, uncertainty of where and how to start, and add fear of failure and success and it is no surprise that those actions we most want to take slip by.

My commitment to you is to lay out fifty two weekly strategies you can use. They each build on the other. Maybe not week-after-week since that only grows in one direction. They are designed to grow you from the inside out and expand all areas.

This is a good moment in the process for self-reflection and assessment. Sadly, some of the regular readers have already given up. Others take the perspective of being entertained by the material—even as they want more. Many are not adding any additional skills although they may apply some pieces here and there.

A few are keeping pace and are actively developing along. I read your emails and applaud you for that.

For the vast majority there is a missing ingredient to introduce this week and I ask you to consider that, as well.

Employees have bosses. They make sure otherwise unwilling people do what needs to be done. Students have teachers. Athletes have coaches. Many us are entrepreneurs and only have ourselves. I am asking you to find a workout partner.

Ideally, you should communicate briefly with this person at the end of every day. This is the most productive time. It can be as little as a five-minute conversation. Share your successes and listen to theirs. Share your frustrations, challenges, concerns, dreams, etc. Ideally this person should be someone you respect. At the very least you should communicate with this person weekly covering the same topics.

Why accept mediocrity when excellence is an option?

If you belong to a formal networking group the foundation for this relationship already exists. You may or may not be taking advantage of that aspect. Here are some questions to ask to identify the accountability partner for you:

  1. Who do you respect as a business colleague?
  2. Who would be willing to push you and not be afraid to challenge you?
  3. Who would you not want to disappoint?
  4. Who is also interested in networking their business so that you can be accountability partners for one another?
  5. Who knows your tendency to procrastinate?
  6. Who can you rely on to follow-through on their commitment to you?
  7. Who has the time and willingness to help you?

 Once you have identified someone here is a radical idea I am going to propose. Stop reading this blog for the weeks going forward. Find that partner and go back to the beginning. Work together entry by entry. If you catch up with me—great! I’ll still be here. If you are lagging behind—great! Move at a pace that works for you both. Use this blog as a guideline for success. You will likely find that some areas you can both breeze through while others may take two, three, or four weeks. I set the arbitrary pace of a weekly entry to keep you engaged. Now it is up to you to put that in gear at a pace you will actually use. I won’t mind if you start over. Get the most from the material by establishing success habits and the surest way to do that is with an accountability partner.

 © 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

April 23, 2017 at 4:23 am

How to double your networking results this year

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“For every disciplined effort there is a multiple reward.” ~~Jim Rohn

Ask any financial planner about compound interest and they will share the concept that small improvements in multiple areas add up to big results. For example, a ten percent return per year will double the value in roughly six years. The same is very true of your networking efforts. Rather than wait six years, though, we will select six areas that work together, and drive the same results in a single year.

Results follow activities and activities can be measured in both quantity and quality. True in all aspects of life, the same formula applies neatly to networking, as well. If you can enhance six different areas by ten percent your results will improve by 195%, which is nearly double. If you can improve five areas by 15% or four areas by 20% you will also more than double the results.

Therefore, if you would like to achieve twice the results over last year from networking, take the critical activities you tracked last year and increase all of them by a small amount.

If you did not track activities last year then use this planning period to decide which activities are valuable to you and define a tracking method you can and will actually use.

I will give you some ideas—although this is not a comprehensive list.

Take networking events. You can evaluate them from both a quantity and quality standpoint. Under quantity, ask “How many did I attend last year?” If you attended 20 add another two for a 10% increase, three for 15%, etc.

To consider networking events from a quality perspective, consider how many potential business partners and prospects attend. If you are networking with the people that can be mutually beneficial, this is higher quality. Turn them into numbers to evaluate ten-percent, fifteen-percent improvements.

The same thought process can include:
• Introductions made: (quantity and quality)
• visitors invited: (quantity and quality)
• one-to-one meetings: (quantity and quality)
• referrals given: (quantity and quality)
• referrals received: (quantity and quality)
• trainings completed: (quantity and quality)

A key trait for successful networkers is follow-up. Quantity may relate to timeliness and frequency while completeness (how thoroughly did the follow-up take place at each event) could evaluate quality.

There is a long list of activities you can both control and quantify—although you only need to choose a few. In order to improve be certain to capture a baseline, plan the increase, and track activities against that plan.

Taking this a step further you can see that they all work together. If you attend more networking events and they are of better quality and you make more introductions and follow-up more effectively the compound results will accrue—and that is exactly what you want.

I have broken some areas out for illustrative purposes and attached that as a note. Take the attachment, convert the data into a spreadsheet for calculations, and plug your 2016 results in to see just how possible it is for you this year.

One last tip: If you know how many referrals you want to receive each month a very simple shortcut is to commit to give that many or more. Higher quantity and higher quality will also impact those you receive.

Let this be the start of a very prosperous year.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

January 1, 2017 at 7:56 am

Posted in HowTo, planning, results

Stop the Madness

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“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~~Albert Einstein

If you have ever felt that the time spent networking was wasted I submit that it is not the activity itself with the problem. Rather it is your intent and/or your event.  Amateur networkers experience this often and heed Dr. Einstein’s observation by simply discontinuing the practice.  They are not crazy—just fed up.

This week let’s consider a more effective strategy to improve your own networking results.

The best place to initiate a change is from within so we will start there, as well.  What was your intent in attending the last networking event that frustrated you?  If it was to collect as many business cards as possible I imagine you hit that target well.  And yet, it was completely unsatisfactory.  Later that night you pulled out of your bulging pocket many new contacts–and did not know what to do next.  Insanely doing what you always do, you robotically keyed each one into your database and methodically sent a generic email to everyone.  This is high effort with low return.  Feels a little like insanity to continue, doesn’t it?  It is like throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping some will eventually stick.

Sadly, some will stick.  Some connections strip mined from a loosey-goosey networking event may eventually become the perfect person to accelerate your business.  I say sadly because this fools people into doing more of the same.  Hello, Albert!

Consider this common model we are all familiar with that should illustrate what is happening.  Some people do buy winning lottery tickets. That is what keeps the vast majority buying their own.  The winner is in the ticket, though, not the purchaser.  That ticket would have gone to someone anyway.  The same is true in these lucky networking contacts.  The success comes from the person you met—not you.

Rather than rely on hope change what you think to see better results.  What is your intention in networking?  I recommend taking two main goals in with you.

The first is to look for people that can help your current customers, prospects, or strategic alliances enjoy more success. Improve their life.  Forget about helping yourself.  You tried that and have many useless lottery tickets to show for that effort.  Let’s say you are a Residential Realtor and one of your current buyers is looking for a new home they can downsize into now that they are empty-nesters.  The kids are not only out of the house but out of college.  Maybe they are avid golfers or indulgent pet owners.  Look for someone who can help these people take a memorable golf vacation or can introduce them to a great pet spa or veterinarian.  If successful, you won’t have a pocket full of business cards but will have one or two valuable contacts.  Get to know them better.  When comfortable you can introduce them to your clients.  When they know you they can introduce you to their clients—some of whom may also be downsizing (or upsizing or whatever.)

The second intent is to look for people that can further your goals. Imagine you are a mortgage broker who has an excellent program to help people that have good income and no down payments get into their first home quickly.  This may be ideal for someone who is just graduating from an expensive school and launching a lucrative profession.  However, when they first come out of school they are saddled with large school loans and can’t even start shopping homes until they get a job offer.  After that they can select the city and start the process and usually want to go fast.  This may be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and so on.

Let’s imagine you do not have any contacts into these schools.  (If you do, start there.)  If not, network for these resources.  You might look for people directly or indirectly associated with specific universities.  (Here’s a hint—these schools probably have a calendar of events.  That’s a very effective shortcut.)  Barring that, you might instead network for people who have successfully negotiated that process already.  That is, they graduated ten years ago and are now successful.  Ask if they can help you understand the issues facing your intended target market.  You may find your plan is not likely to succeed.  This is okay since it saves time and lets you reshape the plan.  You may find they are influential in the alumni association.  This is wonderful as they may be perfect golden goose for your program.  More likely you may wind up somewhere in the middle.

At any rate you will almost certainly find that your networking will be far more effective by changing your intent or your event.

Welcome to networking sanity.

© 2013 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

March 24, 2013 at 10:49 am