WHAT IS THE NUMBER 1 JOB OF BUSINESS LEADERS?

CEOs and business owners who are building companies and have even a few people on staff, always have plenty on their daily To Do lists: setting goals, creating strategies, dealing with personnel issues and so forth. These tasks require constant oversight and frequent adjustment along with virtually continuous communication up and down the line with investors, prospects and customers. What sometimes happens though is that leaders will overlook or even forget their first and most important job: Building and Keeping A Positive Team, i.e. being The First Cheerleader.

What does it take to do this well?

First, the “Boss” must remember that it is others’ job to do and his or her job to lead. If an executive is stumped on the best way to accomplish something, it is the CEO’s job not to step in and take on the task but rather, to be a sounding board, help figure out possible approaches, select the most promising alternative with his or her associate and then let the subordinate carry out the charge with the leader’s enthusiastic support.

Acting in this way avoids negative thinking and dispiriting attitudes. If a leader walks around seeking opportunities to lend a hand and then steps in to do the job for others, negative emotions get stirred up and the atmosphere can become one of failure rather than success. Instead, showing colleagues and staff that you have full confidence in them will create an atmosphere which encourages independent thinking, individual initiative and a positive attitude. This, in and of itself, can lift a company up with its sense of teamwork and shared mission. Even in small companies where there is much for the CEO to do, he or she must remember to lead and be the First Cheerleader for his or her colleagues’ success!

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LIFE GETS IN THE WAY!

I guess everyone experiences the intrusion of outside events on normal work habits from time to time. I have been unusually lucky as only rarely has life interrupted my ability to devote time to my business. But, having sold our home earlier this year and moving onto the third floor of our daughter’s home, I am now officially a victim. With a rented desk in a real estate office full of friendly and chatty realtors, and an unusual number of demands on my personal time, my blogging is in arrears.

Come October, I will be re-ensconced in our new home and back on my feed so my blogging will renew. They will be posted on Word Press instead of Blogger but will still appear on my website, www.gps4management.com.

I look forward to renewing our acquaintance then and I hope business is becoming better for all of you in the meantime!

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TO UNDERSTAND, ONE MUST KNOW HOW TO LISTEN!

When I am at a business networking event, I hear a lot of emphasis on the importance of listening well. Yet I often get the sense that many people are not doing it as well as they need to. Sometimes this is due to the listener not being “present” during the conversation (as I too-often hear from my lovely wife) but it is often a result of not knowing how to listen carefully to extract the full meaning of what is being said. This has real risks.

For example, a salesperson may all too quickly accept what is being asked for by a customer and immediately offer a solution which may turn out not to be relevant to the customer’s real need. Kate Reilly, a highly successful corporate sales trainer now in executive sales herself, recommends “re-framing” what the speaker is saying or asking for by repeating the comment or question in his or her own words and asking if (s)he has accurately heard and understood what is needed.

Kate exemplifies this with a simple story about a homemaker whose basement is being flooded with water and calls the local hardware store for help. Almost before she can finish her cry for assistance, the store owner says he has a bucket and a mop on hand for only $9.99. However, this is a solution that wont help much because there are six inches of water on the floor and a mop and bucket wont do the trick. Instead of originally offering up his solution, the store owner should have probed first by re-framing the question: “So you have water in your basement?” and listened to her response to understand fully the customer’s situation, i.e. she has 6 inches of water on the floor. At that point he would have been able to offer a more relevant and useful suggestion, such as a sump pump. wet-vac, etc.

The moral of the story for sales people? Be sure to listen carefully to hear and understand real needs before suggesting solutions.

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IS PAID ADVERTISING BECOMING IRRELEVANT OR IS THERE A DIFFERENT BENEFIT FROM ONLINE CHATTER?

In a recent, well-written blog, Kristen Zhivago – whose commentaries I read and respect – raised the interesting hypothesis that shoppers write so many reviews and articles on the Internet about products and services they have purchased, that the paid advertising aimed at influencing them is becoming irrelevant. She observes that, in effect, the experience of an unbiased purchaser is often more effective than a paid ad or commercial and by sharing experiences online, these stories obviate the value of advertising which is paid for.

Her argument has value but fails to recognize that the message being delivered by the advertiser is largely (albeit not exclusively) designed to promote first-time sales and is likely to be premised on research which enables an advance understanding of the attitudes and emotions of the prospective purchaser about the proposed purchase. While the buyer’s experience may have been unsatisfactory and preclude a second purchase, the initial experience being discussed online may actually have been stimulated by the paid advertising in the first place.

So, while a bad experience may prevent a repeat purchase, what it may also contribute to -if there is enough consumer dissatisfaction -is forcing the manufacturer to make product improvements which he can then advertise to stimulate a second or new purchase. The conclusion? Paid advertising based on deep understanding of the consumer through research and experience will be hard to cast aside even in this Internet economy!

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THREE WAYS TO FAIL FROM JUST ONE FAILING!

Many blogs address how to succeed in business but many small business owners -and others as well – are as motivated by the fear of failure as by the drive for success. In this year’s Leadercast sponsored by Chick-a-Filet, Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great…Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t”, pointed out several ways to ensure failing in business. His observations are perceptive and are of value to all, but especially so to leaders who are already succeeding:

1) Success can frequently lead to hubris. Since leadership is most sustainable when it includes a good deal of humility on the leader’s part, the reverse is equally true and in every sense must be avoided. Hubris can lead to emotional decision making of a disastrous nature!

2)Once successful, many executives seek to accomplish and attain MORE. What specifically MORE is is almost less important to them than its attainment: more sales, more products, more recognition, more whatever, just MORE! This pursuit can drive a company to abandon the very disciplines and thoughtful analyses that led to its success…..all in order just to salve the owner’s or CEO’s ego. BEWARE OF EGO!

3)A leader can be carried away by his or her success and deny or fail to act upon new risks and dangers which may emerge. Sometimes facts are discomfiting and do not want to be faced or even acknowledged. If one’s ego is too inflated, the risk of not confronting new, disturbing facts which must be faced honestly and confidently can lead to crises. BEWARE OF HUBRIS AND EGO!

These two closely related factors, hubris and over-inflated egos, can clearly be dangerous which is why Collins emphasizes the importance of leaders retaining a large sense of humility in the way they run their companies.

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WANT TO RAISE PRICES? ANTICIPATE WHAT YOUR COMPETITORS MAY DO!

There has been a spate of articles recently providing advice to businesses able – or, at least wanting – to raise prices as the general business climate has seemed to be improving. However, none of those I have read have addressed the competitive issues one must think about when comntemplating an upward move. It is worth doing.

For example, let’s assume that you and your prime competitors are priced equally at the point of sale. What will your prime competitor do if you raise your price by 10% at retail? Will he follow suit? Perhaps he will only come up half-way, thus end up underpricing you. Are you happy? Will the added profits you anticipated fail to accrue as your revenue falls in light of his undercut? Can you then cut back to his level…. should you?

The point I want to make is not to provide solutions to competitive responses a la the example above, but to advocate doing some simple planning in advance to project what your increase would yield under differing reactions by your prime competitors: if he matches you; if he holds his current price; if he only goes half way and your volume is affected; and so forth. Assume and assess what you would do if the situation were reversed.

Today, there are simple models available to assess all such variations in advance and, while they will cost you a bit of money to employ one or two, the long run benefit is worth the upfront price.

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR POSITIONING WORK HARDER FOR YOU!

For a long time and particularly for non-consumer marketers, “positioning” was an obscure word which did not clearly and instantly convey its meaning, i.e. to identify the benefits of what your product or company offers viz a viz its competition. Today, the word is simply part of the marketing lexicon and is generally understood, either as defined above or similarly. However, how many businesses really capitalize on it? How can one mine all its value?

One answer is to “tangibilize” it and to market the tangible. For example, when I was running an independent advertising agency in Boston, we struggled with differentiating ourselves from our competition which included the local branches of big NY agencies: BBDO, McCann Erickson and others. Almost all of the agencies were proclaiming their outstanding creative product, or their full service capabilities or some other largely generic benefit of any agency. We finally decided to market our attitude, which we captured in the phrase: WHY NOT. This set of words emanated from my frequently responding to seemingly offbeat suggestions by saying, “Why Not? Let’s explore it and see if we can make it work.”

Once we had this way of positioning ourselves, we tangibilized it by painting the words on bricks in the form of a statement instead of a question: WHY NOT. using a period, not a question mark. Then we put a brick on each staffer’s desk, held an agency meeting to explain its meaning and our plans to market it and to get general buy in. It resonated and took hold in a very positive way. Then we took it to each of our clients and discussed the positive attitude it reflected and the challenge we gave ourselves on their behalf to come up with new solutions to their issues. They loved the idea and responded enthusiastically; it helped cement relationships in a meaningful way. Finally, I had my picture taken for the papers giving a brick to Boston’s Mayor. This helped spread the word to the area’s business leaders, especially when followed up by agency mailings. All in all it was a home run which worked at several levels for each of our audiences.

The key to the success of this positioning in the marketplace was our communications of it to each of our audiences. The use of a brick was unique: a strong building block to carry our message. And, using an attitude to distinguish us was also different. But a consistent communications program to all concerned was what made it ours.

I hope this example will encourage you to seek a unique positioning and make it work harder for you!

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IT’S THE MESSAGE, STUPID!

How many of you remember this phrase? It was a frequently repeated yell in the advertising business “back in the day”and is even more critical to understand and pay attention to now.

The marketing world has truly been transformed in the past decade by the growth of internet marketing and its e-commerce business model. These days, the hot topic is social media and when, where and how it can be used to build a business. Such considerations as how direct to be with a selling message on Face Book versus using a soft, friendly communication to strike up a relationship first, occupy much of the business internet conversation. And, appropriately so, as one must learn how to use the new media effectively.

But selecting the right medium to use is a message issue not just a media one. It needs to reflect one’s understanding of the audience being appealed to and their view and feelings about the product or service being offered. In many businesses, a clear, direct selling message is totally appropriate and the potential buyers are open about wanting to know more about the products available to them and their relative benefits. In a new category or one where the prospective user has no experience, a less direct appeal may woo the prospect to your site and be a more effective way for you to communicate successfully. So, the message is that, when considering alternative media to use, one needs to assess the audience being targeted before selecting the medium and to make sure the right type of message will be designed for the medium selected.

In other words, it is still the message first!

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ARE YOU A "SERVANT BOSS"? SHOULD YOU BE?

Some years back, the CEO of Jewel Tea Company referred to himself in a Harvard Business Review article as The First Assistant to his direct reports. By that, he meant that he saw himself as the person to whom his department heads could turn for support in accomplishing difficult or unusual projects and that he could stand in for them when they were ill or on vacation. Do you operate in this manner? Should you? While sounding supportive this approach also contains inherent risks.

When running my advertising agencies, I initially thought this was a good approach. It would allow me to keep a good eye on the business and to develop close relationships with my colleagues; they would feel supported and appreciated. However, as I look back on that style now, I also see the risk of becoming more operational than a CEO should; it can distract from his responsibility as the visionary and strategic leader. It can also risk undercutting company department heads in the eyes of their staffs or, in our case, clients. And, it forgoes the opportunity of providing leadership responsibility and experience to their own number ones when they are ill or on holiday.

Philosophically and on the surface, the idea of the “Servant Boss” has much appeal. But the risks also need cosideration before adoption of the style!

Want to comment? Visit www.blog.gps4management.com. Would love your thoughts!

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CAN MAKING "FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND" HELP YOUR BUSINESS?

Recently, I have been following the thread of an interesting article posted on BizNik by Miles Austin. He calls the process of commenting on group discussions,web articles, blogs and the like as leaving “Footprints in the Sand”. The reason for his title lies in the continuous washing away of such comments and blog postings by the sheer volume of internet commentary and the difficulty of making a footprint which will be visible for more than a few hours. Yet, we are all urged by the social media gurus to participate in this dialogue in order to build awareness and respect for our businesses. Does it work? Is all the time it requires worth it? Does it pay off?

I don’t know if there is a definitive answer to this issue. I have certainly heard of successful examples where participating in social media has paid off but, in a seemingly greater number of cases, I have heard of failure…….either because the commentator got tired of continuing to write with little apparent return or simply because there there really weren’t any leads or sales or even inquiries after months of diligent postings.

My suspicion is that the answer largely depends on the nature of one’s business. If one is engaging in e-commerce with fairly low priced products or services for sale, I can see it succeeding. Conversely, for the businessman with but a few clients at a time who is not seeking multi-transactions, it may be too time consuming or even irrelevant to continue the effort.

Your thoughts? Post your comment at http://www.blog.gps4management.com/

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