How are you showing up as an active listener? Five traps to avoid.

How often do you show up for a meeting or a discussion, only to find your partner in a complete state of disarray, heavily distracted by telephones, email, social media, other employees stopping in to interject a thought or start a new conversation, etc.  You get the picture!  Or worse yet, they show up unengaged, unprepared, and don’t seem to be understanding or caring about what you’re telling them.

Through our research of several behaviors that create high levels of trust and credibility, active listening has emerged as the most critical behavior (by a significant margin) in the eyes of our respondents. With that in mind, what can we as consultants and subject matter experts do to sharpen those critical listening skills?

Researchers in effective communications have coined the term “immediacy in communications” to describe the set of behaviors which either lay the framework for an effective dialogue, or sow the seeds of disaster.  Those researchers define immediacy as the way we signal our motivation to communicate freely, and the positive feelings we impart to our partner. These behaviors, both verbally and nonverbally, communicate that we are warm, involved, interested, and available to communicate.  Verbal immediacy factors include how we use pronouns – are we using I and you, or we and us; our use of formal or informal manners of addressing our partners that are comfortable and appropriate; how open we are to sharing personal information and creating vulnerability; our use of compliments to open the communication paths. Nonverbal behaviors might involve cues such as touch, eye contact, distance and personal space, smiling, tone of voice.  Most of our verbal and nonverbal behaviors tend to be instinctual.  We need to develop strong awareness of our own behaviors and the cues our partners are giving us , to sense how we are behaving and how it’s hitting our partner.

So, what are the traps, and how can we avoid them?

Here is a list of five behavior traps which work against our immediacy, and ultimately diminish the quality of  our listening and our understanding of our partner.  For each trap, we offer some ideas about how to avoid them.

Walking in without a true sense of engagement and honest motivation to help:  Your partner will quickly sense if you’re not truly interested and engaged, and will begin defending themselves against your disinterest.  Before the meeting, try to motivate yourself by finding some element of the situation, your relationship and past history with them, or a thread from a previous conversation that you can pick up on and pursue with interest.

Failing to align with the where they are coming from:   Examples might include failing to pick up on emotions that are working in them at the time, their point of view on the topic at hand, cultural differences and primary language.  Before the conversation, do some homework about them if you don’t know them well, what you might anticipate to be their emotional state, some appropriate due diligence on their business, their role, their background (LinkedIn is great for this).  You should walk in knowing what’s reasonable to know and ready to get to the meat of the discussion.

Failing to provide real-time feedback that lets them know you are really listening and have processed what they’ve told you:  Examples might be shallow feedback that either indicates you weren’t listening, or weren’t comprehending what they were trying to tell you.  Try “reframing” or summarizing in your own words not only what they said, but how they feel about it, what the impact is likely on them, and other comments that indicate that you thought through the implications of what they’ve told you.

Making it about you:    A common faux pas is interjecting a personal story, even if relevant, which breaks the flow of what your partner is trying to tell you. It comes across as if you have hijacked the discussion. Instead, show empathy and maybe an indication that you’ve had a similar experience, but avoid providing so much detail that you break the flow of their story.

Being too eager to prescribe ideas for how to fix the problem at hand:  We often listen just enough to find a common story in our repertoire and immediately go there, complete with detailed instructions about just how to solve their problem. Metaphorically this would be the same as the doctor prescribing brain surgery when we walk in complaining of a headache. We haven’t earned the right, yet, to go to prescribing action.  One common tip is, when you sense that you’re about to make a recommendation for action, shut that down, and substitute another question. Dig in on your discovery questions, until you are sure you understand the issue and they have validated that you understand it. When you get there, then you can invite them to move into brainstorming and action planning if they really want it.  When the active listening is really working, they often discover the path forward for themselves, through the dialogue.  Before you go to action planning, ask permission and validate that they are ready and wanting to go there.

Epilogue:

Active listening is not easy work, but it’s critical to build the relationship and the communications path which is critical to earning our partners’ trust and credibility.

Come to important conversations caring, committed, and prepared, and listen twice as much as you talk.

Time management triage – Three tips to find the win-win

It was 1999, and I had just been promoted to the role of a global sales manager for a
software and services business of a Fortune 50 company.   It was a new job for me with global scope and it was kicking my butt.  I was feeling very overwhelmed.

My response was to power through and just work harder and work longer hours in order to get everything done.

The problem with that was that I was spending every bit of energy on climbing my learning curve, and doing all the new tasks.  I was leaving nothing left for routine dialogue and check-ins with my team. I was starting to get feedback from my assistant that people were expressing frustration with my lack of availability to them.   Even understanding that frustration, I still didn’t have time to get ahead of the curve and fill that gap in the development of my team.

While I was coming up the learning curve I was cheating my team of the ability to grow as they helped me come up that curve. It’s not that they weren’t willing.  I just wasn’t letting them.  I was missing the opportunity to reframe my dilemma into a development opportunity for my team.

In retrospect, when you’re scrambling, remember what it was that made this new exciting and fun, that ignited passion in you.  Said another way, what it was that made this work important and meaningful to you and which you were uniquely qualified to do.  Everything else could be delegated, hopefully to someone who would experience it as a development opportunity.

Most of us have heard the Stephen Covey metaphor about rocks, pebbles and sand. (Covey 1989) Big rocks are the most important things in our lives:  core values, relationships, the activities which define us.  Pebbles:  the less important tasks.  Sand: the trivial many, things that fill up our time and don’t add much value.  Never heard it?  There is a cute YouTube video below – just remember that “golf balls” are big rocks, and don’t miss the plot twist at the end…   (Kay 2016)

Three tips to turn a situation where you are overwhelmed into a win-win:

Pay attention to what you felt were your unique qualifications for the new job.   Those qualify as some of your “big rocks”.   They are what got you here, and which will make you and your organization successful going forward.

Turn your attention to the developmental needs of your team. Are there connections between the work you are not getting to, and the development objectives you and your team have identified for themselves? Developing your team should always be one of your big rocks.  There might very well be a win-win if you can connect some of the work you’re not getting to with the development needs of one of your team.   Paying attention to developing your team is clearly a big rock, but the actual tasks you’re considering delegating are most likely gravel for you. That said, they could be a big rock or at least developmental for someone on your team. Win-win!

Finally, what are you doing that just doesn’t need doing?    Stop doing it, now, and don’t give it to anyone else!  That is a win-win for everyone!   (Even if it is one of the things that you really like to do, it helps to realize that it’s just not that important!)

Epilogue:

Reframe your time management dilemma into an opportunity to engage and develop your team by sharing the load and delegating important work that’s no longer strategic for you, and by ditching work that no one should do.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.  (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Great Reads and Views: 

Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, Simon and Schuster.

Kay, M. (2016). “A Valuable Lesson for a Happier Life.” from https://youtu.be/SqGRnlXplx0.

 

Five Dysfunctions of a Question: And How to Avoid Then

broken-question-501So many dysfunctions, so little time….

As a professional coach, I get to ask a lot of questions. For each brilliant one that makes things clear for my client and provides me deep insight into what they’re working on, I ask many others that are less than brilliant.

Here are some thoughts about five of the potholes I’ve driven into more times than I care to admit, my five dysfunctions.  I know that there are many, many, more, and would love to hear about your favorite ones. Write me a comment.  Make it a conversation!

1.  Asking from undetermined or inflexible status

Symptoms:

In his excellent book, Humble Inquiry (Schein 2013), Edgar Schein defines three forms of humility which stem from three separate forms of relative status between the asker of the question and the receiver of the question. In a more traditional environment, we naturally give status to someone who is more experienced, more wealthy, born to a higher social class, or some other preordained reason for considering that person and a higher status than our own. Schein calls that first form of humility “basic humility”.  In these situations, we may not feel that we have the right to ask the tough questions.

In cultures more like those of current European or North American cultures, we tend to grant status based on what other people have achieved. For example, if someone who has achieved a higher academic level or a professional than we have, we may refer to them as “Dr.”,  “Professor”, “Reverend” or some other title of respect.  Schein calls that “optional humility”.  Similar to basic humility, this status difference may inhibit our level of curiosity and candor.  We don’t want to look uninformed or less competent.

The third form he calls “here and now” humility. This humility is driven by a short-term dependence by the question asker on the answer giver.   Often, in situations where there is mutual need, that dynamic may shift back and forth, as each participant is asking questions relative to their specific need. There is a potential pothole here, if both participants don’t come to the conversation understanding their need, understanding how the other person can help them meet their need, and if they are not sufficiently flexible to give and take humility as the conversation demands. Said another way, they are stuck in some pre-existing status.

How to avoid them:

Know what you need and ask questions to understand what others need.

Know what you want to meet your need.

Be aware of any status bias you might have, and be confident in your questions.

2. Asking from lack of presence

Symptoms:

Ever catch someone zoning out, and then struggling to respond to a question, and pose another?  Maybe they were distracted, continuously checking their watch, or noticing when their phone vibrated or the text sound was going off?  Did they answer a question you didn’t ask?  Not keeping pace with what you’ve said or the question you posed?  Leave you wondering where they were, or what they were thinking?  Pretty clear that they weren’t tuned into you and the conversation you were trying to hold.

How to avoid them:

If this is you, make sure you clear your calendar, turn your phone off, and otherwise clear your mind and your environment to be fully there.  If you can’t, be honest, and ask to reschedule.

If this is your partner, don’t be a victim!  Let them know you notice that they must have something important going on and offer to reschedule.  If they’re not there, shame on them.  If you sit there, fail to graciously notice their inattention, and offer them an escape route, then shame on you!

3.  Asking from a fixed point of view

Symptoms:

You go in with a fixed mindset.  You know you’re right.  You’re fishing for the answer you want.  Maybe you’ve prepared a few clever questions that lead to that answer.   You already know the answer to the question and you’re using a question to set up a dialogue stream that you’re hoping for.  Some of your questions sound like they come from a legal drama.  You feel like you want to argue with them because they’re not taking the bait and coming to your conclusion.

How to avoid them:

Focus more on asking from curiosity to understand something you don’t.

It’s ok to have a goal for the conversation, but it works out best if you ask questions that lead to better understanding.  If you understand the questions, and the significance to your client’s objectives, you’re much more likely to be ready to follow the conversation, add value, and get them interested in you and how you can help them.

Once they’re engaged, and you’re well enough prepared to have an open conversation with them, good things happen.  The path forward is much more clear for you and them.  … and you haven’t had to pull them along by their nose.  

4.  Cross Examining

Symptoms:

You believe you’re right and you’re asking questions with the intent to prove them wrong.  Some of your questions sound like “gotcha” questions.  They are reacting to you defensively, as if they don’t trust you.  They act like they see you as argumentative.

How to avoid them:

Resist asking questions with the express intent of teeing up an opportunity to tell, to show how smart you are.

Allow for the fact that you may not be right, and that they may bring new truth to the discussion

5.  Asking without prior investment

Symptoms:

Your partner seems ill at ease, maybe guarded or defensive.  They’re answering in very short sentences or just yes or no.  They don’t seem to get the point of your questions, and ask you to restate them.  Your questions take longer than the answer.  Your questions seem to ramble, as if you’re framing them on the fly. Maybe you change directions in the middle of a question, back up and start over.  You ask complex multi-part questions, maybe a hypothetical thrown in with some if-then logic for a grace note.

How to avoid them:

Invest in understanding your partner.  Have a plan for the questions you want to ask.  Would they see the relevance of the question to challenges they are likely facing?

Do some homework on their key industry trends and connect what you know about them to get a conversation started.

Frame your questions in an open form, without a clear answer, and something that will stretch them to answer.

Ask your question as simply as you can. Avoid rambling questions with multiple components.  Great questions have a little bit of set up, and then are very short, maybe just a few words.

Make the questions relevant to what they just told you.  The best questions flow logically out of something they said, so no set up is necessary.  Think of a tennis match where the ball is returned back and forth over the net smoothly.  Like a dance, the players are sensing where the flow is taking them.

Epilogue

When the flow of questions and the dialogue is natural and they’re opening up to you, that’s your sign that you have done your homework, you’ve earned their trust and credibility, and you’re ready to work with them to find the win-win.

Good Reads:

Schein, E. (2013). Humble Inquiry. Oakland, CA, Berrett-Koehler.

 

 

 

Ascendent now offers the Pearman Personality Integrator™

pearman_500Users of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator often comment that it’s not that useful to understand your natural behavior preferences if your environment and job are demanding other behaviors for you to be successful.  (For example, about half of the world are introverts, but North Americans and Europeans prefer extroverted behaviors from their leaders.)

Wouldn’t it  great if a type assessment could show you both how you prefer to behave naturally, as well as how you you actually behave in your environment?  And beyond that, help you develop the skills to flex skillfully to bridge those differences?

Ascendent Leadership is proud to announce that it is one of the first 30 consultants in the world to offer the Pearman Personality Indicator, announced in 2015 by Roger Pearman and Multi-Health Systems.  Roger is recognized globally as a preeminent expert in personality type in the world today.  (More about Roger)

The Pearman offers individuals the ability to understand their full range of personality functioning, as well as how they assess and develop flexibility and agility skills which enable them to operate effectively within and outside of their natural personality type.  Learn more about the Pearman.

Write us to learn more about how Ascendent can help you put this instrument to work, enabling your leaders to understand their natural and demonstrated personalities more fully, and to enable them to display the type of flexibility they need to lead their teams most effectively.

How are your clients grading you on your authenticity?

blacksmith-700In a recurring theme in our current election cycle, both major candidates are suffering low poll scores with their levels of authenticity, trust and transparency.

In the early 1990’s, I remember there was a university professor and consultant that my company used quite a bit to put on visionary discussions of what was then was called client – server computing. The fellow was quite charming, an accomplished speaker, and delivered a 100% flawless presentation. The explanations were crisp, the jokes were funny, and he never missed a beat. Customers loved it!

That all sounded great, until I took a second customer to one of his sessions. It was then that I realized that the sessions were 100% scripted. Every word and every joke came out sounding exactly like the first time I had heard him. I suppose that if I had only had to hear him once, that wouldn’t have been a problem. But when I realized how completely rote it was, he dropped down several pegs in my estimation of him and how much he really understood the topic.  One theory: If he knew it that well, he would not have had to so meticulously script it and rehearse it. Second theory (and the one I think is true): He did know the material, but he valued the flawless performance of the “show” higher than his personal authenticity. In his defense, because these were one-time marketing events, the sales people attending with their clients were really the ones bearing the burden for the longer term relationship. Maybe he made the right choice as a showman, but very few clients would have stood for that in someone they wanted to consider an advisor.

I think that scientists and technologists often fall into the same trap. They feel that their role as an expert compels them to be correct at all times and for their “performance” to be “flawless”.

I’m thinking that the only way someone could accomplish both goals, would be to operate well within their margins of safety, to take no bold or outrageous positions, and therefore to deny their client the very best of their thinking. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the concept of “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi 2013 – a great TED talk) describes the phenomenon as occurring when you are performing at the very limit of your capabilities. It seems to me that that it would be very difficult to be operating at the edge, if we were afraid of straying just over the edge, and making a mistake or an overstep.

Being married to an expectation of 100% correctness makes us less willing to risk our ideas and statements being scrutinized and found to be faulty. That in turn prevents us from being fully present, fully engaged, and fully authentic. Clients expect our full engagement. Unless we have a terrible track record for making really bad mistakes, they will forgive the occasional error, because they know they are getting our best efforts and every bit of our creativity.

Said another way, we have to let go of our desire for perfection to deliver our best game and be considered real and authentic.

Experienced consultants know that the best customer relationships are often forged in the heat of resolving a missed expectation. For sure, when a mistake happens, there is a short term loss of trust and credibility.   What rebuilds, and ultimately deepens, client trust, is how the consultant owns the situation, how they react to it, and how they resolve it.  (In most cases, there is plenty of blame to go around, and the client knows it.) The client learns that regardless of who made the mistake, the consultant will do whatever it takes and bring whatever resource is necessary to resolve the issue at hand.

Three tips to becoming more authentic:

Don’t confuse being smart or “right” with being trusted.

Give your clients your very best, maybe risking a mistake or overstep, but in the process earning their trust and loyalty.

Immediately own (or gracefully share) the inevitable mistakes and resolve them without excessive focus on whose fault it is.

Epilogue:

In the words of Peter Block, “In the end, it is our authenticity, the way we manage ourselves, and our connection to our clients that is our methodology, our marketing strategy, and the fruit of our labor.” (Block 2011 )

Great Reads and Views:

Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Creativity, Innovation & Managing “Flow”. TED talk

The 5 Most Important Skills to Drive Trust and Credibility

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 3.59.01 PMWhat are the five most critical skills to earning trust and credibility with your clients?

Find out how top performing consultants are answering this question! Respond to our survey and we’ll send you the results.

The  Survey has one multiple choice question and takes less than five minutes.  Thanks!

When I talk to consulting leaders, it’s not hard to quickly reach agreement that there are a set of communications and relationship skills which make a world of difference in how well their technologists, scientists, and subject matter experts align with and communicate effectively with the individuals and organizations they are serving.

The practical problem which follows is, which of those skills will have the greatest impact? Because it is difficult and unrealistic to develop capability on 20 or so parallel fronts, it’s helpful to get a sense for which of those skills and knowledge elements are the most critical to develop in the short term, and which can be deferred to later stages of development.

In this month’s letter, I’ll discuss the work that I’ve been doing with a couple of key partners, and invite you to participate in the research which will help us answer the prioritization question.

Partners International, Discovery Consulting and Ascendent Leadership are working together to better understand the critical competencies which enable a technologist, scientist, or subject matter expert to develop into the role of valued consultant or advisor.  We want to understand how successful consultants build trust and credibility with the people they serve.

As part of our work, we have isolated 20 competencies which we believe are core to this transformation from subject matter expert to consultant.  Here they are, grouped by a high level outline of categories.  Even though we placed each of them in one category for simplicity, many or most of them could be relevant in multiple categories.

Here is our take on the four key categories and 20 discrete competencies:

Emotional Intelligence Communications
Awareness of personal emotions Customer focus and presence
Reading others’ emotions Asking powerful questions
Understanding client relationship needs Active listening
Demonstrating confidence Delivering difficult messages
Defending beliefs without being aggressive Resolving conflict
Credibility Managing Change
Executive presence Aligning with the client’s vision
Business acumen – general Identifying, validating client requirements
Business acumen – specific to client firm or industry Identifying alternative strategies, choosing the best
Asking relevant questions Identifying, managing barriers
Telling relevant stories Describing a clear path to the client vision

We believe that all of these competencies are important and could be critical in any given situation.  That said, we want to understand how consulting leaders would prioritize this list of 20 competencies to best assist their technologists, scientists, and subject matter experts in developing the communications and relationship skills they need to become true consultants and advisors to their clients.

Want to participate?  Great!  We invite you to take a short (3-5 min) survey which asks you to rank order those 20 competencies into four levels of importance to you.  We also want to hear your input on any other competencies you see as critical that we did not include in our list. We will return the survey results to you if you provide your email address when taking the survey.

Click the link below to take the survey, and thanks!

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Create a Coaching Culture to Drive Performance and Engagement

Management Tip of the Month:Culture-720

If you’re feeling the pressure of rising performance expectations, and the need to develop and retain your best employees, consider building coaching skills into your leadership culture.

A few years ago, I wrote on the topic of culture, and how powerful it was in orienting new employees to how things were done in your company.  (Your Culture is Your Best Teacher.)   More recently, as a professional coach, I’ve become very aware of how important creating a coaching culture is to companies’ ability to improve overall performance, improve retention rates, and generally improve the overall level of employee engagement at their firm. (Jack Zenger 2016)

Why bother instilling coaching as an element of corporate culture?

Frankly, we need all the help we can get!  Quoting Alison Hendren, founder of Coaching Out of the Box, a leader in coaching education, “Today’s fast paced and competitive work environment requires that we maximize the strengths and talent of all people in an organization. No longer does command and control work, and in order to retain talented and valued people, we must up our game to better support their ongoing development and satisfaction.  Honestly, it is a burning platform and organizations need all hands on deck!” (McLeod 2013)  (Full disclosure:  Ascendent Leadership is a certified trainer in this training program.)

What are the benefits?

There is a significant body of research that correlates broad deployment of coaching skills throughout the leadership of an organization with improvements in productivity, and employee engagement, as well as reduction in voluntary attrition.  In a particularly useful summary of the benefits of a coaching culture, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman reported that in their research, employee commitment ranged from a low percentile score of 15 all the way to a percentile score of 90 across a range of coaching effectiveness from low to high. In the same study, risk of quitting ranged from a high of 52% down to a low of just over 20% over a similar range of coaching effectiveness.  (Jack Zenger 2016).  Net-net, the existence of a coaching culture makes a huge difference in both the performance and retention of key employees.

What does an effective coaching culture look like?

Leaders who have successfully incorporated coaching into their leadership style have learned a few key lessons:

How to perform several important coaching skills:  listening, encouraging, asking great questions, making requests to stretch and challenge the people their coaching, and helping those people develop concrete and measurable plans for action.

How to execute a a repeatable coaching process that guides the coach, and when repeated with regularity actually trains the employees how to coach themselves.  A key facilitator of this learning has been the International Coach Federation.  Over 20 years of experience, the ICF has codified most of what we know are the foundations of successful coaching.  The ICF has over 20,000 members globally and is the largest professional organization in the profession.

Finally, a number of personal characteristics that establish a coaching mindset that lays the relational foundation with the coachee for successful coaching and the performance improvement which follows.

What’s my path to get there?

  1. Consider your situation, the benefits that accompany a coaching culture, establish the business case, and decide to do it.
  2. As Kotter teaches us, form a guiding coalition to provide the “juice” that a change initiative like this will require. While the steps are well known, they represent real change, and it will take persistent leadership to stay on track.  (Kotter 1996)
  3. Be very attentive to capturing and publicizing your early wins. I’m working with a firm right now who just trained their sales leaders in coaching, and it’s fun to watch the emails flying around, as they conduct their first real coaching sessions, and apply the skills.
  4. Using the sponsoring coalition to capture the early learning and keep pushing for more buy-in and accomplishment across the broader organization.
  5. Just as I discussed in my blog article referenced above, let the culture you are building orient new employees and leaders. Help the coaching behaviors become “just the way we do things, here”.

Shameless Plug!

This is an important element of my consulting and coaching practice and I’m a certified trainer for the Coaching Out of the Box program.  I’d welcome the chance to discuss this program with you and see if there’s a way to help you get started!

Good Reads: 

Jack Zenger, J. F. (2016) “How developing a coaching culture pays off: dramatically improve your organization.

Kotter, J. (1996). Leading Change. Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

McLeod, B. (2013) “The Coaching Imperative – An Interview with Alison Hendren, Master Certified Coach.” hrandtalent Blog.

 

Drive Discovery from Curiosity

Think about the last friendship you formed.

I am willing to bet that you didn’t spend a lot of time in that first conversation stressing to them what a good friend you could be, how you could bring value to the friendship in a variety of ways, how the friendship would benefit them, and what average ROI they would get by engaging in a friendship with you.

Sounds like a pretty silly way to start a friendship, doesn’t it? And yet consultants often worry that their first meeting has to convey a strong value proposition, differentiate them from any possible competitors, and lead to a series of next steps resulting in the prospect engaging them!  … and all of that in a short 30 minute meeting or email.

Instead, what you really did with a potential friend was to use conversation and questions to understand them, their hometown, what college they attended, what sports teams they follow, their hobbies, how many kids they have and what ages, and so on and so on…  If all went well, you found enough common ground to continue and deepen the sharing.  And as you framed your questions, you probably didn’t know the answers when you asked them.

Granted, a new business relationship doesn’t start out exactly like a personal friendship, but a lot of the key ingredients are exactly the same. People respond to genuine interest and curiosity about what makes them and their business unique and special. They will be pleased if you have a broad enough background to have an interesting conversation with them.  They’ll notice how well you react to their answers, anticipate the business challenges they are facing,  explore the implications of those challenges,  and inquire about what possible paths forward they are contemplating.  They will feel more like they are talking with an industry colleague and not someone who wants to open their wallet and take money out of it.

In the video which follows, I interview Kriss Kirchhoff, an experienced Angel Investor and mentor to CEO’s across the US.   Previously, Kriss was the President of ACCO Brands and a Vice President and General Manager for the Hewlett Packard Company.  In those roles, Kriss ran businesses ranging in size from $700M to over $1B.  He has formed dozens of high value relationships with consultants, and he has led teams of consultants.   Kriss shares what he believes are the key behaviors that consultants must demonstrate to build the trust and credibility inherent in a high value partnership.

Here are three important behaviors which Kriss discusses in our interview:

Demonstrate genuine curiosity with your questions.   Clients judge us by the questions we ask.  Your questions can be informed by your homework, but they should be relevant to the last thing the client said.   That said, it’s OK to come in with a prepared list of questions if relevant, and clearly supported by your preparation.  (E.g. “John, I noticed in your recent article in Forbes, that you focused on the impact of globalization on your strategy…”    Don’t lead the witness.   A lot of us think we’re being clever by “telling”, using leading questions where we already know the answer.  Most people sense that lack of authenticity in a heartbeat, instinctively resist, and we’ve taken a hit in our level of trust and credibility.

Connect the Dots.  Bring your experience and wisdom to the conversation.  Be a continuing learner, and take the time to reflect on the key things you’ve learned and how to convey them with real stories.  If you’re paying attention, you are building a library of powerful stories.  The story you capture today may win you an engagement ten years from now.   In the middle of an energetic dialogue, those stories will connect with something your client has said, and you will bring them up in context.  The client will realize that you are seasoned and can relate to their world.  That feeling from the client is worth a thousand PowerPoint slides.

Trust the discovery conversation, the questions you ask, and the connections you make to showcase your value.    We often overthink the best way to demonstrate our unique value.  If we’ve done a good job with preparation, asking curious questions, and providing informed reaction to customer comments, then we can usually trust that there will an opportunity to bridge into value.  (“You know, John, we had just such a problem come up in our recent engagement with Acme Inc. and here’s how we addressed it…”

I hope you enjoyed the interview with Kriss.  If you skipped over it, here’s your second chance to benefit from his experience and wisdom.  (An Interview with Kriss Kirchhoff)

Five steps to winning client trust by speaking your truth with power

Executive-640Recent research of buyers of high value solutions is telling us that those buyers first interact with providers quite late in their buying process, and come to the discussion already very well informed about the value proposition and basic functions and features of the solution.  (Matthew Dixon 2012)  When they do engage, they are more likely to make their buying decisions based on the credibility of the consultant or business development team, than the traditional focus on features and functions.

The implication of this trend is that the selling team’s ability to create a credible and trusting relationship with the prospect is their most powerful weapon in winning the business.  One major factor in winning that trust is the consultant’s ability to manage conflict in a way that is simultaneously authentic to the consultant’s beliefs and fully aligned to the client’s best interests.  

The two-minute video clip which follows considers how improving basic relationship and communication skills can make a critical difference creating that differentiating combination of trust and credibility.

Epilogue:

Consultants and sales teams can build this level of trust and credibility by:

  1.  Ensuring that they have complete mastery of the technology and business foundation of their solution. This has always been critical, but it is no longer sufficient by itself. (Block 2011 )
  2. Leveraging their business acumen to analyze the client’s current beliefs and current situation to craft a challenge which adds value in a unique and differentiating way.  (Matthew Dixon 2012)
  3. Assessing and developing their emotional intelligence and specifically the traits of empathy (seeing the world through their eyes and walking in their experience), emotional self-awareness (driving the personal confidence to challenge) and assertiveness (challenging in a way that is authentic, but does not alienate the client).  Take an EQ assessment and get help in developing these key attributes. (Steven J. Stein 2011)
  4. Employing strong communication (open and powerful questions and active listening skills) to establish credibility and demonstrate full alignment with the client’s needs and best interests. (Adams 2009)
  5. Creating a credible path to implementing the solution which is possible and coherent with the client’s fundamental business objectives and environmental realities. (Chip Heath 2010)

End Notes and Good Reads:

  • Adams, M. (2009). Change your questions, change your life: 10 powerful tools for life and work.
  • Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.
  • Chip Heath, D. H. (2010). Switch: how to change things when change is hard. New York, Crown Publishing Group.
  • Matthew Dixon, B. A. (2012). The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation. New York, NY, Penguin Group.
  • Steven J. Stein, H. E., Bock (2011). The EQ Edge: emotional intelligence and your success, 3rd Edition, Josey Bass.

 

Social Selling, An Update

Sales-Brief-Case-720Buying in the B2B space is increasingly incorporating social networking as a key component of the buying process.

The sales people who take advantage of that trend are therefore more likely to be successful than their colleagues using more traditional approaches. A recent study by the Aberdeen group found that sales professionals who were taking advantage of social selling were achieving a 16% gain in year-over-year selling revenue, four times the gain at similar companies who are not taking advantage of social selling.

The social network LinkedIn has become one of the leaders in enabling social selling for salespeople in the B2B segment. LinkedIn’s research has discovered that that sales people using their social selling service are over 50% more likely to exceed their quota, three times more likely to significantly exceed quota. As well, their sales leaders are promoted to executive levels 60% faster.

About a year ago I collaborated with a long time sales and marketing colleague Susan Tormollen to creat e a series of posts which discussed the importance of a tight alignment between marketing and sales in eliminating common disconnects across the marketing to sales interface.

In Susan’s current role, she and her team have experienced significant advantages of social selling on the selling side. Susan, as a buyer of marketing services, has also witnessed first hand the advantage seized by a company who used social selling to seek and win her business.

In this four minute video interview, Susan discusses those experiences and lays out some first steps for companies wanting to get on board with of this significant trend, and to capture some of the sales performance benefits noted by LinkedIn.

Epilogue:

Here are some of the next steps noted by Susan, echoing many of the ideas of our discussions last spring, but in the context of improved and fast moving capabilities available in the interconnected world:

  • Begin with a solid commitment from sales and marketing leadership to invest in the collaboration.
  • Lay the foundation by building a social selling infrastructure
  • Dedicate the time and teamwork for sale and marketing to coordinate very tightly to identify the opportunity and the key buying elements to target.
  • Create transparent and smooth handoffs back and forth between sales and marketing through the entire duration of the campaign.

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