Listen to Learn to Lead and to Grow

Funny thing about life, the more you listen, the more you learn to lead and grow yourself.  This growth is called self improvement and works both personally and professionally.

to-leadYesterday I attended a business to business networking event and experienced the customary question of “what do you do?”  My response was “I solve people and process problems.”  Then three out of four people replied with “Are you like a business coach or consultant?”  When I said yes, the next statement was “It seems like everyone is a business coach these days.”

Don’t you just love it when you are grouped with everyone else? 

Earlier this year I wrote a column about the plethora of business coaches directed to those who are business coaches. What I now realized from listening to learn to lead is that I have another way of positioning myself so that I am not a “newbie” business coach as one person said.

Now when people ask me what do I do, I can respond with “For the last 18 years I have been solving people and process problems.”  This phrase “for the last 18 years,” differentiates me  as the Red Jacket in the sea of Gray suits and removes me from the current top of mind awareness many have specific to “It seems like everyone is a coach.”

Had I not been actively listening to what was being said, I might have missed this learning opportunity to lead and grow. So often we become so immersed in what we are going to say when it is our turn, we fail to actively listen. This failure is the downfall for many individuals.

Mark Twain among other is quoted “If the good Lord wanted to talk more than to listen, we would have given us two mouths.”  Listening and actively listening is part of any self improvement. This skill set works with our already developed critically thinking skills and actually may fine tune those skills.

If you wan to learn to lead and to grow, then invest some time with listening more than talking.  You just may be surprised by the results.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

 

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Marching to the Add Value Beat for Small Businesses

Isn’t your  life crazy enough without having to worry about the “add value” beating of the drums by small business coaches to strategic business growth consultants? Seems like everyone has some idea of how you can add value to win more business.

add-value

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You may be scratching your head thinking with  many of your customers having different reasons to buy from you, how can you add value to one market segment without taking value away from another?

Possibly the first step is for your to define value. Once you have clarity about what value is then you may be able to determine better actions to take.

Value has many definitions.  Yet all these definitions share one trait, perception.  How does your client perceive the value of your solutions (products or services) respective to the price he or she is paying.

Value resides within the perceptions or expectations of your clients based upon their experiences. More educated buyers may have a different perception about value than not so educated buyers. Sales Coaching Tip:  Value is unique to each buyer.

For your small business to add value does require for your to know:

  • What is important to your potential buyers?
  • Why your existing customers are buying from you?
  • Why your customers or clients  may or may not be sharing your name with others?
  • What barriers exist within the buying experience?
  • What is the difference between your solution and your competitor’ solution?
  • How can you enhance those perceptions without increased costs?

When you understand how your existing customers and potential Ideal Customer perceive value respective to your small business, then you can begin to make changes in the following areas of operations:

  • Customer service
  • Marketing
  • Sales Process
  • Administration such as invoicing
  • Relationship building
  • Pricing of your solutions

Many of these changes will probably have zero cost. And if your firm understands “lean thinking” you may actually be able to increase profits because you have streamlined the various processes within your small business. Even if there is a cost,  you can realize increase sales, gain new customers and add new profits.

For me to add value, I continue to ask myself “How can I ‘just be valuable’ to those I met?” By having this belief as an actionable attitude allows me to keep an open mind, to be authentic in all interactions and to learn what is important to those around me.

My small business advice to you is march to your own “add value beat” and remain authentic to your customers.  What worked for someone else may not work for you.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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The Reality of Technology, Learning and Leadership

Technology has become a boon for many.  For years “leaders are learners” was the mantra of many. Yet today’s reality is technology has challenged this paradigm respective to learning and leadership.

learning-and-leadership

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Beyond the day to day activities, keeping up about technology is becoming increasingly difficult for leaders in small business.  Even with outsourced technology support for website problems; adding blogging content, etc., having to deal with technology upgrades to all the newest apps for the smart devices can be overwhelming.

Learning and leadership have taken on an entirely new meaning. Relinquishing this learning responsibility is the easy way out.

Possibly for me, the one thing that has allowed me even at my age to not be negative to all this change is my attitude. When I changed my own attitude several years ago from being “technology challenged” to “technology open,” I discovered many of those past technology changes were not so bad. Heck I even learned how to write some basic HTML programming code.

Sure, I still wish companies like LinkedIn would not constantly change their websites. For example,  for the longest time I could find my total contacts on the first page of my profile. Now I must go deeper into my profile to learn my total contacts. This change takes a few seconds longer and I have learned to adapt to this one change.

By the way, Google and You Tube are wonderful resources. Just type in “how to find” or “how to do” whatever you are looking to do and you can probably find an answer.  This saves me time and a lot of frustration.

Today no matter your age and your leadership role, technology is here to stay. Forward thinking leaders are indeed learners and will take the responsibility to embrace technology.

Possibly this is the time to identify learning and leadership as a critical success factor and write some goals about what you must learn respective to technology. By embracing technology and accepting that change is inevitable especially with technology, then you as a leader will have a competitive advantage over others.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn

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The Sales Dialogue of Disqualification

Sales is the transference of feelings as noted by Zig Zilar. During this verbal dance of feelings between the buyer and seller a sales dialogue emerges. (Dialogue as defined by Socrates is the creation of an authentic relationship.)  By understanding this desired end result, the seller truly converses with the sales lead with the intent to disqualify him or her as an ideal customer.

sales-dialogue

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Now some may think this is backwards and it just maybe. Yet, by taking this approach, the end result is a far better sales lead and potentially an easier to work with ideal customer.

For example, I have specific criteria as to what makes my ideal customer respective to business coaching or executive coaching. Beyond the typical demographics of number of employees and sales revenue, two of the psychographics (the “why” behind the decision making process) are:

  • Forward thinking
  • Conservative (in the sense of high personal accountability and personal responsibility)

During our sales dialogue I am seeking to flush out these two psychographics among others.  If they are not present, I realize this is probably not a viable ideal customer for me.  I then can make a referral to another small business coach or executive coach who may be a better fit.

From my experience, all problems that being 100% of all problems fit into one of two categories:

  • People
  • Process

Usually within 15 minutes of the initial sales dialogue, I can assess what the number one problem facing small business owners with under 50 employees is – leadership (people). After 30 plus years in sales, fact finding comes fairly easy.  The question then becomes two-fold:

#1 – Can I work with this person to achieve the desired results?

#2 – Is this person committed to doing what he or she needs to do to achieve those desired results?

Business coaches to executive coaches are not shrinks nor are they designated “doers” for the client.  My role is not to “do” but to provide an environment through questions of what are the best actions for the client to take. And I stress for the client to take. Then from an accountability perspective, I follow-up to ensure those actions are taken.

Yes sometimes I do educate specifically to results from talent assessments such as the Attribute Index or how to use the Results Tool™ (goal worksheet).  And sometimes I will make observations usually in the form of a:

  • Question
  • Statement (restating what I just heard from the client)

Again the goal in executive coaching and business coaching is for the client to discover the answer.  Self discovery is far more powerful and sustainable than any other type of learning. When clients discover the answer, then there is greater likelihood they will not only own the answer, but will own what it takes to make the necessary changes.

Working with uncommitted people makes life more difficult for me and to be frank, I truly do not have time nor the patience to work with small business owners who are not committed to doing what they need to do.  This is why that first or even second sales dialogue is so essential from my perspective to being one of disqualification.

Again from my over 30 years of sales express, it is far easier to qualify someone than disqualify someone. By approaching the sales dialogue from a disqualification perspective actually reveals from more through discovery and fact finding questions.  Of course that means you as the salesperson may have to work a little harder. Yet that effort is truly rewarded by allowing you to work with the best ideal customer possible and earn more sales referrals even faster.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn

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The Ongoing Desire for the Perfect Sales Training

Is it just me or does most of the sales training appear to identify what makes the perfect, almost robotic top sales performer who never makes a mistake? Don’t you wish as a small business owner or sales manager if you could quickly train your sales people to be the perfect android? Heck if the Japanese can do it for customer service, why can’t I do it for my sales team?

sales-training

#1 Mistake

The problem is sales is about the transfer of feelings and we all know that androids cannot feel.  When we attempt to create a robotic sales force where feelings take a back seat, then the results can be disastrous.  With each human being different, the ability to react to emotions are different.  That is why emotional intelligence will begin to play a greater role in sales training.

#2 Mistake

Then mistake #2 is the failure to recognize top sales performers are not about specific competencies but rather adaptation and flexibility.  Androids appear to adapt seamlessly to their environment because of all their programming.  Just give some more “stuff” to your sales team and they will turn on a dime, so to speak and increase sales. Wouldn’t that be nice?

With all that sales training stuff floating in their heads, no wonder they become confused and appear not to be authentic.  When the sales training can deliver simplicity so that the focus can always be on the sales lead or the qualified prospect instead of on the salesperson, amazing results can happen.

#3 Mistake

Last, but not least is the real desire is for the quick fix by the small business owners to sales managers.  All the sales training in the world cannot fix the following:

  • Lack of a strategic plan
  • Marketing and selling not aligned and integrated
  • Negative workforce culture
  • Poor to truly bad executive leadership
  • No innovation (selling the same old stuff with the same old message)
  • Inconsistency in personal goal setting

Good to great sales training brings together both intrapersonal skills and interpersonal skills. The foundation is understanding one’s belief or beliefs will more than likely set the path for sales success or failure. Yes, there are some talents that are excellent for salespeople. However what is more important is the ability to evaluate what is said and then connect to the qualified prospect’s expressed and unexpressed wants and needs.

Yes having all the answers may appear to be a good thing for androids in customer service, but in sales, that is not the purpose of top sales performers.

P.S. Ask yourself why there are so many sales training firms if they all had the perfect answer to what makes for top sales performers? The number of firms reveal that to sell is truly human and is all about the authentic transference of feelings.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn

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Branding Goes Way Beyond Logos

Overt the weekend I read another post, this one in a LinkedIn discussion group, about branding and visual images, a.k.a. logos.  The author, a marketing and graphic small business owner, was attempting to make a strong case for having a visual image that would propel your small business ahead of the flow. Yes having a well recognized logo is important. However, the branding of your small business goes way beyond any graphic image.

branding

Several years ago over lunch, Gus Olympidis, CEO and founder of Family Express shared with me his definition of brand:

“Your brand is your promise.”

His definition is short and sweet and truly renders down Seth Godin’s definition:

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. ”

Famly Express brand goes beyond the square donuts.  Their brand is their promise of “Our family serving yours.” Each store is friendly and there is an ongoing effort in how to make that experience even better for their customers.  This convenience store now offers not only “free air,” but “free cash” (ATMs with no fees).

Fancy, dancy logos or other graphics do not make a brand.  No what makes a brand is the behaviors of everyone in your organization.  They will remember a good experience.  Then they will connect that good to exceptional experience to your visual image be it a square donut or exceptional customer service.

Earlier this month I took my first trip on Amtrak in many years before it became Amtrak.  Not having a lot of confidence in government run entities, I was beyond surprised by the quality of the customer service.  Amtrak’s brand is truly living Olympidis’s word of “Your brand is your promise.” Every encounter from the telephone reservations to the food in the dining car to the awaiting areas in the stations was extremely good to even outstanding.

The question you must ask yourself is not do people recognize your visual image, but rather how do they feel when they hear the name of your company or even yourself?  For you and your behaviors are your brand, your promise or promises to your customers.  Yes, today branding goes way beyond logos.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn

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Are You Truly Courageous?

Today life appears to be less hard with all the modern conveniences thanks in part much to technology. We no longer have to be as courageous as those who crossed the wilderness to settle in new lands or do we?\

courageous

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For some courage is facing and overcoming barrier after barrier.  Churchill said “Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

In To Kill a Mockingbird, the character of Atticus Finch said “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

Possibly Finch’s definition along with Churchill’s provide us with better examples of what is means to be courageous.

For entrepreneurs who get up each day to find new customers, to manage their business operations to balance their personal and professionals lives, they are being courageous.  Then there are those small business owners who reach out for help to improve their results. Asking for help takes courage.

If you are not where you want to be, then maybe it is time to rethink what you are doing. Now is the time to be more truly more courageous; to find the courage within you, to see it through without losing enthusiasm, no matter what.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn

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Atlas and Bearing the Burdens of Leadership

From our early education, many may remember the story of Atlas holding the world. Today, my sense is many leaders are in a similar role. No they are not holding the world, but they are bearing the burdens of leadership with what they believe is with little help or relief.

burdens-of-leadershipLeadership continues to be the number one issue facing all organizations from the small businesses to the Fortune 100. Finding good leaders to replace the existing “Atlas” leaders is difficult.

Of course leadership including succession leadership of finding good leaders, is not the only burden. In another research report by Harvard Business Review shared the top 3 burdens by leaders:

  • Talent Management
  • Operating in a Global Marketplace
  • Regulation and Legislation

Yes today’s leaders carry many burdens and these burdens of leadership are not recognized by employees to the general public.

Some of these burdens are beyond the control of leaders such as regulation and legislation as well as global economic operations.  However some of these burdens of leadership are totally under the control of leaders especially:

  • Talent Management
  • Succession Planning
  • Organizational Effectiveness

To deal with these  burdens or if you wish barriers begins with the strategic plan.  Again from my experience, probably better than 75% (I think it is closer to 90%) of all small business with under 100 employees do not have a strategic plan. They are firmly entrenched in the roles of Captain Wing It where they spray their actions all over the place and then pray something will stick.

Some of the burdens of leadership are self-enabled. What this means is those in leadership roles have enabled their business partners to employees to:

  • Take advantage of them as leaders
  • Set their own working conditions
  • Restrict sustainable business growth

If you enjoy being Atlas and bearing the burdens of leadership without any assistance and if that is working for you, then continue holding up those business burdens all by yourself.  However, if you prefer to relinquish that role of self-enabled leader, then make a decision to change your leadership behaviors.  This may result in hiring an executive coach, finding a mentor, talking to colleagues or all of these actions.

At the end of the day, you must ask yourself “Am I tired of holding up my small business world?”

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn

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The Marketing Mantra of Just Because

I don’t know about you, but my email In Box is littered with newsletters to self promotion messages.  99.9% of these people I do not know nor have I subscribed to their lists. They appear to live with the marketing mantra of “just because.”

marketing-mantra

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These rationalization justifies:

  • Publicity representatives sending me information on their clients just because they read one of my posts
  • Adding me to their email or newsletter lists just because they bought or found my email somewhere
  • Sending me self promotion messages just because they thought they could

Truly I am so tired of this type of marketing mantra, I could scream. When will these small business owners and publicity firms understand the two fold purpose of marketing:

  1. Attract attention
  2. Begin to build a relationship

When people email me including second and third degree connections from LinkedIn without permission, they immediately establish distrust.  I would not buy a smelly old dog turd from these folks less alone give them the opportunity for being a guest author on my blog or consider their current offerings.,

Speaking of LinkedIn, the “just because” mantra respective to invitations is also very present. For example, here are some of the reasons I have learned for connecting:

  • Your name is recommended through LinkedIn
  • You are a second degree connection to someone who is one of their first degree connections
  • Your business card was secured at a B2B networking event
  • The person sending the invite is expanding his or her network, you do not know them from Adam or Eve

The “just because” marketing mantra is an outgrowth of not having a strategic plan from which a solid marketing plan is crafted. So what happens is small business owners to PR consultants take on the role of Captain Wing It by spraying their actions all over the place and praying something will stick.

So the next time you decide to send out a blanket email, check to make sure the names on your list have agreed to a double opt in policy. Then make sure those individuals are truly interested in your solutions or have some expressed want or need. Additional research should also reveal may be your intended victims, I mean recipients, do not already have knowledge greater than what you are sharing. This is not the time to insult prospective clients or customers just for the sake of “just because” marketing mantra.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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How to Open More Sales Through This Discovery Process

Many sales coaches to sales experts talk about how to “close more sales.”  I understand the premise yet in sales I think the goal is to open more sales.  When you ask the right questions, you may sell more (up sell) with greater ease than pigeon holding yourself into just one solution.

open-more-salesSeveral years ago I developed the ACE Approach in working with executive coaching clients.  The more I used this simple executive leadership approach the quicker the results came for my clients.  Recently I realized this same approach can be used with sales during the discovery process.

A – Assess

In sales, one must find out what is really happening. Some experts call this fact finding others talk about discovering the pain points.  What you, as the salesperson, are really doing is assessing the situation. These questions truly do open more sales.  Here you are acquiring pertinent information that may differentiate you from your competition who failed to ask “assess” questions.

For example, one of my favorite assess questions is “What do you want to achieve in the next six months?” Another one is “Are you where you want to be?” Both of these questions are non-threatening because I am not asking “Why” questions and usually have the sales lead talking without fear.

C – Clarify

After you ask some assess questions, now you must separate the wheat from the chaff. Here your goal is to clarify what you just heard.  An ideal customer may tell you “I want to grow my business by 25%.”  or “I need to increase sales by 5% per quarter.” These clarify questions will open more sales because you are determining the real problems to be solved and not the symptoms your competition  mistakenly may be addressing.

Even though you now have a metric, there is still may exist some ambiguity. This lack of clarity may have you traveling down the “no sale” path if you are not careful.

During the “clarify question” time, you may ask something like this “If I understood you correctly, you wanted to increase sales by 5%.  Is this increase for all solutions or for a particular offering?”  Upon the answer, you may return to an assess question regarding profitability or about the sales’ teams productivity.

E – Execute

These questions are all about connecting emotions to potential, successful execution. Now you can ask those “what if” type questions where you emotionalize the desired end results.

One such question might be “If you were to achieve the 25% increase in business growth, what would that mean for you personally and professionally?”  Here you are allowing the sales lead to visualize with strong positive emotions.  Then you can follow up with “If you were not able to achieve the 25% increase in business growth, what would that mean for you personally and professionally?” Research suggests fear can be a significant emotional motivator. Execution type questions can open more sales and have the added benefit of emotionally connecting to the qualified prospect.

Now some questions can be an Assess, a Clarify or an Execution question.  One such question might be “What is getting in your way to your desired results?”

Yes, the goal for any small business owner or salesperson is to open more sales by discovering what is really happening within the ideal customer’s world. The ACE approach is simple; provides a foundation for consistency and strengthens emotional intelligence. Now go out, try it and let me know of your results.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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