Relationship Inflation

photo“Now our global sales team can create customer relationships instantly from anywhere.”

Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of YELP, in an ad for the Salesforce1 Mobile App in the Economist.

“Run your business from your phone,” the ad goes on to say. Including the instant creation of customer relationships, with just a click.

Of course, we get what it means. Salesforce is a powerful tool; I use it. We’ve even got our own app on Salesforce for Trust-based Selling (and are proud of it).

But let’s just pause a moment and note the grade inflation that has come about with the use of the word “relationship.”

Relationship Inflation

Never mind the dictionary. Just use your own built-in definitions. What does the word “relationship” mean, and what does it suggest when we use it as synonymous with something clickable?

This is not a Luddite rant – I love my CRM-flavored apps as much as anyone. And I’m not going to bemoan the demise of deep connection at the hands of social media.

But I am going to protest the casual use of a rich word in ways that flatten and cheapen its meaning.

Dimensions of Relationships

When we think of relationships, we naturally think in two dimensions – depth and breadth. There is the sense of connection, empathy, shared knowledge, and the promise of more to come. That’s the deep part, and the deep part adds value.

The breadth part is equally important – because it shares value. The plural of relationship is network. Relationships times depth equals shared value.

The problem comes when we over-emphasize one dimension to the exclusion of another. The digital explosion has enabled both.  The ability to quickly scan and dive deep into data, or to quickly access past experiences (think your email history, think LinkedIn) can greatly help on depth.

But the emphasis in many ways has been far more on the breadth side of things. When zero marginal cost meets an ethos that says more followers/clicks/eyeballs are always better, that’s where the qualitative gets run out of town by the quantitative.  Deep gets beat by broad.

The Cost of Breadth at all Costs

When the intersection of Deep Street and Broad Street gets paved over by an expansion into Broad Boulevard, we lose something. The value of what we’re sharing diminishes. That means less value, less insight, less impact, less connection, less meaning.

In the world of sales, it’s no accident that we’re hearing about the power of insight – we’re starved for insight in a world that has been bingeing on breadth.  In the world of content, it’s no accident that we’re seeing an explosion of (often fairly good) TV programming enabled by online broadcast capabilities; we’ve been starved for it.

We need both dimensions for balance. Lately we’re out of balance, and it’s the deep content side that needs redressing.

Do You Trust Yourself? Should You?

Scared lady iStock_000019585748XSmall copyIt’s a compelling headline: Stop Trusting Yourself.  By Northeastern University psychologist David DeSteno, it’s featured in today’s NYTimes, and ostensibly shows that we mistakenly trust ourselves – that if anything, we mis-estimate our own trustworthiness more than that of others.

Compelling indeed; but like sugar water, the headline high is brief. The problem is not bad psychology – it’s bad meta-psychology.  The studies he cites merely describe a part of the puzzle of self-trust, and not necessarily the biggest part at at that.

This is not the first time that “hard” scientists have gushed over “findings” that amount to little more than semantic confusion. The worst offenders are the neuroscientists, who constantly mistake chemical descriptions for higher forms of “explanation.”  But this one doesn’t require much knowledge of science.

Trusting Yourself

First, props to Mr. DeSteno for correctly noting something many trust students miss – that trust is an asynchronous relationship between two parties. Trusting “yourself” makes no sense unless we can posit two identities within the self, one of which can be said to trust the other. (This is similar to the issue of consciousness in philosophy).  DeSteno quite rightly recognizes the need to define those two selves.

The problem is, he picks one definition and one alone – the “present you” and the “future you.”  The rest of his article cites studies about how the “present you” constantly mis-estimates the future you. He cites two “cognitive glitches” to describe this, both of which deal with present and future states.

Well and good. This all makes perfect sense – except that time is only one way to posit the “two-you’s” necessary to make sense of self-trust.  Here are three more. I suspect a bit more thought by the reader would yield more still.

1. Trust Your Skills. As in How to Trust Yourself Over Every Golf Shot,  where the author offers the definition, “Trust is the ability to suspend one’s judgment about one’s performance (swing).”

Here the two selves are the cognitive, self-observing self, and the instinctual, acting self. Anyone who plays golf, or any sport (or engages in sex as a male) knows the debilitating effects in the here and now of over-thinking things.  The same is true for leadership, acting, storytelling, public speaking, and any number of other human endeavors.

Proof that this is an even more common meaning of “self-trust” than DeSteno’s now-future me?  Consider the ubiquity and instantly understood Nike slogan, “Just Do It.”

Note that, in these important realms of life, “trust yourself” has nothing to do with time.

Note also that the advice from this definition of self-trust is to “trust yourself” – exactly the opposite of the “don’t trust yourself” advice that DeSteno posits from his time-based example of self-trust.

2. Trust Your Identity.  Clinical psychologist, therapist and author David Schnarch incisively describes the self-trust that comes with what he calls differentiation:

Differentiation is basically the ability to balance humankind’s two most fundamental drives. One is our urge to be connected with other people, and the other is the urge to be free and autonomous and direct the course of our life. So both wanting to be in a relationship and wanting to be our own person are the two most fundamental drives and the two fundamental problems that couples have in emotionally committed relationships.

[we have developed] a theorem that helps clients and therapists stay on track, and earns credibility with people who trust no one: Only the best in us talks about the worst in us, because the worst in us lies about its own existence. 

The inability to trust oneself leads us to fear others; the inability to trust others leads us to over-rely on our selves. Here the two selves are my self-reliant self, and my other-engaging self.

Proof that this too is an even more common meaning of “self-trust” than DeSteno’s now-future me? Try Googling “I trust myself to” and you’ll get first page hits like this:

When I trust myself to love & take care of myself, it’s easier to trust others because they can’t harm my inner well-being.

And once again – the best advice from this meaning of self-trust is not to distrust yourself, but the opposite – to trust yourself.

3. Mastery over life.  In Trusting Yourself, Barbara O’Brien talks about the Buddhist perspective on trusting oneself to stop worrying.  The key to trusting oneself is to let go of the chokehold of expectation.

The vibration of trusting/having confidence in your ability to create enjoyable experiences for yourself and what is in line with your highest good. A very good frequency for anyone who is stuck in victim mentality.

Again, this is on the first page of results from Googling “Trust Yourself.”

From the Twelve Step literature comes a similar concept, reflected in the witticism, “An expectation is a pre-meditated resentment.” Detachment from outcome is the key to living in the present, which in turn is the key to living over time.

If you think Buddhism is too esoteric, then let’s go to Harvard Business School.  Also on the first page of search on “trust yourself” is an article from the business mainstream HBR Blog Network, How to Teach Yourself to Trust Yourself. In it, author Peter Bregman suggests:

There is a simple remedy to the insecurity of being ourselves: stop asking.  Instead, take the time, and the quiet, to decide what you think. That is how we find the part of ourselves we gave up. That is how we become powerful, clever, creative, and insightful. That is how we gain our sight.

Again: a very common piece of human reality. Also, not dependent on time. And, yet another piece that admonishes us to trust ourselves, not to not-trust ourselves.

Science and Philosophy
To make a gross over-generalization – we have come, in recent years, to err on the side of methodology, data, behavioralism, and metrics.  That has come at the cost of clear problem definition and common sense. This is most noticeable in the softer social sciences, but it shows up even in economics. And it most certainly shows up in social sciences with the trappings of “hard” science – like studies in behavioral psychology.

No branch  of science – not even physics – is immune from the need to properly define questions. Newtonian physics wasn’t wrong; it was just answering one particular set of questions, not all questions.

If you want to examine a social phenomenon – like, say, self-trust – the right place to begin is not with empirical studies, but with doing exhaustive search engine work (the modern version of anthropological field research). How do real human beings, operating in the real world, think about an issue?

In logic, a false premise renders all conclusions logically true. In science, a bad problem definition can support any conclusion whatsoever. In our haste to use all the tools of modern analysis, we have allowed sloppy problem definition. (I won’t go so far as to say we need more philosophers in science. Oops I just did.)

Professor DeSteno is almost certainly not wrong. But that’s not the key question.  The key question is – what problem was he solving?

He says he’s solving the problem of self-trust. I say he’s solving the problem of one aspect of self-trust – an aspect that is not likely to be more ubiquitous or relevant than other aspects, and which notably has a different answer than the other aspects.

Caveat reader.

The NFL, Ed Reed, and Trust

photo via jumpingpolarbear.comEd Reed is an NFL veteran defensive safety with an outstanding record of performance. But it’s not just physical prowess that gives him his edge – it’s mental too.

And I’m not talking about toughness, or attitude, or no-pain-no-gain hype. I’m talking about insight, knowledge, and learning. Those of us in advisory or sales capacities have a lot to learn from him.

Analysis or Instinct?

Which is better: to trust your gut, or to study a situation carefully? We have heard both answers, proverbially speaking: both “don’t jump to conclusions,” and, “he who hesitates is lost.

A better answer is – it depends. On the one hand – in a crazy stock market, it’s the cool-headed trader who can recognize fundamental dynamics and make the smart move. On the other hand – in a difficult meeting, it’s the person who can sense subtle mood shifts and instinctively respond who adds the most value.

But the best answer is – both. And this is what Ed Reed embodies.

Reed is legendary for his ability to read offenses. Increasingly, it’s noted that he spends a lot of time watching opposing teams’ video tapes, something that only coaches used to do. In a recent NYTimes article, Reed is quoted as saying, “When you see something on film, just believe it. Believe that something’s going to happen, and just go.”

This is trusting your instincts. It is also putting in time in careful study. “Before you come to work, come to work,” says Reed.

What’s the relationship? It’s one of sequence. The same as what Tiger Woods’ father told him when young: Practice, practice, practice – and then, trust your swing.

Study – then react. Think – then feel. Be intelligent – then sentient.

Being Ed Reed in Your Practice

We can’t all replicate anyone else we choose to. But we can pretty much all move in that direction, if we choose strongly enough.

If you’re in sales, get a process – but don’t treat it like the end-tool, use it to inform your relationships. By all means, get Salesforce – but don’t think great CRM alone will tell you how to read the body language on your client when you’re pitching the sale.  By all means do analytics on your past performance – just don’t forget to internalize the results.

(By the way, if you’ll forgive the obvious pitch: get the best of both by buying my Trust-based Selling Salesforce App, just released with Soliant Consulting).

If you’re in an advisory or consultative or coaching/mentoring role, get a model – but don’t treat it like a one-size fits all blunt instrument, use it to inform your judgment. Read Freud, and Covey, and Schein – but don’t treat your client like a final exam.

Above all, do your research in advance. The final thing you should do before going in to interact with clients and customers is to clear your mind, relax, turn on your senses. Stop rehearsing, stop repeating mantras, stop trying to motivate yourself.  Step aside, and trust your swing.

Being Ed Reed in Life

As I read up on Ed Reed for this blogpost, I couldn’t help but notice what people say about his personality. A particularly good piece is Ed Reed: Hiding in Plain Sight, by veteran ESPN sportswriter Kevin Van Valkenburg.

What emerges is the portrait of someone who has native intelligence, but who is also deeply empathetic. Comfortable in his own skin, not seeking the limelight. Someone who leads by attraction, not promotion. Someone who has the personal comfort level to feel the equal of his coaches, as well as humbly one of the team of players.

And while this post is just about the link between cognition and instinct, I can’t help but believe that link is greatly strengthened by his overall emotional make-up.

In so many ways, Descartes had it wrong when he said cogito, ergo sum. So often, it’s como sum, como cogito. (In case my Latin is faulty, that’s meant to say, “As I am, so do I think”).

Trust Quotes: Interview with Barbara Kimmel, of Trust Across America

Trust Inc bookI got to know Barbara and Jordan Kimmel some years ago when they were forming the initial idea for what became Trust Across America, an organization devoted to improving corporate trustworthiness.

Barbara edited a book which is about to be published (November 1), called Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset. This seems like a good time to interview her on Trust Matters. Enjoy.

Q. Barbara, congratulations on the new book, which is most impressive: I got my advance copy a few days ago. Before we get into that, however, tell us about Trust Across America – Trust Around the World.  What is it, how did you come to found it, and what is its purpose?

A. Very simply, TAA – TAW is an umbrella organization and clearinghouse whose mission is enhancing trustworthy behavior in organizations. We got the program rolling in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis, realizing that no group was addressing organizational trust from a holistic and collaborative perspective.

Today we sponsor four main initiatives:

  1. The FACTS® Framework measures the trustworthiness of 2500 public companies using 5 quantitative indicators of organizational trust;
  2. Communications efforts, featuring programs like our Trust Talks YouTube Channel, Trust Across America Radio, Blog roll, Trust Breakfast Roundtables, Trust Workshops and a Reading Room, to name just a few.
  3. The Alliance of Trustworthy Business Experts (ATBE) formed in January 2013, is a growing group of global experts working collaboratively, through a number of initiatives, to tackle trust head on.
  4. Most Trustworthy Programs. Every year we name our Top Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and our Most Trustworthy Public Companies.

Q. The new book is a collection of 30-plus author-experts on trust. It’s got an introduction by Ken Blanchard and book cover quote from Steven M.R. Covey –

A. – not to mention the opening article by you and me writing together!

Q. – thank you, thank you. Now, where did the idea for the book come from?

A. Well, here are some headlines from 2012 to the present. They serve as a good starting point to answer your question.

The Washington Post reported that “the federal government imposed an estimated $216 billion in regulatory costs on the economy (in 2012), nearly double its previous record.”

The cost of the tort litigation system alone in the United States is over $250 billion. – or 2% of GDP  (Forbes, January 2012)

“Americans are fed up with politics, not government, study says” (trust in government at 50 year low for five years running)- September 2012, Government Executive

The Big 4 accounting firms’ aggregate global revenue is $110 billion, of which between 40-50% is made up of audits. (Going Concern, January 2013)

The six biggest U.S. banks, led by JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Bank of America Corp., have piled up $103 billion in legal costs since the financial crisis, more than all dividends paid to shareholders in the past five years.  (Bloomberg, August 2013)

I’ve had the honor of meeting dozens of global experts, each with his or her unique perspective on organizational trust. It occurred to me that if I could bring them together to write a series of  essays, perhaps we could collectively begin to provide a new roadmap for organizational trust.

Q. OK. Now, with that as background – tell us a bit about the book itself?

A. There’s a well-documented business case for trust ranging from deepening employee commitment to higher profitability. This book contains a lesson for everyone, from CEOs to Boards, senior management, and small business owners. Trust is a core quality of all great leaders and organizations.

We have 34 experts in all joining forces to tackle organizational trust. In addition to Covey and Blanchard, we’ve got Kouzes & Posner, Patricia Aburdene, and Linda Locke, to name just a few.

Through dozens of case studies, real world situations, models and examples, the book talks about:

  • Why trust matters
  • How trust works in practice
  • What it takes to be a trustworthy leader
  • How trustworthy teams impact business
  • How to restore trust
  • What the future holds in store

The book also has 3 appendices:

  • Definitions of organizational trust from a global perspective
  • Examples of vision and values statements
  • A call to action

Q. We see boatloads of survey data about how trust is down these days, in almost every institution. What should we make of all that?

A. Charlie, you and I have spoken about painting trust with broad brush strokes. Industry is not destiny. There are many organizations that are exhibiting high levels of trust. It all boils down to culture and leadership. We see companies that rise to the top of our FACTS Framework, year after year. Those companies outperform  their peers and benchmarks like the S&P – in terms of stock market performance. This proves that trustworthy companies are not sacrificing profitability.

Q. I have seen some of that data and it is really impressive. In fact, the whole broad basis of the initiative is impressive. Anything you want to add from the bully pulpit here?

A. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about our new book and our goals for TAA –TAW. We are chipping away at the organizational trust issue and plan to continue to create new tools and programs. I urge your readers to drop me a note if they have something to add to the conversation or would like to roll up their sleeves and get involved. Barbara@trustacrossamerica.com

 

Barbara Kimmel, Executive Director, Trust Across America – Trust Around the World

 

 

 

Trust-based Selling, the Advanced Course

Hand The Ball Over, See What HappensI had lunch the other day with Jack S., a client from 5 years ago. At the time, Jack managed a sales organization in the reinsurance business. (If you think insurance is complicated, try understanding reinsurance!).

Since then, the industry has consolidated; Jack works for one of the top three reinsurance brokerage firms. His job has evolved into a sort of senior advisor  to the 100 or so consultative salespersons. As we talked, I realized he is operating at the very top of the trusted advisory, trust-based selling world. See what you think.

Charlie: How do you get asked in to see customers?

Jack: Each salesperson has about 5 clients, and typically at least one is having problems. Since I’ve got deep expertise and experience, and the reps trust me, they invite me in to meet the client.

Charlie: So, you get invited in as an expert? What happens then?

Jack: Yes, the rep typically tells the client I’m some super-expert. They introduce me with a big pitch, my resume, all my qualifications and so forth.  Then they hand it over to me, and that’s when I surprise them.

Charlie: Yes?

Jack: I just ask the client to tell me what’s going on. I can always feel the rep beside me screaming inside his head, “What!? That’s all you’ve got? I pitched you as an expert, where’s your demonstration?”  But I’ve found this works much better.

They can tell pretty quickly that I’m totally paying attention, and that I’m nodding in all the right places. Just a short question or comment from time to time is all I really need to show that I know what I’m talking about, and I always make sure we turn the conversation right back to them.

Charlie: What a concept – open by letting the customer talk!  Any other best practices or tips about how to do that?

Jack: Yes. I frequently ask the rep before we go in to resist their temptation to fill empty spaces in the conversation – to just follow my lead. You know, when you’re trying to sell something, a lull of even half a second in a conversation can feel like an eternity, and you’re worried about filling that gap, keeping the momentum going.

But if you let the customer fill the silence, they almost always will. And they seem to interpret it as permission to go a little further, to tell a little more about the situation.  Which happens to be great – they’re sharing much more with us, and I haven’t said a word.  The rep is often amazed when we leave, “I can’t believe he said that, he’s never talked about that before.”

Charlie: Brilliant. Now, what about failures?  Aren’t there some times where you don’t have a major new insight, you can’t solve the problem?

Jack: You know, I’ve learned there really aren’t any “failures.” Maybe a quarter of the time it turns out that the client is already doing everything they can, I can suggest a tweak or two, but basically they have to just bear down and wait out the situation.

If that’s the case, I just say simply you’re doing the right thing, you’re not missing anything, there is no silver bullet you haven’t found, or at least I haven’t found it either.  And that actually makes them feel better. Because they’ve been fearful and guilty, and I’ve given them permission to feel OK. They could already handle waiting for things to clear up, but they really appreciate the relief that comes from knowing they’ve done what they can.

———

I’ve written quite a bit about trust-based selling. Besides the book itself by that title, here’s a good article from a few years ago called Three Strategies for Creating Customer Trust.  As I scanned it after writing Jack’s story, I realized he touches on all three of those strategies.  Jack is really teaching the advanced course.

When the Client Cuts Your Face Time in Half

Your progress update meeting with the client is scheduled for an hour, starting at 11AM. You’re hopeful it might extend to a lunch invitation.

11AM comes and goes, and the client is still in a meeting. Word comes from the client’s AA that the meeting has to move to 2PM. At 1:30, it gets kicked to 5:30 – and it’s cut to half an hour, as the client really has to leave no later than 6PM.

What do you do?

This came up in a large workshop the other day; the setting was such that only a 1-minute answer was appropriate.  I gave the 1-minute answer – and I’ll include the longer answer here.

Involve the Client in Problem Resolution 

The quick answer is you start the meeting by saying something like, “Listen, it’s late in the day, and it sounds like yours has been hectic. Ending up in a review session may not be your idea of a good time. Would you rather reschedule?”

And then go with the client’s answer, whatever it is. If the client prefers to push on, then do so. And you’d better be willing to trim your presentation to 30 minutes, rather than trying to double-time it, or passive-aggressively running out of time.

The principle here is to make the client part of the problem resolution.

Involve the Client in Problem Definition

The longer answer is to make the client part of the problem definition – not just problem resolution. Why is it that a previously scheduled meeting slipped so drastically?  That it got cut in half?  That’s a discussion worth having on occasion.

Is it because the client doesn’t particularly care about an update, and it’s really your need for approval that’s driving the meeting? Are you able to specify real decisions that are needed from the client? Is this a box-ticking meeting to fulfill your internal processes? Are you trying to cover your behind? Do you know what the meeting was bumped for, and are you satisfied with the decision? Is this a meeting that neither one of you really wants, resulting in joint procrastination – and if so, what’s that about?

The answers may be perfectly innocuous, or they may uncover a deeper issue – where there’s smoke, there might be fire. The point is not about the answers – it’s about having the vulnerability and courage to re-invite the client to visit the tough questions, to define the issues jointly.

The Crisis of Confidence in Selling: Dialogue with Ago Cluytens and Charlie Green

Crisis in Confidence in Selling(This post is written jointly with Ago Cluytens, and will appear jointly on both our sites.)

Ago: Recently, Charles H Green (I get to call him Charlie) and I had a heart-to-heart about three seismic shifts that are completely changing the way buyers and sellers relate. Even though we live on different continents and have had dramatically different careers we interestingly both saw the same things happening – albeit from slightly different perspectives.

Charlie: Well Ago, we’ve outlined this general topic of what’s different in sales. But that’s pretty broad. Let’s break it down, as you suggested, to several themes that may be easier to address.

Ago: Sure. Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Are we in a Crisis of Confidence, where “selling” no longer sells? What do you think?

CG: Of course it depends on what you mean by each of those terms, but basically – I agree with you. What I mean by that is that two things have changed fundamentally in just the last ten years.

– Buyers have become more suspicious of the intentions and motives of sellers;

– Buyers now have access to far, far more information.

The result is a more empowered, cynical customer base. The traditional observation is that “the balance of power has shifted” to the buyer. But to state it that way is to miss the great opportunity facing sellers and buyers alike – to move away from defining the sales relationship as one of competitive, zero-sum entities, and toward collaboration and mutuality. The one road that is not going to work is trying to regain the power in the old game.

AC: You know, I like the way you focus on collaboration and mutuality. As you know, I used to be a management consultant. The second I started realizing that what my clients were looking for was not for me to tell them what to do, but to jointly figure out the problem and develop a solution that solved it, that changed my entire outlook – as well as the results I was getting.

Similarly, when I became an entrepreneur, I instinctively realized that (sales) success would not come from desperately trying to “sell someone,” but instead from finding those people for whom my service offering could be a potential solution and working together to define the best way to move forward.

If we can get over the “me versus you,” winner-take-all mindset and get into a mood of collaboration and joint problem solving, both sides win. Better deals are made, better terms are negotiated and better outcomes are reached.

CG: In that vein, let’s talk about the changing role of the buyer, and then of the seller as well, shall we? I’ll start us off with the role of the buyer.

As I see it, a couple of things have changed. One, as noted above, is that the buyer has access to more information. But the information itself is only part of the story there. The information they now have access to used to be available only through interaction with the seller. And now they have access to it without having to talk to a seller.

Now, that is a change in dynamics. Because, think of it: when you’re a buyer starting out in a purchase process, you probably know less than the sellers about the sellers’ offerings. So you feel at effect of, trapped, suspicious, cautious, hesitant and careful; because the information you need is being doled out to you by the seller, whose interests have always been perceived as lying in selling you the product. You are at their mercy.

For a buyer these days, those chains are gone. The only seller interactions that are required are high-level, complex questions (e.g. “have you ever combined this with an existing CRM system?”); and when the interaction happens, the customer is already highly educated. All that power game stuff is gone. The buyer feels empowered.

AC: You know, in addition to what you mentioned, there’s something even more subtle at play. It is a well-known fact that as the amount of information and choice available increases it actually has an adverse effect on our ability to make decisions and move forward.

Everything from our mobile devices to billboards spews out “information” 24/7, meaning we are slowly but surely buried under an avalanche of data. According to Mashable, 571 new websites are created, 100,000 Tweets are sent and 204 million e-mails are sent every minute. I mean, every minute.

And the effect this has on buyers is simple: total, complete overload. They stay stuck. Don’t move. The most effortless, most comfortable and safest path is always the same: to do nothing.

AC: So let’s talk a little bit about what that means if you’re a seller. Our new role as sellers is no longer to push our wares to the top of the pile, but to help the buyer stand back and make sense of the pile in the first place. Put in slightly more intellectual terms, our job is to be curators and advisors to our clients – not product pushers.

Generally speaking, there are three major trends I am seeing that set apart those who will be successful in the future (of sales) versus those who have been so in the past.

1. They think buying first, selling second. Meaning they see things from the buyer’s perspective, can “step into their shoes” and can often define the problem better than their buyer can

2. They start adding value from the second they meet – they do not wait for someone to be “qualified” before they start helping them, but understand that relationships are built over time and the best way to make change happen is to lead the way

3. They produce clarity, not complexity – they use their experience and broader viewpoint to help the buyer make sense of reality, the various options available and develop a process for making decisions.

And, as is often the case, precisely because they do those three things, they win a disproportionate percentage of all the deals they go after. That’s what I mean when I say “Stop selling. Start helping your buyer buy.”

If you combine the three trends I outlined, an interesting picture of the seller starts to emerge. Not a sleazy “used car salesman”, but a highly valued, trusted confidant and advisor.

CG: Wow, that’s interesting; I pretty much agree. I would only add that the seller has to change roles, given the shift in information availability, and in the dynamics of the interaction. The right way for the seller to interact today is to make it as easy as possible for the customer to get all the information they might want – without having to first talk to me.

That goes against every instinct of the seller; sellers have been taught to tightly control information, don’t discuss price until you’ve talked value, that sort of thing. It’s not easy to just give it away, with no trick strings attached, and then take on a very passive role, waiting for the buyer to come to you. But that’s part of the challenge.

I’d argue that the biggest role change for sellers is the need to change their objective. Big picture – as long as salespeople hold to the view that the objective of sales is to sell to the customer, they’ll have trouble. They have to change their objective, to that of “always be helpful” to the customer. Viewed way, sales become an effect, rather than the goal.

CG: Now Ago, that gets us to the next Big Category – changes in the shift of power. What’s your take on that?

AC: You know, Charlie, here’s what I am thinking. I believe that – to a certain degree – there has been a shift of power. Buyers are now more informed, more educated and more aware of their relative position of power than ever before.

But, in my experience, the most sophisticated buyers still approach the buyer-seller relationship from the same perspective as before. They don’t see sellers as predatory hunters who are out to “get them,” nor do they view them as subordinates who provide a commodity service and can be endlessly squeezed on price. And – just because they have more information – they understand that does not always mean they have more power.

If I were to make an analogy, most C-suite buyers I am in contact with view those selling to them as dance partners. Equal counterparts that provide a valuable and needed complement to what they see, know and understand. And with (the best of) whom, they are joined at the hip and need each another to produce the kind of results they want.

CG: We both agree that there has certainly been a shift of power, from the seller to the buyer. But that’s just what’s happened – that doesn’t tell us the answer. And the answer for sellers does not lie in regaining power. It lies in changing the game radically, for the benefit of both parties, to focusing on adding value and improving the customer’s business. There is an element of faith here – faith that if you consistently put client interests first, clients will tend to reciprocate, and become interested in buying from you.

If you as a seller just can’t handle that idea – if your feeling is “I can’t let them have that kind of control, they’ll abuse it and ruin me,” then you’re going to have a hard time. Because you have lost power already. And until you figure out how make one plus one equal to at least three, you haven’t got a replacement game.

AC: I think what we’re both saying is that this Big New Idea isn’t entirely new – this trend started many years ago – but it’s very, very Big. And at its core, that idea is simple: selling is about building trusted relationships.

The kind of relationships that allow you to view long-term, gain a common perspective, collaborate, share insights, and generally allow for the synergies that can only happen when working with people you trust.

And when done right, something magical happens. Like watching a pair of expert dancers whirl across the room in some Buenos Aires tango palace. They instinctively understand each other, know when to seamlessly transition from leading into following, when to move and when to pause. Not unlike a sales process, I might add.

The end result is something that goes way beyond “two people on a dance floor.” That’s how long-term, multi-million dollar relationships are built.

CG: Absolutely. The days of zero-sum competition are over; you have to add value, and the only way to add more value than others is to establish better relationships with the client. To do that, you have to build trust. And to build trust, you have to abandon the old sales objectives of gaining share of wallet, conquering competitors, maximizing price, and so forth; instead, you have to adopt one over-arching objective – to improve things for your client. And then believe that by so doing, you too will benefit.

Willful, Wishful Blindness: Trust and the Real Learning from the BBC Crisis

The UK press is screaming ‘blue murder’ about the recent turn of events in the BBC:

  • ‘How to restore trust in the BBC’
  • ‘You don’t trust us – and maybe you never will’
  • ‘Trust lost, hard to regain!’

A crisis for the BBC? Certainly. But a “complete loss of trust” is a wild exaggeration. Still, there is one troubling problem at the heart of things, and the BBC must get at it: a willful and wishful discomfort with facing truth.  Vital for any organization, truth-facing is especially so for a news outfit.

The Apparent Problem

The problem in recent weeks has been in one part of the vast BBC operation – its flagship current affairs programme, ‘Newsnight’. There has been real incompetence and mismanagement, and people are rightly angry and critical. But this is an organisation that has real pedigree and a brand that is deeply respected and trusted the world over for the quality and integrity of its daily product.

Deeply held trust, reinforced over many years, simply does not disappear in one moment with one incident.  The BBC will take the steps to right the ship around ‘Newsnight’ and move on.

To recap quickly:

It turns out that one of the BBC’s leading (and well loved, but now dead) entertainers in the last quarter of the 20th century, Sir (!) Jimmy Savile, was for many years a serial and horrific abuser of many young and vulnerable people who came under his influence. It was extensive. It went on a long time. He was never stopped.

Then, ‘Newsnight’ did a poor job of investigating and communicating about the Savile case.  Compounding the error, ‘Newsnight’ wrongly accused a senior politician of serious sexual abuse in another situation. The newly appointed Director General of the BBC – George Entwhistle – resigned after just a few months in the job. Indignation, blue murder – loss of trust! – pour forth through all the media channels.

Here’s what caused the hullaballoo:

  •  Sheer incompetence – “ Newsnight’s journalism would have disgraced a student newspaper,” wrote one commenter
  • Over-bureaucratic, over-layered management, with diffuse accountability
  • Poor crisis management
  • A public primed to be cynical because of other recent scandals (not just NewsCorp)
  • A tone-deaf full year ‘pay-off’ of £495k to the resigning DG who had only been in the job for a few months
  • Hugely toxic ‘hatred’ of the BBC in some political and media circles that is easily stirred and spoiling for any fight
  • A shift in the dynamics of trust regarding media output. Restraint, rigour, caution, consideration of consequences – these apparently no longer engender trust. With the impact of the social media, trust today means sharing everything you know; transparency replaces judgment.

If that’s all there were, this would be just another scandal, albeit very public. But there is another, deeper level of concern.

Willful, Wishful Denial

What is much less certain is whether the BBC can change a culture that was willfully – perhaps wishfully? – blind to the horrible sexual abuse that took place around some of its programmes for young people. In one of the hospitals where Savile got away with all this, one interlocutor has recently said, ‘ We did wonder whether something was going wrong. But Savile simply pulled in too many funds for anyone to want to do something about it.’

This is a culture that suborns, induces, and nurtures moral blindness.

Margaret Heffernan talks about this in her recent book Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril’ (Walker and Company, 2011). She says:

We are all susceptible to willful blindness, ignoring truths about ourselves, each other and the way we live, that threaten our sense of identity and security…We all succumb to the human tendency to prefer people like ourselves, to readily accept information that confirms our sense of ourselves, and discredit data that doesn’t fit our dominant ideologies. And when people are tired, busy and distracted, it’s clear that the mind falls back on stereotypes and received wisdom.

Think News Corporation, Enron, Lehman Brothers (‘The CEO, Richard Fuld, organised his life to ensure that he never encountered employees unexpectedly’), Bear Stearns (‘The CEO chose not to implement a form of risk analysis that might have revealed how much debt the bank actually carried’) and the Catholic Church (‘When first confronted with the fact of child-abusing priests, the Church chose first of all to take out insurance’).

Heffernan argues that the root cause of our willful blindness is our human instinct to obey authority. ‘Research into conformity shows that most of us would rather give a wrong answer than jeopardise belonging to a group.’

It’s the Culture, Stupid

This is where the really fundamental work lies for the BBC – reshaping a culture that is less prone to willful blindness, and more driven by its values of independence and integrity. This kind of work is not easy.  So perhaps some of Heffernan’s prescriptions might come in handy along the way:

  • Become more aware of our biases
  • Overturn corporate cultures that reward long working hours
  • Actively seek out dissenters in our circle of friends and colleagues
  • Ensure that the powerful surround themselves with independent thinkers and critical allies who have the freedom and moral courage to tell them the truth
  • Re-examine the role of obedience and compliance
  • Teach critical thinking.

This is not the stuff of MBA programs. These are not issues to be solved by technocrats, or lawyers, or business process experts. They are the simple stuff of creating an ethics-friendly culture. Simple, of course, doesn’t mean easy.  But it is – let’s not forget – still simple. Seek the right thing, talk about it, and walk the talk.

How Not to Get a Guest BlogPost Spot

Guest blogging is a valid and potentially powerful strategy for getting your message out and increasing your audience. Danny Iny, for example, teaches people very well how to do it.

But as night follows day, a good social media idea will be jumped on immediately by those seeking low cost high volume.  To wit, a recent example:

Hi There,

I am sure you get pitched on guest posts on a daily basis so I’ll keep this short. I am a long time reader of your blog and have been meaning to contribute – but I held back because I didn’t have a great idea that I think you’ll love.

Well, now I do. I stumbled upon an interesting topic on [topic which I can’t imagine readers of this blog wanting to read].  The article will help your readers become better equipped when dealing with such scenarios. Would you be interested in a guest post about the topic?

Well, at least he capitalized “There,” as in “Hi There.” I hate it when I get lower-cased. (And by the way, this letter was better than most; and, it’s clear his intentions were good. But, that’s not good enough).

People, people, people. How many times must it be said? Fake is fake, and real is real. Stop faking it.

A long-time reader of my blog would have known my name – and taken the time to use it.  (Also, he would have sent it to my email address, readily enough available, rather than to my info@ address).

A long-time reader of my blog would also have some kind of clue about what sort of material is of interest to my readers.

If you want to read someone intelligent about guest-blogging, go read Danny Iny on the subject. He’s good.  And one of the things he’ll tell you is to start with an honest list of names you’d like to guest-post on, and a list of topics you might address.

Only – you have to think about it!

You Actually Have to Think About It

This is where so many fall down. They think blogging, and writing, and thinking, and work in general, consists of punching one shiny object button after another. But it doesn’t – not when it comes to content.

When it comes to content, content matters.  Not fake lame-oh quasi-content, I mean something that is meaningful to the blogger you want to write for.  You can’t just mail it in.

It reminds me of an alleged dating strategy back in college: “Hi, nice to meet you – wanna have sex?”  The theory went, your odds were pretty low, but if you propositioned enough women, you were bound to get lucky.

The problem being, the odds were really, really, really low. And since time and any given college campus are finite, you run the risk of alienating a lot of future interactions by deploying it.  All in all, probably not a great dating strategy.

Nor is this approach to guest posting. If you’re going to offer to guest-post on someone’s blog, for heaven’s sake find out their name, for starters; and do them the simple dignity of thinking through what might actually be useful.

Your odds might get a lot better. And you wouldn’t trash the market on your way through it either.

Financial Advisory Services: Interview with Mark Barnicutt, CEO Highview Financial Group

The term “financial advisor” covers a wide range of activity, from insurance sales to asset manager to broker to financial planner, and many more. Both providers and consumers of financial advisory services are well advised to get some perspective about this business.

To help, I chose to interview Mark Barnicutt, a well-respected member of the industry in Canada. I first heard Mark speak last year, and was impressed with the breadth and common sense nature of his perspective.  With no shortage of issues, I tried to keep it big picture focused.

—————————————————————————————–

Charlie Green: Mark, give us just a bit of background. How do you come by your viewpoint?

Mark Barnicutt: I was the COO for the High Net Worth business of one of Canada’s Banks. I have also been a private banker, an investment counsellor, ran a US SEC-regulated advisory business, and now run Canada’s second largest family wealth/fiduciary management firm. I have an MBA and a CFA.

Charlie: For the non-Canadian readership, how does your experience in Canada compare with that of the US, the UK, and Australia?

Mark: I think that the issues in Canada are the same as those around the world today. With the growing concern amongst many investors about meeting their future funding obligations, many clients are seeking truly independent and objective advice in which client interests are truly placed first and the costing of all services are made fully transparent.

Charlie: Mark, what are the biggest issues facing your business today?

Mark: The biggest is the movement toward fiduciary management, for which we’ve prepared ourselves. It’s happening globally.

Charlie: OK, we can’t avoid definitions. Help us out?

Mark: A Fiduciary Manager (also known as an Outsourced Chief Investment Officer) is a securities registered investment professional who typically has no proprietary investment product to offer clients; instead, their sole focus is on being the architect of client portfolios in order that they truly match each client’s investment objectives and tolerances for risk. The implementation of each portfolio is done through the research & due diligence of specialized money managers, who are contracted through the Fiduciary Manager, for the benefit of clients.  As a result, there is complete objectivity and transparency of advice.

Charlie: Who has been governed by fiduciary standards and who hasn’t? How big a deal is it to change, culturally, for firms who haven’t been?

Mark: As in the United States, the issue of ‘who is’ an investment fiduciary exists in Canada. Typically, those investment professionals who have ‘discretion’ over client portfolios are recognized as investment fiduciaries, while those who do not have discretion – i.e. brokers – are not considered investment fiduciaries and are typically held to a lower standard of care (i.e. Duty of Care).

The cultural issues for firms that have operated under a Duty of Care Standard to move to a Fiduciary one are huge.  It’s a monumental shift – especially for firms who simply ‘sell products’ to clients – as it is a cultural shift that impacts the whole organization when one decides to become an investment fiduciary.

Charlie: You say this is happening globally; is it more evident, or does it have a stronger momentum, in some countries more than others?

Mark:  I understand from studies in recent years (Casey Quirk) that the Outsourced CIO industry is almost a $500 billion industry.  In Canada, it’s much more niche, but those few firms in Canada who are fiduciary managers are experiencing solid growth (according to our anecdotal information) given the ongoing challenges that so many investors are facing today.

Charlie: What’s driving this move? What’s been the customer experience of the financial advisory business over the past 30 years? The past 10?

Mark:  For investors…it’s all about working with someone who will truly place their interests first. They are tired of having ‘investment product’ pitched at them and then watching as the many promises rarely materialize. They are also tired of being gouged for excessive fees, which so many times are not transparent, but often times are embedded in various financial products.

Charlie: What do you see as salient now?

Mark: The objectivity and transparency of advice and services.

Charlie: Let’s stay with customers: what are the biggest misconceptions that customers have about the financial advisory business?

Mark:  They think that just because someone is licensed that they have a legal obligation to place client interests first…say, like a doctor or accountant.  As I mentioned earlier, this is not the case unless they are licensed as a discretionary portfolio manager.

Charlie: Similarly, what are the biggest mistakes you see customers making?

Mark: Because there are so many different types of advisors in the marketplace today, clients really need to do their homework and find advisors who truly want to place their interests first. This is unfortunately easier said than done, but I have met several clients over my career who have developed a deep assessment approach for finding the right advisor for them.  As part of their search process, they’ve spent time researching how a potential advisor would actually manage their assets to meet their unique needs, as well as service them.

Charlie: What is the ultimate, best-case, customer value that a great financial advisor can provide? What does a client gain from a really great financial advisor?

Mark:  Becoming a true advisor/partner with clients in helping them actually reach their various investment goals (which are typically some form of current and/or future consumption) but within each client’s capacity and willingness for risk.

Charlie: Thanks very much for taking time with us to help clarify this emerging issue.

Mark: My pleasure.