How to Increase Trust in Organizations

Increasing Trust Within Your OrganizationI was grocery shopping Saturday. It was 2PM, 96 degrees out – pretty hot for New Jersey – and I was in the checkout line. The cashier had started sliding my purchases through the register, when suddenly I noticed a bag left over from the customer before me. She had left and gone to her car.

The woman doing the bagging noticed it at the same time. She grabbed the lady’s bag and dashed out into the heat. She was making pretty good time for a woman in her 60s, and we all could see her out the window as she finally caught up, handed over the bag, and started back.

Then the cashier suddenly exclaimed, “Omigosh, she left two other bags as well!” Looking quickly at me and the woman behind me in line, she said, “Will you two please excuse me for just a minute? I’ll be right back.” And she too took off after the forgetful lady, with two bags in tow. She was in her 20s, and made very good time.

It occurred to me I could slide a few groceries over the line and into my bag and escape without paying. (I don’t do such things, but the idea did show up in my mind). Then the elderly woman behind me in line said, “You know, I don’t mind one little bit waiting for someone who’s doing a good deed like that.”  Neither did I, I said, neither did I.

When the cashier and the bagging lady came back, we both complimented them, and they blushed a bit and said thank you. (I sent a complimentary email to ShopRite’s HQ later that night with the store number, employee name and cash register number, all of which were on the receipt).

So my question is: how do you get employees to behave like that? I mean generously, based on principle, willing to take certain risks, confident to act in the moment. How do you keep from getting sullen employees who talk about “career-limiting moves,” who won’t lift a hand or take a risk to help another?

How Do You Induce Values-based Behavior in an Organization?

Earlier that same day, I had the opportunity to briefly visit a Sears store, a Macy’s store, and a Bed Bath and Beyond unit. Sears was awful – employees keeping their distance from customers, 100 feet away, pretending not to notice. Macy’s was a little better, but still sullen, under-staffed, and radiating not-helpfulness.

BB&B was a huge contrast. Several employees, busy doing other things, asked me if they could help. I asked two for help, and they both went out of their way to do so.

How does this happen?

The standard answer in most businesses, I’m afraid, is to focus on the wrong things: typically  incentives, communications, and procedures.

The more I see of business, the more convinced I become that the single most powerful way to create values-based behavior is none of the above – it is to do it yourself, and to talk about it with others.

The Usual Suspects

Incentives appeal to the individual’s rational economic or ego-satisfying needs. Fine and dandy, but if you’re trying to incent selfless behavior, the concept of rewards is just a tad self-contradictory.

There is probably (I’m guessing) more money spent on communications than on any other “solution” to issues of trust, ethical behavior, and customer-focus. Companies love to pronounce their values to their customers, and reinforce them internally in posters, newsletters, and blogs. The problem is, impersonal companies communicating about personal relationships is some kind of category mistake.

And procedures? The whole point of values-based behavior is that the employee extrapolates from principles in the moment. Rehearsing and drilling doesn’t help extrapolate values, it replaces that process with rote memory.

Role Modeling

Think of how we learn from our parents. Think of the sports or public figures we admire (there are still a few). In all cases, we are influenced by what they do – not by what they say they will do, or did do, or wish they’d done.

When it comes to values, I suspect BB&B has leaders in their operations organization who both walk the talk, and talk it too. People who lead by example, and who are convinced that values like customer assistance are valid only if kept sharpened by use.

I suspect Angie the cashier at ShopRite was hired partly because she exhibited values. I suspect that the folks managing her store make a point of being helpful and customer-focused, and engage customers about values like that. I suspect it didn’t occur to her that she shouldn’t take the risk of leaving her cash drawer and my groceries unattended – because her leadership would have trusted their customers and done the same thing – and she knew it.

We have overdone the behavioral, incentives-based, needs-maximizing best practices model of human resources. We have under-estimated the human power of changing humans. After all, the business of relating to other people is personal.

Why We Don’t Trust Companies Part I

"Trust Me" (photo by Nancy Xu)People don’t trust companies very much.

Sure, we trust some companies more than others, and sometimes we trust them more than government (sometimes not), but when you think of someone you trust, a corporation tends not to come first to mind.

There are three simple, powerful, obvious reasons for this – every one of which tends to get ignored by corporations. Who then wonder why they’re not trusted.

Reason 1: Trust is Heavily Personal

Very few companies bother to make a simple distinction – that between trusting and being trusted. It takes both to create trust.

Only people can do trusting. To trust another is an act of will, not of policy or odds-making. Corporations, notwithstanding what Mitt Romney and the US Supreme Court ruled, cannot in any intelligible manner be said to “trust” others. It’s a human thing.  So right there, half of trust can only be done by humans.

The other half, trustworthiness, also applies largely to humans. We might say, “I trust the sun will rise tomorrow,” but when it does, you don’t get much credit for your courageous risk-taking. You may trust Amazon to predict your book preferences, but that doesn’t mean you’d trust Amazon to make sales calls for you or set you up on a date.

Trust is hugely contextual, and the few contexts in which we “trust” a company tend to be very bloodless, relying largely on predictability of behavior. And it doesn’t run deep.

Trust is personal, and companies aren’t. Sorry, companies.

Reason 2: Companies Don’t Understand Trust

I noted above that companies rarely distinguish between something as basic as trusting and being trusted. Therefore, if they score low on trust surveys, they can’t tell whether the solution lies in being more trustworthy, or in being more trusting.

By default, most of them implicitly assume the issue is trustworthiness. This means they completely pass up opportunities to create trust by trusting their stakeholder constituencies, or by valuing the propensity to trust within the organization. Worse, they may even harm trustworthiness by assuming that it requires greater internal controls, thus limiting employees’ ability to be trusting.

Trust is contextual, and companies tend to be very vague about it. Sorry, companies.

Reason 3: Companies Choose Trust Tools Badly

Most companies confuse trust with reputation. They view it as a communications problem, something to be handled by PR, especially in times of crisis. Trust problems are addressed by amping up the messaging.

Most companies, if they think about increasing trust, will instantly phrase the issue in terms of measurement.  How do you measure it, what metrics can be developed to track it, and how do we manage to the metrics?

Most companies, to go along with their metrics, favor processes and policies as a way of increasing trust. We will review this 4 times, no Xs will go out without Ys, we celebrate Q and we will not tolerate Z.

But trust doesn’t work that way. Since trust is personal, it is transmitted largely through character, role-modeling, values, conversations, personal transparency, integrity, constructive confrontation, public praise and shaming, and mutual respect. How many corporate programs can you identify that use those as tools?

The one communications policy that positively affects trust is transparency; yet it is often sacrificed for message control, which predictably reduces trust. Reputation doesn’t drive trust – trust drives reputation, in any sensible time-frame past a fiscal quarter or two.

The measurement of trust is simply not as important an issue as companies make it out to be. We don’t measure love, and love seems to do fine without it; in fact we would be suspicious of people who purport to be able to measure love, much less do it quarterly, monthly and weekly. You do not need to measure trust in order to manage with it – see the list above of how it works.

Finally, policies and procedures are inherently impersonal. Other than creating greater predictability, is it any wonder they don’t affect trust? In fact, if you get enough policies and procedures, it makes everyone confuse compliance with ethics, and you end up with reduced trust.

There are many reasons we might not trust a company, or companies in general. But the biggest reasons are because we’ve defined the problem wrongly at the very outset.

So You Don’t Have Time to Be a Trusted Advisor?

Build Trust In No TimeOne of the more frequent comments I get in talking about being a trusted advisor is this:

“We’d love to practice all the things you talk about, Charlie, we agree with them all.  But, we just don’t have the luxury of the kind of time it takes to get there. There are too many other demands, and we just can’t spare that kind of time.”

True or False: It takes more time to be a true trusted advisor than it takes to do just a very good job of service delivery.

Just to be clear where I stand: that statement is as false as a three dollar bill.

Trust Doesn’t Necessarily Take Time

First of all, the old truism that “trust takes time” isn’t necessarily true. Only one of the four trust equation components necessarily takes time, and that’s reliability – because by definition reliability requires a track record.

The other trustworthiness components – credibility, intimacy, and low self-orientation – can be, and often are, assessed in a few moments.  We all form very strong first impressions of people about whether they are truthful, competent, paying attention to us, of high integrity, and so forth.  Furthermore, we’re generally pretty right in those impressions, or at least we tend not to modify them greatly.

But that’s only about a single instance of trust establishment. Let’s look at trust over time.

Trust Saves Time

The fact that trust can be established quickly is only the beginning. What happens after trust is established?

Most would agree that having a trusting relationship means that things go more quickly from then on; your word is taken as bond; your advice is heeded; processes proceed more quickly; there is less double-checking, and so forth.

So, do the math. Let’s say you’ve got ten interactions with a client, and in the first one, you establish a great deal of trust. The next 9 interactions will proceed more quickly, with deeper results, than if you did the dance of distrust every time you interacted. The aggregate amount of time spent is almost certainly less, not more, in the trustworthy case.  Trust doesn’t require more time, trust saves time.

In other words, even if trust took time up front, the investment is more than paid off in future interactions by a host of benefits. But even that’s not the end.

It’s Trust Quality, not Quantity, that Counts

If you had to invest time to create trust, the ROI created would typically be very positive; it drives lower costs of sales, better time to market, and so forth. But you don’t have to invest much time. Not if you are qualitatively excellent.

Imagine two equally competent and good-willed professionals.  Over the same period of time, one does high quality client work, displays excellence, and offers good value.  The other one does the same – but in addition, becomes highly trusted. If time were the only variable, then this scenario makes no sense – given equal time and equal everything else, they should be equally trusted.

But we all know that scenario is actually quite common – one professional is frequently more trusted than another, often with even less time invested. Why is that?  What are those highly trusted people doing?  Ask yourself that question about the highly trustworthy professionals you know.

Let me suggest they don’t get there by logging more hours – they get there by higher quality trust creation. They are authentic. They take emotional risks. They pay attention. They don’t focus on driving clients toward their own desired outcomes. They go where the conversation takes them. They freely admit their blank spots. Their goal is client service, not account profitability. Their highest calling is to make things better for the client.

They are fearless, humble, generous, curious, and other-oriented.  Those are the qualities that make them trustworthy – not how many basketball games they took the client to.

You don’t have the time to be a trusted advisor? In the aggregate, there may be a positive correlation between high-trust relationships and time spent, but you’d have a hard time convincing me that time caused the trust. In fact, I think it’s more likely that trust drives the length of time.

You don’t get to be a trusted advisor by logging hours. You get there by being more trustworthy. And not only does that not take more time, it actually takes less time.

Don’t let yourself off the trust hook; you can do it with quality, not time.

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.

Boston Trust

Last week, trust was destroyed. Then it was rebuilt.

At least, that’s the party line in all the media and the social buzz channels. But it’s not the whole story. The whole story is, unfortunately, not so good.

Particularized Trust and Generalized Trust

Dr. Eric Uslaner, arguably the world’s leading academic on the subject of trust, makes a key distinction between two types of trust – particularized and general. Particularized trust is experience-based trust in specific things – particular people, or institutions.

Particularized trust is what happens when we experience people to be similar to us. When a runner stopped to aid a race spectator, for example, or when the citizens of Watertown recognized that the police were on their side. This kind of trust is what we hear talked about most in the press. It’s what we mean when we say “trust takes time.” (Which it doesn’t, by the way; but that’s another story).

The other kind of trust – what Uslaner calls generalized trust, or moralistic trust – is the really powerful kind. Uslaner explains:

[Moralistic] trust doesn’t depend upon evidence or experience. It is the belief that we can trust people whom we don’t know and who may be different from ourselves. This is the sort of trust that helps societies solve key problems. It is more based upon our belief that we ought to trust people—the Golden Rule—than our experiences with people we know well and who may look and think like ourselves.

This kind of trust changes only glacially from experience. It is not “destroyed in an instant,” as particularized trust can be destroyed by an instance of betrayal. Generalized trust is gotten from our parents, even our grandparents; it’s handed down with mother’s milk.

When someone says, “You’re way too trusting, you know,” that’s the kind of generalized trust you’re not likely to change just because you get burned once.

The Powers of Trust

For all the print space given particularized trust (e.g. trust in banking is down, trust in government is down, Bostonians are wicked trustworthy), high levels of particularized trust are by no means all positive. The worse experiences people have, the more they are tempted to withdraw into tribal groups, where they experience particularized trust – trust in those who are like them, in shared opposition to those who are not. “We” are not going to let “them” stop us.  Boston Strong is a tribal cry in this sense.

But it is generalized trust that makes for powerful societies, efficient economies, flourishing nations – not the tribal bonds of particularized trust. Uslaner:

…particularized trust as a substitute for generalized trust is a negative for a group.  If a group limits its trust, it results in closed minds, cultures, and economies.

And now we can see the sad trade-off in Boston. The story wasn’t Trust Lost and then Trust Regained. It was a slight, but real, loss in moralistic, generalized trust – with a swap-out for particularized trust. Net net, it’s a loss for society.

For all the tribal celebrations and tales of individual courage and grace, the impact of a dent on generalized trust is negative. It will most likely result in pressure against immigration, not in favor of it. It will most likely result in closed borders, not open; more surveillance, not less; more suspicion, not less; and more enmity of “us” against “them.”

Building Generalized Trust

In Uslaner’s latest book – Segregation and Mistrust – he enlists massive amounts of data to show that diversity doesn’t help or hurt generalized trust – it is integration that helps it, and segregation that hurts it. And our society is becoming more, not less, segregated – in housing, in race, in income, in social groups.

The two largest drivers for greater generalized trust, he notes, are high levels of education and low levels of income inequality. It’s not looking good for either these days. Instead, we’re seeing higher levels of the wrong kind of trust – the tribal bonding of like people, trusting each other in a joint mission to make sure that the “others” don’t win.

Uslaner points out that high-generalized trusting people broadly believe two things: that the world is generally getting better, and that they have control over their own lives.

By contrast, low-generalized trusting people believe the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and it’s “those others” who are conspiring to keep “us” down. It’s a society dominated by that kind of thinking that, in extremis, produces nihilistic, desperate bombers.

Talk of “Winning” against “Others” is not a good omen for the important kind of trust. The legacy of the Boston bombings will be more negative than positive.

 

Half of What You’ve Learned About Sales is Wrong

Maybe you’ve heard the old line, “Half of advertising dollars are wasted – you just don’t know which half.” Something like that is true in sales – except that you’ve got a much better chance of telling which part to keep.

(Many thanks to Chris Downing and Anthony Iannarino for helping develop this thought).

The Challenge

Take this quiz, based on your own business:

1. I think closing is:

  1. obviously critical to selling
  2. one of the more harmful concepts in sales

2. I think cold-calling is:

  1. a tough, but necessary, and improvable process
  2. to be avoided like the plague

3. I think the customer wants:

  1. a clear value proposition
  2. a relationship
  3. a fast, cheap transaction

4. The critical job of sales management is:

  1. motivation
  2. training
  3. supervision

5. Price should be:

  1. mentioned up front
  2. not mentioned until value is established
  3. not talked about between sophisticated people

Now total your scores: Give 1 point for each a), 2 points for b) and 3 points for c). Now add them up. What does it all mean?

Pretty much nothing, I’m afraid.

It. Simply. Depends.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

We all know this, of course.  B2B is not like B2C. Internal customers are not like external customers. Inside sales is not like external sales. High-ticket items are sold differently than low-price point items. Intangible services are not the same as tangible goods.

We know that.  And yet – an enormous amount of sales advice out there doesn’t make the distinctions.  Here are some examples from page 1 results of Google searches on some terms:

15 Ways to Improve your Closing Ratios.  Probably great advice. For someone. Is it great advice for you? Darned if you can tell by reading the article, because it’s addressed universally.

How to Write a Value Proposition. An excellent article, by an excellent organization. But where does it rank in the scale of importance to your business?

When to Quote Price: Useful information in dealing with “be-backs” (i.e. “We’re just not sure, we’ll be back”). But how important are be-backs if you’re selling systems integration projects?

How to Turn a Relationship Into a Sale. Great advice for an industrial paper business; but do I want the counter guy at Dunkin’ Donuts establishing a relationship with me?

And I could go on; and so could you. I didn’t pick bad articles – those are pretty good ones, some of them excellent. But – they don’t explicitly deal with the relevance of the advice to you.

Fitting Your Size

How, then, to figure out what advice to take?  You might start by characterizing your business across several continuums (continua, if you prefer):

For example, draw five lines (one for each characteristic), connecting the two endpoints:

     a. from frequent to infrequent purchases

     b. from high to low price point

     c. from tangible to intangible goods

     d. from high margins to low margins

     e. from transactional to continuing revenue relationships

Then mark the midpoint for each continuum.

Now – for each issue – on which side of the middle does your business fall?

Now ask yourself – what’s the right answer for the other side of the spectrum? And what’s the right answer for my side? How and why do they differ?

========

A little reflection can go a long way.  If you’re a law firm, and you’ve figured out you need sales training (which you probably do), don’t go hiring sales experts from retail B2C businesses. If you’re selling web-hosting services, you may not need the world’s best advice on building deep relationships.

Another way to put this might be: if something doesn’t feel right to you – your gut may be telling you something valid. Have enough courage to at least ask questions about it.

Don’t just do what someone who wrote about selling tells you. Their advice might be in the “other half” of sales advice – the wrong half for you.

It depends. On you.

I’m Selling Hammers, You Look Like a Nail

iStock_000000212423XSmallYou know the old line, “If you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” It means we tend to see the world through our own frames of reference. It’s a good reminder to watch out for unconscious biases.  And in sales, it shows up in a very particular way.

[Trivia tidbit: the hammer/nail line is credited, in Wikipedia, to Abraham Maslow in 1966. But elsewhere, it’s attributed to Bernard Baruch – who died in 1965. Someone’s wrong.]

Hammers and Nails in the Field of Sales

Occasionally you get a salesperson who actually sees a wrench and mistakes it for a nail. But that’s an uninteresting mistake – that’s just incompetence.

A much more frequent occurrence is that once the salesperson sees the wrench, and recognizes it’s not a nail – they leave! They assume that the lack of nails means game over; nothing to see here folks, turn the lights out on your way out the door.

And it seems obvious, right? If you’re selling hammers and you find yourself in a nail salon, you say “whoops” and  ask directions to the hardware store. And you leave.

Because – wrong kind of nails. They’re never going to buy hammers, not from you, not from anyone. Because the only nails here are getting manicured. They…do…not…have…nails.

And in case it’s still not obvious you should leave, sales organizations reinforce it at every step. Don’t waste your precious time. Salesforce efficiency. Ruthlessly prune the lead list and the funnel. Deploy yourself where real nails are to be found. Go where the real nails are. Get out.

A Blinding Flash of the Non-Obvious

In our haste to get out of the nail salon and scramble to a He-Man nail store, we forget one thing. You just passed up a chance to do some high impact marketing.

And it’s easy. You were already there, standing in front of someone who probably buys. There are a hundred things you could have said to the lady at the nail salon:

  • Hey, I noticed your screen doors are getting a little worn – I know someone who fixes that, would you like his number?
  • Well, aren’t I the silly one! Unless, that is, you’re looking for a present for that special man in your life; if you tell me about him, I can tell you what kind of hammer to get him – and believe me, any man loves a new hammer.
  • You know what, as long as I’m here – you got any drawers that are always sticking, maybe an appliance that isn’t working right? I’ve got 10 minutes until my next call, anything I could help you with?
  • Tell me, what kind of ladies come in here, from where? How would I know if my wife would like this salon? What kind of friends should I refer here to you?
  • This is so funny, I was just thinking the other day about nails and nail salons, and they’re actually pretty similar – tell me, what works best for you in finding new customers, and in getting repeat customers?
  • Oh well, that’s my bad sales story of the week. Not so bad, really. How about you? You ever have a bad day in here? What would you say was your worst day in this business?

In other words – engage with and serve the customer in front of you. If you always do that, word will get around. The lady from the nail salon will tell friends, “A funny thing happened today; a guy came in selling hammers, and it turns out he’s really interesting…”

What does it cost you to make an impression? Compare the cost of that impression to a mailing, a phone call, a social media campaign – and then factor in the qualitative impact of that impression.

Sales Goals and Sales Outcomes

So much of what makes sales fail (and give selling a bad name) is thinking that the goal of selling is the sale. And so in single-minded pursuit of your sale, you leave negative impressions or no impressions at all as you bounce around the world – because you leave as soon as your goal is not immediately evident.

The better way to think about it is that the sale is an outcome – a byproduct – a consequence. It’s an outcome of a very different goal – the goal of helping people you run into, including a few who turned out not to be the nails you thought they were.

Don’t pass up a marketing opportunity because of your obsession with the sale. Play the long ball. Make your goal service. And if you do that – the outcomes, the byproducts, the consequences turn out to be at least as much, if not more.

The Five Levels of Customer Focus

iStock_000019257535XSmallOne of the Holy Icons of marketing is the concept of customer focus. It’s almost always used to signify a good thing, and something that is self-evident – that doesn’t require a lot of explanation. Of course, in reality things are a little more shades-of-grey.

Here, then, is a guide for distinguishing between Five Levels of Customer Focus.

1. Target Identification. Also known as the customer focus of a vulture. At this level, customer focus generally means follow the smoke to the fire, find the decision-maker as fast as you can, screen out the low-probability leads. In short, find that target so you can zero in on the bullseye.

2. Target Optimization.  At this level, customer focus means to find the ideal overlap between the customer’s need and your product. Find that need and feed it; find that pain point and pressure it; get the customer slavering for a solution, and pitch your product as the Filler of (that) Need.

3. Target Outreach. Reach out and touch someone the buyer. Get along with them, be friendly. Teach them how to buy, how to sell your product internally, how to be your ally within the customer company. Because that way you get higher share of wallet, higher ROI for the seller, better KPIs. Mo’ money for you, big picture.

4. Target Development.  Customer focus at this level means adding perspective to the customer’s view of their own business, challenging their belief systems, jointly developing product needs for the future and metrics to manage them by. You get longer client retention, lower sales costs, higher ROI for you both.

5. Post-Target Focus.  Get rid of the “target” metaphor entirely. Don’t see customers mainly as sources of profit; they are not means to your end – they too are ends. They are people and organizations with whom you spend time, helping to make them better. By this view, sales and profits are  byproducts – not the goal itself.

This taxonomy is of course arbitrary. You may have one of your own you like better, and that’s fine. In this particular view of things, things get better as you move from 1 to 5.

What do I mean by “better?”  Thanks for asking.

a. The seller’s profit goes up as you move up the scale. This is counter to the knee-jerk reaction that you make more money by being more rapacious.  You don’t, not in anything but the shortest of time-frames and the narrowest view of reputation.

b. The buyer’s profit goes up as well as you move up the scale. At level 1, one plus one equals two (actually less, because rapacious behavior leads to long-term system breakdown). As you move higher, efficiencies go up, effectiveness goes up, trust goes up, and so forth.

c. Economic utility gets maximized. Not only do seller and buyer each make more money, but the total benefit of the system is increased as you move up the scale. Costs go down, quality goes up, employment goes up, suppliers succeed, and so forth.

d. Social utility goes up too – not just economics. The world is generally happier when people get along than when they don’t. Suspicion and pessimism are unfortunate traits in business; trust and optimism are not only their own rewards, but are self-fulfilling prophecies.

Where do you and your business fit on the Customer Focus spectrum?

 

Insecure Egomaniacs

Stern Woman BWIn April 2007, the New Yorker published an article by John Calapinto called The Interpreter. It describes Dan Everett, a linguistic researcher who lived for many years with a remote Amazonian tribe in Brazil, the Parahã.

The Parahã consider their language to be vastly superior to all others, and show no interest in learning other languages. In fact, as far as they’re concerned, nearly anything that isn’t part of their culture is completely un-interesting – planes, movies, radio. They are entirely self-absorbed, in a very profound and fundamental way.

Meanwhile, back in the “civilized” world, the field of linguistics is dominated by the theory of Noam Chomsky, which I won’t attempt to describe except to say it posits a universal characteristic of human propensity to form language. In other words, it says all languages must have this one thing (recursion) in common.

Well, surprise, surprise. The Parahã language, according to Everett, appears to be a counter-example. All attempts at demonstrating recursion fail. Chomsky would appear to be wrong.

But the Chomsky-ites are undeterred. Something must be wrong – wrong with the data, wrong with the researchers, wrong with the methodology. Because something can’t be wrong with the theory.

And so the linguistic theorists are just like the Parahã they study: convinced of the utter un-interesting-ness of the world around them – and blissfully ignorant of the irony.

Self-Centricity

Linguistics is hardly the only example of this self-centricity. We are literally born with it; our world starts off as hardly larger than our mother’s arms. Our view of astronomy was earth-centric until very recently in terms of human development.

To this day, maps of the world tend to be centered around, surprise surprise, the country they’re sold in. China was called the Middle Kingdom. Mutual funds in the US tend to be heavily weighted toward US stocks, while those in the UK are UK-weighted – yet each describes itself as global in view.

So, we think we’re the center of the universe. Let’s call that arrogance.

But arrogance has a helpmate, who often shows up at the same time and place.

Insecurity

We all like to be liked. The need for affiliation runs deep in our species, and not just for propagation. As far back as archaeology can inform us, we have tried to present ourselves to others in the best favorable light. Women wear makeup, men strut. So it goes.

In modern society, this reaches abstract levels. Some develop neurotic obsessions about the likelihood of their newborn offspring getting into Harvard, and nearly all of us are prey to teen-age angst – they like me, they like me not, my life is over.

Truth be told, very few of us ever achieve complete escape velocity from this insecurity. We still channel our inner teen-ager with depressing regularity. The urge to measure our insides by the metric of others’ outsides is powerful.

Insecure Egomaniacs

When self-centricity meets insecurity, we get Insecure Egomaniacs. In my experience, it’s not that some people are IE’s and some not – it’s that we all are IE’s, more or less, at different times. The struggle is to be less of an IE, more often, in more situations.

When we are in our IE phase, we reciprocate like alternating current between worrying that no one notices us, and that everyone is looking at us. We think ‘dance like no one’s watching,’ but we aspire to dance so well that everyone watches. We want to be at the center of the crowd, but we sit in the back row, on the side.

It’s as hard to trust an IE as it is for an IE to trust. Both arrogance and insecurity are a form of alienation, cutting us off from another, and from others. In our IE modes, we see risk everywhere, and can’t bear the thought of intimacy or vulnerability – it would either deflate our arrogance, or frighten our insecurity.  And so we rotate, iterate, prevaricate.

We are not doomed by our IE predilections, not by any means. But that’s another story.

 

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.