HBR: Your Sales Training Is Probably Lackluster. Here’s How to Fix It

Have you ever used NRLA’s Learning Management System (LMS) for online technology training? Do you have your Certified Building Materials Specialist (CBMS) designation? If not, your company may be missing out. Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Frank V. Cespedes and Yuchun Lee:

Your Sales Training Is Probably Lackluster. Here’s How to Fix It

U.S. companies spend over $70 billion annually on training, and an average of $1,459 per salesperson — almost 20 percent more than they spend on workers in all other functions. Yet, when it comes to equipping sales teams with relevant knowledge and skills, the ROI of sales training is disappointing. Studies indicate that participants in traditional curriculum-based training forget more than 80 percent of the information they were taught within 90 days.

As alarming as those numbers are, they shouldn’t come as a surprise if you consider how sales training is usually conducted. On-boarding, for example, is usually a one-off session in which reps are expected to absorb large amounts of information in a limited amount of time. Then, further training is usually limited to new production introductions or annual “kick-off” meetings to set quotas, where reps are flown in, given information and marching orders, and “fired-up” by a motivational speaker or exercise (more hot coals, anyone?). Further, on the off-chance that training is consistent and continuous, reps aren’t usually provided with coaching or given serious performance evaluations during which development (not only compensation) is discussed.

Although curriculum-based training — classroom-type courses typically focused on a selling methodology and activities like time management — has its place, it should only be treated as a foundation.

To increase retention and effectiveness, companies should offer reps additional training at times of need, provide them with access to supplemental material that reinforces what they’ve already been taught, and allow them opportunities to practice their skills in time frames connected to actual buying processes. They can do so by using the same technologies that are “disrupting” their customer-contact activities: videos and mobile apps that reps can view on their devices before, during, and after training initiatives.

In addition to providing reps with easier and timelier access to information, videos and apps improve comprehension when someone hears information, they remember about 10% of it three days later, but, when a picture is added, retention increases to 65%.

Here are some ways to incorporate better technology into training:

Before. Salespeople must learn about strategy and sales tasks at your firm, not only a generic sales methodology. They must learn how other functions affect, and are affected by, selling activities: for example, product management, marketing, pre-sale application support, and post-sale service. They don’t need to know how to do those jobs. But increasingly they do need to know what those jobs are and how they affect customers.

Because of this, on-boarding should be treated as an on-going process, not a one-off event. This can be achieved through a smart combination of on-site and on-demand videos that can be used anytime and anywhere while delivering consistent messages to your reps.

Consider Salesforce Commerce Cloud. To supplement their quarterly “boot camps” for new hires, the company uses a mobile platform to give sales reps access to the most relevant content, product positioning, and messaging. As one new rep testified, the videos quickly brought her up to speed on company messaging and customer stories. As a result, she felt more connected to Sales Commerce Cloud and confident in her corporate knowledge and relevant sales tasks before her start date.

During: In order for reps to develop new behavioral skills, they must practice a behavior multiple times before it becomes comfortable and effective. And it has to be related to a relevant task. If salespeople are motivated by a deal, they’ll be more incentivized to learn. In other words, in order for training to be effective, you’ll need to deliver the content at a time of need.

Technology can help make this happen, allowing reps to continuously learn from mobile content that is customized to their needs. When combined with traditional training, this approach helps reps turn product, market, and selling factoids into coherent narratives and behavioral models.

For example, Pacific Life Insurance Company, which sells insurance, retirement products, and mutual funds to financial advisors via its field wholesalers, uses video coaching. This allows its wholesalers to record their practice pitches and share them with their regional sales managers (RSMs), who give feedback from their mobile devices when and where reps need it. This helps Pacific Life leverage its scarcest resource: face time with advisers.

Additionally, each wholesaler must articulate a positioning statement for a particular investment product via a five-minute video. Regional sales managers then select the best videos and use them as examples of engaging sales presentations. This helps the wholesalers refine, rather than improvise, their presentations, established best practices, and creates consistency. It also builds confidence in reps, increases their competency, and establishes continuous improvement process.

After. Like other professionals, salespeople improve by identifying specific areas where they must improve and then receiving clear feedback on performance. Feedback is crucial to getting people to practice the right things, eliminate bad or outdated habits, set priorities, and clarify accountabilities owned by the rep versus the manager or the firm — all keys to effective sales leadership.

Technology can help extend the reach of good sales managers. Pacific Life, for example, faces an increasingly common challenge: How can sales managers effectively coach a geographically-dispersed salesforce while minimizing time taken out of the field for training? Mobile video coaching has allowed RSMs to coach wholesalers without the need to be in the same time zone. It also enables managers to identify potential weaknesses and improve wholesalers’ message delivery, rather than have them practice on advisers.

 

Unlike many today, we do not intend to oversell the power of technology. Selling is not reducible to a two-minute YouTube video or a 17-minute TED talk, and managers who can’t or won’t do coaching and performance reviews will be ineffective regardless of the technologies they employ. Since companies already spend a ton on sales training, the leverage resides in how you spend that time and money, not how much.

 

 

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2017/06/your-sales-training-is-probably-lackluster-heres-how-to-fix-it

 

KI: How to Maintain Strong Friendships as You Move Through Your Career

How is your relationship with co-workers and colleagues?  Below is a blog from the Kellogg Insight by Neal J. Roese:

How to Maintain Strong Friendships as You Move Through Your Career

What the science of regret says about work–life balance and prioritizing close relationships.

Based on the research and insights of Neal J. Roese

For many on ambitious career paths, long hours—and maybe a relocation or two—are a given. And while those may be good choices, says Neal Roese, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School, keep in mind that if your closest friendships are a casualty of your busy schedule, you will likely come to regret it.

Roese is a leading expert in the science of regret, how to avoid it, and how to use it to make choices that will bring you satisfaction in the long run.

“There’s a tendency to neglect one of the most important aspects of our well-being, which is our connection to others,” says Roese, author of the bookIf Only. “We’re finding that people frequently regret losing these personal connections.”

Nonromantic relationships are particularly susceptible to benign neglect. “We all understand that we need to invest in our relationship with our spouse or partner,” says Roese. “What might be not so obvious is that maintaining close friendships takes effort, too, and that the effort is worth it.”

So what can even the busiest among us do to keep our friends close and our life as regret-free as possible? Roese offers some research-backed strategies.

Know Thyself—and the Limits of Facebook

We all desire security, purpose, romance, partnership, and fulfilling work. Yet when these drives collide—the drive to search for fulfilling work versus, say, a desire to stay connected to the people already around us—we do not always choose what would ultimately have made us happiest.

“People aren’t necessary good at predicting their own emotional reactions to the outcomes of the choices they make,” Roese says. “In retrospect, however, they can see what mattered most.”

And what does matter most? While plenty of professionals have career- and education-related regrets, Roese’s own research finds that some of our most intense regrets have to do with losing touch with friends.

For Roese, this means people should work harder to maintain the relationships that mean the most to them—and not just by liking someone’s vacation photos on Facebook. “What we see is a longing for a close connection,” he says. “In the age of social media, we can call lots of people friends, but what people miss when they’ve lost it is a friend close enough to share intimate life details with. This is common with friendships that were important to people in their twenties and that fall away in their forties or fifties. People in their twenties might not realize how many life forces will push them away from their friends as they get older.”

Put In the Effort

One of the simplest ways to preserve a close friendship is to make a point of keeping it on your schedule.

“As people start getting caught up in work and family life, the first thing to go is the weekly or monthly beer you used to have with your friend,” Roese says.

This tends to be especially tricky for men. There is an interesting gender difference in the literature on how people keep friendships, Roese explains. Women are better at preserving one-on-one connections, known—to social psychologists, anyway—as dyads. “Dyadic connections are a specialty of women,” Roese says, “whereas men tend to be better at forming small groups, such as sports teams. Men need an extra nudge to preserve time for one-on-one friendships.”

“Regret hurts, and so our immediate reaction is often to ignore it. But you might also listen to the signal that’s inside that regret.”

Be Ambitious but Preserve What You Value

But preserving friendships does not necessarily mean limiting one’s ambition or refusing to chase opportunities that might disrupt one’s sense of community. In fact, the literature around regret suggests that risk-takers are rewarded with greater feelings of satisfaction.

“There’s plenty of research to show that when we have an opportunity and take it, we’re less likely to feel regretful, because we’re very good at reconciling ourselves to what unfolds. When we don’t take opportunities, however, we’re haunted by what might have been.”

In one study by Kellogg professor Victoria Medvec, for instance, 83% of respondants named something they had not done as their single most regrettable action over their entire lives.

So it certainly pays to take the opportunities that come along, even if they put you on a slightly itinerant path. The key is finding ways to make personal connections wherever you are, and preserving the ones you value most.

Roese recommends looking beyond workmates and colleagues. “If there’s a way to move to a new city and make friends outside your area of work, that can be more nourishing, in part because if something is going bad at work, you have someone who’s a more sympathetic ear for you. You can share intimate details without giving yourself away.”

“This is where social media really can help—it’s easier than ever to connect to people who share your interests and hobbies,” says Roese.

Reach Out for Needed Perspective

Roese also has advice for how we should rely on the close friendships we have managed to maintain. In addition to connection, he says, close friendships offer much needed perspective. As we reflect on our lives and our accomplishments, our friends can often see more clearly than we can the ways in which we have already succeeded.

“We don’t always do this well,” Roese says. “Too often, we immediately imagine the ideal—what’s the best possible outcome. But we stop there. We don’t take the time to pat ourselves on the back and feel a little bit better about all the great things we did.”

A classic example of this comes from another study by Victorica Medvec. In a paper published after the 1992 Olympic games, she and her coauthors evaluated photos of athletes on the victory podium and found that bronze-medal winners expressed more positive emotions than silver medalists.

“The bronze medalist compares downward and sees how easily they could have missed getting a medal at all, which made them better appreciate what they had actually achieved,” Roese says. “The silver medalist looks upward to missing out on the gold, and so feels a bit worse because of missing out on an ideal outcome ”

When reflecting on our past, and making decisions about the future, using close friends as clear-eyed sounding boards can prevent us from making choices we will later regret.

It’s Never Too Late

And for those who do drift away from their friends—it’s never too late to be in touch. One of Roese’s central insights is that regret is not simply a way to torture oneself on a sleepless night; it can also be an opportunity to change certain behaviors in a reasonable and targeted way.

“Regret hurts,” he says, “and so our immediate reaction is often to ignore it. But you might also listen to the signal that’s inside that regret, and the signal might represent a lesson, or a useful kernel of truth if you crack open the shell. There’s always time to change your behavior.”

 

HBR: How to Improve Your Sales Skills, Even If You’re Not a Salesperson

Do you think selling is a fundamental skill you need in business? Do you think it’s your job to determine what motivates your customer? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Rebecca Knight:

How to Improve Your Sales Skills, Even If You’re Not a Salesperson

At some point in your career, even if you’re not a salesperson, you’re going to have to sell something — whether it’s your idea, your team, or yourself. So how can you improve your sales skills, especially if you don’t pitch people often? What should you focus on first? And what should you do if you lose a sale?

What the Experts Say
Selling has a bad rap, says Thomas Steenburgh, professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. “Very few parents say they want their kids to grow up to be a salesperson,” he says. His MBA students are no different. “Many of them tell me that sales is something they never want to do in their careers.” And yet, he says, “Sales is the most fundamental skill.” Scott Edinger, the founder of Edinger Consulting Group and the author of The Hidden Leader, says that the resistance to sales stems from an “antiquated idea that selling is pushing people to buy something they don’t want, don’t need, or can’t afford.” But that notion is outdated. “Selling is moving somebody else to action,” he says. And that is part and parcel of professional life. “If you look at things you do over the course of your day, from internal meetings with colleagues to clients calls, almost all of your interactions involve some form of selling.” Here’s how to get better at it.

Reflect
Getting comfortable with sales requires an “understanding of what selling is,” says Edinger. Move beyond the used car salesman cliché. “Selling is not about putting undue pressure on and talking incessantly,” all while “wearing a light blue polyester suit,” he says. Rather, selling “is persuading, inspiring, and leading.” Your goal is “to work in collaboration” with a client or colleague “to drive change.” To get into the right mindset, Steenburgh recommends reflecting on your past positive experiences as a customer. “When you think about the best sales interactions you’ve had in your life, it’s almost like the salesperson wasn’t there,” he says. The seller was just “a person who’d taken a genuine interest in your problem and was helping you solve it.”

Put yourself in your counterpart’s shoes
“People buy for two reasons,” says Steenburgh. They either have a business problem that needs to be solved or they have a personal need, such as a desire to move up in the organization” that your idea helps accelerate. It’s your job to figure out your customer’s motivations: “What would it take to get your boss to sign off on a project or to get your clients excited about what you have to offer?” says Edinger. Do your research by talking with the people you’re trying to win over, and others in the know, well in advance of making your proposal. Think about what information you need to uncover. “Be empathetic. Focus on understanding the other party — what they need to accomplish and how they measure success.” This will help you tailor your recommendations.

Plan and practice
Crafting your sales pitch should not be a solo endeavor. Edinger suggests enlisting “a trusted peer or manager” to “role-play” so you can “see what works and what doesn’t.” Your goal is “to understand how the flow of these conversations feels and sounds.” Your colleague can coach you on how you come across and how to improve your delivery. Steenburgh recommends practicing in front of novices. “Talk to someone who is not an expert in the field, such as your grandmother,” he says. “Her questions will help you frame the problem.” Chances are, your first attempt at a pitch will miss the mark. “People spend so much time in their own heads, thinking about their idea, that they fail to draw the connection to how the product will improve someone else’s life,” he says.

Stay calm and don’t brag
Even with meticulous preparation, pitches can go awry. Your adrenaline is surging, so you may end up talking too much or failing to get to the point quickly. There is no easy solution, says Edinger. His advice: “Chill out.” Try to “relax your facial expressions” and keep your body language confident and loose. Check your tone and pacing. “Nobody wants to be lectured. Be respectful” but not overly deferential, he adds. “Establish a peer-level interaction. You’re not begging on bended knee.” Another common problem, says Steenbergh, is “letting your ego get in the way.” Sometimes, you get caught up in “talking about your strengths, and not what your counterpart wants,” he says. “At best, the person gets bored. And worst, it sends a message that you’re [not right] for the job.”

Close the deal
Being good at selling means you both “understand the ‘customer’ and understand the path they need to go through to buy,” says Steenburgh. It’s rare that anyone will immediately bite upon hearing your pitch — no matter how brilliant it is. Your counterpart “might need to assess the financial impact of such a purchase,” review competitors, or check with a higher-up before signing off. Regardless of what that next phase may be, you should “ask permission to move forward.” He recommends saying something like, “Are you ready to take the next step? What else can I do to help you make this decision?” Be “flexible” and willing to brainstorm, says Edinger. Think about ways you can “work together in collaboration to improve a product, service, or idea.” If the answer is no, or not yet, use the opportunity to gently probe. “Is the new idea too threatening? Too difficult? Or too expensive?”

Think long term
Veteran salespeople know it’s possible that “you’re going to fail more than you will succeed,” says Steenburgh. “You just have to have the guts to keep moving forward.” To summon that courage, remind yourself “that it’s not always about you.” Your counterpart has to take many interests into account. Remember, too, that sales is rarely “a one-and-done deal.” If your pitch is unsuccessful, “go back to your target in three months and ask, ‘How’s it going? Are your needs being met?’ If they are, great, but if not,” you may have another shot. “Think about the big picture.”

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Your research. Figure out what’s important to your counterpart and what business problems they’re trying to solve.
  • Role-play your pitch with a trusted colleague and ask for feedback on ways to improve your presentation
  • Ask permission to move forward after your initial pitch by saying something like, “Are you ready to take the next step?”

Don’t:

  • Tense up. Relax your facial expressions and keep your body language loose.
  • Talk too much — and especially don’t brag. Focus on how you can help your counterpart.
  • Beat yourself up if you’re unsuccessful. Think big picture. Stay in touch and look for opportunities to try again.

Case Study #1: Develop an understanding of your customer’s needs, and show empathic concern
Damian Vaughn, head of programs at BetterUp, a San Francisco–based company that connects employees with executive-level coaching, believes that being good at sales means that you understand both the “political and personal element” behind every buying decision.

“You need to be able to connect the dots between [your customer’s] business needs and their personal needs,” says Damian, a former NFL player turned entrepreneur. “And you need to show empathic concern.”

Earlier in his career, Damian worked as a management consultant. He wanted to sell his company’s organizational assessment and leadership development services to “George,” a CEO who had taken the reins of a technology firm poised for a great deal of change.

Before he developed his pitch, Damian did his research. “I needed to get a sense of the broader macroeconomic environment George was operating in,” he says.

He talked to George’s colleagues to develop a deeper understanding of the CEO’s personal motivations. The conversations were illuminating. “George was a seasoned CEO but not a veteran, and this was his first transformation,” he says. “He wanted to deliver business results, but he also had a need for significance. He wanted to prove that he belonged in this orbit.”

In addition, George was eager to connect with his employees. “The people component was really important to him,” Damian says.

He used this information to tailor his pitch to George. It was subtle: “The messaging was that the success we were going to achieve would tie directly back to him,” he says.

Damian also demonstrated how his consulting services would allow George “to engage and collaborate with his employees. I showed him how everyone would feel connected.”

At the beginning of the pitch, Damian provided a brief overview of his company’s services. Then he paused. It was George’s turn to talk. “I listened to George’s vision and intentions,” he says.

After George was done, Damian presented his case. “Our solution was what I’m sure felt like a customized service,” he says. “It was what the business needed and what he wanted.”

George signed on, and the successful engagement lasted about 18 months.

Case Study #2: Learn from mistakes and be willing to collaborate with your customers on a solution
David Neenan, president of international at TransUnion, a consumer credit reporting agency, often attends sales meetings at the C-suite level. “I am not a salesperson, but I have to represent the best of what we do and why it’s relevant,” he says.

Early on, he made mistakes. “I sometimes came in with too many ideas of where we might be helpful, and it overwhelmed the listener,” he says. “I have learned that sales takes discipline and that I need to pick and choose what to talk about once I understand the customer’s problem.”

Other times, “I left regretting that we didn’t make ‘the ask,’ or that we didn’t make it aggressively enough,” he says. Now he knows that the team needs someone in the meeting who is “not afraid to ask the customer to commit to a next step.”

He says he’s picked up a lot from TransUnion’s best salespeople, and from conversations with customers: “A client once said to me, ‘A good salesperson takes you where you want to go. A great salesperson takes you where you need to go,’ and it’s true,” he explains.

A few years ago, David was in a sales meeting with a big bank that wanted to cut its approval process for credit seekers to less than 10 seconds.

“We understood that this was not going to be a quick fix, because we did not have an off-the-shelf solution,” he recalls. “We needed to take a couple of leaps forward and brainstorm with the client to see how we might build a model or framework to solve the issue.”

David enjoys this kind of collaboration. “I work in 30 countries, and I like sharing experiences from other markets by taking what we know works in Market A and applying it to Market B,” he says. “That’s when you start to use the word we, as in ‘We are solving the problem together.’”

David and his team marshaled the internal resources to build a solution for the bank, and it signed with TransUnion.

Ben Franklin’s Third Virtue – Order

In the book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford, he talks about Ben Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. Below is an excerpt from the book about the third virtue:

 

Ben Franklin’s Third Virtue: OrderMessy.jpg

 

Whiling away the long voyage from London to Philadelphia in 1726, a young printer named Benjamin Franklin conceived the notion of a notebook in which he would record systematically his efforts at self-improvement. Franklin aspired to thirteen virtues, including frugality, industry, sincerity, and cleanliness. His plan was to spend a week focusing on a particular virtue, in the hope of making it a habit, before moving to the next virtue, and the next, cycling through the virtues in an unending quest to become a better man. Each day he would reflect on his activities and every failure to live up to his own standards would be commemorated with black mark in his notebook. The custom stuck with him his entire life. Fifty-none years later, while writing his memoirs, Franklin lingered on the merits of his virtue journal longer than on any other topic, reconfirming his commitment to the habit.

Franklin’s aims were ambitious, but his virtue journal was a success: the black spots in the notebook, initially numerous, became scarcer over time. Perhaps this is no surprise, since Franklin had a habit of doing whatever he set out to do. He lived one of the most celebrated lives in history. He charted the Gulf Stream; he invented bifocals, the lightning conductor, and the flexible urinary catheter; he was the first U.S. postmaster general, served as America’s ambassador to France, and was president of Pennsylvania. And, of course, Benjamin Franklin’s signature is on the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Yet the great man had one weakness-or so he thought.

Ben Franklin’s third virtue was: Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. Franklin never mastered this seemingly simple task. “My scheme of ORDER gave me the most trouble,” he wrote in frustration in his memoirs, adding, “my faults in it vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt.”

He was not exaggerating. One scholar wrote, “Strangers who came to see him were amazed to behold papers of the greatest importance scattered in the most careless way over the table and floor.” Franklin’s diary and his home remained chaotic, resisting sixty years of focused effort from one of the most determined men who ever lived. No matter how many disorderly decades passed, Franklin remained convinced that orderliness was an unalloyed virtue: that if only he could fix this deficiency in his character, and become less messy, he would become a more admirable, successful, and productive person.

Franklin was surely deluding himself. It is hard to believe such a rich life could possibly have been made still richer by closer attention to filing papers and tidying up. His error is no surprise. We are tidy-minded people, instinctively admiring order and in denial about the way mess tends to be the inevitable by-product of good things, and is sometimes a good thing in its own right.

What seems more surprising is not Franklin’s error, but his failure to keep his ill-advised resolution. This is a man who did almost everything he set out to do; why is it that he failed on this one occasion? Perhaps he realized, on some unconscious level, that disorderliness was no bar to success. Many of us have yet to make the same realization, in areas that define much of our daily lives: organizing our documents, tasks, and time; looking for love; socializing; raising our kids. Benjamin Franklin’s mistake is a mistake from which we can all learn, every day of our lives.

HBR: How to Make Sure Your Emails Give the Right Impression

Have you thought the way you write emails might affect your reputation? Are you sacrificing quantity for quality in emails? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Shani Harmon.

How to Make Sure Your Emails Give the Right Impression

Given the avalanche of email we receive each year — 121 messages per day, on average — it’s no wonder that we have become somewhat desensitized to its impact on our professional brand. We’ll spend hours polishing our LinkedIn profiles and revising our résumés, but hastily hit send on an unintelligible missive simply because we’re in a rush. “Sent from my device, please overlook typos” is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for shoddy communications.

Have you ever thought about the brand you’re conveying through your emails? You should. Every email you send affects your professional reputation, or brand. Don’t make these all-too-common mistakes in your communication:

Your emails are too long for anyone to digest. Are your messages typically the length of all 12 installments of Crime and Punishment? Do you include all the backstory a reader could ever want to know? While context is critical to guiding the reader’s interpretations, remember that what they need to know is inevitably a subset of everything you could tell them. Given that the adult attention span is a mere eight seconds, it’s important to make every moment count. Get to the point.

You’re including way too many people. Do your Cc habits ensure that a cast of thousands is in the loop? If so, ask yourself who is truly the essential audience for the message. In many organizations, overuse of Cc reflects a political culture in which people cover their tracks by overinclusion. Remember that each message you send contributes to everyone’s inbox, including your own, especially when one of your recipients decides to Reply All.

You’re dashing off incomplete thoughts. While there’s a lot to be said for brevity, there’s a big difference between being concise and being terse. Do you find yourself shooting off one-liners that pick up in the middle of a thought without considering whether the reader can follow the thread? Do you end up with a high volume of clarifying questions in response to your messages? If so, that’s a clue that your emails need more composition and more context.

You’re burying the lede. It shouldn’t take a symbologist to find the important message hidden in your email. Make sure your readers know what the ask is and why they should care about responding. Despite our compulsive relationship with it, responding to email is not a sacred duty. If you want your readers to digest your message, and perhaps even take action on it, make it easy for them to do so.

When it comes to composing an email, I think we could all take a cue from Mark Twain’s writing style: He developed a unique and memorable voice, relentlessly edited himself, and was easy to understand. As he said, “Anybody can have ideas — the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.” Take the time to truly craft your messages, and you’ll find that your results improve accordingly. Sacrifice quantity for quality. Not every email merits your attention.

However, the one characteristic of Twain’s brand that I wouldn’t emulate is his being a curmudgeon. We already have a negativity bias toward email messages. As has been demonstrated in the emerging field of social neuroscience, without the social cues — voice tone, facial expression, and physical gestures — that we rely on to interpret communication, we are prone to conclude the worst. Don’t skip the niceties, or your audience may assume a message that wasn’t intended, and you’ll be forced to do damage control.

The next time you start to write an email, follow a few rules:

  • Use an intuitive subject line that clearly states the purpose of the message. Bonus points if you include a header, e.g., [ACTION] or [INFORM], that helps the reader understand the expected response.
  • Provide a clearly stated request right at the beginning of your email in case your audience fails to read beyond the preview pane. At least you’ll increase the chances that people will understand the essence of your message.
  • Bold the names of anyone who’s been assigned a task or asked a question in the body of the email to increase the likelihood of it getting the needed attention.
  • Take the time to be nice. It will help your audience truly hear what you intended to say.

The next time you’re in your email account, take a closer look at your sent folder. Everything you need to know about your email brand is contained within. If you don’t like what you see, tomorrow is another day. There’s always another chance to shape your email reputation.

 

HBR: Obsess Over Your Customers, Not Your Rivals

“The brands that remove obstacles and encourage progress along their customers’ journeys are the ones that win repeat visits, repeat purchases, and word-of-mouth referrals” Are you removing obstacles in your customers’ journeys? What are your customers’ decision traps, pitfalls, friction spots, and quit points that they frequently encounter on their journeys? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Tara-Nicholle Nelson.

Obsess Over Your Customers, Not Your Rivals

The starting point of most competitive analysis is a question: Who is your competition? That’s because most companies view their competition as another brand, product, or service. But smart leaders and organizations go broader.

The question is not who your competition is but what it is. And the answer is this: Your competition is any and every obstacle your customers encounter along their journeys to solving the human, high-level problems your company exists to solve.

When I led marketing at MyFitnessPal and was asked about our competition, I think people always expected me to rattle off a list of other nutrition-tracking smartphone apps and weight-loss programs.

What I actually said was that we were on a mission to make it easier to live a healthy life than an unhealthy one. So our chief competition was anything that makes it harder to live a healthy life. This included biology (fat tastes good, sugar is delicious, and our brains are wired to want more of both); mindless eating; and the billion-dollar advertising and marketing budgets of companies that make fast food, junk food, and processed food. Our competition was the fact that in many situations healthy food is actually more expensive and less convenient than unhealthy food is.

If we had viewed Weight Watchers as our competition, we probably would have spent a lot of time trying to do what it does, just a little better. Maybe we would have raised money to get more-famous celebrity spokespeople, or tried to come up with some sort of next-generation points system.

Sure, someone in your company needs to understand the marketplace: who your competition is, what other products are on the market, and how they are doing, at a basic level. But there’s a point at which paying attention to other companies and what they’re doing interferes with your team’s ability to immerse itself in the world of your consumer. Focusing on competitive products and companies often leads to “me-too” products, which purport to compete with or iterate on something that customers might not have liked much in the first place.

In my recent study of over 2,000 consumers, over 50% of them said that they use digital and real-world products and content at least three times a week in an effort to achieve their goals around living healthier, wealthier, and wiser. The brands that remove obstacles and encourage progress along their customers’ journeys are the ones that win repeat visits, repeat purchases, and word-of-mouth referrals.

Once you’ve redefined your competition as your customers’ obstacles, it’s relatively easy to stop propagandizing the war with another product or company. Stop setting goals by reference to other companies. Minimize how much meeting time is devoted to talking about rival companies and products. Discourage product design approaches that focus on assessing or iterating on what is already out there.

Instead, reinvest your team’s time and effort. Here’s how.

First, rethink what you sell. Most companies think they sell a product. To transcend strictly one-time, transactional relationships with your customers, your company must think about selling a transformation: a journey from a problematic status quo to the new levels and possibilities that will unfurl after the behavior change you help make happen.

A real-estate search engine might actually “sell” wise decision making, through the process of making the largest transaction their customers will ever make. CVS Health “sells,” well, health.

Next, rethink your customers. They are not just the people who have purchased your product or the people who follow you on Facebook. Your customers are all the people who grapple with the problem your business exists to solve.

Now, focus on their problems. Engage in customer research, online and in the real world, to understand and document their journeys. I don’t mean their customer life cycle with your brand. Map out your (redefined) customer’s journey from having the problem you exist to solve to no longer having that problem. That may be the journey from unhealthy to healthy living, or from being broke to being a good steward of their finances.

One of the most important takeaways from your customer insights research should be a deep understanding of the decision traps, pitfalls, friction spots, and quit points that people frequently encounter on their journeys. Look to user data, surveys, ethnographic research, online listening, subject matter experts, and even third-party data to discover roadblocks. Use this information to do a continuous “competitive analysis”:

  • Understand the obstacles your customers face
  • Learn how and where people get stuck
  • Solve those problems
  • Understand how people overcome the obstacles and get unstuck
  • Understand what stops others from achieving this success
  • Solve those problems
  • And so on

Here’s the “competition” rubric we operated under at MyFitnessPal:

Competition is: Everything that makes it harder for people to live a healthy life rather than an unhealthy one.

More specifically: Biology, food autopilot, the cost of healthy food, the tastiness and convenience of unhealthy food, and everything that makes it hard to build healthy habits such as food tracking and home cooking.

Innovations driven by obstacle-as-competition insight:

  • In-app bar code scanner to make it easy to track packaged foods
  • Massive food database, so users never have to enter nutritional data
  • Social features and challenges for support, accountability, and competition
  • Recipe-logging features for home-cooked meals
  • Content, marketing, and PR campaigns featuring user success stories, advice on making and breaking habits, cost-effective recipes and cooking tutorials, and other messages tailored to remove the frictions commonly encountered on the journey from unhealthy to healthy.

And it’s working. People who have even a single friend on MyFitnessPal lose twice as much weight as people who don’t use the app’s social features. MyFitnessPal users who log home-cooked recipes lose 40% more weight than those who don’t. The bar code scanner and food database are consistently mentioned by users who have lost weight despite having been unsuccessful with all manner of diets before. And over 120 million people worldwide now use the platform.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said, “If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right.” I take this one step further: If you can stay focused on eliminating the obstacles along your customers’ journeys, your company will turn out much more than all right.

JOA: Rethinking Retention

Is your company attracting to quality candidates? Are you hiring for cultural fit? “Employees are always changing, and you can’t assume tomorrow’s will want what today’s do, if you build that nimbleness around how you attract, develop, recruit, promote, and retain, you’re constantly in tune to what your current workforce wants, and then you don’t have to guess.” Retensa’s Chason Hecht said. Below is an article form Journal of Accountancy by Courtney L. Vien:

Rethinking retention

One-size-fits-all initiatives won’t solve your retention problems. The key to retention, according to Retensa’s Chason Hecht, is culture.

Employee retention is — for CPA firms. In fact, according to the 2015 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues survey, retaining staff is the No. 1 concern of firms that employ 11 or more people. In fiscal year 2015, turnover rates reached 13.4% at firms with revenues of over $10 million, the AICPA and CPA.com’s 2016 National Management of an Accounting Practice survey found, up slightly from 2014.

The strong economy is a key reason firms struggle with retention, said Shelly Guzzetta, CPA, manager—Firm Services at the AICPA. “Since the economy has gotten better, people have gotten bolder,” she said. “They feel more comfortable and are willing to take the calculated risk of leaving.” Social media is also a factor, she said, as it’s made it easier for CPAs to find new job opportunities and to get candid opinions on what it’s like to work at different firms.

Given the heavy costs of turnover, it’s no wonder that employers of CPAs are so concerned about retention. When employees leave, their employers must incur the cost of recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training a new employee, and they’ll likely see a drop in productivity as the new hire gets up to speed. Estimates of the cost of turnover vary widely, but one reliable source, the Society for Human Resource Management, calculates that it can cost anywhere from 50% to 60% of an employee’s salary to replace him or

The challenge firms face is that -informed employees in high demand—such as CPAs—know that they have choices about where they work. And they’re looking for more than just a paycheck and good benefits from an employer. According to retention expert Chason Hecht, employees want to work at jobs they find personally fulfilling and where they connect to the culture. To appeal to the best employees, he said, employers need to rethink the way they approach retention.

DEFINE CULTURE, PROMOTE CONNECTION

Conventional wisdom says that Millennials won’t stay loyal to one employer for long. Hecht, president and founder of human resource consulting firm Retensa, sees things differently.

“There’s very little evidence that Millennials lack loyalty,” he said. “What they lack is a tolerance for boredom. They lack a tolerance for discontentment, disengagement, for feeling disconnected from their peers, community, and society.”

What’s more, he said, it’s no longer just Millennials who feel this way. He believes that we’re all undergoing a fundamental shift in the way we view work—and it’s making employees from all generations more likely to leave work they find unsatisfying.

“If you’re not getting fulfilled, if you’re not challenged and engaged, if you’re not doing things that are meaningful and interesting,” Hecht said, “then it’s at this point that you’ll, like most people in modern society, reflect and consider, ‘How long am I going to do this?’ ”

Consequently, employees who are in demand and enjoy a high degree of mobility—such as CPAs—are more likely to leave jobs where they don’t feel engaged and fulfilled.

Yet, too few organizations think about retention in terms of culture and engagement, Hecht said. Instead, he said, what often happens is that organizations look for — solutions to their retention problems. A company will learn about the latest trend in retention—be it unlimited vacation or nap pods in the break room—and implement it without considering whether it’s what staff really wants. Though employees do value such perks, Hecht said, they’ll be a stopgap solution at best if an organization’s staff and its culture are -matched.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF RETENTION STRATEGY

Hecht advised that, instead, organizations should define their values and culture, then attract and retain staff whose passions align with their

Your first step, Hecht said, should be to determine what aspects of your culture set you apart as an organization—”what you provide, where you excel in supporting, engaging, and delivering to your workforce,” he said. For one firm, that might mean a culture that promotes transparency; for another, it might be a sense of being innovative and cutting-. (To read more about how a firm’s culture can inspire retention, see the sidebar “Brown Smith Wallace: Investing in the Whole Employee.”)

To pin down how employees view your culture, and when and how they want to work, Hecht said, continually solicit feedback from them through a variety of means: surveys, performance management data, -ended suggestions, town halls, and the like. The important thing is to do so continually—an annual survey is not enough, he said. (For a different approach to information gathering, see the sidebar “The Stay Interview.”)

“Employees are always changing, and you can’t assume tomorrow’s will want what today’s do,” he said. “If you build that nimbleness around how you attract, develop, recruit, promote, and retain, you’re constantly in tune to what your current workforce wants, and then you don’t have to guess.”

The next step, Hecht said, is to use the data you continually gather to plan ways to give employees what they value at different points during their tenure. “At each stage of the employee life cycle your workforce is either being engaged and appreciated, developing trust in you—or they’re not,” he observed.

Once you understand what it is about your culture that employees value, Hecht said, you can then create opportunities for people to engage with one another that allow for connectedness and -expression. You can create events, social opportunities, and policies that you know will appeal to them, because they’re not being implemented from the top down, he said. That way, you won’t spend a lot of money to send your staff to a pro football game when they don’t really care for sports, for example.

RETENTION STARTS WITH HIRING

Hecht stressed the fact that organizations that want to retain employees need to start by hiring the right ones.

Hire for cultural fit, he said. “Authenticity starts with who you hire and who’s recruited, who’s interviewed, and the filter you create for people who join your organization,” he noted, adding that, naturally, firms in need of help will need to balance cultural fit against their other hiring needs.

Retention is about providing the best client service, but, ultimately, it’s also about finding a balance between maximizing productivity and shaping an organization where your employees want to work. As Hecht pointed out, we spend about a third of our lives at work—so whether we’re happy there matters.

“We win when organizations have the people that want to work there,” he mused. “Can you imagine a country where everybody loves their job and how different that would be?”