Are You Also Selling the Invisible?

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we focus on building the best possible set of features into our products and services and then marketing them.  Yet, there is another and sometimes better way: selling the invisible – features and processes that are not obvious in product design.  

Recently, a client asked why our ADAP Formula (Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations) was so successful. I explained that by looking for visible and invisible factors affecting audience decision-making, we could appeal to whatever we thought was strongest. For instance, when a company selling women’s dressy-dresses tried to think through how to sell itself into a new Private Equity firm, we explained that the prior failure was due to an invisible factor: the buyer’s team consisted only of men. They thought about tuxedos, which can be worn several times; yet women need a fresh dress for every special event.  By re-focusing their attention before even starting the presentation, we had their attention that this was a much larger opportunity than they thought. It worked.

Remember the old advertisement for Dunkin Donuts?  “It’s 4 AM and time to make the donuts”. It focused on an invisible feature – dedication to FRESHNESS.  Note, it didn’t focus on the observable size, flavors, tastes, etc.   When Krispy Kreme was launched, they similarly focused on an invisible feature: the smell of freshness: they piped out of the kitchen into the street the smell of making fresh donuts. It became a craze and helped give them competition directly with Dunkin Donuts.

One of our Vistage members just competed against a bigger company on providing a service. A small part of it required installation of a unit. Using the same kind of “Prefab-design and preparation” that leading home builders now use to save on site-labor-costs, he submitted a bid which included installation in a fraction of the time of the competitor – saving time and money for the client.

As the member and I discuss growth, I realized that his invisible “competitive advantage” in logistics and distribution would make his service capability much more attractive. Indeed, his service which helps companies reduce energy costs on a sustainable basis through monitoring, also allowed companies to control airflow in buildings (which reduces Covid exposure) – which appeals to a much larger audience. 

Think about “invisible” practices you use in your business that can get the attention of prospects and customers. It can be a real true “Competitive Advantage”.

Years ago, I read Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith and incorporated it into my former company, Brilliant Image, a 24/7 presentation service bureau, where most customers could not tolerate late delivery. Since then, I refer to this concept in my marketing courses. While teaching in China the last time, another professor saw me re-reading it and tipped me off to the Youtube video by his wife:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=4HdA924aqbM&ab_channel=ChristineClifford.  

Enjoy!

What Could Innovation Do for Your Company?

As human beings, there’s one set of innovations we’re all waiting for: effective vaccines for Covid-19 and ways to distribute them as quickly as possible.

There’s a second set many of us are thinking about: a system that will enable us to handle the next pandemic a lot better than the one we’re in now. Let’s not be unprepared again!

There’s a third group that the CEOs with whom I work are now talking about: product and process innovations that enable their companies to serve customers better. Helping companies unleash their workers’ creativity and forge innovations has been a special area of interest for me for dozens of years and therefore a subject we discuss in group meetings and executive coaching sessions.

As we have these conversations, I am reminded of a major misconception about innovations: the myth of the lone genius who comes up with an innovation. Instead, the experts remind us that innovations are “cobbled together” by contributions from a number of sources. Henry Ford’s assembly line idea was the product of observations made while watching the meat “disassembly” plants by meat packers, and the replaceable parts concept used in the sewing machine.

In How Breakthroughs Happen: the Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, Andrew Hargadon focuses on this issue by introducing the concept of the “technology broker” – outsiders who specialize in trying to see how a new idea could be commercialized effectively.  We all know stories about companies where people created innovations that never saw the light-of-day as commercial products and/or services. For instance, Xerox’s PARC’s (Palo Alto Research Center) scientists created the GUI (graphic user interface), the mouse, and other technologies; but did nothing with them. It took an outsider – Steve Jobs to see the commercial applications – and then used them to create Apple Computer. Similarly, Spencer Silver, a 3M scientist, discovered an adhesive that stuck lightly and saw no use for it.  Art Fry found a use for it and engaged others (secretaries) to experiment with it – and created 3M’s Post-it Notes. He was the critical “technology broker”.

Who is your technology broker?   If you don’t already have a group of objective, smart business leaders who look at your ideas and, using  their fresh perspectives, give you insights on how it can be adapted  successfully, now is the time to do so

One of unheralded benefits of belonging to Vistage Worldwide is that you have a set of smart, committed leaders who are constantly coming up with new ideas and approaches, sharing them, and getting constructive, objective feedback from members of their local Peer Advisory group and/or the “special interest” networks to which the 23,000 global members belong.
Why not find out for yourself? Vistage offers appropriate leaders an opportunity to experience Vistage meetings virtually. Just contact me for details.  Email Jerry.Cahn@VistageChair.com or call 646-290-7664.

9 Ways to Influence

Leadership involves getting other people to do things you want them to do. In the world of offices, if both of you are in the same space, you can use your physical presence – including body language, voice tonality, etc. to influence people. When you’re not able to use your physical presence – which is increasingly going to happen as we become a distributed workforce, but have a position of authority, you can leverage the powers inherent in the position. If you lack authority you can use other forms of power – such as “expert” power to influence people. 

Today, more than ever, people work with others as team members lacking the physical presence, and often being peers without authority. So, using other forms of influence become increasingly important to people who want to achieve process or outcome goals.  In Becoming a Person of Influence John Maxwell and Jim Dornan identified nine qualities of influence.  The spell out Influence!

  • Integrity – Builds relationships based on trust
  • Nurturing – Cares about people as individuals
  • Faith — Believes in people
  • Listening  – Values what others have to say
  • Understanding – Sees things from others’ point of view
  • Enlarging – Helps others become bigger
  • Navigating – Assists others through difficulties
  • Connecting – Initiates positive relationships
  • Empowering – gives them the power to lead.

Which are your strengths? Which can be strengthened?  Especially in this Covid-19 era, , now is the time to work on these qualities in order to achieve your team’s process and outcome goals.

Don’t Just Present Data, Present for Impact

If you sell a service, product or idea, your goal is to get the audience to take the desired action. You accomplish the goal is you use the right content and format for presenting it; without both, you’re likely to fail.

It starts with content. You and your team searches for the relevant facts, trend data, contextual infographics, inspirational quotes, etc.; then you have to dismiss distractive elements – what’s not essential to making the decision, because with time spans getting shorter, it takes only seconds to lose an audience’s interests. 

For instance, a financial firm was raising money for a new fund. The investor relations specialist who created it identified all the right elements. Yet, the firm was having trouble getting commitments. After noting that it was 42 pages long, one potential investor interrupted her presentation within the first 10 minutes and asked “what was her company’s competitive advantage (CA) in investing the funds for a large ROI. To answer, she searched for the statement and found it – as a footnote on page 21.  It’s unlikely others even saw it.

Kaihan Krippendorff, in OutThink the Competition, gives an example of how important using the right format is. In 2011, Apple needed to make two announcements: (1) that Steve Jobs was taking a permanent leave of absence and (2) Apple’s fourth quarter profits had increased 78% for the prior year.

The challenge is which to present first – that “Apple profits soared” or that “Steve Jobs is leaving”.  

It’s important to note that the actual facts were not key, since Jobs had been overseeing the company for almost all of the year during which the growth took place.

Using Presentation Excellence’s ADAP formula (Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentation), the solution is understanding exactly who the key audience is. In this case, the real audience was the financial market: how would investors immediately react? If they started with profits first, the story would be spun as “a profitable company is now losing its leader” and that would have burst the proud balloon; if profits came second (“Jobs is leaving (but) Apple profits soar”), the focus of the market is on how Apple will work to maintain its highly profitable performance despite Jobs’ leaving.  So the second format was chosen.

Similarly, a private equity firm recently was selling a company that manufactured high-and dresses through retail stores. With retail sales sinking, the buyers’ representatives, all men, focused on retail trends and expected a general trend to affect this product line as well; therefore, no reasonable offers were forthcoming.  At that point, the seller’s representative (a woman) then realized that the men viewed women’s dressy dresses as if they were men’s tuxedos – items that could be used multiple times, creating no urgency to be replaced. (e.g., the father of the bride can wear the same tuxedo; a mother needs a new dress! When she changed the presentation by asking the men how often their wives wear the same dress to a special event, and they all noted the answer was virtually zero, the entire presentation now became about a unique product line and not general retail buying patterns. In this second round, a buyer emerged and bought the company.

The lesson: it’s not the data per se that’s going to close your deal. What matters is the experience and expertise of someone understanding the audience’s mindset and formatting the presentation to resonate and influence that person.  Use outside experts to help you understand the greater context and realign the facts and data to drive the specific audience to make the decision you want!

Build a Sustainable Business Strategy, Today

The economic impact of the pandemic is forcing many companies to change the existing business model and identify one that will enable them to succeed in the (slow) recovery period. Tweaking the old model may not be enough; a new model that takes into account the changes in buying patterns, technology, financial capital and talent availability, may be needed. Marc Emmer, a business strategy/execution expert who shares his expertise with Vistage’s 23,000 members, recently identified a 10 step framework that you may want to use to help you build a strategy you can execute flawlessly now and in the future.

  1. Develop a true vision that will work in the future
  2. Define your competitive advantage in the changing future
  3. Define who are your new target markets, customers, employees,  partners, etc.
  4. Identify what it will take for systematic growth – technology, people, products, services, etc/
  5. Be data-driven when making ongoing decisions; collect the data to do so!
  6. Think long-term for sustainability. 
  7. But expect the need to make changes in this increasingly VUCA world
  8. Keep the door open to new perspectives and ideas
  9. Come prepared; in a virtual world, people have shorter attention spans, so do the homework
  10. Measure your results and make adaptations and corrections to execute flawlessly

As you develop strategies, measure them and execute them, what new patterns do you note that change the processes?   Share them with us.

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