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.  


So You Want to be a Great CEO?

So you want to be a great CEO?  You wear lots of hats, but the pandemic increased the importance of one.

Dr. Lawrence King, a speaker for Vistage Worldwide, observed that there are 6 roles a CEO typically fills:

  1. Strategist. You set the future direction of your company through mission, vision and business strategy; company culture; leadership development and alignment of the three essentials.
  2. Ambassador. Meet with your important customers and clients to truly know them
  3. Inventor. Finding your customer’s pain and developing products/services to relieve it.
  4. Coach. Become a teacher, coach and mentor to your direct reports
  5. Investor. Know the market value of your business and strive to grow it.
  6. Student. Professional development is key to both functional expertise & leader skills

When everyone worked in the office, you had the ability to collect information on how to do your job when you “managed by wandering around” (MBWA). One in a while, you may have gone too far by micromanaging someone instead of empowering and facilitating the personal and corporate development of the person.

Mid-pandemic and post-pandemic, CEOs will be leading a distribute workforce, sometimes working at home, sometimes in the office, sometimes in distributed pods. The good news is that it’ll harder to micromanage people; the bad news is that you’ll be spending more time coaching your direct reports and helping them coach their subordinates. You now are being cast for the role of “master-coach”.

When the lockdown began, I had this conversation with the CEOs with whom I have the privilege of working through Vistage Worldwide. Dr. King was scheduled to speak to the group at the time, because I expected many to have new growth challenges during early 2020, and that they could benefit from learning coaching principles – something rarely taught even to business students. Little did I know how important his visit was!

The point is that you now have to spend more time being an effective coach for your direct reports, and model for them how to do it with their staff. Further, you need to help them set best practices and the increasing need for coaching becomes more important to personal and professional development, employee engagement, corporate culture development, and new systems for communication.

As the executive coach/mentor for my members, I share a number of articles and books and role model coaching them during our 1-on-1 monthly sessions when they experience challenges. Here are two to help you: an article from Dr. King, The One-to-One: How to Coach Your Direct Reports and a book titled Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions.  
What are you doing to improve your role as a leader-coach and role-model? Another hidden benefit of Vistage Worldwide is that each CEO has about 12 peers in their local group (which I chair)who provide support on challenges almost immediately. If the issue is complex, and familiarity with the players is less important, you can reach out to the 23,000 global CEOs who use our intranet (MyVistage), to get advice and referrals. Since many are professionals and own firms that specialize in HR and employee engagement, their expertise is invaluable.

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.

Managing the Distributed Workforce

Project Oxygen is the code name for research that Google engaged in for 10 years to figure out what behaviors make for the perfect manager. The goal was to train its leaders in these traits. The research has led to improvements in employee turnover, satisfaction and performance. 

One key finding was that technical skill mattered less than people might think; it’s the emotional-intelligence (EIQ) skills  – the ability to understand and control emotions, both their own and those of others, that mattered more.

Since workers increasingly work from home, office and/or pods, understanding these behaviors may help you manage them better in the current and post-pandemic world.  These are 10 behaviors that effective managers have:

  1. Be a good coach. Guiding teams and sharing insights to enable members to gain experience and grow
  2. Empower teams and not micromanage.  Especially relevant when you can’t manage by wandering around, giving people the freedom to experiment and learn from experience is key.
  3. Create an inclusive team environment, showing concern for well-being and success. This mirrored other studies that the greatest key to team performance was a “psychologically safe” environment.
  4. Be productive and result-oriented. Serve as a role model. 
  5. Be a good communicator.  Knowledge is power. Listen and share information so people know the “why: behind the “what”. 
  6. Support career development and provide constructive feedback. Help people grow professionally. 
  7. Have a clear vision/strategy for the team. Never lose sight of the goal, and your individual role in executing the total team strategy.
  8. Have the technical skills to help advise the team. Understand your people’s jobs, including responsibilities, tasks and challenges.  
  9. Collaborate effectively. See the big picture, not just the “silo responsibilities” and encourage everyone to work for the good of the company
  10. Be a strong decision-maker. Be decisive; learn the facts, consider people’s perspectives and the optional paths to take and then commit to a specific decision.

Google learned that when managers adopted these traits, this generated trust and inspired people to be the best versions of themselves. And that generates top-notch self-management.

Now, look at your management team: how do they rate on these behaviors? What can you do to help them improve – and propel your company to greater performance and satisfaction!

7 Ways to Avoid Common Entrepreneurial Mistakes

We usually think of entrepreneurs as being young adults (e.g., 20-30). In fact, the Kauffman Foundation tracks entrepreneurship, and finds that the largest cohort is older adults approaching traditional retirement age. (Not surprising, when you realize that many are SharExers, people who like to share their experiences and expertise, have identified market needs, and have the time and resources to start a company.)

Regardless of your age, as a rookie, there are mistakes entrepreneurs are likely to make. Arlen Meyers shared some in “Business Model Rookie Mistakes”. Here are a few mistakes that you want to avoid:

  • Going after too many customer segments
  • Defining an industry segment, not a customer archetype or persona that you can clearly identify
  • Creating a value proposition that focuses on features and technology, not benefits for specific  personas
  • Not quantifying the customer pain and what they would be willing to pay to get rid of it
  • Grossly underestimating the barriers to adoption and penetration and the journey needed to go from early adopters to mass usage.
  • Not appreciating the cost of customer acquisition in each market, particularly when there are incumbents
  • Not planning on how to keep and grow customers once you get them

He notes that you also have to address your own role as the company scales up. As the company evolves, you need to work on the business, not just in it, or you become the bottleneck to growth.  That means planning for plateaus where you can turn to new hiring, outsourcing, automation, new distribution channels, etc. which will support the larger company.

One way to help avoid such mistakes is to become part of a peer-advisory-group of other company leaders, and use a network of professionals to ensure use of resources. Consider Vistage Worldwide, where new members grow 2-3 faster than their competitors because they seek out ways to avoid being blindsided and making mistakes.  See Vi-NY.com for more information.

Are You Promoting the Wrong People?

You’ve probably heard of the “Peter Principle”: the concept developed by Laurence J. Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their "level of incompetence". 

The classic application is promoting our top salesman to a Sales Director job as a reward for being such a great sales hunter. In truth the person’s failure is because the new position requires different skills (administration, management, recordkeeping) than those being displayed (understanding customers and meeting their needs).

Bernard Coleman recently observed other scenarios in which we promote people to new positions for the wrong reasons – with dangerous consequences. In The 4 Worst Leadership Mistakes, he discusses four types of  'perceived leadership': when we elevate someone to leadership levels because they came up with something cool. We “canonize inventiveness and conflate it with leadership.” 

The four mistakes he notes are:

1. The Untrustworthy Leader – Without trust, everything erodes – consumer confidence, employee morale, innovation is stifled — all because the leader can't be trusted. 

2. The 60,000 Foot Leader – Don’t look at people as numbers, human capital.  Employees aren't chattel or beans to be counted, they are people and they are complex. Leaders need to see their people as they see their customers — with value.
3. The Soloist – They take all credit but none of the responsibility.  Real leadership is 360 ownership of wins and losses.  

4. The Blocker- This person inhibits progress. With a bias for why, instead of why not, they stymie people.  

Real leaders lead, create opportunity, share the credit and make sure the team becomes better in the process.  What do you think? Share your thoughts

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