How to Make Better Decisions

Making good decisions is a crucial life skill and a defining component of success in life and business but so many times we wonder what the best course of action might be. Theoretically, we make decisions after evaluating the available information, weighing the potential impact of our actions (or inaction) and determining what appears to be the best option. But truth be told, we rarely have all the information that could guide us as we decide and as a result, decision-making is loaded with unknowns. Not only that, our perception of the best course of action is inevitably shaped by our past experiences and personal biases.

Fortunately, methods exist that have been designed to limit some percentage of the unknowns and biases inherent in decision-making. One approach, a type of strategic planning known as scenario planning, has been attributed to 1950s era executives at the RAND Corporation.

In its most simplified form, scenario planning involves imagining three possible future environments for each decision alternative: a future where things get better, a future where things get worse and a future where they stay about the same. Scenario planning also allows decision-makers to factor in variables: what you know, what you don’t know and what you don’t know you don’t know.

Scenario planning requires decision-makers (and strategic planning teams) to think outside the box and imagine what might happen if a certain road is taken and then create a story line that “paints a picture” of what your life or business will look like while on that road.

When faced with an important decision, we all tell ourselves a story that describes an idealized version of what our life will look like if we do (or avoid) a certain thing. For example, if you’re thinking of changing careers, you tell yourself a story of how much more satisfying and/or lucrative work will become if you make the change. If you’re considering a move to a warmer climate because you’ve had enough of winter, your story focuses on the avoidance of snow and ice and the warm, soft breezes that await in the new location.

If you include a scenario planning exercise in your decision process, you’ll be encouraged to fill in a few more potentially relevant details that go beyond the rosy picture that you paint as you daydream about new possibilities. If you’re seriously considering a job change, scenario planning will guide you to fully investigate, among other things, the credentials or professional experience you must earn to successfully change careers and how much time and money that will cost you. The ROI of the career change is another component you’ll examine as you objectively evaluate your likely job prospects and reasonable expectations for professional advancement and earning ability.

In addition to scenario planning, there is also a clever decision-making support tactic called the “pre-mortem” that was developed by psychologist Gary Klein, Ph.D. and his team in 1989. Inspired by the post mortem, when a coroner or hospital pathologist performs an autopsy on the deceased to determine the cause of death, Klein’s pre-mortem technique flips the script. “Our exercise,” Dr. Klein explains, “is to ask decision-makers to imagine that it is months into the future and that their plan has been carried out—-and it has failed. That is all they know; they have to explain why they think it failed.”

So you think you want to move to Florida? OK, so you move down in early November, just ahead of winter. You’ve got no snow to shovel and that’s a relief. But there are alligators on the golf course and you know, those things eat pets and people. You’ve been down there for 8 months and you’ve had to call an exterminator 3 times because there are these scary bugs crawling through your house. Not only that, but Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas when the temperature was 80 degrees. Oh, and in the winter everyone you know begged to stay with you for a week so they could escape the snow and ice but you were in no mood to entertain people because your vacation is scheduled for August. Maybe this move was not the greatest choice? The pre-mortem will make you think about many potential downsides to your decision and help you understand if you can live with the fallout.

Klein attests that the pre-mortem has proved to be a much more effective way to recognize the lurking flaws in a decision. Magical thinking, from groupthink to confirmation bias, blinds us to potential pitfalls once we’ve become attached to a decision. By forcing ourselves to imagine scenarios where a decision turned out to be disastrous, we can discover the holes in the plan.

Eventually you must pull the trigger and commit to a decision. In some cases, working through the initial phases of decision-making will lead to an obvious choice. But if a decision you can accept still seems unattainable, the final phase can be completed with an old-school pros and cons list. What have you got to lose?

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Image: Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848 – May 8, 1903) detail of “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (1978-98) courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Exercise Leadership in the New Year

Physically fit people are in general healthier, smarter,  physically and psychologically stronger,  younger looking, less stressed,  more disciplined and more focused than their sedentary peers,  according to medical researchers and exercise physiologists. These attributes benefit all of us and they in particular serve Freelance consultants and business owners very well.

The tangible and intangible benefits of exercise are directly transferrable to our business lives,  for what a successful Freelance consultant must be is calm,  disciplined, focused, resourceful and prepared to overcome challenges, seize opportunities and deliver excellent results every time.

Because the self-employed typically have more control over our schedules that should make it easier to begin and maintain a regular exercise regimen.  Researchers recommend that to achieve the  best results of an exercise regimen,  we should aim to get at least 45 minutes of weight lifting, cardio, core training and/or yoga at least four times per week.

Surfer and CEO of Manhead Merch, Chris Cornell, shared a few reasons for making the sport  (that is, physical fitness regimen) of surfing part of his life and business strategy.

Better perspective

As we go through life, we are eventually able to view challenges in a more balanced way.  What appeared to be a life-altering crisis at age 21 is all in a day’s work by the time we turn 35.  Because working out regularly makes us physically and psychologically stronger,  it prepares its practitioners to fight stress and fatigue.  “Working out serves as a life balance and centering point for me,” according to Cornell.

More creative

In Cornell’s experience he has observed that “Working out while being alone with your thoughts enhances creative awareness. You are more mentally sharp and physically settled at the same time”, he notes.

I’m not the most creative person that you’ll meet,  yet most of my clients , colleagues and friends I believe would consider me to be resourceful.  As a matter of fact,  during my work outs (and especially, in the post-work out shower) solutions to vexing problems have come to me.

Improved decision-making

Those who work out regularly learn to listen to their bodies and their intuition and they are able to figure out what is and is not good for them. They eventually  learn when to work through a problem, or when to walk away, for that is what is encountered in the gym.

Am I too tired to continue this workout? Am I injured and should I do a light work out, or take a few days off and make an appointment to see a chiropractor or an orthopedic surgeon? Decision fatigue and general indecision is diminished.

Perseverance

Formidable challenges await in the gym and in the business arena. In the gym,  one learns to dig deep and push through the challenges.  As you train to do this physically,  you also train to do it psychologically. Working out makes us stronger and more resilient. It is a confidence booster, as studies have shown. One develops the mental strength to face down onerous tasks and take them on with everything you’ve got.

If you regularly visit your local gym and/or participate in a sport,  you have experienced and appreciate the numerous benefits of exercise.  If you are among the 80% of Americans who is sedentary,  why not rethink your strategy and view your exercise regimen as an activity that confers competitive advantages?

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 Sample Customer Survey Questions

In numerous posts over the years,  I’ve recommended that you conduct customer service surveys to guide your decision-making as you refresh your brand,  update your business model,  promote client retention,  stimulate referrals or initiate any other changes in your business practices.  Customer surveys can unearth all sorts of interesting and actionable data.  A dozen well-written questions can  give revealing insights into what drives the need for your services,  what persuades decision-makers to choose you instead of a competitor and customer expectations that may not be immediately apparent.  Surveys help you learn how your operation stacks up against the competition and can identify business strengths and weaknesses.

To give you inspiration,  I hereby provide a few sample questions.  Send your customer survey along with the final invoice of a project.  Include it on your website,  Facebook, Google + or LinkedIn page.  Announce it on your Twitter feed.

  1. What service did (the company) provide for you?
  2. What factors made you decide to hire (the company) for this project?
  3. Do you feel that your project contact/manager acted in your best interests and your organization’s?
  4. How closely did (the company) adhere to the agreed-upon project timeline?
  5. Do you feel that your project contact/manager responded to your requests for information and other inquiries in a timely fashion?
  6. Considering the value of this project to your organization,  how do you feel about the amount paid as compared to the value received?
  7. If you feel that you received poor value,  please describe the problem (s).  How do you feel about the process of providing resolution?
  8. Would you be willing to invite (the company) to work with you on another project?
  9. Are there additional services that you wish (the company) would provide?
  10. How often do you typically hire outside project-specific workers?
  11. Based on the experience of working with (the company) would you be willing to recommend to a friend or colleague?
  12. Do you have any suggestions for improving the services provided,  or related administrative matters?

Thank you for your feedback. Your honest opinions are sincerely appreciated.

A big part of growing a successful business is through referrals and repeat business.  Clients only return to you or recommend your services when they are extremely satisfied with your performance and have a high degree of confidence in your operation.  Your clients possess a wealth of information that may not only give you the opportunity to bring solutions to their problems and increase your revenues as a result,  but may also give you ideas about how you might attract new business.  The only way to access this information is to ask your clients and listen to their answers.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Howdy, Partner!

It is said that two heads are better than one and that is often true.  When two people join forces to work on an important goal,  expertise and resources are shared and the goal is reached more quickly.  Moreover,  there is someone available to help make decisions,  someone to vent frustrations and celebrate victories with.  Human beings are social animals.  Most of us have an intimate partner in our life,  or would like one.   Many aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs would like to have a partner in their enterprise,  as well.

A life or business partner can bring many advantages to a relationship,  or can bring disaster.   Most business partnerships fail and nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce.  Your marriage partner and your business partner must each be chosen with care and an eye to the future.  Opposites may attract,  but they are usually unsustainable affairs.  Shared values,  goals,  priorities,  expectations,  vision for the enterprise and complementary skills are the ties that bind.

Before you start talking partnership with your presumed intended,  catalogue the resources that the business needs to reach and sustain profitability.  Consider what you are willing to give up to obtain those resources.  If you need start-up or expansion capital,  approaching a lending institution may be the best strategy.  If your financial projections indicate that business revenues generated will allow you to repay the borrowed money within 5 years and also your credit is good,  talk to your accountant and banker and figure out a loan strategy.  If specific expertise is what the business needs,  then write-up job specs and hire employees.

If money is the primary issue and you prefer to finance privately,  then some form of partnership is your money-raising strategy.  Calculate the optimal amount of capital investment required and ask your accountant or business attorney to estimate how much ownership you will likely have to relinquish to your investing partner.   If it appears that you cannot afford to keep at least 51%,   then consider taking on two partners and giving yourself controlling interest.  Never split 50 – 50,  to avoid becoming deadlocked on important decisions.  In my business plan writing workshop,  I emphasize that you have to know yourself when you’re in business.  Think objectively about how much of a presence of others in your business you can tolerate.  Your personality type may lead you to seek a limited or silent partner arrangement,  a partner who mostly wants to make money and believes in your ability to operate the business wisely.

However,  you may conclude that you need a general partner,  one who makes both a monetary investment and contributes expertise and business acumen.   You will then have to accept that there is more than one way to view challenges,  opportunities and risks and that decision-making will be shared.   Those realities are always big adjustments for the founding partner.  Additionally,  you and the partner must carve out your respective roles and responsibilities in the business.  Be sure also to address the amount of time the partner plans to contribute weekly.  Can you live with that?  The division of labor must be established and written into the partner agreement.   Check also the presumed partner’s financial history.   Do not form a partnership with one who carries heavy debt.

Finally,  include an exit strategy in the partner agreement.  Sometimes things don’t work out and someone wants out.  Protect the business and yourself with a partner buy-out option and provisions for the divorce,  illness,  or death of a partner.  Make sure you don’t wind up in business with an ex-spouse,  surviving spouse,  or the partner’s children.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Self -Discipline, the Secret of Your Success

How do you build a successful life and business? Good fortune helps tremendously,  but it is possible to if not actually create your own good luck,  then create the drive needed to build the best life possible.  Business coach and strategy consultant Dan Kennedy advises that we develop self-discipline.  To help our understanding of the concept, he breaks self-discipline into four parts:

Will power

Will power is the core of self-discipline.  It’s like a muscle and if we want to develop that muscle and ascend to self-discipline,  then practice is required.  As with running or weight lifting,  start small and gradually build to more challenging work.   Making yourself vacuum and do laundry could be a good place to start,  if those tasks bring out avoidance behavior in you.   Speaking of exercise,  scheduling and completing a certain number of weekly workouts is another way to simultaneously build our will power and physical muscles.   Set up a rewards program when important milestones are achieved.  Massages and facials are nice relaxing gifts to yourself.

Awareness

Value and respect time and boundaries,  your own and that of others.  Cease immediately selfish and controlling behavior.  Appreciate that everyone has responsibilities that very likely must be completed within a certain time frame.  Calculate  in realistic terms how long it will take you to travel from point A to point B,  for example,  and give yourself the appropriate time to reach your destination at the appointed hour.  The pay-off to your reputation will be significant.

Decision

Kennedy notes that all achievement is fueled by decision-making.  If we acknowledge our priorities and then decide to make those priorities a reality,  then we will do what is necessary to ensure their creation and sustainability.   Self-discipline is integral to decision-making.  Refusing to exercise self-discipline has deleterious consequences.

Should we decide to not decide,  we table decision-making indefinitely and never become a responsible and productive adult.  If we are paralyzed by the process of decision-making,  we become trapped in a vortex and squander all opportunities to utilize or attract good fortune.  Such an individual becomes a wastrel.  Decision-making is goal setting and all self-disciplined individuals identify and pursue goals.

Action

Kennedy points to three kinds of action,  which I interpret as an arc: planning,  implementation and completion.  Once the decision is made,  a plan is then created,  to give yourself a road map and timetable to bring your goal into reality.  In business,  one would think strategy and action planning.  Next,   implement your plan and see it through to completion,  making any necessary adjustments along the way.

This is the point at which self-discipline becomes essential.   As we all know,   many initiatives are begun with great enthusiasm,  but not all are completed.  Give your self-discipline a fighting chance and set SMART goals for yourself:  specific,  measurable,  attainable,  relevant and timely and then create a strategy and action plans that make achievement of your goals a likely possibility.  If you anticipate obstacles,   build into your strategy a way to overcome them.

Self-discipline is the foundation of a successful life and it brings many rewards,  not the least of which is integrity and authenticity.  I would consider those attributes to be the most desirable personal brand.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year,

Kim

Leadership Starter Kit

Christmas Season notwithstanding,  I am busy this December and it feels so good! Catch my act on Wednesday December 4,  when Dalya Massachi of  “Writing Wednesdays” and I talk about the benefits derived when nonprofit leaders write a business plan for their organization.  3:00 PM EST,  2:00 PM CST,  1:00 PM MST,  12:00 PST. FREE! Register at http://www.writingtomakeadifference.com/writing-wednesdays

Readers in the Boston area may want to direct clients who are leaders at nonprofit organizations to get essential how-to information on business plan writing at my popular workshop “Become Your Own Boss: Effective Business Plan Writing”.  We’ll meet on three consecutive Wednesdays,  December 4, 11 & 18  5:30 PM – 7:30 PM at Boston Center for Adult Education 122 Arlington Street Boston 02116. Register at  http://bit.ly/1bP4uw9  or call 617.267.4430 class ID# 10190.

Congratulations,  you have been named project leader of a prestigious assignment.  You are thrilled to the gills,  but also apprehensive.  You have practical experience,  creativity and enthusiasm,  but you are not quite accustomed to such a front-and-center role.

You’ve scheduled a meeting to bring everyone together for the project kick-off,  where roles and responsibilities will be discussed,  timelines established,  milestones identified and important success factors and potential stumbling blocks will be acknowledged.  You know this is where you establish your bona fides and stake out your claim as the leader.  You are in charge and ideally you will project good natured authority and not arrogance or insecurity.  You are 20 years younger than several project team members.  How do you get this right ?

Introduce yourself

Welcome the team and thank them for participating on the project.  Express that you are very happy to work with such a talented and experienced group of professionals.  Without bragging,  state your professional experience as it relates to the project,  to let the group know that you are qualified and that they have every reason to trust your judgment and expertise.

Team introductions

Invite team members to participate in the standard round robin of introductions.

Confirm the project deliverables and due dates

Establish the expectations and begin to assign roles and responsibilities,  milestones and timelines.  Encourage team members to have a say in this process,  as they know more than you about how departments interact,  unspoken protocols and overall how to get things done.  Be secure enough to accept their suggestions,  as it will promote your credibility and earn you respect.

Ask questions

Pose questions that allow team members to contribute to the decision-making process and telegraph that you value their expertise.  Let team members share their knowledge.  Avoid being a know-it-all.

Listen carefully

Make team members feel heard and you will earn their confidence,  respect and loyalty.

Be humble

Team members must believe that you are qualified to lead the project,  but take care to portray yourself as a team player and a leader who wants to make everyone involved look successful.

Be empowering

Champion good ideas that are presented by team members,  and not just your own perspectives,  and you will build the team’s enthusiasm for and commitment to the project.  Respect and value the perspectives and recommendations that deep experience and long tenure bring.  Some ideas may fall by the wayside when explored in detail and others may turn out to be brilliant. Your tenured team members have the ability to make the project successful. Whatever happens,  empowering team members builds respect and loyalty and makes you look like (and be) a good leader. Remember also to be publicly generous with compliments.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving,

Kim

Intermediate Expert  Ezine Articles

Ezine Articles Intermediate Expert

To Work For a Nonprofit Board

Not-for-profit organizations make up the majority of my client list.  Frequently,  it is the executive board and not the executive director who contracts for my services.  Getting hired by an executive board is nearly always a challenge.  Typically,  a dozen  (or perhaps nearly twice that number)  people must approve both the proposed project and the service provider (me!).

Boards are always political and they are frequently hotbeds of strife and rivalries.  I have first-hand knowledge of board dynamics because for the better part of the past 20 years,  I’ve served on boards.  Board service can be tremendously rewarding or maddeningly frustrating.  I’ve experienced some of my most exhilarating victories and most painful defeats while serving on boards.  Through boards,  I’ve made good friends with whom I remain in contact and unfortunately,  more than a couple of lifelong enemies.  I understand boards very well.  In fact,  board development is a service that I offer to clients.

The problem with working on a per-project basis is that organizations are chronically understaffed and over-loaded with work,  both essential and ridiculous-but-required.  It is very easy to put anything that is not immediately urgent on the back burner forever.  The best way to get a project approved is to gain the confidence of a champion,  a person with authority and a budget,  or someone who can influence the one with the authority and budget,  and convince that individual to shepherd your project through the decision-making process and protect it from the inevitable naysayers who will oppose the project for reasons either understandable or mystifying.

Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures in Los Angeles has compiled a list of the usual suspects who impact group decisions.  In addition to the players listed,  there will also be neutral people,  who can go either way.

Champion

The project champion is its greatest supporter.  This individual has oftentimes conceived the project and has a big stake in seeing it realized.   The most effective project champion has authority,  persuasive power,  well-positioned allies and access to funding.  The champion takes an active role in pushing the project forward,  lobbying for support and outmaneuvering those in opposition.  Any initiative that involves a group decision will die in committee without the support of an influential and active champion who will run interference and speak up to defend it.

Expert

Decision-makers often have someone who acts as the  “expert witness”  when important matters are evaluated.  This person may have a background that allows him/her to know well the specific needs of a project,  which guides the choice of who is hired.  Alternatively,  the expert may be one who has excellent judgment or a gift for playing devil’s advocate that helps the decision-makers see obstacles or even other options that might otherwise be overlooked.  This person has influence,  not authority,  but their recommendation carries weight.

Influencer

The influencer probably does not possess the specific project knowledge of the expert,  but  he/she is a peer who has knowledge,   experience,  perspective and authority that the decision-makers respect.   He/she will be consulted or may volunteer an opinion when an important matter is up for discussion.

Sage

This person has significant tenure with the organization,  understands its core values and is generally respected by others.  He/she knows how things work and how to get things done.  The sage can be very helpful to you during the approval process.  He/she has valuable information that can be shared,  if you portray yourself as someone who cares about the organization and shows him/her some respect.  The sage can tell you who’s who on the decision team.  The sage usually cannot directly impact the decision process.

Enemy

This person hates you and aims to derail the project and get you off the premises.  He/she may be a rival of the champion.  He/she may be competing to scoop the funding for a project of his/her own.  The enemy may believe that the project is a waste of organization resources.   Sometimes the enemy doesn’t want you to do the project because he/she is angling to get a friend or relative hired.

Blocker

This person cannot approve the project,  but is happy to act as a spoiler.  He/she may not be able to prevent the project’s approval,  but will do whatever possible to delay the start date,  limit the scope and as a result,  impact your billable hours,  and/or generally catch the project up in red tape.  This person is not necessarily evil and may not actually hate you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Your Brilliant Idea, the Set-up and the Pitch

You envision a project concept that has the potential to significantly benefit both you and a particular organization.  You wrangle a meeting with either the decision-maker or one who has influence.  Convincingly,  you show that the proposed project will add money or prestige to the organization and that you are uniquely qualified to put the plan in motion and make it work.  You are invited to submit a formal proposal and you see dollar signs twinkling for all concerned.  Needless to say you are stunned when the proposal,  which you perceived to be a confirmation letter since you received the decision-maker’s unqualified invitation to submit,  is shot down.  What the heck happened?

Kimberly Elsbach,  associate professor of management at University of California / Davis,  has done research that shows it’s not only the perceived value of the project that is at issue,  but also the perceived value of the seller—you. According to Elsbach,  the decision-maker makes a judgment about your ability to generate a genuinely creative and beneficial idea and that prejudgment diminishes its perceived value.

Elsbach reached this conclusion when she studied the Hollywood film industry,  where filmmakers regularly  “pitch”  movie concepts to studio executives.  She also attended meetings where entrepreneurs pitch business concepts to venture capital investors,  yet another venue where brilliant ideas are proposed to those with the potential to fund them.

Elsbach emphasized that there are no reliable criteria on which to base creative potential,  so decision-makers rely on purely subjective and often inaccurate evaluation stereotypes,  which kick in very early in the pitch meeting.  From that point on the decision is made,  no matter what they tell you.

However,  Elsbach discovered that there is sometimes a way to redeem oneself.  The trick is to make the decision-maker feel that s/he is participating in an idea’s development.  In other words,  rather than bringing it in all wrapped up in a red ribbon,  showing that you’ve thought things through and you’re basically ready for the roll-out,  devise something for your decision-maker to do to feel needed and  important.  Make the decision-maker feel like a creative collaborator.

First,  set the stage and gain the decision-maker’s empathy by finding common ground or perspective.  If you’ve worked with this person before,  then mention some shared memory of mutual success.  “How is that program going these days?  I so enjoyed working on that project.  It is great to know that your customers have responded well…”  If you’ve not worked with this person previously,  go to their LinkedIn profile and look for common ground there.  After the greeting and other pleasantries,  slip into a shared experience or perspectives story,  whether it’s a project you did for him/her,  or an accidentally-on-purpose reference to a company that the two of you worked at  (“So you worked there, too? I remember the days…”)

Second,  when you segue into pitching your proposal,  show the proper level of excitement and passion.  Moreover,  resist the temptation of being so thorough that you don’t give your decision-maker,  who has an ego,  a chance to put their hands in it and impact the project.  As you are enthusing about the features of your proposal,  ask qualifying questions that will engage your decision-maker in a discussion of what the organization and its customers really need from the concept you are pitching and together with the decision-maker be willing to improvise and compromise on your original proposal.  If you can make the decision-maker feel some ownership,  s/he is much more likely to identify with and support you at the meeting where projects and proposals are reviewed and the executive team finalizes what gets funded and what doesn’t.

Coming up with a brilliant idea is the easy part.  Selling the idea to the organization with the means to fund that idea is the hard part.  Psychology is a sales resource and the successful sales professional makes expert use of it.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

When the Sale Slips Away

Whether we like it or not,  Freelance consultants are salespeople.  Before we are able to ply our given trade,  we must first sell prospective clients on the idea of hiring us to do what we do,  whether it’s web design or floral design.  Steve W. Martin,  professor of Sales Strategy at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business,  says that those who sell should be cognizant of the lowest common denominator of decision-making: stress.

Martin observes that stress is the death of rational decision-making.  Stress shortens the attention span,  escalates mental exhaustion and typically results in analysis-paralysis.  Despite the  “buying signals”  that your prospective client may display,  more than likely s/he is experiencing fear and doubt when speaking with you about your product or services.

The stress this creates serves as the key factor in determining whether or not the deal gets done.  The most successful salespeople anticipate,  seek to identify and learn to counteract that stress and enable the sale.  Giving prospective clients information and diplomatically phrased and presented tactical advice that will help them fight against internal organization politics is a useful part of your sales strategy as well.  Here are a couple of more reasons that your sale dies on the vine.

Stalled sales cycle

Customers are more cautious than ever and moving them through the sales process can become an almost Sisyphean task.  Steve W. Martin correctly labels this common phenomenon as an internal problem that occurs when project sponsors do not know how to sell their concept to the senior executives who are able to give the  green light.   Further, certain sales cycles are prone to be lengthy in the best of circumstances.  It is too easy for your contact person/project sponsor to get distracted and turn attention toward developing issues and in the process push your sale to the back burner,  where it drifts into oblivion.  Then there is sometimes reluctance to take responsibility.  As a result,  project sponsors involve more of their co-workers in the decision process and you know what happens when there are too many cooks.

Product information and vendor selection

As we enthusiastically pitch our services,  prospective clients often wonder if we are telling the whole truth.  Compounding that is the reality  (or perception)  that differences between many products and services are almost insignificant.  Buyers are often skeptical because they may have been lied to by previous sales people.  The client may feel that 1). it is necessary to separate fact from fiction when talking with someone who is trying to sell something and 2). it’s pretty much all the same thing anyway.  Selling on service and operational efficiencies and the resulting benefits is the best antidote.  Avoid selling on price if at all possible, because it reduces you to a commodity.

When preparing for your next prospective client meeting,  keep in mind the inevitable presence of stress in your would-be client’s work environment.  They don’t quite know who or what to believe.  They’ve got co-workers,  subordinates and bosses judging them.  They are torn between acting in the best interest of the company and in the best interest of themselves.  There is also the now-prevalent belief that not spending money is best for the organization’s bottom line and no one’s reputation suffers for declining to spend money.  Making no decision just gets easier and easier.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Make the Right Decisions and Do the Right Thing

I’m back with more on decision-making because in this perilous economic climate,  which shows no signs of abating,  the ability to make good decisions is so crucial.  Our survival depends upon being able to size up a situation or puzzle through a dilemma and make wise choices that will put us on the right path,  whether we are Freelancers,  business owners or employed/unemployed professionals.

But then again,  when in history has good decision-making not  been an important skill? The results of wise decisions made by the pharaohs in Egypt gave the world a magnificent civilization that thrived for 3000 years and the architectural wonders that are the Sphinx and the pyramids.  Doing business has always been about making decisions,  in ancient times and the present.

Often,  we must make decisions fast and on the fly.  Data available may be incomplete and possibly unreliable.  The ground shifts underfoot and the clock is ticking.  We’re anxious and stressed,  maybe borderline panicky.  Critical thinking is probably clouded by our biases,  born of preferences,  fears and past experiences that we pass off as intuition or gut feelings.  It’s disturbingly easy to be blind to the smart decision that is staring us in the face.

But if we intend to survive and maybe even thrive,  we have to learn to play the had that’s dealt and that means making the right decisions in a timely fashion because time is money.  We can get some much-needed assistance from author Guy Hale,  who provides useful guidance on how we can learn to make credible decisions in an imperfect world in his book  “Think Fast: Accurate Decision-Making, Problem-Solving and Planning” (2011).  Hale recommends the following:

I.  Figure things out
Analyze your situation and see the big picture.  Gain an understanding of how and why you are faced with this decision.  Did your actions,  or inaction,  bring you to this point,  or was it circumstance? Discover the root cause.

Maybe your decision is a positive one,  like you’ve been invited to work with a new client or form a strategic partnership with a colleague.  You’ll need to determine whether the arrangement is likely to be a good fit and that means weighing your options and making a decision. 

II.  Plan and act
Identify the time frame in which you must respond.  Identify potential obstacles and risks and the unknowns that may impact the outcome of the decision,  to the best of your ability.  Identify factors in your favor and how you can best employ and magnify them to your advantage.  Draw up a list of people who will become your allies,  willing to help you if needed and do the same to identify those likely to oppose you.

Use scenario planning to project possible outcomes for the decision: best-case scenario,  worse-case scenario and a couple more that split the difference.  Consider the short and long-term consequences of your choices and think also about who and what will be impacted by what you decide and how they are likely to react.

III.  Factor in Murphy’s Law
Do whatever you can to prevent events from turning sour by controlling everything that you can control,  while recognizing that some things may not go according to plan.  Have Plan B  (and maybe also Plan C)  ready to roll,  just in case.  Know that you’ve been thorough and diligent in your decision-making process and have faith.  Try to relax and roll with the punches and learn from any errors in judgment.

Thanks for reading,
Kim