Monday Mornings with Madison

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Planning & Strategy

How Good is Your Company’s Storytelling?

Today’s sales and marketing efforts require good storytelling. But storytelling is nothing new. Even before people could write, they were telling each other engaging stories to share information. That’s because no one is – or has ever been — interested in absorbing dry information. Even with today’s technology, dry information is still unpalatable whether it is delivered in a print ad, a radio commercial or video. Information is simply more likely to be accepted if it comes gift-wrapped in a story. Storytelling has the power to transform drab business details into something interesting.

Why do people find stories more compelling than other information? It’s physiological. When we listen to a standard presentation presenting dry information or hear a boring lecture, the Broca’s area of the brain is stimulated. This is in the side of the brain that deals with language and logic. However, when we are told a story that is rich with meaning and visual cues, there is a dramatically different response in the brain. Both the right and left lobes of the brain are activated. In addition to engaging the left part of the brain that handles logic and language, a good story also engages and stimulates the right side of the brain– what is deemed as the creative part. Stories grip us and help us experience emotions.  It is those emotions that help us connect with a brand, service or product. Storytelling helps shape the narrative surrounding a product or service. The goal, then, should be for a business to wrap every effort within a compelling story. Here’s how to start.
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Growing a Business

Most companies are in growth-mode. Successful businesses are always looking for ways to increase sales, revenue and – ultimately — profits. And there are a multitude of ways for a company to grow. A company might be ready to expand its geographic reach and open another location or hire more sales staff. Or it might want to diversify its products or services. Or it might have won a major government contract that necessitates operational expansion. Or it might be looking to franchise its operations. Alternatively, it might want to license its products so it can be sold by other companies. Or it might want to form an alliance with a partnering organization or merge with another business entity. These are all valid approaches to grow a business.
While approaches for growth vary, the elements to grow a business are usually the same for most companies. In fact, the variables for growing a business are somewhat similar to growing a garden or harvesting a field. Just as with a garden, there is an ecosystem or market in which a company will grow. A garden must have the right space and soil to expand and a business needs the right facility, plant, office space or storefront to grow. And a garden must be properly fertilized and watered, while a business needs marketing and advertising to nurture the business. Also while a garden must have the right amount of energy or sunlight to grow, a business needs the right sales and business development support to generate orders. And just as there must be a strategy to keep all manner of bugs and pests from destroying or consuming what is produced in a garden, businesses need to keep competitors and regulations from eating away at profits. Gardeners must have some level of training and experience with agriculture or horticulture, a company’s employees need training and expertise in the business’ niche. And they must not only know what they are doing, but they must be efficient and effective in their work to maximizer the ROI. There must also be a way to harvest the yield in a timely manner. And the quality of what is produced must remain high, and be as good as or better than the competition’s produce or else no one will want it. Just as only the best gardeners are successful expanding a small garden into a thriving, productive farm, only savvy, shrewd business owners can grow a company.
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Under-Promising and Over-Delivering

It’s been said (many times) that companies should strive to under-promise and over-deliver. Under-promising and over-delivering is seen as a good philosophy to control customer expectations and ensure that every customer becomes a raving fan when they get more than they expected. On the other hand, there are those who would argue that this is a great way to drive a business into the ground. Some see this as a formula for failure because it lowers the bar internally so that what is considered “above and beyond” is really nothing more than what the competition does on a regular basis without breaking a sweat. It therefore encourages mediocrity. Which is true?
Should a company seek to under-promise what it is offering clients? And should a company try to over-deliver, going above and beyond what is standard? Or should they set the bar high and strive to go above and beyond that? This is the conundrum with which leaders have wrestled since companies first began competing for business. There is no easy answer. The truth is that it depends. In certain situations, it is helpful to under-promise and over-deliver, but there are also times when under-promising and over-delivering actually hurts business. Understanding when it is good to do this and when it isn’t is the key.
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The Video Revolution – Part 3

When we think of the work that salespeople do, we generally think of one-on-one selling. For anything that is not a commodity, a salesperson will speak face-to-face to another person and “pitch” a product or service. The ‘traveling salesman’ is the quintessential image of sales. But, obviously, that kind of selling is limiting. It is limited by how much time and how much distance a salesperson can cover. Even in dense cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, a salesperson can only make so many sales calls in one day. And in cities or metropolitan areas that are more diffused, such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Triangle Park or Miami, traveling from place to place for sales meetings can consume huge swaths of each day.

Because of that, sales teams have always looked for ways to compress the sales cycle and use technology to assist in the sales process. Call centers. Robo-calling. CRM systems. Email. Text messages. And now, video is emerging as a useful sales tool as well. When done right, videos can speak directly to prospective clients and guide them through the sales funnel. But some still wonder if video can really be effective in the sales process. And there are many questions surrounding how to construct sales videos. Should a video sales pitch focus on a product / service features or should it focus instead on the benefits / solution? Can a sales video or series of sales videos help move the sales process more quickly toward the close? And can a sales video actually close a deal? If sales videos are effective, can a company just create sales videos and not have salespeople? Here are what the experts think.
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The Video Revolution – Part 2

Two of the biggest challenges that regional and national companies face are training new hires and then keeping all staff up-to-date on company changes such as new software programs, updated policies, and evolving procedures. Just getting corporate office staff trained and keeping them current is enough of a challenge. Training takes time and consumes resources. A lot of information is thrust at employees at one time. Meanwhile, productivity drops or stops during training. Customer service suffers and employees are tasked with keeping up with the workload while making time for training. If doing that for corporate staff is hard, then training regional or national employees is even more difficult, especially when some or all of those employees are working remotely from small regional offices, executive offices or home offices. This is particularly difficult in the U.S. due to the country’s vast geographical size. Bringing a cadre of regional or national staff together to one location for training incurs a lot of hard costs and generates a lot of down time not just for training but also for travel.
The challenge for training new hires is even greater. Managers need to share a great deal of information with new employees in a very short amount of time. New hires often report that it is like drinking from a fire hose. This is not the ideal way to retain new information or make a new hire feel comfortable and confident. Bringing all new employees to one central location for in-person training is also hard and expensive. New hire training often can make or break an employee’s effectiveness for years to come.
To tackle both issues, companies are discovering the value of training videos. Video facilitates training and ensures that training is effective. Live Webcasting and dynamic on-demand training modules that employees can watch and process at their own pace help increase retention. And video-based training can be done without travel—at employees’ exec suites, home offices, or even a nearby Starbucks. This minimizes disruption and costs. Here are tips and best practices on how to use video for training.
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The Many Facets of Leadership

Imagine that a company or business is like a boat and the boat has a destination… the port of profitability and growth. On the left side of the boat are the Marketing oars. On the right side of the boat are its Sales oars. If only the left oars are rowing, the boat will go around in circles, clockwise. And if only the right oars are rowing, the boat will go in counter-clockwise circles. Even if both sets of oars are rowing, but not in tandem, the boat will not move in the intended direction very swiftly. But if both sets of oars row in tandem, the boat will move forward. If guided by someone who knows the destination, it will move toward that spot. And the faster and more efficiently they row in tandem, the more swiftly it will get to its destination. The process of getting all the oars to row in tandem, efficiently and effectively, to a particular designation is management. Getting there faster than the competition is good management. And leadership is the wind in the sails of the vessel, which can help propel it even farther and faster. If the leadership is strong and steady, the work of the sales and marketing teams is made easier, and everything glides forward quickly.

Great leaders make the difference between an average performance and an extraordinary one. Today’s leaders do many things, including coaching, mentoring, counseling and, of course, managing. Employees today expect people in leadership roles to be willing to roll their sleeves up and keep managing and facilitating. In practical terms, what does good management look like today? It is more than just someone telling someone else what to do. Continue reading

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The Many Facets of Leadership

Much has been studied, researched, written and taught about leadership. There are even entire doctoral programs in leadership at prestigious universities. That’s because, arguably, good leadership allows companies to succeed when they might have otherwise failed. And great leadership pushes companies to rise above an ocean of mediocre ones. That is why the most successful investors — think George Soros and Warren Buffet, who achieved annual excess returns 15% over the S&P for over 30+ years — spend an inordinate amount of time every day studying not only a company’s financials but also the skills and track records of the leadership at those companies. Companies with the most innovative products can still fail to thrive without well-developed leadership. To state the obvious, leadership really matters.

Also, great leadership skills are not just essential for Presidents and C-Suite executives. Great leadership is invaluable for those directing divisions, departments, teams and projects. That’s because leaders are responsible for managing finite resources as well as planning and executing direction and action. In particular, one of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to help employees develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. That is called coaching and it is a key facet of leadership. So exactly what is coaching and what makes a great coach? And is there a difference between coaching and other things leaders commonly do such as managing, mentoring, teaching and counseling? Continue reading

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The Effect of Abundance and Scarcity on what Customers Value

Rabbi Avigdor Miller once marveled at the notion that “two gases [hydrogen and oxygen] — neither of which can quench thirst – can be united into a clear and sparkling liquid which pours down one’s throat in a life-giving stream.” He added that “No liquid in the world can take the place of water for relief of thirst. This fluid is the most potent of all elixirs, although its availability and its inexpensiveness cause it to be overlooked. It is the universal solvent and the vehicle of digestion and of blood circulation. If water could be obtained only from the pharmacist, it would be the most costly of liquors, both for its vital properties and for its enjoyment.” And yet, most likely very few in the U.S. open a faucet and marvel as water pours out… precisely because it is so abundant and available.
Yet, in places like Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and even places in the U.S. such as Flint, Michigan and drought-affected parts of California, water is very scarce and the cost (and value) of water has skyrocketed. In such places, people have a genuine and profound appreciation for clean drinking water. That’s because the value of everything is deeply affected by abundance or scarcity, whether the item is essential for life or not. In the U.S., the abundance of water has caused the value of “this most potent of all elixirs” to be mostly taken for granted. On the other hand, other commodities that are not essential to life – such as diamonds, gold, rhodium, platinum, plutonium, taaffeite, tritium, painite, californium – are highly valued because of their scarcity, even if they have no life-giving properties. This value is subjective. This is known as commodity theory, and it is something that every entrepreneur, business leader, and sales professional should understand thoroughly. This is where the laws of economics and the actions of sales and marketing professionals meet. Continue reading

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The Art of Negotiating Business Deals

One of the most challenging parts of working with a new client is finalizing the business agreement. This is the process in which the parties hammer out the details of the contract. The bigger the deal, the more complex the agreement. And negotiating the final terms of a complex deal can have its challenges. In those situations, a sales professional might find himself in a position where the customer holds all the cards. The salesperson may have invested a lot of time and effort in developing the opportunity. He may have even promised his boss that a commitment was imminent. The salesperson may feel boxed in and the customer may think he can dictate the terms. That’s a losing proposition for the salesperson and his company, even if they land the deal. Business deals that start out very lopsided – a win-lose proposition – don’t bode well for a good long-term business relationship.
The goal in any negotiation should be to achieve a win-win outcome. That may sound cliché and idealistic, but it is the secret to long-term success. But if the sales professional starts negotiating from a weak position, it will be hard to hammer out a win-win contract. To chisel out a win-win agreement, a sales professional must garner some negotiating power and then use smart negotiation strategies during the process to close the deal. Here are some tips. Continue reading

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Using Chess Strategy in Business, Part 2

There are many benefits that come from playing chess. Psychologists often cite chess as an effective activity to help improve memory function. That is probably why chess is recommended in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Playing chess can also help the mind solve complex problems and work through ideas. It is also thought to increase one’s intelligence, although that’s not been scientifically proven. And the effects of chess on children – which has been correlated to children getting better grades in school — has led to chess being introduced in schools in a multitude of countries. That said, many are still intimidated by chess because it is perceived as a game for geniuses. But while chess is a thinking-man’s game — one that requires a great deal of strategic thought and tactical reflection — it is not just for geniuses and savants. Anyone can learn to play chess and improve through study and practice.
Indeed, many past and present political and military leaders – including U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Sigmund Freud, Queen Elizabeth I and II, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew, British Prime Minister Clement Atllee, Alfonso King of Spain, and Vladimir Lenin – all played chess. Many titans of industry also play chess, including Bill Gates, Co-Founder of Microsoft, Billionaire Investor George Soros, Carl Icahn, Chairman of Federal-Mogul, Peter Thiel, Co-Founder of Paypal, Jared Heck, co-founder of GroupMe and Fundera, Seth Bannon, Founder and CEO of Amicus, and Victoria Lipschitz, CEO of Grid Dynamics. In fact, Boaz Weinstein, chess player and head of Saba Capital, once said that “Chess helps me in trading, teaching me to focus on the important decisions and to accept risk.” Last week, we looked at a few useful strategies. Let’s look at some more chess strategies that can be applied to business. Continue reading

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