As Good A Chance…

feeling-luckyThere are so many ways that I want to end a business meeting and “we have AS GOOD A CHANCE as anybody” doesn’t fall into any of those ways.  I make my living in a cold prospecting, hard targeting, get the meeting and push for the close kind of world.  It isn’t easy.  I have no complaints about being a saleswoman, those of you who have read my other posts know that I love the art of selling, but when you quantify the amount of time it can take to move a cold prospect to a purposeful meeting, you don’t want to leave anything to chance.

Chance for me loses its value become of its interchangeable relationship with luck and I can’t afford to stake my career on the traditional premise of being lucky.  Thesaurus.com lists antonyms of chance as: designed, foreseeable, planned, and understood; this short list is the basis of Sales 101!  Outside of the inherent traits, most salespeople learn from the beginning to plan, to design your path to success (your approach), to understand as much as possible about your client, target or industry and to forecast the potential outcomes so that you aren’t blindsided with too many unknowns.  If you do all of those things, you won’t get left with a “hope” to get the business.

An owner of a firm that I once worked for didn’t like to hear a sales tale or prognostication based on “hope”.  He would emphatically state that “hope are prayers unanswered”.  It may seem harsh or even a bit cynical but when do you really want to rely on a stroke of good luck?  If someone you loved had a pending surgery would you want the prognosis from the surgeon to include “well, if we’re lucky” or “we’ve got as good a chance?”  I don’t!  I want to hear honesty but I’d like his assessment to be done on the faith in his skill, previous outcomes from practice (planning) and the commitment that he’s going to make to achieve the desired outcome.

Unfortunately the expectation of luck is not a phenomenon.  Lately, there has been an influx of tweets and statuses based on the virtue of luck.  I find these quotes to be irresponsible when just sent to the masses!  Most of the quotes that I’ve seen referencing luck ascribe it to working so hard that you position yourself for the opportunity; this is something that we have a responsibility to emphasize in our professional lives and personally yet there are many people who miss the true message behind the words.  Luck is not a motivator nor is it an incentive, as a matter of fact if you have to rely on luck to get what you want you stop believing in the opportunity to be successful.  Imagine being in an interview and having a benefit conversation that included, “if you’re lucky you may get a raise”.  I’m sure that employer would experience more rejected offers than signed acceptance letters and the acceptance would be from the candidates of last resort, not the rock star.

By the same token, when you work for someone in a sales capacity or otherwise, they didn’t hire you for your ability to get lucky off of a gamble! The best employers want workers that can translate hard work to smart work.  Who wants to hire the blind squirrel, happening upon a nut just enough to keep from starving through the winter when you could have the strategic hunter that goes out every day foraging for a better chance of eating well through the winter?  Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant is the equivocation of the person “hoping to get lucky” and the other “creating their path”.  The belief in chance only gave the grasshopper false expectations of his outcomes while the ant’s actions offered assurance.  Who doesn’t like a sure thing?

For those who put in the legwork, luck will rear its elusive little head from time to time and it will be that much more gratifying because you’ll know that you actually generated it–you will have an appreciation for the moment while the ones who rely on luck will have short-lived gratification as they wait for the next bout to circle around.

My favorite quote regarding chance, circumstance or luck just happens to come from the CEO of Starbucks (go figure):

I believe life is a series of near misses. A lot of what we ascribe to luck is not luck at all. It’s seizing the day and accepting responsibility for your future. It’s seeing what other people don’t see And pursuing that vision.–Howard Schultz

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Flight Schooled…Journey One: 5 Lessons Learned In Two Short Hours

travelThe new air travel experience can be taxing and frustrating.  Between the process of checking luggage and the invasive TSA screening process by the time you’ve actually settled into your seat on a crowded flight the standard feeling is desired isolation.  You know how it goes, get seated, give the “I’m not interested in conversation” ear bud signal, and lean back with eyes closed.  I go either way.  I always have Marie Claire on hand for reading material (no need for me to convince you that I’m sitting studiously with Fortune magazine) and my IPod travel playlist queued up but I’ve also found that getting to know your neighbor isn’t such a bad thing, unless of course they’ve given me all of the signs that I mentioned a few lines ago.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit San Antonio on business.  A total of 6 flights there and back were necessary (layovers in Dallas and Atlanta).  The flights crossed into the hours when I’m usually getting my second wind and crossing into my insomniac moments since I wasn’t landing in San An until 9pm the first night and flying back would get into Richmond around the time that I’m usually getting off work (at which point I’m amping up on Red bull and rap music).  Because of this I didn’t sleep during 4 of the 6 flights and found myself engaged in great conversations with 3 very different people.

Flight from Atlanta to San Antonio:  I sat next to a phenomenal woman who was a superintendent of schools.  Having recently departed from DC to fly back home she was engrossed in the sequester battle and how it would impact the students that she served, many of which were children of veterans engaged in various wars as well as serving on the home front.  Listening to her made me further curious about whom SHE was.   There must be something remarkable about this woman! While many people would love to ignore the fact, education is both a political and corporate environment.  Its big business and even bigger expense, I would wager that this contributes to the stats that are as typically gender skewed as they would be in a Fortune 5.   According to a recent study by students at the JFK School of Government and the Business School at Harvard, women make up 76% of educators but only 50% of principals and 36% of superintendents.

How do you learn what makes someone special? Ask.  So I did.  She had the journey of getting the ‘right’ education, working her way to the top and focusing on her professional mission but what was more interesting was her connection to being a mother.  None of her story reflected the “you can’t have it all” mantra that many high level corporate women are often forced to exhibit.  She had successful, well-adjusted children that she and her husband molded to send out into the world as high functioning individuals.  Her stories were peppered with great advice that she qualified with, “this is just my opinion”, but that I would wager would work for many.

Polished, professional, well versed in various topics and probably just as well connected there were many things about this woman which could have been impressive, least of which was her ability to see the big picture while maintaining a commitment to the details that make the big picture happen, as I believe only a woman can do.   Trading information about ourselves and our careers, I was inspired by her and grateful for her opinion that she believed I was doing a great job.  What did I learn from her during our journey?

1.  All is a subjective word and what you choose to have, you can!   I didn’t get the sense that she was working for some great metric of having everything, instead I got the impression that she didn’t feel she had to sacrifice.  I never heard her question her ability to be a parenting professional as many of us do.  While the debates rage about the Melissa Mayer’s of the world and the new Dr. Laura acolytes guilt working women about their “choices”, this woman was accomplishing her mission in all areas.

2.  We can have common goals but separate paths.  There were obvious differences between us.  I grew up in an urban environment, she deep in the heart of Texas.  Different races, age gap (her son was a year younger than I am), and her Doctorate placing her education level several years beyond my own.  None of this stopped us from connecting with one another.  The value of being a woman in the workplace is a lesson that only another woman can teach.  I told her about leaving college at some point and deciding that I was going to make my way in the professional world.  Rather than turn her well-educated nose up at the thought of leaving school for a sales path she told me that she thought I was doing a great job at both managing my career and “from what she could hear” being a mom.  As women we often are pitted against each other in professional worlds, trying too hard to be the stand out or “the one” keeps us from the encouragement that we often need to hear and reduces our numbers at the top of the professional world.  Speaking to her reminded me that I need to find an opportunity to encourage the next generation of career women.

3.  Understand the tasks at hand and prioritize accordingly.  She told a great story about her son struggling with a major test week at college.  A smart kid (now adult), he was in an environment that was full of his equals and the work was challenging.  She saw his call that came in during the night and immediately went into mom role while also keeping her “management hat” on.  Her professional experience came in handy but her desire to nurture trumped all and she left work early enough to make the trip to his campus for dinner that night.  While he was successful during his day, I’m positive that seeing your parents after a particularly trying week would be the perfect exclamation point (how many of us remember the pleasure of having a non-cafeteria meal on your parent’s dime during college).  As a mom and goal oriented professional, prioritizing is a battle that many men don’t have to face when it comes to family, making women less competitive.  I’ve always said that I’m an even stronger professional when my children are happy and I don’t feel the need to make an excuse for seeking this balance.

4.  Pretty and professional aren’t exclusive–when they are well played.  Texas women have a reputation for hair, makeup and glam, she fit it without being over the top, yet nothing about her said ‘mental lightweight’.  This might seem superficial but when you land in a professional environment there’s always this feeling that you need to hang up your stilettos to be taken seriously.  Women are just as responsible for this stereotype as men, I loved that her appearance-while conservative-was a part of her package and she wasn’t playing it down for the sake of living the old school ideal of corporate women.

5.  Don’t let your girl power mentality shut you out of the boys club.  While in a leadership position at another school she was offered an Administrative role working with a Superintendent or district leader.  Some of us would be short sighted and turn our noses up at the title or perception of being a ‘servant to the leader’ as opposed to the leader, she saw the opportunity.  Her move sounded to me like the difference between being the Superintendent and leading a whole school district or going to the white house and working as the Administrative Support to the Secretary of Education–I’m packing and moving to DC! She had a great role but the one that she took while not an obvious move up the ladder was the perfect set up for her current role, giving her visibility and input at another level.  As women looking for a power move we often miss the more subtle way to get that power because we get tangled up with titles (at a certain point in your career the title won’t matter).

Out of respect for her position and our conversation, I won’t include her name but I will clearly say that these were only a few of the lessons that were reinforced by her.  I’m wishing her the best as she continues while taking our encounter on my journey to the next level.  Stay tuned for “Flight Schooled…Journey Two” where you’ll meet an interesting young woman who entered into an arranged marriage while attending optometry school!

The Voldemort of Syllables

The “umm” count with more than half the day left!

I pride myself on being able to work through distractions, the garden variety water cooler talk doesn’t usually impact me unless I’m choosing to interact, however, I’m living with a distraction of Voldemort like proportions.  One word.  I visualize it swirling around us all, its black cloak pulling us into an abyss of empty minds, stealing all ability to communicate a cohesive thought, numbing our tongues and causing our intended target to bill us as useless…UM.  That’s it.  One syllable so profound in its firmly earned its place in every version of the English language dictionary.

Call me picky but I would rather be left out of any conversation that incorporates “um” as a transition.  No single utterance communicates “I’m unsure” more than “um”, and who wants information from the person who doesn’t know?

For some people these two letters are consistent interjections, rote turn of phrase or syllables.  I’d like to attribute its frequent usage to the fact that generations are turning to text and type for their communication more often than direct conversations but how would I explain experience professionals love for it?  Does the usage ever make sense?

While I don’t think we will ever get rid of the pesky creature, I offer a few brief words of advice for reducing its verbal appearances:

1.  The pause:  Old school and proven!  If you’re not sure of where you’re going with your statements, take a minute….okay, maybe not a minute but a breath.  The pause doesn’t have to be noticeable but you’d be amazed at what halting at an opportune moment will do to your vocabulary.  I don’t know the exact science behind a pause but I know the effect.  Your mind will become a thesaurus the minute you breathe.  My little biology class recollection does tell me that when you’re breathing red blood cells are moving and rbc’s carry oxygen to the brain–could it be that a concerted breathe improves your ability to process a thought?  Who knows! Just try it.

2.  Prepared Statements:    The easiest communication to prepare for is voicemail.  While it’s a tough way to “sell”, it will often be the first hurdle you face.  Rate of return for voicemail can be less than 15%, factor in a precisely relayed message but I would wager that these numbers drop dramatically for an “umm” laden, drone fest–you could quickly be introduced to the delete key without even knowing.  Prepare several versions of a voicemail to avoid being too repetitive and get comfortable.  Read them enough to be fluid through the delivery and you’ll save yourself a wasted call and embarrassment.

3.  Don’t think and speak:  There are few masters of extemporaneous speaking, even Presidents are known to use Teleprompters, so don’t feel pressured to speak “off the cuff” unless it’s what you do well.  This can apply to any telephone situation.  If you’re dialing with the anticipation of getting your prospect on the phone, write out the framework of the expected conversation as well as questions that you would like to ask.  It won’t be 100% within your control–dialogue not a soliloquy is the aim when prospecting–but it will assure you that don’t walk away with unanswered questions and prevent you from sounding uninformed.

4.  Relax: I’m well aware that being a social butterfly isn’t an inherent trait for everyone; however, relaxing before you dial or present isn’t a bad idea.  Rookie salespeople often go into cold calling situations with the expectation of hearing “no” which creates tension and elevated fear (sometimes even dial resistance).  This is the perfect scenario for second guessing yourself and getting a case of the ‘ummsies’.  My best suggestion “let go of what you THINK will happen and work for what you WANT to happen!”

5. Slow Down:  High level sales are rarely a one and done situation.  As a matter of fact, the best deals are usually created in layers.  Understanding this will help you prioritize what you NEED to say during each call.  Without prioritization you verbally throw up on your target (sorry for the visual) and your thoughts will crowd one another.  Why rush through when you know that you are creating relationships for the long haul.  The suggestion to slow down can also be applied to any salesperson trying to fit every sales quote or cliché that they’ve ever heard into a conversation.  Words trip over one another, become meaningless and when you begin running out of things to say the “nasty little syllable” creeps in.  Slow down, insert verbal punctuation (stops for periods, pauses for commas, etc.), and enjoy the craft of selling.

6. Listen To Yourself–This one’s simple:  When you pay attention to how frequently you say a word you will say it less.

7. Talk Less:  If you ran out of things to say, you should have probably stopped speaking!  The easiest way to create something to say is to hold an actual conversation.  Say the necessary, ask questions wait for a response, reply if necessary, and repeat!

8. Eliminate other filler:  Words including like, so, yeah, and uh huh create comfort and a passageway to using um.  Those words rarely fit well into a professional conversation so just like, avoid them, uh huh!

9. Let go of your comfort zone and the need to be perfect.  I’ve heard “I sound stupid” many times from new salespeople.  The interesting thing about this is, usually the recipient of the message, is less educated about what you do than you are.  They don’t know exactly how you fit and therefore aren’t judging the message.  Their goal is to decipher whether or not any of this is worth their while and if you insert your uncomfortable verbiage in the mix they may make this decision too quickly for their own good, least of all yours.

1o. Educate yourself.  When you know more about your client you’re more comfortable interacting with them.  The same can be said, and should be an unspoken rule, when applied to your product and it’s features/benefits.

While the personal world is being relegated to the deep cover of abbreviated text language, there aren’t many business relationships conducted 100% electronically, make “strong verbal communications” more than a bullet on your resume!

(Please “like” if you have positive feedback or comments!)

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The Trouble With Perfection

perfection

 

I finally realized the trouble with perfection.  It’s an impediment to completion and an aid to procrastination (feel free to borrow that).  I don’t believe in doing something just to get it done, it’s not in my DNA, but that my friends, is the rub.  Doing things “perfectly” slows me down.  I have 25 posts in draft format in my WordPress dashboard just waiting to be fed to the eager reading masses–all 19 of you.  Twenty-five drafts, the exact amount of posts currently live on this blog.  Hour’s worth of work, thousands of words, and countless revisions are hidden away because I can’t be convinced that they are perfect enough to both entertain and educate you, or me for that matter.

Perfection is subjective unless you’re taking a test or baking, otherwise you actually are living your life in a game of horseshoes– where close counts.  Don’t believe me? Walk through a museum with a group of art lovers and listen to the disagreements about the merits of a Picasso.  If that guy can be judged harshly, I guess I should relax a little.  So, what keeps me from doing just that?  I care about my work and how it is perceived.  The most important part of that statement is that “I care about my work”,  ultimately,  THAT SHOULD BE ENOUGH.  When you care about your work and what you present that will be enough to generate the right product.  At the risk of sounding way more zen than I really am, perfection is a never ending journey.   After recognizing that the journey is continuous you can focus more on the effort and enjoyment of it all and avoid losing sight of your mission.  I often feel that the pursuit of perfection removes the fluidity of the process, it becomes mechanical action leading to a reduction of creativity.  All of this counterproductive behavior without recognizing it, and for what? Wouldn’t it be easier to maintain high standards instead of the pursuit of perfection in every project?  High standards aren’t a copout it just allows for more attainable measures of achievement.

During interviews the standard question, “What’s your biggest weakness?” always comes up and while I’ve heard a lot of responses (I had a stint as a head hunter), nothing has stood out as unique.  Least of all, “I’m a perfectionist”.  It’s a rookie answer that even seasoned professionals have fallen back on.   Based on my drive to put out a perfect product, I’ve learned that perfection could be negatively received as, ‘it takes me a long time to finish projects’ or ‘I’m not confident with my work’.  And, that’s only two reads that can be given from that one statement, trust me there are more (I’ll post a creative way to answer this in another article–that won’t remain a draft).

While typing this blog and ironically backspacing , I’m watching Chopped (one more competitive cooking show).  Chefs with varying degrees of experience are competing for a cash prize and champion status.  I’ve seen it before and again it’s been demonstrated tonight, the chef that is most focused on perfection, second guesses himself and ruins a competitive dish with a last-minute addition or change.

More experienced chefs commit this error frequently.  The interesting result is that the winning dish is never perfect–the three judges rarely are unanimous in their critique–but it’s better than another dish.  The dish is creative in the eye of the chef, doesn’t have obvious mistakes, like over salting, and is confidently crafted.  So, at the end of it all, that’s my cure to avoid the trouble of perfection: Know what you like and create that–don’t try to get into your bosses, or in my case, the readers head; Don’t make obvious mistakes (you’ll know what they are for your particular task); and BE CONFIDENT.