What Do We Value Most?

PLEASE NOTE — Fair warning — this is an opinion post. The intent, as always, is to offer fodder for productive conversation; it is, however, less about business development, marketing and communication, and much more about what we value. As always, I am indebted to you for your time and interest. — EF

It is one thing to subscribe to a position because of a belief in alignment with deeply held values. Or to adopt a platform based on affinity for a cause. Or even to advocate based on an assumption that historical roots run deeper than individual predilections.

On any of these grounds, there can be a thesis and a set of guiding principles around which we could have disagreement and debate.

Remember honest debates?

Once upon a time we were able to hold opposing views, vehemently argue considered merits, and — even where there was no common ground — afford mutual respect.

There are exceptions, to be sure. We haven’t always done it well; but for the most part there used to be agreement that human decency is admirable…a characteristic worthy of pursuit.

There have always been issues viewed as critical by some and trivial by others. But there was a time when we could engage in spirited efforts to change minds…have heated conversations…fiercely disagree…without personal and lasting venom.

Those days are gone.

Today the disagreements are different.

When there is such little regard for truth that alternative facts are easily adopted…when branding a moment is so all-consuming that we lose sight of implications for tomorrow, we are no longer engaged in honest political discourse.

We should stop pretending we are.

When name-calling and finger-pointing are the hallmarks of interaction, we should admit that the conversation isn’t about framing a solution.

When words and actions precipitate division and animosity, it is impossible to believe unity is the objective.

And when thoughtful discourse on issue and policy devolves into a playground-style mocking of physical appearance or (unbelievably) a person’s handicap for the sake of attention and applause, this is no longer a discussion of the viability of neighborhoods, the safety of communities or economic strength.

Every issue is not of equal import. Some are existential.

At least one of the questions each of us must eventually answer for ourself is what do I value most.

Here’s What Drives A Prospect’s Choice of Service Provider

In a noisy, competitive and topsy-turvy marketplace, what is the key to capturing the imagination of your most coveted prospects?

We know it isn’t the case, but particularly in professional services, it is easy to market as though we believe it is our credentials…Or brand…Or budget…Or eloquence that will differentiate us from every other advisor hoping to land the gig.

Meanwhile, the market repeatedly suggests that we get over ourselves, revealing what drives the decision to engage one professional over another. Follow the advice in this video short from the BizDev Notebook, and grab the attention of the market you pursue.

(And if you’re searching for a way to gain traction in a market none of us saw coming, request info on the all new BizDev Notebook — eric@ericfletcherconsulting.com.)

We Can Do Impossible Things

In the summer of 1969, with less technology than what exists in the device you’ll use to share today’s social media tidbits, human beings flew to the moon.

We’re so desensitized to the fact of the matter, that the impossibility of the idea in the 1960’s, not to mention the price that would be paid, is lost on us.

This post is about today — not history — but imagine it for a minute.  They flew to the moon!

Before that, there were two brothers at Kitty Hawk who believed something could be built that would enable human beings to fly. Then there were those who chased the speed of sound. And, oh yeah, those early astronauts who willingly climbed into little more than a tin can to test the bounds of earth.

Along the way there were tangents, miscalculations and tragedies, to be sure. But even in the face of unthinkable loss, the impossible pursuits were not deterred.

It’s Not The Size Of The Stage

I’m a sucker for the drama and scope of these pursuits. If you are of a certain age, the afternoon of July 20, 1969 is likely one of those times that is etched in your memory. In mass we were mesmerized by grainy images from a stage 239,000 miles away.

But let’s talk about where we are today.

Every single day, everyday women, men and children pursue what can feel every bit as impossible as a moon-shot.

From educating a child in our current environment to righting unspeakable wrongs…from surviving a pandemic to wrestling with depression for one more hour…from keeping the lights on to feeding those with nothing to eat and no lights to go home to…these days it can feel like 2020 ushered in an endless list of impossibles..

It Isn’t What It Is

You name the challenge (or opportunity) — progress begins with imagining what might be.

Nothing stops progress more quickly than resolving that there is no solution…no answer…no better way…no way to heal…that what we have is what we’re stuck with.

If we can envision what might be, we can begin a productive journey. We can begin to have better conversations.

But Mark it down — we will never progress beyond what we are able to imagine.

When President Kennedy spoke of putting a man on the moon, he reasoned “we choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”.

No matter where we find ourselves on this day, whatever the venue, if we are able to imagine what might be possible, we have a benchmark for “the best of our energies.”

We can do this. We can do hard things.

A 4-Step BizDev Plan For The Last 4 Months of This Year

The life expectancy of “no-one-saw-this-coming” as an explanation for stalled business development is going to run out soon. Or at least, wear thin.

So for everyone who still has a practice to grow, here is a 4-step plan for the last 4 months of a year none of us saw coming. Buckle up…we’ll make it a speed round (because time is wasting).

Step One — Quick — Name 4 Prospective Clients

Don’t be conservative here — identify four prospects you’d give your eye teeth to engage. As you consider the companies or individuals that should be on your list, suspend disbelief. Avoid taking inventory of all the reasons you feel a working relationship is unlikely. You know — they’ve used another firm for years…they’re too big, too demanding, too something. 

Refuse to let the devils you think you know define your future. A good list should contain at least one audacious goal — a prospect that, by itself, will change your world.

If you have more than four, great; but limit your first pass at this to the top four. Go for quality over quantity.

Step Two — Start Connecting Dots

Using your favorite thinking/planning/brainstorming tool — legal pad, post-it notes, whiteboard or electronic device — create a 3-part list for each of your four targets.

    • On Part One — name the relevant decision-makers that you have a personal connection with (any connection — don’t second-guess)
    • On Part Two — include the names of other individuals you know, who are connected (in any way) to the target’s  decision-maker
    • On Part Three — list the names of individuals with whom you have no personal connection, but who you believe to be connected to the target’s decision-maker

This three-part list for each target is the skeleton of a relationship map, and these names will become the focus of the next two steps…more specifically, the focus of your attention for the balance of 2020.

Step Three — Reach Out and Touch Someone

Create an initial personalized communication for each name on your four relationship maps. The purpose of this communication is to deliver something of undisputed value to the recipient.

And on that note, I can sense I am beginning to lose you.

If you’re 100% okay with what you believe the future holds for your practice (or your firm), I get the skepticism, and you should blow-off the remaining few paragraphs.

But if you’re sensing the necessity of a significant shift in the way you go about business development, let’s press on.

Let’s stipulate that “personalized communication that delivers undisputed value” can be a stumbling block. In the best case scenario it implies research and understanding. For purposes of this post, here’s an idea starter.

Consider what you know to be top-of-mind for your target. If you’re right, this is at the center of what drives critical decisions — and, just in case we need to say it, a critical decision is what you’re after.

Have you created or do you have access to thought leadership or insights that relate to your target’s decision-driver? Think about blog posts, market research, industry white papers and the like.

If this continues to be a problematic idea, there is no easy way to say this — you probably need to spend some time doing market research and thinking through your marketing strategy. (If your firm has a strong marketing team, they are already primed and ready to help with this.)

Create this kind of personal communication for each name on your four relationship maps, and you have a disruptive business development tool in your hands.

By its very nature this communicque speaks to what a working relationship with you will be like — characterized by a focus on the challenges and opportunities of your targets.

And now we’re ready for the fourth step in the plan.

Step Four — Instigate Collaboration

Here’s the suggestion.

Invite your targets to a non-commercial New Now Round Table. (Create your own moniker, or borrow this one if it works for you.)

Your invitation and the way in which you describe your round table will vary based on what will resonate with your targets; but the idea is to stage and facilitate a series of conversations that address the realities of the market in which we find ourselves.

For at least as long as Zoom is the primary venue for connecting, please consider bringing in a skilled facilitator. This will set the right tone, and make the best of the technology tools (and there are some cool tools out there that can make your round table transcend Zoom-fatigue), and instigate a conversation where two things happen:

    • Organic conversations will focus on your target’s pressing issues
    • You will become identified as the advisor who facilitated new conversations, and a focus on new solutions

While it is a straight forward plan, we do not suggest that execution will be easy. It will require that you lean in, shake-up the way you might think about pursuing new clients and resist distractions.

If you’ll focus on these four ideas for the next four months — sure…you’ll need to tweak them and personalize them to fit your reality — but use these four steps as a guide, and you’ll find yourself in position to reclaim the momentum you had way back in January.

Glazed Over Eyes Don’t Count As Impressions

This post was originally published by CMO-Whisperer.com.

I admit it — I’m teetering on the edge of stir crazy. Some days it doesn’t take much to push me over the edge. But— and I’m about to insult some very good seventh grade writers — an avalanche of middle-school-level headlines attempting to capture my attention have set me on edge.

And before my journalist friends climb up on a high horse to proclaim they always knew advertising would kill good writing, I should note that (today) big time news outlets are the offenders.

Yes Lois, succumbing to one of the ultimate lies of our time (maybe a tiny bit of overstatement), no less than the bastions of major media outlets are resorting to clickbait.

For a couple of weeks running, it seems every “breaking news” alert sent to my smart phone by one of our esteemed national news giants has followed this style guide:

This {personal characterization} said {provocative statement}
about her time at/with {recognized entity/individual}.

It is more than a little disconcerting that someone disciplined and skilled enough to rise to an editor’s desk has bought into the idea that a half-baked tease — and that’s being generous— is the way to attract an audience. Never mind, communicate the news. Perry White has to be cringing.

But accountability is a harsh mistress.

Most of us learn to take with a grain of salt — even ignore — those beeping or vibrating alerts from our phones.

Our Response to Noise

However, since this is not about the current state of delivering the news, but about connecting via marketing — I should get to the point: glazed over eyeballs do not equal impressions. In fact, they (the eyeballs we’re talking about here) are irrelevant.

I get it. The challenge to grab attention is daunting. Rising above the noise of thousands of competing messages every day isn’t easy. Finding common ground and speaking the same language is tough enough one-on-one in a quiet room.

But clickbait? Seriously?

Maybe it is rooted in some distorted version of a lowest-common-denominator strategy; but it is a far cry from the creative acumen that attracted many of us to the art, and that has reshaped entire markets with a single campaign.

The slight-of-phrase that is offered in pursuit of nothing more than a click— I would (humbly) submit that this is not creative spark.

And while I will, reluctantly, concede that clickbait might at times qualify as marketing, it is decidedly not communication. Or genius.

A couple of decades ago, when blogging was far from a staple in B-to-B marketing, I worked with a group of lawyers using this new tool. Daily clicks on the firm blog became the be-all-end-all metric. So much so that the blog’s editors found a way to include the phrase “wet t-shirt contest.” in one day’s headline.

The metric might have made me blush.

But — you’re way ahead of me, I know — virtually every click was irrelevant…staying on the blog for less than 3-seconds.

Great marketing — the stuff to which I believe we all aspire…the stuff that connects, motivates and prompts consequential reality shifts— isn’t interested in irrelevant eyeballs. It takes aim at the heart.

That’s a calling worthy of some serious genius.

A Marketer and a Salesperson Walk Into a Bar…

This post was originally written for and published by CMO-Whisperer.com.

Even if you aren’t familiar with the setup, you know this is a joke. Marketing and sales can barely stand to be in the same conference room on some days. No way they’re going to drop into a happy hour together. Even if it’s virtually, via Zoom.

Here’s the punchline: While marketing and sales squabble over resources, debate who should be held responsible and who should get credit, the leverage and growth to be gained in alignment is lost.

And that’s no joke. 

Memories of a Garage Startup

If you have an aspirational bone in your body you’ve been inspired by at least one story of an entrepreneur who, sequestered (voluntarily) in a garage with little more than duct tape and tenacity, gave birth to a thriving business.

You may have been in one of those garages. Or it might have been in a corner of the attic. Or at the kitchen table.

Wherever the work was done, the startup success stories I know of have one thing in common: lines between departments rarely exist. One day the spare bedroom was the CFO office. The next it belonged to the IT guru. (Same person…just a different hat.)

And everyone was in marketing and sales.

In those up-from-nothing ventures the short-term objective was singular — to survive. Whatever it took.

Because there was a vision for the long term.

A distinction between telling the brand story and closing a sales pitchdidn’t rear its ugly head until someone actually put together enough presentations, stirred up enough leads and closed enough pitches to make the company grow.

Enter silos — disguised as progress, and in the name of leverage.

That’s when we stopped walking into that bar together.

Don Quixote Rides Again

I recognize that in most quarters this is an exercise in tilting at windmills. But what might happen if we did away with the departments.

{pause for audible gasp}

What if we were back in the garage…or at the kitchen table…driven not by how many clicks we generate or how many calls we squeeze into a day; but aligned around a singular vision — prepared to do whatever it takes.

And since I’m already on this limb, I’ll inch a bit further out.

If our blink response to this fanciful idea is that the complexities of a full-blown business render the entrepreneurial model obsolete, we’ve landed on the real reason we often seem to be pulling in different directions.

The vision is unclear. Or missing. Success is measured in snippets.

We can debate metrics if you are inclined, but here’s what happens: When our focus is disproportionately on short term measures, realizing these measures becomes the mission.

But, for example, when the measure of accomplishment is an intentional click by a viable prospect because engaging the right prospect puts us one step closer to an ultimate goal… marketing and sales are no longer separate departments.

We are aligned as co-conspirators engaged in a singular pursuit.

And come on, after a day of scheming around how to get out of the garage and take over the market, co-conspirators will happily walk into a bar… together. And politely disagree over who buys the next round.

In Memory of a Leader

Patrick Mitchell had a profound impact on my life, as he did on many. And I’m certain he would be surprised, or at least downplay any such idea. He was simply going about life treating those he encountered with respect, kindness and gentleness.

Though he was accustomed to position and title, these did not shape his personality, perspective or the manner in which he chose to interact in the world.

He was an honest-to-goodness leader. Not because he had the podium or possessed the authority to call one in on the carpet. But because he listened, sought to understand, and genuinely cared about those with whom he worked. 

Pat did not believe his successes or position made him better than anyone.

Twenty-one years ago I was a new member of the marketing team at the law firm of Jenkens & Gilchrist, and Pat held one of his many positions in firm leadership. I first met him during an event where the marketing group was responsible for planning and executing. And in a setting where my function was to be at his service, he sought me out. He wanted to hear my story — for no reason other than that was who he was.

A few years later, working on a pursuit with a team of lawyers of which Pat was one, I made a noticeable and significant mistake — one I feared would damage my ability to work with the team. Pat was quick to provide appropriate support, to the point of taking responsibility for the error himself. This forever impacted the way I would interact with others in the wake of mistakes.

I was privileged to collaborate with him for seven years…including a lengthy season of crisis that tested the spirit and integrity of many. Pat never changed.

On the day the law firm closed, after leading an initiative that resulted in virtually everyone in the AmLaw 100 firm finding a new work home, Pat spent the afternoon deflecting any credit, and saying thanks to others. 

Pat Mitchell passed from this life earlier this week.

He was one of the best men I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I am certain I am not the only one who is honored to say that his example continues to make me a better colleague and friend.

My heart breaks for his family. Peace.

The Ultimate Business Development Question for the Covid Era

More than two decades ago Fred Reichheld, among others, began working on a conversation and a system that helped organizations — particularly professional service firms — rethink the issue of client relationships.

In his book, The Ultimate Question (now available in an updated version), the discussion zeroes in on what the author defines as the ultimate measure of loyalty — whether a client would recommend you / your work / your firm to a friend.

The discussion of how to quantify loyalty precipitated important conversations.

Satisfaction, while critical, should not be mistaken for enduring relationship. Appreciation and allegiance do not necessarily equate to advocacy or evangelism.

The Covid-19 Factor

Even while Covid reframes many business development related conversations, Reichheld’s work remains a must-read for anyone serious about gauging the client experience.

As virtually every service enterprise rethinks what can be done to maintain or deepen, never mind create new relationships, there is another question.

The ultimate business development question is rooted in a different value system – the economics of listening – or, as Bob Garfield termed it, Listenomics.

But a word of warning: while it has enormous potential, the question has consequences.

The Question

Specific articulation will vary depending on the situation; but here is the essence.

What do you wish a firm / a company (like ours) would do that we’re not currently doing? What should we be focusing on? If you could design it, what would our working relationship look like — today, and a year from now?

It is a simple question; but the response can be disruptive. Eliminating the nonsensical – “cut your rates by 70%” or “give away your product, portfolio or expertise” – and suggestions will likely center on the need to innovate…to meet the realities of a market hit hard by a global pandemic.

There are plenty of reasons to resist: my plate is overflowing with my own set of challenges…clients don’t always know what best serves them…expectations of today’s market are unrealistic…and what about unforeseen risks.

On the upside, there are little things like differentiation and loyalty. And trusted advisor status.

If you are wrestling with how to engage your targets or clients in the midst of today’s disruptions, ask the question. But be prepared. Asking implies an interest in the ensuing conversation.

What Good Shall I Do Today?

Most of us, I’m guessing, have recently had days where we didn’t really know where to begin — much less, how to realize the highest level of productivity.

This past weekend, while enjoying Ann Handley’s new book, Everybody Writes, I was reminded of the daily schedule of one of America’s most productive and innovative historic figures.

(A quick side note — you should add Ann’s book to your list of must-reads. It is one of the best, most practical guides to effective writing for business that I have ever read. It is, as you’d suspect, well written.)

But back to our point. Somewhere along the line — probably in some management class I attended — Benjamin Franklin’s template for daily productivity was cited as the quintessential example of the kind of organization that facilitates productivity and progress.

Franklin’s blueprint, however, failed to turn me into a productive genius; but it quickly became clear that the model wasn’t the problem. I tried at least a dozen “systems” — all the popular brands…all the super-organized notebooks, notecards and tools, all the new apps. None resolved my allergy to organizing. None made me as productive as I wanted to be.

Missing The Point

It took a while. But eventually I came to understand that at least part of the problem was that my definition of productivity was, to be clinical, screwed up.

My focus was on making a list, and checking things off — calls, meetings, administrative duties, project milestones.

Shortening the list meant progress.

In the process (tell me if this sounds familiar), on many days it felt as though I accomplished little of real consequence. Frustration doubled on days dominated by the need to react to the unexpected, meaning the to-do list got longer.

The Missing Ingredient

Turns out I was pretty much ignoring two things that make Franklin’s an approach that is genius — one that transcends even the best daily planner action list.

The first is its simplicity

With a day broken into just six blocks, there is structure, yet the schedule remains flexible enough to accommodate leisure, distraction, a real lunch break and the unpredictable.

This simplicity is big; but the second ingredient is the real game-changer.

A Guiding Principle

Embedded in Franklin’s personal template for each day are bookend questions:

    • Morning question — “what good shall I do today?”
    • Evening Question, as if to hold himself accountable — what good have I done today?”

These questions are the missing link — a guiding principle for each day.

Direction For These Days

As what we had come to think of as normal days continue to be disrupted…as we wrestle with unease or even a measure of fear…as we question how we should respond and what we should do today, maybe there is value in bookending our days with these questions.

Coming days are almost certain to present new challenges. Maybe We can zero in on direction if we’ll begin by asking, what good shall I do today?.

A Marketing and Sales Effort That Builds Trust

If the only reason you want to connect with me is because you have a sales pitch to unleash, I hope you’re selling a commodity.

Most of us make scores of commodity type purchasing decisions regularly — from toothpaste and soap to phones and computers — and we become experts at filtering the pitches.

When in need of a commodity, we either tune in or memory calls up relevant marketing messages; we may factor some combination of personal experience, brand equity and pricing data, and make the purchasing decision.

When timing isn’t right or the need not acute, most of us become relatively adept at postponing or tuning out the steady flow of requests, inquiries or pitches.

Playing A Numbers Game?

Those selling soap or phones understand the way their market behaves, and counter with frequency and creative branding, sprinkled with efforts to heighten felt need. Some combination of market size, frequent visibility, time and message determine the degree of their effectiveness. 

You may want to call it by some other name; but if you’re indiscriminately collecting names this week for use in next week’s mass-produced pitch, you’ve chosen to compete in a crowded and noisy marketplace.

On The Other Hand

If you seek to connect with me because you have an understanding of the challenges or opportunities I face, and you believe you can help, you have the makings of a different marketing and sales approach — one that, when executed properly, will immediately differentiate you.

For decades our prospective clients have been telling us — they hire service providers they believe they can trust. As our last post suggested, this is ultimately about believing that, at every turn, you have your client’s best interest at heart.

This is the essence of trusted advisor status.

A Bridge To Trust

A bridge isn’t built overnight, or in one or two conversations. But invest in developing a relationship based on the belief that you only act in the best interest of your prospect or client, and you’ve moved into rare air.

The blueprint? Be about the client; not about you.

This is, admittedly, easier said than done. But figure out a way for your marketing and sales efforts to deliver value — even today, in the midst of Covid-19 — and you change the face of your efforts.

Delivering legitimate value — something your prospect / market defines as helpful versus a one-size-fits-all mass-produced mailing that might as well be a copy of something the competition is distributing — requires learning what the prospective client will find valuable.

Translation: like the market has been telling us — invest in understanding the business of your target.

Building Blocks For Today’s Reality

Practically speaking, there are four things to apply to your Covid-19 marketing and sales efforts.

1. Do some Smart Targeting. Identify five specific targets to connect with this week — one per day. (If your schedule allows, make this two or three or five a day. The point is to be strategic. You can’t do this today with your list of 1000.)

2. Identify Business Drivers. Spend thirty-to-sixty minutes each morning researching your target of the day. (Again, spend more time here if your schedule permits.) Search newsletters, blogs, industry sites and content produced by your target and relevant competitors for common themes that provide insights into challenges or opportunities. Keep an eye out for consequential change.

3. Get Personal. Develop communication designed specifically for your target-of-the-day, and do two things:

    • Spotlight what you suspect to be a current need or issue based on what you’ve learned about your target’s business; and,
    • tee-up a complimentary follow up conversation for the express purpose of exploring the above. (or any other issue that is causing them sleepless nights). Making this conversation complimentary underscores your desire to provide value in an uncertain moment.

4. Follow Up. Of course, your communication should provide contact information. In addition (and especially in the case of existing clients), the “tee-up” noted above should include a follow up call from you two or three days hence.  When you make this call, remember the purpose: to see if you can find a way to contribute value. And if at first you don’t connect, try again.

The Consequence of Trust

It won’t happen overnight. But go to your market intent on building trust (versus selling a phone today) and you will have reinvented your business development efforts.

It is a frequently invoked label; but you know you’ve attained trusted advisor status when you are invited into the most strategic conversations.

Those who have cultivated trust are in meetings today — albeit a Zoom meeting in most cases — collaborating on solutions, and shaping what the market will look like when businesses begin to emerge from Covid-19.

A side bar: if you are among the group believing that understanding the law or compliance issues related to your market is the same as — to borrow the consultant-speak — understanding what keeps your prospect / client up at night, you may earn a measure of your target’s trust; but you are almost certainly leaving the most rewarding strategic opportunities for your competitors.

Finally, in acknowledgement of the fact that talking about it is not the same as actually doing the work, and in the spirit of wanting to provide value where possible, I have blocked Thursday afternoon for the next four weeks in order to offer a complimentary 30-minute conversation with anyone wanting to discuss marketing, business development and sales. No sales pitches. Just an effort to contribute where we can. Use the contact info here, or shoot me a note at eric@ericfletcherconsulting.com.

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