“Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.” St James
I am convinced there’s a whole universe worth of strategy in that statement. I don’t care who you are, what your role in life is, or what positions or titles you hold. That advice above applies to you. And, if followed it will do you a world of good. It will bring you healthy relationships. It can also bring you treasure in the spiritual and monetary sense of that word.
If you are a mom trying to get through to your daughter this applies.
If you are a CEO hoping your partners will finally “get it” this applies.
If you are a new manager and can’t figure out why your direct reports won’t respect you, this applies.
If you are a salesperson and you find you are no longer closing sales the way you used to, this applies.
If you are husband and you feel like you’re losing touch with your wife, this applies.
For whatever reasons (and they are legion!) we are convinced that talking at problems will fix them and giving people more information will influence them.
People want to be heard. Really heard. Really understood. It’s also true that to fix a problem you have to learn and learning requires listening as the price of admission.
An example from my business life. I can not tell you how many times I have had a sales person come into my office and convince me of the need to buy. I was hooked. I just had a few questions for them and I was ready to open up my check book sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. But they could not pick up on the ques that it was my turn to talk or that I had a question. They wanted to finish their speech, pull every sales trick out of their grab bag and make sure I had ‘all the information I needed to make an informed decision.’ Well guess what?! I had already made a decision to buy and the more they talked the less interested I became. Because in that moment it was all about them. If they were offering me something of value it should have been about me, right? I mean I had mentally already stroked the check. I was right where they wanted me. But… they kept talking. And talking, And talking. So they lose.
Why? Because I assume they represent the culture of the company they are selling for. And if the culture is talk talk talk talk talk, then what happens when I have a problem with their product or service? Am I to assume that their customer service department will be totally attentive and ready to help? I immediately start to have doubts. And the more they talk the more my doubts grow…
Listening well takes work and practice and learning. But it can be learned and to be really effective in any endeavor I believe it must be learned. I fully agree with John Jantsch, “…one of the master skills of any marketer, manager or educator is the ability to listen perceptively to what our prospects, customers, staff and community members are saying. And I further believe this is something we all have to work at.” (The Commitment Engine, p 152)
Here’s an amazing Ted talk that got passed to me this week by my good friend Chris Marshall who heard about it from our mutual friend Bill Bean.
It’s all about the leverage and importance of listening if we really want to do well and do good….
Tomorrow begins the annual time of preparation that Christians the world over call Advent. This time of preparation is so strongly juxtaposed to what happens in pop-culture. As people begin mindlessly shopping and listening to inane holiday songs and getting them self all whipped up into the ‘holiday spirit’ Advent comes along with this…
Luke 21: 25-26 “It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking. (from The Message, a translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson)
Holy Shiite! That’s some wild stuff! And nothing like the pablum pop-culture feeds us. Advent is for the strong, the prepared, the fearless.
Or perhaps its for the weak, the unprepared and the fearful who know Someone who embodies strength, power, and confidence…
27-28 “And then—then!—they’ll see the Son of Man (aka Jesus) welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”
Here’s the thing.
We who know, trust and love Christ don’t have to be afraid of the worst that could possibly come at us. Our strength and confidence comes via association with him.
We can choose to be numb on strong drink and just act like everything is ok. We can shop and hum and sip our peppermint mochas and try to avoid the realities of suffering that already exist in the world and the future crisis that are bound to come by getting into the holiday spirit.
Or we can choose to align and side with the author of life, the Creator of the cosmos, and the One who overcame death.
I want to be on HIS team when all breaks loose because he will be the one calling the shots in the end anyway…
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart
Practicing gratitude is not only good for your soul its also good for business. It is amazing how a simple “thank you” can turn people into champions for your business. That goes esepcially for your co-workers, vendors, referral partners and the customers that every day make your business go by simply showing up, engaging your services and opening wide their wallets. That is something that we do not want to take for granted!
Most industries these days are at risk of being turned into a commodity. Fierce competition exists and if you’re strategy is to compete on price alone you’re in for trouble. As a favorite mentor of mine likes to say: “There’s always someone ready to go out of business faster than you!” (John Jantsch) And that is pretty much what you can expect when you compete on price. It may be a slow painful death but you’ve already lost the battle if price is your main focus. Now, there are exceptions. But if you’re not Wal-Mart it likely won’t work.
Much better to build relationships and then nurture them with gratitude.
The shadow side of gratitude is flattery. If all you want is someone’s money (or referrals or performance, same thing) then gratitude devolves into one more tool of manipulating people to get what you want rather than sincere thanks.
So what are the marks of sincere gratitude vs. flattery?
Simple. Gratitude is mindful of the other person and treats them as more than a conduit for a transaction.
How do you say thanks?
Here’s some more ideas on building up referral relationships in your business:
I read once (and I wish I could remember where so I could give them credit!) that people talk a lot about “buisness to buisness” selling but that is never really the case, it is always, always, always “person to person.” Behind every business deal is a person.
I love the Referral Institute’s formula and I see it in practice every day as a business owner: Visibility + Credibility = Profitability
Trust is at the core of building relationships and nobody rolls deeper than the Better Business Bureau on that topic. They have built their whole brand around this idea including their yearly torch awards.
So how does a small business owner build referral relationships? Here are some of the basics:
Availability: These first 2 are actually vows taken by the Northumbria community. That community has learned there can be no relationship unless their members are available and vulnerable with each other. Our life is made up of a succession of moments so sharing our time is THE way we share our lives. Are you available to your most important customers and referral partners? Do they have direct access to you? This should most likely not be the general public if you are trying to build a business that is bigger than yourself. You do not want everyone to have your mobile phone number but you do want those 20-40 people who send you a lot of work (or have the potential to) to be able to contact you directly and get a response fairly quickly from you. Not your assistant. Not an auto responder email. Not a gatekeeper. YOU! First of all the type of people who are great referral partners probably won’t have the time or patience to wade through a matrix of gatekeepers whether persons or machines. They will want direct access. If they have a problem or want to make a referral you want them to be able to get to you directly.
Vulnerability: do you have the ability to make fun of yourself? to not take yourself too seriously? When we’re vulnerable with another person it triggers empathy in them and builds a bond between people. It’s also important to show real emotion. Now of course there is a balance here. You don’t always want to be wearing your heart on your sleeve in every relationship and certainly not in every business relationship but you might have to risk a little vulnerability and see how the other person responds. If they show empathy or better yet take a risk back then you have the basis of a relationship. If they don’t you may not even want them as a referral partner anyway.
Attention: Its interesting in our culture we talk about “paying attention.” Attention is a valuable currency! Want to reward someone or thank them for sending you work? Pay attention to them! Give generously of your attention. (Learned this one from my friend Chris Marshall… I wonder if he has written about this anywhere online? Maybe if Chris reads this he’ll post a link in the comments below? Pretty please?)
Telling your story: This ties in with vulnerability but the power of story, YOUR story is stronger than you may think. People want to know how you ended up in the buisness you are in, what motivated you to start a non-profit, or why you changed careers when you were 33. Just write it out and share it with a few people and see what happens.
Listening We’ve probably all heard the old adage that we have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason and how important it is for us to listen twice as much as we talk. Well even though its now cliche, its still true. Developing the ability to really hear another person is so so hard and so so worth it. It will deepen every realtionship you have and help you build the ones you want to have. Whether in your family or business. Knowing what customers want is THE secret sauce of selling and all it involves is learning to ask really good questions and shutting up. I can’t tell you how many times salespeople had me on the line and by talking too much literally talked me out of the sale. Hundreds of times. It seems counter intuitive but the more you talk the less I’m likely to buy. I just want the abbreviated version, the raw facts and then the ability to ask a couple follow up questions. Then I just want to feel heard. Practice the “You had me at hello” sales. Don’t pontificate! Listen!
Empathy: Following closely on the heels on listening is the practice of empathy. Empathy is a habit, a skill that can be learned. It can’t be faked but it can be learned. If you truly don’t care about people, you don’t deserve to succeed in business. If you are truly in it just for yourself I hope you don’t succeed. The last thing the world needs is another narcissistic a-hole entrepreneur. However, if you have a genuine desire to do well and you’re willing to do well by treating people well, caring for them, understanding their needs and offering something of real value then I want you to do well. You WILL do well. I love the prayer of St Francis “Seek first to understand, not to be understood.” That is at the heart of good listening and empathy.
(This next round of posts is going to get a little more tactical than what I’ve been writing in recent weeks.The upside is that the things I’ll be exploring apply to businesses, churches, artists, solopreneurs and non-profits… see what you think. And please let me know if they are helpful. Or not helpful.)
- – – – – – – – –
When I first started leading Center City Collision at the end of 2003 I remember thinking how much work went into getting customers. Thankfully the previous owner had a good customer base and many people came in during the early years and asked for him. “Larry still working here?” This gave me the opportunity to tell them a little bit about the transition to my ownership and then offer to write them an estimate. My strategy at the time was simply to land as many jobs as I could. That was pretty much it. Just land them one by one as they came through the door. I’d get my clipboard and blank piece of paper and walk outside and take a few notes about the damage, get their VIN # and then write an estimate and just hope they would say “Yes” when I offered to put them on the calendar and pre-order all the parts needed for the job. One customer at a time we started to grow.
Then a really bad thing happened at the Volkswagen dealership next door. Someone ran across the hoods of several brand new cars. I never did hear if they caught the person that did it but the net result was 8 brand new cars were damaged and needed to be repaired and painted. Eight! At the time we were averaging about 10 cars a month. It was obviously more than we could handle all at once. But the dealer asked us to do 4 of them and they would send 4 to another shop. I was so stoked! The pressure to sell was off for a couple of weeks and we could focus on getting these brand new cars back to the dealer as soon as possible. I can’t remember exactly how long it took us but I know we did it faster than the other shop and our paint jobs matched the original better too. In fact we had to repaint at least one of the other shop’s jobs to help get the color right.
The best thing about this for us was it solidified a relationship with that dealer. It gave us an opportunity to show them what we were capable of and increased their confidence in us. Shortly after this we became the primary shop they referred their customers to which, as it turned out, has been a significant portion of our yearly revenue for the past 8 years.
This experience taught me a very important lesson about the power of referrals and the importance of having referral partners. So rather than try to land one job at a time, I realized there are people out there who because they are trusted and have a customer base have the power to refer lots of customers. Call them influentials, connectors, mavens, trust agents, or whatever you want. The reality is they can send you a lot of profitable work if you can find a way to get them to know, like and trust you and your services or product.
So here’s a couple questions to help you uncover potential referral partners:
Are there businesses that you don’t compete with but do share customers with?
Who are the people who get to your customers before you do?
Just by way of illustration for us in auto body repair good referral partners are people like car dealers, insurance agents, and mechanics. If you run those three through the grid of those 2 questions above it’s easy to see why.
“The key to creating a great list of commitment beliefs is to throw off any notion of what they should be and simply brainstorm a bit about the best traits of your organization. Think about your people. Who on your team embodies what your company stands for? … Once more for emphasis: This is not a list of what ought to be or what sounds impressive. This is a list of what is, even if what is today isn’t as fully developed as you know it can be.” – John Jantsch The Commitment Engine, p. 112
That was a bit of a revelation to me. The idea that values or what John calls “committed beliefs” are actually not ideals but are simply uncovering things that are already true about your business. And further they do not have to be tied to great achievements. They are more like little seedlings that are showing promise. They are attributes that already exist AND that you want to see more of. This was actually quite freeing.
And beyond that, a lot more fun personally!
I’m not sure if its just how my brain is wired but exercises that are designed to help you brainstorm vision and visualizing all the incredible “what if’s?” and “Someday we’ll be a $200 gazillion company led by yours truly who by then will be a perfect but utterly unique blend of Mother Theresa, Stephen Hawking and Richard Branson.” That shit right there, wears me out! I need vision and I like to dream and explore ideas but when it gets too detached from my regular work I get a little squirrelly. By nature I’m geared for the more tactical elements of an enterprise – moving ideas from A-Z, the execution side.
So as I reflected on what is already true about my business and from that list what do I want to see more of I came up with these ideas and I’m trying them out here to see how they land. In no particular order and in “shitty first draft” (Anne Lammott) form….
1. Local love: I want Center City Collision to do good in the neighborhood. To be generous to local initiatives like Norwood Rugby, the Service League, and Norwood Promise. I want to be a good neighbor. I want us to be a ‘hub business’ that unites small businesses, encourages entrepreneurs, and serves the wider business community.
2. Care and compassion: Our tag line is “Collision repair by people who care.” I desire a culture of care for our customers and team members (employees) that has the ability to listen with genuine empathy and warmth. We recognize that everyone matters and everyone is created in God’s image so we treat people with kindness and respect no matter what their attitude or orientation or politic or gender or color or economic standing happens to be. Our approach across the board starts and ends with healthy, life affirming relationships.
3. Serving a higher purpose. Center City Collision was founded as a means to fund and do ministry. It has evolved beyond that quite quickly but I never want to lose that. I wrote about that in a previous post but as a summary all good work is part of the ongoing transformation and re-creation of the earth. Work is simply order out of chaos just like the Ancient Spirit did at creation (Genesis 1,2) where the Spirit is to said to be “brooding over the chaos” and bringing forth life. When we repair a wrecked that is the same thing. Bringing order out of chaos. Its true in your work as well. But transformation happens on many levels and our hope is to see many buildings, businesses, homes, and lives re-newed as we do our daily work and find new opportunities to bring order and flourishing.
4. Environmental stewardship. Kinda folds into #3 maybe ??
5. Joy. We want people who engage with Center City to be happier because if it. This guy has got me thinking about the possibilities of bringing more joy and happiness to myself and others
6. Creativity. Our design, business innovations, being an “industry transformer” are all important to us. For starters, our logo kicks ass! =) Thanks E!
7. Integrity. Our yes is yes. We want to make and keep promises to our neighborhood, our customers, our team and our partners.
This is just a rough draft. I’m sure things will get moved around, expanded, altered, etc… and hopefully written/ lived in a way that inspires.
But in these ideas I see seedlings that could become Oaks if given time and attention in the years ahead.
You are great at something.
You may not even be aware yet of what that something is but you are already great at something. Discovering this unique ability, this strength that only you have is a large part of your life’s work. And once discovered and named you can then become responsible for it and nurture it and refine it. Eventually you’ll become a unique, one-of-a-kind, virtuoso at your “thing.”
But how do you discover your “thing?”
Your friends and family can likely already see it. They have a perspective on you that you can’t have. If you really want to know what your “thing” is, start by asking them what they see. A simple, “I’m trying to discover what I’m good at. Can you tell me how have I’ve contributed to your life?” will do.
And right here is where you’re probably telling yourself “I can’t ask my friends that question! Its sounds so self serving!” Well, its not. It’s simply part of the discovery process you’ll use to become more useful, more capable of doing what you are uniquely able to do and contributing to the good of the world. Here’s the deal: Once you know what your “it” is, then you can you consciously put it in service to others. In that light you can think of it this way: its actually selfish not to discover your thing. We want you to discover it. We need you to.
Other avenues for discovery are the tests and tools that are on the market. Myers-Brigg. The Enneagram. Strengths Finder. Kolbe. These are ones I’ve taken and can confidently recommend. Also, the book Unique Ability took me far down the path as well. But honestly, none of these gave me the full picture. They were more like pointers toward what my thing is. And honestly I’m still not 100% sure I got it right. I’m still discovering. (Which is why I’m asking you an important question at the end of this post.)
This process is kind of like an onion. You just peel a layer at a time. And with each layer you get closer to “it.” With each layer you become a little bit more self aware. And as you become more self aware you become better and better able to serve, love, and care for those around you.
And the payoff is huge. Great reward will follow each successive layer. At first it may just be the physic and self reinforcing reward of being good at something – so your confidence increases. Then as you peel further down you find that your joy also increases. Drilling further down the rewards seem to get more and more tangible. Soon it will be things like recognition and likely even revenue.
So, I have a question and an offer.
The question: I’m trying to discover what I’m good at. Can you tell me how have I’ve contributed to your life?
The offer: If I know you personally and you ask, I’ll return the favor.