Think Like an Immigrant / Act Like an Artisan

I was reading an article the other day about the current tough economic times. It is difficult these days to read anything that does not somehow reference these tough economic times. I guess the same is true about this Blog article.

The article referred to the current situation as a “Balance Sheet” recession. The reference here was that everyone (businesses and individuals included) has racked up so much debt by previously buying things that they really couldn’t afford, and put it on their respective balance sheets that no one can borrow any more money to spend on consumption. With our economy based on 70% consumer purchases, this has put a pinch on demand as people (and companies) come to grips with their debts (and hopefully trying to pay them off). This reduced consumer demand has in turn caused the stagnation in growth needed to cause and drive companies to create jobs.

This in itself was not news. I think we have all felt the pain of the last few years in one form or another. What I did take away from the article and what I am addressing here were some of the fundamental mind set changes that were proposed to help people deal with the Balance Sheet recession. I thought they were equally if not more so applicable to running businesses, and probably jobs in general.

  1. Think Like an Immigrant.

Historically immigrants have come to this country with very little. They came with no sense of entitlement. They did not come expecting to be given anything…other than the opportunity or chance to do better than where they were.

It seems we may be starting to see this approach to our jobs (after 10 years of tougher economic times) but it appears that we may still have a ways to go. We need to remember that once we have a Job, it is not a “given”. It must be continually “earned”. We are not entitled to that job, or any other job for that matter. Like the immigrant we are entitled to the opportunity or chance to do better. If we don’t do better, then we may lose the opportunity, or job.

It is a little bit different world that we now live and work in, then it was before. We may need a little bit different mindset if we are to be successful in it.

  1. Act Like an Artisan.

Artisans have normally been considered the one-off and hand-made makers of goods. They did not mass produce anything, and their quality was considered a cut above. I am something of a would-be musician, and hand-made instruments made by artisan-luthiers are far more desirable (and expensive) than the production line models of the big manufacturers. They put their name on their output and take tremendous pride in what they make.

We need to start thinking like artisans in the businesses that we have. We need to take the sort of pride in our work that artisans take in their work, in whatever we do. It is not the job that we have been assigned by the boss. It is our job. It is a slight difference in approach but one that makes a significant difference in how you approach it and what you produce. If you had to sign your name, and your name only, to everything that you produced (reports, presentations, etc.), and then be judged by each one of them, would you do them differently?

An artisan is judged each time he creates a product by the product he has created.

I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, and I don’t want to intimate that everyone feels they are entitled and that no one takes pride in their work. That is clearly not the case. I do however think that there is merit in both refreshing our own mindsets, and those of our associates, of how we should be thinking about our jobs, and the pride that we should all be taking in the job we do.

When in Doubt….Ask

Customers are funny things. They need your product and they want your help. On the other side of the equation, you want their business. On the surface this would seem to be a relatively simple situation where the solution is obvious. You provide them the solution they want, and everyone is happy. Right?

The reality seems to be that it rarely works out that way.

My experience has been that customers know exactly what they DON’T want when they see it. They can tell you exactly where the provided solution falls short of their expectation, but only after it has been provided. By then it is too late. They are dissatisfied with the solution, and you are in recovery mode. It doesn’t matter that it is precisely what they asked for, or even demanded as part of their contract.  

Customers seem to have a very hard time defining the necessary aspects of what they want to the level where the provided solution can easily satisfy them. There is an art to getting the customer to provide you the desired, and in many instances needed information to enable you to satisfy their needs. In many instances this is because the customer is not aware of, or does not know all of the variables associated with their specific business need.

So what do you do? You start asking questions.

We have all heard the old adage: “There are no dumb questions.” This is wrong. There are an incredible number of dumb questions. If you happen to ask enough of them you can and will destroy your credibility with the customer and put your deal at risk.

On the other hand, you cannot make the customer fact finding process appear to be an interrogation. Each customer feels they are, and in most cases truly are unique. Template and check list question approaches need to be used with caution as they have a tendency to remove the individual and personal relations ship that a customer requires. It also makes them feel as though they have been “sold” to and you are now just filling out the required forms.

I recently read a book, “The Sales Messenger”, by Mary Anne Davis, where she actually addresses the art of questioning a customer. The idea was not to immediately start “selling” or interrogating, but to engage them in more of a give and take proposition. Obviously this is something all sales people want, but is much easier said than done. She did get me thinking about some of her ideas and particularly the words and approaches she uses.

Ideas such as asking your customers for “opinions” and not “decisions” as a way of creating a discussion where the customer can be induced to provide more information they may not have even known they had. We are always in a hurry to get a customer to decide if they want “this” or “that”, when it is possible that ultimately neither will end up satisfying the customer.

Opinions draw pictures, where decisions select from provided options. Unless you have all the information that has enabled you to provide the correct solution / option to that specific customers needs, the idea of looking for customer “advice”, “help” and “experience” in creating solutions for that customer can only help improve the final outcome for everyone. Asking the customer for their “beliefs” on what is important and their “priorities” on what they expect help to draw the customer deeper into the desired solution, as well as draw out the deeper information necessary to create it.

The book also brought out the negative or “fighting” words that we all use. These words have a tendency to appear when the customer’s opinion or advice does not completely match our own. When this happens we usually use words like “but…” and “however…” These words will cause contention with someone you are trying to work with.

We need to debunk another old saying here: “The customer is always right.” That is not the case. If it were, every customer would be satisfied with every purchase they have ever made. Have you ever met anyone that could say they were happy with every purchase they ever made?

Healthy contention is a good thing. It will usually result in the creation of a stronger solution. The idea is not to conflict with your customers opinion. If you believe there are aspects of the needed solution that are not reflected in your customer’s opinion, do not directly challenge them. Instead, ask them a challenging question. Get them to think about your point without conflicting with their point.

As I said, customers are funny things. I thought that the ideas in the “The Sales Messenger” on how to get the information that they need and want to give you, but may not necessarily know they have, were good. The connotation of the words that you use and the approach that you use them in are key. The creation of healthy contention versus customer conflict helps to create a stronger overall solution.

It also might end up helping make your customer more satisfied with their decision to partner with you, and more satisfied with the solution you provide them.