“What’s the Point?”

uncle_sam_pointing_finger       You’re a Sales Manager leading a sales meeting. Suddenly you notice that glazed look gradually forming in the eyes of your team. The longer you talk, the more you realize that you’ve lost them — they’re not paying attention. What happened?

Or you’re a parent lecturing — um, I mean communicating with your kids. But soon they’ve stopped listening to you, and you notice their attention drifting. Where did you get off track — and how do you get back on?

Your team, your kids, your spouse, your clients, your donors — any time you’re trying to communicate and you notice that you’ve lost your audience, it may be that you’ve failed to answer the one question that is uppermost in their minds. It’s the one question you and I ask when we’re listening to our boss, or our spouse, or a salesperson, especially when they’re sort of, you know, going on and on. It’s a 3-word question that, if we stop and ask it, can really make our communication more direct and more effective.

The question: “What’s the point?”

Nationally known author, speaker and learning styles expert Cynthia Tobias (www.applest.com) says that “What’s the point?” is the single most important question a parent needs to ask when trying to motivate a strong-willed child. I would add that it’s also the best question a boss can ask when dealing with employees who seem reluctant to get with the program — maybe the employees are tired of the boss’s long-winded abstractions and really want him or her to cut to the chase! “Don’t give me chapter and verse…or the entire 50-page strategic plan,” they cry. “Just tell me what you want me to do. What’s the point?

If you’re in sales or in fundraising, my suggestion is that during your presentation you frequently remind your client or your donor what the point of your presentation is. Otherwise they may become fearful that you’re going to go on talking indefinitely! Or if you’re leading a team in something complicated, like a planning session, it’s your responsibility to remind them frequently what the point of the whole exercise really is. Otherwise, especially when tension and fatigue begin to rise, people grow frustrated. “For crying out loud, what is the point?” they’ll ask — a question you don’t want to hear!

So take it from someone who has done it wrong more times than I can remember. Before you open your mouth to communicate something important, stop and ask yourself, “What’s the point I’m trying to make here?” If you can state it succinctly, and if you can answer that question in the minds of your listeners, it will go a long way toward preventing that glazed-over look of indifference and detachment that no boss, or parent, or spouse, or sales rep or fundraiser likes to see! You can even play a little game with yourself: pretend the words “What’s the point?” are emblazoned across the foreheads of the people you’re talking to. Or if you’re really daring, hand them a three-by-five card bearing the words “What’s the point?” and give them permission to hold it up if you wander off topic.

After all, it’s all about clear, concise, effective communication. That’s the point!


Clueless…and Proud to Admit It!

Confused  I don’t know whatever happened to Leslie, but if she’s still out there I have a message for her: “Thank you.” Leslie was the first real media buyer I ever called on, back in the early days of radio (I think it was during the Carter Administration). I remember sitting in her office on Capitol Hill asking about an upcoming buy and hoping I would get the chance to present my radio station for her consideration.

Finally she said, “Fine. Here’s what I want in the proposal.” I think what she asked for was your basic reach and frequency and gross rating point and cost per point and exclusive cume proposal. But to me, having been a radio rep for about twenty minutes, it sounded like she was asking me for the formula for nuclear fission. As she rattled off all the data points she wanted, I dutifully nodded like I knew what I was doing and wrote everything down, or tried to.

After a few moments, Leslie stopped and stared at me.  “You don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, do you?”

I swallowed hard. “Um…nope,” I answered. Fortunately she was a patient sort — she probably appreciated my honesty — and she proceeded to give me a basic primer on a few of the tidbits of information she needed, and why they were important. She also made sure I got the terms written down properly so I could look them up on my own. Instead of leaving with my tail between my legs, I left feeling much more confident.

Did I get on the buy? I don’t remember, to be honest, but I do remember that Leslie did me a huge favor: she didn’t make me feel stupid. She could have fussed and fumed and complained that the station had sent her a useless rookie, and thrown me out of her office just to show how irritated (and important) she was. But she took the time instead to educate a new sales rep, give me valuable information, and help me learn the business. I have always appreciated that!

A lot of proposals have flowed over the dam since then, to mix a metaphor, and I’m an older and somewhat wiser man today. And I have learned a valuable lesson: nothing is more disarming than the truth. If I am faced with a situation in which I don’t understand what someone is telling me, I have learned that it’s infinitely better to admit it upfront, with confidence and even with humor. Invariably when I speak up I find that I’m not the only one for whom some of the important details are less than clear. Do I understand what the client wants? Am I clear on what the boss needs in the report? Is it obvious what the donor expects? Do I fully comprehend the next steps and relevant deadlines? If I don’t know, I would rather ask now than wait and be wrong. I can much more easily take the hit to my ego by admitting confusion early on — because I’ve learned the hard way that it’s way better than the pain that comes later from refusing to admit I was clueless at the outset.

So thanks, Leslie! You probably don’t remember but you did me a big favor. As a result, my occasional motto has been “Clueless — and proud to admit it!”

Whatever You Do, Don’t Bore Me!


We talked about this last time: if you’re in sales or fundraising, sometimes you may find yourself dealing with a highly Analytic donor or client. You try to establish rapport using warmth and — pardon the expression — schmooze, but it just doesn’t work.  These prospects insist on data and proof, which can make it challenging for us highly Relational types to build a connection using our usual approach. When dealing with Analytic people you had better have your empirical information close at hand! Credibility only comes when they believe in your competence.

But there’s another type of prospect for whom the exact opposite approach seems best. These are the strong-willed, impatient, even impulsive types, sometimes called Drivers (although that’s not a perfect description). Drivers make decisions quickly. They march to their own drummer. They are absolutely not afraid to skip steps, start in the middle, and cut you off halfway through your presentation. And in my experience, the absolute worst thing you can do when dealing with a Driver is to make him or her feel bored.

I’m that way. I remember having an insurance guy make a presentation to me — this was back in the day of the flip chart desk-top presentation using a special notebook (the paper kind) with charts and graphs in plastic sleeves. When he opened this thing up and I saw about 40 of these pages my heart sank! Are you telling me I have to sit through forty of your flipping charts (double entendre intended)?!! I was bored before we even got started! And, no, he didn’t get the order.

Now if I had been the Analytic type, which I suspect he was, I would have devoured those 40 charts. I might even have wished for more. I might have asked for my own hard copy so I could study them on my own. But the salesman never stopped to figure out that I was a Driver who abhorred the thought of sitting through a protracted presentation. If he had done something very simple at the outset it would have set my mind at ease: he could simply have said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going through all of these — I’m just going to show you the ones that are of interest to you.” I would have breathed more easily and actually paid attention. And he might have sold me a policy.

So there’s two equal and opposite approaches to the sales presentation. For the Driver, be brief and to the point, and don’t bore me — but have the information ready in case I ask for it. You can keep it light, keep it moving, and be direct, and it’s okay to ask me for a decision because I may already have made it before your presentation is even finished. For the Analytic, be thorough and businesslike, take your time, and don’t schmooze me. Build trust by presenting me with facts, and don’t expect a speedy decision, because you’re not going to get one.

For those of us in sales and fundraising, different learning styles really do keep things interesting!

When “Trust Me” Isn’t Enough


I might have mentioned this before, but from time to time (like most of you) I’ll get these flashes of insight — my so-called epiphanies. Unfortunately when I get one I tend to run excitedly to tell someone about my latest burst of brilliance — and when I do they’ll often look at me dumbfounded and say, “Well, duh — you mean you only just figured that out?!” I seem to have a flair for rediscovering the obvious.

For that reason I have come to refer to these insightful bursts as my WDE’s — my “Well, Duh” Epiphanies. Some years ago I had a WDE which went like this: I suddenly realized that not everyone thinks like me.

I’m told that I am a highly relational person, reasonably intuitive, and quick to establish rapport. I tend to trust people quickly and I feel people tend to trust me equally quickly. And when I was newer in sales I was convinced I could connect with just about anyone. So it came as a shock when I began running across prospects with whom I seemed to lack any ability to get to relational first base. I could not for the life of me establish rapport with these individuals at all — and usually the harder I tried (using my arsenal of winsome relational techniques) the worse it became. More than once I walked away with my ego severely bruised. My vaunted relational skills had apparently failed me, and I was baffled and frustrated!

Then I began to discover that not everybody takes in information and processes it like I do. This discovery of Learning Styles (thank you to author, speaker and friend Cynthia Tobias — www.applest.com) was a revelation. Turns out the people I was having the hardest time with are the Analytics, those men and women for whom proof is everything — and proof means data. In approaching these prospects I was placing all the emphasis on my so-called interpersonal skills, trying to get these tough clients to believe me because they trusted me and to trust me because they liked me. What I had failed to realize was that Analytics only trust you if they think you know what you’re talking about. You have to prove your credibility with facts. You earn their trust through competence and knowledge — not with your winsome smile and your engaging manner. And if they ask for the data to back up your claims, you had better have those data readily at hand. The same spreadsheets and reports that make a Relational person’s eyes glaze over are bread and butter to the Analytic. They’re essential.

In time I learned (the hard way) to temper my approach with the prospects I came to recognize as Analytic. I learned to have the data handy in my briefcase so I could prove my point with facts. I learned not to behave in ways my Analytic clients believed to be untrustworthy but to back off and to be uncharacteristically businesslike and subdued — hardly my natural bent. And I started having some success with the very type of client that had formerly frustrated me so.

We’ll talk more about Learning Styles later. For now, if you’re in sales or fundraising and you’re having a hard time building trust with certain prospective clients or donors, maybe the approach you’re taking — even though it makes perfect sense to you! — is somehow undermining their trust in you, and not building it up. Here’s a handy “Well, Duh” Epiphany: when it comes to establishing interpersonal connections, we’re not all the same!

Technology has made us _______________ people.

Consider the statement, “Technology has made us __________ people.” How would you fill in the blank?

By technology, I don’t mean the steam engine and the electric can opener. I’m talking about communication technology and information technology, the kind of tech that has given rise to multi-billion dollar industries while flooding our saturated and over-extended minds with Important Data, Relevant Facts, and Vital Details. You know what I’m talking about. My philosophical question is, are we better off with smart phones, 24/7 news cycles, and the never-ending bombardment of information? Or has all that barrage made us less happy, less satisfied, more fearful and even more isolated? In other words, are your Facebook friends really your friends?

When my dad was an insurance man, he had a phone on his desk and a secretary who took messages. When he was out, he was out. Calling into the office meant finding a pay phone. (Tried that recently?) I suspect my father was more satisfied in his work and had a greater sense of what was important than many of us today. Dad would not recognize the world of today, just like I won’t recognize the world into which my grandkids will grow up. I don’t mean to lapse into an exercise in gauzy nostalgia here, but maybe we ought at least to be asking the question, “What has that ceaseless flood of information done to us as people?” What are we doing to ourselves?

So how would you fill in the blank? Has communication technology made us happier or more depressed? More relaxed or more stressed? Better connected or more isolated? More productive or more paralyzed? Better informed or more bewildered? We can’t turn back the clock, of course, nor am I suggesting (necessarily) that we should. The genie is out of the bottle, Pandora’s box has been opened, etcetera. But, come on, people — can we talk?

Love to hear your thoughts.