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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!”

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Posted by on March 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Primum Non Necere = “Don’t Lose What You’ve Got!”

hippocrates       I’m sure we all recognize the name Hippocrates. He was the father of modern medicine. He was also the father of modern sales and fundraising.

You say you never heard that last part before? Well, it may not be entirely true, but there’s one thing old Hippocrates said that we in fundraising and sales would do well to remember. In Latin the saying is rendered, Primum non necere — in English we say, “First do no harm.” I would prefer to translate it, “Don’t lose what you’ve got!”

If you’re in sales or fundraising you know all too well the relentless need to bring in new business and new donors. In order for our organizations to grow, or even to avoid shrinking, the pressure is more or less constant to generate revenue from new sources. I’m not arguing with that — but I am suggesting that, as we focus our efforts on new clients and new donors, we must not overlook the ones we already have. Just because a donor has supported your organization for years or a client has given you their business season after season doesn’t mean we can ever take them for granted, not for an instant. If you’ve ever had a steady client decide not to renew because someone else came along and took away the business while you weren’t paying attention, you know what I’m talking about.

For me the truth behind the axiom “First do no harm” is simple: it means, first, pay attention to the relationships you have. Shore them up. Keep them vital. Keep reminding these clients and donors why they want to do business with you. Avoid relationship complacency at all costs! Seems to me that there are at least four reasons why it’s imperative that we work hard to avoid losing what we’ve got.

Current clients can decide to go away. This seems obvious but it bears emphasis. Let’s say you have an In Kind client who gives your organization $25,000 worth of goods and services every year. Because it’s not cash, it’s easy to take it for granted and assume that In Kind gift will always be there. But one year that client is going to be preparing their budget, and if you haven’t done a good job of keeping the relationship active and reminding them of the benefits they enjoy by doing business with you, they may decide to terminate that deal. Your boss may suddenly have to start writing a $25,000 check every year, and she is going to wonder why you blew the relationship! So I need to continually re-sell the clients I have.

Current clients can be encouraged to grow.  Again, this is obvious to those of us who have been around the sales/fundraising block a time or two. Generally speaking, which is easier to find — a brand new dollar from a brand new source, or a dollar increase from a source who already has a relationship with you? As you cultivate current relationships, you clearly need to avoid pushing too hard, but you also need to avoid being fearful. Asking for a larger gift or a larger sale, when done properly and appropriately, can be your quickest route to increased revenue.

Current clients can be encouraged to refer. Few things are more gratifying to a sales rep or fundraiser than a referral. It means someone we already call on felt good enough about our relationship to tell a friend! But let’s not assume that referrals will happen in a vacuum — instead, I have to be reminded of the need to stay in touch with current donors, give them success stories, and reinforce the importance of their gifts. Then I’ve earned the right to ask for those golden referrals! But if I’m not cultivating those current relationships, I’ll bet those referrals will be few and far between.

Current clients provide a vital base of support. Even if present clients or donors never change their spending or giving from one year to the next, those dollars are vital to your success. Treat them with honor and care and attention! Again, reminding donors why they give, or clients why they do business with you, helps keep those current dollars flowing. If that flow stops, your work just got a lot harder!

So let’s all get out there and find those new sources of revenue! But in the process, remember, friends, Primum non necere — “Don’t lose what you’ve got!”

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Too Nice to Decide

Indecisive       Do you have a prospect who is too nice to make a decision?

Sometimes the people we find most enjoyable to deal with can be the most frustrating — that is, if we’re trying to get them to make a decision. Those of us in fundraising and in sales know this experience well. We establish a wonderful, warm relationship with a prospect. We build rapport over time. We gain trust. They seem to look forward to our calls or visits. Eventually we earn the right to ask for the order, or the gift, so we ask. And in return for all our work, we get — indecision. Vacillation. The sound of crickets.

The problem is, some of our most warm-hearted, most relational prospects seem to have a terrible time making a decision!

Why does this phenomenon happen? Why do some of the nicest people we deal with turn out to be the most indecisive? Seems to me there are a couple of common reasons. Maybe we haven’t given them enough information. Maybe we haven’t given them enough time. Or maybe — just maybe — they don’t want to hurt our feelings.

Whatever the reason, when this happens, you and I are in a bit of a dilemma. Push too hard for the order or the gift and we run the risk of alienating the prospect. But if we tread too lightly in the interest of maintaining the relationship, we remain in a state of indecision and paralysis. If we’re intent on closing the sale or getting the gift, it’s incumbent on us to figure out what’s going on. The best way to do that, as we know, is to ask.

Maybe our obvious first question could be a simple one: “Have I given you enough information?” Chances are we have, but it’s good to double check. Pinning down any missing data might help us get the conversation off dead center.

The second question, about whether they need more time, is trickier. If we ask, “Have I given you enough time?” they may say “No” just to keep on delaying. It’s probably better to pin down a specific time when we can ask again. We might say, “Will there be a better time soon when we can talk about this again?” Or “I understand if you’re not sure right now. How about if we talk about this again next Tuesday?” Our goal is closure, and this might help.

But I’ll bet you a dollar (just a figure of speech…) that the real problem with the indecisive prospect is quite likely that they don’t want to hurt our feelings by turning down our proposal. If we suspect that’s what’s going on, we can make it easier for them to be honest with us. If the trust level in the relationship is as high as we think it is, it should be fairly simple for us to have an honest conversation that can put them at ease. Let them know they can be straightforward with us. Let them know we appreciate the relationship very much.  And let them know that it’s okay if the answer is “No” or if our proposal was somehow off target. Hopefully our honesty will defuse the tension our relational prospect is feeling and open the door to continued conversation, and maybe a positive decision down the line.

Note to self: when I have a highly relational prospect who can’t make a decision, I owe them the gift of honesty. They’ll thank me for it — and we’ll keep the relationship alive and productive. Maybe they just like me too much to say “No!”

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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How Are You at Handling Criticism?

critic      How are you at handling criticism?

I’m not very good at it, honestly. I know, I know, we’re supposed to welcome “constructive criticism.” But even the so-called “constructive” kind is still criticism, and for those like me cursed with strong ego and thin skin (relatively speaking) criticism stings. In my online dictionary the first definition of “to criticize” is to express disapproval — the second is to give a considered opinion. When I am on the receiving end I tend to confuse the two.

Nevertheless, I know that receiving criticism well is a mark of maturity. In the best sense of the word, the one who criticizes me is not trying to hurt my feelings — quite the opposite. He/she is trying to point out something I need to see in order to be more effective. The well-meaning critic is (hopefully) following the Biblical admonition to tell the truth in love. So how do I learn to set aside my reflexive defensiveness and take criticism well?

The first thing I need to do when someone criticizes me is indeed to check my defenses. As I said, my defensive reaction is a reflex, a learned response to a perceived attack. When I am on the defensive I am generally at my worst, prone to put up my dukes, lash back, and say things I should not say, using accusatory or retaliatory words which can quickly turn a productive dialogue into a raging conflict. Maturity demands that we learn to check those defensive impulses the moment they arise! I’m better at this now than I used to be, but still working on it.

So when I’ve decided to respond in a calm and mature fashion — more or less — I can move on to the next two things: consider the source and consider the motive. Is the criticism coming from someone I trust? Is it coming from someone in authority? Is it coming from someone who reports to me? Is it coming from someone who knows me well? Does my critic understand the situation? Deciding if the critic is credible is fairly easy, but evaluating the critic’s motive becomes tricky: I have to consider carefully whether the critic has an agenda of his or her own. For example, I may be pushing forward with a new initiative, only to encounter critics of change who have a vested interest in the status quo. Do I dismiss them, or do I decide that their concerns are valid and I need to pay careful attention? The motive of the critic is a huge factor in determining how much credence we give them.

That’s why, when handling criticism, I need to remind myself to seek the truth. Seldom does criticism come to us without at least some shred of truth. Do I have the maturity (there’s that word again) to sift through what may be harsh words and find the gem of honest evaluation that I need to take to heart?

Sometimes the final step, and the hardest, may actually be to thank the critic. This isn’t always possible, and it may not always be appropriate, but most of the time I think it’s an important step toward closure. Proverbs 15:1 brings timeless advice when it says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When I am criticized, can I be the one who listens and responds with grace and humility? Can I thank the one who criticizes me?

Like I said, I’m working on it. How about you?

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Whatever You Do, Don’t Bore Me!

bored-facial-expression

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!

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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When “Trust Me” Isn’t Enough

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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!

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Are You Staring At Your Ski Tips?

fallen-skier           I used to ski — snow ski, that is. I learned the basics of good old downhill skiing in 9th grade on the mushy slopes of Snoqualmie Summit, riding the ski bus once a week from the Washington Athletic Club. Back in those days (DANGER: NOSTALGIA ALERT!) we used to have to start tying our ski boots at about North Bend because it took so long. Yes, I said “tying.” Boots came with laces: only experienced, moneyed skiers had boots with buckles. Our skis had cable bindings, too, for that matter…but I digress.

Yes, I used to ski, and although I stopped skiing decades ago there is one lesson that our instructor (I think his name was Thor) kept drumming into us: don’t focus on the tips of your skis! As beginners that’s precisely what we tended to do. We would traverse the slope as far as we good, then make a clumsy, panicky turn and traverse back the other direction, all the while with our eyes riveted to the tips of our skis, as if that would somehow keep us vertical. As we started to gain a bit of momentum, still staring at those ski tips, we would invariably run smack into the side of a mogul and go tumbling, often popping our cable bindings in the process.

So Thor kept reminding us: don’t stare at the tips of your skis! Instead focus your attention down the slope. Not only does it help you point your weight in the right direction — it also helps you see those moguls coming up well ahead of time, so you can actually maneuver to avoid them. This was a revelation! Not only could we anticipate obstacles, we could — amazing, but true! — keep from running into them! By staring fixedly and fearfully at our ski tips we only ensured that, by the time we saw the mogul, we were milliseconds from running into it — too late to react. Looking down the slope felt counterintuitive at first, but it proved to be essential to generating any sort of rhythm on the way down the mountain. Once I had the nerve to try it, prying my eyes from those ski tips and gazing at the slope ahead, I finally started learning how to ski. (Not great, you understand, but much, much better.)

The metaphor for us seems clear. If we try to plow through our day staring at the tips of our proverbial skis, then all we ever seem to do is to react. The obstacle (a task, a deadline, a project, a problem) looms suddenly before us, completely unexpected, and our response is clumsy, awkward, unfruitful, maybe even disastrous. But as we start to lift our eyes and learn to gaze ahead down the slope, we begin to see those hazards coming. We become proactive — we anticipate. And as a result, we handle the problems better. We develop some satisfying rhythm, even some grace. And we don’t fall down quite so much!

Does every problem seem to knock you down, sprawling in the snow? Maybe you need to listen to Thor: “Stop looking at the tips of your skis!”

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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