Friday, June 3, 2011

R we Resisting?

Most of us are resistant to opportunities that surround us. To achieve a new level of success we must become opportunity sensitive.

There were three of us waiting Monday morning at 9:30 in the conference room. It was supposed to be four, Puneet and I from my company, and two from the client, but one was resistant, though we didn’t know it.

It was the late 2010s, and we were waiting for Mr. Santosh the vice president of sales for a major market pre-fabrication franchise to arrive. We had been invited in – or maybe I should say we invited ourselves in – after a promotional teleconference the week before, led by me, on customer relationship management and technology-based marketing strategies. Santosh was running late and I had already launched into my spiel about what we could do to help the franchise grow its ticket and sponsorship revenue.

Months later Santosh would confess. On the way in he recalled that we had a meeting scheduled, but thought it would be a waste of time. As he thought about the issues on his plate to tackle for the week, he wished he hadn’t committed himself to our meeting. He considered calling ahead and asking his secretary to let us know that he couldn’t make it. The last thing he felt like doing Monday morning was sitting down with a company owner who undoubtedly wanted to sell him something. Nevertheless he decided to join us in the conference room and get through the meeting quickly.

When Santosh walked in, he was polite, but he wasted no time. After the customary pleasantries and little small talk, he took charge of the meeting right away. He peppered me with several bottom-line questions. "I’ve got a revenue target of X," he said. "How can your company help me reach that?"

I described how we viewed the emerging opportunities in pre-fabrication, how database marketing would be fundamental to industry growth, and how digital technology would change the landscape. I explained how his franchise could be way ahead of the pack by implementing changes in its technology strategy, and how my background in real-time environments could help the team immediately identify and act on sales and promotional opportunities. I told Santosh that we could together, help the team redefine its marketing programs and improve its financial results. I said he would be a hero.

As I went through the detail, I could see Santosh opening up mentally and becoming motivated. He physically shifted in his seat. His posture was an example of engagement. He wanted to hear more. I then gave 20 minutes of crisp details.

By the time we were ready to wrap up the meeting Santosh had invited us to become a strategic partner of the team. He said he would figure out a way to work our fees into the budget, but we’d have to start small and gradually increase our billing over time. It took a little while but in a year we had a six-figure relationship. We soon became one of the organization’s most significant service providers and business partners. Santosh began to look forward to my weekly visits to talk strategy. For several years, we broke new ground. We did exciting work.

We traveled together one year to Mumbai to attend a league-wide meeting. Santosh asked me to accompany him to help other teams in his league understand the elements of our successful strategy and partnership. By that time we had an easygoing relationship and we could talk openly about just anything. On the plane I asked Santosh why he was initially resistant to our first meeting. "Do you know how many people come to us with ideas?" he said. "Everyone thinks they can help our organization. It just so happens that you could."

I have been in similar situations dozens of times. A potential customer does just about everything to avoid our overtures. Then when we finally meet, sparks fly, ideas are born and I’ve got a new best friend. There are lessons in this. The first is the familiar lesson of being persistent. Yes, in this world you must be tenacious. You must be persistent to get through, to be heard, and to win business and to keep it. But the other lesson requires that we for a moment turn the issue of persistence upside down. You’re inside of a company. You’re looking to be more successful. Why are you -- the same person that knows how persistent you must be to reach out -- so resistant to those reaching in? Moreover, why are you so resistant to the very things that you say you want?

Business owners and managers are routinely resistant to:

  1. Companies pitching new services, even though they need help.
  2. Every piece of incoming mail that looks like it’s a sales pitch, even though they need new ideas and new vendor relationships.

  3. Participating in industry groups, even though they may pick up new ideas and contacts.
  4. Attending exploratory meetings, even though new insights may solve pressing problems.
  5. The stray, half-baked, incoming call that cannot be categorized, even though there may be a kernel of an idea that helps the business.
  6. Hiring a person with the right attitude who may be short on experience, even though their energy may be a refreshing change to the business – and you’ll also be giving them a chance.
I am convinced that managers must be re-taught – if they are taught at all -- to look at what flows into a business as opportunity – not intrusion. I have "discovered" great employees, incredible vendors, and exciting partners that landed in my office via email, telephone, and the regular mail. By just observing and keeping track I have spotted great marketing ideas and business-building concepts. I’m convinced that we are far too resistant to our environment, making it increasingly difficult for us to recognize when what we need, what we have hoped for, has actually arrived.

I was once at the unveiling of a new marketing strategy for a major corporate client. The campaign was designed to create a new identity for the company and send a new message about its responsiveness to customers. The problem was that no one told the people answering the telephone. I tried to do business with them – I really did -- but this was the hardest company to do business with that I know. I became resistant.

What are you resisting? What is the impact of resistance in your organization? Do you have a way of measuring incoming opportunity that doesn’t show up immediately at the cash register? Who are you making resistant to your own company?

Santosh ultimately left that pre-fabrication franchise, but not before he was promoted several times. He became a master of watering seedlings that others would ignore. He expanded the staff, brought in new sponsors, and created a host of new programs. 

Eventually there were new owners and he began to propose ideas that new management was resistant to. They wouldn’t even talk about it. Then a new opportunity came calling for Santosh in the form of a senior banking position – with big money and big responsibility. There was a meeting to offer Santosh the job. It was another one of those incoming opportunities, ripe with possibilities. 

This time, there wasn’t even a hint of resistance.

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