One of the things I most enjoy about my job is being asked to help a client work up an important pitch. Very often the impending pitch is to an existing client who has somehow now decided to put the work out to competitive tender rather than simply roll it over and renew the previous contract. Ouch! How could they do that!
On nearly every occasion, I can bet the farm that the ‘great pitch’ they have written will invariably lead with the excellent work they have done for the client over previous years. The relationship has been great, the level of service has been excellent, and the results have been right on the money each time. So surely this is just a beauty parade, and they’re bound to award the work back to us again, aren’t they?
Unfortunately, the reality is exactly the opposite, and just like The Trump, when it comes to the future, the past relationship is going count for very little. This is particularly true if a new CEO is in the chair. Indeed, rather like that wonderful phrase used by the financial services sector, ‘past results are no guarantee of future performance’, so it is with the approach to a competitive pitch.
Don’t View the Relationship Through the Rear View Mirror.
When trying to identify your key messages you must look to the future, not rest on the laurels of your past. Prospective clients will give little weight to your history together. What they are looking for is your ideas and plans for the future. Precisely how are you going to help them meet the challenges that lay ahead? What is your perception of where their market is going and what are you going to deliver that will help them position themselves to be at the sharp end of the business? How is your specific product or service going to make a difference?
Unless you structure your pitch to look forward with the client’s needs front and centre - and identify your clear differential, you are not going to win. To have any chance of success you must identify your key message up front, (one that’s going to benefit the client) then justify why your particular organization is best positioned to deliver on that. Then your need to provide some strong evidence to support that.
Meaningless waffle about you, your own business and the wonderful times, the corporate golf days, concert tickets ect, that you and the client had previously enjoyed together just won’t cut it. Leave that approach to your competitors (they will lose).
Rather like Trump’s attitude to forging international relationships, he has no time for the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ approach. Maybe it’s infectious, because your clients don’t either.
Thinking Of Evolving? - Here are 6.5 skills you’ll need to position yourself at the sharp-end of your business and out-perform your competition.
New Year resolutions have a nasty habit of lasting just a few days, or maybe even a couple of weeks but before too long we tend to slip back into our respective comfort zones and revert to type. Suddenly it's February and you’re just the same as last year. But if you want to really step up and make a difference to your career prospects, gain that promotion and generally advance your career in 2017, then you’ll need to master the sort of skills that are going to make you stand out. The first rule of professional development is do some.
Competitive edge is always a thin biscuit but here are 6.5 skills that will demonstrate your differential, show your potential and identify you as highly valued talent within any organisation. Leave being average to the others.
1. Outstanding Communication Skills:
The ability to express an idea, sell a concept, a plan or an idea. The ability to speak or write with absolute clarity, brevity and impact. The ability to get people to want to listen and pay attention when you have something to say.
The ability to generate that often intangible sense of charisma, authority and presence. Learn to look the part, walk the talk and get noticed when you walk into a room. Don’t allow yourself to be invisible within your organisation. Stop trying to fit in and learn to stand out.
With so much nonsense spoken about what it takes to be an effective leader, 2017 is as good a time as any to sweep aside all the noise and kerfuffle and really understand what it means to lead people with impact and influence. It’s not rocket science, it’s simply about understanding and then mastering some key skills, behaviours and demonstrating effective style. Perhaps above all, it’s about the need to change your personal mind set. Too many ‘leaders’ become a horse’s arse and lead through their position, title, misplaced authority and fear. Invariably good people leave organisations because of a dysfunctional culture that has been created and led by donkeys. Don’t become one.
4. Presentation Skills:
The ability to get on your feet in front of an audience of anything from 1 to 1000 and get your message across effectively, encourage subsequent action and be entirely memorable. If you can’t do this, you’ll be handicapped throughout your career. Presenting is not someone else’s job – it’s yours.
5. Business Development:
Everyone needs to be a salesman. You need the ability to pitch an idea, sell a proposal, or a product, convince, be compelling, and gain commitment. These are fundamental business skills but it’s amazing how many people are really poor at this. Mediocrity is endemic. Stop pushing and start pulling. Become a rainmaker, not a Power Point zombie.
6. Client Facing Skills:
Where the rubber meets the road. The chance to finally sit down with a potential client often represents a hard won opportunity but too many people just blow it because they end up coming across just the same as everybody else. If you’ve mastered the skills above, then you’ll be home and hosed because you will have made it all about the client, not about you. Your client facing skills will become your differential and what ultimately brings home the bacon.
6.5 Stop Pecking Around with Turkeys and Learn to Soar with Eagles:
Make 2017 your year to evolve. Stop waiting for it to be your turn, stop waiting for that lucky break, that long promised promotion or that course you asked to go on at you last appraisal. Take action, take control of your own professional development – don’t outsource your career management to somebody else! Be proactive! Don’t be the monkey, be the organ grinder.
Evolve! Take Action!
Firefox Executive Performance Academy run weekly development programs delivering high-end skills training across our core specialist areas of Leadership, Communication and Business Development. We don’t do ordinary. We don’t deliver mediocrity. What we do is develop talent that will go on to perform within the top 20% of any business.
Learn a whole lot more by visiting our website at www.firefoxacademy.com.au
You won’t regret it.
Putting Credibility Back Into Training and Professional Development
In Western Australia, a state recognised for its innovation and creativity, one sector that has managed to avoid much change over the past 20 years has been the training and professional development industry. Here the clock seems to have stood still with a plethora of suppliers, courses and programs all seemingly offering much the same thing. For sure, in times of boom and generous training budgets, it’s been a feeding frenzy for large and small providers alike where for clients, finding the available time has often been the only barrier to self-improvement and gaining better skills for success and increased productivity.
But something is fundamentally wrong with traditional non-technical or ‘soft skills’ development. There has been no innovation, no real challenge in the content or delivery, and as a result, there’s often been little if any change in the subsequent performance of participants. As a consequence, more and more businesses have come to see training as a large black hole in their budget where any ROI is difficult to identify let alone have any tangible feel to it. Companies may do some cosmetic tweaking, but most are still trying to put lipstick on what is clearly a pig.
Firefox Academy seeks to introduce a real alternative to a moribund and impotent training industry. Academy Director, Nick Sutton admits to turning from poacher to gamekeeper in order to deliver what he sees as the future of performance skills training. Perhaps trading on his own military past, Nick sees the need for training to be demanding, challenging and confronting if it is to have any real value or deliver positive and lasting change. Perhaps that’s why he so dislikes the ‘soft skills’ label.
‘Business is tough’, he says, and therefore training for success in business needs to be tough too. It needs to push people out of their comfort zone and the performance bubble they’ve often lived in for years. Too much soft skill development is just that - ‘soft’. It’s bland, it’s pitched too low and it’s often delivered in a very pedestrian and ‘safe’ fashion. Nobody wants to put anybody on the spot these days. Everyone's performance is deemed to be ‘fine’, OK’ or even ‘great.’ Few however are actually willing to tell it like it is, or give tough and critical feedback. In a tough market environment people need to understand that being 'OK' isn’t good enough.
Raising The Bar – Pushing Back Boundaries
Against this background, Firefox Academy has deliberately set out to be a disruptive force within the traditional training sector in Perth. ‘For us it was never going to be about just offering more of the same’ says Nick Sutton. ‘We wanted to offer Perth business a fully-loaded package that provided the depth, and most importantly, quality and the results that participants actually wanted. In short, we needed to raise the bar’.
To that end, the Academy firstly constrained itself to focus upon just 3 key areas: Leadership, Communication and Business Development. ‘We were never going to be about offering dozens of courses that were a mile wide and an inch deep’ says Sutton. We’re very focused on our core market of leaders, achievers and rising stars. To that end, the only programs Firefox deliver are those relevant to people working at the sharp end of their business: e.g. those in leadership roles, those who are client or people-facing, and those who have to go out and win business against tough competition. More often than not, we find our clients have responsibilities across all three of these areas'.
Understand It, Test It, Embrace It
Apart from being too soft and ineffectual, too much training never gets properly tested. As a result, whilst the course participants may see new skills and approaches as being entirely robust and practical, without putting them to the test they will quickly revert back to their comfort zone and their old ways of doing things. Like the golf pro who tells you to hold your club in a different way, there is a huge reluctance to do so once he’s walked away and you’re back on your own again. This is a failure to achieve behavioural change.
The Academy, aware of this need, went about recruiting a pool of ‘Dragons’ – senior and successful business leaders drawn from across the Perth business community. The ‘Dragons’ now join in with Academy programs to provide a live and totally realistic audience to role-play the part of clients, stakeholders or Board members etc. ‘They make you test and prove that ‘new grip’ on the club. You see and feel the ball fly further, straighter and on towards its target’. The Q&A that follows is demanding, delving and occasionally confrontational, but the subsequent feedback, advice and direction serves to reinforce learning, increase confidence and above all, embed the necessary performance change. As a result Academy clients do change, they do use the new skills and they do get better results.
A Fully Loaded Package
With Academy clients automatically becoming members of the Academy Alumni they are immediately exposed to a meaningful network of like-mined business people who are genuinely interested in helping, guiding and referring. High quality events produced by the Academy provide an outstanding opportunity to meet with business leaders and listen to and discuss key business issues of the day. the Academy’s ‘Star Chamber’ links individuals to a network of career professionals who can assist, advise and mentor Academy alumni in their career track and progression.
Overall the Academy has set out to be the ‘argent provocateur’ to shake up the training and development industry. It now offers Perth businesses a real opportunity to access frequent, high quality and transformational training that actually makes a difference.
Call me old fashioned, but to my way of thinking some of the key fundamentals to any business sale, deal or transaction has to be a sense of integrity, honesty, and trust being established between all parties involved. These are not characteristics that one can simply turn off and on, you either have them, or you don’t and it’s generally those who demonstrate these qualities that are the people we want to do business with.
We’ve all experienced the very opposite when visiting a car yard. Those gushy salesman falling over themselves to suddenly be our best friend and putting themselves out to do us a deal that is really far more that they should be offering, but we’re best friends now, right? Go back with a complaint or problem next week and he’ll be a very different individual! Their showroom performance is all an act played out a dozen times a day.
Why then, is there still a desire amongst many organisations to engage actors, either professional or amateur, to come in and train executive teams how to perform in front of clients or indeed any audience?
It makes no sense. Acting by its very nature is about assuming a false persona; adopting a role and generally being someone you are not – unless your name is Hugh Grant who can only play himself of course.
The Oxford Dictionary defines acting as a pretence; behaviour intended to deceive or impress, to perform a part. Is this really what we need to be encouraging executives to do?
I admire actors greatly. They spend a lifetime perfecting their art, learning complex techniques, modes, methods, genres and clearly they have that innate desire and capability to ‘perform’. What I struggle with is the idea that those skills can somehow be transferred across to your average executive in the space of a one-day workshop, and indeed, I question the why?
Of course, actors doing such training would argue that it’s about teaching things like achieving presence, body language, voice techniques, and a host of other acting skills that might serve to create a better ‘performance’ by the executive. All this despite the fact that for most executives, their experience of acting is probably limited to being third angel from the left in the Year 4 nativity play, or for those less talented, maybe the rear end of the donkey.
The point is that executives are not actors, and nor should they ever be encouraged to be. Actors follow a script; they know exactly what’s coming next. They know how and exactly when they need to move, react, respond, and reply. They know exactly what the other guy is going to say. They have complete control over how it all plays out.
In stark contrast, the executive in the boardroom, the client meeting or that tough negotiation does not. There is no script, no direction to move stage left and look crestfallen. They have no idea what’s coming next. The reality is that executives have to rely on their natural skills, well-founded techniques and their ability to communicate effectively and demonstrate leadership in the room. They need to think on their feet, display confidence, stand by their integrity, honesty and strength of personality. Sorry, but that’s never about acting. Those who go into meetings or client negotiations ‘in-role’ or playing out a persona that is clearly not their own will quickly fall apart when the real pressure comes on. The mask will immediately fall away revealing an individual who is false, disingenuous, and frankly, untrustworthy.
So, my apologies to the acting profession. Whilst your executive workshops are probably lots of fun, there is no place for actors in the world of business. Sure, you may get away with your fifteen minutes of fame, but you will be found out, you will not get a call-back and there will certainly be no standing ovation. Success in business only comes from following the great advice your Mum told you all those years ago, ‘just be yourself dear’.
When it comes to success, it’s easy to think that people blessed with brains are inevitably going to leave the rest of us in the dust, but social psychologist Amy Cuddy knows first-hand how attitude can outweigh IQ.
In Cuddy’s new book, Presence, she recounts a car crash she suffered at the age of 19. Brain damage from the crash took 30 points from Cuddy’s IQ. Before the crash she had an IQ near genius levels; her post-crash IQ was just average.
As someone who had always built her identity around her intelligence, the significant dip in Cuddy’s IQ left her feeling powerless and unconfident. Despite her brain damage, she slowly made her way through college and even got accepted into the graduate program at Princeton. Once at Princeton, Cuddy struggled until she discovered that it was her lack of confidence that was holding her back, not her lack of brainpower. This was especially true during difficult conversations, presentations, and other high-pressure, highly important moments.
This discovery led Cuddy, now a Harvard psychologist, to devote her studies to the impact body language has on your confidence, influence, and, ultimately, success. Her biggest findings center on the powerful effects of positive body language. Positive body language includes things like appropriate eye contact, active engagement/listening, and targeted gestures that accentuate the message you’re trying to convey. Studies show that people who use positive body language are more likable, competent, persuasive, and emotionally intelligent.
Here’s how it works:
Positive body language changes your attitude. Cuddy found that consciously adjusting your body language to make it more positive improves your attitude because it has a powerful impact on your hormones.
It increases testosterone. When you think of testosterone, it’s easy to focus on sports and competition, but testosterone’s importance covers much more than athletics. Whether you are a man or a woman, testosterone improves your confidence and causes other people to see you as more trustworthy and positive. Research shows that positive body language increases your testosterone levels by 20%.
It decreases cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that impedes performance and creates negative health effects over the long term. Decreasing cortisol levels minimizes stress and enables you to think more clearly, particularly in difficult and challenging situations. Research shows that positive body language decreases cortisol levels by 25%.
It creates a powerful combination. While a decrease in cortisol or an increase in testosterone is great on its own, the two together are a powerful combination that is typically seen among people in positions of power. This combination creates the confidence and clarity of mind that are ideal for dealing with tight deadlines, tough decisions, and massive volumes of work. People who are naturally high in testosterone and low in cortisol are known to thrive under pressure. Of course, you can use positive body language to make yourself this way even if it doesn’t happen naturally.
It makes you more likeable. In a Tufts University study, subjects watched soundless clips of physicians interacting with their patients. Just by observing the physicians’ body language, subjects were able to guess which physicians ended up getting sued by their patients. Body language is a huge factor in how you’re perceived and can be more important than your tone of voice or even what you say. Learning to use positive body language will make people like you and trust you more.
It conveys competence. In a study conducted at Princeton, researchers found that a one-second clip of candidates for senator or governor was enough for people to accurately predict which candidate was elected. While this may not increase your faith in the voting process, it does show that perception of competence has a strong foundation in body language.
It’s a powerful tool in negotiation (even virtually). There’s no question that body language plays a huge role in your ability to persuade others to your way of thinking. Researchers studying the phenomenon in virtual communication found that body language in video conferencing played an important role in the outcome of negotiations.
It improves your emotional intelligence. Your ability to effectively communicate your emotions and ideas is central to your emotional intelligence. People whose body language is negative have a destructive, contagious effect on those around them. Working to improve your body language has a profound effect on your emotional intelligence.
Bringing It All Together
We often think of body language as the result of our attitude or how we feel. This is true, but psychologists have also shown that the reverse is true: changing your body language changes your attitude.
Source: Dr Travis Bradberry