It is possible to gather information and to directly influence a situation through effective questioning:
Ask effective questions
- Open questions – gather information – who, what, which, how, why, when, where?
- Probing questions – ask for examples
- Closed questions – get yes/no answers – gain commitment
- Research – environment; past, present, future, their motivators etc.
- Issues – examine the problems, challenges, dissatisfactions
- Consequences – explore the outcomes or impact of the ‘issues’
- Highlight Benefits – the desirability, usefulness, value of the solution
Listen to the answers
- Demonstrate concern
- Active listening
- Empathic listening
- Make detailed notes
- Maintain rapport
- Demonstrate mutual respect – even when you disagree.
Business has plenty of jargon, some of it is a useful way to communicate complex information quickly between people with a shared industry vocabulary, some of it is rather silly, with buzzwords forced into places where regular English would make far more sense.
The use of buzzwords and phrases is tricky enough, particularly when working in international teams with a limited grasp of English idioms, but when people mangle phrases, misunderstanding what they’ve heard and repeating their versions into new conversations, things can get silly.
Here’s a few favourites we’ve gathered recently:
“We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it”
A wonderfully destructive approach to business. This phrase combines the two cliches, the first “cross that bridge when you get to it”, implies that there’s no point in solving a problem that we may encounter later, we first need to work through other obstacles before we get to that “bridge” and then we can work out what to do. Sensible enough. The second, “burning your bridges” suggests committing to one course of action, ruling out all others, destroying any hope of retreat. Burning bridges as you get to them seems likely to trap you where you are.
“To the 8th degree”
It took a while to work out what this person meant, the conversation wasn’t a mathematical or engineering one, but the person was determined to do something to the 8th degree. Oddly specific, whilst completely nonsensical. It turned out that what he meant was “to the nth degree”, an expressing that makes sense, sort of, although maybe not in the marketing context. The nth degree is used to indicate any required power, usually tending to infinity, so meaning all the way. The 8th degree in that context isn’t really all that far.
“He’s been made an Escaped Goat”
This one caused bafflement and amusement in equal measure. No magic was used to turn this errant administrator into a ruminant. People had heaped blame onto him, even though he clearly wasn’t the cause of the problems they were facing. They were making him a scapegoat, rather than escaped goat. The phrase does have some goat related history, and in Leviticus the goat in question may have had the better deal than the one that was sacrificed, but still, if you must scapegoat someone (and it says a lot about you if you do) then go ahead, but don’t turn them into an escaped goat.
“She’s opening the Panda’s Box”
This one slipped by unnoticed by most people, but someone new to the organisation asked “What’s the Panda’s Box?”, causing some chuckles. She’d quite reasonably asked the question, as a newbie, wanting to know what the box was and why it was significant. Unfortunately, she hadn’t misheard, the person who mentioned the Panda’s Box went on to explain that the Panda’s Box was full of terrible problems you don’t want to think about, she wasn’t sure where the phrase came from, probably an old Chinese proverb. Pandora’s Box may contain all the evils of the world, but a panda is more likely to keep bamboo shoots in their box.
This young Detroit woman had a great idea to develop a product, and she worked hard on it. In doing so she learned more than how to develop that opportunity for herself, she created an enterprise that makes a far bigger impact for the end users she had in mind when she set out with her original business idea.
Always set up a creative session using focus – with what do we want to end up at the completion of our thinking
There are two approaches to focus:
- Purpose Focus – has a specific end purpose
g. how can we improve something, how can we speed something up etc.
- Area Focus – we explore the topic before we judge it
g. we might look at communication, meetings, safety – with no specific purpose
Once we have defined a focus we can redefine the focus in order to give us a new angle on our problem solving:
e.g. here are several alternate definitions of a parking problem:
- the car park is too small
- too many people want to use the car park
- too many people drive to work
- people complain about the small car park
Take a focus and brainstorm to pull out all current ideas – no bad ideas, give encouragement
Technique 1 – Random Word:
Use random word to generate further ideas:
Getting the random word – glance at the position of the second hand of a watch. Take the number, e.g. 32, and select the word the third line down and second noun in from a book or newspaper
Using the random word – take the word and extract an association, function, activity from the word and generate new ideas about the focus
e.g. Focus Random Word Association New Idea
Camera Gun Westerns
= sand sand proof camera
NB work individually first and then share output
Things to avoid:
- Don’t wait for the perfect random word
- Don’t list all the attributes first
- Don’t make too many jumps
- Don’t link your ideas to random output
Technique 2 – Challenge:
Technique 1 will generate a host of ideas
In order to generate broader thinking the challenge technique can be used
Challenge can be introduced at any stage; i.e. this could be the first technique used during a session.
Establish current thinking on the focus – this is achieved using the following five categories:
Dominant ideas Make money flying planes with people/cargo on board
Boundaries Airports/technology/national agreements etc
Assumptions Increasing airline congestion/growth of holidays etc
Essential Factors Safety
Avoidance Factors Overcapacity/security worries/unused planes etc
Use challenge technique on current thinking:
Why Cut: Does this need to be done at all; remove the item and run the thinking forward and see if this cut can be implemented
Why Because: If you can’t cut the item then challenge the validity of the reasons why it is done that way. Can you satisfy the focus in another way, or escape the process; i.e. revise the way things are done
Why Alternatives: Both Why C and Why B will often to lead to the generation of alternative ideas and approaches
Along with Focus this is the weakest part of all creativity sessions
Take all of the ideas generated and put them onto Post It notes
Group the ideas by category (e.g. themes/events/structures etc.) and number each idea according to its category
Position all the ideas onto a capability/impact matrix.
Select the ideas with greatest potential for further screening.
Why Focus Is Important
Creativity gets a bad name because creative thinkers tend to provide good ideas on all
problems except the ones they have actually been asked to think about. This happens for two reasons:
- The idea that simply messing about will hopefully produce a new idea
- Focus is insufficiently emphasised
Focus Is One Of Three Creative Disciplines
- Discipline of focus: being very clear as to what you are thinking about
- Discipline of technique: knowing exactly what you are trying to do at any one moment
- Discipline of time: setting time guidelines
Types Of Focus
There are two types of focus to think about in creative terms:
- Area focus – “where”
- Task focus – “why”
Given the market pressures and demands exerted on customers by:
- Their direct and indirect competitors
- Potential or new market entrants
- Their channel partners or distributors
- The ultimate customer or consumer
the Key Account Manager is, potentially at least, in a unique position to seize the opportunity to add value to the relationship with these key customers. This is predicated on the ability of the Key Account Manager to understand the pressures specific to each customer and to qualify and quantify what each major customer means by “added value”.
The potential relationship levels can be characterised as:
Achieving the position of at least preferred supplier status and then building a reputation which allows the customer to perceive suppliers as partners in the total business process is the ultimate purpose of Key Account Management.
Where Is Real Value-Added?
You could argue that any benefit to your customer is added-value. This does not help as a basis for competitive differentiation or long-term partnership – even the commodity sale offers benefits. What differentiates adding-value is that it is a benefit that relates directly to helping an organisation meet its strategic business goals and it is recognised by your customer as being of real value and unique to your solution.
What Is Value?
The improvement of business performance and competitive advantage through maximum leverage of purchased products and services
Why Should We Take A Value-Add approach?
Value-Add approach = higher customer satisfaction, increased revenues, lower vulnerability to competition.
If opening doors and building sustainable partnerships is dependent on how your customer perceives your added-value, it is vital that you can articulate this and rehearse your customer key contacts in it. Your proposition should contain:
- Your capability
- Track record
- What you can improve (process/function)
- The business improvement i.e. benefit
Facing an increasingly competitive and dynamic marketplace, companies face mounting pressures and challenges:
- Total quality (product and service)
- Managing Cost
- Increased emphasis on market-defined quality and adding value for the customer or consumer as the source of sustainable competitive advantage.
- Global markets v. local offering
- Mass customisation
- Joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions
The Increasing Complexity Of Purchasing Processes
The role and underlying objectives of the Purchasing Function has consequently changed greatly over the last few years. Some of the main changes impacting purchase processes are:
- rapid fluctuations in supply and demand due to changes in manufacturing processes or supply-side capacity
- increases in the use of non-personal purchasing methods, such as electronic bid lists and EDI (electronic data interchange links)
- price volatility due to economic swings and competitive intensity
- continuous shifts in currency values affecting International operations
- Increased emphasis on total supply chain management between suppliers, their channels and customers.
Supply Chain Management
Account Managers are familiar with the sales and buying process. However, a third process is becoming increasingly important – the process of doing business i.e. the speed of responding to customer requirements which includes the functions of sales, design, production or manufacture, order fulfilment, support and ongoing logistics and customer assistance.
This process of integrating business systems/activities is Supply Chain Management.
The Implications Of SCM (Supply Chain Management)
Where there is strong competitive pressure amongst existing or potential suppliers to win high value orders, the business is more likely to go to that supplier who, through demonstrable competence, can offer such benefits as:
- better co-ordination of key activities
- reduced lead times
- increased reliability of delivery
- greater flexibility
- improved information facilities , etc.
The Growing Importance Of Supply Chain Management
- Organisations are focusing more on their core capabilities and therefore outsourcing non-core activities
- Increased use of “just-in-time” supply processes for both products and services
- The consequential increased reliance on the expertise and value-added of their suppliers in relation to service and support
- The requirement for suppliers to effectively “project manage” the implications of their customer’s decisions and purchasing cycles
- The need for enhanced communication processes and systems.
Whilst all of these are potentially “friction points” between suppliers and customers, they can be more positively viewed as opportunities for the Account Manager to add value and expertise in managing the total relationship with organisations.
Prince Ea has a point, how about unplugging for the weekend, just to see how it goes?