SPIF Tip #54: I Was Wrong

I was wrong.  Once.  Okay, once that I am going to talk about today.

It was during my first year working for a sales training company. My boss was trying to get me to deliver a presentation in a way that felt like a gimmick to me. Ultimately, he had to say, “Mike, this is ‘My way or the highway.’” I swallowed hard. And when showtime came, I did as he asked. The audience’s reaction was far more positive than I expected. My assumptions about them had been wrong. I never forgot that experience.

As our ancestors learned the hard way, the fewer assumptions we make the better. However, assumptions are an important part of living today. No one person has all of the information nor the mental focus and processing power to make sense of everything our organization is involved in.  We depend on bosses, peers, customers and others to know what they are doing. We depend on them to avoid unwarranted assumptions and to help us overcome the limitations in what we know.

My mistake is a common one. I didn’t understand my audience. It is an important lesson, and a constant challenge, especially in sales and marketing.

Here are three keys that can help us avoid mistakes like this.

Focus Externally

In sales and marketing, we have the advantage of thinking about our customers/prospects/candidates most of the day.  When we focus on what they are trying to accomplish and their challenges, we go into situations with a different mindset.

When we proactively ask, “What are you trying to accomplish?” and regularly solicit their feedback, we put ourselves in a position of co-creating rather than selling. This builds a stronger relationship and avoids assumptions about how we can improve.

Use Language Precisely

This is not about grammar or what Dictionary.com shows. It is about creating clarity when working with others.

Too often we assume other people use words the same way we do. Chances are, they don’t. Not only does everyone have different experiences and assumptions, they typically haven’t bothered to align the meanings of the words they use.

It can sound like an overwhelming task – and it is. You can’t do it all at once. So you start with the most critical issues and resolve to make defining terms a policy for solving problems as you move along, of defining things. Leaders who maintain an open glossary of terms encourage their team members to respect this policy.

Respect For People

This is a common theme for me and I assume it is important to you. But it is easy to slip up in the heat of a hundred urgent things going on. The self-awareness to know it happened is what is important.  Then, continuing to model it and reinforce it with your team. Sometimes members of your team can give you feedback or can help you translate your venting into a productive thought.

Veering off course is likely conversations focus on opinions. Making sure we are grounded by evidence and data (focusing externally again) before racing ahead is a useful guardrail.

The upcoming weeks and months will be unsettled times.  I hope these reminders will help you and your team work together better right now.  And be a stronger organization that is better prepared for the future.

Be safe.

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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