Several key elements will contribute to your success. The first is the solutions you deliver to customers. A second element is your boss. A third is how effectively you influence people with your proposals. And a fourth is how well you communicate your ideas in your presentations. This section will cover the last three areas.
It's not unusual for someone to remark to me, "The challenge I have isn't with the people I work with - it's with the person I work for. How do I manage up?" Everyone who rises to a leadership position in an organization has worked for someone who is difficult to work for.
Sometimes the person is difficult to work for because he or she was promoted into the job based on sales or technical skills rather than on solid people skills. Sometimes the person may just have a different style. Sometimes the person may not realize there is a better way to manage. Here are seven solutions for those situations.
Remember that the situation won't last forever. At some point, something will change. The boss will get promoted, the boss will leave, you may move to a new job. Knowing this gives you the ability to take one day at a time.
Ask yourself what you can learn from this person. Your boss may have skills or strengths that you can learn from - try to look for them. If nothing else, you can at least learn what not to do. This can be highly valuable.
As long as the person doesn't ask you to do anything illegal or unethical, try to put yourself in his or her shoes. Try to understand what he or she really wants. Then, despite whatever misgivings you may have about whether it is the correct decision, put your best effort behind it. If you give it only a halfhearted effort or none at all, that will be obvious and limiting. Rather than head for that type of confrontation, work proactively to manage the situation.
If your boss puts off making decisions that you need in order to do your job, provide him or her with a recommended course of action based on your analysis of several possible options. The way you present your recommendation is important. Don't present it as asking for a decision. Suggest that you have identified the best way to proceed. Even if your boss disagrees with your choice and advises another path, at least you have a decision and can move ahead. It is a better approach than waiting for a decision that may not come.
If your boss gives you something to do but then never follows up, schedule a follow-up meeting at the time you are given the assignment. Make clear ahead of time that the purpose of the followup meeting is to make whatever decisions are required in order to move ahead. Proceed as described in the fourth item in this list.
If you are having a difficult time getting priorities from your boss, or you are expected to do everything or add tasks to the top of your pile without regard to what you are already working on, develop a set of priorities to present to your boss for his or her concurrence. Set priorities based on your estimate of the value the task will contribute to your organization. Use a simple numbering scheme, such as using 1 to designate the most important task, 2 for the next most important task, and so on. Show these to your boss and ask him or her to evaluate and revise them as necessary, making it clear that you will proceed based on these priorities. You may also want to show deadlines and resource estimates.
If your estimate shows you don't have enough time by yourself to complete all your assignments and you know your boss wants them all done, develop a plan for accomplishing them. See if you can get overtime authorized. Borrow people, bring in contract personnel or interns, develop a technology solution, or find other creative solutions.
" To be confident, fake it initially, and then scramble to come up with the goods. Confidence is something for me that I struggled with and still struggle with."
- Julia Roberts, actor
Sales professionals will be called on to manage or participate in projects. They often win large sales that require support from multiple departments and extensive coordination with the customer's organization in order to implement. I won't try to re-create a project management course here, but I would like to share some of the best practices I've learned from managing many large projects and from my research.
Although projects involve a set of schedules, costs, and requirements, when it comes down to it they are primarily about people - getting them to commit to the goals of the project and to work together to bring it to a successful conclusion. Most of the problems that people run into on projects revolve around issues of communication (clear goals, for example) and commitment (having allegiance to their department or their own projects). Granted, there are excellent project management techniques that can be used to expedite the project and keep it on course. But the best project management tools will not compensate for poor support, misalignment, or resistance. On the other hand, with the right people and the right commitment, they will find ways to get around any obstacle. You have probably seen instances of that level of commitment in your own work experience.
One of the most common reasons that projects fail is that they have unclear goals. People think they know what they are supposed to be doing and what they are trying to accomplish, but it often isn't the case. The goal needs to be specific and measurable, quantitatively and qualitatively. Projects also languish when they don't have the high level of support they need. In some cases, projects never come to fruition because of multiple problems.
When you work hard to win the right to make a bid on a large sale, you don't want to lose the sale because of the way your proposal is presented. Consider the following important tips.
Your proposal must look professional. How you achieve that professional look depends on the size of the sale, the expectations of the person receiving it, and the technology you have to use. Be sure your facts are straight. Provide backup or references for statistics or conclusions you reach in your proposal. Have a colleague or even a team double-check your final draft.
Be sure there are no typos. Some people reject anything when they find a typo, however arbitrary that may seem. Get someone who is a great proofreader to read over your proposal. A good but time-consuming way to pick up typos is to have someone read it backward. That ensures that someone will not skip over a word that is misspelled by reading too quickly.
Organize the proposal in a way that is easy to follow. Include an executive overview that is no longer than one page. The overview should describe the major benefits of your proposal in terms of financial benefit and positive effect on the customer's organization and customers. It should also highlight how the proposal addresses the concerns and problems of the customer that you and members of the customer's team uncovered and a recommendation for the next step. Give an overview of what is in the rest of the proposal and why it is there.
Make your proposal easy to read. Readers should not have to struggle to understand jargon, bad grammar, or long run-on sentences. Avoid frequent use of the passive voice; it is confusing and weak. (For example, "The decision was made" is stated in the passive voice. "The project team decided" is stated in the active voice.) The active voice leads people to think that you believe in what you are saying.
If you can use graphics to illustrate a point, do so. A picture is quickly understood. Don't let glitz detract from the content. Don't overwhelm what you have to say with too much color, too many fonts, or unusual designs. Less is more.
Find ways to get your customer actively involved in reviewing the proposal. You could have a set of questions that you display and will answer as you go through the proposal. You can have a discussion and answer questions as you complete each part. You don't want to be the only one talking and you don't want to wait until you have finished to get customer feedback.
Address the concerns of others who may be reviewing the proposal. If you are presenting a proposal to your contact, who will then present it to a committee that you will not be able to attend, ask the customer if he or she is personally convinced your proposal is the right approach. Make sure you have addressed the concerns of the decision influencers as well as the decision makers.
When you are going before customers, executives, or team members, how you present can be almost as important as what you say. Some executives speaking to groups come across as unfocused when they are supposed to be inspiring. They may be capable leaders in other respects, but their stature is diminished when they present their ideas. There are many executives who do inspire people with their presentations. They do it in their own style, but they come across as sincere, thoughtful, and prepared. Here are several tips for getting ready to do a presentation.
The more important the presentation, the more you want to overprepare. When you are prepared, you will be confident. You will know the key points you want to make, why you want to make them, and how you will make them. You will be prepared for contingencies, such as when you need to trim some time from your presentation. You will be better equipped to answer tough questions, rather than hesitating to find suitable answers. You will be better able to anticipate and address concerns that the audience will have.
Gil Eagles, CSP, CPAE, a professional speaker, once told me that there are two questions you must answer to do an effective presentation: What do you have to say, and why should your audience listen? As a presenter, you need to be clear about the message you want to leave with your audience and convey it in a way that makes it memorable. Gil also said that audiences typically want one of two things: to be educated or to be entertained. If they expect to learn something new, they won't be happy just being entertained. Giving them both - information and inspiration - will encourage them to listen and act on your advice.
Know your audience. This is critical. Find out who is going to be in the audience. What is their present level of knowledge? What are their interests and concerns? Who are the experts and the influencers? How do they like to receive information (bottom-line, quick, to the point; or more detailed, thorough, and precise)? Find out about the current issues and trends affecting their business and their industry. Be ready to address a significant recent or pending event.
To touch your audience at an emotional level, provide not only facts and data but examples or stories that illustrate the points you are making. People remember stories and the principles they illustrate long after they forget the facts.
Let me offer a couple of thoughts on using computer visuals. Many people have seen so many computer presentations that they have lost their impact. Often these visuals don't even add much to the presentation, and in fact may detract from it. However, because some customers prefer that you present information using the computer, you should know how to make them effective. The following guidelines will help.
Keep the visual information to a minimum. The first error that many presenters make is to load up the visual with a lot of information. This applies for both written and graphic information.
Don't just read what's on the overhead. If you're just going to read it, why does the audience need you? Instead, comment on the importance, relevance, applicability, or other factors concerning the points you have on the visual. Tie the points together.
I tend not to use visuals that contain nothing more than a list of points that are already in a handout. I might make an exception if I don't have a handout and I would like to use the visual as a reminder of what I want to say, or to give the people in the audience who have a preference for receiving information visually something to look at. Use visuals that add color or graphics, or that can be built up as part of a slide show.
If you eliminate some visuals, it gives the others greater impact. It is also easier to keep track of them, and you won't need to spend much time looking at notes about them. You will also have less of a tendency to sound as if you are reading. Have a printout of the visuals you are using.
Personalize the visuals for your audience. If you are giving a proposal or recommendation to a customer, use their logo (get it from their Web site or have them email you a copy), speak their language, and address their issues.
Some people debate whether you should distribute handouts before or after your presentation. My recommendation is generally to give the handout ahead of your presentation, rather than afterward, with this caveat: if you're concerned that people might be looking ahead in the handout while you are on a page, ask them not to. I sometimes ask people to raise their hand and repeat after me: "I do solemnly pledge not to move ahead in the handout until instructed to do so." Most people chuckle about this, and they even sometimes join in by reminding me later when I ask them to look ahead to another page. I sometimes joke that I will pay careful attention to those people whose lips were moving but weren't saying anything.
At one time, I felt that practicing my presentation might take away the spontaneity. It doesn't. When you practice, you become more comfortable with what you are going to say. This allows you to concentrate on the audience and their responses when you are doing your presentation, rather than concentrating on what you are going to say next.
Practicing doesn't mean memorizing. You may want to memorize your opening and closing words, but even when you do that, you don't want to sound as if you are reading from a prepared text. You want it to sound natural. You don't need to memorize each point. If you have a handout or electronic presentation, that will give you an easy way to remember key points. Your detailed knowledge of the subject and your preparation will allow you to fill in the details. Practice how you emphasize the important words, your tone of voice, and your body language. Don't exaggerate or be melodramatic, but don't be boring.
There are several ways to practice. You can practice by yourself. If you do, it's a good idea to record yourself using either audio or video. That way you will know how you come across. You can practice in front of others in order to gauge their reactions and get their suggestions. For a critical presentation, practice at least three times.
When you get to the presentation, you will be prepared. Arrive early, make sure everything is set up as you requested, and be prepared to make changes if it isn't. Greet people and speak with people who will be in the audience - people you know or, even better, people you don't know - to build rapport, gain a couple of new friends and allies, and do some last-minute research or validation of your examples or points.
When you begin your presentation, begin by taking a breath and pausing. Don't rush. You want to be in control and give that appearance to your audience. Begin your presentation with a compelling fact, a startling observation, or a question - something that grabs the audience's attention right away. Then quickly give the audience useful information. Get to the heart of the matter right away. What I have found is that early impressions shape the perception of the remainder of the presentation. You want people to know that what you are presenting is valuable and will be worth their time. Use your time judiciously.
Look at the individuals in the audience. Make eye contact with someone for a complete thought or a complete sentence. This is one of the things you should practice. Most of us are comfortable speaking with people one on one. To be more comfortable and in control when you are in front of an audience, regardless of how big that audience is, just think of it as speaking with people one on one. If you make eye contact with an individual, people in the audience will feel as if you are speaking directly to them. Be sure not to overlook people. The person you overlook may feel insulted and later, when you are looking for support, may undermine that support. This person may be a decision influencer.
If you are a little nervous when you begin your presentation, that nervousness will soon subside if you have prepared and practiced. A bit of anxiety is normal. It gets your adrenaline flowing and gives you energy. That's why it is so important to practice, especially the beginning of your presentation. Be yourself. Don't try to be someone else.
Be sure to make your presentation interactive. You can do this by asking questions, asking for examples, or even asking people to raise their hands in response to a question about how many of them have ever experienced a certain phenomenon (such as saving a little on a purchase but ultimately spending a lot more). When you prepare, consider how to keep the audience engaged.
Be sure to have a strong closing. Take questions before you finish, and then end with a quick story or summary.
People in sales jobs tend to have strong sales skills and product knowledge. Those skills are essential for success in a sales job, but good people skills are just as important. The more you want to influence people, the more you need a good balance between sales and people skills.
When I was promoted into my first management job, it was because I had demonstrated good technical and organizational skills. My people skills weren't a problem, but I didn't need them as much as I did when I moved into management. As a manager, much of my job involved getting work done through my staff.
All was well until we had an extra-heavy workload and my people skills were tested. I had worked diligently to get better at working with people and was fortunate that I had the opportunity to do so after realizing that I needed to. Everyone has blind spots.
A lack of good people skills is one of the most common reasons that people on the fast track get derailed on their way to the top or dethroned once they get there. The farther up you are in an organization, the more you need people skills to be successful. It makes sense. You must work through people to get things done. You can't do it all yourself.
The basics of good people skills might seem self-evident, but let's take a moment to consider one of the most important people skills: tact. Tact is being able to get your point across diplomatically. It means broaching a sensitive subject in a way that keeps the other person listening and engaged. It may mean using conditional terms, such as "Perhaps you should consider this." Using tact allows the other person to maintain his or her self-esteem. It actually gives you greater control in most cases than being direct. There are times when you need to be direct and not conditional. But it pays to save that approach for the rare times that it is needed rather than rely on it as a daily way of interacting with people. If it is reserved for the times when it is really needed, it will create the desired effect of getting people to do what you want without alienating them, as long as you take a moment to explain why you are asking the person to do what you are asking.
People with leadership responsibilities sometimes come to rely too much on their authority in order to accomplish their goals. They believe that they are required to make the decisions and give orders because they have been given those leadership responsibilities, but that isn't the case. They simply need to get certain things done, and there are a variety of ways to do it.
Sometimes you see strong salespeople who steamroll over those who get in their way. They may even do this with the customer, when, for example, they go over the customer's head to try to make the sale. Sometimes they are successful in the short term, but because of the extensive damage they do to relationships, their power usually catches up with them down the road when someone undermines them. Sales leaders use good people skills coupled with their sales skills to get the best of both worlds.
" Nobody is going to give anything to us. We have to earn their business each and every day, in everything we do."
- Pat Russo, CEO, Lucent Technologies
Develop your people, proposal, and presentation skills so that they are as good as your technical and sales skills.