Posted 10th July 2010.
In recent posts I’ve been musing over the concept of Authority Marketing. After my last post where I talked about the benefits of establishing authority, one reader rightly posed the question: “what’s the difference between authority and expertise?”
It’s a good question. We all feel intuitively that authority implies something more than expertise – but it’s sometimes difficult to put your finger on exactly what it is. Is authority just the upper echelons of expertise? Or is there something more to it?
Authority is Expertise + Influence
For me, the key is that while an expert is defined by what they know; an authority is defined by who listens to them.
In other words, you can be an expert by knowing a lot. But to be an authority, people have to listen to your expertise and act upon it.
An authority is the expert people turn to for guidance. When they speak, people listen.
So to become an authority, you must not only build your expertise, you must build your influence.
I’m very tempted to do a 2×2 matrix here with expertise on one axis and influence on the other. But I’ll refrain from consulting cliches on this occasion.
To be influential, you must communicate, and you must be persuasive.
And this is where many professionals fall down. They have a high degree of expertise, but they're unable to communicate it in a persuasive manner to their target clients.
Some don't communicate at all. They're either uncomfortable marketing – or they've fallen into that terrible psychological trap of believeing they're entitled to be respected and listened to because they're experts.
Others communicate badly – they stumble, or confuse and complicate.
Others communicate, but don't persuade. Their communication is informative – but it doesn't guide listeners to action.
Authorities simplify (without oversimplifying) the complex. They give clear recommendations and courses of action to take. They communicate frequently and effectively. And they're listened to.
What will it take for you to become an authority in your field?
Posted 27th December 2009.
Twitter is a bit of an enigma for most professionals. Can it be used successfully for business development? Is it an effective use of time, or a huge white elephant?
And while many commentators are pointing to the tailing off of Twitter’s previously phenomenal growth rates and the low usage amongst client decision-makers; some professionals are quietly going about their business using Twitter to win new clients.
One of the most common criticisms of Twitter is that “it’s just inane chatter”. People tweeting about what they had for breakfast, how much they enjoyed the latest episode of their favourite soap, or a joke they’ve just heard. And in all honesty, that was my initial reaction to Twitter when I was first encouraged to use it a couple of years ago.
The most common riposte to this criticism is to point out that many people don’t just tweet inanities. They tweet useful commentary or links to resources, articles and blog posts. “People are tweeting sensible stuff” they say, you just need to follow the right people.
But both sides are missing the point to some degree.
The fact is that most adult conversation is “just inane chatter” too. When we’re with our friends down the pub, talking to clients over coffee or colleagues by the water cooler we’re rarely sharing valuable business insights. Most of the time we’re talking about what we saw on TV, our plans for the weekend, what Bill in accounts is doing with Jane in HR.
We don’t build relationships with clients and colleagues by “talking shop” all the time. We do it in the gaps between business conversations. We open up a little and talk about what interests us, our views on the news, what annoys us and what makes us laugh. We talk about our family, our football team, and the funny thing we saw while on the way in to work.
David Maister (who as far as I'm aware isn't on Twitter himself) sums this up brilliantly when he says “The key to being a good communicator is talking when there's nothing to talk about”. Whether it's in your personal or business life, if the only time you talk is when there's an issue to talk about, then you're not going to build a relationship. You can see David on video expanding on this and on how to be a good listener here. (By the way, for any readers not familiar with Maister's work, bookmark this page, head on over to davidmaister.com, and take in the wealth of articles, video and podcasts. I'll see you back here when you're done – perhaps in a month or so…)
And it's exactly the same on Twitter.
Yes, it's great to post useful tips. You'll build your credibility no end by sending out links to great articles and blog posts in your niche, including some of your own.
But you won't build relationships.
Relationships are built by engaging at a human level with the other party. That means two-way communication, not just one-way broadcasting – no matter how great the material you're broadcasting is.
And two-way communication will inevitably include idle chit-chat. if you're genuinely interested in the other person then you'll be interested in their views on the news, what they're planning for the weekend, and perhaps even what they had for breakfast.
Case in point: a few weeks ago I engaged in a short twitter exchange with a professional I know reasonably well about karaoke tunes. A couple of other folks he knew joined in. We made fun of each other's selections, and suggested putting a karaoke band together. Nothing of any “value” was tweeted. No great insights or anything business related. But we all got to know each other a little better. We now have a shared experience: something to make a little joke about next time we meet online or in the real world. We know a little more about each other's personalities (and our taste in music). Pretty much the same as if we'd been introduced at a party or other casual encounter.
In fact, in some ways, Twitter can provide a real shortcut to building relationships. In the face to face world, it often takes some time to get beyond the “what do you do?” stage of conversation when you first meet someone. But on Twitter, most people seem quite willing to share their thoughts and ideas on a whole range of more personal topics. It's often possible to get a real insight into someone's personality, likes and dislikes quite quickly on Twitter – something that would take many meetings, often over months with face-to-face networking.
And because Twitter is still a fairly new channel, many users share a sense of being part of an “early adopter community”. They're much more willing to interact and respond to messages than they would be on other more established media.
So next time you hear someone complain about how all people tweet is nonsense, just smile and agree. And take note of David Maister's wisdom: it's that nonsense which actually builds relationships.
Posted 11th May 2008.
It's a scenario played out in millions of sales meetings every year.
The eager consultant (or lawyer, accountant or salesperson) has finally managed to get a meeting with one of his A list target customers. The customer meets him at reception, takes him to a meeting room and opens with “tell me a little about your company”.
“I'm glad you asked” says our hero as he brings out his pack of slides (or perhaps a glossy brochure, or even worse, his computer) and proceeds to give a thoroughly professional presentation – which unfortunately, does nothing to further the client relationship.
After a brief discussion afterwards the client offers to “call you when we need something in your area”, and the two never speak again.
Of course, it's hardly news that initial meetings with clients need to be about establishing relationships and trying to identify the client's critical needs. The problem is that far too many of us rely on the use of slides or a pre-prepared presentation as a crutch – without realising that the presence of the visual aid can often be a barrier to establishing the relationship we're looking for.
The first problem is that the potential client is no longer having a face-to-face dialogue with you – they're looking at your slides or brochure – or worse still, they're looking at a screen and you're not even physically close to them.
Secondly, if you present material, the meeting changes from dialogue to presentation. From a peer-level discussion to a “master-servant”, “I'm trying to impress you” dynamic.
Finally, the most likely outcome of a presentation is that they begin to ask questions about the presentation. That's what happens when we listen to presentations – they trigger questions and we ask them.
But, of course, at this point it's really you who needs to be questioning them. Trying to find out what they're looking for, what their challenges and problems are.
A far more effective approach is to be able to briefly describe your company in a few sentences, then turn to asking the client about their company, their challenges and what they are hoping to achieve. You can establish your and your company's credibility far more with intelligent questioning and a few “that's interesting, we worked with a client who had what looked like a similar issue recently, they…” follow-ups.
If you need to illustrate points, try a “pencil selling” approach. Have a few blank sheets of paper situated between you and the client and sketch out what you want to show them. It's far more effective and demonstrates your knowledge of the subject rather than just your ability to show slides which could have been prepared by someone else.
Better yet, you can hand the pencil to the client and get them to share in the process – adding in their thoughts and taking co-ownership of the solution or plan you are creating together.
And without the distraction of slides, brochures, or even worse, a computer to look at; you can begin to establish real human to human rapport. This may be the most crucial aspect of all as a potential client is highly unlikely to begin to open up and tell you about any significant problems they have until you establish a base level of trust and credibility with them. And that's so hard to do when you are presenting preprepared material.
So why do we rely on slides and brochures so much?
Very often it's because we have neither the confidence, nor have we done the homework needed to allow us to work without our visual aids. We can't remember all the key points we want to get across, the major benefits to the customer, and our great testimonials. We put all our preparation time into creating the presentation – rather than in thinking about how we should present it.
Ironically, we need to know our presentation and our slides absolutely off-pat – so that we can then do without them and begin to build a real dialogue with our potential client and stand a much better chance of turning that potential client into a real client.
Posted 24th January 2008.
My post on debunking the myths of non-verbal communication has been picked up by a lot of google searches for “percentage non-verbal communication”, “what % of communication is non-verbal” and the like.
For those who haven't read the original article, have a look and you'll find that the often quoted figure of 93% is just pure hokum (well, it's an accurate figure for one very specific example taken repeatedly way out of context).
For those keen to understand what the “real” figures are for the percentage of communication that's non-verbal – have a think about it for a second.
Really, the question is meaningless.
What does “percentage of communication” actually mean? Do you mean the percentage of the actual message that was heard and understood? Or do you mean the percentage of intended emotion that got through? The concept of a “percentage of communication” is so oversimplified that it ceases to have meaning.
In addition, there are so many different types of communication that it's impossible to give a single figure or average that has any meaning. Even if you could figure out a “percentage of communication that was non-verbal” it would be so radically different for example, for a lecture on mathematics to an impassioned speech on third-world poverty that to give an overall figure would be misleading.
So here's my answer anyway:
Q: What percentage of communication is non-verbal?
A: More than most people think, but less than trainers in non-verbal communication would have you believe.
Posted 9th January 2008.
93% of communication is non-verbal. Everyone knows that.
I‘ve lost track of the number of times I've heard this in sales training sessions or read it in books, articles and blogs. Sometimes the stats are qualified further, for example:
- “One study at UCLA indicated that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Another study indicated that the impact of a performance was determined 7 percent by the words used, 38 percent by voice quality, and 55 percent by the nonverbal communication.”
The trouble is – it's not true.
Let's think about it for a minute – how can you possibly get 93% of the communication without the words? If you watch a foreign-language film, and watch the body language and listen to the vocal tones – can you really understand 93% of it? I certainly can't.
The truth is that the experiments at the source of this myth (carried out by researcher Albert Mehrabian in the 70's) were focused on some very specific areas of communication – namely the communication of feelings and attitudes – not communication in general.
As Mehrabian himself points out:
“Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable”
In addition, the construction of the experiments was not an accurate reflection of real-world communication conditions. In one of the central experiments, for example, participants were read out single words (either positive words like “thanks”, neutral like “maybe” or negative like “don't”) in either positive, negative or neutral voices. In another, the words were combined with photographs of people looking positive, negative or neutral.
Participants had to judge whether the words were positive, negative or neutral based on the combined word/tone or word/picture combinations – which is where the statistics came from. It highlighted how the tone of voice or the facial expression often overrode the meaning of the word when it came to conveying a positive or negative feeling.
Of course, in the real world, we typically don't communicate in single words. And we're typically not just trying to communicate feelings either. But what has happened is that these important – but limited – findings from the experiments have been taken out of context, repeated, misunderstood, repeated, confused, etc. – up to the point where “93% of communication is non-verbal” has become accepted as reality.
So what does this mean for sales people?
Well, there's no doubting that non-verbal communication is important – but don't take the 93% rule too seriously. The words you use really are vitally important – they're the core of your communication.
Your non-verbals serve mainly to support what you're saying by conveying your feelings – your passion, your empathy, your truthfulness. How do you make sure your non-verbals provide the right support?
Well, critically – don't fake it. Despite what some trainers may try to convince you of, it really is almost impossible to try to “technique” your way through body-language. Non-verbal communication is so complex – too complex to try to act out or replicate – yet most people are really good at reading it, so they will pick up any fakery very quickly. Instead – make sure you really believe in what you are saying – and the correct non-verbal communication will follow naturally.
And of course, if you find yourself on a training course, or reading an article, and you read the phrase “93% of communication is non-verbal” – then think twice about the credibility of the trainer or author. They haven't done their homework properly on this – so what else have they skimped on?
Postcript: Further thoughts on this myth