There you are. Sitting in a meeting with your team and suddenly one of them seems really angry about what you think is a pretty minor issue. They’ve sort of got a point; in an ideal world you would have responded by now but you’ve had good reasons for the delay. It’s not a priority and they know that. Your diary has been stuffed with important and urgent things, all of which they know about and some of which they put there! Giving you a hard time, in front of the whole team stinks! Particularly since it’s completely out of the blue!!
Later today Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
You might be celebrating. You might be panicking. You might be holding your head in shame. Or you might be doing what my daughter is – relishing the prospect of the extraordinary and random news that’s ahead. To quote her in the car yesterday evening: “I’m excited; who knows what he’s going to do next.”
I’m not the world’s greatest cook. If I’m honest, I’m okay but no-one is going to get over excited about what I put on the table. Just ask my family if you think I’m being a little too self-deprecating.
I used to think steak was an incredibly easy meal; it’s one my daughter adores. Just grill it for a few minutes on either side, then serve. But it was always far too chewy to be appealing.
I’ve run quite a few messaging workshops this year and one of two things always seems to emerge. With some, it was both. Organisations want to target the world and his wife. Everyone, irrespective of job title, function or industry sector, gets shoehorned into the position of representing an opportunity or being a potential collaborator or influencer. I’m beginning to think prioritisation has become an ancient art that’s no longer practised!
The other issue, the one I’m interested in today, is knowledge of the target. I’m not talking about consumer-facing brands here. They’ve generally spent plenty of time and energy defining exactly who they’re after. But it’s a very different story when it comes to the business to business world.
How much of a missed trick this is depends on the relevant buyer’s decision-making tree. But how do you know anything about the decision making tree if you don’t know your target?
The lack of knowledge tends to come to light when I ask two questions. The first is something like ‘tell me about the people you want to target’ and the second is ‘where will we find them?’
In answer to the first, the workshop participants generally know quite a bit about the industry and most have researched the issues their targets will face. But when it comes to creating a stereotype for the people they’ll be targeting, things get tougher. What’s their motivation? What are their ambitions and aspirations? What do they care about? What keeps them up at night?
Why do we need that kind of detail? Well if you’re going to craft effective messages that capture the attention of your targets, they have to lead with the concerns that will capture their attention.
Things can get even worse when it comes to working out where we’ll find them. By this I mean where and when are they open to influence? Where do they get their information from? Our messages may be spot on and beautifully crafted, but there’s no point if the target’s not in the ‘room’ or isn’t listening.
When we get to this point in the workshop, people become like a rabbit in the headlights and wonder how on earth they can find any of this out. The answer’s simple. Ask!
And this is where the empathic enquiry comes in. Empathy is not putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to see the world from their perspective. It’s imagining you are that person, with all their lived experience, in the position they are in. It requires a leap of imagination. With an open mind, you have to try and put all your pre-conceived ideas aside. Engage with your targets from this perspective and they’ll give you the information you need and what’s more this very process will help you build a strong relationship rooted in trust.
Empathic enquiry won’t just help your business relationships. Why not give it a go in your personal life to?
Commitment is frightening. It involves taking a risk. What if it’s not rewarded? What if it’s not reciprocated?
It’s not easy either. There are bound to be hiccups and challenges, which take hard work and determination to navigate.
But without commitment we can’t form nourishing relationships and without commitment we can’t achieve our goals. It’s the goal achieving part I’m thinking about today.
Imagine you have a goal to achieve. It could be drumming up new members, selling tickets, or persuading people to buy your product. There’s rarely just one route to get you there. Different disciplines – sales, marketing, communication, etc – might achieve the right result and even worse, within each discipline different strategies and tactics might do the trick. But one thing’s for sure, trying a little of each approach will get you nowhere! You have to make a choice and then commit.
Sounds simple doesn’t it. But what it really means is you have to make difficult decisions. You have to decide, based on your very individual set of circumstances, which is the approach most likely to deliver the results you want. Then you have to commit. And once you’ve committed you have to invest in it and reject the alternatives.
In communication terms, this could mean focusing on converting your workforce first and foremost to the new approach. Or it could mean putting all your energies into social media, creating compelling media stories, or engaging directly with the targets through, for example, events or direct mail. And hidden in these few options are the complexities of identifying the right target audience. Is it your employees, existing customers or prospects and if it’s prospects, which ones? Which market or industry are you going after? Who are the really influential decision makers?
Two things are certain. First, hedging your bets won’t work. Spreading your budget thinly across a variety of viable options, will probably just result in spending all your time and money on getting nowhere fast.
Second, failing to invest the necessary resources on your chosen course of action is also likely to result in failure, or at the very best a mediocre outcome.
So yes, if you’re going to get the outcome you want you have to think hard about the choices in front of you. Once you’ve decided on the viable options, be honest about what it’s going to take to make them work. Then you can make a realistic choice. If you and your team is not willing and / or able to deliver what’s needed, don’t take that option.
But once you have decided, commit. Put all you have into making it work. And yes, this does involve taking a risk. But it’s a manageable risk if you’ve got good measurement and evaluation in place and you’re prepared to adapt.