Hey Big Vendor!

Hey Big Vendor!

 

During almost 30 years working within a well known FTSE 100 company, I was frequently the target of many a zealous vendor trying get a slice of our multimillion pound sales and marketing budget. I have to say, for the most part, I found them to be a pain in the neck, which was slightly ironic as I was a sales person myself. You see the problem with selling to sales people is that our ‘BS sensors’ are highly tuned and we can smell a sales trick at twenty paces. Rather than focusing in on what they are trying to sell us, we tend to become preoccupied with the technique they are using to do so. Don’t forget, they are playing us at our own game, which may engender some sympathy, but may also make us hard taskmasters, tough negotiators and often impatient.

 

When I became an Associate at Clearwater Advisers the tables were suddenly turned. The buyer became the supplier, and a very different one at that. Of course, I was selling a product in my previous life but I represented a well-known consumer brand with a large presence in the market. Many buyers were likely to want to buy our product and, with our largest clients, the job was more to negotiate volume and price. Even with new client acquisition, we tended to at least get some face time with a sales lead. Having said that, the stakes were still very high with a slight shift market share making a multimillion-pound difference to my sales figures.

 

So nothing could prepare me for the task of selling the services of a small boutique company operating in a highly populated market. Not only were most of my target clients previously unaware of Clearwater, I was also attempting to sell them the hardest kind of product: the invisible product. You see, although my previous employer was a customer service provider, I had something physical that I could show potential customers, some hard product as it were. On top of all of this, I was acutely aware that my contacts knew that they were being sold to and, like me, they were judging my performance and at times probably finding me a bit pushy.

 

The answer lay right in front of me. In order to get over this blockage and speak confidently and credibly about the Clearwater proposition, I had to take a dose of our own home grown medicine to enable me to sell the invisible, without feeling like the stereotypical salesperson.

 

As a firm of strategic communication advisors, we specialise in showing our clients how to become more natural communicators and thereby increase trust and buy-in when they hold sales conversations, even with salespeople! We do this by combining the science of the latest diagnostic communication analysis technology (Personal Presence Analysis®) with the art of projecting your natural personality.

 

For me this is work in progress but in the meantime here are my top 5 pet peeves:

 

  1. Pushy sales people– of course, you’re meant to be persistent but know when to back off
  2. Unsolicited or unscheduled phone contact– there’s no escape and I don’t mean this in a good way
  3. Overly critical assumptions about my business– nobody really enjoys criticism and it probably won’t progress a sale
  4. Ignorance– in the age of the internet there is no excuse for not doing your research
  5. Slick sales patter– I’m more convinced by authenticity

 

During my time as a buyer of goods and services I was most convinced by authentic and well-prepared experts who respected my time and the challenges I face.

Curate your Zoom Bookcase: 10 books that should be in there and 10 that shouldn’t

In a previous article, I talked about the importance of getting your Zoom background right. While windblown palm trees and meteor showers were originally amusing backdrops and an effective way to show off your fluency in operating video conferencing technology, let’s think about how we can inject more gravitas into your online habitat. We established that this can be done very effectively by sitting in front of your home library and many people have been in contact with me to ask for help in this area. So, as we head into another weekend of blissful lockdown, why not take some time to curate your Zoom Bookcase Background or ZBB?

 

Here are ten types of books that are a must on any self-respecting Zoomer’s bookshelf:

 

  1. ‘Hard Core Classics’ – a dash of Austen, Orwell or Steinbeck, ideally one of their lesser known tomes
  2. ‘Appropriate Autobiographies’ – a critical opportunity to showcase your heroes, as long as it’s Steve Jobs rather than Posh Spice
  3. ‘Self-help Bibles’ – you’re advised to focus on the developmental rather than the desperate 
  4. ‘Serious Contemporary Literature’ – any Booker Prize winner or nominee
  5. ‘Door Stop Reference’ – heavy weight guides to Renaissance Architecture or Porcelain of the Orient or even a full size Oxford Dictionary 
  6. ‘Travel Guides’ – to exotic rather than run-of-the-mill destinations i.e. Bhutan rather than Bognor
  7. ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ – need I say more! 
  8. ‘Art Books’ – Around the Uffizi in 80 Days?
  9. ‘Foreign Language Books’ – an original Spanish language copy of Don Quixote, for example, is a real trophy for the cabinet but make sure you can pronounce it correctly if challenged
  10. Book Ends – not books but a perfect use for those ‘Sales Support Person of the Year’ awards from the late 90s.

 

Ten titles you should perhaps remove from your bookcase:

 

  1. Dummies Guide to Financial Accounting
  2. The Beano Annual 2020
  3. Fifty Shades of Grey
  4. The Bluffers Guide to Management
  5. Any Mr Men books
  6. Around the World with Justin Bieber – True Stories from Beliebers Everywhere
  7. The Survival Guide to Working with Bad Bosses
  8. The Kama Sutra Workout
  9. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
  10. Surrounded by Idiots – how to understand those that cannot be understood

 

Happy curating!

 

Video Killed the Orator!

For those accustomed to addressing others from the head of a boardroom table, the dais of a press briefing or the stage of an international convention, a sea of eyes staring at you is not too distressing. Ask them to launch forth into a little green light at the top of their laptop for 30 minutes and it’s a different matter.

 

Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating a ‘virtual’ conference. This conference was due to take place in Brighton with 500 signed up delegates. Thanks to the foresight and vision of the organisers and a team of tech magicians, the event was moved online to the delight of 900 delegates and several high profile speakers.

 

You might imagine that sitting at my dining table and taking part in a glorified Zoom call would not have presented too many challenges for a seasoned public speaker like myself. However, I have to admit to finding the whole process utterly terrifying.

 

Almost immediately the conference began, it became evident to me that I craved the oxygen of a gallery of delegates that I could see and hear. I suddenly felt for the contestants on the lockdown version of ‘Have I Got News for You’ who, in the absence of a studio audience, have no idea whether they’re being funny or not. Interestingly, other speakers seemed to be less audience dependant and far more comfortable with the whole virtual set up.  Thankfully, as the conference progressed, I became increasingly accustomed to addressing the brick wall, which was my laptop screen.

 

By the end of the two days, I had learned a lot and rather fancied myself as a bit of a broadcaster, a sort of fusion of Sir Trevor McDonald and Zoe Ball. Looking back, there are certain things that I wish I’d been told from the outset and so I feel equipped to put forward my 5 tips on how to survive the little green light. As a disclaimer, I should say that my performance at the conference was far from perfect so these lessons have been self-learned.

 

  1. Exude energy– when you’re not getting any energy from your audience (who are probably watching you from a Radox bath), you will need to generate more energy than EDF.
  2. Avoid homemade autocue– until Zoom have introduced an autocue function don’t try to line up your script alongside the camera to create the same effect. Your eyes will twitch from side to side as you glance back and forth making you look less trustworthy than a politician getting off a campaign bus.
  3. Get the lighting right– people will want to see the whites of your eyes. A dark silhouette against the light of a window is not a good look and slightly threatening. It creates a sort of Darth Vader effect. A little uplighting, on the other hand, can take years off a 50-something moderator!
  4. Familiarise yourself with the technology– if each session starts with a star struck speaker gazing into the camera like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car crash, it takes the professional edge off the show.
  5. Screen share with care– best leave this to the professionals. The perils of screen sharing more than you had intended could be the subject of a whole different article.
  6. Relax, what’s the worst that can happen?– the great thing about speaking from the comfort and security of your box room is that you’ll never really know how badly you went down. Most of the audience are watching it alone and won’t in the foreseeable future have the chance to critique your performance with their peers at the conference bar.

Keeping Up Appearances

In the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic, millions of people across the world are waking up this morning to another day of working remotely, mostly at home. Kitchen tables, box rooms and garden sheds have been hastily cleared to make way for a laptop, printer and a mug of coffee. In a bid to stay in touch and fend off insanity, many of us are turning to video conferencing to conduct meetings that would normally take place in the ‘Steve Jobs’ Conference Room at the office. The wonders of Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams are beaming images of us sitting at our makeshift desk across the globe. People who have never, and will never, make it across the threshold of our homes now have a ringside view of our soft furnishings, wall hangings and knick-knacks.

 

So what are the pitfalls in this new world of video conferencing?

 

Firstly, and most importantly, you need to set the right tone with your backdrop. I am constantly amazed at the lack of awareness that people have of this critical aspect of what can best be described as your ‘home studio’. Almost every video conferencing platform offers the user an image of themselves as seen by their co-Zoomers. This of course can be switched off, but not before you get to see what you actually look like.

 

This makes a video call I had the other day even more puzzling. I was discussing an upcoming piece of consultancy work with a colleague who was attempting to persuade me that she would be the ideal person to manage this project. She explained to me that her organisational skills were second to none and that she had a virtually OCD approach to neatness and order, while I gazed at the bomb site that was her home office. There were so many books and files were strewn across the floor behind her, it looked like someone had hurled a grenade into Waterstones.

 

So be aware of what your home working venue might say about you. It seems very common for people to choose to sit in front of a bookcase, in order, I have to assume, to convey the impression of an intellectual genius. However, take a close look at what books and DVDs are visible to the viewer. I found it extremely difficult to take a potential client seriously the other day as he spoke earnestly to me of his need for my particular sales skills while framed by the largest collection of ‘Carry On…’ films I had ever seen. I was left in no doubt that he needed help, but not quite the sort he was imagining.

 

Even a solitary book can catch the eye of a fellow FaceTimer, if large enough. A friend of mine was distracted during a video 1:1 with her boss the other day by a bumper illustrated copy of the ‘Joy of Sex’ perching among the self help books in her manager’s bookcase. The 2019 Beano Annual sitting next to it didn’t help either.

 

 

Photographs on the wall are another danger area. While ancestral portraits and pictures of your daughters graduation or son’s Bar Mitzvah are acceptable, you may regret displaying photos from cousin Charlie’s stag in Ibiza or the ABBA tribute night at the local village hall.   So, if in doubt, use the ‘blur backdrop’ option or a green screen in the app settings or the focus may not be on you next time you Skype a work colleague.

 

Secondly, be aware of when and how you are visible on a conference call. One of the hidden delights of Microsoft Teams is that you are not constantly in view. In a conference call of, lets say, ten people, only four people are shown on screen at any given time. I wrongly thought that this was determined by whoever was speaking the most. However, the reality is, that you can pop up any someone else’s screen at any time with you even knowing it. So it’s highly advisable to keep the sighing, rolling of the eyes, the scratching of the nose and the topping up of the Pinot Noir away from the camera. The ‘Switch Off Camera’ button must be your best friend.

 

The angle of the camera is also pivotal. All to often callers look into the camera as if they were peering into a wishing well or, worse still, force us to spend the whole call staring at their forehead or the inside of their ear. For the record, a slightly elevated non-HD head on shot (with the ‘Touch Up My Appearance’ button on full) is the most flattering look.

 

Finally, as if dress down Friday wasn’t enough, the boom in video calling now requires us to witness our colleagues in their ultra leisurewear every day of the week. I’m talking about the sort of clothing that I am wearing while writing this article but clothing that I would never dream of modelling for my co-workers during a call. Can someone tell me what is it about video conferencing that encourages people to look like they’ve just crawled up an embankment after a derailment wearing clothes that only escaped landfill thanks to the Primark clearance sale? It costs nothing to make a little effort and look like you’ve been awake for more than five minutes.

 

So remember, you may be at home but we’re all watching you. By the time a video call is over, we will have examined every detail of your home, your outfit and your beverage of choice. Make sure you get it right. Remember, when this is all over you’ll have to meet look these people in the eye again.

Ain’t Com-plane-ing!

Public Relations Executive and Humourist, Franklin P. Jones once wrote that “Untold suffering seldom is” and, having worked for almost three decades at the customer coalface of a renowned air transport provider, I can heartily echo this sentiment.

 

My many days managing the relationship between the airline and its top corporate customers were peppered with the receipt of complaints of all shapes and sizes. While most of our customers wrote of their complaints to Customer Relations, epistles of woe from our most important clients would rapidly find their way on to my desk. Most would make me wince, some would make me scream, a few would make me laugh, while others would make ponder on the importance of retaining some perspective in life.

 

Being the willing recipient of complaints from our most frequent flyers gave me clear line of sight to what the airline was doing right and, more importantly, what it was doing wrong. While this was a very important and valuable part of my role, very occasionally, it also gave me a unique insight into some of the more unusual troubles these warriors of the skies had to endure at our behest and why some of them most definitely needed to get a life.

 

The first bizarre complaint that I remember receiving was from the CEO of a company who wrote to inform me of a rather distressing occurrence in First Class on descent into New York’s JFK airport. The Captain had alerted the passengers to their imminent arrival into the Big Apple and advised the cabin crew to prepare for landing. At this point the crew retrieved his wife’s coat from the wardrobe and laid it on her knee for landing. As is often the case, the aircraft was subsequently put into an unexpected holding pattern above the airfield delaying their arrival by twenty minutes. This CEO had put pen to paper to severely reprimand the airline for causing his wife to endure the discomfort of almost half an hour with her fur coat on her knee. From this point onwards, I realised that the perspectives of some frequent flyers and those of the rest of the world differ greatly.

 

Ramping up the absurdity even further, I then received a very angry letter from frequent visitor to our Business Class lounge. The letter came very shortly after we had shamelessly replaced the individually wrapped Scottish shortbread snacks in the lounge with a wider range of unwrapped cookies served in a large glass jar. The author of the letter vigorously criticised the airline for not sparing a thought for all those mothers who rely on such takeaway goodies to stock their children’s lunch boxes throughout the week. How could we have been so thoughtless? How would this gaping hole in little Johnny’s mid-day repast now be filled? Of course, those in the airline’s catering department, who naively believed that such a reduction in wasteful packaging would be applauded by our frequent flyers, had not bargained on the wrath of the Mumsnet Mafia. Legend has it that, a couple of weeks later, a man was stopped walking out of the lounge with a whole jar of the offending cookies under his coat. I guess, where there’s a will there’s way.

 

Sadly, some complaints were just plain tragic. One of the least pleasurable jobs I had was to occasionally extract a much sought after loyalty card from its frequent flyer owner. These cards were highly desirable because they could not be earned or bought but were bestowed on our most important flyers from above. It would sometimes fall to me to remove them when required. This process was never pleasant and seldom without incident. After one rather tortuous extraction, I received a letter from the now ex-cardholder in which he declared (and I kid you not) that such was the gravity of the situation that ‘my friends consider me less of a man now that I no longer have this card’. In some respects, I would have dearly liked to save his manhood and renewed the card but I suspect that I removed it just in time!

 

To all of you out there tempted to write in to complain about the various shortcomings of your airline of choice, please proceed as it’s the only way they’ll learn. Just remember that these are what we call ‘first world problems’.

 

Richard moderating at the Global Business Travel Association Conference in Munich in November 2019

The GBTA Conference is where the next generation of travel professionals meets world-class education and networking with industry-leading suppliers. It is Europe’s premier business travel event, featuring 1,000+ global attendees, 50+ exhibiting companies and a world-class programme on the latest industry technologies, issues and trends.

Where has all the glamour gone?

In contrast to their early 20thcentury forefathers and mothers, today’s premium travellers are so bitterly disappointing. You only have to survey the business class lounge at any airport these days to see what I mean.

The BA Club lounge at Terminal 5 should be the very epicentre of glamour. An exclusive champagne-soaked rendezvous at the intersection of the world. Packed to the Gucci drawstring with travellers passing through on their way to New York or LA, transiting from the Far East en route to one of the great cities of continental Europe or just heading off to the West Indies for some winter sun. What the 1950s referred to as the ‘Jet Set’ are all assembled in one place, sipping martinis and musing on whether the Ayurvedic spa at the Four Seasons will be open on arrival, while waiting for their voyages across the globe to resume.

Could there be a more glamorous sight? Yes, there most definitely could. In fact this is where the illusion screeches to a halt at the end of the runway. I’ve seen more sophistication in the plumbing aisle at B&Q. One scan of the lounge and you see why Primark are so prosperous. Can someone tell me what is it about travel that requires people to go forth as an ambassador for their company and country, in clothes that only escaped landfill thanks to the River Island clearance sale? Here are well-remunerated professionals choosing to fly Upper Class in Orvis zip offs. For those who don’t know, these are trousers that cleverly convert to shorts at the pull of a zip. Clever, that is, if you are heading up the Amazon; not so clever if you’re off to an accounting conference in Milan.

And another thing, why is it that grown men on the way to an ‘offsite’ in Hong Kong feel the need to take a Superdry rucksack as hand luggage? Is this some sort of self-hypnotherapy to make them believe that they are off on a trek across the Andes? Guys, if you have to indulge in this boy scout fantasy, please can you remember that you have your day pack on your back, when you swing round in the inter-satellite transit. When was the last time you saw someone swing their Luis Vuitton valise at someone like that?

Can someone also tell these people that most quality airlines now provide pyjamas to don for bed in the sky? There is no need to arrive at the airport already in your nightwear. In fact, the pyjamas you get on board are almost definitely going to be more stylish than ‘sweats’ from The Gap.

At this point you’re probably thinking that I’m an intolerable snob. I’m not. You see, I’m just assuming that, as these people are travelling at the pointy end of the plane, that they have the means to dress well. Of course style need not cost anything, I suppose it must be their intention to disguise themselves as someone who has just crawled up an embankment after a derailment. Where are Cary Grant and Grace Kelly when you need them?