Hard to Say NO

For the longest time, I have been teaching and lecturing about saying NO to price discount requests and special concessions. From behind my desk or from a stage, it was easier said than done. I have been in sales many years and rarely said NO. I did use the usual tricks of asking for something in return: special requests, more volumes, information, access to site, etc. It does not change the fact that saying NO to a customer face-to-face or on the phone is not easy. Now I work for myself and am enjoying the business development side of it. But I have had to walk the talk. I recently had to decline an engagement request with a prestigious association that had asked me for a one day workshop.

Despite several sessions of discussion by phone, I ultimately had to decline my participation. I felt the disappointment and the real surprise on the phone. I had just said NO to a prestigious organization who swore that I would get business out of speaking and doing a workshop for free. The bottom line is that I am a pricing and value management thought leader. Doing things for free does not really make sense. But the experience of respectfully walking away was eye opening. Dealing with people’s disappointment and the sense of guilt makes it easy to accept and to say YES. Saying NO generates emotions from both side of the discussion. Dealing with the surprise and the silence on the phone is a power experience that requires empathy, self-esteem and courage.

Train your Salesforce on how to say NO. Do not just tell them to say NO. Train them, coach them, empower them. Give them the self-esteem needed to respectfully walk away and maintain relationships. This is an emotional experience that is powerful especially if you are a compassionate and caring individual. I am still learning how to say NO. But now I am doing what I preach.

The Retail Experience

A month ago, after fighting with my loyal four-year old Sony laptop, I realized it was time for me to make the leap to the 21st century and to get one of these magnificent SSD ultra-books. So I decided to go through the experience of buying through the traditional brick-and-mortar retail channel. I was highly motivated to give Best Buy a chance and to evaluate their refreshed customer experience approach including the new Samsung in-store concept.

Samsung Series 9The process started with a comparison of ultra-book options. I had quickly narrowed down my selection to the new Toshiba Kira and the new Samsung Series 9. Finally, I picked Samsung because of the brand and the experience of my peers with their equipment. So here I go to Best Buy with the best intention to buy a high-end ultra-book and a willingness-to-pay of about $3,000 for this piece of equipment and the relevant accessories. Let me put it bluntly: it did not work at all. Despite the staff’s best intentions, I left empty handed and completely disappointed. First, Best Buy’s staff were not aware of the Samsung Series 9. The store did not carry it and we had to go online to find it. Second, I asked if they could place the order for pick up, they responded that they could not because that specific laptop was sold through a “marketplace” and they could not order it. Let alone the fact that the online Best Buy price was $250 more expensive than the price on Samsung’s site. Third, we called the Samsung “concierge” and he confirmed that nothing could be done and that I had to buy online. I was puzzled by the fact that I was willing to spend $3,000 right there in the store but I could not do it. What is going on with Best Buy? First of all, when are they going to educate their in-store staff about the computer options including the high-end ones? What happened to servicing the customers and offering custom-order solutions? So I went home, configured the ultra-book online in 15 minutes, placed the order and got the equipment in 72 hours. Well done Samsung! I am giving up on Best Buy. A real shame.

Random Acts of Kindness

Time after time, I am running into serious offenders of one of the cardinal rules of networking: you have to give before you can receive. Recently, I was contacting by one ex-colleague I had not talked to in over 5 years. Out of the blue, this person contacts me via Linked In to ask me if I could help him identify career opportunties. One of my former bosses only contacts me when he is in a job transition and needs me as a reference. These are examples of what networking is not. I am a true believer that networking requires giving a lot without expecting anything in return.

A network is a living ecosystem that needs fuel.

As a matter of fact, I conjecture that you should never expect anything back. Mindful networking implies being opened to other people in your network and simply give through random acts of kindness. That includes giving Linked In recommendations, serving as a reference for a job search, making connection to people of interest to help someone, helping someone in a job search, having phone chats when someone has an idea, etc. Of course, you have to find a balance as you cannot cut yourself in a thousand pieces. I have written 115 recommendations on LinkedIn and each one took about two to three minutes to write. That is not a huge commitment but each one of these makes a difference in the life of the person receiving it.

A network is a living ecosystem that needs fuel. That fuel is love and kindness. One cannot use the network only when one needs something. If you pour enough love and kindness into it, then may be your network will love you back. The act of giving has to be genuine and non-interested. I have read some great books on how to network. They all say the same thing: maintain and energize your network on an on-going basis; invest in it as time may come when you might need some help. I say you have to go one step further. Spread love and kindness randomly without counting and without expecting anything in return.

I love my network and I am available to help. How much love are you giving to yours? Disrupt!

The Mother of All Assignments

After a 20-year career in global business, I thought I had seen it all: international airports, world tours, leadership challenges, plant closings, acquisitions, etc! But in reality, I had seen nothing of what life is really is. Now that I live my life in the “slow” lane, I have realized that the most challenging assignment of all is parenting. Managing businesses is a walk in the park compared to that. Business schools and corporations do not teach you how to be a father!

The Mother of All AssignmentsYou cannot buy a book that prepares you fully for the unpredictability and uncertainty related to being a parent. Every day brings a new set of dynamics, interactions and circumstances for which I am not prepared. When your business brain is wired for strategic plans, environmental stability and organizational routines, it is certainly unsettling. Granted, I started with a handicap. I did not have a very active father raising me and I never had influencing role models in both my personal and professional lives. As a result, I am playing a lot by ear and asking lots of questions to my entourage. But I now realize that watching my son grow up, learn how to speak, become more creative, and play is a rich experience that allows me to grow, to enjoy the present moment and to re-parent myself. The last six months have been a joy and I have never been happier in my life. Throughout my career, lots of business people told me “life flies by” and “you cannot take the years back”. When time slows down enough to pay attention to what matters, it is a transformational experience. I am discovering emotions I never had before. I am relearning to learn, play and love. Discovering unconditional love for my son is probably the most powerful realization I have had in the past few months. Before, my heart may have not been fully opened to that. I was caught up in the “sacrifice syndrome” that most business people have no choice but to surrender to. Kids are growing fast. Life does fly by. Slow down a little and smell the roses…with your kids!

The Art of Listening

ListenBeing away from the corporate world and from the stress syndrome I was falling into, I am now able to realize some of the many gaps I have to work on. One of them was and still is to listen more actively and with intention. I am doing better but it requires to pay attention and to catch yourself when you are ready to speak. Lately I was reading a blog written on the HBR blog network by Judith Glaser. She wrote that executives use “telling statements” 85% of the time leaving 15% for questions. Clearly we do not listen enough. She continues by saying that the biological explanation for this is the following: when we sell, interact or express our views, our bodies release high level of reward hormones and we feel great. The more we talk the better we feel. To make things worse, the brain disconnects about every 12-18 seconds to evaluate and process what is happening in the conversation thus leaving little time to listening! I will also add to this that the competitive nature of business also triggers egos and competitive behaviors that encourages executives to win arguments and have the last word. I am guilty of that and I must say it is hard to control!

So what does it mean for human interactions? It means that you have to slow down the pace of interaction and take a break in between exchanges. Actually some experts in value selling and negotiation recommend to use the two-second rule prior to responding. That allows the brain some time to process and to respond. Two seconds is short you might say. But in a fluid, an interactive and maybe in an intense discussion, it is an eternity. Executive development should include training on listening excellence. It should reinforce the need for equal attention to our thoughts and to other people’s words. Active listening is an art that requires mindfulness, questioning skills for probing and “peeling the onion”, and also the capacity to tame one’s ego and competitive nature. Easier said than done. I am in listening training now. I have the time to do it. I hope you can also catch yourself not listening to whomever you interact with. Catch yourself already preparing your next answer while the other party is speaking. Try the two-second rule for a day.

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