How Good Is Your Front Of House?

One of the most interesting parts of a consultant’s job when visiting different organisations is seeing how strongly the way they organise their reception and switchboard, revealing how customer centric the wider business actually is.
Firstly a generalisation, that unfortunately contains a real truth. Outsourced reception facilities do not perform as well as wholly owned ones. Even when the first line of contact is a security desk in perhaps a shard facility with a ‘proper’ reception behind it, the experience is still mostly debilitating. We won’t even bother commenting about the impression that unmanned receptions create.

It sounds obvious, but the receptionist is the most important component of the reception experience. Good eye contact, a proper greeting, efficient visitor administration, and the offer of drink, take your coat, a seat, and directions to the loos should all be delivered in a friendly and professional way.

It’s when you sit down and wait you can observe what’s going on and really learn about the organisation. It’s amazing how many receptionists who, when they’ve ‘dealt’ with you, assume you are not there any more. They conduct private conversations on mobiles, moan to passing colleagues, and ignore ringing phones. The best ones realise they are still ‘on stage’, keep you informed, even chat if they have the time, or if they see you would like too.

The quality of a receptionist and their service delivery is a leading indicator as to the quality of the organisation’s more general offering.

If there is a TV on it should be broadcasting an appropriate channel, local radio phone-ins are not really appropriate (we’ve heard them). An internet terminal should be working and showing the organisations home page and an invitation to use.

On the broader environment, how current are the magazines? How early does today’s newspaper appear, we know one organisation where it doesn’t get put out until 11.00am after the post has been circulated. Internal people put before early arriving customers.
Why does it say DO NOT REMOVE FROM RECEPTION on company literature? Customers aren’t going to take it (shouldn’t they be encouraged?), so it must be staff. Why can’t staff be informed in ways other than showing customers staff can’t be trusted.

This brings us to a key ‘atmosphere’ builder in receptions; Signage. There should be as little (none?) negative signage on view to customers. The stickers on brochures previously mentioned is a great example of negative signage. Positive signage creates a very different ‘atmosphere’. It makes people feel they are allowed. No smoking, do not use mobiles, no admittance without a pass, type signs all send a compliant but negative message. The same feeling can be experienced when you enter a hotel bedroom and see all the little signs on the table and in the bathroom telling you what you can’t do.

Why not audit your reception?

Your front of house is where you reveal much about how you really view customers.

We leave you with a final thought. In one South African company’s reception we visited we saw the following ‘Guns must be handed in at reception’. The ultimate in negative signage, or a customer centric business reassuring its visitors?!

How Value Chains Mature – The Dangers of Creeping Commoditisation

Many organisations are dealing with the issue where parts (all?) of their market-place are commoditising, i.e. where the customer perceives the product/service they are purchasing is sufficiently understood by them so that the decision as to which one, independent of any technical or expert help where key benefit attributes like quality, reliability and availability can be taken as given, can be made on price.

What many organisations don’t realize is their own unconscious role in accelerating their own journey into ‘commodity hell’. One of the major faults organisations make is not understanding how value chains mature, so not employing the appropriate strategies at the right time.
What is your market place(s) at present?

Key Questions
  1. After establishing the current stage of maturity, what competitive strategies are you going to deploy?
  2. If the market is normalised and mature, commoditisation traits will be evident. To combat this, how can you create new forms of competitive advantage? Is lowest cost producer status available to pursue? How do you build different value propositions that increase the customers need for your expert advice and help?
  3. If your value chain is more immature you have the opportunity to slow its maturity through constant innovation focused around beneficial customer centric change.
Taking a strategic approach to how you compete in your market-place, and pro-actively choosing how you propose to compete in the future is critical if you are going to avoid being pulled into selling commodities.

Are Your Salespeople IT Literate? *

We are all users of technology, however many salespeople have huge gaps in their IT literacy, having developed ‘coping strategies’ to get by. The most obvious coping strategy is getting someone else to do it for you, the most damaging impediment to developing personal IT skills. What has evolved is the idea that everybody has ‘enough skills’; people can send email, put a Word letter together, produce a couple of slides and run a spreadsheet for their expenses or commissions. This is pretty thin stuff when it comes to using the potential of these applications.
We were involved with a project to increase a sales team’s productivity and within scope was their use of PC technology. Rather than develop an academic view of IT literacy the salespeople were interested in a practical expression of what IT literacy could deliver for them, so we looked at what high performing, very productive salespeople were doing with technology to see whether there was any correlation between IT literacy and high performance. We found that there was**. We then tried to establish if there was a single piece of functional usage connected to each of the major packages that we could use as a proxy for general IT effectiveness.

As a result we developed the following thresholds for IT literacy:

  • Using Mail Merge in word to support small marketing campaigns
  • Pivoting Excel spreadsheets to reveal more useful data sets
  • Animating PowerPoint presentations appropriately
  • Using Rules Criteria in Outlook to help manage inbox volumes.

If you are capable of doing these things you are capable of using technology in value adding ways.

The other interesting connection we found was where this level of IT literacy was being demonstrated the salesperson’s contribution to inputting and extracting data from their organisation’s CRM was more significant. They were power users. Also, these salespeople were more effective internet users in using search engines for research purposes. IT literacy has ‘leaky benefits’, it creates a virtuous circle of productivity, affecting all aspects of a users IT engagement.

Why not look at how your salespeople are (not) using IT, there could be a significant performance benefit to be gained in developing their IT literacy.
* Assuming Microsoft Office as the Application Platform – All trademarks acknowledged.

** The one exception to this correlation was where somebody had full access to somebody who ‘did’ IT for them. They were as productive as the IT literate (not more productive) but were carrying the cost of this assistant’s help.

The ‘I’ In Team

We often hear that “There’s no ‘I’ in team”, a nice idea, but the reality is that teams are made up of individuals and individuals need to feel a sense of personal achievement as well as a sense of belonging. Team success is sometimes made up of a series of individual successes.
Britain’s most successful sporting team at the moment is a collection of individuals who compete for themselves, in small teams and for the wider team. British Cycling cleaned up at the recent World Track Championships, winning nine gold medals, three times as many as their nearest rival.

This wasn’t done without huge individual effort and determination, yet nor was it possible without a huge team effort. British Cycling have focused their efforts on pulling together a team of outstanding individuals, not just the ones in Lycra. They have sought out technical leaders to redesign the bikes, nutritionists and personal trainers and even a psychologist who has his days at Rampton as a highlight on his CV. Each of these people makes a contribution which is publicly applauded by the people on the podium.

Real team development isn’t about crushing individual ambition and success for the sake of the team, but about balancing that talent against the needs of the whole. If you’d like to talk about how you can balance your team dynamics contact us.

Recession Proofing Yourself

With concern about the ‘credit crunch’, the ‘housing market slump’ and the ‘looming recession’, people find themselves considering how well positioned they are to weather a potential storm.
This can cause people to behave strangely, which may not always be beneficial to the organisation or themselves.

The people who tend to not only survive tough economic times, but thrive on them, are those that feel confident and secure in their employability, if not their current employment. One of the key problems for organisations when a downturn is predicted can be that employees become so concerned with holding on to their current positions that they stop making positive contributions and taking calculated risks.

If you’re in a job and you plan to stay there for at least the next year you may feel that you needn’t worry about your CV at the moment, but if your CV is looking tired and out of date, the odds are that your career might be starting to stagnate too, along with your ambition.

People who view themselves and their skills as an asset to be leveraged throughout their career keep their CV’s up to date and regularly look to add new features and benefits to them. This gives them a strong sense of employability, knowing that they have lots to offer an employer, whether that’s the organisation they’re currently working for, a new organisation, or themselves if they want to strike out alone.

Management Competence


Over the past decade, there have been widespread changes in the political, social, economic and psychological forces affecting organisations and their people.  These changes have significantly affected both the nature of management and the strengths and skills needed from an effective manager in the present and in future.  Current research suggests that the following nine areas are likely to continue to become increasingly important in managerial behaviour in the 21st Century:


Ambiguity and Change Agent
Managers who are able to respond positively when confronted with the need to change; demonstrating adaptability and flexibility and responding quickly to changes in processes, systems and structures. Modern managers are people who implement and support new initiatives in the face of uncertainty.

Example behaviours:

  • Making suggestions to change processes that are not working well
  • Varying approach or style to match each situation
  • Adapting priorities and workload to take on board changing circumstances
  • Identifying and communicating the benefits of change and the rationale behind it to the team
  • Involving the team in the planning and implementation of change
  • Challenging individuals who express negative approaches to change

Managers who devote time and commitment to individual and team learning, identifying strengths and areas for development. Effective managers recognise the importance of feedback and are able to both provide constructive feedback and respond to feedback received.

Example behaviours:

  • Expressing positive expectations of others
  • Accepting and acting upon feedback
  • Maintaining an up to date personal development plan
  • Giving appropriate, constructive feedback to others when asked
  • Setting clear, consistent expectations and goals
  • Assisting individuals in identifying their development needs, encouraging individuals to take on new challenges and responsibility
  • Delegating tasks, authority and responsibility appropriately
  • Providing motivational praise and recognition for desired behaviours

Managers who make conceptual connections and challenge assumptions. Thinking managers are able to apply learning to both new and unrelated situations and understand the variables impacting ideas.

Example behaviours:

  • Identifying simple connections in apparently unrelated information or situations
  • Acting upon trends in information
  • Separating the facts from conjecture in any situation
  • Maintaining an overview of complex situations rather than focusing purely on detail
  • Using both practical and theoretic models when formulating ideas and solutions
  • Presenting ideas that stand up to informed challenge

Creative Innovation
Managers who are able to originate new or radical alternatives to traditional work processes. They question existing practices and support a culture of creativity and innovation.

Example behaviours:

  • Making improvement in own work area by adopting new approaches
  • Supporting the implementation of new ideas and ways of working
  • Gathering ideas from different sources that may be utilised in own work area
  • Encouraging colleagues to try new ways of working
  • Creating an environment of constant challenge to the status quo
  • Taking calculated risks in implementing untried solutions

Decision Making
Problems are becoming increasingly complex and numerous. It is therefore becoming an even more crucial management skill to be able to anticipate problems and to solve them quickly and effectively by taking an unbiased, rational approach to decision making.

Example behaviours:

  • Reflecting on the consequences of straightforward options before making a decision
  • Taking decisions within appropriate timeframes
  • Escalating decision making to manager when appropriate
  • Articulating the assumptions behind decisions
  • Making decisions that have an impact outside own area of responsibility, having given due consideration to the likely consequences
  • Appling a range of decision making techniques
  • Involving colleagues appropriately

Effective managers are able to identify and prioritise required processes and actions to achieve agreed objectives; taking into account quality, timescales, process reviews and contingencies; in other words maximising the use of resources.

Example behaviours:

  • Planning own time effectively
  • Planning for predictable variations in work flow
  • Utilising resources cost effectively
  • Identifying priorities appropriately and focuses activities accordingly
  • Setting milestones, reviewing progress and taking appropriate corrective action
  • Adapting plans when faced with changed priorities or resources

Performance Focused
Effective managers clarify performance expectations through agreed standards, objectives goals and accountability. Performance is clearly measured and constructive feedback given. If performance falls below expectations, action is taken.

Example behaviours:

  • Being clear on own goals and performance indicators
  • Acting upon feedback to improve personal performance
  • Accepting responsibility for own successes and failures
  • Agreeing specific and measurable goals, objectives and performance standards
  • Explaining how individuals’ objectives link to the organisational strategy
  • Discriminating between poor and acceptable, good and great performance and behaviour
  • Holding regular, documented performance reviews

Effective managers are aware of, and able to use personal impact to establish credibility and sustain the respect and support of others. They are able to persuade others to accept or agree to a point of view after initial resistance.

Example behaviours:

  • Presenting ideas in a constructive way
  • Listening to other’s views and responds appropriately
  • Asking questions to understand objections and offer appropriate counter proposals
  • Presenting the benefits rather than solely the features of a proposal
  • Proposing and seeking win/win solutions
  • Anticipating likely resistance and preparing appropriate responses

Managers who develop their role more broadly than simply functional delivery; they see their main purpose as to change and transform wherever required.

Example behaviours:

  • Demonstrating a point of view about relevant issues and sharing it, leading discussions appropriately
  • Behaving proactively and taking responsibility when necessary
  • Speaking of their role in terms of what they can contribute rather than as just the position they occupy
  • Pushing the boundaries of their role without sacrificing effectiveness
  • Actively extending their circle of influence beyond their circle of control
  • Demonstrating effective emotional control when under excessive pressure or stress
  • Demonstrating respect for the personal values of others but challenging any behaviour that is reflective of values that contradict the organisation’s values or company policy


Strategic Development… For Sales Leaders Who Want To Up The Pace

The purpose of the organisation defines many aspects of its performance. People become energised and motivated not simply by a set of financial targets but for reasons that connect with their own aspirations and needs. These reasons come from an understanding of the organisation’s purpose.
Purpose equals vision. Vision is the motive force that drives organisations forward. The vision can be used to inform strategy. Strategy is not vision. Strategy is the means by which the vision is brought closer (vision is not usually achievable, but aspirational).

Vision with strategy combines the aspirational with practical. The ‘why’ with the ‘how’.

Strategic Thinking Comes Before Strategic Planning

One of the biggest impediments to strategic planning is the lack of Strategic Thinking. Strategy is not a reductive process to fill out a set of models or methods. A Strategic Planning Framework is a very useful aid but without any Strategic Thinking the outputs will not be anything to do with strategy.

One way of seeing this problem is when management confuse strategy with making things work better. Strategy is not ‘improving quality by 10% or just increasing market share by x%’. Strategy is about defining tomorrow, then defining today, and finally making a plan to connect the two.

As a sales director or sales manager who is responsible for the future of their sales organisations, our High Performance Sales Management course will encourage you to differentiate between an operational and strategic sales mind set. The course will be of particular benefit to sales professionals who are familiar with the ‘classic fundamentals’ of sales management and are looking to build on that learning in a modern context.

S3: Structured Solution Selling™

The cost of selling activities has increased significantly, and is likely to continue doing so. From purely a financial point of view, it makes good sense to invest in sales activity to achieve not just one sale with a customer, but further sales also and ideally on an ongoing basis.
The purchasing company, meanwhile, is faced with the challenge of deciding which company to select from what, at times, can be a bewildering range of potential suppliers!

For the Professional Salesperson, this offers an opportunity: by understanding the challenges facing the customer, sometimes perhaps to an even greater extent than the customer themselves, they can achieve the position of trusted supplier and can almost be considered as a consultant to the business. Good news for the purchasing company, since they will have the opportunity to work with a supplier who understands well how they can best help. And good news for the selling company too, since such a relationship confers competitive advantage – which means more sales!

Structured Training has developed a process based on what we know works!
It has several benefits to the salesperson:

Work to a guaranteed process while maintaining an individual style. Be “you” but have the knowledge and confidence that you are working in a structured and thorough manner.

Improve forecasting and identify any potential problems. Because you are working to a consistent standard of professionalism, variation is reduced. Thus any problems in closing business can be more easily predicted or identified and remedial action taken.

Evaluate your performance against a standard and seek help with any challenges. If the desired results are not being achieved, the specific area for improvement can be identified and support given.

Justify your activities and outcomes to a line manager if challenged. The process enables you to provide a rationale for what you are doing, why you are doing it, what result you can expect and when.

It is a process which enables truly consultative selling…and that’s why it’s referred to as Structured Solution Selling™ or S3™.


Selling…The Essentials For Success is designed for all newly appointed sales staff in their first six months or sales people, with no formal sales training and is structured around our S3™ process. This enables the salesperson to have a competitive advantage and add value to the customers business and create solutions that make a real difference.