How to Stop Having Stupid Staff Meetings

I asked the crowd, “Raise your hand if you’ve been to a really stupid staff meeting.” Every hand in the room went up. “Keep your hand up, if you find most staff meetings in your career could have been more efficient.” Nearly all hands stayed raised, with the exception of the new kid, who’s in his first job, sitting next to his current boss. He grins knowingly and stays quiet.

Most meetings suck, but staff meetings are amongst the suckiest. Interestingly, my experience has been that the higher the pay grade of the people in the room, the more stupid they become. And, wasted time gets even more expensive.

Why? Because they’re usually scheduled on regular intervals for a pre-determined period of time, rather than for a specific purpose. Often there’s an agenda, but seldom a concrete plan on how to maximize the experience.

I asked, Paul Axtell, author of Meetings Matter: Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations about this phenomena:

“They’ve gotten bad because people aren’t thinking about them and take for granted that people will show up. Information sharing is never a good reason to meet–that can be done in different ways. If you don’t have topics that need real conversation, cancel the meeting. If you’ve got real substance to discuss, hold the meeting, but only for as long as you need, with the people who need to be there. Don’t add a “Let’s go around the table for general updates” to fill the time.

3 Great Conversations to Have at Staff Meetings

I asked Paul for some pointers for the best way to generate real conversations at staff meetings

1. Cultural Conversations

Use staff meetings to gain alignment on cultural issues and how you’re going to respond to specific situations. “Let’s kick this around” topics are great.

  • “Let’s talk about how we’re going to address supervisors who are getting great results the wrong way.”
  • “How are we going to respond when someone is chronically late?”
  • “What’s really getting in the way of people using our new system?”

2. The Elephant in the Room

Ask your team, “What are the conversations we’re not having that we should be having?” And then, go there.

3. How We Lead

“Let’s talk about how we’re leading our people. What’s working well? Where do we need help?” It’s particularly valuable to give people a chance to ask for help. “I’ve got this situation and I’d like to get your best thinking…” And then, watch colleagues think out loud about your situation.

Meetings matter. Don’t waste this important opportunity to build powerful connections.

Paul Axtell CREDIT Cindy OfficerFor more information about Paul and his book and for additional resources, visit his site. 

 

The 5 Biggest Succession Planning Mistakes

Succession planning, done well, creates brilliant competitive advantage. Poorly executed, at best it’s a waste of time, and often creates serious havoc on long term performance.

All words I’ve heard in the last 15 days: “Oh, we’re too small to need a formal process.” “Our business is moving so fast we don’t have time for that.” “We’re baby boomers and we don’t know how”(trust me, I would never have included this one until I heard it TWICE this week from different companies looking for help). And the scariest of all, “We’re a family owned-business so the decision is obvious.”

1. Talking People Before Priorities

Before you can decide WHO you need to be sure on WHAT. Think future vision and the competencies that will make that possible. Write them down. Then map your people against those possibilities. Choosing people for tomorrow based exclusively on today’s performance will slow you down.

2. Cloning

What often passes for “executive presence” is a desired mold. Be careful. Sure you want poise, effective communication, and a tidy together look, but the quirky challenger may just what you need to take your strategy to the next level. Too many like minds lead to uninspired strategy.

3. Letting Diversity Trump Common Sense

If you complete your 9 box succession planning grid and it’s all balding white guys with a dry sense of humor in box 9 you clearly have a problem. If it’s a perception problem. by all means challenge one another and make it right.

However, I often find this is less of an issue of discrimination at the succession table, than a problem with hiring and focused leadership development down the line. You can’t make anyone ready for the next level by talking yourselves into it or putting diversity multipliers on executive compensation.

The worse thing you can do is pad your “grid” by sliding diverse candidates into blocks where they don’t belong. Sure, identify opportunities for accelerated growth to make up for lost time. But NEVER promote an unqualified person for diversity reasons. You hurt them, your business, and weaken your diversity strategy.

4. False Consensus

You know you have a true box 9, high potential when every head at the table is chiming in with a resounding “Yes!”

A succession planning conversation without conflict is useless. The very best talent reviews involve robust discussion and lively debate which leads to important next steps (e.g. “You’ve got to know my guy better;” “She needs a stretch assignment.”) If I support your guy so you support mine, the business loses.

5. Ignoring the Plan

The worst succession planning sin of all is going through the motions, and then reverting to the old patterns “just this time” when it comes to promotion. Trust me, they next thing on everyone’s mind the next time you want to hold such a meeting is “Why bother?”

Don’t short change your talent strategy. The right people, at the right place, at the right time, will change the game. Be sure you’re prepared.

 

Karin Hurt, CEOIf you’re struggling with succession planning, I can help. I’ve facilitated hundreds of succession planning discussions over the years from the executive level, through merger integration, and at the frontline. Succession planning is worth doing well. Please give me a call for a free consultation, 443-750-1249.

5 Ways to Become a LinkedIn Ninja

Building a strong LinkedIn network takes time. Scrambling to build a profile and connections when your current position has suddenly become “qualified manager seeking opportunities” is not attractive. I hear this again and again from my speaking audiences– stories of folks who waited too late and then had to scramble.

And if you think LinkedIn really doesn’t matter, know that Pew Research  found that 98% of Recruiters and 85% of hiring managers use LinkedIn.

Even if you’re absolutely sure you’ll never need another job again, know that for many professionals, LinkedIn is their go-to tool to see what the folks they are meeting are all about. A strong LinkedIn profile could be the tipping point for landing that board position, or inspiring your current employer to notice the diversity of your background and how your professional point of view is playing in the marketplace.

5 Ways to Become a LinkedIn Ninja

No. LinkedIn is not paying me to promote their site. I’m just worried that many in our LGL tribe have profiles that could use a little Ninja-like magic.

1. Leverage Your Weapons

LinkedIn provides you with all the tools you need to have your very own, completely free, easy to use, personal branding website. Why not?

Most underused tool:  Blog posting

Yes. You can write a blog about anything pertaining to your expertise, and upload it to your profile. People read them, and learn about you and something you care about. This is brilliant. I wonder now if I ever would have started my blog if this were an option a few years ago. Even if you’re not considering becoming a blogger, a few well-written points of view will differentiate you from the crowd.  P.S. If you’ve done this, add your link to the comments and I’ll help promote.

Second most underused tool: Video

Put on some make-up and brush your hair. Put up a black sheet against your kid’s bedroom wall, and share your professional message. It doesn’t take much to make your profile pop with video.

2. Prepare

Ninjas show up strong prepared for battle. They do their homework. Get a great headshot in professional clothes. Take time to flesh out your profile with accomplishments (including % improvement etc), not just actions or job descriptions.

3. Take an Interest in Others

Pick a few salient interest groups and show up, first Ninja like, commenting, sharing information and inviting a few folks with shared interests to connect. Once your “group contribution level” grows, you can start initiating and engaging your own conversations, which I guarantee will draw attention to your message and catalyze new connections.

4. Exert Effort

Consistency is key. Carve out 15 minutes a day a few times a week to show up. Accept invitations, invite a few others. Take the stack of business cards you brought home from the conference and send each an invitation to connect along with something of value (e.g. a link to a great article).

5. Know the Nuances

Take a minute to understand how LinkedIn works. The biggest mistake is not turning “notify your network” to “off” when working on profile changes. If you screw this up, everytime you change a word due to spell check, your crew will be notified. Turn it off, make your changes and then notify them all at once with your spectacular new profile.

That’s a start. I’d love to hear your stories of LinkedIn Success. I envision a day when every LGL subscriber has a rock-star LinkedIn profile serving them well.

3 Communication Mistakes Screwing Up Teamwork

“Oh she didn’t copy me on purpose.” “He’s withholding information to make my life harder.” “Making us guess what he’s thinking is just a big power play.” “Why would she put something that important in email?” “What’s that supposed to mean anyway?” “Why did she copy my boss?”

Some teams spend more time second guessing the intent behind poor communication than working to improve it.

3 Communication Mistakes Screwing Up Teamwork

 

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
-George Bernard Shaw

1. Assuming mal-intent

Sure people play games… but not most of us, most of the time.  Don’t let an innocent oversight like being left off an email or out of a meeting degrade trust.

I’ll never forget the time a peer executive left me off a meeting invite. Our departments had some competing priorities, and I was sure it was intentional. I stewed on it for weeks. Finally after I’d let the fuel from my fabricated fable of his intentions combust into full-on stupidity, I blew a gasket when he asked me to move one of my meetings around so he could attend. As the drama unravelled, it became obvious that the original oversight was just that, an oversight.

We cleared the air and it never happened again. I could have saved both of us a lot of angst by just picking up the phone and asking to be included.

2. Hiding behind email

Email is fast and easy, but rarely effective for important communication. Never assume “they got the memo,” and your work is done. Don’t use email as a way to communicate bad news, or as a way to escalate over a peer’s head by copying their boss.

The best communication happens five times, five different ways. Email’s a great supporting tool, but rarely plays well as the lead medium.

3. Failure to write down decisions

I’ve seen great teams with excellent communication skills break down because they miss this simple step. High-trust teams will often raise a lot of creative ideas, debate pros and cons, and then challenge the decisions some more. All healthy. Once the debate has concluded be sure to summarize the final decisions, along with next steps and timeline.

With all that discussion, I often find team members each leave with their own memory of what was decided, which may or may not match the recall of other team members.

Writing down and reading back key decisions and next steps is an important way to keep the team all moving in the same direction.

Communicating well builds the most important ingredient of any successful team–trust. Take the time to establish clear expectations around how your team is communicating, and to discuss where it’s working best and how it’s breaking down.

talkingteams-02-3DFor specific exercises to get your team talking, download my FREE ebook, Talking Teams: 9 Easy to Implement Exercises to Inspire Confident Humility and Achieve Breakthrough Results. 

3 Ways Thinking Small Will Improve Employee Engagement

Great entrepreneural companies have a passionate spirit that feels like a gust of warm wind sweeping you off your feet as you walk through their door. It may be a bit hectic, but you want to tighten your shoelaces and run along. I’ve been working with some of these guys on strategy and growth, and it’s an exhilarating journey.

There are challenges of course, but I’m not finding them in the employee engagement arena. Employees are volunteering to help with the enthusiasm of Horshack in Welcome Back Kotter. 

I’ve also seen companies rush to get (or stay) big, and lose their edge. Vision turns into secret plans for the inner circle, lawyers cautioning against transparency, building a diversity “strategy” that translates into babble and ratios, leaders turning to HR for employee engagement, and somewhere along the line, someone deciding it’s time to start “stack ranking” performance.

As you become bigger, never forget the joy and freedom of being small.

3 Ways Thinking Small Will Improve Engagement

“From a small seed, a mighty trunk may grow.” -Aescuylus

1. Be Real, Fun, Involved, and Empowering

An entrepreneurial CEO recently brought me in to help build leadership bench strength. Rather than “train,”  we built a vision, identified priorities and then a business case for a program with a significant spend but a massive ROI.

The CEO stayed out of the room until the team presented their “case” along with theme music and dramatic visuals at the end of the day. His eyes glistened, and his comments were brief, “If this works, this will be gold.” Then he laughed and said. “Hold on, I’ll be right back.”

He then came back with a large, professionally printed version of a previous plan to tackle the same issue that had failed. He said one word. “Execution.”

After his eight word caution, he funded the project.

They executed flawlessly.

A well-mannered, “I believe in you, don’t screw this up,” goes a long way.

2. Keep the Vision Visible

Despite the obvious common sense nature of this statement, I’m always surprised at how rare this is. Sure you’ve got to hold some stuff close to the vest, but if you’re having employees sign “non-disclosures” right and left or are keeping your true strategy confined to a small inner circle, know there are a lot of dots not getting connected and a lot of brains thinking small because they don’t have the perspective to think bigger.

Folks feel the secrecy, which leads to a fast growing feeling of “If you don’t trust me, why should I bother?” Bothered and included leads to brilliance. Share enough information to stir positive, proactive angst.

3. Stay Humble

Small companies have the common sense to know they can’t know it all, and are not afraid to learn, read, and bring in extra support. I’ve only heard, “I really need to get smarter in this arena” from the small guys.

When you think you already know, you don’t learn.

In a fast-changing world, the confident and humble will outsmart and out run “I’ve got this.” Every time.

Be real, open and humble. Think smaller to think bigger.

employee engagementToday’s image is a word cloud based on your awesome comments (and emails) on Friday’s post, defining “employee engagement.” If you missed the chance to add your definition click here 

 

The Real Definition of Employee Engagement

Ever since Gallup revealed their findings that 70% of workers are either disengaged or actively disengaged in their work, “employee engagement” has been all the buzz. Quite frankly, none of this is new, and anyone reading this blog knows that and is working hard to change the game.

Tonight, I started to write a different post (which I’ll save for Monday), but got sidetracked when for grins, I looked up Employee Engagement in the Urban Dictionary, searching for a pithy opener. I was shocked by the search results:

urban-dictionary

employee engagement isn’t defined.

Can you define it?

Game on.

Let’s do this!  Please leave your best definitions in the comment section here, and I’ll upload your responses (or just go for it and upload your own to Urban Dictionary). What an opportunity to tell the truth. Of course consider the medium–you’ll want to be “hip.”

P.S. my son Sebastian (9) reminded me the other day (after I commented on how “hip” he looked) that neither of us would know “hip” if it bit us in the butt… but “the way we looked now, was about as good as it gets.”

With that said, I’m quite sure our hip crowd is up to the challenge.

Why Can't I Fix Him?

My heart sunk as I heard all Kathy had done attempting to fix the scene. Actually, despite the reason for her call, the “scene” was progressing remarkably. They’d come so far in such a short time: a clear vision for 2015; a strong action plan on the biggest rock; a shared leadership model for execution; and Kathy had stepped up to lead her peers in coordinating the action plan. When they presented the plan to the CEO he remarked that the plan was “gold,” all they need now was execution.

She had tasted the beautiful, supported cocktail of pressure coupled with opportunity, and was ready to change the game.

But the call wasn’t about all that. It was about her stuckness.

“Everyone’s on board. But one of my peers hates it.”

She went through everything she had tried to get him engaged.

Connection. Listening. Disclosure. Listening. Questions. Vulnerability. Inclusion. Sharing Credit.

Nothing worked.

Her conclusion.

“This means I’m failing as a leader.”

EDITORIAL TIMEOUT: How many times have you drawn that same conclusion? P.S. Yes, start with humility and do everything you can. But sometimes, it’s not about you. Ironically, being sure it’s about you, is not humility.

Careful to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, I asked her to repeat exactly what she’d said. This time she added, “I know I’m not always like this, but I this time, I’m sure. I was really nice. I promise.”

EDITORIAL TIMEOUT: This could be part of the issue. Folks have memory of our past behavior, even as we’re looking to grow. 

She shared the connection she’d made with others. The engagement. The helping people get past “I’m not sure.”

She was nailing it.

EDITORIAL TIMEOUT: Yikes, maybe I was failing. I was out of provocative questions, and even worse, advice.

And then I went where I usually don’t.

“Can you succeed without him?”

“Yes,” she replied, “But it won’t be as much fun.”

That’s the spirit. She had the big picture.

“I understand. Does the business need this? Is everyone else all in? ”

Reinforcing the obvious.

“Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Sadly, my best advice, “Do everything you can to keep trying. Stay confident in your vision, humble in your approach. But at the end of the day. Keep moving the project forward.”

“Oh yeah, and be sure your boss is in the loop.”

Why Can’t I Fix Him?

My heart sunk as I heard all Kathy had done attempting to fix the scene. Actually, despite the reason for her call, the “scene” was progressing remarkably. They’d come so far in such a short time: a clear vision for 2015; a strong action plan on the biggest rock; a shared leadership model for execution; and Kathy had stepped up to lead her peers in coordinating the action plan. When they presented the plan to the CEO he remarked that the plan was “gold,” all they need now was execution.

She had tasted the beautiful, supported cocktail of pressure coupled with opportunity, and was ready to change the game.

But the call wasn’t about all that. It was about her stuckness.

“Everyone’s on board. But one of my peers hates it.”

She went through everything she had tried to get him engaged.

Connection. Listening. Disclosure. Listening. Questions. Vulnerability. Inclusion. Sharing Credit.

Nothing worked.

Her conclusion.

“This means I’m failing as a leader.”

EDITORIAL TIMEOUT: How many times have you drawn that same conclusion? P.S. Yes, start with humility and do everything you can. But sometimes, it’s not about you. Ironically, being sure it’s about you, is not humility.

Careful to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, I asked her to repeat exactly what she’d said. This time she added, “I know I’m not always like this, but I this time, I’m sure. I was really nice. I promise.”

EDITORIAL TIMEOUT: This could be part of the issue. Folks have memory of our past behavior, even as we’re looking to grow. 

She shared the connection she’d made with others. The engagement. The helping people get past “I’m not sure.”

She was nailing it.

EDITORIAL TIMEOUT: Yikes, maybe I was failing. I was out of provocative questions, and even worse, advice.

And then I went where I usually don’t.

“Can you succeed without him?”

“Yes,” she replied, “But it won’t be as much fun.”

That’s the spirit. She had the big picture.

“I understand. Does the business need this? Is everyone else all in? ”

Reinforcing the obvious.

“Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Sadly, my best advice, “Do everything you can to keep trying. Stay confident in your vision, humble in your approach. But at the end of the day. Keep moving the project forward.”

“Oh yeah, and be sure your boss is in the loop.”

Shooting Freethrows: 7 Basic Competencies Every Team Leader Must Master

You need your team to get to the next level. Tomorrow. Actually, you’d prefer if some of them could get there this afternoon. After all, the stack ranks don’t lie, and you need traction. Fast. No time for theory, you need execution.

You’ve talked to your A players and have a good understanding of their Harlem Globe Trotter stunts. I hope your team is there, and the roll-out of a few fancy moves will save your game.

But first, be sure they’ve mastered the free throw.

7 Basic Leadership Competencies Every Team Leader Must Master

The biggest request I get for leadership development is not:  “How do I get my A players to the next level?” Instead it’s “How do I get all my leaders grounded in the fundamentals so they are ALL inspiring exceptional results?” I find before we can get to more complex issues like  building trust, leading with confident humility, or communicating strategy, we need to get them out of the frenetic feeling of being completely overwhelmed.

If you’ve got frontline leaders struggling, don’t assume they’ve been exposed to some of the tools that have become second nature to us. Check to ensure they’ve got this list nailed before moving on to deeper development.

1. Planning their Day

Do they begin each day with a plan and a strategy to work on what matters most? Do they run from one urgent priority to another, but miss big deadlines? Have they been exposed to Covey’s urgent/importance matrix  and know how to use it?

2. Connecting with their Team

I’m not talking about the alphabet soup of personality indicators and other rich ways to improve team performance. Start with basic human courtesy. Are they casually checking in with each team member to say “Good morning?” Do they say “please” and “thank you”? Do they know a bit about who their team members are as human beings (e.g. what they do for fun, their children’s names)?

3. Giving Effective Feedback

This one will require more than asking “How comfortable are you coaching and giving feedback?” When I ask this, I find most folks feel they’ve got the basics down. A role play or two later, I often uncover there’s significant opportunity to improve.

4. Working with their Peers

If you’ve got several team teams working toward similar objectives, there’s real opportunity for saving time by sharing best practices and supporting one another. Stack ranked environments and busy days often mean that team leaders focus on their own team, and are reluctant to spend time to support their peers and the greater good. This may take some careful questioning to find out what’s really going on. Everyone wants to be considered a team player, so you’re likely to hear “It’s all good.” Probing deeper, I often find that a little work here can have a dramatic and immediate improvement in results.

5. Modeling the Needed Behaviors

When team leaders are really struggling, it’s often a confidence issue. They’re not really sure they know how to teach and develop their team, because they’re lacking some needed expertise and they’re trying to fake it. When “faking it” doesn’t work, they start to withdraw (or the words I often hear are “hide.”) Be sure your team leaders have the competence they need to model the way. If they’re leading a customer-facing team, be absolutely certain they’re not afraid to talk to customers.

6. Welcoming New Team Members

Do they have an organized way of bringing new members onto the team? Do they set them up for success by having the tools needed on day 1, a place to sit, and a peer buddy? Do they know what to do and how they’re measured? An overwhelmed team leader may feel they don’t have time to do this well, and push it off– losing trust and confidence during the time the new employee is building first impressions of “what it feels like to work here.”

7. Your Turn

What have you found are the most frequently underdeveloped leadership basics?

For My LGL Call Center Peeps

call_center_week_250x250I know many of you work in a call center world. I’ve been doing a good bit of work and writing recently for call centers that I thought would be useful to share.

5 Ways to Build Service Rep Competence

5 Myths Hurting Your Call Center Strategy

What Every Great Call Center Needs

Also, if you’re interested in attending Call Center Week in Las Vegas this June, please let me know. I’ll be there doing a book signing and making a social media ruckus. I have a discount code you can use to get 15% off your registration. 16CCW_LETSGROWLEADERS

 

Professor Lupin on Facing Your Fears #confidenthumility

Our biggest leadership screw-ups are fear in disguise. Fears have a powerful and dangerous habit of shape shifting into a monster that stands in our way, blocking the behaviors we most need for success.

Mike’s arrogant approach and intimidating demeanor is covering up his biggest fear–that the team will discover he’s not really an expert. The team talks about him constantly–about his horrible leadership–and avoids interaction. His fear wins.

John doesn’t start the blog he’s always wanted to write for fear of being irrelevant. His fear wins.

Rachel doesn’t share her best practices with her peers, because she wants to be the best and get promoted. She doesn’t get promoted because she’s not a team player. Her fear wins.

When we pretend we’re not afraid, fear wins.

By denying what scares us, our worst characteristics emerge bigger than the demons we fear.

But if we can NAME our fear, and see it for what it truly is–a ridiculous exaggeration of the worse case scenario–we stop the cycle.

We show up stronger, and have the strength to lead from a place of bigger confidence.

No one teaches this better than J.K. Rowling’s Professor Lupin.

Name your fear. Visualize it. Face it. And discover what makes it ridiculous.

I agree with Seth, “the worst trolls are in your head.” Give them a name. Laugh at them. And lead well.

7 Career Frustrations Every Go-Getter Feels

Odds are that some executive in your life is making it all look easy. The quick rise to the top. In perfect shape, with the the perfect family all dressed cleanly in the company colors at the company picnic.  The exec’s declaration that he’s “never missed one of his kids games” leaves you stunned.

You look at your hectic life, the challenges, the tradeoffs, the disappointments, the times you let your family down staying late again.

All for a career that led to this pivotal moment of deep frustration.

We all have them. Those moments of true career angst, when we wonder… is it worth it?

It’s easy to feel you’re doing something wrong.

Don’t buy it.

Those other guys have been there too.

I promise.

I hear their stories.

I know mine.

7 Frustrations Every Go-Getter Feels

1.  I worked my butt off, and that guy (or gal) got the promotion for reasons that have nothing to do with competence.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe she really is more qualified. Either way, the sting is real.
2.  My team killed themselves on this project, and now a strategic change in direction means most of that work is wasted.
You’re so frustrated you want to punch your fist through the wall, but you’ve got to put on your game face and convince the team their work really was important, even if it’s for what we learned along the way. Deep inside having to do that just ticks you off more.
3. No one that matters is really listening to me.
You’ve got a GREAT idea and you know it will change the game. But, it’s a little risky and your boss, mentors, and sponsors are all ducking. You can’t get your voice heard.
4. I don’t know where I stand.
You keep being told you’re on the short list for advancement, but you’re still in this job. When you ask what’s wrong, you get nothing but praise. You know something’s being said behind closed doors, but you can’t figure out just what that is.
5. A peer I trusted stabbed me in the back.
You can’t believe it, and your first thought is revenge. But you’re better than that so you take the high road– which is right, but is missing the catharsis slipping some laxatives into his coffee would provide.
6. I got screwed in the restructure.
The regime changed and the musical chairs landed you in a less than ideal scene. You’re sure politics trumped logic. Your friends tell you to be grateful that you have a job. You’re not so sure.
7. ________________ (your turn).
People are watching for your response.

Responding elegantly in these scenes may be the most important career move you can make.

What those who make it look easy may not be telling you is that they’ve been there too. We all have. It’s all part of the leadership journey. They’ve grown through the pain, and you can too.

If you’re feeling at a particularly blessed moment in your career. Amen. Look around. Who needs some extra care and support?

5 Ways Social Media Can Accelerate Your Old School Sales Strategy

I was talking to a very successful sales executive friend of mine. “Oh, I don’t need any of that social media crap. I’m old school. You know, like building relationships, having a real conversation, solving problems…”

I laughed, “Sounds like the perfect way to use social media to me!”

Whenever someone spouts off about how “The rules of selling have changed,” I raise a skeptical eyebrow. The tools have changed, but not the rules that matter most.

5 Ways to Use Social Media to Improve Your Sales

1. Understand your competition

This used to be so much harder: mystery shopping stores, lurking at conferences, stealing talent from the competition. Now you can go onto Twitter and find out not only what companies are saying about themselves, but also what their customers are saying about the brand, AND how the company is responding in return. Not only that, you can reach out to your competitor’s dissatisfied customer and offer support to save the day. What old school ninja wouldn’t like to have a list of their competitor’s most disgruntled (and vocal) customers?

2. Identify key stakeholders

Whenever what appears to be a done deal turns into a dead lead with no real explanation, it’s typically the result of an unknown stakeholder weighing in. The best old school sales folks know that you’ve got to build relationships wide and deep with your customers and prospects. Whereas we once had to rely on prospects telling us who’s who, LinkedIn maps it for you, along with backgrounds, interests, and where they’re hanging out.

3. Show up where they’re hanging out

Of course not everyone in  your prospective company will be hanging out in forums, Tweet chats, or in LinkedIn groups, but someone likely is. And the old school chaps know all about the strength of loose ties. Begin making connections by inviting yourself to where they like to “party.”

4. Solve a problem

The old school handbook says, “People don’t buy products, they buy solutions.” Social media provides endless opportunities to be helpful, share expertise and save the day from the privacy of your office. 20 minutes a day offering value will open doors.

5. Know before you go

An old school teacher would tell you to scan a customer’s office to look for points of connection: children’s pics, sport paraphernalia, diplomas. Now a Google search can give you more than you’ll ever want. Want to know their birthday? If you’re even connected through one of the most benign platforms, Google+, you can get your connections birthdays all automatically imported to your calendar. Want to talk sports? There are lots of places to look for chatter. Know they’re running a marathon? Google their race time and call them to congratulate them. The possibilities are endless.

Don’t think of social media and relationship selling as competing strategies, but as a beautiful opportunity to leverage all you know, with tools to build your business faster.

I can help you think about your business differently. Call me on 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.