Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How Not to Be a Bad Salesperson (maybe I'm a critical suspect?)

My husband and I want to retire in North Carolina and while we are still a few decades away from retirement (OK, at least 20 years-because we're not too old yet and because we will have to work until we die...) a few opportunities recently made us consider making the move sooner rather than later. Since I'm a do-er instead of a think-er I decided to make a few calls to get an idea of what the market is like in the 4 years since I sold my house there and moved, and to get some information on time-lines etc. I was unprepared for the responses or lack thereof that I received.

I first called and/or emailed a few folks with listings I found on generic rental sites at the end of last week. Today is Wednesday and less than half of them have bothered to email or call me at all. A few that emailed sent only the most basic of information and told me to email them back when I was ready to move and they'd answer my other questions then. One called to tell me that I was a fool to consider renting when interest rates were so low. Two agents that I contacted with homes for sale had their assistants email me, sending a link to the listing page (info I had obviously already seen online prompting me to ask for additional information in the first place)  and letting me know that when I had a letter and had been pre-qualified they'd be happy to talk again.  Wow...just wow.

I don't rent or sell homes and I have friends that do and I know they're awesome. The realtor that I used to buy and sell my last house was a great guy. This experience made me really think about sales and myself as a salesperson. There are huge variances in sales approaches and philosophies, especially those with a longer sales cycle and a highly competitive marketplace, but I personally think some things are true in any sales process and in any business:

1-The length of time it takes to return a suspect/prospect phone call or email is in proportion to the amount of interest they will believe that you have in being of service to them,

2-Giving information and establishing yourself as an expert goes A LONG way in converting a suspect into a prospect. Likewise, being too focused on only those you feel are 'hot' prospects today doesn't do a darn thing in keeping the funnel consistently filled, building referrals, or establishing apostles,

3-While I totally understand that one has to spend the majority of  prospecting time on those with the suspected money and timeline for the product, sometimes developing a relationship in the suspect stage makes you a sure thing when they meet the money/time sweet spot for a sale,

4-Using scare tactics or attempting to make a potential prospect feel uninformed or just plain stupid if they don't listen to you is foolish, shows insecurity, and oh yeah, tends to turn people off!

5-Remember that what is just another sales transaction or sales inquiry to you may be the single most important thing going on in your suspect/prospect's mind at the moment. That small coaching/consulting session that is just another two hours to you may be the one thing someone is hanging onto to save their small business.The planner looking to place just a few rooms with you may be the single largest event her particularly organization has all year.

I want to think that I always remember these things but this was a good strong reminder to me. If you're in the sales profession...and we're all either buying or selling aren't we?...keep these in mind. And please share any of your others!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Don't go out in the monkey pants!

This may seem like a ridiculous title but I am quite certain that many of you working from home understand it. And many of you who may view the telework life as a glamorous one need to understand it. It is both the blessing and the curse of those of us with offices in our homes.

Early in my telework days, just after we had started our business, I would take my children to school and/or pick them up in the afternoon. Anytime my youngest son would slide into his seat in the carpool line, look up and say 'Oh,you had an appointment today?' meant I was wearing make up and my hair wasn't in a ponytail.
I started working early in the morning, sometimes stopped for lunch, and worked until I had to leave to pick up a kid or refill the refrigerator. I hadn't remarried yet and I just didn't see the point in taking a shower every morning, fully dressing and wasting make-up and contacts on the cat.

There are several sales books I've read that insist on dressing in business attire including the heels just to make business calls from home. The thinking behind them being if you are in business clothing you will feel more professional and therefore sound more professional. I think that is pure bull.

I've launched events, courted Washington Post reporters, sold sponsorships to large companies and helped clients with new business strategy all while wearing my favorite monkey PJs. I was no less 'professional' in my information or approach than I would have been wearing uncomfortable clothes that had to be dry cleaned after a day in the office with my cat. And my product or consulting was no less valuable and produced the same incredible results.

What I did find was this; I am a person of extremes. I don't just drink a can of Cheerwine if I have a 12 pack, I drink it all in a day.For those of you unfortunate enough to have been born outside of North Carolina, Cheerwine is soda (pop?) similar to Cherry Coke. So I was extreme in my eschewing of the 'dress like the office' mindset and that was wrong.

I wasn't less professional, less productive or less effective by not wearing pantyhose every day. But I was less balanced and less comfortable outside of my house as a businessperson. If I spoke to a client who mentioned a chance to chat in an hour at a coffee shop, I was just out of luck. If I ran out to Food Lion to grab cat food during the lunch break and happened to overhear someone mention their struggles with their business, I couldn't strike up a conversation about what I did dressed in my crazy monkey pants. While it didn't effect my business ability within the confines of my home office, it made me less willing and able to feel 'businessy' outside of it. And that was important to me.

It can also make the times it is necessary to don the full DC business outfit seem far more annoying than they really are. While every home worker should have a plan to get out of their office and network for business AND human interaction on a regular basis, not being in the habit of dressing every day as a routine makes you less willing to want to get ready to go out. Getting ready to be social becomes a chore, something that you have to plan for within the day and you are so less likely to do it.

It is important to have a business network to interact with monthly if not weekly IN PERSON when you work from home. Not a personal network mind you...not just dinner or drinks or coffee with friends, but lunch, drinks or coffee with other professionals. And for that you need something other than the most comfortable pink fuzzy socks EVER...I'm just sayin.

So do I get up every morning and put on a DC worthy suit?  Heck no. But I do have my own getting ready routine each morning. As soon as my husband, who does have a commute, leaves for his hour and 20 minute 12 mile drive into our nation's capital, I jump in the shower and dress in clothes that I haven't slept in. They aren't client meeting clothes, but they are clothes that shouldn't embarrass my family in public and clothes that make me feel professional enough to strike up a conversation in Staples
...and that's important. And if  a client calls and wants to meet on the fly, I can be ready super quick because everything but the dressing is done.

If this isn't your struggle or you haven't fallen into the rut of dressing for your cat then I applaud you. Most teleworkers have to go through a spell to find their comfort zone. I encourage you to develop a routine of 'getting ready' every day. The lady at the Food Lion will appreciate it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Of easy wind and downy flake

I love Robert Frost and his poem came to mind today as I work from home on this snowy northern Virginia day. It has been snowing off and on since late last night. The various city governments in the area have declared liberal leave or closed entirely. The schools are closed and the metro is running on its emergency schedule which means very limited service to the suburbs. And so there are thousands and thousands of people who are either taking a personal leave or are 'working from home' today as opposed to heading into an office.

This is where my frustration with the lack of telecommuting opportunities really kicks into high gear. If your workforce can work from home in a weather emergency, why can't they work from home when they want to?
If you feel they are productive enough to force them to work from home without any preparation, can't you imagine their productivity when they are situated in a proper home office with some training, direction and resources before they begin? And why is your management unable to envision your business from a productivity standpoint instead of just a face-time one? What needs to happen to allow more teleworking and how could these forced snow emergencies be used as examples and cautionary tales to encourage more workplaces to become more telework focused, or at least friendly?

I believe the problems are centered around an antiquated view of the role of management. A manager/supervisor/director/etc has a job that should center around making sure that the work they are responsible for is completed on schedule, on budget, and in ways that meet or exceed the minimum expectation. Too many in management feel that this can only happen if they are carefully monitoring their employees. If they watch them work. Because honestly, nothing else they do can't be done within the teleworking environment.  Questions can be answered on the phone, on video chat, via email or IM. Collaboration happens in the same ways. Are there things that can be accomplished by having everyone in one place at the same time?? Of course and those times should be required on a regular basis.  But not everyday. 

I also think that every workplace should at the very least provide some training, resources, 'tips' for those who are expected to work from home during certain situations. Have a telework professional work with employees once a year on the best practices on home offices and working from home. At least maximize your productivity when they do work from home.

The snow here is beautiful and I am so thankful that my work doesn't require me to leave an office built just for me, waste gas, contribute to pollution, and spend 3 unproductive hours on transportation every single day. But these days also illustrate the ability that many have to work from home if their policies allowed it. And they re-energize my commitment to advocate for telework.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One Two Buckle My Shoe...

My thoughts for this post were to explore the fascination we have with lists and numbers. By far the most popular posts on blogs and most read articles in magazines are those with numbers in the titles...lists.
Five Ways to Cook That Chicken, Ten Ways to Say I Love You...that sort of thing. There are apparently numerous studies about why we're drawn to them. I believe they promise a succinct presentation...step by step instructions of whatever they're telling you to do or not to do. I started to commit here to writing all of my posts with numbered lists for the next month but as I started writing that post it occurred to me that while I am drawn to those types of posts myself, I am not a person who thinks in numbers.

I'm a person drawn to generalities. I had colleagues in the meetings industry that can walk into any conference space and tell exactly how many square feet it has. I walked into space and thought it was big or medium or small. It could fit 'a lot' of people or 'not very many' people. I'm also a person drawn to music and stories. Some people remember facts and figures. I can remember them as long as they're connected to a story. I could make an A on any history test if I could listen to a good lecture on the material. I could remember and pull out details from long presentations if they were told to me as a story. So I'm sticking to that style here in my basement corner office.

Not to say that I won't publish posts with list or with titles with numbers in them. I'll pull out a 'Five ways to' post every so often because those are valuable and I like them. But I will tell stories here...the why behind the facts, not just the facts. I'm a southerner, we're storytellers by birth. I believe that being a storyteller is the most effective way to market to and sell to your clients.  I think stories are so important and here are four reasons why :-)

1-Stories give us something to relate to
Stories provide a context for someone to relate to you, your message or your brand. When I hear a story about a woman in her 40's who is starting a business I'm interested. I can relate. I will listen to that pitch when I might not listen to the same company whose presentation starts off telling me simply what they do. I feel a sisterhood with the company from the outset. I'm already a warm prospect at that point. The Subaru commercial of the father talking to the little girl in the car who drives off a teenager is a story most parents of teen drivers relate to...a great story for their brand.

2-Stories are memorable
A song is just a story set to music. Think of how many song lyrics you can remember from years and years ago. I've met a lot of people who I remember by a story they told even when I couldn't remember their names. I remember bits and pieces of stories I've heard told in the past. I remember stories that I've heard so many times that I feel like I was 'there' when the events in the story transpired.

3-Stories are viral
How many stories have you told over and over again? How many stories have you heard someone else tell that you then found yourself sharing, if not stealing? How many stories have you heard and wished they were yours? A great story gets spread around...your cousins in California here it from their aunts in Kansas.

4-Stories have staying power
My mother tells the same stories about my sister and me arguing as children every single time she hears our children arguing. I tell my children the same stories over and over again about the nights they were born on their birthdays. My husband and I relive the same stories from our awesome wedding every year on our anniversary.  'Remember that time when' is a frequent conversation starter when I'm around a group of old friends. Talking to your clients or prospective clients in stories is powerful.

Just a few of the reasons that I've made peace with being a storyteller. I often take far too long to make a point and not everyone appreciates my need to build a beginning, middle and ending to an explanation or sales call. But we all have to bloom where we're planted as my grandmother used to say. I hope you'll pull up a chair here often for my stories.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

More productive in Pajamas?

I'll admit that title is a bit off of the mark-during consultations I discourage people from working from home in the same clothes that they slept in on most days. But the statistics on the increased productivity of telework over 'office' work is staggering. One report on the Telework Research Network website says " According to the Telework Savings Calculator™, if those employees who held telework-compatible jobs (50% of the workforce) and wanted to work at home (79% of the workforce) did so just half of the time, it would increase national productivity by 5 million man-years or $270 billion worth of work annually".  $270 BILLION DOLLARS...

Those numbers are huge and I believe are at the least accurate, but more than likely much lower than reality. Why is productivity higher at home? Again, many articles and studies on this but I'm going to tell you why I think teleworkers are much more productive based on my experiences and those of my colleagues and friends.

More Sleep
Functioning without proper sleep has proven to be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated and over half of Americans don't get enough sleep. I consider more sleep as one of my top benefits of working from the basement. I sleep approximately two hours longer each night because I don't commute. I am one of those people who is far more focused, patient and pleasant when I've had enough sleep. When I worked in the city I had to factor an hour to an hour and a half of commute time each morning. I can now add that sleep back into my total. I also had to get up and get dressed for work in DC...which meant suits and pantyhose (yes, even in the summer time), make-up to last for hours, and hair that was coaxed and sprayed into submission for the long haul. While I do encourage people in my coaching sessions to dress every morning but one (another post on that later), I don't encourage them to dress to the level required of a professional job in an office. That saved me personally another 30 minutes or more.  Because I wasn't fighting traffic back home for 60-90 minutes each evening I ended my day more relaxed. That made falling asleep easier for me.

Extended  Work Day/Time
My office hours are between 8am and 5pm during the week. My morning routine is to get up, see my husband off (he still commutes), grab something to drink and a snack, watch a little morning news and head downstairs around 8ish.  If I'm awake earlier and the news is boring, I head into my office earlier. If the phone rings and I hear it at 7:45 I almost always answer it.  In the afternoon I have the same luxury. I can work as long as I'm in the zone because I don't have to worry about catching the train or heading out into the horrible traffic.  I also find it easier to get into the office on the weekend. I work so much more from home than I ever did in any office.

I just arrive at my office in such a better mood without the commute,or the weather, or the lack of sleep. I feel somehow less worn down by the process of getting to work. And since I know I'll arrive back 'home at the end of the day in a better mood as well, my attitude about my work seems a bit lighter. None of that is to say that I had a bad attitude in an office or that I dread going out to meet with clients or teach, but on a day to day basis, I enjoy my work more because of the convenience of teleworking and that enjoyment translates into higher productivity. I also believe that parents with younger children also feel less stressed about the time they're working when they feel they have more control over their time. Again, with an extra 30 minutes to two hours depending on where you live and how far it is to your office recovered, you don't feel as stressed away from your children and you still have a full work day. And for me, that extra two hours of sleep makes a huge difference in my attitude as well...just sayin.

Work Space Design
Not everyone has a spectacular office space designed by a professional in their home. I don't but I do have a great view of my backyard, access to all of my favorite snacks, and a cat to keep me company. I have a tiny sock monkey and a dog figurine painted by my six year old niece on my desk. I have a fireplace and a couch. I can pace when I talk on the phone and put my feet on my desk when I'm listening to webinars. My space is comfortable for me and I am most productive when working within a comfortable environment.

I'm sure there are many other reasons for increased productivity at home but these are the ones that I feel most benefit me. What do you feel contributes to your productivity at home or at the other office?


Monday, February 11, 2013

Telework, Telecommute, Work from Home...Just do it

People have mentioned to me over the past few years how 'clever' the title of my blog/website is. When this happened in the past I would thank them but never realized that many people thought it was just a title and didn't realize that it was a real description of my work space. I have always just assumed...and yes I know the danger there...that my support of telework/telecommuting/working from home was implied. I have decided to stop merely implying and to start emphatically stating my commitment to that way of work and of life.

While the blog will continue to have post that are varied and more personal life than work life it will also be more focused on working from home. The benefits are too numerous to list but I'm going to hit the highlights here.

  • More productive work
  • More energized work
  • Less traffic during rush hours
  • Smaller carbon footprint
  • Greater feeling of control of one's life
  • Ability to have more diversified workforce
  • More consistent workforce
  • Less downtime from illness or disaster 
  • Better communication among staff
If you have an interest in telework please stay tuned. If you have a small business or are considering starting one, I hope this is the blog for you. If you're the parent of 20-something year old 'children' that won't leave home, this is still the blog for you. :-)

I am also beginning to blog at the new Commute-Free Office blog and I hope you'll read there as well. Those posts will be strictly information surrounding the commutefreeoffice movement.

Tomorrow I'll review some stats on the productivity of home office dwellers and start to talk about how I am productive in my basement corner office.