personal engagement – the key to marketing and business success

Despite the experiences we all have that suggest otherwise, customers are human – or at least the representatives of our customers are members of the human species. Despite experiences suggesting to the contrary staff are also human.

Marketing, despite the protestations of advertising agencies who have made far too much money for far too long, is about managing human behaviour – rather than advertising and media. Achieving marketing objectives involves ensuring members of a market behave as you want them to.

In B2B marketing including professional services marketing – and in other areas of marketing including retail – staff engaging with customers is the key to managing customer behaviour. Very often, relationships based on engagement are the key to maximizing sales and profitability.

Professional services marketing is predominantly about personal engagement, as is the marketing of trade services. Clients buy a person as much as a business or product. In other sectors customer engagement with sales and customer service staff can directly impact on sales and profitability.

Personal engagement is also important to the performance of staff. Research has consistently found that staff apply themselves better and for longer when they are engaged with the individuals they report to and who manage their accountability.

Personal engagement is a key determinate of success. Some researchers have suggested that it is the most important factor, and in some sectors it almost certainly is. Personal engagement skills seem to come naturally to some but can be learned and developed by all.

Search ‘personal engagement’ online and the majority of listings and indeed data identified will address online communication and in particular the use of social media and other forms of digital marketing to engage with prospects and customers’ This paper focuses on offline engagement.

This paper addresses the importance of personal engagement, the stages of personal engagement, the precursors of effective personal engagement and actions that can be taken by just about anyone in business to improve their personal engagement skills and performance.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PERSONAL ENGAGEMENT

There are surely not many in business, or in life in general who would question the importance pf personal engagement. Personal engagement is essential for personal relationships and personal relationships are a requirement for performance maximisation. That said, it makes sense to start this article with a substantiation of what is surely a commonly held notion.

1/22 – LOOK YOUR TARGET IN THE EYE

85% say face to face contact builds stronger and more meaningful relationships

In 2020, it is difficult to find anything published about customer engagement that does not focus on social media as the principle medium. While there is no doubting the importance of social media in terms of customer engagement, research suggest that face to face engagement has a critical role to play in establishing relationships and leveraging those relationships.

A recent survey of businesspeople found that with face to face meetings:

  • 85% believe it builds stronger and more meaningful relationships
  • 77% highlight the value of body language and facial expressions
  • 75% view the social interaction as building a better bond
  • 49% believe meetings generate more complex strategic thinking
  • 44% believe meetings are better for tough and timely decision making

This same study found that:

  • 95% of businesspeople believe face to face meetings are essential
  • 72% of businesspeople are influenced by looks and a handshake

These findings highlight the importance of face to face meetings and the value they add which cannot be readily added by way of social media – although social media might still provide support.

Neurological research suggests that strong relationships are built when the hormone serotonin is released in the brand – and that serotonin is only released from the brand when people meet face to face. Face to face engagement also:

  • Builds confidence and trust
  • Facilitates idea generation
  • Facilitates connection

Get face to face with you customers – now and often – to develop productive long-term relationships that drive business performance. You are kidding yourself with social media.

2/22 – TEXTING MIGHT BE COSTING YOU A FORTUNE

78% of millennials would rather a telephone plan with no calls and unlimited data

I struggle to get millennials to make telephone calls. They would rather email – and would prefer to text of message. Rather than seeking personal engagement they seem to want to avoid it wherever possible. This observation is supported by recent research that found that 78% of millennials would rather a telephone plan with no calls and unlimited data. Another study found that 88% would rather have unlimited data than unlimited calls on their plan.

This same study found that:

  • 75% of millennials avoid incoming calls because they are time consuming
  • 81% of millennials have to summon the courage to make a phone call
  • 29% of millennials didge calls from friends and 25% avoid calls from family

In my experience millennials, in addition to avoiding personal engagement by telephone, also seek to avoid face to face meetings and communication – preferring to keep it all online. Given the importance of relationships, the role serotonin plays in establishing a relationship and the important of personal engagement in releasing serotonin – this should be of real concern to business – especially as millennials now comprise nearly 50% of the workforce.

My experience suggests that the preference not to make calls or indeed, meet in person is gradually spreading from millennials to the X generation and even baby boomers. The fact is – email and text are seen as easier and a more effective way of getting the issue of the staff members desk.

 

These findings are especially concerning given that personal customer engagement:

  • Increases brand awareness, loyalty and advocacy
  • Increases the awareness of the solutions a business offers
  • Increases customer activity and transaction amounts

It is especially concerning given research from Constellation Research that found – ‘companies who have improved engagement increase cross-sell by 22%, drive up-sell revenue from 13% to 51%, and also increase order sizes from 5% to 85%’

Beware the millennials who rely on email text. Implement strategies to encourage and equip all staff, and in particular millennials, to engage face to face. Avoiding it is bullshit.

3/22 – IT IS KNOW WHO NOT KNOW HOW THAT DRIVES BUSINESS

47% say reputation – 27% say relationship

There is an erroneous belief held by many in professional services that clients can differentiate the offering of the key competitors. While this is so in some cases and to some degree, if is significantly less common than many think it is. Differentiation is especially poor with the big accounting, law, engineering and management consultancy.

Two factors that are of critical importance are reputation (brand) and relationships (engagement) and the importance of both seem to be underestimated by many professional service firms. One study found that:

  • While 14% of service providers identified reputation as a critical factor, some 47% of buyers of these services rated it as a critical factor
  • While 25% of service providers identified relationships as a critical factor, some 27% of buyers of these services rated it as a critical factor

Reputation is a critical factor to customers, or clients, but so are relationships and both are more important than the professional service providers might think. Reputation is best communicated through personal engagement and relationships rely on personal engagement.

Research has also found that where professional service firms take the time to properly engage and nurture leads improve their sales at a rate of 50% while spending 33% less, again highlighting the importance of personal engagement. Effective engagement increases results and reduces costs.

Personal engagement drives conversion rates – repeat business rates and referral rates. It also impacts directly on the reputation of the business. Personal engagement can of course occur online and offline – and is most effective when it involves both.

Personal engagement and the development of relationships is very important, if not critically important in the professional services. Strategies for driving business in the professional services environment through personal engagement include:

  • Prioritising a relationship – establishing a personal relationship before offering services
  • Prioritising trust – behaving in a way that encourages trust before offering services
  • Prioritising value – offering information and insights before offering services

All of these issues and more will be addressed in the discussion (of IDEA 16) which follows. For now, it is important to emphasise the importance of personal engagement in professional services marketing and the importance of a relationship, trust and value in doing so.

Develop a relationship, trust and a perception of value before ask for business from a potential professional services client. Neither you nor I would buy in the absence of trust or value.

4/22 – ENGAGE PERSONALLY OR BURN CASH

98% of top salespeople report that say relationships are the most important driver new business

There is arguable nothing more important to success in the B2B sector than personal engagement and using it to develop strong relationships. Consider the following statistics:

  • 98% of top salespeople report that say relationships are the most important driver new business
  • 67% of B2B buyers list relevant communication (with staff) as a top influence in the decision-making process.
  • 86% of B2B buyers report that they are willing to pay more for a great customer experience (delivered by great staff)

Personal engagement, as well as being important in its own right contributes to superior communication and a superior customer experience.

Personal engagement can of course occur online or offline and works best when it involves both. While most articles in 2020 tend to focus on online engagement this on (as discussed in IDEA 16) focuses on offline engagement. While online engagement is important, lasting engagement requires a relationship and strong relationships invariable involve face to face meetings.

Serotonin is required for human beings to establish a strong relationship and research suggests that serotonin is only released in the brain when there is personal contact between the parties. While engagement can occur and relationships can be enhanced online, personal contact is needed to release serotonin and establish a strong relationship.

Highly effective in terms of personal engagement and the development of personal relationships in face to face marketing are:

  • An understanding of the customer and their needs and wants
  • Empathy for the customer and their needs and wants
  • Emotional intelligence and the ability to address customer needs and wants

All three of these issues and more will be addressed in the discussion (of IDEA 16) which follows. For now, it is important to emphasise the importance of personal engagement in terms of not just securing a customer, but maximising the average sale, margins and future sales.

Eyeball your customers and where that is not possible use the telephone. While not ignoring online engagement prioritise encouraging serotonin or burn miss out on opportunities.

5/22 – AVOID JOINING THE GROWING LINE OF RETAIL FAILURES

78% of customers say poor customer service makes them lose trust in a brand

Personal engagement of often viewed as being most important in the B2B context or environment, and that may well be the case. The fact is however it is also of critical importance in the retail and other B2C environments. A recent study found that 78% of people blame personal service, which requires personal engagement, as being directly linked to trust in the retail environment.

Another study found that 20% of businesses now view customer experience, of which customer engagement is a critical component is the most exciting opportunity in the year ahead, while yet another study found that 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. Customer experiences are largely determined, in many retail environments by the quality of the customer engagement and the capacity of staff to establish a trusting ‘relationship’

The fact is personal engagement with customers enhances business performance in any environment by encouraging conversion, higher average sales, repeat business and referrals. Despite this, fewer and fewer resources are being devoted to helping staff develop high quality customer engagement expertise. I more than one occasion, I have been told by state managers and the like that the business cannot afford staff training – especially given the high turnover in staff.

The research suggests however that businesses may suffer diminished revenue because of this lack of training, and it may also be the case that staff training would directly contribute to a reduction in staff turnover. Certainly, the research suggests that personal engagement by managers with staff is central to staff attraction and retention. Indeed, in one survey it was found that 71% of executives believe staff engagement is critical in maximising business performance. Further to this it was found that 69% of employees say they will work harder if they feel appreciated – an outcome of engagement.

Regardless of the environment in which you do business customer engagement skills are essential and in order to encourage those skills, staff engagement is more than helpful.

Ensure your staff have the skills required to engage with customers on a personal level. If you think your staff have those skills now you are either one of a few or deluded.

THE STAGES OF PERSONAL ENGAGEMENT

Personal engagement starts with an initial contact and then ideally develops over time.

6/22 – AFTER 30 SECONDS IT CAN BE TOO LATE

30 seconds to form a first impression

Personal engagement with a prospect, or anyone for that matter, is significantly influenced by the first few seconds on contact. Whether the initial contact is by way of face to face networking or a cold call – ‘It takes 30 seconds to form a first impression. Others believe it takes 2-3 seconds. There was even a study done by Princeton psychologists that found it takes only a tenth of a second to form an impression of somebody.’ Research generating these findings have been replicated a number of times. Research suggests that for the telephone 7 seconds appears to be the magic period.

For me, this begs two important questions:

  • Do initial impressions change, and if so what does it take to cause change?
  • What is it that influences the rapid judgement that we humans seek to make?

The simple answer to the first question is – ‘with difficulty’. Research suggests that there is truth in the words – “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.’ There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  • There can be a resistance to another meeting
  • There parties go into a second meeting with predispositions

The second of these points relates to the human need for consistency.

The second question is more difficult to answer given individual differences. That said, for face to face meetings, research does point to the importance of:

  • Posture
  • Eye contact
  • Handshake
  • Clothing
  • Accessories
  • Punctuality
  • Facial expressions

In terms of telephone contacts, the criteria for judgement include:

  • The use of positive words
  • Using the prospects name
  • Using a strong sincere voice

These are important factors to consider prior to meeting a prospect. There is not one way to address any of these criteria of judgement. That will vary by prospect and circumstance. Consideration needs to be given to the audience and the circumstance and manage you approach accordingly.

Ensure you and you team can engage prospects and customers face to face or by phone, in 7 to 30 seconds. You may not get a second chance. Don’t miss out because of a poor handshake.

7/22 – SACK EVERY SALESPERSON LACKING PERSISTENCE

8 – 18 cold calls before reaching a prospect

It is one thing to make a cold call, it is quite another thing to speak to the target prospect and another thing again to engage that prospect. Research suggests that it takes on average 8 cold calls to reach a prospect. Another study found that it takes an average of 18 calls.

Persistence is essential if a salesperson is to speak to and begin the process of engaging a prospect by want of a cold call. To help with this process it is useful to note research suggesting that that:

  • The best time to call a prospect is between 4.00 and 5.00 pm
  • 30 – 50% of sales go to the vendor who responds first

Once contact is made, it is important to facilitate engagement. Relevant to this are the following somewhat alarming statistics:

  • 80% of sales require 5 follow-up calls after the meeting
  • 44% of sales reps give up after 1 follow-up
  • Salespeople make significantly more calls in the last month of a quarter
  • Thursday is the best day to prospect. Wednesday is the second-best day

 

These statistics suggest that persistence is essential if sales are to be secured. They suggest that salespeople are often reluctant to display the required persistence. They also suggest that significant sales are being lost due to a lack of persistence. It is interesting to note that:

  • 40% of salespeople find this kind of prospecting the most difficult aspect of their job
  • 72% of businesses with less than 50 staff do not achieve sales goals

These findings suggest that persistence is difficult and almost certainly rare.

Ensure all of your salespeople are dogged and have the persistence to push hard and long enough to achieve a level of engagement that will lead to sales and a relationship for repeat sales.

8/22 – STOP MISSING OUT ON REFERRALS

84 percent of B2B decision makers start the buying process with a referral

Businesses that rely on advertising are often missing the real and potentially profitable opportunities than come from repeat business and referrals – neither of which are advertising dependent. Despite this, very few businesses have a formalised repeat business or referral strategy and few engage sufficiently with customers to maximise the potential develop a relationship that will maximise repeat business and referral.

Research has found that:

  • 84% of B2B decision makers start the buying process with a referral
  • 71% of companies with referral programs report higher conversion rates

 

These findings highlight the importance of a formal referral strategy in the B2B environment. In the B2C environment, the following statistics are relevant:

  • The Lifetime Value for new referral customer is 16% higher than non-referrals
  • 83% of consumers are willing to refer after a positive experience—yet only 29% actually do

 

The first of these statistics highlight the importance of referrals in the B2C environment and the second points to the impact of not having an appropriate strategy in place. Some 54% of people who are prepared to refer – don’t – something that might be ameliorated by the right strategy.

 

A sound referral strategy engages customers over the long term and in so doing established a relationship that actively drives both referral and repeat business. Such a strategy might involve:

 

  • Regular online and offline contact
  • Incentives designed to encourage referral

 

On the second point – Non-cash incentives are 24% more effective at boosting performance than cash incentives

 

Regardless of whether you are in a B2B or B2C environment, ensure you have in place a formal repeat business and referral system that maximises engagement and cost-effective sales.

 

THE PRECURSORS OF PERSONAL ENGAGEMENT

Personal engagement, or at least effective personal engagement, will not occur in a vacuum. The conditions must be right, and the personnel must have the skills. Important issues in this regard include empathy, branding and emotional intelligence. Individuals must have the skills and work in an environment that encourages effective personal engagement.

9/22 – CUSTOMERS ARE NOT LISTENING TO YOUR WORDS

55% of the impact of face to face contact is facial expressions

Before we can begin to enhance the standard of personal engagement with prospects and customers, we need to understand the factors that influence it. Before training staff to better engage with customers or engage more effectively, we need to identify the skills that are required.  

Research suggest that critical factors and their importance are as follows:

  • Words – what we say – 7%
  • Inflection/voice/tone – how we say it – 38%
  • Facial expressions/body language – non-verbal – 55%

These findings suggest that:

  • Non-verbal skills are more important than verbal skills
  • What we say is less important than how we say it
  • Engagement is more multi-faceted than many think

Despite the importance of non-verbal skills research suggests that businesses are not investing as much as they might in ensuring staff understand non-verbal information. This is especially concerning given research suggesting that the impression a prospect has of a salesperson is developed in 30 seconds, largely on the basis of non-verbal cues – and rarely changes much.

While many businesses provide staff with considerable product information to ensure they j]know what they are talking about, and while this is clearly important – it is perhaps less important than the empathy required to deliver the information in a way the prospect of customer views as engaging. It is apparent that more resources may need to be devoted to presentation skills.

Ensure your staff have the skills to engage with customers and that they appreciate the importance of words, inflection and facial expressions – especially in the first 30 seconds.

10/22 – MOST PEOPLE LACK THE EMPATHY TO MAXIMISE PROFITABILITY

90% of employees view empathy as important

‘Researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions’ Empathy has also been defined as – ‘…the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own’. It is near on impossible to engage with human beings in the absence of empathy – in the absence of an ability to sense, relate to and adapt one behaviour to the emotions or feelings of those we are trying to engage with. Research suggests that 90% of employees view empathy as important in the workplace and are willing to break ties with an employer who they think lacks empathy.

Research suggests that:

  • 81% of millennials view the lack of empathy as a deal breaker
  • 76% of Gen X view the lack of empathy as a deal breaker
  • 78% of baby boomers view the lack of empathy as a deal breaker

Empathy is important because – it empowers and individual – an employer or salesperson – to customise behaviour to meet the needs and expectations of an individual. From the customers perspective – we all like to thing people understand us and are treating us as an individual.

There is a debate regarding whether we are born with can learn empathy. Setting aside the nature nurture argument there is no doubt that all human beings can and need to develop empathy if they are going to engage fully with individuals with who they want to do business.

Much has been written about strategies for developing one’s empathy. Strategies include:

  • Getting out of your usual environment and experiencing life
  • Seeking feedback and listening to those you are engaging with.
  • Listening with your heart as well as your head – recognising the importance of heart
  • Taking time to walk in the shoes of others
  • Being aware of and closely examining your biases and their application
  • Cultivating a sense of curiosity and being genuinely interested
  • Ask better questions, ask more questions and listen to the answers

Empathy can be developed and even people with an innate or well-developed sense of empathy can further develop that empathy and apply it more rigorously on an individual level. Empathy is an essential requirement for personal engagement. Without it there can be no engagement.

Ensure you and your staff have the empathy to develop the understanding of individuals required to build the relationships needed to maximise sales. Lack empathy and you will loose sales.

11/22 – EQ IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN IQ

70% of the time average IQ trumps high IQ

There is a commonly held view that IQ, or intellectual intelligence, is central to success in business. The view is that smart people succeed more often that no so smart people. The data however suggests otherwise. A 1995 study, which has been replicated found that people with an average IQ outperform those with a high IQ 70% of the time.

This research suggests that far more important to success in business is emotional intelligence or EQ. Psychologist and academic Daniel Goleman estimates that – ‘IQ makes up only 20 percent of the factors that determine life success, while other forces, such as EQ, wealth, temperament, family education levels and pure luck make up the balance.’

Research found that 90 per cent of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence, while just 20 per cent of bottom performers have high emotional intelligence. This research identified a direct link between emotional intelligence and performance.

There is no doubt whatsoever about the direct link between EQ and the capacity to engage with people in a manner that drives sales, margins and referral. This is so from the initial meeting, perhaps in a networking or cold calling environment, through to the development of a relationship.

Emotional intelligence is generally thought to incorporate:

  • Self-awareness – the ability to accurately understand your emotions
  • Self-management – the ability to remain positive and flexible
  • Social-awareness – the ability to identify and respond to emotions
  • Relationship Management – the ability to manage personal interactions

Like empathy (as essential component of EQ) emotional intelligence can be developed. Strategies for increasing EQ include:

  • Paying closer attention to and recognising your emotions
  • Improving non-verbal communication skills and sensitivity
  • Practising empathy – asking questions and customising behaviour
  • Exercising self-regulation and displaying only optimal behaviour
  • Developing social skills recognising that most humans are social

EQ was for many years jargon. In 2020 EQ is recognised as an essential requirement of effective leadership and an essential component of personal engagement.

Face it – EQ (emotional quotient) is more important that IQ. Embrace EQ as being essential for effective personal engagement. Work with your team to develop their EQ.

12/22 – YOUR CUSTOMER IS JUDGING YOU NOW!

 87% of executives rate reputation damage as more important as any other strategic issue

Highlighting the importance of personal branding, recent research found that 87% of executives rate reputation damage as more important as any other strategic issue. Personal branding involves establishing and managing the perceptions of an individual with a view to establishing and maintaining a reputation consistent with that individual achieving their objectives.

Personal branding is all about identifying optimal messaging for an individual and communicating that messaging in a way that will maximise personal engagement with prospects, customers, colleagues, staff and other parties. Personal branding requires:

  • Defining the optimal personal brand
  • Living the optimal brand
  • Communicating the optimal brand

Jeff Bezos defined ‘your brand’ as – ‘what people say about you when you are not in the room’. While I would replace the word ‘people’ with ‘your target audience’, this definition is sound. It suggests that every individual has a personal brand. No matter who you are – there are people who have the capacity to and are likely to say something about you, or even describe you, when you are not in the room.

It is not possible not to have a personal brand, but the difference between a highly successful person and a not so successful person, is that the former manages their personal brand. Successful people approach personal branding deliberately rather than just allowing a personal brand to evolve. People like Richard Branson, David Beckham and even the likes of Kim Kardashian, recognise the importance of personal brand and take to time to define their brand, live it and communicate it.

They do this because reputation and personal branding more generally is central to effective personal engagement. Prospects, clients, staff and colleagues all engage first and foremost with their perceptions of an individual – as determined by personal branding. Effective personal engagement requires effective personal branding.

Define, live and communicate your optimal personal brand. Manage your reputation and drive personal engagement with a personal brand that your target audience is attracted to.

13/22 – CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT FOLLOWS STAFF ENGAGEMENT

15% employee engagement is common and dangerous

Most businesses I come across operate on the belief that they have a high level of customer engagement than they do. Research, however, suggests otherwise, with one study finding:

  • Engaged staff – 15%
  • Non-engaged staff – 67%
  • Actively disengaged staff – 18%

This same study found that even in organisations that recognise this lack of engagement, some 70% fail to make the transformation required to achieve a high level of staff engagement. Low staff engagement can negatively impact the capacity of the organisation to attract the best people, retain the best people, and get the most out of them. As a subset of this, low staff engagement impacts on the capacity to engage with prospects and customers.

Research suggests that – ‘companies that have engaged employees outperform those with the disengaged employee by 202 per cent’.  Another study concluded that – ‘organisations with higher engagement levels tend to have 75% fewer quality defects, along with 26% fewer workers’ compensation claims related to safety’. In addition to impacting on staff attraction, staff retention and staff performance, staff engagement also impacts directly on personal engagement with customers.

Research has also found a direct link between the level of staff engagement and the level of customer engagement with – customer experience leaders having 60% more engaged employees. This research also found that – ‘customer experience leaders have 1.5 times as many engaged employees as do customer experience laggards.’

Research suggests that it is difficult to maximise engagement with customers before first maximising the engagement of staff. Higher levels of staff engagement can be facilitated by:

  • Ongoing conversations rather than relying on discrete surveys
  • Ensure that the right people are in the right roles with the right expertise
  • Provide staff with the background knowledge, training, and incentives
  • Ensure that staff understand the vision and their part in its realisation
  • Treat staff like the individuals they need to treat their customers like
  • Provide a sense of serving the greater good and a higher purpose

Maximising staff engagement, building a team, and creating a culture oriented towards customer engagement is central to effective personal engagement.

Engage with your staff or lose your customers. Engagement and the resulting relationships are critical to performance. Your staff will not engage with your customers until you engage with your staff.   

14/22 – YOUR LACK OF AUTHENTICITY IS COSTING YOU BUSINESS  

63 per cent of customers would buy from an authentic brand

It is very difficult to establish a personal relationship and, therefore, a high level of personal engagement without being authentic. There are two very sound reasons for this:

  • Consumers and, indeed, people, in general, are becoming increasingly sceptical and resistant to trusting people they view as inauthentic;
  • Trust is rapidly eroded when your behaviour or utterances are not consistent over time, and consistency is almost impossible to deliver in the absence of authenticity.

The statistics on lack of trust in business are frightening. Few people can act consistently over time. Most human beings eventually revert to type, thereby revealing their true selves.

These observations are highlighted in the following statistics:

  • 63% of customers claim they will buy from an authentic brand
  • 91% of customers respond positively to honesty
  • 90% of businesses in the US believe that trust impacts on their bottom line

There is an inextricable link between trust and authenticity. Authenticity, or the perception of authenticity, builds trust. The absence of authenticity, or the perceived lack of it, tends to erode trust. Trust is an essential precursor of effective personal engagement with customers. Few people are willing to engage personally with someone they don’t trust.

In my experience, trust in business and authenticity are in very short supply. Worse still, there is an increasing number of people in business who act, not as they are, but as they think others want them to be. I am reminded of the old saying – ‘Be yourself – everyone else is taken’. I never engage with people I consider to be inauthentic.

Place the highest priority on trust and develop trust through authenticity. This is a critical precursor to personal engagement and establishing relationships that drive business performance.

PERSONAL ENGAGEMENT SKILLS

Thus far, this paper has touched on skills that can be developed to facilitate personal engagement. The balance of the paper focuses specifically on the skills and actions individuals can take to maximise their effectiveness in personal engagement.

15/22– STOP TALKING AND START LISTENING

9% writing, 16% reading, 30% speaking, and 45% listening

Have you ever had a conversation where the other person seems to be thinking more about their response to you than about what you are actually saying? I imagine you have. Most people have this experience regularly. There are many reasons for this. The most significant is that they want to talk rather than listen.

One of the reasons people are not listening to you is that you are not really listening to them. In addition to the negative consequences of someone thinking you are not listening, it is very difficult for you to customise your words if you are not absolutely clear on what they are saying.Asking questions that provide insight into what lies behind their words also requires listening.

Recent research found that humans spend 70 – 80% of their day communicating. Interestingly, only 45% of that time is spent listening. In other words, humans tend to spend more time talking, writing and reading than they spend listening, despite the fact that listening is arguably the most important skill in engaging another human being. Humans are far more engaged when you listen than when you talk.

Listening, in the context of personal engagement with customers is important for several reasons. :

  • It demonstrates genuine interest;
  • Establishes empathy
  • Facilitates feedback you can act on
  • Enables you to fine-tune your message

Research demonstrates that listening directly impacts on sales.

Better listening skills can result from:

  • Recognising that you don’t listen as closely as you can
  • Valuing listening and recognising the benefits

Skills development in terms of listening can follow on from:

  • Being fully in the moment
  • Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes
  • Looking for the key points being made
  • Practising active listening
  • Developing sincere curiosity

Remember that we have two ears and just one mouth for a good reason. To engage successfully, it is more important to listen than talk. Place a higher priority on listening than talking!

16/22 – LOOKING GOOD REALLY DOES MATTER

90% say appearance effects client perceptions

This is a difficult subject for me to write about because I really don’t care what people think about the way I dress or groom myself. That said, I recognise two things in this regard. Firstly, people make judgements about me based on how I look. Secondly, if they form a negative view based on my appearance – I have to make up for this disadvantage in some other way.

One study found that:

  • 86% of employees surveyed believed physical appearance matters in the workplace
  • 90% of employees believe that appearance affects client perceptions

The fact is, human beings do make judgements about each other based on dress and grooming, and the level of personal engagement can be significantly impacted by what is seen to be inappropriate attire or grooming. Dress and grooming impact on the perception of an individual in terms of:

  • Sense of style
  • Confidence
  • Attention to detail
  • Understanding of the audience
  • Respect for the audience

I would argue that the two most important priorities in terms of attire and grooming are:

  • Personal style
  • Genuine confidence

Most businesspeople lack style, and few seem to care. Others have a sense of style that is not their own (possibly out of a magazine or a partner’s mouth). In my experience, businesspeople inspire the most confidence when they have their own style – one that makes them memorable.

Businesspeople inspire confidence when they appear confident in their own skin. Therefore, dressing and grooming in a way that makes an individual feel confident is important. I would not feel comfortable dressing or grooming myself any way other than the way I do. As it happens, I place a higher priority on this than on suggesting respect for my audience by dressing as they do.

Beyond grooming and attire research has also found that:

  • Tall people are paid more
  • Fat people are paid less
  • Blonds are paid more
  • Workers who are fit get paid more
  • Women who wear make-up get paid more
  • Handsome people are paid more

 

Being paid more does not necessarily indicate a capacity to engage others. However, these findings highlight the complexity of personal presentation.

 

Refine your personal presentation or stuff up the first 30 seconds. It reflects on your capacity to engage with your audience. Look beyond attire and grooming … and look at the whole package.

17/22 – STOP SPEAKING LIKE A TRANSPORTED CONVICT

38% of a presenter’s impact is how they say it

This paper has already addressed research that shows that in personal communication the impact is – 7% content, 55% body language and 38% inflection/voice/tone. In other words, and to the subject at hand – how you say something has more than 5 time the impact on listeners than what you say.

How an individual speaks can have a dramatic impact on how they are perceived by others and their capacity to engage with others on a one to one basis. Critical issues in this regard include:

  • Articulation
  • Vocabulary
  • Accuracy

We all react to accents and the way in which an individual pronounces words. An accurate and clear pronunciation leads to the view that the individual is educated and well informed. Strong accents and poor pronunciation can significantly damage perceived credibility.

Having a wide-ranging vocabulary also enhances the perception of education and knowledge. It suggests that a person is well read and can carry on a sophisticated conversation. That said, the use of jargon is off putting, as is pitching language over the head of the audience.

Using big words incorrectly or in the wrong context suggests that a person is trying the be more than they are. It suggests that they are trying to appear well read, educated and informed when they are not. This is more common than many might think.

Also important in terms of language is subject matter. Eleanor Roosevelt once noted – ‘Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.’ Never has a truer work – or sentence been spoken. Equally the subjects that people discuss and their capacity to discuss unemotionally and articulately about a range of subjects impacts on their capacity to engage with prospects and customers. Again, this reflects level of reading, education and intellect.

Say it right or don’t say it at all. Like it or not, you will be judged by how articulate you are, your language and the accuracy with which you use it – along with the subjects you can discuss

18/22 – SHOW CHARISMA OR GET OUT OF MARKETING

50% innate and 50% learned

Some people have a charisma that seems to enable then to connect and engage with people with apparent ease. Examples might include Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama and Richard Branson. There is something about these people that draws us in.

‘Charisma is one of the most essential traits of a successful person. If you look at the leaders, innovators, legends and the generally successful, the one quality all of them possess is charisma. In order to aspire to such heights, it’s important to understand why charisma is so necessary for success’.

The importance of charisma is well documented. The very best relationship managers seem to have it in spades.

Charisma might be defined as the capacity to attract and engage people with ease – leveraging – confidence, creativity, vision, determination and communication. Charisma is an essential asset for all people in the business of building relationships. So, can charisma be learned – or is it innate?

‘Professor Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK estimates charisma is 50% innate and 50% trained (learned).’

Based on the professor’s work and my research, it would appear that charisma is at least partially learned. This suggests that most people can enhance their God-given charisma. Things to focus on if you want to improve your charisma, include:

  • Actively listening
  • Speaking clearly
  • Smiling sincerely
  • Standing tall
  • Complimenting people
  • Remembering names
  • Maintaining eye contact

 

Work harder to develop charisma.  Build on the foundation you were born with – no matter how limited it is – and if you have no natural charisma – work even harder to develop it.

19/22 – THE CONFIDENCE YOU NEED IS WITHIN YOU

85% of women opt out of life activities

Anyone who has ever managed a team of people involved in sales or customer service has heard one of their team say – ‘I just don’t have time to network’, or ‘I just don’t have time to cold call’. Those of us who have managed staff and heard words like these would also recall thinking – ‘he is making an excuse’ or ‘no, she just does not want to network’.

The fact is, networking is core business for most salespeople and cold calling is part of the requirement for some salespeople. If they cannot find time to do one or the other, then they are, almost certainly, not the right person for the job. In my experience, the reality is that these sales and customer service people do have the time to network or cold call – but lack the confidence to do it – and, as a result, find ways of manipulating their diary so that they end up not having time. In other words, they could find the time if they really tried, but don’t try because they lack confidence.

All too many people lack the confidence to achieve their potential. One study found that 85% of women opt out of ‘life activities’ due to a lack of confidence. Another study found that 75% of people in business are afraid of public speaking. Yet another study found that 48% of business-to-business salespeople are afraid of making cold calls. Confidence can have a direct and considerable impact on an individual’s ability to engage with prospects and customers.

Like charisma, there is a long-running debate as to whether confidence is the result of nature or nurture. While this debate will go on, there is a substantial body of evidence to suggest that there are strategies that an individual can employ to build their confidence. Books have been written outlining strategies for developing self-confidence. The hundreds of strategies suggested which appear to work include:

  • Preparation
  • Practice
  • Acceptance

Research indicates that many of these strategies work well. I would argue, however, that few work better than:

  • Fake it until you make it

Amy Cuddy has written and spoken extensively about the impact of body language, not just on how a person is seen by others, but also how they see themselves. The right body language has been shown in numerous studies to be very effective in increasing immediate and long-term confidence. Standing while making a cold call, for example, has been found to boost confidence and effectiveness. These are strategies well worth exploring.

Don’t believe staff when they say they don’t have time to network, cold call, or engage with prospects and customers. Use body language-based strategies to boost self-confidence.

20/22 – BE SOMEONE OTHERS WANT TO ENGAGE WITH

3% of people consider salespeople trustworthy

How would you feel about engaging with someone you don’t trust? While I recognise that trust must be earned and that I will not automatically trust anything, I would be very unlikely to engage with anyone I don’t trust. My suspicion is that you are no different. Few people will engage with anyone they do not consider trustworthy.

There is an important message here, given that research shows that only 3% of people view salespeople as trustworthy. Despite the observation that trust is a precursor of confidence, very few people seem to trust salespeople – making it very difficult for salespeople to engage with prospects and customers. This being the case, what strategies can salespeople embrace to build trust and make themselves more attractive to prospects and customers?

Strategies for building trust include:

  • Adopting an open stance with palms showing when meeting face to face
  • Making eye contact and shaking hands firmly when meeting face to face
  • Offering a name upon introduction, and seeking one in response
  • Asking relevant questions and genuinely listening for answers
  • Providing high-quality information about all issues pertinent to the purchase
  • Gaining the prospect’s confidence before asking for the business
  • Not seeming to read from a script when talking by telephone
  • Using the customer’s name, but not repeating it over and over

One strategy that can work very well for a high-quality product is – the sales paradox. This strategy involves engaging with the customer but never asking for the business. The customer is given all the information they want, and the product is presented in a way that the prospect or customer will want to buy and ask to do so. That is, the salesperson presents the product, business and offer in such a compelling way, that the customer does not need to be asked. While this approach can appear counterintuitive, it can actually drive both engagement and sales.

Another issue worthy of consideration is knowing how people actually see you. They may not see you as you see yourself. I have been told that many people find me threatening. I certainly don’t see myself that way, but if people I need to engage with find me threatening, then I need a strategy to address this – or engagement will not occur.

You might think you know how others see you – but do you? It is a good idea to find out. Ask people to provide an honest assessment. Indeed, why not seek ongoing feedback on how others perceive you and, if you identify issues, address them. You can start by asking your work colleagues and then move on to asking customers about their first impressions of you, what they first noticed, what you do well, and what you do poorly. Then, thank them for their honesty and ponder any action that might be required.

Know how people see you – develop your engagement skills, emotional intelligence, and communication skills. Above all else, adopt those practices that will build trust and likability.

21/22 – GET OVER IT AND SPEAK UP

70% say that presentation skills are critical to career success

Public speaking is central to effective customer engagement, especially in the B2B environment. However, a recent study found that 70% of people in business are afraid of public speaking. This is particularly concerning given that studies indicate that 75% of people in business believe that presentation skills are critical to career success. In my experience, while there are some very polished public speakers out there, they are in very short supply.

There is little doubt that anyone who wants to engage with larger audiences needs to develop effective public speaking and presentation skills. Even where public speaking and presentations are not essential, they can be very helpful in spreading the message to a larger audience. Public speaking represents such an opportunity that volumes have been written about it. Those volumes offer thousands of strategies for overcoming fear and becoming a better public speaker, including:

  • Preparation
  • Practice
  • Starting small

Empirical evidence suggests that these strategies can, and do, help speakers overcome their fear and become better public speakers. That said, I prefer an approach that starts with three simple strategies:

  • Stop giving speeches and start having conversations
  • Stop presenting facts and start presenting ideas
  • Be absolutely and completely authentic and real

I hate speeches that begin with a joke. I much prefer speeches that start with a question that involves the audience, attracts answers, and facilitates engagement. I much prefer asking a question and waiting for an answer, before beginning a conversation – even to the point of telling your audience you want a conversation.

When you present facts, there is always the thought in the back of your mind that someone in the audience might know more than you do, or that you might make a mistake – leading to nerves. The alternative is to tell the audience that your intention is to inspire thought and create a forum for presenting ideas some of them might not have considered before.

If 75% of people are frightened of public speaking, why would you pretend to be any different? Admit to yourself that you have nerves and, in the early days of your speaking career, ask the audience to forgive your nerves. Chances are this will make them laugh and empathise with you – drawing them closer. This, in turn, will relax you and allow you to forgive any mistakes you make.

Become an effective public speaker/presenter. Embrace the advice in the various paper written on the subject, but also recognise that people engage best with people they feel are just like them.

22/22 – STOP ENGAGING DIFFICULT PEOPLE

44.4% have experienced customer violence or abuse

Few of us are in a position where we can pick and choose whom we do business with and, as a result, with whom we engage. Recent research found that some 44.4% of retail workers reported having been subject to customer abuse or violence. While customer engagement is essential, there are times when that is made very difficult. There are, unfortunately, many difficult people out there.

So, what should you do when you need to engage with a difficult person? In the case of someone who is violent or abusive, walking away or calling the police seems like a sound strategy. Volumes have been written about strategies for dealing with difficult people. Commonly published tips include:

  • Maintaining a positive mental attitude
  • Developing a thicker skin
  • Empathising with the customer

Certainly, a positive mental attitude is essential, a think skin is desirable, and nothing much works without empathy. These, along with the many other strategies and tips commonly published, can help in dealing with or engaging with difficult people. Given that the subject of this paper is engagement, I would recommend an alternative approach involving three elements:

  • Define precisely the types of people you enjoy engaging with
  • Determine as early as possible whether a prospect satisfies the criteria
  • Accept or reject the prospect on the basis of that determination

This paper is about long term engagement and establishing relationships that will drive initial sales, repeat sales, and referral. There is little chance that you will engage in the required manner with someone you find difficult. It may be practical and necessary to deal with a difficult person on an initial occasion or for a discrete transaction – and the skills referred to above will help you do that. It is, however, less than productive to build a relationship with people you find difficult.

If a long-term relationship is the goal, you are better off referring the difficult person to someone else in your team who does not find them difficult. If that is not possible, ignore them, and put your time into developing relationships or engaging with people you do not find difficult.

In my experience, no one does their best work for someone they find difficult. In fact, interactions with difficult people can lessen an individual’s capacity to deal with the customers they should engage with. Difficult customers are often far too difficult to make long-term customers based on the high level of engagement required. When you deal with people you find difficult – you lose, and the business loses.

Clearly, this is not an invitation for lazy salespeople to expand their definition of a ‘difficult person’. The bar needs to be set as high as possible, but truly difficult people are rarely worth engaging.

Given that the bar is high enough and your skin is as thick as it should be – think twice before engaging with and working to establish a relationship with a difficult person. Save your energy.

IN CONCLUSION

Despite the growth in social media, personal engagement with prospects and customers is more important than ever.

Social media is important and offers an enormous opportunity, but it will not take the place of face to face or telephone engagement.

Despite the importance of face to face and telephone engagement, it is diminishing, and that younger people would rather avoid it.

The precursors to personal engagement include empathy, emotional intelligence, and personal branding. Salespeople need to develop all of these.

The skills involved in personal engagement include charisma, confidence, public speaking, and trust. Nature contributes to our ability, and the skills are developed throughout childhood. It is important to develop them further in adulthood.

And……………..life is too short to spend time with difficult people.

 

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