No matter what you do in business, there are a key set of things you must focus on to do your job well. If you are a CEO, a project manager, a sales executive, software developer, working as a cashier at the kwik-e mart… no matter the job, these things matter.
1. People Skills Matter
The number one key in business is trust. Money is at stake. People’s careers are at stake. Entering into business with any unit outside your control- a partner, a client, a vendor, another department even- is scary business. Winning trust is not just important for making a sale- it’s important for the ongoing process. If the business owner trusts you, they may buy your product, but what about their IT staff? Their project manager? If these folks don’t trust you, they will make your implementation a nightmare, as they try to make certain that your implementation is successful in your organization- by calling all the shots to ensure you do things their way, even if they have no expertise on your software. If their support organization does not trust you, they will seek their own solutions to problems rather than working with you to make their implementation better. Trust is needed all the way across the board.
This is where people skills matter most. Your organization must be able to establish an ongoing rapport at all levels. Your sales people must be able to reach a good rapport with their business decision makers. Your implementations and technical people have to be able to establish a good rapport with their IT staff. Your support organization must establish a good rapport with theirs. From department to department, this principle still applies- you must have good rapport at all of the contact points in your organization. This even applies the other way- if the people who you have communicating with your customers and partners can’t establish trust with the people inside your organization, they will be seen as ‘pandering to the clients’, and you’ll face internal problems.
People skills are invaluable in building trust. Building trust is one of the most important skills in business, and one of the most difficult to teach. Your ‘face time’ people in your organization should be chosen as much for the ability to make friends with anyone and exhibits good trust-building and trust-maintaining skills as any other skill needed for the position. Relationships matter.
2. Initiative Matters
A good rapport is the beginning of any business relationship. Now that you have the relationship started, though, you have to deliver. Friendship is about many things. Business is not. It’s about the bottom line. Making money. Creating value. Promise what you can deliver, work hard, and follow through. Anyone involved in communicating who says “Well, I lined them up, now you guys take care of them” is not the following through.
3. Focus Matters
An important part of being able to deliver is not over-promising and under-delivering. To get there, you have to focus on the right things. Out of all the markets, all the customers in that market, all the ideas we have, all the projects we have on deck, which ones most deserve my resources? What has the best bang-for-buck? If you take on more work than you can execute on, you will fail at all your commitments. The more different customers you involve when you finally fail, the more customers you will lose because of your lack of focus. You will constantly be tempted to reach for the next ring. You will be tempted to enter new, additional markets. To paraphrase the old wine commercial, attack no market before it’s time. Focus. Complete the job at hand before you start a new one. Identify your most important targets and knock the ball out of the park. Everything that you promise, commit to it and fulfill that commitment.
If you do this, once you conquer the market at hand, once you please the customer or partner at hand, you will receive recognition and help when you proceed to your next challenge- help in form of income from clients, word of mouth, reputation, all the things that matter and reinforce why you are the best choice out there.
4. Responsibility Matters
When you make a mistake, own that mistake. Make it right with the customer. Acknowledge the customer’s concerns with your mistake and the possibility of more mistakes. Fix the problem, identify how to prevent it in the future, and communicate. Most importantly, do it in that order. Don’t promise that “it will never happen again” if you have no idea what you are going to do to prevent it yet. Failing, promising, then failing again just ruins your reputation. Now you’re a failure *and* a liar. Don’t panic when you make a mistake; mistakes happen. Resolve the mistake and move on.
5. New Opportunities Matter
Expansion is always easiest down the path of least resistance. Your existing customers are the easiest to sell additional products to. Your existing markets are easiest to sell in. Your existing products are easiest to expand.
Look for synergies between your products and offerings. When possible, increase them. Yes, I am as tired as anyone of the word synergy- but, in this case, it applies. If you are remotely focused, your existing products, projects, process improvements, projects… they should all have a crossover somewhere, or be near having a crossover. Look for ways to take advantage of these things to increase revenue and increase the value of your products. Product A may not have any value to people who buy Product B as is, but there may be something you can enhance about either Product A or Product B that brings them together and makes them both more valuable. Voila, you’ve created a new market for your products for a small amount of effort, and in an area where you have a high chance of success- with existing customers, in a market where you have a presence already.
How does this apply to your internal departments? In many ways, it is the same thing- you probably have existing products, processes and projects that increase productivity and value to your company. Look for ways to marry these up to increase value to the company with less effort than having to create whole new projects from scratch. Keep your maintenance down and your focus high as you expand. Familiarity with the existing product also helps you drive internal adoption easily.
6. Service Matters
Everyone is in the service business in some way. If your job in the company is to do something that you can identify no customers for, then I would suggest that what you do for the company has no value. If you maintain something, there are people who depend on that something- those people are your customers. If you write documentation, you have two customers- those who distribute it, and those who use it. Put your customers first and deliver. If you are in management, make sure all of your employees are delivering. Everyone should be focused on their customers. At the same time, the customer is *not* always right. If maintaining a customer is costing you more than the value that the customer is bringing to you, then sometimes the right business decision is to reduce your market and let that one go, so that you can focus on your value customers.