It’s hard to be objective about something we care about. We tend to think our kids are cuter, our ideas are better, our opinions are more insightful, and our political candidates are more able. So it’s natural that we think our products or services are better, and that we take better care of our customers than our competition does, right?
But, if we’re to make intelligent decisions, based on a realistic analysis of our business, we really need to be as objective as possible. One way to do that, of course, is to seek an outsider’s point of view. But we can’t do that all day, every day… just perhaps as an occasional audit of our own position.
It’s not easy to detach ourselves, and view our business dispassionately. Some can, but I, for one, have always had difficulty doing so. The method that I use most successfully is to try to put myself in the shoes of someone else… the customer, for instance, or even the competitor. Then, however, I find myself still seeing things from a slanted viewpoint – so I have to weigh it against my own, and try to figure out which point of view makes more sense.
… kind of puts me right back where I started, doesn’t it?
I have a handful of friends that I can get honest opinions from, and I know that they won’t pull their punches. When I can’t figure it out on my own, I can depend upon them to give me painfully accurate assesments , which usually sorts me out. They’ll occasionally ask the same of me, so at least I know I’ll get a chance to get even, if they’re TOO critical!
I also like to grab someone from the office now and then, that has no real experience in marketing or sales, and get their unbiased opinions… how would THEY respond to the new proposed marketing idea, or new sales offer? I’m fortunate, in that my people aren’t afraid to give me their honest opinions, regardless of what they may think I’d like hear. I proved to them a long time ago that I have no use for a yes-man. The added benefit there is that I have learned that some of my people had a business sense I hadn’t previously suspected. One of them is now helping run the business, and doing a hell of a fine job of it.
The key is, we have to take a step back and evaluate how something will be received, NOT just how we mean it to be taken. Different people will interpret things differently, and as the communicator, it is OUR responsibility to ensure that we are properly understood. If the communication is taking place in a sales or marketing environment, the results can be felt relatively quickly, whether negative or positive. But in some business dealings, misunderstandings can be disastrous.
I recall one occasion that I asked the UPS driver to take a quick look at a business presentation I was preparing for a prospective client, and give me his opinion. He asked me two or three questions about the individuals to whom I would be making my pitch, and when I couldn’t answer them satisfactorily, he handed it back to me, and told me not to waste my time or theirs. I was taken aback, to say the least, and asked him (a little testily) what he meant by that. Basically, he said that I was trying to communicate complex information to unknown people that might or might not understand it, without knowing if they had recognized a need for it or had a budget for it. I was expecting them to take me at my word, when they knew even less about me than I knew about them.
I have learned a lot of good lessons over the years, from some very accomplished businessmen, but I don’t think any of them have stuck with me better than that one! That UPS driver is now a regional manager for a HUGE freight company, and is in line for a vice-presidency down the road. His insightful advice helped me get that contract, as well as others, so I’ll take this opportunity to thank him again.