Monday, 20 August 2012

David Tovey

"But isn't selling a dirty word?" Any of you who've done any sales training will know that the golden rule is you can't sell to anyone unless they have a need; and that the key to successful sales is to prove to your target that your offering is the best way to meet that need. And in a market where repeat business and long term relationships with clients is the aim, (ie swathes of the professional services market), swizzing customers that you're the best when you're clearly not won't get you very far. So if you don't believe you're the best solution for a client, don't pitch to them; turn the business away. And maybe improve your targetting so the next prospect you're in front of is someone who definitely will benefit from what you have to offer.

Ok. I'll climb down from my soapbox now! I do sometimes get a little bit evangelical about this, I know - but I have very strong views! So imagine my delight being introduced to David Tovey, Chairman of Principled Group which includes Questas Consulting, the business growth and sales consultancy and Valuable Content Ltd, the content marketing specialists. David has devoted his professional life to coaching and training people in "principled selling". David is a seasoned professional services marketeer, having worked at PACE Partners for some 12 years, latterly as managing Director of the international business. He is shortly to publish a book entitled "Principled Selling - How to Win Business Without Selling Your Soul", published by Kogan Page

Over a very pleasant lunch we discussed the "crisis of trust" in the business world - how the phone-hacking, MP's expenses and Libor scandals, and the banking crisis generally, have shown the cracks, (and in some cases gaping holes), in the pillars of our establishment. Our perception of our financial and political systems, and the integrity of media, will never be the same.

"There is a global crisis of trust and increased level of cynicism never before experienced." David tells me. He doesn't pull his punches. "This crisis of trust is making it harder than ever before for salespeople to win clients over in today's cynical world. But this creates an opportunity too: if you can set yourself apart as a person to be trusted, you will have clients coming back to you for more. You will have improved client retention, more repeat business, expanded business from existing clients and you'll benefit from increased recommendations by clients to others - a sustainable and profitable way to develop business. Being a trusted advisor can give you a distinct point of difference from competitors too."

I also love the emphasis David puts on "listening" in the sales process: "The assumption is that an archetypal will be very good at talking, ie will have "the gift of the gab", and possibly be quite self-centred, even cocky. In fact arguably the more important skill-set in the sales environment is the ability to listen and to empathise with others. "Principled selling" means developing a deep understanding of what your client really needs and the particular context in which they will be employing whatever it is they're buying. The best (and most successful) salespeople recognise this and will work with this in mind. It's about being focussed on the person you're talking to and their interests more than your own. And in any event, a salesperson who does all the talking and doesn't listen comes across as having their own self-interest at heart, which actually makes it harder to win a client's trust - making the sales job harder, not easier.

So s
elling is all about being interested in others, about deep empathy and building trust." Well, these are most definitely not dirty words.

Click here to pre-order your copy of Principled Selling from Amazon.
Will the Paralympics help stamp out disability discrimination in the way pundits hope? This year's 2012 has already been heralded the most inclusive to date, and the papers this week have been full of editorials expressing the hope that the Paralympics will create a sea-change in attitude to disability and social exclusion/ inclusion. 

The highlight this week of course was the public outcry against Royal Mail for their plan not to honour Paralympic gold medallists individually with their own stamp in the same way they did for the Olympians - and the company's subsequent u-turn

Great we all got so stirred up about this! It will be the first time ever any host country has issued gold medal stamps for its Paralympians. Shocking when you think of the inequality over all those years. But a real positive that we've finally come to a time when we just won't stand for treating people as second class citizens.
Learned more about the "burgeoning Scandinavian comedy scene" from this year's Edinburgh Fringe.  Have to confess I didn't know there was such a scene, let alone that it was burgeoning.  In recent years we have become quite used seeing Scandinavian thrillers in our bestsellers and awards lists for book, TV and film, thanks to Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy and Henning Mankell's Wallander. It has been said that the Scandinavians' rise in popular culture is having a positive knock-on effect for Scandinavian brands in the UK.  And now we appear to be witnessing their expansion and diversification into different media.  

Names to watch are Daniel Simonsen, Magnus Betner and Carl-Einar Hackner.  A range of styles here, from Simonsen's comedy of social akwardness and failure ("it's always good for comedy when your life sucks"), Betner's dark humour that wouldn't be out of place in a Larsson thriller and Carl-Einar Hackner's ridiculous vaudevillian buffoonery complete with spangly Abba jumpsuit costume.

At the time of posting videos of their 2012 Fringe performances are not yet up on youTube, but chek out this delicious clip of Hackner's flat-pack Ikea-style collapsing guitar. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Andrew Hopper QC

Andrew Hopper QC is dismayed by the lack of joined-up thinking at the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Andrew is one of a very small handful of solicitor QCs, who never studied or practised as a barrister, but whose advocacy skills came to the attention of the senior judiciary while prosecuting for the SRA's predecessors at The Law Society in disciplinary and regulatory proceedings - and as a consequence was encouraged to take silk. He is co-author of both The Solicitor's Handbook (a guide for solicitors on regulation of the profession) and also The Law Society Gazette's Guitde to Outcomes-Focused Regulation (an attempt to get to grips with the new basis of regulation, in principle and practice). When it comes to solicitors' conduct and regulatory matters, he certainly knows what he's talking about.

Over a very pleasant lunch this week we chatted about a constant theme I hear speaking to law firm senior managers as I go about my business: that despite the beautifully-phrased rhetoric at the top, policy-end of the regulatory system, (showing a good understanding of how legal services business is changing and enthusing about opportunities for innovation), on the ground the processes are run by (not his words but mine; he was more discreet!) pettifogging, clipboard-holding, middle-management officials who seem to have no connection whatsoever with the sophisticated thinking at the top. I remember attending (and blogging and tweeting about) an excellent event at the Royal Festival Hall hosted by Russell-Cooke on legal market regulation and hearing Legal Services Board Chair David Edmonds wax lyrical about how privileged he feels sifting through the hundreds of ABS licence applications, privy to such a wonderful 'constant flow of ideas for doing legal business differently' - this on the very same day a client had been moaning to me about her experience of the SRA at the sharp end, describing a rather Kafkaesque world as she attempted to progress her firm's licence application.

"When it comes to solicitors disciplinary issues, the matter becomes very personal and very stressful" Andrew tells me. 'Hard won reputations established over many years can be crushed in weeks or days, never to be fully recovered - this reputational damage is entirely out of proportion with the conduct at issue. What I find really unfair is the fact that there is little sanction against the authorities for unreasonable or inappropriate prosecution. Unlike the SFO, it is very rare for costs orders to be made against the SRA if their prosecution fails, or if only an insignificant "success" survives the trial process, with all serious matters dismissed. So where's the disincentive? It just encourages an over-zealous approach and provides no imperative whatsoever for SRA managers to take proper care over those all-important decisions - decisions that impact other people's careers, even lives - whether or not to prosecute. This insistence cuts out all humanity from the process and is certainly a far cry from the policy makers' rhetoric.

"In my experience the profession is packed with people who want to get it right. We have a major challenge on our hands with the new approach of "Outcomes-Focused Regulation" and the word from the top is exactly what we all want to hear - that the authorities want to work with individuals and entities to help them get it right; and that regulation, supervision and any sanctions will be appropriate and proportionate. I have no doubt these policy makers do have a very sophisticated understanding of legal business and current context of change. The trouble is there are two major disfunctionalities at the SRA: first, the people at the top appear genuinely not to know what is happening to their policies in practice at the grass roots level once the over-zealous prosecutors get their hands on them; and second, these people at the grass roots simply don't understand the relatively sophisticated policies coming from the top."

A boardroom development coach who works regularly with FTSE100 boards, once described to me that the key to good leadership is all about the connectivity between top level management thinking and what happens on the ground. He likened it to a drive shaft, connecting the engine of a corporate vehicle to the wheels. If the drive shaft is disconnected you basically have a car crash waiting to happen. His words, not mine.

We all know Boris Johnson is mad as a hatter. And we all love this latest gem from his "Mayor of London presents.." series: our wonderful city as a catwalk for hats. Hatwalk is part of London's 2012 Festival and celebrates London's creativity and heritage by showcasing established and emerging hatmakers by recreating headwear for some of London's most famous statues. Yes, hats on statues! Brilliant and bonkers in equal measure! 

At the weekend I happened to be watching the film of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. At one point the characters gather round a meal table and discuss a word for each of the world's great cities. For London the word was "stuffy". Excuse me?? Don't they know how off-the-mark and out-of-date they are?? I will be writing to the author with photos of Hatwalk enclosed.

Everyone was a winner this week at our very own Kysen Olympics in Embankment Gardens. (Think Egg & Spoon race is more than a 100-metre sprint!) Thanks Elliott for organising. 

It was a really good fun afternoon with a mix of (mostly) comedy physical exertion and sedentary Olympic quiz. We were all shocked I have to say when we realised how few of the Paralympics questions we knew the answer to, compared to the rest. What was that point made by Olympic cycling silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead talking about sex and disability discrimination in sport this week? About how comparatively little media coverage there is of female and paralympic sports? 

On a more positive note, enjoy these pictures of the Kysen team getting egg on our metaphorical faces.