Why you don’t have to feel stuck any more
“I am feeling stuck” said my friend, within a few minutes of our meeting. He is Vice-President, Sales and Marketing (Business-to-business), in a large manufacturing organisation.
“I am working on my presentation and I just can’t get any new ideas on how to make my presentation different. I know there are four of my colleagues who are working on this. We are all going to sound the same.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know; I am feeling stuck. What do I do? How do people get new ideas? What do they do when they are feeling stuck?I need help; that is why I am talking to you. “
“Willing to try something different? Something that can help you think differently, get out of the feeling of being stuck and get new ideas quickly?”
“I am willing to try anything. What do you suggest?”
“I want us to try something called TickleMeThink.”
“What is that?”
“It is an iPhone app to help people like you and me – think differently and get new ideas quickly. Especially when we feel stuck.”
“How can an app do that? No I don’t want to try it.”
“You stand to lose nothing. Your situation won’t become worse; on the other hand, who knows? It might actually work. Just spend 30 minutes on this. I will work with you. An eight year old girl tried it for overcoming her fear of swimming!”
“If it is just 30 minutes, I don’t mind. How does it work?”
“It works on the basis that there is more than on right answer. For instance a consultant found 12 ways to be known beyond his inner circle. What are you working on? What is your presentation about?”
“It is all about handling tough times. This year our marketing budgets are much lower than competition. Getting new business is tougher and more expensive. Many of our competitors are pitching for our customers’ business. We can’t afford to lose a single customer. It is like being inside a pressure cooker. I have to present new ideas on managing this.”
“So what is your presentation about? Holding on to customers? Build better relationships with them? What do you want ideas for?”
“I want ideas for getting more business from our current customers. That is my focus. Not just building relationships but getting more business from current customers. My boss says building relationships is a means to an end.”
“Let me show you TickleMeThink. Here is the first screen. How do you want to define your problem?”
“Getting more business from current customers.”
“Do you want to be more specific?”
“Like? Getting 50% more business from existing customers in the next 12 months”
“That is impossible. May be we can look at 20%”
“Up to you. When you aim at 50% you might end up at 30%. If you aim at 20% you might end up at 10%. In any case nobody needs to know your thinking process.”
“Ok, let us work on 50% then.”
“Look at this; the app wants you to give a title for this Project. What do you want to call it?”
“See the way the problem statement is written. How do I…”
“Shall we say ‘How do I get 50% more business from current customers in the next 12 months’?”
“Sounds good. I have saved this now. Take a look at this screen. Do you have any ideas for this?”
“Yes I do. Here are a few of my ideas. 1. Clear all pending orders without any delay. 2. Check if there are any customer complaints; deal with them immediately. 3. Clear financial issues like credit notes etc.”
“Great. Any more ideas?”
” 4. Make a list of what they buy from us, and what they have stopped buying from us. 5. Make a list what they buy from competition and understand why?”
“That is it for now.”
“Do you want to try crowd sourcing for ideas?”
“What does that mean?”
“You can post your problem on any of the social sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Or mail it to a few colleague or friends. They will give you their ideas for solving your problem”
“Mmmm. I am not sure how that will work for me. Let us not do that.”
“Are you ready to look for new ideas, then?”
“Itching to get new ideas and get rid off this ‘being stuck’ feeling’”
“What is that question mark on each?”
“If you tap that you will see a short tutorial on how to use each of these ‘tickles’ to get new ideas.”
“Yes, because they tickle your brain and prompt it to think in different ways. What do you want to choose?”
“Let us try Action Verbs first”
My friend plays around with the app. It keeps throwing random verbs at him. Finally he settles on the action verb LISTEN.
“What does LISTEN remind you of?”
“LISTEN triggered many ideas in my mind. I have always listened to smart people and got good ideas from them. So here are two ideas I would look at.”
5. Listen to my star sales people from the field. How do they consistently get more new business from current customers? What do they do differently? Check that out.
6. Ask experienced sales candidates appearing for interviews. What have they done to get more new business from current customers?
“Any more ideas from LISTEN?”
“No. Let us try JOLTS.”
The app throws up random options and my friend chooses the question “If failure will not be a blot on your reputation, what ideas would you try?”
He is intrigued by the question and spends a few minutes thinking about it. He then added the following ideas.
7. For one full month I will insist that all sales people focus only on current customers and do not go after new business. See how much new business can we get through this. Institute recognition awards for people meeting their target only through this. Find out what works and what does not work.
“I am keen to test the other tickles too. Let us try quotes.”
The quote he gets says “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and blind can see” by Mark Twain.
This sets him thinking. He associates kindness with customer service and adds the following idea.
8. Give a sales target to customer service people. Good customer service people truly care for customers. Often customers trust them. What if we use them to generate new new business leads from current customers and convert them? Or give the lead to the head sales?
“What now?” I ask him.
“Let us try the visuals” he says, with the enthusiasm of a kid trying new toys!
He gets an unusual picture of two Indian Musicians in a concert. The banner behind talks about a business creativity workshop.
My friend is trying to connect the dots. “May be this is is about learning from another field. Business has borrowed from nature, art of war, sports. Now it could be this.” He muses.
“Any new ideas?”
“Actually yes.” and adds the following idea.
9. Looks like a concert and not a business workshop. May be we can borrow ideas from musicians. How do they retain fans? How do they get fans to listen to them more often? I think they always deliver what fans want but deliver beyond expectations. Add some thing new every time. New songs, new ways to render old songs. Ideas for me: how do I make my current customers become my fans? What can we do through sales and service before, during and after sales?
The last of the triggers is Call a friend. He runs through the contact list on his phone and locates an Executive Coach who is considered a maverick. He has a conversation with him and adds the following idea.
10. How does the Executive Coach get more new business from his current clients? Keeps in touch regularly. Finds excuses to call. Sends interesting articles from HBR etc. Is part of common groups & forums in the Internet. He is always on top of the list in their radar screen
We have just finished spending 30 minutes and I ask him “How are you feeling now?”
“My mind is buzzing with many new ideas I can try. Amazing that we could get so many new ideas in such a short time.”
“Great. Are you still feeling stuck?”
“Certainly not. Thanks a lot. I will call you after my presentation. I think I have a crop pretty good ideas to work on.”
Shrubs: photo courtesy theothermonalisa, under creative commons license