September 13, 2011

Is lack of attention costing you business?



I've heard (and made) this complaint a lot lately: People don't listen. People don't read. People don't pay attention to detail. Laura Bergells wrote a post about non-responsive answers yesterday, and my husband is constantly lamenting the food manufacturers showing up at his workplace who can't follow the simplest of instructions for becoming a vendor.

Here's an example from Laura:

"What's a non-responsive answer? It's when you ask a direct question, but receive an answer to a question you didn't ask.

Q: 'Do you sell Brand X?'
A: 'We recently changed suppliers.'

Q: 'How's Thursday at 3pm for our meeting?'
A: 'I'm in the office all day on Thursday.'

Q: 'What do you say we go to X Restaurant for lunch at noon today?'
A: 'I went there for lunch last month.'

While conversations can be valuable relationship builders, these types of answers lead to annoying and pointless conversations. They're relationship destroyers, not relationship builders."

Here's an example from my husband about a vendor hopeful:

"How's this for a presentation? [Vendor prospect] emailed the general webmaster about a month ago to ask what the procedure was to carry new products. I asked her to send a wholesale product/price list and some information on the company.

This is what she sent [a month later]. The company information is clearly scanned in. Below that she says, 'Here is the product list we talked about earlier this week.'

Then, 'Please feel free to contact me with any questions. We can schedule to have me bring samples by sometime next week.'

They only list the suggested retail, no wholesale prices, and their tagline at the bottom has a misspelled word in it. They could benefit from a broker." (Here's another of his recent stories.)

[Update: When he finally received the wholesale price list, the wholesale prices were higher than the retail prices sent earlier.]

Here's an example from my inbox: I ask a client who wants to meet for coaching to send me their availability. We have three conversations back and forth before I get this information, even after sending them my availability to trigger a response. Meanwhile, a week goes by and their speaking engagement is a week closer.

People of the world, I know you're busy. In fact, you pound it into my head every time I say "How are you?" Your response: "Oh, I'm so busy, it's ridiculous." (See this post about "busyness" being carried around like a badge of honor.)

But busyness is never an excuse for poor communication.

Communication isn't just telling or talking or presenting or giving information. Communication also involves listening, interpreting, and written expression, among other things. It's hearing what the other person says and making sure you understand by asking clarifying questions. It's checking for typos in your proposals and invoices. It's using appropriate visuals and graphics to emphasize and enhance your message. You are responsible for all of these aspects of communication when working with others in the business world. At least if you want to move forward, make progress and be successful.

I love this response to the question of the month in Real Simple magazine: "What is one lesson you learned in school that you'll never forget?"

"One morning during fourth grade, my teacher handed out a list of questions and told us to read through them before answering. I went to work without reading the whole list. Minutes later, when I was only halfway done, she asked us to put our pencils down. It turned out the last 'question' actually read, 'Do not answer any of these questions.' Ever since, I've always read the instructions before beginning a project. It has helped me avoid countless missteps." ~ Jeannette Gosnell

We've all been the in position of getting halfway through a recipe or putting together a piece of furniture only to find we are missing an ingredient or tool that we need to complete the project. The consequences may not be major, but are definitely frustrating. And we'll never get back the time we wasted because of our inattention to detail.

If you're a speaker trying to spread the word about your cause, your service, or your product, only half-reading e-mails or half-listening to instructions is going to cause you problems. Maybe you'll show up late, wearing the wrong clothes, with the wrong presentation for the wrong audience!

Or maybe the consequences won't immediately be quite that dramatic. But after a while, your contacts are not going to want to work with you any more. When it takes five e-mails to accomplish what one could do, or five phone conversations to get what they want from you, you have become difficult. Organizers will stop calling. They will stop inviting you to speak. When you can't communicate effectively with potential clients, they will stop working with you -- or not work with you in the first place.

Take the time to read the e-mail, two or three times if necessary. Take notes when you're on the phone with that potential client. Make sure you're really hearing and understanding what's being asked of you. Then respond to the questions clearly, concisely and with no ambiguity.

It's not that hard, and you're not that busy. And believe me -- you will stand out from the rest of the sloppy communicators trying to get the same gig as you.

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