If you are in the business of selling, who are you selling to? Do you know the characteristics of your customers? To target your marketing well, you need an archetype, which marketers call the ‘Buyer Persona’ or sometimes the customer or marketing persona. And sometimes they use ‘Avatar’.
Each of these terms means the same thing. If you do the work, up front, of characterising the people you want to sell to, you can better target your marketing.
How can your organisation build the reputation it chooses? Certainly through its deeds and through paid advertising. But one way trumps all others: good PR.
PR, or Public Relations is exactly what its name suggests. It’s about building relationships with your public. And it works whether you are a business, a not-for-profit, a political or governmental body, a product or service, or a celebrity; minor or major. Good PR gets the right part of the public interested in you and pre-disposes them to think in the way you choose.
So is it manipulative? Is it just an appealing term for what we now call spin and used to call propaganda? It can be. But in this article, we are going to stick to PR done with integrity. So the answer to those questions is: ‘it depends’. And what it depends on is the integrity of how your PR is carried out. And therefore on the integrity of the people who do it for you: your PRs.
We know what the oldest profession is… And the second oldest. But up with them, dating back to the earliest times in human history is the business of retail.
When Ug sold an arrowhead to Og, he became a retailer. And when Ig bought goods from Ug to sell, rather than make them himself, he moved sales from the factory gate to the retail market.
We may not all work in retail, but I’m prepared to bet that every reader of this article has experienced it as a customer. It is so pervasive, that one has to wonder: do we really need an article about it?
Marketing is about making potential customers aware of your products or services. And the Marketing Mix is how you balance your investments across different ways to achieve this.
As recently as 100 years ago, marketing was hardly practised and didn’t have a name. Yet now, with so much choice of things to buy, businesses need to get our attention and grab our interest. They need to find ways to create a market for goods that our great grand-parents couldn’t have conceived of, let alone needed. So what are the different strategies they can use to do this? That’s the Marketing Mix.
Permission Marketing is still a teenager. Born in 1999, it is not just vibrantly fit and energetic. It already seems mature and part of the community. This is so much so, that we see it everyday, and think nothing of the revolutionary change it has created.
Of course, it’s the term ‘Permission Marketing’ that’s a teenager. It was coined in 1999 by entrepreneur and marketer, Seth Godin. The idea, like so many, had been around for a long time.
It was just waiting for someone to give it a name, describe it, and see it as a powerful trend for the future. This is what Godin did in his breakthrough book, titled… yup: ‘Permission Marketing’ (US|UK).
Do you have a small number of customers or clients who account for a large part of your business? Are these so important that losing any one of them could have serious consequences? If so, are you treating them in a way that respects their importance? You need to consider Key Account Management.
Key Account Management (KAM) isn’t the solution to everything. But it is a useful tool for building and protecting long-term commercial relationships.
John Grinder and Richard Bandler are credited as the co-founders of NLP. This is a basket of behavioural, therapeutic, and influencing techniques that comes in and out of fashion in the organisational world.
However, in the self-help world, its ups and downs are less pronounced – it has continually received accolades and steadily grown its influence.
So here then is the central dilemma of NLP for managers and professionals: how important is it? And therefore, how seriously do we need to take Bandler, Grinder, and their ideas of NLP?
John Grinder was born in 1940, and studied psychology at the University of San Francisco. After graduating with a BA, he joined the US Army as a Captain in a special forces unit. He then joined a US intelligence agency, before studying for a PhD in linguistics at The University of California, San Diego.
Grinder completed his PhD in 1971, and after a short time in George Miller’s lab at Rockefeller University, he joined UC Santa Cruz as an Assistant Professor in Linguistics. His research interest was the then very new and fashionable transformational grammar pioneered by Noam Chomsky.
In 1972, a psychology student called Richard Bandler came knocking, looking for help with a research project in which he was transcribing hours of Gestalt Therapy sessions. Bandler wanted help in analysing Fritz Perls’ language.
This was the start of a collaboration that led to the founding of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The story of their collaboration, and of the other people involved – it was far from a two-person endeavour – is well documented elsewhere. So too is the acrimonious breakdown of their working relationship, and the court actions over ownership of the NLP name and ‘brand’.
The upshot of this, by the way, is the court’s decision that NLP is a generic term and no one can own it. This meant that, after the split, Grinder could continue to develop his own new ideas, which he came to call ‘New Code’ NLP in contrast to the earlier work he did with Bandler, which he refers to as ‘Old Code’.
Grinder has authored many books with Bandler and others, and continues to teach NLP, through his own business (Quantum Leap) with his wife, and for other NLP schools.
Richard Bandler was born in 1950. His first few years were spent in New Jersey, before moving to California. He studied Philosophy and Psychology at US Santa Cruz, where he graduated in 1973.
There, Bandler met John Grinder and other early collaborators in developing what became NLP.
Bandler and Grinder became close colleagues studying and teaching the communication patterns of a number of therapists, like Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erikson. They gathered a number of other interested researchers and teachers around them.
Inevitably, as what they were teaching became more popular – and therefore more commercial – tensions arose. Like Grinder, Bandler formed his own business and continued to teach and develop new ideas. He too still teaches NLP, along with hypnotherapy, around the world.
Bandler and Grinder were co-authors of a number of the seminal books in the emerging subject of NLP. None are aimed at ‘lay’ readers. They are written for aspiring and experienced practitioners and, even having studied NLP and received Practitioner and Master Practitioner certificates, I find them barely readable.
There are many more modern books aimed at introducing NLP to interested readers. Browse your favourite book site and take your pick.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming: NLP
So, what is NLP? It stands for Neuro-linguistic Programming (yeah, I know), and it is fundamentally an assorted bag of methods and models designed to help understand communication and behaviours and elicit behavioural change.
At the root – and this is something Grinder constantly emphasises – is the idea of modelling. Whatever you want to be able to do, find an example of someone who does it to a level of excellence. Document everything they do, say, and think when they are doing it. Then try out being exactly like they are. Start to strip away elements, to find out what parts make no difference and which parts, when lost, become significant.
You’ll end up with a core of beliefs, behaviours, and communication patterns that materially affect your outcomes. Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erikson were the first people extensively studied in that way.
From them, Bandler and Grinder extracted two of the biggest and most influential models within the NLP corpus: The Meta Model (from Satir and Perls) and The Milton Model (from Erikson).
The Meta Model
The Meta Model documents language patterns that allow the therapist, coach, salesperson (choose your role) to spot patterns of thinking in the other person. A long list of linguistic patters betray distorted perceptions, generalisations, and subconscious deletions of possibly relevant information. By challenging these, coaches and therapists can open up new possibilities to the person they are helping, and salespeople can breakdown objections to buying.
Bandler and Grinder’s primary books that originally documented this were The Structure of Magic, volumes 1 and 2.
The Milton Model
Milton Erikson was a masterful user of hypnosis in his therapy. Indeed, his style is sometimes called Eriksonian Hypnosis. Once again, Bandler and Grinder documented his language patterns. They found a similarity to the meta model, but that Erikson was being deliberately vague, to elicit gaps in thinking, through which he could insert therapeutic suggestions. The Milton model can help move a listener into a more receptive state. Again, this is useful to therapists, coaches and salespeople.
Bandler and Grinder’s primary books that originally documented this were Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. volumes 1 and 2.
Evaluation of NLP
NLP is like Marmite: it evokes love and hate reactions in broadly equal measure. And its popularity goes through peaks and troughs – big ones for business, smaller troughs for the self-help industry. It is currently a multi-million dollar industry world-wide.
Three factors are perhaps responsible for the extreme views:
NLP is presented with a lot of complex and intimidating jargon. Indeed, the name Neuro Linguistic Programming suggests a level of mind-control which can intimidate or seduce. Some wonder if the jargon is merely designed to create a quasi-academic glamour the discipline does not deserve.
Some practitioners make extravagant claims for what NLP can achieve. Everything from magical sales efficacy to curing phobias, to curing serious mental and physical illnesses.
There is a limited research base. A lot of the evidence for the efficacy of NLP techniques is anecdotal, and many serous academic therapists have offered detailed critiques.
On the other hand, there are also three good reasons to learn more about NLP:
Many people find that much of it really does work. The ideas are taken from observations of effective behaviour. You can apply the modelling process to find out how to replicate the results of your best performers
NLP is respectful of our potential. It encourages personal responsibility and asserts that we can all access the resources we need to make the changes we want
The criticism that much of NLP is ‘just common sense’ can also be seen as a strength. By codifying common sense, we make it more accessible.
You can find much in NLP that is of value to you; and much that is not. If you are prepared to be selective and evaluate each tool on its merits, NLP is a powerful resource.
Here’s a video I did for another business that will echo much of what’s here.
While to the general public, The Art of the Deal may be the best known book on negotiation, to anyone who needs negotiation to be a sustainable part of your professional toolkit, the first and best book to start with has to be ‘Getting to Yes‘ by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Indeed, for any manager or professional, this has to be one of the dozen most important books you can read.
Negotiation is conflict conducted in a civilised manner. And what Fisher and Ury tell us is that you are always going to be more successful if you carry it out with strong moral principles. They set out four powerful principles. But it is, perhaps, their solution to one of the biggest problems that negotiators face, which is their biggest contribution to doing a good deal.
Roger Fisher was born in 1922, and graduated from Harvard College in 1943, just before the United States entered the War. Fisher flew meteorological reconnaissance planes and returned to civilian life to complete a law degree at Harvard.
He then spent some time in Paris working on the European post-war recovery Marshall Plan, before returning to the States to join a Washington law firm. There he had the chance to present cases to the Supreme Court.
In 1958, he returned to Harvard Law School as a member of faculty, being appointed professor in 1960. There, Fisher became increasingly interested in how people resolve disputes, having lost too many friends during the War. So, in 1979, he and Ury co-founded the Harvard Negotiation Project.
Fisher spent a lot of time working on some of the biggest negotiations in global politics, including the Camp David summit between Israel and Egypt, and in South Africa, as Apartheid was finally ending. When not travelling, mediating and advising, he continued to teach, both at Harvard and many other prestigious institutions, as well as writing articles and books. In 1984, he founded the Conflict Management Group, which later merged with the Mercy Corps.
In 1992, Fisher formally retired as Professor and became an emeritus professor, continuing to teach and write into his 80s. Roger Fisher died in 2012.
William Ury was born in 1953. He studied Social Anthropology at Yale and went on to research his PhD at Harvard. In 1997, Fisher happened to read Ury’s research paper on the Middle East peace negotiations, and was impressed. He sent a copy to the US Assistant Secretary of State leading the negotiations, and invited Ury to work with him. They were to have a long and fruitful working relationship.
Working together in the Harvard Negotiation Project that they co-founded allowed the two to help each other develop their thinking and the 1981 book, ‘Getting to Yes‘ encapsulated their thinking at the time. It rapidly became a best-seller and remains so today. Both have written numerous additional books since.
Ury set up the Nuclear Negotiation Project in 1982 and also worked as a mediator and negotiation advisor alongside his teaching. In 2007, he also founded Abraham’s Path, to start on the journey of lasting Middle East peace. You can hear him speak about it at TEDx below.
In ‘Getting to Yes‘, Fisher and Ury set out two overarching beliefs for Principled Negotiating:
Participants are problem solvers
The goal is a wise outcome reached efficiently and amicably
They also set out four essential principles that make negotiations as effective as possible; especially when both parties adhere to them:
Separate the people from the problem
Focus on interests, not positions
Invent options for mutual gain
Insist on using objective criteria
Perhaps the best known concept from the book is the idea of a BATNA – the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. If you aren’t able to reach agreement through the negotiation you are in now, what is the best alternative available to you?
That’s your BATNA.
If you cannot reach a deal in your negotiation that is better than your BATNA, then any deal you agree to represents an incremental loss. So you should, at that point, walk away.
Robert Miller is one of the people who revolutionised ideas around selling, with his Strategic Selling and Conceptual Selling ideas. But of far more relevance to most managers is his second big idea, which he worked on with Gary Miller.
If you want to sell your message, they found, you need to tailor the way you deliver it to the way others make decisions. And knowing how to do that is not useful only to salespeople.
Robert B Miller
Robert Miller got his BA and MA from Stanford University, focusing on education, and his whole career has focused on adult education and training. Following service in the US Navy during the war with Korea, Miller worked his way to become a Vice President at consulting and training company, Kepner-Tregoe. He remained there from 1965 to 1974.
While there, he developed his thinking about the sales process that was to lead to a series of books, and the formation of a new sales training business, which he co-founded with his Kepner-Tregoe colleague, Stephen Heiman. Miller Heiman Group became and remains one of the leading sales training organisations. The thinking that Miller and Heiman developed is massively influential in much sales training today.
However, Miller left the business in 1984, although he has had two extended periods of acting as a consultant and advisor to the business. As well as founding Value Sourcing Group in 1996, Miller also collaborated with Gary Williams to create a customer research consultancy, Miller-Williams Inc. There, they conducted the research we’ll be looking at.
Gary A Williams
Gary Williams studied biology at the University of Alabama, and started his career in the late 1980s, in the software industry. He held a number of positions in both small entrepreneurial and large firms, including Glaxo and IBM. In the mid-1990’s, he was a Vice President of The Sentry Group, a consulting firm that was acquired by The Meta Group.
In 1998, Gary co-founded Miller-Williams Inc. with Robert Miller. This was a research firm dedicated to measuring how consumer behaviour affects market movements. Williams developed the analytical research method (for which he holds a US Patent).
In 2004, Miller left the business and Williams morphed it into its present-day incarnation, wRatings, which ranks business performance according to how well they serve their customers.
Paths to Persuasion
Miller and Williams surveyed 1,684 executives for their study. This is a reasonable sample size, but we must note a potential for cultural bias: 97% of the respondents were from the United States.
From their results, they divided the executives into five decision-making styles:
Note that Miller and Williams defined styles of decision-making. These are not the same as personality traits and they did no work on relating the two.
Whether you are trying to sell, negotiate, or just persuade to your point of view, you need to adapt to the other person’s decision-making style. You need to identify what it is, and then tailor your approach to fit. This gives Miller and Williams’ five paths to persuasion.
Followers like to make decisions based on what has worked before; either for them, or for other trusted colleagues. They are risk-adverse, but are prepared to take responsibility for their decisions when they make them.
They tend to be cautious and therefore like established ‘safe’ brands, but are also bargain-conscious. They like to feel innovative, but in reality prefer safety, with a slight edge of novelty. They trust expertise, track record, and in depth case studies.
To persuade these decision-makers, refer to proven methods and real results. Use references, case studies and testimonials to support your case. They need to feel certain they are making the right decision, so do what you can to reassure them that their choice is the safe one.
Charismatics love a new idea or proposal but will base their final decision on the evidence. Hook them with novelty, but expect a wholly rational analysis of the risks and rewards to drive their decision-making. When they take their decision, they will be prepared to accept risk and responsibility if the potential rewards are right.
Charismatics are enthusiastic, talkative, and dominant. They are results-oriented and able to focus hard for long periods.
So persuade them with a calm discussion of risks and potential results. Use simple and straightforward language, rather than trying to blind them with science. They often like visual aids like diagrams, maps, and graphs.
Sceptics tend to be suspicious of evidence, particularly if it conflicts with their established point of view. They can be aggressive and combative, and like to take charge. They are prepared to take risks, but will often try to shed responsibility if things don’t work out.
Ultimately, sceptics don’t trust data, they trust people. So you need to establish as much credibility as possible. A good way to do this is by gaining an endorsement from someone the sceptic trusts.
Thinkers are hard to persuade. They need rigorous arguments that are supported by solid data. They dislike risk and take their time to make as certain a decision as possible. Once they trust their analysis, they will commit to it. But they are also willing to re-evaluate it, if new data emerges.
Thinkers, as their label suggests, are cerebral, intelligent, and logical. They read widely, and are comfortable with numbers, processes, and proofs.
To persuade them, start with lots of data; the more the better. Include market research, customer surveys, and rigorous cost-benefit analysis. Case studies can help. But they need to be in depth, with highly pertinent details and a significant statistical base. If not, the Thinker will brand it as merely anecdotal.
Controllers are mercifully rare. They hate uncertainty and try to cast things in black and white polarities. Therefore, they like pure facts. They are also insecure, hiding behind an unemotional exterior, until they need someone to blame. They don’t like risk and don’t want to take responsibility.
Controllers are fairly logical, unemotional and detail oriented, but they also value action. Not surprisingly, from their label, Controllers like to be in charge.
Persuade them with care. They don’t like to feel manipulated, and they hate ambiguity. So you must demonstrate credibility and structure your evidence carefully. Never advocate too strongly for your proposal. It’s better to give the Controller the information, let them convince themselves.
This simple model belies the complexity of real people.
It can be hard to diagnose a decision-maker’s style. Many would mis-assess themselves. In their book, Miller and Williams give clues to help spot the decision style.
Additionally, many people have more than one decision style. They either blend aspects of two or more, or switch style, depending on the context. Finding their dominant style is not easy.