What Makes A Great Leader?

It seems like everywhere you look, someone is claiming to know the “secret recipe” for a great leader. These articles always capture our attention because we all want to be better leaders, but which leadership traits are actually backed by data?

Russell Reynolds Associates and Hogan Assessment Systems recently studied more than 200 CEOs and published data revealing three successful leadership indicators. So what are they? Let’s dive in!

They’re Filled With Purpose, Passion & Urgency.

Great leaders have a real sense of purpose and know where they’re headed. They’re passionate about achieving that purpose, and excitedly take steps to move them closer to their goals. This passion and purpose also instills a sense of urgency and drives them to constantly work to move the company forward. These aren’t the leaders who are likely to deliberate or take a long time making a decision, but they’re not impulsive either. Instead, they embrace change and move forward, taking calculated risks.Definition-Of-The-Word-Passion

They’re Good At Identifying What’s Important.

Leaders are always bombarded with information from everyone in the company. But great leaders can sort through that information swiftly and identify the important things that are likely to affect the business and the business’s decisions. With their great sense of purpose, passion, and urgency, great leaders quickly separate the important from the unimportant and use that information to make decisions they can be proud of and that can propel their companies forward.

They’re Humble Life-Learners Who Work Well With Others.

Many of us hold the notion that great leaders are prideful people who think they know everything and are difficult to work with. But according to this data, truly great leaders are the complete opposite of this iconic leader. Great leaders are never finished learning, and they’re always seeking opportunities to add to and expand their knowledge. These leaders are likely found listening to podcasts and reading in their spare time, and chances are, they’re hiring people they deem smarter than themselves. Why? They know that surrounding themselves with smart people isn’t a threat to their own intelligence — it presents an opportunity for them to learn from others and get smarter. These leaders may be great at making decisions on their own, but they know that two heads are better than one, which is why they’re also likely to seek input from advisors, employees, and colleagues. They want what’s best for the company, regardless of where the best ideas come from.

So, how did you fare? Do you have these traits and qualities? The good news is, great leaders are made, not born, so if you lack any of these qualities, your fate isn’t written in stone. You can always work on cultivating these qualities, traits, and ways of thinking in yourself.

Are You Telling An Effective & Memorable Story?

Think back to the last time you gave your “elevator pitch” and told someone what it is that you do and what your business is all about. If you’re like most people, you froze for a moment like a deer in headlights and then tripped all over your words trying to find just the right ones. Is that because most of us don’t know what it is we do? No, of course not. We just don’t know how to communicate it effectively — we end up pulling facts out of the air and rolling them into a ball every time the question comes up.Open-Storybook

Why not take the time to create a memorable story that you can tell, and that those you tell can tell to others? It doesn’t have to be a long story, in fact, the shorter, the better, but it does need to have all of the main components of a story, and since most of us haven’t given that much thought since high school, here’s a refresher course.

Every good story has:

A Hero. Obviously, right? But what most businesses get wrong is that they think they’re the hero. The hero is the customer, the main character of your business’s story, not you! Think about how your story changes when you consider the customer the hero. Would you use others-centric language when telling your story? Would you think about your customer differently? Would you think about yourself differently?

A Problem. Every hero has a problem, be it internal or external, but the secret to remember here is that connected to every external problem is an internal problem. Sure, your hero may have dirty air ducts (external problem), but the reason they need them cleaned is that they’re concerned about their children’s health and want to be good parents (internal problem). Think about the problems your hero has and the real reasons they need and seek out your help. Consider the underlying internal problems and the emotions associated with them so you can better craft your story and make it resonate with those you’re telling it to.

A Guide. That’s you! You’re the Yoda who’s been in your hero’s shoes (to some extent) and knows what needs to be done to resolve the problem. To be an effective and trustworthy guide, you have to have two things: authority and empathy. If you have one, but not the other, your hero isn’t going to take your advice or follow your lead.

A Plan. The plan is what you offer the hero to help them with their problem. In it, you need to address the negative emotions the hero is dealing with, reassure him that you get it and that the plan can work, show him what’s at stake if he doesn’t take action, and show him what success looks like if he does follow the plan. This is where the story shifts — you’ve guided him through the plan and let him know what action he needs to take. You’ve done your part and now it’s all in the hero’s hands.

So, now that we’ve covered the basics of storytelling as they relate to business, how can we translate the framework into an elevator pitch? Let’s use Spark Marketer as an example. Let’s say a stranger comes up to me on an elevator and asks, “What does your company do?” I might say:

Blue collar business owners (hero) strengthen our communities and provide important services to all of us. They’re good at what they do, they just sometimes need a little help online, which is where a lot of customers are looking for them (problem). Spark Marketer (guide) builds optimized websites and does ongoing marketing and has helped hundreds of blue collar service businesses increase their web presence so they can be found by those who are looking for them, where they’re looking for them (plan). We really only exist to help blue collar service businesses reach more customers and achieve the level of success they dream of for themselves.Typewriter-Typing-The-Words-What's-Your-Story?

In this elevator pitch, we’ve described our hero, their problem, and our plan, and we’ve shown that our plan has and can work. We’ve established both authority and empathy as the guide, and shown what success looks like if the plan is followed (more customers). Now, we could probably do a little finessing to make it a bit more memorable, but we’ve got all the basic elements of a story here, so we’re off to a good start.

Have you ever taken the time to translate who you are and what you do into a compact elevator pitch using the basic components of a good story? Challenge yourself! It’s really not that easy, but it’s well worth doing and it will give you the clarity you need to tell your story quickly and effectively, and those listening the clarity to repeat it. So take a few minutes this weekend to try this exercise!

Do You Think Of Your Customers As Transactions Or Relationships?

There are two ways of thinking about customers: as transactions and as relationships. Have you ever stopped to consider which your customers are? If you don’t know which category you put your customers into, all you have to do is ask your customers, because the way you treat them is a direct reflection of which stance you take. They can tell whether you think of them as relationships or transactions by how you serve them.

So what’s the difference?

Transactions Don’t Create Connection & Lasting Impressions

When you think of your customers as mere transactions, you do your job, take what’s owed you, and leave. In your mind, you’ve done what was required or asked of you, and that’s the extent of things. There’s no need to go above and beyond. No need to follow-up. No need to make sure the customer is 100% satisfied. The end of the transaction is the end of the relationship.

So, what’s the harm in this thinking?

Well, for one, you’re not likely to provide the high level of service you’re capable of providing, because when it’s just a transaction, not a relationship, you simply won’t care as much as you could. You might provide adequate service, but you’re not going to go out of your way to provide memorable service. You’re not going to look for additional ways to serve your customers or make their lives better. You’re just going to do the job and then leave.  Two-Hands-Exchanging-Money

Engaging in transactional thinking is not how you build a loyal customer base. More and more, we see Google infiltrating organic results with Paid Ads, Yelp hiding positive reviews (supposedly because of an algorithm, not because you don’t pay for their service), and HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, and other companies trying to get a piece of the service pie by taking a cut of what you do in exchange for putting your name out there.

You don’t want to have to rely on search engines and paid services to keep business coming in. You don’t want the customers you have served to go right back to the search box the next time they need the services you provide. It costs 7 to 10x more to attract new customers than it does to retain customers, which means, you want those customers to keep coming back to you.

But when you think of your customers as transactions, they feel it, and they think of you and the service you provide as transactions as well, which means you’re just one ship in a sea of competitors. You’ve given them no reason to remain loyal to you, and they’re just as likely to use you as they are a competitor the next time they need service. At the end of the day, you’re left with a slew of transactions, not a slew of customers.

With this kind of thinking, you’re cheating yourself and your customers, and throwing money at a problem instead of fixing it. You’re missing an opportunity to realize the lasting impact you can have on your community. And you’re missing an opportunity to really become a part of your customers’ lives and find true meaning in your work.

Relationships Create Value

When you think of your customers as relationships, it changes everything. You’re suddenly considering them as people and looking for ways to provide exemplary service that goes above and beyond meeting their needs. You’re connecting with them, following up with them, asking them how their customer experience was, and letting them know you truly care about the way they feel at the end of the service.

You’re letting them know that you appreciate the opportunity to serve them, and that your relationship with them is a valuable one that you’re willing to invest in. And when a customer feels like a valued relationship, as opposed to a meaningless transaction, they’re not as likely to go out and start fresh with someone new the next time they need your services. They’ve already got a guy for that. They’ve already found a company that’s 100% capable of meeting their needs and caring for them. They’ve already connected with you and it’s not worth it for them to go back out and possibly be burned by a competitor.

So take some time to think about which category you put your customers in. If you’ve been thinking of your customers as transactions to complete as opposed to relationships to build and nurture, it’s time to make a cognitive shift.

4 Things You Should Be Doing Offline To Build Business Online

You might think that because we’re a digital marketing company, we’re only advocates for online marketing tactics and efforts. Not so! One of the best things you can do for your business is actively put forth effort both online and offline. Many times, offline efforts end up showing up online, and since the two really go hand in hand, it’s time to start thinking of them as two pieces of the same puzzle. Alright, let’s get right to it….Here are four things you should be doing offline to build business online:

Sponsor local events, activities, and sports teams.

Sponsoring events, activities, and sports teams is a great way to build brand awareness, earn a reputation, establish trust and authority, and stand out in your community. People want to do business with local companies who are invested and established, and community sponsorship is a great way to communicate that you’re that type of company. 

Whether it’s a little league team, an annual town parade or festival, or a charity event, sponsorship is a great way to get involved in the communities you serve and let potential customers know who you are and what you’re about.Little-League-Baseball-Team-In-A-Huddle

An added perk is that, oftentimes, these sponsorships will earn you links or citations online. Think about it: it seems there’s a website or a landing page for just about every event out there. When you’re a part of an event, there’s a good chance your company will be mentioned or linked to on the event’s website or landing page. In other words, your offline efforts could end up not just building authority and boosting your rankings with potential customers in your community, but also building authority and boosting your rankings with Google.  

Invest in B2B relationships.

Don’t embrace the scarcity mentality that’s so prevalent in business and think you have to cut yourself off from everyone and hoard customers for yourself. Instead, get involved, network, and invest in building relationships with other businesses in your community and industry. When you build authority and trust with other businesses in your community, they’ll be proud to pass your name along to their customers, because they’ll know you’ll provide excellent service and an excellent customer experience.

Connecting with others and developing referral relationships can lead to more (and more satisfied) customers; a stronger, closer-knit community; and maybe even links to your website from your referral partners’ websites. Let me give you a quick example of a referral relationship here in my community.

I recently locked myself out of my house and since I hadn’t lived here long, I’d yet to make additional keys or hide a key. The only way I was going to get in was to call a locksmith. Being new to the area, I went to Google, and after several calls, I finally got through to someone. The locksmith I reached wasn’t going to be able to get out my way anytime soon, as it was a Friday at rush hour, so he gave me the name and number of a locksmith closer to me. I called the locksmith he referred, he got me in, and I paid him for his time.

Now, I’ve taken all the necessary precautions to avoid ever needing a locksmith in the future, but if I ever do need one, I’ll probably try the first guy again, because he proved to me that he cared more about me and my needs than about closing the sale. He was willing to give up business because it benefitted me. That’s the kind of company I want to work with, and he showed me that through a referral.

Get involved in your local BNI or Chamber of Commerce.

One of the best ways to build those referral relationships is to get involved with your local BNI chapter or Chamber of Commerce. These local groups allow you to learn more about what’s going on in your community and what other local businesses are in your area, and provide a place for you to mingle and mix with those you may not otherwise spend any time with. If you really want to see the referrals start coming in and learn from other businesses in your community, these are groups you have to get involved with.Businessmen-Sitting-At-A-Table-Together

Many local groups such as these also mention the businesses associated with them on their websites and provide links. Links and citations = higher rankings. Plus, being a part of local organizations shows your potential customers that you’re invested in your community, which makes them more likely to trust in and invest in you.

Ask for reviews.

And finally, ask for reviews! At the end of a service, let your customers know how much you value their feedback and how much you rely on referrals and online reviews for business. Whether you want to believe it or not, your satisfied customers aren’t likely to leave you a review if you don’t ask — so ask! The more positive reviews you have online, the more potential customers will trust you and the higher Google is likely to rank you.

So go get started!

Are You Thinking Of Competition All Wrong?

A healthy level of competition can be good for us. It can even be a business boost and make us better. But the opposite is true of obsessive “winner takes all” or enemy-based competition. This type of competition can actually distract us from our own business and our own customers, make us feel like there can only be one winner (all else are losers), and incite fear-based and scarcity thinking.

Hands-Reaching-For-TrophyIt’s this very notion that there’s not enough to go around and that our competitors are our enemies that can change our experience of running a business from an adventure where every challenge makes us better and improves our industry into a cutthroat exercise in greed.

How much time do you spend thinking about your competition? Do you view your competitors as enemies that you have to crush? Do you think the only way to get what you want is to take it from others? Do you believe you’re either THE winner or just another loser in business? Do you let market share determine how “successful” you are? Let’s take a minute to look at how and why this type of thinking can actually hinder your success.

Thinking in terms of crushing your competitors or getting more market share leads to decisions that have short-term value, as opposed to long-term value. If everything comes down to market share, you’ll be chasing goals that don’t actually improve your business or your industry. And although you may initially get fired up and focused with this type of mindset, you’ll eventually get burnt out and lose sight of what you really set out to do. Motivation that stems from a desire to make your business into the best business it can be is a lot stronger and longer-lasting than competitor-based or market share motivation, and it’s what’s going to take you through the tough times.

In the race with your competition, you’ll be inclined to believe that being first is all that matters. Well, it’s not! Sometimes, it’s actually beneficial to let someone else be the first to do something. You get to learn from their mistakes and work on improving a model, rather than reinventing the wheel. Think about it: Apple wasn’t the first company to build a computer. Virgin wasn’t the first company to launch a commercial airliner. Yet, these companies took something that had already been done and found a way to do it better. If they had been focused solely on crushing those in their market or gaining market share, they would have bought out all of their competitors and missed a great opportunity to improve their industries and experience true success.

If your focus is 100% on your competitors and defeating them, you’ll likely turn a blind eye to the things that could truly make or break your business, like internal communication. According to data collected from a 5-year study by Bain, 94% of business challenges are internal. Figuring out solutions to many of these challenges is vital to maintaining and sustaining a business – much more vital than crushing competitors. But how will you solve these problems if you’re so focused on “winning” and beating out your competitors that you never even identify them? You can’t.

People-Eating-At-Dinner-TableSo take some time to look at your business and your motivation. Ask yourself whether or not it’s time to change the way you view your competition. Ask yourself how you can improve your business and the way you serve your customers, simply by shifting your focus. Make 2017 the year that you focus on your business and how you can improve, instead of focusing on your competitors. And remember, there’s room for all of us at the table, so move over and stay focused on what’s on your plate!