How to provide effective and constructive feedback as a manager

A key part of workplace leadership and management is providing feedback to the employees within your team. For any company, progress is dependant on the performance and development of the staff. And, in order to enable high performance and consistent positive development, feedback is vital.

It should come as no surprise that there is both a right and wrong way of providing feedback to your employees. The consequences of delivering feedback poorly can have a devastating impact on your business or team; high staff turnover, low motivation, and negative atmospheres. In contrast, delivering feedback well can have the opposite effect: employee loyalty, motivated and determined staff, and a happy, productive atmosphere.

Below, we have outlined several tactics for ensuring that your feedback sessions are both constructive and effective for you and your employees.

Check your intention

Before you provide feedback to an employee, check your reasoning and motivation for doing so.

We can’t stress this point enough. Managers often confuse feedback sessions as an opportunity to scold employees for their performance and/or behaviours. This is wrong; the only purpose of providing feedback is to improve performance.

Simply unloading a list of bugbears and things that an employee is doing poorly will only lead to that individual turning off and looking for a new place to work. It’ll likely also foster a negative attitude towards work in general, effecting their productivity and relationships within the workplace. Remember that negativity spreads like a virus through a workforce, and one individual can soon turn into a department, then a whole division, and even the entire company.

Ask questions

A feedback session, whether it’s an annual appraisal, mentoring session, or general review, can often fall into the trap of one person dominating the conversation. That person is usually the one providing the feedback.

As managers, it’s important to remember that your employees will have thoughts and opinions that they’d like to address and discuss too. Try to avoid doing all the talking; ask questions to actively bring them into the conversation so that you can learn and understand what they’re thinking.

Asking questions will provide a much more engaging experience for the employee, and they’ll likely take much more away from the session.

Be specific

It’s very easy to tell someone that they’ve done a good (or poor) job. We’ve had this throughout our lives, and we’re very used to it. For example, think about how the grading system works in education: you complete a piece of work, and then you find out whether that work was an A, B, C, or D, and so on.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the most effective form of feedback. In the workplace, simply telling someone that they’ve done something well or done something poorly isn’t enough for them to learn and apply that feedback to their future work.

Great feedback is high on detail and it’s completely actionable. There’s not much an employee can take away from hearing, “Your recent project was great”, but in contrast, if an employee is told, “Your recent project was great, I especially liked the way you brought in your colleagues from separate departments and kept us informed on progress”, then they know that their management team likes cross-department integration and regular updates.

Create a plan together

The last result you want from a feedback session is for your employee to leave and not understand how it is that they can improve.

Asking questions and being specific with your feedback can help you avoid this, but another important aspect is to ensure that you work together to set out what the employee should do next. It doesn’t particularly matter how formal this is, it can be anything from a written plan to just a verbally agreed goal for the next quarter. The point is that the employee has something that they can focus on and work towards.

Whilst this is a great tactic for negative feedback sessions, it doesn’t necessarily have to be used solely for setting targets for poor-performing individuals. It can also be used to motivate and inspire the top performers too, for example:

“I’m extremely impressed by your work so far and I think you’re clearly on a positive trajectory that will take you as high as you want to go. Even so, to remain on that trajectory, I think there are some areas that we can help you to improve”.

Final thoughts

Delivering employee feedback is a key part of any management role. Given the associated benefits of delivering feedback effectively, and the negatives of doing so poorly, managers should take the time to learn more about this vital aspect of the manager-employee relationship. We hope the advice above helps, but if you’re looking for more information on providing genuinely useful feedback to your staff then this is an area that we cover as part of our management skills training course. The course goes into much further detail about the various tactics and strategies you can employ for appraisals and performance reviews, along with covering a wide range of other topics aimed at improving your management skillset.

The impact of GDPR on cold selling practices

As most business owners will already know, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will become active legislation in the European Union as of May 25th 2018.

If you’re a business owner in the EU that hasn’t heard of GDPR, or begun adapting for it, then we strongly recommend you read one of the many brilliant guides on the subject (just type ‘GDPR’ into Google – there are literally thousands). There could be serious consequences if your company is found to be in breach of the framework from May onwards.

It’s worth noting that GDPR, or some form of it, will certainly carry over into a post-Brexit Britain. It’s here to stay, and as such we should consider what that means for us marketers and sales professionals, especially those with active cold calling and emailing campaigns.

Cold calling is still acceptable, with a caveat

There are no regulations in the GDPR that will prohibit cold calling outside of the current restrictions of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which businesses and individuals can register on if they do not wish to receive cold marketing and sales calls. 

This is because the services and products offered by cold calling, when done properly and genuinely, are considered to be a legitimate and fair interest to individuals.

However, GDPR demands that customers have the option to opt out from future communication. On a website, this would be done with an unticked checkbox (meaning that a customer has to intentionally tick the box to opt in). On a phone call, this is done by asking the recipient if they would be open to receiving a call again.

For good cold callers, you are not likely to encounter an issue here thanks to having quickly built up a rapport during your engaging conversation. However, those that do not provide as good an experience for the recipient will struggle to gain the opt in – and this is where we could see prospects slip through the gaps. This makes it more important than ever to ensure all front-line cold calling staff are well trained.

Furthermore, GDPR requires companies to keep a log of consent, as they must be able to prove they have opt ins for all of the customer data they use for marketing and sales purposes. There are a number of ways to do this, including recording calls or keeping secure records of the details of each call.

Email marketers need to be careful

Cold calling, done right and with the relevant data recorded and protected, will see little effect from GDPR. Cold emailing, on the other hand, will feel much more of an impact.

As mentioned above, websites will not be able to automatically collect and store email addresses for marketing purposes without explicit consent from the individual. This means soft and passive opt-ins will be against EU law, bringing the end to those sneaky pre-ticked email subscription boxes when you’re buying something online. Similarly, purchased email lists are out.

All in all, it’s now going to an offence to send marketing communications to any email addresses collected in a way that does not satisfy GDPR, even if those email addresses were collected before the date GDPR comes into play (25th May 2018).

The impact for cold emailing is clear. Not only will companies need to obtain opt-ins and record this proof of consent in a secure database, they’ll also likely need to reach back out to their existing database of contacts and re-obtain consent. Companies will also need to provide a clear option to opt-out and respect the wishes of those that remove themselves.

This is likely to have a significant effect on email databases by reducing the total volume of contactable prospects for cold emailers. If you rely on email to source new leads or as a key sales channel, then the impact of GDPR must be given considerable thought and attention.

However, this doesn’t spell the end for cold emailing by any stretch. Consider that those who you obtain an opt-in from moving forwards have done so because they made an intentional decision. In other words, they want to hear more from you. Future email databases will be filled with contacts who are engaged and interested in your product, service, or brand.

This gives you a much better chance of converting prospects into leads or sales. Of course, this won’t just be a formality – with a smaller pool of contacts, you need to make each conversation count; clear and confident communication skills will be a must-have.

Furthermore, B2B companies should consider the need to re-obtain consent from existing email databases as an opportunity to reach out and touch base with businesses they may not have had much interaction with recently. A nice personalised email is much more likely to succeed in getting an opt-in than a generic template. Be warned though, offering incentives to get opt-in is not allowed.

Final thoughts

The GDPR will certainly change long-standing marketing and sales practices, but this is done with the interests of consumers in mind – to protect them from unwanted and often spam-filled communications. This is a strong, progressive move from the EU, as it will force the whole of the marketing and sales industry to review the way it obtains consent from users and improve the ways in which businesses interact and nurture their contacts.

It will make the conversations that do happen more important than ever – meaning that sales professionals will need the necessary skills to make the most of every touch point with a contact. This includes the ability to impress immediately, build rapport and trust, nurture leads, communicate effectively, and negotiate obstacles. If you’re looking to brush up on any of these skills, we offer a range of courses across the UK and internationally that are perfectly suited for sales and marketing professionals.

2018 is coming: Three sales trends for the new year

A new year is on the horizon.

As we bid adieu to 2017 and say bienvenue to 2018, now represents the perfect time to look forward and discuss the most likely sales trends for the forthcoming year. The world continues to change at an astounding pace each year thanks to the rate of technological and scientific development, and, as all sales professionals know, the sales industry is changing rapidly as a result.

It should come as no surprise that in order to remain on top, sales professionals will need to accept that the forces driving these seismic shifts in both society and business cannot be stopped. Instead, we must embrace what’s coming by predicting the impact of change and then adapting accordingly.

With that in mind, here are our three predicted sales trends of 2018.

The focus will shift to upskilling staff in communication

Okay, so this is more of a hope than an actual data-backed prediction. After all, an increase in CPD budgets and staff development is great for those who actually provide CPD and staff development! Even so, hear us out.

Your product or service, whatever it is, is simply a solution to a person’s problem. The issue that a lot of consumers and potential leads have with outbound sales techniques is that it feels like they’re being sold to. And, combined with the daily bombardment they receive in advertising and sales, this can leave a sour taste in the mouth.

As such, to be successful we need to move away from selling and instead move towards solving. How do we do this? By improving the way we communicate with our audience.

For example, the most powerful phrases a salesperson can use going forwards into 2018 are “how come” and “why”. These phrases are great at opening up a conversation and uncovering the hidden challenges and problems lying that motivate a consumer to seek a new solution. This applies just as much for SaaS start-ups as it does for traditional retail staff.

Front-line sales staff will be given more training

Leading on from our first prediction, we also believe that the sales staff on the front line – those tasked with prospecting – will be provided with additional training. It’s time to recognise that the first contact is an incredibly important touchpoint with a prospect (more on touchpoints below), and that businesses could be leaking potential sales by not ensuring that their front-line sales staff are as engaging and impressive as they possibly can be.

It’s not enough to provide front-liners with a script and some basic training, they need to be empowered to hold a conversation and deliver genuine value to a lead. And that can only come from the right level of training.

We’re pleased to see HubSpot deliver the same point – but it isn’t surprising, we have been working with inside sales teams around the world for many years to assist them in the development of their skillset.

Customer experience will become a core focus at board level

Data from Google Trends shows a gradual increase in interest in customer experience (CX) since 2011, but over the past two years interest has really skyrocketed. This comes as a result of the rise of digital technologies, which have permanently distorted the traditional business paradigms, giving way to a new, customer-centric philosophy instead.

Any director responsible for improving sales should be recognising that there are very few customer touchpoints which do not have an impact on sales in the digital age. Therefore, we expect to see much more of a focus on CX from the most senior levels of the company hierarchy over the next 12 months, rather than it being something the marketing team keep shouting about!

Final thoughts

As always, the next year promises to be both an exciting and challenging one given all the upcoming changes. There is more we could have mentioned – for example, we didn’t highlight either sales automation or the effect of GDPR on traditional sales practices, but we plan to give each the attention and level of discussion they deserve in future articles.

We are certain that sales teams will find ways to adapt and thrive to the new trends and challenges that 2018 will bring, and we are excited to help support this process by providing industry leading sales, communication, and negotiation training courses. If you’re looking to improve, or even refresh, your skillset, then contact us today to discuss your requirements.

Cultural factors in negotiation

In the Mad Men episode, ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Sword’, Bert Cooper asks, ‘Have we received a gift yet?’. The day before, the executives at the fictional advertising agency pitched their services to the Japanese car company, Honda. Bert, with prior knowledge of Japanese culture, knew that if they stood a chance of winning the business, they would have received a gift. As it turns out, the men had actually offended Honda, and were expected to retract their offer.

Although entirely fictional, this storyline was a great example of why knowledge of cultural differences are essential in business. This is particularly so in the negotiation process. After all, negotiations are difficult at the best of times, never mind when the parties involved come from different cultural backgrounds.

Cross-cultural negotiations can falter for a whole variety of reasons; an obvious example is language. English may well be the foremost lingua franca of the 21st Century, but not everyone can speak and understand the language to the same ability. As such, native English speakers should be careful using colloquialisms and idioms around non-native speakers.

Differences in the understanding of body language can play a part too. In East Asian cultures, it can be rude to make eye contact for too long. Similarly, where Italians tend to gesticulate with their entire body as they speak, Britons are quite rigid. These may only be slight nuances in behaviour, but they can make a large impact in understanding and ease-of-negotiation.

There are other reasons too, such as cultural differences in emotions, punctuality, and body language. All in all, the key for anyone involved in cross-cultural negotiations is to learn and understand these differences well-ahead of any meetings with the other party, and this applies for both sides.

To this end, there are common themes of negotiation strategy which will serve any business well despite where they are in the world and with whomever they are negotiating, including:

  • Research the opposing side – learn everything you can about the other team, including their motivations and goals
  • Use clear language – avoid ambiguity and chances for misinterpretation
  • Learn about the cultures of the opposing side – this doesn’t just mean the culture of the nation they come from, but also their business culture
  • Identify what’s important to them, and yield if you can – allowing the other side to “win” on the points that are important to them, but less important to you, is a great negotiation tactic, especially when confronted with cultures that place an emphasis on “winning” negotiations.
  • Find a way to compromise – like yielding, compromise is a fundamental negotiation strategy. In cultures that place an emphasis on a “win-win” solution in negotiations, compromise is the best way to keep the other party happy and achieve the desired outcome.

Regardless of whether you are negotiating across cultures or not, the above strategies for negotiation will serve you well. However, if you’re looking to learn more about negotiation strategy in general, then please check out our negotiation skills training course. Furthermore, in November we will be delivering two-day versions of this course in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Manama, and Riyadh, with help from our partners Verve Management. If you are based in these areas and wish to attend, then please take a look at their site for further information:

Verve Management

How to get past gatekeepers and reach a decision maker

Who are gatekeepers?

As a telemarketer or salesperson, when you call a new business prospect, the first person that answers your call is often a receptionist, personal assistant, or secretary. In the telemarketing industry, we refer to these people as gatekeepers.

Simply, they are front of house. It is often their role to answer and manage all inbound calls and ensure that they are rerouted to the relevant person within the business. Similarly, it is their job to ensure a company’s management staff are not inundated with sales calls.

Therefore, if you wish to pitch your product or service to a business, the greatest challenge is actually making it past the first hurdle – the gatekeeper – in order to reach a decision maker, the person with the seniority and authority to listen to your pitch and decide whether your product or service would benefit the business.

Reaching the decision maker is the first major milestone in the sales process, and it is vitally important to understand the best ways to achieve this. After all, a gatekeeper is unlikely to put you through to their manager without first asking about the purpose of your call, and as soon as they know that you’re here to pitch a product or service the alarm bells in their head will start ringing.

Unfortunately, this is just part and parcel of the telemarketers role – businesses are swamped by sales calls, it’s understandable that they would want to filter out as many as possible, so how can you convince a gatekeeper that they should pass you through to the decision maker on the other side?

We’ll discuss each of these in more detail, but in summary, here’s how to get past gatekeepers:

  • Be kind and polite
  • Don’t leave a message
  • Avoid pitching
  • Turn them into your ally

Be kind and polite

Remember, the gatekeeper is not the enemy. They are simply a person doing what they’re being paid to do, so treat them like you would anyone else.

People tend to react in the same state as with which they are confronted. If you behave negatively towards a gatekeeper in any way (rude, pushy, impolite, etc), then they are likely to react in an equally negative manner and you will be no closer to reaching the decision maker.
Knowing even a little about what makes humans tick can be the difference between a successful telemarketer and one that struggles to ever get through to a decision maker. For example, anyone who has read Dale Carnegie’s famous book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ will know that people love the sound of their own names. Make use of this when you speak to the gatekeeper, it will help to quickly build rapport and get them “on-side” (more on this below).

Don’t leave a message

How often have you tried to get through to a decision maker and been met with the response: “He’s not available right now, would you like to leave a message?”.

As tempting and easy as it is to leave a message and move on to the next prospect, the chances are that your message will either not be passed on (either intentionally or unintentionally, remember gatekeepers will be busy with other work and are likely to forget), or will be passed on but not with any great detail (“Mr Jones from ABC Ltd called”). Either way, there is no way the decision maker will return your call.

Instead of leaving a message, ask when they’re likely to be available, thank the gatekeeper for their help and time, and inform them that you’ll call back later or follow up with an email.

Avoid pitching

This is a simple one. Do not waste your time pitching to a gatekeeper. By all means, tell them the purpose of your call, where you’re calling from and why you would like to speak with John Smith in marketing, but be aware that reeling off your entire pitch is actually more likely to damage your chances of making it through to the gatekeeper.

A gatekeeper doesn’t have the authority to decide whether your product or service is worth the company’s time. The most likely response you’ll get from pitching to a gatekeeper is, “That doesn’t sound like something we would be interested in, but thanks for your time.” End of call, done, finito.

Worse still, they might put you on hold whilst they relay the basic outline of your pitch to their manager. The chances of a business wanting to work with you after hearing your pitch delivered by someone else are extremely low.

All in all, when a gatekeeper asks what your call is in regards to, or asks for more information, do not fall into the trap of giving them your best spiel. Give them the highlights, enough to suggest that this call is important and that they should put you through.

Turn them into your ally

Sometimes, it is our initial perception of gatekeepers that is the problem. We assume that they are going to block our path before we’ve even had a chance to speak to them. The truth is that we can often turn gatekeepers into our allies, and thus make them genuinely want to help us.

Engage with the person you’re speaking to by asking them about their day and showing genuine interest, listen to the little nags they have, ask them questions about their role (and the decision maker too – this can help qualify a lead). By striking up a relationship you can get the gatekeeper “on-side”, and they’ll be more willing to help you out.

Final thoughts

Getting past the gatekeeper is often the most difficult part of any sales call, but it’s fundamental if you wish to be successful. We hope the tips above will help, but if you or your staff are often struggling to get through to a decision maker, we offer flexible, bespoke telemarketing training courses to help develop and improve skillsets – as part of this course we teach two advanced strategies for getting past gatekeepers. Please get in touch for more information.

The importance of incorporating cold calling into your overall marketing and sales strategy

A well rounded and successful marketing and sales strategy makes full use of all relevant tactics in order for a business to reach their customers. This is known in the industry as multi-channel marketing, and it incorporates a range of channels that can be broadly grouped into two general approaches: inbound and outbound.

The core concept of an inbound channel is to get your content (which can be anything from a product, service, or even idea or blog post) in front of the right audience when they’re actively seeking that content, or at least, without directly interrupting them. With the rise of the internet, modern inbound tactics such as search engine optimisation and social media have made this indirect form of marketing a cost-effective and highly measurable solution for reaching masses of potentially interested customers.

On the other hand, outbound channels take your content and put it right in front of potential customers – demanding their instant attention. An example would be print, television and radio adverts. Whilst the effectiveness and importance of this particular example has waned since its 1960’s heyday (AMC’s Mad Men is a great portrayal of this period), modern outbound tactics provide the opportunity to focus in and directly targeted small niches of customers that are more likely to be extremely interested in your service or product.

Whilst both approaches have their respective pros and cons, they tend to dovetail nicely by picking up where the other lags behind. As such, the majority of successful companies will create marketing strategies that take the best of both.

In recent years, there has been much confusion about where one particular outbound channel fits into modern marketing – cold calling. The problem is that many still think that cold calling is the same as it was in the 1990’s – arguably a period which could be described as the wild west when it came to telemarketing – and many companies continue to perform cold calling the same as they did over 20 years ago.

This is wrong. Modern cold calling has evolved, and now represents a fantastic outbound channel that integrates perfectly with inbound marketing tactics. The aim now is not to keep pushing a product or service down the phone until the person on the other end says yes, it’s to arouse their interest enough to organise a follow up meeting or generate a lead.

And given the tools and resources available to marketers and sales staff now, this process should be much simpler. Whilst traditional cold calling was almost a scattergun approach of trying to speak to as many people as possible and hoping that someone would be interested, we can now research and segment the people we want to contact, and personalise our approach based on our findings. This is outbound marketing at its finest – targeting and speaking to people that we know will be interested. With the help of inbound marketing, we can even wait for potential customers to come to us first.

As such, modern cold callers may only need to speak to 10% of the people that traditional cold callers spoke to, but they’ll achieve the same or better results.

Furthermore, whilst cold calling or telemarketing may be one step in your overall sales cycle, it should be feeding into other steps. For example, common questions that cold callers are answering as part of their conversations should be fed back into marketing team as they’re likely to make great topics or areas of discussion for the business’ content marketing strategy (an inbound channel).

Alternatively, cold calling may not be used for sales or lead generation at all, but yet still have a considerable and vital impact on the growth of a business. A great example of this, which we have discussed previously, is that of Uber; who, in their early days, used cold calling techniques to recruit new drivers for their business. Without drivers, Uber had a great idea but no physical way of turning that idea into something more. With drivers recruited through cold calling, Uber has completely and irreversibly changed the global taxi industry.

The above points are just select examples of how and where cold calling fits into the modern marketing and sales strategy. There are numerous other uses, so marketers must think creatively about how cold calling can work best for their business, rather than immediately dismissing it for what cold calling was previously.

Picking up the phone: The trepidation for making a call

Smartphones have changed human lives forever. They’ve changed the way we take photos, videos, and capture our experiences with the world. They’ve changed how we share those experiences with friends; how we eat (Deliveroo, anyone?); how we travel; even how we pay for transactions.

But more than anything, smartphones have changed how we communicate with everyone and everything; with friends and family, colleagues, brands, businesses, and, more recently, with our other possessions.

Instant messaging applications like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger now connect billions of people each day, allowing for lightning quick, free communication across different timezones and countries. But has this increasing reliance on text-based communication (Whatsapp usage has grown by 500% to 1.2 billion active monthly users in four years) stifled our ability, or desire, to hold actual verbal conversations over the phone?

Studies would suggest that the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, with research in 2015 highlighting that 25% of people in the UK do not use their smartphone to make calls on a regular basis. This research is now two years old so the percentage has more than likely increased substantially since then, especially given that it stood at just 13% in 2013.

Millennials, the largest demographic for smartphone usage, are thought to be at the forefront of this phonecall-phobia. It makes sense, millennials have grown up with written communication as standard in both the workplace and their personal lives – and they’re good at it. This has had an impact on business practices too; it’s no surprise that strategies for social selling, the process of developing a relationship with a potential customer, now often include the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as key cornerstones.

Nonetheless, phone calls are an important part of a company’s sales strategy. Very important in fact, cold calling still represents one of the absolute best routes for generating leads and growing a business.

As an example, Uber, one of the world’s largest start ups from San Francisco’s much-famed Silicon Valley, made an effort to cold call as many potential new drivers as they could during the early days. Travis Kalanick and his team would constantly pitch drivers their idea in an effort to recruit new employees and thus launch the business in various cities around the US. Fast forward to today, and despite its recent controversies and Travis Kalanick’s recent resignation as CEO, Uber is considered to be worth upwards of $69bn. Well worth the time and effort put into cold calling.

We regularly come across a growing aversion and trepidation to phone calls in our line of work, but it’s important to remember that sometimes there is no substitute for verbal contact. Building a relationship with potential customers is hard work, but it’s done much easier in an organic conversation with instant back and forth.

And in an ultra-competitive business climate, sticking to one form of communication – text or verbal – over the other just won’t cut it. Companies that want to succeed will require ‘telephone heroes’ – employees who are comfortable on the phone – to help them grow, just as much as they require people who can develop relationships over social networks. As such, we strongly recommend evaluating the skill level of your staff at making cold calls to build business relationships, set meetings, and secure orders, before providing relevant and appropriate sales call training as required.

In summary, verbal based communication, and cold calling in particular, remains an important part of any balanced sales strategy. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to recognise the shift towards text based communication in order to take the appropriate actions and ensure that all business channels are delivering growth.

 

Photo by Jakub Gorajek on Unsplash

Establishing a mentoring scheme in the workplace

Mentoring schemes in the workplace allow less experienced employees to receive guidance, advice and support from more experienced mentors. This opens up a line of communication for employees to share learning experiences and insights, career advice, and technical knowledge.

Whilst mentoring schemes bring an undoubtedly positive impact, it can be difficult to get such a programme initially started, with schemes requiring a complete buy-in from senior management to get off the ground. After all, setting up a scheme can be a big time and financial investment for any company, and as such it can often fall behind other priorities. Nonetheless, there are many benefits which make mentoring programmes a worthwhile investment.

One such benefit of a workplace mentoring scheme is the level of support felt by mentees involved in the programme. Employees have the ability to turn to someone with more industry knowledge and experience than themselves for advice. This can be a really useful place to discuss ideas, review work, and develop new or existing skills – all of which helps the employee feel as if the company cares about their development.

In larger organisations, where the chance of isolation and disconnection between management and employees is much higher, this can be invaluable. By giving employees the opportunity to lean on the experiences of a mentor a company can increase engagement and focus for both the mentor and mentee.

The result is a reduced staff turnover, improved loyalty, and increased productivity. That’s a high return on investment considering just how simple workplace mentoring programmes are.

So what are the key elements to setting up a mentoring scheme?

First, a business must take the time to understand what it is they want to achieve from workplace mentoring. Then, from that, they must decide how the success of the course will be measured – which metrics will form the KPIs for the programme, and why. This really is key – no workplace scheme or programme should be implemented without clearly defined goals and a method to measure progress towards those goals.

Similarly, mentees should have their own ideas about what will constitute a successful programme. Having their own clear goals about what they want to achieve with the mentor, and the mentor understanding these goals too, will help determine whether the mentee actually gains a significant uplift from the mentoring.

At the same time, opening a line of regular communication between the mentees, mentors, and senior management will allow everyone involved to understand what is working and what is not. Feedback is a key part of the process, meaning the whole program can be tweaked and improved to the benefit of all participants. In fact, lack of transparent and two-way communication is one of the most common pitfalls with mentoring, so a business must ensure participants have a platform to make suggestions, or voice concerns, about the programme.  

Finally, choosing good mentors is vital. A mentor should have strong verbal communication skills, the ability to empathise and build rapport, and the required skill to spot and develop talent. Fortunately, these skills can be learnt or improved through mentor training courses.

More important than having the skills to be a mentor though, is the desire and drive to be a mentor. A person must understand exactly what is required of them to be an effective mentor, they must be interested in doing so, and they must also understand why a fellow colleague may be looking for a mentor. It may be worthwhile for businesses to have an application process for mentors. If no suitable internal candidates are found, then there are professionals who can provide ongoing mentoring and consultation for the programme, which may be worth considering.

We’re strong believers in the power and benefits of workplace mentoring. Investing the time, effort and resources to set up a scheme can yield fantastic long-term results, and any business that is serious about the development of their employees should strongly consider implementing one. However, they must be careful to ensure they avoid the common pitfalls, and that the scheme is constantly being measured and improved to the benefit of all involved, in order for the scheme to be a success.

How to build rapport

Rapport is defined as a harmonious relationship in which the people concerned are able to communicate effectively, and with a good understanding of each other’s views.

It comes as no surprise then, that building rapport is a vital part of any lead generation or sales role. Without it, can you really expect a prospect to be interested in your new product, or want to find out more about your services?

The difficulty in building rapport can change depending on the situation. Having the knowledge of how to establish that positive, harmonious relationship is important as the same tactics can be applied across any number of situations and contexts. Listed below are some of the best and most effective ways to inspire trust and understanding solely through your communication – thus creating rapport, and, hopefully, a positive outcome.

Try to adjust and match behaviours

Matching the gestures, behaviours and character traits of the other party during a conversation is a great, simple way to foster a positive working relationship.

Be careful though – matching and mirroring behaviours is often confused with just copying the actions of another person in a conversation. Whilst you do want to generally match their posture, you don’t want to immediately change your body position every time they do. If they don’t consciously notice, they may well do at a subconscious level, which will harm your chances of establishing any rapport.

It’s not just about posture either, you want to pick up on all the aspects of their communication style. Are they loud or quiet? Do they use hand gestures? Are they confident? What is their tone of voice? Are they quite formal or laid back? Try to answer these questions as you go, and adjust your behaviour accordingly.

Be concrete and clear

Language is the most important tool we have to build trust and understanding.

In business meetings, try to avoid using sales jargon or corporate buzzwords – phrases which have lost all authenticity and meaning. Instead, just try to use normal, clear, and relatable language. Having a conversation like you would with an old friend will build rapport much quicker than talking about synergy, holistic strategy, or streamlining.

Similarly, consider what message you’re sending with your body language. Crossing your arms, looking at the floor, fidgeting or tapping, all convey disinterest. On the other hand, looking a person in the eyes, relaxing your shoulders, taking notes, all show that you are engaging positively with the conversation.

Listen actively

I’m a huge advocate of active listening – it’s one of the core concepts I teach in our communication workshops. Active listening means that you take in everything the other person says, remember it, and provide direct, relevant feedback. It’s advantage is clear; active listening is effective communication, a key part of establishing rapport.

There’s a lot more to active listening than you would imagine. To start with, try to think about and process every sentence you hear, and provide affirmative feedback to encourage the speaker and show that you are listening.

It’s not an easy task – we tend to switch off, or become distracted, quite easily. However, making the effort to concentrate for the entire conversation will not just help build rapport, but you might just pick up on a tiny detail that helps you close the deal or understand exactly what the other person wants.

Final thoughts

Rapport is undoubtedly one of most important factors in building lasting business relationships. There’s no great secret to it, but even so it can be difficult to quickly strike up a good relationship with a new contact. Nonetheless, with the strategies outlined above (reading and accommodating their behaviours, using clear language to communicate, and actively engaging in the conversation), you will have a great base to work from.

And perhaps most importantly, it should be noted that all of these points centre around one thing in particular: being an authentic, nice person, for which there is no substitute or greater way to establish a positive relationship.

Psychological hacks to use in negotiations

When it comes to negotiations, having the edge on the other side can make all the difference.

To do this, often it’s useful to dip into the field of psychology, and apply what we know about human behaviour to help benefit ourselves during the negotiation process. Here’s a few pointers to get you started.

Apply the theory of reciprocity

In 1971, Dennis Regan found that the participants in his study were more likely to reciprocate a kind gesture rather than do a favour for somebody out of the blue. Furthermore, he found that the emotional burden of repaying a favour caused participants to overcompensate their reciprocation.

Simply put, if Person A does something good for Person B, then Person B will often return the favour, but with a greater value.

The lesson to be applied in negotiation is clear, be nice to the other side and they’ll be nice back. For what it’s worth, the reverse is also true, be negative with somebody and they will reciprocate with negativity.

Go big, then small

Otherwise known as the door-in-the-face hack, this ones quite simple. The idea is that if you ask another person for something too big and unreasonable, they’ll likely turn you down. However, you can then try asking for a smaller favour, and the other person will feel compelled to help you out.

You can actually flip this on it’s head too. Start by asking for a small favour to get your foot in the door, and then once that’s been done you can ask for help with a bigger favour. This is due to cognitive dissonance, and has been studied and named as the Benjamin Franklin Effect.

Boost your own confidence

A confident person is more likely to get exactly what they want from any situation, not just in the workplace or during a sales deal.

Fortunately, it’s really easy to boost your self-confidence by exercising regularly. In the immediacy after exercise, the body releases endorphins, which make you feel all good inside. In the long term, weight loss or muscle building can do wonders for your self-image, mental strength, and ultimately, your confidence.

And if exercise isn’t for you, never mind – you can literally fake it till you make it. Look the part, act the part, speak the part, and the actual self-confidence will follow.

Avoid ambiguity

Not only do you want to boost your own confidence, you want to boost the confidence and trust people have in you.

A sure fire way to lose credibility and trust is by fastening ‘I think‘ or ‘I believe‘ to either the start or end of your sentences. Using these in a business deal means the other side won’t take you seriously, as it doesn’t sound like you are completely sure about what you’re saying. From here on out, try ‘I know‘ instead.

For more help on boosting your chances in a negotiation, see our courses on negotiation skills training.