Tag Archives: email

Top 5 Reasons an M.A. in English is Useful in Business

26 Feb

People often ask me if I think my Master’s Degree in English is useful in business. I find it a curious question since the answer seems so obvious to me. However, since it’s asked so frequently, I’m offering the following top five reasons:

  1. Communication Skills: My coursework improved my written and oral communication skills. When you’re pursuing your M.A. in English, you learn to write clear, concise, well-documented research. You also learn to orally communicate your arguments in classroom discussions with peers and professors. It’s one thing to have an opinion and another to be able to clearly and cogently discuss it with others. And, whether you’re writing emails, blogs, or reports for your colleagues, these skills are timeless.
  1. Critical Thinking Skills: Writing, research, and critical analysis are the foundations of a master’s degree. You learn how to accept constructive criticism of your work and use that criticism to improve and grow. You learn how to conduct research, organize that research, and then use inductive and deductive skills to facilitate an outcome. Regardless of your business environment, this is a skill set that transfers beyond the classroom.
  1. Consideration of Varying Viewpoints: An essential foundation in the study of English literature is literary theory and criticism. Literary theory is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for its analysis. By studying the many schools of literary theory you learn to view literary works through a variety of lenses. Learning to analyze information from many different perspectives offers the opportunity to grow your thought processes. Understanding the various schools of thought translates into the ability to do so in the business world. You learn to be open to new business models and methodologies.
  1. Commitment to Long-term Goals: One of the most arduous tasks a student will undertake is the research, writing, and presentation of their master’s thesis. The process generally begins as you reach the final semester of your coursework. The length of time it takes to complete your master’s thesis will vary — but it always takes longer than you think. I was given great advice by my thesis chair to, “pick a topic/writer you feel you can live with for the next year or two.” As in business, you may not enjoy every task your job requires, but if you’re pursuing your passion, it makes it all worthwhile.
  1. Conceptual Thinking Skills: Individuals who have strong conceptual skills typically have excellent cognitive abilities. These skills include thinking creatively, formulating abstractions, and analyzing complex situations as well as understanding issues and solving problems. Conceptual skills allow a manager to visualize the entire organization and work with ideas and the relationships between abstract concepts. It also enables an effective manager to weed out those variables that are inefficient and/or detrimental to a successful outcome.

Top 4 Sales Tips for Success

28 Jan

While there are many great tips for increasing your effectiveness as a sales person, these consistently prove to be among the top 4 sales tips.

  1. Demonstrate Respect
    When you take the time to learn a client’s business and her professional needs, you’re demonstrating respect for her as a client and a person. This might sound simple, but it is no longer the norm and therefore bears repeating. Given the easy access to information via the web, there really isn’t any excuse for not doing the homework needed before calling. A “cold call” should be “warmer” with our present day access to data.
  2. Respond Promptly
    There is nothing that loses a sale faster than not returning a phone call or email in a timely manner. Understandably, you won’t always have an answer to a client’s questions or share the same sense of urgency that she has, but at least demonstrate “signs of life” when she leaves a message or sends an email. By responding to her call/email, you’re at least acknowledging receipt and providing an estimated time for delivery of the information requested. That said, be sure to meet that deadline with the necessary information and/or a status update.
  3. Communicate Effectively
    Many of you who know me are aware of my personal disdain for written or electronic communication that includes multiple font types, font colors, and font sizes. The most flagrant of these occurs when someone has obviously “copy/pasted” a section of the email from another email or document. If you’re going to do this, at least take the time and demonstrate the professionalism to ensure that ALL fonts are consistent throughout your communication. Failure to do so gives the impression that you are not a person with attention to detail. For me personally, this would make me question your attention to detail in the handling of my business.
  4. Create a Long Term Relationship
    Granted, not every piece of business will be the right fit, at the right time, at the right price. However, the care, respect, and attention given during the sales process will provide future success. If clients are treated as partners in business, they will be more likely to refer others and use your product or services in the future. Customer service is the most frequent differentiating factor in making a sale.

We can automate many processes, but people still do business with people, and there’s not an app for that!

Resetting Expectations

7 Mar

I was enjoying my morning ritual of coffee, newspaper, and favorite morning talk show when the host brought up the topic of our 24/7 work lives. He used the term “reset expectations.” My ears perked up. This is such a great phrase. Let’s face it, the lines between “work hours “and “personal time” have become blurred by the accessibility that mobile technology provides. We have become inextricably connected to our jobs and as such, we begin to respond to every email regardless of the time of day or the level of importance. So, how do we regain control of our lives and our jobs? We reset expectations.

What is Resetting Expectations?
If we answer our emails within minutes of receiving them regardless of the day of the week or time of the day/night, then we have set an expectation. Our clients, friends, colleagues, now expect to receive a response immediately. If they don’t, they will send the infamous “did you get my email” email reminding us that we usually respond within seconds of the “read receipt.” Furthermore, we begin to feel guilty or negligent if we don’t respond right away. Well, unless someone’s life or safety hangs in the balance, that email can probably wait until I’m back in the office tomorrow. We need to “reset expectations” so we can regain balance in our lives.

Triage Your To Do List
I think we can all agree that the volume of email requests, text messages, and comments from our social media connections inhibits our ability to manage our time most effectively. The first step in resetting expectations is to establish a triage process. The dictionary defines triage as: (1) “The determination of priorities for action in an emergency.” (2)”The process of sorting victims, as of a battle or disaster, to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors.” We’re probably all more familiar with the medical application. If we go to the emergency room, the first place they send us (after collecting insurance and verifying payment) is to “Triage.” In that room a nurse makes an assessment of the urgency of our situation and prioritizes our condition relative to others.

In medical triage, we wouldn’t want someone awaiting a rhinoplasty procedure to go into surgery before a patient in need of heart bypass surgery. While the person awaiting their nose job thinks it’s pretty important, of course everything can’t be equally important. If we want to reset expectations we need to triage our requests from friends, family, clients, and colleagues to ensure the most important things are getting done first and the most important emails are being answered first. It doesn’t mean we don’t love everyone equally, it just means that we need to be more efficient, healthy, and at peace.

Communicate Expectations
Of course we can’t reset our expectations in a vacuum. We need to communicate with our clients, colleagues, and family so there isn’t any misunderstanding. Suggestions:

  • Evaluate the scope of services you have with your clients and ensure you communicate and mutually agree upon the times you will be accessible. Set/reset the expectation of a reasonable time frame for discussions, deadlines, and status updates.
  • Use your auto-reply. Don’t just say you’re out of the office. Instead, be specific about the day, date, and times you will be unavailable and leave emergency contact information.
  • Show some self-discipline. Just because you can answer that email quickly, don’t. Unless you’re sitting in the dentist office with nothing else to do, chances are it’s an interruption to what you’re doing at the moment.
  • Put down the Blackberry and iPhone during family/social time! We all do it subconsciously. We reach for our phones, glance at our emails, look away from our conversations, and convey (though unintentionally) the message that something may come across our phone that’s more important than the person/people we’re with at the time.

Warning: I’m going to try to reset my expectations. While I am eager to receive your comments, feedback, and most of all suggestions, I will not be checking my blog via phone during dinner this evening.

“A Fish Always Stinks From The Head”

3 Mar

While many cultures claim the proverb as their own, the interpretation is consistent. If a government, business, or organization fails, it is the leadership that is the root cause.

I think of this proverb often lately. Why? Well, I suffer the frustration of poor customer service on a daily basis. Am I unique in my suffering? I don’t think so.  I really don’t think I’ve set my expectations too high either. In fact, if I set the bar any lower, I could step over it! Let me give you an example and let me know if any of this rings true in your life.

When I contact a sales person at a company for a quote on a product or service they provide, I expect a returned call. When they say they will send a proposal, I expect them to do so. If they are unable to accommodate the scope of my request, I expect them to pick up the phone and let’s talk. Don’t just ignore my voice mails and emails. Bottom line, care enough about your reputation and that of your company to treat prospects with respect.

So, what does this have to do with the title of this article? It’s my opinion that if this lack of customer service exists in a company, then it’s because it is tolerated. And, if the leader of the organization doesn’t know that his/her employees are handling prospective customers this way, then there in lies the rub. A good leader knows his/her staff. He cares about his service and his customers. The leader sets the tone of the company, the expectations, and establishes ways to monitor and measure against these expectations.

I’ve had the pleasure to work for some great leaders so I know value of their influence. Tom Marello, my general manager at the former Renaissance Hotel in Downtown Atlanta used to require his Executive Committee members to take at least one hour each day to walk around the hotel and meet the staff, and take the time and effort to coach them in areas of deficiency. Tom knew the name and family members of each of our 200 hotel staff. We worked hard to impress him and he worked hard to give us a great hotel product to sell.  The real winners were the guests/customers. We wanted them to respect us and respect our boss. We wanted to give them a great customer service experience because we had pride in our hotel and in our boss.

If you’re a boss, give it some thought. Are your employees a positive reflection of your company or department? If not, it’s not too late to “clean the fish.”

Don’t Font All Over My Email

15 Feb

I just can’t remain silent any longer. Some may call it a pet peeve. Some may call it a frivolous complaint. However, I consider it an impediment to my ongoing obsession with working efficiently and responding to emails in a timely manner. So, what is this thorn in my side? It is the email that contains multiple fonts, multiple font colors, and email signatures that are just as miss-matched as the email preceding it.

So with all of the bigger issues confronting the business world why does this bother me? Well, if you read one of my earlier blogs, The New Normal of Email Communication,” then you’ll know there are implications beyond the simple irritant. I won’t rehash those issues here. Instead, the following explains why I prefer you “don’t font all over my email.”

Reading Made Difficult
When you send an email that contains mixed fonts, you make your emails more difficult to read. Example? An email that is a mix of Arial, Times Roman, and various font sizes instantly creates confusion. The reader needs to determine if these mixed fonts are there for a reason, or if they are just a result of the copy/paste function that the email writer used to send the email quickly. This instantly creates a barrier to reading and responding quickly.

If you are using different font colors to differentiate tasks, requests, or topics, consider bullet points instead. Bullet points make it easier for the recipient to interpret your communication and the information you are conveying or requesting.

Note: In my case, I now need to copy/paste your email into a Word or Text document so it’s all in one font so that I can read it clearly and ensure that I can respond effectively. This takes more time on my part and delays a response to the email sender.

Care Enough to Do It Right
We often forget that emails are “the new memo.” They are a reflection of your professional brand. Sending an email that is a hodge-podge of fonts types, font sizes, and font colors may infer that the sender didn’t care enough to send a “clean” and coherent email. If you are using a mix of font colors, make sure there is a reason and explain that reason in the email. (Example: “Answers to your questions are in “red.”)

Note: Our professional communications (written, email, verbal, video) are reflections of our professional brand. They reflect more than just our aesthetics. They reflect our attention to detail, our respect for the communication we are sending, and respect for your recipient’s time.

Your Signature is Your Last Impression
Make your signature consistent with your email. So what do I mean? It only takes a minute to modify your email signature to be consistent with the font of your email. Accordingly, don’t use multiple colors in your email. When your name is in one color/font and your address is yet another, it loses a professional appearance.

Note: It only takes a minute to click “select all” on your email to ensure that your font types, font colors, and font sizes are consistent. If you are unable to change the font on your signature, then use the same font in the body of your email.

Well, perhaps I stand alone in my “fonting” issues. Or, perhaps I’ve brought up an embarrassing topic that many of you have been afraid to talk about. Well, I’ve done it now. I’ve brought “irresponsible fonting” out of the shadows and into the open.  The topic no longer needs to be discussed in hushed tones.

Don’t Waste Your Time

15 Sep

Let’s face it, we all do it, whether we realize it or not. When we’re setting up our Fantasy Football team during working hours, we know we’re wasting our time. However, if we’re conducting a 3-hour Board Meeting each month, we may not be aware we’re wasting our time.

So what are the implications? Does it really make a difference? Well, actually it makes a much bigger difference than we might realize. Using our time ineffectively zaps our time and energy required to make truly important decision. Do you want to test it?

Weekly Diary: Track Your Week
Add up all of the hours you spend in meetings, on conference calls, and answering long trails of emails in a given week. Don’t just guess. Instead, track it like a diary for the week. In just one week, you will notice a pattern. Then, create a list of the “to do’s” that you did not have time to get to and see if they would have fit into that wasted time.

Analyze Your Meetings
Any meeting longer than one hour is ineffective. We’ve all sat in on those meetings or conference call meetings that last 2-3 hours. So how do you ensure you are not guilty of wasting the time of your meeting attendees?

  • Provide a clear agenda in advance so everyone on the call will know what they are expected to be prepared to bring to the table.
  • Limit the amount of discussion on less critical items and decisions. The primary reason meetings run too long are discussions that run off course or simply last too long.
  • Avoid redundancy. Do not review items that have already been covered in other meetings with the same people in attendance. Detailed meeting minutes from committees and departments can eliminate the need to rehash these issues.

Email Energy Zap
How often do you check your emails? If you’re like me, it’s probably too often. If we’re not disciplined in the time that we spend answering, responding to, or writing emails, our entire day’s productivity can be zapped away from us. Learn when to step away from your emails. Reducing the number of times we check our email or interrupt the project we’re working on, the more time we’re wasting. Moreover, each time we interrupt our workflow, we increase the amount of time it takes to complete the project.

The key to not wasting our time comes down to asking ourselves these questions: First, is this the best use of my valuable time at this moment? Second, am I doing what I want to do or what I need to do? Third, do I need to reassess my priorities and adjust my work plan?

One of my personal time-saving tips…since our office is very casual, I usually wear a white t-shirt and jeans to work. I can always throw a blazer or sweater over it should someone unexpectedly stop in. This tip saves time and energy. I don’t need to waste either in the morning.  The time I save in deciding what to wear to work frees up my time for important decisions.

I hope you will share your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions for better managing our time.

Cold Calls: The Death Knell of a Sales Call

25 Aug

How many times a week do you get a call from a salesperson, “I’m with XYZ Hotel and I’m calling to see if you would ever consider us for your groups?” Or, “Hi, I represent a motivational speaker and want to know if you would ever have a need for him?” In both scenarios, I would say “no, but thank you for calling and promptly hang up.” Then, they insist on “sending you information to keep on file.” Guess what. You’ve now wasted my time and yours.

So, why do I find this frustrating? I was in the hotel sales business for more than twenty years and loved it. My frustration is that for every call like the two examples above, you have interrupted my productivity. More importantly, every second I’m talking to you I’m not talking to my customer. And, make no mistake my customers will always come first.

With that said, let me give some unsolicited advise.
Sales Leaders: stop giving your staff a “list of prospects” and tell them to “call and see if they have business for us.” We’re not in the 80s anymore!

Sales People: if you’re boss still believes in the “prospecting list”, then read below. If you’re satisfied with your current results, don’t bother to read any further.

Do Your Homework
The business world is more transparent than ever before. Researching a company or potential customer no longer requires hours of research in the library squinting over microfiche newspapers, journals, and press releases. (If you’re too young to know what microfiche is, look it up. You’ll have a greater appreciation for the value of the Internet). Utilize LinkedIn, Company web sites, Facebook, Twitter, and Conference Registration pages. I write for newsletters, blogs, discussion forums, and speak at professional conferences. If you can’t take the time to learn my business needs and priorities, don’t call me. You’re wasting my time and yours.

Develop a Value Proposition
Before you call me, have a plan. Develop an effective 60-second elevator pitch that demonstrates you understand my business and where your product may fit in. If you can’t explain the features and benefits of your product to me in a clear, concise, and succinct way, then our conversation is going to be very awkward and overwhelmingly short. If you’ve made a successful effective elevator pitch, ask to schedule a call to discuss your product in more detail. Since this initial call is a disruption to my day, let’s set up a time that’s convenient for both of us. I like talking with sales people. I just don’t have time to explain my business to you. There are enough tools for you to figure it out.

Remain Connected
After our scheduled call, invite me to connect with you on LinkedIn. Set a Google Alert for my company and each of my client associations so you can monitor my business. Drop me an email on holidays. Send me a handwritten “thank you” note if I’ve met with you and/or conducted a demonstration of your product. Set calendar notices one week prior to each of my conventions to wish me luck. And, set a calendar notice for one week after each convention to discuss those things that went well, and what I might do differently next time.  Finally, use these “connections” to better understand how we might be able to do business together.

The above steps are by no means comprehensive. If you’ve read this far, I would love to hear other ideas you have for effective sales calls. Best of luck!

The “New Normal” of Email Communication

15 Aug

How often do you get a reply to an email and scratch your head as to the response? Do you wonder if the person even read your email?

Well, they probably read as much of the email as they could see on their Blackberry or iPhone (at a glance). More and more emails each day are answered via smartphone. And, most of those are being answered while in a meeting, in a car, on a train, on a plane awaiting take-off, or during a television commercial.

Remember when Twitter first emerged? Many skeptics thought it would fail since a “tweet” could only be 140 characters. Now, think about it. How many emails do you respond to now via smartphone longer than 140 characters? More importantly, how many of the emails you receive do you read in their entirety before you respond?

So, here is what I have learned from this “new normal” in email communication:

  1. Get Right to the Point: The title of your email and the first 140 characters are the most important since they are the most likely to be read.
  2. Set the Right Expectations: Don’t send an email that is a long trail of other emails that must be read to truly understand this email. If you must do this, say so in the first sentence so that you get an accurate response from the reader. (Or, he/she can choose to read the entire email later and before responding.)
  3. Don’t Hit “Reply All” Unless You Really Mean It: It’s happened to all of us. Be certain that whatever you are replying to is intended for everyone. Even someone that may be “blind copied” on the email that was sent to you. (You know what I mean!)
  4. Know When to Send an Email: Some discussions are just better over the phone. A long and detailed email usually requires some “background information” that is relevant to its understanding. We know that everyone wants to document everything. If you must document the discussion, send a follow up email that recaps the conversation.

At the end of the day, technology does make us more efficient. However, we must learn to change the way we use these tools and adjust our communication paradigms.

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