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Slow Advice, Fast Growth

You’ve heard of the Slow Food movement? I’d like to recommend something similar for those dispensing business advice. These days, a lot of people are trying to force-fit whatever they’re selling into every situation, and they make their fast food one-size-fits-all approach sound haute cuisine by saying they’ll coach you.

Yuck.

I sat recently through an afternoon of five presentations where each speaker followed that same template. One in particular galled me. She introduced herself as having 70,000 Twitter followers, and asserted that she was therefore supremely qualified to coach any business person on social media. She then laid out several everyone-must-do steps without ever once raising what to me is the only relevant point of discussion before offering any advice: What are you trying to accomplish? The fact is, many of her suggestions would have been counter-productive for my business goals. Now, it may be that I am pursuing the wrong goals, but by trying to force-feed me her product, she did nothing to help me make that discovery.

Why does it matter to go slow and allow time for insights to simmer? Simply put, different goals require different actions. The more time invested in asking questions and seeking to understand what your potential client really needs, the greater the likelihood that you will find a way to propose the most relevant actions. Conversely, if you jump immediately to a solution for what you assume is the problem, chances are you will miss the point and fail to help either your client or yourself.

Neil Rackham’s terrific SPIN selling method examines this in detail. His research found that the best sales people talk the least, ask the most questions, and take the most time before bringing up their product. By investing time in questioning and probing rather than closing, they create opportunities for their clients to discover a deeper understanding of their most powerful needs. Only when both seller and buyer share insights about the buyer’s true needs can the seller position her product as the best solution for those needs.

Most business people I know would rather have 10 solid paying customers than 70,000 followers. If your market is a numbers game and having 70k followers leads to new customers, terrific! But if your market is more swayed by depth of relationship and customized service, then what’s the point of chasing numbers? In that case, you’ll want to go for quality.

Know your goals. Know your client’s goals. Know when to go slow.

How do you ensure that you offer only what your customer really needs?

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4 Responses to “Slow Advice, Fast Growth”

  1. Shallie Bey says:

    Thank you for an excellent post. What you describe here, advisors people force feeding advice, happens millions of times a day around the world. I see it and it frustrates me so much. I hear people say “my lawyer won’t let me” …or my accountant…or my banker.

    Much of what people offer is well intended, but they never take time to understand the desires of the business owner and to conform their advice to how the business owner can achieve their personal goals. Both advisors and business owners fail to recognize that business does not happen in a vacuum. It is the desire of the owner that sets the direction of the business. Thank you so much for bring that out in this post.

    Shallie Bey
    Smarter Small Business Blog

    • mpfriedman says:

      Shallie – thanks so much for your comment. I fully agree – a valuable advisor is one who listens deeply and understands BEFORE attempting to advise. There is no one-size-fits-all advice that is useful in business.

  2. It is a great post indeed and I do think with the power of Social Media and the ease of connecting, people are getting louder with a spray and pray campaign that does not resonate with their audience rather than engage and give an offering that is actually a need for the prospective client. I see it in our industry as well where recruiters are too quick to try and push a candidate down a certain path because they have boxed them based on experience and qualifications, rather than listening to what the person is looking for in their job search.

    • Mark P. Friedman says:

      Thanks, Thabo. I smiled when I read your description of recruiters. I remember when recruiters would spend an hour on the phone getting to know potential candidates. There are still some like that, but few. Now, it’s “check the job description boxes” and move on to the next. Fast food. Not satisfying, not healthy.

      I appreciate the comment.

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