These are the glory days for numbers. You can’t pick up an article or a book that does not talk about or reference data analytics. If you’re a numbers person, this is your time. But numbers are just the very beginning of the story.
We have never had the ability to learn more about the story that numbers tell than we do today. In many ways, I am a numbers guy. I'm a CPA who likes looking at them, examining trends, and running a normalized profit and loss to see what drives or shrinks profit. But at the end of the day, I made a career out of building relationships, gathering deep insights and having the courage to act. Numbers are an ingredient to making informed decisions, but they are not the entire answer. You need to engage with human beings – and do so on a regular basis.
Data is powerful, but human interaction is paramount.
I like people. I like talking. I like listening and I love to question. My best learning comes from engaging with people and pushing the limits of why and why not. In every conversation, I try to use mindful learning, the practice of learning by listening without judgement, being open to the fact that there is more than one way, and being willing to try new approaches. Humans are capable of this – machines that capture data are less so. Human interaction, engagement and mindful learning has to be part of the equation.
Engage with your market, which I define as customers and employees. Each separate audience is critical to your total success as a business. Move beyond just measuring your relationships by the numbers. Yes, it is important to look at growth, Net Promoter Score®, attrition and lifetime value. But it is not more important than getting out there and talking with your customers and employees directly.
Focus on a learning effort, not a sales effort
We all have jobs to do. Many of our jobs involve selling, but there is more to selling than the act of pitching. The most successful salespeople and team leaders:
- Invest in learning
- Listen and question more than they talk
- Are skilled conversationalists
Engage with your customers and employees. Be observant to struggles, compromises and trends. Inside those conversations, look for friction. Talk about things that constrain them. Inside those constraints and friction is the opportunity for you to be curious and creative.
Learn about their struggles and hopes. The energy within these candid and authentic conversations is truly powerful and contagious – but not if it ends when the conversation is over. We must go back, share the learned insights and find ways to pilot and test ideas that may help customers and employees eliminate constraints and pursue new opportunities.
So next time you run that report, I challenge you to also set an appointment with your customer or a meeting with your team. Conduct a feedback-based conversation. See which one ends up being more valuable to you in the long run.
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