Trending with Leadership Expert Anne Graham

Anne Graham is all about those “ah ha” moments. In her work as an author, speaker and director of The Legendary Value Institute, she finds that when business leaders allow themselves to think outside the box, good things happen. Graham perfected her transformational leadership approach over a 25-year career that saw her create business growth strategies, builds high value organizations and achieve rapid turnarounds in industries as diverse as high-tech, pharmaceuticals, financial services, professional services, wireless telecommunications, academia and non-profit and membership-based organizations. Here is her advice on being different.

Why is important to se yourself apart from the pack?

One of my favorite sayings is, “Run like the rest and you too will be road kill.” The printing industry, like many others, has become highly commoditized and, in that situation, decision-making defaults to price. Relying on price for competitive advantage is not a sustainable advantage in an industry where everyone has access to the same knowledge and technology. Providing value in unexpected ways by staying ahead of your competition is the only way to remain viable as a printer.

What’s the best way to do that?

One of the best is to look sideways at non-competing industries to see what factors are impacting their businesses. In the printing industry, it’s quite common to belong to a vertical industry association, i.e., all printers. But it has never been more important to belong to a horizontal industry association – a chamber of commerce, for example – and to have in-depth conversations with peers that go well beyond networking. In many cases, belonging to a peer-mentoring group can be highly beneficial. I’ve often been able to use examples from one industry to spark new thinking in another.

How important is it to keep yourself relevant?

Relevance relates to being proactive about fully understanding all of your clients’ communication needs and not just relying on the solutions you’ve provided to date. And it’s not all on your sales team. They are responsible for selling what your company can deliver today. As a leader, you’re responsible for determining what they’ll be selling tomorrow. There is no question that if you’re not relevant in a highly commoditized industry, you’re not in business.

What are the best ways to get to know your customers?

Data that speaks to gaps in the experience that your customers may not even be aware of. The best way to get this is to stay in “high-touch” despite being in a high-tech world. Get face to face, executive to executive, and have what I call a “value creation conversation,” where the only thing you’re selling is trust and confidence, and the only probing you’re doing is about their experiences. A ride-along sales call won’t work, because the focus is on selling more today. A meet-and-greet won’t work, because that’s purely relationship building without the required depth.

What strategies work here?

Most executives spend at least 90 minutes per day doing email. If they spent just 90 minutes once a week having value creation conversations with their customers, they’d get a wealth of insights that would drive every future strategy in their business in a way that was aligned with their customers’ needs and wants, rather than simply guessing. This can’t be outsourced; it must be personal. When I speak with leaders and ask them if they’d make time to speak with a consultant who was preparing a report for one of their suppliers, they all say no. But when I ask them if they’d meet with a member of their senior leadership team who asked them for input so that they could create more value for them now and in the future, they unanimously say yes. Ninety minutes, once a week – that’s all it takes.

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