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Updated: Sep 8, 2018

Looking to the past while driving a business into tomorrow is like cruising down the highway using only a rear view mirror.

Most business executives can easily generate a myriad of financial and operational reports that are debated and deliberated in a series of endless management meetings. As the economy tanks, business leaders use these reports to trim overhead, shutter stores, and lay off staff in an effort to stay in business. Then they continue to study these “bottom-line” numbers in an attempt to plan changes, grow profits and increase revenue down the road. But is this data supplying all the fundamental information critical to the future

success of the company?

You may be surprise to know that the key to success comes in the understanding that fruitful commerce is driven when and only when people exchange commitments with one another over the course of business conversations. Because commerce is generated during these business conversations, any and all financial reports then become a representation of the effectiveness of these communications skills. The problem facing most companies is that they rely on the financial reports without the key component of accurate assessment of conversational competence amongst staff.

For example, if a company engages in 1000 sales conversations each month with an overall closing percentage of 20 percent, the company has successfully completed 200 sales. The financials are generated by the literal sales numbers, but this leaves us with a serious question: why did the remaining 800 calls not produce any sales? The

financials cannot assess this, nor can they assess the competence

of the salespersons who were successful. The data is incomplete.

There are savvy, forward-thinking companies within each industry who record customer service and sales conversations, yet this is only the first step in generating effective communication. Critical is a comprehensive understanding of the distinctions and nuances that enable you to make grounded assessments regarding the conversations that generate all the numbers. Without this ability to evaluate the language that creates the very essence of the company, even the most well-meaning of business managers are inhibited from planning the future in an effective way.

By planning only through the study of past data without assessing communication competence in the future, business leaders are in effect driving their company forward while looking into the rear view mirror; a dangerous way to drive vehicles and businesses. Business people need to be able to look into their company - person by person, branch by branch - and accurately assess the competence of their staff.

The simplest assessment should be based on coordinating action successfully. Sales and customer service staff need to be able to coordinate action with customers and prospects; while managers and operational staff need to be able to coordinate action internally.

Assessing competence in the domain of communication necessitates that we develop core distinctions upon which to base our assessments, and a way to fix the problem areas we encounter. A good starting point would be to measure a person’s ability and understanding of how to ‘build trust and credibility’, and then to design conversations which ‘produce the desired action’.

This naturally (and should) lead us to questions about designing with language. A good question to ask is, “What is the language that produces trust?” A few more would be, “How do you design conversations that produce action between two or more people?” What are the moves? Each of these questions represents a good start in understanding the vital role business communications play in a successful, thriving company. Core distinctions such as ‘what constitutes a great customer service call’ and ‘what constitutes a great effort with a new prospect’ during a sales call, are central to being able to project the likelihood of future success. If leaders, managers, coaches and trainers fail to articulate the standards, or lack the ability to demonstrate how they need to be applied in the future, the odds are good that the future will not be what you want.

Worse yet, let’s say your company employs over 100 sales and customer service staff throughout the country. Given this, how many different approaches and sets of standards do you think exist in your company?

It is critical to articulate a clear vision about what the future of the company looks like, not only as it pertains to “bottom-line” financial data, but also where the rubber meets the road in the sales, customer service and operational conversations that drive this data.

Article originally published in Sales and Marketing Management Magazine

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