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6 step sales process explained through 22 questions for a beginner salesperson


Everybody is in sales

As Zig Ziglar says, “In today’s sophisticated selling market, getting in front of a client with a brochure and saying, “Stop me when you see something you like,” just won’t make it. You can make an occasional sale, but you can’t make a living-and you certainly can’t build a career.”

More importantly, you’re not helping yourself nor are you helping your client or prospect.

To be a valuable sales professional you need to understand the different aspects of sales and be great at all the aspects. The various aspects can also be put together as an almost linear step-wise sales process which is as follows (adapted from Ziglar On Selling by Zig Ziglar):

  1. 6 steps in a sales process
    1. Prospecting – Finding someone willing to buy
    2. Getting Started – Overcoming call reluctance and sales anxiety
    3. Need Analysis – Identifying wants and needs
    4. Need Awareness – Validating the wants and needs
    5. Need Solution – Selling the product (which includes convincing, , making powerful presentations, persuasion and literally not taking ‘NO’ for an answer)
    6. Need Satisfaction – Closing the sales
  2. In addition, there are 3 aspects that cut across almost all the steps, which are:
    1. Handling objections
    2. Relationship management
    3. Having fun

Elaborating the 6 steps:

Step 1 – Prospecting – Finding someone willing to buy


Always Be Prospecting

  1. What is a prospect?
    • An individual or group capable of making the decision on the product or service the salesperson is selling
    • Tip: There is a difference between a “Prospect” and a “Suspect”
      • A “suspect” is a name that could be a prospect, so the name offers hope
      • A “prospect”
        • Has a need for the product
        • Possible desire to own that product
        • Financial capacity to implement that decision
  2. Why prospect?
    • Cos prospecting is the most important key to sales success. If you don’t have a database of people to sell to then who will you sell to? You’ve lost before you’ve started
  3. How to prospect?
    • The best sales people develop a prospecting attitude and are constantly in a state of “awareness” with eyes and ears open for business
    • The best way to begin prospecting is to display a genuine interest in the other person (and concern for other people). Be a friend.
    • Under normal circumstances, with a genuine interest in people, it’s quite natural to weave what you do into the conversation by enquiring of the other person what he or she does
    • Ask friends and family (to use the product/for leads)
      • For those who are embarrassed to ask, here’s some food for thought –
        • If you think your product is good enough for all those strangers, why isn’t it good enough for your friends and your family?
        • If what you’re selling is not good enough for your friends and families then why are you selling it?
      • Find centers of influence – people who are influential in a certain community, area, market or organization
      • Ask for referrals. Some asking for referral tips –
        • “Mr. X, if your best friend were to walk here at this moment would you introduce him to me? Most likely it’ll be yes. “Then Mr. X, let me get you to do this. Why not introduce me to your best friend who has a need for our product/services by giving me his name and a little information about him”
        • If possible get an introduction via telephone/email
        • When asking for a list of referrals, 1st just take down the names and once the list is exhausted, go back to the names for specific details (instead of gathering all details at one go for each referral). Be conscious of the prospect or client’s time
        • Help jog memory
        • Ask which person should you call first and work with the client to establish a priority list
        • Report back to your referrers and let them know the results of your calls
        • Best list of prospects you can possibly get are accounts payable of your clients
  1. When to prospect?
    • All the time

Tip: “Pressure” selling (selling where you must make the sale to survive) is caused by lack of prospects

Bonus Tip: You’ve got to “Go out and make it happen”

Step 2: Getting started – Overcoming call reluctance and sales anxiety


Who you gonna call?

  1. How do I overcome call reluctance or telephone terror?
    • One of the greatest causes of phone fear is failing to set an objective for the call (determine why you are making the call)
      1. Are you going to do a market survey, make an appointment, or get a sale
    • Get on a regular schedule and make an appointment with yourself to be face-to-face with a prospect at the same time every day
    • Anticipate objections (they are almost always predictable) and be prepared
    • Treat cold calls as introductory calls
    • Turn an experience into an experiment
    • Smile
    • Have some fun by figuring out just how much each call is worth to you – whether busy, unanswered or disconnected
    • Note: If your actions come across as what some perceive as stereotypically “salesy” in nature (anytime during the sales process), the prospects are turned off
  2. How do I overcome sales anxiety?
    • The good news is, if you feel no anxiety in making the sales call, your chances of success will be greatly diminished. Scientists have proved beyond doubt that when our adrenalin is flowing properly, we respond more quickly, more accurately and more enthusiastically to the situation
    • Fear of facing the public has a great deal to do with self-image. If the salesperson stands in fear or awe of the prospect, then making an effective presentation is extremely difficult
      1. The salesperson thinks “Who am I to tell this person my product, goods or services will be helpful?”
      2. Until the salesperson learns to “look up to” or “down upon” no person, fear will prevail
    • Build confidence:
      1. One of the best ways to recognize your strengths is to replay the tapes in your mind’s “DVD player” of when you were successful
      2. Learn as much as possible about your prospect. The more you know about your prospect, the more respectfully you will be treated by your prospect
    • Transfer your feeling
      1. If you transfer the feeling that you must make the sale for your benefit, the chances of making the sale are greatly negated. If you transfer the feeling that you want to make the sale for the prospect’s benefit, your chances of success are dramatically increased

Bonus tips:

  • When calling through a receptionist (preferably know her name) –
    1. Hi Kylo, this is Rey with The Force Awakens Training Systems, may I speak with Mr. Vader (without hesitation)
  • Responding to “I’m busy” or “I’m in a meeting”
    1. What is the best time for me to call back? (And make sure you call back)
    2. What is the best time to catch you when your schedule is not likely to be so busy or hectic? (Shows consideration on your part)
  • Try and gauge if truly busy or avoiding? If we know class timings can we meet after their last class or early morning? Ask
    1. How important would it be to communicate better with parents or motivate students?
      • If “very important” or “important” then ask if “important” then why do you want to delay a meeting. I’m sure we can take out 30mins
    2. Just wanted to confirm, are you interested in exploring better solutions for motivating students to practice/communicating better with parents and thereby reducing dropouts/increasing revenue?
      • If “yes” then if you were ever going to start exploring possible solutions then when do you think is the best time to start?
    3. Note: You might find it helpful to make your calls early in the day when their energy level is high and they are more gracious and willing to listen
    4. Responding to “I’m busy but go ahead and tell me what’s on your mind quickly”
      • Do not rush into the presentation because you will probably have to speed through and leave out relevant details and also you don’t want a snap decision
      • “I really think it would be better for both of us if I caught you a little later because with less than complete information, it would not be fair to you and would not be the best use of time for either of us. With that in mind when would be the best time for me to call back?”

Step 3: Need Analysis – Identifying Wants and Needs


Be a doctor

  1. What is Need Analysis?
    1. Need Analysis is to look within the customer and find the needs of the customer-to uncover existing needs. These needs may be on the surface or just below the surface, but they definitely exist.
      1. Your duty (and opportunity) as a sales professional is to develop the skills and talent within the customer and find the needs (that are already there) of the customer-to uncover existing needs
      2. As you are searching for needs, “wants” and desires will surface
  2. How do you uncover wants and needs?
    • With proper probing effort you can discover the needs of the prospect
    • Probing begins by asking questions. You must develop an attitude of curiosity and sincere interest in the answers to your questions. Let the little child out. (The questions are the answers)
    • A series of questions asked in a professional manner that shows a sincere interest in the prospect and her company would imply that the salesperson is truly interested in helping her instead of “just another salesperson out to separate her from her money”
      • It communicates “Let’s work together to discover the need (problem) before you offer a solution”
  3. What questions should I ask?
    • The right kind of questions to ask are the ones to gather information, not facts
    • Thinking vs Feeling Questions: Most of us claim to make logical decisions but the reality is, we make primarily emotional decisions.
      1. Ask: “How do you feel about a learning app that can help you communicate better with parents, motivate students to practice and manage your payments…?
        • Or ask each individually or whichever benefit is relevant
        • Or How do you feel about increasing your revenue by decreasing your drop out rates?
        • Questions in the early part of the Need Analysis segment of the sales process.
      2. When you learn how the customer feels, you are far more likely to find out what the person thinks
      3. One of the strongest emotions we feel is fear… “Fear of loss is stronger than the desire for gain”
    • Combine emotion & logic: Emotion makes the prospect take action now and logic enables them to justify the purchase later. Example –
      • Can you see where the product can help you communicate better with parents/motivate your students to practice/increase your revenue by reducing dropouts/make managing your fees hassle free
      • Are you interested in communicating better with parents/motivating your students to practice/increasing your revenue by reducing dropouts/make managing your fees hassle free
      • If you were ever going to communicate better with parents/motivate your students to practice/increase your revenue by reducing dropouts/make managing your fees hassle free, when do you think would be the best time to start?

Note: If (and that is a big “IF”) you have made your presentation in such a way that you can expect an affirmative answer to question one, then the process will work for you.

  1. What is the proper questioning process?
    • Make the interrogation conversational. The only thing more frustrating than the poor talk show host who asks questions regardless of the answer to the previous question is the non-professional salesperson who does the same thing.
    • There are 3 basic types of questions that allows you to discover the needs and wants of your clients and potential customers. All questions, emotional or logical, fall into one of these 3 categories and should be asked at the right time
      • Open-Door Questions – The purpose of open door questions is to allow the prospects the freedom to take the answer where they want to go (Note: please avoid offering answers to the question you asked)
        • What do you think about…
        • How do you feel about…
      • Closed-Door Questions – designed to keep the prospect’s answers in a certain area for clarification and embellishments
        • Would you tell me more about…
        • How long did you teach before you entered the business world
        • How does your division compare in size to other divisions in this company
      • Yes or No question – You should use this question only when you already know the answer. The danger of this kind of a question is that if it is overused, it may be perceived as patronizing
        1. Do you agree that this would save you money?
        2. Is this app something you might benefit from?
    • The P.O.G.O. formula will allow you to get involved in a conversational interview process that will be comfortable for both you and the prospect
      • P = Person (Get to know the people involved in the sales process)
        1. The parameter for you as the salesperson who is interested in gaining trust and finding out wants and needs is to give (and get) information regarding the people involved in the sales process
        2. Anything that expresses sincere interest in the prospect will be valuable to you
          • Since when have you been teaching?
          • How did you get into teaching?
          • What’s your main focus, teaching or performing?
          • What do you like most about teaching?
          • What do you like least about teaching?
          • What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching?
          • Who are your idols?
          • What do you do in your free time?
      • O = Organization (get to know the organization)
        1. Similar to finding out about the people/person
          • What are your plans for your organization?
          • What’s the toughest part of running an organization?
      • G = Goals (Gather information about personal and professional goals)
        • What are your personal/organizational goals?
        • What do you plan to accomplish in the next 6 months?
        • What goal is most important to you next year?
        • Why would achieving that goal be important to you or what would achieving that goal mean to you?
        • Did you achieve last year’s goals?
        • Tip: Making more money is never a goal. The real goal revolves around what can be done with the money (Ask : Why would that be important to you?)
      • O = Obstacles for reaching the prospect’s goals
        • As a startup/entrepreneur I know that we face our share of obstacles. Would you be willing to share some of the problems you/your organization faces?
        • What are/were your obstacles to achieving the goals?
    • Recognizing and selling to different personality styles
      1. Bold personality – Selling secrets for the bold prospect
        • Be direct
        • Be concise-get to the point
        • Answer ‘what’ not ‘how’
        • Be conscious of the bottom line
      2. Friendly personality – Selling secrets for the friendly prospect
        • Spare the details
        • Socialize
        • Follow up
        • Show ‘new’ products
      3. Sincere personality – Selling secrets for the sincere prospect
        • Earn trust
        • Go slow and easy
        • Answer all questions
        • Reassure
      4. Competent personality – Selling secrets for the competent prospect
        • Show proof and share testimonials
        • Be prepared and structured in your presentation
        • Answer “how”
        • Address any disadvantages early in the presentation

Tip: Practice!

Step 4: Need Awareness- Validating The Wants And Needs


Be a detective… probe deeper

  1. What is Need Awareness?
    • Need Awareness is uncovering the true need and making the prospect understand and aware that there is a need and the specifics of the need. Even when you are sure you have discovered the client’s/prospect’s need, you must continue to probe for 2 basic reasons –
      1. To be sure you have a true need and not a symptom of a need
      2. To be sure that the prospect understands that there really is a need
  2. Why is this ‘Need Awareness’ step necessary?
    • Fact: 90% of people who have problems (including everything from alcoholism to not enough sales) deny those problems. However, when a skilled sales professional probes with the right questions, the same person who was denying the problem is “permitted” to discover the problem. Since he has discovered it, he will be far more opening in discovering your solutions-your goods or services (which he has also discovered)
    • Many times the prospect herself hasn’t thought deeply her true needs are and hence the objections she raises to buying from you may not be the true Example –
      • Parents don’t prefer online payments
        1. Ask if the teacher has told the parent of the benefits of using the app?
        2. Can we talk to the parents (assumption – the teacher wants to use the app so we can help remove this bottle neck)
    • If you have not identified the proper need and made the need perfectly clear to the prospect, either the sale will not be made, or will not stick
      • Unless the prospect sees, understands and believes there is a problem, there is no problem
  3. How do I get started in Need Awareness?
    • You get started in the same way you began ‘Need Analysis’, by asking questions and probing deeper.
    • This at times is difficult because to probe deeper you need to have built a rapport and relationship of trust with your prospect. Not to mention, to ask questions that cause both you and the prospect to understand the needs and wants, you are required to think!
  4. How do I make the prospect see, understand and believe there is a problem?
    • Create an imbalance in the minds of prospects. We rarely take action until we are out of balance. Your job as a sales person is to discover where there is an imbalance and point it out in a convincing manner
    • To create an imbalance you might have to ask some tough questions. Earn the right to ask them by getting to know your prospect better, building a relationship whereby you care for your prospect
    • You can do so by asking closed-door questions like –
      1. How important would reducing dropouts and increasing revenue for you be (or motivating your student to practice or communicating with parents be to you?)
      2. What do you mean by “not with old students” or “why not with old students, don’t you see the benefit in motivating them to practice or ensuring they don’t dropout?
    • To help the prospect become aware of specific needs, 5 areas of knowledge will benefit you –
      1. Product knowledge – You can never know too much about your product. The more we know about our product, the more we believe in our product
      2. Industry knowledge – The more you understand about your industry in general, the more you are able to understand the all-important “why”
      3. Pricing knowledge – When you understand pricing, you understand how you are helping yourself, your organization and your prospect. Price involves a great deal more than money
      4. Application knowledge – How to use the product
      5. Competition knowledge – Everything about your competitor

Step 5: Need Solution – Selling the product

(which includes convincing, making powerful presentations, persuasion and literally not taking ‘NO’ for an answer)


Going past Nooooo

  1. What is the ‘Need Solution’ Phase?
    • This is the phase where you present your product. Now is the time to stop asking questions and begin presenting solutions to needs, convincing your prospect or client and not taking ‘NO’ for an answer easily or at face value
  2. How do I present my solution?
    • Always lead with need. Never lead with the product
      1. None of us buy what the product is; we buy what the product does for us (the benefits)
      2. We want to know ‘What’s In It For Me’
      3. Personalize the benefits for your prospect. Paint the picture so that your prospect sees personal benefits
    • What you sell should match what your customers buy
      • For teachers:
      • For Students:
        1. We Sell: A learning buddy (learning app) to motivate you and make learning any skill easy and fun
        2. Student’s Buy: A learning app/buddy, to help them to stay motivated through learning a skill and make learning easy and fun for them
        3. For Parents:
          1. We Sell: A learning app for their child to help them be involved in their child’s progress and keep them excited
          2. Parents Buy: A learning app to be involved in their child’s progress and keep their child excited
      • There will be times when you will need to reference features and functions
        1. Features (what your product/service is)
          • Visual progress screen
        2. Functions (what your product/service does)
          • It communicates the student’s progress with regards class and practice sessions and skills earned
      • Benefits (how it helps the prospect/client – wiifm)
        1. It motivates the student by making him/her aware how much he/she has accomplished and thereby increases the likelihood of the student re-enrolling for the class. It also helps the parents to be aware of the progress
  1. How do I handle objections?
    • Objections are a salesperson’s best friend. Asking questions or raising an objection indicates interest or feeling
    • When you truly believe what you have to offer is for the benefit of your prospects, you will take a certain number of calculated risks to persuade your prospects to take action in their own best interests. You will do it politely, pleasantly and professionally, but you will do it.
    • Ask for all possible objections together and then address them.
      1. Example – Is parents not paying online the only reason you are not able to use the app? But to confirm, you are interested in using the app and you see the benefit of communicating with parents or motivating students to practice, right? And you would use it if the parents paid online?
    • Before addressing each validate if they “see” the benefit and would use the app if this objection was solved

Step 6: Need Satisfaction (Closing the Order)


Sold is Gold

  1. What is ‘Need Satisfaction’?
    • If you truly believe you have a desire to help other people; if you truly believe in your product or service; if you truly want the prospects to benefit; if you truly want to benefit from your hard work and effort; then you must remember –
      1. A.A.F.T.O. – Always Ask For The Order
    • Tip: Sales people miss 100% of the orders not asked for
  2. How do I develop the courage to ‘ask for the order’?
    • If you know you are doing the right thing for the prospect, you’ll have no reservations about asking for the order.
    • A fact to boost your courage: Research shows that 60% of all sales are made after the fifth closing attempt.
      1. For those of you who are reluctant to ask for the order more than once or twice for fear of coming across as “high pressure” sales people, you will do well to know that your prospect will look at your offer in a different light the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and even the 5th time.
      2. Asking for the order 5 times or more can be extremely difficult if you –
        • Don’t have deep belief in the value of your product or service.
        • Haven’t done the proper job in the 1st 3 steps (Need Analysis, Need Awareness, Need Solution).
      3. With each closing attempt offer added information. This enables you to allow the prospect to make a “new” decision based on additional information.
      4. Many times we don’t ask the question cos we don’t want to hear the “no”. Be aware of this situation and take corrective action.
    • Just do it – Just ask for the order (Would you like to order one/buy one?)
  3. How do I frame the ‘Asking For The Order’ question?
    • The 3 questions close: The 3 questions successful sales professionals utilize in asking for the order (adapt in your own words)
      1. Can you see where this would____ ? (insert your primary benefit – save you money, increase time, etc)
      2. Are you interested in___?
      3. If you were ever going to start____, when do you think would be the best time to start?
    • The probability close: Follow up question to the above if relevant or ask independently (This close is best used when you are very close to getting the order but feel there is some resistance you need get into the open) –
      1. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 meaning you are ready to place your order, where would you stand right now?
        • Wait patiently with a response, and when it comes, follow with this question: “If you are at ____ (the number given) right now, what would it take to move you to a 10?”
        • If you are consistently getting < 7, the 1st parts of your selling process are the problem.
    • The summary close: Summarize all the reasons the prospect has given you for buying and ask for the order
    • Tip on Closing: Nail down the sale by asking the prospect why he decided to make the purchase. This strengthens the relationship, allows you to finish the relationship on a really high note and the sale will be even more securely “nailed down”
      1. Script: It will be a big help to me and a personal favour if you would tell me one more time the key benefit of the product you are looking forward to using or what benefit of the product made you buy it or what are you looking forward to the most from this product?
      2. Ask for a referral
  4. How do I handle objections to closing?
    • Change “No” to “Know” Once your prospects say no, they are not going to change their mind and buy from you. When they say “no” you must understand that the “no” must mean the prospect doesn’t “know” enough to make the right decision. Never argue with them. Just understand that you haven’t finished your job and accept the responsibility for going back and providing the information needed. With additional information they will “know” enough to make a new (and favourable) decision
    • Ask questions to understand and identify the objection.
    • Once you understand and identify the objection, empathize with the prospect.
    • Then test if the objection is a real objection (some prospects will not know the true objection – The prospect who is embarrassed to admit that he doesn’t have the money or doesn’t understand the offer may not admit the true objection. He feels poor or uneducated and his pride or ego demands that he say he is not interested).
    • 2 kinds of test will help you identify between superficial objections and true objections. These tests also help the prospect who really doesn’t know what the objection is but knows she can’t get comfortable with the decision to buy (Some prospects will not tell you the true objection and some prospects will not know the true objection)
      1. The “Suppose” Test: Just suppose that condition didn’t exist. Would you then buy my product or service?
      2. Isolate and Validate test: This 2 step process proves whether or not you have discovered the true objection
        1. Step 1: Ask “Is there any other reason why you would not want to take advantage of my offer/product today?”
        2. Step 2: Once you get the “No, this is the only thing” response, you will summarize to validate “So you’re telling me that if ____ and ___ were not issues, you would buy today?” At this point you are prepared to close the sale.
    • Tip: Put yourself in the prospect’s shoes and do a pros/cons analysis
    • Bonus Scripts for Objections
      • “Let me think it over”
        1. In running my business I have often found myself on the opposite side of the table from a salesman and have made the very same statement. Over a period of time I came to realize that whenever I asked for time to “think it over” I was really saying one of the 2 things –
          1. In the 1st place I might really want to think it over because I had some questions that had not been answered or had some unaddressed concerns. If this is what you are saying then I would love to be given a chance to answer those questions or address those concerns just so I know I’ve put my best foot forward
          2. And the 2nd scenario maybe that “I’m not interested in anyway but I just don’t want to hurt the salesperson’s feelings though I had no intentions of considering the proposal any further. I can totally respect your decision and would only ask that if this is the case, please tell me now and save us both time” I’ll also know not to bother you by keeping on following up.

Lastly, don’t forget to have some fun. Selling can and should be fun. If you’re not having funyou’ll feel like a nymphomaniac playing the part of a nun.

An anecdote:


Have fun… don’t be a nun

When the prospect reacted to the door-to-door Bible salesman’s request to buy with “I’m broke”, the salesman had a pretty fair response.



Extending the Bible, he responded, “Would you put you right hand here and repeat that?”


Combine these sales tips with 6 weapons of influence and you’ll soon be holding the coveted ‘Salesperson of the year” trophy.

6 weapons of influence and 19 tricks to fire them

“Power is a tool, influence is a skill; one is a fist, the other a fingertip” – Nancy Gibbs #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

Yes, how to influence people is a skill that can be learnt. And it can be more powerful than using power even though you use just a fingertip instead of a fist, whether metaphorically or real. Since it is a skill that can be learnt and it affects everyone’s daily lives, either as an influencer or as an influenced, author Robert Cialdini set out to teach it through his book titled ‘Influence’.

His objective though was to educate us gullible minds on the ‘weapons of influence’ as he calls them so that we can save ourselves from getting manipulated or conned into doing things we don’t want to do.

While he does take a negative view of the weapons of influence, albeit for a good cause, they can be used to positively impact people personally or professionally. Whether you choose to use these weapons to influence your spouse to have a threesome, your child to share her chocolate, sell shampoo to a bald man or promote the Zotbot mobile app to enrich one’s life is up to you. I am just doing my bit to influence you to become better at influencing.

Here are your 6 weapons with 19 tricks based on human psychology… influence wisely.

Weapon #1: Reciprocation

The rule says that you will try to repay in kind, what another person has provided you. Some ways reciprocation as an influence can be used –

  1. Uninvited favour – You can trigger a feeling of indebtedness by doing someone an uninvited favor
  2. Make a concession – If you make a concession to someone, there will be an obligation on the other person to make a concession to you
  3. The rejection-then-retreat technique – Suppose you want me to agree to a certain request. One way to increase your chances would be first to make a larger request of me, one that I will most likely turn down. Then, after I have refused, you would make the smaller request that you were really interested in all along. Provided that you have structured your requests skillfully, I should view your second request as a concession to me and should feel inclined to respond with a concession of my own and comply with your second request
    1. Sales people can use a refusal to request for referrals
    2. After being exposed to the price of the large item, the price of the less expensive one appears smaller by comparison. In the same way, the larger-then-smaller-request procedure makes use of the contrast principle by making the smaller request look even smaller by comparison with the larger one. If I want you to lend me five dollars, I can make it seem like a smaller request by first asking you to lend me ten dollars. One of the beauties of this tactic is that by first requesting ten dollars and then retreating to five dollars, I will have simultaneously engaged the force of the reciprocity rule and the contrast principle. Not only will my five-dollar request be viewed as a concession to be reciprocated, it will also look to you like a smaller request than if I had just asked for it straightaway.
    3. Warning: If the first set of demands is so extreme as to be seen as unreasonable, the tactic backfires. In such cases, the party who has made the extreme first request is not seen to be bargaining in good faith. Any subsequent retreat from that wholly unrealistic initial position is not viewed as a genuine concession and thus is not reciprocated.

Weapon #2: Commitment and Consistency

A quote from Leonardo Da Vinci sums it up in one line, “It’s easier to resist at the beginning then at the end”

  1. Foot-in-the-door technique – Start with a small commitment and build
  2. Write – Get people to write down goals and commitments
    1. Research has found that something special happens when people personally put their commitments on paper: They live up to what they have written down.
    2. Businesses to cash in on the “magic” of written declarations occurs through the use of promotional devices like testimonial contests where the users compose a short personal statement that begins with the words, “Why I like…”
  3. Asking someone to take a public stand – Whenever one takes a stand that is visible to others, there arises a drive to maintain that stand in order to look like a consistent person. For appearances’ sake, then, the more public a stand, the more reluctant we will be to change it.
    1. As an example, this is why dieticians require their clients to write down an immediate weight-loss goal and show that goal to as many friends, relatives, and neighbors as possible. Clinic operators report that frequently this simple technique works where all else has failed.
    2. The most effective type of commitments however are the ones we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures. . A large reward is one such external pressure. It may get us to perform a certain action, but it won’t get us to accept inner responsibility for the act. Consequently, we won’t feel committed to it. The same is true of a strong threat; it may motivate immediate compliance, but it is unlikely to produce long-term commitment.
      1. All this has important implications for rearing children. It suggests that we should never heavily bribe or threaten our children to do the things we want them truly to believe in

Weapon #3: Social Proof

In the context of influence, the principle of social proof states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.

  1. Tell stories of similar proof – Since the principle of social proof also says: The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct, salesmen spice their pitches with numerous accounts of individuals who have purchased the product. Sales and motivation consultant Cavett Robert captures the principle nicely in his advice to sales trainees: “Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.”
  2. When the world is using… – Advertisers love to inform us when a product is the “fastest-growing” or “largest-selling” because they don’t have to convince us directly that the product is good, they need only say that many others think so, which seems proof enough
    1. The principle of social proof operates most powerfully when we are observing the behavior of people just like us. It is the conduct of such people that gives us the greatest insight into what constitutes correct behavior for ourselves.
  3. Create the momentum – Bartenders and charity jars often “salt” their tip jars with a few dollar bills at the beginning of the evening to simulate tips left by prior customers and thereby to give the impression that tipping with folding money is proper social behavior

Weapon #4: Liking

We tend to get more influenced and more likely to say yes to requests, to people we like. While this fact may not be startling, what may be interesting is how this simple rule can be used to influence people and win sales deals. For this one needs to know what are the factors that cause one person to like another person? Once you know the factors you can try adapting them to suit the situation

  1. Similarity – We like people who are similar to us. This fact seems to hold true whether the similarity is in the area of opinions, personality traits, background, or life-style. So find something common!
  2. Compliments – Pure praise does not have to be accurate to work. Positive comments produced just as much liking for the flatterer when they were untrue as when they were true
  3. Physical attractiveness – Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence. Furthermore, we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process.
  4. Familiarity – For the most part, we like things that are familiar to us. It appears that in an election booth voters often choose a candidate merely because the name seems familiar
  5. Conditioning and association – People irrationally can develop a negative feeling for someone associated with a negative event or a positive liking when associated with a positive event.

Weapon #5: Scarcity

The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost. —G. K. CHESTERTON

  1. Fear of loss – The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. In fact, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value.
  2. Make it difficult to possess – Things that are difficult to possess are typically better than those that are easy to possess, we can often use an item’s availability to help us quickly and correctly decide on its quality.
  3. Sudden scarcity – People see a thing as more desirable when it has recently become less available than when it has been scarce all along.
  4. Make it competitive – Not only do we want the same item more when it is scarce, we want it most when we are in competition for it
    1. Each prospect who was interested enough to want to see the car was given an appointment time—the same appointment time. So if six people were scheduled, they were all scheduled for, say, two o’clock that afternoon. This little device of simultaneous scheduling paved the way for later compliance because it created an atmosphere of competition for a limited resource.

Weapon #6: Authority

Most people have a deep-seated sense of duty to authority within us. So much so that even if the order is against one’s moral judgement, you will still be unlikely to defy it, World War II being a classic example.

  1. Order (wisely) – When all weapons of influence fail then using the power of authority (prudently and judiciously) as a parent, teacher, boss, person with a superior title or from one wearing a uniform of law and order may be the strongest weapon.

Ready, aim, fire… to influence GOOD in the world.





Is gamification the answer to motivation?

Is gamification the answer to motivation?

If only..

If only everyone shared Edison’s sentiments then there would be no dearth of ‘light bulb’ moments and our lives would be brighter. But alas, fun not only seems to be missing at workplaces, it’ll also probably start being recognized by Oxford dictionary as an acceptable antonym for work.

Making work fun should not be the responsibility of only HR professionals but should cut across all functions and all persons responsible for a team.

Recognizing that “Traditional incentive structures to motivate customers and employees often fall short. The carrot and the stick don’t cut it anymore; and money, status, and the threat of punishment only work up to a point. In a world of near-infinite choices, the old techniques are rapidly becoming less effective” authors Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter believe gamification is the solution to ensure that employees are not “disengaged, demotivated, disempowered and disconnected.”

In their book ‘For The Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business’ they attempt to provide you with a sophisticated understanding of the concepts around gamification along with providing frameworks and step-by-step instructions to implement your ideas along with examples of how organizations of all types are putting gamification into practice.

Here’s answers to 7 questions that might be slowly poisoning you if you want to know how gamification rhymes with motivation.

  1. What is Gamification?

Gamification is the use of game elements and game-design techniques in non-game contexts.

Example: Consumer electronics giant Samsung has gamified its website with a program called Samsung Nation. Players can earn badges and level up by reviewing products, watching videos, and providing responses for product Q&As. Samsung built a point system that assigns values to all these actions. Sharing an action on Twitter is worth 100 points, while registering a Samsung product you just bought is worth 500. The 5-to-1 ratio is arbitrary, but it represents a rough estimate of the relative benefits to the network of the two activities.

  1. How does gamification in business help?

There are three particularly compelling reasons why every business should at least consider gamification:

  • Engagement
    • The most basic answer is that gamification is about engagement. The same human needs that drive engagement with games are present in both the workplace and the marketplace. Think of gamification as a means to design systems that motivate people to do things.
    • The reason for this is simple. It turns out that our brains are wired to crave puzzle solving, feedback and reinforcement, and the many other experiences that games provide. Study after study has shown that games activate the brain’s dopamine system, which is associated with pleasure.
  • Experimentation
    • Mastering a game is all about experimentation. You expect to experience some failure, but because you can always start over, failure doesn’t feel so daunting.
    • If the game is effective—not too difficult, never too easy—players are continually motivated to strive for improvement. And they are encouraged to try new and different approaches, even crazy ones, to find better solutions.
  • Results
    • It works. Which is why established giants such as Nike, American Express, Microsoft, Samsung, to name a few, are doing it.Top of Form
  1. Where does gamification fit in your business?

To figure out where gamification might fit your needs, consider the following four core questions:

  • Motivation: Where would you derive value from encouraging behavior?
    • There are three main kinds of activities for which motivation is particularly important:
      • Creative work,
      • Mundane tasks, and
      • Behavior change.
    • Meaningful Choices: Are your target activities sufficiently interesting?
    • Structure: Can the desired behaviors be modeled through a set of algorithms?
    • Potential Conflicts: Can the game avoid conflicts with existing motivational structures?


  1. Why games work? The rules of motivation

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) suggests that human beings are inherently proactive, with a strong internal desire for growth, but that the external environment must support this; otherwise, these internal motivators will be thwarted.

  • SDT focuses on what human beings need to allow their innate growth and well-being tendencies to flourish.
  • SDT suggests that these needs fall into 3 categories
    • Competence – “Competence,” or mastery, means being effective in dealing with the external environment: pulling off a difficult deal, learning how to dance the tango, filing a tax return.
    • Relatedness – “Relatedness” involves social connection and the universal desire to interact with and be involved with family, friends, and others. It can also manifest itself as a desire for higher purpose, or “making a difference.”
    • Autonomy – is the innate need to feel in command of one’s life and to be doing that which is meaningful and in harmony with one’s values.

There are 3 rules of motivation:

  1. Always focus on building authentic engagement; there are no shortcuts – Gamification is not just reward design. Many gamified sites and gamification platforms seem to assume that a virtual reward is inherently compelling. It’s not. It might be a pale substitute for what people really want and might actually kill intrinsic motivation. Internal gamification can work for core job requirements, but there must be some novel motivation. That could be the status of winning a coveted employee award or the opportunity to learn new skills.
  2. Don’t mindlessly attach extrinsic motivators to activities that can be motivated using intrinsic regulators. Extrinsic rewards can encourage positive behavior and outcomes when one is dealing with dull, repetitive, and/or tedious activities – Fun Extrinsic rewards can be profoundly demotivating. Any gamification design has to take this into account. Sometimes giving people a bigger benefit to perform some activity will actually make them do it less, and worse. For tasks that are interesting, intrinsic motivation dissipates when extrinsic rewards are tangible, expected, and contingent. It turns out that if you give kids tangible rewards like gold stars for doing well at reading—or, worse, if you give them money—they will improve up to a certain point and then stop. The tangible, expected, contingent reward initially motivates the kids, but its effectiveness plateaus dramatically.
  3. Feedback in a gamified system can be the linchpin of effective motivation – In building successful gamified systems, immediate and frequent feedback is necessary but not sufficient. Here are three important lessons about feedback:
    1. Unexpected, informational feedback increases autonomy and self-reported intrinsic motivation.
      • It means that people enjoy being surprised by achievements and rewards that they didn’t anticipate.
      • Example, when you know that if you tweet 100 times about a product then you will get a “You Tweeted 100 Times About Our Product” badge—getting an unexpected badge or trophy stimulates positive feelings in the user.
    2. Users like to get reinforcement about how they are doing.
      • Informational feedback about progress toward a goal—“You’ve completed three out of the five steps necessary to unlock the AWESOME JOB badge,” or providing some continuous graph of performance against specific metrics—will typically engage a player and may motivate him or her to complete the other steps necessary to complete the task
      • Video games are veritable feedback fests, filled with scoreboards, flashing colors, musical fanfare, and more, whenever something important happens.
    3. Users will regulate their own behavior based on which metrics are provided to them.
      • If you provide feedback loops about customer satisfaction but not about sales figures, employees will begin to care more about customer satisfaction than monthly sales, and vice versa.
  1. What are the characteristics of an effective game?

  • Games are voluntary – No one can force you to have fun. Top of Form
  • Games require those who play to make choices, and those choices have consequences that produce feedback – The choices may involve picking a weapon in a first-person shooter videogame or playing a particular word in Scrabble.
    • A game can simply be defined a “a series of meaningful choices.”
    • Contingent choices highlight the connection between games and autonomy.
  • Players feel a sense of control in games that is deeply empowering.
  • Even more essential is the fact that games seem somehow different from mundane reality.
  1. What are the elements of a game?

  • Points: Points effectively keep score
  • Badges are a chunkier version of points – A badge is a visual representation of some achievement within the gamified process. (The terms “badges” and “achievements” are often used synonymously in gamification.)
    • Badges can provide a goal for users to strive toward, which has been shown to have positive effects on motivation.
    • Badges provide guidance as to what is possible within the system and generate a kind of shorthand of what the system is supposed to do. This is an important feature for “onboarding,” or getting the user engaged with the system.
    • Badges are a signal of what a user cares about and what he or she has performed – They are a kind of visual marker of a user’s reputation, and users will often acquire badges to try to show others what they are capable of.
    • Badges operate as virtual status symbols and affirmations of the personal journey of the user through the gamification system.
    • Badges function as tribal markers
  • Leaderboards
    • A leaderboard gives context to progression in a way the points or badges can’t. If performance in the game matters, the leaderboard makes that performance public for all to see. In the right situation, leaderboards can be powerful motivators. Knowing that it’s just a few more points to move up a slot or even to emerge on top can be a strong push for users.
    • On the other hand, leaderboards can be powerfully demotivating. If you see exactly how far you are behind the top players, it can cause you to check out and stop trying

Furthermore, there are three categories of game elements that are relevant to gamification that may be of help to understand and apply:

Game elements

Game Elements relevant for gamification

  1. How to gamify your business?

Gamification is best implemented in six steps –

  • Devise activity cycles – The most useful way to model the action in a gamified system is through activity cycles, a concept that has gained traction in describing social media and social networking services. User actions provoke some other activity, which in turn provokes other user actions, and so forth. Think of a user tagging a friend in a photo she uploads to Facebook, the upload triggering a notification message to the second user, the second user posting a comment on the photo, a new notification going back to the first user, and so on. There are two kinds of cycles to develop:
  • Describe your players –.
    • Ask what might motivate your players
    • Hint: Players have been categorized as 4 types
      1. Achievers love the rush of leveling up or earning a badge;
      2. explorers want to find new content;
      3. socializers want to engage with friends;
      4. and killers want to impose their will on others, typically by vanquishing them
    • It’s easy to design for four representative avatars—Lucy, Bob, Layla, and Faraz—but it’s hard to design for audience segments like “white, well-educated female players between 25 and 40,” “blue-collar male players who don’t like games,” and so on
  • Define business objectives – define specific performance goals for your gamified system, such as increasing customer retention, building brand loyalty, or improving employee productivity
  • Delineate target behaviors – Focus on what you want your players to do and how you’ll measure them. Behaviors and metrics are best considered together. Target behaviors should be concrete and specific, for example:
    • Sign up for an account on your website.
    • Post a comment on a discussion board.
    • Exercise for at least 30 minutes.
  • Engagement loops describe, at a micro level, what your players do, why they do it, and what the system does in response.
  • Progression stairs give a macro perspective on the player’s journey. They reflect the fact that the game experience changes as players move through it. That usually means an escalating level of challenges


5. Don’t forget the fun! – Ask yourself the following question: Would players participate in your system voluntarily? If there weren’t any extrinsic rewards offered, would they still be likely to play? If the answer is no, then you should think about what might make your system more fun. Nicole Lazzaro, a game designer and consultant who is an expert on the emotional aspects of games, found four distinct kinds of fun in studying a group of game players.

  • “Hard fun” – is a challenge or puzzle, which is fun because of the pleasure of overcoming it.
  • “Easy fun” – is casual enjoyment, a way of blowing off steam without overly taxing yourself.
  • Experimental fun – It’s the enjoyment of trying out new personas and new experiences.
  • Social fun – or “the people factor” is essentially the kinds of fun that depend on interaction with others, even if competitive.

6. Deploy the appropriate tools

  • In broad brush, though, you’re going to need a way to track interactions with game elements and integrate those results with your existing business systems.

Let the games begin!



4 practical titbits about reforming your habits

“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” ― Mark Twain #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

 Power of Habits

If he reads why don’t you?

I guess Charles Duhigg took Mark Twain’s quote rather seriously (or was just fed up with his wife’s habits) and thankfully wrote “The Power of Habits” for others to reform. I in turn am happily sharing my ‘3 minute quickie’ for all those who don’t have the habit of reading but want to develop it. Or develop or renounce any other habit for that matter.

This post (and the book) is not limited only to reading habits. Duh! You can read and share this (After all, your habits aren’t a problem, are they? It’s other people’s habits that are a pain) with anyone whose habits make you squirm and whose habits you would want reformed, whether it be being a slave to a nicotine or caffeine, having to compulsively stand on one leg at midnight or severely lacking all the 7 habits of highly successful people.

Here are my notes along with 4 of my key learnings on habits including a framework that might help them quit those annoying behaviors and develop lovable ones.

But first, what are habits?

Habits as they are technically defined in the book are: “The choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day. At one point, we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we got to the office, how often to have a drink or when to go for a jog. Then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic. It’s a natural consequence of our neurology. And by understanding how it happens, you can rebuild those patterns in whichever way you choose.”

4 practical tit-bits about reforming your habits –

  1. Science of Habits – Habits are malleable
  • Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.
  • Habits follow a loop – cue, routine, reward.


Cue Routine Reward Cycle

The Science Behind Habits

  • Society, as embodied by our courts and juries, has agreed that some habits are so powerful that they overwhelm our capacity to make choices, and thus we’re not responsible for what we do. Example gambling. (However this does not exempt you from the legal or moral repercussion. Once you know a habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it)
  1. Willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.
  • Willpower is a learnable skill, something that can be taught the same way kids learn to do math and say “thank you.

(An aside outside of Charles Duhigg’s gyaan – I believe that the best way to learn and develop will power is through meditation practices. If practiced right then will power will no longer seem like having to ‘will’ yourself into habits or disciplines. Rather, they become a natural outcome, gracefully effortless rather than brute force)

  • Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things. Which is why if you’re spending up all your will power stopping yourself from punching your boss at work, it’s difficult to use the limited will power supply to control your diet or exercise at the end of the day.
  1. Tips to form a new habit
    • Focus on changing just one habit at first. Top of Form
    • Studies of people who have successfully started new exercise routines, for instance, show they are more likely to stick with a workout plan if they choose a specific cue, such as running as soon as they get home from work, and a clear reward, such as a beer or an evening of guilt-free television.
    • However a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward—craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment—will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.
    • But even that’s not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group (which is why AA is so successful)
    • It is easier to convince someone to adopt a new behavior if there is something familiar at the beginning and end.
  2. Tips to changing a habit
    • Habits can be reshaped by simply understanding how habits work—learning the structure of the habit loop—makes them easier to control. Once you break a habit into its components, you can fiddle with the gears.

Here’s a 4 step framework for changing a habit

Disclaimer: In the book Charles Duhigg uses his example of how he changed his habit of eating a calorie inducing cookie every afternoon. I have tried to break down a more burning (pun intended) problem of smoking which has for more complex layers. However, it may be a more helpful application of the problem if you buy into the method/framework and not get into semantics of the example per se.

  • Step 1 – Identify the routine
    • The routine is the most obvious aspect. It’s the behavior you want to change. In this case lighting a cigarette and smoking it.
    • Next some less obvious questions –
      • What’s the cue for this routine? Is it post a meal? Boredom? Need a break before plunging into another task?
      • What’s the reward? Is it the after taste? Is it the high from nicotine? Socializing with colleagues? Temporary distraction?
    • To figure this out you’ll need to do a little experimentation
  • Step 2 – Experiment with rewards
    • Rewards are powerful because they satisfy cravings. But we’re often not conscious of the cravings that drive our behaviors. To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards. This might take a few days or a week or even longer. During the period, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change- think of yourself as a scientist in the data collection stage.
    • On the 1st day of your experiment, when you feel the urge to smoke, adjust your routine so that it delivers a different reward. For instance, instead of taking a ‘smoke break’ go outside, walk around the block and then go back to the desk without smoking. The next day, try a cup of coffee. Then on another day you could walk over to a colleague and gossip for a few minutes and go back to your desk. Or pop in a nicotine flavored gum.
    • What you choose to do instead of smoking isn’t important. The point is to test different hypothesis to determine which craving is driving your routine.
    • As you test 4-5 different rewards, look for patterns and preferably jot down the 1st 3 things that come to mind immediately after your new routine.
    • Then set an alarm for 15 mins and ask yourself if you’re still feeling the urge for a smoke
    • By co-relating your experimental routines with the urge to smoke you should be able to identify the reward smoking is satisfying
  • Step 3 – Isolate the cue
    • Experiments have shown that almost all habitual cues fit into one of the 5 categories
      • Location (Where are you?)
      • Time (What time is it?)
      • Emotional state (What’s your emotional state?)
      • Other people (Who else is around?)
      • Immediately preceding action (What action preceded the urge?)
    • During this experimental phase, write down the answers to each of these 5 cues to identify common patterns
  • Step 4 – Have a plan
    • Once you’ve figured out your habit loop, you can change to a better routine (habit) by planning for the cue and choosing a behavior that delivers the reward you are craving. You can do so with a plan, ie. ‘when I see a CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get REWARD
    • For instance, in the smoking case, if you figured that your cue for a smoke is a meal and the reward is an after taste of nicotine, you could work towards a loop that looks like ‘when I finish my meal (CUE), I will chew a nicotine flavored gum (ROUTINE) in order to get the after taste of tobacco (REWARD)

It is important to note that though the process of habit change is easily described, it does not necessarily follow that it is easily accomplished. It is facile to imply that smoking, alcoholism, overeating, or other ingrained patterns can be upended without real effort. Genuine change requires work and self-understanding of the cravings driving behaviors. Changing any habit requires determination. No one will quit smoking cigarettes simply because they sketch a habit loop.

Most importantly – you’ve got to BELIEVE you can change!

What habits have you recently changed? How? Would love to hear your stories and comments.

Who you gonna call?

Who: The A Method for Hiring

Nope, not Ghostbusters if you’te looking for A-list employees

“It doesn’t matter what you know, it’s who you know.”

I wouldn’t go so far as saying it doesn’t matter what you know, but yes, I would tend to agree that in the professional world, sooner rather than later the ‘who’ does pop up.

Whether it be who you partner with, who are your investors, who your clients or suppliers are, your first few employees or 77th employee, who your colleagues are yada yada yada.

Hiring and retaining good talent is one of the toughest jobs in any company, even more so in early stage startups. In fact, hiring is such an important job that it’s usually one of the key responsibility areas of a CEO, especially since “who is where the magic begins, or where the problems starts” as Geoff Smart puts it so aptly in his book “Who: The A Method for Hiring” – a book where he shares what he claims to be a fail proof method to hiring A list candidates.

“What is an A Player? For one thing, he or she is not just a superstar. Think of an A Player as the right superstar, a talented person who can do the job you need done, while fitting in with the culture of your company. We define an A Player this way: a candidate who has at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve”

His method is expectantly an extremely rigorous, some parts even questionable process to emulate. But if you can run the extra mile, you will be more likely to the find hidden treasure. Here is my 3 hour read cut short to 3 minutes for the benefit of the buzy and the lazy. (In my experience, both are usually the same person)

He outlines a 4 step method to his process –

  1. Scorecard: A Blueprint for Success
  2. Source: Generating a flow of A players
  3. Select: The 4 interviews for spotting A players
  4. Sell: The top 5 ways to seal the deal

Scorecard: A blueprint for success

A scorecard is the ghSMART (Geaff Smart’s company) version of a job description. The only difference is it is not a job description.

A scorecard has the following 3 elements –

The Scorecard for 'The A Method for Hiring'

The Scorecard for ‘The A Method for Hiring’

  1. Description of the mission for the position – an executive summary of the job’s core purpose. It boils the job down to its essence so everybody understands why you need to hire someone into the slot. Mission statements help you avoid one of the most common hiring traps: hiring all round athletes, i.e., generalists instead of specialists.
  2. Outcomes that must be accomplished – defining what must get done (it helps you to focus on evaluating a person on what she must get done, not her past accomplishments)
  3. Competencies that fit with both the culture of the company and the role – to ensure behavioral fit and organizational fit

Source: Generating a flow of A players

Smart quite rightly says, “Great candidates does not happen without significant effort.” His 3 key sourcing methodologies are –

Sourcing for 'The A Method for Hiring'

Sourcing for ‘The A Method for Hiring’

  1. Referrals – from professional network, personal network and employees. Smart cites this method as the number one method to source candidates from all the other methods even though this is the toughest and most time consuming.
  2. Recruiters – Hiring external recruiters
  3. Researchers – Hiring recruiting researchers who will explore the market, identify talent and feed names back to you. They won’t conduct the interviews.

Select: The 4 interviews for spotting A players

Geoff Smart says that the time span in most interviews that are currently conducted is too limited to reliably predict anything useful. Instead, he proposes a series of 4 interviews, each building on each other as the best and surest way of selecting A candidates. You can use the time through the 4 interviews to collect facts and data about someone’s performance track record that spans multiple years.

Selecting for 'The A Method for Hiring'

Selecting for ‘The A Method for Hiring’

The 4 interviews are –

  1. The screening interview – a short phone based interview designed to clear out B & C players from your roster of candidates. The questions (fixed) you ask are –
    • What are your career goals?
      1. If he or she lacks goals or sounds like an echo of your own Web site, screen the person out. You are done with the call. Talented people know what they want to do and are not afraid to tell you about it.
    • What are you really good at professionally?
      1. Geoff suggests you push candidates to tell you eight to twelve positives so you can build a complete picture of their professional aptitude. Ask them to give you examples that will put their strengths into context
    • What are you good at or not doing professionally?
      1. If you hear cookie-cutter answers, simply say, “That sounds like a strength to me. What are you really not good at or not interested in doing?” Talented people will catch the hint and reconsider their responses.
    • Who were your last ‘x’ bosses, and how will they each rate your performance on a 1–10 scale when we talk to them?
      1. You are looking for lots of 8’s, 9’s, and 10’s in the ratings.
  2. The Who interview – It is a chronological walk-through of a person’s career by asking the same set of 5 simple questions for each job, beginning with the earliest and working your way to the present day.

The Who interview is the key interview within the “Select” step of the ghSMART A Method for hiring. Geoff claims that this style of interviewing is the most valid and reliable predictor of performance according to a half-century’s work of thousands of research studies in the field of industrial psychology. It helps uncover data and patterns of behavior for making predictions about how somebody is likely to perform in the future. The questions 5 are –

  • What were you hired to do?
    1. The first question is a clear window into candidate’s goals and targets for a specific job. They might not know off the top of their heads so coach them by asking how they thought their success was measured in the role.
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
    1. A Players tend to talk about accomplishments that match the job outcomes they just described to you. B and C Players talk generally about events, people they met.
  • What were some low points during that job?
    1. Everybody has work lows. There isn’t a person alive who can claim otherwise so keep pushing by reframing the question over and over again till the candidate shares her answers with you
  • Who were the people you worked with? Specifically:
    1. What was your boss’ name, and how do you spell that? What was it like working with him/her? What will he/she tell me were your biggest strengths and areas for improvement?
    2. How would you rate the team you inherited on an A, B, C scale? What changes did you make? Did you hire anybody? How would you rate the team when you left it on an A, B, C scale?
  • Why did you leave that job?
    1. The final question of this vital Who Interview can be one of the most insight-producing questions you ask. Were they taking the next step in their career or running from something? How did their boss react to the news? Don’t accept vague answers. Get curious and dig deep for specifics.

3. The Focused Interview: Getting to know more – The focused interview is similar to the commonly used behavioral interview with one major difference: it is focused on the outcomes and competencies of the scorecard, not some vaguely defined job description or manager’s intuition. Focused interviews also give you the final gauge on the cultural fit with your organization.

  • The questions follow a simple structure just like the other interviews in the A Method quizzing on the candidate on –
    • What are your biggest accomplishments in this area during your career? (related to the specific outcomes of the scorecard)
    • What are your insights into your biggest mistakes and lessons learned in this area?
  • Assign 2-3 members of your team to perform focused interviews based on the scorecard and focus on separate outcomes.

4. The Reference Interview – To test and validate what you learned. Conduct the right number of reference interviews. The ghSMART A Method recommends that you personally do about four and ask your colleagues to do three, for a total of seven reference interviews. Interview three past bosses, two peers or customers, and two subordinate. Script your conversation with the following 5 questions –

  1. In what context did you work with the person?
    • The first question is really a conversation starter and memory jogger. Also in truth, Geoff believes, people don’t change that much. People aren’t mutual funds. Past performance really is an indicator of future performance.
  2. What were the person’s biggest strengths?
    • This questions is exactly the same as the screening interview ones.
  3. What were the person’s biggest areas of improvement back then?
    • In truth, Geoff believes, people don’t change that much. People aren’t mutual funds. Past performance really is an indicator of future performance.
  4. How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating?
    • Once again you are looking for people who are consistently getting ratings of 8, 9, 10 across reference calls
  5. The person mentioned that he/she struggled with ______________ in that job. Can you tell me more about it?
    • This last question allows you to use the information from the TORC (threat of reference check) section of the Who interview

Red Flags

Based on experience, the major flags during the hiring process include:

  • Candidate does not mention past failures.
  • Candidate exaggerates his or her answers.
  • Candidate takes credit for the work of others.
  • Candidate speaks poorly of past bosses.
  • Candidate cannot explain job moves.
  • People most important to candidate are unsupportive of change.
  • For managerial hires, candidate has never had to hire or fire anybody.
  • Candidate seems more interested in compensation and benefits than in the job itself.
  • Candidate tries too hard to look like an expert.
  • Candidate is self-absorbed.

Sell: The top 5 ways to seal the deal

The key to successfully selling your candidate to join your company is putting yourself in his or her shoes. Care about what they care about. It turns out that candidates tend to care about five things, so make sure that you address each of these five areas until you get the person to sign on the dotted line.

Selling for 'The A Method for Hiring'

Selling for ‘The A Method for Hiring’

The five areas, which we call the five F’s of selling, are: fit, family, freedom, fortune, and fun.

  1. Fit – ties together the company’s vision, needs, and culture with the candidate’s goals, strengths, and values. “Here is where we are going as a company. Here is how you fit in.”
  2. Family – takes into account the broader trauma of changing jobs. “What can we do to make this change as easy as possible for your family?”
  3. Freedom – is the autonomy the candidate will have to make his or her own decisions. “I will give you ample freedom to make decisions, and I will not micromanage you.”
  4. Fortune – reflects the stability of your company and the overall financial upside. “If you accomplish your objectives, you will likely make [compensation amount] over the next five years.”
  5. Fun – describes the work environment and personal relationships the candidate will make. “We like to have a lot of fun around here. I think you will find this is a culture you will really enjoy.

If you thought this is way too much effort in hiring candidates then maybe the poll results from the leaders they interviewed for this study will make you think otherwise.

So, now that you’ve got ‘Who’ you know distilled down, the next question is “who knows you”. A different discussion for a different day.

Going from Zer0 to 0ne

The more we compete, the less we gain – Peter Thiel #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

Zero to One

Blue Apples – They not only keep the doctor away, you will also never have to brush a single day

Pop Quiz: What’s common between driving in traffic and driving a startup?

Answer: If you can pull yourself away from the crowd, your speed (and probability) of reaching the destination on time becomes (exponentially) higher. And what’s more, it comes sans the stress of a rat race.

The epiphany came to me when I was on my way to Pune last week, reading ‘Zer0 to 0ne’ by Peter Thiel (Paypal Co-founder) during the drive. In a particular section of the book Peter talks about the benefits of building a monopolistic company, which is, a company building so much value in its niche that it literally rules the market. This is in contrast to building a company in a crowded space amidst cut-throat competition by just re-packaging the same offerings, which is more likely to lead to everyone (or at least most) losing in the long run and sometimes even the short run.

Much like driving sans traffic vis-à-vis bumper traffic as I fathomed during my journey experience in my drive to Pune. For a change, I managed to leave well on time, at 7am, well ahead of the rush hour. I not only cut down my usual travel time by an hour (30%) by pulling myself away from the rush hour crowd, I also not once had stressed out during the journey to make time. Instead I soaked in the lush green scene en route and daydreamed about how to take Skillzot from 0 to 1.

To explain this simply, instead of fighting for apples from the same tree where half a dozen people are pulling each other’s hair and moustache to grab the most succulent apples, why not you plant an apple tree that gives blue apples, apples that will keep the doctor away, and, you can also promise your customer that she will never have to brush a single day.

Of course you could argue that making blue apples isn’t easy, maybe even impossible. But then again, is competing with blunt daggers any less difficult?

The idea here is that competing in a crowded market will at best lead to only incremental benefits. You can pull yourself exponentially ahead of a crowded market by creating new things that will make the future not just different, but better – to go from 0 to 1.

No is a complete sentence

No is a complete sentence #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

So says Anne Lamott. So agrees Greg McKeown. And he’s written 272 pages proving so in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I’d recommend this to you

  • If you think you are too busy but don’t feel the output is commiserate with the input,
  • Too busy doing things you don’t want to do and don’t have enough time to do what you would love to do
  • Or even if you are curious to find ways to identify what to focus on at work for your company, for the best bang for the buck.

I picked it up for the last reason and hope to try out some of his advice.

In the continued spirit of earning good karma sizzling brownie points though, I’m sharing my favorite pieces of advice which will help you ‘busy’ people become ‘Essentialists’ in 3 minutes instead of 3 hours.

If you haven’t guessed, an ‘Essentialist’ is one who does more by doing less. “She does so by applying a more selective criteria for what is essential, the pursuit of less allows her to gain control of her choices, so that she can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.”

 My 7 favorite tips to becoming an ‘Essentialist’ (from the book)

  1. Ask yourself, “If you could do only one thing with your life right now, what would you do?
    1. Or, conduct an advanced search and ask three questions:
      1. “What do I feel deeply inspired by?” and
      2. “What am I particularly talented at?” and
      3. “What meets a significant need in the world?
  1. Accept the reality of trade-offs. You can do anything you want to but you can’t do everything you want to (at least simultaneously).
  2. Ask the essential question: “What will I say no to?” when you face a dilemma of choices for opportunities that come your way, instead of asking yourself “What, of my list of competing priorities, should I say yes to?”
  3. If you want to get all ‘corporate’ and want to use a systematic process to help you through your dilemma of choices for all opportunities that come your way, then first write down the opportunity. Second, write down a list of three “minimum criteria” the options would need to “pass” to be considered. Third, write down a list of three ideal or “extreme criteria” the options would need to “pass” to be considered. By definition, if the opportunity doesn’t pass the first set of criteria, the answer is a ‘no-brainer’ no. But if it also doesn’t pass two of your three extreme criteria, the answer is still no.

    Essentialist's Opportunity Grid

    Essentialist’s grid to selecting opportunities

  4. There are three deeply entrenched assumptions you must conquer to live the way of the ‘Essentialist’:
    1. “I have to,”
    2. “It’s all important,” and
    3. “I can do both.”

Replace these false assumptions with three core truths:

  1. “I choose to,”
  2. “Only a few things really matter,” and
  3. “I can do anything but not everything.”

He says, “These simple truths awaken us from our non-essential stupor. They free us to pursue what really matters. They enable us to live at our highest level of contribution.”

  1. If you’re trying to find a unique positioning for your company then just ask the one essential question that will inform every future decision you will ever make: “If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”
  2. Find your highest point of contribution and avoid your highest point of frustration like you would avoid a serial killer.
Essentialist highest point of contribution

Your Highest Point of Frustration & Contribution for a task

My 7 favorite random tips (from the book), to help live like a master rather than a slave

  1. When you’re cleaning your cupboard and can’t decide which of your favorite torn lingerie to dispose, instead of asking, “Is there a chance I will wear this someday in the future?” ask more disciplined, tough questions:
    1. “Do I love this?” and
    2. “Do I look great in it?” and
    3. “Do I wear this often?”

If the answer is no, then you know it is a candidate for elimination. You could also ask, “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?”

  1. Likewise, in your life, the killer question when deciding what activities to eliminate is: “If I didn’t have this opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?
  2. A clear “no” can be more graceful than a vague or noncommittal “yes”. His point being, “Being vague is not the same as being graceful, and delaying the eventual “no” will only make it that much harder – and the recipient that much more resentful.”
  3. At work, if forced with an overload of tasks that will put your deadlines in disarray, ask your boss, colleague or client, “What should I deprioritize?”
  4. Add a 50 per cent buffer to the amount of time you estimate it will take to complete a task or project (if 50 per cent seems overly generous, consider how frequently things actually do take us 50 per cent longer than expected).
  5. The easiest and most effective way to change a habit or routine is not to try to stop it because that will mean having to change your behavior, which is hard. Instead, the trick is to find the cue that is triggering this non-essential behavior and find a way to associate that same cue with something that is essential. So for example if your alarm clock going off in the morning triggers you to check your e-mail, use it as a cue to get up and read instead. At first, overcoming the temptation to check the e-mail will be difficult. But each time you execute the new behaviour – each time you read the paper instead, it strengthens the link in your brain between the cue and the new behaviour, and soon, you’ll be subconsciously and automatically performing the new routine.
  6. Technology in this new age has abolished any chance of being bored. Technology has also obliterated all the time we used to have to think and process. He says, “The faster and busier things get, the more you need to build thinking time into your schedule. And the noisier things get, the more you need to build quiet reflection spaces in which you can truly focus.”

My 7 favorite ‘quool quotes’ (from the book)

  1. No is a complete sentence — Anne Lamott
  2. If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will – Greg Mckeown (The Author)
  3. Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs. It’s about deliberately choosing to be different — Michael Porter
  4. Without great solitude no serious work is possible — Pablo Picasso
  5. Look see what really matters – Greg Mckeown (The Author)
  6. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing – Stephen R. Covey
  7. Beware the barrenness of a busy life — Socrates

We can take further inspiration from the example of CEO Bill Gates, who regularly (and famously) takes a regular week off from his daily duties at Microsoft simply to think and read. He calls it his “Think Week. And for those of you who are thinking that he’s got a stack of money higher than Mt. Everest with which he can do anything he wants to, you’re right. At the same time, think again if he really has it easier, cos I would imagine when one is in living the public eye, living up to ‘great expectations’ is probably more testing than living a life incognito.

The author says the essence is, “to apply the principle of condensing to our lives we need to shift the ratio of activity to meaning. We need to eliminate multiple meaningless activities and replace them with one very meaningful activity.”

And if you think all this ain’t really rad then just do as a pigeon does when in a quandary, close your eyes and ask, “What’s important now?” (Closing your eyes is the pigeon part, the asking is the benefits of being a human)