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Best business tool: Thinking

If you want your associates to roll their eyes, look at you as if you’ve lost your marbles, or walk away shaking their heads, tell them that thinking is the best business tool ever made.

Like oil and water, Brady and Goodell, and culture and the Kardashians, thinking and business are usually at odds with each other. Taking action is the key to success in business, not sitting around thinking.

“I will act now,” Og Mandino, the venerated sales guru urged in his bestseller The Greatest Salesman in the World. To make his point, he repeated, “I will act now” 18 times in one of his “scrolls.” In other words, “Just do it!”

Hold on! In life and business, “just doing it” can have disastrous consequences. How many times have you heard these words: “I didn’t think that would happen,” “I didn’t mean to,” or “Gee, I hadn’t thought of that.” If that’s not enough, “I’m sorry” are code words for “I didn’t think….” It’s the story of acting without thinking.

Here’s how thinking changes things:

1. Don’t ape the competition. The pull of a competitor is so powerful and compelling, it creates near hysterical turmoil: “If we don’t do that now, they’ll get ahead of us” and “We’ll lose out if we don’t…”

The latest race is seeing which auto manufacturer will be the first to load up its vehicles with the most technology. But that’s small potatoes compared to which one will produce the first driverless car.

But not so fast. While most other auto manufacturers are racing to win the driverless vehicle race, Porsche is idling its engine, according to CEO Oliver Blume. Why? He recently explained his reasoning when speaking to a German newspaper. His customers want “to drive a Porsche by oneself.” They buy a Porsche to drive it, not just sit in it. Blume thought it through and let the bandwagon drive by without Porsche.

All too often, competition is an 800-pound gorilla goading us into doing something counter-productive, useless, or just plain stupid.

Google Compare is an example. An online auto insurance comparison-shopping service, it was touted as a disruptor and a “game changer,” but it was gone in only a year. Why? It didn’t understand that selling what customers need is quite different from selling what customers want.

2. Doubt your customer satisfaction scores. If a company measures its customer satisfaction performance against that of its direct competitors, it’s a huge mistake. And here’s why. Direct competitors aren’t today’s competition. Think about it. Today’s customer satisfaction competition is Amazon, Nordstrom, Apple, Trader Joe’s, and others that get stellar ratings from their customers.

Here’s the challenge: every time Amazon, for example, makes even a tiny customer service improvement, everyone else looks worse. It’s worth thinking about.

3. Vet every idea before taking action. It may seem so obvious that it doesn’t deserve attention. But think about almost any meeting you’ve attended at work in the last week where a new, exciting idea was presented, gained momentum, and was a done deal. Chances are no one spoke up and said, “Are we sure this will work?”

Misplaced enthusiasm in business wastes enormous amounts of time, energy, and money. Acting before thinking spells trouble. Here’s an example. The Boston Globe had a “Valentine’s Day Crazy 8 Sale,” offering an eight-week digital subscription for eight bucks.

That was a great offer, but it was apparently sent to current combo print and digital subscribers (not just print subscribers), who had paid the regular price! Unbridled enthusiasm for “great ideas” short-circuits the thinking process and results in unintended consequences.

4. Question canned answers. The air inside every business is polluted with pat answers, which are treated as if they’re factually true, even if they’re unsubstantiated. Here’s just one example:

“Research has shown that the best time to contact a prospect is between 8 and 9 a.m. and between 4 and 5 p.m. Calling at these times catches the prospect first thing in the morning when his [sic] mind is fresh…. Likewise, at the end of the day, he [sic] is winding down and preparing to relax and therefore may be more receptive to a call that could help him [sic] with tomorrow’s work.”

This is nonsense because simplistic, pat answers squash creativity, inhibit learning, and keep us from coming up with new ideas and ways of doing things. They cause us to act without thinking.

5. Figure out what you’re known for. If you ask them, most everyone likes to talk about what they do. It’s often their favorite subject, the one that gets their juices flowing. While it may be fun, it’s also irrelevant.

No one cares about what we do. What prospects, for example, try to figure out is quite different: “Why should we do business with you?” An insurance agent won a company’s business because he reviewed a company’s existing policies and found that critical coverages were missing, and others were inadequate. “He pays attention to the details,” his customer says. That’s what he’s known for. And it’s the details that make the difference.

What do your customers think about when they think about you? Could they tell you if you asked? More importantly, does everyone in your company understand what you’re known for, what makes you unique and valuable to customers? That takes thinking, not just doing. It brings a business into sharper focus and customers into a closer relationship.

Many of the problems businesses experience aren’t caused by a failure to act, but a failure to think.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer. He is the creator of “Magnet Marketing,” and publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing &Sales Ideas.” Contact him at jgraham@grahamcomm.com, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.

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