John Graham

It must be easy to accumulate bad habits in business, as there are so many of them. Unfortunately, they can have a negative impact on us personally, as well as on our companies.

How many times do we hear a message on someone’s voicemail? “I’m unable to take your call but please leave a message. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” Maybe it seems innocuous, but it’s a bad habit. It sends callers the message that we will respond at our convenience, when we get ready.

Whether we like it or not, such seemingly small issues can become the pieces of a picture - what we care about, how we operate, and whether or not we have a genuine concern for customers and business associates.

Here are 22 business do’s and don’ts that influence how we are perceived:

1.Don’t make sales calls from a cell phone. Here’s why. First, it gives the impression that we’re on the run, in a hurry, and squeezing the call in. Second, cell phone sound quality is often poor. Worse yet, there’s the distinct possibility of a dropped call. These are not appropriate conditions to make sales calls.

2.Acknowledge e-mails promptly. It’s only proper business etiquette to acknowledge an e-mail as soon as possible after receiving it. If you are delayed, send a simple explanation.

3.Don’t e-mail information in bits and pieces. Organize information before sending it by e-mail. A series of e-mails, each with one or two items of information, is difficult to piece together properly. No one needs to spend time trying to figure out what’s going on in your head.

4.Don’t expect others to remind you when something is due. Employees are the “owners and operators” of mini-businesses - themselves. How well we manage ourselves determines our value to the overall enterprise.

5.Require meeting participants to put cell phones, PDAs, Blackberries and other devices in the center of the table and in full view of everyone. If meetings are valuable, distractions are harmful, disruptive, and impolite. If not, don’t hold the meeting.

6.Ask people if they want you to call them on a landline or cell. It’s wise to let those who take your call make the decision, so you have the best possible conditions when discussing business.

7.Don’t let what others are doing seduce your marketing. Just because others do it doesn’t mean it’s effective. For example, Chevrolet’s “The car you can’t ignore” advertising campaign subtly suggests an unintentional question, “Who says I can’t ignore it?” Or, maybe Web 2.0 is where it’s at for some, but not necessarily for every business.

8.Don’t make decisions based on anecdotal evidence. While such “evidence” may help in pointing you in a particular direction, it should always be confirmed before being acted on. Otherwise, the results can be costly.

9.Don’t confuse Googling with research. We have come to believe that turning out piles of paper from a Google search is research, when it’s just bits and pieces of unevaluated worthless stuff. As such, it is the antithesis of research. If someone hands you the typical Googled pile, hand it back.

10.Don’t chase the wrong prospects. Too many salespeople irrationally race after even the most unqualified leads, always hoping a miracle will occur and they will find a winner. Rarely, if ever, does this occur and time is wasted. Qualify prospects against the profile of your best customers before going after them.

11.Remember to fax. Stop thinking each e-mail you send will be opened, read, understood, and acted upon. That’s not what we do, so why should we expect anyone else to open, read, and act on ours? A fax message can receive more attention - it’s in your face and it’s a hard copy. Include possible action steps so the reader can respond - by fax.

12.Use advertising, direct mail, and PR to drive visitors to your Website. If you want your Website to play a key role in your business, devote substantial time and money to promoting it with ads, direct mail, and public relations activities, always indicating what they will find of value. Do the same when writing letters and e-mails, which can include a link to your company’s Website.

13.Take a risk to attract attention. Taco Bell’s “Steal a base, Steal a Taco” World Series promotion was daring and incredibly successful. Boston Red Sox rookie Jacoby Ellsbury stole the base, revving up the taco machine. Although the total estimated cost nationally was only about $770,000, based on about 1 million takers, the value of the incredible amount of publicity generated by the promotion was the real steal.

14.Share your expertise. Any company’s greatest asset is its accumulated knowledge and experience, and the way customers measure competence. Don’t ignore it. Let them know what you know and do everything possible to communicate this to customers and prospects.

15.Never start a conversation, sales pitch, e-mail or letter with “we.” We talk about the things we know best. Sometimes it’s sports or family and always about what we do or sell. If we really valued our customers, wouldn’t we start every conversation or letter talking about them?

16.Don’t brag about delivering quality customer service unless you’re ready to give it the way customers want it. There’s only one measure of quality customer service and that’s the way individual customers define it. What one values, another may view as irrelevant.

17.Never use a testimonial unless it is real in every way. Forget about “T.K of Miami” or “A Nashville manufacturer.” Anything less than a complete identification is not only useless, but it’s viewed as fictitious and reflects poorly on a business.

18.Free offers are terrific, but don’t hold customers hostage. Nothing is worse than responding to a free offer for an article, newsletter or other information, only to be denied access, until you answer 20 questions or, worse yet, talk to a representative. Deception is destructive.

19.Do tell stories. How much have things changed? If you wanted to talk with our nation’s president in 1825, the best way was to walk down to the Potomac River about 6 a.m., where you would find John Quincy Adams, complete with nightcap, taking a swim. Stories can be memorable because they increase involvement and stimulate the imagination.

20.Drop the jargon. Whether in speaking or writing, jargon puts people off by making them feel like they’re outsiders. If you think using jargon shows you can talk someone’s language, forget it. Understanding another person’s issues is far more effective.

21.Avoid small talk. If building rapport is the issue, then figure out what’s important to that particular person and talk about it. It shows you’re serious and don’t waste time.

22.Always ask the most important question: “What does the customer need to accomplish?” Figuring out the answer is the best way to make sure the solution is correct.

Twenty-two items is anything but exhaustive. You can certainly add your own to the list. We are so busy doing that we often forget to look at or even notice what we’re doing. Raising our level of awareness can make a positive difference.

Publication date:01/21/2008