Many business people like to think that their company, market, technology, or methods are unique. When viewed through a microscope, it could be. But do your customers look at it the same way? Are they looking through a microscope? Unlikely. Customers make quick decisions based on impressions.

Recently a business owner confided that he didn’t understand exactly why sales are down. He’s pulled lever after lever, all of them logical, but sales remain shaky. Here’s what I discovered:

He was looking at his business as a set of discrete elements. Each important, each essential but the result is a mechanical view. He’s engaged various consultants to help him, each one focusing on a specific area but unable or unwilling to take a systemic look. Here’s the typical sequence:

1. The issue is described by the client and often a solution requested

2. The consultant responds to the request for a solution without a good understanding of the objectives and absent an accurate diagnosis

3. The recommended actions (prescription) are taken but have either no effect or insufficient effect

He’s looked at processes and people, making major changes along the way. This is good but he was missing one thing-presence. What is that? It is what you get when looking at the sum of the parts. It is the impression you create and what customers respond to. The problem is customers have a hard time telling you exactly they are reacting to. It’s much more likely that they’ll say “I like it” or “I don’t like” it. When pushed, most will add specificity which may be accurate or may be a way to justify the impression. Understanding presence requires a less direct approach but results in a more accurate diagnosis. It requires listening rather than questioning, opening up a conversation rather than zooming in quickly. You need a telescope first, a microscope later.

The triple threat that leads to profit is Process+People+Presence. To get it, you need a good diagnostician.

Someone once said “don’t ask a barber if you need a haircut.” I say, don’t ask a technician to be an architect.

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