Learning To Recognize Opportunities (Where’s Waldo?)
If you have children you are probably familiar with the “Where’s Waldo?” books. The name of the game here is to find one brightly clothed Waldo in an ocean of people, animals, toys and things. Each scene is cram packed with all sorts of stimuli, but Waldo is always there if you look for him. What’s amazing is that I can stare at a scene for an hour and never find that little bugger, but my young niece will walk by, notice the new book, stop and say, “Oh, that’s a new scene . . . let me see where Waldo is…that’s him!!”Whack…bam… boom. Back to the toys!! She has clearly learned how to zero in on the look of Waldo.
The analogy holds true for business opportunities. Like Waldo, they are in just about every scene in your life (or certainly every day of it), if you know how to spot them. So the good news is: (i) learn how to spot business opportunities and you will find they are everywhere; and (ii) you competitors probably have not learned this skill yet.
My famous “F” routine has received countless chuckles, has induced a fair share of embarrassment and has demanded the attention of lots of “know-it-alls” since I first began using it in training sessions over fifteen years ago. It visually conveys an extremely important message. Take a look.
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE-
SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIF-
IC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE
EXPERIENCE OF MANY YEARS
Here’s the drill. How many F’s do you count in the preceding box? This is not a trick. Just count the number of F’s you see in this box. To make it interesting let’s assume you’ll earn $10,000 for each “F” you identify.
Heck, let’s not make it an “essay” question where you have to write down the number, let’s keep it easy as pie by making it a multiple choice question. Circle the correct answer below (in No. 2 pencil . . . just kidding). If you still insist on seeing three, congratulations — you are in a large, if not very observant, group. If you changed from 3 to 4, congratulations — you are making progress. If you changed from 4 to 5, congratulations — you are almost there. Trouble is: You are still wrong.
The one and only correct answer can be found below, but don’t look yet. F’s are found in the words finished, files, scientific. These will satisfy those of you who are sticking with three as you answer. But in addition to these big words, the letter F can be found in three little words . . . “of.” The answer is six. There are six F’ s.
Some of you have probably just said to yourself,
“How did I miss that?”
After all these years I still find this an illuminating exercise. Why can’t we pick up all the “F’s” in the first pass? Because we aren’t tuned in to the guises an “F” can take — i.e. hiding in plain view behind the “o” at the end of the word “of”. Try it again. Now that you know how to search, you can easily spot the “F’s” — and you will with any other sentence I give you.
This exercise is obviously not about counting F’s. It is about the skill and importance of learning to spot opportunities. The “F” in the exercise represents a business opportunity. And business opportunities present themselves and are right in front of our eyes . . . every day . . . undisguised. Yet most of us fail to spot them, or at best see only a few of them.
Here’s one more example of something hiding in plain view. One of America’s oldest and most elegant resorts is the Greenbriar in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia — a few hours drive from Washington, D.C. For years (in fact decades), attendees at corporate conferences would take the elevator to the second floor of the conference center, walk down a hall and through the ballroom doors and enter an exhibition hall to view various vendors of their industry. What no one knew from the 1960s until 1998 was that the exhibit hall was actually underground, the doorways to the hall were fake and camouflaged fifteen-foot high 25-ton steel doors, and that the two conference rooms off the exhibit hall (with capacities of 100 and roughly 500 seats each) were sized for a very specific purpose — to hold members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. The exhibit hall was part of a top secret underground installation to house up to 1,200 members of the government in the case of nuclear war. (You can tour this “bunker” and I recommend it.)
You are probably wondering how the facility could be underground when the meeting attendees took an elevator up to the second floor to walk into the exhibit hall. The answer is that the facility was subtly built into the side of a hill. The facility was perfectly hidden “in plain view” and remained a secret for over thirty years. But once you were tipped off to it, you could easily understand that it was underground, and you could spot telltale signs that gave away the huge doors and, of course, the reason for the seating capacity of the meeting rooms. Just like the F’s, you would proclaim, “How did I miss that…. for thirty years?”
This is a phrase you do no want to say in your sales career.
Yet, this hidden in plain site phenomenon also holds true in your business. Once you know what your opportunities look like, they will jump out at you. The good news is that your competition hasn’t taken the time or made the effort to identify the exact outward appearance of an opportunity. They do, and will, continue to miss most of them. Advantage you.
One reason opportunities are missed is because they often come disguised as problems or screw-ups or with a little camouflage. But with practice, you can learn to see through the camouflage and spot them quickly. Let’s look at a few more examples.
Waldo #1: Phone messages
You come back from lunch to find fifteen message pink slips on your desk. Some say “urgent”; some are problems you know you’ll have to sort out. What is your knee-jerk response? “Man, doesn’t that phone ever stop ringing? Don’t these people know anyone else’s number?”
- Opportunity: Someone believes in your ability enough (now) to try to contact you to help him. If you call the prospect or client back (now) it will not only surprise the willies out of him but will be a sure sign that you are interested in him. If you don’t have the information needed by your caller, call back anyway and inform him that you need more time. By acknowledging the call, you are positioning yourself as someone he can depend on.
Waldo #2: A casual letter or a post card
A normal response would be to read it, feel good for a moment, and get back to doing what you were doing.
• Opportunity: Use the card as an excuse to call the sender. Perhaps you can bring up a topic of interest, which you have been postponing. Always be on the lookout for reasons to call people to say “thanks for thinking of me.
Waldo #3: Phone Chit Chat
When speaking on the phone this morning, the caller said she had a very nice experience at a recent industry conference. She mentioned the president’s name and said she had a nice conversation with him.
- Opportunity: Since conferences hire speakers (and I am a speaker) I write that man a letter (today) referencing my caller and the conversation he had with her. I will also be sure to mention how delighted she was with the conference. Then I will invite the man to place my name on his list for future speaking candidates.
Waldo #4: The morning paper
At breakfast you read about a local promotion, accomplishment, or honor to be bestowed.
- Opportunity: You jot off a quick letter to the recipient and include the article. (A common error we all make is that we feel the subject of the published piece must already have a copy of the article. This is often not the case.) You applaud people who deserve applause and in so doing open a brand new set of opportunities.
Waldo #5: Your Sister-In-Law’s Barbeque
Her back yard is filled with about twenty-five to thirty adults. You are there to have a good time and are in social mode.
- Opportunity: You don’t like to hit on people for business at social functions, and that is fine. But you have a chance to let everyone know through polite conversation what business you are involved in. And you can easily and cordially ask what business they are in. Make a mental (or covert physical) note of who they are and their job and follow up with a friendly call later in the week to see if they need travel services or if they know someone who does.
Waldo #6: Radio News Flash
You hear on the radio that there are massive delays at the local airport due to weather or an airline strike. Lots of business and vacation travelers are stranded.
- Opportunity: Call the home office of your major local corporate travel accounts and offer your help for any stranded executives — booking hotels, rental cars, alternative flights, rail, etc. What’s better, call your prospects or those accounts your competitor has locked up and offer to be the “fixer”. You will be remembered the next time someone needs travel services.
Waldo #7: Price Increases
The airlines (or any other industry supplier) have just announced a pending price increase.
- Opportunity: Call your clients and prospects and offer to book any travel plans they have in advance of the increase, or offer to do a cost analysis of the impact of the increase on their travel budget. (Added benefit: You may get great intelligence into the firm’s travel volume and needs.) As with all of the above examples, you are using this opportunity to show the client and prospect that you, indeed, are The Exception. That inevitably will translate into more business.
Although these examples are travel industry related, the list is almost limitless for any industry. Take the time to sit down and think about how the opportunities in your industry can be hidden in plain view, and you will create a list of “trigger events” that warrant your response and lead to new business.
So, what do opportunities look like? They look like postcards, junk mail, advertisements, wrong numbers, old databases, new databases, smiles, frowns, complaints, bad news, good news, kind words.
They come disguised sometimes as friends, relatives, negative remarks and positive remarks.
They can be found at trade shows, airports, water coolers, hotels, churches, reunions, and in all forms of print or communication.
Be receptive to the commonplace and peculiarities of everyday living. You will not only spot more opportunities, but you will find yourself having more fun in the process.