Reinforcement Theory and Learning


Reinforcement theory, also called operant conditioning, is generally associated with the work of B. F. Skinner. In its simplest form, reinforcement theory suggests that behavior is a function of its consequences. Thus, behavior that results in pleasant consequences is more likely to be repeated, and behavior that results in unpleasant consequences is less likely to be repeated.

Reinforcement theory further suggests that in any given situation, people will explore a variety of possible behaviors. Future behavioral choices are affected by the consequences of earlier behaviors. Cognitions also play an important role. Thus, rather than assuming a mechanical stimulus-response linkage suggested by the traditional classical view of learning, contemporary theorists believe that people consciously explore different behaviors and systematically choose those that result in the most desirable outcomes.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

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Ego Meetings


What about the manager who purports to believe the only way to get information from subordinates is by meeting? This manager may be seeking ego satisfaction.  Meetings are not for holding court. It may be a pleasant way to get reports, but it is far from efficient. Any career-minded individual caught in such a situation needs to seriously consider his or her position and prospects.

Evaluate your meeting schedule. If a memo will serve, write a memo. If an informal conversation will work, converse. If a meeting is the only, or best, solution, hold a meeting, but make sure it is a good one.

Avoid being caught in the meeting  cycle. Help stamp out meeting mania. Don’t be part of the problem.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Most Important Personal Asset


Obviously the real answer is common sense. But if you don’t have it already, you probably never will, and there’s nothing I can say here that’s going to change that.

Common sense aside, then, the most important asset in business is a sense of humor, an ability to laugh at yourself or the situation.

Laughter is the most potent, constructive force for diffusing business tension, and you want to be the one who controls it. If you can point out what is humorous or absurd about a situation or confrontation, can diffuse the tension by getting the other party to share your feeling, you will be guaranteed the upper hand. There are very few absolutes in business. This is one of them, and it will never fail.

A sense of humor creates one of the most favorable long-term impressions. A single humorous, self-effacing comment can immediately let someone know that you don’t take yourself too seriously, and that is the sort of thing that people remember.

It is also the best way to start a meeting. You don’t need to have them rolling in the aisles, but a mildly pleasant remark at the outset will create the right atmosphere for everything that follows. Humor is what brings back perspective, which, next to profits, is the easiest thing to lose in business.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Creative Selling Process


Although it may look easy, creative selling is not a simple task. Of course, some sales are made in a matter of minutes. But others, particularly for large organizational purchase, can take years to complete. Salespeople should follow a carefully planned process from start to finish.

Step 1: Prospecting: Prospecting is the process of finding and qualifying potential customers. This involves three activities:

  • Generating sales leads. Sales leads are names of individuals and organizations that might be likely prospects for the company’s products.
  • Identifying prospects. A prospect is a potential customer who indicates a need or a desire for the seller’s product.
  • Qualifying prospects. Not all prospects are worth investing sales time in. some may not have the authority to buy, and others won’t have enough money. The ones who do have both the authority and the available money are called qualified prospects.

Step 2: Preparing: With a list of hot prospects in hand, the salesperson’s next step is to prepare for the sales call. Without this preparation, the chances of success are greatly reduced. Preparation starts with creating a prospect profile, which includes the names of key people, their role in the decision-making process, and other relevant information such as the prospect’s buying needs, motive for buying, current suppliers, income/revenue level, and so on.

Next, the salesperson decides how to approach the prospect. Possible options for a first contact include sending a letter or cold calling in person or by telephone. For an existing customer, the salesperson can either drop by unannounced or call ahead for an appointment, which is generally preferred.

Before meeting with the prospect, the salesperson establishes specific objectives to achieve during the sales call. Depending on the situation, objectives can range anywhere from “getting the order today” to simply “convincing prospects top accept the company as a potential supplier.” Following that, the salesperson prepares the actual presentation, which can be as basic as a list of points to discuss or as elaborate as a product demonstration or multimedia presentation.

Step 3: Approaching the Prospect: Positive first impressions result from three elements. The first is an appropriate appearance—you wouldn’t wear blue jeans to call on a banker, and you probably wouldn’t wear a business suit to call on a farmer. Appearance also covers the things that represent you, including business cards, letters, and automobiles. Second, a salesperson’s attitude and behavior can make or break a sale. A salesperson should come across as professional, courteous, and considerate. Third, a salesperson’s opening lines should include a brief greeting and introduction, followed by a few carefully chosen words that get the prospect’s attention and generate interest. The best way to accomplish this is to focus on a benefit to the customer rather than on the product itself.

Step 4: Making the Presentation: the most critical step in the selling process is the presentation. It can take many forms, but its purpose never varies: to personally communicate a product message that will convince a prospect to buy. Most sellers use of two methods: The canned approach is a memorized presentation (easier for inexperienced sellers, but inefficient for complex products or for sellers who don’t know customer’s needs). The need satisfaction approach (now used by most professionals) identifies the customer’s needs and creates a presentation to specifically address them.

Step 5: Handling Objections: No matter how well a presentation is delivered, it doesn’t always conclude with an immediate offer that might move the prospect to buy. Often, the prospect will express various types of objections and concerns throughout the presentation. In fact, the absence of objections is often an indication that the prospect is not very interested in what the salesperson is selling. Many successful salespeople look at objections as a sign of the prospect’s interest and as an opportunity to develop new ideas that will strengthen future presentations.

Three basic approaches to overcoming objections include asking the prospect a question, giving a response to the objection, or telling the prospect that you will need to look into the matter and address it later.

Step 6: Closing: So far, you haven’t made a dime. You may have spent weeks or months—years in some cases—to bring the customer to this point, but you don’t make any money until the prospect decides to buy. This stage of the selling process, when you persuade the customer to place an order, is referred to as closing.

How should you ask for the order? Closing techniques are numerous; here are some of the more popular. The alternative proposal close asks the prospect to assumptive close, you simply proceed with processing the order, assuming that the prospect has already decided to buy. Another alternative is the silent close, in which you finish your presentation and sit quietly, waiting for the customer to respond with his or her buying decision. Finally, many salespeople prefer the direct close, where you just come right out and ask for the order.

These closing techniques might strike you as tricks, and in the hands of unethical salespeople, some closing approaches certainly can be. But the professional salesperson uses these techniques to make the selling process effective and efficient—not to trick people into buying when they aren’t ready.

Step 7: Following Up: Most salespeople depend on repeat sales, so it is important that they follow up on all sales and not ignore the customer once the first sale is made. During this follow-up stage of the selling process, you need to make sure that the product has been delivered properly and that the customer is satisfied. Inexperienced salespeople may avoid the follow-up stage because they fear facing an unhappy customer. However, an important part of a salesperson’s job is to ensure customer satisfaction and to build goodwill.

In order to improve the odds of keeping a satisfied customer after the sale, salespeople should remember to:

  • Handle complaints promptly and pleasantly
  • Maintain contact with customers
  • Keep serving the customers
  • Show appreciation.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Message Content in Marketing Communications


Message content deals with what is said in a message and how it is said. There are five common content topics that have great relevance for marketing practitioners: 1) fear appeals; 2) the use of humor; 3) the role of music; 4) sex appeals; and 5) subliminal messages. Advertisers, salespersons, public relations spokespersons, and other marketing communicators use all of these message styles to varying degrees in hopes of gaining attention, achieving impact, and ultimately producing sales.

Fear Appeals: Companies sometimes use fear appeals in attempting to motivate customers to action. The underlying logic when using fear appeals is that fear will stimulate audience involvement with a message and thereby promote acceptance of message arguments. The appeals may take the form of social disapproval or physical danger aside from the basic ethical issue of whether fear should be used at all, the fundamental issue for marketing communicators is determining how intense the fear presentation should be. Numerous fear-appeal studies have been performed by psychologists and marketing researchers, but the fact remains that there still is no consensus on the “optimum” level of fear. Some Neither extremely strong nor very weak fear appeals are maximally effective. It seems that appeals at a somewhat moderate level of fear are best.

Humor: Politicians, actors and actresses, after-dinner speakers, professors, and indeed all of us at one time or another use humor to create a desired reaction. Salespeople and advertisers also turn to humor in the hopes of achieving various communication objectives. Whether humor is effective and what kinds of humor are most successful are matters of some debate among marketing communications practitioners and scholars.

Despite the frequent use of humor in advertising, relatively little is known in a definitive scientific sense about its effects on customer behavior. However there are some generalizations:

  • Humorous messages attract attention.
  • Humor can inhibit consumers’ understanding of the intended meaning of a message.
  • Because humor is a pleasant form of distraction, it can produce an increase in persuasion by effectively “disarming” receivers’ natural selective perception and reducing their tendencies toward counter arguing with persuasive selling claims.
  • Humor tends to enhance source credibility, thereby improving the persuasive impact of an ad message.
  • A humorous context may increase liking for the source and create a positive mood, thereby enhancing the persuasive effect of the message.
  • To the extent that a humorous context functions as a positive reinforce, a persuasive communication placed in such a context may be more effective.
  • The effects of humor can differ due to differences in audience characteristics. Advertisers must use humor carefully since consumers display a variety of tastes in what is humorous and what is not.

Music: celebrated musicians, as well as, non-vocal accompaniment and unknown vocalists are used extensively in promoting everything. Music performs useful communication functions such as attracting attention, putting consumers in a positive mood, and making them more respective to message arguments. Although music’s role in marketing is an increasingly understand subject, a few recent studies have begun to demonstrate the roles that music performs. Music is an unconditional stimulus in an effort to influence experimental subjects’ preference.

Sex Appeals: Sex appeals in advertising are often explicit. The use of explicit sex was unthinkable just a few years ago, it now represents part of a new trend toward more sexually explicit advertising. Sexual explicitness is prevalent and overt in some countries. Whether such advertising is effective and under what conditions it may be effective remain largely unexplored issues. Complicating the matter is the fact that sex in advertising actually takes two forms: nudity and suggestiveness. It is uncertain which form is more effective. There are several potential roles. First, sexual material in advertising acts as an initial attentional lure and also holds attention for a longer period, given that the models are attractive or the scene is pleasant. This is called the “stopping power” role of sex. A second potential role is to enhance recall. Sexual content or symbolism will enhance recall only if it is appropriate to the product category and the creative advertising execution. Sexual appeals produce significantly better recall only if the advertising execution has an appropriate relationship with the advertised product. A third role performed by sexual content in advertising is to evoke emotional response such as feelings of attraction or even lust.

Subliminal Messages: the word subliminal refers to the presentation of stimuli at a rate or level that is below the conscious threshold of awareness. Stimuli that cannot be perceived by the conscious senses may nonetheless be perceived subconsciously. This possibility has generated considerable concern from advertising critics and has fostered much speculation from researchers.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Reducing Job Stress


There are a number of ways to alleviate stress. These range from commonsense remedies (such as getting more sleep and eating better) to more exotic remedies like biofeedback and meditation. Finding a more suitable job, getting counseling, and planning and organizing each day’s activities are other sensible responses. In his book, Stress and Manager, Dr Karl Albrecht suggests the following ways to reduce job stress:

  • Build rewarding, pleasant, cooperative relationships with colleagues and employees.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  • Build an especially effective and supportive relationship with your boss.
  • Negotiate with your boss for realistic deadlines on important projects.
  • Learn as much as you can about upcoming events and get as much lead time as you can to prepare for them.
  • Find time every day for detachment and relaxation.
  • Take a walk around the office to keep your body refreshed and alert.
  • Find ways to reduce unnecessary noise.
  • Reduce the amount of trivia in your job; delegate routine work whenever possible.
  • Limit interruptions.
  • Don’t put off dealing with dissatisfied problems.
  • Make a constructive “worry list” that includes solutions for each problem.

The employer and its HR specialists and supervisors can also play a role in identifying and reducing job stress. Supportive supervisors and fair treatment are two obvious steps. Other steps include:

  • Reduce personal conflicts on the job.
  • Have open communication between management and employees.
  • Support employees’ efforts, for instance, by regularly asking how they are doing.
  • Ensure effective job-person fit, since a mistake can trigger stress.
  • Give employees more control over their jobs.
  • Provide employee assistance programs including professional counseling.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.