Sunday, July 15, 2012

Brown M&Ms

You may remember a story from the 1980s about Van Halen and browm M&Ms.

The story goes that the band demanded in their catering contract that no brown M&M we're allowed backstage.

This story has been re-told many times in the context of a ego-maniacal hair band abusing their power at the peak of their popularity.  However, this take is incorrect.

It turns out that Van Halen used this as barometer for how much the concert venue and promoter paid attention to their overall requirements.

Van Halen was one of the first bands of the Eighties that took concert production to the next level.  While other bands showed up with a couple tractor-trailers, they showed up with nineteen sometimes.
They knew they were dealing with a technical house of cards, and they needed to make sure that everyone was on the same page about the importance of all their requirements to have a successful and safe show.

We all have our "brown M&Ms" as customers.  It may be the price of orange juice at the supermarket, how quickly your order ships, or how long it takes your account manager to respond to issues.

As a supplier, you need to understand that your customers are evaluating every part of the business relationship.  A minor detail to you may be a major indicator to your customer.

You know the weak links in your business.  They don't exist on an island, thus the word "link".
It may be a process, a person, or a policy.  Address it today. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Power of Why

In many organizations, those that ask "Why?" are seen as "negative" or "not aligned". 

They become the squeaky wheels who seem to always derail meetings. (on a side note, most meetings stink and should be derailed-that's for another day)

"Why?" is one of the most powerful things that can come out of our mouths.  It is the basis for scientific thought.  Unless you don't want to apply any science to your business, I'm confused about the disdain for this question.

I find it humorous when those in charge try to apply the chain of command as a reason for not allowing "why" to exist.  Is your business a matter of life and death?  If not, then there is always room for questioning previous decision--especially if its in the service of growing the business or improving the story about the company.

"Why?" gets us to the heart of the matter.  It uncovers the true reason for a process.  It doesn't assume anything, just asks for more clarification.   It does, however, demand an answer.

Maybe those who seem annoyed by the question, either don't know (which may show vulnerability), don't like the loss of control, or are disappointed that they've been towing the line without asking "why?" themselves.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Top Down

There is plenty of advice and reinforcement out there about taking control of your career and destiny.  We are all learning that you need to make things happen versus waiting to be tapped on the shoulder for that promotion.

This is translating into unsanctioned meetings among work peers, trying to get things done, solving problems, and changing the work culture.

The problem occurs when this is the only way change happens.
Organizations have superiors/bosses/leaders for a reason: to make decisions and move things forward.

When a leadership or decision-making vacuum exists, and things are moving not forward, employees grow restless and frustrated.  Those ad hoc meetings may come up with solutions, but the final OK often lies up the chain of the command.

Decisions (even wrong ones) and change need to happen on a regular basis.  An organization is either growing and improving or is is contracting and decaying.  Status quo means leaders are failing to own decisions and fearful of putting their stamp on something new.

Yes, we know its up to us to improve our lot in life or to fix something we see needs fixing.  But we also know that a leadership strategy that includes taking the safe road doesn't inspire us nor does it give us a light at the end of the tunnel.  Its tiring, and if its about "grass roots", then what do we need our superiors for?

Corporate culture shaping from the bottom up is a great story, but so is visionary leadership that has us excited to get to work every day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How Much More?

In business, more is typically synonymous with better.
Is more always better?

It depends.  Let's not confuse more attention, more focus, and more control with more customers, more products lines, and more expansion. 

A salesperson can chose to have more customers in her portfolio, or to focus on paying more attention to a smaller group of high quality customers.

A product manger can chose to have more product lines in his offering, or chose to the be the best at a smaller offering of products, creating more value for both his customers and his vendors.

A company can chose to expand into every market they see an inkling of competition, diluting its brand and confusing its customers, or it can be comfortable with its core customers and its market share in the service of keeping a more consistent and enduring identity.

In a world where the story of your brand is more important than ever, you need to decide how much more and what kind of more you want.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Big Mouth Strikes Again

We now have the ability to tell almost every one in the world about every conscious thought and every event we experience.

This goes for both individuals and organizations using social media.

Like a lot of things in life, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Social media is like alcohol: it often amplifies the personality of the person using it. 
It can be used to feed your narcissism (applies to both individuals and organizations) or it can be used as means to share knowledge and insights and continue being relevant.

If you're going to have a big mouth in social media, make sure your ears are just as big. 
Social media is a two-way street.  Your pontificating and witty posts aren't relevant unless you are giving feedback to others.

And you've heard me say this before:  no one is important, influential, or enlightened enough to tweet five times in one hour.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Need To Know Basis

Is your company filled with people who hoard and refuse to disseminate information- information that would make you more competitive and proactive in your industry?

These individuals often treat information as currency, using it as the last hope of  any value they may have in the company.  They also find it almost insubordinate when info gets out without their blessing.

Maybe they remember a time in which information was linear, where the pathway (and bottleneck) started and stopped with them, perhaps based on a relationship they owned or their title.

Information is no longer linear -- it is exponential and networked.
Business today is based on the power of sharing info, not constricting it.

We are no longer on a need to know basis.
We'll determine what we need to know, and we'll get the information we need.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Perfect Sales Candidate

A friend of mine was recently turned down for a position selling web hosting services for a well-known mega online retailer.  This was after four interviews and presentation in front of over 100 current employees in the west coast headquarters.

Again, a sales position.  Not a management or executive position.

In my experience in sales, I've seen the pendulum swing from "we need people with the technical knowledge to sell our products" to "we need people who can just sell anything" -- and then the pendulum swings back again the other way.

Who is a perfect sales candidate for your company? 

Do they need to be someone poached from the competitor so they come with a book of business?
Do they need to be someone who could sell a ketchup popcicle to a woman in white gloves? (Tommy Boy reference by the way)
Do they need to be a "self starter" that "takes initiative" and is "highly competitive".
Do they need to be someone who can "talk the talk" of nuances of the products.

We all have a different picture of the profile of a good salesperson.  Some of us think 20 years of direct industry experience is the deciding factor.  Some of us think its the fast-talking, objection deflector car salesman type.

Think about the last time you bought a product with the assistance of a person (in any type of position) that made you feel good about the purchase.  Was it the style or approach? Was it the technical knowledge?

I argue the best sales person is able to transform themselves from technical guru to pain funnel expert when needed.  Bottom line, this takes a high level of emotional intelligence to be able to pick up on the cues from the customer of what type of sales person you need to be at that moment.

The problem is that you can't find the out in a series of interviews or a presentation.  You also shouldn't base your decision mostly on the technical aptitude of the candidate, because you can teach "technical", you can't teach emotional intelligence. 

Interviews should be a way to mitigate the risk of your decision, but there will always be an inherent risk in hiring a new salesperson. (that's also why, you should do everything you can to keep good salespeople by the way)

The best indicator of a great salesperson is the body of work and the variety of life experience.
Use this as your judge, and take the leap. 

Your best laid plans for finding and hiring the perfect candidate are going to be wrecked by countless salespeople that disappoint you in the future. Did you think your close rate on hiring great sales people was going to be 100% because you've created the perfect hiring process?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Which Do You Chose?

I've consciously tried to exclude politics and political personalities from this blog. However, every once in a while, something pops up in our current events that warrants discussion, even in the context of this forum.

The recent controversy involving Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke has really left a bad taste in my mouth, but not for the reasons you may think.

I've never agreed with Rush Limbaugh before, and I'm not surprised another statement by him rubbed me the wrong way. 

My visceral reaction to his statements did surprise me.  While I completely disagree with him, I keep trying to comprehend the extreme anger and hatred that surrounds this person.

What happened to Rush Limbaugh that his energy is focused in this way?  He's wealthy, got a dream job, and is the envy of a lot of folks who wish they had 1/100th the money he has.

What confuses me most about this is that while millions of people are posting innovative, positive ideas in blogs, trying to grow a tribe of followers,  Rush plugs along, spewing his vitriolic messages, taking for granted the platform he has -- and making the wrong choice.

I'm thankful we live in a society in which you're allowed to speak your mind and criticize others.
However, even though we have the privilege, we still have a choice to make. 

Our choice can go down two paths:
a)  to make art, contribute things that lift and help others, and to show our gratitude
b)  to spew hate, to criticize others, and to tell lies in the service of personal gain

Fifty years from now,  how will people view Rush's legacy?  Better question, will they even remember it?  He's built a career based on hating and tearing down people, and there's plenty of others great at doing that.

What's your choice?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What Are You Waiting For?

You hate your job.
You hate your boss.
You're in a bad relationship.
You're upset with how you've been treated by supplier.
You know your company's new strategy is going to drive away good customers.

What are you waiting for? 
A more convenient time to discuss it?  To make your painful decision another time?
A more perfect opportunity?

You're either driving the car or being driven by someone else.
That car is your career, your relationships, your education, your choices.

Surround yourself with people that can enable your success, but don't forget --you own this.
Don't expect anyone else to drive for you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Actions Speak Louder

Customer delight is a term being thrown around a lot these days.   It seems to be the special sauce to get your customer horizontally marketing on your behalf.

What is customer delight? The best customer service in the world? The point at which you've created that experience for the customer that it becomes a story they tell?

More often than not, it is when the customer is surprised by an unexpected gesture or action you took that defines the turning point of their loyalty to you: upgraded delivery, replacement of an out-of-warranty item, a personal thank you note, or call from a concerned CEO.

The problem is that customer delight is subjective.  It is defined by the customer, not by you. 

As an organization, you can strive to create a culture that is focused on customer delight, but you would be better served focusing on filling your organization with people that have the individual power to make it happen.
This starts with trust, both trusting your employees to make good decisions and trusting that not all your customers are trying to take advantage of you.

You can't define the story of customer delight from the top.  Its got to be crafted, grown, and reshaped from every customer interaction from those touching the customers.

Striving toward customer delight must include the acceptance that you don't know what that is and you can't control it.  What you can control, however, is encouraging your employees to uncover unexpected examples and reward them to take action.

Those actions will eventually build and define your culture of customer delight.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Head in the Sand

Social networking is taking over all aspects of our lives, both personal and professional.  Most of us know this.

The merits, the ROI, and the role it should play in your business is constantly up for debate.

What's not debatable is that it exists and is flourishing.

What is your corporate social networking policy?  Does it address your employees as well as your customers?
Do you even have one?

In 2012, when your company does not specifically define this, you're in trouble.

Right now, your employees are talking about their work life on Facebook and following customers and competitors on Twitter.  Your customers are tweeting about your poor customer service or posting status updates about a problem they have that your product solves.

Lay out your guidelines for employees.  Define how you are responding to customer complaints seen by two million eyes.  The excuse that you don't use social networking personally is lame and is going catch up with you.  

Pretend its 1995 and we replace "social networking" with "the Internet".

See what I mean, Mr. Ostrich.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It's Not About You

Is your value to your customers defined by how much inventory you have, how many warehouses you own, or what your latest earnings report showed?

Does your value proposition or mission statement talk about your strength, your assets, your history, or your people?

It's not about you, it's about the customer.

Your customers don't care how long you've been in business, that you just acquired a small competitor, that  you're on version 11.1 of your awesome website, or that you're proficient at using buzz words.

They care if their business will be here tomorrow, and if it will profitable enough to be here next week, next month, and next year.

Show your customers how you will help them endure and grow.  After that, it becomes about you.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Big Customer Blues

It happened again: your biggest customer caused you to spend your whole day digging out of a mess.

Just like many other times, they failed to plan correctly or bring you into the project at the early stage, and now your paying the price.

Sometimes the entitlement that comes with being a large customer leaves a lot of damage, including late payments, draining resources, and unreasonable expectations.

No one customer is worth you sacrificing your integrity, or draining all your energy for your other accounts.

Trust your instinct and go to the edge of the cliff with that customer.  Reinforce your value to them and re-set the expectations of the business relationship.  You're in this together (I hope), and if you truly are, your customer will respect you more for it.

If they don't, and nothing changes, let them go.  The energy formally spent on them will now be focused on creating new profitable business relationships.  I promise you, you'll never look back.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Just Showing Up

There is an avalanche of new ideas out there on how you should approach your job and career.

My concern is that people new to the workforce are being bombarded with the art of finessing the best out of the workplace before they actually have the fundamentals-- such as looking presentable, carrying yourself in a way that exudes a sense of purpose, and learning the rules before breaking the rules.

The most important one: just showing up.

The problem with just showing up is that its not sexy.  Its not groundbreaking.  Its not outside the box.
It is, however, the foundation of being a dependable, trusted, and reliable employee--traits required before you start questioning and rocking the boat. (if you want to be taken seriously)

We get so wrapped up in what we think we deserve out of our work environment that we sometimes forget the value in showing up for work consistently.  When you don't feel great, or you have things you need to get done, or you're just tired, you need to press on and show up.

Your baseline for approaching your work must always be just showing up. Just showing up is never enough to separate yourself from your peers and advance your career, but I can guarantee the effects of taking opposite approach.