Leadership

My Next Ten Years

Networked Brains

I decided it is time for me to make a new plan. The Chinese have their 100 year plans. I like the idea but having turned 62 a couple of months ago, I thought 100 years might be bit too optimistic. So, I am working on my ten-year plan.

Now the truth is that while I’ve always been a goal setter, I don’t recall ever setting a life plan for myself. I’m fascinated by people who do it and even more fascinated when they actually follow the plan but I’m just too interested in too many things and I always wanted to keep my options open. Yeah, I’ve always suffered from shiny object syndrome. It’s worked for me. I’ve had a fascinating and rich life and while there are things I might like to do-over, I’ve learned not to dwell on the past and to focus on today.

I’ve been writing a new book for the last couple of months. It was focused on sales for small business. I say was because I’ve decided not to write it. And, the story of why I made that decision is what led to putting together the ten-year plan. Let me tell you the story of what happened.

Part of writing the book involved interviewing small business owners, entrepreneurs, and freelancers. One of the things that kept coming up was the expressed need for a better way to sell despite all the amazing amount of content available in books, DVD’s, video, online, etc. It seems like these things just aren’t enough to give people the combination of skills and confidence necessary to sell when selling isn’t your primary job description.

All of the people I talked with share a couple of characteristics. The first one is they are in business because they love and are passionate about what they are doing. The second one that most of them share is they have almost no direct selling experience and, for the most part, are anxious about selling to someone.

That got me to thinking about how I learned how to sell. The first formal training occurred when I was in my mid-twenties and working my first job for someone other than myself. I got a sales job with 3M Company and they put me through an extensive two-week program followed up by time working in the field with a supervisor, followed up by more classroom training, which was followed up by more follow-up. It was an awesome program.

When I later formed my own sales and marketing consulting company, I put together my own sales training that was three full days of workshops followed by six to eight weeks of continuing on-site follow-up including working with the salespeople on actual sales calls where we not only observed but interacted with the customers and prospects so the person undergoing the training could learn to model us. It too was very successful but it was designed for people who wanted to be sales professionals and were motivated to participate and learn.

Suddenly during my interviews with these small business owners a light bulb went off and I realized that it was always going to be exceptionally hard for them to learn how to sell and value the sales process from reading a book or watching a video. Selling is an experiential process. Books are great but most people need to actually experience the sales process in order to own it – especially people who view selling as something they know they have to do for their business to survive but don’t particularly appreciate having to engage in it.

It was at that moment that I decided the world doesn’t need another book about how to sell.

But, now I’m faced with a really difficult question. “How do you help non-sales type people be successful in selling without the long-term training and follow-up? How do you let them experience selling for themselves without being with them?”

I’ve got some ideas but I can’t do it alone. It’s going to take a tribe of us to make it happen. We’re going to have to network our brains for exponential growth. If there is one thing I do know it is that there are lots of you out there that want and need to be able to sell but you don’t want the process to feel manipulative and you don’t need all the rah-rah and sneaky sales tactics. You want selling to be a win-win relationship that happens naturally and gently.

I’m with you on all this and I’m proof that you don’t need any of the slimy tactics to sell. I broke every sales record possible with 3M and continued to have remarkable success in selling my entire life. Manipulation and creepy tactics just don’t work for me and they don’t work for most people who are in business because they love what they do and not because they love the sales part of it.

So the 10-year plan is focused on delivering a realistic, first-hand, you’re part of the sales process experience while still allowing you to run your business. The first change you’re going to see in this 10-year plan is my blog is going to be very different. I’m going to give you something that I hope will be a way to keep you in tune with gentle selling. I call it The Daily Doughnut and you’ll be hearing more about what a treat it will be right here very soon. I know you don’t have a lot of time to spend on learning and maintaining your selling skills when you’re running your business so The Doughnut will give you some bite size chunks that I hope will be one way to help you.

In order to make the experience more real for you, I’m going to invite readers to share their sales challenges and we will use the power of stories to recreate them along with solutions that you all can use in your own business. You’ll see more videos, hear more podcasts, experience more webinars and be an actual part of all this yourself. I may even show up at your place of business and we’ll do this together.

If you only come away with one thing from this post I want you to remember this. In order to learn how to sell, to become better at sales – you have got to experience it! You just can’t sit on the sidelines watching. I don’t have all the answers and this plan is a journey for all of us. More ideas of how to turn this into an experience are in development now. I’m talking to several companies about doing real interactive long-distance training as one example. I’ll continue to write about leadership and creativity but I hope to even make that experience more real for all of you. Between technology, storytelling and working together as a tribe I hope we can accomplish these things.

I hope you’ll join me on the trip. It should be one heck of a ride!

Beat Resistance

The picture above is of a stainless steel plaque that is affixed to the base of my main monitor. That means I see it, even if only subliminally, hundreds of times a day. And, I make it a point to start my day by really looking at it and thinking about what it means.

Beat Resistance.

The plaque was part of a limited edition of the book, “Do The Work” by Stephen Pressfield. The engraving is a knight battling and slaying a dragon. Pressfield says this about the image.

“On the field of self
stand a knight and a dragon.
You are the knight.
Resistance is the dragon”

I need to look at the plaque and its affirmation to Beat Resistance every day. I need to remind myself that if I allow doubt, fear, alibis, and a thousand other excuses to creep into my mind that my work is in peril.

I’m not unique in this respect. It happens to you too. Instead of picking up the phone and making the call to a new potential client you work on organizing your customer database. Instead of creating a presentation that you can offer to organizations to help spread the message that is vitally important to your work, you surf the net telling yourself you need to do more research first.

Instead of doing your work – the work of self-expression that is vital to defining your uniqueness, you let resistance push and shove you towards stuff that doesn’t really matter.

How do you beat it? Pressfield’s book is dedicated to teaching you the answer to that question and I recommend you read it. But, if you don’t have it handy let me share with you what I do every single day.

I start my day very early and before the coffee is made, before I even think about breakfast, I climb the stairs to my loft and I open up Word. While it is opening, I look at the plaque and I acknowledge that Resistance is real and that I will fight it again today and I will win.

And, I also acknowledge that when Resistance is at its strongest, I am doing the right thing for me. Right now I’m writing a new book. Every day more words get strung together to form sentences, then paragraphs, chapters, and finally a new book will emerge.

Resistance whispers in my ear and says it won’t be good enough. It tells me that my friends Seth, Tim, Megan and Jodi won’t like it but they won’t tell me. It whispers who needs another book about sales. It reminds me about all the words of approval I wanted to hear when I was just a kid but didn’t get. Resistance tries to get into my head and my heart.

But, I say “Go to hell. You’re not going to beat me, Resistance.”

And, so like Pressfield, I do the work. I keep writing. And as I do it I become more and more energized. I know I’m doing what I love and love will beat Resistance every single time. Resistance begins to shrink and look smaller and smaller. But, suddenly it will rear up again and tell me I don’t deserve to feel this good about my work because it isn’t good enough – I’m not good enough. And, that’s when I close my eyes and picture the dragon standing with fire coming from its smoky mouth confronting me and I hear it laughing. But, I will not let it kill me. Instead, I pull out a sword and I plunge it straight into its little black heart.

I keep on writing. You’ll make the phone call to that potential client. Someone else will stop the research and start building the presentation that will be seen by hundreds and then thousands. Your message, your art, the work the world wants you to do will happen.

You will have won today. Tomorrow the fight begins anew but the battle will not be as difficult because you’ll be stronger. You’ll be stronger because you have learned that the first and the final answer to beating the whispers and fears, the doubts and the naysayers is to just do the work.

You can do it. I can do it. We may be doing different work but those of us who are doing the work we love are doing it together. And, together, we are strong enough to beat any kind of Resistance.

Make a Difference or Stop Talking About It

You say you want to make a difference – make the world a better place. If you really mean it then pay attention and watch the short video clip below. It won’t tell you how to secure world peace, stop genocide, or end corruption but it will show you how to save a life – today.

This is your chance to do what you say you want to do. And, guess what? In the end, you’ll actually be making the world – the entire world – a better place.

If you’re viewing this in an email and can’t see the video then click on the image below.

 Now go here and save a life.

Thank you.

Social Media Is a Waste of Time?

Photo compliments of Brandon Carpenter

Think social media has little value and is a waste of time. If you ask Azubike, I bet he’ll give you a big smile and tell you how social media made a huge difference in his life. I’ll let him tell you in his own words.

But, first, a little back story. My wife, Joann, started a Facebook group called Social Workers some ago. They are a pretty active bunch and the topics are mostly work related. On August 12th, Azubike reached out to the group and asked for help in preparing for the Licensed Clinical Social Worker exam. He said he was preparing “hard” for it. Passing this and becoming licensed would be a major accomplishment for him.

Two weeks later on September 1st everyone was thrilled to find this post from Azubike.

“Hello friends and fellow social workers. I’m glad to share the good news that, yesterday, I passed the LCSW exam. I also want to place on record that through this medium, I got help in preparing for the exam from, Armina Johnson-McElveen, a woman I did not know and haven’t even met. People like her make this world better and FB a richer experience. When I attempted the exam in April I failed by seven points and had to ask for help, which has paid off. My gratitude goes to Armina and others who responded to my request for assistance.”

Enough said.

 

Dreams, Risk, and Change

I never met him. Years ago one of his dreams became my first computer. His dreams are all around me today. I use several of them every day and his dreams have melded with mine.

I wish yesterday had never happened.

Sometimes things just don’t make any sense. Like this change.

I live for change. I encourage, facilitate, and evangelize change.

But, this is one change I feel that is just not right.

The tears I feel welling up as I write this are sad ones but they are also tears of appreciation for a world that is better because he dared to dream big and to risk even bigger.

Your First Post from the Water Cooler Hangout

Please check your email for a link to download your free copy of Listen First – Sell Later.

 

A while back, I spent a week interviewing 17 people about their views on what makes good customer service and who are the best companies. Two things came out of the interviews that I think are worth remembering.

  • A person’s idea of whether or not a company is good at customer service is totally dependent upon their own personal experience with that company.

Now that might not seem like a radical insight but think about it for a minute. In just 17 interviews I found people who absolutely hate companies that are rated in the Top Ten in the United States over and over again.

You see it didn’t matter if your company is number one in customer service in the world if you left them with a bad taste in their mouth and if you didn’t delight them with extraordinary service.

This means that your company has to be vigilant to delight every single customer.

Your customer service program needs to be a Zero Tolerance one when it comes to unhappy customers.

  • The second thing is something that was consistent over and over again. People used the word “feelings” when they discussed their experiences. And, the stronger the feeling – whether positive or negative – is what makes the interaction one of delight or one to rant about.

Again, this doesn’t sound like an “aha” moment. But, it is because it gives you, the business owner/executive, the opportunity to align your customer service programs and goals with feelings which is the most powerful motivator in the world.

Instead of focusing on things like how long it takes a customer service rep to end a call, or the percentage of total customers who say they like you in your latest survey; when you use customer feelings as the measuring of delight, you will have to put the responsibility and authority to create that extraordinary experience right where it belongs – with your front-line customer service professional.

What kind of a difference do you think that will make? Here’s a note I got yesterday from one of my readers. As a matter of full disclosure, this is from my sister Judy who retired as a bank manger in Ohio. She sent it to me unsolicited and I think it is a wonderful example of what happens when you give your front-line people the responsibility, authority, and goals of creating an extraordinary customer experience.

Let me tell you about one of my CSR’s, Cathy, and her customer service. A couple from China recently moved to our small town and definitely had a language barrier upon arriving. The husband spoke a little broken English and the wife none at all. Upon arriving in East Liverpool, they bought a home and the title company needed a place to close on the house and asked if it could close at our branch. Once they were in the branch my CSR tried to make them right at home and comfortable with the proceedings. They needed to open a checking account and during the process the CSR was able to figure out that they needed to have their utilities turned on but they didn’t understand what they needed to do or who to contact. Cathy took it upon herself to call all of the utility companies, get the information as to what needed to be done and have them turned on. Then because they had no credit in their names in the United Stated she called a credit card company and was able to get them a credit card with a small limit so that they could start to build up their credit.

Needless to say, Cathy went above and beyond. Instead of being an order taker, opening the checking account and being done, she spent over an hour with this new customer to help them. We now have a customer and friend for life and it was all because Cathy created an exceptional experience for them.

This is the kind of extraordinary customer service, which is all part of marketing and sales, we all should be delivering.

Your Call Is Important to Us – Customer Service Begins

You start learning the difference between good and bad customer service on your very first job. It could be babysitting, cutting grass, or delivering the local paper (back when there was such a thing.)

How do you learn? It’s usually one of two ways. Let’s take grass cutting as an example. You get done with the job and you knock on the homeowner’s door to collect your pay. She comes out to inspect the job and this is where you get your first lesson.

“I know I didn’t tell you to rake up the clippings and put them in the trash but I expected you’d do that as part of the job.”

You sigh and realize she’s right. You didn’t do a complete job so you apologize and make a special effort to not only clean up the clippings but pull some weeds from the flower bed. And, the homeowner smiles as she pays you and invites you to come back in one week to cut again.

Over time you form a relationship and the homeowner asks you to do other odd jobs. She also tells the other neighbors what a good work you do and pretty soon you’re in the landscaping business. You buy a lawn tractor to go along with your push mower and by the time you’re ready to start college, you have enough money in the bank to pay for the first two years.

Then there is the other way you learn customer service. I’ll use the babysitting example.

There is a young couple in your neighborhood that has a 4 year-old boy and a 1 year-old girl. They also currently have someone they call a fantastic babysitter. She is a classmate of yours. But, she just moved with her family to another state and the parents are looking to replace her.

You jump at what could turn into a great local job and approach them with your rates and experience. Two days late the wife calls you to sit for them. You take the job and you figure you’re on your way. They ask you to come an hour early at 6PM so you can spend time with the kids while they are still home and they can answer any other questions.

At 6:15 you glance up from playing Angry Birds and notice the time so you rush out the door and get there by 6:20. A little late but no biggie you think. The father greets you at the door. Mom is in the family room dressed to go out and feeding the baby a bottle. She looks a little bit pissed that you arrive late but nobody says anything (including you) and at 7PM the parents leave with instructions for both kids to go to sleep at 8PM.

The kids are perfect angels and are asleep in minutes. Now you’re on your own until around 11PM when mom and dad return. It’s time to text one of your friends and start a Words game. You notice the 4 year-old left his toys all over the family room. “Kids!” you think. When you go to get a coke from the fridge you notice that the family apparently ate dinner but didn’t have time to put things in the dishwasher or cleanup. But noticing is all you do.

Finally the work night is over. Mom and dad are home and you’ve got your money and are out the door.

You never hear from them again. After a few weeks you drop by their house and find mom at home. You ask her if she is still planning on using your services and wonder why you haven’t heard from her. “We found someone else.” she says. “She also straightens up and does some other things for us while she sits. We’ll keep you in mind.”

And, so you walk away pissed off and thinking, “Hey, I’m a babysitter not a maid. If they wanted me to clean up after their kids they should be paying me for it.”

“Oh well, there are lots of fish in the sea.” you say to yourself.

But, as the months and years pass the neighborhood babysitting jobs are infrequent for you.

These two young teens have experienced the importance of customer service. One embraced it and it changed his life. And, the young lady never really “got it.” After school she got a job in customer service for USAirways.

The difference between poor and good customer service isn’t a whole lot.

The difference between good and exceptional service is the key to success in your business – and quite frankly – in your life.

I finish up this five-part series on customer service tomorrow with stories about exceptional companies. Between now and then, please send me any stories you’d like to share about your personal experiences with extraordinary service. You can drop me a note at [email protected] or leave a short message at 215-804-9133. Thank you.

Your Call Is Important – Unless We’ve Pissed You Off – Part 2

This is Part-Three of a Five-Part Series on Customer Service. Today’s post is a continuation of yesterday’s including some updates about Avid Technology. Why not sign-up hereto get the rest of the series delivered to you by email? Thank you.

 

 

Difficult to Believe!

On Saturday I got an email from Avid Technology asking me to complete a customer satisfaction survey. Really – I’m not making this up!

Even More Difficult to Believe!

You may remember from yesterday that I was waiting to hear back from both Avid offshore support and a gentleman whose name is Adam from Avid Social Strategy | Corporate Communications in Burlington, MA. I assumed that Adam was still working on the problem and that’s why I hadn’t heard from him yesterday. The offshore guys had promised they would get back to me with a solution Thursday or Friday. I’m pretty sure they meant last Thursday or Friday but I started to wonder if we had a communication problem.

Then finally last night, I got an email from offshore support. I thought finally I’ll have my answer. Here’s what it said:

We have not heard from you concerning your request for support in the 5 days since we sent you a response.
Consequently, we have changed the status of your question to SOLVED

At this point in the story you have GOT to be laughing with me.

I couldn’t take any more craziness so I forwarded the email to Adam with a note that asked the question, “Are you embarrassed by this?” To Adam’s credit, he called my office and left a voice mail last night around 9:30 letting me know he had received the email, that he is still working on the problem, that he apologizes for the delay, and he left his mobile number so I can call him anytime if I have a question.

So Adam is one of the good guys. The question is will Avid let Adam deliver the kind of exceptional service that Adam obviously wants to deliver. I hope so. Not for me but for Adam. He deserves better.

On to the last name in our Customer Service Hall of Shame.

  • AWeber Email Marketing – I’m shopping for a new Email Marketing partner and since AWeber is in my back yard, I thought I’d check them out. The first thing they told me is they would have to run an confirmed opt-in on mine and my client’s email addresses to make sure they are all permission based. I had already explained I have a large, active list that gets mailed regularly and they are all permission based. I even told them what email services provider I’m with now.

I also told them “we” were not going to be doing a confirmed opt-in because I know for a fact that 50-80 percent of the people on the list just won’t see the email and then they will get dropped from the list. Then we will spend months answering their emails when they ask why they aren’t getting their newsletters, blogs, reports, etc. And, remember we do this for clients and not just our company so our clients will definitely be unhappy.

AWeber responded by asking me more questions. Okay so far – sort of – although I felt like I was working hard to become a customer.

Their next response was to ask me a lot more questions that all had to do with them asking “Are these permission based emails?” And, it was work this time as I had to gather a lot of statistics from my current system reports.

The last email (and the last email forever with AWeber as far as I’m concerned) was from Chase the Import Specialist who told me he wanted my login and password for my email service provider account at my current provider so he could see the data and history for himself that I had just sent him – much of which was cut and pasted so he could see it came from their system and not mine.

At first I considered sending the login and password to him along with my date of birth, social security number, long-form birth certificate, passport, and the encrypted pass-code to every login and password I have. Then I thought, “On second thought, I think I’ll find a different email service provider.” One that doesn’t approach potential customers with the attitude that they are obviously lying since this is how AWeber left me feeling.

There is a lot of irony here too as AWeber managed to lose their customer list database to hackers not once but twice in the past couple of years.

And, Chase, the Import Specialist, has lived up to his name and chased away a new potential customer.

I could go on with more examples and I know you have plenty of your own. Feel free to respond in the comments as you already have yesterday. The point isn’t to take these companies to task. That would be too easy. My concern is that too many companies still believe they are the ones in control of their customers when this is absolutely not the case anymore.

And, that is a wonderful thing for all of us!

 

By giving up control and allowing the customer to have control, companies can get instant feedback from many sources on the web as to how they are doing and they can put out any fires before they get out of control. That’s why Adam at Avid is monitoring Twitter. He can get positive and negative feedback instantly. Now if they only let him act on it the way they should Avid will be on its way to a big change in customer service. By the way, so you know I’m not picking on Avid, this is the second time I’ve had this type of experience with their offshore support. Last time it took a product manager in Germany to jump in and find the solution.

While product managers should get constant feedback about their customer base it is not a good use of their time to be first-line support. That’s why companies have got to continually invest in the quality and education of the people who deal face-to-face, phone-to-phone, etc. with their customers.

Customer Service should not be an entry level job which too many companies consider it to be. And, Customer Service should potentially be on a career track to anywhere in the company.

Who do you think knows more about your customers, products and services – your C-Level executives or the people in customer service?

Now where will you invest your company funds, raises, and bonuses this year?

How Not to Tell Your Story

I don’t care what political party you identify with. You need to read this article.

“What Happened to Obama?”

It was published yesterday in The New York Times and written by Drew Westen, a professor of psychology at Emory University. I truly hope you’ll take the time to read it. Here is a link. The role of story in sales in marketing is of the utmost importance. This is a classic story of how not to tell your story.

Thank you for taking the time to read. There are lots of comments on the NY Times but I also welcome your thoughts here.

Thank you.