Tuesday, December 28, 2010

5 Signs You Have Holiday Hang Over

Each year late December rolls around and I can see the glassy eyed tell tale signs that my co-workers, friends and family are suffering from holiday hang over. It affects each of us in different ways, but the symptoms are clear.

Sign 1: Casual day takes on a new low
Do you consider going to work in your PJs? While most of us won't actually show up in the new snowflake flannel nighty we got for the holidays, we do settle for our most comfortable jeans usually reserved for the hang out BBQ in the backyard, wool socks and shoes that could almost pass for slippers.

Sign 2: Fruit trumps chocolate in a head to head match
Would you choose a fresh fruit basket over a box of chocolates? Normally one to indulge chocolate in all of its forms, has the over-eating binge finally caught up? Today, I walked by a perfectly good box of Godiva chocolates and grabbed two clementines. My mouth watered, usually reserved for decadent desserts, at the possibility of getting some much needed Vitamin C.

Sign 3: You long for an empty mailbox
Have you avoided the mailbox lately, fearful of getting yet another card you must return? I love sending and receiving holiday greetings but by the end of December my stamps are used up, and my ability to write thoughtful notes is a skill of the past.

Sign 4: Missing Meeting Syndrome attacks
It's hard to believe, but you start to long for the routine Monday morning meetings. A predictable agenda that doesn't take much emotional contribution looks awfully good after weeks of special occasion celebrations.

Sign 5: Christmas music makes you cringe
At the beginning of December you couldn't get enough Jingle Bells. And today, one more chorus of dashing through the snow and you're ready to throw the radio out the window.

If you suffer from any of these symptoms I encourage you to take two naps, drink lots of water and return calls next week! You'll be doing yourself, and those you care for a big favor. Trust me, I just retyped this sentence four times, and I'm still not sure I got it right! Time to shake off the cookies and get back to reality. I think I'm just about ready.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Power of Energy

Last night a few friends and I went to a seminar led by a medium. Before you roll your eyes and stop reading, let me tell you a bit about the journey that led me to the outing.

First, I will tell you up front I do not practice any particular religion but I do consider myself spiritual. I believe there are many things that science can not explain, and while I don't presume to understand what they are, I accept they do exist. I practice yoga and I believe the human mind is capable of amazing things. Second, I'm very skeptical of any one individuals ability to talk to dead people, or to do other energy based practices like heal with their hands or read the future. So it was with low expectations but sincere curiosity that I said yes when my friend, almost reluctantly asked, "Would you like to go to a strange class Friday night?"

Held in a small bookstore in Braintree about 20 people joined Suzane Northrop http://www.suzanenorthrop.com/book.php

for 90 minutes of discussion. The first 15 minutes was a bit discouraging as she told us about her amusing, but not particularly insightful, troubles travelling through Massachusetts on Rt. 93. Then she talked about how she receives, I should say how she believes we all receive, messages from those without physical bodies.

Towards the end she passed along a message from one audience members husband, another from a brother who recently passed, and a long time gone Mother still wanting to give out advice.

Was Suzanne really talking to dead people, or were the folks in the room somehow projecting to her what they needed to hear? I can't tell you with certainty. But what I can tell you is there was a lot of acceptance and comfort in the telling of contact from afar regardless of the source. The energy in the room was palpable and calm. The audience felt connected to their loved ones, but strangely also to each other.

Rest assured there was no group hug after. But Suzanne did indulge my curiosity by joining my friends and I for a couple of drinks. She spent almost two hours answering every question we could think to ask about her "gift" and the people she helps. We talked about her travels to Japan, Czechoslovakia, and other parts of the world. How much more accepting and open to the idea of energy people are outside of the US, how much more connected we would be if we opened our eyes to seeing the connections. Did I get proof she talks to dead people - definitely not. But I did get proof that she helps people and she does it by understanding what they need to know. Regardless of the source of that knowledge, I consider that type of skill a true gift.

Last night, none of my loved ones spoke to me through Suzanne. At least not in the way the audience might have expected. But I could feel my Grandmother with me - in just the same way she's with me every day. In my thoughts and in my heart. Maybe I didn't need Suzanne to send me a message because she's already always with me. Perhaps Suzanne's gift is simply helping people remember what they already know. Perhaps she's really sending messages from dead people. She can't prove it either way, and by her own admission she doesn't try.

Yes, I'd like to believe that my grandmother is watching from afar. Getting to know my kids and learning how much her life influenced me. But at the end of the day does that really matter? What I know for certain is that she's with me in my heart and my head. That she influenced so much of how I show love to my kids, how I make my pasta, how I over feed by guests, how I tell jokes with my girlfriends. Whether that's because of the time we shared together while she was alive, or is being fed by her contacts from afar doesn't matter. It only matters that she does live on with me.

With last night's experience fresh in my mind I have a renewed commitment to bring my best energy to my kids, to my work and to my friends. After all, when I'm gone who I was is what I leave behind. Whether or not Suzanne can pass along messages to my loved ones. And I'd say that reminder was worth the $30 seminar fee.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Four Things Worth Insisting About

Yesterday was Veteran's Day. A time to reflect the many sacrifices our military makes - the lives lost, the births missed, the homemade chocolate chip cookies dreamed about but not tasted. Our soldiers, past and present, make a type of sacrifice that compares to nothing else.

Despite these almost unthinkable things we freely ask soldiers for; at work we often hold back, afraid to "insist" for fear of disrupting the work place.

But let's face it - if we can ask soldiers to miss tucking in their kids at night - we can certainly ask our workplaces, customers and partners for a few things that will make us more productive.

1. Thank Yous - Yes, Thank Yous (although I'm not at all sure Yous is a plural I should be using :)). Many of us have this silly notion that expecting acknowledgement for our hard work is arrogant and self-serving. Somehow we're being noble if we go unrecognized for our efforts. I say HOGWASH. While the satisfaction for a job well done is the only real motivator for giving your all -- it's OK to expect a thank you. I'll never forget several years ago I spent the first 3 months on a new job eating, breathing and sleeping our new small business product offering. The team rallied and delivered a really successful partner launch. The next day the executive sponsor for the product came to my office and went directly into demanding the next set of deliverables. I smiled and said "You're Welcome". After the slightly startled look came off his face he told me "you know how much I appreciate the work you did". I looked him straight in the eye and said "Today is a day for thank you. I'm exhausted and the team needs 24 hours of celebration. Tomorrow, we talk about the next steps". We shook hands and talked about the partner excitement we generated. And the next day -- we went back to the grindstone. I felt better, my team felt appreciated and we were that much more focused on moving forward. Thank you means a lot- don't be afraid to insist on it.

But don't forget by expecting a proper Thank You, you must also be willing to give them out. Be generous but sincere with your gratitude.

2. Open Mind
- Having an open mind doesn't mean accepting your ideas without challenge, but it does mean giving you the opportunity to voice them and challenging you to drive them to be your best. Insist that your partners, management team, and co-workers keep an open mind or innovation won't occur.

3. Honest Communications
- Most modern organizations talk about transparency. But let's face it, open communication isn't always easy. Often we don't like what we hear. Yet without truth you can't improve. Demand open communication even when its hard.

4. Clear Expectations You know the old adage "when asked to Jump, say how high". Despite the authoritarian implications of this saying - there's an interesting truth to it.If you want to meet expectations you need to understand them. How high do you want me to jump? In fact, you should ask not only how high you need to jump, but where do you want to go? And why? If you understand the ultimate outcome you are trying to achieve you might just come up with a better approach. Let's face it at 5 foot, no inches tall I'm not likely to reach much by jumping. BUT if I understand you want to reach the cookies on the top shelf - well then I'll go find my 6 foot tall colleague down the hall and ask him to reach them. (This is my second cookie reference in just this one post - think that's a sign I'm hungry?) What if instead of reaching treats you are asked to get 500 more leads -- ask why? Am I trying to get to a certain revenue number? Or is there a new market segment we want to penetrate? Is a particular territory falling short of their forecast? Understanding the expectations behind the request will lead to a more effective outcome. After all, what good is 500 new small business leads when your company needed you to seed the health care market in preparation for an acquisition?

When it comes to appreciation, communication and expectation setting don't be afraid to insist. Just don't forget your please and thank yous! (and there's that yous again).

Time for a cookie.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Even Selling Cars Has Changed; Imagine How Much Your B2B Sales Approach Must Evolve

It's 7:45, laptop bag strapped on your shoulder, you head out the door to go to work. Imagine in your driveway sits a gentleman in a suit with a brand new car. Unfortunately, he's not there to give you the good news you won the local radio contest. Instead he offers "Boy do I have a deal for you. Buy this brand new Yugo right now and I can cut you a fantastic deal."

How likely are you to buy on the spot? Forget that it's the most uncool car on the planet. Were you even in the market for a new car? Will your 6 Ft. 5 inch tall car pool friend fit in it? Has the sales person taken into account you just bought a new house and are rebuilding your savings? Let's face it, you're about as likely to buy that car as I am to be America's Next Top Model. It's not happening folks.

I know when you read this you think what a ridiculous scenario, he's crazy to show up at your door unannounced. But unfortunately, what I described isn't all that different from how many B2B sales and marketing professionals approach potential clients.

Now what if instead of trying to shove a contract under my nose, that same sales man showed up at my door but this time offered "I know you're running out but I have these free car wash gift certificates I'd like to give you in exchange for answering just one question". Now I might be a little annoyed, but my car could use a good wash. So yes, I'd let him ask me one question. He hands over the gift certificate and says "What is the most important criteria for you when buying a new car?" This is easy for me to answer - function I have four kids and I need a practical car that can accommodate a family of six. Mission accomplished.

Now about three weeks later when I've had a chance to turn in that gift certificate the sales man calls me and asks was I satisfied with the job they did on my car. I thank him yes and then he says "oh by the way, when might you be in the market for a new car?" He's now earned the right to ask me another question. Unfortunately for him I'm not in the market for three years. Unfettered he responds. "Thanks, before I let you go I wanted to tell you about a free child safety seat inspection we're having at the dealership next Saturday. The local police have noticed a lot of accidents lately where children were hurt because their seats were not properly installed. If you come by, bring the kids we'll be giving out stickers and cookies too."

Whether I show up or not, this sales man has just resisted the urge to sell me something I don't way, instead he's demonstrated he listened to my needs and is offering a service I do in fact value.

Now three months go by and my teenage son crashes my car. He's fine but the car is totalled and I need to find a replacement fast. Am I likely to call the first sales man that showed up to my house saying "buy the Yugo now"? Not a chance. I'm calling the nice guy who showed he might actually know what I want.

Now think about this, if buying a car can require this complex of a sales journey, how much nurturing does your B2B technology or service offering require?

I wish I could tell you this story was true, but sadly I've met more cheesy car sales man than nurturing ones. I wonder if this is an American phenomenon, or if car sales man across the world do the "check with my manager jive" before they offer you a 1% discount as if they are bending over backwards for you.

None the less, I do hope it's illustrated for you why nurturing matters. Going for the hard sell because you can doesn't work -- our buyers are educated and they want to be treated that way.

Now go share this with every car like sales man you know! We all might just benefit. (And you may enjoy this past post too about the buyer's journey)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Grandma Was Right; It Really Is the Thought That Counts

We've all heard the old adage "it's the thought that counts". We pull it out when a friend complains about the hot pink plaid sweater he got from his girlfriend for Christmas. Or when a well meaning colleague let's slip the date of the surprise baby shower you have been planning for weeks to your very pregnant co-worker. Both examples of good intentions gone horribly wrong.
But when you take a step back, "it's the thought that counts" means so much more.

Take this evening for example. After 11 hours in the office I drove home exhausted, my mind on tomorrow's meetings. Then I walked in the door to the most wonderful surprise. Nicky, my 12 year old, had made a bouquet of beautiful paper flowers. His thoughtfulness made me smile instantly.
It got me thinking about all the ways you can apply thoughtful gestures at work. After all, most things being equal, people do business with individuals they like. When I gave it some thought, I realized there were examples of thoughtfulness all across my business in just the last two weeks alone.

Forget email, give it a hand written touch - one of our top producing sales reps stopped by my office looking for note cards. He had just come back from a meeting with a prospective client and wanted to write a thank you note. In the land of mass production, this small gesture with a personal reference to the meeting, went a long way towards building trust with this potential client.

Chocolate really is a girl's best friend - Oh wait, was that supposed to be diamonds? The truth is whether it's a box of chocolates, a personalized photo album or a donation to a local charity it's not about how much money you spent, but how well you listened. Thanking someone with a small gift that shows the recipient you remembered how much they loved the chocolate on your desk, or the off hand comment they made about their weekend charity walk, shows you care. It always wins hands down over an impersonal gift. In my case, a client mentioned how much his wife liked good chocolate - as a token of my appreciation for an interview they conducted, a box of my favorite chocolates was on the way - it made for a great surprise.

Show your gratitude publicly - Our sales department has been very busy this week closing quarter end business. With each win an announcement was sent to the sales & marketing team congratulating the sales person. But it was more than a pat on the back to the deal closer. Each note carefully thanked all the individuals who participated to support the deal. Saying thank you is important, but recognizing someone in front of their peers or even just their supervisor goes a long way towards building good will.

I'm very fortunate that there are a dozen other examples I can share but in the interest of time I hope these samples have inspired you to add a little thoughtfulness to your day to day business. It's remarkably easy, and surprisingly effective.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

5 Things You Can Learn from FDS Syndrome

Last week was the first day of school in Woburn, MA. From the outside you would have thought we'd started weeks ago. After all we'd been planning most of August. I started to believe we suffered from First Day of School Syndrome (FDS). It started with a back to school clothes shopping trip four weeks ago. Followed quickly by looking up teachers, buying supplies and packing back-packs a full five days before go live.

A friend at work teased me "OCD much". For those who suffer from this condition it's anything but funny. But for busy, working parents, a little obsessive planning comes with the territory.

And it turns out I'm not alone. I started to do an informal poll of my friends and family via Facebook and casual conversations. And you know what - almost everyone had pulled together "get ready for school" to -do lists. School supplies were purchased well in advance, and back-packs (and in the case of my sister - school lunches) were ready to go days ahead.

In talking with so many other parents (admittedly mostly moms) it occurred to me that we weren't displaying an unnatural obsession. Rather we had simply planned well.

1. Learn from the past - With a senior, seventh, fourth and third grader you'd figure planning to go back to school would be old hat to me. First day of school battle scars - "Mommy you forgot to pack tissues for the classroom", and "Mom I was the ONLY one in school with a pink eraser" tend to leave their marks. I've learned to shop early - that's when the sales are hot, and the choices wide. And most importantly, to bring the official school list with you. It's long, and dull, and you're bound to forget something without it. And trust me, your kids won't let you forget even the smallest of first day of school transgressions.

2. Honor traditions - Without a single word passing between the bus stop kids or parents, everyone knew to meet at 60 Kilby Street after school. A first day of school celebration cake would be waiting. It reminded me of our "Beer Thirty" Friday afternoons at Dataupia. Both were a fun way to settle in after a long, hard day of work, and both seemed to happen organically. These organizational traditions are what makes a culture come alive- whether it's in the office, or in the neighborhood. Don't underestimate the motivation and comfort traditions bring to your kids, friends and colleagues.

3. Heed the advice of others - Last year was my now 12 year old's first time in middle school. While I was well entrenched into the protocols of elementary school, I was not familiar with his school. Lucky for us, his friends had older sisters and brothers that attended the year before. So I called their moms, who helped us answer some of the most important questions plaguing my almost 6th grader -- Bring or buy lunch? Walk or get dropped off? Trapper Keeper or Three Ring Binder? The consequences for mistakes in your office might be more impactful than the terrible 6th grade nickname you'll earn by making a FDS mistake, but the principal is the same. Find people who have gone before you, ask questions and then take their advice. We went with buy lunch, walk with friends while the weather was nice and Trapper Keeper.

4. Expect the unexpected - Despite weeks of careful planning, unexpected things will happen. At work your competitor might launch a new product, or a strategic supplier might go out of business. On the first day of school - our bus didn't stop to pick up the kids! Yep, it slowed down, waved, and kept on going.

5. Lean on others - Although the bus didn't turn up, there were plenty of willing parents to drive the boys to school. Together we stood in line at the office to make sure the ride home wouldn't end in the same disaster. And thanks to some polite team work on our part, the principal personally rode the bus home to make sure there was no more confusion. Him going above and beyond was really appreciated, and it saved the driver from a loud rendition of "STOP" from six anxious kids if he tried to go by their drop off on the way home. Everyone benefited.

It turns out getting ready for school has a lot more to do with planning in the office than I thought!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The 10% Law - Harness The Power of Swarm

Sorry to disappoint but this post isn't about the rising cost of sales tax. Or the proper gratuity you should leave on mediocre service. This is about something much more impactful - human swarm behavior.

In 2007 a German biologist Jens Kause and Dr. John Dyer held an experiment (thanks to Elisa French for providing the English translation of the article). They brought together 200 people in a large room. The audience was told to keep moving and nothing else. Left alone, the group moved in a disorganized manner. And then they changed the game. Twenty of the participants were told to move towards a specific target spot in the room. Those 20 people were dispersed throughout the group and could move towards the target but not tell anyone they had been given instructions. There was nothing marking the target and no signage pointing the way. And yet, in minutes the entire 200 person audience had moved towards the target. After experimenting with various participation levels, the 10% rule was born. Think about the implications - it only takes 10% of an organization to create a swarm.

This makes total sense, right? Think about when you get off the airplane in an unfamiliar airport. What do you do; you follow the mass of people walking towards the baggage claim area. Or what about the last web seminar you attended. After the first couple of people started asking questions, did more follow?

What if you could harness the power of human swarm dynamics to accelerate fundamental improvement in your organization?

I believe you can. The environment within which you must re-create the experiment is not static. Your peers are not locked in a room. Moving in the same direction for a few feet is much easier than over the course of several miles. And unlike the imperative of walking towards a target, transformation objectives are often complex. All of this is true, but you can replicate the principal of the experiment within the context of your environment to achieve remarkable results. Here's how I've seen it work.

1) Recruit Ambassadors. In this experiment the stakes were low - "walk towards the corner". In a business environment you can't simply say "start selling more" or "build a better product" and make it so. You need to embrace your ambassadors on the journey of creating a plan. But here's the great part - not everyone has to believe - just 10% - your ambassadors. Other research supports this notion. For example, Malcom Gladwell observed similar results in his case study driven book The Tipping Point.

2) Articulate a Clear Direction - In the experiment 10% were told clearly to walk towards the target. The swarm worked because they understood fully what direction to follow. In your business, charity or family dynamic vision and strategy will rarely be as clear cut as "walk to the North corner" but the more your ambassadors can understand their mission, the more likely a swarm will follow.

3) Keep Obstacles Out of the Way - Ambassadors led the pack because they could. Similarly, people followed instinctively because they could. But what if in one portion of the room a table had been set with cookies? Or a pile of rocks had blocked a passage. Would the swarm have formed as neatly? Not only must we create clear direction, we must empower ambassadors to take obstacles out of the way to clear the path for their followers.

4) Reinforce The Swarm - If instead of walking to the corner of a room, you wanted the participants to walk 10 miles, would you have the same affect? In business to transform an organization you need to sustain progress over time. That means to keep the swarm progressing you must reinforce behavior by provide new compelling incentives to keep the movement forward. Don't forget to replace ambassadors who are tired and poop out at the 3rd mile, or the 8th. In affect, you have to keep creating little swarms that move you towards your designated goal. Swarms are relatively easy to get started, maintaining them takes patience and focused effort.

The next time you need to make a big change remember, you can get started with just 10%. The swarm will follow.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Talking Sticks, Music & Colored Pens Do Belong In the Workplace

I was recently introduced to a strategic leadership framework called Nine Conversations. Over the course of several weeks you and your co-workers are coached through nine conversations (+ homework) about leadership, communications, strategy and vision. I've only just begun the journey and will save a more complete analysis of the approach for a blog post down the road. In the interim, there are two components to the early conversations that I found particularly compelling.

The first was something I've never experienced in a business workplace. Our team, or in nine conversation nomenclature, cell, was lead through exercises that forced us to think using different parts of our brains. At times we sat on the floor in a circle using a traditional South African talking stick to guide our dialogue. Elsewhere we listened to music during journal writing exercises and at the end of the second morning we even drew pictures. Each of us was supplied with color markers and some large, blank pieces of paper. We were instructed to draw what leadership meant to us. It was an interesting challenge and one that I took on with some unease - but of course that was the point. We'd spent the day reading, writing, debating - now it was time to use a different part of our brain. Luckily, the quality of our artistic ability was not at task - it was about telling a story through an analogy. You can imagine the outcomes. There was no right or wrong answers - no picture was better than another, but there was truth.

If someone had explained the day to me and I had not participated, I imagine I'd describe the activities in my father's words as "touchy feely". But they weren't. We weren't seeking out our feelings, we were carving a path to drive organizational efficiency through better communications, clarity of vision and a rock solid strategy.

The second intriguing technique was almost annoying. The facilitator had the most frustrating habit. Every time someone asked a question it was posed back to you - what would you like to do about it? I almost felt like I was lying on a coach in a counseling session. As it turns out, the approach was not only a frustrating habit, but an empowering one.

The Nine Conversations approach brought together all of the best pieces of coaching, communication techniques and whole brain thinking. I'm energized by the reminder that meetings don't have to follow a familiar pattern to be productive - in fact, a little moving and shaking can do us some good.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Kids Have More Focus Than My Co-Workers

Sometimes my kids have more focus than most adults I know. On the surface that statement feels counter intuitive; but think about it. Kids spend six hours a day in a classroom - 5 days a week. They stand on a baseball field for hours, most of the time doing nothing. And yesterday, my boys repetitively jumped into the pool from the exact same spot for 90 minutes straight. They only stopped because I was ready to leave. And don't even get me started about the video game trance all pre-teen boys seem to zone into in an unnatural obsession with getting to the "next level".

Contrast this to your last all day planning meeting at work. How many people were "taking notes" on their laptop while checking their email? Or doing the "lowered head concentrating look" while thinking they were being sneaky checking their black berry under the table? Did a group bathroom break get triggered when one brave sole got up to leave?

What can teachers and parents show us about keeping someone's attention for long period's of time? It turns out a LOT! The next time your facilitating a long meeting - be it two, three, or six hours keep these tips in mind.

1) Make Your Content Relevant - Do fourth grade boys enjoy learning about grammar rules? NO, but they do pay attention because the teacher makes it relevant - they have a scheduled test planned. You may not be able to "test" your audience, but you can explain why they need to pay attention, give them relevant examples, and understand their needs.

2) Set Expectations & Layout Goals - Review the agenda and meeting objectives in advance. Explain how long the meeting will last, what topics will be covered and any meeting rules (i.e. no black berries, planning assumptions). Determine up front what will be accomplished in the meeting - will a decision be made on a new product direction? Will you be sharing important new benefits information? Are you soliciting input for a new marketing strategy?

3) Schedule Breaks - It may not be recess on the playground, but just like kids, meeting participants need a chance to stretch their non-brain muscles. Schedule sufficient time to check emails, stretch your legs & for informal chatting. I recommend one or two long breaks as opposed to several short breaks. There is always a transition getting back from a break and too many cycle breaks can hurt the efficient flow of a meeting.

4) Feed Them - Snack time isn't only a favorite for the kids. After sitting for long periods of time people need an energy boost. I recommend laying out food for grazing as opposed to a formal "break" - I find it helps people focus if they are munching on their own schedule.

5) Honor the Plan - While it's important for meeting participants to feel they have some ownership of a session, its critical you honor the goals and objectives of the meeting. Just like a teacher keeping lessons on task, it's the job of a meeting facilitator to balance good quality discussions spurred by creative thinking, with the actual meeting goals. Many people use a "parking lot" system for managing important, but irrelevant or complex topics that arise during a meeting but can not be addressed in the current session.

6) Send Out Post Meeting Notes w/In 24 Hours - Classroom teachers assign homework to reinforce the lessons of the day. In the workplace we shouldn't shy away from homework assignments of our own. Nothing will stifle the success of your next meeting more than a lack of follow up on a previous session. Time is valuable to all of your co-workers they want to know it was used wisely for themselves, and the organization. Be sure the notes articulate any decisions made, next steps and assign "homework" action items with due dates.

Sometimes going back to the basics can make all the difference. These simple guidelines can work for classrooms and swimming pools across the globe, keep them in mind to help your next working session be a wild success.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

It's Louder In My Room

Bright lightening strikes and rumbling thunder wake me up at three in the morning. Within minutes my seven year old Johnny is curled up next to me in bed. After a couple of minutes I offer to tuck him back into his bed. He looks up with his big brown eyes, wide as they can be, and says “but mommy, it’s louder in my room”. In reality the storm is no louder on the other side of the wall our bedroom’s share, than it is in my bedroom right now. Or was it?

At work your “storm” might take a different form. It could be an aggressive new competitor going after your most profitable clients, or a change in management that has everyone reeling, or perhaps even a budget crisis that requires significant cuts. While I don’t recommend you try to curl up next to your collegues in the way Johnny and I weathered the storm together. I do suggest you huddle together and remember these key mechanisms for coming out the other side a stronger team, and perhaps even a more effective organization.

Define the storm/crisis
For Johnny this was one bad storm. Telling him to ignore it and pretending it would go away was not going to settle his nerves one bit. Instead, we talked about what was causing the storm – hot & cold air coming together. We estimated how long the storm would last – counting seconds between lightening bolts and thunder roars. For your business this is about isolating the cause of the crisis from the outcomes. Understand what is in your control and what’s not.

Estimate the potential damage

What’s the likely outcome at the end of the storm? Johnny was very worried about our recently sprouting tomato plants. What if the storm knocked it over? What if our top 10 customers migrate to another vendor? What if we cut the budget so much customer service suffers? This can be scary to articulate but it’s critical to lay out the possibilities. More importantly, it’s critical to create a plan for addressing the potential outcomes. For Johnny and I we talked about how we could replant the growing tomato plant in another location if it fell. And if it didn’t grow further how we could use the green tomatoes in their current form.

Mitigate risks
What can we do during the storm to lesson its impact? For us we closed the windows to keep the heavy rain from coming into the house. We closed the curtain tighter to lessen the brightness of the lightening strikes. And we hung out together talking to reduce the anxiety the storm was causing. By taking control of the small things you can address; you empower your team, and with this comes passion and often solutions you’d never imagine on your own.

No matter how hard we try to plan for success, storms will sometimes surprise us. In his own sweet way Johnny reminded me that getting through a storm of any kind is better when you do it together. I couldn’t agree more.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Louie's Pizza Is Proof, The SMB Market Does Not Exist

I spent most of last week in Scottsdale, AZ attending the Sirius Decisions conference along with 500 senior sales and marketing executives from around North America. (photo: courtesy of Google images)

In addition to extremely peaceful 5:30 am walks across the property, (I was still on east coast time, lest you think I'm an early riser by nature!), I participated in several interesting sessions. Most of which I found insightful. And yet,
even at this conference which was all about the buyer's journey, demand centers and the value of segmentation - speakers talked about SMBs, small & midmarket companies as if they are grouped together as a single market. Or in the case of Sirius Decisions the SME, small & midsized enterprise market.

I'm here to tell you there is no SMB/SME market. If you believe that there is such a thing as the SMB market you would treat Louie's pizza in Woburn, MA the same as Domino's. Do they have some things in common - yes. They both have roughly the same number of employees at a given location. The primary menu is pizza of various sizes and in my neighborhood they serve the same community.

And yet, the businesses couldn't be more unlike. Louie, the restaurant's namesake gets up in the morning and makes fresh pizza dough. He has no fancy on-line ordering system, pizza toppings are traditional, and the lunch line is out the door every day. Pizza is served until the morning dough runs out...could be 2pm, it could be 5pm, but every day it runs out.

Even though the individual restaurant looks similar on the surface, the business operations are starkly different. Domino restaurants have national advertising. They have centralized buying processes and their technology decisions are made by committee.

For everything they have in common, they have more that is different.Louie's is a small business. Domino's regional division is a midsized business.

As you are planning your next product launch, channel recruitment strategy or customer acquisition program think of our pizza example and remember there is a small business market and there are midsized businesses - and how you define them varies by industry, objective and organizational structure.

Lumping together organizations into the fallacy of an SMB market is a mistake. And so it would be if I ate anything for lunch tomorrow except Louie's cheese pizza with mushrooms. My mouth is watering already.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Three Ways to Make Sure Work Gives You Butterflies

My eleven year old was called in to pitch his first baseball game - bases loaded, no outs and the team down by three runs. Terrified but determined he walked out to the pitcher's mound. I took one look at his face, my heart began to race and my stomach turned into a knot. His first three pitches were balls. And at that moment I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And so did he. The fourth pitch was a strike.

After the inning was over I was beaming along with my son. He made it through and was on his way to pitch many future games. After I caught my breath I couldn't help asking myself when was the last time I felt this rush. To my pleasant surprise it was during a workshop at the office earlier in the week.

Nervous, excited, unsure. Parenting may be the best job in the world, but its also the hardest. And yet, it reminds me everyday what I should expect from my professional life. The way I see it, we spend more than 2000 hours a year in the office - we deserve to feel a rush now and then.

Here are three ways I make sure work gives me butterflies.

1) Get outside your comfort zone - create invigorating projects that not only drive bottom line results, but challenge you to think in new ways. This could be joining a committee in another department where you don't know the ropes, attending networking events that stretch your connections, or simply volunteer to help a peer brainstorm.

2) Don't settle - budget constraints, complex priorities and never ending meetings can make it easier to simple accept mediocre results but it doesn't have to be that way. Need more time - say no to 10% of your meeting requests, need more dollars - seek partnerships, unsure about your authority - earn it by jumping in to help a peer.

3) Celebrate success big or small - the act of recognition gives you a natural motivator - just like it did for my son.

The love you feel for family can never fully be replicated professionally, but you can set yourself up to feel proud, excited and enthusiastic about your work - and you shouldn't settle for less. You'll be doing yourself, and your business a favor.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Join the Good Enough Club, Get More Done

Over the past 12 months businesses across the country have been trying to do more with less. Fewer employees, less incoming revenue, increased competitive pressure. During this time, most professionals I know went back to basics exclaiming sentiments like "we can't predict when the economy will rebound, hunker down"; "revenues have declined, cut costs and stick with what you know works". While these are prudent economic moves, they are also missed opportunities.

I believe in planning. Collecting data, testing hypothesis and building support; these are essentials for good fundamentals. But to be wildly successful you have to take risks and trust your instincts.

How many times has your organization suffered from analysis paralysis? I remember many years ago working for a technology company and the Executive Team set up several task forces. I was asked to lead one on strategic channel enablement. We brought together a cross functional team of professionals. We spent many meetings brainstorming, testing ideas and developing thoughtful recommendations. The time came to present to the Steering committee who had chartered our efforts. The presentations went well, we all left feeling energized and looking forward to implementing one of the three paths outlined. Instead, we were chartered to conduct additional studies. Ultimately, we missed a window of opportunity and while the company proceeded to move forward, these initiatives were thwarted by an aggressive competitive organization that recruited many of our best potentail partners. We may never know if the recommendations would have driven additional revenue streams. But I do know, many employees, including myself, ultimately left the company to pursue other more action oriented cultures.

For all you perfectionists out there, this is going to hurt. But unless you are a surgeon, civil engineer or my hairdresser (yep, I said hair stylist), where precision is life or death critical, stop trying to be perfect. So many professionals are stifled by our desire to predict outcomes that we miss opportunities for great success.

If you remember nothing else, take note: good enough does not mean poor quality - it simply means good quality delivered in time to make a difference; and a sincere acceptance that we will make mistakes.

If you're having trouble accepting the "good enough" philosophy I recommend reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard by Chris & Dan Heath

p.s. If you couldn't already tell, this post was written with the good enough philosphy in mind.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stop, Drop and Focus

Sitting in my office this afternoon I realized I was on a conference call, checking my email and responding to an instant message all simultaneously. I was the picture of multi-tasking perfection. Admit it, you too have juggled your fair share of opposing tasks. Talking on your cell phone, commuting to work, while scribbling yourself a note to call your electrician. Well, maybe not those things, but we all multi-task. No harm done, right? Wrong.

If you are constantly keeping several balls in the air, when do you have time to stop and think. The dirty little secret our busy calendar's don't want to enable, is when we stop doing things long enough to think we actually accomplish the most.

We all have to DO things as part of our jobs, home life and family obligations. Many of us use our hectic schedules as an excuse; telling ourselves we don't have time to stop and think. And yet, it's when we take a step back and give ourselves moments of calm that we have our most significant thoughts. Whether it's focusing on an intriguing article, listening carefully to meeting dialog or simply brainstorming on a whiteboard - you must quiet your mind to gain true insight.

Don't get me wrong. Juggling is a critical skill in our high paced professional lives. But along the way don't forget to STOP. DROP & FOCUS. You'll be amazed at how much more you can achieve.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

There Is No Such Thing As a Sales Cycle

There is no such thing as a sales cycle. For all you marketing professionals focused on helping your sales counterparts develop tools to "shorten the sales cycle", you're focused on the wrong things.

Customers have a buying process, and even the best sales processes can't change it. If you really want to help your sales team meet and even exceed their quota's focus on your buyers, not the sales steps.

Early in my career I believed with proper incentives, good collateral and a strong storyline I could actually shrink the sales cycle. I focused on building tools to make my sales team more effective. Were these tools valuable? Yes, the sales team loved them. They felt more productive but really the sales cycle didn't get shorter, and our win rate didn't get higher.

After one long weekend searching for the perfect new car, only to be terribly annoyed by the typical process we all go through when negotiating for a new vehicle - it dawned on me. That car dealer wasn't changing my buying process no matter how many times they talked to "the manager" to get me the best deal. The same is true whether you are buying a new stereo, ERP software or a new home.

At work the next week I did what good marketers do best. I thought like the customer. I stopped thinking of the sales cycle, and started thinking of the buying cycle. While the nature of the purchase impacts the intensity of each step along the buying journey, each buyer goes through some phase of awareness, evaluation and commitment.

What did paying attention to the buying cycle change? A LOT.

By calling it a sales process I was implying that I had control of the buyers evaluation. I finally admitted that I didn't have that type of control. Instead I focused on the following:
  • Listening to how customers buy, rather than solely listening to how the sales team sold, changed the way I messaged products, told stories and developed assets.
  • Instead of trying to get prospective customers to skip steps and move straight to commitment, I built tools that served each of the steps.
  • I nurtured prospects until they were ready to be engaged by the sales team. The sales reps felt like we shortened the sales cycle, but really, we just managed the early phases of the buying cycle on their behalf.
  • By understanding and profiling buyer behavior, I started targeting customers most likely to buy our products within a certain time frame.
  • I worked with product management to create more compelling products that were easier to evaluate and offered more strongly differentiated features.
I encourage all of you to repeat after me. "I can not create a sales cycle."

But we can facilitate an effective buying process by targeting the right people, building engaging assets for how your customers evaluate solutions and never forgetting the buyer is in the driver's seat. Be at the right place, at the right time with the right tool.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Thank You Mrs. Ambrogi

My mother sent an email (yes, I am one of those daughters who is too busy to call her mom during the week). In the note she was letting me know that she'd scheduled lunch with a family friend from out of town. That friend is Kathi Ambrogi. An involuntary smile crossed my face immediately.

Aside from being a very charming woman, and the mother of two boys I used to babysit; Mrs. Ambrogi played a large part in the creation of this blog.

Far away in Monrovia, Liberia, long before anyone blogged or emailed casually, Mrs. Ambrogi was my middle school English teacher. For my younger readers, I assure you this was not the dark ages. But it was decades ago.

Mrs. Ambrogi wasn't just any English teacher. She taught me that writing was not a chore, but a pleasure. And I learned the good old fashioned way - with encouragement, mentoring and lots of practice.

While my writing journey didn't end in middle school, it did begin there. To the teacher in all of us - whether you are teaching your kids, inspiring an employee or campaigning for a political cause, Mrs. Ambrogi taught us that you can make a lasting impression.

Here's to you Mrs. Ambrogi. Thank you for all you have inspired.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Marketing Lessons From the Brown-Coakley Contest

Martha Coakley lost her Senate race for one simple reason - she didn't inspire loyalty & passion. Full disclosure, I am a registered Democrat, and so are many of my friends and family. But I also know many Independents and Republicans.

During the short run of the Massachusetts special election, Scott Brown supporters displayed aggressive passion. They were actively soliciting votes on Twitter, disarming negative publicity on Facebook, even debating Brown's strengths in lunch rooms everywhere. These were the actions of driven voters.

Contrast that to the "Coakley Supporters" I know. They were making statements like "don't let Scott Brown win" and "Coakley is better than the alternative." Did Coakley have her share of passionate supporters - of course. What she forgot was that core staff needed to inspire tens of thousands more Democrats to come to the polls. She took for granted the "blueness" of Massachusetts and underestimated Brown's ability to rally the troops.

Convincing people not to like Scott Brown was not only ineffective for Coakley, but it is never enough. Coakley lost her Senate bid for the same reason John Kerry lost the Presidential race in 2004. Being Anti-Bush was not enough to bring Democrats to the polls, to call their friends and debate the merits of their candidate, to proudly tweet their endorsement.

Last night while I sat picturing Ted Kennedy rolling over in his grave as Scott Brown made his acceptance speech, I was shaken by the reality that marketing campaigns are much the same as political campaigns.
  • Tearing down your competitor isn't enough. You must have a product or service people want to buy.
  • Good customer service & strong communications will go viral. So will bad service.
  • Your "customers" are the strongest testament you can offer. If you're customers aren't willing to endorse you, who will?
  • Don't take your customers for granted -if you want them to attend an event, download an offer or buy more product, you need to convince them to act.
Not a believer - look at the almost cult-like following of Apple, Ben & Jerry's and Coke benefit from. Across demographics, product & service categories and even geography - one principal holds true - customer loyalty drives bottom line results.

So when you go to build your 2010 marketing plans, don't forget the lessons Martha Coakley & Scott Brown taught us well. Loyalty matters, and you have to work for it each and every day.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010: Try Something New, Acceptance

I admit it, in year's past my new year's resolutions have been quite cliche. Exercise more, eat less, get control of my credit card debt. While important goals, I was destined to fail at each of them because I treated them like an annual mission, rather than lifestyle choices that needed to seep into my every day routine.

Every January, I started off with noble intentions. I replaced my office trail mix with a bag of carrots, bought new work out clothes (the old ones didn't fit), and spent hours justifying why my new plan had to wait one more week. Safely guarded under winter sweaters getting a bikini ready body just never made it to the top of my list. As for getting rid of debt...well, I'd start right after paying off those holiday bills.

Three years ago I put a stake in the ground that my new year's resolutions were going to change. I was going to stop setting lofty goals and instead simply commit to being open to new things. The first year, I took a cake decorating class. This has turned into a wonderful hobby.

The year after that I took my first yoga class. Two years later, while less disciplined, it is still a valuable stress reliever and strength builder that I love.

Last year, I committed to writing a blog. While that took some time to get off and running, I'm pleased that blogging has become a habit I truly enjoy.

Reading this you might get the impression everything I tried worked out fabulously. Let me set the record straight that for every fun success, were several failures. For example, I vowed for every fiction book I read, I'd select a biography/autobiography to enjoy. I'm sorry to report that was a dismal failure. I still have two unfinished books sitting on my bedside from the first month of that effort.

And I'll spare you the sad tale of my attempt to cross country ski. Let's just say I'm not a natural!

This year I'm trying something new again, but I'm taking a different approach. This year - I'm cutting myself slack. I'm going to accept the extra ten pounds I've gained. I'm going to accept that Saturday's are about grocery shopping, and I'm going to accept that I need some me time.

Acceptance might not be a traditional new year's resolution, but who said tradition was the only way to go? As far as I'm concerned, 2010 is off to a great start.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying settle. I'm still going to take a knitting class. I'm still going to set new goals for my team at work. But I'm going to accept who I am and appreciate what I have each and every day. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to enjoy the successes even more this way.