Friday, December 9, 2011

An Open Plea to Telemarketers - 4 No No's To Avoid

It must be the end of the year. I can't tell from the unseasonably warm New England weather or the holiday decorations on sale (they've been in stores since before Halloween!). Nope, I can tell by the increasing volume of vendors who want to sell me their expertise, product or service to support my "2012 marketing efforts".

There are some great tele-sales people out there - I know because I've done business with them. But sadly they have been few and far between this last month. Most of the requests I receive are a waste of my time, but more importantly a waste of the callers time. In fact, I've experienced a ridiculously high volume of what NOT to do. So in an attempt to get time back in my schedule for productive conversations here are approaches that guarantee I will hang up unsatisfied and annoyed from the call. I beg you - don't do these!

Offense #1 - The Lazy "Colleague"
The most common offense -- "Hi, my name is Jack, and I'm calling from XYZ company. I'd like to learn about your marketing plans". I'm sorry Jack but you've given me absolutely no reason to take time out of my busy day to tell you about my plans. It would take approximately 30 minutes for you to do a web search on my company - you'd learn a lot about our SEO efforts, paid advertising strategy and who we sell to. Then maybe you could tell me how you can improve what we're doing, or save money on what we are doing, or heck even just sound like you care my time is valuable.

Offense #2 - The Know It All
Congratulations, you said something that caught my attention. Now we start to talk specifics about the buyers I want to focus upon. But wait -- here's the kicker you tell me I don't actually NEED to focus on those buyers and you spend 10 minutes explaining why the data filters I requested aren't necessary. Word to the wise - DON'T waste our time. Listen, then go back and figure out how you CAN meet my needs.

Offense #3 - The Fraternity/Sorority Recruiter
"I'm reaching out to you because my audience has been asking about your company." Well that sounds like a great way to get my attention - except 90% of the time its not true. You can't tell me who has been asking about us or why they want to talk to us. All you can do is try to make a case for "not being left out". You know what - I don't want to do what everyone else is doing - I want to do better.

Offense #4 - The Clinger
9 out of 10 times when I answer the phone to an unsolicited caller it was by mistake. I didn't check caller ID, thought it was someone else or momentarily let Thursday Sangria afternoon put down my guard. So when you ask if I have time to chat, and I say no. I mean it. Take the time to ask me one important question that can be answered in 10 seconds - then ask to send me some follow up materials. Then hang up and send me a well crafted follow up email that shows you listened. Desperately dragging on the call to meet some mandated average call time doesn't do any of us good.

Callers - your job is hard enough with being a clinger, know it all, frat recruiter or lazy colleague. I know you have it in you to do better. And I promise when you do, I'll be polite, up front with my needs and you never know, I might even buy something.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Celebrate Loudly

For most of my thirty ninth year I was obsessed with turning the big 4-0. I tortured myself on the scale each day determined to lose 10 pounds before THE BIG DAY. I vowed to go to the gym. I promised to start a college fund for the younger boys. I made my family swear we wouldn't celebrate, and my work friends were sworn to secrecy. Instead of acting on all my good intentions I had the extra slice of pizza, the double scoop of ice cream. And the gym, well I started many on-line applications. All in all, I was a terrible sitcom stereotype of a woman about to turn forty. The whole time my mother and father kept telling me to celebrate 40 "it's the big day".

As the weeks progressed and my birthday came nearer my mother's mantra "Celebrate 40" got louder and louder. Her subtle hints, became cries for a party invitation list. I resisted.

The more I said I don't want to make a fuss, the more determined she was that I would "celebrate 40". Eventually I gave in, telling myself at first it was for my mother and my younger sister who had joined my parents in the quest for me to "celebrate 40".

About a month before THE BIG DAY a funny thing happened. I started looking forward to turning 40. I stopped looking at gym websites and got myself a workout buddy. I stopped closing my eyes when I got on the scale, and focused on eating better. I picked up a birthday outfit to wear to my party. I even chased a life long dream to own a vacation home in the mountains. I cherished every hug from my boys. I laughed at the "over the hill jokes" my husband, family and friends threw at me. I celebrated LOUDLY.

I still turned 40. I still weigh more than I'd like to. I still stare at the wrinkles getting deeper on my face. But now, instead of cringing I smile. I celebrate.

Thank you family and friends for helping me celebrate, and celebrate loudly!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Symbols Bring Americans Togther, Even at Work

On Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of hosting corporate guests at Rangers Stadium. This was a particularly fun evening because both the Texas Rangers, and their rival for the evening, the Cleveland Indians, are clients. Both IT managers were there to share baseball stories and their experiences of working with us. The beer was resting comfortably in ice, and there was enough ball park food laid out for every one of us to indulge across all nine innings.

The game had not yet started but our suite was full. The 18 of us had split into small groups of 2-3 people making introductions, talking about the evening ahead, generally getting to know each other. While some people braved the 100 degree+ heat to enjoy the outside seats, I sat comfortably inside the glass walls with the A/C cranking along with about half of our guests. As we chatted, the pre-game activities began on the field below. Batting practice, interviews on the big screen, loud music designed to pump up the crowd. Our group talked pleasantly over all of this. And then it was silent.

Without a word, everyone had stopped virtually mid-sentence and turned their bodies towards the field. We stood silently without hesitation, most with hand on heart, as a young man sung our national anthem. When it was over, we all turned to each other and picked up our conversations, right where we had left off.

It was a striking moment for me. With the rising debt crisis, presidential election politics in full swing, and constant debate about everything from Healthcare reform, to whether Cher's gender changed son (formerly daughter) should Dance with the Stars brewing it's easy to forget we're all Americans.

But at that moment, most of us strangers to each other, we ALL respected what it meant to be an American. As our politicians create fodder for Saturday Night Live Sketches, and our towns struggle to balance their budgets pausing for even just 5 minutes reminds us why we care so much and what it really means to be American. Cherish those moments - we're going to need them.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Managers: Be Dispensable

I was once provided feedback that I should trust my team more. At first I was shocked. My team was great. I rewarded them well, we had fun working together and we kicked butt meeting our challenging objectives. I told them all the time how much value they added to the business, but also to me personally. Then I thought about it. I had NEVER taken a vacation without extensively checking email and responding with guidance and I had NEVER given a team mate official purchasing authority. I told them to make decisions and I had their back, but I was also a constant presence. Don't get me wrong - I'm still a type A personality, but I took that feedback to heart. I used my summer family vacation to test my progress. Could I go the entire 8 business days without calling into the office or checking email?

If you manage people your goal should be to make yourself dispensable. But before you roll your eyes and stop reading let me clarify being dispensable doesn't equate to not adding value. All of us should strive to add guidance, creative ideas, strategic insigts but that doesn't mean our teams should be dependant upon us for their own success. Instead we should prepare our teams to be successful and give them the confidence to do their job without you. I remind myself that if they need me, they WILL call. If you need some motivation to try this on your own think about this.

What if you could:

* Go on vacation REALLY - that means not sneaking email checks before everyone gets up in the morning

* Stop triple scheduling yourself because you HAVE to attend meetings with your team members

* Accelerate your ability to train new staff by assigning a mentor

And if selfish motivation to give yourself more time and less stress isn't enough; think about the reduced risk you provide your business when you ensure the team has your back.

I'm not advocating being unavailable, but I am telling you that you and the people who you are developing will be so much more productive if they have confidence in doing their job without you. As a manager you should be aiming for the team to WANT you there, not need you to be there. Try it on your next day off. It just might stick.

p.s. I didn't quite meet my goal on vacation. No phone calls into the office, but I did check email 3 times. But 3 times is a heck of a lot better than twice a day! I give myself a B+.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Five Ways to Say Good-bye to Long Status Meetings

Not that many months ago I was like so many professionals - bored to tears sitting through 60, 90 and sometimes even 120 minute status meetings. I, along with my team mates, were checked out before they even started. We never accomplished anything. If the leader was unavailable we cancelled the meeting - often 2-3 weeks would pass between sessions. The agenda changed constantly and as a whole we did a bad job following up on action items.

Many organizations use something called a "standing meeting" to address the drone that we've all come to despise. In my experience, they may improve calf muscles, but do little to actually keep a meeting productive. The stand up meeting is just another way to make status meetings uncomfortable. No way I was going to recommend that approach! So the droning continued.

Then a change in team leadership gave us an excuse to modify the meetings. Rather than cancel the meetings all together, we were tempted, very tempted, we changed the format. We knew getting together as a team once a week was an important tool for staying tuned into the business. We also knew we had one chance to get this right.

First we changed the membership of the group, and limited ourselves to no more than 30 minutes at the same time each week. We set a standard agenda, and we rotated note taking and a cadance for follow up. Very quickly unspoken, but important rules emerged.

Rule #1 Leave your ego at the door - if you, or your department needs help, ask. If your peer has done something amazing, congratulate them. If you see a mistake about to happen point out the concern.

Rule #2 Don't measure your value by the amount of time you speak - Everyone is given an equal amount of time to present. If you have nothing relevant to say, skip your turn. If a point has been made, don't repeat it.

Rule #3 Use a talking stick - A traditional African custom allows individuals to speak only when holding the talking stick. This ensures people listen while others are speaking and offers a equity in sharing ideas. Passing along a talking stick may feel odd at first, but it creates a cadance that is immensely helpful. For the first four weeks we used talking sticks (the remote for the presentation machine), but then fell into a pattern and it was no longer needed.

Rule #4 Powerpoint is banned - trust me, you'll thank me later. If you need to share something visually print it out or send ahead of time.

Rule #5 Hold yourself accountable -make sure a summary and relevant action items are sent out the same day. If an individual can't be at the meeting don't send a proxy, send an update via one of your peers.

There are times when 30 minutes is not enough for a meeting. Teaching complex concepts, sharing detailed case studies and building long term product and corporate strategies for example. But the status meeting is not one of those places. 30 minutes is all you need. Use them wisely and you'll start looking forward to those regular touch bases.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Do's & Don'ts of Initiating A Swarm

I've written in the past about the power of a "swarm" to make big changes within organizations, even markets. And these past few months I've been fortunate to participate directly, and indirectly, in several swarming environments from the advent of social media communities with whom I participate, to being part of a fast growing, cloud-based service provider. Along the way I've seen amazing evangelism in action both within my own company, and outside with vendors, partners, and even competitors. I've even seen a call to arms swarm within the town I live. I watched a friend & neighborhood mother single handily rally parents to create our first Earth Day festival that turned out hundreds of participants and raised thousands of dollars.

Across all of these adventures there are as many different approaches to leadership as there are people. As such, there is no one guidebook of to-dos that works across all organizations. However, there are some clear things successful leaders did well to maximize effectiveness of their swarm. Because I assure you not my company's CEO, not my competitors VP of Marketing, nor our neighborhood mom led success alone. They rallied, they evangelised, and they built passion all around them.

Elect Ambassadors Based on Influence & Passion
One of the most common mistakes I see organizations make is building so called leadership teams based on functional area or seniority. Each department elects someone to participate in the "council". Usually that person is the managerial lead. It's understandable why executives embrace this approach. Its easy. Unfortunately, its also largely ineffective. Instead, ambassadors must be people who have passion for the business but whom are respected not only for their official role, but for their character, their drive and their intelligence. They must be problem solvers who can carry a message beyond the confines of their department, and who aren't afraid to learn from others. They must also be individuals who are capable of representing more than their functional roles during discussins and debates. Swarms are largely organic but you have to get them started somewhere and that means carefully pulling together delegates who can carry forward in unison. I can tell you first hand our neighborhood Mom didn't start our Earth Day festival by finding a professional fund raiser, or making sure each grade had a parent & teacher representative on the committee. Nope, she started by recruiting a few people she knew were passionate about the environment and painted a picture of what could be done. Then she personally created a couple of small victories that proved the task could be accomplished i.e. getting school committee approval, and nailding down the first corporate sponsor. Eventually, the event committee grew and did include coverage for every grade, vendor sponsors and a whole lot of coordination. But those came from unusual places you might not have expected - sparked from the passion of the initial delegates and her hard work.

Don't Forget External Stakeholders
Assuming your swarm is only comprised of internal team members is a classic mistake. If you want to make a real difference you need to embrace ambassadors no matter where they reside, and most often that's both within, and outside your corporate walls. Sometimes having an outside meeting facilitator or guest speakers provides enough of a dynamic charge to strip away the constraints of hierarchical structures and turn an event from a meeting into a rallying cry.

Don't Confuse Setting Objectives With Building Vision
Initiating swarms is hard work, and swarms don't happen unless participants feel a part of the process. A swarm leaders job is to create vision, participants will take that vision and turn it into objectives, measures and plans. Vision is something bigger than your revenue/fund raising goal. Vision is bigger than your 12 month road map. Vision is inspiring and often even appears to be an unattainable rallying cry. Vision can be articulated in simple terms. If you constrain your swarm to thinking about specific goals you miss the opportunity to tap their passion and instead of a swarm, you have a management team. Not a bad thing, but certainly not a living, breathing entity that will shape the future of something big. Whatever difference you want to initiate, whatever swarm community you need behind you - it happens by unlocking desire, not by dictating objectives.

Swarms come big and small. From initiating transformative business change like Microsoft is making as a result of increased pressure from Google; to my neighborhood parents instilling healthy living habits in our elementary students. It could even be a short term swarm designed to rally your team to kick butt at an industry trade show. Wherever your passion leads you next, remember the power of people and you'll be more effective, and perhaps have more fun along the way.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Love what you do and your audience will too

Last night my son's middle school put on a talent show. There were 30 acts from blasting on the drums, to a unicycle ride across stage. We even were honored to see a skate boarding trumpet act. A wide range of talents were fun to watch and yet one young lady stood out from all the rest. She sang and she danced, and she looked like she was having the time of her life.

The whole night my eye kept coming back to her. It wasn't because she had the best voice, or the most versitle dance moves. Candidly her talent was mediocre. But you could tell she loved being on stage, and her enthusiasm was literally contagious. The crowd cheered, a little girl in the front row grooved out and everyone around me was smiling while she performed. These weren't just the polite claps of the crowd.

She reminded me that if you love what you do, so will your audience. Whether it's a 10 person sales training class you lead, a prospect you are demoing, or coaching your son's baseball team remember love what you do, and the people around you will too.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who Said The Live Webseminar Is Dead? Oh Wait, I Think That Was Me

Yesterday I listened to a very informative webseminar hosted by Hubspot on the Science of Timing marketing communications.

Not long before attending the session I was munching on a croissant, sipping hot chocolate and lamenting the death of "live" webseminar events. Lo and behold,two days later Hubspot proved me wrong by hosting a 20,000+ person live event. That doesn't sound like a dead medium to me. (Picture me eating crow now)

How did they do it?

* They knew their audience - marketers love actionable, fact based research. It's what they promised, and more importantly it's what they delivered.

* They practiced, what they preached - embracing targeted communications, a clearly articulated value proposition and leading with a credible speaker

* They actively promoted a Twitter hash tag encouraging community involvement, even running a little "give away" to the best idea

* They staffed for the event - with large registration numbers they geared up to have a flawless technical experience that engaged

Congrats to them for a great event! But it wasn't perfect. I'm a huge fan of Twitter for engagement. But when 20,000+ people are all tweeting to the same hash tag it is impossible to have a meaningful dialog with the stream. It literally creates a flashing flow of tweets that fly by you with each new post. I felt like I was entering one of those amusement park rides with the strobe lights (those with a heart condition or seizure disorder should not ride). During the webseminar itself they only answered 3 or 4 questions verbally - sadly all them had been answered in the content delivered. It was a shame they couldn't have extended the verbal Q&A to some of the more complex questions.

That all said - I humbly ask Hub Spot to take on some of the more intriguing of questions and host topic specific follow up webseminars with a limited audience appeal to encourage more intimate engagement. Then again...I smell a new book in the making.

Now, I know that most of us couldn't attract 20,000 people to our events, nor would we want to. Our markets are focused. BUT, this event did make me take pause and rethink our online event strategy. In this "On Demand" world there's still value in creating a sense of urgency around a compelling event. And I for one am not giving up on trying.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Boys In Black

As a marketing professional I plan lots of events; everything from four person briefings to 500 person training events. While each is completely different, I'm always amazed that my event checklist is virtually the same for all of them. So I wondered, what would happen if I applied that planning checklist to my son's 10th birthday party. I already knew my objective, now it was time to get into the details.

Step 1: Brainstorm venueWhen brainstorming a venue think about your audience, consider external factors such as the weather and take your budget into account. But, don't hesitate to think creatively. Picking the right location often leads to an easy theme, and encourages attendance. In this case I had to entertain 10 year old boys taking into the unpredicatble New England winter. Let's just say having the party at home was NOT an option! After exploring several options, 5Wits Espionage topped our list Forget the Men in Black, the Boys In Black were coming to town.

Step 2: Visit the event siteDon't skip this step! By visiting the site you understand traffic and parking expectations, get a hands-on feel for the venue, and aren't hit with on-site surprises like the two rooms your reserved are a 10 minute walk apart (yes, that's happened to me before at a convention). For our birthday bash we went through the 5Wits adventure before inviting guests - And its a good thing we did. We learned there are some dark spots that mighten frighten younger siblings -- SOLUTION: Glow Sticks for our guests. They were the perfect addition to our theme.

Step 2: Plan your scheduleFor 10 year old boys this might be the most important part! Down time is not a chaperone's best friend. 5Wits took care of the adventure but we had a 45 minute drive to address. We carefully planned drop off times, scheduled the bus, and even planned when we'd break into teams. We opted to use the time on the bus to get into the spy groove. With a home made CD of spy music (think Mission Impossible meets James Bond), black fedors, sunglasses and fake mustaches our party animals were transported secret agent style. And of course - we didn't forget the snacks (for both directions) -- boys are ALWAYS hungry.

Step 3: Make contingency plansLet's face it - one of your party guests is going to get sick, or your key speaker's flight is going to be delayed. While you can't plan for every contingency, you can ensure the most likely problems won't throw you a curve ball. In our case we had extra mustaches (they don't always stick), plenty of water and a bathroom on the bus!

Step 4: Menu selection

Every time I plan an event I hear my grandmother's voice reminding me that if I don't have left overs I didn't cook enough. Not the most cost effective advice, but important none the less. Leave all of your guests satisfied. For our party we had pizza and snacks for the kids. For the parents we had chocolate covered strawberries, a goat cheese roll and crackers and some veggies and dip. Turns out the boys loved the strawberries too, good thing I made three dozen - Grandma was right!

Step 5: Make it feel special

While most work events don't have to entertain 10 year old boys, we do need to use our guests time wisely. Never underestimate the appreciation people have for the little things; whether its easy access to the daily newspaper, a chocolate turn down service on their hotel pillow or planning time in your agenda for checking email. For the boys the music, disguises and fun adventure were enough to bring on a chorus of "that was the best birhtday party ever".

Step 6: Promotion

The best event won't be a success if you don't meet your attendance goals. Invitations are a great time to use your creativity. For our party the Secret Agent Recruiting Office inviting our guests to join Mission: Celebrate Derick's Birthday. You don't always have to be "cute" with your invitations, but you do need to be memorable.

Step 7: Confirm, confirm, confirm
Enough said.

Step 8: Event Day Prep
Cooler packed, check. Goody bags on the bus, check. Copy of event contract, just in case, check. You get the idea. Write down your event day needs in advance and methodically review things are you go through the day.

Step 9: Have fun!
I'm not kidding. As a host your guests take your emotional auro as their queue. If you're not having any fun, they won't either. At the event know you've done everything you can to ensure a great event, roll with the unexpected bumps and remind yourself -no one but you will even notice the goody bags are missing the invisible ink pens you bought three weeks in advance. Have a blast - you've earned it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Three Cheers for Kennedy Middle School

Yesterday morning was the fateful day I had been invited to share my experiences of living in Liberia with my son's 7th grade class. Having been a middle school student in Liberia by no means made me an expert, but it certainly gave me hands on cultural experience that Nicky's class could learn from - or so I'd been convinced by an eager Nicky.

My cold left me with a horse voice and some trepidation about keeping a roomful of 7th graders entertained for 40 minutes. Armed with fresh tropical fruit, fried plantains, and a Liberian handshake lesson to kick off the class, I arrived a few minutes early to set up. My main goal - don't embarrass Nicky, and if I'm lucky, maybe the class will learn something interesting about West Africa as seen through the eyes of someone their own age.

Mrs. Downing, the teacher who hosted the class, invited me to stay for her homeroom attendance call and morning announcements. The bell rang, everyone sat in their seats. Much to my surprise a formal attendance roll call wasn't the focus. Two girls in the class shared Facebook chats they had been having over the weekend with a sick class mate who was in the hospital. They talked for a few minutes about what more they could do to make the ill student feel connected to the class. Mrs. Downing gracefully guided the discussion but let the kids share their feelings and thoughts.

Then in the back of the room a boy raised his hand. Remember, these are 7th graders. He asked Mrs. Downing if she had seen the news about the riots in Cairo. She acknowledged the news, and set the students up for a discussion they would have later in the day about this very timely topic. Then everyone rose at once, faced the flag and said the pledge of allegiance - with seeming honor, or at least no eyes were rolling.

All of this transpired in 10 minutes. What a wonderful way to start the day. In my head the kids should have been passing notes back and forth, and spitballs would be fired as the teacher formally called out the students name. This was so much better. Something wonderful was in fact happening at the Kennedy.

My hopes of simply not embarrassing Nicky were raised to an optimistic desire to engage the class in a dialog.

I had heard about similar experiences at the Kennedy. Nicky comes home every day with a new fact, a silly joke or other story he read in the Newspaper. Long ago I stopped asking who shared that with him - it was always Mr. Murphy, his Spanish teacher.

And let's not forget Nicky's math teacher, who's last name I'm embarrassed to admit I can't spell! This teacher has Nicky as eager to hop on Study Island and take on his teacher's latest challenge, as he is to play any of his video games.

Mr. Murphy, Mrs. Downing and this math professor - teach more than Social Studies, Spanish and arithmetic. They, along with a fantastic staff at the Kennedy teach students to love learning, to be inquisitive and to relish story telling.

My talk with the 7th graders went well, but I suspect I learned a whole lot more than they did. I learned a new respect for this public middle school - a respect I knew lingered but hadn't fully surfaced. A respect earned not by the slightly run down building that houses these students, or the well used text books the students lug home every night. A respect earned by the quality of the staff - in the classroom, and throughout the school.

I look forward to the weather getting warmer for many reasons, but today, it's so I can proudly wear the Kennedy Middle School shirt the class gave me.

Way to go Kennedy - you are what public schools are all about.