Archive for August, 2013

When my kids were just learning to talk and were eager to know everything about everything, I was bombarded by questions that, 9 times out of 10, started with “why.”  Why this, why that, why, why, why, why!  If not for reading an article about child development explaining that, to toddlers, the world is brand new and they are just realizing that they can inquire about that which they don’t understand, I may have gone insane.

Just kidding.  (Sort of.)

Toddlers have an excuse for asking broad and repetitive and at times, silly, questions.  It’s how they learn to make sense of what they don’t have knowledge of, and it’s how they begin to think for themselves.

But what about the professional who, while meaning well and genuinely wanting to ascertain knowledge, can’t seem to scrounge up the right questions for the right answers.  I didn’t get to where I am because I don’t know how to get the answers I need, so here are a few tips I use to make sure I get the most answer for my question.

Every mistake that I made – and we all make mistakes – came because I didn’t take the time to get the facts. I didn’t drive hard enough.

— Charles Knight, publisher

          1.     Be specific

Being general in your questioning is a great strategy when starting a round of 20 Questions but when you are face-to-face with professionals, you need to speed it up a bit.  If you want to know about the average 5-year return on an investment currently yielding a 3% annual growth rate when the moon is full 14 times in one calendar year, ask THAT question.   Don’t beat around that proverbial bush.

         2.     Be prepared

While you don’t know the answer for the question you are asking, you need to do your homework before hand.  Having at least some rudimentary knowledge about what you are asking not only saves time, it shows an interest in attaining knowledge.  (That is NEVER a bad thing.)  For example, I’m not a defensive coordinator for any football team but I do know enough about defense to ask a few intelligent questions, such as:  When would a 4-3 be preferential to a 3-4?  Does it depend more on the situation or the athletic ability of the players?

          3.     Listen to others ask questions

I find the best way to learn how to do something is to watch people that know how to do it or read literature from those that know what it’s about.  It pays to learn from those that have been there and have learned which ropes are better for climbing.

          4.     Think creatively

Asking better questions also requires a certain savoir faire.  You have to be able to think on your feet and roll with the punches, so to speak.  Gathering knowledge requires you to be able to switch gears on a dime and all manner of other clichés.

One can’t (and won’t) simply wake up one sunny day and be a master information gatherer any more than one would wake up one sunny day and be able to perform a successful triple bypass.  But one CAN wake up one day, decide to find out more, and go about it in an effective manner.

Any questions?

 

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Second place is the first loser, as a popular shirt in the 90s proclaimed.  It’s true; unless you win the fight, you’re relegated to the “Wait ‘til next year” crowd.  And the seating area for that group is a sad and lonely place to be.

In my professional career, I subscribe to the mindset that someone is going to win this game, so it might as well be me.  I’ll be honest; I hate losing.  (Who LIKES losing, Brian?)  I REALLY hate losing.  It’s the proverbial nails on the chalkboard for me to be relegated to any place on the medal podium where the metal given doesn’t go by the atomic symbol Au.  It irritates the hell out of me that I let someone beat me, that they were able to secure the sale or the contract or the deal.

But instead of whining and pouting like a toddler who isn’t allowed to eat another cookie before bed time, I use that energy to focus on the next contest.  The next mountain.  The next person who will be the unfortunate recipient of my overwhelming desire to wash the bad taste of losing out of my mouth.

If you’re one of those knuckle draggers who simply doesn’t care in what place they finish or that shy from competition, I have a term for your kind: a creampuff.  If you aren’t willing to put it all out there to win, you’re more reminiscent of a pastry than a person.

So what’s it gonna be: a butt kicker, or a creampuff?

The law of gravity states, in a nutshell, that what goes up must come down.  A business, in the abstract sense, is no different.  A business can fall as fast as or faster than it grows, with most of the movement due to the business’s reputation.  A good reputation in any avenue of life is a precious commodity; in the business world, it can be the difference between a rosy red future and a terminal black out.

In recent news, a certain wunderkind with a strong arm, fast legs, and a penchant for the miraculous surfaced on the hallowed grounds of Texas A&M’s Kyle Field.  Jonathan Paul Manziel, more commonly known as Johnny “Johnny Football” Manziel, seemingly appeared out of almost thin air to become the most exciting freshman college football player since Herschel Walker, winning game after game (including dethroning #1 ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa) and eventually becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

But then that pesky concept called gravity set in.  Before I step up on my wobbly pedestal and preach about not being able to fathom what kind of imbecile would take all that fame and glory and attempt to flush it down the john, I will say this: I was a 20-year-old once, I was seemingly invincible, and I liked to have a good time.  However, I was not the starting QB on a major college football team.  I didn’t have people around me to make sure I made it to class on time, got enough time in the gym, did my homework, and try to keep me out of trouble.  I’m assuming that, as the reigning Heisman winner on a team expected to contend for the national title, Manziel has a few people watching after him.  I believe in grace.  Not as a theology, but as a culture.  That said, it’s becoming increasingly harder to back up a kid who has the world at his feet but insists on kicking said planet in a delicate area.  On the one hand, he’s young and full of the same brash sense of bravado and invincibility that all young men have at that age.  On the other hand, he has what 99.9% of those same young men don’t have and probably never will have: a free ticket to a wonderful future by doing something one did on crisp autumn afternoons in the yard for fun.  Unless he takes drastic steps to improve his image, Johnny Football will become Johnny Footnote.

Think of your business as having all the promise and potential of a freshman Heisman winner.  Think of your company as having the talent to unseat the #1 ranked team in the country.  If you think you can ride the coattails of a few good accomplishments to continued fame and fortune, you’re either Chubby Checker or you’re delusional.  Simply sitting back and expecting the masses to kiss your ring while providing mediocre to bad customer service doesn’t work today.

The Harvard Business Review finds that:

  • 25% of customers are likely to say something positive about their experience.
  • 65% are likely to speak negatively.
  • 23% of customers who had a positive service interaction told 10 or more people about it.
  • 48% of customers who had negative experiences told 10 or more others.

 

Your business cannot rest on its laurels and expect the world to revolve around it.    If you start putting out an inferior product and/or your customer service takes a dive, your reputation will fall faster than an Iron Maiden song’s position in the jazz charts.  Your company’s reputation is only as good as your last deed, and your proponents can only defend you for so long if you let your reputation slip.  Just as the only person that can right the USS Johnny Football is Jonathan Paul Manziel, the only person that can stay the course on calm seas into Prosperity Port is you, by maintaining a positive and trustworthy image with your audience and addressing any negative experiences from customers immediately and to an agreeable resolution.

 

What can you do RIGHT NOW?  Here a few simple bits of advice that can be implemented post haste if need be:

  • Listen to your audience.  If you want to hear how wonderful you are, go ask your mom.  If you want an honest opinion on how you are doing, ask your customers.  Hear them, take in their critiques, and adjust accordingly.
  • If you’re doing something wrong, admit it and change.  Domino’s Pizza, in what is shaping up to be one of the most outstanding turnarounds ever, solicited advice from their customers (see above bullet point) and took ALL comments— the good, the bad, and the just plain mean— seriously and came to a conclusion: Their pizzas needed to change.  So, starting with the crust, they re-invented their product and made it known why they did it.  No excuses, no double speak.  Just honesty and straight-forward reasoning.  And it’s paying off thus far.
  • Don’t be afraid to change.  Change can be a good thing.  Imagine if you still had the same mentality you had at 12 that you do now (my wife is NOT allowed to weigh in on that statement).  You probably wouldn’t get much farther than jokes about amusing body noises and trying to have a wardrobe like every other 12-year-old in your world.  So why do some people treat their business like a perpetual child, stuck in some alternate universe where aging is the ‘x’ in the mathematical equation of life?  Businesses that don’t change often get a reputation for being stubborn and unbending.  That’s not a good thing.  You don’t have to change your product or your service if it works, but you DO have to adapt to what works in marketing and finding new ways to promote and expand your brand.
  • Check Google Alerts.

With a simple query, you can peruse the web to see what people are saying about you, monitor a new endeavor, or keep track of trends, etc.

  • Search hashtags and keep track of your social media.

Searching for threads involving your company is a great way to keep on top of how others perceive you.  Using a service such as HootSuite allows you to monitor several at one time.

  • Ask for Yelp.

Go to where the consumers go to give their honest opinion about a company/service.  Take notes and commit to action if necessary.

The Harvard Business Review article states that what people remember has a greater impact on them than what people experience.  Make each customer’s last touch point a positive and memorable experience, and your reputation will speak for itself.  In a good way, of course.

I’m a cigar fan.  An avid fan.  I collect them, I smoke them and I share them with others.  It’s a hobby.  It’s a lifestyle.  It’s not an addiction.

I’m also a fan of social media.  Conceptually what it can do is pretty fantastic.

In his book Six Pixels of Separation, Mitch Joel writes about a simple truth.  We no longer live in a world of six degrees of separation. In fact, we’re now down to only six pixels of separation, which changes everything we know about doing business.

Because of Instagram, I’m connected to hundreds of #cigar fans and aficionados around the world.  Many of whom I’ve connected with thereafter at cigar lounge in their neighborhood.  So yes.  I’ve begun plenty of online relationships that have turned into solid friendships.

One connection, @CigarsSpirits threw out an invite on Instagram last week.  They asked followers to also connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.  I did.  Mostly because I like cigars and thought I may see something on the other social networks that wasn’t typically posted on Instagram.  I’m not completely sure that I was aware of a contest or drawing.  Imagine my surprise when I saw this yesterday morning.

IMG_0351

The folks @CigarsSpirits apparently partnered with @Custom_Ash and @PaulStulac #cigars.

I’m very familiar with Custom Ash as I have one of their #siestas.  I don’t know about Paul Stulac but I’m uber excited to try their cigar(s).

When you surf your social platforms, what is your mission?  Do you consider your social reach?  Do you engage your audience and do you reciprocate shout outs?

I’m acutely aware of how I use social media.  I manage expectations.  It has a purpose.

In the aggregate, I’m following the 3 aforementioned groups and they’re following me.  My instagram likes exceeded 300 in one day and my overall traffic was through the roof.  I’m connected directly to CEO’s and small business owners alike.  I’ve connected with musicians, celebrities, athletes and more.  I funnel the noise and get the things I want.  I meet cool folks and I get results.

On occasion, I win some cool stuff.  That I can enjoy!

You will get from social media what you put into it.