Monday, April 28, 2008

Enduring Greatness

Jim Collins is still one of my favorite authors. He has this die hard, never say quit, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, attitude about success. In his latest article for Fortune Magazine “The Secret of Enduring Greatness”, he again states his case for greatness. ….The best corporate leaders never point out the window to blame external conditions; they look in the mirror and say, "We are responsible for our results!"….

We ARE responsible for our results. Whether those results are for individual behavior or corporate performance, we are responsible. One common denominator of those who never achieve their potential it is lack of personal responsibility, the belief that others have more control over our personal performance than we ourselves do. I could point to countless examples of this in society. In almost every case there is a price to be paid. In the end the price is far greater than the original cost of just taking responsibility and making something happen.

In the face of uncertainty, punt. Uncertainty creates stress. Stress hurts. So we hide from the source of that stress by assuring ourselves that there is nothing more we could have done. It’s just not our fault. If only this had happened or that had happened it would have all turned out differently. If only the government had adopted this policy or that policy it would have turned out differently. If our employees had performed better, if our customers weren’t so demanding, if the competition had been honest, it would have turned out differently. There is a never ending supply of excuses.

It was once said it is not how many times you are knocked down, it is how many times you get back up. Life was never meant to be a smooth road. We get stronger through adversity. Without adversity we would never know triumph. How would we ever relate to those in need if we ourselves had never experienced it? Here is a simple way to overcome adversity and accelerate your success:

  1. Define the problem in front of you in the greatest detail possible
  2. Write down every potential outcome from the situation as you see it today
  3. Decide what one outcome is the worst possible scenario.
  4. Develop a plan to mitigate the impact of this scenario.

Once you define the problem in detail you will find that it isn’t as bad as you imagine. Our imaginations always paint things worse than they are. This alone will reduce the stress level by eliminating some uncertainty. By choosing the worst possible scenario you face the worst possible outcome. I think you will find that it isn’t as bad as you thought. Finally attacking this scenario with a plan to minimize its impact on your life will put you in a position to win. Remember this is the worst possible scenario. Everything else is peanuts compared to this.

Having a plan and working your plan is the only way to take responsibility for what happens to you. The environment changes, plans change, results vary. The goal is to have the final result better than the results you would have gotten doing nothing.

“A clear vision, backed by definite plans, gives you a tremendous feeling of confidence and personal power.”
Brian Tracy

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hire Slow, Fire Fast

This is an adage we all know. Typically we hire faster than we would like because each employee represents work that is piling up. We fire slowly, partly because it is unpleasant and partly because we just somehow expect it to fix itself. In some cases I would even suggest we fire slowly because we don’t realize there is a problem until we’ve had to deal with it for some time. My background is sales and marketing, but throughout my career I have managed many operational types as well. To me, operational employees are easier to evaluate because they typically are in the middle of the business cycle. They are given work to do and there is an expectation of the quality and quantity of effort. Problem employees produce sloppy, incomplete or no work.

Sales people are a different kettle of fish. When they come on board there is a natural expectation that it will take time for them to come up to speed. In many cases they have to build a pipeline. If the sales cycle is six months, it should take on average six months to close their first deal. Most sales people don’t start completely from scratch, but there is a very good possibility that their territory have been vacant for some period of time and is therefore more or less dormant. So how long do you give a new sales person before you start the “are you the right person” discussion?

My suggestion is day one. Each business should have a documented and repeatable sales methodology. That methodology has certain milestones. There are leads and suspects and prospect and qualified prospects and proposals and contracts. There should be prospecting scripts and data gathering outlines and proposal templates. There are a myriad of tools available to start evaluating the progress of a new sales person the very first day. Each new sales person should have a 90 – 120 day plan that outlines expectation. The expectations should be targeted toward results, not activity.

Here’s the hard part, you’ve got to pay attention. You can’t have your best sales person training the newbie. That creates two problems. If you follow a program for the first 90 – 120 days you will quickly find out if the new sales person can perform certain critical aspects of the sales methodology. You can compare their performance against a standard at each phase of development. This developmental approach is better for the company and the employee. If your sales methodology works for the sales team in general it will work for the newbie. They perform better within the sales culture of the company, thus making more money and so do you.

If they cannot master a critical component of the sales methodology and you’ve tried every mentoring approach you have, then it’s time to have the “are you the right person” discussion. I personally believe that if you are having the “are you the right person” discussion you, as the hiring manage, screwed up somewhere. Sometimes we don’t like to admit that, so we keep pushing a square peg into a round hole. We all make mistakes. Good managers recognize them before they affect results and correct them. Other managers make excuses or cover them up.

Here is the really good news for you…. If you have a program and you’re following it, then the new sales person knows where they stand at all times. The “are you the right person” discussion might be brought up by them. They see the goals, they see they’re not making them, they understand they have a problem. The discussion is not a shock. My guess is that if you have a decent hiring process and a decent development process, then this discussion will very seldom ever take place.

That’s the goal anyway….

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Is it time to go Viral?

I was thinking about viral marketing and how to take advantage of it if you don’t have a gee whiz product. What I mean is this, what if you don’t have the kind of product that would cause someone to pass it on to their e-mail list. That is one of the primary premises behind viral marketing. What are you saying that’s worth repeating? That’s pretty hard for a lot of companies. What they do just isn’t neighborhood party chatter. Most of your neighbors probably don’t know what you do for a living and don’t care. Either that or it’s so common place they don’t think twice.

We can get advice for solving this problem from two primary places. (This is based on my limited reading so feel free to add your own sources) First is a great book by Chip and Dan Heath “Made to Stick”, and the other is Dan Tapscott’s book “Wikinomics”. Wikinomics is a little of a challenge to me because it reeks of socialism, but that another subject for another time. So here is how I think we can go about building a viral experience that will promote our company.

If we don’t have that mind blowing concept or product that is going to make almost everyone sit up and say “WOW”, then we need to find an angle that will make some of them at least say “Interesting!” The concept does not have to be directly related to your business. It can be tangential to it. Here’s an example: Let’s say I do technology consulting for billing systems in the wireless telecommunications market. It may be pretty hard to get more than a few people to say “interesting” more or less “WOW”. But if I start a Blog or drip marketing program concerning the latest developments in consumer mobile devices, it could go viral and it is in the same space as my practice.

You might be able to find the right subject by using collaboration with, not just your employees, but customers and suppliers. Put some type of reward out there for the best ideas. It doesn’t have to be big, just enough to spur interest. Remember people love recognition over material things. The banter back and forth concerning the ideal subject may turn out to be the viral marketing you’re looking for. Even if it’s not, this is where Chip and Dan come in. Their book will give you the step by step instruction you need to build a story that will not only stick in the minds of those that hear it, but cause those same people to pass it on.

Just like varnishing a table…Let dry and repeat…. Keep in mind to build a brand around viral marketing the same rules apply as traditional marketing….Consistency of the message. Don’t bounce around from subject to subject. Pick something with staying power and build on it. I would start with a Blog, as opposed to drip e-mail marketing, because there is a better feedback system with Blogs. If you are not getting comments and visitors, then it’s not going to go viral on you. Once you figure it out, you can add it to your drip marketing program with some level of confidence that people will read it and pass it on.

If you’re really serious about this, hire a professional to help. They can help craft the message so that it has the highest impact. They can also optimize exposure to attract viewers.

"If the Internet can be described as a giant human consciousness, then viral marketing is the illusion of free will."
- By George Pendle