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The World Hidden Before Us.

Sunday night I swung by for Chinese takeout. I love chicken lo mein… Part of the joy of eating Chinese food has always been the fortune cookie. It’s not only the lightly sweetened taste of the cookie, but the hidden fortune inside.

I have begun to judge restaurants based upon the quality of these little treats – even shunning some while choosing others. The fortunes always give me a time to reflect upon the thought and ask questions.

Hokey, probably – but fun, most certainly!

When I opened the fortune cookie inside was a wonderful quote that really gave me some food for thought,

Technology is the art of arranging the world so we do not notice it.

At first glance, I was amazed at how succinct and wonderful this fortune was. In a previous post, The Heart of a Technologist, I said,

I see so many who seem to be on a quest for self-glory or the latest discovery, much like Ponce de Leon’s search for the infamous Fountain of Youth. Some may serve through discovery or creation, while some offer their service in the form of repair or maintenance. When at our best, we operate behind the scenes, unnoticed and under cover of dark, weaving our magic webs of security and five-nine’s availability.

In essence, I had thought the script read that when technology was working as it should, it was invisible.

However, as I rolled this around in my mind, much like tasting a great glass of wine, I began to wonder if it instead meant that technology got in the way of seeing the world for what it is. With communication coming at us in all directions and everything from coworkers to advertisers vying for our attention, are we too connected? Does the noise distract us from seeing the beauty?

These are all great questions for technologist and lay-person alike to ponder. Are you sure you walk your critical path in life? What gets in the way of you seeing life as you should?

Image credit: zzzack

Live It, Love It, or Leave It.

I have learned that each of us has a special gift that we do better than just about anyone else out there.Certainly, we all need to celebrate the differences we encounter with a spirit of gratitude. We often give of ourselves to help others, but like to know that our gifts are appreciated. Don’t you?

Think about what occurs when you feel most appreciated. Is it when your boss, mentor or account manager spends time with you; is it when he or she offers you genuine compliments, offers you gifts, says thank you by doing something for you or simply gives you a hug or firm pat on the back for a job well done*?

You know what makes you smile!

What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if you found yourself offering of yourself, be it advice, time or compliments – and not only were they not being received, but refused outright. What a dramatic hit to our self-worth! It can be stunning to be rejected, right? Eventually, you no longer feel like giving of yourself – your advice, time or compliments. You begin to think it is pointless and falling on deaf ears.

As I see it, there are 3 choices the professional has:

  1. Live it: Suck it up and deal with the situation.
  2. Love it: Relish what you do (ideally).
  3. Leave it: Walk away, knowing you gave it your best effort and that your energy and gifts are better spent elsewhere.

Which choice do you make when you are running on empty? Which message are you telling your customer to think about you?

*Methods of appreciation adapted from Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages.

 

Four Tips to Achieving Work Life Balance for Teleworkers

Work Life Balance For Teleworkers

Rumors and legends have long since swirled about the the mystical creature known as work life balance. Many hunters have sought its precious embrace, or to simply gaze upon its rare beauty.

While it is indeed rare to hear of work life balance in the workplace today, it is rarer still to hear the work-at-home professional extolling the virtues of a balanced life. But here are four tips to help you have a fighting chance of achieving work life balance.

Read more here…

Teleworking: Pants or Pajamas?

Teleworking with my feet up

Do you relish that you don’t have to shave before clocking in? Do you rejoice because you don’t have to put on makeup after you wake up? Is it hard for you to decide if you should wear pants or pajamas to work today?

Teleworking, or telecommuting, has quite a few perks–certainly including relaxed standards on dress code and personal hygiene. But for those of you who know the joys of holding your very own weekly beard-growing contest, there are a few things we should attend to before you hand out any prizes.

Read more at destroy Distraction…

Prayers, Devotions, and Meditations — OH MY!

One of the keys to staying focused, avoiding stress, and being productive is keeping the many facets of your life in balance. That’s easier said than done, right? You are busy with kids’ priorities, work beating at the door, and juggling to find time with your significant other… And that’s just the start of your day!

While it’s easy to get sucked into the routine day after day, I’ve found that stealing away for a little time before each day starts to be a keystone in lowering my stress levels and framing my mission for the day. Regardless of your own spiritual beliefs, I think it’s time that you consider some time dedicated to getting centered before you get started.

Read the entire post now…

How (NOT) to Gather Customer Feedback that Instigates Positive Change

Sometimes, if you really want to know what your customers are thinking, you just have to ask. I launched an experiment earlier this Spring meant to help three retail businesses garner these kind of insights. We set up physical comment boxes in all of their stores, and posted signs inviting them to “text the manager” (I was simultaneously testing a customer feedback service for a software buyers’ guide I write).

My overall goal was to see if the stores could receive enough feedback to instigate the following changes:

  • Workers would improve their behavior because customer feedback was more transparent and immediate.
  • Managers could use the feedback to create incentives (e.g. the store with the best, or most positive feedback would be rewarded).
  • The feedback would provide insights that could be used to make changes that would improve the customer experience.

I left the signs and comment boxes out for a total of four weeks. Between four bicycle shops, one ice cream store, and three burger joints we only received five comments. This wasn’t enough to affect anything. This bad news was worse when I started to read the comments.

“We love your store!” Nice to hear, but not really useful for any of the goals I wanted to achieve. After the experiment was over, I took a step back to try and find out what went wrong. I called customer feedback experts and asked for their ideas on how I could have garnered more actionable feedback. Here’s what they had to say.

Enforce a Customer-Feedback Centric Culture
One of the biggest reasons the experts thought my experiment failed was that I didn’t properly prepare staff. I interviewed several employees and managers for each store after the month was over. A few reported customers asking about the signs, but it was clear they did not have a process in place influencing these interactions. They were not invested in getting or using the data.

If the culture isn’t built in such a way that people know they are the first line of defense for customer feedback, just making the service available isn’t going to change anything. Management needs to enforce rules and expectations. This could be something as simple as verbally explaining the service to customers as they check out, or are walking around the store. And of course, responding to feedback when it is received.

Creating the appropriate procedures and culture for leveraging customer feedback isn’t exclusive to the in-store experience. Companies should make sure it is obvious for customers where on their website they can submit customer feedback, be that from a form, surveys or another request. Creating context is the most important factor. The customer needs to feel like there’s benefit to them in providing the feedback, as in you will take their feedback and implement real changes.

Correct Bad Experiences in Real Time to Increase Customer Loyalty
Customer feedback shouldn’t just be used as a data set. It can also uncover bad experiences in the moment, and provide an opportunity to correct them.

Think, for example, when you’re eating at a restaurant. A good waiter will ask a few minutes after receiving your meal whether everything arrived okay, and if there’s anything else they can do to improve the experience. If your order was wrong or cold, you could let them know at that moment and the waiter could correct the issue. This would not be the experience if the restaurant asked as you while walking out the door, or emailed you a week later. Sure, you could still let them know about the cold food, but they can’t actually do anything about it.

This same concept extends beyond the dining experience. In my experiment, for example, one comment we did receive in a text message said, “no one talked to me the whole time I was in the store.” The manager could have responded at that moment apologizing and emphasizing that that’s not how they want their customers to be treated. Then, he could have provided a coupon, or other incentive to come back and allow them to correct that experience.

Look for Opportunities Beyond Just Measuring Customer Satisfaction
When I started the experiment, I assumed that companies used customer feedback primarily to measure and benchmark satisfaction. While many companies do use survey and feedback technologies exclusively for this purpose, I learned that this kind of goal really limits the value of generating the customer feedback in the first place. After all, what do you actually gain from learning whether satisfaction is improving or declining if you don’t know what you can do about it?

To gain insights other than overall customer satisfaction, you have to ask more specific questions. In my experiment, the ice cream store could have asked “What kind of flavors would you like to see this summer?” Or the bike store could say, “What clothing brands would you like to see in our stores?”

Answers to these questions can provide more specific points of feedback the business owners could have used to change what they are doing. But you would also need to know if these suggestions actually improve the customer experience. Would more flavors or brands actually influence more customers to buy from you?

Instead, companies should work to determine the causal relationships and key drivers that lead customers to buy from you. Once those are determined, you can ask for feedback around those specific drivers in the right context, and to the right customers.

How does your company generate actionable customer feedback? Join the conversation with a comment here.

Gain More Control and Reduce the Stress

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you don’t know your destination, then any road will do?” In other words, if you don’t have a plan for your day, your day will have a plan for you.

It’s important to have a sense of calm and control over your daily activities. I continue to see that we are bombarded an overwhelming sense of loss of control and unhealthy levels of stress. If these challenges are part of your daily diet, then this post is for you.

In this article, I provide a real world tool that I designed and use to gain control in my life, reduce stress and contribute to my sense of daily achievement.

Read more on destroy | Distraction and download your free Weekly Time Block Worksheet.

Do You Have the Heart For It?

Do you have the heart for it?If you were an artist, which would you choose: To create your own unique and inspired works of art (even if it meant scratching a meager living) or bring others’ inspiration to life as a well-paid, commissioned painter? In world of business, each of us makes this choice. The real question is whether you know it or not.

In high school, I was perfectly prepared to launch into a career as a starving artist. I could weave wonderfully twisted stories through oil pastels and water colors, but sadly discovered the business-side of “starving” wasn’t quite as glamourous as I’d expected. While some aspiring young artists make it in the big city, I had a change of heart. I knew it would be a long road to success (if at all), and most artists who could afford to put food on the table were commissioned. In other words, I’d have to paint others dreams to make a decent living.

While youthfully noble, I quickly inventoried my other skills and determined I would fair better in the world of technology — and actually enjoy it. So I pursued another of my goals in tandem and joined the United States Marine Corps. I became expert at  two things:

  1. Expert Rifleman: I was an expert marksman with an M-16 assault rifle, and could put a bullet in a man-size target 500 yards away in a 30 knot wind 9 out of 10 times. (Thankfully, I never had to use this skill in real life).
  2. Expert Technologist: I became expert with all manner of computer technologies, and got to work in some of the most challenging technology environments on the planet. (Thankfully, I got to use this skill a lot in real life).

Over the years, I’ve made my trade as a commissioned painter of sorts, painting beautifully intricate designs with technology for employers and clients alike. I’m especially proud of some of the things I’ve accomplished individually and as part of a larger team. My heart is always beating, leading me to new adventures.

Are You Lost?

I recently heard a speaker say, “The surest way to attract others is with a smile. Why? Because deep down, that lets others know you are passionate about what you do!”

Neither being your own artist nor being a commissioned painter is wrong. But as I look around, I see a world filled with people who want to be artists but are living off of the commission. They are desperately seeking fulfillment in a mismatched existence, falsely living the life of the other sapping their passion and joy. This ultimately leaves them impotent and dissatisfied.

Which choice have you made? Do you have the heart for it?

Are You the Boss?

Every one of your team members wants do good work. Most may not think of themselves as artists or commissioned painters, but that won’t stop you from seeing them this way. Take some time to look at yourself and your team. Seek out your hidden artists who want to be set free to create beautiful things for you and your customers. You may find that you’ve chained some too tightly, while others have unwittingly allowed themselves to become chained as a commissioned painter.

It takes a confident leader to recognize the signs, but it takes a true visionary to help others see the “right choice” in themselves. Do you have the heart for it?

 

6 Keys to Drive Revenue and Increase Loyalty

Increase Your Customer LoyaltyWhen you find yourself in a tough economy and your market share is under attack, what is the one thing you are hyper-focused on? Customer loyalty.

World-class companies are fanatics about loyalty, regardless of the economic cycle or their own market dynamics. But what is the definition of loyalty? More importantly, how do you measure loyalty?

When asked, most of us might say things like customer retention, stickiness, or even customer satisfaction. But what does this really mean? At the end of the day, what we are talking about is revenue per customer. That is the real measure of loyalty, isn’t it? Will they spend their hard-earned money with me again and again?

In a market with many choices and fewer dollars to go around, standing out in your customers’ minds often boils down to a lot of intangible nuances. In other words, your customers must not only like you they must love you!

It seems to me the manufacturers are really struggling with this, and it becomes even more complex when selling non-inventory items like services – especially through an independent reseller channel. Some have even suggested that their MPS programs are simply ‘straw men’ thrown out to keep some level of mindshare. My take is that they are just like the rest of us trying to figure it all out; they are happy to provide programs that incent growth and traction for channel providers, but dealers and resellers are hitting the same wall: That is, the customers are more informed, have more choices and are hanging on to their money more now than ever.

So do we just suck it up and say the economy is what it is? Do we simply adjust our expectations to our current climate? Maybe, but those that are thriving have become experts in what I’m about to tell you. These best-in-class companies understand there are six key ways to generate revenue:

  1. More Leads (Pipeline): Did you know that it typically takes between 7-12 “touches” to convert a suspect into a qualified prospect? Best-in-class organizations are experts at driving more leads to the front door. They may have been good at sales, but they are great at marketing to new and existing customers to increase overall opportunity.
  2. Higher Conversion (Relevant Messaging): What are you doing to ensure messaging is truly relevant to your audience? Being on target with your prospects and current customers is one of the most painful lessons I’ve had to learn, right after generating more leads.
  3. Raise Prices (Increased Value): At first, this seems like an absolute “NO”, but by raising prices you don’t have to convert as many leads and also get to spend more time with the customers you love. You’ll generally expend the same effort in the sales process, so consider how you like to present yourself.
  4. Higher Frequency of Sales per Lead: This really goes well with the “blue ocean” strategy. The more lines of business you have, the more opportunities you have to generate additional revenues with the same customer.
  5. Increased Frequency of Sales: This method is the one most of us gravitates towards. But we are often faced with the real world issues surrounding the actual execution. Finding a way to shorten your sales cycle or increase actual sales is generally accomplished in one of two ways: Increasing the number of sales staff or dramatically improving your ability to touch customers’ pain point. My experience has taught me either method can be rather expensive.
  6. Selling Partner Products: One key area most of us miss is the ability to gain affiliate fees from partners. You may not have a core expertise yourself, but if you hold a trusted advisors role with your customers they’ll look to you to refer key goods and services. A great partnering strategy is often a great reinforcement to overall loyalty.

What’s critical to understand is that world-class companies have installed processes to effectively target each one of these key six drivers. They are relentless in their pursuit of customers, but also in their ability to generate additional revenues across their entire portfolio.

Your customers have problems just like you and I do, but we can become so focused on our own day-to-day issues that we may actually miss helping them solve them. Increased loyalty really comes at the cost of listening well, and delivering what solves our customers’ problems. In other words, if you show your customers how to put money back in their own pockets they’ll be forever grateful. This tends to translate into the best revenue generator of all, and results in extremely loyal customers.

Your Software Demo is Killing Me!

your software demo is killing meI’m on the other end of another software presentation about a software product I’m halfway interested in – and I’m dying here!

How many software demos have you been through that really spurred a reaction? Well, what I mean is a reaction other than you wanting to be on the other side of this demo and wishing the sales rep well)?

Let’s see if I can map out the typical formula: First, history of the company in three slides followed by a slide with all their customers’ logos. Next, we dive into some ‘feature-benefit’ statements and some number of network diagrams (complete with little fluffy clouds and lightning bolts). How am I doing so far?

Then comes the coup de grace — the software demo, itself! As if the anti-climactic slide build didn’t put your brain on idle, the software demo is suppose to be some explosive finale!

Do these software companies have a standard playbook for software sales?

Are You In or Out?

At this point, perhaps you think I’m being too harsh. Perhaps, but in my years of buying, supporting and selling software it seems that almost everyone jumps straight to the demo as the de facto means of closing for the sale. What if I don’t need a software demo? What if I didn’t ask to see your software? What if you didn’t really stir enough desire in differentiating your offering or eliciting my unique pain points well enough?

In the grander scheme of things, it’s not enough to simply pursue activity. Let me be the first to tell you that it feels great to be doing ‘stuff’; I love feeling productive, but the one lesson I’m still being schooled on is there is a huge difference between activity and productivity.

A few months back, I was looking for some analytics software for SMBs, and happened across a company website that was very informative and drew me in to find out more. Aside from the delay in response during the holiday season, the sales professional proceeded to identify whether I was a qualified prospect. While she would’ve been happy to open up a trial version of the software platform for me to use for 30 days, she wanted to understand my intentions and needs.

This forced me to be honest with myself (and with her), because I simply wanted to take a peak under the hood, to smell the leather interiors. I had no real intention of actually buying the software. I was simply curious.

On one hand, some might say this was a lost sale, but in my book there wasn’t really a sale to begin with. So this sales professional was kind and professional about the exchange, letting me know that she would be happy to talk with me should I reconsider my position. However, she was efficient with her time.

Take the Demo Challenge

Once you have a qualified candidate, when do you spring the demo? I might argue never, but I know selling things site-unseen can be challenging. So let’s start with a challenge I’ll issue to you if you are in software sales (or any sales for that matter):

  1. I challenge you to say everything you need to in  5 – 8 slides (about 15-20 minutes of talking).
  2. Feel free to keep your “about me” stuff, but tell me everything about your company in 1 slide and why I should care about you. (Hint: Unless you are IBM or some huge brand, chances are you need to help me understand how you are going to be part of my story – not the other way around.)
  3. Don’t give a software demo in the initial presentation: Just like your presentation, too many presenters use this as a crutch to sell.
  4. Make the demo interactive: Given that most software presentations are remote, I concede that it’s useful to leverage software demos to create more conversation. However, most demos are very one-sided, so be sure you have uncovered the points of interest the prospect would like to have answered.
  5. Have fun with it! Don’t push dull and dry demos with step-by-step how-to’s; that’s what training is for! Instead, test ways to make the demo creative and you may even play with 2-5 minute video shorts your customer can watch at their leisure.
I understand your development team spent a ton of time, energy and money developing your software, and that everyone is eager to show off their cool stuff. However, your goal is to shorten the time to sell and remove objections to the transition from prospect to paying customer. That being the case, the more time you spend talking the less time you spend listening and understanding the needs of your customers. In my years, the best software I’ve purchased have had the least amount of time looking at the actual software and more time spent in dialogue about how it will meet my needs.