Tag Archives: life

Subtle Cues And Crabs

15 Apr

If you tug too quickly on the string, the crab drops the chicken and sidesteps away.  If you drop the net in the water too aggressively, the ripples frighten off your prey.  It’s only when you pull the string in one finger width at a time, when the crab realizes it’s being hunted only after it’s in your net, that you land your catch.

Crabbing

Click to see some crabbing on a string!

I recently began using an iPad in sales calls.  It’s a powerful tool for product demos, but it scared away my prospects.  Why?

To ensure I could quickly launch into a demo, I flipped open the case cover and logged in before sales calls.  In an industry where prospects give sales people a very limited amount of time to present their wares, I thought having my iPad ready for action would be a strategic advantage.

But as soon as I walked into a prospect’s office, his eyes shifted to my open iPad and his pupils dilated in fear.  The iPad was my net, and I had clearly dipped it into the water too early.  Before I even got to qualify, nonetheless demo my product, the prospect darted away like a crab.

Revealing our sales tools too early and rushing to make our pitch is a sure way to scare off our catch.   And sometimes, it’s just a subtle cue, a signal of the demo to come, that alarms our prospects.  In my case it was the open iPad.

As soon as I realized my mistake and closed the case before walking into offices, my prospects opened up to me again.

Are you scaring away your crab?

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Are You Ready?

29 Mar

I ran a focus group yesterday to record product users (in this case 18 year olds) giving our product glowing endorsements.

What I captured on film instead is two of the most opinionated teenagers you’ll ever meet bashing our product.

These outspoken attendees called the product trivial, degrading, insulting.  You can hear the tension in my voice on the recording, the strain of me nodding my head and asking “explain further…” when all I wanted to do was lash back.  They’re wrong and I know it.

But it doesn’t matter what I know. Or what I think.  I seethed for hours after the focus group until I realized how naive I was to expect a love fest of a focus group.  How silly I was to think I could control the feedback they gave me for the camera.

Focus groups attract two types of people: those in it for the money, and those who want to be heard.  The second group is the only group that matters, and they’re often critical.  You’re not going to like everything they say.  The point isn’t to control their feedback.  It’s to have their feedback control what you do.

feedback

Be sure you can answer yes to all of these questions before you run a focus group:

Are you ready to listen?

Are you ready to be criticized and instead of arguing, push your retorts deep down into the pit of your stomach?

Are you ready to make changes?

Feedback is coming.  Are you ready for it?

 

The Story of The…

26 Mar

These mantras were pulled from the website of a well-known company:

  1. We perform comprehensive microbiological testing to ensure that all products meet our high quality standards.
  2. All employees sanitize their gloves and equipment every time they enter our work product areas. Employees leaving these areas for any reason must re-sanitize their gloves/equipment before reentering our facilities.
  3. Air entering our facilities is purified by air filtration systems designed to remove potential airborne contaminants.
  4. Using an independent certified laboratory, we conduct our own internal product audits at all of our facilities to ensure that our standards are never compromised.

Microbial testing.  Air filtration systems.  Independent certified laboratory.  Can you guess which company website these standards are taken from?

Kimberly Clark and its medical equipment?   Dial and antibacterial soap?

Nope.  These are from the Boar’s Head website.  We’re talking about sandwich meat. 

Boar's Head 2

NYC is a city with a deli at every street corner.  Walking the streets this weekend, I had a revelation: nearly every deli advertises its use of Boar’s Head cold cuts in its front window.   And then I had another: I can’t name another company that makes sandwich meats.

Can you?

Maybe Boar’s Head has become a meat monopoly because its high standards means its bologna just tastes better.   

But maybe it’s the Boar’s Head story we’re tasting when we take a bite.  The quality assurances, the rich history on the company website,  the obsession with brand control.

Why is Boar’s Head synonymous with cold cuts?  Because it’s mastered the story of the sandwich.  What’s your story?

The Bad Idea Revolution

21 Mar

Bob Marley.  Les Mis.  America.  Revolutions are sexy.  Which is why I’m hesitant to write this blog post.  How to kill the bad idea revolution.  But here it goes.

I love my colleague.  But recently, he had an ill-founded idea for a new product feature.  When I found out about it, I vowed I’d soon voice my concerns.

“The time to stop a revolution is at the beginning, not the end.”  –Adlai Stevenson

But I didn’t act for a few days.  Things got busy and talking to him kept on slipping down my to-do list.  By the time I did, my colleague had already converted two disciples and drafted an initial plan.  I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was decided.  The bad idea revolution was in motion.

Bad ideas are just ideas until one of three things occur:  

1)      The bad idea attracts at least one follower.

2)      The revolutionary has time to develop a concrete plan.

3)      The tiniest of first steps is made to start executing the plan.

These three things take time.  It might be two hours or two weeks before a colleague with a bad idea can attract a follower or devise a plan.  The key is to confront the person with your concerns before these events ever happen.  If one of these events does occur, you’re no longer fighting just an idea.  You’re fighting a bad idea revolution.

revolution

If a bad idea does becomes a revolution, here are two additional tactics to try:

1) Convince another colleague of the risks inherent in the idea.  Ignoring one colleague is easy.  Ignoring a group of colleagues is not.

2)  Use the two for every one rule to come prepared with alternatives.

It’s not as sexy to kill a revolution as it is to start one, but sometimes it’s just as important.  Act swiftly to kill bad ideas, before others become committed to them.  You’ll create space for other, important ideas to breathe.

The Little Man That Sits On Your Shoulder

1 Mar

The little man that sits on your shoulder is usually a mischief maker.  He whispers naughty things in your ear and urges you to do no good.

Shoulder Devil

But a different kind of little man is described in The Art of The Start, one who doesn’t tempt you to make trouble, but keeps you on track during your presentations.

When I present, I’m constantly reminding myself that what others get of my presentation is my #1 consideration—that the audience is all that matters.  But when we start talking, it’s VERY easy to lose sight of this.  We begin to ramble, the focus on our audience disappearing.  We say everything we want to say, not just what the audience needs to hear.  Soon, the session is more about us, and less about everyone else in the room.

Here are two guards against this mistake:

  1. Write an e on the back of your hand.
  2. Guy Kawasaki’s little man trick.  When he gives a presentation, Kawasaki imagines that there’s a little man sitting on his shoulder, asking him “So What?” after everything he says.  “How does this help the audience?  Why is it important?  How can they use it?”  If the talking point is important, it’s worth explaining further and making crystal-clear.  If it doesn’t help the audience in some way, cut it.  Simple as that.

Two little tricks, same result: a presentation that’s not only focused on your audience, but moves others to action.  I use both now.  So should you.

My Pet Shrimp Named Google

14 Feb

My focus group attendees are like shy freshmen on the first day of high school.  They walk into our focus group room, immediately shuffle to the last row of seats, and avoid all eye contact.

Which is why I treat them like high schoolers.  At the start of every focus group, we all sit in a circle and introduce ourselves to the rest of the group just like on the first day of class.

But I add a little twist.

1)     As attendees enter the room, I hand them an index card and ask them to write an interesting fact about themselves on it—without including their name.

2)     Right before we start, I collect the cards and put them in a hat.

3)     When we start, I pull the cards out of the hat and read them one at a time.  After I read a fun fact, the group has to try to guess who that fact belongs to.

4)     When the owner of the fact is exposed, he has to explain the fact and what he’s looking to get out of the focus group.

The best fact I’ve heard to date: I have a pet shrimp name Google.

028

Part of running great focus groups is priming attendees to comfortably share their feedback.  If attendees show up but don’t talk openly and honestly, your session is a waste.  The fun fact game immediately loosens up a crowd, endearing the attendees not only to each other, but to you as well.

If an attendee can tell you about his pet shrimp, or his Chilean spear fishing championship, or how he lost his big toe, he’s ready to give you feedback on your product.

Spend a little time running the fun facts game at the beginning of your sessions.  You’ll get better feedback during the rest of the session, and attendees will always remember the fun game they played in your focus group.

The Scoreboard is Scoreless.

9 Feb

Business is a lot like football.  In both, we need to acknowledge two things when looking at the scoreboard:

1)     The final score is often a product of the environment in which we compete.   

A football team’s success is determined by much more than just team performance.  The strength of the competition, injuries to key players, even the referees have an impact on the season record.  Similarly, outside factors often determine our success in business.  A good market environment sometimes ensures success, even when we just show up.  A bad market environment?  It can crush even the most sound strategy.

2)     Results, therefore, don’t tell the whole story. 

Three point victories over an arch-rival and a cupcake, while the same on the scoreboard, usually mean very different levels of performance on the football field.  So too does 3% growth during a bullish market versus 3% growth in a bear market.

If the scoreboard doesn’t reflect the entire story, should we just ignore it?  No, but we must evaluate ourselves differently.  We need to track our processes, not just end the results.

In my career, a few processes I track include 1) returned correspondence from customers 2) conversion of focus group attendees 3) number of sales calls per day.

These processes are smaller metrics.  They no doubt affect the scoreboard, but aren’t swayed or skewed by the landscape in which I compete.

The point of focusing on process is not to ignore end results.  The scoreboard does matter–we should never afford ourselves excuses when the other team wins.

The point is that when you focus on process, you take the business context or environment in which you work out of your measurements.  The ups and downs that can be attributed to competition and the situations we inherit begin to smooth out.  When we have excel at the right processes, results ultimately begin to care of themselves.

Which football coach talks most about process?  Nick Saban, when he’s not busy winning back-to-back national championships.

nick saban

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