Here are all of the ways that you and your company can blow it when it comes to hiring new clients, new customers, new partners and even new employees:
1. Don't make the effort to really know them.
2. Talk more than you listen.
3. Be patently indecisive.
4. Make assumptions about what it is they want and need from you.
5. Take them, their business, or their interest in you for granted.
6. Forget that you are far from being the only game in town.
7. Forget that you're just one year away from being last year's "it" company.
8. Say one thing. Do another.
10. Make them feel unappreciated.
Think of yourself as being on a first date. Put yourself in the shoes of the pretty girl or cute guy sitting across the table from you. What are they seeing? How are you making them feel? More importantly, how will they feel once the date is over? What will they say to their friends about you?
How would you feel if you found out that despite your best intentions, this was the report on you: "He was cool, well dressed, soooo smart and talented and hip... but he seemed more interested in himself than in me."
It isn't enough to say you're different and cool and brimming with talent. It isn't enough to know all the right people. It isn't enough to have the dopest portfolio in the industry or the fattest budget. It doesn't even matter how great you are, really. Sooner or later, someone cooler, smarter and more talented, and a whole lot hungrier will come along to send you packing.
They're already out there, inching their way towards you.
Their secret weapons: They'll do what you don't. They'll treat everyone like kings. They'll make sure their work is better than anything they've ever produced before. They'll make friends with their clients and customers and employees. All of them. Not just the core group. Not just the cash cows.
Just this week, I had the opportunity to see both ends of the spectrum firsthand.
At one end, two companies I was speaking with showed me how cool they really were: They scheduled meetings with me pretty quickly. They did none of the above ten things. They asked all of the right questions and answered all of mine without reservation. They knew exactly what they wanted out of our relationship. They know exactly who they want to be to their clients and customers, and aren't just talking about it. They're still smallish, but they're already category leaders in their markets. They've grown mostly through word-of-mouth even though they've never really given much thought to WOMM. Their employees are fun and engaging and infected. They're companies infused with purpose and vision and drive. In two words, they rock, and I am happy to say that I will have an opportunity to help them grow.
At the other end of the spectrum was another company. One that I have to admit I used to be pretty impressed with. That is, until they blew it with me.
How? By displaying almost every no-no on the above list, starting with 8.
I was very surprised this week to get a call from that very company. I was offered a pretty decent opportunity with them. One that, until a month ago, I wouldn't have thought to turn down for any conceivable reason.
A whole load of people would kill to get that phone call. I used to be one of them. And while these guys aren't Apple or Nike or Pixar, they aren't the kind of company whose offer you turn down either. (Even after months of enjoying their mildly entertaining and now legendary version of the runaround dance.)
I'd venture to say that they aren't used to hearing "no" either.
Unfortunately, the call came six months too late and saddled with motives that, frankly, I was kind of offended by. Call me crazy, but the promise of decent money and relative prestige aren't enough of a reason to overlook six months of bullshit.
I'm not talking about the last six months. I'm talking about what would have been the next six months.
A brand is a promise, after all.
Client. Partner. Customer. Employee. No difference.
Be careful how you present yourself. Every move you make matters.
Many years ago, a mentor shared a wonderful piece of advice with me. It was this: "Watch the way people treat waiters. It'll tell you everything you need to know about what kind of person they are." It's 100% true.
When a waiter isn't handy, watch the way they treat everyone else. The less important to them, the better.
Well, I've been watching.
Two companies impressed the heck out of me. One disappointed me to no end.
I'll take those odds any day.
So the lesson here is this: If you want to blow it, do any of the ten things on the above list, or any combination thereof. If those aren't enough, try your hand at being so full of yourself that you end up turning off even your most ardent fans.
It isn't easy, but with a little bit of hard work and perseverence, you can do it.
Short of kicking everyone you meet in the huevos, that, my friends, is how you blow it big in 2006.
Now that's advice you can put to good use.
"After the poor showing of advertising sales for this year’s Super Bowl and the collective yawn of Americans’ over the Winter Olympics, Al Ries may have it more right than Madison Avenue yet has the insight or courage or both to admit. Great brands are being created with little or no advertising. Starbucks is one such. Ries lists others in the aforementioned interview."
David points us to Al Ries' piece in PR Intelligence Report (PR vs. Advertising: 3 Facts of Life) in which Al makes a compelling argument for publicity overshadowing advertising:
Steve: In your book the Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR you state that today's major brands are born with publicity - not advertising...
Al Ries: Yes, all the recent brand successes have been PR successes, not advertising successes. Red Bull, Starbucks, Harry Potter, Linux, Palm, The Body Shop, JetBlue, and Google.
Al: Starbucks spent less than $10 million in advertising its first 10 years. That's less than one million a year, a trivial amount for a national brand. Here's what Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has to say about advertising. "It is difficult to launch a product through consumer advertising because customers don't really pay attention as they did in the past. I look at the money spent on advertising and it surprises me that people still believe they are getting returns on their investments."
"Economics, which assumes people are basically reasonable and respond straightforwardly to incentives, is no longer queen of the social sciences. The events of the past years have thrown us back to the murky realms of theology, sociology, anthropology and history. Even economists know this, and are migrating to more behaviorialist and cultural approaches."
"Broadband vendors want to start charging hefty fees for access. Their reasoning is that they provide the pipes so they should get paid more. However, that also means “them that has, gets,” at the expense of the smaller companies who can’t pay premimum fees. So, the Long Tail would be abruptly bobbed, drastically reducing business opportunities and innovation."
"Like many others who are constantly analyzing blogs, the on-line pub just flat misses the point (and power) of blogging. It’s not an industry, product or trend – it’s a way of communicating. And, communicating never goes out of style (sloppy as it may be at times.) What is changing is that the spin power of media, ad agencies, and governments is rapidly diminishing.
The bell has rung, the horse is out of the barn and there’s no going back – regardless of government censorship, business wishful thinking, and pundit pontificating."
Now, all George has to do is win Paris-Roubaix and the Tour De France!
These aren't edited in photoshop. They're completely real and were all shot in the last week.
So my question is this: Are these images a testament to the global appeal of big brands... or are they the result of a brilliant marketing mastermind's devious product placement scheme?
"Enron (big) got audited by Andersen (big) and failed (big.) (...) American Airlines (big) is getting creamed by Jet Blue (think small). BoingBoing (four people) has a readership growing a hundred times faster than the New Yorker (hundreds of people).
I’m writing this on a laptop at a skateboard park… that added wifi for parents. Because they wanted to. It took them a few minutes and $50. No big meetings, corporate policies or feasibility studies. They just did it.
Today, little companies often make more money than big companies. Little churches grow faster than worldwide ones. Little jets are way faster (door to door) than big ones.
Today, Craigslist (18 employees) is the fourth most visited site according to some measures. They are partly owned by eBay (more than 4,000 employees) which hopes to stay in the same league, traffic-wise. They’re certainly not growing nearly as fast.
Small means the founder makes a far greater percentage of the customer interactions. Small means the founder is close to the decisions that matter and can make them, quickly.
Small is the new big because small gives you the flexibility to change the business model when your competition changes theirs.
Small means you can tell the truth on your blog.
Small means that you can answer email from your customers.
Small means that you will outsource the boring, low-impact stuff like manufacturing and shipping and billing and packing to others, while you keep the power because you invent the remarkable and tell stories to people who want to hear them.
A small law firm or accounting firm or ad agency is succeeding because they’re good, not because they’re big. So smart small companies are happy to hire them.
A small restaurant has an owner who greets you by name.
A small venture fund doesn’t have to fund big bad ideas in order to get capital doing work. They can make small investments in tiny companies with good (big) ideas.
A small church has a minister with the time to visit you in the hospital when you’re sick.
Is it better to be the head of Craigslist or the head of UPS?"
"It's easy these days to be seduced by the delights of little, 'authentic' local brands, we like the the specialists and the mom and pop size. Brands like that have real appeal and emotional advantages. But a big brand that uses its scale effectively (ie not to bully or bewilder people, but to connect and delight them) has a rarer and more interesting opportunity. We shouldn't use communications to try and make big brands small (which is often the temptation) we should use them to help big brands connect and make their scale something positive for people..."
"This year's commercials were uneventful through and through, with only a few bright spots, which is hard to understand on some level. When you have 90 million viewers paying attention, you better have something to say."
Yesterday, I briefly mentioned Randy McDougald and how his hiring practices have helped him turn a longshot into a huge success (on every conceivable level). Today, let me tell you what they are.
But first, this:
The first thing you need to know about Randy is that a couple of years ago, he left a very cushy corporate job to take over a failing bike shop and turn it into a triathlon store.
The second thing you need to know about Randy is that he's never looked back.
Randy is more passionate about triathlon and fitness and the commuity he is helping to build than anyone I've ever met... and his business, being firmly anchored in that passion is unlike any other triathlon shop I've set foot in.
I know it might sound a bit cliche, but Carolina Triathlon (the new website is under construction) isn't a business or a shop. It's a hub. It's the Main Street USA of the triathlon and cycling worlds in Greenville. People don't just go there to shop, they also go there to hang out. They go there to find people to ride or run with. They go there on their lunch break, just because... they feel at home there.
Trust me when I tell you that it has absolutely nothing to do with the bikes and the helmets and the running shoes. It isn't about the coffee or the powerbars. It isn't about the wetsuits and swim goggles either.
Despite the fact that Randy would probably love to personally take care of each and every one of his customers, he can't be everywhere all at once. That's where his employees come in. They are the heart and soul of his business, and he knows it. They're the living, breathing, walking, smiling articulation of his brand. So he pays particular attention to whom he hires and why.
Honestly, I'm not sure what his secret is. I just know this: When you walk into another bike shop in Greenville, you're pretty likely to get blown-off or snubbed. When you walk into his store, you're taken care of by cool friendly people who really want to help. There's no service vibe. It isn't fake in any way.
Sounds simple? Of course it does. And it is... but most retail outlets I visit don't even come close to the level of care and cool and confident professionalism that you'll encounter there.
Think boutique chic minus the attitude. It's uncanny.
Based on what I've seen, here's what I think Randy does:
(And if this echoes some of Guy Kawasaki's advice from yesterday, don't be too surprised.)
1. Randy hires infected people. No, not raging zombies from the U.K., but fitness-infected people. Everyone who works there is either an avid runner or cyclist or triathlete. These folks live, eat and breathe this stuff. They love it. It's their passion, and they're eager to share it with everyone who walks through his door.
2. Randy hires volunteers. Everyone who works there wants to work there.
3. Randy hires big talent. Everyone there is incredibly bright and/or talented. If your idea of the stereotypical bike shop/tri shop employee is of some nacho-munching underachiever with a racing fetish, think again. Some members of his team have Masters' degrees. Others have managed very profitable businesses. Some of them are immensely talented artists and coaches and promoters. It's uncanny, really.
4. Randy hires nurturers. Here's how Randy sees his customers: It doesn't matter if they're going to buy a $7,000 pro-kitted time trial bike or a $350 starter hardtail. They'll be treated with the same courtesy and enthusiasm and attention. If you're 300lbs and want to start exercising, you'll be treated with the same respect as if you were a nationally known pro cyclist. If your budget is very limited, you'll be treated just as well as a customer who drops $20,000 in the store each year.
Randy recently refused to hire a guy who told him he loved selling high-end bikes but not budget bikes. That pretty-much says it all.
5. Randy hires positive, enthusiastic people... because you know what, they're just fun to be around. Running a tri shop is supposed to be fun. His shop is fun. That's why people like to hang out there.