Bet on Winners

I was having dinner last night with an old friend and he said, “you would never buy a race horse that was proven to come in 2nd or 3rd place and never first so why would you hire that employee?” Arguably you could say that out of 100 potential applicants you are doing pretty good with the persons sitting immediately behind the 1st place hire. But his observation did make me pause to think, “how often do we make a concession when hiring?”

Over my 25 years in business, I’ve read, talked, practically smoke signaled about the topic of hiring. I have definitely come to my own conclusions.

  • Hire slow, fire fast!
  • An employer with value will attract the best.
  • You share a future with your employees.
  • Fit matters.

The horse race analogy is a priceless piece of advice. All too often I hear a business owner or leader state, “we can’t afford the best talent.” Really? When you provide customer service, pursue new business development, enhance your products, or perform any other function within your company, you want to be second-rate at best?

Here’s the key. Not all blue ribbon winners are proven, yet. It is your job to identify who can be the first place winner with your help. There are certain qualifications a person needs to work for your company and to possibly be the unproven 1st placer.

  • Smarts – Obviously, they need to have the smarts to do the job. This should be the easiest area for you to evaluate.
  • Attitude – This isn’t just culture and fit. This extends beyond that. Someone could be a great personable fit in your office, but not share the same priorities of your core values.
  • Outlook – Where that new team member wants to go in their career, your company will follow. Longevity is a concern with outlook too. Will your company be able to provide a bright future with lots of opportunity?

There is a lot of discussion around fit, culture, style, and personality in business and especially in hiring. This is an area where I have continued to refine my opinions over time and through many experiences. I believe fit is absolutely essential to success. I used to say, “I don’t need to want to hang out with every employee. If this one person is a bit different then I may have other employees or clients who appreciate their style more than I.”

Well, hog posh. 

There’s a reason teams succeed and it is because of all these factors combined – fit, style, outlook, attitude, culture, personality. And, every one of these, each with their own nuances is essential to a successful hire. This may be a more difficult area to evaluate in an interview so don’t stop there.

You aren’t looking for drone clones to drive your company forward so be prepared for many personalities, but you do want to ensure the overall core values are shared among all your people. These core values are the bedrock of all the other items –

  • Personality – you can be funny, ha ha, or you can be funny by mocking and hurting others.
  • Drive – you can want to achieve more by backstabbing or by supporting others.
  • Collective Success – you can want to see a company grow and a team succeed or only care about yourself.
  • Smart – you can be smart and know it (too much) or you can share it.

To learn more about someone’s core values you need to get to know them. This isn’t a Q&A session in the interview. It is the discussion on family, background, schooling, and activities. It’s extracting their opinions on many matters. Determine what makes your company great, and what other companies have proven adds value to their team. Then seek out these core values.

Your culture isn’t whether all your employees are health conscious runners or green environment fanatics or volunteer driven community members. Sure, these are great indicators of someone’s core values, but activities are not culture. Your culture is how people treat each other. Is there mutual respect, support and care, nurturing and development, management with mutual goals, and leadership with mentorship?

The fit is mutual. The employee you are hiring needs to see the value with your team and your company. This is an area that I have taken much more seriously in just the last few years. We have a Vice President of Achievement, and their primary goal is to develop employees, help them learn to help others, and to ensure growth is singular and collective. It is amazing how your best employees will embrace this opportunity. You will also realize which employees view continued development as a chore.

It is your job to hire the best person for the company, for the team. It is also your job to bid farewell to those who are not the best. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, aimed to fire the bottom 10% of his company every year. That was quite a bold statement back in the day, and frankly it may not be the most politically correct even behind the boardroom doors. However, I have learned that an extremely important part of my job is to show my team that I support them by weeding out the non-performers with poor attitudes who don’t fit our culture. It is my job to fire people.

I believe in hiring slow, but firing fast. It is a hard commitment to make, but it is a necessary step for success and happiness.

Take your time to hire people. Conduct the interview, then meet them for coffee at another time. Introduce them to team members. Give them a test for job or culture fit. Give them a professional challenge your industry faces, and ask them how to solve the challenge, but in a written response. You will learn a lot through these interactions. In short, get to know them. I guarantee you will hire better.

When you make a mistake, fix it. You will know if you don’t hire the best. You have goals for your company. It’s not a large leap to understand you are hiring team members you believe will reach those goals. If you miss the mark with the hire, you will miss the goals. It happens. Just be sure to address it quickly. If possible, be nice about it. Help the employee transition into a new company and position where they will fit and flourish. This is part of your culture.

Obviously, you cannot do this with everyone. Despite all efforts you will occasionally hire someone who simply doesn’t share core values and is toxic to your company. In these situations, it is important to act fast. Remove the cancer from your team immediately.

Some leaders are afraid to make these changes. They feel it is not the nice thing to do or there will be added pressure on the rest of the team. At the end of the day, it takes more energy and effort to work with someone who doesn’t fit, doesn’t perform, and doesn’t have the same values. Trust that you are doing your employees a favor. I have been thanked numerous times for making these changes, and more often than not, it is accompanied with, “that couldn’t happen fast enough.”

The old saying, “Nice guys finish last,” needs to be modified. It is the “too nice of a guy, who finishes last.” If you are running a business, it is because you are driven to succeed. Nice guys are those men and women who care about leading a company, developing the people, and doing so with support, respect, and a positive outlook. Being too nice actually injures your team and hurts many people. You can be nice and successful.

I may not look forward to my work everyday. Let’s face it, sometimes work is work. But every single day I do look forward to working beside my team.


Beyond the 20% Smart Mark

It’s a common belief that most people using a particular application really only use 20% of the system’s capabilities. Glance around any application you use – Word, Evernote, Excel… can you really claim to know more than 20% of what the system has to offer? People who go beyond, well beyond, this mark are referred to as Power Users. I believe the 20% Mark is applicable to nearly everything we do.

Imagine if in our lives we were Power Living. At work we could be Power Performers. We would be Power Friends and Power Parents. Of course, we do not need to excel at everything we do, but in the areas that count, it is best to be the Power Person. This concept applies to marketing more than ever before. Being a ‘user’ of digital marketing tools does not define an expert.  Nor does the mere frequency of use. It’s going beyond the 20% that moves someone beyond a user with the can-do ability.

There are two ways that the 20% Mark applies to marketing – First, the ability of the person executing marketing; and second, the extent of efforts being undertaken when executing a marketing plan. These are very different scenarios, but each is extremely important.

We’ve all encountered the 20% in expertise. Whether it was a purchasing experience for our home or business, we have encountered absolute experts in their field, as well as the not-so-expert, but claim-to-be expert. I do believe that the digital space, just as many new industries, has created the perception of expertise. This is easily achieved through two methods – early adopters and frequent users. Digital advertising encompasses everything from Mobile to Social, Apps and Email. If someone was an early adopter of any of these technologies, and continues to have frequency in at least one – most commonly social because it is easy, then they will have the perception of expertise. Be sure to test their capabilities beyond he 20% Mark.

The second method mentioned is the extent of execution. Imagine a professional athlete. If they invested in only one part of their sport, such as fitness training, muscle building, nutrition, mental capacity, or even just practice. they would probably not be as successful as they could be. Think about only a single area that we just mentioned, building muscle for instance. If the athlete only invested 20% of what they could into their weight training routine, they would not be experts or top of their field.

It is the same thing with marketing. You must be sure to invest beyond the 20% Mark. This may mean identifying other channels to use, just as the professional athlete has many areas of concentration or it could be how hard we work within each area. It is all too often we pick up a client at wedu who tells us, “I tried Google pay-per-click advertising, but it didn’t work for us.” They proceed to list a litany of reasons (or shall we say excuses) as to why it didn’t. We then go on to run successful campaigns for that client. Why? Because we went beyond the 20% Mark. We dove deeper into research and testing. We pushed our analytics to the max.

There are “professionals” in social media who post pictures and cute sayings. Let’s just say they’ve achieved the 20% Mark. Unfortunately, they never make it beyond that. As a single example, Facebook let’s you create questions and polls, find other aligned partners to Like and share content, build apps for contests, education and entertainment, and you can even advertise. An expert doesn’t stop at 20%.

Next time you are embarking on an adventure in digital marketing make sure you recognize the 20% Mark and keep your eye on the 80% of Opportunities.

Trust Your Business Swing

When I speak to entrepreneur groups and get asked what helped my businesses be successful (and what I wish I had done better), my answer is one in the same – “Do everything right.”  That may seem obvious, but the emphasis is not on the word “right”, it is on the word “everything.” If you play golf or have attempted golf, you know that everything must be done right – your body position, timing, flexibility, etc. If you’ve ever taken a golf lesson, you would quickly be shown a video of yourself in which you would see everything you’re doing wrong. Then you would step to the ball and swing again, the same old way.

Why can’t we change our swing in golf or in business? The answer is simple, we don’t trust ourselves. We are cautious in our decisions. We worry about the negative impacts more than the positive benefits that will results from any change. Even when we do attempt a change, we don’t commit 100%. This is just as bad for our golf swing and our business. We can’t do things half-way and expect the best results.

Business operations and marketing are also victims of lack of trust and commitment. By way of example, let’s chat about your business operations. Regardless of whether you’re a one person, two person or 50 person business, make sure you address everything in that business. Someone needs to be responsible for administration, finance, human resources, product development, sales, etc. Within each of those areas, you must do “everything” right.

Marketing is even more impacted by the lack of trust. If you have ever debated which media channel is best to drive revenue or what message will resonate or where dollars should be allocated, then you already know where I’m going.  If you don’t commit to a strategy, and instead you fragment your budget and message, your results will suffer.

I’m not saying spend all your dollars in one spot. I am saying that you need to wisely invest those dollars, and realize that there is a minimum investment needed to yield a response. Also, some media channels make better pairings than others. Let’s take SEM (Search Engine Marketing) as an example. Placing ads within the Google search network requires a lot more than just deciding keywords, ad messages, targets, and budgets.  You must ensure your analytics are setup and will provide important feedback for continual campaign improvement. Your click-thru destination, most likely your web site, must also be prepared for your campaign. Is there a landing page created to capture data? Is there an enticing offer to further the conversation and encourage the “clicker” to delve deeper?

You must commit to the channel and all the related requirements in order to be successful. It’s like building a puzzle. You can’t tell what the image is until the pieces are in place. However, we all think because we saw it on the box, we can put it together, much like looking at our golf swing on video. We see what we’re doing wrong, but will we commit fully to changing it?

In golf, we learn that our swing will ‘break’ when we start to make the change. This is  because we are mentally only ready to commit to one change at a time. Once we’ve committed to that change, and we realize that yes the ball is going in a new wrong direction, then we start to trust the pro and make the additional changes necessary to reach success. Changing everything at once is tough to trust, but in business, you won’t waste your budget if you do “everything” right with marketing.

Commit to your message. Commit to your channels and the required investment Commit to driving your marketing and sales. Limping will not win the race.

Feeling Good as a Customer From Marketing Automation

It’s important for customers to feel wanted. This creates loyalty with a brand. In the Business to Consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B) markets there is certainly a drive by large brands to create this loyalty.

Consumer brands connect with consumers through cause marketing activations supporting non-profits, by providing education and tools that help consumers with their diet, money management, child safety, etc., and even by connecting them with other like-minded individuals while satisfying their competitive edge Examples of these would be BMW’s support for women’s breast cancer, Proctor & Gamble’s Mom’s Club and MapMyRun.

Due to the activities of these brands, the consumers become engaged and connected. It’s no small feat to create this brand loyalty, but it is possible when the brand exhibits the same core principles and beliefs as the consumer.

The Business to Business (B2B) market is equally able to utilize this approach, but there is generally one significant difference. In the B2B space, it is oftentimes individuals buying from sales people, not buying from a faceless brand. This represents a challenge for companies. A B2B enterprise typically relies heavily on the sales channel to engage their client and develop the relationship. In B2B marketing, there has been a strong move toward automated marketing platforms.

These platforms act as relationship nannies. While they do, to an extent, watch over the activity of a sales channel partner, sales team or even individual sales person, they are generally structured to supplement their activities. Contact with clients is influenced by many factors:

  • Size or value of account / relationship
  • Frequency of purchase
  • Length of sales cycle
  • Potential for account growth

Unfortunately, the influence is typically greater from the individual responsible for that relationship, and not strictly the factors above. Many sales individuals know what they should do, but that doesn’t mean they do it. An automated marketing platform helps sustain the relationship in the absence of personal activity. The key to a successful platform is the ability to create authentic touch points, be consistent, and ensure you support the individual relationship as much as the corporate presence.

The B2B market recognizes that individuals are typically loyal to other individuals. If a commercial lends leaves bank ‘A’ the customer will most likely follow that individual to bank ‘B’. If that is the case, why would a company even consider fostering a stronger relationship between the sales person and the customer? Simple – everyone wins.

If the client is enjoying a great relationship with their sales person, and also partly realizes the company is causing “some” of that activity, they are still extremely happy and engaged. This will create more sales. If the relationship generates more sales, the sales person is happy. They are compensated on performance and thus happy with the increased revenue. Of course, they also recognize the company’s valuable input in the relationship making them more loyal. And last, the company is happy because they’ve maintained a customer and increased sales, their salesperson has more time to concentrate on new business development, and their salesperson is well compensated, thus loyal in their employ.

Automated campaigns are extremely simple to structure especially with a bit of creativity. Here are a few examples that can be easily implemented:

  • A thank you email auto-generated to a customer after an order. This email should have a specific trigger point – length of time since last order, size of order, etc. The content should appear personalized – from their sales rep, identifying the specific order, including a thank you. Success will be in the details – Do you have the client’s name or nickname correct? Does the email appear authentic because they don’t get too many?
  • The New Year letter – this can be a review of the client’s account from the previous year sharing some successes that the salesperson individually reached as a result of the client’s commitment. (i.e. I was recognized as favorite salesperson for ABC Company because of your growth and input.) New Year’s letters that are printed and delivered in a first class envelope, and personally signed, can be very effective for an overall relationship.
  • Birthday cards – yes, the under executed, but still widely known to be effective, birthday card. Data mining for client birthdays is very easy these days. They can be captured as a security question for web site account access, they can be data mined from free, public, online sources. Printing a personalized card that embeds the individual into the brand or company visually can be a very strong and fun message showing dedication.
  • Smaller businesses may tweet or Facebook post recognition of a client on an automated basis.
  • We Miss You – emails are generated to clients who are outside of their typical ordering cycle.
  • Pre-vacation emails are sent from the salesperson personally to share alternative contact information and personal assurance of the company’s commitment is included.

There is also an opportunity to semi-automate marketing processes that drive even greater loyalty. Imagine a few of the

  • A system automatically sources x clients each week and provides links to their LinkedIn profiles for their salesperson to the ‘endorse’ or ‘recommend’ on the network.
  • Integration with or other CRM system prepares an email message to all clients of a salesperson based on recurring contact requirements set by the company. Messages are canned, but provide the opportunity for a custom message to be inserted by the salesperson.
  • Related product emails are generated to promote a product the client has not purchased prior, but aligns with other services or products they have purchased. These must be held for the salesperson to review ensuring the information is appropriate.
  • Care packages – these are not done often enough by salespersons. Is your company structured to expedite a care package for a client’s new baby, marriage, or business achievement? Create a system that let’s your salespersons easily execute these needs.
  • The corporate anniversary card – wouldn’t it be nice to receive a note card in the mail, personally signed by the salesperson saying thank you for the anniversary of your very first order on xx date? Utilizing information that is readily available makes communications personal and appreciated. Including a ‘thank you’ in the form of a gift card or coffee card can go a long way.

These automated marketing systems are NOT expensive to implement, and the return is exceptionally high. Your company should determine the appropriate number of client contacts per year, and the recorded contacts in you CRM system. The average differential is what you should automate. For example, if the company feels a client needs to be touched every 2 months (6x/year) based on the type of product or service, consumption, competition, etc., but the average CRM report shows less than 4 contacts per year, then automate 2-3 communications.

The fully automated systems are obviously easy to execute. We oftentimes hear that companies can’t rely on their data in the CRM from the sales team or the sales team won’t sign birthday cards and get them in the mail. Guess what, your right. Today you may not be able to, but tomorrow you will.

The automated systems are effective tools and your top performers will recognize this. They will utilize the system to the maximum extent possible. When a pile of birthday cards lands on their desk, they will not only sign them, but insert personal notes and comments of their own. Your ‘B’ team will start to see their success. If the automated system uses incorrect information; such as a nickname, it will only take a few client comments before the salesperson is attentive to the CRM system content. Your ‘C’ team will be more easily identified so you can, well, fire them.

We would all like to think we have an “All Star” sales team. The reality is that we have few rock stars and some groupies. Help make your groupies look and even act like stars.

Rapid Business Growth? Have Some Balls.

Earlier this year I faced a challenge in our company. Using both parts of my brain I challenged myself to figure out a way to convey what I was seeing to the employees. In short, we had experience extremely rapid growth in the last couple years. All the new faces, services, and processes challenged us. How do you take someone working their butt off, tell them to put down the project or client for 10 minutes, step back, and think about the big picture. It’s not easy.

Of significant note, was the average project size, which had grown substantially, and this was an even bigger challenge than you would expect. It meant revisiting processes to ensure they still worked, helping employees realize they may need to reevaluate every step of the ‘standards’ we had created. Perhaps even altering how customer service was delivered. Working remotely with other team members and even clients. Evaluating risk and return with a new perspective. Needless to say, it wasn’t just one thing.

I did what any business leader would do – I went to Toys ‘R Us. I needed a playful; yet clear exercise to illustrate what we had been experiencing. Roaming the aisles of princesses, Star Wars weapons, Spiderman costumes, and Skateboards from the future, I finally had an epiphany. Keep it simple, right? So, I went right for the balls.

While standing there, I noticed that there were a ton of balls – big, small, heavy, light, colors, styles – round, football, etc. Perfect, this represented our projects – the variety in type and size. Now what?

I decided the exercise could be as simple as throwing balls around the room with our employees to show the difference between projects – size and type again.

The next morning I gathered everyone in our conference room. It’s a good thing we have an extremely large room. I started my message…. “We’ve had tremendous growth and with that growth has come the need for quick realizations and identification of challenges, and a strong voice for implementing changes.”

I tossed four slightly larger than baseball size balls to four different individuals. I told them that I wanted them to pretend that was a project that they were working on. They would need to collaborate with others on the team per usual course of business. Thus, toss the ball to another in the group. I asked them to clearly identify the person, make eye contact and ensure they knew the ball was coming their way. They did this. Easy enough. We had 4 balls being tossed amount 30 or so team members. Not to hard. I gave them some time so everyone could become familiar with the size, weight and distance the ball would travel when thrown. They thought the exercise was easy and fun, but not really illustrating anything special.

Then I changed the project they were working on, I mean, ball characteristics. I reached in my big Toys ‘R Us bag and pulled out some new projects (balls). I threw in 2 balls of the same size, but different color (I was being a bit nice). However, these two balls were much heavier than the others (I wasn’t that nice). Of course, people holding the ball felt that, but when they threw them, they either over shot or under shot the person they were aiming for.

“They dropped the ball.”

The group was laughing at each other and having fun. Soon enough they got accustomed to the new balls. We now had six balls (two different varieties) tossing around the room. All was good. We had a control on our projects and how to handle them.

Then the onslaught of disaster began. I introduced mini-footballs, tennis balls, racquetballs, super bounce balls, large kick balls, and I let the games begin. I was defining the balls as I tossed them in – “Here’s a TV commercial, a web project, a digital ad campaign, mobile app…” – all projects applicable to our office.

We never had more than 12 balls being tossed around the 30+ people, and the rule still was that you needed to identify and make eye contact with the receiver, but that didn’t matter. The variety of balls caused mayhem. Just like the variety of projects and growing size had created issues in the office.

In the end, everyone got it. They understood that what looked like a standard project to us was actually different. In some way, shape or form, they were all still balls, but the differences caused issues.

We used expressions like – falling short or expectations, being over someone’s head, colliding with another project…. The exercise was a great experience. It opened our eyes to challenges many didn’t even know we had.

If you walk in our conference room and see tons of balls on the tables and floor – you will know why.

IF only we did everything we are supposed to.

Going from the gut is necessary, sometimes. Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, inventors and many more simply wouldn’t succeed if they didn’t sometimes follow their heart or their gut. When is it right to make a decision purely based on the facts then?

It all depends on your comfort level with risk and what you’re risking, really. No risk, no reward as the saying goes. I bet we all have a risk tolerance number. Say it’s between 1 and 100. 100 being the riskiest of all. I’m probably a 73. I’d like to be a 77.

Of course, it depends on what’s on the line. I don’t mind giving someone bragging rights to say “I told you so.” That definitely doesn’t enter the decision making process for me. However, the more people who disagree with me, the more I do listen before deciding.

What’s funny is why we don’t listen and take advice more often. It must be like 16 year old getting their license. We know they’ll be in an accident sooner or later, but they disagree with all their might. Then, statistics are proven right, yet again. It’s the same in business.

Recently, I was giving advice, probably unsolicited knowing me, to a friend who as about to embark on their first employee firing. While I sometimes think this can be fun, that’s definitely not the norm.

Anyway, he proceeded to ignore all my sage advice even though the risk for following was non-existent. He fired the employee, but allowed them to have access to their computer post-firing. After the employee had deleted all their emails, recently developed marketing materials, and was about to venture into server land, my friend took his laptop and his privileges. IF only…

It was such a simple piece of advice – but, alas, he had a great relationship with that employee. There’s no doubt it set that company back a few days of work – just that one mistake.

IF only they had done everything they were supposed to. Any book, any online column, any seasoned veteran would have told them what to do, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Do what you’re supposed to do.

Kick It Off

I’ve already picked out the title ofthe book that I’ll probably never write. It’s simple “IF” I might even get fancy and put an ellipse at the end “IF…”

That word is great. It represents so much hope and imagniation, but also when you own a business sometimes it contains the hint of defeat – usually when it’s used in the context of “IF only…” In that case, the ellipse is more than appropriate.

I speak to so many business owners and a conversation wouldn’t be complete without “If… I had just a bit more capital, If… all my employees were as good as, If… I could just get this deal, …”  Since it’s such a popular word, I would entitle my book “IF.”

Welcome to my blog. IF you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them. IF I feel like it, I’ll respond.