Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Communicating Your Relationship

Marketing, Money and More (Issue 13)

Communication Overload

I was recently inspired by my friends, colleagues and...shoot....even the girls I dated to write this one, so I hope it helps you empathize with others in this new age of communication. I thought about my last month of communicating with people. This morning I checked my Facebook and Twitter. Yay! I got 2 mentions on twitter, 50 club invites on Facebook and a few comments and posts from friends. Ooh. Three people liked my smart comment! I switched gears and jumped into Outlook. I had 20 messages waiting for me in my inbox. Got a text from my buddy who lives in the same condo development that I do. That exchange went two or three rounds at least. Then..Oops, I work from my home, so I had to jump on to AIM to have some email-related discussion with my friends at mobileStorm. I then took a look at Linkedin and I had a few requests to get connected and someone I was hoping would reach out, reached out. I jumped a little when my phone rang. Of course, it's mom. The only one that still leaves me voicemails. Get to that one later.

Point here is that 12 years ago I was lucky to get a page on my pager from friends and then I'd pull out my decoder to see what code meant what and then call someone back once I figured it out. NOW, I have what feels like 100 different ways to get a message to and from someone. This new buffet of communication methods has expanded my network by allowing me to keep tabs on more people from anywhere, but it also has shown me where I stand with those people. The channels I use now communicate something. The time I take to respond communicates something. Not doing anything communicates something. What am I communicating and do I even know am doing it? Calm down. Let's take this slow and work it out.

Where Do You Stand?

Let's take this personal, very personal. I am a single guy in Vegas. I date... A lot. It's very funny how you can tell where you stand with the people you are dating...or trying to date. I always call first to ask someone out or I do it in person. I don't always get the same in return. I'll get the number one night and call a few nights later and leave a voicemail. A few minutes later I get a text response, "Hey. Glad you called. Heading to a fun event later. Let me know what you are up to." I called and I got a text back. This does not look promising. Essentially, I was downgraded. I value a phone call more highly than a text. This girl likely calls people she feels are important, but I do not meet that criteria. We'll see how this one goes...

I have moved up the ladder from a Facebook friend, to a text buddy, to a phone call and ultimately to a dating situation. You can tell by the progression that my personal value rose with this person to a level where she was able to give up a piece of her time to communicate on the phone and ultimately in person. These are usually the best situations and when response times are fast, it's a good sign. It's also really telling when the other person uses multiple communications throughout the day.

I've also been downgraded. Recently I watched a dating situation move from in-person to phone calls, to text messages, to email and then ultimately it disappeared. Not only did the communication method dip in "personal value," but I also noticed the response time get longer and longer and longer when I would reach out. The inevitable "beginning of the end."

This goes beyond dating. I have had business situations as well where the communications heat up and fizzle out. What's appropriate for personal is not always the same for business. Knowing how and when to use what channel will give you the best outcome in business or your personal life. 90% of communication is non-verbal and words are just words so pay attention.

Matching the Channel to the Message

Here are the channels I feel that I have available to me throughout my day in order of the highest personal value to lowest personal value to me:
  1. In-Person Meeting
  2. Phone Call
  3. Text Message
  4. IM
  5. Email
  6. Facebook
  7. Twitter
(I didn't leave out direct mail, but I really don't think it counts for day to day.)

Meetings are the top dog. It is the highest level of respect and engagement you can have with another human being. Business or personal, nothing says you are important more than someone taking the time to meet up. It is getting more and more rare these days, but if you want to impress someone, get dressed and meet somewhere for more than 30 minutes.

Phone calls are the next best thing. I do most of my work over the phone. It's a bit harder to gauge reactions because you can't see their facial expressions and body language, but if you are good, you can do anything in the business world. I always tell people I can't give them everything over the phone because then why would you want to hang out with me. I try to move people I want to value me up the ladder by make each communication experience better than the previous and hinting at how much better the next step up will be.

Text messages
are great for quick informative communications, like leaving a digital post-it note on the fridge. You can get out a quick communication, but choose words carefully and do your best to leave nothing to interpretation...not an easy task for 160 characters. Arguments and bad news are not great in a text message and will likely lead to misunderstandings, plus they are in print. No one can forget a text message with hateful content when they can look at it repeatedly.

IM is great for having conversations when sitting at your computer and banter, but again it is removed from the personal nature of speech. This can give people a lot of time to think out their comments and it's hard to be "in the moment".

Email is great for keeping records and sending private messages, but again we have some of the same pitfalls of text messaging. I feel that email is easy to hide behind, but it is wise to keep bad news or highly personal and sensitive messages out of email.

Facbook can be fun for flirting and keeping up with friends. It can also be a way for people to make judgment on the lifestyle you put up there. Pictures tend to be fun and don't show you at home reading a book. It's a place where jealous boyfriends can make assumptions and arguments can be taken public. Being someone's Facebook friend is equivalent to having class with someone in my book. People celebritize themselves and let everyone know every little thing they are doing (Self-admittedly, I am guilty.)

Twitter can be good for promoting your professional knowledge and philosophies, but it is not the best place to try to air your dirty laundry. This is where people go to share information and insight. I don't feel very dynamically connected to my Twitter followers unless I know them in other capacities.

Communications Etiquette

I feel like there is little education out there for people. These channels just sort of snuck up society and I'm not sure if anyone consciously realizes that an etiquette has developed for people that are good communicators. I get extremely offended when etiquette is consistently tossed aside and responses to my communications come through "lower value channels." This practice makes others feel devalued.

Try to return the communication using the same channel as your received the original message in. If someone calls you, call them back. If someone tags you on Facebook, tag them back. If someone emails you, reply to them with an email. This is the best way to avoid conflict and maintain the level of your relationship with that person. It's a sign of respect to reciprocate an exchange.

Understand what is appropriate. I think society would gasp if police officers started texting loved ones of deceased family members and doctors gave bad news over Facebook. Although extreme examples, understand that the more sensitive the content of your message, the higher up the communication "value chain" you should go. It shows poor character to deliver bad news via email and text. It is a slap in the face to the recipient and it will likely escalate matters.

Say What You Mean Because You Already Said It

Use the appropriate channel for what you want to say. To say to someone, "I really want to see you today, let's get together." via text message, then be unresponsive for the rest of the day is a massive contradiction. The intent may have been positive, but all this did was frustrate the person receiving the message. Not only was the communication impersonal due to the fact that if someone really wants to see you, they would be excited to pick up the phone, but being inaccessible from that point forward is a very clear, "I really didn't want to see you today." Remember, everyone knows you have a Facebook, Twitter, cell phone, email, fax, IM and various other ways of getting in touch. It is nearly impossible for anyone to believe that someone can be "inaccessible" or not get 4 out of 5 communications. Being honest is the key in this new age of communications.

How awkward would it be to find out the sex of your unborn child via a Twitter DM. These channels and message values do not match. I feel that often, bad news is give via the easiest channel like text or email. It's easy to hide behind text or email and carefully construct your sentences for the most impact. These are also the easiest to misinterpret. People add their own voice and tone in written word depending on their mood and impression of the sender. It is NEVER a good idea to send sensitive communications that will hurt or upset another person via text message or email. Over the phone or in person is the only way you will be able to react to facial cues, body language and inflections to properly manage emotional interactions.

The whole point of this is to be aware of what your channel selections communicate to those around you. Over time, people can get a sense of where they stand with you by the method you choose to communicate to them with. The old adage, "Actions speak louder than words." sums up this post perfectly. Be respectful and show the people you value you really do value them by giving them the best interaction. Reciprocate respectfully using the same channel as they used to reach out. I promise you if you call me, I will call you back. Just understand that you need to be direct and truthful about your relationship these days because its very likely you've already told other people how you feel about them...and you didn't even know it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Business Development Series: Where the Network Begins

Marketing, Money and More (Issue 12)

Forrest Gumped My Way to Success

If you were anything like me, a 22-year old kid fresh from college thinking those you would be working for had their stuff "together", the economy was only going to grow larger and being upwardly mobile was a right guaranteed by every person born in the US, then you also had a lot to learn about the way the world really works.

I opened up my career like any other middle-class male. I majored in
mmunications (Advertising) and minored in Marketing at UNLV, pushing my way through the system with the help of financial aid. It was natural that I found my way to an ad agency to complete my internship before graduation. That experience led me to my first marketing job working for a local Las Vegas Charity, Opportunity Village. That was where I shed my ideologies about the way things work (according to the classroom) and began realizing the vast network of relationships that existed in Las Vegas in 2003. As a part of my job role, I was responsible for 3rd party fundraising efforts and special events. Fortunately during that time, I was taken under the wing of a very well-respected public relations professional named George McCabe (currently the PR Director for B&P Advertising). George opened the door to media professionals in Las Vegas and with a respected charity behind me, I was in the best position to make really valuable connections.

I quickly realized that I stumbled onto a really great thing in my career which wouldn't be apparent to me until years later. Working for a non-profit is one the best ways to engage with politicals and decision-makers. To this day, I am recognized for having been a part of such a respected organization. When you are approaching a relationship with someone on behalf of a charity, it is likely that you will get a response and usually at a higher level than your position would justify in the for-profit world. This is great for building your reputation and hopefully you are working for a cause you believe in at the same time. Even after 7 years of not working there, I am still very active with Opportunity Village and it continues to open doors for me. I strongly recommend getting involved in the community.

It was during this part of my career that I decided to get out there and attend all the emerging social, professional and political gatherings I could get into. I was peaking at about 5 a week, promoting Opportunity Village and getting my name out there. I was starting to see patterns early on and over the years, I've developed a strong sense about how to gain the most value from networking....

Sales Locusts and the Events They Feed On

I was a little oblivious as a first-time sales person, constantly looking for opportunities to network and hand out that first business card that said I was a "somebody"...working for "somebody." I must have went to every networking event in Vegas. I'm not sure if I met new people but I sure did help out the bar tabs for the host venues. I'll tell you what...Vegas hosts the best networking events.... but I don't think I've ever done business with someone as s direct result of meeting them at a mixer, in-fact, I think most relationships that came from those experience brought more headache than help. I think this is common for most people. To this day I get chased by financial counselors. Thanks, but I can manage a zero balance on my own.

Chamber mixers, networking groups, socials, etc. have a cycle. If they are managed and launched well, you will see an A-List crowd for maybe 12 weeks. After that, the format gets old and the quality people stop coming. The percentages lean more to the side of "clueless" sales people that would shove a business card in your face well before ever thinking to ask where you are from. This common problem accelerates the exodus of all the value that is there for someone looking to truly build their network. I call these problems "sales locusts". They come in and devour all the value and leave nothing but themselves in their wake. Eventually they move on to the next hot spot and repeat the process.

You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

But you do get a second chance to reinforce the business community's bad impression of you. How do you want to be known amongst your professional peers? Are you the sales locust mentioned above? Are you someone that has value in one form or another to people in your industry?

If you are reading this, then you are thinking about your place in the business community. People are people. Do you like someone who just talks about what they do and do nothing to find out who you are and what you are about? Most people don't like being sold, but they love being helped. There is a powerful concept - EMPATHY. It's a lot like the Golden Rule. Treat others as you'd like to be treated...

MMM Rules of Networking Engagement

I've been talking a lot here, but I wanted to demonstrate my thoughts on networking and what I found most valuable in my career path. I've developed hundreds of great relationships in business and many of them have turned to friendships. I have some rules to follow that will help even the least social person:

  1. Never lead into a conversation with "So what do you do?" This can be compared with asking a girl if she's willing to go home with you on the first date. It won't end well most of the time. You've just given up your true motive and it's a red flag to executives that you are going to harass them.
  2. Act as if no one in the room has a job, including you. If you can make it through a networking event or social gathering without talking about your job, then you are on a whole other plane of existence and probably a very interesting person. You will likely connect with people better and the relationship will get deeper than just surface-level.
  3. Keep it in your pants. Don't whip out the business card at all if you can help it. Lead someone into a situation where they feel they should ask for it. If you've ever gone to a networking event and emptied your pockets, it's hard to remember whose business card is whose. I always remember the ones I asked for and really wanted. I even put them in a different spot in my wallet.
  4. Tactfully prompt someone to ask about your job if necessary. So the whole point of networking is to build up your pipeline and get some business in the future. If you follow the rules above, then you will have better relationships, BUT there's always that, "I just saw the president of X company and I've been chasing them for 2 years and I need an in." If you feel you need to get a business card in someone's hand, there is a way to do this without shoving it in your prospect's face. Lead the conversation in that direction and leave an open opportunity for your prospect to ask about your job. (Example: "Have you ever been to Boston? They have the best thing on the planet. It's a toasted and buttered hot dog bun stuffed with butter-soaked lobster. I was just there on business and got sidetracked...." This leaves the opportunity for them to ask why you were in Boston and what you do which takes us right in to rule 4...
  5. Lead the conversation. You want each and every person that engages with you in a conversation to walk away with a positive impression and some value they didn't have before meeting you. If the conversation starts out with, "I hate events like this." it's your job to move the conversation quickly to the positive..."Me too, but I'm trying to oust the Mayor of this place on Foursquare, I'll find you Joe M!" In one sentence, I probably turned the conversation to one of positivity and it's likely I'll end up educating my prospect on Foursquare and it's awesome capabilities which positions me as an intelligent sound board and creates value for the interaction.
  6. Follow networking etiquette. Unless you are really deep in conversation, please recognize what you and your conversation partner are there for in the first network. If you are not picking up on the signs to end the conversation, you are going to make it awkward for the other person to leave the conversation. I've heard it come to, "Hey, well it was nice talking to you, but I really want to work the room a little." Try to keep the first conversation to 5 minutes, 10 if it's going really well.
  7. Know when to leave. If your prospect turns and talks to another group, don't stand behind them and wait. That's kind of strange and that's what they'll remember you for. Say, "Excuse me, I'm going to find the bathroom." and part with a handshake. This is the best position you can gain if the conversation needed to end. If the conversation really isn't going anywhere, but this is a good prospect you don't want to insult and you just need to break free, politely give that person an excuse. Try, "Hey, I'm going to go find my friend, he's the VP of Marketing for this place. Find me later and I'll make an introduction." It's legit and you've offered up a future value if they are interested.
  8. Leave an invitation to reconnect. As you wrap your conversation up, please give them a way to reach you or find you. Do this without shoving them your card unless they ask for it. Let them know if you plan on attending the next event or ask them what their next social night will be. I'll cover social media follow-up in the next post, so stay tuned.

The next time you are at an event, you hopefully are not littering with your business cards and are engaging in a lot of valuable 5 minute conversations. Don't judge success by how many business cards you collected. Judge by how many people asked you for yours. If you can change your thinking, you may have less prospects, but you'll have better ones and fewer to manage.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Business Development Series: Foundation for Successful Business Development

Marketing, Money and More (Issue 11)

The Beginning of a New Series

My goal is to eventually become a voice amongst business development professionals. I think about who I would take advice from and I know that I have to do a few things to earn that right:

  1. Provide a unique insight into practices that will without a doubt produce real results for sales, marketing and business development professionals
  2. Have a track record for success in my own right that is both aspirational and reproduce-able across any b2b industry
  3. Show my work and provide "real world" cases of success and implementation of key strategies
In this series I will go into detail in identifying the key elements of a great business development program and give instruction on how to launch and maintain specific tactics. Communication channels, resources, trends, activities and the underlying process that leads to success will be comprehensively demonstrated with a realistic approach to developing clients. All of what I am teaching is fully possible for a one-man-show, but as with anything, a team effort will produce exponential returns.

Consider this the overview and all of the following blog posts in this series will dive into great detail on foundational business development practices and explain each channel in this imaginary tool belt.

The Power Position

Who are you? I like to pull in a great analogy here. I come from a family of car sales people as far back as my grandfather. In a great economy on a car lot that has a great marketing program and consistent customer traffic, even the worst sales person can make a decent living. They become more of a cog in the machine and roll through the motions set by management. As the economy took a dive and the opportunity for selling a car decreased, these sales people were the first to go. They couldn't develop their own clients and get repeat customers. They were short-sighted in their role and believed it was their employer's job to get people to the car lot and maintain the relationship with their customers. The sales people that maintained personal relationships with their clients and generated their own leads could still maintain enough sales monthly to make or exceed quotas and they thrive even in today's economy.

There is power in becoming self-reliant. Once you become a self-sufficient sales person, you begin to become a powerful business developer. These people have the most value to companies and can write their own ticket. More often than not, a business developer is constantly in demand and rarely has to look for employment. They are usually changing companies because a better offer was made to acquire them. These people are self-promoters and highly social. Typically they put their career ahead of almost everything and don't need to look outwardly for motivation to become better at their job.

Again I pose the question, "Who are you?" I see myself as a business developer who has little reliance on employers to drive opportunities for success. If you are or aspire to be in a similar position, then I hope you continue to read these posts and hone your skills as a powerful force in your company.

What is Your Value?

In all of my years in business development, I've learned that one thing remains overwhelmingly consistent...VALUE in the relationship. You must constantly prove your value to the company you work for. Value is the basis for all relationships. If there is no value in a relationship for you, then it is likely that you will leave that relationship. This is true of personal relationships, business relationships and relationships with companies. Providing value in some form is the most important element in developing a client relationship.

Both sales and marketing must reinforce and communicate to customers and prospects the value of a relationship with your company. Consistency in communication is a vital ingredient in successfully engaging new customers. Every communication must provide additional value at each stage in the relationship. That value must be delivered even after the close and continually reinforced by front line staff, sales, billing, support and any other department that touches a customer. This value will then be communicated in the form of referrals to potential new customers for your business. The relationships between sales, marketing and operations are all essential to acquiring and keeping customers. Depending on the size of your business, these functions could be consolidated or be very separate departments with a hierarchy of staff for each.

Tools of the Trade

Whatever tools you use, make sure that each is consistent with all of your communications with customers and prospects. Social media is considered new and is a great tool for reaching top business professionals in key industries that could be prospects for your business. I believe it is being used incorrectly by even the most recognized and progressive brands. Social media is a great opportunity to stay in front of influencers and decision-makers consistently, but it is also a tool that can be used incorrectly to destroy opportunities to develop future business. More familiar channels such as telemarketing, direct sales, direct mail, trade shows, networking events, email and online are all great, but used without clear direction and inconsistently can do more harm than good and actually damage your program and tarnish your reputation.

As my career has progressed, my focus today is with mobile and email. These are great channels for maintaining relationships with customers, especially if your business requires ongoing knowledge of your service or product by your customer base. Maintaining long-term interest by subscribers can be difficult if you struggle to find content. As deliverability becomes more and more difficult to maintain, we are forced into sending to our email database on a regular and consistent basis. Getting ahead of your deployment schedule can be time consuming, but the long-term payoff is well worth the effort. mobileStorm's
Digital Marketing Blog is a great resource for developing your email marketing expertise.

Trade shows can be costly, but they can be effective in driving valuable leads and ultimately business. Standing out at these shows requires creativity, energetic sales reps, gimmicks, materials, expensive booths, planning, travel and other things that cost time and money. Effectively driving leads through trade shows requires planning, budgets and time.

For many companies, the tactics above may be luxuries that cannot be afforded. Partnerships with vendors, bypassing the need for booth space and making the most of resources are ways to decrease the expense and increase sales efficiencies. Finding a program that works financially and within the bandwidth of current staff and resources is a focus that I have incredible expertise. Leveraging relationships and planning can give prospects the impression that your company spends large amounts of money on sales and marketing when in fact your company is very cost-effective in its efforts.

Moving Ahead

As we move ahead, I want you to make your own decisions. Take a look at my background on LinkedIn. Follow me on Twitter. Even this blog is meant to drive lead generation. If you feel that I am practicing what I preach, then participate with me. Leave comments, ask questions and reach out. I am happy to take criticism, listen and share ideas. Stay tuned for the next post.