• 30Sep

    The challenge with being in a service business is, well, providing the best customer service. And providing the best service often means doing what’s best for your business and not necessarily what the client wants. After all, as a consultant you are the expert in your field, and the client is paying you for your expertise. In essence, they are paying you to disagree with them when necessary, and that is not always pleasant.AliceTeaPartyClose

    During my years working with different PR agencies I have worked with a number of difficult clients. My agency bosses always emphasized to me that the client is always right, even when they are wrong, and there have been many instances when I have been put in an uncomfortable situation because the client asked for six impossible things before breakfast, and the agency bosses were too concerned about losing the account to say “no.” (Note that this is not universally true, and that I have had some wonderful bosses in my day who would never ask me to compromise my professional integrity.) However, one of the advantages of running your own business is you get to say “no” when you want to, and you get to decide what’s impossible, what’s not, and what can be delivered before breakfast.

    The truth is, you run your business, your clients’ don’t. Granted, your clients pay the bills and keeping them happy keeps the lights on, but if you have a client who asks you to do something unethical or illegal, or even unpleasant, then you have to ask yourself how far you are willing to go to keep the customers satisfied.

    I have been following a lot of commentary these past two weeks about Netflix decision to split its streaming and DVD businesses, and the backlash over the latest changes to the Facebook interface. These changes have created a number of pissed off customers, which has generated a lot of negative traffic on the Web. As Eric Brown noted, however, in a recent blog post for Social Media Explorer entitled “Always Listening to the Customer is a Race to Mediocrity”:

    Perhaps we can all do a better job delivering news, however no one knows or sees what that Entrepreneur, CEO, or Business Owner sees. No one has the information he or she has to know why they made the decision they made. And here is another dirty little secret, your customers haven’t a clue about what your the next innovation or product release should be. Even the best evangelist, if they really exist don’t know the next answer, otherwise they would be the Entrepreneur.

    Your customers don’t have your best interests in mind, and they actually don’t really care if you stay in business, no matter how loyal they are. You have to determine your own future, which means you often have to make tough decisions to protect your business. You have to assess whether a client relationship is going to cost you more in the long run than it’s worth to you. And there are different ways to assess costs, whether the client is not respectful of your time which means you can’t service other clients; whether they aren’t respectful of your ethics which could damage your reputation; or they are just too hard to work with which will cost you your sanity.

    If you give your client your best counsel and they choose to reject it, that doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. But you don’t have to watch a train wreck either just to have the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so”; that won’t help your professional reputation. And you don’t have to be a slave to your clients, or let them abuse your professional relationship by demanding more than you are willing to commit to, or they are willing to actually pay for. It’s still your business, and sometimes you just have to just say “no!”

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  • 09Aug

    We who do marketing, PR, and communications for a living have our own  language that we have adopted over time to tell each other what we do. In my  case, the marcomm* language of Silicon Valley has become so  ingrained after 20 years that I find it is making its way into my everyday  conversation as well as proposals and other materials – my wife keeps telling me  to cut out the business speak. Since we live in our own world of buzz words and  code phrases, we tend to forget that the rest of the world sometimes needs a decoder ring to follow the thread.

    A case in point. I was having coffee last week with a friend and we started talking about his consulting business. He works with medical professionals but  has no marketing background at all.

    I asked him what was his value proposition?

    Response: Blank stare….

    I then asked him about his personal brand and the brand promise of his consulting practice.

    Response: “You mean my logo?”

    Which led to a lengthy discussion about marketing strategy and how to think  about your brand value as it relates to customer needs. I dug through my digital archives to try to find a good primer on branding and identifying your value proposition, and I found a copy of “Irresistible Value Propositions: How to Entice Your Prospects to Switch from the Status Quo,” a white paper developed by  Chief Sales Officer and author Jill Konrath. Konrath has some really good tips that I found valuable as a refresher, so I thought I  would share a few of them here.

    Every product or service needs a value proposition, which Konrath defines that as:

    A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services. It’s outcome focused and stresses the business value of your offering.

    Where most B2B companies fail here is in creating a unique value proposition that appeals to the customer’s point of pain, and show them how to make money or save money. You need something that will capture the  prospect’s attention and imagination. Unfortunately, most companies speak about features and functions; speeds and feeds:

    • “Our systems is the fastest on the market” (Speed doesn’t matter to me.)
    • “We offer the most cost-effective solution in the category” (But I am
      willing to pay more for something that suits my needs.)
    • “We offer one-stop shopping.” (So does Wal-Mart. Why does that help me?)

    The other day I remembered an age-old joke from the tech sector that  denigrated the poor marketing of the late Digital Equipment Corporation: “If DEC were to sell sushi, they’d market it as cold, dead fish.” You get the idea, features and functions only matter if they fix my problem!

    What appeals to customers? Performance that drives revenue. Whether it’s increasing revenue, reducing costs, shortening time to profit, shortening sales cycle, reducing cost of sales, minimizing risk, whatever, you need to appeal to tangible returns using real data.

    (As an aside, FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt – can also be a good value proposition. “If you don’t buy my product and the feds audit you it could cost millions of dollars.” Averting risk is a solid motivator.)

    So think about your value proposition in terms of what you offer of value to your customer. The mistake a lot of my clients make is selling what they have to offer, not what the customer wants. So walk a mile in your customers’ shoes and then ask yourself, “Why can’t they live without my product or service.” Then you have a value proposition that you can package as part of your brand.

    * Here is where you can start playing Buzz Word Bingo – see how many buzz words you can spot in this blog, starting with the techspeak term “marcomm.”

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  • 20Jul

    I have been running into a lot of discussion about competitors lately. I have a client who is assessing white papers and industry analyses for potential marketing applications, but, of course, the competition is mentioned in each of these reports. That’s balanced and responsible reporting. If you want to commission your own white paper that expounds the glories of your product or technology, then you can commission your own, but it wont’ have the weight of a true competitive overview.

    It amazes me how many of my clients over the past 20 years have been obsessed with their competitors. I have had clientsOscarGrouch approach me to do news releases about competitive face-offs in trade magazines and exp0lain why we had to outline, in detail, how their speeds and feeds are faster than the competition, and provide specific names and metrics. In the last few months, I have even seen a competitor of one of my clients go to the extreme of issuing an unapproved press release explaining how a Fortune 500 company (and a customer of my client) was using their technology – a bold-faced lie.

    The sprit of economic Darwinism has always been a motivator in business. Today it is driving innovating on all fronts. Toyota has demonstrated the economical viability and popularity of hybrid cars, and there are dozens of copy cats entering the market. Facebook has proven such a success that the social media space continues to boom with new competitors, the latest entry in the social media race being Google+. Competition is healthy because it promotes innovation.

    However, in marketing and PR, the rule is to learn from your competition, but never mention them. As Machiavelli once wrote, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” so you need to keep a close eye on where the competition are appearing, what they are saying, and who is following them. That task has become much easier in the era of the web and social media, so follow their followers and keep your eyes and ears open. But whatever you do don’t mention them by name in your own press or marketing material – why give them the free publicity? And why undermine your own authority and assumed leadership by pointing to the other guy and saying, in essence, “But we’re better than they are…”

    Another popular phrase talks about mud slinging, and when you sling mud, some of that mud will land on you. This is especially true in marketing. Even if you are the CEO of Microsoft, dissing the competition is a bad idea.

    So what can you do to effectively combat the competition without looking like a bully, a whiner, or a fool? Outmnarket then!

    1. Take the high ground, and hold it! Be the authority. Instruct without being demeaning and show the market you know your stuff.

    2. Lead by example. Show that you have, indeed, built a better mousetrap by offering data on return on investment, proof of value, and why your customers love you and mice fear you.

    3. Enlist evangelists. Get customers and others to sing your praises. Third-party validation is always more powerful than comparison shopping.

    4. Let the truth set you free. If you trash the competition or, worse, tell lies to make your point, the truth will find its way to your customers and prospects and the trash talk will only sully your reputation. You never win by lying.

    Keep your campaign positive, forthright, and real, and forget about the competition. Win by playing your own game and listening to customers and the market. If you see your competition winning business where you can’t, change the rules and promote your strengths to gain market share back. And if the competitor starts pointing fingers and shouting “J’accuse!, let them. Keep to your high ground and they will slide back down the hill in their own mud. But don’t engage because when you get into a name-calling contest, everyone loses.

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  • 14Jun

    These days, social media has become a resource for sales and marketing; an essential tool in any marketing or media arsenal. Remember when, not so long ago, Facebook was banned from the workplace as a time waster? There are any number of companies that still block access to Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media destinations because they don’t see these outlets as essential to employees’ jobs. They want them to stay productive, not chatting with friends online.

    digital-distractionAnd despite the many benefits that have been demonstrated about social media, they have a point. Todays’ work environment is incredibly disruptive. I hate to say it, but I am old enough to remember working in an office free of email and where the only disruption was an occasional phone call. I also recall those days as being much more productive, where I could focus on writing an article or editing a column without interruption. The age of instant communications has created a disruptive, multi-tasking approach to work, which is not the most productive.

    Not long ago I spotted an article on Mashable, “The 3 Pressing Questions Facing Social Media,” that talked about the disruptive nature of social media, and the fact it will only get worse.

    The conversation about social media in our society is shifting significantly. We’re no longer asking questions like, “Will people use social media?” or “Are sites like Facebook and Twitter simply trends that will soon lose steam?” After billions of tweets and 600 million people on Facebook, it’s settled: People want to share online. And with Facebook moving toward a $100 billion valuation, there is money to be made.

    The emerging conversation is not if we will be connected but is instead, “How can we effectively and productively connect?” Now that we can get constant updates on just about every aspect of our friends’ lives, how do we receive that which is relevant?

    I think the three questions are worth considering closely as we continue to forge ahead into the disruptive world of social media.

    1. Are We Being Driven to Distraction? Remaining continually connected means being continually distracted. I am sure you have experienced it – email interruptus or the Facebook vortex. You are in the middle of trying to construct a thought for a report, or a calculation for a spreadsheet and you hear that little “ding” or see that popup that someone has posted to your wall. Being the tribal creatures that we are, we drop everything to see who is knocking at our virtual door.

    People have forgotten how to turn off the data stream, just as they have forgotten to turn off their cell phones or unplug from the larger world. Many give the excuse that their bosses or their clients expect them to be “on call,” but the truth of the matter is we are all insecure in this new world of social media, and we are worried about missing an important factoid or an important connection that could lead to cyber rejection.

    The price of distraction is a decline in productivity. According to a survey cited in the Mashable article, social media is costing companies an average of $10,375 per year because we can’t learn to disconnect fast enough.

    The drive to stay connected is tapering off. For the first time, Facebook has seen a drop in traffic in the U.S. and Canada as people are starting to realize that social media does not require real-time consumption. But we are still struggling to find the right balance to get us back to productivity.

    2.  How are We To Filter the Stream? What to follow has become an important question. You want to sample the social media stream in a way that suits our informational needs. I cited a recent presentation by MoveOn board president Eli Pariser on how our web experience is already being filtered. We need to be wary of imposing our own filters so we get what we need from social media channels.

    Of course, we need to understand how the data is being filtered, and given the option to impose our own controls, or open the tap to unfiltered content so we can determine what we want to sample. It’s all about promoting transparency; a principle that is at the root of the creation of the Internet.

    3. How Do We Manage the Social Media Flood? The sheer volume of social media content has become overwhelming. Can you effectively follow more than 500 people on Twitter or LinkedIn? How many Facebook friends can you have and still maintain any kind of meaningful connection? When do we start hitting diminishing returns from social media because the sheer volume has become too great to manage? Like dipping your toe in the data stream, where you choose to sample the stream is going to be self-selecting, but the stream is rapidly becoming a flood, which will make it harder to choose the right location.

    And it’s just going to get worse. More traffic for the Web is on the horizon, and with it more social media traffic. So users will have to become more discriminating in their use of social media:

    Providing people more ways to share online is no longer the challenge. That was the old paradigm. A new paradigm of relevancy is emerging, which goes beyond the question of whether “to follow or not follow” or “to friend or not friend.” Companies need to see that their job is not to provide us data, or even keep us updated — it is to serve our needs.

    Which offers some new opportunities for marketers. As we continue to feed our corners of the social media stream with content that is relevant for our microcosm of the social media macroverse, we will be able to start appealing to a niche following of more loyal and more relevant connections. It’s going to become more about quality rather than quantity, and the conversations will become more focused as we become more discriminating. As a result, social media will give us the capacity to connect more quickly and efficiently to people who matter to us, and the timewasting will become less of a factor in the social media equitation.

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  • 07Jun

    YouTube Preview ImageI have been tracking a discussion on one of my PR groups on LinkedIn about ageism and employment. The complaint, which is not new, is that those of us “of a certain age” are being bypassed for choice agency and marcomm jobs as the hiring demographic skews younger. As Randy Block, one of the career coaches who works with my client, NETSHARE, notes, no one wants to hire mom or dad. It’s no wonder that those of use who have the experience and years are being passed over. We are too expensive, and there is the misperception that we don’t “get it” when it comes to newer tactical programs like social media.

    So the grumbling oldsters like me are making noises about forming a new Graying Communications type agency to show we still got it, and we still get it. I continue to adopt a different strategy, consulting. One of the other things that Randy says is that while the younger generation of managers are interested in hiring mom or dad, they will pay them for their advice. One of the more interesting things to come to light from the discussion thread on ageism was an column by Karen E. Klein from Bloomberg/BusinessWeek on “Why Self-Employed Consultants Fail.” Having been a serial consultant for more than 20 years, I found the insights right-on and very useful, since I still violate a few of them now and again. Here are some insights from Karen’s column for those of you looking for an alternative to downsizing or early retirement.

    First, according to Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting:

    There are about 400,000 people in the U.S. calling themselves consultants. My estimate is that only half of them are actually working as consultants. Most enter the profession as a second career or after they’re retired.

    What all these people have in common, and few realize, is that consulting is a marketing business, period. It doesn’t matter what your area of expertise is or if you are the best in your industry, unless you have the skills to sell your consulting services, you don’t have a consulting business.

    What are the most common mistakes that consultants make? Here’s a list that should look familiar to those who have been there/done that, especially if you have any PR agency experience:

    • You bill by the hour. The rule of thumb in the agency world is you bill your time. The problem, of course, is that time is finite; there are only so many hours in the day. And while billable time may work for an economic (read cheap)) client, it doesn’t help you build your consulting business. Better to bill on value. If you can offer a service that saves a company $1 million, then paying $100,000 for that service seems a small prices to pay, whether the task takes 1,000 hours or one hour.
    • Dealing with middlemen. I always try to deal with C-level executives. If you deal with the middlemen, they you are subject to their MBOs, and their political problems, and if a project goes awry as the consultant you will be the first one thrown under the bus. You also can’t show your value to those lower down. Better to approach the C-suite and show them what you offer before you start working with the less senior staff.
    • You don’t see yourself as peers with the clients. You are working for the client, but you are not an employee.You are providing a service that they value on your terms. That makes you buyer and seller on equal footing. Never forget that. The problem with most consultants is a lack of self-esteem and the confidence to stand behind the value of their service. It may be from working alone or constantly selling yourself and the fact there is no “boss” to front for you, but you can’t be a subordinate. You can’t show up with your hat in your hand; you have to sell your value.
    • You don’t offer lasting value. If you can create intellectual property, such as systems or intelligence you can package for reuse, then you become an expert and your value increases exponentially. Better to sell IP than expertise.

    Remember, if you can fix the client’s problem, you have value. The amount of pain the client is suffering because of that problem should dictate your fee. If you help them achieve their objectives and build their profits, they will be happy and the price tag doesn’t matter.

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  • 02May

    twitter_bird_arrows_kybdAs a follow-on to last week’s blog post about the future of Twitter, I spotted an interesting item in the Adotas newsletter today regarding Twitter’s anticipated ad revenue.

    According to a new report from BIA/Kelsey, there is both good news and bad news. The good news is that revenues for social media advertising is expected to from from $2.1 billion in 2010 to $8.3 billion by 2015. The bad news for Twitter is that the majority of the cash is allocated for display advertising – $7.7 billion by 2015. Non-display revenue, like promoted Tweets and promoted accounts 0 will grow to $600 million in 2015. According to the report, non-display ads, like promoted Tweets, didn’t generate any revenue in 2011, although other sources peg Twitter’s 2010 earnings at $45 million.

    According to Adotas, eMarketer predicted Twitter earning sof $150 million in 2011 and $250 million on 2012, which is very much in line with the BIA/Kelsey report. But these figures fall far short of Twitter’s promise. To quote from Adotas:

    I can’t be the only one thinking, “That’s it?” But last week I commented that Twitter’s beta text ads would bring in incremental revenue at best — there is no Twitter ad product that promises exponential revenue growth, something that’s ever-more haunting since North American user growth stalled a while ago.

    As Twitter’s valuation keeps skyrocketing, it’s getting tougher to turn a blind eye to these grim revenue estimates.

    It will be interesting to watch this birdie as the business of social media evolves.

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  • 26Apr

    I have a client in the social media market who refers to the Holy Trinity of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Certainly these are the three most popular social media destinations where users flock to hear the latest news and connect with friends, family, and associates. But as I have noted previously in this blog, these are private companies, they are not part of the Web or the Internet, although they certainly use those resources. And while the open structure of the Internet means that the Web is likely to endure, these companies are capitalists after all and will only continue to grow as they become profitable.

    Which brings us to Twitter.

    My wife recently directed me to an article in Fortune entitled “Trouble @Twitter,” and the story read to me like the biography of a typical Silicon Valley startup,with all it’s ups and downs. One of the great things about technological innovation is the ride is never boring, and today’s boom can be tomorrow’s bust. You can have the best technology on the planet, but without a solid understanding of your roadmap and the value your customers get from your service, there’s no guarantee of staying power. (How many remember to dot.bomb bubble a decade ago when the slogan was, “If you build it they will come”?)

    Okay, the concept of microblogging is cool, and Twitter has developed a huge following – 200 million registered users compared to 600 million for Facebook. However, how many of those users are active? But what is Twitter doing to monetize all that traffic? They’ve tried paid tweets, but is that really paying off? This from the Fortune article:

    Just two years ago Twitter was the hottest thing on the web. But in the past year U.S. traffic at Twitter.com, the site users visit to read and broadcast 140-character messages, has leveled off. Nearly half the people who have Twitter accounts are no longer active on the network, according to an ExactTarget report from January 2011. It has been months — an eternity in Silicon Valley — since the company rolled out a new product that excited consumers. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg used to watch developments at Twitter obsessively; now he pays much less attention to the rival service. Meanwhile companies are hungry to advertise, but Twitter hasn’t been able to provide marketers with enough opportunities. Last year the company pulled in a mere $45 million in ad revenue, according to research firm eMarketer. Facebook brought in $1.86 billion.

    It’s interesting that Twitter was born out of chaos. As the article explains, co-founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey found their start-up, Odeo, made obsolete by iTunes and were trying to figure out what to do with their venture money when Dorsey Came up with Twttr to let other people know what you were up to. I think any business expert will agree that “throwing it against the wall to see what sticks” is not a sound business strategy, yet that was the birth of Twitter. To this day, Twitter seems to lack a clear business objective, partially because of changes in leadership, but mostly because the vision seems to have been lacking from the start. Mark Zuckerberg has been with Facebook since Day 1, guiding its operations and providing a consistent vision for growth that seems to be paying off. Twitter doesn’t have those same strong roots, and it shows.

    So even the most popular technologies can fail without proper nurturing. Remember the Betamax? Imagine what would happen if Twitter pulled the plug tomorrow because they couldn’t #gettheiracttogether. The short answer is, not much. The world would keep turning and the loss of Twitter would be noticed by a fraction of those 200 million subscribers, but something else would rise in its place. Another platform would emerge to make up the third part of the Holy Trinity of social media.

    I am not sounding the death knell for Twitter. They have a huge market opportunity, but they still haven’t figured out how to make it pay. Once they find the right formula, they could be innovators for years to come, or they could fade away. But the hole they would leave will be filled by another entrepreneur with a better business plan, or by an existing company that can acquire Twitter and take it to the next level.

    Twitter has demonstrated the power of connection. And whether they succeed or fail, they have proven that we want to connect, even at 140 characters. No matter what for it takes, the power of connection will continue to open up new possibilities for marketers.

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  • 20Apr

    bloggingLately I have been spending a lot of time educating my clients about the power of social media. Many of them come to me and tell me their customers are bankers or executives who don’t hang out on Facebook, or they don’t have the time to blog about their company. They can’t see the ROI for the trees. What would I get out of trying to build a social media campaign?

    Whether you are a butcher or baker or ice cream maker; whether your target audience are a small group of professionals or a demographic that doesn’t seem suited to social media (if there is one), a social media campaign can lend focus to your brand, and help you crystallize your value proposition and ultimately build sales. And it all starts with the weblog.

    Why blogging? Because creating and maintaining a blog forces you to think about your target market, your audience, and what you have to say to your customers that is fresh, meaningful, and valuable. If you can’t continue to provide insight and value to your customers, then they won’t stay your customers. And it doesn’t matter what your profession is. If you have something to offer, then you need to shout it from the rooftops.

    One of the interesting things about the phenomenon of the Web is that it has served as a great equalizer for business. Just as the DARPAnet has evolved into the Internet and ultimately the web, the core infrastructure is still maintained by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a neutral body that maintains the standards, protocols, and infrastructure that make up the Internet. The Internet is not owned by any one entity or country, but is a set of interconnected computers that link us all together. It’s like Switzerland – a neutral body that provides equal access to everyone. And just as the Internet is unbiased in providing access, the World Wide Web has become a neutral platform where the corner flower shop can create a web site to compete with 1-800-Flowers. If you can make your business searchable, then you can compete on a global scale.

    So why blog? Because a blog gives you a platform from which you can launch a global social media campaign. I am an advocate of reusing content. If you have a good story to tell, then you should retell it over and over using different media. And blogging is a great way to develop new content that can then be reused. Blogging allows you to engage with your customers and others and share ideas that stimulate new ideas and ultimately promote you as a thought leader. And the insights you develop in blog posts can evolve into white papers, sell sheets, material for other social media channels, articles, you name it. Blogging provides a forum for corporate creativity that can be harnessed to drive your brand.

    So what do you need to start blogging? The basic technology is simple. You can add WordPress or any an open source blogging platform to your web site, or you can start a blog on Typepad or Blogger or any of the public platforms. The real thing you need is discipline, and inspiration. The New York Times reported in 2009 that only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs tracked by Technorati remained active (within the last four month). There are millions of orphan blogs abandoned along the information superhighway, so before you start blogging you need to be prepared to commit. Post weekly, monthly, with some kind of regular schedule. Find your inspiration from other ideas posted on the Web. I maintain an electronic clip file of interesting ideas I find in my daily web surfing and some of them turn into blog fodder. This entry, for example, was loosely inspired by a TechCrunch blog post on why start-ups need to blog. Whatever your inspiration, keep it fresh, keep it relevant, and keep it coming. The content will give you new material you can then use to talk to your customers on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or give you inspirational insight you can use in your next new business meeting.

    Don’t be shy. There’s enough room in the blogosphere for all.

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  • 12Apr

    Flying Solo Caution SignPublic relations is a creative job. You have to be able to look at a client’s product or service, assess market needs and news angles, and find a way to build market awareness with his target audience. It’s not always an easy task and it requires innovative thinking, solid storytelling – creativity! Good PR and marketing also require solid teamwork. You need to be able to engage with your clients to agree on market objectives, key messages, market differentiators, everything. You need to work together with senior decision-makers to agree on strategy, execution, deliverables, and ways to measure success.

    Creativity and teamwork are not good bedfellows.

    I have the privilege or working with some very smart and dedicated people. And that means we have some very heated discussions on how to do things to achieve an end result, right or wrong. One of the challenges in being smart and creative is that you can see multiple ways to solve a problem or achieve an objective. However, your ideas may not jibe with someone who is equally intelligent and brings a different perspective. So good PR also requires good diplomacy and a willingness to compromise, even when you are convinced you are right. There is little room for ego if you run a service business.

    So I was interested to spot a blog post by Kimberley Weisul on BNET today, “Why Smart People Make Lousy Teams.” Citing a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College, the findings demonstrate that smart people don’t necessarily play well with others. For example:

    Intelligence does not affect team performance. There is no connection between smarts and teamwork, so throwing smart people at a team-driven problem isn’t going to help you.

    EQ is more important than IQ. Good communications, good coordination, and stronger emotional intelligence (EQ) tend to promote good teamwork. If you have people who are good at reading and responding to other’s emotional needs, your team will deliver better performance. Even a single contributor with a high EQ can make a big difference.

    Strong personalities hurt team performance. Groups where a single strong personality or decision-maker dominates the conversation don’t do as well as groups where team members take turns. Strong leaders are less effective in group decision-making.

    According to the research, the easiest way to create more emotionally intelligent teams is to include women:

    Women are often perceived to be more socially sensitive, and more communally-minded, than men. To the extent that’s true, it’s easy to see how it could be helpful in a team context. And in the experiments, the researchers found that teams that included women were more socially-sensitive, and better performing, than then all-male teams. (No word on the performance of all-female teams. I’ve reached out to the researchers about that, and will update if I hear back.)

    Without revising any additional scientific research, I think I can safely say that the male ego plays a role here. Working with male CEOs and executives, particularly at start-up companies, has taught me that even though they are paying for your counsel and expertise, you have to tread lightly and be judicious with your opinion. (I find women executives are, indeed, more open to new ideas. I also think that’s why women gravitate to public relations.) To be a successful CEO requires a certain amount of hutzpah, and the conviction to stand your ground when everyone else tells you that you are wrong. Sometimes such egos get in the way of success and sometimes they fuel that success; it depends on the situation. But whenever you are dealing with a strong, charismatic leader, the concept of teamwork changes dramatically and the work becomes more of a parade than a huddle. If you can’t follow the leader, then you should bow out.

    And that’s where a different kind of creativity comes into play. You need to find new ways to deliver through compromise. No matter how good your approach or ideas, if the client says no, then you have to achieve the goal within whatever restrictions you have to deal with. Being in a service business means you have to fulfill the wishes of the client as well as the requirements of the project. And when the two seem at odds, it’s time to set aside you IQ, crank up your EQ, and deliver the goods.

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  • 28Feb

    badhireFor those of you are consultants or sole practitioners, you understand the need to balance your workload in order to provide superior customer service without stretching yourself too thin. I have run a “virtual agency” for a number of years – that means I have a database of contacts whom I can call on in a pinch to help with a last-minute client request or a new contract. The advantage of the virtual agency model is that you can scale your operation without maintaining unnecessary staff or overhead. And the clients still get your expertise instead of a handoff to a junior person; a failing I have identified with most large agencies who use the “bait and switch,” bringing in the senior team to close the contract and then the client never sees them again. Of course the challenge of consulting, or any business, is that you have to plan your workload to make best use of available resources.

    That’s why I was frustrated this week by a flurry of new business activity that failed to pan out. I think it was a combination of miscommunication and expectations on both side. At the start of the week I had three new contracts pending; verbal agreements with commitments like “we are ready to go and need you now!” By the end of the week two of the three contracts faded away, despite the verbal commitments and the signing of NDAs. It seems the prospects’ priorities and budgets changed. I guess a handshake on a deal isn’t worth what it used to be.

    My dilemma, or course, is that I had to find the resources to support the new work, which as a good consultant I did before committing to the contracts. Now I have the resources lined up and no work. It would be a bigger problem if I had staff waiting idle in the wings rather than other consultants awaiting instructions. But I still find it irksome that experienced executives from profitable companies can’t manage their operations more effectively. It’s not as though they are asking for a quote on a car or an estimate on a construction job – not once they have looked you in the eye and said “you’re hired.” If you have already written the proposal, given your best advice up front, and received a commitment from the prospect, there should be no question about moving forward.

    Consultants aren’t protected by the same labor laws as employees, and there is always an element of risk with being self-employed. I have been stiffed by a client or two in the past 20 years, and often have had to renegotiate contracts to accommodate changing client needs and budgets. It’s never pleasant, but it’s a necessary part of consulting.

    What can you do to protect yourself? Here are some thoughts based on my experience:

    1. Discount for cash up front. If you need to close a deal, cash is king. I usually ask for a retainer when I take on a new client. If they are willing to put their cash down up front, then I know they are serious. And if they are willing to show me the money, then I am usually willing to give them a break and show them the discount. It’s a good way to set the ground rules and cement the relationship.

    2. It’s all about expectation setting. You need to make sure the client knows what they are buying, which is not as obvious as it sounds. Provide a list of deliverables and, if you can, a timeline for delivery. Your best bet is to take the guesswork our of the contract, and they will commit.

    3. “Pay me for process, pay me for results.” This is an adage that was passed on to me by one of my first clients, and I continue to live by it. You can pay me for process, like keeping timesheets and activity reports, or you can pay me to deliver the goods. If I can focus on the objective, you get more value in the end. Keep your eye on the prize and don’t let process get in the way.

    4. Set your terms up front. I always give my clients an escape clause. Most agencies I have worked with use 30-day termination clauses in their contracts, and I find that makes the uninitiated nervous. Be willing to compromise. Offer 10-day or 15-day out so they don’t feel trapped.

    5. Know when to dump a bad client. The difference between hiring staff and hiring a consultant is like the difference between marriage and dating. If you hire staff to deal with your problem, it’s a much bigger commitment, since most staffers cost 150% percent of their salary when you add in benefits and overhead. By comparison, consultants are a cheap date, and if it’s a bad date, know enough to walk away. If you aren’t getting what you need or there is something that doesn’t feel right, it’s better to cut and run than hope it’s going to get better.

    6. Stand up for yourself. Okay, consultants are easy targets. They are sole practitioners; hired guns with only expertise to sell. So when a client decides to stiff you and complains you didn’t deliver, it’s time to look inside and ask yourself, “is this a valid complaint, or are you getting stiffed?” Consultants seem to be fair game for unscrupulous companies who just don’t want to pay. You don’t have to take it. There are law firms our there that will work for you on contingency. I recall a client many years ago who claimed they were underserviced and wouldn’t pay. I had nothing to lose so I found a lawyer to sue them (out of state) and since my complaint held up an IPO, they paid at least two-thirds of what they owed, which was better than nothing. The bottom line was they expected me, as a consultant, to give up and go away. Don’t.

    It would be nice to think that all clients are willing to honor their obligations on a handshake. They often don’t. So learn to protect yourself with solid contracts and well-defined deliverables and business practices that put you in control. Just because you choose to maintain a small business doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be mighty.

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