October 31, 2010

All Teams Are Not Created Equal

If you have worked a day in your life, it is fairly safe to say you have worked alongside others. In some cases, those experiences have been enjoyable while others have not. You may have had to endure an arrogant selfish boss while other situations have been filled with giving collaborative coworkers.

We seem to enjoy looking at things “on paper” but they get all wobbly when we add the human element and often it’s because we are unclear about the mandate. Often there is a struggle among conflicting agendas or someone comes in and plays the “I’m the boss” card. None of these scenarios are effective, productive or long lasting business success models. However, sadly they are far too common.

But what happens when you take a group of people and ask them to build a structure out of spaghetti, string and a marshmallow?

Tom Wujec says he is passionate about fostering design thinking, visual collaboration and team creativity. He explains how a marshmallow can change the game.



knealemann
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image credit: Tom Wujec | Ted

October 29, 2010

The Anatomy of Communication

com·mu·ni·cate: To convey information about. To reveal clearly. To express oneself in such a way that one is readily and clearly understood.

This week, the brilliant Mitch Joel wrote a post entitled The Agency of the Future. As a man who has been in the trenches for more than two decades, he knows of what he writes and walks the walk every day. You should visit his space daily as you will gain insight from a guy who is leading the charge of change and truly excited about it.

Mitch discussed the anatomy of the agency world but I think it goes far beyond one particular industry. In order to survive, companies need to look long and hard at job descriptions. Communications can no longer fall on the shoulders of a few people in some department.

We need to embrace our daily behavior within our organizations.

If you live on your smartphone, perhaps your customers do too. If close to half of the almost two billion worldwide online users have a social networking profile on a website, perhaps the desire to connect along various channels is catching on.

If you are in communications or marketing or public relations or social media or media relations, you know it can be an uphill battle to get buy-in from management.

Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away

Often some view that part of their job is to protect the status quo and rest on past procedures. This does not stem from a lack of vision but we often stay with the monster we know rather than taking on the monster we don’t know. You may feel that they are blocking you from trying to integrate all these communication channels and you are not entirely correct.

It’s not enough to comprehend that the two-way conversation is occurring, it is imperative to embrace your ability to contribute to it – whatever that means to you. We are in the world’s largest cocktail party and it’s still the part of the evening filled with small talk. We are skimming the surface, finding our way, deciding what we want out of it but there is not just one way to participate. Some individuals and companies are doing great things and improving business but there are many who are still trying to figure it out. You may be one of them.

This is not communications of the future, this is about now.

I don’t try and convince people that they can improve their business through online connections, I know they can but only if they will commit the work. You can say that eating better and exercising is good for you but empty words won’t get you the six-pack. This is not a lottery ticket. This is about changing some of your daily routine and having time to find out who’s out there.

This is not about letting the intern take care of your brand with a few tweets.

But then again, if you’re reading this, you already know that. So it is our job to be patient with those who aren’t convinced and aren’t ready for the river of information. It is up to us to educate the fearful and remind them that a Facebook group will not save a bad business idea and optimizing the website for a search engine can only happen if they know what people are searching for in the first place.

The Internet will not magically save your business on its own but it can improve the bottom line if you open your mind and let it in. But it does not replace business acumen.

There’s much work to be done. Are you ready?

knealemann
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image credit: calsncsu

October 28, 2010

Finding Passion

It can get lost in busy

A valuable lesson when you get stressed is to remember all the good stuff in your life. Easier said than done? Perhaps. A worthy exercise? Absolutely.

We've all seen stories featuring people overcoming insurmountable odds yet we feel anxiety over the most inane issues in our lives.

A colleague reminded me last week. You do your best, you do what you think is right, you own the responsibility you should own and then you let it go.

We must surround ourselves with those who will cheer us on and not waste our finite time trying to convince the inconvincible

We have to to play great music, eat great food, make company with those we care about and let the rest just wash away with the rest of our memes.

Think about a moment when you completely lost track of time. You were doing something so enjoyable that you weren’t concerned about anything else. That is passion and that is what we need to find and cherish most of all. We need to seek it out and not stop until we find it.

Do you think there is a direct correlation between your passion and your success? Is it worth keeping both within your sights?

knealemann
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October 26, 2010

The Platform For Change

Sounds good on paper.

Yesterday in Ontario, Canada – where I live – millions went to voting stations to cast their ballot in municipal elections.

During any election – at any level – there is usually at least one candidate who stands on the platform of change. But change is powerful yet ambiguous word.

It sounds good on the surface but do we know what it really means? The Obama team orchestrated a masterful campaign a couple of years ago on the platform of this sucks and we can make it better. We love change – in theory.

Change is a way of life.

However the human mind is finite and has difficulty grasping concepts that have no solution, end, cure or a job well done. We don't build businesses on the concept of change, we build them on revenue models and market share.

Change is by definition a moving target. We often view change in a positive light with regards to our situation. Things aren’t going our way but change will improve your lot in the organization.

But we know what it feels like when the rumours begin about changes in the company. The whispers begin. The conversations among stakeholders at lunch and after work increase and all the while the worse case scenarios are examined. If changes are coming, will you be one of the ones let go?

Think about your organization and the daily changes you experience. How can you embrace change for the better without causing panic while paying close attention to those items that are working and don’t need to be revised?

knealemann
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image credit: ronunruhgps

October 22, 2010

It's Tougher Than It Looks

A New Appreciation

When someone does something well, we often admire their talent and the ease with which it appears they accomplish it. But we often quickly forget how much work was involved to get to there.

I worked for a guy who navigated the coaching process with grace and fairness.

We had a situation where a staff member had to be reprimanded and it could have gotten ugly. Instead, we had an adult and professional discussion.

I remarked on that and he reminded me that he had been doing it a long time and learned from great mentors how to lead, not boss.


Step Up To The Mic.

This week, I was asked to speak at two events and though I realize I am very tough on myself all in all it went fairly well. I can beat myself up elsewhere. But the strange thing was the nerves. It reminded me of my early radio days when I would be petrified when the microphone light went on. I did not see that coming.

It does get better but unfortunately an audience has to watch while you are improving over time. That is the same with clients in any setting. And we have to remember it's rarely as bad as it is in our heads.

I do want to thank the fantastic team at Social Media Breakfast Waterloo Region as well as the wonderful people at Wellington County Public Health
for their hospitality.


If you do business presentations, you know what that feels like. You prepare the material and all seems like it will go well – until there are real humans watching you. But the only way to improve is to do them more often.

Business is a team sport.

If one of your stakeholders appears to be having some difficulty with a task you expect them to master, remember that the moment we think we’ve nailed it will be the exact moment we are reminded not to get too far ahead of ourselves.

Do you think it may be valuable to stop once in a while and make certain everyone is receiving all they need to do – and more importantly – learn and improve their work?

knealemann
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image credit: getty

October 21, 2010

Fear. Educate. Organize. Implement.

Your business is not a campaign and your people are not all the same.

I think the reason most organizations are having trouble navigating the new ways of communication stems from fear and that's okay as long as you recognize that. Once that happens, you can then educate yourselves with what is out there and how you can activate some of those ideas in your company.

Once you educate - which is an ongoing process - you can then begin to organize thoughts and departments and job descriptions. This is not an overnight process, but it is a process that needs to happen.

So you deal with the fear by educating and organizing then you need to implement some of what you've learned into your organization. Again, this won't happen right away. There are no quick fixes and everyone in your company has a different view of this stuff.

If you can implement some new ideas, then the review and revise process begins.

This is a cool video that was produced by Jesse Thomas or as many know him JESS3. If you are having trouble grasping the explosion of the Internet, social media, mobile and digital, this may excite you, this may scare you. Some of the stats are out-of-date but focus on the overall message.

This is about human behavior not theory. And if you embrace it, you may just be able to battle the fear, educate each other, organize what works and begin to implement. [video]



knealemann

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October 19, 2010

Optics and Metrics

Will this work?

In my former life, I programmed radio stations for a living. I loved my time in radio but one of my biggest grievances remains today:

Measurement.

• To measure ratings in radio, a tiny percentage of the population is asked their opinion to speak on behalf of the masses.

• The newspaper industry claims each paper is read by several people.

Television polls the same people and calls it consensus.

Direct Mail response rates higher than 3% point to a resounding success.

• External advertising industries claim the billboard will be seen but you must remember the three second rule.

Yet companies remain sceptical that an online strategy can help them.

It's important to note that if you own a business and you are unsure the best solution for you - be careful of those who will drown you in metrics and doublespeak. That is especially important when delving in to the online world.

I am not bias toward particular media though I do lean to some more than others because of effectiveness. This won't be another article about relationships and two-way conversations. It must be based on strategy, not theory. All media has its place and I have clients who use them all. This is more about paying attention to what is important to you and your business. It's about managing your expectations.

You can’t ask everyone and there is no such thing as the perfect shot. Every industry has its metrics yet often business owners when introduced to digital solutions want documented results at the beginning.

It is valid to want to know the expected results of marketing dollars (after having a great offering and a well focused plan and message) but running a business like an ad campaign is dangerous sport.

Living By Numbers

I like metrics and research. I think both are important but if you want a guaranteed solution chiseled in granite every time you may be waiting a while. I don’t condone running your business with wild abandon but balance is good. Numbers can be a deterrent. Numbers can intoxicate you. Numbers can be deceiving.

If you live and die by fuzzy metrics, you may not be seeing the entire equation.

knealemann

photo credit: healnh

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original post: feb 2010

October 18, 2010

Striking the Business Balance

Our views can be intoxicating.

We all have the ability to publish our thoughts through electronic means or personal interaction.

As the adage goes, if you and I always agree then one of us may not be necessary in the conversation.

There is a difference between having an opinion and being opinionated.


Someone who is opinionated rarely wants to hear the other side of the story or listen to evidence that may challenge their opinion.

opin•ion
\ə-ˈpin-yən\ noun
• a view, judgment, or appraisal formed about a particular matter.
• belief stronger than impression.
• formal expression of judgment.
• advice by an expert.

opin•ion•at•ed
\-yə-ˌnā-təd\ adjective
• unduly adhering to one's own opinion or to preconceived notions.

Take that and apply it to your business.

You know what you’re doing, it’s your business! You have worked hard to accomplish a lot. You drink, eat and breathe it so you are entitled to have an opinion on its results. But how close can you be before you become opinionated about your offering?

Opinions are crucial to move thoughts from ideas to action. You digest information and move. It's dangerous when we have a preconceived notion and simply search for evidence to support it and miss the better solution.

The drug companies do it with case studies when they throw out the participants that may skew the results. You witness it in the boardroom when the boss is clearly asking a bunch of 'yes' people simply to hear his great ideas parroted back to him.

For small to medium sized business owners, it can be a challenge when you are the only one in the boardroom. That is perhaps why it is often wise to ask for a second opinion.

knealemann

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image credit: byu
original post: march 2010

October 15, 2010

Our Need to Belong

What do you need?

Abraham Maslow wrote a paper in 1943 entitled The Theory of Human Motivation. The most famous portion of the work was his Hierarchy of Needs.

As you may know, it covered everything from our basic requirements for food and shelter to safety, self-esteem, morality, health, self actualization and one aspect that I find fascinating which is our desire to belong.

It is the reason we have clubs, teams, communities and networks. We need each other for commerce and business but we also need each other to converse and create, build and share. It is the essence of social networking which has been around for a couple of hundred million years.

Read the Room

While attending SobCon earlier this year, I noticed a shift in the tone of the discussions. It was not a room full of web geeks; it was an astute group of smart established business professionals. Sure, many of us met online but that’s where the conversation began. It was a conduit at best.

I was smiling yesterday as I read some positive comments about BlogWorld happening in Vegas this week and some even shocked about the professionalism of the speakers and presentations. Perhaps this is because we believe the online tools will help move the revenue line but still surprised that it really is doing that.

But SobCon and BlogWorld or any other convention is irrelevant without the people and our need to belong. You don’t get excited that you’re going to the game this weekend so you can sit by yourself, you are going to share an experience with others – in some cases, thousands of others.

So what do we do with all this?

Our need to belong is wired into our collective DNA. Don’t believe me? Remove all contact with humans for 24 hours. No contact! No email. No Internet. No phone. No tweets. No TV. No radio. No wireless device. Nothing.

The entire reason 33 miners were pulled out of an apartment sized hole in the earth a mile down was their ability to be a community. They longed to survive together.

How can you embrace our inherent need to belong in your business?

knealemann

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image credit: socgeo ruhosting

October 14, 2010

Patience

It is a virtue, rarely a business plan.

Have patience for that guy in accounting who doesn’t get Twitter. Have patience with the prospect that needs more explanation. Have patience with yourself if you need extra time to figure it out.

Have patience with those who act like they have all the answers. Have patience with the rest of the team catching up to your cool new idea. Have patience before you send that email.

Have patience with the members of the team who aren’t pulling their weight once you remind them tactfully. Have patience as you navigate new avenues of communication. Have patience with your business partners who want to play it safe.

Have patience when you want to get there faster. Have patience with others who don’t get the concept. Have patience and read the instructions.

Have patience with the guy who keeps posting stuff on your Facebook wall. Have patience with the dinosaur in sales who thinks all this online stuff is a waste of time. Have patience with someone like me who finds patience the toughest part of the gig.

Have patience?

knealemann

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image credit: maximenz

October 13, 2010

Your Entire Marketing Investment

Planning and Pennies.

I was having a discussion with a client this week about his outbound marketing efforts and we got to his print spend. Now on the surface, many cynics would say to move that money elsewhere immediately and there’s a good chance that will happen but let's not replace one mistake with another.

We are discussing the odds n’ ends he spends on what I call panic buys – those times when you want to make a quick push and without planning, you pull the trigger.

If possible, you should have discretionary money and a plan that is flexible enough to exploit unforeseen opportunities but any of that activity should still fall in line with your overall strategy.

His Facebook group and YouTube channel are both coming along, he knows this stuff takes time and he is also doing an extensive radio campaign. One of his most powerful marketing tools is how he and his team treat customers. Treat one person well and they will tell a friend, treat one person badly and they will tell everyone.

We are tallying up all those things he spends money on throughout a normal year and much to his surprise it’s in the tens of thousands. A few hundred here, a couple of thousand there and suddenly there is budget for a more concise and focused attack. Many little things can be a bigger thing that will give his spend much more impact.

I had lunch with a colleague recently who admittedly says he doesn't 'get' all these new tools and worries that he isn't ready to be in the conversation. I admire his honesty but reminded him that the conversation is happening with or without him and he doesn't need to be everywhere to be somewhere but nowhere is not the answer.

The tools available to you as a business owner are as vast as your imagination but without commitment none will work for a sustained period of time. Work on your people, secure the promises you can keep with your customers and your marketing spend (money and time) will be a lot easier to plan.

If you don't think you have budget for something, have a look at all your spending and you may discover a surprise or two.

Is it worth a shot?

knealemann

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image credit: bolton

October 12, 2010

Leadership Can Be Lonely

People are more easily led than driven.
David Harold Fink

If you are lucky to have a mentor, hang on to them with all you got. They are special people we need in order to move things along. If you’re lucky enough to be a mentor, take your role seriously.

You are not only guiding a career, you are helping the hundreds they will touch throughout their career.

Business is a team sport and if you choose the path of leadership, it can be a lonely road. But it can also be a fulfilling decision.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
Peter Drucker

Leadership is a balance between the ego and grace. Well that’s until reality steps in. Quotas need to be met, revenue numbers hit, a competitor wins the contract and suddenly our flapless leader isn’t so helpful and nurturing.

In the corporate world, leadership roles are realized through myriad journeys. Some get the gig because they are the top sales person, others get it because someone left and they were the safe choice, the list goes on. Rarely does an organization choose its leaders purely from the perspective of leadership ability.

The only real training for leadership is leadership.
Antony Jay

If you’ve ever received a promotion within an organization you know that people start to look at you differently and you may feel a bit strange. Suddenly the angry young person with all the bright ideas is in a position to act on some of those ideas and it’s put up or shut up time.

It can be tempting - like many before you - to cover your butt, keep your head down and hang on to your gig verses making bold decisions.

Leadership is a lonely journey within a team environment but to the right person, the most rewarding career move of their lives.

And the twist - we all need to be leaders now and waiting for the corporate tap on the shoulder is not the time to begin the process.

What are your thoughts?

knealemann

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image credit: livescience.

October 11, 2010

Be Thankful. Be Inspiring. Be Ourselves.

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada and Columbus Day in the U.S., Día de la Raza to Día de las Culturas in most of the Americas and Discovery Day in the Bahamas.

Families are gathering around the turkey and pumpkin pie which is a good chance to take a moment to think about the important stuff and discard the rest.

Today, I have work to do but I am also taking stock of how I’m doing and it can be an interesting process. I have a long way to go, need to improve on many things but all those thoughts can take me away from what I do well.

Sound familiar?

I stepped out of the corporate world four years ago and I’d love to tell you the journey has been smooth and full of nonstop upward momentum but that’s not the case and my story is not unique.

In North America alone, there are more than 30 million people out of work today. They are struggling to figure out what’s next for them, they are trying to find a way to provide for their family and feel thankful this weekend.

Lend a Hand.

All this talk about community and connection is utterly useless if we make it about ourselves. So help one person today in a real way. Often being thankful comes with perspective yet we need to stop and pay closer attention to it. If we are thankful, we can inspire others but the only way to do that is be ourselves.

You okay with that?

knealemann

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image credit: tmcnet

October 10, 2010

10:10:10

You may be familiar with 10:10, this year it has been expanded to 10:10:10.

From the website.

10:10 is helping to coordinate 10:10:10, the biggest-ever day of positive action on climate change, on Sunday 10 October, 2010. 


Across the world, thousands of people will take simple steps to reduce their emissions, cutting carbon and sending a powerful message to world leaders that people everywhere are ready to tackle climate change.

You could mark 10:10:10 with a low-carbon Sunday lunch, make your home or workplace more efficient, or maybe try something extra-ambitious.

Do what you can, for more, go here www.1010global.org

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October 9, 2010

Connect Don't Collect

Have you ever done something so fun 
that you’ve lost track of time?

I’m not a shopper but once in a while I get the urge to venture out for that item I’ve researched about online. 

I used to buy a lot of music and I would lose an afternoon flipping through thousands of vinyl albums ending the outing with a handful of new treasures.  

This is SOCIAL media, right?

I did that online this morning except it wasn’t music shopping, it was profile reading. I try to do this at least once a week. There’s no sense collecting friends, followers and connections like dusty trinkets on a mantle, I like to find out more about these people who followed me back and see why we’re connected.

Just stop writing on a wall or tweeting for a moment and read some profiles, click on a few websites, allow yourself the fun ride of learning more about those around you. Then go back to home base and click through another profile.

The Power of Us

I have lost count the number of people who ask me “what are you up to lately” while it is explained in one form or another on over twenty social media profiles. They simply didn’t take a moment to find out for themselves. And I'm guilty of doing the same.

We are connecting at the speed of light, clicking and following in an instant. 

Take the time to find out the magic that may be behind those associations. Sift through someone’s pages, discover how they portray themselves online and you may even get a business idea or two. You may even want to contact them in person. Shocking!

Find a moment and move outside of your tight circle of real friends and examine what others are up to and you will discover some very cool people. You may even lose track of time doing something fun.  

There is endless chatter about sustained engagement and two-way conversations but are we really doing it? Pick five people in your network whom you don't converse with on a regular basis and get to know them.

Collecting all those albums was a pointless exercise if I didn't listen to the music. 

Stop and look through their profile, visit their website and read their bio. You will meet some interesting people you didn't know you knew. 

Are you ready to discover who’s out there?



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image credit:  flyphonic

October 7, 2010

The Insanity Defence

Hope it works this time

You’ve heard the saying – doing the same things expecting different results – but how many of us still do it?

We hope this time the campaign will work, this time the client will understand, this time the tactic will gain traction. It’s human nature to miss our part of the equation as what may need to change.

When I meet with prospective clients to discuss their current business situation.

All too often they cite external reasons why their past efforts have not garnered better results.The radio campaign didn't work, television is expensive, social media is too much work, we did pamphlets last time and that should work this time.

Too busy to plan

This is not to suggest they are doing things wrong or their business plan is flawed but it simply takes a quick breather from the treadmill to examine the situation calmly. You need to find a way to look at things from 30,000 feet.

Easier said than done but should be done.

This may be in the form of a half hour coffee break with yourself to clear your head, watching a funny video on YouTube or cranking some music - a tactic I deploy often.

Catch-22 in full effect

We need a break, we need perspective, we need space to think and we so rarely make time for it yet it is paramount in the success of our projects. Without ample think time you can spin in the wrong direction quickly and often.

If we’re honest with ourselves – can pleading insanity and doing the same thing again possibly give us new hope for a different result?

knealemann

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Work with me. For an initial free consultation, email knealemann@gmail.com

October 5, 2010

The Hierarchy of Business Needs

From Start-Up to Actualization.

If you manage a company, you know it takes more than products or services to be successful. 

Without strong people, you will struggle to make it. 

It is much more than having a slick mantra claiming your people are your strongest resource.

There are zetabytes of data available on the topics of social networking and building audience, finding your trust agents and being authentic, having patience and giving more than receiving. But so what if you aren’t or won’t execute on any of it.

Complaining won't make a difference.

Bars and homes are filled nightly with people commiserating about their workspace. 

We live in a time where we can create our own online and retail experience. It is a buyers’ market and we're all buyers. Treating people fairly is the single biggest way to positively affect your bottom line.

Five Pillars of Business
People, operations, finances, marketing and media.  

Business is not daycare but people are not robots. We have feelings and dreams and goals. If you can mesh the two, you can take on any formidable foe. The single biggest area where most companies falter is with their people.

As superstars rise up the ranks, they are often promoted based on numbers but as more responsibility is heaped on them, the pressure increases for higher performance. But often they are shoved into the new gig with not nearly enough management training and asked to manage people who will help improve that performance.

Important questions for any manager.

• How is the health of our overall operation?
• Can you be honest with yourself about your organization?
• Do you have strong financial leadership?
• Is your business plan clear, concise and executable?
• Are you aware of all marketing opportunities and the realistic outcomes of each?
• Do you spend more time in meetings than doing the work?
• Do you have a strong sense of your people
• Is each member of your team working more than 80% of their time on strengths?

What would you add?


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image credit: kiva

October 3, 2010

Making History on The Social Web

If you are active in any of the online social channels, you have probably seen how fast a news story can spread. The death of Michael Jackson was reported on Twitter before CNN, the earthquake in Haiti was all over the social web as people tried to find and share correct information.

On Friday I received an email from someone about the Rick Sanchez rant on satellite radio where he dumped all over Jon Stewart then went on a racial tirade which got him fired from his gig at CNN. I quickly did a Google search and the screen was full of reports on the story, not all from “credible news sources". It was everywhere. The twitterstream was packed with comments and it was one of the top trending topics.

The 20th century was the culmination of hundreds of years of technology that gave us the one-to-one and one-to-many media models. The Internet has given us the many-to-many model.

Each of us is able to produce and broadcast a message and create a conversation or join another one midstream and contribute as much as anyone else in the group.

Exciting times.

Author, consultant, visionary and speaker Clay Shirky brilliantly points out that the tools we use become social interesting when they get technologically boring. He adds “It isn’t when the shiny tools show up that their uses start permeating society, it is when everyone is able to take them for granted.”

Here’s more from his TEDTalk last June. [video]


knealemann

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image credit: TED

October 2, 2010

The Intelligence of Coffee

I often meet colleagues and clients in coffee shops, perhaps you do as well. It has become the cliché of our time to meet for coffee. The drink has become the conduit for gathering and discussing and sharing.

Let’s meet for coffee. Let’s grab a coffee some time. But according to author Steven Johnson, there is much more to coffee than we may know. [video] 


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image credit: TED

October 1, 2010

Difficult Clients

I had a heart-to-heart with a colleague last week about one of her tough clients. She prefaced the conversation with “this is just my side of the story".

After half an hour of railing, I asked her what she was going to do and she said she was going to leave them alone.


You can’t get ‘em all

This is not to suggest you give up during the sales process – and yes, we are all in the sales process – but once you can be completely honest with yourself that you did your best then perhaps you need to leave them alone.

Early in my media career I worked with a fantastic sales manager. This guy got the product as much as anyone creating it. He priced it properly, he didn’t bow down to difficult clients wanting a better deal and he was fiercely protective of the entire team.

Not right now

Years later, as I began my consulting career, I called him up to get his advice on prospecting and he simply reminded me that most people you speak with won’t want to buy from you, today. And he’s right. That's why it's called a process and you need to earn their trust before you can sell anything.

If you bat 1.000 with every prospect meeting, you must be counting your billions. It simply doesn’t work that way. That is even more so in our customer driven economy.

This does not mean the client is always right or has to be rude. Conversely, it doesn’t mean they will buy today – or ever.

Here's a list of ideas from eHow

Listen carefully. 
By asking calm questions, see whether you can discern what is bothering the client.

Don't interrupt immediately.
Unless the client is abusive, it pays to hear what they're saying in full. If someone is abusive, politely ask them to tone down their language.

Keep records.
Document all your dealings with difficult clients and steps you have taken to deal with their concerns. This will help you with future difficult clients.

Client's point of view.
No matter how unreasonable or how irrational he or she seems. What seem to you to be nagging, repetitive phone calls may simply be an expression of the customer feeling stressed for reasons that have nothing to do with the work you're doing.

Avoid arguments.
Your goal is to come to an understanding, not to win a confrontation.
Acknowledge different viewpoints.

Be encouraging.
Often people become hostile when they feel frustrated or confused.

Stay calm.
If you can't stay calm, terminate the call or meeting until you can respond less heatedly.

What do you do about difficult customers?

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