Kill Your Heroes: The Surprising Success of Business Cynicism

cynicWriting a book is hard. I’m in the process of writing two of them simultaneously and, to my veteran book-writing associates, my hat goes off to you in a big way. Luckily, they’re on two different topics so if I get tired of one I just pick up the other.

The book being written as a professional passion is on the need, even importance, of either having or being a cynic is business. So we all understand each other, a cynic is someone who believes there is no truly selfless act–they believe everyone is motivated by some self-serving need or ulterior motive. George Carlin may have felt that a cynic was just a frustrated idealist, but I’d contend that of the two, a cynic is more likely to have done their research.

Side-stepping the issue of whether or not there is such a thing as a selfless act in the interest of blog post brevity, the book focuses first on the fact that you need cynics around. You need them around business because there are plenty of employees and leaders willing to send a business careening into the polished dental work of the proverbial gift horse. Cynics stop that path and say “wait, what? Nothing is this good.”

Make no mistake, I don’t want people to be spiteful or mean, and this is not to say that others on the team are illogical and rash. It’s more about playing the contrarian in a researched and intelligent way. There are many ways to do this, but becoming a master in the language of people’s motivation can be a good place to start.

Its also not escaped me that this is not a popular viewpoint. We want to reward the bold risk-taker. We want to see Indiana Jones and James Bond succeed despite having a plan or strategy. We want to believe that greatness isn’t only guaranteed to the bold and brave, it’s also easy. But we know its not easy.

So be a cynic. Be an idealist. Be something in between. Just remember that no business was built solely on the back of either. Which are you?


The Difference Between a Pause and a Stop

pause breakI never thought I’d be one of those writers who would have to explain a hiatus. I told myself when I started blogging that I would consistently write and, should a break occur, I would pick up right where I left off.

But when you go two years without a new post, people deserve an explanation.

First of all, I am sorry for the pause. If you are one of the ten people who read my posts, odds are you are beyond thinking “where are the new posts?” and have long since moved on to something else. Maybe its time to work on winning you back.

Second, I have not stopped writing! You may have seen my work on Forbes here and here, or on Symantec here and here. I’ve also begun taking advantage of the longer-form capabilities of LinkedIn to spread my digital opinion around a bit.

Finally, I’m looking forward to a 2015 filled with much more content on this blog, so as I realize it will take some time to win you back, it’s my sincere hope and New Years resolution to be back up to ten readers in no time. Thank you.


Why are Light Bulbs so Hard to Find at Target? UX IRL

On a recent trip to my local-area Target to buy a couple of new light bulbs for my apartment, I was taught a valuable lesson in User Experience. I needed a few other items and, since I knew their location, picked them up first. I then began to peruse the store in a slowly increasing panic I hadn’t experienced in Target since I had to shop alone for my 4-year-old niece. I began by searching the obvious places—lamps, home improvement, home décor…nothing. I could’ve asked an employee, but everyone knows it’s illegal for a man to ask for help. I finally found the light bulbs sandwiched between the pet food and cosmetics.
That’s when it hit me: This is a poor user experience (UX) come to life. I’m not upset with Target since I can’t imagine that light bulb placement is at the forefront of their board meetings. I’m glad they have the selection they do, but how does this placement make sense? Have you ever visited a website and searched endlessly without finding what you needed? It’s frustrating, not unlike finding light bulbs in Target. And it happens for the same reason: No one thinks to send someone to the site with a specific product in mind. No one takes the time to test; they only take the time to stock.
So what’s the lesson? Start with the goal and move backward. It’s great that you make it easy for people to order your widget, but also make it easy for them to research it, read reviews, locate sale terms, and calculate shipping costs. Remember that a “Call To Action” isn’t always about the filet mignon in the window, sometimes it’s just finding the light bulbs.


Diving into Social Media When your Small Business Isn’t Social

There is no chance that small business will become less competitive. Especially now, we see an upward trend of start-ups gaining capital and taking their shot at success, so small businesses need to stretch further than ever to stand out. As a free tool, social media is naturally an attractive choice. The tendency for a restaurant, bar, or sports venue to rapid-fire across social networks with feel-good messages and upcoming promotions is a natural fit.

But what about a Laundromat? What should they say on Twitter? Do they even need Twitter? In the gilded age of shiny social toys, we forget that there are businesses out there that aren’t exactly “social” by design. If you’re one of these scrap metal dealers or local hardware store owners who feels run over by the social media truck, here are five tips to help you determine if you need to should climb aboard, and if so, how to get started:

1. Do your competitors use it?  The first request of small business owners looking for a social strategy is to make a list of their five biggest competitors. But remember, just because your competitors aren’t using it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t  It could end up being your point of differentiation.
2. Do your customers use it? The second question is always about their customers. You should always know your biggest customers, no matter what your business. Take a look at what social sites your customers use and how, and you’ll see the best way to engage.
3. Ego-search. If you’ve made it this far, both your clients and customers use social networks, so it’s time to dive in. Perform searches for your company on the social sites you plan to embrace. Sites like Google and serve a dual purpose: It’ll let you know what’s being said about your business, and it can give you an idea of how your business is perceived in the market.
4. Start slow. Fight the urge to set up a Facebook page, Pinterest board, Twitter handle, etc. all in one afternoon. Remember that social sites are like puppies: For every one you bring home, you have to feed it, maintain it, and train it to behave.
5. Plan 3 months of content. Whichever social sites you decide to embrace, build out a content calendar for about three months-worth of content before you get started. Decide how often you’re going to post, what type of content you’ll post, and what success will look like. Leave placeholders for some cool stuff you’ll want to post or for content from your customers. Stay consistent and positive; really focus on what your customers want to read.

The important thing to remember is that not every business that is social needs social media and not every non-social business should avoid it. The rules of business haven’t changed, just the options.


Going on a Content Diet

This is a Harley-Davidson© Fat Boy™, which is far more awesome than anything else that’s fat, hence why its here.

Since the first time a caveman drew a picture on the wall and another caveman stopped to take a look at it, mankind has been a consumer of content. Today we call ourselves “consumers” of pretty much everything and anything we can get ahold of in terms of online content. As someone who makes their living from creating content, this is good for me (thanks, by the way). Which may make what I’m about to tell you seem like blasphemy.

You and I are content-fat. We consistently snack on unhealthy story bits, which are mostly variations of a singular theme. We gobble up the latest social/digital/self-help/dime-store deity schmuck’s pandered 160-page novella explaining the best way to create and pander a 160-page novella of your own. Here’s the truth: many of these “geniuses” don’t want you to be a successful similar genius lest you overtake them. They want to create a carbon copy of them which is just a bit dumber. You are too smart for that.

Simplify. Go on a content diet. Since no one but you has your best content interests at heart, be more selective about what you read. This doesn’t apply just to books; this applies across all streams of media. Be pickier about the blogs you read, the books you read, the RSS feeds you grab…all of it. We choose our customer meetings carefully to best use our time, why not our content? Focusing on consuming content that teaches you something real, you’re building up a six-pack of brain abs that may not show on the beach, but it will sparkle in the boardroom. Now go build a gym in your mind, you crazy kids.

Whether you think I’m right or wrong, I want to hear from you. The comments are yours!


It’s Time to Shut Up About Customer Service

Before the rise of ratings boards, social media channels, and the awesome instant gratification that comes with the Internet, when you received stellar customer service, you told your friends. When you received terrible customer service, you really told your friends. Social media now allows us this same freedom, which is a mixed blessing. Think about all of the times you’ve received bad service from several employees with the same company over the course of several visits. Is it the whole organization that sucks, or just one bad apple? The next time you receive bad customer service and take to Twitter, Facebook, or other social sites ready to tear the company a new one, try this exercise:
1. Shut up. Allow yourself 24 hours before you complain. This will help put things into perspective, and you may find that it was one employee having a bad day or just one unhappy person. Does this mean the whole company sucks? If you still feel the same way a day later, proceed to step two.
2. Be constructive and ready to defend. Is writing “your company sucks!” on their Facebook wall going to improve anything? Should the company then throw money and free stuff at you because, by God, you have 210 Twitter followers and they-don’t-know-who-they’re-messing-with? If you are going to complain, do it properly. Does the company have a way to connect with customer service? If you’re going to take it to customer service or social channels, be ready with names, dates, times location numbers, etc. Show the company you are more than just another whiner.
3. Keep track, and know when to let go. Once you’ve made the connection to customer service, follow up regularly and privately. Also, be diligent, but know when to let it go. Should one bad experience with one person having one bad day set you on a Category 5 swath of destruction worthy of Zeus? If so, maybe the person having the bad day isn’t the problem.
There’s one bonus part to this exercise that you should do throughout the process: relate. Have you ever had a lousy day at work and taken it out on a customer? What if your customer held you to the same standards to which you are now using? Would you pass? Social media gives us all a voice, but that doesn’t mean we should use that voice to become chronic complainers.


Less Stick! 5 Ways to soft sell your satisfaction survey

Everyone likes an update on their business and to know that they are doing a good job for their customers. It seems that the only way to get a true sense of how your business is servicing its customers is to create a customer survey which asks them, sometimes through a battery of questions, “how are we doing?” Recently after receiving my sixth(!) email from the same company asking me to fill out their customer feedback survey, I jotted down five ways businesses can improve asking how they can improve:

  1. One question. Ask one question in a survey to get the most constructive feedback from your customers. It’s easy enough to take ten or more questions and ask them randomly in single-question bites rather than giving one customer ten questions to answer.
  2. Use Twitter. Your customers follow you on Twitter, don’t they? Twitter plays perfectly into the above advice of asking one question only, too. If the feedback is helpful (notice I didn’t say “positive.” Helpful is better), consider retweeting it with thanks.
  3. Avoid interruption. The pop-up or pop-under window survey is very annoying to visitors. Try to avoid making the survey so obtrusive that it impacts the user experience. Seek feedback at events or on other channels besides your website to avoid annoying visitors.
  4. More carrot, less stick. Offering giveaways or contests as part of taking a short survey can go a long way toward getting responses. Use the Cracker Jack approach: small, inexpensive snack with a free prize inside=winning.
  5. Respond to criticism. Be open to constructive criticism and respond to it in the open. One caveat to this is that it should be a common complaint so your designers aren’t pulling their hair out for every customer whim. For example if Jane from Detroit (and about 100 other “Janes” think the pictures of the clothes on your site are too small, write a post on the company blog stating “Jane from Detroit cared enough to share her feedback that our clothing pictures were too small. We now have a redesign in Beta with 30% larger pictures! Starting today, we gave Jane exculsive access to the Beta and will be rolling it out to everyone once Jane’s done with it.”

There are probably a great number of customers willing to jump through a hoop or two without wanting anything in return for their feedback, but the more hoops you add, the more cumbersome you make the process. The more cumbersome the process, the more annoyed your customers are when they finally get to that all important question “what can we change for the better?”

Make sure the number one answer isn’t “get rid of this survey.”


Beware the Business Trainer Kraken!

When it comes to learning new social sites, I admit that I’m spoiled. Years in IT more than familiarized me with being handed new software and being forced instructed to learn it quickly. With all of the new social networking sites vying to be the belle of the ball nearly every day, I don’t find myself intimidated by any of them or the learning curve of just “diving in.”

For those who aren’t so lucky, or for those who simply like to learn a bit more first, there is no shortage of classes. I actually received a flyer the other day from a local community college offering iPad classes to seniors at $100 per class. For the most part, these classes are highway robbery hosted by people who are opportunistic at a near-ridiculous level. Highly specialized, in-depth training is one thing, but taking bunches of 101 classes on social sites is a waste of money. Why? Let me explain:

Pretend I’m a small or medium sized business owner, and there are weeks where I attend a class on leveraging social media, Twitter for business, Facebook for Business, Foursquare for business, and Pinterest for Business (Pinterest? really? really??). I walk out of these classes with pages of notes and my head spinning, but not really learning anything. Why? Because social media, like Disneyland, is best when you experience it, not when you look at it. You have to dive in, find out what works, and learn from what doesn’t work. Use advanced classes to move forward when you’re in the weeds and refining your strategy. It makes better sense than having it drilled into your head by what I call the “Business Trainer Kraken”  (in reference to the sea monster that swallowed ships whole).

There are lots of trainers have pockets full of good intentions but empty wallets, which causes them to study the social media shiny thing de jour, spend a day or so reading about it, then thrust themselves on unsuspecting navigators of knowledge, swallowing up their student’s individualistic ideas. At best, all it does it confuse them and at worst, it crushes what could be their best ideas.

Here’s the short and sweet of it: Don’t show your kids pictures of Disneyland, take them there. Don’t let the Business Trainer Kraken swallow you before you try to have some success or failure on your own. You might surprise yourself, and you’ll save enough money for a good harpoon.


What’s in a Name? In Social Media, it’s Everything

“Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?” –Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

There’s been a lot of conversation lately about names and social media. Google caught flak for requiring people to register their real names on their account or risk banishment to some Googlitary Confinement where no one hear you search. There’s also been a lot of discussion around using your real name on LinkedIn (I would advise doing this) and whether or not Twitter would ever require you to use your real name on your profile. If you are thinking that this debate is black and white, you may want to check out this list of social sites before setting up your account to decide if you want to use your real name. One other quick note: This list is for personal users, businesses should always be transparent and disclose their name for branding purposes. Alright, here we go:

Always list your real name on these sites:

  • LinkedIn. Why? Because being found is the name of the game here. If you don’t want to be found, avoid LinkedIn altogether.
  • Google. Why? Because when your content takes off, people will Google you. Without your real name, they won’t find you. Not only that, the odds are that Google will require it someday anyway, might as well get ahead of the game.

Almost always list your real name on these sites:

  • Your blog. Why? Because you want advertisers or organizations to be able to contact you, and you want to make sure your name gets spelled correctly on the check. Why not? If you are only blogging for fun and don’t care if anyone finds it. Also, if your writing may be considered polarizing or place you or your loved ones in danger, you may want to consider using a pen name.
  • Facebook. Why? Like LinkedIn, the purpose is to be found, so why not be found?  Why not? Certain professions (teachers, supermodels, security guards at the Louvre) may not really want certain interested parties sending friend requests or messages to them simply to get something out of the deal (an “A”, an autograph, vault access codes). Others may just seek a general anonymity from old flames or may not have a desire to connect with anyone from their past. Be transparent whenever possible, but if you must, you must.
  • Twitter. Why? It helps people to connect the dots where you’re consistently transparent and use your real name across channels whenever possible. It also helps when you connect with your Friends From Other Networks (FFON) know who you are right away when you follow them. Why not? Twitter doesn’t require it, so you can call yourself anything, really. Again, if you tweet polarizing or controversial things, better to be safe and use a pen name.
  • Foursquare. Why? Again, its connecting the dots when you connect with your FFON to get them to add you in return. Plus, when you get that Mayorship, you want everyone to know exactly who’s the boss. Why not? Three words: Location-Based Stalking.


You can pretty much go out from there with how you dictate your naming-yourself policy, I’ve just hit the highlights. I’d love to her your thoughts on this as well, so as per usual, if you think I’m way out of bounds or am missing something, chime in in the comments!


Social Media is like…

I love analogies. I really realized my love for analogies around 2001 when I told a school board I was pitching a website to that a poorly designed website was like eating oatmeal without water. I feel that the great teachers and religious scholars in history used fables and parables, and analogies are simply bite-sized chunks in a similar vein of these. When I was doing end-user support, I felt like equating something these folks understood with something they didn’t built a bridge to understanding for them.

Selling via social is no different. Analogies can be a very powerful tool in reaching out to your customers and potential customers because you can build that same bridge to equate something they don’t understand with something they do. True to form, I’m going to give you a quick example and some analogies. Ready?

  • Your company sells running shoes, but they also sell rain-resistant hats for runners to wear to avoid catching pneumonia when they run. Your customers are hardcore runners who feel like hats are for wimps, so your hats are selling poorly. You need a strong comparison to help the customers understand the need while helping you sell more hats. So what’s the message to promote? “Running in the rain without a water-resistant hat is like trail running without bug spray.”
  • Your Non-profit needs to raise money for building a shelter for homeless kids. Instead of the traditional “1 in 5 kids is homeless…” an analogy works better. Try “leaving kids homeless is like leaving kids hopeless.” See how that makes a bigger emotional impact that calls more people to action?

I use social media as the avenue for my examples, but really they are applicable to any vein of marketing, outbound or inbound. Finding something that reaches your customers and potential customers at a deeper level of connection not only shows that you know and can relate to their passion, but it also might just have the potential to land you some sales. Failing to relate to your customers correctly is like shouting instructions in an empty room…great plans, zero ears.

What’s your secret for using analogies or for selling via social? There are a ton of ways to sell in a less direct way, what makes yours the best? Let me know in the comments!