Saturday, June 19, 2010

Making the most of every client interaction

John Jantsch offers tips on how to connect with customers so they refer your services to others.

The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself 

The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business To market Itself. John Jantsch. Portfolio. 233 pages.

I skipped his last book, a bestseller called Duct Tape Marketing, for reasons that are now unclear; perhaps out of loyalty to Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. Regardless, I may have to go back and give it a gander, as John Jantsch's latest is a real gem. Under the guise of developing a system for generating business referrals, the Kansas City, Mo.,-based author also provides coaching on just about every aspect of entrepreneurial enterprise — but more about that in a bit.

First of all, Jantsch identifies humans' inherent need to refer and recommend. He writes: "We refer to connect with other people. Being recognized as a source of good information, including referrals, is a great way to connect with others. Think about how eagerly you responded the last time someone asked you for directions, offering up your favorite shortcut and tips for avoiding traffic. We all do it. Making referrals is a deeply satisfying way to connect with others — asking for referrals is just the other side of the same phenomenon. I think the growth of many popular social networks can be traced to the fact that people love to connect and form communities around shared ideas."

In order to have customers refer you to others, you must ensure that you delight them and surpass their expectations. Guys like Kawasaki and Godin have been pounding on that drum forever, but Jantsch updates the pitch quite nicely by adding his own perspective and experiences. Then he invokes using Facebook and Twitter, among other things — which should be a no-brainer these days, although they're surprisingly absent from many businesses. He also covers stuff like product development and innovation, as well as market differentiation — all vital elements in today's commoditized marketplace.

His coaching is pretty compelling, too, as he implores would-be tycoons to pursue activities that have meaning to them and can provide something of value in a unique and personal way to their customers whenever possible. This too may seem obvious, but when considering the things that motivate others to recommend and refer, the idea of connecting with meaning and relevance is quite important.

In addition to the inspirational stuff, Jantsch offers some really good nuts-and-bolts suggestions for getting closer to customers and eliciting their kudos. The suggestions apply to a variety of businesses, so whether you proffer products, services — or any combination thereof — there's an abundance of ideas for making the most of each client interaction.

As with most books that demand a lot from businesses and stakeholders, the question lingers whether they are willing and able to commit to follow the ideas and actions outlined to attain the goal of self-generating customer referrals. The short answer, at least to me, is "probably not," and that's unfortunate.

But the good news is that Jantsch offers enough ideas and inspiration so that even if one picks just a few things, that might be enough to make a difference — or at least to get started.

Originally published in The Miami Herald

Monday, June 14, 2010

Innovation is the cornerstone of brand growth

Coral Springs consultant Robert Brands shows how to systematize creativity.


Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival 

Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival. Robert F. Brands. Wiley. 212 pages.

It seems fairly obvious that innovation and the development of new products and services should be priorities. Most companies at least pay lip service to the idea but in the real world, many firms, unconsciously or not, dissuade this form of creativity in favor of the tasks at hand. Even such organizations as 3M, fabled home of tape of all kinds, have been known to be less receptive — at first — to innovations like those that led to the creation of Post-It notes, which ultimately became a multi-billion dollar business. Sadly, that seems to be the rule and not the exception.

Coral Springs-based consultant Robert Brands' book has a corny title, playing off his name, of course, but beyond the silliness, there's a short, smart, sharp primer for organizations of all sizes and shapes seeking to leverage innovation for growth, profits and, ultimately, survival.

Brands is a consultant now, but possesses a strong résumé from time spent at a variety of corporate entities, focusing on product development. His most recent claim to fame is the development of the method and mechanism that turns hand soap into an airy foam, which he says has revolutionized the industry — most likely by adding a new angle to the soap dispenser that helped vendors replace existing equipment with new ones. (Don't know about you, but they don't produce a better lather or get my paws any cleaner, though your mileage may vary.)

Regardless, Brands makes an excellent case for innovation — revenue generation. As he sees it, it isn't an option but an absolute necessity.

He writes: "Remember, innovation is not a luxury, even for today's most successful companies. Sustaining success means ongoing renewal of your intellectual property (IP) portfolio. After all, technologies become dated; end-user fashions change; and new processes, materials, and capabilities emerge. Like breakers at the seashore, the life cycle of a technology begins, crests, and falls off as, all the while, new technologies form and carry momentum of their own — an ongoing cycle of innovation energy, if you will.''

In addition to walking through each step of the innovation process (liberally seasoned with his own observations and self-deprecating asides), Brands includes useful and surprisingly detailed discussions of related topics like ideation, creativity, management, intellectual property issues and more. And it's not all out of his own experiences, either, with plenty of citations sprinkled throughout from experts in the field. In addition to anecdotes and observations from a handful of fellow innovation executives, Brands invokes some of the more formalized academic thinking on the subject, most notably the Star-Gate process, which systematizes ideation and development into something that's replicable and transferable. Brands also provides lots of checklists, assessments, some charts, bullet points and more, including a transcript of a roundtable discussion with fellow innovation pros.

Though the book itself is a combination of old and new, and Brands' light but comprehensive approach may not itself be astonishingly innovative, it could be a useful catalyst for product development in your own moribund organization

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Affable careerism, chutzpah and good connections

Producer and impresario Jerry Weintraub recounts his steady rise.



When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man. Jerry Weintraub, Rich Cohen. 12/Grand Central. 291 pages.

Though generally wary of CEO memoirs for their patently self-aggrandizing bonhomie and vacuous, shameless — and endless — self-promotion, I'll occasionally take a look-see. In the case of this one, the subject is less a CEO and more of a show biz entrepreneur and personality. As a businessperson, he shook up the status quo and reinvented his chosen profession. Plus, his collaborator, Rich Cohen, is a veteran author whose tale of his own dysfunctional family, Sweet and Low, focusing on his artificial sweetener-inventing grandfather, is one of my all-time faves. Cohen's other books, profiling Hebrew shtarkers, gangsters and warriors, made him an ideal scribe for Weintraub's rambling tale.

Curious, star-struck (after a family trip to Hollywood) and not at all academically-inclined, a young Jerry Weintraub first sought and created opportunities for income generation in his Bronx neighborhood, joined the Air Force and found a few more odd jobs, then refused to go into the family business upon discharge. Weintraub's mercantile talent manifested itself in making connections and then building upon them. He became a talent manager, agent — whatever it took — then met and married star singer Jane Morgan, who became his entr'e to the world outside his New York show biz circle.

As a businessman, one of Weintraub's biggest innovations was the creation of the modern concert tour in the 1960s. He signed a big act, Elvis Presley, the revived king of rock 'n' roll, and set up a national tour of large arenas throughout the country, bypassing local concert promoters. This was pretty much unheard of during those pre-Live Nation days when local and regional hegemonies ruled.

Thus began Weintraub's close relationship with the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis' manager, who's portrayed rather generously herein. Somewhat less so, perhaps deservedly, is Weintraub client John Denver, a bland singer-songwriter turned into a superstar by the impresario.

After achieving great success, the restless troubadour fired his manager and his career tanked. A lesson? Perhaps. A professional relationship with Frank ("Call me Francis'') Sinatra was also instructive and lucrative.

But Weintraub soon tired of dealing with musicians and their egos and opted, instead, to move to the more sedate and professional setting of Hollywood, producing a string of mostly successful films (from Nashville to the Ocean's 11, 12   13 movies) and briefly heading a studio, albeit less successfully.

His personal story threads through the career recap, surprisingly becoming pals with the elder George Bush, whom he met after being refused entrance as a Jew at a tennis club near the Bush summer home. He also became buds with industrialist Armand Hammer and other colorful characters as he wended effortlessly and untroubled through the milieus of politics and show biz without any discernible philosophical conflicts. On the spiritual side, Weintraub was attracted to the Orthodox Lubavitchers, and video footage of him with another former client, Bob Dylan, at their annual fundraising telethon is a Youtube staple.

The book is slightly gossipy but mostly discreet, though Weintraub's current coupling, with a woman who's not his wife (though he's still married) brought admiring inquiries from no less an Über-womanizer than Warren Beatty, the author unabashedly recounts.

It's hard to come away with any hard lessons from Weintraub's book, other than that relentlessly affable careerism, large dollops of chutzpah and good connections can be enough to make a successful career  and a fairly entertaining autobiography.

Originally published in The Miami Herald

Monday, June 7, 2010

Learn how seven triggers pique our fascination

Author Sally Hogshead explores the fascinating world of fascination.


Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation 

Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation. Sally Hogshead. HarperCollins. 266 pages.

Gotta love somebody who takes a funky name and revels in it a la Smuckers. On her website, marketer, consultant and author Sally Hogshead proclaims, "A hogshead is a barrel that holds 62 gallons. So what's your name, smartass?'' I do know what a "Pachter'' is, by the way, but as impressive as the use of her distinctive name is, I was equally captivated by this interesting tome — with some reservations. We'll get to those in a bit, but first ...

For some, the best parts of a business book are the anecdotes and examples. As Hogshead wends her way around the world of fascination, her citations are funny and apt, even educational. She looks for things that elicit fascination and delves into such areas as fetishes, sexual attraction and ovulation — just to get warmed up.

Then she goes all over the virtual landscape, from Marilyn Monroe's "wet'' voice, to Godiva chocolate, to Ginsu knives, to the failure of the DARE program and beyond, as she identifies the seven "triggers'' for fascination: "Lust: why we're seduced by the anticipation of pleasure; Mystique: why we're intrigued by unanswered questions; Alarm: why we take action at the threat of negative consequences; Prestige: why we fixate on symbols of rank and respect; Power: why we focus on the people and things that control us; Vice: why we're tempted by 'forbidden fruit;' and Trust: why we're loyal to reliable options.''

None of these things, as you might notice, are associated with logic or reasoning. On the contrary, they are all highly emotional and, at times, irrational. After all, smart salespeople understand that prospects often make decisions based on intuitive and non-cognitive reasons, then use facts and "needs'' to justify their purchase.

Hogshead (the name also pops up in a Beatles song, by the way) is a sly and facile writer, and manages to keep things interesting as she flits and flies through her fascinating landscape. No surprise, she's also pop-culture-savvy and endlessly self-referential and self-deprecating.

When you read a book by an agency owner or consultant, you are frequently seeing an extended brochure for their products and services. That isn't necessarily the case here, though I'm confident that she would be happy to trigger a few inquiries.

The book closes with a number of assessments and exercises designed for businesses seeking to identify the elements of their enterprises that might be used to bring them to the forefront of fascination, plus a survey she commissioned on (what else?) fascination.

Despite her best intentions, I question, however, how smaller firms and individuals can apply this stuff to their work and lives without adding a veneer of bovine excrement to the mis en scène. It's not for lack of trying on Hogshead's part, but it would seem like artifice and inauthenticity, perhaps, to a small businessperson who's already in perpetual survival mode.

Regardless, Fascinate is a fascinating book and even if you don't use its how-to formula for manufacturing mystiques, it's still a lot of fun to ride along with Sally.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Clouds shed ray of light on organizing your data

Douglas C. Merrill demonstrates how fairly simple online tools can revolutionize the way we do business and carry on with life.


Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right 

Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff Out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right. Douglas C. Merrill and James A. Martin. Broadway Books. 272 pages.

With his rock star good looks and glitzy résumé (Charles Schwab, Google, EMI Music), you'd immediately presume that Douglas Merrill has got it all together; a hip dude for whom everything comes easy. And you'd be wrong.

First of all, he's dyslexic and has had to struggle to learn and develop adaptive behaviors to get through life. He survived and thrived. And later, after he'd managed to wriggle his way up the corporate ladder, he lost a beloved young life partner to cancer.

But neither of these items is in the forefront of this smart and useful little tome, though both inform nearly every page.

Merrill's purported goal with this book is to show how he uses fairly simple online tools — most provided by his former employer, the ubiquitous Google — to do business and carry on with his life. He does that quite well, actually, and even though it's a fairly subjective view, he's objective enough to point out alternatives for different tasks and needs. Sometimes, in fact, he wholeheartedly endorses non-Google products! I'm not making this up!

After I first got a Gmail account when it was new, back in those days when you had to have an invitation, I immediately discovered that it was a great "place'' to upload big files, and park and retrieve 'em later. In fact, I stored plenty of large work samples — audio, video, print and multimedia — as attachments, to simply transfer and ease submission to prospective employers when I found myself "seeking new opportunities.''

Similarly, Merrill writes expansively about tools like Google Documents and how they can be used collaboratively between and among employees and others. While it's not a perfect replacement for dedicated word processors like Microsoft's venerable Word, it's a decent enough substitute so that your content can live in the clouds (or on a server in Mountain View, Ca.) and you can work on it whenever you feel like it online.

Merrill also gives tips for sharing calendars, organizing files and using search. That's the key, he says. Don't bother organizing your files and folders. Just tag them with key words that you use for search terms to find on your computer, in the clouds or wherever. That's the Google way. Search and index everything. But Merrill ably explains how to do it and, more importantly, how it works, so it's replicable and scalable for a variety of endeavors and applications.

Beyond the info on using all the apps in the clouds, Merrill's thread about his girlfriend's illness is powerful and heart wrenching. It's also a good way to show how some of the tools were — or could have been — used to deal with that sad situation.

The other powerful tool Merrill gets into is how he "encodes'' information before dealing with it. We all process information differently, but Merrill's methods, borne of the adaptive behaviors he developed from his learning disorder, fit perfectly with this new way of functioning. It may not work for everyone but for those of us in the business of pushing pixels, it's a great way to start thinking about doing things better.

Originally published in The Miami Herald

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Informal structures often prove more productive than formal ones

Ad hoc and informal structures often prove to be more productive and efficient than formal ones.

Leading Outside the Lines: How to Mobilize the Informal Organization, Energize Your Team, and Get Better Results 


In just about every organization I've worked for or with, I've repeatedly observed a formal hierarchy in place as well as an unofficial group of people who actually get stuff done. They are, more than not, two disparate groups. The somewhat loose confederation of doers, in my experience, tends to respect the authority of those above them on the corporate food chain, while developing and implementing ways to circumvent and subvert them to git 'er done, regardless and in spite of. Sometimes, it's just a slight variation to the table of organization that allows certain obstacles to be avoided and "impediments to progress'' (to put it politely) to be ignored — while including them in any necessary e-mail threads, of course.

Though the role of the guerrilla squad of achievers is frequently well known within the organizations, they are often officially disregarded. But I've seen situations where CEOs, VPs and directors often bypass protocol to enlist them in key projects, often to the chagrin of their bosses. I've known several of these stealth commandos, and when asked will admit, immodestly, to having been one.

Katzenbach and Khan look at this phenomenon and attempt to demonstrate ways that these ad hoc, informal groups can be mobilized and engaged. They do so by defining formal structures; that's pretty easy. Then they take a shot at informal ones. They write: "The informal isn't as easily defined as the formal, because it does not have the clear structural boundaries that the formal has. Its elements often overlap and don't follow the clean principles of 'mutually exclusive, comprehensively exhaustive' that analytical thinkers prefer. In essence, the informal is the aggregate of organizational elements that primarily influence behavior through emotional means. And, unlike the formal elements, the informal elements of an organization rarely appear as written instructions. Even so, they can still be identified and named.''

They go on to identify the ways these groups form and function and how they might be cultivated. The text is smart, very readable and studious, though informal. Their approach throughout is benign and humanistic rather than imperious and authoritarian, which is the way to go, given the subject matter. There's a nice chapter summary at the end of the book, as well as a fine diagnostic tool to assess your organization and its adaptability.

The only caveat I have about this book is whether or not it's practicable and actionable for the real world. Katzenbach and Khan certainly did their parts, and their own responsibility ends once the book is read. But as with other tomes that advocate and promote genuine change, one always wonders if those who need it the most will heed the advice proffered therein. Still, if their book stimulates discussion and helps those inside the organization take some extra initiative, all will not be for naught.

Originally published in The Miami Herald