zzzzzzzHusband. Drummer. Marketing, Sales and Customer Service Specialist. Music and Art Collector. Road Cyclist. Volunteer. Traveler. bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb Amateur Photographer. Media/News/Coffee Junkie. Hockey Fan.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Passionate Investor

At a recent networking function, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a colleague from the special events industry. I do not know him well although I do know that his small company is very passionate about their work and their clients. His is a caring attitude, one not focused solely on making a quick buck (but still remaining profitable) as it is on investing in the client and guest experience.

At the networking event my colleague was both sponsor and volunteer, and was, of course, running about ensuring all requisite pieces were in place. I noticed that he managed to take precious time to greet everyone that knew him - and there were plenty. Later, he remarked to me that he has enjoyed the best year, ever: business is great, more clients are knocking, and many proposals have been awarded to his firm in spite of their going head to head with “the big boys”. He seemed very surprised by this last detail but it made perfect sense to me. After all, he treats people with respect, volunteers his time for noble causes and functions, and rolls up his sleeves to get the job done correctly. While determined, he is not at all an “aggressive sales guy”. Obviously, he derives much enjoyment from his business pursuits. So while he seemed taken aback by his recent successes, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

We read a lot these days about getting back to basics when dealing with friends, clients and colleagues. Why treat others any differently that we would expect? Certainly, the instantaneous channels of communication we now enjoy can fortify or ruin a reputation in a second. This must not be the motivation behind treating people well or taking on a project, however. Success will come from a combination of hard work and humanistic values, from knowing what it is that you do well and how that will assist others.

Believing - and investing - in the adoption and practice of respectful, collaborative, and humanistic attitudes comes with a price. I know - I’ve paid for it on occasion. That's fine by me. As my colleague proved the other evening, the initial price yields huge dividends.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Accounting 101 - Customer Service

Last week I had a meeting with my accountant. Now, I’m no big ticket client, however there were a few items requiring discussion that would have been almost impossible to clarify via email. Besides, my accountant prefers personal meetings with clients, especially because they occur annually and this gives her a chance to catch up.

After dispensing with the financial stuff, we turned to my career, which is in transition. Our chat was really enjoyable and refreshing, not at all what I had expected. We discussed a previous position of mine (in print advertising), one that I recall fondly. Noting my years of experience in sales and marketing, she wanted my opinion. As a client of a local B2B publication, my accountant was treated poorly. The rep never made an introductory (or follow up) sales call to the office, for example, and all communication was done via email. There was no follow up call when the campaign was over (except by email to ask for a renewed contract!) and, when my accountant called about a mistake, neither the rep nor the sales manager called back. She was ignored by both her ad rep and sales manager who, it would appear, were interested only in ad revenue and not in the providing of excellent client service and value. Understandably, she cancelled all further advertising. While I had no part in the situation, I felt terrible. As a Marketing Director and an Account Manager, I have sat on both sides of the desk and I really can appreciate her frustration. And so I took over as ad rep.

I explained many things to her, including the concept that advertising is not all about an immediate ROI, i.e. a flood of calls that convert overnight into clients (if only it were that easy!); advertising is more about creating a recognizable profile over a period of time. In the case of print media, a regular campaign builds confidence and recognition so that when the time comes to find that new accountant, for example, your prospective client will think about ‘that company’, the one whose ad has appeared weekly/monthly etc. I know: pretty basic stuff. My accountant then remarked that she wished someone had taken the time to explain this to her as she really never considered any of this before. I was astonished! This is basic information to me but critical information to her - information that should have been part of a personal, direct client meeting.

My accountant appreciates the complexities of advertising and marketing better than she realizes: after all, she has an excellent understanding of client relationships. In the middle of tax season, she took time from a very busy schedule to engage in a friendly conversation with me. She will continue to get my business and the future loyalty of any others I know that may require her excellent services. As for the B2B publication that lost her business? Let the ad rep email to her heart's content. She’ll never benefit from the loyalty earned through a personal conversation or meeting.

Sometimes, there really are a few items requiring discussion that are impossible to clarify via email.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Democracy Lessons From Home

Recently, a band in which I play drums entered into one of those disagreements that must never happen via email (apparently, we are deaf to both high frequencies and good advice). Ignited by something minimal, it was in reality caused by things left unspoken and underlying, a refusal to address much larger issues that lay (somewhat) dormant. This may have a familiar ring.

The dynamics of playing in a close-knit musical group are similar to those often experienced in a romantic, two-person relationship. Naturally, there are countless differences as well; however, when dealing with the personalities of 3, 4 or even 23 members (The Polyphonic Spree, anyone), the complexities are often more pronounced. Our brick wall of personal opinion appeared while deciding upon which songs to include on an upcoming record. Three members wanted to vote one song off the record, while one member felt strongly about its inclusion. Put to a vote it was, of course, 3-1. But was this fair? Is voting the only democratic way to solve a difference of opinions?

Relying upon the political (majority) voting model, we assumed a show of hands was the only democratic way to solve our impasse. After some reflection and taking a cue from our respective marriages, we realized that our relationships at home often rely upon consensus to surmount important issues. After all, with two persons holding conflicting views voting is not much use (besides, doghouses aren't particularly comfortable).

So…that was it! No need to be unyielding holdfasts, we only needed to thoughtfully consider all opinions then decide our course. Just like at home. Best of all, this transcends beautifully the concept of ‘winners and losers’ and allowed all other outstanding concerns to be addressed and dispatched. Seems simple enough and yet so many groups, companies and couples never consider this path. What is especially interesting was that the process we found liberating is actually quite familiar to political and social scientists alike: Consensus Decision Making.

Consensus Decision Making, which can only occur within the context of democracy, is unlike a majority rule system (3 against 1 in our band’s case). The resulting process - called Consensus Democracy - will consider a diverse range of opinions in an effort to reach an agreement that satisfies all parties. We had to reach a consensus through dialogue and listen carefully to our collective and individual rationale, i.e. why the song was so essential for one and yet failed to resonate with the rest of us. I believe that this personal sharing of opinion and motivation is impossible via email. The end result was, in actuality, closer to “Discursive Democracy”, as there was more discussion than hard decision making; some trade-offs were essential to balance the divergent opinions. These trade-offs, which satisfied all parties and were formulated within the context of a collective willingness to find a solution, effectively ended our heated debate amicably. The record is due in June.

A note of caution: Please do attempt this at home.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Counterproductivity of 'Yes'

I really like the word yes (and, for the record, the band Yes as well. Let's just say I say 'yes' to Progressive Rock). After all, yes almost always conveys positive affirmation or intentionality. Yes is agreement, an emphatic declaration of success, a 'will-do'. Every so often, however, yes can be detrimental to success.

Recently, I was speaking with Dr. Joshua Bender, an Organizational Development Specialist based in Los Angeles about the intentionality of 'yes'. Dr. Bender pointed out that
in most cases, people like to help and appear committed; many people are just not fond of saying no. But saying yes becomes dangerous and indeed counterproductive to both companies and individuals when too many yes's add up to a point of no return. And that return is the investment your clients and colleagues have in you to get the job done. The one to which you answered, "yes"! The intentionality is terrific and all but always make sure you have the resources, the time and the determination to realize the 'yes' you promised!

And no, 'no' is not the only alternative, although at times it is necessary. When it comes to performing a specific responsibility or the realizing of a specific initiative, frame your yes (or yes's) in realistic terms, ones that you know are achievable without letting your partners down. Set boundaries so that all parties are clear on schedules and objectives. Be collaborative, be helpful, but most of all, be true to your yes. This will ensure your "yes!" will remain music to your colleagues' ears.