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, June 27, 2011

Inheriting the clock

Growing up, I remember my mother waxing sentimental every time a famous person died. Usually, the deceased enjoyed a prolonged period of celebrity that marked my mother's era through music or film, her most beloved art forms. When the news came (most often via the kitchen radio), she'd dreamily say to no one in particular, "Oh...so and so passed away...". Her tone didn't betray sadness as much as it did disappointment; I suspect each death marked the passing of her own days in a way no calendar or watch could. In retrospect, I see now that she was speaking to herself. She was mourning, if even for a brief moment. I never understood the big deal. After all, these people acted in hokey films, played hokey music, wrote hokey dramas, sang hokey songs. Besides, the ending of a long and influential life was an abstract concept for this 10 year old. Back then.

Now, of course, I'm at an age where I read the obits in the weekend paper (I can't help it - blame my mother). Like her, I, too, experience a wistful twinge when I hear about the passing of someone I revered and respected, or at the very least recall from my history. The recent deaths of Ari Up, Poly Styrene, Gil Scott Heron, Elizabeth Taylor, and, most recently, Peter Falk, each caused me to stop and think about time - my clock, if you will - and the seconds or minutes I dedicated to to these artists and how their art influenced me. Ari Up, who in 1976 formed arguably the greatest all-girl punk rock band, The Slits, was only 48 (48? I'm 48!); Poly Styrene, lead singer of seminal English punks, X-Ray Spex, was 53; and Gil Scott Heron was 62. They were more my generation. Still the old stars shone for me, too: while Columbo was my mother's favourite TV show, Falk was for me at his most magnificent in 1987 playing himself in Wim Winders' Wings of Desire. Dame Taylor, whose Taming of the Shrew was standard fare during my high school years, was far and away my mother's favourite.

So, while I may not think about them lately, whenever I hear that so and so passed away I cannot help but recall my mother and that tone of resigned acceptance. I now get it, which means - gasp! - I'm old! More than anything, though, I am grateful for those little gifts left to me by the artists of my era, forever locked in amber. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Bad Day, in Perspective

I only knew of Tim Hetherington from his photography in Vanity Fair and from reviews of his film, 'Restrepo'. As many have learned, Tim and a colleague were killed yesterday in Libya; he had sent a desperate tweet from Misrata decrying a lack of NATO support. One assumes he died shorty thereafter. I simply cannot imagine being in their situation: documenting a civil war in a foreign land, surrounded by bullets, bombs, and bloodshed. At moments like this, I stop to reflect upon my life, my circumstances, and specifically, my concerns.  

My concerns facilitate and/or precipitate all sorts of feelings; after all they are quite real to me. In short, day to day issues impact my life. In the big picture, however, - and by that I mean the collective, scalable, infinite possibility of experiences - the issues that cause me concern are actually quite puny. For example, I do not wake up knowing I'm about to risk my life in dangerous and very threatening situations. Journalists like Tim do. Or, in his case, did. And like Tim, they do it in an effort to provide vivid, meaningful context to circumstances most of us can barely comprehend. 

Responsibilities, finances, relationships, employment, family: without question, these things  along with their attendant concerns are indeed worthy of consideration. Nevertheless, they still require perspective. After all, there are millions upon millions for whom they are unobtainable luxuries; the most desperate often resort to violence in an effort to seize and experience them. Their stories would likely pass unnoticed by those of us watching from more comfortable surroundings if not for people like Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, killed by a rocket propelled grenade attack.

Worth considering when fretting over a bathroom reno, a red light, or a line up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spinach in the Teeth of the Uninitiated

I recently followed a twitter link to an excellent article posted by a deservedly popular communications and PR firm. Critical of an error-laden cover letter submitted by a fresh-faced college student (name and school concealed, of course), the post was an illustrative and cautionary guideline on how not to submit a cover letter. Before ripping into the letter with equal amounts of humour, sarcasm, and counsel, the writer kindly advises the student - hoping, of course, the student reads the article - to 'take our comments to heart'. Pity for the poor soul was asked of the readers; everyone (except, perhaps, Donald Trump) can recall their own embarrassing experiences and baby-step mistakes. For me, this situation resonated strongly given a similar experience a few weeks earlier.

During a recent marketing contract, I was prospected by a nice young woman selling the services of a social shopping network. I was very clear about our present marketing plans (her type of coupon offered little ROI, and was therefore not under consideration), yet I afforded her the opportunity to explain her offer. Afterwards, I said I'd be pleased to review her media kit and would call her if I have any questions. It was clear from her shaky delivery that she was very new. Her greenness and unfamiliarity with the dynamics of prospecting and follow up became clear the next morning when, after reviewing 2 phone messages from her, I also received this email:

Hi Marketing Director, 

It was a pleasure talking to you on the phone today and I hope that I sparked your interest in The Social Media Shopping Network (name changed to protect the innocent). We would really love to have the opportunity to be partners and to work together with you. I strongly believe that The Social Media Shopping Network would be the perfect match for your business. 

As I stated over the phone, The Social Media Shopping Network is the largest Canadian based company in this industry. We really value finding quality businesses to feature on our website that has a subscriber base of over 25,000. We only charge a 30% commission, compared to US companies such as Groupon and Living Social that charge 50%.

As requested, I have attached a PDF that goes over what The Social Media Shopping Network is all about. Let me know if you have any questions. I would love to meet with you if you would like to discuss further.


        Florence (anothename changed to protect the innocent)
        BBA, Faculty of Business Administration
        A Local University

Her contact information indicated she was still a university student, likely working towards her MBA. I could either ignore this generic and terribly unprofessional attempt at relationship building or do something more constructive. Later over lunch, I decided to let her know my thoughts in the hope that it may assist her in her career goals. I knew it was presumptuous - risky, even - but figured 'what the hell'. If someone smiles and has spinach in their teeth, I tell them. It will save them much embarrassment later and it's also good karma. Here was my reply: 

Hello Florence,

Thank you for the email and the media package. It is greatly appreciated.

I received your voice messages this morning. As discussed yesterday, our marketing plans and attendant spend are in place; for the present time, we will not be signing on with The Social Media Shopping Network. I believe I also indicated that after reviewing your material (I have just received it and thus have not yet had an opportunity), I will follow up should I have any questions.

I see you are a student in the Business Faculty at ALU. From all accounts, theirs is an excellent
 program and I wish you much success in your academic achievements.

During my sales career, I have enjoyed many successful years as an Account Manager, Sales Manager, and Director of Sales and Marketing. Notwithstanding my applied experience, I appreciate that I am not an accredited instructor; nevertheless, I wish make a couple of recommendations that may
 assist your professional sales endeavours. Please forgive my presumption and allow me to share these thoughts:

1) Regarding email: My name is Michael and my title is Marketing Manager, not
 Marketing Director. When contacting a prospect, it is 
imperative you get this information correct. It shows you value their time, have done your homework, and are listening. Sales is not simply about targets, numbers, and faceless clients; sales
 professionals must create meaningful relationships based upon customer service 
excellence and respect. It must never be about a quick sale. Otherwise, you may risk being stereotyped as a 'typical sales person'. I know from our discussion this is not your objective; others, however, may not.

2) Never send a formulaic email or letter. Instead, customize your email to the prospective customer, i.e. 'We would really love to have the opportunity to be partner with XYZ Industries'. This indicates you have taken time to 
tailor your communication to your prospect. It will be appreciated, not ignored.

 (Or pinned on the wall of a PR agency!)

3) I am aware of the rates for Groupon and Living Social, having been prospected by them as well. I appreciate that your organization charges less; I would, however, refrain from calling out your competitors by name unless requested by your prospect for comparison. Start by simply identifying your rates "as much more competitive than others in our industry". I have found it beneficial to treat competitors as colleagues, not competition. Who knows? You may work for them someday.

4) And finally, regarding 'Follow Up: Your diligence is commendable. However, we spoke late yesterday, you have
 emailed me, and then left me another message this morning. Follow up is
 critical but please remember to allow your prospects a bit of breathing space. It takes time to review and consider an offer or service. Enquire as to an appropriate time to follow-up. Always place yourself in the
 shoes of the prospect. 

Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts, Florence. Please believe me: I would not have 
taken the time from my schedule today to craft this email if I sincerely did 
not wish to assist you.

Once again, thank you for your email and for your information package.

 I wish you all the best in your career endeavours. 

Kind regards,


Florence emailed me the next day. Was she mad? Hurt? Assail me with gruesome threats? On the contrary. Her reply was sweet and sincere:

Hi Micheal,

Thank you for taking the time and effort to point these things out to me. This is actually my very first job in sales and I haven't really had proper training; therefore this information was very valuable and opened up my eyes to a lot of things. I'm still trying to figure out how to best do my job and how to create meaning partnerships with people. Everything at this point is a learning process to me and I really do appreciate the time you took to help me because I know that it will help me in my future endeavors. I will always keep in mind the things that you have mentioned and I know that your words of wisdom will help me grow into a better salesperson. I wish you all the best Micheal! Hope you have a wonderful weekend :)

Thank you,

She may have misspelled my name but she articulated herself excellently, ending with a perfect smile. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Warm exchange or cold call?

The term "cold call" plays a significant role in its unpopularity. By putting a knife into the idea of coldness, these calls might be better perceived by all players as a respectful introduction to a potential partnership or collaboration. After all, the call is a meaningful first step to a (hopefully) mutually beneficial relationship. Are you, the sales professional, thinking 'cold' when you pick up the phone? I suspect not. 

As a marketing strategist and sales professional, I understand the importance and value of the client, or customer, experience. As we all appreciate, the experience with a particular brand begins at the first point of contact. Therefore, the sales person making the call must be comfortable with this most essential of responsibilities; after all, the company's reputation and that of one's colleagues rests with the caller and the way the services are presented. It must be about the prospective client, not only about the sales executive or their company. Let's be clear: the prospect knows why you are calling, you know why you are calling so why not play on this and make the exchange an opportunity for dialogue instead of discomfort?

Respectfully prospecting a client is never cold; if the caller has done their homework, has taken time to understand the prospect, and learn all they can about the organization, they can turn a potentially uncomfortable call into an engaging moment, one where a mutual understanding of each other's motivations and objectives are clearly understood. That, in my opinion, is anything but cold.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Getting (back) Out There

Finally sitting down to create a blog? Or, perhaps, as in my case today, an installment so overdue it might as well be the first? Whatever the circumstances, congratulations! It is about time we heard from you and shared the unique perceptions of the world you experience. In all likelihood you will soon become aware of a critical lesson: you must keep blogging, keep writing, keep sharing, and keep exercising your creativity. Like any discipline, and disciplined you must be, the more your creativity languishes the harder it is to regain the svelte physique we know as compelling content. 

It can happen: you embrace a new position, possibly one requiring the creation of content for your employer and you end up neglecting your ideas. Perhaps you take on assignments that tax your time. Maybe you have family obligations. Life, as they say, happens. And yet life - the thoughts and observations that happen within a life - is why blogs are written. To neglect an existing blog is unwise on myriad levels: regardless of intentions, it demonstrates a lack of interest in creating and developing ideas. You break that meaningful bond with those that followed you previously, commented on your opinions, or provided you with new material on which to build your ideas. In other words, inspiring dialogue and the attendant exchange of ideas vanishes. It is no secret that the ability to write well comes with practice. Indeed, neglecting to share experiences - the frustrating scenarios and eureka moments alike - stifles creative flow and important feedback from those to whom you were (and wish to remain) connected.

Colleagues, friends, and strangers all share a relationship to you; no matter how deep that connection is, or how long you've have known each other, there is, at some level a reason you have chosen to remain connected. Use your voice to forge a stronger bonds through your opinions and concepts! Don't be overly concerned with being found immediately (SEO etc. - that will come), or that your thoughts are unworthy of sharing, or that it's been too long so why start anew. This is all still pretty new, relatively speaking. And regardless of whether your blog is read by 2 or 2000, the email or tweet saying "I like that" or "perhaps you could have rephrased this better" validates the communication process and the message/ideas you convey. 

I waited over 6 months between posts. I dropped the ball on keeping the concept of regular posts firmly in mind, and feel foolish for my inactivity. After all, I love to write and share my thoughts. This prolonged silence did not keep me from starting up again. In fact, it provided me with inspiration. Lesson learned.