Silver Lining: Failure Leads to Success

Economic times have been tough for many people for the past 3 years. Everyone has his or her opinions and had to implement their recipes for survival. With the start 2013, things are starting to look up despite the March jobs report. I see people are starting to gain confidence as well as regaining trust, faith and belief in oneself. They are starting to move to a destination again.

Of course, we are not out the swamp yet.  Bad weeks happen; mistakes occur; the regained faith is shaken by unexpected news. The pull back to dark spaces starts creeping in.  Is my life tagged #FAIL?

I had one of those weeks.  Unexpected news put me in bad place; squashed my hope a bit, and made me rethink my future plans.  Additionally, a person I am mentoring had concerns about failing. Try as I might to get them back to the right mind-set, I got the sneaking suspension that fear of failure is creating a tsunami of chaos in their mind.  So I spent the latter part of this week trying to remind myself and my mentoree that we must keep faith and must find the silver lining. We must move forward.

I started digging around in my treasure trove of “leadership flyers” (those pithy one page roadmaps to leadership enlightenment). I came across one that I previously used in mentoring, titled “10 Ways Failure Leads to Success.”  This was not originally my list and, frankly, I don’t have the source information but I will freely give credit if someone claims it.

3 of the 10 items stuck out in my mind as useful for finding a silver lining during these tough times:

    • Turnarounds.  It takes more than one iteration of change to get things right.
    • Scientific Method. Keep trying something until it doesn’t fail anymore.
    • Post Mortems (I like, Debriefs – less morbid). Figure out what went wrong and don’t do that again.

Bottom line? Things don’t go from disaster to perfect in a flash. There will be bumps in the road.  If you don’t keep driving ahead and dealing with bumps, then you will never get where you are going. The trick is to learn where the bumps are and avoid them in the future. The positive aspect of bad weeks is the opportunity to learn and improve.

Besides a week, even a bad week, will always end on weekend!

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Erasing Doubt

One of the biggest challenges for Sales or Business Development is overcoming FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).  In the B2B world, your competitors often plant FUD in the marketing landscape as a landmine for you to step on.  That usually means you are in a defensive position in any presentation or discussion with a potential customer.

When the experts give you the “5 Habits for Engaging Customers” or “10 Presentation Must Do’s,” the underlying need is eliminating barriers to agreement – Erasing Doubt. Erasing Doubts brings you out of the defensive position into the agreement space. Erasing Doubt is presenting yourself as Understanding the issues of the business. Erasing Doubt requires confident answers to questions and concerns.  While this may seem ridiculously obvious, the reality is often far different.

To Erase Doubt, fully understand the information and then present it concisely and consistently.  When the presentation or discussion is with a potential investor, this is crucial to success.

As a part of my volunteer work at a start-up incubator, I have found there are key areas that Erase Doubt with potential investors:

    1. Solid Business Plan w/ an actionable Go-To-Market Strategy (including Sales and Marketing hurdles), Risk Mitigation, Success Factors, and Metrics.  Show you are cognizant of how to get your product or service to paying customers and how to grow revenue.
    2. Realistic market sizing and expectations on market share capture.  Have supportable TAM and SAM assessments.  Give a good frame of reference for potential investors and how you fit in that landscape.
    3. Respect competitors and present believable competitive assessments.  Don’t ignore or undersell competition – no one believes that there is no competition.
    4. Pricing Models that show proper value, costs, and profitability.  Pricing is essential to success and profitability – a solid pricing model goes provides a great transition to the financial growth.
    5. 5 yr. financial statements  – income and cash flow.  Investors want to know how the business will operate and the financial statements give a very good snapshot.

Another benefit to staying current on these items and to be able to answer questions confidently and concisely – it erases doubt in your team or company also.

What Is The GOAL?

This interesting infographic “How Organizations Structure Social Media Teams” came across my inbox today regarding social media within a company. Some statistics really stood out in my mind:

  • 65% of the companies surveyed had social media on top of other marketing activities
  • 82% had 1-3 people working on social media.
  • While the preferred degree was marketing but only 3% of respondents wanted business experience.

Not surprising, only 5% were highly satisfied with the efforts and over half were not satisfied.  Why?  I believe that the goals of the program were not being clearly defined, resourced and measured.  A Business exists to sell a product or service, at a profit, yet in the infographic, 86% measured “Likes,” 74% measured web site visits and only 31% measured sales.  I don’t think I could say WRONG loud enough.

As I have often stated to my clients or anyone who will listen, Social and Digital marketing tools are just that – Tools. You use them to reach a goal. The same way that using a saw is not the goal but getting the piece of wood to the right size so that the wall can be built is.  Also one tool allows other tools (hammer and a square) to be better utilized.

In order to create an effective social media campaign, one must first examine “What are the goals?”  Then determine how to achieve the goals; what tools will work best to achieve the goals, determine how they should interact, and what is the best way to measure success. It is way beyond “should we use FB or Twitter or Instagram?.”  It is also way beyond just collecting followers and likes.  To me there should always be a funnel of opportunities that leads to sales firstly, then a determination of what tools to fill that funnel, then finally judge the success of the tool by the amount of sales it generates.

Anything else just doesn’t make “the rubber meet the road” and leads to dissatisfaction.

Measure Once, Cut Twice – a life lesson

When I was first married, my Father-in-law wanted to make sure that I knew how to maintain and/or rehab a home. He was a wise man because as a General Contractor, he always had my wife growing up in ‘projects.’ He taught me everything he knew and had a pithy statement to remember everything. Including “measure twice and cut once.”

Now I got really good at doing home projects as well as DIY rehabs so I never forgot the adages…until recently. I was invited to join a referral site which I will not name.  I thought this might be a good way to expand my potential customer base so I decided to “give ‘er a go.”

I asked a few questions from the inviter to ensure that it was not a phishing or some other nefarious site.  That checked out. Tick the box.

Build a profile.  Having done this many times, “okay.”  One of the first steps is to build your contacts by importing your LinkedIn contacts.  Hmmm, better ask a few more questions.  I thought I had it figured out so I followed the steps. What I didn’t realize was that I needed to control the import by clicking OFF people before proceeding to the next step.  Right after I hit the next step button, emails starting pouring in.

“What is this?”  “Is it spam?”  Why?  Who?  And of course the ever popular WTF???  Oops.  I had just measured once and now was having to cut twice.  Apology and explanation emails had to be written.  I had to think about the consequences of my actions – did I just blow an opportunity?  Did I just soil myself and my brand.

Now apart from the obvious lesson about be careful with your contacts lists, I also had time to think about how often I am asked to fix a situation that was “fire, ready, aim” or “measure once and cut twice.  It always starts with some impatience or hubris.  It always ends with having to do two or three times as much work as necessary.

Sometimes the best life lessons are ones that someone else had to live through (me).  My life lesson to you: Remember to measure twice and cut once

…and my Father-in-law was a genius!

P.S.  To all my LinkedIn contacts, my sincere apologies for you having to tolerate my mistake.

All of the Above

As I continue to watch in fascinated dismay to the continuing ideological battles in Washington, I keep thinking “All of the above” is a good place to start.  Reasonable ideas are coming from all directions to solve the many issues facing us; however, most everyone tries to position their solution as the ONLY answer for a miracle to happen.  Realistically, it often takes more than one solution to make a difference and the successful mixture is stumbled upon through trial/error.  The same holds true in business/marketing development campaigns.

Campaigns are subject to financial reviews, resource constraints, time limits, and “executive exposure.”  To counter the pressure these influences place on a campaign, I often advise clients to start trying many tools and measure their success against your stated goals.  If one isn’t working, then on to the next thing. Like the football legend, Bubba Smith, used to do: “I would grab the whole backfield, then throw out each one out until I found the one with the ball.”

The critical thinking principles to follow with this approach:

    1. Clearly Define Success.  Know what your goals for the campaign are and how they fit with the revenue/company goals.  Executives like to know this.
    2. Understand the tool’s plusses and minuses.  Each digital tool or technique is suited to a specific purpose and audience.  Make sure that the tools match up with the goals that you are setting for a campaign and the tools match the company.  For example, the networking tool of choice for a retailer may be Facebook whereas LinkedIn would be for a professional services company.
    3. Start fast – End Fast.  For each tool to be used in a campaign, put real effort into using it. Established procedures, keywords, links, schedules and then execute.  Measure frequently and deeply.  If you are meeting expectations and goals, keep on.  If not, lower the effort or eliminate the tool.  Progress without bogging down.
    4. Double Down. Successful tools, the ones that meet or beat expectations, should be expanded.  Bring more company resources into play, have more people involved. Strive to exponentially grow success.
    5. Be Decisive. Commit completely to the project or campaign.  When something is ended, don’t linger – move on. Eliminate distractions.
    6. No Sacred Cows.  Measure everything against success – yes or no to meeting goals.  No pet projects or Science experiments – it is part of the campaign or not. Quantifiable results for executive decisions.

Benefits to an “All of the above” strategy are straightforward.  No stone is left unturned and everything gets a chance. Knowledge is gained on the relationship between company goals, campaigns and the tools used.  Knowledge is gained on interoperability between tools and the usefulness of the interoperability. Quantifiable measurements/results are available for future reference.  And most importantly, company success can be achieved with the right campaign using the correct tools…truly an “all of the above” solution.

Just “CHUCK” it

Now that I have helped sell my parents’ house, have started the process of getting them out of their home and have learned some valuable life lessons, I still need to help them sort out the downsize of space.  What to do with the extra stuff they have accumulated?

They have been contacting antique dealers, booksellers, Goodwill, and a host of other charities to try to deal with clutter.  It has been difficult for them and I give them credit for successfully ridding themselves of the excess. It is harder for me to watch this painfully slow process, as I am a purger rather than a hoarder.

My wife and I have moved 13 times in 21 years of marriage and I’m not even including getting our kids off to school every year. We have moved cross-country 4 times, internationally 3 times, and the rest “locally.”  If you give us a month from giving us the nod, we can pack, move, unpack and be settled in a new place. You might think us crazy but we are quite good at it.

Why are we good at moving?  Catharsis. Author of Transitions, William Bridges, talks about a way to move from the “ending” is to hold a celebratory ending event, such as a wake or a paper purging party.  For my wife and me, Catharsis is backing a dumpster into the driveway. We throw caution to the wind and just “Chuck it!”  We brutally examine everything:

    • When was the last time I used this?  When will I use it again?
    • Is it valuable to me or anyone in the family?
    • Can it be reused, recycled, repurposed?

We have three piles: keep, sell/donate, or CHUCK IT!  You might be able to guess which pile is bigger with a dumpster in the driveway.  Catharsis is the top of the list for the move.

The advantage is we have minimal clutter in our life and are able to care for the things we do keep – mementos from travelling the world, 1000’s of pictures, artifacts and antiques, etc.  The valuable and sentimental are not lost in clutter. Another advantage is when we have to make a change, like moving, we don’t have to linger in the neutral zone.  We get going, get settled and start enjoying the New Beginning.

In business, it is sometimes better to jettison the past and get on with something new.  It is not easy as stakeholders – customers, employees, shareholders, etc. – usually have vested interest in the past.  However, when catharsis can occur with everyone involved, the ensuing growth and excitement is beneficial to all parties.

To motivate forward movement, Cortez burned the boats – we just CHUCK IT!

Embracing change…one bite at a time

In my previous blog “Remember what the customer is looking for”, I successfully got my parent’s house sold by focusing on what the buyer’s wanted and remembered a great business lesson.  But there is another adage in business that one should remember  – be careful for what you wish for.  Selling their house now means they have to move out of the house.  Normally house moving is a stressful time; however, when the move includes downsizing and the realization that it will be your last move, the stresses are exponentially greater.

In his book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, Author William Bridges takes readers step by step through the three stages of any transition: The Ending, The Neutral Zone, and, in time, The New Beginning.  In my parents’ case, the move represents an extremely LARGE neutral zone because they have lived in the house for 25 years. The “Ending” is full of emotionally laden stuff and, as they have a hard time getting rid of stuff to begin with, these anchors significantly slow beginning the transition process into and through the neutral zone.

Hindsight being 20/20, I should have been more proactive about culling junk.  We had a long-standing agreement that they would rid their house of 75 items each year.  Jokingly, they counted a pair of shoes as two items or a stack of old papers as 15-20 items and I laughed with them.  Now because of my enabling behavior, I am faced with being the very bad person who is throwing away their “valuable” junk and trash.  What makes me more culpable is that I was instrumental in getting my grandmother out of her house 22 years ago…I should have seen the signs and been better prepared.

The business or life lesson is simple: embrace change by sometimes acting on it proactively in small steps.  Rather than transitioning through the neutral zone with too much baggage, make the task smaller ahead of time.  Do annual or quarterly assessments on various aspects of your business or life and take action right away.  As an example, my wife and I cull through all our business and personal papers right after we file our taxes.  Any papers or documents that are outside the statute of limitations or usefulness are shredded. It is a bipolar decision – If it has value, it stays; if not Shred; no long-term storage to decide later.  Every year, every document must go through the review and nothing is sacred.  In business, decision process will be more complicated and may require digital reproduction storage but the key is keep things current, fresh, and relevant.  The benefit from regular action is you are prepared to look ahead and be engaged in the process rather than having to backtrack or backfill when a change or transition occurs.  It lowers stress, helps with better decisions, and frankly makes changes easier.  As change is the only constant, don’t avoid it – embrace it! …in small bites.