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Lollipop Moment

25 Jan

I was listening to a podcast the other day, TED Radio Hour.  The topic was Disruptive Leadership, but the one talk that stood out for me was a discussion by Drew Dudley entitled “Have You Changed Someone’s Life Without Realizing It?”

In this talk, Mr. Dudley relates a story of how HE changed someone’s life. It is a GREAT story.  A lollipop figures into the story ( you can google ‘lollipop moment’ and get to the same talk).

This got me thinking about my own “lollipop moments”.  In the 6th grade, I was having difficulty seeing the blackboard at school.  My parents took  me to the eye doctor and had me fitted with glasses.  Now, at Bentley School in Manchester, CT, there were only two male teachers.  One of these teachers was my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Ewald.  When I went to school my first day with glasses, he stopped me in the playground, looked down at me and said, “Richard, you look handsome in those glasses”.

Friends, I’ve seen pictures of myself in 6th grade, and let me tell you, I looked DORKY in those glasses….  But to this day, I can see him. towering over me, almost as tall as the basketball pole behind him.  I’ve rarely considered contact lenses, and never thought seriously about laser eye surgery.   Five decades out of 6th grade, I still wear those glasses.

Even in my adult life, I can remember an executive at a company I worked for back in the 80’s telling me “You’d make a great salesperson!”  I followed his advice, though I had always been an engineer, and never felt that sales was for me.

On the giving end of ‘lollipop moments, my daughter, on more than one occasion, has said,  “You know, Dad.  I always remember you telling me ______”  and the ‘fill in the blank’ is something wise and thoughtful that I have no recollection of ever saying to her.

Keep in mind this cuts both ways.  A careless derogatory comment has as long a life as a quick compliment.  So, be nice.  You never know when what you say will be that ‘lollipop moment’ for someone else.

– RTR

 

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The Customer Is What?

15 Aug

Just don’t have ANY TIME for blogging lately.  Too busy, too busy, TOO BUSY!!

So, by way of apology, this blog is commenting on a two-week old blog from Harvard Business Review, with the grabber title “If the Customer is Always Right, You’re in Trouble”.  Being in the Client Support Biz, I had to check it out, because, well, my customers ARE always right, aren’t they?

Turns out, the blog is not about customer service at all, it is about “the death of Solution Selling”.  Well, having spent the better part of 20 years selling (if you can call that better) I not only have had Solution Selling training, but also smatterings of Gitomer, Sandler, and, of course, both learning and teaching Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage.  NOW you’ve got my attention, HBR!

So what is this “death of Solution Selling” all about?  This blog describes, in gory detail, how the tenets of Solution Selling just don’t apply anymore:

“Across the last five years, however, we’ve observed both in our data and our conversations with sales leaders around the world a dramatic drop in the efficacy of this [solution selling] approach. In a survey of several thousand B2B customers conducted by our company, CEB, we found that B2B customers were nearly 60% of the way through a typical purchase before they reached out to a sales rep for input. More often than not, the hard reality is that customers have begun the buying long before suppliers have begun the selling. So by the time a supplier is called in, there’s no need to discover needs at all. By and large, customers (believe they) have figured everything out…

… For most companies, the biggest competitor today isn’t the competition, it’s customers’ ability to learn on their own.”

So, what is the answer?

According to HBR, there are two questions that most suppliers overlook:

“First, where do your customers learn? Is it on the Internet? In online communities? From third parties (and if so, where do those third parties themselves learn)?

Second, do you teach customers something new and important about their business that they cannot learn on their own? Because if your biggest competitor is the customer’s ability to learn, then that’s what you’ll need to do to win.”

So there you have it.  It’s not good enough to ask the right questions and get to the ‘C’ suite.  If you are not a Subject Matter Expert that can, in fact, become a Trusted Advisor and “teach your customer something new and important”, you may as well  just sharpen your pencil, because in the sea of look-alikes, it always comes down to price.

– RTR

It’s What You Do NEXT That Counts …

6 Apr

Bill Lee over at the Harvard Business Review blog presented another angle on the value of customer referrals.  It got me thinking…

The blog is entitled “The Things Customers Can Do Better Than You”.  The title threw me off a bit, but the real meaning behind the blog is that there is no substitute for customer referrals.  This is an opportunity and a challenge to businesses, B2B and B2C.

Bill’s points:

  • Customers know more about each other than you know about them. 
  • Customers are more credible than you are.
  • Customers are more persuasive than you are.
  • Customers often understand buyer needs better than you do.
  • Prospects in your market would rather affiliate with their peers (your customers) than with you.

These are all good points as far as why referral business is important.  However, from the supplier side,  there is a bigger issue at play here…

In the B2C world, I don’t need to even leave my own home to see the effect of existing customers on prospective new customers.  When my wife buys something online, the FIRST thing she does is look at customer comments.  I used to wonder why, but now I always do the same.

I’m in the market for a VCR/DVD recorder to take some old family movies and preserve them.  In the past, I would look for a name brand I recognized and a decent price.  Not any more!  I checked out reviews of several models from reputable electronics companies, and found numerous complaints about product quality.  I am reconsidering buying any VCR/DVD combo.

We belong to Angie’s List.  Through that service, we have been introduced to excellent local painters, landscapers, etc.  Word of mouth has now been automated!

This creates an enormous challenge for suppliers.  I’m not saying you can’t make a mistake, everyone does.  The issue is that each mistake is now in the spotlight.  It’s what you do NEXT that counts.  The key to success is HOW YOU REACT.  What do you do to make it right, and how quickly do you do it?

There is a local tire store in Milford, OH that I use religiously.  Do they have the best price?  They’re competitive, I wouldn’t say best.  Do they advertise heavily? Not like some of their competitors.  So why do I go there?

They screwed up.  About 5-6 years ago, I had a problem with their service and it was clear that they were at least partly to blame.  They had been a little ‘over-zealous’ in tightening the lug nuts on my wheels, so much so, that neither I, nor my two teenaged sons, nor the guy from AAA could remove one of the lug nuts when I had a flat (luckily, at home).

What did they do next?

They stepped up, fixed the problem (which was a costly fix, involving many hours of labor and a new alloy wheel by the time they were done) and they did not charge me a cent.  I had no proof that they over-tightened the lugs.  It had been months since I purchased the tires.  No matter, it was a problem with a product/service I purchased from them and they made it right with no questions asked.

They earned my loyalty.  Since that incident, I have been back to them on several occasions, probably have spent $3,000 – $5,000.  When anyone asks me for a recommendation for a tire store, I happily re-tell this story.

The funny thing is, the shoe (tire?) is on the other foot now.  In my new position, I AM the customer service guy…   In the software  business, an industry not known for being great at customer service.

It’s my organization that is in the spotlight.   Here’s the thing;  I know that we will not be perfect, I know that we will make the occasional mistake…

… but in those cases, it’s what we do NEXT that counts!  That’s where we excel.

– RTR

All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different

22 Mar

Chairman of La Rosa’s Pizza, T. D. Hughes, is fond of saying, “All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different”.  Well, I’m here to tell you as I begin day 4 at Vinimaya, when you talk about small, entrepreneurial software companies, it doesn’t look different either!

Examples:

Next man in:

This phrase is typically heard in a sports context (or military, I suppose).  When someone ‘goes down’, the next man (woman) in picks up the task and runs with it.  No one needs to ask, no one waits for permission.  It just gets done.  With one Client Service Manager stuck in business travel purgatory, another stepped in to solve a pressing customer issue.   The new guy (yours truly)  didn’t have to do anything, in fact, I didn’t even know it happened until after the problem was solved.

We’re overworked AND driven:

In my initial interviews with my team, there were comments that I more or less expected, walking into a role that had been largely vacant for 3-4 months.  People needed to vent, but even through the turmoil and frustration, nothing gets in the way of doing the right thing for the customer.  There is no one RIP here (‘Retired In Place”).

Diplomacy:

There is always a delicate balance between doing what’s right for the customer, and doing the customer’s job for them, especially with a product that is such a key element of the customer’s procurement infrastructure.  The level of diplomacy required is significant.  Seeing this diplomacy at work is great, I’ve seen some examples already that would make Dale Carnegie smile.

Not Enough Time for Quandrant II:

The self help ‘bible’ of the 1990’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks to the value of ‘Quadrant II activities‘, the activities that are important, but not urgent.  The speed and urgency of everything that goes on in the small entrepreneurial software company environment tends to drive quadrant II activities back into the shadows.  I believe my job is to help facilitate a proper balance.

Well, that’s enough for now, nearly a week in and still lovin’ it.

– RTR

What is Networking for? Thought provoking post from the PLM Group on LinkedIn

21 Dec

Thanks to Jennifer Montez, Online Marketing Coordinator at New Grad Life for this one.  Unlike most of my blog ideas, this one sort of came out of  ‘left field’.  The referenced article struck me because of a combination of the holidays, thinking about family, and about my youngest, who will soon enter the job market.  The article’s provocative title:

“Networking means you’re looking to use people to achieve selfish goals, or opportunistically ask people for help.” – True?

That statement pushed me back in my chair.  Is that really what networking is?  Is that what I want my son to be doing as he enters the workforce?

A little introspection.  I like to jokingly say that I’m a ‘recovering engineer’.  When I was 22, I knew that I was really smart, and I wanted everyone else to know it, too.  Deep down, it was insecurity talking.  People that know me would probably not think of me as shy or insecure, but I talk a good game.  Always have.  Happy to give you my opinion.  At great length….

It has been a combination of tireless coaching by my wife, a bit of maturity, Dale Carnegie, and, strangely enough, the internet, that has started to turn me into more of a social being.  If I’m posting, I have time to be thoughtful, to edit, to think about how my comments would be received.  People that I have never met, from all over the world, become friends via shared interests (it’s also harder to interupt someone on the net).

So, what is networking for?  Is it shameless self-promotion?  For some, I’m sure.  For me?  I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an exhilirating feeling when someone responds to a blog, or decides to follow me on Twitter.  It makes my day.  But,  I don’t see it as self promotion, and it is fairly easy to see who’s interested and who’s promoting when I get responses and followers.

The best ‘networker’ I ever met was my mother-in-law, Nora.  I believe you could have parachuted Nora into a foreign country and in 24 hours she would have made a dozen new friends.  Her daughter (my wife, Mary) has the same trait.  When we go to a party, I tend to look for people I know.  We talk.  I run out of things to talk about, and I’m ready to go home.  Mary makes it a point to meet new people and find out about them.  When we drive home, she always has an interesting story about someone she met.  It’s a skill that I wish came naturally to me, but it’s something I have to work at all the time.

So what is the key to successful networking?  Dale Carnegie said it best:

“Become Genuinely Interested In Other People”

… or as the New Grad Life article quoted (also from Carnegie):

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

That is the advice I will share with my son, and the advice for anyone entering the job market.

-RTR