Trading places

change your lifeEarlier this week, a woman I admire bravely hugged her 14YO son goodbye as he set off on a European adventure. Underneath a healthy dose of momma-trepidation, she’s thrilled for him to have this experience. We’ve had a few conversations about what he’ll gain from it, and I–for the millionth time–thought, We need more international youth exchange programs.

Then this morning, a colleague forwarded an article about the Christian church struggling to come to terms with racism. (You can read it HERE, if you’re interested.) It’s crazy to me how segregated the vast majority of American churches remain, and I thought, We really need a church exchange program.

Somehow that thought took me back nearly twenty years, when I was a young whippersnapper with all the answers at a global company. Every time someone from a non-US location would visit or one of my American colleagues would grouse about someone from “over there” just not getting it, I’d think, We really need a business exchange program. In fact, I even tried to float it by HR a couple of times.

Then I remembered that a couple of months ago, while I visited the parent company of my current employer, I was confronted by the diversity of the different lines of business housed in each of our subsidiaries. I found myself surprised at how uninformed our parent was about what we do, and vice versa. Again I thought, We really need a company exchange program.

It seems to have become second nature for me to think of a culture swap any time communication or behavioral hurdles arise, and I thank my experience with youth exchange for that. You see, immersing oneself in a different culture–whether it be geographical, religious, commercial, racial, or pretty much anything else–allows you to get a little bit closer to understanding the why in someone else’s actions. It also breaks relationships into individual encounters, rather than sweeping judgments about a broader group. It not only shapes the person going on the exchange, but also the people receiving her on the other end.

If I had to pick a metaphor to describe the effects of exchange, it would look something like this video that went viral yesterday (PLEASE watch it):

https://www.nbcnews.com/widget/video-embed/1254293059903

As the winning pitcher consoles the friend he just struck out, I’m internally screaming YES! YES! YES! We CAN be friends with someone on a different team.

So get out there and explore someone else’s world. Get to know your neighbors, near and far. Spend time with people who don’t look/think/eat/believe like you. They might be across the ocean or across the street. We don’t always have to agree, but we’ll all be better for it.

P.S. Thanks, Amy, for giving your son this incredible gift.

P.P.S. Here’s a link to another article, shared recently by a friend. Kumbaya, everyone.

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Pain points

IMG_5806There’s a new kind of salesmanship in town, and I think I like it. When I can find it, that is.

Not long ago, I received an assignment to write about a new company that offers sales training. Pretty standard stuff, I thought, so I scheduled the interview and went on about business.

My discussion with the owner was interesting. I won’t go into the full spiel, but the crux of the philosophy is to find the customer’s pain points and solve those problems. If your product/service doesn’t intersect, be honest about it. Don’t sell, solve problems. Don’t conduct the conversation to your benefit; conduct it to his benefit.

What this boils down to is that the salesperson has to get to know his customer. For the most part, that requires ingenuity and intuitiveness–that is, asking the right questions and making the right connections.

I thought all of this was fairly intuitive, but apparently not. You see, I bought a new car this weekend. I hadn’t exactly planned to do it, but I wouldn’t consider it a whim, either. I did a little homework to prepare myself and set off to my dealership of choice.

To be fair to the sales guy, he seemed to listen to me and did everything I asked. When I told him my parameters, he didn’t try to push me in a different direction. He just kept trying to find a solution that fit.

Unfortunately, his manager wasn’t of the same mind. (Why anyone still follows that high pressure, old-school process of hand-off/hand-up is beyond me, but that’s another blog post.) Although the manager had spent precisely ZERO time with me and couldn’t have understood my personality or motivation, he jumped into the conversation and took off, leaving me behind. He started throwing payment scenarios at me and wouldn’t shut up long enough to see what I, the CUSTOMER, was after. The resulting conversation was stilted and mutated, far from the equal exchange it should have been.

After all, he didn’t understand my pain, my motivators.

I wanted a new car, but I didn’t NEED one.

There’s a new driver in my household.

I have a dog whose coat doesn’t match the interior of the car I was considering.

I didn’t have a trade-in because I wanted to keep the old car, too.

I haven’t had a car payment in four years.

I want to be treated like an intelligent human being.

The numbers were important to me, but I needed to verify them for myself. This is a big purchase; I’m not going to take someone else’s word for rates, surcharges, etc.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t even catch my name.

This guy just swooped in, gave most of his attention to my dad, who was merely there as my ride so he could take my other car home if I decided to drive one off the lot. He wanted me to make a decision from estimated calculations, not actual fully disclosed worksheets. He didn’t have a clue as to why I wanted a new car or the factors that influenced my decision. In fact, he still doesn’t.

He never gave any indication that he cared about me or whatever issue I was trying to solve. And he didn’t know when to shut up.

In spite of that sales manager, I bought the car. The salesman and the finance guy–and the service department that has done right by me for years–tipped the balance. But if my decision had hinged solely upon the sales manager, I would have saved myself four hours (and a bunch of money), gone home, and sent the guy a link to that sales trainer.

In fact, I just might send that link anyway.

Coffee klatsch

creamerDoggone it. Why do my local grocery stores only carry plain-Jane flavors of coffee creamer? Vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, and a few seasonal concoctions are all that grace our shelves. I know from traveling and a few relevant trade shows that there are dozens of flavors we never see–flavors that appeal to me a whole lot more.

So here’s the dilemma. A store might say it is catering to the preferences of its clientele. Customers buy a lot of French vanilla, so they stock French vanilla. But how do customers (or the store) know whether they like cinnamon creme if they don’t even know it exists?

We limit ourselves by serving only current needs and desires. We look at what’s around us rather than looking ahead at what could be. Although we think we are meeting demand today, we’re actually limiting it in the long run. There’s a big difference between serving demand and creating it.

Forget coffee creamer. The point is that we have to think ahead. Where can we go? What can we accomplish? What new solutions can we offer? What can we do that no one has ever thought of? We move forward by looking beyond our current situation and reaching for more.

And lest you think my capitalistic heart has taken over, I’m talking about new ideas, not necessarily new products. Reach for the stars, friends. You might just find a planet.

Week one

You can probably tell that I’ve been busy. I’ve spent the past few weeks preparing my officefor a job change, making the job change, and trying to wrap my head around it all. New extracurricular activities have filled my time outside the office, and my head is spinning. But I love it.

I figure it’s a good time to step back and take stock of what I’ve learned, to let some of my first week observations coalesce into useful tidbits for moving forward. Here goes.

  1. There’s no such thing as too much communication. Just when I thought I had found something I’m good at, I find people who do it better. A lot better. Inside and outside the office, my life is suddenly full of terrific communicators. The more you talk, the more you share ideas, thoughts, and most of all expectations, the better your interactions–and the more you can get done, faster. And there’s always room for improvement–I’m a living, breathing example.
  2. Every minute is valuable. Time management, time management, time management. I thought I was busy, but I didn’t realize how much slack I had in my life until I started watching a great bunch of people get things done. They don’t block hours and days out of their calendars; they wedge things into minutes.
  3. Meetings suck. Over the course of my career, I’ve been in meetings, meetings about those meetings, pre-meeting meetings, and meetings to discuss whether having a meeting is necessary. We’d get a lot of smart people in a room to decide…to have another meeting. What we really should have been deciding is what to get done and how to do it–and then stop meeting so we could make it happen.
  4. Less process, more results. I love processes and standards that bring clarity and repeatability. I hate process that exists for its own sake. Sometimes, you just have to get things done.
  5. You can still have fun while you work hard. Yes, at the same time! This new gig just might feature the hardest working group of colleagues I’ve ever encountered, but it’s also the coolest, most fun working environment I’ve ever encountered. What was that? A smile? Woo hoo!
  6. Jump in with both feet. You’ll have a richer experience, no matter what you do. If you don’t like it you can always do something else. In my case, whether it’s OLG or BWW, I’m all in. This is pretty awesome.

What have you learned lately?

Vanity plate

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 8.15.38 AMCrossing the street to head into the office this morning, I waited for a car to pass. Although I didn’t recognize the car, I noticed that it sported a company logo’ed license plate on the front. When it got closer, I recognized the driver, waved, and continued across the street.

That got me thinking.

The person driving the car is relatively new to the company. He’s a good guy, and I’m glad he’s proudly waving our proverbial flag. I thought about how many people we’ve hired over the last several years and how each person changes the face of our company a little bit. After all, our brand is the sum of all the people (and their actions) behind it. I wonder if we’re thinking about that each time we have a position to fill.

I’ve got two open slots right now, and to do my job right, I not only need to think about the functions those people need to perform, but also about how those people will represent our brand. Whether they ever talk to a customer, their words and deeds have a part in shaping our company. They’ll affect coworkers, vendors, and even the community.

Think about it in terms of that car. What if the company license plate had been on an old beater, belching exhaust and dripping oil? Would it have made a difference if that guy had been blaring Megadeth or Jimmy Buffett or the Grateful Dead on the stereo? What would people have thought if they had seen the car run a red light and swerve around a pair of schoolchildren? What if it crawled down the street twenty miles under the speed limit at all times?

When I hire someone, I’m essentially hanging my logo on that person for better or for worse, just like that license plate. I need to put as much time into finding someone who will wear it well as I put into evaluating her functional skills. Every graphic designer, web developer, accountant, engineer, marketer, and technician is an investment in the company’s future.

Back in the day, we used “world class” as our deciding characteristic when it came to bringing people on board. Today more than ever, I understand why.

Love your inbox

unsubscribeI love email. I love its flexibility, its instant gratification, its geographic indifference. I love that it doesn’t hold a grudge against me for writing only a single sentence the same way a physical piece of paper accuses me with its very blankness. Fill me! screams the paper, regardless of whether I have anything meaningful left to say. I love the way email lends itself to conversations rather than reports and updates. I love the speed and agility it gives me to get things done.

And I hate it. I hate the barrage of unsolicited messages that assaults my inbox every day, every hour. I hate sifting through the junk to find the one important message I need to answer RIGHT NOW. I hate the way people or companies I don’t know invade my space when whatever they’re trying to sell has no relevance to my daily routine. Make. It. Stop.

Wait.

I can make it stop, or most of it anyway. Companies aren’t allowed to keep people on their email lists who don’t want to be there. It’s against the law. Violations can carry hefty fines, so the legit businesses are good about following the rules. They have to provide a way to unsubscribe in every one of those commercial emails they send.

That means that I have the power to stop them. Then why, oh why, have I let this keep happening? Even after reading a post from a fellow blogger about clearing her electronic clutter, I still didn’t take action for weeks. Quite simply, it was easier to simply hit delete every time I received an unwanted email than to open it, scroll to the bottom, and click unsubscribe. Well, easier in the moment, but not in the long run.

For the last few days, I’ve been on a campaign to rationalize my inbox. Although there may be some perverted sense of self-importance to being able to say (with a sigh), Ugh, I had to sift through over 200 emails today, it’s not worth the time wasted on the junk. Besides that, everyone knows that 85% of those 200 emails are junk anyway.

Even though it takes a (tiny) bit more time to do the unsubscribe dance, let me tell you, it’s worth it. Several dozen (a hundred?) unsubscribes later, I find myself less distracted by junk and better able to focus on the stuff that matters. I can go back to loving email. Has it really been that simple all along?

The power is yours; use it wisely. *She said with a wink.*

The secret to cold calling

phone-for-cold-callI got another cold call yesterday, one of the dozens I take every week at work. If I spent the requested amount of time with each caller–Can I take ten minutes of your time? When can we set up a half hour conference call? I’d like to have a fifteen minute chat to assess your needs–I’d never get anything done. Besides that, if it’s not in the budget, I can’t spend it. If I’ve never heard of it, I’m pretty sure I didn’t put it in the budget. The result? I’ve perfected an extensive repertoire of ways to say No, thank you, firmly and politely.

Once in a while I will actually listen to someone’s pitch. The rules are thus:

  1. I’m actually in the market for the product or service. (Slim chance, but it happens occasionally.)
  2. The product or service is on my radar as a “might need later” and I want to do some homework. (Totally at my discretion; the caller has no control over what bounces around in my head.)
  3. The caller has taken some time to understand our business BEFORE he calls. (The name of my company can be misleading. A 2-1/2 second visit to our website will eliminate all confusion about what we do.) This isn’t always a guarantee that I’ll listen, but getting it wrong is a guarantee that I won’t.
  4. Having the particular caller/caller’s company as a contact might benefit me in the future–or ticking him off might burn a bridge.
  5. You’ve already done me a favor somehow.
  6. I have some time to kill. (Fat chance–just making sure you’re paying attention.)

Cold callers have no control over items 2 and 6, but items 1, 3, 4, and 5 offer a sliver of hope. The secret is doing the homework. Calling me from a database list will never work; I’ll be able to tell right away. It honestly ticks me off when someone assumes I work for a power company just because the word “electric” is in its name.

However, if the caller has taken the time to find out what I do, what my company does, and hone in on the areas where there’s either a glaring need or a strategic fit (which may not even be today but could materialize in the longer term), then maybe–just maybe–we have a place to start.

But, dear cold callers, you have to work fast. You only have SECONDS to get my attention when I answer the phone. That’s why doing your homework is so important. I’m not going to give you my time to figure it out; you have to use your own. If you have to do it, the calling should only be cold for one of us. I’ll give you a hint: you should already be warmed up.

P.S. Don’t ask how I’m doing today when I don’t even know who you are.