There are things that work and many more that don't. Let's discuss what we've experienced . . . not our opinions . . . but actually what our days and nights as marketers, business leaders, parents, people are teaching us. Please give us a hand. Tell us about your experience with this stuff.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

When Will They Listen?

One of the best quotes of the year for me came from a very innocous source. I was catching up on detective reads when I came upon this piece of dialogue:

"So are you talking from experience?" he asked.
"The only place to talk from." came the response. (my paraphrase)
I thought that summed it up rather well.

Within the world of marketing, so many professionals are known as B.S. artists. And with good reason. Often we think people listen to us for our opinions. However that is incorrect.

People listen to us, if they do listen, for one main reason. They have a need which they believe we have the experience to deal with or address.
Now here's the good bad news: For many of us, our wisdom does come from our experience. And often the punchline is that our experience comes from bad decisions. Funny but true. And frankly this is a strength. We've been there and done that and we can tell the story.

So I encourage you to tell the stories . . .and add how you fixed it, learned from it, found a more effective solution. Whatever you do, tell the experience. People will be impressed by what you've seen and done.
And if you don't have the experience, shut up, you're killing us.

Accept the arithmetic: you are most valuable to others when you can call upon what you've experienced in your profession or life and show a way to win.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Swinging at Pitches in the Dirt

A key part of any baseball player's training centers around developing a discipline while batting. Critical to any batter's long term success is their ability to avoid swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. Swinging without discipline wastes energy, limits resources and worst of all, wastes oppportunities: you can only swing at a limited number of pitches before your bat is up . . .one way or the other.

So how it works with us is that we're in a meeting or talking with a professional in a one-on-one and someone throws out a criticism, sometimes harsh, sometimes in passing, which we feel compelled to address. And a lot of them are actually pitches in the dirt. By that I mean that they don't really matter and they will only have an impact if we address them.
At that moment I have to evaluate how important the criticism is and how to address it. So here's how I evaluate them:
> Is the comment addressing something within our strategy or established plans which support our strategy? If yes, then we'll need to evaluate how to priortize the issues and allocate resources to address it. But that's not the comment I'm concerned with.
>If the answer to the question above is no, the criticism or idea has nothing to do with our strategy or core execution, then we really have an important moment. To put too much time, effort or personal equity into addressing the criticism takes us away from the central job critical to firm success.
Often the biggest challenge is that we take all comments personally or believe wrongly that criticism inherently makes us vulnerable or is threatening. That's just not true. Often times criticism is a natural function of your progress and role. It shows you are doing the right thing. And sometimes we're just the dog they can kick.
More than anything else we've got to get over ourselves and learn that running with the big boys requires us to put ourselves out of the picture and listen with an ear that evaluates comment's relative to their value or threat to strategy and focused execution.
(The only exception I know to this is if values are being violated. Probably another discussion.)
So as you are listening to the criticism or inappropriate idea, remember that its only important if it attacks firm strategy. If it doesn't, often times you can agree with the speaker and thank them for the comment.
Whatever we do, we can't believe that these comments are personal. Most of the time we are not that important and soon they will forget what they said, much less expect any response.
Accept the arithmetic: its often better to let an unfair or irrelevant criticism go by than to waste your energy trying to address something that in the end won't matter at all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

No Patience without a Plan

There seems to be an ever-growing cultural orientation that says that patience is just a waste of time.

We work with, buy from, drive along side of, move among people who seemed determined to either be offensive, incompetent, or determined to make our lives more difficult. And often if we are confrontational and/or demanding, we get a better response. Certainly if we go along, we can get trampled.

Popular culture loves to make movies, stories and music around the person who doesn't take any crap off anyone. Yet we know that is a highly risky behavior since we really don't know the outcome for many of those scenarios.

So is there a way to develop patience in a manner that doesn't require a lobotomy or a problematic drug habit?

I would suggest that for those of us prone to impatience, a key could be the development of reasonable plans and mini-plans. It may sound beaurocratic, but its pretty simple actually.

Instead of expecting everything to go perfectly, we need to keep the end goal in mind and expect some bumps along the way. (geez, I hate listening to myself right now)

This requires broadly defining our time and experience. Plus allowing for people to function within our space in a way that may be different than ourselves (you bastard).

Then we must approach business and life with the confidence that:
1. We can get where we want to go.
2. There is more than one way to get there.
3. There may be delays, detours or challenges that, in fact, could enrich or improve or not affect the outcome at all. And we need to go with them instead of fighting them.

(I'm pretty sure I'll never read my blog again. I'd rather be a crotchety old malcontent.)

Hey, do the best you can. But try to give us a break. We're really not trying to ruin your day or your life. We're just trying to get on with ours.

If you have a plan, let us know where you are trying to go and we'll do the best we can for you.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Who will defy gravity?

I know a guy who was looking to park some of his cash in a safe, conservative place and asked his broker for advice. It being 2007, his broker directed him into a new vehicle called auction rate bonds. The broker explained that the returns were both safe (bonds) and liquid (they were traded regularly and could be considered almost as liquid as cash). The guy trusted the broker, put the money in and walked away.
Two months later the guy opened his second statement (he had ignored the first, since he expected very little return given the conservative nature of the investment) and noticed a return of something over 13%. Shocked, he quickly opened the previous month's statement showing a return over 11%. The guy immediately called his broker and told him to pull all of his money out of the bonds. "Why" asked the broker? The guy told him that 11 – 13% returns were by definition not conservative and so the place they were sitting could not be a safe, conservative investment. It took a number of weeks, but the broker got the guy's money out and a month later the market for action rate securities tanked and people lost their shirts.

I know another guy who was hiring a manager for his organization. It was a low unemployment period and after a longer than expected process, he and his organization decided to look closely at a particular young lady. She was flown to town and interviewed. In preparing for the interview, the guy noticed that at the end of her resume, the candidate had included the information that she had been a swimsuit model. The guy didn't know what to do with that and decided to ignore it (you're skeptical aren't you).
The interview happened, the lady was hired that day and 2 days latter she called to say that unfortunately her husband was moving to another city and she could not take the job.
A few weeks later, the guy got an email from the lady thanking him and offering him a preview read of the first chapter of her new book she was writing. He read it and was surprised to see that it was about a young lady similar to the candidate who was apparently having sexual adventures with powerful men. The guy responded to the lady with a thanks . . . 'interesting chapter . . .good luck'. A couple of days later, the lady sent an email inviting the guy to look her up next time he was in her town because he seemed to be a guy who would enjoy an adventure. The guy went to his boss and asked that the lady's email be blocked and explained why. When the boss exclaimed confusion around what the problem was, the guy further explained that, "The swimsuit model doesn't call . . . period. Ever. That is not a part of any real life dream or option. Anyone operating otherwise is a fool."

These two gentlemen had determined certain risks were not consistent with a responsible management of their business and personal lives. And if you just scratch the surface a bit on these stories, you'll see that our current economic situation and the lives of some of our most famous celebrities are in the crapper because some people think that they are an exception.

I share these stories to encourage you to accept the realities of our life, the arithmetic as it were. Because to not accept them is to invite disaster into your life, your company and into the life of your loved ones.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Win or Lose on Your Own Terms

Please note that I previously submitted this as a guest blog at Eric Fletcher's Marketing Brain Fodder blog ( Eric has taught me the ropes in blogging and in social media, although is not responsible for my lame efforts. See what you think:

As servants of an organization and the leadership of that organization, we often find ourselves within a reactive mode of management and execution. Short periods of that are understandable, but overtime the value we provide is eroded and our personal energy often diminishes dramatically.

So each of us must take a careful look at our own organization and make some decisions and accept some arithemetic. What are its strengths/weaknesses, our own personal capabilities, our role, the organization's expectations and our relationships within the organization? From that information and in order to be professionally authentic, you have to make two decisions:

1. You have to choose what (strategy, targets, relationships, etc) is most important and focus your best self there.

2. With apologies to Gene Krantz, failure is an option in business and usually not a career ender. (In fact, most of us have needed failure to learn great lessons and go on to better things.) There's always a chance things will explode and you will lose. You have to choose on what basis you can be fine with losing. This decision will allow you to focus your energies more efficiently and not act/react like a spineless functionary.

Let me give you some of mine:

1. What is most important:

Growing my firm's Industry Group and Client Team revenue (note: this is separate from our Practice Groups and is consistent with our firm strategy.)
Supporting my team: individually and collectively. I'm responsible for helping them grow professionally and being a success.
Provide ideas, solutions and execution which further our firm's leadership's plan.
We don't do any project, RFP, idea, event, etc without preapproved funding and an attorney champion on each. Even if we think it’s the right thing to do. (My work must be subject to the interest, will and approval of my shareholders. If that's not enough for me, I cease being a servant of the organization.)
2. On what basis am I comfortable losing:

I can't please everyone. So I respond the best I can to the above priorities knowing it won't satisfy some people.
They decide they don't like me or I'm not a good fit. If true, this would be for the best.
I didn't play the politics correctly. I play the politics based on the priorities above. If that doesn't work, we let the chips fall.
Nothing sacred or holy about this list; just a place to stand and operate from. Make yours make sense for who you are and where your organization is.