Stop Trying to Close and Do This Instead

If the first sentence of this article saw me immediately trying to sell my app/product/service, the vast majority of readers would close this page, and rightfully leave with a bad taste in their mouths. Yet every day, entrepreneurs around the world try to sell, pitch and promote their business right out the gate, all in the name of “hustle.” – They want to be the person that hustles 24/7. But, does anyone really like ‘that guy’? Would you introduce him to your friend? In general, no. Which begs the question – why do so many entrepreneurs behave this way in business?

Before exploring this in more detail, take two minutes to watch this video by legendary business person Gary Vaynerchuck — this is what it looks like in real life. If you can identify this action in your behavior towards customers, prospects, journalists or investors, take a step back and ask yourself why this is your tactic for success. Those who believe they don’t behave this way and yet still have an auto-DM set up on Twitter should consider that though the tools are different, behaving differently online from offline still leads companies and individuals to act like the guy in the video. Don’t be “that guy.”

Israel’s top tech and marketing guru Hillel Fuld puts this beautifully in his blog:

“1. Would I respond to this message if I was on the receiving end?

2. Would I behave this way offline?

If the answer to either one of those questions is ‘No’, then do what you gotta do to make the answer yes.”

Good sales and marketing practice comes from one single underlying root — deploying empathy wherever possible. Though this emotion is very difficult to quantify with data points, it is fundamental for people working in sales and marketing to understand and internalize before every interaction. To start off by thinking, “How can I add value to this person?” rather than “How can I sell to this person?” is a shift in mindset, but one that will always pay off. This value may not (and probably isn’t) an instant sale of your product, and may even be the recommendation of a competitor — but the individual will remember the value for decades to come, long after the product or service is rendered obsolete. It is this shift in thinking to macro-marketing and away from target-driven objective marketing that has created some of the biggest companies in the world today.

Before starting to work at an Apple Store, employees are trained to make sure that they only sell to a customer that will get what they want from the product. If you were to go in and ask for a phone that absolutely must be red, they won’t try to sell you a rose gold iPhone 7, because that isn’t what you want. The thought process is as relevant to small businesses as it is for billion-dollar companies. Offer what the customer in front of you wants — regardless of demographic slicing, platform or situation — and the long-term benefit will pay out in spades.

This adjustment in mindset may be extreme for some, but when we consider the awesome power consumers now have via the reach of social media, and the swing of attention away from conventional advertising and towards influencers and peer let decision making, the customer is satisfaction sacrosanct before, during and after every interaction. Play the long game, be patient and succeed.

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This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on 10th March 2017.

Removing the ‘Us and Them’​ Mentality

If you have never read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, I can’t blame you. It is long, it is complex, and to most – it is not interesting. That being said, many of the principals it lays out govern a tremendous about of our lives – one, in particular, stands out to me as since I have started working as a marketing consultant. The Division of Labor explains that to get the most effective outputs from a group, individuals should specialize in one task. Smith uses a pin factory as an example – he broke down 18 tasks that go into making a pin, suggesting that if each worker had to do every one of the tasks, they would produce drastically less than if the team were to work together with individuals specializing in individual tasks.

We see this applied everywhere. Fast food restaurants split up the process of making a burger to deliver the food quicker, marketing teams divide responsibilities such as Social, SEO and direct marketing, an orchestra is made up of radically different instruments and football teams are made up of players with specific roles.

This process of breaking up complicated tasks into specializations, if left unchecked, can morph into a huge disadvantage. When these groups grow, it is easy for them to become isolated, leading them to evolve from the once useful specializations into silos, which can lead to huge pitfalls without proper care and attention.

When working within siloed teams, it becomes all too easy for the objectives of the individual to cloud that of the organization – a tunnel vision where teams prioritize their successes (consciously or not) above that of the wider company. Dale Carnegie’s principal of “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise”, that he spells out in his masterpiece “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has led to managers adopting this technique and lavishing praise, often publicly. This can exacerbate an ‘us and them’ mentality unless properly monitored, especially if any financial benefit accompanies the praise. Silos particularly suffer when there is a lack of clarity in company mission – that especially affects companies that have experienced fast growth and are still grappling with defining and solidifying a mission statement. The internal confusion that can be caused while the company changes prioritize and shifts direction can compound the feeling of distance between teams and leads to a sense of reflective superiority, where one group feels that they are the only ones driving the organization towards their goal.

Organizations can avoid these pitfalls by utilizing the same techniques as football teams, orchestras, and armies, however few do. A single captain, conductor, or commander – one who views every different group, individual and specialist – knows their roles, responsibilities, and objectives and has a wider view of the organization’s mission can fine tune the behavior and activities of the silos to all pull together. This unifier does not need to be an expert in every field, a basic understanding will do, what is core is the knowledge of how to bring together disparate teams and recognize the sensitivities and needs of each of the groups.

This Unifier should be the bridge that ties the various teams together, facilitating dialogue between individuals and cross-checking reports to stakeholders. Without this role – silos will become more ingrained and eventually, outputs will suffer. This is becoming ever more important as remote workers are increasing in prevalence, and larger companies are expanding internationally. Fluid communication and strong leadership become increasingly challenging as physical distance grows.

Within my field (marketing), skills are becoming increasingly divided – social, advertising, direct, PR, digital, data analytics, sales, SEO, branding, and messaging, the list goes on – without someone to integrate all the departments, and align efforts with the overall company mission, the disconnect is felt internally and by the client. Where the unifier is present, the resulting whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

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Let me know in the comments below how this is in your organizations, and any innovative ways you have found to combat the challenges brought about by siloed teams.

4 Steps to Getting the Most Out of Consultants

There are many benefits to hiring an external consultant across almost any vertical — be it salesmarketing, programming or business strategy, bringing in specialists can be an important step in overcoming obstacles and achieving new heights. By hiring externally, companies can instantly gain specific skills for certain projects, get an outsider’s perspective without emotional investment to the business and augment their team to give them more resources for time-dependent tasks.

Firstly, it is important to understand what consultants are, what they do and how they do it. Think of them as an expert in their field, usually focusing on a narrow set of specialties that they excel in deploying across a wide variety of verticals. A (great) marketing consultant will be able to apply their skills to implement their solutions, regardless of the industry or challenges faced by their client, whereas a (great) sales consultant will be able to look at a target market and the product in question, and map a successful sales plan.

The challenge for business owners is ensuring that they are utilizing this resource to the fullest and not doing anything that will impede their success. There are four key factors to consider before investing in an external consultant.

1. Share the skeletons in the closet.

For consultants to fully understand the lay of the land, they must have full visibility of the entire company — the good and bad, financial issues, internal grievances and everything in between. It is too common for businesses to try to hide these negative aspects from all external partners, but this knowledge will help your consultants understand the landscape in which they are operating in fully — something critical for them to be successful.

2. Establish KPIs.

Both parties should know what results are being evaluated — nothing should be taken for granted. This discussion should be had before a plan of action is created and in advance of any contracts being signed. Without a joint understanding of the metric used to measure success, one party may be under the impression that a project is going well, while the other is woefully disappointed.

3. Organize the breakup.

It is a good idea to discuss the parting of ways at the beginning. This process can be brought forwards, or delayed whenever needed, however, both the consultant and the company should be aware of what is expected of them when they part ways, from what information is confidential to the amount of information or collateral shared afterwards. By having this agreement at the beginning of the relationship, bad breakups can be avoided.

4. Explore challenges rather than setting objectives.

Possibly the most important factor of the four. Consultants are specialists who by nature will seek the best solution to the challenge laid out in front of them. By outlining the challenges faced by the company, the consultant can explore the causes and the best solutions — thereby setting objectives alongside the stakeholders. In the field of marketing, this could be a business hiring a consultant to boost SEO, rather than exploring the challenge of driving more traffic to the website or taking a step back further to attract more leads. By giving consultants the ability to fully deploy their skills against a challenge, instead of assuming a solution and finding someone to deploy it, creative solutions can be found and companies can get a new viewpoint on the obstacles they are facing.

Finding the perfect person to gel with your needs is not easy, but the right consultant can bring incalculable value to your business, provided they are utilized to the fullest. These four fundamentals will help you ensure you get the very best from any specialist you hire.

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I’d love to hear anyone else’s tips on getting the most out of consultants – let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Originally published on Entrepreneur.com on 27th February 2017

The Single Most Poisonous Factor in the Workplace Today

The most important commodity at any work environment is the people.  Without a motivated, well trained and talented team behind it, even the best technology will falter and fail.  Companies such as Google, Facebook and Netflix have pushed the boundaries on working conditions to attract new employees, with impressive catering, unlimited holidays and funky office space, a trend many smaller companies are trying to replicate.  Unfortunately however, just by looking at company review websites such as Glassdoor.com, it is evident that companies of all sizes are falling into the same pitfall, one proving to be poisonous to a company’s workforce, culture and eventually, their bottom line.

The meritocracy – being promoted on one’s deeds, rather than the length of time an employee has remained at the company – is used by companies to show fairness and encourage each member of staff to give their all rather than sitting back and waiting for advancements to come to them.  Without a doubt, a meritocracy is better than the aforementioned alternative of time-based promotions, but company executives should be thinking of the type of promotion, rather than the method.

Entry level positions become executives, executives become managers, and managers become directors – this is the status quo, and it is a poison slowly killing companies, large and small, in all sectors. Mastering one’s craft must be key to a person’s growth at a company, but the reward should not necessarily be promotion out of that specific skill-set, and especially not to team management.   A master programmer should not be elevated to a position where they are no longer programming, but managing others – likewise a master copywriter should not start leading a team at the opportunity cost of writing themselves.  Skills must be passed on to new blood, and mentorship programs, peer training, and good, solid teamwork are all constructive mediums to do so, however elevating someone to the position of manager without proper training, experience and the right personality is toxic to a team.

If employees are the lifeblood of an organization, the managers are surely its heart – they are responsible for getting the right person to the right place at the right time.  Almost every process in an employee’s lifecycle in a company is depended on their manager, from onboarding to setting goals, achieving targets to reviews, promotions to dismissals – the management is central.  Management skills are not something that can be ‘picked up on the job’ and though leadership and management are two skills that can be learned, though it is very difficult to teach.  It is an ongoing process rather than a lightbulb moment, and one which the best and brightest say is a skill to be honed and refined every day.

Thought leaders in the field of leadership and management have produced excellent resources for developing one’s skills, such as Simon Sinek (check out his YouTube video Why Leaders Eat Last – also his book of the same title), Andrew Gove’s glorious “High Output Management”, Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” and of course, Dale Carnegie’s masterpiece “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.  Reading and absorbing resources such as these can go a long way to opening a person’s thinking to be more ‘managerial’, but it must be practiced over time.

Glassdoor shows that one of the most common complaints from employees is bad managers.  People get over lower pay, fewer office comforts and even longer working hours, but as Victor Lipman puts it, “People Leave Managers, Not Companies”.  A trend that starts a downward spiral that is difficult to break out of.  One of the biggest struggles for most companies is hiring the best talent, this in-turn helps create the best product or service, which attracts the best or more clients, turning over higher income for the company.  When top talent starts to leave, the product suffers as does the customer experience, leading to falling income, this then causes companies to squeeze out some of the staff benefits, causing more staff to leave, and so on.

Big data analytics company Palantir have been experiencing exactly this problem – originally seen as the place to be, it has been receiving lots of bad press and has experienced staff turnover of around 20% in 2016, twice as much as the last three years.   According to an article in BuzzFeed, this spike happened at the same time as three major clients have seemingly left – Coca-Cola, American Express, and Nasdaq.  Seemingly to stem the exodus of staff the company raised salaries 20% for employees who had been there for over 18 months – but as mentioned earlier, pay isn’t everything.  Recent reviews on company evaluation sites have commented that managers just don’t possess the right skills for the job.

Employees want this promotion to management predominantly because they don’t understand it, and because companies have yet to work out how to promote to maintain top talent, without changing the role to management.  Employees often see managing others as a badge of pride, not realizing the immense responsibility that comes along with it – managers work harder, have higher pressure and often get less recognition than staff not holding these management roles.

Marketing agencies use a model for their creative teams where salaries are increased, as is flexibility, autonomy and prominence in the company, all as methods for keeping staff happy and loyal.  Granted, teams usually operate as silos, separate from other similar teams, however, this model could work for other organizations.  With the proper company culture, managers can be “in charge of” people more experienced than them, getting higher quality work done at faster paces, providing that the goal of everyone at the company is pulling towards the same goal.

Until companies can adequately compensate well-performing staff, promote the right candidates with the proper training to management positions and create a culture that supports a clear objective rather than the politics of self-promotion, this poison will continue to spread throughout businesses around the world.

NOTE: I have been fortunate enough to work with some phenomenal managers in the past – people who have been truly formative in building me into the person I am today, investing time and energy into instilling company values, good work practice, and continued professional development. This article is by no means, a comment on my own experience, but rather my take on what I see as an issue with the industry standard today.

Feel free to add me on Twitter or follow me on Medium.

4 Critical Tips to Targeting Millennials (Hint: You’re Already Doing It Wrong)

It is no secret that the ‘Millennial’ market is one of the most coveted demographics in the market today.  They are arguably the largest consumer force, with some of the highest combined spending potential and have the widest span of influence compared to any others.  Why then are many companies finding it so difficult to appeal to this critical group?

Firstly, if you didn’t cringe throughout that first paragraph, you’ve already started down the wrong path.  When targeting any group, the golden rule is to speak in their language.  How many people born from the 1980s to the early 2000s (using the widest understanding of the term), describe themselves as a ‘millennial’? I’d be hard pushed to find one.  If you are using this terminology anywhere in your organisation, stop – immediately.  A shift in mindset is critical, the easiest way to build good channels of communication is to start acting and thinking as your target audience does.  This diverse group can be split into hundreds of subsets, find the one which best reflects your group and change your terminology accordingly.

Converse, Don’t Preach

It is important to remember that this diverse group have a few common values; a general resentment of being dictated to, paired with an attraction to mutual conversation is paramount.  As such, conversations must be two-way, this generation lives and breathes social media, and most brands understand the importance of having a presence in the space, but the importance of the conversation is often lost.  When you open a channel of conversation (like Twitter), thinking of it as a method of delivering content is a dangerous pitfall.  If you are fortunate enough to have consumers engage by sending messages or commenting, a lack of response equates to ignoring customers when they are talking directly to you.  It would be unheard of to do that to a 40-year-old standing in a company’s store or office, even if they are complaining, yet so many organisations end up do it to 20-year-old sending a Tweet.  It means the same to them and can be the difference between a lifelong customer and one that badmouths a brand at every opportunity.  Gary Vaynerchuk puts this balance between conversation and conversion beautifully in his book ‘Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook’, in my mind, one of the best books regarding communications, especially over social media.

Be Honest, Always

Yes, always.  More than functionality, reliability or even price, honesty is prized as the most important factor in brand loyalty.  All actions of a company must be honest, genuine and authentic – if a company lies, this tech-savvy group will eviscerate a corporation.  They communicate faster than any generation in history and know the ins and outs of social media better than any organisation can ever hope to.  If there are skeletons in an organisation’s closet, they will find and expose them – the best strategy, if a company is found out to have done something wrong is to apologise quickly, genuinely and move on.  Denying things, ignoring allegations and trying to brush anything under the carpet will only end up exacerbating the situation.

Add value

Many brands try to approach a new market segment as it will open up new streams of revenue for the company, ensure continued profitability and help with the bottom line.  These may be good reasons for the company itself, but is a lousy reason for the customers they are targeting.  To properly approach this market, it is core to understand and explain the value you are adding to your customer’s lives.  This extends beyond the product or service itself, and into every piece of content you distribute through social media or other channels.  Consistently adding value requires a huge amount of self-awareness – it is critical to know why you are targeting your audience, and why you do everything you do.  ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek should be essential reading for all companies attempting to influence their audience, and is especially relevant to younger audiences.

Be Consistent

Marketing can no longer be siloed to deliberate outward-facing content but needs to be ingrained within every iota of company contact.  Everything from corporate social responsibility to the interview process will have an effect on the way in which a company is perceived by its audience.  This age demographic will apply to more jobs than any generation in history, prioritising applications to their favourite brands and companies.  Their experiences from applications, interview, rejections and working conditions will affect how they perceive the organisation.  The internet age has guaranteed that nothing remains private for long, from political donations or affiliations to bad management practices or internal scandals.  Any inconsistency between how a company acts in private and its public persona will be uncovered, and the fallout can lead to ruin.

There are a whole host of other books that cover a nuanced approach to marketing to this generation, I wholely recommend Marketing to Millennials by Jeff Fromm, but by; conversing with your market, remaining honest, constantly adding value and remaining consistent internally and externally, you will have avoided four fatal yet basic pitfalls in opening this difficult to approach, but critical market.  Oh, and stop calling us millennials, you sound silly.

4 Key Processes to Motivate Your Team

A well-motivated workforce is like a well-oiled machine – necessary or else it will tear itself apart.  Though linked, motivating and incentivising are very different, and though both useful tools, they should not be confused and used interchangeably.  An incentive will only yield results when everything is going right, the moment the incentive is removed, the behavior will return to normal.  As an example, by paying someone more money in return for working longer hours, you are giving them an incentive, but take away the bonus money, and the behavior will return, often with a sense of entitlement, and resentment if the same framework is not provided in the future.  Correct motivation will make the employee happy to work longer hours, often without the need for additional remuneration and without expectation for future incentives.  In short, it is a long-term imperative for a company to work out how to motivate its staff for consistent and sustainable positive results.  So how do we motivate?

The first thing that must be understood is that motivation is an art, rather than a science.  There is no magic formula that can be waved over an employee or team that will magically transform them into motivated, driven and hard working superstars.  Rather a motivation strategy must be curated, like a fine dining experience, with each interaction complimenting the last, building to a crescendo and leaving a profound and sustaining impression.  It, unlike incentives, cannot be turned on and off like a faucet – but has to flow constantly, building cumulatively and being ever present.

So with that in mind, how should a company, and indeed a manager go about creating such a process?

As with all things, a good motivational culture is simple to implement but challenging to master.  I have included below a few easy to start, highly motivational processes that can fit into almost any workplace environment.

Purpose

An employee who doesn’t know the why behind why they wake up in the morning and come to work will have a hard time being motivated when the going gets tough.  Where people know the impact of their work on the wider company, as well as the goals of an organization, the task at hand become part of something larger and as such, they become part of a community, all pulling towards the same objective.  I can’t recommend highly enough that people read Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’, it is a true guidebook to inspiring others through asking a few simple questions.

SMART objective

Create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) goals for each employee, write them down and ensure that both the employee and manager has the same understanding of what is being asked, and review on a regular basis.  The smaller and more precise objective can be, the better understanding the employee will have as to what is expected of them, this will also give managers the opportunity to implement arguably the most important learning point from Dale Carnegie’s masterpiece “How to Win Friends and Influence People” – managers should ‘be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise’.  Simply, managers should praise individuals frequently, genuinely, even for small wins – this will evoke a sense of pride (providing the praise is from the heart), that will drive them to work to the same standard in the future.

Engagement

Every employee should feel like they have a voice.  This may sound like an insurmountable task, but the implementation is easy.  Each employee, on a regular basis, should have a one-on-one conversation with their direct manager.  It should be formalized and scheduled but can take a format appropriate to the workplace culture, with or without a checklist, in a café or a meeting room, these points are irrelevant.  What is relevant is that the management is aware of not just what their teams are doing, but how they are doing, what is going right and what can be improved upon.  Regularly taking the pulse of your team can shine a light on problems in an organization, but that will only be translated into motivation for a team if they feel they are being listened to.  If you have yet to read Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, get it and read the chapter ‘A Good Place to Work’ – it will change your life.

Trust

In my last article ‘The Single Most Poisonous Factor in the Workplace Today’, scores of people (rightly) commented that a lack of trust in the workplace is slowly destroying the work environment.  Though I disagreed that this was the most divisive factor, a lack of trust is one of the top ways to demotivate employees.  If you needed any more incentive to invest in “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, then here is an excerpt;

Without trust, communication breaks. More specifically: In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust. Consider the following: If I trust you completely, then I require no explanation or communication of your actions whatsoever because I know that whatever you are doing is in my best interests. On the other hand, if I don’t trust you at all, then no amount of talking, explaining, or reasoning will have any effect on me because I do not trust that you are telling me the truth.

Lack of trust breeds suspicion, skepticism and the breakdown of communications, all of which will totally demotivate a workforce.  Conversely, by trusting that the employee wants what is best for themselves and the company, and giving them enough space to prove it, the results will be a motivated workforce keen to prove they are worthy of more trust in the future.

This is definitely a difficult pill for many managers to swallow, but in an article in the Harvard Business Review Patty McCord (Ex-Chief Talent Officer at Netflix) she explains, “If you’re careful to hire people who will put the company’s interests first, who understand and support the desire for a high-performance workplace, 97% of your employees will do the right thing. Most companies spend endless time and money writing and enforcing HR policies to deal with problems the other 3% might cause. Instead, we tried really hard to not hire those people, and we let them go if it turned out we’d made a hiring mistake.”  This is the exact sentiment to create a fluid, well-motivated and focused workforce.

The final point, highlighted by Patty, is that if there is bad feeling for whatever reason, managers should not let it fester – attempt to address the root cause of whatever the issue is head on.  That being said, if there is no way of overcoming the negativity, the tough decision must be taken and   the individual removed from the rest of the organisation, as the bitterness, laziness or animosity will spread to other corners of the organisation, and when this happens, removing it can be very painful for all involved.

Motivation is a constructive, cost-effective and long-term strategy for growth, but must be worked upon and weaved into the very fabric of an organization from the top down.   Without this, key talent will leave, and long-term objectives will be sacrificed for short term wins.