Archive for April, 2009

Little Things are Big

April 27, 2009

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Do something your competition doesn’t do because they think it’s too small to care about.

Take business cards (I know, how uncool in this post-paper world, but stay with me). Any printer offers an array of options designed to differentiate you. Pictures, textures, custom stock, unusual sizes. Those are OK options but they don’t give me a reason to want to do business in the way that a recent card did.

It was an ordinary card from a car salesman. Plain stock. Two or three colors. Nothing special at all.

Here’s what was special: a friend and her partner were car shopping, with their 14-year-old daughter in tow. The salesman greeted the friend and gave her a card. He did the same for her partner. Then he did the same for the 14-year-old daughter.

The 14-year-old won’t be buying a car for the next couple years, but it was still a good move. Of half a dozen salespeople, he was the only one to greet the 14-year-old, let alone treat her as respectfully as he treated the adults (and as a potential future customer, which she is). Guess where they’ll be buying their car?

A small thing that’s a big thing to a customer should be a big thing to you. Are you doing the small stuff that your customers notice and talk about?

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Use Your Superpowers

April 11, 2009

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Are you using your superpowers wisely?

You could be gifted with numbers, or words, or both. You could be a natural at building deep relationships with people or able to charm a roomful immediately. Maybe you have a talent for breaking a problem into its components to find a logical solution. I have a friend who can look at a machine and instantly visualize its inner workings in 3-D.

You have superpowers. Maybe you have more than one. If you’re lucky, you’ve found a place in the working world that uses those talents.

But it’s not enough to simply use them. A gift for quick mental math is useful because most people lack it. It helps the minimum-wage worker at the hot dog stand make change. But (combined with a few other talents) it’s also useful for negotiating mergers & acquisitions in the millions or billions of dollars.

I’m not dissing the idea of using your superpowers to serve customers hot dogs. With 13 years of bartending experience (which was vital to financing my college education and subsequent MBA) I can’t afford to cop an attitude. And I believe that all work is inherently noble and inherently ennobling.  I’m just pointing out that the guidance counselor at high school might have advised Spiderman that his skills were perfect for window washing.

As you assess your career from time to time, I suggest that you ask two questions:

  • Does my current role use my superpowers? If not, are you consciously making a choice to play against strength for a time to learn new skills or offset weaknesses?
  • Does your role use your superpowers for their highest and best purposes? If not, is this role a step towards a role that makes better use of those superpowers?

Photo courtesy of Dulce Pinzon

I Got It (I Got It)

April 5, 2009

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An exec in a meeting recently said “You gotta dumb it down for me, dude. I’m an executive.”

Both funny and true. But execs aren’t the only ones who need things simplified. Customers need it. Business partners need it. And Sales needs it. Why do marketers so often act as though they’re paid by the word? (Maybe because we think “value proposition” is plain English).

That doesn’t mean we avoid polysyllabic words and jargon. If your customers are network engineers, words like SNMP, MIB and OID are commonplace. So smart marketers think in terms of their audience’s plain English, not their own. A co-worker gave me a great lesson in that the other day when he needed to explain IP addresses and subnets to a non-technical audience. He said:

“An IP address is like a phone number. If you know Jenny’s phone number is 867-5309, you can call her. And if you know a device’s IP address, you can talk to it on the network.

“More than one person has the phone number 867-5309. But we don’t get confused because they have different area codes. A network has different subnets, and those are like area codes. If two people in the same area code had the same phone number, there would be a problem. On a network, that’s an IP address conflict. As long as they have different area codes – subnets – they can have the same phone number.

“If you move you keep the same cell phone number. That’s like a static IP address; it’s always the same number. But when you move you get a new home phone number. That’s like a dynamic IP address. Everytime someone moves their notebook to another wireless access point in the building, they get issued a new dynamic IP address.”

Every person there got it. They don’t get this or this, but they know Jenny’s phone number.  I’m lucky I’ve got smart co-workers to learn from.

Abstract away complexity. Keep it as simple as possible and put it in your customers’ language.

Photo by erenata