Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weekend Reading

I am a reader!  I love to read but rarely find the time to be able to dedicate hours to get into a book.  Wasn’t convinced that audio-books were for me but I have spent a chunk of time on the weekend listening to the legend Seth Godin new book Tribes on my iPod.  If you have not “read” a book using audio I would encourage to give it a try.  When Seth is making a point that is particularly relevant for me I like to stop, pause, replay and give it some thought, even make notes on how that applies in my situation.

Tribes (link to paper book) is a great read for any business leader and there are several good points that I will use to write further blog posts about my thoughts on certain topics but some of the highlights are:

  • “Be Remarkable” – think about it!  be worthy of remark.  It is easy to become irrelevant and become  a ‘one of’ in your industry.  Don’t be afraid to rock the boat, in fact you have a responsibility to rock the boat.  More to follow in separate post but in the meantime think about it…are you worthy of remark?  Is your Company?
  • The Rules of the Game Change Everyday – If you are playing the game by the rules of yesterday it is clear you will not win the game of tomorrow.  YOU MUST CHANGE.  YOU MUST FORCE CHANGE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION. Past success is in no way an indicator of future performance.
  • Lead your Tribe – People want and need to be led.  Find the Tribe members in your company, find the Tribe members in your customer base and provide the voice, tools and ability for them to get together and drive the change you need.  EVERYONE in your organization can be/is a leader.  Permission is not required, only initiative and faith.

Whether it is Seth, or Tom Peters, or whoever reading and pushing yourself to think about things differently is critical to driving change and being successful.  What have you read this week?  How did it effect the way you think about your world whether it be politically, professionally, personally.  Continue to grow as a personal….there is no such thing as standing still, you are either moving forward or moving backwards.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Conquering Fear

I Twittered today about potentially starting to use some video-blogging to add a new delivery media and to engage better with my audience. Interested in any thoughts people may have around pro’s and con’s and why they think it is good or bad. I enjoy blogs that have a mix of video and written posts and given that most communication and engagement is done orally I think people tend to engage better when they can see and hear the person delivering the content. The underlying assumption is that the content is good, without that the media is irrelevant. I will try to keep the content as or more interesting and historic posts.

Biggest problem…I’m worried I am going to suck at video-blogging so I am a little afraid of taking this leap. Not doing something because your afraid is weak. Leadership involves making decisions and taking action that is risky and may not work. We do learn from failure and accepting failure is healthy as long as you learn from it and do not make the same mistakes over again so here is the deal…..

I am going to prepare, plan, practice and take the leap. What I need from you is honesty. Tell me what you think, tell me if it sucks, tell me if it rocks. I want to continue to deliver content that is useful to my audience and I want to continue to improve and find better ways to get you better stuff. If video-blogging is neither better for you nor an improvement let me know. Watch for it….it’s coming.

What is your fear? Post your stories here, tell us how you conquered your fear and what the result was. Was it worth it? How has it changed your personal or professional life?

Take the leap…don’t be afraid of failure be afraid of complacency!

How Was Your Day Today?

This is a question most spouses and friends ask each other when they go home at night. How do you normally answer this question? “It was ok” or “same old stuff” are common responses. If this is your response day in and day out I want to encourage you to change that.

Doing the same thing day in and day out is not the right thing for you or for your company. Look at new ways to do things and challenge the “we’ve always done it that way” paradigm. Customers want and demand for us to get better everyday. I am big believer that people and Companies that remain status quo are getting passed and risk becoming irrelevant. Every day you either move forward or backwards because if you aren’t improving your competitors are.

Take a minute each day and look at what you are doing and why you are doing it and how you can do it better to add more value to your customer. Talk to peers over lunch about it. Push yourself, your peers and your boss everyday to get better and try to come home each night with a story, anecdote or example for your family (or your dog) that is not “the same old stuff”.

Push yourself to get better…start tomorrow, don’t wait.

Post stories and examples here, share and encourage each other. YOU can make a difference.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I’ll Take Anger over Apathy

I had the good fortune of having a call with a somewhat angry customer today.  Yes….good fortune.  As I start to reach out to customers in my new role I am hoping to get one of two reactions:

  1. I love your software and have received countless benefits and value through it’s implementation and use.
  2. Your product is killing me!

If customers are not loving your product and pushing you to make it better or screaming at you because it is not working properly that means they have given up and are apathetic about you and your product.  As long as your customers still have emotion, engage with them and get to Know Your Customer

While it is always good to get positive feedback from your customers and delivering value some of the best feedback comes from struggling customers.  These customers can provide you with key actionable inputs and feedback that can help drive further value for happy customers and turn around unhappy ones.

As you meet with more and more customers you start to pick up data points that form trends.  These trends then can then drive product strategy decisions.

Go to your customers and look for the unhappy ones as much or more than your happy ones and drill into there problem and struggles with your product.  Often a turned around customer will be a more engaged, passionate customer than one who was happy to start with

Let me know how it goes for you and make sure you take the angry phone calls before apathy sets in.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Know Thy Customer

Seems like a pretty common sense piece of advice...and it is, BUT DO YOU? In the upcoming months I need to spend time on the road going out and meeting with customers and prospects to ensure I have an accurate perspective on how 'they' see our product. It is very easy to get caught up in the act of navel gazing and convincing yourself everything is alright. It is also easy to carefully and conservatively maneuver through the difficult end of this year and 2009 convincing yourself that sales are down due to the poor economy and you would be part. If your value proposition is compelling and provable aren't troubled economic times the best time to help your customers with their business problems? A few rules for getting to know your customers:
  1. Be generous with your customers - make the conversation about them not you. Find out what their biggest pain points are and see if there are ways you can assist them. If their biggest problem is NOT one you can solve, help them anyway. Connect them to a business partner with expertise, or a peer from another company who has successfully fought and won the same battle.
  2. Research and prepare - take the time to print out articles on their company and industry and read them ahead of the meeting. Understand the macroeconomics of their industry and vertical to build their trust and confidence that you are a knowledgeable and trusted advisor.
  3. Remember your Mother - I remember my mom telling me that I was given two ears and one mouth for a reason and they should be used in that proportion. Remember, you are there to learn! Learn what business problems are occurring at your customer and in his industry. Learn what they like and more importantly DO NOT like about your product. Learn how YOU can help THEM. In order to achieve the goals of the meeting remember to listen twice as much as you talk.
  4. Follow Up - Drop your customer a note when you return to the office that follows up on the meeting and thanks them for their time and interest in discussing their problems with you. Follow up with them on the commitments you made at your meeting whether that be a proposal, a contact's phone number you promised them, copies of materials they requested.

This process puts you in a position where once a month or quarter you can call your customer check in and see how they are doing. They may not need your services this trip but if you help them with their business problems whatever they are...your time will come. In the mean time you walk away with valuable information on how your product is used, perceived, the value it is driving and the problems customers are having with it. All in all a pretty worth while trip for both party's.

Let me know how this works for you or if you have a different approach

Monday, November 24, 2008

Changes and Challenges

It has been a long while since I posted to this blog. I have missed the therapeutic effect of thinking through issues, problems, successes and strategies and getting comments on those thoughts from people who follow me and who I follow.
There have been so many things that have gone on in the past few months that could be written on personally, professionally, politically, macro-economically, etc, etc. I will start to work through my thoughts on all of those things in the upcoming days and weeks. I have gone through many difficult and trying times in the past weeks at work and have been presented with the opportunity to lead a group of highly dedicated, focussed and smart people at Ivara Corp as President. We, like many businesses, are going to be entering some very uncertain times in the marketplace and have had to make some very difficult decisions to proactively prepare for this uncertainty. Some of those decisions, which occured over the past week, were the most difficult that I have made in my professional career and I feel deeply for the people that were affected by those changes and will continue to work with them as required to ensure they will land on their feet, which I have no doubt they will.
Looking forward we have a year filled with Change and Challenge but with change comes opportunity. Opportunity for us to refocus on the customer experience, to gather information about why our customers like us and don't like us, to change our product and our offering to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers in the market. It is important that we engage now more than ever with our customers and prospects to stay close and work with them to drive value in their business and grow the Ivara community. While change is a true constant it is not easy. People like the routine and comfort of consistency but the reality is that those who lead change in the marketplace, who allow their community to take them places they otherwise may have resisted, who are open to and embrace change engage their community and drive forward. A truly engaged and passionate group of employees, customers, prospects and stakeholders are unsettled with the status quo. They love what they do, what the company does and because they are engaged they want to make things continuously better than they were.
I love Apple! I love their products and I love their pace. Apple is a company that realizes if it does not constantly antiquate and cannibalize it's own products someone else will. Is the current iPod a great product? Most would argue yes (and sales numbers would support) but in very short order Apple will release a new iPod that will make the current perfectly good product obsolete. Apple does not accept the status quo, they know that the market will continue to change, customers will want new things and that engaging with their community will require them to provide those things (at the expense of their own existing product line) to ensure the community is and continues to be engaged and they remain the leaders of their space.
I will continue to blog here but will also do so at Ivara's blog. I will continue to Twitter personally and will begin to do so at Ivara. One of our great employees Jason Diller has started a Yammer initiative internally which is growing through his care and feeding and is facilitating much needed cross departmental communication. All these tools are just Yammer and Twitter and blogs and Facebook are all excellent tools to facilitate community. This will be a year of change for me, this will be a year of change for Ivara and this will be a year where we start to form and engage with our community in new ways. I don't have all the answers and I don't have a silver bullet because their isn't one. I will look to engage through meeting face to face with employees, with customers...both happy ones and especially those less so...with trusted advisors and through social networks. Collectively this group of passionate people will generate the ideas required to drive Ivara forward to success through these turbulent times.
Success is a process, one that in my role I will support and foster among a great tribe of people at Ivara and within our community. Our success will be a group success and will come from ideas, thoughts, challenges and changes that I will endeavour to enable but will inevitably come through the community of dedicated employees, customers and prospects who will push us to the change we need.
I look forward to meeting with each of you along the way.