Mind-Blowingly, Stunningly Epic!!

Unique. One-of-a-kind. Award-winning. Leader. State of the art. Cutting edge. Bleeding edge. Next generation. Revolutionary. Robust. Extraordinary. Legendary. Transformative. Groundbreaking. Best in class. Magical. Out of the box. Feature-rich. World class. Dynamic. Premier. Amazing. Iconic. I think you probably see where this is going.

Ah yes, the world of superlatives and puffed-up buzz words. As an entrepreneur, I want to persuade you that my product or service is the best thing since sliced bread – maybe even better! And thus I have a tendency to use embellishments to convey a certain sense of excitement that will emotionally influence you to buy what I’m peddling. Sometimes advertising and marketing that exaggerate are just plain fun. Dos Equis beer uses a spoof in its commercials of The Most Interesting Man in the World. Generally this sort of marketing is easily identifiable and the audience goes with the flow.

What we want to avoid is falling into the “salesmany” stereotype. When I hear entrepreneurs use terms like “crushing it” or “killing it,” I cringe. It’s one thing to extoll the virtues of our product or service, but when we cross over into too much puffery our credibility suffers. Is it possible that being more quiet and understated in our approach to marketing and sales could produce the results we seek?

Our customers don’t really give a whit whether or not we are “#1” or provide “world class service.” What they are interested in is how our product or service solves their problem or provides them with real value. Here are a couple of example marketing statements to compare.

Statement #1: “At XYZ Motors we sell more Kias than anyone else in the universe! We’re also number one in service and have won more awards from Kia than any other dealership in the country.”

Statement #2: “At XYZ Motors we are creative and will help figure out a way to put you in a new car that can fit comfortably within your budget. We are also pleased to keep our service department open every weeknight until 10:00 PM because we know that many customers can’t bring their car in until they get off from work.”

Obviously the first statement is full of backpatting and chest thumping. The focus is completely on the dealership. The second statement is customer-centric. Here, XYZ Motors shows great empathy for both the customer’s pocketbook and his or her busy schedule.

One of the reasons that businesses use hyperbole is because they haven’t figured out how to differentiate their product or service. This is especially true for companies that compete in the commodity space. Apparently they believe that yelling as loud as they can, will motivate customers to show up and shell out their hard-earned dollars to save a cent or two. And there’s no question that some people are inclined this way. But I think that most people aren’t thrilled to be insulted by such boorish and uninspired messaging. An alternative approach might be for the business to become much more creative in determining its value proposition and then develop a marketing campaign around the benefits to the customer.

Entrepreneurs must also be mindful of how different generations respond to marketing and salesmanship. But as political campaigns have become more and more over-the-top with either fluff or mudslinging, I think there’s a carryover impact on the business world. All consumers, regardless of generation, are more skeptical of dubious claims and mindless drivel. Instead they want facts and substance. They need real data that supports a marketing/sales pitch and explains the WIFM in plain English. And of course WIFM means “What’s in it for me?”

Laying out the case for how our product or service solves a problem for our customers can be done in an innovative fashion. And we don’t have to appear like a stereotypical pushy salesperson to do so.

 You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 25 – Confluences

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Headwinds

An airplane wing gains lift by taking off into the wind. This then causes the airplane to defy gravity and fly . . . an entrepreneurial metaphor if ever there was one. Interestingly, in my pilot days I once experimented with a downwind takeoff (on a very long runway) and could barely get off the ground. I quickly put the plane back on the runway and ended the experiment!

To build a muscle we exercise it regularly adding more weight and repetitions. Members of the military become elite Seals, Green Berets, Delta Force and Rangers by undergoing rigorous training involving obstacles that severely test the physical and psychological strength of a human being. In Kenya, long distance runners often wear no shoes as they traverse inhospitable terrain, toughening the soles of their feet in the process. I think you can probably see the lessons here.

Adversity can be an entrepreneur’s best friend if we allow it to be. If success comes without challenge it’s easy to become complacent. We’re also robbed of growth opportunities that result from what we learn as we work through various hardships on the road to achievement. No one says we have to like adversity. But avoiding it and fighting it does not work. I’ve found that the most constructive approach is to actually embrace it. For me this means relaxing and easing into adversity. It means establishing a positive mindset and expecting that much good will comes from the experience. We’ve all heard the term “silver linings” and used it many times. Often we look back on what has transpired and almost as a consolation prize we identify the silver linings. Looking for them in advance can give us the lift that we need to fly through the clouds.

In addition to the tangible benefits that come from overcoming adversity in specific situations, there are numerous more global wins that can occur. Think about the last time you had a tough puzzle to solve. Perhaps one of the outcomes was that of heightened creativity and innovation. When faced with the prospects of failure our creative instincts kick in and the results can be amazing. We also find that collaboration and teamwork increases reinforcing the notion that two heads are better than one. While I thrive on making sense of complexity and solving tough problems, I find that doing it with others is more productive and builds a stronger organization.

Suppose a professional basketball team plays a game against the best high school team in the country. There’s no doubt about which team would win. Now, imagine that the same NBA team plays against the reigning world champion NBA team and beats them. Which win do you suppose offers a greater sense of accomplishment? We need to feel like we are doing something really worthwhile which can be difficult when we prevail without any struggle whatsoever.

Adversity helps us to identify weaknesses within our company as well as with our strategy. When we aren’t tested and succeed anyway we don’t really know what could happen if our feet were held to the fire. Challenges and obstacles also allow us to develop resilience and perseverance – both individually and organizationally. I truly hated those first few months of my career when I was an apartment manager. I was kicked in the teeth, the rear and every other part of my body – I was totally miserable. But something finally clicked and I figured it out. Quitting wasn’t an option for many reasons – thank goodness! Now I look back and understand how valuable the tough times were in teaching me how to get off the ground and back on the horse.

When we embrace adversity we can make it work for us like an airplane uses the wind to take off. Then it can become a powerful tool in the entrepreneur’s tool box.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Lost Art

Harrison Ford starred in the classic movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson starred in Lost in Translation. Richard Dreyfuss played the lead in Lost in Yonkers. The television show Lost in Space ran from 1965-68. And entrepreneurs star every day in the Lost Art of Negotiation. Why is negotiation a lost art? I believe that too many of us see negotiating as a competition.

Google gives 90,500,000 results for the word negotiation so there’s no shortage of material about the subject. But I don’t want to focus on negotiating techniques – that’s not the point of this blog. Instead, I’d like to offer some ideas that may be helpful in making the negotiating process more productive.

If we start with the premise in a negotiation that we want to win, then it becomes a competition where someone (not us) is going to lose. From here we harden into our “positions” and the tension begins. There is a better way. First, we need to see a negotiation as an opportunity to solve a problem. It’s actually a dual problem – one for us and one for another party. Trying to solve just our problem may be far more difficult than figuring out how to solve for both parties. What do we do when we solve a problem? We start by clearly defining all elements of the problem. Then we catalog all of the possible solutions. Our innovation and creativity come into play at this point.

In the process of attacking the problem we establish our bedrock principles. For example we may resolve that no matter what, we will always be respectful. Perhaps we commit to avoid getting hung up on personalities. Or we may decide that regardless of how dirty the other party may play, our approach will continually reflect total integrity. Ultimately our analysis leads us to the bottom line for the most critical factors to the outcome we believe will best solve the problem for both parties.

Recently I was coaching a business owner about the potential sale of her company. I asked her what her bottom line number was and she gave me a figure. Then I asked her if negotiations led to a value that was $50,000 less than her bottom line number, would she sell. She replied in the affirmative. So we went back and forth with the $50,000 question until we finally reached an amount that she absolutely positively would not accept. The takeaway for her was that the initial figure she thought was her bottom line number actually wasn’t.

As we engage in a negotiation we listen to and understand what the other party is telling us. This information is then overlaid onto the problem we have identified and our array of solutions is applied. We avoid confrontation by working from a set of facts; seek agreement wherever possible, and constantly narrow the scope of issues.

Being in the commercial real estate business I’ve been in continuous negotiations in one form or another for more than 40 years. You can read all the books you want and watch all the videos in the world on negotiating strategies. And if you pay attention to them you can easily end up getting too cutesy. I have found that a pretty straightforward approach has been extremely successful for me. I don’t try to outthink the other party or construct a series of chess-like moves. Instead, I know what my bottom line is and I know the principles that I want to maintain. If I have to violate my principles to get to my bottom line I’ll withdraw. And I’ve learned that transparency and respect have been more valuable than anything else.

Entering a negotiation as a creative opportunity to solve a problem for both parties puts us on the same path. Bedrock principles and a clear understanding of our bottom line is then the recipe for a positive outcome.

 This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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