Super Powers

Super heroes are known for their super powers. Superman could fly and possessed incredible strength. Captain Marvel could levitate. Wonder Woman had x-ray vision. Hercules could self-heal. Iron Man could become invisible, and Stretch Armstrong was a shape shifter. Cartoon characters are bestowed with amazing super powers and always seem to find themselves in situations that call for the use of those powers specifically unique to them.

Successful entrepreneurs also have their own unique super powers. Discovering and utilizing such powers can lead to some amazing results. As we progress through our careers, we become more and more aware of our super powers. The earlier in life we are able to discern our special abilities, the sooner we’ll be able to focus them and realize our full potential. Just like most of the super heroes, we entrepreneurs can’t lay claim to all of the super powers which is why we need to understand what is ours and how to use it. Here are a few ideas on the subject.

Creativity and Imagination are foundational super powers for many entrepreneurs. Probably one of the most creative individuals ever to walk the planet was Steve Jobs of Apple fame. Jobs had a vision that was unmatched and he transformed society by imagining things that had never been done before. He envisioned the iPhone to have on-screen features rather than the old buttons that were used on other cell phones.

Tesla’s Elon Musk exemplifies the super powers of Perseverance and Resilience. Another of his enterprises is a company called SpaceX which is attempting to commercialize space travel. Even though there have been countless setbacks including rockets that failed to function properly or exploded in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2015 and 2016, Musk continued to stay the course to reach his ultimate goal of making space travel affordable and colonizing Mars.

McDonald’s would not be the company it is today had it not been for its founder, Ray Kroc and his super powers of Optimism and Ambition. Very early in his career he met Earl Prince, the inventor of a five-spindle milk shake machine called the Multimixer. He spent 15 years selling the machine to a variety of customers including two brothers in San Bernardino, California. Dick and Mac McDonald entered into an arrangement with Kroc to expand McDonald’s beyond a single restaurant and the rest is history. Because of his Ambition, Kroc was able to effectively push the expansion plan. And his Optimism was contagious and enabled others – franchisees, suppliers, bankers and investors, to believe in him and his plan.

When we think of Amazon we understandably think of its founder Jeff Bezos. Here is a man who is not afraid of failure because his super power is seeing the world as a laboratory in which to Experiment. Is there any doubt that he’s done exactly that? He started selling books online, and today sells EVERYTHING through the Amazon website. In addition, Amazon Web Services, is a subsidiary that provides a cloud-based computing platform to the business community. Bezos convinced investors to back his approach of experimentation from Amazon’s launch in 1995 to 2016 when it achieved annual sales of $136 billion. He advises entrepreneurs to focus on process not failure, and further to “deconstruct products, processes and ideas.”

Building and serving Relationships are Reid Hoffman’s super powers. Hoffman was the COO of PayPal and co-founder of LinkedIn. He likes to build deep, long-term relationship that give insider knowledge. Says he, “If you reverse engineer the relationships of many successful entrepreneurs as I have, you will realize that many people work with the same people over and over in their careers.”

What is your super power? Once you find it, focus on it, refine it and exploit it. It may not enable you to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, but it may be just what you need to build a successful and sustainable organization.

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 72 – Vacuum Cleaners & Movies.

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.

A Boomer’s Advice to Millennials

Baby Boomers and Millennials. Two massive generations – 74.9 million Boomers and 75.4 million Millennials, and as different as night and day. But then, most generations are quite different. And I’m sure that every older generation shakes its collective head about the younger generation. The music, the attire, the idioms and the social mores are all puzzling to both. There’s no doubt from a work perspective that Boomers and Millennials aren’t always on the same page. For the sake of generational harmony I want to offer some ideas that hopefully will be helpful in bridging the gap.

  1. Use the phone. As a Boomer I’m a telephone guy. I use e-mail extensively but have learned that it’s not always the right communications tool for every situation. Why? Because it’s one-dimensional. E-mail – and I include text messages, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn messaging and Snapchat in this category – is dangerous for complex subjects that requires interpretation, and for situations where there is the potential for conflict. I’ve seen too many instances of hurt feelings stemming from what someone read (and misinterpreted) in an e-mail. Many of my Millennial friends and colleagues aren’t as inclined to use the telephone. I urge them to do so when the subject needs more than just a factual recitation.
  2. See people in person. No, this advice does not contradict what I previously said about using the phone. The personal touch is all about building relationships and culture. It’s much harder to do sitting behind a desk or a computer screen. I really enjoy getting out of my office multiple times during the day and going to see someone else in person – inside and outside our office. This gives me a chance to “read” the feelings of another person with whom I’m interacting. And I can clarify anything about my communications when I notice puzzlement or discomfort emanating from the other party. By the way – if I can’t meet someone in person, I’d much rather connect via a videoconference than just an audio phone call for all of the same reasons.
  3. Build relationships. Meeting people in the flesh is all part of the relationship building process. And relationships are the lifeblood of success in entrepreneurship. I subscribe to the philosophy that I want to avoid trying to “sell” anything to someone else. Instead, I want to be in a position to help them “buy.” I strongly believe that this is much easier to accomplish through relationships. Ultimately the foundation for my relationships is service. I want to serve other people in whatever way I can without the thought of quid pro quo. I’ve seen firsthand how the world embraces this. When I do good for others without any expectation from them in return – great and wonderful things happen to me. It’s that simple.
  4. Develop resilience. Millennials, guess what? We Boomers may have been too protective of our offspring when they were young. Life isn’t fair and the same goes for business. When we avoid all thoughts of victimization and concentrate on perseverance we eventually succeed. Quitting is not an option but being smarter than the problem is. Get up off the ground, dust yourself off and figure out a different way to get the result you are seeking.
  5. Differentiate. Speaking of a different way, the world keeps becoming more competitive. It’s more important than ever to find a way to differentiate our products, services and even ourselves. This means becoming more creative, more innovative and more customer-centric. Believe me when I say that understanding true differentiation requires a lot of heavy lifting. Those who think this is a relatively easy task are missing the fact that there’s a great deal of nuance in differentiation. This means that the customer must really perceive the value of differentiation – it doesn’t matter that’s how we see it.
  6. Be prepared to sacrifice. We all want work/life balance. But I’m sorry to say that it’s not always possible. As Boomers, it was ingrained in us that hard work was necessary to get ahead. That meant “paying our dues” and making many sacrifices early in our career. As Millennials, you may not have to be as obsessed as were we. However you will have to make sacrifices at some level to achieve great things. We worked hard and a lot. You will need to work hard, but you can also work smart. The key today is to replace working a lot with working smart.

Baby Boomers and Millennials have much to learn from each other. I believe that the advice I’m offering as a Boomer transcends generations. Hopefully you will find it helpful in your life.

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 68 – Danger Will Robinson; Danger!

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.

Not Just Any Old Alarm Clock

Calvin Klein has a women’s fragrance called Obsession Perfume. It’s relatively inexpensive – around 20 bucks or so for a 3.4 ounce spray bottle. This blog is not about the perfume but it is about a particular type of “obsession;” one that is worth far more than 20 bucks.

What dominates our thoughts as entrepreneurs? Is it cash flow? How about the competition? Maybe it’s growth or perhaps it’s market share. Most of these aspects aren’t worth becoming obsessions. In fact, there is very little that rises to the level of importance to be worthy of obsession. Yet, there is one element that is so fundamental to the success of our businesses that it should be front and center as a focal point. You might say it’s the “Obsession on a Pedestal.” Everyone throughout the organization starting with the CEO should be obsessed about . . . the Customer.

Well of course, you say, it’s obvious that the Customer is important. No, I’m talking about something more intense than “important.” Customer Obsession takes many forms. There are certain business establishments – stores, restaurants, gas stations, etc., where I enter the restroom and am amazed at how sparkling clean they are. And they even smell good! That’s Customer Obsession. There are certain business establishments where I am called by name when I walk in the door. That’s Customer Obsession. Or take the case of a regular customer of a resort who developed a fondness for a particular type of clock radio. She looked high and low trying to purchase one but to no avail. She messaged the resort staff to see if they could point her in the right direction but was told that the clock was not commercially available. She was pleasantly surprised on her next visit to find a clock radio waiting for her as a gift upon her arrival. That’s Customer Obsession.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could create a culture where everyone is equally obsessive about the Customer? This utopia would have every member of the team smile and greet a Customer in a friendly manner when in his or her presence. This utopia would be a flurry of random thank-you notes, thank-you calls and other forms of true expressions of gratitude to our Customers. When a mistake occurs involving a Customer, our culture encourages a quick, heartfelt apology and a genuine attempt to make amends.

When I think about Customer Obsession, I want to know exactly what the Customer needs and wants. This requires a deep dive into data and other methods to understand what makes the Customer tick. And I want to go way beyond understanding what the Customer currently needs and wants. I must determine what his/her future needs and wants are going to be. I want my Customers to seek me out and tell me that they aren’t just satisfied. No, I want them to tell me that they are fulfilled beyond their wildest dreams.

I want to know when a Customer quits and why; and then I want to make a supreme effort to save that Customer and regain his or her trust. I want to talk directly to our Customers on a regular basis to understand as much as I can about the experience we have provided them. I realize that the cash flow, the competition, the growth and the market share are all secondary to Customer Obsession. Those aspects of our business will be fine if we have an ever expanding base of Customers for whom we are fanatical about making ecstatically happy. Finally, I want to constantly innovate with an eye on how to better serve the Customer. Running in place is not an option. We can and must always do better for the Customer’s sake.

Many obsessions aren’t necessarily healthy. However, obsessing about our Customers will help ensure that our business is healthy and prosperous for years to come.

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 54 – Blind Pigs.

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.

PM

In this blog PM does not stand for night time. Instead it’s all about Preventive Maintenance. In the world of buildings and real estate, smart operators pay a great deal of attention to Preventive Maintenance. We pre-check furnaces and air conditioning units prior to the heating and cooling seasons. We inspect roofs and make repairs to flashings, gutters and other structural elements. Mortar joints are periodically tuckpointed, and windows and doors are caulked and weatherstripped. Elevators are maintained on a programmed basis along with fire suppression systems. Why do we do it? Because the cost is less than letting things go until they break. And a major breakdown can lead to customer inconvenience and potential life safety issues.

There are many parallels for entrepreneurs. Let’s start with the obvious. Our health and wellness is one of our most important assets. Maintaining our minds and bodies in top form has a direct correlation to our productivity and performance. We all know this is true but having the self-discipline to follow-through can be challenging. So here’s my challenge to you. Do you schedule a complete physical exam with a medical doctor every year? Do you go to the dentist once or twice a year? How about a regular eye exam? Are you getting enough sleep at night? Are you exercising regularly? Are you eating in a healthy manner? Here’s a tip. When I see a medical professional, before I leave I schedule an appointment for the next year. Then I don’t have to remember to do so later when I’m busy because it’s already on my calendar. Younger entrepreneurs may have a tendency to put off some of this “Preventive Maintenance.” They may think they are invincible or not old enough to worry about PM. But getting into a habit early in one’s career may enhance the quality of one’s life in his or her later years.

How about estate planning? Do we have one at all? Buying life insurance when we’re young is a very smart move. It’s so much more expensive the older we get. And don’t forget about disability coverage. Do we have a will? Is it reviewed periodically and updated as necessary? Are we using all of the estate planning tools that are available to us? I’ve been a big advocate of utilizing revocable trusts in which assets are held. It helps to avoid the expense and public nature of probate. We had a partner who understood the need for such trusts and I hounded him to title his assets this way. But he failed to follow-through. When he died unexpectedly his estate was a disaster. It took more than two weeks to locate the most current version of his will. Many of his assets were subject to probate because they weren’t held in trust. In the end, it took several years to settle his estate and the lawyers were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to untangle the mess. Here’s another tip. I keep an estate planning notebook and update it twice a year. Everything that my wife, children, tax accountant and estate attorney would need to be aware of is contained in this notebook – both in hard and electronic versions. Copies of all of my partnership agreements, loan documents and other important business information are burned to a CD-ROM.

Preventive Maintenance even applies to our relationships. Are we taking vacations at the appropriate intervals in order to maintain our sanity and that of our families? How about the relationships we have we members of our team? Sometimes entrepreneurs have a tendency to power along without regard to how teammates may be feeling. We are focused on accomplishment and can easily forget to focus on the well-being of others. To avoid this trap, I create calendar-driven electronic tasks that remind me to periodically set breakfast or lunch with various members of my team. I feel that it’s important to get out of the office where I can focus all of my attention on those individuals. Entrepreneurs generally work on their external relationships with veritable ease. And a similar effort must be made to avoid neglecting internal relationships.

Entrepreneurs should view themselves just as they would an expensive, high-performance automobile. We wouldn’t dream of skipping the recommended maintenance on such a car. And thus we should make certain that we are just as attentive to the Preventive Maintenance that is needed for our health and wellness, estate planning and relationships.

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 – Audio Episode 16 – A Punch in the Mouth.

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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After the Love Has Gone

Earth, Wind & Fire recorded a song in 1979 called, After the Love Has Gone. And of course there was the classic 1976 tune by KISS, Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em. There’s an eerie parallel with these titles and our relationships – with our friends and with our customers. Remember when we were growing up? Most of us had a number of friends during our school years. Then we launched our careers and families, and guess what? Many of those friendships went on hold. We found ourselves burning the candle at both ends and struggling to make the kids’ soccer games, juggle business trips with date nights, and generally keep our heads above water. Sound familiar? Gradually we sort of drifted away from all but a very small, close-knit group of friends. If we are introspective about our entrepreneurial lives, is the same thing happening with our business relationships?  

I’ve written before about my philosophy on relationships. I want to build and nurture as many relationships as possible over the course of my career for the purpose of serving them. And I’ve said before that I try to do this without any sense of quid pro quo. Deep at my core I believe that if we are truly committed to serving our relationships in whatever way possible, the Law of Attraction will bring great good into our lives.

So what happens after the sale? We work hard for six months (sometimes much longer) to build a relationship with a prospective customer. Then she buys what we’re selling. We’re elated and we make sure that the product or service is delivered in fine fashion. Then what? Six months later, what have we done to maintain the relationship? If the customer is going to buy our product or service on a recurring basis, chances are that we’ll stay in touch and continue “selling.” Maybe we take the customer to a ballgame or out for dinner. But what about a customer that has purchased something and there’s virtually no chance that another purchase will occur in the future? Do we “love ‘em and leave ‘em?

It’s rare that we find an entrepreneur who builds the relationship for the purpose of serving it. Usually there are strings attached. I’ve been on the receiving end of this my entire life. When someone wants to sell me something they butter me up and shower me with accolades, gifts and other forms of attention. If I don’t buy, they may try for a while, but eventually they drift away. If I do buy and there’s not a reason to buy the same product or service again, I’m usually dropped like a hot potato within a week. The National Sales Executive Association says that 80% of sales are made on the fifth through the twelfth contact. This means that a significant amount of time and effort must be invested to build a relationship sufficient to close the deal. This being the case, why would we not want to continue to maintain that relationship in perpetuity?

Some of us may be thinking, “This makes sense. Even though the customer might not buy again from us, keeping the relationship alive could be good for referrals.” Yes, this may be true, BUT once again we’ve attached strings to the relationship. What if we maintained the relationship because it’s the right thing for us to do? What if we maintained the relationship because we genuinely want to help other people? What if we maintained the relationship because it’s a form of expressing gratitude for all of the wonderful things that others have done for us? If we’re thinking that we just don’t have time to nurture relationships after the sale, then we are working against the Law of Attraction. There’s good flowing all around us – but if we start putting limits on our relationships we’re preventing that good from flowing our way.

Maintaining friendships and business relationships requires an intentional effort. It also means that we have to make a choice about the true purpose of such relationships. Will it be “Get Off of My Cloud” (Rolling Stones – 1965) or “Better Together” (Jack Johnson – 2005)?

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 11 – A Warm Blanket.

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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The Zone of Doom

What do we dread most in our business and personal lives today? No, it’s not losing. When that happens, we simply pick ourselves up and go after it again. And it’s not being overwhelmed by our workload. We solve this with a few adjustments to time management and delegating to other team members. Our biggest “dread” is insidious and frustrating beyond belief. Here’s an example of what happens. We’re attempting to do business with someone. We’re past the cold calling stage and actually have been interacting with other party. We send an e-mail and wait a day or two. Then we call and leave a voicemail. Perhaps we even send a text. A week goes by with radio silence. We’re officially in the Zone of Doom.

The Zone of Doom is the black hole of non-responsiveness. Unfortunately it’s become an epidemic. With caller ID many people simply ignore calls from those of us with whom they do not wish to speak. Blowing off e-mails is even easier. I know I sound like an old geezer, but when I was growing up in the business world I quickly learned that protocol dictated the return of every phone call the same day or next morning. We didn’t have e-mail back then so letters and memos were the standard for written communications. The expectation was that the response be immediate. There never was any thought of not responding at all. In fact, when someone slipped and failed to provide a timely response, the word usually got back to corporate leadership and there was hell to pay.

The biggest challenge relayed to me by members of our team is that their interactions with so many people outside the company are one-way. Simply trying to reach people is so much harder than ever before. Long ago, I resolved not to fall into this category. I think I’m about 95% true to this resolution. I do return my phone calls in a timely fashion – though I will admit that there may be a cold call here or there from a salesperson that I miss. I believe most people will attest to the fact that I usually return all my e-mails the same day if not the same hour.

So how are we supposed to deal with the Zone of Doom?  How are we supposed to do business when people are so unresponsive? There’s no question that failure to respond is not acceptable. But we must ask ourselves what might be the root cause for our receiving the silent treatment? This goes beyond the fact that people are busy. It all boils down to priorities. Think about how we develop our own set of priorities. What goes at the top of the list and what goes at the bottom? I find that the things that are most important are those which are most impactful to my business and my life. It’s a pretty good bet that others set their priorities in the same manner. When I’m trying to reach someone else I try to bear in mind whether or not communicating with me will make that much difference to the other person. There’s the word . . . difference.

We must be able to differentiate ourselves when competing with someone else’s priorities. Is what we are attempting to communicate really that important to them? If not, then what can we do to push it up toward the top of the ladder. This is where relationship building becomes so important. I’ve written many times that relationships are all about service. I’ve found that the harder I work to establish and serve a relationship the more likely someone will reciprocate my attempt to communicate. You may be thinking, “How can I possibly build and serve relationships with everyone with whom I come into contact?” No one said it would be easy. Relationships take time to build and there’s no time to waste. Any and every little thing that can be done to help someone else builds that relationship. Many business people seek to establish relationships to benefit themselves. If we do it differently and make every attempt to help others, our efforts will be recognized as genuine and authentic.

We can avoid the Zone of Doom by building relationships for the purpose of serving others. And through our relationships, we move up the priority list of those we are serving.

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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Ice and Eskimos

I’ve written before about the sales mindset. But I’d like to expand on this subject with some additional thoughts. Entrepreneurs are always selling whether it’s raising money, peddling a product or convincing a new team member to come on board. We’ve all heard the adage, “he could sell ice to an eskimo.” This conjures up an image of a slick, fast-talking huckster who cons his “marks” into purchasing something they really don’t need. Obviously this is the antithesis of how we want to be perceived as  entrepreneurs.

I’m trying to expunge the terminology of “selling” from my vocabulary. Why? In my opinion the traditional notion of selling is product-based. In other words I have a product and I’m going to do everything I can to convince you to buy it. What goes unsaid here is, “I’m going to do everything I can to convince you to buy it whether you want it or not.” Maybe this is just my personal bias, but I’ve observed others over the years that act in similar fashion when they get into the sales mode. Instead of “selling to” I’ve moved into a “buying from” mindset. I submit the following:

  • When we sell something to someone else we’re product-focused.
  • When we help someone buy something we’re customer-focused.

The difference in these two approaches is night and day. When we help someone buy, the product takes a back seat. We’re more interested in building a relationship and creating trust with someone else. We’re more interested in understanding exactly what they need. Through this discovery process we may find that our product is not best-suited for this particular individual. But that’s OK because we are helping them buy what they need – not what we want them to have. You may be thinking, “This flies in the face of so many of the selling techniques that are time-tested and proven.” And you may be right. But I’m willing to wager that an entrepreneur who genuinely wants to help people buy what they need is going to win far more often than a salesman who just wants to move product. When relationships take precedence, they can produce unanticipated results. I’ve experienced numerous instances where I determined that what we were helping a customer buy wasn’t right for him or her. But it was clear that the relationship was more important than the sale. And ultimately we received referrals from those customers that did result in someone else buying from us.

When we just have to make the sale, we’re less likely to focus on the customer. We’re desperate to close the deal. One of my colleagues told me about an encounter she had with an individual who had called her to set up an introductory meeting. From the outset he was selling. He made no effort to learn more about her and establish a rapport – much less build a relationship. He made no effort to understand what she needed to purchase. He simply launched into his pitch and barely took a breath. By the end she was worn out listening to him and told me how off-putting the whole encounter had been.

There are some very simple rules that we can follow to ensure that we avoid the “selling to” approach.

  1. Always start the process by asking questions of the customer. This will help to establish a rapport and to determine his or her needs.
  2. Eliminate the terms “sales” and “selling” from our vocabulary.
  3. Genuinely care about the customer and find a way to meet his/her needs even if it involves a product that’s not our own.
  4. Make certain that it’s clear to the customer that it’s his/her best interest that we have at heart and not our own.
  5. Remember the only way to develop long-term satisfied customers is to help them buy what they need. And the endorsement of long-term satisfied customers is worth its weight in gold.

When we maintain our focus on the customer at all times we win. Sometimes this requires us to look past an immediate transaction. But it will always pay big dividends in the end.

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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