Category Archives: Business advice

Perception Is Reality

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It’s true. If a person perceives a brand, a product, a service, a retailer, a restaurant, etc. to possess certain qualities, it colors all of that person’s interactions with that entity. Even when hard evidence shows the perceived belief is not true.

Certain brands have buzz and are perceived by many to be cool, superior, innovative, etc. The list includes Starbucks, Apple, Uber, IKEA—I’m sure you can name a few more. Even when those cool brands fail or when they “borrow” ideas from others, they are often given a pass because of positive customer perceptions.

The current TV series The People Versus O.J. Simpson reveals incorrect appraisals of potential jurors by both prosecutor Marcia Clark and defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. Each perceived African-American female jurors to be sympathetic to the prosecution’s case. Both were wrong. The scene showing Marcia Clark behind the glass monitoring a focus group as they offer comments about her is powerful and enlightening.

During my radio career, I was reminded many times that perception is reality. If a listener perceives that station A plays more music than station B, it doesn’t matter which station actually plays more music. If a listener thinks a personality is snarky and insensitive, that personality can perform tons of good deeds and still be perceived to be a jerk. A listener’s perception is that listener’s reality.

Because perceptions matter—whether they are based on facts, gossip, online chatter, peer pressure or subtle factors—it is important to work to mold perceptions. Public relations, marketing and social media all play a vital role in creating and reinforcing positive consumer perceptions of a product, a service, a radio station, an idea or a presidential candidate.

It is dangerous to presume that we know how customers or prospects perceive the goods, services and messages we offer. How do we find out what they think? We observe how they act. We monitor their online comments. We ask them. What is their perception? It’s their reality.

 

 

 

 

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Your Reputation Is Viral

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A news story about a virus currently “spreading explosively” throughout our hemisphere caused me to recall an episode from a few years back.

In 2009, a friend mentioned me to a woman whose surname was exactly the same as the virus. She owned a franchised home health care staffing agency and she had a big problem. Some of the people who had worked for her had posted negative comments about the woman, accusing her of numerous bad practices including racism.

The woman emailed me and we set up a meeting. Before we met, I entered her name on Google. I saw the negative comments from the staffers. I also saw court records of a judgment against her and her husband regarding a dispute over money owed to a country club. My search also revealed a record of her divorce from that husband.

At our meeting, I offered the woman a few suggestions. I told her I could help get the ugly accusations off her Google first page and work with her on addressing the issues that were affecting her business. She did not choose to hire me.

Upon hearing and seeing her name over and over in stories about this virus, I was curious and went to Google again this past weekend. When I entered her name, the first item that came up was a forum post calling her “racist and emotionally abusive” and accusing her of being a drug abuser. Ouch.

The second item that came up was her LinkedIn profile. Third was a personal website which was set up some time after I met with her. (It referred to her agency by a different name.)

I was shocked to see the fourth entry was her obituary. She passed away last September. And still, several months after her death, the first thing one sees after searching her name is the “racist” post.

While I am saddened to learn of her passing at age 50, I find it unfortunate that the damage to her reputation lives on. The lesson: reputation management begins early. Following good business practices from day one and addressing issues as they arise is easier than trying to repair reputation problems after they become critical. Rest in peace.

Oh, Crap! Another Meeting!

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A few weeks ago I found myself seated around a conference table with six other people for a meeting at my local high school. The meeting began at 1:00 p.m. It was a good meeting with all parties offering input and asking questions.

Around 2:30 p.m., I closed my notebook and started putting my pen and my phone in my pocket. My wife, who was also at the meeting, gave me a questioning look. She later told me she wondered what I was doing.

It was an instinctive move. I learned years ago that I my time limit for meetings is about 90 minutes. Of course, I have been in meetings that ran much longer than that, but my engagement level takes a huge plunge right around the 90-minute mark.

During my time working for corporations and as a board member for several non-profits, I applauded those meeting leaders who would come with a clear agenda and stick to it. When digressions from agenda topics would occur, the best meeting leaders would guide the discussion back on track.

Occasionally, as a meeting was winding down and about to be adjourned, a question would be raised that would lead to a lengthy conversation with several parties offering thoughts. For those of us with things to do and places to be, this could be frustrating.

My meetings with clients these days are quick and efficient, mainly because I come prepared and my clients and I have many other things to accomplish on a given day. When I meet with a person who is trying to sell something to me, I expect the person to be organized and ready to state his or her pitch and to answer my questions.

Here are a few tips for meetings:

  1. Ask yourself if the meeting is actually necessary. Could the exchange of ideas happen just as easily via phone or email?
  2. Make a list of agenda topics and stay on course.
  3. Impose a time limit on your meetings. If your meeting is set to last several hours, take frequent breaks.
  4. Limit small talk during meetings. Do that before or after.
  5. If a question is raised that cannot be answered immediately, save it for the next meeting.
  6. If you have a guest on the agenda, make sure the guest knows to be succinct.
  7. Take notes. It will help you recall what was discussed.
  8. If your input has been considered and rejected, move on. As they say, don’t beat a dead horse.
  9. If the meeting’s subject matter is dry and arcane, help others understand significant points.
  10. Silence your phone and turn it face down.

 

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124348109@N01/8744236353, http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

This Is Not Negotiable: You Must Learn To Negotiate

My auto insurance company is currently trying to obtain payment from another company to cover repairs to my car from an accident in July. I was stopped. A pickup truck barreled into my car. My company feels that the pickup driver’s company should pay for my bodywork. The process is called subrogation.

My local agent reminded me that it could take some time before the matter is resolved. He and I chatted about Herb Cohen’s book You Can Negotiate Anything and agreed that we both have found it useful. As Cohen points out, time is an important factor in any negotiation.

If you’re in a hurry to reach an agreement, be it a purchase price for a house or a salary amount for a new job, your position may be weakened. If you can be patient, you may obtain a better outcome. Of course, you may also run the risk of having an offer taken away.

For SAB Miller, Patience Pays Off

The recent brewery merger/takeover provides a great example. AB InBev made three offers to SAB Miller before the fourth offer was accepted. SAB Miller’s willingness to wait earned a greater payoff. (A looming deadline was also a factor in their decision to say yes to the deal.)

Information is another key factor in a negotiation. If you know that a car was delivered to a dealership in March and has been sitting on the lot for six months, you can expect that the dealer to be particularly motivated to sell that car.

In the new film Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks’ character negotiates a Cold War prisoner exchange. Tension is added to the film’s climax when Hanks’ character overplays his hand. But, based on the information he has and observations he has made, he is confident he will achieve his desired outcome.

What We Have Here Is Failure To Negotiate

One of the smartest individuals I’ve ever worked for sabotaged his career by being a horrible negotiator. When a staff member, vendor, client, potential new hire, etc. came to him with a proposal, he would respond with his own counter proposal. And that would be it—take it or leave it. This shortcoming eventually cost him his job.

We all negotiate big and small things every day of our lives. Some of us embrace negotiating. Others avoid it at all costs. The tension of confrontation can be intimidating. Learning to negotiate confidently is vital to your professional life and your personal life.

What Herb Cohen calls a “win-win” outcome—where both sides can come away somewhat satisfied with the results of a negotiation—should be a goal of most negotiations.

Interestingly, Herb Cohen began his career as a negotiation instructor at an event sponsored by my insurance company. Will the passage of time aid my company’s position regarding my crash or will arbitration become necessary? Stay tuned.

Buy The Book, Even If You Can’t Negotiate The Price With The Bookseller

If you are not familiar with You Can Negotiate Anything, get it, read it and use it.

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Perfectionists, Give It Up!

DaliBeing a perfectionist is a tough path to follow. I know. I am a recovering perfectionist.

I have never achieved perfection, but have often thought that I could do things just a little bit better. I have occasionally been annoyed when co-workers did not share my commitment to perfectionism. This desire for perfection has led to much frustration.

Obsessing over details that are only slightly significant can sometimes cause one to overlook the big picture issues. Getting the basics right is much more important than those tiny details which may not matter as much as you might believe.

A big problem with perfectionism is the resistance to acknowledge any criticism, constructive or otherwise. During my lengthy perfectionist period, if I regarded my work as being perfect (or close to it), any second-guessing could cause me to respond defensively. Taking pride in one’s work is important, but refusing to accept any feedback about it can be counterproductive.

Working in a team situation is particularly difficult for perfectionists. The perfectionist may see input from any non-perfectionists as not useful. If one’s work is perfect, how can anyone else on the team possibly improve it?

If you are a perfectionist, give it up. You will never make it. Realize that nobody is perfect. Best selling books have typos. Network news anchors stumble over words. The top quarterbacks throw bad passes.

Do your best. Check your work. Strive for accuracy. Tend to details. But realize that you will make an occasional mistake. If you’re human, it’s going to happen.

If you can learn from your mistakes and avoid repeating them, you will be a better performer and a better person.

(During Summer 2015 I am revisiting some earlier posts. This one was originally shared in December 2011.)

How To Be Likeable

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PR pros spend much of their time working to get various publics to like a person, a product, an organization or an idea—and not just a Facebook “like.” But how much effort do you put into making yourself likeable?

If the people you interact with like you, they will be more likely to take your call or open your email. Being likeable might help you keep your job at budget trimming time. Yes, performance and production matter. And likeability alone won’t keep you employed if you’re not doing the work.

How can you make people like you? Here are some ideas.

  1. Contribute to the workplace scene. Does that mean bring in doughnuts once a week? Maybe. Offer a positive attitude and try to really care about your co-workers on a personal basis as well as a professional basis. Be a good listener. I have also heard that people who have candy on their desk for co-workers to share have better job security.
  2. Share credit for success. You’ve seen Oscar winners. Some are thanking a long list because they feel they have to, but most winners know that they are a part of a team. When you complete a major project or make a big sale, you don’t necessarily have to thank your mother and father, but offer appreciation to those who helped. If you did it by yourself, credit the guy who designed the software that helped you accomplish what you did.
  3. Say hello. Don’t snub people. Compliment people.
  4. Give people nicknames. To me, this seems like an affectation—something I would not do—but I know people who do it and, at least partly because of that habit, are well liked. If it feels comfortable for you, and you can give good nicknames, you may want to give it a shot.
  5. Be funny. Okay, how do you become instantly funny? Steal. Repeat something you heard on TV or read online that made you chuckle. But know when to stop and know where the line is between clever and smartass/dirty. If you cross over to the smartass/dirty side, your act will quickly get old.
  6. Can the whining.

Great! I like you better already!

 

(During Summer 2015 I am revisiting some earlier posts. This one was originally shared in May 2012.)

 

 

 

Sales: The One Metric That Really Matters

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You are hired to create a social media campaign for a company. You do great work. You grow the audience. Facebook fans and Twitter followers click on links in droves to get coupons. Your Instagram contest generates hundreds of entries. But, for reasons unrelated to your efforts, sales are down 18% for the first quarter of your campaign and down 22% for the next quarter. Cuts have to be made. Will they come via staff reductions, advertising budget cuts or a trim for the social campaign? Or all three? Sales is the one metric that really matters.

Your PR client stages an event. You line up TV interviews, radio interviews and newspaper and online items. Awareness is good. A nice crowd shows up. While your client is happy that media coverage helped produce a decent turnout, his most important question is, “How much food and drink did we sell?” Sales is the one metric that really matters.

During my radio career I did many Saturday appearances at car dealers. At most such events, we had good listener turnout. But, occasionally, the number of people who came to grab a free hotdog and say hello would be disappointing. On Monday, we might say to the account executive who had the dealer’s account, “I thought we’d have more people show up Saturday. I hope the client’s not upset.” And, quite often, the account exec would say something like, “Oh, no! They sold 32 cars! It was their best Saturday in a year!” Sales is the one metric that really matters.

If you are charged with telling a client’s story, whether it be via social media, PR efforts or paid advertising, it’s in your best interest to help drive sales any way you can. Support your clever tweets, your genius PR campaign, your beautifully written radio/TV spot or print/online ad with suggestions to friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, church members, community organization members and personal social media contacts that they visit your client and buy something! Because sales is the one metric that really matters.

(This article was originally posted in June 2013.)

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