Do You Get Naked with Your Clients?

1481330-red-mens-neck-tie-draped-over-the-back-of-a-black-office-desk-chair-isoI spent the past week in St. Thomas for my annual timeshare week. It is always a great getaway, and this one came and went with a lot of time at great beaches, meeting new people and doing some reading. I got to spend the night at Jost Van Dyke, which is something that I’ve always wanted to do. The time around Soggy Dollar Bar goes fast and you get dragged away, if you are there on a tour boat or take a ferry, just when things seem to be the most fun. Staying the night was a great way to relax and enjoy the new friends and amazing beach, and contemplate the opportunities the new vertical has for us at Efficience.

The reading I got to do was very insightful and gave me several ideas to help me with my business. It was the book that Jack Daly recommended at the Nerve conference recently as the best sales book ever, which is called Getting Naked, by Patrick Lencioni. It wasn’t what I was expecting, when it came to a book that is supposed to help you with selling. But it all came down to what we admire in people, and that is being real and humble. The book is told in a fable and it is a good read, with the format helping to make the points very clear.

What it comes down to, is that when the business consultant went in to do the sales presentation, it was actually a bunch of questions that dug into the business and the issues they were having. He gave away his advice, and did so without any commitment from the potential client. There was no priced discussed, unless the client asked the question. This was all about adding value and showing the prospect that he was there to help, and if they found his services of value, then they would engage said services. This went down to creating a successful practice without having to actually sell, at least in the traditional sense.

What is revealed from the fable is that people have three fears when selling. They are the fear of losing the business, the fear of being embarrassed, and the fear of feeling inferior. When you are trying to sell and protect yourself from these fears, it works to prevent us from building trust and loyalty with our clients. When you provide your services in more of this naked fashion, you are sharing humility, selflessness and transparency, which when shared does create a bond with others. This bond leads to a level of trust that builds real relationships with clients that last during good and bad times, and even when you charge more than the competition.

In the next blog I will discuss the three fears in more detail. In the meantime, are you being naked when you are working with your clients?

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2 Questions for Warren Buffett

I discovered some interesting reading in Warren Buffett’s recent annual report from Berkshire Hathaway.  I have read this report for years and always find it to contain valuable information. I found some of his comments in this recent report rather intriguing given how he threw himself out to be a political ping pong as of late.

When you open the report, one thing stands out right away.  Just look at how Berkshire’s performance compares to the S&P 500 from 1964 to 2011. The difference is astronomical. Over that period, Berkshire generated a 513,055% total return compared to the S&P 500 at 6,397%. This translates to compounded average annual gains of 19.8% compared to 9.2%.  Having a history in the investment world, these numbers are super impressive, and they lend Warren an immense amount of respect and financial acumen.

On page 18 of the report, Warren talks about investments that never produce anything but will get purchased because the investor hopes the price will go up. Increasing prices on an asset that doesn’t produce anything only happens when many others want to buy it too and drive the price up. One asset that is representative of this is gold. Warren says “Gold, however, has two significant shortcomings, being neither of much use nor procreative” and “if you own one ounce of gold for an eternity, you will still own one ounce at its end.”

He then goes on to compare the cumulative stock of gold (worth about $9.7 trillion) with what productive assets you could buy. With that amount you could get 400 million acres of US cropland and 16 ExxonMobils (worlds most profitable company). The land would produce $200 billion, and all the ExxonMobils would produce $640 billion per year. That is $840 billion returned to you every year for the same investment amount compared to getting back zero from your gold.

I agree with his thinking here.  Given these statements and an earlier comment in the report stating he is giving most of his money to philanthropies, I have two questions for Mr. Buffett.

First, given this line of thinking about spending money on productive assets, whether I had $5 million or $5 trillion to spend, invest, or be taxed, wouldn’t you rather have it in the hands of a productive producer for society (like yourself) rather than a non productive producer for society like the US government ?

Second, if you think we should have an estate tax on successful people like yourself then why are you not giving all your estate to the US Government instead of giving it to productive, accountable charities like the Gates Foundation which takes great pains in making sure their money is spent productivily?

Can the Entrepreneur Optimism Be Risky?

 

As an entrepreneur, I consider myself a pretty optimistic person.  I look to the future and see a rosy picture filled with visions of a lifestyle that incorporates my dreams.  I will sacrifice now acknowledging that I will see better times ahead.  Knowing that the little steps of progress I see in my company is leading to something better really gets me excited, and the optimism overflows even more!  Have you ever thought this could be a little risky?  I didn’t, but let’s explore this some more.

When I was preparing for India, I knew I needed some good reading material to entertain me on the 24 hours of travel time I would have each way.  I went to Barnes & Noble fast and slowto search and came upon a really good book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.    Daniel won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2002, and with this book he aimed to “improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgment and choice in others, and eventually in ourselves, by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them.”

 I have found this book to be very interesting and mentally stimulating in the same vein that I did with “The Black Swan,” which you can read more about here on my blog.  I have not finished the entire book yet but was very intrigued with a chapter called “The Engine of Capitalism.”  Here, Daniel discusses the advantages of optimism and how it leads to happier, healthier, more resilient people.  The optimists are the inventors, the entrepreneurs, and the political and military leaders, which he points out are not the average people.  They get there by seeking challenges and taking risk.

Most interestingly, he discusses how an optimistic bias can blind an entrepreneur from seeing the full risk of an undertaking or the decisions they make.  In study after study, Daniel shows that optimistic people were not capable of predicting or generating the results they expected.  What do we do with this overconfident optimism?  Daniel suggests one option would be to do a “premortem,” and I see another option of firing “bullets.”

The premortem occurs when the organization has almost come to an important choice but still before the big decision.  They gather a group of people involved in the assessment, and they write a brief history imagining that they implemented the decision and it died, so now they have to imagine they are looking back and come up with reasons why it might have failed. Daniel says this does two things.  First, it overcomes group think when it appears a decision is moving forward.  Second, it opens up the floor for knowledgeable individuals to express their doubts when they may have been suppressed by the leader before.

I think there is another way to handle overconfident optimism, and that is to fire bullets, as Collins discussed in “Great by Choice.”  When you test the market reaction by looking for empirical evidence with small, low risk exposure (firing a bullet), your confidence comes from real world market feedback.  Only then do you fire the big cannon ball without worrying that your optimistic bias got in the way of a venture that could have been devastating to your company.

I know my over eager optimism has gotten in my way and has been costly. How are you managing yours?

Side note on the 4 Billion Customers’ blog last week:  I read David Meerman Scott’s blog this week, reinforcing the mobile expansion to all parts of the world.  He was in the jungles of Central America and experienced tribal people with no running water or electricity using mobile devices to better their world.  Check out his blog.

 

4 Billion New Customers!

 

Think about that!  If you had access to 4 billion customers, how would that impact your marketing, your strategy, your vision, your opportunities, and your profit potential?  Well it’s coming, and I see it happening right before my eyes.

Let me back up for a moment and give you some perspective.  As I write this, I am at my office in Pondicherry, India.  I started Efficience with my partners April and Rich back in 2004 and came to India shortly after to set up the office.  We started with one full time team member and one intern and then quickly added five more.  We have now grown to 40 bright, enthusiastic, hardworking men and women.   

When I started coming to India, none of the team members had cell phones.  Cell service existed here, but the phones were expensive, and most didn’t see the value in having one. describe the imageThis continued for a few years.  Now all our team members, from the lowest to the highest paid, have cell phones.  At this point, eight of them have smartphones, and I see the rest upgrading in a year or so.  I can see this new global customer base growing right before my eyes.

You may remember reading the Software Monster blog I wrote about how new software applications, Software as a Service (SaaS) tools, and apps are eating up the legacy business of a huge number of mainstream industries.  This was based on an article that Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, wrote in the Wall Street Journal.  Now, he has another article out that deals with the expansive opportunity that putting a handheld computer or communication tool connected to the entire world is offering by bringing customers to your doorstep.

In a CNet article called Marc Andreessen Predications for 2012, Marc discusses how smartphones are now in the hands of about 2 billion people in the developed world, and in three to five years they will be in the hands of 6 billion.  Can you imagine what to do with 4 BILLION New Customers?  I have been advocating the power of connectivity since the early ‘90s, and this adds an exponential growth factor to that, which compounds the potential.  If you read any futurist thinkers like Ray Kurzweil, it looks like we are much closer to that Singularity moment.  You can check out his book here.

Marc ends the article with how opportunities and growth wrap around smartphones saying, “Local merchants, like local restaurant owners, are going to have a smartphone app they can use to dial up customers on demand. Whether that’s from Groupon or Foursquare — any of these companies can do that. A lot of small business owners are going to start running their businesses from their smartphones.”

Your marketplace is not your backyard anymore; it’s not even your country.  We recently launched a requirements gathering tool called Sluice, and it gets 60% of its sign-ups from outside the US.  I can already envision all kinds of great opportunities with this mobile expansion, and we are moving our company in that direction for the potential it offers.  What are you doing to go after the soon-to-be total of 6 billion new customers?

Opening Doors is Priority One!

 

Awhile back, I shared that we were working with a door-opening company called Kopp Consulting. Caryn Kopp and her team assist other companies in finding new clients by having a team of former senior management professionals use Kopp’s secret sauce to get you appointments and allow you open door3to do your thing.  What an informative experience!  Working with Kopp helped us design and focus our message to best tailor it to our core clients, and they helped us connect with even more clients and businesses.

How do they do it?  I am not privy to all their tricks of the trade, but I know they are paid to get appointments, and they do.  They know what to say to get past the screeners and to get appointments set.  They helped us gain access to numerous companies that we had not been involved with before.

I just came across an article shared on LinkedIn that suggests you should have people for cultivating leads, a separate team for closing the sales, and then another group to service them. Having professionals with strengths in different areas of the sales cycle is supported in this article.  To read it, click here.

The main objective of any business is to connect with the people who have the problem that their business’ product or service can solve.  This is the life blood of any company.  It keeps everyone employed, keeps bills paid, and with the right strategy and management, keeps profits flowing to expand and help even more people.

Yes your heard that right Occupy Wall-Streeters.  Most companies want to help others.  If they didn’t help their customers, people would not buy what they have to offer.  Living in a free county, and I hope it stays that way, no one is forced to spend their money with a company.  In fact, some companies have people so excited to spend their money there that they will stand in line for quite a while.  Think Apple, Starbucks, and that popular restaurant that you go to when another nearby sits empty.

The goal for any businesses is to keep their customers happy, so they not only keep coming back for more but also tell others.  When your company is newer, is not well known, or hasn’t gone viral, firms like Kopp can be just what is needed to get you in the door.

 

Entrepreneurs Don't Care, Just Like the Honey Badger!

 

I kept hearing and seeing the slogan “The Honey Badger Don’t Care” in email jokes, on television, and from various people. You may have seen it during the college National Championship Game between Alabama and LSU. You may have seen the signs referring to LSU player #7 Tyrann Mathieu as the Honey Badger.

This all started because of a video called “The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger” by Randall (strong language; use viewer discretion). Given its popularity, you have likely seen it by now. If not, this video is really funny, but more importantly, it is a very intriguing story from an entrepreneurial perspective.

 

First of all, the video simply shows footage of a Honey Badger with voice over commentary by Randall that has gone viral (almost 34 million views). This has landed Randal a spot in the cartoon movie as well as a stuffed animal being sold with his voice. He also has a Honey Badger game app and has landed a book deal. The Honey Badger may not care, but Randall did. He cared enough to go out and take advantage of the opportunity he created for himself, turning something fun into what appears to be big money.

As I think about the slogan “the Honey Badger don’t care,” I see a mindset that an entrepreneur sustains when he or she is getting started. The entrepreneur don’t care . . . that he is unfunded, lacks experience in the marketplace, doesn’t have a team in place, doesn’t have any customers, is told he can’t do it, is not smart to quit his job, doesn’t have another source of income, and he still sees an opportunity and goes out there and makes it happen.

Now, you may be thinking that this was just a stroke of luck, and that this guy’s lottery ticket got called up. No, I don’t see it that way just as I don’t see the success of most entrepreneurs as luck. The real story is that Randall’s dad was a camera man for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and since the age of seven, Randall would narrate the films for the family when his dad would come home from these exotic trips. They would go to the zoo frequently, and he would tell stories of all the animals at the zoo. His big success came from living what he loved to do!

This is the case with most of us! We live in such a way that our passion and love for the things we do puts up in the path of opportunities that have not yet been seen, and then those that decide they really want it “honey badger” away working toward success.

What are you passionate enough about that that you don’t care what gets in your way and won’t let anything stop you?

Choose to be Great with These 3 Behaviors!

 

In last week’s blog, I introduced the three core behaviors for business greatness as researched by Jim Collins in his new book “Great by Choice.” These behaviors include fanatical discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these, so we can have a better understanding of how to apply them in our own businesses.

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In the core behavior of fanatical discipline, Collins discusses how these companies had a relentless approach in implementing their processes and strategy. Collins describes “relentless” as “consistency of action, consistency of values, consistency with long term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, and consistency over time.” He then adds, “For a 10Xer the only legitimate form of discipline is self-discipline, having the inner will to do whatever it takes to create a great outcome, no matter how difficult.” These 10Xer companies operated on a completely different level of discipline than the average or even the comparison companies. They were fanatics about it!

In regards to the core behavior of empirical creativity, Collins shows that 10Xers would try things in the marketplace, get feedback, make changes, and get more feedback. They relied on this practice to make bold moves with less risk. He says, “By empirical, we mean relying upon direct observations, conducting practical experiments, and / or engaging directly with evidence rather than relying upon opinion, whim, conventional wisdom, or untested ideas.” I really relate to Collins analogy of firing bullets instead of cannonballs. Fire the bullets and make adjustments to be sure you zero in on the target. When you have a lock on the target, then you fire your cannonball.

When observing the core behavior of productive paranoia, the 10Xers displayed a sense of constant worry in regards to what could cause their demise in good times as well as bad. They worried, like Gates, that the guy in the garage would come out with something that would sink them. Like me, you may remember Andy Grove of Intel, a 10X company, coming out of the cover of Fortune with the title Only the Paranoid Survive.” Collins says, “They (10Xers) believe that conditions will – absolutely, with 100 percent certainty – turn against them without warning, at some unpredictable point in time, at some highly inconvenient moment. And they’d better be prepared.”

I have discussed many times in these writings how Efficience is working toward its BHAG by creating many products in the marketplace and observing the evidence of what works. Those are our bullets, and when the empirical evidence comes in, we will fire a cannonball. I expected this to be a core behavior, but the other two behaviors of discipline and paranoia found in the 10Xers surprised me. We will be working hard to step up to our discipline and paranoia going forward. How will you use these behaviors to be great?