Stop Selling and Add Value

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Stop Selling & Add Value
I was subjected to one of the worst “sales” presentations I’ve ever witnessed yesterday. In fact, so much so that I decided to author this post as a reminder to those who still don’t understand that generating new business relationships is not about selling – it’s about establishing trust, rapport, and the creation of vaule without selling. What I’m about to espouse will cause many an eyebrow to furrow and jaw to drop…I truly believe that the traditional practice of sales as a business discipline has become at best ineffective, and in many cases flat out obsolete. You see, good business practices are not static. Stale methodologies and disciplines simply die a slow and very painful death, and it is my contention that the overwhelming majority of sales processes I see in today’s marketplace are just that…stale. If you want to create revenue, increase customer satisfaction, and drive brand equity, stop selling and start adding value. In the text that follows I’ll share my thoughts on how the practice of sales must change in order to survive.

Lest you think I’ve lost my mind, I want to be clear that I’m not advocating taking your eye off the revenue creation ball. Rather what I’m recommending will help you generate more revenue, with greater velocity by simply doing the right thing in putting your customer’s needs first. I hear a lot of noise about the tough economy, and revenue being down for many companies. I hear complaint upon complaint that companies just don’t have money to spend, and that nobody is buying. If you’re experiencing this type of reaction from your customer, it’s not because they don’t have money to spend, it’s because you’re selling and not adding value. It’s because you’re talking and not listening. It’s because you don’t get it…It’s not about you, your company, your products or your services. It’s about meeting customer needs and adding value. When you start paying more attention to your customer needs than your revenue needs, you’ll find you no longer have a revenue problem to complain about.

The problem with many sales organizations is that they still operate with the same principles and techniques they were using in the 60′s, 70’s and 80’s. While the technology supporting sales process have clearly evolved, the traditional sales strategies proffered by sales gurus 20 or 30 years ago have not kept pace with market needs. They are not nearly as effective as they once were, and as I’ve eluded to, in most cases they are obsolete.

Trust me when I tell you that your prospects and customers have heard it all before. They can see the worn-out, old school closes coming a mile away. They can sniff antiquated selling strategies, and will immediately tune out on presentations not deemed relevant. If your sales force is still FAB-selling, spin-selling, soft-selling or using any number of outdated, one size fits all selling methodologies, your sales are suffering whether you realize it or not.

So, my first suggestion is that you change nomenclature. Clients are people not fish. Don’t “lure” or “hook” them – engage them, listen to them and serve them. Eliminate the words “suspects” and “prospects” from your vocabulary and replace them with potential clients. Think about it – do you establish trust by profiling and targeting prospects, or by attempting to understand the needs of a potential client? This is much more than a semantical argument – it’s a philosophical shift in thinking, and a practical shift in acting. Stop selling and start serving.

The truth is that in most corporations there exists a hierarchy of sales that comes with a very established and entrenched pecking order. The enterprise sales folks and key accounts reps sit atop the food chain, followed by inside sales reps, and at the bottom of the latter you’ll find the customer service reps. The hunters are revered and the farmers are tolerated. Regardless of the titles being used, this entire concept of sales is so antiquated it’s laughable. Frankly, most people I know would rather talk to a knowledgeable customer service person over a sales rep any day of the week. The reason for this should be obvious…The perception is that a customer service professional is providing information and helping them meet their needs. A sales person is trying to sell them something.

Call me crazy, but I don’t want to talk to someone who wants to manage my account, develop my business, or engineer my sale. I want to communicate with someone who wants to service my needs or solve my problems. Any organization that still has “sales” titles on their org charts and business cards is living in another time and place while attempting to do business in a world that’s already passed them by. It’s time for companies to realize that consumers have become very savvy and very demanding. Today’s consumer (B2B or B2C) does their homework, is well informed, and buys…they are not sold.

Engage me, communicate with me, add value to my business, solve my problems, create opportunity for me, educate me, inform me, but don’t try and sell me…it won’t work. An attempt to sell me insults my intelligence and wastes my time. Think about it…do you like to be sold? News flash…nobody does. Now ask yourself this question, do you like to be helped? Most reasonable people do. The difference between the two positions while subtle, are very meaningful and powerful. If customer centricity is a buzzword as opposed to the foundation of your corporate culture then you have some work to do. The reality is that until I know that you care more about meeting my needs than yours, you’ll remain on the outside looking in. By the way, in order to understand my needs you have to actually know something about me…

The first thing to do when assessing your sales model is to take a giant step back, and critically examine the current landscape. You can’t fix a problem that you don’t understand, and implementing change for the sake of change will likely only make matters worse. If what you’ve read thus far even remotely resonates with you, then I would suggest reading “Don’t Negotiate…Facilitate.” Teach your sales force to become true professionals focused on helping their customers for all the right reasons vs. closing the big deal for personal benefit. To do otherwise will lead to missing substantial opportunities without even being aware of it.

The bottom line is that the most important factor in creating revenue and building brand equity is the client/customer/end-user. If you don’t engineer everything around the client, your client relationships will vanish before your very eyes. Don’t be just another vendor, become a trusted advisor and advocate. As always I welcome your thoughts below…

Diversity & Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I have really grown quite weary of the “Diversity” debate. Let me be clear: a leader’s job is not to build a diverse culture, but a rich and productive culture – they are not always one and the same. This blog was recently nominated for Kevin Eikenberry’s Best Leadership Blogs of 2010, and I noticed recently that Kevin was taking heat from the gender police for having only one woman on the list of nominees. Kevin responded to that comment by saying he doesn’t read for gender, he reads for content. I’ll take it one step further – I can’t really think of any issue that should be argued or decided solely on the merits of diversity. In fact, let me take it up even another notch…with the exception of seeking diversity of thought, diversity should be a non-issue altogether. In the text that follows I’ll make my case for resting on your qualifications and performance not your ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, etc.

Those of you familiar with my writing know that I often take the unpopular side of an issue if I believe it worthy of mention. In today’s post I’ll likely evoke the ire of many, because I will point out things that should be common sense for business people, which need to be publicly stated, but rarely are. It is not my intent to offend anyone with the text that follows, and if you find yourself being offended, it is my opinion you need to examine your motives and principles. The issues of diversity in business when handled properly can be catalysts for growth. However this is not the case in most instances, and as a result, diversity has become one of the leading killers of corporate productivity.

Let’s start with a reality check…there is no doubt that we live in a diverse world. Unless you live on an isolated mountain top, without access to other people or the media at large, it would be difficult to get through the day without being impacted by issues of ethnicity, race, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, physical appearance, mental and physical challenges, etc. However from my perspective, the issue is not whether we recognize diversity, but rather how it is dealt with…

You see, I have no problem whatsoever with the concept of equal opportunity, so long as it is not misunderstood, misapplied, or mandated.  You will never see me deny all human beings are created equal, and that those of us in the United States are recognized to have been endowed with certain inalienable rights. However I refuse to make business decisions that are not in the best interests of the business, simply to appeal to the wrong groups for the wrong reasons. Don’t make your case by playing the diversity card, play the I’m qualified card. Compete on your merits, not why your lack thereof should be overlooked. If you’re not qualified don’t try to work around your lack of qualifications, go get the qualifications you need to compete.

I will onshore, offshore, outsource, insource, or execute whatever business strategy I implement without regard for diversity. In evaluating any relationship in the value chain I’m looking for value, talent, performance, leverage, efficiency, economy of scale, work ethic, integrity, character, discipline, and many other traits irrespective of your skin color, age, etc. I care about your contribution to the enterprise at every level – not just culturally. I don’t mean to downplay culture, as a diverse corporate culture is something to be strived for, but only if quality is not sacrificed.

As a CEO, when you start to lower the chinning bar by allowing for the hiring of someone based more on their diversity segment than their talent, you are enabling the demise of your enterprise. Case in point is Wal-Mart CEO, Lee Scott, who is so concerned with diversity mandates that Wal-Mart officers are held financially accountable by tying officer incentive bonuses to achieving diversity goals. Do you really want to financially incentivize your executives to make hiring decisions that place a greater value upon diversity mandates than qualifications? By the way, employee performance and morale at Wal-Mart is near all time lows…

Diversity mandates just don’t work…Talent begets talent, and blending occurs naturally when good decisions are made for the right reasons. When you force the diversity agenda for the wrong reasons (no matter how well intended) productivity suffers and resentment grows. The simple truth is that lowering standards is never a good thing in any environment. A sense of entitlement is not a substitute for work ethic and a desire to achieve. By maintaining the highest of standards you force people to raise their game and be the best that they can be. Anything other than this fosters unhealthy dependencies that bring out the worst in people, and not the best they have to offer.

“Diversity” has never been an issue for me simply because I don’t make business decisions based upon social mandates or politically correct thinking.  Over the years I have had clients, employees, vendors, suppliers, partners, etc., of virtually every diversity segment. I have done business with those old and young, gay and straight, physically and mentally gifted, and physically and mentally challenged. I have worked with those that are in shape, out of shape, and of all races, creeds, and cultures. I have done business with the highly religious, the agnostic, and the atheist. In each and every case my decisioning had nothing to do with diversity. My decisions had to do with business.

My point is simply this…Never is my business conducted on the basis of diversity. I choose those I do business with based upon doing the right thing, rather than doing things right. I care about what is in the best interests of the business and those we serve more than what someone thinks about my employee mix. When it comes down to a hiring decision, I simply don’t care about your race, but I care greatly about whether you are the best person for the job. I will not promote you based on your ethnicity, gender, age, etc, but I will promote you based upon your performance.

The diversity argument is divisive and only serves to enable unqualified people to gain an advantage over those who are qualified. My advice is simple – don’t identify yourself based on diversity segment, identify yourself by your accomplishments and your character. Stop whining about phantom injustices and become better at what you do.

Let the attacks begin – I’ll publish any comments that are civil…

Leadership & Emotional Control

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leadership & Emotional ControlIf the above photo resembles a typical leadership meeting at your place of work then you may want to read this post. FACT: Leaders who lack emotional control won’t remain in a position of leadership for long. There has been no shortage of information published on the topic of Emotional IQ or what’s referred to as EQ in recent years. After all, being in touch with your emotions, as well as being in tune with the emotions of others is an important trait for any leader to possess. However I believe the more important emotional trait for CEOs and entrepreneurs to gain mastery over is what I call EC or emotional control. In today’s post I’ll discuss the value of gaining control over your emotions…

Business can be tough, and the outcomes of certain events or decisions often seem far from fair…Just when you’re sailing along with the perception that all is well, you can be hit out of left field with a situation or circumstance that can bring even the most sophisticated CEO to their knees. Even if you don’t find yourself having to frequently deal with extreme situations, it is often nothing more than normal dealings in the ordinary course of business that can place you at a nexus…Do you make your decision based upon the facts at hand and sound decisioning metrics, or do you let your emotions drive your decisions?

Over the years I have observed countless examples of people who jeopardize their future to satisfy an emotional need, when what they should have done was protect their future by exhibiting control over their emotions. I have witnessed otherwise savvy executives place the need for emotional security and superiority ahead of achieving their mission (not that they always understood this at the time). Case in point…have you ever witnessed an employee throw a fit of rage and resign their position in the heat of the moment? If you have, what you really watched was a person indulging their emotions rather than protecting their future.

The message here while a basic one, is nonetheless mission critical for leaders…Keep your wits about you and never let them see you sweat. Emotional outbursts, rants, and rages will rarely do anything but cause you to make poor decisions and to lose credibility. There’s an old saying that goes: “When you lose your temper, you lose.” I believe that with a loss of your temper you can lose your credibility, your influence, and your ultimately your ability to lead. It shouldn’t go without note that perhaps more important than “what” you lose, is “who” you can lose when you don’t maintian emotional control. Regardless of what might be tugging at your emotional strings, leaders need to remain calm while assessing the situation at hand. Make decisions based upon the big picture, and never based upon heat of the moment emotions.

I have only raised my voice in the workplace twice during my career, and both times I have regretted it tremendously. The reality is, whether you’re right or wrong isn’t at issue when you lose emotional control – people won’t remember anything other than the fact you blew your top. Great CEOs lead by example…they set the tone for others in the organization by demonstrating proactive, rational, logical and balanced thinking as opposed reactionary emotional thinking. Resist the temptation to give way to emotional decisioning and you’ll see your career and company soar to new heights of success.

I welcome your thoughts, experiences & observations, and encourage you to leave a comment below…

Social Media Responsibility

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

My wife pointed me to an LA Times story today that made me cringe…The article recounted how TV personality Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) suddenly passed out while speaking at USC. While this caused a tense moment, he appears to be okay now. However what incensed me was how the crowd reacted. Witnesses noted the crowd did nothing, they did not come to his aid, and they were of no help to Bill whatsoever. But the audience was oh-so quick to grab their phones and tweet/IM/Facebook about what they were watching. Therein lies the problem – they were watching, not acting. In today’s post I’m going to explore responsibility as it relates to social media – the responsibility that comes with living in the real world vs. a perpetual state of virtual reality.

As most of you know, I’m a big fan of social media. I use it personally and my company has a social media practice area which offers social media services to our clients. But when social media addiction takes precedence over common sense, over helping another human being, it may be time to reassess the world in which we live. Social tools, platforms and networks are meant to be conduits to broader and deeper relationships. The real benefit of social media is in improving how we interact not in creating barriers to engagement. The digital world is at its best when it brings us closer together and at its worst when moves us further apart.

I probably wouldn’t even bring up this topic if what happened to Bill was an isolated event, but it’s not. I have observed other reports where people have been attacked, injured, or were otherwise in need of help but didn’t receive it because bystanders would simply rather standby than help. They would rather shoot a video, bang out a tweet, or just go on ignore rather than help a fellow human being… 

Let me be clear – I’m not attempting to dismiss the value of social media, because it would take contriving an intellectually dishonest argument to attempt to nullify something that offers so many benefits and so much potential. In fact, I hope that some in Bill Nye’s audience were attempting to contact emergency services, but I rather suspect that this was not the case for most of them.

Let me ask you a few questions: Which world do you live in – the real world or the virtual world? Are you still able to distinguish the difference between the two? The term “virtual reality” derived its name for a reason…because it’s NOT real – it’s virtual, simulated, and it can easily become fantasy if you lose touch with reality. Even scarier is when the ambiguous and ethereal become your reality. If you choose voyeurism over real relationships you have precariously positioned yourself on a very slippery slope. It’s perfectly fine to spend time in the virtual world if you recognize it as such. So, are you still in touch with reality? Do you avoid human relationships in lieu of online relationships? Are your online relationships adding value to your personal and professional life or harming them? Would you reach out to another human being in need of help or just tweet about it?

The simple message here is anything can be misused, or abused. Anything can become an addiction or an idol – even something as wonderfully powerful as social media. I have no problem with social media if it’s adding value to your world. I have no issue with social media being used to help people as has been the case on numerous occasions around the world. But I do have an issue (and so should you) if social media is cutting you off from the real world, and is keeping you from helping others. When black & white becomes permanently blurred so that everything reads as shades of grey, things can become dicey. Real life is not a spectator sport – it’s a participation sport, and in fact, I submit to you that it’s a full contact participation sport.

As always I welcome your comments below…

Best Leadership Blogs 2010

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I know we’re all a bit election weary, but I’d like to encourage you to consider casting one more vote this year. Kevin Eikenberry (@kevineikenberry) opened-up voting for The Best Leadership Blogs of 2010 yesterday, and the N2growth blog was one of 11 blogs nominated for the award. The winner will be the blog receiving the most votes (One vote per email address), and you can vote by clicking on the link above. I know all but one of the other nominees and would highly recommend any of them as a high quality source of leadership information. If you are a regular reader of this blog and feel it has added value to your growth and development as a leader I would greatly appreciate your vote. If you don’t cast a vote for this blog, please vote for one of the other nominees. If there is a blog you feel should have been nominated but wasn’t, please share that information in the comments below and I’ll pass it along to Kevin. I’m Mike Myatt and I approve this message…

Leadership & Veterans Day

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Today’s post is part tribute, part rant, and part leadership tutorial. The tribute is to comemmorate the celebration of Veterans Day, the rant to vent some of my pent-up frustrations about what I view as some disturbing trends, and the leadership tutorial to share what I believe our business leaders can learn from their military counterparts. While my thoughts may seem to be a bit fractionalized at the outset, I believe you’ll find they actually tie together very nicely. If you only have time to read one post of mine, please read this one…

The Tribute:
I think the Bible says it the best: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” ~John 15:13. While many see Veterans Day as a time to mourn our nation’s losses, I prefer to view it as a day of respectful celebration subscribing to the philosophy of General George S. Patton, who said: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” I’d also encourage you to find a tangible way to thank a Vet (or their family) for their service and sacrifice. While Veterans Day should be very personal to all of us, it is particularly so for those of us with active duty family members. Please leave a comment below and join me in wishing every military family our most sincere expression of gratitude.

The Rant (Tribute – Part II):
I don’t know about you, but I feel as if every day should be Veterans Day. One day a year is simply not sufficient to thank those who give so selflessly for the freedoms that we enjoy each and every day. I’m often taken aback at the cavalier fashion in which most of our nation deals with war. That’s right – we are a nation at war, and a war on multiple fronts. Pretending this is not the case is simply reckless, irresponsible, and quite frankly unpatriotic.

There are times when I long for days past when we were a unified nation. The biggest difference between today’s war and that of say World War II is that during the war years of the 1940s we were truly a “nation” at war. We were a nation united in a struggle against a common enemy. Winning the war consumed the entirety of our focus as a nation – it was the center of our national pride, it pulled us out of economic turmoil, it catalyzed our growth as an industrial giant, and our citizens lived each and every day in sacrifice for the greater common good.

The contrast with today is a stark one, and frankly not a good one. One of the differences between now and then is we had leadership that recognized what was at stake for us as a nation and they acted upon the conviction of doing the right thing – the necessary thing.  Not only is our current leadership sorely misguided, but there are far too many of our citizenry who selfishly choose to ignore the war, or worse yet protest the war in an effort to further their own interests and pacify their own inadequacies rather than give of themselves in service to our country. If as a nation we were to set aside partisan politics, personal interests, and selfish behavior we could accomplish great things once again, and the world would be a better place for those efforts. Perhaps it’s time to remember the words first uttered by Aesop, and later repeated by Washington, Lincoln and many of history’s greatest leaders: “United we stand and divided we fall.”

The Leadership Tutorial (Tribute – Part III):
I firmly believe that our nation’s military produces world class leadership talent. Today’s business leaders would be well served to possess the characteristics of our military leaders in their pursuit to achieve sustainable growth and long-term success. Commitment, attention to detail, discipline, service above self, honor, integrity, perseverance, the ability to both lead and follow, to execute with precision, and the ability to adapt, improvise & overcome are all traits that will serve you well in the boardroom.

“Service Above Self” is a statement that resonates with everyone who has ever been on the receiving end of the service. However, it has been my experience that the concepts of “Service Above Self” and “Servant Leadership” while often discussed, and always admired, are far too rarely practiced. It is precisely this shortcoming that accounts for many of the problems faced by our business leaders, but also by society as a whole. Look no further than our military leaders to understand the value of servant leadership.

The sad reality is that human nature adversely affects our perspective in that service is often undermined by short-sighted self interest. What most people intuitively understand, but fail to keep at the forefront of their thinking, is that our personal success and fulfillment will be much more closely tied to how we help others than what we do for ourselves…While there are many motivating factors which underpin a leaders decisioning, nothing is intrinsically more pure, and more inspiring than the call to serve. The dedication and commitment required to be a true servant leader requires a level of personal sacrifice that can only be instilled by a passionate belief in a greater good…something beyond one’s self.

There are many so-called management gurus in today’s politically correct world who would take great exception to what I’m putting forth in today’s post. They would tell you that the classic strong leadership traits that define our nation’s best military leaders are outdated, and that they don’t display a proper amount of empathy and compassion. I’m here to tell you that strength and compassion are not mutually exclusive terms…rather the strongest leaders are in fact the most compassionate leaders.

It has been my experience that nowhere will you find better examples of strong, compassionate leaders than those serving in our armed forces. A good military leader ensures their troops sleep before they do, eat before they do, and are cared for before they are. A leader’s greatest responsibility is not for his/her own glory, but it is for the well being of those whose care has been entrusted to said leader. Our corporations and institutions would be far better off if more CEOs adopted this philosophy, which our military leaders live out on a daily basis.

Much of who I am as a leader is a direct result of what I learned in the military. I have the honor of having a strong family military legacy dating back to the Civil War. More recently, my son is currently on active duty as an EOD officer in the US Air Force. I strongly recommend to all business leaders that they learn to develop a command presence, and lead from a committed and passionate position of strength. The word “passion” comes from a Latin root which means quite literally to suffer. If you’re passionate about something it means you care so much that it hurts…Refusing to surrender, and having the ability to make the tough decision or the needed sacrifice, will allow your company to continue taking ground and will keep the competitive advantage on the side of your enterprise.

Please share your thoughts below, and use this opportunity to thank a Vet.

Great Leaders Make Decisions

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

News Flash: There is one tell-tale sign, a dead give away that you’re a weak leader - I can see it a mile off, and so can every one else. What is it? Everyone knows you’re a lousy leader if you can’t make decisions. Sound harsh? Perhaps so, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the truth. Nothing signals leadership trouble more than an executive who can’t make decisions. If you can’t make decisions, you can’t get things done. If you suffer from analysis paralysis, procrastination, timidity, a lack of courage or confidence, being indecisive, or being in over your head, there is trouble looming. Nowhere is there more truth to the old saying that “where there’s smoke there’s fire” than as it applies to leaders who can’t make decisions. In today’s post I’ll discuss the element that separates wannabe leaders from authentic leaders…The ability to take action and make decisions.

The path toward any accomplishment worthy of note begins with the first step. Understanding and implementing the concept of “actionable leadership” is a major key to success in becoming a great CEO. Much has been written about leadership theory, leadership concepts, leadership style, leadership dynamics, what leaders are, or are not, and a plethora of other leadership-centric content. However my question to you is this: What is leadership without action? Theory is fine for the classroom, but in the business world, theory without action is little more than useless rhetoric. Don’t tell me, show me…Don’t talk the talk, but walk the walk. Taking action always begings with one simple act – making a decision.

Do you have great vision? Are you a master of strategy? Do you have boundless energy or mesmerizing charisma? While the aforementioned qualities are certainly admirable, they are only valuable if they influence or create action. Walt Disney, one of the greatest creative talents and true innovators of our time realized the value of action when he said: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Let me make this as clear as I can – procrastination is the beginning of walking the plank. When you get to the end of the plank things don’t get better do they? You may have bought yourself a bit of time, but the decision is now being made for you, and the outcome isn’t as hoped for.

I’m always amazed at the number of senior executives who really struggle with even simple decisions…This next comment might hit a bit too close to home for some of you, but I’m hoping it may help bring you back to reality. As a C-level executive you get paid to make decisions and to take action. If you’re too busy to do either of those things YOU have a BIG problem. When you reach the C-Suite level your calendar is always full and there are constant demands on your time – this is not going to change, things are not going to somehow be better next week, next month, next quarter, or next year. Procrastinating doesn’t make things better it makes things worse. I’m not advocating that you make imprudent decisions or that you don’t seek counsel in making complex decisions, but I am advocating that you stop stalling and actually make the decision. The only thing that gives you more control over your time is to make good decisions and to teach those whom you lead to do the same.

A close examination of truly great leaders will reveal that, to the one, they all have a strong bias toward action. It was Andy Grove the former Chairman and CEO of Intel and Time Magazine’s 1997 Man of the Year who said “You have to take action; you can’t hesitate or hedge your bets. Anything less will condemn your efforts to failure.” If you can’t take action, if you can’t make the tough decision, and if you can’t instill a bias toward action in your peers and subordinates, then you don’t belong in a leadership position.

A critical part of the talent management life-cycle is leadership development. If your mentoring and training programs don’t focus on the development of action oriented leaders then you are simply breeding obselesence, and utlimately…failure. When an organization stops learning they begin dying. It is more critical than ever in today’ economic climate that leadership development be a top priority for CEOs who want to build a thriving enterprise moving forward.

Remember that leadership is not a spectator sport. Great leaders will do anything to get off the bench and into the game. If your company has passive and/or timid leadership you will face serious problems in sustaining your competitive advantage. Furthermore, if your company isn’t leveraging action learning to develop leaders, fuel innovation, foster collaboration, and catalyze growth then you are missing a substantial opportunity. My message is a simple one…stop pondering and pontificating make a decision and take action.

Thoughts?

20 Reasons Websites Fail

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

For years now I have consistently received inquiries from CEOs who wonder why their web initiatives are falling short of reaching their objectives. Because most of these inquiries come from executives suffering from web maladies of a similar nature, I decided to put forth a list of what I consider to be the 20 most common website mistakes hindering success on the Internet. The sad part about the following list is that none of these typical mistakes are difficult to remedy, yet most offenders simply fail to correct the issues and wonder why their Internet presence isn’t producing the desired results… 

Without further adieu - 20 Reasons Websites Fail (in no particular order):

  1. Not Having One: If you’re a proud hold-out continuing to dwell in the offline world, WAKE UP! Not having an Internet presence is akin to not being open for business. Don’t think for a moment that you can outlast progress and advances in technology, and somehow end-up coming out ahead of the game…It won’t work. 
  2. Being a One-Trick Pony: Almost as bad as having no Internet presence is confusing a single website for a web presence. Do me a favor and imagine a spider “web” – intricate, concentric strands carefully woven together to create the perfect “net.” To develop visibility, presence and influence you must use multiple sites, platforms and networks that work in collaboration with one another to create a digital “web.” It is not uncommon for a successful Internet presence these days to include ten, twenty, fifty or even hundreds of digital connection points. What you have to remember is the importance of engaging your customers where they are, and in today’s world they’re literally everywhere.  
  3. No Leadership: You’d be surprised at how many times a company’s Internet presence is still the number one corporate “hot potato” with either nobody in charge, or the wrong person in charge. Without leadership, vision and executive involvement, your web presence will be destined for failure. Hint: your web initiatives must be in alignment with, and serve as a key driver of your business objectives.
  4. No Aesthetics: While I’m not advocating form over substance, let me be very clear – design matters. Now comes the tricky part…what you think passes for great design isn’t as important as what your audience thinks. So, how do you know what passes for good design? Be open minded, seek advice, then listen. I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion great content that doesn’t get viewed because people can’t get past horrible design. I’ve also witnessed good content deemed less than credible because the design is clearly not credible. I’ll say it again – design matters.
  5. No Metrics: Nowhere is the axiom “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” more appropriate than as applied to the corporate Internet presence. If you don’t have a detailed analytics program measuring key metrics then you cannot even begin to hope to understand what’s working, and what’s not working…No metrics – no success.
  6. No Visibility: If you have a great website, but it can’t be found - you lose…If you don’t have page one visibility (either paid, organic, or preferably both) on major search engines under relevant search terms, then you’ve wasted whatever investment you’ve made into the creation of your website. No visibility, equals no traffic, equals questionable sustainability in today’s world.  Hint: think mobile – if you’re website isn’t mobile friendly you’re already behind the curve.
  7. No Phone Number: If you really want to frustrate your clients and prospects try not publishing a contact phone number. Let me put it another way…if you want to send your clients and prospects directly to your competition just withhold your phone number from them. Smart companies provide multiple channels through which they can be contacted. If someone on your leadership team believes it’s more cost effective to play hide the pea with your phone number, then I would suggest that person doesn’t belong on your leadership team.
  8. No Social Acumen: Being anti-social in today’s market is the proverbial kiss of death. A website without a voice doesn’t doesn’t engender much confidence. Numerous studies have shown that visitors have a better opinion of companies who maintain an active blog, and actively engage in social networking. If your company doesn’t blog, tweet, and participate in other social networking platforms, then you’re missing a tremendous opportunity to engage with your customers, prospects and other stakeholders.   
  9. No Opt-in List: Give your website visitors the option of opting-in to receive information and updates. This is the fastest way to identify those interested in what you do. There are few things as valuable for direct marketing purposes as having a large, targeted e-mail list, and nowhere can you build a better list faster than mining for subscribers on your website.
  10. No Executive Bios: People don’t do business with companies, they do business with people. If I can’t read-up on the team behind the brand, then I don’t know who I’m doing business with. If I don’t know who I’m doing business with, I won’t do business…
  11. Forced Registrations: If you force visitors to register prior to giving them access to your information, your losing valuable opportunities. Forced registrations out of the gate send website visitors away in droves. If your idea is to better qualify prospects by shielding access to your content behind a registration form then you are misguided in your thinking. Grant access to your information first, and people will gladly register to be provided full details of your offering. You need to earn the right to qualify a prospect or to mine for data by earning trust and communicating value. This cannot be done by starting with a forced registration. Engage first – sell later.
  12. Static Content: If the content on your website is ostensibly the same as it was 6 months ago, then you’re messaging that you either have a static organization void of innovation, or that you simply don’t care enough about your website to update it with fresh content…in either case you lose.
  13. Poor Quality Content: Content is still and forever will be king…If your website contains content that doesn’t add value to, and doesn’t properly address the needs of key constituencies, your website will not be successful. If you must pick between quantity of content and quality of content, choose the latter and not the former. However keep in mind that a combination of the two will afford you the most significant benefits. Hint- don’t create content for you – create it for your audience.
  14. Pop-ups: Today’s Internet is open, collaborative and consumer driven. Just like the topic of forced registrations mentioned above, attempting to control browsing habits through the imposition of unwanted interruption based applications is offensive to the majority of Internet users. If users want to be surveyed, polled, updated, etc., then they’ll subscribe to your opt-in list giving you their permission to query them.   
  15. Poor Linking/Navigation: If you make visitors work too hard to find the information they’re seeking, you’ll lose them altogether as they’ll leave your site for more fertile ground. Navigation needs to be simple, intuitive, and functional. When you examine your analytics and notice that visitors leave your site after viewing only one or two pages, a likely cause is poor navigational architecture. 
  16. No E-Commerce: Make it easy for your customers and prospects to buy from you. Don’t force them to order a catalogue, talk to a sales rep, visit a retail location, or to participate in other multi-step processes. Every web presence should have the ability to sell something. A website is capable of selling products, services, knowledge, information, subscriptions, advertising, and a virtually anything your mind can imagine. Make sure your website is e-commerce enabled.
  17. Bad Multimedia: When I land on a website I don’t want to be assulted by cheesey music, bad video, or maybe the worst offense of all – total multimedia as a feigned substitute for a lack of content. Let visitors select multimedia elements of interest, but don’t force your presentations on them.
  18. No Community: If your Internet presence creates a destination, but not a community you’re missing a key part of the puzzle. There is a big difference between creating a desire to arrive and the desire to stay and then to comeback again and again. To create a community is to create trust, a sense of belonging, the feeling that people have a voice, and that you listen. A strong community is also social proof that you have something valid to offer. Miss this point and you miss big time. 
  19. No Fun: Part of creating community is having a sense of humor and adding a bit of entertainment value. If you think your brand is too high-brow or too institutional to have fun – think again. Stodgy, stagnant, and elitist is just another way of saying you’re boring. Boring brands equal bad brands.
  20. No References: If you don’t provide references and testimonials you are simply creating an unnecessary barrier to success. Don’t tell people you’re good at what you do, let your work, and more particularly your clients tell them on your behalf. Nothing speaks to professional credibility like affirming voices – especially influential ones.

So, what did I miss? As always, I welcome your comments below…

Buzzwords Aren’t All Bad

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Here’s an “out of the box” idea - buzzwords and business-speak can actually be valuable. The problem is that many people tend to immediately tune out anyone who chooses to use them. The vitriol is so intense that many have taken to trivializing anyone who utters these buzzwords as an incompetent, uneducated, and completely inferior corporate citizen. While you may find it hard to believe, I don’t have anything against buzzwords, techno-jargon, colloquialisms, acronyms and other forms of business-speak with the following caveat…that they are used in context, and by someone who possesses an underlying knowledge of what the phrase du jour actually means. I know that for many of you, what I’ve just espoused is nothing short of sacrilege, but I encourage you to read the text that follows as I think I can actually make the business case for becoming accepting of the use of buzzwords and business-speak…

While I doubt too many of my academic followers made it past the opening paragraph, for those who chose to endure, I want you to know that I’m not advocating for the degradation and demise of the English language with useless, watered-down business slang. However, I am very much in support of adding value, increasing clarity, and infusing brevity into our communications & dialogue. You see, buzzwords are birthed from the necessity of human beings to simplify the complex…they are in fact very useful in describing, informing, and educating. It’s as if it has become more acceptable to bash users of buzzwords than to actually listen to what’s being said – this in my opinion is not healthy, nor is it productive.

I have found that business-speak can be particularly beneficial in using just a few words to explain situations, scenarios, processes, trends, attitudes and any number of other ethereal and esoteric concepts that might have otherwise needed several sentences or paragraphs to describe. While I could cite many examples of what I just described, a particularly good one is the use of the phrase “social media.” A person could either take several minutes to explain the evolution of technologies, mediums, shift in content paradigms, engagement practices and market dynamics that came together to make the Internet a more valuable and efficient space, or they could just utilize “social media” as a descriptive aid to make the connection. The latter is much more efficient than the former.

It is the desire for this type of increased efficiency in our communications that creates the irony of needing to expand the total number of words contained in the dictionary in order to simplify our communications, and reduce the number of words we actually use. In fact, look no further than the current business innovations to seek validation for my assertions. Tools like email, instant messaging, texting, blogging and micro-blogging are all examples of shortening our communications to leverage speed and time to our advantage.

Where most people get off track with the use of buzzwords is not understanding their audience. Communicating is about connecting, and if the words you choose to use don’t connect then you might as well be spitting into the wind. All great communicators use language that resonates with those to whom they are speaking. What I want you to understand is that buzzwords are not the issue – the inappropriate use of them is. This is a subtle yet important distinction lost upon many.

Bottom line…While I can appreciate eloquent and detailed word pictures, they are not always needed. Not everyone who allows a buzzword to cross their lips is evil…they may just be pressed for time, and/or desire to be efficient in their communications. So I would ask that rather than dismiss someone solely on their use of buzzwords and business-speak, you first evaluate whether said use added value, was contextually appropriate, or whether the instance was born out of laziness or a lack of substance.

Agree or disagree, I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below. Feel free to share any buzzwords that happen to be pet-peeves…

Related Post: The Lost Art of Brevity

Marketing Success

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

marketing successHow do you know when marketing is out of control? Those of you familiar with this blog know that I’m generally a strong marketing advocate. That said, my typical pro-marketing position assumes that certain key fundamentals are in place to insure that the lunatics don’t somehow become in charge of the asylum. In today’s post I’ll discuss how to keep marketing in check so that brand focus is maintained and your company avoids the costly trap of marketing gone awry…

On more than a few occasions I have found myself called in to rescue companies from themselves and/or their consultants with regard to ill advised or poorly conceived branding or rebranding initiatives. I have watched companies spend tremendous amounts of money, time and energy debating logos, taglines, color pallets, font styles, ad campaigns, positioning strategies, marketing messages, brand promises, etc., with the only outcomes being failed initiatives and splintered management teams.

I have often counseled clients to beware the change agents for the sake of change…There are few things in business that can impede corporate progress like failed marketing initiatives. If you don’t believe me just try confusing, offending, or alienating your customers and prospects with mixed marketing messages and see what happens. Today’s consumers aren’t going to tolerate trite marketing gimmicks that either insults their intelligence, or that requires too much intelligence. Don’t fall into the trap of cranking out cute ads where form trumps substance by having the message either lost in the ambiguity of the marketing, or overshadowed by the complexity of the marketing (I would suggest reviewing another post entitled “Keeping It Simple“).

The best way to insure that your marketing doesn’t wander off course is to gut check your marketing and branding initiatives against the following four points to determine whether or not your message is accretive or dilutive to your objectives:

  1. Customer Focus: Mark my words – any marketing endeavor conceived in absence of a customer centric mindset will fail. At its core, marketing is about engaging with customers, meeting their needs, solving their problems, sparking their passion, earning their trust, and cementing their loyalty. Executives or agencies that believe marketing is somehow about them and not the customer represent everything wrong with marketing today. Marketing isn’t about egos, it’s about results - you cannot achieve results without the customer.
  2. Leadership: There are a number of ways to get in trouble here…poor leadership, no leadership, or fractionalized leadership can all be quite problematic. Marketing is not a part-time endeavor, and if you don’t have a qualified C-level marketing executive leading the charge, don’t just trust things to the most vocal staff member. Lastly, don’t decentralize marketing…consistent messaging across markets, mediums and constituencies is critical. Don’t be guilty of mixed messaging because the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.   
  3. Alignment: A fundamental precept to all marketing initiatives is that they must be in alignment with the corporate values and vision. Remember that good marketing adds value, leverage, and velocity to your vision. It should never dilute it or distract from it. Most importantly good marketing is never in conflict with corporate values…compromise in this area and trouble will most certainly follow. If your marketing doesn’t uphold your brand promise or if it’s not advancing core business initiatives, then you have an alignment issue.
  4. Managing Outside Vendors: Remember that consultants work for you, and that the decisions should be made by you and not the vendor. Good consultants build consensus and unify management focus, they do not splinter opinion. If you have a management team that is split down the middle on a marketing or branding issue then you have not arrived at the right decision.

Bottom line…solid marketing and branding initiatives are mission critical to sustainable increases in growth objectives. That said, flawed marketing or branding initiatives have crippled many a good company. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied into something that doesn’t resonate with your sense of discernment. If something is important enough to implement, it is important enough to do well.

As always, I invite you to add any thoughts or additional tips in the comments below…

Leadership & Influence Summit

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The Leadership and Influence Summit kicks off this morning and runs through tomorrow. Registration for this free online event will not only give you access to my video, but also presentations featuring some of today’s leading influencers. Others presenting include Chris Brogan, Charlene Li, Michael Gerber, Mark Sanborn, Marshall Goldsmith, Tom Ziglar, Bob Sutton and more. I decided that rather than use an off the shelf presentation that I’d crowdsource the topic for my video from comments submitted via the blog.  After reviewing all the comments, I decided to talk on how to lead effectively when dealing with the collision of cross generational cultures within an organizational setting. So, if as a leader your curious about how successfully integrate Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y then this video is for you. FYI, I gave a screen credit at the end of the video to those who submitted ideas on the topic. I welcome your comments and feedback on my video. I’m curious about how leading across generations is impacting your business. Thanks and I hope you enjoy the summit…