Archive for the ‘Best Practices’ Category
Thursday, April 17th, 2014
By Rich Karlgaard
Blow up your bureaucracy and replace it with teams of 8 to 12 people. This is not as radical as it sounds. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos calls it the “Two-Pizza Rule”—a team should be no larger than can be fed by two pizzas. In today’s fast-evolving business climate, two-pizza teams can be your organization’s best strategy for success. But how do you go about selecting and nurturing team members for maximum efficiency?
Here are 12 tips:
Work your way to the smallest number, then subtract one. This advice has been borne out by numerous business leaders. The “minus one” philosophy forces the remaining team members to be creative. That’s where you start. Lean and hungry. Fewer than a dozen if you can manage. You can always add later.
Go with your gut—even when someone isn’t the “obvious” choice. In 1989, FedEx knew that it needed to update its old, slow technology. Its unconventional strategy was to ask Judy Estrin, a young Silicon Valley technologist, to join its board. At 36, with no experience as a CEO or on a large company board, Estrin wasn’t an obvious choice. But she was, as FedEx CEO Fred Smith noted, “blindingly bright.” The point? Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb if you believe an “unconventional” choice would be best for your team. Who is your Judy Estrin?
Choose people who are passionate. These are the ones who will spend extra hours on a project, who will think about that problem or product on the weekends, in the shower, wherever they go. Without passion, your team is likely to be a gaggle of clock-punching automatons.
You can generally recognize passionate people by what they do, not what they say. Consider the approach taken by Mike Sinyard, founder of Specialized Bicycles. Sinyard hires only employees who love biking and watches to see who does lunchtime group rides to separate the “talkers” from the “riders.” Is this fair? Why not? It’s a bike company.
Look for grit
Look for grit, too. Grit is the ability to overcome adversity. Look for individuals who have proven they can do so—those who don’t shy away from a challenge. Avoid those whose first move is to look around for someone to help them when they’re in a jam. Remember, a big part of what makes two-pizza teams tick is an intrepid, entrepreneurial spirit that isn’t daunted when the going gets rough.
Avoid needy prima donnas and self-aggrandizing MVPs. Yes, “team players” has become a business buzzword, but there’s a good reason for that. You really do want to staff your team with individuals who are willing to share, serve, and give credit where credit is due.
You can also borrow the strategy of Eric Edgecumbe, COO at Specialized Bicycles, who asks, “Did you play any team sports in high school or college? Tell me what you liked about being on a team and what you didn’t like about being on a team.” Individuals’ answers can tell you a lot.
Aim for cognitive diversity. In other words, go beyond “shallow, legalistic” definitions of diversity. Cognitive diversity encompasses a broad range of variables—generational differences, educational and skill variation, and social and cultural elements, including, of course, race and gender. Cognitively diverse teams will come up with ideas and tackle problems in a variety of ways. Some members will trust their guts; others will crunch numbers. Some are analytical and logical; others are creative and intuitive.
They will all think, feel, and see the world in unique ways, leading to the broadest range of ideas and solutions.
However, don’t emphasize your team’s differences. This can result in unhelpful pigeonholing. Instead, focus on finding common ground and providing what the group needs to move forward. For instance, all employees want a chance to be respected, to be challenged, and to grow.
We all need credible leaders: people who encourage us and listen to us. We all want to learn more and receive training that helps us do a better job and get to the next level.
Give the gift of high expectations.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos came up with the two-pizza rule for team-building.
Encourage tough conversations. Easily won consensus isn’t always the hallmark of effective two-pizza teams. Sometimes, arguments need to happen. Tension needs to be addressed. It may be messy, and there will very likely be misunderstandings. But stay the course and urge people to speak up and have difficult conversations. In the end, their differing opinions and interests will sharpen the company and result in better products and services.
Give the gift of high expectations. Don’t be afraid to drive people, cajole them, and push them to find that last 1 percent of team performance. This motivates them far more than vague or easily met goals. When a team leader has high expectations, he or she is paying the team members a compliment. And when those expectations are met, the feeling of success not only becomes normative, it begins to grow and multiply. A virtuous cycle begins, and you institute a natural deterrent against the inertia that dooms so many companies and careers to mediocrity.
Be very clear about goals and boundaries. Don’t leave room for doubt. Don’t be passive-aggressive. When team leaders are as clear as possible in setting boundaries, people actually feel freer to express thoughts or make mistakes than when boundaries are vague.
Lead with real-world optimism. Great team leaders simultaneously drive and reassure people. Base this reassurance on the genuine belief that good things come from working hard and following a system. This kind of real-world optimism is more than hope—it’s the ability to approach your task as an opportunity. Let your team know that if they stay positive but alert and a touch paranoid—just a touch!—they’ll have a shot at achieving something bigger and better.
Keep a loose grip on the reins. Valuable team members will want some control over their own environments. If they have to run every detail by you, they’ll lose initiative. Provide support and mandate accountability, but leave the lion’s share of the decision-making with the people who will be eating those two pizzas. Don’t sacrifice productivity for the sake of bureaucracy.
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About the Author:
Rich Karlgaard is author of The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-82942-4, $28.00, www.richkarlgaard.com). He is also the publisher of Forbes magazine, where he writes a column, Innovation Rules, known for its witty assessment of business and leadership issues.
For more tips on business best practices, digital marketing, and the most effective ways to use technology, consider attending the upcoming Digital Summit Atlanta May 20-21, where you’ll not have the chance to hear and network with top brand thought-leaders from Google, Bing, Huffington Post and many others, but also get to see Apple co-founder and tech icon Steve Wozniak.
Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
By Ben Laube
Developing and representing your brand effectively on social media is one of the most important tasks to consider when jumping into social media marketing. By doing so, you bring brand awareness and cohesiveness to your audience to build familiarity and trust.
Representing your brand on social media is fairly simple as long as your business has its ideals and image secured. On multiple platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, you’re able to upload cover photos. It’s important to use the same concept of design in each cover photo for visual brand cohesiveness.
Though some dimension variations of the photos have to be taken into consideration due to the sizing limitations of each network, having the same graphic concept will help people remember your brand. It’s called “Social Branding.” Make sure your logos are consistent across the profiles, as well.
Ensure your brand’s voice
The next step is ensuring your brand’s “voice” is heard throughout the text of the page, as well as in the posts. If you’re a financial brand, you shouldn’t be using slang terms and Internet abbreviations such as “LOL and “JK.” Establish a voice that clearly defines who you are and the culture of your company. Remember, social media is essentially your online persona and face; let it represent who you are.
Having a cohesive social content strategy is another facet to strongly consider. What are you posting? How often are you posting? Are you posting the same content to specific profiles? Take a step back and decide how and what you want to post. Social media is about being social. You never want to bombard followers with promotion after promotion after promotion. Ask them questions; find out their opinions. Engagement is key: talking at your followers rather than talking to them is the quickest way to lose your following.
With the vast array of social networks out there, it can be a bit confusing as to which ones your brand should be on. You have to think strategically, and find the best fit to represent your brand.
Many companies now believe they have to be on every single platform, but not every platform is right for every business. Here’s a quick rundown of the top platforms, what they do, and how they can be utilized by all brands:
Facebook: Facebook is basically the home base of all social media today. No matter the industry, your business needs a Facebook Page to interact with your customers and build a relationship.
Twitter: Twitter is the popular microblogging (140 characters or less) platform that allows users to reach out to others and find people with the same interests easily. It’s also a fantastic news outlet to syndicate your brand’s press, ideas and thoughts to the world.
Google+: Google+ is essentially the Google version of Facebook, but does have great collaborative abilities such as Google hangouts. Google Hangouts is a new messaging, video, chat, file sharing platform created by Google which is great for collaboration. In addition to being free unlike other services (Skype), Google Hangouts integrates well within your other Google apps and allows you to easily share information. Also, all Google+ posts are indexed by Google and show up in their search results.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the professional social media hotspot. This is where you can represent yourself and your business in a professional manner, building connections and further expanding your company’s outreach.
With those four main social networks being utilized by all brands, there are other popular platforms that many not suit every brand.
Pinterest: Pinterest is a fantastic way to share and explore creative ideas and visuals. However, if your brand isn’t a visually heavy concept; Pinterest may not work for you.
Instagram/Vine: Instagram and Vine are the mobile social network sensations that rely strictly on pictures and videos. If your brand doesn’t produce images, products, etc – these networks may leave you with lackluster results.
Now that you’ve chosen your networks, your social strategy and how to represent your brand online, here are few tips to ensure a positive social environment for your audience.
1 – Engage your followers with contests, questions, comments or provoking thoughts.
2 – Post on a regular basis
3 – Choose what type of content is most appropriate for your brand, and limit the confusion of posting anything and everything
1 – Over promote yourself. Remember, if you were talking to someone face to face and all they did was promote their business to you, it wouldn’t go over well. The same goes for social media. There is a healthy ratio we like to follow of 60% Conversation/Engagement and 40% Promotion. A healthy balance to keep your followers interested.
2 – Over post. It’s great to share quality content on a regular basis, but don’t post every hour. Remember, these posts show up in people’s news feeds and can be seen as “spam.”
3 – Don’t trash/criticize other brands on social media. It’s important to keep your brand’s online reputation and image seen in a positive light. Trash talking your competitors will only hurt you and turn your followers away.
About the Author:
Ben Laube is President and Founder of POLR Marketing, a growth marketing technology company. To learn more about POLR Marketing, visit www.polrmarketing.com
For more insights into social media and tech best practices, take-aways from top brand execs from Google, Bing, Huffington Post among many others, not to mention the wisdom of Apple co-founder and Mac creator, Steve Wozniak, consider joining hundreds of others at the region’s largest annual digital conference, the Digital Summit in Atlanta, May 20-21.
Monday, April 7th, 2014
So, you’re thinking about boosting your business through a loyalty program. How do you establish a successful one?
Randal McCoy, CEO of Atlanta’s GetOneRewards offered Yahoo Small Business these tips:
First: Consider what rewards you will offer. Instead of just giving away freebies, make shoppers work for their reward by giving up information, buying something or visiting a store.
Second: Start with a basic, the punch card. Most of us have carried punch cards from one business or another around with us (I have one from a second hand bookstore and another from a Subway shop). They have drawbacks (a customer has to have the card with them, but if the incentives are good enough, they’ll hold on to them).
Third: Make employees and customers aware of the awards you’re offering. Make sure your employees know how your program works and what they must do to make it work. Also make sure your customers know about it.
For more about GetOne Rewards, see our previous story: Atlanta’s GetOne Rewards takes loyalty programs digital
For insights and instant take-aways on digital marketing, SEO, design and much more from thought-leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs from top brands such as Google, Bing, the Huffington Post, and many others – including Apple co-founder and Mac inventor Steve Woziak, consider attending TechMedia’s Digital Summit Atlanta May 20-21. It’s the largest such gathering in the region and features more than 100 speakers.
Thursday, March 27th, 2014
The average web-only retailer site of the top 100 takes nearly two seconds longer to load than Google recommends and only 9 of the 100 use Google’s recommended Responsive Web Design (RWD) for mobile sites. So says the latest Mobile Experience Scorecard:Web-Only Retailers from The Search Agency.
For the report, The Search Agency’s team of mobile experts determined which of top the 100 web-only retailers were most closely aligned with established mobile marketing best practices — including those set by Google – in addition to analyzing other functionality around search, shopping cart button, social media buttons or links, and the retailers’ mobile experiences.
“Our previous mobile experience report uncovered some surprising results among some of the world’s biggest brands, and given that web-only retailers have no brick-and-mortar stores, we expected these organizations to be leading the pack when adopting mobile best practices,” said Delia Perez, SVP account delivery and strategy at The Search Agency.
“With Google predicting that mobile traffic will catch up with desktop searches this year, mobile retailers should ensure they’re poised to take advantage of this revenue opportunity. ”
The Mobile Experience Scorecard: Web-Only Retailers report leveraged Internet Retailer’s Top 500 list of e-commerce sites and exclusively selected the top 100 web-only sites, excluding companies with subscription-based business models.
Notable study results include:
- Although Google recommends that mobile sites load in under one second, the top 100 web-only retailer sites took an average of 2.99 seconds to load.
o Google also recommends sites use RWD, but only nine out of the 100 sites feature RWD; 59 offer dedicated mobile sites and the remaining 32 offer the desktop version of their sites to mobile users.
- The majority – 88 of the 100 sites – displayed intent-based shopping features, such as a shopping cart (90), account sign in (82), social media buttons or links (55) and an app download (29).
- Female-oriented sites seem to be doing it right. Sites that were better optimized for mobile tended to skew more toward a female audience. Results included:
o 75 percent of the 20 highest scoring sites on the scorecard skewed more toward females, while 75 percent of the 20 lowest scoring sites skewed toward males.
o 78% of the sites that used responsive web design skewed female, and 66 percent of the sites that used dedicated mobile skewed female.
o 65% of the sites that used desktop site skewed male.
- The average score of the 100 web-only retailers was 2.808 out of a possible five.
The winners of the scorecard were:
- Nasty Gal, eBags and Zazzle ranked one, two and three on the Scorecard.
- Nasty Gal’s high score of 4.68 was almost four points higher than #100 on the list, BikeBandit.com, with a score of 0.805.
- The three industries that scored the highest were jewelry, health/beauty, and apparel.
Where can you find insight into best practices in design and digital marketing and what thought-leaders from top digital brands are saying? Any of TechMedia’s Digital Summits. The next is Digital Summit Atlanta, May 20-21. Guests include tech icon Steve Wozniak, Yahoo’s Bonnie Burke Pan, and The Huffington Post’s Roy Sekoff, among dozens of other Internet gurus, marketing mavens, and brand evangelists.
Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
So what’s next on the cybercrime front? Persistent speak phishing, say researchers.
The American public and businesses today are under a constant, ever-growing threat of attack from cybercriminals attacking as many people and businesses as quickly as possible in order to access large amounts of sensitive information.
In the first half of 2012 alone, there was an average of almost 33,000 phishing attacks per month, with an estimated worldwide loss of nearly $700,000,000 from phishing scams alone (1). Internet security awareness training firm KnowBe4 has long spoken out about the rise of cybercrime, and is now predicting an unprecedented level of hacking—persistent spear phishing.
Usually conducted by criminals
Spear phishing consists of a phony, but authentic-looking, e-mail designed to target a particular individual or organization, in an attempt to “fish” out valuable information for financial, business or military gain.
It differs from traditional phishing attacks in that it is not typically initiated by indiscriminate hackers, but rather is more likely to be conducted by criminals out for financial gain, trade secrets or military information.
Recent government inspired cyber attacks on US businesses, organizations and government entities reportedly used this technique successfully.
KnowBe4 founder, Stu Sjouwerman, says that criminals are now becoming relentless in their attempts, and will continuously attack the same target until they get the information they seek, an act he has coined “persistent spear phishing.“ And these attacks, per Sjouwerman, leave both businesses and the general public at risk of being targeted:
- 45% of banks have seen an increase in spear phishing attacks targeting employees over the last year;
- Criminals target consumers by relying on personal information collected from public posts on social media sites and blogs, as well as with data collected from other breaches, to make the fraudulent e-mails appear legitimate. They ultimately convince consumers to click links that take them to spoofed sites which contain malware, or to provide login usernames and passwords that allow the attackers to compromise online banking accounts (2).
“Spear phishing creates a domino effect—once a business has been infiltrated, a hacker potentially has access to everything,“said Sjouwerman. “At that point, all the company can do is attempt to halt the attack and recover any stolen information. But the best bet is to prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place.”
Avoid Becoming a Spear Phishing Victim
Sjouwerman insists that businesses and the public can limit their risk of falling victim to persistent spear phishing attempts by remembering the following:
- Be wary of e-mails that appear to be genuine but redirect to strange or unknown links.
- Never click a link to a website contained within an e-mail—always enter the URL manually instead or through a bookmark.
- Legitimate businesses will never request personal information via e-mail. Never reply to an e-mail providing any sensitive information—if in doubt, contact the business directly using a verified telephone number.
- Keep the Operating System, third party applications, firewalls and antivirus software constantly updated. Many browsers come with phishing filters, and these should be enabled for better protection against attacks.
Employee awareness training may help
In addition to the above tactics, Sjouwerman suggests that business owners consider educational resources for employees.
“For business owners looking to introduce security awareness training programs, engaging employees with an actual encounter of being spear-phished by sending out mock spear phishing e-mails is often an effective measure,“ said Sjouwerman.
“Imitated persistent spear phishing e-mails present a memorable and highly relevant experience to employees, and also train them to properly react when a spear phishing attempt arrives in their inbox. Employee education and heightened awareness are more important than ever.”
KnowBe4 provides an extensive collection of free cybercrime education resources so that executives and system administrators can arm themselves and their staff against cyberattacks. The company also offers a free phishing security testto help business owners and managers determine what percentage of employees are Phish-prone™, or susceptible to phishing attacks.
For more information, visit KnowBe4 online at www.knowbe4.com.
1. “Phishing in Season: A Look at Online Fraud in 2012.” RSA.com. RSA FraudAction Research Labs, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. blogs.rsa.com/phishing-in-season-a-look-at-online-fraud-in-2012/.
2. Kitten, Tracey. “FBI Warns of Spear-Phishing Attacks.” Bankinfosecurity.com. Bank Info Security, 02 July 2013. Web. 25 July 2013. bankinfosecurity.com/fbi-warns-spear-phishing-attacks-a-5878/op-1.
Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
Which digital marketing tactics work best in the travel industry? For clothing retailers? For selling vehicles? In media and entertainment? A new survey by Lyris, Inc. (LYRI), conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), shows differences in digital marketing strategies and consumer preferences across industries. The survey also indicates what consumers want from brands in different industries and what is influencing their purchasing decisions.
The EIU industry survey executive summary can be viewed here www.lyris.com/EIU.
Travel: Email Ranks Highest for Initial Product Introduction
- For initial purchasing decision for travelers, email ranks the highest channel of influence (37%).
- Cultivating influencers is a leading marketing objective (20%), likely due to personal referrals among travelers, which has the largest influence at final assessment (31%).
- Strategies have shifted from disseminating messages across multiple touch points (reduced from 32.5% to 15%) toward conducting deep analysis of consumer data (from 17.5% to 30%); 87% deem data analysis very important or moderately important.
- Marketing executives cite repeat purchases and value of the transaction as moderately or very important (85%). Not surprising, given 77% of consumers seek travel price comparisons.
Clothing Retailers: Consumers Want a More Tailored Shopping Experience
- 66% of consumers say that many personalized messages are annoying because “attempts at personalization are superficial.”
- 71% of consumers said they receive so many messages that use of their name no longer makes a difference. However, when they receive a message that includes details of previous transactions or other personal details, 25% say they take it more seriously.
- 75% of consumers seek information about pricing/promotions through branded digital channels over third party sites; not surprising, considering the clothing retail market is very price driven.
- Expanding/diversifying the customer base has grown in priority to 33% compared to 24% five years ago.
Banking: Big Focus on Customer Retention
- As banks try to regain trust, customer retention is now cited as the top marketing goal (42%), a significant jump from 23% five years ago (and much higher than the all industry average of 28%).
- 6% of consumers prefer to engage with banking brands using mobile apps, which is double the all-industry average, yet investment is less than in other industries.
- Banking lags behind other industries in moving beyond personalization to individualized offers, with difficulty interpreting Big Data cited as the biggest obstacle (44%).
Automotive: Among Top Users of Consumer Data Analytics
- Automotive is the most advanced industry in integrating different sources of data and in predictive analytics.
- Among automotive executives there is an increased emphasis on individualized offers (up from 13% five years ago to 50% today – 10% higher than all-industry average which is 40%), most likely as a result of the high value of the purchase.
- Social media/blogs rank second highest after websites and personal referrals for purchase influence; automotive is also the most invested in branded social media, with 45% of respondents citing a 25% investment of their budget.
Entertainment: Trailing Other Industries in Digital Marketing Investment
- Online channels are seen as the most important, yet surprisingly executives are investing very little in branded social media pages (56% invest only 1-10% of their budgets) and similarly for mobile (66% invest only 1-10% of their marketing budgets).
- Marketing executives in entertainment have increased their focus on retaining customers and investing more in deep analysis of consumer data (from 20% five years ago to 27% today) and, subsequently, marketers are also presenting more individualized offers (cited by 46% of executives, up from 26% five years ago).
Media: Takes Shotgun Approach to Awareness with Reduced Investment in Consumer Analysis
- 45% list the ability to use data analysis to extract predictive findings as a key marketing skill. However, the importance of conducting deep analysis of consumer data has fallen by 7% over the last five years.
- Email (28%) is the second preferred method for consumers to engage with brands in the media industry, subsequently, 12% of marketing executives spend 76-100% of their budgets on email.
- 74% of media marketing executives say online channels have gained importance for building brand awareness, which could explain why disseminating messages across multiple touch points is their most important marketing strategy (38% today, compared to 21% five years ago).
Monday, July 29th, 2013
Plug “thought leader architect” into the title field of a LinkedIn search and only one name pops up: Mitchell Levy, CEO of THiNKaha and author of the new book,
“The truth is, a lot of people are trying to become viewed as ‘thought leaders’ because they recognize that being a well-publicized, well-respected expert in their field is good for business,” Levy says.
“But most people have a hard time figuring out how to do it on their own.”
Levy, who works with corporations to develop thought leaders among employees, says CEOs recognize that the wide availability of information on the internet has changed how customers do business.
Customers can spot a real expert
“Customers are quite knowledgeable, and they get that way by using the resources available online,” Levy says. “It doesn’t take long before they know enough to spot a true expert – someone with vision; someone with a strong track record of success; someone who knows their field so well, they can tell you where it’s going, and where it should go.”
When we had only the traditional media and its well-guarded access, our thought leaders tended to be people who were already in vaulted positions, such as elected officials, CEOs of major corporations and entertainment personalities, Levy notes.
Today, thanks to the egalitarian nature of social media, anyone can become one. But many people don’t know where to begin.
Levy offers these suggestions for developing your reputation as a thought leader.
• Start by zeroing in on an area of your field in which you excel. Focus on one area of your business or profession that excites you. Rather than stepping out as the consummate expert on a broad range of topics, choose one slice of your expertise that you enjoy – that you love to talk about. The beautiful thing about social media is that it caters to niche interests, which is a great way to start building your following. The more focused you can make the space you want to be a thought leader in, the easier it will be for you to reach your audience.
• Develop your own message and share it in a distinctive style. Think about who your audience is and what they want and need – remembering that they don’t care about you, they care about themselves. Are there better ways to do something that everyone has been doing the same way for years? Can you solve problems or foresee trends that others seem to be blind to? Craft a message that will resonate with your audience. Share it in a distinctive, authoritative voice. Don’t be afraid to show some personality. Do you need to be bigger, tougher, louder, stronger, wiser? You don’t need it all, but you do need to set yourself apart.
• Create useful, valuable content that people can use. Online, you can write a blog; create video tutorials on YouTube; share nuggets of information on the various social media sites. Write a book on your topic! By constantly sharing information that solves problems for users and readers, you begin developing a reputation as knowledgeable, helpful and reliable. This should be an ongoing process – which is why you need to be passionate about it! Thought leaders make it look easy, but they work at it every day.
Mitchell Levy, Thought Leader Architect and CEO at THiNKaha, has created and operated 15 firms and partnerships since 1997. Today, he works with companies who are active in social media to leverage their IP and unlock the expertise of their employee base to drive more business. He is also an Amazon best-selling author with 18 business books, including the new “#Creating Thought Leaders Tweet.”
Levy is a frequent media guest and a popular speaker. In addition to the companies and joint ventures he has started, he has provided strategic consulting to more than 100 companies, has advised more than 500 CEOs on critical business issues through the CEO networking groups he’s run, and has been Chairman of a NASDAQ listed company.
Friday, July 26th, 2013
Want more online shoppers? Make it easier and faster for your customers to buy your goods or services. How fast? Five minutes or less.
Survey results released today show that over four in ten (44 percent) consumers would shop more online if it were faster to make a purchase, while nearly three-quarters (72 percent) agree that the overall experience of surfing the web could be better.
The vast majority of online shoppers (84 percent) expect an online transaction to be completed in five minutes or less. Website optimization and testing platforms make the conversion funnel quick and help businesses realize online revenue faster than ever before.
The survey, conducted online between June 4-6, 2013, among more than 2,500 US adults by Harris Interactive, kicks off an effort by Optimizely,a global website optimization platform, to educate online retailers about current trends in online shopping behavior.
The company launched a new website and infographic to help their customers and online businesses use an A/B testing tool to build a successful testing strategy in preparation for the holiday season. Optimizely has over 5,000 global customers including GoDaddy, Foot Locker, and Electronic Arts.
- Nearly half of consumers would shop more online if it were faster to make a purchase (44 percent)
- The vast majority of shoppers expect an online transaction to be completed in 5 minutes or less (84 percent)
- 72 percent of consumers agree that the overall experience of surfing the web could be better, while 39 percent agree that many of the websites they visit feel outdated
- Younger consumers (aged 18-34) are more likely to strongly agree (29 percent) that the overall experience of surfing the web could be better, when compared to those ages 35+ (18 percent), and male consumers are more likely to strongly agree with this than women (25 and 16 percent, respectively)
- Younger consumers (ages 18-34) are more likely to spend more time on websites that feel fresh and new than those ages 35+ (70 vs. 50 percent)
- Overall, 93 percent of US adults indicate that they shop online
Online retail undergoing radical change
The findings suggest that online retail is undergoing some radical changes, and encouraging online merchants to differentiate themselves in more meaningful ways. Today, consumers’ time is now worth more to them; they need more compelling shopping experiences, unique or personalized product selection, or better customer service.
Personally, as a longtime ecommerce shopper, we gravitate toward the sites that make buying quick and easy (such as Amazon, Tiger Direct). We have and continue to abandon attempted purchases at sites that are slow, where the buying process is complicated, convoluted or time-consuming. This study does not address this particular point, but some ecommerce sites even hide their buy buttons – if I have to hunt for how to buy, I buy from another retailer. (Editor, Allan Maurer).
“Just two percent of visitors across the web convert into customers,” says Dan Siroker, CEO and co-founder of Optimizely. “That means there is a massive opportunity to convert the other 98 percent. Increasingly, online retailers must differentiate by providing a superior web experience. With Optimizely, they can use data to streamline the shopping experience and engage consumers by making it more enjoyable and hopefully increase revenue as well.”
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
If you write it, will they really come? Today’s marketing directors and VPs know they need to create regular blogs and eBooks for their marketing programs and SEO, but with increasingly shrinking resources, where do you start and how do you keep up a pace that makes a difference and helps drive traffic? And equally important, most people understand blogs, but how do eBooks fit into the marketing mix?
“Simply put, ebooks are an evolution of the old white paper, but they’re way more user-friendly and not weighed down with lots of data,” says Rachel Christianson, director of fulfillment at social media marketing company HipLogiq. Christianson works with HipLogiq’s customers to produce eContent and manages a team that produces more than 250 blogs and eBooks a month for clients. And, she helps patrol opportunities on Twitter to help distribute the pieces directly to interested customers.
Driving leads, meeting goals
“Blogs and eBooks are an active aggressive part of any campaign, and clearly play a strategic part in driving leads and meeting strategy goals,” says Christianson. “One of our clients is currently yielding a 28 percent conversion rate on their offer landing page solely from traffic coming in from the blog. Another is yielding a 46 percent conversion rate on their eBook downloads coming from blog traffic alone. In fact, their entire HipLogiq campaign, including Twitter conversations, blogs and eBooks, has generated 824 leads.”
“These days, when people have a question, they turn to the internet,” Christianson says. “When someone has a question, Google answers it with your eBook or blog. You aren’t directly selling your product or service, but providing help around a topic related to your industry, therefore instilling brand loyalty. It’s a great way to get consumers to take a closer look at your product or service and try it.”
Whether you’re working on a blog or eBook, remember Christianson’s easy five:
1. Crisp, concise content. In the age of tweets and text messages, people are looking for information, and they want it quick. Make sure your blogs don’t get too lengthy. If you have more info to share, consider the way you format it. Make it easy to find information throughout if someone is just skimming your text.
2. Lists, tips, how to’s and questions. The HipLogiq team has found that blog posts and eBooks formatted in these styles receive more views, shares and “likes” on Facebook. Think of these as the modern day self-help manual.
3. Clear call-to-actions. Readers have read your content, now what? You must have a clear call-to-action to get them to take the next step. For example, “Liked what you read? Contact us for more info” or “Want to learn more, sign up here!”
4. Personality. Your content should have a “voice.” And that voice should reflect the personality of your business. You don’t want there to be any disconnect.
5. Relevant content. Sure, you may have an opinion on the latest election, but if your business isn’t politics, you shouldn’t talk about it. Make sure your content aligns with the overall goals of your business.
To help with topics, Christianson says to put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Someone is at home trying to fix a leaky sink, and they jump online looking for a step-by-step do it yourself. A quick Google search might bring them to a tool company’s website that has a library of home repair eBooks. Or a hospital might have a web section with eBooks on different health topics.
“Hard copy manuals and brochures will probably always be around, but increasingly, a large number of customers are migrating to online resources,” says Bernard Perrine, CEO and co-founder of HipLogiq. “And if you aren’t online, you are missing those customers. Blogs and eBooks give businesses an easy way to connect with customers online. If someone hits Google, Facebook or Twitter with a question, your brand needs to be poised, ready to provide information.”
Monday, July 22nd, 2013
JoAnn and Joseph Callaway
Picture this: You’re relaxing on your couch and watching your favorite crime drama after a long day at work. You’ve halfway tuned out during a commercial break when something catches your attention. “Come see what we have to offer. We’re proud to be second in area sales and customer satisfaction since 1992!” an announcer enthuses while a giant yellow “2” flashes on the screen.
Sure, it sounds absurd. But according to Joseph Callaway, while most of us pay lip service to our desire to be our customers’ first choice, our actions may say otherwise.
“Any time you don’t make the client your top priority, you’re tacitly agreeing not to betheir top priority,” says Callaway, who, along with his wife, JoAnn, is the author of the New York Times bestseller Clients First: The Two Word Miracle (Wiley, October 2012, ISBN: 978-1-1184127-7-0, $21.95, www.clientsfirstbook.com). “You cannot truly be number one until your clients are. Being number one really is a two-way street, and it’s not an easy street. You can’t coast your way to number one—and when you settle for doing so, you soon fall to number two or even lower.”
Callaway knows all about the high price of being number one. He and his wife built their thriving business—Those Callaways—in a tough industry that’s had more than its share of challenges. To date, they’ve sold over a billion dollars’ worth of homes and have been the market leader in their area for years. Their book describes their late-in-life entry into real estate, how they had their “Clients First” revelation, how it changed their professional and personal lives, and how readers can put it into practice for themselves.
Don’t settle for number two
“Living and working this way is rewarding, but it’s also tough,” he admits. “Putting your customers’ interests ahead of your own—every time—can seem counterintuitive, risky, and even frightening. That’s why so many businesses fail to be as competitive as they’d like: Even if they don’t realize it, they’ve chosen to operate in a way that makes it impossible for them to come in first from a customer’s perspective.
“Especially in an uncertain economy, you can’t settle for being number two—or three, or four—because that puts you on the road to eventual failure,” he adds. “Sooner or later, your vulnerability will catch up with you. The best job security is being the best.”
Here, Callaway shares eight signs that your business is aiming lower than you may have thought, as well as advice on how to finally start hitting the bull’s-eye:
1. Your number one business goal is to make money. Ummm…isn’t that the point of running a company? you might be asking. Well, it’s a point, says Callaway, but it’s not thepoint. You see, a too-acute focus on improving the bottom line takes your attention off of the people who are going to enable you to raise it: your customers. Your clients can always tell when they’re not your first priority. (If you’re skeptical, just consider the backlash that often occurs when small businesses are bought out and transformed by larger, more impersonal corporations.)
“The difference between paying attention to customer service so that your clients will give you more business and doing so because serving the customer is your first priority may feel slight, but it’s significant,” Callaway promises. “Yes, taking your focus away from the bottom line may feel uncomfortable at first. But you’ll soon find that when you focus on how best to serve clients, tough decisions make themselves. If it serves the client, you do it. If it doesn’t, you don’t. This neutralizes moral dilemmas and really simplifies your life. And it almost always has a miracle effect on your growth and success.”
2. You let the little things slide. So…what’s the problem? Rushing through paperwork so you can get home early, failing to spellcheck an email or two, and running late to a meeting probably won’t matter that much six months from now. It’s the “big” things like growing your company, expanding your client base, hiring more employees, and making a profit that are most important, right? Not necessarily, says Callaway.
“So often in life, it’s the small details that differentiate ‘good’ from ‘great,’” he points out. “So be careful not to become so fixated on the forest that you fail to see the trees. In other words, stop being so distracted by the ‘big grand ideas’ and start getting the small details right. Promises kept, deadlines met, little extra flourishes, and small acts of kindness add up to happy clients.
“One thing Those Callaways does with clients in escrow is to call or email them every day, even if nothing is happening,” he adds. “This simple message of ‘nothing happening, wanted you to know’ is a huge stress reliever and an even bigger business builder.”
3. You habitually let certain clients go to voicemail. It’s happened to everyone: When you see that name flash on your phone’s caller ID, you slowly pull your hand back from the receiver and let the ringing continue. You just don’t want to deal with the drama, or the whining, or the accusations, or the belligerence just now. Yes, we all have “problem” clients. But to avoid them or just go through the motions for them is a mistake. They will notice and remember your behavior. (And be honest: Would you want to give your business to someone who might write you off when the going got tough?)
“Clients First means all clients,” Callaway insists. “In over fourteen years, my wife and I have never gotten rid of a single client—even when we secretly wished we could—and we believe this no-fire strategy has contributed significantly to our ultimate success. Here’s the payoff: When you make the choice to stand by all of your frazzled, frustrated customers, you will eventually reap financial and personal rewards.
“You may even become known in your company or industry as the guy or gal who can handle the toughest customers,” he adds. “And chances are, your clients themselves will be grateful that you didn’t give up on them and may even send others your way.”
4. You find yourself telling white lies. It’s true that telling clients white lies, or exaggerating, misdirecting, or omitting, might make life easier temporarily. It’s also true that we can often justify such behavior to ourselves (She’ll never know, and it’ll save me hours of work, for example). But Callaway says these “little” lies are just as bad as the whoppers. There is always a chance that customers will see through you and call you on the carpet. And even if they don’t, a willingness to play fast and loose with the truth is indicative of a broader attitude that relegates clients to second or third priority. (In return, that’s usually how they’ll rate you.)
“Honesty can be tough in the moment, but a reputation for trustworthiness (or untrustworthiness!) can stick with you for life,” says Callaway. “Live by a policy of never holding back or sugarcoating and you’ll gain customer loyalty that money can’t buy. Plus, when you have only the truth, you wave goodbye to moral dilemmas and sleepless nights. You don’t have to worry about getting the story straight or remembering what you have and haven’t shared. You know you’re doing the right thing.”
5. You spend more time trying to get off the phone than really hearing what the customer has to say. Chances are, you roll out the red carpet in order to get prospective clients on board. And you’re probably willing to bear with the whims, questions, and requests of fairly new customers whose business isn’t yet cemented. But what about older, more established clients? Do you take the same amount of time and care with them, or do you assume they’ll stick with you out of habit and convenience?
“If you wouldn’t hang up the phone at the first opportunity with a client you signed last week, don’t do it with one you signed ten years ago,” advises Callaway. “Companies that become number one don’t do so because they win customers over once, but because they do it every day. A good experience last month usually won’t keep a customer coming back this month if he or she believes that your level of service has slipped.”
6. You don’t know your client’s daughter’s name or what he likes to do on the weekends.In your eyes you’re being professional when every question in your meeting is about the client’s financial preferences, for example, and not his family, pastimes, and interests. But inhis eyes, you’re cold and impersonal. Remember, to truly serve, you have to care. When you keep yourself at arm’s length, you can’t give your clients 100 percent…and you give them an incentive to take their business elsewhere.
“Do you see your clients as sources of income, or do you see them as actual human beings with likes, preferences, quirks, and stories?” Callaway asks. “People want to do business with individuals they like—and they like people who like them! Make a deeper connection with your clients by asking about their kids, their pets, their hobbies, and their jobs or businesses. You’ll find that most of them are just like you: filled with worries, hopes, and dreams. Once you get familiar with and invested in these things, you’ll work that much harder on each client’s behalf, and you’ll earn their loyalty in the process.”
7. You feel your main obligation to employees is writing their paycheck. While (of course) you don’t treat employees like dirt, you may feel that you don’t owe them any special favors, either. After all, you’re paying them—isn’t that enough? Well, no, says Callaway. The way your people treat customers reflects the way you treat them. Are you courteous? Kind? Enthusiastic? Do you listen when they talk to you and try to accommodate their needs? Or are you short, perfunctory, and even (sometimes) rude?
“Your job is to serve others, period,” Callaway says. “You can’t do that by making distinctions between the people who work for you and the people to whom you provide a good or service. Realize that you set the tone for your company’s ‘personality,’ and that you’re creating a tribe of people who will beat the drum for your message. Try to see your employees through a client’s eyes and be honest: Would they win first or second place in a customer service competition? If you don’t like the answer, try adjusting your own attitude first.”
8. You’re not above badmouthing the competition. Some leaders don’t hesitate to casually say things like, “Sure, Outlet X is cheap, but the quality of their merchandise leaves a lot to be desired,” or, “I’d think twice before I took my business to Firm Y—didn’t you hear they had to lay off half of their staff last year?” But Callaway suggests you look at what happens in the political arena: When you sling mud at your opponent, some of it is likely to get on you, too. Besides, wouldn’t you rather rise to the number one spot solely on your organization’s merit, not because you took cheap(ish) shots?
“In fact, you can—and should—strive to win the approval, goodwill, and admiration of your competitors,” shares Callaway. “If possible, get to know their leaders and employees and help them when you can. You don’t have to give away trade secrets, but you can offer advice, for example, or refer a customer whose needs are better matched to what another business has to offer.
“Don’t do these things manipulatively but in the spirit of giving,” he clarifies. “Your efforts will come back to you with interest. Have faith that there is enough business to go around.”
Finally, advises Callaway, don’t put the cart (being number one) before the horse (serving your clients).
“A customer isn’t focused on where you stand in the big picture so much as on how well you treat and serve him or her individually,” he says. “And that’s the beauty of how this whole thing works: By keeping your commitment to Clients First, you’ll win enough loyal supporters to put you squarely in the lead position after all.”
Friday, July 19th, 2013
By Marsha Friedman
Recently, a colleague asked me, “What was the most rewarding mistake you ever made in business?”
It’s a great question, and I quickly had an answer for him because it was an incredibly painful mistake. However, it proved to be an invaluable lesson that has served me well in the years since. I’m sharing so perhaps you can learn it the easy way.
The lesson: Don’t ever stop marketing because you think you’ve reached the point where you don’t need to. And, secondarily, believe the old adage that warns, “Don’t put all your eggs into one basket.”
There’s a story, of course.
Years ago, my public relations company connected with a large publishing house that served many prestigious authors. The first few of its authors we accepted as clients had such successful campaigns, we quickly became the publicity firm of record for this publisher. I thought we’d tapped the mother load! The publisher kept a steady stream of clients flowing to us, and eventually, they became about 80 percent of our business.
We were so focused on delivering for these authors that we became much less focused on getting our company name out to prospective new clients. We slowly stopped marketing. Our newsletters ground to a halt. We didn’t waste time networking. We quit our efforts to get the same publicity for our company that we get for clients. Why bother? We didn’t need new clients!
We had a whole basket full of beautiful perfect eggs and we were happily skipping along with it.
And then … it broke.
The publisher ran into some serious problems with its investors and the business came crashing down. And guess who almost went with it?
Our eggs were cooked.
Terrible but powerful experience
Faced with only a few clients and no prospects, we got busy fast and cranked up the marketing department (me!) again. It took awhile to regain the momentum we’d lost but, thankfully, we had a side business that could help pay the bills in the interim. Slowly but surely (this was before the age of social media, which really speeds things up), we built up a new list of prospects and clients – only this time from a diverse array of sources.
It was a terrible but powerful experience that demonstrated very clearly: No matter how great things seem to be going, you never stop marketing. It needs to be a constant hum because if that hum stops, you know there will be a big problem ahead.
I stopped marketing because I thought I had all the clients I needed. Over the years I’ve seen others make the same mistake but for different reasons. Here are a few:
One great publicity hit is a really bad reason to stop marketing. I’ve talked to people who believed if we could just get them on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” (before 2011) or “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” that was all they’d need. They’d be done. Yes, a big national show can give you a tremendous launch, but you won’t keep soaring unless you do something to stay in the public eye. I guarantee you, there are plenty of people you never heard of who got their “big break” and then disappeared because they stopped marketing.
Most of us won’t get those huge hits – and that’s not a reason to stop, either. I haven’t been on “Oprah” but I often hear from prospective clients that I or my business was recommended to them by someone I’ve never met and don’t know. That’s what good, sustained marketing does. It may not always create fireworks, but that doesn’t mean it’s not working for you.
Yesterday’s story is old news. Look for fresh new ways to stay in the public eye. The publicity you get today can continue to work for you online, but eventually, it’s going to be old news. We encourage our clients to post links to their publicity on their websites; it shows visitors that they have credibility with the media. But if those visitors see only publicity and testimonials that are five or 10 years old, they’re going to wonder why no one’s been interested in you more recently.
Just as I put all my eggs in one basket by relying on one source for clients, it’s also a mistake to rely on just one marketing tool. Maximize the reach of the publicity you get in traditional media by sharing it on social media. Put a blog, or other content you can renew and refresh, on your website. Write a book. Do speaking engagements (for free, if necessary). Your audience is likely not all huddled together in one corner of the world. To reach them, use a variety of marketing tools.
Whatever it is you’re promoting – your business, your product, your book, yourself – keep the momentum going. If you want people to know you’re out there, you have to stay out there.
Marsha Friedman is a 23-year veteran of the public relations industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations (www.emsincorporated.com), a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to businesses, professional firms, entertainers and authors. Marsha is the author of Celebritize Yourself and she can also be heard weekly on her Blog Talk Radio Show, EMSI’s PR Insider every Thursday at 3 p.m. EST. Follow her on Twitter: @marshafriedman.
Tuesday, July 16th, 2013
By Allan Maurer
Entrepreneurs hear oceans of advice about maintaining passion, about vision, and about elevator speeches. But in years of covering the startup scene, we’ve seen one factor that makes all the difference in whether or not they succeed: customers.
Y-Combinator’s Paul Graham says in a blog post every entrepreneur should read, that one of the most common pieces of advice they give their startups is to “do things that don’t scale.”
He goes on to say that the most important thing startup founders need to do immediately is acquire users manually. He uses Y-Combinator funded Stripe as one example. “At YC we use the term “Collison installation” for the technique they invented.” The Collison brothers, who founded Stripe didn’t just send a link to a beta version of their product. They would sit down and load it onto a user’s laptop when they agreed to try it.
Graham points out that many founders avoid manually signing up users because “the numbers are so small.” But he advises startups to keep track of a weekly growth rate. If you have 100 users and get 10 more, that’s a 10 percent weekly growth rate, and while 110 users may not sound like much, if you continue growing at 10 percent a week for a year, you’d have 14,000 users and in two years, 2 million.
Getting users isn’t the only thing a startup needs to do, Graham suggests in his wide-ranging piece that includes many specific examples. Once you have customers, you have to be almost pathological in making them happy, Graham says, explaining that’s what the late Steve Jobs meant when he said he wanted Apple products to be “insanely great.”
In the tech field, startup founders are often engineers with no experience in customer service and frequently have to learn the importance of making every customer extremely happy. But, Graham writes, “I have never once seen a startup lured down a blind alley by trying too hard to make their initial users happy.”
Over-engaging with users, Graham says, is not just a way for getting a startup rolling, it’s necessary to acquire the feedback needed to improve the product.
He also suggests that many startups would do better by narrowing their initial product focus to a niche market the way Facebook did when it started on college campuses. In the Research Triangle, we saw Automated Insights (formerly Statsheet) a startup that developed an algorithm that let its software write statistics derived sports stories discovered there wasn’t much of a market for that in reporting actual sports events, but sold a version to Yahoo for reporting fantasy football contests.
While we’re on this tact, we should mention that at TechMedia’s digital conferences and the Southeast Venture Conference, we have repeatedly heard venture capitalists, accelerator founders and angel investors point out that the best way to fund a company isn’t necessarily outside financing. “Getting customers to fund you is still the best way,” said one.
Friday, July 12th, 2013
By Allan Maurer
Robert E. Kaplan
Entrepreneurs at the helm of high growth companies face a lot of challenges, not least how to be an effective business leader. Many have superb technology skills, great ideas and passion but never ran a business before. Their very strengths can derail their leadership.
So say Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser in their book, “Fear Your Strengths,” which says establishing a good leadership mindset is essential not just to entrepreneurs, but to leaders at all levels – even those at the very top of established companies.
Kaplan, president of Greensboro, NC-based Kaplan DeVries Inc., a consulting firm specializing in intensive assessment of executives, tells the TechJournal leaders of all stripes should avoid the following:
1. Don’t make big strategic decisions unilaterally. “Know when not to trust your judgement completely,” he adds. “Before you make a big strategic move, an acquisition, launching a new product or service, check your judgement with people you respect and trust.”
Those might include the CEO of another company in the high tech sector – one reason tech hubs, accelerators and incubators can be so useful as early home bases for tech startups. But in any event, Kaplan says, “Make sure you have friendships, however you form them, with peers you can go to for advice.
2. Don’t hire only like-types. Even if someone is a really bright go-getter like you, don’t hire them if they’re not qualified to do the job. Also, Kaplan notes, sometimes the “strategic type” of leader does not always see the value of operational persons who have to implement the plan. If you’re not good at management and you look down on those who are, you may not hire or support them. “That’s a good way to get yourself in trouble,” Kaplan says.
3. Don’t do other people’s jobs. Don’t micromanage. Former President Jimmy Carter was a nuclear engineer and a Naval officer, but pundits looking at his failed presidency pointed out that he tried to micro-manage everything, right down to who played on the White House tennis courts. That didn’t turn out so well for him in the long run.
4. Don’t be allergic to process. “Don’t equate process with bureaucracy,” says Kaplan. “Types who like to be spontaneous are prejudiced toward doing things in a regular and orderly way. A lot of what gets in any manager’s way is their own biases and prejudicial attitudes.”
5. Don’t be abusive to other people. That includes not making a habit of keeping other people waiting.
Most of us have worked for abusive bosses at one time or another. Many executives have so much power they can get away with it, but it’s bad management. Personally, we worked for an abusive boss about a decade ago who got away with his abrasive style for quite some time before it cost him his job. “Be as direct as you want,” Kaplan suggests, “as long as you’re constructive.”
6. Don’t monopolize conversations, you’ll suck all the oxygen out of the tent. We don’t know about you, but there are times when we have to mentally remind ourselves that you learn more listening than talking.
7. Don’t stock your board with yes-men. That’s pretty self-explanatory.
Kaplan also suggests a few “To-dos.”
Do know your own craziness and know your own anxiety, for instance. You want to avoid acting out of fear of failure, inadequacy, and sensitivity to being rejected. “Executives who are effective know the reality of their own crazy tendencies and manage accordingly, Kaplan says.
The book, “Fear Your Strength,” offers a more in depth look at managing your leadership mindset.
Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
The top five leaders most admired by the world’s business executives are Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Jack Welch – in that order, according to the 2013 Global CEO Survey conducted by PwC.
The qualities the surveyed CEOs most admired? Strong vision, motivational, caring, innovative, persistent and ethical.
“These results tell us a lot about what it takes to be a strong business leader in today’s rapidly changing global marketplace,” says Barbara Trautlein, author of “Change Intelligence: Use the Power of CQ to Lead Change that Sticks” (www.changecatalysts.com).
“The respondents cited a broad range of qualities to describe the same individual leaders, which tells us they recognize today’s leaders need a combination of strengths.”
Leaders need CQ
Trautlein, who has a PhD in organizational psychology and more than 25 years experience helping businesses lead change, says contemporary leaders must have a high CQ – Change Intelligence.
“Today’s marketplace is in a state of constant change, and successful companies are those that can also respond and quickly adapt to the changes around them. That requires leaders who are able to lead with the head – focusing on the big-picture goal and business objectives; the heart – knowing how to engage, coach and motivate people; and with your hands – providing the tactical tools and skills necessary like a project manager,” she says.
“People tend to be stronger in one or two of those areas and weaker in the others. We need to identify our weak areas and work on strengthening them.”
To do that, you must ask yourself: “Are you a head, heart or hands leader?” Trautlein identifies three of the seven CQ leader styles, their strengths, weaknesses, and a coaching suggestion for each:
The Coach (heart-dominant):
• Encourages people to join in discussions, decisions
• Steps in to resolve process problems, such as conflict
• Listens to all viewpoints
• Recognizes and praises others for their efforts
• Helps reduce stress by lightening the mood
• Sees team process and organizational climate as ends in themselves
• Fails to challenge or contradict others
• Does not recognize the importance of accomplishing tasks
• Overuses humor and other conflict-mitigation techniques
• Does not emphasize long-range planning
Coaching: Make connections with people but also connect them with the mission. Don’t allow engagement to take precedence over performance.
The Visionary (head-dominant)
• Stays focused on goals
• Engages in long-range thinking and planning
• Takes a big-picture view
• Enjoys seeing new possibilities
• Scans the horizon for the next big opportunity
• Doesn’t fully consider the effects a change will have on organizational culture
• May be less apt to focus on team members’ individual needs
• Complains about lack of progress toward goals
• Does not give sufficient attention to the process by which goals are met
• Neglects to ensure that the tactical details of the change process are handled
Coaching: It’s vital that the vision be shared by all those working to make it happen. Remember to share your vision with others (heart) and lay out a path to that vision that incorporates visible milestones along the way (hands).
The Executor (hands-dominant)
• Excels at project planning and execution
• Accomplishes tasks in a timely and efficient manner
• Can be depended upon to do what’s asked
• Freely shares information and materials so other have the training, tools and resources they need
• Pushes the team to set high performance standards
• Loses sight of the big picture – the goal of the change process
• Lacks patience with people and process issues
• Pushes for unrealistic performance standards
• Becomes impatient with other team members who don’t live up to standards
• Goes into data overload, providing too much detailed information.
Coaching: Expand your definition “execution.” Engage people by making a compelling case for the change so you’ll have their support, and take time-outs periodically to evaluate your goals and strategy.
“Most leaders are not all head, hands or heart – most are some combination, which is why there are seven Change Leader styles,” Trautlein says. “And even leaders who have all three in seemingly equal measures have some pitfalls to watch out for.”
The point is not to change who we are fundamentally, but rather to embrace our strengths, shore up our blindspots, and adapt our styles to be more effective when leading across a variety of different people and situations. By building their CQ, leaders simultaneously become more powerful to help their teams and organizations – as well as less stressed and frustrated themselves. And, they more consistently role model the pivotal leadership qualities CEOs most admire.
Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013
By Jerry Weil, CPA
Some of us are lucky enough to know that rare individual who conceives of a great new idea. Few of us can fathom the challenges these entrepreneurs face as they nurture their intellectual infant to pre-school.
cThey become the chief cook and bottle washer of their domains. Typically, tax planning is far down on the list of priorities.
Here are ten tax topics to consider as you nurture the intellectual toddler.
Choose an experienced tax advisor. As consumers, we seek to obtain the least expensive and most accessible products and services. Tax and legal advice tend to defy this logic. A missed opportunity or omission is frequently far more expensive than the cost of professional fees. Find a practitioner who has a track record of serving similarly situated companies. You do not want someone “learning” on your account.
Continue to re-evaluate your exit strategy. The smartest entrepreneurs are continually honing their exit strategy. Whether to sell to a single customer, create a lifestyle business, create a natural business extension for a larger company, or aspire for an initial public offering, your ultimate plans often affect tax planning alternatives.
Choice of legal entity. Your choice of legal entity can be influenced by a variety of factors. Many types of legal entities provide tax characteristics that can morph to provide different tax characteristics that are more appropriate as the business changes (for instance a single-member LLC, which operates as a flow-through, can convert to a legal entity with C-corporation characteristics for tax purposes). It is important to understand the flexibility that is afforded by each choice.
The case for flow-throughs. Flow-through entities such as LLCs and S-corporations allow business losses to flow through to the shareholders. Eligible shareholders must be “active participants” in the business in order to offset business losses against other forms of income, and they must be “at risk” for the losses.
Even if the shareholder is not an active participant, business losses retain their character as “ordinary loss deductions” upon disposition. Contrast this with a capital loss in a corporate environment and understand that individuals can only deduct capital losses against capital gains, plus a small amount of ordinary income. (Section 1244 may provide relief from this rule.) If the company is successful, shareholders will be rewarded with a single level of taxation.
The case for corporations. Most institutional investors do not want to make investments in flow-through entities for many reasons. If institutional equity will be sought, C-corporations may be the best choice.
C-corporations and S-corporations can participate in tax-free reorganizations, SMLLCs and partnerships generally cannot. Thus, corporations allow their shareholders to exit via tax-free share for share exchanges. Corporations have the drawback of taxation both at the corporate and shareholder level. (Section 1202 may provide partial or complete relief from the shareholder gain.)
Maximize federal tax incentives. The most common federal tax incentives affecting smaller technology companies include the credits for increasing research activities, the small employer health insurance credit, the manufacturing deduction, the deduction for research expenditures, and recently expanded limitations on a business’s ability to expense depreciable assets and bonus depreciation.
Maximize state tax incentives. Each state provides a myriad of tax incentives. These incentives manifest themselves as state tax credits, such as the jobs, investment and research tax credits. These are typically limited to the company’s state income tax burden. Since many companies are loss-making, these credits may not provide immediate relief.
Entrepreneurs should be particularly aware of credits that may be applied against payroll taxes as these will typically provide immediate benefits. Other incentives come into play with regard to how states source income or view certain types of income. More and more states are moving to single-factor sales apportionment. These rules favor companies that tend to export most of their products or services.
Beware of sales tax. The digital revolution has found states scrambling to update sales tax laws. Furthermore, as brick and mortar businesses wane, state taxing authorities are broadening the reach of state sales tax to subject more transactions to tax.
The consequences of failing to collect sales tax can be catastrophic. Many times these issues don’t emerge until the company is being acquired and potential buyers are seeking to escrow millions of dollars to mitigate these risks. Companies must monitor their obligation to collect sales tax in each state, periodically evaluate their service and product offerings to determine which sales are taxable, and be vigilant in maintaining documentation that exempts them from sales tax such as resale exemption certificates.
Domestic expansion. Companies should consider tax implications of doing business in multiple states. These can include the need to register with multiple states’ Secretary of State, to withhold payroll taxes and incur state unemployment taxes, to begin collecting and remitting sales taxes, and to start filing income taxes. Even if your employees do not reside outside your home state, but they work for extended periods of time outside their home state, beware of state payroll laws which require you to withhold taxes and report wages in the destination state.
Payroll and Benefits. Obamacare has brought unprecedented complication and administration to providing routine health care benefits. Companies should investigate the use of professional employer organizations (PEOs) to outsource payroll and benefit functions.
Jerry Weil is a shareholder at Bennett Thrasher PC in Atlanta with more than 30 years of experience in providing tax advisory services. He has extensive experience with clients in the technology, manufacturing and distribution industries, with such clients ranging in size from closely held start-ups to publicly held companies. Jerry has a broad knowledge of corporate and partnership taxation and has assisted dozens of inbound and outbound business entities. He has extensive experience with assisting companies with the financial accounting aspects of their income tax positions.
Friday, June 28th, 2013
By Russell Holcombe, CEO of Holcombe Financial
Entrepreneurs have an intoxicating and contagious attitude, full of energy, enthusiasm and inspiration. Where one sees a desert, an entrepreneur envisions a city, viewing things not as they are, but as they could be. They live and breathe their company and work unbelievably hard to be successful.
Sadly enough, research shows that only 35% of small business in the United States will survive for five years. Unfortunately, the reality of entrepreneurship is failure – not success. But ask any entrepreneur about their personal odds of success?
They don’t think this statistic applies to them. The fact is, many entrepreneurs lose perspective, and this increases the risk of failure.
Over the last twenty years, I have been very fortunate to work with entrepreneurs. I have witnessed first hand the consequences of failure on the business and the family.
Below are three recommendations to help preserve what you worked so hard to earn.
1. Don’t forget your struggle. Struggle is generally something successful entrepreneurs wish to leave in the rear view mirror. I think this is a big mistake. Struggle produces focus, and focus encourages us to think properly. It helps us identify what really matters then demands we concentrate on it. No one feeds cash to bad ideas or wastes weeks at a time when you don’t have either. Once entrepreneurs become successful, money mutes the pain of failure.
Money extends the financial runway and gives the illusion that the idea can taxi longer than it should. Partial success is worse than failure because it creates the feeling that just a bit more effort, a bit more time and a bit more money will help. If we forget the struggle and operate like we have unlimited resources, we increase the likelihood of failure. Impose a process with limits of time, money and resources to keep the struggle mindset alive.
2. Learn the importance of “No”. When success happens and there is money in the bank, the world is at your fingertips. You can do anything you want whenever you want. You instantly become the everyone’s best friend. Other entrepreneurs will pitch great investment ideas, banks encourage you to borrow money, charitable foundations will offer you a seat on their board, and distant relatives suddenly reconnect on Facebook. They all want what you have: cash.
Every idea is presented with passion and the entrepreneurial problems solving skills go into high speed. Saying no is painful, saying yes is easy. We want to help. Remind yourself that most ideas end up in the graveyard and you don’t want to buy the gravestone. Just remember opportunities are like busses, there’s always another one coming around the corner. My personal metric. Say no 99 times for every yes.
3. Find a Board of Advisers. Our perception of reality is more like a painting than a photograph, sort of like the difference between a Van Gogh landscape and a photograph of the same landscape. The reality we think we see is a combination of our mind’s interpretation and fact.
Van Goth’s “Starry Night Over the Rhone” landscape.
Our brains are so good at creating this landscape that it is hard to spot when it is a fake. This is especially problematic for the entrepreneur with business, family, and employees at risk. To protect yourself from the cavalier, the impetuous and the sane (which is really an insane idea), assemble a team of advisors you respect.
For instance, my support network includes clients, consultants, fellow entrepreneurs and even some of my competitors. Most are surprised by the number of people I have helping me to see reality. Other people see my problems with a clarity I just can’t. Clarity is something the entrepreneur can’t afford to live without.
Following these guidelines will not be easy and will take a great deal of discipline, commitment and determination, but they will give you a fighting chance in an uncertain world.
Russell Holcombe is CEO of Atlanta-based investment firm Holcombe Financial and author of the award-winning book You Should Only Have to Get Rich Once. Holcombe earned his MTX (Masters in Taxation) from Georgia State University, his BBA in Finance from Southern Methodist University, and is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.
Thursday, June 27th, 2013
By Allan Maurer
Years ago I worked for an organization where the prevailing management style operated by fiat: they gave orders, everyone else followed. The CEO and his chief manager had significant strengths that brought them to their high level positions, but their management skills were so poor the company board had them take a consultant’s remedial program. They scored 15 percent on an initial evaluation of their management skills.
Have you ever worked for a strong leader who overwhelmed those around him (or her) so that people would tend to just agree with him rather than offer their own best ideas or constructive criticism?
Bob Kaplan and Rob Kaiser, whose book Fear Your Strengths was recently featured in The Economist, say that most executive clients don’t know what subterranean forces impede their effectiveness. One of the most debilitating forces—anxiety—can trigger a dysfunctional tendency to control too much.
You know them
“You know these leaders,” the authors say. “They fill their own space and yours too. They have a lot to say and feel free to say it. Up to a point it’s justified—they often have a lot to offer. But when conversational space gets dominated, the energy goes out of the room. Team members stop speaking up and stop listening. What over-controlling leaders think of as helping, team members experience as meddling. Their power has been usurped.”
That remedial course didn’t help the managers of the organization I mentioned: its leaders both lost their positions, largely due to their no longer acceptable management styles, within two years. They simply could not alter how they led.
What causes this dysfunctional attitude among leaders with extensive experience and considerable personal ability and even charisma?
Kaplan, President of Kaplan DeVries Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in intensive assessment of executives for coaching and succession planning, says, “Mindset is at the core of behavior. Who you are is how you lead.”
How can a leader fix that?
Work on your mindset
Kaplan says you have a much better chance of success if you don’t just work on your behavior but also on your mindset. For example, to rein in over-control, leaders must fight through instinctive defenses and admit to a motivation they wish they didn’t have, such as anxiety, and then to form a new mental habit (I don’t have to prove myself because my team knows I’m smart) to go with the new outward habit (give other people space to lead).
In their book, Kaplan and Kaiser, who conducted thousands of assessments of senior executives to determine when their strengths may betray them, found that In a well-intentioned effort to build on the strengths that propelled them to the top, leaders can take those positive attributes too far and undermine their effectiveness.
They say “It’s no wonder that the concept of strengths overplayed is overlooked in leadership development. Our culture’s growth mentality seems founded on the belief that if some is good, a lot must be great. This thinking is reinforced daily as leaders get evaluated with five-point rating scales where higher scores are more desirable. Neither our beliefs nor our tools warn leaders that more is not always better.”
Kaplan and Kaiser assess leaders by asking colleagues whether the leader does too much, the right amount, or too little of a given behavior relative to their job and organization. Feedback in this form is both insightful and instructive: “The practical fact is that the only way to manage your strengths is to accept them,” the authors write. “If you literally don’t know your own strength, you have no way to calibrate or modulate it. In a relentless effort to be better, you have no way of knowing if you are going too far.”
Kaplan and Kaiser offer practical ways to combat common mindset traps that inevitably detract from managerial effectiveness in their book, Fear Your Strenths: What You Are Best at Could Be Your Biggest Problem.
The authors discuss this problem in this video.
Wednesday, June 26th, 2013
Just a few short years ago, business gamification was practically unheard of. Before 2010, barely anyone searched for the term on Google, and it’s still not in the dictionary. But that doesn’t mean you should say, “gamifi-what?” and move on with your life. The fact is, business gamification—or the use of gaming elements to drive, measure, and reward high-value behaviors by customers or employees—is becoming a go-to strategy for a rapidly growing number of companies. It’s here to stay, and it can help your organization reach new heights.
“Games have been played for millennia because they’re fun and people enjoy them,” says Kris Duggan, coauthor along with Kate Shoup of Business Gamification For Dummies® (Wiley, February 2013, ISBN: 978-1-1184-6693-3, $26.99). “Today, that love of games is being leveraged by smart businesses to boost customer loyalty, employee performance, sales, growth, and more.”
Specifically, explains Duggan, business gamification uses elements like points, achievements, levels, leaderboards, missions, and contests to drive desired behaviors. All of a sudden, promoting a brand becomes fun for customers, and sharing troubleshooting solutions with fellow consumers is an engaging challenge. Likewise, employees actually enjoy training instead of seeing it as a chore, and they’re motivated to work harder on a day-to-day basis.
Feed the craving
“Like anyone else, your customers and employees crave attention, recognition, approval, and rewards,” comments Duggan. “With gamification, you feed this craving, and in the process convert customers into loyal fans and employees into highly effective collaborators and advocates.”
Here, Duggan shares ten examples of websites and apps that feature smart—and successful—gamification:
eBay (www.ebay.com). eBay has long used a points system that enables users to show their status on the site. The success of this system, which goes so far as to issue badges to the “best” sellers, has effectively demonstrated the importance of reputation as a reward to both buyers and sellers.
“As you probably know if you’re an eBay user yourself, these are key game mechanics,” says Duggan. “In the future, look to eBay to gamify more aspects of its site to make it even more engaging.”
Foursquare (www.foursquare.com). Foursquare is a free mobile app that enables you to “check in” at various places and share your experiences there. As you do, Foursquare rewards you with points and badges. You might even get special deals, such as a discount off your bill at a restaurant or a freebie for bringing your friends.
“You can use Foursquare to get recommendations for what to do next,” shares Duggan. “And if you check in at a given place enough times, you may become its ‘mayor’—which can bring with it its own set of privileges, such as a special parking place.”
GetGlue (www.getglue.com). GetGlue is a little like Foursquare…except that instead of checking in at their favorite restaurants, shops, and such, GetGlue users check in while watching shows, listening to music, reading books, or engaging in other entertainment-related activities.
“In return, users get relevant recommendations, exclusive stickers (like badges), discounts, and other rewards, such as goodies from their favorite shows or movies,” explains Duggan.
Mint (www.mint.com). Mint.com wants to help members get a handle on their finances, and it uses subtle gamification—primarily in the form of progress bars and fun feedback—to make it happen. Members can also post details about their financial goals online to increase their chances that those goals will be met.
“This site is a great example of a less-overt form of gamification,” points out Duggan. “There are no badges or prizes, but the game mechanics in place are effective nonetheless.”
MuchMusic.com (www.muchmusic.com). MuchMusic, Canada’s MTV equivalent, gamified its site with its MuchCloser program. Members of MuchCloser get points for doing all the stuff they normally do on the site—watching videos, reading blogs, leaving comments, sharing content, and so forth.
“As the points pile up, users unlock rewards and trophies and become eligible for prizes and giveaways,” says Duggan. “The most active users are flagged as key members of the MuchMusic community.”
Nike Olympic inspired sneakers.
Nike+ (www.nikeplus.nike.com). Nike+ is a fitness-oriented service that enables you to log your physical activity using a mobile app or other Nike gear. When you do, you earn NikeFuel, which is a super-cool alterna-word for points.
“As you earn more NikeFuel, you unlock awards, trophies, and surprises—not to mention a banging physique,” Duggan points out. “And if you’re in the mood to brag, you can share your accomplishments with your friends and with other Nike+ members.”
Recyclebank (www.recyclebank.com). Recyclebank gives members points for engaging in “everyday green actions” such as using less water, recycling, making greener purchases, using energy more efficiently, or even walking to work instead of driving. For even more points, members can take online quizzes about ecology and share information from the site with friends on Facebook, Twitter, and mobile applications.
“Users can redeem points for goodies such as gifts and flowers, books and magazines, health and beauty items, and music with participating local and national partners,” adds Duggan.
A Samsung Android phone
Samsung (www.samsung.com). Samsung’s social loyalty program, Samsung Nation, makes excellent use of gamification to recognize and empower the company’s most passionate fans. When you join Samsung Nation, you can earn points, level up, unlock badges, and gain entry into various contests and promotions by performing such behaviors as watching videos, commenting on articles, reviewing products, participating in user-generated Q&As, and more.
“Top users appear on the Samsung Nation leaderboard, and an activity stream keeps users up to date on the site’s goings-on,” says Duggan.
sneakpeeq (www.sneakpeeq.com). A retail site, sneakpeeq offers discounted goodies including gourmet foods, home products, accessories, apparel (from big labels like Kate Spade and Puma to smaller brands), and more. The twist? The site is gamified to make shopping more fun.
“The more you buy, share, love (similar to liking an item), and peeq (viewing an item’s price), the more badges and rewards you unlock, and the more incentives and surprises you receive,” explains Duggan. “Leaderboards make the experience more social and competitive, kind of like throwing an elbow at a sample sale.”
Xbox Live (www.xbox.com). First came Shakespeare with his “play within a play.” Now there’s Xbox, with its “game within a game.” That is, Xbox, itself a game platform, uses elements of gamification…within its games. (Is your mind blown yet?)
“Specifically, users can earn achievement points, referred to as gamerscore, by performing specific tasks or actions in a game,” Duggan shares. “This gamerscore is separate from the player’s score in the game itself and is a way of conveying the player’s reputation across the platform, including its social spaces.”
“Smart use of gamification is a big win for everyone,” concludes Duggan.
“Once it’s put into action, it helps customers enjoy interacting with companies. The more they’re recognized and rewarded, the more loyal they’ll be…and the more your organization will grow.
“According to Gartner, Inc., by 2014, more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application,” Duggan adds. “Some experts even project that the gamification market will grow to $2.8 billion by 2016! So don’t wait—get in on the gamification action now.”
About the Authors:
Kris Duggan is the coauthor of Business Gamification For Dummies®. He is a thought leader of innovative ways to incorporate game mechanics and real-time loyalty programs into web and mobile experiences.
Kate Shoup is the coauthor of Business Gamification For Dummies®. She has written more than 25 books, has cowritten a feature-length screenplay, and worked as the sports editor for NUVO newsweekly.
Friday, June 14th, 2013
Money isn’t the only motivator.
Employees are more motivated by recognition and virtual rewards compared to financial incentives, and this number is on the rise, according to research by Make Their Day, an employee motivation firm.
A similar survey was performed by Make Their Day in 2007, in which 57 percent of respondents reported that their meaningful recognition had no dollar value—today, that number has jumped to 70 percent.
“The value of non-tangible recognition is clearly identified in our findings,” said Cindy Ventrice, author of Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works. “Workplace technology today, such as gamification, provides many new opportunities for non-tangible recognition. With nearly one-fifth of meaningful recognition being delivered virtually, it is clear that these methods can be effective.”
Independent report corroborates the research
This research corroborates a recent independent report released by McKinsey & Company that revealed praise, attention from leaders, and opportunities to lead projects were more effective motivators than performance-based cash rewards, increase in base pay, or stock options (Motivating People: Getting Behind Money, 2009.)
In the report, Martin Dewhurst, Matthew Gurthridge andElizabeth Mohr note that companies around the world are cutting back on financial incentive programs, but few have used other ways of inspiring talent. The McKinsey report recommends looking at non-financial incentive programs for this purpose.
“The results of the study align to what we’ve seen across our customers deploying gamification solutions for workplace engagement, as well as numerous reports over the last few years on the changing face of what motivates employees today” said Ken Comee, CEO, Badgeville.
“Workers of all ages, especially the rising millennial population, are motivated by real-time feedback, fun, engaging work environments, and status-based recognition over tangible rewards. Gamification programs powered by Badgeville have empowered hundreds of companies to reward employees for the right behaviors, showcase their reputation and enhance employee motivation across their workforce.”