People want to improve. Well, most people do anyway.
They’ll talk the improvement game. They’ll go to conferences. They’ll read those books. Most will target a start date of January – the official biggest improvement month of the year.
The trouble is I see too many people who talk about improving, but, by the month of February, they regress to their tried and true habits. They do the same things the same way they always have. Routines are grounded into most folk’s normal day. And change is hard – really hard.
A friend of mine recently commented in an off-hand way, “If someone never sets aside time to improve, they’ll never improve.” It was a simple statement, but as soon as I heard it I knew I had to write about it. In previous B2Seed entries, I’ve shared about how busy people in the world are today. There are fewer of you working in companies and you’re doing more and the deadlines seem to come quicker and quicker.
You move from crisis to situation to trouble to meeting. It’s just the way it is whether you are in marketing, leadership, medicine, human resources, running a non-profit, or consulting other businesses.
So here is my challenge to you. You’re not going to magically make yourself better. You’re only going to get better if you carve time out of your calendar to do so. Make it a routine and start this week. No matter how much pressure you get from clients, bosses, or the teams you lead, it is critical you create space to actually improve. You owe it to your people, your company, and – most of all – to yourself.
Block out thirty minutes twice a week for the next three weeks. Plan it right after you finish reading this article and before you begin your next task. At this point it doesn’t even really matter what route you select to improve. You’ve marked a start and starting is the most important step. After all, you can always improve at improving once you get that habit changed and make time for it.
When you get good news about your business - who do you call? When something exciting or frightening happens to your organization - what number do you initially dial?
A few weeks ago my company had one of those bursts that often accompany a fast growing organization. On Monday it was confirmed B2C Enterprises would be handling all the marketing for a local franchisee of a major national company. Along with my creative partners, two campaigns we built won Western Virginia Addy Awards the following Saturday.
I called Kevin Shaw.
When you are ready to scream – either with joy or because of frustration – do you have a team of people you know are firmly and squarely in your corner? Running a business is hard. Trying to do it alone is nearly impossible. It’s important to have people to connect with who can add perspective, challenge you, or simply listen. Listen and care. I am fortunately to have a number of those people.
Kevin Shaw is a Partner with Wieland-Davco, a Michigan-based construction company and we grew up in the marketing/advertising world together. He took the call, shared my excitement, and reminded me how important it is to celebrate together. Maybe today would be a good day to pick up the phone and call “your Kevin Shaw”. It’s a small action step, but frequently the smallest steps make the largest difference.
They pile up.
Sometimes it gets to the point where the pile can get so large you simply have to do something about it. Sometimes it’s just one big item. You know what I’m talking about. It’s those things you just don’t really want to do – the very things that eat away at you, cause you to wake up at 4am, or stop you from quickly falling asleep at night. The brain space occupied drags you down and distracts you from doing what you want to do, what you need to do, and what you love.
Those things – those rotten things you have to get done, but put off doing.
Now It’s Time4You to Change
Credit should go to Stan Joplin – he was the Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Toledo and I had known him when we both worked with Tom Izzo’s staff at Michigan State University. Coach Joplin agreed to address my sales team at WTVG and he shared something I have tried for years to put into practice – something that has stayed with me for about ten years now. He said, “Do the hard things first”. It sounds easy enough and it is simple, but it’s actually far from easy.
If you continue to put something off, simply start tomorrow with it being the first thing on your list and (here’s the hard part) do it. Tough phone call? Make it. Hard conversation? Have it. Uncomfortable email? Proof it and send it. Do it early in the day and get the rest of your day going…it really does work in a very practical way and it will work for you and your organization.
Clear the deck.
B2C Enterprises is an award winning advertising and marketing agency. If you’d like to talk about how we can help you tackle a hard-to-solve problem, see some samples, or be removed from this distribution list, simply call 540.986.8766 (new number).
Turn It In2Something Good
Early in my career I worked directly for six different sales managers over a period of about two years. It would have been easy to be distracted by all the various routines, demands, and processes each wanted me to employ as I was getting started in the advertising business.
All had things they could offer a young salesperson. Somewhere in the middle of all the changes I made a decision to try to grab on to some of the strongest elements of each of their styles. I took the prospecting plan of one, the relationship building skill of another and the inventory management strategy of a third. Over time these different managers’ ways were combined with my own experiences to help forge my own management approach. It actually helped me.
How Its Helpful4You
A lot of things may be working against you. There’s no doubt it’s easy to be distracted by things going on around you – mergers, cutbacks, slowdowns, budget freezes and turnover can hold you back from doing your best.
I don’t think you need a rah-rah, go take on the world pep talk. That’s not why I am writing this. Instead, I want to encourage you to pull back and evaluate those things that might be perceived as negatives by others. Take a look at the situations that are dragging down the people with whom you work and make a decision.
First of all – ask yourself if you can fix it. Then do so. If it isn’t fixable; figure out a way to take the negative and become stronger through it. Maybe you can take notes and set them aside for when you are the big boss. Or try using the time to hone specific skills. Perhaps you can get better at observing what people are really trying to say or communicate. Possibly it could be finding a way to be more creative. Whatever the outcome, you set the direction you are going to take through the choppy waters.
It may actually help you in the long run.
While it’s true a lot of us look to water for perspective or to help us reflect, I want to share a story I heard recently that you may be able to use as a springboard even if you’re landlocked right now. The Sales Manager of a TV station in Central Virginia was telling me he’d had some time off recently. He accompanied his son’s elementary school class on a trip to the Virginia Beach area. They did the usual field trip sites – aquarium and museums, but they made time to see the ocean too.
Some of those kids had never experienced the beach, the tide, the expanse, or even the “sea girls” flying around above. It was a brand new experience.
Using His Story4Perspective
Can you remember the first time you saw the ocean or the grit of the sand between your toes? Probably not, but over time you’ve come to appreciate the expanse, the power, the calm, the beauty, and all the other things that drive so many of us to a shore of some kind.
Imagine the excitement some of those kids felt at seeing the ocean on that spring day in April.
Now capture that same rush and remind yourself why you took the job you currently have or how much you like solving problems or creating a product or a solution. Whatever it is you do on a daily basis could use a jolt of that same freshness. Everyone finds themselves in challenging times in business. The key is to push through them, anchor to a knowledge of why you are passionate about what you do, and take a new look at an old situation.
It’s kind of like you’re seeing it for the first time…
It’s How You Decide2Look at Things
On two different days last week – Monday and Thursday – the temperatures in the middle of the day here in the Greater Roanoke Valley reached 38 degrees.
When I left the snowy land of Northwestern Ohio on Sunday it was 9 degrees, the snow was blowing and based on the weather that day, it seemed like a good place to be leaving. As I drove south the snow (mostly) stopped and the warmth (mostly) arrived. By Monday it was a “balmy” 38 degrees and I think it actually felt somewhat comfortable.
The middle of the week brought a warming trend – jet stream, winds from the south, or something. I actually have no idea what brought the shift. I just know that one of those days I left my winter coat at home and, in general, it almost felt like spring (while I am pretty sure the cold and snow continued straight through back in Ohio). By Thursday afternoon another cold snap hit and it was back to 38 degrees again. This isn’t a weather blog – so why all the talk about hot and cold?
Something4You to Consider
Both days were 38 degrees in Roanoke. One day felt comfortable, even refreshing. Later in the week, the same exact temperature felt cold, slightly bitter. How can the same surroundings bring such different feelings?
The answer is in how you look at things. The wisdom is in your approach to the challenging boss, tough problem or insurmountable prospect. Are you coming off of a cold spell into the warmth of 38 degrees, or are you adjusting to the “warmth” of the 50’s & 60’s then dealing with 38 degrees. It’s a simple reminder that you determine the climate of your workplace.
Another Help Thought2Share
Our advertising and marketing agency is located in scenic Downtown Roanoke (www.visitroanokeva.com). With our on street entrance, we have the pleasure of watching people parallel park. There are a lot of different ways to tackle this often challenging task. (My dad taught me the right way, so message me if you want some tips.)
I find humor in watching people determined to get their car into a spot even though they are too far away from the curb or too near another vehicle. Sometimes drivers will see an open spot, but they just can't get their cars to do what they want them to. Squeeze. Turn. Squeeze. Turn. It's just not going to work.
The best course of action with parallel parking when you have a bad approach is to pull out of the space and start all over.
Editor's Note: While this is a genuine example of Bruce's fine parallel parking skills, there was no witness to how many tries it took him to get it right.
Use This Idea4Problem Solving
If you've started your parking approach with a bad angle or a missed mark, stop right there. Be bold. Go back to the beginning and take a new line (even if people are watching you or the person in the passenger seat is giving you a hard time).
It's the same with a creative challenge, an issue with one of your clients or a problem you have to solve. Before you get locked into an absolute plan, consider if it wouldn't be wiser to back out from the bad angle and start anew. Often I find a new look on a perplexing situation gives me the inspiration to find the right solution or the perfect fit.
That's a principle that holds true whether it is in my "Imported from Detroit" Chrysler or with a work predicament that has our team stumped.
There are so few things that unite us anymore. Attention is spread pretty thin and most people seem to have their own interests, passions, and activities.
In the workplace that often means competing agendas and different directions.
However, March of every year brings one specific activity that breaks this pattern. They are called "Brackets". Those silly sheets of paper that have the NCAA College Basketball tournament pairings with the top 64 (okay 68 now) teams in the country competing for the championship show up at offices all around the nation.
Bosses don't like them. But even the bosses are typically writing in their predictions for who will win the various games that take place all over the country in March and early April. They are a huge distraction - and so are the first round games which are frequently televised during daytime work afternoons.
While I am not promoting gambling at work, there may be some good that comes from these brackets after all.
It's a commonly held opinion that productivity drops dramatically during the NCAA tournament because employees are distracted and focused on basketball and how their picks are going.
Believe it or not, there are articles out there about how productivity actually increases during March. In part it's because people have something in common and interesting to discuss. Joe from accounting can chat with Susie in I.T. about how their picks are doing. And everyone can commiserate about the choices they made that missed.
In a sense it's a community. Many people far smarter than I have looked at the impact a community atmosphere has on overall production. Generally it's a powerful driver. So - separated we accomplish what we do, yet when united we will typically get a lot more done. These brackets somehow unite us.
So this year try something counterintuitive. Have some fun with it, rally around your team, or at least look the other way. It's more than a distraction, it's a potential culture-builder and most of your employees are seeking community in their lives and in their work.
It's basketball season and I love basketball – more than most anything. So it’s a good time to write about basketball. Fear not if you are no hoopster, this month’s Seed is actually about a whole lot more. Controversial NBA Star Kobe Bryant recently announced his retirement. He’s been playing for the same team for 20 years – that’s rare. He’s accomplished so much in his career. Many consider him one of the five greatest players of all time.
Back in October he said something that caught my eye and I saved the article.
“When I came here in 1996, I had the butterflies, and then when I got around everybody it was like, Oh, I’m fine,” said Bryant. “Some of these guys don’t love the game. It’s a job for them. And when something is a job, you can have success for a week, two weeks, a month, maybe a year or even two. Then you’ll fall. It’s inevitable. But if you love it, you can’t be stopped. Because when you love something, you’ll always come to it. You’ll always keep asking questions, and finding answers, and getting in the gym.” (Sports Illustrated, October 26, 2015)
It’s not about Kobe Bryant. It’s not even about his retirement after two decades with the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s about you. Do you love what you do professionally? If you do – great – read his quote again and be thankful you’re in your place. If you don’t, ask yourself why. Then take that first step and ask yourself what needs to happen to put you in a love place with your work life.
It’s possible. Not only is it possible – you should accept nothing less in your life.
Stretch2Grow Your Place
You get in and settle into your job and before you know it, the realization hits there are lots of other things that need to get done. If these tasks are ignored, a pattern can quickly develop where you concentrate solely on your assigned task and begin to ignore the ones that also need attention. A set of boundaries purposefully or incidentally begins to be built.
You may not see it, but you can feel it.
As an outside consultant for dozens of companies I see this a lot.
People get too set in their routines – or should I say – aren’t willing to get a little uncomfortable in taking on the challenge of new tasks without being asked. Now, I’m not saying you should just go on and tackle all kinds of things without anyone asking you. I am submitting to you, for your consideration, the idea that you can be assertive in even the most conflicted work environment. The is especially true if you have a track record of getting things done and have a plan for the needed accomplishment.
Writers usually take time to build their credibility. If you’ve read my entries before you know I generally do the same. This time, I’d tell you to be sure you get good advice before going forward too far – and not just from me. This month’s Seed springs from an observation.
The work force has changed in the last decade. Most managers and competent leaders are acknowledging there are less people on their teams (and much more work to be done). Rather than protecting territory, managers are begging for someone to step forward and take on more. Could that person be you?
Perhaps you’re asking, “Why would I want to tackle more?”
Well the answers are pretty simple really --- you become a better (and more valuable) employee, you learn more skills, and maybe most importantly, you may find there is something you like doing even more than what you’re currently working on.
That’s a concept that we’ve tried on for years now at B2C Enterprises. And for this marketing and advertising agency – it’s been a pretty darn good fit.
The insincere salesperson.
They’ve ruined the process for many. Certainly they’ve made a lot of work for those who genuinely do put their prospects' best interests first. Typically when a salesperson walks through the door, the potential client leans to the position of distrust. It may be unfortunate, but it’s generally the case.
What I’ve noticed through the years of training sales people, selling, and now being sold to, is it’s pretty easy to spot the ones who care. You can quickly differentiate the sellers who are looking out for you versus the ones who are in it for themselves.
It’s a decision each salesperson must make each day. A choice.
Really Do It4Success
About the only thing worse than a salesperson that doesn’t care, is one who is pretending to care.
It’s obvious to everyone around – except maybe that person themselves.
Keep smiling if you want, we see right through you.
If you think you can fake it, you’re better off going the vendor route and just providing a product when asked. Genuinely caring means taking an interest in the prospect or client, paying attention to the things that really matter to them, listening to their work (and sometimes personal) pain, and providing a real and proactive solution. It starts with caring. Sincerely caring.
It’s one time where you’re never smart to fake it until you make it.
When I was a young salesperson I realized people didn’t want to be told how great my product was, nor did they want to be convinced of something based on raw numbers or statistics. This line of sales is rarely successful.
What works is storytelling.
And then the little girl tried out the half page advertisement and it was just right!
Not made up stories or fables mind you, but real life examples of how a product or service is making a difference for someone else. This kind of example can be quite convincing and can quickly establish credibility.
It’s a powerful approach.
So now you know you need some stories, but you may not have any personal ones to share. It’s okay.
Use someone else’s informative and entertaining story until you create your own to share. I did this when I was younger and I also did it seven years ago when I started my advertising agency. If you’re doing something you’ve never done before, it can be hard to have a story to tell right out of the gate. This is a perfect opportunity to lean on the experiences of others until you find ones to fit your client selling situation. Before too long you will have plenty of your very own stories to share.
Perhaps you’re not in a selling situation – have no fear. This approach works when you’re training employees, altering a culture, or building a relationship. It’s funny, most of us are in the sales profession – whether we will admit it or not.
Either way – many people are much more likely to learn by a relatable tale, word picture, or story than they are a fact.
And that's a fact.
We all like a good deal. Who doesn’t like to save some money?
B2C Enterprises invests over a million dollars in media most years, while at the same time, interacting with salespeople from at least seven states. That’s a lot of business transactions and a lot of sales appointments.
Sometimes there’s an odd sales quirk within the communication I find to be very interesting, yet somewhat disconcerting.
For some strange reason, on many occasions a salesperson begins reducing their original price, before we even start any discussions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to save money, on behalf of my clients and my company, but when it happens before I even ask for a better price - that’s a red flag.
Oddly, they don't seem to appreciate it when I pull out the flag and throw it across the office.
The negotiation process hasn’t even started and the prices are being lowered. Why?
Believe me, I’m a big supporter of fair pricing – whether I am buying or selling. Odds are you’re often in a place where you are also buying or selling something. Most of us don’t want to pay more than necessary. However, if you’re the one setting the price, it’s important to determine what is fair, right, and reasonable, all the while discerning what will keep you competitive.
A company that immediately (or even before being asked) drops their price sends a message of being out of step. To begin with, they’re either priced too high, in a desperate selling situation, or they are simply afraid of losing the sale. As a buyer it’s up to you to determine which it is. As a seller it’s a valuable reminder to take a good look inward.
Before leaving this subject – there’s an important distinction. It’s okay to offer sales, discounts, or deals --- that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s the base price, the going rate, the usual fare where you establish your value. If you set that correctly – it remains a constant.
Place value in knowing your value. That’s the really good deal.
On the Way2the Top (or Back)
About a year ago I worked with some other community leaders in Roanoke to restart a small non-profit music venue (visit TheSpotonKirk.org) and over that chunk of time I’ve observed some interesting things.
One pattern has surfaced pretty consistently.
We get some extremely talented musicians to play in the 120-seat listening room two doors down from our advertising agency. Generally, they are performers who are routing through town and on their way to building their music careers. Some appear talented enough to have very, very successful careers. We’ve also had our share of performers who’ve likely lived some of their lives in the spotlight of some pretty big stages. Let’s just say they’ve had their play on the radio and now they play for the love of music (and to answer the call when audiences ask for that one special song).
Either way, our mostly-volunteer team works really hard to give all of the performers and traveling musicians a welcoming, high-quality experience.
Profound lessons are often found in simple observations.
I will often judge how much we’ll enjoy an act at The Spot based on one natural interaction: I watch how the artist treats our magical, kind, and helpful sound engineer, Travis. If they care for him and treat him well, their performances are almost always extra enjoyable. If they come off as short or unappreciative, it's not as good.
Guess what? People are watching how you interact with others, too: The receptionist, the assistant, the nurse, the salesperson, and everyone else with whom you cross paths. It’s a good reminder.
In business, just like in life these days, we can use a little more kindness and care.
Your World Series2Win
On the first night of November (which did seem weird), the Houston Astros captured their first-ever baseball World Series Championship. Just four years ago they were the laughingstock of the baseball world and had lost over 100 games – a near record for futility.
How did this magical turnaround happen? How did the Astros end up beating the high-powered Los Angeles Dodgers and my poor brother’s favorite team for about 50 years now?
It’s not a sports question, actually. It’s more of a thought-starter for everyone in commerce.
Talent4The Long Run
The Astros’ rise to the championship started a few years ago with a plan to acquire talent. In business, like sports, talent is the supreme commodity.
Because the Astros had played so poorly in the past, they got to pick the new players first. That happens a lot, but this Houston-based team picked really well by building a foundation that would be both competitive and affordable. Homegrown talent was the most efficient way to get from bad to really good. Later, when the time was right, they dug deep into their wallet and paid bigger money to get a few select veterans and traded a few extra pieces to get even more talent. This move took them from really good to great.
In other words, the Astros mixed training and recruiting to create a supremely talented team. It’s a good formula and one your organization can certainly adopt. Talent drives the best results.
Interestingly enough, on the morning after the Houston Astros won their championship, I noticed a headline in a Virginia magazine noting that unemployment in metro areas in our state is almost a non-issue. Pretty much everyone that wants to work is working, but that also means keeping your talent is harder than ever.
Do you have a plan to recruit, train, and retain your employees? It seems basic, but it’s a foundational element that is often overlooked by busy leaders. Take a moment – today – to evaluate your company’s situation and be mindful of the talent around you and how to get more of it on board.
We Need2Look Ahead
In the marketing world, we tend to be heavily focused on the next month, quarter, or year. A lot of business is like that – forecasting sales, production, and the sort. You’re wondering what you’re going to need, how your supplies will meet your demands, when you’ll see an increase in patient flow. Everything has to work together.
If you’re in leadership, you will generally find that you’re looking ahead even more often than others. Not only are you out in front thinking about that next campaign, budget, trend, or outlook, but you’re also expected to lead your group in the right direction.
Wherever you fall in your business’s lineup, it’s almost second nature to be thinking about the coming seasons and years. (And that’s all before you even attempt to do your “Five Year Strategic Plan”, right?)
Joy4You in the Journey
The tendency is to be so focused on what’s coming that you can easily miss the opportunity to rest where you are – even momentarily – and appreciate what is happening around you at that particular time.
There’s a reason some wise soul encouraged a young marketing guy somewhere to “stop and smell the roses”.
Perspective is gained during those periods of reflection and reflection is really hard to gather when you’re racing off to the next quarter or year. If you’re like so many – you’re on the go too much. It feels like there is no time to pull over and take a big whiff. In all reality, there isn’t time. You have to make your pause a priority or you’ll never stop going.
Of course, we encourage you to also be forward-thinking and wise in the tool gathering and planning for your time away. While you’re at it, be sure to take a moment along the way to intentionally enjoy what you are doing and bask in the great things that are happening around you.
B2C Enterprises is an award-winning advertising, marketing, and business development firm. If you’d like to talk about how we can help you with your marketing, or see some examples of our work, just call 540.904.1229.