The Experiment…WORKS?!?!

Hearing about an experiment designed to generate new ideas sends chills through the ranks of middle management.  They rarely know why they’re anxious because they’re not really paying attention.  They’re too focused on getting immediate results, which, in turn, saves their own ass…for now.

Ready, Set, Disrupt!

Many traditional organizations began investing in self-disruption a few years ago.  Recruitment of credible, driven outsiders with fresh ideas and proven track records ignited the process. Next, an independent hierarchy was created, usually with an abbreviated food chain.  Reporting structures are often less than 4 layers thick, half to one-third that of a normal bureaucracy, to allow for greater agility.

 The brilliant minds on these agile teams are charged with generating game-changing ideas.  The goal is to enable the organization to maintain its market position or extend its market dominance—-At least that’s the inscription on the facade.  As time passes and the discard pile of quality ideas “shot down” by the bureaucracy grows, a more obscure mission is being revealed:  Have the teams been assembled to DISPROVE disruption by generating outcomes that VALIDATE the legacy structure?  In other words, to show that the disruptive processes don’t really work?  If so, it’s not a well thought-out idea.

Ignoring the First Concern

Customers’ impact has been left out of the equation because it’s never mattered before.  (ANY organization can SAY the customer is their first concern, but they also have to FOLLOW THROUGH).  Most of the ideas those “mad scientists” initiated a decade ago were likely before their time.  Custom-branded website domains, interactive CD’s, personalized video website overlays, and even highly-touted, complex, and expensive platforms all represent outside-of-the-box ideas that never gained momentum, but for less-than-obvious, not dictated, reasons. Simply put: CUSTOMERS  WEREN’T READY.  To assume that they never will be is a serious misinterpretation.

Changing Tide

For a majority of industries today, their products and services have become little more than commodities.  That means successful innovation demands a laser-sharp focus on the customer experience.  Building solutions where the primary currency exchanged is emotional rather than physical in ways that make people excited to do business with your brand.

About three years ago, I learned that a team of people with an idea to build a new business model was issued a title with a name that couldn’t be searched in the public domain.  I know because I tried, which meant it was the subsidiary of a larger entity.  After the initial facility was created, more capacity was added to accelerate the self-disruption.  Even though the expansion required a significant investment in resources, the cost, again, was a small fraction of the alternative.

 “Houston, we have a problem”

“Problem” doesn’t do it justice.  It’s more of a quagmire—-a gargantuan cluster-f*#%.   Why is it a problem when anyone can have ideas and dreams?  Most organizations today encourage people to be innovative. While top-level leadership encourages the creativity of “Renegade Intrapreneurs” (at least when in the spotlight), middle managers see them as threats, often extinguishing the passion behind their ideas.  What those managers fail to comprehend is that creative thinkers aren’t their biggest challenge:  Tunnel vision is.  In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know and don’t believe what they refuse to see.

A handful of creative business visions are being executed relentlessly and producing results.  A few early adopters, for reasons inconceivable to middle managers, have actually begun EMBRACING some of the experiments.  In fact, a small nucleus of customers is building word-of-mouth momentum from the inside-OUT, with “community chemistry” one “molecule” at a time in an ongoing retention/education/transaction cycle.  Unlike traditional models, this one grows EXPONENTIALLY once the second iteration of trust-centered connections is established.

It’s the inverse of traditional thinking, which is why it’s not only ignored, but also the biggest threat to their future.  The self-disruptor is proving that the obstacle truly IS the way.

 History Repeating Itself?

An article was written by Greg Satell in 2010 about the demise of Blockbuster at the hands of Netflix.  Contained in that article was this link to another, equally intriguing, one: 

The reason the current scenario is different for the self-disruptive organization than scenarios a decade ago is that customers’ “silent networks” were not nearly as developed (or curated).  Back then, people didn’t connect based on worldview compatibility and actually engage in conversations, they connected to improve their vanity metrics. That meant ideas were crippled from spreading and becoming visions worthy of detailed business plans.

Today is different.  People have pared down their online contacts. They’re having more frequent and meaningful exchanges with others in their networks.  With each exchange, trust grows.  As trust grows, new connections are introduced and the communities, in turn, grow.  But the quagmire for legacy leadership isn’t even that the power of the “silent networks” is magnified EXPONENTIALLY, it’s that it happens outside their field of tunnel vision.

If a monster is chasing you through a dark forest, it’s difficult (and painful) to maneuver through trees you can’t see. 

Learning To Swim

When learning to swim, do you begin when it’s sunny or when the flood waters are approaching your second-story windows?  Why, then, have you waited for the proverbial storm clouds to fill the skies? Probably because, like many others, you never thought it would be THAT bad.

The Industrial Age is Gone

There are times when being an optimist is perfectly reasonable, but this isn’t one of them.  Now it’s all about realism. It’s time to open the blinds and take a long, hard look outside.  The Industrial Age is gone. So are land lines, televisions with 13-channel dials, and 8-track tapes.  We are now in the Internet Age, where consumers are armed with more information about brands AND individual  representatives than can be printed on a direct-mail piece. Where does all of this information come from? Transparent sharing by real human beings in and between an infinite number of online communities.  If you think your “dirty little secrets” can stay secure forever, prepare for a big surprise. You may be able to secure most inside information that is protected legally, but common-knowledge across-the-board “perks”  in any industry will likely not fall in that category.

It’s NOT About You

What happens when full disclosure really means full disclosure?  How do you explain to customers that the true reason for your 40 calls to their cell per week is less about them and more about you.  The legacy generation of customers that has provided your income stream for the last three decades already knows, but they no longer care. They are nearing the end of their buying cycle for your products and services.  Unless they are independently wealthy, the likelihood of them needing more from you than they already have is slim to none. What you’re failing to realize is that every generation of consumer that follows is going to have access to exponentially more information shared transparently across infinitely more platforms than their Industrial Age elders. No longer are they going to lie down in a sales appointment.  In fact, there won’t be a “sales appointment”. It will be a “validation meeting”. They will meet to validate that you are a real human being, confirm that you are as represented by your online avatar, and that your brand’s solution has identical features and pricing when you submit the application as when they quoted it on their mobile device.

How are you preparing for that reality?

Hell’s Kitchen

Fifteen years in the food and beverage industry provides a multitude of life lessons:  How to think on your feet, how to make a killer Bloody Mary, how to properly use a mop, how to carry trays of dishes with both hands, and a walk-in cooler is the best place to go scream when a difficult customer or manager has pushed you over the edge.  Being an executive-level manager of a few places established some guideposts I’ve used in my own business for the last 16 years. If you’ve never worked in the industry before, you’ll be tempted to dismiss a couple of these insights. If you sense that starting to happen, I’d encourage you to stop reading and think about the point from an opposite perspective—-with empathy.  

Control What You Can Control

It doesn’t matter how great a restaurant manager is, I’ve never met one that could predict exactly how many people would choose to dine in their establishment during a given shift.  No one can possibly know what time each guest will come in, what they will eat, or how long they will stay so the table could be “turned” and reset for the next guests.  Predicting cover counts with 100% accuracy is impossible for many reasons (and these are NOT excuses):

  • One never knows everything happening in the area—-if there’s a concert at 7, the restaurant could experience an earlier than normal “rush”, then be slow for the rest of the night.  
  • There could be a weather situation:  A snowstorm once struck during a shift and none of my employees could get out (which also meant no customers could get IN.)
  • People have both time and money budgets.  Going out to dinner takes time and costs money. Our three children are now adults. No more KIDS MENU for us!  Taking our family of five to Five Guys costs $60 and 35 minutes. If we go to our neighborhood place with microbrews, burgers, cloth napkins and food servers, we’ll spend $100 and at least ninety minutes.   

If none of this makes sense, I challenge you to try this next time you go to Starbuck’s for a latte’:  Have a seat and take out your smartphone. Ask Google to tell you when the next customer is going to walk in.  Then ask Google what they are going to order. Document how many times Google accurately predicted either. (If you REALLY want to raise the bar, approach the customer who orders something other than what Google predicted and try to change their mind.  You may want to note which arm their smart watch is on as that’s most likely the direction the punch will be coming from.)

Customer Experience Isn’t the Best Marketing Strategy…It’s the ONLY Marketing Strategy

Most people refer to this as “word of mouth”.  What many people don’t understand is the breadth of the concept of customer experience.  Unless you’ve had mentors who were diligent about perfecting EVERY minute detail from the time a potential customer saw the sign on an interstate off-ramp indicating “Food this exit”, to the way a menu felt to the customer’s touch, to the elimination of water spots on the bathroom counter, to someone ALWAYS being at the host stand to say “Thank you” to guests heading home, it’s unlikely that you can relate.   

Perhaps you’re thinking:  “If a restaurant has a great chef that produces great food, that’s all that’s necessary”.  If so, here’s a little “rebuttal” joke: You know that fastest way to end up with a million dollars in the restaurant business?  Start with TWO million.  While it may be a myth that 80-90% of new restaurants fail within the first three years, I can tell you from experience that building a successful one requires great vision, hard work, and a total team effort. Such a formula is pretty clear-cut, right?  It is until someone begins using two very different terms interchangeably: GOAL and FUNCTION.

The GOAL of every business is to make money.  

The FUNCTION of every business is the acquisition, maintenance, and retention of customers.    

These words do NOT mean the same thing.  Get them mixed up and before long there will be no more customers.     

I once worked with a chef who had a “supersized” ego, but not in a value-added way. He didn’t make “gravy”, he created sauce.  For 6-course, $150 per plate dinners, he refused to allow salt and pepper to be placed on the tables because his food was always perfectly seasoned.  If a customer ordered a medium rare steak and sent it back saying it was undercooked, he took it off one plate and put it on another, added fresh sides and sent it back out.  Perhaps this chef should have read Ryan Holiday’s book: “Ego is the Enemy”.

Retention Drives Acquisition, NOT the Other Way Around

If you even SLIGHTLY agree that it’s nearly impossible to predict the exact number of people who will enter a restaurant on any given day or time, then how is using predictive analytics to “drive” acquisition a smart use of mental energy and attention?  Why are analytics not used instead to sharpen the very customer experience that creates advocacy and retention in ways that have the potential to exponentially increase acquisition? The answer is simple, but no one wants to admit it: SOMEBODY wants control activity that they believe drives revenue.  News flash: Those activities aren’t generating positive customer experiences.  They are, in fact, breaking down trust one customer at a time.

Retention is the most consistent, time-tested business-creating activity that is totally dependent upon HUMAN to HUMAN (H2H) connection.   (“H2H” was coined by Bryan Kramer, author of Shareology). Where purchase transactions typically involve a systematic exchange of products or services for an agreed-upon price, retention involves the empathetic exchange of emotions that create remarkable and mutually-beneficial value.

Blending of Old and New

There’s a misconception that traditional (human) values cannot be incorporated into New Age processes that are more aligned with today’s demanding customer experience metrics.  The reality is that this is not only inaccurate, it’s a paradigm wrought with frustration and, quite possibly, failure for many who refuse to adapt. Ten years ago, it was as difficult to visualize the future as it is to predict the number of guests a restaurant would serve on a given night.  

Today the future is becoming as clear as an HD image taken by an iPhone.

Make a Party of It

Photo by miamism

People talk about Twitter being a cocktail party. Little groups gather to talk about various topics of interest, much like the physical groups at a real party. One group talks about sports, one about children’s activities, one about work, one about cars, one about movies, one about politics, and so on. As one new to the party walks around, they listen to see where they may fit in (or at least that’s what I do). When something strikes their fancy, they join the conversation. If they feel they have nothing to add or aren’t interested in a specific topic, they move on to the next group.

To Segment or Not to Segment..THAT is the Question

The argument going on in the marketing world right now is that customers must be segmented. I agree. What I don’t agree with us HOW and based on WHAT criteria. People wouldn’t likely stay at a cocktail party if the only thing they had in common with others was that they did a lot of research before they bought something (self-sufficient). I do a lot of research before I buy stuff, but there are also a lot of people in that customer segment I can’t stand to be around because we don’t share complementary worldviews on a plethora of other things. This is why marketers and sales must be aligned in worldview.  It’s a mindshift in how and why content gets created and distributed.

You know what’s really crazy? I’m not the only one who is shifting to this way of thinking. There are numerous posts remarkably consistent with the cocktail party/personal branding theory. Here are a couple of posts from LinkedIn:

This one by Townsend Wardlaw talks about how people are the average of the five people they spend the most time with.

Here’s another one by Julia Manoukian that highlights how branding all the way down to the personality of the representatives enables deeper relationships with customers. Humanity is something buildings or websites can’t add to the customer experience.

It’s time to KISS all the fluff goodbye, folks: Keep It Simple, Stupid…

My head’s so full of acronyms, abbreviations, “buzzwords”, and newly made-up terminology that I want to puke. What about you? Why is it necessary to add “content” in front of “marketing”? What IS the difference between Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Social Selling? Do we really NEED to refer to selling as “social”, as there’s a social element involved in pretty much every customer experience?  Isn’t it time to cut through the frosting and get right to the cake?  The ONLY thing customers care about is getting what they want, when they want it, as efficiently as possible.

20-20 Foresight

How about we fast-forward to 2020 for a moment… What will our world look like as a consumer? Whose cocktail parties will WE be attending? Chances are good that we’ll be hanging out with people like us. Anyone who doesn’t like us will be at a different party. Those of us at the same party will be talking about things we ALL want to talk about. And anyone who thinks someone would benefit from coming to the next party will send the invitations themselves.

If this is true, how can we acquire the attention at such parties with MARKETING?

Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Jobs


Before we start yelling “the sky is falling!”, let’s ask ourselves what functions artificial intelligence will realistically be performing: Repetitive, mathematical, formatted jobs.  Jobs that make an 8-hour workday feel like a decade.  Instead of worrying about that robot taking your job, how about focusing on what technology CAN’T DO (yet)? Things like showing emotion or displaying empathy and sympathy are great places to start.  In fact, I’d make this your PERMANENT job description, no matter where you end up: 


If you don’t like your brand or the role you play within that brand’s organizational structure, AI is irrelevant.  It’s probably time to find a new place to land.  

Selective Integration

Nobody ever said change was easy, and it’s certainly not slowing down. What many fail to see is the forest through the trees.  In the paranoia surrounding AI, IoT, VR, AR, and robots,  one very important fact remains: People NEED each other.  People CRAVE human contact.  There are some interactions when machines could effectively replace humans, but a solid argument can be made that most people would still prefer a living, breathing soul to interact with, especially in times of stress or crisis.

Something AI and IoT bring to the table that actually empowers human interaction is intuitive segmentation.  This process, executed in milliseconds, will give people more time to build deeper human-to-human relationships. While individual reps may be serving fewer people, their compatibility with them will be much higher. It’s the perfect breeding ground for both employee AND customer advocacy. Think about classroom size in schools: Smaller classes usually mean more personal attention for each student. In a marketing scenario, smaller brand tribes will equate to greater retention and ultimately increased revenue. As trust expands, more permission is granted. A tangent to this trust is stress level related to work: When smaller, more tight-knit communities form, stress levels diminish because more open communication is taking place.

Where integration needs to be selective is dependent upon CUSTOMER, not ORGANIZATIONAL, perception. Integrating technology where the CUSTOMER’S PERCEPTION of value is the least volatile frees humans to engage in situations where emotional connection is non-negotiable.

Jobs in the NEW WORLD of Work


A few months ago, I wrote this blog post about organic SEO growth that mirrors the advocacy model. It introduces the idea of individuals having very specific communities across networks rather than trying to be “all things to all people”.  No one advocates for anything or anyone they dislike or distrust. They only advocate for people, groups, organizations, or brands they are passionate about. The key to organic growth and reach is the intensity exhibited by both the community organizer (seller) and each community member (potential buyers and/or customers). Committed advocates then channel their passion into building deeper relationships that encourage individual community growth through INTRODUCTIONS from other passionate members, netting a far greater level of loyalty than the referral process.  As community membership grows, the advocates’ value to the organization increases.      

Introductions are Referrals That Don’t Need To Be Requested

The key to the advocacy concept working is pride in the association with brand communities and other members. Pride drives engagement activity and results in a higher propensity for personal introductions than the traditional referral process.  How do most referral processes begin again?

“Hey, Fred, may I ask you a question?  Did you find value in our conversation today?  If so, I strive to bring value to others in the same way, so would you be willing to give me the names of 3 people you feel could benefit as well?”       

That script is in every referral textbook.  The problem with it is determining if pride in the relationship is actually DEEP enough for the customer to put their friends’ names on the sheet of paper. That’s a risk in this day and age that most people are simply not willing to take.  The alternative solution is to be EASILY ACCESSIBLE.  When people recognize the value in what you do, they tell others about you ON THEIR OWN.  This admittedly changes the focus of your marketing strategy, but it results in deeper levels of trust when the long-term focus is on retention.

Ease of Accessibility

The idea of being easily accessible was more labor intensive just 6 months ago.  It required diligent effort around SEO, organic and paid reach, consistent keyword activities, editorial calendars, etc.  It ultimately paid off for those who stuck to it, as I can attest.  Here’s a personal example you may have seen before:  When you enter “Gary, Iowa” into your Google search bar and enter, the first result anywhere in the world will be mine. No gimmicks, no paid or manipulated SEO, no ads, no nothing. A decade of persistence made that possible.

Although execution of those things is still very important, there’s something you must know:  If you haven’t been doing ANYTHING even remotely systematic on the Internet, YOU DO NOT EXIST.  Search will soon incorporate AI in ways unimaginable to most people.  Check out these links:

This post from Sam Hurley actually has a little surprise inside…He was kind enough to link to one of my pieces last month.  

In this one, Diana Adams of Adams Consulting in Atlanta offers similar insights.  

Getting Found

In the future, AI devices like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa will fulfill requests such as this:

Customer:  “Alexa, find me a professional services provider that aligns with my personal values and beliefs.”

Alexa’s AI scans the Internet for all inputs and insights created, shared, or commented on by anyone in the desired market area with a comparable professional services tag. Two years ago this assessment took 3 hours.  Alexa’s highly-intuitive search algorithm will take less than a minute.  And the technology will be here within 6 months.  

Alexa:  “I have three professional services providers for you.  They are _____, ______ and ________.”

Customer:  “Thank you, Alexa.  Please connect me to ____________.”

Alexa dials the phone via VoIP and connects the customer to the provider.

Question 1:  How does Alexa find a provider that hasn’t set up even ONE social profile?

Answer:  IT CAN’T.

Question 2:  How long will it take Alexa to find someone like me?

Answer:  Because of the activities and content created over the last decade, it’s done before you finished reading this.

No Time Like the Present

There is no better time to be in marketing, sales, advertising…business, PERIOD, than right now.  When speaking with students in the local high school and college classrooms, I can’t help but be incredibly enthusiastic about their opportunities.  The best piece of advice, therefore, is:

“Go forth and MAKE IT HAPPEN!”

“I love you, Daddy!”

dadBeing a father is great…being a “DADDY” is awesome. Admittedly there are things I’ve done that many men would think are just plain boring: Like sitting for 4 hours at a dance recital for 5-year-old girls, coaching a girls’ recreational softball team, or watching a little-league game that seems like it will never end.  It’s time I’ll never get back, but wouldn’t have missed any of them for the world.  I feel so fortunate to have been there for so many of their life experiences that I can’t tell the stories without tears of pride streaming down my face. When people ask me why I do what I do, it’s never for the money, incentives, or recognition.  I chose this career because it gave me the freedom to participate with my children as they have grown up.  

There are 365 days in a year, 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute.  As each day passes, every second with my family becomes more significant…literally priceless.  Thirteen years ago, my oldest daughter was in first grade.  Now she’s a sophomore in college.  My son, then just two years old, would put his head on my shoulder while we laid on the couch watching “Bob The Builder.”  He’s now a sophomore in high school and driving.  And our youngest daughter that had just been born is now a teenager.  They’re all busy doing their own things and gaining more and more independence each day.

Every great parent understands their primary role in their kids’ lives is to raise them to be incredible adults while providing love and security along the way.  Unfortunately, understanding the role doesn’t make witnessing their transition to adulthood easier. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have missed out on any of the memories we’ve created along the way.   

Music or Noise? “Let’s Get Rich…

house mountain…and build a house on a mountain makin’ everybody look like ants.”

Have you ever listened to Ingrid Michalson’s music? The tone of her voice makes me want to get into a hammock between two trees and take a nap.  I had never heard of her until my daughter’s playlist mysteriously appeared in my cloud.  Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

What’s even better?  Discovering the depth of a song’s lyrics through clear headphones instead of in a car or home sound system.   I’ll bet there are songs you love listening to that, unless you know them by heart, may illicit a totally different mental state when you actually focus on the words.

How fulfilling could life be if we focused on making music instead of giving attention to the noise created to distract us?

Playing in the Fog


The last few years have gone by so quickly that it seems like nothing has gotten accomplished.  Then, when stock of our customer inventory is taken, the concerns of inadequacy evaporate, just as fog lifts when sunshine warms the atmosphere.  How is it that such feelings even exist? Because many times we are so concerned about what others think of us that we neglect the very people who matter most:  Our customers.

In the future, you’re going to see the words “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” rather frequently.  Why?  There is a huge shift coming in consumer behavior that will forever change the sales world. In fact, it’s so extreme that the most forms of the verb: “sales”, “selling”, “sold”, may be history.  Informed consumers are about to learn everything they never wanted to know about how salespeople are paid who have been trained sell them for the last 20 years.  Not because the salaries or commission structures are published somewhere, but because a few transparent competitors are going to push the envelope.  And their response is either going to be one of pride because of the extrinsic value they have provided to the customers they have focused on or shame from the realization that their intrinsic motivations have driven the activities toward accomplishment of financial gain and company-based incentive rewards without authentic regard for the one thing customers value more than money:  Their time.

The moment of truth is fast approaching:  Will you open your records or lock them up?  If you’re providing value that meets or exceeds what you believe your customers would expect, there’s no problem, right?

Going Back in Time

ElevatorWhen I was a kid, my dad used to spend every Saturday morning from 7am to Noon at the grain elevator lobby in our local town.  He and a dozen other farmers got together to talk about anything anyone wanted to discuss.  When I went along, one of the men always gave me a shiny quarter to buy an Orange Crush in a 10-ounce bottle from the Coca-Cola chest-cooler.  Back then, I thought it was because he liked me.  Now that I’ve been a father for 18 years, I’m pretty sure it was to keep me quiet so dad could socialize.

Why did I tell you this?  How is 1972 applicable to today?  Because people like my dad and his friends were all about community.  Their sense of belonging made time stand still because they shared common world views. Today the Internet adapts the desirable characteristics of 1972 while diminishing or even eliminating the constraints of geography.  Consumers’ options are longer defined by the yellow pages.  Businesses, their products and services, and even their representatives can be searched, researched, located, contacted, interacted with, mapped, and transacted with…no matter where they are in the world.

What does that mean to consumers?  A couple of things.  First, if you’re already being served by a business, but you don’t share complementary world views with the representative you were formerly bound or assigned to, you can research and locate a provider you ARE compatible with.  Doing so contributes to the creation of a community where you belong instead of feeling like a prospect constantly  being sold to.  Second, you can regain control of your time.  You’ll be able to confidently ignore a majority of the interruptions competing for your attention every day.  If you have the desire, you can now research and compare every brand that you believe to be a fit to provide for YOUR needs as well as identifying the company representatives you feel most compatible with.

When you follow this process, you’ll find yourself in a much happier place.  You’ll be part of a community of people who share similar world views.  Everyone is set free from the continuous interruptions by representatives who “just don’t get it”.

Sounds pretty appealing, doesn’t it?

Defining YOU

who you are photo
Photo by tonyhall

Everyone is as unique as their DNA, so how do we define who we are? Who in your life matters most?  What matters most?  What pisses you off?  What makes you totally happy?  How do you feel about money?  If you have kids, what activities do you enjoy doing with them?  What activities are they passionate about?  What are your favorite sports?  How do you feel about politics? Do you like to travel or stay home?  Do you enjoy art?  How about history?  What era?  Are you a religious person?  If so, what denomination?  What kind of music so you enjoy?  What are your favorite movies or TV shows?  What about food and beverage?  Do you like to cook and/or bake?  Do you like cars?  What organizations do you support/volunteer for?

If you could talk about anything with a group of people with a common interest, what are the top 3 topics you’d select?

Of all the items listed above, what are the absolute deal-breakers that stop a conversation before it starts? What are three more that you would be okay with, but wouldn’t participate because of a lack of knowledge?  When you cross off those 6 items, what’s left is a solid cross-section of you and your worldview.

Now go get connected and start some fun conversations.