boatFigure it out soon, or you’ll be standing on the dock when the boat leaves the harbor.  Seriously, if I read one more article about how a small business should market its products on the internet through social media, I’m going to puke.  Forbes, Business Week, and a ton of other publications are continually posting on this subject.  Come on, people, you’re missing the point! You don’t market your products through social media, you BRAND YOURSELF through consistent and transparent representation across whatever channels you choose;  Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn being the Big 3.   The only way you’re going to earn money in the very near future is by being genuine and accessible at all times.  If customers are coming to you for help, they already trust the brand you represent. Nothing happens unless they trust YOU.

Not a bad idea for brand managers to ponder, either.

I’m Listening, But I’m Ignoring You

hearing-protectionAt least if you’re telling me I have to conform to the way things have always been done, if I have to use the same performance metrics, if you tell me the only way I can grow my business is to do things people hate.

For the last decade, we’ve asked everyone how they feel about phone calls during dinner, direct mail, pop-up Internet messages, and unexpected doorbells.  100% of their reactions were negative, almost confrontational.  In fact, the majority stated that they have taken multiple steps to prevent any of those activities from happening in their lives.

If we’re truly listening to our customers, WHY are these strategies still required courses in sales training classrooms? Because brands refuse to open their minds to other options and instructors are only paid and retained if they follow orders. When this is the dominant corporate culture, how does significant change happen?

The only solution is to start from the ground up.

Exponential Magnification: The Power of Six

magnifying-glass-450690_1280In 1992, a scientist named Robin Dunbar assigned “150” as the number of close individual relationships human beings are capable of maintaining at one time.  The human brain, Dr. Dunbar asserted, reaches a tipping point and becomes overloaded if forced to retain information about more than 150 people.  Anyone who looks at their own life would likely see this theory as being quite reasonable.  But how does Dunbar’s Number apply to connectivity within social networks?  What if you could exponentially magnify that number by engaging with and connecting complementary community members in a very precise manner rather than at random?


Since Mitch Joel wrote a book called “Six Pixels of Separation”, I’ll choose the number “6” for the purpose of this discussion.  If you were to choose SIX topics you are most passionate about and SIX topics that would make you exit a room as quickly as you entered it, what topics would be on each list?  Do you have your lists made?  Good.  Now reflect on the 150 people closest to you.  You all share a few common insights and passions, right? Otherwise, you’d run the other way when you saw them approaching you.  The important thing to note here is that NOT ALL of your 150 closest relationships are compatible with ONE ANOTHER.  Because of this fact, I ask you to now categorize each person into whichever of the six “passion” categories you defined a moment ago.  If they fit into more than one, great!  It means you have more to talk about when you get together!  


This is where it gets interesting.  Where Dunbar’s Number caps the relationship figure is where the real magic happens.  How is this possible?  An old-school concept called DELEGATION. Except in this case, you’re delegating purposeful connectivity rather than authority.  And your network becomes exponentially magnified as a result.  Remember the six “passions”. and the six “deal breakers”? Let’s start first with the deal breakers.  Would you ever choose to engage with people with whom you share zero commonality?  Of course not.  The great thing about big data is that these people can now be identified before you send them ANY marketing correspondence.  By the way, this is the ONLY way they’d ever hear of you in the first place.  They, like you, certainly aren’t going to connect with anyone they have ZERO in common with, right?   This concept pinpoints exactly why traditional advertising is on its last leg.  


Finding people who share one or more of your passions is the key to success.  Why?  The relationships are more genuine, authentic and engaged when joined together by passion. Customers who share one or more common worldviews are also less likely to leave your care, and therefore, you make a better living as long as you never give them a reason to not trust you. “What does ‘Dunbar’s Number’ have to do with any of this”, you ask?  In order to understand, you need to take a step back and visualize a rather unique example.  I’d like you go back to science class and picture an ATOM, namely the individual molecules within that atom.  


Let’s start with the nucleus:  YOU.  Rotating around you in the next layer are 150 of your closest friends.  Connecting you to those friends are one or more BONDS (as discussed above).  The number of bonds between you is the number of passions you share. Dunbar’s Number stops there, but with the Molecular Networking model, we’re just getting started.   What happens next exponentially magnifies your network by delegating the power to expand it to your friends.  Although the two of you may share a few common friends, you are only one particle in their networks, right?  The thing you can be relatively assured of is that, because the two of you share compatible worldviews, it’s likely that others in their network you have yet to meet are likely to be compatible with you as well.  We see this playing out online every day.  My assertion is that, much of the time, such connections are less purposeful and more random.  By making these secondary connections more purposeful and focused, however, we gain two distinct advantages:  First, we maintain some element of control over our connectivity.  Second, we are able to inject passion into the second layer of communities THROUGH our first layer bonds.  


The difference between this Molecular Networking concept and traditional marketing is that there is no randomness, and therefore, a reduced level of discord within networks.  Once the passions and deal breakers have been determined, the focus of the networking process is EXCLUSIVELY ON THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.  The primary function of the nucleus is to strengthen the bonds between molecules.  When done correctly, the bonds (chemistry) between molecules (people/communities) are become stronger than any opposing force(competitor), thus dramatically reducing the pull (noise).  The potential size of a network using this theory is limited only by one’s ability to engage and energize their communities. Even if you only achieved a 20% bond with the group one layer beyond the initial friend layer, the potential is staggering:  


150 x 150 = 22,500 x .2 = 4500 people.

Not bad, right?  Hang on, friends.  This is only one facet of a multi-layers concept..  How many influencers on Twitter have used the phrase “Employee Advocacy” in the last 3 months? Exactly.  Your team members are also nuclei, aren’t they?  You have 3 of them?  Triple the product in the above equation. Three HUNDRED people report to you?  Bad news:  You need to buy a new calculator.  What about the impact on recruiting when networks and worldviews are factored into the selection process throughout all levels of an organization?  Wouldn’t people enjoy going to work more if everyone throughout an entire organization shared at least a few compatible worldviews? How much would such diversity benefit a company’s retention efforts?  

Personally, I believe it would be a game-changer.

Relationships And Ear Buds

earphones-477446_1920Have you ever been sitting in your house when the power inexplicably went off?  Do you remember the wave of unsettling panic that swept over you because everything you use to keep you safe, informed, and connected to the outside world was suddenly immobilized?  That’s the way you’re going to feel when consumers turn off your volume and not just unplug your amplifier, but smash it.

Today’s world of attention is characterized by i-Pads tuned to YouTube or Vine videos by kids wearing Beats.  Nothing else besides what’s coming through those two devices matters.  (As a parent with firsthand experience, trust me on this one!) What if you could create customers that behaved like my kids? What if customers were so in tune with YOU that they would voluntarily wear earbuds and bookmark your channel on THEIR IPad?  Isn’t that the goal of content marketing?  What would that do for retention?

I think we all know the answers to those questions. What many are still struggling with is formulating and executing a plan to make it happen.  There’s no better time than the present, right? How about we start by dismissing some competitive paradigms?

  1. “Everyone” is NOT your target market.  “Whoever chooses to engage with you” is.
  2. Your current customers (and mine) have the right to choose to leave you (and me) if you/we aren’t serving them how they want to be served.
  3. It is NOT necessary to openly solicit anyone else’s customers.  Solicitation by competitors won’t be the impetus for movement from one provider to another…Movement will be based on know, like and trust relationships built within connected communities.

Now that we can dismiss those actions, we can focus on activities that will generate positive outcomes for both representatives and brands/companies.

  1. Get on your personal brand IMMEDIATELY, and be transparent about it.  Contrary to popular belief, you are not a different person at work than you are at home.  Stop thinking you are.
  2. Everything you do on line is a representation of you.  All attitudes, opinions, and even connections define your world view.  The more insights and information you share, the more beautifully your life puzzle will come together.
  3. Accept the fact that people can view your integrity trail any time they want.  In fact, encourage that they do so. This will help speed up the due diligence process and in some cases accelerate the sales cycle.
  4. Learn to connect and serve rather than advertise and sell. The “close” is now executed through validation of virtual identity (online) compared to physical identity (in-person). When those two personas match, trust is more likely to be established.
  5. Educate and engage within multiple communities by enlisting the help of your team and your personal army of advocates.  Highlight the uniqueness of every member of each individual community and lead by example in the growth of all involved.

Identify your customers’ favorite channels and help them tune out the static.


Brain Freeze

Brain freezeHave you ever drank a milkshake through a straw too fast?  You know the feeling, right?  Now look at the marketplace and the internet.  There are literally hundreds of variations of multiple products available for researching, comparing, pricing and purchasing.  Most of those steps along the buyer journey no longer involve interacting with a sales representative, face-to-face or otherwise.  The question then becomes: “How can representatives POSSIBLY make an impact?”  The same way you can prevent brain freeze when drinking the milkshake: SLOW THE FLOW.


Customers are as overwhelmed at their options as anyone else. There is simply too much to consume randomly, and the volume is only going to continue expanding exponentially within the next decade.  So what needs to happen?  How are people going to  “slow the flow”? It’s going to start by being far more selective with their attention. There are 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute.  Never will there be any more or any less.  At some point, people will get overwhelmed with consumption and will withdraw toward more preservation of their quality time with those who matter most. The timeline for this shift is variable:  Some are just more tolerant of interruptions than others who have already begun the process (like myself).


If we were to look back about 15 years, how many people still had land lines?  How many households had DVR’s?  How many magazines were listed in the local elementary school’s fundraising packet?  How many social media platforms were there?  You’re getting the picture, right?  Fast forward to today and ask the same questions again.  Besides the obvious, what’s another big difference between then and now?  Back then, much of the sorting between Stephen Covey’s time management categories of important, urgent, not important, not urgent was done by HAND…we could physically touch, sort, and retain or discard whatever items we wanted.  Today, the majority of physical items we receive come to us in the form of direct mail. Many people now consume newspapers, magazines, and business correspondence online. Do we expect the level of such consumption to increase or diminish in the years ahead? Exactly.


This is a problem because, unlike physical newspapers and magazines, the information being consumed can only be seen, not touched.  Therefore, the amount of time spent sorting is dramatically diminished.  Similar to the mouse-click theory of first impressions, representatives who DO NOT have a current “in” with a community are going to be faced with an overwhelming challenge in the near future.  People they are trying to reach have already begun taking steps to prevent brain freeze by forming and engaging with their own communities of shared world views.  If these representatives try to gain permission to solicit products and services to these communities through traditional interruptive means, the members of the target community will simply cut off their straw.  



Take Off The Training Wheels

training wheels







I’ll never forget where I was the first time any of our three children rode their bikes without training wheels.  They all had different attitudes about it as well as different strategies for approaching their maiden voyage.  Our oldest daughter wanted to ride in our neighbor’s huge backyard, so if she fell over, the grass would protect her from injury.  Our son was the opposite: We put the bike away in the fall and the first day of spring the following year, he insisted the wheels come off before he even got on for the first ride.  Apparently osmosis IS an actual form of learning.  So I took the wheels off and he rode from the top to the bottom of the big hill on our street, no brakes necessary.  Our youngest daughter was in the middle:  I held her up while she rode around and around the driveway. When she got it figured out she headed for the hill, not to be shown up by her older brother.


At some point, everyone realizes the training wheels need to come off in their careers as well.  You know it’s time when you begin feeling like the smartest person in the room.  As a humble introvert, that’s very difficult to say because many of the people who have chosen to follow and engage with me on Twitter and LinkedIn are THE THOUGHT LEADERS of the last two decades.  Then I began thinking about it:  Those people who have taught me and others like me all the ins and outs of the internet, personal branding, social media, content marketing, social selling, big data, etc, EXPECT the training wheels to come off eventually.  Then, when the world begins to see the fruits of THEIR labor in the execution of their ideas across multiple industries, those thought leaders reap even greater rewards. Thanks to them, I feel ready to not only keep pace with the draft line, I believe I can confidently pull it in the same way I used to on two wheels when I rode across the great state of Iowa from the Missouri River on the west to the Mississippi on the east.    


RAGBRAI has been part of my life for a long time.  Someday soon, perhaps even this year, I hope to be able to mount up again for our Butt Ice tour of Iowa.  I learned a lot from Lieutenant Dan and the gang over the years.  Stuff like:  “Never pass free beer”, “First bar on the right”, and that it IS possible to dry-heave for 6 miles to the end of the daily ride after a relatively large party.   Aside from the vacation party factor, there was a facet of the ride that the team took seriously: Staying together as much as possible.  We were often in dual draft lines, which, when executed properly, reduced friction and wind resistance for the riders behind the leaders.  The experience of learning from the great mentors in my networks mirrors some of the lessons I’ve gleaned from cycling.  If anyone else feels like they, too, are ready to take off their training wheels and move to the head of the paceline, here are 4 key things to remember:


  1. You’re going to wipe out a few times, but it won’t be as embarrassing as you think.  The first time I ever wiped out was at a STOP SIGN.  It happens when you can’t unclip.
  2. A steady, consistent pace that can be maintained over the long haul will get you a lot further than sporadically accelerating and decelerating.  Allowing all team members to stay with you and not get dropped off the back earns respect.
  3. It’s all about the journey, so proceed with your eyes up and ears open.  You never know when something (or some ONE) is going to jump into your path and jeopardize the safety of your team.  There is no cruise control.
  4. Communication is key:  If your team doesn’t know what you’re doing or if they aren’t sharing information THEY know about the conditions around them, the situation can be hazardous.

We can only ride around the driveway so long before eventually getting on the saddle for that century loop.  Stop spinning and get on the road.  

Gotta Get Back In Time

Back to the Future 2
Who can resist a Huey Lewis and The News lyric on Back To The Future Day?

Does anyone remember the ’70’s?  You know, BEFORE the Internet?  That’s the era when handshakes solidified business deals, anything you wanted to learn about could be researched in either the Merriam-Webster Dictionary or World Book Encyclopedia (with annual supplement, of course!), and the soda jerk at the corner drug store would mix a Green River and serve it in a large styrofoam cup with ice for a quarter. Oh, to be a kid again!

Back then, there were THREE channels on television. People only received what was enabled by the station’s antenna reach. Back then, most people’s cultural awareness was determined by a phone book and a road atlas.  If you couldn’t find what you needed in the phone book, you sure weren’t driving around in a strange place 100 miles away to look for it.  You just did without.  Back then, your closest neighbors were also your closest friends as well as the main influencers in your life (besides family).  People didn’t care about what everyone else thought when “everyone else” was outside their circle of influence.

If you take a couple of steps back and look into the future, you’ll see a trend approaching. Leading indicators are already appearing, the most significant being increasing noise in the marketplace.  People are overwhelmed by it and are retreating into little circles of influence. Individuals inside these circles share compatible worldviews, so what others on the outside think is essentially irrelevant.  As the groups form, their scope of inputs narrows.  Instead of randomly scanning 2000 channels for insights supporting their worldview, they are identifying identify 3, 6, or 10 and then actively engaging with them. Their attention becomes so focused, in fact, that ALL outside messages vying for the attention of the group become background noise…like a hissing sound.

Come to think of it, that hissing reminds me of the sound the fountain made when the soda jerk pulled the handle to mix my Green River.  Those were the days.

Silent But Deadly

Vapor trailVapor trail:  The result of consistently choosing to ignore the wishes of today’s customers, instead forcing them to continue interacting with you within the traditional sales model.

Scenario 1:

You’re a quota-based sales rep who needs numbers.  A couple we’ll call John and Mary are two of your best customers who agree to meet after three weeks of late call nights. Your diligent follow-up efforts have paid off! Contacting them twice a day refusing at take “No” for an answer finally broke them.

John and Mary are the parents of two children, so their schedule is insane no matter what day it is.   You prepare for the meeting with great anticipation as this is your big chance to meet your sales quota for the year.  You go through every feature and benefit perfectly, just like you were taught, and John and Mary are nodding through the entire presentation.  Finally, the moment of truth comes:  The close.  “So, does this sound like a solution that would serve your family well?”

“Well, yes, we think this sounds like something we need.”


Then John says:  “Do you mind if I ask you something?  You were very persistent in getting us in today, and we do know it’s for the best.  However, I’m curious as to whether we’re getting the whole picture.  We understand and agree that you are compensated by commission, but is there anything more to it than that?”

How you respond will set the tone for the relationship for the rest of your time together, will it not?  Do you tell them the truth and inform them of the incentive plan, or do you answer, “No, John, there’s nothing else”…and then let them find out from your team members that you’re on rewards vacation?

Either way, you may very well get a vapor trail out the front door.   Today’s customers are extremely knowledgeable.  Very few things (besides trade secret information) are NOT found somewhere on the internet, especially when matters of trust are at risk.  This particular scenario puts you between a rock a hard place:  Tell the truth, and you’re potentially seen as putting their own needs before theirs.  Lie, and, well, why should anyone trust you in the future?  In either case, John and Mary are at risk for not only never coming back, they may quite possibly never speak to you again. Not exactly the kind of word-of-mouth that is necessary to BUILD a business.

Scenario 2:

John and Mary have passively asked about your brand’s helpful time-saving technology as it has been introduced, and you have educated them by sending links to information you believe they would find interesting.   Their friends have also been talking about the solutions your brand provides and how much their own families have benefited from them.

One day, Mary sends you an e-mail asking for your input and professional insights.  The request and related documentation is also forwarded to your CRM platform.  This enables you to see exactly what they are thinking and review their concerns in advance.  After a thoughtful analysis of their ideas, you send them your feedback and extend an invitation to meet on their schedule.  They are impressed with your promptness and professionalism, and ask to get together on Saturday morning in two weeks to finalize their purchase.  Mary’s parents are coming to see the kids, so it’s not a problem to get away for a while.

The couple arrives early for the appointment.  They’ve already decided this is the perfect solution.  As you are preparing to get their signatures, John asks, “Do you mind if I ask you something?  There’s a lot of information on the internet about incentives in many different businesses.  Does any of that information apply to this one?”

You look away from your computer screen and focus your attention directly on John.

“Yes, John, I’m glad you asked.  My company offers incentives based on how many people I serve.  This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to help a lot of people just like you. So many, in fact, that your request for my help will qualify my wife and I for a vacation next spring.  It’s not something I usually tell people, but I don’t hide it when asked, either.  Now that you know, do I still have your permission to continue?”

“Of course!  If you’ve helped THAT many people, you deserve to be rewarded.  Working with you has been the greatest experience we could have asked for.  We never felt like we were being ‘sold’ anything.  You supported and educated us through the process and never seemed ‘pushy’.”

“Thank you, John.  I truly appreciate the opportunity to serve you.”

In this scenario, “silent” represents the approach you took to serve your customers.  “Deadly” is what this process is to your competitors.  I also call it “flying under the radar.” You’re in and out before anyone realizes what happened…and THEIR customers have left with YOU.

The Titanic Effect

The Titanic was believed to be the most indestructible ship of its time.  It was the epitome of elite engineering.   Three scenes from the award-winning movie serve as analogies for this message.  The first featured one young sailor positioned high up on the observation deck with a pair of binoculars.  His job was to report to the Captain any obstacles or threats he saw in the distance.  The second showed the men in the bowels of the ship, literally 50 feet below water level, who were responsible for fueling the engines that propelled the gigantic vessel. The last featured the Captain when he received the call from the kid on the observation deck about the iceberg.  His commands to initiate evasive action came far too late, but included a seemingly confident tone as if he truly believed no little iceberg could ever take down the Titanic.

Scientific research now shows that icebergs have a far greater impact than putting holes in indestructible cruise ships:  They’re argued to be a major source of climate change for the ENTIRE PLANET!!!  If the Captain would have known that, perhaps he would have given the iceberg greater respect.

Where is this headed?

For years, thought leaders have been shining their lighthouse beacons for anyone on any ship within a hundred miles to see. These mentors have charted the course for the creation and implementation of strategies necessary to navigate the tumultuous seas known as today’s marketing world.  Yet a significant number of companies still choose to maintain full speed ahead.  While some Captains sense that danger is lurking in the distance, the biased statistical data they are being provided suggests staying the course is the safest strategy.  The waters they are currently sailing through are getting rougher, but in their minds the ship has always endured.  There’s also an undercurrent of fear:  There aren’t enough life boats if anything is reported besides what the Captain wants to hear. 

In case you forgot how it ends:  The Titanic sank.

Overused Words in New Media

Consultant. Everybody wants to be one.  Why?  Because consultants don’t have to be accountable to your results…but they still get paid.  How about we change this title to “Professional connector”?  That’s really what I’m looking for.

Social Media.  In #SocialBrand14, Chris Brogan and Jason Falls both basically said that Social Media is a small part of the big picture of marketing today.  Yet when in discussion with most people, social media is used as an all-encompassing term.  That leads me to believe that people that love social media understand this.  The ones that are marginal at best aren’t open to seeing it as more than what they use it for—keeping up with friends.

Sales.  News flash, folks…Sales no longer is.  People buy, but they are not sold.  They don’t need you to SELL them…They CHOOSE to buy from you.  If you’re in an industry where repeat business contributes to your company’s revenues and you get this very simple point, you will reap great rewards.  It’s a huge mind shift.  Figure it out.

Content Marketing.  The biggest problem I had with #SocialBrand14 was the lack of consistent clarity around the purpose of content.  On the positive side, content was explained as something that draws people to you. On the negative side, content was explained as something remarkable that gets someone’s attention.  If we were doing this according to the rules of inbound, wouldn’t we be creating content for a community who that is giving permission to entertain them with content about shared world views?  If so, why would I need to create something that will impress new community members?  Wouldn’t my current ones spread the word?

Here’s the most important message to take from this post:  It doesn’t matter what you call it if you don’t DO IT.