Capitalism+Greed+Incompetence+Doom = Best Seller

Crash of the Titans (ooooh)

Circle of Greed (ahhhhhh!)

House of Cards (ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!)

The Tyranny of Oil (gasp!!!!)

These are just a few of the many doomsday business books prominently displayed at my local Borders. Is it any wonder that we remain paranoid and unwilling to move forward, grow and create new opportunities? These books tend to go past analysis of our recent financial woes, and instead seem to celebrate them.

Capitalism+Greed+Incompetence+Doom=Best Seller.

Moo?

Moo.com has figured out a way to take a normally boring product (business cards) in an otherwise dull industry (printing) and carve out a unique, specific and endearing niche for themselves. That engaging approach is brilliantly demonstrated on their website.

If a business card printing shop can build a customer-centric website with an actual personality, then anyone can.

Who Cares?

Want a fun little project? Look at your company website. List every single picture, graphic, logo, idea, sentence and thought on it. Go do it right now…I’ll be here when you get back.

Okay, got your list? Now, after every listed item, describe exactly why a customer will care about it. Be brutally honest with yourself.

Done? Great. Now type up a list of everything on your site that doesn’t communicate something specific and relevant to your customers, send it to whoever handles your website, and ask them to delete everything on that list.

What’s left is what matters. Everything else is noise.

I Talk Too Much (Sometimes)

Ask me about a topic that I’m passionate about, or even keenly interested in, and I tend to boil over with enthusiasm. Simple responses can get drawn out into long monologues, at which point the other person in the “conversation” starts to fade away, eyes glazing as his or her bandwidth starts filling up.

So why am I admitting this personality flaw?

Because most of us are guilty of the same trait. Think about what gets your blood hot, whether politics or environmentalism or poorly written corporate home pages. We all have something that pushes a button in us and activates the manic part of our personality.

The trick is to keep the passion, yet redirect it to something more productive. Instead of telling, ask a probing question to better understand someone else’s point of view. Then listen, don’t interrupt, don’t wait for your turn to speak. Just listen.

Something magical happens when I listen to someone else’s ideas about a topic instead of beating them into submission with my own opinion.

1) I learn more about that person, what makes them tick, what they care about, and how the issue affects them

2) They tend to get much more enjoyment out of the conversation

3) I’m not exhausted at the end

Channel that passion into sincere interest as much as possible, and you may be surprised at how much you learn from other people.

The BS Test

The only words you should use in your marketing, home page, or mission statement are ones that clearly and honestly communicate the value you bring to the table.

Platitudes (premier, best, world-class, leading, value-added, best in class, results-oriented) fail the BS test and divert attention away from that which really matters to your clients…how you solve their problems.

If you’re even slightly unsure about the validity of your claims, why would anyone else believe them?

Small and Slow

The largest organizations seem to take months or years to change direction and adopt new strategies.

Why?

A big reason seems to be the need to gain consensus, whether through committee, shareholder vote or even public opinion. Makes sense I guess. After all, there are quite a few stakeholders at Verizon, GM and Microsoft.

Why then do so many boutique firms suffer from the same inertia? Why does it seem that their marketing strategies, service offerings and customer service systems seem so static?

One of the greatest benefits of being smaller is being faster. In fact, speed may be your one true advantage over much larger, more influential firms. One of the most valuable systems you can put into place is a process for quickly making intelligent decisions and executing new strategies. By focusing on the how of making course corrections, you’ll eventually build a truly nimble, adaptive culture that is poised to take advantage of new opportunities months before others even realize that they exist.

Tricky

Here’s a surefire way to lose credibility and instantly destroy any chance of earning a potential client’s trust: Pretend to be a prospect.

Example: Acting like you are in the market to buy services from a company that “just happens to be” a prospect. It’s not just creepy and unethical, but doomed for failure as well. Consider that sales professionals with any level of experience can easily tune into your true intentions. After all, that’s what all of the intelligent, probing questions they ask are designed to do…uncover your true needs and pain points. If after talking for an hour about their services, what will happen when you switch to how your own firm “coincidentally” has solutions for them as well?

If the only way you can get in the door is a bag of tricks, what does that say about your belief in the value of the services you are selling?

Targeted Darwinism

A new business is like any other complex organism…in order to survive in its environment, it needs to be perfectly adapted.

A business idea is designed by choice, not random selection. You look at the world around you and, hoping to give your fledgling creation the best chance of survival, you create your business based on the climate and conditions you find. Sure, it will hopefully grow and adapt on its own, eventually morphing into something hardly recognizable. But at the beginning, when it is young and weak and easy to kill, the better you design it to survive the harsh winters, predators and scarce resources, the higher the chances it will live to fight another day.

No guarantees, just a better shot.

The Spaghetti Strategy

“Let’s throw it against the wall and see what sticks.”

Great idea. If you have a lot of time and a lot of spaghetti.

Experimentation is critical, but it does not replace analytical thinking, research and problem solving. You don’t start with throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks…

Unless you have unlimited resources, consider saving your pasta. Critical thinking and asking yourself the tough questions about your own ideas is never as fun or interesting as just running out and trying to make something happen. But by learning to take the time up front, you’ll become much better at selecting the right walls to start aiming for, and more will stick. Bon appetite.