27 July, 2009

If This Social Media Thing Ever Catches On

One of the reasons I started a blog was so I wouldn't have to answer the same questions over and over again on LinkedIn discussion groups. Now when someone asks me a question I've already answered in my blog, I can just send them the link. Lately, the LinkedIn discussion groups have been buzzing with variations on the question "How will social media change your life?" What follows is roughly how I've been answering that question. After I post this, I'll simply link people to it.

My good friend, Joe Bird, is right when he says "resistance is futile" but this social media thing hasn't really caught on yet. For example, there are 6 billion people in the world but only 40 million LinkedIn users. Even if we don't count the maybe 3 billion or so people who don't have computer and internet access, 40 million is still a tiny percentage of people using LInkedIn. And inside that 40 million number there are millions of people with few or even no connections - and people who don't join any groups. I know people who accept every invitation to join LinkedIn for the first time and who actually set up a new account each time because they forgot they already belong to LinkedIn or they can't remember their password.

So I'm guessing that of the 40 million LinkedIn accounts, when you factor out the unused or rarely used accounts there may be 10 million people who are actually using LinkedIn to get intentional and organized about professional networking.

And while blogging and tweeting have made it theoretically possible for anybody with an account to publish their thoughts to a great many people, I'm always surprised at how many people I know who don't have a Twitter account or a blog.

For example, I'm thinking of a certain town of 10,000 people with, as far as I and my spies can tell, only one active blogger.

I've said this before but I'll say it again: social media reminds me a lot of CB radio back in the 60s when only a few people knew about it and then in the 70s when it became a fad. No matter how much time and money you invest, the value you get from CB or social media is dependent upon who else is using it. Just as I can't talk to you on a CB radio unless you have one, I can't network with you on LinkedIn and I can't tweet with you or blog to you unless you use these platforms.

I could go on and on like this but you get the point: I'm still waiting for social media to actually catch on.

And when it does catch on, here's how it will change things - and how it won't.

Let me start with how it won't change things: people who don't have the networking gene or aren't willing to learn how to network still won't network effectively just because they have a LinkedIn account or a blog. Some of those people I mentioned earlier who don't join any groups and don't have any connections seemed to think that accepting a LinkedIn invitation would magically and effortlessly bring them a tsunami of new friends, new job offers or new clients. When that didn't happen, they accused social media of breaking a promise it never made.

Fact: despite all the hype about what social media is and what it can do, social media won't make a connector or a networker or a friendmaker or a salesman or a leader out of someone who isn't. Social media facilitates behaviors and skills people already possess but it doesn't impart new behaviors and skills. if you don't like people or you're an asshole, you'll still dislike people and you'll still be an asshole after you have a Twitter account or a blog. The only difference is, you'll be a misanthropic asshole who tweets and blogs. And, God knows, we don't need that.

But for those who have the networking gene or are willing to learn how to network, here are a few ways social media will be a game changer:
1. Headhunters will nearly become extinct. I said this recently on a LinkedIn discussion group and I really made a lot of headhunters mad but I think they know I'm right. As some of my readers know, I have dabbled in the headhunting game myself and you'd be surprised how many fees I've collected for "finding" people my clients already knew. Yes, of course, I know that there are cases where a client already knows exactly who he wishes to recruit but for reasons I'll not try to explain here, the employer is better off letting somebody else do the recruiting. I've been hired to do that and this is one of the rare cases where headhunters will still be a necessity, not a luxury. But the truth is, I've been paid a lot of fees for "finding" people my clients could have found if they : 1. weren't lazy 2. knew how to network 3. had some electronic tools to facilitate their networking.

Way back in the early 90s when I left my first career and started headhunting the first time, we had phones and fax machines. We didn't have email. We didn't have search engines. We didn't have websites. We certainly didn't have Twitter and LinkedIn and blogs. If we did - and if we headhunters were the only people who had them - we could have all made $millions in search fees every year until employers also had those tools.

But now employers do have those tools, and like I recently told a client and friend, "If you'll start using social media you may never need me or any other headhunter ever again."

Headhunters, please, spare me the angry emails and the nasty comments. I've heard it all before on various LinkedIn forums. Yes, I understand that those of us who have honed our search skills and our interview skills and our salary negotiation skills and so on still have something to offer to some employers but, come on, admit it, what headhunters basically do is this: we network. We network until we find the candidate we think can get the job offer. That's basically what we do. Yes, as I said before, there are cases where the employer shouldn't make the approach himself for reasons I may explain in a future blog, but, for the most part, headhunting is 90% networking - something that has never been easier for those who either have the networking gene or are willing to learn and do.

Lazy, non-networking employers will still need headhunters.

2. Membership organizations of all types will no longer be able to sell memberships just by holding a captive audience that can only be accessed by paying members. If this social media thing ever catches on and professionals ever learn how to network, they won't need a Chamber of Commerce event or a Chamber membership directory or a Society of Neuro-Linguistic Programmers event to provide them with a way to meet people. LinkedIn provides categorized access to those folks right now. Later today, after I publish this post, if somebody goes to Google and types "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" or "headhunters" they'll find this post and they can contact me if they want. They don't need to meet me through a membership org.

If this social media thing ever catches on, membership orgs will have to deliver more than access to their members because you and I will already have access to their members.

3. If social media ever catches on, we will all need to either become really, really good at managing our online "brands" or we will have to hire people to manage our online brands. Let's say you apply for a job and the employer looks at your Facebook friends, sees somebody he doesn't like, and decides that if you have friends he doesn't like then you won't be a "fit" in his company. This happens all the time right now and it will happen much more if this social media thing ever catches on.

Or suppose you say something in your blog that your boss doesn't like. Maybe you get fired.

Of course, the reverse is also true. If social media ever catches on, it will be easier than ever for us to all decide who we want to affiliate with. People with similar interests or beliefs or who need each other's skills or expertise will find each other if we effectively manage our online brands.

But only if social media catches on.

26 July, 2009

If You Don't Believe Jesus, Maybe You'll Believe Seth Godin

Yesterday, while sitting in my driveway waiting for people to come buy my furniture and other contents of my house, I started reading a Seth Godin book called Tribes. I've read other Seth Godin books so I new what I was in for. I knew it would be poorly organized. I knew there would be a lot of short sentences and sentence fragments. I knew there wouldn't be footnotes or a glossary or an index and that if I wanted to go back and find a passage I'd have to mark the page in some way because it would be impossible to find it again. Tribes doesn't even have a table of contents listing chapter titles.

Godin has become famous enough and has sold enough books now that he doesn't have to work hard at the craft of writing. His books at least the last few - are like, say, furniture that you put together yourself. The raw materials are there but the structure isn't. His books read like rough drafts or like beta software that is several iterations from gold. Godin knows that taking the time to re-write and polish his words won't make them sell any better, so he doesn't.

So why do I read Godin? I read Godin for the little factoids he drops into his books, the little illustrations, the little stories - some of them apocryphal, I'm sure. For example, had I not read Tribes I might not know that Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, once said Google was a house of cards, not even a real company. Godin told me this to illustrate how fast the innovators, the heretics, the upstarts like Microsoft can become hidebound keepers of a faith and persecutors of heretics and how quickly the heretics become the orthodoxy that resists change.

In a way, Tribes is another book about leadership but instead of starting where other leadership books start - with the massive, overinflated egos of the people who read books about how to become leaders - Godin focuses on the tribe itself and how leadership grows organically out of the technological and psychographic stew that hasn't really become a tribe yet. The leadership message of Tribes is a variation of the old saying "Find a parade and get in front of it."

Finding a parade and getting in front of it is what he did with this book. Had Godin not written it somebody else would have had to because for several years now people have been talking about the fundamentally tribal nature of human beings and how we all tend to informally arrange ourselves into tribes. Branding books have been telling us for years now that creating powerful brands is fundamentally about facilitating the human urge to belong to a cool tribe like Apple or Starbucks.

But Tribes isn't a book about marketing or branding. Tribes is about - well, let me quote Godin on what it's about - and it isn't easy since the book doesn't have an index or a table of contents: "A crowd is a tribe without a leader. A crowd is a tribe without communication. Most organizations spend their time marketing to the crowd. Smart organizations assemble the tribe."

The key words are "communication" and "assemble". Godin recognizes that the kind of organic leader he's writing about doesn't invent a tribe or an idea then try to persuade people to rally to that invention, rather the organic leader sees hints of tribedom in the crowds and then gets them communicating with each other until they start thinking of themselves as a tribe. To illustrate this, Godin shares his rememberance of the simple newsletter that put him on the leadership map when he was 24-years old and with a tiny software company called Spinnaker. After an internship, Spinnaker offered Godin a job launching a new brand. He had no secretary, no staff, no programmers and an impossible ship date.

So he launched a newsletter in which he extolled the virtues of the new brand and how exciting it was and bored programmers and engineers started asking if they could transfer to the new project. Godin doesn't claim the newsletter persuaded people to come to his team. Godin sensed that there were people at Spinnaker who wanted a challenge, a journey, a ride. His newsletter gave them a movement to sign up for and showed them where to sign up.

I've done it again. I've blogged wrong. This post is way too lengthy.

So let me wrap this up by violating another canon of blogging. I'm going to close by limiting my blog's audience, by making a personal reference to a local guy who knows there's a tribe within a crowd we have been calling "New Lexington" but who hasm in my opinion, been going about leading this pre-tribal crowd wrong way. Because we are both armchair theologians and barber shop Bible scholars, we have been communicating leadership principles to each other by swapping biblical references. I've been telling my aspiring tribal leader to notice that when Jesus came up to Jerusalem where he changed the world, he didn't try to persuade other tribal leaders to convert. He knew they wouldn't. Jesus knew that people who get their power and their livelihood from an old system don't help the guy who wants to introduce a new system. They fight it. They resist it. If need be, they crucify somebody.

Jesus took his message of a New Way to people who were mentally "up for grabs", people who weren't getting power or prestige or their livelihood from the Old Way, people who weren't invested in the Old Way. Jesus went to regular people who were just trying to earn a living. And they followed him.

Had nobody followed Jesus, taken him seriously, he wouldn't have been a threat to the established order, the powerful people who had a vested interest in suppressing dissent. Had nobody followed Jesus, the Roman occupiers and the Jewish religious leaders could have ignored him but when people began to listen to him and to follow him, Jesus couldn't be ignored.

I keep telling my friend that he will have no power to influence change until the tribal leaders of Old Lexington see people following him. And I don't mean Twitter followers. Until he has followers, he's just an egomaniac who wants attention or a lunatic with a Messiah complex but as soon as you have followers, you have influence.

People who get their power from the current power structure aren't going to follow a guy who wants to build a new power structure. So don't waste your time on them. Go to the disenfranchised and the disengaged and provide them with information and give them a way to identify and interact with each other.

My friend doesn't believe me. Or Jesus. So maybe he'll believe Seth Godin who said:

"Growth doesn't come from persuading the most loyal members of other tribes to join you. They will be the last to come around. Instead, you'll find more fertile ground among seekers, among people who desire the feeling they get when they're part of a vibrant, growing tribe, but who are still looking for that feeling."

"If you're trying to persuade... don't start with the leader of the opposition. Begin instead with the passionate individuals who haven't been embraced by other tribes yet. As you add more and more people like these, your option becomes safer and more powerful..."

25 July, 2009

I Don't Blog Right

As my regular readers know and my LinkedIn groups tell me, I don't blog right. My posts are lengthy and infrequent. I'm not selling anything. I'm not running for City Council. I'm not trying to get invited to be the keynote speaker at your professional association's next convention - though two careers ago I got a few of those gigs and it was the easiest money I ever made.

"If I could get a speaking gig or two every week" I used to say, "I'd never do another honest day's work."

By the way, there is and always has been an inverse relationship between how hard I work and how much money I make. This is, of course, the opposite of what your parents, your teachers, your boss and other authority figures say. To hear your CEO tell it, he makes several thousand times more money than you make because he works several thousand times harder than you do. But I know the truth. I've cruised into some convention center where franchise owners or over-regulated business owners have gathered to network and schmooze and complain, I've stayed in a nice hotel and eaten pricey food at somebody else's expense, talked for an hour, and then left town with a check for many times my normal rate of pay.

It's no wonder there are so many people on LinkedIn who want to make a living speaking and presenting. Who wouldn't? I guess the only people who don't want to make a living this way are those people who tell the pollsters they fear public speaking even more than they fear death.

I don't believe them.

In fact, I suspect this is why so many people start bogging right before announcing that they have filed for the mayoral race or for a seat on city council. I think they believe that if they get elected to something they can just go around making speeches and having Q and A sessions with people for a living. First comes the blog, then the speaking.

I'm not saying that all bloggers or speakers are egomaniacs, but I suspect that there would be fewer bloggers and aspiring speakers and politicians and preachers if these poor people could get somebody to pay attention to them any other way.

Same goes for excessive, frivolous tweeting. In some cases, I'm convinced it's a cry for help, part of their search for significance.

I've also noticed that people start blogging and tweeting and Linking In and doing social media of all kinds when they are about to lose their jobs. Or when they want to leave their company and go to a new one.

When I worked at Lexmark I could always tell who was trying to get a promotion because they suddenly started dressing just a little better and carrying books on leadership.

People who don't blog or tweet or LinkIn or carry around leadership books until they want a promotion or a new job should put down the leadership books and read Keith Ferrazzi's Never Eat Alone and Tim Sanders' Love Is The Killer App and Harvey Mackay's Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty - all books about how to network. People who don't have the networking gene need to learn because, as I said in a previous post, competence only gets you into a game that relationships win.

As for selling something, the only things I want to sell right now are, in this order, (1) the contents of my house then (2) my house.

Perhaps I'll post again tomorrow and tell you what I was reading and thinking while I sat there in my driveway selling my possessions today.

10 July, 2009

What You Haven't Been Told About Lexington's Economic Development Task Force

First We Disable The Security Camera

If you haven't heard much about LFUCG's Economic development task force and the half million dollars of taxpayer money LFUCG gives to Commerce Lexington each year to produce jobs here, there's a reason: these task force meetings are held in LFUCG's fifth floor conference room where there is no GTV3 camera. No GTV3 camera means no live internet feed and no GTV3 cablecast. In other words, when Council meets in its capacity as an economic development task force, it does so in a room where there will never be an audio-visual record of what was said and done.

And until recently, nobody was reporting on what goes on in those "public" meetings. I'm happy to report that the Herald-Leader's Cheryl Truman attended and wrote about the 2 July meeting as did fellow blogger, Deb Hildreth, but, as far as I know, what I am about to write about last September's meeting hasn't been reported anywhere.

Oh, and just in case you find what I'm about to tell you difficult to believe, you should know that I have witnesses who, like me, attended the 18 September meeting and heard what I'm about to report.

18 September 2008: The Commerce Lexington Report That Proved Too Much

I've been following Lexington's Economic Development Task Force since its inception and, unless they have held secret, unannounced meetings, I think I have attended every public meeting of that task force including the 2 July 2009 meeting and, more importantly, the 18 September 2008 meeting where Commerce Lexington's Pam Trautner reported that Commerce Lexington hadn't created jobs in Lexington because Lexington's job seekers can't pass pre-employment drug screens and because Lexington's schools are not preparing Lexingtonians for employment.

When your organization gets about a half million dollars a year in taxpayer money and you appear before a Council task force to make excuses about why you haven't produced jobs with that tax money, you need to be careful that your excuse doesn't prove too much as Commerce Lexington's did. If, as Pam Trautner claimed, the constraint on Lexington's ability to create jobs is our drug using, poorly educated workforce, then how does giving Commerce Lexington more money address the root issues? If, as Trautner claimed, employers don't relocate or expand in Lexington because we have bad schools and a drugged workforce, didn't she just prove that Council would just be throwing good tax money after bad if they continue to fund an organization that has no control over the root issues they identified? Wouldn't it make sense for Council to cut off the tax money they give to Commerce Lexington and reallocate those tax funds to organizations that can get our job seekers off drugs and better prepare them for employment?

After Commerce Lexington's excuse-laden September 2008 report I sat there in the fifth floor conference room waiting for one of our Council members to ask Commerce Lexington that very question but nobody did. Former Council Member, Don Blevins, came to the defense of our schools but nobody asked Commerce Lexington how the half million dollars of tax money Council gives to Commerce Lexington addresses these workforce development issues that Trautner says lie at the root of Commerce Lexington's failure to produce new jobs.

And after proving too much, after claiming that Commerce Lexington can't create jobs in Lexington because of our substance abusing, uneducated workforce, I wondered if they would have the unmitigated nerve to come back and ask for more money in 2009.

They did.

And I wondered if anybody on Council would ask how giving more money to Commerce Lexington helps get our job applicants off drugs.

Nobody did.

Oh, and don't don't look for the September 2008 meeting on GTV3 because, as I said, the security camera that is trained on your money and on your interests during a Council meeting is, in effect, disabled during Council's economic development task force meetings. No economic development task force meeting has ever been seen on GTV3.

Call your Council member today and ask that future economic development task force meetings be held in Council Chambers where they can be streamed via internet and cablecast on GTV3. You can get your Council Member's phone number at : http://www.lexingtonky.gov/index.aspx?page=1740.

Lexington, by the way, has been sold a lot of snake oil under the "workforce development" banner. There for a while every entrepreneur with a new website was claiming his new venture was, somehow, a "workforce development" tool. So Trautner's claim that employers can't open new plants or offices here because our drugged out, poorly educated workers can't do the work is an old idea that's been dusted off and trotted back out as if the result of some new research.

Let's be clear: Lexington's problem is not that we have a shortage of good workers, our problem is that we have a shortage of good jobs, a shortage of leadership and a surplus of excuses. All over town we have people with masters degrees working for $9.50 per hour or not able to find work at all.

Incidentally, I've conducted my own admittedly unscientific poll among the HR people and employers I know and they don't corroborate Trautner's claim. In fact, the employers I've spoken to tell me that it's very seldom that one of their applicants fails a drug test. Of course, I don't run in the same social circles as the highly paid executives at Commerce Lexington and it is possible that drug abuse is more common among the kind of people who can afford to live in Trautner's neighborhood than among the paycheck to paycheck common folk I tend to know.

But if Trautner knows a lot of employers who can't find drug free job applicants, perhaps Commerce Lexington should hold a combination job fair / drug screening at their plush, newly remodeled headquarters at 330 East Main where applicants with clean pee could be given on the spot job interviews with the employers who told Trautner they can't find drug free applicants.

Better yet, perhaps this combination drug screening / job fair event could be held at Council Chambers where there's already a camera and a videographer. They could make a YouTube video of drug free Lexingtonians holding up their cups of clean pee and getting interviewed by Trautner's friends. And wouldn't it be great if this PR event coincided with the next economic development task force meeting and if they held that meeting in the Council Chambers where there's a camera and a videographer?

Since that September 2008 meeting I've wondered why LFUCG Council keeps voting money to an organization that, by their own claim, cannot produce jobs and I think the 2 July meeting may have provided me with the answer. Why continue to outsource economic development to an organization that hasn't produced jobs? Why not use the half million dollars in taxpayer money to staff the understaffed LFUCG economic development office? If you watch GTV3 coverage of Council meetings you may have heard last year’s discussion of the fact that Austin, Texas has over 40 employees in their economic development office while Lexington has exactly one economic development employee. So why don't they adequately staff it and fund it instead of continuing to throw good tax money after bad by outsourcing economic development to a membership organization that, as several council members mentioned at the 2 July meeting, may, at times, have conflicts of interest that would prevent them from being full-throated advocates of the interests of taxpayers?

I think Council doesn't staff up the existing economic development office because that office reports to the mayor and I think Council would like to build an economic development apparatus that is controlled by Council and not by the mayor's office. At the 2 July meeting there was a considerable amount of discussion about how a new council and a new mayor may come into office "arm in arm" singing Kum Bah Yah but there's just something about the system that eventually pits "the 12th floor against the 5th floor".

Perhaps I'm not the only Lexingtonian who remembers how Mayor Jim Newberry and Vice Mayor Jim Gray went on local radio talk shows and talked about how the days of mayors and councils fighting with each other were behind us and yet, look where we are now. Council members have told me privately that "the 12th floor" doesn't communicate with them.

The Elephant In The Room

I think it's time we all acknowledge the elephant in the room that almost nobody is talking about: it's time for Lexington to seriously consider a complete restructuring of city government. Maybe it's time we consider doing away with the elected office of mayor and go to a city manager system where the city manager reports to Council or to a city commission that is elected by and answerable to voters.

While I totally agree with fellow blogger, Rob Morris, that "Lexington is an uncoordinated tangle of overlapping agencies, boards, task forces, committees, departments, rules, and processes. Within this messy system, each organization is charged with its own distinctive - but often overlapping or conflicting - mission, mandate, authority, ability, accountability, and expertise. Some of the organizations consist of long-term government administrators, some of elected officials, some of volunteers, others are quasi-governmental public/private agencies, and still others are fusions of all of these." I don't think his proposed governmental changes go far enough. I think it's time Lexington redesign city government in a way that would necessitate, insure and require that the legislative and executive bodies talk to each other someplace besides Council Chambers for a few hours each week.

Making the executive report to Council would also settle once and for all the question of whether or not Council should be responsible for economic development at all, a point they debated at the 2 July meeting. If the executive branch reports to Council, then Council is ultimately responsible for all legitimate functions of government, one of which would be to make city government's "business model" work.

And for those of you who have forgotten or didn't know, let me remind you that over 80% of Lexington's operating revenues come from payroll taxes which means that every time a Lexingtonian loses a middle class Lexmark job and takes a subsistence job at $9.50 per hour, Lexington loses revenue that is needed for city services. Every time Lexington businesses close or lay off workers, Council has less money to pay for city services, so I think the argument can already be made that job creation is already Council's responsibility.


One Herald-Leader reporter and 2 other bloggers attended and wrote about the 2 July meeting. Read their reports:

Cheryl Truman's Herald-Leader story: http://www.kentucky.com/latest_news/story/850809.html

Deb Hildreth's "Hildreth and Lex Transition" blog: http://debhildreth.blogspot.com/

Eric Patrick Marr's "Transform Lexington" blog: http://www.transformlexington.blogspot.com/

05 July, 2009

What Are Managers Pretending Not To Know About The Causes And Costs Of High Turnover?

It's getting harder for managers to pretend they don't know high turnover is preventable, that employee turnover has known causes, that turnover is costly and that high employee turnover inflicts brand damage that takes years to repair.

A widely cited study by Bennett J Tepper (Academy of Management Journal, Apr2000, Vol. 43 Issue 2, p178, 13p) says the most common reason employees quit their jobs is what he calls "abusive" or "bullying" supervision.

In addition to high turnover, abusive management can lead to labor union organization activity. In Karl Albrecht's Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success, Albrecht recounts a conversation with a well-known union organizer who said companies could prevent most union organizing activity if they simply fired all the abusive managers.

High turnover results in low productivity. One well-known retailer has such horrendous turnover that, at any given time, there may only be one employee in the store who actually knows how to ring up a customer. I have personal experience with this high turnover retailer. One day I tried to make a routine purchase but the trainees told me to come back in 20 minutes because the only person who knew how to run the register was at lunch. If you run a business in which it takes, say, a year for the typical new hire to reach job proficiency but the typical new hire only lasts a few weeks or a few months, how much is your turnover costing you in efficiency and productivity?

It's harder to quantify, but high turnover damages your brand. When half the people in town have worked for and left your company and when all the headhunters know they can easily poach your best people, it's obvious that your company is badly managed. Until you reduce the turnover your company will be an employer of last resort, not an "employer of choice." Just as happy employees make happy customers, happy employees also make recruitment easy because they encourage their friends to apply.

Whether your turnover is high because you're firing a lot of people or whether it's high because a lot of people are quitting, the resultant high turnover is a failure of management. The ability to identify, train and retain good people is, perhaps, the most important or all management functions.

What Companies Would Do If They Were Serious About Reducing Employee Turnover

Companies that are serious about retaining good employees will create a culture in which the success of new hires is in everybody's job description. If they give performance appraisals or annual reviews, employees will be rated on how much they help new hires to succeed and to "fit in" and be accepted.

Companies that are serious about reducing turnover will counsel, coach and eventually replace managers with high employee turnover. Such managers are damaging your company's brand, making recruitment more difficult, harming morale and costing your company money.

02 July, 2009

Why DMEs Should Embrace Social Media

In a recent HME News article, an unidentified DME dealer said he wasn't using social media because he didn’t think referral sources were looking on Facebook to select a DME company.

I agree. Referral sources aren't using social media to select a DME provider, but they are using social media to communicate with their friends.

Can you be a friend? Is there any good reason why a "referral source" can't become your friend? Don't you want friends?

Let's forget for a moment that the discharge planner who won't meet with you and won't take your calls is a discharge planner. Can you pretend she's just a human being with an identity and interests and a social circle that doesn't have anything to do with her job? And let's forget that there's some unwritten silly rule that says the only way you can connect with her is between the hours of 8 and 5, at the hospital where she works. If you weren't a DME sales rep and she were just a person you wanted to meet, could you figure out how to use your existing network of friends to get an introduction?

Of course you could.

Social media helps you do it faster and with a greater number of people.

Let's get something straight: social media is not marketing. I have well over 300 LinkedIn connections and I'm not likely to buy their financial services or their health supplements or their energy drinks or their legal services just because I'm connected to them on LinkedIn. I'm not likely to refer business to you just because you Tweet me 3 times a day telling me that you are the greatest marketing consultant in town. In fact, if you use social media to annoy me, I'm less likely to do business with you.

And social media won't improve your social skills. In fact, social media gives selfish, rude; inconsiderate jerks a chance to annoy a lot of people many times a day. If you are a social jerk who only contacts people when you want something from them and only communicates with "referral sources" to put the sales moves on them, social media will only enable you to wear out your welcome more quickly than you already do. If you are socially inept, if you don't have the networking gene, if you are a socially challenged misanthrope, social media will not make you a better networker or make you like people.

And social media is not marketing even though you're going to meet some really annoying people who think it is.

Social media is just another tool to help people "meet" new people, establish relationships, maintain relationships and deepen relationships. Some of your Twitter, LInkedIn and other social media contacts will become friends. Some of these friends will become customers or referral sources. Some of these friends will introduce you to people who will become friends and then customers or referral sources. If you already have good networking skills, social media extends the rate at which your network expands but, frankly, if you don't "get" networking, if you don't already know how pre-internet social networking worked, Twitter and LinkedIn won't suddenly splice the networking gene into your DNA.

DME people who don't already know how to make new friends and to network and to merge their social and professional networks and to tap the social networks of others won't suddenly do these things just because they open a LinkedIn account.

Social media is a force multiplier that helps people who already know how to network to do it faster and with more people.

Let me illustrate:

A DME sales rep would like to meet Donna the Discharge Planner but Donna won't make an appointment and won't return the sales rep's calls (and let's face it, why would she?). If the sales rep is a good networker, he'll stop thinking of Donna as just a referral source and start thinking of her, as a person and he'll stop limiting his attempted contacts to sales calls during business hours. He'll find a way to meet Donna through mutual interests and mutual friends. Here's how a good social networker might use social media to make that happen:

First, our savvy networker might look Donna up in Facebook and LinkedIn. If she has an account, he can see how's he's connected to her, who they know in common. Once he knows how they're connected, he can contact the common friend and ask them to introduce him to Donna.

If Donna doesn't have a LinkedIn account, perhaps our savvy networker performs a LinkedIn search on who he knows at Donna's hospital. Perhaps our Skilled DME sales rep is already LinkedIn to somebody in accounting or somebody in physical therapy. Our savvy sales rep arranges to meet his friend in the hospital cafeteria.

While in the cafeteria, our savvy sales rep's friend tweets "I'm in the cafeteria" and pretty soon, other hospital worker start coming to the cafeteria.

Because our DME sales rep is already a skilled networker, he hands out business cards to everybody he meets. Yes, even the people who can't refer business to him. On his business card is his Twitter and LinkedIn information. Our savvy sales rep asks his new acquaintances if they are on Twitter and LinkedIn. Some of them are. He asks if he can add them as a contact in LinkedIn and "follow" them on Twitter. That very day or perhaps the next day he discovers that one of Donna the Discharge Planner's co-worker, Debbie The Discharge Planner, is in his expanded network.

Good networkers already know where this is going. Debbie links him to Donna who links him to Bob in Respiratory Therapy who is married to Dr. Lung's daughter who's best friend works in the hospital administrator's office.

"Referral sources" can dodge your calls, ignore your emails, and, when you get lucky enough to pass them in the hallway, they can tell you they "have a list" and that they just work their way down the list".

Friends, look forward to your tweets, they read your blog, they forward your LinkedIn profile to their friends.

Don't you really want friends?

01 July, 2009

Getting The Marketing Cart Ahead Of The Relationship Horse

I recently spoke with a durable medical equipment (DME) / home oxygen manager who had just lost his biggest referral source and desperately needed to replace the lost revenue. I was shocked at how naive this DME manager was about why his "marketing" efforts were meeting with so much resistance at Hospital J. I explained that one of his competitors pretty much had Hospital J sewed up and had for years.

"Why? How?" asked the DME manager.

"The same way you pretty much have Hospital C all sewed up,” I said.

"You mean he used to work at Hospital J?" asked the DME manager.

"No, he never worked there but he is socially connected there from the board on down through department heads. He's been 'penetrating this account' socially for years through golf tournaments, sponsorships and serving on boards. In other words", I said, "he hasn't been limiting his contact with Hospital J to sales calls that occur between the hours of 8AM and 5PM like you have. Your competitor built relationships after 5PM and on weekends. Instead of compartmentalizing his life into 'professional' and 'personal' worlds as you have, your competitor merged them, integrated them. Now the people at Hospital J are not just referring business to a DME company, they're referring business to a friend."

My naive DME manager friend had gotten his marketing cart ahead of his relational horse.

People don't do business with strangers if an acceptable non-stranger is available.

Get yourself out of the stranger category fast. You don't have to become the referral source's best friend, but you have to get out of the stranger category fast because any halfway competent non-stranger will get referrals before a competent stranger will.

We buy from people we like, people we trust and people we feel are like us in some way. And we buy from people who were recommended to us or - better yet - introduced to us by friends.

Yes, there are exceptions. I drink Pepsi even though I don't know anybody at Pepsi but they had to spend gazillions of dollars to build a brand, build a distribution network and advertise their brand to even get in my buying decision.

Most of my readers don't have gazillions of dollars to get new business the way Pepsi did it - by skipping relationship building and going straight to sales and marketing.

For readers who don't know, DME companies have few ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. They can't differentiate themselves on price because most DME is paid for by Medicare and Medicare tells all the DME dealers in a certain market how much they'll get for an oxygen concentrator or a CPAP or a manual hospital bed. They can't differentiate themselves by product because local DME providers don't make the products they provide so they're providing what their competitor down the street provides.

And even if Dealer A carries a wheelchair or a CPM that's marginally better than the one carried by Dealer B, local referral sources won't know or care about these marginal differences. Oxygen is oxygen. A bed is a bed. That's how the referral sources see it. DME has become commoditized.

And I suspect some of my readers - even the ones who aren't in the DME business - are in industries whose products and services tend to be seen as commodities, as well. A few days ago a fellow in the IT business complained to me that his customers will abandon him and sign a contract with another IT company for a $5 monthly savings.

"They don't even understand what I do for them,” he said. They think that when their computers break I fix 'em. They don't know all the stuff I do to prevent their computers from breaking,” he said.

In fact, he told me that when the recession hit he lost so many customers that he tried to behave like Pepsi, putting the marketing cart ahead of the relationship horse. He bought very expensive broadcast media ads.

"Yeah? How'd that work out for you?" I asked.

"I didn't get one new client,” he admitted.

"Instead of trying to market like a consumer brand with a gazillion dollar advertising budget,” I asked, "why don't you leverage what you already have for free or almost free?"

"Start talking to your customers when their computers aren't broken", I said. Make yourself more than an IT vendor. Make yourself a friend. Then over a cup of coffee or lunch you can do something that will stop them from leaving you to save $5: you can explain to them how your services are preventative, not just curative, and how you are already saving them money by keeping their computers running and productive. Do it now while you have the beginnings of a relationship with your clients" I said. He seemed to understand so I went further.

"And after you break down the wall between your 'professional' and 'personal' lives" I said "you can ask them for something that works almost every time and doesn't cost nearly as much as a radio or TV ad: you can ask your existing clients to introduce you to some new prospects.

I'm not saying there is no role for advertising. I'm saying if you're in a business where you have actual access to the people who pay for your services, if you can talk to them on the phone or invite them to golf or meet them for coffee, leverage that access.

If you're in a business where your next source of revenue could be anywhere, could be anybody, buy expensive media like radio or TV. Pepsi's next dollar could be anybody, could be anywhere. Could be everybody. But if you're like most of my readers, the universe of potential revenue sources is small and knowable. In fact, you do know them and you know their phone numbers and their email addresses and you know how to get to their offices and these people you already know can introduce you to your next customer so why are you buying radio and pretending not to know a cheaper way to look for customers?

Most of the people reading my blog already have customers whose professional and social networks have not yet intersected with their own. Why would you spend thousands on radio or TV ads aimed at strangers when you already have access to people who can move you from the stranger category to the non-stranger category with people simply by introducing you?

I'm saying stop trying to segregate your 'professional' contacts from your 'personal' contacts. Don't segregate, integrate. Merge your professional life with your personal life. Want to have more customers? Be friends with more people.

I'm saying don't try to spend marketing dollars like a large business until you've networked like a small, hungry one.

I'm saying don't go on TV or radio and ask strangers to give you money until you have made friends of the people who already give you money. They will, in turn, introduce you to friends and tell them why they should give you money.