Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Reading Series: The Journey of Brand Delusions

Do you remember “Heaven Can Wait?” In the 1978 movie starring Warren Beatty, a football player meets his death earlier than expected, but he was able to return to Earth in another body to continue to lead the life he wanted. A similar theme formed the basis of Bill Leider’s book, Brand Delusions, the fifth book in the Debbie Laskey Summer Reading Series. This book should be required reading for all CEOs and all members of leadership teams, no matter the size of the company they lead.

Let’s return to this “fictional” story. In Brand Delusions, a CEO was visited by a business expert who wanted to help analyze the CEO’s business, brand strength, and leadership team. While the book’s story may have been “fictional,” the truth is, the journey chronicled in the book could happen to any CEO in America today, whether the CEO leads a small business, a midsize business, a Fortune 500 business, or even a non-profit organization.

So why should this book be required reading when there are so many other books about management, leadership, marketing, branding, finance, operations, human capital, etc.? The answer lies in the secret jewel that appeared on the book’s early pages and reappeared on a regular basis.

Every leader throughout the fictional story’s company was asked to define the company’s brand. While many of the company’s leaders presented an acceptable definition of the brand, none thought their departments had any impact on the brand – except for the sales and marketing Vice President. The HR department was not tuned in; the finance department was not tuned in; the manufacturing department was not tuned in, etc. Each department within a company impacts its brand – and this is the secret that everyone started to understood as the book went on.

In the words of Bill Leider: “Your brand is a widely held set of beliefs and expectations about what you deliver and how you deliver it, validated by customers’ experiences.” This definition allowed each business unit to understand how they contributed to the development of the overall brand. If an advertisement did not tell the proper story about the product, that made an impact. If the product arrived late or damaged, that impacted the brand. If the customer service department did not know how to fix a customer’s issue, that impacted the brand. If HR did not hire employees who embraced the company’s mission and values, that impacted the brand. These are just a few examples.

So, for all you leaders, are your employees clear as to how they ALL make an impact on delivering your brand’s expectations? If not, you have your work cut out for you. Start by reading Brand Delusions.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Impact on Hiring in the Social Media Era

There is no denying the fact that the business environment has changed over the last decade. Telecommuting has seen an increase. The rise in the phenomenon known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work has resulted in easier access to projects. With BYOD, there is also an increased possibility of security breaches. But, perhaps, the biggest change in the business environment is how employees are hired.

As a result of social media, employers have the tools to conduct a comprehensive background check of all potential hires before ever speaking on the phone or meeting in person. A hiring manager can conduct a Google search and quickly see a potential hire’s digital footprint. This digital footprint can, and often does, include a LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, Facebook page, Pinterest page, YouTube channel, SlideShare account, and Google Plus page. And these sites form just the tip of the social media iceberg.

Back in February 2013, Vala Afshar, Chief Customer Officer/CMO of Enterasys, wanted to hire a social media professional but removed résumés from the process. Instead, he asked that candidates apply via Twitter with a hashtag phrase of #socialCV and a link to their LinkedIn profile. Additional requirements for consideration included a minimum Klout score above 60, a minimum Kred influence score of 725, more than 1,000 active Twitter followers, and blog experience. Enterasys found its employee online, and this “experiment” is no longer viewed as an experiment in the chronicles of social media hiring.

So, how can a midsize business use online social media data to its advantage? After a detailed job description is created, the hiring manager needs to understand what success in a specific job looks like. Then, he or she can appropriately review a potential employee’s social sites with a better understanding of how the prospective employee would fit into the company’s culture and accomplish a position’s tasks.

Here’s what hiring managers should look for when conducting social media reconnaissance:

[1] If a prospective employee has a Twitter account with an egghead avatar, this probably means that he or she doesn’t have a professional photo or doesn’t care.

[2] If a prospective employee has a Twitter account with a few Tweets or statements about where he or she dines or the movies watched, then he or she doesn’t understand this platform – make sure that the person actually Tweets about his or her specialty area.

[3] If a prospective employee has a personal Facebook page and has photos from college parties or other weird events, this probably means that he or she doesn’t understand Facebook’s Privacy Settings or doesn’t care about the image being presented.

[4] If a prospective employee has a blog with posts filled with incorrect spelling and poor syntax, then you definitely don’t want to hire this person for any copywriting position.

[5] If a prospective employee has a YouTube channel, make sure that the uploaded videos don’t just feature funny cat antics – unless your business is a circus.

Is this the wave of the future? The answer will depend on your industry, the size of your business, and your corporate culture. But, one thing is certain: If you conduct social media searches for new hires, make sure that you understand social platforms and know the difference between appropriate content and inappropriate content. Your workplace success depends on it.

Image Credit: Thanks to Scott Hampson for use of his comic with this post. Check out Scott’s work at

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Reading Series: Get Bold with Your Social Media

With summer well underway, are you progressing with your catch-up reading? My summer reading series has provided introductions to a customer service survival guide, a branding manifesto, and a leadership guidebook. With this fourth installment of the Debbie Laskey Summer Reading Series, I introduce you to Sandy Carter of IBM’s Social Business Initiative and her blueprint entitled, Get Bold Using Social Media to Create a New Type of Social Business.

In today’s social economy, who doesn’t have a passion for connecting? If you want to know what your competitors are doing, or want to learn about a prospect before going on a sales call, it’s too easy to Google it. But, in the words of Sandy Carter, you must “have a bold agenda to engage your clients, your partners, and your employees…This book is just a start. I continue to learn from my colleagues, peers, clients, and partners.” Here’s how to follow Sandy’s path to getting bold with your social marketing efforts.

Your business must have three traits to succeed in the social economy:

[1] It must be ENGAGED: A social business connects people to expertise – information is shared, creativity is shared, and brand exposure is shared – and the results are trust and solutions to business challenges.
[2] It must be TRANSPARENT: A social business is constantly learning – tools and leadership models are embraced from many sources, and analytics are used – and the results yield solutions from inside and outside the company.
[3] It must be NIMBLE: A social business leverages social networks to use real-time data to make better decisions – this allows employees to quickly adapt.

While your company may understand these three traits, is there a Social Business Culture? If not, here are some tools to create one:

[1] Define the role of management and employees.
[2] Empower everyone to participate.
[3] Educate and enable.
[4] Build a culture for participation started inside and top down as well as bottom up (everyone might not participate, but everyone must understand what it means to be a social business).
[5] Experiment and have a structured approach to learn from mistakes.

Do you have social computing guidelines? If you’d like some examples, check out this site for nearly 250 policies from large companies as well as non-profits:

As you develop your strategy, your company must leverage six principles of engagement:

[1] Focus on a goal for your engagement and define your goals upfront.
[2] Focus on your subject matter expertise and value to the reader – not on selling.
[3] Be consistent in commenting and engaging.
[4] Have a content strategy – don’t post content that is too far off-topic, and be timely.
[5] Focus on relationships, not numbers – don’t concentrate on the number of likes or fans.
[6] Integrate social techniques – share a message on several social platforms and be consistent.

There were countless examples provided in the book, and here were my favorites. The television channel, The History Channel, leveraged Foursquare, the social check-in site, so that when someone checked into a historical location, there were historical facts about that site. Imagine learning that you just checked into a small hotel where George Washington slept or that you just rode the first elevator in a city. Another fave is how has integrated Facebook birthday reminders on its website and into emails as well as leading its industry when it comes to resolving issues in real-time.

So what are you waiting for? If you want your company to be a Social Business, it must “embed social into your soul.” Your social efforts must be just as important in your day-to-day operations as finance, R&D, personnel, sales, technology, PR, and marketing. Your social efforts must align with your overall growth strategies. This is the only way that your social efforts will create a competitive advantage and substantive value for your customers. Be bold!

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

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Summer Reading Series: How to Create A Customer Service Survival Kit

Summer Reading Series: Branding Is More Than Just Logos

Summer Reading Series: How Leaders Can Turn Lemons into Lemonade

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

20 Tips to Bridge the Gap Between Sales and Marketing

In some businesses that are large enough to have separate sales and marketing departments, there can be, and too often is, tension between the two departments. This can occur for any number of reasons, but more often than not, the tension is the result of miscommunication, unfulfilled requests, and misunderstandings. However, the two departments have the same goal: an increase in both profits and satisfied customers.

As a marketer, I wanted to step into the shoes of some sales experts, so I recently asked for some perspectives from the other side of the aisle. I asked 20 sales experts this question: What one piece of sales advice would you give to marketing team members to either facilitate the sales process or improve the working relationship between sales and marketing teams?

Here are 20 tips to bridge the gap between sales and marketing – followed by Twitter handles:

Gary S. Hart (@SalesDuJour): Salespeople are marketing’s eyes and ears. They learn directly from the customer which marketing is effective and which is not. They learn what the customer wants and doesn’t want. They are a wealth of marketing research. So, marketers, embrace your salespeople and cultivate a mutually-beneficial relationship.

Jill Konrath (@jillkonrath): Review everything you create through the eyes of a prospect. Your opinion doesn’t matter – it’s only what customers think that matters.

S. Anthony Iannarino (@iannarino): Give salespeople the tools to nurture relationships in front of an opportunity. Don’t keep them behind the garden wall.

Leanne Hoagland-Smith (@CoachLee): People buy from people, not from glossy brochures or “fancy dancy” websites. Be authentic and get to know the person first. Your goal is to make a friend first, be valuable second, and this will allow you the opportunity to earn a sale.

Kelley Robertson (@Kel_Robertson): Invest more time asking questions so you can position your solution more effectively.

Mike Kunkle (@mike_kunkle): Spend a week with top sales reps who are working leads provided by marketing. Don’t just talk to the reps – but work with them and become involved in the process: making calls, sending emails, following up. See and feel what is and isn’t working firsthand.

Tibor Shanto (@TiborShanto): Marketers need to remember that they are part of a food chain, and as such, they should make sure that what they do can easily be handed off to sales – so that sales can do their part before they hand it off to the next link in the chain. Marketers should ensure that they enable sales “to get a firm grasp” to avoid slowdowns. The easiest way to achieve this is to establish an ongoing and two-way communication process.

Jeffrey Gitomer (@gitomer): Whether you are selling to a consumer or a business, whether you are selling on the phone or face-to-face, the process and the emotional involvement are the same. Someone wants to take ownership, and your job is to get them to visualize it, be engaged by you, agree with you, believe you, have confidence in you, trust you, accept your price, and pull the trigger.

Mike Weinberg (mike_weinberg): Please give me compelling, relevant, customer-focused talking points to help get a prospect’s attention. Help me get in the door.

Trish Bertuzzi (@bridgegroupinc): To know a man, you must walk in his shoes. Every marketer should spend at least one day a month following up on the leads he/she creates. Where the rubber meets the road in lead quality is in having real conversations with potential buyers.

David A. Brock (davidabrock): Everything the salesperson does must fundamentally address the issue of “What’s in it for the customer (individual and organization).” If we cannot answer that, then we are unprepared to pursue a business opportunity, to make a sales call, etc. If we ask ourselves that question before we target a customer, before we make a sales call, throughout the execution of our sales process, then we will increase our value and be focusing on customers that really want to buy.

Ian Brodie (@ianbrodie): Get your feet wet – jump into the pool. Don’t analyze things to death, act like sales and just “do.”

Ardath Albee (@ardath421): B2B marketers will build a better relationship with the sales team if the leads they provide are from accounts/companies that can actually buy from them. The right title and right industry may be great, but if the lead cannot buy, salespeople lose respect for marketing because their time is wasted. It’s time to tighten up lead scoring and make it a more valuable part of the process by including attributes from ideal customer profiles to flip the usual focus from quantity to quality.

Richard Ruff (@saleshorizons): Learn what information in what form salespeople need in order to influence each phase of the customer’s buying process.

Mark D. Synek (@MarkSynek): To make the relationship between sales and marketing a powerful force multiplier, grade both departments on some of the same metrics. It used to be that “sales” was all about a number, and “marketing” results were harder to quantify. Today’s marketing automation and lead generation tactics allow both teams to use SHARED GOALS that align the organizations more tightly.

Brad Hanson (@managementbrad): We need to stop selling and find a person with a problem.

Lisa Woods (@ManageAmericans): Use the customer’s words because that is what they listen to first.

Josh Lowry (Josh_Lowry): Here’s some advice to either the CMO or Vice President of Marketing: Stay close to sales. Measure everything and hold marketing accountable for the results delivered to sales. When you review your positive results with the CEO or Vice President of Sales, and the CEO asks the VP of Sales if he agrees with your contribution, unless he says, “Yes, I cannot hit my number without their great work,” you are not close enough to sales.

Babette Ten Haken (@babettetenhaken): Think twice before you trust your data. Ask yourself: Does it even make common sense?

Dave Stein (@davestei): Sales and marketing teams should collaborate to define what determines a qualified lead.

In the words of advertising and positioning gurus Al Ries and Jack Trout, there is definitely something that both sales and marketing teams can agree on: “The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.” Hopefully, the insights provided in this post will help to bridge the gap between sales and marketing teams in your business so that owning a word in your prospect’s mind might happen for you!


Image Credit: Thanks to Ted Goff for use of his cartoon with this post. Check out Ted's work at

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Summer Reading Series: How Leaders Can Turn Lemons into Lemonade

With the arrival of summer, we all have some additional time to catch up on our reading. Do you need some recommendations? My summer reading series will introduce you to a diverse selection of insightful marketing and management books. Without further ado, here’s the third book of the Debbie Laskey Summer Reading Series.

As a leader, how do you define challenges in the workplace? How do you triumph in difficult times? Alan Graham, Kevin Cuthbert, and Karlin Sloan characterize workplace challenges as “lemons” in their book, Leadership, The Leader’s Guide to Resilience at Work. Some of these lemons or challenges include low morale, lack of resources, downsizing, and competition – but these authors explain that it’s easy to make lemonade from lemons.

So what’s the key? The key to turning lemons into lemonade as a leader is resilience. The examples below offer inspiration, but note, leadership development and failure are intertwined.

  • Richard Branson created Virgin Atlantic and owns 360 companies, but he also has dyslexia and was a poor student.
  •  Famous Beatle singer and musician Paul McCartney applied to join the choir of the Liverpool cathedral but was not accepted.
  • Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for his activism from 1964-1990, but in 1994, he became the President of South Africa.
Leadership and resilience go hand-in-hand. According to the book, there are three domains of resilience:

  1. Relationship to Self: “Leadership requires us to know ourselves…it requires self-confidence, self-management, and overall perspective that we have the power to effect positive change.”
  2. Relationship to Others: “Leaders cannot lead without followers – so this domain is critical for everyone in a leadership role.”
  3. Relationship to Environment: “Leaders with a positive relationship to their external environment are goal-oriented, future-minded, purposeful, and proactive. They are able to reframe whatever comes at them no matter the scenario.”
So how does a leader turn lemons into lemonade? Above all, they don't react to situations, they make their own. Here's an example:
LEMONS/SITUATION: Members of my team hate each other. 

LEMONADE/RESULT: It’s time to address the corrosive personalities that are stopping us from working at our best. I have the opportunity to step up as a leader and set the parameters for a more positive working environment – and I can reframe the situation.

In the words of Graham, Cuthbert, and Sloan: “Make your own personal brand of lemonade…Stay inspired by reading and watching resilience stories wherever you can find them. And tell your own! Leaders who can tell their own stories of making lemonade inspire others to do the same.”

A final note: I wish to thank the team at Karlin Sloan & Company. As a result of a contest on Facebook, I won a copy of this book – and am now a believer in the “turn lemons into lemonade” theory.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

The Secret Behind American Brands in July

In the United States, July is the month when we celebrate Independence, specifically on the Fourth of July. But many retail stores have “Independence Day” sales that last more than just one day. And how many car sales that are advertised on TV and radio are called “Independence Day Sales” but start in June and last through July?

The reason behind this advertising extension can be explained by a simple advertising fact. Businesses want to capitalize on the buzz of the moment. In the case of June and July in the United States, that buzz is Independence Day.

Consider these well-known brands. During the months of June and July, they can take advantage of the “America” or “American” portion of their brand names for a myriad of advertising and promotional opportunities:

  • American Airlines
  • American Apparel
  • American Broadcasting Company
  • American Eagle Outfitters
  • American Express
  • American Greetings Corp.
  • Bank of America
  • TravelCenters of America

If your brand had “America” or “American” in its name, what would you do during June and July to capitalize on Independence Day or the entire month of July? Certainly, product or service discounts are an option, or maybe, the launch of a new product or service, or perhaps, the implementation of a new loyalty or referral program. But whatever announcement your business makes, you will definitely have an audience.

Another spin on this topic is if a portion of your brand name is tied to a national park, national monument, theme park, hotel resort, etc. There is no doubt that your brand has a head start on brand awareness if the name of your business is Mt. Rushmore Cement Company or Yellowstone Coffee or Liberty Bell Music Store.

In all of these scenarios, the first goal of all marketing campaigns has been achieved. There is immediate brand recognition.

However, don’t lose sight of the strengths of your own brand and the competitive positioning that you’ve worked hard to achieve.