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The Value of Education in Today’s Business World

In his new book, The Commitment Engine, author John Jantsch talks about the importance of community and how building a community around your company can help you sell your products or services. One key point Jantsch makes in this section is the concept of selling through teaching. This is also an idea he touched on in his last book, The Referral Engine (also a great read).

According to Jantsch, educating your community (which he defines as anyone who comes into contact with your company – your employees, your customers, or others in your industry) is the strongest way to differentiate your company in today’s business world. Why is a willingness to teach so important, though? There are several reasons.

– Teaching allows you to present your own perspective and your company’s “personality” while passing along objective, not promotional, information.

– A teacher/student relationship immediately puts your company in a position of expertise. If a person is deciding between your company and another company, your demonstration of industry knowledge may be the extra nudge that gets you the sale.

– Teaching shows you care. Anybody can promote a product. If you hand someone  a message, they can read it or present it convincingly enough. But if you demonstrate a deep well of knowledge that your community can appreciate, they will understand that you aren’t just promoting a product. Rather, you are building a community of employees, customers, potential customers, and peers who all care about the same issues.

– Teaching makes you more accessible. People do not always feel the doors of communication are open when you are in a promotional mode of communication. However, when you open your hands and show a willingness to share information, you become more “human.” You are easier to approach and easier to understand.

How do you teach? What do you teach?

Perhaps you work in an industry where you think this whole concept of educating your community would not work. Maybe you feel your customers are just as knowledgeable as you, or perhaps your hunch is that your customers are simply too busy to be able to sit down and talk to you about hypotheticals. Factually, there is always information that can be passed along, but to further this idea you need to be willing to accept some out-of-the-box thinking. An examination of The Referral Engine is a great place to start. There, Jantsch suggests some ideas that might sound crazy to you at first. For example, he suggests that if there is a significant issue plaguing your industry, you get together with a competitor and pool resources to offer a really valuable educational experience for the entire industry. While this might seem risky on the surface, the fact that two competitive companies would come together to assist everyone will do wonders for both brands.

Another important consideration is that you can teach your community about things that may not relate directly to your exact business. Jantsch talks about an insurance agent who built an impressive business not by teaching people about insurance but rather by teaching his customers and potential customers how to use social media to promote their own businesses. By earning their trust and by spending time teaching them things that did not seem to benefit him directly, this insurance agent gained a lot of trust and a lot of credibility. When the people he taught needed to talk about insurance, guess who they called?

Think about your community – your employees, your peers, your customers, your prospects – and the obstacles they may encounter on a daily basis. Do you know ways to help eradicate those complexities? Do you know someone else who does? If a lot of your customers are nervous about the economic forecast for 2013, consider partnering with a bank to offer a financial class. If your customers are struggling to meet governmental safety standards, consider hosting an open house and a seminar on those standards. People are looking for ways to make their work and their lives easier. No matter what you teach them, you will earn their appreciation. You will stand out.

A few quick pointers

Remember that when you begin to establish yourself as a resource, you still must maintain your transparency. Ultimately you are a company that sells a product or service, and ultimately you are hoping that your efforts will result in increased sales. This should not be hidden from the people you are assisting. Whether you are offering a white paper, a webinar, a seminar, or a blog series, your audience should be aware that you are not just an independent consultant offering classes.

Along those same lines, make sure that you do not just give information away without covering your own company’s needs. If you are hoping to build business relationships, people will not be shocked if you invite them to sign up for your e-newsletter or if they see a mention of your products amidst the educational material you present. As long as your information is valuable, and as long as you are not too promotional, educating your community can be a win-win for all parties involved.

If you are thinking about incorporating a teaching facet into your marketing next year but have questions, let us know. We’d be happy to help you!

Note: This is our eighth post in our series inspired by John Jantsch’s The Commitment Engine. To catch up on the whole series, just click here

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The Importance of Listening

A lot of marketing, and in fact a lot of business, focuses on talking or “producing content.” Marketers tend to focus on pushing out the message, getting that vision statement out there, building the brand, and advertising products or services. Business people tend to focus on selling ideas to the c-suite, running meetings, and securing leadership status. But listening is just as important as sending content out. In fact, if you don’t listen, and listen carefully, what you send out can do more harm than good.

In The Commitment Engine, the latest book from Duct Tape Marketing author John Jantsch, talks about what he calls perceptive listening. He defines this as “I hear and interpret the words, but I also consider what the person is thinking and perhaps how they are acting as they say the words.” This is a key point, not just for offline communications but also, and perhaps moreso, for online communications. Take a moment and think about how we act online. We see something we like on Facebook, so we click a button that says, “like.” On Twitter, if we see something interesting, we click a button that says, “Retweet.” On Google Plus, the button we click is +1. On Pinterest, it’s “repin.” Our response mechanisms have become so predictable that we almost don’t need to fully consider what is being said. We like it enough to click a button or we don’t.

Jantsch points out that often, we “hear” but we don’t listen. I read another post recently that talked about the same thing – we may look like we’re listening, but really what we are doing is we are hearing words while at the same time formulating how we want to respond. Once we hit upon the retort we want to make, we probably stop listening even though we may still be hearing.

When we are talking to our customers or when we are talking to people we work with, it can be harmful to do anything other than perceptive listening. If we don’t truly take in what these people are saying, we cannot respond fully in the ways they are hoping for. Indeed, in a survey that Second Wind, an organization devoted to small marketing firms, conducted about five years ago, the most common complaint clients had about agencies was that agencies don’t truly listen. This might come as a shock if you’re a marketer, but there is a difference between hearing, listening with the intention of responding, and truly listening while absorbing what the other person is saying. No matter what business you’re in, to excel at customer service you must learn how to listen perceptively.

Jantsch offers a few suggestions that can help hone the ability to listen perceptively. For example, sit down with a customer and ask them some very pointed questions. For example, you could start by asking them what their favorite thing about working with your company is. Don’t listen with the intent of defending yourself or offering an alternative to what they say. Instead, watch them as they respond. Watch their body language. Does their face brighten with enthusiasm or do they squirm uncomfortably because nothing comes to them right away? The same exercise can be done with your employees or co-workers. Ask questions and pause to really listen. You might be surprised by what you learn.

There was at some point several years ago an experiment conducted on a college campus. A person went around greeting people the way we always greet people. “Hey, how you doing?” Inevitably, the response was, “Oh, hey, how are you?” The person doing the experiment responded with, “Eh, I have cancer.” More often than not, the experiment revealed that the other person was so far from listening that they would sometimes even respond with, “Oh, that’s great. Gotta run!” That experiment comes to mind while reading Jantsch’s section about perceptive listening. As a marketer, as a business person, we cannot afford to be so hurried in our responses. We must listen not just with our ears, but also with our brains.

Do you find that you hear more than you listen? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Note: This is our ninth post in our series inspired by John Jantsch’s The Commitment Engine. To catch up on the rest of the series, just click here!

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One Way To Prioritize Your Work

One thing you hear or see just about every day is how BUSY everyone is. Lack of sleep seems to be part of  bragging rights these days. People are traveling more, communicating more, and doing more, perhaps, than ever before. Because of this omnipresence of being busy overhanging our society, there is also a lot of advice about how to parse your responsibilities, break up your work day, or become more efficient at everything you do. The advice that John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing, The Referral Engine, and The Commitment Engine,  gives on this subject is fairly different from anything we had seen before, however, so we thought we’d focus today on how he recommends you prioritize your work.

What Jantsch suggests is the creation of a hierarchical pyramid consisting of everything you need to accomplish for your work. Structuring a hierarchy helps guide you on a day-to-day basis by reminding you of what’s really important in the big picture versus what may be a task-oriented priority that is important but not essential. The pyramid looks like this:

Your Big Idea

At the top of your pyramid is your raison d’etre, your reason for being. This is what keeps you in touch with your big picture. Whether or not you work on this every day, it should always be front and center with everything you *are* working on.

Priorities for the Year

While many people focus on New Years Resolutions, Jantsch suggests that you focus on three or four goals for your business. Like your “big idea,” these may not be things you work on every day, but everything you do should fit into the context of those three or four big goals. If you need to decide what to work on next, working on things that will move you forward towards those goals should take top priority.

Goals within Goals

If you just set three to four goals and hope they happen, you’ll be setting yourself up for probable failure, which is why so many people fail to live up to their New Years Resolutions, too. When you establish your big goals for the year, you should also set up paths on how to reach those goals. Week by week, month by month, you can track where you are in progressing towards your ultimate goals for the year.

Projects

Projects probably seem like the lifeblood of your company. They are what you DO, after all. But all projects should connect in some way to your goals and your big idea. If you are in the enviable position of having too many projects, it may be time to start saying no. Knowing what to say no to can be guided by the upper portions of your work pyramid. If a project would be fun but doesn’t really fit into your “big idea,” that will be a likely candidate for cutting.

Tasks

It’s no surprise that tasks make up the widest portion of your pyramid, right? Tasks can be things that you really don’t like doing, things that don’t seem to matter by themselves. However, tasks also can be what take up most of our time. Cleaning out your email inbox can be a task. Cleaning off your desk can certainly be a task, but it’s important because you may find that file you were looking for three weeks ago. Filing is a task that can be boring but extremely important when you need to get your hands on something quickly. Jantsch suggests that in order to keep tasks under control, you should try to set up a rough schedule throughout your week where you focus solely on knocking out these unenjoyable tasks. Again, when it comes to prioritizing, tasks affiliated with projects that are key to accomplishing goals should come first.

As you can see, the visual of a pyramid helps you keep your focus on the really big ideas in your company while also helping you to prioritize your daily work. Of course, no plan is perfect and there will always be things that intrude on your best laid plans, but as a guiding structure, we think this would work well.

What do you think?

Note: This is our seventh post in our series inspired by John Jantsch’s The Commitment Engine. To read the rest of the posts just click here

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How To Avoid Death By Meeting

Oh no. Not another meeting! You know that cry, most likely, as do so many people across the country and around the globe. “The Meeting” has become one of the most dreaded parts of a person’s workday, and often with good reason. People feel like meetings take forever, nothing really gets accomplished, there’s no clear call to action at the end, and even more frightening, sometimes meetings just lead to more meetings!

Luckily, there are ways to improve your meetings, and John Jantsch talks about this in great length in his new book, The Commitment Engine.

The Modern Meeting

Jantsch quotes author Al Pittampalli, who wrote a book titled, “Read This Before Our Next Meeting.” Pittampalli outlined seven characteristics of the new “modern” meeting:

1. It supports a decision that has already been made

2. It starts on time, moves fast, and ends on schedule

3. It limits the number of attendees

4. It rejects the unprepared

5. It produces committed action plans

6. It refuses to be informational – reading should be done by everyone beforehand

7. It works with a culture of brainstorming

Following just these seven guidelines can go a long way towards improving the quality of your meetings. A memo sent beforehand, that everyone must read, helps eliminate time in reading to the assembled group or catching people up. Being open to brainstorming means everyone can feel like they have a right and reason to participate. The time factor, of course, is a key priority in making sure there is not a lot of grumbling when a meeting is called. If you tell people the meeting will be 15 minutes, the meeting should be fifteen minutes.

Hierarchical Meetings

In addition to clear preparation centering around all meetings, Jantsch notes that you should establish a hierarchical structure of your meetings just like you should establish around your work priorities.

Quarterly Meetings – Once a quarter, call everyone in for a “state of the business” meeting. This provides a good opportunity to discuss where you are in terms of the “big idea” as well as your three or four goals for the year. Think big picture.

Monthly Meetings – Not as comprehensive as the quarterly meetings, monthly meetings can still involve everyone and can still be focused on how you are doing in progressing towards your goals. Jantsch suggests that monthly meetings are also good venues for learning about new opportunities or new technologies.

Weekly Meetings – When you get down to weekly meetings you are getting into the more functional types of information. These meetings do not need to include everyone. Departments can have their own weekly meetings to discuss projects and tasks for that week, or if there is a specific project going on involving several people, weekly meetings can be a good way to keep that project on track.

Daily Meetings – If you’re a small organization it can be hard to rationalize daily meetings, especially if those meetings can represent what feels like a waste of time. In a large company, Jantsch suggests that a 15-minute standing meeting (where literally everyone remains standing) can be a good way to report on what everyone will be working on that day. In these cases, starting and ending the meeting on time is 100% essential.

Jantsch suggests that the combination of preparing better for meetings and knowing what kind of meeting you are going to will increase the benefits of the meetings overall and will also increase the company’s efficiency. Everyone will know that a weekly meeting is not the best time to bring up big picture ideas, and everyone will know that the quarterly meeting is not the best time to talk about tasks for that day. If everyone understands these priorities from top to bottom, the entire engine of the company can run more smoothly.

Are you feeling like you are suffering from death by meeting? We hope some of these ideas will help you out!

Note: This is our eighth post in our series inspired by John Jantsch’s The Commitment Engine. To explore the rest of the posts just click here

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What’s Missing From Your Hiring Process

Imagine this scenario: A short while ago, let’s say, two months ago, you hired someone to hold an important position in your company. Their résumé was flawless, they seemed to have the exact skill set you had been dreaming of, and they seemed kind and well-spoken in their interview. But two months down the line, you’re finding that this person is just not working out. You’re getting a lot of people coming into your office, closing the door, and saying, “Man, you will not believe what this person just said or did.” Even you are finding that this person somehow isn’t working out like you had hoped, though perhaps you can’t put your finger on exactly what the problem is. Suddenly it hits you. The person may be fine for the job, but they do not mix with your company’s culture. They are the oddball out of all of your employees. This does not mean the person has to be reminiscent of Gomez or Morticia Addams. It just means that they do things in a way that does not mesh with the rest of your company’s ways of doing things. It may mean that they believe in sharing where your other employees believe in being a bit isolated. Whatever the differences may be, they are enough that it causes problems.

As you think back on your hiring process, you are likely to find that this subject did not enter your mind. Ultimately, it would seem, the most important priority is to make sure you can get someone in who can do what you need them to do. However, as John Jantsch points out in The Commitment Engine, hiring for culture can, in the long run, be just as important as hiring for skills.

Why is corporate culture important? If you are trying to establish a culture of sharing at your company, you do not want to bring in a person who believes staunchly in isolating individuals and/or departments. If you are trying to emphasize customer service, you do not want to bring in a person who does not excel in dealing with people. If you are trying to build your culture around a mission of helping people while having fun, a wet noodle is not going to mesh with those plans. Moreover, if your company is planning on incorporating everyone into social media marketing, you want to make sure that there is a general voice that everyone can use seamlessly online. If you don’t consider culture during the hiring process, you are apt to bring in people who will not be able to fit into that jigsaw puzzle.

How do you incorporate culture into your hiring process? Jantsch mentions that one company, Sky Factory (a manufacturer of customized, specialized ceiling tiles) sometimes includes twelve employees into the interview process so that they can offer their insights into the person applying for the position. That can be intimidating for the applicant and it can also take a lot of your work force away from their tasks, so that might not be the ultimate solution for you. Jantsch mentions that what some companies do is accept referrals from existing employees. And of course, these days you can follow people on Twitter or take a look at their other social networks and get some idea of what they are like. This is why social media is becoming increasingly important for people who are looking for jobs.

More than anything, though, culture, as Jantsch mentions, is really about intuition. Even though applicants will be showing you their best face during the interview, and even though they might be more nervous than usual, you can usually gain pretty good insights into what kind of person they are. Sometimes, in fact, you may find yourself leaning towards a less skilled applicant simply because you feel like you could get along with them better. These kinds of instincts should be acknowledged, though ultimately it’s the skills your employee will need to truly succeed.

If you have ever employed someone who didn’t quite mesh with your company’s culture, you know the levels of discomfort that can cause for everyone. It may seem silly to focus so much on a personality when you are hiring, but in the long run, it is essential.

Note: This is the sixth post in our series inspired by John Jantsch’s The Commitment Engine. If you want to explore the previous posts, just click here

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Sharing – The Silo Killer

One of the most powerful parts of John Jantsch’s new book, The Commitment Engine, is the section where he talks about shared commitment. In the book, this section is about how a leader can infuse a company (from employees to customers) with commitment to the overall purpose of that company. However, I think that sharing is also a powerful key in breaking down silos, or that sense that a single person or a single department should “own” any segment of a business operation. When we talk about silos in the business world, we are talking about people or departments who isolate themselves from other portions of the company. Often, the marketing department is in a silo separate from the sales department. The two departments do not collaborate, communicate, or share ideas. This post is going to outline the facets of shared commitment that Jantsch writes about, but I’m going to add how these elements can also help break down those barriers to communication in your company.

Shared Stories – To build commitment, it’s important that everyone understands the company’s story. For a company to succeed in breaking down silos, sharing stories is also extremely important. It can be easy for the C-Suite to claim ownership of the company’s story. After all, they manage the company. It can be assumed that marketing owns the company’s story because it is marketing that shares that story with others. Maybe the sales team feels they own the company’s story because they have to share those stories with customers. Factually, everyone in the company, including customers, owns the stories of that company. If the company started small and experienced explosive growth, that is an important story to tell. If the company grew out of a desire to improve something in the world, that’s an important story to tell. No one person or department should claim ownership of that storytelling currency.

Shared Beliefs – In The Commitment Engine, sharing beliefs ties to stories as well as to purpose. In order to break down silos, everyone must share beliefs with the key belief being that there should not BE silos. The company should share the belief that sales and marketing are allies, not competitors. The company should share the belief that there is a single mission, and everyone in the company should be able to verbalize that. If silos are defeated and beliefs are shared, you will find that customers are just as adept at verbalizing beliefs as anyone working within the company’s walls, because the shared beliefs will not just be thoughts, they will be the basis of action that permeates the company.

Shared Purpose – If you think about an engine, it makes sense that in order to build commitment, everyone in a company would need to push or pull the same way to propel movement forward. Shared purpose is also a great way to break down silos. If sales and marketing know that they are sharing goals and objectives, they will be enticed to support each other, not compete against each other.

Shared Leadership – This can be a tough one. In our last post we talked about the leader of a company or department empowering employees. The C-Suite should not be isolated in a lonely tower. A company’s leadership must be accessible. After all, it is often the C-Suite that begins the conversation about big picture issues like purpose and corporate beliefs. Everyone in the company needs to feel they have a stake in the company’s success, not just in the company’s shortcomings. Everyone must feel that their individual efforts are important. This starts from the top and can bust silos by reaching everyone equally.

Shared Outcomes – We have talked about it before on this blog. When a company experiences a downturn, too often the resulting conversation is that marketing points to sales and sales points to marketing. They both point to management. Nothing is accomplished. This can be the worst repercussion of a company with silos. When a company is doing well, everyone should have a right to claim ownership of the success. Likewise, when the company is not doing well, everyone should claim an equal portion of the blame.

Shared Ownership – Of course, Jantsch notes that shared ownership can be taken quite literally. Many companies allow employees to buy a stake in the company itself and some companies are 100% employee-owned. This can help level the playing field, which can help kill silos, but even more important, perhaps, than monetary ownership is actual ownership of the company’s success and mission. On a ship, everyone has a vested interest in arriving safely in harbor. If something challenging arises, it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together to right the sails. So it is with a company. Everyone, regardless of job or department, must feel they have a vested interest in how the company performs. If everyone shares this sentiment, no one person or department will appear more important than any other.

Just as sharing can kill silos, one could argue that silos could kill commitment. Inter-departmental competition, office politics, and a negative attitude and atmosphere can wear everyone out. Build commitment, kill silos, and emphasize sharing in order to succeed.

Note: This is our fifth post in our series inspired by The Commitment Engine. You can read the rest of the series here. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a post! 

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You Are Only As Strong As Your Least Happy Employee

In his new book The Commitment Engine, author John Jantsch makes a notable point. He writes, “Generating commitment is the new currency of American business. The most important task of a leader is to guide passion and purpose in a way that encourages staff and customers alike to find, nurture, and grow commitment around the things big and small that make a business worth joining.” Thinking about this statement can create several different lines of thought, but to me it reiterated the point that if you do not treat your employees well, they will not be enticed to treat your customers or clients well. If you think about it, this is really common sense. Treating an employee well makes that employee happy. Going above and beyond to make sure your employees are happy indicates to them that they are valued. Your employees will feel loyalty to you, and they will be happy to give as good as they get. That includes making sure that customers are treated well. After all, if you’re having a good experience, it’s not hard to invite others to join in the fun, right?

A lot of companies are creating programs with this idea in mind. In fact,  Stan Phelps, author of The Purple Goldfish Project, is currently curating stories about companies working for their employees in his Green Goldfish project. Scrolling through his posts, you see a story about how Best Buy is no longer forcing employees to keep strict schedules. You can read about how Rackspace is paying 100% health insurance premiums for employees. And then of course, there’s Zappos, the online shoe store turned business darling that offers employees money to leave as a test of their dedication.

If you’re a CEO, a president of a company, or a department head, you might think companies like these are crazy. You might think, “Well, they’re huge so they have more flexibility monetarily to be able to offer benefits like this.” The fact is any company can do little things to make employees know they are valued. It doesn’t even have to be tied to salary or insurance or anything else financial. Allowing flexible hours for new parents, allowing employees to work from home when the weather is terrible, or even the simple act of naming an “employee of the month” are all great ways to show your employees you care.

If this is still not sounding like a good business investment to you, it’s important to remember that your employees are, increasingly, the public face of your company, and not just during working hours. Your employees may have personal Facebook accounts or personal Twitter accounts, and if you don’t treat them right, they could be complaining about you. You could have a reputation problem without even realizing it. Your employees interface with your customers. Your employees interact with potential customers. What do you want those conversations to be like?

Investing in your employees is the same thing as investing in your customers. It’s the same thing as investing in your company as a corporate entity.

You are only as strong as your least happy employee. So, how strong are you?

Note: This is our fourth post in our series inspired by John Jantsch’s book The Commitment Engine. You can check out the rest of the series here, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a post! 

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