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We’ve Moved!

June 29, 2011

The Intelligent Catalyst blog has moved to a new hosting platform. Unfortunately I was not able to migrate all the subscriptions. If you would like to continue to receive updates for new posts to the blog, please go to the new site and subscribe:  (in the upper right corner). While you’re there, please add yourself to the Intelligist Group mailing list (just below blog subscription).

Thanks and looking forward to continuing the conversation…


Influence Measurement Optimization

June 4, 2011

There’s lot’s of discussion – pro and con – about trying to measure influence, particularly in social media. The ability to accurately capture, analyze and rank influence is extraordinarily valuable. The key word is “accurately.” HiRes

There are many vendors (Klout, Peerindex, et al) trying to figure this out. Recently Klout came up with a +K button, an interesting invention. It’s like a more focused #ff (Follow Friday), for those familiar with it.  But it got me to thinking about the nature of influence in general and where this could be leading. I’ve discussed influence in marketing before (see Dark Matter and Invisible Thought Leaders) but I feel like we are moving towards a new era in “influence awareness.”

Heisenberg Social Media Uncertainty Principle

Sean McGinnis’ recent post The Problem With Klout discussed some of the challenges with one influence measurement vendor: Klout. He writes:

The minute you pay attention to your Klout score is the instant your Klout score stops being accurate.

I got flashbacks to physics and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. But more relevant is the Observer Effect, wherein the mere act of observation makes changes to what it is we are observing. To look at this from a sociological perspective, in his 1976 paper “Assessing the Impact of Planned Social Change” social scientist Donald T. Campbell wrote:

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

Arms Race

For years there has been an arms race on the Internet: Search Engines vs. Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The search engines are trying hard to return accurately relevant search results. The SEO practitioners are trying hard to “game” the system, attempting to raise the rankings of particular content. This can be done because search engines have rules and algorithms that can be cracked or inferred.

So where does that leave influence measurement? Well move over SEO. It’s Time For IMO™! Influence Measurement Optimization™.  (Hey, Disney trademarked “Seal Team 6”!)

Maybe I should hang out my shingle?

The Power of What If

May 9, 2011

What could you learn if you sat down with your toughest critics, your mind open and your mouth shut

My favorite Invisible Thought Leader recently pointed out a great blog post about the Mulally Culture at Ford based on this Businessweek article from May 2007.

After getting over my bias that old content is less valuable content – tell me you didn’t think the same thing when you saw the 2007 date – some of Mulally’s actions really hit home. Case in point, sitting with his engineers as the Consumer Reports team criticized the (then) new Ford Edge. It got me thinking about customer service, corporate culture, and entrenched bureaucracies.

The term innovation is thrown around fairly liberally with questionable efficacy. True innovation comes when we set aside habits and preconceptions. So:

  • What if we were proactive and asked the tough questions? Of ourselves AND our customers?
  • What if we engaged and actually listened to and embraced the implications of the answers?
  • What if we broke down the barriers within our organization to create transparency – internally and externally?

If Mulally can walk into a staid corporate culture like Ford and shake things up, what can you do in your business?

Is It What You Have Done Or What You Can Do?

April 12, 2011

One of the biggest challenges in selling professional services is dealing with buyers’ preconceptions of who is best qualified to help them. It seems most buyers want to find something more than someone who has done it before. They want to know that you:

  1. Understand their business, and;
  2. have solved this problem for someone just like them.

They are looking for industry expertise. But sometimes there’s a gap between what the customer wants and what the customer needs. How important is industry experience in the buying decision?

I started in technology years ago on Wall Street. It was the beginning of a long career in Information Technology, but I didn’t realize the edge it would give me in the future providing technology services to the Financial Services industry. There were many jobs I was able to win because my answer to “do you have financial services experience?” was yes. Was I the best person for the job or was it simply a comfort level that I was more likely to be the best person for the job?

Consider these two anecdotes based on actual events:

Yes, But Do You Know MY Business?

I had a conversation with a friend in the M&A business – we’ll call him Marty. Marty typically represents people looking to sell a business. He related a recent interaction with a prospect which went something like this:

Marty: “So tell me about your business”

Prospect: “We manufacture crayons. Do have any experience in that industry?”

Marty: “Yes. We recently brokered the sale of a crayon manufacturer.”

Prospect: “Oh, well we manufacture green crayons. I really want to find someone who’s worked with a green crayon manufacturer.”

Marty: “This company was a blue crayon manufacturer”

Prospect: “Oh….”

…and then the awkward point where there is gap between the prospect’s expectations and your perceived expertise.

You’re Smart. You’ll Figure It Out.

I had another conversation, this one was with a friend who is a management consultant focusing on operations. We’ll call her Felicia.

Client: “We need some patent work done. Can you take care of it for us?”

Felicia: “I really don’t know too much about it. Shouldn’t we get a patent expert?”

Client: “I know you don’t really have the expertise. But I also know you’ll figure it out and get it done.”

Felicia: “Oh…”

And, of course, she got it done. I call this screwing up in reverse – your clients have so much faith in your abilities that they are willing to let it trump specific expertise.

So What Does The Customer Really Want?

If you’ve been in professional services long enough you’ve probably experienced both of these scenarios. They are extreme cases but they point out some of the challenges we face. Prospects and clients consider many factors in making a buying decision. But what is the most important? When prospects ask for “industry experience”, what are they really asking? 

Simple answer? Trust.

It All Boils Down To Trust

What single factor do buying decisions really turn on? Trust. Trust is what a prospect shows when he decides you are the right person to solve his problem. Now we’re not necessarily talking “close your eyes, fall backwards, and I’ll catch you” trust. There are varying trust levels required for different types of engagements.

What trust level do you need in the person fixing your car versus the person handling you multi-million dollar M&A transaction? And it’s not just about the value of the transaction. You might easily sign a high-value building maintenance contract based on good references, but agonize over which nursery school to entrust with your children.

How Do You Develop Trust?

The three keys to developing trust? I call them PET: Proactivity, Engagement and Transparency.

  • Be Proactive. Take the time to learn about your prospects and clients businesses. Show them you’re genuinely interested and you can easily get up to speed on their industry.
  • Be Engaging. How you respond to questions, how you interact, is far more important than anything you had planned to say when you walked in the door.
  • Be Transparent. Make it easy for prospects and clients to vet your expertise.

Social Media has leveled the playing field. What’s your game plan?

February 3, 2011

Courtesy of National Recreation and Park AssociationAs with any sales process, a large factor in an organization’s ability to promote and sell professional services is the ability to project their expertise and competence.  There’s a sense that the Internet and social media have “leveled the playing field,” giving smaller businesses the ability to compete and thrive. So what’s your game plan?

You Have a Web-site, Maybe a Newsletter. Now What?

What is the value proposition of social media? There, I said it. To me, social media is the “Internet Megaphone.” It’s not going to make your message any better, but it does give you an opportunity to reach a much wider audience. What are your tools? Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter – there are many. However, if you are merely translating your traditional media strategy to social media, you’re missing a whole lot.  Are you communicating in the language of social media? What is that language?

It’s All About Engagement

Social media presents some interesting and powerful opportunities to reach a wide audience.   But “swimming in the social stream” is not without it’s caveats. Consumers and businesses alike are jaded to sales pitches and being “marketed at.” There is a fine line between adding to the conversation and alienating your potential customers. In some ways social media is raising the bar, challenging marketers to not just sell but provide additional value within their message.

So we have a challenging dichotomy: there’s a fear in social media that we’re giving too much away, but content seems to be the currency. I wrote a blog a while back called The Age of Thought Leadership in which I discuss the concept of knowledge abundance vs, knowledge scarcity. Which side are you on? Does it matter?

They Said WHAT About Me?

Social media has also given power to your customers. That’s right. Your customers now have the ability to get information about your business from sources other than you! More than that, they can get information from each other about you. Are you listening to what your customers are saying about you? Are you participating in the conversation?

You’re going to tell me that’s customer service, not marketing. Is it? Is there really a difference anymore?

Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message.” While we’re not ready to throw the baby of traditional marketing and customer service out with the bath water, it’s clear that new skills and new techniques are required these days to be successful.

My Game Plan

My value proposition for social media is:

  • Sharing – Using blogs to take advantage of the Internet megaphone, to amplify conversations I have with prospects, customers and colleagues. (“Who’s Going To Read My  Blog?”);
  • News Feed – Participate in a global conversation.  All forms of microblogging (Twitter, LinkedIN, et al ). Yes, and commenting on other blogs (“4 Reasons I Like Twitter“);
  • Collaboration – Using tools to directly connect and exchange ideas, like instant-messaging (Email, Skype, Twitter DM, et al) (“Social Media is the New Water Cooler“);
  • Transparency – Making it easier for others to understand MY value proposition (“3 Reasons YOU Are Not a Thought Leader“);

So, what’s YOUR game plan?

Beware Of Scope Creep

January 4, 2011

All entities have a purpose—a reason to exist. To better understand and manage “things” we define them and classify them. It could be a job description, a contract or even a country.

I remember as a kid working with my father on a home improvement project. As I was about to attempt to hit a nail in with the back of a screwdriver my Dad said “Stop! You don’t use a screwdriver for that. Use the hammer.”

It certainly looked to me like the screwdriver would have done a perfectly adequate job of hitting in that nail. My father explained that each tool had a purpose, something for which it was designed  and for which it was best.

So what was wrong with using the screwdriver? Simple. It may have worked that one time. Maybe even a few more. But in the long run it was not a good bet to effectively hit in nails and, what’s more,  would likely cause damage to the screwdriver.

What we had here was a case of scope creep. I was extending the definition and function of the screwdriver beyond it’s original intent, beyond what it was “contracted to do.”

Can You Just Do…
Let’s say you hire me to mow your lawn. “Oh, while you’re here can you just change the light bulb in the shed?” Sure, why not. It’s a little thing. “Oh, I forgot. Can you also tighten the doorknob on the garage?”

What’s happening here is classic scope creep. The original scope was mowing lawns. Changing the light bulb in the shed? Not the same skillset, but still a small thing. What about tightening the doorknob? Hmmm, I need a screwdriver for that, don’t I?

Do It Once And You Own It
I have two problems here. The first is I am doing more work than you originally contracted.  How far can I let that go before I need to charge you for it? “Can you also change the light bulb in the garage?” you may ask.  Sure. What about the whole house?

Second, and less obvious, is you are making me expand the type of work you will now come to expect from me. The next time I mow your lawn you may expect that I can also change light bulbs and fix door knobs. Even if you agree to pay me for the additional work, is that really what I do well? Can I do it cost effectively? Is all my staff prepared to deliver those additional services?

The Law of Unintended Consequences
Scope creep, unchecked, can lead to many unintended consequences, not the least of which include:

  • cost overruns and angry customers;
  • overworked and/or misused employees;
  • failure to achieve contracted goals;
  • jeopardizing the organization as a whole.

In professional services, scope creep is a fact of life. It is something we need to manage and, if at all possible, avoid. Please join Kelly Craft, Fred McClimans and me  on Twitter for the #ProfServ chat tonight (and every other Thursday) at 10pm ET to discuss “Managing/Avoiding Scope Creep.

Also, continue the conversation on LinkedIn in the Professional Services Roundtable.

(Need a little help keeping up? Try TweetChat)

Giving Too Much Away?

December 9, 2010

A doctor and a lawyer were talking at a party. Their conversation was constantly interrupted by people describing their ailments and asking the doctor for free medical advice. After an hour of this, the exasperated doctor asked the lawyer, “What do you do to stop people from asking you for legal advice when you’re out of the office?”

“I give it to them,” replied the lawyer, “and then I send them a bill.”

The doctor was shocked, but agreed to give it a try. The next day, still feeling slightly guilty, the doctor prepared the bills. When he went to place them in his mailbox, he found a bill from the lawyer.

It’s an old joke (thanks to Jokes Place for this version) but, as with most good jokes, at it’s core is some truth.

power meeting from aboveAs service professionals, whether it’s IT, accounting, management, or other,  we provide advice to clients and they pay us for it. Sometimes, we feel compelled to give away free samples to prove our level of expertise. How many free samples do you need to give away to make a sale?