Tag Archives: writing

Right on Dude! Follow Through and Follow Up: 2 Keys to Success

spicoli-hand

Kris Jenkins had it. Michael Jordan had it…many times over. Even Jeff Spicoli had it, if you consider Mr. Hand’s desire for Spicoli to merely show up for class, even if having pizza delivered to class wasn’t part of the deal.

What is “it”, you ask? Follow through, and its twin, follow up.

I’m not one to rant, though I will if given the opportunity. It depends on the topic. As you can see, I’m writing about two basic, yet shockingly absent, keys to…well just about anything: follow through and follow up. Ok, so this is about to shift into a rant. I do so unapologetically, as I believe you’ll agree that it’s rant-worthy.

Before I jump in with both feet, I should point out that none of what follows is fabricated for the sake of the post. I’m a storyteller, and love a good piece of fiction as much as the next person. That said, this post is, unfortunately, non-fiction masquerading as horror, grotesquely formed with a seemingly endless supply of appalling rubbish. Commence rant.

giphy

Obligatory Thor GIF via Giphy

 

Sorry Yoda: Only “Do”, Never “Do Not”

Raise your hand if you’ve heard the expression, “Do what you say you’re going to do”. Yeah, me too. And so has just about everyone else, from Generation Z to Baby Boomers. So, if we’ve all heard this and know it’s meaning, why is the action part – “do” – so glaringly lacking?

Follow through and follow up are two keys to success in both your both personal and professional lives. As a teenager, you proudly carried the flag of anti-tyranny rebellion, protesting any request (all of which were, like, totally unreasonable) from your parents. You learned what follow through means when you found yourself “unfairly” grounded. “I’ll never treat MY kids like that,” you growled as you skulked away to your room.

Fast forward to your adult life. Maybe you’ve married and produced some kids. Life gets busy, but not too busy to forgo disciplining your kids for whatever treasonous act they’ve committed (like leaving dishes on the dinner table). As you swing the hammer of discipline like Thor, and hear your hellion of a child shout, “I’ll never treat MY kids like that,” a feeling of déjà vu sweeps over. Wait, what’s that? Now I’m showing my kids what it means to follow through?

In your personal life, follow through means standing behind something you say. “If you don’t do your homework, you lose (insert device).” Few threats draw a line in the sand like that of taking away your kid’s device(s). It’s also the line that is challenged more than raptors testing the fences in Jurassic Park. Fail to follow through on this promise and you’ll end up with a T-Rex sized problem.

Always Be Closing (Following Up/Through)

Follow through and follow up in business and your professional life are two skills that, while not hard to do in reality, seem to be as fleeting as the evidence supporting the existence of the elusive Sasquatch. Sidebar: I keep an open mind…and let’s leave it at that. But I digress.

As Chris Farber once wrote, and something I strongly believe: EVERYONE in a company is in sales/business development. What about development or compliance, you say? Whether it’s building new functionality or managing risk and regulations, every team within a firm has a sales responsibility in that all ultimately serve clients. Fail to follow through on a client request, and whoosh, kiss that client (and likely others) goodbye. Flip side…deliver what they want and make them happy, and they’ll continue to buy your products or services.

Follow through and follow up are core competencies for successful business developers, across a wide range of roles, including corporate sales, account management, relationship management, and recruiting. Most sales take place at, or after the fifth contact with a prospect, so why not continue to follow up with your prospect until at least that point? If you tell your prospect you’ll provide something, you’d better follow through. Do it.

Filling the Gap

In the first sentence above, I mentioned recruiting. In many posts and updates I read on LinkedIn, and in conversation with colleagues, a common theme arises: a lack of follow-up from a recruiter. Someone I know well has been approached by dozens of recruiters. After an initial contact and perhaps an introductory call, only a handful followed up or followed through. The trail ran cold with no further contact whatsoever, despite follow-up by my friend. That’s no way to run a people-focused business.

Fair or not, this assessment is obvious, given the visibility of the recruiting profession. It’s a sales, business development, and relationship management role that sits in clear view, considering the number of people looking for new gigs. How hard is it to fire off a quick note to show someone they matter?

I follow up or follow through with whatever I’ve been asked to deliver, and I do so in a reasonable amount of time. What’s reasonable? Depends. One key to successful follow up and follow through: setting proper expectations. This is a topic for another post, but suffice it say: if you don’t manage expectations, you’ll find it tough to follow up or follow through timely.

Do: follow through and follow up. Don’t: be a Sasquatch.

 

 

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Hope: In Business and Life, Finding The Light

Wall Street

Image by multimedia.dn.no

“There comes a time in every man’s life when man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”

– Lou Mannheim (said to Bud Fox), in the movie Wall Street

In my last post, I wrote about why I believe in UFOs. Science-fueled arguments aside, the real point of the post was the powerful nature of belief. This human-only construct is how we’ve accomplished so much in our brief time on the planet. Belief underpins almost everything we do, from observing religion to rooting for our favorite sports teams. The latter could easily be confused as delusions of grandeur. Any Philadelphia Eagles fans out there know this all too well. Even so, as powerful as belief is, there’s something else with even greater juice. Hope.

Hope is the fuel for the vehicle we call belief. When we’re full of hope, we move forward in any direction we choose, believing that whatever we set out to accomplish, we will. Hope allows us to believe that we’ll become or do what we want, from finishing school to being a great role model and parent. It gives us limitless belief, which is critical in overcoming the inevitable Everest-like obstacles life tends to toss in our path. Instead of giving up, we look for ways over, through or around an obstacle.

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter

Abandon

Image by someecards

Without hope, the vehicle either comes to a rest, or never moves. How many times have we heard the expression, “This is hopeless”? I’m willing to bet that in almost every one of those situations, things weren’t truly hopeless. Even Aron Ralston, the hiker and subject of the true story depicted in the movie 127 Hours, never truly lost hope. His tale is harrowing and horrific, but never hopeless.

Losing hope can feel a lot like what Hal Holbrook’s character describes to Charlie Sheen. It’s like careening toward the abyss without the ability to tap the breaks. When we look into the abyss, it’s our indefatigable human spirit, our never say die will, that pulls us back and hardens our resolve.

Adversity reveals and strengthens character. Still, there are times when we need help to find hope through the clouds of despair. Supportive people in our lives can provide that critical tether to help keep us out of the abyss long enough to rebuild hope.

Building Hope

Solitude

Image by Warner Bros

In gamer terms, hope is the ultimate health unit. A little hope goes a long way to restoring belief. Belief moves us to action. By the way, hope is not: “Man, I hope I win the lottery” or “I hope the Eagles beat Dallas”. Those represent a wish. It’s another four-letter word, but doesn’t punch at anywhere near the level of hope, which is the undisputed heavyweight champion.

So what does hope look like? Hope helps us to build our own fortress of solitude when things seem to be crashing down around us and challenging our beliefs. It keeps us going when we might otherwise give up. There are countless quotes that about hope, including Winston Churchill’s famous, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

My personal favorite: “It’s darkest before the dawn.” This tells me, or anyone dealing with challenging circumstances, that when things appear the bleakest, brighter times are just ahead. I like the visual of leaving the darkness behind and moving toward the hope-restoring light of a new day.

Hope is our ally in life. We feel its power in all we do, whether we realize it or not. It shapes our dreams, anchors our beliefs and guides our actions and decision-making. It’s not “The Force”, but it’s damn close.

I “hope” you enjoyed this post or found some meaning in it.

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Why I Believe in UFOs and You Should Too

UFO

Image by marketers media.com

Anyone who’s drawn in a deep breath, uttered a guttural scream and floored it to complete a high-speed merge onto the New Jersey Turnpike anywhere between exits 18W and 6 knows what it’s like to live on the edge. I’ve run this Grand Prix race more times than I remember, as my wife is originally from North Jersey and I hail from Bucks County in PA. For those that have driven the turnpike, you know the drill. If you haven’t, well, consider yourself lucky (or maybe not).

Given my glowing review of the turnpike, you might be wondering why I’d think you might not be lucky if you haven’t driven this magnificent road. Sure, you can improve your Mario Kart skills on just about any major highway in the country. High speed merges, road rage and tolls galore! But, I ask you: how many roads offer you the opportunity to see UFOs?

One clear night, my wife and I were heading back to PA after visiting her family over the weekend. It was late, somewhere around midnight. Even at that time, the lack of other vehicles in either direction was somewhat surprising. We were debating something (neither of us remembers what) as we cruised along a section of the turnpike featuring a nice long straight track.

I noticed it first. Then my wife, seeing me staring at something off in the distance out the windshield, saw it too.

In the uppermost left part of the windshield, way up in the night sky, we both saw a round, bright, glowing yellow light. As we watched, in less than a second, it zipped across our view to the edge of the right side of the windshield. Its glowing yellow light pulsed in stark contrast to the pitch-black sky. The light zoomed to the bottom of our view out the windshield and then to the top, followed by another move to the left edge, where it flashed back to the right, before finally disappearing past the edge of the windshield. We turned toward each other and together said, “What the h*&^ was that?”

Now, I don’t know if we actually saw an alien spacecraft out joyriding. And I’m sure there’s no short supply of wannabe scientists armed with theories to debunk our sighting. That’s not important. What is important is that we believed we saw something out of the ordinary that night, even if science can muster some explanation. Note: I probably won’t buy it, but fire away.

Belief is a powerful concept. We believed we saw something bizarre, something we could not explain, and that was…well, awesome! It’s not as if I was a hardened skeptic whose life was shaken to the core. I’ve always held out the possibility that there may be other life somewhere else out there in the universe. It’s a pretty damn big place, so why not?

When we believe in something, it becomes real. It becomes something we naturally accept and move toward. Do you belief you’re going to be a lawyer? Or a doctor? Or that you’ll develop a cure for cancer? That’s the first step in accomplishing anything: belief that you can. It moves you toward your goal and helps you to create a plan of action to get there. Belief also is your ally in overcoming any self doubt or doubt others feel they need to provide.

Need a few examples?

  1. Thomas Edison devised thousands of theories to create the light bulb before finally succeeding. He believed he was going to do it, and pressed on until he did. I have him to thank for being able to sit up late at night with the lights on while I hammer out this post.
  2. The Wright Brothers believed that could get a heavy piece of machinery off the ground. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, they nailed it. Without their belief, we would not be able to go from coast to coast in about six hours (jet stream notwithstanding).
  3. NASA believed it could put astronauts on the moon. Check. It also believed it could find a way to safely return the astronauts from the nearly disastrous Apollo 13 mission (great movie, by the way). Big-time check.

Apollo 13 Astronauts

4. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” This is another way of saying that if you believe it, you can achieve it. Henry Ford believed he was going to build a vehicle that worked, and he did.

5. Steve Jobs believed he was going to change the world. Fast-forward through several iterations of the iPhone, iPad, and iMac, among others, and it’s obvious that he succeeded. I’m writing this on a Mac, while working under a version of Edison’s light bulbs.

Steve Jobs

Image by CelebQuote

The list goes on and on. The point: belief is critical to our personal and professional success. Belief gets you going and keeps you focused.

But don’t make the mistake of just believing in something. Take action. Write down goals, objectives, and milestones. These keep you on track and help you reset priorities when you inevitably accomplish one goal after another.

This is why I believe in UFOs, and think you should too.

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Like Fingernails On A Chalkboard

Word usage, or more accurately, improper word usage, can undermine your credibility in communicating with employees, colleagues, clients and prospects. It happens with an alarming regularity, ranging from small blogs to global company newsletters, all with equally off-putting results. I considered the humor in writing this post with brutally incorrect word usage, but the writer in me would have none of that. Besides, it would be painful – on par with being forced as a kid to eat my veggies before leaving the dinner table. Now that was painful!

Improper word usage or grammar tends to create one of several undesirable perceptions of you or your company  – lesser intelligence, careless when communicating, lack of respect and polish, diminished or lack of power in negotiating, and more. I’m not the grammar police, but I don’t see why we can’t make the effort to produce higher quality communication. With that, read on: below are a few examples of common, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard mistakes seen far too often in a corporate setting.

1. Your / You’re 

If "you are" key opens...

If “you are” number…good luck with that.

 

  • Tops the list as a result of the stunning frequency with which this gaffe appears.
  • “Your” is a possessive form of “you”…your house, your car, your reputation.
  • Quick test to see which form to use: replace either term with “you are”. If it makes sense, then you can use “you’re”. If not, go with “your”.

2. There / They’re / Their

Someone else didn't learn, either.

Well done.

 

  • With three possible ways to flub this, it’s hardly surprising that it occurs so frequently.
  • There is a term inferring direction, hence “reading there books” makes no sense.
  • They’re is a contraction meaning “they are”. What are they? They’re books
  • Their is a possessive form of they. Whose books? Their books
  • When in doubt, follow the simple test above, using “they are” in place of any of the terms. If the term makes sense, you can use “they are”.

3. Personal / Personally

  • Ugh…not sure why, but I find this more grating than the others – maybe it’s personal.
  • Personally is an adverb that refers to one person having done something, or about to do something.
  • Personal is an adjective, and refers to a specific person.

4. Lose / Loose

  • This head-scratcher has appeared at an increasingly alarming rate, and I have no idea why.
  • Lose has approximately fourteen definitions (if you count slang), but not one of them indicates a lack of tightness, as does loose.
  • The team did not “loose” the game (believe it or not, I’ve seen this many times and still can’t wrap my head around it), but they did “lose” the game. Simple enough. 

5. It’s / Its

  • This one can be a bit tricky, but we still need to get it right. While many possessive terms contain an apostrophe (Dan’s car, the wolf’s pups, etc.), this does not.
  • It’s is a contraction meaning “it is”.  
  • Its is a possessive form: “Its rugged exterior and powerful drive train made the Jeep the choice of off-road driving enthusiasts.”

Well, there you have it. It’s my hope that you see how much you have to lose with improper usage and that you don’t take my comments personally, as they’re intended to be helpful. Oh, and by they way…you’re welcome! One last, mind-numbing example is this image of a resignation letter I received from a member of a team I managed several years ago.

Oofa toofa.

Oofa toofa.

 

 

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The Art of Being Thankful

 

Thanksgiving is upon us and countless families will gather around a table overloaded with turkey and all the trimmings, and one by one, state those things for which they are thankful. Some will express their gratitude for family or health, while others will give thanks for professional or personal success. Regardless, it’s a holiday that encourages us to reflect and be grateful for what we have (or in some cases, don’t have). It’s also the only day of the year where giving thanks is heavily promoted, encouraged and celebrated.

Why wait until Thanksgiving to give thanks? Being thankful is something we should aspire to do each and every day. It’s not as if there aren’t many things for which we can be thankful. Perhaps your spouse hands you the butter knife at the dinner table, or at a work meeting where you forgot to bring a pen, a colleague lends you one. Many times throughout each and every day, we’re presented with opportunities to express our gratitude for something that someone else did. You never know how much “Thank you” will brighten someone’s day.

It’s easy to say thank you when you:

  1. Receive a gift
  2. Land a significant client
  3. Get the job offer
  4. Hear people say “congratulations” to you

Other, less obvious, but just as worthy “thank you” moments include:

  1. Someone, either directly or indirectly, says they believe in you
  2. You feel inspired by something you’ve read, or after a chat you had with another person
  3. Hearing words of encouragement when you’re having “one of those days”
  4. The muse strikes as a result of a conversation you have with another person
  5. Being let go from a company on the verge of it folding and subsequently having an epiphany about what truly inspires you
  6. Prospects that say “No”, since we learn more from our failures than successes
  7. Receiving feedback from colleagues, clients, prospects or managers that redirects your efforts

While there are seemingly endless “thank you” moments, the gist of this post is to say that we should all be willing to express our thankfulness.

I get it. It can be hard to say “thank you” to someone when things go awry. You might need time to pass to fully appreciate the situation and how it ultimately helps you. Having the humility to give thanks when any of the more difficult situations arise makes us stronger. It gives us courage and hardens our resolve to see things through. So, for me, having experienced each of the seven moments listed above, I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

#artofbeingthankful

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How Ghostwriting Leads To Spirited Marketing Communications

 

Halloween arrives this weekend, and with it, costumed hordes of kids will descend on our neighborhoods demanding a king’s ransom of candy before moving on to another home. Kids wear costumes to pretend to be something else, such as superheroes, vampires and ghosts, all with the goal of earning a strong candy-based ROI. In the corporate world, when it comes to writing and marketing communications, people also pretend to be someone else. They’re called ghostwriters. I should know – I’m a ghostwriter too.

Ghostwriting does not refer to a translucent, sheet-covered entity scribbling out content; rather it’s a long-standing practice of one person writing content for another. In a typical scenario, a writer authors an article or thought leadership piece on the behalf of another (client or manager). If the content is published, it will appear under the byline of the client or manager, not the ghostwriter.

For example, let’s say I write and publish a thought leadership paper on behalf of a client named Frank N. Stein, and the article is published in a leading magazine. It will appear in the publication as having been written by “Frank N. Stein”. I don’t receive direct attribution (credit) for writing the paper; my client does, hence the term “ghostwriting”.

Ghostwriting is usually associated with publishing the following types of content:

  • Articles
  • Thought Leadership Papers
  • White Papers
  • Books

This content is published through both print and online media, including magazines, self-publishing books through Amazon, LinkedIn and company websites. Some companies have voracious appetites for publishing their own content on proprietary platforms, like LinkedIn company pages, corporate websites and client newsletters. For these firms, ghostwriters play a key role in delivering a regular flow of content, which allows company resources to focus on other high value tasks.

Ghostwriting can move the needle of your marketing communications ROI like an EMF meter in a haunted house. How so? Ghostwriters bring an outside, unbiased perspective to content creation, and with clear subject matter expertise. Every piece of content that a company creates and publishes is an opportunity to expand its influence. A few ghostwriting examples:

  1. A thought leadership paper outlining an effective approach to data management will resonate with investment firms struggling to control disparate data sources.
  1. An article detailing cost-basis accounting and reporting builds credibility and the company’s position as an expert in the field.
  1. A research paper examining complex performance attribution concepts demonstrates expertise and establishes the company as a leading voice in the industry.
  1. A newsletter sent to clients of an investment firm communicating performance results, investment rationale and outlook provides clients with peace of mind, transparency and accountability.

Aside from these examples, ghostwriters add value by writing case studies, crafting tag lines and slogans, creating product sheets, responding to proposals and designing pitches. Having a third-party, objective view removes organizational myopia. It also challenges the status quo and looks for ways to improve the company’s value proposition.

While Halloween is one day per year, ghostwriting occurs year round. It’s not a supernatural phenomenon for companies to fear, but a living, breathing process that adds exceptional value.

No tricks, just treats.

 

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Why Your Company Should Use Case Studies to Shift Sales Into High Gear

Gears

Case studies have long been a marketing tool used by consulting firms to demonstrate value. However, any company that sells products or services can leverage case studies to drive sales with new clients and increase sales from existing clients.

Regardless, they are a powerful tool in the sales process and companies from all industries should use them to drive business. There are several key reasons case studies can help your company drive sales and should be part of your sales arsenal. Before discussing these key attributes, let’s review the proper format.

Navigating Case Study Format 

Go With the Flows

1. Background/Challenge

This section describes a client’s pain point (s) that your company’s products/services helped overcome. Demonstrating an understanding of specific pain points will resonate far more with prospects than simply saying, “We understand your issue with ‘X’”.

Think about it this way: would you rather see a doctor that has an understanding and experience treating your specific medical ailment or one that doesn’t?

2. Diagnosis/Solution

Once a company has hired your firm, or purchased one of its products or services, the real work begins. From start to finish, whether for a quick one-day installation of carpet or a multi-year implementation of a data, trading and reporting system for a financial services firm, establishing a good working relationship with your client’s staff is a critical success factor.

A compelling case study will show your prospect several things: an ability to work with people and teams, analyze problems and craft realistic solutions. The Diagnosis/Solution section demonstrates your company’s ability to help prospects navigate through change of varying complexity. Given the detail necessary to provide a sufficient description of your company’s involvement, this component of a case study should be the longest.

3. Results/Impact

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Companies buy products and services or hire other firms to produce tangible results. For some, the goal is improving operating efficiency; for others, driving top-line growth is the desired outcome. Either way, if your firm has helped clients achieve their objectives, then this is where you describe those results.

The Results/Impact section should include a brief summary of the background and teamwork components, and conclude with the tangible results your company delivered. Numbers speak more loudly than words, so quantify results wherever possible.

  • Did your client’s sales increase? If so, by what percentage?
  • Were you able to help them reduce errors, or improve productivity?

These are tangible results and, quite often, clients will be happy to share this information – if you ask. With this in hand, you can draft a robust and compelling Results/Impact section that illustrates your company’s value proposition.

Having covered the format of a case study, let’s look at why case studies are such a powerful weapon in a company’s sales arsenal.

How Case Studies Can Accelerate Sales

Boost Sales

1. Proof of Concept

‘Been there, done that.’

This is strongest value that a case study provides to your prospect. It shows your firm’s ability to solve pain points that your prospect is currently experiencing. When you can articulate that you have already solved the same problem they face, that experience is worth its weight in gold.

2. Focuses on Benefits, Not Features

Too often, the sales process bogs down when trying to communicate value, in the form of features (“With us, you get ‘X’, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’). For a prospect that is struggling with an issue, hearing about the benefits they’ll gain (“Here’s how we’ve helped others and can help you, too) is far more important. Illustrating benefits helps a prospect understand how your product/service can address their pain point. A list of features only describes characteristics of a product/service, which is relatively meaningless to the prospect.

3. Highlights Competencies

Before buying a product or service, companies want to know that your firm has the expertise to support them. Not only can you present a viable solution to their pain, but you also have the expertise to implement the recommended solution. And post implementation, it shows that you have the knowledge and wherewithal to help the client deal with the issues that will inevitably arise.

4. Illustrates Client Relationship Skills

It’s been said that, all things considered, people buy from people they like. Case studies can demonstrate your company’s likability in that they describe how well your company and its people work with others. Perhaps you had to bridge the gap between two internal stakeholder groups, or help teams understand the value they’ll gain from releasing a death-grip on outdated legacy processes. Either way, it shows your ability to empathize and respect others, while moving the project forward.

5. Shows Ability to Produce Results

When you can deliver results for clients, they will continue to buy your products and services. Case studies show that you have real-life experience producing meaningful results, and gives client and prospects with a strong reason to buy your products or services.

Who benefits from using case studies to drive sales? 

Time to Improve

In short, any company.

For example, financial services firms use case studies to articulate the ways in which they produce value, whether through investment performance or improving efficiency of operations teams. Case studies help IT companies illustrate the value they’ve produced for clients by enhancing security, stability and organization of technology architecture. Recruiting firms use case studies to describe how they’ve delivered value for clients by leading hard-to-find placements or time-consuming searches.

Case studies improve your company’s credibility, brand awareness and sales growth. They can also build and reinforce relationships and trust with clients and prospects. If you’re not using case studies to shift sales into high gear, what’s holding you back?

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