Listen, Question, Observe, Repeat

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of Feb. 26th)

As I move along through life I am amazed at how much I know now, and just how stupid I was a few weeks ago. The trick in life and business is of course to grow and learn. However I am more often than not astonished at how many people assume they have the answers to every question asked on any subject no matter whom they’re talking to. If it were a discussion on health issues they start quoting terms so full of jargon I’d notice a real Doctor looking up terms on his smart phone to follow along. Another thing I see so many do is the proverbial “judge a book by its cover.” If someone doesn’t look the way they think someone should look, well then, they must not be! Just gives them one more reason to keep talking.

One of the greatest things I learned early on is you can’t judge a book by its cover nor learn by talking. You have to listen, and listen carefully. If you feel the need to speak it should be to ask a question. Then what is just as important but many forget is to observe. Do the words, actions, statements, or other things make sense? An example might be: Listening to the person whom is bragging about constantly attending lavish formal dinners yet observing they’re holding their knife and fork as if they are to enter mortal combat, or their boasting about their wealth or jawing on about the car they drive. Are they really what they claim to be? Just because everyone in a room is driving brand new luxury cars, the richest person in the building might be the one driving the oldest. And you’ll never find out unless during a conversation you ask questions, listen, or observe. Never ask questions that set up an opportunity for you to answer. (Which by the way so many in business do.)  People often prejudge or qualify a person by the way they’re dressed or a myriad of other factors only to find themselves embarrassed or worse insulting. True listening is the only moderator I know of that can help one avoid these situations. In business it’s an imperative skill that must always be honed. There is no substitute.

Years back I was living in Texas with family after moving from the Northeast. One day I was with my Uncle and he was discussing business to a gentleman by the name of Junior. He was a scruffy looking older man in dusty jeans, worn boots, and driving quite an old pick up. I paid no attention to the conversation but when it was finished I asked my Uncle, “Who was that guy a hired hand?” He went on to tell me he was a very wealthy man who buys and sells oil equipment as a hobby. His “hobby” usually means making deals to buy the equipment for cash anywhere from $500K to a few million dollars depending. I never looked at someone wearing an Armani suit in a Beemer the same way again.

So many of us want to be the center of attention in all situations. In business it can cost you dearly. Never assume your potential client doesn’t have the resources or the capacity to possibly be your greatest client. You’ll only find out by listening, questioning, and observing. I used the term honed earlier because it’s a skill that can dull on you if you are not constantly aware. How do I know this?

A few years back I was at one of the premier recording studios in the country. The studio is actually on a working horse farm. As my friend who was recording there was showing me the grounds we were approached by this gentleman in jeans, a plaid shirt, and looked a little scruffy. He had a short conversation with my friend and when it was through we started walking about once again. I asked him “Who was that guy, one of the stable hands?” He responded, “No Mark, that’s Mick Jagger’s manager.”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Forget the Extra…Just Do What You Promised

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket Magazine week of Feb. 19th)

If there is one thing that is overused, overrated, and down right foolish is when I hear anyone regurgitate the mantras, “We give 110% effort” or “We go over and above.” Then my next experience is to remember all of those wonderful clichés as I’m being put on hold and hear my wait time will be approximately 35 minutes due to heavy volume. I guess that’s because of giving everyone that “little extra.” The latter expression must relate to how many hurdles they themselves were able to clear before they thought it safe no customer with any complaint could follow, or to make them tire and give up trying. It’s bad enough the “big companies” do this all the time. However what’s worse is that most budding entrepreneurs do it but say they don’t. Most kid themselves but it’s really no laughing matter.

One of the first things when someone enters into a marketplace of any size is to differentiate themselves from the competition. The two most dominating factors are price or customer service. At times price can not be massaged, but customer service is always malleable. It’s so easy to say “If there’s a problem I’ll be there!” Some of you will go on to say “With bells on!” and even more. You’ll add-on as many tired mantras you can think of to close the sale. Why? Because the sayings are free and more importantly they’re malleable. If you don’t show up with bells on, am I now wrong if I’m disappointed? Or do you now get to say I was an “unreasonable customer” or had “unrealistic expectations” because I was looking forward to telling my friends about the bells? Of course my example is outlandish, but it’s not off the mark.

Once you decide you are going to enter the entrepreneurial mind-set whether you are striking it out alone or you are employed by someone else you realize it’s not the “extra” that gets you ahead of the pack most times. It’s the doing what You said You would do that is the main differentiation between the good and the great. Forget about the bad, they’re not your competition to start with.

In today’s world of being accessible anywhere at anytime the notion that I can’t get a call back from you because it’s 5:05pm and now have to wait till 9:00am the next day because it’s “family time” is not only ridiculous, it’s stupid. If you think that because you decided to go on vacation for 2 or 3 weeks and now I’m going to have to wait that long when I have an issue that needs You because you’re “recharging the batteries” is suicidal to your business. But many of you will do it. This is not to say you need to be accessible 24/7 to anybody. But if you want to be an entrepreneur 24/7/365 comes with the territory.

If you tell me that in an emergency I can call you then you had better be there when the phone rings or someone who can act on your behalf. If you tell me if it breaks you’ll replace it, replace it. No hims and haws, no song and dance it costs more now than then, replace it. If you tell me I’m a valued customer, don’t ever let me find that you’re charging someone else less than me without a real, true, understandable explanation. If you can’t live up to what ever it is coming from your mouth, than you’re over promising and you should stop. Period.

Trust me when I say, It will be you that gets the “extra” business when the sales manta your customers say is “They do or did what they said they would, every time!”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Lifting a Finger: Part 2

A while back I wrote an article on what is seeming more and more like Orwell’s warnings coming true. For those new to my writings I also was very public in my distaste for the way LinkedIn’s® founder expressed his cavalier attitude about privacy concerns and equated anyone having a concern to being “old farts.” (those are my words not his) His attitude and words so ticked me off that I cancelled my relationship to the site. It’s not that I believe we can communicate and reach out across the ether in ways never assumed possible on the greatest correlating data machine ever created and not leave data behind that someone somewhere will find a way to exploit or sell. But there are things that if I am given a choice for that data to be collected or not and I choose for it NOT to be collected then all I’m asking is my wishes to be respected. If in truth there was never that option to begin with, then why is one offered? And when or if it’s violated the perpetrators or enablers respond as if “Oh well it is the Web after all.”  That’s the part that sticks in my craw. If they can slice, dice, correlate, and spit out what they think I might want to buy or read at any given moment, then how in the world do they skip the absolute quantifiable expressed, checked off, countersigned, cookie enhanced, browser clearing, pop up disabling, browser disabling software, and the authorizing legal forms stating I can opt out provided by most and clearly stating, NO YOU CAN NOT TRACK ME AFTER I LEAVE YOUR SITE! (I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea)

Another case where this type of garbage is taking place is this week with Google’s® calamity affair that systematically bypassed Apple’s® mobile operating system within its Safari browser to collect data on the users. Data that the very reason users (like myself) use Safari to try to keep private. It’s a feature why one uses it! However Google is apologizing for the incident calling it a snafu. Apple is seemingly agreeing with them saying it was a glitch and doesn’t think it was a malicious intent to bypass the feature, but it still doesn’t pass the smell test for me. Please don’t try to explain to me that you changed and implemented the functionality on your software for the expressed purpose as to get around a feature in a competitor’s software. A feature that exists for the sole purpose to not allow your software access to the data you now say were only collecting as to help the users of your software better. Please, spare me!

Like I said earlier, I’m not so naive to think in today’s world that total privacy in all things on the web is possible. However, one thing I’m absolutely convinced of are the explanations being given why this breach was taking place sounds more like they think as the saying goes, “I was just born yesterday!”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

When Will the Audio Project be Done?

Studio 1Little by little progress is being made on the audio.

As I get closer to a release date I promise I’ll post it here.
When exactly will that be? Studio 2

If I had a magic wand I’m not exactly sure what I would do with it. Use it to magically finish and be so pleased I can’t control myself? Or use it to beat myself senseless and get it shipped soon?

I’m leaning towards the latter. ( and so is the staff! )

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Sales is a Dance, Not a Wrestling Match

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket Magazine Week of Feb. 12th)

One of the determining factors to whether you’re going to have an enjoyable sales career or quickly burn out can be seen by how you view and interact with clients during the sales process. It offers such empirical evidence that one should do a self-evaluation whenever that feeling of “Nothing seems to be going my way” becomes overwhelming. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to sales, or a veteran. This should be the place to start when things just seem to not be working.

So many newcomers to the world of sales are inadequately trained. They get a quick study course by some “Sales Trainer” hired by the firm who is now showing the 475th class of new hires this month why everyone on the planet is just waiting to hear about your offerings because they need what you have to sell. All you need to do is get in the door.

Others are what I like to call the “Semi-Veteran.” This is a person who’s been in sales just long enough to have a few success stories under their belt but now thinks to close more sales all they need to do is learn how to land the “Knock-Out Punch” at the close. Finally there are the “Dinosaurs.” The ones that have been selling forever but just can’t seem to move about the changing landscape any longer. You know their demise is near when they say “Well I can’t seem to sell anymore, might as well go into management!”

Time and time again during these progressions in one’s career a salesperson looks to some form of wrestling technique as a prescriptive method for their consternation. They hear one guru after another tout they need to learn techniques such as, The tie down, The throw back, The flip, and so on. Although it maybe useful in understanding these terms and techniques if you’re applying them in the context of pinning an opponent rather than dancing with one. Trust me, it won’t be long until it’s you with your back on the mat.

Sales is a dance of discovery. It’s an interaction where both can swap leads during the process. It’s about asking relevant questions to fulfill real needs with real offerings that both parties find mutually beneficial. One can learn and adjust dance moves to changing times or tastes in music. You may find it’s better to look for another partner because one is tone-deaf, or has two left feet. Or maybe you’ll choose to see just how skilled you’ve become and try dancing with them anyway because now not only can you see how to improve their situation, but you have garnered the skills needed to demonstrate it through improved techniques. But that won’t happen if you’re wrestling.

Wrestling is a game of one wins, one loses. It’s a style of sales that should be left to the “Snake Oil” sales teams. Using high-pressure tactics to make an opponent’s strengths work against them in order to pin them down into signing or agreeing to buy something takes an inordinate amount of energy and sooner or later results in exhaustion. And just like a fight, it ends with one side losing and not too happy whether it be the salesperson themselves or the client. It’s far too taxing on both and unsustainable.

So next time you’re feeling like things just aren’t going the way you would like ask yourself, “When calling on clients do you hear 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, in your head? Or, are you waiting to hear the mat being slapped 1, 2, 3?” If it’s the latter you need to unlace your wrestling boots and slip back into your dancing shoes.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Adventures in Stupidity: Customer Service

Recently I shared an experience about a magazine subscription that I had cancelled only to receive as some form of  “Come back sales pitch” that their Collections Dept. was holding my mailings because I had not paid for my cancelled subscription!

What I thought was the most ironic part from this ordeal is the fact that when I wrote them stating how obviously incompetent this whole charade of “customer” anything was, I posted the image of when I emailed them showing that they would be in contact with me within 2 business days. As per my posting you saw that it had already been 2 weeks and the silence was deafening. So we say to ourselves OK so what, I probably wouldn’t want to answer it either if I was some poor outsourced rep. who has to handle such things. Just make sure the thing is cancelled and they get no more notices because obviously by the tone of this persons letter we really messed up and they’re not coming back any time soon. Well, as stupid and incompetent as that thinking sounds for anyone in a business that is dying on the vine and needs every single customer it has, they just keep giving people like myself more stories to share because I’m just not that creative to make this stuff up. Nearly 30 days later I receive a what? You guessed it, a “Form Letter” about my cancellation. The italicized, underlined are my comments as I read, everything else is the actual letter.

Thank you for contacting XX XXXXXX Customer Service.
We have canceled your subscription as requested. If you have recently received or receive in the near future a billing notice, please disregard it. (as of right here I’m thinking OK it’s been almost a month but maybe they thought because my issue showed how foolish they were it took them longer because they wanted to get it right. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and I’ll read to hear what they have to say.)

If you paid for this subscription, we will process a refund for the unserved issues.  (wait a second…my spider senses are tingling…don’t tell me this is a freaking form letter!) Please allow three to four weeks to receive the refund.  If you paid by credit card, you should see a credit posted to your account within the next 7 to 10 days.  You should see the credit on your printed credit card statement within 30 to 60 days depending on your billing cycle. ( If? Should? Depending? You have got to be kidding me. It is a form letter! Not only have you lost all credibility, but were better off when I just thought you were incompetent with this whole fiasco and not replying back, Now you have proved it. What an absolute waste in so many ways. This whole ordeal can be used as a case study in how NOT to stay in business and should be required learning at the Wharton.)

Because our mailing labels are preprinted, you may receive one or two more issues.  Please discard them or share them with a friend. We are sorry that you are cancelling and hope that you will consider ordering with us in the future. ( First off the only thing that will be shared is just how pitiful dealing with your company has been, and second if I ever consider you in the future it will be only to share just how imbecilic this exchange has been.)
We have removed your personal information from our promotional listings. ( Excuse me if I have absolutely no faith that this means anything.)
If your information was already on our files, you may have been selected for a recent promotion. Please allow ten business days for this to become effective. After that, you will not receive future promotions. ( I would wager dollars to doughnuts I still do even if I’ve left this Earth.)
If you are just providing us with your contact information, you will not be added to the promotional listings. ( Oh boy! Just what I needed. One more conclusive sign that there was no need for me to question this was a form letter and you could care less and probably never even read my email. Just lovely. Nice touch.)
We appreciate this opportunity to be of service.( And the Coup De Grâce!)

I’ll end with a little line I made up long ago:

“Some look at things and ask why…I look at some things and say…You have got to be freakin’ kidding me!”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Right…Wrong…and Caveats

I was asked the other day what I thought about the markets and the tear they seem to be on once again. All I could do was shrug. The person then followed with “But you had so much to say before?” of course the person was trying to goad me but hey, it comes with the territory.

As many of you know I have written many articles on why I believed the markets are not acting in ways one would presume. I wrote many times why I felt as I did and gave the reasons why. They’re all in the archives, and unlike most, I haven’t run away from what I’ve said or wrote. However, with all that said, as of right now my warnings could be viewed as wrong. The market continues to climb higher by the day. Not only higher but within spitting distance for many indexes to have erased 2008 as if it never happened. No one could be happier at being wrong than yours truly. But saying I’m wrong doesn’t mean I was not “right” in my reasoning or my conclusions to the perils or pitfalls possible. (and are still very present)

As of this writing there have been a few things active in the markets that has never been present in its history. High Frequency Trading better known as HFT makes up more than 70% of all the daily trading on the exchanges. That info is per the exchanges themselves. HFT buys, holds then sells a stock in approximately a few milliseconds! How’s that for long-term investing? In other words, its machines trading with machines. Remember the “Flash Crash?” That was caused by the machines. But so far so good I guess. Euro stability? Well, as of right now the 259th agreement on agreeing to agree sometime in the future if they agree seems to be working. But again as of this writing, there is NO agreement. Talking heads are all over the financial channels where they were once stating the breakup of the Euro would be catastrophic for the US markets now say Greece would be a non-factor. Well that makes me feel much more secure I guess. Another point  that the “wicked smart crowd” told us over and over again was to watch all the money on the sidelines come racing back into the market when we broke above certain levels. Well we’ve not only broke them, but we’ve broken levels above those also. How’s the volume? Monday’s volume was the lowest non-holiday trading day in a decade! Data points such as GDP, Unemployment? Well what was once considered bad is now good! Of course the way it’s said across the TV screens, “The signs of a healthy market is when it can go up on bad news.” Just makes one feel all fuzzy. But that’s what happens with fuzzy math I guess.  But the market is what it is, and right now it is up and it just may keep going to which no one will be happier than me.

But why I said what I said, and why I think what I think has not changed. And If I had to write it all over again, or had to talk on the subjects again I would not change a word.  I would only emphasis one point.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst, be prepared for both.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Being Proficient in Bad Habits

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket Magazine week of Feb. 5th)

There’s an old axiom of “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s also the knee-jerk response from someone whom either doesn’t want to change, or by someone who can’t get another to change. Either way the statement is for the lazy, not for the dogs. (Dogs actually like new challenges.)

Although some will use this phrase as to not engage in trying something new, what they will do is unconsciously learn, adapt, practice, and reinforce bad habits all the while never knowing they ever acquired any. One of the main reasons this goes on unnoticed is they relate time dedicated to a pursuit, to time equals expertise. It doesn’t. Just because you’ve been doing something for years doesn’t mean that you’ve improved. What can also happen is the longer you’ve been doing something you may unwittingly be getting worse. Discomforts you may be feeling from tasks might not be that you no longer like or can’t do something. Rather the underlying problem causing you pain can actually be from a bad habit you don’t realize you ever picked up. I’ll use myself as an example.

I have been running on average 5 miles daily for decades. However I was starting to have injuries far too frequently. I was starting to believe what I hear so many people say –“Well you are getting older” or “You just can’t be doing that stuff forever” and all the others. The problem was, I was starting to think maybe they had a point. I wore only the best shoes. I was disciplined in taking recovery time between days on and off. I guess hanging up the shoes was inevitable. But really, was that it? Stop? Give it up? The answer was no. Here’s what happened next.

When the New York City Marathon was taking place there was a story about barefoot running. I had heard about this technique, however I discounted it. I mean after all, I had been running for decades and have also invested in the finest footwear brands (and most expensive!) available. What became apparent was that I didn’t need to learn anything new. I needed to drop some bad habits I never realized had been acquired.

It all made sense when I watched a video and noticed the technique they were demonstrating was quite similar to how I would run when nursing myself after an injury. Then it clicked. Instead of running the way I previously did that was very similar to the pain-free way, I had not noticed over time I had changed my style to something dramatically different that was now causing me pain. And I had been reinforcing the discipline over and over again for so long it was now what I thought was proper or the correct way. It’s not often we have an epiphany, but here was one that cuts right across so many situations.

Just how many times have we found ourselves wondering why something in business or in life that we once truly loved doing is now causing us distress to the point that we want to “just hang it up” as another cliché goes. Or, are the things causing us trouble some form of a bad habit we never realized we acquired, and that is the true reason for our discomfort?

After going through a little more pain to re-educate myself and modify my running style, I’m not only running more comfortably, I’m re-evaluating and applying the same principle and technique to other parts of my life. Because one thing that’s great about a habit, it’s totally under your control to change it from bad to good.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr