Episode 191 – The Influence Of Feedback On Your Direction

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feedback-formA blog post is written by an A-list blogger with tens of thousands of daily readers. Quite often the comment ice will be broken by a reader whose feedback is nothing more than fan adoration. Fandom is a form of positive feedback, but how helpful is it to the blogger. Can the blogger gain any benefit? Does it serve as a barometer of the quality of that particular post? Will the blogger adjust her content based on the comments?

Maybe. Maybe not. And because there’s no definitive answer, it may not be productive feedback. Circumstances, situations and context will determine. Don Norman, the cognitive science expert and author of The Design Of Everyday Things is right though. We need specifics, details and feedback that will help us concentrate on what’s necessary so we can fix things. Too many times all we get is praise or criticism like a form with check boxes. Excellent doesn’t tell us very much. Poor tells us even less.

A rock band produces a record that veers considerably from their previous style. They want to venture out beyond their past. They want to push things and embrace adventure in their music. Their fans may embrace it, but more likely than not, fans will hate it. It will be something different than what fans expected. Fans will vote with their dollars. Sales will give the band fast feedback, but artistic creativity can help a band avoid burnout and boredom, even if the fans are displeased. Sometimes fans embrace the monumental change in direction. For example, Pearl Jam’s leader, Eddie Vedder, released “Ukelele Songs” as a solo project before this last Pearl Jam project, Lightning Bolt. Eddie got lots of feedback about that solo project.

Dave_911: I thought it was gonna grow on me…epic fail.

Greg C: Makes me feel like I’m on a cloud.

What’s Eddie supposed to do with such disparate feedback? Probably not much of anything. Eddie created this record because he wanted to. For decades he’s experienced success with Pearl Jam. He’s not likely got anything to prove to anybody any more, other than himself. Success – financially and musically – afford him the opportunity to take big risks.

As for Pearl Jam’s latest, those reviews are all over the board, too. As I hit the record button there are about 2,700 iTunes reviews of Lightning Bolt. The overall rating is 4 stars.

DaveG73: Kids…This is ROCK…Any questions?

Luke 79: Do NOT listen to Mind Your Manners (a song on the record) on your mobile device. It will explode.

Yield101: …this is just hard to listen to.

Hitop8: Unfortunately just another example of PJ trying to make a song that sounds like another band.

mdmarkle: The destruction is complete. You guys finally sound like your 50 years old.

Josh Kelley isn’t Eddie Vedder or Pearl Jam. He’s released a number of pop albums, but in March of 2011 he released a country record, Georgia Clay. I’m a fan of both Vedder and Kelley. I own all of Kelley’s earlier records, but I didn’t buy Georgia Clay. My refusal to buy that record is a form of feedback, but it’s anonymous – secretive (until now) even! I enjoy some country music, but I’m not enough of a country music fan to suffer through what I suspect would be my disappointment with Josh Kelley. I love his music and listen to it regularly. For me, pop music is the context for Josh Kelley (at least in my life), not country music.

Most of the iTunes feedback for Georgia Clay is quite positive. Based on the comments, it would seem many of the negative comments are from fans like me – those who appreciated Kelley in the context of pop music. But there’s a lot of positive comments. It’s very possible Josh Kelley has found a new audience among country music fans. The feedback of sales will likely determine his musical future. If sales of Georgia Clay eclipse his past pop records, then he can join Hootie (Darius Rucker) in the ranks of country music. When you’re not yet a household name, the feedback of these sales is more likely to determine the course you take. We’ll see what Josh decides, but so far it appears he’s all in on country music. In fact, his website doesn’t even show his earlier work. I’m hoping for a return to his pop music, but my feedback isn’t enough to set his course, nor should it be.

What about YOU? What feedback determines your direction?

Whether it’s a blog, a podcast, a business, a career or life in general – we’re constantly taking in feedback to determine what adjustments need to be made. Sometimes we solicit feedback from people we trust, friends and family. Of course, there are inherent risks with that. Like the blogger’s biggest fans, they can and often do tell us what we want to hear. They extol upon us their praise, adoration and expressions of confidence. Or, perhaps worse, they shred us to pieces by being our harshest, even unfair, critics. Simply because they lack objectivity. They remain one component of feedback, but rarely do we base all our decisions solely on what they tell us. We need more feedback.

Where do we look? Who do we listen to? What barometers do we use?

Feedback demands a variety of components. Context, ambitions, goals, objectives, schedules, resources, opportunities, relationships and much more. I refer to all these things as circumstance. Each of us has a unique circumstance that determines how feedback – positive or negative – affects us. Our desired destination determines our course, and the kind of feedback that serves us best.

Eddie Vedder’s feedback will likely have less of an impact on his direction because of his current condition – both musically and financially. Eddie’s going to go in the direction he wants, likely without regard to feedback. It’s the power of being fully independent. He’s flying in the rarified air of super heros.

Josh Kelley’s feedback could have a greater impact on his direction. However, we don’t know why he’s headed in his current direction. Does he love country music? Does he prefer writing and performing country songs? If so, then he may not need overwhelming positive feedback. If he gets sufficient sales to fuel his desire, he’ll likely push forward in his current direction. But, if he’s trying to morph his talents into the country genre because he or “his people” think he’s got improved opportunities there, then the level of feedback (sales) required will likely be higher. It all depends on the factors unique to his circumstance. It depends on where he wants to go.

Wealthy executives sometimes walk away from lucrative careers in pursuit of something far simpler and more sparse financially. As high paid executives they were getting positive feedback telling them they were on course. For some reason, they grow weary with it though and like Eddie Vedder, they need a change. A decision is made contrary to the positive feedback – and it’s usually made for reasons that are quite personal.

On the other hand, a young person graduates with an MBA seeking an opportunity to ascend to the executive suite. Resumes are built, Linkedin profiles updated and social media engaged. Without any solid job leads, he may decide to seek the advice of a career consultant, somebody who can help him gain momentum. After resume tweaks and additional strategies are employed, he may find himself getting regular interviews. It’s a good sign that he’s headed in the right direction.

Now, he’s finding little success beyond the first interview. He tries to find out where he’s failing. More feedback from a professional reveals he’s likely too self-focused and coming on too strong. He makes changes and begins to get second, even third interviews until he finally lands a great job.

The process involved frustration, time and ongoing adjustments. But how was that any different than the high paid guy who walked away from the executive suite. Both people had lives that centered around the executive suite. One wanted away, the other wanted in. Feedback played a pivotal role for both, but the feedback was very different because of the desired course sought by each one.

So the question is, “Where do you want to go?”

Feedback is like mile markers on the highway. It tells us if we’re getting closer or further away from our desired destination. It’s important to know where we want to go. Feedback often muddies up that water. We dig deep inside and come to terms with what we want, or what we think we want. Then, people start talking to us, questioning us and sometimes they influence us to alter our direction.

Sometimes it’s for the best. Sometimes not.

In the end, internal and external feedback influences us. Sometimes greatly. Sometimes not. Most of the time we end up doing exactly what we want, likely earning what we deserve.

It’s Business. Feedback Counts.

In our businesses, feedback is best measured in the form of revenue generated or sales made. If nobody is buying, adjust. Maybe you have to adjust the offer. Or the price. Or both. Maybe you have to adjust your marketing message. Or your value proposition.

If you’re not making sales – or you’re failing to make enough sales – then you’ve got nothing to lose by changing things up.

Try something different. Measure how well or how poorly it works. Do more of what works. Do less of what doesn’t.

Do you follow the crowd? That is, do you follow the majority? Maybe. Maybe not. You have to decide.

All I know is you’ve got to have revenues to make a go of it. Without revenues – without sufficient revenues – you won’t last. It’s not selling out to sell out. It may be confirmation that you’re at long last giving people what they most want. Keep giving them more of it…only better.

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Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic performs Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Conducted by Ronald Zollman | photo courtesy Jiuguang Wang (Flickr)

The Only Way To Put Customers First Is By Putting The People Who Serve Them First

Back in the early 1990’s a book was published, The Customer Comes Second: Put Your People First And Watch ‘Em Kick Butt. The authors, Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters, weren’t the first to put forth the idea that in business, great leaders focus first on the employees. They may be among the first to state it with such boldness. I mean, come on, it was over 20 years ago.

Just a decade earlier, in the 1980’s the business press was filled with lots of stories of ruthless leadership. Early in my career I had read stories of men like Harold Geneen and Henry Ford II. Aggressive was a good way to describe many management styles of the 1970’s and 80’s – including Geneen and Ford.

No matter how critical you might want to be toward their first work, Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman broke new ground with their book, In Search of Excellence. Forget that many of their postulates didn’t hold up over time. That book did at least two things. One, it single-handedly established the business book industry. Before that book was published you’d have been hard pressed to find a business book section in a book store. Two, it opened up the eyes of young business people (like me), and maybe a few old ones, too that treating people well, trusting people and training them could improve both revenue and profits. It appropriately focused on the power of people to fuel company growth.

As a young person, the general manager of a small multi-million dollar retail chain, I had been operating that way because I grew up working for aggressive management types. I learned how NOT to be. Besides, my convictions wouldn’t allow me to deal so heavy handedly with people. And I was very focused on the customer’s experience. I still am. I instinctively knew that if front line people – those people who are interacting with customers – are treated poorly, well – you can count on the customers being treated likewise. I cut my business teeth helping customers and quickly realized I had a talent for helping disgruntled customers who had a problem. From then, until now, I was intently focused on customer service!

That all was very tough in the 1980’s because popular business culture only preached focusing on the customer. Anybody who preached something different was stubborn, foolish and naive. Of course, it was all just lip service. Everybody advocated customer service, but even in those days, customer service was shoddy at best.

Common knowledge knew that it was stupid to focus on employee compensation, employee benefits, employee training and employee experience! That is, until common knowledge proved to be completely WRONG.

Every Conductor Keeps His Back To The Audience

The performance is for the audience. The players face the audience, not the conductor. The only reason the conductor stands between the audience and the players is so the players can see the directions he’s giving. He’s really not in the spotlight even though he’s out front…because the audience doesn’t see his face.

Famous conductors – like famous CEO’s – get plenty of attention, but their fame hinges on the performance of the players. If the sound is awful, the conductor is, too.

It’s the same with sports teams. After years of coaching amateur players – from 6 year olds to college kids – I’ve learned that coaches are only as good as their players. Great leaders can create a circumstance for success. Or they can create a mess. The players are the stars because they play the game.

In business, it’s no different. Leadership must serve those who serve the customers. It’s the leader who can knock down roadblocks that impede the ability of front line people to take care of people. The proper use of authority and power help people do their jobs better. People succeed when they get the right kind of help. It’s incumbent on the leader to create the atmosphere where people feel safe to serve in the most remarkable ways.


Episode 190 – Sell Something And Get Happy, Happy, Happy!

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Phil-Robertson-Duck-CommanderSell something!

As I exit, I regularly exhort a guy who works at my gym with those two simple words. It’s admonition from one old salesman to a much, much younger salesman. It’s encouragement many salespeople give other salespeople. Because we all learned the same truth…

Nothing happens until somebody sells something.

Businesses fail for a variety of reasons, but most of them are just excuses really. Lack of capital has always been a popular excuse. I’ll tell you the real reason businesses fail. It’s the only real reason why they fail.

They didn’t have enough customers!

No wonder so many entrepreneurs fail and are miserable. They haven’t sold anything. If you want to be happy, happy, happy…then sell, sell, sell.

Today’s show recaps four B’s to help you do just that:

1. Be valuable.

2. Believe in what you can do for others.

3. Be resilient (don’t take rejection personally).

4. Be tenacious.

5. Be lovable.

I even fired up the webcam and recorded today’s show on video because some of you have asked me why I don’t do much video any more. No real reason. I just fell out of the habit. I work in a dimly lit studio and forgot to fire up lights to make the video more (ahem, less) appealing. I hope this tides you over for awhile. 😉

Thanks for watching, listening, reading and caring enough to give me your time. Now, go sell something!


What’s In A Business Name?

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We’ve all done it. We go to our favorite domain registry outfit and search for some trick domain name we think might have potential for some future project. We are drawn to clever domain names. Of course, in the real business world most of our clever ideas never see the light of day. I dare say that most registered domain names are probably never used. They reside in a virtual parking space, never earning a single cent of revenue.

Business names aren’t so different. Owners don’t often consider the impact of the name they give their business – the impact on marketing. I’ll go ahead and confess some things about the name of my business, Bula Network, LLC. It tells you absolutely nothing about what I do, or what services and products are offered. But, that was by design. Stay with me, I’m not completely crazy.

When you’re forming an LLC you may want to consider other things beyond marketing when you choose a name. I operate a variety of enterprises that are all connected and residing (well, at least all the ones that have to do with Bula Network, LLC) under the umbrella known as Bula Network, LLC.

I used to do some industry specific coaching and consulting. The niche was retail. So I named the enterprise, Remarkable Retail. That name told prospects what they needed to know. In that space I would coach, assist, teach, train, help implement and otherwise accelerate retail businesses. It stood to reason that Remarkable Retail was aimed at helping the retail sector become remarkable (or more remarkable). Was it a great name? I thought so. It was specific and easy to remember.

Leaning Toward Wisdom. Guess what that’s all about. See, it’s another example of a nice phrase, but it doesn’t properly tell you what it’s about. Well, maybe that’s not a good example because it’s a domain I’ve had for a good long while. It’s been an on again, off again place where I riff on about my own quest for finding greater wisdom. Currently, it’s on its 4th iteration. Shows you how much wisdom I was able to garner in generations one through three, huh?

My wife has been connected with the health care industry for decades. I’ve always been somewhat tickled at how doctors will name their practice. Most often they’ll make sure the practice bears their name – and that’s it. They think that because they care about their name, then prospective patients will, too. Of course, patients or prospective patients have little clue who they are unless they are world renowned.

In recent years I’ve seen some doctors – who’ve been taught nothing about marketing – name their businesses (they much prefer the term “practices”) to tell patients exactly what they do. For example, “Heart Center” or “Sports Medicine Specialists” or “Arthritis Surgery Center.” That’s the right idea.

Let me give you a few terrific examples of how a brand name can make or break a product. Head & Shoulders shampoo is a Proctor and Gamble product. It’s been around for many years, but continues to find success because the name tells shampoo shoppers exactly what it does. Shampoo your head with this stuff and you won’t have any dandruff on your shoulders.

Sears produced the Die Hard battery many years ago and it quickly became a best seller. While good product design and a solid guarantee contributed to the success – nothing beats great marketing. And a great name helps. If you want a battery that has a hard time dying, then buy a Die Hard. Sure, it may cost you more, but do you really want to risk not being able to start your car?

Close Up toothpaste decided to join conventional toothpaste with mouthwash. TV spots constantly showed couples kissing – close up contact that appeals to everybody. Brush your teeth with Close Up and you’ll be ready to make out with the one you love. Cool.

On and on it goes. Names that convey meaningful things about the product or service. But there are also more examples of bad names that say absolutely nothing. I spend more time than I’d like in talking about niches and helping people narrow the focus of their offerings. The temptation is to be broad-based and “all things to all people.” It’s counter-intuitive to reality. Success is more often found in narrowly, specialized niches. The same can be true of names.

Or not.

Consider Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Yelp and a host of other names that we’ve grown to know and understand, but they don’t tell us anything really of what these companies do.

“But I don’t want to limit myself,” says the business owner. Translation: “I don’t yet know what I am, or what I’m supposed to be – so I want to leave myself room to expand.”

More accurate translation, “I don’t know what I am or what I want to be.” Well, let me help you answer that.

You’re lazy. Too lazy to do the work necessary to figure out who your ideal customer should be. And sometimes, it changes over time.

The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company was founded in 1902. They went about 15 years or so before they were really profitable. This company has been on the leading edge of innovation for many years. You know them as 3M. Established as mining company, you know them for mostly for adhesives in products like Scotch Tape and Post-It Notes.

Microsoft doubtless considered they’d be the behemoth they are today. Not even Bill Gates is that brilliant. Is the name nichey enough? Yes, it is. The company has made their billions in software – the latter half of their name. I’m old enough to remember that computers were initially called “micro-computers.” If you’re under 40 you don’t have any recall of such a time. Gates was forming Microsoft when that label was commonplace. Of course, he also made Microsoft a household name before “micro-computer” bit the dust. When you’re ahead of the curve and you become a market leader, it makes your name much less significant. But I’d be able to put forth good arguments that during crucial years, Microsoft was a name that conveyed exactly what Gates wanted. I could make the same argument for a small little brand known as Nike. (And I am old enough to remember when people had no idea how to pronounce the name. Some folks even called it Nike as in bike. If your profit margins are high enough and you can spend enough in marketing – people learn how to say your name!)

Timing matters. Unfortunately, we can’t always engineer our timing. Nor can we always know when serendipity will strike.

I find that many business owners haven’t fully thought of what they want to be when they grow up. They don’t like to consider a narrow niche. They’d rather think of their business as being so broad-based and all-encompassing so they can dream of being the next big thing. Of course, growing into the next big thing is more difficult when you can’t narrowly focus on who you really are – or what you should be to succeed. Today.

When I ask, “Who is your target audience?” I often get a blank stare. Or I get some wide cut answer like, “Women 18-54.” A better answer might be, “Women over 35 who have just given birth to their first child.” Which answer do you suppose would garner greater success? Which group would be easier to reach? Alex, give me “women over 35 who have just given birth to their first child” for $1000, please!

Names can make or break sales because names can make or break our ability to convey great marketing. An investment real estate firm could use “Gold Bar Investments” or they could just as easily (and more effectively) use “Gold Bar Real Estate Investments.” Why don’t they use the more precise name? Because they don’t want to be pigeon-holed. Because they think it will hamper their marketing efforts, and their ability to do business. Unfortunately, they’ve got it all backwards.

And I’ve just proven to you that I can’t even get this right. Like you, I often fall prey to the voices in my head, who time and again have proven themselves wrong!

I’ll end with my top three suggestions:

1. Make your name say exactly what you do. Rather than Bill’s Furniture, how about Bill’s Easy Living Furniture or Bill’s Formal Furniture or Bill’s Recreational Furniture. Each of those names conjures up a specific image in your mind. That’s exactly what we want shoppers to do when they hear the name of our company! We want to help them create a picture in their mind of who we are and what we do.

2. Make your website domain name just as precise, if not more so. If Bill’s Furniture decides to become Bill’s Easy Living Furniture then of course Bill will want to register BillsEasyLivingFurniture.com (and the variations of dot com), but Bill should also consider his location. Bill sells furniture that requires delivery. That means his local market covers about a 30 mile radius. Let’s say Bill’s business is located in Shreveport, Louisiana. Why not register ShreveportComfortableFurniture.com or some domain containing Bill’s location? That way, Bill’s prospects can Google furniture in Shreveport and more easily be directed to Bill’s website. Of course, Google is making sure you can’t just game the system, but it’s still smart to let prospects know exactly who you are, what you do and where you do it.

3. Make your name meaningful to prospects. Just because the name is precise to you doesn’t mean it’s precise to your prospects. Do some keyword research. Finding a great name has never been easier because today you can find out what people are searching. Keyword research lets you know exactly how many times people are looking for certain words. Find the most popular words and incorporate those into your names.

Just remember these two words: precision pays.

Go narrow. Go specific. Go precise. When you do you’ll dramatically improve your ability to make more sales.

I’ve got a few projects in the works and I’m working hard to get the names as precise as possible. Example? ChasingDFWCool.com.I’ve got a few secret projects up my sleeve, too – and they’re all aimed as narrowly as I can make them.

Should I rename the podcast? 

I’d love to hear your suggestions. Leave me a voicemail. Just hit that tab over there to the right.


P.S. I walked outside with my portable recorder to capture the crows outside The Yellow Studio. As it wont to happen, they got very quiet and refused to crow. The beggars likely want a recording contract before they’re perform on demand. I’ll work on sneaking up on ’em.