Special Episode: A Conversation With Phil Simon About His New Book, The Age Of The Platform

Podcast: Download The Audio

Phil Simon describes his new book – due out in September, 2011 – The Age Of The Platform, as more of a management book than a technology book. The book launches forth in a study of The Gang of Four: Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook. But solopreneurs and small business owners should not think this is a book about BIG business. It’s a study of these big enterprises and small businesses who have found ways to create dynamic, high performing platforms.

Every endeavor that requires an audience, customers or attention needs an effective platform. Phil’s new book is intended to help us better think about crafting our own.

I caught up with Phil Simon on Friday afternoon, July 22nd. I hope you’ll visit his KickStarter campaign to raise money for publishing The Age Of The Platform. Go to the KickStarter campaign right now and contribute to the cause. The campaign ends August 21st.

You should also visit the website for his previous book, released just late last year, The New Small. We spoke with Phil in January about that book. You can listen to that episode here.

At his blog he’s taking a poll on the cover design – more crowd sourcing brilliance from Phil. Visit this link and cast your vote.

Enjoy my half hour conversation with Phil Simon.


Does Feedback Determine Your Direction?

Feedback in a public address system is annoying. It may be an indication that the mic is too close to the speakers. It may be that the volume is too high. Whatever the cause, it needs to be fixed. An adjustment needs to be made.

Luther experienced feedback from the PA. He also got some feedback on his speech. “Atta boy, Luther!” He’s a terrible public speaker who doesn’t need to be encouraged. The applause and shout outs might have caused him to think he was headed in the right direction though.

Feedback can let us know what our next step should be – what adjustments need to be made so we can improve. Or it can derail us, delude us and frustrate us by robbing us of clarity.

Daily we’re surrounded by feedback. Twitter, blog comments, Google +, Facebook, YouTube comments, Flickr comments and a thousand other services provide some way for people to communicate with each other. Feedback.

Does feedback change your course? Which feedback do you find most useful in helping you figure out your next step?

In “The Design of Future Things” author Donald A. Norman writes of technical design, but stretch your application of what he says.

Today, many automatic devices do provide minimal feedback, but much of the time it is through bleeps and burps, ring tones and flashing lights. This feedback is more annoying than informing, and even when it does inform, it provides partial information at best. In commercial settings, such as manufacturing plants, electric generating plants, hospital operating rooms, or inside the cockpits of aircraft, when problems arise, many different monitoring systems and pieces of equipment sound alarms. The resulting cacophony can be so disturbing that the people involved may waste precious time turning all the alarms off so that they can concentrate on fixing the problems.

In the design of smart cars and homes and other forms of automation, Norman argues that we “need to transition toward a more supportive form of two-way interaction.” The key may be that term, supportive. Feedback should have a benefit. That doesn’t mean it must always be, “Atta boy, Luther!” It shouldn’t just be noise. We need feedback to help us figure things out. Or do we?

Does feedback determine your direction? Do you alter your course based on feedback?


Salespeople, Never Enter A Prospect’s Office With A Syringe In Your Hand

One of the major problems of selling is a person’s failure to qualify. That is, if the salesperson jumps right into a presentation without knowing anything about the needs of the prospect, then it’s highly likely the prospect will walk away without buying. For good reason. The salesperson failed to find out any meaningful information about the needs or desires of the prospect.

In other cases, the prospect may buy, but then problems erupt because the salesperson didn’t get enough information to make the purchase stick. As the old sales adage goes, “Anybody can sell somebody once!”

When it comes to qualifying a prospect, or failing to do so – maybe anybody can sell something once, but can you keep it sold? I’ve known too many salespeople who could sell something, but their return rate (the number of customers who would demand a refund) was sky-high. That’s not quality salesmanship. It’s poor service.

Quality questions solve some of these issues. By learning to ask better questions salespeople can accomplish three critical things:

a. You demonstrate how much you really care about solving the prospect’s problem.

b. You’re better able to tailor the best solution for their problem.

c. You build rapport and develop a relationship, not just a transaction.

Imagine going to a doctor because you suspect you’ve got a sinus infection. You’re ushered into the examination room. As you wait for a nurse, or the doctor, you’re anxious to get on with it. You want to tell somebody what’s wrong with you so you can get on the road to feeling better. The door opens, in walks a nurse with a syringe. She asks you to roll up your sleeve so she can give you a shot. Would you let her?

Of course not! You’ll look at her like she’d lost her mind, probably thinking to yourself, “She’s got the wrong patient!” Quickly, you’d let her know that you haven’t had the opportunity to tell anybody what’s wrong with you.

Every day sales calls take place just like that. A salesperson walks into a room armed with a syringe – their solution – before they even know what the problems are.

A young man asks a young lady out on a date. At dinner he holds forth telling her all about himself. He talks about his background, what he likes, what he doesn’t like, his favorite sports, music, books. On and on. He rambles incessantly about himself all evening long, never stopping once to ask the young lady about her life. All the while she’s thinking, “Boy, he sure is full of himself.”

Does she go out with him again? Not on your life. She’s happy to have that date behind her. She quickly tells her friends how he didn’t care to find out anything about her. Soon, word spreads throughout her circle that he’s not a guy any self-respecting girl would want to date.

Word will spread about you, too. Enter a prospect’s office and dive right into your sales pitch. No need to find out more about them, or their pain. Your solution is a one-size-fits-all so you’re convinced the prospect needs what you’ve got. Just like the young man is convinced that any young lady would be honored to have him ask her out on a date. Not so much!

Quality questions don’t just improve sales and a buyer’s experience – they can also improve our careers and our businesses. Pre-think good questions that can help you serve others. You’ll craft better questions beforehand then you’ll ever craft on the fly. Besides, not everybody is intuitively given to wise inquisition.

Some years ago I was running a retail operation that sold consumer electronics and high-end major home appliances. Delivery was part of what we did. The warehouse manager was reporting considerable delivery problems. It seems we’d arrive at a client’s home, prepared to make the delivery, only to find out that due to the difficulty of this particular delivery we needed additional men.

I visited with the sales team and asked them a question. “What are you guys asking the customers to find out about the difficulty of making a delivery to their home?”

“We’re asking them if there’s any abnormal about their delivery,” they replied. “Well, a customer might have 185 steps up a 45 degree incline in the front of their house. To them, that’s normal because it’s their house. Besides, who wants to admit that they’re abnormal?” I said.

“Can anybody think of some better question to ask?” I said.

They shrugged and thought for a moment. Nobody came up with a suggestion. And this was a very talented and veteran sales team.

“Do you think it might be more helpful if you asked the customer to describe how we’ll have to make the delivery from our truck to where the product is going to go inside their house?” I asked.

Sure. They all concurred that’d be a pretty good question. But I followed it up with another suggestion. “And as they describe it, listen carefully and ask them to fill in details so our delivery teams can be fully prepared when they arrive at the customer’s home. It’s an inefficiency for us, but worse yet – it’s bad service when we have to make the customer wait as we dispatch a second truck with two more guys who are needed to make the delivery happen.”

Don’t be so quick to think you know what the answer is going to be. Quality questions require an answer. Take the time to carefully hear the answer. Restate it if you must. Make sure you and the prospect clearly understand things alike. Many sales problems can be avoided simply by making sure things are clearly understood. Details do matter. Listen for the answers so you can refine and drill down as finely as you need to in order to solve the prospect’s problems.

If I’m attempting to sell you a piece of software and I ask you what type of computer hardware and operating system you have – I’d better pay attention to the details of your answer if my software has specific requirements. Perhaps my solution requires more disk space than you have. It may require more memory. It may require a more recent operating system than the one installed on your computer. I can’t assume that because Windows 7 is the current OS for PC’s and Snow Leopard is the current OS for Mac (soon to replaced by Lion) that my prospect has either of those. What if they’ve got Windows XP Pro and my solution won’t run very well on that? Problems can be easily avoided by simply finding out. An enormous part of finding out is listening and paying attention to the details of the answers.

Show you care enough to learn more about the person and the problem they’re experiencing. That doesn’t mean the interaction is like an NCIS interrogation room. It simply means like a good friend who is trying to help, or like a doctor who is trying to diagnose, we’re concerned enough to learn more so we can help. Service begins with caring enough to find out how the prospect feels, what they think and what they want or need. Every person respects being asked about their life, their business and their problems. We’re flattered when people take such an interest in us. While I don’t propose you do it as a flattery tactic, I encourage you to show genuine care and concern for your prospects so you can serve them better – so you can help them!

Do not presuppose that you have the answer to their problem. First, find out what their problems are. Never enter a prospect’s office with a syringe in your hand.



Why I’m Going To Avoid Social Media For One Week

Social media is a great resource that offers high value. It does not, however, offer the highest value. 

Have you ever been in a retail store being helped by somebody behind a counter…when the phone rings? The person, perhaps in mid-sentence with you, stops, picks up the phone and all of a sudden you’re a mere afterthought.

Have you ever sat in a restaurant with friends or family, but not been in the moment because you can’t avoid checking and posting to Facebook, Twitter, Google + or playing Words With Friends (friends who aren’t sitting at the same table)? If you’ve not done this, have you ever sat at a table with somebody who does?

Perhaps you’ve looked back over a day, a week or a month and thought, “I could have written some chapters of that book I need to write.” Or, maybe you’ve peered into the rearview mirror of your life and thought, “That thing I need to finish could already be done if I’d been more focused and less distracted.”

I’m a customer service fanatic. That’s what over 3 decades of retailing leadership will do for you. Being in the moment, with the customer who stands directly in front of you, is the name of the game. A customer who has driven to your store, hopped out of the car, walked in the door and engaged you is vastly more important than a ringing phone (which should also be answered, but not by YOU).

Social media has become like the incessant ringing phone clamoring for somebody – anybody – to answer it. This week, I’m choosing to ignore it and pay attention to the people and endeavors before me.

Today’s show is about why I’m going to avoid social media this week.

NOTE: If you saw a Tweet about this post…I must confess, it was automated. Thank you for visiting this post. I sincerely appreciate  it.

The Bula Network Q & A Video Show Coming Soon

Because I get some good questions via email I’ve decided to launch a new video-based Bula Network show answering questions each week. Every week I’ll select three questions to answer. You can submit your questions two different ways. I’ll release a new show each week. I’m not yet sure what day of the week I’ll release each episode, but I promise I’ll get on a schedule as quickly as I can. Watch this short – 3 minute – video, then send me your questions.


Learning Is The Key To Your Business Success

Every episode of Hoarders goes pretty much the same way. The hoarder knows they have a problem, but they resist help. Where loved ones and professionals see garbage and filth, the hoarder sees value. They have a hard time parting with worthless, nasty possessions. They just don’t see things as they are. As each episode progresses we witness the pain of the hoarder. The process of helping the hoarder overcome his problem demands learning. Learning is tough stuff. It demands a shift in thinking.

The team of concerned helpers could just descend on the hoarder’s house and clean it up, but the poor person with the disorder wouldn’t learn anything. They’d likely go right back to behaving as they did before. The hoarder won’t make better decisions unless they see the severity of the problem. When they’re able to shift their thinking we can almost see the lights come on for them. That shift helps them see the solution, but more importantly, it helps them embrace the solution instead of fighting against it.


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