“Follow Your Lead? What’s In It For Me??”

We all know the expression (where did it come from, anyway? Anybody know??) – “Let’s not go there!”

If a topic for potential discussion touches a painfully raw nerve, we’d just as soon bypass that destination. Don’t go there! Why? Because we see only pain, no gain.

To “go there,” we need a compelling WWIFM (What’s In It For Me). And it’s the same with leadership of others. People will follow a leader – if the destination looks like gain that will outweigh any anticipated pain.

I hate to go all non-idealistic on you, but my buy-in to any vision and direction is correlated to my sense, my agreement, that the goal, and the leader, are aligned with my best interests.

However skillfully we paint the picture and seek to rally support, if those that are to follow us don’t want to “go there,” we’re not going to lead them there.

Now, if know me, you know I’m an idealist. And I firmly believe that people operate best when they are involved in a cause, a mission, much bigger than themselves. But I also know that, whatever the cause – however grand and sweeping and even sacrificial it may be – the engine that will drive a group of people to follow is alignment of interests that includes a clear WIIFM.

So – how do we get others to follow our lead? Bluntly put, it’s sales – not slimy, sleazy, lying sales, but selling nonetheless. It’s selling the vision – AND selling the benefits to the customer. If you’re a leader, you’re in sales – simple as that.

What was Steve Jobs of Apple, if not a consummate salesperson? He had to sell his entire organization on his vision of supremely great user experience – and, when it was time to step down, he also had to achieve buy-in that the next leader would carry on the vision. No small task!

Take everything my LeadershipChat co-host Lisa Petrilli wrote in her prep post for our discussion this week (Leadership Advice – Getting Others to Follow Your Lead). Package together Vision, Trust, Communication, and Energy, and what do you have? Effective selling (the kind that exists with integrity).

What do you think? How do you enable others to follow you? Join us for the discussion on LeadershipChat (#LeadershipChat on Twitter) at 8 pm ET Tuesday night, November 8th as we tackle this topic. You’ll find a group of warm, smart, and motivated friends who will welcome you to our weekly chat at the leadership table!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Business Identity Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Selling You

>> Choose Your Lane

Selling You

If you’re an entrepreneur, a consultant, or a professional salesperson/marketer, you’re continually selling. Whether you like it or not, promotion is a major part of your professional life.

Here’s the secret – the most important sale is you.

Often, you’ll see someone get in front of a client, and they will rush to pull out the sales collateral or the computer demos and start selling. This can be a big mistake. While there is a place for the pitch, your prospective client, perhaps in a completely unspoken and unconscious way, is looking to buy a person.

They want someone with expertise, with a service mindset, with trustworthiness, with humanity, upon whom they can lean. Not just for the next 45 minutes, but for years. Isn’t that the kind of customer relationship you want?

When you have those precious minutes in front of a prospect or customer, go in thinking about one thing – how can I help? Not, how can I get the most dollars out of their pocket in the shortest amount of time?

Believe me, they can smell the difference. You may have the best product or service around. But if the customer isn’t sold on you, they’re not buying.

Earn the opening. Then worry about closing.

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Business Identity Therapy)

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Retail or Referral Thinking?

If you’re involved in social media as a professional – hoping to gain some business benefit from social networks – then you have a decision to make. Often, that means you have to question a certain default marketing setting and decide what is the right approach for you.

Are you going to approach social networks with primarily a retail, or a referral, mindset?

A retail mindset, which dominates much of traditional marketing, is typically a numbers game. It’s about reach. More eyeballs, more customers, more volume, more dollars. Translated to social networks, that means more subscribers/readers/connections leading to more potential sales of something.

It’s not wrong. It’s how one part of the business game is played. If everyone is clear on the rules, it’s fine. And on our networks, we’ve refined a pretty effective freemium model (give some level of knowledge/consulting/e-product away as a taste, then charge for the deeper level).

If you want to sell ads, sell books, sell keynote speaking, or sell memberships, it’s quite legitimate. But bear in mind that it isn’t the only way to do business via social networks. It may be our default setting, leading us to crave more, more, MORE numbers – but there’s a different mindset that may be appropriate for the vast majority of us who are not going to generate revenue-by-retail.

The referral mindset focuses on depth and quality. It recognizes that much long-term business comes from a core group of committed fans and activists. This approach is not simply thinking of short-term revenue transactions (which, again, aren’t wrong), but is more concerned with building deep and enduring relationships with people who will influence the marketplace as continual sources of referrals.

In one case, the goal is a simple transaction – dollars for perceived value right now. It requires scale to succeed. In the other, the foundation is character, reputation, loyalty…dare I say love? It is providing the deep value of walking alongside a limited number of like-minded others and being personally invested in their business success. It’s radical, it’s daring, it’s long-term – and it is decidedly NOT the default setting of our short-term marketing culture.

It’s personal.

Of course, large numbers of connections and building a referral network is not mutually exclusive. From the numbers come the individuals who become the advocates and collaborators. But in the referral approach, while having a large network could lead to some level of retail transactions, the primary goal is to exchange value at a deeper and longer-term level.

I have built reasonably large networks in the pharma/healthcare field, and in the general social media/marketing realm. Yet, my paying business really comes from a small handful of clients, and most new opportunities are driven by advocates who are committed to me as a person and a professional. Personally, I don’t feel a need for a bestseller on the NY Times book list. I just want to get to know the best people. They are my best sellers (and I am theirs).

Let’s face it – some people are really great at drawing crowds, and figuring out ways to retail things to them. And some of those folks also know how to work on the referral level at the same time. But for many of us, it’s worth questioning the default setting of more, more, MORE. Will your business grow primarily as a result of quantity, or quality, of connections? Answer that question, and your networking strategy will become clear.

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Recently on Connection Agent:

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Each and Recently

The old marketing model emphasized “reach and frequency.”

Try to expose your message to as many as possible, as often as possible. A certain percentage will respond.

It’s a numbers game. And, it de-personalizes your audience. They’re a target. A demographic. Occupiers of a business funnel.

Been there. Done that.

Instead, let’s think in terms of “each and recently.” There is a growing pool of people who rely on you for information, connections, and services. They become customers, friends, collaborators, and, in a wonderful way, the most effective sales force you could possibly have.

Touch each of them. Make sure, as their names come to mind, that you’ve somehow touched them recently. And don’t worry a whole lot about the reach and frequency numbers game.

They’ll do that for you.

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“Social Media” and Business, part 1

Earlier this week, I enjoyed a robust Twitter conversation with a few folks (thanks, @lizscherer, @kellyferrara, @lindabeth!) on how “social media” fits into the pre-existing business silos that we all know and love (Marketing, PR, Sales, Customer Service, etc.)

Instead of putting out 140-character fragments of thought, it might be more valuable to sketch out some big-picture ideas about how this all, perhaps, fits together, and continue the discussion in the comments.

First, I’ll freely admit that I don’t much care for the term “Social Media.” I think it’s limiting. I tend to prefer either Community Networking (more on the inter-personal level), or Networked Communications (more on the business level). Take your pick; we’re talking about person-to-person or organization<–>person communications and connections mediated through on-line tools.

Let’s think about business. I think a lot of these legacy silos are not particularly helpful, so let’s imagine for a moment that they are swept off the table and everything is encompassed under one umbrella term: Communications. PR, Marketing, Social Media, etc. – it’s all about communicating to the world at large (people unaware of the company; prospective customers; imminent buyers; existing users; other stakeholders). These communications take various forms, including direct advertising, word of mouth (on- or off-line), press, or what have you, but it’s all communications, and it should all be strategically tied together.

For a business, then, let’s take this practice of communication and view it through the prism of the main goal: increased uptake of offerings and therefore, increased revenue. Business growth. From the perspective of the business, and using rather sterile terms, there are three main stages of this: Customer Awareness, Customer Acquisition, and Customer Retention.

What is the process – the pattern – that occurs to reach this goal of business growth, and how does the discipline of Communications fit? Here’s a suggested way to view it:

Awareness Communications – strategies and tactics that elevate some level of understanding of the company’s existence, offerings, and value. An analogy: this is walking into a party with an attractive, attention-getting outfit.

Qualification Communications – think pre-sales marketing here. Expressing, at some level, what the nature and benefits of the offering are. But this need not be one-way anymore – through networked communications, businesses can much more readily understand the needs and desires of potential customers. Ongoing analogy: chatting up at the party and gauging if there is interest in more than just a polite chat.

Commitment Communications – assuming that the potential customer is seeing genuine value, now the parties discuss how they might get together to meet mutual goals. This is a deeper dive into needs and offerings, and gaining a comfortable feel for overall compatibility. Ongoing analogy: entering into a committed dating relationship.

Satisfaction Communications – the company realizes that its best hope of gaining new customers is by keeping current customers not only pacified, but satisfied to the point of being advocates. Time and two-way communications are invested to build the relationship and improve the offerings. Ongoing analogy: the diligent care and feeding of a marriage relationship.

This is the typical linear process of how business is obtained and grown, and if we range our Communications options and methods along these lines, we can see how a strategic approach to the various legacy disciplines (PR, Marketing, Advertising, etc.) can now be achieved. Each stage of the continuum requires different types/mixes of communication, with differing levels of two-way exchange. “Social Media” plays a role throughout, not as a separate discipline, but as an integral part of two-way communication that should mark an entire process.

When you look at this continuum, ask yourself: does your business have a consistent message that is woven throughout the entire communications landscape? It should.

Oh, and for an interesting twist, swap out the word “Customer” for “Employee”. Sorta makes sense on the recruitment/retention side of things, doesn’t it?

Kind of a mind dump here and lots of loose ends. What do you think? Speak your mind in the comments!

:: So far, we’re attempting to define the landscape of business communications – but in a follow-up post, I want to take something implied here and make it more explicit. Successful business will increasingly be marked, not by a transactional view (I am using communications to persuade you to buy my product so I can make money and you can, maybe, gain a benefit), but by a more holistic relational view. That is, customers and companies will increasingly seek out ways to determine if they are right for each other, something networked communications truly helps enable. My consulting business is built on a “matchmaking” network model and I’ll share a few thoughts on why I think there is tremendous value in this approach…

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Five in the Morning 121008

Lists, lists, lists. It’s that time of year – lots of Top 10s. Louis Gray has a nice summary of Top 2008 web services (and their prognosis for 2009). Meanwhile, Rick Turoczy at ReadWriteWeb sums up the Top 10 Consumer web apps of 2008 (quite diff list from Louis’). And then, of course, there’s Time.com‘s Top 10 Everything of 2008. Plan on spending some time here…

Should bloggers/social media types self-promote? Mack Collier started up this discussion. I also chimed in, as did Lisa Hoffmann. Read the posts and the comments – what do you think?

Matt Dickman with some thoughts on HR in the age of Social Media.

Not Everyone likes Coffee. Consider your audience and their tastes as you serve “your stuff” up. Good thoughts from Jon Swanson over at Levite Chronicles. (Jon – strong! Cream and a little sugar…).

The Only Important Thing is….what??? You’ll have to let Doug Meacham tell you!

PLUS – Sarah sold me on Opera – sorta. How one voice can bring you into a new genre. AND – this Spouse 2.0 concept is just bizarre. Really. Don’t do it!

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Five in the Morning 120908

Negative PR in advertising travels fast! Just ask Dr. Pepper (from USA Today – hat tip to @prsarahevans)

Will MLM kill Twitter? What do you think so? I doubt it, but some interesting points made nonetheless. From Karl Long.

Fun - Superlist of what NOT to do in Social Media. Courtesy of Robin Broitman at IIG. On the flip side, Lee Odden shares 26 tips on being Social Media Smart.

Thank you very much for the link, Mike Sansone. Now THIS is how to search for that perfect image in Flickr!!!

How do you compare with other Twitter users? Jeremiah Owyang brings out some very interesting stats from HP Lab’s research on Twitter use.

BONUS – As a rule I don’t watch long videos on the web, in particular not 15-minute ones. Yet, very late one night, when unable to fall back asleep, I stumbled across this one on Cheryl Smith‘s site, and it captured my attention. The message continues to resonate in my mind and heart. It may seem hokey the first few minutes, but stick with it. You may need, as I did, a reminder about the importance of Validation.

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