Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Ferrari, The Race, The Pit-Stop

Would you purchase an expensive high-performance race car, only to skimp on service? Knowing the engine needs servicing would you ignore that, only to keep pressing the paddle harder and harder in the hopes of still winning the race?

Metaphorically speaking, isn't this what so many businesses are doing these days?

So many have drastically reduced their people development programs, for example. Given so much uncertainty, fear has taken over the workplace, causing disengagement and paralysis. While these very people may stay for the time being, putting in their time, I can't help but wonder about the max exodus that is likely to take place as soon as the market turns.


Furthermore, too frequently I see companies hire the best talent for their money. These talented individuals come on board with lots of initial excitement and desire to give it their all. Yet as time goes on, they start to become disengaged. Performance and productivity declines and net cost of doing business goes up. In my frequent visits to organizations, in private conversations, I hear so many stories where otherwise good people just aren't giving their best, intentionally in many cases. They are sick and tired and just plain frustrated. They are just putting in the time 'till they can get out. The workplace has become toxic and no one wins.

Going back to our race car, no matter how well made the engine, overtime gunk builds up and tune-ups become a must to continue to deliver high-performance. As in the engine, within business teams, gunk builds up in the form of misunderstandings, miscommunication, hurt feelings, fear, not feeling heard-to name just a few, leading to energy blockages and eventually disengagement and poor performance--like running a Ferrari really hard without the engine being tuned. The leader keeps pushing the pedal yet wonders why it isn't running like it used, but doesn't seem to have the time to pull into the pitt-stop.

In my own experience, as a mechanic fine-tunes an engine, I have found that within business teams that tune-up occurs through imporved communication and workshops that facilitate such dialogue, where team members come together to better understand themselves and each other. As that happens and communication improves through understanding, reengagement takes place and productivity and profits improve.

Yet what puzzles me is how many businesses ignore this important tune-up. They continue to spend huge sums on payroll, yet won't make the relatively minor investment to help their teams better understand each other, better communicate and better leverage each other for greater individual and joint success. They view such work as nice to do and touchy felly stuff. Yet it this very element that leads to performance.

I wish I knew the secret to getting businesses to invest in such tune-ups. I have been wracking my brains but can't seem to come up with clear answers. Any insights that you can offer?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Targeting: Fish Where The Fish Are


Let us for a moment get back to selling for introverts as follow-up to the post "Cold Calling for Introverts".

Successful selling is very similar to fishing. While what I am going to share applies to selling in general, it is particularly important for us introverts. After you read this, you are likely to say it's just common sense. And you'll be absolutely right. Yet it surprising how so many professionals don't do this. So if you're doing it, great. If not, it's something worth considering seriously.

Similar to selling, fisherman's success lies in effective targeting. Rather then casting his net randomly, to maximize returns given his limited energy and time investment, he must first determine the type of fish he wants to catch and then identify where in the vast waters they swim. Once and only once he has identified this does he cast his net.

When I first entered sales, not having any formal training, I started with door to door selling, i.e. randomly casting my net. Talk about hard work. Sometimes I caught minnows, sometimes a cat fish and other times huge whales. Some of them fitted well with what we could handle given our capabilities, others it not so. It was hit and miss at best. Lots of activity and energy spent with overall relatively small net gains.

After some time, a clear pattern emerged, where I was able to clearly identify my ideal client and where they hung out, i.e. to which groups they belonged to. With that information at hand, I joined those organizations and spent all of my time and energy fishing in those waters only. As I did that, I began to catch more whales rather then minnows and we all ate nicely for long time.

Therefore if you are not target as such as the moment, please take the time to identify what your ideal clients look like and where they hang out, in other words what type of fish do you want and where do they swim. Also find and join groups that represent your clients. For example, if you want to catch guppies, join the National Association of Guppies. This way you'll be fishing where your fish are. For further information on how to do this, read my post entitled "Sweet Spot: Maximizing Business Growth and Profitability".

Next, in some of my upcoming posts, I'll share some of the introvert friendly methods that have for me lead to meetings and ultimately sales--without cold calling.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Papa Bear, Big Bear and Little Bear: A True Family Business Story

(While the story is true, names have been changed to protect those involved.)

In the cold northern part of this beautiful country, there is the Widget Manufacturing Company (WMC) run by the Bears family.

WMC was originally started by Papa Bear, who had two sons. His elder son, Big Bear grew up to become the big CEB (Chief Executive Bear) of a large banking chain, whereas Little Bear joined WMC as a sales man. As one day Little Bear also "wanted" to be the CEB, eventually Papa Bear took the back seat and promoted Little Bear to CEBship. Little Bear was so "happy". Everywhere he went, he made sure people knew he was THE CEB of WMC.

Well, some time went by and WMC wasn’t doing so well anymore. Finally, being unsure what to do, about a year ago, they hired a Coach Bear who understood business and family business dynamics. He went to visit WMC spending couple of days with the Bear Family at their company. One the visit, Coach Bear spent some one-to-one time with Little Bear both on inside of the company as well as on some client visits.

What the Coach Bear observed was that when Little Bear was on customer visits, he became the playful bear. Little Bear loved talking to his clients, helping them solve their problems and making deals, and then when he would return to the company, his demeanor changed and he became so serious and unhappy.

Puzzled, Coach Bear took him aside and got him talking. Well, after some time, Little Bear opened up his heart and shared that he really didn’t enjoy being the CEB and he only aspired to that position because in his heart he always felt that Papa Bear loved Big Bear more because he was the CEB and that too of a big banking chain. Little Bear, in his heart, had been feeling he wasn’t good enough and thought if he also became a CEB, his papa would love him too.

Well, hearing this, Coach Bear realized it’s time to take Papa Bear and Little Bear out to lunch and facilitate a heart-to-heart conversation. There he gently got the Little Bear to open up and share his feelings with Papa Bear, who was clearly surprised to hear what Little Bear was saying. Long and short of it is that Papa Bear assured Little Bear that he loves him just as much as he loves his big brother. And that to him they both were his sons and he loved them just the same, and that it didn’t matter if they were CEBs or not. As this was taking place, Coach Bear seeing the tears of joy streaming down Little Bear's face, felt his own emotions come up, feeling immense joy at seeing this father and son come together.

In the end, Papa Bear went back to being the CEB, which he enjoyed, and Little Bear went back to doing what he enjoyed the most and did the best, to selling and being out and about with the customers. This clearing and the shift lead to WMC starting to grow again and everyone was happy. What especially made Coach Bear happy was knowing Little Bear was feeling loved and doing more of what he loved and did the best.

The End.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

What's an Introvert?

Recently, I have been writing a lot about being an introvert. One of my blog readers asked what exactly do I mean by "introvert". How can I tell who is an introvert? Therefore, in this post I want to cover this incase others are asking the same question.

As we go through life, some of us express primarily introverted tendencies (e.g. quiet, reserved) and others extroverted tendencies (e.g. talkative, outgoing). Yet for others, it's situational where for example, he (or she) may be very reserved at work yet when he is at home or say giving a presentation at work, he may exhibit more extroverted characteristics.

When I refer to introverts in my posts, I am referring to those who express introverted tendencies majority of the time. The best way for me to define what I mean by introvert, is for me to ask you some questions. If you answer yes to majority of these questions, that are below, you are an introvert. So go through these and see for yourself as to where you fit in:

  • Does the thought of having to work a room make you want to avoid the event all together?
  • Do you tend to live more in your head, playing with ideas and concepts?
  • Are you generally on the quiet side?
  • Do you prefer to communicate via writing over talking?
  • Do you tend to think first, then think some more and only then talk?
  • Do you enjoy, and actually even prefer, being alone?
  • Do you tend to avoid invitations to speak publicly?
  • Have you been referred to by words such as distant, serious, unemotional, cold, detached, aloof, inflexible, picky, pessimistic, hesitant, inflexible, dull, boring, arrogant, snobbish, stuffy?
  • Do you prefer to say read or work on your laptop, as opposed to attend a networking event or social gathering?

As I was growing up, the word introverted was often used with a negative connotation. For example, I recall someone saying "you're such an introvert" and it was said with a sarcastic tone. Others have referred to me as "being quiet as a mouse", little did they know my mind was running 100 m.p.h. and I was absorbing everything.Therefore, based on my own experiences, being an introvert certainly wasn't viewed as the cool thing to be. I must admit that there have been times I have wished I was an extrovert, where I could be all cheery and the life of the party.

In my experience, we introverts are often misunderstood and mislabeled. Sometimes even viewed as dumb and certainly not as leaders. Personally I believe we possess numerous strengths that are of great value to organizations. Therefore, through my posts, one of my desires is to bring attention to the positive side of introversion, so others come to better understand us and see us for what we truly are and what we have to offer.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about introversion and/or have your own stories about being introverted and what it's like for you, I would love to hear from you. So please do write. Thank you.





Friday, January 22, 2010

Cold Calling for Introverts

Let me ask you, how many of you introverted professionals who must sell as part of your job really like to cold call, let alone having to sell your services? Now, be honest.

This is THE single BIGGEST challenge we introverted professionals face who are charged with driving revenue. We love the work we do. We're technically solid. We're subject matter experts and we know our stuff like nobody's business.

Yet, until we first sell the work we so love to do, we don't get to apply our expertise. And traditional selling frequently tells us to start with cold calling, which we all know how we feel about this. It's a catch-22. So what's an introvert to do?

We can and many of us have taken sales course after sales course. Yet from what I have experienced, those are clearly designed by extroverts, for extroverts. They tell us to use scripts, just dive in and make the calls and that it'll get easier with time. Yeah, right. Only if it were that easy. Those extroverts just don't understand us introverts.

I have never been one to hesitate contacting someone I don't know. And when it comes to speaking in front of large audiences, after some initial self-push and much practice, that's no problem now either. Yet when it comes to cold calling in the sales context, something within me shifts, something which logically I can not explain and make sense of.

I stare at the phone for hours, feeling within the pressure rise with each passing moment. The thought of picking up the phone to call a total stranger to request a meeting to ultimately sell terrifies for me. When I do finally manage to make the call, and when the voice mail kicks in, boy, what a relief. I can breath again.

Even after all these years of selling, the idea of cold calling someone on the phone with whom I have no prior contact, to request a meeting for selling purposes just isn't my thing. I can easily email them but calling is another matter. While for extroverts this cold calling seems to come naturally, I have yet to find an introvert for whom it comes so easily. Truth be told, I HATE cold calling. I much rather have root canal, without Novocain. It's not only terrifying, it feels so routine and not very intellectually stimulating.

After much struggling, I finally realize there is a better way, one that does not require us to make cold calls. So as far as I am concerned, if you are struggling with this as I do, and you never have to make a cold call again, that's perfectly fine. Given our inherent natural strengths, there are other ways, better ways that are much more in line with how we are built.

In some of the upcoming posts, I will share with you how I learned to sell without cold calling. For now, take the pressure off of yourself. Take a deep breath and relax, knowing there are other more effective ways for introverts to sell.

In the meantime, you also please write and share what challenges you face in selling and how you overcome them. This way we can all learn from each other and prosper together. I don't pretend to know everything. I'll share with you what I have learned and at the same time I want to learn from you also. So hope you'll write. Thanks in advance.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Workplace Challenges Being an Introvert

As an introvert, I live in my head a lot. I don't smile much and I am quiet by nature. At meetings I hang back, listen to various views, and only then do I speak.

I have had people ask me if I was OK, if everything was alright, if I was upset with them, and so on. Others have thought, because I don't jump into conversations forcefully or frequently, that I am not always with the program.

Other times I have been viewed as uncaring, distant, too serious, angry, pensive, detached, aloof, fussy, inflexible, picky, pessimistic, hesitant, inflexible...to name just a few of the words I can find to describe how my introvert nature has been interpreted.

Yet from my perspective, I am just listening at a deep level, being thorough, diplomatic, precise, "anchor of reality", and working towards making good decisions, so everyone benefits.

I can't help but wonder, in our business culture, to what degree extroverts and type A personalities are more highly valued and as a result, we introverts are overlooked and misunderstood, especially when it comes to moving up to leadership positions.

If you're in an introvert, have you faced similar challenges? If so, what have been your challenges and how have you dealt with them?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Networking: How to Extract Yourself from a "Chatterbox"

One of my blog readers wrote asking: How do I extract myself from someone who talks non-stop, with no natural breaking point, without me feeling bad?

Have any of you found yourself in a similar situation? While below I will share how I generally handle it, won't you please also chime in and share how you do it. Thanks.

As for me, interjecting, I simply say something like, "It's great chatting with you and you're making some great points. Unfortunately, I gotta run and take care of something. Can we reconnect and continue our conversation at another time please? Shoot me an email and let's set something up. Cool?"

This usually takes care of it. As for feeling bad about having to cut out, as long as it's handled being respectful of the other person, people really do understand. Therefore, I wouldn't really worry about that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

3-Steps to Sales Success for Introverts

Today I want to share a sales process that I learned through my sales journey, as an introvert. It's a process that utilizes our inherent strengths and is in-line with our personality type.

So once you are firmly established in the first 3 pillars discussed in my post entitled "The 4 Fundamental Pillars Crucial to Building Introverts' Sales Success", you are then ready to take the 3-steps to building your client base.

As for pillar #4, if you are a start-up, your marketplace will evolve and shift over time and only after some time will you become more focused on couple of verticals. As that begins to take shape, your job will start to become easier and you will begin to gain more success with lesser effort. If you are with an established firm that is focused on specific verticals, then you must also be established in pillar #4 in order to be effective.

Now, let's move onto the 3-steps, which are:

1. Targeting.
2. Developing a lead generation program through building visibility and credibility.
3. Extracting the gold.

Today, I will discuss step #1: Targeting--Identifying Your Marketplace. In subsequent posts, I will discuss steps 2 and 3.

When I first got into my family business, we were closer to the start-up phase, and therefore we didn't have any specific verticals. Rather we were more geographically focused, having clients from variety of sectors. Many of these clients were initially developed early in my career via door-to-door sales approach.

I would literally pick-out an area where there were number of high rise office buildings and visit the various offices in the building. For every 5 people I called, I got one appointment and for every 20 prospects I got one client. I had a 5% success rate.

Keeping a look out as to where revenue was coming from, overtime we noticed lot of our work was coming from associations and non-profits. Fast forward, we further refined our sales and marketing strategy, following what I discussed in my earlier post entitled "Sweet Spot: Maximizing Business Growth and Profits". Once we knew this sweet spot, this in essence became our marketplace within which we focused all of our sales and marketing efforts--allowing us to maximize utilization of our resources, dollar wise as well as our own personal energy.

Next: Look for posts on Step #2.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Happiness. Letter from My Dad!


This past weekend, my mom and I were cleaning out some of my dad's files, that he left behind when we lost him nearly 2-1/2 years ago. In one of the files, we found this piece of paper, apparently written about 25 years ago, where he had shared some of his own lessons learned about how to be happy. Being a strong believer that we can learn so much from our elders, and finding much meaning for myself in this treasure, I wanted to share his message with you for I believe it'll help many of us. Here is what he had written, when he was in his early 50's.

Happiness!

After my heart surgery in 1981, my doctor recommended that I should reduce undue stress from my life. Therefore, I read several self-improvement books and luckily came across some ideas, which actually seem to work. Since then, my happiness has increased appreciably and I am able to enjoy my life much more then in the past. For your benefit, those ideas are described below. By incorporating them into one's thinking, any person should be able to feel happier even without making any major changes in his/her present circumstances.

1. Please stop thinking in terms of years: A year is a very large unit of time; I am 54 years of age and still do not find it easy to comprehend a year. Multiply years by 365 and convert them into number of days. Assuming an average person's life is 70-80 years, we can say that an average man's stay on this earth is limited to 25,000-30,000 days. This is all there is, from start to finish. When I think in-terms of days rather then years, then I get an entirely different feeling about life.

2. Realize that there is only one way to be happy on any day, that is to find happiness in whatever is available to us on that very day, (repeat THAT VERY DAY): Normally people's life changes only very gradually; most of the changes come so slowly that they can't even be felt. For example, students go to school and attend classes on various subjects. At the end of the day most of the students do not even get feeling of learning much during the day. Many of us have been away from India and in the United States for last 15-20 years; still most of us do not feel any big change in ourselves and assume that we are as Indian as when we had left India many years ago.

There are very few days in any man's life when things change drastically. Such days can be counted on the fingers. Our life consists mostly of such days when in the evening we are as rich or poor, as healthy or unhealthy, as fortunate or unfortunate, as handsome and beautiful, etc. as we were in the morning. Therefore, try to find happiness in whatever is available on any particular day.

Remember, that each and every day of our life equally counts towards that quota of 30,000 days, whether we enjoy them or not. Please do not expect too much change or improvement on a day by day basis; just try to enjoy them as they are.

3. Remember Your Childhood. We all say that children are generally more happy then the adults. The reason is that children focus their attention on their immediate surroundings, i.e. on whatever the eyes are actually able to see at any given minute, what the ears are actually listening at that very minute. Whenever, next time depression or unhappiness strikes you, please try to concentrate your thinking only to your immediate surroundings and feel the immediate improvement. After doing it few hundred times, you will begin to realize that most of the times, depression and unhappiness is being generated inside of you and that it is not coming from the outside.

Signed: Prem Kumar Agarwal, Gaithersburg, Maryland

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The 4 Foundational Pillars Crucial to Building Introverts' Sales Success

I wish I had a dollar for every conversation I have had with a business owners and executives regarding how to compensate professionals who must sell, to get maximum revenue generation and client retention.

While compensation is something not to overlook, through my years of direct sales experience and having hired and trained professionals who must sell, I have come to firmly believe that there are other more critical factors that determines one's success in sales, especially where one is selling complex solutions and building long-term client relationships is important to lasting success, for both the organization and the sales professional-an area where we introverts excel.

In this post, I will share with you these 4 pillars upon which successful sales careers are built, for introverts. This is very important because we introverts are inwardly focused. What we see on the outside impacts what we feel on the inside. And what we feel on the inside impacts our thoughts which then impact our actions and communications. Therefore, for us introverts to succeed, our external must be in alignment with our internal thoughts and we must act in ways that are congruent with who we are. We simply can't fake it, not for long anyways.

With this in mind, if you're either hiring an introverted sales person, or you are an introverted sales person yourself, it important for you to understand and align with these 4 pillars. Without it, it will be challenging for you to succeed in sales.

Before getting into these pillars, I want to stress that if you are an introvert, you must be in a sales environment and selling products and services that fit your personality. So if your success is measured in short-term results and you have to do lot of say telemarketing, cold calls, constantly hunt for deals, and you're selling transactions where there is very small chance of repeat sales and developing long-term relationships that do not require significant expertise, and/or your organization is not set-up to support you given your strengths and long-term outlook, my recommendation for you is to get out. In such organizations, you are likely to find more extroverted sales folks, where success depends on having excellent hunting skills and high energy, extroverts will beat us introverts hands down and we introverts don't stand a chance. Plus, you don't want to be there anyways. Not that's it's bad. It's just that that's not for you, my introverted friend. Save yourself the pain. Take my advice.

Moving forward, assuming you're in the right place, one that suits your introverted personality, let's now look at these four pillars. They are:

1. Self-Awareness: How well do you understand yourself, your unique characteristics and make-up, and do you see them as being your strength in sales? For example, say you're a quiet person. Do you see that as a negative, or a positive in sales?

For example, in my first role at the major oil company, that I shared in my earlier post (Selling for Introverts), I failed my first time in sales because I had very little self-awareness and therefore I tied to copy those extroverted sales types. Only many years later did I gain a better self-understanding and saw my characteristics as strengths, not weakness. When that happened, I had a major inner shift and that lead to my sales success for from that point on, I worked from my natural inherent strengths.

2. Your Image of Sales: Do you see sales as a negative, e.g. a slick, pushy, aggressive, just in it to make the deal and the buck? Or do you see it as a noble profession, where you are helping your clients succeed? Do you feel good about being in sales and do you see yourself being successful?

I recall coaching a new sales person who had just come out with an MBA. He was hired by a large bank and was calling on small businesses. This major bank hired him for his technical know how only to put him in door-to-door sales. Initially he hated it cause he didn't make the connection between his talents and how he was so invaluable to the small business owners in helping them meet their financial needs. Once he started to understand this, his attitude shifted viewing his role in a whole new light. Rest as they say is history.

3. Your products, services, company and the people within. Do you feel good about the company for whom you work, the products & services you promote? How clearly do you understand who your clients are, their needs and how your offerings helps them solve their problems?

If you want to see in action a real professional who sells, you must spend the day with Tony Rossell, Senior Vice President at Marketing General. Tony is someone I admire greatly. He knows his stuff, his and his organizations capabilities, his clients needs and how to help them solve their problems and he is constantly updating his knowledge. And Tony is an introvert. He never sells and yet he attracts numerous clients and brings in large sums of profitable revenue for his firm, year after year.

4. The marketplace and clients you serve. Do you feel good about the organizations and individuals within them whom you serve? Is their mission in line with your values? Is your heart in helping them succeed?

A business owner I once coached, whom I 'll refer to as Linda, much of her work came from the high tech industry. Yet her heart was on working with small businesses and social causes. As a result, she would spend as much of her time on social work as possible, not fully focusing on her high tech clients. She was also taking on internal roles that were counter to her strengths. Upon discovering her inner motivations and inherent strengths through the use of assessments and conversations, step by step I helped her find more clients in the social sector and small businesses. This allowed her to more effectively align her desire of working with social causes and small businesses with her own business' needs. Thus becoming more win-win for her and the clients she served.

So before implementing various of sales tactics and strategies (which I'll be discussing in my upcoming posts), it is important for you to first establish yourself firm in these 4 pillars. That will then serve as your strong foundation on which to build your sales success. Similar to a 4-legged table made from solid wood, on which you can place lot of weight--you too must first establish your own solid foundation upon which to build your success.

Introverts Guide to Client Entertainment


As an introvert, my idea of entertainment is to read a good business book and to spend time on my laptop, just as I am doing right now.

Yet client (and prospective client) entertainment is part of my job and it's something that has not come naturally, nor easy to me.

Afterall, lacking the gift of the gab I am poor at making small talk, being a first generation immigrant from India I never really got into watching nor understood football and basketball so can't talk sports, and I certainly ain't no life of the party. If you were to look up the words quiet, dull and boring in Websters, you'll probably find my picture right next to them. Furthermore, being on the quiet side, one my biggest fears in taking a client out to lunch is what if we have total silence and I don't know what to say. Yikes! Talk about sending chills up my spine.

So my fellow introverts, today I like to share with you my "introvert-friendly" ways I have learned over the years, through my own trials and tribulations. They work for me and I am confident they will help you in your client entertainment challenges.

First, however, let's look at the purpose of client entertainment for it's important to understand that. To me, there are two primary reasons which are:

1. To get to know more about the client as an individual and to learn more about their business, in a more neutral space where the conversation can take place on a more peer-to-peer level.
2. To further strengthen the relationship.

Once you understand this, it becomes very clear that there are number of ways to "entertain" the client, beyond just business lunches, baseball games, and other such venues. Let's take a look at some of them here.

Client Entertainment in the Traditional Sense

Especially as an introvert, it's important to be clear on what's comforting for you. For example, if you don't like say hanging out at the bar, then don't take your clients to one. Your discomfort will come through. Nor will you enjoy it nor will your client-defeating the purpose of the get together.

For me, for example, I like quiet places that are not so formal. So I select places that suit my style, as often as I can. For if I am comfortable, that will then come through. Try to be yourself. Another example is, being from India, when I discover someone likes Indian food, I'll often take 'em to some hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant that sells tasty Indian cooking, a place a non-Indian will probably never discover or go on their own. The food ends up being cheap and it becomes a new and memorable experience for the client. So be authentic for relationship is a two way street. As you're getting to know your client, they are also getting to know. After all, people do business with people they like, and that goes both ways.

As for which clients to entertain, as much as possible, I only ask those individuals out to lunch with whom I am comfortable. If I do have to take someone out to lunch and I have a strong feeling it'll be uncomfortable, I'll ask a colleague to join me, someone whom I feel will get along well with the client.

As for my fear of silence, it has happened only very few times, and that's usually with another introvert. When that happens for me, I just say something like the following:

"You know, studies have shown that there is total silence every 20 minutes? Wondering if you have experienced it too?" or "Gosh, guess what, one of my biggest fears just came true, total silence and I don't know what to say-I am totally blanking out". Has that ever happened to you?"

The idea is one not to be afraid to put our fear out there, in a professional manner of course. When you do that, it gives the other person to also open up and that increases comfort and makes the conversation more authentic. Secondly, always have some open ended questions in your hip pocket for such occasions. Such questions move the conversation forward. One note here. Please don't talk about the weather or something like that. Remember, you're there to learn so ask questions that will further the relationship and will allow you to learn.

Building & Strengthening Client Relationships in Other Ways

Going back to the reason for client entertainment, here are some other ways to further strengthen your relationships, that have worked beautifully for me. Key is that they be done from the heart and be genuine.

1. Always be on the look out for challenges, personal or business, your clients may be having. For example, over 15 years ago, one my client's had adopted a daughter from overseas, who was having trouble learning English. Once I understood the challenge, I realized it's very similar to what my daughter had faced and to help her learn, we had purchased a series of cassettes to help her learn, which had helped her immensely. As my daughter didn't need them anymore, I delivered them to my client, and they helped her daughter immensely too. Today, even after all these years, everything I run into this client, she makes it a point to update me on her daughters progress and thanks me for the tapes. She still remembers. I feel happy in that I made a difference, and it's been good business too. We both won, in more ways then one.

2. Send out, by snail mail, hand written thank you cards. They are so rare these days, making them even more special. In today's time where nearly everything seems to quickly become a commodity, standing out from the crowd becomes an increasing challenge. Sending out hand written cards really helps you stand apart and makes you memorable.

3. Send information such as articles that you may have read that will be of interest to your clients. Again, by snail mail whenever possible, with a short hand written note, saying something like "Hey Myron, thought this might be of interest to you - Vinay". It demonstrates to clients you're thinking of them, which you are. By the way, this doesn't have to be just business oriented. It can be of personal nature also. Again, key is to be authentic and from the heart.

4. Send white papers and articles that you have written. If you haven't written, I urge you to do so. It's one of our top secret weapons to sales success, specially for us introverts. In the end, no matter how much you and the client like each other, the client has to first and foremost find a business value in the relationship. Of course many such relationships do turn into life-long friendships. First however is providing the business value. And by sending out such materials that you have written, you are positioning yourself as THE expert in the field, and that's something we introverts do so well. So leverage it to the max.

Look, my fellow introverts, we may not be the life of the party, we may not be the ones going to games screaming rha! rha! rha! Go bulls, and we not bethe ones who can easily "wow" folks at a gathering. But when clients know you can help them solve their problems, that they can count on you, you'll take the time to truly listen and understand their situation and then help them solve it, you're well on your way to making your client relationships strong, baseball tickets or not.

Happy Entertaining, my Fellow Introverts~


PS To help you kick off this new year and make it a great year for you, look for my additional posts over the next couple of weeks. As an introvert, I know what you go through so I want to do all that I can to support you in your success.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Purpose. Passion. Profits.


Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too. We did, in our family business, taking it from staff size of 5 to over 50. We enjoyed rapid growth, client loyalty, and profitability greater then average for our type of business and industry.


In the book "It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven by Purpose", authors Roy M. Spence Jr. and Haley Rushing discuss the importance of having a purpose, a reason for being, beyond just making money. They go onto say that having a clear sense of purpose, that's in line with a higher cause, almost always results in making more money too, then you ever thought possible. This is exactly what happened for us.

For now, money aside, having a higher sense of purpose became even more important when running a small business for it was really hard work. It was 24/7/365. Business lived in the board room and in the bedroom. Competition, employee issues, cash flow, payroll, tough client deadlines, keeping up constant marketplace changes and technologies, to name just a few--while having very limited resources. It was a constant juggling & balancing act and past success was no assurance of future success. Every day, every month, every year was a new beginning and one could practically overnight go from hero to zero.


Add in the dynamics of the family run business, in which I was for nearly 20 years, it was a whole different ball game. These years ended up being the best of times and the worst of times. There were days filled with joy. Others when we want to simply choke the living daylights out of each other, or simply hide or just run away. (More on family business dynamics, both challenges and opportunities, to come in my future postings.)

Through it all, two things kept me going. One, fear. Yes, fear, fear of failure. We had lot riding on our business since as a small business, we had to personally guarantee many of the business loans. Second was a sense of higher purpose. While there were moments my fear took over, derailing me, it was my sense of higher purpose that I kept me focused and kept me going, providing the fuel to persevere.

As for our marketplace, something we fell into, it was serving mostly associations and non-profit cause groups. And I was thankful for this for with it came a sense that the work we did was connected to a higher purpose. I always felt that in some indirect way, we were contributing to making the world a better place and that was very soul satisfying for me.

In addition, the clients we served were constantly under enormous pressure and experienced lot of stress in the workplace. So for me personally, I had a motto that daily energized me and got me out of bed.

The way I saw it, my job was to take care of my clients, make their life easier as best as I could. To me, they were taking care of the world, and my job was to take care of them. Therefore, I was even more fanatic about providing the best customer experience I could.

I always believed that once my clients turned something over to me, they shouldn't have to worry one bit. It way my job to take care of them, make their life easier, help them look good, and to indirectly help them make their dreams come true, for my clients had in some way their own dreams, hopes, quality of life tied into quality of work we produced for them. So if I failed them, I felt I hurt them and that was unacceptable to me.

So daily I was driven by my own sense of purpose (to work towards making this world a better place and take care of our families and clients) and I was fueled by my own passion (to build a strong business and provide outstanding client experiences). Through this, we generated very healthy profits too.

In closing, as I said earlier in my opening, it is possible to have your cake and eat it too. To do that, one has to become clear on one's purpose, do work that is aligned with it for that will provide fuel to do the necessary work and that will lead you to do your very best, which then will result in profit. And more importantly provide sense of fulfillment and happiness that comes from spending ones days in work that is personally meaningful. This is what happened for me and it's one of the many factors that contributed to our business growth and profitability.








Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Selling for Introverts

If you're an introvert, outside sales mostly likely doesn't come naturally to you. If this sounds like you, this post is for you. I too am an introvert, in a business development role. I understand what you're going through.

In my nearly 30 years of career, over 20 have been spent in sales & marketing roles. Being an introvert and an intellectual type, honestly, initially selling for me was a real struggle. My first time at it, I frankly struggled and nearly gave up on selling as a career.

Back in 1981 when I graduated with my degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Maryland, my very first job was as a Sales Engineer for a major oil company. While I loved the freedom, meeting new people, learning all sorts of new material, and solving client problems, sales part of the job did not come naturally to me.

In all my schooling, I just wasn't trained to sell. I had taken all sorts of hard sciences and engineering courses. But not a single course in selling. I was trained to solve problems, not to sell. To learn about sales, I decided to take sales classes. Clearly, they were developed by extroverts, for extroverts. They just didn't work for me. Instead, I felt even worse thinking I'll never be able to sell.

To make matters worse, at the time, I believed successful sales folks are pushy, aggressive, will say yes to anything and everything, just in it for the commission checks, fast talkers, talkative and so on. While I didn't like that image, I tried to be like one of those "salesman".

It was exhausting. I hated it and didn't look forward to it. I tripped all over myself trying. To be blunt, I sucked. I knew it. My employer knew it. Yet at the time, I lacked the guts to quit and worse, to admit failure. Well, the good Lord heard my prayers and had my butt canned. Sure, my ego was bruised. But man, what a relief that was. In hind site, that was the best thing that happened to me. Anyways, I ultimately landed at EPA, saying to myself I'll never do sales again.

As they say, never say never. After 10 years at EPA, though I was doing well in my career, I resigned to jump into business. Well, guess what. To build a business, one has to sell. What a surprise, eh? So here I went again. Yes, I was nervous at first.

Not knowing at the time, this time lady luck was on my side and slowly I came to realize through experience that selling really is more like problem solving, and that we introverts also have inherent gifts and talents that we can leverage to drive sales success. Extroverts don't have the corner as I thought they did. In many reasons, I have come to believe that in many cases, we introverts actually make better sales people, especially in situations where success depends on becoming an expert and developing long-term relationships.

In this post, I want to share with you what I learned, through my own struggles, about "selling as an introvert" in my business development journey. My intent though is not to boost myself but to simply share lessons learned. So if you're in introvert and an intellectual like me, and you can pick up some nuggets through my experiences, that will help you succeed in a business development position, then this post would have achieved it's purpose.

Here's what I learned.

1. As most introverts, I am a great listener. Unlike pushing products where there is limited repeat sales, complex solution selling requires excellent listening skills, patience and ability to think deeply. In fact, successful sales people in such a selling environment spend more then 70% of their time asking probing questions, listening for both what's said and what's not said. Here we introverts really excel, beating those extroverts hands down. An added benefit is that when we listen, truly listen, the buyers feel heard and that helps to build trust and confidence, which pays off in the long-run.

2. As I am sure you, I can absorb and analyze lots of detailed and very complex information. It's rare for me to miss crucial details. In a complex solution sale, capturing those details is so critical to success, for both sides.

3. I love to become a subject matter expert, learning all that I can. In fact, the more I learn, the more confident I become and the easier it gets for me to sell. I just can't wing it like those extroverts. I like to use that expertise to help clients solve their problems, for I believe strongly that my success comes through client's success. As I do this, clients come to understand that I am on their side. They let their guards down for they know I am not there to hustle a sales. I am in this with them for the long-haul and not some quick sale just to make a buck.

4. I am non-threatening and strong in building one-to-one lasting relationships. Most of my time in conversations is spent in asking questions, probing, learning, and listening.

5. I am very patient and methodical, knowing that real success takes time, and consistent and persistent effort. In a long sales cycle environment, we introverts have real advantage over most extroverts who generally want a quick sale, and then move on.

6. I love to write and therefore I write a lot in various forums. Over the years, those writings have lead me to being invited to write articles for newsletters and magazines, to speak, to teach, serve on committees, calls from prospective clients, and ultimately to business. In the process, I have also developed many close friendships which then in many instances leads to referrals. Morever, when I attend various meetings, my name is frequently recognized and that makes making connections even easier, and more fun and enjoyable.

7. Being one of those who are slow to take off, the more I learned about my offerings and my clients, the more clear I became on how and what value I provide to my clients and to whom (my target market), the faster I started to take off. We introverts have the patience to go through such a learning curve.

These are just to name a few. I'll share more with you in my upcoming posts. For now, now that we introverts can and do succeed in business development too. We just have to find the right type of a sales environment, selling products & services that utilize our inherent strengths, view sales more as helping our clients solve their problems, identify our own unique talents and interests, and then leverage all that to drive sales success.

So if you're an introvert like me and you have to sell your services, and it doesn't came naturally to you, don't despair. Step back for a moment, assess your inherent talents and abilities, see them from your customer's perspective, and then find ways to leverage all that for your success.

Hey, if I can, you too can succeed in outside sales. Go introverts!



Sweet Spot: Maximizing Business Growth & Profitability

I am frequently asked how we rapidly and profitably grew GRC Direct, from a small retail print shop to a large commercial full-service direct mail facility. After giving it thought, I have decided to start to share what we did and some of the lessons learned.

Of course, not everything we tried worked. Whatever we learned however, through our successes and failures, I will happily share with hopes that our learnings will help you in your success. Whether you are a small business, an association, or an independent, I am confident that applying these lessons will help you take your organization to the next level.

Getting back to our journey, as our business grew, as with most businesses, we tended to take on variety of projects and clients. Some big, some small. Some in line with what we did best at the time, some that forced us to stretch, some that in hindsite we shouldn't have touched.

While they all provided revenue, we did our best to never lost sight of our sweet spot-what we did best, our core strengths, our target market. We wanted to be the big fish in the small pond, rather then be just another fish in the pond. While as the business grew, and our sweet spot did shift gradually over time, we repeatedly spent time finding and refocusing our energies on our sweet spot. That sweet spot then impacted our sales & marketing efforts, internal capabilities, staff training and so on.

So how does one find one's sweet spot? While I am sure there are many ways, here's what worked for us.

Every quarter or so, we would print out a "year-end" report, listing for the previous 12 months, client names vs. year to date revenue, in ascending order. Applying the 80/20 rule, we then identified those top clients who provided majority of our revenue. With this list in hand, we then looked for common patterns. This included looking for items such as:

1. Organization size, e.g. total revenue, staff size, # of members, donors, type, location;
2. Types of projects produced, which internal capabilities were used to fulfill their needs, profitability, etc.
3. Profile of the client as an individual, e.g. gender, approximate age, job title, knowledge of direct mail production; etc.
4. Source of the initial client contact, e.g. referral, direct mail, cold call, speaking engagement, etc.;
5. Clients' desired outcomes through the projects projects, e.g. fundraising, member acquisition, renewal, new member on-boarding, product sales.

These are just some of the many elements we looked into. In essence, we were continually looking for patterns, and they always emerged. Those patterns then provided us insights into how to market, our messaging, to whom, our communication medium, our equipment purchases, staff training, and so on.

As we did this, not only did our revenue increase, so did our profitability, client retention and acquisition. In essence, it allowed us to more effectively align and utilize our limited resources with that of the needs of our target market--and it worked beautifully.

So as you're entering the new year, and if you are feeling stretched, feeling as if you are "all over the map", and less then effective, step back for a moment, find your sweet spot and refocus your game plan. Given that we're just entering the new year, it's a great way to start the new year.

I realize you might be saying that you already have too much to do and there is no time to slow down. Well, remember that before the pole vaulter can jump over that high hurdle, he (or she) first steps back and then hits the ground running. Similarly, in order to make that huge leap and win the race, take some time to step back, analyze, refocus and then hit the ground running. In the long-run, you will more then make up the lost time and you will come out ahead.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why Can't People Get Along?


Has someone ever rubbed you the wrong way?

Have you ever said something where even though you had the best of intentions, you found yourself completely misunderstood?

Did you know that the number one reason most people can't stand their work is not because of the work itself but because they can't stand their boss, their colleagues? That's also the big reason people loose their jobs, simply because people can't get along with them.

This is no small matter. When we can't get along, it has numerous negative implications. Misunderstandings take place. Friction happens. Communication and ultimately trust breaks down. Personal and professional relationships suffer. People become disengaged. Performance and productivity declines. Moral suffers. Innovation nearly comes to a halt. Stress increases. Health suffers and health care costs rise. These are just a few of the many negative impacts.

In school, it seems we take all sorts of subjects. Yet when it comes to taking courses to understand each other and learn how to effectively communicate, the foundation for effective and lasting relationships, such courses are far and few.

The reality is that people can't get along in most cases simply because we do not understand each other, we see the world through our own lenses, and we think our view is the right way.

As I have gotten older, I have come to experience and believe that everyone adds value, everyone has something to offer that betters the world, enriches our lives. Key is to have the patience, to take the time to understand our own and as well as others personalities, temperaments, communication styles, views, and perspectives.

While it's not always easy, as the more I do that, the more I experience increased happiness, healthier relationships and more success in my work. The formula is simple.

Communication ------> Connection -----> Happiness & Success

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Networking for Introverts


By nature, I am a reserved person and I lack the gift of the gab. I don't know much about sports and I am not into small talk. Yet being in business development, networking is part of my job.

For the longest time, networking felt awkward and uncomfortable. I would often be the guy on the side with a drink in my hand. I silently wished I could mingle like rest of the folks who were chatting away and having a gala time. But I didn't know where to start or what to do. Yes, it was "lonely".

It is said that necessity is the source for new ideas, new solutions. Out of my necessity, I came up with my "4-Steps to Networking for Introverts". It has worked like a charm. So if you're like me and this is a challenge for you, read on.

Here are my 4-steps. Give 'em a try and experience the benefits for yourself. Before proceeding though, realize that I see networking as a way to start initiating relationships, and not as the place to sell. With that, let's move forward.

Step 1: After you get a drink, find someone in the room who is standing alone. Trust me, it won't be difficult. Walk up to them, extend out your hand and say something like "Hi, I am Vinay. And you are?". They'll be so thankful to you for reaching out to them. After they give you there name, say something like what I say "Nice to meet you. I am Vinay, with Marketing General. We help associations grow membership. Tell me, what do you do?". After they have talked a bit, depending of course on the flow of the conversation, you can say something like "Wow, that's fantastic. How did you get into that?".

Step 2: After some time, gently get away from person you met in step 1, and find another person standing alone. Repeat line of questioning & conversation outlined in step #1.

Step 3: After some initial conversation, together with person you met in step #2, walk over to person you met in step #1 and introduce them to each other, and let them start to have a conversation. As that happens, gently move away onto step #4.

Step 4: Find a 3rd person who is alone and start over with step #1.

The secret it to reach out, ask few open ended questions, and then just listen. People generally love to talk about themselves and what they do. So all you have to do is reach out with a simple hello, and ask couple of open ended questions to get the ball rolling. Through this entire process, you mostly listen, which is where we introverts really excel. In addition, the other person in feels great and it works to your style, your natural strength as an introvert.

Before you know it, you'll have initiated some great relationships, some that may even turn into life long friends, let alone clients. You'll have helped those individuals who were probably feeling alone, wishing they had someone to talk to. Furthermore, you'll have engaged these individuals, made them feel welcomed which could lead them to come again to such gatherings. Finally, those conversations may lead to business for you and they may further also introduce you to others, folks whom you otherwise might have never met. EVERYONE wins! Go ahead and give it try.

Well, now that I have this networking under my belt, next I need to overcome my inhibitions and get myself onto the dance floor. If you get that one figured out before I do, please do share your secret. My wife will thank you, for she likes to dance and I don't have the nerves to go on the dance floor just yet, atleast not without having several stiff drinks first. :)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Diversity: People of Color


The other day, I was at an association meeting where someone made a statement about 10% of their membership consists of people of color. At the time, didn’t think much of it. Then over the weekend, in a Washington Post article by Michele Singletary, again reference was made to “people of color”. This got me wondering. Who exactly are these people of color. I decided to spend time doing research, looking into several factors.

In case anyone else also is wondering about this, let’s me share with you what I found and who exactly these people are. It was quite enlightening.

First, I looked up definition of White, Black and Brown on dictionary.com-the commons "colors" of people I tend to run across in my daily life. Here’s how black, white and brown are defined:

Black: The color at one extreme end of the scale of grays – opposite to white, absorbing all light incident upon it.

White: A color without hue at one extreme end of the scale of grays, opposite to black.

Brown: A dark tertiary color with a yellowish or reddish hue.

OK, I was stumped because they all use the word color in their definitions. So I continued to dig.

I then looked up some medical sort of stuff and here’s what they had to say:

In humans, the degree of darkness of skin depends primarily on how much Melanin is present. In addition, the presence of Hemoglobin and Carotine in the blood also contributes to skin color.

Still, no clarity.

Finally, I went to the big boss, at home. Yes, my wife. Yes, she is in charge, without a doubt, whether I accept it or not. Even my two daughters remind me of this every time they get a chance. But that’s a different conversation. :) In any event, as she is a medical doctor I figured she’ll know something about this.

She explained to me that with the exception of Albinos (which is a rare situation and very few true Albinos are present on this earth), every living human being on this planet earth has Melanin (and Hemoglobin and Carotine) and it is these elements that contribute to color.

Hmmmm….still no clear answer as to who are these unique individuals we refer to "People of Color". From all the research I have done, the way I see it, are we all not people of color? The only people who are technically not of color are Albinos. And I honestly can’t seem to recall the last time I saw an Albino.

Perhaps we need to have another measure—please indicate your Melanin content level and we can be grouped by this measure.

Check here: A. 0-10%
B. 11-20%
and so on….

This reminds me, I also learned that every human being also has a human heart. Honestly, I just can’t seem to find anything that really separates us. Everywhere I look, I seem to find only similarities. The search goes on…for these People of Color. If you find out, won't you please let me know. Thank you.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Transaction vs. An Experience

I was at the post office few days prior to Christmas, shipping out couple of packages. I noticed the lines were much shorter then usual. As there were couple of others in line doing the same, we got to chatting.

One person chimed in saying now-a-days it's possible that more people are shopping on-line, having the goods shipped directly to their desired destinations. After some chit chat, we all parted feeling that it is/was so much nicer when the stuff would be shipped to us, say from grandma, rather then directly from the retailer, for that felt much more special.

It occurred to me that while in both cases we receive the same goods, in both cases by mail, one method had more the feeling of a transaction whereas the other had feeling of something much more special, a memorable experience, that created a special emotional bond.

As we are emotional beings, weather done consciously or unconsciously, a positive experience is much more powerful in-terms of creating lasting relationships. Those relationships then translate into repeat sales. For afterall, people do buy emotionally and then use rational to justify their decisions.

Therefore from business point of view, what types of actions are you taking to turn ordinary transactions, into more positive experiences?

Diversity: My Confessions, Observations, Thoughts & Feelings

What I have been realizing that I have for the longest time I have
misunderstood, or rather more confused, by the word diversity.

I immigrated to this country back in December 1969. As I was growing
up, I used to read about how there used to be segregation, where
blacks had to sit in the back of the bus, had different water
fountains, etc. While I was never directly affected by it, the
thought of another human being treated so inhumanly as such used to
pain me. I mean, why should a human being who is no different then
anyone else be treated differently due to the color of the skin, and
that too in this manner? Therefore, I began to associate diversity more
as a race issue, more about about integration. I believed that we
should look beyond the surface and value and appreciate each other
based on what's inside, not outside. This doesn't mean I didn't
notice the surface differences for it's so obvious. But I didn't
treat, and still don't, another differently simply cause someone is
black, white, brown, yellow, purple, green, and so on.

Furthermore, when I was growing up, I recall many of my cousins
immigrating to this country. Some of them, before they even got off
the plane, they tried to put their Indian-ness behind them and started
to act and appear to be more westernized then the folks here. In
those early days, they tried to cover up their Indian-ness, rather
then be proud of it. For what reason, I still don't understand cause
I too am an Indian and not for one single moment have I ever felt
unaccepted or that I don't fit in. NEVER!

The net result of all this was that I just felt very confused. While
I appreciate everyone for who they truly are as individuals, I never
knew and know even today how to react to one's surface differences,
cause I don't know where they are coming from. Are they proud or are
they trying to cover it up. So I just don't say a lot. This doesn't
mean I don't value or that I don't appreciate one's color,etc. It's
just that I don't know where the other person is coming from and how
they might react. And I don't want to hurt someone for I fear what if
I say something "wrong". So I tend to avoid the topic.

In the end, the way I see it, beyond the obvious surface differences,
we have nothing but diversity. Think about it. Starting with some
thing as basic as our finger prints, there are no two human beings who
have the exact same pattern. Each is unique. Add to this one's
thoughts, upbringing, experiences, and so on, we each are unique and
we each have something to offer. Since no two human beings are
exactly alike, we truly are a 100% diverse population. And we all are
surrounded by 100% diversity, truly.

Having said that, there are certainly what I would refer to as
segments of population when we look at broad stroke differences. And
the following is and example, as a way of a metaphor, why I see it's
so important to recognize everyone and have a seat for everyone at the
table.

There is an old saying that goes something like this. When you're a
hammer, everyone is a nail. So if we gather all hammers, all we end
up is seeing all non-hammers as nails. But when we bring together
hammers, nails, saws, paint brushes, paint, chisels, etc. we build a
Sistine Chapel. In other words, when we all come together and bring
our uniqueness and mix it all together, we end up with something so
truly delicious.

Another way to view this is that everything we are and what we have,
it's all a manifestation of our individual and collective thoughts.
So the more variety of folks that come together, the more variety in
thoughts. And from that mix of thoughts and creativity, newer and
newer possibilities emerge. With all this in mind, it's becoming
increasingly important that we all come together and value, cherish
and appreciate each and every individual on this planet for each and
every person comes to this planet with their unique gifts and they all
are important for this collectiveness brings richness to our lives and
helps all of us move forward. Without it, we limit our growth
and life becomes rather dull and boring.

Diversity: The Missing Ingredient & It's Competitive Advantage

It has been several months since I attended ASAE's Diversity Conference in Baltimore. Since then I have spent quiet a bit of time in silent contemplation and reflection on this topic of diversity. I have also spent significant time in various organizations observing people at work and having discussions. While we have made significant strides towards valuing our surface differences, I also believe that we really have not done as effective of a job when it comes to truly understanding and leveraging "real" diversity to achieve a competitive advantage and drive organizational performance.

To better convey my thoughts, please allow me to use the automobile as a metaphor. While they come in various shapes, sizes and styles, at the core of each and what powers each automobile is the engine. That engine is a very complex machinery with numerous moving parts (again of various shapes and sizes) and it is the lubricant that is a very key ingredient ensuring the engine runs smoothly. Without it, significant friction would be created, components would begin to malfunction and eventually the engine would seize and perhaps even results in a violent and dangerous fire situation.

When it comes to diversity in the business environment, the situation is very similar to that of an engine and as the lubricant is to the engine, real human understanding of each other is to organizations. Yet, here is where I see the breakdown and what I observe and hear about on an ongoing basis, and associations are by no means except nor immune to this phenomena.

As we go through life, we take all types of subjects including math, sciences, arts, and so on. While they are very important indeed, what we don't learn enough, if at all, about is human behavior and lack of this understanding creates the effect similar to that of running an engine without sufficient or appropriate lubricant. Please allow me to expand my thoughts here.

In the workplace, there are always several different styles at work and each individual has his/her own inner motivations that serves as the fuel to power the engine. Let me present two of the styles here for discussion sake.

One style is what I refer to as "Drivers". They are self-assured, competitive, results oriented, fearless, confident, driven to win, fast paced and they love to take charge. These people have immense value to add to every organization. Yet due to lack of understanding of human behavior, they are often, specially under stress, perceived and mislabeled as bossy, jerk, autocratic, pushy, stubborn, confrontation, hostile, forceful, dominating, aggressive, blunt, intimidating, dictatorial, difficult....you get the idea.

Then there are those who I refer to as "Conscientious". Their strengths are they are critical thinkers, detail oriented, precise, accurate, meticulous, logical, task focused. Yet these very same people who add so much value to organizations, by those who don't recognize and understand them, these people are too often labeled as
perfectionists, picky, fussy, cold, pessimistic, strict, defensive, hard-to-please.

Then in add'n to styles, there is the question of inner motivations. One can have very similar behaviors but very different motivations that drive their behaviors. Some are driven to lead, others who drive for results, those whose mission is to serve, and so on.

While my purpose here is not to give a discourse on behaviors and motivations, what I am trying to convey is that if we truly want to leverage diversity and turn that into our competitive advantage, we MUST spend the time and resources to better understand each other at our core. As that is done, that will be similar to adding fresh
lubricant to an engine. And that will lead to each higher performance and greater success in the long run.

But here is the resistance that often comes. We don't have the time. That is like cutting a tree with a dull saw. We work hard but progress is slow and work frustrating and de-energizing. As the javelin thrower, at times one has to take several steps back before being able to gain enough speed to jump over the hurdle. It is similar with diversity. We must take the time to truly understand each other at a much deeper level and then engage in a heartfelt dialogue and from that actions will emerge that will result in greater human understanding and truly turn diversity into a business competitive advantage. As that is done, diversity will naturally begin to be further understood, valued and actually even sought out for diversity leads to better decisions, more creativity and stronger organizations.

Guidance for Those in Transition

When asked the question "what do you do", often the reply is: I am an
Executive Director, Customer Service Representative, Membership Director, Meetings person.... In a transition situation, such thinking is very self-limiting. One that
we can not afford, particularly in this tight market. Therefore, even
more important to expand our thinking. To come through, it will help
to look at ourselves and our situation through a new lens. Read on.

Every human being has an inner purpose and an outer purpose.

Great majority of individuals define themselves, unfortunately, by
their outer purpose mainly. That is simply WHAT they DO. In this
rapidly changing global economy, structures will continue to rise and
fall, at an increasing rate. Thus, the WHAT will shift continue to
shift at an rapid rate too. As we know, more and more individuals are
having multiple careers. Therefore, if you define yourself by WHAT
you do, your job title for example, you are severely limiting
yourself.

Instead, it is important to now turn your sights to identifying your
inner purpose. This is your BEING and HOW you do what you do. This
is your anchor and it NEVER changes. It's fixed throughout ones life.
You see, EVERY human being comes to this earth endowed with certain
gifts. As you reflect on back your career, times you were happy and
successful, you were using your gifts.

For example, some are born to lead, others to be number crunchers.
Some possess "blank page creativity" while others are great at
analyzing and organizing. When all is said and done, there are only a
handful of these. And very importantly, one can fairly easily map
these gifts to various typical business functions. These business
functions cut across all types of organizations, regardless of
industry, size, their products/service, and so on.

Unfortunately, very few individuals have ever taken the time to do
such deep introspection. Ones that do, they find more joy and more
success. If you want to do such an introspection but are unsure where
to start, here's a suggestion. It's a "simple" 4-step process.

Step 1: Identify 6 situations - 3 prior to your college graduation
and 3 after you entered the workforce, post college. For each
situation, identify those times when you accomplished something and
you really enjoyed the process. This would be where you were totally
lost yourself in your work, completely absorbed. Something you would
do even if you didn't get paid.

For example:

High School: Increased rate of hamburger flipping at McDonalds by 50%.
Post-college: Increased invoice processing rate by 35%.

Step 2: For each incident, go into great detail, as much as possible,
on how you went about accomplishing what you did. What specific
activities were you doing, who were you with, what was the
environment, were you working with numbers, alphabets, etc. Do this
exercise, mentally and from your gut. Go into that silent space. Let
it all perculate and let it all come up. It's not something to be
rushed through.

Step 3: Identify, for each incident, what was satisfying to you.

Step 4: Review/read what you came up with in steps 1 through 3. Feel
free to go back and add/edit. This is for you. The more you put into
it, the more you'll get out of it. Of course, it never hurts to share
with others who know you well. They may be able to add valuable
insights.

From this will emerge a strong pattern providing you with key insights
to your inner purpose. From these insights, the lens through which
you view the job market will expand. World of opportunities will
likely open up. You see, the gift is in you. Identify it and then go
seek your job from that place. It will surely increase the odds of
your landing a job. More importantly one that will provide you with
not just financial success, but great joy as well.

From Here to There

It's a cold, rainy day here in Washington. Great day to kick back, sip hot tea, contemplate and reflect--something these days there is so little time to do. Yet so important, so we don't later discover that we have been running hard, but in the wrong direction. As I have been doing that, something has been coming up that I want to share. What's coming up is that life for each of us is a series of transformations, conversions, movements...what we're all involved in constantly.

For example, through a series of processes, conversations, movements:

Parents are moving their children from dependence to independence;
Artists are transforming blank canvases to masterpieces;
Chef are busy converting raw ingredients into delicious meals;
Restaurants are converting those delicious meals into memorable experiences.

When I think of associations, for me as I see it, we exist to help our members overcome their various obstacles and help them move from where they are today to where they want to be. This is and will be the constant as we move forward into the 21st century--their desire for movement. Of course their challenges, their desired state will continue to evolve and how we support them in making those shifts happen successfully, through what structures, what offerings will continue to evolve.

Today when we see number of associations facing decreasing membership, reduced revenues, along with numerous other challenges, I more frequently find myself wondering how much of that has to do with the current economy and how much to do with how associations do what they do. In other words, how much of our current challenges are due to external reality vs. our own thinking. I know when I look at myself, some of my great challenges & battles I face in my own life are not so much external but rather the ones that takes between my own ears.

Given the increasing rates of change, I wonder if it's time to more frequently through research and other means better understand where our members are today, where they want to be, and what challenges they are facing? Time to identify and reexam our assumptions, our beliefs about how we associations function, our roles, and why/how we do what we do? How much more fluid and flexible we need to be? Given that major innovations frequently come more from the outside of the industry, how do we effectively invite participation from those who are outside, those who may not be necessarily members but can and will contribute new ideas, new thoughts, help us redefine, stay current... so we don't just survive but rather thrive as we move forward? That we see these current challenges as opportunities to redefine ourselves, our structures, our offerings and come out through the current climate even stronger?

In conclusion, in our lives transformations, movements and conversions is constant but how we get from here to there, and where that is will continue to shift. The question is what do we do and how we keep up with these shifts, so we continue to thrive. Just wondering out loud with you, my colleagues here. Thoughts?

Santa-The Ultimate Membership Marketer & CEO

I been thinking about this dude, Santa, who heads up International Santa Clause Association (ISCA). Have you heard of it? I bet you have. He has been at it for eons. I mean I thought Jim Collins was the guru on Built to Last. Forget it man. Move over Jim. We need to talk to Santa for gosh, he has been at this for as far back as I can see. Hmm, wondering what's his secret. Let's explore, shall we, and see what we can learn from him, lessons that may help us not just get survive but thrive into the 21st Century?

First, we all know that membership begins with awareness. Whether someone is a member of ISCA or not, can any of us think of any one who doesn't know about ISCA? I can't. I mean this guy stays up the with latest technological trends, he embraces them to continually spread the word, from using social media, to viral marketing, to word-of-mouth, to web, to print, to ads, to whatever--you name it, he uses it.

He doesn't just start with student members, for he knows that may be too late. He begins to cultivate his membership pretty much before his prospective members are even born. I myself have had this tune jingling in my brain since I was in the womb. He then slowly and slowly engages his audience and they eventually sign on, and spend the cash too. It starts with listening to the tunes, then the pic with him at the mall, then come the toys, the movies, the cloths, the CDs and so on. One by one he turns such engagements to active membership and drive revenue. Plus, he doesn't just do this once. It's year after year after year. Talk about a renewal program. And when someone looses faith and drops their membership, he gently yet firmly continues to stay in touch, and eventually faith returns and they renew their membership once again. A reinstatement guru too. Wow man!

While his central purpose is to spread joy and cheer, he is also a smart business man. He knows that membership numbers alone won't sustain him. Therefore, in addition to increasing his membership numbers, he actively drives revenue too, for he knows that without margin, there is no mission. He clearly applys his business acumen to run ISCA. He understands and follows the saying "Non-Profit is a Tax Status, not a Business Model". Smart dude.

When it comes to Life Time Value (LTV), this guy is way ahead of the game. He doesn't want just you, he also wants your kids, your grand kids, their kids, and so on. Once you're in his program, he doesn't let go. He thinks in-terms of generations.

He is clear that membership is not just his job. and he has successfully engaged his entire team. While he is out and about spreading his message, so are his wife, his shop crew, even his delivery boys. Talk about getting everyone on staff to see that membership is everybodys job. One smart due indeed.

40 Years in the U. S. of A.

Today is a very special day for me, which I want to celebrate it with you, for the association community had a huge part in it. 40 years ago, on this very day, December 31, 1969, when my sister and I landed in US, on a rainy snowy cold day. It was start of lot of firsts, starting with our first time being on a plane and seeing snow. We came with $8, some cloths, an uncertain future. Yet filled with excitement at the thought of reconnecting with our parents whom we hadn't seen for months, and hope for a better future. I was 11 and my sister was 9.

As I had shared few years back, our immigrating to US was made possible by my dad's pen pal, Mr. Cooper, an association executive who ran LES (Life Extension Society) back in the 60's. His and Mrs. Cooper's support positively changed the course of our lives, and those of our generations to come. Ever since then, associations have continued to play a role in our lives, directly and indirectly. Also in our story, there is a valuable lesson for all, which I'll share at the end here.

Ours is a typical immigrant story. When we came, I barely knew English. The 4 of us lived in a studio apartment. It had a sofa purchased from Salvation Army. We had a bed that folded up into a wall--strange contraption which I had never seen. At the time, I was a vegetarian. In my first week into 6th grade, unknowingly at lunch, I took a bite into a sloppy joe. It was love at first bite. I can still taste it. Rabbit food was out. "Rabbits" were in. Yuuummm. A friend thought me a 4-letter word, starting with F. Not knowing what it means, thinking it sounds cool, I used it on a teacher, and as a result got to experience a meeting with the principal and then experience detention. :) Ah, what a fun journey it has been, and still more to go. All exciting stuff.

Ah, the lesson, how my dad and Mr. Cooper connected and what the lesson was. Mr. Cooper had published an articles on the work of LES. LES's members were the ones who froze people, in hopes of later bringing them back to life whenever it became possible. Somehow my dad came across that article and as he read it, he got really pissed off. From what I hear, he wrote a scathing letter to Mr. Cooper, saying why in the &%^&(% world would they be doing such work, when there are already so many people who are alive and don't have food to eat. Well, fate has it that that letter lead to a life long friendship and it changed the course of our lives forever. So the lesson. If not for any other reason, be kind and be thankful to others for being in our lives, even though they may hold different views. Who knows, someone you come across and even if you don't agree with them, they may just end up being your savior, your best friend.

Well, on this special day, I wanted to say THANKS to the association community for making such a huge difference in our lives. Associations and the people who work in them really do contribute to making the world a better place. Of the many, I am just one living proof. THANK YOU!!!!!