Friday, May 22, 2009

Creative Solution Selling

Last fall I lost a lot of contracts due to massive budget cuts. It was and still is a hard time to be an independent consultant. I was discussing this dilemma with my friend Saam Gabbay and he said, "Dude, you have to create projects and the capital to fund them. You have to not only make yourself invaluable, but you also have to illustrate a problem, create a solution, and sometimes find the capital to pay yourself."

Saam is an exceptional producer, brander, marketer, and media professional. He showed me 10 companies that he really liked for product, brand, and value reasons, and also where he saw gaps in their branding, marketing and social media. He would then pick up the phone and call. After various holds and transfers, he would eventually find the person he needed to talk with, explain that he was a fan and customer, and present a proposal. He landed several projects in a market that, for most people, was entirely frozen. I had spent the last few months engaged in traditional marketing, lamenting with other consultants and freelancers, and working on a novel (it's still in the works).

Things had to change. My first venture in creative solution selling was with a local non-profit I really appreciate and beleive in. They had some really detrimental challenges in leadership, organization structure, vision and mission, and branding - all of which was causing the organization massive pain. Not only were they confronted by these challenges, but with the crash of the market they had also lost a lot of funding.

Much like Saam, I wrote a proposal, connected, and shared my enthusiasm and appreciation for their work. I went throgh my proposal and they agreed: they were indeed challenged; however, they had absolutely nothing they could pay me. I needed to be more creative. I proposed that I fundraise for them and asked that they give me 75% of whatever I raised for project fees. They agreed. We went forward. It all worked out very well.

In this market, we not only have to offer a service or product of value, but we have to find where these fit, illustate their necessity, and sometimes create the capital.

In our post-modern iteration of the sells approach, we're taught to listen, create a relationship, and really find out what the customer needs. It's this process of discover that sells you and what you offer. I generally like this. This is the approach that I tend to use. However, without losing the significance of relationship, discovery, conversation, and ultimately care, we have to take a much more active approach. We have to engage creative solution selling.

With creative solution selling, you're both creating (or illustrating) a need and a solution.

Harvard Business Review's March issue had a great article called Provoke Your Customers. This article, much like this discussion of creative solution selling, urges businesses to become active in their sells process. Create both the problem and solution.

HBR offers a table of comparison:

In current relational based selling:
  • Competes for vendor preference within an exisiting budget
  • Aligns with prevailing point of view
  • Addresses acknowledged pain points
  • Targets tactical problems
  • Begins with technical proof and then builds a business case
  • Starts as a line-of-business dialogue
  • Asks questions to identify needs
  • Responds to issues described by the client
In creative solution based selling:
  • Compels project investment outside an existing budget
  • Challenges the prevailing point of view
  • Addresses unacknowledged angst
  • Targets strategic problems
  • Begins with the business case and then provides technical proof
  • Starts as an executive-level dialogue
  • Uses an insightful hypothesis to provoke a response
  • Is proactive and leading, forcing issues out
It's time to be creative. Think forward. Find problems before they're problems and create solutions before they're needed - this will set you miles ahead.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Elephant, the Butterfly, the Hummingbird, and the Orchid

The Elephant, the Butterfly, the Hummingbird, and the Orchid:
Important Lessons for These Economic Times

I am constantly interested in what makes organizations, businesses, and individuals successful. A recent HBR article drew parallels from the Foreman v. Ali fight, and their symbols, the elephant and butterfly/bee, as creative impetus for business principles and solutions for our current market. I like a good metaphor. Metaphors are universal, offering insights that mold into our personal situations through shared symbolism and meaning. I like this. I am borrowing two of theirs and adding a few of my own.

The HBR article provides both exquisite symbolism and practical analytical tools, and is highly recommended. Give it a read when you have a chance.

One of the most constant assumptions in the change management consulting world is organizations that are highly adaptable will be success in our ever increasing world of rapid change and ambiguity. I tend to agree with this assumption and consult toward this end; however, as HBR points out, there are organizations (and prize fighters) that simply have the size and strength to resist challenges from the most agile competitors and most challenging environments.

Healthy adult elephants have no natural predators. They're big, tough and smart. Elephants, especially females, interact in groups, partnerships, and social circles that provide further protection. Brains and groups are helpful, but their lack of competition is ultimately a result of their size.

There are organizations in our marketplace that are the same, and because of their size, strength, positioning and cash reserves they will weather this down cycle with relative ease. It's important to note, the appearance of strength and size is not strength and size. A sick elephant is an easy target. A large organization, like Enron and Citi Bank, in a state of distress is quickly challenged by shifting markets and harmful attacks.

Consider for a moment your size, strength, production position and essential partnerships: do you have the strength, size and stable relationships with both partners and customers to weather this current storm? How are your cash reserves? Is your organization functional, resilient, and grounded in shared vision? Are the values of your company solidified in each employee? Are the larger systems that support you, lenders, supply chains, and vendors, also stable?

Strength and size is important, but it's not the only thing that will enable survival and success - think Roman Empire and Russia v. Afghanistan. The capacity to change and transform is essential. Caterpillars are great at what they do, and when there is the natural impulse to change they are able to completely transform their capacities and function interacting in a completely different environment and world - from crawling to flying.

Is your organization in touch with the intuition for necessary change? Can your business adapt to meet the demands of the current environment? Are there people in your organization that have the intuition to see needed change, development and evolution? Are there people that can facilitate necessary adaptation and growth?

IBM was able to adapt when their PC business began to fail. Instead of doing the same thing poorly, IBM created a new and powerful business of IT consulting, network installation and customer service. They completely adapted, changed their business model and process, and remained viable and successful.

Progressive and evolutionary change may not be the right thing for your business. Most often, simple, horizontal shifts will keep your organization competitive. The hummingbird has a lot to teach us here. Watching them move is enchanting and mesmerizing. Hover, shift, hover, shift. It's important now, more than ever, to move and reflect in ever rapidly increasing cycles. Pause, lateral shift, pause, lateral shift. Through this process, hummingbirds escape detection from predators and find necessary sustenance. The same will be true with your organization.

Is your organization able to make quick lateral shifts in strategy and process? Are there active reflection and action cycles built into your work process on all levels of your business? Is there clear time for assessment and course correction? Is it easy to let go of things that aren't working any longer and adjust to what does?

Again, we're not looking for big transformative shifts, just the right, strategic adjustments that keep your organization operating well from its current position.

A client over the period of a year gave me about 20 orchids. She would get a new orchid at her office each week, and so she would pass the prior week's off to me. I brought them home. I cared from them. I bought books about orchid care. I bought orchid food. I changed their light. I misted. I looked at them smiling while offering encouraging words. And nothing. They never bloomed again. After a year of this, I put them outside and left them to their own accord. I assumed that they would last just a few weeks in the challenging Los Angeles desert environment.

I was right about some. Some died quickly. However, the majority to my amazement lived! And even more surprising, about half of the plants that lived bloomed. No attention, water, care, food or encouraging words were offered - they simply lived and thrived.

Sometimes, against all odds, things survive and thrive. Does your organization have fierce will, a solid and embodied vision, and a functional strategy to channel these? Is your organization, powered by your people, systems, culture and social structure, going survive against all odds? Do you have the passion?

In this time of challenge and trial, some will fail, some will survive and some will thrive. Leverage your strengths, adapt, position and engage, just like elements in our natural world. It's worked for them for 14+ billion years. It just might work for us.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Social Media Simplified: no. 1.1

IAB just released a metrics document on social media. Important information for validating, economically, the value of social media.

Of course, there is know true way to value most advertising. Billboards, a well established advertising avenue, has no clear valuation.

Side note: most valuation processes were authored by Brothers Grimm.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Social Media Simplified: no. 1

I've had many conversations lately with many different people about social media, and I am surprised how often I hear, even from seasoned marketing professionals, how they don't get it.

What's there not to get?

Social Media is the utilization of web 2.0 products and services (Twitter, Facebook, Delicious) to engage in conversation, interaction, and expression. It's media created by social groups, thus social media.

A major point of confusion is that it's all about the tools. It's not about the tools. It's about communication. Social media, whether it's for a brand, organization, product or personal, is about communication.

The golden rule of social media: talk like you want to be talked to and listen like you want to be listened to.

I was at a Digital LA panel last week. Many major networks and studios where represented on the panel and they were discussing how they use twitter. Their approach to twitter was very traditional, wreaking of control, manipulation, brand "integrity", legal approval, and very clean-to-the point-of-patronization interactions with "consumers." This is not social media. This is traditional marketing and PR.

There is nothing wrong with traditional marketing and PR. I like it. I find it useful. And there is nothing wrong with using web 2.o tools in traditional marketing. This is actually, possibly, pretty smart. However, it's still not social media. Traditional media is a one way street - from the brand to the consumer; talking at someone.

Social media requires engagement. Social media requires relationship. Social media requires conversation - it's a two way street. This is where it gets really simple: all the ideas, perspectives, and "rules" that go into engaging in a meaningful conversation apply here.

Here's a few:

1) Listen as much, if not more, than you talk
2) When you talk, add value to the experience
3) In adding value, allow the conversation to continue
4) Conversations can't be controlled, but they can be influenced
5) No one wants to listen to you if you're selling something all the time, same applies here
6) Don't be an asshole

That's it. It's that simple. Participate in a meaningful, considerate, conscious, authentic and relevant conversation. On greater consideration, it's starting to make sense why corporations just don't get it - I can't remember the last time I experienced a corporation engaged in an authentic conversation...

In my next social media post, I'll look at social media from the individual, product and brand perspective.

Monday, May 4, 2009

General Solutions v. Custom Solutions

Most general consulting solutions tend to look like this when you really need something that looks like this: