Monday, April 30, 2007

Rand reprised

One of the fun things about being an author is having your books pop up unexpectedly. My wife and I have always been interested in Ayn Rand and in 2000, we wrote a short book about her philosophy of Objectivism and how it might be applied in business. The book came out in 2001 -- just after 9/11, in fact -- attracted a little interest, some good reviews, and as usual with anything Randian, some flack, too. The publisher folded shortly afterward and sold the book to a textbook publisher, which declared the book out of print after selling out the first printing. (So it goes, to quote the late, great Kurt Vonnegut.)

Anyway, I've been keeping an eye out for a publisher who might want to bring it back to life and copies of the book are still floating around. And, today, I ran across this blog post featuring a short review of the book and some pithy comments it generated. Thanks to Howard Hansen for reading and Ed Kless for posting!

Hunting cool online

Marketers, especially the online variety, and anyone else chasing what's cool, will want to read the new Amacom book Coolhunting by MIT Sloan's Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper. There's two interesting things here: their advice for coolfarmers and a software tool, developed by Gloor, that tracks and analyzes online networks.

Coolfarmers, according to the authors, are people who facilitate the emergence of new ideas by tapping swarm creativity thru COINs (Collaborative Innovation Networks). Ben Franklin and VC John Doerr and Linux's Linus Torvalds are examples. Their effectiveness is based on four principles:

  • They gain power by giving it away.
  • They seed community with new ideas.
  • They create intrinsic motivation.
  • They recruit trendsetters.
If you want to track coolfarmers, trendsetters, and emerging coolness online, the authors offer a software tool called TeCFlow (Temporal Communication Flow). This program, which you can download free for non-commercial use, enables you to visualize and analyze online COINs by mining their communication logs. So, if you're a marketer, for instance, you could use TeCFlow to identify the topics that most interest the online communities that use your products and services or you could target those people who are trendsetters or you could become a coolfarmer yourself and create your own next best thing. Cool stuff.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Creative blurbing

If you aren't already highly suspicious of the praise that adorns the dust jackets of most books, read the essay on creative blurbing by Henry Alford in this week's NYT's book review section. He's focused on fiction, but the situation is no different with business books. Between the favor-doing and the doctoring, there really isn't any point to reading blurbs. I've gotten more than my share of blurbs from very generous folks, I've written a few myself (I have no idea why anyone asks), and many have been lifted from my reviews. But to be honest, as a reader, I don't find endorsements or review blurbs either helpful or credible. They just take up valuable space that could be used to tell readers something useful about what's between the covers and that might actually help them decide whether or not to buy a book.

By the way, you can sign up here for the Time's free weekly "Books Update" via email. They rarely cover business books, but it's a great place to keep track of what's worth reading in fiction and general non-fiction.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Smart or stupid, rich is better

It turns out that rich people aren't any smarter than the rest of us, according to a study conducted by research scientist Jay Zagorsky of Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research. “People don’t become rich just because they are smart,” he concluded based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. “Your IQ has really no relationship to your wealth. And being very smart does not protect you from getting into financial difficulty.”

People with higher IQ scores do tend to get paid a little more than others. Like others before him, Zagorsky found that each point of increase in IQ scores is associated with $202 to $616 more annual income. That means that the average difference in income between a person with a normal IQ (100) and someone with an IQ in the top 2 percent (130) is somewhere between $6,000 to $18,500 a year. In terms of total wealth and the likelihood of financial difficulties, however, people with below average and average intelligence are no more or less likely to be wealthy than a genius.

But really, who cares? Smart or stupid, I'm still not feelthy rich.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Quit whining, start selling

I interviewed Martyn Lewis, the President and CEO of Market-Partners, a sales consultancy, the other day. Martyn's served as President and CEO for Drake International in North America, VP Marketing and Sales Services at DEC Canada, and in the major accounts division of ICL in the UK. We talked about what sales execs need to do to move up the ladder to the CEO's office.

Martyn also sent me a copy of his self-published book, Sales Wise -- a paperback of short, story-driven sales lessons. This one, in which he attends his first national sales conference, caught my eye. In it, the corporate VP of sales starts with the standard 'rally the troops' speech and then, abruptly changes gears, saying:

We know in that in some cases our products have a few holes. We know that our competitor's offerings are not that far behind us. We know that at times our customers see certain weaknesses in our overall offerings. We know that at times our competitors leapfrog us in some areas. And we don't need you to tell us--we pay other people to tell us this. Your job is to sell around the holes. If we always had the best products and our prospects and clients always viewed us the best solution provider, we wouldn't need a sales force. The only reason we have you is to sell around the holes.

The lesson, writes Martyn, "Don't waste your time complaining about the competition and other factors you can't control; focus on the strengths of your own offering and what you can control."

Friday, April 20, 2007

IBD covers Achieve Sales Excellence

Just discovered that on Tuesday Investor's Business Daily covered Achieve Sales Excellence, the book that I co-authored with Howard Stevens, the founder and CEO of HR Chally Group. Cord Cooper's article focuses on Chapter 9, which covers the seventh customer rule for sales excellence: "You must be innovative in responding to our needs." Nice summary of the key findings. (Check it out here.) Thanks to Cord, IBD, and whoever turned them on to the book!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The happiest place on earth?

The 2006 General Social Survey from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago is out. It's the most comprehensive survey of employee satisfaction and happiness. (Press release here.)

So who's most happy? Clergy (67 percent very happy), firefighters, and transportation ticket and reservation agents (both 57 percent very happy). I find that last one hard to believe based on my experiences at airports.

Who's most unhappy? Garage and service station attendants (13 percent reported being happy), roofers (14 percent), and molding and casting machine operators (11 percent). That I can believe. I once spent a month trying to stay awake while carving plastic parts -- their purpose shall remain a mystery to me forever -- on a lathe. Other most unhappy workers include construction laborers, welfare service aides, amusement and recreation atendants...wait, you mean all those folks who work at the happiest place on earth are actually unhappy?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Rackham on the CEO's sales role

Recently I interviewed Neil Rackham, of SPIN Selling fame, to learn something about the process of establishing major accounts. (He wrote the seminal book on the topic back in 1989.) Rackham told me that it costs so much to establish a major account these days that the targeting and planning part of the equation is an increasingly critical element. In fact, he estimates that the job is really 70 percent planning and only 30 percent execution. He also suggested that most sales professionals don't utilize their senior execs as well as they might in major accounts efforts, saying:

A new major account is like gold. It’s one of the most valuable things a company can acquire. So, use your own management to help get you access, to help move things along, to help get you to a higher level of contact. Use the executives at your company.

If you look at the most successful companies, the senior executives spend a lot of time talking to customers and potential customers. And it’s the job of the sales force to set that up in a useful kind of way. Most sales forces aren’t very good at that. So, they use their own executives on a courtesy visit without very clear objectives.

You should use your senior executives in a very targeted way. And to do it properly means that when you decide which accounts you are targeting, you then find a sponsoring senior executive in your own company who is going to spend some time sitting in the team and advising them about strategy, and who is going to spend some time being available to visit the customer. Not just to wave the flag, but in a much more active way…to go in as part of the team with a message that your company is committed to helping your customer and that you really want their business.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sutton on passion

I read Stanford prof Bob Sutton's new book, The No Asshole Rule, over the weekend and ran across this passage that I think nails an unspoken disconnect that exists in far too many companies. (His blog is here.) He starts by saying the idea of passion is an "overrated" employee virtue and explains:

All this talk about passion, commitment, and identification with an organization is absolutely correct if you are in a good job and are treated with dignity and respect. But it is hypocritical nonsense to the millions of people who are trapped in jobs and companies where they feel oppressed and humiliated--where their goal is to survive with their health and self-esteem intact and provide for their families, not to do great things for a company that treats them like dirt. Organizations that are filled with employees who don't give a damn about their jobs will suffer poor performance, but in my book, if they routinely demean employees, they get what they deserve.
Sutton is articulating better than I ever have my reflexive dislike of business books that advocate "fun at work" and other morale-building schemes. If my employer is going to fire me the second times get tough, cut my medical benefits because the price of insurance will impact senior management's bonuses and shareholder returns, and haggle over a few dollars when its time to review my salary, why on earth would I respond to any of that stuff? In fact, it's an insult that my employer actually believes that I'd be stupid enough to fall for it.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Rittenberg on IBM PC's arrival in China

I interviewed Sidney Rittenberg back in 2005 for story on selling in China after reading about him in the NYT. A Charleston, SC-born octogenarian, Sidney has lived an amazing life. He was in China at the end of WWII, when he hooked up with Mao and his Army. Sidney spent the next 35 years in Communist China, where he witnessed the workings of Mao and his regime and was twice imprisoned for a total of 16 years (once after Stalinist Russia accused him of spying and once during the so-called Cultural Revolution). Then in 1980, he returned to the US, where he wrote a memoir and naturally, became a leading consultant on doing business in China -- he still advises major companies that hope to tap into that nation's huge markets.

Sidney says the number one mistake companies make when attempting to enter China is that they expect to do business as usual. He told me this cautionary tale about IBM's PC unit and its initial foray into China:

When IBM set up the PC company in the early 80s, they went into Beijing and they leased two floors of the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel, which was the biggest hotel in town in those days. (Immediately all prices for foreigners in Beijing went up. So that didn’t make the foreign business community very happy.) Then they literally sat in their hotel suites waiting for the Chinese to call them on the phone and order computers.

I know that from personal experience because we were consulting to ComputerLand, which was then the biggest retailer of PCs in the world. The then president of IBM China actually told us, he said, "We think PCs should be sold by gentlemen in white shirts and dark suits and we are not going to go slogging around through the mud in China to sell them." So, they were just like a basket case.

Then, the most hilarious thing was in 1984 I think. They finally realized that they needed to train Chinese computer salespeople and service people, so that the Chinese could set up their own computer stores because there were none at the time. We got a notice that they were holding the first training session in Beijing and it was going to be on October 1st. So, my wife called them and said, "We wondered if you noticed that October 1st is National Day." It was a total holiday and there was a big parade and nobody was going to show up for a training session.

These are all symptoms. They made a great effort, they spent a lot of money, and a couple of years later, they dismantled the PC operation and went home.
Interesting that 20-odd years later it was Lenovo, a Chinese PC maker, that bought IBM's PC business.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Yugma: Work smart, impress clients

Lisa McCue over at Yugma gave me a guided tour of the company's screen-sharing service yesterday. I was checking it out for a Selling Power story on web-based sales meetings, but quickly realized that it's a perfect enabler of one of my own eccentric goals -- to never leave my home for business purposes.

Yugma's a great service -- fast to learn and easy to use. You go to the company's site, schedule a meeting, everybody signs in via the web and phones in on a conference line at the appointed time (you pay your own phone company for the long distance phone call as usual), and you can share whatever is on your desktop with everyone there. So, say I've drafted a chapter in a book and want to review it with a co-author, we can work thru the document line by line, I can revise as we go and we can both see the changes as I make them, or I can turn the screen over to my writing partner and he or she can use my mouse and keyboard.

The service works with Windows and Mac (Linux is coming soon). Yugma is also working on a videoconferencing option, so one of these days, I'll be able to pop up on the screen, too.

The tour Lisa gave me was a PowerPoint presentation delivered using the service, which seemed seamless from my end. Karel Lukas, Yugma's COO, says that the service works best if you and the people you meet with have fast Internet connections and if what you are sharing does not demand a huge amount of bandwidth -- movies and animation sequences will be choppy. But, they are working on that, too.

Meanwhile, there are applications galore for writers and anyone else who wants to share documents, give software or web demos, make and give PowerPoint presentations, etc. Even better, it's free! You can sign up for different levels of service ranging from zero, zip, zilch to $9.95 to $99.95 per month. You can demo it here.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

One more on Circuit City

Knowledge@Wharton has also weighed in on Circuit City's firing of 3400 employees in an April 4 article titled "Short-Circuited: Cutting Jobs as Corporate Strategy." Here are a couple of comments from the Wharton School profs featured in that piece:

Peter Cappelli, management professor and director of the Center for Human Resources at Wharton, says Circuit City may have valid reasons for having to reduce costs, but the way it treated the 3,400 workers was highly unusual. "That's the most cynical thing I've heard about in a long time," Cappelli says. "I like to think I'm cynical, but sometimes it's hard to keep up."

According to Cappelli, Circuit City's decision to replace the terminated workers with lower-paid people is like saying: "We made a mistake in compensation by paying them more than they were worth for their performance, so we're going to get rid of them." Cappelli adds that he "had never heard of that before. Companies have always done sneaky things like getting rid of higher-wage workers with two-tier wage plans, but this ... takes the cake."

Wharton management professor Daniel A. Levinthal points out that Circuit City's decision to cut 3,400 veteran sales people "sounds like a massive de-skilling" of the company. Since the people who will be hired to replace the laid-off workers probably will not know the merchandise as well as the workers who were dismissed, customers who want to know how to set up a high-definition TV or why one music player is better than another might not receive the best advice.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

More on Circuit City

Julie Devoll over at Harvard Business School Press mentioned that Paul Michelman also posted on Circuit City on their new blog, Conversation Starter. Paul wondered how the morale of the company's remaining employees would be impacted and how its managers could deal with that impact. That's a good question, but if I was a manager there, I don't know that I would care. I'd figure I was next and start looking for a job with a future.

By the way, here's what one of the fired Circuit City employees commented in response to Paul's post:

I was employed with Circuit City for almost 2 years, and I was laid off due to "making too much for my position." I would have taken a pay cut, no problem, but no, they didn't offer that. They gave me 2 weeks severance pay and off to the unemployment office I go. They did say I was able to come back (if re-hirable) in 11 weeks and get my job back but at a lower range of pay...
- Posted by Sandy K. April 2, 2007 09:38
Could the money Circuit City saves on the wages of people like Sandy really offset the costs of severance pay, unemployment benefits, new employee acquisition, training, and salaries, the presumable drops in morale and productivity, etc.?

Who has the loyalty problem?

There are an endless number of bizbooks on how to recognize, reward, retain and otherwise gain the loyalty of employees, but the bottom line is that companies earn the loyalty of their employees by being loyal to their employees. That's simple enough and shouldn't require undue amounts of pizza.

Of course, then there are companies, like Circuit City, that don't deserve anyone's loyalty. This is a business that just fired 8 percent of its workforce, announcing:

"The company has completed a wage management initiative that will result in the separation of approximately 3,400 store Associates. The separations, which are occurring today, focused on Associates who were paid well above the market-based salary range for their role. New Associates will be hired for these positions and compensated at the current market range for the job."
In other words, these are loyal employees who have stayed with the company long enough to earn a few bucks an hour more than the norm. Circuit City figures that experienced employees are no more productive than inexperienced employees, so why pay more? In a gesture of largesse, the company is allowing the fired employees to reapply for their jobs -- after 10 weeks and at starting pay rates.

An article in NYT says that Wal-Mart is thinking along the same lines. (There's a surprise.) Now, I'm not saying that Circuit City or Wal-Mart shouldn't have the right to treat their employees like disposable raw goods. I'm just saying that nobody in their right mind would want to work for companies that offer no future or patronize their stores or ultimately, invest in them.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Guitar tabs are back

The music ogres bit a chunk out my world last year when they threatened to start suing websites that collect guitar tabs. Already hobbled by minimal talent, the inability to properly read music, and a lack of guitar playing buddies, I was a regular on these sites, which allow players to post and share songs in tab -- a simple system of musical notation for guitar that even I could figure out. The quality of the tabs varied wildly, but they were free and I would be still be playing "Old MacDonald" over and over again without them. Of course, the music publishers decided this was stealing (even tho they hadn't bothered to publish lots of these songs in the first place and the tabs were personal interpretations of the songs) and the best tab sites closed down.

Happily, it looks like they may be coming back, according to an article in yesterday's NYT. The owners of one of the biggest tab sites,, worked out an ad revenue sharing scheme with the Harry Fox Agency, which represents 31,000-odd music publishers. Now, if the publishers sign up, they get some revenue for the music on which the tabs are based and I get to learn a new song or two thanks to the thousands of generous players who share the songs that they figure out how to play. Good deal.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

New headquarters for business at W&M

On Friday, I attended the groundbreaking for Alan B. Miller Hall, the much needed, new home of William & Mary's Mason School of Business. The b-school at W&W was founded in 1967 and I'm told it didn't have enough or the right space from its first day. When I first saw it in 1996, I was shocked -- the library was squashed into a classroom, classes were being held in two different buildings, and the students were holding meetings in the halls. Hardly the b-school that I expected in such a well-regarded college.

Seems like plenty of other people shared that view, including Alan Miller, a 1958 W&M economics grad who founded and runs Universal Health Services, a hospital management company with $4 billion in annual revenues. I interviewed Miller for a story in W&M Business magazine -- he's sharp, of course, but he's also direct, unpretentious, and he's got an infectious laugh. He's not, however, saying exactly how much he donated to make the new building a reality. Dean Larry Pulley said Miller "leads a team of million-dollar-plus donors who are bringing over $35 million to this project." There seem to be about seven or eight members on that team and they ponied up just under half of the entire $75 million cost of the new building, including furniture, equipment, and the kind of cutting-edge technologies you'd expect to find in a leading b-school. Nice to have people like this in the world.

It's a great looking building, from the drawing boards at Robert A.M. Stern's firm, which happily echoes the Georgian roots of the old campus. It's 163,000 sq ft; that's 100K more than the school's current home in Tyler Hall. It's also in a great location -- on the Western edge of the Campus just a mile or so from my house. (Nobody in town is gonna miss the parking lot it will replace.) Due to open in 2009, I expect it's going to attract a faculty and a student base that will put W&M's business program in a position to compete with best b-schools in the country.