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Got A Card? November 6, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Networking, Technology.
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At any industry event, the impact of social media is evident.  People are tweeting as the event transpires. Bloggers c0ver keynote addresses live.  Vendors stream video from their booths, letting you watch presentations as you browse the show floor.

It is now common to see people run into folks they know but have never actually met.  Relationships built on Twitter or Facebook come alive when people actually meet face to face.  Closing the loop with a physical connection is now the last component of a rich relationship; it used to be the first.

In spite of all this connectedness and mobile technology, one thing has remained absolutely unchanged throughout the lifetime of the internet: the business card.  How can it be, with all this technology at our disposal, that the single most important way to gather important data about a person is a little card? Even people who have built a strong relationship electronically will still exchange cards when they meet for the first time.

Why?  What is missing from the new media that this old solution provides?

The problem has two sources.  First, people still need to exchange some basic data to complete a connection: name, phone number, email address.  Physical address is becoming much less important; other items (like your Twitter or Facebook name) are becoming more prominent.  Even so, the basic way to reach most people is by phone or email.

Secondly, there is no simple way to exchange this information.  I have used many electronic devices over the years, from a Casio Zoomer to various Palm devices to all sorts of phones.  Each of this gadgets has had some way to create a business card and send it to someone else, either by infrared or Bluetooth.  It was always very cool, seemed to work like magic, and never got used more than once or twice.  After you had shown off your geek skills to admiring neighbors, you then exchanged business cards and went on your way.

I don’t know that this will ever change.  There is no cross-platform standard for exchanging virtual business cards that actually works.  I know all about Bluetooth Object Exchange, but it’s just too hard to set up and actually use in real life.

Even if you could establish such a standard, it would take years for everyone to acquire a device that used it.  In the meantime, you’d still be handing out business cards.  And you’d still need cards for people without a device, not to mention needing cards to throw into drawings and such at industry events.

It’s actually kind of quaint that such an old practice simply will not succumb to modern technology.  Even as more and more people  tweet and blog and post and stream, you still cannot avoid asking that age-old question: “May I have your card?”

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Ubi Nihil Est Facil October 7, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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Back in the day, I was a software developer in a research group, fiddling with Unix and workstations and this new thing called ArpaNet.  Being young and too clever by half, I decided to create a logo for our department.  No logo is complete without a motto, and I settled on “Where Nothing Is Simple,” a testimony to the bureaucracy of my company.  Good mottos are in Latin, of course, and I needed to get this translated.

Back then, there were no online translation services.  To be honest, there was no “online” at this point in time, translation services or otherwise.  I did use a “phone book” (it’s like Google, but all printed out) to look up the number of the local high school.  I called the school (it’s like texting, but converted to voice) and spoke to the Latin teacher, and she gave me the translation: “Ubi Nihil Est Facil.”

But she offered more.  Why did I need this translated?  Would I like her to find a more colloquial translation, or a reference from Latin literature?  No need, I assured her, and went on to create my logo.

That teacher provided what is sorely lacking in so many of our automated, online services: a human touch.  We revel in our online world, where everything is a click away, but we have lost something in this shiny new place.  The results of our clicking are fairly sterile, and only the most mundane queries are truly resolved by some online search engine or database.

The “why” part of the answer, that only humans can contribute, is where the real value resides.  That Latin teacher knew she could provide a better answer if she knew why I was asking. She was so pleased that someone wanted to use Latin, she was excited to reach out and help.

We seek to automate more and more these days, migrating previously human interactions to web- and phone-based activities.  The brevity of text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook strip away the soft edges of our conversations and leave little room for the discerning moments that allow us to serve each other more effectively.  Our customers may be taken care of, but have they been cared for?

Don’t forget that all of this starts with people trying to do things with other people.  Although we in IT often drive the technology that creates these faceless systems, we should try to retain the human touch as much as possible.  Our customers will be happier, I think, and our systems will be better received.

And what of my logo?  Well, back then, bosses had a more classical education, and some even knew Latin.  My snarky motto raised a few eyebrows and generated some… conversations between myself and the management team.  A different kind of human touch, perhaps, but one that I have not forgotten.  Ubi nihil est facil, indeed.

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Hairdresser CRM September 23, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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8 comments

I get my hair cut about every six weeks or so.  I’ve been going to the same woman for about two years now.  Every time I show up, she picks up the conversation right where we left off, six weeks prior.  How does she do this?

She sees a hundred or more people in those intervening weeks.  She has similar, if not far more engaging, conversations with all those people than she has with me.  Yet she remembers everything we were talking about and is able to resume a pleasant conversation for thirty minutes or so.  She also remembers how I like my hair cut, and notices subtle changes in how it has grown (or not).

I am pretty sure that my local hair salon is not running Seibel unbeknownst to me.  I do not see the various stylists pulling up salesforce.com on their phones moments before engaging a client.  They don’t even write anything down, for heaven’s sake!  Yet they have an almost elephantine memory for details about their clients’ lives.  And this is not unique to my current stylist; this seems to be typical behavior among the vast majority of hairdressers in the world.

They realize, of course, that this intimacy and sustained attention is what provides them the repeat business they need to survive.  Whether they are born with the skill or develop it over time, successful stylists know how to draw out their clients and remember what they hear.  Darwinian selection weeds out the stylists with poor memories, I suppose.

We could all learn a thing or two from them.  The foundation of good IT service is that old maxim:

People don’t care what you know, they want to know that you care.

Showing that you care means listening and remembering things that are important to your customers.  Dale Carnegie knew it; much of his advice involves understanding what is really important to people and then providing it.

My best vendors have hairdresser-class people skills.  They have taken the time to get to know me and my company, and they prove it every time we get together.  I don’t know how they remember it; I do know that it makes sustaining our relationship across intermittent points of contact much easier.

Bad salespeople could never cut hair.  They don’t take the time to learn things, and don’t try to remember what they do learn.  I’ve had salespeople schedule time for an intro call and admit that they do not even know what my company does.  Really?  You couldn’t spend five minutes with Google before heading to my office?

Social media tools make this even easier for savvy salespeople.  Like many other people, I am throwing out bits of trivia about myself all the time, through this blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, and Facebook.  I have a Google-friendly name that makes web-based stalking easy.  It is not hard to put together a few facts to create the illusion of caring when you first meet me.

Cynical machinations aside, we would all do well to acquire the skills that are crucial to hairdressers.  Listening, remembering, and showing interest are the foundation of all our relationships, not just at the office.  Maybe your next leadership coaching session involves scissors and a smock.

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Small Talk September 18, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Networking.
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5 comments

I love “small world” stories.  I love wandering into an event and discovering that someone in the room went to my elementary school, or likes the same movies, or knows someone I know.  I like that “who’d have thought?” moment when two people make a connection that they would have never thought possible just moments before.

Much is made these days of networking and how to use it to our advantage in our personal and professional lives.  While a lot of focus is on the social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, there is still a lot of value in face-to-face networking.  It’s just that people seem to avoid it, and that lots of people seem to be bad at it. I think that’s a shame.  With a little practice, everyone can get better at real networking.

The key is to master the art of small talk.  Small talk, far from being as diminutive as its name suggests, is the real grease that makes networking flow.  Through small talk, you can discover the serendipitous connections that will open the door to better, deeper network connections.

Good small talk is easy.  A simple rule for starting a good “small” conversation is to avoid talking about the actual topic that has brought you together with other people.  For example, if you are at an event addressing server virtualization, do not talk about any aspect of servers, virtualization, data centers, or even computing.  This stuff is deadly dull even when you want to talk about it; the idea that you’re going to create a warm connection with someone over a meaningful conversation about virtual memory is ludicrous.

Instead, bring up topics that are likely to generate a connection with someone.  Where do they live? Where are they from? Where did they go to school?  Do they have kids? Hobbies? Seen any good movies? Back from vacation? Doing something interesting this weekend? Play golf? Like to run? There are dozens of simple questions that will get people talking about something that interests them.  The idea is to learn about the other person, find some connections between you and them, and let those connections strengthen your shared knowledge and resulting relationship.

I’m often puzzled why people struggle with this kind of networking.  I’ve seen so many people standing in awkward, uncomfortable silence at networking events, staring at their drinks and stuck for conversation.  That’s foreign to me; anyone who knows me will tell you that I am never stuck for something to say.

Many people in IT are introverts (that’s what the “I” stands for) and have a hard time starting these kinds of conversations. They gravitate back to the safety of technology, which makes it hard to meet non-technical people.  If you are one of these people, you may need to consciously focus on being better at this kind of engagement with people.  That’s OK.

I once worked for someone who knew they were bad at this stuff and had to consciously prepare for events.  When the event was over, they were exhausted by the effort. But they recognized the value of small talk and making connections, so they made the effort, improving over time.

Are you using small talk to build and enrich your network?  Does it come easy, or do you have to work at it?  Either way, small talk paves the way to big rewards in your network. So, seen any good movies lately?

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Partnering For Success September 4, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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I do more than my fair share of beating up vendors for poor sales practices (to whit: regarding honesty, inappropriate emails, and unsolicited appointments).  It is only fair, then, to highlight a really good thing that happened recently with a few of my key vendors.

I like to meet with vendors on a quarterly basis.  We split the meeting in half, discussing everything new in their world, and then everything new in mine.  The idea is to keep everyone up-to-date and see what, if any, opportunities have arisen since our last meeting.  Sometimes actions arise out of the meeting, and sometimes we jsut agree to see each other in three months.  Either way, this method seems to work well in maintaining an appropriate relationship.

Recently, my VAR (Value Added Reseller) threw me a curve ball.  What if, they suggested, we brought three vendors in at once, and had a joint meeting? Each vendor would talk about their areas, of course, but we could also explore overlaps and potential synergies between the vendors as well.

Well.  I had never tried this before, and for the most part, neither had they.  So we decided to give it a try.  The vendors arrived, prepared to present using a pre-determined agenda.  My team attended, anxious to see what they had to say.

It was great! As each vendor got up to speak, we started deep conversations about their technology as it related to the other vendors.  In some cases, we jointly explored how this stuff might all work together.  In others, vendors had to address conflicts and points of competition with respect to their peers.

My team learned a lot more in this one session than we would have from three individual meetings.  I think the vendors got a better feel for how my group assesses technology as a whole, pulling from various vendors to create our solutions.  Best of all, we had substantive conversations that went well beyond traditional vendor presentations.

I applaud the salespeople that agreed to present within this structure.  They went out on a limb to take care of their customer, and we really appreciated it.  It would have been easy to pass on the opportunity, but they stepped up and did something a little out of the ordinary.  I also appreciate the efforts of my VAR who worked to arrange and coordinate the meeting.  That “V” stands for “value,” and they clearly brought it to us that day.

I could write dozens of “bad salesman” posts for this blog. That’s not fair to the many good salespeople out there who never get a mention. This time, I offer a heart-felt “thank you” to all those salespeople who work so hard to creatively serve their customers.  What’s the most creative thing you’ve had a salesperson do for you?  Share it so we can all appreciate what good salespeople do.

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