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Duane Bailey is a regular contributor to The Chief Storyteller® online conversation. He has helped organizations of all sizes drive growth in revenues and market share through the development and delivery of key business messages that resonate with target audiences. He holds an MBA in International Business and a BS in Marketing. He brings 28 years of experience in marketing communications and high technology sales.
Let’s pretend for a moment you’re in the business of selling transportation to college students. What, do you suppose, is most important to them: price, time, convenience, comfort or safety?
After you conduct your market research, you determine what matters most to your target audience is time. So you develop a value proposition and service offering that guarantees a five-hour bus ride from the student’s college to his or her hometown. Your business begins to grow.
A few months go by and somebody else comes along offering students a faster ride home (time) with door-to-door service (convenience), an impeccable safety record (safety) and extra legroom (comfort) at a comparable fare (price). Your business begins to decline.
What just happened? While you were building a business by offering customers what they told you they wanted, someone else came along and, with a little innovation, came up with an improved business model. By replacing buses with cars, your competitor found a way to provide your customers with better and faster service at the same price.
The moral of the story is this: it’s not enough to simply ask your customers what they want and then give it to them. Brands that enjoy sustained growth are continually innovating and finding new ways to serve their customers. Sometimes, that means providing your customers with something they will value before they even ask for it.
The phrase, fun and work, doesn’t have to be an oxymoron.
Just ask any of the employees who work for the area companies recently named among the Washington Business Journal’s Best Places to Work for 2013. For the ninth year in a row, the Washington Business Journal has compiled its list of the best DC area companies among small, medium and large companies.
Designed to honor the area’s leading employers, organizations that wish to be considered are evaluated through an employee survey that measures performance in areas like: team effectiveness, employee alignment with company goals, trust with co-workers, trust in senior leaders, feeling valued, work engagement and people practices.
This year’s honorees include companies like Ntiva, Ackerman Brown, McEnearney Associates of Alexandria, Cvent, Opower, LMI and AOL. Water balloon fights, Flip-Flop Fridays, team-building events, Caps games, picnics, paintball tournaments, catered lunches, a jogging trail, and scooters to use in the office are among the fun perks these companies offer to their employees.
Sure, you may have seen these perks elsewhere and may be wondering what makes the companies on this year’s list stand apart from others who aren’t on the list. In a word, it’s culture. For this year’s honorees, making work fun is more than just leaving a plate full of snacks in the kitchen. It’s a commitment to working together, trusting in one another, valuing the contributions of each and every employee, adhering to the Golden Rule and having fun.
Are your employees having fun at work? If not, what changes are needed in your organizational culture to make work fun? Why not set as a goal the inclusion of your organization in next year's list of best places to work?
Nobel Laureate and Physicist Kenneth G. Wilson once said “the hardest problems of pure and applied science can only be solved by the open collaboration of the world-wide scientific community.” If you’re like me and think there is an element of science (as well as art) to business, then I suppose the same can be said about the challenges your business may be facing.
Falling profit margins, increasing customer attrition rates, a slowdown in the rate in which new customers are acquired, an erosion of investor confidence and even a lack of brand awareness are all typical problems many businesses face. I know from my own experience leading sales teams in a Fortune 500 company, along with my recent roles as a project manager in two week-long volunteer service projects, the best ideas for solving problems often come from the very team members tasked with figuring them out. In fact, I‘m certain I have never met a team leader who actually has all the answers.
If your business is facing some tough challenges and not seeing the results you desire, it may be time for some open collaboration with the people in your community – your employees, your customers, your business partners and even your shareholders. Collaboration is the key to solving some of your hardest problems...and the way forward.
This week, for the second year in a row, I am volunteering as a contractor and will be joining several hundred youth and adults from my faith-based community to perform home improvement work in the homes of needy people living in an economically depressed area. The 140 or so projects we will complete include painting, roofing repairs, deck and wheelchair ramp construction, window replacement, kitchen and bathroom enhancements and even the construction of a new home (in partnership with Habitat for Humanity).
This program, which is called WorkCamp, brings people together from many different walks of life. Participants are assigned to crews of 5-7, with each participant responsible for a specific role regarding the crew’s assigned project. One of the amazing things about WorkCamp is seeing how people who have never met can come together to accomplish the extraordinary within a few short days.
As a contractor, my role is to manage our project to completion. While the goal is to finish on-time and within budget, equal if not more attention is given to the experience our youth and adult leaders will encounter during WorkCamp. This is, after all, a hands-on experience where everyone has an opportunity to learn about social justice, teamwork and home improvement. It’s a chance for all of us to touch the lives of the people we serve.
It’s also an opportunity for me to hone my leadership skills in areas like planning, project management, delegation and collaboration. And, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, it’s an opportunity for me to take some risks by moving outside my comfort zone and taking on projects that challenge me.
Together, my crew and I will share our time and talents to make a difference and, in the eyes of the people we serve, we will accomplish the extraordinary.
For more on servant leadership and how it can improve your ability to accomplish the extraordinary, please see:
• Reputation Management: Six Things Brands Can Learn from George Bailey
• Your Brand and the Community It Serves
• What the Boy Scouts Can Teach Your Business About Serving Others
My oldest son graduated from Oakton High School in Vienna, Virginia the other day. For many of his classmates, it was an occasion marked by feelings of intense pride, quiet anticipation and hope. So it was fitting to mark the end of their high school years and the beginning of the rest of their young lives with a commencement address by Class of 2000 Oakton High School alumnus and entrepreneur Adam “Ace” Moyer, Founder and CEO of Knockaround™.
Ace’s message to the graduates was simple. If you have an idea, follow your dreams. No experience is necessary. With the support and encouragement of family and friends, you’ll figure it out. Sure, the good will come with the bad and there may be times when difficult decisions have to be made. In the end, he told the graduating class of 2013, don’t be afraid to take risks. It will be worth it.
For Ace, his company started in 2005 with the idea of providing customers with classically styled sunglasses in many colors at an affordable price. Knockaround™ sunglasses were designed to take abuse and, as the thinking went, the people who owned them wouldn't mind abusing them because they didn’t cost much in the first place. That idea has since grown to include new models and color choices, limited edition and custom-designed sunglasses, apparel and accessories.
So follow your dreams and, as they say at Knockaround™, “keep looking at the bright side.”