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Welcome to the Guest Blogger page. Here you will find all of the blogs written by guest authors. If you have an idea for a topic or would like to be a guest blogger, please email us at blog@thechiefstoryteller.com

Website URL: http://www.thechiefstoryteller.com/blog E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

John's first blog post, "From Front Line to Bottom Line - A Soldier's View of the Business Battlefield," was an enjoyable read with some great customer service messages. Enjoy his newest article...

As part of my everyday marketing obligation, I do a fair share of social media posting on various outlets for our company. Not only do I help generate Facebook, Twitter, and forum content for new products and promotions, I have also started to branch out into blog writing. Blog posts are beneficial for data distribution because it helps fill a niche that other social media outlets cannot satisfy. Especially when it pertains to sharing information heavy material, blog posting is one of the best options out there.

Recently, I wrote an article for our company's blog called "Our Company Mindset, Airsplat's Team and Crew." I shared with our readers a few intimate tidbits about our company's culture that they may not acknowledge, nor do they encounter on a daily basis. The blog post generated a great amount of positive support from our followers through our Facebook page. The positive outcome inspired us to share with everyone our experience with writing a company culture article. Here are a few reasons and tips on why you should share your company's culture.

Faces of a Company
Customers often visualize companies to be a computerized structure. Though technology has blessed us with systems that can operate with minimal supervision, there are certain things that are not so cut and dry, and require a bit of human interaction. How many times have you called a large corporation seeking assistance, only to find yourself going in circles, arguing with an automated message system? This scenario be frustrating and it can be counterproductive. 

Sharing with your customers how your company operates (and who operates it) help to create an amiable persona for your business. It doesn't necessarily mean shining the spotlight on individual employees. Instead, it means for others to acknowledge that there are people working hard to keep the business going (instead of a company being run by robots). 

Behind the Scenes Operations
Consumers either have confidence in a company, or they don't. Uncertainty almost counts as a "no." Providing affordable and quality products is only half the battle. Returning customers typically instill trust in a company beyond reliable product stock. Even though there are hundreds of other companies selling the same product, they return because they have confidence that the company cares about their customers.

In our company culture article, we shared with our readers how we operate interdepartmentally. Our company mainly deals with online retail, and a collaborative effort is required to thrive in this business. When we receive an order, every department is working together to make sure it is processed and shipped out correctly. When customers acknowledge the work and dedication that is put into every order, their trust in the company is reinforced.

Working Hard to Play Hard
When a company rewards and invests in their employees, customers will recognize the deed. Discontent employees often do not execute their jobs well, which unfortunately, can lead to dissatisfied customers. Showing your customers that you care about the well being of your employees can further reinforce trust. 

A few ideas you can add to your company culture article would be share your company's reward system for good performance. For example, our employees are rewarded for reaching goals and providing assistance to others. It is great to add this tidbit to your article because customers will see and appreciate the investment that the company is willing to expend on their employees.

Another example would to be share past companywide events. Reveal to your readers the cohesiveness that your company has beyond the typical eight-hour workday. As a whole, our company has celebrated achievements, holidays, and participated in extracurricular activities together as a team. Take a moment to share the fun times with your readers, and don't forget to add corresponding pictures and videos as well.


John is an Operation Freedom War veteran and a manager for Airsplat, the nation's largest retailer of Airsoft Guns including Spring Airsoft Rifles.

It's a small world. That's what I find myself thinking almost every day. I constantly meet people who I am very glad to know even when I am just sitting on an airplane. I also make a habit to hand out business cards to most of the people I meet. 

Am I job hunting? No, not at the moment. Some of the people I meet may be looking for work and maybe I can help them out. I believe in networking and I just so happen to be a very friendly person. I truly enjoy getting to know new people and staying in touch. In addition to being professionally beneficial, networking has many other perks as well.

1. Not having to feel like a stranger in a strange land.
I travel a lot so I meet people from all around the world. What is incredible is that wherever I go, no matter what city or state I travel to, chances are that someone in my network lives there. I feel as though I have someone to turn to whether I need to know where to go to get a good meal or if I need someone to explain the city subway system to me. 

In some cases, friends I originally met on an airplane have gotten together with me for a cup of coffee a year or two later when I wound up back in their city. Sometimes friends from my network have invited me over for dinner when I was in town. 
While that may seem like a simple gesture, it makes me feel as though I am not really a stranger in the city. After all, I'm not sitting alone in a restaurant. I'm enjoying the company of friends and getting to know them better. 
I thrilled when the reverse happens and a friend from my network turns up in my city. I enjoy the chance to see the place I call home the way a stranger would see it. Visitors come with fresh eyes and notice things I have walked by everyday, without a second glance.

2. Being put in touch with resources that I didn't know existed.
I have had a long and varied work history. I have freelanced and worked as an independent contractor, had one or two part-time jobs, worked full-time, and I've found myself temporarily out of work. 

My contacts have often let me know about job opportunities at other companies or even possible opportunities at companies that hadn't even launched yet! Having a wide base of contacts in my industry has meant even when I am not actively looking for work I find that if I have a problem, people in my network are a wonderful source of information. They point me in the direction of resources I was previously unaware of. They let me know about new technology emerging in my field. They also tap their own data centers - their own memories based on their personal experiences with similar issues - and advise me based on their experience. 

It's almost like having a personal mentor, only I have a village full of personal mentors. With several mentors in every time zone, there is usually someone out there who I can bounce an idea off, even when I am pulling an all-nighter to catch up on work. It may be midnight for me, but only eight p.m. for my Alaska or Hawaii friends, who are happy to talk to me. 

My network of work-related contacts doesn't only point me in the direction of work-related information, either. When one of my kids is sick, my network may have a doctor to refer. They email me their favorite jokes and they get to know my personal interests, as I do with them. Knowing that I am a news hound, for example, friends will send me links to news magazines they think I may not know of, or to podcasts that they think will be a good fit with my interests. I've discovered some of my favorite publications and podcasts this way (plus, its a great relief during a strenuous work day).

3. Emotional support during stressful times. 
Some of my contacts have become really close friends - probably because we were looking for work, with our confidence hurting, at about the same time. We got into the habit of checking in with each other several times a week to see how things were going. When things are going well, we cheer each other on. When things are going badly, we commiserate. That sounds like a simple thing, and something that my personal support network could easily handle. Though my personal network could handle it, it is not as validating to be cheered on by friends and family (who I happen to know think the world of me no matter what I do) as it is to be cheered on by my professional peers, whose opinions (sorry, Mom!) I respect much more when it comes to work advice.

4. There is more than one way to do things. 
When I chat with people in my network, often I find that they approach the exact same challenges in a different way than I do. They structure their days differently, organize their work differently, and prioritize different aspects of the job than I do. Which way is better? 

It doesn't really matter because the fact is that when I talk to people about how they handle the same tasks, we both benefit. We learn things from each other. One of my work contacts turned me on to the GTD (Getting Things Done) productivity system, for example, which I followed religiously for quite some time.

Networking is Fun
Still, the biggest benefit to networking, in my opinion, is that it's fun. I like to talk to people, I like to make friends, and I like to keep in touch. After all, what's the drawback? If worst comes to worst, I'll end up spending a fortune on holiday greeting cards.

 

Brendan Cruickshank (Vice President of Client Services) - Brendan is a veteran of the online job search and recruiting industry, having spent the past eight years in senior client services roles with major sites like Juju.com and JobsInTheMoney.com. He is often quoted as an expert in employment and jobs trends in well known media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Forbes and has spoken at recruiting industry events such as Onrec and Kennedy Information's Corporate Recruiting Conference.

What do CEO's and Generals have in common? That's a question I always seem to ask myself because I have one foot in both worlds. I served in the military and I am now making my headway in the business world. Instead of leading a small squad of troops, I now lead a small group of young marketing employees. 

I'm finding that leadership stays true no matter who you're leading. You need to have a strong presence, be a mindful tactician, and play the role of teacher and superior. 

Here are some tips from the military that I've transitioned into my management style. 

Generals Grow Armies
In the military, this is called enlisting and boot camp. In the business world, this is known as hiring and training. The first step is to be a discerning interviewer – you want to look for existing skills and long-term potential as well. I'm naturally more inclined to hire someone who has shown a history of being "hungry," i.e., someone in school or someone who has been promoted multiple times.

These are individuals who will only prove more valuable with time. Also, there is no consideration for late interviewees - if that's their best behavior on the first meeting, then I certainly don't want to see what it's like during high pressure times.

During boot camp, strengths and weaknesses become apparent and natural leaders come out. When you're training new employees keep a close ear to the ground and see which ones take initiative. These are potential lieutenants, or trusted aids, which will help you, run your operation.

Training helps employees not only learn new procedures and protocol, it also is about teaching self regulation and self correction. In my marketing team, I actually have employees check each other's work before providing it to me for submission. This way I know it has gone through a few sets of eyes and minor errors are eliminated. It is a leader and manager's job to see the big picture and not get distracted by the small-scale mistakes. Those self-regulated status checks along the way save time in the end.

Generals Plan their Strategies
“Watch, listen, and learn. You can't know it all yourself. Anyone who thinks they do is destined for mediocrity,” Donald Trump.

A great leader is predictive and responsive. First, you need to find information on your opposing force. Be honest with yourself and evaluate your operation in comparison to your competitors. Hire outside contractors or send over your own employees to be "test customers." For example, if you're a retailer, find out how their customer service works, how they lay out their products on the shelves, and what coupons or sales they offer. You want a large set of honest objective information - because it is that information that allows you to evaluate where you lead and where you fall short.

A great leader also needs to be flexible. In my line of work, it's fairly easy to be flexible, as we're competing directly with marketing teams from other companies for the same set of customers. We can see their campaigns on their websites and Facebook pages. From there we can determine how to improve our offers and outreach. What you need to be careful of is the difference between being adaptive and being reactive. A reactive leader waits for the other side to make a move first, while an adaptive leader changes and adjusts their stratagem on the fly.

Generals are First into Battle
“The company is definitely set up in a way where myself and the other founders have a lot of control over it,” Mark Zuckerberg.

When spearheading a campaign, responsibility and consequences fall to me because every previous decision and aspect of my force has been chosen, trained, determined, and implemented by me. To be a leader is to be constantly tested against your choices. Not every choice is the best way or even the right way. 

A great leader is one who can admit a shortcoming and improve upon it quickly. Bill Gates is well known for saying, “behind most great and successful products or businesses are entrepreneurs who were turned down a hundred times.” Risks will need to be taken. It's a great leader who calculates the least amount of risk for the highest payoff.


John is an Operation Freedom War veteran and a manager for Airsplat, the nation's largest retailer of Airsoft Guns including Spring Airsoft Rifles.

When I was younger, I always thought the easiest job in the world was being a salesman. I loved to talk. What could be easier, I thought, than to take that new toy I just got for my birthday and tell everyone how great it was. Heck, I always did that anyway. I could pester people and talk to them forever about something I liked. And if I ever did run out of words, I could follow up by spending twice as much time showing them how wonderfully it worked.

When I got older, guess what happened? You guessed it; I became a salesman. But I soon learned that I could not have been more wrong about the best way to go about making a sale. My preconceived formula for selling (talk about the product, show them the product, and then watch them happily walk away with the product while I count my money) was not only ineffective but a recipe for disaster for someone who really wanted to become a good salesperson.

I started to notice that some of my peers were a lot more successful than others. When I watched various sales techniques, I began to see a common denominator among those who made the most sales: questions! The best salespeople were asking questions. But these were not just any questions; they were thoughtful ones. They were not simply a long series of questions requiring "yes" answers in the hopes that the final answer would also be "yes". They were good quality questions.

So what exactly are "good quality questions?"

Well, I started to use some common sense. How can you sell something to a customer without first finding out what makes the customer tick? The more I actually began dealing with real customers, the more I realized the importance of establishing an initial bond with them. I asked them questions about themselves...open-ended questions which did not require simple yes or no answers, but instead engaged the customer in a dialogue where the customer was an interested participant instead of a passive sales target. And then, most importantly of all, I shut my mouth and listened to their answers.

As I did this, I realized the gold mine that lay in front of me. I was not only building a foundation of trust between the customer and myself but at the same time I was learning a lot about my customers:  what motivated them, what they were feeling at this particular time in their lives, and what they needed.

This strategy has the customer reaching the point where he is telling both of us, me and even more importantly, himself, what his problems are. In many cases these are problems which my customer never really articulated before. If I had articulated them to him, it could have been perceived as me giving a sales pitch. But the fact that the customer himself is doing the talking increases the value ten-fold.

This is where my job becomes easy because all I need to do now is gently guide the customer towards the solution to his problem. But once again, instead of making statements, I ask a few well-formed questions! And, of course, I supplement them with a heavy dose of listening! These questions simply plant a seed in the customer's mind; an image of the customer's problems being answered and the product I happen to be selling being the main ingredient in the solution.

Most of the time I not only get the sale, but also the gratitude and lasting trust of my new client for helping him/her find the right answers.

To summarize my simple strategy:

  • Ask questions to find out as much as possible about the customer.
  • Let the customers to do most of the talking; simply reinforce and gently steer so they articulate their problems.
  • Listen! And then listen some more!
  • Lastly, ask questions which cause the customer to visualize the solution with the product I am selling as the solution's centerpiece.

 

Art Gould is a division manager with Self Storage Company, which operates a group of websites, including one for California self storage.  Art works with a number of sites including those in Texas as well as Illinois self storage sites.  In an effort to boost sales, he has tried many different sales strategies and has found that those that create the most dialogue with consumers are often the most successful.

I give a LOT of presentations about conflict resolution and negotiation, and I’ve learned that the best way to teach some of the most important principles is by telling a good story. Here’s one of the best ones that I use:

My two daughters come running up to me in a panic. "Dad, this is the last orange in the fridge and I NEED it" the older one starts. "No, I need it!" the younger responds, predictably. Before the older one can start the never-ending debate about who needs the orange more, you interrupt. You check the fridge, and in fact there is only one orange in the house. And the neighbors don’t have any. And the stores are closed. Really, there is only one orange, and they both need it.

So I do what any good dad would do: I get a knife, split the orange in half, and have them share it. Problem solved! I should win Dad of the Year award–teaching the kids a valuable lesson about equity, sharing, and being fair, right?

Wrong. They both take their half of the orange and run away crying to their rooms. My elegant solution is a complete failure. You see, it turns out that the older daughter was baking a cake, and the recipe called very specifically for "the peel of one orange." When I gave her half the orange peel, she realized the cake would be ruined. The younger daughter, on the other hand, was very hungry. She knows herself well, and she knew that a whole orange would tide her over til dinner, but a half would leave her frustrated. She didn’t get what she needed either.

You can see, of course, that there never really was a conflict here. We had one orange peel, and we had one orange fruit. Both could have had their needs met fully. But when conflict emerges, we tend to try to rush to solutions based only on the information that is presented to us. Whether it is conflict at home, at the office, or internationally (there is a similar story about this same issue from the Camp David Peace Accords), we keep our discussion at the level of what is the best solution, without taking time to ask questions about what the problem really is.

So here’s the lesson: ask questions. If people are unhappy about a particular situation, ask them why. What is it about the current situation that does not work? Get past their immediate answer to the problem (their position) and get at the underlying source of the problem (their interests). It takes a bit more time, but it makes problem solving and conflict resolution much easier.

Jamie Notter
Get Me Jamie Notter

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