Gimme Some “Kick-Ass”

In Business, Gripes on May 3, 2009 at 5:10 am

“You need a man on Mars.”  That’s all I wanted to say to this young lady at a recent gathering of social media marketers.  The event agenda centered on using Twitter and blogs to raise the profile of  companies and individual professionals.  Her company was hired by NASA to re-energize the American public’s interest in our country’s space program by leveraging social media through a couple of  Tweets from an in-space astronaut, and maybe capture some short video clips of activities on-board the shuttle.   “The only people who know what’s going on any more with NASA are nerds and geeks” – her inference being the average citizen wasn’t interested in NASA due to a lack of “outreach” on the part of NASA.


Average Joe doesn’t care because NASA isn’t doing anything noteworthy.  There was a time when every rocket launch in the 60’s and 70’s was “one giant leap for mankind” and every American knew the launch date, the crew names, the mission and the risks. These days, the shuttle launch only makes the news when it fails to take off on schedule and the most interesting story about the International Space Station has been a broken toilet.  True, maybe the geeks are the only people who cared about the test-tube science carried on during the mission, but American competitive spirit, combined with really big, fiery rockets captures everyone’s attention. NASA may be carrying out interesting and unique science during every shuttle mission, but the paradigm of the program has not changed in almost 30 years.

NASA has a lack of leadership; in the obvious sense that it only has an interim Administrator in Christopher Scolese and no Deputy Administrator since the resignation of Shana Dale in January, but also in that innovative, manned space flight missions have not been the priority of any presidential administration for the last 20 years.  There has been no vision, motivation or demand for new programs that could possibly inspire the American people.

Now NASA is hiring marketing firms to engage Average Joe during shuttle sorties while scrapping plans to build a moon base.  But Average Joe doesn’t Twitter.

You know who else doesn’t Twitter? The Mars Rover.  It isn’t sentient but it doesn’t need to be because every piece of dirt it sifts through makes the evening news and people pay attention.  You know why people are interested? Because it’s a robot on Mars, man!

People will talk about success and failure.  Right now, the shuttle program is neither.


We Are Upside Down

In Gripes, Uncategorized on March 23, 2009 at 7:21 am

I was stuffing newborn kittens into plastic bags when it occurred to me that something wasn’t right.  While the duty to clean up the detritus that surrounds us falls upon all responsible people (the feral cat problem in my office’s neighborhood is a longstanding one that results often in abandoned litters, roadkill and bird carcasses) I could not be convinced that my presence at that precise moment was the result of noble intent.  I needed to be at my desk, making sales calls and writing revisions of new web pages, planning for 5 conferences we’re presenting at in the next six weeks, I needed to be working.

Details aside, my job is rewarding and I have an overriding commitment to my company’s success.  What I realized, even with all that need and reward and despite the dead animal in hand, is that I enjoyed being outside for a change.  And I knew that I was going to take my time investigating the shrubs for other frail or expired animals because I absolutely needed to be outside.  Outside of my dim fluorescent lighted office, outside of my air conditioned car, outside of my email, my on-line banking, my marriage, outside of my everyday life and faced with an absolute change in context.  I didn’t need to understand the new context, I just needed to feel it hit me in the face.

Value Added Nervous

In Business on March 17, 2009 at 6:24 am

When attempting to close a sale new entrepreneurs and business owners too often make the mistake of offering additional products or services for free when they should instead be refining their core product’s value proposition. What young entrepreneurs often call “value added service” – the giving away of other soft or hard commodities – is really just poor business; a lack of understanding of their product’s value and a clear sign that they posses little or no skill as a salesperson.  Secondly, the perception that whatever extra time spent and advice given to a sales prospect (regardless of relevancy to the product) is  good customer service is just wrong – that’s what I call “under the radar” value added service, you don’t even know what you gave away.

Rule Number 1: Value Added Service ≠ Customer Service (Great or otherwise).  I’ve read the industry bibles about excellent customer service and not one says anything about pre-sale giveaways (which in the real world of business are called promotions).  In fact, customer service does not begin until a prospect becomes a customer.  It sounds like semantics, doesn’t it? It’s not.  The sooner you learn this, the sooner you’ll stop drowning.

Rule Number 2: You cannot afford to play the Value Added Service Game.  Why? Because you don’t yet know the value of the products you are selling or giving so blithely away.   I called it a game because it is such a thing – and it is a Big Boy’s Game.  How can you afford to give things away unless you know what they are worth?  If you don’t know what your time and products  are worth and you give them away, we should assume they are worthless.  If you’re going to act like your time is worthless go work at McDonald’s.

Rule Number 3: Learn how to price your product – know your value proposition. This should be Rule Number 1, or really before all rules.  Unfortunately, most of us have to live through failing the first two rules to understand it. You are inclined to believe your product is of high value, and therefor worth a high price (you wouldn’t have put your effort into it otherwise, right?).  Yet, you find that you are repeatedly giving away extras (in time or materials) to help close the sale,  and believe this an acceptable, even successful solution.  You made the sale, maintained the price and only gave away three hours of your time doing X,Y and Z for your customer.   The reality is you spent 3 hours not making money when you could have been making other sales, 3 hours devaluing both your core product and your personal expertise, 3 hours failing with your value proposition.

Rule Number 4: Learn to sell your product – a business owner is a salesperson. Yeah, I know, you don’t want to.  You hate salespeople and you just don’t want to become one of those assholes.  In the meantime you’ve leveraged your home into a second mortgage, borrowed 100K from your parents and your spouse doesn’t remember what you look like, all so you can sit on a garage full of tchotchkes you can’t get rid of.  Who’s the asshole now?  Learning to sell is invaluable for every person who wants to own a business.  Selling is a skill necessary for many business activities, from enticing investors down to unloading your goods.  Becoming a disciplined salesperson will help you identify the strong and week points of your value proposition, and learn the ticks of your customers.

Somewhere along the way customers got wind of the term “value added service” and thought it was for their benefit, which it is not.  The term is for a marketing method by which companies bundle services or products together because it is convenient and profitable for the company to do so.  Look it up.  If you think your single product needs to have items added to substantiate the price you’ve set – well, why not just lower the price, double your sales and stop working so hard?  If the thing you’re giving away has such value that it’s closing the primary sale, why aren’t you pricing and selling that secondary item as well?