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Purge All the Bigot CEOs

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 2:36pm

Brendan Eich is just the beginning. Let's oust everyone who donated to the campaign against gay marriage.

This story first appeared in Slate. The writer's opinions are his own, not Inc.'s.

Brendan Eich is gone. The creator of JavaScript and co-founder of mozilla.org has quit as Mozilla's CEO, forced out by the uproar over a donation he made six years ago to a ballot measure against gay marriage. There's no record of Eich discriminating against gay employees--"I never saw any kind of behavior or attitude from him that was not in line with Mozilla's values of inclusiveness," says the company's chairwoman, Mitchell Baker. In fact, last week, Eich pledged,

"I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion.

You will see exemplary behavior from me toward everyone in our community, no matter who they are; and the same toward all those whom we hope will join, and for those who use our products. Mozilla's inclusive health benefits policies will not regress in any way. And I will not tolerate behavior among community members that violates our Community Participation Guidelines or (for employees) our inclusive and non-discriminatory employment policies."

But that wasn't enough. A revolt among Mozilla staffers, compounded by pressure from software developers, outrage on Twitter and a boycott movement spearheaded by OkCupid, has driven Eich out. Baker, having accepted Eich's resignation, offers this apology: "We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it's because we haven't stayed true to ourselves."

Some of my colleagues are celebrating. They call Eich a bigot who got what he deserved. I agree. But let's not stop here. If we're serious about enforcing the new standard, thousands of other employees who donated to the same anti-gay ballot measure must be punished.

More than 35,000 people gave money to the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that declared, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." You can download the entire list, via the Los Angeles Times, as a compressed spreadsheet. (Click the link that says, "Download CSV.") Each row lists the donor's employer. If you organize the data by company, you can add up the total number of donors and dollars that came from people associated with that company.

The first thing you'll notice, if you search for Eich, is that he's the only Mozilla employee who gave to the campaign for Prop 8. His $1,000 was more than canceled out by three Mozilla employees who donated to the other side.

The next thing you'll notice is that other companies, including other tech firms, substantially outscored Mozilla in pro-Prop 8 contributions attributed to their employees. That includes Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo, as well as Disney, DreamWorks, Gap, and Warner Bros.

Thirty-seven companies in the database are linked to more than 1,300 employees who gave nearly $1 million in combined contributions to the campaign for Prop 8. Twenty-five tech companies are linked to 435 employees who gave more than $300,000. Many of these employees gave $1,000 apiece, if not more. Some, like Eich, are probably senior executives.

Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let's go get them.
To organize the next stage of the purge, I've compiled the financial data into three tables. Here's the first table. It shows 37 companies whose names, in one form or another, appear next to a total of at least $10,000 (per company) in donations to Prop 8. The list isn't complete, but it's a start.

The next table, below, shows 25 tech companies whose employees donated to the campaign for Prop 8. Again, the list isn't exhaustive. But every one of these companies outscored Mozilla in associated contributions to Prop 8.

The last table, below, shows several other companies that didn't hit the $10,000 threshold but did surpass Mozilla in money for Prop 8. Some of them might surprise you.

The numbers in these tables don't represent contributions from the companies. (All the money came from individuals.) Nor do they reflect the balance of contributions that came from a company's employees. (I haven't added up the donations that went to the campaign against Prop 8.) A quick glance here and there suggests that in many cases, the balance of contributions from these companies went against the ballot measure.

But those caveats are true of Mozilla, too. And we're not cutting Mozilla any slack, are we?

If we're serious about taking down corporate officers who supported Proposition 8, and boycotting employers who promote them, we'd better get cracking on the rest of the list. Otherwise, perhaps we should put down the pitchforks.

Also on Slate: "If You're Against Gay Marriage, You're a Bad CEO."

Categories: Small Business News

Helping Startups Understand Salespeople and the Sales Culture

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 2:01pm

You might never really be on the the same page as your salespeople. But you can at least learn to understand where they're coming from.

Most technology startups seem to be founded by product people or business people. Specifically what is often not in the DNA of founders are sales skills. Nor do they exist in the investors of early-stage companies.

The result is a lack of knowledge of the process and of sales people themselves.

My first startup was no different. I had never had any sales training, so everything we did for the first couple of years was instinctual. While we did fine learning on the fly, it turned out that a lot of what we did was wrong.

As we grew into several millions of dollars of sales per year, it was no longer acceptable to "wing it."

So I did want any rational person who wants to improve does -- I hired a coach. We focused together on improving our sales methodology, our training and our comp plans through a larger-than-life ex-country manager from PTC named Kai Krickel. He taught me much -- most of it unconventional. Most of it worked, and his philosophies have proved enduring to me.

His business was called TEDIC -- The Excuse Department is Closed. That mindset always stayed with me, and it even rang true at the time. Excuses. Whenever I heard why we didn't feel a sales process at an important customer was going well (or if we lost) I would get involved myself. Invariably the reasons I was hearing why we weren't well positioned versus my own perception were different.

I boil it down to this: sales people are sales people. They are the lifeblood of many companies, yet they are different than the traditional technology startup DNA. So the ways that you hire, motivate, compensate and assess performance of these individuals will be different. Obviously to understand a "class" of people you have to make broad generalizations. Here are mine.

Sales people

  • Are motivated by cash. Founders think in options. Don't confuse the two. Sales people want the stuff they can spend today.
  • Are more mercenaries than missionaries. That doesn't make them bad -- it just means that they know that they are "hired guns," and they act accordingly
  • Many great ones don't thrive in the early phase of a company where the sales is more consultative or evangelical. They like a solid product, well defined pricing, good references to sell against, a clear quota and well defined competitors. This is why I tell startups that most seasoned sales execs aren't right for startups
  • They are as good at selling you as they are at selling your product to customers. That means if you don't understand the way they work, you're susceptible to being blind sided.

Here's what I learned in running my first startup:

1. Sales people often blame the product

Startups are the art of the possible. By definition an MVP (minimum viable product) means there's room for improvement. Your competitors will always highlight a feature here or a feature there that is better. Features don't win or lose sales -- especially in nascent markets. People are buying YOU. They're buying trust that you're going to do what you're saying you're going to do.

Customers also buy social proof because others are acting as strong references. (There is a nascent industry to try and help you with this, too.) Customers buy solutions to solve their problems. They give orders to people they like, which is why, despite your best well reasoned non-sales ethos, you need to understand that sales people do need money to schmooze.

But what customers don't do is buy features.

Don't get me wrong. A great looking product can really help support a sale.

But customers use features as a rationalization for why they made the decision that they concluded for a complex set of other reasons that they probably don't even understand. How can I be so sure? Ask yourself how they came to decide what features should they be making the decision upon. Who set in their mind what the "right" feature was? If it wasn't you, I guarantee you they were influenced by your competitor -- either through their sales efforts or through marketing.

So know up front that many times sales people will blame the product when they lose or when they're losing. It's never them, their lack of effort or relationships.

And as you build out your team and grow, you realize that it's always the other guy's fault. It's why leaders need to be respected, not loved, or you'll constantly be gamed. In a startup you soon learn that not only does the sales guys blame the product, but the product guys blame the marketing guys for giving them too many requirements. The marketing guys blame the sales guys who can't close their leads. The sales guys in turn say that they didn't get the Glengarry leads from marketing.

And they all secretly blame you. "It doesn't look that tough to be a CEO. I'm doing all the hard work anyways." Most senior execs in startups feel this way until they become CEO and then they feel more humble. Hard. Fucking. Thankless. Job.

You need to teach your sales team Objection Handling and make it clear that you don't lose on features. They can give you product input, customer requests and wish lists, sure. But the excuse department is closed.

2. Sales people will often blame your pricing

They lost the deal because your competitors dropped price. Customers seldom buy on price. They buy on perceived value. Sure, you need to be competitive on price. But a sales person needs to be able to demonstrate the business case of why using your product will deliver more total ROI than your competitors. Otherwise you need not keep building out great features -- just always drop your price!

Of course that's not true.

If your team (and you) see a competitor massively undercut you on price, you sure better be able to sell to your customer that the temporary offset in a cheaper price will be eroded by the much great benefit of working with you.

Sure, they can sell at 50% of our price. Their customer support is much smaller and therefore won't be able to respond to your needs as quickly. We have 12 developers and they have three. That matters because over the next 12 months, our product will continue to pull further away from them. That's why we raised $5 million from top-tier VCs.

Please call our references. We worked with customer X who saved 38 percent of their costs in the first year and increased sales by 14 percent. The pay-back period on our product was 16 months. We have lots of cases of demonstrable business success.

If we just dropped prices to match our less funded competitors we wouldn't be able to keep innovating and adding value for our clients. If short-term price is your primary drive then our competitor might actually might be a better fit for you. We're definitely a premium product, which is why we don't just drop prices to match their moves to "buy" business.

Or whatever. You need to justify value. And this has to be led by your sales teams and driven home through training.

Also, don't give your sales teams too much authority on price negotiations. Give them small authority to discount, give the sales leader a slightly larger level and anything above that comes to your desk for negotiation. Too big of discount authority will lead to price drops because it's easier for sales reps to drop price than to sell on value and do the hard business-case work.

3. Sales people will often sell future development work

If your sales teams think that they can throw in some extra features that you'll build to win the big contract they will. I've seen it a thousand times. They feel like they need to show a customer that they're flexible, listening to their needs and building features the customer perceives as important.

They'll always lobby you to approve it. "They can't win the deal without it!"They'll throw in extra storage, extra modules, extra freebies. Hold the line on any additional dev work. There will be times where you do need to commit. But find a way where the bonus program is adjusted for any work that has a higher COGS due to dev work and they'll sell around it -- I promise. Don't let them sell futures.

4. Sales people will often exaggerate the strength of competitors

Sales people will always tell you how far ahead the competition is. It's the easiest way to justify losing deals, put pressure on your to build the features they want and they always believe a competitor's PR more than the reality they see inside your business. Always make your own assessment of your competitors. Talk personally to customers. Encourage the sales teams to give you feedback, but make it clear that it's no excuse for losing.

5. Sales people will always ask for more sales support

Sales people are bag carriers. That's the most important thing in your business to get revenues up. They somehow always want junior bag carriers. The more, the better.

They want lots of post-sales support. They want junior staff to work on proposals for them. "It's not efficient for me to do my own proposals." They want technical sales to help with customer objections. You're a startup. That stuff is for Oracle or IBM. They need to be scrappy, rollup their sleeves, learn multiple functions. When you hit scale you need to add staff. And division of labor really will drive up productivity.

6. Sales people will always tell you their quotas are too high

The quota. It's always too high. It's always unachievable. They were always above quota at every other company they've ever worked for. It's all your fault. And when you get their forecasts they're always sandbagged. And they know that you play games back. Management always sets sales budgets that roll up to a number beyond the actual board budget.

Sales people are smart -- they know this. That's where the sandbagging comes. They know you're going to play games and ask for more so they need to leave room for you to do so. It's the game everybody plays, everybody says they wish nobody played and yet it's human nature. Just accept it and play the game.

Seriously, you DO need to be careful about not setting unattainable quotas.

And finally

OK, so if any sales people reading this took it in good enough humor for the broad generalizations that I made, I would say two things to management:

1. Treat your sales people well. Train them, arm them with a great product and sales collateral. Get out there with them. No hiding in the ivory tower. Customers want to see you. It's the hardest job in the company. They sink or swim on their results. And as a result they're the best paid people in the company. If they start sucking -- they're out. They know this. Sales people are the lifeblood of your organization.

2. Don't do silly things like cap bonus payments. Make their pay-for-performance unlimited, but well structured. They are supposed to be the best paid people in the company. That's why they endure the jobs that they have and the constant pressure to deliver results. Don't hire sales people if you expect to be over-the-top cheap on T&E. They need some money for schmoozing. You can book them at budget hotels -- but don't go too far. Treat them with utmost respect or their next interview is right around the corner.

This article was originally published on Mark Suster's blog, Both Sides of the Table.

Categories: Small Business News

Undergrad B-Schools: Looking at the Big Picture

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 1:36pm

A new list reveals some top undergraduate business schools.

This morning, when Businessweek unveiled its list of Best Undergraduate Business School Programs, I was eager to read it for trends in the ever-evolving field of business education.

What's most fascinating about the list, overall, is its affirmation of business as a topic worthy of undergraduate curricula. Sure, there are liberal arts traditionalists who believe undergrads should only study classic subjects and disciplines, such as history, English, chemistry, and biology. But like it or not, business is here to stay as an academic topic--and it begins at the earliest stages of college.

The top five schools on the list are, in order: Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business; University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce; Cornell University's Dyson School of Applied Economics; Boston College's Carroll School of Management and Olin Business School at Washington University. The ratings were based on a mixture of student assessment (30%), academic quality (30%), employer opinion (20%), median salary after graduating (10%), and feeder school to MBA programs (10%).

To their credit, Businessweek's editors picked up on an interesting pattern, even though it meant admitting that their top five undergrad programs were hardly operating in the shadow of elite MBA programs:

A top-notch undergraduate program may not go hand-in-hand with a best-in-class graduate school, and vice versa. Notre Dame ranked 20th in our most recent MBA rankings; Carroll and Olin ranked 48th and 31st, respectively. Cornell and Virginia have top 10 MBA programs, but they're run separately.

What else does this year's list have to offer? Here are three other interesting morsels:

1. Happiness of the undergraduates matters. In fact, student assessment of the programs counts for 30% of the total score. It is, on its own, as important as academic quality (which also counts for 30%) in the ranking methodology. It's easy to appreciate this factor for one simple reason: You could argue that most students are paying customers. Their assessments are likely to incorporate both their overall happiness and their satisfaction (or lack) with the education they (or their parents) are paying for.

2. Academic quality, while important, doesn't on its own warrant a top-ten ranking. Wake Forest University's School of Business ranked first in academic quality. But it was 11th overall.

3. At the top school, ethics and values are a factor. One reason Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business has been the top-ranked school for five straight years is because of its high student assessment scores, "with B-school undergrads raving about the Catholic university's attention to business ethics and social purpose," notes Patrick Clark in a superb explanatory article. "'People here challenge themselves to figure out how we can use business for a source of good,'" is how Tim Brazelton, a senior majoring in accounting and economics, explains it.

His words, finding their way to the public in an article about the education of tomorrow's leaders, are a reason to stay hopeful about the future of business.

Categories: Small Business News

How These Internet-Famous Cats Made Bank

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 12:02pm

Feline super stars, merchandise, movie scripts, book deals. The Internet's cult of cats has turned into a very serious business.

Ten years ago, no one would have said you could get rich off a feline. But the Internet changed everything. Now, any cat with good looks and an eye-catching gimmick has a shot at getting famous (or at least scoring some free catnip).

That's according to "How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity: A Guide to Financial Freedom," published Tuesday. The book delves into the business of cats--grooming basics and what to do when Friskies comes calling--for entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on their furry pet. Just a silly business idea that will fizzle out with time? Judge for yourself: Here are four cat empires that were built one viral post at a time.

Cheezburger

The blog for all things viral owes a debt of gratitude to cats. Most of its user-generated content features them and the site hosts "the LOL Builder," which enables readers to create their own Lolcat, or an image combining a photograph of a cat with irreverent captions.

Still, things weren't always sunny for Cheezburger founder Ben Huh. As he told Inc. last summer, the company was always profitable until it took venture capital investments. After raising $30 million in 2011 and adding more employees, they "started more than we were making," he says, and Huh was forced to fire a third of his staff. Huh eventually recovered from the incident and today his company owns sites such as The Daily What, FAIL blog, and Know Your Meme. But he wouldn't be where he is--the owner of a multimedia empire--without all those cats his sites feature. "I think what we see here is the rise of the Internet cat industrial complex," he told NPR earlier this week. "I go to a meeting or a conference, and all of a sudden people are, you know, I've got iPhones in my face filled with cat photos and, you know, it's not like I can make it happen."

Grumpy Cat

She may hail from Morristown, Arizona, and look perpetually displeased, but Grumpy Cat (real name Tardar Sauce) has done quite well for herself. That's in no small part thanks to her agent, Los Angeles-based Ben Lashes (real name Benjamin Clark), who's made a living out of turning Internet famous cats into media empires. To date, he's landed Grumpy Cat a one-picture deal with a Hollywood studio, guest appearances at the Mashable House during the South By Southwest festival, and a book, "Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book: Disgruntled Tips and Activities to Put a Frown on Your Face." Grumpy Cat's estimated worth: $1 million, according to New York magazine.

Lil BUB

Another client of Lashes is Lil BUB, who has modest roots, according to her site: "the runt of a healthy feral litter in a tool shed in rural Indiana." Over the course of her stardom, she's managed to raise more than $60,000 for various charities through her online store and appearances at animal shelters across the country. She's also partnered with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Fans of the "perma-kitten" can show their support by purchasing a Lil BUB coffee mug, calendar, or hoodie, among other goodies. And like her pal Grumpy Cat, BUB has a book: "LIL BOOK: The Extraordinary Life of the Most Amazing Cat on The Planet." Her documentary, Lil BUB and Friendz, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 18, 2013.

Keyboard Cat

Charlie Schmidt was baffled when he started receiving emails about a video he'd filmed in the 1980s of his cat Fatso. It was just a cat playing a keyboard, he thought, but when his friend's son Lashes suggested they turn the late tabby into keychains and branded T-Shirts, an Internet sensation was born. Today you can purchase Keyboard Cat-branded posters, mugs, pins, an iOS app, and an animatronic toy on the KeyboardCatStore. Lashes won't reveal a specific dollar amount for the worth of the Keyboard Cat franchise but he says it's in the "mid to high six figures."

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Categories: Small Business News

The Single Reason GrubHub's IPO Is Wowing Wall Street

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 11:48am

GrubHub's plate-smashing debut on Wall Street was strong, even in a year marked by IPO frenzy.

Even in a year packed with successful initial public offerings, Inc. 500 company GrubHub, the online food delivery service, was the darling of Wall Street on Friday.

Investors had a strong appetite for the company's stock, chomping up shares priced at $26 for the debut, and pushing the stock price up more than 50 percent soon after the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Shares settled at about $36 by mid-day. The first-day pop pushed GrubHub's value to more than $3 billion.

GrubHub said it had hoped to raise $100 million in its offering, but instead raised close to twice that amount. That's not bad for a startup whose owners, Matthew Maloney and Michael Evans, walked the Chicago streets beating the bushes for business back in 2004.

"I bought a Sales For Dummies book and I went door to door, signing up restaurants," Evans told Inc. earlier this year.

Today, GrubHub's service is available in 600 cities, including London, and 30,000 restaurants. It counts 34 million active users and 135,000 orders per day. GrubHub targets small, independent restaurants in the U.S., or about 61 percent of the market, it reports. That market is worth about $67 billion in sales, the company says.

Prior to going public, GrubHub had raised about $84 million from venture and private equity firms including Warburg Pincus Private Equity, GS Capital Partners, and Benchmark Capital Partners. In 2013, GrubHub merged with competitor Seamless.com.

Like Twitter and dozens of other companies that have gone public in the last couple of years, GrubHub took advantage of a provision in the JOBS Act of 2012, which lets small companies valued at $1 billion or less to file for an initial public offering in private, and just a few weeks before it intends to debut. That provision allows smaller companies to avoid an extended period of public scrutiny, which could potentially damage sales or reputation.

According to GrubHub's S-1 filing--the form a company must submit to the Securities and Exchange Commission prior to going public--profits have declined over the past three years as the company has expanded. For the full-year 2013, it reported $6.7 million in net income on $137 million in revenue, a 55 percent decrease from 2011, when GrubHub reported $14.8 million in profits on $60 million of sales.

Expenses for sales and marketing have more than doubled to $37 million over the same two-year period, as have costs for operations and support, and investment in technology, which GrubHub reported cost $34 million and $15 million respectively.

Among the risks that GrubHub lists in its filing papers are practical issues related to the merger with Seamless, and the ability of the restaurants it works with to maintain quality and service expectations of customers. Other questions for the company include: whether the strength of the economy and its impact on consumer discretionary spending might prove a negative force going forward, as well as the financials of smaller restaurants that make up GrubHub's network.

"Many of the factors affecting restaurant costs are beyond the control of the restaurants in our network," GrubHub said in its filing papers. "In many cases, these restaurants may not be able to pass along these increased costs to diners and, as a result, may cease operations, which could harm our profitability and results of operations."

Categories: Small Business News

The Case for Staying Private (and Why IPOs Are Overrated)

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 10:50am

It's certainly easy to get caught up in the allure of going public. There are plenty of compelling reasons to stay private.

It’s increasingly rare to find a privately held, family-controlled business with a household name--especially in the technology sector. In fact, just today, TrueCar, a competitor in our space, filed to go public. So I often get the question: When is Edmunds going public?

With 2013 being the most active year of IPO deal flow since 2000, and 2014 poised for an equally strong showing, it’s certainly easy to get caught up in the allure of going public. Yet there are a host of oft-forgotten advantages that come with the decision to remain a private company, not least of which includes avoiding the high costs and time associated with regulatory compliance.

But beyond this, the most critical benefit of staying private is the facilitation of a true focus on long-term goals.

It’s no secret that Wall Street has become increasingly myopic. When public companies are often judged by their most recent earnings “beat” or “miss,” we shouldn’t be surprised that corporate management teams can get caught up in this short-termism and lose sight of the long-term strategic plan.

By eschewing public scrutiny and realizing that many of these short-term market players have no vested long-term interest, private organizations can preserve their focus on what is truly best for the organization’s overall success.

For instance, had Edmunds.com been forced to address the market’s expectations during the 2008/2009 contraction in our industry, we almost certainly would have had to gut our organization to slash costs. However, our executive team had a firm belief that the financial crisis would be temporary, and as a private company, we were able to take a calculated risk to maintain our workforce.

With no one looking over our shoulder, Edmunds weathered the storm and bounced back rapidly when the economy turned. We were able to keep our 400+ staff intact and have since grown to nearly 600 strong.

Similarly, remaining private and nimble enabled us to swiftly make multi-million dollar investments in the infrastructure to support a new sales initiative whose success depends upon an implementation over many years. We were able to make these long-term investments without worrying about what effects they might have on near-term publicly reported earnings.

At the end of the day, the idea that going public is the be-all and end-all for a successful company is antiquated. For many companies, there’s much to gain from a thoughtful decision to stay private. After all, we are all in it, or should be in it, for the long-term.

Categories: Small Business News

How One Angry Email Nearly Ruined My Career

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 10:30am

It was two sentences. But the fallout from this thoughtless email was big.

It all started with one angry email.

I was young at the time, working as a documentation manager at a large company. We were pushing out how-to guides for complex in-house software apps, and that meant I had to meet with the IT developers on a regular basis. One of them, whom I'll call "Ted," seemed to be antagonistic about my tiny, four-person team that had just sprung to life.

"What is it you guys do again?" Ted asked me in a meeting one day. I'll never forget the look of disdain on his face, as though we had arrived on his foreign soil without any reason for being there and wanted to borrow his left arm. I mumbled something about human factors, interaction design, and user adoption strategies, but he wasn't interested.

This kind of human roadblock was not exactly a new experience for me. I had led other teams at a small startup in Minneapolis and battled for the value of written communication before, fighting with middle managers who didn't understand what my team members were doing, how our process worked, or why we existed.

With Ted, there was an added element: He just seemed to be annoyed by anyone who thought the application didn't speak for itself. In particular, he was annoyed by me.

After several meetings, he kept insisting that the entire team was a waste of company resources. He said any printed how-to guides or online help would become superfluous to the users, who would figure things out for themselves. I guess he had a point--if the app really was that intuitive, maybe the documentation wasn't as important to them. Unfortunately, we also had usability data that indicated people were pretty confused.

2 Angry Sentences

One day, after a particularly difficult meeting with Ted, I went back to my desk and sent him a short, angry email. It said: "You really have no idea what you are talking about. Can you stop blocking the project?" That's it. I didn't offer any defense for my outburst--maybe an explanation for why I was so frustrated or a note that said I was having a bad day and needed to vent. I also didn't present any of the evidence again that showed how users were frustrated. And I didn't let my boss know what was going on.

As a writer, it's always easier for me to put my thoughts together and explain things in written terms, but I wielded my greatest skill in a way that caused serious damage.

It backfired almost right away. As soon as I hit Send on the email, I knew it was a big mistake. I had insulted him with a terse note that was obviously just a personal attack. What troubled me the most about the email--and why I still remember the incident--is that I liked Ted just fine. He had a pleasant enough demeanor, but he was convinced my team was not necessary. And I didn't swear at him or call him a name. I just made it pretty clear I was angry and was not going to work to resolve anything.

The Fallout

What could I have done to fix the problem? Plenty. For starters, after sending the email I should have gone immediately to his desk and said I was sorry--that I didn't really mean what I had said. A follow-up email might have also helped. Instead, I just sulked at my desk and thought about what to do. Later that day, I passed him in the hall, and he gave me a cold stare. I should have stopped him then and apologized.

After a few days, it became clear to me that Ted had told his boss about the angry email and he wasn't too happy about it. My boss eventually asked me about it, but the damage was done: That particular project ended in a failed bid to do any of the software documentation. But it gets worse. Because my team didn't do that work, and because Ted was even more against our work, the team stalled out for a while. For several weeks, I had visions of either getting fired or having more projects dry up--or both.

The only silver lining to the story--and sadly, it is not that I ever apologized to Ted, because he eventually moved on to another department entirely--is that I had learned my lesson. Small, unresolved conflicts lead to big problems. It can take just one email to cause severe collateral damage. Since then, I reread most of my emails at least once before sending. I also use the Undo Send feature in Gmail, which allows me to cancel a new email before it's actually sent--there's about a one-second delay.

Most important, I see email differently now. It's not a tool for anger or outbursts (of course), or for dictatorial commands to the people you work with. It's also not a tool for deep discussion. Instead, it is a way to communicate more intentionally, to make plans, and to summarize a topic. Literally, ever since that one email experience, I've tried to set my emotions aside before ever typing up a message. I'm not perfect, and I've sent other (more tame) nastygrams to people. But I learned the hard way that just one email can ruin a project--or even a career--if you're not careful with your words.

Categories: Small Business News

Does Your Life Depend on Your CIO? Mine Does

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 9:29am

A rock-solid strategy for improving communications between you and your CIO.

Like many CEOs, I'm more than a tad confused, if not frustrated, by the techspeak-laden emails distributed by my firm's CIO, Deivis Baez.

Whether they are about cloud-computing updates, mobility, analytics, or technical upgrades being made on our server, I sometimes feel like I'm trying to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls.

And, I know I'm not alone. A recent McKinsey survey of some 1,700 CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs pointed to a major communications disconnect between the groups. That's because we speak different languages.

We entrepreneurs pontificate about vision, strategy, outflanking competitors, and understanding the mindset of the customer. CFOs care about profit and loss, cash flow, head count, and year-end bonuses. As for CIOs, well, they talk about a lot of things that make my eyes gloss over.

A New Path

That remained the case until three years ago, when Deivis, our longtime top technology honcho, caught wind of one of my passions: mountain, ice, and rock climbing.

He asked if he could tag along on the next trip. I was delighted. But I had no idea what to expect, because I was used to climbing with buddies, not co-workers.

Well, Deivis is now a buddy and a co-worker whose techspeak I finally understand. And, in exchange, Deivis has become part of my inner climbing circle. We simply don't plan a new trip without including Peppercomm's CIO.

But the benefits go far beyond male bonding.

An Atypical Water Cooler Conversation

When we climb, we begin at sunrise and continue until sundown. That's a lot of time to spend with someone, even as part of a group. So, as you might expect, our conversation inevitably turns to either my firm's strategy and direction, its IT infrastructure needs, or a status update on the latest office romance.

I'll bet I've had more in-depth conversations with Deivis during the past three years' worth of climbing than we've had in the entire 10 years prior to our climbing connection.

When we're not roping up, setting an anchor, or battling the loose scree near the top of a 7,000-foot, 12-mile-long mountain, Deivis will take the time to explain Peppercomm's technology challenges. And he does so in layman's terms. He'll describe the various options for, say, connecting our four offices by videoconference technology and why he prefers one approach over another. That's key, because I can now run interference when one of our other executives turns down Deivis's recommendation because of cost or capabilities. I can help him fight his fights for the good of the business.

And, on his end, Deivis receives early-warning alerts about planned expansions, new high-level employees, and competitive issues that keep me awake nights. He also provides an extra pair of eyes and ears in terms of workplace culture developments.

We recently rock and mountain climbed five or six mountains in Nevada's rugged Red Rock Canyon. I do not exaggerate when I say that, at certain points in time, Deivis held my life in his hands and vice versa.

IT for Dummies

I no longer furrow my brows when Deivis sends a staffwide memo explaining some new technological marvel. Instead, I'll IM him and write, "WTF, D. Put that last announcement in one sentence that even I can understand."

I'm not suggesting that you, and your top technology whizzes, risk life and limb in order to build a better working relationship.

But I will tell you this: Deivis and I are at the point where we can finish each other's sentences. And, critically, he now knows Peppercomm's strategic direction and can make the right technology choices because of the level of trust we've created.

So, who's up for tackling the Physical Graffiti multipitch climb in Red Rock Canyon? Sure, it's 1,000 feet above the desert floor, and the only thing keeping you, and your IT guy, from certain death is a rope about the width of your index finger. But just think of the money you'll save the next time you want to invest in technology and your CIO sends you a note you actually understand.

Categories: Small Business News

More Jobs in March, but Unemployment Doesn't Budge

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 8:42am

Businesses have added more jobs than were lost during the Great Recession, but the unemployment rate remains unchanged.

The economy gained 192,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said Friday, slightly below February's revised total of 197,000. Employers added a combined 37,000 more jobs in January and February than previously estimated.

The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent. But a half-million Americans started looking for work last month, and most of them foundjobs. The increase in job-seekers is a sign that they were more optimistic about their prospects.

"We're back to where we were before the weather got bad," said John Canally, economist at LPL Financial. "It's a nice, even report that suggests the labor market is expanding."

March's job gain nearly matched last year's average monthly total, suggesting that the job market has mostly recovered from the previous months' severe winter weather.

Stocks rose modestly soon after trading began, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.76 percent from 2.8 percent late Thursday.

The March report included one milestone: More than six years after the Great Recession began, private employers have finally regained all thejobs lost to the recession. The employers shed 8.8 million jobs in the downturn; they've since hired 8.9 million. Still, the population has grown over that time, leaving the unemployment rate elevated.

The proportion of Americans in the labor force -; those either working or seeking work -; has rebounded this year after steady declines since the recession officially ended in June 2009. Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, noted that the labor force increased by 1.5 million in the January-March quarter after shrinking by 500,000 last year.

Encouragingly, the percentage of Americans age 16 or older who were working reached 58.9 percent in March -; its highest point since 2009.

Americans worked an average of 34.5 hours last month, up from 34.3 in February, which was held back by the severe weather. The increase, though small, means many Americans received larger weekly paychecks.

Yet average hourly pay slipped a penny to $24.30 after a big 10-cent gain in February. That was a disappointment for many economists, who thought February's sharp increase might mark the start of a trend. Average hourly wages have risen 2.1 percent in the past year. Inflation has risen 1.1 percent in that time.

Freezing temperatures and heavy snowstorms this winter closed factories, slowed home sales and kept consumers away from shopping malls. Hiring averaged 178,000 in the first three months of this year, down from 198,000 a month in the final three months of 2013.

Still, many economists expect hiring to average about 200,000 jobs a month for the rest of the year. Hiring at that pace should lower the unemployment rate and support steady growth.

Other recent economic data suggest that the economy is picking up from the winter freeze.

Auto sales jumped 6 percent last month to 1.5 million, the most since November. That was a sign that Americans remain willing to spend on big purchases.

And surveys by the Institute for Supply Management, a group of purchasing managers, showed that both manufacturing and service companies expanded at a faster pace in March. Factories cranked out more goods and received slightly more orders, a good sign for future production. Service companies also received more orders.

Home sales and construction, however, have been weak in recent months. Sales of existing homes have fallen in six out of the past seven months. Cold weather has likely caused some of the decline. But higher mortgage rates, rising prices and a limited supply of available homes have also held back sales.

Many economists think growth slowed to a 1.5 percent to 2 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter, down from a 2.6 percent pace in last year's fourth quarter. But most also forecast that steady hiring and less drag from government spending cuts should lift growth to nearly a 3 percent annual pace for the rest of the year.

--Associated Press

Categories: Small Business News

4/2/14- Ex Parte Communication; Revision of the Commission’s Program Access Rules

SBA Office of Advocacy - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 8:35am
Landing page summary: 

On behalf of the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, I am writing to urge the Federal Communications Commission to move forward and strengthen protections for small multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) under the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 (Cable Act) by finalizing certain revisions to the Commission’s Program Access Rules.  In light of increasing vertical integration between cable programmers and distributors, including the anticipated acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Comcast/NBCU, small MVPDs have asked Advocacy to raise their concerns regarding the FCC’s program access rules and support reasonable revisions that would better protect small MVPDs from discriminatory pricing in cable programming.  Printer Friendly Version

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April 2, 2014

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Categories: Small Business News

7 Things Really Bold People Do

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 8:00am

Boldness is a leadership trait to be mastered. Here are actions that make bold people admirable.

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!"

The day I went off to college, a friend gave me this quote, which is questionably attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Over the years, it has inspired me, and I have seen it posted on the walls and bulletin boards of many entrepreneurs and leaders.

Bold people stand out from the group. They are confident, courageous, and directed. I believe there is boldness in most people. Given the right set of circumstances, many will take action to better the world around them.

People who choose to be bold are inspiring not just because they get big things accomplished, but because they also instigate growth, progress, and movement for themselves and others around them. Sadly, far more people wait for someone who is bold to lead the way, hoping somehow luck will shine success upon them.

Perhaps it's time to unleash the bold leader in you. Try adding these seven actions to your daily repertoire, and see how much faster the magic of boldness takes you toward success.

1. They own their flaws and strengths. There is a difference between boldness and carelessness. Bold leaders have strong self-awareness. They know when they should take bold action and when they are out of their element. They minimize the risk for themselves and others by constantly reassessing themselves and engaging others to accommodate for personal weakness. Want to be a bold leader? Be more self-aware. Engage others who can complement your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.

2. They keep clear priorities. Someone who constantly jumps into action without a plan isn't bold, just foolish. Bold people know their objectives and prioritize them clearly. They can afford to be bold because they can recognize the right opportunity when it comes along. Want to be a bold leader? Know clearly what you need to accomplish and seek those chances that will move the team forward. Avoid unimportant activities that lead to distraction.

3. They speak up. Bold people are not necessarily loud or boisterous, but when they have something to say, they say it. More important, they understand when and how to say it. Being bold does not equal being a bully or a loudmouth. Bold leaders must be better at tact and empathy, because the very nature of their words will carry power and impact. Bold leaders also understand that silence is often the greatest statement one can make, and they use it judiciously. Want to be a bold leader? Say what needs to be said before the silence derails the team.

4. They pair action with knowledge. Even though bold leaders are prone to action, they are rarely considered rash. They apply the same sense of action to learning and due diligence as they do to any other activity. Bold leaders want to make sure their actions lead to success, so they investigate before leading their team to the charge. Want to be a bold leader? Improve your odds of success by doing your homework. You'll increase your confidence and your success rate.

5. They accept the value of failure. No one is totally comfortable with failure, but bold leaders understand that greater rewards stem from greater risk. Still, they know how to mitigate catastrophic risk and how to protect their team. Bold leaders also know how to use risk to their advantage. They harness the energy and adrenaline and make sure that every failure is a learning opportunity. Want to be a bold leader? Make failure an acceptable part of your process. Teach the team how to assess and limit risk, so missteps can happen without total destruction. Then get people to learn and reboot.

6. They make the most of small wins. Many people sit and wait around for the "right opportunity" before they are willing to step up and take action. Sadly, sometimes that right opportunity never comes. Bold people understand that rarely is any situation perfect from the beginning. They look to make the most of any given set of circumstances that can lead to victory, even a small one. Cumulatively, consistent little wins spell success, attracting followers. Want to be a bold leader? Start with a small battle you think you can win, map out a plan, and take the field. Winning builds confidence as well as your reputation.

7. They build momentum. Bold people recognize that a single victory is not enough to sustain leadership. They work to create a series of actions that help the team gather confidence, speed, and power. They have a sense of when to add energy to drive forward and when to let the momentum itself carry things forward efficiently. Want to be a bold leader? Craft your plan so that each action takes advantage of the success from the last. Take advantage of any win that gains attention, respect, and popularity. Activate your fans, cultivate relationships, build buzz. Don't coast!

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Categories: Small Business News

The Blessing of Not Enough Money

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 7:30am

Believe it or not, being broke isn't always a bad thing. Senior contributing editor and veteran entrepreneur Norm Brodsky explains why.

Remember how investors poured money into all those dot-com startups, such as Kibu.com and Kozmo.com, in the late 1990s? As soon as it was in the bank, the entrepreneurs found a way to spend it.

What they didn't do was figure out how to generate enough cash flow internally to keep going when the outside capital was gone. The money made them feel invincible. They let a million unimportant things distract them. And then they went out of business.

The truth is that most startups don't fail because they run out of money. They fail because the entrepreneurs lose focus. From that perspective, too much money can be a bigger problem than too little money.

In fact, too little money can sometimes be a blessing. When you can't solve problems or overcome obstacles by spending, you're forced to use your brain to find a solution. You innovate. I faced a huge problem when I had a falling out with the investors in my first company, Perfect Courier.

If I couldn't come up with the money to buy them out, they'd buy me out, and I'd lose the business. So I wracked my brain, trying to think of someone who could lend me what I needed. Finally it hit me: my largest customer.

I went to see my contact there, explained the situation, and asked if I could get a year's worth of payments up front. It took some negotiating, but the customer came through for me, and I was able to buy out my investors.

Many successful entrepreneurs I know have similar stories to tell. They're successful because they're creative. It's usually the unsuccessful ones who complain about not having enough money.

Categories: Small Business News

Are You Wasting Your Most Valuable Asset?

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 7:26am

Your most valuable asset is probably the one you use the least effectively.

As an entrepreneur or small business owner you are undoubtedly very busy. You have so much to do every day: customers to find, employees to hire (or fire), potential partners to meet. But is all that stuff moving your business forward? As they say, activity doesn't always equal forward momentum.

As a business owner, your time is your most valuable asset. It's also the easiest asset to lose track of. If you're not careful, it can be very easy as you build your company to spend that precious asset on the wrong things.

Before you waste another minute, take some time to understand how you are spending this limited resource. Consider: What's the purpose of the networking event you are going to tomorrow night? Is it to make new connections that will move your company forward? Or is it just a comfortable group that you enjoy hanging out with?

You make choices every day, and one of the most important choices you must learn to make is the efficient trade of time for money. I always hear entrepreneurs lament that they "can't afford" to hire someone to help them with some aspect of their business--operations, accounting, marketing, whatever. If they look closer, they probably would determine they can't afford not to hire someone.

So what do you do best? Is your time better spent out selling your product or service while someone else builds or manages the day-to-day operations of your company?

Take inventory of how you are spending your day and take count of what you are doing throughout. Next to each activity, write the word "why?" Be very clear as you consider what the end goal is for that effort.

Go a step further and ask yourself is someone else could do that task better. An activity that takes you two hours to do that could be done by someone else faster or cheaper is always a good use of your money.

Always aim to concentrate your effort on the highest value tasks for you and your company. That's the best first use of your time--your most valuable asset.

Categories: Small Business News

The Best Sports Management Books

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 7:00am

Sage advice from Riley, Summitt, Dungy, Torre, and Pitino.

On taking one for the team: "The most difficult thing for individuals to do when they're part of the team is to sacrifice. Without sacrifice, you'll never know your team's potential."

On being driven to lead: "I'm not happy unless I'm driving myself to the limit and driving everyone else crazy around me. Why do one thing when you can do two at once?"

On focus: "It's the journey that matters. Learning is more important than the test. Practice well and the games will take care of themselves."

On getting the Yankees job: "I was being rewarded for sticking to the principles of management I believed in my whole life."

On confident employees: "Individuals with great self-esteem will do great things...they're the ones others count on to boost results when the company needs it most."

Categories: Small Business News

Bill Bartmann: To Get Over Failure, Own It

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 6:30am

The outspoken founder of debt-collection agency CFS2 has written the book on failure--literally. His life story is a lesson in resilience.

Talk about ups and downs: Bill Bartmann grew up poor, was no stranger to booze or gangs, had a bad accident and was told he'd never walk again, got rich, went broke, and is now on the rise. And mobile. No wonder his memoir is titled Bouncing Back. Who better to offer advice on how to recover from failure than a guy who has recovered from many and is now standing taller than ever?

What's the secret to getting over failure?

You can't be in denial about whose fault it is. We entrepreneurs tend to think we're the smartest guys in the room. When a business fails, almost always it's our fault. Once you take the blame, you've already solved half the problem. When you learn failure isn't fatal, you become less afraid of it.

But it can't be that easy.

When your business fails and your life goes to hell in a handbasket, you think depressing things, from "Where did I go wrong?" to "How do I end this misery?" But you don't act on that. You say, "What do I do to get out of this hole?"

You bring a unique perspective to debt collection.

I was one of eight kids in a family that often had to choose between paying bills or buying groceries. I saw bill collectors being mean and nasty. Forty years later, when I had a chance to buy delinquent loans for pennies on the dollar, I thought, What if I treat the people who owe this money with dignity and respect? You collect more by using honey instead of vinegar.

You've been rich but also missed chances to get richer.

I've had people offer me a billion dollars more than once. We voted as a family and said no. Part of that is the optimism of the entrepreneur. If you think you're at the top, you'll sell. But if you think you're on the upslope, you won't.

Any regrets?

In hindsight, I look back and say, "What the hell was I thinking?" But we got to maintain total control. We chartered a fleet of 747s one year to fly 6,000 people to Disney World. What investor in my company would let me do that?

Gut instinct versus expertise. Which is more important?

Gut. A couple million years of evolution have taught us how to survive by making right decisions. We should trust that more.

Categories: Small Business News

6 Habits of Super Successful People

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 5:57am

There is no 'secret' to success. You need discipline, perseverance, and six simple skills that anyone can (and should) build into in their daily routine.

Why are some people more successful than others? There’s really no mystery: It's because they do things differently than people who are less successful. Here are six things that very successful people do every day. Embrace these habits and you can greatly accelerate your own success.

1. Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Don't let the obstacles in your path keep you from your goals. View challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. To stay ahead, in business or anything else, you must be able to see situations from all angles and adopt the broadest possible perspective. If your ride has been a smooth one you won't be prepared for the inevitable bumps.

2. Learn How to Say No

It's far better to say no to a project you aren't fully able to take on, rather than say yes and produce poor quality work or lose your focus on what matters most. Learning to say no when it is in your personal best interest, or in the interest of your company, is an extremely valuable skill. Make a list of the things that are most important to you and that you must do yourself, and then delegate the things that can and should be done by someone else. Free yourself from daily busywork and you'll open up time for new opportunities

3. Keep a Daily Plan of Attack

You know the old saying: "Whatever isn't written down won't get done." As much as we like to think we can remember our most important tasks, when the workday gets busy and meetings run long it's easy to forget some of the things we need to get done. Each morning write out a detailed plan of attack for the day. Not only will this list keep you more organized, but seeing the list in front of you may help you work harder and ignore distractions.

4. Welcome Criticism

Learn to listen to and absorb the criticism that you get. Hateful and negative criticism should be heard, assessed, and then let go, while constructive criticism should be evaluated and acted upon. Solicit feedback from people whose opinions you value. Remember to be gracious when receiving feedback; when you are, your coworkers and friends will be more likely to give you their support and ideas in the future.

5. Trust Your Instincts

Intuition is very real and something that is never wise to ignore, because it comes from deep within your subconscious and is derived from your previous experiences in similar situations. If your mind is telling you "yes" but your gut is telling you otherwise, it's usually for a good reason. When faced with difficult decisions, seek out all the information you can find, become as knowledgeable as you can, and then heed your instincts.

6. Take Risks

It's impossible to become successful while always playing it safe. Taking well-calculated risks can bring previously unimaginable opportunities to both your career and your personal life. When taking a risk doesn't pan out the way you had hoped, simply learn from it and keep moving forward. Remember that big dreams-;and great success-;aren't realized by playing it safe!

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Categories: Small Business News

7 Signs Employees Have Lost Faith in You

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 5:30am

Finding time for self-reflection is not exactly high on the priority list when you run a startup. But it should be--before you have a staff mutiny brewing.

Self-awareness isn't always an entrepreneur's strong suit, which means that they're sometimes clueless about how their "management style" is affecting those around them. Here are the red flags that it's past time to change your approach:

1. Dilbert cartoons are posted anonymously.

It's never a good sign when Dilbert cartoons show up in people's offices, but it's a really bad sign when people post them in the hallway when nobody's looking. That means they're afraid you'll take revenge if they poke a little fun.

2. Silence when you enter the room.

If your employees suddenly go all quiet when you're around, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're saying something that they don't want you to hear. It can mean that they're afraid of saying anything, period.

3. Everyone agrees with your ideas.

If all your team members smile and nod whenever you say something, it means that they've decided that it's better just to agree with you than to risk getting shot down. Hint: If the smiles look as if they're glued on, they're not real smiles.

4. You've hired a management consultant.

The mere fact that you're even considering welcoming one of these money-and-time-sucking leeches into your workplace is a dead-certain indication that you're incompetent.

5. Your top performers leave.

Really talented people don't stick around where their talents are being wasted, which is always the case when they've got lousy managers. This is even more true now that "stick around just for the insurance" is no longer necessary.

6. You're telling people how to do their jobs.

It's one thing to assign a task with a deadline and then provide coaching when the employee asks for help. It's quite another thing to insist upon the job being accomplished exactly the way you'd do it yourself.

7. You frequently "smooth things over."

If you have a lot of one-on-ones in which you're apologizing for your behavior in meetings--like chewing somebody out in public--the problem is your behavior, not whatever it was that caused you to lose your cool.

The above is based upon my new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t. If you preorder BWtBS, you get an exclusive bonus chapter (for you and a friend) and a signed bookplate.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Hire Salespeople Who Can Deliver the Deals

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 5:30am

Salespeople are very good at selling themselves--even if they're not right for the job. Try these insider tips to avoid hiring the wrong person for your team.

Shortly after I was first promoted into sales management, I was told by a VP that the most important element of my job was my ability to hire. And attracting the best candidates requires real strategy. It made perfect sense, for as my revenue targets continued to skyrocket, it became increasingly difficult to inspect any specific deal. I was left to delegate, and ultimately trust, my sales reps to provide accurate forecasts, close business, and represent our company in the best manner possible.

My first hire, "Jerry," seemed to embody exactly what I was looking for. His interview style was both commanding and professional. He was articulate with his reasons for joining the company, and his résumé was rich with consistent quota achievement and accolades at his previous jobs. And his 10-plus years of experience selling in our space convinced me that his learning curve should be short. Three reference-checks later, I offered Jerry a job.

Jerry proved to be the worst hire of my management career.

The challenge in hiring salespeople is that they are often excellent interviewers. They can be confident, persuasive, and engaging. Jerry was all of these things, plus he had tons of industry experience. But after many of his sales calls ended with Jerry arguing his technical opinion with our customers, I had to realize I had made a mistake. Six painful months (and dozens of squandered opportunities later), I showed Jerry the door.

Here's what you need to ask a potential hire to get the best person for your time:

Check their intellectual curiosity.

A salesperson must possess a presence in order to facilitate an executive-level discussion. The challenge is that few sales reps come to the job with deep technical or business knowledge. To ask them to appear credible in the eyes of a CTO or CFO can be difficult. So I prefer that the salesperson is comfortable adopting the role of "student" when in front of customers. Can he or she be confident while being curious? Ultimately, it is the ability to truly listen and connect with customers that sets the tone for the relationship. If you want to be interesting, be interested.

At the interview: Ask your candidate to persuade you why you should read a particular book or article that he or she has recently enjoyed. Here, candidates can showcase what they find interesting, as well as their ability to sell you on why you would find it relevant to your world. And don't surprise candidates with this question at the interview. True, it is great if they can think on their feet, but I also value a salesperson who can thoughtfully prepare for a sales call.

Ask them to show you hard numbers.

Winning is often a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. When someone has a history of setting and achieving goals, the person generally is also persistent, resourceful, and optimistic. And this evidence of achievement shouldn't be limited to selling. Has the candidate enjoyed achievement personally? Academically? When the candidate begins an endeavor, does he or she expect success? Does the person, to quote the late Dr. Stephen Covey, "begin with the end in mind?"

At the interview: Ask the candidate to provide specific numbers to illustrate his or her professional journey. Did the person secure a competitive seat with a music company or sports team? What was the candidate's GPA and class stack ranking? Exactly where was his or her performance to quota achievement in relationship to overall sales org? It isn’t just the numbers that impress. It is the specificity of numbers. People who achieve generally know these numbers cold, because they use numbers as both beacon and barometer.

Get a customer reference.

At the end of the day, the one skill that sets great salespeople apart is the ability to close: namely, to inspire a customer to make a decision. Although closing techniques can be both taught and refined, the appetite to close is a specific character trait. Either you like to close or you don't.

At the interview: Anyone can offer you names of previous colleagues and employers to sing his or her praises. But isn’t it the customer who knows best? Ask your candidate to provide two to three customer references. Then, ask the reference how the salesperson was able to navigate the organization, handle objections and roadblocks, and ultimately secure the sale. With little incentive to embellish, the customer reference can provide terrific insight into the candidate's sales and closing skills.

No single question in a one-hour interview can predict the success of any individual sales hire. But at least these three elements may prevent the next "Jerry" from joining your company.

Categories: Small Business News

This Could Be the Most Underrated Tactic for Boosting Employee Morale

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 5:00am

Forget the advice about incentives, team activities, and bonuses. There's a much simpler way to perk up the mood in the office.

There is plenty of advice out there about how to boost employee morale. Some say compensation matters most. Others say it's more about empowering workers. But there could be a fix that's vastly underrated: Try showing employees more compassion.

Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade and George Mason University assistant management professor Olivia "Mandy" O'Neill conducted a 16-month study on the effects of "compassionate love," which includes empathy, caring for someone's feelings and life, and listening to a person's needs, at a long-term health care facility with 185 employees, 108 patients, and 42 patient relatives. The study revealed, as reported in Knowledge@Wharton, University of Pennsylvania's business school blog, that compassion can increase employee morale and a sense of teamwork, and even trickles down to boost customer satisfaction.

Barsade and O'Neill conducted a second study with 3,201 employees across seven industries and found similar results--a culture of compassion increased employee commitment, accountability, and performance.

And if you're confused, professional compassionate love doesn't involve snuggling, kissing, or hugs. The technique is more subtle--and appropriate--than that. It means simple acts of tenderness and affection, from asking how an employee's family is doing to grabbing an extra cup of coffee and putting it on someone's desk when you get one for yourself.

"[Management and executives] should be thinking about the emotional culture," Barsade told Knowledge@Wharton. "It starts with how they are treating their own employees when they see them. Are they showing these kinds of emotions? And it informs what kind of policies they put into place. This is something that can definitely be very purposeful--not just something that rises organically."

Below, read how showing a little compassion, tenderness, and affection at work can improve your organization.

Fewer Sick Days, More Engagement

Barsade and O'Neill's two studies found that being careful of listening to employees and being aware of their feelings can reduce sick days and burnout. By making the office more loving and less stressful, employees will feel more comfortable and appreciated.

During the first study, the researchers tracked employee withdrawal by asking workers about their feelings of emotional exhaustion and looking at absenteeism rates. Groups of employees who had higher levels of compassionate love had lower levels of exhaustion and sick days. The groups with higher compassion rates were also more team-oriented and satisfied with their jobs.

Increased Customer Satisfaction

Barsade and O'Neill also measured the effect of a culture of compassion on the patients and their families. By tracking the patients' health, the first study found that patients who were taken care of by employees in the compassionate culture had fewer trips to the emergency room. Satisfaction rates also increased. "Even though this has to do with how employees are treating each other, and not necessarily how they are treating their clients, we argue that if they treat each other with caring, compassion, tenderness, and affection, that will spill over to residents and their families," Barsade tells Knowledge@Wharton.

Lower Work-Life Issues

These two studies have also spawned similar ones in different fields of employment. O'Neill has just teamed up with Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard to study firefighters. What they have found is that compassionate love on the job can decrease instances of negative effects a job has on the employee's family. "What we see is that companionate love acts as a helper for the problems they struggle with at work and outside of work," O'Neill says. "For example, [firefighters] tend to have high levels of work-family conflict because of the stress that comes from the job. Companionate love actually helps to buffer the effect of job stress and work-family conflict on other outcomes."

Categories: Small Business News

Execs to B-Schools: Your M.B.A.'s Don't Have What It Takes to Succeed

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 5:00am

C-suite executives are giving failing marks to business schools for not producing quality M.B.A.'s. Digging into the criticism yields plenty of hiring tips for startups.

It takes a combination of strong backbone and bravery to ask people what they think of what you do. Particularly if they're going to be candid and blunt.

That's exactly what happened with a recent study by the Hult International Business School. The survey asked 90 globally diverse business leaders about the state of business education--a big source of professional managers. The results were harsh: 44 percent had a negative view, 23 percent were mixed or neutral, and only a third were positive. Mind you, many of these leaders were probably the partial product of business schools.

Well, there goes the silver-bullet answer to management. The big beef was that the schools don't adequately prepare students for the modern workplace. The problem has three parts:

  • Schools don't measure if students learn relevant skills and behaviors. A single number, like a GPA, doesn't say nearly enough about what students have learned. Ironically, a high grade point average was often associated with a perception that students took easier courses, meaning they were risk averse and did not have the flexibility and agility companies need.
  • There isn't enough emphasis on 10 critical skills and abilities. Self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses, integrity, understanding of cross-cultural reality, team skills, critical thinking, communication, comfort with inevitable ambiguity and uncertainty, creativity, the ability to execute tasks when first joining an organization, and strong sales skills, including the ability to persuade and influence others, were all sorely lacking in the graduates.
  • Schools overemphasize theory. The emphasis means less time for students to apply what they have learned. It would be better for them to work more in simulated business situations or with professionals who could provide some real-world perspective and advice. As it is, many business professors do some consulting but haven't actually run businesses themselves.

As the report said, "Collectively, these findings signal a business school industry in danger of becoming out of step, unless those schools make significant changes." Actually, it sounds as though many schools are already out of step and have been for some time. Getting this amount of negative reaction doesn't happen overnight and isn't the result of disappointment with a handful of graduates. The reaction is also coming from some major sources, such as Accenture, Unilever, and Liberty Mutual Insurance.

The study does have its limitations. It could have been bigger, for example, and was originally supposed to include interviews with 200 leaders. But the researchers kept getting the same answers over and over again, according to the The Wall Street Journal.

"We were just hearing the same thing again and again. There was really no point in continuing the research much further," says Hult President Stephen Hodges. He added that he was surprised by the consistency of those negative sentiments.

Talk about concentrated rejection. Who could blame them for calling it a day?

The Takeaways

The news shouldn't be so startling. Over many years, I've heard people question what M.B.A.'s actually knew--particularly when talking about newly minted business consultants who would then tell experienced executives how they should run their corporations.

There has also been other criticism from within the academic community, like from Garth Saloner, dean of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. "What [employers] really tell us they need are leadership skills," he told the McKinsey Quarterly. "It's what you might think of as 'soft skills,' or people skills. Those are the things that are in short supply in managers who [employers] want to rise to the most important and significant ranks in their companies."

What is the lesson from all this for an entrepreneur? When building out your management team, don't get dazzled by the M.B.A. or GPA. Look deeper into the person you're considering for employment. Ask whether he or she might grasp the dynamics of a multicultural market, or has ever exhibited creativity. What evidence is there that the person is good in a team or can demonstrate critical thinking for a real-world problem? Was there a time when the candidate can remember wrestling with an ethical challenge?

Do your interviewing and evaluation correctly, and you might land a higher-quality management employee than your competitors--or, apparently, than giants in your industry.

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