Why Does Elon Musk Want Dissenters in his Company?

29 09 2017

In many companies and organizations, there is a position that most employees learn to avoid. It’s the position that stands out from the crowd and represents the minority voice on the team. Instead, folks learn to see which way the water is flowing and the music is playing, and they align their interests and concerns accordingly. It’s often couched in phrasing as “being a team player” and being a “proactive player instead of a negative burden” or similar.

Elon Musk, the well known chief executive of SpaceX which just recently solved how to create a space rocket that can land itself and be reused again, follows a different path with his employees. He actually wants people to tell him when they think he’s going down the wrong path. As Musk puts it, the lone dissenter or minority voice often points out issues and facts that if ignored can turn into costly problems later on. However, if a company team only follows the majority path, it can quickly turn into the fatal path of groupthink and “yes” men, ignoring major warning signs a big disaster is about to occur.

The Reward Dissenters Bring

Elon Musk and SpaceX are no strangers to risk. They operate in the high stakes game of off-Earth space transport and travel. A mistake in this environment has almost always meant total loss and millions of dollars wasted. So from Musk’s perspective, a dissenting voice provides multiple benefits. It forces the supported path to be defended better by showing why the concern raised is not an issue, a form of vetting before moving forward. Second, the minority opinion frequently brings up risks or concerns that may be glossed over otherwise because they are inconvenient to the supported path. Again, the biggest business mistakes often start with small, ignored issues, like a small leak in a levee.

The idea of rewarding the person who raises potential problems goes against the trend of American business. For decades business managers have been taught that the team is all-powerful and that many minds in synergy produce more than the individual alone. However, this also assumes a lot of mistakes are made along the way to develop that experience. In rocket-building, however, mistakes can’t be tolerated, so Musk believes in asking every question and giving a chance for dissent, an antithesis to traditional corporate culture.

Think This Doesn’t Apply to You? Think Again

Some might argue that the same situation of a rocket company doesn’t apply to a business creating software or coffee-makers. Businesses can afford to have mistakes and still make sales. However, in practice, this logic fails when the company gets sued and loses a major product warranty or personal injury case. Litigation has killed more than one small or medium business with a great product or service but no defense to a mistake that harms someone.

Musk doesn’t believe every dissenting opinion should be followed. In fact, he notes in his advice they can be incorrect. However, listening causes the path chosen to be analyzed just a bit further to identify weaknesses missed. And in Musk’s business, if it exists, avoiding that weakness can mean his multi-million dollar rocket landing again in one piece. What does it potentially mean for your company?

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Why Educated Confidence Will Carry You Far In Business

26 09 2017

To say that confidence is an important quality for a business leader to have is an understatement. At any given time, your employees are going to be looking to you to make decisions and provide insight. They need to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you’re confident in the actions you’re taking. You need to know that you’ve given serious thought to the long, often difficult road ahead of you and that you’re making the right move for the right task at the right time. If people can see that you believe in yourself, in your business, and what you’ve worked so hard to build, they’ll start to believe in those things, too.

But something many people often don’t realize until it’s far too late is that “confidence” and “educated confidence” are NOT the same thing.

What is Educated Confidence?

Trust, belief, faith, conviction – these are all among the most essential ingredients that go into creating a confident leader. But one of the most important is also one of the ones that is rarely mentioned – humility. Humility allows you to acknowledge that even though you’re a leader, you’re still just one small cog in a much bigger machine. A living, breathing machine with a life of its own – one that is much more powerful than any one individual working within it, even when that person is yourself.

In many ways, educated confidence is all about slightly adjusting your perspective to account for your own limitations. You need to be confident in the fact that you’re not always going to have the right answer to every problem you face. And that’s okay – because you’re also confident in the people around you and you know that you’ll get through it together like you always do.

You need to be confident in the fact that you are going to make mistakes as a business leader – probably a lot of them, in fact. But this is something that you welcome because you’re also confident in your ability to learn the right lessons from these mistakes and strengthening yourself and your entire organization in the process.

It’s All About the Decisions

It has been said in the past that leadership essentially comes down to your ability to make decisions– but this is only one small part of a much larger story. It’s also about your ability to see those decisions through the lens of all possible consequences, both good and bad.

An overly self-confident leader often becomes one that people follow because their paychecks depend on it, not necessarily because they want to. We’ve all had these types of bosses – the people who are experts at delegating responsibility (read: barking orders) but who always seem to disappear when those proverbial chickens come home to roost.

A leader armed with the power of educated confidence, however, is someone that people follow because they just can’t help themselves. They acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers and they likely never will, but that’s okay – because “we’re all in this together.” It’s the idea that just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean that you’re always right – and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Educated confidence is that little voice inside your head that says “maybe I should get a second, or third, opinion on this, as this is definitely outside of my wheelhouse.” It’s a voice that you shouldn’t try to stifle or tamp down, resist or ignore.

Instead, you need to give that educated, confident little voice a megaphone.





Conversational Marketing: Increasing Consumer Engagement

22 09 2017

As a business owner, you undoubtedly understand the importance of marketing. What you may not be familiar with, however, is which marketing techniques work best.

One marketing tactic that has proven itself to be of the utmost value regardless of the industry you are operating in is conversational marketing. Increasing customer engagement and boosting profit levels, this form of marketing has great potential.

The Ellen Degeneres 2014 Oscar selfie that largely boosted the popularity of the Samsung Galaxy phones is a great example. Samsung didn’t push out the photo everywhere. Instead, it marketed itself and the platforms it was shared because they included conversational engagement. The same can be accomplished across offline marketing platforms when print media is properly integrated.

What is conversational marketing?

Conversational marketing intertwines digital marketing mediums with marketing methods that include actual conversations, such as face-to-face or telephone marketing. With today’s internet applications, like Facebook Messenger, conversational marketing has become extremely simplified. The goal of conversational marketing is to make existing and prospective customers feel heard.

What is different about conversational marketing?

A key feature of conversational marketing that is different from most other forms is that it engages customers through one-on-one conversations. Both inbound and outbound marketing strategies are unified through conversation marketing because data is tracked and analyzed to produce targeted messages that create and promote consumer-specific offers.

Another notable aspect of conversational marketing is that it overcomes channel fragmentation. For example, traditional marketing platforms placed their focus on automated direct communications through outbound channels; mobile messaging, emailing, outbound telemarketing, etc. These automated messages were not producing engagement because they were not ‘real.’ With conversational marketing, though, inbound channels, including website chat tools, instant messaging, and call centers, use real people to carry out real conversations with consumers which greatly improves customer engagement.

Marketers have been challenged to take advantage of inbound interactions as a way to drive their marketing campaigns, and conversational marketing has served as a viable, effective, and cost-efficient strategy for achieving this goal. While outbound marketing tactics are limited in the number of customer interactions they can provide, conversational marketing increases customer response rates.

Developing Conversational Marketing Campaigns

An effective conversational marketing campaign allows businesses to capture consumer conversations and points of contact to develop the right message with the right offer, all the while using the right channel of communication. Developing this type of campaign means using a real-time recommendation engine that allows businesses to anticipate and prepare for consumer interactions before they take place.

Just like the popular 2014 Oscar selfie, your business needs to integrate conversational marketing techniques into its overall marketing strategy. Offline printing, including flyers, newsletters, and advertisements are a great way to accomplish this goal.





You Can Never Have Too Many Purchase Points

19 09 2017

The sales funnel in a business has changed dramatically in recent years, thanks in large part to how digital and print marketing have been married together. The customer experience is now a fragmented one, and if you’re only giving your audience one opportunity to buy, you could be leaving lots of money on the table. In truth, you can never have too many purchase points in today’s modern climate for a number of key reasons.

How Freedom Gave Way to Multi-Point Marketing

The internet, in particular, has naturally led purchasing decisions to become more complex over time. Because more information is now readily available than at any point in the history of consumerism, people now spend huge volumes of time researching before they make that move towards a purchase. They’re also getting their information from many different sources. Dimensional Research conducted a study that revealed 90% of people are influenced by online reviews before making a purchase. Another study revealed that 36% of people use a company website before making a purchase, another 22% rely on face-to-face interaction, and 59% even find out what their friends or family members have to say before they make a decision one way or the other.

You might think that this massive influx of information would make the sales funnel simpler, as it’s now easier than ever to find the actionable information you need to make the most informed decision with your hard-earned money. However, it’s actually had the reverse effect. Things have gotten significantly more complex as even the average consumer’s opinion is now being pulled in a number of different directions.

The 21st Century Sales Funnel

This massive shift in the way that consumers operate has created a ripple effect, changing the way businesses operate at the same time. It requires marketers, in particular, to respond in more diverse ways, starting with not just how they’ve optimized their sales funnel to take into consideration 21st-century buying practices, but how they’ve designed the funnel in the first place.

According to a piece that first appeared in Forbes, content marketing is one of the primary keys to helping address these modern day challenges. Essentially, modern businesses need to assume that EVERY point in the sales funnel is a potential purchase point and content needs to be created to match. Content marketing lets businesses created and distribute relevant, valuable, and consistent content to attract their clearly-defined audience. If you’re assuming that your audience could be ready to buy at the drop of a hat, naturally how you design that content will have to respond.

In essence, content and your larger marketing efforts must now be ready to address problems earlier in the buying cycle than ever before. The only purchase point in your sales funnel can no longer be the one at the end. Any point can now be a purchase point if you know what you’re doing. These types of techniques also give way to an added benefit of allowing marketers to take advantage of more diverse channels to attract the largest audience possible from the outset.

So, not only are you getting consumers who are ready to buy sooner than ever before, but you’re also getting a larger number of leads entering into the funnel. It may be trickier to manage, but it’s the type of situation that our marketing ancestors would have gladly killed for.





Reputation Management: Why You Need to Keep a More Proactive Watch Over Your Most Valuable Asset

15 09 2017

While it’s true that your brand’s reputation will play a significant role in an essential factor like word-of-mouth, the real power of paying attention to what people are saying about you runs a bit deeper.

The Importance of Reputation Management: Facts and Figures

Consider the following statistics to help paint a vivid picture of the situation you’re dealing with:

  • According to one study, an incredible 74% of people now consult Yelp or a similar service when looking for some type of business or service provider – even if they plan on carrying on a relationship exclusively in “real life.”
  • The above statistic may actually be on the conservative side – another study indicated that 97% of consumers say that they read online reviews about local businesses on a regular basis before deciding whether or not to make a purchase.
  • Speaking of which, a one-star rating hike on a service such as Yelp often equates to a 5% to 9% rise in overall revenue. Let that sink in for just a second.
  • Another study by the World Economic Forum revealed that on average, more than 25% of a company’s market value could be tied back directly to its reputation and general perception.
  • A massive 86% of people say that they would pay more for services if they could guarantee they were being provided by a company with higher ratings and a larger number of positive reviews.

As these and other statistics indicate, reputation management is a lot more than just doing what you can to control word of mouth. Even people who discover your brand, your products, or your services entirely independently of anyone else could still shy away from that purchase if your reputation isn’t what they were expecting.

The most alarming statistic of all, however, is the fact that 50% (!) of business owners say that they have found incorrect information on their business listings. This means that not only is this info damaging your reputation in a potentially harmful way to your bottom line, but it’s doing so needlessly as it is incorrect in the first place.

Getting a Grip on Your Reputation

The most important thing to understand about reputation management is that it is NOT something you do once and then forget about. This will require you to look online on a regular basis to see what people are saying about you, what information is getting posted, and taking advantage of any opportunities for course correction as they present themselves.

But even going beyond just correcting false information, there are a number of other essential proactive steps you can take to help strengthen your reputation as much as possible.

Send follow-up surveys to buyers to see what you did properly and, more importantly, what mistakes you made. If someone sends you an email with a legitimate issue, be sure to follow-up on that issue within 24 hours.

Never, under any circumstances, encourage people to leave “fake” or “artificial” reviews about you or a competitor. The consequences far outweigh anything you will gain. This includes offering gifts for good reviews. If you’re caught, and you likely will be, there is no telling what damage you might sustain.

In the end, reputation management is something that you will have to do on a regular basis moving forward. It’s a large part of why many businesses hire employees with this particular job in mind. But then again, when you’re talking about what is arguably the most valuable asset your business has, it makes perfect sense that this amount of effort would be required.





3 Gems for Small Business Owners from Jack Ma

12 09 2017

At a recent business leader meeting put on by American Express, Jack Ma from the Alibaba Group was the guest celebrity speaker. The reason why was that Mr. Ma was invited to share a bit of his wisdom and advice, particularly to small businesses. American Express has been maintaining a campaign of supporting and driving sales to small businesses to help them grow nationwide.

A Little Bit of History

Jack Ma did not come from well-established roots like, for example, President Trump. Ma was born and raised in mainland China, competed against thousands of others for a rare spot in the Chinese university system, and could not find regular employment many times. Then, with a spare moment of luck, he was exposed to the internet and realized nobody had catered websites to the Chinese. From there, his success took off, most notably with Alibaba.com.

Simple Gems of Advice

In his speech, Mr. Ma focused his advice to small businesses on three points:

  1. He advised business owners and those considering the venture to find out why businesses fail. Schools typically only teach success stories, but it’s critical to know what causes some people not to succeed to avoid the same mistakes.
  2. Business owners should listen carefully to their next-door neighbors. They are, literally, average consumers who can tell a business owner a library of secrets about what a consumer actually looks for when shopping. The problem is, people tend to avoid their neighbors thinking they’re too nosy. It’s an opportunity missed.
  3. Small businesses should “fix the roof when the sun is shining.” It’s an analogy that essentially means a business owner should be making changes and additions when things are going well. When things are rough, or there’s a major challenge, it’s not the time to be spending energy and money on fixes. Get to a good point again before thinking about changing operations or adding to costs.

Get Out of the Weeds

A lot of what Mr. Ma provided in his speech may seem like common sense for small business owners, but it’s hard to focus on thinking strategically when one’s head is buried deep in just trying to make it through the day. This is why his advice is so important; it reminds business owners to take a moment once in a while to get their head out of the weeds and think in terms of running a company again instead of momentary crisis management. In Ma’s opinion, smart and successful business owners are looking, learning, and timing their decisions with the best opportunities. And, they are not ignoring the best sources of business lessons when they become available.





That Cranberry Drink of Yours Might be 87 Partnership Years Old

5 09 2017

The typical perspective taught in business class is that one must compete against other similar businesses to obtain, hold onto, and grow a market share. And for that to happen, either the market must be new, or someone has to give up some of their market shares to make room for a new business. However, while this “top dog” approach is treated as the norm in capitalism, it’s not always the best approach to business success.

Making Cranberries Successful

The Great Depression of 1929 began because of a stock market crash and a sudden loss of cash liquidity. As a result, both successful and not so successful businesses were destroyed when the crash occurred.

However, in 1930, amidst the worst economic condition the U.S. had seen and with thousands out of work, the Ocean Spray Cooperative was started in Massachusetts. This cooperative venture, started by three separate cranberry farm growers, was the result of a smart and realistic realization that going it alone in the post-crash market was not going to be possible. Rather than fight and compete against each other, the three growers bonded together to combine their resources and success.

It ended up producing one of the few business success stories launched in the midst of the Depression. Today, that same cooperative now includes a membership of over 700 different farm operations in six states and two countries. The key to their major success was partnership and sharing versus competition and “winner takes all” attitudes.

Half a Loaf is Better Than No Loaf

Going it alone in business may mean you’re accepting pain and struggle that isn’t necessary. Business owners should look around and see if there is any potential to partner up or form an alliance with available competitors, thereby sharing a larger market potential than what their single business is capable of. The results can potentially ensure long-term viability and strength versus suffering from the common “flash in the pan” syndrome so prevalent with new small businesses and startups. This approach can be particularly effective and strategic when a business wants to venture into an unknown, new territory that the potential partner is already present in.

The digital world offers multiple ways for partnerships to be established. Businesses shouldn’t limit themselves to just horizontal relationships with other similar businesses. Vertical relationships with suppliers and end users or business clients can lock in additional market share and business not accessible by simply going it alone.

For those who think that partnerships are temporary mutual positions at best, take note of the fact that 1930 was some 87 years ago, and Ocean Spray is still going strong with cranberries as well as other agricultural products for the national food market.

While cooperating with other businesses may not work for everyone, clearly, the synergy of the many can outdo any singular benefit of a lone business acting in a market isolated and against everyone.