Monthly Archives: August 2009

Problem Solving With Monet

Our ability to problem solve is often directly correlated with our levels of success. Regardless of what function or role we inhabit, we are constantly bombarded with obstacles that require a measured response.

I prefer to view these problems as opportunities to improve a situation.  As the saying goes, “when life serves you lemons, make lemonade.”

Up close Monet's paints are difficult to make out, but from afar they are a thing of beauty - When analyzing your problem take a step back and to improve your perspective of the problem.

Apply a Monet framework to problem solving. Up close, Monet's paints are difficult to make out; from afar they are a thing of beauty. When analyzing a problem, improve your perspective by taking a step back to understand all of the problem's elements.

To improve your response, approach particularly troublesome problems using a problem-solving framework.  In my framework, I look at the situation like I view Monet paintings – from afar. I assume a third-party perspective that enables me to take a step back and hypothesize all stakeholder points of view.  From this perspective I recommend you:

Define the problem.
What’s causing it? Without knowing what the problem is and what’s causing it, you’ll either be fixing problems that don’t need fixing or not finding the right solution

Understand what you can control.
If you have no control over some aspect of the problem, don’t focus your efforts on solving the problem by trying to change that element.  Think creatively about how you can solve the problem and consider changing directions that circumvent that element entirely.

List you potential solutions.
Come up with potential solutions to fix the cause of your problem or change the landscape entirely.  Improve your creativity by brainstorming ideas with others to develop possible solutions.  Additional perspectives can give you a more complete view of the whole picture.  I also find it helpful to look at other solutions to disparate problems and see if those can be applied to your problem at hand.

Pick the best option and act on it.
Once you settle on the best option for solving the problem you’ve defined, take the steps to carry it out.  You’ll find this process is very rewarding, especially if you start seeing immediate results.  If this solution doesn’t solve your problem. Great! Now you know and you can move back through these steps to see what options you have to approach the problem that exists now.

Move on
Often, I find out problems aren’t as bad as they initially appear.  Problems can be great opportunities to explore new directions in your business.  Hopefully, your problem-solving process will have the results you desire.  Once you decide on a solution to a problem, it is often best to move on and tackle the next problems opportunity that comes your way.  This is particularly true for problems you don’t have any control over.  Don’t waste your time dwelling on what went wrong or why the situation isn’t fair; learn from your missteps and move forward by proactively taking steps to be successful.

Is Apple Evil? Part Two

SAN FRANCISCO - JUNE 19:  Apple Store employee...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Yes.  Apple is evil.  That’s right I said it.  Despite its cult of worshipers, Apple is the new Microsoft, or better yet, the embodiment of the monopolistic enterprise their 1984 commercial mobilized us against.

It’s hard truth for me to come to grips with because Apple still makes great products. For the record, I’ve owned a MacBook for a almost two years and used Macs since college.  Additionally, I own an iPod and finally secured an iPhone (see Part One).  Needless to say I like their product portfolio, but that doesn’t give them a pass for being evil.

Why is Apple evil?
Apple misrepresents its products and brand, mistreats its distributors and software developers, and it doesn’t act in its customers’ best interest.

1) Apple misrepresents itself – I can give a partial pass to Apple for the extent of their misrepresentation because the cult of Apple fans is partly to blame for spreading many of the misconception about Apple’s products.  These misconceptions and misrepresentations include:

  • Apple Computers Don’t Crash – This is not true.  This is one of my main beefs with Apple since it is simply not accurate at all.  My MacBook, while certainly more stable than most PCs crashes on a regular basis and other Mac owners I know have admitted to the same.  I’ve even used Macs in the Apple store and had them crash on me right in the store.
  • Apple is Virus Free – Also, not true.  Plus, with the way the applications we use are moving to an ASP (Application Service Provider) model, viruses and the things that kill your productivity are more vulnerable to attack within the browser.  Safari as a browser, despite it’s recent updates, has a lot of improvements to make before being considered a viable option for my web browser of choice.
  • Apple is Plug and Play – It would be exhausting for me to name all the peripherals I’ve tried to connect to my MacBook and either didn’t succeed or had to figure out what software/drivers to download and install for them to communicate with my computer.
  • iPhones 3GS is MMS Compatible – To bring my misrepresentation case home, Apple is being sued for heavily featuring the ability to send multimedia text messages with the iPhone 3GS in its massive advertising campaign.  This feature is one of the main reasons I waited so long to get an iPhone and to see that it still isn’t part of the iPhone I just purchased makes me feel extremely misled.  At least I now know why some of my MMS texts, weren’t being received by my iPhoning friends this Summer.

Apple mistreats their affiliates and software partners – If you are a distributor of the Apple iPhone, good luck making money off selling this piece of hardware.  Best Buy sells the iPhone (with service plan) and if the phone is returned, they lose a significant amount of money from the sale.   For Best Buy’s sake, I hope AT&Ts wireless coverage is good because if it isn’t, selling the iPhone would not be in their best interest.

Also, Apple doesn’t exactly make it easy for software developers to develop apps or software for their products.  This “open-minded” hip brand cracks down on apps that Apple doesn’t consider tasteful and plays “culture cop” for its iPhone applications.  Their mismanagement of the App Store has resulted in apps as innocuous as dictionaries being denied.  Uggh.

Apple doesn’t act in their customers’ best interest – First let me remind you what spawned this post I’ve been thinking about for some time now.  This past Friday, I took a trip to the Apple Store to buy an iPhone.  This trip tells the story of Apple’s overt inconsideration for customers by choosing to only service customers buying computers over those interested in iPhones.  This experience goes down in my annuls for examples of bad customer service.

That experience aside, more disturbing to me is Apple’s practice of limiting what its customers can do on their platforms.  The iTunes closed environments holds music you’ve purchased hostage from other platforms.  And Apple’s recent battles with Palm highlight this monopolistic practice even more.  The saying “There’s an App for that” should be “there’s an App for that if Apple thinks its stock-holders will benefit from allowing you to access it.”  Apple has blocked Google Voice and a slew of other apps that would benefit their customers – further exposing the degree to which they go against the forward-thinking brand image they still somehow enjoy.

Don’t be Evil
After this diatribe, it’s any wonder why I still buy or want Apple products.  The fact remains that Apple produces useful products; I just don’t care for their unjustified fanfare.  The evangelism doesn’t appear to fading anytime soon, but if Apple doesn’t start making itself more transparent and its platforms more open in our increasingly collaborative environment, they may require another bailout from Microsoft to stay afloat.  Jason Calanious, once an avid fan of Apple, sums up what’s wrong with Apple the best by saying:

Making great products does not absolve you from technology’s cardinal rule: Don’t be evil.

So Apple, are you up to the challenge?  Will you live up to your image of being an open, innovative forward-thinking company?  It’s your move and I for one am hoping you come back to the light side!

Is Apple Evil? – Part One

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

The Apple brand has been racking my brain lately.  With their ongoing battles with Microsoft and others, I’ve been wondering how such a glorified brand is able to maintain their image in light of actions I’d describe as “evil.”  In Part Two of this post I outline why Apple is evil, but first I want tell you about my Apple Store experience last week and share the big news.

Apple has stopped selling it’s category-changing iPhone 3GS.

This past Friday, I took a trip to the Apple Store.  I decided I was going to join the “cool crowd” and get an iPhone 3GS.  I went to the store around 6:30PM and noticed a line outside the door.  I’ve seen this before when Apple releases a new product but this was a different story.  As I peeked inside I saw at most 50 people inside and caught a glimpse of the iPhones I was about to take home with me.  That was until I was stopped at the door by an Apple Store employee.

My conversation with an Apple Specialist (AS) outside the Apple Store

Me: “You guys are pretty busy today.  Huh?”
AS: “Yes.  The weekends can get pretty busy.”

Me: “I’m interested in getting an iPhone 3GS, but have a question. Do I get the AT&T plan when I purchase it here?”
AS: “Great! Yes you can get the AT&T plan with it right here or go online and fill out your info beforehand, I’d recommend doing it online so it’s quicker when you come back.”

Me: “Okay, cool.  I’ve been debating whether to get one, but I’m ready to take the plunge.  Can I buy an iPhone now?”
AS: “No. We aren’t selling the iPhone anymore today.”

Me: (Hmm) “Okay.  Are you out of stock or something, I think I want a white one.”
AS: (Interrupting me mid-sentence) “No.  We have every iPhone in stock. We just aren’t selling the iPhone at this Store location anymore.”

Me: “What?  You have the iPhone I want(I point inside the store to it), but I can’t buy it?”
AS: “No.  Sorry, we are only selling computers now, this line is for people buying computers.”

Me: “So how can I get the iPhone?”
AS: “You can come by tomorrow.  Just make sure you get here early enough so we can sell it to you.”

Me: “What? Are you sure I can’t buy it now?…  I have legal tender.”
AS: “No.  Sorry, just come back tomorrow and we’ll hook you up.”

Me: “Okay.” (Somewhat perturbed)
AS: “Have a good day.”

Me: (Walking away dejected, and talking to myself) “It’d be a lot nicer if you could sell me a freakin’ iPhone.  What the heck just happened??”

This past Friday was particularly busy retail day in North Carolina because it was a tax-free weekend.  In light of that, Apple made the decision to only sell their presumably higher margin computers, which from a bottom line business perspective makes sense, but from a customer service perspective stinks!  If I had traveled much farther than 15 minutes and was turned away, I would have been pretty mad.  If I driven an hour or more to the Apple Store to buy an iPhone and was turned away in this manner, I would be livid and likely considered boycotting the Apple brand.

Needless to say, the Palm Pre is looking much more attractive now.  Despite my bad experience,  I’ll be back to the Apple Store this week to see if Apple will actually sell me the iPhone this go around.  I’ll let you know how it goes and ask you to weigh in on whether Apple is evil.  Stay tuned, Part Two  of “Is Apple Evil?” should be up later this week.

UPDATE:  My second attempt to buy an iPhone was unsuccessful.  After failing to port my number, the Apple Store told me my number wasn’t eligible for porting; said I should to try to buy an iPhone at an corporate AT&T store, but implied it might not work there either due to porting rules.

My third attempt was successful!  AT&T ported my number in a snap and transferred my contacts from my Treo 755P to my new iPhone 3GS (something the Apple Store apparently can’t do).  I’m in business and enjoying the WordPress for iPhone app for this post. Hoorah!!

What do you think?  Should Apple have turned me away without an iPhone 3GS in hand?

Influencer Marketing for B2B Sales

Influence is one of the most powerful psychological drivers in sales and in belt-tightening times like these, influencer marketing is one of the most cost efficient ways to promote your business.  While this type of marketing has often been employed in the B2C space, opportunity abounds in the B2B space.

Influencer marketing, one of a dozen types of word of mouth marketing,  is an especially effective tactic in driving B2B sales.  To better understand what influencer marketing is all about, let’s define the players.

Effective influencer marketing is composed of three components:  the influencer, the follower, the business solution.

  1. Influencer – An influencer would be someone whose ability to motivate, change views, shift over from the status quo through their energy and passion and helpful knowledge over time.
  2. Followers – These people seek out the advice of the said ‘influencer‘ and will often listen and employ the advice to the extent they can implement it.
  3. Business Solution – While not directly linked to influencer marketing, the business solution is the most critical of the three parts of the influence puzzle.  Your solution needs to be relevant, meet the high standards of the influencer that share it with their followers, and be easy t0 understand (read: if an influencer can’t figure out why they or their community of followers should be interested in your product then you can bet they won’t give it the right type of influence to help it grow!).

Whether a follower of a influential person moves to take action on a product or service depends on the level of authority the influencer possesses.  Popular bloggers are very good at promoting their authority by developing thought leadership with their blog posts.

However, not all business influencers are created equally.  Selecting influencers that are best equipped to reach and influence your target audience will be a key component in your influencer marketing strategy.  To get started:

  1. Make a list of bloggers/writers/influencers who appear to reach your market.
  2. Assess their market reach by estimating their number of connections.
  3. Determine their though leadership (Do their followers hold the influencer’s opinion in high esteem?)
  4. Check their followers for the decision makers of your target market (LinkedIn is great for this).
  5. Rank your influencers according to their market reach, thought leadership, and ties to your target audience

Once you have your ranked list, I’d start connecting with a few who aren’t crucial to your influencer marketing success.  Incorporate your learnings from those approaches and craft a winning strategy for reaching out to the higher-ranked influencers who influence potential buyers in your product or services’ sweet spot.

When done right, influencer marketing is an effective and economical way to increase sales for your business.  If you can identify the right influencers, know your target customers (followers), and have a business solution worth talking about then influencer marketing needs to be included in your marketing mix.

Have you employed the power of influence in your marketing strategy?