Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Learning from Rejection

As the parent of a high school senior, we are in our own version of March Madness. The end of March is typically the deadline for college acceptance letters… or, rejection letters. The rule of thumb is: big envelope good, small envelope bad. If you’ve even had a teenager anxiously waiting for a big envelope from The Perfect College of His / Her Dreams, you know what we’re going through.

Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal knows. Her article about rejection is dead on. She profiles some of the biggest names in business and entertainment – Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, Tom Brokaw to name a few, who were rejected by their first choice. Their look back at the rejection and what it taught them should be required reading for every first semester high school senior (first semester because in the second semester their brains turn to mush and Senioritis is out of control).

Listen to what the Oracle of Omaha says: “The truth is, everything that has happened in my life…that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better.” He went on to say ”You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity.”

In business, you’ve got to face rejection. If you’re in sales, you face it daily. If you’re not facing rejection, you’re not pushing hard enough. As the leader of a small professional services firm, I hate being told “no” by a prospect. But sometimes getting a “no” is better than getting “maybe” or getting silence. “No” gives you direction. It can help you know what’s working and what’s not. And sometimes, a “no” from The Perfect Customer I Have Always Wanted to Get is a good thing.

Early in my practice, I chased after a prospect who I thought would accelerate my fledgling business. He decided not to use me for his big plans. Eight months later the firm he did choose was fighting him over unpaid invoices, unrealistic expectations, and a Titanic case of scope-creep.

In business, as in college, a rejection can be the best thing you could ask for. Good things often come disguised in small envelopes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

This Anchor Won't Weigh You Down

Ok, you’ve come up with The Next Big Thing. It’s a "game changer". “It will revolutionize the way people (fill in the blank).” Cool. Now how do you describe it?

Like most innovators, you struggle with telling people what it does. And forget about how it works. That’s way too complex.

So you stumble around as you talk about it, all the while watching your audience get more and more confused about this product that’s going to change the world.

What you need is an anchor.

People need to have a point of reference for new things. In a recent Fast Company article, Dan Heath uses the example of explaining NetFlix to someone who never heard of it. You could talk about mail order movies that or easy to return in a simple package. Or, you could say, “Think of Blockbuster, but by mail.” Having a frame of reference (Blockbuster) helps us understand in general, then the twist (but by mail) tells us why it’s different and better.

Most of my clients are technology start ups. They’re run by extremely bright, passionate engineers and scientists who understand the mechanics but sometimes struggle with explaining their products.

One company, NanoMech, was recently interviewed by the statewide ABC-TV affiliate. Keep in mind NanoMech is an advanced materials and nanomanufacturing company. Not an easy subject to explain. But they were able to use anchors and focus on the benefits of their products rather than how they worked. The result was an easy to understand description that a general audience could understand, yet one that more sophisticated viewers could appreciate as well. Click here and scroll down to see the segment.

For innovators, describing the value of your product is the key to your success. Anchors can get you there.