You’ve heard the old saying, “He’s Mr. Right Now, not Mr. Right.” It’s a phrase women (and men… relax) often use to describe someone who they are dating to fulfill their current needs, but who they see no long-term future with. And what’s wrong with that? That’s the very reason why we are supposed to ‘play the field,’ to determine the qualities and characteristics that we like, and more importantly, to find out the things that we DON’T like about a potential partner. It’s what helps us to appreciate when we finally find the person who completes us (as Tom Cruise said in his famous “Jerry McGuire” scene).

I find that there are a lot of parallels between a person’s love life and career. After all, if we’re lucky, we find a compatible mate that we enjoy spending time with much like we find a career that makes us enjoy going to work in the morning. Conversely, far too often people stay in a dead-end marriage or a dead-end job to pay the bills and wake up 40 years down the road wishing they had lived their lives instead of conforming to what was expected of them. However, marriage is an end-state (likely, unless you get divorced, but let’s assume for this example you don’t). The journey to find the ‘right man’ or the ‘right woman’ is half of the fun. You probably date someone convenient for a while because they’re physically attractive, or because they get you into cool parties, etc. You also probably end up on a few awful blind dates, or find yourself turning to online dating with hopes that a gorgeous, educated, successful person with no baggage has had just as hard a time finding interested partners as you have.

Image from Google ImagesThe same can be said about your career. Maybe you started off selling tea leaves in a mall or cold calling executives trying to sell mass amounts of gift cards to CVS (both jobs I reluctantly admit to having held in my illustrious career). But as I said at the beginning of this post, finding out what you DON’T like in a job is sometimes more important that finding out what you DO like. And there isn’t a job out there that doesn’t provide some value. Even as a cold caller, you learn how to take rejection (another skill that can help in your love life)

The journey through life is long, but incredibly short at the same time. As a good friend of mine, who I believe was quoting the movie Blow, once said, “Never get too high or too low on yourself.” Whether it is your love life, or your career – work hard, roll with the punches, and see what happens.

And never settle. Make sure you don’t wake up next to the wrong person in 40 years and have to get up to go to the wrong job. In the meantime, it’s cool if that happens once in a while 🙂

Follow me on Twitter: @billconnolly

This post is a follow-up to a post I wrote last week entitled, “5 Interviewing Tips from an Interviewing Failure.” I had written that post with very little expectation, and received tons of positive feedback, with a link to my blog even appearing on NYTimes.com! Naturally, I figure that if people are interested in hearing how to successfully land a job they want, they must therefore also be interested in the next logical step – negotiating an offer of employment.

In this economy, the negotiating power between an employee and a company can sometimes appear one-sided. With so many quality workers unemployed, we assume that a company can underpay, and undervalue someone who they are making an offer to. Unfortunately, in some cases, this proves an accurate assumption. Especially for new people entering the workforce who have little to no experience in negotiating and not much leverage to stand on when facing a large corporation.  (And thousands of other new graduates with similar backgrounds and GPA). Let’s assume you have an offer from a great company in front of you. Well friends, below are my 5 tips for negotiating that offer. I hope you find them useful!

1.) NEVER Give the First Number – This is a controversial one. And it’s an important one. Perhaps you have been filling out an application and been asked the question – “What are your salary expectations?” Some people argue that if it is a ‘mandatory’ question, you should fill it out with a range that you expect to be paid. Personally, I disagree vehemently. (Remember, these are just my tips, doesn’t mean that it won’t work for some of you) When faced with this predicament, I always will put either, “N/A” or “Negotiable.” Why you ask? Because you never know what your value is to a specific company. Let’s say for example, I put $60,000 as my answer to that question. Well, maybe the company would have been willing to pay me $80,000, but once they see my estimate you can guess what they will offer me. Again, maybe they’re only willing to pay me $30,000, but I don’t want to be the one who starts that process. I know a person who left a job interview having told an employer that they wanted to be paid 70% less than what she was actually offered. If the employer hadn’t been so reasonable on their own (and they likely had set salary guidelines for each position) she could have shorted herself by quite a bit of cash.

2.) Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate! – Some people, especially in this economy, are so happy to have just gotten offered a job that they will take it without a second thought. Others are afraid that if they attempt to negotiate, the company will say, “Well if you aren’t excited to work here then we don’t want you,” and rescind the offer. Of course, the ladder option is a possibility, but it’s a minute one. And personally, I don’t want to work for an organization that doesn’t respect my right to try. As I said previously, you never know what they may be willing to pay, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. Negotiating is a strong business skill, and if you can negotiate for yourself it will demonstrate to the employer that you are a better businessperson, and one that they will want to keep around.

3.) Think Long-Term – Yes, you are negotiating for your first position. But your first position could be the catalyst for your career path long-term, so don’t necessarily focus on what is going to do it for you in the immediate future. This tip assumes that you are hashing through multiple positions. Consider potential growth, training you will receive, and responsibility you will be given in addition to the ‘Bottom Line.’

4.) Money Isn’t Everything – Which brings us to our next tip. Although salary is a key component to any job offer, it isn’t the only thing. Vacation, benefits, and stock options also come into play, among a slew of other variables. And sometimes, those are negotiable as well. Maybe a company won’t be able to up your salary by 15%, but they could give you an additional week of vacation time. Might be enough to sway your opinion.

5.) Follow Your Gut – This last tip is the least scientific, but it might be the most important in some cases. Sometimes the money won’t line up, the vacation is minimal, but the opportunity is just right. Especially if you are young, take some risks. Namely because it’s the only time in your life when you can really afford to do so. Have no regrets, and follow your dreams!

That’s all I have for you folks, if you’ve gotten this far, it likely means you have received an offer of employment with a great company. Congratulations! And if you haven’t, refer back to my earlier post on interviewing; I could use the web traffic 🙂

Follow me on Twitter: @billconnolly

Marketing. It’s a tough job, a job much more intricate and challenging than many people outside of the field give it credit for. At my time attending an all-business college, I heard all of the popular put downs against my chosen profession.

Picture taken from Directory.ac

“You know marketing is the first to go when the economy gets bad.”

“Marketing, huh? What are you just going to draw pictures all day?”

“Marketing people make less money than everyone else.”

Thanks, finance and accounting friends! How was tax season? (Sorry had to get that in there). Marketing is a much more complex function of business than many people may think. You have to understand target segments, customer psychology/behavior, market trends, and pricing among many other variables. To add to the problem, in traditional marketing it was incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to accurately define ROI. You may have heard the old familiar saying, “Half of my marketing is working, I just don’t know which half!” How scary is that?

My fellow marketing folk will agree, however, that in today’s technologically driven world, marketing is no longer a guess and check game. With marketing automation tools (see Marketo, Eloqua, Neolane, Unica, etc.) and personalized targeted messages (think Facebook – “How did Facebook know I liked to ski??”) among a slew of other endless additions to the marketing function, today, FINALLY, marketers can not only see which aspects of their efforts are working, but we can report on precisely how much revenue can be tied back to said efforts. Pretty cool, right?

All of this innovation has made marketing even more challenging, and more complex, than it ever has been. Don’t get me wrong, it has also made marketing more valuable and indispensable as well. But often times, companies get caught up in defining segments, reporting results, and following best practice. Lest us not forget what our purpose ultimately is, to connect with our customers.

In that sense, good marketing is still simple. The fundamentals of customer behavior have not changed with the internet or other emerging technologies. Word of mouth is still the most powerful form of advertising (e-Word of Mouth). Customers still want good deals, and want to be treated properly. Of course, achieving all of those goals is much easier said than done, especially as the size of your business grows. But it’s important for us to take a deep breath every once in a while and remind ourselves that the customer, not technology, is still the most important element to successful business.

What do you think? Has technology advanced to the point where we can control the perception of each individual customer? Or is social media so powerful that we will never again have control of the message? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Follow me on Twitter: @billconnolly

It seems counter-intuitive, right? To take advice from someone who is classifying themselves as a failure? However, someone who has never failed at an interview can only tell you what has worked… they can’t tell you what hasn’t. They don’t have insight into the common mistakes that people unknowingly make in an interview, subtle nuances that make all of the difference.  Which is why I am writing this post, because when I was looking for my first real position, I made all of the mistakes in the book, and learned a great deal in the process. I hope you will find value in the following (Mainly because it will make me feel better about how long it took me to secure the job I wanted.) But also, because I wish someone had been there when I had no answers, to say, “Hey man, don’t worry about it, I’ve been doing this wrong forever, so let me give you some advice.”

I need to start with a disclaimer that I am not a complete and utter interviewing failure. I have held 10 different positions in my young career, and am gainfully employed at the moment with an innovative marketing agency, while also working on a start-up company with one of my close friends (and mentor). However, my qualifications of a failure need not be understated either. Over the course of a 10 month period, I interviewed with over 50 different companies. In some cases, making it to the final round of an interview, but in every case, failing to bring home the prize. So I would comfortably say I’m an expert at failing. Here we go:

Picture taken from Google images.

1. Know the company – It sounds simple, but it’s something that I didn’t really understand for a long while. When I say, ‘know the company,’ I mean more than just the name, industry, and stock performance year on year. I mean REALLY know the company. For example, the personality of the employees (culture), something interesting the CEO said in a speech, or recent awards they may have won. Arm yourself with just one of those interesting items, and it will go a long way to help your cause.

2. Know the Industry – It’s not enough to simply know how the company works, but you have to have an understanding of the industry it competes in. Take a look at industry evaluations like the Forrester Wave or the Gartner Magic Quadrant. Or, if you don’t have access to those, look up news articles or blogs that talk about the major players in said industry, and where the industry is going in the future. An interviewer will always be impressed if you ask a question about how a new technology is impacting their field because you read an article about it in the Wall Street Journal.

3. Remember, Interviewers Are People Too – Here is where a lot of people falter, myself included at times. Especially in an interview, we tend to clam up, to get nervous, and to become paranoid about saying the wrong thing or not getting the questions right. It’s important to remember that the person interviewing you is also a human being, and therefore will care about more than if you can answer an arbitrary question with the textbook answer. Overall, they have to like you. So be personable, start with a light-hearted joke about the weather, or find a connection like a favorite sport or an alma mater. At the end of the day, it’s much more important that they remember you as the man/woman they had fun talking to than the one who got all of the questions correctly. (Obviously, you can’t bomb the questions either. My point is simply that people make decisions based on emotion, it’s just who we are. So make sure they like you!)

4. Don’t Be Overly Prepared – Yes, that’s right, I said Overly prepared. Clearly, being under-prepared is also an issue. However, being overly-prepared can also cause problems. For instance, having pages upon pages of notes in front of you will cause you to get flustered and overwhelmed at each question. If you want to have notes in front of you, make them quick bullets, and limit yourself to one page. That way, your bullet points will remind you of talking points, but won’t cause you to read ver batim with your head down (which we tend to do when we’re nervous). Relax, take a breath. It’s alright to say to the interviewer, “Let me think about that for a second. I want to give the best example.”

5. Be EXCITED! – This, to me, is by far the most important tip that I can give you. Be excited! About the job, the interview, the company, everything. I’m not saying you should knock the person over when you meet them, or completely praise the company as a perfect workplace, because that will come off as phony, and not genuine. However, in the feedback I received in some of my interviews, the reason I didn’t advance to a final round, or get the job was almost always, “Didn’t show that he wanted the position.” In my case, as I imagine some of you may be feeling, after hearing the word ‘No’ over and over again, it’s tough to ‘get up’ for each interview. You start to go through the motions. But like I said earlier, interviewers are people too, and they want to hire people that want to be hired. Wouldn’t you?

That’s all folks. After my many trials and tribulations, these are the 5 most important pieces of advice I have to give. Perhaps they won’t work for you, but hopefully they will. In the end, we all find our way. Just don’t get discouraged, keep your head up, and know that when things finally go right, it makes everything worth it.

Follow me on Twitter: @billconnolly

In the wake of yet another catastrophic natural disaster – this time in Japan – the world has come together to support the millions of impacted people who have lost their friends and families, homes, and livelihood. With the threat of a nuclear fallout continuing to burden the people of Japan (and those of us who rely on their economic health to maintain our own), the American Red Cross has stepped up its fundraising efforts in earnest. Celebrities have also come out to support the cause, such as Lady Gaga who donated $1.5 million to Japanese earthquake victims, or Sandra Bullock and Gwen Stefani (full story here) who each pledged $1 million of their personal fortunes. Hell, even Charlie Sheen is donating $1 from each ticket sold to his upcoming ‘Torpedo of Truth’ tour.

Some companies are using the Japanese crisis to position themselves as ‘good members of the global community.’ For example, AT&T (and later many other mobile service providers) recently made calls and texts from the US to Japan free until the end of March. Microsoft, not to be outdone, issued a twitter promotion where they would donate $1 for every retweet about their search engine, Bing, up to $100,000.

And here is where the controversy arises. As you can see by the image at the left, Microsoft’s, er, charitable spirit, was not well received by all. Although the company was actually helping the cause for Japan, people were outraged that the donation was contingent upon action on the part of the consumers to promote their product. Aforementioned AT&T was heralded for their program to help people reconnect with loved ones who are currently living in Japan. But what, really, is the difference between the two programs?

For the record, Microsoft quickly responded to the negative feedback by apologizing for the misunderstanding and donating the $100,000 without requiring further action from its @bing followers (In other news, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda also donated $1 Million toward Japan). Clearly, this was the right thing to do. But let’s not be fooled here, every business who is donating to this cause (or any other cause) is doing so, at least in some small part, for the publicity of the donation. That’s why companies release press statements announcing their intent to help, or leak details of their donation onto the web. And truthfully, that’s fine by me. Because if it makes the difference between a corporation donating $1 million or not donating at all, then let them have their publicity.

However, I also understand the outrage demonstrated by consumers here. The key difference between AT&T’s relief effort and Microsoft’s was that AT&T used the horrific tragedy as a publicity platform, where Microsoft used it as a marketing platform. During a time of immense need, companies who volunteer to help out, regardless of their intent, should be commended. Make your donation, take your kudos, and fade quietly into the distance. We, as consumers, are OK with a press release or a news report that a company is doing what it should be doing. But to design a marketing campaign around those victims crosses the line, and Microsoft quickly learned that crossing a line in today’s connected world means bad press can get out of hand, and FAST.

Many believe that the line separating PR and Marketing is blurring, and in many ways, it is. But one thing is clear: when it comes to helping people in desperate need, that line is as clear as ever.

What do you think? Is this a bad move by Microsoft, or just a good way to help the cause? Please comment below. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @billconnolly!

First, let me preface this post by saying that a large part of my background happens to be in customer experience. For this reason, I love anything and everything associated with customer service, branding, and the overall personality of a company. Recently, I had one of the best customer experiences in my young lifetime, and I felt compelled to share it with the world (or at least with the small percentage of the world that will read this).

It was lunchtime at the office, which happens everyday coincidentally, and I needed to find a way to nourish myself and prepare for the second half of what was sure to be another fantastic and challenging day of work at my beloved company (Quaero, a CSG Solution). With no other solution, I headed off to the Mall, which happens to be located just around the corner from my office. I figured that a couple of sampling laps around the food court would give me the guidance needed to make a decision.

Finally, I decided to tick off all of the food court samplers eagerly fighting for customers during the lunch rush, and got in line at Quizno’s, the sub shop. I ordered a sandwich, and a cup of chicken noodle soup (keep this detail in mind for later in the story). I received my food and sat down at one of the tall tables surrounding the outside of the food court eating area.

Are you riveted by this story yet? If not, that’s alright; here is where it gets interesting! After a few moments, a man came over to my seat and asked how everything was. “Uhhh, it’s good, thanks,” I reluctantly answered. I was sort of confused as to who this guy was and why he cared about my experience. After all, it was the food court, I wasn’t expecting 5 star service, or even 2 star food for that matter. A moment later, he reappeared and asked the following, even more direct question: “What kind of soup did you get?”

“Listen buddy, back up. I don’t know what your game is here, but I’m not giving you any of my soup.” I didn’t actually say that, but I was thinking it. Then I saw his nametag. It appeared that he worked for Chick-Fil-A. Okay, I thought; at least he works here. That’s a little less creepy I suppose.

“Chicken noodle,” I told him.

“Oh, have you tried our chicken noodle before?” he replied, with a big grin on his face.

“No, I haven’t, but I will next time,” I said, impressed by his passion for food court retail, but also trying to get him to walk away so I could enjoy the rest of my meal.

He then walked away, and I forgot about the encounter. Until – get this – he came back a third time. Except this time, he was carrying with him a full bowl of Chick-Fil-A chicken noodle soup and two packages of crackers on a tray. He set it down beside me and said, “Here you go, hopefully you will enjoy it!” Then he left for good.

What had started as a rather intrusive experience from my chicken-loving friend instantly turned into one of the best customer experiences I have ever encountered. It was a small gesture, and I can bet that the cost of his benevolence was negligable to the Chick-Fil-A empire. But to me, it mattered.

The lesson here is that life is simple folks. People are simple. And maybe most importantly, business is simple. It doesn’t take much to impress someone, just be a little different, be a little better than they expect. You may just get someone to write a blog post about you. If he was real lucky, someone more important than me would have been on the receiving end of that gesture.

And the best part of the whole story you ask? His name was “Gumbo.” Hats off to you, Gumbo. Whatever it is you’re doing, keep it up brother!

ORIGINAL POST: Nov 29, 2010 on InsightIQ

This post was syndicated on CustomerThink.com

 

Today is Veteran’s Day, a day when we take a collective moment to remember, celebrate, and commemorate the brave soldiers who fight in our stead to protect the freedoms that come with being an American. Ironically, today also happened to include an intense consumer debate as to what those freedoms actually mean. Amazon.com, the largest online-only retailer in the entire world, featured a book on its website today with a “Very Controversial Title.” The book was written by Phillip R. Greaves II, and it gained a lot of, um, attention once it was introduced.

Consumers were understandably outraged, and took to popular social media vehicles to flex their collective power. Twitter (when it wasn’t “Over Capacity,” as it is far too often) was blown up with activity. A special hash tag was actually created with the name “#boycottamazon,” and at the time of this writing had far too much activity to quantify. As one user said, “Just found new place to buy daughter’s laptop case instead of @Amazon. They have free speech. I have free enterprise. #boycottamazon” It seemed that most users agreed they would boycott the company until the book was taken down. What should frighten Amazon are the potentially influential consumers who were not satisfied with the simple removal of the product. As one woman vented, “Yeah, their response was slow and weak. Still going to boycott. Would love for them to feel it this holiday season. #boycottamazon.”

AmazonPerhaps most startling is that Amazon originally stood by its decision to sell the book. “Amazon believes it is censorship to not sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable,” spokesman Drew Herdener explained in an e-mail, in response to inquiries from CNBC.[i] The company has since rethought its position, and removed any traces of the book from its website, however at this point they have not otherwise responded to the outrage that was unleashed by the book’s presence on their site. They say that ‘All publicity is good publicity,” but ‘they’ are wrong in this case. Really Amazon? You didn’t see this coming? Maybe if Barnes & Noble.com had this slip up I could understand. But Amazon is an online-only retailer, and it is about time they start understanding the space that they occupy. People were so put off by this experience that they felt the need to share it with EVERYONE, in several different channels. And @Amazon, the Amazon official Twitter page, follows a mere 23 people, so it is entirely conceivable that they weren’t aware of the negative dialogue flooding the popular online community until it was far too late.

This isn’t the first time Amazon has faced criticism either. Most notably, in 2002 (Before the power of social networks had been realized), Amazon came under fire for selling another very controversial title. (Which is still for sale under Amazon.) I’m all for protecting our freedom, but this is absurd. Get it together Amazon, you need to fix this, and quickly. I don’t need to remind you of what important time of the year is fast approaching for the retail sector. What do you all think? What should Amazon do to quell the intense anger that now exists towards its brand?

ORIGINAL POST: Nov 11, 2010 on InsightIQ