We’re in the Relationship Business

When I think about the skills required to execute our mission, not only does it include a high level of expertise in the areas of marketing and thought leadership, it also means that we are excellent at building and maintain great relationships with our clients.

If you were asked what does Tahzoo do? Would your answer be; we build great relationships with our customer so we can help them change? Or would it be something like we do digital marketing? Or we’re a customer experience agency?

We are in the relationship business. It just so happens that the primary value add of Tahzoo is we work on customer experience problems. Here are my thoughts on developing a great relationship with your client.

You care for your clients –
Caring is not defined by how you feel, but by how you act. I’d go on to say that it’s a commitment. A commitment to your client’s success, to treat them with respect and to care enough to do your best work on their behalf. If you truly care about your client, you are obligated to find a higher purpose in your relationship with them.

You’re a servant –
You put the client before yourself, before the company and before profit. With a servant’s heart you assist your client in any way necessary to ensure their success. Zig Ziglar, a famous sales trainer used to say “you get what you want by helping others get what they want”.

You’re honest –
Honesty requires courage. Good consultants have opinions and in a respectful way they share their perspective and experience. If the primary goal is to ensure the clients success, then they need to hear from you what you really think. The better the communication, the stronger the relationship; build the trust and have the confidence to engage your customer in the marketplace of ideas.

You make friends –
I make friends with my clients. Many of my clients from my Microsoft days are still friends. Your work is important but a friendship creates a basis for trust. We are a company full of smart and happy people… share your happiness, be friendly and get to know your client.

You’re patient –
The work we do is hard… we are agents of change. Our clients built tremendously successful business over a long period of time and although technology and consumer expectations are changing rapidly, they need time to catch up. Be patient, take the time to explain things and don’t be afraid to stick with your client while they work through the internal challenges of managing change.

You’re loyal –
Trust is a function of consistency over time. The client needs to know that you’ll be with them through and through.

You check in regularly –
If you have a great relationship with your client, then you’re be continuously checking in to ensure that you share a common vision of success. Working together, building together, failing and succeeding together (all while pursuing a common definition of success) is what great relationships are made of.

You have fun –
Find the joy in your work and share it. Enthusiasm is infectious and sometimes your client will need your energy. All great relationships have an element of fun. Smile, laugh and find reasons to celebrate.

Digital Innovation

I spoke this week at the Digital Innovation Summit in Utrecht. It was a wonderful event with over 100 attendees, including customers, prospects and partners. My speech focused on the experience economy and how the quality and shareability of an experience is a hallmark of good marketing. In the experience economy it’s not about how much you have but how good you have it!

There are many examples of companies like Uber and AirBNB that are not only delivering exceptional technology enabled solutions, they are also leveraging underutilized assets in innovative ways. My charge to the marketers in the audience was that they need to focus on individualized experiences and brand interactions that can be easily shared.

On my blog www.letsgobegreat.com there is a short paper that I wrote if you’re interested in having a more detailed overview of my hypothesis. I continue to focus on more public speaking engagements, building our social network and providing more thought leadership around the experience economy and digital marketing. We are building the marketing engine across the company with a particular emphasis on partner outreach and geographically authentic experiences.

Thanks to Jen Adamski-Torres for getting up at the crack of dawn to live tweet some sketches that linked to my speech. Check them out on Twitter if you are interested.

Feedback

Giving people feedback is one of the most important things we can do in our lives.

One of my favorite books is called The Last Lecture, written by Randy Pausch. For those of you who don’t know the story, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, Randy gives a lecture to his class which is a summary of his life lessons.

I want to share a quote from the book on the importance of feedback. The set up for the quote is that Randy had a very difficult coach and was recounting a conversation he had with an assistant coach…

“Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?” he said. I could barely muster a “yeah.” That’s a good thing,” the assistant told me. When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, it means they’ve given up on you.”

Shortly after I founded the company we started the voice of the culture survey. It was and is an import way to give feedback to me and others within the company. We publish the positive comments every week in the desk of Brad, so that peer recognition remains a pillar of our culture. I review the feedback every week as part of my standard routine.

Internally we also have the thrive review process, monthly one on ones with your manager, Kudos alias and the soon to be rolled out delivery lead feedback system. Externally, for customers and partners we have the customer satisfaction survey, however most customers vote with their wallet and either the business is growing or declining.

If you care about your customer and you care about your employees, you’ll have a company worth caring about. As the first value of our company, this is the definition of success for me. If we do those two things well, the rest will take care of itself. I designed and implemented the feedback loops so I could understand how well we were doing toward our most important goal.

My feedback to you is that not enough people are participating in the voice of the culture survey. If you care about Tahzoo and you want to make the company a better place, then you’ll take the time to give feedback. Consistent and constructive feedback is one of the most important aspects of your job. The only way Tahzoo will be great is if each of us participates in making it great… so next time I say to ‘let’s go be great’, let me and your teammates know what we need to do to get there.

Selling Tahzoo

Imagine you’re talking with a potential Client of Tahzoo’s and they ask you what does Tahzoo do? You could say we are a customer experience agency that helps our clients deliver personalized customer experiences at scale… then comes the awkward pause from the Client during which they decide to either say “that’s cool” or admit they have no idea about what Tahzoo does and then proceed to ask you more questions.

Or you could say to the Client… “We help our clients build deeper relationships with their customers. For example, for one of our clients we increased traffic to their site by 50%, with the visitors spending almost 38 thousand hours on high value content since we launched their new website”.

“We create happy customers and measure the results for our clients in lots of ways, number of pages being viewed per visit, increase in conversion rates and less time being spent on the home page… for all of our clients we help them achieve meaningful results for their business”.

Our Client is now excited about what we can do for them. A conversation ensues about their business goals… all the while we are sharing examples of results that we’ve delivered for similar clients. The dialogue is a give and take around their goals and our work. The Client becomes more confident we can help them and we talk openly about working together.

We don’t talk about practice areas, geographical distribution or the commercials and rates. We talk about solving business problems and as such our capabilities are implied by example. As we discuss their goals we begin to shape an approach for working together, during this phase of our conversation I am looking for objections and concerns that may prevent us from getting a deal done. I ask a lot of questions about the decision making process within the company and I am acutely aware of our clients’ body language and truthfulness.

I seek to resolve any objections or obstacles right then and there… better to get the hard stuff out of the way early then to spend a bunch of time on a deal that can’t or won’t get done… Everyone is happy and now we have a new multiyear multi million dollar account.

This is how I sell Tahzoo… by reference and by asking questions. There is an old saying that goes people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. The great thing about questions is they create interaction… there is another old saying that goes being interested in someone makes you interesting… and finally to quote my grandfather, “there is a reason God gave you two ears and one mouth”. Great consultants like great sales people take the time to know their clients and they use questions to create energy and change.

What Is in a Number… 522?

In the United States there are 6.4 million new businesses started each year. A small business is defined as an enterprise with less than 500 employees, with the total number of small business in the US at any one time is around 28 million. Only 50% of new businesses survive more than 5 years and less than a third more than 10 years.

Tahzoo is 6 years old this month and for the third year in a row we are on the Inc. 5000 list! This year we are 522, a really impressive accomplishment when you consider our success against the odds. We have been very fortunate and now we need to be good stewards of our success and continue to build on the foundation that we’ve created.

Our mission is to establish and grow relationships with global customers. As we bring the various service offering to our clients, Staffing, Marketing Consulting and Technology implementations etc.; it’s all in service of toward their digital transformation. Enabling our clients to deliver the best service and the best experience to their customers. As an added bonus, all along the way, our clients get to experience in practice what we preach… that working with Tahzoo means that a bunch of Smart and Happy people will help you be successful.

Thank you everyone, let’s remember why we are here and take a moment to appreciate what we’ve accomplished.

Congratulations, Team Tahzoo!!!

Shared Stories

I am looking forward to visiting the Netherlands next week, it’s been almost 2 months since I was last there and I am missing my home away from home. I came back from vacation with a strong sense of optimism about the business and most importantly how fortunate I am to work with such great people every day.

We all have stories to tell… Tal and Jen have been leading a project to capture our stories and then build a visual representation of the company’s history. Tal has interviewed many of you with many more to go. Please be on the lookout for an invite to share some stories.
One of the best decisions we ever made was the naming the company. I am sure most of you have heard the story of how we came up with the name, so I’ll spare you the repetition.

A company name should have a ring to it, an emotional connection that strikes the zeitgeist. We won a large project with our first client, which of course included a lot of meetings. Shortly after the project started we were having our Monday morning stand up call. Janet, the executive sponsor of the project, started out the call by telling us how much she loved the name of the company, so much so, that she announced she had purchased a dog over the weekend and decided to name him Tahzoo. What a proud moment that was for all of us on the call!

We are looking for these kinds of stories about your history with the company. Funny anecdotes, pivotal moments and even the dramatic. Please send us your stories… if you’d rather send me an email that would be great or feel free to touch base with Tal (talh@tahzoo.com) and schedule an interview.

A shared history is the foundation of great relationships. The more we know and understand one another the better. We will continue to work on this project through the fall with a big presentation before the years’ end.

Just remember that while there is a company named Tahzoo, somewhere out there is a little black terrier named Tahzoo too.

Process and Procedure Is No Substitute for a Great Relationship

I thought I’d share with you some of the pictures from my holiday in Washington state this week. Like most Americans, it’s a working vacation but none the less it’s been an enjoyable and thoughtful time. I have a sense of renewal and focused determination coming back from holiday. One of the best things about being away for a few days is the opportunity to think about the big things. I’ve been reading a biography of President Roosevelt who led the US through the great depression and World War II. What has been remarkable to me was how much of his life’s work boiled down to key moments, decisions and most importantly how his temperament guided the arc of his life.

Brad Summer Pic

I know that you’re expecting a paragraph on my insight or plan for the company or what I think are the big decisions that need to be made. We’ll get to that another day. I would like to tell you, I am grateful to work every day with a bunch of smart and happy people. Of course we have lots of work to do, plenty of big decisions to make but the future of the company is in the strength and quality of the relationships that we build at Tahzoo. They will carry us forward today and in the future.

One of the first events I attended at the Delft office included two nice women who were handing out written compliments to all of the guests. One of them spoke with me for a few minutes and then wrote out my compliment, even from a stranger I was touched. So imagine a working world where we took the time to say thank you more and share what we appreciate about one another? Imagine what that would do for our relationships. So if you’re on holiday or just coming back, take a moment to share some compliments and your appreciation… make someone’s day… it really does make a difference.

brad-summer-1

I am grateful to have such brilliant and talented people that I get to work with each day, thank you all for everything you do to make Tahzoo something so remarkable.

brad-summer-3

Measurement

How should I measure you? I have been working on how we make decisions at Tahzoo. I have spent the last couple of months observing the criteria around decision making at all levels in the company. It’s been and insightful and profound experience. I would like to share some of my insight with you and then ask that you share in the voice of the culture survey your thoughts on how I should measure your performance.

One of my favorite books is The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, it is a great read on human systems and how our bias and behavior effect the outcome of organizations. Senge, who teaches at MIT, defined a field of work called systems thinking. If you aspire to run a large organization, it would be the first book that I would suggest you read. One of the points he makes is that the greater the distance between a decision and a result, the higher the likelihood that the outcome will be understood in a present day context rather than as a result of the decision.

As humans we all have a belief system that is the underpinning of our perception of an organization. “We are high growth company” or “our business development is weak”. These narratives guide our interpretation of events. So when we lose that big deal do you say… “They wouldn’t have been a good client for us” or “see I told you so, our marketing is terrible”?

When it comes to decision making and understanding the impact of our decisions, these inherit biases influence our ability to correctly evaluate if the result is a byproduct of our decision or circumstance. We tend to interpret events based on our belief system and then look for facts that support our perspective.

An easy example is when a CEO cuts sales and marketing expenses to meet financial targets and then two quarters later when the number of leads drops precipitously, his conclusion is that the global market is slowing rather than understand his decision to cut expenses is behind the decrease in demand.

When I make decisions I have a process that I use around the idea of unintended consequences. I have never made a decision in which I wasn’t certain about the outcome I wanted to achieve. So even if the plan is risky the outcome is clear… however as it turns out for all the effort spent on the understand of the goal, the unintended consequences are the most problematic to deal with. I have written a number of compensation plans many of which, if they never encounter human beings or the real world they would have been brilliant. Salespeople will do what is in their economic best interest even if that doesn’t align with the organizational goals. KPIs always need to include a metric toward the collective success or individual achievement will trump all. I’ve learned the hard way that deciding for any outcome is easy, thinking through and planning for the unintended outcome is hard.

This brings me to my next subject (although related) Qualitative and Quantitative decision making. Qualitative decision making is the subjective view of the circumstance and Quantitative decision is the objective view of the circumstance. Think literature and math… With a qualitative bias, one examines the current circumstance and makes a decision based on the immediate evidence and facts that are available. With a quantitative bias, one reviews the available and historical data and make the decision accordingly. The short hand for this is that a qualitative bias gives you agility and quantitative bias gives you certainty.

Tahzoo US operates on qualitative model and Tahzoo EU operates on a quantitative model, that’s not to say there are not elements of both but there are numerous examples of how these biases govern expectations and decision making. Every organization has a set of explicit and implicit rules, that guide behavior and provide a framework for how to work together. At the heart of our integration challenges are these differences in decision making and expectation. Consider the fact that in Tahzoo US, cultural fit is more important than an org chart or that in Tahzoo EU KPIs have been rolled out while in the US they have not.

It’s interesting, right? One part of the organization says view the world and achievement in the context of today’s immediate need and the other in terms of the assigned KPIs. If you think through the range of complaints regarding our integration efforts, would this conceptual difference explain the many of the problems?

One of the reasons that I was excited about the mergers of our companies was the possibility of bring both models together. I grew up (Nordstrom and Microsoft) in a very quantitatively led process. However, in the world of Customer Experience management, the numbers don’t always rule… sometimes the zeitgeist and agility are the imperative. So when I started building Tahzoo I eschewed numbers and reports, in favor of innovation and flexibility. We have two ambitions – figuring out how to help Fortune 500 companies improve their customer experience and to build a global CX agency. This means that we need to be good at both kinds of decision making and probably most importantly to know when to use which method for decision making… or at least be consciously aware of our biases.

Over the next quarter, I am going to focus on strengthening our quantitative decision making. I am working with my team to determine a baseline set of reports that are created and distributed throughout the company. One of the most important measurements is the individual metric; how do we measure and how to you understand your contribution to the success of the organization? If you could only have one measurement what would it be?

So the exercise for you; examine and as best as possible be aware of your biases. Next begin to conceive of metrics that you could use to measure your contribution to the company. Make sure you consider qualitative and quantitative assessments. Then think about the timeframe of the measurement and the expected outcome. After that, if we structure a compensation model around that metric, what could be some of the unintended consequences?

This is both an exercise in critical thinking and I am also hoping to catch a few brilliant ideas about how to define and measure success at an individual level within Tahzoo. I’ll look forward to reading your commentary in the voice of the culture.

I Can Feel the Momentum

When I was buying clothing at Nordstrom, we used to have to figure out the right level of inventory for each product by size. So let’s take a men’s V-neck undershirt, size large. If on average, you sell 42 units a week and they are resupplied once a week what is the right inventory level? (Before you answer it’s a trick question).

Turns out that the rate of sale is important but only half the equation, the standard deviation in your rate of sale is equally important. For those of you who are really into math we can discuss the various methods of calculating a standard deviation. The idea here is the that there is volatility and efficiencies that are part of creating an ideal solution. You have to know that some weeks you’ll sell 42 units, some weeks 62 and some weeks 30. If you price your product right, margin minus the cost of inventory.

In a simplified way, the right answer for the right amount of inventory is the average rate of sale plus one standard deviation.

If you’re still reading this DOB then great, let me explain why you should care… We are hiring!!! We have a bow wave of work rolling through the company and we’ve been working hard on make sure we hire the right number of people. The reason I bring this up is that we need your help finding great people for Tahzoo. Referrals are the best candidates for our company, if you think they are “Smart and Happy” then half the interview process is completed. Please be on the lookout for a series of job postings over the next couple of weeks.

I have been emphasizing the need to hire and promote from within Tahzoo. If you see a posting that you’re a good fit for, please through your hat in the ring. I’d like to see our company and our culture be one that is fostered from within.

Tahzoo is doing great, we are blessed with so much opportunity within our accounts in Europe, UK and the US… I can feel the momentum!

More than ever we need to expand the ambition of our ideas, the breadth of our service offerings, the geographies we are targeting and the number of great people we work with everyday.

Optimism… Nature or Nurture

Some people say I am optimistic, others say I’m too optimistic. I am certain the second group says this only because they don’t want me to get my hopes up and then be disappointed. Either way I am optimistic by nature, but what does that really mean?

I am currently reading The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. It is an annual rite for me. Mostly, it is a great reminder of all the things I need to do better. In his book, there is a turn of phrase that goes … “A knowledge worker’s growth is directly related to how much they challenge themselves,” which led me to recall a story I often tell that, if I don’t go to work every day a little bit scared, I’m not pushing myself enough. I guarantee you that I go to work every day with butterflies in my stomach.

I came across a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” As with optimism, I have been told that I have a strong will. Some people say that I am stubborn. Either way, when I am on a path it’s hard to get me to take another one and I often tell my team we just need to “will it happen”.

I learned the good habit of confronting the hard stuff head-on while working at Microsoft. My mentor Jason had an uncanny talent for rooting out the fear that keeps you stuck. Over the years, I have internalized those lessons and come to understand that real problems never get better with time. You must do something about them. So, I challenge myself every day to confront the things that worry me the most.

The answer to the questions is that I stay optimistic because I have some habits that I’ve learned over the years and they keep me going. I know what I want. I’m willing to take on big challenges. I am committed to a path. And I confront the obstacles in my way.

That brings me back full circle to my original question: Do these habits make me an optimist, or am I overly optimistic? The answer to the question is, simply, that I am an optimist. With such good habits, I have no other choice.

My challenge for you, then, is to ask yourself: What’s preventing you from being optimistic?

The answer just might be: It’s time for some new habits.