leadership

Is it really all about politics or is it about leadership?

There are only two types of leaders. Those that instruct and those that trust.

I've never known a more exposed situation and narrative in connection with our countries’ leaders, whether it’s the USA, the U.K., the EU or further away, our leaders are being exposed for what they truly stand for. 

No longer can they be hiding in the forest and just send their troops out to face the battles. Their faces have to be seen, their words have to be heard, every move, every tweet, every bite is under scrutiny being analysed by the media and more importantly by everyone watching, the electorate, ‘The People’.

You might be watching via the TV, the Newspapers or Social Media and you're all forming your own opinions, your views on whether they are performing or not. It's like watching the latest blockbuster movie to see if it lives up to your expectations. You are literally awarding those leaders stars in your head. It's either 1 star or 5 stars, you decide. 

And then you can't help yourself by expressing your opinion via Twitter or Facebook, just like our leaders are now doing. After all we copy what our leaders do, for better or for worse. I've read some incredible debates on Facebook, where inevitably the unfriending happens and maybe ‘rage quitting’ from Facebook too. It's sad to see that colleagues and friends are falling out with each other. This is exactly what our leaders are hoping for, that  we chose one side over another and in the process fall out with each other.

Then there's the comedy, the GIFS, the stand-ups, the meme’s, the late late shows, the comedy news programmes and of course Saturday Night Live, the Russel Brands, the Russel Kanes of this world who are all joining in the discussion, the ridicule, further exposing our leaders with comedy but every time there's also a serious side behind it all. I never saw that much comedy about Barack Obama in his two terms in office, but now I see comedy every single day about Donald Trump and other U.K. leaders. The comedy is not flattery that's for sure. 

And whether those leaders believe that they are being prosecuted by the media or anyone else, they only have themselves to blame. 

The fact that those leaders are in office at the moment is a massive GIFT to the world.  Those ‘elected’ leaders are literally a mirror to all other leaders in the world. Whether we love or hate them, they are a reflection of how the top leaders in the world are treating their ‘People’. And with ‘People’, I mean the electorate, the citizens, the employees, the unemployed, the elderly, the sick, the poor, the homeless. 

And whether we like what we see or not, it's time we all take responsibility for our own actions and how we treat each other. Leadership starts at home, it starts in the office and it starts in your community. When we change our own leadership only then will our leaders change.

Does this mean there will be a revolution? Absolutely there will be. It has already started and will continue to grow. It's hidden and it's visible at the same time. There are new leaders emerging, but we haven't met them yet. They are not the ones you can see and hear in the public arena yet.  They are planning and watching in the background, creating and developing a following. I liken it to the 2nd World War underground movement. I'm not talking about terrorists although our current leaders and media (who are owned by governments) may call them terrorists. They are definitely not, their work is being done in a very peaceful way.  

Those new leaders will emerge like a breath of fresh air to most, not everyone of course will embrace them, but the majority of us will. They will speak a new truth, develop trust and put their self importance last.  It will be totally and directly the opposite of what we have in our world today.  But it will be a very very welcome change. The timing will be exactly right.

I'm for one looking forward to that day. Happy leadership! 🙌

PS. By the way, not sure if you're into numerology or not, personally I don't understand it that well, but a fun fact to consider.  When the big crash occurred in 2008, that year number adds up to 2+0+0+8=10 1+0=1, the start of a new cycle is always a number 1. Guess what 2017 adds up to? Correct it's also number 1.

Watch out for major changes in 2017 still yet to come.

We have a saying at home ‘expect the unexpected’.

How Do You Test Competence?

The biggest challenge facing the UK economy is 'Skills Competence' and not 'Skills Shortage'. Everyone always looks at the glass as being half empty instead of half full. So focussing on 'Skills Competence' is better than focussing on 'Skills Shortage', don't you think? Competence is the holy grail, because assessing someone’s competence allows you to directly know whether they are equipped to do the job or not. We have a competence issue in organisations not a skills issue.

Competence: the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

Appraisals, Annual reviews, Objective setting, 360 degree reviews or whatever your name is for reviewing someone’s performance doesn't assess competence. You can only test competence by asking the employee directly if they know the answer to a very specific set of questions that relate to ’what’ they need to know as an absolute minimum to do the job competently.

In every organisation things change. New products or services, new managers, changing procedures and processes, re-organisation which causes job changes, new sales and customer service processes, etc.

Job competency is always under pressure when change happens in an organisation and that's all the time.

To truly understand your employees’ competence you need to test them, regularly. Once you know their competence levels, you can do something about it.

Deploying learning materials in large silos (Learning Management Systems) or any other method of e-learning will allow you to teach skills but not competence. When you teach just skills, you have no idea if the learner has remembered the new skill and whether they've actually become competent in that skill. Indeed it takes time to become competent in any skill and usually it takes repetition of carrying out that skill before you become competent.

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We all know the following 4 phases of learning something new, like learning to drive a car:

1. Unconscious incompetence 2. Conscious incompetence 3. Conscious competence 4. Unconscious competence

The 4th phase is where we want our employees to get to as soon as possible, whether it's with Onboarding (Induction) or learning new skills/knowledge.

Every minute, hour, day, week or month that we take to get them as competent as possible, means the organisation is potentially losing money or not growing as fast.

The Psychology of Study goes as far back as 1932, when Mace wrote his book 'Psychology of Study' and the idea of ’spaced repetition’ was first muted. Earlier still we had Ebbinghaus who told us about the forgetting curve. It tells us that for centuries we've been debating how we can get humans to remember more than how to walk.

Let's take learning languages. If you've ever tried to learn a new language, then you'll know that only by repetition will you become competent in that language. Using flash cards are an even better way of learning to remember a new language. Put the English on one side and the translation on the other. Start with 50 cards on day one and when you know you have mastered a few, take those out of the pack and repeat the others. Keep going until you've mastered them all. It's fairly basic but it works.

It's the only way to become competent in that language. Of course you may decide to repeat it in 3 weeks, because unless you are using these sentences regularly, the chances are that you will forget them.

Take this concept into any skill in any organisation where you require it to become a competence in the person who is performing it and you will rapidly and successfully increase competence throughout the organisation.

Deploying this method is now easier then ever, allowing employees to become more competent through the power of mobile. Not only can you test competence and teach new skills, you can report on the overall competence of a group, a department, a division or the overall organisation. It allows you to succession plan, recruit for competence gaps, evaluate competence levels for new projects. It even tests the individuals who took the course, at the point when they are deemed to be ready to be tested over the phone by a real person. A great motivator for the learner to get up to speed and learn properly.

What if such a tool was available today? What a difference it would make to UK "Skills Competence', to the UK economy, to UK competitiveness, to the Economy of Organisations and especially to the people that work in them.

If any of the concepts above touched a nerve with you and you can see an application inside your organisation, please get in touch with me in the first instance. We’ll get a proof of concept rolling out for you within hours and start your organisation’s journey towards 'Skills Competence' quickly.

Wishing you massive success always.

uk.linkedin.com/in/stayingaliveuk/

@stayingaliveuk

 

Is your Social Media Policy liked?

I read with interest a recent newsletter with guidelines and policy on electronic communication and social media. Electronic communication has been around for a while and whilst it’s good to be reminded about what should and shouldn't be done, especially for new starters and young workers who may not be so used to email, in general it’s well established and most people know what is and isn't allowed. Social Media though is a different matter all together. The first question we have to ask ourselves is ’Why is Social Media so popular?’ Well because it releases dopamine in the brain, inside our pleasure/reward centre and that in turn makes it addictive. I wrote a paper on this last year, ’Do Social Networks Sell Drugs?’.

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As it’s addictive, it means for many it's almost impossible to leave it alone. Think about it, whenever someone, likes, shares, retweets, follows, invites, accepts, pokes or any other social network activity that has become part of daily behaviour, we feel good about ourselves. We feel like someone approves of us, in a world where mostly we receive criticism, it means we feel like we are getting praise. And of course that feels good and if it feels good, it becomes addictive. Especially young people, who get criticised by parents and teachers alike day in day out. Therefore when they are on social media they (mostly) will get positive messages. I know it has its down side too.

So now we need to think this through, because if it’s addictive and people can't leave it alone, will we still be as harsh on them when we catch them accessing their personal social media networks, whilst at work? Or do we accept, actually this is part of the modern world now and very little we can do to fight it.

Research from 2012 suggests that smart phone owners check their devices 150 times per day, about once every 6 minutes. But we're now in 2014, so we can safely assume it has gone up significantly? Americans aged 18-64 who use social networks say they spend an average of 3.2 hours per day doing so, according to research conducted in November 2012 by Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange (OTX). (http://styin.me/1b1O73t). I'm sure the UK is not far behind them and that figure will have gone up too.

flickr | rockerictic

One way to allow your employees to engage in social media activities is to supply them with an internal social media platform, which connects everyone inside the business, across geographical boundaries, allowing everyone to learn from each other and to collaborate on projects. Also allowing colleagues to like and comment on posts. This way you are distracting them from their personal networks, by allowing them to still engage in similar activities and satisfy their addiction. Actually personal Social Media, is allowing millions of workers to train themselves in order to assist their learning inside the workplace. Think about it, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have provided free online training. Make sense?

Of course there have to be some rules, but we have to recognise that there is a bigger picture and we need to be conscious of that too.

Wishing you success always.

Did You Take Part in My Survey?

Confident businesspeople Background

I've been a serial business networker for many years, but questioned the ROI only in the past 12 months. And the main reason was because I started using LinkedIn in a more effective and productive way to do my networking with existing and new connections.

So here are the results of my survey. I had actually estimated previously the amount of time business professionals spend doing networking and estimated the cost annually. But this estimate is now backed up by this survey result.

Survey Results:

50% go to 1-4 networking events per month

50% spend on average 2.5 hours at networking events

50% spend 45 minutes travelling to networking events

50% always connect via LinkedIn afterwards

68% consider Linkedin as a networking tool

Here are my previous calculations of the cost of networking:

Cost of event, lets say £20 (non-membership events) Cost of travel to and from, lets say £10 Parking is free sometimes, I know, but City Centre events maybe £5

Time taken to travel on average lets say 20 minutes x 2 = 40 minutes Time at event on average 2 hours Lost productivity time, stopping and starting project work 30 minutes

Total monetary costs £35 Total approx 3 hours @ a modest £40 per hour lost time = £120 Total costs £155 Across the month for just 2 events £310

Total cost per year £3,720 (this is a conservative estimate)

Add to that any club membership if you have any or do the calculation for that instead.

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A LinkedIn premium account will cost you just £155 per annum allowing you to achieve so much more in terms of targeting the precise contacts you wish to get in front of.

Networking events are great to meet with local people, however it will always be a ’pot luck’ approach in terms of meeting the right kind of people for your business development.

And the amount of time (potentially 6 hours per month, a full working day) means that you could have found at least 30 new connections on LinkedIn that are on target for your business and start communicating with them. How many targeted connections would you have found at networking events.

Please don't get me wrong, face to face meetings are vital, but not with people who can't deliver you business. If you are just having a social, then that's perfect. But if you are looking for serious business then my suggestion is STOP hoping for 'Pot Luck'.

Wishing you Success Always!

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Will You be an E-MENTOR?

Student of economy Can you spare around an hour a week to be an E-MENTOR to help guide a 16-19 year old student on their path to a successful future?

I've been chatting with Diane Vernon,(http://www.linkedin.com/pub/diane-vernon/6/1a7/990), at Career Academies UK and she was telling me about their fantastic new programme called Career Ready. To work successfully they need to find willing volunteers to be E-MENTORS from the business world.

Mentoring is a crucial factor in helping a young person succeed in finding a job or place at University.

As an E-MENTOR you would communicate with a student via a new secure digital platform, as part of a structured programme. This eliminates the need to be located near your student or arrange meetings face-to-face. All E-MENTORS are DBS checked and trained by Career Academies UK.

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You know the stats on unemployed young people in the UK, I don't need to remind you of that and if you've always thought of wanting to make a difference, you can do this now by contacting Diane Vernon at diane.vernon@careeracademies.org.uk or speak to her direct on 07786 170588.

You can read/download the full E-MENTOR pack by going to

http://styin.me/e-mentoringpack

Thank you for your support, I really appreciate it. I know this will be very rewarding for some of you.

I will be joining the programme myself!

Warmest regards and wishing you success always!

Michael 07866 471596

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Just 3 Apps for busy Executives?

Just 3 apps for busy executives...really? If you are a baby boomer or even if you're not and you're not sure which apps to download on your shiny new Apple iPhone 5S or iPad Air.

How about just having 3 in addition to all the ones you get free from Apple of course.

The idea is for you to achieve a super fast review of what's going on what is being said about your company, so you can scan it (read), write it or find it.

Number 1 is Flipboard

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Flipboard is still for me THE best social integration magazine app around. There are others but as Flipboard was first and they made the biggest impression, for me they have stayed ahead of the crowd.

What do you need to do?

  • You need your company social feeds as priority 1. This means you can view and keep up to date with what your marketing teams are sending out.
  • You need your own social feeds if you have time to be engaged with them. You can have feeds from all the major ones, plus you can post and engage from within Flipboard too, so there's no need to download the individual apps. Its basically your single dashboard for everything.

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Second is LinkedIn

If you're no making use of LinkedIn, then you are missing out on some key intel. LinkedIn is now THE biggest and MOST important professional database in the world.

Fortune 500 employees are there for sure and most Executives have a profile, even if some of them are hiding them.

Time to get out of the shadows and be seen!

The LinkedIn iPad app has received a major overall and now its fast and accurate. You have to meet someone, call them or even research them. Using LinkedIn is the best tool for doing that.

Your company profile should be there too. With all the detail of your latest marketing posts.

Remember of course you can pull a lot of the feeds into your Flipboard too! Primarily though this iPad app is for research and engagement.

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Third is iA Writer

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Not much to be said, its a simple writing app, no distractions, no formatting, no fluff, just think and write. A draft email, a report, meeting notes, just anything that needs recording simply easily and safely. Done!

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Go and get those and STOP playing games, use your mobile devices to do some business and stay focussed!

Success!

 

 

3 Must Do's to Win Business and Get More Leads

flickr | draken413o LinkedIn connection Mark Langston of Crystal Thought asked me to contribute to a blog he's writing. He wanted '3 Must Do's to Win Business and Get More Leads'.

Well that's a tough one, I can think of loads. Its easier to say what 3 things you must do when you get up in the morning then decide which are the '3 Must Do's to Win Business and Get More Leads'. Bathroom, Shower, Breakfast and sometimes in reverse order!

In my view the following 'Must Do's' are quite basic and of course as we know the basics are often forgotten.

So here goes;

1. Stop talking about yourself and start listening!

You have two ears, two eyes and JUST one mouth. A common mistake I see all the time is over-promotion. STOP! When you engage with someone either face to face or online, listen, watch and learn. Its in the stories they tell you, they share the secrets of what they need. SHUT UP! Do not be tempted to jump in and solution sell at the first opportunity of hearing their need. It could well be a false direction they are trying to send you in and after all nobody will truly say what they are struggling with. That would be too obvious, too revealing, too embarrassing and definitely not English. All is actually OK, if the government just got their act together, we would be OK. DON'T! Get drawn into politics, focus on the job in hand and ask the most important question, which is; 'What Else?'

2. How can you assist in ways that are not profitable for you but profitable for your prospect?

Business is built on trust and the fastest way to build trust is to do something for someone without expecting anything back in return. When doing your listening whether face to face or online, listen out for clues as to who they wish to meet and who their ideal prospect is. In fact if they don't give you those clues, which actually most people don't, then you MUST ask the question. It is highly probable that you know someone, who knows someone and before you know you could make an introduction. With the power of LinkedIn this is now very easy to do. Its YOUR job to deliver the potential prospect to your prospect. Trust is built on what you DO for people, not what you COULD do for them.

3. Its a numbers game, but they don't add up until you get personal!

Yes indeed, you have to kiss a few frogs before you find the ideal prospect, however you also need to get to know your network better than you actually do. In my experience you have an intimate network of only 150 people. I call these the 'Power 150'. These are the ones you need to leverage more than you are actually doing. Can you tell me what these 150 people do, who they want to get in front of and what their personal aspirations are? Whether you meet them face to face or via a video call, it doesn't matter, but get intimate, get to know who they are and what their business is about. They are the ones who will help you find the business that you need. As humans we will remember those that make the most noise. I'm not saying be noisy, but definitely be there alongside them, so they notice you. So now go and make a list of your 'Power 150'!

To get more FREE tips on social selling you can visit; http://stayingaliveuk.com/linkedinstinct/

Success!

Have You Ever Studied Ants?

flickr | samantha henneke I was recently in Greece and with temperatures in the 30’s, it's best to take it easy lie by the pool and observe the world around you, OK maybe people watch sometimes!

However even people watching gets boring, so whilst resting on my sun bed in the shade, I started studying the floor beneath me and to my amazement saw this fast moving highway of very small ants. Now usually in hot countries ants are very big, but these weren't and that made them all the more interesting.

As I studied them, I noticed that although their movements appeared random, many were carrying food crumbs back to their colony, which had entrances along a short section of a raised plant border wall. One by one several of these very efficient creatures were collecting these crumbs from all around the pool and taking this very important food stuff back to their colony.

By the way none of them actually ate the food on their journey back, which if you saw how far they were travelling, you would not have blamed them if they had. Now if this was a human doing this, ’collecting free food’, the chances are that it would have been eaten by the time they had completed the journey back.

I also noticed to my amazement that with larger crumbs 2 or even 3 ants would work together to carry it, as it was too big for just one.

This gave me an idea, next time someone in my party came back with cake at tea-time, I would use one of the crumbs and give those hard working ants a challenge. A super large crumb to see how they would manage this.

Have a look and see what happened, I recorded it on video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChZGj9BEQRk

What did I learn?

Ants are ’Team Players’, one ant who passes the crumb and checks it out, decides to start moving it and immediately another ant starts assisting, and then another and another until I counted 12 ants moving a massive crumb. Nobody said, ’that’s not my job’ or ’I’m busy doing something else, or ’its not in my job spec’. They just did it because they know that one ant will never manage it on their own and therefore they just started helping out. The ants who joined in just happened to be passing by, they weren't called from the colony, didn't get an email and nobody checked their calendar to see if they were available.

For me it was just the best possible demonstration of excellent team-work. Wow if business could learn just one lesson from ants and if employees and HR teams could stop their compartment thinking, what a different world we would have around us.

Each morning a few scouts would be up early looking for anything that they might have missed and as the day moved on and more holiday makers sat around the pool, eating and drinking, more ants came out scouting the neighbourhood. Obviously they had developed their knowledge that more crumbs would be available later in the day.

Accordingly more troops were scouting in the afternoon.

So here are 3 takeaways from this story:

  1. Be open to helping out anyone in your wider community or organisation, without being asked for help, ’Just Do It’.
  2. If there is a big task or project happening, go and ask if you can help out. They probably will say ’no thanks’ but make sure you insist, even if it is to make the coffee!
  3. Teach your kids or colleagues the power of team work and share the story of ants. I found this great film on YouTube, which will explain and share the story of ants and their incredible behaviour. Watch it together with your kids or colleagues. Teach them how they can adopt the same approach in life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-gIx7LXcQM

Success!

What can The Workplace learn from Social Media?

culture map flickr - dgray_xplane For decades organisations across the globe, are searching for the holy grail, ’Employee Engagement’.

Engagement levels are on the rise globally but shifting across regions. Although the economic impact of the recession continues to rebound in some areas and recess further in others, engagement levels rose slightly to 60% in 2012, up 2 percentage points from 58% in 2011. We see the largest engagement increase in Europe (improving 5 percentage points) and Latin America (improving 3 percentage points). North America’s engagement decreased slightly by 1 percentage point—particularly in the U.S., where engagement dropped 3 percentage points—and Asia Pacific remained the same. [Source: AonHewitt: http://www.aon.com/attachments/human-capital-consulting/2013_Trends_in_Global_Employee_Engagement_Highlights.pdf]

So globally we've pretty much stayed about the same, which means 40% of employees are NOT engaged. But what does engagement actually mean?

Does it mean they show up but nobody is at work? They do the basics but nothing extra? They prefer not to get involved in those famous ’let’s be a team’ activities?

Or...people are busy with life, work is just a part of it and they carry their worries with them wherever they go including into the workplace? After all we have just one brain and leaving your troubles at home, just doesn't work, because our brain goes with us wherever we go.

But Social Networks have exploded and people are very engaged there! So what happened there?

I've been fascinated by Social Networks for the past 5 years, not only have I actively engaged with them, I've wanted to understand why everyone loves them so much.

That's when I decided to write ’Do Social Networks Sell Drugs?’

So here's the bombshell, we are not loving our workforce enough it’s as simple as that. Many years ago I was involved in the Health and Wellness industry and tried to alert organisations of the need to improve their wellness efforts at work. One of the ways that I suggested they did this was through an online survey called the ’Wellness Inventory’.

I remember presenting this to a major building society in the UK to the HR Director. One of the items on the ’Wellness Inventory’ that people had to answer questions for was an item called ’Love’. He saw this and immediately said; ’actually we don't think that is appropriate here’.

I realised in that instant that I was pushing water uphill with this inventory and getting organisations to adopt it and sure enough I had to change direction after a few months of getting nowhere.

I hear stories every day now from employees who work for small, medium and large organisations. Those stories confirm to me that people at work are not loved enough.

It's time to examine the success of Social Networks and take on board the tactics that these Social Network giants adopt to gain more members, more engagement and share the love.

It's not a bad 4 letter word, you must just try it!

Do You Drive a Car?

Share_the_Road_Sign21552I do and I'm also a cyclist and a Dutchman. I grew up in a cycling nation, where the bicycle has priority over cars and cars respect the cyclist. In The Netherlands most cyclists don't even wear helmets, because they know that the risk of an accident is very low and the car driver would more than likely get prosecuted if they knocked someone off a bike. I've lived in the UK for 36 years and the cyclist is still treated like a bl..dy nuisance on the road. Car drivers treat us cyclists like we shouldn't even be on the road.

I won't generalise but most car drivers speed, yes indeed, most break the law and drive way over the speed limit. Do I? I did in the past, so I'm not one to judge, but I don't anymore, it saves fuel, it's safer and you don't get there any faster, FACT.

So if you take disrespect for cyclists add some speeding to the mix, you've got a recipe for death and disaster.

I like to cycle whenever the weather is fine and dry. I don't live in the middle of the countryside but I'm also not in the city. I live and cycle near a few towns and yes the traffic at times can be heavy, although actually most of the time it's fairly quiet, but that's part of the problem. Car drivers also believe they are invincible and that mostly there are no cars coming the other way...wrong!

And...car drivers see me as a massive nuisance on the road and for some bizarre reason decide to speed past me. Whether these are small cars, 4W drive cars, people carriers, taxis, trucks, vans, ambulance, fire brigade, police, basically everyone does it.

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I am convinced that those drivers have never been a cyclist as they would know what it felt like to be out in the elements, very often with strong winds in this country and to have vehicles speeding past you, you do feel very vulnerable and very much in danger. I know keen cyclists who have given up on cycling and sold their bike, because they are in fear of the British roads.

And when they pass at high speed they have no regard as to what might be coming the other way. I witnessed 5 near miss head-on collisions in just 3 cycle trips. And I see at least 1 on most trips. They are in such a hurry to get past me that they take risks and have no regard for oncoming traffic and pass even though there might be blind spots.

At least on every journey, people pull out in front of me, cut me up and speed past me so close that their wing mirrors nearly clip my handle bar.

These drivers may have their own children and I wonder how they would feel if they knew, when their kids were out on their bikes, that cars behave in this way?!

They would soon change their own attitude towards cyclists.

So if you are reading this and you can look in the mirror and identify with the fact that you are one of these drivers who has no patience for cyclists, now is the time to change your attitude.

I see many drivers who slow down to a snail’s pace for horse and rider, but I virtually witness nobody doing the same for a human cyclist.

I've just been to Amsterdam for a short holiday and OK it's my home city, so I will be biased. The inner city is almost completely void of cars now. It's a joy to be seeing how cyclists are given priority and are treated with respect, something I feel probably won't happen in the UK EVER!

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Some great comments and discussions started as a result of this article, please read them below in a special storify slideshow.

Do You Follow The Crowd?

If you are in business or working for a business, you are more than likely examining the results for 2012 and wondering what 2013 will bring. Reinvention? Examining the offer? Going in a new direction? Looking for new partners, sales channels, sales people?

These may all be questions that are being asked at the moment and maybe your business coach or business consultancy is asking you to think about those too?

Last question, why do we do this now when we have crossed this magical December 31st into a new year?

Shouldn't we be examining these questions each and every month? Maybe some of you do, but...

There's something in our human nature that causes us to be creatures of habit and we have a habit of following the crowd and when the world at large is doing it as well.

flickr | nationaalarchief

David Bowie decided to not follow the crowd. On the 8th January he released a new single and announced a new album, after a decade in the dark. OK so what is special about that? Well nobody in the music industry or press knew about the fact that he was recording, and they had no idea that the single was being released until it was done on the 8th January. So it made the national and international news instantly.

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Why follow the crowd? We do it most of the time and research confirms that we are hard-wired to follow the pack.

Gregory Berns [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_Berns ] is an American neuroeconomist, neuroscientist, professor of psychiatry, psychologist and writer. He did some experiments with the ABC network in the US and below is a summary of one of the social experiments that he researched.

They invited a group of strangers to Jean George's Asian restaurant in lower Manhattan for a fabulous dinner -- and a surprise.

Party planner Colin Cowie and his friend, Donna D'Cruz, were in on the experiment. Their role was to exhibit outlandish behaviour most people wouldn't dream of while out at dinner with a group of strangers.

Cowie and D'Cruz licked their fingers, a dinner table no-no. Cowie picked his teeth. The guests initially seemed not to take the bait -- until dessert rolled around.

D'Cruz told everyone they should pick up pieces of mango face first, using their mouth. Eventually, people who were total strangers at the beginning of the evening were passing fruit back and forth, mouth to mouth.

Only Harold and Maria, a Canadian couple, passed on the gustatory familiarity. Finally, Harold was the only one who dared to ask, what is the point of the dinner?

Cowie explained the experiment to the group. "I think because we broke the rules, and we made things possible at the table, several of you followed suit with it."

One woman at the table said: "I think the majority of people will look to see what others are doing and follow their example."

Conforming Can Have Dangerous Consequences

This test is an example of our human need to conform. In fact, Berns' experiment is a variation of one done many years ago by another scientist trying to decipher an extremely vicious instance of conformity -- why so many Germans followed Adolf Hitler down the path to death and destruction. Berns says there are two ways to explain conformist behaviour.

"One is that they know what their eyes are telling them, and yet they choose to ignore it, and go along with the group to belong to the group," he said.

The second explanation is that hearing other opinions -- even if they are wrong -- can actually change what we see, distorting our own perceptions.

Berns wanted to see what was happening in the brain during his experiment. Using an fMRI, Berns found that, during the moment of decision, his subjects' brains lit up not in the area where thinking takes place, but in the back of the brain, where vision is interpreted.

Essentially, their brains were scrambling messages -- people actually believed what others told them they were seeing, not what they saw with their own eyes.

flickr | library_of_congress

"What that suggests is that, what people tell you -- if enough people are telling you -- can actually get mixed in with what your own eyes are telling you," Berns said.

And for those who went against the group, there was another intriguing result: Their brains lit up in a place called the amygdala, which Berns calls "the fear centre of the brain."

"And what we are seeing here, we think, is the fear of standing alone," Berns said.

So why do people follow the pack no matter how ridiculous it seems? Perhaps it's not so much about good and evil, right and wrong, smart or stupid. It might be, as Berns' experiment suggests, that our brains get confused between what it sees and what others tell us.

Just knowing that might help us guard against it.

What product or service are you planning or considering that can be kept a secret until you are ready to launch it to your prospects and customers?

Keep your powder dry, have less fear about rejection and more resolve about success.

Stop following the crowd and be DIFFERENT in all areas of your business.

Success!

What does Ben want for Christmas?

Meet Ben…

Ben lives in Worcester, had a tough time with his girlfriend, who had his baby and a paternity test confirms he's the father (OK so that's his story), but she'd rather go back to her ex boyfriend claiming that he's the father, so kicks Ben out. His now ex girlfriend is back with her ex, who does drugs and now she can go back to drugs too. Wondering what kind of life that baby will have? Ben in the meantime loses his job, loses his car and now has to go on a waiting list for a hostel, as its already full.

If he raises enough money, he may be able to get into a B&B for £25 per night, but only if he's really lucky. So far everyone is passing him by and not paying any attention to him, because they're busy buying Christmas presents for their families and rushing through the crowds, snarling at anyone who gets in the way. Ben reckons it will be the cardboard tonight, which he stores behind the yellow grit bin. That's his bed, the pavement is his home, his desk, his kitchen, his front room, the bathroom, oh I forgot to say his hands and fingers have this black and dirty appearance, you know the ones that look like they've really not seen water for a few weeks.

So I share a few pennies and wish him luck, walking away with my shopping bags and wondering and wishing if Ben will ever get that warm bed tonight or whether he will be under his cardboard bed sheltering from the cold.

If you are visiting the Worcester shops, look out for Ben, you'll only miss him if you are rushing selfishly around the shops, thinking only of the presents you still have to buy.

I know Ben isn't alone, there are many others. Happy Christmas Prime Minister!

Are You Killing the Sale?

Guest blog by John Rees, sales and marketing consultant, mentor and creator of the Holistic Sale model of business development. You’ve read the book, seen the video and maybe even have the T-shirt so you know how the story goes … “This is Sales 2.0. and we will build momentum by using Social Media, Sales Automation and CRM to reduce the cost of sale and improve sales productivity.” This sounds great in theory and some businesses think the technology can and should take over. I don’t.

This approach may work well when selling to consumers, but selling in the business (or B2B) space is different, because trust and credibility are even more important. The strength of a story and the way you tell it, plus an ability to build a relationship can best be achieved by direct human contact. This can, of course use technology called a telephone or a video conference call. Face to face is not always possible, but it is still the best way to connect with others.

We all know that automation is excellent at making mundane tasks more efficient, but some businesses have taken this to extremes. They have lost that human touch. And it’s getting more complicated as Sales Automation and CRM systems connect with Social Media platforms to build automatic sales engagement models. Maybe the aspiration is to do business without having to make a sales call, give a presentation or even shake someone’s hand!

Many businesses use systems to ‘process’ potential buyers. They send predetermined emails at certain stages based on the actions people take. They only actually make contact with those who jump over enough hurdles at the right time to warrant a call from a human being.

The real danger in all this is that while you wait for the buyer to reach a certain stage of ‘sales readiness’ the opportunity may have passed. Either they are fed up with receiving obviously system generated emails, or a competitor beats you to the punch and has already engaged them in conversation.

Evidence shows that this automated approach is becoming less effective. According to recent findings, trust in online content including blogs and tweets is plummeting fast. Marketing-speak is widely used and most platforms have now become bloated advertising channels. It’s easier than ever to build a following of thousands on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, but what does this prove? Is this an endorsement of the quality of your brand, or evidence that you know how to use Social Media to maximise your exposure?

I’m not a Luddite though because I’ve spent all my working life in the technology space, so I know how it helps people become more efficient. The problem arises when it’s used as a replacement for human interaction and this is happening more and more.

During my career, I’ve used various sales processes that were far too complicated and convoluted. The emphasis was on ‘strategic selling’ by building power maps, identifying buying personas and preference grids and looking for blind spots and red flags. Many processes have now been automated and systems tell salespeople when they should actually call someone. It sounds crazy and it would be funny if it wasn’t true.

I’m not saying you don’t need a sales strategy because you do, but it should be as simple as possible. While some businesses spend far too much time strategising and waiting for the system to tell them the time is right, others are seizing the initiative and actually talking with people.

Let’s be very clear here, the ability to build trust, inspire confidence and develop deep and meaningful relationships can never be achieved by a sales process or a piece of software. People will always make the difference.

Social Media and automation definitely does have a place in business because it enables us to connect with many people at the same time. It’s excellent at building a profile and sharing ideas, but don’t rely on it as your primary means of sales communication. Don’t allow it to dictate how and when you engage with people. Use it to share your big ideas and attract attention and when someone shows interest, call them and start a conversation. That’s where you make a connection and that’s where the selling starts.

John Rees is a sales and marketing consultant and mentor, who specialises in helping businesses who either want to bring a new idea to market or build momentum with an existing one. 

During his career he had sales and marketing roles in the Information Technology sector across Europe, India and North America. He worked with global technology leaders and start-ups who defined new market sectors.

He sold mainframes and minicomputers and witnessed the explosion of new markets created by the development of software application packages.

During recent years he worked with fast growth companies, start-ups and spin-outs and established businesses in many industry sectors. He learned a lot about how to succeed in business, and that’s why he created the Holistic Sale model of business development. This defines world-class ideas that can be used to simplify processes, create a compelling sales story, build a vibrant network of sales opportunities and improve sales performance.

What is stopping YOU?

I probably speak to people daily about the power of video and how this is such an important area for businesses to invest in. In fact I have been on about this since 2004, even before the birth and rise of YouTube and yes I was way ahead of my time, even if I say that myself. How right I was, if only I had invested more time and effort, I could have been an Internet billionaire by now. Oh well there's still time! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRC16SEJMmc

And whenever I mention it, they agree, they wax lyrical about YouTube and how they have found stuff on there, which was really useful and how they learned so much from it. Or how they saw this really funny video about a cat and a dog!!

So why is it then that YOU aren't doing it yourself?? I even remember (ok so I am getting on a bit) when websites first started emerging, those horrible American sites with the textured backgrounds, companies were saying that it wouldn't take off and that people wanted to be able to feel something tangible, a brochure or a leaflet, is what they needed. The same people who said that email would never take off, because people wanted a physical letter, and I bet they also said that photography was wrong online and that there was nothing better than having a printed photo, to put into a physical album. You have heard it all before I know you have...

Could these dinosaurs also be the ones who said that social media was for kids and for sharing what you had for breakfast and how they didn't get it? Actually a lot of them are still saying that even now. Yep they certainly are! Ah I nearly forgot of course they also said that music could only be listened to via a physical product like a record or CD, yes even a CD was hard to swallow but they had to give in on that one, because the quality was better.

Back to Video then, let me share an infographic with you. Whether you believe it or not there are a few things I am sure you will accept.

Watching video is fast, you probably watch an average of 5 hours each day, whether through the TV, DVD's and online.

You get what's said in a video very fast, much faster then via the written word.

Most of your senses are engaged with Video, eyes, ears, feeling or VAK as the experts call it Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. Yes indeed these senses make you remember so much more from watching video. That's why 'the movies' are still so successful because they know how to get you to get a full sensory experience, which makes you want to come back for more and no I am not talking about the popcorn and coke!

Broadband speeds are getting faster and the roll out of fibre across the UK means soon everyone will enjoy over 30mb download speeds and even more over the next few years.

This means the likes of Netflix, Apple, Amazon and many more will see their video download services explode, in the same way music downloads did. And yes there will be the dinosaurs that say that copyright, piracy will be an issue and since when has that stopped anyone?

My appeal to you then is to get engaged with video, whether it's to promote your business, educate your colleagues or communicate to your staff.

JUST DO IT!!

Have you Embraced 'Social Learning'?

The term 'Social Learning' in current days, doesn't mean the same as it did when Bandura did his experiments in the 60's. It encompasses a theory that individuals enjoy learning in a social context, when our learning is discussed and debated.

After all 'everyone has an opinion', and this means that we actually learn more about a topic, news story, event, training intervention, when we can reflect on it and interact with it.

Learning & Development (or training) at school and at work has and will continue to be the holy grail for all education professionals. We're always looking for better ways to engage students and drive a change in human behaviour.

Trouble is millions of $'s & £'s are spent every year to achieve these objectives. And it's so painful to see when the results don't match the spend.

Think about it. The world is at War somewhere in the world and always has been. Consider the economic conditions in most countries currently. If education, training and development works, we would not be in this state of flux. But really think about it. We as humans haven't evolved as much as we like to think. Our nature is closer to animal instinct then we give ourselves credit for.

If we are truly sophisticated and used more of our frontal lobe, which is the part that separates us from animals, then surely we wouldn't be carrying out wars, we wouldn't have an issue with CO2 emissions and global warming, the economies would be running smoothly.

Surely it would? Am I mad? I don't think so, I believe I am quite a rational kind of person, who can usually see both sides of the argument and yes I do see the best in most humans, because after all they should be educated, rational, intelligent and loving beings. And you also know that this isn't always true, but we have to start somewhere and I start with everyone's good until proven otherwise.

Anyway where is this leading us towards?

Oh yes, 'Social Learning'.

Consider the success of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and the latest kid on the block Pinterest.

What do they all have in common? Any idea?

Humans connecting with humans, that's the common thread through all of it. So why is this so important at this time in the world? It has allowed millions of us to have a voice, to discuss, comment and debate on news stories on major world events and on individual stories and their life events.

My theory and its only my theory and it makes perfect sense to me is as follows.

Remember the war? Which one you will say, because there have been so many.

Well let's just talk about World War II.

The War brought people closer, they looked out for each other and they knew more about each other's lives compared to any time in history. Well it's nearly 70 years since the ending of that major war and ever since then we as humans have drifted apart and have become more unconnected.

Social Networking is not an accident or a happy coincidence, it isn't either the creation of a Harvard University graduate or silicon valley's entrepreneurs. Their invention would never have worked if there wasn't the appetite for it.

The old saying ’people buy people first’ applies in social networks too, not just in business. We like to connect to like minded individuals or people that interest us and maybe we can learn something from them!

And yes we do like to learn, we are always learning, the brain collects millions of impressions every day, without us even realising it. If we don't learn we will die. As humans we have an inherent need to grow. But when we think about learning we think about, classrooms, teachers, exams, pressure, stress and recall many unpleasant memories.

We don't perceive consciously that reading tweets, Facebook posts, articles, blogs, watching YouTube videos as learning and of course it is, you are learning all the time.

The learning methodology of 70-20-10, is showing us that actually we learn 70% on the job or in our daily lives, 20% from our colleagues or family members or friends and 10% formally, so that's when we sit in a classroom, either at school or in the workplace.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtdHZQ2VXhE

The development of social networks, will and is changing the world of learning forever. Millions of teachers and trainers are having to adopt these new technologies as part of their delivery methods.

This requires the teacher / trainer to become proficient in these new tools and get their own knowledge of these networks up to scratch. After all their students are using these to learn, so now we better embrace these too and make use of it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H4RkudFzlc#!

Those that do, will succeed in helping to change the landscape of learning for themselves and students alike. A more engaged student will mean a more connected world and a more connected world will mean a world with more compassion and understanding for our fellow human.

Success!

 

Has your 17-year old got 'Working Knowledge'?

Working Knowledge is a brilliant Social Enterprise, who invited me to join their 'Splash' event in Bromsgrove on the 15th March 2012.

My role?  An Expert!

I have never been an ’Expert’ before, so it was a real treat.

I was an Expert from the business community together with other business experts, who were all there to support 17 / 18 year olds from Northeast Worcestershire College, to become enlightened about business through the vehicle of a one-day experiential event, allowing them to innovate, create and visualise their own entrepreneurial spirit.

I had never done anything like it before and so did not know what to expect.

What was it like?  In one word...OUTSTANDING!

Basically the event is a cross between Dragons Den and the Apprentice and as a local business I played the role of ‘expert’ advising students from the local College on their new business ideas.  Working Knowledge is a Social Enterprise and Nationally Award Winning educational training company founded by Dr James Lott.

The events Working Knowledge run have been shown to have a profound impact on the students and tutors in colleges throughout UK, bridging the gap between education and the workplace.  As a business expert volunteer I played an integral role in the success of the event and thereby raise the aspirations of young people in my region.

Here's my testimonial MindMap and Video, which was the best way for me to articulate what I thought of the whole day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcQmefmSKCc

And why does Working Knowledge exist?

They believe that for the UK economy to grow and for communities to thrive, young people need to be inspired by, and better prepared for, the world of work. We need young people that are more confident, purposeful and responsible and can therefore provide a sustained flow of talent and energy into the local economy. Their vision cannot be achieved by educators alone, the business community HAS to be involved in the education process.

What a great vision!

There is a website http://www.workingknowledge.org.uk/business-experts/overview/ where you can find out more about the expert role.  If you are interested in becoming involved then please register here http://events.workingknowledge.org.uk/profile/new?type=expert and Working Knowledge will contact you when a suitable event comes up in your area.

If you have any questions then contact Ollie Collard on 0117 304 8000 or email ollie.collard@workingknowledge.org.uk

I hope you do take up the opportunity.  It really is one worth doing.

Success!

Do you really make assumptions all the time?

I read a fascinating article in Wired magazine by Jonathan Lehrer, where he discusses the phenomena of our brains making assumptions on how things work, based on a set of data that we have collected.  In fact we collect data in our brains all the time.  And when we analyse data we start making all sorts of assumptions and conclusions based on that data.

And of course we can never have enough data to make our decisions on and at some stage we have to decide that we have enough of it to base our decisions on.

And this happens all the time in the most dangerous industry in the world, pharmaceuticals.  This article highlights some lessons for us all on how we make assumptions all the time in our private, business and social lives.

I have extracted what I believe to be the important constituents from his article:

On November 30, 2006 executives at Pfizer - the largest pharmaceutical company in the world held a meeting with investors at the firm's research centre in Groton, Connecticut.  Jeff Kindler, the then CEO began the presentation with an upbeat assessment of the company's efforts to bring new drugs to market.   He cited "exciting approaches" to the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, fibromyalgia and arthritis.  But Kindler was most excited about a new drug called torcetrapib, which had recently entered Phase III clinical trials, the last step before filing for approval.  He confidently declared that it would be "one of the most important compounds of our generation".  Kindler told investors that, by the second half of 2008, Pfizer would begin applying for approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The success of the drug seemed a sure thing.  And then, just two days later, on December 2, 2006, Pfizer issued a stunning announcement: the torcetrapib Phase III clinical trial was being terminated.  Although the compound was supposed to prevent heart disease, it was actually triggering higher rates of chest pain and heart failure and a 60% increase in overall mortality.  The drug appeared to be killing people.  That week, Pfizer's value plummeted by $21 billion (£14 billion).

The story of torcetrapib is one of mistaken causation.  Pfizer was operating on the assumption that raising levels of HDL cholesterol and lowering LDL would lead to predictable outcome: improved cardiovascular health.  Less arterial plaque.  Cleaner pipes.  But that didn't happen. (According to a recent analysis, more that 40% of drugs fail Phase III clinical trials).

The problem was, it's this assumption that causes a strange kind of knowledge.  This was first pointed out by David Hume, a Scottish 18th-century philosopher.  

He realised that, although people talk about causes as if they are real facts - tangible things that can be discovered - they're actually not at all factual.  Instead, Hume said, every cause is just a slippery story, a catchy conjecture, a "lively conception produced by habit".  When an apple falls from a tree, the cause is obvious: gravity.  Hume's sceptical insight was that we don't see gravity - we see only an object tugged towards earth.  We look at X and then at Y, and invent a story about what happened in between.  We can measure facts, but a cause is not a fact - it's fiction that helps us make sense of facts.

The truth is, our stories about causation are shadowed by all sorts of mental short cuts.  Most of the time, these work well enough.  They allow us to discover the law of gravity, and design wondrous technologies.  However when it comes to reasoning about highly complex systems - say the human body - these short cuts go from being slickly efficient to outright misleading.

Consider a set of classic experiments designed by Belgian psychologist Albert Michotte, first conducted in the 40's.

His research featured a series of short films about a blue ball and a red ball.  In the first  film, the red ball races across the screen, touches the blue ball and then stops.  The blue ball, meanwhile, begins moving in the shame basic direction as the red ball.  When Michotte asked people to describe the film, they automatically lapsed in the language of causation.  The red ball hit the blue ball, which caused it to move.  This is known as the launching effect, and it's a universal property of visual perception.  Although there was nothing in the two-second film - it was just a montage of animated images - people couldn't help but tell a story about what had happened.  They had translated their perceptions into causal beliefs.  Michotte would go on to conduct more than 100 of these studies manipulating the films.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_jKNlC2YKo

There are two lessons learned from these experiments.  The first is that our theories about a particular cause and effect are inherently perceptual, infected by all the sensory cheats of vision.  Hume was right that causes are never seen, only inferred, but the truth is we can't tell the difference.  And so we look at moving balls and see causes, melodrama of taps and collisions, chasing and fleeing.  The second lesson is that causal explanations are oversimplifications.  This is what makes them useful - they help us grasp the world at a glance.  

The article is far too long for me to include everything in it and I have not been able to find it online either.  However I think I have got the main message from it.

And the question I pose to you, is:  What assumptions are you making today, that are based on incorrect date or not enough data or just that you have perceived the information  in a certain way?  Is the red ball chasing the blue ball instead of them just moving independently of each other?

And then there is the other old saying: "Perception is Reality"

Success!

Ready for an ethical planet?

20120213-200830.jpg

You may have noticed recently that autocratic and dishonest behaviour is being rewarded by resentment and demands for justice. And everyone on the planet is involved. The human drama continues to unfold in front of our eyes on a daily basis. And what has grabbed the news headlines for over 12 months are the battles, whether physical in terms of fighting or verbal against the regimes, journalists, police, banks, senior individuals in charge and many more institutions and individuals that have been allowed to get away with thinking of just themselves and their own personal interest.

Actually we are selfish race, we don't really like other fellow human beings unless they are our own off-spring and then even we struggle to get on with them.

We are all aware of the family feuds that happen between siblings and not to speak of the arguments during family gatherings.

So why can't we be more unselfish and decide to support others? Why can't we put the importance of our own happiness and satisfaction on hold for a bit and instead think of others?

'But we do!' I hear you say, we support charities, we give money to them every time there is an appeal and true the UK are one of the most charitable nations in the world. But we do this out of guilt, because we feel we may not have done enough during the past 12 months, so giving some money to 'children in need' or comic relief' or one of the other 'telethons' makes us feel better, like we have given something and that means we have done our 'bit'.

Genuinely do you feel better or does your conscious actually know that you only did something because you have a condition, which I like to call 'spontaneous guilt'?

So how do we change our behaviour to become more ethical, more community focussed, more charitable, display more integrity, be less greedy, supporting of our fellow human beings, inspired to volunteer?

I don't intend to answer this question for you, it's for you to answer this for yourself.

I challenge you to look into your soul and decide whether you are doing enough for your fellow human.

Oh and I nearly forgot happy Valentine's day!

Success!

Are you afraid of LinkedIn?

(135 million+ LinkedIn professionals around the world as of November 3, 2011)

I attended a recent networking event and chatted with business people, who were there because like me they would like more business.  I was taken aback a little when 2 people that I spoke to out of the 5 that I met, who shared with me that they were "afraid" of LinkedIn.

I use the term "afraid" on purpose because, when I asked them whether they were on LinkedIn, which is a standard question I ask every business person I meet, their faces filled with horror and then they shared with me the reasons why they either weren't there or why they were very very careful who they connected to.

Maybe I am the naive one, but my philosophy with Social Media is to either be active in it and play full out or stay out of the game, you can't be half in and choose when to come out and play and when to stay at home.

But it got me thinking, maybe there are more of you out there, who are "afraid" also, so I wanted to write this article to appeal to your more liberal side, the part of you that has courage and is willing to take a few risks, because you know you've got that part inside of yourself, don't you?

Here are the "fears" that were raised with me today:

  • People who I have never met or spoken to, ask to be connected to me on LinkedIn, why?
  • They tell me that they are wishing to grow their networks; well they are pulling me into the same mindset and I do not wish to be part of it!
  • I am very choosey who I connect to, because I only wish to be connected to people, who I have met and I have got to know them and what they are about
  • What if they start calling my contacts and telling them that they know me, when really they do not?

And I am sure there could have been more.  The real reason for the "fear" is actually ignorance and I don't mean that in a negative way, I actually believe it is really positive, because there is a fantastic opportunity to educate people.

I consider LinkedIn as my virtual business networking database.  LinkedIn is actually very ethical, it is run with the same principles as face to face networking and yes of course it is ideally best to have met that person or at least to have spoken to them.  However business is a numbers game and in order to have some influence in your business community you do need to connect with people who can be in your circle of influence.

It is good to build a relationship with people who you have not yet met face to face and yes try and do that even if you are only connected virtually.  Actually LinkedIn is so transparent, they can learn about you, your history, your experience, your business goals and learn so much more, which you would never be able to share at a face to face networking event.

We all need to do more with less, so LinkedIn is the perfect vehicle to network, without the expense of attending networking events, breakfasts, lunches etc.  It is becoming more acceptable to do things virtually and of course I appreciate it's not everyone's "cup of tea".

We need you all to start getting into the game and changing your mindset, because this is only going to continue to grow and we would like you to be there with us and be part of the journey.

There is a huge amount to know about LinkedIn and I have witnessed the massive changes it has undergone in the past few years, which I promise you will continue, especially as they have gone public now.

Below I have shared my own network stats on LinkedIn and you can see the reach you can have with only a few connections.  They say that the level below your direct contacts are where your real business opportunities lie.  You can see that I have 365,000 connections that are 2 degrees away from me.  That's just unbelievable and I could never imagine that I would be connected to so many people.  However if you notice carefully Linkedin, presents a small box to you every time you log in, which says "people you may know".  And when you click through you will see a list of page after page with people that are 2 degrees away from you.  Well the same is presented to everyone that goes on LinkedIn and is active on there and that's how you get noticed, that's when people view your profile.

I hope you take on board what I am trying to convey, but just in case you don't, I would be happy to explain some other finer points to you at any time, just post a comment or question on here.

Success!

Honesty is the best Policy...or not?

I have been having a great time uncovering, albeit by accident, some interesting practices by Broadband Providers. The companies in question are Plusnet and Sky.

You will all know Sky, because they are very famous and owned by the Murdoch Empire, but Plusnet only emerged a few years ago and not many people know that they are owned by BT! Yep BT broadband trading under a different name, just to fool us all.

Anyway it all started when I wanted to challenge Plusnet, why they haven't been able to give me lower prices as per their advertised rates on their website and also in their advertising on bill boards and TV. It's something I have challenged them on, from time to time, and the last time actually was over a year ago. But more about that in a bit.

Firstly I needed to do my research and as I detest Talk Talk the other leading broadband provider, (just had enough of their door to door cold calling techniques) and we are Sky TV customers (and I don't really want to be), they are showing some great offers on their website (Sky).

So I did my research and to my absolute amazement they are offering existing Sky customers £7.50 for Unlimited Broadband and 3 months free! But you have to purchase Sky Talk line rental as well, which includes free evening and weekend calls, so that's ok and they are showing that at £4.75 per month.

And here is the picture of my basket to prove to you that it's very very clear. A total of £12.25 per month and on top of that 3 months free!!

Are you still following me?

Basically by moving to Sky, we could save ourselves over £200 per year, OMG that's an amazing deal, or so I thought!

I nearly hit the purchase button, I was very close, but I decided to get one stage further in the checkout process and saw this...

As you can see it's still showing me the same figures £7.50 and £4.75, but can you see that other statement at the end 'when your offer finishes', suggesting that the price increases to £49.50? (It does include our Sky TV, don't worry about that it's the increase of £7.50 that is important to focus on.

So how was this calculated then?  Cut a long story short, I decided to call them and check it out and after 20 minutes getting nowhere in India, they transferred me to the UK and the agent confirmed to me, after speaking to 2 other colleagues as she had a tough time figuring it out as well, that they had discounted the Sky Talk by £7.50 per month to allow for the free broadband for 3 months.  So they had hidden the discount inside the Sky Talk rate for 3 months.

Why the ... did they do it in this way?  This is surely completely misleading the customer!  Making me think they I am going to get a really low rate but really after 3 months the Sky Talk rate goes up, which means the original £12.25 per month become £19.75.  Not such a great deal after all!

'Honesty is the best policy', so why did they not show honestly how the calculations work?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45Q13-poFBg

OK, on to Plusnet. Back in August 2010, I asked them why I was not able to get their cheap rates as advertised everywhere. They told me (a bit technical now), that my exchange was in what's called a market 1 and it needed to be market 3.  Basically it means that it needed more suppliers at the exchange and at least 3 of them need to have their equipment installed. All of this info I learned is available on www.samknows.com.  A great site with loads of detail about your exchange, and well worth reviewing in order to challenge your provider.  See the video a little bit further below.

Ok so then I asked them, when were they planning to put their equipment in the exchange and of course they were not, as they use the core BT network, after all they are owned by them!

So probably no chance of getting a cheaper rate then, so I left it.

Until now that is. See I decided to share with them the fact that Sky are able to give me unlimited Broadband for £7.50 per month and Sky and Talk Talk do actually have their equipment installed at the exchange.

Now instead of me writing what was said, I thought it would be interesting for you to read the full text of correspondence that went on between us.

22.11.11 2.48pm

I have noticed that you are offering some amazing deals at the moment. And although I have been in touch with you previously, we continue not to be eligible for these prices!  We are paying £17.99 for 60GB Broadband, plus £11.99 line rental. You are offering the Broadband now for £11.49, that's a saving of £6.50 per month and over the year of £78. I really believe that we are at a significant disadvantage staying with you.  As I am a Sky TV customer, I can get unlimited monthly broadband for £7.50 per month and line rental for £4.75 per month.  That is just £12.25 per month compared to your £29.98 per month. That is a massive saving of £212.76 per year! £17.73 per month!  Can you think of one reason why I shouldn't switch away from you?  I am really looking forward to hearing your recommendation on how I should proceed.

22.11.11 3.04pm!

Thank you for getting in touch. I can confirm you are now eligible for Plusnet Extra at £11.49 per month due to market area change. You were previously in a market 1 area meaning your price was higher, you are now in a market 2 area reducing costs.  To find out how this affects you please visit - http://www.plus.net/support/broadband/products/low_cost_areas.shtml If you choose to take up this new lower price service your monthly costs will be: Line rental - £11.99 (£12.99 as of 06/12/11) Plusnet Extra - £11.49 Total cost - £23.48 (£24.48 as of 06/12/11)

22.11.11 7.03pm

Thank you Kelly for coming back so quickly.  That's really interesting. In the past I was advised that I was not able to get cheaper prices. Here is one of the responses I received from Nick Godbehere, back in August 2010, when I tried previously to get cheaper prices from you.  "Thank you for your query. An exchange has to have at least 5 suppliers to be in a market 3 area. The rule is set in place by ofcom that lines with less than 5 available broadband service providers".  So it's now interesting to learn that a market 2 area now can give me cheaper prices!  Would you please be so kind as to confirm, when the exchange when to market 2?  If not I can find out from Samknows if need be.  Obviously you will be so kind as to give me a refund for the length of time that I could have had cheaper prices.  And you will obviously change the account on the cheaper prices immediately.  Looking forward to your response.

A short video explaining how to make use of Samknows and to learn about the differences between market areas and the resulting prices that you will pay for your Broadband.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5k-5K9Ycxco

23.11.11 9.35am

Hello, I just received confirmation from Samknows that my exchange went to market 2 in December 2010.  According to my calculations, that will be a refund of: 10 months @ £6.50 = £65.00 providing that today's bill will be at the cheaper price.  Looking forward to your confirmation.

23.11.11 11.21am

Thank you for getting back to us.  The most we can refund regarding market changes is 3 moths. We can either provide you either a 3 month discount of £6.50 or a refund of £19.50. Please advise how you wish to proceed.  Please do not hesitate to get back in touch online at http://contactus.plus.net or by phone on 0800 432 0200 if we can be of further assistance.

23.11.11 11.33am

Please advise why you are only able to provide 3 months refund?  I have been asking about a discounted price since August 2010, without success.  Surely it is down to you to advise your customers that there was a market change and change their prices, as otherwise you are effectively stealing from your customers.  I wonder what Ofcom will have to say about this?  I look forward to a more positive response please advise who else does this need to be escalated to?

23.11.11 2.49pm

Up until July this year the only areas we had the lower prices in were those designated as Market 3 exchanges. From July 2011 we allowed new customers signing up in Market 2 areas to obtain the lower price too. Your exchange is currently set as Market 2.  As we've only been offering the lower prices on Market 2 exchanges since July, this is the maximum period we can backdate any discounts to you for. The changes took effect in the August bills so that's 4 months discounts we can give you at £6.50 per month.  I've applied these to your account for the next 4 months on top of ongoing reduction you're now entitled to following the Market classification change in July.

23.11.11 4.16pm

Thank you and of course I am grateful for the 4 months instead of 3. It does beg the question though why I was not offered 4 months by Phil and zero by Kelly?  My I remind you that the only reason you are now offering me cheaper rates is because I advised Plusnet yesterday that I was looking to move to Sky.  Now I am no expert, however I am being advised by Samknowsbroadband that the change to Market 2 took effect in December 2010. And they sent me this link as reference: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/wba/wba-statement/.  I have today spoken with Ofcom and lodged a complaint about this and have written to your Customer Services Director, of which letter is attached. You can look through tickets that I have raised back in August 2010, where I have been asking about why I was not able to receive cheaper rates, so you can look in the archives to read all those.  As a company you are really not portraying a good image for the Broadband supplier market and I thought Plusnet were different to all the others and clearly you are not.  I am not satisfied with the 4 months refund and if indeed the market 2 rules changed in December 2010, I expect a full 10 month refund accordingly.

23.11.11 5.24pm

Your exchange did indeed change to Market 2 back in December 2010, however at that time our prices for Market 2 customers were the same as for Market 1 (the higher value).  It was only in July this year that we made the decision to move Market 2 prices to match those of Market 3 (the lower value).  This is the reason that I've only offered 4 months as this is the timescale that Market 2 customers have had the cheaper price.  With regards to rules for the pricing in each Market area, that's up to us (Plusnet) to set what we sell these at to our customers and as I've said in my previous reply and this reply we didn't lower the price for Market 2 until July this year.

And it continued on Twitter too...

Plusnet's slogan 'Good Honest Broadband from Yorkshire' is very far fetched indeed, don't you think?

Sky's slogan 'Happily ever After', yes indeed after we have misled you and increase your rates 'after'!

Please share this article with all and every broadband user, so that they too can challenge their supplier for the best possible rates!

Good luck...