Lessons in Business from the Horrors of War

I’ve been reading an inspirational biography by Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War.

He was tortured repeatedly during his 8-year incarceration, yet maintained the respect of the military prisoners still under his command, whilst trying to ensure that the highest number of them survived their unthinkable ordeal.

Stockdale established rules allowing his men to reveal certain information after a given level of torture, understanding that no-one can withstand pain indefinitely.

He inflicted self-injury with stools and razors, so that his captors couldn’t film him on video to demonstrate their responsible custody to the outside world.

Reading the book, I was overwhelmed with the sense of desperation and isolation which he and his soldiers must have felt, and astonished that he was able to keep his spirits high, and to refuse to be broken.

Interviewed recently, he was asked how he dealt with such incredible hardship, and more poignantly with not knowing how, when or even if it would all end.

He replied that he never lost faith in the end of the story. He believed that, eventually, he would be released and be reunited with his family.

He was then asked who didn’t make it. “The optimists”, he replied, coining at once the concept now known as the Stockdale Paradox.

What he meant was that “those who told themselves, ‘We’ll be home by Christmas’, were disappointed when Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Stockdale finished his interview with a stunningly concise summary of his survival strategy, and one which I’m sure would be a useful edict with which to get through the albeit less life-threatening corporate torture wrought by these troubled economic times.

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

In business, that means never, ever losing your self belief, but setting realistic goals which you’ve got an evens chance of reaching.

For many of you right now, it also means keeping afloat in the recession, because you’ve got a brilliant product which will absolutely fly when things start moving again.

Respect to you, Admiral.

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Now here’s something from me to you, to help you ride the storm!

Simply add a comment to this post telling me why you need a 30-minute mentoring session with Jonny Cooper! We can talk about your business plans, goals and issues. Yes folks, a complimentary half-hour of power with me via Skype or phone! I look forward to talking to you. Jonny.

How to give stuff away for profit!

I was just talking to a group of enlightened entrepreneurs who are refusing to lie down and suffer the consequences of the economic downturn. One of their crunch-busting techniques is as old as the hills, but they’ve recently refined it to an art form.

It’s called giving stuff away!

You know the lovely warm feeling when you pull on a pair of jeans you haven’t worn for ages and find a ten pound note (ten dollar bill for you Yanks…) in the pocket? And don’t those free deli samples in Sainsbury’s/Walmart taste so much better than the same thing you actually buy?

Well, that’s how your customers feel when they get more than they are expecting from you.

So, imagine how your prospects will respond to your marketing when they receive a free gift – without even making a purchase!

Giving “more” is a simple, inexpensive way to instantly improve your relationship with both customers and prospects.

Ideas for gifts… that cost you nothing!

1: Free reports, info packs, fact sheets and market analysis: these can all be made available online or by email to really slash the costs of delivery.

2: Newsletters: regular info and offer-packed communiqués to your database of prospects and customers.

3: Industry specific freebies: appeal to who you’re trying to sell to: recipes, sports tips, discount coupons, travel guides.

4: Trial offers: get them using your products for free and they’ll often need or want to continue and pay.

5: Buy one, get one free: this really does cost you nothing, providing your gross margin is more than 50%!

Ideas for gifts… that cost you a small amount

1: Company-branded items: hats, water bottles, mouse pads, pens etc

2: Non-related materials: stuffed animals, chocolates, alcohol, sports tickets

3: One of your products or services at no cost to them

4: Rewards for referrals or recommendations

5: Calendars and diaries: clichéd, corny, but nothing lasts a whole year like something with 12 months of dates on it!

The return on your “gift” investment could be worth thousands of pounds/dollars in sales. Make that extra effort and give your customers more than they are expecting.

Now I’m going to give you something free, with no strings attached!

Simply add a comment to this post telling me why you need a 30-minute mentoring session with Jonny Cooper! We can talk about your business plans, goals and issues. Yes folks, a complimentary half-hour of power with me via Skype or phone! I look forward to talking to you. Jonny.

 

Let’s try the most useless opening line EVER!

A friend of mine has a small business selling blinds to homes and workplaces. He said a few weeks ago that he’d had a new colour brochure done and was going to post it out to around 200 of his past customers.

I told him he would multiply his hit-rate maybe 10-fold if he followed up with chaser phone calls, and he set about his campaign.

I met him again over the weekend and asked him how things were going.

“Waste of time!” he blurted. “Something wrong with the post!” he continued. “Hardly anybody got their brochures!”

He’d sent them out as planned, and then starting calling around, using the opening line – “It’s Craig here from Acme Blinds” (names changed to protect the stupid) “Just wondered if you got the brochure we sent out last week”

NOT CRAIG, YESTERDAY

Hmmm…Craig, you just used the most useless opening line in the history of useless opening lines! Here’s why, mate –

1- The only people who need to know whether a piece of post has arrived or not are customer service researchers at the Royal Mail.

2 – If the customer answers no (he hasn’t received it) he’s either lying to stall any further conversation (most likely), or you have his address wrong. Either way, it leaves you with next-to-no chance of recovering to a selling situation.

3 – If the customer answers yes, where does that leave you? You’ve then got to hit him with another question to move the call forward; usually “so…was it of interest then?” He’s probably already rehearsed the answer to that one, and it’s the one you’re expecting.

4 – Asking a “yes-or-no” question as an opening line is, always has been and always will be a pretty lame idea.

“Craig” could have supercharged his chances of success with this kind of pitch –

“…as you’ve been a customer of ours before, I wanted to let you know about a great deal we’ve got on at the moment: [Insert short, sharp, sexy info-hook] I can pop over Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon to work out some prices for you…which would be better?”

An either/or question with an assumptive close built-in is a really powerful way to get what you want – in this case, a face-to-face appointment with the prospect.

And about that brochure – they definitely received it; it had either warmed them up nicely or they’d already thrown it away!

For a free one-hour business mentoring session with Jonny Cooper worth £175, leave a comment on this post below saying why you need and deserve it!

Jonny’s ten ways to avoid result-free meetings

Have you ever been in a meeting and wondered “what am I doing here?”, or worse still, “what is this for…why is anyone here?”?

If you have, chances are you will have been a participant in one of those all-too-common business gatherings which produce no useful outcome: the Result-Free Meeting.

Here’s Jonny’s top 10 tips to power your powwows and add get-up-and-go to your get-togethers!

1: Clarify the purpose of the meeting to all attendees. Make it clear what needs to be achieved and why.

2: Produce an agenda of no more than 5 items, and circulate to all invitees at least 48 hours in advance. This should allocate time to each item, and should not include an “Any other business” line. AOB encourages waffle, and distracts from any clear outcome you are trying to achieve.

3: Set personal objectives for the meeting beforehand. These need not be openly shared, but knowing what you need to achieve from the event will help to focus your input.

4: Don’t invite more than 5 people, plus you. Research shows that meeting effectiveness declines exponentially in inverse proportion to the number of attendees over six.

5: Encourage commitment by setting preparation tasks for your colleagues. They will be much more likely to support your objectives if they have already spent time working towards them beforehand.

6: Take minutes; preferably on a template, by hand or electronically. Arguing later over who said what, and over what was decided, is almost worse than not having a meeting at all.

7: Agree action points for every delegate to achieve following the meeting, and circulate to all within 48 hours.

8: Set a date for the next meeting, if any.

9: Critique effectiveness as a group before disbanding. Discuss what went well, and what could be improved next time you need to meet.

10: Don’t meet if a conference call, email, memo or intranet posting will do the job just as well. Your group will respond best when you impose on the smallest amount of their time, plus they will respect meetings more when they know you only call them when really necessary.

Have a question you’d like Jonny Cooper to address? You can submit it by either adding a comment to this post or by e-mailing it to jon@jupiterdawn.com

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I don’t believe it!

One of the most common questions we hear from religious believers is, “How can you prove there isn’t a god?”

It’s a question that defies logical argument, of course, as it falls upon the person making the claim to provide evidence for it. I can simply say, “I have listened to your claim and don’t believe it”, and I have no further work to do.

To assist those who might wish to convince me and others of the existence of a mysterious, invisible yet all-seeing skyman, I have devised a simple 3-level ladder which explains the type of evidence I, and hopefully other thinking people, will always require to support different types of claims.

LEVEL 1 CLAIMS

These are everyday, mundane claims made by a trusted friend or associate, and as such require no corroboration. The difference in consequences from believing it or not can be slight, and your life is barely changed either way. Therefore, there is little motivation to seek further evidence beyond taking the person at their word.

Here are some examples of a level 1 claim:

  • A friend tells you she is 2 months pregnant. Most people wouldn’t immediately ask to see the test results, but would be content to wait and see visual progress followed, hopefully, by a successful birth. It’s a horrible thing to lie about, and you never caught her making stuff up before, so unspoken trust is there.
  • A work colleague says he has booked a holiday to the Seychelles. You take him at his word, as it’s entirely possible he could have done so, and he has no reason to lie. You don’t need to demand to see the tickets, although he could be making the whole thing up. If he is, it’s his problem, not yours.
  • Your partner calls to say you have run out of milk and asks you to get some on the way home. It’s unlikely you’d go home first to check for yourself, as you trust their judgement on such matters. In any case, if they’re mistaken, the consequences of having too much milk at home are minimal. So, you seek no further evidence of their claim, and purchase the milk.

LEVEL 2 CLAIMS

These are the types of claim which might make you go, “really?”, or ask further questions before you’re comfortable with believing it. A level 2 claim could, but doesn’t need to, concern a matter which affects you directly, and will generally be provable, one way or the other.

Practical jokes and spoofs are often based around level 2 claims, in the hope that the recipient of the claim will believe it without checking further – what we call “falling for it”. Satisfactory evidence is, however,  freely and easily available to you and anybody else who wants to obtain it.

Here are some examples of a level 2 claim:

  • A work colleague tells you the boss is laying off staff and you’re next. Concerned, you go and ask other workmates what they know. Subject to the consensus of replies, you may contact your HR department and get the official line. This is an important issue, so you are right to gather evidence before believing your colleague’s claim.
  • Your partner tells you she has found a lump in her neck and believes it’s cancer. You instruct her to go to the doctor, and go along with her. The ensuing medical diagnosis and written evidence will prove her claim one way or the other. Again, it’s a serious issue, and needs immediate investigation. You cannot believe her claim based on her instincts, and to do so would be irresponsible, given the ready availability of reliable evidence and the need for urgent treatment if she’s proven right.
  • Your friend calls you and tells you there’s a tsunami warning in place, and he’s heard your house is in the danger zone. You need to evacuate your family immediately. It’s possible he’s dead right, but you need to check for yourself. You switch on the TV, go online and call a few other people to find out what they know. Based on a consensus of readily available information, you make a decision whether to go or stay put after establishing the validity of your friend’s original claim.

LEVEL 3 CLAIMS

Claims at this level are distinguished from the two lower levels by the lack of compelling evidence to support them. Not only is evidence in short supply to you, but no-one else is able to find any either. Bizarrely, level 3 claims are usually the most grandiose of all, therefore requiring standards of evidence way in excess of that required to support more mundane claims.

There are many millions of people making level 3 claims on a daily basis, and there has been for centuries past. Contrary to what you might expect, most go completely unchallenged, with global networks of people being prepared to believe the most far-fetched level 3 claims without a shred of evidence.

Here are some examples of a level 3 claim:

  • You meet a guy in a pub who says his grandma is 117 years old and flies to work on a winged badger every day. He appears sane, so you ask him for evidence, and he produces a picture on his smartphone, which shows an old woman straddling a woodland creature in the sky above a row of houses. You can’t accept what is almost certainly a faked image, so you ask to meet her in person. He declines, but offers to email you a copy of what you just saw on his phone, and insists that it is real, before slinking off to bother someone else. You reflect on how you could have believed his unusual claim, if only he had taken you to see his ancient airborne granny in action.
  • A student on the TV is being interviewed, passionately claiming that he was abducted by aliens from his bed last night and returned naked to his front garden at 6 am, from where he was arrested. He makes his case tearfully from his bed in the mental hospital where he now resides. He produces no evidence other than his verbal testimony, and is unable to provide any corroboration to his fantastic story now or at any time in the future. His friends pity him and the world ridicules him.
  • You hear a priest on the radio claiming that everlasting life is available to you after death if only you believe in an entity called god which no-one has ever seen or heard. God will forgive you any sins you might have committed, because his son was killed some millennia ago and came back to life before disappearing into the clouds. The priest provides no evidence for any of this, but claims he knows it to be true and refers to the availability of a book which he says backs up his story. Far from being ridiculed for making what is clearly a level 3 claim on a public broadcasting network, the priest is given a daily platform to repeat his nonsensical story. Oddly, he’s never been asked to make god available for an interview, or provide god’s email address or other contact details so he can be quizzed by the rest of us.

HOW TO BELIEVE, OR NOT

There is clearly a different approach to believing each of the 3 levels of claims. You would be churlish to call your partner a liar when she tells you there’s no milk left, and asking for further evidence is both unnecessary and unhelpful.

At level 2, no-one would criticise you for seeking evidence to support a claim that you were about to be fired, for instance, and it’s quite easy for you to find out for sure one way or the other.

Level 3 claims represent a different conundrum, given that your only choices are to believe the person making the claim, or to not believe, based on a lack of evidence.

The latter position, that of not believing, perfectly describes atheism. It’s not a belief system, so when a religious person tells you that you can believe what you want, and they will believe what they want, they’re missing the point.

The rational, logical, intelligent stance when faced with a level 3 claim is simply not to believe any of it.

The 5 secrets of getting past the gatekeeper…

So, you’ve got a brilliant product or service which blows all your competitors out of the water. Not only that, but you’ve priced it so well that your customers are never going to say no! If only you could get to them to tell them about it…

I’ve recently been working with a large organisation which sells vending machines to businesses throughout the UK. They were concerned that their telesales team had recently been connecting to decision makers less and less frequently.

As anyone who’s ever tried to sell by phone will know, many of your potential customers are surrounded by a human firewall, a virtual moat manned by PAs and receptionists charged with one simple task – to protect their executives from the white noise of uninvited sales calls.

Here’s a plan we put together, designed to overcome this perennial dilemma.

1: Call the company, and ask for the sales department, rather than the named decision maker. You will always be put through. Aim: Avoid immediate rebuttal from gatekeeper.

2: Explain to the salesperson that you’re in sales, just like they are, and you’d appreciate a little help. Aim: Get them to identify with you and open up.

3: Ask them who they currently use for supply of your product or service, and how they feel about that current supplier. Aim: Research the company’s need for change.

4: Ask who the decision maker would be where your product or service is concerned. Always ask for their direct extension number, so you “don’t have to bother them again” Aim: Enable contact with your buyer without risk of being blocked at the switchboard.

5: Contact the decision maker directly at their desk and mention your previous conversation with sales, where they suggested a need for your product or service. Aim: Create a perceived referral from someone else in the company.

We found that this approach increased direct conversations with decision makers by over 40%, and produced a call-to-appointment ratio 32% higher over the next quarter.

Of course, any aspirations to those kinds of improvements assume that your telesales personnel already display the essential attributes of honesty, integrity, credibility and humour, and possess a gentle yet persuasive phone manner.

Add any comments or questions, or e-mail Jonny jon@jupiterdawn.com

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10 reasons why Smoking is like Religion

Bit of a fun blog today, stretching my mind around two of the many human activities I find quite baffling.

Here are my Top Ten Reasons why smoking is like following a religion:

1 – If they didn’t exist, no-one would invent them. Watch Bob Newhart’s legendary Raleigh sketch here, and you’ll get the idea. Then imagine him calling home to try and explain religion to a nation evolved purely on science and reason.

2 – If our kids didn’t learn about them from us, they wouldn’t discover them later. This is a great argument both for religious education and smoking in homes or close to children to be banned.

3 – Both are harmful to health. Smoking inarguably so; religion stifling to open enquiry and rational thought. The late great Christopher Hitchens referred to religion as a mental illness, and who am I to argue?

4 – There would be fewer premature deaths without either. Sure, we’ve all got to die sometime, but that’s no reason to wantonly leave the party early. Whether you choose to literally expire through self-inflicted respiratory destruction, or get caught up in an act of slaughter in the name-of-all-that’s-holy, either is a tragic waste of precious life.

5 – Both originated from our ignorance. Religions were invented to provide explanations where current knowledge failed. The sun rose – must be a big man upstairs. Washed away in a flood – that’s him again, punishing us for being bad. Smoking was promoted long before medicine caught on to its perils. Hell, we even thought it was good for us!

6 – Now we know better. The corollary to number 5. 21st Century Medics unanimously agree that smoking is among the easiest and surest of slow suicides yet discovered. Scientists are equally aligned that most things previously given a mystical status are now fully explained by science.

7 – Both are financially ruinous. I know people who spend more on fags than they do on a mortgage payment, for God’s sake. And no-one could make an argument of fiscal responsibility for the Vatican, hoarding looted treasures worth enough in cash terms to rid the world of all known diseases. Probably. If all the churches in the UK were converted into social housing, we’d solve the new homes shortage at a stroke. Maybe.

8 – They waste good people. Smoking, as we’ve agreed, truncates lives and thereby loses any future intellectual and social benefits those people may have yet had to bring. Organised religion is a huge sap of talent. I know several intelligent, intellectual and compassionate priests who could have contributed positively to our society in many other more useful ways.

9 – Both are widely practised, yet wrong. The argument that if enough people say or do something, it must be right, has never been disproved more effectively than through smoking and following religion. No-one needs to re-read the list of tobacco-related diseases to know that for sure, and here is a great rationale of why the same applies to religion.

10 – We’d be better off without them. You won’t find many people outside of the tobacco industry and HMRC arguing any positives for smoking. Even the smokers I know agree it’s plain silly. As for religion, John Lennon summed it up as perfectly as a man ever has.

So there you have it. Now you all know that I’m anti-smoking, and an unrelenting apologist for scientific reason!

Smoking Priest