The two kinds of negotiators

Tell me if you have encountered one of these:

When I was working with a hard hitting real estate company I met my opposite, a win/lose negotiator. Abrupt, a bit rude and insanely high maintenance, her name was Wilma and she was simply monstrous to deal with. Opposing brokers always felt like she pushed the other side too hard, earning her the nickname of “Warhammer.” She would push and push and push until finally the other side would say, “uncle!” Want to be on the other side of her? I don’t think so.

To be honest, I used to judge her, until I realized that she was a master of a different style of negotiating.

Here is what I mean: I tend to be a win/win negotiator. I want both sides to win, and I want us to come to a fair price. When I realized that Wilma was that the win/lose negotiation in terms of style and not character, that made dealing with her a lot easy. She would push until someone said, “no.” She had to feel like she won something in a negotiation, otherwise she would keep asking for things, things that she didn’t even use or need!

What I found was that saying “no” to Wilma early and often didn’t make her search for a different marketer, it made her appreciate the one she had. See, with her type, she constantly needed to feel like she was winning, so I usually told her what she wanted was impossible. That got her attention. She realized, “oh wait, I have found my boundary,” and we almost always found a point of mutual agreement.

Compare that to another broker, Dan, who always had an extremely affable position. When he needed a big project quickly, I would just ask questions and work with openness and ease, and say what was was possible with a lot more flexibility than with Wilma.

The big lesson between these two styles? Match your partner’s style. If you encounter a win/win negotiator, be easy to deal with and show you are on both of your sides. If you encounter a win/lose negotiator, don’t give up any ground and push back on them hard until you see that they are willing to bend.

It’s simple, but it also frees us from a lot of unnecessary judgement of other negotiation styles.


When I Don’t Know My Customer

I look stupid.

Really, really, really stupid.

I tried writing some copy for our customer base, and had someone in the industry take a look. They laughed and said, “I don’t think this guy knows what he is talking about or who he is talking to.” That stings, but it’s a good dose of humility.

Seth Godin says that the essence of marketing is “people like us do things like this.” But what happens if you *aren’t* one of those people? What happens where the culture and climate of who you are serving isn’t who you intrinsically are?

The first thing is to be patient. Falling in love, if done well, takes time. That’s why the liberal NPR host can marry the Trump-voting Afghanistan veteran, but maybe she wouldn’t think of him initially.

Second thing, is to realize that if you “aren’t” one of them by custom, you can become one of them by love. One of the most essential ways to love is to try to understand. If I try and understand something or someone, I begin to develop an appreciation or love for it.

There are basic ways to develop this love. For example: read the things they are reading, learn why they are doing what they are doing. Tell them you appreciate what they do. Figure out what things they need. Find out what their own “love languages” really are. This doesn’t mean you have to end up as one of them, but just that you have to seek them.

However, we cannot miss three essential points that will aid in understanding:

  • What does the customer want? No, what do they really want.
  • What is good about what they want? Think about it.
  • What is their internal motivation? Why do they want it personally / emotionally.
  • What is their external motivation? What functionally makes them want this.
  • What is their philosophical motivation? Why do they do it on a big picture? Can you speak to that?

If we don’t understand these things, then we cannot respond to their need. However, our understanding will be incomplete unless we have the motivation given by…

The Essential “How.”

The question “how” is a very nice question, because it is a very simple question. When you ask someone a “how” question, they can usually explain without much fuss what they mean.

“How are you?”

“How do you get to the post office?”

“How is your meal?”

“How is your family?”

“How would you deal with X?”

“How did you become a (insert religion?)”

I say the question is “nice” because it doesn’t trigger too many emotions. People aren’t put off by it usually. You can even ask a question about religion, sex, or politics without getting into too much trouble. See how nice it is?

On the other hand, “how” is your absolute ally in the workplace. This is especially true if you are new to a team or new to a small business. The sad fact is that even in places where they “value initiative,” many times what they really value is someone asking the question “how” repeatedly, because the way that you might want to do something may be contrary to the way it has been done. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying it doesn’t stunt creativity, I’m not saying that you should kowtow to everyone, but I am saying that a little bit of diplomacy, exercised by asking a lot more “how,” can go a long way to helping one’s job security (notice, I say job, not career).

Twice in my life I have been fired because I didn’t ask “how,” often enough. I relied on my own creativity to get things done and was summarily handed my hat. On the other hand, side jobs I was working at the same time blossomed in ways I couldn’t have imagined, because, well, they were utterly unconcerned with “how” I was doing what I was doing.

For example: as an English teacher, I had full reign in front of the class room. As a guest in people’s work space, I was given full permission to lead and inspire and guide. It was a terrific time, and I had to create my own “hows,” in response to the request, “teach!”

Some people intrinsically have greater attachment to certain styles, methods, and “how’s.”

How to call a customer.

How to answer the phone.

How to handle a problem.

How to cook a dish.

How to dress.

How to build something.

How to move something.

How to write.

The sad part is they don’t realize this. Instead of saying “oh, hey, I appreciate your approach but next time, could you do it like this _____, because_____.” They just ask you, “how are things going?” without proposing a real solution.

Now in my opinion the real reason that people lose their minds over “how”is because they have lost touch with their “why.” It’s the bigger, deeper question of “why” that has to be answered so confidently, that they are able to see how your ideas and contributions to “how” are also valuable.







New Job: New Blog

On a podcast with the Ziglar corporation, Seth Godin mentioned that he believes everyone should blog. The purpose of a blog used to be a private journal to be read publicly; nowadays it is more of a public statement of what you stand behind publicly.

This is big: what you publish has to be what you stand for and be called to account for. 

If that thought perilizes you, then perhaps that is an excellent indication that you might not have everything figured out about a given topic. For example, many political conversations end up being a source of bickering over facts rather than actually discussing models of policy. If the “truth” is something that is important to you, then the current political milieu is a sticky mess that needs help. 

However, you may still have a number of ideas to write and contribute to the world. It’s become a bit of a trope that heating and air professionals ought to have a blog, because others trust heating and air guys who share the tricks of the trade more than those who play close to the vest. In addition, those who blog daily (if even just biweekly) will be better professionals at whatever they are working on after one year of practicing their craft. 

With that, I want to introduce my new position as a commercial property manager — meaning that I will be managing tenants and buildings for businesses, and not residences. That means the new insights I will be bringing to this blog on account of that position, perhaps I will even start a new blog based on these experiences.

Since I see myself as a marketer, I am going to focus heavily on the marketing aspects of property management. In particular, the role of this position is not simply to keep the a/c running and the pipes unclogged. Yes, it is primarily about maintaining an investment for a landlord, but the really fun part is that it is about helping small businesses become more successful. That means I get to become a local business geek, learning new and different ways of modeling and running companies to be successful based on their location and physical environment. I may not know everything about building mechanical systems, but I do know how the right systems help a tenant become more successful, comfortable, etc.

Keep your Keys from Getting Locked Out

Getting locked out is a common experience, and some of us are more likely to have this happen than others. When you get locked out of your home, usually you have a spare somewhere, in your car, under a plant, or wherever. However, your office space is usually managed by a property management company and so you call them.

For repeat offenders, often the solution is to find another tenant in the building whom you can trust and giving them a copy of your key. This usually works, especially in smaller communities. No amount of lecturing or reminding will actually help someone change their behavior.

However, one thing will help not only repeat offenders but everyone: change the design of your door locking system. Often electronic systems are prohibitively expensive, so we don’t invest in them; however when it comes time to upgrade our door knobs, we have a great, relatively simple opportunity:

Remove the lock from the turning handle, and only have dead-bolt locks.

This way you have to take your keys out of the inside door in order to lock it if you need to close up shop temporarily. In addition, the door stays unlocked, otherwise it provides a slightly ugly reminder that you haven’t fully unlocked it, on account of a dead bolt sticking out. In addition, you can still operate the door with the natural feel, because of the regular door knob, sans lock. 

Simple. And it works. 

Broken Windows for Marketers

I’m not talking about when your Microsoft software goes down, I am referring to a theory developed in the 1970’s by George Kelling and James Wilson that is somewhat controversial but can be extraordinarily powerful in identifying big time wasters and losses in reputation and money.

The theory is designed to reduce crime, bring big criminals to justice, and to improve the quality of a neighborhood by involving neighbors. It goes like this:

  1. A broken window (or graffiti, or any other blemish) is about 10 times more likely to occur on a building that already has a broken window than one that has all its windows in good order. Lesson: keep your windows in good order.
  2. Those who commit small acts of vandalism aren’t “big  time” criminals, but almost always know those criminals. Lesson: follow down troublemakers.
  3. By heavily prosecuting small crimes, you can almost always get to the bigger criminals in exchange for a clean criminal record.  Lesson: fight back.
  4. The community is essential in policing themselves, which means police need to have strong relationships with their local community in order to police effectively. Vested community members can often identify those who are committing crimes better than anyone else.Lesson: know your community.

As a marketer I take away the following lessons from this theory. First, the time we spend in keeping a good reputation is very worthwhile. 

Tips for marketers form Step 1) Keep your windows in good order

Part of this means keeping our appearance in pristine condition. A spelling error may make a big difference, and anything glaringly wrong that isn’t fixed immediately is equivalent to a big broken window. Too much work, you say? Simplify, simplify, simplify. If you can’t keep your online space immaculate, then you are trying to do too much in order to effectively market.

On a product marketing level this means keeping your physical location “on brand.” Anything that is not “on brand” is like a big broken window. Commercial cleaning products in the bathroom of an “organic only” grocery store is not on brand. Neither is having graphic novels for reading in the waiting room at a lawyer’s office (I get that there are exceptions). The bathrooms in a greasy spoon only need be acceptable, but at a posh restaurant they need to be brilliant. And if you are the super hip, heavy-rustic designed restaurant Ned Ludd in Portland, they need to look like this

Also, invest in maintenance. I guarantee if your service is clean, well maintained, and looks professional–no matter the price point–you will have more loyal, happy and repeat customers.

Tips for Step 2) Follow down troublemakers

Now, outside of our own space, we also need to do our best to clear up graffiti about us. This could mean on Yelp, Amazon, etc. we need to be very proactive about following up and challenging bad ratings. Sometimes competitors will launch a campaign against us, write false reviews or simply leaving a bogus post on some site, because they were mad that we didn’t have oranges even though we were an apple orchard.

 Now, there may be something to their anger, in which case it is best to help fix the problem. However, they may be off base. Still we can look at our messaging, and try to understand where that consumer might have become confused. Chain restaurants usually do a great job clearing up confusion through their branding, advertising, and graphic design. Others, not so much. What does “cracker barrel” sell anyway?  This emphasizes the importance of a “log line.” That’s the 1-2 sentence summary of a movie that you see. That helps cut the confusion.

Finally, these small hits are not to be taken too personally. They are more like someone dumping their trash in your yard. Unpleasant, annoying, gross, but not going to make me change what I’m doing. I will just ask them to clean it up, or I’ll have it cleaned up. And above all, no one has the right to treat you with disrespect. You don’t have the right to lash out at them, but if they are disrespecting you, they are not interested in being your customer. Diplomatically say, “we will miss you!”

However, it is absolutely VITAL that you take care of these complaints as soon as humanly possible!! Make sure you have all the alerts set up for anything less than a 4 star review on all the major websites that come to YOUR attention, or your marketing team’s attention.

Tips from Step 3) Fight back

However, if there is a systematic attack on your business by groups of people who hate you for one reason or another, then it is extremely important to prosecute them and hard. I would honestly consult a lawyer, and do whatever was necessary to find who they were and to determine if there was any link to one core person / business. Now, I’m not saying this is the case, but what if there were a local coffee shop that was targeting a local Starbucks branch and leaving nasty reviews everywhere imaginable. If I’m Starbucks, I’m taking that very seriously.

Now, if your lawyer says you have no legal basis, then I would actually treat the attacker as I would treat any bully: punch them in the face (metaphorically only! Don’t go to jail!). Do everything you legally can to publicize what they are doing, to make known that they are disingenuous and to launch a full social media war against them. So long as it’s legal and only so long as they are being a genuine bully. NB: Americans love underdogs. Always be the underdog.

Many companies respond to complaints on Twitter. Make sure you take the time to get to know your twitter followers, treat them as real human beings, and if you resolve a complaint or help them in a big way, offer an inbound way to help you, i.e. subscribe to a newsletter, get deals, review your customer service, etc. If the process is smooth (vital), then it will have a great impact.

Tips from Step 4) Use your community.

When you get to be a big company like Apple you have users magically appear who have drunk the Apple KoolAid and are ready to fight tooth and nail for the superiority of Apple products. Also, you have people in the support forums that are exceptionally willing to help report others, to help calm others down, and to help solve problems. is a marketplace full of people who have a VERY particular set of ideas about what Starbucks *should* be.

Starbucks has an unwritten obligation to these active community members; they are obliged to care for them and listen to them. They are obliged to know them, to be of as much assistance as possible and treat them as (virtual) VIP’s. That’s because they are very important people to the brand. Rewarding the community around your business is hugely important, because it keeps it going and helps people feel as they they are part of something bigger, a deeper more intensely felt experience than just an average customer.

If your business doesn’t have a community, consider the ways in which it can be a good neighbor to those around it. What small acts of kindness to the employees or to the other customers can it perform. What additional beauty can it add to the area in plant life or landscaping. What acts of good will can it perform both locally and within the region. If online, what cause can you contribute to that your customers will care about?

Well, there it is, just a few ideas for how you can prevent vandalism to your business and know that it’s well worth the investment to keep sales moving and your company in tip-top shape.

The Re-integration of Social Life

I’m going to depart from marketing for just a minute.

In northwestern Indiana I have to drive everywhere. The target is too far away from the Chipotle to walk, even though you go through you go to the same turn signal to get there. Walking from one end of Meijer to the other could qualify you for a triathlon. There are no schools, churches, parks, pedestrian walkways, or restaurants in sight that you wouldn’t need to drive to, and everyone has their own individual home that they spend endless hours maintaining, without having nearly enough neighbors or family members nearby to admire it. Public transportation is non-existent because the density doesn’t warrant a direct train line to Chicago. There is very little to “do” for young people except spend money at restaurants. Ultimately, there is no real sense of “place.”

This bleak picture is what is and has occurred in America and elsewhere, and is costing us more than any amount of prosperity could otherwise buy. This design of our cities has caused us to be less integrated with our neighbors and friends. We have culturally “disintegrated.” We are now more “segregated” from one another, not based on race (though that is still there), but based on our own individual bubbles. Making this worse, the few places that still hold the possibility of sponsoring this kind of growth (usually labeled “new urbanism”) are extraordinarily expensive and unattainable for most families: precisely the people who stand to benefit most from an urban environment.

I want to develop a greater awareness of the cost of this design has on our world. It’s not “just” the car, suburbs, etc, but each of these are symptoms that make the sickness greater. Consider this: what is the difference between a house and a home? To me, a “home” is more than just fixtures and furniture, it’s how a family integrates itself with the greater society around it.

The prognosis I propose is going to depend on whether or not we place a priority on the family. This means that our decisions have to be for what is best not for individuals, but for families, making it easier to raise them up in a more effective way. Asking “what is good for the family?” provides the criteria for making good decisions, and also helps us prioritize the most important questions, not merely the questions of special interest groups.I believe it is by a preferential option for the family that we will begin to re-integrate as a society.

As far as “how” to do this, I believe the answer has to be public, private, and public/private. Public, meaning the funds we use to construct new roads has to take into consideration how to create truly livable, walkable spaces at a human scale. This includes transportation and services. Private, meaning private organizations (churches, businesses) can be invaluable business partners for developing this. And public/private, meaning that when the public cooperates well with private enterprise, both stand to benefit tremendously; however, the private ought not to benefit over and above the public.

What this might teach me as a marketer is that choosing the “family option” is not always the most popular, might not spark the most joy inside someone, and might not be the best “business” decision, but it is the right decision. People are drawn to light, and providing an image for how happy a family may become by using our product or service  is perhaps the beginning for many of our products and services. That’s what Disney does in its marketing, and it seems to be working out for them.