Monthly Archives: November 2007

Ninth Million Dollar Consulting™ College Graduating Class

On Friday we completed the ninth Million Dollar Consulting™ College at a spectacular site in Newport, the Inn at Castle Hill. Five countries were represented. Please contact me if you’d like to partake of this exceptional developmental experience, the most intensive consulting marketing and methodology improvement in the world. The next Graduate School, for College grads, is scheduled for April at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida.

Graduating Class of the Ninth Million Dollar Consulting College

Left to right: David Goldsmith, Phil Symchych (Canada), Pam Harper (second
participation), Richard Martin (Canada, second participation), Curtis
Bingham, Rob Nixon (Australia), Stuart Cross (United Kingdom), Katherine
Pottruff (Canada), Ross Mitchel (second participation), Drew Stevens, Guido
Quelle, Ph.D. (Germany), John Weathington, Michael Couch. Not pictured:
Katherine Radeka (second participation). Kneeling: Alan Weiss, Ph.D.

Scenes of the Consulting College Campus:

And …

College Campus Shuttle

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Wrong Site Surgery

Rhode Island Hospital recently had an incident of a surgeon operating on the wrong side of a patent’s head. That’s correct. Brain surgery, room full of people, medical experts, largest hospital in the state, one of the largest in New England. Wrong side of the head.

Oh, yes: Did I mention it was the third time in recent history? Yeah. Three times, wrong side of the head. But it’s not as bad as you think. It was, after all, three different patients.

I believe there are only two sides to any given head, so the law of averages would have you right half the time. Rhode Island Hospital, with its crack medical teams, is beating those percentages, so credit where credit is due. They’re right more than they’re wrong. Isn’t that good enough?

Of just slightly lesser note is the fact that they’ve worked on wrong arms, legs, and organs over the past decade. But give them a break, I don’t believe they’ve ever chosen the wrong patient altogether, or given someone a scalpel who wasn’t a doctor.

At least, I don’t think so.

I mention this to you not merely as an existential comedy, but also to suggest that the clients and prospects with whom you are dealing are shockingly human. I advocate that you see yourself as a peer of the buyer, and I’m telling you that this is not difficult. Almost all of the obstacle resides inside your head (I won’t venture a side, but I’m sure I’d be half right).

We are dealing with our human brethren (sorry, I don’t know the feminine form of that) who have the same emotions, doubts, politics, flaws, uncertainties, and conflicts as the rest of us. They sometimes make gravely wrong decisions about people, finances, technology, competition, markets, and so forth. Egregiously wrong.

Which is why so much of my lucrative consulting has been based on common sense. Why do you believe that? What is the evidence? What behavior are you seeking? Are you setting the example?

Have you asked the patient which side of the head has previously been discussed? Have you asked the nurse who was caring for the patient? Have you read the chart before picking up the drill? Did you brush up on “Procedures for head surgery 101” before stopping by the operating room?

Okay, good. That will be $100,000.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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“Speaking” of Ethics

The National Speakers Association is the predominant trade association for professional speakers. Its membership is about 3,500 and it draws about half of those people to its annual convention.

It maintains a Hall of Fame, of which I’m skeptical, since I’ve been inducted into it.

Recently, their monthly magazine, Speaker, carried the anonymous comments of members on the subject of whether a speaker should charge a client for expense reimbursement when, in fact, the speaker didn’t incur the cost (frequent flyer points were used, or alternative transportation was used that was less expensive).

A few of these anonymous contributors actually concluded that it’s fine to use “hard earned frequent flyer miles” which are “cash equivalents” and charge the client for coach air fare. (Since I fly first class, as do most top-flight speakers, and the client reimburses us for that service, I’m suspecting these unnamed speakers are not exactly raking in the big bucks.)

I wrote a letter to Speaker, of course, but the chair of the editorial board indicates that she is not going to print it (“We have no letters column”!!) so I want to make my righteous indignation known herein.

Charging for expenses not incurred is unethical and fraudulent. That applies to speakers, consultants, coaches, facilitators, and hot dog vendors. Your expense account should not be a profit center. You deserve to be “made whole” for expenses, but that’s it. (Why on earth you’d use frequent flyer miles for a business trip is beyond me, unless it is specifically to try to make money from the client’s expense reimbursement. The entire notion stinks to high heaven.)

Frequent flyer points are not “hard earned,” they’re obtained while flying on somebody else’s expense report. Nor are they “cash equivalents”—if you believe that, try to make your car payment with them.

This is as bad as the consultants I used to know who would visit two clients on one trip and charge both full expenses instead of pro rating them. That’s not a grey area or subject to debate. That’s, ah, cheating.

That’s unethical. Want a test? Would you like someone to do that to you? Would you like your carpenter to charge for a better grade of wood than actually being used, or a subcontractor to charge for the local Marriott when he’s actually staying with his brother nearby?

We need to stop messing around and pretending that just anyone’s opinion constitutes a legitimate set of values. And if you don’t put your name on it, I’m not interested in your opinion at all. Reminds me of the occasional crank call I get after I speak from some coward who is threatened by my content or style. Stand up in the session so I can demonstrate how dumb you are.

If your client isn’t paying for first class air fare, maybe you need be put your energy into being a smarter marketer. And if the client is paying first class and you’re flying in coach or for free and collecting the difference, maybe you need to have a six-year-old explain to you the difference between right and wrong.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from the Weiss Family

Maria, Koufax, Buddy, and I wish you the best of the holidays!

Click Here

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The Big Brown Mess

I come to you writing of injustice and greed and monotone, of stark adherence to rules and of people bearing dog biscuits.

I talk, of course, of UPS—the United Parcel Service—and their unknown scam.

UPS bills small businesses by the shipment. Ship four times in two weeks and you’re likely to receive four bills. Unlike Fedex, they do not bill monthly, accumulating shipments, unless….

….unless you agree to a monthly billing “deposit.” If you send UPS $100 they will do what Fedex does for free and bill you monthly, as though they are an adult business and you are not a criminal.

That $100 in NEVER refunded, so long as you ship with them and want monthly billing. Not if you’re a good customer; not if you never miss a payment; not if you polish the ugly brown van. Never. They keep it for no good reason.

What does this mean? Let’s assume that there are 200,000 small businesses in the U.S. which choose to do this so as not to have UPS bills rained down every three days. That, my friends, comes to $20 million, which you and I would at least call a “float” and which many in other professions would call “vigorish.” A modest 2% on that return, assuming arch conservatism, is $400,000 a year, but more aggressive but still sound investment would easily yield $1 million. And THAT’S if my numbers are right. UPS won’t say, but that 200,000 number could be a million.

But that’s not all, as they say on the infomercials. I am guessing that most of this is unclaimed. That is, the $100 is never returned because: small business go out of business; small business owners forget about it; the business is sold to someone else who doesn’t realize the deposit was made. You get the picture.

If even half of this is kept permanently, and is refreshed by new small business clients each year, and that interest rate continues, and you annualize the return, well, we’re talking hundreds of millions over a decade or so, because UPS demands $100 from small business owners. This makes shipping seem secondary, doesn’t it?

This is as big a scam as the fake “yellow pages” that send a “free” check to cash which obligates you to pay for worthless listings, or guys in Nigeria who want us to take millions off their hands. And from a pillar of American business respectability!

I asked to speak to the general counsel at UPS to get their side and report it here. I was told by an account representative—listen to this response—“Our general counsel and our attorneys never talk to customers. If your lawyer writes us, we will respond in writing.”

In other words, the hell with you, spend $350 for a letter to contest your $100, we’re waiting here to respond, but laughing all the way to the bank in the meantime.

Who on earth in senior management would tolerate and support these kinds of confiscatory, unethical policies? Oh, yes, I asked if someone were to cancel their service if UPS refunded the money as a matter of course. “If they ask,” I was told.

It certainly is the big brown, because it’s reminding me of something the dogs leave behind.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Training Follies

In the current issue of Training Magazine there is an article on measuring results. One of the “sage” pieces of advice from the training experts: Don’t even attempt to measure return on investment. It’s apparently a very bad idea.

Is there any more evidence needed about why training and human resources are so lamentable, and the training vendors are so superficial?

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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The Blue Jay

I’m having breakfast looking out at the bird feeder, which I refilled yesterday. The squirrels have not yet emptied the “squirrel proof” feeder, largely because Koufax has been on a tear out there.

Surprisingly, a Blue Jay lands on the feeder and is industriously pulling out seed. Blue Jays are normally ground feeders, and it’s odd to see this large, loud bird balancing on the feeder. I suspect he’d toss a squirrel off himself if he had to. These are aggressive, opportunistic birds.

Yet, the Jay is flexible. For whatever reasons (probably because the absence of squirrels means that no food has spilled on the ground), he has decided to use the feeder and, despite his infrequent visits, has created a nice technique, bending his body to reach the access meant for smaller birds at another level. He has improvised nicely.

He reminds me of the trouble with a lot of consultants, who have a sales process (or team building program, or decision making methodology, or a strategy retreat regimen) which is as rigid as an I-beam. They “customize” by changing the name on the materials or providing a custom binder, but they are essentially pounding everything in sight with the same hammer.

Virtually ever consultant I’ve ever encountered actually has a larger “playing field” than he or she acknowledges. The larger your buyer “universe” the more opportunity to make a sale. And that universe includes both number of buyers and appealing to any single buyer’s total gamut of needs (or your ability to create need).

If you are an expert, for example, in communications skills, it seems to me you are able to consult in these areas: listening effectively, media relations, branding, conflict resolution, negotiating, customer relations, union relations, employee morale, marketing techniques, shareholder inclusion, and so on. But if the only tool in your toolkit is a three-day communications audit or a workshop on presentation skills, then you might as well get a day job, because you’re not going to become wealthy in this profession.

If there’s nothing on the ground, fly up to the feeder. If there’s nothing there, try a different yard. If there’s nothing there, steal something from a squirrel. You’ll find the squirrels in human resources.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Ah, the PC of It All*

(* Pain in the Coccyx)

I’ve just heard that a group of prospective Santa Clauses in a training program have been told that “Ho, ho, ho” is henceforth out of bounds because some women might be offended by the connection with a slang and derogatory term for women in street slang. The Santas were advised to say, “Ha, ha, ha” instead. You can’t make this up. This never would have occurred to me in a million years. You have to be actively searching this stuff out, with a zealotry that makes fundraisers seem introverted.

To the credit of several pseudo-Santas, they quit the training program. To that I say, “Ho, ho, ho!”

PC has gone beyond the satirical curve. I heard a “diversity trainer” address a group by abruptly beginning with the fact that she and her husband were “child free,” which was a “more sensitive term” for her than “childless.” Of course, like all politically correct gurus, she actually had a private agenda, protecting her own sensitivities and poor self-esteem, since the phrase she used implied those of us who were parents were “child-burdened” (or “imprisoned”?).

I’ve sat in sessions and heard someone with a straight face tell me that “service covers” was a better term than “manhole covers.” Why is that? Are women upset that ugly utility devices that are run over by semi-trailers and urinated on by dogs are not named after them as well? Where does this nonsense end? Naval ships are always addressed in the feminine: “She was a great ship, fighting to the end.” Do we say, “He or she was a great ship?” Somehow, the magic isn’t there.

We can’t name storms solely after women any more, on the grounds that this habit set back female opportunity in the workplace and offended at least six people in downtown New York. I’ve been advised that “firefighter” and not “fireman” is the only acceptable formulation, yet I’ve also read of senior female military officers who insist on being referred to as “sir.”

Do you recall the school administrator who was fired (and rehired only after a rare, intellectual rebellion) for using the word “niggardly” when the two women to whom he was talking assumed it was a racial slur? (Look it up.) The school board figured it was close enough to a slur (!), and canned him for his insensitivity and broad vocabulary! Since when is intellect a crime, and stupidity a cause for lodging a complaint?

Once, in the halls of a client in which everyone dressed conservatively and alike, I asked someone if he, she, or it could point out the senior vice president of finance. He, she, or it gestured down the hall to two men, trying to distinguish between the tone of the grey suit as they moved, since neither was constantly on the right or left. The individual then attempted to distinguish the tie color.

“One of them is white, and one of them is black,” I deftly pointed out. “Perhaps we could use that as a determinant?” How scared are we of the thought police? Perhaps as scared as we are of the pronoun police.

After speaking for GE one day, I was approached by a woman who said, “I want to compliment you on your inclusiveness. You used male and female pronouns and alternated your references.” Five minutes later, another woman got into my face and claimed, “You listened to male questioners longer than female questioners, and didn’t choose as many females in your question and answer period.”

I can do without both of these women, listening for personal agendas that had nothing to do with my content—and there were another three dozen people present who apparently had not been gender-scarred by my remarks and behavior.

For a while there, an Oakland school board was trying to convince us that “I be” and “he be” (oops, or “she be”) were legitimate speech variations representing a distinct culture. As Bill Cosby points out in his recent book with Alvin Poussaint, “Come on People….,” no aircraft pilot calls in to air traffic control with “Whassup?”

Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, physical appearance, color, religion, origins, and so forth is heinous and wrong. But our outrage is cheapened and degraded by the grievance industry and the victimization marshals who insist that every shrug, moan, and nuance be examined to live up to everyone’s personal approval. At that point, meaningful conversation ceases and fear dampens intent.

If you choose not to have children by natural means or adoption, I respect your decision. But don’t tell me that it’s therefore “better” than my decision by manipulating the language. That makes you seem like you’re over-compensating, if you know what I mean.

We need to treat each other with respect, not a linguistic yardstick. Let’s all rejoice in each other’s company. And let’s stop messing with Santa. He, not she, has done pretty well.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Why Elevator Pitches Never Go Forward, Just Up and Down

(Note: This originally appeared in the current edition (Nov. 2, 2007) of RainToday (http://www.raintoday.comm), for which I am a monthly columnist. I happen to like this one a lot, so I’m reprinting it here.)

Of all the bromides and vacuous bloviation surrounding consulting, “elevator pitch” (or “elevator speech”) is my nails-on-blackboard migraine (with a close second being the horrendous formulation, “I’m going to deliver a training for them”). Elevators, last time I looked, go up and down in their automaton routines, and never move forward.

There is good reason for this.

In 22 years of independent consulting, and two million air miles (of my three million total) during that time, I’ve made exactly one sale on an airplane, and that was for a $12,000 keynote speech. Now, that’s certainly a primary sales route for me, right? I’ve never made a sale through a chance meeting in a hall, or a brief introduction, or a charity social event.

I have, of course, made valuable contacts at these and other opportunities, which turned into meetings, which evolved into trusting relationships, which resulted in business. So, am I being somewhat disingenuous here?

Never. I believe that the business eventuated precisely because I don’t have an elevator pitch. Who on earth wants to hear about someone’s approach to consulting, or team work, or strategy, or opinion of modern business in any confined space? It’s like watching vacation slides trapped in a neighbor’s family room. I keep dreaming, like a dog I suspect, of jumping through the window, relieving myself, and chasing a squirrel. I want to howl at the moon.

Switch shoes

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Most of us can see a “pitch” coming from a hundred paces. The “pitcher” might as well have on a uniform and be winding up sixty feet away. Except, it’s not our job to try to hit the pitch. We can just ignore it or, better still, walk away. Of course, in an elevator, you can’t walk away without trodding on someone’s feet, so you just press a button and get off at the wrong floor, the delay being less irksome than the pitcher.

However, if we’re asked about us, we tend to warm up only slightly less rapidly than Georgia asphalt at the beginning of an August morning. What did I think of that movie? What’s my opinion of that book? How do I think the election will affect the business? Well, that’s a great question you’ve asked. Walk with me for a while when we get off. You are going to 48, right?

If you believe for an instant that this is a relationship business (and not “a training”!) then the objective is to build relationships. And you don’t build relationships with buyers by talking about what you do and how you do it. You build them by getting the buyer to talk about what’s important to him or her, and why. Ironically, all that time and effort spent on a sales “pitch” is wasted. All the seminars, all the “guru” insights, all the nonsense is just unnecessary.

What you need is simple: A decent vocabulary and a modest knowledge of current events and social happenings. Some homework about the buyer or company wouldn’t hurt, but neither would they be reasonable for a chance, unanticipated encounter.

No one is as influential as a listener

The ability to initiate a conversation based on an observance (“Do you like that book, I’ve heard conflicting reports”), a chance meeting (“What should we expect for dinner?”), or an introduction (“Are you the person quoted in those news items?”) is far more important than the ability to launch your capabilities statement like some kind of over-extended slingshot.

Then, listening to the response, and asking further questions, you are able to engage in conversation and build a relationship by questioning and listening, appealing to the other person’s self-interest. Let’s not forget the sales model here, which is a series of small “yeses” leading to a meeting, conceptual agreement, a proposal, and so on.

I have news for you. You are not going to make a sale in an elevator, and the probability of even moving to a next step is non-existent if you tell me you’ve built a better mousetrap, created an electronic cat, or have a rat vacuum. But if you are able to discern that I have a rodent problem, you just may be on the right track.

Of course, I’m not going to admit that if you’re simply lurking on the elevator or stalking me in the hall. But if you ask me if I’m aware that there is a rodent hair on my collar, I just may be interested in what you have to say.

© Alan Weiss 2007 All rights reserved.

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The Dog Star: The Case of the Moaning Shepherd

(The Dog Star is a symbol of power, will, and steadfastness of purpose, and exemplifies the One who has succeeded in bridging the lower and higher consciousness. – Astrological Definition)

I had a guest in my home recently and before we left for lunch I released the dogs from the bedroom to go outside for awhile. Koufax stopped briefly near the guest, moaned softly, and headed off, as if he had an appointment elsewhere. When I let them back in, he looked as his dog bed, checked out a toy, moaned, then picked up the toy and trotted upstairs.

Koufax’s moan is a VERY soft “Hmmmmmmmmm…..”

Guest: Did he just moan?
Me: Yes, he’s a Moaning Shepherd.
Guest: What’s a Moaning Shepherd?
Me: (With no idea where I’m going with this.) You see that he’s white, right?
Guest: Yes
Me: That he’s the same color as the sheep he would shepherd?
Guest: Why, yes, I guess he is.
Me: Well, white Shepherds were used by human shepherds who didn’t want their presence known.
Guest: Why would that be?
Me: (Yes, why WOULD that be?) They were West German shepherds on the border of East Germany during the height of the Cold War. Their sheep would often wander through remote valleys into East German territory, where they would be confiscated if found. It was important that the shepherds’ German Shepherd Dogs not be seen, because the East German border patrol used their own Shepherds for guard duty. So, white was a big plus, mixing in with the sheep. The border guards couldn’t immediately tell if the sheep were East German or West German.
Guest: Yes, but the moaning?
Me: Well, if they were to remain unseen and get the sheep back across the border safely, they couldn’t very well bark, right? That would alert the East German Shepherds. So they had to be more subtle.
Guest: And they were taught to moan???
Me: Well, you just heard him, right? I think it may be racial, actually.
Guest: That’s astounding!

Koufax now wanders back into the room and sits a few feet away studying us.

Me: That’s nothing. Watch this. Fushkist! Fushkist!

Koufax turns his head slightly to the side at the sound of this harsh, nonsensical word, wondering what has come over me.

Guest: What did you just tell him?
Me: To turn his head slightly to the side.
Guest: You don’t mean….
Me: Yes, he understands both German and English.

We go to lunch. Koufax goes to sleep.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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