Before you Learn, Learn How to Learn

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Background

There aren’t a lot of long-form readers today in my network. If you are, hit me up on Twitter. You may be someone who does in fact read magazines and longer fiction, or non-fiction books; but, most are reading micro-content around the Internet. Where and how you put your attention has transformed over the last decade and I’m no different. I had just stopped reading long form content the way I used to.

Last year I had the good fortune of watching the Warren Buffett – HBO Documentary and after a few conversations with friends learned that the best advice he has for people (which he acknowledges most people will never follow) is to “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

 

A number of things culminated toward the end of last year that caused me to sit down and create a plan for increasing my power of knowledge in key areas of importance in my life. Then, last October my good friend Nate Ver Berg dropped Gary Hoover’s The Lifetime Learner’s Guide to Reading and Learning on my desk. I want to share what I learned.

The objective is simple: Increase my power of knowledge in key areas of importance in my life.

The purpose is absolutely clear:

  • I believe it will help me get smarter, faster
  • I can incorporate upgraded beliefs through my practice of reading
  • It is another fast way for me to obtain knowledge
  • Provides mental stimulation
  • Will reduce stress
  • Keep brain sharp
  • Slower memory decline
  • Improve sleep
  • Expand vocabulary
  • Improve memory
  • Improve analytical skills
  • Improve focus and concentration
  • Improve writing skill

My Key Takeaways for reading non-fiction books

  1. It was important to me to have a very specific objective around why I wanted to read.
  2. I now spend less than five minutes gathering key data from the cover flaps, bio, charts/graphs, publisher, edition. I am surprised as how much context I build before I read the first page. Additionally, I will flow through the Table of Contents and ask questions like: what do they mean? is this surprising? does this resonate? If I’m intrigued I’ll even dive into a chapter that stands out to me. I’ll then read the first several pages to get the gist of the book.
  3. Within the first 15-60 minutes I have a good sense of the author’s POV, background and basic take. I’ll also understand the author’s message, key points for me to understand, subject areas within the broader topi area s/he focuses on.
  4. Now it’s time to head to the index (this part is much easier in physical books, but doable on Kindle books as well). I’ll peruse through the index and flip to pages to understand how certain topics relate to the book flipping around the the specific pages the topic leads me to. I’m often surprised to see people, places, words in the index which I didn’t/couldn’t appreciate were related to a subject matter. This expands the knowledge tree.

The Five Ways We Learn

Hoover’s take some time in the book the outline the five ways we learn: study (making notes, asking questions, arguing), conversation (talk to everyone, ask deep questions, probe, LISTEN), observation (pay attention, watch people), experimentation (learn by doing, creative tests) and thinking (make time for thinking – draw, make outlines, sketch, play with ideas, dream up opposite ideas and assumptions, ask “why” about everything, put myself in their shoes).

The biggest takeaway from it all is that we are strongest when we do the combination of reading and learning AND allow information to flow. The latter involved emailing insights and discoveries to friends; explore with others. For me, the writing started almost immediately (in a notebook). I’m not using this blog to allow for the flow of information.

The biggest takeaway from it all is that we are strongest when we do the combination of reading and learning AND allow information to flow.

Conclusion

The most important part of reading is selection. How actively you read matters, but what you choose in the first place matters more. Two people in my network who are voracious readers are Kesav Mohan and Sutha Kamal. They will also openly admit that they are currently going through more books than they should be. I believe they have a good pulse on great books in particular categories and I’m grateful for their support on my journey to increase knowledge.

There are two ways I see to approaching reading: to try to understand the author’s intent, or to attempt to gleam what’s important to to me. I choose the latter.

I’ve now built a solid list of books in the areas of biography, love relationship, parenting, and finance. That’s what important right now and I’m excited to share what I read.

This time of year I often hear people sharing how much they will read in the coming year. Whether you are, or are not someone will read a lot in 2018 I hope you will take some time to think about how you will learn. Wishing you all the best in your quest for knowledge!

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Gratitude 2.0: Going deeper in 2018

I’m looking forward to sharing thoughts on this blog related to personal growth, self development and general growth mindset.

Background

Gratitude to me is my being thankful and showing appreciation. I’ve found through my practice of gratitude has slightly shifted the way I see the world for the better. It’s allowed me to slowly remove expectation and replace it with appreciation. In 2017, I spent time on creating and maintaining a daily gratitude practice. With the amount of momentum that has now been built there’s no going back, only going deeper!

There were a handful of activities that comprised most of my effort and energy to build a foundational gratitude practice in 2017. In no order they were:

  • First activity upon waking: Write 3 things am I grateful for this morning
  • Write for two minutes about a joyful moment that occurred within the last 24 hours
  • Shared my gratitude with people in my life (some times to people from my past that I no longer engage with)
  • Specifically show gratitude for the “nothingness” from which everything is born*

These were often documented in a journal, on my Evernote/Notes app in my phone, or said out loud.

*this one is a big deal for me

The net results of my Gratitude 2017 practice

Since I can remember, I’ve been extremely optimistic and positive about my life and the world. That being said, I’ve always lived with a growth mindset, and know there is room for improvement.

What I witnessed through the year were slight shifts in belief for the positive: I believe no one has wronged, or can wrong me; I’m 100% grateful to be alive – what a miracle, I already made it.

Going deeper in 2018

I will continue to practice what I started in 2017 and find ways in 2018 to share with those around me. In general I will deploy gratitude to a greater degree this year: sharing specific things I’m grateful for publicly will likely be part of the plan.

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Commission plans, incentive and getting desires sales results

The behavior of sales professionals is easy to shift despite the challenges CEOs face about the lack of revenue coming from the sales organization.

Sometimes I see sales incentive plans that simply outline how much commission a rep will get based on goal. That can work – in mature businesses – especially if the numbers are being met and exceeded consistently. But what about for smaller businesses when the the same type of plan(s) across reps aren’t getting the job done?

Incentive-based sales teams are the second easiest team of any in the organization (first being the leadership/executive team) to shift behavior.

It all comes down the incentive plan. If you, as the CEO aren’t getting the desired results from your sales organization then add to, or change the commission plan.

You may want more top line dollars each month/quarter, you may want a certain amount of booked profit on each transaction, you may want your team to show certain behavior – calls, emails, social activity, face-to-face meetings.

The data that comes back from this is incredible. The fact that other elements below the sales booking number are being measured can provide guidance around what is happening.

Whatever you are looking to have your team do, provide an incentive. You cannot assume that everyone will know what to do.

The incentive will drive behavior.

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Leveraging research time to increase sales effectiveness

My objective with this post is to help you, the sales professionals, increase your productivity in the final days of 2017.

You want to know what to do next, but it’s hard to tell. Should I send off quick follow up notes? Are the opportunities I’m spending time on worth it? Should I just disqualify some of them because people aren’t getting back to me? What should I be doing? Frustrating, I get it. I’m here to answer what you should do to effectively close out 2017 and set yourself up for success Q1 2018.

The ideal case at this moment is that you know the buyer and the timing is right. Please, please work on those opportunities right now. Meet face to face, call, follow up with that email and put a bow on those deals that fit the criteria. Get them closed!


“The ideal case at this moment is that you know the buyer and the timing is right…put a bow on those deals that fit the criteria. Get them closed!”


Once the above tasks are done, let’s take a step back and get ready for Q1 with a strong start. The next place to start is the folks who you’ve been trying to get a hold of for more than three months and you’ve heard nothing. Lastly, you want to focus on the newer deals. We will bucket these two groups together.

Allow me to set the stage:

I’m sitting here looking at my pipeline of opportunities and leads. Ideally everyone of my main contacts is the buyer in the specific company and I can get everyone of them on the phone and the timing would be right for them to buy. They would also know how I can help and believe I care and understand their problems and goals. This, however, is not the case.

Given in some cases I don’t know them well or they haven’t gotten back to me, what can I do?

  1. Above I addressed closing what you can. However big or small, just close the few opportunities that are almost there and you believe it’s realistic to close them.
  2. Back up, take a breath and study. Study your pipeline – the industries, companies and the people. If you know it’s too much of a stretch and you’ve given it your all disqualify. Here’s what we’re doing to do with the rest.

Landscape

As of today, here are the top FREE mobile communication apps on iOS app store (you’ll find roughly the same on Android and Windows):

Top Charts – Free Apps on iOS as of 12/14/17
  • YouTube – video
  • Messenger – written/video/photos
  • Instagram – photo/short form video/written
  • Snapchat – photo/short form video
  • Facebook – video/photo/written
  • GMAIL – written

With the rise of podcasts – Spotify, SoundCloud and iTunes are contenders for attention. Email and phone are getting less effective, but still in play. Another item to now is that many professionals have LinkedIn and Twitter profiles (some more active than others).

The objective for most sales reps for SaaS companies is to get the buyer on the phone and keep their attention. For some of their deals they may also be focused on getting FaceTime.

With all this context I would stress to if you are relying mostly on automation tools and email, you’re not being resourceful. In fact, you’re straight up being lazy. Yes, there is a case to be made that marketing “should do this”. If you’re going to put your success in someone else’s hands then don’t read further.

I am mentioning the top apps so you are clear that the attention of the people you are looking to reach goes well beyond their inbox. The question you should be asking yourself is: where do I need to be to capture the attention?

Research

Let’s start with LinkedIn. Powerful tool. We’ll begin with the search feature.

LinkedIn – Search name of individual

Here, I simply enter the prospect, or buyer’s name. For this example I’m going to use Robi Ganguly, Co-founder and CEO of Apptentive in Seattle, Washington as the person to research. He needs my help! Let’s take a look at the profile to see if there’s anything of value for me to learn more:

LinkedIn – Key areas of the individual’s profile to examine for research

I’ve highlighted a number of areas where I can focus. Quickly I learn that Robi values relationships. He even writes, “truly meaningful and deep connections that are built over time…investment.” In the top right I see a link to “Show More”: a personal blog or Twitter handle can be of value to me as I take a few minutes to learn about him. I notice the profile has the university listed. Do I know anyone who also went to Pomona College? We happen to not only be connected, but have 107 mutual connections. It just so happens that “Show More” has a personal blog and a Twitter profile. Let’s see what more I can learn from Twitter.

Twitter – Key areas of individual’s profile for research

I like to immediately jump to the bio. Robi tells me he likes to build things. Building things take time, require tinkering, require thoughtfulness. I can assume Robi will have these kinds of characteristics. He’s also passionate about giving customers a voice – quite possibly a strong mission attached to Apptentive. Here, I also learn that he’s active on Twitter with 17.4K tweets and 3.5K likes. We share some followers and the Photos and video tell me he may also be on Instagram, Facebook and/or Snapchat (all top downloaded apps).

In addition to this, I found a great blog post that Appentive turned into a 55-page E-book and through Google News search found a number of articles written about Robi and his company including the last funding round.

That took me less than 7 minutes. Now, I’ll spend another 5 minutes thinking through how to take the first steps.

To summarize: I know Robi loves relationships and cares about investing in them. I know he loves to build things. He’s also running a startup with about 50-100 people (learned from LinkedIn) so he’s not going to just answer any email or phone call.

Some questions to be thinking about when researching individuals:

  • How well do I know the individual and their role?
  • Do I understand their problems?
  • Has my company solved any problems for people in similar roles?
  • What’s the best way to build rapport with this individual that will allow me to connect with them?

Action

I’ll now spend 20-30 minutes brainstorming what I could do to capture Robi’s attention in Q1 of 2018.

  1. Craft a compelling offer email that shows I understand the challenges of building and growing a startup
  2. Send Robi a holiday gift that could be a puzzle or game requiring building something – maybe a Seahawks puzzle
  3. Start engaging with his Twitter posts that I can genuinely add value to

Rinse and repeat the research steps from LinkedIn. If you reach a dead end use the search features of Google, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc. There are so many tools at your disposal. Take advantage of them!

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Guidelines for selling a new product efficiently

The area often critical to a business’ success is selling new products. There are reasons that new product sales are challenging for many companies. From what I’ve observed, the biggest single cause of poor results early in a product’s life can be explained in terms of Features, Advantages and Benefits.

When a product is new, how does product marketing typically communicate it to the sales force? From what I frequently see, the marketing people call the sellers together and tell them about what an exciting new product is coming. They explain all the Features and Advantages – all the “bells and whistles”. And then what do the sales people do? They become excited about the product and go out to sell it. And when they are in front of a customer, how do they behave? They communicate the product in exactly the same way it was communicated to them. Instead of asking questions to develop needs, they jump in with all the exciting Features and Advantages that the new product possesses.

Instead of showing the sellers the product and describing its Features and Advantages, we don’t even let them see what we are selling. It won’t be important. What is important is that this product is designed to solve problems for the customers who use it. We then list the problems the product solves and the needs it meets. Finally, we understand how the Insight product AND a list of questions that can help us uncover those problems.

We can create a list of questions they will ask when working with a prospect.

By launching the product in terms of the problems it solves and how to probe for them, we will shift the seller’s attention away from the product and back to the customer needs.

Instead of giving Features and Advantages when we announce the product, let’s concentrate on explaining the problems the product solves and on thinking up the questions that will uncover and develop these problems. From what I’ve seen, this speeds the growth curve of new-product sales.

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First post!

Okay! The last few years have been super fascinating for me. I’ve been learning a lot, testing a lot and even writing a lot more – mostly offline, but online too. So here’s the first post of many more to come.

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