What is the Greatest Risk to Your Business?

When I ask business owners and CEOs what the number one risk to their business is, I hear a variety of answers.

  1. Sales and keeping the pipeline full.
  2. Attracting and retaining key employees.
  3. Security, intellectual property theft, and/or cyber crimes.
  4. The competition coming out with a better, less expensive alternative.

While these are obviously legitimate threats, they also all have one thing in common: they are all controllable risks. There are strategies and tactics to keep a pipeline full and deal flows running. There are many ways to attract and retain superb employees. You can implement security measures to control theft and hacking. And while you can’t control what the competition does, you can control your own company’s product and service innovation.

argosfreeWhat is a very realistic, completely uncontrollable threat? The financial health of your suppliers and customers.

What would happen to your company if a key vendor suddenly went bankrupt? How quickly could you replace them? Would you be able to maintain your own customer relationships if you couldn’t ship a product for days, weeks, or even months?

What would happen to your business if one or two of your key customers stopped paying, or even stopped paying on time? Could you maintain your cash flow? Could you pay your employees? How about payroll taxes? Could you afford your rent?

So what is a business owner, CEO, and/or CFO to do?

Sure, you can run a credit check on any of your key business relationships. The challenge is, typical credit check companies can tell you if a company paid its bills three months ago. What you really need to know is, will a company pay its bills three months from now? There are also online resources like Manta, Buzzfile, and InsideView that provide insight into a company. Yet the financial data is often self-reported, or fairly inaccurate.

A new service, Argos Risk, is a predictive financial health tool that leverages big data to provide insight into a company’s financial health. Using more than 250 data points — from a company’s credit history to customer reviews; from current lawsuits to any executives who may be looking for a new job — Argos Risk puts you in control when it comes to monitoring your key business relationships.

Argos Risk is incredibly simple to set up, and the dashboard is very intuitive and user-friendly. Using a familiar red, yellow, green model, you can instantly see if a financial situation has changed with one of your relationships, and you can click-through and drill down to learn what happened and why. When a company you’re monitoring sees a significant change, Argos Risk will email you, so you can ask the right questions and act quickly.

As a fan of Know More! you can monitor up to three businesses for FREE. Just Click Here to learn more about Argos Risk and sign up for your three free reports. An Argos Risk representative will call you to get you started.

Take control of knowing the financial health of your key business relationships. Now that you Know More!



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How to Build Your Sales Pipeline, Before it Even Exists!

An excellent way to find out what’s going on inside a company — and possibly where a company is headed in terms of new products or markets — is to look at its job postings.

For example, if a company is advertising for an engineer who speaks Chinese, it’s a pretty good bet the company is entering the China market. If the company is looking for a sales representative or marketing person with specific industry experience, you can safely guess that the company is going to start selling its products and services to that market.

One of the most comprehensive online information sources for job postings is Indeed (www.indeed.com) because it’s actually a meta-search engine of job posting sites. Indeed produces search results by pulling from all the major job search engines such as Monster.com and Career Builder and directly from company job postings.

Indeed helps you look into the future of what a company will be doing, the people it will be hiring, etc. Then you can identify the challenges the company may soon face (or is now facing) and determine if your company has a solution to solve those problems. In a sense, Indeed helps you build a sales pipeline before the pipeline even exists!

IndeedStart by entering the company name into the search form. You can also include a state, city, or zip code.

If you receive several search results — and you will for larger companies —  you may want to conduct a second search and this time either use Indeed’s Advanced Search, or use Boolean logic and craft a more complex search query. For example, if you want to know what skills a company is looking for in its marketing people, you would enter the name of the company (use quotes for multiple word companies) plus the word marketing.

You can also use Indeed to find companies that have a particular piece of equipment or that use a specific service or technology (HINT: use this for building prospect lists). For example, if your company specializes in working with firms that use Salesforce as their customer relationship management software, enter Salesforce in the main search form and then enter a geographic area. Your results will show companies that mention Salesforce as a job requirement.

Indeed also offers the ability to register for email alerts. Following a search, just enter your email address in the “Get New Jobs By Email” form and any time Indeed finds a new job posting featuring your terms, you’ll receive it via email.

If you’re a salesperson, set up an Indeed email alert on your most important prospects. Based on the type of individual the company is looking for, you can tailor your sales calls and presentations. Set up an automatic lead generator by entering the product, technology, or service that your company enhances and Indeed will email you when a company is looking for someone with knowledge of that product or service. Now you can add that company to your valid prospect list.

If you’re an account manager, set up an Indeed email alert on your clients’ competitors. Send your client a note when its competitor is looking to hire someone with specific talents and experience. Or, set up an Indeed email alert on your client and when the client is looking to hire someone, make a referral from your network. Who do you think will get the next job if that individual is hired?

It’s easy to build a highly qualified prospect list filled with companies who have a need for the solution that you offer, now that you Know More!

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What if Tom Brady had Just Followed the Process?

In my Know More! Reputations program, I teach a simple process for responding to a negative review or criticism of any kind. While my training focuses on the impact to a person’s online brand and reputation when responding inappropriately via a digital medium where all comments could become digitally permanent, the process also works in any format. Whether you’re responding to critics online, on paper, over the phone, or face-to-face, here’s a simple five-step process that will keep the story from getting out of hand and potentially damaging your personal brand:

  1. Apologize.
  2. State the facts.
  3. Apologize again.
  4. Let the person know what you’re going to about the situation.
  5. Take personal responsibility for ensuring it happens.

This process has helped me transform temporarily angry customers into long-term advocates. It’s helped me in relationships with bosses, colleagues, and suppliers. Heck…it’s probably saved my marriage.

footballWe all make mistakes. We all do dumb things. Some mistakes are an accident, and some dumb things are done intentionally. Don’t try and gloss-over or excuse your misdeed because the cover-up is almost always worse than the crime. Take accountability for your actions, be honest and sincere in your response, and outside of heinous crimes, just about everyone will give you a second chance.

Thus, I’ve watched with fascination as a multi-billion dollar organization with multimillionaire brand representatives — all counseled by expert advisers and image consultants — keep screwing this up. While individuals within this organization have given us many examples of personal brand/reputation destruction during the past year, there was one truly non-story that quickly became THE story because no one followed the process.

Imagine what “Deflategate” could have been…

Tom Brady Press Conference – Monday, January 20, 2014,
The Day Following the AFC Championship Game:

“As you know, the NFL League Office is investigating allegations that the footballs we used in yesterday’s game had been tampered with, specifically that the footballs were under-inflated, or had less air than mandated by league rules. First off, let me apologize, to my teammates, coaches, front office, owners, New England Patriots fans, and football fans everywhere. This is a completely unnecessary distraction and it takes away from my teammates’ exceptional performance in yesterday’s game.”

“I, just like most quarterbacks in the NFL, prefer that a football has a certain feel to it. Prior to each game, we have the opportunity to review the footballs that our offense will use. During yesterday’s pre-game, the footballs felt a bit over-inflated to me and so I asked the equipment managers to see if they could check and then get the footballs to the level I like at the bottom end of what is permissible. Like probably most of you, I just learned that NFL rules state that footballs needs to be inflated in the 12.5 to 13.5 PSI range. I have no clue what the PSI is of the footballs that I like to throw, I can just tell by the touch if they are comfortable or not and I assume that officials check the footballs and that whatever we use is within the range. I’ve heard theories that the cold weather yesterday may have also played a role. I have no idea yet I suppose it’s possible that after our guys let some of the air out of the footballs, that the cold pushed the PSI below the 12.5 range. I do know this, however. We won the game 45 to 7 and I guess in the second half, the footballs were at full inflation on the high end of the range so it really didn’t make a difference either way.”

“Now, I want to be clear, what I just stated is an explanation, and not an excuse. I am the quarterback of this team and ultimately no one does anything with the footballs without me knowing. I asked the guys to remove a bit of air from the footballs and if somehow that got the footballs below the PSI limit, I truly apologize. I feel horrible for the equipment guys because they were doing what I asked. And I again want to really apologize to my teammates and coaches as they should be answering questions related to playing in the Super Bowl, not questions related to football air pressure.”

“Bottom line, a rule is a rule and I am the leader of this team. Even if I didn’t know the rule, it is still my responsibility to ensure that the rule is followed. I’m assuming that the NFL is going to conduct an investigation, and I want everyone to know that I will fully participate.”

“And if the NFL decides that I did something wrong and deserve punishment, I will abide by their decision. I sincerely hope this does not interfere with the excitement my team and our fans have about playing in the Super Bowl, and I will do everything in my power to make sure whatever the NFL wishes to do is done quickly so we all can get on with more important items related to the upcoming game.”

If the above scenario would have occurred, how long would the story have remained in the public conscience? And how serious a punishment would the NFL really have implemented? There is zero chance they would have done anything to impact the Super Bowl, for example suspend their marquis player. There probably would have been a fine, a stern warning, and the story would have been a non-story within a week, and Brady would have been celebrated for being so forthcoming and for being a true leader and accepting responsibility.

Of course the above hypothetical scenario assumes that what I wrote in Step 2 is accurate — that Brady did not knowingly cheat. However, my hunch tells me he did not as he would have way too much to lose, and very little to gain.

What I do believe happened, however, is that Brady, the Patriots, and the entire NFL woefully underestimated the power of social media and the viral nature of this story. Whether it was ego or ignorance, I believe all parties thought the story would quickly go away (read/hear how Brady did initially respond and you decide). When the story did not go away, there seemed to be backtracking, the non-denial denial, and cover-ups galore. And as mentioned earlier, the cover-up is nearly always worse than the original crime. And so “Deflategate” went from a “who cares?” sort of story to front-page news.

You don’t have to be someone famous to have a personal brand and an online reputation. In a world where almost everyone is “Google-able,” it is imperative that when you respond to honest criticism or a critical comment in a digital format that you remember that anything you say can be shared, archived, and made searchable — forever. Don’t let what you say take on a life of its own. Be truthful, take responsibility, and you can control the message. Be less forthcoming and people can and will invent their own story, and then you are playing catch-up and are in damage-control mode. If the non-controlled message goes viral, there’s little or sometimes nothing you can do to reign it back in.

Follow the five-step process outlined above and you’ll hopefully put issues to rest quickly, and privately. There are things you can do to control your digital brand and reputation no matter how stressful the situation, now that you Know More!


Creative Commons deflated football image by Frankleleon

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Social Searching for Sales Intelligence

Searching social media is a great way to identify what’s going on inside a company, what an individual is up to, and what trends are shaping an industry. People often share “inside information” via their social media sites — for example, new products being developed, upcoming conferences, industry research, etc. — that a company would not normally post to its website.

As the majority of social media sites are on the “Invisible Web,” meaning, you need to register and sometimes “friend” an individual to access information, the best way to search social media is using the search tools available within each site. Unfortunately, this can be very time consuming.

There are, however, a number of social media search engines that allow you to simultaneously search publicly accessible posts from multiple sites. If you enjoy a Google-like interface and are familiar with using Boolean in your search queries, give the “Google Social Media” Search Engine a try.

Social SearchIn one simple search, you can access posts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest. You can choose any combination of sites or all of them if you prefer. The results are displayed in an easy-to-read column format so in a matter of seconds, you can find results for each social account (in each column, make sure to scroll down past the ads to see the what’s posted, and in the overall site, make sure to scroll down on the full page to see all of your chosen sites).

Try entering a person’s name, a company name, or a broad industry topic. Use Boolean to expand or narrow your search. For example, make sure to put proper nouns (names, company names, job titles, etc.) and even industry phrases within quotation marks (click for an example). Use the minus sign directly next to a word to remove that word from the results (click for an example). Use the OR to expand your search results (click here for an example). And build a complex Boolean query to really narrow your intelligence gathering (click here for an example).

Spend a few minutes on Google Social Search prior to any sales call and find an interesting piece of information about the other person that you can use as a conversation starter, and/or as fodder to ask more in-depth questions. REMEMBER…when the first words out of your mouth are about the person and/or something you know he or she passionately cares about, then you gain permission to ask the next question.

Side Note: Know More! fan Lee Levitan shared another great use for Google Social Search — when screening a job candidate. Prior to an interview, run a search on the individual. You’ll quickly get an understanding of the candidate’s likes/dislikes and more important, if he or she understands how to appropriately act and represent him or herself in a digital world.

Now you know how to find the information via social media quickly, now that you Know More!

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Does Permanent Public Shaming fit the Cyber Idiocy Crime?

In my Know More! Reputations program, I have a section called “American Idiots” where I share stories of business executives who have done dumb things online that have cost them business or worse, their careers. It is one of my and my audiences’ favorite parts of the presentation as there are some pretty hilarious examples. Plus, it’s always more fun to laugh at others and their mistakes than to confront our own erroneous ways.

I must admit that I take some pleasure in publicly exposing people who are racist, sexist, and/or who participate in online bullying. In some way, I suppose, it is my passive-aggressive revenge against anyone who was ever cruel to me when I was young.

Scarlet Letter

It’s not only in my presentation where I have experienced joy by exposing stupid online actions. Numerous times during the past few years, when I have seen a rude, crude, and/or inappropriate online post, I have been quick to publicly share the other person’s foolishness. Unlike in my presentation where I sometimes do protect the guilty, because I cannot pixelate out another person’s Facebook page or Twitter profile, when I share someone’s online poor judgement via my social media accounts, I am also sharing that individual’s name, place of work, and oftentimes full contact information with potentially hundreds of thousands of people who might not otherwise have known about the individual’s poor behavior.

Why shouldn’t I publicly call a racist out? Why not expose the sexist executive to the world? Why not embarrass the dunderhead so he never makes the same mistake again?

Yet, I wonder if my participating in “public shaming” is the right choice. For example:

About two years ago the marketing director for a very high-profile company sent an incredibly racist tweet just prior to boarding an international flight. As she was in the air with no Internet access, her tweet was noticed by the folks at Gawker.com, who shared her message with their hundreds of thousands of followers. Soon Ms. Marketing Director became one of the most popular topics on social media, with her story and contact information being re-tweeted and shared by millions around the globe. By the time her plane landed, there was a crowd gathered at the airport to see if she would be instantly fired from her job. Of course she was.

Fast forward a year and the New York Times Magazine ran a follow-up story about the incident. In the story she shares how – because the incident is the only thing that now appears when someone Googles her name – she cannot get a job, she can’t get a date, and that friends and even family members want nothing to do with her.

There is no excusing her tweet or the harmful words contained within it. She claims she is not a racist and that her message was sent as a joke. I don’t know if that’s true. But I do wonder, what good came from her public shaming? Was anything positive accomplished? How was the world better served by publicly exposing her idiotic behavior?

Would it have been better if someone had sent her a private message sharing how inappropriate her tweet was and asking her to remove it before it became a global phenomenon?

You may be familiar with Curt Schilling, the World Series winning pitcher and current ESPN baseball commentator. In late February his daughter announced that she would be playing college softball. Like many proud fathers would, Schilling tweeted the great news. What followed was some of the most crude, offensive, triple X-rated comments I have ever seen posted online, all about Schilling’s daughter.

Schilling did not stand idly by. Through a little research he discovered the names of some of the individuals posting the abhorrent words. Schilling then asked his followers to find out where the offenders worked and/or went to school. In no short order some of the individuals were publicly exposed and almost immediately fired from their jobs and kicked out of school.

As a father of a teenage daughter I celebrated Schilling’s actions. I am fairly certain I would have done the same thing in a similar situation. Yet I also wonder if Schilling’s actions were extreme.

People do dumb things. People do really, really, really dumb things in the name of getting a reaction or a laugh. There is zero defense to the poor behavior exhibited online by others related to Schilling’s daughter. The actions were beyond inexcusable.

Yet I also wonder what would have happened if Schilling had contacted each individual and given him the chance to delete his words and genuinely apologize to his daughter? Would there have been a greater lesson learned?

Two weeks ago Mo’ne Davis showed the sort of empathy and maturity that goes well beyond her years. You may remember Davis, the 13-year old Little League pitcher from Philadelphia who became the first girl to earn a win and pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series. Davis became an instant American hero, she was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Disney recently announced that they were going to make a movie about her story.

In response to Disney’s announcement, a Bloomsburg University student and baseball player tweeted that Davis was a “joke” and in his tweet he called Davis a very offensive name. The University immediately kicked the player off of the team. Social media exploded with comments in support of the University’s decision.

Yet it was Davis herself that sent a letter to the school asking that the player be reinstated. In an interview about why she wrote the letter Davis explained, “I know right now he’s really hurt … everyone deserves a second chance.”

Maybe we should all learn from Mo’ne Davis in that, no matter how cruel and offensive a person’s words are, all of us make mistakes, and all of us may deserve a second chance.

There is no defense or excuse for any of the offenders in the previously mentioned stories. Again, the “father side” of my brain would want to do even more than what Schilling did. I felt a twinge of joy exposing the racist comments of a so-called communications expert. Yet in an age where virtually everything done online is archived and searchable forever, is it fair that one mistake – no matter how abhorrent – should temporarily alter a life and permanently damage a reputation?

The next time you see a photo, video, or someone’s comment online that you think is demeaning, cruel, or inappropriate, what will you do? Will you broadcast the information in an attempt to publicly shame the offender? Or will you privately reach out to the individual, educate him or her, and ask that the offensive message be removed and an apology offered?

I can honestly tell you that I do not know what I will do, especially if the victim of any online bullying or cruelty is someone I care deeply about. However, I do believe that with certainty, I will give pause prior to any action that I take and ask myself: “Does the punishment of possible lifetime and permanent shame fit the crime of temporary idiocy?”

Scarlet Letter image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scarlet_Letter_-_Illustration_Logo.png
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