52 Book Challenge Results

I read fewer books in 2011 than the previous year and finished with 14.

Books read in 2011:
-The Hunger Games
-Search Engine Optimization Secrets
-Start with Why
-Poke the Box
-Opportunity Screams
-The Happiness Advantage
-4 Hour Work Week Expanded
-Content Rules
-The Art of Non-Conformity
-New Rules of Marketing and PR
-Marketing in the Age of Google

I didn’t quite reach my goal of reading 52 books in 2010. But I did read 23 very good books. I will try again in 2011.

Books read in 2010:
-The Art of Non-Conformity
-Branding Basics for Small Business
-The Accidental Billionaires
-Marketing Lessons from The Grateful Dead
-Word of Mouth Marketing
-Upside of Irrationality
-The Referral Engine
-The 24-Hour Customer
-Delivering Happiness
-Open Leadership
-Six Pixels of Separation
-Flip the Funnel
-What the Dog Saw
-Crush It
-The Blind Side
-The Road
-The Next Evolution of Marketing
-The Lost Symbol

My favorite book of the year was probably Accidental Billionaires.

Marketing Ideas from Delivering Happiness

In Delivering Happiness, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh describes his journey in building Link Exchange which sold for about $200 million and Zappos which was recently acquired by Amazon for about $1 billion. The book is written like an autobiography and is very honest and open. You learn some interesting things about him like how he quit his first job at Oracle basically because he was bored and walked away from 20% of his $40 million share of Link Exchange because he didn’t want to stay at the company for another year. He also shares the lessons he learned and insights into his successful approach. Here are some of the marketing lessons I took away from reading Delivering Happiness:

Focus on existing customers
Early in Zappos history, the company struggled to survive and did not have money for a marketing budget. So out of necessity they focused on existing customers. This strategy worked very well as the company grew to over a billion dollars on sales, mostly from repeat purchases. According to the book Flip the Funnel by Joseph Jaffe, 75% of Zappos’ sales comes from repeat customers.

Get PR by continuously wowing your customer

Zappos gets a tremendous amount of good PR, but Hsieh says that they did not actively try to push their messages into the news. Often someone would report on something that Zappos had been doing for years and it would spread like wildfire. By doing remarkable things for their customers, employees and even vendors they received a ton of attention, even though some members of board sometimes referred to Zappos’ unique approaches as “Tony’s social experiments”.

Surprise your customer by overdelivering

One way that Zappos provides exceptional service is by providing customers with surprise overnight shipping. Some customers’ orders are delivered to their doorstep the very next morning which provides a remarkable experience worth sharing.

Create a great customer experience
Early on, Zappos made most of its profits from drop shipping products to customers, however this could result is dissatisfaction if an item on the website was not available from the manufacturer at a given time. So Zappos made the decision to halt its profitable drop shipping segment and only sell items that are held in their warehouse.

Create a great culture

Working at a call center is not typically a glamorous job and as a result many companies have disengaged employees who are directly interacting with customers. Zappos created a great culture that focuses on the people of the company, which has helped create highly engaged customer service agents that provide superior service to customers. Employees are encouraged to take company sponsored courses so that they can grow and get promoted, and Zappos consistently demonstrates that they care about their employees by paying for a funeral reception or giving every employee a Kindle when they sold to Amazon.

Ultimately people want to be happy

Tony is interested in the science of happiness and integrates findings from the field of positive psychology into his business. By providing employees with a greater purpose and opportunities for growth rather than focus on monetary rewards, Zappos employees are highly motivated. He also understands that experiences contribute to happiness more than material possession, thus the focus on customer experience. Towards the end of the book he asks the simple but often overlooked question “what is your goal in life?”. If you follow up that question with a lot of “whys”, you will eventually get to the answer that is essentially “because I want to be happy”. This revelation has lead to the latest iteration of Zappos’ brand promise, “delivering happiness”.

This article has been republished from Cool Marketing Stuff.

Interesting Findings From Click: The Magic of Instant Connections

clickLast week, the Seattle Chamber held the Smart + Simple Strategies for Small Business conference which featured author and psychologist Rom Brafman. Brafman co-wrote the book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior and just released a new book, Click: The Magic of Instant Connections.

If you are a small business in Seattle, I highly recommend that you check out what the Seattle Chamber has to offer. They have a ton of great events where you can learn and meet fellow small business owners.

The presentation by Rom Brafman focused on his research on what factors contribute to people forming strong connections with people in the workplace. This is pretty interesting research because we know that individuals with good people skills often excel in the business world. What is not entirely clear is what makes someone a good people person.

High Self Monitors

According to Brafman’s research an important factor is what is known in academia as high self monitoring. High self monitors tend to adjust how they are based on their surroundings. They are almost like social chamelons, and one study found that when a high self monitor is in a room with an experimenter who is tapping their foot, the high self monitor will tend to also tap their foot. Research has also found that high-self monitors tend to get promoted far faster. According to a BusinessWeek article about the book it “took an average of just 18 months for high self-monitors to infiltrate the nucleus of their workplace network. For low self0minitors it took a staggering 13 years”.

Importance of Proximity for Connections

Brafman’s research found that location had a huge impact in how connections are formed. When your desk is located in the center of an office you more likely to form more connections with others than if you are isolated in a corner. This also has implications in the trend for remote work. Brafman explained in his talk that the most meaningful part of a meeting as it relates to relationship building is before the meeting starts. When you are having a teleconference or working from home you may not develop personal ties through small talk.

Vulnerability can Improve Connections

Another interesting finding is that when people are more open and vulnerable, this can help others more easily connect with an individual. For instance when someone asks you how you are doing and you open up, this can improve the likelihood of a stronger connection.

An interesting fact that Brafman closed with is that in 1986 when people were asked how many confidants they had that they felt they could open up to, the number was 3. The same survey was taken in 2004 and the number was zero (I think zero was the most common answer).

Just Received A Copy of Age of Conversation 3


Just received a copy of Age of Conversation 3: It’s Time to Get Busy. I wrote a page from the last 2 editions of Age of Conversation. This year my chapter is titled “How to Convince Your Boss on the Importance of Blogs”.

Check out Age of Conversation 3 at Amazon. There are about 200 authors and business leaders who contributed including Joseph Jaffe, Drew McLellan, Beth Harte, Becky Carroll (from customersrock.net), Joe Pulizzi, Dan Schawbel, and many more.

Proceeds from the book are donated to charity.

Companies Should Shift Focus To Existing Customers

Here’s an article I wrote for Cool Marketing Stuff:

Prolific podcaster, wFlip the Funnel bookriter, and all around nice guy, Joseph Jaffe recently released his third marketing book entitled Flip the Funnel. This book mainly focuses on the idea of flipping the sales funnel to focus marketing on existing customers. The reasoning for this shift in marketing strategy is sound: existing customers are far less expensive than acquiring new customers and highly satisfied customers can become a powerful sales force that will attract new customers.

My Review of Flip the Funnel

This book provides a solid argument changing your marketing strategy, although I found it somewhat tedious to read because Jaffe would often switch between straight talk to a overly complicated and corporate-like writing style. I personally think this book could have cut out a hundred pages and been equally effective. I would say about half of the case studies have been beaten to death, but there are also some fresh case studies that you probably haven’t heard of like how CEO Bill Marriott’s blog has earned more than $5 million for Marriott from people who clicked through to the reservation page after viewing his blog.

Key Takeaways:

Shift marketing spend from acquiring new customers to wowing existing customers

Jaffe describes the current norm where disproportionate amount of marketing dollars is going toward acquiring new customers, even though existing customers account for about 65 to 75 percent of revenue. For example just 12 percent of shoppers account for 80 percent of Coke sales. Jaffe writes:

“We pull out all the stops to woo a stranger to sample our wares, yet we ignore the very people who essentially fund our acquisition efforts”

Enthusiastic customers often increase new customers through their recommendations, which could be a more effective acquisition strategy than what Jaffe calls “fishing with a wide net that is full of holes”.

Reward customers for generating new customers

Jaffe advocates rewarding customers who provide referrals or spread the word about your business. This can be a monetary reward or a virtual currency like points. Jaffe writes:

“For the most part – the existing investment into customer referrals has until now been essentially zero.”

“You’ll need to figure out ways to formalize structure and ultimately incent people who are inclined to talk about you.”

Customer service should have its priority elevated

Customer service is often neglected and treated as a cost center even though it is one of the best opportunities to have a direct conversation with your customer. Jaffe talks about the remarkable insurance company USAA, where 95 percent of customers plan to be lifelong members. One employee worked 600 hours of overtime in a year and customer service reps have been known to help customers with totally unrelated issues.

Jaffe writes:

“Give them [employees] the freedom and confidence to go beyond the manual or playbook” to describe how companies can improve their customer service.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy

Non-Traditional Business Thinking From 37 Signals

I wrote this article for the Small Business Library blog about my key takeaways from the recent book Rework from the guys behind 37 signals. I really enjoyed this book because it challenged a lot of the traditionally held beliefs on how to be successful in business so it was unique and thought provoking. David also gave a great talk recently at Stanford called “Unlearn Your MBA” which you can watch here.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, takes an alternative look at starting and building a successful business. Jason and David founded the successful Chicago software company 37 signals based on business principles that often contradict with traditional thinking on business. Here are a few of my favorite ideas from the book.

Get Enough Sleep

In Rework, the authors discuss that entrepreneurs often brag about how little sleep they get. The problem with sleep deprivation is that although you work more hours, you will not be able to think very well if you are tired and this can lead to poor decisions.

Don’t Advertise

One of the drawbacks of buying advertising is that you know that some of your advertising isn’t working, but you don’t know which part. 37 Signals uses non-traditional media like their blog, Signal Versus Noise, which has over a hundred thousand readers. They are able to reach a large number of people with their message at no cost besides the time to write thoughtful blog articles.

Planning is Guessing

Often new businesses create 1-year, 5-year, or even 10-year plans. But the authors argue that we can not predict what will happen in the future so plans are often irrelevant when conditions change. And often business owners will stick to their plans simply because they have invested so much time in developing a business plan.

Don’t Get Venture Funding

The authors say that one of the major mistakes that new businesses make is taking outside investment from venture capitalists, but this could also apply to other financing. The problem with having a lot of someone else’s money to spend this can take the business owner’s focus off the important thing, profitability. Often companies that have funding put off worrying about profitability until later, which the authors say is like trying to build a rocket ship without worrying about gravity.

Hire When It’s Painful

Often growing businesses hire quickly to keep up with demand, but the authors warn to be careful not to hire too quickly. They recommend hiring when there’s more work than you can handle for an extended period of time. There are several disadvantages to hiring too quickly. One problem is that it is difficult to eliminate staff once you hire them even if they are no longer needed. They also point out that it is difficult to be truthful if you disagree when there are a lot of strangers in the office as most people want to be polite and non-confrontational.

Check out Rework for more useful advice from Jason and David.

This article has been republished from the Small Business Library blog.

#52books Read 52 Books in 2010 Challenge

The 52books Challenge challenges you to read 52 books in 2010 or a book a week.

Julien Smith had a great explanation on his blog on why you would want to do this. From How to Read a Book a Week in 2010

It feels awesome. It gives you an amazing amount of ideas. It helps you think more thoroughly. It’s better than TV and even the internet. It makes you understand the world more. It is a building block towards a habit of completion. Did I mention it feels awesome?

Julien who co-authored the great book Trust Agents, gave some excellent tips like it’s okay to cheat by reading some short books, and don’t fall behind, and make sure to make it part of your routine to read a certain number of pages every day.

Tip: Listen to Books on Audible

I would add another tip: listen to books on audible. Some people may say that it’s not really reading because you are listening to the text, but I think it is just as good as reading a physical book, and in many ways it is better. This allows you to knock out a bit of reading when you are standing in line at the coffee shop or sitting in traffic. There is also an awesome deal if you go to audible.com/twit2 where you can get 2 free audible books absolutely free (you could cancel your subscription before 30 days and not have to pay for the subscription if you want).

Tip: Use the Kindle App on iPhone or iPod Touch

Also if you can get an iPhone or iPod touch, use the Kindle application. It will allow you to pull a book out of your pocket when you have a few minutes to read.

If you want to join the challenge, you still have time. You can also see how others are doing by searching for the hash tag #52books on Twitter.

I only have read 7 books so far this year so I need a major rally to achieve the challenge this year.

So far I’ve read:

-What the Dog Saw
-Crush It
-The Blind Side
-The Road
-The Next Evolution of Marketing
-The Lost Symbol
-Switch (added 4-12)

Perhaps the Best Work of Fiction of the Decade

I read a blog post that called The Road the book of the decade and I can’t disagree. I definitely recommend it, and the Audible version is terrific (the unabridged version).

My Amazon Review:

The Road is one of those rare works of fiction that is can affect you on a deep personal level. In The Road you are enveloped into an apocalyptic world which you experience with a man and his son as they struggle to survive the harshest conditions imaginable. With his poetic descriptions, McCarthy gives you a frightening, dark, and realistic story of struggle that you won’t soon forget.