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Thursday, August 30, 2012
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Assumptions about other people and what they want or don't want can wreak havoc on your relationships. This is just as true in your professional life as in your personal life. Learn specific skills and strategies for making sure you are fully aware of other people's objectives. Try these actions: ask clarifying questions, probe for information, and objectively point out inconsistencies when tasks seem out of line with stated goals or agreed-upon strategies.
Turning Negativity Into Creativity
We’re told to repress the negative side of human emotion. Chase away the anger, get over the depression, squelch the feelings of inadequacy, conquer the fear. In some respects, it’s good advice; after all, who wants to dwell in darkness? But it turns out that the bad stuff we all experience from time to time can benefit us in an unexpected way: by activating our creativity.
We’re not saying you want to court misery—no way! But mounting evidence suggests that somber moods—melancholy, self-doubt, anxiety, brooding—can stimulate areas of the brain associated with analytical thought, abstract problem-solving and the kind of sustained attention needed to devise novel solutions to problems. Other dark moods such as anger and frustration can trigger creative responses for different reasons. These emotions generate the kind of energy that, when combined with our natural talents, can result in breakthrough ideas and solutions that address the sources of those frustrations.
In fact, while positive moods tend to promote a free-flow of ideas, discontent can actually fuel innovation. “Part of the creative process (creative problem-finding) demands that we look at ourselves or our environment with some degree of dissatisfaction,” says Harvard University researcher Shelley Carson, Ph.D., author of Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life.
Gerald Amada, Ph.D., agrees that very creative people, by their nature, are those who aren’t satisfied with the status quo, who “want to change life.” But what hinders many of us from harnessing our frustrations, Amada says, is our guilt. From the time we’re very young, we’re taught to “turn the other cheek” or swallow our anger or pretend that everything is OK.
“Once people come to terms with their rage, they can put it to use,” says Amada, author of The Power of Negative Thinking and the former director of college mental health services at City College of San Francisco. He sees this as a process: Identify the source of your anger, consider your strengths and aptitudes, and then ask yourself how those traits could be put to use to get something done.
Sadness may fuel creativity
The science behind mood and creativity is complicated, says Norwegian Business School professor Geir Kaufmann, Ph.D., who has focused much of his research on the relationship between the two.
It used to be thought that positive moods, not negative ones, held the key to creativity—that the negative moods zapped people of their energy and dampened their spirits. But as Kaufmann and many other researchers are finding, our most complex creative ideas may emerge out of dark moods.
“Deep thinking is related to sad moods,” says Kaufmann. But that’s not the entire story, he adds. Positive mood plays a part, too.
A certain kind of creativity comes out of brighter emotional states. Happier people tend to do better in trial-and-error situations and in early problem-solving stages when they’re asked to toss multiple ideas on the table for consideration. Energetic, enthusiastic and filled with self-esteem, people experiencing positive moods may arrive quickly at a solution, but Kaufmann suggests they may not devise the best or most novel solution.
“Positive mood may lead to a less-cautious approach to the task than negative mood, promoting a broader but also a more superficial processing. More concisely, positive mood promotes broad and shallow processing, whereas negative mood leads to a more constricted but deeper processing,” Kaufmann writes in “The Effect of Mood on Creativity in the Innovative Process,” a chapter in The International Handbook on Innovation.
Among the researchers looking at the link between negative emotions and creativity is Wendy Berry Mendes, Ph.D., the Sarlo/Ekman Chair in the Study of Human Emotion at the University of California at San Francisco. In a 2008 study when she was at Harvard, she and co-researcher Modupe Akinola found a correlation that had both biological and sociological underpinnings.
They began by measuring levels of an adrenal steroid that’s associated with depression in 96 volunteer subjects. Basically, the less steroid you have, the more likely you are to suffer depression. Mendes and Akinola suspected that people with lower steroid levels would show greater creativity.
But what they really wanted to know was whether that diminished steroid combined with an upsetting social situation would yield even greater creative outputs. So they created a mock job interview in which participants had to give a brief speech and then answer interviewers’ questions. Some subjects received praise and positive body language; others had to suffer through yawns, eye rolls and harsh comments. A control group delivered speeches alone in a room. At this point in the experiment, the researchers did not know their subjects’ steroid levels because the groups had been picked at random.
Following the mock interviews, the subjects participated in an art project that was rated for creativity by professional and graduate-level artists. Mendes and Akinola then compiled the data: the artists’ evaluations, the interview experience and the steroid levels. What they found was that people who had both a lower steroid level and got the nasty interview comments ended up being the most creative of the group. It appears these subjects were more affected by the negative comments than those who had higher steroid levels, and they poured their emotion into their artwork.
Mendes and Akinola offered a few theories as to why. One theory is that these highly creative participants ruminated more over the negative feedback, creating a distraction while they worked on the art project. In other words, because they were consciously fixated on the negative feedback, they didn’t overthink their artwork. That distraction may have allowed their subconscious to kick in. So under this theory, our most creative works emerge from the subconscious, rather than the conscious.
Another possibility is that the negative mood led participants into a state of introspection and detailed thinking, and it’s that deep internal thought that yielded greater creativity. Many other researchers, including Carson, the author of Your Creative Brain, see this introspection as the key to creative thinking.
A third theory is that the negative feedback pushed these participants—who, don’t forget, were already vulnerable to depressive thoughts—to work harder on their task, perhaps because they had suffered a blow to their self-esteem and felt they needed to work harder than others.
Under this theory, it may be possible that the foul moods many of us suffer following a client’s rejection or a team member’s snipes can foster our creativity, too. Although this doesn’t mean anyone should work for a nasty manager or become one.
Mendes agrees: “I am not suggesting that people put themselves in a bad mood to facilitate performance, but rather if they find themselves feeling sad, frustrated or angry, instead of stewing in those emotions and doing something passive (like watching TV), they take that time to engage in something active like writing, creating or even exercising.”
There are other possible explanations why negative thoughts may lead to creativity. In “When Bad Is Good,” a chapter in an upcoming book, Kaufmann suggests that melancholy may be associated with the brain pathways that allow for surges of new ideas. “Such conditions may indeed increase the likelihood of transcending the mental status quo and lead to strikingly new insights,” he writes.
Anger prompts positive actions
OK, so if there’s research linking the blues with creativity, what happens when we see red? Some experts say anger and frustration can be used as a launch pad for innovation. Take, for example, the work of Julie Silver, M.D., of Massachusetts, who developed a new social enterprise out of the depths of illness, frustration and fatigue.
A physiatrist (specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation) and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, Silver was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. She was 38 years old and the mother of three young children. Her treatments were successful, but recovery presented challenges. “When I finished treatment, I was in a lot of pain and very, very tired and discouraged,” she recalls.
Silver believes her recovery would have been hastened if there had been rehabilitation services available to cancer patients—the kinds of therapies prescribed for survivors of automobile accidents, strokes and the like. From the depths of her struggle, her entrepreneurial self emerged.
Silver was able to heal herself, and she wrote about her experience and embarked on a series of lectures about her recovery. The very lack of care that had troubled her was frustrating countless other patients and doctors, too, and physicians clamored for more information about their patients’ post-treatment needs.
So in 2009, Silver and a partner founded Oncology Rehab Partners, a company that trains and certifies hospitals and clinicians in post-treatment rehabilitation. Her company today has certified healthcare centers and providers in more than 30 states.
“I wanted to be that person that I watched over years, the one that said, ‘I’m discouraged now, but I will embrace healing with grace,’ ” Silver says. “And I wanted to be one of those people who paid it forward.”
In Buffalo, N.Y., Kathleen Gaffney is convinced that grief, anger and frustration unearthed her creative, entrepreneurial self—and became a survival mechanism during her most troubling times. “Creativity is the opposite of despair,” she says.
Gaffney is trained in theater, but she believes her real creative journey began when her daughter, who had been through cancer treatment as a toddler, was diagnosed with autism. “I was absolutely resolved to get her back,” Gaffney says.
She plunged into research and enrolled her daughter in the therapies that looked most promising. She was particularly drawn to the work of educator Howard Gardner, whose “multiple intelligences” theory holds that people learn in different ways such as movement, music, language and logic. It was music therapy, Gaffney says, that helped her daughter re-emerge.
Gaffney wanted other children to have the benefit of arts-based education and one that uses the academically sanctioned multiple intelligences theory as a backbone. Gaffney and her husband launched Artsgenesis, a nonprofit that sent visual and performing artists into schools in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, ultimately reaching some 25,000 students per year.
In Gaffney’s case, a combination of factors—a crisis (autism), research and experimentation (Gardner and music therapy), an innate talent for theater, and the ability to take something from these experiences—became a powerful, creative stew.
She explains the problem-solving formula this way: Clarify your challenge or problem, gather ideas by turning your internal judge off and letting the potential solutions flow, turn your internal judge back on to evaluate those ideas, and begin creating action steps. Between steps, it’s a good idea to let the ideas sit and incubate, Gaffney says. The model she discusses (detailed on page 56) is based on her studies at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State, where she is a graduate student.
Another crisis brought Gaffney to Buffalo—this one involving a fatal blow dealt to Artsgenesis by 9/11 because of a sharp decline in clientele within its service area of Lower Manhattan. That led her to reinvent herself and take a job revitalizing a failing theater in Buffalo. Creative thinking, she says, helped her see the steps necessary to save the theater. Today she’s also writing a book on ways emotion can trigger creativity.
Use self-expression as a tool
It’s easy to go the other way with our emotions—to let sadness and anger swallow us up instead of using them to embark on creative journeys.
Carson, the Harvard researcher and author, offers a number of tools to get out of a rut. Try writing a description of your distress—or, if you are too tired for that—dictate your unhappiness into a recording device. Paint, move, put on music, act out your misery, she says.
“Once self-expression begins, it takes on a life of its own and seems to generate its own energy,” she says. “Once you have energized yourself through self-expression, other forms of creativity may follow. You may begin to see new possibilities just by expressing your current dysphoric state.”
Sound too artsy? Consider the experience of Matthew Simon, a financier who turned to fiction writing to help him cope with a life-changing illness. He ended up becoming a sharper business writer when he returned to work.
“I was the least creative person in the world,” says Simon, who graduated from Williams College, went to work for Bain & Co., and established the Simon Development Group and Boston Realty Group when he was in his early 20s.
Then he got sick. Simon was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in his late 20s and bedridden for some 15 years. “The challenge was boredom. The anguish over boredom. How do you get through the day when you can’t do anything?” Simon recalls.
To entertain himself, he started writing. Some days he eked out just a couple of sentences, dictated to his dad because he was unable to sit up and work a keyboard. He self-published two books, The Chosen Few and That's What Little Boys Are Made Of. “My books have a lot of humor in them because those kinds of characters are good company,” Simon says. “I was living a dark and dreary life. I needed an escape from that.”
Today Simon is a healthy, married father of a 6-month-old and owner of a real estate investment business based in Southwest Florida. He quit writing fiction in favor of the more active pursuits he had given up for so many years. But his creative exercises paid off.
“First, learning to write fiction has changed and improved my nonfiction,” says Simon, who published several industry articles during a stint as a healthcare executive. “Second, it has given me another approach or technique to solving certain kinds of problems. I discovered, in those years spent writing fiction, that if I just sort of let my mind run free, I can come up with creative ideas.”
Of course, Simon does not suggest people use his particular creative journey as a model. “I’m not sure I would advise anyone to get sick for 15 years so they could learn to write fiction…. My advice: Stay healthy and stick to number-crunching,” he quips.
How to Harness Your Negative Emotions
Kathleen Gaffney, who studies problem-solving thinking at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State University, shares these steps for turning negative emotions into catalysts for creativity.
- Identify the source of your negative emotions; clarify your challenge or problem.
Sometimes the problem isn’t immediately clear, and you’ll need to learn to accept that ambiguity. Focus on the goal and not the problem. When you switch your attention to the goal, you start thinking with “how to” or “how might I” questions. These “visioning questions” might include, “How might I save more money for my child’s college education?” or “How might I learn new skills to get a better job?” You’ll notice that these questions shift from the negative emotions such as anxiety over financial issues to ones that lead you toward creative solutions. Framing the challenge to be solved is the most essential part of creative problem-solving.
- Consider your strengths and aptitudes.
Write down your strengths and aptitudes. Analyze them. If you feel hopeless and depressed, acknowledge those feelings. You’ll find you also feel angry; anger is a great energizer but direct it at problems, not people. Channeling your anger toward the problem may allow you to see potential answers.
- Ask yourself how to use these traits productively, turning off your internal judge and letting potential solutions flow.
Write down ideas as fast as you can think of them, but don’t evaluate them yet. Moving to an island to escape a problem may not be practical, but you can eliminate it in the next step.
- Turn on your internal judge to evaluate those ideas.
From your list, choose a few ideas that sing to you.
- Create action steps to accomplish your goals.
Begin with the end in mind and plan backward. Take small bites that let you move forward in your plan.
- Between each of the steps above, pause to let ideas incubate.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
In addition to having the skills needed to make a sale (prospecting, presenting, closing, etc.), salespeople also must be proficient in management skills. These include time management, self-management, and even boss management. But managing your boss doesn't mean bossing your manager. It means understanding your boss and managing yourself. Stop trying to change your boss. The key to building a better relationship is a willingness to change yourself. Many salespeople underestimate the power they have to improve a situation by changing their own behavior.
Client relationships are the life blood of any business, so keeping them healthy is of paramount importance. “Here’s why: Most clients vote with their feet. They don’t tell you they are unhappy—they simply start to give their business to your competitors. Client relationship checkups can help you gauge the health of these relationships, prescribe changes when necessary, and identify ways to further grow them.”
One way to give your client relationships a shot in the arm is to employ power questions. And Sobel offers dozens of questions that can challenge the way clients view things, help them arrive at new solutions to old problems and prompt them to share their innermost thoughts and concerns, all of which strengthen your bond.
“All business interactions are human interactions,” he says. “And part of being human is acknowledging that you don’t know everything about everything—and that you certainly don’t know everything about the other person’s needs. Questions help you understand these things more deeply, and they’re an essential tool when assessing the health of client relationships.”
When client relationship checkups aren’t performed regularly, a relationship can take an unexpected turn. Sobel tells the story of his client, a Fortune 100 company with a longstanding relationship with IBM. When the relationship manager for Sobel’s client called in advance of a big meeting, his phone call was never returned. “When [the then-president of IBM] met with their CEO, he opened by saying, ‘My people tell me we have an ‘A’ relationship with your organization.’ My client’s CEO responded, ‘Well, my team tells me your relationship with us is a ‘C.’ ”
This was a wakeup call for the IBM team to dramatically improve their relationship with Sobel’s client, which it did. And, as the IBM anecdote illustrates, client health “screenings” are necessary if you hope you keep your client relationships in tip-top shape. With the help of Sobel’s relationship checkup questions, your client relationships can continue to thrive year after year.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Todd Jason Rutherford inside his home in Bixby, Okla. He says that he is now suspicious of all online reviews — whether of books or of anything else.
By DAVID STREITFELD
Published: August 25, 2012
TULSA , Okla.
TODD RUTHERFORD was 7 years old when he first understood the nature of supply and demand. He was with a bunch of other boys, one of whom showed off a copy of Playboy to giggles and intense interest. Todd bought the magazine for $5, tore out the racy pictures and resold them to his chums for a buck apiece. He made $20 before his father shut him down a few hours later.
A few years ago, Mr. Rutherford, then in his mid-30s, had another flash of illumination about how scarcity opens the door to opportunity.
He was part of the marketing department of a company that provided services to self-published writers — services that included persuading traditional media and blogs to review the books. It was uphill work. He could churn out press releases all day long, trying to be noticed, but there is only so much space for the umpteenth vampire novel or yet another self-improvement manifesto or one more homespun recollection of times gone by. There were not enough reviewers to go around.
Suddenly it hit him. Instead of trying to cajole others to review a client’s work, why not cut out the middleman and write the review himself? Then it would say exactly what the client wanted — that it was a terrific book. A shattering novel. A classic memoir. Will change your life. Lyrical and gripping, Stunning and compelling. Or words to that effect.
In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.
There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.
A polite fellow with a rakish goatee and an entrepreneurial bent, Mr. Rutherford has been on the edges of publishing for most of his career. Before working for the self-publishing house, he owned a distributor of inspirational books. Before that, he was sales manager for a religious publishing house. Nothing ever quite worked out as well as he hoped. With the reviews business, though, “it was like I hit the mother lode.”
Reviews by ordinary people have become an essential mechanism for selling almost anything online; they are used for resorts, dermatologists, neighborhood restaurants, high-fashion boutiques, churches, parks, astrologers and healers — not to mention products like garbage pails, tweezers, spa slippers and cases for tablet computers. In many situations, these reviews are supplanting the marketing department, the press agent, advertisements, word of mouth and the professional critique.
But not just any kind of review will do. They have to be somewhere between enthusiastic and ecstatic.
“The wheels of online commerce run on positive reviews,” said Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, Chicago, whose 2008 research showed that 60 percent of the millions of product reviews on Amazon are five stars and an additional 20 percent are four stars. “But almost no one wants to write five-star reviews, so many of them have to be created.”
Consumer reviews are powerful because, unlike old-style advertising and marketing, they offer the illusion of truth. They purport to be testimonials of real people, even though some are bought and sold just like everything else on the commercial Internet.
Mr. Liu estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score) or by a hired third-party service.
The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal and there has been a lot of confusion in the blogosphere over how this affects traditional book reviews.
The tale of GettingBookReviews.com, which commissioned 4,531 reviews in its brief existence, is a story of a vast but hidden corner of the Internet, where Potemkin villages bursting with ardor arise overnight. At the same time, it shows how the book world is being transformed by the surging popularity of electronic self-publishing.
For decades a largely stagnant industry controlled from New York, book publishing is fragmenting and changing at high speed. Twenty percent of Amazon’s top-selling e-books are self-published. They do not get to the top without adulation, lots and lots of it.
Isaac Brekken for The New York Times
There were books I wished I could
have gone back and actually read,”
said Brittany Walters-Bearden, who
wrote reviews for Mr. Rutherford.
“But I had to produce 70 pieces of content a
week to pay my bills.
Mr. Rutherford’s insight was that reviews had lost their traditional function. They were no longer there to evaluate the book or even to describe it but simply to vouch for its credibility, the way doctors put their diplomas on examination room walls. A reader hears about a book because an author is promoting it, and then checks it out on Amazon. The reader sees favorable reviews and is reassured that he is not wasting his time.
“I was creating reviews that pointed out the positive things, not the negative things,” Mr. Rutherford said. “These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”
In essence, they were blurbs, the little puffs on the backs of books in the old days, when all books were physical objects and sold in stores. No one took blurbs very seriously, but books looked naked without them.
One of Mr. Rutherford’s clients, who confidently commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable, subsequently became a best seller. This is proof, Mr. Rutherford said, that his notion was correct. Attention, despite being contrived, draws more attention.
The system is enough to make you a little skeptical, which is where Mr. Rutherford finds himself. He is now suspicious of all online reviews — of books or anything else. “When there are 20 positive and one negative, I’m going to go with the negative,” he said. “I’m jaded.”
Trainloads of Books
“If there was anything the human race had a sufficiency of, a sufficiency and a surfeit, it was books,” the New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell wrote in 1964. He reflected on “the cataracts of books, the Niagaras of books, the rushing rivers of books, the oceans of books, the tons and truckloads and trainloads of books that were pouring off the presses of the world at that moment,” regretting that so few would be “worth picking up and looking at, let alone reading.”
Since then, the pace of production has picked up quite a bit, although it is debatable whether Mr. Mitchell, who died in 1996, would be any more impressed by the quality. There has been a boom in what used to be called vanity publishers, which can efficiently produce physical copies that look just as good as anything from the traditional New York houses. But an even bigger factor is the explosion in electronic publishing. It used to take the same time to produce a book that it does to produce a baby. Now it takes about as long as boiling an egg.
In 2006, before Amazon supercharged electronic publishing with the Kindle, 51,237 self-published titles appeared as physical books, according to the data company Bowker. Last year, Bowker estimates that more than 300,000 self-published titles were issued in either print or digital form.
“I don’t know how many people have a book in them trying to get out, but if they do, all the barriers are being removed,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of Bowker Market Research. “This is a golden age of being able to make yourself more widely known.”
In theory, at least, good reviews are proof that a writer is finding his or her way, establishing an audience and has something worthwhile to say. So as soon as new authors confront that imperative line on their Amazon pages — “Be the first to review this item” — the temptation is great for them to start soliciting notices, at first among those closest at hand: family, friends and acquaintances. They want to be told how great they are.
“Nearly all human beings have unrealistically positive self-regard,” said Robert I. Sutton, a Stanford professor and the author of several traditionally published books on business psychology. “When people tell us we’re not as great as we thought we were, we don’t like it. Anything less than a five-star review is an attack.”
Mr. Sutton’s best-known book, about bullies in the workplace, had 110 five-star reviews on Amazon late last week, none of which he paid for but a few of which he says he solicited. He once asked his wife to review one of his books. To his disappointment, she refused.
Mr. Rutherford’s customers faced no such setbacks. Mark Husson, author of “LoveScopes: What Astrology Knows About You and the Ones You Love,” wrote in an online testimonial about GettingBookReviews.com that “my review was more thorough than I expected. I wanted to go back out and buy my own book.” On Amazon, “LoveScopes” had 70 reviews, 65 of which were five-star.
Peter Biadasz, a writer here in Tulsa, hired GettingBookReviews when he published “Write Your First Book.” As a writing coach, he knows all about how writers obsess over bad reviews. “Nobody likes to hear their baby’s ugly,” he said. Still, he added: “I know the flaws in my book. I know my baby’s not perfect.”
But it is perfect, according to all 18 reviewers on Amazon, every one of whom gave it five stars.
“For me, it came out very favorably,” Mr. Biadasz acknowledged. Most books, he cautioned, will not get such uniformly glowing notices.
This is true. For example, here’s a derisive notice, recently posted on Amazon: “I was utterly bored.” A second reader offered this: “Mediocre.” A third: “This isn’t good prose.”
All three were offering their opinions of “The Great Gatsby.” Quite a few reviews of the book, the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic that’s among the greatest American novels of the last century, deem it somewhere between so-so and poor.
Roland Hughes, another self-published writer, has a theory about this: “Reviews for the established classics tend to come from actual readers.”
A computer programmer and novelist based in Illinois, Mr. Hughes, 48, says he has spent about $20,000 on review services. “I’d like to say I view it as an education,” he wrote in an e-mail. His goal, not yet accomplished, is to make that difficult leap from “being an author” to “being a recognized author.”
His thriller “Infinite Exposure” had an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 late last week on Barnes & Noble, while another of his books, “The Minimum You Need to Know to Be an OpenVMS Application Developer,” got 5 out of 5.
“Some of these review services will actually ensure your title is read by someone who likes your genre of books,” he added. “The last thing you want is someone who loves Christian and romance novels reviewing a science-fiction book which has no romance and calls into account the existence of God.”
Finding the Reviewers
Traditional journalism jobs may be dwindling, but the Internet offers many new possibilities for writers. As soon as the orders started pouring in, Mr. Rutherford realized that he could not produce all the reviews himself.
How little, he wondered, could he pay freelance reviewers and still satisfy the authors? He figured on $15. He advertised on Craigslist and received 75 responses within 24 hours.
Potential reviewers were told that if they felt they could not give a book a five-star review, they should say so and would still be paid half their fee, Mr. Rutherford said. As you might guess, this hardly ever happened.
Amazon and other e-commerce sites have policies against paying for reviews. But Mr. Rutherford did not spend much time worrying about that. “I was just a pure capitalist,” he said. Amazon declined to comment.
Mr. Rutherford’s busiest reviewer was Brittany Walters-Bearden, now 24, a freelancer who had just returned to the United States from a stint in South Africa. She had recently married a former professional wrestler, and the newlyweds had run out of money and were living in a hotel in Las Vegas when she saw the job posting.
Ms. Walters-Bearden had the energy of youth and an upbeat attitude. “A lot of the books were trying to prove creationism,” she said. “I was like, I don’t know where I stand, but they make a solid case.”
For a 50-word review, she said she could find “enough information on the Internet so that I didn’t need to read anything, really.” For a 300-word review, she said, “I spent about 15 minutes reading the book.” She wrote three of each every week as well as press releases. In a few months, she earned $12,500.
“There were books I wished I could have gone back and actually read,” she said. “But I had to produce 70 pieces of content a week to pay my bills.”
An E-Book Best Seller
John Locke started as a door-to-door insurance salesman, was successful enough to buy his own insurance company, and then became a real estate investor. In 2009, he turned to writing fiction. By the middle of 2011, his nine novels, most of them suspense tales starring a former C.I.A. agent, Donovan Creed, had sold more than a million e-books through Amazon, making him the first self-published author to achieve that distinction.
Mr. Locke, now 61, has also published a nonfiction book, “How I Sold One Million E-Books in Five Months.” One reason for his success was that he priced his novels at 99 cents, which encouraged readers to take a chance on someone they didn’t know. Another was his willingness to try to capture readers one at a time through blogging, Twitter posts and personalized e-mail, an approach that was effective but labor-intensive.
“My first marketing goal was to get five five-star reviews,” he writes. “That’s it. But you know what? It took me almost two months!” In the first nine months of his publishing career, he sold only a few thousand e-books. Then, in December 2010, he suddenly caught on and sold 15,000 e-books.
One thing that made a difference is not mentioned in “How I Sold One Million E-Books.” That October, Mr. Locke commissioned Mr. Rutherford to order reviews for him, becoming one of the fledging service’s best customers. “I will start with 50 for $1,000, and if it works and if you feel you have enough readers available, I would be glad to order many more,” he wrote in an Oct. 13 e-mail to Mr. Rutherford. “I’m ready to roll.”
Mr. Locke was secure enough in his talents to say that he did not care what the reviews said. “If someone doesn’t like my book,” he instructed, “they should feel free to say so.” He also asked that the reviewers make their book purchases directly from Amazon, which would then show up as an “Amazon verified purchase” and increase the review’s credibility.
In a phone interview from his office in Louisville, Ky., Mr. Locke confirmed the transaction. “I wouldn’t hesitate to buy reviews from people that were honest,” he said. Even before using GettingBookReviews.com, he experimented with buying attention through reviews. “I reached out every way I knew to people to try to get them to read my books.”
Many of the 300 reviews he bought through GettingBookReviews were highly favorable, although it’s impossible to say whether this was because the reviewers genuinely liked the books, or because of their well-developed tendency toward approval, or some combination of the two.
Mr. Locke is unwilling to say that paying for reviews made a big difference. “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.”
Mr. Rutherford, who says he is a little miffed that the novelist never gave him proper credit, is more definitive. “It played a role, for sure,” he said. “All those reviews said to potential readers, ‘You’ll like it, too.’ ”
End of a Venture
By early 2011, things were going swimmingly. Mr. Rutherford rented a small office in Tulsa and hired two assistants, including an editor who polished his reviews for $2 each. He had plans for a multimillion-dollar review business that went far beyond just books. But the end was near.
The collapse was hastened by a young Oregon woman, Ashly Lorenzana, who gave Mr. Rutherford and GettingBookReviews.com perhaps their only bad review. Ms. Lorenzana, 24, self-published some of her journal entries as an exceedingly bleak book, “Sex, Drugs & Being an Escort” (“I hated today,” reads one representative passage. “Today was full of hate. I hate, hate, hate.”) In seeking some attention for it, she checked out Kirkus, a reviewing service founded in 1933 that has branched out into self-published books. Kirkus would review “Sex” for $425, a price that made her balk.
Another issue with Kirkus was that it did not guarantee its review would be positive. Ms. Lorenzana felt she would then be in the position of having spent a bundle just so someone she did not know could insult, belittle or devalue her work. On the Internet, you can usually get someone to do that free.
“You’re taking a chance by putting your writing out there — a huge chance,” she said. “You want validation that it’s not a joke.”
When Ms. Lorenzana found GettingBookReviews.com, $99 seemed reasonable. But the review did not show up as quickly as she expected. She posted a long, angry accusation against Mr. Rutherford and his service on several consumer sites, saying she had received better treatment from a reviewer whom she had hired for $5. (“You could tell that the person had really spent a few minutes checking out the information about my book and getting a feel for it before just diving into writing a meaningless review.”)
Mr. Rutherford refunded her fee, but his problems were just beginning. Google suspended his advertising account, saying it did not approve of ads for favorable reviews. At about the same time, Amazon took down some, though not all, of his reviews. Mr. Rutherford dropped his first name in favor of his middle name, Jason, so that people who searched for him through Google would not automatically see Ms. Lorenzana’s complaints.
These days, Mr. Rutherford is selling R.V.’s in Oklahoma City and planning a comeback in that narrow zone straddling what writers want and what the marketplace considers legitimate. Bowker, the data firm, says that as many as 600,000 self-published titles could appear in 2015, and they all will be needing their share of attention.
Mr. Rutherford tried to start another service, Authors Reviewing Authors — a scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours approach. Authors preferred receiving over giving, however, and that venture failed. Now he is developing a service where, for $99, he blogs and tweets about a book — he has 33,000 Twitter followers — and solicits reviews from bloggers and regular Amazon reviewers. No money is paid to the reviewers, so Google has approved ads for the service.
He says he regrets his venture into what he called “artificially embellished reviews” but argues that the market will take care of the problem of insincere overenthusiasm. “Objective consumers who purchase a book based on positive reviews will end up posting negative reviews if the work is not good,” he said.
In other words, the (real) bad reviews will then drive out the (fake) good reviews. This seems to underestimate, however, the powerful motivations that writers have to rack up good reviews — and the ways they have to manipulate them until a better system comes along.
“It’s a quagmire,” Mr. Rutherford conceded.
A few months ago, he self-published a guide for aspiring authors called “The Publishing Guru on Writing.” Late last week, it had one lone review on Amazon, two sentences from someone named Kelly. “Great advice,” it read, giving the book five stars and, even more important, that all-important shot of credibility. Mr. Rutherford said he had no idea who Kelly was, but added, “I’m glad she liked it.”
Saturday, August 25, 2012
But enough of my pontificating. Here’s what Daniel wrote:
I explain to my sales team that asking people to call you back is a bit obnoxious—even if there is value and reason. When you do that your prospects are left thinking, “Wait, you want me to call you? So you can pitch me? You want me to stop doing my job and search for time in my calendar to give you so that you can sell me? Are you kidding?”
Using your strategy increases response rates for sure, but even great emails will sometimes fail. This is why I take a different approach. I try to put as much of the onus on me as possible to connect.
Here are some ways that I do that:
Example 1: “I have time free on Friday, July 6th at 2:00 pm. I’ll reach out to you then to discuss. I hope you’re able to take my call.”
With this closing statement, you’re:
Showing that you are not asking anything from them.
Carrying the labor of the continued conversation.
Passively trying to connect, not aggressively.
Example 2: “I’ll reach out to Mary to see if you have some free time next week to discuss this.”
By suggesting that you’ll reach out to their executive assistant, you’re:
Showing that you’ve done your homework.
Following the correct protocol for the continued conversation.
Not asking anything from them and their busy schedule.
Example 3: “I have time free on Friday, July 6th at 2:00 pm. Are you free at that time to talk?”
By closing this way, you’re:
Still asking them to do something, although it’s minimal. They just need to check one date/time in their calendar.
Giving them enough time (at least a week out) to ensure that they’ll have a spot on their calendar.
Sometimes I’ll offer two times a week out for them to choose from and then say, “Which date/time works best?”
By taking this approach, I’m applying a successful passive/aggressive strategy. I’m able to send three to five emails and make three calls without annoying the prospect...which isn’t easy.
Here are a few suggestions to increase your email cold calling success rate using this approach:
If I don’t reach them, I leave a voice mail and send an email stating, “I guess this didn’t turn out to be a good time. Let’s try again for Wednesday at 3 p.m.”
On the morning of my proposed meeting I’ll send an email stating, “As per my message, I’ll be calling you today at... I hope that we’re able to connect. Please let me know if that time doesn't work.”
I’ll continue this for three-times per prospect, then back away. After the third attempt, I usually say, “I guess this time frame is way too busy for us to connect. I’ll try again in the future. In the meantime, feel free to contact me…”
I then move on to someone else in the company after the three times.
I try to splice the attempts with value. Before the scheduled call attempt, I may forward them an article stating, “This company looks like they are going through the same thing as you...check out their approach.” Or on a VM, stating, “By the way, B2B magazine has a whole section this month of the financial services vertical and I know that’s a big focus for you guys.”
I love the simple elegance of Daniel’s approach. The moment I read/heard it from a customer’s perspective, I knew it was much more effective.
Jill Konrath is the author of SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies. If you’re struggling to set up meetings, click here to get a free Prospecting Tool Kit.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Monday, August 20, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
The first time I walked away from a big sale was at the end of a calendar year. It would have been the deal that got me to President’s Club. But, as much as I wanted to make that sale, I also knew that the potential client would be making a bad decision. They didn’t want to spend more than $10,000, but they needed a system that was going to cost them twice as much. I knew that if they got the lower-priced model, they would eventually hate me for it, so I walked away. And it was tough.
I was also forced to walk out in the middle of a consulting project. My client wasn’t doing his part, and because of this, we were not able to achieve a successful outcome. Continuing to pay me made no sense for him. We had a serious conversation, and after wrapping up a few loose ends, I walked away a second time.
Again, it was tough, no doubt about it. But it was the right thing to do for everyone concerned. Being willing to not sell something is a test of a salesperson’s integrity. It requires that you put your prospect’s interests ahead of your own. It’s also that integrity that will earn you the trust and loyalty of clients who can’t wait to tell their friends about you. If you cherish short-term gain over long-term success, you will not be around for long. Today’s customer wants to deal with credible people who will tell them the truth—no matter what. Your job is to be honest and serve your clients’ interests, even if that means walking away from a sale.
Jill Konrath is the author of SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies. If you’re struggling to set up meetings, click here to get a free Prospecting Tool Kit.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Tough Mudder SoCal 2012 at Snow Valley Mountain Resort.
Lately, it has become popular to claim that Facebook ads don't work.
First came the news in May that General Motors was yanking its $10 million annual advertising spend from the site. Then came the Reuters poll showing that four out of five Facebook users have never bought something because of a Facebook ad. Now, The Wall Street Journal has the story of Carolyn Everson, Facebook's vice president of marketing, and her audacious plan to clean up what many consider to be a botched opportunity for Facebook to sell ads.
But Will Dean, for one, doesn't see it that way. The founder and CEO of Tough Mudder, a Brooklyn, New York--based company that hosts obstacle-course events or "mud runs"--and expects to bring in $60 million this year--says his company has had so much success with the model, he spends as much money on Facebook ads as General Motors did, and then some. In fact, he goes so far as to credit Facebook ads for his company's early success.
"People often ask how we do our advertising," Dean says. "The answer is word of mouth, but first, you have to build momentum, and we got that momentum through Facebook."
Dean developed the idea for Tough Mudder while getting his M.B.A. at Harvard Business School. When he graduated three years ago, he and his high school friend Guy Livingstone officially launched the company with just $10,000. They spent $1,800 building a website and securing a venue and the remaining $8,200 on marketing, primarily through Facebook. According to Dean, he and Livingstone expected to lure 500 attendees to their first event in Macungie, Pennsylvania. Instead, nearly 5,000 showed up.
It would seem easy to attribute that initial response to luck. Tough Mudder is an inherently social business, after all. Not only do participants compete with groups of peers and often friends, but the imagery used in Tough Mudder's ads--people jumping over fire, covered in mud--inspires conversation. But Tough Mudder has been able to scientifically replicate that early reaction, whether or not Facebook makes it easy to do so.
Dean's first rule of advertising on Facebook successfully: Try anything once. "The great thing about digital media is you can experiment with small amounts of money," Dean says. As a result, the company has tested every type of advertising Facebook has to offer. It has run "sponsored stories," which appear on users' Facebook "news feeds" when their friends "Like" Tough Mudder; display ads, small boxes on the right-hand side of users' homepages; and even so-called partner-sponsored stories, which allow Tough Mudder's corporate sponsors to promote them. "We find that people are far more likely to click an ad if it turns up on their wall," Dean says, adding that sponsored stories are the most effective.
Dean closely measures what Tough Mudder gets in return for advertising on Facebook. "Any fool can spend money on Facebook," he says. "But we try to be as sophisticated as we can be about it."
He staffed Tough Mudder's social-media buying team with data junkies who spend their days comparing the metrics Facebook does give them, including click-through rates and cost per "engagement," with the data they collect on their own, much of which comes from surveys. At several points in the registration and preevent process, Tough Mudder asks participants to indicate how they found Tough Mudder. The multiple-choice options include answers such as "Facebook" or "advertising." Those who select "Facebook" are then prompted to check off whether they found the company through a Facebook friend or an ad, while those who choose "advertising" are prompted to check off where the ad appeared (with Facebook as one option). Both answers help the team measure the impact of the Facebook advertising.
Tough Mudder also has the luxury of knowing exactly where its target customers are located, because they typically attend events near where they live. In other words, says Peter Wylie, Tough Mudder's media director, "To determine whether dollars spent in Miami worked, we know we're looking at Miami sales."
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By combining geographic data with all the other metrics, Wylie's team has determined that for every dollar spent on Facebook ads, the return is $5 to $10. That's a figure sometimes echoed by larger advertisers, too. The Wall Street Journal explained that by using geographic data to track Unilever's ad spend on Suave beauty products, Unilever got an $8.41 return on every dollar, according to Facebook.
In addition to the metrics, Tough Mudder's marketing department works hard at crafting the right messaging and imagery to get Facebook users to take notice. According to Wylie, the messaging that works best is tongue in cheek. For instance, to accompany a photo of team members helping one another over a wall, the message will read, "9 am Team Meeting."
"I always say, 'We're a marketing company that puts on events,'" Dean says. "We're always asking, 'Is this really something people will share in a social way?'"
If it still seems that Tough Mudder's success promoting its business on Facebook is owed, in large part, to intrinsically shareable stories and images of wild obstacle-course competitions, you're not off track. Cliché as it may sound, Wylie says Facebook ads truly don't work for everyone, and determining whether a business lends itself to Facebook should be half the strategy.
Some businesses, for instance, are far more likely to be found through a Google search, and, if that's the case, Google is where those businesses should be. Dean and Wylie agree that Facebook ads serve a different purpose, which is to get people talking about a brand. An ad just serves as a reminder. "When people do Tough Mudder, they talk about it to their friends," Wylie says. "They don't sit around and talk about what shampoo they use. And if a brand wouldn't come up in a normal conversation, then Facebook's probably not a good fit."
Issie Lapowsky is a reporter at Inc. magazine. She has covered lifestyle and entertainment for the New York Daily News, and her work has been published in BlackBook magazine and The Brooklyn Rail. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.