Your expertise is about to expire

Ross Shafer
Tags: business management

The headline got your attention, didn’t it?

It’s scary to think you might actually become obsolete. What’s really frightening is to already be obsolete and not even know it.

You see, it doesn’t matter that you’ve been an expert in your field for 20 years. Or that you are a leading expert in your field, today. What are you doing to make sure you’re an expert tomorrow? In 10 years? You already know that technology changes weekly. You know that today’s workforce consists of four wildly different generations. And, you just heard your competition recently went “global” – or has started franchising. Bold growth begs to ask bold questions … like, “Am I still relevant?”

Are you relevant to your customers, your clients and your employees? If you aren’t important to your core (and vital) constituents, you are destined to experience a withering market share and the loss of your most talented staff members.

So, what can you do about keeping your edge? How can you continue to grow when the trends seem to be outpacing you?

1) Attend the wrong convention

Yes, I’m actually asking you to “crash” a big general meeting at a hotel near you. Find out what big convention is in town. Dress well. Show up. Tell “security” at the door that you don’t have your badge but that you didn’t want to miss the guest speaker. (All true.) Ninety-five percent of the time, you’ll be able to sit down and soak up some information that will likely revolutionize your business.

In my job, I get the opportunity to attend 80-plus conferences and conventions each year. I have a front row seat to a myriad of best practices – and then do my best to cross-pollinate them at the next conference.

Example: I went to a grocery convention and found out that 42 percent of grocery shoppers still don’t know what they want for dinner at 4 p.m. I passed on that valuable tid-bit to a chain of successful seafood restaurants. They immediately started running their radio ads at 3 p.m. Planting another meal option in the minds of the listeners (when they are starting to think about dinner) has caused their restaurant business to climb.

2) Best practices are a moving target.

What works today might not work tomorrow.

I heard Jack Welch tell a group of tech executives that when he ran General Electric, he would actually penalize a manager for not being forthcoming about a better way he/she was doing things. That policy became an inside joke at GE. A manager would call Jack’s office and say, “Hey, I think we’re onto something really cool in Des Moines. Please tell Jack so I don’t get caught with it.”

Companies like 3M are never satisfied with exceeding sales goals on today’s great products. They take enormous pride in the fact that 30 percent of their products didn’t even exist four years ago. They innovate to remain relevant.

I was at a Kodak camera meeting in the late 1990s where a top sales executive stood up and told the group, “Don’t be freaked out by digital photography. It’s a fad.”

Endorsing that kind of irrelevance has diminished their stock value, their employee recruiting and their market share. I wonder if the folks at Polaroid had similar denial toward the digital revolution.

3) Stop losing sleep over technology.

If you have e-mail, a Web site, a reliable server, and the ability to sell products and services online, you’re doing great. You’re better off worrying about the human communication skills of your workforce. With the rampant proliferation of cell phones, voicemail, e-mail and text messaging, more and more of your customers and clients are craving human contact. They want to talk to human beings. They want a trusted relationship with you so they can stop “dating” your competition. Honestly, they could care less what generation of routers and switchers you’re running. They want you to listen to what they need – then consult them on their choices.

We teach Customer Empathy classes instead of customer “service” because today’s customers want you to understand their point of view before, during and after the transaction. They want you to know they often feel helpless, out of control and anxious about the purchase – especially if it’s a high-ticket item. You may be a person who sells homes, computers or BMWs all day long. But your customer may only buy an item that huge two to four times in their lifetime. Creating a trusted emotional connection between you and your customer is the only recipe for long-term customer loyalty.

4) Listen to our culture.

Don’t just subscribe to your industry magazines.

Every month, go to your local newsstand (or go online) and read a variety of publications you normally wouldn’t read. Pick magazines about science, medicine, sports, money, guitars and women’s issues. Get a sense of what our culture is talking about. How are they spending their time? How are they spending their money? Listen to people talk at the supermarket, the drug store, the fast food restaurant, the hardware store … wherever.

You’re listening for “buzz.” Buzz is the new stuff everybody is talking about. You want to be buzz.

Young people know about buzz. They are often early adopters of technology, games, phone services, and anything fun and interesting. Their shorter attention spans demand it. Have a meeting with the Millennials in your workforce. Ask them what Web sites they surf. Ask them where they spend their weekends and off-time. Ask them to help you set up a Wikipedia page or upload homemade company videos to YouTube. Young people are relevant by design and peer pressure. They embrace change because change means “better.” Remember, they’re anxious to download software upgrades.

If you take an active interest in paying attention to life and humanity, obsolescence will never be your problem. Plus, you’ll have plenty of time to focus on more important crises ... like your hairline?

About the author:

Ross Shafer is a popular speaker and expert on best practices and business growth. He is the author of “Remaining Relevant” How Great People and Organizations Keep Growing (due January 2008) as well as “Nobody Moved Your Cheese” and “The Customer Shouts Back.” For more information, visit www.RossShafer.com.


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