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Archive for June, 2010

American society worships youth. Our society devalues age. This is humanly and entrepreneurially wasteful. This is not ROI practical. It is also not demographically realistic.

It has become a clichéd joke, but 60 really is the new 40 and 70 really is the new 50. We all are simply living longer and healthier lives.

Betty Friedan, the founder of NOW, wrote a book in 1994 called The Fountain of Age (Reed Business Information). Friedan presents the thesis that life after 55 is by far the most fecund and useful for most people. She produces research studies and considerable anecdotal evidence that the “Third Age” (after growing up and then generating a career and a family) is the age of creativity.

I know my own executive sales outsourcing firm, Corporate Rain International, has vastly profited over the years by resting the core of our practice on the backs of associates between the ages of 35 and 65. (Admittedly this has been made easier by the fact that Corporate Rain is a virtual company. Our executives mostly work out of their home offices all over the country.) In our case we need high-level people who can speak on a basis of equal business stature with top decision-makers at corporations. The authority to do this type of business development effectively is not something that can be taught to a younger employee academically. Subtle instinct and articulate gravitas can only come through the experience and hard knocks of a lived life. Hence the enormous value of older employees.

I’ve heard the business reasons for hiring the young–that the young have more energy, they are more open to the new (not set in their ways), they work for less money, they are healthier, more technologically savvy…and they’re prettier. I’ve found most of these arguments to be specious on balance. In fact, what the older employee offers is an unteachable wisdom, knowledge, perspective and patience.  These unquantifiable qualities come mostly from a lived life. From the travails of existence itself come humility, sensitivity and compassion. These are certainly very useful qualities in service-oriented, high-end sales. I anticipate each of my associates will be independent, authoritative points of interaction in support of our clients. They must be constantly making independent, nuanced decisions, in addition to consistently embodying the service ethic and spiritual generosity that I expect out of my representatives.

I have found the older employee to have more loyalty and staying power. And the generational work ethic is better. I know this makes me sound like a creaky curmudgeon, but it is, I believe, a clear-eyed, practical observation. Furthermore, in exchange for certain life-style tradeoffs and flexibility, these employees are more financially practicable than one might think. (I intend to talk about life-style and employment next week.) Also, most of the work of my firm is sedentary, not requiring the vaster physical prowess of the young.

Additionally, it’s just ridiculously wasteful to prematurely abandon the aging employee, like an old Inuit floating off to die on an iceberg.

Social security begins at 62. In practical terms this age must be raised. The average lifespan of a 40 year old male is 77.1 years and the average lifespan of the 40 year old female is 81.9 years. Government retirement support will have to be scaled back to deal with the coming financial tsunami of unfunded entitlements. There is no reason for your employees not to come from this overlooked pool of more seasoned employees, especially if they’re not required to dig ditches.

Financier Bernard Baruch said in 1955, “To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.” Makes sense to me. Thanks, Bernard.

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I watched President Obama’s Oval Office speech on June 15 concerning the eternally gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. And it reminded me of my long-held instinct about the importance of stillness to the salesman.

My feeling about this is a close corollary to my blogs on Silence (March 2, 2010) and Simplicity (November 24, 2009 & December 1, 2009). But the value of stillness is one more of drama than of essence.

President Obama’s speech, in addition to being vague and confusingly convoluted, was uncomfortably twitchy, physically frenetic. It was an uneasy and distracting thing for me to watch. How ’bout you?

In the Wall Street Journal of June 19, 2010 Peggy Noonan describes the speech thusly:

“Throughout the speech the president gestured showily, distractingly, with his hands. Politicians do this now because they’re told by media specialists that it helps them look natural. They don’t look natural, they look like Ann Bancroft gesticulating to Patty Duke in ‘The Miracle Worker.'”

When dealing with a catastrophe, people want assurance about the immediate crisis, not a hypothetically global analysis of the environment.  One way a good salesman–and Obama was a salesman for his administration last Wednesday evening–assures a client is by not over-doing it. A good salesman abjures excess fussiness and flummery. He gets to the point with cleanness and clarity. If you try to sell everything you sell nothing.

One technical example of this is Ms. Noonan’s apt description above of Obama’s excessive use of his hands. It seemed like every other word was emphasized with a hand chop. If every phrase is so emphasized, there is only a distracting mannerism with no meaning. It vitiates everything. More is not better.

Better is to say less and say the important things with a still simplicity, especially when trying to make your client feel secure. For the salesman it’s ideal to say what’s important and then be still.  Stillness does not mean a deenergized inertia. It means a focused, quiet, rooted presence. Effective stillness comes when you are secure. It is the ideal completion of the dramatic arc of the sale.

Mark Twain once said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” Thanks, Mark.

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Our lovely Great Recession has been a boon for my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International. Yup. Despite alarming small business trends I’ve discussed lately, Corporate Rain has become a tighter, stronger, more profitable, more effective organization. So, in many ways, I personally feel gratitude for the current economic malaise.

Fear is a useful tool for change. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has famously said a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. That’s true. So here’s how we’ve used the last two anni horribiles at Corporate Rain to become a better company with a steadily improving top and bottom line.

First of all, we’ve brought on an experienced COO with new responsibilities for streamlining and efficiencies, with broad authority to institute change. As founder of my firm I’ve had to let go responsibilities I’m not gifted at, an act made easier through urgency. We have cut inefficient personnel and process. Staff responsibilities have been reviewed and realigned. Our line-up of  executives and associates have never been stronger or more effective. Every expenditure is analyzed, no matter how minor. (My COO insisted I justify a $10 light bulb purchase last week. Annoying, but probably all to the good.)

Second, we have discovered at least two serious new revenue streams, which we had simply not bothered to pursue pre-recession. These new verticals are recession proof and make our long-term financial planning easier.

Third, when we have had extra staffing band-width, we have used our resources and experience on a pro bono basis to support a variety of charities including Texas Voice Project For Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Association, By The Hand Club For Kids, and the Wilkinson Center, helping these institutions with free ongoing business development, research, and planning. We also sit on the boards of some of these organizations. On an individual basis I am deeply proud that most of our employees do active volunteer work individually, as well.

In addition to writing my alarmist concern about the current state of small business, I and Corporate Rain’s President David Downey have had personal meetings with elected officials in three different states and Washington D.C. to discuss both charitable issues and current small business problems. We have corporately committed to active participation with the boards of three different non-profits.

I do have a mystical instinct that karmic reward does follow energy given back to the universe. Without sounding too granola hippyish, bad times offer an even greater opportunity for an open spirit of entrepreneurial generosity. This recession presents a particularly useful chance to walk the walk of principles and ideals. And it’s really ultimately a selfish thing as it ennobles the tone of your company and engenders pride and happiness in employees. If nothing else, a tone of service and helpfulness osmoses into all your everyday interactions. It spawns trust and collegiality in potential clients.

So, while I cannot deny alarm and even morbidity in my concern about the current macro small business climate, there are so many daily positives that can come out of economic gloom. At least that has been the case for us.

Though we live in a fraught and difficult entrepreneurial atmosphere, there is really no bad time for doing good business.

General Douglas MacArthur said, “There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity.” Thank you, Douglas.

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Here’s my general feeling about new hiring these days. No way, José. The choice for my 30 employee firm, Corporate Rain International, is to not hire now unless we absolutely have to.

Why? For me and most of my small business colleagues, clients, and friends, the present Great Recession is a stunning entrepreneurial ambush. It’s a flabbergasting rule changer and assumption challenger. However, the conventional wisdom is that we’ve now turned a corner and that the entrepreneurial class is and should be beginning to make new hires.  As I mentioned on May 18 (Chicken Little and Entrepreneurship), I remain less that sanguine about a robust recovery, with it’s concomitant implications for a hiring ramp-up.

The news is technically positive. The Wall Street Journal reported on June 4 that unemployment is down to 9.7%. Payroll giant ADP reports private sector jobs increased 55,000 last month and the number of claims for unemployment went down by 10,000. Ford and GM are rehiring some autoworkers. Payrolls climbed 431,000 and pending home sales rose 6%. White House Head Economist Christina Romer spoke on Friday of “continuing signs of labor market recovery.” But before popping the recovery champagne, I have some very cautionary thoughts.

No one likes bad news. But beneath the patina of good news mentioned above (and emphasized in government press releases) there are lots of corrosive caveats. The first of these is purely factual. How much of this employment news is really true?

John Crudele of the NY Post has been on an editorial jihad about the undependable and illusory nature of governmental employment figures for some time, pointing out that much of what is accepted as factual truth about employment, new company formation, and economic activity is really hypothetical, and often quite optimistic, guesswork. In his column of June 3, titled, “Census Workers Share Their Horror Stories”, he shares anecdotal evidence that, among other things, the Census office hiring figures may be inflated. He states, “A couple of weeks ago I found out that Census was repeatedly hiring and firing workers without any apparent reason. I questioned if this was being done to artificially boost the nation’s employment figures since the Labor Department considers it a new job created whenever someone is hired to work as little as one hour in a month. Was Census churning jobs to make the economy look healthier than it really is?” Good question, John.

But even assuming governmental figures for employment were not disingenuous, 411,000 of the recent new payroll jobs were indeed with the Census Bureau, creating very short-term governmental employment. After predictions of a 200,000 gain in private sector jobs last month, the actual figure was 41,000. That’s not good. Despite lots of governmental cheer leading and happy talk, the private sector is just not coming back.

Pardon my pessimism, friends, but I feel more strongly than ever that small business is the canary in the coal mine that presages nothing good for the US economy. President Obama seems genuinely bemused as to why we small businessmen refuse to start hiring. Hasn’t he stimulated the economy out the wazoo? Yes. Probably excessively so. But little of this largesse has been directed toward the entrepreneur.

No less than Bill Gross of PIMCO, being interviewed on Bloomberg Radio (8:45 AM-June 4), stated job growth in the private sector is moribund, and that without temporary governmental stimulus unemployment would be over 11%. Even überliberal Robert Reich wrote a cautionary op-ed in The New York Times on Wednesday, June 2 titled “Entrepreneur or Unemployed?” which challenges optimistic assumptions about supposed increased entrepreneurial activity. Reich asks, “So why all this entrepreneurship last year?…In a word [it’s actually] unemployment. Booted off company payrolls, millions of Americans had no choice but to try selling themselves. Another term for ‘entrepreneur’ is ‘self-employed.” Reich reports that layoffs have surged while hiring has almost disappeared. And these are permanent job losses, replaced by labor-saving technologies, outsourcing or contract labor. He predicts a 50% likelihood we will slip back into recession.

In addition to our current entrepreneurial conundrums, there are growing long-term disincentives that militate against small business hiring.

  • The major disincentive is potential large costs of tax and bureaucracy associated with the new health care legislation. But, even worse, is the uncertainty this cryptic 2,000 page monstrosity has created. What the hell is really in it? I sure don’t know. I don’t think even the people in our government know. It’s bloody scary for a businessman.
  • Second, how does private business hope to compete for employees with the increasingly bloated salaries of public sector workers? Westchester County Association executive Amy Allen, in the June issue of Westchester magazine, points out that the average public sector salary in my region of New York is about 6% above the average salary in the private sector. And this is before figuring in large pensions and health care for life. According to the Cato Institute, the average federal civilian salary with benefits is $119,982 compared with $59,909 for the average private sector worker. Wow.
  • Third, states like New York are near bankruptcy. To solve their financial conundrum I predict these states will fall on small business with more taxes and more red tape–like lions on a lamb. Small business is vulnerable and weak compared to big business and public sector unions. I sure hope and pray I’m wrong on this one.

My cri du coeur is that the small business issue be addressed more insistently, more forcefully by the press and media, as well as government. Pay attention to us! All is not well out here in little business land. It would be utter imprudent madness for most of us to hire and rehire employees in the present environment.

Hire more workers?  Hell no.

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People want to fall in love. A good salesman should let them.

To explain what I mean by this, let me step backwards for a moment. The root of quality selling must always be in having something valid, something true, something genuinely helpful to sell. If you don’t have this, don’t even begin to try to sell. If you try to sell that in which you have no passionate belief or something that is false you are dead. You are a servant of the devil. You are an apostle of the unsavory. You are Bernie Madoff. You are a fraud and incipient thief, as well as a killer of your own soul.

Perhaps this is obvious, but, in truth, good selling begins with a moral choice to purvey a real value and it is essential to know this in advance.

But assuming the real value of your selling proposition, salesmanship is really nothing more than helping people be selfish, helping people do the right thing for themselves.

The salesman’s job is to guide people to “fall in love” with that which can raise them up. The salesman’s job is to help a business client succumb to that which, in varying degrees, offers ROI salvation for himself and his firm.

It cannot be denied that most of us associate falling in love with erotic desire. Indeed, like a new lover, a salesman’s job is to make the truth sexy. A passionately told truth is and should be a heart-fluttering aphrodisiac.

Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his profoundly insightful book The Road Less Traveled (1978-Simon & Schuster-p. 90) talks extensively about the nature of love. He states, “…falling in love is a trick that our genes pull on our otherwise perceptive mind to hoodwink or trap us into marriage.” But, for Peck, falling in love is also a tool for initially breaking down barriers separating us all from a deeper love, a deeper truth and an agapic potentiality.

A good salesman, like a good lover, combines a conscious employment of qualities like looks, charm, wardrobe, and, most importantly, a well-honed charisma of expressed faith in a product. Charisma emanates from a fervid inner truth and an embedded belief. A focused salesman leaves a palpable frisson in his wake and should awake an ardent longing in a potential client to do what is in the client’s best interest anyway. Effective salesmen are evangelists of “the good.”

The English philosopher Bertrand Russell, in The Impact of Science on Society, states simply, “If you feel love, you have a motive for existence, a reason for action.” Thank you, Bertrand.

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