Monday, July 12, 2010

Listening to Guy Kawasaki

A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to hear Guy Kawasaki speak at a conference in Banff, Alberta. I was very excited to hear Guy live and in person, because I have seen his books in just about every airport bookstore I have visited, though I have never actually bought one. Of his, that is.

There is no one particular reason that I haven't ever purchased a book written by Mr. Kawasaki. Sometimes I had already committed to purchasing another book, and I have a strict policy in airport bookstores; one book at a time. As a seasoned business traveler, I judiciously evaluate the exact weight of the carry-on bag that I will soon be hoisting into the overhead compartment. Space in my computer bag is precious, and there are many essentials that have priority status over a second book.

  • Laptop & Cellphone (necessary evils)
  • FranklinCovey Planner (The best calendar/task list/note pad/address book/wallet ever invented)
  • Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Noise Canceling Headset (seriously, if you have never tried these, you must).
  • MP3 Player (Guy would be disappointed to hear that it isn't an iPod)
  • Inflatable Neck Pillow, Ear Plugs, & Eye Shades (being well rested is far more important than looking cool on a plane full of strangers)
  • Change of clothes (undies, t-shirt, socks - in case my luggage is lost)
  • One Book (if I finish it, I sent it home in the mail, and buy another one)
That leaves just enough room for a couple of pencils, business cards, important files, and other work related necessities, but nothing more. (Of course, now that I have a Kindle, I can download the entire Guy Kawasaki library if I like, and I might just do that.)

Guy's keynote address at Mountain Travel Symposium was a great way to begin the annual forum for ski & snowboard travel professionals. Guy is a snowboarder himself, and he was immediately able to engage the crowd. Mr. Kawasaki began his presentation, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, by acknowledging that competition in the ski & snowboard industry is not between the different resorts or hotels, but between skiing and the other activities that families can choose alternatively (e.g. amusement parks, cruises). I definitely agree with this point, and have often encouraged my colleagues and partners to search for collaborative opportunities before focusing on competitive strategy.

Bending his own 10-20-30 rule, Guy used a PowerPoint format to illustrate his 10 techniques for driving your competition crazy. While all of the points contained merit, it was #2 that struck the deepest cord within me.

#2 - Talk to your customers

Now, this is hardly a revolutionary suggestion, and the reason it affected me so much was not because of the message it carried. It was the choice of words. Talk to your customers. While perhaps unintended, the use of the word "to" limits the effectiveness of this technique. Rather than talk to your customer, wouldn't it be better to talk with your customer?

Engaging your customers in true dialogue is the best way to understand who they are and what they need. The conversations that you have with your clients are as much a part of your business as the products and services that you sell. Face it, there are likely dozens (or even hundreds) of companies competing for your client, and the only chance you have of differentiating your company is to converse with your client. You need to establish a relationship with your client if you are ever going to have the chance to explain to them why doing business with you is the best choice.

I realize that I am splitting hairs here, and Mr. Kawasaki probably intended his rule #2 to encourage dialogue, but I have witnessed all too often how companies mistake their one-sided messaging for engaging communication. You need look no further than Facebook or Twitter to see examples of companies using a conversational platform to talk at their customers, rather than with them.

I have also witnessed companies making the complete opposite error. They mistake listening to their customer for true dialogue. Trust me, your customer does not always know what they want. Also, is not often obvious to your customer what you, the company, needs from them. Conversation is the key to collaborating with your clients.

The point of all this is that, true to Mr. Kawasaki's presentation, the better you communicate with your customer, the more you will Drive Your Competition Crazy. I highly encourage you to pick up one (or all) of Guy Kawasaki's books. I personally can't wait to dive into his latest release, Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition.

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