hospitality technology made simple by kevin sturm Consulting

enterprise software, hoax or holy grail – part two

This is the second post in a three part series on enterprise software solutions.
If you have not read part one you can see it here.

build your requirements document.

You've made it this far, so now it's time to dive deep into the viability and validity of your prospective solutions. For venues implementing a standard technology system this could be the normal RFP process that is common (read more below why I do not like RFPs). But if you are implementing a large scale enterprise system, specifically with multiple vendors, it is now time to discover how well you did your leg work and if all your prospective vendors were completely honest with you through the early discussions.

Most venues, with the possible help of a consultant, will build a very long and wordy RFP. That RFP will be sent to all prospective vendors with a timeline for completion. I recommend to avoid this process. The venue or consultant will spend hours and dollars building a thorough RFP. When prospective vendors receive it, they filter it through a process where it first goes to a marketing person that generally has minimal knowledgeable of what the system can and cannot do. This person reviews the questions and pulls answers from previous RFPs or from an RFP Library that has been built over time. Any questions that do not have standard answers will then be delegated out to prospective parties for answers.

When all questions are answered the RFP will be sent through a sales or marketing resource that reviews it to ensure there are no answers that will prevent the vendor from getting further into the sale. For answers that are obvious disqualifiers careful wording will be used to ensure ambiguity. I am not saying this is all vendors, but I have never found one that did not word answers to their benefit.

My recommendation rather is to build a Requirements Document. This is a table of features that compiled based on research of both technical and operational requirements. From the work you have already done it should be simpler (though not quick) to build this. Group features logically, but only you should know at this point which are required, highly desirable, or nice to have (this helps you get an unfiltered response from the vendor). Your goal is to have “Yes” or “No” answers. Avoid wording where “Yes, but...” could be used as a response.

An example of why I like a Requirements Document versus an RFP is outlined below using a common POS function.

An RFP might say, “Please outline how your system handles transferred checks between employees and how revenue is tracked.” This is not a bad question, but allows for all kinds of interpretation. A Requirements Document has a list of features associated with transferring a check:
  • A check can be transferred from one employee to another by a manager at the POS terminal with employees present.
  • A check can be transferred from one employee to another by a manager at the POS terminal without employee present.
  • Ownership of a check can be transferred by the current owner to another employee without manager intervention.
  • Ownership of a check can be transferred by the current owner to another employee with manager intervention.
  • Ownership of a check can be transferred by the receiving employee pulling it from the current check owner with manager intervention.
  • Ownership of a check can be transferred by the receiving employee pulling it from the current check owner without manager intervention.
  • Revenue associated with a transferred check is always assigned to the employee that owns the check at tender.
  • A check can be transferred from one revenue location to another after items have been added to the check and saved.
  • Revenue from a check that is transferred will be associated with the revenue center that the check is closed in.
It should be immediately apparent that this will be time intensive process. But if you compare this upfront time against reading all the vendor responses and figuring out which vendor has what you want based on those responses my experience is this is a better process.

When you get your Requirements Document back from each vendor you can quickly create a single table with all responses and have a simplistic view of which vendor(s) best meet your need. I'm going to end this section here to avoid a detailed post on the system evaluation and selection process. It is more commonly understood, but I may cover the process in a future post. You can email me if you have a specific question on how to build a Requirements Document.

build a lab.
Making the assumption that you have made your vendor selection(s) and are ready for install, it is time to move to implementation phase. But before you jump directly into the deep end and install your enterprise solution(s), you best bet is to build a lab. For clarity, I am referring a test system to prove the viability of your selection(s). Your lab system should mimic your planned production environment as closely as possible, taking into consideration hardware requirements, network setup (i.e. VPN, LAN/WAN/VLAN, dial-up, etc.), and interfaces. The one exception to this is if you selected a hosted solution. When possible have the lab installed at your location. Hosted labs generally come with limitations that will prevent you from having control over testing and timeline.

The lab step is critical to your success and control in the contract process as well. You may be asking, “How does a lab affect the contract?” Your contract at this point should be specifically for the lab. This type of contract is common, but many vendors do not offer this direction because it increases the sales cycle and increases the risk of having to commit to features in a final contract. So your contract at this point needs to be solely for a lab. However, make sure you have wording in this contract to not pay for software licenses twice. Negotiate to pay for software licenses only in the production system. You should however purchase a support contract for both your lab and production environment so you have full technical support of your lab.

An important point not miss is your lab needs to include all the enterprise systems you are installing. This was the reason for diagramming interface points and system architecture early in the process, ensuring interface functionality meets your requirements. During this process document the installation and configuration step of each solution for production implementation. This will save you time and headache when your business is dependent on getting in right he first time. Another benefit to building a lab.

In short there are two main reasons to implement a lab.
  1. Ensure the enterprise solutions you are implementing will interface smoothly based on your operations and requirements.
  2. Discover any feature gaps that must be resolved before moving into production. Generally you will find these, and you want to find them now versus in production.
From this information you should now be able to make a final decision if you can move forward with the vendors you have selected. Part 3 of this topic will review documenting feature development requirements, contract language, and implementing your enterprise software project.

For more information about kevin sturm Consulting please visit my website.

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first check!

I got my first check for kevin sturm Consulting in the mail on Friday. The first of what I hope will be many...Yeah!

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enterprise software, hoax or holy grail – part one

This is the first post in a three part series on enterprise software solutions.

“It's an enterprise software solution.” This has become a loose and liberally used term by hospitality technology vendors and hospitality venues. It is for many technology vendors the everything feature, used to answer questions about consolidated ad-hoc reporting, multi-layer configuration, shared data elements, and next generation architecture and interface support. “Yes we can do that, it's an Enterprise solution.” But the reality for most hospitality venues seeking the Holy Grail of enterprise systems is very different. Implementing a single enterprise solution is a complex task. Implementing multiple enterprise systems is difficult at best and may be impossible for some if not carefully planned and executed.

I consulted with a client who a few years back purchased a number of Enterprise software solutions with promises of decreased food cost, better financial reporting, improved menu analysis, and lower system support costs. They chose well established vendors with proven track records, working with each vendor to implement the system to take advantage of it's enterprise features. But like many other venues with similar initiatives, they found the project to be highly complex with problems the vendors had not prepared them for. The current outcome of their initiative was to remove one solution all together, delay the implementation of other solutions, and focus on retrofitting a single Enterprise system to meet business needs.

For some venues installing multiple enterprise solutions is not currently a reality, but for others it can be accomplished with a well planned project and diligent management of the the individual sites and vendors. Venues currently planning on migrating or replacing disparate technology solutions with one or more Enterprise solutions must consider these items before selecting a vendor(s).

research and document technical and functional operations.

Before choosing an Enterprise solution it is important to ensure that you can feasibly implement an Enterprise solution. This will be different for each type of venue, but four important requirements are network architecture, security permissions, site operations, and financial reporting needs.

Most enterprise solutions require some form of network solution that connects all sites, and many vendors them will request a dedicated or isolated network. In this day and age it would seem simple to get Internet access with all the options, but time and again venues (especially remote venues) find that Internet access is difficult if not impossible to get. For many a T1 or Fractional T1 is the only option, which can break the budget of many technology projects. To add complexity to the situation, your security team is waiting to tell you all the reasons the desired solution will not meet security standards. If it is not documented already, request Information Technology (IT) to document permission and access protocol for your network, and involve IT in the process of selecting your system.

If you are contemplating an Enterprise system it often means you have multiple locations spread out over a geographic area. And unless you are McDonald's each of these locations have defined their operations and are reticent to change. It is vitally important you understand and document these operations, from the front end user to the detailed reporting procedures used by finance. Be diligent in asking for any “customizations” that individual sites have made to their existing solutions. Pay special attention to finance since most established finance teams have custom spreadsheets or macros that have been created to work with their existing system. Interrupting this process without a replacement plan will not only create project delays but unhappy employees.

evaluate and change your operations.
When you have documented your operations it is time to make some hard decisions. One of the most difficult projects to undertake is deciding on your corporate standards. It is actually easy at corporate, but difficult at the site level. Management at individual locations are never excited about operational changes, and are often not willing participants. The success of your project(s) weighs heavily in the hands of local site management, and their participation is vital. Decisions need to be made in advance of your technology decision so that data requirements are understood and planned changes to operational processes documented.

Once these decisions are made, it is important to mandate the planned changes. Customizations at the site level will kill your enterprise project with poor transactional data. A top initiative of your Enterprise project should be to ensure quality data is being stored. Lots of operational procedures will ensure lots of disparate and duplicate data in your system.

understand hierarchy of data elements.

Now that you have your general operations down, you can begin to document the important data elements. These data elements are important for two reasons. First, they are the back bone of your reporting. It's the old adage of garbage-in-garbage-out. If you don't understand the data going it, the data coming out won't make sense either.

Secondly, data elements will be the measure to understand Enterprise hierarchy of your technology solutions. Pay attention, because this is important. Enterprise solutions are based on a hierarchy of data elements. For example, at the most basic level they will have a hierarchy of the business.

Corporation – Ownership Entity
Business – The actual business
Region – Sub definition of Business
Site – Physical place of business

Not all technology solutions will have all of these data elements, but most will have some subset. This however is the most basic hierarchy of an enterprise system. Each data element will then be associated with one or more of the above data elements. Some examples of sub-data elements are employees, revenue types, revenue centers, inventory items (whether food, rooms, tables, or people), and point of service (POS) devices.

When reviewing your technology options request a detailed data hierarchy from all prospective vendors. If they do not have this information, demand it. It is too important to your success to overlook. If they cannot provide it, then they are not worth evaluating.

diagram interface points.
If you have completed all the above successfully, you have done the easy part. You understand the operational requirements, documented important data elements, and have information on how your prospective vendors define those data elements. As great as it would be if technology vendors designed their architecture with other vendors in mind, they did not. They designed them with release dates, internal initiatives, and other customers in mind. Each data element from each vendor is a puzzle piece and the puzzle pieces must fit in order see a holistic picture of your data.

Careful attention to this step will make or break the success of your enterprise solution project. It is also important that someone with a strong technical understanding be involved in this step. Enterprise projects succeed or fail on how well the data elements fit together. I recommend putting together a simple table that creates a single view of how these data elements fit together. Having this information in a single view defines how each vendor's hierarchal structures complements and contradicts each other.

For example, if your Point of Sale (POS) solution defines revenue centers at the lowest level and your Property Management System (PMS) defines them at the highest level an interface architecture needs to be implemented to ensure maximum benefit is achieved from each system.

You've now made it to the vendor selection process. For tips on Enterprise Software implementations read Part 2 of this post.

For more information about kevin sturm Consulting please visit my website.

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how promotable/marketable are you?

The other morning I was having coffee with my sister-in-law, Cara, discussing her current job opportunities. She is an up and coming tornado at Anthropologie and is now ready for the next big thing. In our conversation we talked about what employees that quickly get promoted do. Obviously there are the qualities of hard work, enthusiasm, knowledge of the business, years of experience, leadership, and such. But in most companies that is not enough, or at least not what is going to get you moving quickly to the next big thing.

In my experience there are a three lesser discussed things that can have a huge impact on your promotability. There are more than three even, but for brevity I'll focus on three.

stop asking what qualities and experience is needed for a promotion
As a manager I had an endless number of conversations with employees who would ask
me, "What are the traits you look for in a <fill in the title>?" This is a bad way to approach it. The question worded this way tells the manager you don't believe you are ready for the promotion but would like to be considered at some point in the future.

Instead of asking this question do some research to understand the position that you want and then meet with the manager to inform them that you want the promotion. Point out all the areas that you have the experience, qualifications, and successes to be great at the job. Outline how you specifically could add value to the organization in this new position. Then, if need be discuss what specific areas you need experience in before being qualified for the promotion, and ask the manager what opportunities exist in the near future for you to get the experience needed.
leave your personal finance choices out of the discussion
Most employees seek out a promotion or pay increase because their personal financial situation has changed and they need to make more money. Probably 80% of employees that asked me for a promotion or raise had this as a major point in the discussion. This is about the worst way to go about getting a promotion. It tells your manager you are spending money you don't have! That is a big red flag because it means you may not be as responsible as you should be. Additionally, don't make the focus of your discussion what says you should make. Unless you are working for a Fortune 500 company that pays at the top 10% it is not a realistic comparison.

A conversation about compensation and promotion needs to be focused on what you specifically do or will be doing to increase current revenue production for the business. If you don't know how you are doing this, you have no business asking for a promotion.

I once had an employee ask me for a salary increase and promotion with a breakdown of what affect his current salary had on the percentage of gross margin for the department, how his specific performance was increasing company revenue by tracking his revenue performance for 6 months, and that his requested increase would affect less than .1% of current gross margin for the department. He then outlined how he would further increase his revenue production, and how the increase would make him feel more valued for his hard work and his job would be more enjoyable. I gave him the promotion affective immediately, without even getting approval from our CFO. I knew that with that level of detail the CFO couldn't even say no.

stop waiting to get recognized
When I left my last company they asked me to complete an Employee Exit interview. One of the questions was about how often I got feedback from my manager.

How frequently did you get feedback on your
performance? What were your feelings about them?
I received feedback almost every year during my normal
performance review. I generally found they were informative and provided good feedback and opportunities for improvement.
How frequently did you have discussions with your manager about your career goals? What are your
feelings regarding these discussions?
As often as I initiated and felt it was needed.
However, I think employees who receive the best feedback seek it out versus wait for it. Generally those who wait patiently for recognition and guidance end up feeling slighted, abused, and unappreciated. I am a firm believer that opportunities are created and taken not given, and corporate recognition is directly related to how well you market yourself.

Recognition in the work place is like dating. If you're a wall flower it's tough to get recognized. If you are waiting for someone to give you pat on the back and a promotion for a job well done, you most likely feel like you work for a company that doesn't reward hard work, you often feel abused by the company, and that the company always says great job to other people but never you (there are companies out there that reward hard work all the time, I worked for one for a while). If this is you, stop waiting to get recognized and point out the value you bring the organization. Most likely the employees that always get recognized are self promoting while you are waiting for someone to notice you.

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the freedom to fellowship

One of my favorite things about being self employed is getting to fellowship with friends in the morning over coffee. This morning I got hang with DJ at his SWEET pad in Santa Barbara. This place is seriously amazing because it has a view that is unique even in Santa Barbara. You can see Ventura and north Goleta practically. DJ and I were going to meet at Whales Tail downtown but we decided to have breakfast at the Freedom House instead. Crystal (his personal assistant) made us an amazing breakfast of French toast coated with corn flakes and almonds. It was 5-star style eating, plus we ate on the patio (which DJ had never done!) and had an amazing view to go with the amazing meal. Thanks Crystal! We also had mimosas with Dom Perignon that was left over from a get together the previous night...livin' the high life!DJ and I talked about how much fun it was to be able to just hang out in the morning to do what we felt was important (which may be to work, read, or fellowship) versus rush to be at work at 8:00 am. I really feel so blessed to have the freedom to do this and have friends like DJ to hang with and enjoy time together.

The view from DJ's patio as displayed by my iPhone!

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my new experience phone

It was my birthday this past Friday. I turned 32 but I still feel 28. 28 is a good age I think.

My wonderful wife Chrystal (and my parents) surprised me with an iPhone. This is my 3rd PDA phone and it is by far the best. I'm a recent mac convert (switched when they went dual core processor) and I love the experience. Apple knows how to deliver an unparalleled experience.
Thanks sweetie for the best phone ever made!

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the challenges for hotels in web 2.0

As a frequent traveler this video makes me want to throw-up. I've stayed at each of these brands multiple times and drank from hotel drinking glasses bunches of times. I'm always a little wary of the bedding and check to ensure it appears clean (I once found dirty underwear in my hotel bed!), but I've never found the glasses to appear dirty.

In the world of Web 2.0 everyone needs to be more diligent regarding the level of service they are providing to their customers. I doubt this news story was some random idea. I'm betting they got tipped off which means management at some level knew it was happening. Web 2.0 technology will continue to be a benefit to hospitality venues when used advantageously, but the true value is yet to be seen.

Never Use the Glasses in your Hotel Room

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review before you replace

The technology system you bought a couple years ago has never really met your needs, nor has your vendor ever delivered on the commitments they made during the sale. Sound familiar?

This experience often seems to be the majority for hospitality venues, and like many others you are contemplating investing in a new system. Your vendor does not seem to want to fix the problems and you are not sure they can. But before you go down the road of new requirements, RFPs, budget allocation, and the infrastructure investment of buying a new system it is worth your time and money to “Review Before You Replace”.

After almost a decade of replacing technology systems, working with venues to fulfill sales commitments, and minimizing the interruption of a new installation my experience is 65% of venues ended up having the same problems with the new vendor. The reasons for this are generally not the fault of the vendor. Usually it is a number of steps were not and have not been done by the venue in ensuring the software they purchased meets their needs. The reality is 80% of the features in competitive technology systems are the same, and the unique 20% are a very specific set of features you probably do not need (the exception to this may be in system architecture). It is highly possible that replacing your system is just a really expensive way of buying the same problems.

Before you replace your system go through the following exercises as a due diligence effort. If after these steps you find that your current system does not meet your needs, you will already have most of what you need to begin the replacement process.

  1. Define your needs versus wants.
    Define exactly what you need from your technology solution and then define what you want. You will most likely find that many of your needs end up in the wants column and some of your wants end up as needs. Prioritize the needs and wants separately as high, medium, or low. The exercise of prioritizing them will also help you organize the needs versus the wants.

    This process should include multiple users of the technology system with input from different functional areas (i.e. finance, f&b, information technology). If this process is accomplished by a single group (read information technology) it is a worthless exercise.

  2. Review the list with your internal expert.
    Have your internal system expert review this list and recommend system changes to meet these requirements. If no one in your company can do this then you will never be happy with any system you have. Like it or not, someone in your company needs to be a 'super user'. If you believe the system you bought does not require someone in your organization to know how to use it intimately then I believe you will never have a solution that meets your needs. (Step 5 is part of the solution this problem.)

  3. Review the list with your vendor.
    Meet with your vendor to review the list together and request they respond to each need and want. You should have filtered out the items you already know can be met at this point to save time for everyone. Most likely you can work with Customer Care or Technical Support and go through this process without paying for a billable service. You are not actually installing anything new, but optimizing the use of your existing system. If your vendor responds that this is a billable service then you may be better off going with a different vendor. The vendor has to want the system to work for you.

    For this step to be successful the vendor must provide a resource that is an expert in your vertical and on the software. Demand this as part of the process and do not settle for a resource that has to escalate to another person to answer every question. A first level (or even second level) support resource is most likely going to be a waste of time for you. For this to work in a timely fashion you need a resource with two years of experience.

  4. Require your vendor to outline how to make changes.
    After getting a response for every item on your list from the vendor request detail on how to implement the changes for your system. Recognize that these changes may require you to change operational procedures. No off the shelf system is going to match exactly how you run your operation. If you want a system that does you will need to build it from scratch, and that is way more expensive and troublesome than changing operations.

    Review the notes from your vendor in detail with your internal system expert (super user) and ensure they understand how to implement both the system changes and operational changes. At this point you will probably find a new system is not required, but if you do the requirements have already been defined.

  5. Invest in training.
    If your 'super user' cannot implement the changes without assistance invest in training. My experience is one of the biggest reason venues are unhappy with their investment is they skimped on training. If you are looking to cut costs in your project do not cut training. Your entire operation will run smoother when everyone knows what to do. The analogy I use here is learning to drive a golf cart and then assuming that you can drive that golf cart in rush hour traffic on the freeway. You will probably cause an accident. If you do not you will succeed in causing road rage.

    The training should be catered towards implementing the changes to meet your needs. Do not let your vendor waste your money by delivering a canned curriculum that only covers half of what you need to know. Demand a custom curriculum be delivered in advance of the training so you can review it, and demand the trainer have expertise in your market and on every feature you are going to implement.

  6. Build a plan to implement the changes.
    When training is complete your super user should know how to implement changes to the system and to your operations. Build a plan on how to implement these changes. Chances are some changes will be dependent on others, and some may need to be planned around other existing events. For example, if a change will alter how your reports look you may want to wait for the end of the fiscal period. This will make running historical period reports simpler.

  7. Create a feedback mechanism for system users.
    When you have made the necessary changes to your system implement a feedback process for your users to request system or operational changes to improve efficiency. The people using the system everyday have great ideas on how to make it better. Take advantage of this and earn some good will in the process. Acknowledge employees if their recommendation is implemented and has a positive effect. This will increase the satisfaction of your employees which in turn will increase the satisfaction of your guests. And that really is the point of all this work.
By Step 4 of this process you will know if the right decision is to keep your existing system or replace it. However, vendor deception is the exception to this. If you vendor has not been honest in this process you should discover this in Step 5. This is the primary reason for a custom training curriculum versus canned content. And if your vendor lied you have a pretty valid argument for denying payment for training. This process may seem like a lot of work, but it will be less expensive than buying a new system.

If you found this article helpful, have questions about this post, or want to add insight into avoiding the high cost of system replacement please submit a comment. We can all learn from each other.

For more information about kevin sturm Consulting please visit my website.

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don't steal my stuff

hospitality technology made simple (htms) Legal Mumbo Jumbo
hospitality technology made simple subscribes to and supports Creative Commons for Internet work. If you want to use anything from hospitality technology made simple (htms) or kevin sturm Consulting for your print article or white paper I would be flattered. All that I ask is that you give credit were credit is due and email me to let me know. It is actually for the benefit of both of us so that I can plug your magazine and my work in a post. If you want to use anything for your website or blog please abide by the normal rules of Creative Commons and give me credit with a link back to
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hospitality technology made simple (htms) makes every effort to be accurate with information provided, but unfortunately I'm not perfect and may make accidental errors or omissions in any information on the website. What I write is based on my experience, but no information in this blog comes with a warranty, express or implied. In addition I will always give credit to any information or thought that is not my own via link or normal quoted method. If you find an error please send me an email or post a comment. I will fix it post haste

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Changes and Updates to Legal Mumbo Jumbo
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Updated February 29, 2008


© 2009 kevin sturm Consulting

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deliver for a dollar

I'm on my way home from my first client trip as an independent consultant. I was at Microsoft's office in Seattle for three days (never saw the sun).
I was working out of the R&D building and tried to see the latest Microsoft Surfaces demonstration but no luck. I didn't even get to see the current one. Most of the things going on in the building we won't see for 10 to 15 years (or so I was told). How do you plan for technology products 10 years in advance? With as fast as technology changes that just seems unrealistic...but I suppose somebody has to do it. There were also supposedly 30+ researchers with PhDs in the R&D building! That is a whole bunch of brain power.

Most of the offices are in Redmond, WA and the entire city is pretty much Microsoft. From what I was told Microsoft employs 45,000 people at the Redmond campus! That is almost half the population of Santa Barbara! And the campus is pretty amazing. They have multiple soccer, football, and baseball fields, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, and all sorts of other fun stuff.

I was there to oversee the implementation of eMenu, a software that will allow all Microsoft employees to order lunch via the company Intranet and have it delivered to their desk. Seriously.

You can check out eMeu here, but don't order from this site because this place actually exists in NY. Microsoft has the most amazing company cafeterias with awesome food and now they are offering to deliver your lunch for $1.00 (plus the cost of the food). I think that is awesome because I'd take a lunch break to go work out and then have my lunch delivered to my desk and eat it there (in the scenario I had an office of course).

James, the Microsoft analyst I did the install with, had a futon, big screen TV, DVD player, Xbox and Wii in his office! It was complete with a small movie and video game library. How would you ever get any work done?

Microsoft's countdown to release clock

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dinner of the traveling type

Sometimes when I travel the thought of airport food just isn't appetizing, so the free food in United's Red Carpet Club turns into dinner. Crackers and cheese with carrots and ranch dressing washed down with a Coke. Chase it with a chocolate chip cookie...who could ask for more?

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Coming Soon!

This section will link to different template documents and tools for consultants and venues working on technology projects. Keep checking back for updates!

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eXtreme marketing

Marketing is hard. Really. Once you are uber successful I'm guessing it gets much easier, but before that point it's hard. When you don't have a huge customer base all blabbering on about how brilliant you are the only option is to self blabber about brilliance.

I've spent the last two work days self marketing. Whether cold calling, emailing, requesting references via LinkedIn, or getting my new blog (to be announced soon) together. This is all pretty much standard new business stuff though and comes with the territory. It's one of those things though before you start you think, "I've got a huge network, I'll get business." (at least that is what I thought). The reality is that it is a long ramp and you have to claw for every opportunity. Nobody starts at the top. People may indirectly reference you but most likely they are not looking for business for you or from you.

I am a true believer that word of mouth marketing is king (especially in my business). But, if you can't tell one great story about yourself no one else will be able to either. To get one big deal someone has to believe that you can be successful with that big deal. And if you have no references for your greatness then you must become your own self reference.
This post was prompted by an absolutely outlandish extreme marketing example I saw in the Starbucks parking lot today. Check out this guys car. He caught me taking pictures of it which was pretty funny. He acted like it was a totally normal occurrence, which was more funny.

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chicke little and the sky catcher

My dad used to always say, “If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem.” (though the saying is generally credited to Eldridge Cleaver). I've tried to take this philosophy with me to every project and believe it is a good rule to live by. For the sake of clarity I'll define this as being a person that brings solutions not problems (hugely insightful I know).
Everyone has been on a project with someone that has “Chicken Little Complex”. They bring up every possible pitfall in the project, why ideas won't work, and regularly send emails to the project team when pending disaster is inevitable - leading everyone on the project in a fire drill effort that generally could have been avoided (i.e. Foxy Woxy's hole).

As a project manager we strive to be the antithesis to Chicken Little. I call this person “Sky Catcher”. I've held this title on projects multiple times in my career. Sky Catcher is the person on the project that objectively looks at each situation and offers solutions to problems, but more importantly becomes the person that helps advise Chicken Little.

Imagine how different the story would be if Chicken Little was productively educated by Henny Penny on the elemental nature of the atmosphere, the concept of gravity, prompted with ideas of what could have hit her on the head, and more importantly the danger of “forest frenzy” due to adoptive apprehension.

If you have a project team member with “Chicken Little Complex” make it your personal duty on the team to be “Sky Catcher”. Provide solutions but also help prevent others from only bringing problems. Most likely you will find yourself in the position to offer advice often and may just find yourself leading the charge on more projects.

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seven steps to success

My friend Nazia sent me a "Tip of the Day" email with some wise words from Dr. Mark GoulstonGet Out of Your Own Way at Work) on things you should know the answers to when starting your own business. If you want to start you own business make sure you have an answer to these questions.

  1. What do you love making (product) or doing (service) that has enough value that other people would be willing and want to pay for (your DREAM)?

  2. What desire or problem is your product (what you make) or service (what you do) the best answer or solution to (your VISION and MISSION)?

  3. What people or what company has a desire or problem that most urgently needs your product or service, i.e. who are the ones that "Gotta have you!" (your MARKETING)?

  4. How do you get those people or that company to be aware of their urgent need for your product or service (your ADVERTISING)?

  5. How do you convince those people to buy that service or product that they "gotta have?" (your SALES)

  6. How do you get your product or service to those people or that company (your PRODUCTION and DELIVERY)?

  7. How do you continue to increase the satisfaction and enthusiasm for your product or service, so they'll tell others (your CUSTOMER SERVICE)?

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do you have different types of ethics?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking at Westmont (my alma mater) to the Business Ethics class. There were even a few pre-med students in the class so they got to hear the story of a doctor bound student who took a different road.
In preparing some material I began to formulate some questions regarding having multiple types of ethics. I asked the class, "Have you heard of Marriage Ethics, Sports Ethics, Driving Ethics, or Raising Kids Ethics?" They all said, “No.” But they were taking a class called “Business Ethics”. Why do we have an entire subject dedicated to Ethics in Business?

Yesterday morning I had breakfast with my college coach and we were talking about how it is often easy to justify a different set of ethics in sports. A similar example came up in my conversations with the class when one of the students talked about the last World Cup the USA Women's soccer team won. I had not heard this but the USA goal keeper had stopped a shot during a shoot-out that won them the game. After the game was over a slow motion replay showed the goal keeper steeping forward towards the shooter. In soccer this is illegal as you can only move laterally to stop the ball during a shoot-out. In keeping with a single sports theme, would you slide tackle someone in soccer knowing you could not get the ball to keep them from scoring?

If you knew it meant the difference between winning or losing the World Cup would you take a step forward? It is cheating and against the rules, but could you justify it for that? I don't know if the goal keeper did it on purpose or accident, but she did break the rules.

As a separate example if it meant paying the rent or not paying the rent, would your normal ethical actions change? Do your ethics change when you have more to lose?

During my research I found a quote that my buddy DJ had told me a while back from John Maxwell and made it the topic of discussion with the class.
“There's no such thing as business ethics—there's only ethics. People try to use one set of ethics for their professional life, another for their spiritual life, and still another at home with their family. That gets them into trouble. Ethics is ethics. If you desire to be ethical, you live by one standard across the board.”

The discussion in class was great and they really had awesome insight. Way better insight than I had during college. They even asked me some questions that I had not thought about with regard to a few personal experiences I shared with them. The short of it came to the fact that when there is more at stake you are more willing to move the ethical line. I even got a question during one of the discussions from a student asking if there was any way to “spin” a message so that it did not seem so bad. He didn't use the term “spin” but I think that was the underlying question. It is the dilemma of a whole truth versus half truth. If you tell half the truth does it cancel out not telling the whole truth, and is a half truth more ethical when there is more at stake? I say no, but my experience has showed me that when more is at stake what is ethical becomes hard to see.
I have not read John Maxwell's book, but his underlying premises is The Golden Rule still applies to life. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Thanks to moms around the world (especially mine), you were right.

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care enough to be different

A couple weeks ago an old coworker, Kelly Oshiro, contacted me through LinkedIn, which is just rad because we had not talked since she left Santa Barbara. The world being so connected is really wonderful.

Kelly and her boyfriend Sam just moved back to Santa Barbara and Sam was looking for a job. Kelly wanted to know if I could possibly provide any guidance. On Tuesday I met with Sam and it was awesome to meet someone so passionate about what he wants. He is a natural product evangelist and I know will be supremely successful.

We talked about what kind of job he wanted, the type of company he wanted to work for, and what was important. He knew what he wanted, but was making one of the biggest mistakes I see when people are looking for a job. His resume was normal, totally normal. Normal equals boring and unmemorable and when applying for a job you want to be remembered. Here was the basic format of Sam's resume.

Sam's resume looked like 99% of the resumes I've seen. He was using one of the common formats, which means his resume was not unique or rememberable because almost everyone is using those formats. If you want to

If you are putting together a resume there are a few big DOs and DON'Ts to keep in mind.

  • DON'T copy the exact format of the sample resume you are using. DO care enough to personalize the style of the resume making it different. Different gets remembered.
  • DON'T list bullets of what you were responsible for at each job. Frankly I don't care what you did, I care what you accomplished. Accomplishments should be measurable and show you you improved the company in some way. Here is a good example from Resume-Resource.
  • DON'T send 20 resumes that are generic to 20 companies. DO want a job bad enough that you spend time customizing the resume for the job you are applying for.
  • DON'T list your GPA unless you had a 4.0 and just graduated, and DON'T put it at the top of the resume.n DO list all education and certifications that are applicable to the job you are applying for.
  • DON'T list “Proficient in Word and Excel” if you're applying for a job that assumes you are. For most jobs it is already a requirement to know these applications. DO list applications that you are proficient in that are unique (i.e. Perl or Java) and make you remembered.
  • DON'T list an “Objective” that says something like, “To get a job and an exciting company in the IT related field.” DO create a “Professional Summary” that is basically your elevator pitch on why someone should hire you.
  • DON'T make it one page and hard to read because of information overload. DO instead increase it to two pages so it's easy to read, but put all the stuff you really want them to see on the first page.
  • DON'T write a cover letter to “Whom It May Concern”. DO enough research to find out the name of the hiring manager or recruiter in HR and direct your resume to them.
  • DON'T ever not apply for a job because you think you're under-qualified. DO take a chance and try to get a job that may be your next big move.
I could probably go on and on, but that seems to be good enough for now. Happy resume writing!

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last day

And I got this fortune in my fortune cookie today. No Joke! How awesome is that?

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watch out for falling rocks

I’m off to a rocky start.

A week ago was supposed to be my last day with Agilysys but I elected to extend my employment. I’ve been managing a large project for six months with a major account that has gotten delayed by one month, and after review decided it was better to not transition the project. There are a few reasons for this, all of which have something to do with hoping to get future business through my own company with the group I’m working with. Additionally the person it would transition to is a really great friend and already loaded with projects.

When I first announced I was going out on my own there were immediately some very large opportunities that came my way. Two of these projects were a year or longer and would have generated over 75% of my income for 12 to 18 months. One of the projects fell through a month ago because the company hired a hotel management company and the other fell through today because of a possible merger or buyout of some kind.

I found out about the second one by breaking one of my cardinal email rules. I was taking Brody to preschool this morning and popped open my email at 8:30 am while he was eating breakfast. The first email I read was from a client saying that it looked like the project was going to fall through and not happen. This immediately put me in a bad mood. Reading email first thing in the morning can do that to you, because email all too often has bad news. My bad mood then affected the family (and our cat who annoyed me and then took the brunt of my bad mood).

If I had waited till 10:00 am to read email I would have been in a better mood when I got to work, had my coffee before finding out bad news (which is important), and Chrystal and Brody would not have experienced my bad mood (and the cat would have had a better morning).

But as in all situations, you dust yourself off and....hi ho, hi ho, it's off to marketing I go.

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your job description isn't mail manager

I had a pretty crummy travel experience on my trip this week in missed flights and too little sleep, but I had an interesting conversation that prompted this post. I had a partner in my travel woes that was sharing with me how she often spent her evenings reading and responding to emails creating a 60 hour work week (thanks for the post idea travel partner).
For a long period in my career I received sometimes 200+ emails per day. I’d spend hours every night reading them all and responding appropriately. After about three years of this I decided there had to be a better way. Below is a combination of my and others tips in how to spend less time on email. They are in no particular order.

The Carbon Copy Rule
Build email rules that help you prioritize what to read. Create a folder called “cc mail” and create a rule that moves any message where you are in the cc: field to this folder. Never read them, they are saved for reference only. You may need to create exceptions for certain people or groups which most email engines allow. If you are nervous about this try it for two weeks. I was nervous about it at first but this single rule cut my email volume by two thirds. I’ve now been doing it for three years and have been asked less than a dozen times if I got an email. Most people cc you on message to feel important or CTA (cover their arse), so not reading it is usually no big deal.

I had a co-worker that joked delete every email you get and if it’s important they’ll send it again. If someone cc’s you on an email and needs a response they will most likely send it again directly to you.

It’s All About Me
Build another email rule that flags any email where you are the only person on the To: field in a specific color (my preference is red). This way you can immediately know which email you probably must read and respond to.

It’s All About Them
If you have certain people that you must read their email set them as an exception to The Carbon Copy Rule and build a rule that flags their email in a specific color so you can see them easily (my preference is green).

The Conversation Stopper
Use email as a method of communication not conversation. Request this of co-workers, employees, and clients. If you need to have conversations pick up the phone and talk to the person.

If you receive a reply email (RE:) quickly scan to see if there are multiple of them with the same subject. Sort your email by subject, select the most recent, and read the entire train starting from the top down. I suggest from the top because you may find quickly that you don’t need to do anything and just delete it. If you make it all the way to the bottom you are reading just to read or you’ll find you need to respond in some way. If it is going to take more than one email pick up the phone. You can most likely then delete the emails with the same subject line. If you follow the next rule all questions in the email will probably have gotten resolved and you won't have to respond at all.

e-mail Is Not On Your Task List (a slight variation on a Tim Ferris rule)
If you don’t have a daily task list before the day, start doing it today. Have three important things you must accomplish that day, and one before 10:00 am. Email should never be on that list. Look at email at 10:00 am, not before. After 10:00 am respond to email that requires immediate response, flag what requires follow-up, file or delete the rest. Schedule times to check and respond to email or you’ll spend 4 hours of every day getting nothing accomplished. Try to read email at 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 4:00pm. The 4:00 pm slot lets you respond to any requiring it that day.

Spending one full weekend emptying your email box is not actually accomplishing anything, except maybe generating more email. Avoid this really stupid way to spend your weekend.

Don’t Respond to e-mail on the Weekend (a tip from Tim Sanders)
This is one of the hardest things to do and I know from personal experience. But it is vital to managing your email volume. It is also a good habit if you are a manager because your employees will emulate your behavior. Sending email on the weekend sets the expectation that you’ll read and respond to email on the weekend. If someone really needs to get in touch with you they will find a way other than email.

The next step is to apply this rule to responding to email after hours. I promise, if someone really needs to get in touch with you they will find a way.

If you have other tricks and tips on managing the email nightmare post it for the world to benefit from your wisdom.

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it's not about you

I was visiting a church last Sunday and the pastor’s sermon started with, “It’s not about you…”. His next four words were “…it’s about God.”, but for this post I’m going to focus on the first half.

As I embark on this journey to be a successful hospitality technology consultant I have multiple times thought about the challenge of how to communicate clearly my desire (my mantra if you will) to help clients be successful. I find this especially difficult as a technology consultant because there are so many of us (versus them). This is also a challenge because many prospective customers have had poor experiences with consultants. How do you convince a customer that your desire is for them to be successful and that you can help create value?

I believe the first thing is to recognize that it is not about you. Focus on your customer and see how they react.

In short, use your ears and listen. Epictetus said it best, "We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak."
I’ve posted on this key successful trait before (probably because I recognize how much I need to improve in this area), but I find that listening can help a client believe you want them to be successful. Clients hire you as a consultant because they believe you have or can find answers. And they may be right, but having answers comes with the prerequisite of understanding the problem – vis a vis listening.

Success as a consultant is predicated on your client's confidence that you can make them successful. In your next client meeting build confidence not by knowing all the answers (because you won’t) but by listening and understanding the problems you are there to resolve.

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who do you know?

Tomorrow morning Chrystal, Brody, and I are leaving for Phoenix to visit family and hopefully meet with a prospective client. All the communication that I've had to date with them has been that they are not interested at this time. I have an inside connection that hopefully will be able to at least get me a lunch meeting.

As a consultant who you know can often be more important than what you know when trying to get a meeting. Use your network (but don't abuse it), the worst they can say is no.

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be encouraging . . . and honest

A few weeks back I posted about starting kevin sturm Consulting. Starting your own company is nerve racking, stressful, overwhelming, and really fun. The amount of responses I got to my email was almost overwhelming. I have five weeks left in my job and the amount of encouragement I have recieved in starting out on my own is making me feel so blessed.

If you haven't sent someone an encouraging message today, do so. It feels great to give and get encouragement.

Here is some of the messages I got. The title of my post is "Be Encouraging...and Honest". One response I got was so wonderfully honest (the bottom one). It was from Chrystal's aunt who is/was uber successful and smart. Loved this one becuase it helps me keep perspective of how some potential customers may be.

"congrats dude... i'll be praying for you. i've been in the same boat of late, where i feel like i need to take the fork in the road. hopefully soon we'll find you with a wealth of clients to consult and me with a new book on the store racks... " -jw

"Way to go Kevin!! The first step is the hardest but once you've madethe decision, all that's left is making it work. Word will get aroundand soon you'll have to hire your own staff to keep up with it all andnext thing you know, you'll live next door to Omphara. I'm excited foryou. The next few years are going to be interesting for your family.Take some advice from an old fart? Stay intimate with your loved onesand keep what's important to you close to your heart. Don't let thejob swallow you up. That's it, no more advice." -jb

_________ (this one blew me away)
"Hey buddy. Congratulations on taking such a big step; I know it's got a be a little scary walking away from everything that you've worked for, but if anyone can do it, I know you can. I also know that you wouldn't do this without going through everything that you needed to, and getting the right answers. :) I just want to make sure that you know that, in the event you run a little short on working capital before you get everything up and running, let me know - I don't have much, but I'll help out as much as I can, financially or any other way. I have that kind of confidence and faith in your abilities and know that you've been in the business
long enough to make this work. Sounds like I should start the Kevin Sturm Fan Club, huh? :) Keep me posted; you'll be in my thoughts and prayers. Just don't forget us little people when you're rolling in more money than you can ever spend! :)" -kd
"Wow! How fun, You go Kevito. As in everything that you have tackled thus far, I am positive you will give it your all and be a screaming success." -tl

"Hi, KevinCongratulations on following your heart. I wish you well. My one piece of advice (for now) is to attend to marketing one full day of every week. " -bp

"I wish you well in your new opportunity. It is not easy to take the riskier path, but that path may be the right one for you. You will never know unless you try, and if you never tried you would always regret not trying. I'm betting you will be successful. I wish you well & I look forward to hearing about your progress." -jd

Nicole and I wish you the best of luck in your new venture. Please let us know if there is ever anything we can do to help you out. One thing that we have found in building Nicole's marketing consulting business is that you need as much help as you can get from your friends. We are here for you if you need us. A challenge of starting your own business is that there are so many things that you need to accomplish, and you are behind from day one. Its not that its all hard to understand or difficult to accomplish, the challange seems to be that there are so many things to get done that its hard to think of them all and to consider all the issues before deciding how to act. We found the book Getting Started in Consulting by Alan Weiss to be very helpful. Its not an earth shattering book full of revolutionary ideas, but it is a very helpful and complete list of things to get done with some good ideas about how to accomplish each." -db

_________ (I love the honesty)
I know you are excited about your new opportunity, Kevin, and we sincerely hope it turns out fantastic for you. I have some misgivings, but that is because I see life through different filters than you do,which is okay, and what makes the world turn round.........I rarely if ever worked with consultants that I thought were worth a flip, so I tend to be suspicious of anything that has the word consultant in it. Like you said in your blog, though, integrity is the single most important description that could ever be attached to your business name - never compromise that, although it may be harder than you think when you need your fee to cover a house payment and groceries for the month..... I personally never ran across any consultant in my career who didn't have all kinds of hidden agendas that made it impossible for them to be objective. Hopefully, you can be the first competent one I'll meet! Having said all that stuff-with-a-slightly-negative-bent however, we do wish you only the best and hope you are wildly successful... Keep your goals and your principles lofty, have a plan, and another one to back the first one up! We're rooting for you............" -aw

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don't tolerate lazy customer support

Have you ever have one of those days where you were having a really great day, and then a single experience turns it all around? Like the kind of experience that leaves you with a head ache and you want to scream into a pillow. Today was one of those days.

It’s about 9:00 pm tonight and I was supposed to be on my way to Macao as of about 30 minutes ago. But there was a change of plans and I had to cancel my trip. I had booked a $6000 business class ticket on Thai Airways through Orbitz so I wanted to be very sure that I got refunded for the fare when I canceled. I placed a call to Orbitz at about 11:45 am this morning, and below was how I spent my afternoon.

11:45 – Place 1st call to Orbitz and run through this annoying automated prompter that loops back to the beginning if I hit zero. I finally get to Customer Support after 5 minutes and tell Customer Support I need to cancel the ticket. They put me on hold for about a minute, and then tell me they can’t cancel the ticket. I have to call Thai Airways directly and they give me the number.

12:00 – Call Thai Airways and get an answering machine saying they are closed and won’t be back open till Monday, and to please leave a message. This is where I get a bit confused…because apparently the Thai Airways office at Los Angeles International Airport is closed on the weekend.

12:10 – Call back Orbitz and again have to go through the annoying automated prompts. I get a real person and tell him my situation. He puts me on hold for about 10 minutes (this is my guess because I got to hear the full version of Pachelbel’s Canon just over two times) and tells me that there is nothing he can do and I need to call Thai Airways. I ask him if he is sure and tell him there is no answer, so he gives me the number to the Thai Airways New York office because they should be open.

12:30 – Call the Premier Executive number for United and ask them if they can cancel the trip since the first flight is on United. They say they can cancel the Santa Barbara to Los Angeles leg, but that is all. I ask them to do that, and say thanks.

12:40 – Call Thai Airways New York number and get the same answering machine.

12:45 – Go the Thai Airways website and spend 10 minutes trying to find a number to call that I don’t already have. Google eventually helps me get to the London and Bangkok office phone numbers.

1:00 – Call the London office for Thai Airways and get the same voice mail message.

1:05 – Call the Bangkok office which is HQ for Thai Airways. Again I’m into an automated voice system that is hard to understand because of the thick accent. I try to guess on the right number to press so they speak English and guess wrong so I have to hang up because they are not speaking English.

1:10 – Call the Bangkok number back and this time understand the prompts so I get to the English reservations system. The automated response says there is a very high call volume so I will have to hold. It then tells me that I can fax in my request and they will get back to me. I sit on hold for a full hour and no one ever picks up.

2:20 – Call back the Los Angeles, New York, and London office again to see if I can get through. Get voice message at all three numbers.

2:40 – I call Orbitz back a bit miffed at this point. Go through the same annoying prompts and get to another new customer support person. I tell him my situation. He pulls up my ticket and then proceeds to go through every leg of my itinerary with flight number, departure city and time, arrival city and time, asking for verification. After this he tells me because it’s an international ticket he has to transfer me to an international agent. I’m thinking why did the first two guys not do that?

2:50 – Get transferred to an International agent (Henry) and I go through my situation for the fourth time. Henry puts me on hold for about 15 minutes and comes back on the phone and tells me that I need to call Thai Airways. I’m a pretty patient person, but at this point I lose it and rant for three minutes on how poor the customer support is. He says sorry and puts me on hold for another 15 minutes to see what he can do. He comes back on and asks me if I purchased a fully refundable fair. I ask him if he is serious, and how can he not know that by looking at his computer. He says he doesn’t, and I don’t know either because it’s not on my confirmation email. He puts me on hold for another 10 minutes and then comes back on the phone saying I bought a fully refundable fair and he can refund the ticket. I say “GREAT” and can he send me an email confirming that it has been refunded…and he says “NO” (I’m thinking WHAT?) but is willing to give me his name and reference number. I say no, I want a confirmation email from Orbitz saying that they are going to cancel and refund my ticket. He says he can’t do that. I ask why, and he says it’s not possible. Then he tells me I need to call the insurance company that Orbitz uses to insure international tickets to get a refund for that portion of the ticket. I don’t even ask why Orbitz doesn’t handle that at this point, and write down the number. Then he tells me that I’ll be receiving a confirmation email of the cancellation (Did I just get told this was not possible?).

3:20 – I hang up the phone irritated and with a headache, check my email, and see that Orbitz sent me a Customer Service Survey at12:45 pm. I have not filled it out yet because I don’t want to waste any more time on this today. I fill out most of these surveys whether good or bad, but I definitely will fill out this one.

It took me over three hours to cancel an airline ticket because of lazy customer support. I’m guessing that if the first person would have just followed procedures and took initiative I would have been done in about an hour.

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the customer equality paradox

This is an interactive post, and I’m curious to know what everyone thinks.

Twice in the past two weeks customer equality has crossed my path. The first time was about two weeks ago when a colleague said to me, “The [Customer 1] and [Customer 2] seem to be your highest priority and everyone is mine.” The comment was made with the utmost sincerity, honesty, passion and true belief which I really respected. But my first thought was is this really realistic? Is it a smart business decisions to give all customers the same importance?

The second instance was just a couple days ago. I was flying from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and showed up to the gate well after the first boarding announcement was made. I always fly United and recently they implemented a Red Carpet boarding line where regardless of when you show up they will completely stop the other line and let you board if you qualify for the Red Carpet line. For this flight I could not use the Red Carpet line, but I’ve often thought is it fair that someone gets to stop the entire line after showing up late to board? Is it a good business decision to treat two customers differently when they paid the same amount for a service?

Both of these instances speak to the Customer Equality Paradox: are all customers equal. It is important to note here that I’m not asking are all customers important, because that’s an easy answer. Rather, are all customers of equal importance to your business?

Complete the survey below and I’ll let everyone know what the outcome is. I’m interested to hear everyone’s comments about The Customer Equality Paradox.

What is your thought on Customer Equality?
All customers are equally important
Some customers are more important than others
Customers are not important
I'm really what is important
Free polls from
If you showed up late to boarding your plane and could cut in line by using the Red Carpet line would you?
Yes, because I've earned it
Yes, because I've paid for it
Yes, because I'm important
No, I should have been there on time
No, I think it's rude
No, I'd feel bad
Free polls from

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secrets of success

Last night I loaded a few TEDtalks onto my iPod for my morning travel to Las Vegas. I came across a great one entitled Secrets of Success in 8 Words by Richard St. John. It’s only three minutes long so you should listen to it, but if you don’t have time for that here are the 8 points.

  1. Passion - Do it for love, NOT for money. Guy Kawasaki phrases this as do something where you “make meaning”
  2. Hard Work - Success is hard work, nothing comes easy. But it needs to be fun or it probably is not worth doing
  3. Practice Practice Practice - Practice enough to be great at it
  4. Focus - Focus on one thing and do it great
  5. Push Yourself - Push past self doubt, obstacles, and negative people
  6. Serve - Serve others and make the service valuable
  7. Have Ideas - Spend time thinking and come up with new ideas
  8. Persist - Failure happens, persist in the face of failure

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