March 29, 2011


Oct 2011: Here's a new compelling reason to join the Toronto Board of Trade: the Business Excellence Awards. I'm proud to be a nominee in the Start-up/New Business category. Here's what happened.

(new) Feb 2013: I'm no longer a member. Here's why.

Toronto Board Of Trade: We Belong mark for membersJoining a Board of Trade or Chamber of Commerce is a path to success. You're supporting the local business community and finding new business opportunities.

If you join and wait for prospects to send you money, you'll be disappointed. What you get depends on what you give. You need to participate. Remember the power of consistent persistent generosity?

I joined the Toronto Board of Trade four months ago through Taxevity.

Two Poles

The Toronto Board of Trade (TBOT) faces a particular challenge. Members include the biggest and smallest companies. It's easy for small business to feel neglected when big business reserves entire tables in the prime spots at events.

The TBOT's solution is to hold lots of events — over 100 a year. That broad choice lets you choose what suits you. There are breakfast speakers like LinkedIn's Jonathan Lister and Google's Chris O'Neill. If trekking downtown to First Canadian Place is daunting, there are activities at other locations. I especially like Top of Toronto for networking. Perfect format. Smooth orchestration. For some (pleasant) reason, you don't find the "riff raff" common at many another places.

You also get a volunteer Ambassador to help you benefit from your membership. Mine is golf whiz Andre Gillezeau (LinkedIn profile).


There isn't much opportunity for members to help members by joining committees, writing or speaking. What else can you do besides network and sit in the audience?

Two months ago, I talked to Ravi Nayak, Senior Manager, Small and Medium Markets (LinkedIn profile). He made an excellent suggestion: participate in the private Toronto Board of Trade group on LinkedIn. I did.

That lead to an unexpected opportunity to publicize the TBOT and me.


Yesterday morning, Chris O'Neill, the head of Google Canada spoke. I had two conflicting meetings and couldn't attend but the Toronto Star did. Journalist Cynthia Vukets (@cynthto) wanted to interview TBOT members who used social media well. Jamohl Rutherford, Manager, Member Services (LinkedIn profile) suggested me. I agreed.

Cynthia called right away. She asked if I'd like to chat then or after getting photographed. I suggested we talk first because if I was a bad subject, she could cancel the photography. [Another newspaper once deemed an interview with me boring to publish (see How an actuary invests)]. Cynthia already looked me up online and decided I was fine. That's exactly why you need to use social media too.

The Toronto Star has photographers on standby. Within 90 minutes, Lucas Oleniuk arrived (Mediastorm page and photos from the Greenwall of China). When he saw my office (which I barely finished cleaning), he immediately knew how to compose the frame. Since social media is intangible, he wanted to show the human element.
Photo of Promod Sharma by Lucas Oleniuk (click to read article)
My webcam shows me on a screen facing him. Lucas shot the real and virtual me together. He took 55 shots with two massive Nikon cameras. He'd later upload two or three via his iPhone and await his next assignment, the third of the day. Gone are the days and surprises of darkrooms.

The resulting article, Small Businesses Follow Customers Online was published the same day. The TBOT gets mentioned, president Carol Wilding gets quoted and two members get profiled: Hilde Reis-Smart (LinkedIn profile) and me. That's great for one article. Your thoughts?

How This Happened

The Toronto Board of Trade has some 10,000 members but less than 9% belong to the LinkedIn group. Standing out is easy when others aren't visible, persistent or consistent. Do you belong to relevant LinkedIn groups?

Before joining the TBOT, I had questions and a hectic schedule. I asked if someone could call me at 1 PM the next day. Jamohl phoned right on time. I didn't realize he had a senior role. He convinced me to join even though I'd never attended an event.

During the last four months, we've exchanged several messages through the LinkedIn group. Most recently, I alerted Jamohl to a spammer and he quickly responded. We first met five days ago at a new member bash and he remembered me from our limited contact.

Test Drive

Nonmembers also gain from the Toronto Board of Trade. You can attend events as a visitor but members are more likely to give business to fellow members. I'm glad I joined and look forward to helping more.


PS If you aren't in near Toronto, check out your local Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade.

March 22, 2011


Unhappy customer
What if your dissatisfied customers could fight back?

They can. They have the tools to create and share content. They might even catch the attention of the media and politicians. And drown out good news about your company.


Here's an example: Internet access. In the US, all monthly plans provide at least  250 GB of data (often unlimited) but in Canada penalties start at a measly 40 GB (see the Globe & Mail). US plans are also cheaper.

Whatever the explanation, the optics look bad.

Internet access has become a necessity — much like electricity and water. Canadians are the world's heaviest users but pay heavily for relatively slow access and low usage caps. This combination makes Internet providers profitable. There's no real competition to spur progress.

Consumers are fighting back. Over 471,374 have signed a petition asking for unmetered Internet access.


The current battle is with the phone companies but cable is hardly immune. You can watch cable TV 24/7 but not their competitor, Netflix. Internet caps get in the way. Watch this video.
When Hitler looks like a hero, you've got a PR problem. By the way, Fortune named Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, 2010 Businessperson of the Year.

The iPhone vs AT&T

Intermediaries have a tough time. We're generally ambivalent about
  • which brand of gas goes into our tanks
  • which home phone company
  • which mobile phone network
  • which TV provider (satellite or cable)
Yet we're upset when we don't get the service we expect.

Incentives like air miles may affect behaviour. One provider may have an exclusive (e.g., Bruce Springsteen's E Street Radio was only on Sirius satellite radio).

Look at the iPhone/AT&T issue (an interesting read). Apple offered capabilities that buyers wanted and AT&T couldn't deliver. There's no reward for trying.

Who Rules?

You may not react to consumer outrage but that doesn't mean you've won. If your clients stay because they have no other choice, that's hardly a long term win/win.

If you're an intermediary, how can you WOW! your customers? Even if you don't have to do this (yet).


PS If your customers rebelled, do you have a way to make your voice heard?

March 15, 2011


Tim Burton collection by Chris Hoffman
Is it the painter or the picture hanging in the gallery? Admired by countless thousands who attempt to read the secrets of his vision of his very soul. — Strawbs, Hanging In The Gallery

You've probably seen at least one of director Tim Burton's films. They often feature dark themes, absurdity, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Here's the full list full list (IMDB link).

Tim Burton has been on exhibit at MoMA in New York City and TIFF in Toronto. Here's a review.

You too have many accomplishments. Why not make them visible? You're judged whether or not you want. You can give context and guide the impressions.


Tim Burton polarizes you. You may not like anything he's done. You may prefer his mainstream successes such as The Planet Of The Apes, Batman Returns or Alice In Wonderland. You might like his odder offerings like Vincent or Edward Scissorhands (my fave) or The Nightmare Before Christmas. You'll have an opinion — probably positive but possibly (slightly) repulsed.

When you put yourself on exhibit, you give your clients (current and potential) the same opportunity to reach conclusions. Their consensus gives you the 5th universal principle of influence.

Lessons From Tim

Tim's exhibit lets you see his art in context --- and not just his successes. That's valuable and generous. He shows that what you've done in the past gives insights into where you are today. Some promising projects were discontinued or shelved. For instance, Disney didn't release Tim's short Frankenweenie in 1984 but he's now filming a full length version for release in 2012.

Your audience would draw different conclusions from your exhibit. Why not give them that chance?

Your Exhibit

Who'd create a special exhibit devoted to your accomplishments? If it's to be, it's up to thee. You can create your own by putting representative samples of your past work online. That's not quite as powerful as a gallery with timed tickets but more practical to ship and update.

Why not help others form opinions about you? They already do but without the benefit of your back catalogue. Your willingness to reveal yourself helps set you apart. When you display evidence of your past accomplishments and failures, you become more human. You become more memorable. My own gallery has been getting visitors regularly since 2006. Yours can too.


Tim didn't unveil his whole life. He didn't discuss his family. He didn't show anything that would make him despicable. He didn't show many photos of himself. Instead, he showed his work and let us draw our own conclusions. That's an excellent approach. You too want to curate.


PS Your exhibit belongs on your personal website, not a corporate one.

March 8, 2011


Thumbs Up
It's time for a new vehicle. Here's how to save money. I decided after a single visit to Audi and BMW on Friday and Mercedes on Monday. I did no other research. My family refused to accompany me because of the horrible experience last time.

The Showrooms

Audi had the scrunchiest showroom. The A6 wasn't even on display. There was very little parking. No one at reception directed visitors. Finding a sales rep took several minutes. That's a poor first impression. There were no noticeable improvements from three years ago.

This suburban BMW showroom is under expansion. That's good because the facility looked poorly designed when it opened in 2005. The waiting room was confined and congested. Our Toyota dealership looked better. They finally offer complimentary loaners and pickup-at-home service. That's good but reactive.
BMW Buy Back letter - click to read
BMW makes excellent vehicles and holds unmatched events like The Innovation Drive. It's too bad their dealers mar the experience. This same dealership keeps giving reasons to be cynical. Last week, I received a letter about the fake vehicle exchange event --- now extended. The letter had the same mistakes as the email.

Next time, I'm tempted to go to BMW's gorgeous company-owned flagship in downtown Toronto.

The Mercedes-Benz dealership felt right. Located in downtown Toronto, there's an upscale feel and a large selection on display. There's also an ideal test drive route that covers highway, city streets, gravel, railway tracks and a parking lot. Suburbia eliminates this variety.

The sales rep drove the car first to demonstrate capabilities such as sudden lane changes on the highway, rapid braking and high speed curves. No one else did this. I bought here.

The Sales Reps

Each sales rep was good but all three answered phone calls while I was there. That's fine because the interruptions were brief.

The Audi rep had only two years of experience and could not explain the advantages of his brand. He acknowledged that BMW is known for performance and Mercedes for luxury. He felt Audi had the best interiors but that's hardly a compelling reason to buy.

The BMW and Mercedes reps had 10+ years. The extra experience helped them get to the key points faster.

No one disparaged any other brand directly but hinted at shortcomings.

The Process

Here's what happened at MB Toronto. The sales rep didn't do the paperwork, which gives them more time with clients. That's a wise decision. Using a specialist means less waiting time, fewer mistakes and less pressure to add pricey add-ons.


My rep did the delivery three days later. The vehicle was clean but not gleaming. Last time, even the seat belts glowed. This time, only the tires gleamed. I didn't notice as much of the "new car" scent but maybe I had a touch of a cold. I didn't mind any of this but did notice.

My rep gave a proper explanation of the warranty, which has never happened before. I got a thorough explanation of how to use the vehicle's features. There's lots to learn but I knew the basics from my previous Mercedes. I was surprised at how many improvements were made over the last three years: voice commands, blind spot warnings, faster GPS navigation (now on a hard drive rather than on a DVD).

A Modest Proposal

Client expectations keep increasing and even a dentist can raise them.

Here's an idea I haven't seen anyone use: shoot photos of the client taking delivery. The vehicle will never look better. The client will never look happier.

These photos could be emailed to the client. A nicer touch would be to mail a framed photo. Isn't that good marketing too? Wouldn't the client be more likely to give a testimonial and referrals?

Going further, the rep could (with permission) display the photos in a digital frame. A wall of photos would be better unless reps share their desks. Photos might work in your business too. They're an example of the fifth universal principle of influence: consensus.

The Irony

I appreciated the buying experience more because of the contrast with last time.

Maybe you're amazing too, but how would your clients know unless they felt mistreated elsewhere? If your clients think you're average, they may be more willing to leave you for insignificant reasons. If they run into problems elsewhere (say buying a car), can they undo the transaction and return to you? Better to wow them now and stay in touch.


PS Keep reading to see how the next experience goes in 2014. Maybe dealerships will open on Sundays by then?

March 1, 2011


Donna Messer
You're only as valuable as the people you share. — Donna
Have you seen Donna Messer, the queen of networking? I've had the opportunity three times in recent weeks.

Donna spoke to graduate university students at MITACS, at International Networking Day, and at the Association of Independent Consultants. Each event was surprisingly interactive and unique (like a Springsteen concert).

Where the audience size allows, Donna asks each attendee who they want to meet. She may make an instant suggestion from her vast network or connect one attendee with another. Her remarkable memory makes watching her a treat.

Here are three networking nuggets from watching Donna:
  1. Ask how you can help
  2. Know what you want
  3. Measure what matters

Ask How Can You Help

Tell me what you need and I'll tell you who I know. — Donna
Your value comes from what you can do for others. Venture beyond what you sell into the realm of who you know. Jeffery Gitomer says your network is your most important asset.

If you don't maintain contact, when you need help, don't count on getting any. You need to plant and nurture your orchard well before you harvest the fruits.

The only way we discover what others want is from them. Even if you don't have an answer, your value increases because you asked. Maybe you know someone (or someone who knows someone) who can help.

Know What You Want

"We don't share because we don't know what's of value to others." — Donna
You can't achieve a goal you don't have. Imagine if a fairy offered to grant you a wish ... and you didn't have one.

There's nothing wrong with having what Jim Collins calls a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). You might just meet someone who move you forward by a little or a lot. Frodo and Sam did.

Asking isn't a sign of weakness. Remaining silent is. You can overcome shyness and other fears like speaking in public.

Measure What Matters

You don't get anything out of anything you don't put anything into. — Donna
Donna believes in setting meaningful goals and measuring progress. If you make connections but don't follow up, what have you achieved? Collecting business cards isn't enough.

In earlier posts, we discussed giving unsolicited feedback and making your views public to stand out. Donna does both by asking uncomfortable questions.
Example: Say you met an ideal contact. What did you say? How did you follow up? How did you help them?
You might find this approach aggressive. However, her questions are probing and well-intentioned. Entering uncomfortable territory creates an opportunity for growth.

Donna won't leave you squirming, but she makes a point. She especially wanted us to share what we learned and blogs are ideal.

If you have a chance to see Donna, do.


PS Before making an introduction, get permission.