Is The iPhone The New Idea Napkin?

Lo-Fi Wireframe Creating with Brushes on iPhone
Lo-Fi Wireframe Created with Brushes

Last week I was at dinner with a colleague and I was trying to communicate an idea I had. Like many people I’m a visual thinker, so I always look for a pen, and most of the time I have a little notebook in my pocket. I had nothing with me at the time, there were a few napkins on the table but grabbing the only pen used at the register for people to sign their receipts didn’t seem like something I was comfortable doing.

I remembered hearing about an App on the iPhone/iTouch called Brushes [App Store Link], they designed the newest New Yorker cover with it, so I heard anyway. I pulled out my phone and looked it up on the App Store, it was $3.99. I’m already one of those people that area accustomed to the 99¢ apps, but I bought it anyway. I immediately started sketching my idea. I’ve now used it at least once a day to communicate an idea to someone. People already ask me what the app is. It’s small enough on the iPhone that you can put it in the middle of table and collaborate with a small group on ideas. Brushes has quickly changed the way I talk about ideas with my colleagues and prospects. After talking with someone about an idea of their’s I send the image to them over email so they could have a copy of it themselves. That is something I was never really able to do with my napkin sketches.

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The End of Bullhorn Salesmanship

A few days ago, I was at the car dealership having some routine service done on my car. I was sitting in the waiting area quietly reading. Five other people joined me in the room, some reading, some chatting, you get the idea – they were all generally self-entertained and seemed comfortable.

A pudgy gentleman comes into the waiting area to partake on the coffee machine. Coffee in hand, turns to everyone and asks, “Any decisions been made on the television?” A closer look at the gentleman revealed a name tag for the car dealership. Most people didn’t really understand what he meant about the television. “Would you like the television on?” Again, most people there were quietly reading, only two were talking amongst themselves, and all of us just looked at him and shrugged, not really offering a solid decision either way. “Any arguments to not turn it on?” Some gentle mumbles of, “not really” were revealed from the group. So he walks over and turns on the news. With a new look of accomplishment he looks back to all of us and inquires, “So who here is interested in looking at some new cars while you wait?” Most people didn’t really take it seriously. One person did explain, “my car is pretty old, but it has low mileage.” She talked briefly to him about her car, but said she wasn’t really interested. “We have some great deals”, he offered. To which she gently nodded and declined.

As he turns back to refill his coffee another woman announced, “what a salesman!”, in a similar tone as if she was using it as a synonym for “gentleman”.

I looked at him and teased, “perhaps offering to refill her coffee and at least introducing yourself could have helped?” (as I noticed the woman he was speaking with had an almost empty cup of coffee next to her). “Time is money”, he said. To which I argued back, “looking at things that way will likely assist you in losing more then just that sale.” He nodded, and walked off.

He seemed to be completely disconnected from the people he was trying to sell on something. Starting with the television, if he was paying attention he would have seen that most of us were wrapped up in other things. Saying, “anyone NOT want me to turn on the television” seems almost humorous. Rarely would anyone speak up at that, in my opinion anyway… I mean who am I to tell someone that they can’t watch television? But no one was saying they wanted it on, he turned it on anyway. Then he immediately jumped on us about wanting to buy something. I didn’t even know this guy’s name yet. He didn’t earn my trust yet so what makes him think I would want to talk with him about buying something? It is no wonder why car salesman get such a bum rap.

These people weren’t cattle, and he wasn’t offering anything we needed. We all had cars. A coffee refill, and introduction with a kind smile, and a business card had a better chance at closing that sale, it would have just taken a little time.

Building a Relationship

I guess I’m a little old-school when it comes to these things. I believe business relationships are built on trust, and trust is built through reputation and word of mouth. I might not know this guy now, but I bet if he made it a habit of introducing himself to the waiting area and passing out some cards it would have been a step closer. Additionally learning peoples names that come in often for oil changes and whatnot tells me that he enjoys talking to me (even if he might not) and isn’t just trying to sell me something (even if he really is). If I just learned from the Service Manager that I was going to have to pay for a new transmission, the last thing on my mind in the waiting area might have been how much money a new car would have cost me (or hey, maybe it would have been the first).

About 6 years ago I was doing some freelance web development work. I had about 15 clients that I worked with somewhat often. I was the type that took impeccable notes about each client and kept the information in my address book about them. Everything down to the names of their children, spouse’s name, sports their kinds played, conflicts they were having… anything and everything. When I saw them I would ask about them, or just send them a quick note via email, “I hope the issue with (blank) worked out, you seemed pretty stressed.” I built a relationship with my clients. When I saw something in an article online that I thought would interest them, I would send it over. If it was in the paper – I would fax it. Not everyday, nor every week. But when I saw something that I knew would be genuinely helpful, I would send it. The trust grew. When I was then starting to work in other areas of development, they were interested in hearing what I had to say and how it might help them. I would tell them straight up if I thought something would help or not. They trusted me to help them make the right decision because they knew I valued their success in business just as much as they did, and it was true, because I honestly did.

I still do this today with business contacts using Highrise. All of my notes about my contacts go in there. Anytime I’m about to email or meet with them about something I look at my notes to see what they were up to the last time we chatted. A solid connection is made, and people typically prefer to do business with people they like and trust, rather then someone just trying to get something out of them or sell them something. The experience a client or prospect has with you is a big deal, in every interaction they have with your company, so don’t let it be the last thing you think about.

Reconsidering the Tone

I’ve been doing some thinking lately about the general tone of this blog. I don’t really like it anymore. My mental perspective of how I communicate with the people around me has greatly changed over the years and I want this blog to reflect that. Historically, I’ve always approached the topics I’ve talked about as something well researched or planned out. This can be fun and it’s informative for some, but I’m not writing a tutorial site.

As I’ve been working on the Living Zero posts I’ve realized that the amount of information I’m wanting to talk about far exceeds what I think my average reader will be wanting to spend in front of my blog. I hope to continue to work on the Living Zero concept, perhaps in a different medium, an ebook perhaps. My hope is instead to spend this blog talking about ideas. Things I’m considering, working on, or even just reading about. My plan with that is to post 3-5 times a week instead of my once a month posting now. I’ll still be offering my ideas on how things could be done to solve problems, but they will be more open ideas. Thoughts about business philosophy, productivity, empathy, user experience, design, development, management… whatever is crossing my brain that week.

I hope you’ll stick with me and enjoy it. Let me know if I’m writing about things you like to hear about, and I’ll do my best to keep those in mind. I hope I didn’t heavily disappoint anyone in the delay of pushing out Living Zero. I’ll still be working on it, it’s just not going to be my big priority for the blog.

Still Alive…

It’s been a long time since I originally announced my Living Zero series. My goal was to originally release a new item in the series once a week. But as it does life comes up, clients need help, and presentations must be given. I’ve had to delay the series a little more then I’ve wanted to. I think for the second item in the series I really tried to bite off a big piece all at once by addressing dealing with incoming email as a whole. I will likely be breaking the series up even further to really help me in getting things written up and making them available to my readers.

I other news too, I’m currently setting things up for the future site of Innovative Thought. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m really looking forward to seeing not only the site launch, but having more time to maintain and write for the blog.