5 More Lessons from the 2012 Inc. 500 Conference

Posted on: October 11, 2012

Running a fast-growing internet marketing company makes it hard to break away for things like industry conferences. However, when Blue Corona was named number 174 on the 2012 Inc. 500 list (in our first year of eligibility), I knew we had to send a group to the conference and awards ceremony in Phoenix, AZ. Although the black-tie gala left something to be desired, the conference itself was nothing short of amazing.

In my last post, I threw out a couple things I took from Nick Woodman’s speech. Having had a bit of time to think about the rest of the event, I thought I’d share a few more.

In no particular order:

1. Set smart traps

Dan Heath of The Heath Brothers told a fantastic story about David Lee Roth, Van Halen’s former lead singer. Apparently, one of Van Halen and David Lee Roth’s requirements was that there be a bowl of M&Ms in the band’s dressing room. No big deal, right? The catch was that the bowl contain ZERO brown M&Ms. If the band found a) no M&Ms in the room or b) M&Ms in the room with the brown M&Ms present, the band would cancel the show—no exceptions! This request left the venues/concert promoters with the impression that David Lee Roth was a pain-in-the-a** prima donna. Seriously—who the hell can’t be bothered to pick out the brown M&Ms on their own? But was this really what was going on?

Dan Heath explains …

The typical band at the time of Van Halen would show up with three tractor trailers worth of equipment and gear. Van Halen would show up with nine! Van Halen’s show was filled with all sorts of special effects and pyrotechnics. Their contracts with the concert venues were enormous—to account for every detail of the show and to ensure the band’s safety. If any aspect of the agreement wasn’t read and properly executed by the venue, it could mean serious injury or even death for a member of the band.

On the very last page of Van Halen’s agreement was a section about the M&Ms. The band wants a bowl of M&Ms in their dressing room with all the brown M&Ms removed. Failure to follow this instruction will result in a cancelation of the show and forfeiture of any fees already paid to the band—no exceptions. Now, do you see the purpose of the M&Ms?

It wasn’t that David Lee Roth was a pompus asshole (he might have been one, but the M&M instructions weren’t there as a result of it). The M&Ms—sans brown M&Ms—were a trap to see if the concert venue/promoter had thoroughly read and followed all the instructions in the agreement. No M&Ms or M&Ms with the brown M&Ms still in the bowl meant that the venue had not read the agreement or couldn’t be bothered to follow the instructions. In this event, the band couldn’t be sure that the rest of their instructions had been followed, so they would walk from the deal.

2. Be authentic and see opportunities not obstacles.

Bert Jacobs, founder of Life is Good, gave an amazing talk—perhaps my favorite of the entire conference. In it, he covered a number of key points, but the two above hit me the hardest. Prospects can tell when you’re passionate about something and when you’re being authentic. Be authentic and your customers will build your brand for you. If they see you operating in a way that is inauthentic, they will tear your business apart. Customers—not marketing people, branding experts, etc.—are the only ones that can build your brand—never, ever forget this.

Another key point Bert made is the idea that your disposition is everything. To be successful in business and build a great company, you have to train yourself to see obstacles as opportunities. As we get older, we tend to assume that we have to play by certain rules, but we don’t. It’s a myth. Kids have this open disposition; they see the world as full of opportunities, whereas many adults see the world as being full of obstacles.

Here’s a bit more straight from the man himself:

3. Skate to where the puck is going to be.

Brian Halligan, co-founder of HubSpot, gave a talk about the power of inbound marketing. It’s pretty amazing how few of the members of the audience were familiar with inbound marketing, let alone engaging in it. In the process of making the case for online marketing, Halligan threw out a nice quote from hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky. It goes something like this: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Sounds an awful lot like the best marketers vs. everyone else. The best marketers track everything and are always testing new things to stay ahead of the pack. Because they have the best data, the best marketers are often the first ones out of a particular marketing medium and the first ones going “all in” with what seems like “unproven new things.”

4. Be a baker, not an eater.

Guy Kawasaki has always been one of my favorite speakers. In his talk about how to enchant customers, he talked about the difference between bakers and eaters. Eaters see the world as a zero-sum game. They want a bigger piece of the pie—more for them equals less for you. Bakers see things differently. When a baker looks at the world, they see abundance. While eaters are trying to get one extra piece for themselves, bakers are thinking about how to bake more pies! The obvious takeaway … be a baker, not an eater.

5. Default to yes.

Kawasaki also suggested always defaulting to “yes.” When someone asks you for something, look for a way to say yes. Always look for ways to help people. Guy mentioned the quote, “takers may eat well, but givers sleep well.” After you help someone and they say, “thank you,” simply reply with “No worries, I know you’d do the same for me.” The idea is to make it easy for people to repay the favor (but if they don’t, that’s okay).

Guy notes that many business owners are constantly worried about customers trying to get one over on them. He suggests they stop worrying about people ripping you off because it happens so rarely and the benefits of defaulting to yes are exponentially larger. For example, think about companies like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Zappos. Amazing customer service is one of the reasons you’ve even heard of these companies!

Each of the three companies mentioned above has policies that could result in millions of customers taking advantage of them. The reality is that this doesn’t happen very often. Nordstrom, a company that has become known for taking anything back without question, once took a car tire back! Nordstrom doesn’t sell car tires! Guy mentioned that just him mentioning the story in his speeches is worth whatever Nordstrom lost taking back a product they don’t even sell.

Final Takeaways

It’s tough to get out of the office for trade shows and conferences, but if you love business, it’s something you really should try to make time to do. Sure, most of the speeches given at the show are the “canned” keynotes that the speakers do at every event, but the speeches aren’t the real benefit of the event. The real benefit of the event is the interaction you get to have with other passionate people like yourself!

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