Freedom: The Enabler to Make Choices
Posted with permission at the courtesy of Life’s Journey Magazine (lifesjourneymag.com). This article was printed in the January 2016 issue. Relationship management expert Mike Muhney shares his perspective on the freedom to make choices and its impact on our lives.
We are so pleased to be here with our January Featured guest, Mike Muhney. The theme for the January issue is Focus on Freedom – Privilege to Choose and Act. Mike Muhney is a recognized relationship management expert, speaker, and author. He is the co-inventor of ACT, which is acknowledged as the catalyst of the customer relationship management industry. His book, Who’s In Your Orbit?: Beyond Facebook – Creating Relationships That Matter (2011) includes practical relationship-building techniques and offers a balanced view on social and personal networks for today’s professionals. Today Mike is the CEO and Co-Founder of VIPorbit Software, creators of Vipor CRM, relationship-management apps designed for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. You can read more about Mike in his extensive biography in this issue. Mike, welcome to Life’s Journey Magazine.
Well, I am delighted to be here. Thank you.
Hi, Mike. Darryl Doane here. Mike, one of the infinite potentials of closer relationships is freedom in our opinion—freedom to trust, freedom to come together cohesively, freedom to make choices, and the freedom to act, and there are so many other freedoms as well. Mike, would you please give us your take and your insights on this?
Sure, apart from the given freedoms we certainly enjoy here in America that I don’t need to restate because we all live them and probably even take them for granted, I kind of bring it down to the personal lev¬el because I need to manage myself. Right? So what does freedom mean to me?
The way I kind of view it, Darryl, is that freedom is an enabler. It is the thing that allows me to more importantly make choices. It is the freedom to make choices if you will and when I say choices I mean by that personal choices—how I behave, how I treat other people, how I view the world, what kind of attitudes do I hold, how do I handle mistakes that I make? Those are choices that I do have the freedom to change myself and improve myself. So, the only thing that I can really manage, and I know this may sound counter-intuitive to relationship management products of which I am co-inventor of software products ACT! and now Vipor, I really can’t manage relationships, and there is no freedom for me to manage you because you need to give me freedom with which to do that.
All relationships are permission based, but the thing I can manage fundamentally is me, and those are choices. The freedom to make those choices and then to act upon them is how I view it. Being in the high tech industry an analogy would be freedom is the hardware, but the person and their attitudes and the actions that follow those attitudes is the software that makes that hardware meaningful. So they go together.
Mike, how does an individual or a company for that matter go about cultivating the highest quality relationships?
Very good question, Rose. And, it is one that I don’t think enough time is spent on by companies and certainly if you are a small business owner, you may not even think about it just because of the nature to survive and succeed as a small business person. But, the way I view it is how I somewhat already have alluded to, it comes down to how you train your people attitudinally and how they see people and what their true motives and intents are.
We all know that we are in business. We all know that we need to buy things and we need to sell things. So, we are going to play both sides of that at any given moment on each and every day of our lives. There is nothing wrong with those processes if you will, but relationships can’t necessarily be brought down to techniques as much as perspectives on what is meaningful and what is going to help me succeed, which is what we are all interested in. I want to succeed. I know everybody else ideally wants to succeed. So, what are you doing about that?
That comes down to things like being authentic, being personable, having integrity. I like to call it the likability factor. Do you engage people such that you show genuine interest in them. I could give you a litany of all of these top ten things to do, Rose, but I don’t want to do that because I don’t think people remember them long term. But, a lot of it is common sense.
I started my career with IBM in the mainframe area. We had to go through six months of intensive training, role playing, case studies and executive group presentations. We were nationally ranked where we stood in the national class and so the pressure was intense and I did very well in my graduating class as far as my national ranking. But, as I reflect back on what IBM taught me, they didn’t teach sales training. I don’t think that there is really as much importance on sales training as there ought to be.
But it goes beyond that more precisely. What IBM taught was how to deal with more people more effectively. The result of which would then be greater success and the likelihood that you would achieve your personal goals as well as your company goals. So, I think what an individual needs to do as well as companies with their employees is spend time focusing on the attitudes and the perspectives toward people and not on mechanics or high-tech solutions as those will fail you if your attitude and perspectives are not in alignment with truly caring for and towards helping others.
We have a relationship statement at the VIPorbit software, which may sound funny. I have never heard of another company say they have a relationship statement. They have a mission statement perhaps and we have that too. But, our relationship statement is simply this. It is very short, two short sentences: People matter! I didn’t say business people. I just said people matter. And then the second sentence in our relationship statement is: We believe in the infinite potential of closer relationships. Well, if those are our founding principles and our foundational principles, what do we do to back that up?
Every day in our customer service, in the way we greet people, in the way we show genuine interest in them, and just affecting a smile when you meet somebody, even if it is over the phone to make people laugh, to engage people in a smile sets a tone of pleasantness, friendliness and we all do business with people we like. And, we like to be around people that makes us laugh or that we are comfortable around. Well, those are things that don’t require anything more than an adjustment of perspective and then acting that out.
I like to use the analogy of the two runners in a race and they each represented an economic system, one communist and one capitalist. Of course, we are all good capitalists here in America. Right? And, of course, the capitalists won. But we all know the communist propaganda machine and in the headline of the paper the next day, the headline read: communists placed second, capitalists next to last. A true statement for sure, but the orientation and the perspective needs to be adjusted and right-sided if you will. A lot of it is seeing things differently than you might have and not allowing yourself to get caught in the trap of a me-attitude viewpoint. Everybody says, no, I can’t do this. It’s their fault. No, no, no, no we have to look at ourselves.
We live in a world today unfortunately of a lot going on that we are all aware of and can complain about, but it comes down to personal accountability. I will give you another example that I did write about in my book. This happened to me for real and it literally changed my perspective even though I had all this wonderful IBM training and I did what they taught me because it was IBM and I was obviously young and trying to have it become a natural part of myself. But they taught us when we encountered people to employ a technique called “what’s on the walls?” Remember, the PC industry didn’t exist back then, Facebook didn’t exist with the wall.
It merely meant when you go into a company or encounter somebody and you notice the magazines in the lobby or you are in the executive’s office and the pictures on the wall, the trophies on the desktop and the pictures of the grandkids, whatever, notice those things, notice what is on the walls and ask them about those things before you even approach getting into business. Why? Because people like to talk about what they enjoy, what they are passionate about, what they work and live for. So, if I saw a picture of the two of you, for example, shaking hands with I don’t know, pick somebody, anybody famous, right? I am going to ask about that. Hey, I noticed there is a picture of you and Arnold Palmer. What was it like to be with Arnold? Well, you are going to talk. You are going to talk excitedly. Right! And so, I am going to focus on your interests that you are displaying.
I am giving you a chance to open up to me, to feel comfortable around me. I am connecting on an emotional level and that is another part of the answer to the question, Rose. Companies don’t teach people enough about making emotional connections. So, it is not technique. It is not mechanics. It’s emotions that we need to focus on better. So, here is the story.
I called on a company’s CEO unannounced on a Friday afternoon in my territory, which at that time was most of northern Indiana. Obviously when I encountered the executive secretary I asked her name, which IBM taught. They are people, too. Ask their name. Hi, what’s your name? Sue. Hi, Sue, I am Mike Muhney. Right? A friendliness. Sue took my card. Well, the CEO came out and I introduced myself and he literally said to me, “Mike, I would love to hear what IBM is doing in my industry but I am literally getting ready to go on a two week skiing vacation in Colorado with my family. Feel free to get back with me when I return. Well, that was a win for me because he did invite me to get back in touch with him. So, I wrote in the Daytimer paper system era we lived in back then when I got back to my car I wrote, three weeks out, giving him a week to catch up, I wrote down two things, the executive assistant’s name and to ask him how his skiing vacation went in Colorado with his family.
So, three weeks went by. I called him on the phone and I finally got to him. I said, Hi, Mr. Smith, this is Mike Muhney from IBM. He said, Hi, Mike, how are you? I’m fine, Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith, how was your skiing vacation? First words out of my mouth. I didn’t start out by saying I’m following up because you asked me to follow up and can we set an appointment? Obviously, that is what the intent was but I needed to earn the right in a professional manner to achieve a goal and to continue to emotionally connect with him and get another win. This is what he said and it stunned me.
He said, “You know you are probably a pretty smart guy working for IBM and you are probably smart enough to figure out that your competitors have been calling on me, too, which they all have and since I have returned they have all contacted me. You are the last. Uh-oh! So far it didn’t sound so good. He continued to comment and this is what changed my whole perspective—that communist/capitalist analogy–he said, but do you know they all knew I went on a skiing vacation but you are the only one that asked me about that. What that tells me is that you paid attention to me. It was important enough for you to care about what is interesting to me and that makes you a professional. I do not like to deal with amateurs so, yes, let’s have that meeting. I ended up selling him an IBM solution.
And, the moral of the story is not that I sold him the IBM solution. The moral of the story is that in his mind his perspective of me was such that he eliminated my competitors, categorizing them as amateurs, and elevating me to a professional dimension and relegated them to an amateur dimension. It was his perspective that mattered, but it was based on my freedom to control how I viewed and treated him as a person and understanding the value of focusing on making emotional connections.
Part of what we need to do and teach people to do is you need to distinguish yourself but the way you go about doing it is not necessarily through mechanics and techniques and trying to get data just to have data for data’s sake. These are human touch stories and that is what we don’t spend time on, either as individuals or certainly as companies trying to help our employees to achieve and succeed more. We do more often focus on sales training, how to use this CRM system, what kind of data we want, etc.
Well, it is not about data. It is about real meaningful and effective connections and that should be the focus that data can help direct us to and focus on.
You have to build those bridges before you can cross them. Mike, among your many talents you are also an author and you made reference to your book. Let’s talk about your book, Who’s In Your Orbit?: Beyond Facebook—Creating Relationships That Matter. How can equipping professionals with relationship tools, and you’ve already mentioned some of them, how can they assist in the freedom that individuals yearn for?
Like any craftsman, and if you are a professional, which I both view and regard myself as being which means I hold myself accountable and that I always need to have the decorum and demeanor of a professional, professionals have tool kits if you will. Athletes have coaches, carpenters have specific tools for their craft, etc. What tools as a craftsman do you employ?
You cannot separate what I just earlier discussed about attitudes with tools that then enable me to execute those attitudes and execute them effectively. Add to that the fact that in today’s world we have what I call the illusion of relation¬ships or connectedness with people. Let’s take LinkedIn. I get these invites from people and it is not even a personal message. It is just that I want to add you to my personal network. I don’t even know why they are bothering. I don’t know anything about them, why they want to connect with me, what is so important, etc. I accept and then I never hear from them. But, on LinkedIn it shows I am linked up with all of these people. But it’s all an illusion.
People on Twitter that have 225,000 followers and they are following 230,000 people. It’s ridiculous! We have the illusion of connectivity today in a world where we have the equipment with which to connect more easily and more rapidly and more effectively but we then have to carry through with it to make it become real. The book was an attempt to co-position if you will the reality of a social media world which is somewhat superficial and shallow in relationships versus going deeper with them and narrowing maybe that field of effort but understanding the point at which those two can work together but what you need to do after it.
Social media, to me, is an enabler, but what you do after with it is what will make a difference. That comes down to the purpose of the book and trying to help juggle these two areas that we all live in day in and day out in the world that we have. And one more thing. Everybody sells, everybody. You may be an architect for example, but aren’t there other architects that I can choose?
We all have competition, so we are always in need of realizing that we are selling ourselves. And in doing so we need to figure out a way to distinguish ourselves from competition. Information out there on social media is equally available to my competition, so I have yet to distinguish myself from them—in your mind—if all I count on is the raw data that you’ve put out there.
Rose and I often like to use the phrase “high tech versus high touch” and you really hit upon that. We have such a world of high technology but if you don’t have it balanced with the high touch, the human factor, it’s not going to be as successful and move forward in the direction that you want it to. That balance between high technology and high touch is so critical. I think you really hit upon that very strongly, Mike.
You used the phrase a moment ago, Darryl, we’ve got to build bridges. Well, there are two sides to a bridge. Right? All relationships are permission based. I can have the greatest attitude. I can have the greatest tool set; but if I can’t connect with you then there is no chance for a bridge to be built. Let’s be honest. For every 1,000 people we all meet and let’s put it into a business perspective, 5%, 4%, 10%, any of them would be a great hit rate. Right? Meaning with most people nothing is going to happen. That’s okay. That is part of the process. But, it is permission based.
I like to say that in building the bridge every step in the process from an engineering perspective, everything requires something that preceded it to build upon in order to conclude and complete that bridge, that real and hopefully sustainable connection and the result that we are trying to achieve here. I describe that as moments. Part of the purpose of the book is to really help enlighten people to look at things differently because we live in what I will call disposable moments.
Going back to those empty LinkedIn invites that I earlier described, you’ve sent me an invite, you thought of me at that moment, and I never hear from you again, ever! Well, it was a disposable moment. I don’t know what that moment meant to them but it was a disposable one and therefore an opportunity lost and most likely never to be gained. What is more important is that every moment of encountering people; however, you do that today via Skype, phone calls, texting, physical meetings, whatever, those are all an aggregate of moments. If you see them as a building block for a long-term perspective, then you are going to be more successful.
And, I don’t mean in a long-term perspective that I am going to ultimately achieve getting you to buy my product. You may never be a prospect for my product, ever. But, that is not what it is about. It is about the way you perceive me because there is a most important asset that everyone of us has. I ask this when I publicly speak and yes, I know where I am going as a speaker but no one has ever instinctively known what is the most important asset as I view it in each of our lives. People say, well, my education, my health, my family. Yes, those are all extremely valuable assets but they all have a stake in the ground from which they spring and it is this.
It is my reputation. We ought to be concerned about reputation management so in building these bridges I am building my reputation as you perceive it. Not as I think it, but as you perceive it. And, as you perceive it, you are going to hopefully remember me and refer me to other people by which I can still be successful. Getting a sale is a successful moment and hopefully one of many. But developing and preserving a stellar reputation is real effectiveness that has a life all unto itself. I am doing the same with you. Right?
I have a perception of you and that perception will determine what I do with or for you on your behalf even if you don’t know it in a reference to somebody else. We don’t think longer term in the construction of moments and we need to understand that we have to get away from this disposable mentality. In today’s world we do live in a disposable world. It is instant gratification. It is short-term. It is on to the next thing, etc., etc. Well, therein lies some big gaps that need to be closed.
Mike, thank you for your guidance and assisting all of us to experience the freedom. We need to get this year off to a phenomenal start in many ways to a new beginning. It has been such a pleasure and honor to have you with us today. Thank you, Mike.
My pleasure to you. You are very welcome.
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