Social Capital

Welcome to Social Capital, a weekly podcast where we dive into social relationships and how the investment you put into them establishes trust, reciprocity, and value within your network. Your host, Lori Highby, will connect with top business professionals to dive into their best techniques and stories to share with you!
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Apr 13, 2022
Meet Steven

Steven Novick is the CEO & Founder of Farmstand. Farmstand cooks & delivers fresh, fast, healthy, and affordable meals to businesses and consumers that they personalize. Their website is Steven previously built 2 billion-dollar businesses & climbed seven summits (including Everest - the very top). Beating cancer made him passionate about food and the environment, and growing up working class made him appreciate affordability and convenience, which is why he started Farmstand.

With there being so many meal delivery services out there, how is Farmstand better?

Like you said, there's certainly a tremendous amount of meal delivery services out there. And how we distinguish ourselves is really in four ways: we're affordable, we're fast, we're healthy, and we're also zero waste. So we describe the Farmstand formula as: we're $7 a meal, five minutes to heat, zero added sugar in zero ways. So it's “seven, five, zero zero”. To add a little bit more to that, we think, ultimately, we're 10 times better than the competition. Firstly, as much as we do a direct-to-consumer service, and we deliver directly to homes, what makes us highly unique is that we have large contracts with Office caterers and large institutions. But what makes us 10 times better than the competition is we're fresh, versus frozen or a meal kit. So we're ready to eat. We're 50% less expensive. We're 90% faster to cook, and we have 100% personalization. And oh, by the way, we take up 90% less fridge space than a HelloFresh would.

Love all of that. And now this is the part that I'm sure most of our listeners are going to be not super happy to hear. But you're not available in the US at the moment. Correct?

Yeah, at the moment, we're just in the UK. We cover the UK nationwide. But a contract that we've signed with a food service provider called ISS and the UK's largest bank, Barclays, that contract, although it starts in the UK, is a subscription agreement (because we’re a subscription-only business) allows us to expand into Europe and the US. And so our hope is to be in the US starting on a B2B basis as early as the first quarter of 2023.

All right, love that. I'm definitely eager to learn more about you when you’re in our territory. So you've previously built $2 billion businesses. How have you done that and what's important to get right from the very beginning?

Yeah, so prior to starting Farmstand, I co-founded an investment firm that now manages about $2 billion invested in private companies. And then prior to that, I was head of business development at a health tech business that raised about $50 million in venture capital. We scaled to $20 million in revenue, and it filed for an IPO of $650 million valuation, which in today's dollar might be about a billion dollars, and then that business was acquired. So I think the fundamental thing is like, when we started Farmstand, I think that the foundation of everything is our values, behaviors, and ultimately what you stand for as a business. In any business you start or you join, I think you have to be very values-driven. And so for us at Farmstand, that's been a real big driver. And so one of our big values that we really centered around, especially in the environment we're in, is making sure that what we're doing has zero food waste, zero packaging waste. We're a B Corp certified business, just like Patagonia or Ben and Jerry's. So these are kind of some of the things that are really important. I think that if you don't have the right foundation when you start a business, you can't grow from that.

I love that. And I agree 100% with all those. I started my business fairly young and didn't have that foundation fleshed out. But it's definitely been a core focus of mine, and something I communicate to my team and even clients – when we're talking about their marketing and their messaging – is that it comes down to what is it that you believe, that's going to help attract the type of people that align with your thinking and your philosophy?

Yeah, I think that's right, and ultimately your customers are going to follow you and get excited based on what you do. So we ultimately want people to take a stand – and take a Farmstand for that matter. So it's on affordability; you know, healthy meals shouldn't just be for the wealthy. And you ultimately want these meals to be healthy. So no added sugar is a really important thing. I mean, 73% of the US population now is overweight or obese, if you eliminate sugar, that helps a lot. And then ultimately, we all are short on time. And so you can pop our food in the microwave, and you have to be ready in three minutes, or boil some hot water and you can make that happen. In that way we kind of describe our business as a build-your-own-salad bar meets Uncle Ben's Ready Rice, because our pouches, which are our meals, are basically a base, a main, and a side, they all come separate, so you just put them in boiling hot water, and that's a really great solution. And then now with the environmental problems that we're having, and the increasing temperatures, making sure you have zero waste. So what's great about us is we have no food waste, we have no packaging waste, and after three deliveries, customers can return all the packaging to us. And we reuse that. So we effectively make a profit on the return which is great for us, for growing our business.

So I hear you've been writing a book for about five years now.

It's something that I wanted to do for a while. You read books like Shoe Dog, written by Phil Knight about Nike, and other books out there about your experience. Our business effectively started as a dark kitchen, and we were mostly a B2B play pre-COVID. So we had 12 Farmstand branded concessions inside large corporations like JP Morgan, Barclays, BlackRock, and KPMG, when COVID hit, we had to shut that entire business down. And we started completely from scratch. So the book is called Keep going. So the five things you do when things get difficult, and this is not only in work, but in life. The first thing is that you write down the list of the problems when things get difficult. The second thing is you come up with, hopefully, a set of potential solutions to those problems. The third thing you do is you, you know, ask for help. And then the fourth thing is you start executing on those things. And then the fifth thing, ideally, is that when you fix your problems you try to help other people. That's the general idea around the five things. And, you know, I think in life, it's the same thing, when you have a, you know, you have something, it's difficult, you have to really think about what the problem is and, and be rational about it and try to come up with solutions. So I think whether it's work or life, you really want to rally around, just keeping things as simple as possible, trying to be as rational as you can about it, whether it's a relationship with your partner, or with a work colleague, or it's work in general, you have to be solution-oriented. It's one of the things that we believe at Farmstand, one of our behaviors, people can talk about anything they want with us, or complain about anything they want. But ultimately, you need to find solutions to problems, not just simply complain about them.

What's the timeline to get the book wrapped up?

Well, with restarting the business from scratch in February, and the business growing, you know, more than 20% a month, you know, since we started, you know, folks right now are raising a bit more venture capital, which we just started doing. We're part of an accelerator in Milwaukee, which is how we met called generator, which is, you know, top 10 nationwide business accelerator. So we're focusing on raising capital right now, you know, and if we're here at the end of January now, it would be nice to get something out probably by next year is kind of the idea, maybe to coincide with us launching our business in the US.

Cool. Love it. All right. Well, this would be a good time to pause for a quick message from our sponsor.

Social capital is sponsored by Keystone Click. Located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Keystone Click is a strategic digital marketing agency focused on helping their clients generate and nurture opportunities online. For Social Capital listeners, they've created an awesome "Guide to Profits" booklet featuring 42 tips on how to build brand awareness, generate leads, and nurture those opportunities online. Visit to download your own guide today.

Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite networking experiences that you've had?

I think every opportunity we have, when we're walking down the street or in the park, or in a grocery store, or wherever we have an opportunity to meet people, I don't actually like the word "networking". Connecting with people is how I view it. I'm actually much more of an introvert. People have a hard time believing that because I can get up in front of large groups of people and talk, but my natural inclination is to be more of an internal person. So I think on the networking side, I think the best thing to do whenever you're reaching out to people, LinkedIn is probably the most helpful platform that's out there to help you build a business. And I think if you're genuine in your approach, and you're honest about things, I think people generally respond very well to that if you open up by trying to sell something, or super aggressive or send repeated emails, it's not going to work. So I think you're always putting yourself in the other person's shoes. So whether it's, for us in the case of trying to contact people or food service providers, or corporates, or people looking to help us, you know, that's, that's kind of how I've gone about, I guess, you know, networking or connecting with people. I think a lot of times what is super helpful, whether you're trying to raise capital, or you're trying to build your business, is getting introductions through other people. And the easiest way of getting your introductions to other people is preparing an email that's very simple, very short. And to the point, asking someone to make that introduction, it's clear what you want the reduction for, and then they can just forward that email on to other people. So I think, you know, one, you know, example of a relationship that helped get our B2B business started as we went to our first office catering relationship was with JP Morgan, and a friend of mine, Stefan happened to work there, run a division. We had a pop-up restaurant in my house before we started the business. He came over like we were doing when we had a gathering, you know, to kind of launch the business, his daughter came along, and most of our food is gluten-free. And she was like, hey, you know, Dad, wouldn't it be great if you had this at JP Morgan? So Stefan was able to make an introduction to Aramark, which was the food service provider. And then the person that worked at JP Morgan oversaw the relationship with Aramark and effectively headed food services for JP Morgan. So there's a good example of using effectively a friend and obviously the help from his daughter who liked the food, you know, proposing the idea that progressed with us, that was our first relationship with an office caterer. And that led to our second with Compass. And then the third is with ISS, which is based in Copenhagen in a very large relationship for us now.

Yeah, I love that. And then just letting being clear on what type of connections you're looking for makes it so much easier for someone to make that connection actually turn into reality.

But there's like three ways to describe people, either you're a giver or a taker, or you're kind of a bit of both, I'm definitely a giver, I don't expect anything in return. So if I happen to be talking to someone or having a chat with someone a couple days ago, looking to invest in our business, he works in a sector that's not really similar to ours. And I happen to know someone that knows a lot about his sector, that also runs an investment fund. And I said, Hey, you know, you're looking at potentially moving into this investment field, you can probably talk to my friend, he didn't ask me to do this. But I think just volunteering and, and willing to help other people out, usually, that comes back and helps you as well. So I think being a giver versus a taker generally works to your advantage, you don't want to be taken advantage of because you also may have to do your own job. But I think being generous with our relationships and our network with other people can be a useful thing, too.

What advice would you offer the business professional who's really looking to grow their network?

So the first thing about me, which is kind of maybe a bit odd, is I never offer advice. I'm not a person that offers advice, because that presumes that I know more than the other person. And nine out of 10 times, I probably don't, even though I read sometimes up to a book a week. But what I do is offer suggestions, but only when asked. So my suggestion, you know, if you're going to try to grow your business, whatever it is, whether it's a B2B business, or direct consumer business is figuring out like, if especially if it's gonna be focusing on sales or, you know, looking at ways of network effects, which Reid Hoffman talks about in his book, "Blitzscaling", is ultimately look for the two or three or four contact contracts or relationships that could potentially lead to large revenues, versus taking in, so be more of a rifle shooter or a sniper versus using a machine gun approach. And just try to keep the approach, very targeted, very focused, versus being too broad-based. When you launch a business even for us. There's a lot of things we could not have done to launch our business. We, you know, initially started off our business, you know, meals for four, and that was portions for four, then we started with meals for two. And ultimately, we settled on meals for one because individuals are probably easier to market to than families at the end of the day.

If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of, or differently with regard to your professional career?

Well, it's a really good question. I really haven't thought much about that. But I would say to anyone, especially when you can look in the rearview mirror, is always work with people that have, you know, good values and good behaviors, because ultimately, being around good leaders has the right influence long term. And I think some of the jobs I've taken in the people I've worked with, some of them have had exceptional ethics, and others haven't. So I think the 20-year-old self would be, you know, focused on working with really high-quality people and high-quality organizations, because that will lead to further opportunities with similar people in businesses.

Connect with Steven


Instagram: @steven_novick

Mar 30, 2022
Meet David: 

Dave is the principal operations consultant at the Crysler Club and host of the Everyday Business Problems Podcast. Entering entrepreneurship after spending nearly 20 years working for a publicly traded corporation, Dave quickly realized there was a tremendous need within small businesses to have access to the tools and support that were commonplace in a large corporation. Dave developed his operations framework to help small business owners reclaim their life and grow their businesses. Dave, welcome to the show.


What are some key areas that business systems connect and how does that work?


From my standpoint and what I like to talk about from the operations perspective are four core areas. Which are planning, people, process, and technology. No matter if you are dealing with a challenge in your business or you are working on planning to have future growth, either the challenge or what you're trying to tackle is going to be in one of those core four areas. And so, I like to talk about them in that particular order. I will never change the order of them because you can't have one without the other and if you start to layer in technology before you do appropriate planning or have people or have a process in place, it's a little bit like putting the cart before the horse, as the saying goes.


Do you see how people might want to change the order a lot?


Yes. Very often. When you're up against a challenge as a business owner, or if you're on a leadership team probably, the two quickest things I see people fill the gap is with people and technology. And what happens most often is if you're filling the gap with people first, without doing the prior planning and if you don't have documented process even though that comes after the people aspect, what tends to happen is that you have fairly underutilized people. So, we hear a lot of people talk about the efficiency of processes and what they're doing throughout the day. But the thing that a lot of people don't talk about is the utilization of those people, right. So, when you're filling the gap with a person or multiple people, because you're overwhelmed, or you've got too many things on your plate, you've got too many processes or responsibilities tasks that you're responsible for without a well thought out plan or documented processes in place, more than likely, you're going to be wasting a lot of time with those people and there's a lot that goes to that. Over the course of time, if you continue doing that, it's going to have an impact on your culture and many other things. So, I don't want to get too deep into that, but that's kind of problem number one if you're going to fill the gap with people. Problem number two is if going to fill the gap of technology without again having the planning people process part in place, what often happens is that over the course of time, the leadership team business owners, they're going to be pretty unhappy with the overall implementation of that technology. It too often fails either during the initial implementation or over the course of time, because again, you've not had a well thought out plan going into it and maybe that seems a little arbitrary saying that because people I will often hear, now we've evaluated ten to different software, we've gone through all of the sales demos and so on and so forth. But what I'm really talking about from that planning standpoint is understanding, 1. Your business model; and 2. Your business processes; and how you can, by understanding those, leverage that technology to automate and streamline what you're doing. So again, it gets back to increasing the utilization of the people that you have, and if you're freeing their time up, ultimately you can take those resources and redeploy in other areas, hopefully generating additional revenue, or what have you.


What is the best way to get started in systemizing your business?


The best way to get started is to make a conscious decision that that's what you want to do. I think that understanding where you're at today and we do have some tools available to help you do that, but to get a pulse on where you're at today in terms of those planning people, process and technology; when you understand where you're at today, and you understand the goals that you have in terms of what you want your business to be like, that could be more locations that could be just a straight increase in revenue. It could be adding a product line. There are a bunch of different goals that you can line out for yourself but understanding where you're at today how those kinds of core four areas work with each other to get you on a path of systemization to all ultimately achieve the goals that you've now set forth.


What are some things that we should avoid when creating these business systems?


I think the one thing to avoid is taking all of the work on yourself. It's one of the areas that I think, from a leadership perspective, people can often struggle with. And I know I did, right. Like I can always speak to my experiences personally growing up in an entrepreneurial family and entrepreneurial environment, my dad was a second-generation business owner and that business had been started in the seventies. So, if you think back to that time, it was kind of, as I jokingly say, ruled with the iron fist, right, as top-down leadership "do as I say", there wasn't a lot of collaboration, there wasn't a ton of engagement and empowerment happening. Even though those things were still talked about, and you knew that as a leader, as an owner, you had to develop people, all those things, right.

So, as I got leadership roles and kind of more and more responsibility, especially early on in my career, I kind of took that into those leadership roles early on, especially, and while I did have some limited success, I'll call it with different systemization efforts throughout those leadership positions. It wasn't for me until kind of the unlock of what could happen in terms of moving the needle further faster when you started to empower and engage the people around you. So, lately, I've been talking about this collective brainpower component, but what I'm really talking about when I say that it is empowering engaging your team, the people that are doing the heavy lifting, that's the best place to start when it comes to systemization and planning and understanding where the bottlenecks are in your business. So, that's the thing to avoid.

Don't think that you can do all of this on your own. You want to be engaging the people that are doing the heavy lifting day in and day out. They know where the real dirt is; they know what is slowing them down. Don't be afraid to ask them, don't be afraid to engage with them and empower them to bring those ideas to you so you can collaborate. And the other part of that is, obviously, don't be afraid to seek outside counsel. It doesn't necessarily mean that that has to result in some sort of a paid engagement or anything like that, but there are so many resources available, especially today in the day and age of social media. I produce a ton of content. I have a ton of free resources available. So, don't be afraid to kind of seek outside counsel. As I tell people, I've learned this stuff from doing it, over 20 years directly working in operations and manufacturing facilities; many different ones, small size to very large size businesses. So don't be afraid to have counsel engage and empower your team. Those are the best places to start and make sure you're not trying to do all of this on your own. That's the thing to avoid.


When it comes to a process or a system, engaging your team, if you get their input, they automatically have buy-in as opposed to you coming in and saying, "this is how we do things now." If it's their system that they're creating, or they were a part of creating the new system, they're going to adopt it a lot faster than if you're just kind of pushing it in front of them?


Yes, 100%. The other thing about that specifically is when you're building your business, right, at one point, you personally, as an owner, or even if you're in a leadership team, we're probably doing that particular process, and now there are other people doing that process. So, my whole point is, it's probably changed since the last time you had hands-on involvement, which is just another reason to get the people that are doing that process day in and day out to get their input on it. Because they know to the detail, all of the different aspects, all of the different factors, all of the different touchpoints. The one thing we didn't talk about, but let's talk about, internally who their eternal customer is, who they're receiving information and/or products from, right. So, they have all of that information at their fingertips. Go to the source of truth. It's the people doing the work every day.

One of the best things you can do as you get into this stuff, as you get into engaging and empowering people, as you start talking about process improvement and ways that you can eliminate ways throughout your value stream. One of the best things that you can do is to start to collaborate across departments. So, oftentimes what would we do is, let's say we're working on a process improvement project, whether that was, let's just say to identify some waste within a particular process, within a particular department. We would take at least one to two people from the prior department and the department following and bring them into those events so we could get that input because it was so critical to make sure that they understood what they were delivering to the department. We were particularly focused on how what they were delivering impacted that department and the same thing, how the department we were focused on the delivery of whatever they were processing, how that impacted the following department. So, that's an area that, again, as you get a little bit deeper into this tapping into that collective brainpower, and then expanding that into departments touching on either side of the particular department or work center, whatever the case may be that you're working on becomes really, really powerful stuff.


Can you share with our listeners your most successful favorite networking experience that you've had?


It's interesting for me -- kind of my own personal journey on the networking aspect, and hopefully, this is of some value to the people that are listening out there. But I worked in a really big company for many, many years. Nearly half my life, believe it or not, and so, for me, networking back then was all about internal connections, right. We had a company with a total employee number of maybe 3,000 or 4,000 people. So, there were quite a few people internally amongst all of these different business units that were owned by this corporation. So, a lot of my, what I would consider early years was internal networking, right. I didn't put myself out there to meet a lot of people outside of the organization because I didn't understand the real power of putting yourself out there and meeting people outside of the organization. So, when I left that environment in 2018, I very quickly realized that I needed to connect with a lot more people and figure out a way to do that. So, when I started networking, I had on LinkedIn. I think I maybe had right at 500 connections or probably even less than that, to be perfectly honest. And it was one, a little bit intimidating and scary because I think when you're first starting out, especially, you're like, okay to your point, everybody hears this, but what does that mean. Like, how do you just go out and meet people online, and as I keep hearing people say, like, make sure you add value.

What does that mean? How do you build a genuine relationship when you are talking to them over instant messenger, if you will? So yes, I think a couple of things that help me is treating social media like you're in person, which can seem difficult to do. But when you think about it, I had a connection of mine kind of walk me through this example and I just thought it was so perfect. But, if you were a business owner that had a storefront, okay, and somebody walked in the store and was just wandering around kind of looking; don't you think, as a business owner or somebody within that business, you would, "Hey, how are you doing? Is there anything I can help you with? Can I help you look for something?" That would be a pretty typical interaction if you had a storefront, and somebody walked into your business?

If we took that same example and applied it to online if somebody reaches out to you and you just ignore that message, it'd be kind of like you owning a business, somebody walking into it, and you just completely ignoring them. I'm not saying that every interaction is going to turn into a connection or turn into a paid engagement or a sale or any of those things. But I think the easiest way to start networking is to just be human, to show up, to be available, and to put yourself out there and look for opportunities to interact with people. And you do it from a genuine standpoint and it's okay to just say things like, "Hey, how's it going? How's your week going this week? How did your quarter end up?" I think the biggest mistake people make when it comes to networking and even when it comes to sales outreach is trying to hurry the conversation and the relationship to get to a destination. If you just take some time and try to get to know somebody on a genuine level, just like you would at an in-person networking event or as I said, the example that I was taught, I think those are the best ways to get started and to continue. I mean, that's really what served me over a relatively short period. My network has expanded pretty rapidly.

To add, you shouldn't just go out and try to blindly connect with people and try to start random conversations. You want to be identifying people that you can add value to. So, I kind of like to categorize my networking in two different ways. I categorize it in people like yourself. Other professionals who have a deep understanding of some sort of a vertical that potentially is in the same circle as my ideal clients and the other people that I'm trying to reach. And then I have people that are going to be more, let's call them in the prospecting bucket if you will. That from a surface-level perspective, it looks like there's some value that I could add to that person into the things that they're probably going through. So, those are the two ways I like to categorize them. And the last thing I would say that's helped me personally is making sure that you have, again, doesn't necessarily have to be this system, but have a system I particularly like to use the CRM, but it could be something as simple as an Excel sheet or some notes, some really good notes. But have some sort of a system in place to be able to keep track of conversations, keep track of key details about people because it's interesting, you never know where you might be looking at another resource online and somebody will pop in your head and say, oh, man, I have to share this with Lori. I think she'd really appreciate this. Those are the genuine interactions where you either tag, Hey, Lori, you know, I saw this, I thought about you or send you an email or what have you. Those are the types of genuine interactions that build real relationships with people. And that is what we should be focused on from a networking perspective is building real relationships with people just like you would in person. It is really no different.

Another thing I would add to that, oftentimes, you hear people be reserved to get on social because they don't want to create content. And one of the most powerful things you can do if you're not interested in creating content is to engage on other people's posts and you can do that by leaving thoughtful comments. The other part that you can do that again kind of speaks to what I just said is you can tag people in the comments and say, here's why I'm thinking of you. Here's why I think this is relevant to either a previous conversation we had or to a project that you're working on. And not only does that help your own personal connections with the people that you're potentially tagging, but it also can help you build new connections with the people's posts that you're in engaging with. So, you could meet the author; you could meet somebody else in the comments. There are tons of ways to add value, to be engaged without having to necessarily create a bunch of content. And that's one of the things I hear from people is, "well, yeah, you know, but I don't want to do any of that." Okay. Well, here you go. You don't have to. Here's a whole another way you could get involved and build your network without having to be a creator.


If you could go back to your 20-year-old-self, would you tell yourself to do more of/less of or differently with regards to your professional career?


I think for me, what I would tell myself is to...when I was that age, I was chasing my goals and my goals at that time were centered mostly around financial success and kind of a level of achievement because I was a very young leader in the position that I was in. And so, what I would tell myself is to be open to new opportunities and to recognize the skillset that you're building and what you could potentially do with that outside of the immediacy of the goals that you're seeking. Sometimes I think we get too focused on that, and we don't open ourselves up to other opportunities. And that's what I would tell myself if I got to go back and do that. Great question.


So how are you going to have these experiences if you're not opening yourself up to accepting them?


I would say it's a real balance there—kind of to your point. You want to be focused on what you're trying to achieve, and you don't necessarily want to take a bunch of twists and turns. But the things I think about are trying other things. How do you really know? I think back and say, I really knew what I wanted to do, and here I am doing something kind of completely different than what I supposedly thought I knew I wanted to do. So, when I was chasing after that and achieving those things, yes. I learned a lot. Yes. It's what shaped me and impacted me today and I'm ultra-thankful for all of those experiences. Even though at the time, I probably would've not said the same thing. It's being open and saying that there are other things out there to look at and to try and to be open to and because at the end of the day, there's a limited amount of time that we have here. And I think one of the things that's kind of thrusting what you hear with this great resignation, I think one of the things that are thrusting that forward is the fact that people are recognizing we are here for a limited amount of time, and there are things that are important. And if you want to achieve something, if you want to try something, nobody's stopping you. Just get out there and try it. A decision today is not permanent unless you make it.


Dave’s Offer to the Listeners:


We offer a free business systems audit. It will help you get a pulse on where you are at within your business when it comes to planning people, processes, and technology. It's a very fast 15 questions. You can take it in five minutes or less and you will get a personalized action plan outlining at least three steps that you can take starting today: #1, understand where you're at; and #2, kind of more importantly, what you can do to start getting yourself and your business into the system's mindset and give you a couple of ideas on how you can get all that started. So, you can get that right from the website.


Any final word of advice to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?


I think from that standpoint, my advice is always the same. Just get started. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Treat people like people, and you'll be amazed at what happens when you do those few simple things.


Connect with David:

Mar 16, 2022

Meet Nandini:

Nandini is a co-founder and CTO of Speakfully, the organic, ever-evolving human-centric platform to address workplace mistreatment known for humanizing tech solutions. Nandini is ensuring the success of the Speakfully mission by integrating social and emotional intelligence into the overall technical roadmap of the brand; a passionate proponent of women in stem, Nandini supports access to diverse talents while enabling women to grow to learn to their fullest potential.

Can you talk about ways you're supporting and how to be an ally to enable women in tech to progress with their goals and agendas?

It's a very important topic to me. I think we all, as women, especially in the field of tech, know that we are underrepresented, so it's very important to be able to support each other, and we can do it in various ways. So, I think one of the easiest ways is to create a little safe space for women to get together or anyone that associates as women to be together to celebrate the highs and lows, losses, and wins together. I think it's important to show some level of compassion, lean in into the other women, and sort of also be a sponsor for them to be able to grow in their careers.

We all like to face a lot of different things as we're going through, growing, and learning. I think it's important to make sure that especially if you take on a leadership role. It's important to be able to go out there and mentor someone else, take the opportunity, ladies if you're out there as, especially women in leadership positions.

Many people could do with a sponsor, a mentor, and someone who can be a good ally to share your experiences. I think it's very important to lean into them, and I believe in it very passionately. I mentor a lot of folks in my network, and I love doing it. I think it works both ways as far as I'm concerned. I learn from it, and hopefully, someone else learns from it too.

And it's a very important thing to mentor and pay it forward and help elevate those around us. I think we owe it back to society in some ways.

Why is it important to humanize tech products? What does humanizing tech products even mean and how do you do it?

I get asked that a lot. Like when I’d say I love to like trying to humanize tech products. So, suppose someone asks me what it is. In that case, it's essentially thinking of it as you're building something that would present use for technology in a sense that allows you to connect with other people and other humans and also put you a little more mentally and emotionally in charge of what you're trying to accomplish. And the irony is when you think about tech products, and I'm talking purely from a software aspect because that's my skill set. If you look at technology products, the irony is a lot of it is meant to try and connect people, but in the process, I think the communication process has become completely discombobulated in many ways, especially now, in the world that we're living in. In a pandemic or a post-pandemic world, people create that human connection and we're all sitting in front of our computers, and we are all having to deal with various products that we are using in our day-to-day lives. But how many of those products are putting you in the front seat emotionally? And how many of those products are allowing you to engage with them where you are in charge of making that final decision? You don't want to build software solutions that are just meant to be there to make just for the sake of automation. For example, I don't want the software product to tell me what clothes I need to wear. I want them to maybe give me a range and to give me different factors, for example, and say, here's the weather, here's the situation, or here's the place you're going to go to. And then I would still want to be in charge of what I'm going to wear as opposed to a software solution or a bot telling me what I should wear. So, that's a subtle difference, but that can essentially put you in charge of things, what we are doing, and the work that I'm doing now. 

Also is about how you are essentially wanting to come forward with what you're experiencing, whether you're in the workplace or whether it's personally depending on what you're going through. I don't want to be sitting and talking to a bot that is just being very insensitive to what my situation is. I want compassion, and I want human connection. And that's the humanizing portion of the whole technology if that makes sense. I know I said a lot of different things there, but that's kind of what humanizing tech means to me, at least.

Are you talking about AI to some extent?

AI to some extent, yes. I think AI is such a buzzword at the moment. Everyone wants to do AI. Largely, it's meant to make life easier. Largely, it's meant to make decision-making more informed, but at the same time, we need to know where we have to cross the line. Do you want to provide enough information to your end-user so they can be in charge and make the decisions on their own or know what kind of conversations they need to have with people? Absolutely.

Would you rather have AI kind of have those conversations for you or make those decisions for you? Probably not. And that's the sight that I don't necessarily fall in. I believe that if we are building software, we as technologists, I think we have this big moral responsibility on our shoulders that if we are building a software product and putting something out there, let's leverage AI to the point where it's the bare minimum and needed, but you still need to make sure that the human connection is not being replaced by a bot.

It's really hard to get it right. If you're trying to automate the whole process of emotion. I mean, emotion is so centric to humans. It's our thing, right? It's what differentiates us from anything nonhuman. So, it's very hard to train a bot to like to have that right balance. So, if you're seeing like every sentence in a chatbot being followed with a little smiley emoji, then yes. It's the algorithms skewed too much to one side.

How do you instill diversity and inclusivity specifically near the space of project engineering when it’s not fully represented by various demographics?

When you think about it and say diversity and inclusion it probably again, it's another buzzword these days, but if you step back and look at it, I think it's got to mean something different. It has to have different meanings to different people. So, the way I think of inclusivity and diversity is really in perspective, in thought, in ideas. And I think it's important to make sure that those ideas are in an environment like especially engineering teams, tech teams, you've got to make sure that there's enough. You set the framework and set the team dynamic in such a way that diversity and thought are to be included without condition. That's like the top level of it. But as again, if you really do want to instill a sense of diversity and inclusion or instill that passion in the team, then I think the first and foremost thing is like the awareness of the gap, right. I mean, recognize where the gap exists. Is it a pay gap for example, or is it really a gap in representation or is it a talent gap, and each of these needs to be handled in different ways? So, I think the first step I would advise is to recognize where that gap exists and make sure that you are aware of that. When you do, then if you, for example, if it's a pay gap, then you have a very clear idea of what you need to do to close that gap. You've got to go after and make sure there's equity in pay. For example, if it's a representation gap, then clearly there is a problem in your talent pool and the hiring process. So, maybe go after that and fix it. So, I think it comes down to first being aware and then really trying to like to have a path forward to like to try and close where that gap exists. And more than anything, I think it is also culturally. We all need to be very purposeful in our approach to this. I think we all need to be super proud of the fact that, we are making an attempt to create that diverse environment and we need to own it unless you're going about it in a very intentional way. You're not going to find true results in actually moving the needle and creating more representation. And like I said earlier too, it's like as a woman leader, I think it's very important for me and as it's the responsibility lies on my shoulder. I do need to give it back to make sure that we are creating environments where everyone can come together and have a very collaborative, positive interaction regardless of what we're doing.

And I think geography matters too, right? Depending on, and this is a practical world that we live in; recognize how the coasts approach it, even in our country. The coasts approach it very differently than other parts of the country. So, factor those things in as well. Sometimes, depending on the geographic area you're in diversity or representation of different demographics is super easy. It's almost like a second thought, not a second thought, but in other areas, for example, you have to be more intentional about it, but it's okay for us to like go after it as an agenda item especially as leaders because it's important. That's the only way you're going to have a truly inclusive environment. And along with that comes a huge level of training as well like. Maybe people aren't seeing eye to eye that this is something that needs to be solved for in the organization. Maybe we like to leverage some good training programs. So, people know how the business can be impacted when you have a more diverse team. So, I think all of it put together is kind of there's no one agenda item you can go after, there's no one thing you can do and solve all of your DNI action items magically, but you have to really go after it in a very purposeful way.

Can you share with our listeners one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you've had?

I recently joined a diversity channel. It was basically like a Slack channel, and one of their biggest agenda items was providing us a safe space for women and women of color to come together and talk about issues they're facing. I think one of my favorite interactions there was talking about how? Someone asked us the question on the channel about how your past experiences or negative experience could have essentially shaped you to be who you are today? And I was just essentially blown away by the types of responses you saw to that question. It was eye-opening for me in so many ways but also a little disappointing because you think you know the different negative experiences that people might face, but it was tremendous for me to see the power in that conversation, and I think that's been my favorite networking moment so that I can think of at the moment.

Vulnerability is the word for it. And I think, often, leaders tend not to want to be vulnerable because they confuse that with the sign of weakness. I think it's quite the opposite. I think you being vulnerable in a sense, essentially creates a sense of compassion, and you function with a high level of IQ, and I think that's what I think good leaders should try to do.

How do you stay in front of and nurture the community that you've created?

I think it's like I said, you've got to be able to share your wins and your losses together. You've got a good network. We've all taken our time building our network around us. It's very important to be around each other, and you don't use your network just as an excuse to just go meet people. I think you have to be more authentic about it, and that's how you do it in a way that you are open about the way that you're communicating with each other and making sure you are there for your network as well. It's not just about you tapping into your network. It's not one-sided, but I think it has to be a two-way street. So, if there are people that need you, show up for them, and I think that's how you end up being in the front and center of it. Support each other, and it may even mean like people post different things on social media. You might need to just be there, participate in the conversation, engage with them. And those are ways that you can actually like to promote each other. I think that's important to do as part of any network.

If you could go back to your 20-year-old-self, what would you tell yourself to do more of, less of, or differently with regards to your professional career?

I think it's important for me to have been more confident in myself. So, I think I would've told myself to do more confident things. I don't know what else to say, but essentially doing things that can create a sense of self-confidence. I think I definitely would've liked to do more of that. I think maybe less of going out and watching games. Perhaps a little bit less of that. Oh yes, and here's another one I think I would tell myself to write shorter emails. I tend to be very, very wordy with my emails, but I think I've learned to be more concise and brief. So, I would definitely tell myself that. I think that's something most people in their 20s don't understand. It might seem very significantly big, but in the long scheme of things, such as career and life, it is a marathon. It's not a sprint.

Do you have any final word or advice to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?

Absolutely. Just be there for the network. Show compassion and lean into your network; and compassion is the next level beyond being supportive. I think we all need to stretch a little bit to meet our network, and I think that's a very important thing to do. We all owe it to our network.


Connect with Nandini:



Feb 23, 2022

Robert Cruess is an original Founder and the President of ZeroNox.  Mr. Cruess is an Entrepreneur and Businessman, having obtained a Business degree from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2009, and also holds a Real Estate License and Mortgage License. Mr. Cruess’ experience and expertise include starting and running several businesses, sales, product development, real estate, loans, youth outreach, and community growth. Mr. Cruess’ Business contributions include patents for products he has designed, starting multiple business’, and doing Multi-Million Dollars in Real Estate transactions through his Real Estate Investment Companies: Rico Property Group, Invia Investments, and HCS Investments. Mr. Cruess was born in Spokane, Washington but has lived most of his life in Porterville, California and the San Joaquin Valley, is married and enjoys time with his wife and 5 children, volunteering in the local community, and is an avid sports fan.

Feb 9, 2022

Meet Alex

Alex is the co-founder of Ike Media and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Alex is the host of the top rated Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Box, Milwaukee Brewers and Wisconsin Badges Podcast on the Apple Podcast Platform. He loves producing original music with, you can find that at Ike Music on Spotify and currently resides in Oslo Norway, where he has been working to expand the influence of the Ike brand internationally. 

How has moving to Norway added value to the IKE brand and impacted you as an individual?

Well, it's been so big for the international presence of Ike. So Ike, we've always had this goal of creating an international brand. That is something that we strategically thought about from the beginning when we set up the brand and how do you make that a reality, right. So, the first step actually was, when I was in school at Madison, I was invited to an international sports conference in Switzerland. I was one of 50 international global challengers, that's what they called it, or disruptors to the sports industry because of what we did on Twitter and that kind of really just got my brain going because I got to meet all different cultures here, all these different perspectives on sports, make all these great connections all over the world. And it just felt like my time or my chapter in Europe was not over. It just wasn't that we got the conference. I had to continue to expand those relationships and the influence of the brand.

So, when I moved to Norway, it was definitely one of the craziest things I ever did. And sometimes I can't even believe that I did it. I think the word that describes it was brave but it's something that's so, I think, relatable and people have to take a chance in life at some points, whether it's starting a business or moving to a new city. And what always happens if you embrace that opportunity is good things and that's been exactly what's happened for Ike. We've been able to not only connect with athletes then in the United States but sprinters or athletes in Europe, soccer players, models, all sorts of new people and it's expanded the way I view the world. I view it through a much larger lens now, and that has been so great for my personal development as well as Ike's content strategy, it's positioning, it's brand positioning, the type of music we create. So, it really stems down deeper into the brand. It's not like I can point to one thing that it's specifically changed, but it's had a huge impact and influence on the brand. And it's brought in a ton of international listeners. That's something we're very proud of on our podcast network is that we have over a hundred countries listening to our podcasts. And so, sometimes you have to pinch yourself that you can go to Norway. And one of the best athletes in Norway is listening to your Milwaukee Bucks podcast and then you talk over that and it's just kind of a smaller world than you would imagine. But it's really helped define that Ike is not just a United States brand, it's an international brand, a global brand. It’s definitely something that I think I'll remember forever. I can speak a second language now so that's always been a personal goal of mine as well, and to learn a second language without being bilingual. That has also given me the confidence that I can learn other things that are complicated. 

For someone who wants to start a podcast, but hasn't yet, why should they create one in 2022?

Because it's how you create genuine connections with people today. It's so hard in a world of social media, a world of constant small and shorter content. We're all trying to intake shorter content to really create a genuine connection with people. And the real way I first kind of got the hint was through the music we produced, is that people who listen to your music, they don't just listen once they listen multiple times and then they feel like they almost know you at a personal level. And so, podcasting is kind of a continuation of that. You can share your story, you can let people get to know you, it can be vulnerable, and that's how you grow genuine connections. I think about the last time I sat down and watched a video on YouTube on my phone for 30 minutes, it's really rare that I'll do that, but podcasting, I can ingest that in so many passive ways. I think that it's just reaching more people each day and it's very forward looking. So, if you want to set up something that's not going to disappear in five years and that will be around for 10, for 20, for even 50 to a 100 years, I believe that is podcasting. I believe that's audio based content. And so, that's why I'm so excited to encourage people to take a free consultation with us, hop on the phone with us, let us talk about podcasts, explain it to you and really how it can help your business or brand, create real revenue and value through networks.

How can podcasts really create value for B2B businesses?

For B2B businesses, it's kind of a lot of people think, oh, you know, I'm not trying to reach the customers, the C level, but the B2B it's the network building. So, if you have a podcast, for example, in the FinTech realm, getting business in that realm either requires going to conferences, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend these big conferences in Amsterdam, such as Money 2020, or you got to put up a lot of money, but the podcasting is a way to make that connection with someone. You can invite them, instead of trying to say, "Hey, I want to sell you something". You can say, "Hey, I'd love to have you on my podcast". You get to learn about that person. You get to connect with them, see how well you vibe, almost develop a little bit of a friendship during the show. And then that leads to business, that leads to staying in contact and it's almost like a foot in the door in a lot of ways that you can't normally get that foot in the door. I find that the conversion is much better to just say, "Hey, would you like to join my podcast; would you like to have a conversation"; rather than saying, "Hey, would you like to purchase this? Or would you like to explore this sales-oriented mindset?" So, I think for B2B they can really benefit from just the network of it, not only the network of it, but the way it can help grow your brand within an industry too. If you want to be a thought leader, a podcast is a great way to become a thought leader because you get to talk about the industry, talk about what your business does, why it's different, what makes your technical advantage better than your competitors. And, I think just getting that word out, getting that out on the internet is so beneficial. I've seen the results time and time again. That's why I always encourage people. It's not just about having a huge audience. It's also about your guests a lot of the time. Are you connecting with the guest and that's really an important thing? 

Even for us in the sports world, like connecting with a player rather than just doing it for the fans of its sports team. It's to build those relationships with the players which then might lead to an N.I.L deal or something like that, which is exactly what happened for us in the case of Caesar Williams, the Wisconsin cornerback. We started off on a podcast and a lot of relationships have been built that way. So, I encourage people to also think about the relationship building potential of podcasts.

Can you share with our listeners one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you've had?

Yes, it actually comes from one of the first times I went to Europe. There's this common expression you'll hear from people as an invitation. It's, would you like to take a coffee? Lori, would you like to take a coffee with me? And what that really means is you just grab a coffee with that person and you sit down and you talk while you drink that coffee, whether it's on a couch in a cafe. And it's something that I just kind of noticed that these business people that I was around people that I was looking up to were using as an easy way to start the conversation because it's, if you say, "Hey, do you want to sit down and talk about podcasting?" People might put up a hesitation saying, "Hey, not right now. Maybe later or let's get it on the calendar", but if you say let's just take a coffee or something simple, it's that same weight with the podcast invitation we just talked about. It's an easier way to get your foot in the door and I found that whether the person doesn't drink coffee or not, it's just almost a casual way to invite them into your world. 

How do you stay in front of and nurture these relationships that you've created and fostered?

I think Ike is a big component of it. So Ike, for those listening, we've reached hundreds of millions through social media impressions every year. And that is a way of people almost feeling like they're up to date with what you're doing in a certain sense, because Ike is so all close to our passions in the sports world, but on a more personal level, it's not always that easy, but I think it's the power of giving them like a quality amount of time, whether that's like 30 minutes or a 1 hour phone call being present during that. And that's more powerful than me consistently checking in. I do have some friends that I'd love to consistently check in and just put things on the calendars just to have conversations with. But I try to do these deeper conversations, which brings it back to podcasting. It's longer like ingested content because you're spending more time in a continuous bunch. I know myself, I have a decreasing attention span. I think we all do just as a result of technology. And so to spend that quality amount of time, maybe 30 minutes or more with someone on the phone or in person, I found that to be very, very powerful and help maintain those relationships.

If you could go back to your 20 year old self, what would you tell yourself to do more of, less of, or differently with regards to your professional career?

So I was at UW Madison. I was a software engineering student, so that's actually my educational background and one thing I think I wish I would've done more is probably in college, I think it would be to further like my relationships with older individuals at that university, or just, because college is such a great opportunity to meet people. I find that the whole reason the Ike podcasts have grown to what they are is because of some of these relationships I met in college, for example, the Ike Badger's podcast. When I was 20, I met Zach Baun. He's now a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. And we met just the old fashioned college way. We became friends because he had a golden retriever like the most old fashioned way you meet someone through a dog and we've stayed in contact. We've helped each other professionally, both ways. I did his podcast interviews when he was in the draft process. I was promoting him to help him get his name out there. And he's helped us in return through connections. He connected us with many Badger players. And so, I think just how much has stemmed from him. I imagine more could have been stemmed if I had maybe done more networking events, been out of my comfort zone a little more in a little more open to meeting people of an older age. When you're in college you almost want to just meet your friends and do the college things. And I was so heads down in that but those relationships you meet at that age are super valuable for the future. So, I think it would've been maybe probably networking a little more. And yes, I think other than that I'm pretty proud of graduating as a software engineer. I'm proud of the decision to move to Norway and move out of my comfort zone. And, I'm also proud that back then when I was 20 years old, we were putting out Ike content. It's been around for that long. And so I'm very happy that we did it. I think if I could give myself some advice, it would be less Twitter more like more other forms of content or something like that. Or maybe always listen to podcasts that would've been a great one, Lori. If I was listening to podcasts when I was 20, ingesting the great information you can get in podcasts, I probably would've been a little more ahead in terms of the new social platforms. I would've been earlier to those. I would've been ahead on the trends. And so that, I think would've been a great thing to tell myself is, "Hey, less trap music, more podcasts."

Any final word or advice to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?

Your focus determines reality. Where are you focused? That is something that I have struggled with having multiple passions. Maybe not at first knowing what I exactly wanted to do in life. And so, having that focus I found has been really important like going after a certain type of client, being more niche oriented in a certain way, targeting very important people rather than just a larger group of people. And so, we found great benefits through that. I think podcasting is one of those ways and tools to grow your network through a focus. Every podcast has to have a focus in order to attract listeners. Whether it's a sports team, whether it's FinTech, anything having a clear focus is going to help you network within that group and lead to good results.


Connect with Alex: 


Feb 2, 2022

Meet David

After 28 years as a highly-skilled employee, David was told that his job was over. Despite the immediate trauma and fear, he knew that as his next step, he’d rather work for himself and have more control over his destiny. That was in 2006.

Today, David is a thriving community builder, podcaster, and speaker. He helps high-achieving professionals, who have had a late-career job loss, build their consulting or coaching business, so they can do what they love and get paid what they’re worth.

How did you learn to network and develop business relationships?

As I was thinking about our discussion today, I reflected on the 28 years in my career that I was an employee, before I started my own business in 2006. I always was involved in building relationships outside of my job and outside of my organization so I would always find opportunities to network with colleagues. I would join associations of people that were doing something similar to what I was doing, I would take advantage of opportunities to learn and to get some professional development. When I started my business, one of the things that I realized within the first year is that the network that I had, as an employee, was not necessarily the network that was going to help me build my business. And, although I did maintain the relationships that I had, with, with colleagues and friends that I had built up over the years as an employee, and in fact, those relationships helped me get some of my first consulting clients. I had kind of an eye-opening experience, with a friend of mine, who also went from being a longtime employee to being self-employed. About a year before, I was having dinner one night, and she said to me, "I'm part of this organization and I think you might find it interesting to come to a meeting." It was a BNI meeting, and I'd never heard of BNI or knew anything about business networking. I immediately realized the power of being in a room with other entrepreneurs, not just with professional colleagues and so I ended up joining. I have to say that not only do you get to network in networking organizations like BNI, but they also teach you networking. That's one of their goals as an organization is to try to help everybody do better at business networking, as well as build relationships as they do that. Even though I'm not currently a BNI member, I have relationships and still have clients that emerged from BNI. Some of my best friends as entrepreneurs also came out of that BNI experience and so that was sort of my first foray into business networking, and I got to be pretty good at it. I would not only do networking in my chapter, but I got to know a lot of people in other BNI chapters. The next thing for me in terms of networking, and building relationships, as an entrepreneur emerged from content creation, and in particular podcasting. I'm sure you know, as a podcaster that if you're doing interview-based shows, you get this opportunity to have in-depth conversations. Often they feel like intimate conversations with someone new on a regular basis and you get to build relationships with those people and you get to share your mutual knowledge with your audiences. I found that since I started podcasting seven years ago, it has enabled me to build relationships with new groups of people that I didn't know before. And I'm based in New York and even though I'm pretty well networked in the New York metropolitan area, podcasting enabled me to develop a whole new network that was international, which is great.

What is the connection between your relationships and the evolution of your business?

Well, for one thing, as far as the relationships themselves are concerned. One of the things that I've learned to do over the years, and I encourage other people to do when they're trying to build relationships, is focus on the relationship. So that means being curious, asking open-ended questions and I recently learned a framework for questions that I love from a podcast guest, Rock Robinson which he calls his Fab Five. The first one is about geography so asking where someone is from because it's not a threatening question so people automatically will start to think of who they might know in common based on geography. The second one is family, which is just asking someone to tell you about your family and that will allow you to learn something about that person. The same thing with school because pretty much everybody has some kind of school experience and there's usually something interesting to share about that. I like to ask people about their career journey because no matter where you are in the stage of your career, everybody's career is different. Then the last question is what excites you which then can start to get to something that may be closer to what it is you do in your business. So being curious and asking open-ended questions is key. The other thing is in the world, there are givers, there are takers, and there are exchangers and people that are best at relationship building are exchangers. I like to ask how I can help somebody else first. I try to be a generous person, I think that kind of sets the stage for how I like to be known, and then the last thing that I will usually end with, particularly if it's been a fruitful conversation, is asking if there is anyone else I should talk to and maybe for an introduction. If you get an introduction to somebody, they're much more likely to respond. The most important thing is also when there's some call to action or some action plan that you have as a result of a discussion with somebody else, make sure you follow up. So I try to be systematic about following up and make sure that I do if I offer to help somebody in some way. Relationships do take time and the good relationships are what has led to most of my long term clients, which is great and also opportunities. 

How is social capital integral to the impact you are trying to have in the world?

So there's one thing that I have noticed with high achieving professionals when they go from being in an organization to being independent, is that the social infrastructure has vanished. So you have this formal structure that when you're part of an organization, that of course disappears when you walk out the door. But also, the informal structure follows it often. It may not disappear completely, but all of a sudden, your quote-unquote friends from work, you may find that they're they've ghosted you for a whole variety of reasons and you spend a lot of time alone, and the loneliness and the isolation, combined with the fear of doing all these new things. If you have gone from being an employee to being a consultant, when your job was terminated then there can also be shame associated with the job loss. It's not something people talk about a whole lot and so being able to connect with other people that have some of these similar challenges, that you're facing similar issues, people that are also building a consulting business. You don't need to reinvent the wheel, but if you connect with other people you'll learn things from them and they'll learn things from you. Connecting with other people, I think is important to be being to your ability to be able to overcome that and for me, I like to be a connector and so for me, yes, I do know a lot about how to build a successful consulting business, but I feel great when I'm able to connect people.

Can you share with our listeners your most successful or favorite networking experience that you've had?

I'm going to reflect back on my first visit to a BNI meeting when I was terrified about the idea of getting up and giving a 60 second commercial about myself, and my business was pretty new at that time. I did have clients, but didn't have a huge track record so I was pretty insecure about what I was selling, and to be able to get up in front of 30 plus strangers at seven o'clock in the morning and to give a coherent 60 second commercial was pretty terrifying. I have to say, the people in the room couldn't have been nicer to me and more supportive and people came up to me afterwards and just tried to be nice and helpful. When you're with people, I had a podcast guest who actually is an expert on networking, and one of the things he said was that we all know this the phrase, people do business with people they know, like and trust and he added another line to that, which is people do business with people they know, like, trust and care about them and at that meeting I felt like there there was genuine caring in the room and it made a huge difference.

How do you stay in front of and best nurture your network in your community?

I think it's important to actually have a process for keeping track of who you're connecting with, and having a process for follow up. So one of the things that I do is, I make notes after I speak to people and I keep the notes and I keep them organized. I also make notes on my calendar of when I'm supposed to follow up with somebody. So if you and I are speaking today and we decide to keep in touch, three months from now, I'll make a note in my calendar three months from now to reach out and add notes in my calendar as to some of my notes from our conversation so I can go back and look at it in case I don't remember all the details.

If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?

Follow your heart. I studied engineering for 7 years and I worked as an engineer for 4 years, and then I went into the nonprofit sector. And honestly, when I was in school, I had thought about whether this was really the right thing to study. I did well in school and in my career, but my heart wasn't really in it. So for every pivot I've made, mtt career has ended up moving me in a direction where I'm actually doing things that I'm happier doing. I will admit that each of the pivots usually came with not just me moving forward, but somebody pushing me to do it!

What final word do you have to share with our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?

If you're feeling uncomfortable in anything you're doing with regard to relationship building. Pay attention to the discomfort and if you believe that the step that you are about to take, which is making you uncomfortable, is a good step, take it. Because if you're feeling uncomfortable means you're probably in a state of growth and that you're doing something that's going to help you grow and relationship building can really help you grow quite a bit, as you've heard from our conversation today so take that step.


Connect with David



Smashing The Plateau Podcast: 

Going Solo Podcast: 

Jan 26, 2022

Meet Ben

Ben has been helping his clients communicate for the last quarter of a century.

He is the author of two books on personal branding and leadership, the host of the 5 year and syndicated show and the executive producer of the Communicate Your Why program.

Ben's mission is to help companies, and the people within them communicate more effectively internally.

To create opportunities for people to listen, understand and act in ways that drive culture, goals, and profitability

Jan 19, 2022

Meet Jennifer

Jennifer Shaheen is the founder and President of The Technology Therapy Group. She is recognized as an expert in planning, implementing, and translating digital marketing and technology. Over her twenty-year career, Jennifer has worked in a myriad of industries as a digital advisor: finance, banking, manufacturing, design, construction, luxury, retail, and travel. Jennifer is a digital transformation expert, user experience enthusiast, and data insights specialist.

How important is mindset when we think about digital marketing and today's technologies?

I love this question because mindset has a big thing to do with being successful today. As you probably know, Lori, doing what you do, it's gotten more difficult to do certain things. Why I say that is because oftentimes we're looking at being much more personalized in our digital marketing and mindset is important to get you into that headspace of saying, "I am trying to do the best thing for my customer or client who's trying to reach me, and not always the easiest things for us, as marketers," and I think that's a really important part of talking about digital marketing today.

Is it important to be on all digital marketing channels today?

Being on all of them can be somewhat overwhelming! I do think it's important that you protect your brand and reserve your names, and oftentimes, depending upon the size of your company, I think it's important that we are very specific about understanding the return on investment per channel. To be on all of them may mean that you're on none of them, right? It's kind of like if you spread all your money around, you don't often have an opportunity to focus it. So depending upon what your budget is, you always want to look at protecting your brand, but you may want to think a little bit about how you're putting your efforts into the channel based on who your audience is, and what success or return you're getting. As you said it right at the beginning, Lori, you're most active on LinkedIn and I would guess you're probably most active on LinkedIn because that's probably where you get the most return from your activity.

How can you know if your digital marketing channels are working?

One of the things that I think you need to look at is the metrics for those channels. So if you understand your audience, then if you look at that particular channel, let's go ahead and use Instagram for a moment. If your account is set up as a business account, you will be able to see information about the demographics of your followers. The same is true for Facebook and the same is true for LinkedIn so looking at that information is extremely important to understanding if that the audience that you said you wanted to be talking to, if you are getting those followers there, and then what I often do is have people follow that through and see if it's coming through any inquiries or outreach.

Can you share with our listeners your most successful or favorite networking experience that you've had?

So I used to teach a networking class and I had four keys to being a successful networker. The first was to listen and how we translate that into the digital world now is by reading the comments and the actual posts that people put in there. That is what I now call digital listening. Years ago, when I taught that class, we would listen to someone speaking verbally but it still works! The second tip is to ask thoughtful questions and the third is to give. What I mean by that is to give something of value or feedback, it doesn't always have to be a lead with networking, but a tip, a direction, something that shows that you as the listener and the person looking to grow that conversation is engaged and paying attention. My fourth tip is always to record. Why that is so important is because when I started my business in the late 90s, I was very into keeping a record of all of my conversations and everyone I met in a CRM or customer relationship management database. That record portion was so important because it helped me connect the dots between the people I met and the referrals I received and I believe that those four tips are still really important today.

How do you stay in front of and best nurture your network and your community?

Right now I have to be honest because, after the holidays, you sort of feel like you're in that holiday haze. But one of the best ways, for me, is digital listening as I mentioned before. So going down and thoughtfully looking through what people are talking about and adding that commentary for relationships. But the other thing is making time to at least reach out and build those one on one relationships. I do think that's always important as well because I think we get so caught up in what we're doing that we need to make that time to step back and say I need to be connecting with and spending time one on one with people.

What advice would you offer to business professionals looking to grow their network?

I think that growing your network means growing it intelligently. I want to go back to something we were just talking about a little while ago, which is our audience. So if you're growing your network, be honest with yourself about what you need to grow your business and also those kinds of partners that you feel not only will give value to you, but you can give value to them. So you cannot be all things to all people which is why I think it's really important and growing your network to be reaching out and working with those where you do see really strong reciprocal relationships.

If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less than or differently with regards to your professional career?

It's interesting because I had those four rules and I had a really good process for networking, but what I noticed as I grew my team is that I somehow lost that process-driven mindset and that is something I wish I had not lost because when I was working by myself, I had this idea of being very focused and disciplined and process-oriented. Then as I started to bring on more team members, I sort of let go and I do find that it is so important when you're growing an organization and you're bringing on team members, that you need to be very clear about your process, which will then dictate your expectations.

What final words of advice would you like to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?

So I think in general, I want to go to something which is really important for growing and supporting your network and you really want to be mindful of what you're putting out there and the message you're trying to spread. I think that's really important because you attract what you're putting out there! Be yourself and you will attract those that come to you and that's really how you're going to build a loyal network and a great business!


Connect with Jennifer





Jan 13, 2022

Competition Is Better Served As Co-opetition


Lori: Hello everyone, welcome back to the third Episode in our Manufacturing Mavens Podcast Mini-Series! Let’s get started by introducing my co-hosts for the series, Kristina (Kris) Harrington and Erin Courtenay.  


Kris Harrington is the President and COO for GenAlpha Technologies. During her time with OEMs in the mining industry, Kris and the other founders of GenAlpha saw a need to find a better way for B2B manufacturers to do business. This led to the development of Equip, an eCommerce, eCatalog, and Analytics solution for manufacturers and distributors who want to grow their business online.


Erin Courtenay is VP of Digital Services at Earthling Interactive. Erin loves watching programmers work their magic, opening up the possibilities of the internet to small and medium businesses with powerful websites and custom software. Calling herself a “digital empathy practitioner”, Erin is determined to help clients move thoughtfully and compassionately into their digital future.


I’m going to start today’s episode by leading with a bit of a story of what I learned over my years of running my business. When I started, I was ignorant and thought that I had to do it all on my own and figure everything out by myself even though I truly had no idea what I was doing! For some reason, I had the belief that when I figured something out, I shouldn’t share it with others because they should have to figure it out on their own as well. As I have developed in my professional career, my thoughts around that have evolved and I actually feel the opposite way now! A couple of years ago I attended a networking event and met a new agency owner. She was in the same mindset as I was when I first started my business so I offered to connect with her and I just shared everything I learned in the 10 years I had been running my business. She was amazed that I would be so open with my experiences and from that connection, we now have such an amazing relationship where we share wins and send opportunities to each other. That brings us to today’s topic which is cooperating with your competition. 


Lori: Let’s dive into it! How would you two describe competition and co-opetition? 


Erin: When we're looking for definitions of competition, I think the good thing that competition does is it drives us to do better! Ultimately, competition is about the drive to achieve. There are a bunch of unhealthy things that can go with that, but that's the part that we need to keep alive and we need to kindle in our business and throughout our business. But co-opetition is a behavior and it's the behavior that helps you do better, and that helps you be better. So who or what is a better resource for achieving greatness than other folks doing what you do? So the co-opetition is really about achieving with your peers.


Kris: When it comes to I guess the definition, I like to think of a pie and when it's competition, one company gets the whole pie and oftentimes there's a winner, and there's a loser because someone gets 100% of the pie and the other gets zero. But when it's co-opetition, there could be some sharing of the pie, and often, when we think about it in terms of business and going after a business deal and being rewarded and earning the business of a customer, my hope is that when we are cooperating with our peers to solve a problem for a customer, maybe the circumference of the pie can grow. Now, you might not get 100% like you were in competition, but if you're doing well for the customer, the customer wins and we win in helping to bring our strengths together to solve the problem for the customer. 


Lori: At what point did you start to think differently about your competition?


Kris: I've always been an athlete, and I have been in individual sports like I ran cross country, and while there's a team aspect to cross country, there's also that individual aspect. I also played basketball and soccer where you need a team in order to succeed. I always loved team sports, and I loved bringing out the best in everyone that was competing and I feel like I learned that early on. Now, as I've grown and come to be a professional and I'm in my career and I'm going after business and running a company, I realize that we have strengths in our niche where we play and other friends and competitors out there who are competing for the dollars available inside a manufacturer, let's say, in a particular time period and they have dollars available. So we're kind of competing for those dollars, but to solve the problem for the customer, we can bring our strengths, but our strengths don't always meet the full needs of what the customer is looking for. So that's when I started to realize that if we bring these other people in who have these great resources and ideas, and the strengths and the gap areas that we don't fit, we could actually be stronger together!


Erin: When I began my endeavor in manufacturing, I was very wary and I wasn't sure who was okay to talk to. I was introduced to another E-commerce expert and I felt shocked, first of all, that they would want to have a conversation with me. Second of all, their transparency, their absolute delight and excitement for me that I was out there and I was going to be doing this took me aback. It wasn't very long after that, that I became part of this amazing network of other experts in our field, and it just transformed our attitude in our approach to business at Earthling, because we understood better after getting to know these folks what we were good at, and what wasn't necessarily our best specialty and where we should refine and where we should turn to others to get the benefit of their expertise. So I think a lot of it goes back to LinkedIn and the social selling experience that illuminated for me why co-opetition is such a healthy and productive way of doing business.

Lori: What are the risks and rewards of co-opetition and do you two have any specific examples you can share?  


Erin: This is a good question because it gets into the uncomfortable parts of co-opetition. The risk is about the vulnerability that you have to bring to co-opetition and that vulnerability is the good part, but if there's any lingering anxiety, fear, insecurity behind that, it can damage relationships and impact your performance. So when you move into a cooperative relationship with someone, you need to do some self-reflection and know that that's where you want to be and what you really want to do. So the risk is that you don't do that self-reflection, you get into the relationship and you start having those sort of yucky territorial situations. Thankfully, there are a lot of advantages in terms of co-opetition. You asked me about an example so we had an opportunity that was an RFP which came into Earthling, and there were a couple of other agencies who specialized in different areas than we did, who we had worked with in the past on similar projects. They both approached me when I was new in my role and had the thought that I was gonna win at all so I said, "No thank you," which was naive and dumb on my part, because had we worked together even though we did win the project, we still ended turning to them to get help. But I had done exactly what I described before where it sort of poisoned the well with my competitive thinking and was unable to make the best of the relationship. We did very well with the client, but the relationship was tense the whole time. After that, what I gained was knowing what our specialty was. When we respond to these RFPs, sticking to our specialty and are very comfortable reaching out to other folks for their specialties so that we can deliver the best product for the client.


Kris: For me, it's that disbelief that you might give away your secret sauce, that there's something special your organization is doing, and you have a way of doing it. I loved what Erin said about vulnerability and I also think that the dollar value change is something that is a risk, depending on how you might have planned for something as you've thought about it. When you asked for examples, I was just speaking to another woman yesterday and she's covering the aviation industry and the aviation industry is the industry that we would be a great fit for, but we just don't have a lot of experience. As I was speaking to her, I thought, "Wow, what an introduction and an opportunity for us," because she has credentials that we don't have, but would certainly be required, that could help us actually participate in a space where those credentials are required, and where there's a high level of regulation and other things happening. So it was just a great example of when you meet other people, and you think about places where you would like to take your business, some people may already be there, and they have the strengths around that area. Your product, your solution, your teams, may bring some very valuable aspects to that as well, but you need a way to get in because you don't have all of the experience that's needed. That's just a relevant example that came up with discussions yesterday and I think it just shows you that co-opetition can bring you into new markets or new places that your company can participate in if you're open to it!


Lori: How do you think the outside world perceives co-opetition? 


Kris: Speaking about manufacturers as the target customer group for this conversation, I think they think they're winning when companies come together. I think that when they have a problem and need help, oftentimes, it's very difficult to evaluate and come to one conclusion that this vendor can do it all for us because more times than not they can't because there's a list of requirements, a list of needs and services that need to be provided and maybe the manufacturer doesn't have the experience or the capacity to do it themselves. So they are reaching out to others to help solve the problem and I think that they're going to expect more of that from vendors to be able to come together and collaboratively help them with their solution. I think it makes their job a bit easier because then they don't have to identify one and in the end, they're winning! 


Erin: I think it's a good look because it just demonstrates skill and competence. Willingness to engage with your competition means that you understand the value to the customer and that that's your priority. In the conversation I had yesterday, we were talking about the transactional nature of business and how that can lead to a client or a customer feeling like they're just a transaction and not a person or a company. When you bring yourself, your competition, and your co-opetition partner to the relationship, that client knows that the value of what you're bringing is the priority, not just the transaction that you're trying to engage in with them. I also have a great example of just evidence that people love it. I don't know if anybody's on Twitter and has seen this sort of Twitter roasting wars that the fast-food restaurants do each other? First of all, it's hilarious and entertaining, but second of all, I think it's just a good look for all the brands because they are competing in a cooperative way which makes it a win-win for everyone. So I think it's a wise choice when you think about the customer perspective.


Lori: Heading into the future, what do you think will change in relation to competition and co-opetition?


Kris: It feels to me like more and more businesses are getting specialized and as we get specialized and focus on what we do well, we're going to need other organizations to help complement us to solve the big problems that come up in the world. So I think that this isn't going anywhere, in fact, it's going to be something that we're going to continue to see in the future.


Erin: I agree. You've heard of these two big news breakups recently with GE and Johnson and Johnson, these monolithic companies who it's not working out to do at all and be at all. That's sort of the inverse of what we're talking about today where somebody is trying to capture all of it, but it just can't hold. So as Kris mentioned, the specialization becoming the forefront of so many business models is going to drive a need for co-opetition, but then on top of that, we're going to have to develop the skills to do that.

This wraps up our 3-part mini-series.  If you are joining us at the tail-end, I highly recommend you take a listen to Part 1 and Part 2.  Part 1 we dove into Social Selling and Part 2 we discussed manufacturing and digital transformation. Reach out to Lori if you’re interested more about strategic digital marketing, reach out to Kris if you want to learn more about manufacturing eCommerce solutions, and reach out to Erin if you’re interested in learning more about manufacturing consulting services.


Head to to learn more about your hosts and their exclusive offerings available for Mavens listeners! 

Jan 12, 2022

Manufacturing Mavens Episode 2: Digital Transformation In The Manufacturing Industry


Today’s episode is Part 2 of our 3-part Manufacturing Mavens - a BROADcast Mini Series. I’ve got 2 guest hosts with me for this mini-series! Kristina (Kris) Harrington and Erin Courtenay. Part 2 is going to be Guest Hosted by Kris Harrington. Kris is the President and COO for GenAlpha Technologies. During her time with OEMs in the mining industry, Kris and the other founders of GenAlpha saw a need to find a better way for B2B manufacturers to do business. This led to the development of Equip, an eCommerce, eCatalog, and Analytics solution for manufacturers and distributors who want to grow their business online. Take it away, Kris! 


Kris: Thanks, Lori! Happy to be here. Let’s start this show with a quick introduction to our hosts.


Erin Courtenay is VP of Digital Services at Earthling Interactive. Erin loves watching programmers work their magic, opening up the possibilities of the internet to small and medium businesses with powerful websites and custom software. Calling herself a “digital empathy practitioner”, Erin is determined to help clients move thoughtfully and compassionately into their digital future.


Lori Highby is a podcast host, speaker, educator, and founder of Keystone Click, a strategic digital marketing agency. Using her vast multi-industry knowledge - gained from experience and education, She can see the potential of greatness within the already established good of a business. Through strategic actionable moves, she has worked with Fortune 500 companies such as ABB and Syngenta to micro-business owners, to achieve their marketing goals. Lori carries her energy and drives into her professional engagements in order to empower and educate other fellow life-long learners.


Thank you, mavens, it is such a pleasure to be here with you both today.

As a former leader in a global manufacturing organization responsible for growing equipment and aftermarket sales, and now a leader of a digital eCommerce company, I am often reminded how much things have changed in just the past twenty years. I mean, I can remember when I was so excited to get a Blackberry phone (remember those?) so that when I was traveling to remote mining areas and arrived at my hotel, I wouldn’t have to hook up my laptop to the dial-up hotel internet connection just to check my emails to make sure I didn’t miss anything important before going in to visit my customer the next day. It was so much faster to check them from my Blackberry, and for me, this was roughly 2007.


Fast forward to today, now if a manufacturer were to roll out an eCommerce solution like Equip, if I were still that same sales leader visiting my customer, I would be able to stand next to their machine in the pit and pull up full product bills of materials, identify the products from a 3D interactive drawing, add them to a shopping cart and send them a quotation all from a smartphone or tablet. The customer experience opportunities are incredibly different today for those manufacturers who are ready to make the leap into digital self-service. And this is just one example of the type of digital services available. This takes us to today’s topic - Manufacturing and Digital Transformation where we’re going to talk about manufacturers and their journey toward digital transformation.


Let’s get into it. To set the stage, Erin and Lori, I would like to hear how each of you define digital transformation for the manufacturing industry?


Erin: One thing it always goes back to his business goals. Your business goals should define your approach to digital transformation. In manufacturing, I see a couple of things that define digital transformation. The first is digital transformation as cultural transformation. So opening the business culture to digital tools, be in sales, operations production is a cultural change. And so the digital transformation has an impact on everyone, and how they identify as part of the organization. The next component of digital transformation is maintenance or growth strategy for your business. So tools like eCommerce, ERP, automation are becoming sort of the oxygen of all businesses, and manufacturing is no different. So to breathe, to grow, it can't be ignored, digital transformation is going to be foundational.


Lori: I resonate with everything you said, and especially the cultural component because regardless of any transformation that you are incorporating into your business, you've got to get everyone on board and it's sometimes very challenging to do that if this is the way we've always been doing it for the last 40 years and you're trying to teach an old dog new tricks. I like to compare it to what manufacturing has been doing already with regards to automation, robotics, and creating efficiencies in their business, I think it's no different when you're looking at other segments of the business such as marketing, sales, and the communications and that relationship and that nurturing and it's just taking that transformation or that evolution of what's happening, and applying it to different segments of the business. You mentioned ERP systems, which are taking all elements of your business and combining them into one extremely useful digital tool and resource. But the critical component of that is the adoption of getting all components together and then getting all of the business on board with how to use that component. If you're looking at marketing automation, you need the sales and the marketing team working together on the same page and it's all about maximizing the relationships. COVID taught us real quickly that you can have relationships that aren't in person shaking hands, and that you can still nurture and create new connections.


Kris: I know there have been numerous articles written about this, but I am curious, based on each of your experiences, what do you think are the three most important reasons why manufacturers need to be prioritizing digital transformation?


Lori: It's hard to pick only three. I'll start with something that carries over from the last question, which is that efficiencies are there. Just like in the machines and the equipment at the plants, there are efficiencies in leveraging the digital tools and resources out there. We're all in that marketing and sales side of things, but we really focus on maximizing and shortening that lifecycle and making it easier to have those conversations with your clients or your potential clients. The second one, I would say is this next generation, the current generation is online. That's where your next client is hanging out. They're not going to answer the phone, they're not always going to show up at a trade show because I think trade shows are more of that nurturing opportunity. Using SEO making sure your websites getting found online, leveraging social media to tell your brand story, and creating efficiencies around that is going to help you to continue to find that next client. The third thing that I think is the most important actually out of all these three, is what your customers are expecting. They're expecting to have a conversation on your website using a chat feature, they're expecting to log in to place an order online and just repeat that order and not have to have a conversation or get an instant quote, or whatever it is. If your customers are expecting this, you have to make this transformation.


Erin: My response to three reasons that digital transformation is more of a big picture kind of thought. First is attracting and retaining a workforce. Younger generations, like Lori, pointed out, expect and anticipate a digital forward work environment. If you can't provide that, that's not going to be appealing to younger people. We all have heard about how workforce attraction and retention is a big issue in manufacturing so digital transformation, not only for the functional parts but going back to that cultural idea, demonstrating that your digital forward as a company or as an organization. Next is modernization. I mean, we don't leave our baskets anymore. We're not horse-drawn carriages, we're digital so it's time to get there. Then the last one, I think this is not spoken about enough is pleasure and freedom. I just was in a webinar the other day which talked about the future and technology and what it can do for us. If we can lean more heavily on digital tools to do sort of the mundane things for us, it can open up all these possibilities of creativity, of moving ahead, of offering us time to do the things that we really love and care about, and value. If we're going to get there, that means we all have to participate and contribute to digital transformation, not just wait for it to happen, because then that's something that's happening to us, not something that's happening with us.


Kris: The world is a bit of a crazy place right now, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges manufacturers are facing today that may be preventing them from moving forward with their digital journey?


Erin: This is where I may get a little controversial. I think one of the biggest challenges is rigid industry leadership that is not helping lead us into the next era with digital transformation. I see people like Matt Goose and Eddie Saunders doing much of the heavy lifting. These are folks that are getting young kids excited about manufacturing by meeting them where they are and they are doing that heavy lifting. I'd like to see more of that from industry leadership. So it's a little bit of a prescription and also a diagnosis mixed in together.


Lori: Erin, I just have to say that I love your perspective. My answer is from a bit different perspective in that I think part of the challenge is that to some extent, it's cluttered. There's a lot of information coming from a lot of different directions and you don't know where to start. I think there's also this fear of the unknown because it can be a big investment. I know that these manufacturing organizations, when they invest in a new piece of machinery, they have so much confidence that it's going to produce a certain volume of new business for them, and they can get so much work done. But when they're making this investment into this unknown territory, where they don't have their historical references for themselves to have confidence on how it's going to improve their business, they're really just trusting kind of someone else's opinions, but there are opinions on all different spectrums and there are all different ways to tackle this. So I think that's where there's a lot of hesitation and reservation to move forward.


Kris: If you could offer one piece of advice on how digital can help solve the challenges preventing companies from moving forward, what would it be?


Lori: To solve the problem based on how I answered the last question, I would say manufacturers need to start having the conversations with those that are doing it right now and start asking some intelligent questions to build their confidence and really just get that conversation going, which is what we're doing right now. They have to have true curiosity into this topic in order to have any movement going forward and helping them solve some of these bigger issues where digital can do so much and solve so many problems. Yeah, it is a time and financial investment on the front end, but the long end return significantly outweighs any current hurdles that someone may be having right now. So my very simple answer is to start talking about it and start asking questions.


Erin: A challenge that keeps folks from moving forward and I think I'm going to name that challenge as thinking that you're locked in a rigid mindset. Whether that's before you get started with the technology, or you might even be mid-technology and so that brings to mind this example of somebody that we worked with. They had a transportation management system platform that they were using and it just kept not being the right solution for them. Over and over again, they were running into roadblocks and barriers and they asked us how we could help them. We suggested to them that they should make their own because it could fit their needs and might even save them money. They decided to try it and not only did they save money, but they also ended up making six figures from that platform, because they were able to then sort of rent it out to some other folks as well. So just knowing that one of the great things about digital transformation is flexibility is the ability to name your own solution. It can be daunting, I totally get it, but if you keep that in mind, that you should ask for what you want, you should know what you want and ask for it and not be let alone by the no's, that will help you really move forward.


Kris: What services do each of you offer that support the manufacturing industry?


Erin: At Earthling Interactive, we do take that consultative approach. Yes, can seem off-putting at first, but what that allows us to do is though, is we are adept at starting where you are, where our clients are. For example, so many manufacturing websites are, frankly terrible, and they're out of date. But you can actually accomplish a lot with just a website refresh, and not just because of how it looks, but it can function and be a very powerful tool for you and your business. We can start there, let's just get you a new website. But we're also great at modifications and fixes. For example, if you're running a technology that's falling short of your expectations, like that example that I mentioned before with the TMS system, or let's say you've got a time tracking system that isn't conforming to your business model, we can help it get there, we can help do those tweaks in those modifications so that you have a tool that really works with your business, and helps you accomplish your goals.


Lori: At Keystone Click, we brand ourselves as a strategic digital marketing agency. What we're doing is really focusing on our clients' customers. So you the manufacturer, you're trying to get new customers, and we get inside the head of your customer and really figure out what is that customer journey? What is the pain that they initially have? How are they searching for that pain? Because people don't know what the solution is the right way they know what the challenge is that they're facing. Then how do we position you and tell your brand story in the digital space so that you are positioned as the expert to solve the problem that they have? We do that by conducting research on your customer and then building a full strategic plan that's focused on helping you achieve your business goals. Then we support the implementation and we do websites as well. We manage your social paid initiatives, and really anything under that digital umbrella with your business end goal in mind. What about you, Kris?


Kris: I think the best way to describe what the Gen Alpha team does is really equip manufacturers and distributors with the tools, services, and advice that they need to sell their products online. So we come with real-world experience, the founding members of Gen Alpha all worked in manufacturing and we truly believe that there was an easier way of doing business with a manufacturer. So we've been in the shoes of our customers, trying to satisfy their customers and grow business at the same time. We believe that in coordination with our clients. We keep building upon our already solid foundation of helping them to keep delivering better solutions year after year. So we truly love working with the manufacturing industry and we want these people to be relevant and successful in the future. I think what I would say about all of us and all of our companies is that we do care so much. If you were to work with any one of us, you're going to have a trusted relationship where we're going, to be honest with you about your business, how we believe we can help you, we're going to offer you alternative solutions, but the true intention around everything we're doing is for the greater good. 


Thank you for listening to part 2 of our 3-part series. If you’ve enjoyed what you heard, definitely chime in for part 3, and if you didn’t get a chance to listen to Part 1 - you’ll want to take a listen as we dove into Social Selling. In Part 3 we will be talking about co-opetition vs competition. Reach out to Lori if you’re interested more about strategic digital marketing, reach out to Kris if you want to learn more about manufacturing eCommerce solutions, and reach out to Erin if you’re interested in learning more about manufacturing consulting services.


Head to to learn more about your hosts and their exclusive offerings available for Mavens listeners!

Jan 11, 2022

Social Selling In Manufacturing


Today’s episode is Part 1 of our 3-part Manufacturing Mavens - a BROADcast Mini Series.  I’ve got 2 guest hosts with me for this mini-series!  Kristina (Kris) Harrington and Erin Courtenay.  Part 1 is going to be Guest Hosted by Erin Courtenay.  


Erin Courtenay is VP of Digital Services at Earthling Interactive. Erin loves watching programmers work their magic, opening up the possibilities of the internet to small and medium businesses with powerful websites and custom software. Calling herself a “digital empathy practitioner”, Erin is determined to help clients move thoughtfully and compassionately into their digital future.


Erin: Let’s start this show with a quick introduction to our hosts.


Kris Harrington is the President and COO for GenAlpha Technologies. During her time with OEMs in the mining industry, Kris and the other founders of GenAlpha saw a need to find a better way for B2B manufacturers to do business.  This led to the development of Equip, an eCommerce, eCatalog, and Analytics solution for manufacturers and distributors who want to grow their business online.  


Lori Highby is a podcast host, speaker, educator, and founder of Keystone Click, a strategic digital marketing agency.  Using her vast multi-industry knowledge - gained from experience and education, She has the ability to see the potential of greatness within the already established good of a business. Through strategic actionable moves, she has worked with Fortune 500 companies such as ABB and Syngenta to micro-business owners, to achieve their marketing goals.  Lori carries her energy and drives into her professional engagements to empower and educate other fellow life-long learners.


I’m super excited about today’s topic because social selling is really what brought the three of us together. Kris and I have been guests on Sam Gupta’s awesome eCommerce LinkedIn Live panel. That’s how we got to know each other and now we’ve become good friends. Lori, this podcast has been a favorite for a long time and I’ve really gotten to know you through your wonderful content. Together we’ve all utilized content and digital platforms to build relationships. We are able to move our prospects through the funnel in a way that is warm, genuine, and provides value - even though it all takes place online. That’s the beauty of social selling.


But social selling isn’t just about content and friendships, all social networks exist to provide content and relationships - the key part here is business development. Successful sales have always been inherently social, because as our friend Greg Mischio reminds us (frequently!) your prospects must know you, like you, and trust you to move forward with the sale. 


The pandemic era obviously drove a lot of selling online, both in B2B and B2C. As a result, so many more sales professionals are using the tools of social sales like LinkedIn, podcasting, video-sharing, and CRM-related applications. So there’s the social side, which I think all sales professionals are naturally gifted at, but the technical side can be a bit of a head-scratcher - so that’s what I’d like us to focus on a bit today. Sound good Ladies?


Lori: We’re ready! 


Erin: How do you guys use LinkedIn as a social selling tool? I mean, beyond the obvious - what are some of your special tips and tricks. Next, tell us about one other tool you use and why you think it is great.


Lori: Probably because I spend hours on it on a daily basis, actually, and people are surprised when they hear me say that. The first thing you want to look at on your LinkedIn is optimizing your profile. I know you both understand that word optimizing, but not everyone that is listening really understands what that means. It's just making sure that when someone is searching for something that you're the one that shows up as a resource. We've heard of optimizing your website for Google, it's the same philosophy and concept with LinkedIn so that when someone looks at your profile, they realize what your true expertise is. Oftentimes, people think a LinkedIn profile should be structured like your resume and that's actually wrong. It's a beautiful place to tell your story and showcase what you want to be known for, and help put some perspective in other people's eyes on your expertise, but also to be found for your expertise as well. So start with your profile first and then you have to look at creating connections. When I'm looking at the connections, I'm genuinely looking to create relationships, but also to be a resource. I've gotten to the level where I have a follow button, and not just a connect button, which is a fun space to be. But it's all about adding value, and not selling. I know we've talked about this before that social media is about being social, the selling is something that happens after the fact because you've created that relationship, you've established trust, and people are comfortable because you've provided so much information of value that then they're interested in having that conversation of potentially creating a business relationship. One of my favorite tips is when someone reaches out and connects with me that I do not know, I have a two-part question that I respond back with them. My first question is, what is it about my profile that intrigued you to want to connect with me? And the second question is, how can I best be a resource to you on LinkedIn? That then starts a conversation and it also easily identifies those who are going direct for the sales pitch that I'm not interested in actually fostering a relationship with. But it's really fascinating because sometimes people connect without saying a reason why, but they're actually interested in doing business with you. You'd be surprised how many people when I asked that question are like, "Oh, we're actually looking for a marketing company right now and I was interested in talking more." So they sent me a connection request, but then open with the ask, but I had initiated the conversation to do that. So I think it's a really powerful way to start that conversation when someone is reaching out to you.


Kris: What I do on LinkedIn is, I'm really using it to deepen a relationship with the connections that I may have just made. So if we just did a demo with a new company and there were new participants in the demonstration that I haven't met before, I might connect with them on LinkedIn to deepen that relationship. At the trade show, I was just recently at, there were a lot of people that I'm connecting with, that I already formed personal connections with and now I want to deepen that relationship. I'm not necessarily lead looking to sell, I'm looking to have that connection because my whole goal on LinkedIn is to share content that is of value. I would say that my biggest trick is just to be authentic. Sometimes it's challenging when you're in a place where there are professionals so you want to have that professional face, but in reality, you want people to get to know you and who you are. It's the challenge of being authentic to who you are, who your company is, and how you want people to understand how you can be helpful and useful. So that's really what I'm using LinkedIn for. Now, when it comes to some other social platforms, we have tried Twitter, and we've tried Facebook, but we find that those are really more personal, at least in the space that we're in. We're sharing information, but we're just not connecting with people as much on those platforms today as others.


Erin: One of my biggest challenges in social selling is tracking and accountability metrics. Digital behaviors are inherently trackable but I still find myself struggling to put together a useful dashboard of behaviors and outcomes. What are one or two of your most useful tracking methods?


Kris: Overall, any metrics related to marketing, I think are a little difficult for our organization to understand when they're working because we have a long sales cycle. But I will tell you the two metrics that I've found that will lead to conversions is we're really tracking our followers and we're watching the growth of our followers. That's really important because I hope that it means that people connected with something that we're doing enough to say, "I'm going to follow what they're doing and keep an eye on them." That gives us an opportunity when we're sharing great content that we're going to potentially come up in their feed and then they're going to look at us a bit further or at least read what we might be sharing or listen to the videos that we might be publishing. The other metric that we look at a lot is website sessions. So when people go from social media to our website, which is where we would hope that they would go if they're interested in learning more about Gen Alpha, or engaging with more content, because we have a lot more content on our website than we do on social media. So if we can get people to follow us and they start to see us repeatedly in their space, understanding their industry, what they do, if we're being useful, and then they move to the website and they continue to resonate with the materials that we're giving them, there's that potential that hopefully, they'll engage with us in some other way. Those are two that we've been really following. We have a lot of metrics and probably similar to both of you, we don't always know which ones are the best. But those two for us are indicators.


Lori: I could probably resonate with Kris on what we're doing for ourselves is still a little bit of a mystery. Moreso, because I'm not the one looking at it, I've got a team behind me. But I can tell you what I talk about from an educational standpoint when we talk to our clients and when I'm out there speaking about measuring your ROI. What's very important, I think this is one of the biggest things that people don't get clear on is what is the goal that they're trying to achieve? There's so much data out there on the internet that you can get analysis paralysis because you're just kind of staring at it and you don't know if this is valuable or not valuable. So when I was teaching at the university, there were the three A's that I would look at. One is attainable which asks if the data that you're trying to capture is easy to get? Is it easy to analyze and then can you take action on it, why are you going to look at data that you can't even take action on? Is it going to tell you a story that's going to say, we're on the right track or the wrong track? Going back to what is it that you're trying to achieve and then figure out what is the tactics that we're putting in place to achieve this goal, and then align your measurements with those specific tactics. That's going to help you get clear on is this data actionable? Those are easy for the hard numbers, which are cost, profit revenue, the size of your pipeline. The hard analytics are actually what we refer to as the soft numbers. Those show that people know you, like you, and trust you, that you've increased engagement, that you have customer loyalty, that you're building relationships and rapport. That's what we're all trying to do in the digital space, but it's really hard to measure. There is no easy way to do that, but a couple of things that we look at from a brand awareness standpoint are if you have an increase in your website traffic, that means new visitors. Customer loyalty, then you're looking at repeat visitors or does your email subscriber list grow because people want to hear from you? Lead generation is an easy one, do you have more conversions on your forms or not? So it's just really taking a look at what is it that you're trying to achieve and what data points are going to be helpful and telling you if you're on the right track or the wrong track? 


Erin: Many of our listeners are probably in B2B sales, most likely in manufacturing and industry. We’ll be talking about digital transformation in an upcoming episode, but I’d like to touch on the topic of transitioning from a heavily trade-show, site visit-oriented sales strategy to incorporating more digital social selling techniques. Do you have any stories from the field of where this has gone well and where it has maybe not yet quite penetrated?


Kris: So I shared with you that I do think trade shows still have a lot of value for having that personal touch. But of course, we haven't had trade shows for the last 18 months and they're just kind of coming back. But I think it's taught us that there are other ways to connect with people as well. So I do think all of the social opportunities are really important. What we found can be helpful is sending a message through LinkedIn, because often, and I do think this is true, I mean, it's been 10 years since I worked as a manufacturer. But when I was a manufacturer, I was very busy with my job and I was not hanging out on LinkedIn like I am today as a vendor or service provider to a manufacturer. To even get their attention, I like the trigger of the message because if they have their notifications turned on that message typically will send them an email or some notification, and then there's a stronger likelihood that they're going to read it. So then they've been brought there and now we can at least have a conversation or deepen that relationship like I talked about earlier. The second thing that we've been doing is inviting people to follow us and that's how we've grown our followers. That simple invitation just to ask if they want to learn more industry-related content to follow up on LinkedIn is going to help. From doing that, each month, our followers are increasing. So the simple ask, which is something we just started doing, I would say five months ago, we've been building the followers every month thereafter. Now I will say that the actual conversation from social is slower to achieve. Even if they've accepted the connection request, and they followed us, it does not mean that they're ready for a conversation. So anybody out there, don't expect that that's going to happen quickly. Most people aren't ready yet to have that conversation, they still want to learn about you and your company, and that's where hopefully you get to really shine. They establish that connection with you over time and when they're ready, they will reach out to you. So the actual physical conversation takes a bit more time.


Lori: I love what Kris said about first creating the ask because so many people forget to do that snd that's the most important part. Everyone is running around crazy and has shiny objects in every direction so the simple ask to follow us is actually extremely beneficial, because they may have wanted to do that, but just forgot. So sometimes as the asker, just tell, go follow us. It's extremely powerful, but yet so simple and so many people are missing that opportunity. But what you're talking about, Kris is really what's changed in the whole selling process, actually, and the experience of, I'm going to meet you for the first time at a trade show, and you came to my booth because there was something that intrigued you and then we're going to start a conversation because you're really interested in that. But now what's happening, and I like to relate it to the old school newspaper about how every single newspaper had car ads in it every single week. The reason is that the car salespeople want to make sure that when you are ready to buy, their brand is in front of you. It’s the same thing with what's happening in the b2b, social selling space. It's not that I'm going to be a hard sales pitch, I'm going to constantly be knocking on your door, rather, I'm going to continue to be top of mind, and continue to provide valuable information and showcase my expertise so that when the time is ready, that you want to buy, or at least start that conversation, I've already proven myself so we're further along in the sales process than if we just had that conversation at that tradeshow booth because we've already done all of the information of proving expertise, and providing value. I've experienced this, and I've seen some of our clients experienced this and it's just fascinating to see. I'm going in thinking it's a discovery call, and I'm doing all my homework and they're like, "We're ready, tell us where to sign," and my mind just gets blown. It goes back to what Kris said about making sure that you have the right people following you and telling the people that you want to be learning from you following you so that you are establishing that trust so that when they are ready to buy, there's no doubt in their mind who they're reaching out to.


Erin: You can’t talk about social selling without also talking about content. Lori, this is your wheelhouse, and Kris, you’ve demonstrated a mastery of content production. Why do you think content is so important to social selling and how can our listeners up their content game?


Kris: We had decided that content would be an opportunity to share our thought leadership in the space. I do think that I think very simply, and I try to write very simply as well, I'm not trying to sound smart, just share my experience, and hopefully, that becomes the most useful. But the way we've been able to publish so much content is that we decided that we wanted to increase our brand awareness and lead generation, and we were going to do that through content. So what we did is we set goals on the amount of content that we would create each month, the number of posts that we would put on LinkedIn, the number of articles we would write, the number of blogs, the number of articles we would submit to publications and hope that they share for us as well, and video creation. So even if it's snippets of me participating with somebody else, we have accounts, and we're going to achieve that. What's happened is it's forced us to research, to explore different topics, to share our experiences, and for me, it's forced me to say yes to a lot of things that historically I probably would not have done because it would be outside my comfort zone. We really thought that this was important because if we were going to increase our brand awareness, people had to know how our employees thought about how we could help other manufacturers. I learned from my team, from our customer experiences, and then, of course, I have my own life experiences. So combining all of that together goes into that creation process and that's really how we've been able to do it. I have to tell you, we started it in 2020. We've been in business for 10 years and for eight of those years, we really did no marketing, it was word of mouth. Of course, we had a website, but we weren't trying to drive people to it, but in 2020, we sat down, we wrote our goals, and we have been achieving them consistently since. Thankfully, we had done that because the pandemic would have forced us to go there anyway. But then we already had a plan, we were already in the middle of it and we just kept going.


Lori: For me, it's all about building a plan and I really liked that Kris and her team fleshed out the plan and defined some clear goals because at the end of the day, if you're just making assumptions, and just randomly throwing stuff out there, the location, the message, you don't know if it's actually going to be doing its job and serving its purpose. When it comes to what content and where to post it, you have to go deep into your customer and figure out what is that pain. This is something you both kind of addressed already in figuring out, not necessarily the pain that you're assuming that you have the solution that they're coming to you, it's understanding the pain and how they're thinking about it and using the same messaging across that space. Then, more importantly, fix the message, get it right, and then understand where to position it. So you can just put some stuff all over the place. A lot of people just jump in and assume that these are the platforms because they're the most popular platforms that they should be on there. But the reality is, you have to really understand your customer and figure out where are they hanging out online and then you decide do I want to go wide or do I want to go deep? Do I want to go deep in that platform and really own that platform and be the thought leader on that platform or do I want my message spread across a number of different platforms? We all know that time is money and you only have so many resources at the end of the day so I'm a fan of picking and starting with one platform and going deep on that and really building a strong following in that space. You guys talk about that you're on clubhouse and some other platforms right now and I love clubhouse and I was fascinated with it, but I realized I don't have the time to invest in that. I'm spreading myself way too thin, and I just can't do it. I'll jump on as guests on people's shows every once in a while but I know that there is value there and it's very powerful, but we've already invested in other channels and I think that's the mistake that a lot of people make is they're spreading themselves way too thin. Then there are lots of strategies around repurposing content. People are fearful that they're always having to think of something new to create, but at the end of the day, they didn't realize, well, you've been doing this for 10 years, you probably have emails that have content that you've written to just responding to someone's question and there's a blog post or a social media post in that email. You've already got it written, there's no reason to have to wreck your head and ask, what do I write about today? The answers are in front of you. It's simply the questions that people have asked you and if one person asked you it, there are likely 100 other people asking that same question looking for it online somewhere.


Erin: My favorite podcaster always asks his guests for three book recommendations at the end of every interview. I find the answers fascinating and helpful. So I’ll bring the same question to you: What are three books you think our listeners should know about?


Lori: Oh, this is such a fun question. I used to teach at the local university and on the last day there's a series of books that I would put out and I said, "No matter what, keep teaching yourself, keep learning, keep reading, and here are some books I highly recommend." So the top three: The One Thing by Gary Keller. I've actually re-read that one about three or four times now and it's all about, identifying your goal, and then asking yourself, what is the one thing that I can do today to help me achieve that goal? The next one is Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. He interviewed a ton of extremely successful individuals to identify their trends and what their morning routines were like and found six things that were consistent. Not necessarily all six per person, but he put those six and built a morning routine. There's an acronym for it which is SAVERS. So it's silence, which is meditation, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading, and scribing, which is journaling. I implemented his philosophy and it changed so many different things, and my mental state and productivity. I don't do all six anymore, but I found what works for me. The last one is a business book geared towards either leadership teams or business owners called Traction by Gino Wickman. It's really about the philosophy of running what's called the entrepreneurial operating system. It serves as a way to really be strategic in your business and have some structure around it.


Kris: I have to tell you that I'm a learner by nature. So every test that I take, I just love to learn, and for 25 years of my career, I would say to people that you could find me in the Self Help section of the bookstore because that's where I always found the best books and then, of course, the business section. But I have to tell you, and since this is Manufacturing Mavens, I thought I would just touch on a few books because I've really been into the lives of women lately and I've either read or listened to a lot of memoirs. The first is Untamed by Glennon Doyle which is a must-read or must listen to book. Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson is another one. She just recently passed away at 96 years old and she is a phenomenal African American woman who really took care of her career in the movies that she participated and I didn't know her life, I didn't know her life story. It's encouraged me to study African American History in a different way than I ever wanted to participate in the past. So I really enjoyed listening to her book and I've gone back to listen or read it multiple times just because she just has beautiful stories that make you want to be a better human or take a real position on things as well. Right now, I am listening to All In by Billie Jean King and she is reading it herself. Obviously not a trained reader of books, but it's her life and her life story. I wasn't old enough to watch her play tennis and she was kind of winding down her career when I was born, but she's been a female activist for many years. I'm a sports person by nature and I love everything about participating and competing and in team sports, particularly, but I'm listening to her story and all the things that they overcame, and how they signed a contract for $1, it's pretty remarkable. So I won't give too many things away, but those are some really good ones that I've read recently or listened to that have changed me in some way!


Thank you for listening to part one of our 3-part series. In the next episode, the Manufacturing Mavens will dive into the digital transformation currently occurring in the manufacturing space. Reach out to Lori if you’re interested more about strategic digital marketing, reach out to Kris if you want to learn more about manufacturing eCommerce solutions, and reach out to Erin if you’re interested in learning more about manufacturing consulting services.


Head to to learn more about your hosts and their exclusive offerings available for Mavens listeners!