Monthly Archives: April 2015

Selling Without Supervison

Sometimes I wonder the hell managers are thinking.  Did I say that out loud?  Well, it’s true, and when I read survey results such as those I’m going to share with you, my wonderment moves towards serious concern.  Today’s bit of business insanity is about salespeople.  I love salespeople, particularly since I spent many years being one.  One thing in which we prided ourselves was knowing the product.  It wasn’t just knowing the ratings history (we sold TV) or the nuances of the talent and event coverage.  We also knew the competitive landscape and could discuss it in detail.  Most importantly, we were grilled on it by managers and went over it in sales meetings.  At times there were even external sales training sessions to reinforce our listening and presentation skills and to help us better understand our individual selling styles. I still have some of those materials since that’s the sort of stuff that doesn’t get supplanted by new technology!

That’s a roundabout way of preparing you for the survey results.  I’ll let the press release speak for itself:

Corporate Visions, Inc… today announced the results of a sales messaging survey that polled more than 500 business-to-business (B2B) marketers and salespeople from around the globe. The results revealed 85 percent of companies agree their sales teams’ ability to articulate value messages is one of the most critical factors in closing deals, yet only about 41 percent of companies ask their salespeople to perform stand-and-deliver or role-play practice of their messages. In fact, an alarming 34 percent of respondents indicate no one is responsible for coaching and certifying that salespeople are proficient in delivering their company’s value messages at all.

I wonder if as media is moving more towards a programmatic future, an emphasis on sales competency has gone out the window.  That’s ridiculous.  Maybe the nature of sales will change and what’s being sold isn’t the medium but the platform. I can’t believe, however, that the educated, informed salesperson won’t continue to have an edge over the person who stands before a potential customer just flapping their lips and saying nothing.

Can you imagine a manufacturing company where no one is responsible for product quality?  Why should a third of sales organizations be permitted to shrug their shoulders about that issue and let salespeople say whatever they choose without supervision?  Putting aside the potential legal risks, we only get so many chances with buyers.  Superior selling organizations make sure their people understand the product, know the research (not just the talking points) and deliver it clearly every time.

Do you share my wonderment at companies that do otherwise?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?


I have rivers on my mind today.  Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of time over the last couple of days talking about streams of information and of video.  The nature of media these days is that we’re on a mostly self-directed rafting trip immersed in these streams.  Except that they’re really rivers since “streams” speaks to something much smaller than the torrents of content with which we deal every day.

Coincidentally, I came across something in the Phi Beta Kappa blog that resonated on both the nature of our content world and our business world:

It was the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said that you can’t step into the same river twice, giving us a memorable illustration of the principle that things change. The very nature of things is change.

Amen.  I’m not the only one to have written about FOMO – the fear of missing out on something changing in your social or other streams because it happened while you weren’t paying attention.  There are lots of tools available to assure that doesn’t happen by sending you alerts when a significant person posts or an important bit of data comes to pass.  Nevertheless, I’m sure many of us feel a need to dip our toe in the river constantly, both to stay in touch as well as to take the temperature.

It’s more the change that occurs in business which is my focus.  I laugh when people talk about five-year plans.  Where were your video marketing plans back in 2010?  How about mobile?  Is what you’re doing today what you contemplated then?  I doubt it.  That’s not a complaint; it’s a recognition that the river keeps flowing and the water you photographed when you did your strategic plan is long gone by the time you’re ready to implement it.

Keep the notion of a river in mind as you approach business.  While it runs within the same banks it’s never exactly the same.  You need to embrace that flow and learn how to swim with a changing current.  There is a reason that so many songs and literary works deal with rivers as central to a community and to life.  How you deal with it is the difference between a wonderfully exciting ride or drowning.  Your call!

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Filed under Thinking Aloud

The Delusion Gap

Some mornings as I’m writing this I feel like I’m Chevy Chase reading the news that Generalissmo Francisco Franco is still dead because so much of what crosses my digital desk as news is just so “duh.”  When I read about the latest report out of the folks at IBM and Econsultancy called The Consumer Conversation Report I really did say “and Franco is still dead” out loud.  Here is why.

There is a huge gap between marketers’ intentions and their customers‘ satisfaction.  As the report says:

A common theme throughout this research is that brands’ belief in the strength of their customer experience doesn’t line up with their customers’ reality.

For example:

  • Only one in three consumers believe that their favorite companies understand them.
  • Of those consumers who switched consumer services in the last year, most did so for reasons companies should be able to predict and prevent.
  • Of the nearly 50% of consumers with a significant service issue in the last 12 months, only 28% say that the company dealt with it very effectively.

That’s a pretty important point.  We can’t pat ourselves on the back in business.  Our partners and customers are only ones who can do that for us and in this case they’re telling us something very different.  When 90% of the responding companies felt they were able to resolve customer conflicts in a satisfactory manner and not even 60% of customers felt the same way, there is a problem.  Let’s call it the delusion gap – the space in between our beliefs and those of our customers.  We all know that anger and frustration lie in the gap between expectations and experiences.  I’d suggest that the delusion gap is a direct corollary to that difference.

We need to use all of the data we gather to develop honest answers.  They might not be the ones we want to hear but they’re the beacons that point us to serving our constituencies better.  If two-thirds of those groups believe we don’t understand them and we believe otherwise, someone is delusional.  You?

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Filed under Reality checks

A Neutral Grip

You can tell it’s a Monday because he’s writing about golf once more.  Well, I’m happy.  It’s finally golf weather here in the NY area – if you don’t mind starting off when the temperatures are around 40 degrees, that is. I spent the last couple of days trying to shake off the winter rust. One thing to which I paid particular attention was probably the most under-appreciated – but most critical – part of the golf swing: the grip.

Every golf instructor begins working with you by asking to see your grip. How you hold the club can trigger many issues that even a perfect swing can’t fix since it affects everything in the swing. The interesting thing is that there is no one right approach although there are some very important basics that all good grips have in common. No, I’m not going to spend the next hundred words teaching you about golf grips since this is a business blog. However, there is a business point to be made.

All good grips return the club face to a neutral position at impact regardless of how the club is manipulated during the swing. Your approach to your strategic thinking needs to be the same. Regardless of how the data or discussions swing your thinking, when you reach the time to take decisions – the point of impact – you need to be in as neutral a position as possible to avoid wayward shots.  Interpret the data with as few prejudices as possible.  Maybe the numbers show your pet project isn’t producing.  As Sonny Corleone said, it’s just business, not personal.  Keep your grip – and your attitude – neutral.

Neutral thinking draws out alternative solutions to problems or opportunities.  It keeps negative thinking at bay and doesn’t let the excitement of the moment when something goes right cloud your longer term thinking.  Just as a neutral grip tends to keep the golf ball from going off-line, a neutral approach to business thinking can keep us heading toward the goal.  Clear?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Cooks And Bakers

It’s Foodie Friday and today I want you to think about if you’re a cook or if you’re a baker.  Your immediate response, assuming you spend time in the kitchen, might be “Gee, I do both.”  That’s probably true.  When I’m preparing the Thanksgiving feast, I bake pies and the occasional cake but I am definitely NOT a baker.

One of the bakers at Boudin Bakery in Fisherma...

(Credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe it’s my rebellious nature (those of use who lived through the 1960’s have that streak) but baking is way too rigid for me.  Baking is chemistry.  It’s Baroque music to cooking’s jazz.  One has specific formulas and rules; the other encourages improvisation.  I know how certain flavors go together and armed with just an idea and my tools I can usually make something pretty good.  Try that with baking.

When you make a baking mistake it’s pretty obvious.  Not so with cooking.  I can eyeball a tablespoon of oil for a pan.  Try eyeballing a tablespoon of baking powder armed with the knowledge that if you’re off the whole project fails.  This is not to say I think less of bakers.  They are far more precise and patient than I tend to be in the kitchen.  I can’t see very many bakers I know or see on TV going off on a rant while many of the chefs appear to be aggressive, anxious, and on edge.  Walk in to any restaurant and you’ll see them both.  Which is, of course, the business point.

Like a restaurant, any business needs both bakers and cooks on the team to produce a complete product.  You need the team members who try new things and crave pushing the boundaries.  You also need the ones who are calmer and more grounded in the “recipes” that make your business go.  Which brings us back to my initial question.  Are you a baker or a cook?  There is no right answer, but whatever your answer is should remind you that you need someone to make the other half of the menu.  You might be a cook who can bake a little (me) or a baker who has kitchen skills but finding both types are what will make your business well-rounded and last.

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

What Vs. How

One of my mantras is that we can’t confuse the business with the tools. I remind clients of this all the time when they’re confused about the imperative to be on a specific platform or address a particular market segment. While they might think their need is to build a better app, I’d rather we explore the underlying business processes and make sure they’re optimal from a customer perspective. The app we’ll then build will reflect a great customer experience and not magnify the flaws in our offering.

Here is another mantra. People hate middlemen but love people who add value. Think about the great sharing economy that’s emerged over the last few years. Uber doesn’t own a single car but facilitates millions of rides. They’re a middleman but they add value by provide generally inexpensive, fast service to consumers while providing income for people with a car and no particular place to go. AirBnB has done the same thing for lodging. I have a spare room or a vacant apartment, you are visiting where I am and don’t want to pay ridiculous rates (and “resort fees“) to stay in a so-so hotel. They add value by putting us together.

In both of those cases, as in others like Etsy, the business has not changed. Someone needs a room or a ride or a scarf. They want them to be fairly priced. They want them to be of great quality and dependable and delivered on the customer’s own terms (timing, etc). These companies have not changed the business. They’ve changed how they made the business happen. The “how” is new, not the “what.”

We need to stop thinking of transforming into “digital” companies.  There are too many of us trying to serve the technology rather than making the technology serve us. Maybe it’s the old guy talking but I don’t see much difference now in the business world I entered in the late 1970’s.  Find people with problems and help them to solve them.  It may be a need to get somewhere or to be better informed or to be in two meetings in two different cites an hour apart.  We’ve solved those business problems with technology.  My business – media – has been among those most affected by this and there is no doubt that the next two or three years will see even more change as people migrate to more over-the-top viewing.  But the business hasn’t changed, really.  People want to be educated and entertained and are willing to pay – either through attention or through their wallets – to see content that does that.  Boy, how the “how” has changed, but at it’s core the “what” is that same as it was when Uncle Miltie made America laugh.

Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

More Attention, Fewer Things

I’ve been away – did you miss me? My absence was, as I posted the other day, the annual golf trip during which I assess my tolerance for pain and suffering both on the golf course and off. I try very hard not to check email nor to dip my toe into the river of digital content from which I drink daily. Fortunately, I have a bunch of distractions provided by my buddies.  

Today I fully plugged in, having returned to work. Zipping through email was relatively easy – I had already answered the critical ones during the trip and now it was just a matter of newsletters and such. My RSS stream is another matter entirely. There are thousands of articles here and there is no way I can skim them all much less read them. In the process of doing so, however, I thought of something that might be useful to you all as well.

Not everything is critical.  Not everything is important.  Most of it can be ignored safely.  I’ve found that the really important information out there shows up in multiple places and it’s pretty easy to tell that you might want to  check something out when you see it on a second or third stream.    The word itself – “stream” is important.  We’re land animals – we don’t live in a stream.  Lots of experts are beginning to tell us only to check email a few times a day – times when we can afford to task switch and be fully present.

I like this from Oliver Burkeman:

The bigger point here isn’t really about email in particular; it’s about the ever greater “boundarylessness” of work. When anyone can be contacted at any time of day, in any location; when the costs in time and effort of sending a message to a colleague, client or underling dwindle to nothing; when we’re confronted by an effectively infinite amount of information we could consume, or tasks we could perform, if only time were infinite too …

I just deleted a thousand articles in a couple of my stream topics without even looking.  It was the equivalent of recycling unread, old magazines I know I’ll never read nor care if I miss.  All of us need to give more attention to fewer things and stop making ourselves crazy with nits.  Who’s with me?


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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks