Monthly Archives: March 2017

Getting Elected Isn’t The Win

The big news at the end of last week had to do with the withdrawal of a bill that would have changed the laws regarding health insurance in this country. If you’ve been here in the screed before you know that we don’t do politics, so I’m going to refrain from any commentary for or against what happened. There is, however, a pretty good business (and life) lesson to be taken from Friday’s activities.

One thing you heard over and over was that the folks who wanted to change the existing law had 7 years to come up with a plan that would be better. It took them 7 years to control both Congress and The White House, thereby assuring that their plan would become law, assuming, of course, that it was palatable to the members of their party. It wasn’t, and so it hasn’t (become law, that is).

What can we learn from this? That it’s easier to win an election than it is to find the consensus you need to run the government. Winning is easy; governing is hard. The same thinking applies to managing a business. Becoming a manager is easy; managing the business is hard.

I met with a potential client last week who had recently been promoted into his job. He’s a smart, young highly motivated guy. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was having some trouble adjusting to his new role and was finding it difficult to get things done as quickly and efficiently as he wanted. I told him that I had suffered from the same thing 35 years ago when I was handed my first department to run. Getting the job was a lot easier than doing the job.

What does that mean for you? If you’re looking for that next promotion, you might want to focus on the challenges of preparing to do the actual work rather than the challenges of getting a promotion. Trust me: the powers that be will appreciate your focus on execution and that will increase the chances of that promotion.

If you’re running your own business, a focus on execution is a good thing as well. Satisfied customers are more important that finding lots of new ones. There are tons of studies that show that using resources to keep existing customers happy is more profitable that spending resources on finding new customers (it costs 5x more to find a new customer than to retain one!).

Getting elected or promoted to a position isn’t really the win. Getting stuff done, whether it’s in your cubicle or on the floor of Congress, is the real test, don’t you think?

Leave a comment

Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Sampuru

This Foodie Friday, the topic is sampuru. No, you probably don’t call anything by that name but you’ve seen it. It’s the fake food you often see in the lobby or window of Japanese restaurants. Great sampuru is incredibly realistic and can negate the need even to look at a menu. Like many seemingly simple things (such as making the rice for sushi), sampuru artists require years of training.

Typically for this space, as I was thinking about sampuru, a business thought came to me. Fake, plastic food has its business counterpart although they’re not called sampuru. I call them empty suits, but I’m not sure we should limit the term to people.

Your typical empty suit, like great fake food, gives the appearance of being real and nourishing. The reality is that they look great but can be toxic if ingested. In fact, I think they’re easier to spot than great sampuru. Ask an empty suit for an opinion and it will either be the same as either the boss’s or of whomever in the room they’re trying to please if they have an opinion at all. You see, empty suits rarely have enough knowledge about a topic to give a well-reasoned opinion about anything. They may rattle off a number of industry buzzwords but if you try to dissect what it is they’re saying it becomes obvious that, as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, there’s no there there.

Oddly enough, I think entire businesses can be sampuru. Coincidentally, I ate at a Japanese restaurant the other evening that I would call an empty suit. It looked fine – a sushi bar, teppanyaki tables, etc., but the food was nondescript, the service was lackadaisical, and the teppan chef I saw was just barely going through the motions. It was a sampuru – a plastic model of a business that looked like the real thing but wasn’t even close to being it.

We need to make sure our businesses don’t fall into the trap of being sampuru – of looking like we’re fresh and flourishing when, in fact, we’re dead and toxic. As executives, we need to stay informed and not be afraid to offer our own opinions about things. We’ll be wrong sometimes but by being true to ourselves maybe we’ll also advance the conversation to new, more profitable ground. You with me?

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Unkept Promises, Ungathered Feedback

Last week I wrote about how a company with which I did business became a source of annoyance. I realize that the odds are slim that they read the piece, especially since they, through a surrogate, managed to do something even more annoying than spam a good customer.

A few days ago, I got an email from a company who was acting on behalf of the golf ball reseller with whom I had done business. The email lead with “We want to hear your opinion. It will take less than 15 seconds” and featured the logo of the reseller. It further stated that the company:

asked us to contact you to hear about your experience regarding your recent order. Your ratings and comments, whether positive or negative, will help improve their customer service. Your review is also valuable information for new customers who are considering shopping with this company. All feedback will be made public, we will not publish your name.

Scrolling down through the mail, I just had to award 1 to 5 stars, which I did. When I hit the link to enter, I was taken to a website which asked me to write a few words of feedback about my transaction. No problem, at least not until I tried to submit my review. You see, the page wouldn’t submit until I had also written a review of each of the three brands of balls I had ordered, leaving stars for each one as well as several words of text. The 15 seconds (actually quite a few more) being up, I closed the browser tab, feedback, rating, and review unsubmitted.

Yet another thing we can’t do in marketing. We can’t make promises that we know won’t be kept. Asking for “15 seconds” of my time is fine. Requiring many more seconds (minutes, actually) under a false pretense isn’t. The feedback I left initially was my opinion (positive, by the way) of the transaction as well as the quality of what I had received. It would have served to encourage people to do business with this company since they deliver what they promise at an excellent value. Instead, they got nothing, because a vendor they had hired put a gun to my head and demanded I write multiple reviews and wouldn’t take what I had written for them until I did so.

It’s a customer-centric world, folks. You can’t turn a happy customer into one that is left with a bad taste in their mouth because of something you want, not the customer. And for goodness sake, don’t promise anything that you won’t deliver, OK?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Upon A Solid Foundation

Chuck Berry passed this weekend. When I heard the news I mentioned it to a younger friend who asked “who?” That made me a little sad, but it also made me think about today’s topic, as did a couple of other things that transpired over the last few days.

Publicity photo of Chuck Berry.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, Mr. Berry. Chuck Berry, as you might have learned over the last couple of days of news, is one of the founding fathers of rock and roll. While you might not know him if you’re younger than about 50, you certainly know his music. Johnny B. Goode is a song any young rock musician has played, and it was a concert standard of dozens of bands from The Grateful Dead to Jimi Hendrix to The Rolling Stones. The Beatles had hits with Roll Over Beethoven and Rock And Roll Music. Many other bands either had hits covering one of his songs or stealing one of his songs and making one of their own out of it (The Beach Boys Surfin’ USA is Sweet Little Sixteen reworked, for example).

Anyone who has strapped on an electric guitar and rocked out sits on the shoulders of Chuck Berry, among others. Heck, he was a big enough influence on this kid that when I got my first electric guitar as I turned 13, I wanted a Gibson ES-335, the kind that Chuck Berry played.

It’s not just music history that got me thinking. The men’s and women’s golf tours each played tournaments this weekend that saluted key individuals in their history. The LPGA played the Founders Cup, which was established to honor the 13 original Founders of the LPGA. Several of those women are still living and sat by the 18th green. As the players finished, each one went to thank the founders personally. The PGA Tour contested The Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament hosted in years past by Mr. Palmer but which has morphed into a tribute to one of the men who made professional golf what it is today. Which leads to today’s topic.

What each of these things reminds us is that none of us stand alone in business. Our success rests upon a solid foundation, one that was built by many people. Our parents, our teachers, and our mentors in business are the obvious ones. There were also those who preceded us in our field, blazing the trail and making mistakes so that we don’t have to. You might wake up with a great idea for a new business or product, but I guarantee the seeds were planted by those who went before.

Maybe today is a good day to think about and examine the foundation upon which our success rests? It’s an even better idea to thank someone who built yours, don’t you think?

Leave a comment

Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

No Cabbage For The Corned Beef

It’s Foodie Friday as well as St. Patrick’s Day! Most people in the U.S. associate the holiday with food (as well as with drink). Corned beef and cabbage is generally the food we think of here, and frankly, that’s a little weird since it isn’t really Irish. As the father of two lovely Irish-Jewish daughters, however, I can feel good about it since in many ways it represents the commingling of the Irish and Jewish immigrant communities.

English: Closeup view of A lady shoving a cabb...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all, corned beef, and beef generally, wasn’t something widely available in Ireland, and you can’t go into a Jewish deli without seeing corned beef on the menu. One explanation is this:

Many maintain that the dish is simply not Irish at all. The close proximity of the Irish and Jewish communities at the time is said to be largely responsible for the popularity of corned beef among the Irish immigrants. According to thekitchenproject.com, when the Irish arrived in America, they couldn’t find a bacon joint like they had in Ireland so they gravitated toward the Jewish corned beef, which was very similar in texture.

I was shopping for my brisket to corn as well as a cabbage yesterday. Despite a huge swath of produce department space having been allocated to cabbages, there wasn’t single cabbage in stock due to a great sale price (I ended up paying 3x the price in the organic department!). The briskets were plentiful although they were packed in those cryovac bags that make it difficult to see through the printed graphics in order to assess the quality of the product.

What’s the business point for you today? First, if you’re running a sale or know that demand will be high due to a holiday, it’s imperative that you have product on hand. Nothing gets a consumer angrier than the lack of product availability. In this case, the store hadn’t procured enough stock to replenish the shelves, even though the item is evergreen, meaning it will still have its regular level of sale after the holiday. Next, make it easy for customers to examine the product. How often do you see an open box in a store where someone has tried to investigate the actual product as opposed to what’s displayed on the box? Frankly, I think one reason online shopping hasn’t completely obliterated the in-store experience is exactly that. People want to see, feel, and smell the product before taking it home. We need to help them! Finally, ask yourself how you can create an experience around the brand or product. It’s easy on a holiday such as this, but marketing needs a push the other 364 days too!

To my Irish friends and relatives, enjoy the day. I’m going to get my brisket going shortly, and I’m going to put bacon in the cabbage to make it a bit more Irish. After all, isn’t authenticity a key marketing asset as well?

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Marketing, Not Annoying

As the weather warms up (despite a blizzard rearing its ugly head), I start to get ready for the upcoming golf season. For me, that means ordering a supply of balls. I’m too cheap to pay full retail price for the high-end balls that I prefer so I usually order from one or more sites that feature “recycled” golf balls. These are often “one-hit wonders” that some hacker dumped in a pond or the woods and have been reclaimed for sale. High-quality, low-cost = great value, especially for someone like me, who is only going to donate them back to the golf gods in short order.

English: Golf balls.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I placed an order last week for 100 balls. It was an easy transaction with good email communication throughout. It’s what happened over the next few days that is our topic today. You see, I’ve received an email from the site every couple of days, informing me about sales, coupons and other inducements to place an order. The issue in my mind is that I just did buy from them, and even I can’t go through 100 balls in a couple of days. This is symptomatic of a big problem for many brands. We try to use the very effective email channel to communicate and instead we use it to annoy.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with trying to sell via email. Like other channels of communication, however, we can’t use it exclusively for that purpose. If customers are going to enjoy hearing from you, it can’t all be about “ME ME ME!” Providing information that’s helpful from the customer’s point of view is not announcing a sale on items the customer just bought a week ago. That is annoying.

What happened here is that one system – the sales system – wasn’t taking to another system – the marketing system. That might have been acceptable several years ago but today it isn’t. Even Amazon, whose systems are about as cutting edge as anyone’s, will show you remarketing ads for products you just bought. For example, I bought my daughter a snow blower in December through Amazon and yet I was seeing ads from Amazon for the same one I bought on Facebook. That’s not marketing – it’s annoying.

Put yourself in the customer’s position. You hate spam and you probably don’t like a constant barrage of “BUY THIS” emails either. Provide content of value – useful information that helps the customer. Doing so gives you permission to do the hard sell every so often. Don’t silo the various departments – make them communicate and integrate. And for goodness sakes, don’t be annoying!

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Huh?

How Do You Know?

There is an old joke about the greatest inventions of all time. The last one mentioned is the thermos, which can keep soup hot on a cold day and water cold on a hot day. When asked why that makes it the greatest invention of all time, the respondent asks “how does it know?”

You probably face that question all the time in your business. How do you know? More specifically, how can you be sure that you’re in touch with what your customers really want? Maybe you think as Steve Jobs did: customers don’t know what they want until you show them. Here’s the unfortunate truth: you’re not Steve. He may have had a wonderfully intuitive gift for understanding what it was that customers wanted (although there are several examples of him being wrong several times along the way) but you probably don’t.

We can’t spend our time in business finding solutions for problems that don’t exist nor can we build products for which there is no demand. You might not have heard of any companies that do that. The reason is that they’re out of business.

We need to listen to our customers and to the market. We don’t need to spend a lot of money to do so. Analytics are a form of listening and the data doesn’t lie. There are numerous free survey tools available. If you have social media presences (and what business doesn’t?), you are getting feedback on a regular basis, as you are if you have commenting turned on for your blog posts. Maybe you have listings on any number of review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor. Do you review those for insights into what it is your customers are thinking?

Make stuff people want. Fall in love with your customers and their needs and not with today’s version of what it is you’re offering. Move quickly to get closer to your customers’ ideal product. Ask them about things and listen to the answers. That’s how you know. OK?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints