Monthly Archives: March 2018

Side Dishes

It’s Foodie Friday and today I’m inspired by a friend of mine who loves side dishes. Anytime a meal is discussed, the only question raised is “what are the sides?” Beef Wellington that took hours to prepare? Meh, but what kind of potatoes? You slaved for five hours over a perfect Bolognese Sauce? Interesting, but what veggies are we having?

I suspect that many of us think in an opposite manner. Side dishes are a throw-in – a starch of some sort, maybe some roasted veggies and a salad. When was the last time you just tossed a steak on the grill but worked for hours over perfect Pommes Dauphine? I suspect the next time will be the first since it’s much easier to put a bag of tater tots in the oven. Even when one goes to many restaurants, while the main proteins often have lengthy descriptions of each dish, the side dishes are generally just a listing of the vegetables and starches available.

I’m starting to pay a bit more attention to the sides. As it turns out, many businesses are too. What do I mean? Take the airlines. Originally, “ancillary revenues” such as baggage fees, change fees, advance boarding fees, and all of those horrible nickel and dime items the flying public hates were just side dishes. The main business was in filling seats. Today, airlines make over $80 Billion on these sidelines, and in many ways, they’re the entire profit center for the business. In other cases, what began as a side dish became the business. Groupon used to be an online fundraising site and only sold stuff as a sideline. Nintendo sold playing cards and making video games was a sideline. Twitter was a side project within a podcasting company called Odeo.

When was the last time you thought about the side dishes contained within your business? Maybe there are folks out there who love the sides more than the main and would be willing to skip the main altogether?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Pay Me Now Or Pay Me Later

One thing that frustrates me is some folks’ inability to understand cost and value. There have been a few times over my last decade of consulting when that inability manifests itself in a particularly bad way. I’ve begun work with clients on more that one occasion where the client has spent a lot (in one case, close to a million dollars) of their seed money to build websites that didn’t accomplish what the client needed them to do. Most of the reason for this was that they hired the lowest-cost option. They failed to see that the value they needed was in their provider understanding the client’s business and delivering a solution that met the business requirements. Instead, they hired someone who made them a beautiful website that was fairly useless from a business perspective. That’s cost vs. value. They saved on cost and failed on value.

Startup companies are notoriously short of funds. Often the founders are working without pay and the thought of paying consultants, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals is anathema to them. That’s a big mistake. I worked with another startup that took intellectual property advice from “a friend who had done this before” instead of a lawyer. I noticed a potential problem with their name immediately but they were happy to go with their friend’s advice despite my asking about a legal opinion. As a result, once they launched their brand, they received a cease and desist letter informing them that they were infringing on another trademark. That resulted in a major depletion of their remaining funds to rebrand and to pay a lawyer to respond to the C&D. Cost vs. value in action.

What’s my point? If you’re venturing onto new grounds, hire some guides before you get lost. You’re going to be paying these professionals at some point and you might as well do so early on. Yes, it’s a cost you don’t think you can afford, but the value you receive can prevent very expensive mistakes and will ultimately save you money in the long run. Had I or any reasonably smart consultant been involved early, we would have talked about what analytics we needed from the website to make actionable business decisions before we worried about anything else. Every dollar spent on the site afterward would advance the business’ goals and not to making art rather than commerce.

Pay us now or pay us later. I think the sooner the better. You?

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You’re Naked

One of the things that can kill you in business is believing your own BS. As a former salesperson (we are really ever NOT salespeople?), that’s hard to admit, but let me explain what I mean. Let’s look at our products and services first and then let’s take a look at ourselves.

I know what I’m good at and what services I can provide. I also know my limitations. When I speak with potential clients, I’m very upfront about both of those things. It’s about setting expectations and not overpromising. If someone needs help, for example, with art, I’m not your guy. If they want help understanding UX, however, I can help. Need basic SEO work? I can do it. Need a lot of backend coding? Not from me, you don’t.

If you sell anything, it has limitations. Failing to acknowledge them leads to underdelivery and that leads to failure. If you can’t recognize and admit where the boundaries are, you’ve got a problem.

The same principle holds for us as managers. The higher up we go, the more we have people around us who are unwilling to criticize or challenge us. While our responsibility gets larger, our circles get smaller. In some cases, a leader makes it a point to eliminate anyone who contradicts their own view of themselves. I always felt this was inversely proportionate to the executive’s strength as a leader. I’ve worked for bosses who welcomed challenges to their opinions and for some who wouldn’t tolerate and dissent. Needless to say, the staff would kill for the former and abandoned the latter as soon as they got a chance.

I read this about former President Obama and his interactions with an unnamed musical artist on the basketball court:

When asked what he could learn about someone from playing basketball with him, Obama talked about self-awareness—singling out “a singer, a musical artist” whom he once played a pick-up game with, someone who was “ballin’” and came “with an entourage,” but utterly sucked on the court. “His shot was broke… he had no self-awareness and thought he was good,” Obama said. “He surrounded himself with people who told him he was good, even though he’s terrible.”

That’s my point exactly. We need people to tell us our shot stinks and that we’re naked, just like the little girl in The Emporer’s New Clothes. It makes us better managers and if we accept the feedback about our products or services, better salespeople. Who doesn’t want that?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Why I Had To Buy The Crackers

This Foodie Friday we have a tale from the aisles of my local Harris Teeter. For those of you unfamiliar with the chain, it operates over 230 stores and 14 fuel centers in seven states and the District of Columbia. They’re originally from North Carolina and their southern hospitality is the story I’d like to hold up to you (or y’all) today as a best practice for any of us in business.

I do my weekly shopping at the HT, generally on Thursdays (extra 5% discount for us old folks!). I was wandering around the deli section trying to find some crackers that were on sale. An HT employee, whose sole responsibility seemed to be to walk around and to look for confused customers, asked me if I was having trouble finding something. I told her I was and what the missing item was. She walked over to the department manager to inquire and he immediately stopped what he was doing, came over, and told me that he had some more of the items in the back. He encouraged me to keep shopping and return to the deli later while he would go get the items.

No more than 5 minutes later, as I was wandering down an adjacent aisle, up walks the manager, 4 boxes of crackers in hand, one of each flavor. Now, you might not remember this, but I’m fairly fanatical about not eating non-whole grains or sugar or simple carbs. Without looking, I took 2 boxes of the crackers from him, thanked him profusely, and carried on. After he had left, I read the labels. These were not generally the sort of crackers I’d buy. However, he had gone to such effort to get them for me that I felt an obligation to do so.

That, my friends, is the reciprocation tendency in action. That, as you may recall,  is the tendency to want to return the favor when someone helps us or gives us something. I gladly bought two boxes of crackers I’ll probably only serve to guests just because the customer service was so excellent. As an aside, it’s a cultural thing in the store. Someone is constantly available to help you and they do so willingly and immediately. The store also does ongoing customer service surveys.

I’ve written about it before and will continue to do so. Customer service is, by my reckoning, the single most important distinguishing factor for most businesses today. Customers expect convenience and speed when they interact with your company, along with a smile. In this case, I bought something I probably would not have as a way to reward that service. What can you be doing to get your customers to do the same?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints