Category Archives: Consulting

The Right Fielder

There’s an old song by Peter, Paul, and Mary that contains a few lines that were 100% true when I was a kid:

‘Cause the fastest, the strongest, played shortstop and first
The last ones they picked were the worst
I never needed to ask, it was sealed,
I just took up my place in right field.

The kid whose fielding skills were weakest ended up playing right. The thinking was that most batters, if they got it out of the infield, would have to pull the ball and nearly everyone seemed to hit right-handed. Ergo, the right fielder would not have a chance either to make a play or to make an error.

Right fielder position on a baseball diamond

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does this have to do with business? I suspect that some of us look at our teams and mentally assign one or more of our team members to right field. Rather than demanding that every player meets the high standards needed to play any position, we stick them in a place where we hope nothing important get hits their way. Needless to say, this precipitates an entire series of problems.

First, the rest of the team knows who the weaklings are and can’t understand why they’re still on the team. After all, when the team wins a championship, everyone gets a ring, including the player who was more of a liability than an asset. That breeds resentment.

Second, the weak players are often held to a different standard. There is a lack of accountability since they aren’t as skilled. That’s a huge mistake as well. A team has one set of standards, not different standards for each person. If your business unit is to function as a team, it must be one and not just a collection of individuals.

There are going to be balls hit to right field, wherever right field might lie on your particular field of play. As managers, our job is to be sure that there are no weak spots anywhere and that each member of the team is on the same page, communicating clearly and backing one another up. That’s how we win, right?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting

Sweets Trolley

It’s Foodie Friday, and this week I’m already looking forward to next week and the Passover and Easter holidays. As you might expect, it’s because of the food. There are a few things that seem only to make an appearance around this time – Easter Pie (pizza rustica) and bilkies (like a knish without a crust) being two of my favorites. Most of these foods, however, are desserts. Macaroons, cakes made with ground nuts instead of flour, Simnel cakes, hot cross buns, and yes, even Peeps are sweets that are now eaten year-round but were originally only eaten around Passover or Easter. That’s why desserts are on my mind.

Desserts began as a “thing” in the 17th century. As a host, you were expected to leave your guests filled to the brim. The word “dessert” comes from Old French “desservir,” “cleaning the table,” and that’s what it did—it filled people up to the brim. I look at it as the “something extra” that takes a good meal and makes it special. If you’ve dined in some restaurants (or are a Harry Potter fan), then you’re aware of the sweets trolley – the cart that comes around after the meal with the desserts. It always makes me feel the way that the sound of the Good Humor truck did as it came around when I was a kid.

So my question for you this Foodie Friday is what’s on your sweets trolley? What desserts have you created to complement and enhance your main meal? How are you filling your customers to the brim? Is your product great but your customer service the dessert? Is your online experience first-rate but the experience of unboxing what you send an added joy? What are you doing that goes above and beyond?

I’m actually not a dessert person – I avoid sweets. This week is one exception because the desserts are so unique and wonderful. What are you doing to entice people who might avoid you to change their mind?

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Filed under food, Consulting

Clear Headed

I’ve been MIA from this space for a few days (hopefully you’ve noticed). I caught some kind of a bug and it pretty much laid me out for a few days. Body aches, a little congestion, and a foggy brain. I had zero energy and just wanted to sleep. More importantly, I couldn’t really focus my thinking on anything.

This may come as a shock to you but I do put a fair amount of what I hope is clear-headed thought into the screed. While I might have been able to force myself to spend a lot of extra time to write something, I thought it a better course of (in)action just to give it a rest. I’m a big believer in doing nothing when one’s head is foggy and let me explain why.

“Foggy” to me just doesn’t mean the state I’ve been in over the last few days. Foggy is when things are unclear at all. It may be because you’re distracted or it may be because the information you need to make a decision is incomplete, unclear, or inadequate. Jason Day, for example, withdrew from a golf tournament a couple of weeks ago because he was distracted by the fact that his mom was having surgery (she’s fine) and he couldn’t focus. Rather than making bad decisions on the course, he made a great one and left it.

Each of us needs to think along the same lines. Sure, sometimes fuzzy logic is called for because we can’t get enough information. In and of itself, that’s a clear-headed decision you make. Oftentimes, however, anything from a cold to a hangover to a family matter to office politics can reduce or eliminate your ability to focus. Those are the times when we need more time because I don’t concur that a bad decision is always better than no decision.

What do you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, What's Going On

It All Comes Out In The Wash

I’m not quite sure what to make of our Foodie Friday Fun topic this week. It’s a piece I saw that discusses how someone invented a bag that you can use to cook dinner in your washing machine. Not, it’s not from The Onion. Apparently, the person who invented it was moved by a piece he saw about homeless people using the laundromat as a sanctuary of sorts. There, the homeless get water, clean up, do laundry, charge devices, etc. He wanted to add cooking to the list.

한국어: 유럽향 드럼세탁기 (모델명_F1047TD)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thinking behind this is that a washing machine is like a sous vide like environment in that it’s a water bath. The problem is that it really isn’t. An immersion circulator holds the sous vide bath at a constant temperature for any period of time required to cook the food. I did steak in mine last night holding the food for one hour at 126 degrees. A typical washing machine uses water that’s somewhere around 110 degrees, nowhere near hot enough to cook anything beyond very rare, if at all. The time a load of laundry is fully immersed in the hot water isn’t long enough either.

Putting aside the obvious problems, what I like about this is that it demonstrates outside of the box thinking. People cook on their car engines (mmmm – is that cylinder head in the potatoes?) and bake their lasagna in a dishwasher. Grilled cheese using your clothes iron? Why not! How often have you sat down to solve a problem and immediately discounted some of the more bizarre solutions out of hand? That’s something that happens a lot in group brainstorming sessions. My feeling is that no idea is terrible and no idea is great until they’ve been thought through and explored. In the case of the sous video laundry bags, I’d probably not have kept going, but the fact that they now exist has me asking myself are there any other purposes for which the technology can be used?

Ever used a microwave oven? It was a mistake, the by-product of radar research. Played with a Slinky? Another mistake. So were potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, and penicillin. While you may have some great ideas that turn out to be not so great, how can they be repurposed? Maybe the bad stuff will come out in the wash, leaving you with something brilliant?

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Filed under food, Consulting, Thinking Aloud

The Margin Of Error

One bit of my old life as a broadcaster that I seem unable to leave behind is the ratings. TV ratings – and specifically those from Nielsen – are the currency of the TV ad business and billions of dollars of media are bought and sold based on these numbers. What caught my eye this morning was the reporting of last week’s late night ratings and the analysis connected to the report. The writer did a good job dissecting the numbers except that they conveniently failed to mention one thing that should be instructive to any of us in business: the margin of error.

English: Graph showing weekly Nielsen Ratings ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What the author failed to mention is that there was no statistical significance between the reported audiences in any of the numbers that Nielsen was reporting. Since the numbers discussed in the piece were Adult 18-49 numbers, the reporting is based on a subsample of Nielsen’s panel, meaning that the margin of error is wider than on all the ratings as a whole. While I don’t have a rating book in front of me, I know there always used to be a disclaimer in every book explaining that the numbers it contains are only accurate up to a point. They’re estimates. When we’re looking at number this small (and the late-night numbers are in tenths of a point), it’s just as possible that the network reported in third place could, in fact, have more viewers than the network reported as in first place.

The point here isn’t to denigrate the ratings system (I’ll save that for another screed). The point is to remind each of us that almost every piece of data that we look at needs to be taken in context and with appropriate disclaimers. What I find helpful is to pay attention to trends and not to absolutes. The only numbers without a margin of error are those pertaining to actual money received and actual money spent, and even those are generally only snapshots of a moment in time.

The next time someone comes to you with a data point, ask about the margin of error or about any factors that could affect that data. New visitors to your website are up? What percentage of people routinely delete cookies and, therefore, seem to be new when they’re not. App installs are up? How many people deleted the app last week, was that an increase, and could the new installs, in fact, be reinstalls? See what I mean?

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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?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

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!

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?