Category Archives: Helpful Hints

Fast And Furious Means Fail

I bet we’ve all been there. An incoming email triggers a strong response and we let those strong emotions turn into something we regret sending later. It’s not a bug – it’s a feature, one we need to learn to turn off since inevitably we spend a lot more time cleaning up the mess then we would have spent had we just taken 10 minutes to calm down, reread the initial email, and respond with a clear head.

I’ve been on the receiving end of one of those. A client who owed me a lot of money reacted badly when I asked to be paid. Having waited nearly two years, I thought I was not over the foul line for asking. In fact, I offered to reduce the amount owed if they would begin paying immediately. Rather than engaging in a discussion about how we could resolve the issue, I received a nastygram unlike any other I’d received in business. My response wasn’t to respond. Instead, I did something I’d not done in 10 years of consulting: I turned the debt over to a collection agency.

That’s one personal example. I’m sure you have a couple, hopefully on the receiving end so you don’t have to clean up the mess. We can’t “react” to emails. The blessing of email is that it’s fast, with immediate delivery and often a quick response. That’s its curse as well, along with the fact that there is no nuance. My philosophy has always been that if there is a problem I’d rather try to resolve it over the phone so I can judge the tone of voice as well as to be sure that what I’m saying isn’t misinterpreted somehow. I realize it’s harder to get many people on the phone but the investment of time in doing so can often avoid a series of increasingly infuriating emails.

Don’t “react.” Don’t assume that someone hasn’t responded because they’re disrespecting you. They might just not be the bearer of good news and are struggling to find a way to say what needs to be said. Remember that everything you send is preserved and you have no clue who will end up reading what you write. Finally, call if you can or, even better, buy someone coffee and talk things over face to face. Old school? For sure, but maybe some of these old school ways are why some of us old folks have done well. Your thoughts?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Lose The Ego Or Lose The Customer

It bewilders me that some businesses can’t put their customers‘ needs ahead of their own. I’m going to tell you yet another horrific tale of business stupidity but first, a little data to support my point.

The folks at Marketing Sherpa did some research and they found the following:

When asked about the marketing of the company they were highly unsatisfied with, the top way unsatisfied customers described the company’s marketing was — not customer-first. This description was more frequent than complaining about privacy issues or intrusive, boring or irrelevant marketing. “The company does not put my needs and wants above its own business goals” was chosen by 35% of unsatisfied respondents.

With that as context, let me show you this in action. A friend of mine bought a car recently from a car dealership with which she had done business in the past. Her previous experience was good enough that she went back to them to buy from them again. This time, things were quite different.

The car died in her driveway after a few weeks of use. The battery died and the car wouldn’t jump-start. When she bought the car, she was told to bring the car to the dealership in the event of any issues and they’d take care of her. She did as she was told and had the car towed to the dealership. Despite the lip-service paid to a customer-centric focus, the service department said they’d charge her $165 for a new battery even though the car is still under warranty. If she wanted it fixed under warranty, it would have to be moved to a Ford dealer. Strike one.

The dealership said they’d arrange for the car to get to the Ford folks “as a courtesy.” That was Thursday. It’s now Monday morning and the car still hasn’t moved. Strike two. My friend has been calling and emailing to no avail. She is in the process of renting a car – the dealership didn’t mention a loaner. Strikes three and four.

I’m beginning my search for a new car – do you think this dealership is under consideration? Do you think my friend will tell her friends to rush over to purchase from these folks or will she caution them to avoid the dealership like a plague? The dealership had its main need addressed – they sold a car, in part by doing a great job in addressing the customer’s needs and wants at the time. They are unwilling or unable to focus on the customer beyond the sale nor can they put the customer’s needs above their own goals (servicing a car that’s under warranty takes time and reduces margin). This is a perfect example of what the research cited above shows since in my mind customer service (or lack thereof) is part of the marketing mix – a critically important part. Do you see the problem?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

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

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

New Isn’t Synonymous With Good

A decade or more ago (2003, actually), there was an early attempt at a VR world called “Second Life.” It’s still in existence although in my mind it reached its PR peak way back when. Many sports and entertainment properties rushed to set up virtual home bases in the virtual world. If memory serves, MLB built a stadium and the NBA built an arena.

I was running the NHL’s digital stuff at the time and as you might expect, the Second Life folks came to us to participate. You should also know that sports leagues keep an eye on one another (duh) and so the fact that the other leagues were there had some folks internally asking why we weren’t. I had a pretty simple answer for them: we weren’t because it made absolutely no business sense. Back then, Second Life’s business was almost a real estate play. We would have had to have bought “land” on which to construct our presence as well as to build and maintain whatever we build. The audience numbers weren’t all that great when compared with other options. When we put all the numbers together the cost was well into six figures and the potential return was pretty nebulous at best. I explained all this to my management and said that if they wanted to be involved from a marketing perspective (and pay for it out of that budget) we’d proceed but if they were asking if it was a smart business deal the answer was no.

The Second Life folks were way ahead of their time (VR is just starting to take off) but the lesson from that is just as relevant today. Look at the rush of sponsors to new platforms, whether they’re the latest hot app or a new type of programmatic buying. There is no vetting. Many of these things lack any form of third-party verification or transparency. Frankly, my guess is that many of the folks involved don’t even know what questions to ask since ad tech has become incredibly complex. Add in the controversy about rebates driving placements and investment in much of this new stuff might make a visible splash but bellyflop as a business decision.

Good strategy is timeless. Yes, we need to push forward with respect to how we display our messages and engage with our consumers. No, we don’t need to rush off a technological cliff as we try to do that in the name of being cutting edge. Newness for newness’ sake is not synonymous with good. You agree?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, digital media

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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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

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?

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Filed under Reality checks, Helpful Hints