Tag Archives: Business and Economy

Vendors And Partners

President Reagan has been quoted as saying “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” are the most terrifying words in the English language. One phrase I used to hear a lot that was just as terrifying to me was “we want to be your (fill in the blank) partner.” That could be a tech partner or a marketing partner or whatever. The thing was that most people have a tremendous amount of difficulty distinguishing between a partner and a vendor. The sad truth is that very few people or organizations that you’re in business with want to be the former and that’s a shame. Vendors are a dime a dozen while good partners are rare.

How do I distinguish between the two? Vendors send you bills while you usually end up sending a partner their share of your joint profits. Vendors come into your office and tell you how great their product or service is, even if you’re using it or them. They tell you their story and ignore yours.  Instead of telling you what they are doing for you specifically, they tell you about the latest success story they’ve had, usually with some other “partner” of theirs.

It’s always easy to spot the vendors and the potential partners almost from the second they walk in the door. Partners will talk about you and your situation and tell you specifically how they can help. They’ll ask for reasonable compensation but also volunteer to share in the upside because they believe in their product and its ability to help you. Vendors come in with a canned, generic pitch. Their rates are fixed in stone and they don’t share the risk and so don’t have any interest in sharing the rewards.

I’ve always felt that my goals and those of my business partners were very much aligned. I can’t say the same of many of the vendors I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve also always tried to do business with my consulting clients and franchise candidates in that way – as a good partner and resource rather than as a vendor. Is that a difference without a distinction? Not in my book. How about in yours?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Finishing In Style

Let’s think, this Foodie Friday, about how dishes are “finished.” No, I don’t mean how you eat every last bit off of your plate. Instead, I mean those last few things you do as a cook when the dish is done but you’re adding what I would call a lagniappe of sorts – a little something extra at the end, almost a gift.

For example. Let’s say you’ve just cooked your guests some perfect steaks. Now you could certainly just let them rest and present them to your hungry diners or you could finish them in style. Maybe you make an herb butter which you allow to melt over the warm steak, adding another layer of richness and flavor. Maybe you provide a container of truffle salt, adding heady umami to the dish.

We’ve all been offered grated cheese to go on our pasta. That’s finishing in style in my book, especially if the cheese offered is correct for the dish itself and not just the same cheese for everyone (and heaven forfend that’s it’s grated ahead of time!).

Finishing in style can be as simple as offering a drop of true balsamic vinegar for aged cheese or even ice cream (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). What I think it really shows is that the cook is willing to go the extra steps to make a meal memorable.

It’s the same in business. When was the last time you hand-wrote a thank you note to a customer for an order or sent a gift to a new client to welcome them aboard? When I joined my franchising network and finished training, a lovely bonsai tree showed up at my house to congratulate me. Did it make me work any harder? No, but sure showed me that I had exercised great judgment in joining the group that I had. That was finishing in style.

Business today is way too competitive for any of us not to think about the lagniappe – the something extra. How can we finish each transaction – each dish we prepare – in style?

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Misaligned Interests

Did you happen to hear about (or read!) the NY Times article on how a young man got “sucked into the vortex” of radical videos on YouTube? It’s an interesting and scary read. It’s about how a person goes to YouTube to watch a video on one thing and ends up multiple videos later watching something completely different and often dangerous.

As the article says:

YouTube has been a godsend for hyper-partisans on all sides. It has allowed them to bypass traditional gatekeepers and broadcast their views to mainstream audiences and has helped once-obscure commentators build lucrative media businesses.

As usual, we’re not here to rant about the politics of these videos. It’s just as easy for the videos to be dangerous and non-political and even though YouTube specifically bans harmful or dangerous content, they can’t catch everything.

The real issue here is YouTube’s – and many other platforms’ – business model. They make money by keeping you engaged and the way that they do that is often via a recommendation engine. That engine uses an algorithm that rewards videos that have lengthy watch times by promoting them more often. Of course, the more engaged you are, the more ads you’ll see and that’s really the problem. Most of the popular platforms follow that business model and their interests don’t necessarily align with yours. They all have some sort of algorithm which on YouTube, as the article says, is

the software that determines which videos appear on users’ home pages and inside the “Up Next” sidebar next to a video that is playing. The algorithm is responsible for more than 70 percent of all time spent on the site.

Of course, you can turn off the recommendations. You can also delete your search history, pausing it going forward, and your watch history which will prevent the algorithm from determining what you usually watch. If you haven’t hidden the video suggestions (it’s in your settings) at least you’ll see lots of pretty neutral offerings. More importantly, you’ll take back control and realign their interests with yours.

It would be easy for YouTube and others to prevent a host of problems by killing off the recommendation engine but they never will because it’s the thing that drives their business model. In a perfect world, every business’ interests would align perfectly with those of their customers. Maybe it’s because the big platforms are out of alignment with us that there is so much anger directed toward them?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Who Owns You?

Foodie Friday! I installed a couple of the food-delivery apps on my smartphone this week. Some of my favorite local places use the delivery services to expand their business and I thought having the ability to order in might be a nice option. Of course, that got me thinking about what exactly the restaurants got besides the additional order (at a lower price when you factor in the service’s cut but no service cost). The answer, as it is with almost everything today, should have been data but as it turns out, not so much.

The reality is that the delivery apps hang on to the data. They “own” the customer, not the restaurant, and that’s a problem, or it should be. Restaurants are giving up the direct connection to their customer by not getting that data and they have no way to combine it with their offline, real-world data gathered when I actually show up to eat as well as with the data they might get from a reservation service such as Open Table.

Ownership of the customer is an enormous issue no matter what business you’re in. For example, your car spits out reams of data about your location, your driving habits, and many other things. How many? A report by Consumer Reports said that “There are more than 200 data points in cars today, with at least 140 viable business uses.” Who owns the data and, therefore, the customer? The dealer who sold you the car? The manufacturer? I, of course, think the right answer is that YOU own the data until you give it to someone for a specific purpose.

Think about how many things around you gather data these days. Your TV, refrigerator, heck, even your toothbrush might be collecting information about you and your habits. Who owns you as a customer? I bought my TCL TV through Best Buy. It has Roku built in. Who “owns” me? What’s being shared?

It’s a question you need to ask as a business person when you partner or work with a third party. I think customer ownership is a fundamental issue and it’s only going to become more important. Of course, as a consumer, you ought to be every bit as concerned but we’ve talked about privacy a lot here so not today (84 posts and counting in the last 11 years!).

I really don’t care much about DoorDash or GrubHub. Without the restaurants they serve, I wouldn’t ever install or use them. I’m not their customer in any real sense – they provide a nice service but it’s the food I’m after, right? So why do they think they have a right to own me? Are you asking that question at all? Maybe you should!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Shared Interests

You can call shared interests believing your own BS or you can call them eating your own dog food. I like to think of it as having skin in the game, a phrase coined by Warren Buffet referring to a situation in which high-ranking insiders use their own money to buy stock in the company they are running. I use it in a much broader context and it’s something you should be looking for at every turn.

Photo by rawpixel.com

I can’t tell you how many companies paraded into my office when I was in corporate life promising to solve issues we might be having with revenue generation, audience measurement, or dozens of other common problems. Many of the offerings were actually quite interesting although not yet deployed in the real world to any extent. If I was interested but skeptical, I’d usually make an offer somewhat akin to this:

I like your product but it’s awfully difficult for me to stroke out a check on something that is promising but unproven. So let’s do this. You provide the product and service as you say and I will pay you a much lower fee (or nothing!). However, if you deliver the results you say you will deliver, we’ll set up a success fee that will pay you more than you’re currently asking. In fact, if your numbers are right, you’ll earn double what you are charging.

In other words, I wanted them to have skin in the game. I wanted our interests to be perfectly aligned and I wanted there to be consequences for us both if we didn’t achieve what we set out to do. The reality is that you should always ask yourself who has what skin where because most businesses do their damnedest to avoid any sort of risk by putting in some skin. Sure, they pay lip-service to the notion of entrepreneurship but there are few who have put their money where their mouth is and invested into the tech ecosystem or directly into startups. Pay attention – much of the time the investment comes only after the product has proven itself or is a direct ripoff of something that’s already successful. I call this the second penguin strategy (you don’t want to be the first penguin that jumps in the water since there may be predators lurking).

If you’ve ever played cards, inevitably there is a kibitzer around. You know – the person who looks on and often offers unwanted advice or comment. They have no skin in the game. There are kibitzers in business too – you can find them writing for many trade publications – and you might even have some in your company as partners or clients or even employees. Not many companies took me up on my offer to make them more money. The few that did were fantastic partners and I still speak with some of the executives from those firms almost 20 years later. Having skin in the game made all the difference. What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Ghost Kitchens In The Sky

Our subject this Foodie Friday is kitchens, specifically kitchens that service your takeout order. Think about it for a second. You place an order for a meal to go at your favorite dining establishment. In some cases, you go there to pick it up. In many other cases, even years ago, you’d order a pizza or some Chinese food and it would arrive at your front door looking just as it did when you picked it up yourself. You probably didn’t think about if it was actually cooked in the restaurant’s kitchen since it looked and tasted the same as when you ordered at the place. In fact, it almost certainly was cooked by the same hands that were serving the dine-in customers at the same time.

Fast forward to today. With the advent of food delivery services, many more establishments are offering food for delivery. Most sit-down places have experienced a big jump in takeout, so much so that it’s become a significant percentage of their business. I think it also has to do with our general impatience these days. Who can sit still long enough to enjoy a meal cooked to order? So, many places are asking themselves why not set up a kitchen specifically to handle the delivery business rather than expand the restaurant kitchen to handle the additional orders. Ghost kitchens have arrived.

As one article described them, ghost kitchens are delivery-centric cooking spaces without the added hassle of in-person dining that a traditional restaurant brings. Think of them as cooking-focused WeWork spaces. Lower rent, no front of house, no cashiers and no customers tapping their feet waiting for their food are all part of the appeal. As long as the food tastes the same, why would the customer care?

I could write another 1,000 words about ghost kitchens and the pros and cons but the point I want to make today is that they exist because restaurants are rethinking their businesses. If they can grow at better margins and lower costs by doing that rethinking, can’t you? Some pretty big players – Google Ventures among them – are getting involved, and you know it’s just a matter of time before Amazon through Whole Foods starts delivering all those great dishes you can buy at your local store for a take-home or to work meal.

Is it inconceivable to you to share accounting, legal, and other back-office functions with another business that’s non-competitive? A ghost kitchen for your business? How about having your sales staff pick up some lines that complement yours and offer both to customers that might be interested?

If you’re not thinking out of the box, the box might just become a coffin. Instead of a ghost kitchen, it might be a ghost business!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Consistently Human

It’s Foodie Friday and as we head into Memorial Day weekend here in the US, let’s pause a moment to remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy our meals this weekend.

One of the things I’ve written about with respect to restaurants is the value of consistency. One of the best compliments I can pay to a restaurant is in saying I’ve never had a bad meal there. It’s a reflection on consistency – of the raw materials, of the service and, of course, on how the chef has his team operating in producing the same dish to the same standard. In a weird way, many fast-food places are better at doing that than many restaurants even though the cooking staff tends to be younger and less-trained in culinary arts. Even weirder is the notion that some places have gone to robots to do some of the cooking.

One of my favorite hangouts is a restaurant here in town. The food is consistent even if there is sometimes an overcooked burger or a dish that wasn’t plated with enough care. I like that I can see that people were involved. This is what I wrote three years ago about that:

Business needs to be about people.  When I eat, I want to taste the cook’s soul. I like the imperfections and that my pizza is different from how it will be the next time I order it. I enjoy personal service and the quirks of every individual with whom I deal no matter what the business. We need to be responsive to each customer in a human way. It’s why customer service agents reading from a script are just as bad as automated menu trees in my book. Who doesn’t prefer speaking with an unscripted human?

Many of us in business watch the numbers like a hawk for any changes. We might not pay as close attention to the people who make those numbers happen. If you want to make improvements in your numbers you need to understand human behavior – that of your staff and that of your customers. The numbers are a reflection of that. They don’t just happen.

It isn’t machines or numbers we remember this Memorial Day. It’s people. Let’s stay human out there!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints