Tag Archives: management

Digging Out Of A Hole

Let’s begin the new year with some (more) sobering news. People think marketers suck and don’t trust us. Actually, that’s not a recent development according to the Gallup folks who conduct an annual poll about various professions and how they’re perceived. Since Gallup has been conducting the survey (as far back as at least 2001), “advertising practitioners” have always appeared near the bottom of the professional rankings:

When it comes to rating the honesty and ethical standards of people in various professions, American adults rate medical professionals highly. But advertising practitioners? That’s a different story. In fact, just 11% of adults rate advertising professionals highly for their honesty and ethics.

That’s from the Marketing Charts summary of the poll. You can see the chart listing the various professions off to the side. Is anyone shocked by these results? Let’s think for a minute about many of the prominent ad stories of the past few years. They’re a litany of theft and fraud but those don’t really affect consumers. The big consumer ad story is probably the rise of ad blocking which is a response to irresponsible behavior on much of the advertising/publishing ecosystem.

That’s just the online world. Offline, one needn’t look very far to find examples of “free” offers that require one to submit a credit card, businesses suing their customers for accurate but negative comments on social media, and just about any political ad this last year. Each of these things further reinforces the negative perception that this study finds.

It’s a new year, and every new year brings the possibility of fresh starts. Maybe this is a good time for any of us who make a living within the marketing community to start digging out of this perception hole? We can do so by reminding ourselves that our families and friends are the consumers we’re pitching. Would you try to run a scam on them? Would they find the ad you’re running offensive? For those of you not engaged in the ad business, you’d do well to ask yourself the same types of questions. My guess is that we’re going to hear a lot about ethics this year. Let’s try to make our profession a better example of the right kind of ethical behavior. You with me?

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Top Posts Of The Year #3

Continuing our countdown to the most-read post of the year, this post is from last May. I’ll often use something that has happened to me as a case study, particularly when it involved bad customer service. I generally find that many of the issues that escalate into customers not returning to a business involve things that could be prevented or remedied with transparency. This post is one of those cases. Originally called “I Got Trucked,” it was prompted by a bad van rental experience. Enjoy!

I rented a cargo van and that’s when the fun started. I mentioned in another post that we’re preparing to sell Rancho Deluxe and part of the process is cleaning out 30 years of stuff. I booked a cargo van through Enterprise, a company from which I’ve rented cars in the past without issue. They confirmed my reservation but just to be safe I went to the local lot and examined the vehicle I was renting a week ahead of time to be sure it would serve my needs. It was fine.

At 2pm the day of the rental I got a call from Enterprise asking if I was indeed coming to pick it up. I said yes, the reservation is for 5:30 and that’s when I’ll be there. I asked if there was an issue. The guy on the phone said no, we have a van, it’s just not the one you saw. Hmm. Is it the same size? “No, it’s a little shorter.” “You mean less tall because I need height to get some items in?” “No, the length is less.” OK, not an issue.

5:30 comes and I go to get the van. It is quite nice but a miniature version of what I rented. It was no bigger than a minivan or large SUV, and not at all satisfactory for my needs. The customer service rep was very apologetic, informing me that the person who rented it last hadn’t brought it back, they’d been working all day to find me another one, etc. All well and good, but it’s 5:40, most other rental places have closed or will close in the next 20 minutes, and I need a van.

What’s the business lesson? First and foremost, be honest with your customers. Obviously, they knew there was an issue at 2 when they called. Why not be honest? I’ve been on the other end of this, running the NHL’s online commerce. One year we were completely out of hockey jerseys and the inventory system failed to turn off new orders. I told the customer service reps to be honest – we would not be able to fulfill the orders by Christmas and if the customers didn’t want a credit then a full refund should be offered. More than that, I asked our commerce folks to be proactive and contact the people immediately, since it is unacceptable that some kid wouldn’t get a gift due to our faulty inventory management.

Had they been open about the problem at 2, it would have given me 3 hours to find a replacement. They were also dishonest about the size of the replacement. It had nowhere close to the cargo capacity of what I rented. No, I didn’t take the replacement Enterprise offered me. I scrambled and was lucky enough to convince a U-Haul dealer to stay open an extra 15 minutes to rent me something like what I rented in the first place. It will cost me a few bucks more but at least I got what I needed.

I’m hoping this was an aberration on Enterprise’s part. As I said above, I’ve rented cars from them before without a hitch. Customers don’t expect perfection but they do expect to be told when there is a problem and to be told what you’re doing to solve it. I wasn’t told there was a problem until it was too late, and what they had done was to throw up their hands when they couldn’t find a replacement in their own inventory (ever hear of an airline rebooking you on another airline? Maybe get one from someone else?). The goodwill you’ll generate by doing so will outweigh the negative of the moment.  You with me?

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6 Ways Your Business Might Be Narcissistic

You might have been hearing a lot about narcissism lately. Since we don’t do politics here we won’t go into the reasons why that is, but since it’s been front and center I thought I’d do a little reading on the topic. I came across this summary in Psychology Today which I’d encourage you to read. See if it sounds like anyone you know or might have read about.

In any event, as I was reading it I realized that the traits narcissists exhibit are often displayed by some brands or businesses as well. As with people, I think displaying some of the traits I’m about to mention are signs of a personality disorder. The brands are sick, in other words. As with any illness, they require treatment, but the first step to fixing the illness is to diagnose it. Let’s see if any of these traits, sound like your business.

Oil on canvas

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • You have a grandiose sense of self-importance. You don’t acknowledge that you’re one of many potential solutions to a customer’s problem. In fact, you might just think customers are there to solve your problems;
  • You lack empathy: your company is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others – customers, vendors, even your own employees;
  • You show arrogant, haughty [rude and abusive] behaviors or attitudes. Customer service is impersonal and rarely resolves the problem to the customer’s satisfaction, putting the business first;
  • A corollary to that is that people who criticize your business are written off as idiots because you believe that you and your products are “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions). You know: people who “get” it;
  • Your business puts out inordinately self-righteous and defensive messages. The brand is never wrong, even when it’s clear you are (look up the Apple response to complaints about the iPhone 4 dropping calls. Apple’s response? People are holding the phone incorrectly);
  • Finally, you often react to contrary viewpoints with anger or rage. This might be social media comments you delete or refuse to acknowledge or it might be to bar certain press from your events. You might “ban” a customer because they’re too demanding or undercut people who criticize you rather than discuss the merits of their claims.

If three or more of the above signs sound familiar to how your business behaves, you need help. As with narcissistic people, narcissistic businesses have a lot of difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. As we all know, it’s those relationships with our customers and others that keep us in business. Without them, we’re dead. OK?

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Willfully Ignorant

At the risk of being redundant, I’m going on a bit of a rant today about ignorance. It’s a topic I’ve touched on before but it seems as if something happens each day, either in the business world or elsewhere, that makes me feel as if I need to get this off my chest.

The hardest thing in business these days is seeing over the horizon. I think the people and enterprises that “win” are the ones whose horizon is just a bit further off, allowing them to see a little more of the road in front of them. I also believe that the way we can extend our horizons is through information. That impels each of us to seek out information about anything and everything that can help us improve our vision. Information about our market. Information about our customers. Information about our competitors. Information about the world around us.

What has me ranting today is the amount of willful ignorance I see. It’s one thing not to have information. It’s another thing if the information doesn’t exist. It’s absurd, however, to know that information is out there and even to have it offered to you and to decline it. Even worse is to hear about what the information source has to say and to challenge its reality based on nothing other than your own gut feel. That’s insane.

The worst part is that some of the folks who participate in this insanity do so out of hubris. They are the personifications of “let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story” or in the way of their own ignorant beliefs. That’s not to say they’re stupid. Many of the folks I’ve met who act this way are quite intelligent. They’re just too smitten with their own success to date to believe anything but their own guts.

I wrote about the role of intuition in business (there is one!) a little while back. Intuition is NOT “I know better than anyone.” It’s not throwing out factual information because it conflicts with your world view. It’s certainly not being willfully ignorant.

So today’s bit of business advice is to choose knowledge. Rather than willfully ignorant, be aggressively knowledgable. See further over the horizon and you’ll make better decisions. OK?

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Hashing It All Out

This Foodie Friday, the subject is hash. Not the kind you smoke (although there are smokey kinds of hash made from leftover barbecue) but the kind you’d have for a hearty start to your day. The most common kind is hash made from corned beef, potatoes, and onions, but as with most food things, there are endless variations. Ever heard of red-flannel hash? It featured beets along with corned beef. Has your has ever been bound together with a white sauce? It may have been if you live in the mid-west. The aforementioned use of barbecue in southern hashes, the use of meats other than corned beef, and different types or preparations of potatoes can offer up nearly endless varieties of what is a very basic dish.

Corned beef hash at the Creamery (Nina's break...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a fan of crispy corned beef hash made with home fries and caramelized onions. Add a couple of poached eggs which will create an unctuous sauce when pierced and I’m in breakfast heaven. Unfortunately, many of us have been presented with a plate of “corned beef’ in a form that’s unrecognizable and that often prejudices our view of what can be an elevated experience with something quite humble. As it turns out, it happens in business too.

Every culture has a variation on hash. In each of those, the dish emerged from a desire to conserve resources and not waste food. At the same time, we all know it can be boring to eat the same thing over and over again. Hash (from the French word, hacher, to chop) is nothing more than transforming resources that might have been tossed aside into something new and wonderful.

That’s a great goal for any of us in business. Maybe a product or a project has become boring, both to you and to your customers. How can it become hash – something new and wonderful? Maybe a valuable employee has been in the same role for a while and the level of productivity is beginning to drop as boredom sets in. How can you and the employee make hash together out of the ingredients that made the employee great in the first place?

Ultimately, one reason I’m a fan of hash is that it takes things that might be tossed aside and makes them great again. Isn’t that a great goal for any of us in business?

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Feeling-based Vs. Fact-based

Before the Thanksgiving break, I did a free consultation with a prospective client (you can get yourself one too just by asking!). We talked about where the business has been and where he thinks it should be going. The problem we identified was that much of his information was feeling-based and not fact-based. I can hear  the frequent readers of this screed preparing for yet another rant on the value of data, so let me surprise you a little today.

English: Cyber analytics is the science of ana...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The hardest thing in business is seeing over the horizon. Oftentimes we need to shut our eyes and project ourselves forward in time, carried on the magic carpet woven from what we know so far and our own intuition. The reason is that in today’s business climate the future is often very different from the past and the analytics that reflect past behaviors have to be projected forward in the context of what might be the future environment. The more ambiguity the future holds for your business the greater the reliance on your own gut.

The issue for this business is that the leadership team was either young or inexperienced in business (they are scientists, mostly) or both. That’s why it seemed as if bringing in experience and intuition (that would be yours truly) made sense. You might not be in that situation but you might be feeling uneasy about your firm’s future direction even as you act in accordance with all the business measures you have in place.

Please don’t mishear me. If you have any sort of digital presence (website, social, email, etc) and aren’t using your analytics to inform you about traffic and how users are engaging with you, you’re not doing your job. If you don’t know or understand those things, find someone who does. If you can close your eyes and feel your typical customer, that’s fantastic, but if the reality of your data doesn’t match your feelings, you need to try again. You can’t let run a business making feeling-based decisions alone. Don’t over-think, but don’t under-inform. OK?

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Can Overhead Mean Profit?

I was chatting with a friend the other day and he told me about some layoffs that were going on at his place. Many of the people being cut were what we euphemistically used to call the “non-revenue generating portion of our staff.” You might term them overhead. You know – sales assistants, secretaries, accountants – the people to whom direct revenue isn’t attributed. I told my friend that I think it was an incredibly short-sighted move and in an effort to help your business not make the same sort of error, here’s why I feel that way.

First and foremost, there is a decent amount of research that tells is that salespeople – the people who bring in the fuel that drives your business’ engine – spend only about a third of their time (36%) actually selling. You know – meeting or connecting with clients either in person or virtually. 64% of their time is spent on non-sales activity, and a good chunk of that is with administrative tasks (25%) and service tasks (16%). A great sales assistant can take over much of those tasks, freeing the salesperson up to do what only they can do. Is it cost-effective? If a salesperson is making $200,000 a year and you can boost their output, making them worth $50,000 more, then you’ve paid for the assistant, right?

The same can be said of other support people. A smart accountant or lawyer can help boost profits, even if they do nothing more than find a way to say “yes” in making deals happen. That’s not always the case – I’ve worked with internal lawyers who were a bigger impediment to business than a crappy marketplace. If there is an internal awareness of revenue goals and a commitment by everyone to making deals happen, there is no such thing as “overhead.”

Selling has changed, no matter your business. Focusing on customers’ needs, not trying to sell them products they don’t want or need, and being a trusted advisor are the key ingredients in sales (and revenue) success. The more people your company can put to that task on behalf of your clients, the better. Make sense?

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