Dieticians and Management Consultants

At the Winnipeg Ostomy Association meeting last night a dietician was the guest speaker. He went beyond the basics to describe the building blocks of the various forms of fuel for the body, some of the common misnomers and falsehoods about certain requirements. As much as there are standard portions for body size there are so many cautions provided because each person is different.

In addition to body size used to determine portion size and inputs for the various fuels, known as calories, (alcohol, sugar, fat and protein), type of surgery (type of ostomy), other disease (cancer)  or ailments (diabetes) all became important factors to fine tune one’s diet for optimal input and performance.

As I listened to him talk about guidelines for eating healthy by following the Canada Food Guide I substituted Management Consultant for Dietician.

A great consultant should use a guide such as a standard process or set of diagnostic tools based on the consulting engagement and client needs. However, there is not a one size fits all for any advisory service provided. We need to be cognizant of so many factors, including but not limited to the:

  • financial state of company
  • strength of the customer base
  • direct industry competitors
  • indirect competitors for a share of the customer’s wallet
  • strength of leadership team
  • belief in and living the mission and values of the company on a regular basis
  • etc.

Assessing the importance and impact of each of these factors is necessary to determine what specifically needs to be adjusted to gain performance improvement in the company or with certain individuals.  The objective assessment provided by the dietician and the consultant are critical success factors. Self-diagnosis, especially in the Google age where people search for answers to everything, can very often lead to a quick fix that isn’t the right fix and long-term pain or problems ensue.

It makes no sense to identify a huge market opportunity for a company if they can never increase production to meet the new capacity requirements or if they do not have a distribution channel in the new market. A trusted advisor is confident that their outcomes provide the value the client needs across the organization. We do not just say what the client wants to hear.

If we say things are fine, and their corporate health is not, then that is malpractice. Prescription without proper diagnosis is also malpractice. If you are not operating at this level of advisory services then you are not really providing management consulting, you are probably doing contract work on a term basis to assist a client get out of a jam.

And there is nothing wrong with this.

Just as with dieticians who fight people’s own diagnosis, management consultants have to be technically sound and able to provide the level of advice and guidance to help address the problem and correct the causes so the issue is not repeated in the future.

You can get your calories from many sources and some are not as healthy for you in the long run and more and different problems may arise.

Fixing the wrong business problem may look good in the short-term but not provide the sustained growth and improvement in sales, profits and people performance because the real problem still exists.

While it is important to advocate for yourself in a medical setting, and you do know a lot about your business, you cannot read the label from the inside of the bottle in either situation. I will endorse the Certified Management Consultant as the professional to choose because we look across the organization to identify the impacts of certain actions in one area onto the entire company. You wouldn’t go to a “Tim Horton’s Dietician”; you know the person that says “I know exactly what you should do so let me buy you a coffee and I’ll tell you”. No, you want to go to a registered dietician. The same concept holds for consultants. Do you want someone who practices under provincial legislation, has continuing professional development requirements each year and also upholds a Code of Ethics? Of course you do! Hire a CMC. Full disclosure – I am a CMC.

There needs to be a fit with your advisor, whether on the personal medical side or the corporate performance side. You need to trust the advice and take the appropriate steps if you want to improve.

If you don’t want to be healthy then simply maintain that Big Mac and cola diet, or turn a blind eye to poor sales performance and continual client defections.

In both cases you won’t be around much longer. But hey, that’s your choice. There are better options if you want to have better results.

Now, make sure to eat your fruits and veggies.

Marketing Muscle and PESTLE

Being a great marketer requires hard work. Elbow grease. Getting your hands dirty. Getting things done.

What I call “Marketing Muscle”.

However, the focus of this post is on the PESTLE component of Marketing. This is a structured portion of the thinking part of Marketing.

To be an effective marketer you should always be updating the following elements:

  • Political factors  – such as regulations both domestic and internationally, if relevant to you
  • Environmental factors  – emissions restrictions in certain industries or environmental analysis required for certain projects
  • Social trends and factors
  • Technology – how it can help or potentially disrupt your business and industry
  • Legal – what actions may be taken against you/your company for past actions or to stop a future action
  • Economic factors – what is the bank rate, interest rates, GDP, etc.

Using your marketing muscle (including your marketing brain) you can apply these elements against areas such as demographics (in general and for your customers), culture, and competitive forces (think beyond direct competitors and into industries where a company is setting a new standard of customer experience, for example).

Each element of the PESTLE requires constant scanning for changes in trends or breakthroughs or factors that need to be assessed relative to your organization and its products and services.

An unforeseen acquisition of a key competitor may signal strength and interest in your product or service. Or it may signal a massive transition to new business models. In either case what do you need to understand first before taking any action. Please do not knee-jerk to an action that may have catastrophic effects in the mid to long term.

If you do not have a structured approach to this analysis you are risking your company’s future. And the credibility of the marketing department and the profession.

You may assign/ask other departments to provide some detailed analysis of key items that you might not be familiar with. For example, there may be changes to NAFTA. Check with your legal/regulatory department for the correct interpretations and assemble these summaries for the executive team in addition to the other factors.  You are looking to create a holistic summary of impacts. Any further details can be provided by the technical experts in the appropriate department. Marketing assembles to analyze the overall impact on the business and customers.

You can demonstrate leadership by taking action.

Great marketers seek to understand the broader context of the operating environment and the intricacies of the organization. The 4Ps of Marketing (product, place, price and promotion) encompass all the necessary elements to know and understand. Some people slice and dice and rename. But I would rather spend my time doing the work rather than arguing “potato/potatoe”.

Just as in physical training of muscles, perform the basics with strict form and you will get great results. When you add in new exercises and challenge yourself more you increase your overall strength.

In marketing, understand and master the basics. When you expand your overall toolkit (PESTLE) and look at problems and scenarios upstream and from other angles you will increase your overall marketing strength.

P.S. After this post I read an interesting article about how Skip The Dishes used digital to create their initial success. I call FALSE!

The article mentioned how the company used trends and tracking from online searches about ordering food to target key times and areas of cities.

This is part of a regular marketing discipline that I described above. It just happens to be a different source of data.

STD (not the greatest acronym for a company) exercised some marketing muscle to search for customer opportunities. This is great.

Unfortunatley, I know some restaurants that are dropping the service because the quality of their food has dropped because of the delivery system. When customers complain about the food they don’t go to STD they go to the restaurant. And the restaurant has given away control to a third party deliverer.

i’m just waiting to see who will disrupt STD.


Delivering Great Customer Experience

The subtitle is “how you know if your customer service is really great”.

Sadly, changing the word “service” to “experience” has not altered the delivery or the actual quality of the service being received.

I can get quite picky about the quality of the service. If something is self-serve, well, I only have myself to blame if the quality is not at a high level. Although the systems surrounding self-service can be so poorly designed that the company also bears a major share of the blame.

Case in point #1 – trying to check in online for a flight. My flight is booked, in fact it is confirmed. BUT, I am exposed to more questions about upgrades and extras than I was when I initially booked my flight. What should be short and sweet turned into five minutes of frustration – I just wanted a self check-in. To help save the planet I have my boarding pass emailed to me. And I also have the Air Canada app (that has been used before). I discovered that the email boarding pass and the app are not synced. I had to re-enter my details if I wanted to just use the app for my boarding pass. The process should be easier. And to top off my “customer experience” I also discovered that some airline folks are friendly and helpful. And some are neither.

This concept of being both friendly and helpful appears to be a hard one to execute. Case in point #2 – my wife and I were driving the winter tires down for our son who attends university in the US. Upon our return home we wanted to grab a Caribou Coffee for the road via the drive thru. When I ordered my wife’s coffee (the same one she has enjoyed for years) I was quite clear on the details. She confirmed I said it correctly. The person on the other send of the microphone was too cheery and not attentive because it took me three tries to explain and then my wife had to chime in. To avoid a similar situation that is why I ordered a dark roast just black. After another five minute ordeal that should have taken less than 60 seconds, the quote of the weekend was from my wife who said “a little less happy and a lot more listening”.

So where does the blame lie and how does a company improve?

I believe that not enough people really understand the business purpose they serve and are being taught too many artificial “customer service excellence” approaches. They probably get a new version each year. Don’t think like an employee, think like a customer. Too rigid and there is no ability to resolve complex or confusing situations. Often times the employee resorts to “my manager will have to help you..and she/he is not here right now”. So why would you push ownership of the problem to someone who cannot help the customer?

Companies must ensure that employees understand the plans and objectives that senior management crafts. Front line people are very often the key to success or failure. If they don’t know and understand how these fancy words relate to their job and daily responsibilities you can forget good customer service as your employees will disengage quickly. And since HR doesn’t talk with customers they will not be able to help you. This is a marketing responsibility. A mentor of mine always said that “great marketing begins at home”. And he meant that every employee (including the leadership team) need to understand why they are doing what they are doing and how all the other activities relate to the overall customer experience.

Marketing talks to customers, or they should, and insights and data are collected from all touch points. And I mean ALL.

Analyzing these sources and searching for tends and variations will help determine any adjustments to current activities and key areas to focus on at the next management team update. Notice I didn’t say that you should wait for the next corporate planning retreat/advance/whatever. Marketing is fluid and must be updated or adjusted on the fly to respond to important data.

Surveys are a good tool, however, observation and real world examples from those employees that have the contact with customers is essential to provide a holistic view. If you only value your employee’s opinions you will not be customer-focused. If you only value your customers rants then you won’t understand the context of the situation the employee was in during that customer interaction.

And you have all the social media commentary as well. Again, be mindful of the source and openness of the comments. Some people say good things “just because” and others are negative “just because”. Context is critical.

You must also compare your results with your benchmark. What is acceptable and desired must be known by everyone because that will help ensure that people know the expectations and they can self-monitor and readjust. The employee engagement will improve because they now know and understand the importance of their role, the control they can apply to improve the experience and how they can create delighted customers.

Deal with your people as people and not “human capital” – it sounds like it is something that is to be used up.  Following this approach your employees will truly become your most important asset – an asset that has a long, productive and positive life. And we all know that positive environments are more productive than negative environments.

How well do you know your customer?

I sign up for interesting material that people produce and I almost always complete the lead generation forms required to receive the content. Some material is personal interest, some for general business and some is client related.

With so much data available about each of us through these types of actions, including social media posts, web site access, etc., you would think that companies would understand my situation accurately. There is so much written about how easy it is to target messaging and products to people because of the algorithms used to “know us” better.

Well, lately I call BS to this at a much greater level than ever before. I believe the multitude of platforms and technology tools available are not being used correctly or are being used in the wrong way. Let me explain.

I enjoy reading Dave Trott’s blog and he also posts on the Campaign website, which is a UK publication. Campaign has delivered my info to sister publications that are creating “best of” lists. I was selected, I don’t know how or why, for these various lists. Emails telling me of this selection and then asking me to pay for an advertisement have been inundating my inbox lately. The personal nature of the original email messages would lead me to believe that the people that send the emails know a lot about me. I have actually responded stating that I am in Canada and only a small firm so I won’t participate.

Alas, they do not respond to my responses. What a horrible sales approach. And as marketers they clearly do not know me properly.

The whole aspect of a Business to Business (B2B) approach has moved from a person to person relationship to something artificial and analytical. And yet, I have never seen a business buy anything. It is always a person inside a business that makes the decision.

So, how do you find out more about our customers to ensure a solid, long-term relationship?

  • Collect from all touch points – electronic, digital and personal. This includes analyzing how Accounting sends invoices and the messages used when a customer is late with their payment.
  • Understand the context that the data is collected from. For example, don’t put too much weight behind generic tweets or likes, relative to important data such as changes in purchase patterns and in personal comments provided to your employees.
  • Collect the data continually. You want to identify trends and impacts of decisions you make to ensure your customers are responding the way you planned. Certain specific research projects, such as determining your Net Promoter Score, should be done annually to avoid survey fatigue. Only in exceptional circumstances should you conduct these major surveys on a more frequent basis.
  • Don’t rely only on internal views. Some employees do not want the company leaders to know of problems or issues because they work in fear of being fired (this concern is for a future post). While employees are an excellent source of insight and observations (and these must be included) we just want to balance the source of data to be as holistic as possible.

People are people. You cannot always consider the opinions of your staff as 100% valid . After all, they are opinions, which are like belly buttons – everybody has one. And you cannot take everything customers say as gospel, either.

In his seminal book, “Why We Buy”, Paco Underhill used several tools (video of the customer, reviewing the purchase, observations by a researcher in the store and scored on up to 100 factors) to analyze the buying behaviour of people. And he found that people usually said they did one thing when their actual actions were different. In sports, where everything is videotaped for analysis and the results used for adjustments, the phrase “the eye in the sky doesn’t lie” is used to let players know that what they think they did might not be what they actually did.

We often need to see it with our own eyes to validate something. And yet sometimes what we see is not actually what happened because we did not have a complete context. We have to see things from both internal and external sources.

And this is nothing new. It is called Marketing. The 4Ps (product, place, price and promotion) help you understand how your product or service syncs with your customers and potential customers by continually analyzing the interactions and results. We have become enamored by the tools available and we have forgotten that the theory and practice of understanding customers was already in place. Implementing a disciplined approach and sharing the findings across the organization can improve how well you “know” your customers and avoid having “no” customers.