What’s the Point???

Leaders know that change is hard. And improving performance is hard.  Sometimes leaders are trapped in “we have always done it this way”. Or “isn’t OK good enough”?

Any of these ring a bell?

The challenge with addressing any of these perspectives is that in addition to the leader, everyone in the organization needs to understand the requirements that need to change. Processes and methodologies are great but people are required to deliver. Getting people to change or improve something is hard work and as a result, some leaders just default to “what’s the point?”

In a discussion with colleagues at a recent CMC event we spoke about what types of performance improvement we look for. While we all had different approaches, largely tied to our education and experience, we agreed that people still make the difference. And when people understand the point of their role and overall purpose within the organization you increase your opportunity for performance improvement. This holds for every person.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • We need to innovate or we will die! This mantra makes the concept of innovation something people will fear. Leaders may have a fear of getting it wrong and failing the company. Or there is a fear of doing nothing and potentially dying. I learned early on after high school that negative reinforcement only goes so far. And in most cases not far at all. A true leader, someone others willingly follow, can help guide the steps of innovation on an ongoing basis so there is not an “or else” situation that needs to be addressed. Finding ways to continually bring in the new perspectives for incremental growth will have more long term benefit than just searching for that one home run to “save” your company.
  • Our difference is our service! If I see this on one more set of values or in a mission statement… “to the moon”! Many companies (I cannot say most with confidence but I believe it is most)  have no idea how their customers and their own employees define great customer service. And they really do not know how to craft this into daily interactions, in person and digitally, so that the customer feels like they got terrific service. Audit and learn what your customers are really saying and talk to your employees because they deal with your customers. Maybe you should do more to know your customers better, and not just buy them lunch and talk vacations. And if your staff say “no problem” one more time when I say thank you it will be another moon shot. It darn well better be no problem!
  • We can be there between noon and 5 PM. Gee, isn’t that convenient…for you. I just had a utility visit scheduled and it was almost two months into the future because I wanted a time slot during the day. It was even longer if I wanted an evening appointment. When I worked at Videon Cable we were able to schedule a visit within a two hour window because most install or service work took that long to complete and allow our tech to get to the next visit on time. And Videon was very profitable. Arguably one of the best customer service companies I ever worked for. People cared deeply about customers and each other. Leaders truly led the way. And it showed in how we were able to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction and financial stability.
  • No one else does what we do. In some cases this is true. In many tech situations this is not true. Or you do something that can be copied fairly easily. You need to find out exactly what you do that is important to your customers and ensure you deliver on it. When your staff are really involved and aware, then they can help you stay top of mind and successful. And maybe you can truly say this for years to come.

These are but a few of the items that come to mind and conjure up a “what’s your point” consideration for leaders. You absolutely need to know your customer and how they service their customer in order to become a relevant point of difference. Otherwise you will succumb to be just one of many. And when you are one of many where that evil price factor becomes all too important, then you are in a race to the bottom.

In these situations I say shame on the leadership and I do feel for the employees. In each of the situations I described there is an element of hard work and deep thinking that is required. And this becomes an all the time effort not just once in a while when a leader is getting ready for a bonus.

How selfish are you? Take a look in the mirror and honestly state that you have the best interests of your customers and employees in mind. If you truly do, and I will believe you because I know companies that are like this, then congratulations. Now your performance can improve.

As Winston Churchill said about leaders “Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. Before you can move their tears, your own must flow. To convince them, you must yourself, believe.”

And that’s the point.

P.S. We lost our playoff game 53 to 39 which was a terrific improvement from our previous game to the same team losing 59 to 13. Everyone played hard and we will be back for one more season!

Lessons from Winning and Losing

Like all sports fans I enjoy the playoffs in almost any sport. Before hockey playoffs it is time for the annual Men’s Basketball Championship known as March Madness. The classic “one and done” approach to a tournament means players leave everything on the floor for every game because there is no next game unless you win.

Unless you underestimate your opponent.

This year, for the first time in the history of the tourney a #16 seed defeated a #1 seed. And also for the first time, one region, the South, did not have one of the top four seeds advance to the “Sweet 16”.

There are upsets every year. Just not this magnitude and this early.

I didn’t follow college hoops that closely during the regular season (my busted bracket in two pools shows it) and I only saw a few minutes from a couple of games. But what I saw was amazing!

In the UMBC (#16) win over Virginia (#1) I saw players on the low seed play with heads up and hearts in it during the second half. And I saw Virginia play with heads down, selfishly trying to help their team instead of doing what got their TEAM to the #1 overall seed.

Why did this happen? I don’t believe the coach prepared any less than normal. He tried everything during the game but his players didn’t appear to heed his advice. They didn’t trust each other and their system. Most importantly, it looked like they lost faith in themselves.

They did not do their best when their best was required. They looked past their current opponent to the next potential opponent. They didn’t take care of the business at hand.

Which leads me to the business comparison. Let’s assess your current sales competitiveness and see how well you are prepared for your tournament (which happens to continue forever so you better get ready).

  • Are you preparing to help your clients buy from you or are you pushing your product or service?
  • Do you have a game plan that builds off your strengths?
  • Does everybody know their part in this plan and are they as well prepared as possible?
  • Is your company purpose shared, understood and meaningful or is it fluff that can blow away?
  • Do you truly care for clients once they are regulars or you too focused on winning the next one? Keep your eye on what is right in front of you!
  • What do you do when you win a client? Are all departments ready to deliver on all those promises the sales team made?
  • What happens when you lose a client? What is your exit interview process and how do you share the findings to reduce the number of losses in the future.
  • What happens when you are unsuccessful in a bid situation? How do you debrief and take the lessons learned and improve your next pitch?

Winning a client is a team game and every one must understand how their daily roles have a specific purpose to finding and keeping clients.

And to win at any level does require talent so you must ensure that you have excellent employees that are capable and willing to do what it takes to get a bit better each day for the overall good of your clients and for your company.

There are lessons to learn whether you win or lose in business because the game continues as long as you work there.

We had a great practice for our basketball team tonight. We have a playoff game tomorrow against a team that thrashed us convincingly during the regular season. They are younger and more talented.

But I am not sure they have the heart and purpose that Old School has. We will give our best because it is required and we are playing for a teammate that suffered a family tragedy. This one is for you OBG.

Don’t discount a sense of purpose and the strong bond that holds a team together. Maybe there is another first round upset in the making.

I’ll let you know how we did next week. And I’m interested to know if  your sales efforts were the best that you were capable of. Maybe you unseated an incumbent and scored a big win.

To your success!!!

Marketing: It’s not just your logo or media

Some people call a logo a brand – it is just the visual identity of your overall brand. Your brand is defined as what people say about you when you are not in the room.

Some people define marketing as digital media. Marketing is the sum of all activities that are used to find and keep a customer.

Branding is what happens when you are a good marketer.

Let’s understand some of the foundational steps to become a great marketer.

I read a couple of fascinating articles last weekend and the detailed report they were based on. The focus was a massive study in the U.K. about what agency heads think is the most effective media choice and what is actually the best media choice. One of the articles was written by Prof. Mark Ritson, an Australian professor that wrote a summary of the methodology, the results and what it means for media selection. You can find it here.

The release of the study, the analysis provide by the professor and also by Bob Hoffman reinforce my personal opinion about the folly of loading up on digital media only as the solution to your marketing woes.

In fact, I will go further and say that the inability to understand what marketing really is will be the downfall of many companies. Time spent chasing a specific shiny object instead of  analyzing your customers and being mindful of competitor actions are not the proper foundation to begin your marketing program.

Yes I am a Peter Drucker fan. In his book, “Managing for Results“, he states that the problems he sees in business (book written in 1964 is still relevant today) arise from an internal or me centered view of the importance of the product or service instead of the view from the customer’s perspective. In only very rare circumstances does a customer actually need only what you can provide.

Don’t waste your time beginning with a selection of digital media, when the recent research noted above shows how ineffective they are on a stand alone basis. Instead you must address what Drucker and others identified:

  1. What the people in the business think they know about the customer and the market is more likely to be wrong than right. Only the customer can actually tell you. You must watch, study and analyze many points of data to create a holistic and accurate view.
  2. The customer rarely buys what you are selling. They don’t pay for a product. They are looking for some level of satisfaction or ability to get a job done. This is the famous Theodore Levitt phrase “the customer is not buying a 1/4″ drill they want a 1/4” hole.
  3. Customers are not buying what you think they are buying. We can thank Disney for setting the bar so high for all types of customer service interactions. An experience with another company in an unrelated situation can create an expectation of the same level of quality in your industry/company.
  4. What you think of as the “quality” that the customer is buying from you may not even be close to what they are actually buying. First, your definition of quality may not be the same as the customer. Next, the job to be done theory created by Tony Ulwick dives deeply into the concept of what the customer actually wants is a tool/solution to get a specific job done. And this may result in 50+ different actual jobs. This is fascinating stuff!
  5. We must assume the customer to be rational. But, the customer is rational according to their own situation and not what we necessarily want them to be. It is up to the company to understand why the customer behaves and purchases the way they do.
  6. No single product or service is important to the market. There is no social security, CPP or other benefit in the market for products and services. The market will summarily dismiss any product or service with no thought of the impact. Think of Kodak’s failure to evolve when photography became a digital process. Or, most recently and sadly, the disappearance of Sears Canada.
  7. We will define the customer as who determines the buying decision not necessarily the one who pays. The customer definition also includes the person(s) that use the product or service.

Just using these questions as a staring point in our analysis only scratches the surface of truly understanding our customers. And this should surely make you think more deeply about your total marketing plan and what you are trying to achieve compared to what Facebook or LinkedIn campaign you are being told to use by a social media expert.

We need to be people focused, not data driven. Ari Shenken, VP Marketing at IBM said that if you want to know if you are client-centric then look at your data. If the data is not organized around people then you are not client centric.

Selecting the right media comes at a point well down the line in your marketing planning. If you put the proverbial cart before the horse you will not be going anywhere with your marketing, and in particular, your media choices.

Focus on the customer and support your internal activities to keep that customer. And you will have great marketing that builds a strong brand.

That was easy.

Now you try it.




Lousy service is lousy in any interaction

There are any number of experts that talk about the need to focus on the digital interaction with customers. This is the future.

I order on-line. I make payments on line. I conduct business via digital and sharing platforms.

I also do business in person – on the phone and actually in person.

And common across every interaction is the ability for a person, representing an organization, to have a positive or negative experience with me.

When a digital experience is created I sometimes wonder what the people creating the messages and process were actually thinking. Do they even read the messages they wrote? Do they actually walk themselves through the customer journey?

I received an email from a person selling their Facebook sales book. I won’t name them but here is what happened:

  • Received the email, not sure why
  • Went to remove myself from the email list – no link on the email
  • I hunted the URL and pasted it into a browser
  • And I opted out
  • And the next day I received the same book offer
  • So I sent an email back because the address looked real
  • It wasn’t
  • I got an auto responder reply with a new email address to contact
  • So I did
  • And was then advised I was being put back on the email subscription list so I could buy the Facebook selling guide
  • And then received a message saying it may take time to respond to me because of higher than anticipated demand for this sales guide
  • And they asked me to verify I was a real person ” The message you sent requires that you verify that you are a real live human being and not a spam source.”
  • A spam source wouldn’t be as abrupt as my response.
  • And then I got a notice that demand for the LinkedIn Selling program was a high demand product but not to worry because they put more staff on the case.
  • Remember, the original email was about a Facebook selling guide
  • And finally received a notice that I was whitelisted.
  • But I want my email eliminated!

If you are going to put a digital process in place and automate your contact and response program then please be a human first and see how your process and messaging actually appears to a customer.

All this clown did was diminish any possible value in a future offer.

It is like typos in emails to a customer – please read before pressing send.

This is not rocket science. Unfortunately, technology allows this lousy process to be distributed in a hurry to a potentially high number of customers. Any you may tick them off.

Experts better take a look at what they say electronically because they may diminish their own brand.

And it will be destroyed faster in a digital world.

Leading by example

A leader is someone others willingly follow. You don’t have to be at the head of an organization. you can be someone in that organization that sets the standard of expectation and delivery. This can be in your family, you company, your church or volunteer efforts.

Let’s look at a few examples of small things that lead me to question the example we are setting today.

First, Trappar and I walk every morning past two school yards. He is a golden retriever and each winter retrieves a wide assortment of mitts, headwear, scarves, jackets, hoodies…and garbage. I cannot understand how in this day and age of environmental awareness and focus on climate change, our young students (both schools are k to 8) can just leave their garbage blowing around the schoolyard and on the sidewalks.

Do the teachers not see this? And why don’t they do anything? What about the principals? Aren’t they the “leaders” of these organizations?

Trappar and I do our part to put the trash in the bin; but usually only after he has tried to lick the yogurt container clean.

Switching to the corporate world, I am also amazed at the amount of garbage that is often seen around entrance ways to buildings. While it is easy to blame the smokers (cigarette butts are compelling evidence of guilt), I don’t feel right saying they are the only ones dropping their coffee cups and other garbage.

If we cannot do these small things, how can we be expected to accomplish the larger and most important aspects of our roles? And where are the real leaders?

I am fortunate to work with many terrific leaders and there are some common traits that they consistently portray:

  • They lead from the front – they chart the path and clear the way for people to be successful.
  • They know they cannot do everything themselves and hire talented people, provide a purpose and then get out of the way.
  • Accountability culture is created and upheld.
  • Respect for everyone is a commitment and always maintained.
  • They will make tough decisions when tough decisions are required.

There is a great phrase I learned some years back – “that which you permit you promote”. If a leader is seen as being inconsistent in their actions compared to the expectations they have for everyone else then the trust factor is eroded and people stop caring. Your employees think “If Mr/Ms President can do that why can’t I?” Forget about engagement scores. There are bigger problems that must be fixed.

Just ask people affected by awful past actions now coming to light. People in “leadership” positions abused that power and position.  I don’t call that leadership at all. It is criminal and they will get the punishment they deserve.

Heading an organization doesn’t automatically make you a leader.

John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success has a key block on the foundation – Loyalty. His quick definition is “Be true to yourself. Be true to those you lead”. Leadership can be learned and everyone can be a leader. Set the right example.

I always have two poop bags in my pocket on my walks with Trappar. Given what I see on the sidewalk and in the field there are a lot of people who don’t use one and probably don’t even carry one. If I see you I will give you a bag. Use it.

That would be leading by example. If we all do it, others – especially our children – will  willingly follow.