What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time I wrote a post about my coaching experience with the Winnipeg High School Football League Senior Bowl. While it was mostly good, there were some key moments that were rather disturbing and made part of the experience not enjoyable.

Well, we got the band back together for one more show! This year the big surprise began the first night and carried through the game.

Last year there were some idiots that diminished the experience for me. This year, the young men we had, from different schools, levels of competition, and individual skill level, were all fantastic. I mean, 100%! We only had three practices to prepare. And they got better every day. And they worked hard every day. And they asked questions, challenged themselves, and competed.

And we won BIG! Like, 48 to 24 big. We were down 16 to 14 at the end of the first quarter, rolled through the second, third and fourth, and gave up a TD with about 30 seconds to play on a fantastic catch by the other team’s receiver.

Everyone contributed something. And many times there were key plays such as a big block, a nice run, a great catch and TD, a big tackle or a sack of their QB.

For me, that is great stuff. But more importantly, I always spend time talking with the players and trying to see what they will be doing next in their life. Having two sons that went to the US for school and football, I am always fascinated when a young man wants to leave his home province and go on a life adventure.

Like any employee that I have been privileged to work with over the years, or clients that I have consulted to, I am fascinated by what drives the person to take that next step. Is it a specific and well-planned strategy that made them select their post-secondary school or football option? Was it a lifestyle decision to stay at home or leave? How did their personal resources factor into the decision? Some of the players were going to work for a year to save money to go to school because they didn’t get a scholarship right away. Others were excited to go the U of Manitoba and play for the Bisons (my alma mater and where I coached until a couple of years ago).

Employees go through the same decisions throughout their career. Should they stay with an organization or go? What are their plans, dreams and capabilities and where can they best put them to good use? What support do they have from their employer that allows them to grow and prosper and provide value to the organization?

And what type of coaching are you providing? Too many people talk about coaching and they have never coached. A good coach is not just tough, caring, and holding the player/employee to account. A good coach is all of these, in the right measure, to ensure the person is doing their best when their best is needed. And your best is, of course,  needed everyday.

I am heartened by the quality of the student athletes we were able to coach. And my utmost respect goes to my coaching colleagues. Head Coach Dennis, Offensive Coordinator John and his assistants Ryan and Nathan, Offensive line coach Phil, Defensive Coordinator Dom and defensive line coach Brianne.

Yes, you read that correctly. We had a female defensive line coach. Bri plays in the women’s tackle league. And she has represented Manitoba in inter-provincial competition and has also represented Canada in the Women’s World Tackle Football Championship. She was technically excellent and had a calm and positive demeanor with the players.

And I was so happy that the players listened to her and respected what she taught them. She was a delight to coach with and collaborate on defensive calls.

The main takeaways from last year hold true this year as well:

  • goals set by the coaching staff and game plans made.
  • training and practice plans communicated to achieve the goals.
  • corrections and encouragement.
  • highs and lows. Never get too high, and never get too low.
  • robust battles and great individual effort with the accumulation of these to make great team plays.
  • winners and winners. The score was just a score.

For some players this was their last game. And they went out with their heads held high. I was grateful to be invited to coach and honored to spend time with our entire roster of terrific young men.

One main difference is that, compared to last year, I know this group of players will all be successful in their life’s work.

This was so much fun I already committed to coaching again next year.

We Are Customer-focused

I called a warehouse store to purchase tires on Sunday. I had discussed tire options with a member of their tire team on Saturday and wanted to make the purchase. For several reasons I could not make it to the store before 5 PM so I called. And after struggling through a non-customer friendly menu, I was finally able to leave a message.

No call back as of Wednesday. And this is a company that is generally known for terrific customer focus.

In 2017, Forrester Research conducted a survey of CEO’s around the world and found that 90% of these CEOs said their company was customer-focused.

In his book, “Be like Amazon – even a lemonade stand can do it,” co-author Roy H. Williams (The Wizard of Ads and a wonderful person) talks about the power of customer centricity. He writes:

“The top ten and bottom ten rated public companies in the Customer Experience Index at Forrester Research are called Customer Experience Leaders and Customer Experience Laggards. This chart illustrates the performance of equity-weighted, annually readjusted stock portfolios of Customer Experience Leaders and Laggards relative to the S&P 500 Index…the 6-year window from 2007 to 2013…showing us the S & P 500 Index was up 14.5% at the end of those 6 years…But the stock price of the Customer Experience Laggards was down – minus 33.9%…the Customer Experience Leaders Up 43%. So this chart seems to indicate that a company’s stock price falls when they disappoint their customers, but it rises when their customers think they’re awesome.”

So, why do so many organizations not focus on their customers? Well, I might suggest:

  • it is hard work to really know your customer and make sure you are providing what they need and how they need it
  • it is an investment to ensure your organization is truly customer-centric
  • you need to spend some money on research – internal and external – to know where you stand and what customers truly think of you. Caution – do not do this yourself. Customers typically tell you what you want to hear and don’t want to hurt your feelings. Use an objective and reputable research firm. I know a guy…
  • you need to consider changes so that you are truly customer-focused across your organization.
  • leaders must live this focus…and many do not because they look at an outcome, the financial results, rather than the controllable activities within their organization.

Sometimes it is a blow to the ego to learn that your staff are not truly customer-focused or your customers are not quite as loyal as you think.

And capturing this data takes time away from all your regular activities.

And yet, without any customers…no business exists.

A structured approach is necessary to understand where you are on the customer-focused continuum. Be prepared to receive startling results. Be ready to take action.

Everyone in your organization must understand that there is something in their role that may influence a prospect to become a customer or that helps keep a customer. This is not an employee engagement exercise. This assessment is very specific to helping determine the current state of your customer culture. Dr. Linden Brown, with his son Chris, wrote a fantastic book, “The Customer Culture Imperative. ” Their research uncovered that “A strong customer-obsessed culture is the single most important driver of future business performance.”

Their work has been tested around the globe and the findings are consistent. Customer culture drives long-term business success. This is not just an annual business plan. The tool is used to identify the internal customer culture of your organization across all departments. Because this is not employee engagement, the employees typically participate at 67% or higher. In fact, many companies have over 80% participation because the employees want to let the leaders know what they see daily.

I was reading an article about all the retailers that are closing stores, or their entire doors, and the main culprit is the evolution and growth of online retailing. I beg to differ. A retailer who is customer-focused throughout their organization will find ways to compete and be different. Over Christmas, Marshalls/Winners/HomeSense ran a wonderful commercial touting the benefits of offline shopping. I cannot find any data to determine if this one element worked, but anyone whom I spoke with that watched it was impressed.

Think of your business…from your customer’s perspective.

And as you consider your level of customer-centricity, ask yourself one very important question, “Would you buy from you?”

Marketing Discipline

I am currently teaching a marketing fundamentals class at the U of Winnipeg in their PACE (Professional and Applied Continuing Education) program. Preparing each class requires a thorough review of the textbook and additional resources from the publisher, as well as combing through the many resources and examples I have collected in my nearly 30 years of working in marketing and strategy.

I am continuously reminded that there are areas that people do not spend enough time on when assessing and developing their marketing activities.

I know this is true because the day-to-day pressures of the job, when I was in the corporate world, regularly took priority over the thinking and strategic assessments. Talking with colleagues in corporate marketing today, this still holds true in almost every situation.

And it makes me wonder why marketers have trouble doing real marketing.

I believe it is because we have taken on more responsibility, which is a good thing as far as career security goes. Concurrently, varying expectations, and often unrealistic ones, creep into the picture and affect the amount of time marketers can dedicate to their craft.

And this is my point. Finance people get trained to gain an accounting designation. IT gets trained in network or programming to provide technical expertise. No one thinks to tell IT how to fix the problem or which solution to find, or tell accounting to fix their month-end statements.

Why then do so many people think they can offer professional comments about marketing activities?

Because so many people just focus on the public side of marketing – the advertising messages. This also includes the choice of marketing channels such as TV, radio, or social media, etc.

And even then, the vast majority of these people do not know how to properly craft an ad that will create the response needed. It is very difficult to create something that doesn’t sound like everyone else’s message.

It is also very difficult, and a great professional challenge, to be responsible for the product, place (distribution), pricing, and promotion of the product(s) or service(s). Sometimes marketers are tasked with fixing something that they actually have no real authority to fix the right way. I always hated the concept of accountability without the authority to change what was necessary.

Lest you think I am whining, let me correct your assumption.

My point is that there is a lot of discipline to becoming an effective marketer. And also providing leadership to your organization. You need a thick skin. You also need a desire to achieve greatness. Coach Wooden calls this trait “competitive greatness” and it is the pinnacle of his Pyramid of Success.

Think about it…marketers are able to learn about people, customers and competitors, and then blend this insight with other environmental factors, PESTLE (yes, there is a site for this), to help shape the future growth and achievement of the market opportunities with programs and activities that provide value and differentiation for customers. All while helping employees understand how their roles affect customer satisfaction.

Now, who wouldn’t want to jump out of bed and take on this challenge every day?

Sadly, trained marketers often get hamstrung in their activities because not everyone can see how all elements fit together. If they could, Sears and Eaton’s would still be around and they would have stopped Amazon from entering the marketplace because they had a distribution infrastructure in place. Their catalog business was the precursor to online ordering. Unfortunately, the focus on finance and not customers and changing trends led to their downfall. Both companies thought they were in the real estate business, not the customer business.

And the same holds for Target’s failed Canadian foray. Wrong inventory levels, incorrect product mix, not understanding the Canadian labelling requirements, and not understanding the Canadian consumer, were among the most obvious reasons for their lack of success. On paper, there was a huge market opportunity. All the spreadsheets showed a successful launch. But no one properly included a competitive assessment nor did they determine real consumer expectations. Canadians were largely disappointed early on with pricing and product selection. Those that could, still went across the border to get the deals they wanted. To Target’s corporate credit, they consolidated and focused on what they know about their customers and they have been successful since then in the US.

One of the lessons I have learned in my career is that other disciplines need to respect marketers and their professional expertise. Marketers, once you gain the respect you must continue to demonstrate your value or your career will be like the last sale – fleeting. Marketing is fun and it is serious business. Take pride in your responsibilities.

I cannot wait until Friday when I see what my students have created with their marketing plans. It could be the wave of the future!

Marketing Gardening

We have some peonies in our flower bed by our backyard deck and the flower garden in the front of our home. I am always amazed at how fast these seemingly dead sticks turn into vibrant stalks that eventually bud and produce spectacular flowers. Since most of these were from my Dad, they have extra special meaning.

The other day, as I was looking at the bunches of twigs protruding from the rich, black earth, I noticed there was finally some green in both flower beds. Tulips are starting to ease their way towards the sky. Alas, the bunnies will soon be dining on these tender stems, depriving us of the beauty of the tulips.

I noticed additional green in the flower beds – weeds!

How is it that in less than a week these pesky weeds could grow so quickly? I know what I’ll be doing this weekend as I get the trusty trowel from the shed. Pulling weeds.

And then I wondered about how this might relate to business and marketing?

And the answer came quickly as I thought of failed marketing activities I have witnessed over the years. It doesn’t take much for something bad to creep into a perfect plan and make a mess of the whole thing.

How should you look for these marketing weeds, and what action is required to avoid heavy and hard work later when it might be too late to save your marketing garden?

Here are some points to create a winning marketing plan:

  • Ensure everyone knows what you want in the garden. This implies that you actually have a marketing plan that describes your customer, how they benefit from your product or service, and how you need to communicate and support them. A keen focus on these core items will serve you well by establishing a foundation to move forward on.
  • Use the right tools for the right job. I read a stat from a Us media company that touted the move of more ad dollars from traditional media to digital platforms. The research was based on what the CMO’s said they thought was the overall industry trend in marketing media spend. Are you all lemmings chasing each other off the cliff? Choose the tools based on your objectives and how your customer wants to be communicated with.
  • Assign the best people for the appropriate responsibility. I am a good weed puller, when I know I should be yanking them out of the ground. I sometimes need some prodding 🙂 Great marketing always begins at home with a customer focus; everyone in your organization knowing how their role helps overall customer satisfaction, using clear and consistent messaging and actions to deliver the value your customer expects. In 1999, Jeff Bezos was interviewed and talked about Amazon not being a tech company. The interviewer said that his investors wouldn’t like that. Bezos essentially said too bad, he wanted a company that was always and consistently focused on the customer. Technology was a tool. He said almost the same words in another interview about a year ago. That customer focus goes a long way in explaining Amazon’s success.
  • You must keep watch for weeds that creep back in. Evaluation must always occur after actions have been taken. Adjustments to strategies and tactics are often necessary. Only with constant tending of your marketing efforts and customer feedback will you be confident you are delivering what your customers want. Get rid of what is not working. Do NOT let old ideas, especially the legacy ones,  remain if they are not providing value.
  • Water and feed appropriately, but not too much. Balance is key. Sometimes the environment does some work for you, such as a competitor going out of business or key people leaving those same firms. You might not have to do extra fertilizing and watering, you might just need a few key sprinkles in the right spots to take advantage of this market opportunity.
  • Determine if any changes are required to the types of flowers in your garden. Have you carefully researched the job that your customer does with your product or service to determine if there is something else that you can, or should be offering? You need to stand out from your competition. Adding something new can help.

So, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells…? Or hard work, tilling the ground, feeding and watering the product so that it grows healthy and strong and brings enjoyment and pleasure to all who see it?

Or is it time to bring a jug of “Roundup” and wipe the slate clean. If you have been tending the garden carefully over the years, there is likely no need to head to the last “Roundup.”

And just like the peonies, careful marketing gardening will provide beauty each year because they are perennials.

Service…without a smile

Last weekend we celebrated our youngest son graduating with his Master’s in Education with a Special Ed. major. We doubled up with the awarding of a Doctor in Nursing Practice for our future daughter-in-law (our other son). Celebrating with other parents, graduates, professors, and friends was absolutely wonderful.

The level of achievement was exceptional and was truly a proud parent moment, not just for us, but for everyone. Hard work, dedication, and resilience, had to be hallmarks to drive these young women and men to achieve their goals.

These same lessons, unfortunately, did not find their way into most of the service-related industries we experienced over the weekend.

First, we wanted to sit outside and enjoy the nice spring day on Friday. We joked with the waiter when he came to the table, and then he promptly dropped the menus on the table and stormed off. We all looked bewildered. When he came back and said, “I am having a bad day and don’t want to deal with it.” We asked for a minute to look at the menu after he grudgingly answered a couple of basic questions. None of us had ever experienced something like this before.

While he warmed up, kind of, he was still an angry young man. He did apologize to our son, privately, and then to the future in-laws, privately. Still not what you want from someone in the “SERVICE” industry. I don’t want whine with my wine.

At dinner on Saturday, planned and reserved well in advance, we experienced yet another level of incompetence. Getting the first round of drinks went okay, except for a poor description of a particular wine. And the description was 100% wrong. A few of us ordered a small salad to start. We got some fresh water poured. And then the waitress literally disappeared for almost 40 minutes. When she came back we asked about status of our meals. “The kitchen is really backed up, and we are about 15 minutes behind.” Hmmm, grad weekend, popular restaurant…you would think management would prepare for this by having more staff at the ready.

Guess again…

The food arrived about 10 minutes after this interchange and then the wheels fell off. My oldest son and I ordered the hanger steak – often known as the butcher’s cut because it is the best and the butcher would keep it for himself. I don’t know any butcher that would want the steak we were served. It was cold to the touch. My special steak fries were cold to the touch. My son’s vegetable medley had some ice crystals on them. Two people ordered the caramelized chicken salad. The chicken must have been caramelized last week and was so dry most of it could not be eaten. The deluxe hamburger was particularly average. The only item that was hot, I mean steaming, was the baked potato.

We advised the waitress who was really sorry (but where was she for so long?). She brought the manager to see us. I was calm, surprisingly. He said that, “All the food is being served as it is ready.” When I told him to check out my meal he declined and sort of didn’t believe me. He offered to pay for the first round of drinks and not charge us for the steak dinners. We didn’t eat them and I expected nothing less than removal of the meals and no charges being applied. Alas, he offered one more comment “you didn’t eat any of it?” he asked questioningly.

To the moon, Alice!!!

Basic customer service, the quality that so many businesses say id their difference, was largely absent. I will maintain my practice of not mentioning the name of the restaurant in either of these cases.

But on to a brighter note. We strolled across the street to a small coffee and dessert shop for some after dinner cheer. The manager was fantastic – knowledgeable about the menu, answered all questions about the wine selections, involved the barista to get our beverages produced quickly and properly. And I enjoyed one of the best tiramisu desserts I have ever had. If I was at home I would have licked the bowl. Thankfully, my family frowns on such boorish behaviour in public  so I abstain.

But then things slid back downhill back at the hotel. There were two fire alarms within 5 hours. I picked up the kids around 11 because they were visiting with classmates, and we got back in time for the second event. This time the firemen came. But, I watched in abject horror as the front desk clerk allowed a guest to turn off the alarm because he said, “I do this for a living in buildings I work in.” Nice of him to turn off the siren, but we still were not sure about the existence of a fire! When the professionals arrived they were not too pleased about any of the actions. And I agree.

When we checked out the next morning, we advised the manager about the events. The manager was so nonchalant, she literally just brushed off any concerns we expressed. “It was an alarm because of someone’s shower,” she said. How does a shower start a fire alarm?  Another one of life’s unsolved mysteries.

The purpose of sharing these stories includes the following points:

  • if you think every customer interaction is perfect, you are wrong. Leaders need to hire smarter, train better, and support their employees. If someone hates their job, respectfully help them change to something else before they ruin you.
  • ensure your staff are aware of all emergency procedures and follow them properly. Develop a specific plan to test for these scenarios to see how people perform. In sports, this is a scrimmage, in prep for the real game. Scrimmages are live and real, just within your team.
  • mystery shop your establishment. Improve your processes so you can manage high volume situations. Prepare your establishment for the major events. Create a game plan for success and ensure everyone knows the plays.

While the solutions may seem simple, they need to be managed and adjusted constantly. You also need to reward great service delivery.

Start with the basics – turn that frown upside down!