I had a half-day meeting with a potential client earliest this week. I had the opportunity to put on a small, informal focus group of a few of their customer service representatives. They were very bright and charismatic people who knew their products (financial services and instruments) backwards and forwards. Their advice to clients is delivered in a conversational and consultative fashion. First and foremost, they educate their clients.
Each of these people, and the dozens of their colleagues they represented, are thought leaders. They know their trade, they push the envelope to develop new ideas and solutions, and they educate their clients. Many of them had even generated their own checklists, flow charts, and other intellectual property to standardize the education process.
Unfortunately, all of this value, advice, and intellectual property stays hidden behind a desk. This isn’t proprietary pay-only content, it’s valuable marketing collateral and an opportunity to educate a wider range of people to attract potential clients. It’s a tremendous weakness, and I hope we’ll be fixing it together very soon…
Don’t be a closet thought leader. If you’re already doing the work, why not get the most out of it?
I spend a great deal of my time learning. I work through at least 3-5 books at any given time, either on business topics or about one of my hobbies; read blogs regularly to explore new techniques; watch some excellent video series on YouTube, share ideas with colleagues, and experiment with my own ideas. Another fantastic way I learn is by teaching others. Nothing ensures a firm grasp on content like answering questions you might not have expected. The point is, I’ve always been a self-motivated, do-it-yourself learner.
One of my favorite hobbies is playing the guitar. I’ve been playing for 10 years, and my interest has waxed and waned during that time. For the past two or so years, I’ve been at a plateau. There are hours of videos freely available, but rarely do I find one that teaches in a style that matches the way I prefer to learn. I did some research and finally bit the bullet and signed up for on-line coaching. It provides me access to dozens of instructors, more videos than I could ever watch, and web-conference “office-hours” three times a day.
I’ve improved more in three days than I have in the past three years, and the investment was minimal. I wish I had done it years ago. Despite being a motivated, lifelong self teacher, I needed a skilled coach to get me out of the rut.
If you’re in a rut, don’t wait two years to find some help getting out of it. That’s what the mentor program is for.
I met with a potential client this week to discuss their marketing challenges and strategy. They run an extensive direct-mail campaign and test their mailings carefully. The response rate they achieve is staggering; they are easily among the best I’ve ever seen.
Their other marketing channels however are very weak. I am typically a proponent of focusing and perfecting your strengths rather than focusing too much time and energy on remedial work, but in this case they are missing an opportunity.
Their questions centered around improving further still the response rate they were achieving with direct mail; they’re looking for the silver bullet that will reach the rest of their audience. The problem is, the rest of their audience is trashing the mail without ever opening it. The whole point of multi-channel marketing is that different people prefer to be communicated with in different ways. With the omnipresence of marketing messages around us, the only message that will sink in is the one placed where the potential customer is already looking.
The key is not to use the same message in every channel. A desired close for a direct mail campaign (a phone call, or perhaps a URL hit) may not be the same close for a pay-per-click ad or a whitepaper. One thing is for sure: a sure fire way to get a potential customer to move on is asking them to call you for more information. What works on a postcard probably won’t work on the internet.
Learning how to integrate your campaigns so customers can do business with you in any way they please is critical for reaching your potential. Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table.
Over the weekend I went to Foxwoods Casino. In one room, there was a set of glass doors with a large sign on each at eye level: “Emergency Exit. Alarm will sound.” I watched no fewer than 30 people aimlessly wander right through that door, setting off the alarm as promised. The security team was always nearby to shut the door and direct others away. For them, this was nothing new.
Many walk through life aimless and oblivious, in many cases because they are too preoccupied with their current interests. That sign could have said “Trap Door: Landmine will explode” and you’d have surely heard about it on the news. It’s one thing to make an honest mistake and learn from it. It’s another to make an oblivious mistake and not even realize you made it. That’s dangerous. I only saw one person turn around and seem startled by the alarm going off; the rest just continued gawking and continued down the hall.
That’s the problem with so many strategy retreats and exercises. All of the time and money is spent developing a strategy, and the expectation is that once it is communicated, everyone will move in that direction. The implementation is what makes or breaks the strategy. You may be moving towards the goal, but are you setting off alarms, triggering landmines, and making other mistakes along the way? Are you moving with purpose, and paying attention along the way?
There is one thing you should always ask for: what you want. If you don’t ask for it, your chances are very low that you’ll get it. While merely asking hardly guarantees success, it sure raises the odds.
You may have seen in the news recently a student from Vanderbilt asked Billy Joel (who was there for a forum and Q&A) if he could accompany him on the piano while Joel sang New York State of Mind. A bold request for sure, but after a few seconds of silence, Joel simply said “OK” and the student came up on stage.
The kid played a blistering piano and the duet worked really well. The crowd went wild, and at the end, he was given some high praise from his idol.
Tell me how else that college freshman was going to get the chance to play piano with and for Billy Joel. What was the worst that could have happened by asking? Everyone laughed? At least he tried. You should too.
Are you looking for a rock star for that critical position you had open up? Do you know what to look for in a candidate? Check out my position paper: The Anatomy of a Rock Star
The longer we’ve faced a particular challenge, the harder it is to look at it objectively. Try to look at a problem through the eyes of a child; someone who hasn’t been exposed to years of challenges, best-practices, and nuances of your business. The simplest approach is often the best. Newcomers are often afraid to ask these basic questions because they feel it will demonstrate inexperience; these are the best questions to ask!
I’m working with a company who’s facing a common challenge; every other company in the industry has the same issue. We’ve explored software packages, some of which very expensive, that have so many layers of detail and complexity that even a basic problem becomes a chore. An idea was proposed to dramatically reduce the complexity of the problem; a few simple spreadsheets could provide a reliable estimate that was fairly close to the complex process. The idea came from someone who wasn’t “in the trenches” and had an objective viewpoint. At first it was met with healthy skepticism.
With some experimentation, we’ve arrived at a tool which works in about 90% of the circumstances, and reduces effort by 90%. A 2-hour detailed analysis can now be estimated in 5 minutes, without that big of a drop in quality.
This approach is revolutionary within the industry, and it’s so simple. It took an outside perspective, a back-to-basics attitude, and some experimentation, but the results have been profound.
I read an article in Forbes recently entitled “Should Sales Own Customer Experience?“that I believe illustrates the problem with the customer experience of so many companies.
Any company discussing which department, team, or committee should “own” customer experience is bound to have hoards of unhappy customers. The customer experience is an organic relationship that is cultivated with every ad, commercial, website interaction, phone call, email, product trial, purchase experience, return, or referral. It is not a process to be managed. Delivering a positive customer experience is a cultural value, set at the highest levels of leadership and carried about by example through every layer of the company. The customer is not always right, but they should always be treated well and have their lives improved by interacting with you.
The article mentions that “[i]t’s never been clear who should take the leadership role in this new sector of customer experience.” That scares me. Customer experience is in fact “intensely cross-departmental,” but sales should never be “taking a leadership role” in the long-term customer experience. That’s a sign of impending failure and those companies need help immediately.
The leadership role in the apparently “new” sector of customer experience has never been in debate. The only effective and acceptable leader for such an important value is the C-Level team. Low-level jockeying for leadership is evidence of a pernicious leadership vacuum-sucking from the top.
I spoke with a prospect recently suffering from a problem I wish I saw more often. There were so many thought leaders in his organization and their subsidiaries that organizing all of the published material was problematic. New research was constantly being released, but older publications that had been improved upon or superseded were still being translated and promoted. Sure there are communication issues that need to be resolved, but the frequency with which they publish is to be commended.
How often are you turning your thoughts, techniques, research, and methods into intellectual property? Are you doing your best to be a thought leader? Are you close to having so many publications that you can no longer organize them effectively?
Get to it.
Employees are naturally innovative; their self-interest lies with solving workplace problems that impact them directly. In a perfect world, employee innovations are tested, improved upon, and supported by an IT or operations staff. Unfortunately, resources are often unavailable for such support and employees are left with a choice: maintain the solution themselves, or go back to a less efficient way of doing things.
These unsupported and often incomplete solutions are called shadow systems, and they can be very dangerous.
If management discourages the use of these shadow systems, they are thus discouraging innovation and deliberately asking their employees to be less efficient. This is demotivating and strips management of credibility. More often, managers encourage the use of shadow systems because they know that operations or IT resources won’t be forthcoming or that the procedure will be to odious to pursue.
For whichever reason shadow systems take hold, the danger persists. Because these systems are done without IT or operations support, they are never documented into process flowcharts or cataloged by software and hardware requirements. From that point on, every system upgrade has the potential to destroy shadow systems without notice. As employees switch roles, get promoted, or leave the company, support and knowledge of the system design grows scarce.
Eventually the system is embedded into company procedure, and no one knows how it was built, what decisions were made in the process, or how to fix it when it breaks. One prominent auto-maker nearly broke their VIN number generator when rolling out a company-wide system upgrade.
Be very careful when building and providing management support to shadow systems. Insist that even if operations or IT cannot be involved in building or supporting the systems, they document their existence and system requirements. If necessary, this issue must be escalated and dealt with properly.