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December 26, 2008

The Year of Change

This time of year we see a lot of top 10 lists for this or that topic as a way of wrapping up the previous 12 months. One list I ran across – the top 10 buzzwords for the year – found the word “change” as the number one for 2008.

This is all very exciting stuff for me, as my lifelong career focus has been on managing organizational changes. Of course, the authors of this list were not thinking about organizational change management, they were thinking about political change, economic change and hopefully a change in the attitude of the rest of the planet toward our nation.

On the other hand, it is all the same thing. Organizations are social systems, just on a smaller scale than countries. I suspect that all of the same forces that are creating change here in the states (and in many countries across the planet) are also creating change within a majority of companies across the globe. You have a choice about these change – be a victim and accept what ever the change hands you, or take a stance and prepare to manage and guide events in a constructive fashion.

When it comes to managing and planning organizational changes, I use a fairly simple methodology to assist my clients to deal with changes effectively – utilizing the following four basic stages:

Plan – define the target end state and identify the actions to mitigate resistance
Communicate – provide a strong sense of direction and regular updates on progress
Enable – ensure that the necessary resources are available to complete the change
Reinforce – utilize mechanisms to reaffirm incremental changes and reward successful accomplishment

Bough Tricolore

While this approach may appear simplistic I am constantly surprised at how seldom these stages are followed correctly when organizations attempt changes without the requisite attention to change management. It is not rocket science, but it does require effort.

I am not one for prognostication, but I suspect 2009 will be a year where we begin to see the ramifications of change that were initiated in 2008. Certainly some are going to be tough to get through, but I also look forward to some positive changes as well. If you are looking for a New Years Resolution, I have one to offer. Be proactive with change management this year – your business will benefit from this resolution should you have the gumption to see it through.

Wishing everyone a prosperous and peaceful 2009!

December 19, 2008

List Management

Frosty Morning After

We all have our little irritations with the holidays, and while I do get pretty turned off with those Christmas decorations that creep into the stores right after Halloween, a bigger irritation is when Christmas cards start arriving in my mailbox at Thanksgiving. So, you are probably wondering why that is such a problem for me and you are thinking that what is really going on is that I am jealous. If you are thinking that you would be right.

How can you get your cards out six weeks early? These folks that are working on their cards in mid-November are organized. They have selected a perfect picture of their children in October. They have them printed by November 1st. They have even written that annual summary of family accomplishments two months before the year is finished. But, most importantly, they have a list. In one place, all of the targeted recipients of that synopsis and snap shot are assembled. The addresses are ready to be placed onto envelopes with an assembly line of efficiency.

I had a co-worker back in the 80’s who was two decades ahead of his time. He decided that he was going to re-think the whole holiday card thing. Rather than do the traditional picture and letter stuffed in a mass-produced card,. he converted it all to e-mail. It was a thing of beauty. He had a distribution list that would be updated over the course of the year. One night in December he would pen a poignant story and then press a button and his burden was over. The savings of postage and printing were donated to a local charity.

Today, this does not seem like much, but in 1985 it was pushing the envelope. Of course much has changed since then. Lots of folks are putting up their holiday pics and letter on Facebook or creating a goofy holiday podcast posted on YouTube. I still do things the old fashioned way and use the US Postal Service. But, the good news is that my list is getting better – at least I have the addresses stored electronically. I could print onto labels and move closer to that assembly line approach. But I keep it hand written for now.

What surprises me is that I still have clients struggling with lists. One customer recently built a good portion of their CRM business case on the notion that it would allow them to more efficiently produce their holiday card mailing. The good news is that they can do mailings now with great ease, including their recent holiday greeting card. This is somewhat of an extreme case, but I do think it illustrates how fundamental effective management of customer contact information is to a successful CRM program.

If you have purchased software to automate marketing campaigns, sales activity, and service interactions, but you have not put in the effort at getting your customer data in order, you are totally sub-optimizing your investment. So, it is critical that CRM programs do the basics well first, including getting customer data in a state that enables all that expensive technology to perform. If you do, you will be able to get your holiday mailing out in November as well.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Focus on Lights

PS: I don’t have my Christmas cards in the mail yet.

December 12, 2008

Bail Me Out

I am not going to take one side or the other on the topic of bailing out Detroit. There are strong arguments on both sides. On the other hand, we don’t see the NFL stepping in and handing the Lions free checkmarks to place in their win column.

What I find more fascinating is all the writing out there now about the failures of the collective management within the big three of the American auto industry. The list of things that they seem to be doing wrong appears to be endless. It appears that the problem might be boiled down to an unwillingness to make fundamental changes. They needed to transform their organizations to be competitive, but they were not up to the task.

Based on what I have read it may be that there was significant effort put into blocking change. At the heart of the problem is a legacy that may have been handed down to the industry by that Detroit paternal figure, Henry Ford. We have been told that the whole assembly line thing included a catch - Henry is accused of delcaring that the customer can have any color car they want as long as it is black.

Detroit was tooled up to crank out cars and that is what they did, whether the customer wanted them or not. In the beginning it was black. In the 70’s it was junk. Most recently it has been large and thirsty. Somehow other countries seem to be better at targeting what the American consumer demands and the current results provide the moral to the story.

Lost Cause

Our automobile manufactures are not the first to find themselves in this predicament. My second job as a professional was at a place called Digital Equipment Corporation. At the time it was the world’s #2 computer company. Ironically my first job was with the world’s #1 computer company, but, it is the story of #2 that is more interesting. In the 1980’s we were riding an amazing wave of success. Ken Olson, the founder and Chairman, was named by Forbes as the most successful entrepreneur ever. Then something happened and the industry took a right angle turn.

What changed was the introduction of the personal computer and an operating system called Windows. However, Ken Olson believed it all to be a fad – he would wait out the temporary changes and the computing world would eventually return to its senses. Seemingly overnight my stock options went from $199 to $1.99. It was a devastating crash. And, with the exception of a few skeletons inside of HP and Oracle, the company today is gone (with no Washington bail out either).

Ken Olson refused to change. He would not accept that his customers wanted personal computers. He knew what they needed and his better judgment would prevail. In the end 130,000 employees had to find jobs.

If nothing else, paying attention to your customers and building your organization to satisfy their requirements, should be at the core of your CRM strategy. This is your best approach to avoid a trip to Washington and asking for your bail out.

December 05, 2008

When is an Opportunity not an Opportunity?

If a lead lands in the forest but there is nobody there to hear it, does it still make a sound?

Old Tree

Let’s try a different approach. If you get a lead that comes from a prospective new customer – they have expressed an interest in a product or service – that becomes an opportunity once qualified, right? Now, if perhaps through the same demand generation process a lead comes in from an installed account – an existing customer expresses new interest in a product or service – that also becomes an opportunity, once qualified, right again?

For those of you that answered, “wrong”, to the second question I confess I am baffled.

Lately, a lot of the work I have been engaged with clients has been focusing on lead management, especially the process of moving leads into the opportunity pipeline for the sales function. Over the last several months I have encountered some organizations that don’t like to include installed accounts in their opportunity pipeline – they want to treat them differently.

So, I confess, as I am confused by this. Why is an installed opportunity different from a prospective account opportunity? Oh, you might say that because there is a different sales force assigned to each, then we need to treat the leads differently. Hardly. The opportunity pipeline is the opportunity pipeline.

If we don’t afford the same attention to leads coming from existing customers we run the risk of letting those leads disappear through cracks in the process. They are potentially viewed as less important, or the process controls do not extend to these leads and they can silently vanish because of inattention.

An opportunity for new business is an opportunity for new business whether new or old. The processes we build, the methods we follow, and the technology we used to enable each must manage all the leads and not give second class treatment to those from a friendly old customer.

If for no other reason, keep the process consistent so you don’t screw up your forecast. Opportunities that come from existing accounts are measured in the same currency as new accounts – why make your forecast complicated?

Consider this posting as a declaration for equal opportunity marketing.