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January 23, 2009

Cats and Dogs

When I was a kid I made the observation that some people acted like cats and some people acted like dogs. Cat people were independent and maybe even a bit unreliable. Dog people were amazingly loyal and steadfast. You could really count on your dog friends, but there was something elusive about the cat friends, which was strangely appealing.
I still think about this categorization process from time to time. There are cat people and dog people in my life today. And, just like my actual feline and canine family members I appreciate what each brings to the relationship. It is great that cats can take care of themselves so well, but it is also great that a dog can make such a faithful companion.
The same set of characteristics that differentiate a Maine Coon from a Chesapeake Retriever also apply in the work place. Some are really good on their own and some need to belong. One dimension of this is related to the type of employment that is desirable. For example, for those of you who are facing the prospect of an impending layoff you may be pondering the opportunities provided by free lancing rather than looking for another employer.
For some the idea of being on one’s own is extremely appealing – no boss, no politics, no working for somebody else. For others this is terrifying – no security, no coworkers, no regular income. I think this is one of those dog and cat differences. Cats are going to be more comfortable on their own. Dogs are going to look for another place to join.
I have had the chance to work in both situations and I have discovered that I am definitely a dog – perhaps a German Shepherd, but with the desire to run with a pack. There are benefits in numbers. But I have friends who do better and are more comfortable running their own show. If you are not sure where you fall on the continuum it can be a risky experiment. However, if you do some self reflection and you come back with the feeling that going out as an independent consultant fits you, I strongly encourage it. If you get squeamish, it is probably better for you to be banging on the job boards.
Good luck with your decision.
Woof!

Friends

January 16, 2009

Keep It Tidy

You go out for an evening with a few other folks and everybody is in a good mood. The positivity is self reinforcing and you have a rocking time. The following week, even with the same friends, the results are different – somebody is in a sour mood and it brings down the whole group. We are amazingly impacted by the emotional condition of our companions.

I recently ran across a study that validated this phenomenon empirically. But, the surprising finding was that it is not just your circle of friends who influence your affect, but it is also individuals within the circles of friends of your friends, and the circles of friends of your friends’ friends that can also have an impact on you. Two or three degrees of separation and the impact on your emotional well being is still possible.
Apparently good moods and bad moods are viral.

This is certainly no secret within the customer facing business world. We have known for quite some time that a dissatisfied customer can go a long way in hurting the reputation of your business, potentially spreading their negative view to as many as 50 people. But the stakes are now higher with the advent of social networking. Negative views of your business can spread like the parvovirus on a cruise ship. Blog sites and the easy ability to capture and share opinions can turn that 50 people into 50,000 with the stroke of the enter button.
So, the question is, what are you doing about it?

Messy Steed

In the old days we ran customer satisfaction campaigns and either corrected problem areas or made offers to unhappy campers with free goods to buy back some happiness. This fundamental approach for feedback is still essential, but not sufficient. Feedback also needs to be incorporated into social networking.

There appear to be a number of alternatives for customer feedback 2.0 and the right set for your business will likely require some experimentation. My advice is to put an individual in charge of this who truly understands the process and power of social networking. You will need to be in the right blogs and will need to use the right hooks and they will differ based on your brand and your audience.

Hospitality and travel tries the hardest at soliciting my feedback. But I confess, I really don’t reply much to Hilton or Starwood when they send the unrelenting e-mails requesting input on my experience with their pillows. I am more reliable on ebay where I am a member and feel more accountable to provide feedback. I really like sites that include customer reviews of products or restaurants and I pay close attention to the critical comments. However, they are not enticing enough for me to put significant effort into providing input in return. It is a complicated situation.

Customer generated content is becoming the norm for our new world order. Control over that content may be elusive, but letting it happen without any intervention is not in your best interest. Best to do what is needed to put your best foot forward, especially if there has been a stumble.

Tidy Up

On that note, please feel encouraged to leave your views in the comments section provided on this site.

January 09, 2009

Turn The Channel

Did you hear about the layoffs today? Yes, those layoffs – and those were on top of the layoffs yesterday! What has really been shocking me recently aren’t the numbers, 35,000 announced one day, while 20,000 were announced the day before. No, what has captured my attention is the huge percentage of sales professionals involved in those numbers. What is going on here? Don’t we need to sell our way out of this mess?

Evidently not.

At first I was surprised by the bloodletting within the business development ranks. Clients of mine were cutting loose their sales folks at the same time we were working to improve the effectiveness of the workforce. However, there is some sanity behind this apparent madness. While I am not a fan of the concept of downsizing, there are many organizations that have the wrong coverage model with too many expensive sales execs deployed to visit the wrong segment of accounts.

Many businesses could reduce their cost of sales by deploying less costly channels against segments that don’t demand high-powered sales teams. Serving the lower end of the SMB may be fine with a tele-channel. Serving the long-tail segment of accounts - small spenders, infrequent spenders, and those in low-density territories – may be best served over a web channel. That segment in the middle with a low spend but a reasonable potential should be targeted by a marketing channel to soften and identify likely prospects.

Doggone

If you are concerned that your SG&A is going to put you at risk during this next downturn you may want to examine your coverage model. This begins with a revisit of your segments. Many organizations that I work with are strictly geography based – use a red marker on the map, carve up the territories to even out the load, and you have yourself a coverage plan. But this is a bad strategy in many situations. This will ensure that every sales rep has a portion of dog accounts that they are required to visit. Worse, those accounts that are easy to reach or are friendly to sales visits will get an unjust amount of love and attention, even if they don’t produce the goods.

Just because an account is harder to penetrate does not mean it does not warrant attention. Unfortunately the geography only based coverage model guarantees that those accounts get way less love than the friendly ones.
This is why segmentation is so critical. Give the accounts that will yield riches from face to face visits to your expensive field force. But give the dogs to the channel that is better with raising pets. Some of the dogs need campaign nurturing. Some of them just need a phone call when they are ready. Others will find you if you make sure they know your URL and it is easy to work with.

Once you strip away all those canine accounts, the territories could get a bit bigger – less red lines dissecting the map. Don’t fill the open recs and don’t panic when Fred retires in March (just make sure he has his contacts up to date). You will be able to get by with less reps if you think this through.

Don’t forget to feed the puppies.

January 02, 2009

Can Your Phone Do This

The i-phone is becoming an irritation.

In the middle of a recent conversation, my friend stops me mid-sentence and says, “hey, can your phone do this?” He then navigates to an application that turns his screen into a mug of beer. He tilts the phone, as if quaffing the lager, the pale yellow liquid disappearing from the screen, virtually sliding down his throat. Less taste and less filling.

Why does a phone have to do that?

Please do not misunderstand. I think it is great that I can send an e-mail, get a map, and check my calendar in addition to making a call. My crackberry addiction is as bad as the next person. But, I think there is a bigger issue when the desire to have the phone is based on a bunch of gadgetry that is no longer connected to the purpose of the device – communication and productive connectedness. It does not really hurt anything when you have the ability to turn your phone into a virtual pint of ale, but at some point we cross a line and the desire for the gadgetry gets in the way.

Beer Phone

This is a more serious issue in the world of CRM. Beginning in the late 90’s many IT functions bought CRM because of the appeal of the gadgetry. The business did not ask for it – they were happy with their spreadsheets. CRM software had such a great promise – use technology to increase efficiency and drive more business. And look at the stuff it can do - we can’t run our business successfully without this great dashboard.

Frequently I will get asked by a prospective client to help make the CRM tool do more – “what can we do to get the folks in the field to better use this great tool we bought for them?” What is really being asked is, how can we change people to fit better with what this technology can do? This is the wrong question.

If you bought a CRM package and you wish you could convince your organization to use it more effectively, you would be better served to ask the question differently: what can we do to have this tool better serve what the business needs?

This is an easy trap to fall into. You make a big investment, putting your neck on the line. You are measured on whether the investment pays off and whether it actually works or is even being used. No wonder it becomes the center of your focus. It does not make you a bad person. Just make the tool satisfy the business and not the other way around.

Hey, there is some music coming out of the pocket in my jacket! Oh, I think my phone is trying to tell me that the beer is cold now.