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June 18, 2010

In And Out

Photography is a hobby of mine, something I have been doing for some time. Early in my career I was friends with a group up young twenty-somethings who had too much disposable income and as a result tended to travel more than the average person. These unmarried and upwardly mobile professionals would return from their exploits and proceed to throw a party. However, at the center of these parties was a slide production of their trip. Now, these were not your Uncle Fred’s slide show of his station wagon venture through the Smokey Mountains. These were the chronicles of action-packed adventures such as climbing K2, bobsledding at Lake Placid, running level 4 water on the Colorado, or back packing across Vietnam. Each show told a story and was highly entertaining, mixing in the local culture and offering a glimpse inside the travelers’ experiences. Plus, the photographic quality was high. Those parties changed the way I use a camera today.

Many folks take snap shots – kids, birthdays, vacation scenes, pets, the occasional sunset. You point, click, and the light sneaking through the lens is transformed into an image on film or onto a memory chip. The output is pretty easy to get these days. But most pictures get shot, looked at once, then packed away in a box or a CD and their value diminishes as they get further buried in the closet.

This phototechnic capture of our experiences seems a lot like how we also capture customer data. CRM technology has made the point and click pretty easy to make happen. We store a bit of information of our visit with the customer, look at it once, then store it away just like the overexposed snapshots from last year’s Halloween party. There is an obligation to shoot our guests as they arrive in costume, but we never really do anything with it. We shoot quickly and then get back to the party, putting in the minimum effort. Maybe you look over the snapshots when you download your camera, but you have to move on to the next event and the obligatory shots of your niece’s graduation.

Many of my clients have similar tendencies, asking for a little bit of sales activity to be captured, maybe a tad of information of who the customer is, but really, we don’t want our sales people to be admin folks – let’s have them sell, not enter data on their computer all day. After all, we won’t do anything with the data anyway, other than to monitor that a certain level of sales call activity is happening. Why would we want to put any more effort into it?

Watch Dog

I see this as a classic input / output situation. The value of the output is totally contingent on the value of the input and the ability to perform a transformation of the input to increase the output value. I can take 100 images with my camera of a visit to Bermuda, random shots of beaches, candids of my traveling companions, and the random historic building. But, if that is all I do, a view ingof those 100 images is going to be really boring. However, with a bit more input, I can make the output exponentially more appealing. If I decide I want to tell a story about the visit, I will look at things differently, I will see them differently. A sign that I would not have noticed helps deliver some of the message. A close up detail of an object when viewed after seeing a panorama of that object provides more insight. Capturing the activity of my traveling companion then adds yet even more insight. But the capture of the image is not the end. There also needs to be a transformation step before the output really has value. You need to sequence the images, edit them to remove distracting or poor images, and then make sure there is a start and a finish to the story. (Adding a soundtrack also creates an even more enjoyable output, should you be so inclined.)

We can do the same with our customer data. We can build our customer interaction processes to capture key customer information rather than ignore it – because we know what the output possibilities are and we expect more value from the input. We can also combine different data elements to become more valuable in their combination. A customer profile trait combined with a correlated activity helps to perform better targeting just like a sequence of images tells more of the story than a single shot. Having a sufficient amount of data input helps us to perform more transformation, but it is not just the analysis that is valuable. It is also the storage of the data in a central and accessible location that adds to the value. When a service issue is captured and a sales rep can view this prior to making a sales visit, this extra insight can be invaluable. This is similar to the value of shared photo sites. Grandma can access pictures of her grandkids with greater regularity because of the many sites for posting snapshots. The extra effort of loading the pics onto the shared site is far outweighed by the value Grandma experiences from viewing them.

Yet, there is a huge amount of resistance to putting effort into the input. Sales managers, for example, strive to minimize the effort their sales teams have to expend on this task. The problem with this is that they are actually acting rational in this case. If we don’t get much value from the output, why would we put much effort into the input? Let’s minimize that input to keep the balance correct.

That very logical sentiment is one of the primary drivers of CRM program sub-optimization. We need to focus on the output and the expectation of value. From there we need to further examine the transformation – are we building value with the data? If not, it may be that we need to examine the input – are we collecting and sharing the data sufficiently? All three elements of the input/transform/output equation must be in focus, but it really needs to start with the output. We need to make sure we know what value we are targeting, and we also need to know who is getting that value. Many times the data collector does not reap the benefits of the collection, which gets in the way of basic motivation to be a good collector.

So, the next time you have your camera out, think of the output as you are pointing and shooting.

Bho Dog Gone Wild

June 11, 2010

Mangrove in the Contact Center

If I were to start my career over tomorrow I would go back to my original plan as an 18 year old and follow through with my desire to be a marine biologist. And, should I actually graduate with that once intended degree, I would then go off and try to save the mangroves. Don’t read into this in any way that I am unhappy with my current career. It has been a really great ride and I have no regrets. But, for some reason I would change if given the chance to do it over. Maybe it has something to do with that visit last fall down to the University of Miami Marine Science campus on Key Biscayne over parents’ weekend.

I have helped plenty of companies in my quarter century of consulting, but I think the mangroves need the help even more. This ecosystem located along the tropical coasts of all of our continents serves an incredibly important role. It cleanses the water. Young fish are nurtured until ready for open water. The complexity of roots protects the coastline from erosion. And, when the meteorological feces hits the fan, the mangrove keeps the big storms from washing away the villages. It virtually serves as the lifeblood of the tropical coastline.

Until I get that opportunity to start over again, I guess I will have to settle with helping the organizational equivalent of the mangrove, which is the contact center. You might snicker at the analogy, but there are some significant parallels. The contact center is a critical organizational ecosystem and serves some very similar functions as its marine counterpart. First, their number one charter is all about cleansing customer issues. But, at the same time, they can nurture new customers until they are acclimated to their new product or service. They also protect the company from erosion – defending against customer turnover. And they likewise tend to be the first line of defense when the big storms come, such as recalls, bad publicity, or distribution problems.

Largo Sunset

Why do the mangroves need saving you ask? Well, there are a number of reasons but the biggest is that it takes up shore line that could otherwise be utilized for something else, such as shrimp farming or creating tourist friendly beach fronts. The problem is that the destruction of the mangrove is the same as the destruction of just about any critical ecosystem. There is a balance that each creates and their loss has impacts on the surrounding ecology. The service it performs is not performed by anything else when it is gone, and therefore problems develop, such as pollution, erosion, loss of fish stock, and less defense against catastrophic storms.

Biologists have been able to calculate the economic losses due to mangrove deforestation to far outweigh the benefits of replacing them with the short term economic gains of farming and tourism. It turns out to be all about the big picture versus the pursuit of quick returns.

This too is parallel with the situation in many contact centers. Pressure remains to squeeze their costs and use that funding for more attractive commercial pursuits. Yet, experts also continue to laud the merits of managing the customer experience as a means of protection from turnover. And the contact center can always be leveraged for other compatible pursuits such as upselling or lead qualification. Limiting the funding of the contact center is pretty much the equivalent to the destruction of the mangrove when it comes to economics. Yet it is hard to get the full picture to be sufficiently visible to everyone that matters.

One thing that has helped me personally to be more appreciative of this tropical ecosystem is to have spent some quality time within it. For example, I have had the opportunity to stay at resorts that harbor a mangrove barrier, which has enabled some up close exploration. Kayaking through a number of mangrove waterways has also been educating as well as totally enjoyable. This exposure has helped me understand it all better, and therefore pay more attention when the experts raise their warnings.

Maybe we could schedule some kayak trips for business execs to paddle through the contact center more than they do. Have them listen in on more calls. Encourage them to read some customer testimonial e-mails when a resolution to a difficult problem made a difference (and drives some loyalty). Exposure goes a long way. Hearing about the contact center in sterile business reviews conducted via spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides is no substitute for a kayak ride.

Go find some paddles and life jackets and take your senior team for a ride.

Mangrove Tunnel

June 04, 2010

What's On The Backside?

Do you remember being in the 7th grade, taking a math quiz, and being told by the teacher that you had to show your calculations, or other logic for deriving the answer, on the back of the quiz sheet in order to get full credit? What was up with that?

It wasn’t such a bad thing in the end. If you got the answer wrong, but your logic and calculations were sound, (perhaps a careless transposition error) you probably received most of the credit. On the other hand, if your logic was erroneous but you still got the answer right, you got little credit due to the fact that you did not really know what you were talking about. Ultimately it is not about the answer on the quiz, it is about the problem solving ability. If you didn’t understand how to solve the problem, uncovering this at the time of the quiz gave the teacher the opportunity to help set you straight before the final exam. Working the problem out on the back of the sheet was all for the purposes of coaching and guidance. It was truly in our best interest (even if we did not recognize it at the time).

Over the last few weeks I have been working with a couple of different clients on the standardization of the territory planning process. It has been interesting in that they are accepting this change to their sales force effectiveness methods very differently. One company really gets it and is embracing the need for a more disciplined approach to ensuring that every sales rep has a well thought out plan for making their number. The other company is resisting the idea and would rather skip the process and go straight into pushing the reps out onto the street to make their number.

In a meeting with the management team of the latter client, the whole thing about writing-down-the-problem-solving-on-the-back-of-the-quiz-sheet hit me. How do we know if the sales rep has a chance of getting the problem right on the final exam if we can’t tell if they really know how to solve it (by having visibility to the back of the quiz)?

In the former company of my example above, one district manager was so driven to improve territory planning that he believed it was a good idea to give full commission on achieving sales targets only if the sales rep can show in the plan how they will get there ahead of time. In other words, don’t rely on luck to make the quota, rely on the plan. I guess this is like playing billiards where you have to call the pocket in order to get credit for sinking the ball. Skill counts, luck does not. Perhaps this is acceptable when playing pool but maybe it is a bit extreme when compensating your sales team, but I really appreciate the sentiment greatly.


Let’s not rely on luck for achieving quota. Instead, how about if we show how we are going to work the math problem on the back of the quiz? A good territory plan examines each targeted account and carefully examines the potential revenue to be derived from that account to best project where revenue will be generated. The account projections are rolled up into a territory projection and the logic of solving the math problem is wondrously illustrated. Most important, if the logic does not add up – the fault of the problem solving is exposed. And, what is even more important than most important, this gives the sales manager and coach time to improve the situation before the final exam. We can examine the back of the quiz sheet to ensure that the problem solver is working with the right capabilities.

Why would you not want to have this seriously critical capability in place for your sales team? In my experience, opponents to a disciplined territory planning process are typically victims of their previous success. Companies that I support who have recently experienced escalating growth do not typically want to invest the time – the market vacuum they fill with their product does not need a plan. Rather, it needs a faster fulfillment process. But these conditions change as fast as the weather in New England. It may be that the discipline of territory planning is an unneeded drag on the progress of triple digit growth sales teams. However, as soon as your boon is over, you might want to consider the value of soundly illustrating where your success is based.

Yes, I think it is a good idea to show your calculation on the back of the quiz sheet. Is it because my mother was a math teacher? Maybe. But maybe it was also because sometimes I had a few flaws in my own logic and my instructors were enabled with the opportunity to coach me before it was too late. I believe firmly in the idea of sales manager as coach. If the problem solving is illustrated on the back of the quiz sheet (or perhaps in your CRM system) the coach will have a chance to guide before it is too late, that is, before the quarter closes.

For those of you with triple digit growth – you get a reprieve – don’t worry about territory planning. For the rest of us mere mortals, I recommend writing out the problem on the back of the sheet.

I hope you get an A+.