Posts filed under ‘Leadership & Management’

Secrets to my success

Throughout my career, I have worked hard, gotten lucky, and been blessed on many occasions. I have worked for large and small companies, had both wonderful and horrible bosses, and managed some pretty incredible people. No matter the circumstances, industry, work environment, or financial position, there are three guiding principles I have developed that have served me well. Call them secrets to my success, undeniable truths of the working world, or common sense; either way, I live by these principles every day, and you can benefit from them, too.

  1. Document everything. You have absolutely no idea how many times I’ve save my own keister by making sure I have everything in writing. So many of our colleagues rely on in-person conversations and phone calls to get the job done. I do the same thing, but I always follow up “offline” conversations with “online” documentation of the conversations. The best way to capture the information is by sending an email with the conversation highlights. Not only is it “on the record,” but it’s also time stamped. As we’ve discussed before, adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it, so sometimes when the pressure is on some people like to throw others under the bus. If you happen to be the unlucky recipient of that behavior, you can get in a lot of trouble if you can’t back up what you know is correct. Document, document, document.
  2. Assume nothing. Never assume your colleagues instinctually understand what you’re saying. Also never assume they have the same level of knowledge on a subject as you do. Don’t be afraid to “take it from the top” and give your coworkers full context on a subject, project, or initiative. Most people love the recap, even if they’ve been involved from the beginning, and it helps to level-set the expectation of those who may be coming late into the conversation. You can give a full recap in just a few minutes, and it helps to make you look like the thought leader. The downstream benefits are infinitely higher than the minor effort required on the front end.
  3. Think like a lawyer. This goes hand-in-hand with the “document everything” axiom. I’ve worked for several companies that are either highly regulated and/or have undergone intense government scrutiny. These experiences have given me a very unique perspective on how to act, react, respond, and communicate. The casual email or IM you send to your pal in accounting may very well turn up in your HR file in the future, through no fault of your own. The phone call you fielded from a reporter, where you provided some informal comments you assumed were off the record (remember to assume nothing) can end up on the home page of Fox News the very next day. Talking trash about your boss to a trusted colleague could be accidentally overheard by someone else and cost you your job. WWLD: What Would Legal Do?

These sound simple enough, but you’ll find they are actually quite difficult to incorporate into your everyday working life. Take the time and effort, and you will not be sorry. You can trust me on this. (This is the only time I will encourage you to ignore the “assume nothing” axiom.)

October 4, 2011 at 8:27 pm Leave a comment

Why I am dropping Bank of America

We spoke last week about Netflix’s disastrous decision to raise service fees so they could put the needs of their stockholders over the needs of their customers. History will prove this was a dramatic turning point for an industry-leading, well-regarded company with brand loyalty that rivaled Apple.

Bank of America has decided to take a similar swan dive with their customers by charging a $5 monthly fee when B of A customers use their debit card. Seriously?  The same company that gladly accepted $45 billion in taxpayer bailout money in 2009 has decided to reward millions of those people by making them pay to access their own money. Like Netflix, there is an assumption that people will still continue to use the service at the same rate, only now the company will be able to collect fees from the activity. Spoiler Alert: not only will millions of B of A customers no longer use their ATMs, but millions more will also decide to take their hard-earned money elsewhere. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to realize that’s exactly what is going to happen.

I have been a Bank of America customer for almost 20 years, but that will soon come to an end. Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. When the chips are down and a company decides to punish the very customers who gave them success, they no longer deserve my loyalty or my money.

Close your eyes and listen carefully… do you hear that? That’s the giant sucking sound of millions of customers walking away.

October 3, 2011 at 8:13 am Leave a comment

Raising fees will decrease revenue, not raise it

For those of you familiar with this column, you know I’m not the brightest guy in the world. However, I have learned a few things along the way. One lesson in particular that stuck in my head was the understanding that increasing the cost of an activity will decrease the number of people engaged in that activity. Another thing I’ve learned is that when you piss off people, it’s really hard to unpiss them. Who’s learned this lately? Our friends at Netflix.

Most of you know that Netflix recently raised their rates as much as 60% on their customers, all with the intention of providing a better experience and improved service. I’m not really sure how you can reward your loyal customers by raising prices, but perhaps the folks at Netflix are just smarter than I am. Then again, perhaps they are not. As a consequence of their careless decision to punish their customers, they have also managed to piss them off. The results are accordingly predictable:

  • Since announcing the price increase, Netflix has lost or will lose as many as 2 million customers.
  • Although the price hike was intended to accommodate the needs of its shareholders, who demanded higher stock prices, Netflix stock has dropped 50% over the past month and 65% since it’s all-time high in mid-July.
  • The rosiest estimate shows that Netflix’s profit increase as a result of the price increase will be… exactly zero.
  • At the same time, Netflix has been eviscerated in the press and by its customer base. Almost all goodwill and loyalty has forever evaporated, and its competitors are salivating at the chance to topple the big dog.

That’s a lot of bad things for absolutely no payoff. I’m sure if executive management had the chance to do it again, they would have reconsidered such a fatal decision, but unfortunately it’s too late. You can’t unring a bell, put the toothpaste back in the tube, or unpiss off your customers.

Take care of your customers, or they will take care of you, one way or the other.

September 29, 2011 at 9:09 pm Leave a comment

All news is not good news

Have you heard of the expression “all news is good news”? In a nutshell, it’s a school of thought about promotion contending that, no matter what is written about you, as long as you’re being written about, it’s a good thing. Is this true?

Not even close.

In the old days (like 10 years ago), this may have been a more accurate adage, considering that most people still got their news from traditional sources like newspapers, radio, and TV. Today, with the bewildering amount of information choices, everybody has a voice, and everyone is their own network. Heck, even a chucklehead like me can have a forum and an audience for all of my mundane thoughts.

With all of these sources, it’s easy for a company to get a lot of bad press, especially if they create a poor product or don’t utilize marketing/PR. A popular blog can influence a devoted follower, who happens to be the director of a TV show, who suddenly pumps it out to millions of people. Problem is, a huge portion of the new media sources are unreliable, biased, and potentially untrue. If someone’s got an axe to grind against you, they can’t generate a lot of ink, but none of it may be good. That’s a problem. Another pitfall occurs if you try to control the message by either generating your own content and creating a corporate shill, or by moderating others on your company blog. People don’t like the idea of having their thoughts policed, and will inevitably lash out against you and your company.

So what can you do to a) get good ink, and b) avoid bad ink? Answer: not much. Just kidding. You can keep the good ahead of the bad by treating your constituents right: produce a quality product, engage in honorable business practices, provide a quality experience, maintain your professionalism, and constantly dazzle your customers. You can also build and maintain friendly relations with people in the press and blogosphere, creating allies that are willing to say good things about you.

If you like my advice, feel free to spread the good word with one of the bookmarks below. Spread the love, spread the love.

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August 20, 2009 at 10:12 pm Leave a comment

Your business’ secret to success: do one thing and do it right

Colonel Sanders was a master of business. He took a product that virtually everyone in the south made for themselves — fried chicken — and decided to sell his own version. The Kentucky Colonel outfit, the secret recipe, the bucket, and his self-promotion all contributed to his uniqueness and aura. However, his true secret to success was a simple philosophy: do one thing and do it right. He made better fried chicken than anyone else, and he focused all his efforts on building the business around his flagship product. His plan was to start small, gain a reputation, and establish a toehold in his local Kentucky community. From there, he wanted to conquer the fried chicken world, and use his market dominance as a springboard for other complementary products. Of course, we all know the rest of the story; his plan worked to perfection and the chicken industry has never been the same.

What’s the lesson that other companies can learn from the Colonel? Determine what your biggest strength is and focus your efforts on that. Perfect your product/service, establish a great reputation, use your revenues to invest in the company, and build your empire. Many companies try to become jacks-of-all-trades, but instead become masters-of-none. This mistake goes back to a previous discussion about market sizing vs. market segementation. It’s better to dominate a small market and branch out into other markets in time, rather than become a bit player in a larger, more competitive market. This approach will focus your internal resources in the places that maximize your profit potential, put your marketing communications plan on a path towards great success, and send a message to competitors that you have your priorities straight.

Don’t let the goatee fool you… Colonel Sanders was a brilliant businessman and a master marketer. Now go out there, focus on the one thing at which you’re best, and fry the competition!

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June 22, 2009 at 12:23 am 1 comment

Boost your customer base by lowering, not raising, prices

This is a tough time for most business. Many companies are losing a lot of customers and having trouble meeting revenue commitments outlined in their 2009 budgets, which are usually created in the previous fall season. This is happening, of course, because most people did not realize that the economy would fall into recession in 2009. Executive management teams are meeting in their boardrooms every single day, trying to figure out what to do to stabilize customer retention. Chances are good that two prevailing schools of thought are being bandied about:

  • School Of Thought #1: Since we are currently losing customers very quickly, we need to make up for that shortfall by reducing costs (which has probably already been done), while at the same time increasing our prices in order to achieve more revenue per customer. If we have lost 10% of our customers, and raise our prices 10%, we could probably close the revenue gap.
  • School Of Thought #2: We’ve lost several customers during the first half of the year, and we need to focus on keeping those customers while obtaining a few new ones. Along with reducing our costs (which has probably already been done) we need to reduce our prices, providing an incentive for current customers to stay with us and encouraging prospects to become customers.

As a marketer and ardent capitalist, I believe in School Of Thought #2. It looks at the marketplace as a non-finite tub of potential revenue, even during recessionary times. It also views an increase in price as a form of taxation on current customers, which is a bad idea during good economic times and an even worse idea now. I’ve seen many struggling companies adopt School Of Thought #1, only to see them descend into a business death sprial. As customers balk at higher prices and bail out, this leaves an even smaller customer base to provide the revenue stream necessary to maintain operations. The cycle of higher prices and fewer customers seals a company’s fate and failure becomes inevitable.

From a marketing perspective, it’s an even tougher sell. We’re always looking for unique selling propositions (USPs) and differentiators, and I’ve found that raising prices kills off great marketing each and every time. It poisons the fragile relationship with the customer, leaving them bitter and resentful. Another aspect to consider is the fact that, nowadays, customers don’t go away quietly. They use social networking and forums to voice their displeasure, and most of the time it ain’t pretty.

Before you pull the pricing lever, be sure you’ve fully analyzed your pricing model and exhausted other options. After all, if you make the wrong decision, it may be you that ends up paying the price.

(If you need help with pricing, or you have other marketing needs, contact me at Aximum Marketing. I’ll be happy to help.)

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June 17, 2009 at 11:19 pm 2 comments

Capitalize on your brand equity to gain market share

Frank Sinatra had a Vegas-inspired song called “Luck Be A Lady.” One of the lines in the song is:

“Stick with me, baby, I’m the guy that you came in with.”

In many ways, marketing is like Lady Luck that ol’ Blue Eyes is singing about, especially when it comes to branding. This is one of the trickier subjects to explain to someone new to marketing. In a nutshell, branding is the sum total of experiences and perceptions that a company has with its customers, competitors, and marketplace. The tactical elements of marketing — websites, brochures, advertising, etc. — are physical manifestations of branding. There’s also something called brand equity, which is not only a perceived value of a brand, but it can also be a tangible value. In fact, many organizations carry their brand as an asset on their balance sheets, with an actual dollar amount attached to it. Google has the highest brand value in the world, which is estimated to be worth more than $100 Billion. Software giant Microsoft has the second highest rated brand in the world, worth over $76 Billion.

There’s a reason why I mention these two examples together. You’ve undoubtedly noticed the “Bing” logo at the top of the entry. You may also be asking yourself, “what the hell is Bing?” As it turns out, Bing is the newest incarnation of Microsoft’s search engine, renamed from Windows Live Search. In my opinion, Microsoft made a big mistake and squandered a golden opportunity. They took one of the most high-profile aspects of the Internet (search engines), went up against the 800-pound gorilla, and didn’t take advantage of the Microsoft brand equity. Even worse, when you go to the Bing home page, the Microsoft name is nowhere to be found, so they can’t springboard their new brand off the established Microsoft name. How can you realistically pit a $100 Billion brand against a brand with zero equity? Frankly, you can’t. Microsoft doomed Bing to the ash heap of history before it even launched, just like another one of their infamous failures. The rest is just an exercise in futility.

What’s the lesson here? The Microsoft branding team should have told the Bing team, “stick with me, baby, I’m the guy that you came in with.” The only thing left is a roll of the dice and the hope that Lady Luck is on their side. I wouldn’t bet on it.

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June 15, 2009 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

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