Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Why You Gotta Lie?

A buddy of mine, a prominent and successful sales guy, shares a story:

A successful and respected executive and long time customer calls him and asks him for a deal on his product, claiming it's for business use.  He gives her a great price.   A GREAT price that only her influence as an executive in a huge company could get.  It doesn't take him long to learn that she has used her connections to help a personal friend get a corporate price on a personal purchase.  There's no business connection whatsoever.

I asked him what kind of deal she'd have got if she'd just been up front about it.  It turns out he would have offered her if not the exact same deal, a very good deal.   

He forgives her; my buddy is a Catholic businessman who walks the talk.  He just doesn't trust her, quite another issue.

People lie for only two reasons: they're embarrassed by the truth or they're afraid of the consequences of telling the truth.

Either way, that's no way for grown ups to live.  It's certainly no way to treat a friend.  It's no way to do business.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Meet the New Boss

A guy once faced a predicament in his career.  Shortly into a new position, he found himself reporting to a guy whom he had once fired in another organization. 

"Aren't you worried about reporting to me, considering what happened before?" asks newly promoted to his former boss, now his subordinate.  The first shot is fired, but at least it's out in the open.  Frankly, my friend was pretty impressed with his apprentice, 10 years his junior.

"No," he responds. 

"Why not?" asks the new boss.  "I would be."  And my friend laid it all on the line at that very moment. 

"Because I raised you right," he says bluntly, having chosen his words deliberately, "and I know you'll do the right thing."  He's not known for beating around the bush. 

Condescending?  Not at all.  Stupid?  It didn't turn out to be.

If we've treated people with integrity, empathy and respect we have every right to expect it back no matter where we are in the corporate hierarchy.

What goes around inevitably comes around.  We shouldn't have to duck when it does.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Raise Your Right Hand

I know a sales guy who has worked his way on to the agenda of almost every orientation session at his rather large company.  They produce experiences, and most new associates wouldn't even think they'd need a sales guy whose only job is to sell the world renowned memories they make.  Sales guy will work sales missions around orientations just to be available to spend a few minutes with the newest members of the team.

He tells them what he does, and then gives them the tour and sells them on the value of what they'll be doing.  He answers all questions openly.  He does such a thorough job that most employees aspire to be customers themselves, and this is not an inexpensive proposition.  But sales guy wants their friends, family and neighbours to be customers too, and he wants referrals.  So he asks the new folks to raise their right hands.

"I now deputize you as official sales people at XX company," he solemnly intones.  It always gets a laugh.  Some of these people will never come face to face with a customer, and others will have contact daily.  Even an overnight janitor is deputized.

"You are all now officially part of the sales team," he says.  "If you meet someone who you think could benefit from what we do here, let me know.  You don't have to remember my name, just remember there's a guy here who does what I do.  All you have to do is call the company switchboard and ask for that sales guy.  They know how to find me."

Not only do most of his coworkers remember his name, but he gets some pretty decent referrals that have lead to some amazing business for the company.

Everyone sells.  Some of us just do it for a living.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

My Own Private Logan's Run

I took a survey with Starbucks today.  Starbucks is my favourite coffee place.  Starbucks makes me feel young, with-it, wanted and dare I say it?  Cool.

All the cool kids order fancy frappas and cappas while I just have a java, which they serve to me promptly without the need of expert preparation from the goth barista, but they don't treat me any differently from the dot-com millionaires and i-Pad toting skinny jeaners waiting for their frothy consumable investments, and I appreciate that.  Sometimes I'll ask the Starbuckian to wait 3 minutes and then call my name as if I ordered something expensive, just so I can stand and mingle with the youthful ubers.  They pretend not to notice that I'm wearing a suit and using a BlackBerry, or that I've shaved my face today and had a shower this week, which I appreciate.  I pretend not to notice they can't all be child millionaires.

Today I took the Starbucks survey after a pleasant visit yesterday, and I was asked to provide my age by range.  Today was the first time I ever took a survey where I was in the top box.  Today I checked the box that said 50+.  Not 45-55 like everywhere else, with at least another one or two categories still to live for.  50+.  No sense worrying how much or little over the age of fifty this geezer may be.  I'll probably be grouped in the "who cares?" section of the analysis.

I'm not sure what to make of it.  Is my next stop the carousel, like in Logan's Run where everybody over the age of 30 went for a short ecstatic flight before being zapped?  Unless they ran.  Logan ran.  I'm not fond of the way he offed Farah Fawcett on the way to his freedom, for the record. (Don't know what I'm going on about?  Look it up, you latte slurping punks. No offense.)

But I'm not complaining.  I also top boxed the income but the frankly bar is set pretty low.  I tell you, they'll let anyone in that place.  It calls to mind the words of Groucho Marx; (seriously, look it up kids)

"I would never join any club that would have me as a member" 

Maybe it's time to make my run.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Brief Lesson in Front Line Marketing

Absolutely brilliant!  An advertisement on the sports channel for free underwear, this weekend only!  All you have to do is go in, try a pair on, and keep 'em.  I dropped my afternoon yardwork project and headed over to the mall.

Awesome Sales Team!
Comparing notes with a colleague who got his free pair at a different location, the sales people did an awesome job of upselling, inviting us back, doing the feature benefit benefit overview, and making us feel comfortable in what was a definitely uncomfortable situation ("hi, I'm here for my free underwear!").   I was so impressed I purchased some other essential menswear while I was there. And by the way, the underwear are very comfortable.

And then...
A friend tells another story.  When he went in the sales team had no desire to see another mooch in for a freebie, and he ended up leaving the store without anything.  In his case the corporation spent a whole lot of money just to piss him off because the store team didn't deliver.  Pissed me off too, actually, since I endorsed the promotion.

It could happen in any of our operations.  A brilliant concept brilliantly executed, or not.  Here's a few tips to avoid front line let down.
  1. Buy in.  If we load too many promotions on our front line team, they grow weary.  They forget exactly what is the "promo de jour", see no value in mentioning it, or openly rebel against yet another added step that they see as getting in the way of their "real" jobs.  It's our job as managers to believe in it ourselves, demonstrate the value to the company and to themselves, and address any concerns - real or imagined.  And then we make it happen and follow up like crazy to encourage the right behaviour.  Lead the charge!  Make it fun!  Be visible and positive.
  2. State the goal.  There's nothing wrong with the brains at HQ telling the front line staff that the reason they are promoting X brand underwear is because a) we're doing a deal with X brand, b) the underwear really is good and supports our brand positioning and c) it will bring in new customers who will be back once they discover the other cool things we sell.  I'm not saying this didn't happen here, but I know it hasn't always in my work experience.
  3. Communicate!  It's damned embarrassing when the customer says "I saw your ad" and you have NO clue what they're talking about.  Sometimes it's our fault for not paying attention to the corporate communications, and many times that's because of overload, or because of a failure to communicate.
  4. Simplify it.  It was simple - try on a pair of underwear and leave with them.  Period.  One per customer.  Easy.
  5. Ease up.  I didn't have to actually try on the underwear.  Instead the salespeople spent that time telling me about the quality, and showing me where in the store I could find them when I came back for more.  Nicely done!  If we make the rules too cumbersome or overly complicated, our front line team will just avoid the whole thing in frustration.  No one wins.
  6. Listen.  Encourage open feedback from every member of the team.  It can be done anonymously, in a round table or even by electronic survey.  A few questions are all you need to ask - what worked, what didn't work, what did you hear from the customers, what would you change? 
  7. Act.  Once we know you're listening to us, up there in the ivory tower, we'll buy in to the next promo, we'll forgive you a few small missteps, and we'll be enthusiastic the next time something innovative and fun comes along.
And just fyi, they were Denver Hayes with Dri-Weave and the company was Mark's Work Warehouse and I also bought a really very nice tie which gets many compliments.  Bet you didn't know they sell ties, too.

Mission accomplished, Mark's!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

To the Non-Swimmers...

My mother-in-law knows only one joke.  More accurately, she has told only one joke that I remember, and it is so funny that she need never tell another.  It's about the German airliner, Lufthansa, and a plane that gets ditched into the Atlantic Ocean.  If you're old enough, imagine this in Sgt. Shultz's voice.  The pilot, in my mother-in-law's perfectly overblown but completely authentic German accent, instructs the "schvimmers" (swimmers) to deplane onto the right wing, and the "non-schvimmers" to deplane to the left wing.  He then stands on the fuselage and instructs the swimmers on the right wing to head towards Iceland.  "To the schvimmers, dot vay is Izeland.  Gut luck!"  He turns and salutes the remaining passengers and delivers the punchline.  "To the non-schvimmers, tank you for flyink Lufthansa!"

It's beautiful because it encapsulates the impression we have of Germans as being, shall we say, a little cut and dry.  Delivered in her impression of an authoritarian pilot with a heavy German English accent, my mother-in-law has us on the floor laughing before she even gets to the punchline, no matter how many times we've heard her tell it.  And finally, the "thank you for flying Lufthansa!" is a perfect a combination of procedural politeness and brutal dismissal.  It's the unexpected punchline that makes a joke worthwhile.

Somewhere in that is a lesson for all of us who hear unreasonable complaints, and however rare that is, they do happen.  When it becomes apparent that nothing we can do will remedy the situation and the customer will forever unreasonably hold us responsible (they're non-swimmers in an ocean of reasonable expectations and good manners), it wouldn't hurt to put a smile on our face and end the conversation politely, thank the customer for their patronage, wish them well, and then start swimming for Iceland. 

It also helps me to hear my mother-in-law's voice in my head dismissing the non-swimmers because, in truth and through no fault of the organization, there's just nothing else that can be done to please them.  It always brings a smile to my face just exactly when I need it most.

Thank you for flying Lufthansa.