When I was at Merrill Lynch, I kept a sign above my desk that read: “Don’t confuse brains with a bull market.” This meant that more often that not, if I made a recommendation that worked out great, it didn’t mean I was brilliant.
I’m reminded of this every time I look at a typical business or sales and marketing plan. These documents, which take a tremendous amount of time and effort to write, often, do a great disservice to the authors.
Too many businesses make the mistake of over-thinking and analyzing. The fact is, no matter how much time someone spends thinking about an action, researching its potential, and considering how to make it work – no one can know whether or not it works without first taking it to the market.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against planning – I’m against over-planning. I’m against believing that the more thinking that goes into project, the better its chances of succeeding. I’m against substituting pages and pages of strategy for the reality of going live in the marketplace. The point of a plan is to provide guidance. I believe it was Winston Churchill who once said, “Plans are useless, but planning is invaluable.”
The best plans are those that tell you what you should do next, not what you should do five years down the road. For that matter, I believe that any plan that is more than a page long is designed only to create the illusion of certainty for the author (or the company that had it written). Remember, actions are always better than more words. So plan ahead – and realize that even with plan in hand, there’s only one thing that you can plan on with certainty: you can’t know what will happen until it does.
Why is it that marketers often feel that lying is an effective strategy? This time it’s Ameriprise. Their recent marketing campaign focuses on the creation of a ‘dream plan.’ Now, I’m not taking anything away from Ameriprise – they have some fine financial advisors. They also have a significant number of advisors who don’t belong in the business.
Their promise to create a ‘dream plan’ makes for great copy. I even like some of the ads (actually anything with Dennis Hopper in it can’t be all bad). However, Ameriprise in incapable of delivering the promise they are making. Their advisors aren’t trained properly for the endeavor, and their compensation structure doesn’t support its delivery .
Ameriprise’s marketing department has accurately identified a need in the market. I have no question that people ‘want’ what Ameriprise is offering. However, identifying a need in the market does a company (or its clients) no good if the company is not maniacally focused on delivering it.
Three years ago, I had an opportunity to get a very big consulting contract with a major insurance company. They had launched a new asset management program geared to financial advisors. Meeting with the National Sales Manager, I had a great conversation about what the manager wanted to do. This manager articulated what the market needed and communicated his desire to promise it as well as anyone I had ever met. Then, I asked him if he (and his company) was ready to make the changes necessary to support the delivery. We agreed that this would require changing how reps were compensated and how they were trained. He told me that there was a good chance on the training (that’s what we were meeting about), but there was no way on the compensation. I turned down the opportunity and the company’s offering is still struggling.
In the 1990s, it was United Airlines that lied to its customers with their ‘Rising’ advertising campaign. In that campaign, United identified why people didn’t like flying or airlines. They promised to solve those issues. Of course, all United did was make a promise. They failed to deliver and they ended up in bankruptcy. SouthWest, on the other hand, didn’t make promises they could not deliver upon, and SouthWest continues to make money.
Ameriprise’s campaign angers me for two reasons: first, it’s bad business, and second, their lie makes it that much more difficult for those companies that are sincere to make their marketing credible. The more consumers hear promises that companies fail to deliver on, the more they believe that all promises are lies.
Few topics get as much attention as outsourcing does. It’s too bad that so much of that attention reflects a clear misunderstanding of how outsourcing can benefit everyone. In this case, I am not referring the ‘off-shoring’ (outsourcing to companies who employ people outside the US), though this post may certainly apply.
My VP, Brand Development, was recently at a meeting of fellow entrepreneurs. The question was asked, “How do I determine what functions I should do and what functions I should outsource?” The facilitator responded, “When people outsource, it is generally because they don’t know how to do something or because they have run out of time.”
This may be the reason people outsourced years ago. It is, however, a very poor answer for what I am now calling Outsourcing 2.0. The answer misses the point completely. What concerns me is that this is a fair representation of how many small and mid-sized businesses look at outsourcing.
First, one of the main reasons outsourcing fails is because the outsourcer does not understand what is being outsourced. If you’d like The Top 7 Reasons Outsourcing Fails, send me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Second, and, most importantly, the lack of time may be a contributor to the decision to outsource – it should never be a driver to outsource.
Saying that I am going to outsource a function because I don’t have time, is like saying I am going to hire a new employee because I don’t have time. Sure, time contributes, but if the primary reason I am hiring someone is because I am short on time, then I’ll probably end up making a bad hire. A business should only hire someone when there is an important business result that can be attained or meaningfully improved upon, by a hire. The most effective hires are ones made to increase a company’s capabilities.
Outsourcing should not be looked at any differently. Today, for fast growth businesses, the only real difference between an outsource and an employee is a tax designation. Functionally, there is no difference. In today’s ‘Talent Wars’ t,hose companies that use talent best, in all its forms, have the greatest chance to win. It was Jack Welch who said, “Your back office is someone else’s front office.” This simply meant that the thing that is not your core competency is someone else’s core competency.
For full disclosure, I offer outsourced solutions and work with several companies that do, as well. The reason my clients outsource their go-to-market strategies to Imagine is because they know that go-to-market is all we do and that we’ve built an infrastructure for going-to-market that they could not build. As a result, their company has more sales and marketing capability than if they did it on their own.
As you look for fast-growth, you should look at outsourcing in the same way.
I remember when I first became interested in selling. My parents (who owned a travel agency) were hosting their first cruise night (a promotional event to increase the awareness of cruises). I met the representative for Carnival Cruise Lines. I thought he was great. I asked him how he sold Carnival over its competition. I’ll never forget his answer.
“Doug,” he replied. “I don’t really sell Carnival as much as I sell cruises. You see less than 5% of the people capable of taking a cruise have ever taken one. Most don’t even know what a cruise is. It’s a lot easier, and a lot more effective, if I increase the number of people familiar with and likely to take a cruise. If I can increase the number of people who take a cruise, I’ll get more than my fair share.”
Fast forward to the early 1990s. Having just received a promotion to Regional Sales Manager with The Hertz Corporation, I am attending a sales meeting where we are discussing how to increase business within travel agencies. At the time Hertz had a market share of about 39% and was clearly the leader in the industry. At this meeting, management and salespeople alike were stuck trying to figure out how to increase our business. How can you dramatically increase your market share, when you are already number one by a meaningful margin?
In the meeting, I experienced a flashback to Cruise Night. I spoke up. “Most travel agents are great at booking an airline ticket, but fail to book a car rental with it. Our job should not be to sell Hertz over our compeitition. Our job should be to teach travel agents how to increase the number car rentals they book. If we can get a travel agency to book 100 more car rentals a year,” I pondered, “wouldn’t be reasonable to expect that we’d increase our business by at least 40?” Implementing that strategy I found out that we didn’t increase our business by 40 rentals. We increased it by 50.
It was that experience that taught me that whether I am a new entrant or the market leader, my job and, by extension, the job of my company is to expand the market. Everything else will take care of itself.
I am a raving fan of a coaching company that I have been a client of for more than eight years. I’ve referred a significant amount of business to them; and I’ve been a reference for many more.
Over the past year, this company has undergone some strategic planning that has focused on increasing their complementary offerings. I know this, not because I am the consultant, but because the frequency with which I’ve been ‘marketed at’ has increased significantly. Phone calls, e-mails, direct mail, even faxes. All offering more stuff for me to buy; or to refer to others.
Today, I got a phone call and an e-mail ‘letting me know’ about some of their upcoming programs. I hate to say this, but it felt a bit like the ‘courtesy calls’ I get from my credit card company.
I’m all for this company increasing its business. I’m happy to help in whatever way I can – BUT DON’T INTERRUPT ME! It’s gotten out of hand, and frankly it is making me less of a fan.
This is a company that I engage with several times a year. There are plenty of opportunities to make me aware of their offerings, ask me for my help, and for referrals. This company has no need to resort to such traditional interruption-oriented methods.
This approach requires more nuance than the traditional approach does. It’s not as easy to track as a campaign that focuses on the number of calls, or e-mails, sent on a particular offering. These traditional approaches rely on myths.
This company is not alone. I’ve noticed an increase in the interruption marketing techniques from organizations that I buy from. It’s a dangerous strategy for a company. Why? The danger is that if you implement interruption marketing tactics to a happy client base, you’ll see immediate results. You’ll think it’s working. However, that success will be at the expense of the ‘trust-equity’ that you have built. Not a worthy trade.
What should you do? The same thing you should do with prospects – always make sure your marketing communication creates value. This does not mean that you should not market to you existing client base – you should. They are your best market. You should just do it with respect.
You may have noticed fewer blog postings from me of late. This has been for a couple of reasons. Imagine has gone through some exponential growth and required more attention than normal, and I’ve spent some extra time with the family on vacation. I’m back, the kids are back in school, and the Fast Growth Blog is back on track.
On vacation, we made the family pilgrimage to Disney World. While there, I did my best not to think about work. However, everything about my experience there kept reminding me of concepts I’ve blogged about. I realized that Disney is the epitome of the ‘experience economy.’ I mean that in both the positive and the negative. Disney should be a case study for every business looking to excel in the Widsom Age. With Disney, you get what to do and what not to do, all for one price.
Disney does a great job of creating a compelling experience for an extraordinarily wide group of people. No one is better at making standing in line seem and feel like it’s part of the ride. They make kids comfortable, and they remind adults that we’re still kids.
They tell stories better than anyone.
For those that have not seen the fireworks/light show at Epcot Center, you don’t know what you’re missing. At the end of a hot, hot day; with the kids exhausted; the entire family was swept away with a story told by fire and lights. Watching, I forgot I was tired and was transported to another world. This, I realized, is what keeps people coming back. Clearly, Disney does a lot right.
However, much of my Disney experience this time was perplexing at best, and, too often, disappointing. We spent our first day in the original Disney World – The Magic Kingdom. My kids were excited about all of the Disney characters they would see. After arriving in the park and spotting a few of the characters who had just finished the welcome show, we didn’t see another character. My kids left upset.
We stayed at the Yacht & Beach Club to give the kid’s the full Disney experience. While the accommodations were fine, and the maid service were entertaining , very few of the people in the hotel were ever ‘present.’ I got the distinct feeling that most of the people didn’t particularly enjoy being there, and as a result, a significant amount of the magic was lost.
The Yacht & Beach is famous for its pool. There’s a great water slide, sand to simulate a beach, and a host of other cool features. Our last day, we had to leave for the airport at 1:30pm, so we decided to spend the morning at the pool. We found out that morning that the pool didn’t open until 10am. I, and many others, was quite surprised by this – and the only reason I can figure for opening at 10 instead of 9 is to save money.
Money is probably the most controversial component with Disney. My issue was that I felt totally nickeled and dimed. For example, I was charged $9.95 per day for Internet access. In 2006, Internet access at hotels that charge the nightly rate that I paid, should be free.
The biggest issue, however, is that the experience lacked humanity. As I went through the week, I was constantly reminded of the Four Seasons philosophy – systematize the predictable, so you can humanize the unpredictable. At Disney, everything was manufactured. For things like rides and fireworks (by design, a manufactured process), it works fine; for everything else – it was lacking. Disney’s approach to providing an experience is Industrial Age-based. It relies on control, repetition and pure consistency. It worked for many years. I’m not convinced it works today, and I’m certain that it will not work in the future.
Disney works too hard to control the experience; and as a result, they work hard to control their people. That’s for a consistent experience, but it fails to deliver what Disney used to be best known for – and what any business today needs to succeed in the experience economy – imagination.