The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a great time of reflection for me. I get a chance to relax, watch my kids do increasingly insane things, think, read, and review old material that I’ve saved. One of my favorite pieces of literature of all time is the Saint Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V. With all of the challenges people are talking about today, I thought I’d share it:
What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” – Samuel Johnson
Merely intending to do good, without actually doing it, is of no value. In customer service, it may even extract value.
As I sat down this evening to do one of my least favorite things (pay bills), I was required from Bank of America that I needed to change my online ID. While it was an interruption that I would have preferred not to have had, I certainly understand and appreciate the need for security, so I went with the flow. Needless to say, it did not go as smoothly as I would have liked or expected.
In the midst of my struggle I was greeted with what looked to be a terrific customer service addition (I was even going to blog about it). A pop up screen offered a live chat sessions from a service agent, asking if I needed help. Pleasantly surprised, I clicked yes, filled in some information and got this:
How could I get a computer generated offer of help, only to be told, “Whoops.” Here is (yet another) example of a gratuitous effort at enhancing my “experience.” I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I’d have preferred that I not have been offered the help. I wouldn’t have been upset if I hadn’t been offered it, as I didn’t expect it.
This act is symbolic of the dangerous mantra – Exceed expectations. Look, stop trying to exceed your customer’s expectations and start a) clearly communicating them, then b) meeting them. If you can create predictability, you create value. And who knows? Maybe even loyalty.
We had Chinese food for lunch today. With it, came next year’s calendar. We’ve also gotten a desk calendar from our insurance agent, real estate agent, and (constantly) from ad specialty firms. Like most of you, my calendar lives on my phone and computer. Other than the calendar with pictures of my family on it, I throw all the paper calendars away.
Why then, do they keep sending them or giving them away? I know the reason used to be to make sure that their name was in front of me when I thought about their service. Today, it’s just a waste of paper and money. The only reason I could come up with is that it’s habit.
That got me thinking, what else do we do that no longer serves a meaningful purpose. Today, I was working with a client who had asked me to review a white paper for them. As I was discussing it, one of their people responded, “I don’t know why we’re spending so much time on this. The reality is that no one is likely to read it.” To which, I responded – why are we doing it then?
I don’t mean to pick on my client here – they’re just the most recent example of this. As I’ve written before – every action you take either creates value or extracts it. If you’re not creating value – you’re creating noise and cost.
As we end the year, ask yourself – what Chinese calendars are you sending out?
I’ve been working with several new sales teams recently. One of the valuable thoughts I attempt to leave them with is: Nobody wants their stuff – nobody wants to buy anything from them. What they want, I tell them, are the results their offerings can provide (please don’t confuse results with benefits – they are not the same thing).
Just as they begin to truly understand the paradigm shift I am talking to them about, the inevitable question is asked (in some form) – “But, don’t relationships matter?”
So, to clear up any confusion – let me say – Yes, relationships matter. In the sense that if people don’t feel comfortable with you, don’t like you, or don’t trust you; they won’t buy from you.
However, just because they like you, are comfortable with you, or trust you, DOES NOT mean they will buy from you. Today, relationship building skills are the bare minimum – and, oftentimes, relationship means something very different than it did yesterday. Relationships are no longer (just) about taking clients to ball games, giving them tickets, buying them gifts, or yucking it up. I’m not saying that these things have no role in any industry (in some they do, in others they do not), I’m just saying that relationships don’t trump compelling results.
So, yes, keep practicing your “Winning Friends and Influencing People” habits, just make sure that you’re creating compelling results in the process.
A news story quotes Jeff Zucker, NBC’s CEO, as questioning whether NBC could continue to program a full 22 hours per week of prime time. Another story announces that NBC has signed Jay Leno to do a nightly show from 10-11pm (I guess that reduces NBC’s need for programming to 17 hours). Also, news came out that the Tribune company has declared bankruptcy.
Wow! How the mighty have fallen. I understand that there are multiple causes for this, and I certainly don’t want to be guilty of throwing too simple of an explanation for such failures, but I can’t help but draw the conclusion that at the heart of all of these challenges is the failure to create any relevant value.
I remember when NBC epitomized “Must See TV.” NBC used to be innovative – they brought us Cheers, The Cosby Show, LA Law, Hill Street Blues and ER. They had the patience to allow Seinfeld to find an audience and the wherewithal to cut Hill Street Blues and LA Law when they were losing their plot. Today, they bring us two hour specials of Celebrity Apprentice, they’ve allowed ER to go beyond stupid to sublime and their idea of creative programming is to let Deal or No Deal run 3 – 5 times a week. Now, they’re going to turn over their 10 o’clock hour (the hour where NBC used to be its most creative) to Jay Leno.
No offense to Jay Leno (one night a week might even be very entertaining), but where’s the creativity and originality? Where’s the imagination that GE brags about in their advertising? Where’s the focus on customers (viewers)? The same can be said of the newspaper business – they’ve utterly failed to embrace the world the way their customers want it.
The more I read about businesses that are struggling, and the more I work with businesses that are thriving, the more I realize that if you just make sure that you solve a unique problem your customers are facing and stay focused on them, then you can bypass these things we call “recessions.” Take some positive action today and find a new problem you can begin to solve for your customers.
One of my favorite television shows is House. For those of you not familiar with it, it focuses on anti-social, medical genius, Gregory House, MD. House is a diagnostician, and every week, a new patient presents an extreme riddle as to what is wrong, and typically what is threatening their life.
House is opinionated, arrogant, and obnoxious (and those are his good qualities). He is also wrong, but never in doubt. Anyone who watches the show knows that however confident House may be, if there are more than 10 minutes left in the show, he will be wrong. In a typical episode, House is wrong 4 – 6 times, before he finally figures it out.
Now, the show House may be an unusual topic for a blog that promises insights into fast and profitable growth. The reason I mention it, is because House is a great metaphor for how companies must act when they go to market. Here’s how:
|Despite his foibles, House understands that the only “reality” that matters is the patients anatomy. His opinions, the opinions of his staff or administrators – in the end – doesn’t matter.
||The fast growth executive understands that the only opinion that matters is the market’s.|
|No matter how many times he’s “failed” – House always takes action confidently.
||The company that makes the most mistakes – fast, and fixes them – confidently, is the one that wins.
|No matter how confident House is, he is always testing his assumptions and never lets his “tests” get in the way of action.
||The successful fast growth company is always prototyping and “listening” to the market.
|House learns by failing – realizing that the only failure is to give up.
||To often, companies want to “figure it out” before they begin, not realizing that the only way to “figure it out,” is to begin. The key to growth is action – not thought.|
Two great posts from the great minds at Brains on Fire. Check out Spike Jones‘ and Robbin Phillips‘ take. Both posts take a look at the crisis taking place in Detroit and ponders how when companies truly take care and value their customers, their “love” is returned and crisis like these are averted. Well worth the read.
It is not new advice – I remember hearing it when I was eight years old and my parents owned and ran a travel agency. You can’t cut your way to success. My guess is that no one reading this post hasn’t heard this before. I’d also bet that at last 90% of readers agree with this statement. However, that knowledge is not stopping people from trying to do it today.
Look, I understand the fear about this market. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t concerned (even though the demand for what we do is skyrocketing and we’re getting ready to bring on more clients than ever before). Here’s what I know – today there are two (and only two) critical objectives for every business:
- Position yourself to survive this storm. We don’t know how long it will be, or how bad it will be – and you must ask yourself, “What am I (we) doing to ensure that we will survive the storm – however long or bad it is?”
- Survival, however, is not enough – you must also position yourself to thrive when the storm is over.
There you have it – SURVIVE & THRIVE.
This may sound mutually exclusive in a devastating market, though the reality is that it is not. It calls for a singular approach with two prongs:
1. Allocate your resources and investments towards those actions that provide direct growth opportunities – cut everything else. That doesn’t (necessarily) been eliminate, but cut disproportionately. Don’t take what I call a “peanut butter” approach to cuts – those that are spread evenly.
There are tremendous opportunities to cut and grow at the same time. My friend, and staffing guru Bob Corlett just wrote a post on how you can upgrade your talent and reduce your costs – at the same time!
Today is a great time to cut those actions that are no longer the focus of your future. Remember – don’t focus on improvement when transformation is necessary.
2. Focus on growth, even if there is no chance of “growing” next year. This may make no sense, but it’s critical to understand. We have a client whose market is down by almost 50%. No matter what he does, his business will not do more in revenue next year than it did this year or last year. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t maniacally focused on growth. He realizes that now more than ever, he must push his “growth engine” to full tilt.
Think about it, if you’re going into a head wind, you better have forward momentum, or the wind will wipe you out!
Additionally, if you don’t focus on growth – doing the things to grow and thinking about growth – you and your business will atrophy. If the battle cry is survival, your “growth muscles” will atrophy. That’s double jeopardy: you’re weaker to deal with the strom if it continues and you’re too weak to grow when the storm ends.
Well, it’s official – 2008 is a recession (of course, the announcement is kind of like historians telling us that they’ve determined that WWII ended in 1945). As I’ve written before, recessions make it more important that ever to have a growth agenda. When markets are good, mistakes are forgiven. In today’s market, mistakes are disproportionately punished. The good news is that you can gain a distinct, and lasting, advantage if you do the right things.
Three weeks ago, we conducted a webinar Sustaining Growing In Devastating Markets that shared:
- The difference between Demand Creation and demand fulfillment – and why Demand Creation is the only viable strategy going forward.
- The 5 Unbreakable Rules for Creating Demand
- The 7 Critical Actions to take NOW to ensure your growth
I was listening to the radio while redesigning our sales training programs, and heard the commercial for freecreditreport.com. This was not the first time I’d heard it – and I’m sure you’re familiar with it. I’ve seen it on TV, heard it on the radio, and it’s even been played at a piano bar I go to from time to time.
What was interesting this time is that as it came on, I turned up the volume. While, I don’t have knowledge of the business impact of this ad program, I couldn’t help but notice how effective this is as an ad. I speak regularly on positioning and messaging and this ad does it all in 30 seconds. Specifically:
- It’s simple
- It tells a story, making it easy to remember
- It provides a clear contrast
- It makes a clear promise
And, it’s fun. Next time your communicating, compare yourself to freecreditreport.com.