Monday, January 30, 2012

In _____ we trust?

Trust is on the wane. 

This is probably not a big surprise to you.  Given the economic and social change occurring globally, and the stresses that change induces, a fair amount of dislocation and disconnection is natural.

But it seems deeper than that. Everywhere you turn there seems to be another poll or study showing a dramatic decline in trust and a rise in skepticism.  (Disclaimer: I worked at Edelman back in the 90s.)
The state of trust in the world, or rather the lack of trust in our institutions and leaders, is disturbing.  And certainly not without cause:  the breadth of bad behavior is staggering and seemingly all-encompassing.  Type "list of recent scandals" into Google, and you will relive a cascade of misdeeds by corporate, academic, media, sports and religious institutions and individuals. 

The skepticism and lack of trust is bad for business.  Marketing 101 teaches us that for a business to succeed over the long term, it must be 1) known, 2) liked, and 3) trusted.

But it's not just big business.  Some of the worst offenders are smaller enterprises, the mom and pop operations that should know better, because they need every customer.  We all have stories of local businesses that we don't frequent any more because they changed for the worse and broke a trust that had taken years to build.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ode to the vision thing

Ok, not really an ode, at least in the English tradition. More a lamentation.

It's been 25 years since the "vision thing" died at the hands lips of the first President Bush.  That phrase, according to Wikipedia, has now become a metonym for an inability to articulate the bigger picture.

A few years later, Lou Gerstner, then recently-installed CEO of a then-troubled IBM, was famously quoted as saying: "the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision."

What is it with vision that evokes such a roll of the eyes and shaking of heads among many leaders, business owners, CEOs and other organizational chiefs?

For many, having a vision recalls images of being lost in the desert, returning with a call to action from some higher authority.  For others, it may conjure images of the Summer of Love.  No business strategies emanate from either of those retreats.  No increased sales or profits, either.

So then, is myopia a virtue for a leader?  Not really, as target fixation often leads to missing the bigger picture.

Let's turn again to Gerstner, and examine his full "vision" quote, delivered at a news conference following his first 100 days at Big Blue:
‘There’s been a  lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM, and what I’d like to say to all of you is that the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision [. . . ] What IBM needs right now is a series of very tough-minded, market driven, highly effective strategies for each of its businesses – strategies that deliver performance in the marketplace and shareholder value."
Later, Gerstner wrote in IBM's 1993 Annual Report, "Some call it mission, some call it vision. I call it strategy."  Few would argue that Gerstner's vision/mission/strategy focused IBM on a successful path forward, when many other US commercial icons have failed to make the turn

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Always be losing?

The movie Glengarry, Glen Ross was on TV recently.  I watched for a few minutes.  I always do when I spot it.  It's like a roadside accident; disturbing, yet hard to avert your gaze. 

The most famous scene in the film is when Alec Baldwin's character comes to "motivate" the under-performing sales team.  "Always be closing," he spits.  "Coffee is for closers," he sneers.  It is the epitome of the "man-up," high-pressure school of sales.  It resonates because we recognize and empathize with both sides of the dialogue.  I guess that's why the play won the Pulitzer Prize.

"I need to increase sales," is the most common refrain I hear from business owners and CEOs.  They are constantly looking for the magic bullet:  the system or process that will tap the revenue gusher that they know is just a little further beneath the surface.  Just keep drilling.

There's a reason that only politicians are trusted less than salespeople, according to one of the leading sales training organizations.

Do your customers or prospects respond to being accosted, being stalked?  Do you?  Can't you just picture the stereotypical "bad" salesperson?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Shark Jumping

It's a new year, and the armchair quarterbacking on 2011 is in full swing, as a variety of businesses, mostly retail, report December results.  It looks like a mixed bag...some gainers, some laggards, some BIG losers.

Sears and Kmart seem to be among the losers, with the announcement that they will be shuttering stores across the country.  Will we lose these venerable names to the dustbin of business history?  Possibly, and they would join a decidedly non-illustrious group.

While attention is paid on the failure rate of small and start-up businesses, as noted in this recent blog post, there is also a continuing churn at the top of the corporate heap:
Comparing the Fortune 500 companies in 1955 and 2011, there are only 67 companies that appear in both lists. In other words, only 13.4% of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955 were still on the list 56 years later in 2011, and almost 87% of the companies have either gone bankrupt, merged, gone private, or still exist but have fallen from the top Fortune 500 companies (ranked by gross revenue). Most of the companies on the list in 1955 are unrecognizable, forgotten companies today.  That's a lot of churning and creative destruction, and it's probably safe to say that many of today's Fortune 500 companies will be replaced by new companies in new industries over the next 56 years.

Along with Sears and Kmart, Best Buy seems to be jumping the shark as well. This Forbes story tells a tale that is all too familiar to customers, but seems to continually escape notice of those leading these sinking ships.  In nearly all cases, the operators lose touch with the customers...and start selling what they want, rather than what the customer wants or needs.

Smaller business owners have a natural advantage over these behemoths, in that they are closer to their customers, but, alas, often suffer the same "buy what I have" rather than "sell what you want" mentality.

It's the customer who decides your businesses fate.  Engaging yours in an active dialog about their wants and needs is the single best thing you can do to grow your business.