The “Slow Fix”

Everyone wants a quick fix in business these days.  We need leads right away.  We want sales results now.  We need to have a positive ROI on specific marketing activities.  If the quick fix doesn’t happen, heads will roll.  Budget will be cut.  In general, it seems like we can tolerate a little pain, but not for very long.

There really is no standard recipe for how companies can win now.  If we had the answer or proverbial “quick fix,” it wouldn’t be a secret for very long.  The facts are that iconic brands stand the test of time.  They endure because they’re willing to put forth the effort to build a relationship with their community, even if it doesn’t pay off in the short term.

Great relationships are born out of trust.  They are built to endure the toughest challenges.  They can take the pain in the short term in order to realize long-term prosperity.

The most compelling marketers are not looking for quick fixes.  They are working feverishly to be a part of people’s lives.  They realize that we have an irreducible need to belong.  In turn, being present within their target community increases the chance their brand will be loved.

So, with a nod to the quick fix gurus out there, we suggest the “slow fix.”  This is the kind of fix where collecting and acting on client feedback is sincere.  The kind of fix where we cultivate flexibility and adaptability.  The fix where we create a culture of innovation.  The fix where we identify and correct internal barriers to our profitable growth.

Slow and steady does the trick…better!

Climate Change

While many have said that the recession is over, that doesn’t mean that the recovery will be spectacular. In fact, there will be nothing fair about the recovery ahead. To the contrary, it will heartlessly divide those who are prepared for a transformed world and those who are not.

While each of us is worried about a host of things, the biggest concerns are normally centered on our ability to increase sales. We wonder where our next sale will come from and whether or not we will have anything of value in the future.

The gist is that our economy gained strength in 2014 regardless of the economic roller coaster we have seen in recent days. But even among the greatest marketers, there is widespread unease that margins are wafer-thin. If we take our eye off that key account, even for a moment, it might be gone. Get a little careless with costs and profitability could take a hit. Think for a minute that you have it all figured out and you may quickly learn otherwise.

In Epicomm’s recent “Printing Business Conditions” survey, marketing services executives say the future of print will be targeted. In other words, they believe that customized content delivers unique value and allows you to connect more deeply with your clients. And the more you connect with them, the more resistance there is to drop you as a provider.

So while the economic climate is in a constant state of change, great marketers understand they must stay remarkably in tune with their communities. They realize that if the rate of change on the outside is greater than the rate of change on the inside, they are in trouble.

As we continue to preach about going deeper with our clients we need to give thought to how we stand out as a brand. We also have to protect our brand and its reputation.

So, while the recession may be over, the recovery will not be a rising tide that raises all boats. We need to focus on our clients and remain open to the changes that inevitably lie ahead.

You Have to Know What You Know!

Sales Graph 2

Since 1998 I have been writing about focusing on the customer. I have attempted to be funny at times. I have told some embarrassing stories and I have allowed myself to be the butt of the joke. I have written some excerpts that are more serious in tone and I have jabbed at local establishments and utilities. I have taken a wide path in my attempt to point out stellar client service.

I believe I would be accurate to say that each of the installments preach the same sermon. They all talk about exceeding client expectations and going the extra mile to make them happy. They are a call to action of sorts rooted in the belief that you can call on some inner conscience and expect more of yourself.

I have just finished rereading “First Break All the Rules.” It is an older business book that has recently been re-released. I picked up several copies and plan to share them with friends and colleagues.

The author of this book disagrees with me. He states that our brains are wired with specific passions and interests from a very early age. Heredity is a factor but the overwhelming influence is our environment. I will attempt to explain this in the next few paragraphs.

The human brain is equipped with billions of neurons. Each one of these neurons is capable of tens of thousands of connections with every other neuron. The ability to process data or to connect impulses (synapses) is incalculable. There isn’t a computer bank in the world that can come close to the most simple minded human brain.

When we are born everything is new. Our senses hear, see, feel, smell and taste more than our brains can process. It is sensory overload. Our minds cannot deal with everything we experience so we quickly determine what matters and what doesn’t. We screen out “background noise.” We censor the stimuli that enter our brain. We decide what matters.

These decisions cause us to concentrate our connections between specific neurons. We don’t waste (or invest) synapses by connecting to neurons that we don’t value. Instead we make millions of connections between areas that we have decided are important. We build “super highways” in our brain creating areas of passion and talent.

By the time we are a few months old our inclinations are already being formed. These areas of focus become who we are. Other areas (neurons) are less connected if connected at all. They don’t develop in our specific case.

The reason I mention all of this is because it suggests that we can’t change our focus. If we are inclined to be laid back, we are going to be laid back. Pressure from a spouse to “get interested” isn’t going to change a thing. It can’t. You don’t have that connection.

I have seen this in my own house. I have two kids. They were raised in the same environment but thanks to their gender, they were exposed to different things. They manage life differently.

My daughter had to win. Motivating her was easy. You explained what behavior would deliver the results she wanted. If it was important to her, she would make it happen. All you had to do was provide transportation and access to the tools.

Motivating my son was more difficult. The same things didn’t work.  had to call on his conscience or make him feel guilty to get results. He is smart as a tack and extremely generous. He just reacts different and values different things.

Now what in the world does all of this have to do with our industry and satisfying customers? It has everything to do with it. We can’t win as professionals if we don’t understand. Let me explain.

People that don’t care about customers can’t be taught to care. Let me say that again. People that don’t care about customers can’t be taught to care. They can be taught to repeat phrases. They can be taught the right answers. They just can’t be taught to be passionate about them or to make them central to how they behave. They can’t learn a sense of urgency.

Managers…ask yourself this…how many employees have you really been able to change during your career? I’m not talking about teaching. I’m talking about changing. How many lazy people have you converted to energetic? How many intense people have you converted to laid back? How many reckless people have you converted to cautious? Scary…huh?

Salesreps, if you’re working with a CSR that is indifferent…guess what…they always will be. If you’re working with someone that is sloppy, they always will be. If you’re working with someone that is grumpy, they aren’t going to become a bubbling bundle of joy. It goes on and on for department after department.

Now this doesn’t mean these people are bad. Dedicated employees come in all shapes and sizes. Companies need people that know how to count and love doing it. We need people that are wild about computers. We need people that love solving problems of all different shapes and sizes.

What we don’t need is the wrong person in the wrong job. I can’t put my steering wheel where my front-right tire is supposed to be and drive my car. I need both parts. I just need them in the right place.

Managers, think about this as you look at your staff. Think about this as you make hiring decisions. It will be better if we pick the right person in the beginning and don’t try to convert them after the fact. You can’t teach passion and quality.

Sales reps…answer these questions about yourselves. Selling isn’t picking up orders. Selling is convincing the client to buy. It isn’t lowering prices and it isn’t saying yes unless both parties benefit. Do you believe this? If not, you’re in the wrong job.

Client service…ask yourselves if you’re happy. If you aren’t, you might be in the wrong area. The title of the department says it all. If you aren’t interested in doing that then you are going to become increasingly unhappy.

Once I worked with an employee who publicly exclaimed that if she was required to talk to customers she would quit. She worked in the customer service department. We required it and she did indeed quit.

Was this her fault? Partly. It was our fault too, however. We decided that people that don’t like clients were ok for the customer service department.

Our industry delivers a valuable service. We have to make it easy for our customers, however. We can’t lower our costs while improving our processes and value with the wrong people in the wrong jobs. It’s on us to hire better and make the right internal assignments. Our clients will reward us with work and our employees will reward us with successful products.