There are things that work and many more that don't. Let's discuss what we've experienced . . . not our opinions . . . but actually what our days and nights as marketers, business leaders, parents, people are teaching us. Please give us a hand. Tell us about your experience with this stuff.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Leader Can Make All the Difference

"I rode him like he was a good horse." Calvin Borel

In the 2009 Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird, a horse that had lost 31 of his last 32 races and left the gate as a 50 to 1 bet, won one of the longest shot, most dramatic races in Derby history. Mine That Bird was a distant last on the back stretch and not even in contact with the pack. And he wins by 5+ lengths . . . going away. In short, there was no expert who expected this performance and most had not even studied the horse due to his track record. When jockey Calvin Borel was asked about his ride that day he said, "I rode him like he was a good horse."

I've had the privilege to come into two different organizations to organize, reorganize or run their marketing / business development groups. Each time I've been given a warning that some of the individuals on the team would probably need to be let go. And each time, I've seen people, who were formerly unappreciated and whose capabilities were questioned, raise their game to a new level and become highly valued players.

For myself, earlier in my career, I can remember my performance and development being dramatically impacted by leaders and managers who believed in me and just as importantly, provided me with a role that, with their guidance, I could win in.

Just as in the Derby example above, one needs a leader who knows how to win, who has an approach that has been tested and who understands how to handle the various talents provided to him or her.

I've seen leaders who's teams were about the leader's success. Those team's success is dependant on the brilliance of the leaders. Not being brilliant myself, I've always thought success was dependant on the cumulative talents of the team, aligned and directed in a manner that played to their strengths and protected individuals from their weaknesses. That seems to work rather well.

So I'm curious:
What are your expectations for your team?
What are your expectations for each individual?
How do you train them to win?
Does each individual understand what is critical for them to do in order to win?

Cause the math of this is simple: Followers are only as good as their leaders allow/train them to be.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Can Trust Transform Your Business?

I recently participated in a webinar run by Stephen Covey around the impact that Trust can have internally and externally in your business. He paints a compelling picture with his examples.

One involves a coffee and muffin vendor who doubles his business by setting out a change basket (with his own money in it) at the end of his counter. He had noticed that he was losing customers due to the long lines in the morning which were primarily caused by the slow payment process (taking money / giving change). So he put out the change basket, took / fulfilled the orders and allowed his customers to make their on change. He handled twice the number of transactions and his customers appreciated the trust he had given them.

But yesteray I actually heard another example of this dynamic on NPR. In a incredibly poor section of a city in India (3 square miles hold 500,000 people), the local CocaCola bottler was working through ways to increase their sales (whether you think this is appropriate or now, watch what happens). Traditionally, the Coke vendors stored the drinks behind the counter and required all customers to order them personally. One of the local sales guys convinces some of the Coke vendors to put a cooler outside the front door of their establishment allowing all customers access to review their options and pick their own drink. As in the example above, sales of drinks have doubled (10 fold in one case), transforming many of these vendor's business success. Their customers tell them that they are proud that they can be trusted.

Frankly I think most of us find this idea of trust with our clients to be revolutionary. And certainly scary.

I remember when some companies figured out they could give a money-back guarentee without risking much at all; and yes, most of us now know that there is no real benefit to us as customers. Its a huge hassle to deal with any vendor whose product doesn't work properly; never mind the cost of the product.

But that's not what is being offered here: these examples are saying that the business trusts the customer to protect the business's income if the customer gets appropriate trust upfront.

There's the pinch: many really don't trust their clients enough to allow the clients to determine what services should be provided (we often think we know better what our clients need), how they should be delivered (it might require our organizations/practices to change or evolve) and what compensation is deserved.

But its really worse that that: we really don't want to transform our business relationships, we just want to get paid more for being historically relevant. And for most, we will only consider change once we are in so much pain that we have no choice (ergo the 'burning platform' scenario).

OK, so read those two examples above and give yourself a moment to wonder if there is a scenario where trusting your clients could provide you with such a distinctive relationship that your clients would think differently about themselves and the business relationship because of the way you treat them . . .from the very start. Some very interesting math indeed (yeah I said indeed).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Success of Strategy: It Isn't What You Think

The key to success continues to be a subject of wonderment to me. I study and observe over and over again the number of times great minds move in a direction with great conviction only to discover that they got lucky. It's as if moving with conviction makes you much more likely to get lucky . . . if you are smart enough to adjust.

I always enjoy talking with successful people about how they got where they are. And the most frequent response is that 'it was an accident' or 'there really was not any overarching plan' or 'the phone rang and I picked it up'. The serendipities of success seem to be the rule, however the fact remains that these people were looking for success and determined to find it. It's just that the path moved a bit.

Two examples:

Recently reading William Manchester's The World Lit Only By Fire, Manchester discusses how the great Spanish and English explorers found a new world while attempting to find a sea route to the east. Their ambition was to replace the land-based commercial routes (which produced a dozen different hands touching, charging and moving the goods) for a sea route with lower pricing and more predictable business relationships. In the end, the big win was finding a entirely new source of business, land and wealth. Ironically the Portuguese were more successful in attaining the sea route to the east (note: in fact they discover Brazil when one of their ships gets lost in an extreme storm rounding the Cape of Good Hope; sounds a bit far fetched, but that's the story), but in the long run lost the opportunity to redefine their and our world.

The second, more recent, example involves the founders of Microsoft and its genesis. One story has it that Bill Gates et al saw their future in the developing of software for computers. Certainly this viewpoint and its wisdom is unquestionable. However the critical moment, say some business historians, came when IBM needed an operating system for their new line of computers and the Microsoft guys bought one they had used in the past. They licensed it to IBM, thereby funding Microsoft's dreams. Gates was going after one thing; it drove him to seek something else which in the end enabled him to do exactly what he wanted. But let's be clear, the Microsoft kingdom was built on the success of the licensing of an operating system, not the fun, neat software they were building. There were and have been plenty of developers of fun, neat software who never made it out of their garage. The operating system license was the key to the success.

So what's the arithmetic here? Well, it seems that moving with conviction and even daring, gives one a chance to be successful; however having the ability to adjust as opportunities evolve along the way becomes even more a predictor.