That baby is ugly and you, sir, are a weasel

I used to work with a guy who would rarely bring his boss bad news or take a contrary point of view.   We’d sit in meetings and discuss the weakness of a particular idea or the wrong-headedness of a particular path we were on.  Then when it came time to agree on what we would cover with the CEO, this guy would share with us that he had already discussed the topic with our leader and that he had concluded that she was not open to changing her mind.

“But we have all this new data” someone would proffer.   “Doesn’t matter” he’d say.

“Surely if she knew about X, Y and Z she would see that what we are doing is not going to work,” another would chime in.   “You can do what you want” he would retort, “but I’m not about to argue with her.”

Is it hard to take a position contrary to what your boss believes?  Of course.

So what is it exactly that you get paid to do?  Why would you choose to invest so much time, energy and passion into something and then fail to offer an honest and direct assessment based upon your professional expertise?

I’ve had my share of opportunities to tell a boss or a client that their baby is ugly. And believe me, it hasn’t always gone well.  Nor have I always been proven right. And frankly there are times that I’ve paid a high price–by being marginalized, shunned or fired. But I would do it all over again.

It’s a choice.  Do you want to live a life of integrity, doing the best work you are capable of, striving to be a linchpin?  Or do you want to take the path well traveled, leaving a legacy of mediocrity, safe in your weasel-ness?

Enjoy the mice.

 

Never teach a pig to sing

“Never teach a pig to sing.  It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

- Robert Heinlein

Innovation is hard-work.  So is becoming truly customer-centric.

Those who want to desperately maintain the status quo rarely appreciate the champion of change.   Those who wish to stay slavishly product or channel-centric often dread hearing someone prattle on about “one face to the customer” or “a seamless cross-channel experience.”

The reality is that some people cannot be swayed by mounds of compelling analysis, a slick PowerPoint presentation or your convincing personal selling skills.  Some organizations do not have sufficient capacity to change. And all the wishing and lobbying and task forces in the world will not make it so.

Sometimes when you advocate a remarkable customer-centric idea, the initial resistance is a sign that you have folks attention and the foundation is being poured for something exciting and new.  Other times the path to anger and resentment is just being cleared.

So let’s be brutally honest:  at your job are you teaching pigs to sing or are you breeding purple cows?

And if it’s the former, maybe it’s time to tune up that resume.

 

Certificate of Participation

If your experience growing up was anything like mine you probably collected a fair number of “certificates of participation.” Whether it was an elementary school athletic event or a spelling contest or the Soap Box Derby, I might not have performed well, but I always left with a crisp piece of paper that proved I was there.   I was rewarded for just showing up.  I could get an “A” for effort.

Woody Allen once famously quipped that “80% of life is just showing up”, and sadly that is often the case.

As children we have few choices about how we spend our time and we need to be encouraged to try new things and build a healthy sense of self-esteem.

As adults we have more choices, and far too often we simply choose to participate, to observe, to be spectators sitting in the stands watching others play the game.

Think of the meetings you attended yesterday.  If awards were handed out, would you get simply receive your Certificate of Participation or be ordained Miss Congeniality?  Or would you get the Risk Taker medal, the Innovator’s pin or the Linchpin trophy?

What does giving your best look like for you?

 

The Office of the Customer

A remarkable growth strategy for your brand or business should be, at its core,  a customer-centric growth strategy.  Contrast this with most companies’ strategies which are strongly product-centric or channel-centric.

To be truly customer-centric, your organization needs to start with a single, cohesive understanding of the value, needs and wants of your most important customers and prospects. And then you need to consistently turn this insight into action to drive meaningful results.

So how are you doing?

Have you integrated all your relevant customer data into an enterprise data warehouse?  Is all your “voice of the customer” information–from formal research studies to satisfaction surveys to customer complaints accessible and its implications understood by key decision-makers? Do you have people, and I mean specific individuals, responsible and accountable for understanding your most important customer segments, monitoring critical metrics and for coming up with new and improved ways to engage, grow and retain them?

I can hear the objections already. We don’t have enough data!  Our systems aren’t good enough!  We can’t afford to get good customer research and create sophisticated segmentations!   We can’t add headcount in this economic environment!

Sure, it would be better to assemble a new department with lofty goals and a big budget to take on all these noble activities.   But here’s the choice you can make.  You can sit around and hope for money to be freed up or for your CEO to suddenly get that old time customer religion.  Or you can make something happen.  Today.   You can become a linchpin in taking that first step in the journey towards true customer-centricity.

If no one else is doing anything that’s making a difference, create the “The Office of the Customer.” Invite people to become part of your tribe.  Vest yourself and those who join in your movement with the responsibility to pull the critical customer information together.    Work collectively to glean the insights, design the better solutions and relentlessly advocate for putting the customer first.    Help your management see what can be done with a purpose and a passion.

If no joins in, or perhaps worse, your boss tells you to stop wasting time on these fanciful notions, you’ve learned something valuable.  It’s probably time to find a job at a company that gets it.

Ruthless Experimentation: What Are You Afraid Of?

Part of any remarkable customer growth strategy is what I like to call “ruthless experimentation.”

Old timey, product centric growth strategy was all about the big reveal.  We spend months and months coming up with our bold new marketing plans and then–at this point, please pause dramatically–Ta-Da!–we see if (hope that?) the customer likes it.   If we are wrong, it’s back to the drawing board for Plan B.

Not only is this cycle unacceptably long, it does not reflect the dynamic realities of what it takes to build and sustain a relationship with your best and most promising customers.   Just about any business has the ability to test and learn on a number of fronts: permission-based email, direct mail, Facebook, Twitter, an in-store promotion and more.  So why do I have conversations virtually every day with executives who are still studying their social media strategy, struggling to develop an actionable customer segmentation or waiting to improve their CRM platform before they try more personalized marketing?

It’s simple: they are afraid.  Afraid to admit they don’t really “get” how something works.  Afraid that they may not hit their hoped for response rates.  Afraid a promotion might perform “too well.”  Afraid to pull the trigger on the “good enough” idea rather than the perfect one.

So what’s the riskier move?  Studying and planning until you have lowered your chance of “failure” to close to zero %?  Or sitting on the sidelines while your competition is out there trying stuff, learning, truly listening to customer feedback and evolving to make their value proposition more relevant and remarkable?

Being customer-centric is a dynamic, learning process.  Accept it, walk through your fear.  Experiment ruthlessly.  Be a linchpin.  And make something happen today.*

* see Seth’s Blog for more on this: http://bit.ly/cilzJL