Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Perfect Gift for Senior Executives - Execution in a Box!

Silly rabbit – execution doesn’t come in a box but if it did many CEOs would sleep better at night. According to a global survey of chief executives by The Conference Board, when asked to rate their greatest concerns from among 94 challenges, the sample of CEOs chose excellence of execution as their top challenge for the second year in a row. http://www.conference-board.org

So why is execution so difficult? Many excellent book have been written on the subject. My favorite is Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. Here is another perspective with 3 simple dimensions to think of namely, people, process, and technology. In this first part I’ll cover the people aspect of Why Execution is so hard.

Why Execution is so hard - The People Dimension (part 1 of 3)

In many corporate environments today apathy has set in. Commonplace layoffs and compensation practices haven’t helped to build great company cultures. Where are the $1 dollar a year CEOs? The difference in pay between the top and the bottom of organization is wider than ever. When employees are already “at capacity” due to previous cuts and have absorbed the jobs of those who were let go, then those that remain grow weary of what’s next. Making matter worse, when executives remove themselves from the operational reality then a semi-silent attitude persists around watercoolers and in instant messages, “let mahogany row do it” “They decided on x and then let Mary, Rob, and Bill go, so let them do it themselves”. Warning to leadership everywhere - If you cut deeply and don’t temper your ambitions your staff will temper it for you during the execution phase of your great strategy.

Lack of entrepreneurial thinking
In times of scarcity, entrepreneurial thinking reigns supreme. Entrepreneurs are accustomed to handing tasks beneath and above them and becoming very resourceful. But, yet again, most corporate leaders are not entrepreneurial so the likelihood that they have been developing their people in this vein is unlikely.

Butt toward customer
When organizations are not rooted in customer reality, understanding who ultimately creates demand for their products, then organizational bias’ can creep in and cause each department to imagine who the customers are. Along with this comes the finger pointing and blame game when things don’t go well. Unfortunately, this lack of alignment gives birth to micro strategies as each department crafts their own, sometimes silently. As said in Funky Business, when you have your focus inside the organization you have your butt toward the customer. That is not a great experience for your customers.

Lack of intellectual honesty and authentic dialogue
A company culture that lacks execution probably is absent of intellectually honesty and authentic dialogue. Execution gaps are ignored, corners are cut, and alarming messages are filtered. Pressures within companies to conform work the same whether the culture is one that executes well or one that executes poorly. Homogeneous lemming-like thinking sets in. Rock stars are disillusioned and squelched. Like the Rush song, Subdivisions says,” conform or be cast out.”

Unpopular deeper thinking and healthy discourse are sometimes exactly the bitter pill a company must swallow to make it through challenging times and emerge a more healthy vibrant force. If you are a company leader, ask yourself what pill are you taking and more importantly what are your prescribing.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Excellence in Execution without Excellence in Communications? I Don't Think So!

If the execution of your business strategy requires more than one person then you will need excellence in communications. Here are a couple of things to consider.

Internal Initiatives Require Constant Communication

The CEO of a Major Distributor and a previous mentor of mine told me that whenever he was embarking on major change in his organization he knew he needed to communicate 50 times before people would fully embrace it. I would add that if they are sales people, you might need to communicate 55 times. Think about how many times you either communicate or receive communications at work. Start a counter or print the image above and cross off one "communicate" each time. I suspect your successful initiatives will reach 50 and those that fall short on execution don't measure up on the communicate counter.

Different People Require Different Modes of Communication
Some people love the face to face meeting while other abhor it. Younger workers can readily multitask, texting away on their phones, instant messaging on their computers, all the while working away on that spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation. They might even look up to acknowledge you when you walk in their cube.

Other people have different communication preferences and habits. One consultant told me that she made people at a client company uncomfortable because she preferred to know who she was working with. She would show up at peoples offices or meet them for hall walks between meetings to put the name to the face. Recipients of her face-to-face meetings found this uncomfortable. They had a youthful highly technical culture that hid behind there computers and lacked emotion. This feeling was and is evident in this company's products today, something my colleague is hoping to change.

Different people have different communication defaults - phone, email, face-to-face, instant messaging, text, or telepathy. Problem is that these defaults are not always constructive for all contexts. For example, if you are having a misunderstanding (probably a miscommunication) with somebody, rather than sending yet another email, perhaps the best thing is to get out of your chair and have a face-to-face meeting. Know your default and change it up a bit from time to time. You will benefit yourself and those around you.

If you have a practical communication tip that helps with execution please comment or send me an email.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Where is the Customer Love?

He loves me, she loves me not. Who are my best customers? My most vocal advocates? Who needs a nudge to move further in the buying process? Why is our campaign delivering lackluster results? Why don’t our customers understand us? I suppose I could have named this post “please don’t lump all of your customers in one bucket”.

Sadly, many B2B and B2C marketers still fall into the trap of poorly segmented communications. Sales, services, and executives can share some blame as well, since they often are involved in communications.

Why is it so hard? One reason is that people in your organization have a bias for who they believe the customer is and how the buying process works. If you are an executive charged with raising capital you might think that the investor is the customer. If you are in the trenches helping somebody through a problem with your product or service then you know they are a real customer as opposed to a prospect. Sales and even some marketing personnel fail to differentiate between suspects, prospects, and customers.

Not having a common view and language exacerbates the problems with sales and marketing alignment and execution. Ultimately the customer suffers, but so does business. Diminished sales, poor loyalty, and price buyers are often the result.

Communications happen at various touchpoints before, during, and after, your customers buy and use your product. Not recognizing this is a prescription for customers churn, poor brand aftertaste, and ultimately a disengaged marketplace. Employees involved in this are forced to spin their wheels becoming disenfranchised, which further degrades the customer experience.

At For Doers, we believe that companies that make the customer experience core to their operation are more successful. Communications is an important lever in improving the customer experience. There are many opportunities for customer delight in communications.

At the very minimum companies should segment customer communications into 3 stages.

The first stage is Exposure. Here you expose suspects to your products and services and turn them into a prospect. Next is the Adoption stage. Getting your prospect through the sales process and consuming your product or service is the goal. The last stage is Retention.

Bain and Company research established that it is 10x more costly to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one. So naturally, you wish to retain customers and expose them to them to new products and services. Advocates are loyal, often will pay more and buy more, provide useful feedback and input on products and services and insulate you from the effectiveness of competitor price promotions. Properly enabled, they also expose and influence likeminded customers. Because of this, it is important to continue to build the relationship and strive for advocacy. This is especially importance in a era where B2C and B2B buyers turn to social networks and online information sources for opinions and counsel before completing a purchase decision.

NetFlix Example of Poorly Segmented Communications
Alaska Airlines Example of a Segmented Communication

Please contact us if you would like an outside assessment and further guidance in improving your customers experience through communications. We have a range of services available.

Share your views and experiences about customer communications. Take the survey and be sure to include your email address if you'd like to see how your answers compare to others. Feel free to share the link with others.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Segmented Customer Communication is Critical to Good Brand Aftertaste - Alaska Airlines Example

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Segmented Customer Communication is Critical to Good Brand Aftertaste - Netflix Example

This is an example of the communications flow over the duration of my relationship with Netflix.

I signed up for Netflix in response to an offer through a social networking game. I was already familiar with the brand and service but was waiting for a good time to “pull the trigger”. Upon signup, Netflix immediately enabled my account so I could create my movie queue. So far so good.

Over the next several months I rented movies and returned them in the neat little prepaid envelope. Convenient and straightforward. Over this same time period I had continued to receive the normal trial offers, which I dismissed as noise. I figured that Netflix would eventually catch up so I didn’t think too negatively about it. At worst I was neutral though I was considering those poor trees.

At some point I received an email that my credit card had expired. I was able to smoothly fix this by clicking through on the email. Great, crisis averted, the movies continued to flow.

Then one day I was really impressed. I received an email stating that Netflix had shipped me my latest movie on a Saturday and they were curious when I received it.

They said they were always looking to improve operations. I clicked on the link in my email and checked the appropriate link indicating that I had received the movie on Monday. I then received an on screen thank you confirmation. This was nicely executed. I felt important. I felt respected. A brand that cares… nice!

The very next day, literally, I received another trial offer to sign up for Netflix. All of the good feelings I had about the brand the day before suddenly evaporated. I now felt like they didn’t care about me or really care about my monthly payment of $15.95. Worse yet, the fine print on the offer said that current and previous members and their households were ineligible for the offer.

At this point I started to think pretty low of these turkeys and felt they didn’t deserve my business. All of this has left a poor brand aftertaste in my mouth. I’m still a customer for now but more receptive than ever to change to the next thing. I’m simply waiting again to pull the trigger.

Hmmm, Redbox is in my neighborhood – maybe I'll check them out next time I’m at the QFC.

So what would I have done differently. Over the duration of my relationship with the Netflix brand I was never enabled as an advocate. But worse they continue to market to me as though I was only learning of their service. Simply segmenting customer communications into stages of Exposure, Adoption, and Retention goes a long way toward improving the communication aspect of the customer experience. In an age where everything and everybody is increasingly connected and budgets are under scrutiny everywhere it is dangerous for a business to not be more thoughtful in their customer communications.

Please contact us if you would like an outside assessment and further guidance in improving your customer communications. We have a range of services available to assess and improve the customer experience.