A company president was excited about a popular cartoon depicting warriors fighting a battle with bows and arrows, along with a suited salesman carrying a machine gun and a briefcase.
“Can’t you see I have no time to see a salesman?” says a beleaguered officer. “I’ve got a battle to fight.” Ironically, this is the same executive who nixed new opportunities for his company to grow its sales.
Ideas challenging the status quo can face roadblocks in any company, whether in sales, marketing or, most importantly, the future. Yet, those ideas may let in more light so that effective change can take place. Here are six.
Business owners can be wrong. Entrepreneurs have immense pride in their businesses and, ironically, a dogmatic belief in their own ideas may do damage.
A president of a highly successful industrial business became so enamored with breaking new ground in his industry by selling equipment on the Internet that he made a substantial investment in an e-commerce website without taking the time to determine whether customers would purchase his company’s products online. The venture failed, just when the recession began taking its toll on the economy.
What we think about our business can distort reality and interfere with meeting today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities.
Everything is never on the table. It’s pure posturing, and anyone who puts it to the test gets hurt. Just ask GM’s recently fired marketing chief Joel Ewanick. He came up with the campaigns for Chevrolet, “Love it or return it” and “Chevy runs deep.” He also opted out of Super Bowl XII advertising and cancelled GM’s Facebook ads just prior to the social media giant going public.
Most revealing, he also discovered that other things run deeper at GM: namely, “That ain’t the way we do it around here.” When someone says, “Everything is on the table,” don’t believe it. Putting them to the test can be dangerous. There are always ideas, practices and activities that are untouchable.
It’s all about strategy. When the Boston Business Journal asked Mark B. Kerwin, deputy director and chief financial officer of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, about the biggest challenge he faces in his field, he said, “Staying strategic as opposed to tactical.”
Steve Jobs couldn’t have said it better. He was a brilliant strategist. He was committed to building a company that built beautiful things that consumers admire and love to use in their daily lives. It’s no accident that M.G. Siegler of TechCrunch describes Mountain Lion, Apple’s latest operating system, as “the most polished and robust version of OS X yet.”
Tactics are easier to understand and far more fun, but most of the time, they’re temporary and don’t advance us to the goal.
Customers for life is deception. Why? Because it’s counter-intuitive, naïve and dangerous. Yet these three words seem so ingrained in our thinking that Googling them produces 1.4 million results. Even against such a mountain of evidence, it’s still an illusion.
It should be obvious that customers are never for life: they die, find a better deal, move, change their lifestyles, retire or want something new. In B2B, some merge or sell, go out of business, or become obsolete.
In spite of doing everything possible to keep customers satisfied, they still leave. Yet, bloggers, speakers and business writers implore us to embrace the belief that we can keep them forever.
Businesses are best served by abandoning mythical thinking, such as “customers for life,” and embrace reality with a “nothing is forever” mentality.
Downed by the demon of self-deception. More than just about anything else, self-deception is the biggest human stumbling block, and just about every business is plagued with this unrelenting problem.
In a study of a group of college students, researchers discovered that cheating gives students false confidence in their abilities, according to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The upshot seemed to be that once we lie, it doesn’t take much for us to convince ourselves that we’re not lying.
Ask the president of a highly successful consumer services company to describe his primary business objective and he would undoubtedly say, “Putting our customers first.” In all sincerity, he would mean it. Yet, this same president sent a letter to his customers filled with dozens of references as to why customers should do business with his company, but no rationale was given as to why it would benefit the customers to do so. It was if he was writing the letter to himself.
To test how widespread self-deception is in business, watch employees’ faces when a president or sales manager holds forth on the company’s newest product launch, announces next year’s goals or the need to increase productivity. Then, you can see the clash of two quite different realities.
Forget about ‘The Great Person.’ At women’s clothing retailer Talbot’s, there has been a parade of CEOs, each with the answer to the company’s troubles, and each taking it deeper into lower sales and debt. The story is the same at Yahoo!, where hope hangs on yet another CEO.
It might be helpful if boards of directors stopped wanting to believe that the next executive holds the key. The “Great (Man) Person Theory” has had its day, although its vestiges can be found everywhere, including business.
The fallacy rests in believing that success will follow with the right person. But as science writer Matt Ridley says (Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2010), innovation depends on exchange. He points to Uruk, in Southern Mesopotamia. It “was probably the first city the world has ever seen, housing more than 50,000 people within its six miles of walls. Uruk, its agriculture made prosperous by sophisticated irrigation canals, was home to the first class of middlemen, trade intermediaries.”
It’s the same in America: Silicon Valley in technology, Boston in medical care, New York in finance and Las Vegas in casinos.
As Ridley points out, “In the modern world, innovation is a collective enterprise that relies on exchange.”
In business, as elsewhere, ideas, as much as action, make a difference. Companies that put action above ideas may find that they are doing a lot of things backward.