Archive for the ‘spoken post’ Category

Waiting for the call to come in

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

A few weeks ago I was traveling in the northwest of England and I had an occasion to take a cab from my hotel to the office where I was working. The taxi driver who picked me up was very upset. He started cursing out the dispatcher and his terrible luck and I was ready for him to start cursing me out too. He tore through intersections in a futile effort to make up time. I was a bit shocked, but rather than engage with him, I just heard him out. “This is such a low F-ing fare and it’s on an F-ing company account.” And that he had to come from a long way to pick me up and that it was in the middle of F-ing rush hour. He saw the prospect of working for an hour just to make a few pounds and was very upset with that.

Eventually he calmed down. He began to talk about his life. He liked to work out. His girlfriend had just had an ectopic pregnancy and was recovering from surgery. At one point during the conversation he kind of took a breath and turned around to me and said: “You sit at your corner waiting for the call from the dispatch. You don’t know when it’s gonna come. You don’t know how good the fare’s gonna be. You don’t know whether you’re gonna make enough money that day to be able to support your family.”

And he said, “You know, I’d really much rather have a proper job on an oil rig in the North Sea. That’s something I hope to do some day.”

It made me think of entrepreneurs. The taxi driver was one. He was waiting for the call to come in. That’s the way he had to work. What a terrible feeling of powerlessness.

As I left the cab, I wished him good luck in finding his job. And he said, “Thanks mate.” And drove off.

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Extracting value from a failed cold call

Friday, February 1st, 2008

A few days ago l got a cold call from Pitney Bowes, the postage meter company. And they wanted to sell me a new postage meter that they had scaled down for small & medium size businesses. It was an interesting machine but looking at the price of it and the value it had to me I wasn’t really interested.

In the course of the conversation, though, I gave them quite a bit of information about what I really wanted. Here’s the price point I could accept, here was the no. of letters that I mail per month and packages and so forth.

Eventually the conversation ended but it occurred to me that there would be a lot of information in those types of calls that could be used for marketing research. The feedback from various prospects could be assembled and made sense of, narrative-wise, and convey a lot of information to the marketing group. (This is in the spirit of getting value out of, for example, “unsuccessful” product development efforts and “failed” scientific experiments.)

All marketing calls are recorded of course, but my sense is that sales call recordings go into the archives, especially failures, and are not dealt with again.

Which seems like a lost opportunity for the product manager to learn more about an untapped customer segment.

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Listening to dissent stops automatic thinking

Friday, January 4th, 2008

Recently, I was working with a colleague on an order we were about to place with a supplier. We had had some issues with this supplier’s performance, but they had been resolved. Anyway, that had been weeks earlier and I was looking ahead to what we needed next. One morning I got an email from my colleague answering some questions I had about the order.

But at the end of this email, he wrote something that really stopped me in my tracks. He wrote: should we continue using this supplier?

Despite the troubles, I hadn’t even considered replacing them. As I spent the next few hours thinking about my colleague’s question, it occurred to me that this is one of the values of dissent: it helps stop automatic thinking.

I was ready to go ahead and place the order and the response from my colleague made me stop and think. We talked, my colleague and I, and decided the order should go ahead, but in addition, we put together a list of the concerns we had, and asked the supplier to respond to them before the next order shipped. Looking back, I was glad my colleague raised his voice. And I was glad I listened.

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Religion and science both require faith

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

I’ve been thinking all week about a New York Times Op-Ed article from Saturday, by the cosmologist Paul Davies of Arizona State University, which stated that if you’re a scientist you have to have faith–faith in there being an order in the universe sufficient to support the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, etc. Beneath every testable theory we’ve developed, there is a point at which the greatest scientists say, “It is that way just because.” or “We take that as a given.”

Writes Davies,

Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

It’s humbling to think, with all the discoveries we’ve made, all the rules we’ve constructed about the universe, at the base of it is a vast, possibly infinite number of things we don’t know and won’t ever know. It made me think that maybe religious faith and science are more reconcilable than they might seem.

(Photo: N81 in the Small Mag from NASA’s GRIN site.

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A salesperson’s lesson on growth

Friday, November 16th, 2007

A number of years ago, I was in an internal training class with some of my colleagues. One guy in particular was a salesperson I had always thought of as being a bit shallow. Anyway, during a break in the class, I got into a discussion with him about the effect of Home Depot and moving commercial development out of city centers, putting Mom and Pop hardware stores out of business. And in the discussion he was, to my surprise, against a lot of that development. I was saying, you know, wasn’t it a good thing that due to these superstores things could be cheaper and that people could buy more things? And I remember him saying in response: why do things need to be cheap, why do we need more things?

It really shocked me, because my assessment of him was way wrong. I had definitely not pegged him to be such a thoughtful person. I’ve remembered those words for more than 10 years and as I reflect on it now, his response and his thinking had a lot of the Buddhist in them.

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There’s no such thing as bad publicity

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

A few years ago, I was at a party in New York City and there I met an older entrepreneur. We got to talking about public relations and newspapers and so forth and he recounted a story to me. He had been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal for an article in their newspaper and when he saw the article a few days later he was appalled. He’d been misquoted, the article was negative in tone and it just wasn’t at all what he had anticipated.

He was really disappointed and depressed and he was trying to figure out how he could do damage control on this terrible article. Anyway, over the next several days, he kept getting congratulatory phone calls and emails and people he’d meet on the street would come up to him and say, “Hey, great article in the Wall Street Journal the other day.”

He told me after that he never worried about trying to spin public relations. He just did his thing and whatever came out was OK.

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We’re all Doubting Thomases

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Last week I sat on an airplane waiting for it to take off, and as I looked out my window I noticed a couple of maintenance techs staring at a small puddle of fluid beneath the wing. Over the course of time more people came out to look at the puddle and I noticed one guy leaning down and drawing his fingertip through the puddle, then rubbing his fingers together, to check and see what the liquid was.

A few minutes later a couple of more guys came out they talked with the other people for a little bit and then each of them separately tested the fluid with a finger again. I imagine that the first guy told them what he had found with his finger tests and nonetheless they had to bend down and try it themselves.

This told me a lot about how people operate. Despite what anyone tells us usually we have to experience things for ourselves in order to trust what the answer is. Similarly, showing my son George how to tie his shoes isn’t very effective. He has to try and fail for a while in order to truly learn it–even if he doesn’t much like the process.

[Postscript: the liquid on the ground was hydraulic fluid, and we had to change to different flights to get where we were going.]

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(Photo by rodnem via stock.xchng)

If you can raise prices, don’t hesitate

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Last night I was talking with my mother in law & she related to me a story. When they were renting apartments, they would have customers sign a lease. When it was time for that lease to be renewed they could raise the rent if they wanted. At first, they tried not to increase the rent until it was absolutely necessary. What they found is when they waited & did it much later that the rent raise was a real shock to the tenants, who had a very negative reaction to the increase. They actually lost some tenants due to that.

She learned that increasing the rent each renewal time, even a small amount, was better than holding off and giving a bigger increase some time in the future.

This is true in pricing almost any service product. At my last company we worked hard to negotiate price increase clauses in our long-term contracts. But if we didn’t use them for the first few years of the contract, we found it very difficult to raise prices later. Customers would scream, and in some cases we backed off.

So the lesson to marketers is: small regular increases work far better for customer relations than no increases followed by a jump.

It’s better for your revenue too.

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More learning from mistakes

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

I saw my hairdresser the other day. She’s one of the most impressive entrepreneurs I know. We were talking about this idea of learning from others’ mistakes. And she said, oh yeah, when I started this place the first thing I thought about was all the things my previous bosses had done that I didn’t want to repeat.

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Missing an opportunity via traditional business planning

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Posting about a better way to manage innovation last week reminded me of a story from my days at EDS. In 1996 a colleague and I worked on business plan for a South American wireless clearinghouse. We could see it was good business, but no matter what we did, we just couldn’t get those numbers to work out, to get an appropriate level of profit with low enough risk. So the company dropped it. But now of course such a clearinghouse does exist, and I’m guessing it makes money for whoever runs it. Which makes me wonder how things would have been different if we’d used the approaches described in the article.

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