Who is Your Competition?

Recently I was a participant in a conversation / brainstorming session and someone else proclaimed, “If your competition is doing it, you have to do it too.” While my teeth slowly came down on my tongue I thought, “My Gawd, NO! Me-too isn’t a viable strategy. Follow the blind leading the blind? No way man. Where you should be is where your Guests expect you to be.”  However, that does raise the question: Who is your competition?

Back story: In the 90’s I owned an (offline) retail store that sold music (i.e., vinyl records and CDs), as well as clothing and some other things. The “prevailing wisdom” back then was that other businesses similar to Planet X (the name of the store) were the competition. In retrospect that perception was off-target. The competition was not my music retail peers as much as it was the other interests of my customers. For example, video games. When someone spent $50 on a video game then chances were good they didn’t have that $50 to spend on music (or clothing). The competition wasn’t another store in the next town but that the customer believe the best value for his/her buck was something other than what we offered.

Here are two articles that touch upon the new ideal of competition:

“A Winning Playbook” – Kim S. Nash and Lauren Brousell (CIO.com)

“Disrupt of Die” – Kim S. Nash (CIO.com)

With the internet that effect gets magnified, obviously. Pardon me to stating the obvious but at any given moment you are just a click away from losing the attention of your customers to someone or something else. Your competition is now everywhere, 24/7. Obviously, you can not—and should not—be everywhere. In addition, the people (i.e., The Guests) you are trying to reach have a finite amount of time and a finite amount of attention. The possibilities are endless. The answer is to redefine what competition means in decade two of the 21st century.

Here are the new rules for the new game:

  • Step 1: Abandon the myths of the 20th century, especially those that were never true to begin with.
  • Step 2: Think like your Guests. What are their expectations? What does their ideal experience look/feel like? Obsess over that, not the illusion of individual competitors.
  • Step 3: Spend some time in the mirror asking why and when you are your biggest enemy (read: competition). How are you preventing you from identifying and delivering the ideal experience?
  • Step 4: Repeat.

Ready? Set? Go!

Innovation Rejuvenation

“How to Restart Innovation” by CIO Executive Council (CIO.com, 14 December 2011). Great collection of ideas! But let’s be honest, this is not rocket science. That said, let’s also dig a bit deeper and harvest some additional gold from between the lines.

Starting with the Brent Hoag (VP and CIO of Diversey), there’s the famous, “If you can measure it, you can manage it.” Diversey  didn’t just say, “Let’s be innovative.” Geez, anyone can do that. The key here, they made a particular team responsible for that business need. While it’s true the whole organization should play a part in innovation, by making it someone’s responsibility it’s more likely to happen. Thinking about it is easy. Talk is cheap. The key is actually making an effort, and actually making someone accountable for it too.

Next comes Allison Redecki (Senior VP and CIO of GS1 US) and, “Tear down the silos!” Which by the way also applies to Hoag’s team. What Redecki has done is to have her people not re-actively serve their clients but to be proactive and walk in the clients’ shoes. The goal is to strive to be in a position to add value, not just regurgitate. In some ways the requests for new ideas is actually a by-product. The by-product of IT having a better understanding of what the business is doing and what it’s trying to accomplish. Without that understanding there would be no new ideas to be offered. That said, in asking for ideas (and presumably rewarding them) IT is forced to become closer immersed in their clients’ world. Silos down. Everybody wins.

And finally there’s Mark Carbrey (CIO of Cross Country Automotive Services) and their focus on The Guest Experience. His team is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating. In addition, using volunteers for such efforts not only keeps everyone engaged beyond their focus (read: it keeps them looking beyond the silos) but it also excites them. Everyone across his team is continuously a part of something new.Funny how participation gets people to well…um…participate.

The bottom line…It’s alarming how many organizations put their employees in cubicles, ask them to focus a fixed target, measure them on that, and then those same organizations are shocked when, “Think outside the box,” doesn’t produce significant innovation. If you want your team to use The Force, then you have to also give them the opportunities and inspiration to feel The Force too. Or as Chevy Chase said in Caddyshack, “Be the ball Danny.”

Today AU, tomorrow the world – Part 2

“Renaissance Men Wanted: Big Problems Need Big Innovators” interview of author Vinnie Mirchandani by Thomas Wailgum (CIO.com, 14 June 2010). A quick follow up to yesterday’s post. Looks like Mr. Mirchandani casts another vote for an AU state of mind.

Be BI smart and respond (but that includes proactive listening too)

The journey of this post starts here: “Business Intelligence Meets BPM: Using Data to Change Business Processes on the Fly” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 17 June 2010). On one hand this is fascinating stuff — collecting data, analyzing it and distilling information that objectively drives business action. The business side of my brain goes, “Wow!” But then reality sets in and that, “Wow” turns to, “Wow, scary.” This freight takes two forms:

1) The private person in me shutters to think that Big Brother is not only watching but he’s storing, tracking, cross referencing and analyzing too. This is taking place at and unimaginable level of granularity.

2) The business side of my brain also appreciates the fact that Guests are people. They are not just data points on a graph or cells in a spreadsheet. Analysis is certainly essential but one would bet there are plenty of companies over-valuing this new found power. They are forgetting that they are in business to serve people, not just respond to ones and zeros. As a matter of fact, read this article first: “Superhighway to Hell” by Stephen Saunders (InformationWeek.com via InternetEvolution.com, 19 June 2010).

Back to the first article by Kim Nash. There are some bits to this article (pull out of the context of the whole article) that beg to be addressed AU style:

As Kilcoyne and Coyne learned, modern business intelligence and analytics tools can extract data from enterprise software, populate pre-built statistical models and quickly produce insights that used to take weeks. “In the past, doing predictive analytics needed a PhD in statistics to build a model and interpret results,” says Aberdeen’s White. But newer analytics tools “hide the underlying statistical nerd details,” he says. “Business people don’t have to worry about how the sausage gets made.”

One word: Derivatives. No one needed to understand those either, correct? Information is only as good as the understanding the business people have of the data that was used to compile it. A report without caveats and context is no report at all. If BI is about removing assumption then that thoroughness should be part of the end to end approach.

Key to game-changing decision making is the ability to detect and respond to market changes, taking into account historical knowledge. DirecTV uses analytics to save customers who want to cancel their television service. The company started the program two years ago when it sought to cut churn rates.

What’s interesting is that the examples sited are all reactive. There is some action and then analysis is used to define the appropriate way to respond. Maybe this should be supplemented with a proactive approach as well? That is, avoid upfront engaging customers who don’t meet the good customer profile. For example, for a fitness club, membership retention would be less of an issue if the right customers were attracted in the first place. Waiting to see who leaves seems archaic, no?

How hard agents press depends on how valuable the customer has been to DirecTV, Gustafson says. “There are some people we just do not want to lose.” About 60 percent of customers who want to depart are deemed worth trying to save, he says. The company uses tools from Teradata and SAS to analyze past behavior, evaluating data such as the average annual revenue the customer represents, her payment history and how many pay-per-view shows she buys.

This is a perfect example of forgetting that we’re dealing with real people here. Maybe I am a marginal customer. But if I have 500 Facebook friends and 1,000 Twitter follows then that should be a factor too. To simply place a value on an account (notice I did not say guest or customer) is at best dangerous if the evaluation is this superficial.

Every customer saved is one less customer the company has to try to win back weeks or months later—an expensive process, Gustafson says, that can involve mailings, e-mail and telephone calls as well as sending someone out to reinstall the service. “When the customer first calls, they have a certain mind-set: They want to cancel,” he says. “When we call back, they’re unprepared. It’s a little psychological advantage we have.”

Oh no he didn’t! Forgive me if this sounds insulting but only an idiot would go on record saying such a thing. But again, Mr. Gustafson’s statement is another example of forgetting that guests are real people, not rats to be manipulated.

Now, though, the My Coke Rewards program has helped the company develop more in-depth knowledge about loyal customers. The inside of every bottle cap is printed with a 12-digit code that customers can text or type into a website or desktop widget to accumulate points that can be exchanged for prizes and other awards. Those who opt in to e-mail marketing receive regular offers to gain more points, as well as other marketing pitches. Each is customized based on segments created from demographic information and behavior collected by the site. On average, 285,000 customers visit per day, entering an average of seven codes per second. Information embedded in the codes may include a region or location where the bottle was sold and whether it had special packaging, such as an Olympics logo, that Coca-Cola uses to tailor its pitches.

Read that again… It’s not a 12 digit number, it’s a code. In other words, you can’t drink a soda in peace without wondering when and how Coca-Cola is going to watch you. Scary, right?

After four years, My Coke Rewards is among the longest-running marketing programs in Coca-Cola’s history. And as the program has grown, the company has changed the way it runs in response to insight from analytics, Rollins says.

First, of all the programs Coke has ever had four years constitutes “among the longest-running”? MyGawd, has their marketing department been thinking or just rolling the dice and hoping to find something that sticks. Must be nice to have that type of budget. Furthermore, this reads as if they are responding to analysis, not guests. Not good.

Coca-Cola uses the FICO Precision Marketing Manager suite of statistical analysis tools to study data from its websites. Marketers look at which come-ons elicit the most and best responses, says Thomas Stubbs, Coca-Cola’s interactive marketing director in global IT. Coca-Cola also exchanges data with companies that supply prizes, including Nascar, Nike (NKE) and Sony. “As technology has evolved, we’re able to do more and have a relevant dialog with customers, not just push our ideas out there,” he says.

“A man might not want to admit that he’s a Diet Coke drinker. He will say in a survey that he prefers Coke. But we see he enters only Diet Coke PINs and market accordingly.”

Danger Will Robinson! While it’s true that Coca-Cola might want to know more about who consumes their products, Coke is treading on thin ice if they believe that their definition of the guest is better than the guest’s himself/herself. Do such details constitute useful information? Yes, of course. Might they also be making over-confident decision, and possibly insulting the guest? Yes, that’s very true too.

The idea is not just to save business but to create new business. Successful projects spark new ones. Analytics tools help companies create more money-generating interactions with customers and shave costs from internal operations. CIOs should connect analytics technologies with ideas about refining business processes, says Aberdeen’s White. “Meld them together and that’s very powerful.”

Bottom line… it’s about The Guests, not data and analysis. This shouldn’t be about “refining business process” but about improving The Guest Experience. Same ends? Maybe (but probably not). Different means? Yes, very different means. One puts The Guest first and one does not. If you could analyze the two approaches which would you bet to be the winner? Of the companies you deal with which try to improve The Guest Experience and which are more concerned about their processes and their bottom line?

And finally, to help get it all back into perspective: “It’s Not Your Relationship to Manage” by Lauren McKay (CRM Magazine via DestinationCRM.com, May 2010).

What is the sound of one man clapping?

Collaboration. Networking — Social or otherwise. Crowdsourcing. Team building. Etc. Etc. Etc. Sound familiar?

As it was once said:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572 – 1631)

Here are three intriguing perspectives on technology, islands and life as we know it in 2010:

“Interview: Jaron Lanier – Why Crowdsourcing Isn’t Always Wise” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 25 March 2010)

Your book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, challenges the value of crowdsourcing. What’s wrong with the hive mind on the Internet?

It does work sometimes: A crowd of buyers sets a price in a marketplace. But it only works if you want output of a single result. Otherwise, you get design by committee. You get features added to services without anyone looking at the whole complex picture of what you’re trying to build.

“The Grill: Andrew McAfee” by Sharon Gaudin (ComputerWorld.com, 5 April 2010)

What are the best ways that businesses are taking advantage of Web 2.0 technology?

They’re taking advantage of it in a few different ways. They’re using it to let people broadcast their expertise: I’m going to tell the organization what I’m doing, what I know and what I’m good at. I’m not filling out fields in a database. I’m doing this by blogging. That lets me narrate my work.

— “Build Up Your Influence” by CIO Executive Council (CIO.com, 17 March 2010)

Cora Carmody, Jacobs Engineering, “Whether you want to influence your own team or an external partner, you must show them they are important to you.”

And what tools and approaches do you use to make you work life and your home life a better place?

“Tweet Me The Money”

“Follow the Money (Facebook, Mobile Phones and the Future of Shopping)” by Kim S. Nash (CIO Magazine, December 2009). Last week’s post on Wired’s “The Future of Money” article might have been a bit abstract and heavy duty for some. This is more particle guide to the state of the online shopping art.

Here’s a bit of inspiring food for thought:

On Facebook, millions of people declare themselves as fans of performers, products, even the president. The number-one fan page on Facebook is dedicated to the late Michael Jackson, with 10.3 million members. President Obama is next with 6.8 million. Starbucks is the biggest retail brand with 4.8 million fans. But becoming a fan of something is the equivalent of wearing a logo T-shirt. It doesn’t bring M.J. back to life, reform healthcare or sell more coffee. 1-800-Flowers intends to find out whether social networkers are also social shoppers.

As well as:

The company is also tuning its marketing volume to match Facebook’s atmosphere. That is, rather than promote products all the time in the store’s status bar, there are trivia contests and craft ideas to keep fans engaged. “This is definitely a new and unique channel. Jumping in there and hard selling is not the way to go,” he says.

Price and cost are not the same thing

“Furnishing Higher Profits – Business Intelligence: How Analyzing ERP Data Helped a Retailer to Get More Value from Suppliers” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 28 October 2009). Today seems like a great day for KISS so let’s just get to the bottom line.

BI (business intelligence) is great but even the less enabled don’t need such a heavy duty investment to benefit from the takeaways of this article. Keep in mind:

— There is more to cost than the number on the price tag.
— You get what you pay for.
— When you’re the seller (and not the buyer) be sure to communicate the holistic value you provide for the fee you charge.

Done! Enjoy!! Pass it on…

The power of one, plus one (or more)

“Dynamic Duos” by Stephanie Overby (CIO Magazine, 15 October 2009). Further proof that the myth of the individual as victor is just that, a myth. Regardless of how many successes (and failures) are painted, in nearly 100% of the cases there is actually a team behind the individual being attributed with the accomplishment. For example, believe it or not, Tiger Woods has a caddy and he has a coach. Yes, he is obviously very talented but he can not do what he does on his 0wn.

Here are a couple choice pull quotes:

“Isolation is quite literally unhealthy—as bad for you as smoking or lack of exercise,” explains Rodd Wagner who, with fellow Gallup executive Gale Muller, coauthored the book Power of 2: How to Make the Most of Your Partnerships at Work and in Life. “The more we collaborate, the more we accomplish.”

“We have a culture that emphasizes being the all-around hero, even though research is quite clear that each of us is a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. It’s a real blind spot in business strategy,” says Wagner. To forge good partnerships, “you have to recognize both that you need help and that you are also the help someone else needs.”

The irony is, while many individuals become self-absorbed in their quest (and in turn come up short), the smart money pulls up a bus and focuses on getting the right people on board. Believe that myth all you want, but the truth is that realizing success — whether you’re on the clock, or after hours — does in fact take a village.

Be careful what you wish to measure

“The Dangers of Bad Data” by Vik Torpunuri (CRM Magazine, 1 Oct 2009)

“You Are What You Measure” by Lior Arussy (CRM Magazine, 1 Oct 2009)

“Goals Gone Wild” by Stephanie Overby (CIO Magazine, 15 September 2009)

No one will deny that setting goals and measuring progress are important. What’s even more important is setting the right goals, using the right measurements to determine progress, making sure the data is accurate and complete, and then how those measurements are used to manage the initiative.

For example, Google’s AdWords preaches the value of Click Through Rate (CTR), as well as cost per click (CPC). While both are helpful and should be monitored, they are both in many instances the wrong measurement. The better measurement is conversations as well as what Google Analytics calls goals. In theory you can have a great CRT and CPC for one campaign, but another campaign can have a lower CTR and a higher CPC but lead to more or better conversions. It’s an issue of quality verse quantity.

It should be noted that Google only gets paid for clicks not for conversions. So much for “Don’t be evil”, eh? Also, the next time some SEM “expert” starts praising himself/herself about CTR and CPC ask them about their conversion rate. Ask them about the impact their efforts were able to make on the bottom line. CTR and CPC isn’t enough and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Success is much more holistic than that.

Another example, is a call center. We’ve all phoned an 800 number looking for help with an issue only to get bounced from rep to rep to rep. Guess what? In that call center lenght of call probably factors into a rep’s review. Should length of call be measured? Yes, it should be. Should it be used to alter behavior of the reps in such a way that it compromises the relationship with the guest? Probably not.

The bottom line is this… measurement is important. Just be careful that you’re doing it right. And always question numbers and graphs when they are presented to you. Never assume that the messenger is right and is telling you what you really need to know.

Mr. Ed would be proud

“Taking Customer Care to Heart” by Gerald Shields (CIO Magazine, Sept 2009). There is something to be said for the power of story and Mr. Shields strengthens that perception.

Behind everything we’re working on, there’s a person with a business problem, and we should be there to make life better for them. It must never become just a job — it must be something we have passion for.

Regardless of your role you should find that this one-pager succeeds on multiple levels. Now it’s up to you to make a moment to consume Gerald’s story. Enjoy.

It’s not going to happen unless you try

“Inspiring Minds” by Stephanie Overby (CIO Magazine, 1 August 2009). Training is back in style and the pursuit of innovation is finally moving to the right side of the lip service tracks. What’s next? Executive pay becoming reasonable again? Think about it, a $100k pay cut could mean and $1,000 for 100 people.

Oops. Let’s get back to innovation and what this article has to offer. It looks as if Ms. Overby has saved the best for (the) last (paragraph):

But just as important as a spotlight on success is highlighting ideas with potential. Domino’s McGlothlin tries to keep the phrase “that’ll never work” out of his vocabulary, even when an idea clearly needs more time in the oven. “I have a tremendous team,” says McGlothlin, “and as long as I don’t squash their innate passion and curiosity, I believe that innovation will happen.”

Keep minds open and ideas flowing and sooner or later good things are going to happen.

Sometimes big risks are worth taking

“Leadership Skills Critical Now for Club Executives” by Ed Tock (FitnessBusiness.com, 1 July 2009). Please pardon the delay in getting around to this. As usual Mr. Tock’s thoughts are well worth the wait. These are challenging times for all of us. Some will rise and some will fall. How you lead, whether it’s others or yourself, is going to define where you eventually stand. Hopefully this will enable you to step towards your personal winner’s circle.

Mr. Tock’s topic brought to mind an oldie but goodie… “Achieving executive balance: Nine ways leaders and managers work together” by Shannon Kalvar (TechRepublic.com, 16 May 2006). Notice how leaders are the visionary means and managers define that vision with ends.

And finally, here’s one from the bottomless to-be-posted pile. “Chris Gardner: 5 Things I’ve Learned” by Kristin Burnham (CIO Magazine, 15 November 2008). Mr. Gardner is the author of the book, “The Pursuit of Happyness” (as played by Will Smith).

Three great one pagers to keep ya goin’. Now get goin’!

Two for the innovation show

“Guy Kawasaki on Innovation and the Myth of Lightning-Bolt Inspiration” by Diann Daniel (CIO Magazine, 25 February 2009). Mr. Kawasaki is the well respected venture capitalist so when he says that inspiration is free and development tools are cheap it’s worth a listen. Here’s a key pull quote to hook you in:

Again, at an intellectual level, no company laid off its way to success. On the other hand, it’s easy for “experts” to say that one must keep innovating when your company is running out of cash since it’s not their necks on the line. There are no magic bullets. It’s just a tough time.

Yes, it is tough but so is climbing Mount Everest. To face the challenges of the new normal one must continue to push forward (i.e., evolve, innovate, etc.) Standing still is not an option.

With that said, coming up with new ideas is half the battle. Some might even say it’s the easy part. For changes to be effective they must be accepted by the organization (and guests) those ideas are being offered to and/or thrust upon. For that part of the process we offer: “Mentor: Inside the Change Studio” by Bill Deam (CIO Magazine, 1 July 2009).

Ready? Let’s go!

Profiling for dollars

“LinkedIn Bible: Everything You Need to Know About the Social Network for Professionals” By C.G. Lynch (CIO Mag, 16 June 2009). A head to toe round up that will help you give you the professional profile markover you’ve been talking about. Yes, we confess, we’ll been doing the same. This post is as much about sharing with you as it is about reminding us.

Gettin’ better all the time

“Project Management: 8 Steps to On-Time, On-Budget Delivery” by Ron Ponce (CIO Mag, 15 June 2009). CIO delivers the helpful good once again. We certainly believe in our 6 Universal Truths of Project Management, but Mr. Ponce’s recommendations are  not going to fall on deaf ears here. In fact, his #8 is Improvement and we couldn’t agree with him more.

Changing the game

“Customer Loyalty Program Goes Beyond Discounts and Coupons” By Jarina D’Auria (CIO Mag, 15 June 2009). This is brilliant! Stop whatever you’re doing and read it now. Read it twice, it’s short. As a teaser here’s a pull quote from Haggen’s Chief Information Officer Harrison Lewis:

“We wanted to redefine the game because we believe this is a competitive advantage for us and we wanted things that really would benefit our guests,” Lewis says. By creating an experience different and easier than that of other supermarkets, Lewis believes customers will bring in more business for the company.

and another bit from the last paragraph:

Members of the Haggen staff took the time to hear the opinions of customers before implementing the program by holding a panel to discuss their preferences about supermarket shopping. “We wanted [the program] to make the experience easier for them to shop in our stores,” says Lewis. “We respect our guests and their time.”

Makes you want to pick up and move to Bellingham, Wash.

Preaching practice

“Why Even Successful Speakers Need To Practice” by Maryfran Johnson (CIO Mag, 15 June 2009) The funny thing is, this applies to everything. If you want to get better at something, you have to do it. Over and over and over. And if you want to stop getting better at something (i.e., a bad habit) you have to stop doing it. There are times the brain can be a pretty simple machine. Either way, winging it is not the way to go.

A semi-related article you should fine helpful is “5 Ways to Ruin Your Next Presentation” By Thomas Wailgum (CIO Mag,19 May 2009) Use these tips to make sure what you’re practicing is the right stuff.

Three little goodies

“How to: Handle Negative Online Comments, Hold a Concise Meeting and Decline an After-work Invite” by By Kristin Burnham (CIO Mag, 10 June 2009). What’s great about CIO is that it’s targeted to executives so the articles get right to the meat of the matter. What’s even better is that the majority of their execu-think applies to everyone else as well.

Let’s just break these three down really quick:

“Negative Online Comment” – This approach applies offline as well. One of the key phrases to use is, “I understand”. The key personality trait to have is empathy.

“Concise Meeting” – A good set of rules to follow.

“Decline” – And if you can’t tell the truth then ask for rain cheque, or suggest you’d like to “postpone until next time”. Do your best to avoid saying, “No”.

5 more CRM-isms from CIO

“5 ‘Zero Cost” CRM Strategies’ By Thomas Wailgum (CIO Mag, 26 May 2009) Another to the point article in CIO’s “5” series. It will only take you a couple minutes to read but the odds of a useful takeway look good.

Two of the sides to the CRM story

Whether your CRM aspirations are for 1 or 1,000, these two views will provide some valuable insights:

“CRM on the Cheap: Five Strategies That Really Work” By David Taber (CIO Magazine, May 2009)

“CRM On The Cheap: 5 Strategies That Backfire ” By David Taber (CIO Magazine, May 2009)