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2 posts from December 2010

December 30, 2010

Love Thy Customers: Advice for the Next Decade

"You know what the first rule of flying is? ... Love. You can learn all the math in the 'Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as a turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurtin' before she keels. Makes her a home." - Malcom Reynolds, Serenity (2005)

10 There's a scene in the sci-fi classic movie, Serenity, where, after a successful heist perpetrated against the evil Alliance, the crew's captain Mal takes the booty back to the job's sponsors, Fanty and Mingo, to give them their 25% commission and (hopefully) get another job. 

"Well our end is forty, precious," says Fanty. One gets the sense that there was soon going to be a major fight when the dueling parties were distracted by an even more entertaining brawl.

Can you imagine a world without trust?

You're at the checkout counter of the grocery store. You need some ingredients for apple crisp. The clerk, who has been eyeballing you for your entire visit, refuses to put the groceries in the bag until he's seen the money. You refuse to show the money until you're sure he'll let you out of the store with them.

But back up. Because before you get to the checkout, you have to inspect all of the fruit. You want to make sure they're not old, rotten mush. You also need to inspect the bags of sugar to make sure they aren't filled with sawdust. The grocer doesn't want you to open the bags, out of fear that you'll replace his sugar with sawdust. So you'd leave without buying, because you don't trust that beady-eyed grocer.

But back up. Because you can't leave your house anyway to go to the grocery store out of fear that you'll get mugged by the ruffians that patrol the neighborhood. You've never seen them, but you're sure they're there. Anyway, the grocer could never have opened a store in the first place, because no one would trust him with a loan. You get your groceries from a garden out back, which is decimated with insects, because you don't have anyone to sell you pesticides.

Successful, sustained commerce depends on a lot of things. We talk a lot about them in the course of our work. Some of them have value, some of them are hogwash. ROI. CPM. Engagement. Usability engineering. Experience. Product, Price, Place, Promotion. Branding. Income statements, balance sheets, cash flow. Social Media. Customers service.

We go to school, conferences and seminars to understand or execute them better. We send wads of cash to Amazon and Barnes and Noble to gobble up Seth Godin's books. And there's nothing wrong with ANY of that. Why would I begrudge anyone from getting better at the technical aspects of their jobs?

But what if we need something more elemental than all of that?

What if our deepest problem isn't whether we know how to calculate return on investment and successfully predict the future. Specifically, what if our deepest problem is that we don't love our neighbors well? And if that is true, what can we do about it?

What's more, how do we encourage each other to love others better? It seems a little self-serving. For when we say to our neighbors, "Love your neighbor," we're including ourselves in that group. We're saying to them, "Love us better." But as a man in the business of talking to others in business, my advice to all those who wish to be successful is this:

Love your customers better.

Thinking over the last decade, we've seen the likes of Enron, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, Lehman Brothers -- the entire banking and investment industry -- industries run by "the best and the brightest," who went to the "best" schools run multi-billion dollar businesses into the ground as they sought to enrich themselves. It isn't a question of whether they knew how to do math. It was that they loved themselves more than they loved their neighbors.

Why is love so important to commerce?

  • You don't rob someone you love.
  • You don't try to swindle someone you love.
  • You don't overcharge someone you love.
  • You keep your promises to someone you love.

The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 what love is and just how important it is. Let's look at what he says, particularly about knowledge or the ability to tell the future:

"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

He continues.

"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away… So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

When you look at the last decade through the lens of improving technologies and products that change the way we communicate, it superficially appears to be a much different environment than in decades past. Could you have imagined Facebook and Twitter a decade ago? Could you have predicted its adoption?

What's more, people who are so inclined have more sophisticated methods to take advantage of/steal from others -- through economics or politics -- and that fosters an abiding suspicion of business, whether the suspicion is well founded in any particular instance or not.

But sometimes you have to take a step back from the pounding you're taking and get back to the basics. None of the things we do in business and marketing makes a difference if we have not love. What's most important to you? What do you want to accomplish? You want to see economic recovery? Then love thy customers. When you do that purely, the circumstances that follow apart from that don't even matter.

- Cam Beck

December 03, 2010

Yes, Virginia, there are stupid questions. Embrace them.

"Be sure you're right, then go ahead." - Davy Crocket

Unless you're some sort of hermit, you've probably been involved in a conversation that started something like this:

You: "I have a stupid question."

Someone else: "There's no such thing as a stupid question."

Usually, when I hear this, I recommend withholding judgment on that conclusion until the person I'm asking has listened to my question. Because the truth of the matter is, there are stupid questions. We've all had them, but at the risk of appearing stupid, many of us are afraid to ask them.

There are two categories of stupid questions:

  1. Those which reveal an ignorance about information we should already have, and
  2. Those which reveal an inability to put together basic facts that lead to what should be an obvious conclusion.

In the first case, an answer will provide common ground for the participants in the conversation that deepens the bond between them. In the second case, an answer will improve our ability to think well and better participate in the conversation.

The corallary to that is that if we fail to ask, we just increase the likelihood that we won't get an answer to that question. That is more stupid than not asking it, for we will go on in our ignorance out of fear that we may appear ignorant.

Which is a bigger threat to our freedom, safety and prosperity? Appearing ignorant or being ignorant? If you chose the latter, go to the head of the class.

But the fear -- rooted in pride -- of looking like a fool is pernicious. How do you get over it to ask questions to which you need to know the answer to?

  1. Admit that we don't know everything. Give yourself permission to ask questions, even if you realize the people around you may already know the answer (some of them may not, and they may just want someone else to ask the question).
  2. Understand that we can't know everything. Don't feel bad about asking. We're not and will never be omniscient.
  3. Foster a healthy curiosity of the world around us. Get excited about asking stupid questions! Contrary to the maxim, ignorance is not bliss. The world is a crazy place that will smack you over the head if you maintain, actively or accidentally, that you need not learn how people, business, politics or economics work.
  4. Listen. As the saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth, which you suggests you should listen twice as much as you talk.
  5. Love our neighbors. First, asking questions that gives you context to whatever conversation you're having allows you to be full participants in that conversation, which leads to common understanding, which leads to kinship and compassion. Second, have a heart to share the answers you have. Without judgment and with gentleness and respect, encourage others to ask their stupid questions and leap for joy that they're not afraid to ask you.

Marketing, like every other profession, is about solving problems. Consistently solving them well requires having a firm basis in truth, which requires getting answers that will shed light on the root causes of the problem and an ability to put together all the facts to come to a reasonable conclusion.

If you don't know something -- anything -- don't be afraid to ask. I guarantee that the person you're asking knows what it's like to be ignorant of something. As long as you're showing healthy curiosity and initiative to get answers, he should be happy to answer your question. If not, well, that reveals something to you, too. - Cam Beck