The ones you can’t trust

Recently, we have seen a number of high profile ethical issues pop up in global companies, U.S. companies and if you look around a little – you will probably find one in the news in your city. Most recently, this would include the Volkswagen EPA mileage situation.

Stop it.

No, I don’t mean stop doing it. I mean stop putting up with them. Stop encouraging them. Stop tolerating them. Stop teaching your team and your managers to ignore them through your inaction, or less than substantial action.

What exactly do I mean?

It isn’t like this is a new phenomena, but it’s quite clear that it’s one that needs some attention from businesses – including yours.

Why do I point my crooked little finger at you? Because you, like other small local business owners, are the one who often give people their first job. You are probably also the one who first sees poor choices or ethical lapses – call them what you will – and then don’t send the right message in how you handle them.

Before we get to far into this, I want to be crystal clear that I am not saying that young / new employees are the problem. What they are is impressionable. How you and other employers handle ethical failures is the problem. The actions that young and new employees see set the stage for how these things should be handled.

How will you use these teachable moments? What is the normal result they need to see? What normally happens when you encounter something like this?

Perhaps the results look something like this list – and you may know of a few other reactions:

  • It’s ignored as if it didn’t happen. Think about the message that sends to other staff members.
  • It’s recognized as a problem, but nothing substantial happens.
  • It’s recognized as a problem and someone’s pay is docked.
  • It’s recognized as a problem and someone gets fired.

Most of these responses don’t send the right message. They certainly don’t set the tone for new impressionable employees and current / future managers. Instead, they make it clear that these kinds of things are usually ignored, so they must be OK.

Do you think former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn was ever fired for unethical behavior? Do you think he ever fired anyone for unethical behavior?

People don’t make decisions like the ones that happened at Volkswagen without a history of behavior encouraging them.

What message does it send that Winterkorn gets to keep his $32 million pension? Who else at VW keeps their job, benefits, pension and perks, despite the fraudulent actions they took?

Where were the roots of this behavior planted? These people didn’t magically change from ethical to unethical when EPA testing started. The people central to this situation likely have a history of increasingly unethical behavior. They didn’t wake up one day and decide to do this on their own. To involve engineering and manufacturing at this scope, management approval has to be involved.

Where was it learned that this behavior is acceptable?

Preventative measures

You might be in a situation where you’re concerned about how to get rid of a problem employee – and yes, a problem is any employee you can’t trust. What you don’t want to create is a legal problem that’s worse than an untrustworthy employee. Fix that by working with an employment law expert. Yes, an attorney.

Do whatever your attorney says. Every time, every dotted I, every crossed T.

When you have a bulletproof employment agreement that empowers you to deal with an unethical employee without concern for repercussions, then you’re ready.

Almost.

If you make changes, you must communicate them both to existing staff and new employees. Leave no doubt that there is no defense for the dark arts and that any action that threatens the ability to trust any employee will result in their immediate termination.

No warnings. No meaningful chats with the big boss. No waiting until the end of the day or shift. No mercy.

Show them the door immediately – and so I reinforce this: be sure your termination process has been vetted.

It can be stopped, but it will take action from all of us.

What message do your actions send? Take the wrong action, or ignore them, and your people will remember it for years to come.

Leaders honor their words

Recently, someone in a position of trust and honor was found to have published someone else’s work without attribution.

The situation was made worse by their affiliation with an organization whose reputation for trust and honor is sacrosanct.

Plagiarism and/or unattributed quotes happen. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, sometimes not. Sometimes, there are excuses and denial.

Coming clean about our mistakes

We’re not perfect beings. All of us make mistakes, no matter what our handlers, customer support people, PR representatives and spokespeople say.

When we make mistakes, the reasons are fairly consistent. We’re under deadline pressure and/or circumstances distract us and alter our behavior, even if for a short while – and it often seems like those circumstances, distractions and pressures occur at the worst possible time.

In response, our fight or flight kicks in, and we buckle down and crank out the email, document, work product or service.

Yesterday, one of these situations happened to me. After four days of intense meetings and business travel in the middle of a family move, followed by a hectic morning of back to back appointments, I had to lead a conference call. I was not as prepared for it as I would have liked. While the call went OK, I knew that it could have been better.

While this probably didn’t break the trust of those involved, it could have even though the parts where I was less prepared than I wanted to be might only have been detected by a few of those involved. The problem is that this could have created a small crack in their trust in my ability to deliver.

At this point, I had a choice. Pretend nothing happened or acknowledge it and make amends by putting some space in my calendar for prep before the next meeting so that it doesn’t happen again. Choose your solution carefully.

Commitment vs. Ego

When we’re “caught” in a situation like this, the cause may no longer exist, whether it was legitimate or an excuse. By the time the mistake goes public, the cause might not make any sense at all.

This is why your ego has to take a back seat and let your commitment to the people involved take over. Our egos are frequently the cause of conflicts, whitewashes and “cover ups”.

Ego spawns thoughts like “They cant be right because that means I’m wrong.”

Commitment must ALWAYS take precedence over ego.

If you’re a comrade of someone in an organization based on trust and honor and they choose themselves over the organization in a matter of trust and honor, how does that make you feel?

While it may be politically unsound for an elected official to admit a mistake, explain the situation and take steps to make amends, it’s equally ignorant to pretend nothing happened.

This isn’t pleading not guilty to something you didn’t do. It’s lying about something that happened long ago when you were perhaps young(er), less than 100% (even temporarily) and/or affected by then current circumstances. We like to pretend that circumstances don’t matter and that we’re perfect. They matter and we aren’t. We’re human.

When someone spins your mistake, it’s their lie. It becomes yours when you fail to call out their lie. It’s as easy as “Wait a minute, that’s not what’s going on here. Let me explain.

Why this matters to business leaders

Consider the question that a failure to “Let me explain” provokes about your decision making ability, regardless of anything you’ve done in the past.

The damage occurs when you choose ego over commitment because it tells everyone that your commitment as a leader to them and the organization is less important than your individual wants and needs.

It tells everyone that you can’t be trusted. Ever tried to regain trust of family? Constituents? Employees? Clients? The public? It’s terribly difficult.

When the lie is about the tiniest little thing, it sends a message: It tells your staff you’ll lie about anything. Trust is fragile. Your staff needs to be able to trust and believe in you, and you need this of them.

Put yourself in their place: How hard would you work for someone you can’t trust?

Never forget you’re a leader first (commitment) and an individual second (ego).

Business rules of the road

While they vary from person to person, our values are the central driving force in our everyday lives.

These values form the context of daily decision making that drives our behavior. Quite often, these set-in-stone rules are accompanied by a set of guidelines that we adhere to, but occasionally allow ourselves to bend now and then.

When used as the lens through which we interact with clients, vendors, contractors and employees, these set-in-stone rules form operational boundaries that no situation and no person can convince our business to stray from.

While all of this is obvious, what might not be so obvious is how deep the influence of these rules can be.

As such, it’s worth considering where your rules come from and how you use them.

Mommy, where do rules come from?

Most rules are formed from our personally-weighted mix of religious beliefs, experiences, politics and the lessons we learned as a child.

As parents, we tend to model the rules learned from our parents, with a tweak here and there to make them our own.

As former employees who now employ others, we often model our unshakable business rules from two things – what we appreciated and valued as employees, and what devalued us, our clients and the work we performed.

Teachers, mentors, authors and speakers whose messages resonate with us also influence our chosen rules.

Share your rules

In the “old days”, business values were often demonstrated and rarely communicated, at least not explicitly.

Today, corporate values are often over-shared and under-demonstrated, which is ironic when the over-shares are coming from consistently under-demonstrating companies.

Here’s why I think it’s important to communicate your rules despite those bad examples:

If your employees, vendors and clients know what drives your decisions, it makes your sometimes aberrant behavior all that much easier to decipher.

Aberrant? Really? Yes. Watch any entrepreneur long enough and you’re likely to think their elevator doesn’t reach the top floor now and then. Knowing why is hugely important to helping people understand you and your behavior – and that is key to allowing them to see the big picture.

Sharing your rules also has another effect, and this one is what drives lesser organizations to keep them to themselves: attraction and repulsion.

Prospects, clients, vendors and employees are absolutely attracted to and/or repulsed by your stated values – whether your adhere to them or not.

The traditional thought process is “We need as many customers as we can get, so let’s keep our values to ourselves.” There are a few problems with this. One – you don’t need as many as you can get, though you probably need more than you have. Two – The reason you think you need as many as you can get is often because many of the ones you have are the wrong ones.

Communicating and demonstrating these values will push some prospects and clients away. Would you rather this happened after investing time and money in them, or before?

Would you rather find out that your values don’t match the client’s after having a falling out with them, or would you prefer to avoid clients whose values conflict with yours?

Replace “clients” in that sentence with “employees” and “vendors” and re-read it.

The FlipFlopper

It’s worth paying attention to how your rules impact your business, your staff and your clients. Part of that is recognizing that the decision to adopt a never-wavering rule isn’t always permanent.

While that might seem counter-intuitive, the reality is that we mature and we learn – and as a result, our business’ “never wavering” rules may need fine tuning to maintain peak performance, not unlike the needs of a Ferrari or Learjet engine.

Most of us learn from our experiences and our mistakes and tweak our behavior as a result. If that’s punishable by losing a client, then I dont think you need that client.

It’s not uncommon to feel like a cheeseball when experiences and learning opportunities (aka mistakes) leave you with no choice other than to tweak what you formerly (and publicly) called unshakable. Get over it.

Sure, someone might call you a flip-flopper, so you’d better make the change for a solid reason. Either you learn and adapt or you don’t. Choose one or the other and get over the fallout, because you can’t choose both.

Lost clients who disdain learning and adapting will be welcomed by competitors just like them. If they aren’t right for you, that’s OK.

The most expensive refund

During my recent trip to Tulsa, I stopped into a chain drug store (similar to Walgreens) next door to the hotel.

When I got to the register, a mom with two young kids was trying to exchange an item she had purchased for a very similar item that had the same price and was made by the same company.

Standing in line behind her, it seemed like a pretty simple thing to exchange an unopened, undamaged item from the same company.

But not today, not with this policy and not with this manager.

Your card, please. It’s our policy.

You see, the mom didn’t have the debit/credit card that was originally used to pay for the item – because her husband paid for the purchase during their last visit. He wasn’t with her on this trip.

Despite the fact that she had the original receipt, the store manager couldn’t adhere to store policy without the card used to make the purchase.

You see, store policy required that he refund the item being exchanged onto the original card used to buy the item, then sell the exchanged-for item as a new purchase. It really wasn’t an exchange, but a refund and a purchase – and that’s why policy intervened.

The store’s point of sale system was designed to enforce the store’s refund policy, which required having the card present in order to refund. Having the original card used for the purchase is not a requirement of a merchant card vendor account. It’s an intentional limitation put in place by the store to serve their refund policy.

Most likely, it’s designed to make it impossible to return cash back to a customer who paid with a credit or debit card. In the case of a return for refund, this makes perfect sense – but it still doesn’t require the original card. Merchant card accounts are perfectly capable of refunding or voiding purchases to the original account – even without the original card being present.

Win-win policy

In situations where a customer is exchanging identically priced items, a refund-only policy puts staff and management in a bad place.

Normally, the register clerk would’ve exchanged the item with a simple transaction at the point of sale where the barcodes on both items are scanned and no money changes hands. This transaction makes sure that inventory reflects reality and that store replenishment is correct when the next truck arrives – both good things. This serves the needs of the customer as well as the store. While tax-driven issues can be created when there’s a long period of time between the original purchase and the refund, they can be handled.

An exchange policy that is really more of a refund and new purchase policy turned this into far more than a simple transaction. Policies should give a manager the ability to be a customer advocate, even while protecting the store.

Training matters

As the manager repeatedly quoted the same policy-driven argument with the customer, that well-intended, audit-proof store policy turned a repeat customer into an upset customer who might never return.

This wasn’t entirely the manager’s fault. He was simply adhering to corporate store policy. If he defied it, transactional data sent to corporate could mean he’d have to answer for his efforts to please the customer, despite the zero cost transaction.

Does your management training encourage your staff and managers to make common sense decisions to preserve customer relationships? It should. The cost of an equal exchange nets out to zero, unless you lose a long-time customer in the process.

Hard costs

Losing customers like a family with two young kids over the exchange of a $12 item is a poor choice. Two kids under the age of five means 13 years of drug store trips, say $20 a month. 13 years (age five to 18) times 12 months times $20 a month is $3120, not including the word of mouth costs of losing that customer. $3120 doesn’t seem like much, but it’s the cost of just one exchange transaction that should cost nothing.

While writing policies to protect your business, be sure to consider how they’ll work in the field. A group that included an experienced register clerk, a store manager and their assistants could reveal win-win training and policy changes that protect this business while encouraging customer loyalty.

The most expensive refund is one that costs you a customer.

Butcher shops concerned about locally grown meat sales limits

Rude Cow!
Creative Commons License photo credit: foxypar4

The legislature is considering placing additional limits on the production or sale of locally grown meat, including the meat of wild animals.

Backing this legislation is the Corporate Grocers Association, which serves the interests of corporate grocery chains across America.

The proposed law also places strict annual limits on hunting and fishing since those activities impact the meat sales of CGA members. Catch and release fishing will not be affected since it does not affect meat sales.

CGA public relations officer M. A. DeUpnaam said “This legislation will protect our members and their employees from the predatory practices of micro-ranchers, predatory local hunters, people who selfishly decline to practice catch and release fishing, as well local butcher shops and meat processors who specialize in processing and selling locally raised meat products.

The action was taken at the request of a local CGA grocer after their newspaper reported that “425 whitetail deer, 64 mule deer and 58 elk” were harvested in his market area during the first three weeks of hunting season. After calculating how much that wild animal meat could cost his grocery in lost meat sales, he convinced the Association to step in.

History on CGA’s side

In prior sessions, the CGA has been successful in lobbying for protection of their members. Butcher shops and meat processors are limited to 10 retail sales hours per day and may sell no more than two pounds of meat per day to any single customer. Micro-ranches are allowed to raise no more animals than would produce 10,000 pounds of meat (for retail sale) annually.

If the 10,000 pound limit is exceeded during the calendar year, the business must shut down retail sales for the remainder of the calendar year and curtail production so that the limit isn’t exceeded the following year. Producers who exceed the 10,000 pound limit more than once will be required to cease retail sales permanently. Of course, they’re still allowed to sell their meat to wholesale buyers.

Of growing concern

CGA members are deeply concerned by the rapid growth of the microranch business, despite annual production limits placed on them. It’s not hard to see why: 100 new micro-ranches operating at maximum capacity in a single state would mean one million pounds of meat is available for purchase in that state – meat that wasn’t previously on the market. Add that to the previously ignored volume of wild animal meat produced and it’s no wonder the legislature is getting grilled by the CGA.

Microranchers and local butcher shops contend that they do not compete directly with CGA members because they produce a premium quality, high-priced product that the typical grocery shopper doesn’t buy at CGA member stores. CGA spokesperson DeUpnaam countered that assertion, saying “Every pound of meat sold by a local butcher shop, regardless of price or quality, is a pound of meat not sold by a CGA member. It’s a zero sum game and corrective action is necessary to return things to the way they were when our members established their businesses.”

Local produce and herb farms watching closely

Organic farms and local gardeners are monitoring this legislation closely, concerned that the legislature might decide to place limits on the sale of locally grown produce.

Community farmers markets are also watching and wondering about “corrective action” targeting their markets. Because they take a small cut of the sales made by a local butcher shop or gardener at their events, they too could become subject to the annual sales limits. While they have never lobbied a state legislature before, the organizers of 14 farmers markets in this area met last weekend to discuss sending a representative to the state house to monitor the situation, and if necessary, plead their case.

Fiction?

Yes, that’s a made up headline and story line – but it isn’t quite so fictional if you own a microbrewery or craft brewery business in Montana.

Update: After receiving substantial feedback from constituents, the committee in charge of fine tuning and releasing HB616 to the Montana House thought better of it and unanimously voted to table it. The committee also unanimously approved a study bill that is intended to get all parties involved in “fixing” Montana’s licensing laws in time to bring a palatable solution to the next legislature.

The single most painful lesson software companies learn

The most painful conversations I have with small software business owners are about marketing.

One of the more common ones relate how another company “stole” their business with “more aggressive” marketing.

The victim of this “theft” blames it on someone else’s marketing despite watching it happen right in front of them and doing nothing more than grumble about it.

Sometimes they’ll drag out the old programmers’ tale that “the best software never wins”.

It’s an attempt to imply that better marketed software must be a lesser product and those who effectively market their software are less professional by doing so. All they’re really doing is deflecting their inability to take responsibility to someone who is running the business better than they are.

It’s a bug in their mindset.

It’s your competitor’s fault?

Most software business owners who watched someone use a better tool to create software would take steps to evaluate that tool to see if it made sense for their business.

The exception? When that “better tool” is better marketing and sales.

In that case, they’ll usually just watch, grumble about that competitor’s so-called “unfair behavior” and do nothing about it. It’s as if someone has emasculated them.

If you sit and watch better marketing executed in your market and then you do nothing to improve your own marketing, is that your competitor’s fault?

I think not.

If you allow your relationship with an existing customer to degrade to the point where one of these “aggressive” marketers could gain your client’s attention and demo their software, is that your competitor’s fault?

I think not.

If your favorite team ignored the quality of one critical aspect of their game, you’d recognize their mistake. You might even yell at your TV over it. Would you blame the teams that win against them because of better skills in that one critical area?

I think not.

A lack of knowledge

Ignoring the quality of your marketing is no different than your favorite team ignoring recruiting or developing young players. You’d think they were inept, at best.

Yet you might still feel that marketing (“aggressive” or not) is unethical and/or unprofessional.

Ultimately, that shows a lack of business knowledge. You have a duty to have knowledge about your profession and to continue to develop that knowledge – and not just the technical part.

Done right – better marketing is typically nothing more than better executed, better targeted marketing used with a better knowledge of your market, your industry and what keeps your customers up at night.

Good marketing is one of the essential components of your business. Calling it “snake oil” doesn’t make you more professional and it doesn’t improve your position in your market. I’m not talking about companies marketing a solution that won’t work for a particular customer or group of customers. That’s the real “snake oil”.

When you don’t understand what good marketing is and the how/why of executing it, you’re simply not taking care of business.

That your software company would let someone else (particularly the snake oil types) wriggle in the front door and undermine your position with the customer is your responsibility. Why would you let your relationship with the client disintegrate to the point where they would even consider having a conversation with anyone else?

When you let someone else do this and do nothing about it, you are shirking your responsibility to your market, your staff, your family and your community.

Making a decision

The good news is that it isn’t a terminal condition. You can change your direction today.

If you’re willing to sit and watch it being done to you and then complain about it without doing anything to fulfill your responsibilities, that’s your choice.

If you’ve watched it being done and are smart enough to realize that you need to raise your game, then it’s time we had a conversation.

It’s time to decide that this is the last time another business will do this to you. It’s your responsibility to do something about it – and better code isn’t going to do the job all by itself.

The painful thing is that most companies will sit and repeatedly watch this happen to them – and then do nothing about it.

An incredibly dangerous leap

Felix Baumgartner

Thanks Red Bull

People rarely complain about a sales loss when the winning competitor has a higher quality product or service.

Yet it seems natural for some businesses to belittle a competitor and the quality of their products/services when they were marketed well – sometimes taking it to the level of accusing them of being unethical or unprofessional.

That’s an incredibly dangerous leap for a business.

PS: Speaking of dangerous leaps… Congrats Felix. One of the coolest things I’ve seen since the summer of 1969.

Stains That Don’t Wash Out

Bacteria
Creative Commons License photo credit: kaibara87

Yesterday, for perhaps the first time in his life, former Superman Lance Armstrong stopped fighting.

As a guy, it’s impossible not to admire Armstrong.

Fighting testicular cancer is typical behavior. When we get that sort of bad news, almost all of us suddenly find ways to do things we never had the gumption to do in all our prior days.

But winning, much less competing, year after year in a sport that punishes the boys like pro cycling does is way beyond typical.

A way of life

Lance has never seemed all that typical, though. He’s fought off cancer, Basso, Kloden, Ullrich and others. These days, he’s focused on helping others fight the “big C”.

And finally, he’s learned that proving a negative is a fight that’s far more difficult to win.

I can’t say one way or the other what Lance did or didn’t do, despite being a little bit familiar with the test results that have been made public. Without a doubt, the act of bailing out of a fight looks bad for Lance. The behavior of the USADA and their CEO looks no better.

Assumptions will cloud the view people have of every professional and Olympic-class racer.

Lance repeatedly tested clean, but he still quit fighting them” is all that’s needed to stain competitive cyclists everywhere. “The USADA had hundreds/thousands of clean tests from Lance, but they just kept chasing him” will be all that’s needed to bring the motives of testing organizations into question. Their authority will be suspect for years.

No matter what the reality is, both behaviors are now firmly seated in the public’s mind as cycling’s norm.

For the wanna-be yellow jersey wearer with Armstrong posters on their bedroom wall, it’s like watching road racing’s version of the Kobayashi Maru, except that this time, Captain Kirk just gave up.

“Did he?” will be the question that likely chases Lance for the rest of his life…the one pursuer that he can’t break in the mountains.

Closer to home

How do you bring this situation back to your small business and learn from it?

Ask Enron. Does anyone you know want to be the next creative wheeler-dealer in the energy business? If not, is it because they have a preconceived notion about what that business *really* does?

Almost everyone can think of a business (or business person) whose behavior has stained an entire industry, even if they were later found to be clean/innocent.

When the accusations are true, they’re often rooted in the smallest decision at a weak moment. A decision that rolls downhill like a snowball, gaining mass and momentum like an avalanche. Enron didn’t start off totally out of control. It was learned behavior that started with small decisions.

Small decisions begin momentum. They lead to bigger decisions. Soon, inertia makes it seem impossible to do what you know you should have done all along. History is full of examples of these things. Talk to your staff about them.

Start by setting the example every minute, every hour, every day. The little things people see will tell them how you deal with the big things.

Don’t be the answer to the question that your industry can’t shake.

The two most valuable parts of a conversation

Every single day, I see problems that would be solved with better (or any) understanding, speed and an order of magnitude improvement in quality if people would just pick up the phone.

I know, especially the more technical folks out there, you want that cocoon. You want to hide and just create. Some of you might even want to focus rather than hop back and forth between your IDE, Skype, Facebook and so on.

When you’re in that mode, the phone is the last thing you want interrupting you (the interruptions are not necessary but I’ve said plenty about that in the past).

Thing is, if you don’t talk to the customer, don’t watch them use what you create, you’re missing a massive piece of the equation.

They’ll never tell you everything in a tweet, email or wall post. Never, ever. They might be meaner because of the nature of the media, but you’ll never get the whole story. You’ll never see the gleam in their eye or the song (or despair) in their voice in an email or other online message.

Don’t get me wrong – those media are important, but they aren’t as rich as you need at certain times.

Are you “Unknown” or “Blocked”?

Yesterday, I had some work done on the Mrs’ chariot and they called me to tell me it was ready.

Thing is, they called me from a number that shows up on caller id as “Unknown”.

Business owners and those-in-charge-of-telecom – NO ONE wants to talk to whoever is calling when the phone says “Unknown” or “Blocked”, particularly in an election year.

I see this regularly on customer service feedback loops, customer “your (whatever) is ready” and even SALES calls.

If the relationship you have with people requires “Unknown” or “Blocked”, I wonder why you bother to call. You have work to do on your customer relationships.

Want them to answer

Unless I’m missing out on a management secret that involves making phone calls that you don’t want answered (maybe a push poll would count there, but this isn’t a politics blog), your goal should be to get the phone answered by your customer – NOT to have it ignored.

You want to talk to them. Make it easy. Create a relationship that makes them glad to see your name on the caller id.

How to avoid wasting the best advertising dollar you ever spent

James, I think your cover's blown!
Creative Commons License photo credit: laverrue

Are you wasting those carefully planned advertising investments?

The most expensive investment we can make is one that’s wasted.

You’ve studied, sifted and listened intently to figure out the perfect message for a certain group of people interested in what you make or do.

As you hoped, it resonates with just the right people at just the right time. Lots of folks are calling, stopping by your store, and visiting your website.

Minutes later, all the positive you’ve created can be gone… POOF!

At speaking engagements, I’ll often mention the importance of following up with the people you meet at a trade show (you *do* follow up, right?) and recall a trade show story about a major personal electronics manufacturer. During the show, they collected contact information from almost 30,000 people who said “Hey, I am interested in this new product”. Numbers like that are a big win, even for a global electronics company. Yet they wasted it by not following up with those people.

We’ve said enough of the right things to gain someone’s interest and then….what?

Saying the right things to the right people isn’t enough

We spend a lot of time tracking our marketing investments so we know what works and what doesn’t. We spend time making sure we’re delivering just the right message to just the right people by studying their demographics (facts/figures like gender and age) and psychographics (what they do, read, etc) and fitting our message to the reader.

But that isn’t the entire equation.

When we say the right things to the right people at about the right time, it usually results in “high-quality leads”. What exactly does that marketing-ese mean? To me, it means “people who have raised their hand to say they’re interested in what you have to offer – and are ready to buy now or soon if it’s the right fit”.

So then we turn our sales staff loose on them.

What makes this advertising so expensive?

Whether we’re a big company or a mom-and-pop, we have to sell. Ideally, we sell by helping them arrive at “Yep, this is what I need” or “You’re right, I really need something else”. Whether they buy or not, you’re creating trust for the next time they need what you sell…creating a customer, becoming an informed advocate for them, not just chasing a sale.

What sometimes gets lost in the sales process is congruency between the marketing message and what sales says and does. If sales’ behavior and words are disconnected from our marketing, we have a problem. If the sales team that prospects talk to in our business are “those kinds of salespeople”, all the trust we earned can be lost with a single sentence, like “Honey, we’ll talk price when you bring your husband to the dealership.”

When things like that happen, the expensive, finely-tuned message that we spent good money on is damaged, possibly for good. You might lose the sale now and the customer for life.

If the marketing-to-sales transition is where you most often lose them, there’s good and bad news:

  • The bad news: All the advertising investment that attracted those folks was wasted. That’s the most expensive marketing ever.
  • The good news: That’s a reasonably easy thing to fix in most cases.

Trust, The Final Frontier

We ask ourselves “How much do I like the salesperson?”, “Do I believe them? and/or “How much do I trust this product/brand/manufacturer?” before we finally buy. All of this comes down to “Do I trust this business?”

“We don’t like to be sold but we love to buy.” says Jeffrey Gitomer. We buy from people we like and trust.

Because the trust earned over time by some “institutions” is crumbling, that lack of confidence can seep into people’s ability to trust your business, something that’s already at risk in most sales situations. It’s no less damaging in a sales situation than the differences between a candidate’s promises and what they later do as an elected official.

Your entire staff must be aware (and regularly reminded) that reputations are built (or damaged) and trust is earned (or lost) with every single transaction and every single interaction. Keeping your reputation’s momentum headed in the right direction is everyone’s job.

The point is not to blame your sales staff as the source of your company’s ills. It’s to remind you that grooming, training and supporting them is critical to your success. The best marketing in the world isn’t enough if you aren’t supporting the sales team properly.