Are you Colonel Jessup or Lieutenant Kaffee?

Gecko Jones 113You may not recognize these movie characters’ names. In “A Few Good Men”, Jack Nicholson (as the Colonel) uttered the famous phrase to Tom Cruise (the Lieutenant):

“You can’t handle the truth!”

You may have sided with one character or the other, depending on personal acting favorites, the roles they played or your view on the issue of internal discipline in the military.

Nevertheless, Colonel Jessup’s point was well taken and has relevance in the business world.

In an earlier executive role, I teamed up with our CEO to land the three biggest possible OEM partners in our product niche. It got us over a financial obstacle and helped us dominate against the large elephant in our industry.

As a result, our business model shifted. Our revenues from these accounts became larger than our direct sales, making our Product Management (which was part of my charter) and Software Development efforts (managed by a very skilled colleague) a partnership with these other companies.

One day, I got a call from an executive I’d worked with earlier in my career. He never made casual, keep-in-touch calls, so I was quite intrigued with what he would say. He quickly got to the point: “XYZ company (one of our OEMs) is committing resources to create a product that matches yours. They predict the extra margin in their sales will make it worth the up-front investment.”

That same afternoon, our product manager for that program walked into my office and closed the door. He said “I just got off my weekly call with XYZ’s implementation team regarding future feature requirements. They acted odd through the meeting. I think they’re planning their own product.”

This was significant, not only for the revenue we could lose, and the new competitor we would have, but how we would allocate precious internal resources for future development, and how much information we should share with XYZ’s employees.

I couldn’t compromise my source, but I went into our CEO’s office and told him that both our product manager and I had separate sources that gave us the confidence to suspect XYZ was moving forward with their own internal development.

He brought our CFO and Sales Director into his office. When he told them what may be happening, they both ran into an office to call a common contact they had inside XYZ. They returned to insist there was no truth to our story.

Our CEO preferred that XYZ not move ahead on their own. The two others on his staff were clueless on how to broach the subject directly, instead of lightly. None of the three wanted this to be true. They were panicked more about the loss of a major account than taking any number of possible steps to head off or prepare for this scenario. They “couldn’t handle the truth”.

For other reasons, I moved on to another corporate opportunity. The final scene of this real-life movie went as you might expect. Shortly after I left, the OEM publicly announced their newest product. There was no valid Plan B in place to make up for that loss.

There’s a saying that “hope is not a strategy”. Neither is living in denial. Business is getting past situations that aren’t ideal. Pretending they aren’t happening is useless. Success demands you handle the truth.

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    Here’s one reason why answering machines are preferable

    Gecko Jones 112I received a call on my home phone from someone who said she was a sales rep for H&R Block.

    • She asked for someone who wasn’t me.
    • I barely got the words out “There’s no one…” when she very rapidly muttered something like “well, this is the number I have” and immediately (and I mean immediately, with no delay or hesitation) said “So, what product or service do you use to file your taxes?”

    My sense was this was a planned cold call. She wasn’t really looking for someone with the name she dropped. Just dialing numbers and going through a faux request for someone she knew wasn’t there. It was a way, at least in her mind or those who gave her instructions, of trying to trick callees into lowering their guard and becoming sales prospects.

    The entire process left me thinking “How amateurish?”. I wondered “Do they really find that people they call are duped into falling for this tactic?” Is it a way to dodge the Do Not Call process?

    Oddly, when I tweeted that I would be posting this story, someone from H&R Block’s Twitter account reached out to ask what had happened to me. I responded, but never heard back.

    At least one of these mis-steps is that company’s fault. Perhaps both.

    Either way, your Sales & Marketing teams can learn lessons that will improve your business:

    1. If it’s a cold call, be professional about it.
    2. If you’re calling residences, respect the Do Not Call system. When that eliminates your telemarketing approach, get someone who understands marketing to help with online and offline promotions, so you don’t have to make these types of calls.
    3. If you have no intention of following up to someone’s response to your inquiry, don’t bother inquiring.

    Oh, gotta go. My phone’s ringing.

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      A simple business improvement for freelancers & agencies

      Gecko Jones 101In growing businesses, Marketing executives don’t always have full-time, in-house resources for vital projects and programs they need to launch or nurture.

      Plus, when those types of needs are intermittent or part-time, the logical approach is to outsource the assignments.

      I rarely come across freelance graphics designers or print/digital/other agencies who aren’t open to taking on a new client. Finding new clients is hard enough without mishandling opportunities that come to you.

      Over the years, and even over the last few months, I’ve reached out to people who became known to me through referrals. And, amazing as it may sound, at least half of them failed to return my call, reply to my email, or respond to the inquiry form I completed on their website.

      Some of the non-immediate responders, though not all, eventually reach back with excuses like “It was a holiday week”, or “I was on vacation”, or “I’ve been busy wrapping up other business”. I seriously doubt a 3 minute phone call (“Can we talk at length next week?”) or email (“This is my one getaway week for the year. I will contact you immediately upon my return to the office.”) is impossible to fit in. The payback could be immense.

      Many who get into freelance work or start their own agencies are creative types with minimal business, self-promotion or sales skills. I get it. Nevertheless, your business is predicated on having clients. Do you get that?

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        The vital, missing ingredient in most performance appraisals

        Gecko Jones 128Most discussions surrounding the level of work being done by the employee being evaluated relate to the individual’s personal activities.

        That’s fine, but a factor that needs to be included in annual assessments is the level of teamwork that person demonstrates daily.

        It could be teamwork with people in other departments, properly helping in shared efforts with those in the same group, implementing management directives or coordinating with liaisons in other companies.

        If you can’t identify how an employee has one or more of these responsibilities, you either don’t know what it takes for their efforts to result in a true payoff for the organization, or you have someone who is not very crucial to the success of your business.

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          Do you know why you’re hiring?

          Gecko Jones 127An association asked a C-level marketing professional to consider joining their Board and serve as their Director of Marketing (both volunteer positions). He met with several Board members and, though they suggested no precise goals, he knew quickly what his initial goals would be:

          1. Double membership within 6 months
          2. Double average meeting attendance within 6 months
          3. Eliminate the horrible mistakes they were making in email announcements (two different meeting dates listed in the subject and body copy, poor wording, etc.)

          In the interview process, it became apparent they had one or two other candidates. Both were quite junior and unlikely to provide any real leadership, or have proven skills.

          Ridiculously, the Executive Director sent an email to each, mentioning a bit of work that was needed immediately. Was that a test to see who would grab it? What if all ran with it? That would be a waste of redundant effort. Regardless, what would this actually prove?

          The executive withdrew from the silly competition and they signed up one of the junior alternatives. Guess what happened next? Subsequent mass emails promoting upcoming events were poorly written. And, I suspect they have made no progress in driving new membership or boosting conference attendance.

          If you’re looking for leadership, hire a leader. If you trivialize the hiring process, it’s very possible you don’t know how to screen and hire for the job that’s open. Ultimately, you are responsible for knowing who to hire, based on what you want to accomplish.

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