Why is the company doing your project?

Gecko Jones 119Case A

I was in a Business Planning & Product Management role when the vice president I reported to called me to his office. The Engineering Department was struggling to get enough capable software programmers to expand some of the internal projects they needed to resource.

The executive staff knew of a small, high output software team 400 miles away. They could never get enough, much less all, of those people to relocate. So, the strategy was to acquire that business and re-task the employees.

To achieve the acquisition, the CEO felt the Board of Directors would have to be convinced the target company would become a new division, with its own product line that could be ramped to P&L success. My assignment was to draft a business & marketing planning document that would demonstrate how the business could be a big success on its own.

We delivered the plan and the acquisition was approved. However, shortly after the transition of ownership was complete, our executives realized the “justification” plan could work. The acquired team stayed on its original project. The result was a very long run of significant product success, with that division being purchased for a nice figure several years later.

Case B

In another instance, we had an installed base of a combination hardware-software system designed for enterprise use. My Product Management team could see value in increasing the capacity of the system’s electronic storage cabinets.

Working with Fujitsu, our technical team integrated the new, larger devices. Marketing crafted a plan with target revenues. When we reached the $1 million mark in just a matter of months (our primary goal), we reported the results to senior management.

One of them told me the only reason they wanted the project done was to pacify two of our larger customers. They didn’t really care, or believe, that we would hit the $1 million mark, much less do it so quickly.

The question to ask yourself

If you’re in management, what motivated you to launch a particular project? (Quite frankly, sometimes it’s driven by emotion, competitiveness or panic.) Regardless, rethink the possibilities and support your staff in pursuing a larger goal in ways that will maximize gain. If you slow the process prematurely – such as when a corporate transaction is complete or a valuable customer has been satisfied – you risk leaving a lot of money in the market that could have come your way.

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    Is your company (sadly) turning into Walmart?

    Walmart’s business achievements cannot be disputed, but if you’re dreaming of comparable success and reputation (even on a much smaller scale), be careful what you wish for. You’re probably remembering the low price, friendly service company that excited you upon their entry into your local market.

    Most things in the world of business are ever-changing. In the case of Walmart, its own operations are downward moving targets.

    Here’s a recent customer’s experience:

    1. She ordered a product using their ship-to-store online functionality.
    2. An email arrived in her inbox, announcing the product had been delivered to the local store.
    3. She went to the store, only to be told the email is a false alert, because the product still hadn’t been checked in to stock. However, it would be done by the end of the morning.
    4. She returned to the store at 1:30, only to be told items were still on the truck. She could call back later to check status. While there, she walked to the department to see if another product would work as well, but there were no employees around to ask for help.
    5. Mid-afternoon, she called the store, waiting a very long time for someone at the Walmart switchboard to answer. Before she got halfway through her sentence about why she was calling, the operator sent her call to the Photo Department (her order was not a photo product), which did not answer the phone at all.
    6. She called back and asked to speak with the store manager. Apparently, Walmart has store managers, but they only speak to other employees. A “supervisor” got on the phone and promised to call back within 45 minutes with an answer on when the item could be picked up. 45 minutes?!!
    7. A full hour later, no return call. How bad can this get?

    I can personally testify to similar experiences, and I bet someone in your household can do so, too. In fact, I’ve noticed Walmart’s hardware and many other departments are priced much higher than home improvement stores, etc. So much for claims of “the low price leader”.

    So, high prices and very poor service. The Walmart reputation is based on a past that doesn’t exist today. My view: Walmart stores have become large warehouses where they focus on keeping shelves stocked with corporate-defined inventory, hiring some very nice people to hide from customers.

    Regardless of whether or not you’re a retailer, I caution you to not aspire to levels of companies who are no longer what you think they are. And, if you’ve been the proud brand within your product or service niche, are you sure your team hasn’t back-slid?

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      Who “framed” your career?

      Gecko Jones 117It was practically at the start of my post-college work life. Okay, maybe a couple of years into it. 

      I was working at CCI and we were about to explode on the scene in multiple product areas.

      Our management team determined we should bring in an advertising agency. Among the contenders was a group from the Boston area.

      When the agency’s team arrived, our VP Marketing & Sales asked me if I’d give their Creative Director a tour of the manufacturing area and, in the process, quickly educate him on our products, technology and markets.

      The gentleman was quite enjoyable to interact with. As we walked around, he asked good questions and clearly understood what we did. It was unexpected, by me, when he made several precise comments about my briefing, all quite positive.

      We returned to the meeting room and had a few more minutes to chat. He raised the subject of careers and surprised me, again, by mentioning that he had written a novel that Disney made into a movie. He even shared some fun moments from the negotiations he and his agent had when the studio bought his book.

      Two weeks after the “tour”, a package arrived to my attention. My new professional friend had enclosed a copy of his book, autographed with an additional observation about me.

      His comments (verbal and written) not only encouraged me to continue in product management and marketing roles, but gave me confidence that these are areas where I had real abilities. He had helped me “frame” my career path.

      Let me ask you two questions:

      1. Who helped frame your career?
      2. In your current organization, are you helping to frame a co-worker’s career?

      Guiding others can be by steering him/her (no matter what his/her age) away from a functional area where that individual is not cut out to succeed. Or, like Gary Wolf did with me, provide motivation for that person to stay the course.

      If you find reason to motivate, you’re now obligated to outline areas for improvement or growth, and to help coach that professional to reach the next level.

      In case you didn’t recognize Gary by name, his book is Who Censored Roger Rabbit, and the movie, of course, was titled Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Continue reading

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        Whose job is it?

        Gecko Jones 116As part of my duties throughout my career, I’ve named quite a few companies, web portals and products, and participated in multiple logo creations. As with anything in the world of marketing, everyone has an opinion on things being worked.

        It toughest to get the best possible outcome when conflicting opinions come from the CEO or any of his/her direct reports. The most challenging example came when we were redefining Emerald Systems Corporation to be a new business with a new product. My team had to name the company, craft a logo, productize our new technology and name the new product.

        It was quite a process to get to where my proposal to name our new company St. Bernard Software reached a decision point. Our always serious CFO said “I’m not working for a dog company” and left the staff meeting. Our CEO said he’d leave it up to our Board of Directors to approve the name, but that I would be on my own to present my case.

        Short version of a very entertaining Board meeting: Name approved! In fact, our sales team claimed for years that the name and logo were the strongest assets we had, though our new product was an A+, for sure.

        Whether we thrived with the choices or didn’t, the bottom line is it was Marketing’s responsibility. If you have confidence in your VP Marketing, let these types of decisions be made in that office. If you are unsure of the person/team, change personnel.

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          A possible reason why your company has stalled

          Gecko Jones 115Do you set goals for every department, every quarter (or month)? Do you measure things that lead to real value – not just actions, but results?

          The bar you set for each goal shouldn’t be “match (or beat) last year’s outcomes”, though sometimes that might be hard enough. In most cases, if you’re doing the right things, you should expect more.

          In one company, I restaffed most of the Marketing Department upon my arrival, due to a mix of voluntary and forced terminations. We then doubled the lead count from the previous year’s participation at our industry’s largest annual trade show. The next year, we doubled those results. Yes, quadrupling the leads from just two years earlier.

          I had never worked with any of those teammates before. However, each was a true professional and energized by having to step up to a measurable challenge.

          Put the right people in the right positions, give them aggressive, but reasonable goals, and quantify the output. If you do this well, the results will make you very happy.

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