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Archive for March, 2007

On execution.

Killer post on SeenCreative’s blog yesterday about growing a business and the importance of execution. Here is one of my favorite parts:

“We put little weight on the idea. We ask mainly out of politeness. The kind of question on the application form that we really care about is the one where we ask what cool things you’ve made. If what you’ve made is version one of a promising startup, so much the better, but the main thing we care about is whether you’re good at making things. Being lead developer of a popular open source project counts almost as much.”Paul Graham : “Want To Start A Startup?”

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is the key. Rarely is your idea going to be a completely original one; and if it is a good one, be sure that someone else is probably thinking the same thing.

But you differentiate through execution. And really, execution is the hard part.

Being able to execute an idea is vital to a business, and if your business is made up of people that do more walking than talking, than you are on the right track. You can remain agile in idea and efficient in execution. But if your co-founders are the opposite, you might need to re-evaluate the arrangement.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Have a great weekend, everyone. :)

photo by f360: Rusty’s flawless victory.

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Two words: Boo-yah!

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From this story, via Adpulp:

Circuit City Stores is firing about 3,400 workers at its stores who are paid “well above the market-based salary range for their role” and will hire new associates for these positions who will earn less, the consumer electronics retailer said Wednesday.

In a news release, the Richmond, Va.-based company said the layoffs were made to improve its cost and expense structure.

Circuit City did not provide details on how much the affected workers are compensated or how much the new hires would earn at what the company calls the “current market range.”

Mark my words: Circuit City will go out of business in the near future. When you run a retail store, the in-store experience is everything. It doesn’t matter how good or bad you think their service is right now: by deciding to get rid of thousands of employees to replace them with cheaper, less experienced staff, customers will get lousy service. And be less inclined to ever return. Since they don’t offer the lowest prices ala Wal-Mart, there’s simply no reason to shop there.

No amount of advertising or marketing can save them after a pathetic business decision like this. Saving money in the short run isn’t going to help. The retraining costs and the inevitable turnover you get with the new bottom-of-the-barrel workers will hasten the decline.

They’re killing their brand. It’s that simple.

I don’t know if Circuit City will close anytime soon (Blockbuster managed to save itself from obsolescence this year by fighting Netflix on their own turf, proving that any business circling the drain can stay alive if it is willing to fight for its own survival)… but yes, this doesn’t bode well for the electronic retailer.

Replacing a chunk of its workforce with a “cheaper” workforce?! Really? Does that sound like a smart business plan?

Even before Starbucks, Whole Foods, Aveda and even Target taught us that millions of customers were more than happy to pay a premium for a better (or even a remarkable) retail experience, this kind of decision should have seemed pretty poor. Even to an MBA.

I don’t know… Maybe Circuit City could just cut health benefits for their employees too while they’re at it. Or better yet, offer their new hires zero hourly pay and let them earn 100% commission. Or how about building a tunnel under the Pacific Ocean to sneak cheap foreign labor into their stores? I hear you can get folks to work for less than a nickel a day in some parts. Who cares that they aren’t qualified to help customers choose the right piece of equipment? Who cares if their communications skills are pretty lousy? Who cares that they don’t really want to be there? Who cares if they are reliable enough to show up to work every day? Who cares if they have attitudes or can’t pass a drug screening test or have to call their PO every three hours? Who cares if they would rather spend all day IM’ing their girlfriend than helping customers? Who cares that they would rather be anywhere but in your store? Who cares if every customer gets turned off by the remarkably lousy service they get at your stores?

Why in the world would I ever want to shop at Circuit City again, knowing that a) their prices will be the same as Best Buy, and that b) the people working there are less qualified, less happy, and less motivated to help me?

File this under “101 ways to kill your business”… or “Major bonehead management decisions”.

Sad.

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Via BrandXpress -

Rob Engelman was recently asked what a Marketing Department should be responsible for. His answer came as a list:

1. Focus on the Customer
2. Monitor the Competition
3. Own the Brand.
4. Find & Direct Outside Vendors.
5. Create New Ideas.
6. Communicate Internally.
7. Manage a Budget.
8. Understand the ROI.
9. Set the Strategy, Plan the Attack, and Execute.

Because we like to focus on brand stuff, here’s what Rob has to say about #3:

“The perceptions and feelings formed about an organization, its products / services, and its performance is what is known as its “brand.” The Marketing Department is responsible for creating meaningful messages through words, ideas, images, and names that deliver upon the promises / benefits an organization wishes to make with its customers. Furthermore, the Marketing Department is responsible for ensuring that messages and images are delivered consistently, by every member of the organization.”

Not a bad start. And for the most part, yes, he is right.

Read the rest of Rob’s points here.

Rob’s list is a great first step for any marketing department that finds itself needing to define its functions clearly. Let’s take it one step further though, with this second list, which should best serve marketing departments that have already accomplished all nine of Rob’s recommendations and are looking for the next step in their evolution:

1. Befriend your customers.
2. Become your market. (Don’t just monitor the competition. Rewrite the rules. Set the pace. Lead. Outdistance your competition. Make them copy you. Force them to up their game.)
3. Breathe your brand.
4. Recruit and direct outside vendors.
5. Foster Innovation.
6. Simplify your internal communications. Then simplify them again. And again. And again.
7. Strategize as if your budget had been slashed in half. Deliver as if your budget had been twice what it actually is.
8. Make your ROI completely clear to your clients and everyone in your organization.
9. Observe, adapt, strategize, anticipate, plan, execute. … and be ready to improvise at a moment’s notice.

Walk before you run, grasshopper.

:)

More on execution tomorrow.

Have a great Thursday, everyone.

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From Don Boudreaux’s Cafe Hayek blog:

“There are two kinds of people in the world. Members of the first group think of jobs as being rather like boxes, each of which has a monetary figure on it as well as a set of levers inside. A job-holder occupies a box, yanks on the box’s levers, and in return receives pay in the amount of the prescribed monetary figure. Lucky workers are those who land in boxes paying big money and whose levers are easy to manipulate; unlucky workers are those who find themselves in boxes paying little money and whose levers are difficult to manipulate.”

“The second group of people in the world understands that real jobs are a matter of creating value for buyers. The greater the amount of value I create for others, the better — or, at least, the higher-paying — is my job. In markets, your job isn’t a box that you get assigned to; your job is an opportunity to perform, to help improve the lives of others and, in return, to persuade these others to help you improve your life.

“And one of the most important of these performances is corporate management — the ability to coordinate large amounts of resources, time, and workers in ways that create large amounts of value for others and that makes it easier for those of us with less vision and administrative ability to find jobs that maximize the value that each of us, individually, creates for others.”

I still run into way too many senior execs who run their organizations like piles of boxes. Every time I do, I don’t know… it just makes me cringe. I get turned off. I wonder how much longer the companies they manage will continue to be profitable.

Perhaps more to the point, I wonder how much more profitable they would be if they shed their old ways and made the jump to the second group. If they championed the recruiting and mentoring of T-shaped talent and favored operational flexibility over the limitations of rigid job hierarchies.

I guess that when you belong to the first group and are one of the lucky ones (big money/easy levers), there isn’t much of an incentive for you to rock the boat and be an agent of change.

Like Don said, there are two types of people in this world.

You’re either one or the other. The question is, which one are you?

Have a great Wednesday. :)

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So today was Day #1 of the 2007 Innoventure conference in sunny Greenville, SC. One of the central purposes of the conference is to bring innovative talent, research labs, and venture capital together in one place. (So yeah, there’s some magic going on in Greenville around this time each year.) I didn’t get a chance to attend Innoventure last year, so I wanted to make sure to check it out this time around.

And as a bonus, organizer, mastermind and business development superstar John “Swamp Fox” Warner announced today that Innoventure is going on a world tour.

Okay… maybe not exactly a world tour yet… but the conference will be expanding to North Carolina and Georgia next year, which is pretty exciting.

You may not think of this part of the country as being a cradle of innovation… but it is quickly becoming just that. We have the universities, we have the industries, we have the academics, we have the banks, and we certainly have the talent.

Here are some photos from Day #1:

above: the ever popular Innovention Cafe


above: Communities of innovation

above: CIO Roundtable

above: SCIN Capital forum

Day 1 was a great start. I’m looking forward to Day #2.

Oh… and one last little photo: (Sorry, Evan. I couldn’t resist…)


Have a great Wednesday, everyone. :)

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If “I *heart* huckabee’s” has its place in your movie experience, then you will probably remember Dawn Campell’s (Naomi Watts’) line: “There is glass between us!!!”

The first time she utters it, her boyfriend (Jude Law) is hiding behind sunglasses. The second time, he is hiding behind a glass partition. She is desperately trying to connect with him, but the separation created by the glass stands in the way of a true connection.

“There is glass between us,” she laments.

Glass between us.

A layer. An interruption. A wall. A separation. Glass.

You’re a business owner or a VP or a manager. Ask yourself this: How many layers exist between you and your customers? How many interruptions? How many walls? How many separations?

I have spent most of the past year and a half working with a very small but immensely popular specialty retailer, and the experience so far has been one of the most valuable in my Marketing career: These guys have figured out how to completely eliminate the glass between them and their customers.

They have figured out how to make the shopping experience fun, informative, engaging, uplifting, welcoming, and cool. The turnover of employees is virtually inexistant. The level of professionalism, expertise, politeness and eagerness of the employees is astounding.

There is absolutely zero glass between this business’ employees and its thousands of customers.

None.

The experience there is unlike any other shopping experience I’ve ever had.

It isn’t that it is extraordinary. It isn’t like they’re the Cirque Du Soleil of shopping or anything. The experience is actually simple. Subtle. Uneventful. But it is refreshing and empowering.

Compare this to dealing with your cable company. Your credit card company. A grocery store. A fast food joint. A home improvement warehouse. A car dealership. An insurance company.

Believe it or not, human beings still respond to a friendly, honest smile. They appreciate someone asking them how they are doing – not as the prelude to a sale, but as a genuine greeting. They appreciate confidence in knowledge. They crave honest answers and suggestions.

They love to be remembered and feel accepted.

Get rid of the glass. Seriously. Every moment I spend with these guys, every time I watch them deal with a customer, I see genius in action.

And then I wonder why it is that such simple, yet essential elements of a noteworthy customer experience elude so many businesses today.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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