Show Them the Data First

I went out to visit some customers recently. I learned, or should I say I relearned some basic tenets about dealing with customers. Our customers were concerned about the performance level they were receiving. We were concerned about the incremental work that we were doing that was not in scope that we were not getting paid for. With this kind of a build up, we were all expecting an interesting and potentially spirited meeting.

I was prepared to go into the meeting with a strong review of the contract and definition of the agreed scope. We wanted to make sure they understood our issues and concerns regarding our out of scope functions. It sounded like the right approach to me. It would provide the basis for our future discussions about who would do what going forward. It would provide all the basic groundwork for our positions and planned negotiations about how we would both go forward.

I am glad we didn’t conduct the meeting the way I was planning on doing it.

When we met the night before the meeting to go through the slides and plan our meeting strategy, the sales team was almost apoplectic when they saw the slides. I should say that they were not entirely against the content of the slides. They were against the order of the slides.

The sales team’s position was that the customer understood what the scope of the agreement was. The customer was unhappy with our performance regardless of what the scope of the agreement was. If we were to start off with reminding them of what we signed up to do – meaning worrying about our position, instead of worrying about what the customer was concerned about (our performance) we would have set up a significantly adversarial situation.

Let me repeat that. We wanted to address our issues before we addressed the customer’s issues. That is always a major mistake. I think we would have failed.

Fortunately, we didn’t do that. We changed the order and focus of our slides away from what we wanted to talk about (scope) to what the customer wanted to address (performance).

We started the meeting by going through the metrics, performance measurements and demographics of the types of functions we were performing for the customer. Robert McNamara in his book “The Fog of War” stated that the first thing you do was “get the data”. He was right. We got the data out in front of the customer first. We set the stage by telling them what we were doing for them.

We listed it out by function and quantity/effort. We also made sure to show our performance measurements, both the good and the bad. The customer was right (as usual). We were not meeting our performance commitments. However, the data showed that we were doing so much more than we (or they) had planned on us doing, there would have been no way for us to meet the performance targets.

The customer then understood the issues.

By approaching the contentious issues from the perspective of the customer, and providing the data on how we were trying to do measurably more that we were supposed to do for them, we were able to defuse the customer’s performance issues, while also delivering the message (indirectly) regarding our scope issues. We never even had to review the agreed scope.

The end result was that we were able to turn a contentious and possibly negative customer perception into a positive. By providing the data, both the good and the bad, we were able to set a stage that addressed both the customers and our needs for the meeting. We also ended up getting an up-scope commitment from the customer to cover the cost of the incremental work that we were doing.

I have to remember that customer first thing in the future.

Who is Spamming Me?

I normally like to Blog about what I perceive as real business issues and solutions. Sometimes I can’t help myself and propeller off into a different area. This is one of those times.

It used to be that my business email was almost pristine in terms of the types of messages and content that I received. I only got business emails and items that were germane to the work I needed to do. I understand that this must have been an anomaly in today’s electronic communications environment. The same could not be said about my personal email. I don’t know how I could have possibly won both the Ethiopian and Kenyan lotteries last month. The odds of something like that must be really astronomical, especially since I don’t remember entering either of them. However, until recently, my business address was relatively free of these types of opportunities.

That isn’t the case any more.

While I am not getting the rather colorful pharmaceutical, friendship and foreign lottery opportunities that I do get in my personal inbox, I now seem to be getting a plethora “business” trade shows, seminars,  “bulletins” and symposium opportunities to either attend (for a hefty fee) or subscribe to (for another fee). It takes a set of notifications like these to actually inform me of many superfluous industry meetings and publications there are out there. They seem to exist for just the purpose of getting people to attend / buy them without any other redeeming qualities.

Am I the only one that feels this way about them?

The question now turns to who is providing my business email to these “Spammers”. It’s not me. Why would I want to commit any act that would knowingly subject me to this type of ultimately useless barrage of seminar and white paper opportunities? It has to be someone that is deriving some sort of twisted pleasure in befouling my here to fore relatively useful business email. When I check around it seems that it is possible that I might have in fact been the last person on the internet with any type of mail address that was not receiving useless unrequested mailbox clutter of this type.

It is said that “misery loves company”, so I am trying to figure out who the miserable jerk was that put me on some list that got all this started. I am convinced that all these spam lists are related. First I got just an occasional useless message. There was nothing to it. I just deleted it. Then it started to grow.

I didn’t respond to any of the messages. They must have been communicating with each other. There must be some sort of secret spammer society where they meet, (virtually? electronically? in person?) to exchange the addresses of their latest, and in my case last victim to receive their onslaught. It has truly gotten out of hand.

My mail system does a reasonable job of trying to sort out some of the junk email from the rest. I believe that it must be set according to the number of recipients in the email address. At least that would explain why every announcement from our senior executives (and HR) end up in the same Junk Mail folder as my most recent opportunity to attend an industry seminar in Miami, Florida, to go over the proper steps in justifying to senior management why it is important to attend industry seminars.

Some days I now come in and my Junk Mail folder rivals my Inbox folder for new messages, and by the time I sort out those that should be moved to Junk Mail, it is not even close.

I understand that there is a law where if you take the active step to “unsubscribe” to the email sender, they will stop sending you email….from that address. It seems that they will however just create a new email address I have now thrown down the gauntlet and Don Quixote like started charging at the windmills of industry bulletin and white paper generation. I am patiently searching through each of these emails for the unsubscribe message location. For those of you that may be interested it is normally located in either the top, middle, bottom side, or corner of the page, and it can be recognized because it is the only writing in the message that is in 4 point font. It is also occasionally written in “white”, just to add to the challenge of finding it.

This seems like a significant amount of work, especially since I don’t ever remember subscribing to this stuff in the first place. I am also concerned that if there are enough people like me in the work force who are taking these steps to try to hold on to their business email mailbox like I am, there could be significant productivity lost in the work place. Perhaps this could be a root cause factor to the current business malaise that we all seem to be in.

Confidence and Time

When was the last time you were 100% sure about a business or sales decision? We all like to say we are when we make a decision. Occasionally we might even be that sure. Most of the time I don’t think we are that sure. We usually have an acceptable amount of information or input that enables us to feel confident enough to make our decision and move forward. If we didn’t feel confident, we would ask for more information and decisions wouldn’t get made and things wouldn’t get done.

Have you heard the phrase “paralysis by analysis”?

Confidence and how it affects decisions can be looked at on many levels and seems to vary significantly with both the economic climate and the business culture. In harder economic times, such as those we have been experiencing for the last while, it seems we need more information to make us feel confident enough to make decisions. The return for making the right decision seems to be outweighed by the risk of making the wrong decision. We also seem to be in many instances encouraging a “matrix” business culture where “consensus” is almost a requirement for any decision to be made.

Pareto would tell us that we will get 80% of the information in 20% of the time or inputs. It would follow that on average with this input you would make the right decision at least 80% of the time based on this 20% input. You would be right at least 4 out of 5 times. Just think how well you would do if you had this kind of accuracy with respect to your decisions in the stock market.

It seems we are now in economic times where the risk of being wrong once outweighs the benefits of being right 4 times. So now where do we go? Is it acceptable to only be wrong once out of every 10 times? Once out of every 20 times?

We need to remember that as we require this greater and greater accuracy on our decisions, we also require greater and greater amounts of information on which to base the decision and more importantly greater and greater amounts of time with which to make the decision. The result is we end up moving slower and slower. It ends up taking us longer to react. It takes us longer to get moving. It takes us longer to recover. When then layer in a matrix / consensus business structure and environment where the process has to be repeated for each individual associated with the consensus, it is almost a wonder that progress can be made at all.

Of the major resources available to a business, Money, People and Time, the only one that can not be replaced or replenished it Time. Physics tells us that Time only moves in one direction, and unless you are travelling at relativistic speeds (close to the speed of light) and doesn’t slow down. It would seem that if we focused more intently on Time as it affects our businesses that we would probably get a better return on our decisions, and start moving faster.

Moving our businesses forward will require the confidence to make right decisions as well as the acceptance of wrong decisions. We need to understand that no decision will engage reality and remain intact. They will all need to be modified. The “correct” decisions will only need to be modified slightly (if at all). The “incorrect” decisions will need to be modified to a greater extent.

The point here is that it will probably take less Time to modify the one potentially wrong decision out of five (the 80 / 20 rule) than it would take to gather all the information and gain the consensus required to get a higher level of surety across all five decisions.

I think that in these economic times with businesses focusing on the risk, and hence moving slower and slower, the business that has the confidence to focus on Time will gain the advantage by starting to move faster than the competition, and get the return.