Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

We Are Upside Down

In Gripes, Uncategorized on March 23, 2009 at 7:21 am

I was stuffing newborn kittens into plastic bags when it occurred to me that something wasn’t right.  While the duty to clean up the detritus that surrounds us falls upon all responsible people (the feral cat problem in my office’s neighborhood is a longstanding one that results often in abandoned litters, roadkill and bird carcasses) I could not be convinced that my presence at that precise moment was the result of noble intent.  I needed to be at my desk, making sales calls and writing revisions of new web pages, planning for 5 conferences we’re presenting at in the next six weeks, I needed to be working.

Details aside, my job is rewarding and I have an overriding commitment to my company’s success.  What I realized, even with all that need and reward and despite the dead animal in hand, is that I enjoyed being outside for a change.  And I knew that I was going to take my time investigating the shrubs for other frail or expired animals because I absolutely needed to be outside.  Outside of my dim fluorescent lighted office, outside of my air conditioned car, outside of my email, my on-line banking, my marriage, outside of my everyday life and faced with an absolute change in context.  I didn’t need to understand the new context, I just needed to feel it hit me in the face.


Value Added Nervous

In Business on March 17, 2009 at 6:24 am

When attempting to close a sale new entrepreneurs and business owners too often make the mistake of offering additional products or services for free when they should instead be refining their core product’s value proposition. What young entrepreneurs often call “value added service” – the giving away of other soft or hard commodities – is really just poor business; a lack of understanding of their product’s value and a clear sign that they posses little or no skill as a salesperson.  Secondly, the perception that whatever extra time spent and advice given to a sales prospect (regardless of relevancy to the product) is  good customer service is just wrong – that’s what I call “under the radar” value added service, you don’t even know what you gave away.

Rule Number 1: Value Added Service ≠ Customer Service (Great or otherwise).  I’ve read the industry bibles about excellent customer service and not one says anything about pre-sale giveaways (which in the real world of business are called promotions).  In fact, customer service does not begin until a prospect becomes a customer.  It sounds like semantics, doesn’t it? It’s not.  The sooner you learn this, the sooner you’ll stop drowning.

Rule Number 2: You cannot afford to play the Value Added Service Game.  Why? Because you don’t yet know the value of the products you are selling or giving so blithely away.   I called it a game because it is such a thing – and it is a Big Boy’s Game.  How can you afford to give things away unless you know what they are worth?  If you don’t know what your time and products  are worth and you give them away, we should assume they are worthless.  If you’re going to act like your time is worthless go work at McDonald’s.

Rule Number 3: Learn how to price your product – know your value proposition. This should be Rule Number 1, or really before all rules.  Unfortunately, most of us have to live through failing the first two rules to understand it. You are inclined to believe your product is of high value, and therefor worth a high price (you wouldn’t have put your effort into it otherwise, right?).  Yet, you find that you are repeatedly giving away extras (in time or materials) to help close the sale,  and believe this an acceptable, even successful solution.  You made the sale, maintained the price and only gave away three hours of your time doing X,Y and Z for your customer.   The reality is you spent 3 hours not making money when you could have been making other sales, 3 hours devaluing both your core product and your personal expertise, 3 hours failing with your value proposition.

Rule Number 4: Learn to sell your product – a business owner is a salesperson. Yeah, I know, you don’t want to.  You hate salespeople and you just don’t want to become one of those assholes.  In the meantime you’ve leveraged your home into a second mortgage, borrowed 100K from your parents and your spouse doesn’t remember what you look like, all so you can sit on a garage full of tchotchkes you can’t get rid of.  Who’s the asshole now?  Learning to sell is invaluable for every person who wants to own a business.  Selling is a skill necessary for many business activities, from enticing investors down to unloading your goods.  Becoming a disciplined salesperson will help you identify the strong and week points of your value proposition, and learn the ticks of your customers.

Somewhere along the way customers got wind of the term “value added service” and thought it was for their benefit, which it is not.  The term is for a marketing method by which companies bundle services or products together because it is convenient and profitable for the company to do so.  Look it up.  If you think your single product needs to have items added to substantiate the price you’ve set – well, why not just lower the price, double your sales and stop working so hard?  If the thing you’re giving away has such value that it’s closing the primary sale, why aren’t you pricing and selling that secondary item as well?

Who Are The Mice?

In Gripes on March 13, 2009 at 5:57 am

Well, I figure if the calf is running away it’s at least smart enough to know that it is being chased.  Without a doubt, it’s knows that the 230 pound country bumpkin following on horseback isn’t just trying to give it a good scratch behind the ears.  Even as the cowboy’s rib cage lands on the animal’s fore shoulder at 25 miles per hour, arms wrestling its head 180 degrees around his body to pin it down for the tap out, it is likely the calf is more aware of the lunacy on display than you’ll ever be.

The truth is the steers in this rodeo are likely to suffer no pain – they are stout creatures equal in size to their handlers.  Regardless, I wonder why such a workaday, albeit necessary, ranch skill is a matter of public spectacle to 40,ooo enchanted onlookers.  Did they not learn from their 3 hour-a-day TV habit that humans long ago bested the steer?  Sure, the animal gets away sometimes but why only then should it be the roper that looks the fool? Yeah, I know, the competition isn’t between the cowboy and the calf, it’s between cowboy and cowboy.    So is this the original American form of reality TV – let’s see who can do stupid human tricks the fastest for a little coin?  One may ask why shoveling shit isn’t also on the program for the rodeo.  Presumably, these cowboys have cleaned out their share of stables.

This ain’t no animal rights rant – the cows make out better than the ropers or the watchers.  They’ll get a steady, healthy diet until the day they die while the cowboys will be lucky to make a buck for all their knee bustin’, back breaking work and you stuff your face with overpriced garbage that would make cows turn their noses up.  The rodeo, despite the spectacular examples of animal breeding, is just another circus where the supporting clowns wear stetsons and the main event is our appetite for inanity.

I wonder if cows can clap.

For Your Own Protection

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2009 at 1:55 am

This link can save you the next time you must ward off a 23 year old subordinate who thinks highly of their communications degree and higher still of their coffee-fetching internship at Polo or Conde Nast.  The Online Dictionary of Language Terminology is a great resource when you can’t remember all the rules (and why should you have to – isn’t that why we have the interwebs?).  Keep it handy.

You are not an Entrepreneur

In Business on March 3, 2009 at 3:56 am

We can see you are motivated; you stay late everyday.  We know you have great ideas because you can’t ever agree with your peers and superiors.  You’re too good for termination, but you’ve quit the last 3 jobs because, well, you knew the company was heading towards ruin and you weren’t going to have your good name impugned and hard effort wasted.  Two months later you’re freelancing on the next great concept, collecting $400 a week while the last company you ditched just got itself listed on the NASDAQ.

Entrepreneurs don’t work alone – they are the boss of themselves working for the benefit of others, while assuming a risk to do so.  Self-employment of itself cannot be considered qualifying criteria for entrepreneurs when there is no possibility of creating new jobs, managing outside resources, or affecting substantive inventive change upon an industry, market or community.   Billing for common skills as a 1099 employee adds more cheap labor to the pool of commodities;  we’re glad you’re keeping busy, paying your bills and not taxing the unemployment fund.

We can illustrate this thought by turning to agriculture.  A plantation owner pooled his money from the bank, his family and investors.  He bought land, hired labor, purchased equipment, negotiated his regional supply deals. To add an element of community good, we’ll say that he decided to produce all certified organic.  So he had to hire specialized agriculturalists, apply for certification and lobby some bureaucrat to allow for additional tax exemptions.  A lot of work for one person.  A lot of risk with other people’s money, time and effort.  A lot at stake for the people hired when a cold freeze comes around and ruins a crop.

You, on the other hand, with a bucket of soil hanging outside the window of your 4 flight walk-up, can’t decide between planting potatoes or corn because your buddy hasn’t returned your e-mail about which one grows better in the month of October.  You hope either one grows quick so you can store it away for winter and not starve – and all this because you think it is debasing to your dreams to manage your relationships at your day job.

Good luck, Farmer Joe.