Obtuse In Use


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Inept Management always astounds me.  I know it shouldn’t, but I am continually amazed by brainless managers.  I will admit, it is a nice source of amusement.Moron

A friend of mine works the third shift in a services business.  If he takes a personal day or sick day in any given week, and works more than 32 hours in the remaining 4 days, he loses the sick or vacation pay.  One week he took a sick day and worked 32 hours and 27 minutes and was denied his sick day pay.    He was infuriated. He was so mad he found another job, and I don’t blame him.

Now the company has to spend time and money to find a replacement.  Not really an easy task because his position requires a unique combination of accounting and customer service skills.  If they don’t find someone right away, they are going to end up paying someone else on staff the overtime to cover his shift.  Then they need to spend the time and money to train the new employee and are now essentially paying two people to do the same job until they are comfortable with the new hires ability.  The neophyte employee is likely to make mistakes or make less than optimal decisions which will cost the company even more money.

When you manage a business to the bottom line – implementing policies and procedure to ensure a target revenue or profit margin you will invariably demean and impersonalize your employees who make that revenue happen.  So rather than spend the extra $20 for 27 minutes of overtime, this company winds up spending $20,000, and loses a trusted and loyal employee.  There is short-sighted management and then there is blind stupidity.  These people are just plain obtuse.


Counterintuitive Marketing


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David A. Fields is the founder and managing director of The Ascendant Consortium, a unique organization specializing in maximizing the ROI from consulting engagements. His book, The Executives Guide to Consultants is a must read.  David’s most recent blog post (reposted below) is a great example of how a counterintuitive marketing appraoch can be more successful than the current, conventional thinking.

The Most Effective Form Of Outreach – It’s Not What You Think

Common wisdom says you should offer some sort of value to prospects when you reach out to them. What if that common wisdom is not only wrong, but backwards?


I’m sure you’ve seen or heard advice that consultants should only reach out to prospects when they have a compelling, useful tidbit to offer. For example, an article or white paper, your new book, an introduction to a sought-after peer, or insights from a project you conducted recently. (Alternatively, in case you have me on your outreach list, useful tidbits include boxes of chocolate, New York Rangers tickets or a 2015 V12 Ferrari FF.)

You know the script: “Hi Bob. I thought you’d be interested in some findings from a project we just completed with another company in your industry.” How many times have you tried something like that? How often has it worked?

The surprising truth is the “offer value when you call” approach is like fur on the outside of a coat. Logical, but actually more effective when it’s inverted.

Rather than reaching out when you have something, reach out when you want something. Specifically, advice and insight. Which we all need constantly. This script sounds like: “Hi Bob. I was looking for a bit of insight on the latest trends in neurological meters and you immediately came to mind as the right person to talk to. Could I pick your brain for about two minutes?” I call this Seduction by Solicitation, because it creates or stimulates a warm relationship by requesting a favor.

This approach is a variation on the phenomenon noted by Ben Franklin in his autobiography: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” The idea is that if you do a favor for Josie (e.g., offer a copy of your book) and ask for a favor from MeiLi (e.g., seek advice), MeiLi is more likely than Josie to consent to a larger request, such as engaging in a discussion of how you can work together. (The exception, of course, is if you offer me Josie the Ferrari or seats at the Stanley Cup finals.)


At first blush, this doesn’t appear to comport with the six principles of influence fabulously outlined by Robert Cialdini. After all, the number one principle of Reciprocity suggests that if we want MeiLi to do us a good turn (listen to our offerings) we first need to bestow some useful token on her (article, book, etc.).

Delve deeper, though, because Reciprocity works in reverse. If we ask MeiLi for a small favor such as her advice, then she feels entitled to ask a favor of us. That’s reciprocity, and that’s exactly what we want! When she’s asking us to engage, cultivate the relationship and show value, we’re sitting pretty. Better yet, we know MeiLi will appreciate the offering she requested; a wholly different proposition than the unsolicited article, book or advice we were foisting on her.

I built my Rolodex of CEO contacts using this approach. When I started out, there was no way the CEOs of $1+ billion companies were going to take my call. Unless, it turned out, I had an intriguing need for advice. Starting with just two CEO contacts and a simple request for insights I built relationships with just shy of 70 large-company CEOs in about three months.

The table below shows the advantages of asking for help rather than offering value when approaching prospects.

Offer Value Request Help
Offering is needed/valued by small percentage of contacts Virtually 100% can help
Only works when you have something to offer Always works because you always need advice and insights
Reciprocity feels like obligation Reciprocity feels like opportunity
Business transaction; doesn’t foster “Like” Personal transaction; fosters “Like” & nurtures relationship
Requires confidence in offering Requires willingness to ask and learn

Since you don’t need to develop a new, high-value morsel to Seduce by Solicitation, there’s no reason to wait. Jump all over it by requesting help from your prospects today. You already know where to send the leftover Rangers tickets and the keys to the Ferrari.

Of course, Text and images are © 2015 David A. Fields, all rights reserved. You can view the original post here.  I would also encourage you to sign up for his newsletter.

Counterintuitive Strategies Win


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Tom BradyIf a counterintuitive strategy can help the New England Patriots win Super Bowl XLIX, could it help your business?

The Seattle Seahawks have built the best defensive secondary in the NFL by acquiring tall, strong, big cornerbacks whose physical talents run counterintuitive to the conventional speed infatuated model. As a result, in Super Bowl XLVIII they suffocated Payton Manning’s downfield threat, forcing the Denver Broncos to throw all short passes.

New England head coach Bill Belicheck’s strategy was to use that failed Broncos game plan and steal it, even though the Broncos lost by 35 points.

The strategy was simple. Counter strength with speed. The Seahawks big corners could not move as fast or with the necessary agility in tight spaces. The Patriots leveraged their quickness to find openings on short passes or in the middle of the field.

The strategy also neutralized the fierce Seattle pass rush because they could not put pressure on quarterback Tom Brady quickly enough. The Patriots were able to slowly and methodically march down the field. This makes for pretty boring football. However, you can’t argue with the result.

Yes, a counterintuitive strategy can help your business, as long as you continue to play to your strengths. Sometimes it not the people, process, or technology, but how you use those resources.



The Role of a Business Plan


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GPSIn a recent New York Times article, Eilene Zimmerman called attention to the diminishing role business plans are playing in today’s fast moving, technology, start-up dominated market.  She, along with those she interviews, tell us there are also many good reasons to write a business plan.  For instance to obtain a bank loan, financing, letting you make mistakes on paper, setting goals, adapting to changing market conditions, developing priorities, reducing decision time, increasing decision certainty, and becoming the foundation for action.

Probably the most important reason for a business plan is not the plan itself, but the process one goes through to develop the plan. The business planning process forces you to step away and think about the strategic direction of the business, the definition of success and how to achieve those goals. The real benefit is taking the time to think. To ponder what is and what could be. Owners and companies, especially smaller businesses, are too involved in the day to day operations. They don’t take the time to journey through a strategic planning process and thus never realize the full potential of the business or worse, fail to see their impending demise.

In Louis V. Gerstner Jr.’s book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? he describes walking along the beach as his process for thinking through critical decisions or contemplating strategy. Two things always struck me about this. First, that an executive of his experience and leadership didn’t make intuitive, quick decisions and second that he took the time to think and consider possible outcomes and effects. Although, when I worked with IBM, they were plan driven. Global Services would create a Spring Plan AND a Fall Plan. Leave it to IBM to over-engineer just about everything.

Michele Flynn, Founder and President of a 25 employee consultancy, Expense Management Solutions would take her management team off site every year to consider the changing industry environment, develop new products and services, and set the direction for the coming year. This was a highly energized exercise that not only planned of the coming year, but because it was a collaborative plan, everyone felt a certain ownership for the outcome.

So good businesses, large or small, understand a business plan is absolutely worth the time. Not because at the end you will have this nice formalized written guide, but because you will have a given yourself the gift of invigoration, direction, and hopefully unleashed your creativity.

Do you have a business plan? When was your plan last updated? Please share your thoughts…

Need a template to get yourself started or to give your thoughts some structure? Send me an e-mail. I will be happy to share.

Happy New Year

The earth rotates on its axis more than 1,000 miles an hour at the equator. At the same time we orbit our sun at 67,062 miles per hour (18.5 miles per second). The Sun and the Earth move at about 43,000 miles per hour roughly in the direction of the bright star Vega. It is amazing to me that we live on a planet almost 93 million miles from the sun and orbit in the exact perfect position to support life.

The equator is a mere 4,000 miles closer to the sun than the South Pole. If the sun were 4,000 miles closer or further it would be a dry and desolate planet or a frozen planet without vegetation. We are 93 Million miles apart – such a great distance, yet precisely and absolutely perfect.

We live in a world filled with turmoil. Natural disasters, human created disasters, poverty, hunger, strife, and war surround us. However, there is a beauty and splendor about our planet that is simply amazing, astounding, and breath-taking. Take the time to appreciate what surrounds you. You can choose to focus on the negative aspects of life, or you can choose to be effected by the staggering beauty of our world. It feels so much better to let the marvels of the planet bath us in the feelings of happiness and serenity. Why wouldn’t you choose to feel that way all the time?

Photo courtesy Christopher McCarthy's iPhone

Photo courtesy Christopher McCarthy’s iPhone

On the way home, I stopped the car, walked outside, and captured this scene at the end of our street. Take the time to touch the pause button just a few times each day. It’s so much better than the alternative.

All the best to you and Happy New Year.

3 Trends for Small Business in 2014


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Normally I write for enterprise organizations, however once in a while I am compelled to write for my hometown MadisonPatch on-line news source to provide insight and ideas to our local small businesses. This is one of those times.

Usually this time of year brings a deluge of articles on the “New Trends” for the New Year.  That’s nice, but I believe what’s most important is what information do you need to know when panning how to grow your business. Part of the planning process and one of the ways businesses continue to survive and thrive is by looking out at the horizon of coming opportunities.  As owners, creators, and entrepreneurs of not huge businesses, the more we can understand new trends and technology the better prepared we are to make decision to ensure our future success.  Being prepared and having a plan reduces the stress we feel in running a business and/or being responsible for growing the economy and supporting others.  If this is you, here are three things you should consider and think about as you plan for a prosperous 2014.

#1 – Listen

Customers, neighbors, friends, and even competitors all have great ideas.  Most times people just want to help and believe you might benefit from their perspective.  Listen to them. Sometimes they are right.  Sometimes they know what they are talking about or they represent majority thinking.  Let me give you an example.

On Fridays you can see the Sugar Bakery Cupcake Truck parked next to the Madison, Take 32 TowerConnecticut town green.  In addition to selling cupcakes one, two, four, or a dozen at a time, the bakery in East Haven also fills orders on a much grander scale. Some of their customers not only want the cupcakes but also want a way to display them as a centerpiece – creating a WOW factor to their party or event.  In the past, Sugar Bakery would also rent a tiered cupcake tower to help their customers achieve the desired effect.  However, customers complained because they had to put down a deposit on the display, make two or more trips to the car, drive home, make two or more trips into the house, spend the time arranging the cupcakes on the display, clean off the tower after the event, and then drive back to the bakery to return the tower and collect their deposit.

Carol and Debra, Sugar Bakery co-owners listened to their customers describe how the bakery was making it difficult to do business with them.  So Carol and Debra took the time to think about how to make buying a larger quantity of cupcakes easier.  Soon they had created, designed, patented, and manufactured a portable, disposable, tiered tower cupcake display. They made it easy for their customers to buy 32 cupcakes in a package that can be carried out of the shop, driven home, opened with much fanfare, and have the eye-popping centerpiece dropped right onto the table.  Because they listen to their customers, they now have expanded the business and created a whole new market for their cupcakes.

Listen to what is being said, and if it makes sense – do something.

#2 – Mobile/Smartphone Marketing

Here are some important numbers:

  • The International Telecoms Union reports there are currently 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions and 7.1 billion people inhabit the planet.  They also predict that subscriptions will pass seven billion early in 2014 meaning there will be more mobile subscriptions than people on the earth.
  • According to Mobile Marketing Watch 4.2 billion people use a mobile device to access social media sites
  • A Pew Research study found that 74 percent of people with a smartphone find directions and other information about a company prior to making a purchase.
  • A study by the Google Shopper Marketing Agency Council and M/A/R/C Research found 84% of smartphone shoppers use their phones while in a physical store.

Your customers with smartphones are using their devices to pre-shop your store, find your location, collect other customer experiences, and one of the biggest shopping activities – they are comparing prices while in your store. This means if you have not already given serious consideration to a mobile device as a means by which consumers are shopping, the time has come.  So, what should you do?

Take a quick look at your website’s traffic to determine the percentage of visitors to your website is getting there via their smartphones. If you use Google Analytics, select “Audience” on the left side, then “Mobile” to see what proportion of traffic is from mobile devices. You can even drill down to see which devices are sending the traffic. If it is significant or growing there is more work to do.

Next, ensure your website is mobile friendly or create a site for mobile device access.  The hottest of trends is to create a website with responsive web design.  This mean your site design will look as good on a mobile device as it does on a desktop or laptop.

Retailers should also consider a Location-Based marketing effort. If your business has a brick and mortar location, there are ways you can use mobile apps like Foursquare and Levelup to drive traffic into the store or leverage a customer who is currently in the store to market to other potential customers. American Express Open Forum has 5 great examples to get you creative marketing thoughts rolling.

The Chief Marketing Officer Council recently published an on-line article “Location-based marketing: The key to mobile customer engagement?” highlighting how Wi-Fi specific landing pages can be part of your location-based marketing efforts.

In part, the article states if you encourage your shoppers to log on to a free in-store Wi-Fi network, you can use geo-fencing technology from companies such as Digby to make special offers while they are in the store.

Retailers suffering from shopper attrition via “The Amazon Effect” where RJJuliastorepainting_4_0shoppers look at a product and then buy it on Amazon (independent book stores like JR Julia quickly come to mind) can start to reverse that trend by adding value to the experience in the store as well as being able to match prices.

By having shoppers on their own network, retailers can also determine when consumers are comparing prices online, and with whom, giving them better intelligence on their competition and the ability to better match process.

#3 – Content and Social Media

If you haven’t been doing this before, it’s time to really harness your knowledge and expertise into content you can leverage in your marketing efforts. Through content, shoppers and customers will develop a more personal relationship with you and your store. In this coming year shoppers are expecting more from retailers as information is more widely available and customers are getting smarter and smarter.  Create content that adds value to their shopping experience and their lives.  Help them to become better, more intelligent shoppers and in turn they will be your better customers.

Repurpose everything you create. For example, if you write a blog post on a specific topic, determine how you can use that topic to create additional lead generation opportunities, such as developing a whitepaper, sharing a slide deck on SlideShare, adding a downloadable element to an email blast, or simply linking to the content from email signatures. The idea is to create the content one time and then see how many more times you can use it.

The other medium I’ll throw into the discussion is video.  The use of video is also important because it ties in with your new found awareness of mobile marketing – there is a continued serge in video friendly mobile devices.  In addition, video is becoming easier to create, produce, edit, and publish because of the increase in quick, low-budget tools available. These videos can be hosted on your website, shared in e-mail newsletters, posted on your blog and used as part of your in-store experience.  Video is also the most engaging medium because it involves more of our senses that simply reading or listening.

Listen, Mobile, Content

Three words representing three opportunities to increase business.  Planning, planning, and planning. Three words to help reduce stress and create a prosperous 2014. I wish you all the best.


To Tell or Not to Tell


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A co-worker comes to you in confidence and tells you they are looking for a new job.  Not uncommon I presume.  However over the next few weeks every time you see your co-worker you are inundated with stories of where they are looking for new position, who they are networking with, where they have applied, and who they have interviewed with.  You are appreciative that your co-worker feels so comfortable with your relationship that they are divulging everything however you really wish they had a brother, sister, father, or mother who would much rather listen to the next trilling episode of “My Incredibly Intriguing, Interesting, and Insatiable Job Search.”  So you politely tell your co-worker these stories make you uncomfortable and could they please talk about anything else when you are around.  They agree, but they don’t.

Here’s the dilemma:  should you tell your mutual boss your co-worker plans on leaving the company breaking your word to your co-worker, or should you continue to endure the stories of your co-worker’s daily escapades?  On one hand you have your personal integrity; on the other hand, don’t you have an obligation to the organization as a whole?  Shouldn’t the company have the opportunity to prepare for the soon-to-be productivity loss?  What if you do say something and your co-worker can’t find that elusive new job and because you revealed this information to management, your co-worker starts to be treated unfairly or even worse, is fired?

So, what would you do?

Help, My Clients are Skipping My Sales Process


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ImageRecently, I had a conversation with the President of a digital signage company who is becoming increasingly aware of a disturbing trend in sales.  He has recognized more and more of his customers are skipping his sales process.

The news sales reality is this: once a potential customer or client has identified a need, they turn to a search engine to collect information.  Let’s face it; there is so much information on the world wide web, most potential customers or clients can self educate without the help of a salesperson.  Not only can they collect and assimilate information, with the help of reviews, they can better understand the needs, experiences, issues, and satisfaction of existing or previous potential customers.

Prospects are showing up at your door ready to purchase, ready to negotiate, ready for delivery and guess what – they have never talked to anyone at your company.

This is disturbing to our digital signage president because he is not getting the chance to educate his prospects, communicate his true value, or explain his differentiation.  Prospects are smart and getting smarter, however, sometimes the information on the internet is not entirely correct, complete, or causes the wrong conclusion to be drawn.

Sometimes this shortened sales cycle is beneficial to a prospect because it decreases the time to purchase. Some buyers are more comfortable making decisions on their own without outside counsel. Other times they miss something. They miss the vast knowledge a seller has regarding a customer’s circumstance and what issue they might be solving.  Remember, sellers talk with hundreds or sometimes thousands of customers.  Sellers have amassed a great deal of information and knowledge about a variety of company goals, expected results, and defined successes.  Sellers understand there are issues and obstacles and have the experience to help customers achieve their objectives.

Most marketers will tell you to have any impact at the beginning of the new sales cycle; you need to get as much information into the market as possible. Hopefully, with enough information in the right places, potential customers will have what they need to make the right decision. My late friend, Joe Vales used to call this “Marketing Tonnage.”  Joe would try to get as much information into the market as quickly as possible through every available marketing channel.  Given our new sales cycle, this is not a bad approach but I would deplore you to do this in a coordinated manner.  Different buyers or different types of buyers pay attention to different channels and different messages.  Some are more social media centric, others more new sales centric, others more visual, while others more fact-based.  Whatever their preference, you need to make sure your message is finding the right audience via the right channel.

I know, creating all of this content sounds like a ton of work. So how do you start?  Simple.  Look to your existing customers.  How did they buy, what channels do they listen to, and what messages resonate with them?  Don’t know the answers here? Ask them.  They will tell you.  Collect enough information and you can build a marketing strategy and activities best suited to communicate with prospects and create opportunities for your sales organization.

Long before we encountered the new sales cycle, I was with a major technology service provider.  Information technology services are complex, follow a 9 month to a year long sales cycle and a considerable amount of work happens inside an organization before they would contact a service provider.  Essentially, our prospects were exhibiting behaviors of a prospect in the new sales cycle.  I kept thinking there must be unseen circumstances driving the need for an organization to seek out the services of an information technology company.  I started digging, asking questions, looking at data, asking more questions.

What I discovered was interesting.  There were some very clear triggers in a company’s financial performance or organizational structure indicating an opportunity.  A new CIO almost always signaled a change in how IT business would be conducted.  Poor financial performance over a period of time was a contributing factor.  There were other more subtle signals such as the age of existing hardware or software systems, the announcement of several new product launches, or a growth strategy dependant on acquisitions.  If several of these factors were in play, it was a good bet there were internal discussion on how to reduce costs or deliver more efficient IT services.  I also learned which triggers were nmost likely to be the catalyst for change.  This knowledge helped to prioritize opportunities based on a prospect’s need for our services.

Understanding these leading indicators helped me elevate “being in the right place at the right time” to an art form.

This brings us back to our digital signage president.  If he could understand the leading indicators in his market, he could look out and identify potential prospects at the beginning of the sales cycle or even before the sales cycle has started.  The real benefit of a pre-sales cycle conversation is they tend to be more relaxed, more in-depth, and hold greater value because there is an uninhibited exchange of ideas and information. It also allows you to help solve issues based on your knowledge and experience, communicate your true value, highlight your differentiation, and find the most appropriate solution. To me it’s more beneficial to both the prospect and seller not to skip or shrink the sales cycle, but to start the sales cycle – new or old – at the beginning.

Response Time


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ImageHow quickly do you respond to e-mail or voice mail messages?  I am continually surprised by how slow some businesspeople are to respond. Even more surprising is when the e-mail or voice mail represents potential business they still can’t seem to quicken their response rate.  As a general rule, I try to respond to any communication within 2 hours, regardless of who contacted me or what they want.  Originally, when I was debating with myself (and again I won) what an appropriate response time should be, I based it on the idea that the longest anyone could really stand to be in my company is probably 2 hours.  So 2 hours represents the longest period of time I would be unreachable.  After that, you should expect a return call or e-mail.

Anyone who thinks I am worthy enough to help them should feel as though they are the most important person I will deal with today.  If they took the time to write, or dial the phone they deserve to be acknowledged at my earliest convenience.  I even return phone calls from people who are trying selling me something, and from whom I have no intention of buying their product or service.  I consider this a professional courtesy.  I don’t want them spending time thinking about me as a prospect. I want to free up their thought process, effort, and energy to pursue a real opportunity and chase a real lead. Of course, I would want anyone else to do the same for me.

Unfortunately in today’s environment of impersonal business, too many people hide behind the phone or computer, hoping to avoid any unpleasant conversation, or worse, think they don’t have the time.  If you don’t have the 2 minutes to return a call or send a simple note maybe the problem is not with your decency but your time management. Either way this behavior is inexcusable.

Say I’ll get back to you.  If I send you an e-mail and ask a question and you don’t have an immediate answer, don’t wait 4 days because you are “not in the office”, and then the weekend passes and then you are “out sick.”  Send me a quick note, tell me you need to find the answer and let me know when I can expect it.  If it’s next Tuesday, fine.  But if I spend 4 days wondering if you have been sucked into a black hole or you just don’t care about me, you are not helping our relationship any.  After 4 days, don’t bother – because chances are we are not working together.

Use other people.  The only time the 2 hour rule does not apply is, let’s say, when you might be traveling to China on an airplane to check out a new manufacturer.  You get the idea.  Have someone else check your voice mail every two hours and call everyone back.  Have them apologize for your unavailability, explain you are traveling and will get back to them when  you land.  Be specific and give them a day and time.  It is not acceptable to leave a reason for your unavailability in an outgoing voice mail message. Have your assistant, colleague, mother, whomever, check your e-mail and send a personal message with the same explanation.  Remember, everyone wants to feel they are your most important customer.

Never use an out of office auto reply.  Even If I am out of the office my customers or clients don’t care.  They are sending an e-mail for a reason.  They have a problem, issue, opportunity and they don’t care where I am.  They just want help and advice.  They want to know that wherever I am, I am there for them.

Never be on vacation.  Does the fact that I will answer my phone while relaxing on the beach with my wife anger her?  No doubt.  However, if it means winning or keeping a client, I might have just paid for the vacation.  Every one of your customers or clients wants to think they are special, so make them feel that way.  Let them know you are always there for them and they matter to you. Call them back right away.

Never be in a meeting.  These gatherings of resources hold the perception of being a bureaucratic waste of time.  No work actually gets done in meetings, it’s just talked to death.  Be seen as someone who is getting something accomplished.  Be “helping another client” or “growing a business” or “improving a business process.” Meetings are not the end of the world, but you can see it from there.

If you do anything, err on the side of over communication.  If you do a second anything, make someone feel special today.

Loyalty Programs are a Waste


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If you are considering a loyalty program or already have one in place, I can only offer one word of advice: stop.

Loyalty programs are a waste of time and resources.  In today’s business world there is no such thing as loyalty. We conduct business in a world and live in a society where it’s acceptable to find and take the better deal, period.  We find a better price, better feature, more interesting function, unique methodology, better service levels, and we make a change.  It’s not personal, it’s just business.

What’s even more aggravating is when these programs try to measure loyalty. If you want to determine loyalty, try asking your customer or client if they would stay with you if they could get the same product or service for 50% less somewhere else.  One of the more popular measurement programs, Net Promoter asks, “…how likely are you to refer Imagea friend?”  The answer to this might measure how much faith your customer or client has in you at the present time, or their current level of satisfaction.  But go ahead – miss a deadline, mess up an order, or over-charge them and see how quickly they switch.  I can’t imagine a scenario where a company would remain loyal if presented with enough benefit to switch.

Loyalty can only be measured by what someone will buy in the future. Trying to measure loyalty is like trying to predict the lottery numbers.  Can’t be done.  You can’t see into the future to predict behavior in an unforeseen set of circumstances.  Why bother?

In larger organizations, the entire procurement department is designed to eliminate or negate any amount of loyalty.  Their decisions are based on quantifiable criteria or the bottom line, not necessarily how long you have been doing business and the depth of that relationship.  It’s just the nature of business now.  The likelihood the procurement department highly values loyalty in their long list of decision criteria is slim and none. Most times slim is out to lunch.

The best known loyalty programs – frequent flyer programs – are not really loyalty programs at all. They are reward programs where consumers get free stuff.  I like free stuff.  For instance, if I buy 10 tanks of propane from the local supplier for my gas grill, I get a tank filled for free.  Great.  Does it help that the shop has the lowest prices? You bet.  If I run out of propane on a Sunday, when the store is closed, will I wait until Monday to fill the tank? No, not unless I want to have pasta instead of grilling the shrimp and scallops I bought.  Rather than wait, I will go to the super market, where the propane is more expensive.  I am being disloyal, or am I simply taking advantage of the convenience of hours of operation, or as you might point out – being taken advantage of?  Will I return to my loyalty card propane dealer the next time?  Of course.  Eventually I will get my free tank of propane; it will just take longer.  A loyal customer would wait until Monday and eat pasta.  Would you?  And yes, I should have checked the propane tank before deciding what to have for dinner, or at least checked it earlier in the week. Someday I’ll learn.

I know a consultant who has worked with an international client based in France for 10 years.  When the time came for the next logical step in the engagement, suddenly the client couldn’t be reached and stopped returning phone calls and e-mails. My consulting friend was finally contacted and told “Please don’t contact us anymore, we are no longer in need of your services.” Rude? Yes. Unprofessional? Undoubtedly.  Then he learned the company hired someone else at half his rate because they were having “financial issues.”  The company didn’t even have the common business decency to call the consultant, explain their issues, and ask if he might be able to continue with a different fee structure.  After a 10 year relationship, they reduced their history to an afterthought.  There is no such thing as business loyalty.  In fact, this is the polar opposite of loyalty. Sometimes there isn’t even common business courtesy. Or maybe it’s just the French way of doing business.

Don’t waste your time trying to create loyal clients through some structured program.  You will create a better relationship with your clients by focusing on improving your products, services and people. If you want to keep the clients you have, keep adding value to the relationship and delivering more value than the money you receive.  Clients want to know they matter to you, they mean something, they are important.  Make them feel special and important and you will keep them longer than any structured program.