1. 2017 HAS BEEN A CHALLENGING TIME
Another year is about to conclude. It has been a challenging time.
2017 has seen numerous business floored, and highlighted the flaws of many others.
A lack of true, integrated strategic plans, inflexibility, poor malleability and out-dated, expensive business models have contributed to contracting sales, squeezed margins and inadequate competitiveness. Internally, costs have been reined in, processes refined and organisation structures trimmed.
An absence of new capital investment and intolerance of, and retreat from, risk have been conspicuous.
The focus has been, – NOW.
Little consideration is evident for the future, and thus driving forces for an upturn, and sustained development are hard to identify, isolate, analyse and quantify.
2018 will represent a new challenge for those operating in Australia.
Wage and income stagnation is, and will remain a major economic and marketplace headwind for many sectors, entities and regions, as it will for government, regulators, authorities and financial institutions. Plans, strategies and tactics which do not address and redress widespread income stagnation will suffer and languish.
North America has confronted this issue for four decades and there has been a noticeable polarising of economic fortunes and well-being.
Already, invaluable insights into this new and evolving market reality gained from our recent six-city speaking tour of the United States of America are already proving fruitful for those clients who have invited us to facilitate strategic planning audits and development workshops.
The Australian Federal Treasurer, the Chief of Federal Treasury and the Governor of the Australian Reserve Bank have all expressed concerns about the issue.
It is time for commerce to step up and speak up, for the benefit of all.
Have a great Christmas, a joyous New Year, and don’t compromise. That is the spirit.
2. BREAK FROM THE HERD
Herd mentality is typically destructive. It tends to be self-determining and self-justifying, dismisses calls for transparency, is insular by nature and defensive in character. It pervades the current digital marketplace.
Current performance measures are usually selectively relative, and thus spurious. Who applies, monitors, quantifies and manages the matrixes?
During the 1960s business leaders were counselled about the inadequacies of “group-think”, which counteracted originality, creativity and innovation.
It seemed a good idea at the time was quickly identified to be an inappropriate justification of past failed actions.
So too was the absence of dissenting attitudes, perceptions and beliefs.
Group-think suppressed and suppresses such forms of thought and objectivity.
Seeking out shared experiences among peers is currently a popular and, seemingly, an integral aspect of current leadership practices.
Interactions are good, communications laudable and many insights are reassuring, given the commonality of many experiences.
But … little consideration is given to the narrow perspectives and paradigms through which case studies are viewed, reviewed and evaluated.
So it’s little wonder that many of the errors, qualifications and – yes, – some success factors from the past are being repeated.
The biggest variable is the new generation of entrepreneurs, business leaders and digital disruptors.
The new experiences, many of which are being shared, are not new at all. They are simply being repeated, albeit in repackaged and updated modes.
Sadly, too often, repetition is death.
There is much to learn, to value and to profit from, by cultivating relationships between generations.
Grey hair, “battle-scars”, memories and lessons learnt should be valued.
Avoiding group-think is a good beginning.
The emulation of experiences and seeking insights of the leaders of start-up, green-field entities is fraught with danger and inhabited by a litany of failures.
The success rate for innovators is, at a stretch, 2%.
You have to kiss a lot of frogs before discovering a handsome prince or a beautiful princess.
There are great virtues inherent in breaking from the herd.
Many of the greats in commerce have been, are and will be outliers.
Some may even lean in.
None will be constrained by group-think or herd-mentality.
3. UNQUALIFIED SATISFACTION
The degree of satisfaction enjoyed by a purchase, consumption, exposure or indulgence is often qualified or tempered by the amount and timing of the payment.
Separation of payments from the moments of fulfilment, satisfaction and delight is a key factor in the measures of pleasure, enjoyment and subsequent repeat and referral business.
It explains, in part, the disparity between the reported satisfaction levels from use of UBER and taxis.
Prepayment of a set fare personifies “peace-of-mind”.
No concerns about meters and open-ended costs.
Post-service payments, like those for medical procedures, temper satisfaction, regardless of the health outcomes.
The legal fraternity has much to learn, and profit, from the concept of value-pricing. Predetermined and agreed legal fees have much to be commended.
Professional standards and standings do not need to be compromised.
The principles of emotional intelligence clearly place the emotions and values of the customer/client centre stage.
“Fair and reasonable” does not necessarily mean discounted and low.
All-inclusive fares for ocean and European river cruises distance and separate what is paid from what is enjoyed. Enjoyment is optimised when the payment is made well in advance.
For those seeking to achieve and sustain unqualified satisfaction among existing and prospective clients, even when pricing and costs are heightened considerations, it does well to remember:
When you can’t differentiate what you sell (or price), differentiate how you sell it (or when you ask for payment).
4. UNTHINKING ARROGANCE
They know not what they do
Poor customer service can be, and often is, a consequence of unintended arrogance and insensitivity.
Those in the medical fraternity, particularly specialists, are serial offenders.
Patient expectations are understandably typically very high.
Patients feel vulnerable, lack medical knowledge and are reliant, if not dependent, on the skills, training and expertise of medical professionals.
Clearly, there is no power balance in such relationships.
The paying patient is subservient, – or feels so.
Appointments are scheduled with long lead times, with little adherence to or respect for timing is evident, and specialist-initiated changes are not uncommon.
Most patients respect, understand and accept the need for to prioritise persons requiring immediate attention.
However, the practices, and attitudes of some medical support and administrative staff are disappointing.
Let me share with you a recent heart-stopping experience with a cardiologist and his receptionist.
An appointment was made for me to attend at 1:00pm on Monday, 27 November, some three months in advance.
While overseas, and weeks in advance, two emails were received confirming the appointment and location.
Clearly, it was important for the me, the patient, to respect the time and timing of the specialist.
Five days before the set appointment date there was a telephone call: the appointment would need to be changed.
The specialist had scheduled a surgery for the same time as the long-established and confirmed commitment.
A lead time of 5 days suggested the procedure was not immediately life threatening.
As the patient, I was being advised and reminded of my status, which was secondary to the importance and scheduling of the medical professional.
An alternative time of 3:30pm was nominated on the same day, however, the patient would be required to travel 30 kilometres, and to the other side of the city, for the convenience of the cardiologist.
Not unreasonably, it was neither convenient nor acceptable, and was therefore rejected.
The response from the receptionist was breathtaking: – – what do you want me to do?
Is this a consulting brief I inquired?
I suggested that copies of my two books on customer service be purchased and read. Still no response.
I settled for requesting an alternative appointment time.
“Doctor is very busy. He’s booked out until after Christmas.” So, 22nd of January seemed – just a heart-beat away.
The specialist is young, in his early 30s. He is doubtless well qualified, skilled and capable.
I’m not sure of his rating on “bedside manner” or that of his support staff on customer service. Some therapeutic counselling appears to be in order.
No offence has been taken. I live these experiences and share them in conference keynote presentations, during the facilitation of business development workshops and utilise them as case studies with media interviews.
This is simply another example of where context overwhelms the importance and impact of content.
Unthinking arrogance is a considered term.
Most likely the cardiologist would reject the label and not think further of it.
Could that not define unthinking arrogance.
5. VALUE COMES AT A COST
There are no short-cuts.
The pursuit of lower prices and costs above all else is understandable, but lamentable. Market forces are intense, discounting rampant and everyone, it seems, is offering a deal.
Products, services and consultants abound. The latter category is insightful in itself. Those who have been impacted by retrenchments, dismissals and company failures once declared they were “between jobs”. Now they become consultants.
Qualifications, experience and expertise seemingly count for little. Buying a “Business Coach” franchise and attending a 5-day induction course, which primarily focuses on canvassing and sales closure skills, is deemed sufficient for some.
Sadly, there is a decided lack of quality – extended, or possible – for clients. In such cases, formulated and highly structured business review models are often oriented to improving internal efficiencies, procedures and cost structures.
Little attention is given to, and skills needed, to address and satisfy the requisites for enhancing the effectiveness of marketing and business development initiatives.
Entrepreneurs and leaders of start-up entities are often counselled on a need to embrace and implement predetermined philosophies, policies and strategies. That is hardly innovative, creative or original.
The current market provides many products, services, applications and consultants. Indeed, so many, they have become commoditised and tainted with a sense of sameness.
Price differentiation can be misleading. What is lacking, and needed most, is value.
6. THE GREAT DIVIDE – THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Market big, sell small.
Or is that, macro-marketing and micro-selling?
Globalism and digital marketing have dictated the need, and the advisability, to consider, if not pursue, broad-horizon opportunities.
Physical constraints and focus now limit thinking more than they impinge on operations, marketing and distributions.
Many small and medium sized entities now have the capacity to service interstate, inter-regional and international marketplaces. Capabilities and desires are quite distinct factors, for some.
A recent fleeting, but in-depth study of six city-based marketplaces in North America provided invaluable learning and understanding of the complexity of the contemporary, often contiguous economies. It also enables one to understand why the nation is titled the United States and not, the United Markets of America.
San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York, Memphis and New Orleans are geographically dispersed. The nature, composition, character and status of the respective localised marketplaces are equally different and individualistic.
That explains in part the market variability in the performance of national and global marketing campaigns between a spectrum of marketplaces.
Today, target audiences are today complex and challenging. Reliance on established, recognised and trusted brands, complemented with substantial multi-channel marketing budgets are inadequate to achieve optimal impact, penetration, sales and profits.
A local, active and interactive presence is imperative. Passive, stand-off philosophies do not resonate with specific consumers.
Hence, the increasing profiling of local flagship outlets for brands like Nespresso, Rolex, Apple and Ralph Lauren.
It is recognition that effective marketing creates latent potential that can be best and most proficiently converted into revenue by the presence of sales by enthusiastic, proud, committed and product-knowledge – savvy sales and service people.
It is often stated that the business of America, is business. Today, it needs to be stimulated, promoted and for deals to be closed.
Marketing, advertising, promotions and merchandising simply open the doors. Throughout the USA there is at present an all-pervasive reluctance to spend. Understandable when one realises that the average income of an American (not the minimum wage), when inflation and consumer price index increments are neutralised, have over the past 40 years increased by a miserable .2%. That is .2% over 40 years, not .2% per annum over a period of 40 years.
Thus, wages-induced wealth creation for the nation has stagnated.
Little wonder the electorate is disenchanted with politicians, political leaders and the public service. Unintended consequences, including the election of Donald Trump as President, are conspicuous.
Those in the evolving economically important millenniums generation will experience living standards marginally below those of the preceding generation. Greatest concern is held for the economic well-being of children who will enter the jobs market and economy in 10 to 20 years’ time.
The rate of economic decline will accelerate.
Infrastructure in the long-established cities, like San Francisco and New York, is aged, and in urgent need of repair, upgrading, renewal and replacement.
Sadly, the state and capital cities of those localities are deep in debt, burdened by the need to repay loans and lacking the prospect for increased revenue, generated by growing incomes.
Growth in local manufacturing is being achieved without the need to invest in new plants and capacity. Recent contractions in output and workforces are being reversed. However, capacity has not been increased and concrete plans for capital investments are scant.
Making America Great Again is a relative, not an absolute statement or goal.
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL
Notwithstanding the barriers, filters and impediments, the USA will continue to produce entrepreneurs, digitally-disruptive entities and rapidly accumulated wealth … – for some. There will be those whose focus will be on thinking big and complementing it with an integrated and committed supply-chain populated with those who act small, and locally.
Opportunities were readily identified in retail, pharmacy, construction, finance, wholesale and accounting services. In addressing and facilitating business development workshops for those in respective disciplines, it was apparent many enthusiastically comprehended and embraced available philosophies, strategies and tactics.
Opportunities seem to be global. Fulfilment is typically local.
Amazon in Australia is a case-in-point.
BEYOND PHYSICAL PRESENCE
Seattle, on the West Coast of the USA, in the state of Washington, is the home city for the head-offices of Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Nordstrom, Boeing and Starbucks, among others.
It has a population of some 3 million in the greater metropolitan area.
The presence of Amazon is ubitiquous, but not conspicuous. Its workforce in the city is reported to be 55,000.
An entire city block is occupied by the Amazon campus for training, development and further education. Adjacent are three high-rise buildings which accommodate most of the local Amazon team members.
Noticeably, there are no Amazon signs, logos or uniformed employees.
Macys, the largest department store chain in the world, has occupied an eight-storey building for over 108 years. It has been hit by the marketplace presence of Amazon. In recent times it has sold the top four floors for a total $110 million (US). The purchaser – Amazon. Alas, the perpetrator has become the saviour.
Commercial and residential rents, along with house prices, have spiralled in recent years, to the extent that many aspirant Amazon employees can’t afford to live in the area.
Amazon is currently searching world-wide for an affordable co-head office location. It has received a reported 238 submissions.
The company has traded in, but not from Australia, for more than a decade. Opening its first Fulfilment Centre in Victoria on Thursday, 22 November (Thanksgiving Day in the USA) heralded a new era for consumers and businesses.
A local physical presence will accelerate conversion of the potential, which has been created by its global marketing.
Point made. Lesson learnt.
Barry Urquhart of Marketing Focus is an internationally respected business strategist, consumer behaviour analyst and conference keynote speaker
M: 041 983 5555
T: 08 9257 1777
Visit: Facebook LinkedIn