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Saturday, January 01, 2011
Volume 16 | # 375
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Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. » Stephen King

A Touching Display

I was reminded last week of the kind of things that happen when managers create environments in which their teams feel that feedback is unwanted.

The young salesman we encountered at a local Ford dealership was a friendly enough guy. He quickly told us he was new to his job. I'm never quite sure how to respond to salespeople who share that. Would a doctor, plumber, or accountant ever tell you, "Hey, I'm kind of new at this, so bear with me."

Luckily, my wife has become a research specialist with her Droid phone. When he didn't know an answer, she'd find it in about 30 seconds.

After walking around the lot, we entered the showroom. I thought one of the salespeople was playing a joke. There was a black Shelby Mustang on display with a few other vehicles.

On its windshield and windows were obviously personal-computer-generated "Do Not Touch!" signs.

When I joked with our salesman that those signs seemed pretty rude, he rolled his eyes and said under his breath, "Our sales manager thinks it creates a prestigious image."

I asked if I was the first person to tell him how stupid those signs looked, and he said, "Oh, please! Customers walk by and make jokes about it all day long. Some laugh and intentionally put fingerprints on the hood. All of the salespeople are embarrassed. We have customers pulling up in BMW's and Lexus's. And they're supposed to ask permission to sit in a Ford?"

When I asked if he had shared that with his manager, he sighed, "He doesn't really want our advice." I offered to call the manager over and give him an objective opinion of his marketing techniques. Our salesman asked that I didn't. He feared that his manager would think he put me up to it.

When the manager later came over, I gave our salesman a break and bit my tongue. I didn't bring up the ridiculous signs. I smiled and shook my head as we walked away, knowing that other customers would be shaking their heads that day, as well.

In the end, it wasn't that manager's silly idea that caused the most harm. Heck, we all miss the mark sometimes.

And sometimes we need help recognizing that. But if the culture of a business inhibits honest and useful feedback from team members, even small mistakes can linger longer and be more detrimental than anyone would want.

How many eyes and ears are looking out for you?

Who Makes The List?

During the last few weeks of December, it seems that every other newspaper or magazine has some type of year-end "Top 10" list. We Americans simply love ranking things, whether they can actually be objectively ranked or not.

I spent the last week of 2010 in south Louisiana. The local papers list the BP oil spill just ahead of the Saint's Super Bowl win as the "top" story of 2010. (And in few other places would the importance of those two stories actually be an arguable issue. "Who Dat?!")

While those types of lists can be entertaining to consider, I'd suggest there are a few other lists that are worth compiling now that another year is in the record books. They may or may not be as entertaining, but are considerably more enlightening.

Would you or your team be able to list your top 10 customers of 2010? Sure, you'd have to define "top." It could be biggest depositor, or largest loan customer, or most fees paid, or a combination of metrics that define profitability.

Don’t feel too badly if you can't build that list in your head. With the reams of reports managers are often asked to digest, lists of their "most profitable" customers are usually not among them.

For years, I've listened to debates about whether certain customers should be given different levels of attention and service than others. But that's not what this suggestion is (necessarily) about.

Whether or not a "best customer" list would be used to provide differentiated service levels and attention, knowing (or being reminded of) who these people and businesses are is extremely useful.

One of the most fundamental keys to running a successful business is knowing who is actually keeping your doors open. What is their profile? What do they most need you for? Why do they choose you? Why should they stay with you in 2011?

Simply discussing and digging a little into who are a branch's best customers is an informative exercise. Managers are often amazed at the disconnect between who their teams think are their "great" customers and who truly are. (And to be fair, senior managers are often surprised, as well.)

If nothing else, the conversations around this kind of list can be educational and even a little motivational. It's worth putting on your "To Do" list.

The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions. » Peter Drucker

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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