Please Avoid Tesco Deluded Marketing-Driven Management Speak

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tesco timescartoon colouredin 14Apr16

Tesco. The UK supermarket behemoth. Twenty years of growth spurred on by the drive to surmount established players atop the country’s grocery summit. Then disaster. Fuelled by the hubris of first McLaurin, then Leahy. Marketing number crunchers with seemingly no actual empathy with the paying public.

Many commentators are calling the current regime out this week. In the light of yet more floundering figures.

The Times noted that the current marketer-turned-chief exec, Dave Lewis “is a fan of pat phrases and management-speak”. It is as utterly destructive for him as it is for our sales pitch.

If you feel yourself falling down these drains, then pull yourself out. Now.

The analysts’ ire follows two flanks. First, his insistence that he not only polish the unpolishable, but sprinkle it with glitter too. He claims he is “extremely pleased” and hails his “year of significant progress”. So much so, he caused their shares to crash by 8% when revealing his meagre pickings. Just £162m pretax profit on sales of £48.3bn.

There’s been quite the fall from record numbers in 2011. When supposedly every one in seven quid spent in Britain was at their tills. Now, they have a whopping £15.5 billion pile of debt.

Then there’s the vision thing.

Dave Lewis appears “guided by a clear purpose [of] serving shoppers a little better every day”. Well, as missions go it’s pretty meaningless. Deliberately indefinable? Whilst I’m a big fan of the ‘making small progress‘ meme, in his context it’s past its sell-by.

Sadly, his top UK colleague gets in on the act, “at Tesco the customer is always our absolute north star”.

It all comes across as job well done, almost there. Which they patently are not. As anyone forced to enter their dreary monotonous stores can tell you.

He could have done so much better. Especially given that some analysts appear on-side. One trumpeted he “deserves considerable credit for steering this near-shipwreck to calmer waters, where the groups ‘engineers’ can and are now making progress”. So why not build on that?

Lewis could ponder whether a little humility goes a long way. As this state of reality is absent from his rainbowed pronouncements.

They will likely continue to get nibbled by invigorated aspirants at their edges who laugh at their misguided all-things-to-all aisles.

Such delusion will sink your ambitions too. Don’t do a Tesco.

My frustration in hearing such remarks furthered as they came the day of a totally outrageous euro footie game. German coach (of whom I’ve blogged before) Jurgen Klopp’s post-match interviews after his team performed a miracle to go through (Liverpool 5-4 Dortmund) are surely the benchmark in honesty, hopes and refusing to spin. All while maintaining and growing all-round support; “Don’t ask me this shit…!”


Don’t Increase Infrastructure Capacity

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I am of the long-standing firm belief that you never solve a problem by simply throwing money at it.

I saw a brief interview with author Greg Mills discussing his latest book Why Africa is Poor: And What Africans Can Do About It.  As his publisher’s blurb explains, he “controversially shows that the main reason why Africa’s people are poor is because their leaders have made this choice”.

In his conversation, he drew plenty of parallels with Asia to help show the way ahead. One of his top pleas concerned infrastructure. It’s also a potential credit crunch inspired angle for healthier account management.

He felt that there are misdirected billions wasted in attempts to increase capacity. Whether it be roads, rail, energy, people, he preaches that it’s all a misguided endeavour. One example that hit home was of border crossings that inexplicably add days, and therefore huge totally unnecessary costs, to the shipment of goods simply due to inefficient, poorly executed and mismanaged procedures. Apparently up to 60% of a cargo’s time can be spent doing nothing at such checkpoints. Ouch.

His mantra was not to increase infrastructure capacity but make the most out of that already in place. There lies enormous untapped scope in getting more out of what’s available but not fully utilised today.

It strikes me as a fascinating additional argument to use with any customer that threatens to put your business out to tender, potentially ending your reign as incumbent. How can you stop them from spending more money on switching, and help them get more out of what they do with you at the moment?


Slow Economy Sales Boosts

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Shame on me. My web 2.0 engagement is lamentably low. I clicked on an auto-LinkedIn mail the other day as dozens of people have apparently invited me to be ‘connections’. It’s been literally years since I ‘connected’ myself. I was delighted to find their Answers action still had a sales section.


The most recent question seemed to engender an unusually large number of responses (52); how did you manage to boost sales in a slow economy?

A decent qu. Having around 40 posts myself on all things credit crunch selling related, I eagerly read on.

Here’s the first thing. How many of the 52 do you think answered the question?

Amazingly, it was just 8. I appreciate that mine is a highly subjective measure, but I felt that only these 15% answered with bona fide examples of what they themselves had done. The questioner was specific. “How did you…”. Of other responses, many also neglected to follow the dictum of “…boost sales…”, electing to talk of merely making sales. All were either vague, although they may have been from personal experience it couldn’t be certainly so. Or they were basically what you’d get if you googled. Useless bland generic waffle. Here’s a graphic representation of this malaise.

Can it be really true that in only one out of every six cases (roughly 15% of the time) a salesperson correctly answers the question?

Of further interest was the fact that just two mentioned any discernible figures, and only one person delivered any kind of metric. Although frustratingly it only talked about generated leads, rather than as the question requested, sales and needs work on its structure. Anyway, here it is, from a Mr Kenneth Darryl Brown.

I embraced the Internet and resources that the web provides and started conducting my first call appointments ONLINE! Now instead on seeing 3 or 4 people a day, I can connect with 6 or 8 prospects without leaving the office! I save time and money! More connects equal more sale opportunities!

As for the remainder, here’s a selection of other quotes:

  • Sample. (No wink)
  • Instead, prospect for change
  • In a slower economy, put an emphasis on customer retention instead of new customer acquisition, which is more expensive
  • when your core customers starting cutting back it is time to explore
  • The best companies don’t cut marketing spending in a downturn, they do the opposite
  • Red Adair said: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur”

And finally, one person (from Scotland of all places) unwittingly perhaps gave a killer insight. A consultant called Mr Tim Sandford commented,

Focus on the market need…Prove your product delivers…Talk to more people
In truth these are the same recommendations we would make in the good times to companies that want to grow and they work.


Chopper Collaboration

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A current news story confirms our current austerity times. The UK and France are about to save costs by sharing warship capability. The cash saved amounts to the billions any new, now redundant, aircraft carrier costs.

One tv talking head was aghast that the idea wasn’t already firmly lodged in our collective psyche. He used the incredible example of a Franco-German helicopter. Apparently, this beast is approved by 12 countries for use. Yet each one conducted its own tests. He couldn’t believe this. Especially these years down the credit crunch line.

He reckoned that something as simple as the European countries sharing wind tunnels would have cut the costs associated with this enormously. By as much as £4bn. His closing comments were that if it was good enough for one country, then it could surely easily be accepted on the same basis by another.

Four billion quid. What a lot of money.

I wonder how you can promote similar collaboration within your client base to help them save money, whilst still using your wares? In my early days, the software house at which I sold offered ‘public’ training courses. Despite the cheaper rate, take-up was practically zero. Perhaps times have changed.


Moral Hazard

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At some stage everyone gets acquainted with the dilemma of how to respond to bad behaviour.  Faced with whether to rescue such fallings can cause sleepless nights when you feel that you might inadvertently be rewarding them and thereby encourage future failings of a similar nature, rather than stem their re-appearance.

A classic ‘moral hazard’ in sales often concerns how to treat a salesperson that’s way off quota.  If you pass on leads, add territory/opportunity, or keep them in post, then rather than raise their and the collective performance, you can instead let the rest deduce that they can get away with below par figures and the overall number drops.  Thus Sales Managers can be inclined to let someone swing in the hope that it avoids an under-performance disease spreading.

Yet there’s another selling moral hazard thrown up by the credit crunch-ed recession.

What do you do when a customer ‘suggests’ you understand an imminent huge reduction in previously guaranteed supply, an interminably long delay to your latest project or the necessity to swallow a massive discount?  Especially when the hammer blow is supposedly softened by reference to the current economic climes…

Does acceptance leave you open to suffer yet more damage at a later date?  Is your policy of appeasement doomed to leave you making ever more devastating concessions?  How do you avoid the traps of such moral hazard?

The successful solutions I’ve seen are based on what happened in the UK a couple of years after the dotcom bubble burst and raw material metal prices soared, when construction activity was thought to be dropping by around ten percent.

The winners I knew defended margin and tried to lock-in supply.

In the case of maintaining a profit, the approach was to reduce provision commensurate with overall project caps, so that a fall in revenue did not lead to disappearing margin.  In other words, you can help with the topline being less, so long as the delivery is also less in line with it.

With trying to cement a supply arrangement, short-term special pricing was granted so long as an increase was enshrined in the contract for the subsequent year.  I was surprised at how the clients accepted a price rise next time round, but it did make for a simple conversation at that subsequent renewal time.


Whitehall Spending Challenge

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Here’s a pair of facts presently emblazoned across screens in the UK’s aftermath of the new (coalition) Government’s emergency budget:

£952 Billion – total current debt

£155 Billion – current deficit

The figures are of eye-watering worry. Britain owes almost One Trillion pounds Sterling. Staggeringly, that’s over half of total annual output. The second number is the difference between what the State generates in taxes and what it borrows. It’s in runaway negative territory.

All sides agree on the scale of the problem. Left and Right differ of course, on both the true culprit and the remedy. The new occupants of power blame the previous incumbent’s profligacy way more than the credit crunch.

In the immediate quest to quickly balance the books, the new PM and his Deputy today wrote a letter to all public sector workers. It highlights the “spending challenge” and asks for help. Here’s paragraph four;

We want you to help us find those savings, so we can cut public spending in a way that is fair and responsible. You work on the frontline of public services. You know where things are working well, where the waste is, and where we can re-think things so that we get better services for less money.

This feels a bold move. Inevitably dismissed by its critics as a gimmick, it might though just yield dividends. Cuts are coming, so why not properly manage that painful process.

Imagine you are in an account management position. You sense your rewards are about to reduce, maybe even disappear. Who’s on your ‘frontline’? Could they suggest ways ahead that lessen your potential losses?

On Sky News Deputy PM Clegg was quizzed by Mark Longhurst. A précis follows:

People who know this the best are not civil servants or politicians in Whitehall but those on the front line, such as nurses, we must square that circle to make savings whilst protecting front line services

The interviewer then suggested that everyone will simply say ‘make cuts elsewhere’,

People tell us privately you can save money by getting rid of that form or target, you can save money by removing that layer of (NHS) bureaucracy. It can all be done anonymously. Yes, some may not be workable, unable to copy from one place to another but ideas are out there.

Adapting this philosophy may well provide a distinguished framework for your next (perhaps even impromptu) client-side major account review.


Never Waste A Crisis

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The world seems to be coming round to the opinion that Obama is in a job too far. There appears a pretty much universal view that his response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is both inappropriate and ineffective.

One such talking head I saw referred to the mantra of Obama’s close colleague, Rahm Emanuel, as delivered to a pow-wow of business leaders,

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”

I was struck by how similar his idea is to that so disparaged by what is surely a political bedfellow in Naomi Klein throughout her over lengthy Shock Doctrine tome. He continues in tones remarkably reminiscent of shock and awe neocon hawks,

“[a] crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before”

For the solution seller, spotting or uncovering a crisis prospect-side is a surefire way to improve the odds of a sale. The credit crunch precipitated all sorts of potential crises. How can you help do more with less?

Shock and awe proponents go farther, by seeking to exploit the disarray which engulf those in the maelstrom of crisis through quick, decisive and irreversible action.

Whichever your political leaning, the inference is clear. Both sides recommend, to adapt an ill-used topical phrase, going for the throat.


Spending Review Framework

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There’s a UK government spending review going on before the new coalition’s upcoming emergency budget. The figures are mind-boggling, so for sanity I thought I’d note the nine tests now newly applied to all spend.

Slightly edited for their corporate use, it’s spooky how applicable they would be to credit crunch slammed buying constraints that solution sellers are likely to encounter for some time to come:

  1. Is it essential to meet (stated) priorities?
  2. Do (we) need to fund it?
  3. Does it provide “substantial economic value”?
  4. Can it be targeted at (areas) most in need?
  5. Can it be provided at lower cost?
  6. Can it be provided more effectively?
  7. Can it be provided by (someone else)?
  8. Can (other) providers be paid by results?
  9. Can (we internally) provide the activity instead?

I wonder how helpful it’d be to place any mooted new spend within this framework?

My hunch is that a cheeky page in a Prop, over the next month or so that this remains topical, may well show you as more worthy than any adversary’s pitch, hidden or visible.


Personal Paradigm Shift

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Losing deals? Not sure why? In denial perhaps?

I came across a summary of 1962’s “landmark” The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions written by Thomas Kuhn, the lessons of which could help any sales person in a dip get back on track quicker. (Here’s a different overview from wikipedia.)

His assessment talks about concepts like evidence and discovery, all analogous to sales traits. In essence, things pan out like this:

Everything goes along swimmingly, all calm, no dramas.

Then boom, a glitch. At first, this is swept under the carpet, ignored hoping it’ll go away. Nothing is really amiss.

Things get worse though. Glitches, questions, doubts and anomalies continue.

They mount to such height that a crisis hits.

Crises creates chaos and the fallout brings many losers.

Put this pattern into the context of a sales period. Consider a rogue lost sale mysteriously multiplying to several deals gone begging and you can see the parallel.

Kuhnianism would dictate that most people that enter this disruption, fail to travel through the cycle, leaving reputations and achievements in disarray.

So, if you experience a downturn in results, and in credit crunch precipitated, austerity-heralding times this is highly likely, acting quickly is the key.

In Kuhn’s then fresh language, you need a paradigm shift.

To accelerate out of the trough, immediately acknowledge the possible problem. Do everything you can to remove the shackles of your current frame of reference and analysis. Adopt a set of ideas from a radically new way of thinking and act early, act decisively to reduce your length of restrictions.


Indian Pitch Approach

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Idling away downtime reading TechCrunch, I came across a summary interview with the chap credited as starting the race to Off-Shore business processes by dint of his Indian outsourcer creation Infosys, N.R. Narayana Murthy.

And delighted I was to discover his telling advice for entrepreneurs pitching their idea. The relevance it has for solution sellers with new products is delicious. As the final précis of the journalist goes, the two things you must do are:

One, be able to articulate what you do in one sentence. If you can’t, you don’t have a good idea.

And two, make sure the market is ready. Businesses are killed, not congratulated, for being ahead of their time.