Sunday, December 10, 2006

Lawsuit Threat Trims The Tree

Several weeks ago, I read an article in the New York Times describing how many larger companies were once again ready to use the word "Christmas" as part of their holiday vocabulary. Quite the switch from the politically correct approach of years past when it seemed folks went out of their way to avoid the use of the word Christmas at all in a business or marketing related context.


This change seems to follow the change in Washington DC itself when just last year the political machine inside the Beltway reversed gears and decided they should once again call the "seasonal tree" on the US Capitol grounds the "National Christmas Tree" instead of the "Holiday Tree" as they did beginning sometime in the 1990's.


These two twists happening within a year of one another might even be viewed as straight forward example of government leadership. (Hah!) And since hope springs eternal in this optimist, I personally heard the words, "Yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus" echoing throughout the room as I read the Times' article.


However, my hope was dashed and those kind words wiped away when this morning's (December 9th) Seattle Times had a front page article that began with the headline "Airport puts away trees rather than risk being "exclusive" and an opening paragraph that read "As odd as it might seem, Officials were hoping to avoid controversy when they dismantled nine holiday trees." It seems that a Rabbi requested that Seattle SeaTac Airport officials place an 8-foot-tall menorah next to the tallest Christmas tree to avoid "excluding" those of the Jewish faith from enjoying the holiday spirit. The trouble came when his request was supposedly backed by the threat of a law suit if SeaTac didn't comply.


Rather than deal with the threat of such a law suit or the issue of putting up a menorah (or other symbols of differing holiday reminders) SeaTac did the "efficient" thing and ordered the Christmas trees removed so they could worry more about the pressing business of running an airport than which decorations would satisfy all the potential law-suit threatening folks that might wander through that airport.


As schedules would have it, I flew out of SeaTac later today (same day as the article) and I learned first hand that they really did remove all of the big Christmas trees that previously decorated the terminal for the season. Ironically, the destination for my flight was Narita Airport in Tokyo Japan. What's the first thing I spied as I stepped into the club at Narita's Airport? Yes, a huge and beautifully decked out Christmas Tree for all to see. So, perhaps there is still a Santa Claus afterall. One merely needs to go to Japan to see the trappings of the hoiday!


Merry Christmas or no, I mean Happy Hanukkah or no, I mean Happy Kwanzaa … ahhh, shoot, HAPPY HOLIDAYS! Ho, ho, ho.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Gudorf & Sons’ V-Store Closes

Yes, it’s true.

While the Gudorf & Sons’ online V-Store (virtual store) has been open for five years now as an extension of the Gudorf.Net web effort, the company behind the e-commerce store engine it uses has decided to call it quits and so the links to the Gudorf & Sons store will close accordingly.

While it’s a little sad to see it go, the need for such a decision is very clear. The market realities of today’s web world are such that if you don’t offer a unique business proposition in the way you drive traffic, offer pricing, or service the consumer, the myriad of other choices available to the consumer will mean you simply fade away into the crowd. The Gudorf & Sons web store’s primary uniqueness was the family name; nostalgic for some but of no real value versus a purchase from Amazon or others of the larger web world.

Five years ago, the idea of being able to easily create a customized e-commerce storefront was pretty exciting and I couldn’t resist the temptation to give it a try. With minimal fanfare and only a few hours of effort, the Gudorf & Sons V-Store launched from the Gudorf.Net web site offering books, movies, music, electronics and much more to anyone who happened upon the link. The experience was akin to any web purchase from a smaller site and I had hopes that the commissions (profits) would help to offset the costs of operating the Gudorf.Net web site. Of course, I should have listened to my mother who told me many times in my youth that “if it’s overly easy, it might not be worth doing”.

The business model from the V-Store system perspective was that if enough small fry such as me built their own stores, then V-Store could aggregate that traffic and the purchases that went with it into a powerful overall business. While V-Store’s approach was unique as to enabling others to easily start a retail store that uniqueness broke down when it came to the consumer for if the small fry store operators could not develop an adequately unique proposition for their consumers then the V-Store system operator would never flourish.

There are two overarching flaws in the V-Store approach at the heart of their closure. The first is that many of the small fry, who created stores like the Gudorf & Sons web store, did so out of curiosity and lacked the ability to drive reasonable traffic to the site. The second flaw was that with a business model that needed to pay the small fry a slice of the profit (a commission really) plus pay the V-Store operations, the ability to be competitive in product pricing with the likes of an Amazon couldn’t materialize. If a unique enough consumer position could have been created at the individual small fry level, then perhaps the price competitiveness could have been overcome but with that part of the equation totally in the hands of the small fry (see the first flaw), the V-Store operators themselves were hard pressed to create a truly unique consumer proposition.

During this same time, Amazon and others grew at much faster rate than the average V-Store small fry player and so the gap widened between the Amazon level consumer proposition and what the V-Store operators could offer. As such, the apparent need for small “mom & pop” web stores became less and less sustainable as these small web stores could not economically generate adequate traffic to enable the volume of sales that would yield a competitive price while also delivering a differentiated and positive customer service experience. Thus the downward spiral took root for lack of a unique consumer selling proposition.

In summary, I’ll chalk it all up to a fun learning experiment for myself and further proof positive that if you don’t have a unique selling proposition at the consumer level that you can afford to nurture and cultivate, then you’re business is on weak footing at best.

Here’s the official notice in case you’ve got any orders pending. FYI.

August 23, 2006

Dear Vtailer:

Please be advised that effective Monday, August 28, 2006, Vstore will cease accepting new orders.We will continue to service those orders accepted prior to August 28, 2006 for a period of thirty (30) days, or until midnight September 27, 2006 in accordance to the Terms and Conditions you agreed to when building your Storefront. You will be able to access reports during this period and should you require this information after September 20, 2006 a copy should be printed. Any orders not completed by midnight September 27, 2006 will be cancelled.All outstanding commissions payable under the Terms of the Agreement will be paid on or before October 26, 2006.

We at Vstore wish you every success in your future ecommerce entrepreneurial endeavors.

Sincerely,Vstore

### END ###

Monday, July 03, 2006

Needless Drama in Sales

Selling as a career can be one of the most exciting roles anywhere. The idea of helping people find what they want, what they need, and what they perhaps would not have discovered on their own, thereby bringing joy to them while producing income for one’s self is truly a wonderful thing.

Why then is it that so many in the field of sales continue to pursue their chosen career with the belief that their prospects are not intelligent enough to understand the sales process and can therefore be readily and easily duped with worn out and often underhanded if not just silly sales tactics?

As an example, while recently purchasing a new vehicle, my wife and I entered the dealership having done all our homework and knowing what a fair price would be for the vehicle we desired. As the salesperson began his part of the process, he of course started with the full retail price added this and that to it and then presented us with an offer note that was $3,000 to $4,000 higher than what we knew to be a valid price. We responded, “Thank you however this is the price we have in mind, we know it’s a fair price. If you’d like to sell the vehicle today, we’ll be glad to write you a check in full.”

Of course, the last part of our statement were magical words to the salesperson and he quickly scrambled to fill out an offer note and have us sign it. With a signed offer in his hand, he dashed off to his manager’s office for approval. Of course, that took 30 or 40 minutes during which the salesman returned to where we sat patiently waiting to advise us we were very close and the manager was taking our offer very seriously.

Finally, after the car sales deities had determined that the correct amount of time had passed, the sales person returned with paper in hand. He restated his claim that we were very, very close and sat down with us to review the numbers. Within seconds it became clear that in spite of the fact that the sales person was prepared to talk for several more minutes in an effort to convince of the meaning of the words “very close,” the manager’s idea of “very close” was still approximately $600 higher than my wife and I had proposed as a purchase price. At that point we simply stood up, pointed out to the salesman that he was $600 too high, thanked him for his time, shook his hand and left.

It probably took us all about five minutes to walk out of the dealership, get into our old car, put on a seat belt, start the engine, and begin backing up to leave the dealership. At the very moment we were shifting from reverse-to-drive, the sales person who’d been helping us came running out of the dealership waving a fist full of paperwork at us. Next thing I knew he was at the car side motioning for us to roll down the window so he could breathlessly tell us his manager had decided that our price was OK after all. Yes, he moved very quickly for a fellow I’d guess to be in his late sixties! As my wife and I re-parked the car and headed back into the office we couldn’t help but shake our heads in wonderment at the drama that had just played out and how time wasteful it was for all concerned.

What we didn’t fully appreciate however was how much more time was about to be wasted. As the salesperson completed the offer paperwork, we asked about writing the check. The salesperson immediately pushed back and said “please don’t write me a check you need to write the check in front of the finance man”. And with those words, act three of the process began; a process whose first step was another hour of waiting for the finance man whose real role was to begin sales negotiation number two.

When we finally sat down with the finance person, he started the process over again of walking through the numbers and explaining what a great price we were receiving. He then preceded to take a blank sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle of it, and on the left hand side he listed every major item that you expect and want to be covered by the standard warranty. He then turned his attention to the right hand side and began by writing the words “not covered” at the top. From there he began to explain to us what types of items would not be covered by the standard Chevrolet warranty. The example he used was that climate driven issues would not be covered by the warranty. Being the curious type, I couldn’t help but inquire as to what a "climate" exclusion would entail. It was then that the finance person explained that since Seattle is known for rain, problems with the windshield wipers would not be covered by the warranty just as problems with air conditioning on cars in San Diego would also not be covered by the GM warranty. Unbelievable as it may sound, this was his pitch. At that point, my wife suggested that if he wanted to continue with his presentation, we would not be buying the car after all. On the other hand, if he wanted to stop right where he was and accept our check, we’d complete the purchase and be on our way.

Long story short, nearly two hours after having walked in with a decision and our checkbook in hand we finally left the dealership with completed sales transaction and a car set to be delivered within the next couple of days. My wife and I were very happy with the vehicle and we paid a fair and reasonable price; definitely not the lowest price but certainly not what the dealership attempted to force upon us. In the end the salesperson succeeded in that a sale was made and a commission generated and in the end the finance person processed the paperwork successfully and so I suppose the tactics will be propagated based on their successes.

However, what if the salesperson, the finance person, and the dealership could see through the falsehood of their activities and instead approach the customer in a different manner; a far more reasonable and human manner. Don’t they see that dealing with the prospect in a straight up fashion without the games, shenanigans, and high drama would make for an easier, more time efficient transaction and most importantly better secure their customers’ willingness to purchase future vehicles from the dealership with the knowledge that the dealer would treat the customer right from the very start of the process?

Yes, a career in sales is a tremendously powerful foundation upon which to build a life’s success. Too bad that so many practitioners still believe in the power of high drama and high pressure as the “key to success.” It’s time for salespeople to stop the drama and pressure tactics used on unsuspecting customers and realize that to forgo the short term, higher dollar sales provides far greater dividends in the long run.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Scouting Leads to Success

Scouting and Success in the Business World.

Along the lines of the popular book that proclaimed that everything one needed to learn for a successful life could be learned in Kindergarten, it occurred to me a while back that everything needed for success in business is taught in Scouting. Whether you’re a Scout from way back or one who missed out on what Scouting offers, allow me to suggest two elements of Scouting in particular can be put to work by any and all of us to move the success needle forward in today’s competitive business world.

There are two things that every new Scout learns as part of their indoctrination into the Boy Scouts of America.

The Scout Law which states that a Scout is “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

The Scout Promise in which Scouts proclaim that “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

Powerful words made ever more powerful by repetition in that every weekly meeting opens with all Scouts present reciting aloud and in unison both the Scout Law and the Scout Promise. Such learned and then oft repeated positive affirmations serve to ingrain the underlying philosophy securely in one’s mind in a way that remains long after the Scouting years have faded away. What’s more, the power of those words as an example of what’s needed for success in the business world is hard to argue against.

Imagine how these words might play out in a typical business interaction that has a clear success-fail outcome. Given the choice between hiring two technically equal job candidates, what business person would ignore the candidate that was trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent to choose the one that wasn’t? Could the qualities inherent in the Scout Law be the tie-breaker that lands that person the new job?

Similarly, while I’ve often heard employees say they want to move up to the next level title or position on their career ladder, the ones who actively demonstrate the qualities inherent in the Scout Law usually don’t need to ask about promotions. The combination of Scout Law attributes along with proven technical competence in one’s chosen field will nearly guarantee that managers in an organization are noticing and actively planning to groom such an individual for advancement. Likewise, a person with solid, sometimes even brilliant technical competence will struggle to find the advancement path if they regularly demonstrate the opposite of the Scout Law attributes. Why would any business want to promote a person that can’t be trusted, lacks loyalty, is rarely helpful or friendly, or courteous, or kind? The answer seems pretty obvious when put in that context doesn’t it?

The Scout Law professes the attributes that will deliver success in Scouting as readily as in business. The Scout Promise, on the other hand, prescribes a way of living the Scout Law that while perhaps tailored more precisely for the Scouting experience is still just as valid in providing a method for pursuing success in the business world. Again, assuming technical competence in one’s chosen field, how could success be denied to one who lives in honor and resolves to do their best and to do their duty? A person who is physically in shape, mentally awake, morally straight, and actively looking for ways to help other people at all times will surely find success in business.

While the power inherent in the words of the both the Scout Law and the Scout promise can not be denied, it’s not just the words which provide this prescription for success. The constant repetition aloud of both the Scout Law and the Scout Promise at the start of Scouting events is a powerful affirmation process that ingrains the strength of the words in the Scouts.

Imagine how business meetings might change if every session started with the attendees standing and proclaiming that they are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Followed by a declaration that on their honor they will each do their best to do their duty to help other people at all times and to keep themselves physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. My bet is that such a practice would result in markedly different meeting results!

Of course, in today’s business world, you couldn’t even attempt to require such a act as it would be immediately seen as stepping on the attendees civil liberties or worse but it is fun to imagine what might happen in business if everyone from across the organization came to work each day determined to live by both the Scout Law and the Scout promise. The result would likely be success in far more instances than without such a powerful attitude permeating the day to day business world. The good news is that affirming the Scout Law and the Scout Promise on a regular basis will make a positive impact on any practitioner’s day to day life. If enough of us take on the challenge of such affirmations, we can improve our chances of personal success while advancing the success of our business and of those around us. If you’re a Scout from way back, dust off the memories and lessons learned. If you never had the chance to be a part of Scouting, take the challenge of affirming the power of the words and see if your success in business doesn’t tick upward.


PS A special note of thanks to my Mom and Dad who in addition to having eight children, found the time to make sure Scouting was an option I could enjoy with their full and active support.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Choices

Ever asked why? Why you do something? Why things turn out the way they do? Why you’re overweight, afraid to try that new idea, constantly holding yourself back from achieving everything you were ever meant to achieve? Could the answer to “why” be simply your choice?

Perhaps it is the change of seasons as we move once again to Spring with the promise of Summer nearby but I’ve been thinking much lately of how everything really does boil down to the choices that we each make. Nearly every waking moment we are making choices and the power that goes with the act of choosing often goes unnoticed. The simple fact that each of us always has a choice to make in our personal sphere, our relationships with others, and even in our career aspirations is a source of power that is far too often ignored or bemoaned as if it didn’t exist.

For instance, I know I’m overweight. No matter how you read the charts, I’m overweight by more than a few pounds [optimistically, I could say that I’m not overweight just too short for my size but that’s a choice of words I won’t use]. Of course, I know it would be convenient to blame my family genes and chalk my overweight state up to so and so’s thunder thighs or that other person’s big beer belly. It would also be convenient to blame the hurried schedules and pressures of modern society as the reason for my being overweight. However, I know that my personal battle of the bulge really comes down to a personal choice. I choose to be overweight even though such a choice seems illogical. I know this is a choice because no one ever forced a single bite of food into my mouth when I didn’t choose to accept it. And no one ever held me down in bed to keep me from exercising. Thus, it is by my choices of intake (food) and burn rate (lack of exercise) that I end up being overweight by choice.

Relationships; as the Jimmy buffet songs says, “we all have them, we all want them” but the real question is whether or not we make the choices necessary to develop them in the manner we desire. Late for dinner again? Did you choose properly? Wonder why none of those friends you haven’t talked to in years and years aren’t calling you all the time? Have you chosen that result even if it's by default? We all know that relationships must be cultivated and fed and we understand what happens when relationships are neglected. Do we recognize however that it is the choices we make leading up to the point of neglect that delivers the results we may or may not desire. Traffic is always heavy on those roadways. There is always more work to do. How we choose to respond determines the results we receive.

And what about the work-a-day world. Do we bemoan that curmudgeon of a boss and loathe the day-to-day tasks we get paid to perform? Isn’t it a choice we make when we stay put instead of seeking a new environment better suited to our nature? Do we really want to do something different but decide to stay because of a million different reasons? Do we recognize that such a decision even if the reasons are perfectly valid is still a choice we make? If so, can we recognize the power in our choice?

Yes, everything we do boils down to the choices we make. It may be easier to point to other circumstances that gave us “no choice” but to do so is to err as there is always a choice. Granted sometimes the choices in front of us are not ones we would wish to choose among. They are choices though and therefore we have some form of control over the situation even if our first instinct is to throw up our hands and grumble that there is no choice. Believing in choice and recognizing the inherent power in exercising your choice is an important path we should all be walking.

After all, maybe it isn’t the change of season but rather a choice I’ve actually been making to think about the power of choice and to remind myself to investigate those areas of my life that are not where I wish them to be and then to ponder what choices I’m making or not making that keep me from achieving those goals. And by the way, remember that there is no need to figure things out in advance. There is only the need to choose and then choose again. To paraphrase an old saying, choose to go as far as you can see and then you’ll see further choices for you to consider.

Happy choices!