Value Talent over Experience when You Can

So maybe the truth is out: Microsoft is after Yahoo!’s talent in its hostile bid. In some respects, it makes sense, since no one else seems to think there are any other benefits to such a merger (ironically, Google “Microsoft, Yahoo” and you will find numerous results, particularly in blogs).

Talent, combined with a good business model, is what drives a company to success.

Assuming talent is the real reason, neither company’s business model can support that kind of wealth. I don’t mean the monetary cost of maintaining those individuals. Microsoft has the revenue. I meant the ability to let them do what they do best. Their models need a bigger shift to a lab environment.

Stepping away from the merger scenario, let’s look at how most companies recruit and develop staff.

Typically, the process starts with someone in the organization declaring that they have a position to fill. That position comes with a detailed description, including specific experience required, such as 5 years of professional writing experience and an expert knowledge of Microsoft Office. The HR person or hiring manager starts advertising the position, weeding out everyone who doesn’t have the requisite experience.

Let me note here that for specific roles within any organization, relevant experience is a necessity. For example, you should avoid bringing in someone to be your chief financial officer if he has no idea what a balance sheet is or a statement of cash flows. And I wouldn’t want to receive medical treatment from someone with no clinical background.

So, when it comes time to evaluate candidates, the hiring manager is looking for the person that best plugs into what they have identified as the need. Someone gets hired and does the job as expected based on the description, with the organization floating along as it has. The vacancy is now filled.

Take a different view. Suppose someone in the organization sees that there is an opening and decides to fill it with the best possible person, without regard for specific experience of knowledge. The ad for the position changes from a laundry list of required experience and skill sets to something as simple as:

Seeking an individual capable of effectively and efficiently communicating a message in a variety of ways to a number of different people.

You could go even looser, advertising for talented people and having them perform certain tasks or put together a project.

In the traditional method, the organization ties its own hands through its position restrictions. Often it is because the hiring manager has someone in his sights either to get into the job or to keep them away.

With the talent-based method, the organization brings people without pigeon-holing them into a dictated role. Some of the most successful organizations that do this hire first then figure out what to do with the person later. They give themselves greater freedom to grow, innovate and recruit even more talent.

Let Microsoft pay that hefty price for talent. In some respects, I hope they do. But under one condition. That they let their newly-added talent do what they do best. Which will require a fundamental shift in how they operate.

You can do in your business, too. A lot easier than, say, Microsoft. The question is whether you are ready for the change.

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Break Free

Some of the most common quick-run-to-the-grocery items—milk, eggs, bread—generally find themselves in the farthest reaches of the store, accessible only through a labyrinthine journey through the maze of aisles.

Of course it’s done purposefully. The stores want to you purchase more than you intended. And their research, for which they pay dearly, supports the notion. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the grocers’ average sale increased every time they changed their shelf sets, confusing the shopper.

What their research isn’t capturing, however, is how many people are buying those quick purchase items elsewhere. Ever wonder why so many convenience stores seem to thrive next door or across the street from the large grocery chains, selling many of the same items?

The grocery store model is based on a premise that keeps customers inside longer, walking across the greatest possible number of items. And they keep force-feeding themselves this logic. They combat competition, not by making the shopping experience easier and more direct for consumers but by gutting their prices and sending profits into a nosedive.

And shoppers are hip to this. They shop specials. They buy perishables and non-perishables from different stores. They look for coupons and stock up on bargains when they can. Look at the articles here and here, both offering tips on how to save during trips to the grocery.

The established grocery model isn’t working because it is all about the grocer and not the customer. It’s the same problem the music industry has been facing and fails to come to grips with (see this post from Seth Godin and this HEYMONKEYBRAIN debate).

Network television has (at least until the writers’ strike) used a similarly bone-headed model, spreading 20 new episodes among 26 or so weeks, interspersing repeats and other “specials” to extend the season and saving the better episodes for sweeps.

Yet they wonder why they lose viewers to scripted cable series of 8 to 13 episodes with minimal, if any interruption, shown at multiple times (in case you miss one and don’t have a DVR) and carrying devoted audiences. Those series also tend to have tighter writing because they have fewer stories to tell in a season.

Strangely, the same can be said for so-called unscripted shows heralded by the networks. Those are so successful because it takes longer for them to get stale, they come in short bursts and aren’t repeated.

So, ask yourself this about your business model: What changes can I make for my customers’ benefit? What is it that they want from me? How can I deliver it to them?

When you focus on giving your customers what they want, how they want to get it, breaking free from your existing model, you create a loyal customer base that keeps coming back for more. Amazon did it with books. Priceline did it with travel. iTunes is doing it with music. What about you?

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Test Easy

The web is making testing ideas, concepts and even entire marketing campaigns a whole lot easier. I’m not talking about online surveys. Unless those are tightly controlled, your results will have little meaning.

What I am referring to are the various spaces across the internet where you can try different things here and there. And the tools are endless:

  • Website optimization
  • Goal conversions
  • Modified URLs
  • Social networking sites
  • Blogs
  • Social bookmarking
  • Google’s Adwords
  • YouTube
  • Publishing on demand

These are all virtual sandboxes for you to test ad copy and artwork, web page designs, marketing campaigns, product features, TV ads and more!

And the cost is minimal, compared with traditional market research and testing, with quicker results.

If something isn’t working, change it. Right then. Right there.

If it is working, spread to other areas. Right then. Everywhere.

So what are you waiting for?

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Business Opportunities Abound

Yesterday, on my Fix It or Go! blog, I wrote this post about the controversial enforcement of an existing teenage curfew at a local mall. After lamenting some of the unfortunate reactions by teens, I offered suggestions for what they could have done differently, such as:

  • Work with the mall to create a Teen Zone, an area dedicated to them
  • Negotiate for a later time in the day for the curfew
  • Implement a fee-based special identification card that allows them in to the mall outside of the curfew and without a chaperone, as long as they follow the rules, with the fees going to support additional security
  • Put together a business plan for a venue that caters directly to them

A big reason why the problem existed in the first place is that there aren’t enough places around specifically for teens. There is an enormous opportunity here for entrepreneurs. The key, though, will be safety. As long as it is fun and safe, whatever new venture develops will succeed.

And this is but one instance. Take a look around you. What are the complaints? What is at the root of those complaints? What are the unmet needs?

Those are your opportunities. Now, find the right partners (preferably someone from the group you hope to serve) and get to work before someone else beats you to it.

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Be Level Headed

Last week, Geoffrey James wrote about research from CSO Insights defining the five levels of B2B relationships.

  1. Approved Vendor—Seen as a legitimate provider of goods and services without a competitive edge over alternate offerings. Often competes on price.
  2. Preferred Supplier—Reputation with existing customers leads preferred suppliers to continue to get the business, all things being equal.
  3. Solutions Consultant—Because of the “product-related, value-add knowledge or services” brought to the table, customers consult the company on how best to use the goods or services offered.
  4. Strategic Contributor—Customers view the contributor “as a source of strategic planning assistance” above and beyond the products offered.
  5. Trusted Partner—Viewed as a long-term partner, critical to the success of the client because of the products, insights, etc., contributed.

Um, this applies to the relationships companies have with their non-business customers as well. Let me illustrate buy using a real-life example.

Suppose we are out of milk. There are any number of stores in the area that carry milk. If that is all I am looking for, then I can pick any grocer I want. Some of them, however, are in locations easier for me to reach than others. Those make it to my approved vendor list.

Since I have visited several of these stores and checked their prices, stock and selection, I keep my milk runs to a few preferred suppliers. I may narrow that list even more if I have to pick up other items as well.

One day, maybe I have a hankering for halibut. While I’m picking up the milk and fish, I might seek out a solutions consultant on how to prepare dinner, including side dishes and that perfect wine accompaniment.

Perhaps I decide a healthier lifestyle is in order. A subsequent trip for milk might include a conversation with someone at the store who is able to advise me, show me around the store and create a sample shopping list for me. She then becomes a strategic contributor.

We also tend to host a lot of dinner parties and holiday occasions. As we get closer to each event, we look to our trusted partner for his recommendations, based on our guests. Then, of course, he’ll also cater it.

This can apply in any number of businesses—entertainment, software, coffee shops, clothing stores. Any business can be at any of these levels with some of its customers. And that is okay. But don’t miss an opportunity to bring a larger number of customers into one of these levels. Just find the right one for you and get after it.

Ask yourself: What levels do you serve with your customers? Are you capable of doing more? If so, what aren’t you?

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Freshness versus Overload

Yesterday, after offering a comment on her post “The Plural Nature of Marketing Perfection”, Ardath Albee and I corresponded by e-mail. She had read my post “Use Web 2.0 when It Makes Sense” and questioned the idea of freshness:

“Is this becoming a constant struggle to always have something “new” available? It does feel that way, but it makes me wonder how much we’re losing by focusing on freshness of content instead of value…or are we?”

She followed up with a new post of her own, “Does Content Have an Expiration Date?”.

In my example yesterday, I’m not so sure that freshness was the issue so much as overload. That is where I see us losing the value. For instance, let’s say 70,000 videos get uploaded again today on MySpace. Some of those videos could be great things first viewed as long as 10 years ago. But the 1,000,000 people on MySpace that would want to see them might never get to, simply because there is too much to wade through.

True, search algorithms are getting better at returning relevant content. But so are the number of sponsored links and other ads that we must wade through to get to what we want. Even then, there could easily be thousands of choices. Thus overload would trump freshness.

Now, once you do find the right venue and connect directly with your customers (the true value in interactive marketing), then freshness does become an issue. You combat things getting stale through innovative interactions and integration that center on a theme and not just a one-time execution.

If you look at most viral videos, for example, they are unique, which means that if they are part of a campaign, that same uniqueness must be recreated every time, or your audience will lose interest.

With the technological advances we have seen, particularly in the online world, we seem to have forgotten that solid marketing is about connecting with your consumer, whatever segment he or she is in. It is about direct engagement at a venue where they are ready, willing and able to participate.

And you can’t pander to them or put something on their screen for them to spread across the internet universe. Because if it does, then you haven’t spoken to that customer, you have simply amused or entertained them. That is an expensive proposition.

There is greater value in direct engagement and interaction with your customer, using a fresh spin on an existing theme (or testing a new theme altogether—fodder for another post) than in wading through massive audiences who in turn are wading through massive amounts of information.

I like what Ardath has to say at the end of her content post:

“If content is only considered new for an hour, day, week or month, then relevance is going to determine its ability to catch attention before it’s considered ‘old’ news.”

So the issue then appears to be the role freshness plays in how, when and where you engage your audience. And the audience’s ability to interact with your message how, when and where you need them to.

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Use Web 2.0 when It Makes Sense

Articles, news features, blog posts and presentations about “what’s hot” are still, well, hot. We thirst for what is new and different. A few of us for idle curiosity. Others to be the first to use/own/know it. I do what I can to keep up. But there is a lot out there. And given their relative success rates, it’s often a waste of time. Most companies, rightly, don’t want to invest too much in developing something that isn’t going to last—like HD DVD players.

I tend to take a different, though not necessarily better approach. One that evaluates new stuff based on how I could put it to use.

The other day I received an e-mail inviting me to speak at a conference this summer. The topic focuses on what is hot in marketing. Oh, yes, and how to put it to use. They want it to be practical, learning what they can and can’t ignore, deciding what is right for them, the costs involved (and not just money as mentioned in this post from Media Guerrilla), how to implement and get started. At least they’ll give me 55 minutes to tackle it.

Most often this isn’t what people think they want to hear. Usually, they see the however many million people using MySpace anforum.jpgd Facebook and want to know how to reach them. In certain instances and over discreet periods that might be the right medium. In many cases, however, it’s not. I’m not bashing them or any other social networking application. For select businesses and select uses, they serve as excellent venues for spreading the word. The rest of the time, we have to find other avenues.

We have to interact with our customers and potential customers where they are or are likely to be. Let’s say there are 50 million people with MySpace profiles. In a nation with 300 million people, that means that 250 million don’t. Which group has your customers, the ones on or off MySpace?

At the same time, you would say that 50 million people are a lot. I agree. As I am writing this in the middle of the afternoon, nearly 70,000 videos had been uploaded today. Which of those 50 million are going to see your one or two uploaded last week?favorireseausz.jpg

So, we are left looking even harder at finding our customers. It was easy before when it was TV, radio, print, outdoor and in-store. You had five media to tell her (or him) about the Wonderbra. Before cable TV it was even better with just three networks. Now, there are literally thousands if not millions of places you audience can go. Granted 99% of them involve a screen, keyboard, mouse and internet hookup. But the world is in that machine, and they could be anywhere at any time.

Yes, it sounds dire. It’s not. Really. The best place to start is with your customers. Ask them. Then let them help you. It works.

Also see this article from Computer Weekly.

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