Four Reasons Why I Bought a Ford This Weekend

This weekend, I did something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before.

I went to a Ford dealer and bought a Ford automobile.

We tried getting by with our two cars but, with 2 high-school age kids and the ever-growing list of places-to-go and people-to-see, we finally had to make an addition. The odd fact is, that I never even bothered seriously considering another make of car this time around. This, from someone whose last few business cars were all Mazdas and whose family van is currently a Toyota.

Why? Let me give you four simple reasons:

1. Quality. I don’t care what the item is, or what the argument for domestic production is, if you’re not high-quality, you don’t earn my business. Ford has been making great strides in this area, enough that they slowly but surely edged back onto my radar screen. When my 18-year old and I took a test drive in a gently used 2010 Fusion, we were quite impressed (at the top of his list: the sound system, and the cool blue vanity lighting in the cupholders!)

2. Scott Monty. Scott is Ford’s social media guru, though I became acquainted with him back in 2007 or 2008, before his tenure with Ford. Scott has done a great job putting a more human face on a venerable American institution, and that goodwill (earned over time) translated into, not only consideration, but strong leaning, when it was time to make a purchase. It pays to hire good people. If you’re keeping score, President and CEO Alan Mulally: +1, Scott Monty.

3. Principle. Ford had the guts to refuse the government bailout years ago. While Chrysler and General Motors decided to become state-run institutions (or facsimiles thereof), Ford held to free-market principles. Thousands of us Americans never forgot that, and when it was time to make a purchase this weekend, guess which two companies were not even in the running? Granted, Ford is not some perfect company filled with angelic beings, nor are the employees of GM and Chrysler the spawn of evil. I reserve the right to re-consider GM products in the future, of course – but only if and when they are no longer a ward of the federal government. It’s not personal – it’s principle.

4. Referral. My entire solopreneur business model is based on trusted referrals. When I reached out on Facebook about my upcoming decision, a good friend (thanks, Janice!) recommended that I deal with Tommy Garcia over at Wayne (NJ) Ford. They also said that the General Manager (Troy Mol) was great. I reached out on-line and got an immediate and friendly response from Milca Irizarry, and meeting each of them over at the dealership was a pleasure. Purchasing cars can be a dreadful experience. My time at Wayne Ford has, without a doubt, helped advance my view of the Ford brand. If you’re keeping score, Mr. Mulally: +3, Wayne Ford.

I am not going to change the world of business by one little car purchase, or through any of my social media rants about it (e.g., here and here). But this entire experience simply reinforces the power of what should be obvious, in any business. Make great stuff. Do the right thing. Hire the right people. Treat customers right. And the end result will be the vein of gold that every business seeks – enthusiastic referrals. And sometimes, very public commendations…

(lest there be fuel for cynics, so let me say up-front that I have received no financial or other consideration for writing this post. I just believe in telling it like it is – and that includes the good stuff when it is earned!)

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Fun for Some, and Some for Fun

In the Harvard Business Review this week, Grant McCracken takes on the concept of “forced fun” in a corporation, using the way Zappo’s treats visitors as an example. Here’s an extract of Mr. McCracken’s post:

Visitors touring the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas are greeted noisily. Staffers blow horns and ring cowbells to bid them welcome.

This sort of thing puts my teeth on edge. Call me a grinch. Call me a humorless, life-hating, stick in the mud, but commandeering personal emotions in the interest of forced conviviality seems to me wrong. I believe emotions are mostly a private matter and should not be controlled by the corporation.

I have never met Grant, and have no idea whether or not he is a grinch, but one thing I can say: his logic is flawed.

I get the point – who wants to be subject to inauthentic displays of emotion, either as the giver or recipient? But as many of the commentators point out, people choose to work where they will and do business where they will, and corporate culture is one of those aspects that draws or repels.

As our grandmothers would tell us, honey works better then lemons.

By using terms like “forced fun” and “commandeering personal emotions”, the author tries to portray the issue as one where employers are infringing on private freedoms, or encouraging insincerity, a place where an employer should not tread. But the freedom issue is really at the point of decision to work within a company that has a certain culture. And some companies choose to have a culture of fun, and excitement, and engagement.

People are complex and holistic beings, and emotions are woven into us, impacted by our surroundings, our co-workers, our behaviors, and yes, even our expectations and the expectations of others. Any business owner should not only own the tangible and financial aspects of the company, but also own the responsibility to develop (and model) a positive culture. Unless lemon juice is preferred. Take your pick. As a customer, I’ll take my pick as well. Guess what kind of climate I’ll seek out?

Mr. McCracken says, near the conclusion, “When we commandeer the emotional lives of our employees we waste a valuable resource.” I respectfully disagree (PLUS – read this article just published by WSJ Online, regarding happiness in the workplace). When we FAIL to commandeer the abilities of our employees, and don’t encourage self-control and productivity in all areas (including imagination, task performance, and emotional engagement), then we leave the company culture to drift. Leadership of people is not simply addressing 70% of who they are. It’s tapping the entire potential of each individual and making a much greater “whole” in the process.

I’m all for personal authenticity. And for corporate authenticity. If someone wants to be sour, moody, or emotionally fickle and/or disengaged, I’m sure there are plenty of places to go and be “authentic.” Please, however – don’t go to Zappo’s, and don’t try to work with me!

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Who’s Behind the Avatar?

My friend Toby Bloomberg is collaborating with John Cass to ask a question about transparency – namely, what sort of transparency needs to be in place if “outside” agents are feeding social media content for a client brand?

From Toby’s blog post:

Social media is a hungry beast that to succeed demands content…PR agencies, advertising agencies and social media consultants are seizing an opportunity to carve a service niche from their time pressed, staff starved clients. Yes, the agencies are stepping in and taking over the role and responsibilities of implementing social media initiatives….but unlike an ad campaign or dropping a media release where no one really cares what name you use, social media is supposed to be different. Tweets and posts are supposed to be from the real people who are working for the brand…However, since on Facebook and often on Twitter “no one knows your name” seems to be the acceptable norm, 2010 will see more. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it just fact of social media marketing life? Does it really matter?

I’ll toss in a few brief thoughts:

1. Since there is an expectation set currently in place with social media (real people interacting with real people), and since violating that expectation leads to a lot of unwanted on-line attention, it’s not wise for a brand to play “let’s pretend” in social media platforms – at least, currently.

2. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing expertise to “feed the beast.” Life is full of outsourcing. Just be honest about it.

3. I’d recommend that brands who outsource the maintenance of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. establish a “brand” identity on those platforms instead of trying to pretend that there is one person behind the account. I’m OK with, say, TiVo having a brand account – as long as it is positioned as a brand account. I’m also OK with the TiVo account being TiVo Shanan if Shanan is for real (she is, apparently – and very nice!). If the platform is going to provide info and interactions from a team, fine – let’s just have accurate expectations.

4. These platforms are communication channels and we all have to take a deep breath and have a reasonable view of how companies will use them. I happen to think that the companies who advance with real personality in their social media endeavors will likely do best, but not every company is prepared out of the gate to have designated in-house personnel to “feed the beast.” We don’t need to beat these folks with a purist club and accuse them of being inauthentic – unless they’re being inauthentic! Let people get their feet wet, and outsource as they must. We should encourage brands to use social media responsibly, realizing that those who abuse it by a lack of transparency will be outed in time, and the lesson will be learned!

My 2 cents – your thoughts?

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Telling the Company Story

I’m going to tell you a story about a company telling its story. It’s…well, quite a story about networking, serendipity, and marketing!

This spring, while attending the MarketingProfs B2B Forum, I had the good fortune of sitting next to a pleasant young lady with whom I quickly found two things in common: 1) she was working at a company in central CT, only a few miles from where I grew up; 2) this company provided supplies to the radiation oncology community, a field in which I had a 10-year history in a prior professional role.

Beekley2Mary told me about this box of historical “stuff” that she had inherited, which contained a lot of archival material from the company’s multi-decade past. We talked about ways to tell the company story, and how those materials could be used. And life went on…

Fast forward to last week, just before I was scheduled to leave for Connecticut, for a quick visit with Mom before gathering together with my brothers for a New Hampshire adventure. Out of the blue, I get an e-mail from Mary Lang of Beekley Corporation, Bristol, CT – she had seen my recent post about how Ben & Jerry’s told their story on the HQ walls. Well, now the story-telling panels were done in Beekley’s new offices, and would I like to come by “some day” and see the end result?

I love the serendipity of social networking. I had a couple hours open after a lunch in western CT – how about TODAY, Mary – like, say, 2:00pm??

So I included Bristol on my drive up. And I was not disappointed.

Beekley1Not only was the series of panels (mounted on walls throughout the office) extremely attractive and well-designed, but they had a great story to tell. The story of a company that had a distinctive culture right from the get-go, with a strong focus on employee development and excellence in execution. This culture could be seen through the statements, news clippings, and historical documents that now “told the story” to every employee in the office. And the culture could be palpably felt in interactions with Beekley employees.

A consistent graphical design was woven throughout all the various pieces and panels, and the business philosophy of the founding family was also a common thread. Maybe a lot of people throughout the business world have never heard of Beekley (the company or its founders/leaders). But now visitors and employees certainly get an eyeful!

Beekley4This was a company that had evolved over time, starting with a printing business and moving, as customer needs manifested themselves, into medical supplies and other areas. However, with each change in direction, the company distinctives remained.

Beekley believes in exceeding expectations, in having the right people on the bus and developing them (10-15% of employee time is spend on professional development), and in creating an environment that is pleasant, professional, and supportive. Right down to the design of maximum window space to contribute to a cheerful feel in the office.

Beekley3

I walked out of there impressed by the internal marketing storytelling, but even more by the story itself. A little company, doing its thing in its niche, practicing excellence and growing steadily, hiring smart and telling its story.

May such companies increase in numbers and influence!

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The No Drone Zone at Netflix

Drone1I’d heard good things over the months about Netflix’s unique corporate culture, so my curiosity was piqued when someone linked to a Slideshare about it. I clicked on over.

Seeing that it was 128 slides, my interest in delving further wavered. I have a philosophical bias against mega-slide presentations! However, I started anyway, and soon found myself going through the entire thing. The idealist in me was astonished – here was a company actually adhering to (not just mouthing) many tremendous business principles that are the ingredients for long-term success. Count me impressed.

Here’s the bottom line: Netflix is determined to have only dedicated and talented employees. No drones.

Many companies tolerate sub-par performers as long as they don’t mess up too badly. In this way, companies end up with lots of deadwood – drones who muddle their way onward and upward, and serve as a source of discouragement and irritation for hard-working and creative employees who really want to make a difference.

Read it for yourself – yes, it’ll take a few minutes, but it’s well worth it for the inspiration given and example set: Freedom and Responsibility Culture

Is your company a No Drone Zone? Can it become one?

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Lipstick on the Management Pig

twomindsI had too much time in the car yesterday, so I was thinking about something that comes to mind a lot.

Cognitive dissonance.

Yes, I’m a little strange, but that’s not news anymore. I analyze a wide range of topics, which is both fun and confusing at times, and which can lead to…well, cognitive dissonance. When you see and/or believe things that don’t seem to go together.

Whether or not you’ve used the label, you’ve experienced cognitive dissonance. When your religious beliefs (or disbeliefs) seem to collide with real-life; when what you always thought about a person is suddenly proven untrue; when you find a PC easier to use than a Mac…all of that can create a sense that things don’t fit.

Then this morning Brad Farris forwards (via Twitter) this article from Harvard Business Review, entitled Why You Should Sell Only for the Company You Love. A few excerpts:

    There is no way you can effectively sell for a mismanaged company. A company that does a poor job of taking care of its people creates unhappy employees.

    Poor management is a deep problem that not even the best salesperson can overcome. It’s a pig that you can’t put lipstick on, and you shouldn’t waste your time trying.

    The problem of trying to sell around or in spite of poor management sometimes arises as a question about my advocating customer visits to our offices and plants. I’m asked: “What do you do if you have people in your offices you don’t want customers to meet? Or plants you don’t want them to see?” My response is that this isn’t a sales problem. It’s a management problem.

    Not only is it futile to try to put lipstick on the poor-management pig, it’s dishonorable and unethical even to try. Honesty is being truthful with others. Integrity is being truthful with ourselves. These are the essential ingredients of any sales-leadership program.

Amen to all of that. Many years ago, I sold equipment from manufacturers whose design and development processes, and whose deaf ears to the legitimate needs of customers, made selling a very “dissonant” chore. Fact is, any good and authentic salesperson wants to be a genuine and enthusiastic advocate for the offering and company he/she is representing. When the product or service is defective, or the management style is counter-productive, it absolutely cuts the heart out of the front-line sales staff. Then there are only three choices:

    1. Pretend enthusiasm anyway, for the sake of trying to make some money

    2. Tell potential customers the facts and deal with the consequences

    3. Leave

I’m a strong advocate of the third. It’s the only way to get rid of an energy-sapping, conscience-afflicting cognitive dissonance. I think the marketplace would evolve faster and better if more employees left poorly-run companies so that they run aground and better companies take their place. What do you think? How do you deal with cognitive dissonance in the workplace?

(Image credit)

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“Social Media” and Business, part 1

Earlier this week, I enjoyed a robust Twitter conversation with a few folks (thanks, @lizscherer, @kellyferrara, @lindabeth!) on how “social media” fits into the pre-existing business silos that we all know and love (Marketing, PR, Sales, Customer Service, etc.)

Instead of putting out 140-character fragments of thought, it might be more valuable to sketch out some big-picture ideas about how this all, perhaps, fits together, and continue the discussion in the comments.

First, I’ll freely admit that I don’t much care for the term “Social Media.” I think it’s limiting. I tend to prefer either Community Networking (more on the inter-personal level), or Networked Communications (more on the business level). Take your pick; we’re talking about person-to-person or organization<–>person communications and connections mediated through on-line tools.

Let’s think about business. I think a lot of these legacy silos are not particularly helpful, so let’s imagine for a moment that they are swept off the table and everything is encompassed under one umbrella term: Communications. PR, Marketing, Social Media, etc. – it’s all about communicating to the world at large (people unaware of the company; prospective customers; imminent buyers; existing users; other stakeholders). These communications take various forms, including direct advertising, word of mouth (on- or off-line), press, or what have you, but it’s all communications, and it should all be strategically tied together.

For a business, then, let’s take this practice of communication and view it through the prism of the main goal: increased uptake of offerings and therefore, increased revenue. Business growth. From the perspective of the business, and using rather sterile terms, there are three main stages of this: Customer Awareness, Customer Acquisition, and Customer Retention.

What is the process – the pattern – that occurs to reach this goal of business growth, and how does the discipline of Communications fit? Here’s a suggested way to view it:

Awareness Communications – strategies and tactics that elevate some level of understanding of the company’s existence, offerings, and value. An analogy: this is walking into a party with an attractive, attention-getting outfit.

Qualification Communications – think pre-sales marketing here. Expressing, at some level, what the nature and benefits of the offering are. But this need not be one-way anymore – through networked communications, businesses can much more readily understand the needs and desires of potential customers. Ongoing analogy: chatting up at the party and gauging if there is interest in more than just a polite chat.

Commitment Communications – assuming that the potential customer is seeing genuine value, now the parties discuss how they might get together to meet mutual goals. This is a deeper dive into needs and offerings, and gaining a comfortable feel for overall compatibility. Ongoing analogy: entering into a committed dating relationship.

Satisfaction Communications – the company realizes that its best hope of gaining new customers is by keeping current customers not only pacified, but satisfied to the point of being advocates. Time and two-way communications are invested to build the relationship and improve the offerings. Ongoing analogy: the diligent care and feeding of a marriage relationship.

This is the typical linear process of how business is obtained and grown, and if we range our Communications options and methods along these lines, we can see how a strategic approach to the various legacy disciplines (PR, Marketing, Advertising, etc.) can now be achieved. Each stage of the continuum requires different types/mixes of communication, with differing levels of two-way exchange. “Social Media” plays a role throughout, not as a separate discipline, but as an integral part of two-way communication that should mark an entire process.

When you look at this continuum, ask yourself: does your business have a consistent message that is woven throughout the entire communications landscape? It should.

Oh, and for an interesting twist, swap out the word “Customer” for “Employee”. Sorta makes sense on the recruitment/retention side of things, doesn’t it?

Kind of a mind dump here and lots of loose ends. What do you think? Speak your mind in the comments!

:: So far, we’re attempting to define the landscape of business communications – but in a follow-up post, I want to take something implied here and make it more explicit. Successful business will increasingly be marked, not by a transactional view (I am using communications to persuade you to buy my product so I can make money and you can, maybe, gain a benefit), but by a more holistic relational view. That is, customers and companies will increasingly seek out ways to determine if they are right for each other, something networked communications truly helps enable. My consulting business is built on a “matchmaking” network model and I’ll share a few thoughts on why I think there is tremendous value in this approach…

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