Is Teamwork a dead concept?

After writing my last article about leadership I was reminded about an article I used in one of the classes I teach and thought it would fit here.  The article below is by Dr Alan Weiss and hits a nerve in the dog eat dog world we live in and reflects on the journey we take when crawling our way to the top. But as Dr. Weiss outlines in the article below, it doesn’t have to be that way and I couldn’t agree more with what he has written.

By Dr. Alan Weiss, Ph.d

 

I’m sitting poolside at the Marriott Resort in Lihue, Kauai. There are four waterfalls embracing five Jacuzzis, a bridge connecting to an island in the middle of the pool, and enough palm trees to constitute a coconut plantation, shielding the pool from the Pacific. But I’m focused on a small patch of ground beside my chair where my wife has accidentally dropped a two-inch piece of bread from her lunch. There are eight dove-like birds focused quite determinedly on devouring this manna.

Yet unlike most birds I’ve seen, from pigeons to sea gulls, they are not fighting over the morsel, but cooperating. The birds form a disciplined circle around the bread, reminiscent of a rugby scrum, but without the eye-gouging violence. As the crust is pecked and flipped around, the scrum moves to new locations, always intent on surrounding the bread, now progressively disappearing under the jack-hammer attacks of the syncopated beaks. The eight birds all eat heartily. Other doves, on the perimeter, make no attempt to horn-in. There is no room. Nor is there any apparent animosity. These birds are engaged in a win-win exercise.

Finally, the remnant of bread is tossed inadvertently (I presume) well outside the scrum, where a lone sparrow, biding his time, grabs the gift and flies away as though jet- propelled. The doves seem to shrug it off, gather up the remaining crumbs, and wander off to search under other lounge chairs. They form a well-organized search party, and head toward what appears to be a lone French fry. For a longer time than I like to admit I viewed the world as a zero-sum game. If I were going to “win,” then you had to “lose.” And if you were “winning,” then I must surely be losing. Too often I would deride others to elevate myself, which is not really an elevation but actually a descent. There is a thin line between healthy competition and malice aforethought.

Life is not an athletic event. There should be more than one “winner.” Success should encourage benevolence and philanthropy, not victory dances and “high fives.” With rare exception, we are neither hunting for scarce food nor protecting remote safe havens. The doves knew that there were plenty of spilled lunches in their territory, and that it was dysfunctional to argue and fight. Cooperation meant moderate shares in numerous meals with no stress and no damage.

We do ourselves too much stress and too much damage when we insist on an “all or nothing” approach to the challenges in our lives and our work. When we intelligently share-information, credit, preferences, earnings, victories, comfort, and other trappings of power-we elevate everyone, including ourselves.

The greatest business leaders I’ve ever seen as a consultant are those who personally accept responsibility for failure but generously share credit for success. Their subordinates, peers, and friends support them without reservation and will follow their lead in any direction. There is enough bread for us all. Let’s not peck at our colleagues over a crust.

The Call Center Supervisor – Can leadership be taught?

I have worked in, consulted in and been involved in one type of project or another within the call center environment over the years, and one thing I have always noticed is that a lot of attention is given to the call center agent.  The call center agent while being at the bottom of the totem pole in the call center structure has a lot of eyes watching them in terms of statistics, metrics, both anonymous and side by side monitoring  and more because the agent is said to be the life blood of the call center.   The agent is on the front lines, and it is the individual agents that are closing the sales or keeping the customer happy, whatever the case may be.  Call centers do their best to create happy, productive agents and go through great lengths to keep attrition as low as possible, because it is of course costly to train an agent just to have them bounce out the door to the next call center 6 months after hiring them.  A lot of time, energy and money is put into training a call center agent, followed by a lot of effort to make sure that these agents are hitting the numbers, are dealing with customer issues effectively, after all they are the face of the business, the agents are who the customer sees and deals with and because of this many believe that the agent is the most important aspect of a call center.  I disagree.

While it is true that the agent on the phone is of the utmost important and all of the energy and time is put into training for good reason I have found that that management often overlooks who I believe to truly be the most important aspect of the call center and that is the team supervisor.  I don’t care how skilled your agents are and how well trained they are without a good supervisor to lead the team, then there isn’t a team.  It takes skill to effectively manage thirty or forty individuals, and there is a skill involved in massaging all those different personalities and molding all of these individuals into one finely tuned team.

I believe that many times people get promoted or hired into a supervisory position without really being evaluated to see if they possess the skills that are necessary to lead.  That’s right I didn’t say supervise I said lead, because that is exactly what needs to be done to have a highly successful call center team, someone needs to lead them and I will argue that there is a huge difference between just supervising and just leading.

So the question is can leadership be taught?  According to Mark Sarner president of Manifest Communications, the answer is yes, leadership like all skills, can be taught. The literature is clear on the essential components, styles, and dynamics. But can leadership be learned? He claims it is often taught but rarely learned (fastcompany.com).  In my part time profession as a University professor teaching post graduate MBA students I have often told them that it takes very little skill to be the boss.  Anyone can do it, it doesn’t take any skill whatsoever to point your finger and tell people to do this or that, go here or there, no skills required at all, anyone can do it, it doesn’t take any education, any experience,  anyone can do it.  Being a leader on the other hand takes a great deal of skill, and in order to be a leader of a call center team, like any team the first step to leading in my opinion is to become a part of the team.  So many supervisors separate themselves from the team, there is the team and there is the supervisor, two separate entities.  It doesn’t need to be this way and it shouldn’t be this way; a true leader needs to be a part of the team.

Someone once asked me what is the difference between a boss and a leader, either way it’s someone you have to listen to. I told them the answer was very simple, a boss is someone you have to listen to, whether you want to or not, a leader is someone you want to listen to, someone you respect, someone look up to. So the difference between a boss and a leader is miles apart, its apples and oranges.  In my experience and my opinion, you cannot effectively teach just anyone to be a leader, empathy, sympathy, compassion are not things that can be taught, you either have them or you don’t and all of them are needed to be a leader.  There are certainly leadership skills that can be taught, but you have to teach someone who at their core has the raw skills that are needed to be a leader.

According to Greg Levin Creative Projects Coordinator for ICMI and author of ICMI’s Call Center Humor book series in a Call Center Magazine article from December 2006, many call centers have implemented a comprehensive hiring process that includes advanced screening and to insure that they attract and hire the best agents as possible.  But very few call centers do the same to ensure that they have the best supervisors leading those agents. Anne Nickerson, president of training and consulting firm Call Center Coach and author of Not By the Seat of My Pants: Leadership Lessons for the Call Center Supervisor states, “ I think supervisors are the most critical part of success in the call center” (callcentermagazine.com).

So if you have hired the best agents that money can buy and you have put them through a comprehensive and ongoing training program at the end of the month you are left scratching your head trying to figure out why the month end numbers look so bad, take a look at the supervisor who is leading them.

Honesty and Integrity in sales, is it possible?

I have been involved in marketing and advertising in one aspect or another for over twenty years and I have dealt with a myriad of sales people from multiple perspectives; as a buyer, as an employer, as a partner, resellers… you get the picture.  In all these years and in all the dealings that I have had one thing has become crystal clear over the years that most, not all, but most sales people that I have come across our fast talking, double talking, tell you anything you want to hear so long as the deal is closed and they earn a commission.

As the CEO of Throttle Media when I made the decision to create a blog and start writing articles I promised myself and made sure my partners and others knew that I would not be using the blog as a sales platform, because I believe that a blog should be a platform for distributing information and sharing the authors experience and wisdom on whatever the subject may be, not a platform for selling, there are already more than enough of those, we don’t need one more. I even wrote an article about this very subject last month (The Purpose of Blogging).  I say this to say that I am going to use my company as an example of honesty and sales, and I am doing this not in an attempt to sell anyone anything, but because I cannot think of a better example to use than my own company and my own experiences.

I have always believed that you can be honest and a sales person at the same time, and I have never liked fast talking sales people whether they were trying to sell to me or working for or with me. As one of the co-founders of Throttle Media I have worn many hats and still do, one of those hats has been selling and while today our target customer is medium to large size companies, it was not always this way, up until not too long ago a large part of our customer base was small businesses, from mom and pop type businesses to companies with up to ten employees.  Email marketing is a big part of the services that we offer to companies and when we first started selling I was on the phone with these smaller companies each and every day.  One of the problems with selling an email marketing campaign to a small company without much of a budget is results are usually dismal because most of the time they do not have the budget to create a campaign that will work for them, thus the reason we changed our strategy to medium to large companies.

Let’s say a typical client calls and wants to advertise within a 20 mile radius of their business and after taking their zip code and searching our database we find there are 750,000 consumers in their area.   I would probably recommend that they send to this 750,000 over the course of two weeks and recommend that they do this for at least 90 days changing the subject every two weeks because I believe in the 3+ frequency rule which research has shown that a potential customer must see your ad at least three times before they can recall a product or brand (Marketing IQ) and sometimes they need to see your product even more than that and many believe they must see your ad at least seven times before they will take any action, known as the “Rule of Seven”.   Well the client can’t afford what it will cost them to do a 90 day campaign, which in all honesty is small potatoes in terms of marketing; they can only afford enough to do a campaign emailing each of those 750,000 consumers once.  I would be honest with them and tell them that consistency marketing works best, they would always ask me what is the percentage of people going to the site, the click through rate (CTR) and I would answer them honestly, and the answer is it’s all over the board, some people get 20% going to their site, some get 1%, some get 10 hits and nothing else.  I would tell them that there are a lot of variables that have to be considered such as their ad, their product, their website, and so it is difficult for me to answer the question which is why you do a test campaign first.  That would be the extent of the conversation and they would purchase the one campaign and the results would not be good.  Well I wasn’t happy with this because after doing this for a while I noticed that the majority of our small clients were not getting decent results, with a few exceptions, so this was discussed in meeting after meeting and finally both myself and the other founder of Throttle came to the decision that while we were being honest we weren’t being honest enough.  Today if that same client came to me I would tell him bluntly that he was throwing his money away, it was a waste of time, that one shot advertising does not work and that while email marketing does have one of the highest ROI’s in the advertising universe it has to be done correctly and first you need to test the waters, and my definition of a test is doing a 90 day campaign, using the analytics that we provide to track subject lines, various ads, and in some cases text versus graphic email ads and determine what works best for you before rolling out a larger program. My point in telling you all of this is because I firmly believe that honest selling is not only the right thing to do it also works better.

One thing that I have learned over the years is when you develop a relationship with a client and you have a good rapport with them, in reality it you who they are buying not the product or service that you are selling.  I used to own a marketing company in Las Vegas and I made the decision to bring in a partner, which in the end was not a good decision, well after a while this partner decided he wanted all the business for himself, keep in mind I am the one who created all this business not him, so he started or I should say attempted to create deals on his own with our clients and offered them a much better price for the same service.  Every single person at every single company he tried to do this with called me, they were not interested in the better deal, because they had a relationship with me, and had for years, and they knew I was honest and that I always looked out for their best interests.  They could have gone elsewhere anytime, I was not the cheapest deal in town so to speak, but I was the honest one.  In an article at ezinearticles the author states” when a client chooses one sales person over another, what they’re really saying is that-other things being equal-they like one better than the other. Great sales records are built on likeability” (Beware of the Seven Deadly Sins Against Honesty in Sales). I could not agree with this more.

Because of this complete honesty in sales approach that we have taken at Throttle Media we sometimes lose a sale based on the honest information we have given to a potential client, and that’s okay, because when I go home at night I can look myself in the mirror knowing I did not screw anyone over and I am not kept awake at night feeling guilty.  Also, being honest will come back to you, because by being honest the person that was ready to spend a few hundred or a few thousand bucks will walk away with their hard earned money still in the bank feeling good that someone out there actually cares enough to put honesty and integrity above profit, and guess what?   Six months from now when that person is the new VP of marketing at the new company he works for and needs some email marketing or needs to purchase a list or to do a call center campaign, guess who he is going to remember and going to call?  Or when he is at a barbecue with his brother in law who owns several car dealerships and happens to mention that he is unhappy with his current marketing company, guess what he is going to suggest?  If you said “Call Throttle Media” than you were correct.

Every company has a value proposition which every first year marketing student knows is one of the Fundamentals of Marketing, and that value proposition can be about the product, the brand, or the company, at Throttle Media our Value Proposition is that we are an honest company with Integrity and my hope is that after reading this blog if you are not already an honest company or an honest salesperson that this article will motivate you to become one.   Regardless of what each of us is selling, we all have to live in this tiny little marketing universe together and if we can spread the doctrine of honesty and integrity in business the better off we’ll all be.

Personalized email a necessity in email marketing

Everyone receives spam in their inbox whether it is a pharmaceutical company in India letting you know the great deal they are having on Viagra, a penis enlargement ad, credit repair or the announcement of the newest online casino that is having its grand opening, we all receive them.  For those of you who send legitimate “opt in” email, it is as you know a battle to make sure that your  mail is not mistakenly deleted as spam with a dozen or so other spam email your recipients have received today.

Millions of pieces of spam email are sent and received every day and the question is how do you make your email stand out as legitimate versus those that are not?  By personalizing your email, and letting your customers know that you know who they are, and letting them know you are not just another spam email.

According to DMNews research done by e-Dialog over half of both U.S. and U.K. consumers stated that they would be receptive to emails which were personalized and targeted.  The e-Dialog report showed that 64% of consumers want marketers to know the type of services and products they want and over half want marketers to know whether the consumer is a new customer or a returning customer and over a third want them to know their online shopping habits and 85% want companies to ask about their email preferences at registration.  Based on this research it is clear that consumers don’t mind receiving emails from those that they do business with, the trick is not having your email confused as spam.

A little known fact to many new marketers is that many people preview their emails before opening them.  Many email programs allow users to see the first few lines of an email without actually opening it.  This means that many people are making the decision as to whether they are going to open an email or not based on the preview.  So knowing this it is important that you include your customers name so that it is showing up in that preview pane or you may end up sending email that never gets opened.

According to the Email Sender and Provider Coalition (emailaddressmanager.com) 69% of people decide if they are going to open an email by previewing it, so it is vital that the recipient’s name is shown in the beginning of the email and it’s important to send from a domain that they are familiar with so that they know who you are.

Research conducted by the Message Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG)  showd that 90% of all email is spam which means the more spam that is sent, the more suspicious recipients will become, meaning that legitimate email marketers need to make sure that when emailing customers that they know who you are and recognize the email that you are sending is not spam otherwise you end up with a lot of wasted resources, time, and money.

Is Social media going to put an end to Email Marketing?

As most marketers use the Internet to market their companies or brands know, email is one of the most efficient, economical and reliable method of marketing, provided of course that the marketer understands the concepts of email such as spam scores, getting through spam filters (even if using double opt in lists) and of course being legal and following the CAN-SPAM Act.  If used responsibly and correctly email is and has been one of the best methods of marketing in existence, however a lot of noise has been heard lately over the marketing grapevine about the end of email marketing and how it is being replaced by Social Media.

Social Media has taken the world by storm; a platform originally created for people to connect or reconnect, it has grown into something that has gone leaps and bounds beyond what its creators originally intended or fathomed it to be.  In a report last month by The Nielsen company that social media related sites are the most popular sites and that over 110 billion minutes are spent on social media sites worldwide and that three quarters of Internet users worldwide spend time on social media sites and that 66% of visitors spend more time on these sites, almost double of what they did a year ago.  The report stated that 74% of all users in both the United States and the United Kingdom use social networking and/or blog sites (nielsenwire).

So does this mean that the end of email marketing is near with so many people using social media?  Well it’s not quite that simple, because when asking that question one would assume that that social media and email are exclusive of one another and it appears that’s not necessarily the case or at least it doesn’t need to be. Based on research it has been shown that email marketing works better when used in conjunction with social media, it creates a partnership that every business should be considering.

In a June press release by GetResponse they stated that based on their “Email Marketing and Social Media Integration Report” Study that email messages that included a social sharing option generated a 30% higher response than in an email message without one.  The report went on to say that when messages included three or more social sharing options that the CTR (click through rate) went up by over 55% which is an impressive number in any media.

At Throttle Media it has been found that when users of social media provide an email address that the response rate of emailing even a small list is extremely higher than a list that was not generated through social media.

It is evident that social media and email are a great marriage in terms of marketing and it is obvious that social marketing is here to stay and with that being said it doesn’t look like email marketing is going to be discontinued anytime soon.