Weird Al and Albert Save The Day
Mark never was a man to embarrass easily. But singing Everything You Know Is Wrong by Weird Al Yankovic really seemed to be pushing it a bit too far. OK, more than a bit too far. Once Mark finished “singing” he turned to John and began to explain.
“You know John one year I took my family out to the east coast on a camping trip. My wife, my four kids, my mom, and all our camping gear packed like sardines in our minivan. Three full eight hour days of driving with nights spent camping in a large tent. Unfortunately for us, there was torrential rain 24 hours per day for all three days on the trip out. Our nerves were getting more than a little frayed.
“My oldest boy had a Weird Al tape which we allowed him to play twice a day while we were driving out to the coast and trying to keep civil with one another. As I drove those long days Weird Al’s Everything You Know is Wrong song struck me as being more than merely funny. It also made me start to question what I was doing in terms of my business.”
“Yeah right,” said John sarcastically, “so Weird Al is the secret to your success? Sure he is.”
“Now John, I know you didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. What I meant was this song really got me thinking. What if what I thought was right really was wrong?” asked Mark.
“Oh that’s rich. So what happened next? What tremendous insight did you gain from Weird Al?” asked John.
“Well as I drove along through the never-ending rain my mind wandered and I thought about how my business wasn’t growing as fast as I wanted. I knew I was doing alright but my business didn’t energize me. I didn’t wake up in the morning excited about arriving at work. I wasn’t meeting my growth goals. I don’t want to exaggerate. I mean we were doing OK, I just wasn’t happy. It was like my business had hit a plateau and I didn’t know what to do to take it to the next level,” said Mark.
John became a bit animated, “Well this is interesting and all, but it’s not like your banker called and said your loans might get called. You know my back is against the wall here. I’m not sure if there’s a point to your story?”
Mark looked at John and smiled, “I understand you’re worried. I guess the point of my story is I didn’t move out of my rut until I was willing to accept that I needed to change. I also came to the realization the situation I was in was caused by me forgetting about something Einstein said.”
“Oh great, John rolled his eyes,” now we’re going to discuss physics and I forgot my calculator.”
“Don’t worry, there will be no physics being discussed today John. I was referring to Einstein’s famous quotation about the definition of insanity which is ‘Doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.’ I think I was doing a lot of that. At the end of the day Weird Al and Albert pointed me in the right direction,” said Mark.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results."
"Everything you know is wrong."
Weird Al Yankovic
“So what did you do once you had that revelation?” asked John.
“Well, I spent a lot of time online reading everything I could about marketing and selling. I was amazed at how much free information there was out there. There were tens of thousands examples of marketing advice. Blogs, tip sheets, reports, podcasts, videos, you name it.
“Frankly, a lot of the information was pretty bad. It was a big chore sorting the wheat from the chaff. I found myself more confused than ever. It was like I knew more about marketing and selling than ever before, but I still couldn’t make it work,” said Mark.
“Yes, John said, “I’ve been doing the same thing and I’ve also tasked my staff to increase their marketing knowledge. We’ve gotten the same results. We know more than ever about marketing and selling but we can’t seem to make the pieces fit.”
“Exactly, Mark said, “one day I stumbled upon an industrial marketing blog that was focused on the unique needs of small manufacturers. They offered a free Marketing System Checklist For Small Manufacturers so I downloaded a copy.
“The one page checklist asked ten questions and I was able to score the effectiveness my current marketing system.
"They also sent me a report called Why You Can't Grow Your Manufacturing Company (As fast as you'd like). This report outlined eight common factors that make growth difficult. It clearly stated the number one reason for poor growth is an ineffective marketing system.
You can waste an incredible amount of time going down the wrong roads to growth.
The single biggest reason for poor growth is an ineffective or non-existent marketing system.
It was like a light went on in my head. The source of my growth problems was uncoordinated marketing and selling activities. So to tie this in to what I said about that Weird Al song earlier, everything I knew was wrong. So I contacted the author and set up a time for a 25 minute Strategy Session.”
“So he suckered you into scheduling a call and then gave you a big sales pitch I’ll bet. Oldest game in the business world that one is,” said John.
“Actually he didn’t,” said Mark.
“Fine, fine, the guy was a saint. So describe the call,” said John.
"He outlined a generic four part marketing system I could use in my company immediately. He then summarized how his Manufacturing Growth Marketing System optimized this four part marketing system into a turnkey solution designed specifically for small manufacturers.
"It was strange but I found I was getting real value from this free Strategy Session within the first five minutes. By the end of the Strategy Session I told him I'd have paid for the information he gave so freely."
"So then what happened?" asked John.
"We scheduled a second call and we really got into the specifics of what was going on in my company. Where I was, where I wanted to be, what really was holding me back, that kind of stuff. He quickly identified the constraints that were hindering our growth. We discussed several simple steps to growing my manufacturing company in such a way that I instantly understood.
"I thought the first call was really good but the second call was even more content rich and we covered a lot of ground. In fact, it was even more enlightening than the first call.
"After a bit of back and forth I hired his company. They adopted his marketing system to my manufacturing company and sales really began to take off. The rest, as they say is history."
“No problem, said Mark, “I’m kind of talked out. There was a lot more we discussed during our Strategy Session.
"But next time we meet I'd like to shift gears a bit and outline some of the things I learned from working with my marketing guy while they optimized their marketing system for my company.
"We'll be covering a lot but for our purposes I want you to consider the next step to growth is deliberately making your manufacturing company unpopular.”
As John drove to the soccer game he thought about the world of his prospects. He also thought that Mark was a strange guy, and how lots of smart people are a bit different. Before he knew it he’d arrived at the soccer game.
He was looking forward to watching the game and to meeting Mark again tomorrow.
The Importance of Being Unpopular
John arrived at their regular meeting place and wondered what Mark was going to say next.
The last thing Mark had said was that it’s important to make your company unpopular. Had Mark lost his mind? John was half expecting Mark to float in on a cloud or something. Mark was very successful in business, but he sure had an odd way of looking at things.
John could hear someone whistling a strange and kind of haunting melody and sure enough, Mark arrived. He was wearing one of those garish Hawaiian shirts under his suit jacket. John wondered how he got in the door dressed like that.
“Hey John, how are you doing today?” Mark asked.
“Well you know I’m pretty good, and very curious about what's next," said John.
"So John, let's get at it.I told you yesterday I'd highlight some of the things I learned by working with my marketing guy. This will give you some insight into how he thinks," said Mark.
"He told me the about the importance of getting clear on what’s really going on in today’s marketplace. Basically nearly every prospect in almost any marketplace is totally overwhelmed. The recession of 2008 was an epic shakeout that forced many companies to downsize. This means that those employees who kept their jobs are doing more work than ever.”
“Well now that’s what I call a blinding glimpse of the obvious, we all know that,” said John.
Mark continued unfazed, “The next thing he mentioned was how prospects are being yelled at with so many promotional messages they've learned to just tune them out. That’s why it’s so hard to create the kind of promotions today that actually get noticed.”
“I’d agree with that,” said John, “we're experts at failed promotions in our company.”
“Yes,” said Mark, “we all know how difficult it is to get noticed. Then there’s the Web. It’s transformed the power in the sales transaction from the seller to the buyer. Many prospects are doing all of their research and early stage buying activities by visiting company websites. When was the last time you got a call from a prospect asking a question already answered on your website?” asked Mark.
“We hardly ever get prospects calling us until they want a proposal," said John.
“Exactly,” said Mark, “and by that time you are only one of many vendors. It’s already too late to influence the outcome unless you drop your price.”
“So the company that’s willing to make the least amount of money wins?” John asked.
“Yes, said Mark, “and that’s not much of a victory.”
“During my time with my marketing guy he also discussed how few manufacturing companies perform even the most basic market research. This means they do not have even the slightest understanding of the motivations and concerns of their ideal prospects,” said Mark.
“So what did he tell you to do?” asked John.
“He told me that understanding the problems and aspirations of the prospects in my marketplace can shape my marketing activities in such a way that I'll have sustainable competitive advantage.
"He stressed there's a critical importance to understand what’s really going on in your prospects’ world. They're over-worked and over-communicated. And, more importantly, you need to take the time to research your marketplace and act on your findings. This reduces or eliminates costly trial and error,” said Mark.
Knowing more about their world sure makes me see that I really haven’t been considering what they value,” said John.
“Exactly,” Mark said, “empathy is an important step in understanding and in building trust.”
Many companies did not rehire staff after the 2008 recession. This means your buyers are overwhelmed and easily distracted.
The web has transformed the power in sales transactions from the seller to the buyer.
Market research acted upon is the foundation for cost-effective powerful marketing.
“So to completely change the subject, what is the song you were whistling on the way in?” asked John.
“Birdman of Alcatraz by keyboard genius Rick Wakeman,” said Mark.
“All righty then,” said John.
“So John what’s your strategy? What I mean is why would any prospect buy from you instead of your competitors?” Mark asked.
John laughed, “Because I’m so handsome I guess.”
“Ah,” Mark shot back, “so that explains why sales are down.”
“OK. OK. They buy my giggler pins because my company offers the best quality, our service is excellent, and our pricing is fair,” said John.
“Isn’t that exactly what all of your competitors say?” asked Mark.
“Yes it is, I think we all are about the same. None of us are really all that different from one another,” said John.
“Mark continued, “And that’s the next thing you need to look at in your company. If everyone is about the same then you have turned your business and your products into commodities. And how do people buy commodities?”
“They buy them on price. They want the cheapest price,” said John.
Mark smiled, “So you join them on the race to the bottom and get beaten up on price by low level purchasing agents. There are better ways to make a living. Honestly, there are.”
“So tell me what your marketing guy told you about this,” said John.
“He told me the commodity of kings, and profits, is differentiation. In fact it’s the key to beating the low price blues and growing any business,” said Mark.
“Well now, said John, “explain that to me in plain English.”
“The underlying theme is to consider how your company offers your marketplace the best overall value. To do this you need to get strategic and position yourself. Now this part can be a bit difficult to wrap your head around. Basically, there are five steps to keep in mind.
“First, you need to understand the meaning of strategy. He told me one definition is it’s the framework that guides culture, direction, and decision-making within an organization. That’s a mouthful. I prefer to view it the way Michael Porter of Harvard University’s definition that strategy is ‘How a company, faced with competition, will deliver sustainably superior performance by delivering value.’ To put it another way it’s about serving marketplace needs in different ways," said Mark.
“OK,” said John, “so in other words it’s about being different.”
“That’s only part of the equation,” said Mark, “high performing companies sharpen their competitive advantage. According to Porter this means that compared to your rivals you operate at a lower cost, command a premium price, or both. In effect this means you can provide desirable value to your marketplace while minimizing downward pressure on your profit margins. To put it more simply it’s the way you choose to arrange your business activities. Think of airlines. A discount carrier serves market needs differently than a full-service airline.”
“Yes, I follow you,” said John, “so once again it comes down to being different.”
“That’s what I meant when I told you earlier it’s important to be unpopular. If you choose to be all things to everyone in every marketplace your prospects have no way of differentiating you. You are in the dangerous middle. You've then joined the legion of competitors who have commoditized their businesses and are forced to sell on price,” said Mark.
“Yes I get it,” said John.
Mark continued, “The third step is to put value in your value proposition. In order for a value proposition to have value it must resonate with your marketplace. You need to think what market you are serving, what needs you fill, and at what relative price. One way to do this is to perform your business activities differently from your competitors. The other is to perform different business activities.
“The fourth step is to realize that effective competitive strategy is a series of compromises and choices. For example, you can’t produce the most advanced machine at your industry and expect prospects wanting a cheap and basic solution to buy it. Just like you can’t produce a highly customized solution with the same turnaround time as an off the rack offering, it just won’t happen.
“Lastly, be certain that from R&D through delivery all of your business activities align with your strategy and clearly demonstrate the value in your value proposition. If you choose to differentiate your company as offering stellar service then every one of your business activities better reinforce this. Alignment is the key.”
Competitive strategy is based on how your company will uniquely deliver superior and sustainable value.
Trying to be all things to everyone puts you in the dangerous middle and makes your company and its offerings appear to be a commodity.
You must strongly differentiate your company and arrange your business activities to reinforce your differentiation.
John interrupted, “You know Mark this is a lot to follow in a short period of time. It all sounds pretty complicated.”
“Yes,” Mark said, "as I mentioned it is a lot to wrap your head around. I think the best way to summarize all of this is you must clearly differentiate your company from your competition. To do this you need to make choices, trade-offs, and perhaps some pretty wrenching compromises. By doing this you will only attract a percentage of your marketplace. Another percentage will want nothing to do with you. You will be unpopular with them. But your marketing will gain focus, power, and precision.”
“So what’s the deal with the Hawaiian shirt?” asked John.
“Well,” said Mark, “I stick out like a sore thumb in here. I get noticed instantly. I guess you could say I differentiated myself.”
“Something like that, but point taken. Subtlety is really not your strong suit,” said John.
"Ah, suit. See John you made a pun," said Mark.
The server arrived and hovered over the table. Mark and John asked for a bit more time to study their menus. John felt relieved as he needed to turn his head off and absorb what Mark had told him. They ordered their lunch. Then Mark looked at John and told him the next thing they were going to discuss was how an Italian economist from the late 19th and early 20th century could help John build his business.
John ate a cracker.