Coffee is for Closers

Do you deserve coffee?

At least a dozen times at sales meetings over the past 15 years or so, many sales leaders have trotted out this video snippet from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross and then expounded on its virtues, clearly using it as a great kick in the seat of our pants as salespeople.  I’m here to point out how that this clip (after the jump and NSFW, by the way) is relevant to anyone who has to produce…whether you’re a developer/coder, factory worker, farmer, call center or support person, or in any field where results matter.

Alec Baldwin is on screen for less than seven minutes and, in my and many other people’s views, his is the defining performance of that movie and incredibly powerful. The premise, according to the Wikipedia article about the film, “Early in the movie Blake (Alec Baldwin) is sent by Mitch and Murray (the faceless owners of the real estate office in which the main characters work), to motivate them by announcing, in a torrent of verbal abuse, that only the top two sellers will be allowed the more promising “Glengarry” leads, and everyone else will be fired.” This confrontation sets up the rest of the film: the motivations that the characters feel that this rainy night is a make-or-break one; the reason the incident with the Glengarry leads that occurs later on; and the promise that — if only each salesman was better at closing like Blake — that they could achieve the same sorts of results as a guy that made $920k, drove an $80k BMW and sports a $25k gold Rolex.

Anyone whose been in sales for any length of time knows that there are many variables that enable one to achieve wildly successful sales numbers. An enterprise software salesperson in New York, L.A. or Chicago has more opportunity than one in Kansas City, for example, and top performers are usually in major markets. Same thing holds true for those who sell into vertical markets where they canvas accounts across many geographies.

But any salesperson who has been even modestly successful also knows one fundamental truth, and it’s a truth that cuts across all professions and labors.

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A Penny Saved is Actually $0.17 Cents

This is the new design of the U.S. penny being minted now. The kicker? According to this March 2008 ABC News article, “It costs almost 1.7 cents to make a penny,according to U.S. Mint director Ed Moy. Each year, the U.S. Mint makes 8 billion pennies, at a cost of $130 million. American taxpayers lose nearly $50 million in the process. The penny’s not alone. It costs nearly 10 cents to make a nickel.

Why not just ditch the penny? “One reason there is a lasting attachment to those coins is because they are a part of our country’s history,” Moy said in that article. I’ll accept that or some of the other things I’ve read that it will kickstart inflation. Why? Because sellers will “round up” and not “round down” with prices so there will be an immediate jump in costs for everything from toothpaste to TVs.

How could technology make our paying with pennies more efficient? With more and more of us walking around with smartphones, micropayments may be one answer. This would be a method where each of us would have an account that incremental sums (i.e., amounts in pennies) would be sent to or subtracted from during a transaction. I shudder, however, when I think about all the systemic and behavioral changes something like that would require.

Funny (and admittedly tangential) story about pennies happened when I was 16 years old. There was a guy who owned a gas station near our house and he was a complete jerk and especially so to young people. My friend Jeff and I were in his Mom’s car and stopped for gas. The guy inadvertently put in $10 worth in the tank and we had $5 with us and Jeff had told him he wanted $5 worth…but the guy then blew his stack and threatened to call the police on us until we agreed to go get the $5 and come back (he also wrote down Jeff’s license number).

We came back an hour later and Jeff handed him a jar with 500 pennies. “Goddammit!” the owner screamed. “I don’t have to accept these pennies!” but Jeff put it on the counter and we turned around and left. The owner never did anything and, in fact, was out of business two years later (I assume for being a jerk and driving customers away).

When I think about micropayments, I’d actually like having an online slush fund for paying a penny, nickel or dime to read an article online. This would be trivial to do and might help fund an otherwise declining media base. But another thing to consider with payments becoming virtual are the privacy, free speech and other concerns. For a complete and exhaustive paper on the subject, read The Digital Imprimatur by Autodesk founder John Walker from 2003.

GoodGuide: Holding Producers Accountable

When I wrote yesterday’s post Food, Inc.: I will never look at dinner the same way again I intended to point out some tools you can use to make informed decisions about what you eat and the companies that are producing your foods.

GoodGuide is both a website and a free iPhone/iPod Touch application which allows we mobile users to “simply scan the barcode of the product and immediately see detailed ratings for health, environment and social responsibility for more than 50,000 products and companies. GoodGuide provides this information about personal care, household chemical, toy and food products for free on your iPhone / iPod Touch and is adding thousands of products every month. By making information about consumer products transparent, GoodGuide’s goal is to help people shop smarter and motivate companies to offer even better products.

On their homepage you can learn about the issues, see food recalls and other related news, and my favorite thing to do, browse ratings of other products. If you signup you can create a “Favorites” list and begin amassing a database of your preferred products.

Besides the obvious power this is putting in the hands of consumers, what’s most interesting to me (and to our clients) is how empowered consumers will likely have applications that go far beyond food product and the food distribution companies. Imagine you’re a furniture manufacturer and consumers can make choices to buy products from companies that don’t use formaldehyde. What would you do if your sales started to drop? You bet….start making formaldehyde-free furniture. (For more see the Wall Street Journal on “New Bill Could Limit Formaldehyde in Furniture” and SFGate’s article “What’s in furniture? It’s enough to make you sick“).

So if you’re primarily interested in being an empowered consumer, download the free GoodGuide and apps like it. If you’re in the business of producing goods or selling services that rely on other’s products, you’d better understand the entire supply chain of those goods and get ready for heightened awareness and accelerated choices by consumers!

Food, Inc: I’ll never look at dinner the same way again

One of the benefits of Netflix on-demand streaming is the number of documentaries I’ve had access to and am watching, one of which my daughter and I watched last night called Food, Inc., and the movie troubled both of us and I’m still thinking about it this morning.

I can’t find the reference for the article this morning, but there was a research study I read a few years ago that compared the “cost” of a calorie 200 years ago (what it took to grow, harvest, cook and eat a calorie) vs. the cost in effort and energy today. It was significantly greater in the past, of course, and the other statement that stuck in my mind was that the typical American household had more calories in their cupboards than the typical family ate in a month in 1850 (I’ll keep trying to find the data and do an update).

Watching this movie pointed out that the efficiencies of our industrial food system, combined with farm subsidies that keep costs for commodities at artificially low amounts, have kept costs low throughout the food creation and distribution system. While cheap calories have helped America become the envy of the world as we feed millions of us and others around the world, it has also caused us to opt for processed foods over raw veggies and meals that we have to cook and made half of we Americans fat (and I can attest to that!).

Usually I try not to be an alarmist, but the opacity of the industrial food system has become quite troublesome and this movie pointed it out better than anything I’ve ever watched. This is not my attempt to vilify the food industrial complex, but rather ensure that more of us demand to know what’s happening up the food creation chain so we know what we’re eating. I’ve often said that if people could take one tour of a cow, pig or chicken slaughterhouse we’d have a helluva lot of vegetarians in America, but same goes for the amount of crap that’s in our foods.

Take a peek at this trailer and I’d encourage you to rent it and then you can head over to their Food, Inc. website and take action. If it doesn’t open your eyes and change your habits, I’ll wave when I see you in the supermarket as you buy your big bag of Doritos and Jimmy Dean sausage for supper.

Best Buy & Radio Shack: Who Failed w/Twitter Support?

TWITTERBIRDEver since companies like Comcast used Twitter (e.g., @ComcastCares, see BusinessWeek article) for timely response to customer inquiries or issues — before those issues blew up and hurt their brand or as ways to build goodwill with the influencers and early adopters — other organizations looked to this effort and undoubtedly saw the benefits.

Best Buy rolled out something called “Twelpforce” as a way to leverage employee assistance with customer inquiries (see Techcrunch article). Unbeknownst to me, Radio Shack has done the same thing with “The_Shack“, a Twitter account clearly monitored for keywords as you ‘ll see in a moment.

I’ve been skeptical from the get-go on these efforts, since it’s extremely difficult to explain anything but the most basic questions when one has only 140 characters with which to ask it. Like instant messaging, frustration grows quickly when several messages have to go back-n-forth in order to clearly communicate the essence of the request, and this is the #1 reason I expect most Twitter “help” efforts (like Twelpforce and The_Shack) to fail unless steps are taken to move an initial query offline, or be able to add audio or video to the clarification.

On Friday I did a podcast recording with the Blue Mikey, a microphone that connects to the bottom of my iPhone and works great, but realized that my shotgun microphone at the office (with its 3.5mm plug) would’ve been 5x better with so many people standing in a circle as part of the podcast. While I completely understand separate microphone use in the headphone connector on the iPhone is not supported, several people have taken apart cables and created their own connector to allow the use of these 3rd party microphones.

So I went to Best Buy in Eden Prairie, MN to explain the need and see if they could help. Complete cluelessness and only one blueshirt had any interest in helping out. So I jumped in my car and started to head for home, but pulled over and did the audioBoo recording on my iPhone below. Lo-and-behold, Radio Shack’s The_Shack sent me an @ reply asking if they could help.

   Direct link to the mp3

So I thought I’d do an experiment: ask the same question to both Twelpforce and The_Shack and see how fast they respond AND to see who “gets” the essence of what I was asking for and exhibits a willingness to help. To say I was disappointed in one of them would be an understatement.

After the jump, you’ll see the chronology of how this went down and see who — Best Buy or Radio Shack — ultimately prevailed by at least giving me an accurate answer, though not a solution (which I’m still working on). It points out how and why Twitter help is fraught with issues and may very well cause more frustration and problems than it alleviates.  Read More

“God hit the reset button!”

god-reset-button“God hit the reset button!” a brand manager friend of mine exclaimed loudly as we talked last week about the economy, about how social media was disrupting “damn near” everything he knows how to do and is doing with brand marketing, and he’s struggling mightily with what to do next.

Fortunately for him, a guy that works for the Chief Marketing Officer at a Fortune 1000 company, he has access to big thinkers and thought leaders (and highly paid consultants along with attending key conferences that cost big bucks) but they’re still struggling with how to add value in a day when that is shifting, customer expectations have already shifted, and almost every former way of doing business needs to be freshened up a bit (or a lot!).

I immediately emailed him a link to this article at Strategy+Business, a magazine and website published by the global commercial consulting firm Booz & Company, called “The Trouble With Brands: Most consumer brands are not creating value. The exceptions share a set of “energized” attributes that companies can identify and exploit.

It starts off with this: “Many companies that produce goods and services for consumers face a serious dilemma — quite apart from the effects of the current global economic downturn. For at least the past five years, the tried-and-true formulas to boost the sales and market shares of brands have been becoming increasingly irrelevant and have been losing traction with consumers. Globally, the aggregate value of brands to consumers has been falling steadily, and this decline began well before the recent slump in stock prices.

Why is this happening? For the exact reasons that made my friend realize that someone hit the reset button and that we’ve all got to review, refresh and innovate around how we deliver value to those people we call customers.  Read More

Facts About The Digital Economy

Having information and facts at-your-fingertips about the internet and web is absolutely critical whether you’re a startup needing content for your pitch, a marketer needing to understand a 40,000 foot view of trends, a corporate user needing to understand mobile access to the ‘net or international usage, or if you’re just someone like me: an info-junkie who needs a constant data fix in order to constantly track what’s hot and what’s not.

This report is put out by the Progress and Freedom Foundation, an organization that is a “…market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. Its mission is to educate policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public about issues associated with technological change, based on a philosophy of limited government, free markets, and individual sovereignty.

PFF’s research combines academic analysis with a practical understanding of how public policy is made. Its senior fellows and other scholars are leading experts in their fields, with distinguished careers in government, business, academia and public policy. Its research is substantive, scholarly, and unbiased.

Covered in the report are these key areas:

  1. The Growth of the Internet
  2. The Hardware Sector
  3. The Communications Sector
  4. Digital Media
  5. Electronic Commerce
  6. Threats to the Digital Economy
  7. The Worldwide Digital Economy

One of the best parts are the active links in each chapter’s EndNotes which allow you to drill down into many areas covered within this report.

Here is the download page and a direct link (PDF).

DirecTV Will Get Their $280

Though I haven’t changed my position that Cancellation Fees Must Die, it was interesting to discover that DirecTV was/is monitoring social media for brand mentions, since someone from the DirecTV Office of the President left me a voicemail this morning due to yesterday’s post (and my Twitter mention).  I called “Veronica” back when I got back to my office 45 minutes ago.

It’s clear to me that I didn’t “follow their rules” and shame on me. Perhaps you think that I’m not justified in raining-on-DirecTV’s-parade with my rants — and I could probably get in to the inferior quality of their supplied DVR as another justification for my buying a DVR replacement at Best Buy — but suffice to say that due to a broken DirecTV DVR I had a choice: go to Best Buy and have DirecTV service back up-n-running within two hours, or what I now know “their rules” required. Those rules dictated that I contact them for a replacement DVR (and $5.99 per month in a service contract to “protect” their inferior product) while waiting what….3 days for the replacement to arrive by courier and thus be without service?

Since you and I “agree” to allow our conversations to be recorded (you’ll hear that boilerplate mention by DirecTV’s voice response system at the beginning of the recording below), so legally I can record it too and have done so in order to post it so you can hear the reason for their call (I edited out my phone/account number, the music, and got right to the interaction with Veronica).

The punchline? They’ve got me and one could argue that I don’t have a leg to stand on and — having run strategic alliances with a major software company where contracts are at the core and I read and understand every nuance — I should know better. You’d be right, but I’ll wager you don’t read Terms & Conditions of your satellite, cable, Google apps, Twitter and the hundreds of other Web apps you’ve signed up for, have you?

I’ll give them their $280 cancellation fee. But if the more than 40,000 views and pages of comments on this Target Trutech post (or searching on “Trutech” showing it as the #2 link in Google) is any indication of the attention this and yesterday’s post will surely receive, I’m going to guess DirecTV will find that being just a touch more reasonable with someone who’d been a customer for nine years might’ve been a wiser investment than a phone call of no value to either side, and the nickels-n-dimes they’ll get with their cancellation fee.

Cancellation Fees Must Die

After more than nine years and nearly $6,000 spent with DirecTV, I cancelled the service today since I’ve chosen another route for obtaining HD programming.

The problem is that more and more companies are making it very difficult to cancel (AOL and now Vonage are the best examples of creating barriers to cancellation by not answering the phone, putting you on hold forever, and other such goofy practices), and DirecTV has proven to be no exception.

One barrier to switching to a competitor is a practice, which I view as unethical and bordering on criminal, of putting in onerous terms and conditions that make it very difficult to cancel or make a switch by taking any change made during a contract, extending the term automatically, and applying cancellation fees if you choose to cancel. Most people make a change at some point during their time with a company and thus the unethical company can keep stringing people along indefinitely.

In addition to that, you and I have almost no recourse if we want to alter the contract before signing, negotiate or simply not pay these draconian fees. If we choose to tell them to go pound sand and withhold payment, they systemically say “F” you and turn you in for collection, eroding your credit rating.

Today’s DirecTV example is illustrative of this practice. Back in February, my DirecTV DVR went on the fritz and I went to Best Buy to replace it. Activating it at home later that evening, I was told that I’d wasted my money since they would’ve shipped out a replacement unit at no cost! We went ahead with setup, I returned the defective unit anyway and continued with service until today.

Turns out that the Best Buy receipt for that DVR had an agreement on it that said I was ‘leasing’ the DVR and was therefore signing up for a new two year agreement! Yeah I know, I should’ve just returned the one I bought after discovering they would’ve sent a free one or found another way, but I’ve got better things to do with my time than dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ with all of the crappy terms and conditions we’re all supposed to adhere to with services like this one (and T’s and C’s that say right in them that the company can change them without necessarily even notifying us! How’s THAT for a blank check?).

The DirecTV cancellation fee? $280. Think I’ll fight it? You bet your ass I will, and if things don’t work out with my other option, DirecTV will never, ever be considered as an option again and I would strongly caution you to take great care if you opt to use them.

UPDATE 12/17/08: Received call from DirecTV Office of the President. Post here.

Pinnacle TV for Mac: A Great Gift

In this down economy, people have been asking me (since I have a reputation as a gadget freak) what would be great gifts for this holiday season and would be ones with “a high geek factor and a low price.

The Flip Mino HD has been one I’ve recommended at $229 as has this Asus netbook at $329.

Usually I’ve rarely had good luck with low-end products that purport to do big things that more expensive gear performs, but the two above are exceptions to that rule.  So I was naturally skeptical when the box arrived for me to evaluate the $129 Pinnacle TV for Mac HD USB mini stick (more info on it here).

I opened it up, installed the software, and waited the 15 minutes or so that it took to seek out all the possible stations in my area the included antenna could pick up. To say that I was stunned, surprised and delighted when suddenly a gorgeous high definition TV station appeared on my Apple 24″ Cinema display, would be doing this little product a disservice!

Every available over-the-air station worked flawlessly and it was easy to switch back-n-forth between channels. As I fooled around with it and viewed some content, I realized how much I would’ve loved having this device when the debates were going on (too often I had stuff to do at my desk and could’ve had live TV running watching them, instead of having to record the first half and watch it later).

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