Two Sides of the Advocacy Debate

advocate

Advocacy:  The act or process of supporting a cause or proposal. —Merriam Webster Dictionary.  

The act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending.   —  Dictionary.com

My first career was in food and beverage, and it was tough.  A lot of work for not much income, at least back in the ’80’s.  The great thing about hard work, however, is that it usually nets the best life lessons.  The consequences of bad decisions are amplified when you have no money to start with, and the restaurant business is known for delicate profit margins. This is the premise for an unwritten rule that I’ve carried forward to today: If you’re not confident that you have the best food in the business, why in the world would you ask people to come to your restaurant?  Better yet, why even open one in the first place?  

There’s a running joke in the food and beverage world:  “Wanna know how to end up with a million dollars in the restaurant business?  Start with TWO million.”  Few owners run on tighter budgets and are more impacted by outside forces than restaurateurs.  The average profit margin of a successful restaurant is between 5% and 15%, but every day, managers are forced to deal with varying prices from their suppliers, customer counts, new competitors, and now, wage and salary challenges that all impact their bottom lines.  

The most valuable lesson gleaned from the restaurant experience is that people vote with their feet.  In other words, serve them a bad meal, fail to listen to their complaints and suggestions, or do just do some little thing they don’t like on any given day and they’re gone…FOREVER.  No goodbyes, no second chances, no nothing.  Just GONE.  Not only that, they tell their friends and relatives about  their miserable experience. Before the Internet, they could tell 10-20 in a week.  Today, one mouse click can reach 100-2000 people in a millisecond without anyone ever knowing what happened.   What used to be the cloud of dust from customers speeding out of the parking lot is now a vapor trail.      

Here’s the side of the advocacy debate that nobody seems to want to discuss:  A large number of organizations are still not willing to accept that change is no longer an option…it’s mandatory… yet influencers and other experts are trying to sell them on advocacy programs. On one hand, that’s fine:  Just do your competitors a favor:  Keep doing what you’ve always done and get it over with. Encourage everyone inside and outside the organization to spread the “word”, non-verbally…actions and processes speak the loudest…about how they aren’t aligned with customers’ preferences. Then the doors and windows can get boarded up faster to make room for others who DO pay attention. On the other hand, there are people who truly are passionate about their careers.  They want to invoke changes that build their brand’s reputation, even if it means doing it from the ground up because the organizational culture isn’t evolving as rapidly as their personal brand.

Perhaps the advocacy programs should be directed at individual change agents, no matter what their position or role.

Employee Turnover: Shut The Back Door

Shut The Back Door

There’s a lot of instability in the sales world right now. It’s clear from the tone of message boards, forums, e-mails, and business meetings that the ripples in the water are developing whitecaps. While all of the attention is on somehow innovating ways to continue building revenue, there’s an even bigger problem that will potentially cancel out a large number of marketing efforts designed to build brand trust: Employee turnover.

It’s not the 80’s anymore, folks. You can’t expect a terminated employee to remain quiet when you let them go for not meeting the quota you assigned them using your antiquated sales systems. It’s 2016, and they have networks, connections, friends and followers. People “like” them and their online communities reflect their shared, complementary world views. So what happens when they post on their timelines that they just got fired from the job they were enthusiastically posting about getting just two months ago?  It’s likely to be “Outrageous!”  Even more so are the numbers.

Let’s say you hire, train, and fire 5 people per year and each averages 200 close online contacts across all of their networks. That’s 1000 people per year that no longer hold you or your brand in high esteem: You fired their friend…You now suck.  Not only that, guilt by association concludes that your brand and everyone affiliated with your brand now sucks.  But wait…we’re STILL not done sucking:  The industry with which your brand is affiliated sucks, too.  “A thousand people in a one-rep market doesn’t make that much difference”, you say? What if you’re not the only brand OR industry representative in the market? What if there are 20? Or 200? As a group, you are burning through 1000 people per year.  Potentially 200,000 of the customers you intended to market your products and services think, you guessed it— that YOU suck. Does that get your attention or are you still not buying it? That’s what I thought.

Here’s what is baffling: Nearly every forum places the blame on the employee for their failure to produce!   “It’s that damn (fill-in-the-blank) generation! They just don’t want to work!” Heaven forbid anyone would entertain the possibility that the world around them is changing at the speed of light. I learned years ago that you have to provide employees all of the tools and training necessary for them to succeed or else they will fail. I also learned that you manage things, but you LEAD people.  How many true leaders seriously have NO contingency plan when all trends over the last decade have indicated major changes are on the horizon?  How is it in the realm of possibility that interrupting people’s lives to initiate a sale is going to work forever? Do DVR’s, disconnected land lines and DNS database usage stats not send a message to anyone else?

The internet’s inherent advantage is that customers can tell brands how they want to be served in real time. Unfortunately, it seems that very few are listening. Instead, enthusiastic people with unlimited potential are being turned off by legacy companies every day because the only tools they are trained to use are obsolete. There’s also a subliminal message being conveyed to great current and future customers: “This brand isn’t equipped to serve you on your terms.  You need to get online and build a relationship with one that’s looking to the future instead of living in the past.”

Even the best marketing strategists can’t dig themselves out of that hole.