They had a model

Consultants (pre-COVID) get to see a lot of corporate offices. The legendary Don Libey always said that you could judge a company by how well they maintained the bathroom. I’d argue you can judge a company by what the lobby looks like.

On one visit, the lobby looked awful. Worn out. Tired. A sixty-five year old woman named Paulette (not her name) guarded the company secrets from outsiders. Like at many companies, she determined who got in, and who wasn’t so lucky. Though the lobby was worn out, it was littered with beautiful catalogs. Current catalogs, older catalogs. Pictures of catalogs from the 1990s on the wall. J. Peterman would have been proud. Clearly the company cared more about catalogs than infrastructure.

The infrastructure issue became obvious once Paulette gave me a laminated photo ID and allowed me to enter the building. It wasn’t only the lobby that was run down. The merchandise was run down. Creative was run down. Everything was just laying in ruins. A consultant is hired to solve a specific problem, and the problem I was hired to solve wouldn’t make a dent in the core issue. This company had a Customer Development problem, but the problem wasn’t the problem the company thought it was.

I interviewed the marketing executive, the CEO, and the lead merchant.

All three told me something interesting. All three told me that they had an analyst, and the analyst created a “model”, a model to determine who would receive the catalogs. They were all thrilled that this “model” would solve their business woes.

You can only imagine how wounded these professionals were when I told them that the “model” was irrelevant.

You can only imagine how wounded these professionals were when I sat down with the analyst and realized that the analyst didn’t understand the very business he was “modeling”. Why should he understand the business? Absolutely nobody was mentoring him, and quite honestly, he was too pigheaded to accept mentorship if offered.

Creative was broken.

Merchandise was broken.

The lobby was broken.

With so much broken, Leadership put their faith in an analyst who built a “model” to select customers for catalog mailings.

Customer Development is an integrated process. You need great merchandise. You need great creative. You need brilliant marketing. You need an operations team that is second to none. You need talent recruitment. You need employee development. You need to pay some people money.

What you don’t need are AI or Machine Learning or a “model”. Will that help? Of course. But you’re looking at a small gain. And you haven’t fixed anything.

The best Customer Development companies fix things. They fix run down lobbies. They fix merchandising issues. They fix creative issues. They get you your merchandise in two days. They do all of the little things.

by Kevin Hillstrom, Mine That Data

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