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I'm a consultant and advisor  for social enterprises - using business to change the world.

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Fine Lines

Fine Lines

Following on from Awful Business Strategies, which covered areas that are never a good idea, I thought it was worth exploring those that are a little more intricate.

Some strategies are “Fine Lines”, where the difference between genius and disaster is a small and crucial detail.
These are often the source of cringeworthy mistakes – where you can see a person/company trying to replicate someone else’s success, but without the most important element.

For example, companies using memes in their marketing.
I can think of a handful of companies who have found a fantastic approach that’s genuinely funny.

Image: NSW Police Facebook
Image: NSW Police Facebook

Sadly, there are many more cases of brands who don’t “get it” and show up too late without understanding how the joke works.
These attempts are transparent and painful.

Image: reddit.com/r/fellowkids
Image: reddit.com/r/fellowkids

Here are some more examples of "Fine Lines":

Team Meetings
Meetings are hard to get right.
Too many and you get boredom and disengagement, too few and you get confusion.
However, a company with a great meeting structure is able to get more done, avoid disasters and keep their team enthusiastic.

The two vital components seem to be structure and trust.

As an example of a good structure, here’s one from The Table Group (Patrick Lencioni’s company), as outlined in their book Death By Meeting:

Image: The Table Group

This is a clever framework – a balance of daily updates to ensure everyone is on track, then periodic strategy sessions to talk about complex and important challenges/opportunities.

Clever as it is, it won’t work without mutual trust.
If everyone is defensive, the daily check-ins become standoff-ish and cold, with no useful collaboration.
People fight for their own agendas at the longer meetings, and disengage with any topics that aren’t immediately relevant to them.

An organisation with a good culture, shared mission and efficient meetings will be able to achieve incredible things.
Merely adopting part of the recipe won’t help, and will generally make things worse.

Pay Transparency

Pay Transparency
People are naturally curious about their pay, and are naturally disposed to want more.

This is partly caused by how our brains are wired; we are on a “Hedonic Treadmill” that makes us seek out the next big thing, then once we get it, becomes acclimatised and pushes us to get even more.
Some experts estimate a pay rise makes us happier for six weeks, after which our higher pay becomes “normal”.

This is further complicated by our tendency to compare ourselves against others, and generally no two employees are exactly the same.
It might be a difference in age, talent, experience, or even their ability to negotiate, but one way or another, someone is likely to feel short-changed.

Some companies run an open book system, where everyone knows exactly what each person gets paid.
When this works it’s brilliant, because it removes the mystery and mistrust.

It also requires everyone to value the contribution of their colleagues, or else there will be high eyebrows and internal resentment.

In my first week at B4D, they had everyone’s salaries up on a projector, to see how they affected the budget.
That’s how much they trusted each other (although recently our weekly cashflow meeting has focused on revenues rather than salaries).

You’ll hear stories about the benefits of open book management, but without trust and maturity it will become a source of constant tension.

Digital Marketing Mobile

Digital Marketing
I am fascinated by the rise of “Influencers” and the world of sponsored content.
Back in the day, we had clearer distinctions between ads and articles.
Adblockers changed the game, so marketers are now trying to camouflage their ads into pieces of “content”.

This is a mix of art and science – crafting something that is engaging, memorable and useful.
It has to be appealing enough for your audience to consume in full, that persuades them of your value proposition but doesn’t register as being a shameless ad.
As of 2017, most companies completely butcher it, and create awkward “Ad-icles” that are dull and desperate.

Your audience reads every post through the lens of “What’s in it for me?”
Therefore, your post needs to either:
·      Make them laugh
·      Teach them something
·      Inspire them to do something creative
·      Give them something worth sharing with their friends
And ultimately, it needs to then make them want to buy the product/service.

Digital marketing is wonderful because it is so trackable – we can see in real time how many people viewed, clicked and made a purchase.
That gives us the ability to test different approaches to boost the odds of a sale, and therefore create more effective posts in the future.

Instead we have companies who pay for sponsored content that is bland and forgettable, but “gets a few thousand likes”

If you pay for content that gets clicks but no sales, you’re throwing away your money.

Selling to people

Sales Persistence
In the article Awful Business Strategies, I mentioned the approach of repeatedly calling people in order to make more sales (Spoilers: I hate it).

Sadly, so many people get this approach wrong, because at first it looks like the brilliant strategy of building long-term relationships with prospective clients.

If you go to conferences or read sales books, you’ll become inspired to meet more people and have more conversations.
This requires the skill of discernment – to know if the person you’re talking to would benefit from what you’re selling.

If the answer is no, move on to someone else.
If the answer is yes, there’s another question: is this person likely to buy in the future?

There are a few ways of approaching this question.

Firstly, are they willing and able to pay?
If not, move on.
Secondly, what are their main objections?
It might be the price or the technical specifications, or they don’t see enough value in your product.
Thirdly, if you spend more time with them, can you overcome their objections?

If yes, then by all means play the long game.
If not, then why waste your time?

If you believe that your customer is both better off with your product, and that you can show them that their concerns are unfounded, then perseverance is great.
If not, then perseverance suddenly becomes incredibly damaging – either to your customer or to your schedule.

table tennis bat ball

“Fun” Workplaces
I’ve been in offices with ping pong tables that were great fun – it gave us a natural break every few hours to move around and talk to each other.
The table was $90 from Aldi and had an awkward crack down the centre that changed the direction of your shot, but it was wonderful.

I’ve also been in offices with Nintendo Wii’s that staff are too scared to use, lest they look like they’re not working hard enough.
This building was decked out with expensive “breakout areas” with fancy Eames chairs, which were never used.

We see examples of workplaces with perks and we want to emulate them ourselves.
The problem is that form follows function, not the other way around.

If people like their colleagues, they’ll naturally find ways of making the day fun (before we had the table tennis table, we used to talk about projects while throwing a ball made of paper and sticky tape).
If people dislike their colleagues, no gimmick will change that – trust needs to be fostered at a deeper level.

What do these all have in common?
The fact that throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it – it usually requires deliberate, careful attention.
Without trust in your team and a deep understanding of your audience, these great initiatives are guaranteed to fall flat.
There are no shortcuts, but if you get them right the payoff is huge.

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Awful Business Strategies

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