Friday, May 27, 2011

Are you undermanaged? If the answer is yes, what can you do about it?

Internationally-recognized management trainer and seminar speaker Bruce Tulgan brings the term “undermanaged” to life in his best-selling book, It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss, The Step-by-Step Program for Making the Best of Your Most Important Relationship at Work. He defines undermanagement as “a shocking and profound epidemic that has permeated the workplace. As the opposite of micromanagement, it occurs when the vast majority of supervisory relationships between employees and their bosses lack the day-to-day engagement necessary to consistently maintain the basics of management,” which can be described as stating clear expectations, providing necessary resources, developing a routine of performance tracking, and rewarding employees when results are achieved and exceeded.

You may wonder, what creates a workplace environment where undermanagement can grow and fester? Unfortunately, there are too many people in the workplace with the title of “manager” who lack the training, knowledge, or expertise to be effective managers. As a result, these individuals fail to spell out expectations to their employees – which leads to incomplete projects followed by increased frustration levels in employees who eventually mentally check out of their jobs or quit.

Tulgan believes that the “pendulum of management thinking” is wrong and can be blamed for creating today’s undermanaged workplace. Employers are getting more and more demanding while providing less and less guidance. While employers want employees to work on their own and make their own decisions, the truth is, someone has to be held accountable. But it just doesn’t make good business sense for employees to work in their own vacuums or silos. Instead, employees need to be held accountable, and this is where “the boss – at every level – is the most important person in the workplace today.”

Here are Tulgan’s seven steps to manage your boss:

[1] The first person you have to manage every day is yourself
[2] Get in the habit of managing your boss every day
[3] Take it one boss at a time, one day at a time
[4] Make sure you understand what is expected of you
[5] Assess and plan for the resources you need
[6] Track your performance in writing every step of the way
[7] To earn greater credit and rewards, go the extra mile

While you may not be able to completely wipe out undermanagement, you may be able to improve your situation by managing your boss, which will allow you to have a long and satisfying career in your current workplace!

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

What have we learned from Aflac?

After thousands of people auditioned for the voice of the Aflac duck, Dan McKeague from Hugo, Minnesota, was chosen. Congratulations, Dan, and happy quacking. We have already heard his voice and seen one commercial, but what have we learned from Aflac’s marketing campaign?

First, social media and its incredible reach were at the core. Perhaps, no social media policy existed for Aflac employees, or the previous voice-over celebrity thought he didn’t have to abide by the policy. Also, who was Aflac’s social media watchdog, translation, who was tasked with the responsibility of monitoring comments shared on social media sites on behalf of Aflac or Aflac representatives? It is crucial to remember that, even if social media activities are outsourced, there must be a watchdog within a company to oversee all social media commentary.

Second, how did social media integrate with all other elements of Aflac’s marketing? Existing and prospective customers see ducks on the company’s collateral, as plush representative give-aways of the brand, and as part of television and print ads. But does the person behind the voice actually connect with these other elements? Perhaps, the new voice can be better integrated so that the quintessential quack becomes an embodiment of all marketing outreach.

And third, exposure is the name of the game, but only as long as it is handled well. This situation could easily have become the PR nightmare of the decade, but instead, it evolved into an activity featuring thousands of participants and enthusiastically watched by the insurance industry as well as the mainstream media – which generated a ton of publicity for Aflac. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the duck’s character is entertaining and charming.

So, what did you learn from this social media event, the ensuing campaign, and how Aflac handled the situation that you can apply to your business?

Click this link to watch the clever introduction of Aflac's new voice:

Friday, May 13, 2011

How does your company think outside the box?

Does your company think outside the box? While I agree that the term “outside the box” is one of the most over-used expressions in the marketing world, there is much to gain by considering new ways to do business. How many of us would still depend on landlines if the technology world, and especially Steve Jobs, hadn’t thought outside the box to create the iPhone? There is no doubt that the smartphone industry would not be as evolved or competitive as it is today.

Consider how Kimberly-Clark thought outside the box (no pun intended). The Kleenex brand of tissues has become such a common household product that we have replaced it with the name of the brand. How many of us sneeze and just ask for a Kleenex?

Over the last couple of years, the Kleenex brand has made significant changes from the standard packaging that we associate with tissues and introduced seasonal products to their product line. During the spring, triangle-shaped boxes appeared in stores featuring oranges, limes, and watermelons – with the hope that these boxes would appear on picnic tables alongside real fruit. While the boxes were a different shape, they immediately appealed to female shoppers who appreciated the new approach to a typical everyday item.

Then, to celebrate the holiday season and family celebrations, four new boxes appeared in the same triangle shape and featured red velvet cake, chocolate cake, chocolate-covered strawberries, and cherry pie. As a result of the long hours that the designer spent baking, these boxes could have been placed on any dining room table alongside the most delicious of desserts.

While considered a novelty item with a slightly higher price and smaller quantity than most other tissue boxes, these unique boxes made a statement – and don’t all brands make statements? Why do people wear shirts with the Nike swoosh? Why do people drink Coca-Cola from that unique bottle? Why do people choose to fly a specific airline or drive a specific car?

So, how does your company think outside the box to improve your product or service and re-engage your customers?

To read more about these unique designs:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Importance of Customer Service

Think about some famous brands. If a company is well-known, it is most likely known for a product or service AND excellent customer service. Some examples are Southwest Airlines and Zappos. If you think these companies sell air travel and shoes, you would be incorrect. These two companies provide customer service first and foremost – and just happen to be in the air travel and shoe industries.

From Southwest’s earliest days, it prided itself on providing a fun and festive atmosphere for customers – getting them from point A to point B at a low cost without any frills. And ever since Zappos began, its employees have thrived in a culture where they are determined to find a product for a customer – even if Zappos doesn't sell it – with the goal of creating a long-term relationship with a customer who will return to Zappos again and again. Think about your company, does it provide service that makes customers want to be repeat customers?

Customer crusader and “customer experience expert” Jeanne Bliss began her career as a customer service pioneer at the direct mail innovator Lands’ End. She then served as chief customer executive for Coldwell Banker, Allstate, Microsoft, and Mazda. As a result of her experiences, she realized that satisfied customers can promote a company even better than the company can – all you, as a company, must do is create customers who love you. In her book, I Love You More Than My Dog – Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad, Bliss provides examples that showcase how very successful companies either teach their employees to provide service and/or provide their employees with the resources or authority to create happy, satisfied, and repeat customers. The result is admirable: these companies have customers who love them and tell everyone. In today’s social media era, every company should want this type of customer.

In Bliss’ book, she shared an incredible story about how Gary Comer, the founder of Lands’ End, thanked his employees. In 1989, he built a state-of-the-art gym for his employees and unveiled the building to the employees. Once all employees had assembled near the pool, he asked them to look at the tiled wall near the pool: the names of all employees had been added to the wall.

How many companies show their gratitude for their employees in such a visible manner? Moreover, how many companies truly realize that, in order to create satisfied customers, they must create satisfied employees first? In Jeanne’s words, “If you ask 10 people in your company what your purpose is, how many answers would you receive? [And] are you [hiring] employees who are capable of delivering on your purpose?”

Beloved companies share a set of five characteristics that determine how they operate:

  • They decide to believe.
  • They decide with clarity of purpose.
  • They decide to be there.
  • They decide to be real.
  • They decide to say sorry.

So, is your company beloved? Take Jeanne Bliss’ quiz. Your answers will determine the changes you need to make in order to “become a beloved and prosperous company.”

[1] Do your customers talk about your belief in them?

[2] Do your customers give you referrals?

[3] Do your customers want you in their lives?

[4] Do your customers grow your business for you?

[5] Do your customers say they love you?

[6] Do your employees feel treated like partners?

[7] Do your employees know you believe in them?

[8] Do your employees have a seat at the table?

[9] Do your employees become part of the story of your business?

[10] Do your employees have permission to impact customers’ lives?

If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need. ~ Herb Kelleher, founder, Southwest Airlines

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Next Generation of Sales and Marketing – Are You Ready?


That’s right, you read the title correctly. There has been so much angst between sales and marketing departments in all industries for so long that something has to shake up the “us vs. them” mindset. Despite some different skill sets and perspectives of professionals who represent the sales and marketing function areas, their objectives are the same: increase revenues, satisfy customers, and attract new customers. Therefore, to create a more successful working relationship between sales and marketing professionals, let’s change the names to protect the guilty.

My idea to change the department names of sales and marketing is due to the surge in small business growth. With limited resources, people have to wear many hats, serve in many roles, and be total solutions providers – all as one person. Without a doubt, this aim becomes challenging, and the question becomes, is it really possible to be everyone to a customer or prospective customer?

Consider if marketing were known as the Amazement Department, the Engagement Department, the Customer Department, the Service Department, the Discussion Department, or the Exceeding Expectations Department. All of these words represent positive energy, which, at the end of the day, is an important objective of the marketing function.

You want your customers to think of your company first when they need or want your product or service – not your competition. You want to engage your customers – on the phone, on feedback cards, on your website, on social media sites, and at events. You want your customers to know you think of them first and foremost – and that you serve them. You also want your customers to know that you value your data and will protect it – but that customer discussions and interactions provide critical insights for the future growth of your business.

Lastly, since you aim to exceed your customers’ and prospective customers’ expectations all the time, it is important that they know their interests are critical to the way the company shapes policies, procedures, R&D, and strategic plans.

Now, what about sales? Let’s hear from Mike Kunkle from Dallas, Texas. Mike is a sales training and sales effectiveness executive with expertise in performance lever analysis and leading sales performance improvement projects. Through that work, and over the past 20+ years, Mike has delivered millions of dollars of ROI to employers, so he is just the person to chime in about re-naming the sales function.


Generally, I am much more focused on nuts and bolts success factors that drive organizational performance improvement, so when considering how I might rebrand the Sales function, it took awhile to get started.

At first, I asked myself, “What’s wrong with ‘Sales?’” Everybody knows what it means. It’s been around a long time. Then I considered “the brand.” What does “Sales” mean to most people?

Rut-roh. Well, at that point, the flood of stereotypes started. Hey, I know, they’re unfair and not widespread today, especially in our sophisticated and evolving world of B2B sales (and hopefully, steadily decreasing in our B2C world too). But they still exist, and monthly, I still get emails or calls from reps who have no business calling themselves “sales professionals.” For years, I have been a vocal advocate that we must elevate the sales profession through question-based, solution-oriented, consultative selling practices.

So, with that in mind, I jotted down:

  • Solution Catalyst Department
  • Situation Improvement Architects
  • Client Performance Partners

I felt like those got the point across, to some degree, but they still sounded like corporate-speak to me. So I mulled it over some more and wrote down:

  • Needs Fulfillment Team
  • Product & Service Education
  • Solution Orchestration

Still tripping over my tongue a bit, I kept going with:

  • Solution Provider Team

And then, perhaps my favorite combo:

  • Customer Solution Design (Marketing)
  • Customer Solution Development (Sales)
  • Customer Solution Delivery (for implementation teams or Customer Service)
…which were my favorites for fostering a sense of cooperation internally, so the functions can partner toward providing solutions to their joint external customers, while also sending the right message to customers.

What do you think? What are your favorites? Which make you laugh? What combos are best for Marketing and Sales, to send the right message?

We invite you to chime in and let us know what you think.


Serious about his career and life’s work, but little else, Mike describes himself with a grin as a “sales performance geek.” Pressed for more detail, he adds, “Put a middle-aged, balding guy with glasses and a goatee in a blender with 20+ years of training industry experience, add a healthy dose of sales effectiveness, leadership development, process improvement and performance consulting expertise, then sprinkle in 3 step kids, 2 cats, an unruly Dachshund, a patient wife, Internet research, social media, and a Venti Starbucks with room for cream, and you get me.”

Mike’s unique approach to aligning performance levers and implementing sales best practices has enabled him to deliver breakthrough sales performance and radically improve business results, whether in entrepreneurial start-ups, private mid-cap firms, or Fortune 25 corporations. He’s led sales training for organizations like Household Finance, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Alexander Hamilton Life, and NovaStar Financial, and also led his own consulting company. Today, Mike is the Director of Sales Effectiveness for Insphere Insurance Solutions.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Upset Customers Can Become Your BEST Customers – A Primer for Great Customer Service

Customer service experts Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest have written an excellent guidebook to improve your customer service. Well, maybe, “improve” is not the correct verb. Maybe, the visual should be “hit a home run” with your customer service. In Who’s Your Gladys, How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer Into Your Biggest Fan, ten companies are featured alongside numerous situations that present opportunities for better customer service.

Readers are presented with practical points, lessons learned, and recap questions and answers for each chapter – there are even empty spaces in the book for the reader to write his or her comments. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to hit a home run with his or her company’s customer service.

From the first two pages in the foreword by Stewart Emery, author of Success Built to Last, two points became clear. The first was a question that would remain throughout the book: “Do your customers care if you live or die? You definitely want that answer to be yes.” The second was the concept that tomorrow’s CEO may really be a Chief Experience Officer – and despite how technology evolves, people will still value the businesses that understand, value, and provide excellent customer service.

Each chapter presented a myriad of service lessons. How would your company’s marketing, sales, or customer service department answer my favorite questions?

  • How do you handle an abrasive customer who pushes all your buttons?
  • What is the best approach to dealing with unusual customer requests?
  • Why is it important to create experiences that delight and amaze customers?
  • Why is it important to be consistent in the way you present your services?
  • Why should you learn about your customers’ unique preferences?
  • What is the best way to communicate with customers during a crisis?
  • What’s the most important thing to remember about your loyal customers?
  • How do you motivate employees to provide service excellence?

An interesting aspect of the interview process for Singapore Airlines was shared in the chapter entitled, “The Tea Service Tells the Story.” A group of potential hires was led into a conference room and asked to wait – hiring managers watched from an adjoining room through one-way glass. In the conference room, chairs were placed against the walls, but there was a table in the middle of the room with a tea pot and cups. The hiring managers wanted to see who would start conversations and serve tea to others, because those were the people who demonstrated a commitment to service that Singapore Airlines expects of its employees.

There were extra resources at the end of the book, but the best was a complete list of Practical Points, also available at

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