December 25, 2006

Don Libey: Futures And Presents

Don Libey of Libey Incorporated, offers us this Boxing Day discussion titled 'Futures And Presents' to the readers of The MineThatData Blog.


If the present is any indicator, the future needs to be reconsidered.


The consulting year 2006 is over. I had the privilege of advising and consulting with 35 companies this year, almost all of that work at the request of the CEO or the board.

In only one of those 35 companies, was the consulting engagement focused on the future. In the other 34, it was remedial work; analyzing and advising how to fix what was wrong. In the one exceptional company, the question was, “How do we leverage all the things we are doing right and grow the company to a billion dollars?” That was a remarkable experience. That is a remarkable company.

Yesterday, after reviewing the year and the final assignment before getting ready for an extended trip to Sonoma and Napa and the splendors of the vineyards for Christmas, I emailed a trusted colleague and asked, “Why is it we see so much under performance by so many major direct marketers in so many sectors of business-to-business?” The paraphrased response was, “I don’t know. It has always been like this. And there is so much opportunity everywhere.”

So, why are so many direct marketing companies performing at half of their potential? And why are only a handful performing at or above their potential? What makes the difference?

The first thing I see is passion. Top performers have a passion for what they do that most of us only dream about. These people love business and they love their business. In one way, they are truly fortunate. Passion of that kind is rare, and very successful people invariably possess it to extremes. In another way, they are cursed. They can never get away from that passion and their lives are shaped by it almost totally and almost constantly. I always ask these passionate, extraordinary people, “What do you read?” The answer has always been, “Peter Drucker’s books,” or “Jack Trout,” or some other business titan. It has never been Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy or John Steinbeck.

Because passionate business owners and leaders are mono-focused on the business, they often re-invent themselves and the business to assure they remain at the leading edges. Others (the 34 others) enjoy the familiar groove, the familiar niche, the same familiar SICs. They maintain the past and the present; the passionate ones create the future. And that is the difference: maintain or create.

The second thing I see is the use of money. The passionate creators spend money; the maintainers take the money out of the business and make it earn every step of its undistinguished way. All investment has to be ‘self-funding.’ The exceptional business knows the value of talent, technology, facilities, investment prospecting, advanced logistics, integrated enterprise operating systems. The unexceptional companies have only enough talent, technology, facilities, prospecting, logistics, and operating systems to get by without having to invest anything in the future. Consequently, they often don’t have one.

The third thing I see is ideas. The exceptional owners surround themselves with more ideas than they can ever accomplish. But, they have options. The average company spends a lot of time pushing ideas away, mostly because they require investment, but also because they might be dangerous, especially if they aren’t the owner’s idea. All of the original ideas are monopolized in the marketplace by the exceptional companies; the average companies haven’t had an original idea since the first one that got them their niche.

The fourth thing I see is people. The extraordinary company has extraordinary people and all of them are also passionate. The average company has average people and none of them are passionate. Extraordinary attracts extraordinary; average attracts average. And when average companies inadvertently attract an extraordinary person, the result is painful and short-lived (and the extraordinary person moves on).

The fifth thing I see is attention to basics. While leading in innovation, technology and ideas, the extraordinary company is also totally grounded in and proficient with all the direct marketing basics. They know the numbers off the top of their heads—and they are accurate numbers—to the penny and the percent. The average companies are struggling to cover or discover the basics. They are employing entry-level people to manage the circulation plan because they are cheaper and—after all—all you have to do is tell Abacus what it is you want and they do everything. The extraordinary company is running circles around its competitors in every channel because they have a seasoned, confident and proven circulation pro working with a seasoned, confident and proven broker and everybody’s feet are held to the fire for performance and productivity. And the extraordinary company doesn’t ask for a discount; in fact, they often pay their broker a higher commission for delivering higher prospecting performance.

The sixth thing I see is elegance. The extraordinary company has an elegance of mind as well as an elegance of style. The owner wears custom made or designer clothing and has a custom analytic and perceptive mind. The restrooms and the minds are well-decorated and fully furnished, one with choices of soaps and linen towels, the other with concepts and open-minded reasoning. The warehouse and the personality are neat, orderly, clean, automated and totally organized. These people are their business; the business mirrors the person. And the management team in these extraordinary companies lives that elegance. The average company is—well—average. Things are a little dusty, a bit wrinkled.

The seventh thing I see is boldness. The extraordinary companies are fearless; the average companies are fearful. One attacks the future; one defends the past. One is comfortable with challenge and the unknown; one is comfortable with only the known and what once worked. One leads; one follows. One takes risks; one is riskless.

The eighth thing I see is inclusion. The extraordinary company includes all of their trusted advisors in their research and decision-making processes. The conference room for a strategy session may have 10 or 15 vendors, suppliers, consultants, all charged with the objective, “Help us leverage what we do well to become a $1 billion company.” And every one of these Trusted Advisors wants to be innovative, wants to find a breakthrough, wants to create, wants to uncover a hidden opportunity. The average company doesn’t trust its vendors; bends them for another 2 percent; spreads the business among as many as possible to assure the lowest possible price, and often lays failure at the feet of the vendor. One is inclusive and thrives on the combined intellect of many; one excludes and wastes away on the squandering of intellectual opportunities.

The ninth thing I see is rule breaking. The extraordinary companies do almost everything differently than they should; they disregard what should be for what is. While attending to the direct marketing basics and truth, they also only believe what the customer tells them. And if what the customer wants requires breaking direct marketing conventional wisdom—out goes the conventional wisdom! The average company plays by the rules, takes no chances, hasn’t talked—really talked—to a customer in years. Chiseled above the door is the time-worn motto: Status Quo.

The tenth thing I see is questioning. The extraordinary owner or leader questions everyone they come into contact with. These are not accuracy questions, rather questions about what is new, how others are changing pagination, what landing pages are working, whether video is getting prospecting response in search hits, how much fall off in pay per click there was in October, whether long term response is eroding in co-ops . . . and a thousand questions aimed at people with knowledge that can be utilized. The average company asks few questions and—frankly—usually doesn’t know what questions to ask.

And, I guess that is what I see after the 2006 consulting season. I wonder what we will see next year? Imagine . . . . What if we waved a magic wand and gave every average direct marketing company the ten attributes of an extraordinary company?

Wow!

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