September 10, 2009

Gliebers Dresses: Q&A With Meredith Thompson

We get a lot of questions, on Twitter, via comments on the blog, or via e-mail. So today we're going to do something different. We'll let the fictional Chief Merchandising Officer at Gliebers Dresses, Meredith Thompson, address real questions from real readers about our fictional case study.

Kevin: "Meredith, are you ready for a handful of questions from our audience?"

Meredith Thompson (Chief Merchandising Officer): "Absolutely!"

Kevin: "The first question comes from a reader on Twitter --- the individual wants to know if you want to punch Candi Layton in the face for not taking accountability for driving sales and profit via social media?"

Meredith Thompson: "Oh heavens no! We can agree to disagree. My problem isn't with Candi as a person, my problem is with social media as a marketing channel. It offends me that I have be held accountable for getting customers to buy something today --- if the customer doesn't buy my merchandise, I lose my job, and many employees in many departments lose jobs. Sarah Wheldon lost her job because she failed to use marketing channels to drive sales. But these social media people, they seem to have different rules. They get to have a job because of the profit I generate, then they suggest that they shouldn't be measured on the basis of sales and profit, they suggest that the sales and profit will appear in the future if they have honest conversations with customers and fans today. I have no interest in subsidizing extroverted conversations. It is Candi's job to be an advocate of her channel. But as a member of the Executive Team, it is her job to be accountable for generating sales and profit. So I want to know what the metrics are that help all of us quantify her impact on the company. I think that is a fair question. I have no interest in funding 'play time' for other employees."

Kevin: "We received many comments about who should be the next Chief Marketing Officer. The catalog audience is fervent about Stan Klepsky. What are your thoughts?"

Meredith Thompson: "I interviewed each candidate individually, and participated in each group interview. I'm not sure the right candidate exists. We need a person who knows something about catalog marketing, because that is our heritage, we'll destroy that channel if we hire a person with no catalog marketing experience. But by the same token, we need a person with a vision for how to use online and social media channels. And finally, we need a person who fits within our culture. Nobody ever talks about corporate culture. I can assure you that fitting in a corporate culture is more important than having the right skills. So I think that Pepper is the person who should become the Chief Marketing Officer. She has experience at a major competitor, she knows something about catalog marketing, and she knows our culture."

Kevin: "We received an e-mail from an individual who was 'broken hearted' when Sarah Wheldon was fired. How did you feel about that decision?"

Meredith Thompson: "I think 'broken hearted' is a reasonable way to describe how a lot of us felt. The hardest thing to acknowledge is that there is a need for a new set of skills. We don't need an online marketing expert, and we don't need a catalog marketing expert. We need something unique, and there aren't many people with the unique set of skills we need. It isn't like Sarah did anything wrong, it was her job to maximize catalog productivity, and then, oh, by the way, she is supposed to acquire true online marketing skills without the resources necessary to get them. I think we all miss her. I hate seeing all the people I used to work with being let go, one by one. We're running out of true 'catalogers' around here."

Kevin: "One of our readers asked me to ask you if it isn't your job, as Chief Marketing Officer, to tell the story of your brand?"

Meredith Thompson: "That's not easy to do. Pepper owns how the merchandise is presented. Pepper owns who receives catalog and e-mail campaigns. Pepper owns copy writing. So technically, no, I shouldn't own the story of the brand, technically, Pepper and Glenn own that story. That being said, if I ever got the opportunity, you better believe I'd be the one telling the story!"

Kevin: "One of our readers labeled the Executive team as being 'dumb and dysfunctional'. How would you respond to that statement?"

Meredith Thompson: "I'd take offense with that comment. I doubt that any person who ever worked on an Executive Team would say that. If any person could read the minutes from any Executive meeting at any company, I think they'd be stunned by what they would read. There are interpersonal dynamics that cannot be easily understood until you've worked with other powerful leaders. Roger thinks he can do marketing, even though that's not his job, so he's going to throw out a bunch of ideas, good and bad. Pepper thinks she can do social media, so she's going to question Candi. Candi thinks her audience has merchandising ideas, so she wants their ideas implemented. Lois is the CFO, so she micro-manages all of our activities in an effort to control expenses. Heck, I think I can do all of their jobs. All of us know that none of us can be CEO, so we have a different set of motivating factors --- at other companies, people are competing to be the next CEO, so they end up being a bit more 'politically correct', if you will. And if you don't agree with our behavior, go sit in the lunch room with our entry-level employees, and listen to what they talk about, all of the gossip and speculation and pontification. Odd things happen when diverse people interact."

Kevin: "Here's a self-serving question. One of our readers wants to know why Gliebers Dresses ignores so many of my recommendations?"

Meredith Thompson: "I don't think we ignore them. You're not always right, some of your ideas don't fit with the direction we want to take, sometimes we don't fully understand what you are recommending, and we sometimes make mistakes by not listening to your recommendations."

Kevin: "One of our readers wants to know why your business is fueled by gut instinct, opinion, and emotion, when it could be fueled by metrics and key performance indicators?"

Meredith Thompson: "Maybe the quickest route to obscurity is to run your business on the basis of metrics and key performance indicators. Metrics and key performance indicators have a place, don't get me wrong. I need to know if my return rate increases from 30% to 37%. I need to know if conversion rates dropped from 8% to 7%. But the fuel that drives a business is merchandise passion. None of the key performance metrics make any difference if I don't have a passion for creating compelling merchandise. I don't need Bow-Tie Guy to tell me that we have 4% fewer great customers, therefore, the potential of our business is not being met. I can look at the merchandise that is selling, and the merchandise that is not selling, and make my own decisions. When I make good decisions, we have an increase great customers. I drive the metrics, the metrics don't drive me."

Kevin: "I think the reader was wondering why, as an Executive team, decisions are sometimes based on irrational arguments rather than facts?"

Meredith Thompson: "Like having a loyalty program based on four or more dresses purchased in the past twelve months? I think every Executive wants to think that they have all the answers. Nobody wants to make decisions because some report tells you to make decisions, that's not fun. It is a complete adrenaline rush to take a shot, to develop a loyalty program with arbitrary criteria, and then to see it work! You're the reason it worked, you're accountable, you get recognized! Any trained monkey can read a report filled with metrics, and then do what the report tells you to do. You become an Executive by taking risks that turn out to be profitable."

Kevin: "This reader left a comment and said that 'Gliebers Dresses deserves to fail'. Does Gliebers Dresses deserve to fail?"

Meredith Thompson: "The customer will decide whether we deserve to fail. It is our job to do the best we can at Merchandising, Creative, Marketing, Operations, and Finance. After that, the customer decides. The easiest thing to do is to criticize a group of individuals when you are not part of that group of individuals. The hardest thing to do is to move a group of individuals with diverse job roles, experience levels, and differing motivations in a common and profitable direction."

Kevin: "Meredith, thank you for taking the time to chat with our readers."

Meredith Thompson: "Kevin, thank you!"

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