July 23, 2020

Ways Of Saying "No"

It was my first consulting project ... P1 ... I completed a multi-hour presentation showing the Executive Team how different brands were performing (they were performing poorly). I explained that there was a significant merchandising issue, I explained that the marketing team approached their craft like it was 1979, I explained how important customer acquisition was going to be going forward.

It wouldn't be the first time I'd give a presentation like this.

It wouldn't be the first time that almost everybody in the room would reject the message.

During a break I tried to find the EVP of Marketing. During my presentation I noticed that he was not paying attention ... at all. I found him, outside, in the designated smoking area. I didn't even have a chance to get the small talk going ... he took a puff of his cigarette, exhaled, and offered me his thoughts.
  • "I know why you're here. I'll make this easy for you. I'm not changing. My team is going to do what we've always done. And as for the rest of those people in that building (pointing to the building), they're not changing. Those brands are dying and the merchants don't care and the creative team is going to execute exactly the same way they've always executed and that's just that. You people come, and you people go. The brands and the core employees persist. I'm not hanging my employees out to dry to partake in the flavor of the day."
Later, the CEO would tell me that "these people won't do anything I tell them to do."

Good luck everybody!!!

Yesterday I talked about the pushback I get when I share my "Comp Segment" framework with people (click here). Some of you regaled me with stories of Executives who found interesting ways to say "no" regarding the methodology.

Thirteen years of going this work. Thirteen years of hearing "no".

There are perfectly valid reasons for hearing the word "no". My work might be inappropriate for a brand, not what the company needs at a point-in-time. My methodologies might not truly address what the "brand" is trying to address.

Then there are all of the other types of "no".

A popular version of "no" is "Deflection". 
  • "We're not going to do something because gosh isn't Amazon doing all sorts of interesting stuff? And what about Walmart? Who will win that battle? And I wouldn't rule out Target either, they're making inroads. I think it's a battle between those three. We're just the collateral damage associated with their war."
This is the "Woodside Research" crowd ... they will find many ways to tell you no while paying Woodside Research five figures to figure out how Amazon / Walmart / Target say "yes".

Another version of "no" is "Tribal Membership".
  • "Don't you get it? The world is headed in an omnichannel direction and if you don't create great experiences in retail you're dead. You just have to be great, you have to be seamless across channels, and the customer doesn't care about channels because to the customer it's just one brand."
  • "We aren't executing mail/holdout tests in catalog marketing because we'll lose sales. Besides, our favorite vendor told us that Amazon is going to do another catalog so we know catalogs are important to our future."
No amount of data will get this audience to convert. Take your comp segment analysis and throw it away. They have a hammer, and every problem to them looks like a nail.

A third version of "no" is "Passion".
  • "It can't be the merchandise, your analysis has to be wrong. We surveyed our customers and they love what we're selling. Marketing must be doing something wrong."
  • "Our marketing strategy is spot-on. Our paid social efforts create significant awareness opportunities. It's a shame the merchandise is so awful."
  • "I'm certified in data science and I can tell you that a comp segment analysis is an awful way to look at information. You are a simpleton."
These folks have a passion for their craft (merchandising, marketing, analytics) and they become unlikely to listen or think critically as a consequence. If you are certified in data science, then why the heck can't your methods detect a 20% drop in sales of new merchandise year-over-year? And if you're a great merchant, why did you author a strategy that resulted in a 20% drop in sales of new merchandise year-over-year? And if you are a great marketer, why aren't you trying to help your merchandising team sell the new merchandise by featuring it prominently in your campaigns?

Each version of "No" can be addressed.
  • Deflection:  I go right at the individual. What are "you" going to do to keep your brand alive? You're paid to keep your brand afloat, so I want to see what your specific marketing plan or merchandising plan is to grow. These individuals frequently author weak marketing plans and weak merchandising plans, and when the weak plans fail, they have somebody to blame (how can we compete against Amazon, it's their fault?!)
  • Tribal Membership:  This is the hardest one to argue against. Tribal Membership requires faith and belief. To move this person, you need to build a bridge from where the person is to where the person needs to be while not destroying the world where the person is. It's hard work. It will take time. But you can improve their business results!
  • Passion:  The easiest one to attack. And attack is the wrong word. You aren't attacking, you are trying to get somebody with a vested interest in maintaining current norms to change. There are plenty of merchandising success stories, go find them! There are tons of marketing successes, cheer 'em on!! Praise your analytics guru and encourage the guru to solve the problem you are trying to solve using the tools that the analytics guru cares about.
Have a plan. There are many ways that people will tell you "no". The response to "no" is more important than the change you are trying to enact.

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