Last time I shared some of Ford Motor Company’s history in making comebacks. Then just a few days ago, business news sources announced Ford as beating analyst estimates and turning a profit for the recent quarter — its first in five quarters. Ford, by the way is the single U.S. automaker to neither accept a bailout nor declare bankruptcy.
Central to the story of Ford’s current comeback is CEO Alan Mulally, who brought a unique perspective from his prior life of leading Boeing. A Fortune article by Alex Taylor III (5/25/09), gives a glimpse of Mulally methods he has geared to steer the business back to profitability.
"I live for Thursday mornings at 8 a.m.," says Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally Thursdays at eight is when Alan meets with his direct reports from Ford’s four profit centers and 12 functional areas in the Thunderbird conference room at the Ford headquarters. The team sits "around a circular dark-wood table" with Alan in the "pilot’s seat." Blackberries aren’t allowed and neither are side conversations.
"If somebody starts to talk or they don’t respect each other, the meeting just stops," says Alan. "They know I’ve removed vice presidents because they couldn’t stop talking because they thought they were so damn important." Instead the team presents reports coded as either "green for good, yellow for caution, red for problems."
The first few times Alan held these meetings everybody coded their reports "green," but Alan fixed that in a hurry. He said: "You guys, you know we lost a few billion dollars last year. Is there anything that’s not going well?" One brave executive admitted being behind schedule due to unexpected obstacles and that opened the floodgates. Within a week, says Alan, "the entire set of charts were all rainbows." Ford’s ability to sustain progress remains to be seen, of course. But Alan sounds resolute: "I am here to save an American and global icon," he says. His secret is, there are no secrets. "This is a huge enterprise, and the magic is, everybody knows the plan," he says.
Leadership lessons I take from this are: 1. Convince managers to be transparent about real issues faced; enable them by a non-judgemental atmosphere 2. Get past "feel-good" progress reporting to collaborative problem-solving among peers. 3. Over-communicate the ultimate goals and what needs to be done, with some passion.
I just learned of one drug dealer’s strategies for gaining loyalty among her accounts. Before you get all suspicious and self-righteous about my use of recreational drugs, this is an above board drug dealer, a pharmacist. In fact, she is the wife of one of my friends and colleagues and I have known and respected her for many years. She manages a pharmacy in a large, local grocery store.
Let’s call our pharmacist “Chris” to protect the innocent. OK, her name really is Chris, I just always wanted to say the “protect the innocent” thing.
Chris has managed to build a loyal following among a large number of customers. Not only are they loyal to her pharmacy (even when they could get their medicine cheaper from larger chains), they only want to deal with her! That’s the kind of emotional attachment we want all our customers to have. So how does she do it?
She goes out of her way to help her customers. That’s it. Nothing elaborate or complicated. She helps them. Chris often uses her lunch break to deliver prescriptions to elderly or sick patients that can’t make it in to pick them up. When was the last time a pharmacist helped you like that? How would you feel if one did?
Surprise your customers with exceptional and unexpected efforts to help them. The payoff will be tremendous. You’ll probably feel pretty good about it too.
Walker recently collected feedback from the end users of our products and services. This year, among other things, we asked each person, "What social media tools do you use for business purposes?" Below are the results from three key audiences: 1) total, which includes all participants and consists of over 500 responses, 2) 99 account management professionals, and 3) 200 sales and business development professionals. Here are a few things that stand out:
First, I am surprised that less than 50% of sales and account management professionals use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a valuable tool for making new business connections and is helpful for tracking existing relationships. In today’s uncertain business environment where people are changing jobs and shifting roles due to organizational changes, LinkedIn is helping people stay connected.
Among the different groups that participated in this survey, sales professionals had the largest number of ‘Other’ mentions. When looking further into the ‘Other’ results, I noticed many comments saying, "I don’t use social media tools." One comment stands out, "Face-to-face communication, which is the best in the world!" I have to say that I agree with this statement, but it isn’t a one or another sort of thing. We must use all of the tools (particularly the ones our customers use) to build and strengthen our customer relationships, both in-person and virtually.
Lastly, I look forward to seeing how things change over the next several years. There is no doubt that small businesses are using these tools to connect and tell their story with potential and existing customers. While the application for large multi-national sales organizations will likely morph into something different, I think it is safe to assume that the results for this question will be significantly different one, two, and three years from now.
Those are a few things that stand out for me. What about you?
Clarity is a simple word, but it has a profound meaning. Dictionary.com defines clarity as clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.
The big question: Are you creating clarity in your customer listening program?
Ambiguity is the enemy. Do your coworkers have a clear understanding of what your program is or does? If people don’t understand it, how can they know the true value? For your organization to get the most out of the customer perspective you have to cut through the clutter. A good way to do this is to create new and interesting ways to promote your program. In essence, you need to market being customer centric to your organization.
To get the good ideas flowing, find a few creative people and start brainstorming. Discuss possible campaigns and develop a strategy for promotion. The key is to create a campaign that is fun and exciting but doesn’t lose the clarity of your message.
Take a look at what Blendtec did to promote their blenders. It is funny, but it shows the durability and power of their product. Are there ways you can get your organization excited and ready to use your customer loyalty programs?