When I get busy, I find it hard to focus on one topic in my Best Practices column. This is one of those months when I have too many thoughts and they all want to be heard but the one that keeps bubbling to the top is the Blame Game. Here are a few of my most recent rants and hopefully some sane advice to go with them.
Don’t Blame The Customer
Customers often appear to be looking for the best price. When that happens, don’t blame the customer for being cheap. Ask yourself what you need to do better to change the conversation. Buyers become price shoppers when they run out of things to consider. If your best defense is claiming to have great customer service and the latest gear – or, that you care a lot, really a lot – who can blame the customer for shopping on price? Everyone has great people, gear, and cares. Apparently that isn’t enough.
What customers want from a technology supplier is #1 Reliability, #2 A decent person-to-person relationship, #3 A consistent company-company relationship, and eventually price comes into play. If you are having a conversation about price then you and your company have failed in providing #1-3. That’s not the customer’s fault. You can’t prove your reliability without the customer experiencing it. You can’t develop a relationship if your goal is getting the next transaction. The things you want most as a seller: first call, a chance to make a profit, and the opportunity to shine at what you do – these things are all earned.
What to do? Blaming the Customer is a sign of dysfunctional sales practices. Eliminate the “We want to be your number one supplier” rhetoric from your sales pitch. It’s presumptuous. Never discuss your need for profit in customer-facing contact. Let them wonder how you make money. Finally, be easier to do business with. Most customers don’t care how you do things internally unless it makes your proposals or contracts cumbersome. And when the customer rejects your efforts, take that as an invitation to improve.
Don’t Blame the Competition
If you believe the competition is what’s hurting your sales and profits, that is one indication that you are part of the problem. I hear complaints all the time about competitors “low-balling” jobs, undercutting the price, or generally being super-competitive. When I ask the complainers if they want to be the low price provider – the answer is ALWAYS “No, we never want to be the low price.” This is ironic, because shouldn’t you be thanking your competitors for taking that problem off your hands?
Cultures that blame the competition rarely look at themselves as part of the problem. Throwing blame around just take focus away from the real issues. Instead of blaming – why not learn why customers choose your competitor? I think you would find two primary reasons: one, it was all about price, or two, they do a better job. If was all about price, then you should then consider that given the quality of your work the other company’s price was more attractive. Either the buyer wasn’t looking for your high standards or perhaps your standards aren’t as high as you think they are.
Blaming the Competition is a sign of dysfunctional operational processes. The constraints of “how you do things” is getting in the way of meeting your customer’s needs. This could include pricing constraints that your arbitrary pricing policies or job costing exercises force upon projects. The solution is to learn what things are worth and eliminate operational steps that do not add any value to the job. This would be a good time for you to learn about Lean Processes or Continual Process Improvement practices.
Don’t Blame the Employees
I work with a lot of companies and thousands of employees. In my practice I have encountered very few examples of employees that were truly inept or ill-intended. I find incompetent and culpable managers and owners all the time. I find employees in the wrong job or executing impractical or broken processes, which is a management problem.
Employees do their best work when they feel appreciated, like the folks they work with, feel like they are making a contribution, and feel secure in their jobs. Good employees leave their jobs if they don’t have enough of these simple requirements. Management is directly responsible for three of four of these conditions and partially responsible for one. Notice that compensation doesn’t make the list. When an employee complains about compensation, they are just like the customer that shops on price. Someone needs to do a better job of helping that employee or customer feel like their needs are being met – otherwise it will all come down to money.
Blaming employees is a sign of BAD management and dysfunctional priorities. Generally I find that bad managers focus on how employees do things rather than the end result. When specific process practices matter, employees should follow them. However, not all processes exist for the betterment of the end result. Listen to your employees. They are not always right about the solution, but they are pretty darn accurate about what the problem is.
PS- When the word “Accountability” comes up, as in “How do we hold people more accountable?” then I know I am dealing with a MANAGEMENT problem. Give me a call. I can help.