Some time ago I was contracted to assist a company in creating a strategy that would help them improve the acquisition rate of those who visited their website. A simple task after almost 20 years of executing strategies for clients who were interested in selling more products, to more people, more often, for more money.
Nonetheless, I ventured into this new project the way I would venture into all of my projects; with the goal of increased revenue in mind. I spent 6 weeks analyzing visitor behavior across the client company’s website. I analyzed bounce patterns and built persona’s from their best customers to start their segmentation process on proper footing. I looked at competitive sites, analyzed user experience, looked at new technology and how implementing it would further my client’s goals and improve customer satisfaction, and proceeded to reveal my findings.
Traditionally, revealing my findings was the most pleasant experience. Yes, it allows me to show off some of my smarts, and the hyper smarts of my team. I put together a thorough presentation with a solid mix of graphs and charts mixed with the critical reasoning behind what was happening to produce those results. I showed competitors, looked at demographics compared to marketing dollars spent and came up with a viable and sustainable solution. Again, that’s part of what I do, and why I’m hired. Have smarts, fully understand marketing and corporate goals, and of course, will travel.
Stop! This wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill project, and it didn’t take me long to figure that out. My first meeting with the CEO and CMO put a new quirk in my game. Yes, 20 years and I am still learning, not just about marketing, but about money.
I was presenting in the same building where Patrick Henry, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and even more modern figures like Rockefeller had spoken before me. I could feel the power of that history, and it showed on the smile across my face. I start my presentation with observations on markets, market share and revenue. These slides show corporate executives where we are, and where we are going. When I got the what is normally the best slide, revenue, I was stopped by the C-level team.
“Stop!”, they said. I looked back at my graph displayed on the screen, searching for a mistake. I was looking for an error, but I had been doing this so long, I had not realized what, if anything, I had done wrong. The answer was that I had done nothing wrong, but that my approach was wrong for their company. Baffled, I took a seat. “We cannot discuss money or revenue in our presentations,”. They told me that most of their team was comprised of scholars, PHD’s with the desire to teach the world, and grantors who ask for nothing in return for their charity other than the sanctuary project they seek to protect.
In shock, I went back to my area and held a postmortem with my team regarding the day’s exercise. I sat in a chair at the head of a conference room table. Some of my team were present on Skype, as was customary. I was silent and then stood for a few moments pacing a bit. I stopped and faced the whiteboard. Uncovered a green Expo marker, and wrote out a single dollar sign on the whiteboard. Their eyes squarely on the whiteboard, the team had no idea what I was doing. They shuffled through the copy of their sections of the presentation. Nothing. Nobody could understand why I had drawn a single dollar sign.
“What does it mean?” The first question posed by my Chief Analyst. The mathematician in the room was troubled by the lack of mistake on the slides. I informed the team that there were no mistakes in our numbers, but that we could not mention money in our presentation to the company or the team. Nowhere, no how, no way. Needless to say, the team was in complete awe. There were grumblings about the type of company we had engaged with, about leadership, and about why we were even called in. I put the team at peace that day, and later in our contracting, we were all put at peace from the complexity of our scenario. A peace we have now taken to every new client since that magical day. Yes, it was a Zen moment for us after so many years.
We presented to the client company team, and remained completely silent regarding revenue. No dollar signs, no financial graphs, no ROI’s, none of that. The leadership was pleased and we were given the green light to move forward with the project rollout.
Before we could start we had to backtrack a bit and did a full day seminar called “Why We Wake Up in the Morning”. Yes, we really needed to know what made the organization click since it was not shareholder equity. We had read the mission statements and understood the tag lines and customer commitment statements, but had no idea why each person came to work in the mornings. I won’t bore you with the details of the sessions, or how we run them, wouldn’t want to give up any trade secrets, but can tell you that it is very emotional and involves heavy amounts of tears. Yup, even my team and I cry during these sessions. Another Zen moment, but in this case for our client-company.
Once we knew what made them tick, each team member started along the path of developing world-class user experiences, tech simplicity modelling, consumer satisfaction, and other standard analysis we use to improve the company’s position. One by one, we analyzed every aspect of their ecommerce engines and assigned customer value points on each activity based on simple usability. We looked at the profile of consumers and adjusted them for the new reality of the middle class and working class demographic. We changed, adjusted, improved everywhere we could and then made our final presentation to our client.
Complete success. The client was extremely satisfied and the value provided to consumers increased two-fold as per questionnaires. The project was completed and we all went home.
Two weeks after completion, our financial analyst called my office and wanted to know if I had a moment to speak with him. We met one week later. He came to my office with his iPad, sat down, and after the formalities, he started to show me the final site review for our client. He walked me through the revenue numbers. Yes, I was sinning – all that revenue talk and all. He compared the initial revenue presentation we had initially presented to our client, you know, the one where I discussed ROI and revenue. He had apparently adjusted to the current financials based on what we created without taking into account money. A double-digit increase from our initial estimate. The change in our efforts from focusing on revenue to not focusing on revenue produced more success than we had ever imagined.
Soon after I took a long-needed vacation and reflected on the process we used to make such a tremendous impact on the client company’s bottom line. It turns out that with so much pressure by our traditional client companies to focus on short term results as measured by profit, and sustainability not of satisfaction, but of increases in that revenue month-over-month, we lost track of what really makes money (again with the word). Money comes from the focus on satisfaction, not from cost cutting and the endeavor to make more money. Today we have replaced many of our words from revenue, money, dollars, to empathy, happiness, satisfaction, and enjoyment. Each description goal paired with a graph that details the increase in each and of course, correlating it to revenue from improvement.
The results have been spectacular. If you are a corporate leader, I suggest you sit back and take a breath. Keep breathing. Now think about what you would do if money were not part of the mix of success. How would you create world-class customer satisfaction? Notice I did not use the word service – can you think of why. I think all executive teams could use a full day experience conference where we dig deep into the psyche of your company and team, and walk out of a room feeling human again and ready to earn more money than you ever have. Call me if you want to organize one. If you do, I am not going to do the session for money. You heard it, I won’t charge you my time, only expenses. I want to help you shed some light on what you are missing and how to find your true north, one that will help you earn more money than ever before, but not as a primary focus.
I hope you found this story enlightening. Go ahead, take your shoes off and walk barefoot across the grass on your corporate lawn. Oh, and take your team with you. Now breathe again and be happy.
Victor Bao | firstname.lastname@example.org | Skype: Victor.Bao