The Pinks & Blues When Cleaning Up My Office
I know what you are thinking. Phil is a programmatic nerd. Did he get all sentimental and wax nostalgic when cleaning up his office? The answer is no. I did however reflect on several things as I was organizing content in my office. Just like you I have had several interesting career paths that are not linear. I started out as a lab technician and ended up as a data nerd in marketing. Does this even make sense? The reality is in 2020 most of you had to rethink how you did business and had to decide what was working and what had to change rapidly. For many of you the proven business model that helped your business be succesful no longer fit in the pandemic paradigm. Business took a leap in the evolutionary process. It was not a matter of rethinking your business, rather you were forced to think about challenges that were not an issue or even considered a few months ago.
So what is the Pinks & Blues I am talking about? I will explain that as we go.
Pivoting is not new.
I spent my last two semesters of college at Oak Ridge National Laboratories. My career plan was laid out. The work I had done at Oak Ridge would provide me with a vey nice government career. Two weeks before graduation I received a phone call from one of the lead scientists on the project I was working on. " Phil, Congress has decided that they are not going to continue with the program." I was young and naive and did not understand how life really works. My response, OK , what will I be doing. His response, I don't know what you will be doing, but it won't be this. It just did not fit in my thought process. I responded, so what will I be doing. You can obviously see I am not getting this. " I don't know what you will be doing, but it won't be this." I finally grasped the meaning of the conversation. I no longer had a job or career path.
My mind was reeling. We had already picked a wedding date. It was 3 months away. What was i going to do? This was before the days of jobs being readily available on the internet. You literally looked through the newspaper and mailed resumes. No job. No career. No place to live. I moved back in my parents house. This was brutal to my ego. Several weeks passed and I felt desperate. I went back to my college and talked to one of professors whom I respected highly. He had been a mentor to me. Always pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of doing and used accountability before that was a buzz word. I explained my situation. He picked up the phone and talked to someone. " Be in Lexington tomorrow morning at 11 and ask for Mrs. Williams at the University of Kentucky personnel office." I drove to Lexington and was hired on the spot to be a laboratory technician. Talk about a career pivot even before I had a career.
When the road you are traveling is blocked. Pick a different road. Get directions from a trusted advisor. Change course and do it quickly.
Change is Inevitable. Embrace It!
I know what you are thinking. What about the Pinks & Blues? I am getting there I promise. Within six months of starting my job as a lab technician I was promoted to laboratory manager. yes, you got that right. Months out of college and I was a manager. My staff had more experience and understand the system much better than I did. I did not know anything about managing people. Fortunately, management training classes were offered and I took every class. As most of you know all too well, taking management classes does not make someone a good manager. I was not a good manager. I hated my job. I started sending out resumes every weekend. I received a call about an opportunity in water treatment sales. I knew nothing about it, but so wanted to do something different I took the interview. I was offered a job and accepted. Excitedly I went home to tell my wife, yes we did get married, She asked a very reasonable question. How mush does it pay? Remember I told you I hated my job? I did not ask about the salary or benefits. I just wanted and needed to do something I would enjoy. Fortunately for me the salary was double what I was making!
Water treatment was a great fit for me. The learning curve was not a curve it was a 90° uphill climb. Techniques and methods changed rapidly. Chemistries that were used 6 months ago became obsolete. The only constant was change.I stayed in water treatment for decades and loved the challenges and solutions I could provide. Now let me talk about the Pinks & Blues. I carried a portable lab with me as part of my service to water treatment customers. We ran titrations to determine if the chemistries were in balance and would provide a detailed report of the findings and any corrective actions. We called this running the Pinks & Blues because of the color changes that would occur when titrating. If you hear the phrase Pinks & Blues, you are probably talking to someone that has been involved in water treatment. Yes, I loved it so much I even had a personalized license plate.
I was fortunate to have had several mangers that were not only technically brilliant, but they also had amazing people skills. We provided a very technical solution to clients that really did not care about the nerdy stuff. They just wanted to be in legal compliance and have their equipment run at peak efficiency. I know you understand that if you did not know how to provide an elegant solution to a complex problem you would lose their business. Your customer just did not want you to bore them with how smart you thought you were. After several years as a field service technician I became a manager once again. I was a much better manager this time. I learned from the managers I worked with in water treatment and paid attention to what and how they became succesful. I also learned from the managers that failed. Sometimes knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.
Technology is your friend, if you understand it.
Pinks & Blues were quickly replaced with spectrophotometers that could perform more tests and were more accurate. Email quickly replaced faxing for order placement. Hand written reports were replaced with laptop computers and portable printers. All of this happened in less than a year.
If you were not using these new tools you could not compete. You were a dinosaur.
One of the managers I was working with made a statement that has stuck with me.
Failure to adapt leads to extinction.
At that time, websites only needed three things. Your Phone Number, Fax Number and Address. The evolution here was slower. Websites as marketing tools to provide information were unique. A website that allowed visitors to have their questions answered with a few mouse clicks was not a real thing. I have a clear memory of sitting in managers meeting and the owner of the company said we need a better website. Not knowing any better I said I would do it. This is where I got my start in digital marketing. A quick brainstorming session with the managers and we launched a website that actually answered questions and explained how our chemistries were different than the rest of the market. Seems like no big deal now, but that was a huge risk then to have a website that was nothing like any of the competition.
During this same meeting all managers were handed laptop computers with Microsoft Office installed. This was a Friday. The entire salesforce would be arriving on Saturday and the expectation was clear. The Salesforce would leave Sunday night and know how to use all software on the laptop including Microsoft Office. I have never been in a tsunami, but I quickly realized learning all the software and training everyone 24 hours later was overwhelming. We managed to get it done and in a few months the company was quickly recognized nationwide as the industry leader and our competitors scrambled to catch up. This literal overnight change helped sales to skyrocket and profit margins soared. Imagine being the first to bring in a laptop and print a report in front of a client. This truly was the benchmark for a dog and pony show.
Ride the tsunami or get pummeled.
It is completely reasonable to charge more.
To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Compensation: If you want more, you need to give more. This goes back to ancient times with the saying you sow what you reap.Does this sound familiar to you? I used to undervalue what I do. My skills and abilities seemed so natural for me I had completely forgotten the hundreds of hours of study and application that made them comfortable. You see where competitors offer a service at a price that you know is not reasonable for you to provide. Is this is a problem for your business? Your gut instinct might tell you to offer a special price. Don't allow yourself to think that way. Instead, do the "Ben Franklin" side by side comparison with your competitors. You see these side by side comparisons frequently in marketing. If your competitors are truly offering more then you need to explore the how and why. I see " low ball" sales pitches in the digital marketing space all the time. If you frequently hear the statement from you customers and prospects that XYZ company can do it cheaper you need to ask yourself, Do I really want to be viewed as the cheapest company in my space? If not, then take the time to map out your customer journey and look at the customer reviews throughout the process to find out if you are really providing the value you think you provide.
We use a detailed cost analysis worksheet for every service we provide. We want to make sure that we can attract the best people to get the best result and have factored that cost in. When we do have a situation were a company honestly believes they can not afford us, there is no hard sell. We let them know we are not a match or fit for them and then we review our cost analysis worksheet again.
Recall that statement I made above about learning from managers that failed?
I have seen first hand what happens when you try to offer a service at a cost that is not reasonable.
Your client suffers.
Your staff suffers.
You as the business owner suffer because your staff will lose confidence in your judgment and leadership.
It is just not worth it.
Lifelong Learning. Failure to adapt leads to extinction.
As often happens the owner of the company I was working and I started to have a different vision for the company and the industry. These differences became palpable. So I did what I had to do, I started my own water treatment company. I realized that I needed to stand out from my previous employer and the industry. How was I going to differentiate my company from the competition?The first thing I did was to really examine which customers referred me to their peers. I took a month off from sales calls and only ran service visits. After the Pinks & Blues, I allocated time during these service visits to ask numerous questions about why they did business with me and what I could better and who I should be talking with at other companies. This was profoundly enlightening.
Without exception, all my customers felt I was undercharging for the level of service I was providing. Read that again.
All my customers felt I was undercharging for the level of service I was providing.
I had a business model epiphany. I now understood my ideal customer and what questions to ask and I knew who was not a good match or fit. I completely abandoned my old model of making 10 cold calls a day and spent that time researching who could be my next ideal customer and marketed only to them. It became very clear that I would have to do something I had never contemplated in my entire career. Say no to potential customers. If they were not my ideal customer I had to walk away. You don't know what hard is until you turn away business when you just launched a new company.
Now that I understood what my ideal customer looked like, what was I going to do to stand out from everyone else?
it was rare at that time for anyone other than a product manager or vey high level executive to have any type of certification. That's it. I need to be independently certified as an expert. Once again it was a 90° uphill curve. The certifications I wanted to earn where difficult to achieve. It was if the organizations and universities offering these certifications took pride in the high failure rate of those trying earn certifications and the amount of time it took to prepare for the final certification exam. I did not have time and failure was not an option. Did I mention how poorly I did on standardized tests? I invested in exam preparation courses and actually took a course on how to do well on standardized tests. As I was cleaning out my office I saw early certifications. Not to be a total narcissist, but I felt good about myself knowing how much work it took for me to achieve those certifications. That set the course for lifelong learning. I was recently asked if my hobby was earning certifications because I have them listed on my LinkedIn profile. My true hobby is playing drums.
Everyone says they are an expert. You will have more credibility if someone else verifies your expertise.
Fast forward to 2020 and we saw change at a pace that was unprecedented. Change was not an option. You had to rethink and retool your business model or you would lose your business. Virtual meetings are the norm and marketing went through 10 years of evolution in 10 months. Being confined changed everything. There is no patience for waiting on a website to load and you will not search for information. You want what you want in 3 mouse clicks. You want content that will help you grow and adopt. You want more detailed information quicker and you want longer content information. This is the new normal.
"Right now, in a time when 65% of people say they’re taking a moment to reevaluate their lives and their goals, online video is a particularly useful resource. More than half our respondents — 58% — reported that they are using digital video to learn new skills."
Source: Think with Google
"“As users get more used to digital tools and products due to the pandemic, they will get better at interacting with ads and demand a better user experience,” Delfino predicts. “That means no broken links, confusing CTAs, slow pages, or desktop-only websites. I see a bigger role this coming year for UX teams in creating delightful and functional end-to-end advertising experiences.”
Source: Think with Google
"Based on HubSpot's data, the ideal length of a blog post intended to generate leads is 2,500 words."
"In a year that tested everyone around the world, “why” was searched more than ever. That’s the biggest takeaway from Google’s annual “Year in Search” video."
You know what you need to do.
Start with your customer journey.
Answer you ideal customer questions.
Start with why.
Provide content that answers their questions.