The business world is filled with companies that are departing the ranks of growing concerns, and often, for no other reason than the CEO fails to recognize the winds of change. Tradition is one word business could do without. Whenever Rivette Marketing Group is called in to examine the opportunities and strengths of a firm, we regularly have to report that the only impediment to success is the CEO themselves.
This is not usually welcomed news. But our observations are justifiable and we explain why we believe this is the case. Too many CEOs micromanage the daily affairs of a company, just as they did in the beginning when the firm was a startup. While there are people who are great at getting a business up and running, they are usually deadly when trying to sustain an established company.
The vision they had to initiate growth seems to dissipate as the growth actually occurs. We feel that they often become tied to tradition. They know how they got to where they are so they believe more of the same method will continue the success.
When it comes to marketing support, product and service development, and other essential services like brand promotion, Rivette Marketing Group excels at teaching CEOs how to look at their company anew. Where the next opportunity may exist and how to plan to take advantage of it. Before your firm realizes they are on a downward curve, contact RMG because our specific ideas create tangible results.
Once upon a time, in fact, now, very near to my offices, works a CEO who knows everything. He will tell his staff all day that he knows everything there is to know about marketing to make his business succeed. His words speak volumes, yet they betray him.
Recently, we met with a CEO who is literally spinning out of control trying to batten down the hatches of his failing business.
Most people would read the above and not see what we saw. In order to understand the following observations you would have had to witness the situation through our eyes and ears.
CLEAR PROBLEMS ABOUND
The production manager present at the meeting just finished telling us that business is so good in the custom parts area that he has 100 back orders. The CEO then came in the room on one of his "visits" to our preplanned meeting and told us point blank that one of the reasons for their success with the target audience is that they have a policy of NO back orders. When we questioned him further we learned that what he meant was they ALWAYS ship every assembly and component in one package and never make a customer wait while staring at a partial order.
LACK OF A MESSAGE
We tried to point out that is completely different than what he said and the message he wants to state is nowhere in any of his materials. No person considering purchase would ever know that the company has intelligent service goals which are designed to eliminate frustration. We pointed out that key selling point and he simply ignored it stating he already knew that. This begs the question, if he already knew these important points, then why hasn't he told the world? His bravado, masking his own lack of ability, keeps him and his company from relating those important sales points at every possible interaction.
He currently saw an influx of orders so he mistakenly believes there will always be a continuous flow. A flow which will be there without any further effort according to his stated philosophy.
The CEO said they are so busy that they don't need any marketing advice, free or paid. That he handled everything and can dictate exactly what message needs to be released, when and where.
SIGNS OF DISASTER
On the reverse, he told us he is about to depart for a trade show at that very hour, which he readily admits he should not waste time attending because he doesn't make any sales there. He then wondered aloud what they were going to hand out and thinks that he should have gotten some pens made up. The show was going to start in a few hours. We asked why he was attending the show at all and wouldn't it be a better use of his time to plan the expansion or review his marketing goals since he did state he wanted a new website.
Meanwhile, he bought a color laser printer the day before to run out some copies of pictures he was going to hand out at the show - a show which had been announced for months. He frantically continued to attend other duties while we sat and waited for his return to the lunch table. We could not even have a private conversation with this man. He sabotaged his opportunity to hear hard-core honest facts about his situation, which blared disaster, because he decided to have a very sensitive meeting in an open room where everyone in their offices could listen.
Important side fable: The website states the company will be attending a show in another city far away from the actual show they were attending. Can you imagine the irritation a potential consumer felt when they arrived after a 100 mile drive to the announced location only to find the one vendor they wanted to meet did not bother to attend or announce their cancellation? If you say you are going to be somewhere, be there. Don't intend and don't announce intentions. Plan and execute the plans. Period.
AN UNKNOWN PRODUCT
When asked what he sells he told us he did not have the time to discuss any of that. We did speak on the phone in advance to arrange time and explained what we intended to review. He seemed very eager until we started actually speaking to him.
We found it very unusual that a business owner would not tell us about his own product since that drives sales. He had no idea whether we knew anyone who could benefit from puchasing any of his product line, yet he dismissed a potentially lucrative encounter.
The CEO asked to stop the meeting because we were "scambling his mind" with all our thoughts. We knew this company has deeper problems and has greater needs than marketing solutions. We have never had a man state so clearly that he was unable to process verbal stimuli. The stress and pressure must be affecting the man's health as well at this point.
The man is in chaos. He finally admitted that he did need a service we could provide. He wants more website traffic, not just a website, because he is not making any sales from his web presence. We forwarded a detailed proposal to fulfill the need. We also gave him a caveat that without improving his site, all the traffic in the world would not improve sales.
A CURSORY REVIEW REVEALS CORE PROBLEMS
We looked at his website. We asked to see his advertising. We learned a lot about this man from his materials.
1. His opening page is boring, sparse, and consists mostly of a picture of his manufacturing building. The building is a typical steel structure with walls, a door and bays. It is pleasant to look at like any of a million buildings just like it. The page says nothing about product, although it does have some non-descript product pictures floating at the bottom. He is showing us the building because he wants people to know what he could afford to buy with his money. He is impressed with it and wants others to be impressed as well. The building is located in a desolate farming area so it does stand out as one of the finest facilities there. Unfortunately, it is just a building.
2. Like many CEOS who have succeeded in building a great foundation for growth, when growth actually occurs his ego stands in the way of his future success. In his materials there are monuments to his building, his mechanical toys and even pictures of himself with a bio leading the page about the company.
3. His marketing message is unclear, inconsistent or missing. There is no phrase, wording or bullet list whatsoever defining his product, market or differentiating him from his competition. In fact, we were able to discern several key points in our brief encounter, and learned what he should not be saying to his audience. The only message present is exactly what we both agreed he did not need to state. This is completely self-defeating.
4. It is obvious from what writing there is that he does not know what he sells or what his target audience perceives about the company and its products.
5. While he has a mini-catalog of product, the text is so poorly written and vague that there is nothing motivating purchase. There is a picture, a listing and a price. Keep in mind that many of the items presented are custom, one-of-a-kind productions which are as much works of art as products. But that is not how they are presented to the world.
6. The site does not even function on multiple browsers or platforms so up to half the people attempting to view it cannot.
7. In the site itself he touts how his company relies on personal interaction between the sales representative and the consumer to review orders, stated over and over. Yet there is an order interface with very little else which completely bypasses the service the company wants to provide to differentiate itself and its products. This mechanism is a glaring example of how you can use technology to subvert your stated goals. As nifty as it may be to click to order a set of parts worth over a thousand dollars, I don't know many people who will order based on a single small photo and no interaction with a live body. There is no credibility in this site or the company's message. We know that there are few sales taking place using this method. It is counterproductive and again, destroys what concept there is for marketing the company's products.
There is no reason to continue examining the reasons for this pending failure. The situation this CEO finds himself in is his own creation. We know this from his actions during the meeting. He was very clear that nothing goes out of the office without his having created it. And we were told that we were not going to write anything. He would. From the writing to the execution, everything relies on his abilities. That is why we say "his message" and "he does not know" instead of "the company's message" and "the organization's understanding."
BUSINESS EVOLVES WITHOUT YOU
There is no team. Only a single dictator who tells others what to think. This was fine in the entrepreneurial stage when there were two employees and the business began to grow. With more than 30 employees, this CEO has a responsibility beyond himself and he knows that. His stress level is through the roof. His blood pressure and cholesterol are probably not far behind. He needs professional help to jettison duties he cannot handle. And we are confident he will not seek help. We have seen this scenario many times. Towards the end of the meeting he actually stated his age and that he is not "some stupid moron" to our simplest suggestions. Ouch.
He will expand his business as he desires. He will make massive capital investments in equipment and personnel without consulting anyone. He will not recognize that his business grew in a time of a booming economy with only a minor fluctuation in income among his target market during the most recent recession. Then, when competition knocks on the door, excels where he does not, or some other market factor batters his house of cards, he will stand by and watch it collapse.
Sadly, this man has allowed himself no option. He trusts no one else. This is not the mark of a leader. This is the best example of a "Total Controller" we have seen in years. We enjoyed our meeting because even the worst businessperson has one redeeming quality - they can serve as a bad example.
If you see yourself in this scenario, please get some constructive help before it is too late. We have professional business psychology counselors, chaos management experts, competitive intelligence pros and insightful marketing performers standing by to assist your firm.
With a little luck the company described may survive. It will go through upheavals. This CEO has no idea why his company is successful which is why failure will absolutely stun him. This CEO could have been on the path to greatness. Instead, he is blazing his own trail to destruction.
The above article first appeared in August 2004.
What can you learn from this encounter?