As summer draws to a close, it's time to get your vacation photos developed, pack the beach chairs away in the garage, put aside Tom Clancy and Danielle steel. Time, that is, to get refocused on business.
And what better way to prep for those year-end planning meetings than to read a good business book?
Seriously, the business section of any good bookstore--to say nothing of Amazon.com--is crowded with a mind-numbing array of business titles. Many of them are witty, insightful and even inspiring. A few, unfortunately, contain great ideas but are hobbled by bad writing. And too many are little more than excuses for yet another successful executive to prove conclusively that business success doesn't make you a writer.
Never fear. While you enjoyed the latest Grisham at the shore, our dedicated writers read a half-dozen of the latest business and management titles. Here's what we thought of them.
Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits
By Leslie Wilk Bracksick, Ph.D.
McGraw-Hill, 1999; $21.95
Whether it's implementing a new ERP solution, reorganizing after M&A or designing a Web site, Leslie Wilk Bracksick argues that success comes down to managing human behavior. In Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits, Bracksick applies concepts of behavioral science to people issues, project management, communication and integration issues. The premise is that all of these tend to fail if behavior isn't leveraged to support goals and effect change. Doing so provides the opportunity to better encourage employee best efforts by paying closer attention to the consequences of their performance.
The science is based on the idea that human behavior is initiated by antecedents, and it either continues, increases or stops based on the consequences of such behavior. In the workplace, antecedents include training, task requests, individual skills and the behavior of others, for example. Consequences are things like feedback, tangibles, activities and work processes (where the process is reinforced by its own progression, enabling or easing a next step, for example).
According to Bracksick, most companies focus on antecedents, but consequences have four times the impact of antecedents. Think of the boy who cried wolf. Despite his continued cries (the antecedent) the villagers stopped coming because their previous behavior was not rewarded (the consequence.) Similarly, some employees become reluctant to make any extra effort if it goes unrecognized. For example, they will not adopt an ERP package if it costs them time, even if it saves the company money.
Through many examples, Bracksick is able to identify where desired behavior and consequences are not aligned or there are differences between what is officially valued, and what is actually reinforced. Instead, rewards have to be aligned with corporate goals and create an environment that fosters desired behavior.
Bracksick is really clamoring for companies to give more feedback, because feedback and other consequences serve as good lures to desired behavior.
Those consequence come in four varieties: positive reinforcement (great job, here's a watch); negative reinforcement (keeping lunch to just one hour to avoid a negative consequence); punishment (the undesired consequence of getting reprimanded); and extinction (eliminating a positive reinforcement to the point that behavior stops.) The first two consequences increase or maintain behavior and the latter two decrease it. Bracksick says consequences that are positive, immediate and certain can be powerful, but suggests a program that utilizes all the varieties to shape employee behavior. That is, one that uses consequences to guide someone through reasonable behavioral steps toward a desired behavior. This can even be personalized for key executives, she argues.
The book includes thorough steps for everything from the important task of pinpointing and articulating key behaviors through managing consequences. One appendix focuses entirely on developing feedback skills. The text is logically arranged, easy to read, and is only slightly damaged by yet more acronyms, loads of repetition, and overly encouraging praise and exclamation marks designed to positively reinforce your association with her ideas. More seriously, the approach seems important, yet potentially costly. Bracksick has consulted with Aetna, Lucent, Mobil and UPS among others, which is impressive. Still, it may require companies with such deep pockets, or a lot more automation, to afford such intensive management techniques.
By Seth Godin
Simon & Schuster, 1999; $24.00
Pay attention. Unless you're a Zen Buddhist monk in the throes of a meditation, right now there are at least a dozen things competing for your time. Instead of reading this review, you could be returning that phone call, completing that presentation or spending quality time with your family. When everyone is constantly bombarded by marketing messages, just getting your customers to pay attention to your pitch is the first hurdle in the sales cycle. Traditional advertising tries to compete for the consumer's time, with what Seth Godin refers to as "interruption marketing," but this approach is doomed to failure in an era when time is everyone's most precious commodity. Instead of enticing a consumer to buy your product, you're more likely to annoy that consumer, which is why, when asked, everyone says they hate advertising. But, argues Godin, who was practicing online marketing when most of us were still sending snail mail, there is a way to get potential customers on your side, an approach that he calls "permission marketing." Offer customers some kind of an incentive to hear your pitch, and they'll not only be willing participants in your marketing efforts, they'll likely become lifelong customers as well. The idea is almost prosaically simple, yet it takes on a new currency in the information age when the Internet makes it easier than ever before to establish the kind of one-to-one relationships that advertisers have long dreamed of. And Godin isn't just somebody who has come up with a clever idea designed to sell books, he's an Internet pioneer who has made this approach work for some of the world's leading online businesses, including Yoyodyne, Prodigy, Microsoft and Yahoo!. The Net represents both the greatest marketing opportunity ever seen and the one fraught with the most potential for failure. Banner ads, those eyesores on the information highway, are among the worst offenders of "interruption marketing." Not only are they distracting, but most of them fail to engage the consumer in an interactive way. Mass mailings are so offensive to Internet users that they've come up with a negative word for it, SPAM. Short attention spans are measured in nanoseconds on the Net, where customers are just a click away from your competitors, so, if you really want to get their attention you'll need to do more than just replicate the advertising techniques used in other media. You'll need to engage consumers in a continuous dialog.
In a series of informed case studies, Godin shows how many companies, including American Airlines, Bell Atlantic, Amazon.com and American Express, have adopted this radically new approach to marketing that turns strangers into something not unlike family members.
Permission Marketing is a master's level course in CRM, but it reads like a novel by a brat pack author due to Godin's first-hand experience in online marketing. This is a must-read for anyone doing business in the information age.
Selling the Wheel
By Jeffrey Cox, Howard Stevens
Simon & Schuster, 2000; $21.00
Jeffrey Cox and Howard Stevens outline basic sales and marketing concepts necessary for the survival of every sales organization in the book Selling the Wheel.
In this tale, set in ancient Egypt, Max and his wife Minnie are attempting to sell their brand new product to the world--the wheel. Of course, the world is not quite ready for the wheel. Stumped, Max and Minnie turn to Ozzie the Oracle for advice, who helps them determine the six bedrock questions for success: Who are our customers? Who are our competitors? Why do customers want what we are selling? What would make them prefer to buy from us? Why might they prefer to buy from our competitors? What added values does our salesperson have to offer to make a sale? Answer these essential questions, the Oracle advises, and Max's Wheel Company is bound for riches.
The Oracle also helps Max and Minnie understand that the sales market is an ever-changing entity. One of the larger lessons the couple learns is that there are four specific types of salespeople, each with their own strategy--and each successful only in that particular selling environment. These four different personalities are represented by four characters in Selling the Wheel, each employed by Max's Wheel Company for their respective tasks--market entry, new product development, corporate image and customer relationships, and sales force compensation (identified in the book as Closer, Wizard, Relationship Builder and Captain & Crew). Half the battle a company faces is figuring out which approach most accurately matches its needs and goals.
The purpose of the book, therefore, is to help a company determine its own sales strategy, and to make sure that that strategy is the best fit for the product(s) being sold. By framing the story around such a basic concept (the wheel), Cox and Stevens are able to clearly identify and address even the more complicated situations a sales organization may face. Selling the Wheel is a straightforward, basic guideline to sales and marketing techniques with an emphasis on sales force quality. According to Cox and Stevens, a solid sales force is critical to a company's success--more so than anything else.
Howard Stevens is the chief executive officer and founder of the H.R. Chally Group, the organization that provided the necessary research for Selling the Wheel. The company began researching market strategies in the mid 1970s, and information in the book is based on data collected on 250,000 salespeople, more than 8,500 corporate sales forces and interviews with more than 100,000 customers. Jeff Cox is a professional writer, and co-author of business books Zapp! nd The Goal, both of which have appeared on business-book bestseller lists.
By Mikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder
Doubleday, 2000; $27.50
Here's a novel thought: If you eliminate all the glitches in your business processes, profits increase because you and your workers no longer waste time and money dealing with problems. While to most people this may sound like nothing more than common sense, to Mikel Harry, Ph.D. and Richard Schroeder, authors of the "best-selling" book Six Sigma, it's the truth, the light--the very salvation of under-performing businesses everywhere.
"It is a business strategy and philosophy built around the concept that companies can gain a competitive edge by reducing defects in their industrial and commercial processes," write Harry and Schroeder. "Classically speaking, a defect is anything that fails to meet the customer's expectations or requirements."
This definition obviously marries Sigma theory (a concept of measuring defects that was developed in the early 1980s as a way to establish a universal quality metric that applies to all products--most companies operate at a Three Sigma level) to Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Both are ultimately customer-centric; both theoretically benefit buyer and seller through greater efficiencies.
Beyond these similarities, Sigma and CRM part company. As Harry and Schroeder repeatedly proclaim in their book, the six sigma concept addresses any and all problems anywhere in the company, from the broken wheel on the mail cart to the CEO who doesn't understand the finer points of financial planning. Defects, no matter how large or small, impact customers and consequently, profits.
Through a case study of General Electric, and through references to other Six Sigma converts such as Allied Signal and Motorola, the authors attribute enormous business success to their theory. They also provide a rather vague overview of how the Sigma system works within a typical company and how it benefits customers.
And therein lies the problem with this book. While Harry and Schroeder leave no superlative unused in their praise of Six Sigma, they never really tell their readers how the process works on a day-to-day level in individual businesses. Simply waxing poetic about correcting defects and making people happy sounds more like an Amway pep rally than legitimate business instruction.
Furthermore, Six Sigma reads like a droning 300-page marketing brochure, one that might appeal to the followers of L. Ron Hubbard or David Koresh. Reading phrases like "In the world of Six Sigma," or "...the Six Sigma methodology trains individuals as Champions, Master Black Belts, Black Belts and Green Belts," one gets the distinct impression that Six Sigma is proposing an all-encompassing life experience (and a relinquishing of personal assets) rather than a simple business process. (Harry and Schroeder actually offer intensive Six Sigma learning sessions at the Six Sigma Academy in the Arizona desert.)
The writing in Six Sigma is so uninspired, so formulaic, so, well, cultish that I found myself resisting the urge to don a new pair of Nikes, drink tainted Kool Aid and wait passively for the FBI to blow up the compound. Equally annoying is Harry's and Schroeder's seeming ignorance of the common pronoun. As if they were attempting some primitive branding effort, the authors insist on repeating the term "Six Sigma" over and over, even within a single sentence, as if it were a mantra.
The bad, superficial writing aside, Six Sigma does propose an intriguing extension of the principles of CRM. However, you don't really need to suffer through an entire book to ponder this extension. Just use common sense.
The Cluetrain Manifesto
By Christopher Locke, Rick Levine,
Doc Searls, David Weinberger
Perseus Books, 1999; $23.00
In The Cluetrain Manifesto, authors Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls and David Weinberger let marketing lackeys in on something that anyone who's ever spent time in an AOL chat room already knows. "Markets are conversations," say the authors, and corporations are missing the mark by applying traditional marketing approaches and practices to markets that are being radically transformed by the Internet and information technologies. The conversation starts when people are connected to information through the Internet, intranets and extranets. Clued-in companies communicate with their employees, customers, partners and suppliers using the same channels that they do. E-mail, chat rooms, newsgroups, portals and groupware all play a role in facilitating this dialog. But that's just the beginning of what ultimately must be an ongoing dialog between customers, employees, partners and suppliers. The people you are doing business with know when you are lying. Talk with them, not at them, and they'll probably respond in kind. Most importantly, this market needs to be honest and open so that all can cooperate and collaborate.
For this approach to succeed, say the authors, corporations must do more than just bring old business practices to a new medium; they must fundamentally transform their cultures to make sure that this dialog is open. Knowledge sharing, not information hoarding, is the road to success in a networked economy. Knowledge management is at the heart of their argument, but this is a more practical, if somewhat idealistic, take on the idea. The authors rightly shy away from easy answers to what, by necessity, has to vary from corporation to corporation. The biggest idea to be gained from this book, then, is that it's time to wake up. Time to recognize that what you're doing probably isn't working, and, no matter what the size of your IT budget, it isn't likely to, unless you recognize that your culture must change along with your technology.
Appropriately enough, The Cluetrain Manifesto began as a Web site in 1999, www.cluetrain.com, where these self-styled revolutionaries offered up 95 theses for overhauling Web marketing that seem to take off from where the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence and the 10 Commandments left off.
In fact, this new approach is not just a good idea, but a business imperative given the self-organizing nature of networked markets. These markets are organizing faster than the companies that traditionally served them, say the authors. Thanks to the Web, markets are better informed, and thus less forgiving of the companies that serve them. In other words, your customers know more than you do. Like the original Web site that inspired it, The Cluetrain Manifesto is a wake-up call for managers looking to make sense of the new economy. It's brash, opinionated and absolutely essential.
Selling Through Independent Reps, Third Edition
By Harold J. Novick
AMACOM, 2000; $75.00
If you need an excellent reference book on working with independent sales reps, add Selling Through Independent Reps by Harold J. Novick to your shelf. If you are looking for anything new on the subject, don't bother.
Novick is president of Novick & Associates, a general management and industrial marketing consulting firm. His clients include Dupont and Hewlett Packard among others, and he's held top management positions at a handful of manufacturers. The third edition of his book was published in February of this year and it has some added content on megatrends and international selling, plus an update of a case study on Fisher Controls.
Since there are plenty of incarnations of manufacturer reps across different industries and business sizes, the book stays rather general. Call it a general primer for manufacturers looking at independent reps. Novick clearly makes an argument for them, but spends a good deal of time squarely defending what appears to be the tarnished reputation of independent reps in general. He cites moves by some retailers like Wal-Mart and Rite Aid to cut them out and counters arguments against reps that intimate they are mere order-takers.
Novick does not ignore the conflicts reps have with manufacturers, either. He tells it like it is in terms of the how and why reps abandon effort, may not communicate in a timely fashion, refuse "missionary" products that require time to sell, or do other things to strain their relationships with the manufacturers they represent. He rightly suggests, "Put yourself in their shoes," to understand their motivation. While he makes the case for these independents, he never defends them for failing to be good partners.
Although it sometimes seems a bit like an excuse, he argues that manufacturer dissatisfaction with reps is largely their own fault. They expect to control reps like in-house salespeople; they don't support reps well enough; and through laziness, they often hire the wrong rep in the first place. More due diligence is required to identify those with the right package of contacts, compatible products, technological capability, style and so forth. Novick offers some good suggestions, but here the book falls short. While he does include sample pages from a few directories and some helpful evaluation templates, there is no mention of more modern tools that could help in the search process, namely, the Internet.
In fact, while the Internet stands to threaten a good number of middlemen, Selling Through Independent Reps hardly acknowledges it exists. Admittedly, not every aspect of business needs to explain its relationship to the Internet, but when the subject relates to sales channels and sales support, it warrants more than a couple of references over 250 pages. It leaves the book seeming old. And while the introduction has some references to 1998, the nearly 40 pages of Resource Guide provided at the end lists nothing published since 1996. In fact, only seven articles or books were even dated that year; most were from the late 80s to early 90s.
So much for new editions.