Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

You are… and you want what?

I’m Tom Petrocelli. I’m about to be an independent consultant (more on that in the future). If you want to know about me, my profile is available right here on-line. I write this blog because I like to write. I also admit that I like to pontificate and, on some level, hope it attracts some positive attention. There. Doesn’t that make things easier?
You would think it would be dogma by now that you owe any person you contact the courtesy of identifying yourself. Identify who you are, who you work for, and what you want to talk about. Yet, I’m constantly surprised how often this doesn’t happen. I can’t tell you how many times, in any given week, I’m contacted without any identification. Someone calls, asks for me (mangling my name of course), and starts talking. No “Hi, I’m Jim and I work for the League of Animal Lovers.” Not, “Hi, I’m Greg and I’m in sales at Acme Catapults. May I speak to Mr. Coyote please?” either.
Instead, they immediately ask for someone and start a pitch. Or even worse, they start asking questions. For example:
Caller: “Hi, is Tom there?”
Me: “Um. This is Tom. Can I help you?”
Caller: “Don’t you want to save money on your personal hygiene needs and help abused farm animals at the same time?”
Me: “What the ….?”
No introduction. No sense of context. Nothing. I’m supposed to sit and answer your questions when I don’t even know who you are? Doesn’t seem likely.
Now, if you think this is all the workings of some sleazy boiler room operation, think again. With the advent of the “Do Not Call” list, fewer and fewer of those type organizations are calling with high pressure pitches. Instead, these are not-for-profits, political organizations, and people who I might actually do business with and probably have already done business with. For example, I’ve gotten calls from various telecommunications companies that ask for me by name then start pounding out the questions. Just before writing this I had a call from my local political party. They forced me to ask three times who they were before they decided to tell me*. I almost hung up on them and I support them! I’ve even had some situations where I had to aggressively interrupt and demand that someone tell me who they were and what company they were from. In a few cases, the caller actually hung up rather then answer. Would I do business with these people? The answer is “Never!”
This type of behavior happens in a variety of contact situations, not just in cold calling. At trade shows and conferences, folks will practically leap out of the booth and ask questions or start pitching before they even say “hello”. You would think it would be harder with social media but a lot of people do the equivalent of it with blank profiles. In some cases it’s intentional (really bad) but a lot of the time it’s laziness. I summarily reject comments to my blog from people with blank profiles unless I know them personally. I can’t tell if they just forgot to fill it out or if it’s spam. Whether technique or lack of attention to detail, it has the same effect. No Id, no comment, no conversation, and no sale.
Sometimes, this is how the contact person is taught to behave. It seems counter productive to me. First off, if I don’t know who you are and what organization you are with, I have no context. That would seem important if you want to get good answers to your qualifying questions. The point of asking someone these questions is to qualify their need and see if they are someone you want to spend your time on. How can you do that if they don’t understand the questions they are answering? Worse than no data is bad data.
You also risk having the listener misunderstand your intentions. Let’s face it, it’s not the social norm to start a conversation without an introduction. To not identify who you are and what you want leads to a lack of trust. That works against the sale. Normally you won’t do things for people you don’t trust. And sales, politics, and charitable giving is about getting someone to do something for you. I don’t have to listen to your sales pitch. I don’t have to put your candidate’s sign on my lawn. And, I certainly don’t have to give you money unless I want to. Given all the people who are asking something from us, we tend to filter out those we don’t trust. Not saying who you are – and I mean right away – undermines your efforts to gain someone’s trust and get them to do what you want them to do.
Part of the reason some salespeople (and other callers/emailers/tweeters/etc.) do this is so that the person won’t say no or hang up. Get them talking and you’ll make the sale! That’s a load of … baloney. People are not stupid and will figure out pretty quickly that you are selling them something. They might be too polite to hang up or tell you to go pound salt, thereby wasting your time. That doesn’t help you accomplish your mission. Instead, build a bond, make them want to listen to what you have to say. That begins with them knowing who you are. And if they still don’t want to hear your pitch, so be it. Better that you move on to the next person than waste time on someone who will never buy or give or whatever you want them to do.
So identify yourself, your organizations, and your intentions first. Then we can talk. You might even get something from me that way.

* I’m aware that political parties are often required to make sure of who they are calling. But would it hurt to say “I’m Ted from the local <Name of Political Party> party. May I speak with Mr. Petrocelli?”

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sales and Promotions Mistakes – It Could Be An Opportunity…

Two things happened this week that made me think about customer service and lost opportunities. The first event had to do with paper. I find the best customer service stories in the most mundane situations. Anyway, I was at OfficeMax and saw a wonderful deal. There was a stack of five ream cases of inkjet paper. On top of them was  a sign that said that the paper was $8.99. $8.99 for five reams of inkjet paper is a great price. The ten ream case was something like $35. Wow! While it was a great price, it wasn’t an outlandish one. Not too good to be true just pretty darn good. When I got to the counter, it rang up $30. Wait. What? Turns out it was $8.99 a ream not a case. Someone was supposed to have taken out the individual reams and stacked them outside the cases. Perhaps it said $8.99 a ream but I’m not so sure. Even if this was the case the type was so small as to not be obvious. Taking them out of the cases and stacking them up was supposed to be the obvious part. I declined to buy it and found a good deal elsewhere.
The second event was the arrival of a $15 Best Buy gift card from Napster. Napster had run a promotion on Facebook wherein you friend them and posted something (favorite song or album maybe) and they would send you a 1GB portable music player. Apparently, the response was so huge to the promotion that they ran out of music players and sent gift cards instead.
Both of these situations have two things in common. First, the company appeared to advertise something they could not deliver on. Second, they could not deliver because of a mistake or miscalculation. Now, I don’t have a problem with mistakes. Stuff happens. A lot of folks want to hold a company’s feet to the fire over honest mistakes. Super travel columnist and ombudsmen Christopher Elliott has written a boatload (pun intended) of columns about airlines or hotels that accidently post the wrong price and have angry customers who want a ridiculous rate. His advice is often summed up as “don’t expect something that is so ridiculously cheap it can’t be right.” Reading his blog I always get the feeling that these folks aren’t just looking for a bargain. They know it’s a wrong price and want to take advantage of the company. Whatever the legalities of the situation are you don’t take advantage of someone, even an airline, that way.
What I found most intriguing was the different reactions from OfficeMax and Napster. In the first case, OfficeMax missed out on a great opportunity with a long time customer. When it was obvious that this was a mistake, I no longer had the expectation that they would honor the price on the stack. I know some people who would demand the $8.99 price, even going so far as accusing the store of a bait and switch. That’s not right. Honest mistakes happen and we need to accept that. What OfficeMax could have – should have - done was offer me something, anything. If they had offered, say, a 10% discount on the case I may have bought the paper. Even if I hadn’t, I would have felt that they made an effort to own my business. It’s about showing the love, not what you get. It’s very likely that the store manager and clerk didn’t have the authority to do more than say “Sorry”. Too bad. OfficeMax lost a chance to sell me something and gain a bunch of goodwill. They lost twice.
Napster on the other hand could have just said “Sorry, we ran out.” The promotion’s fine print likely said something akin to “while supplies last”. They clearly know something about goodwill though. Sure, the player was worth more than $15 retail. However, I really don’t need another one and most people signing up probably don’t either. I only wanted it because it was free. By sending me something, anything, for nothing, they sent the message that they really did want my business and I was more to them than a social media marketing opportunity. A perusal through the comments on the Napster Facebook page shows that this worked. While there were a few grumblers, most said “Thanks for the free gift card!” Napster turned a potential marketing mess into an opportunity to connect with potential customers and say “I care about how you feel about Napster! You matter to us. Sorry about the screw up.”
All too often, companies just want to assuage the feelings of upset customers by tossing out a false apology. For them, it’s about making the problem child go away. I had that happen at Best Buy recently. By the time I left the store I was furious at the obviously fake “we’re sorry” that the customer service representative kept spewing mechanically. Instead, mistakes can be a chance to tell customers that you value them. By proactively doing something positive when you make a mistake, you can signal that your customers matter to you.  That builds a bond that is worth much more than the cost of doing something for the customer.
More than anything, just saying “sorry” is meaningless and annoying. You have to do something to demonstrate that you want to make things right. When you make a mistake, do more, say less, and have happier customers.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Hurd The News About HP? What Does The Oracle Tell Us?

So, first Michael Hurd resigns as HP CEO because of minor accounting snafus related to his totally not sexually harassing a B-movie actress (snicker!). Then, Oracle hires him “allowing” one of the co-Presidents, Charles Phillips, to leave.  Phillips apparently had his own public problems with a woman (snicker!) .  Now, HP is suing Hurd because – now get this – they have a non-disclosure. Not a non-compete. An NDA. So HP is suing Hurd after they effectively forced him to resign over something he didn’t do with a woman because of something he has yet to do.
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. The mind reels with questions here. Let’s choose a few major ones.
  • Are technology executives of such low moral fiber that they keep getting into trouble with women other than their wives?
  • Is Hurd just so good that Oracle is willing to deal with the inevitable lawsuits?
  • If so, was HP just that stupid for letting him go?
  • Can you really sue someone for something they might do but haven’t yet done?
Let’s tackle these in order. First off, I know a lot of technology executives. While some are ethically and morally challenged, as a class they don’t seem any worse than anyone else. I don’t mean no worse than other business executives. I mean no worse than the guy who delivers my mail or teaches my kids in school. Really, they are about the same as everyone else. Except politicians. Those folks don’t seem to know what ethics are at all. Oh, and Wall Street. Don’t get me started on Wall Street…
Next question - is Hurd just that good that he’s worth the trouble? Well, it’s possible that Oracle didn’t think he would be this much trouble. He didn’t, after all, have a non-compete. That still blows my mind but we’ll come back to that later. More likely, Larry Ellison just didn’t care. You see, Hurd has done some pretty remarkable things at HP. Mr. Ellison clearly thinks so, going so far as to send an email to the New York Times calling the HP board “idiots” for letting him go. That kind of tells me that he thinks Hurd is special.
The next question sort of answers itself. Given the mess HP made of Hurd’s departure it doesn’t look like they were doing the smart things. Really, didn’t they think they could deal with one aging actress who got hit on by an executive (if that even happened)? On the surface, it at least seems like cowardice. I’m willing to accept that there may be more to the story than is generally known. Maybe. Still, guys with Hurd’s track record are not exactly sitting around waiting for “The Call”. It does seem at least a little stupid.
Look at it this way: If they had tossed a tiny fraction of what they are going to spend on 3Par at the B-movie actress, this all could have gone away in an instant.
Finally, can they sue Hurd for not adhering to a non-disclosure when it hasn’t happened yet? A non-compete is different. The minute he took the job at Oracle he would have violated a non-compete. But he didn’t have a non-compete! I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. If you sell a bagel restaurant you sign a non-compete. This guy was CEO of a huge corporation. How did that one get through? But I digress (and rant a bit admittedly).
Hurd can’t violate the non-disclosure until he actually disclosures something and HP finds out about it. What would a court say here? “Mr Hurd is ordered not disclose trade secrets like he has already agreed to and has so far complied with”? Huh? He has to do something to harm them then they can go after him. What it looks like here is that the HP Board wanted but didn’t get a non-compete. I can’t believe they just forgot. Since they didn’t get the non-compete they want to make one out of the non-disclosure. It’s like legal alchemy. Take a base agreement and turn it into a golden one. The contract is what it is. It is not something else just because you want it to be.
Maybe the argument is that he can’t be an Oracle President and not disclose sensitive information. That’s a scary argument mostly because it assumes guilt. This suit assumes the inevitability of wrongdoing. Even if HP feels that Mr. Hurd has such low moral character that it’s likely he will disclosure something (see above) he still has to do the bad thing first. It’s not enough to say “we feel he might.”
This is not a trivial matter. Technology businesses cannot exist without confidentially. Everyone signs confidentiality agreements. Who will now if they can be turned into non-competes and other types of agreements by fiat. If you can be sued because you might do something but haven’t then would you sign an NDA? Will you enter into a confidentially agreement that is a non-compete in disguise? This has far reaching consequences in all aspects of business. Everyone signs non-disclosures when they go to work for a company, enter into partnerships, work with customers and vendors, etc. What if all of those magically turned into non-competes too? If you except the argument that you can’t work for someone else without disclosing trade secrets then you effectively do that and bind everyone to their current company. Like indentured servants only with cubicles.
So, the answer to the last question is “Yes. You can sue someone for something they haven’t yet done.” It doesn't mean you will win though. Hopefully HP won’t prevail. That would be devastating to all business.
And guys, stay away from the booth babes. You shouldn’t have them in the first place. They are insulting to men and women alike but clearly a minefield for the C-level executives. Protect your CEO. Don’t use booth babes.