Guest Post from John Jocham: –
I’ve worked in the wire and cable industry ever since I left school. Most of my career has been spent in sales and marketing roles and during that time I’ve made plenty of mistakes – and so have the companies that I have worked for.
They say you learn more from failure than success so I thought it might be worthwhile to look back at times when things haven’t gone quite so well and, on reflection, I found a common theme which, if recognised at the time, could have helped avoid some costly mistakes and might have even saved the companies involved.
Now the critics among you may say that it’s taken an awfully long time for the penny to drop and you may very well be right but I think sometimes when we are struck by a blinding flash of the obvious we have a duty to share our findings so here goes;
We need to listen to our customers more
Okay that’s it No big revelation. We already do that don’t we?
Well, as any good politicians will tell you, the answer is yes and no – it’s a little more complicated than that. We start out listening. We have to otherwise we wouldn’t get any business. But then comes the paradox: the more successful we become the less likely we are to listen because we know best and we believe our own publicity.
To illustrate with a few examples:
When I started out in the wire and cable industry I worked for the largest manufacturer in the world at that time. Thousands of workers were employed in factories across the north-west of England supporting the power and telecommunication industry is across the British Empire. No need to listen to customers as they would just come to us when they needed something.
Somebody else listened to the customers and the company I worked for doesn’t exist any more.
Fast forward to the 80’s. Breakfast TV had just been launched in UK and the fax machine was still high technology. Companies were installing data cabling throughout their offices and I made the personal coup of getting my company approved on a short list of authorized distributors for the IBM cabling system. It was an unwieldy product and hideously expensive but it was backed by IBM and we were making stacks of money so we didn’t care. Then one day, one of our better customers came to our offices and introduced us to the product that was going to be the future for office cabling and he asked us to get involved. We didn’t listen because of course we knew better. We had spent a couple of years building a business around this IBM system that was very expensive and didn’t want to hear that the cables he was offering for pennies would be the future.
History tells us he was right. Virtually every office system today runs on the successor to the products he was offering us and our beloved product went the way of the dinosaurs.
Onto the early 90s and I started a business in wire and cable distribution at the height of a recession. We had been quite successful but were struggling to move forward as we had all of our cash tied up in excessive stock. We had built massive inventories based on our “superior” knowledge of the industry and clairvoyance. The products were fine but we just had too much – we hadn’t listened carefully enough to our customers when they spoke about the usage patterns if indeed we had even asked them. We were lucky. We managed to sell to a company that recognised a good business but one that had deeper pockets than we had.
It seems there is a 10 year cycle to these examples but here’s one final classic for you:
In the early 2000’s a company I worked for developed a groundbreaking product for use in the aerospace industry. It was a great product and we could demonstrate that we had several distinct advantages over products that were already currently in use. We knew we had a better product and set our pricing accordingly,we believed our own publicity conveniently ignoring the fact that our customers chose to buy other products for various commercial or technical reasons.
The result: the company was taken over by a predatory competitor and has been effectively closed down.
The takeaway from all of this –
the more successful we are the more we need to listen.
If we become arrogant and start believing our own publicity it’s the start of our downfall.
My old French teacher used to say “ we have two ears and one mouth so use them in proportion” or as Stephen Covey more eloquently puts it “seek first to understand then to be understood”
So the penny has finally dropped – I’m listening!
I’m still in the wire and cable industry and I’d love to help you out if I can but only when I understand your needs first.
If I try to do otherwise refer me back to this post!
Thanks for reading this and please get in touch