As the CEO of a strategic digital marketing agency I am very lucky. I get to see what makes a business work. I get to see strategy, how companies allocate marketing spend, do lead generation, customer service, see what they think about marketing testing, what they know about analytics, how they tie in customer retention with what they do and I get to learn about their business. That’s one of the things I like about my job, I learn a lot about different businesses, as well as their business models and get to help them.
But I also have to put up with idiots.
By idiot I don’t mean slow, or stupid. Here I mean an idiot is someone who, as wikipedia puts it, acts in ‘a self-defeating or significantly counterproductive way’ when it comes to the business objective they are paid to deliver on. I could also call them an ignoramus but I prefer idiot.
Our clients aren’t idiots. I am not just saying that because I am biased. They have come to us to help them because they recognise they have issues and they need a bit of help. That’s not self defeating or counter-productive, thats smart. They’re investing where they need to invest. Ideally and usually the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (the Hippo) is the one that brings us the business in the first place because it’s his opinion that he for whatever reason can’t do what we do as well as we do. That’s not to say that they don’t have idiots working for them but if you’re our client give me a call and I’ll tell you who they are and why. Knowing who the idiots are can make or save you a great deal of money.
Idiots come in 3 types. The first type is what I call the politician, the second type is the spectator and then last but not least there is the the whiner. Every business I’ve worked with has them either in or around them.
These people have no soul and questionable ethics. They have very little passion for the business they’re in they’re just interested in advancing their own career and moving up the corporate ladder. I’ve had to deal with these kinds of people all my career, in fact I’ve had politicians work with me and for me over the years unfortunately.
Thankfully in my own business there aren’t any politicians any more because they’re very disruptive. These kinds of people only follow their own agenda and if your agenda doesn’t match theirs they will go on a political campaign trying to get everyone to agree with them to advance their own goals and not your businesses. Politicians will often betray, back stab, scheme, bully, deceive people or lie to achieve their ends.
The External Politician
Where we typically encounter the politician is on the media agency side. If we say something like “we should do some testing on this media spend allocated to xyz because our analytics are showing it’s not performing” the politician from the media agency will say “it’s not just about the clicks you have to consider the branding impact from those impressions.” This is said to sound good and deflect the point, not to help their client. If the agency had answered, “well we did a Display take out test last month and by not doing display you lose 10% of sales across search engine marketing”, then I wouldn’t be calling the person a politician (or an idiot). I’d be tipping my cap and saying smart work. It never happens because it rarely suits the media agencies agenda to tell the truth (much like professional politicians – but I digress).
I’ve seen media agencies cost their clients millions per year doing this kind of crap. Of course their agenda is to get your business to buy as much media as possible because that’s how they get their cut.
The Internal Politician
There is also the internal politician. Mid manager stakeholders who can be even more expensive. I once presented a way to stop 500,000 people per month leaving an email service to 12 mid managers/agencies. It would’ve required work (you know that thing they get paid for?). The outcome would not only have reduced the churn but also actively increased their subscriber base by tens of thousands per month. 11 of the people on the call were either politicians or spectators (which I’ll come to later) and the whole thing was put out to pasture because all the politicians had different agendas and didn’t want to do the work to make things happen.
Having politicians around you can be very damaging and set you back months, years even, until you either manage to get rid of them or somehow get them on your side. A politician that is on your side can be a very powerful ally because if nothing else these people have drive, are persuasive and when you manage to align your business goals with their personal objectives they can be a real force. Getting them on your side however always has a cost and for that reason I try to work around them or where possible not at all.
Unlike the politician these people have very little drive and few opinions unless it means they have to do something. They just want their pay at the end of the month. When a spectator is in an important role it can be dangerous because they can then become a puppet for one of the politicians. However most spectators are like cartons of milk. They sit in meetings next to the coffee saying very little. Usually the spectator is one of two kinds of people.
The Honest Spectator.
They’re either very junior or really don’t know what’s going on so they sit quietly trying to learn to have an opinion. This is Ok, you have to encourage this because essentially their silence is down to a lack of confidence and you need to give them that confidence. There is nothing wrong with being young or respectful whilst learning your trade.
The Professional Spectator.
The other kind is going through the motions trying to make their life as hassle free and easy as possible. They don’t want to put in hard work to make things happen. Spectators dodge things, pass the responsibility to someone else, look for the easy option to do things. Spectators are usually internal staff, agencies don’t usually hire spectators as they cost too much to train.
I pointed this out to the Hippo (our client) who moved the spectator to another department in a kind of sideways step and brought in a young energetic keen to learn intern who did a far better job and had our tests running within 2 days.
Having too many spectators in your business can mean a lethargic approach to optimising your digital marketing costing you money every day. You need doers (coming to them at the end) not spectators.
Unlike spectators and politicians you can actually get things done with Whiners. Inherently they’re not lazy like spectators or self serving like politicians, they just don’t prioritise what’s important very well. They’re usually (but not necessarily) technical people in my experience.
The whiners complain because the thing you want to do to save or earn more money will mean a lot of extra work for them. They are so deep in the details and the dependencies around what they do that they can’t see the bigger picture and that can be a really expensive idiot.
For instance one company we worked with developed an application for our customer. We needed to add code to the website application they were developing that was different to the native code in their application.
It was different for 2 very good reasons. Firstly it would allow us to control the website analytics code from the cloud and secondly it would save our client about 6 months in development time for the analytics tagging work. The whiner started complaining that his way was better and forced us to go around in circles for 3 months testing things we shouldn’t really be testing just because it would take more work to change his base code. When we went back to the original method we suggested it worked fine and we’d wasted 3 months with a high opportunity cost (€100K) and high development cost (€10s of thousands).
The internal whiner can be even more expensive. One customer employed a whiner who prioritised a beta website development for a site to be launched in six months over a fix we required to a page that was costing the client 100K a week in lost sales. The fix was easy, something an intern could’ve done in an hour but simply because there was a “development roll out cycle” that prioritised an update to the beta site it took another 2 weeks to get the fix placed. The whiner in question said “there is an agile process we follow here that needs to be adhered to”. Agile my arse.
Whiners can be worked with. Giving them a bit of education on what matters and why usually means they will re-prioritise things. However if you’re not prepared to put the work in to stop the whiners whining then you should expect they will cost you a lot of money.
Put The Work into Doing Digital Well.
The best digital strategy in the world won’t help you do digital well without surrounding yourself with good people. If IT people are the problem reduce your dependency on them to do your digital marketing. If you have whiners or stakeholders with a lack of confidence teach them what the priorities are and in the future hire doers.
Hire Doers for your business.
A doer given a clear business objective ‘does’ what he or she can to achieve that goal as fast as is humanly possible. If something isn’t clear they ask questions. If something costs a lot of money they ask what is the ROI if they make the investment? The make things happen in hours or days not weeks. They have out of the box ideas that they get tested. They experiment with what works and what doesn’t. They aren’t afraid of responsibility. They aren’t political. They’re passionate and respect those that are passionate about what they do. But the biggest single attribute of a doer is that if they don’t know something they learn enough to understand whether or not they should spend the time doing it themselves or whether they should outsource.
You need a team of doers not idiots.
By: Steve Jackson, CEO, Quru