Already I can see that conversations about B2B social media in 2013 will circle around the “where’s the ROI?” question. In a cogent article titled “Is B2B social Media Marketing Behind B2C?” posted today on socialmediatoday.com, consultant/author Natascha Thompson presents the distinct challenges that we in the B2B sphere deal with—summing things up by declaring that “B2B social media is best suited to general awareness.”
Frankly, I couldn’t disagree more—at least from my perspective through the lens of supply chain logistics. The social strategy underpinning her argument—that “B2B marketers have a smaller set of social media marketing tactics available than B2C folks and generating immediate sales from a great campaign is rare”—focuses on the wrong issues and ROI levers.
Root Cause Concern: B2B ≠ B2B
In supply chain logistics, the problem isn’t find-ability or sales cycle or immediate revenue capture—the problem is a lack of value transparency.
The B2B Marketing Dilemma
There is absolutely no doubt that logistics industry firms (from products to services to technology) often fail to communicate their value effectively—and overly rely on direct sales channels to spread the word and forge new relationships. But, hey, what do expect in an operations-oriented, sales-driven business sector? So, yes, there is significant room for improvement. Even limited investment to quantify economic value, create niche-targeted content, and deploy digital marketing channels (to stage that content more precisely when/where prospects consider viable options) will translate to new revenue opportunities and reduced cost to sell. And, from my experience working with logistics industry clients, this drives rather dramatic upticks in awareness that can now be coupled with the ability to definitively track actions to results.
Yet the fact remains that industrial B2B buyers are rarely swayed by “great marketing campaigns”. Over the last decade, findings from marketingFOLIO’s research into how and why logistics buyers choose solutions has been very consistent; strategic decision makers look for trust-ability, net value in use, and a culture of responsiveness. Increasingly, as the impact of Big Data ripples through industry, these B2B buyers want solutions that will go beyond mere responsiveness to insightful-ness and predictive-ness.
The Reality Gap
For logistics service providers and software vendors, in particular, the value transparency gap is more evident in operational deployment than in solutions specs. Rationales (like Thompson’s) that keep social media value tethered to marketing activities ignore the really big opportunity that social technology offers: a better way to reduce supply chain friction . . . from the top of the business development funnel to the bottom line of day-to-day business process. [Note: To be fair, I have not yet read all of Natascha’s posts covering social media nor her new book “42 Rules for B2B Social Media Marketing” co-authored with Michael Procopio—and I have hopes that some of these industrial B2B nuances are addressed.]
Social Business Strategies versus Social Media Tactics
Simply put, we need to look beyond the benefits of social media marketing and start imagining about how to create more value through “social business”. We need a roadmap for deploying social technology that will create more transparent, more collaborative, and more dynamically accurate business processes. And, it goes without saying that we must bring the new social capabilities to the full array of places and people and processes involved . . . internally to align resources, and externally to embrace supply chain partners and logistics clusters.
So, how about this year challenge ourselves to start talking seriously about how to use social strategies to deliver more sustainable service quality and supply chain excellence?
Engage Your Social Side
Get your LinkedIn profiles, RSS feeds, and Twitter accounts ready, everyone. Talking implies a dialogue, not a one-way conversation. That means you! Share your reactions . . . ideas . . . . hopes . . . challenges . . . and fears. Collaboratively, we will discover great things in 2013!
P.S. If you're planning on attending the 2013 IWLA Convention & Expo in Orlando this March, don't miss my presentation on Tuesday, March 12th titled "Making Social Media a Win in the 3PL Industry". Not only will this workshop include tips, techniques, and real world examples, we'll unveil findings from a new benchmark research study about logistics industry social business preparedness. Contact me if you want to participate in the study.
You can follow our progress on Twitter @kvcanipelli and hashtags #SocialBusiness and #Social3PL.
You will have noticed a HUGE gap in this blog stream. I launched The Industrious Marketer in 2009 with a fire in the belly. The ideas flowed, some good content emerged, but I struggled to find the right voice and style. With my bent towards strategy and analysis, my posts tended to be rather pedantic. Not boring, just too academic. Rather than torture myself (and you too, dear reader), I stepped away for a while to sort figure out what I wanted to say with this blog and how best to say it.
Needless to say, I didn't expect to stay away for this long.
I'm pleased to report that we've been productive in the interim. My creative and analytic energy has been wholly concentrated on client needs which, given the dire economy, was a darned good plan. We connected with new partners, worked in some entirely different business sectors, and helped client achieve some remarkable things.
We left, we learned, we grew.
During this period, what clients wanted shifted away from grand brand strategy and toward practical business development toolkits. It was good to get back to my roots, doing work to define and strengthen their USPs and value propositions. And to have support for incorporating Inbound Marketing, deploying market intelligence and compelling content to attract prospects and drive turnkey lead generation programs. Although staying silent here, we helped clients walk the talk of blogging best practices and gain comfort with social networking. It was also rejuvinating to dive into new B2B niches (commercial real estate, insurance, healthcare, science and space, events), because it allows us to bring fresh insight to our global supply chain logistics base.
We're relaunching this blog.
Rinventing it, really.To make it more relevant. Less academic. And more thought provoking. Most important . . . I want to engage YOU in conversations about real world strategic business development issues. We will experiment with our posts and introduce new contributors. Finally, some of the discussions you discover here will have begun elsewhere: on LinkedIn or Twitter or SlideShare, from our commentaries to various online communities, or even at the events we attend. Streaming ideas for the good of our market relevancy!
If you're a B2B marketer anywhere in the English-speaking world and
have searched the Web for best practices, there's a high probability
that you've run across "Inbound Marketing"
as advocated by HubSpot.
The provocative set up.
Earlier today, I spied this LinkedIn question: "What type of marketing campaigns work well to get attention of a target
market for a B2B product? Would you use something like a cold call, letter, brochure, email, or other mailing?"
For me, posing such a question is akin to the toreador
waving the red cape. I was compelled to answer; an edited version of
which appears below. Hopefully, this fellow won't feel gored.
The fly paper argument for B2B marketing.
let's say your B2B product involves....customized solutions....is niche
focused...and your ideal customer can't easily justify internal resourcing to match your capability or capacity level. So
you go to market with a full service client services approach, which
adds critical value (by virtue of your niche market knowledge and
to detail). This also differentiates your firm from the competition.
And let's assume that you have ascertained that your target market
believes that your
offering is worth the cost
and the effort, that you are prepared to communicate the value clearly
and concisely, and that there are a sufficient number of targets to
make it worth your while, too.
Are you with me so far? (i.e. you've nailed the initial strategy work
on Product, Pricing, Market Size, Value Proposition, Positioning and
Further, let's assume that by "get attention of a target market" you mean
"generate qualified leads" that will fill your pipeline. In B2B, we
tend to be focused on the terra firma of business development (sales
and deal opportunities) rather than the abstract benefits of pure brand
Now, you can hunt for organizations that fit your ideal customer
profile (or come close) by placing ads where your targets are likely to
see them, exhibiting at trade shows they're likely to attend, and
buying lists to send them info that will reach them directly (email,
direct mail) or allow you to phone them, plus a number of other
outbound marketing tactics. These efforts will connect you with some
good prospects, but you'll also have wasted precious resources on finding
the wrong sorts. Including some who've just completed purchase of an
alternative or aren't really in the market for other reasons. Money
down the drain, with a high opportunity cost.
Wouldn't it be better if you could attract the right sorts to your website in a manner that prompts them to contact
you? So that you can invest your finite resources on the highly qualified prospects? Like fly paper. Makes sense, right?
Don't swat the air, entice and snare your targets.
is what Inbound Marketing is all about. It rejects outbound cold
prospecting. Instead, it employs coordinated marketing tactics that
expose, educate, engage, excite and enlist
qualified prospects to reach out to you. Inbound Marketing leverages
online techniques (e.g. web content, search engine optimization, social
networking) and offline tactics (e.g. events, white papers, phone
contact). While campaign
designs vary widely, a key principle of Inbound Marketing is that it
nurtures prospects based on their buying process stage. If Outbound
Marketing interrupts with "I've got something to sell, wanna buy it?",
Marketing joins the conversation with "Here's info you can use, wanna
learn more?". It marries
the best of marketing strategy (well designed Web sites, specific &
relevant content on landing pages, keyword optimization, carefully
crafted offers, etc.) with the best of consultative selling styles
(industry knowledge, responsiveness to needs, attentiveness without
stalking, relationship building, helpful information at the right time,
Generate demand and overcome objections.
In B2B we typically like to hook prospects early, before they've
decided what the "best" solution is, so that we can mold their
perception of value in a way that favors our offering. Inbound
Marketing helps here, too. Moreover, it engages multiple people
involved in the buying process, which helps overcome the dreaded "NO"
Of course, certain campaign designs may work better in some
circumstances than in others, or with one industry niche better than
others. Industries develop dominant cultures/norms based on the
inherent structure (scale, supply chain, regulatory constraints,
location, etc.) and on prior experience of its people, since industries
tend to hire leaders or experts with prior experience in similar
businesses, who then perpetuate these norms. Here, too, Inbound
tactics make it easier to refine and customize the prospect's
interaction with you, making lead generation more efficient and
Somewhat more effort, but exponentially greater yield.
you say, but isn't this a lot more work? Can't we just craft better copy
that will increase response rates from print ads, PPC and search engine
marketing? And improve telemarketer/inside sales training? Well, you
probably should do these things, too. Making these improvements still
leaves you groping and hoping that you'll see the fly and snatch it
midair. With Inbound Marketing you set out the fly paper and watch 'em land and stick. Disclosure: This marketingFOLIO site is built on the HubSpot platform and we employ the Inbound Marketing methodology. NEED HELP?
If you're wondering how to create your own Inbound Marketing progams, marketingFOLIO can help. We'll help you assess your current position and devise means to transform your disparate tactics into a lead generation machine.
>> Contact us for a FREE consultation.
The "new new" mousetrap is that thing that suddenly appears from nowhere and changes our lives. The paradigm shifter. The game changer. Whether the "new new" is service, manufactured good, or applied science, the marketer's challenge is huge. Your target customer hasn't a clue that they need it. And, even if they're intrigued, they probably lack what it takes to assess the potential value. Not a particularly auspicious set up for your sales team.
Don't tell me, yada yada. Prove it.
Why, then, do companies launch major new products on the naive premise that "show and tell" is a viable business development strategy? It may happen in consumer-land, but in the B2B world, new concepts don't get scooped up by simply arriving on the scene. Even the seemingly overnight successes cultivated their business opportunities very deliberately over time.
For argument's sake, let's assume that the venture backing the "new new" has enough funding to sustain the development period ahead, and that the core value proposition is both real and well articulated.
With the basics in hand, here are six essentials for "new new" market development:
#1 SALES BUILDS ON NICHE MARKET STRATEGY
In launching the "new new", you're up against
skeptics and entrenched beliefs about business process that don't
change easily. The marketer's job is to promote the benefits/advantages of change, to reduce the perceived risk of change in
general, and the risk of selecting your particular solution. Niche
strategies allow you to do the ground work more efficiently and to
secure a core client base at lower cost. Focus on one or two specific market contexts where your solution presents distinct advantage over the alternatives. Niche strategies target very narrowly defined uses, in terms of vertical markets, functions or process supply chains.
#2 ASSEMBLE IRREFUTABLE LOGIC ABOUT THE VALUE
Define, document and quantify the value proposition in your market's language. Do beta installations/set ups (for nothing, if you must) and get out there in the trenches to follow the value chain in order to prove the concept in use. Building a strong business case in one market niche will produce a fat file of references to help you jump to the next niche. Much, much faster.
#3 GET KNOWN FOR EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS
Get known for the excellence with these first niches, then use them to network your way into additional sectors that have similar challenges. Provide clients with a "cookbook" on how to maximize the value of your product in use. And be very specific without fear of giving away your secret sauce. Provide whatever client services support is necessary to make them
successful users, even if that means contributing your expertise to
assist in their process redesign if they won't or can't do it
themselves. (You may find need to price in the consulting services; having testimonials attributing successful transition to your attentive client services will help.)
#4 EVERY CUSTOMER IS A CASE STUDY
Profile each new client's experience using your product, at all levels of use, in as many contexts as you can. Make the case study development bits part of your "onboarding" or "implementation" process--so that you can understand why and how they made the decision to use your "new new" from their perspective. Capture executive testimonials that attest that the value promised was delivered-and that your firm goes beyond. Then produce formal case studies that tell the story from the client's viewpoint. Write white papers that discuss the options and trade-offs, comparing your solution honestly.
#5 EXPLOIT NETWORK RELATIONSHIPS
Now, you're positioned to launch your "new new" into more niches. You have the data to back your unique selling proposition and real people who will vouch for how your company does business. Now you have something of interest to say, face-to-face, in print, on the web, at conference, et al. Substance that will help you sell. And contacts that you can ask to introduce you to others with similar problems or needs.
#6 SWITCH TO INBOUND MARKETING TACTICS
Inbound marketing educates, excites and engages prospects where they're looking for insight at different stages of their buying cycle. It's inherently a content marketing approach, but also fundamentally sales oriented. Web-centric integrated marketing infrastructure is vital; every tactic contributes to the overall success and metrics guide improvement. Do it well and you'll pull your targeted prospects through the awareness-interest-specifications-commitment pipeline without wasting much on the tire kickers. And since inbound marketing prompts prospects to contact you, this also means no more cold calls. Your sales team will love you.
No magic, just good planning & diligent execution.
One final comment. There is no "magic bullet". It's not about the size of your ad budget, creative branding, or becoming a media darling. These things are admirable, but not sufficient. Marketing the "new new" requires the diligence, discipline and process quality approaches akin to what your product engineers do. Work that's not always so glamorous and definately not a one shot deal. The most effective B2B marketing is systematic to begin with and "new new" marketing requires more than the usual number of touches.
Don't be confused. Your strategy doesn't position you to sell, it gets you aligned with how your prospect buys. In the case of a "new new" mousetrap, this means blasting a hole in their perceptions. Because, frankly, they aren't even aware that they should buy what you're offering.
If your customers know more about the value you provide than you do, marketingFOLIO can help. We'll
provide the independent research to verify direct and indirect benefits
by market segment, validate buying processes and personas, and produce
case studies that will help your sales force deliver the information
that serious prospects want to know.
>> Contact us for a FREE consultation.
Poetry may not always be commercially successful, but here's one poem that will help you succeed in commerce. This sage verse caught my eye when first published in 2008 by Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies and chief sales officer of the sales training firm of the same name. I share it with you now in honor of National Poetry Month, which rolls around every April.
The Buyer's Lament
By Jill Konrath
Don't waste my time, please go away.
I will not talk with you today.
You call me up, you want to sell.
But all you do is tell, tell, tell.
I do not want to hear your spiel.
I will not play let's make a deal.
So listen up, take my advice.
Discover how you can entice.
If you aspire to earn my trust,
Research is an absolute must.
Know my goals, the issues I face.
Use this to build your business case.
What have you done for firms like mine?
How have you helped their bottom line?
Can you cut my costs or help me grow?
Now that's the info I want to know.
If you can help me solve my plight,
I'm wide open to fresh insight.
I need to find new perspectives
So I can reach my objectives.
Want me to remember your name?
Launch an account entry campaign.
Ten contacts is what it may take,
When there's so much business at stake.
Just think of this next time you phone
And you'll get past my no-entry zone,
Once you get your foot in the door,
I guarantee you'll sell lots more!
If your customers know more about the value you provide than you do, marketingFOLIO can help. We'll provide the independent research to verify direct and indirect benefits by market segment, validate buying processes and personas, and produce case studies that will help your sales force deliver the information that serious prospects want to know.
>> Contact us for a FREE consultation.
There’s no question that these are challenging times.
Doing more with less—or simply doing less—is an economic necessity. You cut what you can, you keep what you must.
Across my network—across global industry—marketing and sales budgets have been slashed to the bone as business volume continues in freefall. The rationales vary. For some, this is a short-term tactic. Others restructure to drastically reduce above the line expenses to keep operating margins at target level—recognizing significant restructuring cost below the line, of course. And, then, there are the fortunate few in the right business at the right time who are capturing new business, yet still trim marketing spend because they [believe that they] can afford to. They’re all banking on the half-life of last year’s marketing effort to carry them through. And, when it comes to sustaining market awareness, it will.
As if that were all that good marketing does.
What’s really expendable?
That, I find, depends on business orientation. If your game is managing the channel (wholesale distributor), you’re a marketing business by definition; customer retention and transactional efficiency are top priority. If you’re in an operating business that make things (manufacturer) or makes things happen (complex services provider), production, supply chain, and customer service will take precedence. In any case, for many engineering-oriented, operation-focused, sales-driven organizations, marketing isn’t strategic, it’s simply sales support.
Thus, the cuts. Leaving the business exposed.
We're talking game-changing risk.
Attending to restructuring and capacity shifts are mission critical. But the big risk is that you focus too much on what’s happening inside your company—and neglect your market. No, this isn’t about promotion, this is about how you will compete in the most dynamic business environment our generation has experienced. Unless you’re strictly a commodity business, your company’s future rests on your ability to deliver more value, more consistently, to more buyers who are like your best customers.
Now is the time to invest in strategic marketing.
Mine that customer data in your CRM. Get your arms around distinct market segment needs, behaviors and trends. Probe the market to get research insight on what and where you need to tweak your offerings. Evaluate your portfolio, investigate expanding it via acquisitions or narrowing it via divestiture. Uncover new revenue streams and growth ideas. Forge new channel relationships and partnerships. In other words, invest in your company’s future.
Call it whatever you want. This is the marketing that industrial B2B needs now.
What's more, do it well and your business development team will cheer.
Over the next several posts, The Industrious Marketer will drill down to what you can do on a tight budget (we’re realists, after all) to get started.
DOWNLOAD OUR LATEST WHITE PAPER
In the meantime, read my recent post about B2B market research and download our B2B Point of View white paper "Ten Tips for B2B Market Research".
What's your network worth? According to new research on the value of business network connections, the answer is $948 per contact.
This week, IBM Research and MIT's Sloan School of Management announced study findings that indicate that, relatively speaking, the more connected among us tend to be the top producers. No big surprise, right? What makes this insight different is that it's based on the Web-based communications. Using algorithms to correlate professionals' communication patterns with revenue, researchers modeled the value derived from email address books, employee communities and, to some degree, the newer social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter.
Despite the surge of B2B social networking in recent months, web-based social networking is still very much a green field for most industrial managers. Some prefer not to engage, others are simply too busy. An an Operations exec in my network explained his challenge this way:
"Sadly, I just don't make much time to figure out new stuff unless I know it's necessary for my job. And the transportation industry isn't exactly on the technological edge. You know the story."
For industrial B2B, social networking potential is fairly obvious for Marketing and Sales, yet still obscure for everyone else. The table below features four distinct social networking tools. Click on the name to link to their sites.
WHAT IT IS
HOW TO USE IT
Outlook plugin that shows you the networks behind the people and emails in your Inbox--it searches Hoovers, LinkedIn, Facebook and your own archive of emails
|Efficient Communications: See your contacts' vital info & their connections to your network, at a glance from your email screen. |
|LinkedIn||Leading professional network tool in the US and Europe |
Thought Leadership: Make your profile public or private. Join industry-specific Groups to tap other's knowledge--or share your expertise and shine a light on your company.
Micro-blog with limit of 140 characters per post; people with similar interests will find you, follow you and share what you have to say with their networks.
Twitter works with your PC and mobile device, and now integrates with Salesforce.com.
Promotions: Announce new products and business news, with links to your website.
Business Intell: Monitor what people are saying about your company and your competitors'.
Customer Service: Listen and talk to customers in an open channel, to get important info out quickly.
BusinessWeek's community with direct access to industry specific data, commentaries from leading execs, and opportunity for network exchange with other members
Market Trends Research: It's like attending a top notch executive conference without the cost of registration, travel and time.
Certainly, some caution is warranted when launching into social networking; your company's reputation is at stake, as well as your own. Since any of these tools require time investment to maintain, before you start, assess your means to execute and pin down objectives. And, of course, this will help you answer the core question: What's the return on investing in your network?
If you're wondering how to integrate social strategies with your everyday business processes, marketingFOLIO can help. We'll provide insight on how your industry is (or is not)
embracing these tools, who's using them, and what strategies you can
use to gain and sustain advantage. Transform your network into a lead generation machine.
>> Contact us for a FREE consultation.
Interested in B2B social networking trends? Read these:
Perusing the New York Times last evening, the future hit me over the head like a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica.*
- Micro-blog tool Twitter got front page coverage for its role as a beacon for Moldovan anti-Communist protestors (until the authorities cut off Internet access, routing protestors to older cell phone instant messaging technology)
- Magazines including Time and even Scholastic have defied the American Society of Magazine Editors to blur the lines between ads and articles (horrors!)
- Content arbitrageur Google, disguised as a search engine, defends its use of newspaper headlines and story snippets as the publishers scramble to reinvent their business models —while also defending new digital library of scanned orphan books in a quarrel with university libraries who are the keepers of these out-of-print gems of cultural history
The social media technology revolution is reconfiguring how we work, how we communicate, and increasingly, how we become educated.
Citizen journalists (a.k.a. bloggers) proliferate without limit (or standards). Editorial is increasingly promotional. Knowledge (or at least the raw materials) is be available where you happen to be, on the device you prefer to use. But what does it get you? Can you trust it?
Yet like so many technology shifts throughout history (think telephone systems or transportation networks), the full value won't emerge until the networks reach critical mass. The value IS the network, based on scale, flexibililty and open access. Linear connections (e.g. early party line phone systems, traditional media journalism, and conventional e-learning sites) channelled information exchange but didn't require shared engagement. Wikipedia showed us how even a small group of highly involved contributors sharing knowledge can create something real without formal process and a minimum of rules.
In the new social network models, sharing is the default standard. In fact, one must opt out to avoid the shared environment. My Tweets have the potential to reach everyone unless I choose the direct message option.
There is both upside and downside to this. Shared information enables greater freedom, literal and figurative. But the noise emanating from so many fragmented channels overwhelms our capacity to make sense of it all. Which is the best source of insight on the Darfur situation in Sudan? Encyclopedia Brittanica, Wikipedia, or an activist's blog? All or none, depending on the context. This opens the door for new knowledge intermediaries to step in and make things simple again. As is happening with Twitter, whose users migrate to TwitterDeck and other aggregators. If only someone could tell me which posts I must read and those to ignore—to clear the channel for me, customized to my unique way of learning, so that I can (again) relax and read in the evenings.
The history of technology is the story of revolutions.
Innovation, resistance to change, counter-revolution, and, finally, better things emerging from the conflict.
Still, for the present, where "sharing" isn't a norm in an industry (process, resources or assets), resistance to social media trends will persist. Until one day, when the critical mass is achieved. Minds—and business opportunities—will open as social media becomes the new norm. And a huge entree for the information gatekeepers.
All that was old becomes new again.
* One can still buy Encyclopedia Britannica in print form, as well as the newer DVD and online versions. The company has recovered from its disasterous shift to a "media advertising revenue model" (giving content away free online, subsidized by Web-based advertising) and has successfully expanded their subscriber base across old and new technology platforms.
If your company is struggling with how social media fits in with your business processes, marketingFOLIO can help. If you've got customers, you need to understand how these networks operate. We'll provide insight on how your industry is (or is not) embracing these tools, who's using them, and what strategies you can use to gain and sustain advantage. Contact us for a consultation.
If you're interested in these April 2009 New York Times articles referenced, here are the links to NYTimes.com:
Launching a blog, I’ve learned, is like trying out for American Idol.
You walk in thinking you’re the next great pop star and then—ephiphany!—you find that your destiny is to be the next great opera diva (a bit like the French soprano’s Natalie Dessay’s story). It takes getting up on stage to find the right voice.
The Power of Authenticity.
This is to say that, after some reflection (and target market feedback), we’re shifting the style a bit. Less dense, more sporty. The Industrious Marketer’s goal is to add some insight on all things B2B marketing, but not necessarily to break new ground with every post. And, for the blogger, a little less pressure and a lot more fun!
More Chapters Yet To Come.
There remains a place for the serious, instructive, analytic, white papery content. Allow me to introduce the new marketingFOLIO B2B Point of View Series. The first article, “Ten Tips for B2B Market Research”, was modified from a 2006 client memo I wrote about the value of targeted research, input to a new strategic market segmentation initiative. (We got the gig, which combined web-based “customer” surveys and in-depth industry executive interviews to capture full spectrum data.)
Readings to Share.
After revamping the piece this week, I was happy to find two good articles that discuss trends in B2B market research. The first came from eMarketer CEO Geoff Ramsey ("Why Now is Not a Good Time to Slash Your Market Research Budget") citing three recent studies (AdMedia Partners, Duke Univ/AMA, MarketResearchCareers) that suggest that B2B companies may actually use the current economic situation to advantage by investing more in research. The second was a BtoB article ("Online Market Research Takes Off—Internet surveys combined with traditional research methods are becoming the norm") that echo’d my contention that support for B2B research suffers unnecessarily due to fear of small sample sizes.
Other than budget constraints, another pushback against research is “inside information”. Not the SEC kind; I refer to senior executives who strictly rely on personal experience to guide strategy decisions. I’m always a bit shocked to find this, despite years of experience working for engineer-oriented, operations-focused, sales-driven companies that should have inured me to the insularity of it all. Being customer-centric may be a stretch for some businesses, but to be customer deaf is a problem. Especially now, as market norms are shape-shifting as we watch.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power.
Earlier this week, I spent the better part of an afternoon addressing a roomful of women (and a few hardy men) who attended the Jacksonville (FL) CSCMP Roundtable on “Women in Logistics”. As one of four female executives on the panel, it was an opportunity to share some real world experiences. Having spent 90% of my career buying, selling or strategizing supply chain services, I had a sheaf of comments. The insights flowed as we discussed how we got hooked on an industry that most people are only vaguely aware of, how we’ve overcome the obstacles of this traditional male bastion, and what good advice we could offer.
Steel-Toed Heels Help
It was clear that this particular set of women had run the career gauntlet with relatively few bruises and many rewarding experiences. Our secret? Work smart, love it or leave it, know your value. Be sensitive to how others deal with women in authority—but don’t shy away from dealing straight on contentious issues. As Maureen Cunningham, Crowley Liner Services’ VP operations, put it, “If you have to go toe-to-toe with someone, then you go toe-to-to with them”. Pictured (L to R):Tamara Porter, director, East Coast & Gulf Terminal Operations, Horizon LinesKatherine Ventres Canipelli, president, marketingFOLIOMaureen Cunningham, vice president, operations for Crowley Liner ServicesYemisi Bolumole, PhD, CTL, Associate Professor of Logistics and Director, Transportation and Logistics program, University of North Florida
Using both sides of your brain helps, too.
Then, an article in this week’s EyeForTransport e-alert grabbed my attention. “Let’s hear it for the Women” reported that a new study examining the South African logistics industry found a link between companies’ profitability and how they process information—specifically, leaders’ abilities to read the signs of a changing market and make changes anticipating consequences. EFT drew a parallel between this “intuitive” capacity and women’s agility with complexity and reputation for communications and collaboration. Are they really saying that women’s intuition makes better business?
Engineering News’ summary of the same study didn’t spin the findings quite so dramatically. But it did cite conclusions that complex global value chains put exceedingly tough demands on companies. What’s lacking, the study reported, is leadership ability to rationally strategize and take control while placing emphasis on conducting business in an efficient and objective manner. Evidently these traits are not abundant in many companies—but they do mirror attributes of cooperation and collaboration often associated with women’s working style.
Are women more competent or comfortable with managing complexity?
Or are we just more adept at working both sides of our brains (creative/sensing and analytic/judging) simultaneously? When I asked Maureen Cunningham to comment, she was unequivocal. “I absolutely believe that we are able to predict and overcome challenges…we use logic to arrive at our decisions…but I do feel that our 'senses' work to our benefit.”
Okay, so if a senior female executive with an operations background is comfortable with the women’s intuition premise, what’s the view from the lower rungs of the industry?
Just last week, I had connected with a female over-the-road driver who had shared her perspectives on the industry from her Freightliner cab. TruckerDesiree is her nom de Twitter. (@TruckerDesiree)
Trucking is a thinking job.
As Desiree pointed out, operating the vehicle is only a part of the truck driver’s job. Trucking, she said, is “a service industry that takes patience and professional courtesy” not unlike the hospitality and hotel group of Disney World where she’d previously worked for several years. She says that women are an underappreciated resource—yet often have the critical skills needed. Patience, diligence, and discipline. Comfort with multi-tasking, attention to detail, legible writing and willingness to ask for directions. “Trucking is a thinking job, not brute strength”, according to Desiree. “The weak link is aggressively recruiting [student drivers and others] who have no skills to think in critical situations or communicate effectively. Being here on the front line, I can see things that a person accustomed to these cracks can’t, because they see it as the way it is." She also said that carriers, shippers and consignees may have been able to ignore the cost and service gaps in the good times, but not now, not with the severely weakened economy. And, she predicted, “smart companies will recognize this”.
Maybe. Or perhaps it’s time to just let the women handle more of the load.
If you're interested....
The Jacksonville Business Journal reported on this CSCMP event (link to it here).
While looking for stats for this article, my Google search turned up some interesting things about women in the global workplace:
- March is Women’s Heritage Month, sponsored by the National
Women’s History Project—who knew? This
year’s theme “Women Taking the Lead to Save our Planet” celebrates women’s
contribution to the ongoing “green movement”.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in early February
2009 that women now outnumber men at the office—which reflects both long term
trends and impact of the current economy.
More women are working and more are doing so part time. Sadly, some of the gain for women is due to jobs lost by men in this
recession’s business contractions.
- Over the last two decades, women entering the non-farm
economy workforce have contributed more to GDP growth than either new
technology or the growth of China