Lost in interpretation?

Today I’m full of mixed emotions.  They are a strange combination of frustration and schadenfreude pulling me in opposite directions!  I’m laughing and I’m crying (metaphorically of course).To help me get back to a balanced mind – I’d like to share these thoughts with you.  The crux of my emotional turmoil is due to a lost business opportunity and the knowledge that the prospect is still missing the point.  As a consequence the company is still making an almighty hash of its customer engagement strategy which is costing them oodles of cash and harming their brand.  How do I know this?  The answer came in post – five times!

At the beginning of the year, a high profile European B2B mail order company approached us to talk about how they could improve the cost effectiveness of their customer and prospect mailing programme.  With over 25,000 products on offer, the operation is sizeable and the cost of catalogue distribution, which represents the primary business development thrust, significant.  Due to the nature of the group, (I can’t comment on the ‘power base’ but needless to say it wasn’t in the UK), there was duplication of information and effort with many existing and prospective customers receiving expensive, hermetically sealed duplicates.  At £5 a pop it was akin to throwing money into the recycling bin.   From an outsider’s perspective, this would appear to me a salesman’s dream – a compelling event, a tangible ROI and a logical solution to remedy the haemorrhage of cash.  And so we thought. 

We undertook a comprehensive Money Mapping exercise to identify their best customers that would allow proportionate effort to be considered and investigated the benefits of building a unified prospect pool. This approach questions why all customers should receive the same messages or contact frequency.  Or indeed more than one catalogue!   Unless all your customers are the same, the broad brush approach cannot be justified.  Money Mapping evaluates the cost of service for each customer referenced against its value. This approach to customer segmentation allows ‘best customers’ to be clearly defined and identified so that appropriate strategies can be developed to address specific customers, sectors and products, etc.  This allows resource and cost to be apportioned logically.  On the back of this we considered that it was an opportunity made for Blue Sheep.  And so, discussions continued.

After much deliberation, meetings, ROI justification, proposals and presentations, it was decided - from above - to do nothing and to continue its course of inefficiency and backward thinking.  At this point you might detect a degree of frustration seeping through the page as the thought of the opportunity slowly slipping through our hands, starts to become an insane reality.  Losing to a competitor I can stomach (although never accept this could ever happen!), but to do nothing in the light of the evidence seemed incredulous.  Had we done our homework, approached the right people, presented a water tight case and sold the benefits?  Yes, we thought we had but alas the international dimension of this business became our Achilles heel. 

The answer was ‘no thanks’ and the post mortem began.  Sometimes, you think that all the bases are covered and the proposition is too good to be turned down but there is always someone, and in this case a person with power and infinitely more wisdom and business know-how, calling the shots (apologies for the sarcasm).  We relied on the UK customer to do our work and sadly this failed.  Whether this was due to interpretation with the European parent we will never know but it was an object lesson in understanding where decision making sits in international companies.    Now, I feel better already and need to get a smile back on my face which leads me nicely onto my next emotion - schadenfreude. 

Schadenfreude is a wonderful word and as it happens quite apt in this case as it’s not English (no guessing where it originates from!).  Taking any form of pleasure in others’ misfortune is, of course, not a quality one should aspire to and by and large, most people fight the temptation to allow this emotion to enter their consciousness.  But, then we are all human and fallible at times.  Schadenfreude encapsulates some common sayings ‘I told you so’ or ‘you should have listened’, ‘why didn’t you take my advice’, ‘you get what you give out’ and so on.  These take retrospective positions of wisdom.  Well, I don’t profess to have much wisdom but the outcome did produce a wry smile and a flurry of heated conversation in the office!  Sometime after the fateful event, wounds licked and excuses made, low and behold, what was to come through our letterbox – the aforementioned prospect’s catalogue, beautifully produced, shrink-wrapped and labelled. Oh yes, and another one and another.  In total we received no less than five copies of the same catalogue from the same trading entity. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, had they undertaken analysis of their customer and prospect base they would have realised that the material was also totally inappropriate for our business requirements.  So, not only had they wasted £20 through duplication of mailing but they had wasted a further £5 because Blue Sheep should not have been on the database.  We duly contacted the company to explain the occurrence and asked if they would like to pick them up, which they did using a courier company, thereby adding further expense and embarrassment.  “We’ve a lot of pick ups to do for this company” stated the courier in an excited manner.   This, I would suggest, is the tip of the iceberg.  There will inevitably be many people who have the same experience as ours and scratch their heads asking the same obvious question – why? 

Sadly, this attitude towards direct marketing is all too common as it relies on oversupply founded on poor data strategy and ill considered customer engagement.  It contributes to the low perception of the direct marketing industry and does little to promote a positive brand reputation.

OK rant over - I’m all done now - psychoanalysis achieved and points made.  This is an atypical example in our experience (but I would love to hear similar ones). I’m sure I’m not alone in the occasional LOL from a bout of unforgivable schadenfreude!