Thursday, February 24, 2005

Delete THAT Contact

Does anybody find it weird to go through their contact database and having to delete people because they're dead?

I just removed two people from my Palm who I never got around to deleting after they passed away in the last year. It's a little weird to hit that delete button. It's like I killed off a little last part of them than still remained.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Marketing Versus Sales, Japan Style

There are several epic battles that endure the eons: good and evil, God and Satan, Marketing and Sales...

- The Window Manager 

If you think the battle between marketing and sales was tough, try making the salesforce Japanese and the factory Korean, and then you have a huge battle on your hands. There are several cultural issues going on in this scenario:
1. No Love Lost Between Japan and Korea - WWII was a long time ago. Today Japan and the U.S. are the best of friends although we carpet bombed their country, nuked two of their cities, and turned their God-Emperor into a symbolic figurehead. Since we were the winners, and the Japanese were pretty magnanimous in defeat, we are all friends today.

The same can't be said of some of the countries in the former Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, especially those that lived through a brutal Japanese occupation. For example, Japanese businessmen to this day are sometimes refused service in Philippino establishments. And, except for China, no other country lived longer and more oppressed under Japanese occupation than Korea.

Now if you get Japanese and Korean business people into a room, everyone is smiles and handshakes. Everyone happily goes out in the evening together for soju or sake, or both. But just underneath those smiles there are attitudes still lingering from over half a century ago: The Japanese still have a feeling of superiority. The Koreans still have an attitude of dislike and distrust.

And these attitudes come out just beneath the surface in business dealings. I had my Japanese sales manager ask my Korean factory manager if the quality his customer was going to receive will be as good as if it were produced in a Japanese factory. I've subsequently got requests from this Japanese sales person to the Korea factory get "lost".

These little things add up, so the round-eye marketing guy has to step in and act as the buffer between the two. In this case I have put myself as a complete buffer between Japan and Korea, and now have everything running smoothly. In another, similar situation, I haven't yet been able to put myself completely in the middle, so things are still a little rocky.

Japanese Sales Philosophy - Non-Japanese companies who set-up local sales offices in Japan always end up asking the same question: Do our sales guys work for us, or the customer?

This is a completely different level than in the U.S. where your sales guy might ask the factory to lower the price, speed delivery, and other activities that "champion" his customer. In Japan you will face a complete lack of respect for the business needs of the parent company, and having your employee totally take the side of the customer.

I know of meetings where a company's own salesperson berated his visiting vice president to lower the price further after the VP and customer had already agreed on a price. I know of Japanese salespeople sending confidential pricing and cost information to their customers to give them an upper hand in dealing with the U.S. parent. I know of salespeople totally going against their company's best interest in order to "service the customer".

I am not alone in this observation. I've experienced it in two companies and have talked to a number of managers in other companies who have experienced the same thing. There are, of course, exceptions - I worked at a third company where our Japanese sales guy was totally awesome. But the Japanese salesperson problem is more common than not. If you berate them about it, they will say "You do not understand the Japanese way" (which is what I was told just last week).
What it means for the American marketing manager is that you really have to go in and control the situation, more or less micromanaging everything that is going on. It also means frequent visits to put yourself instead of the salesguy in front of the customer, which is why I get to go to the Land of the Rising Sun again in just a couple of weeks.
The Japanese Circle of Truth - I've already written on this.
But, in the end, I am still quite a Japanophile. My sales guys present me with problems that I have to fix, but on a personal level I like them and have a good time with them when I am over there. The country is fascinating and the food fantastic. So while they are a pain in the ass, at least they give me a chance to go over there and experience the country some more.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Famous Last Words

Ah, the things I said when I was young and knew it all...

"Sushi has got to be one of the most disgusting foods invented" - Today I consider it one of my favorite foods in the whole world.

"I'll never leave Texas. And if I do, it sure as hell won't be to join those fruits and nuts in California" - I moved to California in 1998

"When it comes to cars, I'll always buy American" - I've owned a Japanese car since 1999 (maybe California did it to me?)

(On drinking my first beer, smoking my first cigar, and having a martini for the first time) "I don't think I like this" - Let's just say I've acquired these tastes.

"How can anyone in their right mind pay $3.00 for a cup of coffee" - I have been a regular at my local Starbucks and Diedrich's since about - well, the time I moved to California - although I brew from home most days of the week now.

I'm sure Mrs. Director could come up with a few more...

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Sometimes Firing Customers Is Necessary

There are two main theories in business when it comes to dumping customers:

1. Never, ever get rid of customers. You never know who or what that customer might end up to be, and getting new customers is harder and more expensive than retaining existing customers.

2. Always dump customers who are non-profitable, take up inordinate amounts of resources, or who make it hard to service other customers.
I am firmly in the second camp and believe dumping customers is sometimes necessary. However, it must be done carefully.

Early in my career at TI, Apple refused to do business with us. It turns out when Apple wasn't far beyond the garage shop stage TI dumped them, and from that time Apple refused to business with TI. It wasn't until Jobs was unceremoniously dumped for that soda pop salesman that TI got back in there, and remains to this day (even when Jobs took back the reigns). But TI still dumps small customers to this day.

But I don't think it's the fact that customers are dumped that creates animosity, it is how they're dumped. In most instances, I think showing the customer why they are being dumped can leave the door open for future business when conditions change.

I am going through the situation right now of having to dump one customer so I can service others. This customer is one of the top ten revenue producers for my corporation, but is a nobody in my product category. My group didn't want to service them originally because of their lack of revenue in this market, but we were forced to support them due to their relationship at the corporate level. However, we are now in a situation where even senior management agrees they need to be dumped.

Here is my factory's open capacity from 2004 to 2005. I have taken out the scaling in the Y axis, but let's just say that my open capacity is swinging from the positive six digits to the negative seven digits:

We are working to expand capacity, as seen by the small blip upward in March, but it won't be enough (I should note that this demand was unforecasted by my customer base and has come in the last 60 days). The situation means that customers are going to have to be cut - we just can't expand the factory in time to support everyone. And the customers who are being cut are those who are not in a market leadership position in this product category.

I plan to walk this customer through the issues and show them we simply don't have the capacity to support them this year. I am also providing contacts at my competitors who may be able to support them (although I think my entire industry is facing the same situation, so I don't think it will help).

Will the customer be upset? I have already given them verbal notice of what is going on, and they have not reacted badly yet. I am giving them the capacity numbers and other data this week to outline the business case, so we'll see where it goes. My guess is they will try to outrank me with senior management, but I already have that channel covered - the customers who are creating the crunch are deemed more important than this customer in this product category, so everyone is on board with the decision.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Taiwan Should Know China Manufacturing is Inevitable

One must bend like the willow and not be rigid like the oak.

- Chinese Proverb

This was a surprising move by the Taiwan government: Taiwan Government Raids UMC Offices Over China Fab Links
Taiwan's Ministry of Justice raided the offices of United Microelectronics Corp. on Tuesday, looking for information that might prove the company illegally invested in Chinese foundry Hejian Technology Corp.

Worried about the loss of its core foundry business to political rival China, the Taiwan government restricts investments in certain technologies, including semiconductor plants capable of processing integrated circuits on 200-mm diameter and 300-mm diameter wafers

Now, I am not a fan of the Red Chinese government. But Taiwan, like the rest of the world, has to realize that manufacturing is moving to China, and can get in on the game and make money at it, or fight it and be left behind. Taiwanese companies are uniquely suited to play the game since they are, well, also Chinese, so this is a way to bring in even more revenue to its island-based companies. Better their companies that those from other countries.

But this isn't just about making a buck. It is about exporting democracy. Rising standards of living and capitalism are precursors to starting a democratic movement (another way to establish democracy is to invade and set up a democratic government, like Germany, Japan, and...Iraq). After all, if you are making money and own property, the last thing you want is a government that can easily take it all away.

In addition, if your own people are making money hand over fist, the last thing they would want is to stop all that economic activity, which would happen if China invaded Taiwan. The economic engine in China would grind to a screeching halt as its biggest buyer - the U.S. - cut off all sales and blockaded its coast. How long do you think the Chinese government would last if millions of workers were suddenly idle?

So I think Taiwan should be encouraging economic partnerships between its companies and China. While there may be short-term economic issues, I think long term it is a benefit to the island nation.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

I Want To Become A CEO So I Can Get Fired

Techdirt reports on an article in Business Week that says that Carly is negotiating a $21 million dollar severance package from HP.

Read that again. $21 million. For getting fired. That's more money than HP project managers - you know, the people at HP who actually get stuff accomplished - see in an entire lifetime. And it would support all those Compaq people that Carly laid off for years.

I am a capitalistic, pro-business kind of guy, but when I see stuff like this, it makes me realize how corporate governance has really broken down. There is a club of CEOs and board members who keep scratching each other's back by looting corporate coffers. Shareholders hold so little stock, or hold it indirectly through 401Ks, mutual funds and the like, that it is impossible for them to fix outrages like this. The mutual fund and money managers who do control the voting stock are in on the game themselves (check out who is on the HP board for example), so they have no incentive to change anything. So we keep seeing - and will keep seeing - outrageous pay packages for failure.

I don't think the solution is the government, however. Time and again government regulation has created far more problems for shareholders than management (Sarbanes-Oxley being the latest example of shareholders losing corporate value in the government's attempt to "help"), so I don't know what the solution is at this point.

This Isn't Your Father's Rental Car

A big thank-you to Avis for allowing me during my out-of-town meeting to say "Gentelmen, let's go to lunch in my ride." (my company booked the normal econobox, but they upgraded me to a PT Cruiser that had 125 miles on it):

While the exterior styling is definitely eye-catching, I found the interior lacking. It drives and handles like a car, but there is no pick-up to speak of whatsoever. I assume if you were buying one yourself you could upgrade to a bigger engine.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I Love Email Like This

There's nothing like getting an email like this to give you a smile at the end of the day:
Thank you very much for corresponding for last week. Significant meeting was done last week by your full cooperation.

Please cooperate continuously.

Please receive a good new year.
Hey, I am not laughing at my customer - his Engrish is a hellovalot better than my Japanese, domo arigato.

More Engrish here, which is always good for a chuckle or two.

Let's Party Like It's 4702!

In case you forgot, today is New Year Eve - by the Chinese calendar. Tomorrow is the first day of 4703, so party your socks off tonight. If you have trouble remembering that number on your checks, you can just remember that we are bringing in The Year of the Cock Rooster (so today is the last day of the Year of the Monkey).

So what does a Rooster Year mean? It makes you wish you were staying Monkey:
(The Year of the Rooster) may require a great deal of effort this year to resist going off on wild goose chases. Refrains from making speculative ventures. Disappointments and conflicts will result. The Rooster likes to flaunt his authority and a lot of trouble can come from his domineering attitude. But since he also symbolizes the good administrator and conscientious overseer of justice in the barnyard, the peace will still be kept. Everything will be precariously balanced in the Rooster's year, as his dramatic personality can set off all kinds of petty disputes.

This year we may have to expend maximum effort for minimum gain. Try not to fuss too much. Details do need looking into, but don't forget to view the whole picture. Be cautious. Do not aim too high. One is liable to get shot down
I think I'll have a couple of extra martinis tonight to bring in this type of year.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Plagarism Doesn't Exist Inside Companies

I got an email forwarded to me today. It was written by my Executive VP, who is outlining a new strategy he is initiating. The orignial email went to the CEO and a few other senior execs. The reasons behind the strategy - about 80% of the email - were cut and pasted from a marketing overview I wrote and sent him recently.

Nowhere in the message am I mentioned. Nothing like "...based on a marketing analysis from the Window Manager..."

Ten years ago I would have been furious. Today...well, I really don't care. Really. Maybe because I am jaded. Maybe because I am more experienced in business and understand how things work:
Email Doesn't Have Footnotes - To be fair, there was probably data in there not only from my marketing analysis, but also from the sales force, other marketing people he talked to, etc. And my analysis wasn't generated in a vacuum - there were people who I could have thanked. There is no opportunity to put this sort of information in footnotes in an email or a put in a "I would like to thank John and Fred and Joanne...." for every single thing sent out.

Your Job Is To Make The Boss Look Good - Your job - any job - is to make your boss look good. In an ideal situation, he in turn takes care of you. If I make him indispensible, he makes me indispensible. And I ride his coat tails all the way up. I haven't worked long enough with this guy to find out if this is the case, but as I noted before, he has brought me into his staff meetings although I am technically one rung too low to be included.

I Am In A Good Place - I work remotely from HQ, from my house or a local sales office if I want to hop into a "real" office. As noted before, I'm happy with this situation and he is welcome to use whatever I send as long as he keeps me in my present situation until I am ready to move. I have no desire to go to HQ or anywhere else just yet.
The one thing that bothers me is that he didn't copy me - or bcc me - on the original message. Someone else on the original list recognized that it pertained to an area I specialize in and sent it my way. An oversight? Maybe. Maybe not...

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Dear Director...

Another reader writes in for advice, but I think the value in these columns is from readers' input, so add your $0.02 in the comments section.

"Dave" writes in with the following (edited slightly for length):
I have been at a tech startup for almost the past 2 years as the director of marketing. The startup is backed by top tier Sand Hill VCs and in the hottest tech segment right now. I feel it's time to move on for several different reasons: my passion is no longer strong at the company, there's no real carrot here in terms of salary and options, and I need to build up my resume with other successes to enter a top tier MBA program.

I've explored options with several companies where I have gotten a similar pushback--lack of experience and/or track record (these were high level 100k+ jobs where other candidates were late 20's and over 30). Keep in mind that I am in my early 20's and this is my first full time job after college--although I have done several high profile internships. I'd prefer to make a latteral Dir Mktg to another startup, although I might be open to a senior mktg role at key segment in a larger company.

I'm really stuggling on my next step and where I want to take my career. What I do know is that I have a knack for mktg and am an entrepreneur. On the side I am launching a new B2C startup, manage my own real estate rental investments and supplement my income with stock/options trading. On the other hand, I realize that part of the issue is that I may be just a tad too ambitious and just want to win too bad.

There's a lot of info in there, but I will put in my two cents on a few issues that caught my eye:

1. Getting that Carrot - Have you talked to your manager about getting that carrot? While I wouldn't tell him you are considering leaving, I would bring up what you have done for the company, how you feel about your compensation, and your desire to be rewarded along with the company's growth and success. You might be surprised at his response. If you haven't said anything, he may just assume you are happy with your current situation. And getting those options might do wonders for your motivation.

2. Business School - With your background and inclination for entrepreneurship, I am not sure that you really need or would benefit from B-school, except for the possibility of networking. Even then, there are other ways to get the same level of contacts, so I am not sure taking a couple of years off and spending lots of money for a degree is needed in your case. I do believe b-school is helpful for things like finance, accounting and the drier parts of business that are harder to "pick up from experience", so just make sure you are eyeing business school for the right reasons.

3. Putting in the Time - You mention that you are in your 20s and this is your first full time job. And it sounds like you are doing pretty well at it, but just aren't currently excited about it. Unfortunately, a lot of career growth means putting in the months and years at one job. A job isn't always running around 100 mph with your hair on fire, but doing the little things day in and day out, even to the point of drudgery. What this does is your case is get you experience past the point of product introduction and growth, so rounding out your experience in the product life cycle. For large companies looking at resumes, seeing lots of time and experience as a Marketing Director in one company looks better than job hopping between start-ups and an MBA, but this sort of brings me to the next point.

4. Strike Out on Your Own - From what I read, it sounds like the large corporate marketing path isn't right for you - at least not at this stage in your life. You say you are an entrepreneur and have a deep desire for winning, and that just says "start-up" to me, but one where you are pulling the strings instead of being an employee. My biggest recommendation is to go down this path - start your own company where you are in the lead, or with a group of people where you are the top marketing person. I think this would give you the excitement, job satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that you aren't getting in your current start-up position.