Tell Me What Time It Is

I worked for a man once who understood the intersection of data and technology as well as anyone.  But as is often the case with small business folks, especially C-level executives, he lost his appettite for the gory tech details. “Tell me what time it is,” he repeated like a mantra.  “Don’t tell me how the watch works.”
The junior execs snickered when someone (disclosure: often a younger me) was in that spotlight.  But he was right on so many levels that the cliche must be obeyed.
I met this week with an up and coming small business.   I have a sense of their revenues, profit and cost structure.  I’ve had preliminary discussions with them about their business and hold the passwords to multiple accounts on their servers and for their applications at other companies. They have been smart so far and hired multiple marketing agencies that specialize in different areas.
So why talk with Silver Beacon for hours and hire us? Because all of these companies not only neglected to tell them the time, they actually sent reports that proxied as the watch instruction manual. Even though I am in the same business, orienting myself to the gushing spreadsheets took a few minutes.  I haven’t even checked the data because there are no formulas.
Some proponents of this method will insist this prevents over-keying and errors.  That’s nonsense. The company is paying a decent amount for standard online advertising services and some other search marketing tactics.  But to quote everyone I met, “We have all this data, and we just can’t get to the point where we know what to do with it.” That’s a bad job for anyone servicing these accounts.
Customer service takes time, usually a partner’s time and certainly an account manager’s time.  That’s non-billable time, and in the business model we created, we have built in a hefty chunk of customer service/account management non-billable time.
Sure, everyone loses customers for one reason or another.   There is no reason for anyone paying for online marketing, however, to accept a bunch of spreadsheets and data dumps as consultation. And if you’re in a business beyond marketing, make sure you know exactly what your customers expect for information.  Some will want to know the time every day, week or month.   Others may even ask how the watch is made, but if you start assuming, don’t be surprised to find that your customer goes elsewhere for answers.  Of all the reasons to lose a good customer, never learning their needs has to be one of the most egregious.
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