The Reluctant Consultant

honestyI love the phrase – ‘The Reluctant Consultant.’

Let me explain what it means to me.

To begin with we need to look at the word ‘Consultant’ – what’s one of them?

It seems like everyone is a Consultant of some sort today, fighting it out with the digital gurus and social media experts in the latest job title challenge over on linked-in.

A consultant diagnoses a client’s problem and prescribes a solution but only once they are sure of their diagnoses.  In our world they charge for this solution. And quite often (it should be) that charge is based in some way according to the potential value of the solution and not based on hourly charges.  It’s a highly valued solution and charged accordingly.

I won’t define reluctant you can do that just fine.

So what is a Reluctant Consultant?  When a Reluctant Consultant is with a prospect and they are struggling to remain in the diagnosis phase, the first phase (where you ask question about their business problems) and instead skip ahead to be prescriptive phase the final phase, often with a box standard solution, the thing they always sell (weird aye) in the same way everyone else sells it  – then they are being a Reluctant Consultant.

The are being reluctant to advise wisely and are bailing out on their role of being consultative and instead are prescribing before diagnosis which is malpractice. Will this result in repeat business?

The Reluctant Consultant agrees to do whatever the prospective client asks of them.  He would rather not challenge the prospects thinking.  I’m not advising being abrasive in fact many consultants could do with working on their bed side manner.  Humiliate a prospect at your own peril. You’re supposed to be smart that’s why they invited you in, which actually makes them quite smart, right? You don’t need to arrive with ego too.

However, to challenge the thinking of a prospect in their own interest is another thing entirely.  “I can sit here and agree with you Mr Prospect but my worry is two-fold,  one I see things slightly differently and if I agree with you won’t you make the same mistakes as last time, can we discuss it a little further?” “I can see you are keen to get a proposal or a price but I think you’re rushing ahead.”

Consultants need to over come their reluctance to consult.

To be truly consultative you can’t be reluctant to say what you really believe about a business situation and often there simply isn’t another information to make a good diagnosis.  If  you don’t know say that – “I don’t know.” Add “Yet.” if it makes you feel batter.

Maybe (it happens rarely) the prospect has done the perfect self diagnosis on their business. And if they have they don’t need you, do they? Now you are just an executor of their plan and you’ll be paid hourly (after some heavy negotiations, you’re not exactly in short supply are you, ring any bells agency owners) and not based on your true value in relation to the solution in the bigger picture.

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Do ‘they’ even need new business people?

Death of the salesman?

It is amazing the amount of things you can buy today without meeting a sales rep / new business person.

I bought conveyancing online and it was great and it was dead cheap.  I bought it off line too it was painful, slow and more expensive.

You can use online estate agents, solicitors, get loads of financial advice, compare insurance quotes and so on.  

Will there be a moneysupermarket or comparethemeerkat for creative agencies?  In fact why isn’t there?  Is that what some of the creative intermediaries already do? Create a central viewing point of showreels and credentials for marketers to view out of sight from pesky new business people or agency heads? Is that commoditising creative services?

Today it seems creative agencies are largely being commoditised and treated as free consultants. Maybe that is okay for estate agents, solicitors and financial services but does it benefit the buyers of creative services?  

And it is happening, just look at People Per Hour (PPH), where online you can buy logos, websites, SEO, ads, photo-shopping services, graphic design, press releases, direct marketing, telemarketing –  all cheap as chips.

You can get some pretty good services on-line, carried out often, but not always, by someone in a developing country at a fraction of the cost and you never meet the seller.

I used a brilliant guy in India to fix my WordPress site and I can tell you the service was outstanding, he over delivered and kept in contact all through the process.  

I know people in agencies who have bought services from PPH and over paid / tipped the supplier because the quality was so high.  When was the last time your client tipped your agency?

I think creative services are different, very different, well they should be.  The problem is the mis-definition of creativity or more importantly creative thinking today.  If creativity is seen as something technical you can most likely buy it online.  Fix the gremlins in my WordPress site for example or photoshop a picture.

Creativity today is often seen as solely aesthetic, making something look visually appealing. Although important, this is only part of what it means to be creative.  

The creative industries need to help a business solve a problem that is holding them back. They’re business issues and problems which are objective. Even if they are sometimes hard to diagnose from the symptoms that the client offers up. A person, a new business person, is need to help diagnose right, like a doctor?  Creativity is linked in my opinion to critical thinking – the prospect requires this don’t they?  Else they’ll just do the same thing over and over.

Being creative is a way of thinking about those identified symptoms, for instance struggling to make revenues, losing customers, losing market share, competing with new entrants and so on.

Creativity is a competitive advantage, it is looking at the problem differently it is being critical of the current way things are done. 

It is hard to commoditise, hard to find and yet unfortunately way too easy to put a low price on today. Let me tell you my story about gourmet burgers and see if it whets your appetite? Because it is not just my intention to say that buyers often buy cheap but that they buy bad and over priced more than cheap.

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7 habits of effective people – still useful

I think knowing Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Effective People are still useful to know today. I sometimes feel that people who read this and nothing else think they’ll become master of the universe over night, but hey it’s still a must read. And now because you’re way too busy to sharpen your saw, it is in video form.



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Column Thinking – Know Your Onions

 Column Thinking – is a very handy qualifying tool to determine whether you are likely to win a piece of new business or not. It is in my experience way superior to BANTS (budget, authority, needs, timing).

When a client is holding a pitch or sending out RFIs they all pass the BANTS test with flying colours don’t they?  Look –  they have money, the decision makers are involved and they want to change their agency in the next quarter. Bingo – got one!

Column Thinking  is my ‘Money Ball” qualifying tool. It combines empirical evidence regarding how marketers ‘actually’  buy with me sneaking in my views on  consequentialism and a deterministic universe.

In the book (now a film) Moneyball some whiz kid (Peter Brand – his first job in Baseball, in fact anywhere) worked out by looking at the history of baseball statistics that baseball teams had been deducing incorrect knowledge for ages, whilst all analysing the same statistics to select their players. He shares his findings with the Oakland A’s now legendary manager Billy Beane.

They had been selecting players that looked like the All American Star –  good-looking , had the girl, ran fast, could hit hard  and had multiple skills and some good batting averages. You know the sort.  The same sort of thing would never happen would it via ad land’s graduate training programme surely? *Coughs, ‘cookie cutter’* I digress.

So all of the big baseball teams were fighting over the same college players and their players prices went through the roof..  Without ruining the book it turns out their use of  statistics and gut feel was not a good indication of future major league performance.

And worse the big baseball teams were over-looking what they should have been buying?  Remind you of The Playboy Burger v Gourmet burgers?

Let me explain my column thinking. I think buyers put agencies into columns mentally when they are at the early stages of looking to change agencies.  They (it’s usually a group of buyers)  have loads of information and sit there deciding who they’d liked to work with even before meeting with any agencies.

They usually have at least four columns A-D. In today’s market there are often more. As an agency you want to be in column A or B only. Agencies get called in to pitch, or answer a Request For Information (RFI) and they are unknowingly already in columns C and D or further down the alphabet. They are called upon to be column fodder to assist with benchmarking mainly on pricing. What is the difference in those columns and how can you tell where you are?

Column A – You are in columns A if you are the most favoured agency to the buyer or the buying team. Column A will have the agency in it that has been referred to the team by another marketer they really trust. That person may be internal or external. Or Column A may be the incumbent agency where there is no real intention to part company with them and the other columns are being used to price check the market – very public sector.

Or Column A agency could be a strongly preferred agency from a published thought piece article or the flavour of the month as advocated by an intermediary for example. Sometimes an agency emerges that is flavour of the decade usually hanging off of one or two amazing pieces of work and they get on pitch lists very quickly.

You have been selected based on some transfer of trust caused by something or someones conversation,  that you were probably not privy to. So previous events, most likely your successful work, has had consequences on the prospect that determines you are in column A. It’s kind of how the universe works.

Column B – You may be the 2nd referral of choice because maybe they have two referrals – in my experience the agency that is referred to the marketing director for example trumps that of the one referred to the marketing manager.

Column B is the 2nd class referral in that regard.  Column B can oust column A though,  if A  messes up, more so, than on their own merit. The business is A’s to lose statistically.  Column B is the first loser is many regards.  They have on paper what column A may have except the trust that comes with the superior referral.

Column B may in some cases merge into columns C and D. So A is way ahead with the other columns being there for benchmarking / procurement. Remember you can’t see these  columns that are in the buyers heads’.

Column C & D…Z  – These are the agencies that have arrived on the pitch list from cold lead generating. They are the sellers. They have been selected based on some of their experience, location, size etc and will be used for price checking and idea generation. This is where ‘The Fishare (see Chapter 4 on poker).  

Your agency is required for procurement processes – to make up numbers but most importantly to check market rates.  The buyers only wants to pay column A agency the price of column C or D and although they may not succeed in getting quite that they don’t want to pay too far over C & D prices.

The truth is sometimes you don’t know quite what column you are in so you have to use your intuition.  Sometimes it’s a close call if you are in A or B.  You should always know when you are in C and D though. Column thinking is a tool to help you qualify an opportunity by understanding what is most likely going on around the buyer’s table.

Because columns are unique to each buyers it is hard to put a permanent percentage chance of winning on each columns.  But because we know from agencies that up to 80% of their work come from a referral I’d wager that columns A and B combined win about 85% of the time and the other columns share a 15% chance between them.

So if there was only two more players i.e. C and D they have 7.5% chance each.  What would you do with columns C and D opportunities? Yet most new business programmes spend time filling the pipeline with C and D opportunities.

If agencies get 80% of there work from referrals then buyers are buying from a referral 80% of the time, QED.

This better work!” Billy Beane


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You need an edge in new business.

edgeThis is a response to an article I recently read in PR Week – see here

My point is you’ll never understand selling unless you understand buying.  How people buy (creative  services) is where you should take the majority of your learning from to develop a new business strategy. It is most likely what you do for you clients in many ways.

How do marketers buy PR services ?  Well if you work for a PR agency (or any creative agency) simply have a look at how you got most of your clients?  I have done this evaluation for agencies and everyone has told me that 7o% to 90% of their clients come from referrals.  So if that is how you get work that is how they must be buying work – QED.

What happens in my experience is that the client side marketers sit around a table, have a bit of a moan and a dig and  decide it is time to get a new agency.  In fact until they have all decided to change, things will start the same. Of course it should never have come to this if you were client servicing effectively.

Then they have to decide who to talk with.  This is where the top marketer may have someone in mind already – be it from a referral or the agency that is of the moment.  Or they might go and ask another trusted marketer for a referral.

Then to supplement the list other team members will go and SEO for ‘PR agency with food experience’  take the odd cold call that week or look in their inbox for a new business e-mail from an agency.

Now they have a list.  You have to have a list, right? What would procurement say otherwise. The main reason why a prospect approaches you and this may sound harsh is so you can be column fodder. That is what the stats say isn’t it?  Most of the time (70%+) you lose to the referred agency. So if you’re not the referred agency guess what?

So who do you think will win in the above scenario?  Just on that limited information who is getting this gig? No understanding of BANTS  (budget, authority, needs or timings) all still important mind. But who is going to get this win?  Kind of obvious isn’t it? The referred agency.

You’d have never come to that realisation unless you looked at it from the buyers angle. And you never get this in post pitch feed back either.  It is not like they’ll say – ” er, well we went with the referred agency you stood no chance, it is all about trust you see.” They give you the old “it was close but strategically etc…” yawn, yawn,

That is why it is so important that people who work in agencies are trained to be comfortable at  asking for referrals at all levels.  Because once you have a referral there is someone on the inside doing the selling for you.  And people buy people they trust. And if that  person is high enough up they will say things like  – “I trust them because they work for John who I have known for years and they’ve done amazing things for him.” That trust has transferred from them to the agency.  Where as when you say it, you just look like an exaggerating sales person.

In new business today you need every edge you can get. I do apologise for the corny picture, sometimes it has to be done.

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Are people musturbating in your agency? You’ll go blind.

abcdeAlbert Ellis the world-famous psychologist coined the phrase ‘musturbation’. And I reckon many agency people are regularly doing just that at their desks today.

Musturbation causes myopia and in severe cases blindness although it can be cured.

Musturbation, according to Ellis is the cause of anxiety and stress in general as well as other nasty mental infliction humans give to themselves. Ellis is crystal clear you cause your disturbances so maybe you should consider un-doing them.

So what is musturbation?  In short it is an irrational belief.  A belief that things ‘must’ go your way and if they don’t it’s a utter catastrophe.  So if you are saying I must, I must… or they must, they must… then you are musturbating. Dirty! Very Dirty!

And if it stresses you out you’re a serial musturbator and as Ellis states that is “unethical, for when you allow yourself to become emotionally disturbed you are being unfair or unjust – to yourself.”

Musturbation leads in modern working life to stress, giving-upitis and procrastination.  The sequence according to Ellis style thinking runs a little like this.  I must not humiliate myself, I mustn’t ever be embarrassed,  I must be liked,  I must do well, I must win this or that, I must not make mistakes I must not make a fool of myself, I must not lose.  Get it?

When this sort of pressure is piled on a few things may happen.  The person may not start on the task at hand at al

l or constantly avoid it or delegate it out to a scape goat.  The potential failure is way too much to handle for the musturbator.

When people musturbate a failing experience becomes personal rather than just an event not going your way. Life, right? You failed doesn’t mean you are a failure.  There are lots of factors and many many of them external to you.

The other thing that happens mentally to aid procrastination is that people over ‘awfulize’.

So they believe if something goes wrong it will be a catastrophe rather than just bad.  This is the distinction that Ellis was keen to talk with people about.  He invented a form of therapy called RET (Rational Emotional Therapy), which is now superseded by CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy).

He believed that an activated event (A) would lead to one having beliefs, both rational and irrational about that event (B) and there would then be (C) consequence.  To over come these belief you have to (D) dispute those beliefs that were irrational and then arrive at (E) an effective rational philosophy.  He believed it wasn’t (A) that caused (C) but (B) your beliefs about the event. (see diagram at the top of this post)

Ellis believed that if we were more rational and honest with ourselves and others we could live more fulfilling lives.  If instead of saying we ‘must’, replace with ‘we’d like to’ or even ‘really, really like to’.

Or ‘we’d prefer something went our way’ or ‘prefer something didn’t happen’.  But consider it may.  Shit happens right. Life is like that.  Life can be a hassle.  But it’s not the end of the world and it’s not a catastrophe. A sense of perspective is required

Ellis used to get his clients to think and talk about the absolute worse thing that could happen to them. Then he’d ask them to rationally talk about how their lives could in fact go on and still be fulfilling and fun.

His clients had been over catastrophising the event(s) due to musturbation. Things must not got bad for me, as if they’re at the centre of the universe.  Ellis hated this self obsession. “Who says you are important?” …”Who says things can’t go wrong for you?”…”Why must people like you?”…”Where does it say people must accept you?”…”Who told you that life was easy, where is that written, prove it to me?”

He’d ask – “Where is your evidence for these mighty claims.'” Or he’d ask,  “Show me the rules of the universe.”  Isn’t it more rational to say you’d like people to like you or you’d prefer things not to go belly up?  It’d be nice if my dreams come true and so on. And what if they don’t? Can’t you start again?  So what if you lost some money or someone said something horrid behind your back or cheated you in some way.  How bad is it really? Bad, right. Annoying.  But not a disaster.

All humans are fallible so things will go wrong, you might not like it and it is maybe upsetting, in fact it should be.  But it’s not the end of the world and you probably learned something from the experience too.  You don’t control the universe.  In fact you can’t control much at all but you can control (change) your own thoughts and therefore your beliefs.

Your thoughts and beliefs will determine how you feel.  Ellis wanted people to be more rational about how they viewed the annoying events in their lives. And realised other people can be right arseholes but hey ho, they are allowed to be. In fact we all are arseholes sometimes.  The problem is one may believe they must not be or how dare they and get over emotional i.e. rage, stressed, I can’t go on, depressed etc.

Ellis would get his clients to deliberately humiliate themselves to show them it wasn’t so bad…..go do a public speech and feel the failure, mess it up see what happens.  Not much in fact.  Go talk with people you are worried or scared off, see what happens you get the idea.

So what has this got to do with agencies?

Firstly, if my ears don’t deceive me agency’s clients can sometimes be a little, how can I put this carefully ….annoying, irritating, badly organised, pressuring and so on.  Agency people  get stressed about this – i.e. by thinking they must not be like this – how dare they, they must respect me more, they should or must respect my time too, they must not be on my case all the time and so on…that is musturbation.  Has anyone banged these ones out in your office? Or in the bar after work?

Another one that I cum (couldn’t resist) across is we must win this pitch.  Like failure isn’t even an option.  When really they could say, “We’d love to win, we hope we win it, we will do our best to win it, why not.”  But we must….there in is musturbation.

What about when prospects ask, “Why should we work with you?”.Well Ellis points out that ‘should’ is the cousin of ‘must’.  Well they don’t have to do they? How many agencies are there? Thousands, right? Why should they?

However,  I expect by now many new business people are banging on about creativity being equally important as strategy here in our integrated agency blah, blah, blah…..
In fact that isn’t rational is it? What is the truthful answer to that question?

When we get that question shouldn’t we answer  – “Maybe you should and maybe you shouldn’t, what is it you are looking for?” or “Good question – How are you going to know if our agency is a good fit for you or not?”  Isn’t that what we could be saying back?  Wouldn’t it be better to have rational adult to adult conversation with prospects?  A great way to differentiate yourself is the truth. Remember that thing the truth? Truth sells you know.

What about when clients or prospects ask us about ROI or potential future changes in sales.  A tricky one right? So what’s the truth?  Well the truth is what has your agency done in the past.

If you are like most (fallible) agencies you have done really well with some campaigns and you have fucked up too. Truth. Painful truth. Truth – nevertheless.

So tell them that you have smashed it out of the park for this brand and that brand although that doesn’t mean things always go our way, there have been times when thing weren’t always that smooth.  Truth. Rational.

What is a prospect more likely to believe, an agency that always says they over achieve or an agency that has done good work and sometimes shit happens (truth)?  This will also help you avoid taking on

a client that expects miracles.  Miracles that you promised.  So now you both believe that something or some result must happen. Mutual musturbation.  I am sure that never happened in your agency.

Look for your irrational beliefs in your head and that the agency you work for holds.  Look for words like must and should in your thought.  Then dispute them mentally or write them down.  Why must we, why should they? Where is the evidence?

Look for clients and prospects asking you for irrational requests. Then either understand they are being irrational and they are allowed to be because people are fallible and don’t get upset because of it. Or if you are brave enough rationally discuss with them about the situation / request. You might find yourself telling the God’s honest truth, with answers like “I don’t know” or “Nobody really knows.”

Agency life maybe much happier if we were more rational about what may or may not happen, even if we work hard.  Cracks appear when management musturbate and employees eventually join in the charade. If we don’t stop this filth we’ll get no work done at all.

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How comes this never happens when you go see a doctor. And yet agencies….

Dr. – Do come in and take a seat?

Patient – Thanks

Dr. – So how can I help you today?

Patient – Well I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about yourself and how you might be able to help me?

Dr. – Well what seems to be the problem?

Patient – Oh, no problem at all – I just like to meet doctors to see what is in the market place and I liked your website.

Dr. – Er, okay well I have been a GP for over 10 years and I offer a full examination service.

Patient – Interesting very similar to my current one and who have you worked for?

Dr. – Loads of people mainly old people I guess but some young patients too

Patient – Who was your favourite patient?

Dr. – Errm well I once saved a child’s life

Patient – Wow – How

Dr – Well they’d been misdiagnosed in the past and I rightly diagnosed and  then rushed them to hospital and they survived.

Patient – Have you got a case study on that?

Dr – No I haven’t. But…

Patient – Well I need one really, can you get it to me by the end of the week.

Dr. – Yes okay would you like it on power point.

Patient – Sure.

Dr. – Any other questions?

Patient – Yes can you include your prescription prices, opening hours, terms and conditions too.

Dr. – Sure – and once I have done all that will you get back to me.

Patient – Maybe I am very busy –  just leave it with me is probably best.

Dr. – Lovely to meet you have a nice day.

Dr. to receptionist – I think I have a new client we got on so well. Can you make me up a presentation please, but first call a meeting with the rest of the staff I’d like to discuss some ideas for it.




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The 9 most populars arguments for setting KPIs deconstructed

comic1This is an updated blog post from June 2013.  I love it so much for its clarity. I thought it well worth an update for 2015.

I actually have a really fond memory of meeting an MD in 2013 and she said to me that a person she met the day before quoted this blog article about cheating and targets. She picked them up on it as being from this blog.  Made my day that. Small things eh.

Anyway this post is from the utterly brilliant blog System Thinking for Girls and not me, she seems to have gone AWOL in 2015.

It deconstructs beautifully the arguments that some use to say target setting works.

System thinkers are adamant that targets make performance worse not better. Please re read that. Worse not better.

It’s written by an anonymous person. Below is how she describes herself on her blog. And by the way she tags her blog Britain’s funniest blog on system thinking. And I think it is.  Well done you Ms Anon.

I think it helps to have a sense of humour when you start to examine Systems Thinking.  Mainly because it draws on the irrationality of management and organisation structures.

System thinking drives you bonkers for a while.  It seems akin to taking the red pill in the Matrix but really it is just a lesson in critical thinking which there is way too little of today, especially in management.

If you are in middle management and  you are brave enough you may allow yourself to admit that you may be causing problems by the way you manage people in your agency or the way you’re managed.

You may be acting on people rather than the system.  The bold claim by system thinkers (like William Deming) is that management should be acting on the system (the way the work is done) 95% of the time and only 5% on the employees. All employees want is the chance to do a ‘good’ job. Managements rules and targets rob them of the chance to do this.

“People with targets and jobs dependent upon meeting them will probably meet the targets – even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it.” W. Edwards Deming

Just look here at how expensive lead generation gets. Lead generation is notorious for setting targets that must be hit on pain’s of death,

About our guest blogger…

I’m a feminist and an amateur systems thinker – officially the two best world views.

I worked in local government for several years, read John Seddon’s Systems Thinking in the Public Sector’ and this changed the way I thought about work.

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. I recommend ‘The Myth of Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus‘ and ‘The Gender Delusion’. Both authors demolish the ‘science’ that reinforces gender stereotypes.

I’m also inspired by Dan Pink’s work on motivation (my insert here – remember this doing the rounds in 2013 – everyone lapped it up –  have you changed your agency accordingly – have you altered the way you use targets and monetary rewards?) and Seth Godin’s blog on marketing.

I have strong views on organisations and stereotypes. Otherwise, I wouldn’t say boo to a goose.


Why I love the post below is that although I expect it is aimed at the Public Sector it is my belief similar issues exist in new business departments and board rooms of creative agencies and between agencies and their clients.

Agencies set targets for sales, profit, meetings, briefs and pitches for examples as standard.  Although today they may add in likes, RTs, opes, CTR, views and so on. All which  lead to cheating, arguing, stress, wonky pipe-line reports, politics,  lack of quality control and ultimate under performing, oh the irony.

And then  agencies with their clients (especially in social media) set targets for sales, market share, likes, hits, views, follows, reach,  interactions, up-loads, engagement, thumbs ups, klouts and so on.   None of these measures could be cheated could they? See Ben Kay’s blog post on Santiago Swallow.

Targets could and should be replaced with purpose and principles more on that here.

Guest blog starts here…Take the red pill

Okay, so we know targets are bad

Hundreds of researchers, academicsbloggerspsychologists, managers, more bloggers, statisticians  authors have written about the damage caused by targets. It isn’t an abstract problem, targets can kill. But politicians, civil servants, managers, HR people, consultants and pundits all over the world think they know better.

People continue to argue targets have their place.

What are their arguments?

The 9 Most popular arguments deconstructed

Arguments used by your Nanna

This is what anyone would say – your mum, dad, aunties, uncles, people down the pub, journalists, politicians, think tank people and civil servants.

1. It’s common sense

Setting targets is common sense. But, as Julian Baggini says in this book on bad arguments, appealing to common sense is a sort of exasperation, something seems so obviously true to us that we don’t think it is worth explaining why. It’s just lazy. Invoking common sense is really a shorthand way of saying we think something is obviously true or false. It is misleading because it implies a universal standard of rationality. Saying it is just common sense is a way of shifting responsibility for having to explain why we think what we do onto some mythical judge of ordinary reason. And yet we know that science repeatedly confounds common sense.

2. I don’t believe it

Some people just don’t believe that targets always make performance worse. This argument basically says that because you can’t imagine something is true, it isn’t. As Julian Baggini says, someone’s inability to imagine that something is or is not the case, is not in itself a reason to think it is or not the case. Some true things are simply unimaginable.

The fact that we have strong convictions does not mean that something is true. When you are confronted by the belief argument, you should give up. You can only counter this argument by allowing the other person to see and experience the effects of targets.

3. Yes, but you have to strike a balance

You have to strike a balance between having too many targets and no targets at all. A happy medium. People love to be reasonable. Striking a balance makes the person who is attempting to strike it appear a reasonable sort of person. Who wants to be unbalanced? After you have looked at the pros and cons and understood the competing arguments, you should balance them out, yes?

But when someone strikes a balance, they rarely say what balance has to be struck and why. Instead, they throw this phrase in as the final justification. It allows someone to come into a discussion and own new midway territory between two competing positions.

Talk of balance can be reassuring when actually, what is needed is a radical rebalancing of priorities. No balancing is required when the scales come down firmly on one side. In short, striking a balance is woolly and platitudinous, neither ideal when you are dealing with a statistical reality. Fewer targets, just like a little bit of ham for a vegetarian, is still the wrong thing to do.

Arguments used by experts

These arguments are made by the people who reckon they know something; the HR people, managers, consultants, management journalists, performance management officers and the armchair pundits. I’ve paraphrased the list below from this book.

4. Targets motivate people

Correct, they do, but they motivate people only to meet the target, not achieve the purpose. The target becomes the de facto purpose, regardless of the consequences for the rest of the system.

5. Targets make people accountable

Yes, they do, but for meeting the target and for doing whatever is within their means to meet it or be seen to meet it,  including cheating and lying. 

6. The alternative is ambiguity and fudge

Systems thinkers know that using real measures to understand whether purpose has been achieved is anything but ambiguity and fudge. It is the height of clarity and utility. Imposing targets on people will encourage the fudging of results and increase ambiguity because no one has a clue what is really going on.

7. Targets enable comparison

Yes, if  comparing one lot of lies against another floats your boat.

8. The alternative is anarchy

No, replacing targets with measures allows much better control. Performance becomes visible to everyone. There is nowhere for people to hide. Anarchy exists with an absence of authority. If you use measures that relate to purpose, the new authority becomes the customer and what matters to them. The individual worker is freer, yes, but freer to use their ingenuity to solve problems instead of to cheat the system.

9. Targets are okay if you do them right

Impossible. All numerical targets in hierarchies, without exception, cause jiggery pokery, make liars and pretenders out of good people, tell you nothing about reality, waste money, make staff  focus on the wrong things and give the customer a properly bad service.  No human has yet discovered a way to set a numerical target in a hierarchy that improves performance. See Chapter 7, ‘An Irrational Belief in Targets’ of this book for more on why the common methods used by managers to set targets are all flawed and will lead to poor performance. If you are going to set a target, you might as well use my random target generator. It would be exactly as scientific.

Ring any bells my new business friends – do you ever cheat to keep management happy?  Ever bigged up that short-term lead to make the status report look more robust and in-line with expectations??  Ever shoved your way on to a pitch to get a bonus or hit a target?  Ever booked a meeting that didn’t really exist to bump the numbers up?  Ever dialled the phone so you looked like you were calling another prospect when really you weren’t?

Ever hit a proxy target and still been fired? I have.

Conversely, I have made an agency money and been fired because of not hitting the proxy KPIs set by mod management – figure that out.  “We were impressed by the amount of new business you bought in but we (middle management) thought you should have been hitting our proxy KPIs too – so on that basis you’re fired.”  They went on to hire an agency that could hit their proxys but not win a new piece of business for toffee.

Is that what the new business role is today to cheat? Of course not.  If you didn’t have to cheat couldn’t you be more innovative in how you went about generating opportunities? Couldn’t you save your agency time and money by qualifying leads better rather than hitting targets? Sure you could.

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Would you read this book? KYO New Business Development

imagesI am writing a book on new business development.  In fact it’s written.  A printed copy is sat next to me right now. Staring at me, covered in red ink.  How did that happen? Nobody told me editing would be so much fun.

I need some advice on the introduction which is below.  Apparently the introduction is important – all these bloody rules. So I need to ask would you read the book from this?  Do you read books on new business / sales anyway?  Why bother eh?

Or perhaps there is something you think the book must cover.  Perhaps you know the real secrets to business development. Any feed-back most welcome.   I’m mickey mouse – all ears.

Know Your Onions – New Business Development


Have some of your new business leads taken you on a wild goose chase? Ever been guilty of wearing rose-tinted spectacles, chasing the ‘glittery’ made to measure prospect and yet you didn’t win the  business? Ever felt like a headless chicken, or that you were chasing your own tail with new business?  You’re not alone that’s for sure.

Do you fancy stepping off the hamster wheel? That’s the aim of this book. I hope to provide you with plenty of evidence for doing new business in a different way.  Far, far away from metaphors containing animals.

This book is aimed at helping independent creative agencies bring in new clients and growing current ones.   There is some intellectual scaffolding I need to put up to show you where I am coming from. So later when I  show you some counter intuitive thinking later on it makes sense.

I have met many owners of creative agencies who have become frustrated with how they approach new business. Hiring and firing new business managers and  lead generators over and over and going round in circles trying all forms of PR and marketing to generate qualified leads.

The book takes some learnings from particle physics, obviously, the trend for gourmet burgers, of course, Aristotle, how couldn’t it, and poker players, pretty standard –  but one thing it definitely is not and that’s rocket science. But you will need some moxie (balls) to do what I am suggesting.

I have made my advice as practical as I can without being sat next to you like when I train people. It is step by step at times and maybe, just maybe, I should have allowed the reader to  be more deductive like Sherlock Holmes (who also pops up through the book) but I didn’t want to mislead anyone. So forgive me when I spell it out for the fifth time.

One of the key premises of this  book is that new business development  in parts is like poker.  Poker is a strategic game and so should new business be.  In poker (and please don’t worry if you know nothing about the game) you have to make decisions on  probable outcomes with imperfect information.  You can’t simply react to a situation emotionally. You have to have some reasoning to your decision-making and think a few moves ahead else you’ll go broke.

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