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Archive for October, 2009

Talent Is Dreadfully Cheap

How about this quote from Stephen King’s Danse Macabre (h/t

… talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing. Talent is a dull knife that will cut nothing unless it is wielded with great force — a force so great that the knife is not really cutting at all but bludgeoning and breaking… Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle.

Jobless Recoveries

Jobless recoveries is an all-too-frequent phrase in our modern economy.  The 3.5% growth in 3rd quarter GDP is a bit misleading as the government poured money into the economy (cash for clunkers, first-time home buyer program, etc.).  The hiring trend continues to be abysmal as somewhat expected as it is a lagging indicator.

But is it becoming more of a lagging indicator?  This article from Commentary Magazine makes an observation I haven’t heard elsewhere (emphasis mine):

The underlying reason for increasingly jobless recoveries in recent decades can be found in Chart 5 of the New York Fed’s report. In the early 1980s, 51 percent of industries were undergoing structural change as opposed to merely cyclical change. By the 1990s, that percentage was 57. In 2003, it was fully 79 percent. It is undoubtedly even more now, six years later. The fact of the matter is that the microprocessor is remaking the economy from top to bottom—just as the steam engine did two centuries earlier—but it is doing so much faster. One result of this profound economic revolution is that productivity—the amount of output per unit of input—is rising quickly, and the largest input in most industries is labor. Thus the need to hire new workers as the economy begins to grow again is less and less urgent. It increasingly makes a lot more business sense to invest in new, highly productive equipment instead.

The author makes a good point regarding ever increasing productivity requirements.  My impromptu analysis of my business circle supports these requirements.  Many people talk of doing 2 –3 different jobs for their company…and the company expects this effort.  Clearly the present job market supports companies requiring this of their employees – jobs are scarce.

The ability to leverage technology to greatly increase productivity is an ominous development in the effort to recover from this deep recession.

Decline Of The Dinosaur Boards

Here is a job title of a job posting I read this morning on one of the 2 large boards:


Here is the opening line of the ad:

EARN AN EXTRA $1,000 a Week Working Less Than an Hour a Day, or $500 a Day Working 2-3 Hours a Day.

As an aside, it is a good policy to be highly suspicious of any position that leads with your ability to earn more doing less.  Perhaps couch potatoes are their top prospects.

I realize in a recession with extremely high unemployment that these types of positions materialize.  However, the two big boards are being overrun by these ridiculous ads.  It hasn’t taken long for these ads to swell up to 25-35% of the sales ads for any given day.

Clearly the job boards are trying to survive this economy, too, so I understand their desire for revenue.  However, the quality, and usefulness, of the two big boards is falling precipitously as these types of ads become a higher percentage of the listings.

A Minimalist Job Posting

Here is a sales job posting I clicked on this morning:

Regional Account Executive- Minneapolis

About the Job




That is it – the rest is a scrollable white page.  It gets better – the hiring company is in computer software.

Sales Dumb

This is from the crew – it is a description of things salespeople do to upset prospects.  I found it quite comprehensive:

They (Ed.-prospects) don’t like it when…

  • we’re pushy
  • we call too much
  • we’re “just checking in”
  • we’re unprepared
  • we’re disrespectful of their time
  • we keep calling if they say they’re not interested
  • we don’t respond fast enough
  • we appear not to understand them, their industry, their situations, and their challenges
  • we don’t work in their interest
  • we don’t listen
  • we don’t know about our own products/ services
  • we’re rude, arrogant, or inattentive
  • we’re vague or unclear
  • they’re made to feel like they’re interrupting us
  • we seem like we’re “just trying to sell them something”

Don’t Trust The Dow

I have heard many cheerleader reports attempting to claim the recession is over and the recovery has begun.  I’m not so certain especially when these people note the stock market as the leading indicator.  This article from explains why this cheerleader approach is flawed (my bold):

Several experts point out than many of the relatively strong earnings reports helping to lift the markets in recent days are being driven by cost cuts, rather than strong revenue growth that would be a better indicator of consumers and businesses being willing to spend again. If businesses keep cutting costs to make the numbers that Wall Street wants to see, that can only put more downward pressure on jobs and wages, and result in weaker economic growth or another downturn.

“The companies are cutting fat, and in many cases cutting bone and muscle. There’s no organic economic growth there,” said Yamarone.

And then there is this crucial fact of which I was unaware:

Another reason that comparisons to Dow levels of a year ago are risky is that two of the more troubled components — General Motors and Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) — were dropped and replaced by stronger companies such as Cisco Systems (CSCO, Fortune 500) and Travelers Cos. (TRV, Fortune 500) in June.

The recover, when it starts, will take far longer to bring us back to our past levels.  My question is this, how many Baby Boomers are going to simply leave the workforce after this extended recession?  The rehiring that is sure to occur may accelerate due to the certain lack of candidates.  I am hopeful that we see a sling shot of hiring once the corporate world is certain the recover has legs.

Terms Of The Recession

Here is one from the weekly Herman Trend Alert of which I was not familiar:

“corporate cocooning” – staying put out of fear

A rather appropriate construction for today’s economy, wouldn’t you say?  Here is the paragraph from which it is used:

Due to “corporate cocooning” (staying put out of fear), the “unprecedented churning” of the labor market we have forecast in the past has not yet happened. Now, we again see a high level of expectation of job hopping. Wise employers will heed this warning and take steps now to engage their valued employees and avoid this unwanted turnover.

Why Sales Forecasts Matter

I’ve noticed in some companies a casualness regarding sales forecasts from their sales team.  Heck, I’ve worked for some companies that shared that casualness.  Some companies view it as an exercise in Excel gymnastics.  Others view it as a coffee klatch activity.  One customer of ours had multipliers (<1.0) for certain sales reps since they knew those sales reps’ forecasts were inflated…greatly.

Here is a news story about a local company and a significant change to their forecast.  The setup:

Digital River Inc. shares plunged Monday after the e-commerce services provider announced it will lose its largest customer.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec Corp. (NASDAQ: SYMC) notified Digital River on Oct. 9 that it will not extend its e-commerce agreement. That deal, under which Digital River provides a variety of e-commerce-related services to Symantec, expires on June 30, 2010.

Ouch.  Most people know that Symantec owns Norton Anti-Virus so that is a big loss.  How big?

In 2008, sales of products for Symantec accounted for 24.3 percent of Digital River revenue and sales derived from proprietary Digital River services sold to Symantec consumers accounted for 9.4 percent of Digital River revenue.

Over one-third of their revenue gone.  I’ve never been a fan of companies having one customer be so dominant in their revenue stream.  And now that one company won’t be!  Here is a pristine example of when a sales forecast can be a lifesaver for a company.

Here is the CEO’s explanation to the street (emphasis mine):

“Our company is financially strong, our new business pipeline remains healthy, and sales activity in the software, consumer electronics and business-to-business sectors continues to grow,” he said.

As an investor, I would sure like to know what measurements constitute “healthy.”  This scenario, losing a large customer, plays out often in the sales world.  The companies that can absorb such loses are the ones that know how to secure new (i.e. replacement) revenue from new customers.  An accurate sales forecast is the tool that will guide the Chief Revenue Officer to the quickest path for revenue replacement.  If I were in that role, I would be doubling efforts on the best short-term prospects on the forecast.  If my forecast was little more than notes on a napkin, I would be updating my resume.

This Is 85% Of Sales Success

From an article in our local (bold mine):

A Carnegie Foundation study once found that only 15 percent of a businessperson’s success could be attributed to job knowledge and technical skills — considered an essential element but overall, a small contribution. A whopping 85 percent could be determined by “attitude” and the “ability to deal with people.”

I grant you that “attitude” is a fat word – I’m not sure exactly how he defines it in this survey.  Nonetheless, you get the point when it comes to hiring.  I would estimate that 85% of sales hires are based on technical skills as opposed to the ability to deal with people.

Soft skills often get marginalized in sales hiring, but companies do that to their own peril.  Successful selling requires “the ability to deal with people.”  Not only people, but people who have different motivations, values, perceptions, etc.  The strongest salespeople know how to leverage these human aspects when they are using their skills.

Facebook Faux Pas

This story will do down in the annals of management malfeasance.  A good friend of mine works for a small company that had an atrocious employee.  This employee couldn’t show up on time (if at all), didn’t seem to know what she was doing and created great dissent within the team.  Unfortunately, the owner made the emotional hire and didn’t want to admit his error, at least not in a timely manner.

So this employee continued her employment with my friend’s company for almost 6 mos. and the stories that surrounded her were almost unbelievable.  She missed work all together and offered these excuses:

  • overslept
  • reaction to medication
  • robbed while she slept
  • didn’t know she worked that day

You get the idea.  To top it off, money was missing from the petty cash – something that had never happened before her arrival.  A terrible hire and a worse employee.  The owner finally came to grips with the situation and terminated her employment on a Friday.

Later that same day, the former employee sent a text into one of the employees to say she was mad that the employee had posted something on Facebook regarding her termination. The employee did not know what she was talking about.  The employee had not posted anything of the sort.

The former employee would not back down via text and know that something had been posted.  It took a day to sort out the complaint, but they did discover someone had posted something about the termination on Facebook.

It was the owner.

He ended up removing the post and apologized to the former employee.  Unbelievable.

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