In Like a Lion, out with a Scam. Sales News in March Has Been Anything But Boring

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Keeping up with the latest developments in sales and marketing can feel like running a marathon. This month, I’m flat-out breathless!

1. Apple announced the new iPad, and sold three million units in its debut weekend. You already knew that, so I’ll move on.

2. Stop Kony! made social media history by becoming the most viral video at 100 million views. But the social media numbers behind the video’s success are the only transparent part of the story. The whereabouts of the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony are as murky as the financial records of Invisible Children, the organization that produced the video. According to an article in The Telegraph, “most of the money donated to Invisible Children does not go towards countries affected by Kony, but funds Invisible Children itself. It is estimated that only around 30 per cent of donations go to Uganda.” On March 19th, The Huffington Post revealed that the organization has accepted substantial funding from groups whose agendas might not comport with those of its new-found donors.

Meteoric success brings tribulations. Jason Russell, the video’s director, was hospitalized on March 15th under circumstances that are still not completely clear. According to Ben Keesey, head of Invisible Children, “The past two weeks have taken a severe emotional toll on all of us, Jason especially, and that toll manifested itself in an unfortunate incident yesterday.” he said. That incident, it was reported later, was Mr. Russell allegedly running into traffic and yelling while in “various stages of undress.”

(For more information, see Five Reasons the Kony Video Went Viral.)

3. Homeless hotspots at SXSW proved once again that one person’s inventiveness is another person’s “blunt display of unselfconscious gall. Ad agency BBH Labs gave homeless people t-shirts emblazoned with their name and the words, “I’m a 4G Hotspot.” According to an article in The Huffington Post, the company “created the program as a trial at the Austin, Texas festival, during which concert-goers were encouraged to donate $2 for every 15 minutes of Internet usage. The agency’s plan was to set up a similar program in New York, but those plans have been halted” in response to the controversy the campaign generated. The next time a BBH employee plaintively asks “how will this be perceived?” he or she won’t be shushed out of the room.

(For more information, see Marketplace.org, Homeless Hotspots Program Sparks Debate.)

4. The hilarious, hot-selling $19.95 John Wilkes Booth Bobblehead was pulled from the shelves at Gettysburg Battlefield Historical Park. According to a story in The Los Angeles Times (Banished John Wilkes Booth Bobblehead a Solid Seller, March 14th) “. . . the Booth doll is apparently a strong seller, according to the Bobblehead company, which produces the item. The company sells the 7-inch-tall doll complete with a box that, ‘resembles the inside of Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated.’ Other selling points of the doll . . . include ‘Only one on the market!’ and ‘Booth is holding the gun he killed Lincoln with in his hand.’

However enticing that may sound, the dolls became a cause for concern, said Dru Anne Neil, a spokeswoman for the Gettysburg Foundation, which runs the park visitors center and museum. Still, (Bobblehead Company sales manager) Matt Powers says, ‘there’s a market there’ for the assassin bobblehead. ‘We like to let the customer decide if it’s a good item or not.'”

How true! When there’s money to be made, who needs to be encumbered with how to define bad taste? Hey! I have a great idea! With every John Wilkes Booth Bobblehead, offer a coupon for one scoop of Ben and Jerry’s Linsanity Frozen Yogurt with fortune cookies.

5. Speaking of Ben and Jerry’s, the company announced this month that it’s supporting same-sex marriage in Britain by re-labeling an existing apple pie flavor, and selling it as Apple-y Ever After. The attractive packaging shows the requisite red apples and a three-tiered wedding cake, topped with a figurine of a happy couple—both wearing tuxedos.

6. After 244 years of selling a great product produced with paper and ink, digital forces caught up with Encyclopaedia Britannica. The company finally threw in the towel and gave up on its print edition. According to an article in the USA Today (Encyclopaedia Britannica turns a page, ends print edition), “The last, 32-volume print version, published in 2010, weighs 129 pounds and sells for $1,395. Only 12,000 sets of the final edition were printed, company President Jorge Cauz says, and 4,000 remain in its inventory. In an increasingly digital world where the online Encyclopaedia Britannica — which is much larger than the printed version — is updated every 20 minutes, Cauz says, publishing on paper no longer makes sense.”

It wouldn’t be a digital story without a freebie. “To celebrate its news, Encyclopaedia Britannica is making the entire contents of Britannica.com available free for one week.”

(For more information, see Death of the Salesmen, The Wall Street Journal, March 15th, 2012.)

7. Greg Smith, a Goldman Sachs salesperson, resigned after an epiphany that securities salespeople are in it for the money. In a New York Times op-ed he wrote of the company that employed him for 12 years, “I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.” He didn’t say “scam,” but he probably thought it. “I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients . . . It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off.” Which prompted Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. to quip in his March 16th Wall Street Journal column, (Greg Smith is Too Sexy for His Cat) “Professions of honesty should invite skepticism in any case, but especially when peddling a sentence so clearly designed to say nothing while appearing very much to say something.” Adding, “His claim that (Goldman) executives in London referred to unnamed clients as Muppets left most Americans mainly puzzling over whether and how Muppet could be construed as pejorative.”

In a March 18th column (Goldman’s Long History of Duping Clients), William D. Cohan, author of Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World, wrote “Smith could have saved himself grief if he had only used his Stanford education to examine Goldman’s DNA before crossing its threshold.”

Yet, for all the well-placed criticism, I admire Greg Smith when he said “I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look (prospective summer interns) in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.” Securities firms can never have too many ethical people, even when they’re naïve idealists.

(For more information, see Goldman Sachs Response to Greg Smith’s Op-ed)

Seven exciting stories, and we still have ten more days in March!

In a recent blog, Why Social Marketing is So Hard, Nilofer Merchant wrote, “. . . many organizations still find marketing in the social era ridiculously hard to do well, if at all. . . We want innovation, but without experiencing failure. We want to embrace the new, but without risk. We want to act fast and fluid, but to maintain tight controls. We want to empower everyone but retain decision rights for ourselves. We want to experiment, but we also want predictability. We want to be flexible to customer input, but remain ruthlessly efficient. We want to adapt, but we fear the death of familiarity. . . But remember, it is making mistakes — and the ensuing forgiveness — that give relationships their resilience. Vulnerability begets trust. And though they are difficult to forge, such robust relationships are more likely to endure the ups and downs the market inevitably deals any organization.”

Those ideas are embedded in each of these stories.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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