Arming the Peasants

 
Sales and Marketing
 

The Salesman and the Farmer

COME BACK WITH ME

Consider the situation of a mediaeval Baron. The old Baron has died, and the young zesty son has inherited a hell of a mess. It is interesting to note that the hell of a mess thing is often only noticed when there is some kind of a dynastic change. Perhaps we are happier living with our own mess, than go to all the uproar of changing it. Anyway, I digress. The new Baron is horrified at what he finds. There are weird arcane practices, strange hierarchies, bizarre rituals, and hundreds of priests, soothsayers and minor Lords. Worst of all, shed loads of money is haemorrhaging out of his coffers. None of his internal advisers give honest advice, because they jealously guard their own sinecures. There is no choice, but to call in the mediaeval equivalent of the consultants, which in this case is Machiavelli and Co. After taking a nice fact learning curve fee, they suggest that things cannot progress without a full staff audit. This agreed, they set about conducting one, and soon return with the results and another large bill.

“We’ve found your problem” they say while capering gleefully around.

“There are just too many people, what you need is a bit of process re-engineering. Look, you’ve got your peasants – that’s where all your production comes from, growing the crops, herding the cows; OK, there’s the blacksmith – makes all sort of useful bits and bobs, and with maintenance jobs, he’s worth having around. There’s the miller, grinding corn, making bread, you can see the point of him. But when you get to the castle (or head office as we call it), well what a state, there are the ladies in waiting, marketing, the knights, alchemists, accountants, soothsayers, and sages. Get rid of the lot. What this will give is the classic flat organisation”.

“Flat organisation, how does that work?”

“Beautifully. It’s simple – peasants work, you gather profit. Two levels – peasant/baron.  Baron/peasant. No middle”. (By the way reader, you can put yourself anywhere you like in this model).

“The peasants work, I get the money”.

“Yep”.

It’s not long before the Baron’s shiny new flat organisation is up and running. Costs are slashed, production is up, and the Baron is rich and happy, but a cloud is gathering. The still inefficient but aggressive Baron from next door eyes our third way Baron with a greedy glint.  He hasn’t laid off his knights, and men at arms, because although a very expensive and ill-used recourse, armies can be useful when fighting. In fact they are only useful when fighting, which I suppose begs the philosophical question, does supporting an army tend to make you want to fight more, and do acquisitive companies have to keep making acquisitions, just to justify themselves?

Anyway, the wicked Baron has been massing his army on our hero’s border. The young Baron views the scene with horror, and scampers back to Machiavelli and Co.

“Great idea your flat organisation. I’m going to get a right kicking now”.

“I wouldn’t worry, you’re still a much bigger organisation than he is, you’ve got far more people and lands than he has”.

“Yes, I know that, but it’s all production and peasants. Haven’t you ever heard of a leverage buyout?”

“You’ve got a point, we’ll have to go away and think about this”.

“Don’t be long”.

A few days later, the consultants are back, breathless and excited.

“We solved it. The classic solution in re-engineered and flattened organisation”.

“That is?”

“Multi-tasking. What your peasants need is a spot of multi-tasking”.

“Explain”.

You should arm the peasants”.

“Arm the peasants, are you mad, you’re a loony”. (I’m getting a bit of dejavous here).

“You are seriously suggesting that I give my peasants GUNS?”

“Yep, anything wrong with that?”

“Sure is, If I give my peasants guns, the first person they’ll shoot is me. They hate me”.

(Just the way fitters will bugger off with cash).

“You’ve got a point. Leave it with us”.

A short time later, the consultants are back, and they can hardly contain their excitement.

“Boy oh boy, we have got it sorted now. What you do is Arm the Peasants. You can give them guns, but then you don’t give them ammunition. To the world they will appear armed, but we know that they can be of no real danger”.

So, there we have it.  “Arming the Peasants” explains a lot of strange goings on.

I stayed at one of the motorway stops, where the money is taken from your credit card when you go in, and you get a reasonably clean room, shower and TV, but if you want food it is sent from the motorway services along with all the attendant service area quality problems, i.e. a pizza that is like a Frisbee with tepid vomit glued to it with rubber cement.  Oh well, that’s what you pay for, that’s what you get, and anyway there is no human to complain to – they’ve got your money so ‘c’est la vie’. Until one day, I was leaving one of these places, followed by my fellow ‘guests’, when a thing dressed in a bilious coloured suit, leapt out and said

“I’m Tracey, your hostess. Thank you for staying at Gulag Inn, could I ask you if everything was OK with your stay?”

“Ah, no. My pizza tasted like a Frisbee with tepid vomit glued to it”.

She stared at me with a look of growing panic and confusion, her lips moving on auto-pilot but no sound came. Obviously someone had pressed a hidden reset button, because her eyes blinked, she regained her composure, and looked past me to the man behind “I’m Tracey, your hostess.  Thank you for staying at Gulag Inn, could …….”

An unarmed peasant if ever I saw one. She looked armed, but had no ammunition.

THINK ABOUT THIS

You may think this tale makes some kind of profound observation, which I will then take as a learning point, but it isn’t that easy. I am not entirely sure what is learned, or what point I am making. In my most depressed state, which I will be in a later chapter, I may suggest that customer care is (in this sort of company), stone dead and in any case, offers little benefit.  The old saying I used to churn out of finding and keeping customers is the only profitable activity of any company, has become a little devalued now, and to be frank, companies like this couldn’t care less.  They also know that tired dispirited punters will trail back to them to suffer horrid food, and zero service because this is the “benchmark” for roadside service, and in any case, those that dare to take a packed lunch and sleep in their cars will be replaced by lemming-like hordes of fresh fodder for their mill.  Also, while we are at it, though the staff are systematically crap, disloyal, disinterested, and basically untrainable beyond simple walking upright, and the not fiddling with personal orifices when preparing food in view, or speaking to a customer.  They are the sort of people who would bugger off with the cash, and there may not be anything better on offer.

WHY BOTHER?

So, why bother teaching the lumpen thing the speech anyway? Maybe it shows a commitment to some attempt at good service. Well no it doesn’t. In actual fact it is pulling a trick that dear old Mother Nature has been using for years, and that is that an unarmed peasant works until it has been rumbled.  For example, there is a completely harmless, unarmed but very tasty butterfly, that when its wings are spread, presents a pattern that looks like the eyes of a fierce animal, many times the butterfly’s size.  This works extremely well, and puts off most predators.  Similarly most customers do not tenaciously test the veneer of useless promises (I’m Tracey, I’m here to help).  Where the whole thing falls on its arse is when the predator is hungry enough to give it a go, and find that yummy unprotected morsel.  Word soon gets around, and soon there is a species of frog that dines entirely off our ingenious chum.

YOU KNOW WHO

Our own high street giants have fallen prey (literally) to this.  For years, people have come up to me and asked me to do a bit of ‘guruing’ for them, with the brief “We want service levels like you-know-who on the High Street”.  “Why?  They’re rubbish, their service is rubbish, and they have total contempt for staff and punter (actually contempt suggests passion, indifference would be a better word).  The shock this statement used to cause was comic, you would think they had been slapped.

“You can’t say that”.

“Tell me about their great service”.

“Well um, they give great service, if you want something they haven’t got, they er well, there is always someone to er, they, they, er, don’t mind if er, well you can always take stuff back.  I took something back, they gave me another one”.

“Why did you take it back?”

“Because the wheels fell off, but even if it’s the wrong size you can bring it back”.

“Why didn’t you try it there?”

“Well there wasn’t actually anywhere to try it”.

But then snap, they took a bite, the shares started to tumble, the feeding frenzy started, and the game was up.

CONCLUSION

Unarmed peasants is a truly good scam, as long as no one calls their bluff.

While we are back at the peasants, what did I want the girl to do?  Again, like the carpet fitter, a cash refund may be nice (no, not vouchers or discount off my next stay).

“I’m so sorry you were disappointed.  Please let me refund the cost of your meal.  We would hate to lose you as a customer”.  And, with a couple of crisp tenners in my pocket, the world would seem a better place.

That may seem ideal, and a simple solution, but as previously stated, simple things become fiendishly complicated on implementation.

Let us imagine that we have helpful loyal staff that could use judgement and be trusted to handle cash responsibly.  Thus whenever a customer received a poor meal, they could be delighted with a cash refund.

“Oh no!” the service area owners wail.  “Everyone would get a refund, the food is consistently horrible, we would be ruined”.

Then, (now we get into deep water) the “Hostess” should feel aggrieved at having to give away money, and should go to the kitchens and be able to command the construction of a better pizza.

“She has no authority in the kitchen”.

“She should have”.

“She can’t, she’s a simple peasant, cannon fodder”.

“Now look here, I get pissed off with getting my complaint fielded by powerless peasants”.

There’s the rub.  Even when companies have large (I was going to say sophisticated, but I couldn’t hold the pen for laughing) customer service departments, they cannot actually change the product or the policy of the company.  We will explore a whole section on this topic in the tragic tale of the Rock Spotter, but for now, accept that this is a ludicrous state of affairs, which upsets and humiliates the customers when they realise that nothing except platitudes and vouchers are coming their way, and that nothing has really changed.

If we return for a moment to our Baron, imagine you were in his situation, and you felt that the idea of the unarmed peasant bluff, was not worth risking.  Other options have to be considered.  The first is that of using outside talent, after all, this whole thing was started off by consultants.  Why not continue the process?  It has already been stated that armies are only useful when fighting wars, then surely it would be sensible to find a company whose sole business was fighting.  They could devote their resources, training, and equipment to the subtle art of killing people.  I get confused, because at the start of my business awareness, everyone was shouting “Diversify”.  Now they are shouting “Stick to the knitting, stay with what you know”.  I saw a television programme on business once, where a catering company was trying to sell its services to an insurance company.  “What’s your business?”

“Insurance”.

“How much is your training budget?”

“25 million”.

“How much of that is devoted to train people how to select and prepare soft fruit?”

“Don’t be stupid, none.  We’re an insurance company”

“Precisely.  8% of our training budget went on our soft fruit programme.  The other 92% was all food and hygiene related.  Why on earth are you messing about employing your own catering staff?”

GAME, SET AND MATCH? BUT

What we are really talking about here, is hiring mercenaries (HIRING CONSULTANTS IS JUST LIKE HIRING MERCENARIES. WHICHEVER ONE I HAPPEN TO BE TALKING ABOUT, AMUSE YOURSELF BY DRAWING THE ANALAGY BETWEEN THE TWO).  No one hires cheap mercenaries (well no one who subsequently doesn’t regret it).  You hire them by reputation and you don’t save money by hiring the second fastest gun, because your opponent only needs to hire the first fastest.  What we must ask ourselves, is how do they get that fast.  The answer is fighting for others.  Where is the future career for them?  Again, fighting for others (hopefully not your enemy, but of course it will be because it is your sphere of business they understand). I make my living from consultancy. I am a hired gun, and I gather all my insights and experience from previous clients. When you choose your mercenary/consultant, you don’t want the hair trigger 24 year old MBA. You want the Yul Brynner, man in black, with a few scars, a piece of ear missing, well used guns, a black hat, and eyes like steel bearings.  Be warned, you only control him while you pay him. When you stop, he could, without emotion, become your enemy’s hired gun. Marketing companies, research outfits, direct mail, lawyers, PR companies, and management consultancies, all work on this principle. I would never profess to be clever, but I have gathered knowledge like a bee gather nectar from a thousand companies. This is the deal. You pay for the value of this experience, but part of the fee is that you also add to this experience that can be used on the next assignment – useful for a short time, but also expensive.  Then maybe the hired gun could teach the peasants to fight (see the Magnificent Seven, to see how this is done).

This, the Baron thinks is the right course of action, and the consultants return.  The first problem to solve is why the peasants want to shoot the Baron, or why they don’t seem to care if they are invaded, but after all, being enslaved to one vicious heartless git, is no different to being enslaved to the current one.  Why do employees steal, disparage the company, and produce poor quality goods?  Perhaps because they are seen as peasants.  Finance departments always put them on the liability, not the asset side of the books.  Short of work?  Cut staff.

Companies just do things without consultation, and then they wonder why the peasants didn’t buy in with unbounded enthusiasm.  We therefore need to explore how we get that buy-in without resentment.  Later, with the help of the tale of the caged rats, we will see how to achieve that essential change in attitudes.

The Baron, in the meantime, does all the trendy third way things and retitles the peasants as Stakeholders.  He then launches a hearts and minds campaign that makes the peasa… sorry, stakeholders love him.  They also see that as stakeholders they now have a vested interest in protecting the baronial lands, or should we say stakeholderdom.  Lets now take stock. We have a team that is loyal, loves and respects their leaders, and wants to work for what they now acknowledge as the common good.  This is looking good.  Do you think this may be the time to arm them?  Yes?

Can you imagine a bunch of enthusiastic peasants let loose with modern battle field weapons – all hell would be let loose. They would shoot themselves in the foot, you in the arse, and all with the best possible motives.  I’m sure you are now one step ahead of me, and will suggest that training is required the carpet fitter is the same. If he loves the company and respects the products, and is scrupulously honest, could he still, in real terms, be responsible for your refunds policy? With enough training you can turn your peasants into a finely honed fighting machine – an army, which kind of takes us back to square one.  Truthfully it is even more dangerous than that. What you have actually got is a vicious fighting force that will do agricultural work for you because they love and trust you. Betray that trust, speak with forked tongue, nick their rations, and it will be ‘hung from a lamppost by your heels’ time. In the real world, it is a risk most firms don’t feel is worth taking, but when attacked by these fanatics who are their competitors, there is no defence. The monster butterfly trick doesn’t work because they would have attacked the monster, dangerous or not. Nothing better than to die in the jaws of a slavering blood beast for the glorious leader, and when they find we are bluffing, we are overwhelmed.

So there it is, arming the peasant and all its attendant difficulties. It is hard and dangerous if you do it – fatal if you don’t. Hopefully in the next few chapters, together we will explore how it can be done with the least risk.

The benefit will be not only loyal hard working people, which a lot of firms claim to have, but people that actively promote the company they work for. People that don’t only keep the current customers but actively help to find new ones. Every accountant, salesman, driver, receptionist, engineer, and cleaner will understand the overall vision and goal and will work together to achieve it for you. I offer you a fierce, loyal, fighting peasants army that will give their all to win your battles.

 
 

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