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Everyone in the Room Is Feeling the Same Pain

This is a post from our friend, Bill Lapierre. It contains some great advise about growing your business in a rapidly changing environment.

I spent most of last Friday answering emails like this one: “Nice job yesterday at your seminar – lots of thought provoking stuff, and it was like you, Amy and Kevin were speaking directly to our company – obviously everyone in the room is feeling the same pain.”  The pain this person refers to is the pain of growing their catalog business, and the pain of acquiring new customers.

My mother taught me not to boast – so I’m just going to say that last Thursday’s seminar which Datamann hosted for the VT/NH Marketing Group was pretty good. We had a few last minute no-shows, which is a good thing because there was hardly an empty seat in the house. More important (I take this as a good sign), the Q&A session at the end of the day went right to 4:30 PM, and the room was still full except for a few people who had left early to catch flights. Attendees wanted to learn and wanted the realistic and unbiased advice which the three of us furnished.

Yes, most of you are struggling to grow. At the start of my presentation, I cited how Amazon had grown 20% last year, and asked for a show of hands of how many companies had grown by an equal amount. Two people out of 225 raised their hand, and only two more people raise their hand when I asked for companies that had grown by 10%.

The Q&A session was a microcosm of the whole day, summed up by what I think was the best question of the day, which was basically this: “how do you bring about the change that we all discussed to companies and an industry as a whole, that is dominated by old-school marketers who are ignoring the realities of where the consumer is going, and ignoring how the consumer is behaving?”  (Note: because of my deafness, I did not hear the whole question, so I am paraphrasing here.)

Each of the speakers had given their take on the answer to that question during their presentations. I showed numerous examples of how catalogs fail to act like online companies, even though every catalog will tell you they do act in that manner. Amy Africa told attendees which of the many options she presented were the places she would start first, and which ones were the “must-haves”. But the heart of her advice for change was this: “Start small, and get a few successes. Support of change will follow the money of those successes”.

Kevin Hillstrom’s advice was more revolutionary. He called for implementation of what he called the “Brand Response Marketing Team”, a cross-functional team given authority to change the website, change catalog creative and catalog format, and given authority to invest in new areas that will lead to an increase in new customers at a decrease in cost per new customer. Kevin’s contention is simple: without the authority to make changes, change will not happen. He believes the Brand Response Marketing Team should be comprised of 30-39 year old professionals that have new ideas for improvement, not excuses for why the existing staff does not use the catalog better.

One of the advantages of being a consultant, and working with many clients, is realizing how similar every company is, rather than how unique they are. In my opinion, all three of us know something that most of you fail to realize. We know a simple truth. We know that you all share similar tendencies, you all think alike, and you are all gripped by the same aversion to risk. We know most of you really don’t want to change – you want to return to the world of mailing a catalog and getting 3% response rates to prospect lists. But we, and any other consultant, can lead you only so far. We can inspire you only so much. There is no magic password that we can chant that will motivate you. You need to want to change. And Kevin is right – without authority to make changes, change will not happen.

Selling Stuff:

I revealed to the audience that the license plate on my truck is HISTORY, which many faithful readers of this blog already know. But I did so because I wanted to give a quick history lesson. One of the most famous businesses from Concord NH (location of the seminar) was the Concord Coach Company, makers of stage coaches.

Concord Coach failed to grasp what business they were in – they thought they were in the stage coach business. They failed to see they were in the transportation business. When the railroads came along, they failed to grasp that they knew how to make vehicles on wheels to move people – and they could have made railroad cars. But they stuck to making stage coaches, and went out of business in 1915, finally bowing to the omnipotent Model T.

Catalogs are the same way today – you think you are in the catalog business, and you fail to see you are in the “selling stuff” business. Going back to that original question about how you change the mind of the old school marketers – I don’t believe you can bring about that change in every instance. Some people/ companies will hang on to their “print is not dead” and “our customers are loyal” beliefs right up until the day of the liquidation auction of the company’s assets.

Consultants who work with many companies can sense which ones want to change and which don’t. We know which ones we can help, and which ones just want to argue with us (as the lifeboats are being lowered), and tell us we are wrong, and that we don’t understand their business. If you take away anything from last week’s seminar, I hope it is a foreboding sense that you must change. The exact route of that change has yet to be plotted, but start making the change.

What Have You Done With Bill?

About a month ago, I emailed Amy, asking a simple question.  “I want to make the seminar memorable. I want people to come back next year, but I don’t want to do anything corny. Do you have any ideas? I was thinking that maybe the three speakers could all wear matching sweatshirts”. Amy knows me pretty well. We have been friendly antagonists for 25+ years. She knows I’m pretty conservative. She remembers how I rolled my eyes one year when she had Don Libey introduced at the VT/NH Marking Group’s conference by a marching trombone player.   So her response to my matching sweatshirt idea was classic: “Who are you, and what have you done with Bill?”


At the start of her session, Amy presented me with the t-shirt above (which I love!) But in the end, it was the content of our collective presentations, the unbiased nature of our message of change, and the ideas for growth that we presented that made the seminar memorable. We’ll see you again next year.

(In case you are wondering where the snow came from in the picture above, we had 3 inches of snow on Saturday night).

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

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