Archive for July, 2010

The Pain of Buying a Car

What a dreadful experience this is. First, it’s enough money that it’s inherently fraught with fear: “What if it’s not a good car? What if I pay too much? How do I know? Are these guys lying to me?” etc. Second, most dealers/sales people, and even sales managers I’ve encountered seem to operate in a gray no man’s land between apathy, a hands off approach, and selling. Sometimes I think I want to buy a car much more than they want to sell one…or are they trying to strengthen their negotiation position? Whatever it is it’s very frustrating as a buyer
because you never quite know where you stand. Third, and related to the above, the negotiating process is so bizarre. The “better” ones will continually tell you they want to earn your business, but ultimately do very little to actually earn it. Folks, just saying you want to earn someone’s business is not the same as actually earning it. At least show me some stinking value for heaven’s sake. Fourth, general incompetence. They will get facts and figures wrong, quote wrong prices on things, or error by omission (I sometimes believe this is intentional). Nothing they do builds trust.

And then ultimately, when the business is really about to walk, a few of them will cave on price. It always seems to take this extreme negotiating to get them to the right/real price, and even then only a few are smart enough to actually cave. Sometimes I have had to buy cars in other cities because the local dealers wouldn’t budge, even though I’ve shown them that they can, and that other dealers have. I remember coming back to one dealer a few days after having purchased a car (to turn in my older, leased vehicle) and he exclaimed that he would have made me the deal. Frustrated, I told him that I brought the deal to him and he didn’t do anything. What an idiot.

As a buyer I feel like I have to do all the work, to chase them down, corner them with deals and make them respond. When I do all this I eventually get to a deal I want, and presumably one they are content with, but it’s not easy. There is at once no trust and no value (other than the car itself). This mode of selling has to die. There are clearly easier/better ways.

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What You’re Paid For, Part Two

Part One had to do with taking the lead and hitting an issue head on.

The same Steve Jobs I wrote about in part one was quoted a few months ago in regards to Apple’s decision to not support Flash on the iOS. He said customers “are paying us to make these choices.” Brilliant! Whether you agree with the decision or not I think it’s important to recognize that he, unlike so many other large company leaders, not only has a good grasp on what the role is, but isn’t afraid to be bold with it. They aren’t so successful merely because they make great products. They are successful because they are effective at making good decisions. And that really is where the value is. So many companies and leaders get bogged down in trying for a consensus, or in just not being¬†wrong.

Take the iPad. There are already dozens of me too products, a few of which are no doubt technically better in some ways and will appeal to people who care about those things. There are millions of people who think it’s stupid, overpriced, or just don’t get it. In fact, I would wager there are many more people who feel this way than people who think it’s cool and would buy one (even if money were not an issue). So they got it wrong? They’ve sold three million of the suckers in three months. It’s been one of the most successful product launches in the history of the company, and in so doing they have pretty much defined a new product category where everyone else is playing catch-up.

They don’t care about all the people who won’t want it. They only have to care about the ones who will, and they seem to have gotten that right. Very simple concept here, but so many other products end up being watered down in various ways because the builders don’t have a clear vision of what it should be and who it’s for.

Steve gets the power of bold decisions. But it’s not just bold decisions. It’s not just developing an analytical decision process, and it’s certainly not just gut decisions. It’s knowing which one of those to make at the right times and making them timely.

If you’re a professional, and certainly if you’re any kind of leader, what you’re really paid for is decision making. And if you really want to lead the pack you can’t hedge your bets…except when hedging is really the smart play (it usually isn’t).

What You’re Paid For, Part 1

Yesterday Steve Jobs got up on stage and did some damage control, which is something we’re not used to seeing him have to do. He defended and debunked many of the iPhone 4’s alleged antennae problems, dubbed “Antenna Gate” by the media. It was pretty contrived and predictable, but all-in-all I think he did a decent job and sounded sincere enough in his mea culpa (though maybe not as much with some of his comments in the preceding days) for any inconvenience users have experienced. The feel was significantly better than the Tiger or BP conferences (granted those are radically different issues), and I’ve gone on record before about how important this is. Plus Steve had the added challenge of telling the media and users that they’ve made a mountain out of something that isn’t really that big of a deal. He showed videos of other phones doing the same things, and presented some stats showing the relative insignificance of the problem in the grand scheme of things. About the only unfavorable statistic presented was him acknowledging that the iPhone 4 drops more calls than the iPhone 3GS: less than one more call per 100.

Predictably a prominent headline today read, “Apple: iPhone 4 drops more calls than iPhone 3GS

It remains to be seen where this issue will go. Right now all iPhone 4 owners are going to get a free protective case, which many believe helps the problem by insulating the metal antennae from direct contact with your skin. I suspect Apple will do a little more dancing in the weeks to come, but for the time being Steve did what he had to do, which was mainly about stopping the bleeding. Also note, the press conference was on a Friday. I doubt this is a coincidence. Nothing with him ever is.

(For what it’s worth I’ve had no noticeable reception issues with my iPhone 4 thus far. Seems about the same as the iPhone 3G and 3GS I’ve had.)

Intelligence

Intelligence should not be defined by everyone reading the same things and then having the same answers and agreeing with the way the matter is presented (especially where it falls on political party lines and talking points). We’re better than that. Come on!



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