Realizing I would be without a wireless connection on my train ride to NYC, I stopped to grab some light reading material at a kiosk in Union Station, where I found a plethora of headlines devoted to capital spending. I know that the loss of $50 Trillion in wealth in the last 18 months led to a severe credit crunch, but wasn’t that old news? Aren’t businesses starting to rebound with the distribution of the $700 Billion in TARP funds that helped prop up banks and car companies, along with another $2.5 Trillion spent to support the struggling financial system? I take a quick look through the daily business headlines, and they continue to reflect a particularly bleak outlook for businesses that are still struggling with low expectations for growth and profits, costly and scarce credit, weak consumer demand and a glut of production capacity. To compound matters, the current administration and Treasury Department will implement extensive financial regulations to curb future financial crises, and banks continue tightening their lending standards for all types of business loans. I hope these measures reduce the risk of another bubble market, but at what cost will these measures reduce the opportunity for many businesses to effectively compete in this economy? One thing is obvious: credit will no longer be a cheap commodity for businesses in the near future, period. But then again, is credit really necessary for businesses to stay competitive? Continue reading
Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about how the pace at which the world is accumulating information exceeds our ability to critically evaluate it. For companies that make thousands or millions of marketing decisions every day in the form of price offerings, advertising placements and so on, this translates into making decisions that perpetually involve a greater amount of uncertainty relative to the amount of information we have. The root cause of this problem is a technological one: we do not have the computing power to slice and dice massive datasets in order to glean insight in time to support decisions. An even deeper explanation is that the gap between the rate of information accumulation in businesses and the pace of information transfer improvements will continue to widen at an increasing rate. This poses serious challenges to the capabilities offered by Business Intelligence, not to mention our ability to determine optimal prices. Continue reading
Think of the best salesperson you know: if you’re fortunate, perhaps someone in your company or, less happily, in a competitor’s firm. What are the qualities that make this person excel at the job of sales? In a classic Harvard Business Review article “What Makes a Great Salesperson” (July-August 1964) David Mayer and Herbert Greenberg likened a star salesperson to a heat-seeking missile: “Sensing what customers are feeling, they [the sales stars] are able to change pace, double back on the track, and make whatever creative modifications might be necessary to home in on the target and close the sale.” Whereas most of us have intuitive abilities to a greater or lesser extent, excellent salespeople lever this intuition with strong empathy skills (sensing what the customer’s needs are) and the relentless personal drive necessary to cross the finish line. If they could, managers would bottle this elusive elixir of talents and have all their salespeople drink it, every morning of every day. Continue reading
One of my recent posts, “You Are Not At the Mercy of the Market…”, attracted a rather thought-provoking response posted directly to the blog. The crux of this response, and others sent directly to me, have all revolved around a similar theme: With so much uncertainty surrounding consumer behavior, words such as “pinpoint” or “optimize” should not be uttered when it comes to the decisions that pricing and marketing managers must make. This is indeed a compelling sentiment, and has stirred much discussion amongst my colleagues in industry and in academia (our research organization collaborates closely with professors within the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University). This discussion has taken on many twists and turns, which we hope to summarize in future posts. But, there is one particular question that has resonated throughout our discussions:
What are the implications of the words “pinpoint” and “optimal” when market behavior is so uncertain?
In other words, is it possible to find a single decision that will maximize the odds of earning a handsome payoff when the outcome of any decision is uncertain? In a rather extreme example, in the highly uncertain world of gambling, can I make some decisions that are clearly better than others in light of the uncertainty? Continue reading