There Are Alligators in the Sewers of New York City

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Every winter, vacationers from New York City go to Florida.  Some of those vacationers visit Florida’s well-known alligator farms.  When they return home to New York, a small number of them bring back cute little alligators they’ve purchased at the farms as pets.  Baby alligators are small and can be kept in aquariums, feeding on anything from garbage to mice.  However, when those pet owners tire of the little creatures, they tend to flush them down their toilets.  As a consequence, a number of those baby alligators grow and thrive by eating rats in the sewers of New York City.  Now sanitation and sewer workers need to go armed into the depths to protect themselves from loss of life or limb.

What has this story got to do with sales and marketing?  Almost 100 years ago, H. L. Menckin, wrote The American Credo.  A “credo” is a doctrine, tenet or belief.  Unfortunately, even though credos often “sound true,” they might just as often be “perhaps true” or even totally false.  What is interesting is that through repetition, a credo can take on an air of authenticity.  In a busy world, credos also help us shortcut the need to explain complex issues.  In the last 40 years, there’s never been a documented sighting or case of an alligator in the sewers of New York City.  We might describe this as an urban myth.  Today, these kinds of myths or credos arise in business, and they are often the source of disconnection, especially between sales and marketing.

Last year, I heard a senior vice president of marketing say her company had a hiring problem.  I’d heard this from several other people in the organization.  When I asked her to explain, she indicated that they were hiring the wrong kind of sales and consulting people, and she sited the need to clean house and the high turnover rate as evidence.  Since this had been stated by several others, and since she had made the comment rather emphatically, my first reaction was to accept it at face value.  There was only one thing that bothered me.  The firm had been using the same recruiter for two years and had just extended their contract for another year.  Was this really a “hiring” problem?  Or could it be a training issue, or a performance standards issue, a motivation or leadership issue?  There wasn’t really going to be much discussion because the problem had been diagnosed. It had become a corporate credo.

The kind of credos created by marketing and sales often become entrenched in a company.  How often have you heard, “Our product is not competitive enough,” or “We can’t succeed in that segment because of X, Y or Z?”   I’ve often witnessed people wasting a lot of time and effort working on the wrong problem, because they accepted they corporate credo at face value and didn’t take the time to properly diagnose the real problem.  It’s easy to accept the conventional wisdom, believe in the corporate credo.  It relieves us of responsibility.  It makes life easier.  But here’s my own credo.  When you hear something stated three times as gospel, you can often bet that it’s wrong.  Complex problems don’t always have simple answers.  Sometimes yes, but more often not.  Organizations need to come to conclusions and make decisions and gain consensus, but it’s worth questioning the information, data and source.  The more important the issue, the more care it requires.  Sales and marketing especially need to take the lead in this process.  It’s too easy to rely on the “last call” syndrome.  Sales people often seem to have the authority because they’ve spoken to more customers.  But marketing, have you helped them ask the right questions?  Or have you provided an independent survey of customers?  If sales and marketing aren’t working together, your company can be wasting a lot of time and effort chasing or ignoring the current credo.

In a separate post, I’ll outline some tactics to make sure sales and marketing issues are diagnosed correctly.  Meanwhile what would happen if more of us asked, “Let’s examine that… (credo)?  Lastly, never cut open a tennis ball because they are filled with poison gas!

PS: One of the reasons why the credo is so powerful is that it is usually told in story form.  Our brains are wired for stories.  The title of this blog should have given away the fact that the story wasn’t true, but come on, admit it.  Weren’t you drawn in just a little?

2 Comments

  1. Felipe Florez

    Do you have a listserv? If so, I’d like you to email me when you add a new post.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Tattoos, Group Think, and The Road to Abilene – Part 3 | Prairie Sky Group

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