The Unparalleled Importance of a Crisis Management Plan

As the stories of the Casa Monica Hotel firing an employee for wearing a US flag pin began to break this weekend, I was struck by just how unprepared the hotel and Kessler Collection were for the public relations firestorm which erupted in response to the media coverage. 

(DISCLOSURE: I once worked in Sales & Marketing for the Kessler Collection and, as I said on Twitter this weekend, it was troubling to see former colleagues in such a position.) 

Instead of arguing the merits of uniform policy versus patriotism versus two-year history of wearing the pin, it's important for hoteliers (and businesses in general) to take note of how this incident escalated from a policy decision to an immeasurable public relations incident.

Buoyed by (literally) tens of thousands of tweets, facebook posts, and hotel reviews through social media channels, the story grew from a local Jacksonville story on Thursday into a top five feature on nearly every broadcast and cable news channel in just two days time.

As this groundswell grew against the Casa Monica Hotel's decision, the Kessler Collection was notably silent on the issue. Neither the hotel nor the company responded to requests for comment by the local and national media. Neither the company nor the hotel made any posts to their official websites or social media pages to address the questions. In fact, the only tangible response the company seemed to undertake was to attempt to delete a number of strongly worded posts and comments from the hotel's Facebook page.

The Casa Monica Hotel finds itself at the center of a textbook public relations crisis – albeit one that it should have reasonably anticipated and managed – that threatens to damage its brand. The lack of preparedness and response beg the question: Does the hotel or company have a crisis management plan? 

Crisis management is not and never should be an extemporaneous endeavor. It involves forethought, resources, planning and practice. There are thousands of books, blogs, degree programs, etc to pull from but to briefly summarize, there are three active stages in a crisis – all of which need management:

  1. Before all hell breaks loose
  2. All hell breaks loose
  3. After the crisis

Before all hell breaks loose is the "simple" phase, although it is the one that requires the most work. The "voice" of the company must to be defined. Rules around when different members of the organization will be made available to the media must be written. Responses to reasonably anticipated situations (accidents, acts of God, etc) should be drafted. The channels by which the responses will be routed should be tested. And – most importantly – the entire act of responding to a crisis must be simulated and practiced by the entire organization. 

Once all hell breaks loose, which is where the Casa Monica currently finds itself, the work investing in stage one will begin to bear fruit. The most critical elements are the seemingly contradictory goals of speed and calm. Timely statements and media responses must be effectively managed to turn (and eventually tame) the crisis. 

After the crisis, there are two parallel, urgent paths – reputation management and response review. The company must review the root cause of the crisis and how it was responded to by the public relations team. Efforts must be undertaken to repair the brand's image both internally and externally. 

 

For those of us who are not involved in the Casa Monica / Flag Pin debate, it's important that use this opportunity to learn the unparalleled importance of having an effective crisis management plan. The inability to deliver timely statements and respond to requests for comment can do immeasurable harm to your business.

We will all have crises to face. The key is to remember the old Boy Scout motto: "Be Prepared."

 

 

Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal – 2. Don't Feature Dump

In the first installment of my series "Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal", I outlined the importance of focusing your proposal directly on your customer's goals and concerns, rather than on your company's accomplishments and background. 

The second step to writing a sales proposal that will increase your capture rate is to avoid "feature dump". In this installment, we'll detail exactly what that means and how to best present your strengths. 

 

Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal

 

STEP TWO: DON'T FEATURE DUMP

It slices. It dices. It mowes your lawn. It washes your car. It even changes diapers!

In my experience, "feature dumping" is the achille's heel of so many salespeople. From day-one on the job, salespeople are taught the in's and out's of their products with such a fervor, it becomes easy to believe that specs are what customers want to hear.

The harsh reality is that SPECS DON'T SELL. While it may be fascinating that your {INSERT PRODUCT HERE} does {INSERT SPEC HERE}, the truth is no one buys because your {PRODUCT} does {THAT}. 

Take that long list of bullet points and trash it.

Instead, focus on BENEFITS. How does you're product fill the need that your customer has? How does buying your product enrich their business or enhance their experience?

If you watch an infomercial, you'll immediately understand the difference between features and benefits and how to emphasize the latter.

Perhaps you are familiar with the the Showtime Rotisserie Oven from Ronco. Pitched as a simple oven for experienced or novice cooks, Ron Popeil takes only a moment to explain that the oven has many programmaned time and temperature settings for different foods, but focuses his presentation on the benefits – you can cook many foods easily, you save time in cleaning and you can "set it and forget it!" – just walk away knowing that the oven will cook your food properly. You get a delicious meal and you also get free time. Set it and forget it!

By emphasizing the explicit benefit of your products for your customer, you demonstrate that you understand your clients needs. In focusing on how your solution benefits the client, you differentiate yourself from 99.9% of your competition who only knows how to feature dump.

By presenting your offering as a solution to their pressing business need, you create worth in your product. And worth, my friends, is a psychological and emotional need for buyers.

Remember it's never the number of "settings", it's "set it and forget it" that truly sells. 

 

 

While this one tip is going to make you stand out from the pack, be sure to check out the rest of the tips in this series on Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal!

 

1. Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal – FOCUS ON YOUR CUSTOMER

2. Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal – DON'T FEATURE DUMP

 

 

Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal – 1. FOCUS ON YOUR CUSTOMER

Not a week goes by that I don't receive an unsolicited, impersonal pitches promising to help draft better sales proposals. I'm sure you've seen them. They all seem to start like this:

This class will….

This speaker will….

This "award-winning" training will….

Blah, blah, blah.

Isn't it ironic that these mass mailings – full of cookie-cutter "solutions" that aren't targeted to your specific needs – are going to "improve" your presentation to your customers?

The obvious truth is writing sales proposals is a direct extension of the sales process

With that in mind, here is the first of six steps I recommend to write a more effective sales proposal:

Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal

 

STEP ONE: FOCUS ON YOUR CUSTOMER

Like you, your customers are tasked to be more efficient. Your customers are handling more projects and have less time to accomplish them than at any time in their careers. And with procurement under the microscope at most US companies, some customers may even feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of purchasing.With that in mind, you must make certain that your proposal is about them.

Buyers are more concerned with how you can best meet their needs than how wonderful your company may be. After all, they have probably Google'd your company already, right?

Instead of detailing your company's mission statement and history, skip ahead and focus on the expressed and unexpressed needs that your probing skills have uncovered. Use this knowledge liberally throughout your proposal as you present the benefits of your solution. Are there gaps in your notes? Get back in touch with your customer and fill in all the blanks so that you can write an awesome sales proposal. 

This one step will differentiate you from approximately 80% of your competition. While they are spending paragraphs and pages on themselves, you'll be focusing just on your customer. And, honestly, wouldn't you rather buy from someone who is completely focused on you? 

 

While this one tip is going to make you stand out from the pack, be sure to check out the rest of the tips in this series on Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal!

1. Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal – FOCUS ON YOUR CUSTOMER

2. Six Steps to a More Effective Sales Proposal – DON'T FEATURE DUMP

Behind-the-Scenes: How Ritz-Carlton trains it Ladies & Gentlemen

Great insight on the selection process and behind-the-scenes training of employees at The Ritz-Carlton hotels. 

The making of Ladies and Gentlemen

The philosophies and lessons being taught are ones that we could all do with 
taking on board, not just in our professional lives, but in our personal ones as well.

But the most important thing I discovered was that the Ritz-Carlton experience — its methods, its quirks — are 100% genuine.

 

Management Tip: Don't Do What You Love

Today's management tip from Harvard Business Review turns conventional wisdom on its ear. Adopted from Dorie Clark, HBR boldly states: "Don't Do What You Love" for the following reasons:

 

  1. It's not your strength. You may love to do something you are just not good at. Because it can be hard to self-assess, ask for frank feedback from those around you to know where your strengths are.
  2. You're too emotionally attached. Passion may cloud your judgment. When you care deeply about something, it can be hard to be take criticism or let others get involved.
  3. It's a hobby, not a job. Sadly, you can't be paid for everything. What you love may not be lucrative. Instead find something you like that pays.

 

Clark goes on to document her rationale more fully in an extended HBR newsletter, but it certainly runs contrary to the traditional "do what you love" mantra that has been championed for so many years. 

For me, I think the middle ground is the ideal spot. By "loving what you do", you can apply your passions and strengths towards fulfilling goals — both personally and professionally — without being hampered by the very real concerns Clark raises.