@ Clayton Kendall for a day

I’d like to thank the good folks at Clayton Kendall, who had me in for a “work-for-a-day” kind of second interview. I’ve applied for an Email Marketing Manager position with them, and I was one of three candidates to be invited back for a day. I was given several “tasks” to do, which involved providing some marketing strategies and other written tests. I think I did well.

I’ll let you know!

@johnbugay

Out of a corner: “Learning a lot”

Jim Fixx's Second Book of Running
Getting out of a corner
I used to be a runner. I don’t run anymore, but I still walk, because I’m a lot heavier now than I was when I was 20. I’ve still got good, pain-free knees, and I’d like to try to keep them that way. But one part of my methodology seems to be the same now as it was then: whenever I wanted to learn how to do something, I bought a book about it.

That’s how it worked when I started running. I wanted to know “the right way” to do things.

Back then, there was a “Complete Book of Running”, by a writer named Jim Fixx. As the graphic nearby shows, Fixx then went on to write a “Second Book of Running”. Here’s the problem, though, as he stated it. If you’re going to write a “complete book” of something, there ought not to be a need for a “second book”. Thus, his foreword carried the title “Out of a Corner”.

He needed to explain the need for this second book in the light of his first. That’s how it worked then, and that’s how it works now. I need to explain my way out of a corner.

One of the first things I did, upon entering the ranks of the “available” (in a business sense), was to start a blog, “Learning Eloqua”. After all, that’s what I do. In another part of my world, I’m a team-member of a highly-regarded and widely-read theology blog, Triablogue. I’m accustomed to waking up at 3:00 AM and pumping out a fully-developed, well-thought-out blog article by 4:30 AM.

But in the process of “Learning Eloqua”, I stumbled upon (can’t get away from it) a lot of other things that I needed to learn. I stumbled upon Twitter, and through Twitter, I have been tripping over things left and right.

One of my deepest sorrows (in a business sense) is that, by the time I figured out that I needed an Eloqua certification, I was no longer in a position to get one. So it was to my great joy that a similar kind of certification, a HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certification was available for free through Hubspot’s website. (HT: Brenda Stoltz at Ariad Partners).

Now, in this case, “free” doesn’t mean “cheap”. There are nine hour-long video lessons, and a 50-question test (which I have not yet attempted) in order to become certified.

So far, I’ve been able to bring myself up-to-date with web (keyword) optimization, blogging (in a business sense), and as I write this, “social media”. On tap are “content with a purpose”, “the anatomy of a landing page”, “the conversion process”, “closing” and “cultivating delighted customers”.

Looking at Eloqua’s Topliners community, I can still see that there are many gaps in what I (and apparently many others) still need to know. But I’m nudging things forward.

The bottom line is, I’m still “Learning Eloqua”, and I still hope to work with that blog. Lord willing, I’ll have an opportunity to work for an Eloqua-using company, on an Eloqua-using team. But if not, wherever I go will find me “learning a lot”, in a mode of continuous improvement.

Back when I was learning to run, there were a couple of “running” songs that would go through my mind. “Running on Empty” and “Running Against the Wind”. Sometimes it still seems like that. Some things don’t change.

Keep on moving forward, in spite of the obstacles.

Moments we’ve been waiting for

While we’ve been seeing some signals that the economy is trending upward, I think there were some bigger signs that the economic growth is gaining enough traction to be able to sustain a period of growth and employment.

The first, last week, was the passage by the Senate, of the “health care bill.” While many small business owners were not in favor of that particular bill, the mere passage of it means that there are some contours beyond which the bill will not go — and that affords stability to the business climate.

The second, of course, came in the form of reports that Christmas shopping sales were higher than expected.

A late boost from procrastinating consumers and an extra day of shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas increased total retail sales, excluding automobiles and gas, 3.6% over the year-earlier period through Christmas Eve, according to MasterCard Inc.’s SpendingPulse unit.

It seems to me that “retail is the new heavy industry.” That is, whereas some writers have lamented that the US has lost its “manufacturing base,” the new and genuine symbol of the economy is retail, where money and goods change hands. (And “goods” now including a lot of things like software — produce them once, distribute them anywhere). Given that retail sales account for 2/3 of the economy, a 3.6% rise is not insignificant in the current climate.

And a third (that I have seen) suggests that corporate optimism was at the highest level in six years.

Britain’s business leaders are more optimistic about the UK economy improving than at any point in the past six years, according to an annual survey of captains of industry. In the yearly Ipsos Mori Captains of Industry poll of 100 company bosses, 36 per cent thought that the economic situation would improve, compared with just 4 per cent last year.

The FT story goes on to suggest that most business leaders think government policies will not be helpful to the economy. But again, even though these policies may not be helpful, folks know what they are, and can plan for them.

These three signs seem to indicate that most people will go into the new year with the expectation of an improving year — that the recession is behind us. There may still be some bumps in the road, and even some significant ones. But on balance, things are moving forward.

U.S. Productivity Leaps

Full article here. (Subscription may be required; let me know if it’s not.)

U.S. productivity staged its biggest gain in nearly six years in the second quarter despite the contraction in the overall economy, suggesting companies have adjusted to the recession by cutting jobs and workers’ hours. … The data help explain why companies have been able to post good earnings figures, having moved quickly to slash jobs and cut costs.

“In short, good macro news, but it reflects painful job losses,” Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics Ltd., said in a note to clients.

Over the long run, productivity is key to improved living standards by spurring rising output, employment, incomes and asset values. While the jump in productivity could suggest that the economy is poised for a strong recovery once it reaches bottom, that could be offset by the negative impact on consumer demand from job losses.

Labor market conditions are expected to remain difficult, though the 247,000 drop in nonfarm payrolls in July was the smallest decline since August 2008. The economy has also shown signs of stabilization, with gross domestic product registering a 1% contraction in the second quarter. …

Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc., said that despite signs of improvement in the economy, the job market will likely remain tight. “Looking ahead, stabilizing output ought to prompt a less aggressive approach to cost-cutting on the labor front, hence a commensurately slower rate of decline in hours worked,” he said in a note. “However, we do expect efforts to boost productivity to continue, and therefore any labor market recovery to be late in arriving and tepid when it does begin.”

Are we in for a robust economy?

Poised for a rapid job rebound?
Poised for a rapid job rebound?

Robust not only in the sense of a growing GDP, but in the sense of rapid job creation? The WSJ’s Outlook column today seems to be projecting that very thing.

“Firms were unusually aggressive in cutting costs and cutting employment,” said James O’Sullivan, an economist with UBS. “The flip side of that remains to be seen, but it could mean that companies will be quicker to bring back people because they were more aggressive about getting rid of them.”

… To be sure, even as more companies begin to hire as the economy recovers, it could take years before payrolls reach their prerecession level. With Americans spending more cautiously in response to the massive losses in wealth associated with this recession, some jobs may simply never come back.

That said, one thing different about this recession — and one more reason the job market may come back more quickly than in the downturns of 2001 and 1990-91 — is that so many of the job losses have been at the service-related companies that have come to dominate U.S employment. Since the recession began, 3.3 million service-sector jobs have been lost, a 2.9% decline that is the largest in data going back to 1939. In comparison, the previous two recessions each saw service-sector jobs fall by 0.5%. …

But the biggest reason jobs might bounce back quicker from this downturn than the past two recessions, said Comerica Bank economist Dana Johnson, is that the economy looks likely to see a much bigger bounce as it recovers.

Gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced by the economy — has fallen by 3.9% since economic output peaked last year, marking the steepest decline since the end of World War II. In contrast, the 2001 and 1990-91 recessions were among the shallowest on record.

History says that given the depth of the downturn, GDP should grow at a 6% to 8% rate over the next year, according to Mr. Johnson. But because of the financial stress that has come with this recession, he expects it will grow at a 4% rate.

Corroborating that notion, the Journal this morning carried stories that car sales have been very strong in both India and China over the last six months. In fact, General Motors set a new monthly sales record in China in July.

3Q GDP forecasts revised upward

The WSJ’s Real Time Econ Blog has collected a group of economic forecasts that have been revised upward, due to “signs that businesses were paring down inventories.”

A more thorough article on the topic cites the “cash-for-clunkers” program as one predictor of improved consumer spending, making it necessary for car companies to make more new cars than previously planned.

Still, in the largest wave of upward revisions of GDP forecasts since the financial crisis began, UBS AG is now predicting 2.5% growth in the third quarter, up from 2%, and 3% growth in the fourth quarter, up from 2.5%. Wells Fargo & Co. also revised its third-quarter forecast to 3% growth, up from 2.2%. For the fourth quarter, it is now predicting 2.0%, up from 1.6%. T. Rowe Price Group Inc. increased its third-quarter projection to 2.75% from 1.3%.

But as everyone seems to be saying, “The data indicated that consumers concluded the first half under intense pressure from a weak labor market. That suggests the anticipated GDP growth won’t be enough to substantially bring down the unemployment rate.”

But there was more:

Economists already had expected growth to rebound in coming months after companies drew down inventories in the first half of the year. A promising manufacturing report this week showed a jump in new orders and production, building on those expectations. “When you combine leaner inventories with more sales, that’s the fundamental reason for being more optimistic about at least the second half of this year,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com.

The article suggested that once the “cash-for-clunkers” program was over (either because it’s not renewed by the Senate, or when it burns through a potential second round of cash), there would be “payback,” presumably in a corresponding dip in car sales.

The best-case scenario for sustained growth is a strong second half, with improved consumer spending and confidence, and without the massive layoffs that have marked much of the recession. Short of that, business investment would have to make a comeback for expansion to continue. New orders are showing encouraging signs, but so far there’s little sign the growth is widespread. Although housing isn’t expected to lead the recovery, signs of improvement in the sector could buoy growth in the economy. The pending home-sales index, which measures housing contract activity and is designed to foreshadow existing home sales, increased 3.6% in June to 94.6 — its highest point since June 2007.

My belief is, now that the worst is behind us, the country will be better able to get back to business as usual. Maybe a bit more wisely.

Customer Service Technologies to Watch

As a person in the midst of the job search as well as seeking project work or contract business, I’m interested in finding signs of life in the economy. One area where companies ARE investing right now are Customer Service Technologies.

The Wall Street Journal this morning reports:

Companies are trying harder to please customers amid the recession — and it appears to be working. The American Customer Satisfaction Index, a widely followed survey conducted by the University of Michigan, is at a record high. Other surveys also report gains in customer satisfaction. The results are unexpected, because customer satisfaction typically declines in a recession as companies cut costs, says Bruce Temkin, a vice president for Forrester Research Inc. In this downturn, though, he and other analysts say companies are protecting spending that affects customers.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Sprint Nextel Corp began a service-improvement plan at the end of 2007. Call-center operators now are rewarded for solving problems on a customer’s first call.
  • Cheesecake Factory Inc last year added an online customer survey to its “mystery shopper” program to assess service in its 146 restaurants. “Chief Executive David Overton cited the service initiative Thursday when Cheesecake Factory reported second-quarter earnings that topped expectations, though net income fell.”
  • Comcast last year introduced software to identify network glitches before they affect service and to better inform call-center operators about customer problems. The tools, and more employee training, helped Comcast cut repeat service calls 30% last year.
  • US Airways Group Inc. last year deployed hand-held scanners to better track baggage, part of an effort to improve reliability, convenience and appearance.
  • Southwest Airlines Co. recently introduced a system that allows customers waiting for a call-center operator to hang up and receive a call back, without losing their place in the queue.

Forrester Research suggests that 57% of large North American companies employed an executive in charge of customer satisfaction in 2008, up from 27% in 2006.

Tom Peters is writing a new book

I note this because Tom Peters is one of my favorite “business guru” authors. As the previous posting relates (just down below), I think Peters is almost always right on the mark with his predictions of the way business is going to go. And I note this too, because it was his book The Tom Peters Seminar in 1995 and 1996 that provided both the inspiration and the blueprint for my own excursion into the freelance world (“Bugay Communications”). And I note this because, right now, as I face the job search, and as I am making the effort to think through what I can do and want to do for the next 10 years or more, his “Reinventing Work” trilogy” (The Brand You 50, the Project 50, and the Professional Service Firm 50) are at the top of my pile of books, again, providing inspiration and a blueprint.

(You may ask, “isn’t it a bit self-defeating to use a business book that’s 10 years old as your “inspiration and blueprint”? But in my opinion, his more recent work, “Re-Imagine,” is not much more than a repackaging and an expansion of the themes in the “50” books.)

At any rate, his new book is entitled The Little Big Things: 179 Ways to Be Excellent and is due out in about January 2010.

It seems to me that as he gets older, he keeps re-circling the same themes — this time it’s “Excellence” — and that in using the number 179, that possibly the packaging, or re-packaging, of the excellence theme, will take on the form of a “to-do” list, similar to that found in the “50” books. So this new work will be re-set in the context of today’s current economic woes. But the “how to” and the “what to do” portions of this work will again, largely, be similar in nature to what I’m reading now.