Liverpool is suffering from an epidemic of chronic management and it has to change
As founder of Liverpool-based Verb Marketing Dean Currall has generated around £25m in extra sales for clients – but he says too many local businesses are getting it very wrong
Where do I begin? I’ve spent the guts of the last five years growing Verb Marketing and have had the pleasure and misfortune of meeting certain business leaders. The management in too many businesses across Merseyside is shockingly bad and I can testify to this through first-hand experience.
The reasons for this are of course manifold but popular culture in this respect has a lot to answer for, films such as The Wolf of Wall Street and TV shows such as The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den offer up grotesque caricatures of what a good business leader looks like: egotistical, aggressive, cold, ruthless, someone who deliberately fosters a destructive culture of blame and humiliation for those found to have fallen short of expectations.
Small wonder there are growing numbers of staff reporting mental health issues in the workplace.
There also appears to be a chronic shortage of people with the right skill-set to be able to run an organisation successfully or manage and motivate a team of people. When we’ve placed job adverts for senior positions, many of the right people, and it seems the right jobs, are often situated in Manchester.
The infrastructure for the development to bigger and better things seems easier, the salaries are higher, and there is a more cohesive plan by local government to actually support businesses. This has enabled relatives and staff who are promoted through loyalty and longevity rather than ability to ‘over-achieve’ in Liverpool.
The false economy
The common attitude I have discovered is that many businesses have taken the idea of bottom-line figures to the highest degree. They will even take out all the much-needed context that’s required for a project to succeed.
Essentially, ‘we pay you so make it happen’ and explaining that it’s a two-way effort is seen as a ‘get-out’ clause. It’s certainly not helped by dozens of marketing firms making unattainable promises and not even striking close to reaching them.
I have been running Verb for five years and, over that time, we have helped our clients to generate around £25m in additional sales revenue. The biggest successes have been achieved with those clients who have been open-minded and receptive, take Swan for example.
Swan is a British company that is owned and developed by original Swan employees who are passionate about the brand’s heritage, they are one of the best-known makers of kitchen appliances in the UK. Swan were really open-minded about our ideas and in the first couple of months of working with them, we had already overseen a significant rise in their conversion rate.
We demonstrated that there was little value in increasing the number of hits to your website if you then don’t convert enough of those visits into sales. They really get it and those kinds of working relationships are a joy. They understand there was things that they needed to change internally to make this process more lucrative.
However, let me give you an example of a bad-experience I’ve had.
There was a business where the managers were immensely proud of the number of enquiries they received on a daily basis and couldn’t wait to tell me and it was a lot, about 200 calls a day. They had brought me in to a meeting to let me know there was nothing I could bring to the table they hadn’t already done.
This is how the conversation went:
Company: So we have 200 calls a day, most of them come through Google as our presence is really good, we’ve tried Facebook marketing, email marketing, and nothing else works so fi you were to work for us, what would actually bring to the table?
Dean: The phone’s ringing again, it hasn’t stopped since I got here.
Company: Yes, it rings constantly.
Dean: No, I mean is no one going to answer it, it might be a client?
Company: Oh, yes, someone will probably pick it up soon.
Dean: OKaaay. So, how many calls a day do you get?
Company: 200-300 it’s hard to tell, which is why we don’t need more leads it won’t work for us.
Dean: That’s great, so what’s your conversion rate from those calls?
Company: (blank looks) Uh! We don’t know.
Dean: How do you manage your calls?
In essence, they had no system for handling enquiries effectively. A staff member would take a call and it would end up on a Post-it Note. The Post-it Note would then be stuck to all the other Post-it Notes around the place.
It was chaos. But this nonsense had come from the top, it wasn’t the receptionists that had arbitrarily decided to not answer the phone in a professional and courteous manner, this had been passed down from senior management, who themselves had placed no importance on these things.
We worked with them for a short while and put a system into place to catch all of these prospective clients and within a few months their conversion rate had rocketed to 5% – a tenfold increase. We were transforming their business and there was so much more we could have done, but they let us go. After just three months I has made them over £420,000 in additional sales.
‘Dean thanks but you’ve made us too successful and you’ve created problems for us, we can’t cope with the increase in business, we’re now too busy’. And they sacked me.
I often think about that period, and I imagine this exchange after my departure with that company talking about how clever and efficient they were in generating so much money then disposing of me so quickly.
This problem of course isn’t just a Liverpool problem, arrogance, panic, or simply not listening can cause all sorts of problems.
In 1985, 99 years after it had launched, one of the most famous and successful brands in history, Coca Cola, made a decision that, to this day, has business people and marketers shaking their heads in disbelief – it changed the flavour of Coke.
Shaken by the success of the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ ad campaign, Coca Cola relaunched its famous fizzy drink as ‘New Coke’, with a sweeter and lighter taste. It was a disaster and three months later, following an unprecedented public backlash, the company brought back the original Coke.
Shortly afterwards, a Coca Cola shareholder wrote to the company asking for the signature of chairman and CEO Roberto Goizueta…“I would like to have the autograph of the dumbest bastard in the history of American business,” he said.
Coca Cola, didn’t simply take this decision on a whim, they were told, they were warned; they did not listen.
The manager who doesn’t want to hear bad news is heading for a fall because he or she will only find out when things have gone wrong when it is too late. All cities have their fair share of well-run and badly-run businesses. I can’t help feeling we have too many of the latter here in Merseyside. It is time we significantly upped our game.
However, I’d like to end on a thoughtful note. You not only need good people at the top of your business, you need them throughout your business and if the culture is rotten then the genuinely talented people further down the chain tend not to stick around. A business with high staff turnover is always a giveaway.
If one of my team makes a mistake, or drops a bollock, it would be counter-productive to my business if they were too afraid to come and tell me. What makes me cringe when I talk to a lot of business leaders, is the relish they seem to take, in telling stories of how they ripped into someone or made someone else upset.
I have news for them, I make mistakes, we all make mistakes and my staff are aware of this and know that they can come to see me straight away and they won’t be in ‘trouble’. If your staff believe you support them, even when things go wrong, not only do they stick around, they go on to provide even more loyalty and higher-levels of motivation.
However, it’s not all bad. For every company under bad leadership I’ve met as many great leaders and businesses alike, but that is still a poor ratio. It’s also not solely about senior managers who lurk in the dark corners of businesses treating people poorly on purpose, it’s ignorance.
I often speak to businesses who just don’t take development seriously. Nor do they push themselves in terms of innovation or setting new trends. We often seem to live in the past, romanticising about ‘our global reputation’ and The Beatles, our steep history in art, music and football.
I’ve often found myself in business forums, with people bickering about broadband speeds, arguments with our 15 different mayors and how the Echo only produces bad news stories. I’m desperate to be part of a story that puts the city back on the map again…
When you think about what we were doing in the 19th century, creating a global shipping network and building the world’s first fully electrically powered overhead railway, the largest tobacco warehouse and the first public art gallery in Britain, we were innovators.
I suppose this piece is about trying to become that again. I love this city. I love its people. But I want more for us and I want us to stop looking into the past in awe and look forward and so people from the future can look back on us and go, wow – that was a special time.