Thirty (iii)

“There are flows of resources – which I generally think of as time, money and materials. That definition of marketing you referenced Michelle means that we work out what the market wants or might want, and what we can deliver, and then plan to exchange products and services for money. Reciprocal flows. For example, the product flows out and the money flows in. And we hope to keep that up.

“And that’s where another kind of flow comes in, to do with reputation Yvonne. After all, without a decent reputation we can’t hope to keep those sales up. I’m talking about influence flows. Influence goes around comes around.”

“Yes!” John got our attention. “Of course, data, information and knowledge flow. I meant to say that. And when they do so usefully, which we now think of as when someone changes what they’d have thought or done otherwise, that’s influence.”

“That’s really interesting,” said Michelle. “So some influence flows through my department, some through the separate discipline of public relations,” (I couldn’t work out whether the emphasis was sarcastic or respectful towards Yvonne but I had my suspicion) “and some through IT.”

“And…?” challenged Saket. Given the silence, he continued. “And there’s influence flowing in the actions of customer service, procurement, logistics, HR, sales. In fact, in everything. There’s influence in everything an organization does, and sometimes in what it does not do. Let me read you something.”

It was Saket’s turn to find something on his computer.

“Reputation management does not actually mean managing reputation, and brand management does not actually mean managing a brand. They mean actively attending to the business of influencing and being influenced such that the resultant beliefs or opinions held about us and our products are conducive to our achieving organizational objectives.”

“When you say it like that,” said Michelle, “it really puts the customer on a pedestal for sure.”

“There’s no such thing as ‘for sure’. That’s the only sure thing I do know. A Beautiful Mind, 2001.”

After a few seconds of adjusting to Saket’s movie speak, Michelle asked him to explain.

“Well, maybe this whole so-called ‘customer-centric’ way of thinking is an over simplification. The quote I just read out didn’t reference the customer. It didn’t put the customer ahead of employees past, present and future, or suppliers or partners or shareholders, past, present and future. Or the general public interest. Or the planet. All stakeholders matter, and to put one consistently ahead of all the others sounds increasingly stupid to me. It doesn’t appear to recognize the complexities of the world we live in.”

My conversation with Dom about complexity crashed back into my mind, and I had a feeling of clarity, even if I couldn’t actually articulate it. One thing I did know is that I’d had about as much mental stimulation as I could cope with on one call, and I directed the remainder of the call to planning the away day.

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