Unsolicited Vendor Emails

On my about page, I make the following statement:

The site is not connected with my employment. In fact, I go out of my way to limit any direct references to my career. Absolutely nothing that I have written should be taken as an expression on my employer’s behalf.

The rant that follows is just my rant. And it is all about unsolicited vendor emails and telephone calls.

On a quiet day, I’ll receive 40 or more unsolicited vendor emails — this is apart from the 300-400 emails that usually come in every day. Fewer calls, perhaps only 3 or 4. If I had to read, reflect and thoughtfully respond to each one, I would be spending anywhere between 2-3 hours a day on those emails. Imagine how much time would be taken if I agreed to meet with even half of the vendors that call me to request time on my calendar.

In a word, cold calling has become totally out of control.

I often wonder whether the companies that force people to do the cold calls see any kind of effective response rate. I used to reply personally when the volumes were more like 10 or so a day. When the volumes started to increase, I began to use a canned email response:

Thank you for your note and for your interest in our company.

Due to the very high volume of unsolicited requests for meetings and telephone calls, I can only make time available where we have a specific need or interest.

We do not have a specific need or interest in this area therefore a meeting or call is not required.

Kind regards,
Richard

I even toyed with the idea of automating the canned response by creating a rule or macro to run whenever certain keywords showed up in an email coming from an outside domain. Life, however is too short.

A friend shared me with this top ten things not to do to successfully sell to the CIO.

  • Spell my name right. Did I really need to tell you that? Apparently for many of you I really must.
  • Know what my company does. Please don’t try to sell restaurant point of sale software to me. I am not the CIO for an Iron Chef.
  • Spend 5 minutes to review what you send. Do not just import the address you got from the mailing list directly into mail / email merge program. Letters that are addressed to “Dear Mr. Smith, L J “ really lose that personal connection you are trying so hard to make
  • Don’t request a “read receipt” from me. Instant delete! It is bad enough that the NSA, Facebook and Google are already tracking me.
  • Don’t send me offers for gift cards to meet you. First of all, it is just plain wrong to bribe people into meeting with you. Secondly, it probably violates most company policies, and maybe even some laws, to accept gifts from vendors. Finally, it is really insulting to me that you think I am sorry or desperate enough to forgo my ethics for a Starbucks gift Card.
  • Don’t send your assistant to ask me to a meeting. Any email that starts out “my Director, Mr. X, is in your area on Tuesday April 22 at 9:15 and would like to meet with you” gets deleted. Wait; better yet I’ll have my assistant delete it.
  • Resist the impulse to send an email the instant after you leave a voicemail. If I had the time or inclination to answer the phone, I would have.
  • Learn when to give up. Persistence may be a valuable, but there is a limit. When you receive no reply after say, 3 attempts, don’t continue to fill the inbox (voice and email) with additional messages. It stands to reason that if I am not interested the first 5 times, I am not interested in the 6th.
  • Don’t send me a list of the 10 dates and times that we can meet in the next 2 months. If anything will convince me to meet you it is a reasoned outline of the product you sell and why it benefits my company, not the fact that you happen to be free.
  • Don’t solicit me if my company is already a customer. If we already buy your good or service, we probably won’t buy it twice.

At this point, I have given up responding to unsolicited emails and calls. Most of the unsolicited vendor email is coming into spam anyway which is where the vast majority belong. There are some rare emails that look to be of potential interest. I do give unsolicited emails the benefit of a doubt. I’ll spend maybe 10-seconds on an email to see if it deserves any kind of follow-up.

Most of them are so poorly done, that I can usually delete them within the first 5-seconds.

Work Life Balance

An interesting take on work-life balance:

Consequently, we’ve been conceiving of the topic of work-life balance all wrong. And I’d posit a new way in which to explore the issue by fundamentally redefining the terms. Starting with the end in mind, the goal most of us are striving for is fulfillment and human flourishing—both others’ and ours. This might be something like the old Aristotelian concept of eudaemonia. It is not just a happy or balanced life—though it may be happy—but a good life, one lived for worthy purposes and, in a way, uplifting to others.

John Coleman uses the framework pictured above to describe the various attributes of work and life.

Misery, drudgery and superficiality are hardly the building blocks of a flourishing, fulfilled life. Although I do read about the trends with far more joyless than joyful people in corporate environments. And I am not sure that it all has to do with reframing the narrative with the individual employee. Consider the recent New York Times article on Amazon:

At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)

… Amazon may be singular but perhaps not quite as peculiar as it claims. It has just been quicker in responding to changes that the rest of the work world is now experiencing: data that allows individual performance to be measured continuously, come-and-go relationships between employers and employees, and global competition in which empires rise and fall overnight. Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less forgiving.

Seems as though some corporate leaders are just fine with a harsher and less forgiving “modern” office. I think it would be hard for any person to flourish in those types of environments and I wouldn’t willingly choose to serve in such an environment.

Life is too short to be spending most of the day in misery, drudgery and superficiality.

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is about sweeping change. It changes everything about how products are designed, manufactured, sold, delivered, and serviced—and it forces CEOs to rethink how companies execute, with new business processes, management practices, and information systems, as well as everything about the nature of customer relationships. I’m seeing leaders who get this. They’re all over it: they want to launch five transformation initiatives right now; they’re talking to me and every digital leader they know about where the technology threats are coming from; and they’re hiring the best people to advise them. Yet I’m shocked by—even fearful for—the many CEOs I know who seem to be asleep at the switch. They just don’t see the massive disruption headed their way from digital threats, seen or unseen, and they don’t seem to understand it will happen very quickly.

McKinsey will often post thoughtful articles on leadership and change. This one, on digital transformation, makes the case that the CEO has to take on the dynamics of technology leadership.

From the World Economic Forum:

When assessing the implications, consider the fact that that new digital business models are the principal reason why just over half of the names of companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000. And yet, we are only at the beginning of what the World Economic Forum calls the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” characterized not only by mass adoption of digital technologies but by innovations in everything from energy to biosciences.

Looks as though many CEOs are literally making life or death decisions for the longer term health of the companies they lead.

The odds are roughly 50/50.

Guitar Center Is Going Down

Not only is Guitar Center the world’s largest musical instrument retailer with roughly 270 locations across the United States, it also holds an impressive amount of debt.

From Moody’s latest report on Guitar Center:

Moody’s Investors Service (Moody’s) today downgraded Guitar Center Inc.’s (GCI) ratings. The downgrade and negative outlook reflect Moody’s continued concern regarding GCI’s significant and relatively near-term debt maturities. Excluding the company’s $375 million asset-backed loan facility, approximately 65% of the company’s long-term debt matures in April 2019.

GCI’s Corporate Family Rating was downgraded to Caa1 from B3, and its Probability of Default Rating was downgraded to Caa1-PD from B3-PD. At the same time, GCI’s senior secured first lien notes were downgraded to Caa1 from B3 while its unsecured notes were downgraded to Caa3 from Caa2. The rating outlook is negative. This concludes the review for downgrade that was initiated on Sep. 28, 2017.

“The downgrade considers that despite Moody’s expectation that GCI will generate relatively stable earnings and positive free cash flow, a significant majority of the company’s debt matures in less than 18 months,” stated Keith Foley, a Senior Vice President at Moody’s. “GCI’s cash flow on its own will not be enough to materially reduce debt and improve leverage within the time frame the company has to address its debt maturities,” added Foley.

The Caa ratings reflect very high credit risk and are the highest risk junk bonds you can acquire. With a negative outlook, Moody’s expect the company is nearing default.

The following was from a filing dating back to December of 2012. Looks as though the management of Guitar Center has had a bit of an addiction for debt over a long period of time.

Risks Related to Our Indebtedness

Our level of indebtedness could adversely affect our ability to raise additional capital to fund our operations, limit our ability to react to changes in the economy or our industry and prevent us from meeting our obligations under our debt agreements.

We are highly leveraged. As of December 31, 2012, Holdings’ total consolidated indebtedness was $1.581 billion, which includes Guitar Center’s debt of $1.017 billion. This level of indebtedness could have important consequences to our business, including the following:

· it will limit our ability to borrow money or sell stock to fund our working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions and debt service requirements and other financing needs;

· our interest expense would increase if interest rates in general increase because a substantial portion of our indebtedness, including all of our indebtedness under our senior secured credit facilities, bears interest at floating rates;

· it may limit our flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in our business and future business opportunities;

· we are more highly leveraged than some of our competitors, which may place us at a competitive disadvantage;

· it may make us more vulnerable to a downturn in our business, our industry or the economy in general;

· a substantial portion of our cash flow from operations will be dedicated to the repayment of our and Holdings’ indebtedness, including indebtedness we may incur in the future, and will not be available for other purposes; and

· there would be a material adverse effect on our business and financial condition if we were unable to service our (or Holdings’) indebtedness or obtain additional financing as needed.

When all of their debt matures in Aprils of 2019, Guitar Center might have to go Chapter 11. Difficult times for retailers generally. Especially difficult times for retailers with such high leverage.

One Last Time, Maybe

In my work, I receive a lot of email. Three hundred, four hundred or more everyday.

And I receive a lot of unsolicited emails from vendors. Upwards of 100 or more on some days. Google is doing a pretty good job directing them into spam. I still have to check though, just in case there is something there that requires my attention.

Every so often I see a subject line that gives me hope. Hope that I might receive less email in a day. Like the one above.

Captioned “Connecting One Last Time” and complete with a forward of a chain of half a dozen similar emails was this dire warning: “I will plan on reconnecting in a month, unless you let you know…”

Hmmm. Unless I let myself know that I am ready to evaluate their services sooner.

I plan to let myself be kept in the dark on this one.

Universal Postal Union

Came across this little tidbit in the Globe and Mail today:

Canada Post is promising relief for Canadian retailers who say the postal service is unfairly subsidizing their Chinese competitors.

The federal Crown corporation says it has been forced to provide discounts on certain types of mail from China under a long-standing international arrangement, but it has recently negotiated price hikes that will start next year.

The change is welcome news to Canadian-based retailers, who have questioned why they pay much higher costs to mail products to Canadian customers than companies based in China.

International mail rates are set by a United Nations agency called the Universal Postal Union, which sets prices based on factors such as national income.

And, from Linn’s Stamp:

This is a story about incredible international mail rates, one that a senior Amazon.com executive swore was true to Congress last summer.

A small company in Marion, N.C., wants to send a 3.5-ounce package to Fairfax, Va. — 340 miles away — and it’ll cost “at least $1.94,” said Paul Misener, the Amazon executive.

But that same parcel could be shipped by a Chinese company from Shanghai — more than 7,000 miles away — to the Washington, D.C., suburb for $1.22, Misener said.

Similarly, shipping a 1-pound parcel to New York City from Greenville, S.C., would cost almost $6 via the United States Postal Service, but only $3.66 from Beijing to New York.

That might sound like an international horror story but it was just one of a number of examples that Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global policy, and others laid out before a House Postal Service subcommittee last summer as it probed the arcane world of “terminal dues” and international mail rates.

Okay, now you know that I am a bit of a closet philatelist.

I had not heard about the Universal Postal Union before. It is an agency of the United Nations that coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system.

And, as part of its mandate, it sets international mail rates. Preferential mail rates for some countries as it turns out.

I had always wondered why it was cheaper to receive packages from China than from the United States.

When Your Boss Is An Algorithm

UberEats

A friend passed me this story which reads in part:

This protest outside the UberEats office in south London on August 26 is one of the first industrial disputes to hit the city’s so-called gig economy. It is a strange clash. These are workers without a workplace, striking against a company that does not employ them. They are managed not by people but by an algorithm that communicates with them via their smartphones. And what they are rebelling against is an app update.

I have made the observation that future society could be divided into three classes:
  1. Those that own and control capital (owners of the algorithms)
  2. Those that tend to and build the algorithms for the capitalists (technocrats)
  3. Those that compete for lousy wages to serve the capitalists and the technocrats (the other 99%)

That might be a very frightening society.

Ten Insane Things

I came across this post on the ten insane things that Wall Street believes in:

1. Falling gas and home heating prices are a bad thing
2. Layoffs are great news, the more the better
3. Billionaires from Greenwich, CT can understand the customers of JC Penney, Olive Garden, K-Mart and Sears
4. A company is plagued by the fact that it holds over $100 billion in cash
5. Some companies have to earn a specific profit – to the penny – every quarter but others shouldn’t dare even think about profits
6. Wars, weather, fashion trends and elections can be reliably predicted
7. It’s reasonable for the value of a business to fluctuate by 5 to 10 percent within every eight hour period
8. It’s possible to guess the amount of people who will get or lose a job each month in a nation of 300 million
9. The person who leads a company is worth 400 times more than the average person who works there
10. A company selling 10 million cars a year is worth $50 billion, but another company selling 40,000 cars a year is worth $30 billion because its growing faster

The last point is obviously about Tesla. Tesla’s market capitalization is almost $32 billion today. Put another way, Tesla’s market cap is over $600,000 for every car it made last year. General Motors $48 billion market value is equivalent to about $4,800 for every vehicle it sold last year.