Dean Barber

My Pet Peeves

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development, Uncategorized on June 22, 2014 at 6:13 am

I always welcome the opportunity to meet with economic developers when they come to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to call on site selection consultants. If my schedule permits, I’m with you.

Sometimes those invitations come via email and sometimes by phone calls. It matters not to me which way I am initially contacted, although email follow-up will be requested so that I don’t have to tie a string around my finger.

But how people want to be communicated with is a personal preference. And when you are engaged in business development, it is something to take note of and even document.

I recently finished making a slew of appointments with aviation/aerospace/defense industry contacts in Southern California. I noticed that I was far more effective by using a combination of LinkedIn messages/phone calls than I was by email.

If someone has more than 500 LinkedIn contacts, that is a pretty good sign that they take LinkedIn seriously as a business tool, which means it might be a good way to make initial contact with them.

A friend of mine, an economic developer with a utility company, told me this past week that his company forbids the use of any social media at the workplace. Now I understand that to a point – “Hey, here’s a picture of my dog Roscoe fetching a stick that I threw into a pond.”

Social Media can be abused at the job. No doubt about it. But when I asked my friend if his employer understood the value that LinkedIn could provide in business development, he sighed. “They don’t get it.”

It continually amazes me how many business people do not use LinkedIn — that this can be a valuable business development tool in the proverbial tool box. Oh well, some folks just don’t get it.

That’s not a pet peeve so much as a fact.

How About a Yes or a No?

But we all have our pet peeves, things that bother us that probably shouldn’t but still do.

The older I get, the more I try not to let the small stuff get under my skin. Still, I cannot help but notice that there is such a thing as business etiquette, most of it founded upon common sense and just good manners.

For example, if I am asked to submit a proposal – whether it is a strategic/action plan for an economic development organization or for a company on a site selection project — it usually happens as a result of a conference call or a meeting  with that potential client.

And in the aftermath of discussing the wants and needs of that potential client, I am going to put forth substantial time and effort in writing a proposal. It is expected of me, a precursor to winning the job and performing the work.

And, in turn, I would hope and expect for an eventual answer, whether it be a yes or a no. But sometimes, weeks and even months go by and there is silence, even after some gentle prodding. Not getting an answer, after putting forth time and effort, just bugs the heck out of me.

Truly, I would rather hear “no” than not to get an answer at all.

Now this is a common complaint from economic developers, which I think is absolutely valid. If my community is eliminated from consideration on a site selection project after I have submitted an often lengthy request for information/proposal, please let me know. Just don’t leave me hanging. I got a board breathing down my neck.

As a former economic developer, I can relate, and will do all that I can to timely inform those who submitted RFI’s as to whether they remain in the running or not on a given project. To me, it’s a simple courtesy that they deserve.

Think Follow Up

This does not bother me nearly to the same degree, but I cannot help but take note of it and so will mention it.

An economic development group has asked to meet with me while visiting here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We schedule a meeting, and it turns out to be a productive meeting. I learned stuff as a result. That’s always a good thing.

But then there’s no follow up. I never hear from them. Now mind you, I am not expecting a hand-written perfumed card. But a simple email follow-up with contact information would be nice.

To me, that’s business development 101. But I wonder about the economic developers who do not do that. Were they just going through the motions to meet some matrix or quota when they met with me?

About half of the meetings that I have with visiting economic developers from around the country who come to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, there is no follow up from them. Strange but true.

Give it To Me Straight

I cannot help but admire business rebels and pathfinders, entrepreneurs who shake up an industry by building a top-notch company that doesn’t follow but leads by its own way. I am a big fan of Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, and famed oilman T. Boone Pickens.

These are very plain spoken men. You know exactly what they are saying, because they refuse to engage in corporate/consultant jargon. Here’s a couple of my favorite T. Boone quotes. The first one, he attributes to his father.

“Son, a fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan any day.”

“A plan without action isn’t a plan, it’s a speech.”

 “If you are going to run with the big dogs, you have to get out from under the porch.”

Branson is not so folksy. That’s not him. But he does appreciate the use of clear understandable language. Here’s a story he recently told, which by the way, I picked up on LinkedIn.

“Some people love speaking in jargon, using fancy words and turning everything into acronyms. Personally, I find this simply slows things down, confuses people and causes them to lose interest. It’s far better to use a simple term and commonplace words that everyone will understand, rather than showing off and annoying your audience.

“In some industries, technical terms are everywhere – especially in the financial sector. As somebody who didn’t understand the difference between net and gross for many years, despite running several billion dollar companies, I have always preferred when financial issues are explained clearly.

“A few years ago we were looking into investing money in a financial company. The person I was talking to said: “We only have a 5 percent bid offer spread.” Later I asked one of my team what the guy was talking about. He explained how they were using jargon as a way of hiding the fact they were stealing 5 percent before we even started!

“Sometimes there are more sinister reasons for using jargon, and it is all too easy to fall foul of these tricks. Do you wish people would tell it to you straight rather than blinding you with terminology?”

We’re No. 1!

Now this is a pet peeve that I should just bury internally and ignore. 

And it involves a claim that is often seen on economic development websites but sometimes even uttered aloud, – that a particular place is the very “best” place for   all businesses under the sun, bar none.

Not long ago I met a group of economic developers from a state that I see as having a very favorable business climate. But one local economic developer kept making the claim, repeatedly, that her community was “the best” for all businesses.

More often, you will hear this outlandish statement from an elected official, typically a mayor, who just don’t know any better. But an economic developer should know better.

“I’m sorry, but there is no such a place,” I replied to her dryly. She looked at me as if I had cussed in church.

 “If there were such a place – a single best place for business – don’t you think they would all be there? No, there’s just better places for certain kinds of businesses, which is really the basis for my site selection consulting business.”

“No, really, our city is the best,” she doubled downed.

Alrighty then.

A Transcript Please

This past week alone, I have received emailed invitations from economic development organizations in California and Florida, to attend luncheons. Clearly, these invitations were designed for a local audience, that is, community stakeholders, on local subject manner.

But still, I get these emails on a regular basis. And sometimes, I have the audacity to reply to them.

“Please forgive me, as I will not be catching a plane to attend your luncheon which is 1,300 miles away from me. But I am most interested in the remarks from your local animal control officer. Please send me a transcript if possible.”

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

If you liked what you saw here, invite me to speak at your next meeting.

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  1. Good one Dean…
    One of my most valuable pieces of advice I give to Ec D people is to google “Your State’s Name Here.” I bet that among 2/3s of all places ED promotional material have the same content, except for the name of the place. Every place is the best place to raise a family, have the best incentives, the lowest costs, the nicest people, etc.
    A few weeks ago I got a nice email from an ED manager in a place that will be nameless. She explained that I had been carefully selected to review their new ED package.
    It was 104 pages. I was polite and referred her to the above noted YouTube video. Then I explained that no one would review 104 pages and companies don’t rely on huge packages of data provided by an ED agency. More commonly companies will do their own data analysis after they have identified a fairly small sample of places that meet their over-riding strategic imperative – generally close to key markets or key sources of supply of something. I also mentioned that companies might also hire me to do this, not someone who is selling a place. After the decades of ED being a professional practice of sorts… it hasn’t gotten better.
    Unless places can identify their bandwidth and those firms that might offer them a sweet spot, they really are only doing busy work.

  2. Reblogged this on Barberbiz and commented:

    I’ve been in Costa Rica this past week on business believe it or not. So here’s a reblog of a past post that you may find of interest.

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