Right Hand, meet Left Hand

The contest wasn’t a big deal, but I thought the chance to win the prize package was worth a few minutes of my time. It was even worth the inevitable sales call I really didn’t want to receive, but was sure would follow. So I obeyed the publication’s instructions and entered the web address in my browser.

“We’re sorry! Our new site is under construction, and we’ll be offline until it’s complete. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

What? Maybe I had an outdated copy of the publication. I picked it up and looked … but no, it was dated for this week. The copy clearly said to go to the website and enter to win, but I couldn’t do that.

I lost out on an opportunity to win a fabulous prize package. The company behind that package lost on the opportunity to capture my name, my phone number and email address, and some valuable sales intelligence. I presume that they lost out on the same opportunity with hundreds — maybe thousands — of other potential prospects.
Perhaps just as important, they left me (and all those other potential entrants) with the impression that they were a disorganized, poorly run company.

Maybe I’ll try to re-enter in a few days. More likely, I’ll toss their publication into the recycling bin or let it become fossilized under a stack of newer correspondence and dazzling marketing materials.

You know exactly what happened. One department didn’t communicate with another, and the proverbial ball fell to the floor. It happens frequently in large companies. The advertising manager forgets to tell the marketing manager that the new offer will show up next week, so the marketing manager doesn’t have time to order the promised premium item. Or, as in this case, marketing and IT weren’t communicating, so the critical coordination didn’t happen. The ol’ right hand had no idea what the left hand was up to.

But this situation didn’t take place in a large company. Given that you could count the company’s staff on one hand and not use all the fingers, it was more like the pinkie wasn’t working with the thumb.

I don’t mean to pick on this particular company, which is why I’m not mentioning them by name or giving you enough information to make an educated guess. That’s because this problem affects companies and organizations of all shapes and sizes. I’ve seen so many instances when companies leaped out with a powerful flight of marketing messages, only to discover that the folks who actually had to deliver on those messages weren’t ready to handle the responses.

For some organizations, it’s not an occasional hiccup. It’s a way of life. In my college days, I worked for a retail chain whose executives enthusiastically distributed boatloads of beautiful newspaper circulars and mailers every week. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite as enthusiastic about checking to see if any of the advertised merchandise was actually in their stores. So week after week, those of us at the other end of the pay scale had to put on our brave faces and deal with irate customers.

“…every week, that chain spent a fortune to draw customers to its doors, and then proceeded to drive a large number of those customers away.”

Think about that: every week, that chain spent a fortune to draw customers to its doors, and then proceeded to drive a large number of those customers away. All because marketing and logistics were unable to communicate.

As for the company whose contest I couldn’t enter, I’m sure their new website was a necessity, and I bet it’ll be a humdinger. But in addition to inconveniencing greedy folks like me who simply wanted to win a prize, taking it down meant they were left with no online presence beyond their apology.

Suppose that I wasn’t a contestant. Suppose I was someone who needed the services they offer and was ready to buy just as soon as I got a little information. Would I have patiently waited a few days or weeks for their new site to appear, or would I have moved on to a competitor? What would you have done?

They could have left the existing site in place while they developed and tested the new site in a hidden corner of their web server. Once it was finished, they could cut it over in minutes. If something was dramatically wrong with the old site, they could have quickly drafted a temporary single-page site that would have addressed the needs of visitors.
And, at the very least, Ms. Thumb could have told Mr. Pinkie that he should delay that clever contest until the site was ready. Sure, the delay may have been frustrating, but it would have been far less damaging than losing so many prospects.

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