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The Measurement Trap: Too much metrics?


June 18, 2015 | by Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates



when it comes to trust, the mania for measurement isn’t just benign—it can be positively trust-destroying.



We’ve all heard the phrase “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Most managers accept it uncritically; many believe it passionately.


But, on the very face of it, it’s untrue. Worse yet, when it comes to trust, the mania for measurement isn’t just benign—it can be positively trust-destroying. This is true of measuring both the business impact of trust, and of measuring trustworthiness itself. Let’s explore two examples to see why; then talk about what can be done.


Example One: Pharmaceutical Reps


In the pharmaceutical business, the key salesperson is the rep, or detailer. His or her job is to visit doctors and hospitals. Their objective, as most firms define it, is to influence the doctor or hospital to prescribe (write script for) the drugs their firm represents. Lacking direct data (reps don’t walk out with an order), the industry is understandably very interested in tracking the effectiveness of reps’ calls on physicians.


The industry has developed sophisticated metrics for tracking and analyzing the effect on physician script-writing of reps’ visits, their message, and the complex incentive pay schemes of the reps. This is seen as critical, since very few rep visits end with the physician meeting the rep and remembering what was said. The industry has deployed tens of thousands of reps (though the number has declined in recent years). The average call lasts between 30 seconds and 3 minutes.


Now imagine you’re a physician. Many reps per day call on you. They call you a “target.” They have data on prescriptions you write, and want you to write their drug more. You know their compensation is affected by their success in so doing. You know their company has spent millions on figuring out just what kind of reps and what message will influence you the most. You know your responses will be measured and fed into a database; and the next time you see a rep, he or she may ask you why you didn’t take their advice.


In that scenario, how much do you trust the rep? Not much at all.


Yet the pharmaceutical industry’s response has been, arguably, exactly wrong. It gave the model a name: “reach and frequency,” and for years doubled down on it – more reps, more metrics, more hard-nosed messaging. Never mind the destroyed trust that policy left in its wake.


The message the physician takes away from such high-powered marketing programs is that the company’s interest in him or her is somewhere between little and none.


Example Two: Banking Loan Revenue


For millennia, banks have provided loans, and charged interest for doing so. It is their business model, and pretty much no one begrudges them that return. In principle, that is. In practice, things can get uglier.


The commercial banker and their sales manager has a hundred thousand tools available in 2015 to improve the lending approach. You can target certain customers for add-on and cross-selling loan opportunities (or as St. Meyer & Hubbard appropriately calls it, Cross Solving). You can prioritize those opportunities, develop incentive programs for branch managers, business bankers and commercial relationship managers to earn new credit relationships, and provide virtually real-time performance data on their efforts. You can micro-profile prospects, almost in real time as they enter a branch or fill out a form, and then follow up with social media or "old-fashioned” email. You can develop persona types for these potential customers and write idealized scripts for various bank players to interact with them – and you can track the effectiveness of varying key words or phrases in the scripts, as well as the relative performance of differing employee groups and individuals in achieving loan sell-through.


All the while, the customer – the object of all this frantic measurement activity – feels more and more like just that – an object. The result is a powerful force driving toward a vicious circle. The more you measure and objectify a customer, the more they feel treated as walking wallets, ends to your means – and the more resentful and resistant they become.


The Problem With Measurement


The measurement dilemma will get worse until businesses figure out that measurement and behaviors aren’t the problem—attitudes are. If I as a customer believe that your objective is first, last and foremost to maximize my profitability to you, then I feel no different from a vendor, a supply chain, or a raw material. To you, I am merely an object; an object to be managed, cost-reduced and revenue-enhanced.


In such a case, highly refined measurements of the system’s effectiveness don’t make me feel better—they simply compound the fact that you view me as an object.


Half-measures compound the problem. Pharma and banks are hardly alone in telling its customers things like “we want your loyalty,” “we want to be your trusted advisor,” or “we are customer-focused.” Meanwhile, they work to ensure that every customer interaction maximizes the impact on the seller’s bottom line. Metrics on the impersonal side of the business are fine. Customers are glad to see their suppliers reducing supply chain costs, making production more lean and efficient. But human beings don’t like being treated that way.


The problem with measurement isn’t limited to linking customers to profits. It also arises in measuring things like trust directly. I once got a phone call from someone who had developed a 4-page spreadsheet of indicators of trustworthiness. He was proposing to implement them as part of his firm’s core skills set, complete with needs analysis package and skills development program. Central to it all was measuring his organization’s people performance on their trustworthiness.


In other words, he was proposing a system centered on skills measurement, training and rewards for being trustworthy. If I were his client, I would want to ask: how trustworthy can this person be if his trustworthiness depends on how much he gets paid for being trustworthy, and on whether he has taken a trustworthiness skills training course?”


I found it hard to explain to him the problem. After all, he said—“If you can’t measure it, how can you manage it?”


A Better Way


Very simply, the only way to be trusted is to actually be trustworthy. The only way to be trustworthy is to have your customers’ best interests at heart. If you are trustworthy, you will come to be seen as trustworthy. If you are seen as trustworthy, you will become very profitable.


The paradox is—you can’t set out to be profitable by being trustworthy—it destroys the concept. You actually have to care. Profitability is a byproduct.


The acid test of trustworthiness is whether you can ever conceive of recommending a significant competitor’s product to a significant customer. If you cannot ever conceive of it—then either you work for a perfect company or you cannot be trusted. You decide which it is.


You can measure the effect of trust and profitability in the long run—but not the short. The measure of trusted relationships is at the relationship level, not the transaction level. The right measure of customer profitability is at the lifetime, not the quarterly, timeframe.


The most influence comes when you stop trying to influence, and just help. The best measurements come when you stop trying to measure and just do the right thing. The best relationships come from acting from our humanity, not from our spreadsheets.



CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates

Charles H. Green is an author and subject matter expert on trust-based relationships and trust-based selling in business. He is the author of Trust-based Selling, and co-author of The Trusted Advisor and The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook. Charles works with complex organizations to improve trust in sales, internal trust between organizations, and trusted advisor relationships with external clients and customers. Charles spent 20 years in management consulting. He majored in philosophy (Columbia), and has an MBA (Harvard). A widely sought-after speaker, he has published articles in Harvard Business Review, Directorship Magazine, Management Consulting News,, CPA Journal, American Lawyer, and many others.