How and Why to Fix Zombie Business Problems

Updated on January 12, 2018
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Stephen Bush is Chief Business Writer and CEO for AEX Commercial Financing Group. Steve is a Navy veteran and business consulting expert.

Fixing Zombie Business Problems
Fixing Zombie Business Problems

Zombie Problems That Continue to Haunt You: Recurring Business Problems

Within all organizations — from sole proprietorships to the largest conglomerates — multiple problems continue to haunt managers, owners, employees and investors on an ongoing basis. These recurring business problems deserve a special name, and my two leading candidates are “Zombie Business Problems” as the longer name and “Zombie Problems” as the shorter and more generic non-business version.

Whatever you call them, such recurring challenges are likely to inflict both temporary and long-term damages that can impact the bottom line in varying amounts. Including the “Zombie” descriptor is rarely applied in a positive way, and the consistent negative connotation is a primary reason for my choice of “Zombie” in the title and both special names for recurring problems.

In a similar vein, “Zombie Bank” is a term to describe financial institutions that have a negative net worth — their liabilities outweigh assets and they would be forced to file for bankruptcy if treated as a normal business enterprise. The “Zombie Bank” terminology originated during the savings and loan debacle more than 25 years ago. During the S&L crisis, 32 percent of savings and loan associations failed. In an updated use of the Zombie terminology to describe recent bank bailouts that began about 10 years ago, the term “Zombie Banks” now refers to many of the “Problem Banks” monitored by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). Since 2008, the FDIC Problem Bank List has ranged from around 150 to 800 banks (compared to 50 before the financial crisis).

Despite the serious implications of Zombie banking institutions, Zombie Business Problems might impact more individuals and organizations than Zombie Banks. While many banks are healthy and are not Zombie Banks, it is unusual to find an organization of any size that is totally free of all seven common Zombie Problems listed in the following table. The good news is that all of the Zombie Problems shown below are either fixable or avoidable — and practical strategies are also provided within this article.

7 Common Zombie Business Problems That Are Preventable or Fixable

  1. Ineffective Press Releases
  2. Low-Bidder Mentality
  3. Inadequate New Business Development or Fundraising
  4. Overpromotion
  5. Emphasizing SEO More Than Customer Needs
  6. Repeating Mistakes Without Contingency Plans
  7. Using Obsolete Business Writing Strategies

Some problems keep recurring within organizations — I refer to these challenges as Zombie Business Problems.

— Stephen Bush

1. Press Releases That Don’t Work

Let me start with what should be the easiest fix of all — stop using all variations of press releases. This outdated method for communicating with the public only works for a handful of well-known companies and brands.

Everyone else can spend their time and money more wisely with alternative communication strategies. Instead of trying to persuade potential customers to make a buying decision with a trite and promotional press release, produce educational content such as case studies, extended articles and white papers.

If you choose to not deal with an issue, then you give up your right of control over the issue and it will select the path of least resistance.

— Susan Del Gatto

2. Selecting the Lowest Bidder to Produce High-Quality Content

While choosing the lowest bidder can help to reduce costs, it is a debatable strategy for improving quality in either a short-term or long-term marketing campaign. Nevertheless, that is exactly what many organizations are striving to do when they use crowdsourcing websites to hire freelancers who will produce content designed to attract potential customers.

One feasible solution to this dilemma might seem counterintuitive in a cost-cutting environment — pay more, not less, for high-quality content. You can implement this approach without leaving a freelancing website simply by being more open to the higher bidders. But if you hire freelance workers directly instead of via an overcrowded website, you can also realize savings by eliminating the extra cost of a crowdsourcing website that is collecting healthy fees in the middle — often cutting your immediate costs by 10 to 20 percent or more in the process.

Another benefit of hiring business writers directly (instead of on crowdsourcing sites) is that the direct selection process is almost always more personalized. For example, websites such as Upwork require anonymity during early searches for talent. This means that neither freelance writers nor client companies know precisely who they are dealing with initially. In my experience, the anonymous nature of crowdsourcing is another potential Zombie Business Problem waiting to happen.

I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of 2 million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.

— John Glenn

3. Lack of Enough New Business Activity or Fundraising

The process of finding new buyers and clients is a regular and normal quest within most organizations. The “recurring problem” aspect emanates from the ongoing use of sales processes that are not working effectively on a repeat basis. With nonprofit groups, not-for-profit organizations, charitable foundations and government agencies, this Zombie Problem primarily involves fundraising challenges.

Here are two examples of alternative solutions that reflect the changing patterns of customer buying behavior. First, today’s consumers strongly prefer being at the center of the buying process via a customer-centric sales process. This is counter to classic marketer-centric sales processes like cold calling and advertising. Second, business proposals are underused by many organizations. For those already using proposals actively, consider adding two additional variations if you don’t already include them in your current mix — unsolicited and one-page proposals.

New Business Development and the Bottom Line

4. Content That Is Too Promotional

Both search engines and customers are tuning out to promotional content that is lacking enough objective detail to facilitate a well-informed buying decision. Excessive and irrelevant linking to other websites is one symptom of content that is viewed as overpromotional. Other examples of problematic content include inaccurate claims and sales-oriented language intended to close a sale rather than inform the reader.

One easy fix is to reduce links in any content to the bare minimum — zero whenever possible. Another practical fix is to emphasize detailed educational content such as white papers and extended articles as a suitable replacement for ultra-short content that lacks enough information to meet the high expectations of consumers.

Producing Educational and Customer-Centric Content

5. Overemphasizing Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

While optimizing search engine results is a common goal when organizations publish content, a recurring problem involves losing sight of customers during the business writing and publishing process. The content attributes that are positive for search engines will often produce indifference among readers. For example, a search engine will literally “read” an entire case study, even if it extends to 2500 words or more. On the other hand, busy consumers frequently scan content, looking only at headlines and summaries — and perhaps tables, textual images and brief videos.

Instead of writing and publishing content that checks all of the SEO boxes, remember to first satisfy the needs of your customers. Before writing anything, start with a healthy dose of marketing and content research that reflects what potential buyers are looking for when they come to your website to review information and high-quality content.

The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.

— Peter Drucker
Recurring Business Problems
Recurring Business Problems

6. Recurring Mistakes Without a Contingency Plan in Place

Having a workable contingency plan requires thinking about the possibility of something going wrong and planning in advance what you will do when and if that actually happens. This pragmatic approach is virtually mandatory when you are regularly confronted by one or more recurring problems such as those discussed here.

But if this is not the approach taken by you and others in your organization, you are certainly not alone in today’s business world. Whether the culprit is lack of time or something else, contingency business plans are frequently absent from daily, weekly and monthly to-do lists.

The practical solution and strategy is a straightforward one — Always Have a Plan B. The good news is that you have a stellar opportunity to take a giant step ahead of your competitors by initiating action in this area.

Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.

— Albert Einstein

7. Outdated Content Writing Techniques

The time period required for specific forms of online business writing to become obsolete and outdated has become dramatically compressed during the digital age. The challenge for managers, owners and employees is to realize that one strategy has been replaced by another in the consumer marketplace — and stop using old solutions for new problems.

For example, article and content spinning (producing multiple and slightly different variations of the original content) became very fashionable for several years — and then search engines began to discredit and penalize the practice. Another example was the popularity of “short and sweet” content on blogs (especially on blog networks) that ranged from 150 to 300 words. Both consumer and search engine standards now reflect the common-sense wisdom that detailed educational information almost always requires more than 200 words or so.

Here are two practical and strategic solutions:

  • Inbound Marketing — Customer-centric sales processes and content to replace marketer-centric and brand-centric strategies.
  • Think Outside of the Blog — Alternative strategies reflecting that most customers want more than a blog when they are searching for educational content.

A Video Overview: How to Fix Zombie Business Problems

We all leak oil, but the good ones control the flow.

— Lee Trevino
Recurring Problems — More Success Tips
Improve Collaboration
Avoid Shortcuts With Any Due Diligence Process
Reduce Cold Calling and Traditional Advertising
Consider Cost-Effectiveness: Cost-Effective Solutions
Improve and Enhance Negotiating
Rely More on Intrapreneurs for Innovation
Don’t Be Guilty of a “Failure to Communicate”
Zombie Problems and Solutions
Zombie Problems and Solutions

Would you rather learn from mistakes or prevent them? The choice is yours — ignore recurring problems, fix them or prevent them.

— Stephen Bush

© 2018 Stephen Bush

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