Posted on 23 September 2012 | 1 response
Last week I attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting and struck up a conversation with the person ahead of me in line for munchies. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. The other person started telling me what he did for a living by saying, “We specialize in…” and then rattled off at least ten or twelve different services and product categories. I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him but by then I was holding a plate of carrot sticks, cheese cubes, and Swedish meat balls so I refrained and listened politely as he recited his laundry list of things his “specialties.”
I nodded as my eyes glazed over but wanted to scream, “You can’t specialize in everything! You are a generalist!”
Yes, his business does many things, and I’m sure, they do them well enough to satisfy most of their customers most of the time. But, “well enough to satisfy most of their customers most of the time” never gets raves, referrals, or glowing testimonials. No one goes out of their way to comment that they purchased a “pretty fair” product from an “ordinary” company but we will often volunteer glowing information about superior products, services, and vendors.
Companies that dominate their marketplace work hard to be known for the best at what they do. Even the largest that sell thousands of different items specialize in something – it might be “lowest prices” or “largest selection” or “fastest service” or “more prestige” or “more convenience.”
In the small business world, it should be easy to specialize in something worthwhile to attract and retain customers. When a business specializes in something that their targeted market wants or needs the business gains a competitive advantage and they become known for that advantage whereas those who don’t have or create a specialty are only known for being an also-ran to the specialist.
So, what would you like your business to be? A business that is known as doing something special or one where nothing is special? Decide and then become the best at it so you can proudly proclaim your specialization.
Posted on 6 September 2012 | No responses
The doorbell rang and I heard retreating footsteps as I approached. There was a box sitting next to the door. It was an item I ordered two days ago from an internet vendor (I had called around locally to see if it was available but none of the local vendors was stocking this item. I opened the box.
There was the item I ordered, the receipt for my purchase along with a return label instructions and shipping label in case I didn’t want to keep my purchase. There was also a sale flyer, a flyer showing new items, a coupon good for a percentage off my next purchase if I bought something in the next week, and a newsletter that showed ways I could gain more benefit from my purchase.
This merchant was working hard to maximize this sale by attempting to get me to order something else and to get me to do it fast. In thinking about this handful of offers and news I realized that this is not unusual for internet and catalog merchants; they work hard to retain their customers and maximize their value.
The next day I stopped in a local store I frequent often to purchase a needed often. I made my purchase and left. When I got home the contrast between the two purchasing experiences was stunning.
There was no sale flyer in the sack. There was no newsletter. There was no flyer of new items. There was no coupon for my next purchase. Just the receipt for my purchase. And I realized that this is the norm for brick and mortar merchants. Aside from the cashier saying “Thank you” they don’t to much, if anything to retain or maximize the value of their customers.
The difference between these two buying experiences is that local vendors somehow feel that their customers know them and will return, yet the distant, internet and mail order vendors fear they will be immediately forgotten unless they incentivize their customers, reinforce their memory, and work to offer more value and more service which will help then gain more sales by maximizing their customers.
Posted on 6 September 2012 | No responses
While reading the newspaper last week with my second coffee, I read an interesting “Annie’s Mailbox (the successor to the long-running Ann Landers feature) that had a management lesson as well as a parenting lesson. A school psychologist responded to a previous letter in the column about correcting a child’s table manners.
A reader had suggested giving a child 25 pennies at the beginning of each meal and then removing one penny for each manners infraction. The psychologist said that this was negative reinforcement and that better results could be achieved with positive reinforcement such as reversing the process by starting out by not giving any pennies to the child but bestowing rewards with a penny for each demonstration of good manners.
Against my better judgment, I poured myself a third cup of coffee and thought that this is a management lesson also.
We often give negative reinforcement when we find someone doing something wrong, usually admonishing the guilty party (hopefully in private). We rarely give positive reinforcement when we find someone doing something right, after all doing it right is expected and should be the norm.
If you want to improve the performance of your company, positively reinforcing correct behavior will announce that you appreciate the right thing, the right attitude. You can reward people in many ways but the two most often rewards are money and recognition.
Instead of the 25 pennies, gift cards or gas cards and, of course, additions to the paycheck are appreciated. Non-monetary rewards can be a public announcement at a staff meeting, the most convenient parking space, or a “sweet treat” after the lunch break. One company I know calls this a “Cupcake Moment.” These are inexpensive, but effective, little recognitions that reinforce right behavior. Most people swell with pride when recognized for doing exemplary work and will want to continue doing it because they know their efforts are appreciated.
Of course there are good reasons for negative reinforcement when real corrective action is warranted but, if you want to elevate morale, increase staff retention and effectiveness use positive reinforcement. Maybe you will get rewarded with a “Cupcake Moment!”
Posted on 27 August 2012 | No responses
If you have been reading this column for any length of time you know that I am often advocating that companies and therefore the people within those companies change in order to best serve their customers and stay competitive in an ever-changing world. But I attended a meeting where change was the topic and it was concluded not to change. It was the right decision.
Seven people were sitting around a conference table discussing a change, proposed by one member of the production team, in a reporting procedure that had been done in the same way for years. It seemed that each person had an opinion on whether this modification was going to be better in some way than the current method. The meeting dragged on without a consensus opinion when one person asked, “Why exactly are we considering this? What is this change supposed to accomplish?”
All of a sudden the discussion changed focus and the answer was… deafening silence!
Then, all of a sudden, a number of questions were asked:
“Is there a problem with the current reporting method?” “No”
“Have the number of errors increased?” “No”
“Are customers complaining about something?” “No”
“So why are we thinking about changing this?” Again, deafening silence.
It takes planning, thought, and energy to change. It is expensive, even if there is no cash outlay, because it often disrupts workflow until the change becomes the normal way of doing things. So a new question was placed in front of those sitting in the meeting, “If there is no reason to change the way we are doing this, will there be some substantial advantage to invest in it?
No one could find a reason to do it other than to change for the sake of change – to appear as if there was some forward-moving activity and, once that became apparent, it was quickly decided to keep things working without making any change.
The goal isn’t to change just to appear to be making progress, the goal is to improve. If there is no improvement, don’t change for the sake of change.
Posted on 27 August 2012 | No responses
In every organization there are a few problems, errors, or breakdowns that occur repeatedly. Ok, everyone makes a mistake every so often because of a lapse of attention or the pressures of time. But when the same error raises it’s ugly head time after time it points out that there is something wrong, and it needs to be corrected or bad things will happen – wasted time, angry customers.
I will never be confused with anyone who is mechanically adept. Equipment and machines are not my strong suit and I recently purchased a printer / copier / scanner for my office. Printing and copying were easy and intuitive, but scanning was another story. After playing the office equipment equivalent to the carnival game “wack-a-mole” with the buttons a few times, I always needed to consult the manual. The end result was that scanning a document took a frustratingly long time.
So one day I said to myself, “OK, you help businesspeople overcome challenges every day. Let’s pretend you are your own client. What would you do to overcome this?
After thinking about my self-made challenge, I got out the manual, read the instructions once again, and wrote them down on the back of a business card. I did a trial run; the scanner worked just fine so I taped my instructions right next to the buttons. Since then, I’ve never taken more than ten seconds to get the scanner working.
Overcoming my inability to run this device isn’t a big deal in the overall scheme of things, but using a systems approach to fixing the problem is a big deal. I can extrapolate this systematic approach to other, more complex challenges and errors.
You can use the same approach with your challenges. Analyze the problem, figure out what caused it, design a system to insure it doesn’t happen again, practice it to make sure it works, and train those who are in a position to do this task on the new system. That’s the key to fixing reoccurring problems and, once you have the system to fix one problem, you’ll find others to fix.
Posted on 27 August 2012 | No responses
One of the best salespeople I’ve ever come in contact with is very far from the stereotypical assumption of the typical salesperson. She is soft-spoken and modest, an excellent questioner and listener, and she respects her prospects. I don’t think she sells in the active sense, but clearly and briefly describes the products she sells and states the benefits that accrue to her clients in a knowledgeable manner. She recognizes when her prospect is interested when they ask questions and then uses those questions as permission to tell about the enjoyment and success her clients find in the products she sells.
She doesn’t rush the process. Without getting permission to go further, she assigns them to a “not yet ready” category but she keeps in touch often to see if the prospect is ready to hear more and move themselves to a point where she can continue her sales process.
I asked her about her sales system and was told, “If my prospect isn’t ready to move forward, I don’t attempt to bludgeon them into “sales submission” where I take their limp hand in mine, put a pen in their hand and then guide their signature onto a contract. I can’t do that. But when they have given me permission to tell them of the successes my clients have, then I am confident I can get them to buy a product that will benefit them and, of course, it will benefit me also. I don’t sell, I invite them to buy!”
Most people hate to be sold but they love to buy. Even though the end result is the same, there is a big difference between the two.
Depending on the products or services being sold, prospects will be more likely to want to buy if they can see the benefits and value. A salesperson can either sell using a bludgeon or make it attractive for them to buy by engaging the prospect in a dialog and, when the prospect asks for more information, tell that story that demonstrates, in an engaging and evocative manner, the benefits and value.
Posted on 27 July 2012 | No responses
“What is the very best marketing strategy?” I am asked this question often. My answer for many businesses, especially for those where professional and personal service is important, is “attracting more referrals.”
Referrals are wonderful. They make the introductory phase of a sale go much easier because someone your prospect trusts has recommended you and the trust relationship, at least partially, rubs off on you. A referral helps get you in front of the prospect faster and easier. But attracting referrals is much more than just doing an excellent job for a client and passively waiting for them to then rush out and tell everyone they know how wonderful you are. Yes, you will get a trickle of referrals that way, but you will not get a gusher of referrals.
In order to turn a trickle into a gusher, you have got to prime the referral pump. You can ask your clients to refer you to their friends, neighbors, and relatives and I guarantee they will nod their head and tell you that they will refer you, but that means that they will do it if or when one of those friends, neighbors, and relatives asks them if they have had a good experience buying what you sell. Asking for referrals will garner better results than not asking, but not much better.
To really turn on the referral pump, become more active.
One great marketer of a unique product, includes some postcards that gushes with a “I just wanted to tell you how thrilled I am with my new [blank] and asks customers to send these cards to friends. A variation is to write a referral email and send it to a new client, asking that they forward it to people they know. If they are thrilled with your product or service, since it is fast and easy task, many more thrilled customers will forward it on. And that trickle of referrals will become a burbling brook, then a stream, then that gusher of referrals you deserve for doing a great job and priming the referral pump.
Posted on 21 July 2012 | No responses
“One Year to Greatness” is about “Transformation.” Transforming the business you have today into the business you want tomorrow. Even though OYTG is a one year program, the transformation process is really a never-ending project.
So, every so often, I check in with business owners to see how their ongoing transformation is progressing. Here is the result of one check-in:
Sue Beach, owner of The Sewing Studio in Valparaiso, Indiana, has a real passion for sewing, teaching (she is a retired school teacher), and how the products the Sewing Studio sells (Viking and Husqvarna sewing machines) can add immense enjoyment to the lives of her customers but the marketing was very passive, waiting, and hoping, for prospects to find her.
The transformation – Passive transformed into Active!: Over the course of her year in “One Year to Greatness” we worked to create a calendar of live teaching events sew (pun intended) she could do “hands on” demonstrations and workshops where her clients could, inexpensively, become more engaged with the intricacies of sewing and learn how to expand their sewing expertise and get more enjoyment out of their time spent sewing. As part of this active initiative she created Sewing U(niversity) with a number of sewing clubs (Serger Club / Embroidery Club / Sewing Club / Software Roundtable) for some of the various interests or specialties that her clientele is interested in.
These clubs help her clients become more expert and learn more skills; membership allows them discounts on their purchases.
Result: Sales volume had increased dramatically, club members give her excellent “word of mouth” advertising and bring in their friends. It’s almost as if she has recruited an army of salespeople who are as passionate about The Sewing Studio as Sue is about sewing. Take a look at the Sewing Studio web site http://www.indianasewing.com to see how a small, local business expands by being creative and involved with the interests of her clients. Everyone wins – “Sewing U” members win because they sew better and enjoy the results of their involvement and the Sewing Studio wins because of increased sales activity. For Sue, The Sewing Studio has become a great business – more profitable, more sustainable, and more enjoyable because of her involvement in “One Year to Greatness.”
The next OYTG will start with free Introductory Calls on July 25 & 26. If you want to “Transform” from Passive to Active come to the call. For more information send an email to Larry@larrygaller.com and put “Next OYTG” in the subject line.
Posted on 21 July 2012 | No responses
How many times has someone in a business made a promise to you by saying something like:
“I’ll call you when your job is finished” and then they don’t call?
“You’ll have that quote by Friday” and they don’t send it?
“I’ll see your order is shipped tomorrow” and then it isn’t and they don’t bother to tell you?
“Our technician will be there between 8am and noon” and they don’t show up until 4pm and didn’t call to say they will be late?
It happens all the time! And that is one major reason why customers defect to the competition.
A substantial number of businesses don’t understand that their customers are relying on them. The customer has some need and are expecting the service they are paying for. Sure if you look at the company web site or listen to them talk about their business they will tell you about “exceeding expectations” or “adding value” or “delighting the customer” and all those phrases are nice things to say and nice to hear, but the proof is the follow-up.
Even when the intention to follow-up is there, many businesses don’t systemize their follow-up procedures so someone forgets to do it and there is no way for the person in charge to know when a promise isn’t kept and can’t then attempt to make amends. They only way they know is if the customer complains and most don’t bother, they just take their business elsewhere.
It isn’t difficult to systemize follow-up. For very small businesses all it takes is a calendar and a pencil or a brightly colored slip of paper with the appropriate message “Call Customer When Ready” stapled to a work order. Larger, more complex businesses might have to use software to systemize it, but ultimately, it is up to the people in the firm to follow-through on follow-up and then you are “meeting expectations” or “giving full value” or “satisfying customers” and that level of follow up is usually enough to keep customers happy. Then, if you can do more, you’ll be delighting them and that earns their loyalty.
Posted on 15 July 2012 | No responses
One of the topics on the agenda at a roundtable discussion among business owners I attended was to divulge “clever” marketing strategies being used successfully. None of those at the event, surprisingly, had anything to offer. Silence.
After a long pause, a similar question was asked about “successful” marketing strategies and, all of a sudden, people were telling stories of actions they used to drive their company’s growth. Interestingly, few if any, of these marketing projects could be classified as “clever.” Most of them had been used, successfully, for years, maybe with some tweaks because of new technology being available.
As each participant added a successful strategy to the discussion, I started realizing that, perhaps, the clever strategy wasn’t new, wasn’t a breakthrough, wasn’t revolutionary, wasn’t a miracle. The clever strategy was to create or discover something that works and then do it constantly and persistently.
One person said they mine their customer database to discover those who have purchased often and those who have not bought anything in over two years. They develop substantially different seasonal offers for each group. They have found that the frequent customers buy more often and that some of those who had not purchased in some time can be reactivated. Nothing clever about it.
Another developed a promotion which asked clients for people they new who could use the company’s services and it has been successfully generating leads for years. Nothing clever here either.
Another talked about strengthening relationships and another mentioned adding and selling optional extra services.
And, among the marketing strategies I heard about, there was nothing offered that was particularly clever, except that those who talked about successful strategies use them constantly and persistently. They don’t stop marketing. They market by plan. They use the same themes, strategies, and actions year after year. They track what works and what doesn’t work. They modify their marketing plan using lessons learned. They either change the promotions that don’t work or don’t repeat them.
Instead of hearing about some “snap-your-fingers-and- a-miracle-occurs” strategies, I found nothing clever there except using the basic marketing principles of consistency and perseverance. And that, after all, is clever.