There is Only One Best Choice

ID-100123879Al Franken’s character, Stuart Smalley, from Saturday Night Live is famous for the line “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.” This is excellent advice if you are working on self esteem, but for your business, Stuart has it wrong. Good enough doesn’t cut it! It’s a simple but profound truth, in sales, out of all of the options a prospect has, there is only one “best choice.” Best choice gets the sale, and for everyone else, as Jeff Probst would say “Got nothin’ for you, head back to camp.”

If you are not closing sales, either you are the best and have failed to convince the right prospects that you are, or in fact your competitors are better. I repeat, being good enough doesn’t cut it. You have to be the best. It’s worth noting here that perception is reality; “best choice” is judged entirely by the prospect.

Being the best doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive. Best means that the solution you offer most closely matches the client’s needs and budget. If a small 5 person plumbing company is looking for a printer for business cards, a couple of brochures and a small direct mail campaign, then a print shop that specializes in high quality, large format, long press run work isn’t the best choice.

With respect to capability, if you are one of the suppliers swimming in the “good enough” pool, then the only way to be a best choice is to be the cheapest, and this only works for prospects that believe the best choice is the cheapest. Your margins are skinnier and you have to focus on volume. This is a difficult position to maintain because someone can always undercut you. You don’t develop loyal, repeat customers; loyalty is to the price not to you.

Make the commitment to be the best, and get to work on it starting now! If in fact you already are, (and don’t assume, constantly check) you need to work hard to stay there. Competitors are constantly upping the game. Chrysler was the first auto maker to offer power steering in a passenger vehicle in their top line Imperial and had a differentiating advantage. Now it is available on virtually every new car. Cadillac introduced lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection in 2008 and this is being widely adopted by the industry. In industries like software and cell phones, when one developer offers a new feature, if it matters to consumers the next version of a competitor’s product incorporates the feature. Make sure you know what is important to your prospects. You don’t need to be best to the whole world; often you can have a very successful business by serving a segment of a market.

If you are best in ways that matter to a significant segment of the market and you aren’t making sales you need to make changes to the way you communicate your advantage. You need to determine if marketing is not getting the message out. If this is the case you need to look at your marketing communications. When looking at marketing communications I often use an idea learned from my friend Roy Williams who asks “Of the people not doing businesses with you, is it because they don’t know about you or because they do?” In the first case, you simply haven’t gotten your message out. In the second case, there is misinformation or a misperception about your business which needs to be overcome.
If your marketing is getting it done and you are getting traffic into your store or visitors to your website, or you are passing enough qualified leads to your sales team but not closing sales then you need to work on your sales efforts. There are many points in the sales process that you need to analyse. Here are a few things to think about when analyzing your sales process. Are you doing a proper job of qualifying? Who are you dealing with? What is their level of authority? Are they simply gathering information and passing it up the organization, are they researching and making a recommendation, or are they the decision maker? When you are uncovering needs are you asking the right questions? When preparing for the presentation gather as much information as you can on who is involved in making the decision, what the prospect is looking for and how you are being evaluated. Can you have the decision maker involved in the presentation? In your presentation, are you doing a proper job of communicating how your offering satisfies the prospects needs? How are you handling questions and objections from the client? For example, the prospect might ask, “Who in my industry is using your product/service?” They might want assurance that you have experience in their industry. However, the prospect might be a black sheep in their industry that is looking for is a way to get a leg up on their completion and think you might be able to help with that. If you dive right in with a long list, you hurt your chances with this black sheep prospect. Ask, “How important this? ” or “Why do you ask?” Their response will give you an understanding of what they really want to know. Lastly, are you asking for the business? Too often, a sales opportunity is lost because the sales person didn’t ask for a commitment from the client.

In a nutshell, you need to be confident that you are the best solution for a given prospect. Your prospect has to first know that you are a viable option, in order to be given an opportunity to sell to them. Your sales process then needs to remove any doubt in the decision maker’s mind that you are the best choice.

Your feedback is welcome. Also feel free to contact us if you need help improving your business. We welcome the opportunity to discuss your needs.

3 Ways to a Total Business Makeover

Change can have a huge impact on your business.
Change can have a huge impact on your business.
Illustration courtesy of iosphere/freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve been thinking a great deal about organizational change.  I would like to share my thoughts on the three ways to realize huge change in a business.  Change is going to happen.  Is the change going to be thrust upon your organization or is it going to be something you bring about?  All three of the ways we look at here, are change initiated within the organization.  Perhaps we will talk about dealing with change from external sources another day.

Transformational Change – This is the most obvious of the three.  It requires an organization to plot a new course.  This type of change is challenging and certainly not for the faint of heart.  If you have a successful business, it takes a strong will and perhaps even more, a strong vision.

Sometimes, transformation happens when a new player comes into an industry with a game changing approach or technology.  Let’s look at Google to illustrate.  In its infancy, the way Google ranked search results was completely different from methods used by the existing search providers.  It was based on using backlinks as a sort of voting mechanism.  The reasoning was that the more members of an online community that felt a particular page was worthy of reference and therefore linked to it, the higher it would rank in their search results.  Google’s methodology has evolved, but this simple approach resulted in their climb to number one in search.  When Apple introduced the iPhone, it was unlike anything that the industry incumbents were offering.  They changed the industry.

parking-meter
The City of Calgary has eliminated parking meters.

A local example is the Calgary Parking Authority’s ParkPlus System.  Prior to the system introduction in the fall of 2007, on-street parking in Calgary relied on parking meters.  Enforcement was handled by a team of officers that patrolled the streets on foot, checking each individual meter and hand writing a ticket when a vehicle occupied a spot where the time had expired.  ParkPlus introduced a different approach.  Parking meters were removed and all parking zones are assigned a 4 digit number.  Payment is handled at a self serve pay stations located on the street, by cell phone activation, by text or by smart phone app.  Enforcement is conducted by camera equipped vehicles that patrol all parking zones.  Labour costs for patrols and to collect coins from meters has been reduced.  Parking spots are no longer defined by the placement of a meter.  The resulting flexibility means the number of spots on a street is a little more fluid.

The book Blue Ocean Strategy looks at businesses that execute this to its highest form and create what the authors call “an uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant.”  Their quintessential example is Cirque du Soleil. The circus industry was dominated by Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey, now celebrating 145 years.  They bill themselves as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  Cirque didn’t take customers away from Ringling Bros they developed their own market space.

Small Change Plus Time/Distance – This method is based on Chaos Theory.  Referred to as The Butterfly Effect, we see small change at a very early stage, that leads to large change at a much later stage.  I wrote about this in an earlier post.  The point I was making at that time was that because there is time between an action and the consequence business owners don’t connect the two.  The example here is to illustrate how dramatic the result can be from a small change at the beginning.  Imagine a flight from New York, intended to end in Paris, France.  An error in heading is made.  A minor error of just one percent in the near term seems insignificant.  After one meter it is just ten centimeter off course, and one kilometer just 100 meters.  That’s about the width of a typical runway at a major international airport.  Now left uncorrected the error results in the flight missing the destination by 58-kilometers.

As discussed in the previous post, as a business owner you need constantly look at the possible long term results of the changes you implement.  If you take away something that customers used to always get, make certain that it’s something they don’t care about, that you explain the change to minimize fallout or that you replace it with something else that is better.  When I was young, and money was tight, I used to do a lot of auto repair.  Of course, all one could afford was an older vehicle and repairs were needed along the way.  It was also a time when vehicles were simpler and DIY repairs were a common practice.  A auto parts store I frequented carried lots of inventory and was open “8 to 8, 7-days a week.”  You could buy a starter at 7:30pm on a Sunday if you needed to.  The owner had what I call Retailer DNA, and he was always thinking about what was good for the customer.  When he retired, the gentleman that bought the store must have looked at the sales that were coming in during the odd hours and decided that the hours had to be cut.  Sometimes changes like this need to be made.  How they are handled is very important.

Incrementalism – Here we are looking to making a small change, followed by another small change and another, and another.  When these changes are done on top of one another you engage the magic of compounding.  An excellent read on this concept is Darren Hardy’s book The Compound Effect.

Let’s go back to the illustration of the flight from New York to Paris.  Imagine that the same one percent error in heading was made.  After one kilometer you are 10 meters off course and at this point you make another one percent change.  After two kilometers you would have been 20 meters off course but you’ve added another 10 meters resulting in a total of 30.  You make another one percent change.  After three kilometers you are 70 meters off course.  As you continue you will find after 10 kilometers you are more than  (bear with me I am still calculating this) off the intended flight path.

An example in business is the evolution of the Toys “R” Us chain.  It began in 1948 as Children’s Supermart, a single location retail store selling children’s furniture.  Toys were added and over time became the focus.  The name was changed in 1957, the business expanded and for a time Toys “R” Us was the dominant player in the category.

Change is going to happen.  It’s best to be in charge of the change.  When change happens outside your organization that affects you, go to work at minimizing the negative effect or better yet capitalizing on the change.  The name of the blog is “Retail Reboot” and if a reboot is what is in order for your business, maybe it`s time to talk to us.

 

Reinventing Yourself

Reinventing copyI have been trying to write a minimum of one post a month.  I know it should be more frequent but it’s a reasonable goal which I plan to improve upon.  I find myself on the last day of the month without an entry but I have the beginnings of this post as a draft.  Interestingly the topic, reinvention, is topical given that New Year is typically a time that people address these types of issues.  So here goes.

One of my dominant personal themes is “reinventing myself.”  This has been something I have done for many years.  I’m addressing this because I’ve taken what some might think is a pretty dramatic change in my work.  I spend many years in traditional media, first on the creative side followed by many years selling.  I am now working on business development with an online marketing company plus doing marketing for a local garden centre.

Each year, going into a new fiscal year with new budgets (do they ever give you a smaller budget) I would go through my reinvention process.  My philosophical approach I wrote about a few years ago in “A Sports Analogy.”  In a nutshell, my process is designed to analyse changes that have taken place in my industry, may marketplace an my environment, things that are external.  Things are always changing, one needs to be aware of the changes and give thought to what impact the changes will have, positive and negative.  After this analysis I then try to identify what changes I need to make to continue to perform at a high level.  Do I need to learn a new skill, focus on a new market segment, seek help from a new mentor?

Seth Godin wrote “Ways to Reinvent Yourself” (Nov. 2012) for Success Magazine.  Godin uses terms like “transformation,” “reset button” and “overhaul.”  I disagree with his approach.  I recommend an evolutionary process over revolutionary.  Darren Hardy in his book “The Compound Effect,” subtitle “Multiplying your success one simple step at a time,”says big change comes from a series of small changes.

Further to this is the Japanese concept of kaizen.  Kaizen is Japanese for “improvement” and as a philosophy of continuous improvement.  In a business setting this involves everyone in the organization and involves all aspects of the business.

So as we enter 2014 I encourage you to spend some time with reinvention.  However, don’t feel that it should only be used at the New Year, it’s a tool that should be used for continuous improvement.

The Demand-Support Matrix

Demand Support MatrixRRRI am sharing something that I found very useful when assessing a demanding situation I found myself in.  I continue to use this and hope you find value. Let’s start by looking at degrees of demand.  Of course this is not the classical economics use of the word demand as it relates to supply; here we are talking about the amount of demand that is placed on us in a give situation.  This is then overlaid with the amount of support we are given to manage that demand.   In my Demand-Support Matrix the vertical axis is “demand” with a low demand situation below and high demand above.  Keep in mind that this is a continuum, it is not either/or but a matter of degree.

If we look at jobs like delivering newspapers or flyers, I characterize this as low demand.  There obviously is some level of expectation that the piece will be delivered and in a reasonably timely fashion but this is not extremely demanding.  Often a daily newspaper has a performance standard for delivery, such as delivered by 6:00am.  That is the promise in my community but the fellow that delivers the paper on my street hasn’t met that standard in many years.  I no longer have the paper delivered but I see him while I am out walking my dog.  It’s the same time every day and he’s delivering to my neighbours well past the delivery standard.  My point is that there is a standard in place but not much is done to enforce the standard clearly a low demand situation.

When we think of high demand situations some of the classics are air traffic control, bomb disposal, and hostage negotiation.  First responders are often in demanding situations.  The situations most people find themselves in and the ones I’m addressing, are not situations where lives are in the balance but situations where you face demands placed on you by others.  A supervisor is put in charge of an under performing team and given the task of turning it around.  A sales person is given a territory and an aggressive budget to achieve. An athlete is given a performance goal in order to remain with her team.

Being in a demanding situation by itself is not a problem.  The amount of support you have is what can make a demanding situation more or less stressful.  Let’s look at the matrix when we add the support axis, with low support to the left and high support to the right we have four quadrants.  I maintain if you have high support when you are in a high demand situation you can achieve a great deal.  When you are in a high demand situation with little or no support you have a problem.

What do you do?  You have some options.  You can continuing in the situation with a new understanding.  Sometimes understanding a situation helps you frame it in a way that makes it tolerable.  Perhaps the goal is achievable and the rewards great.  Option two is to try and adjust the situation.  It is a matter of adjusting demand downward or increasing support.  The third option is to look for a different challenge.  Good luck, let me know if this is working for you.

Customer Buying Style

X's & O's of Retail
The X’s & O’s of Retail illustrates the contrast between Transactional and Relational shoppers.

Many years ago as a radio sales rep I had a client say to me “Everyone is a price shopper.”  The gentleman had a small retail carpet shop.  I needed a way to show him that this wasn’t the case.  I developed my “X’s and O’s of Retail.”  Over the years I’ve developed the model which contrasts what I call Transactional Shoppers and Relational Shoppers.  When I shared this with Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads, in early 2002 he wrote about it in his Monday Morning Memo.

Let’s run through this to see if it resonates for your organization.  In my illustration above, the X’s are customers are the O’s are retailers.  Each line from a customer to a retailer represents a shopping trip.  The red lines indicate a purchase.

In the carpet business let’s imagine there are 5 customers that are going to buy carpet today and there are 5 carpet stores.  Customer 1 visits all 5 stores looking for the lowest price.  Store 1 has the lowest price and makes a sale.  Customer 2 also visits all 5 stores looking for the lowest price.  Store 1 makes another sale.  Customer 3 renovated an older home 4 years ago.  They recently moved into a larger home that needs new flooring and they return to the store they purchased carpeting from 4 years ago.  Customer 4 has a sister that works at Store 4 so she is dealing with family.  Customer 5 was recently transferred from Atlanta and knew where to buy carpet in Atlanta but doesn’t know the local stores.  She asks a co-worker who recommends Store 5.

The owner of Store 5 saw three shoppers, two of them were price shoppers.  The math is the same for the owners of Store 3 and Store 4.  Store 2 is in trouble because all they saw were price shoppers, they didn’t make a sale today.

In this scenario 40 percent of the customers purchased based on price.  However, the represent 77 percent of the shopping trips.  You see the price shoppers try everyone.  This illustration is in no way trying to suggest what the percentages of price shoppers might be.  the simple point is that there are fewer price shoppers than you think.

Here are things to keep in mind about these two buying styles.

TRANSACTIONAL BUYERS

  • Focus on price, savings or added value
  • Treat products and services as commodities
  • Have a low need to trust suppliers
  • Have a low loyal to suppliers
  • Each transaction is separate from previous transactions
  • See themselves as the “expert”
  • Fear of loss is focused on the price difference between suppliers
  • Like the negotiation process and are not concerned about the time it takes

RELATIONAL BUYERS

  •  Focus on value and product augmentation
  • Differentiate between product and service offerings
  • Have a high need to trust suppliers
  • Have a high loyalty to suppliers they trust
  • Each transaction is seen as part of the ongoing relationship
  • See the supplier as the “expert” and the source of information
  • Fear of loss is the entire amount of money and time invested
  • Dislike the negotiation process and the time it takes

 

Customer Life Time Value

Woman Doing CalculationsI just fired up an old laptop to retrieve a document.  This was a list of topics I planned to write about, and I thought it would be instructive to review the list.  I had searched through all my current folders several times when it occurred to me that it was created a while ago and it might me on the old Sony.  It took a little work to get the computer working.  When I located the file I checked the date:  May 18, 2005.  The very first item on the list was “Lifetime value of a customer.”

I was first exposed to the concept when I read Customers for Life by Carl Sewel.  I wrote a post about Sewel a couple of years ago.  His book was published in 1990 and at the time Sewel calculated the life time value of his customers at $330,000.  In 23 years I’m sure that value has gone up, and the number is going to be different for every business.

I have a renewed interest in the concept as I have been studying marketing metrics.  This spring I audited a University of Calgary, course called “Metrics and Measurement” taught by Jeff Nelson and Joanne O’Connell.  The text book for the course is “Data-Driven Marketing: The 15 Metrics Everyone in Marketing Should Know” by Mark Jeffery  The course is excellent and one I recommend.

Sewel`s number was a life time sales number.  The academic approach and a perspective that a business owner should be taking today, treats Customer Life Time Value (CLTV or CLV) as a forward looking metric that predicts future profits represented by a customer.  In effect it is a present value of a customer relationship.  If the relationship were viewed as an asset what would its value be?  This number allows a company to set an upper limit on what it is prepared to spend to acquire a new customer (customer acquisition) and the lengths they would go to, to keep a current customer (customer retention).   In future posts I will expand on these two very different metrics.

I won’t go into CLTV formulas and such here but  a good overview of the concept can be found in Wikipedia here.

Park Resorts Innovates

Some times a totally different approach to a problem delivers a winning solution.

Guests enjoy clean accommodation in Caravans at Park Resorts Lower Hyde on Isle of Wight
Guests enjoy clean accommodation in Caravans at Park Resorts Lower Hyde on Isle of Wight off the coast of Britain.

In the hospitality industry one of the major challenges is maintaining reasonable standards with lower skilled jobs.  In food service, bussers, and dishwashers and in lodging, housekeeping staff are in this category.  Poor service delivery can have a negative effect on customer experience.  We’ve all checked into hotel rooms that we not up to our standards.  Good housekeeping is subjective but the guest’s reaction is all important.

When a guest gives a review that says “Go and sleep on the subway, it’s cleaner” or “A jail cell would have been better than the room we stayed in.” or “Avoid this crack den.” or “NASTY!!” the hotel has clearly missed the mark.  These are Tripadvisor reviews for Hotel Carter in New York.  This property made the review site’s list of dirtiest hotels in America in 2007.  They seem to be steadfastly holding on to this standard.  If you are morbidly curious check it out.  There are 2,787 reviews and 35% the guests rated the hotel “Terrible.”  Click on “Terrible” to filter out the “Average” and “Poor” reviews, and marvel.

Typically, housekeeping jobs are some of the lowest paid positions in hospitality.  For a property that is making a genuine effort it is a challenge to recruit and train people for these positions when one needs to have rooms prepared to a desired standard and in a timely fashion.  For a manager, turnover is an additional challenge.  With high turnover, quality and consistency are difficult to maintain.

One organization that found a solution is Park Resorts in the UK which features “caravan holiday parks.”  The accommodation is in caravans which in North America, would be called a mobile or manufactured home.  They appear to be similar to the cabins at Fort Wilderness at Walt Disney World in Florida.

I first became aware of the company when they were featured on the British version of Undercover Boss.  Andy Edge, the Marketing Director went undercover.  Andy worked in various position at different locations.  Park Resorts have three Holiday Parks on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the coast of the UK.   At Lower Hyde on the Isle of Wight, Andy worked in housekeeping.  The manager of housekeeping at this site was Fiona Page.   Fiona’s approach was to hire the best housekeeping staff she could find and pay them a higher wage.  Rather than having supervisors inspect every room, the number of supervisors was reduced with the understanding that the housekeeping staff were expected to manage themselves and deliver at a high level.

Andy tells me that “we did indeed roll out the model across all our holiday
parks in 2010.  The brand was all about “Creating Amazing Memories” and clearly accommodation cleanliness was key to that.”

Look for different ways to solve challenges in your company.  If the standard solutions done harder or faster aren’t delivering breakthroughs, look for ways to break the old model and construct a new solution.

Loyalty Programs

loyalty cardsI’ve been away from the keyboard for a while; it’s time to get back to this. I’ve had a lot of balls in the air, but I do enjoy writing.  I may be a bit rusty but hope you enjoy the ride.

Loyalty programs can be as simple as a “coffee card” that gets punched every time the customer places an order and allows her to earn a free coffee after a given number of purchases.  The programs can also be sophisticated programs that allow customers to accumulate points at multiple businesses and/or allow the retail partners to gain information on customers’ shopping habits.

With a loyalty program, I am sharing two things to keep in mind.  First, if you have a program commit to it.  Encourage your customers to participate and promote the program at every opportunity.  My personal experience here needs a little background.  Over the past few years I have been purchasing a lot of building material. We are seasonal campers in a family run campground an easy drive from our home.  We’ve been building decks and fences at our campsite. The initial purchase was for a substantial amount of the material. We’ve since been back for odds and ends. After several trips to the same store, on a rather small purchase the clerk asked if I had Aeroplan. Well, I do, and now I am annoyed that I wasn’t asked when I was making the large purchase at the beginning.

If your company participates in a loyal program, instruct staff to ask every time. The reason you participate in these plans is to encourage loyalty. Every time you ask, you are reminding your customer of another reason to keep coming back.

The second point about loyalty programs; view the program from your customer’s point of view, not your own.  A coffee shop owner made a mistake, in my opinion, when he cancelled his coffee card program.  His reason?  He felt he was giving away product he was going to sell anyway.  His concern, he was loosing a sale (which might amount to a couple of dollars) every time he gave the loyal customer the “free” coffee they had earned by being loyal.  After all, these were his regulars, they would have purchased the coffee anyway, right?  Wrong-headed!  I’ve mentioned him earlier, car dealer Carl Sewell says, anything you would do for your best friend your do for your customer because in retail your customer is your best friend.

I hope you find value here and become a loyal visitor, until next time — be outstanding.

Traditional and New Media Comparison

I begin with a disclaimer.  This is an opinion piece, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I currently work in online marketing but most of my experience is in traditional media.

If we frame this comparison in terms of the message and its delivery, and tracking the costs, I feel it simplifies our comparison.

THE MESSAGE:  With traditional media, you develop a message which you have full control over.  The development of the message may have a cost associated with it.  There may also be a cost to take that message and prepare it for use in the form of media chosen.  For example, there could be substantial costs to create a television commercial.  With new media, you don’t always develop a short form message which you control.  This is especially true of social media.  To do this well, you participate in the community, engage in dialogue with the community and you put your message out there and let the community take control.

DELIVERY:  With traditional media you pay to have your message delivered to potential customers.  The delivery is the largest expense in this model.  With new media, the delivery is very inexpensive, perhaps even free.

TRACKING COSTS:  On the surface, new media looks like a way to save a great deal on marketing.  If a business is to do social media well, it requires a substantial commitment in terms of time.  To do well in this space, you need to be providing compelling content on a regular basis.  Creating content can be very time consuming and the community decides if it’s compelling.  Unless the content is created by a teenage daughter or son in their spare time, the time devoted to managing your profile online is a cost.  Imagine a situation where a one person operation is just starting out and the individual has nothing but time on their hands.  They spend large amounts of time creating and managing their online presence.  The busy business owner that is straining to manage a growing business doesn’t have the same time to devote and may end up with an inferior online presence.

CONTROL:  The last consideration in today’s piece is the control issue.  Are you comfortable enough with your offering and the community you participate in to give up control.  I am not saying giving up control is bad, it’s whether you are prepared for this.  Losing control is not something every business owner can do.  If you can, and the community trusts and embraces you, this can work wonders for your business, just know what you are getting into.

Starting a Business

Kid's lemonade stand is a classic business.
The perfect business. Photo credit “The Citrus Report.”

Anyone can start a retail business.  Two words . . . Lemonade Stand!  Am I right?  All retail business is pretty simple, it’s exactly like your childhood project, just scaled up.  Open up for business with a popular product, in a location with some traffic and charge a fair price, badda-bing-badda-boom.  Let’s analyse a bit, let’s see, rent – zero, wages – zero, input costs – zero, advertising costs – zero, taxes – zero, profit margin – woohoo!!!

Wayne Huizenga made several fortunes consolidating businesses.  He first did it in garbage building Waste Management inc., he then did it in video rental building Blockbuster and then did it with Auto Nation.  Let’s take Huizenga’s template and consolidate the lemonade stand business . . . then we’ll do an IPO and be rich.