Sunday, October 30, 2011

Remembering Something about the Customer!

"Worry about being better; bigger will take care of itself. Think one customer at a time and take care of each one the best way you can."~Gary Comer

I really enjoy running, especially with my black lab Sophie. I have competed in a number of 5K races and am now working up to a 10K race. While my finish times are not great, I usually do pretty well among my age group.

About two months ago, while in Ft. Lauderdale, I went into a running store called Runner’s Depot. I was looking for a new pair of running shoes, and this store happened to be very close to my hotel.

The salesman at Runner’s Depot convinced me to buy a pair of Newtons, a new type of running shoe that encourages you to lean forward as you run so you land on the balls of your feet rather than your heels. This form of running, which is sometimes referred to as “Chi Running,” is great because it takes the load off my joints, especially my knees.

On my last trip to Ft. Lauderdale, I did not take my Newtons. I only had room in my luggage for one pair of shoes, and I had to pick a pair that could be used for both running and walking around.

During this trip, I stopped in the Runner’s Depot to buy a case that would allow me to carry my iPhone and listen to music while I run. When I walked into the store, the salesman – the same one who sold me the Newtons – said he saw me jogging over the 17th Street Bridge and asked me if there was a problem with the shoes. Newtons come in a very distinctive and recognizable color, and he had noticed that I was not wearing them.

As you can imagine, I felt great that months later this salesman remembered me and had noticed me running over the bridge. His consideration and concern made me a customer for life.

The point of this story is to demonstrate how establishing a personal relationship with your customers can dramatically impact the way they feel about your business. By asking about the shoes, the salesman was, in effect, telling me that he cared about me and wanted me to be the best I could. It did not take much effort for the salesman to notice me, but it made a super impression on me.

The secret here is having your employees recall some personal detail about your customers when they come back. There are many computer programs designed to help you store this information and access it easily at a later date.

Now go out and observe your staff and see how they are greeting your customers. The more personal they can make the interaction, the better. Training is very important and can be helpful in teaching your employees how to make this happen.

You can do this!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Do Not Get Stuck in Running Your Business

"Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours." ~Swedish Proverb

Growing a business, even in today’s economy, requires change and an ability to adapt, particularly where behaviors are concerned. You just cannot continue to operate the way you have in the past and expect to take the company to the next level.

Running a mature and dynamic operation requires a different set of skills than starting a business, and many entrepreneurs find it tough to adjust. As businesses grow, they typically get stuck at two levels: around 10 or 15 employees and around 75 employees. At both of these sticking points, it becomes necessary to introduce a new management environment with a new set of systems and procedures. The entrepreneur must let go of how he or she managed in the past – making every decision, for instance – and adopt a much more hands-off management style.

We were helping an entrepreneur in the travel technology business. The firm had been in operation for just over eight years. Sales were around one million dollars, but flat.

Since day one, the owner had been the firm’s only real salesman. This arrangement may have worked at the beginning, but as the firm grew, the owner inherited more and more responsibilities, including managing his 12 employees. He spent almost all of his time working in the business rather than working on the business. With sales efforts falling off, the company was suffering.

When I encouraged him to bring in an assistant who could help with the operational details or hire a new sales person, he just could not do it. Bringing in someone new would mean he would have to let go of his old behaviors, relinquish management of the minutia and focus on the tasks that would help the business expand.

We had many, many discussions with this entrepreneur to show him how his behaviors were keeping the company from achieving its full potential, but convincing him was tough. He had seen his behaviors work well when he started the company and was sure they were working still.

In light of the entrepreneur’s resistance, we finally just had him try making small adjustments to his management style – delegating more and the like. He was more tolerant of these small changes, and after seeing the success he was having, he was more willing to try our other suggestions. Little by little, the entrepreneur implemented all the necessary changes and his company is now doing much better.

Now go out and see if your behaviors are limiting your company’s growth. If they are, consider making the changes that will help take your operation to the next level.

You can do this!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Marketing Research for your Business

"Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal. Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge and adding to your experience, so that you can make the most of opportunity when it occurs."
~Mario Andretti

Opening a business or expanding a product line is a big step, but so many people base this decision on their belief that there is demand or on affirmations from their friends and relatives that it is a great idea. However, your feelings or those of friends and relatives are not sufficient measures of future demand.

We were helping a very nice couple who wanted to start a pet store. The couple, who had many pets of their own, thought they would be well suited to operate a business like this, and their friends and relatives had encouraged them to move forward out of a desire to be supportive.

Despite their passion, we advised them against starting the business based on market conditions, but the couple decided to give it a shot anyway. Unfortunately, the business lasted only two years before the couple had to file for both personal and business bankruptcy.

About a year after the business closed, I ran into the couple at a restaurant and they wanted to talk. Their only real regret, they said, was that they did not do enough research on market demand in their area. In hindsight, it was clear that the market was already saturated with pet stores.

Collecting market data before moving forward with a new business venture or product line is so important. Generally speaking, doing your due diligence will decrease your chances of making wrong decisions based on insufficient information.

Marketing research comes with a price tag, but the expenditure will prove worthwhile in the end. Knowing the demand for your product or service allows you to accurately assess the viability of a business and limit your risk of failure.

When starting a business, most people generate a proforma income statement and rely on this statement to tell them whether the business will be successful. The impediment here is that the proforma income statement is driven by a sales forecast. If the forecast is not prepared correctly using valid data, the income statement will be inaccurate and viability can not be assured.

The best way to get the hard data necessary to generate an accurate sales forecast is by employing a marketing research firm. Information is such a valuable commodity when faced with these decisions and you need to make sure that you hire the best help you can afford.

There are many methodologies for obtaining actual demand information for a new product or service, but three key approaches are considered standard in the marketing research industry. The first of these is phone surveys of potential customers. A second method is the focus group, which typically produces high-quality results. With focus groups, you identify small groups of potential customers to participate in in-depth product analyses. The third standard method is conducting a survey of potential customers via mail or email.

Now before you undertake a new business venture or introduce a new product or service, make sure you use information obtained through marketing research so you are better able to ascertain future demand.

You can do this.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Twitter for your Business

There is a proliferation of neat new technologies businesses can use to communicate with their customers. As these numbers continue to grow, the problem becomes determining which technology to embrace. Twitter is one that has great potential to benefit businesses, particularly if their customer base is under 40 years of age.

When I was first introduced to Twitter, my initial impression was that everyone was making a big deal about nothing. In time however, I have come to see the value in it. This technology really can be effective and for most businesses, is worth a closer look.

For those who have not delved into this technology yet, Twitter allows users to post very short messages – less than 140 characters – called “tweets.” Tweets are also occasionally called “microblogs.”

On average, Twitter’s more than 200 million users generate 200 million tweets and 1.6 billion search inquires daily, and the number of users continues to grow exponentially. Businesses with a presence on Twitter can use the technology to maintain a dialog with their existing customers while accessing vast numbers of potential new customers at the same time.

A large furniture chain provides an example of a company that has had significant success on Twitter. The firm, who targets younger markets with their products, increased their sales by using Twitter to reach new potential customers. They invited 50 or so people with large Twitter followings to visit the store and tweet scripted messages to their followers. The firm kept track of how many times each tweet was passed on and rewarded the person that produced the most retweets. As a result of this effort, the company saw large numbers of new customers visiting the store.

I see a lot of companies using Twitter to promote themselves or drive people to their websites. In my opinion though, this is a far less effective method since people are looking for much more personal messages on Twitter. Tweets such as, “Come to Joe’s for great hot dogs,” just do not resonate in this medium. Personally, if I get too many of these self-serving tweets, I just stop following the company altogether so I do not hear from them anymore.

A far more valuable way to use Twitter is to listen in on what people are saying about your company or products. This can provide great insight into what your customers want and need. It can also be an early warning system clueing you in to potential problems so you can react before issues escalate. You can search for tweets about your company at!/search-home.

Yet another effective use of Twitter is to invite feedback from your customers. Getting a dialog going about your company promotes your brand while providing valuable information about how you can improve your products and services.

Chris Brogan is one of the leading experts on Twitter. For entrepreneurs looking to venture into the world of Twitter and use it to its fullest advantage, Chris’ tweets can be very helpful. Follow him at!/chrisbrogan.

Twitter is a great communication tool and it has a lot of potential for businesses who use it effectively. Del, Starbucks, Comcast and Best Buy are just a few examples of companies using Twitter very successfully, and you can check them out for some ideas and best practices. However, as with any new marketing venture, it is important that you consider how Twitter will fit into your company’s overall strategy. Twitter should not be a stand-alone effort. Your strategy should be to incorporate Twitter into a well-rounded, balanced marketing plan.

Now go out and see if Twitter is a viable option for your business. It may require that you spend some time researching how to use this tool effectively, but it will be well worth it in the end.

You can do this!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Protecting Your Business From Identity Fraud

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”~Albert Einstein

Managing staff is an entrepreneur’s most critical function. Some would argue that finances are more important, but I would suggest that if you do not have a great staff in place to get things done, your company will have little value.

Entrepreneurs frequently must deal with the issue of problem employees. A problem employee is not necessarily someone who is not productive. In fact, lately we have seen very good employees become problem employees.

For those wondering how it is possible that a good employee could become a problem, the answer is simple. An employee could be getting so much done but alienating the rest of the staff in the process.

Case in point, an employee at a high tech company was always able to get so much accomplished and, from that perspective, was a great member of the team. He consistently met his numbers and, at one point, was bringing in more revenue than many of his colleagues.

Despite his productivity however, all of his colleagues had lost respect for him because he had a very abusive management style. He went out of his way to tell his team how inferior they were, and in the rare occasions when he praised them, he would always follow it with a criticism. Of course, he thought he was being so clever that his fellow employees would not see how he was putting them down. On the contrary though, they saw right through this, and the morale of the team was deteriorating quickly. One by one, he began losing all the talented members of his team.

Despite the fact that the rest of the staff was constantly complaining about this individual, management refused to do anything about it. They were afraid he would leave and feared the business would suffer tremendously if he did.

When discontent reached a fever pitch however, management did finally agree to bring in an outside business coach for the problem employee. As it turned out though, all that did was give the employee more ammunition to say his coach said he was right and everyone else was wrong.

Obviously, this was a problem that had been festering for a long time. Management just chose to turn a blind eye to the situation and keep holding to the flawed hope that the issue would resolve itself.

Eventually, the high turnover and low morale started showing up in the numbers, and when business started dropping significantly, management finally had to acknowledge the problem. When three employees threatened to file a harassment suit, which would have cost the firm so much to defend, they were forced to take action.

In hopes of finding a resolution to this situation, the company brought in outside consultants. Their recommendation was to either let the problem employee go or move him to a place where he had absolutely no contact with the rest of the staff. They were also adamant that each manager should receive training in recognizing and responding to workplace harassment. It was also necessary that they work to ensure the channels of communications were open between employees and managers. As it was, staff was given the opportunity to express their concerns, but management was not listening to what they were saying. They just were not taking the complaints seriously enough.

After closely monitoring the situation for a period of time, the firm finally made the difficult decision to let the problem employee go. Though they initially feared that production would decrease, productivity actually improved since the rest of the staff now felt free to do their jobs.

Now go out and make sure you are not ignoring the problems an employee is causing just because they happen to be productive. The sooner you deal with this, the better.

You can do this.