Selling, marketing & Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam

Last week, I met a couple of old college buds in Southwest Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton range (near LaBarge) to take on Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam cutthroat fishing challenge.

This would not be easy. Four cutty subspecies in four different drainages – some of them in the tiniest of water (water shoes rather than waders), with two guys who are much more experienced than I am in the fine art of selling to fish.

This effort would be much like marketing and sales in a tough market with a prospect who knows exactly what they want and will accept nothing less. The parallels are fairly obvious: your message (fly), your presentation (cast) and your careful selection of the right prospect (in this trip, only four subspecies mattered).

Early on, unheard and unseen

For the better part of two days, I caught nothing. You would have thought I was making carpet cleaning offers to people with hardwood floors, or trying to sell family minivans to folks who live 20 miles off the highway on a rough dirt road.

At some point late on the afternoon of day two, one of the guys mentioned to me that the local hoppers were a good bit bigger than the flies I was using. Sending the wrong message (fly) to the wrong fish is no different than sending the wrong message to the wrong prospect (or sending any message to the disinterested).

So I changed my message.

Before long, the change in fly size improved my luck, at least until the last day. Ultimately, the Grey’s River contingent of Snake River Cutthroats never responded to my cold calls on that last day, perhaps due to an early morning downpour.

How’s your message working?

Obviously, the point of this story is to provoke you to take a look at the messages you’re sending and who you’re sending them to. For retailers, the most important sales and marketing period of your business year is ramping up. For those who serve tourists, what you do in the “off season” is as important. No matter what you sell, knowing that the message you send (even if you use “inbound” marketing) is being seen / heard by the right people and is context with their needs is critical.

Wrong message, wrong destination equals wasted money, time and effort. Even a little bit wrong is enough for someone (or a fish) to think “Oh, that’s not for me, I’m moving on.”

You’ve heard this before, but have you thought deeply about it? Think about the messages you get each day. How many of them truly grasp your interest? It doesn’t matter how clever or funny they are if they’re not about something you care about or are interested in. How many of these messages are about something you’re really interested in? How many of those convey a message that motivates you to actually take action?

That’s the critical eye you need to use when looking at each message you’re sending, whether sending a postcard or using the latest, greatest sophisticated inbound marketing tool.

When that fish fails to strike, you know why (sort of). It’s the wrong size, the wrong color, the wrong depth, the wrong time of year, etc. There are so many different ways to serve up the wrong fly – and it’s no different for what you use to communicate with prospects and clients.

Big (Fish) Data

Wyoming Game and Fish’s Cutt-Slam is, among other things, a combination of clever marketing and inexpensive data collection.

For the price of some record keeping, photography, a website, some color certificates (for participants who complete the Slam) and some cutthroat subspecies info, the Cutt-Slam provokes fly fishing enthusiasts to purchase licenses, eat and stay in Wyoming, fish the state’s southwestern waters and report details about the fish they caught, including date, location and a photo.

What this provides to WY Game and Fish is a litany of data and evidence about the progress of their efforts to repopulate the state’s four cutthroat subspecies – without sending people out on the road.

It’s a smart way to get people to visit, fish and help you with your project’s data collection – all at the same time.

Likewise, it provides a lesson on creativity and thinking about how to do more than what you have to get done – and how to involve enthusiastic experts in a way that benefits them as well.

Experience management matters

Delivery of a product or service is about far more than the act of your client opening the box or getting the service they paid for. The total experience matters, so you’d better manage it. An example should give my assertion the context it needs to clarify why experience management is so important.

A need to know basis

I recently flew a major airline from Chicago to Kansas City. In the middle of the boarding process, one of the gate agents came out of the jetway, halted all boarding halfway through zone three’s entry to the plane, got on the phone and then disappeared back down the jetway.

About 10 minutes passed without a word from anyone at the airline, including the agent minding the boarding pass scanner. Finally, the agent who halted the boarding process came back out and gave the boarding agent the all clear to resume boarding. All of this happened without a word to passengers. Clearly, we were on a need to know basis and we didn’t need to know.

I tweeted a comment about the situation. After my flight, a subtle dig from the airline’s Twitter account reinforced the culture that leadership has established, and is perhaps indicative of the kind of mindset the recently departed CEO put in place.

Why experience management matters

Did our lack of awareness of the boarding situation affect the final outcome of the flight – a safe on-time arrival? Of course not.

Did our lack of awareness of the situation positively influence our confidence in the provider’s ability to consistently and safely deliver the service we purchased? Not really. Instead, it gave the impression that delivery is all that matters – an assertion that doesn’t hold water.

It isn’t as if the passengers on the flight needed to know why we our boarding was temporarily delayed. The nitty-gritty details may negatively affect your confidence in the business delivering the service – and could roll downhill to your thoughts about the safety of that delivery. Even so, knowing that the delay is not unusual, will be cleared up in 10 or 15 minutes and will not affect an on-time departure is enough information to calm a nervous group of passengers who might be concerned about safety, about making a connection, or the likelihood their flight will actually happen.

Simply stating these three details (situation normal, expected time till resolution and lack of impact on delivery) will do the trick. Taking these few issues off the table improves the experience, communicates that you have your clients’ back and understand the importance of delivering the service as well as the issues that define its importance to your clients.

An opportunity to build

When you can build the client’s confidence in your ability to deliver and improve the credibility you have to trust that you can handle whatever comes your way, use the opportunity humbly.

It reminds me a good bit of the refrigerator sheet story that I use to demonstrate how a real estate agent provides a confidence building framework of “things that frequently happen during a real estate transaction that I routinely handle for you so don’t sweat them“.

The same airline missed an opportunity to show their understanding of the nature of their clients’ use only a week earlier. I was flying out of a small rural airport on a very small regional jet. It was the first flight of the day in this tiny little plane leaving an airport that is not a hub. This means that the first flight of the day is always going to be boarded by clients who need to make a connection in a hub city so they can reach their intended destination.

On a plane that only seats 50, this produces a group of people who are not inclined to give up their seats, unlikely to miss a flight due to a connection and unlikely to have an opportunity to easily book the next flight out without repercussions. The logic that this sort of rural flight would be overbooked by 20% ignores all of these qualities / needs of the passengers involved, yet the 20% overbooking is exactly what happened.

At a hub airport, we may not like overbooking, but it’s easy to understand the justification. The combination of first flight out, rural airport and small plane make it an anti-customer decision that sets the company up for a bad experience for their entire service delivery experience – a situation you don’t want to create.

Beware national distraction season

National distraction season is upon us. Are you ready?

No, I’m not talking about bowhunting season. Work is a distraction from bow season, not the other way around, right? Seriously though – I’m referring to election / political season and the drama it brings to the workplace.

Last time, we discussed in general terms some of the trouble that employee drama can create. If you recall, I encouraged you to shut it down whenever possible, as quickly as possible before it erupts into something you can’t handle. I included some common causes of drama, but I left a few of the major ones out – like politics.

First, your employees

A particularly destructive feature of even numbered calendar years is the drama that elections and their related issues / discussions can create. I say destructive because it can not only destroy productivity for the day, or perhaps the week. It can also radically change the relationships between members of your staff, including one of the most important ones – the relationship you have with your staff.

While you and/or your staff may find substantial enjoyment from discussing election politics with friends and relatives, doing so at work is all but a no-win scenario. This may seem like Captain Obvious talking, but you would be surprised how much of it goes on and how much rapport it can damage.

You might be thinking that you don’t want any of those lefties or righties working at your business. No doubt, if you can manage that somehow, that’s on you to figure out and “police” – while doing legally, of course. Until you’ve created a 100% politically safe environment, I suggest you get your team together and address the how and when these things should be discussed in the workplace, and do so in a manner that you and they can handle productively.

On the other hand, if everyone agrees (really?), it stands to reason that full on political discussion and posturing is fair game across the entire workplace. Full political agreement among your staff doesn’t mean there won’t be conflicts or morale issues, but it will likely minimize them. Even so, is this what you want consuming your staff’s mindset and conversation as they produce products and deliver services for your clients?

You may think this is a bit of an overreach on your part. Perhaps it is. That’s for you to decide, but I’d bear in mind that everyone working for you (and their families) depend on you to keep the place productive and profitable. Your community depends on your employees and their families as well. Allowing your workplace to become a toxic political war zone may not help your business meet those needs, much less helping your people meet yours.

And then, your clientele

Speaking of your clients – if these discussions are going on, it’s pretty likely that they are going to color the tone of discussions with your clientele, or that your clientele will overhear or even become involved in a staff discussion that they stumble into at your place.

If you’re willing to lose clients over this, make it clear to your team. For those of you who aren’t interested (much less willing) to lose clients over a political discussion, that should also be made clear to your entire team. As I mentioned earlier, if you are willing to say “I don’t want any lefties/righties as clients”, that’s on you to figure out and do so legally.

If that’s not a place you want to go, then you need to make sure your team understands that their publicly accessible comments in the workplace need to stay within the bounds you set. This is no different than you laying down the law about profanity, etc. It may create a bit more frustration and perhaps will make way less common sense than “Don’t use profanity on the sales floor, on the phone, on the radio or in emails” but that’s your choice to make.

Bottom line, I would encourage you to have your team find more productive things to discuss at the workplace, like the in-state college football rivalry of choice:)

Extinguishing employee drama

One of the more potentially costly things you can encounter as a manager is employee drama. While it’s generally unavoidable, it’s critical to the long term success of your career as a manager, or as an owner, to create a culture of drama non-proliferation at your business.

Eliminating it completely will be extremely difficult. Instead, you’ve got to learn (and train others to) detect and defuse employee drama at the first sign of smoke.

Why do they do it?

Drama has plenty of causes and ignition points:

  • Pet peeves, legitimate or otherwise
  • History with prior employers
  • Frustration with how projects are being executed
  • Frustration with a lack of control
  • Frustration with a lack of responsibility when accountability is on that person
  • Personality conflicts

There are a few other reasons, but today we’re going to stick to the ones that primarily cause workplace drama. What you’ll notice is that these mostly relate to work responsibilities in some way.

One that I mention – history with past employers – is a tough one. Sometimes you’ll hire someone who has been treated terribly in the past. It will take a while to build trust with them. Expect it to take longer than you think it should. You haven’t lived what they have and you haven’t seen it multiple times. When you see these things at multiple employers, it’s easy to assume that every employer works that way. Give it time.

The accountability, control and how executed reasons are related and tend to be different symptoms of the same thing – you’re hearing from someone who wants to do a better job, but their work is threatened or undermined in some way. You can deal with those things. Ask and keep asking how you can help. Ask what they need. Ask how they’d do it.

And then let them own it.

Don’t feed the beast

The beast is the drama monster. It’s an incredibly time-consuming (and thus expensive) distraction no business can afford.

You set the tone for whether drama creation is acceptable at your place. If you contribute to the rumor mill (which often rolls downhill to drama), you’re sending a signal that it’s OK whether you like it or not.
Even if you listen and say nothing, or nod your head as if you’re trying to be a good listener and say nothing, you’re still letting the fire burn.

The manager who lets drama fester and boil over risks a great deal:

  • Losing the respect of their team
  • Losing the respect of their management peers
  • Losing the respect of whoever they report to
  • Weakening (at best) the ability of their team to work and produce effectively

Fix the what and the why, not the who

Avoid the temptation to try and fix the person creating the drama. Instead, focus on why the drama occurs. We’ve already talked about the common reasons that stir it up. If you focus on the what and the why, you won’t feel the need to “fix” the who.

Trying to fix someone will be as difficult as trying to change their religion or their politics. Most likely – a waste of time. Instead, see what you can do to eliminate the reasons why it got started in the first place.

As mentioned earlier, you may find that giving accountability for the thing that created drama will allow it to self-resolve.

Dig deeper on the pet peeves and the personality conflicts. While legitimate personality conflicts do exist, many of them are symptoms of control and/or accountability problems (there is none or it’s in the wrong place). Pet peeves are often rooted in similar situations.

Train everyone how to defuse it

Most of the drama around your place is going to get stirred up when you aren’t around. If you’re the only one who can defuse it, you’ll eventually get the opportunity but by the time you do, it’s like putting out a small forest fire – it would’ve been easier to simply drown the campfire.

When you work one on one with your team, explain what you did after you defuse it. Every few months (or as necessary) go over drama reduction as a team. Show them how to help each other extinguish the flames while they’re only a small campfire.

When the smoke clears, will your reputation?

No one in the Pacific Northwest has to be reminded that this is the worst fire season since 2003.

Depending on what you do a bad fire season could be a boon, a bust or a non-issue to your business. Over the last couple of weeks, we had communications and marketing oriented conversations focused on the folks whose businesses are placed at risk by a bad fire season.

There’s a different kind of business impacted by fires, natural disasters and similar events: those who provide things like tanker trucks, field rations and related convenience items, construction supplies (lumber, drywall, tools etc) and so on.

If a scene like this summer means that you will be extra busy for the next year or so, perhaps more, good for you – particularly if you are a trusted member of your community (business and otherwise).

However obvious this may seem, it needs to be said…

A reputation setting recovery

The way you and your staff serve your clients from now until the recovery is over – regardless of what’s being recovered from – will set the tone for your business’ future.

Some will eventually give you a second chance, but for most, this is the one chance your business will get to show its colors. It will seal the reputation of the business, its owner(s), managers and staff.

Captain Obvious, you say? Perhaps, yet we continue to see examples where businesses have behaved so badly that governments feel obligated to put “no gouging” laws into place.

The thing is, pricing is the least of your problems. People understand that pricing gets a little crazy when resources are constrained. Supplies are often harder to get, and they’re often competing for scarce transportation facilities including berth time at port, dock time at warehouses, much less truck drivers or semi-trailers to haul those supplies. Qualified people are in demand, which tends to create overtime hours.

Do your clients want to wait or pay overtime-related costs? Ask them.

Communicating the challenge

When these situations occur and drive up your costs, communicate the situation as frequently, quickly and clearly as possible. Communicate what you’ve done to try and work around the situation. Ask your clients for ideas and connections in their network that could help you serve them a bit better.

You never know when a client might have access to resources or connections that could solve a problem that’s simply “killing” you – and those things may be out of reach without a little insider help. Even worse, if these clients know what’s blocking your progress and they know their resources / connections could help but you keep telling them you have things under control – how could that damage your relationship / reputation?

It’s OK to ask for help.

Resource problems aside, be sure that any abnormal delivery timeframes, costs, staffing challenges or other potentially damaging issues are communicated well. Transparency works. Small businesses use it as a competitive advantage vs. larger, better funded competitors during good times, why not use it during challenging, resource-constrained times for the same reason?

Call volumes are unexpectedly high, but your call is important to us…” – something you’d never say to a client before putting them on hold. Yet you only get this greeting when reputation damage is most likely to happen.

We don’t remember that the cable internet met their 99.9% uptime goal last year, but we remember each of the 43.8 minutes of downtime per month that this uptime goal allows for – and that the downtimes happened at inopportune times.

We remember when we consistently get a transparent answer or explanation.

The mindset that risks it all

The “they have no choice, I will get (and keep) the business no matter how I act” mindset can infect everything from sales and service to receivables and delivery. Once observed in one part of the business, it’s a matter of time until it crawls elsewhere.

I won’t belabor this, because the kind of business owner or manager who would let this behavior happen wouldn’t likely read my work. Despite that, check out the short 30 seconds it takes Vince Lombardi to describe the obligation that team members have to do their best on every play of every game.

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Get one new client a day, week, month

It’s not unusual to talk to business owners who want to double their business, even if the discussion is a bit unfocused at first.

It’s far more unusual to find someone who wants grow their business by 1000%, IE: 10 times its current size. Some have said that growing a business by 10 times is easier than doubling it because of the changes it forces upon all aspects of the business. Easy probably isn’t the word, but it makes sense logically because you know you’d have to rethink every process from one end of the business to the other.

Doubling the sales of a business tends to result in doing things the same way, but doing them twice as often, or somehow doing twice as many of them. With that in mind, the idea of doubling your business might leave you wondering where will the time come from or who will do the work. Reasonable questions, I think. Even if that sort of growth seems possible, it might not seem reasonable, no matter how attractive it sounds or how confident you are that you could handle it.

While I’m not trying to talk you out of that kind of growth, and I’m confident that almost every business could use more clients, I know that not everyone is sure how they could make that happen, or how they’d handle the load if they did manage to double the business.

Instead of reaching for 10x or 2x, let’s keep things as simple as possible for now by starting with getting one new client in whatever timeframe makes sense for you.

Start with one

Keeping it simple… How would gaining one new client per day, week or month do for your business?

Perhaps your business isn’t structured in a way that one new client per day could happen, or perhaps you couldn’t deal with 30 new clients a month. What about one new client per week? If your clients require lots of time and effort, perhaps you could only handle gaining one new client a month or even per quarter. What impact would result from gaining one new client per day, week, month or quarter? Do the math on whichever timeframe makes sense for you.

How often do your clients return? If you have 365 new clients a year from now, and you keep adding one every day, how does that change your business? Even if your typical client spends only $10 per purchase, one more per day is a step in the right direction, particularly as these new clients return.

Bring some context to “get one new client”

For a little daily context, maybe you get one more dinner reservation, one more kayak rental, one more room filled, one more table turn, one more styling appointment, or one more portrait setting per day. If you maintain this month-in, month-out, what’s that mean to your business? What are 30 more table turns, 30 more rentals or 30 more room-nights worth to your business per month?

For some weekly context, perhaps you get one more home to clean, one more weekly cabin rental (or one more rental week in the shoulder season, if you have such a thing), one more legal consultation, one more pack trip or one more bookkeeping session.

Naturally, you may wonder how you would get that one more client. One easy way: Think hard about how you’re getting them now. If your lead flow numbers vs your sales numbers tell you that there are leads you’re losing, not closing, or simply not ideal for – dig deeper. Examine each lead source, each media, each referral source. Where can you find one more? Repeat the process.

Why only one?

You might be asking why only one new client per day, week, month or quarter? Simple. If you can figure out what you have to do to gain only one in the timeframe that works for you, then the path should be clear to your long term sales goals. By consistently getting one more, you’ll know you can do it as well as how to handle the growth. Whether you do what it takes to do that one, five or ten times – the choice is yours.

One critical piece – it helps to know what’s working. Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Communicate when nature threatens

Last week I said “Allowing perceptions to percolate in our guests’ minds without updates is dangerous not only for this year’s success, but for future years as well.

Part of your job is to set guests’ minds at ease by giving them the advice they need to make considered decisions during situations they’re unaccustomed to.

They want to protect their investment, their vacation and their families. It’s safe to say that your local, regional and/or state tourism groups, media and attractions will put effort into this. What isn’t safe to assume is that your guests will see their message and understand it as you do.

You might be the only one in the area with their name and contact info. You might be the only one who develops a relationship with them. Your business is the one that will pay the price if they get off a plane in Minneapolis and see an airport gate “if it bleeds, it leads” style news video with an uninformed announcer from 2500 miles away saying “Glacier Park is on fire“.

They don’t know what you know. You’ve seen all of this before.

Make sure they understand that and that you are giving them time-tested advice based on your knowledge of their visit and their family. YOU need to contact them and make sure they have accurate information, otherwise, their next flight might be toward home.

Details protect your business

Last time, I added a lot to your plate:

Segmenting guests into groups. Collecting emails. Collecting cell numbers. Writing emails. Sending emails. Documenting the various communication processes so anyone can do it, even if you’re tending to a sick parent. Producing templates for the emails you might need to send. Producing templates for the text messages you might need to send. Producing a fill-in-the-blanks script that a staffer can read when calling guests who are in transit or in the area. Documenting the process so that anyone on site knows who is responsible for starting the process, which one to start, who to notify and what to say.

This isn’t about creating more work for the owner/manager. This is about putting a trust-building, by the numbers, automated where necessary system in place so that it can be handled by employees who never dealt with it before.

You won’t have time to do any of this when a fire blows up in the park. You won’t have time to manually send 300 emails or make 100 phone calls while deciding what to say on the fly.

This is about creating time to deal with critical high-season work when you least want to be “messing around with emails”, even if your place isn’t directly threatened. These tasks need to be organized, tested and ready to implement before the season starts.

Fine tuning the message

When you sit down to build this system, you’ll have a lot to think about. For example, the urgency and means of contacting them is as different as the message for each group and situation.

What conditions that merit separate communications and (most likely) separate messages? What groups should be split out of “the entire list of guests”?

A number of situations will expose themselves as you think it through. Go back over prior years and think about the times you handled this well and not so well. What did you learn after the fact that you didn’t consider when things were unfolding? Your own experiences count too – How was this done when you were on vacation and unexpected problems occurred?

Two examples:

  • If evacuations or cancellations are necessary, will evacuated / cancelled guests get priority booking for a substitute stay at your property?
  • As the situation unfolds, it will become more clear what to say to your guests with reservations a month or more out – but you need to communicate the plan now so they know what to expect. What will you say?

Your business may not be affected by fire season but nature threatens your business somehow and when it does, “fire season lessons” apply. Your area might be subject to drought, low (or high) water in rivers/lakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or a damaged bridge instead of a forest fire.

No matter what happens, send the right message to the right guests in a timely manner in the right way. Build trust. Practice, automate, document, delegate.


Forest fire communication can burn you

Now that the Reynolds Creek fire is 65% contained, there are two myths to squash:

The fire is almost out.

Not true. Ask anyone close to the fire teams and they’ll likely tell you that only a season-ending snow will likely knock it out completely. Even so, if you let this cancel your 2015 Glacier National Park visit, you’re probably making a mistake.

There’s not much to see with the fire burning.

Not true. As I noted online numerous times over the last several weeks, the park’s still open, the Going-to-the-Sun road is mostly open, 99.97% of the park is not burning and it remains more than capable of wowing (and challenging) your mind and body. Thankfully, news organizations, Inciweb, GNP, various tourism groups and others are communicating this message so that visitors don’t cancel their plans.

Allowing these two perceptions to percolate in our guests’ minds without updates is dangerous not only for this year’s success, but for future years as well.

What else gets burned in a forest fire?

Forests aren’t the only thing that are burned by forest fires. Profitability, traffic, cash flow and our well-laid plans can also go up in smoke.

When we have a fire, it’s all but certain to hurt tourism – particularly if you depend on someone else to set your visitors at ease.

I know you’re busy. It’s peak season, or should be. Even so, the Reynolds Creek fire should have you thinking about a few things:

  • How does your business react when red flag conditions are present?
  • How does your business react when that first fire of the season hits the news?
  • How does your business react when the first wave of cancellations comes in?
  • Are those reactions planned? Have they been rehearsed / tested?
  • If you’re away from the property (perhaps your parent is sick), will these plans be executed as you wish with the type of messages you want delivered?
  • Do you have all of the steps in place to communicate with your visitors in order to minimize the damage to your business?

Yes, this is all about communication.

The first thing you might ask is “Which visitors do we communicate with?“, but don’t forget that what you say is as important as who you say it to.

Which guest needs which information?

My suggestion would be “All of them“, but that’s an incomplete answer.

When a fire (or similar event) happens, there are several groups of guests impacted – and their decisions will affect you and your business. The better prepared you are to keep them up to date with calm, consumable information, the better they will be able to make well-considered decisions. The last thing you want to do is (intentionally or otherwise) convince them to continue their trip only to have them deal with circumstances that cause them to never return to your area.

Sidebar: You are doing your best to get them back on a recurring basis, right? Sorry, I digress.

These groups of guests include:

  • Guests currently at your property
  • Guests in transit to your property
  • Guests with reservations in the next couple of weeks
  • Guests with reservations a month out or longer
  • Guests pondering making reservations for next year
  • Guests whose reservations must be cancelled because of an evacuation order
  • Guests wondering if they can get into your place due to cancellations

I’ll bet you can think of a few other groups of tourists, guests, visitors – whatever you call them.

Each group to make a decision about their visit, but the message each group requires is not the same. If you’re communicating with all guests with the same information, it’s likely that you are not helping them make the best decision for them and in turn, it’s costing you business.

Rules of the road

I suspect you have the ability to communicate with these groups easily using email. Please don’t send one generic email to 746 visitors. Many of them will not receive it and the “tech savvy” ones will find it aggravating.

You should also have their cell number so you can catch them in-transit or in the area.

You should be able to get a personal message to each person in each of these groups without a lot of hassle.

By now, you may be wondering why I left a lot unsaid. That’s why we have next time.

Why do they want to disrupt your market?

The big word in the startup world is disruption, as in “We will disrupt the what-cha-ma-call-it market.” Thinking about last week’s discussion about buying a new vehicle, let’s talk about what disruption is and why “they” want to disrupt our market.

Some examples of disruption

Paypal disrupted the credit card merchant account market. Old news, but it’s a good example. At the time, it was a substantial effort for a small business to get setup so their clients could pay them with a credit card – particularly if there was a web site or phone sales involved. You could do it, but the fees and the startup obstacles put in place by the banks offering merchant accounts were a time-consuming hassle. The assumption was that you weren’t as “real” as a business selling hard goods out of a retail location. Paypal knew better and treated these businesses with honor rather than suspicion and contempt.

Ultimately, Paypal made it easy to get a merchant account. They made it easy by allowing you to manage it online. Finally, they made it more secure by creating a layer between the client and the small business taking the payment. The client gained because they didn’t have to reveal their card number to the small business. The small business gained because the “layer” that kept the card number out of the hands of the small businesses meant Paypal took on the security requirements and many of the risks of card payment fraud. More secure equals less hassle. Easier and less risk for all involved.

You can find many other examples of disruption in the finance-related sector – all of them based on eliminating the annoyances and artificial barriers established by long-term players in that field.

Other examples include Uber (Is the cab business focused on being a high-quality customer-centric experience?) and SpaceX (Is the defense / aerospace business is designed to provide the best bang for the buck?).

Why do they want to disrupt my market?

Simply put, because doing business with you or your peers (or both) is a pain in the keister. When you make it hard to deal with you, you create opportunities for startups that don’t mind doing things differently.

How do they disrupt my business? Mostly by taking the hassle out of it. Those who disrupt your market talk to your clients and identify the things that drive them crazy about working with you. What keeps you from doing that? Nothing other than you being stuck in “We’ve always done it that way” mode.

The real estate market is a great example of how businesses get disrupted. Zillow produced a website that allowed would-be buyers to identify properties for sale before they were ready to contact a Realtor. Will they still have to work with a Realtor at some point? Probably. Before they “get serious”, are they required to deal with the barriers that most real estate firms put in place? Before Zillow and the like, it was all but a necessity. At that point, you did things their way on their terms. Today, you don’t have to engage a Realtor until you’re ready to take some action.

Could Realtors have opened up MLS to web access before Zillow appeared? Yes, but they didn’t. Could they have made it easier to shop before getting signed up with a Realtor? Yes, but they didn’t. Instead, the MLS was used as a wall around the property-for-sale inventory. Until Zillow and similar vendors provided access to this data (or a subset of it), there was little if any pressure on real estate firms to implement such systems or radically improve their processes to make them more client-friendly.

Eventually, they figured it out and created a new that competes with Zillow and similar sites.

Realtors are not the target

These types of problems are not unique to Realtors. They are common to many businesses.

If you look at these disruptive new businesses, they’re usually focused on eliminating the market’s pet peeves.

Referring back to last week’s car lot experience, consider the business model that has put together. It’s not perfect, but it does a nice job of eliminating the horse biscuits from the buying process. And yet, there’s not a single thing they’re doing that local car dealers can’t do.

Will they notice and adopt the best parts?

And in your market, will you?

Playing sales games

I’ve in the market for a new-to-me rig. I don’t switch rigs very often, so it’s a slow process to make sure I buy it right.

I haven’t done this the normal way in over 20 years. Two of the last three were cars for new drivers, so they were cheap, cash purchases with no time for sales games. The other was through a dealer friend who had my search criteria and a “tell me when you find exactly what I want” deal on the table.

Things are different this time.

Dealer One

After a few weeks of searching lots and Craigslist, it became clear that I needed to widen my search, so yesterday I visited four big three Detroit car dealers.

During my first visit, I drove the lot. No one around on an early Saturday afternoon. Finally, I stopped and walked in the far end of the showroom, walked all the way to the other end while looking briefly at the cars there. Walked out the other end of the showroom without anyone looking up or saying anything. Walked around the lot a bit. Same thing. Got back in my rig, drove around the lot again, passed by a salesperson working with someone, interrupted him to have a very brief conversation, left the lot.

I wasn’t asked for contact info. I managed to walk the entire showroom and part of the lot without anyone asking if I needed help, directions or a smack in the head – much less taking my contact info.

Some people change vehicles every few years. If treated well, they’ll return to the same dealer repeatedly, perhaps for the rest of their life. One visit can result in six figures of sales and service over the next 20-30 years, unless you let them off the lot without engaging them.

Dealer Two and Three

At the next dealer, I drove the lot, stopping at a few places to check details. One salesperson was on the lot with a client, but no one else was in sight. I’ve driven this lot a number of times during business hours at different times of the day and on different days of the week. This was the first time I’d seen another person.

The other lot was much the same. Not a soul in sight in any of the half dozen visits to this lot – which tends to get the most visits because it’s the one closest to my house. Zero interaction with anyone. Ghost town.

Dealer Four

This one wasn’t a brand name lot, but I spotted something that looked like my target rig so I stopped. This time, someone came out of the building to meet and discuss what I was looking for. They didn’t have what I wanted, so they spent the next five minutes repeatedly trying to convince me that I didn’t really need what I’m looking for and to consider what’s sitting on the lot. Despite their inability to accept that I’m looking for what I’m looking for, they did take my name so they could call if they found a candidate vehicle.

Dealer Five

My last visit of the day was to the last remaining Detroit brand name. Drove the lot. A few families are walking the lot, and one has a salesperson with them. This dealer had a few possible matches online, so I stopped and went into the showroom after driving the lot. I walk from one end of the showroom to the other. I reverse and repeat the end-to-end walk. No one attempts to help, sell a car or kick me out.

Finally, I walk into the sales bullpen, after passing under the sign that says “No customers beyond this point“, and ask if anyone can help me. At this point, I’m thinking “this sign should be above the entrance to the lot”. There are three people in this room, yet none have come out to engage me, even after passing their glass-walled enclosure three times.

After entering the forbidden sales zone and asking for help, a guy asks what I want. He tries to sell me something else at twice the price, talks to me as if I’ve never bought a car, then disappears to check on that rig.

10 minutes later, he hasn’t returned. I walk to my car and leave the lot.

I don’t play sales games. We’ll talk more next time.