Employee metrics and the fantasy football parallel

My son and his friends talked me into joining their NFL fantasy league this season. A fantasy team owner “drafts” players and those players’ statistics are used to score points each week. You face off against one other team owner in the league. The owner whose players score the most points that week determines who wins. It struck me this week that gathering good employee metrics, monitoring them and taking action on the data is not unlike what you do when managing a fantasy sports team.

The last time I played a fantasy sport, the draft involved Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. It was 1986. Getting statistics for every game was laborious. You had to scour the newspaper to get the data you needed and for NBA basketball, it became a daily chore due to the volume of games. In a lot of ways, the difficulty of getting a player’s game statistics for every game for a fantasy sport 30 years ago reminds me of the difficulty of gathering the right employee metrics these days. For some data, you really have to want it.

Employee metrics should include condition

In the NFL and other professional sports, there are well-defined rules and timelines for determining whether or not a player can play, communicating their condition and deciding their availability for the next game. Scrutiny on professional sports players is very high and the data is readily available, so it’s easy to determine if a player is injured, will play this week, has the flu, is dealing with a family member’s illness or death, etc.

In your business, things are not that simple. While you’ll know about an employee family member’s death, you won’t often learn about an employee’s family drama or relative’s illness until it has progressed to a state that impacts the employee’s ability to show up at work. The impact starts well before you find out about the situation.

Sometimes it isn’t sickness. Employment situations change. Kids move back home, or go off to college, or both. Weddings, divorces, financial and legal struggles and other things can put stress on an employee, even if those things aren’t their life changes. When these things happen to an employee’s child, parent or sibling, they can affect work performance, whether they like it or not.

In the NFL, a player has to go through the concussion protocol after “getting their bell rung“. They must be cleared to play football by someone who is not associated with the team. While it’s mostly about caring for the player’s condition and their future health, it also has a big impact on the team. In the old days, a player could brush aside such concerns and play anyway. Sometimes this helped the team, sometimes not.

Your employees have the same types of issues. Who is monitoring their condition? Are the people you have “on the field” in optimal condition for the task? These things are a form of metrics, but they’re difficult to gather / measure. What would help them return to their normal performance level or better?

Typical business metrics say a lot of about day to day performance, but don’t lose sight of more personal “metrics” that can affect employee performance.

Who’s the opponent?

In a NFL fantasy league, who you “play” that week is very much determined on which team they are playing. The quality of the opponent is everything. The best quarterback in the league isn’t likely to have a huge game against the best defense in the league. To score higher, you might shift to a quarterback who’s playing against a poor defense this week.

In your shop or office, the opponent may be a work task, the sales prospect, or that meeting with partners. While you probably don’t think of them as opponents, the same ideas apply. Given the situation, task, and people involved, do you have the best available players on the field? In other words, are the right people involved?

What’s the history with those people, tasks, and situations? Does that impact who you assign to the job? Pro teams practice against an opponent’s “look” the week before they play that opponent. How do you test your team in advance of the real thing?

Metrics are situational, behavioral and yes, hard numbers too.

Do your sales efforts have a smell or an aroma?

Sales is tough work. One of the things that makes it challenging is starting a conversation with someone you don’t know. This can be particularly difficult when they know you are primarily interested in selling them something. As Gitomer says, “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.” Nowhere is that more evident than at a trade show, where people will avoid eye contact with anyone wearing a “sales hat”.

Even so, trade shows offer ideal opportunities to talk to (usually) vetted prospects, assuming you’re at the right show. These face to face opportunities provide an often-unparalleled chance to learn about your prospect. Body language & facial expressions help you determine if the questions you ask and the responses you provide are resonating with your prospect’s needs and wants. These physical cues are not evident during a phone call or email exchange.

Avoid the hat

In order to benefit from these valuable face to face conversations, you have to start them. Getting these conversations started requires you to engage with someone. This requires that the attendee accepts the engagement rather than ignoring you, looking away, staring at their feet or simply saying “Nope”. Trade show exhibitors try all sorts of tactics to provoke an interaction, including attractive women, giveaways (tchotchkes), and refreshments.

Giveaways are most common. Some lame, some extravagant, some in context with their business. There’s an opportunity here for much thought than you typically see. Common rubber footballs, pens, pads of paper, and so on – much of it never makes it home, much less back to the hotel or office. These giveaways are rarely thought through well enough that they are designed to make a connection to the product or service being sold. We’ll come back to that.

I don’t see too many so-called “booth babes” these days, but they do exist, particularly in the automotive industry. In 30+ years of trade show time, I have seen one coherent use of them – when costumed in a way that connected their presence perfectly into context with the product being sold. Interestingly, this involved costuming intended to appear as if it came from the movie “Edward Scissorhands”.

Refreshments are the other area (besides giveaways) where you see a broad latitude of items. Whether it’s numerous forms of candy, airline-esque bags of peanuts/pretzels, to more imaginative setups like serving locally-brewed root beer in boot-shaped shot glasses from a cowboy-themed booth at a trade show in Texas.

And then there are the booths that recognize Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – specifically giving away things that are all but irresistible. These are things, per Maslow, that tie back to the lower tiers of the hierarchy, delivering a feeling of safety / comfort and home. These are the booths with freshly cooked bacon (not kidding) or fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies. The latter is what I’ve seen perform the best.

The aroma of warm chocolate chip cookies is incredibly disarming to most people. Even the folks who don’t want a cookie seem obligated to explain why – which starts the conversation. Stop long enough to have someone hand you a warm cookie and most will pause to take a bite or two, and feel enough obligation to answer a qualifying question or two. Before long, the conversation is started.

Remember the point of your “gimmick”

Lots of money gets spent on these things. Much of it is spent without much thought or planning, at least from my perspective. Never forget the primary reason why you’re exhibiting at a trade show and spending that money: To start the process of making a sale, or at least, to gather leads. A gimmick to get people to stop at your booth is solely to make it easier to start a conversation. Your booth and pre-show marketing ties into all of this and should contribute to the process of creating / provoking these conversations.

Years ago, I had a fishbowl in the booth. The fishbowl contained a number of our competitor’s hardware dongles. Providing the dongle to us was a requirement for new clients to get a cross-product discount by abandoning the competitor’s product for ours. A bowl full of dongles sent a powerful message and it prompts people to stop. It’s a curiosity. It creates a conversation.

What are you doing to create these conversations?

Pennies add up for the strategically efficient

Part of my unique ability is to help clients think and act in the most strategically efficient way possible. It isn’t necessarily to save pennies everywhere we can, but to save the “best” pennies. In other words, the ones that have the most impact.

I visited a client this past week who makes a good example of strategic efficiency. They are in a highly regulated business, so they take steps to squeeze the most impact out of the pennies they save. Even in innocuous areas like invoicing, there is substantial impact.

For example, when bills are processed and delivered properly, well over 100,000 go out each day. If they are not prepared properly, the cost of delivering them can increase by $1000 per day, possibly more. When you send this many bills a month, there are a number of tactics you can use to save as little as $0.001 to $0.003 per bill.

While that seems like a tiny savings, at scale it adds up to real money.

Saving $30,000 a month, a penny at a time

When they put systems in place to do things in the most strategically efficient manner, they could identify *daily* savings of $1000 per day, every work day. That’s hard money, not touchy feely savings that don’t show up on a bank statement. $1000 per day adds up in a hurry, regardless of the size of the business.

It isn’t just about handling these bills properly. It’s also about handling them on time.

Should these bills go out late, you can imagine that cash flow is negatively affected in a substantial way because clients who don’t get bills on time wont pay them on time. If everything goes well, on certain days of the month, they might be able to “loan” money using short term finance mechanisms.

Process affects transit time

If the bills are late going out by only an hour, they can miss their transit window. If they make their window, it all but guarantees invoice delivery on the next business day. If they miss the window, it will mean bills arrive late and believe it or not, it will mean some customers pay later than normal.

The cascading effect of these tiny shifts can hamper cash flow from that set of customers for the next month. Some days of the month, that may mean they have to manage overall cash flow far more carefully, simply by how things come together that month. Timing matters.

If the processing that gets these bills out the door has problems frequently, it can put pressure on cash flow that affects the entire business.

Yes, but we don’t mail bills

You might be thinking that this “old school” business could gain from efficiencies like emailed bills and other electronic transaction processing. They do, however they are not in a position for force their entire customer base away there. As with some of your clientele (I suspect), there are some who want a paper bill, and others who require a paper trail, even today.

For those invoices, on-time delivery still affects payment patterns and thus, cash flow. Electronic delivery also has requirements to keep it strategically efficient, such as delivery management and bounce processing. If there are no systems in place to monitor delivery and assure that every single bill arrived, those bills will not likely get paid. If they arrived late, they’ll likely be paid late.

“Oh, it’s just email delivery” isn’t simply a minor annoyance when it becomes a cash flow impact factor.

The boring, innocuous back office

Those “boring”, innocuous back office processes may not be as exciting as the innovative, front-line business things you’re doing to close sales and retain clients. Their level of efficiency, quality, and timeliness has a broad impact on the day to day operation of your business.

Whether these processes are based on paper, email, electronic transactions or a combination of all of those things, they (and the company) will benefit from constant improvement and fall back protections. You (and everyone else) will sleep better at night because you know these things are more consistent and more resilient.

Your back room processes fuel what’s going on in research and development, sales and elsewhere. Be sure to make them as strategically efficient as possible.

Accountability and tapdancing

You may have seen a recent video of a Senate Finance Committee hearing with the Chairman of the Board of a large bank. He was being questioned about his accountability for his company’s behavior regarding opening new accounts on behalf of their clients.

Form your own opinion about the hearing. We’re here to discuss why it was handled as it was by the Chairman and why you can’t do that.

What you can’t do

The infuriating things about the video:

  • The Chairman makes a few comments that give the impression that his company did no wrong.
  • He shows no sign of accountability for the whole thing (and nor do his managers).
  • He indicates that he can’t provide guidance to the board about the nature of the company’s future actions.
  • He asserts that the whole thing was about one percent of his employees, with a tone that implies it’s really not a problem at all.

What makes it even more aggravating is that the value of the Chairman’s stock rose about $200 million during the period discussed. This means that the value of the company’s stock was misrepresented during that time.

Bottom line, while the camera was running, he washed his hands of the whole thing and of his possible future role in taking corrective action, much less punitive action against the senior managers involved.

Yet, he had a decent enough reason.

The reason for his position is that anything he said during that questioning was likely to be used against him and the company. Whether he is a slimy cretin or not, he is an officer in the company and has a fiduciary obligation to protect the company. One might theorize that lying (if that’s what he was doing) isn’t a good way to do that, but I suspect he was advised well in advance about what he could and couldn’t say to avoid making things worse.

Unless you’re the CEO / Chair of the Board / officer of a publicly traded company, you can’t do that.

What you have to do

If something bad like this happens, the worst things you can do are exactly what he did:

  • Dodge questions.
  • Give vague answers or non-answers.
  • State that you have no responsibility, despite being the Chairman of the Board (or in your case, the owner)
  • State that you have no obligation to lead your board to a decision about making management accountable.
  • State that you cannot lead your board to a decision about making yourself accountable
  • Decline to comment about your level of accountability.

This guy’s customers have a choice. They can get over it in some form, or they can eliminate this company from their lives by closing all of their accounts and banking elsewhere. Moving bank accounts is not easy. Between the regulations that require a bunch of paperwork (in most cases) and a visit to a local bank branch, and changing any electronic bill payments (or similar), it isn’t fun.

Your customers will likely have a much easier time moving to a competitor – if that is their choice. Your comments to any questions about whatever you’re dealing with are going to set the tone for their response and reaction.

When you do these things, you likely won’t be scrutinized by the Senate. In your case, your clients will likely be judge, jury and (hopefully not) executioner.

It was only one percent of our employees

One part of this hearing stuck out to me. The Chair said (paraphrased) “it was only one percent of our employees“. His tone implied that they were bad apples and he had no control or oversight over them. He said that despite the fact that there was a senior manager responsible for implementing the program that created this mess. That senior manager worked for him. Management laid out the program these people worked under, created a bonus schedule for it, oversaw the program and made it expectations clear.

Whether one percent of your employees is 5000 people or five (or it’s just you), you don’t have the choice this guy made. You have to take accountability straight up and dole it out to your team as well. When and if something like this happens, the responsibility to all yours. Own up to it, take your licks, hand out a few as needed and make changes to prevent future occurrences. The rest of your business’ life depends on it.

Which little things do you let slide?

We often let little things go because we have “bigger fish to fry”. We prioritize tasks, clients, products and services over others of the same sort because we have to. Prioritization of what’s important today over what might be important tomorrow, or even later today is perfectly normal. We have to do it.

The challenge with little things is that they add up, particularly when they’re repeatedly set aside. They have a way of ganging up and creating momentum, as if they were a colony of ants. Together, a colony can move things much larger than any single ant.

We cannot allow any error in judgment to delude us into thinking that ‘letting the little thing slide’ would not make a major difference.” – Jim Rohn

What little things?

What sort of little things come to mind for you as important for your business?

For me, the little things that matter are those things that tell me what the business thinks is important. Every business says the customer is important, but how do they prove it? Do their words match their actions? Little things are a great place to sort this out.

Little things explicitly communicate what’s important to the owners of the business. They tell me about the culture of the business and paint a picture of what’s important to the business’ management team. These things indicate how hard the ownership and management has thought about what their customers need, want and expect.

Their consideration of and emphasis placed on these things is reflected in the staff’s behavior. Their behavior is an indicator of the quality of management. It signals management’s emphasis during staff training, as well as the quality and frequency of that training. All of this points at the importance placed on serving their clients’ needs, wants and expectations.

Think about the curb appeal of a house. Consider your impression when stopping in front of a home with a weedy, un-mowed yard. Now think about the impression you have when viewing a nicely manicured one. What does that tell you about the upkeep, maintenance and care taken for the rest of each home? Your impression might be wrong – but changing that impression is tough. A business with poor “curb appeal” may never get a chance to improve the impression they’ve left.

That’s exactly what little things can do. They have a knack for sending a big message to your clients.

Prioritization by impact

Big things matter. If you think back over your career, I’m sure you can think of a number of big issues that started out as little things that were left to fester. But which ones? It’s critical to separate the little unimportant things from the little things that can fester into big ones. And how exactly do you do that? One of the most important prioritization skills you can develop is the ability to determine which of these little things are unimportant and which need to be dealt with before they create big problems.

I tend to look at the impact, rather than the size.

If something small is likely to impact a number of people, it won’t be small for long. That’s the kind of little thing that requires short term attention. Little things to you, your team and your business might be big things to your clientele, which speaks to your awareness of client needs, wants and expectations.

If something small isn’t communicated, it can become something big simply by not letting your clients know about it – and know that you’re aware of it. Even if you believe it’s a little thing, communicate anyway. This gives the client a chance to say “Thanks, no problem” or “Hey, it’s not a big deal in and of itself, but it’s going to create another problem that causes a big impact.” The incremental cost of that brief advisory to the client is tiny. The return on investment on that communication can be sizable if it helps keep a small issue from morphing into something ugly.

If you only identify one of these situations per year and it results in keeping a client you might have lost, the return on investment is obvious. If you retain one sale a month by categorizing these little things and taking action on the important ones, the return on investment is obvious.

Learned on 9/11

I stepped out of the shower at my parents’ house just moments after the first plane hit. TV news was claiming it was accident, suggesting that a small plane had wandered off course.

It seemed unlikely that a pilot would wander that much off course during daylight hours, particularly that close to two very busy commercial airports. The hole seemed too large for a small plane. It was a perfect day, weather-wise. From my perspective, the accident story didn’t add up. I wondered why the newscast had taken that angle.

The video of the first plane took care of that.

Lessons: Think before you speak. Gather facts, don’t assume. There is little value to rushing to judgment simply for the sake of speed. Trust your gut.


I stepped out of the bathroom and stopped in front of the TV. The second plane appeared on the TV screen and removed all doubt about intention vs. accident.

I had flown to Dallas a few days earlier to attend a wedding and a meeting. I planned to drive to Austin that day for a meeting with a business partner. We had a brief call and agreed that neither of us felt good about spending the rest of the day in front of the TV. Letting these acts impact our businesses was simply not how either of us were wired. We had hectic schedules and this was clearly going to complicate life for some time to come. We decided the meeting was on.

My parents didn’t try to talk me out of it. I left for the four hour drive to Austin shortly after the first building collapsed.

Lesson: The easy thing isn’t always the right thing. You can allow the world to distract you, but that’s your choice. I was pretty clear early on that the attacks were terrorism. I remember being resolved to keeping the meeting because I was not going to allow them to prevent us from doing business. It was a small, symbolic victory that I couldn’t be talked out of.

Distributed is good

The radio said all planes were ordered to land ASAP during my drive to Austin. I remember thinking that it was a smart strategy to quickly clarify the status of thousands of airplanes.

We actually got something done during the meeting in Austin, and I drove back to Dallas. News interviews over the next few days showed many people frustrated with being stuck out of town, and unable to return to work or home. Some were collaborating to share a rental, spending thousands to rent a car and drive across the country. Remote work and a distributed company enabled us to live where we wanted. I was fortunate to be at my parents’ place, so I could stick around there as long as necessary.

Lesson: Eliminate unknowns as simply as possible. The simplicity of “land now at the closest airport” reminds us to seek a simple solution. Distributed companies that allow employees to live where they want and work from anywhere suddenly made sense to a lot more people, even though we’d been doing it for years.

Do your clients feel safe?

My return flight was booked for the 12th. I was rescheduled for return to Montana on the first day commercial flights resumed – Sept 15th. The vibe at DFW was strictly by the book. Passengers were tense and quiet. Everyone was quietly scrutinizing their fellow passengers.

Large, muscular athletes in Oklahoma State logo’d outfits started coming down the aisle. I first thought it was the Oklahoma State football team. OSU’s 2011 schedule tells me it probably wasn’t the football team. Their presence changed the passengers’ state of mind. The clear and unspoken change: “this plane is much safer now“.

Lesson:Perception matters. I remember the immediate change in perceived safety and how it changed the vibe on that plane. At the time, I didn’t correlate it to the value of creating a safe environment for your clients – regardless of what safe may mean for them. I later realized how compelling that shift was and how critical it is to create that sort of environment for clients. I’m speaking not simply of perception, but real safety.

Seek out the lessons life and business is trying to teach you, particularly in the worst of times.

Emergencies or “Mom, why is your hair on fire?”

Is every day or every week the context for another emergency or crisis at your business? How do you and your staff survive it from week to week?

What do I mean “emergency” or “crisis”?

I’m thinking of some sort of event that causes you and/or your staff to drop everything to solve a problem that has arisen with a client, or worse, with a product or service that impacts numerous clients.

The ups and downs

While the upside of such events is small, they do exist.

  • Your team learns how they can depend on one another.
  • Your clients see your team and your capabilities at their best. Usually.
  • Your management sees what the team can handle and what it can’t.
  • Sales often discovers an opportunity.

Several things take punishment during these situations:

  • Your reputation with the client. Even when / if you quickly bring resources to the situation and resolve it, the memory of “yet another crisis” will take time to erase, particularly if you and your team were ultimately responsible. Being able to resolve a situation means a lot unless you could also have prevented it.
  • Your team’s resilience. While these situations “build muscle”, they also contribute to fatigue.
  • Your team’s timelines. If these situations are normal, then your team is likely to expect their timelines to be less meaningful because they know someone else’s crisis will intervene.
  • Costs during a crisis management are almost always higher because exceptions have to be made.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste”

You’ve probably heard this Churchill quote, but I think a better angle on your use of it is this quote:

Sometimes when Fortune scowls most spitefully, she is preparing her most dazzling gifts.‘ -Winston Churchill, 1931.

While there is no doubt that you can use the point of the “…go to waste” quote to your advantage to sell products and services that might provide preventative care, services in time of crisis or similar, not letting crisis go to waste is bigger than that. Using these situations as a lesson and example helps your staff, particularly your sales staff, grasp the value of that which your client-side product, service and delivery teams can do when pushed. The creativity and problem solving your teams provide might prompt your sales team to come up with new products and/or services that didn’t seem important a few weeks ago.

Better yet, and in a nod to Churchill, the situations themselves provide the context (and yes, a little bit of fear) that your clients may need to understand why an investment in preventative services is a good investment. At times, simply being able to show up on your client’s site a few times a year to step through their workflow and see what you can’t see every day is hugely valuable.

Programmers often cringe when they watch clients use their software because they can’t believe how the software is being used. The user’s reaction to a particular feature or user interface / user experience can be just as compelling. Until you invest in the time (even on your client’s dime) to immerse yourself in their business and experience what they experience on a daily basis with your products and services – you probably haven’t learned enough about them to help them in the best way possible. That impacts sales as well, since the lack of this knowledge can easily keep you from understanding the one powerful motivator, situation or pressure point that is the key to everything they do.

Can you prevent them?

Emergencies and crises can a product of letting products, services and/or situations fester, or of being so busy and/or understaffed that you can’t take proper care of your client relationships. However, they can just as easily happen to your company despite being on top of everything as best as you know how. A client’s own situations with their clients, equipment, staff, planning – or lack thereof – can create these situations just as easily.

For the situations you can’t avoid or easily resolve through consistent preventative maintenance, account management and client relationship care and feeding – it’s best to have a plan of attack. Your plans won’t always work out. Your plans won’t always prepare you for every situation. Despite that, having considered what you will do for the situations you’ve dealt with in the past – particularly repetitive ones – will help you and your staff deal with the new-to-you emergencies.

Focus alone isn’t enough.

If you’re a frequent reader on business improvement, you’ll undoubtedly read something that encourages you to focus. Focus on one niche. Stop multi-tasking and focus. Worry about the numbers – they should be your focus. Focus on the customer or on your employees, or on <insert list of more focus items here>.

OK, so what should I focus on?

Focus alone isn’t enough. You can’t really give the proper amount of dedicated attention to 37 different things. You’re going to have to figure out what YOUR list is and either delegate, skip or outsource the rest. Otherwise, nothing will get the attention it deserves and all aspects of your business are likely to suffer.

In the early days, this is toughest because it might just be you and no one else. So what drives your decision to let something slide a little, be it a day, a week or “forever”?

The long term.

It depends on your long term goals, but most of the small business owners I talk with tend to be 50+. As a result, they are seeing retirement a decade or two out. In most cases, they’re at cruising altitude with their business and have left behind the years of struggle and work to keep it open, then make it profitable and so on. They’re focused on maximizing the value of the business in the time that remains before they decide to sell.

The best have focused on building that company from the outset. “What do I focus on when it’s just me?” was answered for them years ago. Notwithstanding the random short term challenges that we all face now and then, their answer is “What can I do that is most important for my clients while growing the value of my company over the long term?”

The upside is that for a small business, it focuses you on the things that should get and keep your attention even if your plans to sell are 30 to 40 years away.

So your eyes are riveted on the buyout?

Yes, even if it’s decades away.

Building for a buyout is much different for a small company than for one on Wall Street. A privately-held company can focus on becoming more attractive to a buyer via predictable, consistent positive cash flow and profitability – with no stock price to lose sleep over. These things come over the long term through obvious accomplishments that most small businesses strive for: solid products and services, repeat business, great customer care, etc.

Obvious, right? The things that make a company profitable to the owner will eventually be the things that make it attractive to purchase. Part of that attraction is eliminating as much risk as possible from the buyer’s purchase. I don’t mean guaranteeing revenue or profits. I mean by selling a company that is inherently low risk due to the way it operates.

For example, you can reduce risk and build value by building quality, value-packed products, services and systems that produce dependable recurring revenue. You can reduce risk and build value by providing great customer care. Those loyal customers produce recurring sales and provide referrals that lead to new clients. You’ve reduced risk by structuring your company to survive the day you get hit by a bus. The same strategies will protect the company if you decide on short notice to fish Alaska for six months.

Do you feel your business is ready to sell?

When you sell a house, there’s that list of projects you have to get done in order to make it easier to sell. Once you finish the projects that seem essential to selling your home, seller’s remorse sets in a little bit. You wish you had made those improvements years before so that you could have enjoyed them. You enjoy the home a little more in your final days there – in part because of the changes you put off for months or years for whatever reason.

A business often has the same list. They make the business some combination of less risky, easier to run, more profitable, and/or less hassle. Over time, the value of these projects pay for themselves and make the company more attractive to the right buyer.

Making the company more attractive to the right buyer takes a long term view. You and your team will benefit in the meantime.

Merchandising means “Don’t forget the ice”

If you have a retail storefront, do you have a solid idea what business you lose to big online retailers vs. the business you can depend on? What sales do you lose to big box retail? Perhaps the bigger question is this: Are you selling what your clients want and need? Does your merchandising support those needs?

Let’s backtrack a bit. Yesterday was a “honey-do day”. A retail experience or two is often required to complete the day’s achievements and “level up” to good husband for the weekend.  For me, retail shopping is more like a marksmanship thing than a grazing-like activity. I prefer to get in, get what I need and get out with a minimum of time and friction.

Sell what they need to finish the job

My first stop was at a big retailer that specializes in stuff you might buy on a honey-do trip. I picked up a corner shelf for the bathroom in a section of the store where shelves of this nature (free-standing or otherwise) are plentiful. The one I selected is intended for hanging.

Despite selling a plentiful amount of “hang this to use it” items across many departments, the store had none of the hardware needed to hang something – not for the item I bought or any other. However, they had what seemed like hundreds of (often ridiculous) “As seen on TV” items that prompted me to wonder who would pay for warehouse space for such things. But I digress.

I asked one of the people in the store if they had hanging hardware. They didn’t.

Why would you sell stuff that hangs without selling stuff used to hang those things? Because you aren’t thinking like a customer.

Thinking like a customer

When a shopper ventures out into retail, we tend to have one of two missions: “browse” or “complete task”. I think it’s best to serve clients on both missions. In the latter mode, we humans are often forgetful people. We multi-task. The phone rings. We leave our list at home. We’re imperfect at times.

Smart merchandisers can cure some of that.

When you go into a beer store, they have beer. They also have ice, coolers, bottle openers, snacks and other things you may need, or may have forgotten before leaving the house for a day at the lake. Sure, they are there to increase sales, but they are also there to save your trip by triggering any remaining “Oops, forgot to get ice” thoughts before they become expensive. It’s annoying to get out in the middle of the lake or settled in camp two hours back in the woods on a dirt road, only to find you forgot the ice. They understand that your needs extend beyond beer.

When you go into a fly fishing store, you can buy flies. For an expert who has what they need, a fly fishing store has local flies. For the noob who doesn’t have what they need (or the expert who forgot something), a fly fishing store has local flies, and just about any other fly fishing related item you need. They understand that your needs extend beyond flies.

Smart merchandising is good for you and your customers

At some of the best merchandised stores, you’ll find the mission completion items you need right there in the aisle with the item that took you to that aisle. These simple, thoughtful (and yes, sales-increasing) acts of merchandising save shoppers time and steps. They allow shoppers to avoid the time needed to dig around elsewhere in the store for an item. Even better, they may remind your customers to get the (in my case) hardware to hang an item so that they don’t drive all the way home only to realize they need to return to town to get the pieces and parts to finish the job.

Are these things incredibly obvious? Certainly. Obvious or not, does every store do so? No.

Be one of the stores that does.

Don’t have a retail location? Your online store’s shoppers have the same challenges. They forget the ice, or the cables, or the hanging hardware, and other little things needed to complete their mission.

It’s OK to be focused on being the best at selling the item your customers need – but don’t let them forget the ice.

Would a succession plan save your business?

What happens the day after you’re gone or incapacitated? Do you have a succession plan in place for your business?

While I suspect that most business owners have taken care of the family side of things – i.e., they have a will and/or a trust, etc. Has the business been taken care of?

We’ve talked in the past about how few businesses survive a fire, mostly because they haven’t taken care of the contingency planning necessary to continue operations when the business’ physical facilities have been destroyed.

A succession plan is different from a contingency plan. It provides a plan so that the business survives the death or incapacitation of the hands-on owner-manager, or even hands off owner in a family-owned business.

What happens tomorrow?

Going back to the contingency plan for physical business damage, look back at the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Despite the destruction of their facility and the loss of all but one employee on site that day, the credit union was open for business the very next day by virtue of off-site employees and redundant systems.

This required the foresight to discuss and put together a plan, which included off-site backups, training for all involved and an execution plan.

Whether or not you are ready for a physical disaster at your business, the likelihood of tragedy striking the owner is just as important – perhaps more important.

An important question starts the conversation: Do you care if the business outlives you if the worst happens? If you don’t, this seems like something your family, clients and employees should know – though I’m not sure you’d tell them if you feel that way.

If you want the business to outlive you, you have to confront that situation and discuss it with your team and your family. Who takes charge? If you don’t lay this out in advance and have agreement with your family, your death could set in motion a struggle that could destroy the company despite your wishes.

Who takes on your day to day responsibilities? It’s likely that more than one person will have to do so, depending on your role. It needs to be discussed with your executive team and documented for your family, whether they will be hands on or not. Think of it as a living will for your business.

How will things work in the first day, week, month, quarter?

Is there a documented, step-by-step checklist to get critical, keep-things-running work done? Who knows what to do? How do they know? How does everyone know that they (one person or several) have the authority to act?

Oh, they just know” isn’t the answer you want. If you don’t believe me, call your senior people into your office and tell them you are leaving for a 90 day sabbatical in the morning and you will be unavailable by phone or email. Ask them who will run things while you’re gone. Who will be responsible for x, y and z? What duties are they unaware of or untrained for?

Are you comfortable with their answers? Are they?

Can you…

  • Make payroll?
  • File payroll taxes?
  • Deal with property taxes and the state?
  • Pay bills?
  • Get the mail?
  • Write a check?
  • Deposit receipts?
  • Access online payments and transfer them to a bank account?
  • Access your bank accounts and line(s) of credit, if any?

Who pays the power bill that’s due three days after your death or permanent incapacitation? If you’re the only one who can sign a check, how does that work when your picture is in the paper the next day and your vendors (and your bank) keep seeing checks with your name signed on them? Sure, much of this is electronic, but there will be scrutiny on the accounts. What happens if the bank freezes your accounts?

Who takes care of things like that in the short term if you are temporarily incapacitated? Even if unhurt, but simply lost in the woods on a hunting trip for a week, the inability to sign a check or access your business accounts could create a problem.

Smaller things have derailed companies, or killed them, given the wrong timing.

But I don’t trust anyone with that stuff!

If so, you have work to do. Your attorney, accountant and banker can help, but if you still don’t trust anyone, that’s a fundamental problem to tackle. A business with no trusted senior employees is in a really bad spot. I understand that “trusted” doesn’t necessarily mean “trusted with the checkbook”, but you still need a solution if you care about the post-you business.