Winning against the chain store

Yesterday, I sat down in a store that’s part of a Montana-based coffee shop chain. I wanted a quick cup and I had about an hour to write before a young man’s Eagle Board that was down the street, so this location was a perfect fit.

I drove past Starbucks to reach this place. I try to visit locally owned places whenever possible, and like many, I’m a creature of habit. This place has spent a lot of time as my writing venue over the years. The visit reminded me of some reasons why the chain store wins your neighborhood.

Habitual habitat

I admit that when it comes to coffee, I’m not most people. Maybe I’m a coffee nerd. Even so, let me shine a light on some reasons why people go to their place instead of your place – and most of them have nothing to do with coffee – unless they’re coffee nerds too.

When I visit a coffee shop, I tend to seek out a place that roasts its own beans every week rather than using what was trucked to them after being roasted and packaged months ago.

I sit at the same table in this particular shop, if possible. It’s out of the sun and elevated so I can sit or stand and work, and it has its own power outlet. From that perch, I can see the entire store and observe customer service and other things that I write about.

What changed?

I hadn’t been in this shop for a while, so the absence made it easier to notice what was different.

The outlet next to “my” table had been fixed. It had been loose for years, so being rid of that looseness was nice.

When I ordered a mug, I got a paper cup. They still have mugs. I rarely take coffee to go. I prefer ceramic. Hey, I warned you.

The coffee was lawsuit hot. In other words – way too hot, even to sip. 10 minutes later, it was drinkable. Do you have any idea how long that wait is for someone who is enjoying the aroma of a new-to-them coffee that they can’t wait to taste? Reminder: I said I wasn’t a normal coffee drinker.

I ordered a pastry. In the old days, I was always asked if I wanted it warmed up (whatever “it” might be). Regardless of my answer, they’d deliver it on a plate with a fork rather than ask me to stand at the counter and wait on it. This time, it was handed to me across the counter, still in cellophane. No wait, but no plate and no “Would you like it warmed up?”

You might think these details are silly, but these are the kinds of details that transform an average experience at a nearby shop into “the only place they’ll go for recreational gathering place coffee”, much less “Simply can’t work at home today coffee”.

I’d guess that the real change since my last visit relates to who trains the staff and how. They were cordial, friendly and all that – but the experience had changed.

What didn’t change?

I was greeted when I entered.

Once it cooled, the coffee (a new one this time) was excellent.

Once I unwrapped it, the pastry was excellent despite not being warmed up.

The wifi worked.

I had a quiet place to write for an hour.

What about Starbucks?

What are you doing to stand out from the “sterile” parts of a national chain? What are you doing to make me drive past the chain store to go to your place – other than being locally owned?

Not all of you own a coffee shop, but most have a national chain or regional player in your market. Seek parallels. Take the stuff they do well (like consistency) and use it to improve your place. Ignore the stuff they do poorly, other than to eliminate it from your place. Stand out by making yours the only place they’ll go – and make sure everyone knows why.

Don’t think that a national chain can’t appear in your market. In less than a year, my favorite little town of 4000 people has gained two national auto parts chain stores.

Stand out before you have no choice. Many of the things you might do are things that the chains aren’t allowed to do.

tl:dr – Training. Metrics. Detail.

The hardest part of helping businesses

There are a lot of rewards that come with helping businesses improve beyond what they expected, or even simply going a step or two beyond an artificial boundary the business owner thought was in front of them. It’s really a fun thing to watch someone latch on to a piece of advice and make 10 or 100 times what they invested in it.

That isn’t the whole story though. In addition to those to take advice and use it, there are some who ask for advice, pay for it, receive it and for whatever reason, never use it. Perhaps they decide that it isn’t for them or they decide not to do anything at all, or they decide they can’t do anything right now. Or they don’t decide to do something, which is also a decision.

There are some in my mentor group who tell me not to worry about those who decide to do nothing (I don’t), and others who suggest that I shouldn’t let it bother me (I do, a little).

Why the difference between worry and bother?

Ultimately I think it comes from the root of why people open businesses – other than independence and control over their income: people get something from helping other people.

The result is that when you do your best to help someone, it feels incomplete until they plug in and use that help to improve their situation.

Sometimes, they just aren’t ready to act, even if they were ready to buy. I know that seems to be a disconnect, but there are plenty of books and courses and such out there with the cello wrap still on them. As I hear it, buying the tool, assistance or advice releases the “I did something” endorphins, so many leave it at that.

If you’re thinking this is some sort of subliminal sales pitch, it isn’t. Still, it’s reasonable to wonder “What does this have to do with me and my business?

We’re getting there.

Where are they?

Hildy Gottlieb frequently talks about meeting people where they are. After all, you can’t meet them where they aren’t, right? Any well-trained salesperson will tell you the same thing – meet someone where they are, talk to that person, rather than talking to the person you want them to be. The same goes for writing.

When you lose a sale or when someone buys a product or service from you and then finds no use for it – despite an obvious need, that’s where the gap between “where your stuff is” and “where your clients are” will become obvious.

So how do you bridge the gap?

Today, you have a product or service (or both) that serves people that are in a certain place in their life, career or state of owning a business.

Think about where someone is when they are at the best possible place and time to buy. Can you identify the qualities, qualifications, situations and conditions in their life, career or business that are ideal when it comes to them making a decision to buy what you sell?

No, I mean where are they NOW?

Ok, so now you have a list of the situations, conditions and qualities that make it a no brainer (or at least ideal) for the right people to buy your stuff. Hopefully that’s where your marketing is focused.

Do you have enough these “ideal people” in your sales funnel / pipeline? Most people will say they don’t. They’s say this for any number of reasons, including that they simply want more leads than they have now because they have business and/or personal goals that require higher sales.

If you don’t have enough of those people, look at that timeline again. Glance to the left of ideal: the “not quite ready” portion of the timeline. What can you do to help people get from that part of the timeline to that optimum place you identified as perfect for your product / service?

Now help them.

The more people that you can help move along that timeline to “optimum” (whatever that means for you and them), the more people you’ll eventually have as “ideal” prospects. When they’re ready, they’ll already know you, since you helped them make the journey to “ideal”.

What can you do to help them make that journey?

The sales that hide from you

How do you know when a lead is no longer interested in buying? How do you know when they are ready to buy? What signals do you detect that signal a buy is imminent or that the prospect has at least decided but isn’t ready to order?

Certainly we know when they’re ready if they provide a purchase order number, or request an invoice, but there should be additional signals as well. You and your sales staff can probably identify these, but are they collected and acted upon systematically?

As with service follow ups we’ve discussed in the last couple of weeks, we often fail to connect with “stale” or inactive leads because, we simply don’t think about it, or we have no system for doing so.

Often, sales follow ups occur only because we’re desperate to close a sale or because our quota period ends soon and we aren’t quite at our quota. While those triggers might be important to you, your sales prospect follow up system should also trigger follow ups based on points in the sales process that are important to your prospects.

Typically, the only way to detect such triggers is monitoring and recording information that provokes a decision to buy (or not) by a prospect. How do you currently do that? What signals can you think of that have historically told you that someone is ready to buy, or that they are ready to take the next step in the process that typically results in a sale?

Why and when to follow up with prospects

What if your sales follow ups were strategic and more purposeful than “quota approaching” or “desperate for cashflow”? If they were, you would have a timeline of follow ups for each lead (or each type of lead) for your products, or for each product, as you have time to fine tune the process.

For example, if you know that prospects typically take 32 days to decide on a purchase in your market, you would follow up in the days just approaching the 32 day timeframe.

If you determine that that there are other signals that indicate decision making and you can detect those in a follow up, why wouldn’t you do that follow up? As with the support and service follow up, the reason is usually the lack of a system.

Nine word emails?

One of the tactics in common use is the nine word email – though this tool can be used in emails, calls or text messages.

The email, call or text message doesn’t have to be exactly nine words, but the key is to keep things very succinct and free of baggage.

A nine word email looks like this:

Carla,

Are you still looking for a fifth wheel camper?

Mark

The point is to engage, and re-kindle a conversation. People are busy. They forget. A nine word email can take care of those tasks.

Following up in the sales department

Your job is to remind them so you can check and see if they’re ready to buy. If they aren’t, but they’re still interested, then you can include (or re-include) them in your sales follow up system in case they aren’t already there.

The task takes fine tuning and care. Your attempts to check in can be perceived as badgering (you’ve been there) or worse. Be sure that your attempts are well-timed, not too frequent and about their needs, not yours.

One frequent mistake I see is follow ups whose topic is the end of the month, end of the quarter or the end of a sales contest or quota period. While those things might be important to you – there’s not a single reason for your client to care about these things. Sure, prospects are sometimes aware that end of month and end of quarter timeframes often yield better deals, but if they’re at that point, you should already have signals that they’re about to buy. Make sure the follow up is about them, not you.

Learning and testing the timing of your sales follow up is critical. What timing is most critical when a follow up results in a sale? What are the next two or three critical points? What additional information do they need to decide to buy, even if they buy from someone else? After the sale, which follow up is most effective at preventing refunds?

How to build a follow up system

Last time, we discussed why it’s important to consistently follow up with your clients. Consistency requires a system to manage the process, track the follow ups and remind you when they need to be done. Without a system, daily challenges can take over your day. Result: follow ups are forgotten.

After I posted, @BeckyMcCray suggested that I show how to build a follow up system, so let’s do that.

Identify your touch points

When you build a house, you determine a list of requirements before starting construction. You need to know how many bedrooms and bathrooms you want and whether there will be a basement and/or a garage. From there, a set of plans will guide the construction process and provide the information needed to create the materials list. A follow up system does the same for your follow ups.

To get started, make a list of all the follow up actions (ie: touch points) that you want your follow up system to manage. A touch point is an opportunity to inform, educate, placate, calm, reinforce, remind, warn, notify or advise.

Identifying touch points should be easy because you know your business. I’ll use one of my favorite examples: the small engine repair shop that sells, rents (perhaps) and services outdoor power equipment, like mowers, chain saws, leaf blowers and garden tillers.

Here’s my list:

  • Repair started
  • Repair delayed, parts ordered
  • Repair resumed, parts received
  • Repair completed
  • Repair delivery schedule needed
  • Repair delivery date/time reminder
  • Order placed
  • Order delayed
  • Order shipped
  • Order received
  • Order delivery schedule needed
  • Order delivery date/time reminder
  • Payment plan schedule – upon creation of plan
  • Payment due reminder – 10 days out, to allow for banking online bill pay processing time
  • Payment due reminder
  • Payment overdue
  • Automated payment reminder (payment will be charged to card soon)
  • Automated payment confirmation (payment charged to card)
  • Automated payment failed
  • Automated payment card expiration warning
  • Automated payment card expired
  • Rental return reminder – at beginning of rental
  • Rental return reminder – return due soon
  • Spring tune up for warm weather equipment (eg: mowers, blowers, tillers)
  • Fall tune up for cold weather equipment (eg: snowblowers, ground thawing gear)
  • Oil change reminder
  • Winter storage service offer
  • Winter storage service pickup scheduling needed (ie: in the late fall/early winter, to pick up your equipment for storage)
  • Winter storage service pickup date/time reminder
  • Winter storage delivery scheduling needed (ie: in the spring, to return your equipment to your home/business)
  • Winter storage delivery date/time reminder

My list is intentionally long to give you ideas, but don’t let it distract or discourage you. Keep your list simple by starting with the most important touch points on your list. Build the system around those, then add more over time.

Let’s build a follow up system

Now that we’ve mapped out the touch points, let’s build a system.

Group the follow ups on your list by what drives their use. For example, do they occur when acquiring a new client, when processing an order, or when selling/delivering a service? The type of activity that drives them will be reflected in the system you setup for that follow up.

For example, a service order for a mower might produce a follow up list that looks like this:

  • Repair pickup schedule needed
  • Repair pickup date/time reminder
  • Repair – Equipment picked up
  • Repair started
  • Repair delayed, parts ordered
  • Repair resumed, parts received
  • Repair completed
  • Repair delivery schedule needed
  • Repair delivery date/time reminder
  • Repair – Equipment delivered
  • Repair – Equipment picked up

Each item would have a place to mark that it was done, that a call (or some other form of contact) was made, who did it and the date/time it was done. Want more info? Add space for notes at each step.

The medium used to work and record these steps doesn’t matter at first. What matters is that you perform the steps and refine your system. As it gets more difficult to manage a low-tech system, you should seek out a technology-based solution. By that time, you’ll have a much easier time figuring out what will work for you and what won’t.

To reiterate why a system is important, look at the list of steps and consider how it makes your business look and your customer feel if a step or two never happens or if it’s delayed by days or weeks because “it fell through a crack”.

A system can all but eliminate the cracks.

Everyone can sell – and they should

This past weekend, the Mrs and I went out looking for a gym. It turned into a lesson in sales and sales prevention.

We had three options: A family-oriented place near our grandkids’ house, a place within walking distance and a place within a few minutes drive, even during our very brief rush hour (which is more like rush-a-few-minutes).

Family friendly

We were greeted at the door, offered a tour to show us the facility and explain how things work, particularly for members who want to involve young kids. When the tour was done, our guide returned us to the front desk crew who greeted us. They answered a few more questions, gave us paperwork and told us what to do next to join.

While it wasn’t clear that the staff had any sales training, it was obvious they had a process in place to help prospective members learn about the facility and the programs they offer. They responded to our unscheduled arrival without difficulty and accepted this work as part of their job.

Drivable

We were greeted nicely as at the family place. The front desk staffer offered to give us a guided tour or said we could look around on our own. We chose to fly solo. When we returned to the front desk, the staffer made sure we understood what made them different from the other clubs in the area, and let us know that there was no signup fee through the end of the month, and did so without making a sales pitch. After getting a few more answers, we moved on.

At this facility, it was unclear if the staffer had been trained sales-wise, but it was obvious they had a process in place to help prospective members learn about the facility and the programs they offer. Likewise, it was clear the front desk staffer accepted this as part of their job. Like the family place, he responded to our unscheduled arrival without difficulty, as if there was a process and some prior training to deal with the needs of prospective members and their questions. It was clear that he accepted this as part of his job. Of all the places we visited, this one left us with the best end-to-end impression.

Walkable

We then stopped at the place that’s a few minutes walk from our home. Proximity is a big deal to us these days. We often walk to dinner, local craft breweries and other activities because these things are fairly close and easily walkable.

We walked into the club and told the young man at the front desk that it was our first time there, mentioned that we were considering joining and asked if we could look around. His response was that there was no membership staff available (midday on Saturday) and said “I’m just the front desk guy.” He seemed a bit uncomfortable with being asked to show us around and/or answer questions. He made it clear that he wasn’t allowed to leave the front desk, so we asked if we could look around on our own and see how well their club fit our needs.

He said “Would you like to buy a day pass?“, so I reiterated that we just wanted to look around for a few minutes and check the place out. He replied that we couldn’t do that. He wasn’t rude, yet he seemed fearful of doing something wrong and appeared to threaten his comfort zone. It made me wonder about his managers and how they treat him.

Nights and weekends matter

The people who work off shifts and weekends are an important part of your sales team. Everyone can sell if they are trained to be helpful. Don’t scare them, prepare them.

The cost of not preparing them

Do the math: Lost sales / year x monthly fee x average-months-of-membership (which each facility should know), then compound that week-in, week-out.

If you lose one $70/month family membership sale per weekend and you retain members for two years, that’s a loss of $87,360. One lost sale per week for 52 weeks, times the lost revenue of $70 for 24 months.

If you retain members for five years, losing one sale per weekend balloons the revenue loss of $218,400. That’s one lost sale / week for 52 weeks, x the lost revenue of $70 / month for 60 months.

Sales training matters – for everyone.

A simple, high value tactic many miss

When people know that you help small businesses and you’ve had a newspaper column since 2007, everyone who has a bad (or even mildly annoying) experience at a business wants to tell you about their latest adventure in commerce.

Sometimes I hear about situations that really aren’t the fault of the business. Other times, the stories I hear make me wonder what the business owner(s), or their staff, is thinking. Of course, there are always two sides to any conflict, including the parts you never hear from either side.

Conflict isn’t number one

While you might think disagreements and conflicts are the number one think I hear about, that isn’t the case. Today’s topic isn’t really about conflict, but it can easily become a source of conflict if the affliction goes untreated.

The affliction? No follow up. Insufficient follow up often feels like no follow up. Prospects call or email and want to order something. Their call or email goes unanswered. They get frustrated. They call someone else in your market. You not only lose the sale, but you probably lose the possibility of ever having that person as a client.

Recently, I heard a story from someone who wanted to buy an item, called several vendors in that market, failed to get any follow up action or contacts by anyone in the market, then called a nationwide retailer with a local presence and didn’t even hear back from them. When they contacted the retailer, the retailer’s staff couldn’t provide any information about when the item would show up, much less if it was on its way. At this point, months have gone by without any progress, despite involving several vendors.

So, on a $500+ purchase, multiple vendors in the same market appear to be unwilling to do the work to close the sale. Normally, this situation would make me a bit suspicious of the would-be purchaser’s mood, but in this case, I know them well enough that this isn’t about the person wanting to buy.

Follow up. That’s all.

While this is a pretty unusual situation, the key for all of this is follow up. Return calls, emails, etc are a necessity to close a sale and keep a client. So why would vendors who routinely sell a $500-3000 item fail to do that? I can’t explain it. What I can do is tell you that this isn’t unusual. Lots of businesses fail to follow up enough, or fail to follow up at all.

Solo entrepreneurs fail to do it. Small companies fail to do it. Medium sized companies fail to do it. Large companies fail to do it. I can’t explain why, but I can tell you it is the number one source of frustration of the people I talk to. I hear it about salespeople, order departments, support and customer service as well as repair and service people.

Communicate. It’s that simple. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign you care about your business, much less about your clientele and their needs. It’s an incredibly easy and inexpensive way to make a client stick around and develop a loyalty to your business that’s incredibly hard to break. Think of it as an almost impregnable fence that your competition can’t get past to gain access to your customers. It’s not expensive or complicated.

Why doesn’t follow up happen?

Follow up doesn’t fail to happen because the business owner or their staff don’t want to take care of their clientele. Most of them do care. Sometimes it isn’t obvious that follow up isn’t happening, or the owners and staff don’t realize that some of the most important follow up is letting their clients know what’s going on even when nothing has changed.

The most common reason that follow up doesn’t happen is that there’s no system to manage it. Without a system to make sure it happens, today’s daily chaos takes over and those follow up tasks are soon forgotten.

When I say “system”, I mean a mechanism that makes sure that you follow up with clients, whether or not the system consists of paper, technology or something else.

The key is that you put together something that you and the staff will actually use because “I need to remember to call Joe” isn’t a system for anything other than disappointing Joe.

 

What’s holding you back?

I suspect you’ve heard of the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule.

In its simplest form, it states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the efforts made. Further studies on the principle have shown that it often extends to far more than efforts made, and frequently describes the results produced by a team or a group of people.

If you look closer, you’ll find that the root of the 80/20 split of results is often based solely on differences in things members of the group do and do not do. If you review the habits, techniques, tactics and strategies regularly used by the 20% who get 80% of the results vs. the habits, techniques, tactics and strategies regularly used by the 80% who get 20% of the results, you should find some causative differences. I suspect some of them will be obvious, while others will require further study to determine why those behaviors contribute to a major difference in outcomes.

Some have postulated that of the 20% who are most successful, there is a 5% that leaves the remaining 15% behind, despite the success of the 15% group. I think you might find yet another set of behavioral differences between the 5% and the 15%. This doesn’t mean any of these behaviors are bad, though they certainly could be.

That the 80% is behaving differently from the 20% (and especially the 5%) doesn’t mean that they are unsuccessful. In my experience, their level of success tends to be closely related to their mindset and their belief in what they can accomplish.

Choices matter

If you’re part of that 80% and don’t want to be, you have some decisions to make. You have to decide that you won’t remain in the 80%. You have to decide to learn from those who are achieving the things you want to achieve. This may seem obvious, but I can tell you that this is a most difficult choice to make and a decision that many people think they make, but infrequently stick to. It’s too easy to keep doing things the way you’re doing them. It’s easier to not have to explain what you do and why, particularly since most of the people you interact with will seem to need a justification for why you do things differently. You’ll hear it from your staff, your contractors, your vendors, your family, your clients and your prospects.

Clinging to the behavior of a group you don’t want to be in is what keeps you in that group. More often than not, it’s central to what’s holding you back.

In any group of similar people, the behaviors of that group are substantially different. Whether you’re in a room of professional pool players, professional skeet shooters or “self-made” billionaire business people, history has proven that 20% of the people in that room are making the majority of the advances and having the majority of the successes – DESPITE the fact that everyone in the room is a member of that group. Perhaps more telling is that 5% of the people in that room are far ahead of the remaining 15% in that 20% group – even though they’re peers.

Why? Because the 5% is doing something different. That 5% will likely be the first to leave the group behind, because they’re already pulling away.

Markets are groups too

Your market is no different. No matter where you are in your market, I’ll bet you can identify who the leaders are, who’s in the middle and who is near the bottom.

When you see someone in your market do something that works, do you see if it works for you? When you do something that works, does anyone else in your market try it?

When you see something in another market that you appreciate, do you try it – even if you have to put a twist on it to make it work for you? Do others in your market do this?

Can you easily identify things that competitors in your market are doing that are holding them back? If you shine that light back on your own business, are you doing any of them?

If you aren’t a leader in your market, can you identify things that the leaders in your market are doing that you aren’t doing? If so, what’s holding you back from implementing them?

Improvement is a choice. Your place in your market is a point in time, it isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Desperate for business?

Recently, I drove past a local shop advertising everything they sell at 50% off. While I don’t like to assume, it’s hard not to wonder if such a radical price cut is anything else but a desperate move to make sales that aren’t happening for the “normal” reasons.

When an owner is desperate for business, (at least) two things often take place in an effort to turn things around:

First, an assumption is frequently made that price is the reason they aren’t selling as much as they need or want to sell. While that is possible, it’s a situation that is easy to research online, much less by listening and asking your clientele. You have to word these questions carefully, since the answer to “Would you like to pay less for what we sell?” will almost always be met with a “Yes!” If you haven’t done this work, then thinking that your sales problems are caused by prices that are too high is an unproven and dangerous assumption. Regarding the store in question… I’ve been in there and price is definitely not their problem.

Second, desperate circumstances manifest themselves in the behavior of sales and marketing. The most common symptom of this is focusing on “everyone with a heartbeat” rather than everyone whose heart beats faster when they see, talk about or think about what you sell.

The latter group is already bought in to the idea of what you sell, so they don’t have to be sold on the idea, but they will need a compelling reason to purchase this product/service from you, as opposed to someone else.

When you focus on everyone, many of them have yet to develop an interest in what you sell (if they ever will). Some portion of them still must be sold on the idea, much less the specific product/service you’re selling and then they must be sold on your ability to deliver it. Selling the idea is often the steepest part of the climb and requires the most energy. Unfortunately, the energy you expend trying to sell disinterested people in what you sell is wasted, leaving less energy for the prospects who actually care about your products and services.

So what’s a business owner to do when sales take a tumble? Ask a few questions.

How’s your value proposition?

Price often comes up first when value proposition is discussed. We’ve talked quite a bit about pricing in the past and the importance of not assuming that your prices have to drop simply because they’re higher than Amazon’s or Wal-Mart’s.

Thing is, pricing is just a part of the value proposition. The ability to provide immediate gratification, convenience, service, delivery, installation, faster delivery than anyone else, financing, access to product / service / industry experts, consulting and better-than-typical guarantees / warranty coverage all have value.

The difference in value prop between the vendor with the best price and the vendor who can roll out delivery, financing, on-site expertise, installation and follow that up with a fair price and solid warranty is massive.

These things take an investment in time, labor, materials and/or people. It’ll be tough to roll them out all at once. Talk to your ideal clients and find out which of these things are most important. Move on those things first. Keep the conversations going.

Why did they leave?

Everyone has clients who have left them, including me. One of the best things you can do for yourself, your business, your next client, and your existing clients is to ask the ones who left what made them unhappy enough to leave.

A few questions to get you started… How did we disappoint you? What promises did we break? What was the turning point for you that told you it was time to leave us and find another vendor? What product didn’t live up to our promises? How did we fail to meet your expectations? What told that you could no longer depend on us? Was price the reason you left? What would have kept you as a client even if our price was higher? What did we fail to offer you that you wanted or needed from us?

The key to all of this is that it isn’t about you. It’s about what they want and need from you. If stuff isn’t selling, there’s a reason. Cutting the price in half isn’t going to find it.

Do you value your clientele?

Business demonstrate what they value through their behavior.

Some businesses value what they do, those they work with and most of all, those they serve. They work hard for every lead. Every client. Every order. Every payment.

They work to improve their craft every day. They learn from the best of their peers, while extracting and fine tuning strategies and tactics observed in other industries.

They “over-communicate”. As a result, their clients have no doubt what’s going on during a sales process, an order, a refund, much less construction, manufacturing, delivery, repairs and ongoing maintenance.

When there’s a problem or miscommunication, they pick up the phone, they email or otherwise communicate all the necessary details, then work as a partner with their clients to create a win-win resolution.

When they market, good businesses do their best to create want, evoke need and make an irresistible offer without being slimy. The ones who value their clients most also talk about the importance of the everyday things they do for their clients that other businesses might also do, but never bother to mention (Example: Northern Quest’s housekeeping and security team commercials).

Let’s talk about that for a moment… These businesses set standards for these seemingly mundane details and train their employees so they can attain them every day. Rather than tell us about the food or entertainment, why do they remind us of tasks performed by staff who are all but invisible to some of their guests?

The everyday things that these staffers do may not be what makes you decide to make an initial reservation (or purchase) or choose their resort over another. Even after a visit, you may not remember these details weeks or months later, if you notice them at all. What they might do is make you notice the next time, draw attention to that aspect of your experience with them and/or provoke you to think more about them on your next visit to another facility. These mundane things are often the tipping point between going back to resort A or choosing their down-the-street neighbor, resort B. They’re the kind of things done by businesses who value return clientele.

These business will do any number of things to monitor and improve the things they’ve know will cause their clients to return.

They will systematically call their clients and ask for 20-30 minutes a couple of times a year (at least) to discuss not only how their performance has been, but what the current and upcoming expectations of the client are and what else they could do for that client in the future.

When confronted with a reality check about their service, rather than come back with a confrontational reaction, they ask how they could improve that situation – and others.

These businesses don’t show that they value their clients by thinking that they’re done improving. Instead, they are constantly looking for ways to improve – even if they can’t immediately implement the change.

These businesses don’t focus on the worst of their clientele. In some cases, they fire the worst, in others, they implement programs that raise the worst to a better place. They see it as an investment to help their clientele become better individual clients, whether their clientele consists of consumers, businesses or both.

These businesses invest in education internally and demonstrate the importance of delivering educational value to their market, which not only improves the market, but establishes their position as a leader in that market and builds their credibility.

These businesses don’t have a moral ambiguity about selling. They know that they have an obligation to their business, their employees, their employee families and their communities to make the effort to see that every possible prospect who can benefit from their solutions does so. They understand that this obligation to sell to the best of their ability isn’t just about them, but that it connects to the well-being of their clients’ businesses, their clients’ employees and their families and ultimately, to the communities where those families live. They understand that this obligation does not mean that everyone with a heartbeat is their prospect, so they carefully qualify who does and doesn’t get the opportunity to benefit from their products and solutions.

Do you value your clientele?

Looking to disrupt a market?

2015 is shaping up to be a big year in Montana for Startup Weekend. With the Billings event already under our belt and three more scheduled this year (Great Falls, Bozeman, Butte), lots of people are looking for startup ideas.

One place that gets a lot of interest is “stodgy” established markets that are lucrative but neglected from a modernization and/or innovation perspective.

It’s easy to point out markets whose former leaders felt things were good enough. Those markets now have to compete with Craigslist, Uber, Airbnb, SpaceX, Apple iTunes, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Expedia, Kickstarter, Zillow and so on.

Ironically, some of these companies have awakened their markets to the point where they are now being disrupted by startups and in some cases, by the original leader in the market.

Things are as they should be in these markets. We earn the privilege to stay in our market every day. When we don’t, we often expose opportunity we’ve ignored, provoking someone to disrupt a market.

Resting on laurels

It’s easy to look at existing markets for disruption candidate because so many existing businesses invite competition simply by virtue of how they treat their clientele.

For example:

  • Do you work with businesses that take you for granted?
  • Treat you poorly?
  • Treat you with disdain?
  • Treat you like they’re doing you a favor?

dWhen a business leaves you feeling like one or more of those, it’s difficult not to consider what it would take to disrupt them out of the picture.

Want to disrupt a market? Disrupt yourself

Look back at that list. Does your business you make your customers feel that way? If they do, one way to fix it is to disrupt yourself. So where do you start?

Four ways that startups disrupt an existing business (or market) are through speed, improved customer service, decoupling and unbundling. Two of these are forgone conclusions that you simply cannot avoid, speed and improved customer service, while the other two are rapidly becoming assumed competitive angles.

Speed – No one’s resistant to the market’s need for more speed at the same or better level of quality. Conventional wisdom says that it can’t be done – “Pick any two: cheap, fast or good“, but conventional wisdom rarely considers what the startup list at the top of the page not only tried, but accomplished.

Improved customer service – To be sure, there are companies out there that do well both in revenue while treating their clientele poorly, but their days are numbered. One by one, they will be picked off – and I’m happy to help their competition do it.

Unbundling – Unbundling involves separating the sale of an item from the delivery of that item. Expedia is an unbundler. They took services offered by travel service providers and unbundled them from the provider who delivers them, made it easy to buy and search for what travelers needed, sold them and collected their cut. Expedia got substantial market share because they made it easy to find and compare flights without having to deal with each provider’ web site and/or phone tree. Unbundling has somewhat limited scope because it only happens at consumption / purchase time, which is why decoupling businesses started popping up.

Decoupling – A decoupler pulls apart the evaluate-select-purchase process that used to be performed at one established business. Decouplers focus on radical improvement of a single part of the process. For example, retailers face competition from decouplers who might mail samples to someone’s home, allowing them to skip a trip to the mall to decide what they want. Once the mall trip is eliminated, another step in the evaluate, select, purchase process might be removed elsewhere. Any point along the evaluate, select, deliver, purchase process is a candidate for decoupling. While the social aspects of that trip to the mall can’t yet be delivered to your mobile device, there are plenty of other ways to address shoppers’ social needs.

Try Startup Weekend Therapy

Stuck on how to disrupt yourself? Take part in a Startup Weekend. I’d be shocked if a weekend in that environment didn’t provide you with ideas and mindset adjustments to bring back to your business.

Want more? Here are a few links to startup idea resources.

http://ideamarket.com/founders.html

http://www.paulgraham.com/ambitious.html

http://paulgraham.com/startupideas.html

http://www.inc.com/rahul-varshneya/4-places-to-look-for-your-next-startup-idea.html

http://old.ycombinator.com/ideas.html (this list is aging, but they might seed a useful idea)

http://www.ideaswatch.com/