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/

The Pace of Change

If things have seemed a bit frenetic in your business lately, you’re not alone.

Many markets are experiencing a rapid rate of change – and in fact, the rate of change is accelerating. As a result, businesses, governments and even National Football League officials are struggling to keep up.

For example, if you watched the Super Bowl Sunday night, you could see it happen on almost every play. The offense would go into a formation, the defense would react before the play started and the offense would react to that, again, before the play started – with the quarterback changing the play or aspects of the play multiple times in the seconds before the ball is hiked.

Ask Florida State

This sort of pace isn’t unique to the Sunday’s game, it’s a normal part of football these days. If you saw Oregon play Florida State in college football, you saw a similar thing. Rather than using half a minute to stand around and talk about the play, Oregon was averaging a play every 16 seconds – meaning 16 seconds after a tackle was made, they were hiking the ball to start the next play.

For Oregon, this is normal and their conditioning and play calling is designed around it. For most opponents, the pace causes confusion and wears out their defensive players to the point that Oregon often rolls over exhausted defenses in the later stages of the game. The pace of change in the game is not what most opponents’ physical training or play calling training is designed for. As a result, teams often end up reacting on a play by play basis, rather than working their plan. Sometimes, it isn’t pretty, as Florida State found.

This sort of pace isn’t accomplished by simply speeding up the normally slow parts of the game. To execute at this pace requires smarter players, smarter coaches, better technology, as well as training regimens, on-field communication and play calling mechanisms designed to play non-chaotic football that feels chaotic to opponents.

The pace of change in business is no different

Things are no different in business these days and if your market hasn’t experienced it yet, it’s possible that you simply haven’t noticed, or you’ve perceived it as a temporary bump in the road that’s made things feel a bit more chaotic than normal. Be very careful about seeing this as temporary. From what I’m seeing and reading, that bump in the road is a new normal.

The accelerated pace of change has been obvious in the technology space, where there are well-known graphs showing the ever-shrinking time it’s taking for broad market technology adoption to reach a solid level of adoption.

This chart shows the rate of technology adoption accelerating from 1873 to 1991, yet the pace of change during that period is nothing compared to the adoption rate of the last 10 years, where reaching 50 million customers has gone from several decades (telephone, radio) to at most, a few years.

While the adoption time to 50 million users for the iPod (three years) vs. the radio (38 years) may not seem important to your business, the changes hitting your market are accelerating.

Is keeping up…enough?

In the fastest markets, keeping up is incredibly difficult – if not impossible. Yet some are not only keeping up, they’re pushing the changes.

Historically, when the speed of a technology or business function accelerated, it took a while for the level of quality and safety to reach steady state. These days, systems are often built into “the next big thing” (for this quarter) that enable quality and safety to remain stable.

Waiting for things to slow down…isn’t going to happen. If your business is affected by these changes, the methods you use for planning, tracking, finance, execution, supply chain management, manufacturing, hiring, security, business models and many other things have to keep up – and keep keeping up at an accelerating pace.

Keeping up while needing to accelerate your ability to keep up…that’s the trick.

The dangerous thing is thinking that your business isn’t affected by this. Finding a business that isn’t affected by 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, “big data” or cloud computing isn’t easy.

What’s easy is fooling yourself into thinking that it might not affect your business.

Planning for a strategic trade show

Last week, we discussed why you shouldn’t skip a trade show. During that conversation, I mentioned that you need to work trade shows strategically and with a plan.

This week, I’d like to elaborate on what that means. In order to do that, let’s break down what happens at a trade show.

Who attends a trade show?

First, let’s consider who goes to a trade show, as that’s a critical piece in planning what you do.

Attendees break down into two or three groups. You’ll have up and comers and newbies to the business of all ages. You’ll also have industry veterans – people “everyone” knows. They may have worked for several vendors and/or market leaders in the industry.

The industry veterans may have created groundbreaking new products, processes or services in your industry. Some of them will be so knowledgeable and so well-networked that they are not only the go to person for anyone who needs an answer, but they’re also right person to offer the backstory on that answer and can give you a list of the subject matter experts who know even more about that particular topic than they do.

These attendees will work at your clients, competitors, partners and prospects. Your trade show strategy needs to consider how your pre-show and post-show marketing communicates with each of these attendee subgroups. Your products and services are often targeted at different expertise levels, sophistication levels, experience and/or business sizes. Your booth’s message and the overall presence you have at the show needs to be crystal clear about communicating in a way that provokes attendees to think to themselves, “Those are exactly the people I need to work with.

Smart attendees come to the show with a plan. They want to meet certain vendors, find certain products, investigate certain services and renew their relationships with existing vendors. Think about how you can help an attendee get the most out of the show. How you do that may differ for clients vs. prospects.

Partners and competitors

Shows give you a unique opportunity to meet partners, improve your network, discuss plans and check up on competitors. Don’t be shy about introducing yourself to the people in your competition’s booth and be pleasant about it. You never know what a conversation will lead to. Even the largest industries boil down to a network of influencers who set the tone and make things happen. You want to know who those people are and you want them to know of you, particularly if you intend to be one of them.

Their booth and overall presence at the show will say a lot of how they’re doing, what they intend to get out of the show and how important the show’s audience is to their business. Study what they’re doing – and what they’re not doing. You might get ideas (or not), but knowing what they’re doing will help you understand what this show means to them.

Email and the phone are great when you have no choice, but face to face discussions with potential and existing partners can be far more productive means of communicating, while building and strengthening the relationships that great partnerships require. Take advantage of the brief face time you have with them.

Run up and follow up

One of the biggest differences between companies that leverage their appearance at a trade show and those who don’t is what they do before and after the show.

Today’s shows either seem to be growing or shrinking. How will they find you? How will they recognize your booth from the other end of the aisle? Why should they make the effort to attend a shrinking, but still-important show? What important client-only events should they attend?

Your communications prior to the show should help them not only be a better attendee, but also help them learn and plan how to make the most of the resources your business will be offering at the show.

Will your experts be there? Trying to get some private time in a busy booth to discuss a client’s not-so-public projects doesn’t work too well. Give them time to set appointments in advance in non show floor time where possible.

We’ve only scraped the surface of what you need to think about when planning a strategic trade show appearance, but this is where you start.

Exhibiting at trade shows – Why do it?

Should we go to every trade show every year? Some of these shows cost us well over $7000. The one show that we want to skip this year is part of an association. They have about 300 members. We know just about all of them and know what they are using. Of course, a bunch of them use our product.

Anyone who has attended a trade show knows why this question is being asked.

Avoid the knee jerk

Our thoughts first jump to the time, trouble and expense of trade show travel, time away from “real work”, conference center shipping and logistics, being on your feet all day for three to five days, skipping meals and sleep as you work 6:00 am to midnight while your friends, family and co-workers think you are “vacationing” in Orlando or Las Vegas, much less the general aggravation of things like paying $300 to rent a 10′ x 10′ piece of cheaply-made, unpadded carpet.

Trade shows can be a hassle. They require a sizable investment in time, money and people to participate, so the natural response might be “Let’s think of reasons not to go.

Don’t do that.

Why go when you own the market?

If you don’t go to a show or association meeting because you feel you own the market, what message does it send?

Here are a few possibilities:

This vendor doesn’t care enough to show up and talk to us.

This vendor only shows up when they think they can close a bunch of deals.

This vendor takes us for granted.

If your competitors are there – these are some of the ways they might position your decision not to attend, or they might simply say “Think about why Company A wouldn’t show up.

Think about the show from the point of view of the attendees who invested in your products and services. Will your absence tell them you’re taking them for granted? Remember, these people helped you gain your dominant market position by investing in what you sell. By attending these events, they’re identifying themselves as the ones who care enough about their business and their industry to step away from the office, learn what’s new, learn what is (and isn’t) working in their industry and brainstorm with peers and vendors about solutions.

Do you prefer to listen to the ones never involve themselves in such things?

Seth calls these people your tribe. Dan calls them your herd. The concepts are different, but their needs are similar. Herds require attention and care. Your clientele does too.

Herds? Really?

I don’t refer to “herd” with the mindset that your clientele is a mindless bunch of cattle. Instead, consider “herd” from the viewpoint of a rancher. How do they attend to their care, oversight and feeding?

Do they let the herd eat what they want? Deal with the weather without concern?  If a predator appears, do they simply let that predator kill off a few of the herd? If someone shows up to rustle part of the herd, do they sit back and let it happen?

Ranchers provide the right forage and plenty of fresh, unfrozen water, while protecting the herd from predators, rustlers and other threats.

They care for the members of the herd because they know each member of the herd is returning a ROI. They know what it costs to lose a head. Do you?

While members of a cattle herd don’t choose to be there, clients can choose to leave, as can tribe members. The care and attention you provide has a great influence on their choices.

What opportunities will exhibiting at a trade show present?

Find out what concerns your market today – from the current perspective of the leaders in your market, rather than from insights and perceptions that may have been formed years ago.

It’s an opportunity to talk with someone who uses another vendor’s product. If they won’t switch to yours – isn’t it important to know why? A face-to-face, eye-to-eye discussion may yield critical insight, or it’ll confirm that those people aren’t your ideal clients. Either way, it’s valuable info.

What will you gain from a stronger relationships with your clients and other vendors in your market?

Trade shows are unique gatherings of the best clients, prospects and vendors. They’re a big opportunity – if you work shows strategically and execute them with a plan.

The shortcut to easier sales

One of the more common questions I get is “How do we find a shortcut to easier sales?” The shortcut starts with a few questions…

Who is the ideal person for your product/service and what is the specific situation your products and services solve for them? You’ll know it’s them if they would look at your “menu” of available products and services and say “That’s exactly what Ive been looking for.

If you are thinking things like “I’ve been a little frustrated with sales lately.” or “I’m frustrated with my website. I’ve been having trouble figuring out what the site should look like, how the sales process should look, etc.” then this is quite likely the source of the problem.

The reason this is a problem is that the conversation your sales process and / or your website engage in isn’t the conversation going on in the minds of your potential customers. It’s not what keeps them up at night. It’s not what’s on their mind when trying to make payroll, much less when trying to figure out how to pay themselves AND the bills.

To have that conversation, you have to have a much narrower focus on each type of person that you’re selling to.

Who is your target market?

Is the answer a single word or phrase? Is it a paragraph describing what you sell? Or is it a description of the people and/or business AND the situations those people are trying to address by using your products and services?

Is the answer “I don’t really know?” or “I thought I knew but now I’m not so sure.

Imagine that you are taking one of these people under your wing. Who would be the perfect person for you to do that for? Can you describe them and their situation in detail?

Example: They’re a couple in their early ’60s. The husband is about 10 years older than his wife. He’s retired. They’re both from Brazil but are naturalized U.S. citizens. The wife’s employer is closing down, so she’s looking for a way to supplement her income. Try to describe people in their situation.

The accurate but not useful answer is: “People who need an income“. A better start is “retired people who need an income” and “retired expats who need an income“. These are two different groups. For someone who is looking to serve people with these kinds of problems, there are probably dozens of similar groups with important, yet subtle differences.

If you tell me your clients are “lawyers”, I would suggest that is an incomplete answer. What kind of lawyer are they? Personal injury? Family law? Transactional? Estate? Tax? Each of them have different conversations, potentially different clients and they’ll each have different conversations with their clients.

The most expensive marketing mistake

The most expensive marketing mistake you can make is trying to have the same conversation with each of these groups. The “…with important, yet subtle differences” part is what changes the conversation with each group.

You need to narrow things down so you can have a conversation with one person (even if there are 100,000 of them) rather than 100 different people who have a related issue that this product will solve for each of them.

Pick one, do that one. Pick the next one. Do that one. You can only grab one person’s attention at a time and encourage them to solve this situation. Who will it be? Be specific.

Introduce me to your market

There are two pretty common ways to get to the bottom of this.

One is to role play introducing this person to someone who knows nothing about them, but will be immediately expected to be effective selling product or service that the salesperson is familiar with to the expat couple once your introduction is complete. I think you can imagine that to go from knowing nothing to being effective selling to them is going to require more than insight than “This is Joe and Mary and they need an income“.

What would you say?

The second method is to identify a familiar / famous person who fits the mold, if one exists. Introducing them might be a bit easier since you likely know something about this person and will be able to dig into quickly.

The shortcut to easier sales starts with knowing your audience better than anyone.

How to make a good upsell

Thanks to cloud services, my hardware needs have shrunk substantially in recent years. This makes it easy to pace and plan hardware upgrades for what little hardware I have left.

However, reality sometimes gets in the way. Yesterday, my wife’s laptop died so I had to take immediate action.

It was a lesson in fulfillment, point of sale retail and how to make a good upsell, or not.

Bad upsells undermine trust

Every time I update Java, the Oracle-owned technology’s installer offers to install the “Ask Toolbar” as an option.

The default is “Yes, install the Ask Toolbar” and may also ask to change your home page to the Ask search engine page. My guess is that Doug Leeds (CEO of Ask) doesn’t even use Ask as his home page.

According to three different independent references in Wikipedia, the Ask Toolbar is considered malware: “Ask.com is noted for a malware toolbar that can be surreptitiously bundled in with legitimate program installations, and which generally cannot be easily removed from most common browsers once installed.

Every time I update Adobe Flash Player, the Adobe-installer offers to install McAfee anti-virus. Naturally, the default is “Yes, install MacAfee.”

Since Microsoft bought Skype, the Skype installer now asks to switch your default browser, switch your default search engine and install a browser plugin that changes what happens when you click on a phone number. Of course, “Yes, please make all those changes.” is the default.

In all three cases, these defaults are the last thing you want to do.

The point is that these actions give the impression that these companies are willing to damage their reputations (and our computers) and undermine any trust we might have in them by injecting these out-of-context (or damaging) upsells into the process of using their products.

Why bad upsells annoy us

As long as we’re paying attention, these things are easy to bypass and only take a moment to do so. Anytime we’re installing software on a computer, the prudent user should be paying attention. We should not be clicking through the install to “just get it over with”, yet many do exactly that and find themselves victims of these unscrupulous install processes.

They amount to bad upsells.

These situations annoy us because they change our experience with the vendor’s product and make us be on our guard at a time when the vendor’s trust should be assumed – when we allow them to take brief control of our machines so their software can be updated.

It’s the worst possible time to do something to undermine trust, yet that’s exactly what these and other vendors do. It’s the worst kind of upsell, even though we aren’t being asked to open our wallets.

So how does that relate to a new laptop?

Good upsells are helpful

Deciding what to upsell is as important as the act of asking about it. When someone asks me how to make a good upsell, I suggest that they focus on being helpful.

If someone brings a couple of cases of canned drinks to the checkout stand, a helpful suggestion is “Do you need any ice?

If they bring five quarts of motor oil to the checkout, it makes sense to ask about the kind of vehicle they have so you can help them select an oil filter.

Even though we buy gifts for people all year, only jewelry stores tend to ask if if we’d like complimentary gift wrap for a purchase made January through October. Gift wrap is an upsell, even if it’s free.

We get distracted or forgetful in these situations by thinking beyond the moment, so the right kind of upsell can save us time, fuel, frustration and embarrassment by reminding us about important but briefly forgotten items.

As with any marketing, you should test your upsell to see what works so you can stop doing what doesn’t. A better ice question might be “Do you have enough ice to keep these cold all day?“, but you won’t know this unless you test different questions and measure the results.

Does the upsell help the customer remember something that compliments their purchase? Does it help them make the purchase more effective, more productive, more valuable to them?  Does the upsell build trust or undermine it?

Bottom line: Does it help them?

Reinvigorate your business on a budget

While I suspect you’ve already done your strategic business planning for 2015, you might still be wondering what else you could do to “turn the knob” on all or part of your business.

It’s a natural thought process at this time of year. In the words of Saturday Night Live… you think your business needs more cowbell.

Here’s a checklist of baby steps you can take that will help you reinvigorate your business without spending a ton of money.

Marketing

The best way to not spend a ton of money on marketing is to track the response you get. You can do this with tools ranging from a yellow pad and a pen, to a spreadsheet, to sophisticated software. The key isn’t the tool you’ve chosen as much as it is that you actually track response and make future marketing decisions based on what those responses tell you.

For example, if you advertise on the radio, on cable TV, in a newspaper, email, web advertising and via direct mail, you need to be able to tell which of those are making the phone ring AND making sales happen. It may not be one of them, it might be all of them or a subset of them.

You need to know which media work for you and which don’t. It doesn’t matter if one works for someone else if it doesn’t work for you.

Likewise, sales copy that works on the radio may not work on one or more of those other media.

You need to know which campaigns work on which media.

Ultimately, you need to know what works so you can stop spending money on what doesn’t.

Accounting

Do whatever it takes to make this as easy as possible. Without a clear view into your numbers, you might be making decisions that are taking your business in the wrong direction.

If this means getting help, find a way – even if you have to use temporary help or an online service. If it means changing the tools you use, do it.

Even though accounting is not particularly sexy or fun, it’s the only scoreboard you have.

Sales

Close the sales prevention department.

The “sales prevention department” includes all of those things that make prospects shrug their shoulders and walk away.

Among other things, it’s the sign that they can’t read, the phone that wasn’t answered, the salesperson who didn’t attend to them, the cashier who barely looked up from the register except to look at their phone, the website they can’t use to do business with you, the process that made buying not worth the trouble, and the inane, repetitious paperwork that wore them out before they could give you their money.

Customer service

If your customers bought something in the last 90 days, have you followed up with them simply to check that their purchase did what they wanted? What if it didn’t? What did they do? Was your staff of any help?

Follow up.

Back office and Infrastructure

What costs your business time and money every day? If you asked each staff member what would help them do their work more effectively and efficiently, what would they say?

Ask them. You might learn something.

Cover your assets

If you can’t find instructions that would help someone restore your data if computers were stolen or burned up, your business is at risk. What are you going to do about it?

Do you care if your business outlives you? If you do, ask yourself this: “What would happen to my business over the next month or so if I died in a terrible accident today?

Communications

Can you reach all of your customers with a message personalized to them?

Can you reach all of your customers without placing an ad on TV, radio and in the newspaper?

In both situations above, can you do so by the end of the day today? How about the end of next week?

Website

I could discuss this topic in great detail and suggest lots of changes, but remember, we’re talking about reinvigorating your business website on the cheap.

Does your site have your phone number on it? Does it have a map on it? Does it have your physical address on it, where appropriate? Little, easy to forget things make all the difference.

 

 

Defending your business

Business is not easy and we (business owners) make it harder by making what will later seem like silly mistakes. Hopefully, we learn lessons from those mistakes, much less a bit more often.

That isn’t necessarily the hard part.

Sometimes, business gets tougher because we get the wrong kind of help. The kind of help I’m speaking of includes things that your clientele and staff might do or say, things that get published in the news, or even changes to regulations that don’t affect your business directly, but affect how your clients run theirs.

One of your jobs as owner is to anticipate and build defenses against situations that could threaten or even destroy your business.  You should anticipate these things, defuse them, prepare for them, and work around them.

Anticipating these situations is what allows you the time to defuse, prepare for and work around them – that’s really what defending your business is all about. Most of these situations will present themselves whether you like it or not. The secret is being prepared for them in advance.

Clients and Prospects

Most client and prospect related situations can be avoided with proper sales and service training. A number of these will come to you in the form of sales objections, misinformation, price shopping and other things that your marketing is designed to deal with.

Reacting to these situations in the moment will often produce a solution that hasn’t been well thought out – and usually hits profit first, while setting precedent you don’t want to set. Anticipating and training for these things will prevent the need to react rashly in most cases.

Media, Industry and Gurus

It’s easy to place the blame on the media – particularly today when some news outlets act more like news creators and take part in less than authentic clickbait campaigns to get your attention.

Media includes far more than the local or even national papers. It includes the trade organizations and industry groups that affect your market, and the “guru” types who command attention of your market.

The key is to be monitoring everything you can that relates to your business, your clients, your clients’ business and any external entities that affect them. There are plenty of automated tools out there to make this easy.

Monitoring isn’t enough. You have to lead the market by taking a position on what’s going on. Some will follow, some will not.

Regulatory Changes

There are a couple of angles to consider.

One is for the business that simplifies the act of dealing with government agencies of any kind, at any level. These businesses also live and die by the frequency and volume of changes in those regulations.  It can be a bit of a roller coaster ride.

Ideally, you need to make sure that these regs aren’t the sole reason your clients do business with you. If your model is designed and totally depends on the ability to help those who need to work within the regs and nothing else, you’re at risk. Rather than depend on a single revenue stream, use the knowledge you’ve gained about these client and their business to find ways to help them in addition to the ways you help them deal with regulatory challenges.

Another angle is all about staying on top of the changes that affect your clients and leading them in the direction that keeps them out of harm’s way. Any efforts you make to combat these issues are a different, and perhaps simultaneous, path while the rest of your efforts are still at work.

Equity

One particularly strong way to defend your business is to build equity into your business model.

You might think that you can’t do this because you don’t deal in real estate or stock, but that just isn’t so. If your business model allows you to know that you have sales booked for the next 30, 60 or 90 days (if not beyond) – that’s the sort of equity I’m speaking of.

Having those sales booked in advance, regardless of how you’ve done so, gives you the flexibility and freedom to make better decisions when defending your business, because you aren’t thinking about how you’ll make payroll next week when making those decisions.

Defending your business is one of a business owners’ strategic responsibilities. What are you doing to defend yours?