Categories
Management

Take Friday off all summer? Crazy like a fox.

As summer approaches, we’re all itching to get out on the river, lake, trail, beach or whatever and take even the briefest vacation day. But, there’s that work thing. And for those who work in the restaurant or hospitality business, few owners even consider taking a day off, much less a Friday. Yet that is exactly what I’m encouraging you to do for the long term health of your business (much less yourself).

Yes, even during tourist season. You can roll your eyes and complain that you can’t leave the business alone on the (perhaps) busiest day of the week, or you can take steps so that you can actually do it without damaging your business. You know you need the vacation time, even if only a day at a time. What’s it take to make these days painless? Read on.

What happened last time?

Think back to the last time you took a vacation day. What went wrong? “Well, so-and-so did this incorrectly, and this customer was mad because we couldn’t do x, y and z – and it was all because I was out fly fishing.

It isn’t because you were gone. It’s because the team wasn’t prepared well enough. Fortunately, you’re in charge of fixing that.

I’m guessing you learned some problem areas the last time you took a vacation day. You probably made some process changes, documented some workflow, made a checklist or two, and maybe trained someone a little better. You might even have discussed among your team how they should (and are expected to) handle different kinds of situations when you’re gone.

If you didn’t do those things, it’s time to start. If you did do them, it’s still worthwhile to review this.

Prepare for next time

Think back to the topics / reasons that caused your team to call or email you while you were out. Document the processes that were involved. Train someone how to do them. Best solution: both documentation and training. Decide who will make decisions in your absence. Discuss that process with your team so they know who the go-to person is.

That go-to person needs a little extra care. First, discuss with them how you make different types of decisions. “I decided this” isn’t as useful to your go-to person as“I decided this, and this is why and how I got there.” Include the information that you gather before making a decision. Describe what your thought process looks like. For now, you want them to make the decision like you would – to the best of their ability, based on how you’ve trained them. To do that, they need these details. Ask them to write down decisions they make while you’re out, so you can discuss what happened &improve upon it.

When you return, assess how it went. If they did well, give them a little more latitude (and training for new areas of decision-making). Repeat the process. You’ll soon know if you chose the right person. If you didn’t, pick someone else. If you chose well, keep at it and have them train someone else in the same manner. Your current “decider” won’t always be around, or might be sick, or on vacation. You don’t want to be completely dependent on one person.

What would happen now?

Again, take Friday off. When you return, adjust, discuss, document, and (re-)train as discussed above. A few weeks later, take two consecutive Fridays off.

What happened? What systems, documented processes, and resources are required to let your team handle what happened and let you actually enjoy those Fridays? Again, adjust, discuss, document and (re-)train.

Soon you’ll know who you can depend on & who needs help. You’ll get a handle on the state of your checklists, process documentation, workflow, and checks &balances. You’ll have stronger People Fu (it’s like Kung Fu, but about knowing your team).

Next… Monday.

Now take Monday AND Friday off. Even if you work those days, your team needs the processes, checklists, decision making thought processes and advice that came out of your previous days off. As a result, they won’t need to interrupt you all day. They’ll know what to do, how to do it, and why you do it the way you do it. You’ll get more of the really important work done. Sure, you can work Monday & Friday if you like, but you don’t have to. Own the business instead of letting it own you.

Photo by Kyle Hanson on Unsplash

Categories
Direct Marketing Email marketing Marketing Sales

Make life easier on sales with time travel marketing

Ever have someone visit your store curious about buying a non-impulse item, get all their questions answered, only to have them turn around and leave without buying? Maybe they’re going out into the parking lot to check the Amazon price. Or maybe they simply drive off. Some might even order from Amazon while standing in your store. Most won’t. Even more mysteriously, the same person will return a few days (or hours) later and buy on the spot without asking a single question. Your sales team wonders what changed. If the buyer made the purchase from a different salesperson than the one who answered their questions, everyone else wonders what magic phrase the salesperson used to close the sale. In reality, they simply took the order and did no selling at all, at least for that person. Why does this happen?

I’m ready now.

Almost all of us have done this. We’re making a sizable and/or important purchase. We’ve done some research, made a few calls, searched a few websites and have more or less made a short list of what might work, what won’t, and why. But… we’re just not ready to pull the trigger. We have a few more questions (salespeople might call them objections) before we make a final decision. We go to the store, but not prepared to buy. We’re prepared to get answers. Two totally different intents.

On the other hand, the store’s sales team is prepared to sell. Sure, they’re prepared to answer questions, but really, they want to close a deal. We enter the store and even if the salesperson answers our questions perfectly, we leave. We say things like “Thanks, but I need to discuss this with my wife / husband / SO / dog / cat / boss, etc.” In some cases that might be true, but really, most need to convince themselves now that they have complete information.

Despite removing all those “Nope, this isn’t the right purchase” objections, they simply haven’t had enough time to sell themselves on the purchase. One of the things we sometimes forget when selling to people is the conversation already going on in their minds. They head to your store (or your website) to get answers, not to buy. At that time, they were not convinced to make the purchase, or at least not that particular purchase. Your staff or sales team answered all their questions and were trying to make the close, yet the person left without buying. You’re left wondering what you did wrong, what your salesperson missed, and maybe wondered if they used the “wrong close”. The salesperson probably did nothing wrong.

Time travel catches us as we think

Have you ever decided to buy a new home, looked for, and purchased one all in the same day? Probably not. You had to think about it, consider your options, weigh alternatives, gather information, and…. think about it even more. It’s no different with that car, rototiller, snowcat, four-wheeler, year of lawn service, or backhoe. This is the customer’s system for selling. It rarely matches up with store’s ideal system for selling (if they have one). Thing is, if you don’t have a system for selling, then you end up dealing with the customer’s system for buying.

People sell themselves to make sure they’re making the right decision. At that point, they’re *ready to buy* and move on. That’s why they often return & buy from the first salesperson who approaches them.

That’s where “time travel” marketing becomes important to the sales process. Marketing that considers the decision making process “goes back in time” from the upcoming visit to the store where you’d be answering questions but not making a sale. Ideally, it arrives in time to become a part of the buyer’s thought process. It answers questions before they get to your store, giving them time to consider their decision. Your materials (and your selling system) must consider the customer’s mindset and the conversation they’re having with themselves about that purchase. Knowing how your prospects make a purchase decision helps you create marketing materials that help people make a decision *before* they get to your store. It’s the same reason why pizza coupons tend to arrive on Thursday or Friday.

PS: Be sure to remind your customers that you can deliver *now*. Amazon can’t provide instant gratification like you can (at least not yet). Once we’ve made a decision, most of us want it now.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Categories
Feedback Management

What signals does your business send?

As our body ages & changes, it sends signals. We gain or lose weight. Our appetite changes. Fatigue comes quicker, and sometimes during activities that didn’t cause it in the past. Doing things we’ve always done without difficulty now creates pain, either during or after the activity. Businesses also display symptoms, though I prefer to see them a signals of something that’s changing.

Over the last few months, a business that I’ve frequented for more than a year has started showing signs that it’s having difficulties. Does your business show signs like that? Maybe some examples will help you see what your customers might perceive as signals.

Financial signals

I spend about 12 hours a week at this place. I suspect this is far more than most customers are in your business, so I may notice more than your customers do. Maybe. We all notice different things at different rates. My wife tells me my sense of smell isn’t very well developed, for example.

Over the last few months, I’ve seen signs of financial stress when visiting this business. Many of them have been maintenance related. For example, the only two water fountains in the building have broken twice in the first year they were open. The first time, it took almost a month to repair them. The second time, it took a day. They’re adjacent to each other and fail at the same time, interestingly. One of the men’s toilets has been disconnected from the wall of the bathroom for months. It still works, but there’s an almost inch wide gap between the back of the tank-less fixture and the wall.

Paper towels & toilet paper are present some days & scarce on others. The staff often has to be told that TP is empty. Paper towels are replaced by cloth towels. These towels are used to wipe down sweaty workout machines, so cloth towels that remain out in the facility for reuse aren’t a good solution. These things send messages to customers. Some notice, some don’t. Some care, some don’t. Do you ask your customers if they see any maintenance issues that you might have missed? Familiarity makes some of these things harder to see.

Management signals

If expectations haven’t been set for attention to details and follow up on repairs, these signals could be the result. However, this might also be a case of weak or absentee management. Sometimes, there’s one staffer. Other times, five or six, at the same time of day on different weekdays. While it feels like inattention, it could be the result of using staffing-level management tools used by major retailers. They tell you how many people to have in the store based on same day, prior year foot traffic/sales, etc.

Currently, one of the 16 televisions on the walls has been displaying the same still image for the last two weeks. It’s not unusual to find trash littering the floor in public areas. This business is a locally owned franchise. I’d never seen a manager around, so sometime last year I asked the national company about the broken water fountains that had been down for several weeks. They suggested I ask the local manager. Amazing that I hadn’t thought of that, right? The water fountains were broken again this week.

I hadn’t discussed the issue with a manager only because I wasn’t sure who it was – despite visiting this facility almost daily for a year. There’s no indication of who the manager is (by name, sign, uniform, badge, etc) or how to contact them. All the folks working the facility and the front counter seem to share the same responsibilities. The obvious solution was to finally get around to asking who the manager is and when they were on site. Does your company make it easy to identify on-site management?

Is your business sending signals?

The business used in the example isn’t the point. In your case, the signals could be that you never have parts in stock, or that your team is untrained (or under trained).

A couple of times a day, you might ask your customers if they notice anything that needs attention. That’s vague enough that it won’t taint their response and it gives them plenty of leeway to mention a top of mind situation. Take the responses as a gift – as most feedback of this nature is exactly that.

Photo by Xipu Li on Unsplash

Categories
Leadership Management strategic planning

Thinking about your thinking

Last week, we discussed single points of failure, noting that eliminating them from critical systems is a management responsibility. How managers think about critical systems (and everything else) directly impacts outcomes. It isn’t about being more sophisticated or smarter than others. It’s often as simple as asking a question that no one else has the nerve to ask, like “What (else) can go wrong?“. The TV station issue discussed last week re: the NCAA broadcast might have been avoided if someone had asked “What happens if our primary internet connection goes down during a critical broadcast?

The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is how you’re thinking about the problem.” – Dan Sullivan

Thinking “What can go wrong?”

It’s impossible to eliminate every threat to your infrastructure, systems, processes, supply chain, people, facilities, etc. It’s obvious to think about infrastructure (water, power, internet, health care, food, transportation). Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes will quickly divert your thoughts to infrastructure.

What if we can’t ship our products for three weeks?” or “What if we can’t get (normally JIT-shipped) raw material for two weeks?” seem like ridiculous questions until mudslides or avalanches wipe out your shipper’s critical rail route, or spring floods destroy critical roads / bridges near you.

Ask “What else can go wrong?” & “What can go wrong with things out of our control?” Prioritize these risks & start toward eliminating or minimizing the most important / likely ones. What workaround processes will you need if mitigation plans missed something? Should you should document these plans? (Yes) Should you rehearse the workarounds?

How has the business changed?

Asking how things have changed can alter your thinking.

20 years ago, a Fortune 500 company might’ve had 20, 200, or 2000 locations. Today, they might have 20-50% fewer locations. Those locations might be larger, smaller, in more/fewer countries. Management at those companies are used to those changes. What’s different from 30 years ago (much less 10) is the potential added complexity of having thousands of remote workers across the globe. For that population, connectivity and power are still critical, and the risk is better distributed. Damage to a single facility shouldn’t sideline thousands of remote workers as it once would have.

Our customers, products, services, facilities, and people change all the time. While the pace and nature of this change varies, it happens to all of us. Our mindset and our history is a big part of it. When it comes to thinking about how our company has changed, our mindset and worldview about our past is a huge influence.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten about this is: “Look at your (and your company’s) past, decide what you want to take into the future, and forget the rest.” That doesn’t mean you forget the lessons or the history. It simply means you don’t let them come along as baggage that weighs down your thinking.

What are we assuming?

When doing a review of a “disaster” (whatever that means for you), it’s pretty easy to see the mistakes that cascaded into disaster. Imagine the value of seeing these mistakes in advance. By default, we make assumptions. Lots of them.

When driving from Billings to Cheyenne in the winter, we know to top off in Sheridan or Casper (or both) because we can’t assume that the drive will be uneventful. Running out of fuel because you had to sit still with the car running for four hours at -10F can be a life-threatening oversight. An assumption like “We have enough fuel” could be your last if things don’t go smoothly.

What conditions, supplies, staffing do we assume will be in place? If your top three salespeople get an ugly case of stomach flu the night before the biggest trade show of the year, what’s tomorrow look like? While unlikely, you need a plan.

If boxes of materials don’t show up at the show, you usually find out the day before the show. Even if the show staff finds them, it might take a couple days. By then, the show will be over. What’s your plan? Do your people have the info / means to find substitutes on a Sunday afternoon in a city they aren’t familiar with?

What did we ignore / forget?

Is maintenance up to date? Is the condition of equipment, people, vehicles, etc what we think? Dashboards and checklists save us from simple oversights / mistakes that can cascade into something you’d rather avoid.

Categories
Management

Blame for failure is irrelevant

After a long week of travel, I returned home today to learn that a fair number of people didn’t get to see their favorite (or “new favorite”) team play for a Final Four spot on Sunday. Apparently there were some communication issues that prevented some local stations from receiving the feed of the game. A sports reporter for one of these stations blamed their internet provider for the downtime. They indicated that their control system connects through a remote link (whose doesn’t?) and the internet connection between them and the system was down. Thus, it was the internet company’s fault, right?

Symptoms of failure

Without that connection, we don’t get anything to air“, the reporter noted.

That seems like it might be a problem. What could we do so that this type of failure never happens again?

As described, a single connection to a remote location is the dependency for a major network television affiliate’s network content. The ability to deliver content created by the network – something they likely depend on for about 20 of their 24 of airtime each day – depends on a single internet connection.

Most of the time, the ability to access the parent network’s television content is not critical path functionality to a community – even though it’s likely considered critical functionality by the station. If the connection goes down, maybe they have recordings or cached programming they can play. However, there are times when live content could be critical in a life or death situation. This station is located in a part of the Midwest that is subject to tornadoes. Perhaps they have their own technology (radar, etc), content, and experts for those critical situations.

Bottom line, the station has a critical system with a single point of failure.

This isn’t the problem. It’s a symptom of the real problem: management.

A management problem

While TV coverage of a ballgame isn’t a problem on the scale of the situation with the 737 MAX, the station’s viewers are likely unhappy about the outage. If your sports bar pays that TV station (and their network) a big check so that you can show their content, you might also be upset. In the latter case, you also have a management problem if you only have one source of sports content in an environment that depends on sports. You get the idea.

I’m guessing most TV stations have generators to keep things running during power outages. How many have redundant internet connections from different suppliers? Even if you can’t afford a full-time redundant connection, you can schedule access via a second provider during periods when losing your feed could create massive problems. Not foreseeing possible connection issues at the worst possible time is more a failure of imagination than anything.

The management problem is allowing any critical system to have a single point of failure.

You’re the cure

A single point of failure may not as bad as losing electricity or internet connectivity. It could be people-related as noted during last week’s brain drain discussion. To summarize, if you don’t have checklists, documented systems, and well-defined processes, you could have a single point of failure when you lose an employee. If their work is critical path, your business risks temporarily losing the ability to take care of its commitments.

This is particularly critical for a working owner. If they do work that no one else at the company can do, they’re a possible single point of failure. At risk: The company and the personal economies of every employee family. What if the owner has a stroke or gets hit by someone who ran a red light? The company’s future is probably altered forever.

The work of avoiding such failures must be done in advance. It takes vision and imagination.

The situation is most dire when this owner happens to run the town’s biggest employer. The economy of the entire town could be crippled overnight. A lot of employee families could be placed in a terribly challenging situation – the kind of thing that cascades across a town’s economy.

Despite this risk, I don’t believe a town (or a state) should “guarantee” a company’s success. It’s the duty, obligation, & responsibility of the town & its people to avoid getting into a single point of failure situation. Once a town’s economy is destroyed, neither blame nor a legislature can fix it or the financial situations of her residents.

Photo by David Kovalenko on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Management

Knowledge loss – The pain of brain drain

I had a conversation about “brain drain” with an old friend this week. “Brain drain” is the loss of business-specific and/or industry-specific knowledge suffered due to employee attrition. When experienced people leave a company, they take their brains with them – including all their knowledge and experience. Losing specialized knowledge can be painful even when someone isn’t moving to a competitor or starting a competitive firm.

My friend’s customers tend to be large, with thousands of employees. He has a tool for collecting data about the workflow, business structures, and processes in these organizations. The data becomes a logical representation of the business – a model. That model (database) describes the company’s jobs, work, roles, “work products”, etc. It’ll eventually help you identify connections between those components of the company. Collecting the data is a significant effort, but this is understandable. Large, complex organizations are extremely difficult to fix, much less keep running on their own. Having a reference for what the company does, how it does those things, and how it communicates is essential. A model or reference allows you to create consistency. It identifies the systems and tools will help the company improve their performance. It serves as a lens that brings the company’s inner machinery into focus. The effort and payoff both grow as the organization size increases. This effort (and it’s price) also mean it’s something a small business would almost never do. 

Small business brain drain – a foregone conclusion?

Brain drain can create nightmares for small businesses as well, but you don’t need massive processes and expensive tools to tackle it. How do you protect yourself from this? Use the same type of process, without the expense.

Identify the roles your team has. In a small business, people tend to wear multiple hats. Each one of those is a role. If you’re small, you might have someone who fills five roles during their work week. What skills and training will a future new hire need to successfully perform this role? What processes and tools will be involved? Is experience and/or training required? Someday you might be big enough to make that role require a full time person. For the processes they must perform in that role, is there a checklist? Is there a form?

Experience hides

Lots of knowledge is buried in undocumented business processes & related timelines. When finally documented, you’ll find innate knowledge that’s been seared into the team from unknown people or situations. There will be “we do it this way but I don’t recall why”. You’ll learn about long-held (possibly valid) assumptions passed down among team members that no one’s documented. Information hides inside experienced people who for years have done their job, refined processes, and trained a new co-workers. Many lessons go undocumented, despite being learned over many years of work. They came from the impact of many small refinements over time, thanks to lessons they learned along the way. This “what and how but not why” is unintentionally hidden from management, carefully sequestered in unwritten job descriptions.

We hide this knowledge in forms and their workflow. It hides in unwritten, but known expectations, and in undocumented metrics that someone here probably understands. Sometimes there’s data available, sometimes there isn’t. Some of this data is never used because we didn’t have the time, tools, or desire to learn from it. Much of this data is documentation of what we and our team members do every day.

Once you identify each role, follow the paper trail in your business. It’ll tell a story. Follow the data. Ask why of your data, your forms, your processes, and your people. Document the answers, the reasons, the surprises, and the gaps. This information has real value, so keep it up to date.

What the hurt looks like

If an experienced team member retires, quits, spends a week in the hospital, or takes a leave to care for a family member this month, how will you…

  • Get their work done.
  • Recover the knowledge of what they did and knew not to do.
  • Meet the deadlines they own.
  • Maintain their contacts/relationships inside/outside the company.
  • Deal with vendors & internal/external customers who are suddenly not being attended to / hassled appropriately / held accountable / cared for / paid / billed, etc.

Someone will leave sooner than you expect or hope. Get ready.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Categories
Management Project Management Time management

The power of delegating

How much of what your company does absolutely MUST be done by you? How many hours a week do you spend doing those things? What if you could do 10-20 more hours of that per month. After a few months, what if you refined that new ability three or four times? Think hard about that. At that point, you would be able to spend 10-20 hours more per week on the things you and only you must do. How would that change your business? For that matter, how would it change your life? I learned this magic from a mentor who is pretty demanding about getting people to work on the things they’re best at – and nothing else. While not everyone can do that much delegating right off the bat, this process still leaves plenty of opportunity to gain valuable time to do the work no one else can do. 

Choose someone else

Perfecting the art of delegation (or at least refining it) is something that takes time. Identifying everything you do that can be done by others… doesn’t. If that seems tough, just identify the few things you do that no one, absolutely no one, can do for you. Now it’s easy: delegate everything else.

Yep, that simple. Start with the easy stuff.

Say you want to send flowers to your mom for her birthday. You can call the florist in the town where she lives and work it out with them. Maybe you prefer to call 1-800 whatever, or a local florist and ask them to make it happen. Or you can do none of that – and delegate the task to someone with as much or little detail as you like. Your mom doesn’t care that you didn’t make the phone call. She’s happy you remembered her and thought enough to send flowers.

You might be thinking “that was only 10 minutes on the phone”. Or 15. Or 20. Plus following up, if needed. Whatever. The time for this one task isn’t all that relevant. Look at the big picture and add them up. The point isn’t how much this one task takes. It’s about how many tasks like this are consuming your time each month.

Turn it up, by turning it around

Once you start getting into the groove of delegating, it’ll get easier over time. Thing is, there’s a way to completely rethink the process and realign how you look at new projects. When a new task or project pops up, think first about who else (ie: not you) can do the work – unless the work is on that (probably) short list of things that only you can do. Who else can manage it? Plan it? Track it? Lots of people, right? Let someone else do those things. They’re important, but that doesn’t mean someone else can’t do them. You focus on the portion of the project that’s work for you – and nothing else.

Multiplying the impact

Want to take this a bit further and multiply the impact? Start teaching it to your managers and skilled team members who get distracted / side-tracked by work that someone else could do.

You might be wondering “If everyone is delegating this work, won’t that require more people?” Yes, it might.

Thing is, if your managers and highly-skilled team members are doing enough of this work that it requires one or more people to complete it, that’s a problem. It means that your managers aren’t spending all of their time managing (hard to imagine, right?) Instead, they’re doing work that someone else can do. It also means your highly-skilled team members are spending an inordinate amount of time on things that other team members can do.

For managers, the problem is that when people, projects, relationships, and product delivery isn’t managed well, the entire company is affected. In the case of highly-skilled team members, we’re talking about high value, high cost, high return on investment work. Any time your highly-skilled team members are spending time on other tasks, they’re getting more expensive by the minute. Worse yet, they become more expensive when they spend time on random tasks that have nothing to do with their skill. Removing any non-core task from these folks increases their value and allows them to contribute more to the company’s bottom line. In some cases, this newly found time opens up sales opportunities because these folks can produce more of the thing you hired them to do.

Photo by Sayan Nath on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Management Small Business

Retiring business owners

I consistently meet business owners who are about to retire, considering retirement, just retired, or are somewhere between those places.
I suspect this happens because I’m on the north side of 50. No matter the reason for these encounters, I wish retiring business owners planned a bit more for the run up to retirement. They tend to have the personal side of things handled. On the business side, my experience is that the typical retiring business owner plans to either close the business down, pass it to family, or find a buyer when they decide it’s retirement time. In some cases, there isn’t a lot of advance thought into the approach to this possibly massive change in the business.

You might be thinking that you don’t necessarily care about likely changes that can occur after the sale – no matter their nature. Thing is, buyers do care. Buyers write a check or get a loan for a presumably large sum of money. Getting a good return on that investment is always on their mind.

Employees also care about the changes that can come with a buyout. Things that create concerns among new owners are staff morale, the staff’s surprise to find that there’s a new owner, the staff’s concerns about the viability of the business, etc. “Why’d they sell it?” “Are we going to lose our jobs?” “What about the redundant positions between the two companies?” “Will there be staff cuts?” As a retiring business owner, your mind is elsewhere. This may seem like it isn’t worth worrying about. Even so, these concerns are quite normal. Think back to the days when you were an employee.

Employees and changes

Employees always have concerns when a business changes hands. It’s not hard to find stories broken promises made when a large business is bought by a new owner or merged with another. Everything is champagne & roses at the press conference in an effort to keep everyone calm & avoid disrupting the business. Employees aren’t dumb. They’ve seen friends & family deal with these situations. They’ll be understandably concerned that they’re in for the same. If you don’t have experience with this, ask around. I doubt it’ll be hard to find someone who’s had a bad experience with this. Anyone from Columbia Falls can explain it.

Morale is always a concern. New owners bring a new culture to the business. The change may or may not be positive. If your staff doesn’t have to worry about that once the sale is announced, they’ll be less distracted & concerned. They’re less likely to be involved in gossip about what might / might not happen with the “mysterious” new owner. This may seem silly to worry about, but people work for you for a reason & money isn’t all of it.

If you’re nearing retirement age, your team has already wondered what you’re doing with the business at retirement. They just haven’t asked you. You might think it’s none of their business, but they often ARE your business.

Before finding a buyer

Finding a buyer sometimes happens quickly. For some, it can take years, which can be excruciating to a wanna-be retiring business owner. There are so many dependencies. Sometimes it comes down to luck. Someone happens to know someone who is ready to buy and things simply happen to match up.

Make sure your business is truly ready to be sold. That means it’s ready to buy, take over, and run. Processes are documented. Job descriptions not only exist, but they’re up to date. Accounting is clean and tightened up. Marketing pipelines are reasonably consistent. Sales conversion is predictable. Supply lines and vendor relationships are solid.

Make sure there are as few “bodies” as possible. When I say “bodies”, I mean “bad things I’m going to find if I dig enough”. You might have heard this phrased as “I’ve been here long enough to know where all the bodies are buried.” It’s a perhaps roughly toned way of saying that you know the good & the bad of a business. The strengths, sure. But also the weaknesses that few know, much less talk about.

The fewer bodies that exist at “Hey, we’re for sale” time, the better. Most prospects won’t see them. The truly interested? They’re exactly the ones who will dig deep enough to find them – the last ones you want to give a reason to walk away.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Categories
Direct Marketing Email marketing Internet marketing

Moving the needle

I recently received an email from someone who creates marketing materials. They’re trying to expand their business and having some trouble. They’ve been approaching the top 100 companies in a particular niche after reviewing their website. The approach involves sending them an email specific to a perceived marketing-related need based on their website review. Unfortunately, the effort isn’t getting much traction. That’s why they approached me – to get some help guiding their efforts. They shared an example of the work they might create for someone. Bottom line: They’re trying to move their own needle by moving someone else’s. I have a few suggestions. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Who has the problem you can solve?

The top 100 companies in any broad national market are going to need a very compelling reason to give you any attention for any reason.

A company of this stature has a marketing team, a plan (hopefully), goals / desires, a budget (probably), and they think they know where they are going marketing-wise. Is there an experienced marketing VP or similar at the helm? Probably. Does their marketing team have a (presumably) well-thought out, strategic plan for “hitting their numbers”. I’m referring not just to achieving the lead and closed sale numbers they want.

Companies at this level worry (sometimes legitimately) about mind share, buzz, PR and other metrics that don’t necessarily reflect the quality of their ability to find a lead and convert them to a customer. They’re a top 100 nationwide company.

Is is possible their marketing team is working with a national media / advertising / marketing firm? Do you have experience working with teams like theirs? Do you have a track record of working with companies of their size and stature? You’re going to need to show them that you can play their game on their field.

This group can be difficult to win over. It’s likely that you’ve approached them about something that, while legitimate, may not be on their radar. This group is typically worrying about much bigger things than a tactical omission on their website, for example.

Suggestion: Rather than going after the top 100 companies nationally, identify a few of the best local companies that you’d like to work with. Perhaps they’re in the national market you’ve chosen. It’s much easier to find local companies that need marketing help. Start by focusing on a market you know best. If your skills help one “blow up” (in a good way), you’ll be in demand – and not just there. It will help you decide exactly who you want to be a hero to (and how). From there, it’ll be easier to head into national markets.

Are they mortally wounded?

What you’re missing in the top 100 market approach is identifying what they see to be a profusely bleeding neck wound. You need to identify something so bad that they’re almost embarrassed to talk about it.

What fatal mistakes are they committing? What about their process is so bad that they’re avoiding conversations about it with the owner or EVP? What are they having hand-wringing discussions about at the local watering hole after work? What marketing problems will senior management be grumbling about over dinner, at the golf course, or on the ski lift with other senior management types? Their perception is this: Problems of this nature aren’t going to be easily solved by someone who emails the marketing team about a tactical issue.

Identifying what’s perceived as a missing tactical item on their website is unlikely to generate any interest. Even if you’ve identified what you feel is a fatal mistake on their website, getting their attention will be difficult. These folks receive pitches regularly. Most of them are lazy, fill in the blank style pitches that do nothing but talk about the company doing the pitching. “We can be YOUR (whatever). We’re experts in this, we’re experienced at that” and so on. There’s no conversation about the desired client, their business, or their problem. There’s certainly nothing about the solution that would make them say “These people totally get what we’re struggling with. CALL THEM NOW!”

I realize these aren’t the problems you proposed to solve, but they’re the problems that team is focused on. The profusely bleeding neck wound demands attention.

Suggestion: Choose people whose “marketing wounds” are severe and life-threatening. Show up with exactly the cure they need.

Go deep

Once you’ve identified a prospect, a generic B2B message won’t do. While many in your desired market have similar pains that seem ideal for a fairly generic message, such messages rarely get anyone’s attention. Each of these businesses think their business is totally, completely unique. Hint: They almost never are, even if what they do or sell is unique. That doesn’t mean your message can treat them generically. The message that communicates your proposed solution has to be targeted carefully so that it doesn’t even remotely resemble the random pitches they’ve getting.

If you’re looking for more specific work, you need to dig a bit deeper. The more specific your proposed solution is to their problem, the better your chances. The better you’re able to demonstrate that you understand them, their market, and their struggle – the more likely they’ll be able to realize you’re the right one to help them. From your perspective, the work may be the same work for 10 or 100 of them. From theirs, that isn’t the case.

If you’re looking to help with their website – dig deep on their site. Sign up for whatever freebies and newsletters they have. Are they delivered as promised? Do they provide the information they promised? Do they communicate the message effectively? Do they compel action? Is the information in a format that’s ideal for the desired audience? Does it include options for people who consume visuals or audio better than text? Are those differences important for this audience? What’s missing? Is there a “bleeding wound”? Is there a “What’s next?” Is there a call to action? Is there a head-scratching disconnect? Do the various parts of their site, their emails and other opportunities to engage seem to fit together? If not, what would tie them together and make them work together to get the prospect what they need, make it easy for prospects to determine that whatever they sell is right (or isn’t) for them?

Ultimately, you have to look to them like the only person who really understands them and their problem. If you work hard enough to make them feel that way, you probably are.

Photo by Doruk Yemenici on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Employees Sales

The role of a salesperson

I recently took a short business trip to Southern California. I conveniently missed out on the single digit and sub-zero temperatures and harsh winds that chilly Montana week. As if winter was following me, my hosts found ice on their lawn furniture one morning during my visit. While there, my host served a really nice Cabernet Sauvignon. When I got home, I called my local wine specialist to see if they could get it – it was that good. When the salesperson answered, I asked if they carried the particular winery and vintage of the Cab. They replied, “We don’t have that one, but we have plenty of other cabs.” I then said, “I understand, but right now, I’m looking for this specific one…” – and before I could finish my sentence to ask if they could custom order it – they hung up.

Opportunity missed

While I appreciated the “we have plenty of other cabs” portion of the salesperson’s response, it’s a weak effort to fulfill the role of a salesperson: Help customers meet their goals / needs and if your goods / services fit those needs – sell them. If your products / services don’t fit their needs, think long term: Send them in the right direction so they still get some value from your employer. You might think that when Macy’s Santa in 1947’s “Miracle on 34th Street” sends customers to another store it’s simply sappy old movie scripting. Perhaps it is, yet it’s also exactly what’s customers want and appreciate.

Customers value when your experts share their expertise to help them solve a problem. It’s exactly why Ace Hardware has (and promotes) the presence of “helpful hardware” people in their stores. When we enter a wine store, we expect the employees to know more about their wine (if not most wine) than we do. If you’re a local restaurant’s sommelier that won’t be true, but most of us aren’t.

Why do we enter a particular type of business? We’re fond of the product / service. We’ve gained more expertise than most over time & enjoy sharing it. People come to experts because they don’t have the time and perhaps funds) to become one – or they need expert advice soon. We have a problem to solve or a need to fulfill. Most of us are happy to exchange payment for that expertise or purchase advice. That’s why I called the wine store.

The problem with the wine store call was the answer I didn’t receive, not the answer I received. I wasn’t asked if they could try to order it for me. They didn’t offer to check with their distributor and get back with me. They didn’t even finish the obvious part of “we have plenty of other cabs” with “such as this, this and this.” I called them because the store doesn’t have stock on their website (with or without pricing). Sidebar: At first, I thought it might be illegal to list wines on your website in MT, given our love/hate relationship with our sometimes inane alcoholic beverage laws. Nope. I eventually managed to find a Montana wine store who listed specific in-stock wines on their website.

Wanted: A well-trained salesperson.

These days, the difference between a great salesperson and a good one doesn’t really matter in most situations – including this one. It’s tough to hire great salespeople because they can work anywhere. In some environments, they’ll make more than the CEO / owner. At a retail store, a passable salesperson is one who knows the product. A good one knows the products (maybe loves the products too) and makes an effort to help the customer solve the problem that brought them to your store. This doesn’t happen simply by having people fill out a W-4.

It takes training. Not one day. Not a sheet of paper with a checklist, though that can serve as a cheat sheet in the early going. Hire people who like the game you’re playing, and like the people you’re playing it with. Make them more valuable to you by training them to be better salespeople of what you sell. They should know the goods and services better than most customers. They should know why people should choose this over that. Sure, they might move on someday. In the meantime, an untrained or under-trained salesperson reflects on you and your store, not on them. You know what breeds loyalty in your customers? Knowing that there will always be a considerate well-trained expert in your store.