Strategic notepad: Small Business Saturday

The Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday rushes are over. If things are going as planned, your sales are on target with no signs of missing your revenue budget for the holiday season. Unless things are going poorly, you might not have started thinking about what you’ll do differently next year – yet now is the perfect time to plant the seeds for those changes.

Why am I asking this moments after the Black Friday / Small Business Saturday / Cyber Monday trifecta? Because the wounds from the sting of procrastination, “didn’t have time to get it all done”, and “shoulda / woulda / coulda” you suffered through the last few days are still sensitive. While the tenderness remains, and the rushes are behind you, it’s time to take a brief moment to reflect on what you learned the last few days, and continue to make note of what you notice over the next few weeks. How long is brief? Long enough to make a note. This doesn’t need to be an afternoon of deep thought.

In the heat of these rushes, did you notice things you’d forgotten to do, prepare for or setup prior to Thanksgiving? Did you notice things that weren’t organized or communicated as well as you would have liked? Did you notice things that could be improved? Write it down.

Simple examples: Did your business run out of coffee, shopping bags, change, receipt paper or rewards plan signup materials? Were all of your shifts covered with enough people, but not too many? Did you have enough inventory on special items? Were shelves restocked/pulled enough? Did a certain group of customers not show up? Did you have the new client traffic you expected? Write it down.

Planning and backdating for Small Business Saturday

You probably have a list that helps you keep things sane for November / December, and that list probably includes tasks that have to be performed months earlier. Are these items already on your calendar with perpetual reminders? Are they backdated to build in sufficient time for completion? Are their prerequisite tasks given sufficient lead time to avoid cascading deadline failure?

For example, to get a mailing / email / Facebook promo (better yet, all three) out prior to Thanksgiving weekend, your marketing calendar needs tasks for promotion planning, email sequence planning, ad / email copywriting, artwork creation, printing, etc. You can’t wait till November 1st to start. If it didn’t happen this year, build it into next year’s calendar so it DOES happen. Write it down.

Write it down now, consider and plan later

While the memory of your “How did we miss / forget that?” moments are fresh, take a moment to make some notes so that when you have some solitude / planning time, you don’t forget the little things you noticed as the rushes occurred. Put a pad next to each register, next to the phone, next to the coffee pot, next to the back door, next to where you keep today’s mail.

Notepads in all of these places allow you and your team to jot down something in the heat of the moment while “that thing” is fresh in your mind. Take a moment at the end of the day to consolidate (and date) the notes for the day. If there’s anything you can take immediate action on, get that done ASAP and review the rest later.

It’s critical that you go back over what went well and can be improved, as well as what didn’t go so well. Don’t wait until you finally relax for a few minutes after January’s inventory and try to remember the little things that happened weeks earlier. You won’t remember them and that will likely mean you’ll encounter them again next year. Keep these notes and your calendar for 2016 updated with the things you notice every day for the next 5-6 weeks.

Include your staff in Small Business Saturday planning

Encourage and remind your staff to write these notes and initial them so they can provide more details when time permits. They probably see different things than you do, and often from a different perspective. Their feedback will likely have a more direct impact on your clients’ experience as well as the ability of your staff to deliver to the best of their ability.

Take advantage of the lessons, gotchas, highs and lows. Write them down.

And after Small Business Saturday?

Besides being a particularly busy Christmas shopping day, this coming Saturday is “Small Business Saturday”.

Once a year, American Express (organizer of Small Business Saturday) encourages shoppers to shop at a small local business and offers marketing materials to help small businesses take part in the event by encouraging locals to shop their store.

While you might be thankful that Amex makes an effort to place shoppers’ focus on small retailers for that all-important Saturday in November, and for the (hopefully) positive effect it has on your Christmas season sales, Small Business Saturday (and the holiday shopping season in general) is far more important than a one day sales boost.

For many shoppers, it might be the one opportunity you have all year to get their attention and leave an impression on them that helps them remember to shop your store all year long. Bottom line: Amex has gotten the ball rolling for Thanksgiving Saturday. The other 51 Saturdays are on you.

Not simply another sales day

Even without Amex’s help to promote Small Business Saturday, it’s an opportunity to do so many things because you’ll see shoppers you usually don’t see.

Show them why they should shop at your place more often. Make it clear to price shoppers that your prices are competitive, and if they aren’t, make it clear that your prices are justifiably higher because your products/services are of higher value, or that you deliver more, save time, save hassle, etc.

Use this opportunity to engage shoppers in recurring purchase opportunities, but do it in a way that makes sense for your clientele, not simply because I suggested it.

Collect contact information. While some are protective of this info, it’s often because their contact info has been misused or used ineffectively. No one wants to hear more noise, but most people will happily accept valuable info that helps them. Tell people what you will do and do that and nothing else. Let them be selective about the resources you send them rather than giving them only one choice.

You might have lists for monthly promotions, value shoppers, last minute (or low stock / closeout) deals, as well as for special events. Let THEM decide what list they’re on and treat that list with great care.

Make your place a refuge from shopping mayhem

We’ve all seen the news stories and video of the ugliness of box store Black Friday sales. People are fighting traffic, fighting for parking spaces, fighting to be one of the first 62 people to get the Barbie Turbo Fashion Corvette, fighting massive crowds and so on.

Don’t let your store become a part of that. REI decided to close their store on Black Friday. To be sure, some of this is about publicity and this decision was likely made based on their Friday sales figures (think about their clientele), but no matter what really drove the decision, they really are making a point about not taking part in what goes on during Black Friday.

While closing shop probably doesn’t make sense for you, the idea to stand out and take steps to be a refuge from the mayhem is a good one.

Standing out in a crowd

Think about the things that reduce the enjoyment that people get when shopping for gifts for the people they love:

  • Starting at 4am
  • Lines
  • Crowds
  • Parking
  • Dealing with “those people who only seem to drive/park/shop one weekend a year”
  • Shortages of items
  • Hauling around the day’s booty

Everyone’s list might be different. What steps can you take to take the pain, hassle and aggravation out of their day?

While it might be too late to plan and execute a big splash, do nothing wastes everyone else’s efforts and puts off your gains for a year. Even if you start today, a focused effort to do what you *can* do will help.

If you have a preferred client list, this is a great time to bestow a nice benefit for those who have earned the right to be on that list. Offer them valet parking, special shopping hours all to themselves and deferred pickup of items.

Let them order by phone or via your website, even if you aren’t setup to take their money until they arrive for pickup.

Next year, plan your Small Business Saturday

Next year, be sure to plan and promote your Small Business Saturday event well in advance.

Ask your local retailers group and your Chamber of Commerce to get involved in promoting the event both to shoppers and to local retailers, if they aren’t already.

Take advantage of the effort Amex is making, and the resources they provide to make Small Business Saturday your own – and not simply a one day bump in sales.

Your referrals leave an impression

Recently, I received an email from someone who described a rather unpleasant home improvement job, which involved the purchase of materials and a subsequent installation of them. We like these things to be boring – meaning everything went smoothly with no drama.

This one doesn’t appear to be turning out that way.

When I say rather unpleasant, the job describing to me included the theft of building materials by a contractor who was referred by the company where the materials were purchased. They also described bill padding on two occasions by the contractor, once for materials, and once for the labor. I’m told the referring supplier reimbursed the customer for the stolen materials, and that the contractor first offered to reimburse for the padded bills and then disappeared.

A few things about this merit discussion: First, there’s probably more to the story. Second, these situations almost always leave clues before bad things happen. Finally, this is really about how much care are you (the business owner) take when you refer someone to help your clients.

Do no legal ties mean no responsibility?

Referrals made in these situations are typically made to businesses with no legal ties to the referring business. You can understand why a referring business would make a point of distancing themselves legally from the folks they refer, but *does the lack of a legal connection matter to the consumer*?

Only legally, if that. And only until you establish a pattern of referring people to your clients regardless of how the referred vendor performs. The corporate line will almost certainly be one of maintaining that legal separation and that the consumer must be responsible for selecting a contractor.

The thing is, if you are going to go to the trouble of referring someone, why do it poorly and without conviction?

Taking the wimpy, “no legal connection” angle is not how you make business personal. I understand that there’s a desire to avoid burdening the corporate parent with the possibly sketchy behavior of a local contractor. What I don’t get is why you would recruit and refer contractors with so little care that it’s simply a matter of time before you run into trouble.

Even if there’s no business relationship and no legal responsibility accepted by the referring company, only a fool would believe that a referral doesn’t reflect on the one who makes it. So why do it poorly?

Why not refer well?

The smart business who makes these referrals will recruit, select and refer contractors that are so good that they leave the kind of impression that you can’t wait to refer them to your clients. Help your customers choose by giving them the tools they need to choose the best contractor from your vetted list of referrals.

The smart business who makes these referrals won’t stop there. They’ll follow up with every referral after the job, perhaps during each job until they’ve developed a level of confidence in the contractors they refer. It isn’t enough to recruit and select well – you have to keep it up. These people represent you whether you like it or not. Make sure they do it well and make sure they understand the importance of the work you’re sending to them.

The consumer bears the burden too

Part of the story that I left out up to now is that the referred contractor asked the customer if they could pay in cash because of some irrelevant reason.

If you (the consumer) don’t immediately disqualify a contractor who asks this question, you shouldn’t be surprised if (when) you have problems with them. In this case, that’s what happened. I told the consumer that this should have been a red flag to expect trouble.

When I get this question, I ask myself what else they want to skip.

Will they skip work that would result in dangerous construction? Will they skip town with my money? Will they skip town with materials? What else might they do while having access to my home or business? Did they skip buying insurance? What else did they shortcut?

The smart business will remind their clients that while working this might save you a few bucks, it might also cost them a lot.

The quality of your referrals matters. Make sure they’re worth giving.

Sunshine marketing is self defense

Have you ever signed a non-compete, non-disclosure clause as a condition of employment? Do you make your employees and / or contractors sign one?

I’ve used/signed a few over the years. Companies can’t risk serious insider knowledge of their business by having employees pass it to their competition. Non-competes provide a mechanism to protect yourself but their scope should make sense. Historically, judges aren’t inclined to prevent people from earning a living, as long as they haven’t stolen their former employers’ intellectual or competitive assets.

Non-compete, non-disclosures make sense

General Motors wouldn’t want a senior executive to jump to Ford after absorbing a substantial amount of internal GM intelligence. Asking that exec to sign a non-compete, non-disclosure with reasonable scope makes sense.

However, there’s a new class of non-compete clause users: companies in low wage service industries. We’re talking about clauses that limit job mobility for people who make sandwiches, deliver food and bus tables. These broad non-competition clauses prevent entry-level employees from working for another business within a distance of two miles.

These clauses are gaining scrutiny because of the conditions they create for the employee. Rather than risk the perception of being sued or being unable to change jobs, they may stay in an unpleasant job for fear of repercussions. Not all employees will care about this, but some will.

Sunshine solves a lot of problems

While I doubt you’ve ever worried about not being able to hire a new employee because they might have worked at a certain franchise sandwich shop in the last two years, it’s bigger than that. They’re limiting your potential employee pool.

What if your next amazing employee didn’t fit in at that shop but fears that working in your pizza joint might land them in court? From the employee’s perspective, there are a number of unpleasant scenarios that a fear-mongering boss could wield over those who signed one of these broad non-competes. These concerns could keep someone in an unpleasant, dangerous, illegal or unfavorable position – or they may leave the restaurant business forever, even if they love it.

The answer is sunshine.

When you come into a room and turn on the lights, cockroaches head for crevices. When you pull a tarp off of a pile of lumber in the spring, the critters hiding inside scatter for cover.

Likewise, you need sunshine marketing to shine a light on situations like this.

“Worried about your non-compete? We gladly hire former employees of X-Y-Z. We’ve got your back.”

“Our employees have the freedom to come or go as their needs change. We hope they’ll stay and grow with us, but if they move on, we aren’t going to chase them with lawyers.”

“Our team is happy to serve you because we pay a good wage and provide a fun place to work. The secret to our success is our focus on providing great food (or whatever), great people and great service, not shackling our team to a non-compete agreement.”

You get the idea.

Sunshine marketing to the rescue

Why would I suggest provoking a local franchise owner and their corporate parent? Because they’ve already declared war against your business. As a condition of employment, applicants (regardless of job role) must sign a non-compete agreement preventing them from working at any business within two miles if 10% or more of the business’ revenue comes from sandwiches – including yours.

In other words, everyone they hire must sign paperwork saying they can’t work for you. Are you going to take that?

What will happen if you hire one of their former employees? Most likely, nothing. Do franchise owners have nothing better to do than visit competitors to check for the presence of former employees? If their former employee works for you, will they file suit? Can they afford the cost of dragging you into court for something this frivolous?

If so, let them.

The court of public opinion will crucify them and it will be your responsibility to hand the cross and nails to the local and national media. Even if the corporate parent supplies the franchise with free legal support (doubtful), you’ll have the kind of PR that dreams are made of: a corporate parent threatening your locally-owned business with legal action because you hired a (probably) minimum wage employee trying to support their family or pay their way through college.

Are you going to let that slide?

Who benefits when snow, cold and ice shut down a town?

All over the U.S., winter seems to be having a little fun with us.

While in many places, we’re also having fun with it – a lot of places are pretty well shut down by this year’s winter road conditions. Without the staff and equipment to handle serious (for their area) winter storms, many communities are left to play an economically troubling waiting game until the roads melt.

In Atlanta, the highways were strewn with abandoned cars. In Birmingham, traffic was bumper to bumper at one a.m., despite what looked like not much more than wet streets.

Having little experience with this sort of weather, no snow tires and living in a community whose plow staff and equipment are limited or non-existent for obvious reasons – people were just stuck, both at home and elsewhere.

Who benefits in normally warm climates?

For one, companies who support telecommuting.

The obvious benefit is that those employees or contractors were already home (or close – like at a local coffee shop) rather than some distance away in an office park or commuter traffic.

What isn’t so obvious is the lack of strain on their families because those people are simply… home. Yet they can still work. The technology to access everything that’s needed from home has improved vastly in the last few years and it continues to improve.

Not every business can support full-time telecommuting, but almost every business has “desk jobs”, such as design, technology, administrative, sales, and customer support – all of which are telecommute-friendly.

Consider being flexible enough to suggest that staffers with “desk jobs” work from home on bad weather days or when it’s expected.

It’s a simple idea… have you tried it?

What about trust?

You might say “We can’t trust some people to do a full day’s work at home.”

There are at least two problems with that.

1) If you can’t trust them to do a full day’s work at home, what else can’t you trust them to do? And if you can make a list of such things, why are people you can’t trust working for you in the first place?

2) If they struggle to reach the office and leave early in hopes of arriving safely at home, are they doing a “full day’s work”?

Opportunity with frost on it

One thing people tend to realize when they’re stuck at home is how sensitive their lifestyle is to “being out of (whatever)”.

If you sell “whatever”, I hope you deliver it. If you don’t want to deliver it, that’s OK.

However, if they buy it often enough, be thoughtful enough to recognize how often they buy it – and remind them so they don’t run out. You don’t have to be a nag, just remind a little – and offer to deliver if you wish.

Studded Snows

While these problems don’t impact people in the North too much, “bad” weather opportunities exist in cold climates as well as warm. When it’s nasty outside – regardless of what “nasty weather” means, people tend to stick close to the business until closing time.

Where’s the opportunity in that?

Restaurants properly equipped to travel in these conditions can deliver food. Grocery and other “retail essentials” like pharmacies could do the same.

Pickups and deliveries of products and employees are an option when normal means won’t work and time is critical. How can you help your clients simply get things done?

These things are common sense, but how many times has a restaurant called your office during a blizzard and offered to bring your staff lunch?

Have you gotten an email from a local shop or auto dealer asking if anyone at your business had a car that needed attention? On a day when the roads are not so hot, they could pick up and deliver a vehicle rather than having service people sitting around waiting for service appointment no-shows.

One more thing

These opportunities aren’t always limited to your community.

The obvious way for your business to reach beyond your local community is your website. I know, it’s 2014 and maybe I shouldn’t have to mention it, but there are still a lot (yes, a lot) of businesses out there without websites.

Is there something you do that can be sold beyond your community’s borders?

Photo credit: Kevin W. Burkett

Omaha! Omaha! Omaha!” – Who knows, but it can’t hurt”

Broncos Defense

Any number of claims will be made about this weekend’s Bronco victory in the AFC Championship game, but one stands out above the rest.

Sponsorship evaluation firm Front Row Analytics said the city of Omaha got its money worth with each verbal mention of Omaha worth the equivalent of $150,000 in advertising.

This claim, from an ESPN story about Manning’s calls during the game – each of which generated donations to Manning’s Peyback Foundation, ignores marketing reality and most likely determines the value of advertising based on conference championship football game advertising rates.

Problem is, that’s not what determines the value of advertising – though it can impact the price.

While the PR and donation campaign by the Omaha Chamber is pretty smart, don’t even think about believing the claim that “each verbal mention of Omaha is worth the equivalent of $150,000 worth of advertising”. In no universe is this claim going to hold water.

It’s quite clear that Omaha Steaks’ SVP Todd Simon understands the nature of this project – in this quote from the same ESPN story:

“This is really great for Omaha as a community and for the businesses that are embedded here,” said Todd Simon, a senior vice president of Omaha Steaks, which his family owns. “Who knows whether any of this will translate to the bottom line, if ever, but it can’t hurt.

The emphasis in the above sentence is mine.

Don’t get me wrong. This was a very intelligent project by the Omaha Chamber and they should be quite proud of what they pulled off. It’s particularly impressive to see them jump on it so quickly and get something fun, beneficial and PR-friendly organized after last week’s game against the Chargers, where Manning said “Omaha” 44 times.

It’s also a great example of the “Use the news” tactic that we’ve discussed repeatedly in the past.

“It can’t hurt”

If each of Manning’s 31 mentions of “Omaha” are worth $150k, then Front Row should be able to describe how Omaha can track those mentions to purchase / investment and related actions made as a result. Obviously, I don’t believe they can do this. They can certainly inquire at every sale made over the next few months, but this is unlikely to produce results that would provoke someone into additional advertising investments.

Small businesses should not be investing their marketing budget in “who knows…but it can’t hurt” advertising.

Every bit of your advertising spend can be tracked so that you know whether it worked or not. Don’t let it out the door if it isn’t trackable.

How to use calendar marketing

SpaghettiOsPearlHarbor

When I say “calendar marketing”, I’m talking about using the context of historical events and dates, holidays and current events to spice up your marketing.

Done right, you can briefly tie what you do to the event, date or holiday, have a little fun and perhaps get the attention those about to buy.

Like any tactic, there are right and wrong ways to use it. Like any tactic, there are right and wrong ways to use it – as the SpaghettiOs social media team found out on Pearl Harbor Day.

While social media provides good and bad examples, keep in mind that your efforts in this area can be leveraged in almost any media.

Doing it right

Doing it right involves asking yourself a few questions.

Q: Who will see it?
A: If it’s good enough, everyone. If it’s stupid enough, everyone.

With that in mind:

  • How will you feel if everyone sees it?
  • How will your customers react?
  • What will they be inclined to do?
  • Will it makes things better or worse for your business?

No matter what – Think it through.

Oreo is a good example to watch, but even they slip up now and then:

AMCOreo

How do I know I’m about to do it wrong?

If your thought process is “Let’s use their memory, our logo and wrap them together in the flag in our marketing”, that would be wrong. Stupidly wrong.

This shouldn’t have to be explained to you.

Anyone who isn’t doing this in a strictly robotic fashion has to have this thought process going on:

  • Remembering Pearl Harbor – Good.
  • Slapping your flag-wrapped logo on it – Dumb.

While SpaghettiOs managed to apologize (and delete the earlier tweet), your goal is not to put yourself in this position. Some found it offensive, some stupid or at the least – felt the message could have done without the cheesy brand + flag graphic.

No matter what, it distracted from the reason for the post in the first place – to encourage their customers to take a moment to remember.

SpaghettiOsPearlHarborApology

Numerous major brands have misfired on things like this. In each case, you will see calls for whoever wrote the original tweet to be fired, or for their agency to be fired. That doesn’t make it any better – it just makes a few angry people feel better for a few minutes.

For a small local business, national outrage is unlikely, but you could provoke a local boycott or worse.

Have a “Reason why”

Earlier this week, USA Today had this headline re: Mandela’s death (hat tip to @JSlarve and @SameMeans for catching it):

MandelaUSAToday

The point is not to point out the mistakes that major brands make. Everyone makes mistakes. There are plenty of examples to learn from.

What you need to keep in mind is WHY you are creating this content (doesn’t have to be an ad) in the first place:

  • To honor someone? Fine. Keep your brand and schtick out of it. Stick to the topic. Say what you feel. The old GoDaddy always remembered Veterans Day and the Marine Corps birthday – and you never saw their typically cheesy stuff in those pieces.
  • To be funny? Make sure it really is funny, rather than funny at the cost of some group or individual.
  • To provoke someone to buy – see the prior two and then consider every bit of copywriting experience you have.

Your message has to be focused on that reason – whatever it is.

Connect rather than being just another “Me too!” marketer

Ill-advised content aside, calendar-based marketing is an effective tool when used thoughtfully.

The temptation is to do “Me too” marketing here. Things like a holiday-themed sale on a holiday weekend are not going to stand out in a crowd of me-too sales.

Sometimes connecting national to your business to local works well. For example, you might have Super Bowl-related promotion or event that encourages people to visit/buy and make note that you’ll be passing along a percentage of Super Bowl related promotion/event sales to a local youth athletic program. It doesn’t have to be football and it doesn’t have to be a percentage.

In Columbia Falls MT (pop 4000ish), Timber Creek assisted living facility hosts the Rotary “Brunch with Santa” community Christmas event in their public areas. While no one is selling assisted living that day, hundreds who would never go inside otherwise get to see how nice the place is – planting a seed that might sprout next week or years from now.

How do you know which customers want to be an insider?

Coffee Cupping

This past weekend, I checked off two to-do- list items with one visit to @OnyxCoffeeLab.

First, I was looking for a good locally-owned place to sit, sip and write. A coffee shop.

Second, I was meeting with the founder of a @StartupWeekend-born startup to discuss how it would go forward.

It started off nicely enough with a chat with the baristas about the Northwest (one of them was from Pullman, WA), including some agreement that NWA’s current 18% gray winter sky is right out of a classic Northwest winter.

After some solo writing time, my meeting guy arrived. As we finished our discussion, a group of people entered together, filling the table’s remaining 10 seats. Soon after, the shop’s owner came over and started assembling a mass of small coffee cups, bottled water and other gear.

Turns out that a couple of hours earlier, I had settled into a seat at the Onyx Coffee Lab‘s cupping table.

Lean Customer Development

What I witnessed next was a nice session of customer development.

In addition to enjoying some new-to-me coffees, I watched as the owner exposed already-bought-in customers to new products that he’s considering for their product mix. None of the coffees we tasted are available for sale – the owner was still determining which ones he liked and presumably was using the reaction of this group to refine his opinion.

Later, I found out that the shop does cuppings (think “wine tasting” for coffee) almost every Saturday at 10 am. Sometimes they discuss different brew methods or other coffee geekery – always with a dual focus on education (building a better customer/spokesperson) and the coffee itself. This week, the education component included some help understanding how the coffee business grades coffees, ie: specialty vs run of the mill vs “not-so-specialty” coffee and how the various acids and sugars in the bean result in what we taste and feel when we have a cuppa Joe.

I didn’t discuss this with the owner after the cupping, but I suspect this was not only done in the interest of Lean Startup style customer development, but also to gather some feedback from those bought-in customers – presumably some of their biggest, best-engaged fans – as well as to build on their fanbase while pulling existing fans a bit closer.

I wish these sessions were on YouTube. They’d make a nice series for new fans to review as they choose their next “thirdplace“, much less for fans who missed a Saturday.

Oh yeah, the coffee

Coffee nerds, if you’re wondering what we tasted, we had:

  • Brazil Caturra
  • Burundi Bourbon (pronounced burr-bone, which has nothing to do with Jack Daniels)
  • Guatemala Geisha (no, nothing to do with Japanese bathhouses)
  • Ethiopian Heirloom (this one seemed to be the crowd favorite)

I preferred the last two, but I wonder if the order of their presentation provoked that result.

All in all, it was a great combination of StartupWeekend, coffee and the use of Lean Startup principles. Yet there’s one more lesson you can take from it.

In what position do they see you?

How can you can tweak and use this for your business? By understanding that a cuppings aren’t just about coffee, they’re about positioning.

  • The owner shares his coffee insight, education, expertise and knowledge with a group of customers who appear to be insiders. Almost everyone else in the shop is watching and listening intently since they don’t have a seat at the table (it’s first come, first serve). Some of them want a seat at the table.
  • The owner gets to meet with customers who have raised their hand to show they’re interested at a level beyond the customer norm. These folks will talk about the shop, its coffee, the cupping and anything else they felt was important. These people have other friends with common interests – including coffee. You know it’ll be discussed. In fact, you just read what I shared about it.
  • “Raising their hand” says “I care about, enjoy, have enthusiasm about coffee at a higher level than your average customer.” Just being a customer at a “coffee lab” shows a higher than typical interest in coffee. These guys go beyond that norm. Those are the customers for whom your positioning is most important. They are also the customers whose feedback you want.

How you can accomplish these things for your business?

Why isn’t everyone on time?

IMG_1362

One of the things I notice while working with clients (and being one) is that some of us are pretty good at making things hard on our customers.

Hard on customers?

You might be.

Let’s clean up a few things so you can make it easier on them (and easier to keep them as clients).

Show up on time

Given that so many people have smart phones, smart watches, computers in their cars and so on – you would *think* that they’d be on time more often.

When you don’t show up when you said you would, you make it hard on your customers. I know, I know. You can’t always do that.

Here’s what you can do – the instant you know there’s a chance you’ll be late, call to warn them. Give them options (bail or wait?) If you can, dispatch someone else to take care of their situation. Few things annoy a customer or partner more than setting time aside (or taking time off work) to meet you, only to have you show up 90 minutes late without a call.

While it’s an obvious, common sense competitive edge, why isn’t everyone on time?

Close the four hour window

My impression is that a lot of vendors are getting better at this, but there are still enough out there telling their customers that they’ll meet them between 8:00 AM and noon, or “sometime in the afternoon”.

This shows a (perhaps passive) lack of respect for the customer’s time.

Do you really manage your time and your staff / equipment resources so poorly that you can’t estimate arrival windows to smaller increments than half a day? I doubt it. I think you’ve gotten used to it and haven’t changed it because it’s comfortable. Comfortable for you, that is. I assure you that your customers don’t feel this way. Don’t trust me on this – ask your customers if they’d appreciate a smaller window. They might even pay more to get a smaller window.

Arrive with what you need

Sometimes, you don’t know what the deal is because the customer didn’t explain the situation too well. Sometimes you don’t know what size of this or that to show up with, and if you took this too far and showed up with the right parts every time, you’d have to drive an eighteen wheeler to work. While you probably can’t know what you need every single time, do what you can to reduce the “I’ll be right back, gotta grab some parts” trips. They increase your overhead and they annoy your customer.

Make it easy to pay

Offer some payment convenience.

Fewer and fewer people like handing over a piece of paper with their bank account number on it (ie: a check). If you get a smartphone-enable credit card reader such as Square, you save a trip to the bank and they get to pay without a check – if that’s what they want to do.

Keep track of the paper

If you must save the business paperwork that your customers send you and you can’t replace the paper system with something else (assuming that thing will work better), make sure you can find their paperwork when you need it.records. I recently sold a house. On two separate occasions, the deal was almost scuttled (or made far more expensive) because someone misfiled paperwork related to little things like septic plans and wells. A sharp agent is the only thing that prevented an expensive, annoying outcome.

Making it easy back at the ranch

Fact is, we don’t limit this “making it hard” thing to customers. We’re also pretty good at making things hard on our own people.

While work isn’t necessarily supposed to be easy, there’s no reason to make it more difficult than it already is. Each of the make-it-easier for customers things have an impact on your staff. Your internal systems for communication, tracking and appointment management are critical to making this easy to fulfill for your clients. If they aren’t, your products and servers are much less likely to be delivered in a friction-free manner. Don’t make your staff fight the system to get their work done.

Always be looking for bumpy spots and internal / external hassles you can eliminate. Make it easy for them to recommend you to someone, and to call you back the next time.

Showrooming and the sales prevention department

Last time, we discussed the often forgotten reason for showrooming that happens after price shopping: convenience and time/fuel savings.

Remember Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief? If you’ve forgotten, they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

When applied to showrooming, it isn’t much different. Acceptance and the clarity that accompanies it are where the sales live. Even big retail is figuring it out.

Big retail embraces showrooming

Big retailers are starting to embrace showrooming because they’ve realized that reacting to and/or punishing it has proven ineffective. Learn from their mistakes, research and investments. Customers who showroom are likely to be better informed shoppers that you don’t want to lose. Their phone might help them decide that your store is the right place to buy.

Retailers that welcome the smartphone shopper in their stores with mobile applications and wi-fi access — rather than fearing showrooming — can be better positioned to accelerate their in-store sales – particularly with the holiday shopping season approaching.

Shoppers armed with smartphones are 14 percent more likely to make a purchase in the store than those who do not use a smartphone as part of their in-store journey. – Deloitte study for Saks Fifth Avenue

Most small businesses don’t have the resources to embrace showrooming with a smartphone app, or don’t think they do. If that’s the case, what do you do?

The simplest answer is to side with the customer. Do this by making the in-store experience so much better than anything anyone can provide online. That’s where it pays to visit an Apple store – where nothing is like retail as you typically see it.

The last Apple store I visited was in Portland. In an average-sized mall store, there were 28 employees on the sales floor – and all of them were with customers. I thought this was odd, so I tried another Apple store.

Same thing.  There were over 100 shoppers in the store. Almost all of them were in groups engaged in a conversation while they used an Apple device. Many of those conversations included an Apple staffer.

The sales prevention department

Compare that to the shopping experience in a typical consumer electronics store.

Try to test drive a Kindle. It’s locked in demo mode. You can’t pick it up and hold it because of the security device and short “don’t steal me” cable attached to it.

The display of the device is focused on theft prevention. Why is this a bad thing? Because theft prevention becomes sales prevention.

In an Apple store, nothing’s locked down. Sure, there are lots of people around to make sure you don’t walk out the door with that fancy MacBook – but the products are presented in a way that is clearly designed to encourage you to pick them up and try them out.

Unlike most stores that sell laptops and tablets, the devices aren’t cabled down, nor is there a password protected screensaver that prevents you from doing any real examination of the machine.

They make this happen because no matter what you do to the device, at the end of the day, they have systems in place to “wipe” them and reset them to out-of-the-box new condition, software-wise. This assures that the next day’s sales aren’t impacted by what someone might have done to a device. They can also reset them during the day if someone went really crazy.

It’s almost unfair to sell against a setup like that. Perhaps that’s why Apple’s retail sales per square foot are higher than anyone else’s – over $6000 per foot.

What’s different?

If you’ve ever visited an Apple store, you’ve never seen a dead machine, much less one with a message that tells you it needs attention from a technical person. You won’t see a locked screensaver.

Now think about other electronics retailers. Their sales floor machines are locked down that you can’t do anything and there’s almost always one that’s off in never-never land, waiting for some tech help.

Step back a few paces. This isn’t just about Apple, laptops or tablets. It’s about encouraging someone to engage with your product, thus *enabling* a purchase.

No matter what you sell, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Are your displays focused making it easy to fall in love with a product and buy it?
    OR
  • Are your displays focused on controlling the sales process and preventing theft?

Making it easier to buy is something every one of us can do. It’s price-based showrooming’s Kryptonite.