Categories
Business model Competition Entrepreneurs Improvement Small Business strategic planning Technology

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.

Categories
Competition Customer relationships customer retention Direct Marketing Marketing Positioning Public Relations Small Business strategic planning Trade Shows

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.

Categories
Business Resources Competition Customer relationships Customer service Guarantees Retail service Setting Expectations Small Business systems

Your systems should focus on your clients

Do your systems serve your internal customers or all of them?

By internal customers, I mean your accounting department, the staff on the shipping dock, customer service representatives, sales people and so on.

Systems that serve your internal customers do things such as accept, validate and record orders, track commissions, automate shipment notifications, manage inventory and a multitude of other things necessary to make sure that orders for products and services are properly fulfilled.

These systems (investments, really) serve your “real” clients as well, but in many cases their service to the client is indirect. I say indirect because your client rarely sees this service, even though they benefit from it. These systems enable your staff to serve your clients, keep track of where their package is and keep track of the fact that they’ve paid their bill. That’s service they benefit from – even if it is indirect.

Clearly, these investments are valuable. My assertion is that these systems don’t often focus on the client’s needs, even though they ultimately serve that client.

For example?

You knew I’d have an example or two.

You’ve probably seen a cryptic medical bill at some point. These bills have improved vs. the bills of five or ten years ago, but they could still be easier to read. Focusing on client needs might mean making the effort to create a customer-focused bill where info other than the total amount due is intelligible to the patient and their family.

A recent cold snap snuffed the battery in my wife’s car. When I went to replace it, I had to take it to a different store in the national (but locally owned) chain where I buy auto parts. Because the store’s systems are focused on internal customer needs, they were able to see inventory in stock and tell me which stores in the area had the battery I needed. While that’s useful information to help me get a new battery, it fell short of the staff’s needs and my own.

Unfortunately, they had no way to access my purchase information from a few years ago so that they could provide the appropriate discount on the new battery, since the old one expired during the warranty period.

The last time I bought a battery from these guys, they calculated the discount from the date on the battery (ie: the month and year that are picked off at the counter when the sell it to you). This time, that date was considered irrelevant. Further, I was scolded for not having a three year old receipt (which I probably have, but haven’t found).

I asked for advice to avoid this in the future, since I was used to the prior system where the pick-off date on the battery was what the trusted. The guys at the counter suggested that I tape the new receipt to the battery so that I’d have it next time. It seems like a good idea, but tape plus battery plus Montana weather times three or more years tells me that reading that receipt might not be so easy in the future.

Where’s my warranty discount?

The discount was trivial and really isn’t the point, but the situation provides a good example of a business system that primarily serves internal customers. The store that sold me the new battery has the ability to check inventory of the store where I bought the old battery and get a part from that store – both of these features primarily serve internal customer needs. A missing internal customer need that would also serve the external customer would allow store personnel to confirm a purchase at another store in the chair, as well as track the purchase for warranty purposes.

You’ve seen this before. Pharmacies are able to track prescriptions at any of their stores and refill them in any other store even if the original was called into a pharmacy thousands of miles away. To be sure, there are laws covering the record keeping of these purchases, but they could make it much more difficult to buy in the second location than they do.

Why do they buy from you?

The point is that your clients have a choice. If your internal systems make it easier for your clients to buy, redeem, refill, obtain service, and buy again…. they’ll likely buy from you.

Categories
Competition Customer relationships customer retention Employees Getting new customers Leadership Marketing Positioning Sales Setting Expectations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

ROI: Why they don’t take your call

These days, it isn’t about the shine; it’s about what happens when the shine wears off.

Will your business owner clients think positively of you a year from now because of an investment you championed? They’d better. Without buy in from everyone involved, resistance is the best you can expect the next time you visit.

As for this time – If you can’t explain to a random person in the lunch room or the warehouse why their employer should buy your stuff, it’s going to get picked to shreds.

ROI and the Why-To-Buy

The key to being successful is establishing Why-to-Buy in the context of each involved group. The discussion that sells the owner will differ quite a bit from the one that gets the warehouse on board, much less the one that gives the warehouse manager the tools necessary to get their staff on board.

When new purchase discussions do get down to talking about numbers, the ROI discussed is sometimes legitimately unproven and is frequently presented in a way that makes ROI impossible to prove, much less disprove. That’s a fast track to a “no sale”.

What’s your reaction to sales calls?

Ask a few business owners about sales calls. You’ll get a common list of “Why I don’t want to talk to you, sales dude.

  • I don’t know you, even though you act like I do.
  • I still have a bad feeling about our last deal.
  • I don’t need anything right now, but I am willing to listen to new stuff just in case, but you need to make an appointment.
  • You have no appointment.
  • I’m the wrong person.

The last time I had an office on a public street, the front door had a sign that invited two types of salespeople in (Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts) and provided the rest with instructions and a number to call for an appointment.

In seven years, one salesperson called that number to make an appointment. The rest wasted their time because they didn’t respect our time enough to make an appointment. You might think that an aggressive salesperson shouldn’t take no for an answer. When it concerned that office, that was the wrong choice.

Nice Presentation?

Another thing that I see and hear repeatedly is problems with a sales presentation.

These complaints include:

  • A one way conversation – like drinking from a firehose
  • Not customized based on knowledge of your needs
  • Generic financials that don’t identify a payoff period
  • Little consideration for your real situation
  • Inaccurate assessment of labor cost savings
  • Ignore additional costs and management requirements
  • Gaps between the presentation and delivered solution
  • Selling the invisible. Either things that don’t work or things that don’t yet exist – and won’t be delivered for months.

Consider whether your presentations exhibit any of these qualities.

What they want to experience

How would most business owners react when their favorite salesperson calls?

This person…

  • Only calls when there’s a win ready for the business owner to invest in.
  • Shows up with a checklist of qualifications that illustrate why the opportunity fits the business.
  • Shows up with testimonials from similar businesses – complete with contact information, so you’re welcome to call them.
  • Has clearly spent time thinking about why they and the opportunity fits the owner’s business.
  • Brings up alternatives and why they ruled them out.
  • Leads their market – not so much in sales as much as vision, crcitical because it carries with it influence and the reputation of a market leader.
  • Thinks about what challenges you face and what they can do to make it possible to overcome them.
  • Brings opportunities that you can implement  that without losing your existing momentum.

Getting buy-in

Think about how many times you’ve had to deal with the situations I described above – both good and bad. How many times have you done this to a prospect? How much trouble was it to make that deal happen, if it happened?

ROI grows as buy-in expands. Remember that everyone views ROI differently.  Next time, we’ll talk about strategies to involve everyone in that conversation so that the buy-in stretches from the main office to the warehouse dock.

When a business owner sees that sort of widespread buy-in, good outcomes are almost sure to follow.

Categories
Business model Competition Customer relationships Marketing Positioning Small Business

What are your compelling reasons?

This past week, I’ve had several conversations revolving around why people don’t buy, why people stop buying, how we can get them to use what they bought and how we can get them to switch to our product instead of a competitor’s.

These conversations all have the same foundation: Giving people a compelling reason to change.

Whether we’re talking about buying, changing what they use, or using what they’ve bought, people need compelling reasons to change what they’re doing – even if they’re not doing anything.

Without compelling reasons – buying and implementing is much harder

It seems obvious that making it easier to buy is important, yet some businesses do their best to make it hard to give them your money.

However, buying isn’t the only obstacle to overcome. That’s why I’ve told the software setup story as many times as anyone would listen.

Selling them is one thing, getting them to use, adopt, implement it is quite another – and in fact, it’s more important than the sale over the long term.

If you don’t care what they do after they buy your stuff, it’s an indication that your business model is broken, even if you’re selling that stuff like crazy right now. Someday, that will change. When it does, how will your current business model work?

If you aren’t focusing on making sure they implement what they buy, your business model might not be broken, but your management of it is. You wouldn’t plant a crop and never watering or weed it, so why would you make a sale and then make no effort to cultivate the use of what you sold them?

That’s what the software setup story addresses and as you can read, I’ve been there.

What’s their point of view?

One of the things that fails business owners most often is assuming that their clientele is just like them. To be sure, there some cases where that’s true, but in others – it’s simply wrong.

The danger in this is that people buy, implement and change things for reasons who may not have considered, or for reasons that are meaningless to you. If that reason is the primary driver in decision making for your market and you miss it because their reason means nothing to you, closing a sale could be quite an uphill climb.

Even if you’re shy, you have to ask questions.

What are the obstacles to change? In many cases, they might want to change but think they don’t have the time to retrain their people, adjust their internal business processes and deal with yet another change. Solving that requires your value proposition to be clear, compelling and long-lasting.

What are the real reasons they might change? What truly causes the pain they feel? What keeps them up at night? What makes them worry about their future? Why is changing worth it at all if the outcome is the same? Same reports, same Excel spreadsheets, same profit?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re going to struggle to sell to them even if you have exactly what they need and want to take away their pain.

I don’t sell things that make the pain go away

If you aren’t making someone’s business pain go away, your clients are probably some portion of the general public. You might want someone to buy your cosmetics, or perhaps you’d like them to give your dry cleaners a chance vs. them continuing to use the one they use now.

Think about the risk people take when they change from Maybelline to Bare Minerals or from One-Hour-Martinizing to Joe’s Hometown Cleaners.

How do you currently communicate that trying your stuff is so easy and so risk free that if it doesn’t work out, they lose nothing?

Once you’ve done a great job of taking risk off their plate, you still have the task of proving the value of switching.  How are you doing that these days? Put yourself in their place.

Imagine a bank asks you to switch to their bank from the one you currently use – the one where your direct deposit goes and where your bill pay stuff is all setup and working smoothly.

Or consider switching from Windows to Mac or iPhone to Android.

Now you understand how they feel when you ask them to switch.

 

 

Categories
Competition customer retention Employees Hospitality Management Positioning quality Small Business

Earning Return Business, part three

In the last year, we’ve experienced the joy of moving. Twice.

Yes, twice on purpose.

Apparently our lives are in such dire need of adventure that one move wasn’t enough.

Census you asked

Why do I bring up these moves?

According to U.S. Census data from 2010, Americans move about 12 times in their lives – and younger generations are trending toward moving even more often.

Moving is not an inexpensive or easy affair. It can stress families heavily at a time when they are already under substantial pressure. Since we do it about a dozen times in our lives, it would seem obvious that there’s lots of incentive to create an experience that encourages repeat business and good word of mouth.

Let’s talk about a few examples.

U-Haul vs. Penske

I’ve rented from Penske once, 16 years ago. I had to drive their truck from Missoula to Cheyenne to return it. In retrospect, this was not the most time and cost efficient plan, but a prior U-Haul experience had me avoiding them.

Despite the crazy return location, I’d rent from them again tomorrow – if they had a local store in the places I was moving from and moving to. Why? 16 years later, I still have good vibes from that move, the rig I received and how they handled the process on both ends.

I’ve since used U-Haul twice. As they were 16 years ago, the trucks are spartan in features, still use gas (less power, lower mileage) rather than diesel and often give you the idea that you’re the last person to drive it before they sell it off.

I’ve used them twice is because they were the only local choice at both ends of a move.

Confidence earns repeat business

Despite my issues with their trucks, the people who work for U-Haul  (and their dealers) have proven to be friendly and service-oriented.

As with many other large businesses, there are roses and thorns with each experience, and once in a while you’re fortunate to meet unique people who set the standard for everyone else you deal with in a particular market, such as Hungry Horse Montana’s Kasey Faulk and her crew.

The thorns usually relate to little issues that point to management’s attention to detail. A recent example is the truck I picked up. The windshield appeared that it hadn’t been cleaned. It was covered with bugs.

Thing is, the bugs weren’t whole like someone hadn’t touched the windshield at all. Instead, it looked like they’d been “sort of” cleaned but hadn’t finished the job.  I suspect U-Haul has someone clean the windshields in every truck at check-in time (or before it goes out), but that they don’t have their people hop in the truck to check their work when the cleaning is done or when the truck is rented.

Yes, these are little things

Little things. Trivial things. But they make you wonder about the attention paid to other little things, like oil, lube, u-joints and wheel bearings.

You see, after you’ve paid a crew to load a truck, the last thing you want to do is find yourself stranded in the middle of Eden on a broiling hot day in the sun.

Actually, that’s the next to last thing you want.

The last thing you want is to have to unload the truck and load your stuff onto its replacement – particularly if it was loaded by a crew as good as Kasey’s. You don’t really want to do that even if it wasn’t loaded by her crew.

Fortunately this wasn’t part of our experience and there was no mechanical issue on either trip, despite the ill-cared-for appearance of the rig.

Earning return business requires creating the right memories

While nothing went wrong for us, these kinds of things are on your clients’ minds when they ponder coming back to you.

  • Have they cleaned the truck / bedspread / bathrooms since the last time I was here?
  • Am I going to have to deal with grease on this and that and that again?
  • Will the tub be dirty again?
  • Will they track in dirt and not clean up the sawdust and drywall dust again?
  • Is that guy behind the counter going to ogle my daughter again?

If these are the memories you’re creating, how likely is it that they’ll return?

Depend on being the best game in town, not the only one.

Categories
Competition Creativity Positioning Small Business

Groundhog Day with Ooompa Loompas

Recently, I had a series of “Groundhog Day” experiences with multiple vendors in the same market, in the same market area, while seeking the same product that all of them sell.

Of course, they’re competitors, though some of them may be owned by the same people or corporation. I didn’t look that hard, but I doubt that’s the case.

What I found most interesting about this situation is that they were identical in almost every possible way. If you switched the logo, phone number, business name and address between each of them, you’d find it difficult to figure out which was which. Nothing about any of them appeared to stand out from the others.

Long-time readers might assume that I would find this appalling. They’d be right.

So that there is no doubt about how I feel about this situation, let me make it clear: Being exactly like every other business in your market is a dangerous concoction of idiotic, risky, lazy and so on.

Yes, there are situations that require that some things are pretty much identical from business to business. Regulatory requirements are a good example. Even though regulations might control some behavior in your market, they do not require you to become yet another Oompa Loompa.

You get the idea that I find it not only appalling but not too smart. Let’s talk about why.

Why being a clone is bad

Oompa Loompas are identical. While they presumably do good work, they produce the same results as every other Oompa Loompa. Why would someone choose your Oompa Loompa business over the identical one down the street?

If you’re all the same, what usually tips them in your favor is price.

Yet if everyone is doing things the same way, their overhead is going to be pretty consistent from business to business. With the exception of negotiation skills with vendors and the profit margin you choose when setting prices, what’s left to alter? Not much.

Of course, there will be pressure to price similarly, since there’s no difference between business A and business B. Welcome to the vicious circle.

Why not being a clone is good

When you’re not one of the Oompa Loompas, there’s always pressure to conform. Perhaps unspoken, perhaps not.

Pressure looks and sounds like: Work like us. Have a sign like us. Wear the same type of uniforms we wear. Offer the same delivery we offer. Don’t deliver, because we don’t. Provide the same level of service we provide. Don’t provide what we don’t provide. Advertise like we do. Sell like we do. Price like we do.

In industries where this is really rampant, it sounds like this: Get our industry certification because it says you do everything exactly like we do – and don’t change a thing after the fact because we’ll yank your Clone Stamp of Approval (CSoA).

While the CSoA badge is attractive and shiny while remaining artistically conservative enough that the CSoA committee somehow agreed long enough to sign off on it, you should think about how being a clone makes you feel and how it resonates with the reason you have a business in the first place.

Consider why you risked everything to start your business.

  • Was it because you had a better idea?
  • Was it because you wanted to serve people in a better way?
  • Was it because you thought so differently about the market?
  • Was it because you felt the clientele in that market were under served?
  • Or….Was it so you could march in lock step with all the other clones?

I seriously doubt the last one was anyone’s choice. Most business owners aren’t built that way, so how does this situation happen?

How it happens

Earlier, I mentioned “idiotic, risky, lazy”, describing behavior, not people. These behaviors can be active or passive. My experience and suspicion says there’s a mix of active and passive lazy going on here, perhaps mixed with a touch of fear.

At some point, I hope you decide that it’s riskier to be a clone than it is to stop being one. At that point, all that’s left is to overcome the fear of leaving Cloneville.

Moving out of Cloneville

How do you get out of Cloneville?

Think about what’s important to your clientele. What makes things easier, faster, smoother and more productive for them? Fix one thing at a time. Repeat.

Categories
Amazon Automation Business model Competition Improvement Leadership Small Business strategic planning Technology

Accelerated change redefines your market

Last month, Harvard Business Review’s Brad Power wrote a short piece about something software people have known for years, even if they ignore it: The rate of change is accelerating.

http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/06/how-the-software-industry-redefines-product-management/

An excerpt from Power’s piece:

I spoke with Andy Singleton, CEO of Assembla, a firm that helps software development teams build software faster. He told me the story of Staples vs. Amazon. As you might expect, Staples has a big web application for online ordering. Multi-function teams build software enhancements that are rolled up into “releases” which are deployed every six weeks. The developers then pass the releases to the operations group, where the software is tested for three weeks to make sure the complete system is stable, for a total cycle of nine weeks. This approach would be considered by most IT experts as “best practice.”

“Best practice”? Not really, but let’s continue:

But Amazon has a completely different architecture and management process, which Singleton calls a “matrix of services.” Amazon has divided their big online ordering application into thousands of smaller “services.” For example, one service might display a web page, or get information about a product. A service development team maintains a small number of services, and releases changes as they become ready. Amazon will release a change about once every 11 seconds, adding up to about 8,000 changes per day. In the time it takes Staples to make one new release, Amazon has made 300,000 changes.

While this situation is old news to software businesses and even to some non-software businesses that develop their own software, the thing you need to be aware of is that this accelerated rate of change and implementation stretches far beyond software.

You may have heard the phrase “software is eating the world“. In many cases, that’s about software disrupting and improving businesses and sometimes eliminating jobs. It’s also about technology and accelerated change in businesses that haven’t traditionally depended on technology.

This rate of change is reaching into many other niches – some faster than others. The question isn’t “Will it touch yours?”, instead the question is “When?”

Consider Amazon

You might be thinking that Amazon is a relatively new company so it was easy for them to start off producing systems as Power’s piece described. Trouble is, that isn’t the case at all.

While Amazon Web Services (aka AWS – the cloud services side of Amazon) has been around since 2006, Amazon has been around since the mid ’90s. They had to remake themselves to pull this off – but they chose to do so before someone else forced it on them.

Three dimensions

A few years ago, if you were in the engineering prototyping business, you might have a turnaround of a few weeks to a month, depending on the type of pieces you prototype.

Then one day, a 3D printer showed up on a local doorstep. Without a massive capital expense, delay and shop build out, a local engineer could now start turning out prototypes your clients could touch and feel in hours or for larger items, a day or two.

Perhaps you can work with that person to partner on projects and you both win. If you don’t, who will?

You can have a 3D printer on your doorstep tomorrow. What makes you different from the lady down the street who owns one?

The choice

Today, you probably have a choice in the matter.

You can either determine what needs a remake or restructure and make those changes (and experiments) on your terms, or you can wait and let someone else determine the time frame and terms for you. Most of us would prefer not to have someone else calling the shots.

I know, you’re busy. You’ve got this fire and that fire to put out. You’ve got soccer games to get to. I get it. I have those too and so do many other business owners.

It might be hard to justify any sort of disruption, even in thought, if your business is humming along on all cylinders right now.  That’s exactly what the disruptive businesses want. Keep doing what you’ve always done, because it’s still working.

Meanwhile, someone out there is fighting the same fires, perhaps as their business hums along, and all the while, they’re restructuring their business for this new reality.

What if they’re in your market? What if you did it first?

Categories
Business culture Competition customer retention Employees Hospitality Improvement Positioning Restaurants Small Business Travel marketing Word of mouth marketing

Consistency drives word of mouth business

Last week, my wife and I went to a place we’d been looking forward to for some time.  Our 31st wedding anniversary dinner was the perfect occasion to try a new (to us) place, so we went to a local Cajun restaurant whose entree price ranking is $$ and name includes “Orleans”.

Long time readers know I rarely name poor performers. I’ve made note of the theme, price range and part of the name to set the expectation you’d expect to find there.

Expectations vs. Reality

The combination of Cajun, $$ and Orleans implied white tablecloths, a Bourbon Street vibe / atmosphere and good Louisiana cuisine prepared to order, perhaps with an emphasis on seafood.

The menu’s broad selection of Cajun seafood dishes nailed that, but expectation delivery faded from there. There was little to tie the ambiance to New Orleans. The table settings resembled something you’d find in a pizza joint. This created a bit of disconnect with the pricing, menu and the restaurant’s name – which implied fine Bourbon Street dining.

Despite arriving at about 7:00 pm on a Wednesday, the place was empty. Warning bells went off, but we figured we’d give it a shot anyway. After being seated, I noticed the floor was filthy. It seats 30-35 and on a busy night, I can see how the staff might not be able to get to the floor between turns. However, the dining area has a tile floor and the place was empty except for us, so finding it consistently dirty throughout the restaurant was pretty surprising.

The chef arrived at the restaurant at the same time we did. Rather than going to the kitchen, the chef sat down in the dining area with a couple of web site consultants and discussed the menu, photos and what should be changed on their site.

At no time during our visit did the chef enter the kitchen – including from the time we ordered to the time we received our food. Likewise, neither the waiter or cook staff approached the chef’s table for guidance. I suspect that the chef has their hand in their sauces and general guidance of the kitchen, but in a place this small in this price range, I expect direct chef involvement in the food and perhaps even a table visit on a slow night in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Instead, there was no welcome, no eye contact, no thank you and no time in the kitchen. Nothing from the chef.

Speaking of empty, it was quiet enough to hear the microwave beeping just before my wife’s étouffée arrived. Despite the microwave, the étouffée was surprisingly tasty and easily the best part of her meal. Oddly enough, the waiter discouraged her from ordering the entree, so she ordered a small cup to get a taste of it despite the waiter’s recommendation.

The inconsistency returned with my wife’s Shrimp Pontchartrain entree, which turned out to be a massive platter of heavily salted pasta / sauce with little sign of shrimp.  Meanwhile, my Catfish Tchoupitoulas was very good. I’d definitely order it again.

Quality and branding inconsistencies can damage any business – even if they don’t serve food.

Police your inconsistencies

Inconsistencies plague small business and can destroy repeat business, as well as word of mouth business. The more processes, systems and training you can put in place to root out these issues, the closer your business gets to marketing itself by reputation.

Our visit included a number of inconsistencies with the business’ pricing, name, menu and food.

The menu listed numerous chef and/or restaurant honors, yet the most recent award was four years old. The years without an award stood out as much as the period of years where consistent annual awards implied high quality. If you can’t show award consistency, don’t list the award years or list them as “Five time winner”. Meanwhile, address the inconsistencies that caused the wins to stop.

Whether you operate a three star restaurant or a tire shop, cleanliness is important. It’s a signal that a business cares and pays attention to details, while sending a message about the cleanliness of other parts of the business that you cannot see. Given the filthy condition of the dining area floor, would you expect the walk-in cooler, prep table or kitchen floor to be clean?

What inconsistencies can you address to increase repeat and word of mouth business?

Categories
Automation Competition Economic Development Entrepreneurs Small Business startups strategic planning

Why small business should care about Meeker’s slides

Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report came out today, so I thought I’d offer a few comments about it and how its findings are likely to (continue to) affect small businesses, including small software companies.

The Slideshare version is rather slow right now,  so I suggest you check out the PDF version of the Meeker report.

Psst, thank you Mary.

Tablet sales

52% annual year over year growth. For software companies, this matters just a bit. Web apps that work great on phones don’t always translate to the tablet form factor. Do the work to make your UX good on both.

Context: There are 789MM laptop users globally and 743MM desktop users globally – this is after decades of computer sales. Tablets – despite the modern tablet only having been around for a few years, there are already 439MM globally. Ignore them at your own risk.

KPCBMeeker2014Tabletuse

 

Advertising media

Meeker2014AdSpend

When reading the “Print is over-indexed” comment, keep in mind that most businesses who use print do so very poorly. They carpet bomb rather than snipe and they don’t track lead numbers or ad/media performance. I suspect they will do the same when advertising on mobile ad platforms and will complain that, just like print, advertising doesn’t work.

Don’t be that business.

Hey, nice network!

95%+ of networks are compromised in some way, and small business networks are likely worse than most of the ones Meeker is referring to.

Yes, yours is probably one of them *or could be*. It happened to Target (et al), it can definitely happen to you.

A quote from the slideshow: “Vulnerable systems placed on the internet (are) compromised in less than 15 minutes“. This doesn’t mean the internet is the big bad wolf, unless you have a pile of XP machines that aren’t properly taken care of and operated by staff (and management) who will click on any-old-thing.

Free shipping

47+% of orders include free shipping, vs. 35% five years ago.

Say this 3 times: “Lifetime customer value”. If this hasn’t reached your area – and in many cases, it may be a long time coming, consider beating the world to the punch. Leaders lead.

Cloud computing costs still dropping

A bit of Doctor Obvious, but the numbers are huge.

  • Compute (ie: CPU costs) – down 33% per year from 1990 to 2013.
  • Disk storage costs – down 38% per year from 1992 to 2013.
  • Bandwidth costs – down 27% per year from 1999 to 2013.

Where’s your competition?

Anywhere and everywhere, perhaps.

Meeker2014Competition

Vicarious video living

The highest volume video streaming site is Twitch – a site where people watch other people play video games. Presumably they do this to learn how to play better, I really don’t know why else you would do this. While this is of little specific relevance to me, Twitch’s numbers are certainly relevant.

Twitch has more user viewing minutes than WWE, Ustream, MLB.com and ESPN combined. Yes, COMBINED. 12 billion minutes per month.

How does video fit into your strategic plans?

As of January 2014, 43% of TV content viewing minutes were on non-live-TV. IE: DVR, DVD, streaming, mobile streaming, etc. They want it when they want it, not when someone says they must consume it.

How does *on-demand* video fit into your strategic plans?

The world is flat

As of January 2013: 9 of the top 10 producers of internet content are in the US, yet 79% of their monthly visitors are outside the U.S.

As of March 2014: 6 of the top 10 producers of internet content are in the US, and 86% of their monthly visitors are outside the U.S. 4 of that 10 have effectively zero US-based visitors. Yes, China.

Alipay’s “Yu’E Bao” asset management startup went from $0 to $89B in managed assets in 10 months. It is now one of the top 3 global money market funds based on assets under management. TEN MONTHS.

60% of the top 25 tech companies in the US were started by 1st or 2nd generation Americans. 1.2MM employees as of 2013.