Categories
customer retention Customer service Management Marketing Setting Expectations Small Business

Experience management matters

Delivery of a product or service is about far more than the act of your client opening the box or getting the service they paid for. The total experience matters, so you’d better manage it. An example should give my assertion the context it needs to clarify why experience management is so important.

A need to know basis

I recently flew a major airline from Chicago to Kansas City. In the middle of the boarding process, one of the gate agents came out of the jetway, halted all boarding halfway through zone three’s entry to the plane, got on the phone and then disappeared back down the jetway.

About 10 minutes passed without a word from anyone at the airline, including the agent minding the boarding pass scanner. Finally, the agent who halted the boarding process came back out and gave the boarding agent the all clear to resume boarding. All of this happened without a word to passengers. Clearly, we were on a need to know basis and we didn’t need to know.

I tweeted a comment about the situation. After my flight, a subtle dig from the airline’s Twitter account reinforced the culture that leadership has established, and is perhaps indicative of the kind of mindset the recently departed CEO put in place.

Why experience management matters

Did our lack of awareness of the boarding situation affect the final outcome of the flight – a safe on-time arrival? Of course not.

Did our lack of awareness of the situation positively influence our confidence in the provider’s ability to consistently and safely deliver the service we purchased? Not really. Instead, it gave the impression that delivery is all that matters – an assertion that doesn’t hold water.

It isn’t as if the passengers on the flight needed to know why we our boarding was temporarily delayed. The nitty-gritty details may negatively affect your confidence in the business delivering the service – and could roll downhill to your thoughts about the safety of that delivery. Even so, knowing that the delay is not unusual, will be cleared up in 10 or 15 minutes and will not affect an on-time departure is enough information to calm a nervous group of passengers who might be concerned about safety, about making a connection, or the likelihood their flight will actually happen.

Simply stating these three details (situation normal, expected time till resolution and lack of impact on delivery) will do the trick. Taking these few issues off the table improves the experience, communicates that you have your clients’ back and understand the importance of delivering the service as well as the issues that define its importance to your clients.

An opportunity to build

When you can build the client’s confidence in your ability to deliver and improve the credibility you have to trust that you can handle whatever comes your way, use the opportunity humbly.

It reminds me a good bit of the refrigerator sheet story that I use to demonstrate how a real estate agent provides a confidence building framework of “things that frequently happen during a real estate transaction that I routinely handle for you so don’t sweat them“.

The same airline missed an opportunity to show their understanding of the nature of their clients’ use only a week earlier. I was flying out of a small rural airport on a very small regional jet. It was the first flight of the day in this tiny little plane leaving an airport that is not a hub. This means that the first flight of the day is always going to be boarded by clients who need to make a connection in a hub city so they can reach their intended destination.

On a plane that only seats 50, this produces a group of people who are not inclined to give up their seats, unlikely to miss a flight due to a connection and unlikely to have an opportunity to easily book the next flight out without repercussions. The logic that this sort of rural flight would be overbooked by 20% ignores all of these qualities / needs of the passengers involved, yet the 20% overbooking is exactly what happened.

At a hub airport, we may not like overbooking, but it’s easy to understand the justification. The combination of first flight out, rural airport and small plane make it an anti-customer decision that sets the company up for a bad experience for their entire service delivery experience – a situation you don’t want to create.

Categories
Business Resources Competition customer retention Employees Management Positioning Setting Expectations Small Business

When the smoke clears, will your reputation?

No one in the Pacific Northwest has to be reminded that this is the worst fire season since 2003.

Depending on what you do a bad fire season could be a boon, a bust or a non-issue to your business. Over the last couple of weeks, we had communications and marketing oriented conversations focused on the folks whose businesses are placed at risk by a bad fire season.

There’s a different kind of business impacted by fires, natural disasters and similar events: those who provide things like tanker trucks, field rations and related convenience items, construction supplies (lumber, drywall, tools etc) and so on.

If a scene like this summer means that you will be extra busy for the next year or so, perhaps more, good for you – particularly if you are a trusted member of your community (business and otherwise).

However obvious this may seem, it needs to be said…

A reputation setting recovery

The way you and your staff serve your clients from now until the recovery is over – regardless of what’s being recovered from – will set the tone for your business’ future.

Some will eventually give you a second chance, but for most, this is the one chance your business will get to show its colors. It will seal the reputation of the business, its owner(s), managers and staff.

Captain Obvious, you say? Perhaps, yet we continue to see examples where businesses have behaved so badly that governments feel obligated to put “no gouging” laws into place.

The thing is, pricing is the least of your problems. People understand that pricing gets a little crazy when resources are constrained. Supplies are often harder to get, and they’re often competing for scarce transportation facilities including berth time at port, dock time at warehouses, much less truck drivers or semi-trailers to haul those supplies. Qualified people are in demand, which tends to create overtime hours.

Do your clients want to wait or pay overtime-related costs? Ask them.

Communicating the challenge

When these situations occur and drive up your costs, communicate the situation as frequently, quickly and clearly as possible. Communicate what you’ve done to try and work around the situation. Ask your clients for ideas and connections in their network that could help you serve them a bit better.

You never know when a client might have access to resources or connections that could solve a problem that’s simply “killing” you – and those things may be out of reach without a little insider help. Even worse, if these clients know what’s blocking your progress and they know their resources / connections could help but you keep telling them you have things under control – how could that damage your relationship / reputation?

It’s OK to ask for help.

Resource problems aside, be sure that any abnormal delivery timeframes, costs, staffing challenges or other potentially damaging issues are communicated well. Transparency works. Small businesses use it as a competitive advantage vs. larger, better funded competitors during good times, why not use it during challenging, resource-constrained times for the same reason?

Call volumes are unexpectedly high, but your call is important to us…” – something you’d never say to a client before putting them on hold. Yet you only get this greeting when reputation damage is most likely to happen.

We don’t remember that the cable internet met their 99.9% uptime goal last year, but we remember each of the 43.8 minutes of downtime per month that this uptime goal allows for – and that the downtimes happened at inopportune times.

We remember when we consistently get a transparent answer or explanation.

The mindset that risks it all

The “they have no choice, I will get (and keep) the business no matter how I act” mindset can infect everything from sales and service to receivables and delivery. Once observed in one part of the business, it’s a matter of time until it crawls elsewhere.

I won’t belabor this, because the kind of business owner or manager who would let this behavior happen wouldn’t likely read my work. Despite that, check out the short 30 seconds it takes Vince Lombardi to describe the obligation that team members have to do their best on every play of every game.

Print readers, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKN3rvrWyvg&feature=youtu.be&t=0m50s

 

Categories
Automation customer retention Employee Training Improvement Productivity service Setting Expectations Small Business systems Technology

Filling cracks with automation and metrics

How many emails did you send last Tuesday? How many phone calls did you make last Thursday? How many things fell through the cracks last week or last month?

The first two are trivia until you start thinking about the time they consume compared to the return they produce.

The last one is the big one: tasks that fall in cracks, meaning you forgot to do something, or have someone else do something – like make a call to close a sale or follow up on a lead.

I’m guessing you have no idea how many things disappeared into cracks last week unless they’ve cost you business since that time. If they didn’t have a cost, does it matter? I think it does, but not for the reason you might think.

Metrics are lonely fellas

Metrics are great, until they aren’t. Their failing? Metrics tell you what happened and in some cases, what is happening, but they don’t tell you what to do next. By themselves, metrics can get lonely.

Automation can cure that by either telling you act on what’s happened (or is happening), or by doing it on your behalf with your advance permission.

You need to get metrics hitched up with automation, but not solely to get your metrics delivered regularly. While that’s certainly a very good idea, there’s more to the marriage of metrics and automation than prompt and consistent delivery.

There’s curing that crack problem.

Preventing cracks is better than fixing them

If you drive a diesel pickup, particularly one that’s chipped, tuned and so forth – you know what I mean. If you’re a tuner, you probably have an Edge or similar device monitoring exhaust temperatures and other engine information.

Those are metrics.

If you have an Edge or similar, you may even have it setup to tune your engine’s “brain” as engine metrics signal a need for something different.

The tuned diesel truck owner uses tools like this to prevent engine rebuilds while getting the best possible performance out of their truck. In a similar fashion, stock traders use automation to sell stocks when they hit stop loss points because they want to prevent portfolio rebuilds while getting the best possible performance from their investments.

Create a crack prevention system

Metric driven automation like that used by the stock trader and the tuned diesel owner can likewise keep our business fine tuned simply by making sure we’re aware of things that need to get done on a daily basis.

Simple but effective methods include making appointments for yourself and keeping reminder-enabled todo lists in your phone. Obvious? Sure, but they can be all but life saving when chaos finds its way into your week.

I use a few simple online tools to keep track of my work, but I’m always on a quest to find a way for them to nag me more intelligently. These tools help me remain responsible by making sure I get the right things done at the right time.

For example, after seven years, my Flathead Beacon editor knows he’s going to get this column from me every week, even if isn’t there on deadline day (five days before press day). When he gets to his desk on Monday (press day), he knows it’ll be there and it won’t require editing, except for rare occasions when my headline is a bit over the top.

Occasionally, 11pm Sunday arrives and the column isn’t finished. I have a reminder on my phone to tell me to get up 90 minutes early on Monday (ouch, right?) so I can get it published on time, allowing him to meet his commitments.

Here’s the crack prevention: Automation helps me meet my commitment, no matter how hectic life gets, no matter where I am. If the automation was fully data-driven, the reminder would only occur on Sundays when my column hasn’t yet been posted. Some situations will demand that level of data-driven automation. You don’t have to cut it as close as 11pm on the night before. Getting up 90 minutes early on Monday is my self-inflicted punishment / motivation not to let that happen.

Together, automation and metrics allow you to become more dependable as your business / volume grows, while still remaining independent. Don’t forget to show your team how to use automation to improve their performance.

Categories
customer retention Lead generation Marketing Recurring Revenue Sales Small Business

18 questions to increase sales

This week, I’ve been working on metrics because I can’t have my fingers in every pie at once – at least not once the number of pies grows beyond my ability to manage them all in my head at the same time. Even if you can do that, it’s very difficult to sense where changes are happening much less where trend directions are changing.

Some of this can be done by gut feel because you’re right in the middle of it, but sometimes gut feel will burn you because you filter what you’re experiencing through existing expectations. Thus the need for metrics – so that you don’t have to spin too many plates at once, assume too many things or make decisions based on too much gut feel.

Metrics are questions, too

Metrics are a form of question.

For example, a common metric for businesses with a web site is “page views”. A page view metric asks the question “How many people saw a specific page this month?”. When all of those page view metrics are combined, it becomes the question “How many people saw our website?”

Website metrics are pretty common and easier to collect than metrics from other media – which are often on you and your team to collect. The work to do that might seem painful, but you can learn a lot from it.

How many people called about the radio special you advertised on KXXX? How many people visited the store and mentioned the radio special you ran on KXXX?

These things are important so that you know whether to invest in marketing that item on KXXX vs. marketing something else on KXXX, vs. marketing anything at all on KXXX.

You would do the same for anything else marketing on any media, otherwise you’ll have nothing other than gut feel to help you make these decisions. Traditional media doesn’t often provide these metrics, because they can’t. Radio, TV and print newspapers can’t do that because they usually aren’t contacted by prospects seeking whatever you advertised. It’s tough to know if you aren’t part of the transaction process.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t track them.

The right questions help increase sales

Coming up with the right question can be a lot harder than not having the answers.  You have to be careful to ask open-ended questions designed to tell you what you don’t know, rather than asking questions designed to confirm your assumptions.

Where is the profit in your business that you haven’t yet found?

For most people, the answer probably lies in your existing customer base. The next question I’d ask you is how many of your customers are buying 100% of what they should be/can be buying from you?

How can your current customers help you find that profit?

The natural follow to the previous question.

To rephrase it, what percent of your customers are giving you all the business they could? Who are those customers? What actions will be necessary to either sell to the ones who aren’t buying everything you make, or determine the ones who won’t buy?

Once you’ve identified the ones who won’t buy, it’d be good to identify why they won’t and correlate that (if possible) with where they came from as a lead. Are the leads who buy some buy not all (or who buy once but not ongoing) leads who came from a certain type of media or a certain type of marketing campaign?

Are the ones whose initial purchase is different than the ones who do keep buying – and buy it all? Can that be solved by pursuing slightly different leads, or by changing marketing or the product / service?

Finally, can / should that gap be fixed? Does it matter if this group of clients aren’t recurring buyers, or that they don’t buy everything you offer?

Are you communicating with customers optimally at all touch points?

Are there touch points you aren’t thinking of?

I was chatting on Facebook with a reader earlier this week who owns a locksmith business. After our conversation, I wondered if there was an opportunity to get involved in home and/or commercial property sales – ie: lock / key / lockset changes that might be warranted when a property changes hands.  It’s an opportunity to get a new client if there are enough buyers who want locks changed at purchase time.

Does your business have secondary transaction opportunities like that?

Categories
Competition customer retention Entrepreneurs Improvement Lean Small Business

Shadow Everything

Warning: I’m about to discuss some technology things (yes, again), with good reason: Information Technology (IT) is a leading indicator with parallels in every business niche, including yours.

This isn’t about IT. It’s about everything.

Control

Historically, a company’s staff has had a love / hate relationship with IT. IT’s all powerful control was easy in the mainframe days. No department could afford to get their own, much less the staff to manage it and the space to house it.

Once IT grudgingly accepted the PC, things moved along calmly for a couple of decades. We’ve now circled back to the point where IT has once again become an obstacle in many companies.

Enter Shadow IT.

What is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT is departmental IT resources purchased to achieve a result faster, cheaper and better than the result a department is getting from their company’s centralized IT staff – whether that’s one person or 1000.

Consider who has the budget and who benefits from Shadow IT’s ROI.

Somewhere in the market where tech people are trying to close a sale, there’s a hungry group of owners who would love nothing better than to take over thanks in part to the advantages provided by tools that don’t depend on the status quo and/or lobbyist-funded legislation dating back to Eisenhower.

Seek those who want to change

In many companies, IT’s primary responsibility is to make sure nothing ever changes. Not in all companies, mind you, but certainly in the misguided ones.

The act of not doing anything in a misguided company is mind bogglingly simple. That’s why startups keep going after entrenched niches where a rarefied few are doing something other than clinging to what they always did and how they did it – that is, the companies whose primary R&D budget might be smaller than their political contribution budget.

The startup crowd targets and finds ways to disrupt and displace these businesses. They do so by seeking out those who WANT to change. Those who don’t look to improve are left behind to fend for themselves – which seems to be what they want, until it’s too late.

Let me clarify the “make sure nothing ever changes” comment. It’s OK to take incremental, ever-more-feisty steps to make sure nothing ever changes in production or under peak load. It’s another thing entirely when those actions morph into “Do nothing. Change nothing. Don’t break anything, in fact, don’t touch or move anything. EVER.

Not doing anything beyond acting in the interest of self-preservation is politician work, not IT work. It results in…

Shrinkage

CEB (formerly the “Corporate Executive Board”) reports on global corporate data and trends in that data. A few quotes from a CEB report from last year:

  • IT budgets projected to shrink 75% over the next 5 years.
  • Around 10% of CIOs, particularly in large multinational energy, pharmaceutical and consumer companies, already have a cross-departmental role.
  • Nearly 80% of IT professionals will see multiple changes in their responsibilities, skills needs and objectives, as the IT organization adapts to changing business needs over the next five years.
  • Corporate IT departments will shrink by as much as 75% over the next five years as businesses adapt to the cloud and changing economic conditions.

The result of this: Cloud computing and Shadow IT, which is often based on cloud computing.

Who invests in Shadow?

Shadow IT investors have budgets. They seek serious ROI. These are not people looking for things to remain as they are. They’re dissatisfied with how things are. They know there are tools that can work faster, smarter, cheaper.

Shadow IT requires risk, offers reward, but it doesn’t come without a price. These processes must be robust, well-documented and… work, because IT doesn’t have the desire much less the resources to research or repair Shadow IT assets and processes. Shadow investments demand full responsibility from their investors.

Shadow IT isn’t the real challenge. I think you’ll see IT and its shadows go round and round as each generation of departmental and personal computing reveals itself.

By now, you’re wondering how this Shadow IT problem could possibly involve your small business. Did he trick me into reading this far?

Shadow Everything.

No, because the thing I’m seeing more and more of is “Shadow Everything”.

The ranks of people “dissatisfied with how things are and wanting tools that work faster, smarter, cheaper” isn’t limited to IT.

They’re everywhere and they will invest in Shadow Everything.

What will you invest in? And your clients?

Categories
Box stores Competition customer retention Improvement Small Business Starbucks

Winning against the chain store

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

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

Habitual habitat

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

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

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

What changed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What didn’t change?

I was greeted when I entered.

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

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

The wifi worked.

I had a quiet place to write for an hour.

What about Starbucks?

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

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

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

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

tl:dr – Training. Metrics. Detail.

Categories
Competition customer retention Customer service Management Productivity Small Business

How to build a follow up system

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

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

Identify your touch points

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

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

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

Here’s my list:

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

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

Let’s build a follow up system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A system can all but eliminate the cracks.

Categories
Automation Competition customer retention Getting new customers Management Small Business

A simple, high value tactic many miss

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

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

Conflict isn’t number one

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

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

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

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

Follow up. That’s all.

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

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

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

Why doesn’t follow up happen?

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

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

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

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

 

Categories
attitude Customer relationships customer retention Getting new customers Improvement Leadership market research Setting Expectations Small Business

Desperate for business?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How’s your value proposition?

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

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

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

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

Why did they leave?

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

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

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

Categories
customer retention Direct Marketing Lead generation Marketing Small Business Trade Shows

Planning for a strategic trade show

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

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

Who attends a trade show?

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

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

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

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

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

Partners and competitors

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

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

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

Run up and follow up

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

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

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

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

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