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A business problem, not a water problem

Photo credit: Michael Hyatt

When book publisher Michael Hyatt posted this image saying “When you read this at Panera, you know your city has a water problem”, it struck me as a business problem.

Sure, the city might have a problem, but that shouldn’t be your customers’ problem.

Every day, we must adapt to the cards we’re dealt.

Rather than “We are not serving tap water, sodas or brewed tea today” and taking what might be perceived as a political shot at the city (the same one who does their next restaurant inspection?), a customer-centered management team could have called Culligan (et al) to get all the restaurant-approved water they’d need to provide glasses of water and brewed tea.

If you’re Culligan, there’s a win-win there.

Perhaps you can’t easily and quickly alter the water supply for a soda dispensing system, but that still doesn’t require a sign.

A quick look at last week’s sales totals from the register would have told them that they sell 430 sodas per day on average and run over to Costco or Sam’s (or called their normal supplier) for a canned/bottled supply that would span the gap for them.

The next work day, they could consult with their soda mix supplier and explain the situation further, ask for advice on water supply adaptation and then contact their plumber to arrange for a way to feed the third-party water into their soda system. Or they simply could have adapted using pre-mix, though that would probably be too much of an interference to the restaurant’s workflow.

Instead, they chose to sell no soda and no tea (both high profit margin items) and take a shot at the city.

Maybe the city needed a smack, but the place to do that is at the city offices, at a council meeting and worst case, in the local press.

Using your customers as pawns in that game makes for a losing battle, especially when they are standing at your front door with their wallets and purses open.

PS: Interesting that coffee wasn’t mentioned on that sign. Might be because many places use high-tech water filtration systems for their coffee water supply lines. I wonder if a non-franchise restaurant would have reacted the same way.

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25 (or 6) to 54: Is that demographic important to you?

25 (or 6) to 54 is not a song from Chicago (that’s 25 or 6 to 4, video above).

It’s people.

People aged 25 (or 26) to 54 make up…

  • SIXTY-TWO percent of all social media use.
  • FIFTY THREE percent of Facebook users (687 million as of June 2011)
  • SEVENTY-FOUR percent of Twitter users.

We’re talking about a ton of people who have jobs, families, purchasing power, retirement plans, homes, cars and P&L responsibilities.

In other words – they might not be who you assumed they were. Many of them are potential customers who need and/or want what you create.

Typical

The typical social network user is 37 years old. Not a 13-15 year old who hasn’t yet gotten their license.

59% of people from ages 16 to 32 get their news online (is *that* demographic important to you?)

Are you taking social media interaction seriously from a strategic point of view? Are your competitors?

 

Social media use age profile (click to see full-size)

Graphic source: http://news.community102.com/how-different-age-groups-interact-online For the sources of these numbers, see the links at the bottom of the graphic. They’re readable when the graphic is viewed full-size (click the image).

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Checkmate on the Fridge

My favorite story about setting expectations comes from a really smart real estate agent.

When you decide to buy or sell a house with her, she gives you a pre-printed list of all the things that can happen during the process of buying or selling.

A list of 20 or 30 things that could delay the sale or otherwise go wrong might seem like a bad thing to give to a customer, but it works for her.

She explains that the list contains the most common roadblocks encountered during a transaction and assures the customer that she knows how to handle all of them.

If and when they occur, she’ll call and say “Number 16 on your list just happened, and I’ll take care of it.”

Works for me

How does this work for her?

First off – it shows the buyer/seller that she is experienced and is prepared for the little things that come along and try to derail a transaction. By discussing them in advance, she sets expectations, establishes her expertise (again, by warning you about these things in advance and telling you she has your back) and leaves you far more confident about things.

If trouble occurs, the sheet (which also acts as a timeline) shows that she predicted that it could occur and handled it for you vs. the appearance that this could be a surprise.

Once the transaction is done, the list serves as a reminder of all the things that *could* have gone wrong but didn’t. The list also reminds you of the value she delivered by taking care of all those things.

She could have simply provided a generic FAQ list and made the client sign it (likely without reading it) and handle it like other agents handle these things.

Instead, she leverages it into an advantage that – among other things – demonstrates why the client should value her services.

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Learn, unlearn, relearn.

Chameleon's eye
Creative Commons License photo credit: kaibara87

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” â?? Alvin Toffler

Are you doing the same things in the same ways that you did when *everything* worked?

If so, is that still working for you? If it is, great.

If it isn’t, you can be stubborn and wait out the marketplace to see if things come back to those Business-Can-Do-No-Wrong days of the “mid-noughts”.

You could also be stubborn and blame the whole thing on your state government and/or Washington. If you do, I’ve no doubt that you also gave them full credit for the unbridled business growth you had in 2005-2007.

Or, you could take things into your own hands to the extent that you can.

In Your Hands

For example, if you run a medical facility like an eye clinic or a dental office whose lower tier/checkup services are paid for via insurance and you have patients whose records indicate their services are insured, do you send them a reminder postcard on the anniversary of their last insured service?

I’ll bet many of you do. The postcard probably says something like “Your annual appointment is due. Call us.”

How’s the response to that postcard?

If it isn’t so hot, have you tried different cards to different people?

Don’t feel bad if you do. Learn, unlearn, relearn – remember?

Message to market match

If you send different cards to different demographic groups (such as single, male, female, married, older, younger, etc), you’re doing what direct marketers call “message to market match”.

Direct marketing folks gave it a name for a reason – it’s substantially more effective than “mail everyone on the planet the exact same postcard”.

That means that your message to a particular group of people is customized for them. Their needs. Their wants. Their view of the world, generally speaking.

Do you send the same card to single men, single women, married couples in their 30s, retired couples, “middle aged” couples with kids, single moms, etc?

A single man might see a “Time for your annual appointment” card with a couple of kids and a dog on it and just pitch it.

Likewise, a married couple in their thirties might see a card with a white-haired couple on it and do the same.

Return on Investment

You might wonder if this is worth the effort.

Here’s how you can test it without spending a ton of money.

Go back and look at last month’s (or last quarter’s) postcard mailings. I’m assuming you can figure out who you mailed since you mailed them in the first place.

The next time you mail that group of people, send half of the female clients a postcard that is designed for a woman.

You can decide what that means in your market, but I don’t mean “Just make it pink with flowers.”

Send the other half of the women your standard card.

Measure the performance of each card.

Over time, continue to do any of those things that produce a better response than what you were used to. As response and ROI improves, keep testing two versions of your cards and see how they work.

The one that’s currently producing the best results is called the “control”.  Keep trying to beat it.

This strategy can be applied to your phone scripts, your emails, your Facebook page, your tweets on Twitter, your Yellow Pages ad, your newspaper / radio / TV ads and so on.

Insurance-paid services aren’t a requirement to do this sort of thing. I’ve yet to see a business that can’t benefit from this and do so without being annoying to their clientele.

Make it happen

I don’t remember who originally said this, but someone once said “There are three kinds of people: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.”

Relearning how to make the phone ring is no one’s responsibility but yours. I think that’s a good thing.

Be the one who makes things happen. It has a way of keeping you from being the one who wonders what happened.

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Arriving late?

Today’s guest post is for those business owners arriving late at the “social media party”.

For those making an entrance, business-wise, here’s a nice social media startup guide from the NYTimes’ “You’re The Boss” blog.

It talks about restaurants specifically, but the advice is sound regardless of what your business does.

As usual, salt to taste.

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If I owned a fitness center

In the process of elliptical-ing across some wide open (virtual) spaces recently, I thought to myself, “What would I change if I owned this place?”

I might warm up the pool a couple of degrees, but that really isn’t the kind of change I meant.

The things that came to mind were in the spirit of “Be indispensable“.

So what would make that place the ONLY place to be a member?

When I have these conversations with a client, the first thing we often talk about are their clients.

We start simple. Who are they? What do they need?

A Day in the Life

To answer the “Who are they?” question, let’s look around at a day in the life of a fitness center and see how we can segment the members (customers) into groups based on gender, age, level of fitness, “Why they are there”, and so on.

I don’t mean a group like “People who need/want to work out.” Obviously, most people who join qualify for either need to or want to.

I’m thinking about a list like this, and I’m sure it’s far from complete:

  • Professional or semi-pro athletes, such as people who regularly marathon, triathlon and/or Ironman. You might include players for the local semi-pro teams. Around here, the Glacier Twins and/or Glacier Knights would be included.
  • Bodybuilders.
  • Post-partum moms who want to get their “pre-pregnancy body” back.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Men recovering from heart surgery.
  • Anyone newly diagnosed with diabetes.
  • People who are new to working out.
  • “Formerly disciplined workout people” who haven’t worked out in five, ten or more years.
  • People recovering from an injury, possibly under the direction of a physical therapist.

Within these groups, you’ll find breakdowns for gender and/or age group. Don’t underestimate those.

Everyone should be considering the sizable wave of Baby Boomers heading into their 60s-70s-80s might impact their business and what opportunities they suggest. Likewise, research has repeatedly shown that women control or influence 80% or more of household spending.

Is your business catering to these groups? If not, is your business even passingly friendly to these groups?

I Have Needs

The second question on my list was “What do they need?”

Until you create the list above, your needs list might be simpler than it should be because you might just be thinking “What do my members need?”.

Once we’ve gone through the customer (and prospect) identification and segmentation process, we’ll find more needs.

That’s why we go through this probably tedious, sometimes eye-rolling process that almost always helps you find new things that your customers need. The result should be obvious.

What do they need?

Now look back at that list of customer types from a “wants and needs” perspective. Consider the needs of body builders, post-partum moms, heart patients, and semi-pro athletes, for example. In some ways, they’re similar. In others, they have wildly different expectations.

They all need machines/weights, steam room, hot tub, pool, showers, restrooms and so on.

After that, the needs among the groups vary quite a bit:

  • Some would benefit most from instruction and/or working in groups.
  • Some prefer private facilities.
  • Some prefer gender-specific workout times/rooms.
  • Some prefer age-specific.
  • Some work evening or night shift.
  • Some would prefer to find a workout partner for motivation, spotting weights and/or accountability.
  • Some would like to be gently nagged if they don’t show up 3 times a week.

One example of many obvious ones: You wouldn’t necessarily have 20-somethings in a Yoga class with 60-somethings. Not because they can’t enjoy each other’s company, but because the instruction and goals for one group probably don’t parallel the other. That might drive you to have separate Yoga classes for singles, post-partums, “retirees”, physical therapy patients and so on. In each case, the instructor could be matched with attendees.

“What about me?”

If you don’t own a fitness center, you might be thinking this discussion isn’t much help.

Use what you can after adjusting it for your business. Can you take any idea here and make it work for you?

Finally, take a hard look at the thought process itself (“Who are my customers, what are their unique needs”) and see what you can come up with for your business. Even if you’ve done this five, ten or fifteen years back, I suggest doing it again. You might find yourself in new markets, focusing on a particular type of customer that you’d previously ignored, etc.

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After The Honeymoon

Recently, I stopped into a niche retail business for the very first time.

They’ve done a nice job with it. Haven’t been open long, so some of the obvious things I’d suggest to make the place a real customer magnet weren’t in place yet.

I have a feeling they might get there, but time will tell.

What worries me most about my visit is that they did nothing to see that I’d return…

  • I wasn’t asked how I’d be using their product – and it’s a natural question for them, not a nosy none-of-your-business one.
  • I wasn’t offered any additional information showing all the other items they make.
  • I wasn’t asked to check out their Facebook page, which will someday hopefully be full of ways to use their product.
  • There was nothing letting me know that another business in town uses their product, so that if I really loved it I could go there too.
  • There was nothing in the store or on the products that included their website address on it – including the receipt or the label on the product.
  • I wasn’t asked if I’d like to be notified when they make special stuff. Doesn’t matter whether that notification happens by phone, text message, Facebook, email list or even a printed newsletter, just notify me.
  • I wasn’t asked to let them know how I liked their stuff by going to their site or Facebook page (which also doesn’t encourage this) or heaven forbid, filling out a self-addressed postcard or picking up the phone.
  • I wasn’t given a coupon or “send-a-friend” promotion so that I could tell my friends about them if I liked their stuff (that’s also what the Facebook Like button is for).

Doing ALL of this might be a bit pushy. Doing NONE of this is a big mistake.

Look, I know they are a new place and some of this takes time to get going.

You may even think I’m being hard on them, but I’m nowhere near as hard on them as the market will be.

No Second Chances

Re-elected politicians get second chances. Folks who make mistakes, like Michael Vick and Martha Stewart, get second chances.

Businesses are rarely granted that luxury.

You have to take advantage of the “honeymoon of newly open”.

During your honeymoon, people will…

  • Visit your store even if they don’t need what you sell.
  • Tell their friends that they visited, even when they might not normally do so.
  • Click “Like” in Facebook just to give you a little push, when they might not ever use that button.
  • Cut you some slack for mistakes like untrained staff and other stuff that happens when you’re still trying to get all the kinks out.

When you operate a niche business, not every one is going to decide to be your customer. Those who do more or less raise their hands and say “me, me, me!”

When they do that, your job is to make sure to remind them to come back regularly, not just when they remember to return. Leave it to them to return at random and you might not see them for months.

Make the honeymoon last forever

Customers are hard to replace, even in a good economy. It’s particularly difficult to go out and find 100 new customers tomorrow because revenues are tight.

It’s a lot easier (and smarter) to earn just one new customer a week, keep it up year after year, and do whatever it takes keep most of them.

So let’s go over this again.

  • You love whatever you do so much that you quit your job to do it. That’s great.
  • You spent most of what’s left of your liquid retirement money to fund the business.
  • It cost more than you thought it would to get going, so you borrowed from your in-laws, your family and friends.

After doing all that, please don’t tell me you’re going to ignore the very people who said “me,me,me” by letting them walk out the door as if they walked into a box store.

Keep that up and you’ll be back at your old job in no time – if you can get it back.

You didn’t like that job anyway, so please do these things for yourself and your business.

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Facebook you…because?

As I drive around the area, I see lots of businesses who are trying to reap the potential rewards of local marketing on Facebook.

One sign: they have “Facebook us” or “Find us on Facebook” or similar on their roadside signs.

The idea is for you to click the “Like” button or become a fan of their business on Facebook, which will appear in your Facebook feed.

Because it appears in your Facebook feed, friends will see it as well and presumably some of them will check it out.

And that’s where it ends for many businesses. One time.

The smart ones talk with their fans/clients regularly via Facebook, even if they have a blog or other web presence.

People made the effort to friend, like or become a fan on Facebook.

What are you doing on Facebook to keep them paying attention?

Attention span

What are you doing to stand out amid the ever-present flood of game-related posts, surveys and other stuff on Facebook (note: you can hide that stuff without hiding the friend by clicking on the X at the right side of items of the type you don’t want to see – something you may want to share with your friends).

Does your restaurant have a Facebook fan special? A night where fans of the restaurant all get together IN PERSON (how’s that for frightening?)

Do you communicate daily or weekly with your fans to let them know what you’re up to? I don’t mean unnecessarily, but in cases where it makes sense.

Morning Glory Coffee and Tea in West Yellowstone, Montana does a great job of this and should give you some ideas, even if you don’t run a restaurant.

Ideas

What are people unaware of about your business? What knowledge would you like new (or existing) customers to know / have immediate access to?

What would they ask you in casual conversation about your business? What reason would people have to continue to visit your Facebook fan page?

Do some thinking about it – and act on it.

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Box stores Buy Local Competition Customer service Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Positioning Retail Sales Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Remember The Simple Things

Jeffrey Gitomer* sums up a lot of understanding of people, sales, psychology and more when he says “People don’t like to be sold but they love to buy.

Do you make it easy for them to buy?

Really? Let’s talk about it.

Beyond impulse

Are the things you sell displayed in a manner that will make it easy for your customers to select exactly what’s best for them?

Or…are they displayed in a manner that maximizes how many things you can get on the shelf?

The question is prompted by the recent untimely and tragic death of our old TV**. I recently had the (ahem) “luxury” of shopping for a replacement HDTV after our old one finally gave up the ghost.

I had a budget in mind, so after a little browsing on the net to see what was new, what features and standards were must have (and which ones were not), my youngest son and I caroused around town to the usual suspects (minus one that was closed) to find a new box.

The brands and models were pretty much the same from store to store, for the most part.

But something was different

What differed – radically so – was the presentation.

Two examples of the several we visited:

Store A

  • Had units scattered about in no particular order. It’s possible they were grouped very roughly by price.
  • Their display was moderately helpful for a standing customer (no seats) because half of the sets were more or less just below eye level. The rest were barely off the floor, which didn’t show off those models well.
  • Their pricey 3D sets were presented well, in a manufacturer-provided display with goggles.
  • Their sets displayed the same picture on most sets so you could compare. It was a mix of sports and scenic shots and “regular” stuff.

Store B

  • Had sets jammed so close together and displayed at differing angles above, at and well below eye level (again, no seats). The first thing I thought of was the clothing stores with racks and aisles packed so tightly that you can’t walk between the racks. They didn’t have their sets displayed in a manner that was designed to encourage you to take the time to browse, evaluate and buy. If you knew what you wanted and they had that item in stock, no problem.
  • Had models scattered all over the store with no rhyme or reason. Not grouped by size, price, features, manufacturer or any other sensible criteria. They were clearly just shoved where they’d fit, making it almost impossible to compare two closely priced or sized models.
  • 3D sets were just…where they were. It would’ve been impossible to evaluate them properly as displayed.
  • The most expensive (and amazing) set was a Sony non-3D set whose picture and specs were way over the top the best we saw all day. Yet this set was presented in the middle of a row of stacked up stuff with cardboard boxes across from it in a narrow aisle where your face was less than two feet from the massive screen. If I was the Sony rep for this store, Id be taking the manager out for a long chat. And their manager. And their manager.
  • Their sets displayed a buffet of content, with so much variety from screen to screen that was almost impossible to compare models.

Where’s the recliner?

Some audio stores figured this out before the box stores killed all but the high-end audio places: Build a room that presents your gear in its best light (or sound, as it were).

If I’m selling TVs, I want a small number of my very best selling TVs a normally lit room (like people’s homes) with a recliner, coffee table, couch, etc sitting around. I want them paired in good, better, best pairs with the 6 best selling, best quality units I have in those three price ranges. I want them to sit down and take a look. Toss em the remote and let them visualize that sucker in their own home.

All the other models, if I have to have all them, can be presented grouped by size within price range and paired so I can compare like models. Remember, you want to create an environment that makes it easy for the customer to make the best choice for their needs and budget. You don’t want them walking out frustrated because they learned nothing from shopping in your store.

The reason to make a sale is to get a customer, not the other way around. Your business is about customers, not TVs or Kitchen Aid mixers or snowblowers.

Wally

Yes, I know the mass merchandiser in you is going crazy. You may think want your store to look like Wal-Mart so that you sell them SOMETHING no matter what.

Well guess what? The best TV display for the buyer’s needs was…Wal-Mart’s. They were grouped by size within price range. No, there wasn’t a couch or a recliner. Yes, there was crazy-bright fluorescent lighting. Yes there were strollers 2 aisles over and video games beeping 20 feet away and a blue light special (whatever) announcement over the loudspeaker every 13 seconds.

Still, the layout was optimized on that wall to make it easy to choose a TV, not to make it easy to get all of them out of the box and on a shelf so we could say we did so.

Interesting that Wal-Mart would win in that department and not have the best price. Go figure.

*If you haven’t read Jeffrey, I suggest you do so. Good stuff. Start with “Customer Satisfaction is Useless“.

** Jim Rohn said “Poor people have big TVs. Rich people have big libraries.“  Meaning – educate yourself. And keep at it. Watch a little less TV, read a little more. Do better for yourself in the next year by spending time to better yourself.

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attitude Business culture Competition customer retention Customer service Marketing to women Public Relations Retail Small Business The Slight Edge

Who sells our stuff? Dont know, dont care.

Who sells your stuff?

Many wholesalers list the brick and mortar stores and online outlets where their products can be found, but a substantial number don’t, citing competitive issues and so on.

Unless your products are in some way objectionable (which could mean almost anything), I really can’t see a reason not to let people know where they can find your wholesale products locally.

Clearly, there’s at least one vendor here in Montana who disagrees, as I recently received this email:

We recently got our dog back to live with us. I am a subscriber to Dogster.com and just recently I have started to look at the site for many things. Weather transitioning for dogs, stress etc… The first thing I noticed about him is that one of his eyes is starting to get a little cloudy (he is 10 yrs. old). So with that set-up here is the link I rec’d just last week from Dogster.

http://blogs.dogster.com/living-with-dogs/milk-thistle-and-senior-dogs/2010/08/

I contacted the Buck Mountain Botanicals that Dogster recommended and just as luck would have it, they are in nearby Miles City, MT. I contacted them to find out what retailer/vet carried their product in my town. The response is below in bold.

“We are a wholesaler and don’t keep track of who buys what. You can buy this product through a veterinarian or pet store. It is also easy to find retailers by Googling Buck Mountain Milk Thistle.”

I was stunned by their response for the following reasons:

  • Not a “thank you for inquiring about our product”
  • They “don’t track of who buys what” – I was further stunned by this! How do they stay in business, if they have no idea who buys their product?

Keep in mind Dogster.com is nationally recognized website that I have been using/following for over 8 years.

BTW, I did Google the retailers and purchased the product that evening plus I purchased a pair of dog earrings as well. Yeah, I know I am a sucker! :0)

Still stunned and amazed,

<dog owner>

The problem with “we don’t keep track of who buys our stuff” is that it simply isn’t believable. I think the wholesaler simply didn’t want to take the time to look up a retailer in the customer’s town, or better – point out the Google map on their website that shows where their retailers are (except…they don’t have one).

Do you really think that a wholesaler doesn’t know who their best retailers are?

On the other hand, let’s assume they were telling the truth. How do they know which retailer is their best? If they aren’t tracking retail distribution, what else aren’t they tracking?

Which products sell the best?

Which parts of the country are un-served or underserved?

You’d think that in “today’s economy”, people would want to take a personal interest in making it as easy as possible to get their products into a customer’s hands.

Most of us can easily look elsewhere for the things you sell. Don’t ever forget that.

Remember…Business is Personal. The little things are often what make it stay that way.

PS: Note the comment about dog earrings. There truly is a niche for everything. Ok, they probably aren’t for the dog. Still, there were 354,000 results in Google for “dog earrings”.