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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
customer retention Employees Marketing Positioning Small Business

How to make a good upsell

Thanks to cloud services, my hardware needs have shrunk substantially in recent years. This makes it easy to pace and plan hardware upgrades for what little hardware I have left.

However, reality sometimes gets in the way. Yesterday, my wife’s laptop died so I had to take immediate action.

It was a lesson in fulfillment, point of sale retail and how to make a good upsell, or not.

Bad upsells undermine trust

Every time I update Java, the Oracle-owned technology’s installer offers to install the “Ask Toolbar” as an option.

The default is “Yes, install the Ask Toolbar” and may also ask to change your home page to the Ask search engine page. My guess is that Doug Leeds (CEO of Ask) doesn’t even use Ask as his home page.

According to three different independent references in Wikipedia, the Ask Toolbar is considered malware: “Ask.com is noted for a malware toolbar that can be surreptitiously bundled in with legitimate program installations, and which generally cannot be easily removed from most common browsers once installed.

Every time I update Adobe Flash Player, the Adobe-installer offers to install McAfee anti-virus. Naturally, the default is “Yes, install MacAfee.”

Since Microsoft bought Skype, the Skype installer now asks to switch your default browser, switch your default search engine and install a browser plugin that changes what happens when you click on a phone number. Of course, “Yes, please make all those changes.” is the default.

In all three cases, these defaults are the last thing you want to do.

The point is that these actions give the impression that these companies are willing to damage their reputations (and our computers) and undermine any trust we might have in them by injecting these out-of-context (or damaging) upsells into the process of using their products.

Why bad upsells annoy us

As long as we’re paying attention, these things are easy to bypass and only take a moment to do so. Anytime we’re installing software on a computer, the prudent user should be paying attention. We should not be clicking through the install to “just get it over with”, yet many do exactly that and find themselves victims of these unscrupulous install processes.

They amount to bad upsells.

These situations annoy us because they change our experience with the vendor’s product and make us be on our guard at a time when the vendor’s trust should be assumed – when we allow them to take brief control of our machines so their software can be updated.

It’s the worst possible time to do something to undermine trust, yet that’s exactly what these and other vendors do. It’s the worst kind of upsell, even though we aren’t being asked to open our wallets.

So how does that relate to a new laptop?

Good upsells are helpful

Deciding what to upsell is as important as the act of asking about it. When someone asks me how to make a good upsell, I suggest that they focus on being helpful.

If someone brings a couple of cases of canned drinks to the checkout stand, a helpful suggestion is “Do you need any ice?

If they bring five quarts of motor oil to the checkout, it makes sense to ask about the kind of vehicle they have so you can help them select an oil filter.

Even though we buy gifts for people all year, only jewelry stores tend to ask if if we’d like complimentary gift wrap for a purchase made January through October. Gift wrap is an upsell, even if it’s free.

We get distracted or forgetful in these situations by thinking beyond the moment, so the right kind of upsell can save us time, fuel, frustration and embarrassment by reminding us about important but briefly forgotten items.

As with any marketing, you should test your upsell to see what works so you can stop doing what doesn’t. A better ice question might be “Do you have enough ice to keep these cold all day?“, but you won’t know this unless you test different questions and measure the results.

Does the upsell help the customer remember something that compliments their purchase? Does it help them make the purchase more effective, more productive, more valuable to them?  Does the upsell build trust or undermine it?

Bottom line: Does it help them?

Categories
Business culture Business model energy Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Management Positioning Productivity Small Business The Slight Edge

Focused on the holiday, now or the future?

It’s that time of year when business owners are pulled in many directions. The end of the calendar year has a way of doing that.

Some of us are focused on the year we’ve had, some on this month’s performance (which could make or break the year), and some on the future.

While all of those things are important, it’s a good time to remind you of the difference between “working on vs. working in the business” and how important ON vs IN is to getting your business out of what feels like survival mode.

Working IN the business

Almost all of us do this to some extent. What exactly does it mean?

Working IN the business is about taking care of today’s production and quite often, dealing with the crisis of the day – whatever that might be. It’s about making sure clients are happy, products and services are getting delivered – and in some cases, taking part in that creation/delivery.

In short – this is you, the owner/manager, working as an employee of the business. There are times when this is essential and in the smallest of businesses – the solo business owner – it’s how you generate revenue. The thing you need to be cognizant of is making sure working IN time doesn’t become a substantial majority of your work time month-in, month-out, even if you’re the only one there.

If you’re an employee reading this, I hope your employer’s owner and manager(s) spend more time working ON, than IN, but this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, everyone has to knuckle down and get work out the door.

If you’re an employee who thinks they’re doing this – see what you and your peers can do to take even one thing off their plate without being asked. Every little bit helps. If you’re worried about overstepping your bounds, ask.

If nothing else, asking the question should send the message that you have the best interests of the business on your mind.

Working ON the business

Working ON is what allows the business to worry less about what’s happening next month, much less next week or tomorrow.

Why worry less? Because you’re doing enough working ON to be pretty confident that things are booked for that day, week and/or month.

How does a business worry? When you wonder how you’ll make payroll next month, you worry – and it’s reflected in your comments and actions. When employees notice things that tell them money is tight (or really tight), they worry – and it’s reflected in their comments and actions.

These comments and actions reflect on your business. They send a message to your client, your banker, your family (and your staff’s families) and others.

Working ON includes planning and executing, but it’s also very much about communications. Making sure everyone understands what will happen next month and the month after, how those impact the rest of the year’s plans is critical to getting everyone on board.

Are you simply too buried in working IN to work ON this month? If so, take a minute to make an appointment with yourself in your calendar later this month or early next month. Spend that appointment time planning your year so that this time next year, you’re spending more time working ON more so than working IN.

Some examples would be worthwhile, eh?

Since I talk about this fairly often, some examples of “working ON” would be useful.

Spend time on asking yourself these things:

  • What can be systemized?
  • What should never be systemized?
  • What can you do to take the risk of purchase off of your client by providing them with a meaningful, no “but clause” guarantee that they’ll trust?
  • Who are our best clients, how do we keep them, sell more to them, and find more like them?
  • Who are our worst clients and how do we get rid of them? You know who the painful ones are.  Either fix what’s wrong or get rid of them. They can poison your business.
  • How can we avoid having letting the market and your customers beat down what we do into a commodity?
  • What upsells and follow up offers can we make at the time of purchase that make sense based on what the buyer bought. Remember, the hottest buyer in the world is one in front of you. Did you satisfy ALL of their needs and wants?

 

Categories
Corporate America Getting new customers Positioning Sales Setting Expectations Small Business

Selling to everyone

Selling isn’t about the shine; it’s about what happens when the shine has worn off.

Will your (or your clients’) management will think positively of you a year from now because of an investment you championed?

They’d better.

Sales calls: How they react

What’s your reaction when a salesperson calls?

Are there any salespeople who stand out from the crowd that you don’t want to talk to? If you’re a salesperson and you don’t get sales calls, ask around your company about the nature of the sales calls your management receives. You could learn a lot about the calls you make.

With a few exceptions, here are the reasons why I react the way I do to your sales call:

  • I don’t know you, even though you act like I do.
  • I still have a bad feeling about our last deal and you act like that didn’t happen.
  • I don’t need anything right now, but I am willing to listen to new stuff – just in case – IF you make an appointment.
  • You don’t have an appointment. Message received = You don’t respect my schedule or my time.
  • I’m the wrong person or we’re have zero need.
  • Last time we talked, you gave a generic presentation suited to all businesses, rather than one fine tuned for my business needs.
  • Your last presentation was like drinking from a firehose.
  • The financials from our last discussion were generic and didn’t identify the payoff period.
  • Your assessment of labor cost savings (despite my objections/feedback) is inaccurate and/or you tend to ignore the additional costs incurred by implementing your solution, such as management costs.
  • You are out of touch with what’s going on with the product side of your business, such as open issues, deliverability delays, implementation costs / timelines.

Sales calls: How they want to react

What people would like to feel when you call is “This person is a champion for our company. They only call when there’s a likely win ready for me, or when I need to know about something new in the industry that might affect our business.

You get to that point in your clients’ minds in part by asking yourself questions like these:

Why am I qualified to propose these solutions?

Do I have testimonials not only for my solution and company, but for the job I’ve done helping my clients?

My prospect / client fits us well because…

We are a good fit for our prospect / client because…

Have you reviewed the alternatives to your solution? If so, what are the pros and cons of each and why is yours the best fit for us?

Is my company a market leader? Not just in revenue, but in vision.

Is my company cranking out the same old thing to milk their cash cow, or are we also thinking about what our clients upcoming needs and producing something to address them?

Can my solution, my company and my proposal help my clients solve problems without causing them to lose momentum?

Selling to everyone means selling to anyone

When you produce financials to sell your deal, you have to do the math and show your work, just like a high school test. Your proposal’s payback, implementation timeline and life cycle must reflect the client’s reality and your company’s ability to deliver.

The challenge is that every department views ROI differently. Today, you’re often selling to everyone in your client’s company.

A proposal citing the accounting and tax benefits will interest Accounting, but will resonate with Manufacturing / Shipping people who are concerned with process efficiency, throughput, MTBF and similar metrics?

Without buy in from everyone involved, your sale will be harder than it has to be.

Everyone involved“? The discussion that sells the CEO and CFO will differ from one that gets Manufacturing on board, much less the one that gives the warehouse manager the tools necessary to get their staff on board.

Why should you care about whether the warehouse is on board?

Because they can kill a purchase, even though you never hear it that way. No CEO will tell you that Margaret in Accounting killed the deal or that the guys in the shop / on the dock thought the solution made no sense.

A final question: “Have you produced in-context materials for the client’s departments that help the client’s management sell the proposal to each department on their own terms?

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.

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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?

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Business model Customer relationships Direct Marketing Lead generation Marketing Positioning Small Business

Even black cats need a reason why

I didn’t do a Friday the 13th promo yesterday. Did you?

In my case, I didn’t get a promo out despite a monthly reminder on my calendar. Yes, every month a week or so before the 13th, a recurring reminder prompts me to check if there’s a Friday the 13th that month. This month, there actually WAS a Friday the 13th, which is a great time for a promo tied to the “holiday”.

I do this and recommend it for my clients for Friday the 13th and other oddball “holidays” because they’re a reason why, even if it is a quirky one. You can always craft a unique story between a product or service and almost any normal or oddball/unusual holiday. For that matter, you can make up a holiday that’s all yours. It isn’t like you’d be the first to do that.

A reason why

Before we do that, let’s go back to the business reason for doing this in the first place: A reason why.

There are all kind of reasons to do a promotion, but they are more productive if there’s a reason behind them – even if the reason is downright silly.

A few years ago, a Baltimore business had an 11% off sale after a snowstorm dumped 11 inches of snow in the area. The online business hadn’t slowed since snow didn’t disrupt their nationwide retail traffic, but the 11 inch snow was worth celebrating so they had a little sale to commemorate it.

Please understand that when I say “promotion”, I am usually NOT talking about “a sale”.

In particular, I’m absolutely not talking about the 40-50-60% sales that stores seem convinced are a daily requirement to keep a mall store open, or at least to generate the traffic they think they need.

I don’t spend much time in malls, but a recent visit had more stores with BOGO and 40-50-60-70 (yes, 70!) percent off sales than I’ve ever seen.

Either their original prices are fantasy or they are in serious trouble.

What exactly is a promotion?

Since I’ve made it clear what a promotion isn’t, I should also make it clear what a promotion IS.

A promotion draws attention, giving your clients and prospects a reason why. While it might include some sort of discount, it doesn’t have to. A well-executed promotion certainly doesn’t need discounts to make it successful.

Promotions commonly attract a specific type of client and prospect to your business. The newbie, the expert, the confused, the investigator, as well as those categories of prospects and clients within each product/service niche you offer.

Fine tune your reason why

A local home brewing store can have a promotion to introduce brewing to their clientele, yet still narrow the audience and get a specific kind of buyer. Instead of having a Saturday in-store brewing day promotion / event, they might have one focused specifically on India Pale Ales (IPA) and then rotate through other styles. In a large market area, they may want to narrow IPA days down to double-hopped or dry-hopped IPAs.

When doing this and focusing on one brewing style, they might stock up on fresh IPA-ready hops and have several brews in different stages of brewing so they can teach each stage’s hopping techniques.

Doing this with a dozen different styles of brewing on the same Saturday would be out of reach for most home brew stores – and would likely hurt business by confusing those who are paying attention.

Worse yet, if prospective home brewers (ie: newbies) show up at the promotion and happen to be folks who don’t like IPAs or the hop’s influence on that style’s taste, they might never come back.

Attract, Educate, Train, Sell

Whether you sell home brewing gear and supplies, or power tools for artisan woodworkers (hmm, do those mix well?), you’re likely to want to separate promotions by audience type so that you don’t attract newbies who need broad knowledge to make a decision with experts focused on tightly defined niches.

The point of the promotions described above is to attract, educate, train and of course, sell. No matter what you do, you’re likely to have prospects and clients interested in what you do that fall into groups you could arrange into newbies, confused, investigators and experts.

What are you doing to give them a reason why?