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The most important little thing we do

When you’re on the road, little things matter. In fact, they matter all the time. Every. Single. Day.

That extra comment or tip from the lady at check-in. The friendly suggestion from the dude who drives the shuttle. A restaurant recommendation from the parking/cab attendant that turns out to be amazing and a good bargain all in one.

When delivered consistently, they can grow well beyond the sum of each act.

Think about the little things your people do and how your business handles them.

They matter, but they’re almost impossible to put into place with a training program. More often than not, you get them when you hire.

Hire well. It’s the most important little thing you do.

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Who needs a mentor? Not me!

Note: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. See full disclosure at the bottom of this post.

Thanks to the kindness of a few people and a good mix of intent and luck, I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of people that I consider mentors or significant influencers.

In several cases, I’ve managed to work with them in person, via email or phone calls.

More often than not, I meet them at conferences – but not at conferences related to the industries I work (or have worked) in. That’s where the intent and luck take over.

Who are mine?

For me, the list is easy: Jim Rohn, Dan Kennedy, Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Dan Sullivan and Chet Holmes.

Each of them have something in common: Without hesitation, they can name a mentor who was instrumental in getting them on the right path in their earlier years. They all struggled, and in some cases, did so mightily and more than once in their lives.

At their level of achievement, the fact that they can point to a mentor who was instrumental in their success is a critical lesson. It’s one each of us should take away from observing what makes high-achieving people tick.

None of them claim to “figure it out” on their own – even though they specialize in a particular area of business and have substantially raised the level of “play” in their respective specialty.

If these people managed to find and learn from mentors, shouldn’t all of us?

Why do entrepreneurs need mentors?

You might be wondering why you even need a mentor.

A few reasons…

  • We can all use a dose of clarity now and then. Sometimes more often.
  • We need to hear a perspective that we don’t have about our challenges .
  • We need a fresh set of eyes on something we’re about to do, already doing or failed at doing.
  • We need someone to be honest with us when no one else will.
  • We need advice from someone whose experience and knowledge is far beyond on own.
  • We need to be asked the question that will transform what we do.
  • We need the counsel of someone who will provide a stern correction before we make a ridiculous mistake.

Where do you get these things now?

How do I choose mine?

I’ve found that you don’t often choose them. In fact, sometimes they happen to you or someone brings them to you. There’s a lot of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” going on when it comes to mentors.

It can take serious effort to find a mentor. You might have to pay them. Don’t cheat yourself on this – the results from working with the right mentor can (and should) be worth at least 10 times your investment – hopefully more.

Here’s the things I look for:

  • A history of success that’s 10-100 times beyond where I’ve been – in any field. Recurring success, preferably.
  • Someone who can see through me and isn’t shy about doing it.
  • An ability to ask simple questions or make simple suggestions that floor me or make me rethink my angle on something. You can find this most often through their writing (books, blogs, etc).
  • Someone who asks questions about myself or my work that I can’t immediately answer.

What would you look for?

What about other influences?

Other influencers come from outside the business world, or their influence has little (if anything) to do with business. For example, Hildy Gottlieb has a habit of making comments that provoke me to think differently and before long, that thought bubbles up and provokes some of my sharpest clarity in discussions that end up helping her. While our relationship is not at all about business, business tends to be the context where I process our conversations – at least initially.

What about you?

You might think you don’t have any business mentoring someone, but that just isn’t true. There are always people who need advice, a little wisdom, some clarity and an occasional poke in the ribs. Make yourself available to someone – it’s likely to improve far more than their life. More often than not, it’ll make you reconsider some of your own struggles, even if they are worlds apart from the person you’re mentoring.

Mentorship and influence isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s about dollars and sense – and a lot more.

 

DISCLOSURE: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business.

The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently.

Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

Visa Business_September Infographic_600

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How to segment your customer list

Have you heard that you should “segment” your customers before marketing to them?

Ever wondered what that means, much less how you’d do that?

We’re going to talk about that today in simple terms, but before we do that, you might be wondering …

Why should I segment my customers?

Good question.

You want to segment your marketing is to achieve something called “Message-to-market match“.

Let me explain with an example. Let’s say your company sells women’s underwear.

Would you advertise the same underwear in the same way with the same photos and the same messaging to each of these groups?

  • Single women
  • Pregnant women
  • Newlyweds
  • Moms of girls approaching puberty
  • Dads of girls approaching puberty
  • 50-plus women
  • 80-plus women
  • Women under 5′ 6″ tall
  • “Plus sized” women
  • “Tiny” women
  • Very curvy women
  • Not-so-curvy women
  • Women who have survived breast cancer
  • Significant others

I’ll assume you answered “No”.

Message-to-market match” means your message is refined for a specific group of recipients so that it’s welcome and in-context, rather than annoying and out of left field.

A lack of message-to-market match is why people tune out ads and pitch so much mail – the message isn’t truly for them. If it happens enough times, everything you send them is ignored. Ouch.

Like the recycling bin

When recycling different materials, the processes required to break down cardboard (shredding, pulping, etc) will differ from the process that prepares glass, plastic or animal manure for reuse.

Think of your messages in the same way. If the message a customer receives doesn’t make any sense because it’s out of context, it’s like recycling something with the wrong process. The money, time and energy invested in creating and delivering the wrong message will be wasted. Worse yet, the wrong message can alienate your customer and/or make your business look clueless.

Ever received an offer “for new customers only” from a business that you’ve worked with for months or years? How does that make you feel?

You might think a generic piece of news is received the same way by everyone – when in fact that news might excite some customers and annoy the rest. The time spent considering this and segmenting your announcement can save a lot of pain.

Your First Oil Change

Look at the groups listed for the underwear business. That’s customer segmentation.

If you sent “The Single Dad’s guide to helping your daughter pick out her first bra” to the entire customer list, how many would think “This is exactly what I need”? Only the single dads group. Most others would hit delete, unsubscribe, click the “Spam” button or just think you’re not too swift.

The smart folks sending the “first bra” piece would break it down further by sending a different guide to the moms than they send to the dads.

Need a simpler version? Chevy vs. Ford vs. Dodge. Harley vs. every other bike. You shouldn’t have the same conversation with these groups, even if you sell something common to all of them, like motor oil.

Think that list is broken down too much? Don’t. I just scratched the surface.

Why people think they can’t segment

– They don’t have or “get” technology.

Whether you use a yellow pad or a fancy customer relationship management (CRM) system, you can make this work. If not, consider a better way to keep track of things.

Long before computers, savvy business people would sort customers into the “blue pile, red pile, yellow pile” before putting together a marketing piece. No technology is no excuse.

– Their media doesn’t offer segmenting.

What if your chosen media doesn’t provide a way to target a specific segment? They don’t deliver special Yellow Page books to single people, retired people, CPAs or car dealers – so how do you segment your message?

You can segment those media buys by message since many vendors are unable to deliver a different book, newspaper, magazine or radio/TV ad to different types of customer – which should also improve ad ROI.

You might be getting pressure from internet-savvy staff (or vendors) to drop old-school media. If it works now (do you know?), dropping them makes no sense.

– They don’t have a customer list

Start creating one today, even if it’s on a yellow pad. Figure out what differences are important to you and record them.

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Perfect is the enemy of done – or is it?

A couple of weeks ago, NASA celebrated the one year anniversary of Curiosity Rover landing on Mars.

As someone who has been taking pictures since the ’60s, I still find it amazing that we can tell a satellite orbiting Mars to take a picture of a Jeep-size spacecraft parachuting to its landing 62 million miles away and have the photo on my laptop 20 minutes later.

The photos and video of the landing and all that led up to that event reminds me of the oft-quoted remark “Perfect is the enemy of done.”

Does it need to be “perfect”?

While shipping something and iterating its benefits, features and quality are perfectly acceptable strategies for many products and services, I think we shortchange ourselves if we don’t keep in mind that there’s a time and a place for “better than done”.

I was trained by engineering professors during my college days, so “perfect” means something well beyond “done” to me, often well beyond four decimal places.

Perfection is extremely difficult to achieve and even harder to prove , so let’s settle on a “Much better than where it is now” definition so we can keep the engineers happy.

Using that definition, perfect makes no sense for most work under most circumstances. For example, software programs are never “perfect” and while you can always sand a surface with a finer grit of sandpaper, does it matter if you take an 800-grit-smooth surface to where 10000 grit will smooth it?

Perhaps a better question is this: Is the cost and time investment worth going past “good enough/done” to reach for those “perfect” four, nine or 27 decimal places?

Going beyond a seemingly ridiculous number of decimal places is one reason why Curiosity made it to Mars and still rumbles across the Red Planet today – yet it’s unlikely that Curiosity is perfect.

BUT… it is extremely well-designed and resilient.

Design and Resilience

My point is this: while perfect is certainly the enemy of done for much of the work that you and I deliver, that doesn’t eliminate the need to put serious thought into the design and resilience of our best products and services – if not all of them.

It’s not unusual for us to design something based on immediate and short-term needs, never taking the time to consider what happens if it encounters situations and customers our short-term design never considered.

The information we don’t have is often as important as what we know and assume at design time.

When you send a product like Curiosity to Mars, you don’t get an opportunity to replace a part you didn’t think through as well as you should have. You can’t make a service call or throw a tarp over it while you rip it apart to figure out how to resolve today’s problem.

Instead, your design time process has to include what *could* happen and how your product would react and extract itself from an unexpected situation….long before you load it onto a rocket, pallet, download page or Fedex box.

What if your product…

  • Finds itself being used by a customer 10 times bigger than your design-time’s “Ideal Customer”? Or 10 times smaller?
  • Is being used in an unfriendly environment? A high-security or low-security situation?
  • Lasts 10 years longer than you expected? Remember – the work or result it provides still reflects on your business.
  • Cost 250% more to replace once it’s installed – and that installation takes 253 days  (the time it took for Curiosity to reach Mars).

When Curiosity lifts off, it was too late to turn a screw, change a part’s materials, or sand and polish it to an even-higher tolerance fit.

Think about your best stuff – no matter what you do. What would happen to it under the conditions described above? Would it be worth more if it handled those things without breaking a sweat?

How would you react when that extra bit of design effort pays off? What revenue will result? What will that first few seconds of success feel like?

PS: The sum of *all* NASA spending over the last 50 years is $800 billion. Lots of money. Yet that 50 years of exploration and discovery were cheaper than the government bailout of Wall Street, which cost $850 billion. A stunning comparison of ROI, even before thinking about the spin-off technologies from NASA’s work that have trickled down to business and industry, much less the things that impact our daily lives.

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Start a streak

What have you done every day, every week or every month for years?

For example, I’ve written a weekly column for the Flathead Beacon since 2006.

I don’t get a week off from the column if it’s Christmas or the Fourth of July. It just gets done.

Some find that a massive, if not surprising, achievement. Others see it as if it were a ball and chain.

Me? It’s just something I need to get done every week. Some weeks, it’s harder than others – but I still make sure it gets done – and yes, I’m better at getting that done regularly than I am at some other things because I’m accountable to the community who reads it.

The value of that accountability shouldn’t be discounted. It’s a powerful tool and motivator.

Think about it

Think about the consistency of the tasks *you* perform to grow your business. Would more consistency in how you podcast, blog, tweet, vlog, post to Facebook, send an email, make a call, drop a mailing or send a newsletter mean more/better business? Would adding a new item to the list make more of an impact?

Of the things you do regularly, which of them produce the best response? (if you don’t know – fix that)

Would it help if that work was done more often? Think about it.

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When did you decide to be typical? #sponsored

Asi nace una nueva arepa...
Creative Commons License photo credit: Venex_jpb

Note: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. See full disclosure at the bottom of this post.

Donald Trump has repeatedly been quoted as saying “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

It’s easy to read his comment as cold words from a billionaire bent on grinding through another interchangeable cog in his machine, but I think it means something different altogether.

I think it means that his decisions aren’t driven by emotion.

If you’ve spent much time studying him, it’s easy to see that he works as if he believes that Business is Personal, as I do. Look into the standards his properties are held to and the way he evaluates work done for him. Everything has his name on it… how can he not take it personally? It reflects directly on him.

Think Beyond Trump

The relationship formed with your business by virtue of a customer’s purchase is taken quite seriously by them. If you talk with them about it, you’ll find it far more important than you expect. There’s a “reason why” that they choose and stay with you.

A car battery purchase on a Saturday afternoon in May seems like just another generic transaction until that customer’s car won’t start on a rural Montana road during a blinding snowstorm, hundreds of miles from help.

If that car’s failure to start strands your kids on a dark night or causes you to miss your daughter’s graduation, a battery gets personal in a hurry.

When it impacts a customer’s family, it’ll never be “just a battery”, no matter how rushed or ambivalent the purchase was during that warm May afternoon. Never forget that when helping a customer choose a product or service.

Accountability is Personal

The long-term accountability of a purchase can change your business, as can the tiniest effort of your staff.

That’s why it’s so critical that every member of your staff is carefully selected and trained, even if they are performing what you see as the most routine, entry-level work. Why critical? Because it’s often the work actually seen by your customer and it might be the last interaction that the customer experiences with your company’s staff – and the last impression you make on them.

The housekeeper who prepares a customer’s room is often the most important staff member to their visit. If the customer finds hair or bugs in the shower, their opinion of your entire facility is damaged.

A fabulous week at your bed and breakfast can be destroyed, reputation-wise, by a few ants, a cockroach, an unexpected surprise in a guest’s salad or a snide comment from a staff member as they load luggage into the guest’s car.

Everything is Anything

I tell clients “Anything is everything and everything is anything”, because they’re just that.

What I mean is that everything that happens while using your products, consuming your services or on site at your restaurant, motel, campground or store is as important as anything else you do. Likewise, any single thing done on behalf of your business is as important as everything else you do because in the customer’s mind, the last thing you did might be the only thing they remember.

Imagine that your restaurant has the best organic food raised on your own farm, prepared by the finest chefs in the land and accompanied by the best wine selection available. Your reputation for quality and impeccable service dominates Trip Advisor.

All of that is history if your visitor steps on a piece of hot, sticky gum as the doorman welcomes them through the front door of your restaurant.

So what is a typical business owner supposed to do? Stop being typical.

Being Atypical

The typical business owner thinks they can’t control the gum, the snarky employee or the cockroaches.

The owners of amazing businesses can’t control them either, but they take steps to minimize and manage those things to the best of their ability:

  • They invest more time and energy into the hiring, selection and training of every member of their staff than the typical business owner.
  • They hire for attitude because it isn’t a trainable attribute.
  • They build processes into their business that are designed to avoid, prevent or quickly resolve the issues a typical business owner grows to accept.

How do they do all that? They decide to be something other than typical.

 

DISCLOSURE: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business.

The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently.

Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

Visa Business_July Infographic_071013

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Help them help you

20130714-111557.jpg

During a recent road trip, I encountered this sign in a rest room entryway at an Oklahoma Turnpike rest stop.

Below the sign was a standard wall light switch.

While I didn’t test it and hang around to measure response time, it’s a nice idea that allows customers to help a business’ staff become aware of problems more quickly than their periodic monitoring might reveal – particularly at a very busy highway rest stop where a mess might be just around the corner.

The longer that new mess hangs around unaddressed, the more likely it is that it will make a bad impression on a visitor. While not foolproof or automatic, the switch is one more way to build in systems/processes that can improve the business environment.

What systems, tools and processes have you established that enable your customers to help your business?

What about your products and services? Depending on the nature of them, it’s possible for them to alert you to situations you should be aware of that will improve your business and how it’s perceived.

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Six simple questions about your website

I received these questions in an email from Tony Robbins last year.

The premise was to ask if you could answer these questions without doing a bunch of research, much less if you could answer them at all.

  1. How many visitors come to your website per month?
  2. How many of those turn into sales?
  3. How many emails are you collecting per month through your website?
  4. How long has the site been up?
  5. How many emails are in your database that have been collected through your website?
  6. What are you doing to follow up with visitors and close sales?

Seems to me they’re as important now as they were in 1995, much less last year.

A lot of businesses pay attention to #1. Many pay attention to #2.

Number 3 and 5 get plenty of attention from some, not so much from others.

The Big One

Number 6 is the one that I see the least effort on across the board.

Are you assuming they’ll come back? Are you doing something to get them to come back? Are you doing something to keep them as a customer over the long term?

So many questions…

Rather than being overwhelmed by it all, deal with the lack of an answer one at a time – particularly if it requires work.

Having one answer is much better than having none.

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The most expensive, most stressful thing on your desk

Nothing destroys a work day like distractions.

Ever realize that it’s “suddenly” dinner time and all you remember doing since lunch is reading Facebook?

That’ll show up nicely on a deposit slip. Hello, stress.

Distractions are a product of your work environment, your work habits and how those two things are communicated to others.

Your work environment

What you surround yourself with is critical to your work. Clutter doesn’t help – and I mean clutter of all kinds – physical as well as electronic.

These things are waiting to distract you, so you have to eliminate them from your work environment. Eliminate doesn’t necessarily mean trash.

Electronic clutter is particularly distracting to me, so I’ve surrounded myself with systems that “protect” me from it. Instapaper helps me get rid of open browser tabs that I was saving to read. Things, a GTD-oriented system, helps me store ideas and to-do items on notes, in my head, in emails, etc.

Because I know they’re not “lost”, they don’t clutter up my browser, mind, desk or subconscious. Don’t take the last one lightly. Worrying about forgetting something is very distracting.

Random phone calls are also a form of clutter, so I only take calls by appointment (with very few exceptions). I know – you think you can’t do this without losing sales. I thought the same thing.

My tools may not fit you. Use what fits. Discard what doesn’t.

Your work habits

Last night at a local restaurant, I spoke with one of my Scouts who’s home from college for the summer. He’s in amazing physical condition and has been for years, despite being a skinny little guy years ago. He says people often say they want to “look like him”, but they don’t want to do the work he did to get that way.

He tells them it’s as easy as working out every day, which may be hard to do until it becomes a piece of your life you aren’t willing to give up for anyone – even your immediate family. That hour a day that no one (or nothing) can take from you for any reason isn’t neglect. It’s building a better you so you can be better for them.

Habits are just as critical at work.

One of my mentors would growl “Just do more of what matters. Make more time by doing less of what doesn’t.” While he’s right and yes, it’s common sense, most people need help doing it.

Consider the three most important tasks you need to finish next week. Do you have to think about it to remember them? That’s not good.

I use my calendar and Things to tell me those three tasks. Neither tool forgets. I review Things every weekend and schedule work tasks on my calendar as if they were meetings, speaking gigs or other commitments.

In an age where you can watch TV on your phone and people can contact you almost anywhere, you have to take managing yourself seriously. Scheduling things (even blog writing) in my calendar is how I make sure that the important things get done – including family stuff and paying bills.

A full calendar makes it easy to say no to less important things you don’t have time for. If the important things like work and family are booked first, stuff that doesn’t matter enough has no place to go.

How those two are communicated to others

People appreciate when you don’t immediately answer your phone, but always return their call.

People appreciate when you don’t immediately reply to an email, but always reply.

People appreciate it when you don’t miss a ball game, a play, a concert or a night out, even if you have to work afterward.

When people see you glance at and then ignore a vibrating phone while in a meeting with them, they’ll ask about it the first time. When you tell them that you aren’t answering because you booked this time solely to give them 100% of your attention, your previously “unreasonable” call policy suddenly becomes reasonable.

If you work (or play) with focused attention, people will notice and appreciate it.

You mentioned stress. What about that?

How much stress would you have if you didn’t forget important things and routinely completed them?

 

Visa_small_biz_infographic_060713

Disclosure: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

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Tell your fish story, Mr. Limpet

Salmon

During a recent trip to Oregon, our journey took us to a dockside seafood restaurant in Newport.

As you can see from my photo, this restaurant offers fresh local seafood in addition to meals made with the local catch.

Take a close look at the sign used to describe this salmon.

We know that the fish was caught locally by a real person who had to reel it in, on fishing vessel (“F/V”) that employs local people. The sign tells us it wasn’t farmed, pitched into a freezer with 30,000 other fish, much less frozen and shipped in by truck or rail from 2,000 miles away.

The sign’s details drive home that this slab of salmon is fresher and thus (probably) better than salmon in the chain grocery down the street that has a sign saying “fresh salmon”. You know details about this particular fish’s path to the refrigerated case that you rarely know in an ordinary grocery store that doesn’t really specialize in seafood.

I’ll bet that if I had asked the lady behind the counter about Two Sisters, she could have told me about them.

Fresh and local is a particularly critical for fish and produce, but the effort to describe whatever you do in rich, honest detail is critical – particularly if you’re selling against commoditized products and services that tend to be compared solely by price. The goal isn’t to be flowery and cover up what you do with fancy wallpaper – it’s to help someone who cares understand why your stuff is what they really want.

Your why is just one more thing that makes you stand out because it resonates with what’s deeply important to discerning buyers.

What about what I do?

Emphasizing the upside of using local food should be an obvious win, but this sort of thing is no different for those who sell furniture, vacuum cleaners or whatever it is that you sell.

If I talk to your staff or visit your website, am I going to get why you sell what you sell, vs just selling any old thing? Do I get a feel for what’s important to YOU when you choose (or manufacture) a product, or deliver a service? Do I know what drove you to offer these services and why it might be more important to you than to me that you “fix” whatever issue my life, business or vehicle has?

I spent about 20 minutes listening to a vacuum guy compare different units for me the other day. I’m bad about listening to salespeople whether I plan to buy that day or not, because I want to hear and assess their pitch.

I got good info about the results, lifespan and repair expectations I could expect when choosing between different types / brands / quality levels of vacuums (all important stuff). I didn’t get much about why it was important to him that I make the right choice. Oddly enough, I got exactly that from someone about 30-40 years his junior – his son.

Enthuasiasts

You all know an enthusiast, and you probably are one about something. Enthusiasts will explain why you might value certain things or experiences as much as they do, either to bring you into the fold or just to explain why they care.

Coffee people will explain why a burr is superior to a grinder. People who are into furniture will ask if it is built using eight way hand tied springs. Skiers and snowboarders will wax on about tuning and wax.

Those things matter to enthusiasts who don’t want their beans scorched, crave holding an edge in the steep and deep, and want a repairable couch that will sit as nicely in 25 years as it does today. That’s why the link above explains the furniture manufacturer’s construction methods as well as WHY they use them.

The story behind what you do and how you do it is often as important as the products and services you offer.

It’s particularly critical if you’re in a high quality, high value market. If you can’t explain why you care and why your customer should, the next comparison that people will tend to make is price.

Unless you’re the box store, you’re likely to lose that comparison.