Customers for life are often made rather than found

We all want customers for life – at least if they’re good customers. The challenge is finding them, right? Once you know what they look, sound, and act like, you’ll know what to look for. For some, that’ll probably work. For others, you’ll have work to do.

Finding customers for life

Finding customers for life should start with how you find new customers. There’s a decent possibility that you can find more of them by doing a close analysis of the ones you already have. That assumes you can identify which customers have been with you “forever”. A fair portion of them should exhibit similar needs, wants, responses, purchase habits, and other tendencies / similarities.

Depending on the information you have about your customers, it might not be terribly difficult to discern these subset of things that trend for lifetime customers. Having figured that out, you could use that information in your marketing copy and to emphasize where you market (ie: which types of media, which publications / sites / locations). You’d also want to use this information to segment your leads if the critical lifetime indicator data is available for your leads.

Creating customers for life

Perhaps easier than finding customers for life is taking exceptionally good care of everyone and paying attention to the things they appreciate most. Once you identify those things and have observed customer reactions to them, you’ll do more of them – and which ones to emphasize.

Taking extra steps

Recently, I witnessed a family member making calls to financial firms, insurance companies, and similar businesses after a relative passed. Listening to the calls was excruciating to me – not because of the loss of the relative, but because of the incessant frustration they subjected their decades-long customer to after paying these businesses for a very long time. The worst part was that this customer was dealing with accounts, policies, etc involving the person who passed – and didn’t seem to be getting the least bit of empathy, no matter what the result of the call. I heard this sort of thing on call after call – it was rather unbelievable and pretty frustrating even though I wasn’t directly involved. I wondered how a company could possibly do something like that – intentionally – at what was clearly during one of the worst parts of their customer’s life.

After dealing with that, can you imagine that person’s comments to other family members who are considering updates to their insurance, banking situation, etc? Who would they recommend to a friend or family member? Who might they offer a negative recommendation about?

These are the kinds of observations you need to make to not only make someone a customer for life, but to turn their entire family into customers for life. More importantly, how should you do these things differently? Remember that protecting the company on these calls isn’t just about the explicit protection of observable company assets. It’s also about the customer – whose relationship with the company is also a valuable asset.

Things to consider

It struck me that the very best people doing customer service for these companies should be segmented off into a group whose only responsibility is taking care of long-time customers who have just lost a spouse (or similar).

A department designed for this and whose staff is trained solely to deal with those situations (even if by the book) would likely behave a bit different than the average and typical team of customer service reps who are trained to handle a wide scope of situations. They’re often monitored for time on the phone with each customer and/or number of calls handled per day. These are not metrics that you’d want to use when handling someone who recently lost a spouse. Yet that’s exactly what happens if the primary customer service team handles these calls in the mix with everything else they do.

Would an elder law firm handle clients like this in a similar situation? I’m guessing not.

Consider the situations your customers for life will face throughout their lifetime as your customer. Whether they’re buying cars, insurance, web sites, or whatever – there’s a sequence of life events that the customer deals with during that time frame. What can you do to consider those in advance, perhaps reduce their impact, and at the absolute least, do what’s possible to soften the blow and make the customer’s situation better, less frustrating, and memorable in a positive way?

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

An early career lesson from Ross Perot

Ross Perot meant different things to different people. He was the CEO of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) – my first real job. EDS was later purchased by General Motors – there are many stories about that, especially re: Ross’ time on the GM board. Later, EDS became part of Hewlett Packard. My Ross Perot story isn’t a business anecdote, but a personal one.

Back in 1983 when I started at EDS, there was some pretty serious cultural indoctrination. EDS people do this, and don’t do that (drugs and infidelity were explicitly mentioned). EDS people dress like this, not like that, etc. I wore tasseled dress shoes anyway – making some think I was a wildling. We were designed to compete with IBM, CSC, & similar companies. Our clients were big banks, insurance companies & Fortune 500 businesses, so we had to look like them to keep them comfortable.

In the early days (at least my early days), EDS headquarters was an eight or so story business tower. The tower, access road, and parking lot were built on half of the old Forest Hills Golf Club just west of Central Expressway on Forest Lane in North Dallas. It was a big piece of land, about 200 acres, in the middle of a fast growing area of Dallas. Amazingly, nine holes of the course and a small clubhouse were retained and kept in playing shape for use by employees & their guests. It was a great employee benefit. Unfortunately, a subsequent owner transformed all but 20 acres of the property into wall-to-wall tract homes.

Lunch “with” Ross

In addition to the course, the EDS building had a nice cafeteria. The word “cafeteria” is a little understated. Long before it was fashionable for software companies to have coffee bars and delis in their headquarters – EDS had a restaurant with puffy hat wearing chefs, etc. The food was good – and the prices were subsidized, or at least reduced to close to the company’s cost. You could get a nice lunch for $2.00 in 1983.

EDS had outgrown the building years earlier, so I worked a few miles north. As such, I didn’t visit HQ for lunch too often. However, it was EDS tradition to bring visiting family members in for lunch during the holidays.

Around Christmas & other times of the year, the restaurant would serve steamship rounds of roast beef. A steamship round is a giant chunk of beef that is carved to order right at the buffet by one of the puffy hat wearing chefs. For $2.00 (!), with all the trimmings.

In 1983, my paternal grandmother came to visit for Christmas, so I took her to lunch at HQ on steamship day. When grandma & I got to the normally busy cafeteria (what employees called it), there was almost no one there as many were on vacation. I was nearing the end of my first year at EDS, so I didn’t have much vacation. As we stepped into line, a short man in a suit (all of us wore suits) turned & smiled. He stepped forward & said “Hi, I’m Ross Perot” to my grandma & shook her hand. He then looked me in the eye, shook my hand & said “I always like it when my guys bring their moms into the office for lunch.” He asked where she was from & made a moment of small talk before wishing us a nice lunch & continuing down the line.

My grandma was in her late sixties at the time & had a major league silver-blue bouffant hairdo. I was 24. No one would likely mistake her for my mother, but he err’d on the side of courtesy & charm by playing it that way. He could have ignored us, gone through the line, and scampered back up to his office with his lunch – but he didn’t. Despite having billion dollar things on his mind, he took the time to say hello to a wet behind the ears newbie and his grandma. It was one of my earliest “Business is Personal” moments – a valuable lesson.

Rest in peace, sir.

P.S. My grandma had no idea who Ross was. When we sat down to eat, she said “He was a nice man.” I told her he owned the company & was worth about five billion dollars. She (a widow for over 20 years at the time) said “Well, I guess I should take that cowboy home with me.” 🙂

Photo credit: By Allan Warren – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59243822

Been ghosted or simply ignored?

Being ghosted describes a conversation where one of the participants simply stops communicating without saying “Bye”, etc. They simply go silent, or disappear. Amazingly, the place it’s easiest to find is during job hunting (or hunting for someone to fill a position).

Back in the age of the dinosaur (or at least the fax machine), it was common courtesy to tell a Human Resources person or recruiter that you were no longer interested in their position. Even if this happened by email, you did it. If they treated you well during the process, you might even tell them why you’re heading another direction.

Likewise, it was also common courtesy for a recruiter or Human Resources person to tell all their candidates that their position had either been filled or they’d closed the position for some other reason.

When a job candidate decides they don’t want or need your open position, many simply stop communicating with you. The same behavior has become common for recruiters and HR people when they lose interest in a candidate, fill a position, or decide not to hire. The ghosted party hears “radio silence“.

Rude, inconsiderate, selfish, stupid, etc.

I find this simply remarkable, not to mention rude, inconsiderate, selfish, stupid, lacking in vision … you get the idea.

You’ll hear excuses from both groups including these:

We don’t have time to connect with each candidate to tell them the position is filled.

I don’t have time to contact each recruiter / company to tell them I’ve taken another position or have lost interest in their opening.

Horse biscuits. Weak, lazy, excuses.

When ghosting is a good idea

Here’s where it might be a good idea for a recruiter / HR person to ghost someone:

If you never want to have a conversation with that candidate ever again, nor a business they might someday own, nor with anyone they know.

Why? Because many of them are going to tell all of their family, peers, and friends that they were ghosted – and who did it. You can presume that the reputation of your recruiting firm or your company are going to be stained by this behavior. In the meantime, unplug the resume scanner and start working with candidates like a real person – if you want to hire real people rather than the presentation version of someone.

Here’s where it might be a good idea to ghost a recruiter or HR person:

Never.

Even if they did things during the selection process that were illegal or stupid (ie: “Are you and your spouse planning to start a family?”), wave good bye. If you feel particularly gracious, tell them why. Remember, the person you’re dealing with might be forced to perform in that way. While it doesn’t mean it’s right, they may need that job for now. You never know where your paths might cross again in the future.

In the best of situations, if you explain why you don’t feel the position is a fit, at least they’ll know. Depending on what you tell them, you may find that they have another opening that makes more sense.

Why do they ghost you?

Sometimes, we get ghosted even if we didn’t seem to do anything wrong – or so we thought.

Does someone call & leave a message? Call them back. If you email them because you don’t like to talk on the phone – you’re asking to be ghosted.

Did they email to ask a question about your product? Email them a reply that fits their question. If you call them, “handwave” their question, then dive into your standard pitch, expect to be ghosted.

Solution: Return the communication using the medium they used unless they specifically ask for something different.

People do sometimes email or text and ask you to call. Maybe they remembered they want to talk to you and don’t want to forget to ask for a call, but can’t talk right then. They could be sitting at a long stop light and suddenly realize they need what you sell (so they quickly send a text before the light changes, asking you to call sometime).

When you first connect with a contact, ask them what their preferred method of communication is. If it’s by phone or text, ask them the best time of day. You want to ask for a phone appointment during that time, not when you feel like it, or when your tickler went off.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

No one needs salespeople anymore

Last week, a digital marketer on LinkedIn proposed that he didn’t see a need for companies to have a sales function anymore.

Their comment: I am not sure why you need a ‘Sales’ function anymore. What purpose does it serve in the near future and beyond? The only function of a Sales person is to build a relationship to tip the odds on your side by way of finding customers, building a pipeline, anticipating, building trust, cajoling, impressing and negotiating a favorable transaction. Except for the cajoling part, all the others can and are bring enabled through automated, intelligent systems. And if your product is really good… you really don’t need to cajole anyone. I for one believe the ‘Sales’ function will soon become a vanity function. From car sales to home sales to software sales. There is absolutely no need for a dedicated ‘sales’ person. Unless you feel insecure about what you offer to the market.

I showed this to a friend, who responded, “They’ve never worked in enterprise software before, I’d guess.” – which was my first thought as well. It goes deeper than that, however.

Cajoling?

Regarding “Is sales becoming a vanity function?“, let’s examine that. That’s an odd question. Does anyone you know fluff up their ego by hiring “extra” salespeople? I’d guess not. I suppose that it’s possible that someone somewhere brags about their massive sales team (as opposed to their team’s performance?). It’s possible the idea is that having a sales team raises the cachet of the firm. To me, they exist for a reason: not all products & services sell themselves.

You probably remember a time when you dealt with an ineffective or poorly focused salesperson. I suspect most people have also worked with outstanding salespeople. Their experience & ability to analyze a prospect’s situation add significant value to a relationship. That’s really the difference.

A website can easily provide features & benefits. A series of appropriately timed, in-context emails, surveys, video and other digital content can address objections, guide a prospect through a “funnel” and change context depending on the prospect’s reaction. Automation can discern when a person is ready to buy based solely on things like the use of singular vs. plural responses. You can digitally create something between the company & their prospect that feels like it might be a relationship.

But it isn’t really a relationship.

Some products and services can be sold with little more than a digital storefront and inbound marketing. Not all products and services fit that mold. Some are too complex for most customers to select & configure on their own. Sometimes there’s a highly detailed process to making that happen. Not every business works that way – but many do.

“My product is good enough…”

My product is good enough that I shouldn’t need salespeople. It’s so good, should sell itself.” A naive statement. You might also hear it as “My product is good enough that I shouldn’t need to market it.

How many times have you suggested to someone that they go to this restaurant or that – and the person you’re talking to has never heard of it? The same goes for a contractor, a movie, a band… it doesn’t matter.

Has every person you’ve ever made a recommendation to responded with something like “Already tried them, they’re great.” If not, why would you expect that the same reaction would occur when someone recommends what you do?

What happens in the meantime when no one is referring your work? Maybe the customers who refer you the most have been discouraged lately. Maybe they’ve gone hunting, fishing, or skiing. Are they overseas for a month? Does it make sense to sit around & let sales and marketing “take care of itself” while waiting for the typical volume of referrals you get when those customers return? Is that what your competitors are doing to get new business?

Some businesses are better than others at generating referrals & create a process that makes it easy. Certain types of work is easier to refer. There are other kinds of work that few are likely to crow about because of the reflection it makes on the referrer.

It’s great that you have a product that’s so good that it sells itself or markets itself (whatever that means to you). That doesn’t mean you should sit on your hands & wait for business to waltz in the door.

Good salespeople make it rain.

Photo by Max Rovensky on Unsplash

Dilation, blindness, and the value delivered

You could go blind, you know.

My eye doctor said that. He’d barely stopped exhaling the words “Your eyes look great, they’re as healthy as they could be.” So what’s this blind thing about? Maybe he was reminding me to be grateful, or simply giving me a warning he gives everyone. I thought about it the rest of the day, partly because he dilates my eyes – which I do not enjoy. It’s my annual reminder that being blind might be “awful” until I got used to it. Dilation robs me of clear vision for a few hours and gives me a tiny little peek at a world that functions much differently. It’s OK – I know my doc is doing what’s best, but it still makes me crazy. This time, his passing comment (coupled with the dilation) made me think a little. What if I went blind? Clearly my life would change. My first thought went to “How would I make a living?” DUH, probably in much the same way. More importantly, what about my work would change? What wouldn’t change? Could I still deliver value to clients?

Deep thoughts

While my eyes are apparently super healthy, the Debbie Downer comment got me thinking. My first thought went to “What isn’t documented well enough?”, perhaps because I regularly nag about process documentation & checklists. I wondered if the difficult-to-explain tasks are properly documented for that situation. Not likely.

A lot of my work revolves around the ability to see software or a web page. That’d be OK for a short while, until the familiarity I have from frequent use is eroded over time. Even without that erosion, web pages and apps change over time. That’d make using some of them quite difficult a year from now. Screen readers and adaptive technologies have improved greatly over the last 10 years. Despite that, there would almost certainly be difficult moments at the computer.

A lot of my work is communicating. I’d need to figure out how to read & respond to email. I could dictate to an app & have someone transcribe it, but there’d be that initial jarring loss of privacy & independence. The loss of independence would initially go much further than the increased difficulty of emailing. However, it wouldn’t really change phone calls or webinars much. I’d have to come up with a system for writing, editing, & following agendas that I could no longer see with my eyes. Someone’s mastered that, I’m sure.

Changing the how doesn’t change the what

For whatever reason, I never pondered the possible impact blindness would have on the day to day basics of life that afternoon. Things like eating, cooking, the bathroom, transportation, interaction with people, hiking, getting dressed, or finding that stubborn piece of spinach in my tooth without a mirror. Steve Jobs supposedly wore the same outfit every day as a strategy to reduce his cognitive load. None of that stuff crossed my mind at the time. Maybe my subconscious assumed those things were trivial or could be mastered. Perhaps my subconscious “knows” that continuing to make a living would dominate my thought if this happened.

The interesting part of this (perhaps odd) thought process was a deep introspection of what I do, how I do it, for whom, and the value delivered.

I thought about the clients I have and what would change. Clearly, the work that requires hands on software use would change. While I could use voice to text or other adaptive tools to write, program, strategize, or produce marketing copy – certain aspects would likely become quite difficult. Curious, I googled around a little and found several interesting pieces where blind programmers described how they do what they do. These were not hobbyists, but seasoned professionals.

Ultimately, I realized that the majority of the value I deliver isn’t visual, has little to do with the software I occasionally write, and isn’t defined by this column (even when it’s good). This would surely be different if I were in my twenties and didn’t have the experience I have now, but that’s really not relevant to me. To others, it might be significant.

If I went blind, the mechanical details of my work (ie: “the how”) would change substantially. Thing is, people don’t get value from the how. They get value from the what. What do you think?

Photo by Rahul Bhosale on Unsplash

Accountability starts with you

Are you holding your team members accountable for their work based on key performance indicators (KPIs), key process areas (KPAs), and/or key result areas (KRAs)?. It’s common for firms to weave these metrics into job descriptions so that each employee is clear that “hitting their numbers” is central to meeting the progress expectations of a particular role.

All the numbers are connected

If marketing hits their numbers, they’re generating at least the minimum number of leads that sales needs to maintain their monthly sales quantity. This assumes that they have sufficient advertising budget, the right people in “skill positions”, and the company’s chosen market is large enough to consistently produce those leads month in and month out (a KPI for upper management?). Sales has to hit their number using the leads marketing provided to them so that the company’s finance team can make its monthly goals. At the least, this means making payroll, paying the bills, retaining some earnings for future purchases, and hopefully generating some profit.

You need manufacturing (whatever that means for you) to hit their numbers so that the delivery promises made by the sales team (hopefully in cooperation with manufacturing) can be met so that delivery / deployment / installation dates are achieved. Customers don’t like missed deadlines, often because they’ve made their commitments to their customers based on delivery dates you promised them.

Your customer service / support team has to meet response time and ticket closure numbers so that customers aren’t waiting too long for the help they need. A customer who is dissatisfied with service and support might decide to hold your invoice for an extra week, or month. That impacts your financial team’s numbers.

If anyone misses their numbers, it can impact other teams and make it difficult (if not impossible) for them to hit their numbers. That makes for a not so awesome management meeting between team leaders. Do you have a KPI for finger pointing? Is your leadership solid enough to prevent that train wreck?

What do the numbers mean?

Avoiding that train wreck is critical to the morale and productivity of your team. Poorly chosen numbers, or numbers that don’t reflect your culture and values are eventually going to create trouble.

If your KPIs (etc) are chosen well and carefully explained to your team members, they will reflect the desired output and behavior of your team members. Collectively, the numbers reflect a team effort to achieve suitable progress.

“Chosen well” is critical. It’s not terribly difficult to pick a number that seems to identify a desired level of performance, only to find that someone has abandoned a cultural expectation in order to hit their number.

These numbers are intended to make it easy for your team to understand the most important parts of their role and to know what level of productivity is needed to support the company’s needs – ultimately the needs of another department or team. They also need to make sense.

Quality matters

A KPI of “Make 50 sales prospecting calls a day” might seem reasonable, but does it make sense? 50 calls in an eight hour day requires making six calls per hour all day, every day (plus two more). Does your marketing team produce enough leads to satisfy this need each month? 20 business days a month means marketing has to generate 1000 new leads every month per salesperson. Alternatively, your sales team has to do their own lead generation (Do they have the tools for that? Do they know how to use them effectively?)

Averaging 6.25 calls per hour means that your sales team averages no more than nine minutes and 36 seconds learning about each prospect during each call. Time consumed by travel, meetings, prospecting, follow ups, trade shows, etc might shrink those sales calls further.

None of this speaks to quality. If hitting numbers is all that matters, 50 calls is 50 calls, no matter how qualified the lead. The quality of leads & sales calls will likely decline as the deadline approaches. The It’s tough to create a relationship and assess a prospect’s needs in under 10 minutes. Using that time on a poor lead is doubly costly.

Now imagine that you’re expected to make 100 sales calls a day, because “that’s what ‘real’ salespeople do”. What will suffer?

Unfortunate performance measurement choices can negatively impact any department. Be sure the numbers you ask your team to hit make sense holistically for the entire business. Accountability for that starts with you.

Taking initiative… is it risky?

Remember the first time you convinced your kid to jump into the pool? Even though they trust you in a litany of other ways, you might have had to coax, sell, and maybe even coerce them to jump off the side into your arms. The child probably had thoughts like “What if mom or dad doesn’t catch me?“, “What if I go to the bottom?“, and “Everyone will make fun of me if I mess this up“, even if they would, you wouldn’t and they wouldn’t. Sometimes it took a lot of convincing to get them to make that leap. Maybe they were scared, but it’s likely they were more scared of the unknown outcomes they’d dreamed up, or the ones they hadn’t even thought of. The first time they take that leap, they’re simply unsure, despite your assurances that it’ll all be OK. They’ve probably never seen you pretend to miss their brother when he jumps into the pool – even if that’s a game you and the brother actively engage in.

Employees have similar fears, but they learn differently. They learn from the behaviors they see over time and from stories they’ve heard in the past. Perhaps even from stories told during on-boarding and training.

Scared to take initiative?

In some companies, showing initiative is lauded. However, if management says “We love when our teams take initiative!“” but only “show the love” when the initiative succeeds, fewer will risk taking initiative. People take initiative only when they know it’s safe to do so. I don’t mean safe in a “I can’t stand up for myself” way. We’re talking about job security.

If your team members have the tiniest inkling that taking initiative might cost them their job, many will avoid doing so. You might think employees who worry about their job security are snowflakes, wimps, etc. You might never have been called on the carpet for taking initiative and failing. You may never have known the fear of losing a job. Maybe you never had a manager that treated you poorly. Maybe you never had a job and always worked for yourself. What’s the employees’ perspective?

It’s possible your employees need their job so badly that they aren’t willing to risk losing it. Given that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, it’s clear lots of people can’t afford to lose their jobs. All of us probably know at least one person in that situation, and it’s clear that there are far more in that mode than we realize.

What does failure feel like?

How are failures are handled at your company? Do team members get “beat up” verbally, privately or publicly? Are snide comments made in group settings, like “guess we’ll never trust Sharon again“, even if said jokingly? Is the joke truly a joke, or is there some real meaning to those words? People notice when promotions (etc) go to people who perform steadily but never take initiative. If the comfort zone is where promotions & raises come from, would your people leave theirs?

If you want your folks to take initiative, show it. Make it clear who has this sort of leeway (and how much), whether they are “front line” staff members or executives. You may think your execs don’t worry about job security, but some almost certainly do as exec jobs are harder to find. Make sure they know the boundaries (or that there aren’t any) in areas where you want to see initiative taken. Give them examples of successes and failures. Show them how these efforts are handled, win or lose.

Be sure that failed efforts get attention in a way that won’t cause others to pull back on taking initiative. Thank those who stepped out and stepped up, regardless of outcome. Initiative taken with the intent of helping the company is a positive thing. This isn’t a participation trophy. It’s reminding everyone that taking initiative in the context of their roles is a desirable behavior, whether attempts succeed or fail.

After initiative is taken, deconstruct what happened. Let the team help diagnose it and suggest improvements. The failure discussion shouldn’t be about the person, it should be about the work & how to give initiative a better chance next time. Share the lessons learned from the wins *and* the losses so the next initiative has a better chance of success.

Photo by Lavi Perchik on Unsplash

We all need change

Jim Baiar and Thomas Davis never knew each other, yet my experience tells me they were cut from the same cloth. One I barely knew, yet I know much about him because I know his son and grandson. The other I knew well, yet probably didn’t know well enough. Both were the kind of people who are harder to find than they used to be. People with the kind of character that builds families, companies, communities, and in some cases, entire countries.

Marcus Aurelius wrote extensively about how to become this kind of person. Studies of his life and his writings left those who analyzed them with the idea that his writings were intended as reminders about how to live his life. While they may have done so, it appears his writing has become much more – a list of reminders / lessons for the rest of us.

Change demands you make a choice

Based on what makes the news on any randomly chosen day, you might be tempted think there’s a shortage of good people in the world. There isn’t. In most cases, people doing good (even “boring” day-to-day good) are often too engaged in their lives to end up in the news, much less watch or listen to it.

My youngest graduated from law school a few weekends ago. After graduation, we talked a little about his future (conversations that will no doubt continue). I’m sure he’s aware that there are many corrupt, manipulative, evil lawyers in the world. You hear about them in frustrating news stories, both local and national. Likewise, there are corrupt (etc) politicians, programmers, executives, doctors, and so on. It isn’t the job. It’s the person and their choices.

The behavior of this group and the PR they attract (or generate) is a significant reason why people generally dislike attorneys. Sometimes it’s because people tend to interact with attorneys only at the “lowest”, most challenging period of their lives, because we observe them from afar as they defend corrupt, unethical, dangerous people, or because they say and do things on camera that are simply unfathomable to the rest of us.

I told him that “They made a choice to be that kind of lawyer, and to behave that way. I believe you will be the kind of lawyer that raises the average, but it’s a choice you’ll be faced on multiple occasions. Make the right choice and help the rest of the good ones raise the average.

While he’s young, idealistic, an Eagle Scout, and a few other things, he still needs reminders like this. We all need them. A brief, well-considered piece of advice to a newly graduated high school, college or post-graduate student is always a good investment. Not a lecture, simply a reminder to consider what they might face in the future. A similar comment to a new employee, a newly promoted employee, an employee who’s leaving, and so on…. all valuable if carefully made.

Change requires movement

Periods of change require people willing to invest in change. When it comes to periods of change, it’s always one decision or one person that starts it. SOMEONE has to start it, even if the motion in the direction of change is the tiniest little thing. Tony Robbins said “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change” I’m pretty sure he borrowed this from his mentor Jim Rohn, but that doesn’t make it less true.

Tired of the seemingly unending supply of unethical, if not downright evil people you hear about in the news? The movement that’s necessary to make the change needed to get rid of these people is really quite simple. Seek out people entering your line of work. Young, old, doesn’t matter. Make sure bad behavior isn’t rewarded. Get involved in their professional growth. Gain their trust, then teach, mentor, and advise them. Make a point of calling out poor behavior in professional settings and help them understand why that behavior is unacceptable – not just that it is.

If you make this contribution repeatedly, the right people will be ready to take over when someone is fired, convicted, or asked to retire. Hire and interview well. Mentor them. Eventually you’ll have a group of people to promote from whose character cannot and will not be stained. It won’t be easy, but the alternative is simply awful.

Why Business is Personal

14 years ago when this blog got the name “Business is Personal”, you’d occasionally hear “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” I found the idea repulsive, transactional, and most importantly – the opposite of everything I’d been taught. The phrase later became part of pop culture thanks to a TV show. I even had a business partner say this to me back in 2006. Because I never believed it wasn’t personal, it marked a turning point in that business relationship – which soon ended. “Business is Personal” was true when “it’s just business” was said to me in 2006 and it’s still true today, perhaps more than ever.

Sales and marketing is personal

The marketing messages that touch us and do some part to convince us to make a purchase are effective because they touch us. I recently heard of a study of a man who had an operable brain tumor. When the tumor was removed, it required removal (or damaged) a part of the brain that controls emotion. There was speculation that he would be more capable of making decisions than most people, since emotion would no longer cloud his decision making. It turned out quite differently. Without the ability to use emotion, he was unable to make even the simplest of decisions. Unable to decide between salt & pepper, or between red wine & white, he required extensive care, rather than becoming a highly logical decision-making juggernaut.

To excel at sales, we must become experts at listening to prospects. We must “get inside the head” of people to learn what motivates them, how they are thinking, and often, what their deepest wants and needs are. My dad used to tell me to “be a good listener”, a phrase which changed meaning from decade to decade. Today, “listen to understand, rather than to respond” has become the catch phrase of many who are figuring out that listening to respond completely misses the point.

We’ve all been subjected to a salesperson who is focused on their quota, or on their sales process, rather than on our wants and needs. It’s frustrating. Transactional. Many avoid businesses with this type of sales team. Eventually, some businesses figured it out and started using non-commissioned salespeople. Despite that, I still get calls and meet salespeople who start the conversation about their quota and the need to close a deal by some irrelevant date.

The sales our companies make are very personal. They allow us to hire people who support their families, which support schools, charities and entire communities. Those sales fund salaries that are spent at other local businesses, that fund infrastructure and schools, and allow our employees to get their kids into schools, sports, outdoor activities and more. In communities where a business is a substantial employer, the impact of that business ripples across the economy of the entire community.

Employment is personal

For many people, their job or their chosen field of work is a part of their identity. It may be what motivated them to go to college or trade school. It might be what got them to spend Gladwell’s perhaps-discredited 10000 hours to achieve mastery, and/or to seek out the mentor who would teach them the ropes. For some it’s a bit bigger piece. Ever spoken with someone who’s unemployed? Would you even begin to tell them that experience isn’t deeply personal? For some, it digs at them to their core and they might never forget it. It might even drive decisions they make for the rest of their lives, simply because they never want to be in that situation again. “It’s just business” doesn’t begin to describe it.

It’s personal when you get the job you’ve worked years to be qualified for. When you get the job of your dreams, it’s personal. It’s personal to take out massive student loans while becoming a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, etc. When someone tells you that you aren’t good enough at a job and fires you, it’s personal. It’s personal when you come home and explain to your family that you were laid off or fired. When you have one of the greatest business successes of your life, it’s personal. If you have to humble yourself in front of friends, peers, and the people you love because you were fired, it’s personal. When tough times threaten the faith they put in you and tarnish the promises you’ve made to them… it’s personal.

Ownership is personal

That business you built from scratch, the one that almost now one knows how much time, mental strain, money and work you invested in, it’s personal to you. The sacrifices you made, the jobs and financial opportunities you gave up to build your dream, they’re personal too. The dream is personal. It pushes you to work, sacrifice, get your life out of balance, struggle to get it back in balance, only to work harder the following month to keep it that way. Your business is personal to you, no matter how it feels or appears to someone else.

You chose who you wanted to be a hero to. It was a personal choice. There’s probably a reason for it. I think back to how I advise people to take care of their customers, and it surely goes back to watching my grandmother make butter and riding around in my granddaddy’s truck to deliver eggs, milk, butter, and chickens. Even though the world had all those things at the corner grocery store, people paid still paid them to deliver these items to their door. My grandmother’s butter wasn’t simply a round of butter. She milked the cows. She churned the butter. She hand-formed the rounds and then personalized them with a design she hand embossed on the top with a wooden spatula that someone had carved for her.

How is your craft any different from that? How is it “just business”? Please.

For some, it’s who they are

Like it or not, what we do and how we earn a living is quite personal to most of us. Even if you’ve arrived at a point where “it’s what I do, it’s not who I am“, the fact that you had to do some introspection to get to that point is evidence that your business is personal. It doesn’t matter what you do. If you deliver firewood that you carefully chose, cut and had the patience to season before selling it, do you toss it over the fence and leave the pile for the owner? Or do you neatly stack it where they asked and cover it with a tarp so it’s dry and ready to warm their home? If you do the latter, is it really “just business”?

Taking your business personally doesn’t mean you’re emotionally fragile. It doesn’t mean you hate your competitors, or that you’re angry at someone who decides not to buy your product. It means your customers’ success is important to you. It means the work is important to you. How you help them achieve success, how you deliver the work, how you care for them over the years. These things tell people what kind of person you are. The people you rescue and the effort necessary to rescue them is important to you – no matter what form that rescue takes. If it’s “just business”, it shows. If it’s “just business”, you’re just a vendor that can be replaced by the next lower priced option. There will always be a vendor that’s cheaper – and it shows. There will always be someone who takes their work personally. That shows too.

If your business is personal to you, that’s OK. It’s your choice. Don’t let someone else take that away from you.

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Unsplash

What’s your company really worth?

25 years ago, I was writing some software for my father in law. Sometime during the process, my computer locked up and lost a bunch of work. The first time this happens, the experience is seared into your brain. I had to redo a bunch of work. Recoverable, but annoying. The painful process was made a bit worse because it was work I was doing for family.

The cost of lost data

Last week, a client of an acquaintance was struggling thru a ransomware attack. After discussing his options, it sounded like his client’s data is gone, not “just” encrypted. How would the rest of your week go if you found out right now that all of your company’s data is gone?

Think about what “all your data is gone” really means for your company. We’re talking about losing all of your data. Gone.

If you have a staff of people with a shared company calendar with appointments with clients – what would the impact be if the calendar was empty?

You might lose all of your accounting data. Imagine getting your books and taxes in order after a loss like that. While much of that data could be recovered from your bank’s records, you’ll still be missing important details.

Any activity that hasn’t yet created all of its financial transactions wouldn’t appear. The complexities of such transactions make it more difficult to reassemble the pieces, even from a bank statement. Imagine the invoices that don’t go out. Who has paid? Who hasn’t? The same thing affects invoices that come in for payment. Which ones have been paid? Which ones haven’t? Your customers who get invoices they’ve already paid will soon wonder what else you’re struggling with.

You might lose all of your sales and order data. That’d make it tough to calculate commissions, pay vendors, deliver orders and so on. What about your data used or created by manufacturing and shipping applications?

Losing all of your company’s data could be crippling, yet it happens regularly. You don’t often hear about it because no one wants to publicize such situations. It’s the same attitude that makes companies keep data breaches and hacks secret. These losses happen simply because not enough effort is put into making backups AND checking to make sure they work.

What does ransomware do?

Normally a ransomware event results from running a malware application or clicking on a link (or opening an email) that leads to installation of the ransomware. The bad part is that the ransomware encrypts all of your data and you can’t do anything with it unless you pay the ransom. In the case of my acquaintance, the loss was even worse – it didn’t encrypt the data, it erased it.

While ransomware (and charging a ransom) isn’t legal, companies with insufficient security, staff training, and/or inattentive users are victimized by ransomware every day. Few instances are reported because it’s embarrassing.

All it takes is one errant click on a legitimate looking website or email. The next thing you know, every computer on your company network could be encrypted (or just one).

Small price to pay

The company that lost their data had no backups. That’s right. NONE. The last time their data was backed up and stored off-premises 11 months earlier.

Fortunately, this backup was made by their developer or they’d have no backup at all. Ironically, the developer recently offered to setup backups for the client, but the offer was refused. Now he’s working to help them try and recover their data from the backup he made that will probably be the best shot they have to save their company.

If making backups and taking them off-premises sounds like hassle / cost you don’t need, I suggest you consider what your company’s worth. What’s it worth if all the data is gone?

My guess is the difference between those two numbers are worth the time / price of backing up your data. Maybe that’s the price of a monthly online backup service. Maybe it’s the price of an external hard drive or two. Either way, this small investment beats losing all of your business data.

Backup, take your backups offsite, educate your team on how to identify sketchy emails and websites – and help your staff with security software that can intervene to protect your assets. Your company’s worth it.