Where’s the Maitre’ D?

When a new client arrives at your store and/or on your website, do they know exactly where everything is? Probably not.

If not, are there clear introductions to where things are, what the rules of the road are, how (and where) to get help, what the buying process looks like, where to find service help and so on?

Guidance needed

In a retail store, these things are somewhat common – at least the basics. You’ll probably see signs that say things like Parts, Service, Lawnmowers, Chainsaws, and whatever the other departments of your store are. Even so, is there guidance in any form that helps people figure out where they can get warranty, financing or delivery information?

Think of it like a website that you’ve never visited before. When you first get on a retailer’s web site, you often have to dig around a little to find policies and procedures, or how they handle refunds, delivery/shipping, etc.

You have two choices when onboarding a new visitor who will presumably become a client:

1) Guide them step by step in a logical manner and provide them with the tools they need to have exactly the experience you want them to have, and position them to be the ideal buyer.

2) Let them figure it out for themselves and explain where they went wrong when they find themselves painted into a corner, or stuck trying to figure out how to get service, delivery, refunds, exchanges, on-site help, upgrades / updates / improvements, financing and repairs.

Think of it like a restaurant

At some restaurants, you are greeted at the door, guided to your seat, provided with a menu, and introduced to your wait staff (or advised of their name). You might then have your expectations set regarding the arrival of someone to take your drink order, explain the menu, share the night’s special entrees and desserts, as well as any other information you might need. Later, you might be asked additional details about how you want your order, whether or not you want dessert, coffee, etc.

Obviously, this varies a bit depending on the type of restaurant, but I suspect you’ve experienced this level of guidance – all to do something you do every day: Eat.

The alternative, even in the same restaurant, might be to provided none of that guidance, have menus on the table, be expected to place your order at the counter, pick up your food at the counter and pay on your way out the door.

Neither of these is wrong, but both types of guidance are designed to fit the type of restaurant you’re in. Generally, you probably know what to expect when you enter the first restaurant vs. the second. If the experience is not in sync with the type of restaurant you’re in, the “system” seems out of place or the experience feels broken. When I experienced things like this with my dad, he would say “This would be a great place for a restaurant” – noting of course that we were in a restaurant at the time.

Restaurantize your business?

Now overlay those restaurant experiences onto your business. Think about each step of the dining experience (in both types of restaurants). Which one of these experiences is a better fit for a new visitor to your business (or your website)? Which is a better fit to a long-time client?

Before you decide which experience is best for an experienced client vs a new one, let’s back up a step… even when you go to a restaurant with a highly guided experience, does the maitre’d recognize that you’ve eaten there before? If so, do they hand you a menu and point at the dining room and leave you to figure out the rest, or are you guided through the process in a similar manner to every other visit?

Which of those experiences makes sense for visits to your store? Which experience makes sense for visitors to your site? Which experience creates a new client who is more prepared to purchase what they really need vs. what they think they need? Which experience produces the client retention you want? Is there a difference? How do you know? Testing helps.

Fine tune the experience for each stage of your client lifecycle in a way that creates an optimum client experience for them while producing the ideal client for you.

Let someone help

This past week seems to have been a perfect storm of paths crossing about getting help from coaches, mentors and teachers.

In the past, I have suggested a few times that you should seek out help from those who have been where you are, struggled with some of the same things – and let them help you overcome them. These stories are no different. The key is letting them in.

Three little things

In the elevator at a trade show, a guy tells me he got off the golf course that day – playing in a tournament at a trade show. He said he had a pretty good day on the links – was driving straight and long. Despite that, one of the guys playing with him was out-driving him by over 100 yards on every hole. They were on the same team, so the very long driver (who also happened to be a scratch golfer) suggested that the guy I shared the elevator with could improve his game by tweaking “three little things”.

Despite being a pretty good golfer, elevator guy said “Sure, I’ll give them a try.” Before that day on the course was over, these three little things made an almost-instant improvement in his accuracy, consistency and distance. His improvement before the round was substantial enough to mention it hours later in an elevator.

What three little things are awaiting your arrival at a place where you are ready to listen and learn?

Mister C

Recently in a local paper, the retirement of a long time English teacher was announced. A guy who was lauded for coaching oh so many state speech and debate championship teams, for making high school English the best class of the day, and for being far more than “just a teacher” to many students. When the story of his retirement hit Facebook, a number of students posted multiple paragraphs long thank yous about the impact this teacher had on them – in some cases, despite never having him as a teacher. One of the stories that went unmentioned was about a student who was struggling with a number of things – including some typical teenage angst with authority figures – and went out of his way to challenge the teacher via their work. Rather than handle this with more authority and repression as many of us might, this teacher created an environment that allowed the student to find their way, gain respect for the teacher and eventually recognize that teacher as their mentor – and a role model to guide them along with their parents. Eight to ten years later, the respect is still there. While Mister C is more than a coach to a generation of students, he’s very good at that too.

What would a serious coach with high expectations ask you to do to improve yourself? If you know these things need to be done – why haven’t you done them?

Sometimes you have to ask

People won’t always offer unsolicited advice – at least not the ones who you’d really like to get it from. Many of them are used to being asked for their help, only to see it go unused or ignored. Quite often, their help will come with terms. They might be living highly scheduled lives and will need a commitment from you to meet during the only time they have available. Consider it a gift that someone with this much going on is willing to let you into their sphere.

I’m doing ok, I don’t need a coach

Even if you’re the best in town, you might not be the best in the state. If you’re the best in the state, you might not be the best in your national market. No matter how good you are, there are always coaches, mentors and others to learn from. Most of them have a knack for observing things about your performance, methods and practices that you might not notice, or might not see the importance of. That’s what their insight is for – to help you see the things you can’t see on your own.

The things you pick up from someone who has gone beyond where you are will often be little, but transformative things. Prepare yourself mentally to let someone like this into your life so they can help you become an even better version of you.

Complete the important work

What are you not getting done? Why aren’t you getting those things done?

Does important work often go undone? If so, is that work truly important?

Delegation

Why aren’t you getting those things done?

Is it because of other things that keep you “busy”?

Are you busy because you aren’t delegating enough?

Are you unable to delegate?

Are you unable to delegate because you have no one to delegate to?

Are you unable to delegate because you don’t have time to document the task to be delegated?

Are you unable to delegate because the task requires skills that no one on the team has?

Do you have a system to develop people on your team? Is the system producing people that you can delegate tasks to?

If not, what should be changed so that the system produces team members who can take over the parts of your work that can be delegated?

Is it because you aren’t developing the “former” you in your team so that you can spend more time being the current you?

Systems

Is it because you don’t have an organized manner (system) of keeping track of what needs to be done?

Is it because the system (whether it’s paper, phone or computer-based) doesn’t work?

Is it because the system doesn’t work like you do?

Is it because the system doesn’t remind you of work that is scheduled or that needs to be done?

Is it because you don’t use a system that you have?

If you don’t use a system you have, why don’t you use it?

Focus

Is it because you aren’t giving yourself enough focus time?

What mechanism do you have in place to create focus time for yourself?

Does the mechanism work? If it doesn’t work, why is that?

Do others ignore the things you place in the way to allow you to have focus time?

If others ignore your focus time barriers, what have you done to clarify the situation or “discipline” those who ignore the barriers you build to create focus time? Are others aware of these barriers?

Classification

What is the cost of not getting these things done?

Is the cost, benefit or other financial impact what you use to determine the importance of a particular piece of work?

Does not getting these things done imply that they weren’t important after all?

Is the mechanism you use to identify work as “important” performing effectively?

If you look back at the work you considered important last month, do you still think it was important?

If not, how will you fine tune the system you use to assign importance?

Is there a system you use to classify work as important, not important, etc? One such system identifies work in four quadrants: “important and urgent”, “important and not urgent”, “urgent but not important”, and “not urgent and not important”. This system is often credited to “Seven Habits” author Stephen Covey, but there are also documents dating back to President Eisenhower’s use of the so-called “quadrant of work” system to decide what to do, what to decide upon, what to delegate and what to delete from the todo list.

Costs

Do sales or project goals depend on whatever you aren’t finishing?

Is the important work you’re not getting done tactical or strategic?

If so, is that a consistent situation? If not, have you recently been fighting through a situation that required you to focus on tactical?

Of the work considered important, is the cost of doing the work more than the benefit of doing that work?

If the cost exceeds the benefit, what makes that work important?

If the cost exceeds the benefit, should the work be done at all?

Turning that toward the less important (busy work?) that is consuming time best spent on the important work – if the cost of the busy work exceeds the benefit, should this work be done at all?

Do the important work

Consistently being able to identify the important and completing it while delegating what isn’t important IS the important work. The work you delegate may not be as important for YOU to do, but the fact that it can be delegated is the critical difference.

What’s the important work for you this coming week? What’s in place to make sure you get it done?

If you don’t have your system fine tuned yet… Does your staff?

The sales prevention department

Have you ever encountered a “sales prevention department”? Let’s discuss how the sales prevention department’s role works and how you can look for ways to get rid of yours if you have one.

The tale of the register tape

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched the adventures of a GoToMeeting administrator. In one case, they were working with a sales person at a competitor to GoTo Meeting. I’ve been a GTM user for a long time, and in the last few months the quality and stability of the service has suffered a bit. I suspect it’s nothing terribly serious but it is a business distraction and it can impact sales if the timing of a stability problem is unfortunate. More on that in a moment.

GTM has a sales prevention department. Here’s how theirs works:

A GTM administrator manages an account with 12 seats of GoToMeeting. The admin’s company wants to add more seats. Can you login and simply add x seats to your license? No. Enter the sales prevention department. You have to call someone, wait for a call back and then deal with the potential of a sales pitch about things you may not want – all to add a few seats. This is a task that would have been completed in two minutes or less on a modern software as a service (SAAS) platform. Instead, it takes as long as a couple of days to complete this simple transaction.

For some services, a consult is necessary before a change of this nature. This isn’t one of them.

In this case, the sales prevention department is introducing unnecessary delays for the client, who only wants to give you more of their money and get more of their people working with your tools. Don’t make this difficult for your clients.

Who else has a sales prevention department?

In the time it took to deal with the process GTM places in front of their users, the GTM admin could have signed up for a competitor’s service and had a day left over…. unless it was with the competitor whose sales team I was dealing with on the GTM admin’s behalf.

The GTM competitor happens to be owned by a fairly large IP phone service that is currently receiving about $2500 a month in service fees from this company. This fact is ignored by the GTM competitor, which puts them at risk of losing not only the GTM-like business, but the IP phone service as well.

This competitor has a free, limited scope service that matches the free limited scope service GTM offers. Premium services (like recording a meeting) are critical to this evaluation, so I asked to have one account turned on for two weeks.

The answer? No, but we could come to your office and do a demo of the premium features.

At this point, the conversation is over. The GTM competitor has made it clear that they really don’t want the business. What they don’t seem to understand is that their handling of this $400 a month sales prospect threatens the $2500 monthly business they already have.

This is the sales prevention department at work.

Do you have one?

You might be wondering if you have a sales prevention department. The best way to learn that is to secret shop the sales line of your business. If you don’t have one, monitor the sales and support emails for a bit. Search them for terms like “upgrade”, “expand”, “merger” and “buyout”. The last two are possible signals that two companies have joined together and they are shopping how to supply your services to “both” companies.

You can also look at your orders for the last few months and randomly choose a few new clients, a few clients who changed the scope/size of their use of your products and services. Call them and ask to speak to whoever made the purchase. Ask them if it was easy to buy from your company. Was any part of this process difficult or frustrating? Do they have any suggestions to make the process easier?

Every time the sales prevention department takes root in your business, it hurts revenue and can cost you clients. People walk away because they don’t want to deal with a company that’s hard to work with. If it’s difficult right off the bat, that’s usually a sign of what’s to come.

Key person: Scalia and you

The loss of a key person, such as the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is a critical moment in any organization. His passing sharply increased the temperature of an already highly-charged Presidential election season. It was already forecast that the next President will likely have to opportunity to make at least two and probably three appointments to the bench. What it make me think about was the impact of a Justice’s death on the day to day business of the court.

And that reminded me of you and your business.

Why? Events like this can have a critical, if not fatal impact on your business. Could your business survive your death or permanent disability, or that of key employees?

Regardless of your answer to that question, consider what’s in place to assure that the business will survive you. Is there insurance? A plan? Anything?

Key person insurance isn’t enough

While there is key person insurance available to help subsidize the cost of dealing with these kinds of situations, it often does little more than take care of expenses related to an orderly dismantling and/or sale of the business. Why? Because there was no plan to do anything else.

The real work, if possible, is the work necessary to survive the situation and keep the business running. That’s often the root cause of business failures that occur after an event that prevents the owner from being involved in the daily operations of the business.

Do you have a plan to survive a key person event? Without any instructions from you, could your family and/or your team know exactly what to do to get payroll out this week? A bank will work with you to get payroll out the door, but who can fund the payroll account in the first place?

What about the business that will transpire this week? What about the leadership void you would leave? Does your spouse take over? If so, do they have the necessary written instructions (or a video, or something) to help them get their feet under them in the short term? Have you organized the guiding information they need to take this on for the long term?

Keep in mind that in the early days, they will be trying to do this while suffering through the unexpected and sudden loss of you. This will certainly affect their decision-making abilities and focus, even if only temporarily.

Will there be a battle at the office to see who takes charge? If you don’t have a leadership assumption plan in place, what would happen? If your spouse isn’t ready to lead the company in the short term – regardless of the reason – who should their confidant be? Have you briefed the person charged with getting them up to speed on what’s important and how you make decisions? Is this information in writing?

Is the plan you left in place legally binding?

Key people need access

If you don’t pass on, but something happens to prevent you from having your normal access to business data, paperwork, assets etc or prevents the business from having normal access to you – what impact would that have?

Some events could impact almost any business, like these:

  • The owner, operations manager or a key employee has a stroke.
  • The owner, operations manager or a key employee leaves without notice.
  • The CEO’s spouse is taken to intensive care without warning, and the forecast is that he will be there for months.

For a larger business, international travel is likely – and that opens the door to many more possibilities:

  • Any of the items above could happen while an executive is out of the country, adding complexity to an already-trying situation.
  • The CEO could be stuck in a situation out of their control that keeps them out of the country for months.

How could this happen? Easy. If the boss is in South America, how will it affect your business if she can’t return for three months? It isn’t much of a stretch for the Zika virus (or something similar) to cause a country to close their borders, or for it to provoke the U.S. to disallow flights from the Zika-borne country.

How would the inability to perform simple tasks like signing checks impact your business? Little things can sometimes become big things when you lose control of them.

Is your business ready?

Project Management: Is it done yet?

When I was young and a bit green at project management, I somehow managed to have responsibility for a number of big projects. Some came in OK, some never seemed to get rolling properly, some were late, and some seemed to take on a life of their own. A latter group tended to include projects whose scope was a moving target or had many unknowns.

The worst of these have a way of being the unknowns you never see coming, often gestated from a family tree of assumptions and incorrect or changed information.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld famously said that decisions are made while dealing with “known unknowns and unknown unknowns“. Anyone with large project experience knows exactly what he meant. Interestingly, Rumsfeld credits a NASA manager with the terminology.

Project management requires discovery

The software business has a sketchy reputation for delivering projects on time, despite a lot of internally-driven improvement over the last two decades. This reputation is sustained by the memory of failures of very large software projects.

Agile project management and related methodologies have helped a great deal. Many of these methodologies can trace their roots back to Lean manufacturing / management methods taught by Deming in Japan after World War II.

Success with these management strategies depends on early discovery of issues, challenges and changes in the information driving your decisions. This, along with our human tendencies, is why the MVP (minimum viable product) construct works. The earlier the customer sees your work, the earlier you’ll find out if you’re on track.

Usually, you get to decide how this discovery occurs: organically as the project work occurs, or in advance, thanks to discussions of expectations, requirements and manufacturing options during the design phase.

Poorly managed projects are often started without sufficient discovery and discussion. Even today, many projects are started and finished with very little advanced thought. No one would build an airliner as it rolls down the runway. While that sounds a bit ridiculous, this is exactly what happens.

The context of the design is critical as well. Work done in a vacuum, even with the best of intentions, often produces incorrect assumptions thanks to the aforementioned unknown unknowns.  The project’s scope is an known unknown and the unknown unknowns are often a simple matter of lack of experience with the environment where the completed project will be used. The gap between expectations and results matters whether you’re building a crescent wrench, a software program or a Mars rover.

When will it be done?

While you may not have an accurate answer to that question, better design will improve your ability to give an estimate that someone can actually trust.

Better design? How?

The most common problem I see is not breaking things down into small enough pieces of work. Granularity is critical to the design and estimation of highly detailed / technical work. The volume of dependencies and unknowns in this type of work compounds the miscalculations and omissions resulting from a lack of detailed analysis, resulting in inaccurate estimates and missed expectations.

An estimate of days, weeks or months without a detailed breakdown of subtasks is symptomatic of the problem. I find that estimates require subtasks no larger than two to four hours to create a design that’s thought out well-enough to meet expectations, discover obstacles in advance, while producing a reasonable estimate.

But it’s not perfect!

Human nature also creeps into the equation: We like completing tasks.

It’s such a part of our us that people tend to focus on less important tasks simply because we can complete them before the end of the work day. We feel accomplished despite leaving big projects untouched.

If you’ve ever written things on a checklist that you’ve already done so that you could check them off, then you know what I mean.

Rather than fight the fixation on small projects that we can “download” and complete in a work period, feed it with subtasks of your big, important projects that conform to the need to complete something the same day.

Life has a way of being incredibly creative when it comes to finding ways to delay a project’s completion. Build these project management tactics into your design, estimate and build workflow so that you can get better work done faster – even on big projects.

Why do startups fight city hall?

This past weekend, I had a brief discussion about Uber, France, tech startups and the need to “fight city hall”. It all started after I posted a story about an upcoming Paris taxi strike, which is designed to send a warning message to the French government and French people from a highly entrenched monopoly.

The message is “Don’t support something that threatens our monopoly or we will shut down the city.

The key thought in the article was that French government’s handling of the Uber situation is an illustration of what’s wrong with entrepreneurism in France and that the situation affects all French startups rather than solely impacting Uber.

It seems the laws in France are designed to frustrate entrepreneurs attempting to enter established markets, if not to suppress all new business entries. The article goes on to make note that all of this goes on while France’s leadership talks about how they want to encourage entrepreneurship.

Why care about what happens in Paris?

What in the world does this have to do with small business in the U.S.?

Similar things occur here in the States and in many cases, startups end up feeling forced into a situation where they are left with no choice but to fight city hall – often because the alternative is to be legislated out of business with the help of an entrenched competitor. Sadly, this “competitor” isn’t the least bit interested in competing. They’re happy to use the local and regional governments’ desire to protect the citizenry as a means of raising the bar into entering “their” market.

Most U.S. based entrepreneurs tend to avoid such battles because they are expensive, frustrating and quite often do nothing more than waste a business owner’s time and money.

Yet startups like Uber are often found doing that very thing – taking on governments to eliminate protections that were once created due to a public safety interest but have been perverted into something that seems perfectly designed to preserve and protect entrenched businesses not only from new entrants into the marketplace – but from their clientele as well.

Why startups?

Why are tech startups picking on established markets? And why do so many of them seem to want to fight city hall?

They often do this because that’s where the market is. We talk about the opportunity you create simply by improving service to clients here on a regular basis – and do so because it is one of the easiest ways to transform your business. Service – one of the essential things a business delivers – has gone from a foregone conclusion to a differentiating factor.

Uber is perhaps the most obvious and the easiest example to make note of, but they are far from alone on this one. Part of their attraction to consumers is how easy they make it to use their services when compared to most of their competition. Even now, their obstacle isn’t that cab companies all over the world have increased the quality of their cars, the ease of booking and paying for a ride, etc. No, their biggest obstacle is local / regional governments, many of whom have fought to keep Uber out.

The thing is, it isn’t really about Uber. They’re simply today’s easiest and most visible example to understand. What this is really about is creating more barriers to entry into a market.

Old rules that favor one company or one technology are what start ups deal with every single day. In fact they often focus on those areas because they make the market attractive. Markets with poor service often slowly become that way because of a lack of competition created by artificially created barriers to entry. Often companies in those markets treat their customers so poorly that people do business with them only because have no other choice.

These are markets that have repeatedly sent a message to their clientele that they need to be taught a serious lesson. Most local entrepreneurs can’t afford to fight City Hall. Only those who are highly capitalized have that luxury in most situations – the luxury of out-waiting and perhaps, out-spending city hall, something no small business owner can do.

As any small business owner knows, there are plenty of barriers to entry as it is. Be careful not to ask your representatives to help you create more of them, as the next time, it could be your business that’s targeted the next time. Each one of these barriers that is successfully installed makes it easier to create another one.

Starting a new business is hard enough as it is. Let’s not create more barriers.

Strategic Notebook: Marketing Calendar

Are you marketing with intent or by accident? The only thing those two have in common is “ent”. Choose intent.

It’s a massive job?

Like anything you might not have done before, a marketing calendar might seem like a massive job. Don’t let that freeze you.

Big jobs have a way of creating a resistance to getting started – you’re frozen. Big tasks that you feel like you can’t finish in one setting are easy to put off. Next thing you know, it’s next January and you still haven’t gotten started. You can do this a year, quarter or a month at a time, so break it down. If a month seems like too much to bite off at once, start with a week. In fact, start with next week. What will you do with intent next week. The important thing is to start.

If you can’t dedicate an afternoon to it, then start 30 or even 15 minutes at a time. Once you get rolling with a week, look at that first week and figure out what should happen the second week after doing what’s planned for the first week.

Anyone can do a week at a time or take one intentional marketing effort at a time. No matter how slow it goes, get moving and keep moving. Create some marketing momentum.

Beating the blank page

Writing sometimes starts with that first, incredibly tough blank page. Building a marketing calendar isn’t much different. It starts with that first blank month. So where do you start?

What marketing efforts would you make this year even if you were the most disorganized accidental marketer ever? Put that on your calendar.

How do most of your new clients learn about you? Are they walk-ins or drive-bys? Do they find you online? Are they referred? Do they respond to ads in <something>? Rather than doing things to attract these clients accidentally – put the number one client attraction technique / effort on your calendar.

Once you have even one thing on your calendar, it’s easy to move ahead and identify other things you already do. The marketing calendar is your road map to doing these things with intent, doing them with enough lead time that you aren’t tempted to blow them off and getting them executed consistently.

Keep it simple

A marketing calendar might seem like a thing that should be complex, hard to understand and a hassle to implement. While a calendar can have lots of components and it can be multi-layered, it doesn’t have to complicated or a hassle. Focus on one piece at a time and keep things simple until you’re ready to step things up a level.

For example, you might have seen a multiple media, integrated campaign that coordinates email, social media, direct mail, radio, TV and who knows what else – and does so in a sequence over time. It might be tempting to think that if you can’t do that, you shouldn’t bother building a marketing calendar. Don’t use that as an escape hatch. You might get to the point where anything less than that seems like you aren’t even trying. Don’t let that happen. Keep it simple until you get some momentum from executing your calendar and creating something intentionally.

The first goal of a marketing calendar is to start marketing with intent: to work a plan, and stop marketing by accident. Once you have the mechanics in place, you can add additional layers, media and sequences as it makes sense, if it makes sense.

The end game isn’t the end.

What’s all of this for?

We started this discussion by asking if you market with intent or by accident. The goal of this process is to eventually get you to the point where you know what has to be executed each day in order to do the marketing you know you need to do. Intent.

Why’s that important?

When marketing is done consistently and with intent, it creates the conditions that allow you to know exactly what to do to keep growing your business. It creates job security for your people, who will most certainly detect the results of marketing with intent. It will build confidence in you and in the business.

When you work under conditions where you no longer worry about your job or whether your paycheck will clear this week, I think you’ll do better work. That’s good for everyone.

Hiring entry level people & (gasp) Millennials

I know a number of 20-somethings who are looking for (mostly) entry-level jobs. They’re in the age group often called “Millennials”, which some like to categorize as a generation of slackers with no work ethic and no motivation. “They need frequent naps.“, says The Atlantic, while quoting a study that included people as old as 37. My first 40-something manager at EDS took a 20 minute nap at his desk every day – in 1983.

The same types of comments were once made about Gen X, whose work drives a sizable portion of U.S. economic production these days.

If you’re basing your opinion of the potential of a prospective hire based on a broad brush that The Atlantic or People Magazine uses to describe their generation, I won’t be surprised if one or more of your competitors hires carefully selected millennials and uses them to kick your tail in the marketplace.

I don’t mean to say that people north of 30, 40 or (eek!) 50 (that’s me!) are not productively contributing to the economic growth in the U.S. I’m simply making note that they aren’t alone.

We don’t hire entry-level people

One of the comments I heard most often from these job seekers (about a dozen of them) is that “no one” is willing to hire entry-level people. The interesting thing is that none of these folks have zero experience. Most of them are looking for work in the restaurant (not fast-food) business, at least for now. Some of them have management experience – and no, I don’t mean they were an “assistant manager”, today’s euphemism for “an overtime-exempt barely supervisory level person who works 70 to 100 hours a week yet gets paid for 40”.

I recently met some of these so-called Millennials at a brewery in Missoula because I wanted to hear about their experiences.

Here’s a short list:

  • People post jobs on Craigslist and never hire anyone. Old news.
  • People post jobs on Craigslist indicating they are “hiring now”. They interview for the openings, but during the interview, make it clear that they still aren’t sure if they are going to hire anyone – even weeks after they posted the job.
  • Interviewees are told they can’t be hired because the hiring manager doesn’t believe they can learn something new – even if that “something new” is something most adults could do coherently with fewer than 10 minutes of instruction.

One of the “unlearnable” skills was refilling the items on a salad bar. The allegedly “can’t do salad bar” person had several years of restaurant experience serving and doing prep work, but hadn’t worked in a place with a salad bar. Thus, the hiring manager stated they were unqualified and unable to learn that “skill”. End of discussion, with no opportunity to prove otherwise.

Strategies for entry level people & those who hire them

After hearing the job seeker’s laments, I gave them a few strategies for dealing with the situation, including making the employer an offer like this one:

I understand that you’re worried that I can’t do the job, so I’ll work the rest of the day for nothing, starting right now. If I don’t prove my worth, I’ll walk away and you owe me nothing. If I prove I can do it, you’ll hire me on the spot and include pay for today’s work in my first paycheck. Does that sound fair?

Employers: In my experience, testing works, but only if real work is used for the test.

In the last 15 years, all but two of the people I’ve hired lived in a different state. Only three were not tested in advance. Anyone tested was paid for their test work whether they were hired or not (easier to stay legal – and you can do this without a big hassle). Test them once or as much as it takes until you know what they’re made of. Don’t waste time and money giving them made up test work. Give them real work with a minimum of instruction as necessary. Make them show their stuff – especially their resourcefulness and willingness to figure it out.

If you view Millennials as slackers with no work ethic or motivation, and are unwilling to test to identify good people of all ages, it will be difficult competing with hiring managers willing to make this effort.

Train them to make it easy to buy

Last week, we discussed the importance of training your employees to use systems well beyond the cash register, including those strategic to the company. While a normal cash register transaction is a typical customer interaction for a retail or service business, there are always the random circumstance that isn’t part of the “poke a few buttons, swipe their card or give them their change” process. In those situations, do you make it easy to buy?

What happens if you’re out of stock? This past weekend, my wife and I had an encounter with a young, polite employee of a national U.S. corporation who was dealing with an out of stock issue. The out of stock item could have been a simple logical issue rather than a physical one. Had the employee been properly trained and provided with the right systems, she would have be trained to “make it work” (hat tip to Tim Gunn), take our money and be resourceful. It didn’t turn out that way, but that’s not her fault. It’s management’s responsibility to make sure she has the systems and training to handle situations like this.

When easy to buy is out of stock

I suggest you put some thought (and some action) into training your people to make it work, rather than to say no and refuse a client’s money – where it makes sense. When it isn’t possible to make it work, your team’s training and systems should be ready to take over.

Think about what happens when an item is out of stock.

  • Do you place the item on backorder?
  • Do you have notification systems in place for your team so that they know when the out of stock item is back in stock?
  • Do you have notification systems in place for your clients so they they know the out of stock item has arrived so it can be scheduled for delivery or pickup?
  • Is your staff trained to handle an out of stock situation in a way that preserves the sale, preserves the client relationship or creates a positive memory for the customer?

Assuming you have all of that in place, what happens in the meantime?

The interim

In the meantime? In other words, even if you have out of stock situations handled well and have systems and training in place to deal with them, what specifically happens from the moment the out of stock situation is detected to the moment it is resolved? This can be seconds, minutes or months.

While the purchase was meaningless, so are many day to day purchases by your clients. The transaction may mean little in the big picture / long term, what matters is how it is handled. This situation illustrates how easily and inexpensively you can turn a failed transaction into one that people will share with their friends.

Over New Year’s, I took the family to see Star Wars. It was our first movie of 2016. The theater near us has an annual bucket program that works like this: You spend $20 on one of these buckets, which gets you popcorn today and the ability to refill the bucket for $4 for the rest of the year. In case you haven’t been to a movie lately, a large popcorn and two drinks will easily cost $20 these days, so the $4 refill for each movie is a nice savings.

Yet on January 1st, they were out of 2016 buckets. While this indicates broken inventory control, that isn’t the point. The concession stand employee said “We just ran out.” When asked if there was a way to get a rain check or pay for the bucket and take a disposable container for now, she looked baffled. Had management trained her well, she would have had a clipboard at the register, could have charged us for the annual bucket, taken our name and number (or email, whatever), given us a bag of popcorn and moved on. A 20 cent solution to retain a $20 sale for a recurring client.

Trivial but still important

Trivial, but these things that happen to your clientele every single day. How are you training your team to handle them? What systems are in place to deal with issues like this, even if the solutions are as simple as a clipboard?

Word of mouth comes from handling these things gracefully and without disruption. Prepare your team to make it easy to buy.