Being ready for a new customer

In a sport, when a player isn’t ready when the play starts, bad things tend to happen. In some sports, a penalty. In others, the opposing team gains an advantage, sometimes big, sometimes a few points. In business, being ready when “the play starts” means you might get the business. Not being ready may mean you don’t get the sale. Sometimes this means a lot, sometimes a little. Worse yet, not being ready may mean you don’t get the customer. Not getting the customer is a critical failure. Few of us have a business where we can afford to miss out on customers. Some of us have businesses where if we miss out on that chance, we may never get another chance to sell that customer.

Being ready times lifetime customer value

Never having a chance to sell to the customer you missed can be costly. Any car dealer worth their salt can tell you how often (on average) they see a repeat customer. Do the math, and you’ll know how many cars they can sell that person’s family over a lifetime – assuming they don’t mess up the relationship. Factor in the relationship habit that often creates in children, referrals to friends and referrals to other family members and before long, you can see that the value of establishing that first relationship can be sizable. The same can be said for real estate, legal and financial assistance, among others. A relationship created by being ready when a new customer steps into your world as a real estate agent, attorney, lawyer or similar can result in a lifetime of steady, lucrative business, despite having the possibility of having years pass between transactions. Again, the family and friends referrals can mount up in value.. if you’re ready.

However, this type of substantial lifetime customer value creation isn’t limited to big ticket businesses. Retail, restaurants and many other businesses benefit from long-term relationships created by that first transaction or event… if you’re ready.

What does not being ready look like?

Not being ready comes in many shapes, colors & sizes. Are your people trained for the job you sent them to perform? Do they have the tools they need? Do they have the training to do that work? Do they have the materials needed? This includes brochures, business cards, safety gear, proper clothing, etc. These may seem like obvious questions, until if you ask your customers whether or not the people they work with seem prepared. I suspect you will find that they encounter ill-prepared staffers more often than you would like. Ask them if they encounter unprepared people at other businesses – without naming the business. This eliminates their desire to avoid embarrassing someone on your team, but provides examples you can use to check on your own team’s state of readiness.

Training your team is part of being ready

Making sure your team is trained is critical to making sure they’re ready for the opportunities they encounter. One of the areas I often see untrained team members is in front line positions that senior team members don’t want to staff. A good example is a real estate open house on a weekend. The listing agent can’t be in more than one place at a time when they have multiple houses open simultaneously, so the team members they book to staff the other homes is critical. If you’re the listing agent sending untrained or barely-trained people “into harm’s way”, consider the possible cost. If you send an ill-prepared team member to staff an open house, their lack of preparedness and/or tendency to act more like a house sitter and less like you can be costly. Will they collect leads? Will they follow visitors around the house like a new puppy? Will they have the home info learned well enough to answer questions without having to read the spec sheet for visitors? Make sure they have a process to follow.

A similar situation arises when a restaurant’s wait staff comes to the table not having tasted the food, wine, and other things their restaurant serves. While this might seem surprising, it happens frequently. Part of training your team is tasting the things you want them to sell. Recommendations from your staff matter.

Think about your encounters over the last week. Were they ready to serve you? How did their level of preparation make you feel about that business?

Photo by Leo Hidalgo (@yompyz)

The single most painful lesson software companies learn

The most painful conversations I have with small software business owners are about marketing.

One of the more common ones relate how another company “stole” their business with “more aggressive” marketing.

The victim of this “theft” blames it on someone else’s marketing despite watching it happen right in front of them and doing nothing more than grumble about it.

Sometimes they’ll drag out the old programmers’ tale that “the best software never wins”.

It’s an attempt to imply that better marketed software must be a lesser product and those who effectively market their software are less professional by doing so. All they’re really doing is deflecting their inability to take responsibility to someone who is running the business better than they are.

It’s a bug in their mindset.

It’s your competitor’s fault?

Most software business owners who watched someone use a better tool to create software would take steps to evaluate that tool to see if it made sense for their business.

The exception? When that “better tool” is better marketing and sales.

In that case, they’ll usually just watch, grumble about that competitor’s so-called “unfair behavior” and do nothing about it. It’s as if someone has emasculated them.

If you sit and watch better marketing executed in your market and then you do nothing to improve your own marketing, is that your competitor’s fault?

I think not.

If you allow your relationship with an existing customer to degrade to the point where one of these “aggressive” marketers could gain your client’s attention and demo their software, is that your competitor’s fault?

I think not.

If your favorite team ignored the quality of one critical aspect of their game, you’d recognize their mistake. You might even yell at your TV over it. Would you blame the teams that win against them because of better skills in that one critical area?

I think not.

A lack of knowledge

Ignoring the quality of your marketing is no different than your favorite team ignoring recruiting or developing young players. You’d think they were inept, at best.

Yet you might still feel that marketing (“aggressive” or not) is unethical and/or unprofessional.

Ultimately, that shows a lack of business knowledge. You have a duty to have knowledge about your profession and to continue to develop that knowledge – and not just the technical part.

Done right – better marketing is typically nothing more than better executed, better targeted marketing used with a better knowledge of your market, your industry and what keeps your customers up at night.

Good marketing is one of the essential components of your business. Calling it “snake oil” doesn’t make you more professional and it doesn’t improve your position in your market. I’m not talking about companies marketing a solution that won’t work for a particular customer or group of customers. That’s the real “snake oil”.

When you don’t understand what good marketing is and the how/why of executing it, you’re simply not taking care of business.

That your software company would let someone else (particularly the snake oil types) wriggle in the front door and undermine your position with the customer is your responsibility. Why would you let your relationship with the client disintegrate to the point where they would even consider having a conversation with anyone else?

When you let someone else do this and do nothing about it, you are shirking your responsibility to your market, your staff, your family and your community.

Making a decision

The good news is that it isn’t a terminal condition. You can change your direction today.

If you’re willing to sit and watch it being done to you and then complain about it without doing anything to fulfill your responsibilities, that’s your choice.

If you’ve watched it being done and are smart enough to realize that you need to raise your game, then it’s time we had a conversation.

It’s time to decide that this is the last time another business will do this to you. It’s your responsibility to do something about it – and better code isn’t going to do the job all by itself.

The painful thing is that most companies will sit and repeatedly watch this happen to them – and then do nothing about it.

Pushing You Starts The Whispering

Whispering Grass
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rob Gallop

Earlier this week, I wrote about breaking down Chet Holmes’ “Dream 100” list of prospective customers into 10 lists of 10.

What I didn’t tell you was why I break the list down.

Asking you to name 100 random prospects would like result in an impact focused on one thing – “just the sales”.

This set of lists takes you well beyond that. Instead of having to think of 100 ideal prospects, you have only 10 of a specific type to come up with and each one has a context.

More importantly, each of the 10 groups has a specific purpose.

  • The 10 testimonial prospects need to be well-known in your market. Influencers. People or companies that, when mentioned, make people think your company hits home runs.
  • 10 CEOs you’d learn the most from – Obvious. Good to have their business, but great to have them, effectively, as business partners.
  • The 10 biggest upsides will make great turnaround / rags-to-riches stories. Powerful stuff.
  • The 10 clients to test your strengths are there because your strengths needed to be pushed – they ARE your strengths, after all.
  • The clients to expose your company’s weaknesses are there because you need to be reminded of them and decide whether to let them be or eliminate them.
  • Clients with a demanding nature are there to make your team better. Like your strengths, they too need to be pushed.
  • The transformational wave of revenue is going to be needed if you get these other things right – because a lot of change is going to come one way or another.
  • The 10 clients who need what you don’t have really need YOU. The fact that you don’t yet offer what they need will force you to stretch in your market.
  • The 10 clients who wouldn’t likely survive without your help are there for several reasons. They’ll remind you of the small fry you might be ignoring. Maybe they shouldn’t survive without your help. What will you learn from that process?
  • The 10 clients who would make you wake up in the middle of the night and think to yourself “I canâ??t believe I got those guys” are there for all the above reasons. They’ll push most of the buttons the other 90 clients will push – but in different ways.

The real reason that last category is there is to push you and your business well beyond your current boundaries as you see them.

You need to be pushed. You need to realize that you have another level inside your business that you’ve yet to discover.

PS: Getting these 100 clients will establish you as the leader in your market. Other prospects will notice you success, notice who they are and notice what you did to get them. And they’ll want some of that. Which is why you needed to be pushed.