How fast can your business go?

Is your business ready to face a no-huddle offense?

In case you aren’t a football fan, here’s a quick summary of differences between “regular” and “no-huddle” offenses:

  • A regular offense has 25-30 seconds (depending on the league) to “read” signals (instructions) from coaches on the sideline, swap players in and out from the bench (if desired), huddle (have a brief meeting) and start the next play. In the huddle, the quarterback tells everyone what the play is, communicates the information necessary to run the play, and makes sure everyone knows what signal they’ll use to trigger the hiking of the ball to start the play. The read, swap, huddle process starts as players walk and/or jog back to their teammates at the end of the previous play.
  • A no-huddle offense handles the read signals, swap players and huddle steps as they run back to the line to setup for the next play. As soon as they are set, the ball is usually hiked to start the play. Instead of 25-30 seconds between plays, you might see 8 to 12 seconds (on average) on a well run no-huddle offense.

The big difference between these two setups is that the defense also has the same time to read, meet, swap and setup for the next offensive play – with the regular offense. With the no-huddle offense, the defense has to react much more quickly. While the offense has to move fast to keep the defense “unprepared”, they at least know what’s going to happen next – even if the quarterback makes last minute changes (audibles) before the play starts.

A no-huddle offense quickly exposes defenses that haven’t practiced against no-huddle offenses. More importantly, it exposes a team without a system in place to deal with playing a no-huddle team.

Ok, that was a long-winded setup, but I didn’t want to lose anyone unfamiliar with football in the U.S. The point of comparing the regular offense and the no-huddle offense is that there are parallels between how defenses handle the tempo of a no-huddle game and how your business deals with the increasing tempo of business, much less the pace of change.

Are you feeling the pressure to deliver faster than last year? Did you go faster last year than the year before? Do you expect this need to accelerate every year is going to continue, or do you think that things will go back to normal once you get past this next push?

I think you need to plan on need for speed sticking around for the duration.

Two ways to go fast

With that expectation on your back, the need to increase There are two ways to go fast – with haste, or with a system.

While those who start off with haste might get a lead, it’s pretty typical that they will find themselves assembling the plane while rolling down the runway. Some pull it off. Most don’t, because they aren’t designed for speed. Instead, they simply decided to go fast.

Deciding to go fast is OK. Deciding to do it without a system designed to keep the quality of everything at level your clients are used to (or better) is risky.

Systems are the key

A system of systems is what you’ll need to increase speed without losing the quality and other factors your clients already depend on. Each system can be simple, but you have to be able to replicate it, perhaps automate it and most of all – depend on it to perform a certain job. A system’s job might be to check the quality of one step of a process, or simply to verify its completion. 10 systems might check quality at 10 places, or might make sure you follow up properly, insure that you have the right data recorded, or confirm that you have the right materials and labor scheduled for a particular item. These processes become a system of systems when they work together to help your business work.

When this system of systems is designed to protect the moving parts of your business, then you’re designed for speed and can increase the speed of production and delivery without risking quality and reputation.

Once you have these things in place, you’ll be more difficult to compete with. Not only do competitors have to keep up with your quality, but now they also are forced to deal with the pace you maintain.

How to build a follow up system

Last time, we discussed why it’s important to consistently follow up with your clients. Consistency requires a system to manage the process, track the follow ups and remind you when they need to be done. Without a system, daily challenges can take over your day. Result: follow ups are forgotten.

After I posted, @BeckyMcCray suggested that I show how to build a follow up system, so let’s do that.

Identify your touch points

When you build a house, you determine a list of requirements before starting construction. You need to know how many bedrooms and bathrooms you want and whether there will be a basement and/or a garage. From there, a set of plans will guide the construction process and provide the information needed to create the materials list. A follow up system does the same for your follow ups.

To get started, make a list of all the follow up actions (ie: touch points) that you want your follow up system to manage. A touch point is an opportunity to inform, educate, placate, calm, reinforce, remind, warn, notify or advise.

Identifying touch points should be easy because you know your business. I’ll use one of my favorite examples: the small engine repair shop that sells, rents (perhaps) and services outdoor power equipment, like mowers, chain saws, leaf blowers and garden tillers.

Here’s my list:

  • Repair started
  • Repair delayed, parts ordered
  • Repair resumed, parts received
  • Repair completed
  • Repair delivery schedule needed
  • Repair delivery date/time reminder
  • Order placed
  • Order delayed
  • Order shipped
  • Order received
  • Order delivery schedule needed
  • Order delivery date/time reminder
  • Payment plan schedule – upon creation of plan
  • Payment due reminder – 10 days out, to allow for banking online bill pay processing time
  • Payment due reminder
  • Payment overdue
  • Automated payment reminder (payment will be charged to card soon)
  • Automated payment confirmation (payment charged to card)
  • Automated payment failed
  • Automated payment card expiration warning
  • Automated payment card expired
  • Rental return reminder – at beginning of rental
  • Rental return reminder – return due soon
  • Spring tune up for warm weather equipment (eg: mowers, blowers, tillers)
  • Fall tune up for cold weather equipment (eg: snowblowers, ground thawing gear)
  • Oil change reminder
  • Winter storage service offer
  • Winter storage service pickup scheduling needed (ie: in the late fall/early winter, to pick up your equipment for storage)
  • Winter storage service pickup date/time reminder
  • Winter storage delivery scheduling needed (ie: in the spring, to return your equipment to your home/business)
  • Winter storage delivery date/time reminder

My list is intentionally long to give you ideas, but don’t let it distract or discourage you. Keep your list simple by starting with the most important touch points on your list. Build the system around those, then add more over time.

Let’s build a follow up system

Now that we’ve mapped out the touch points, let’s build a system.

Group the follow ups on your list by what drives their use. For example, do they occur when acquiring a new client, when processing an order, or when selling/delivering a service? The type of activity that drives them will be reflected in the system you setup for that follow up.

For example, a service order for a mower might produce a follow up list that looks like this:

  • Repair pickup schedule needed
  • Repair pickup date/time reminder
  • Repair – Equipment picked up
  • Repair started
  • Repair delayed, parts ordered
  • Repair resumed, parts received
  • Repair completed
  • Repair delivery schedule needed
  • Repair delivery date/time reminder
  • Repair – Equipment delivered
  • Repair – Equipment picked up

Each item would have a place to mark that it was done, that a call (or some other form of contact) was made, who did it and the date/time it was done. Want more info? Add space for notes at each step.

The medium used to work and record these steps doesn’t matter at first. What matters is that you perform the steps and refine your system. As it gets more difficult to manage a low-tech system, you should seek out a technology-based solution. By that time, you’ll have a much easier time figuring out what will work for you and what won’t.

To reiterate why a system is important, look at the list of steps and consider how it makes your business look and your customer feel if a step or two never happens or if it’s delayed by days or weeks because “it fell through a crack”.

A system can all but eliminate the cracks.

A simple, high value tactic many miss

When people know that you help small businesses and you’ve had a newspaper column since 2007, everyone who has a bad (or even mildly annoying) experience at a business wants to tell you about their latest adventure in commerce.

Sometimes I hear about situations that really aren’t the fault of the business. Other times, the stories I hear make me wonder what the business owner(s), or their staff, is thinking. Of course, there are always two sides to any conflict, including the parts you never hear from either side.

Conflict isn’t number one

While you might think disagreements and conflicts are the number one think I hear about, that isn’t the case. Today’s topic isn’t really about conflict, but it can easily become a source of conflict if the affliction goes untreated.

The affliction? No follow up. Insufficient follow up often feels like no follow up. Prospects call or email and want to order something. Their call or email goes unanswered. They get frustrated. They call someone else in your market. You not only lose the sale, but you probably lose the possibility of ever having that person as a client.

Recently, I heard a story from someone who wanted to buy an item, called several vendors in that market, failed to get any follow up action or contacts by anyone in the market, then called a nationwide retailer with a local presence and didn’t even hear back from them. When they contacted the retailer, the retailer’s staff couldn’t provide any information about when the item would show up, much less if it was on its way. At this point, months have gone by without any progress, despite involving several vendors.

So, on a $500+ purchase, multiple vendors in the same market appear to be unwilling to do the work to close the sale. Normally, this situation would make me a bit suspicious of the would-be purchaser’s mood, but in this case, I know them well enough that this isn’t about the person wanting to buy.

Follow up. That’s all.

While this is a pretty unusual situation, the key for all of this is follow up. Return calls, emails, etc are a necessity to close a sale and keep a client. So why would vendors who routinely sell a $500-3000 item fail to do that? I can’t explain it. What I can do is tell you that this isn’t unusual. Lots of businesses fail to follow up enough, or fail to follow up at all.

Solo entrepreneurs fail to do it. Small companies fail to do it. Medium sized companies fail to do it. Large companies fail to do it. I can’t explain why, but I can tell you it is the number one source of frustration of the people I talk to. I hear it about salespeople, order departments, support and customer service as well as repair and service people.

Communicate. It’s that simple. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign you care about your business, much less about your clientele and their needs. It’s an incredibly easy and inexpensive way to make a client stick around and develop a loyalty to your business that’s incredibly hard to break. Think of it as an almost impregnable fence that your competition can’t get past to gain access to your customers. It’s not expensive or complicated.

Why doesn’t follow up happen?

Follow up doesn’t fail to happen because the business owner or their staff don’t want to take care of their clientele. Most of them do care. Sometimes it isn’t obvious that follow up isn’t happening, or the owners and staff don’t realize that some of the most important follow up is letting their clients know what’s going on even when nothing has changed.

The most common reason that follow up doesn’t happen is that there’s no system to manage it. Without a system to make sure it happens, today’s daily chaos takes over and those follow up tasks are soon forgotten.

When I say “system”, I mean a mechanism that makes sure that you follow up with clients, whether or not the system consists of paper, technology or something else.

The key is that you put together something that you and the staff will actually use because “I need to remember to call Joe” isn’t a system for anything other than disappointing Joe.

 

Your systems should focus on your clients

Do your systems serve your internal customers or all of them?

By internal customers, I mean your accounting department, the staff on the shipping dock, customer service representatives, sales people and so on.

Systems that serve your internal customers do things such as accept, validate and record orders, track commissions, automate shipment notifications, manage inventory and a multitude of other things necessary to make sure that orders for products and services are properly fulfilled.

These systems (investments, really) serve your “real” clients as well, but in many cases their service to the client is indirect. I say indirect because your client rarely sees this service, even though they benefit from it. These systems enable your staff to serve your clients, keep track of where their package is and keep track of the fact that they’ve paid their bill. That’s service they benefit from – even if it is indirect.

Clearly, these investments are valuable. My assertion is that these systems don’t often focus on the client’s needs, even though they ultimately serve that client.

For example?

You knew I’d have an example or two.

You’ve probably seen a cryptic medical bill at some point. These bills have improved vs. the bills of five or ten years ago, but they could still be easier to read. Focusing on client needs might mean making the effort to create a customer-focused bill where info other than the total amount due is intelligible to the patient and their family.

A recent cold snap snuffed the battery in my wife’s car. When I went to replace it, I had to take it to a different store in the national (but locally owned) chain where I buy auto parts. Because the store’s systems are focused on internal customer needs, they were able to see inventory in stock and tell me which stores in the area had the battery I needed. While that’s useful information to help me get a new battery, it fell short of the staff’s needs and my own.

Unfortunately, they had no way to access my purchase information from a few years ago so that they could provide the appropriate discount on the new battery, since the old one expired during the warranty period.

The last time I bought a battery from these guys, they calculated the discount from the date on the battery (ie: the month and year that are picked off at the counter when the sell it to you). This time, that date was considered irrelevant. Further, I was scolded for not having a three year old receipt (which I probably have, but haven’t found).

I asked for advice to avoid this in the future, since I was used to the prior system where the pick-off date on the battery was what the trusted. The guys at the counter suggested that I tape the new receipt to the battery so that I’d have it next time. It seems like a good idea, but tape plus battery plus Montana weather times three or more years tells me that reading that receipt might not be so easy in the future.

Where’s my warranty discount?

The discount was trivial and really isn’t the point, but the situation provides a good example of a business system that primarily serves internal customers. The store that sold me the new battery has the ability to check inventory of the store where I bought the old battery and get a part from that store – both of these features primarily serve internal customer needs. A missing internal customer need that would also serve the external customer would allow store personnel to confirm a purchase at another store in the chair, as well as track the purchase for warranty purposes.

You’ve seen this before. Pharmacies are able to track prescriptions at any of their stores and refill them in any other store even if the original was called into a pharmacy thousands of miles away. To be sure, there are laws covering the record keeping of these purchases, but they could make it much more difficult to buy in the second location than they do.

Why do they buy from you?

The point is that your clients have a choice. If your internal systems make it easier for your clients to buy, redeem, refill, obtain service, and buy again…. they’ll likely buy from you.

How to create good surprises? Baby steps.

Surprise...

Recently, a couple of real estate transactions provoked me to write about surprises.

In that piece, surprises were not a good thing.

Yet sometimes, surprises are exactly what you want to deliver. So how do you decide which surprises are good and which aren’t?

You need to find a difference to choose a good one – but how? Try substituting a different word for “surprise”, such as “delight”.

Now ask yourself, what would delight your customers?

You might think lower prices would delight them – and while they might appreciate that, you need to think harder.

We’re looking for things that your customer would talk about the next day or week – and remember long enough to influence them to come back.

If you aren’t sure – think about the last time you found yourself delighted by something a business did. Think about how that felt. With that experience in mind, you’re ready to start looking for places to tweak your customers’ experience. So where do you find them?

Baby Steps

I think one of the best ways to figure out these little tweaks that transform your customers’ experience is to walk through the process of doing business with you in little, tiny steps: Baby Steps.

Walk through the process with each type of customer. Start with the acquisition of the lead – even if that’s a cold call from them to your business. Continue through the entire purchase and delivery cycle, identifying places where trouble could occur, where little touches would transform the experience and where little failures could sabotage the whole deal.

You should keep client expectations in mind as you follow the baby steps looking for tweaks. Expectations will differ depending on the size, type and culture of the client, as well as between business and consumer clientele.

Expectations differ by client size

When looking for things to change for a business client, consider the size of their business. You’ll want to adjust what you do based on their size because size alters how they operate.

For example, small business clients might handle invoicing, payment and receiving themselves – or a single bookkeeper/accountant may handle it. At a large client, you could easily involve dozens of people, depending on what you’re delivering. The experience – and the baby steps – should differ substantially.

Consider building a unique process for each substantially different size of client to avoid making your tweaks into the wrong kind of surprise.

For example, if your billing process is designed to make things easy for a small business bookkeeper, that process won’t likely go so well when implemented with large corporate accounting and receiving departments. Likewise, the reverse will just as likely be annoying to large clients.

Expectations differ by client culture

Client size isn’t the only factor that can alter what you do to delight them. Client culture is just as important.

For example, if you’re a wedding photographer or planner, you’re likely to handle the wedding of a Manhattan couple differently than you would a couple in the rural South or any other place substantially different in culture from NYC. Keep client mobility in mind. Even in the smallest of towns, you may find yourself working with clients from Paris, NYC or London.

It isn’t just about big cities vs. small towns. Internal culture can differ widely from the suits and ties at IBM to t-shirts and Xbox at Google. As a result, your processes and the tweaks you implement should consider how things work internally at your client, as well as how they don’t.

Expectations differ by service level

If you want to fine tune your customers’ experience and put a fence around them that no one can break through, we’re not done yet.

One set of processes for businesses and another for consumers, if that fits your business, isn’t enough.

One process for each size of client isn’t enough.

One process that fits the culture for each client isn’t enough.

You’ll want different processes for each service level your clients purchase: Good, better, best.

How do I get all of this done?

Finish one process at a time, then move to the next.

You”ll want documented processes with systems to make sure they’re done every right time. High tech isn’t necessary. A wall of clipboards works better than going from memory.

Making it easy on them doesn’t have to be hard on you.

Starting A New Business: Part 5 – Infrastructure

Infrastructure is one of those things you don’t necessarily think about as a new business owner.

Thing is, strong infrastructure often turns out to be the competitive edge that no one (other than you) notices.

Your clientele notices “stuff”:

  • You’re always on top of things and that you rarely, if ever, have to say “oh, that fell in a crack.”
  • Your staff knows where orders, parts and service people are, when they’ll be show up and what, if anything, is holding them up.
  • Your staff is proactive more often than not.
  • You don’t lose checks, invoices, legal forms and other marginally important paperwork (yes, that was sarcasm).
  • Their priorities never seem to get lost in yours.
  • You rarely (if ever) miss a deadline – particularly one that would embarrass or damage their business.

In other words, they notice when you really have your act together. Not only do they notice, but they remember, tell others and keep coming back.

The price of worry

Infrastructure is what helps you keep from worrying about “stuff” every single day.

Every moment you spend fretting about “stuff”, chasing down minutiae, emailing to ask for status reports is time focused on things that you shouldn’t even have to think about.

When you have infrastructure in place that takes these things off your mind, your mind is free to do more important thinking. More valuable thinking about things (and on a level) that transforms what you do.

Something as simple as an automated website backup process that sends your content to an offsite backup location is one less menial task and one less brain-sucking thing to keep in the back of your mind.

Do-It-Yourself?

Entrepreneurs are often DIY kinds of folks because we want something slightly better than the norm. It’s why we build solutions.

It also means we spend time on things we have no business doing. Either we aren’t any good at it, or we don’t have time to get (much less stay) current in that activity. It might be computers, your network, plumbing, human resources, benefits or event management.

Frequently these things involve some combination of legal, insurance, finance and taxes. Not the kind of “stuff” you want to mess up.

Little things that can destroy a day…or a week

If I lose electricity, I lose water because our well requires a pump. Meanwhile, my computers will be up for another hour or so thanks to uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), giving me time to backup, shutdown my systems cleanly and leave if I need to keep working.

Few people backup enough, for example. If lightning from one of the thunderstorms that visit your coastline almost every day destroys your computer, you get to buy a new computer and waste a day setting it up. If your customer and order data isn’t backed up, you’ll spend even more time re-entering your customer/order data – if you have it on paper somewhere. So much for those orders you needed to ship tomorrow.

I do all my client work in VMs (VM = virtual machine). I backup the VMs I use to a portable external drive. I backup to it regularly and test it often to make sure it works. Regularly does not mean annually – it means weekly, worst case. The work I do for clients is backed up constantly.

This means I can run out the door with nothing but that external drive, go to a local store, buy a computer, download VMWare and be working again without losing a thing, inside an hour – anywhere. Allowing the failure of a $500 desktop computer to kill your business is just foolish.

Your business might not be as portable as mine, and that’s ok. The takeaway, no matter what you do, is “Protect your ability to continue to do business productively”.

The back of your mind is full

The back of your mind is full enough already. Let it focus on serious work that only you can do and let experts take care of the important stuff outside of your expertise. The same goes for your staff. That back of the mind stuff is what infrastructure does so well.

Think long-term and strategically about infrastructure investments – and then invest as soon as you can.

If there’s no thermometer, does that mean there’s no fever?

Many people have had their mom, a grandma or someone put their hand on your forehead to detect a fever.

Despite “Doctor Mom” having no digital measuring device in her hand, she can still tell if you’re running a fever.

Maybe she can’t say that the fever is 102.372 Fahrenheit, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t sick.

Measurement matters

Many times we’ve talked here about the importance of measuring results, whether they are marketing, operational, people or otherwise.  I’ve told you NOT to guess about the results of testing an ad’s (or a media’s) performance.

That’s all well and good when it works.

When the ad doesn’t work, no measurement is needed.

The phone doesn’t ring. The email doesn’t fill up. The website e-commerce store doesn’t jingle with new orders. In the case of mom and the feverish forehead, her hand never gets close enough the feel the heat.

Trouble is, you’re still sick.

Feedback works the same way

The same goes when you aren’t getting feedback from your customers. If you aren’t, or if it’s all the same – you really need to look hard at the reasons for that.

Have you ignored their feedback in the past?

If so, the lack of quality feedback (or *any* feedback) at this time might not be the good sign for your products and services. It might mean that they just don’t think there’s any reason to bother telling you anything.

Or it might mean they don’t care anymore.

Often it can mean that there is an operational or logical problem in your feedback gathering, response *and* (this is the critical one) follow-up processes.

Taking a pulse

If I went down through your customer list, could you and your staff recall your last interaction with a reasonable number of them? Could they tell me which ones are difficult / challenging and which ones are lovely or fun to work with?

Could they relate with any accuracy the last communication they had with them?

Is there a pulse? You’d better know, without putting your fingers on your business’ carotid.

Are you missing the point of automation?

Last week I received a phone call from SendOutCards, whose service sends personalized postcards and greeting cards â?? with pictures if you like â?? simply by pounding on their website for a moment.

First of all, kudos to them. They were just calling to see if I was getting what I needed out of the service and wondered what – if anything – they could do to help me.

Why kudos? Because SO FEW actually make the effort to do this.

Yep, that’s a not-so-subtle hint.

The downside of the conversation was that I blindsided them with my request.

It’s important to clarify that I really like the service â?? they even let me create a font of individual letters using my handwriting, so that the text I type into the website is printed in my writing on the card or postcard. This includes several variations of my hand-written signature so I can sign the cards any way I want depending on who the recipient is.

The disappointment is that the service lacks the ability to let you automate the delivery of what they produce.

You can import a list from your Outlook or whatever, but that isnâ??t automation. Itâ??s manual and a pain. Plus it’s a duplication of data – bad idea.

Once youâ??ve imported contacts, you can setup a series of cards or postcards or notes to go out over a period of days as you like. Setting it up is a little bit of a pain, but it works.

Then the trouble starts. There is no automated way to update the contacts when their contact info changes on my systems, much less to add or remove them. It’s 2008 folks, this stuff is commonplace and simple to implement.

Also – when you have 9400 customers, you don’t have them in Outlook and you don’t want to manually import and categorize them using a web interface.

Their goal SHOULD be to make it as easy to send cards and postcards as they possibly can, since their profit depends on two things: the revenue from sending cards and postcards, and the exposure they get to new people who receive those cards and start using the service on their own.

As it is now, it isnâ??t real automation. Automation occurs when things happen automatically because something else happened, manual or otherwise.

I tried explaining this to the vendor and gave them a few examples.

If I have an online store that sells stuff, I’d want my online store to automatically send a thank you card with shipping info in it. A month or a week or whatever (depends on the product) later, I’d want to send a follow up thank you that asks for a review, comments, makes sure they are happy with their purchase, etc.

That just scrapes the surface of needs of that type.

Random customer behavior: bad idea

Another example: Let’s assume that Iâ??m performing a service or selling an item to customers who come back intermittently. Your internal point of sale and invoicing system should have the information needed to produce a list of â??Who hasnâ??t been here in 30 days?â? (or 60, or whatever).

If youâ??re on top of this situation, someone is currently printing out that list and having someone mail them a postcard, or a note, or calling them to see if theyâ??re doing OK, need an appointment, etc. Or SendOutCards could be *automatically instructed* by your systems to send a reminder card or what not to try and retain this customer and get them back into the store, office, etc.

If you arenâ??t on top of this sort of thing, youâ??re simply waiting on the random behavior of your customers to return to your business – exactly the kind of thing SendOutCards is designed to assist you with.

Smart businesses DO NOT depend on the random behavior of their customers. Instead, they show up (and/or deliver) “Just before just-in-time”, as Don Ferris says.. They also make a point of reminding their customers to come back / purchase / do maintenance (or whatever) when it’s best for the customer… without being an annoying nag about it.

By now, you should have asked yourself what you can be doing in this area. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about your business:

  • What do your customers use every month?
  • What do they own that requires maintenance every quarter?
  • What happens TO THEM if they don’t come back on a regular basis?
  • What happens if I lose track of changes in their personal situation (if B-to-C) or business situation (B-to-B)?

If they arenâ??t buying or maintaining those things on that basis, every day they wait is costing you money *and* it could cost them money too.

Oh yeah, back to that every 30 days list.

What if your systems were automated and knew to send out a postcard (not one of those lame ones from the corporate office that no one reads) when someone should have an appointment coming up? And the system knows not to mail one if you already have an appointment scheduled in the next few weeks.

And it knows to email the right person in your business 10 days after the postcard is mailed to remind them to call that person if and only if they donâ??t have an appointment (or haven’t made a purchase).

This isnâ??t rocket science, but the vendor didnâ??t seem to get how valuable this was not only to me, but to their bottom line (ie: more cards get mailed, more people are exposed to the vendor’s service).

MobileMe becomes ImmobileMe

Call me old fashioned, but when someone says they’re gonna host all of my email somewhere else and Im just supposed to trust them and not keep a copy here where I can protect it, I think I’ll pass.

Doesn’t matter to me if it’s Google, Apple’s MobileMe, Amazon S3 or whoever. All of them have had email downtimes or lost data.

As have I. At least if I lose it under those circumstances, it’s my fault and I have control over the backup processes.

Are you trusting your critical business email to (immobile) MobileMe?

Think hard about what happens to your business if you lose access to MobileMe, Gmail or Amazon S3 data for an hour.

Or…

  • A day.
  • A week.
  • A month.
  • Permanently (as occurred last week for some MobileMe users).

Does your stomach hurt yet? It should.

And if you’re using MobileMe or any of these services without a local backup of your critical business data, it’s no one’s fault but your own when you have to shut the doors.

Outlook (or your email program of choice) may be annoying as crud compared to that cool web interface, but I control how many backups I have and where they are, and I can get to them ASAP without having to drive to Cupertino (or wherever) to beg for a restore disk cuz I once golfed with Kevin Bacon and he knows someone who is only 7 levels of separation from Steve Jobs.

Heck, I could probably find Kevin on LinkedIn 🙂

Seriously though, where is your critical path data?

Think about what happens to your data, and thus, your business, if the internet goes down for a few days – or at least, your access to the net.

Think about what happens to your data, and thus, your business, if you can’t access invoices, contact info, and so on.

Think about covering your backside a little better.

And make sure you have a few candles in the closet.

The value of follow up

Previously, we’ve talked about how my old software company did every-30-day follow ups with clients and why it was so valuable. If nothing else, it made up for things that we maybe didn’t do so well.

When I have conversations with business owners about following up, it often comes up that these things are a lot of work. They don’t mean the follow up itself, but the act of getting their staff to actually do it, much less getting them to remember to do it, and so on.

First of all, a follow up system has to become part of your system for doing business, just like the bubble wrap that you insist must be wrapped around that expensive English bone china egg coddler before shipment.

Your staff wouldn’t dream of shipping a fragile piece of china without bubble wrap, and if you train them properly and make it part of the way you do business – they also won’t dream of blowing off the follow up.

The other side of this is that it isn’t rocket science. You don’t need an expensive system to make this stuff happen. A system could be an extra, documented, managed step that you insert into your paper-driven process.

So what about the value?

As I mentioned yesterday, I had some suspension work done on the Suburban. This is the same place where I bought the tires that are on it.

In the 13 months since I bought those tires, I have yet to receive a phone call, postcard or email offering to check those tires for uneven wear (a sure sign that something else needs to be repaired, or that I’m too stupid to inflate my tires properly).

Likewise, I have yet to receive any sort of contact to check alignment, brakes, or even to rotate my tires.

I don’t receive a contact in the early winter when lots of car owners change out regular tires for studded ones (I don’t, but many people do). I don’t receive a contact in the spring when the studded ones come off and are replaced by regular ones.

Not only are these things that naturally bring people to that store, but they also are ideal inspection times. Swap out time is an ideal time to determine that the other tires you are switching to might need to be replaced.

All this non-contact despite the fact that this store rotates and does flat fixes for free (they appear to understand Cialdini). It’s fairly clear to me (because of other things they do and how they do them) that they want me to come back and buy tires there again.

There is a pile of opportunity to offer a little care for those tires, and while showing they are trying to help me get the most from them, possibly earn a little extra cash by finding something during various inspections. And maybe sell me new ones.

Doing the math

For my rig, new tires are a $500+ expense. If you have 1000 customers (and they probably do), at any one time, research shows that about 3% of them have an immediate need for whatever you sell.

That’s 30 sets of tires waiting to be bought any any one time. $15 grand. Is that worth a little follow up effort?

We also talked yesterday about the batteries and how a free inspection routine for ANY vehicle would increase sales as well as improve the relationship. You see this in quick lube shops, sometimes to the wrong extreme. That isn’t what I’m proposing.

If you see 12 people an hour in a 10 hour day, that’s 720 clients through the door per 6 day work week (remember, it’s a tire store). If only 1 client per day needs a new battery (for example), and they buy a $45 battery, the free inspection will result in $14,040 in battery sales.

And that’s just batteries. Who knows what other sales you’ll make and what safety issues you’ll find.

Sure, maybe most of those people will buy a battery from you anyhow, but your inspections will have them buying before they are stranded somewhere, late for work, late for an appointment, stuck in bad winter weather, unable to drive their pregnant wife to the hospital and so on.

And you were the one who caught the fact that the battery was about to fail.

Look at your numbers like we did here and put a value on them. I suspect you’ll find a nice green reason to make it a part of your way of doing business.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t sell tires and batteries. You can use this too.