Categories
customer retention Sales

Maturity matters

Have you spent any time looking at the differences between your newest customers and the customers who have been with you for years or decades? I’m not speaking of age, but of their maturity.

Imagine asking your customers “Why did y0u buy from us vs every other option you had, including buying nothing?” A new customer is likely to say something like “you offer the options we needed at a reasonable price”, and / or that your reputation helped them make the choice.

The “old” ones

However, the customer you’ve had for decades might respond that “you were the only one who had the product / service at the time”. While it’s possible that you’re still the only supplier, it’s unlikely that is the situation today. So why are these long time customers still around?

If the product you provide has a recurring income component, or you sell something consumable that will be purchased repeatedly (food, a service, supplies, raw materials, etc), ask your long-time customers an additional question: “I get that we were the first – but you still use us. Why? What’s kept you from switching to another vendor?”

While it’s great that they’re still around, their continued use of your solutions is not likely because you were the first vendor they bought from. The reasons they stick around are the same reasons that you might be able to flip a customer from another vendor. These reasons are also important for customer retention, so listen closely. Ask why when you get an answer. Keep asking why, if it makes sense. Dig deep on these answers – “anyone” can close a sale. The key is closing them and keeping them.

They get started differently

Another difference you might notice between new and long time customers is their maturity as a user with your product / service. I don’t mean that they’re young or old. They might be new users, or they may be long-time users of a particular type of product, whether we’re talking about software, 3D printer resin, garlic, or fertilizer.

What I mean is that some of your customers are new or at least less experienced at using whatever you sell, and others are experts at using whatever you sell. The new customer might be experienced – having switched from another vendor. However, they could be inexperienced, having just gotten started with products / services like yours.

It’s important that you know which type of customer you’re dealing with. The onboarding with these two types of customers almost certainly needs to be different because of the difference in experience and skill / maturity with your product / service. The ability of the sales and support people assigned to these two groups needs to be considered – and you may need to break down the groups with more granularity beyond novice and experienced. A novice support or sales rep assigned to a very mature account might be a good learning opportunity for the rep, but it could be a disaster for customer retention unless you pair them with an experienced mentor for a while.

More than maturity

The differences between these two types of users include more than their product / service use maturity, but that maturity relates directly to the self-described needs of each group. Think about the questions and improvements you receive from customers with lower experience levels vs the requests from mature customers.

Power users tend to ask for more refined features. You have to be careful how you implement these requests. If your product / service becomes so hard to use that novice users get stuck, it can impede your growth. People will gravitate to solutions that are easy to use & simple to get started. Novice customers don’t want to get mired in a swamp, particularly with a new supplier or a new product / service. High maturity customers don’t want a product that’s too simple to serve their advanced needs. It’s a careful balancing act.

A Farewell

Columbia Falls started off the year with a tough loss – the passing of Karl Skindingsrude. It would be an understatement to say that Karl was an enthusiastic promoter of Columbia Falls, her people, and her businesses. It will be tough not seeing him emcee future Night of Lights and Heritage Days parades. Columbia Falls will certainly miss his smile, his enthusiasm, and his service as Columbia Falls’ friendly unofficial ambassador. For me, his passing served as a powerful reminder of where home is.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Categories
Management

Do we dislike consistency?

For the record, I’m not a New England Patriots fan., but I can’t deny that I admire their process. In fact, I think their process is what most Patriot “haters” actually dislike. It’s not necessarily Tom Brady, even if you don’t like that he’s 40ish, looks 30ish, has 0.000003% body fat, a gazillion dollar contract, a supermodel wife, etc. Or that he’s been great at coming back from certain defeat, similar to Roger Staubach, John Elway and a few others. Still, I don’t think that’s it, except maybe for that last minute “miracle” in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks.

The thing about haters seems to be about the team, rather than the coaches, or players (except for Brady). I mean, you might not like how coach Belichick talks to the press (or doesn’t), but it’s tough to dislike his effectiveness. Consider the consistency of the results he’s produced across two decades with more or less a different group of players each year, Brady notwithstanding.

Perhaps there are all sorts of reasons to dislike the Patriots. Ultimately, I think it’s because their process produces fairly consistent results for two decades. Their process produces wins when we think they shouldn’t.

Process yields results

So what’s the point of the football talk? When a team (business or sports) consistently does well over a long period of time, there will be haters.

Consider the consistency of processes and results across your entire business. Now think about how these results impact customers and vendors. Customers despise inconsistency. If you ask your customers, what area of your business is the most consistent and most frustrating, what would their answer be? Think about your pet peeves with your vendors. Do you mirror them to your customers?

You may be aware of areas where your business is a pain to deal with. It may be due to results, services, delivery, and/or quality being inconsistent. Your opinion of what’s inconsistent isn’t the only one that matters. Your customers might have thoughts on that – and you should ask. While it’s good to work on improving the consistency of the things you’ve identified, it’s a really good idea to discuss the topic with your customers. A good time to do it: when they’re already complaining to you. You’ve already got them to open up and tell you what’s going wrong. You might think you should avoid giving them more reason to rip on you, but it gives you more chances to respond and repair the relationship.

Machines & Robots

You may not want to be “hated” like the Patriots, but it could happen. If you are doing right by your customers, employees, contractors, and anyone else involved for an extended period of time, it’s possible. Even so, the hate you might get from some people is their problem, not yours.

When your company’s success takes up more space in the competition’s minds than working toward their own success, that’s clearly not your problem. Your problem (challenge, really) is to get your company to the point where that could happen. The path to success involves a lot of things – and one of them is a significant increase in the consistency of what you do.

At some point, your company and your people might be seen as “a machine” or “robots” because of their consistency. As long as your customers don’t see them that way because they’re inflexible and stone-faced, you’re fine. To some, looking like a “machine” or a “robot” is a negative. To others, it means your team is well trained and you have systems in place to minimize mistakes.

Consistency Fatigue

If a competitor doesn’t like you and your business because of the consistency of the results your business delivers, much less the friendliness and skillfulness of your people, it isn’t your problem. Deep down, I think that’s the problem with the Patriots. Yes, most fans can look back over the years and remember when their favorite team lost to the Patriots in a game they “shouldn’t have lost”. Some of it might be that people are tired of seeing them at or near the top of the heap. This year, they got what they wanted.

Strive to produce consistently high quality results, coaching, mentoring, training, and execution. Let the haters hate.

Categories
Leadership

Leadership & change

We spend a lot of time talking about things you can do to make sure that your business is around next year, or a few years from now. It’s a continuous effort. Still, things change and will keep changing, of course. That may seem like an almost silly comment to make, but the thing is, it’s not just aspects of your business that change. The nature of change itself is changing. Not only the nature of those changes, but the speed of the changes as well as how fast the rate of change changes. That’s what can sneak up on you.

Pulling Gs

That “how fast the rate of change changes” thing may be a bit of a hair puller. What we’re talking about is the difference between speed (how fast something is moving) and acceleration (how fast a moving object’s speed is increasing). To put it in more familiar terms, think about how a car or plane accelerate or turn. Their change in direction is measured in “Gs” – ie: G-forces. A single G is the force we all feel from the earth’s gravity. A car might be going 40 miles an hour at a moment in time, but it might be accelerating at a rate that causes the driver to experience multiple Gs.

Most people don’t get the opportunity to handle more than a G or two. Why? Outside of roller coasters, multiple Gs are usually experienced only by professional race drivers and pilots. Think about any scene that you’ve seen in a movie or TV show where a novice flier is a passenger in a fighter jet. In most of these situations, the pilot is asked to have a little “fun” with the novice flier and make some high G-force turns. The novice flier doesn’t take that very well. After training and time experiencing multiple Gs, their mind and their body will figure it out and they’ll get used to it. That works for G-forces and for the pace of change.

Change at the office

The difficulty of dealing with multiple Gs is high. It’s not for everyone. The increasing pace of change is a growing challenge for owners, managers, and teams.

Think about your industry and what’s changed in the last five years, and consider how fast that change has occurred. Now compare that pace to the pace and volume of change in the 15 year period prior to that.

More things have changed in the last five years than changed in the prior 15. If you look back another couple of decades, you’ll see the same thing. Lots of things changed from 1980 to 2000. But as you got closer to 2000, the changes accelerated. As you came closer to 2010, the speed of change continued to increase. Dealing with this as a leader is your challenge and responsibility.

The issue?

The challenge of the ever-increasing pace of change is the same topic we discuss in other contexts all the time: Leadership.

The leadership in most companies and governments (large and small, at all levels) is not keeping up. If you look at how companies are being managed, many managed as they were 10 or 20 years ago. To be sure, it’s great that they’re still open after that long. It’s not a small accomplishment. I don’t mean to say that management a decade or three in the past was wrong, poor, etc. I’m simply saying that things move quicker than ever today. Preparing for, researching, and managing change was a substantial senior leadership responsibility a few decades ago. Today, this task is tougher than ever.

Your ability to keep up is critical to being here for another 10 or 20 years. You’ve also got to help your managers stay on top of whatever is changing in your market. It isn’t something you can set aside for years (or even months in some markets). Work it into your plans. You don’t necessarily have to adopt every change, but you do need to be aware of them and form a strategy to either adopt or otherwise deal with them.

While I don’t generally comment on political topics, these issues obviously confound governments as well. Drones, cybersecurity, the gig economy, and the internet in general stick out as obvious examples of areas where governments have struggled to deal with change. There are others – not all related to internet topics. Ask plenty of questions of your candidates.

Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

Categories
Leadership Management Project Management

Make a game plan, then work it

We’ve been mulling change, prioritization, and getting important tasks done. It’s time to get serious before the holidays distract you. When they’re over, having a ready-to-start game plan will help you get a solid start on the new year. Question is, what should be on your game plan?

Big rocks

We’ve all probably heard the story about putting the big rocks in the jar before adding pebbles, sand, & water.

The story resonates because we remember a time when we left the big rocks till later & then disappointed someone by missing a deadline, or being unable to fulfill a commitment.

These disappointments, failures or what have you often happen at least in part because we didn’t deal with the big rocks first. Old news for Covey followers, but worth a reminder when making a game plan.

A game plan of three things

I suggest starting with three big tasks. Looking at the list of tasks you want to accomplish in the next year, which three should have the most impactful and positive strategic result to your company over the long term?

Think about it. Discuss it with your team. Decide.

Consider the possible causes of failure. Some call this a “pre-mortem”. Make sure your game plan includes steps to defuse these issues or prevent them from becoming a problem. Think about the essential accomplishments needed to complete these tasks. Make sure everyone knows what these points are & that someone has direct responsibility to monitor them.

Painting the building may not be one of your three things, but it could be. I can recall on more than one occasion seeing a restaurant whose building had clearly been ignored for many years – and wondering if they handle food safety with the same level of care.

Up next – figure out how long these tasks will take. You need to know if your game plan is reasonable. This is not the place for fantasy.

On guesstimates

People are terrible at estimating how long a task will take. Eventually, some figure out a system for accurately estimating how long work will take because they got burned, fired, etc). This is particularly true in the technology business, but we aren’t alone.

Why is that?

We’re too optimistic about the pace we can maintain. We rarely bother to consider that we may run into an issue that we’ve not dealt with before – and the research, work (plus rework) & testing to resolve it takes time. These episodes don’t typically happen just once in a big project – which we also don’t consider.

We often discount the possibility of interruptions for urgent tasks that, while not of high importance, still must take precedence for a few hours or day. Naturally, we forget how many times this has happened based on our history, industry, team, etc.

Some folks estimate something, then “double it and add four”. Maybe that builds enough buffer into the estimate, but it’s still a wild guess with little more than gut feel to back it up. “Double/triple it” is a pretty good indication that you put insufficient thought into your estimate.

In some environments, you’ll find people will give an “instant” estimate to stop the “How long?” questioning. “You need to do this, how long will it take?” doesn’t usually have a legitimate answer when the task was unknown to you five minutes earlier. Saying “two weeks” without further introspection is simply avoiding persecution… temporarily.

It takes thought to produce a reasonably accurate estimate. This isn’t about making estimates correct to three decimal places. It’s about being reasonably close.

If you promise completion on January 15, you need to have confidence in that date from day one. If you know from the start that you’ll never make the date, don’t know if you can make it, or can only make it if everything goes perfectly – you’re asking for trouble.

Work backward

Big tasks should be broken down into pieces before you can estimate them. Starting from task completion & working backward helps us remember steps we might otherwise forget.

Estimate your list of steps. Break down steps estimated over four hours & estimate the new steps. Four hours seems extreme, but it’s a timeframe we can wrap our heads around. In your line of work, maybe it’s four days. You know where your estimation accuracy really shines.

Make a game plan. Work your plan. Get big things accomplished.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Categories
Leadership Management Small Business

One thing to prioritize next year

As we approach the new year, you’re probably thinking of things you simply must get done for the coming year to be a big success. It’s a good bet that your “must do next year” list is long. There’s a good chance you’ll never complete it, at least not next year. Look at that list for what it is: Far more than you can get done in a year. That’s OK.

When we sit down and think about all the things we could do for our business, our team, and our customers – there will always be more things than time to do them. While we know this, it discourages us because we didn’t get it all done. To paraphrase Drucker, doing it all isn’t the important thing, doing the right things is.

Reflect & Prioritize

Last week, I mentioned your mile-long ToDo list and segued into managing the pace of change for your team to prepare for today’s discussion. Thinking about the year that’s about to end, how many major things did you get done?

Despite all that work, I’m sure you have improvements to make, new efforts to build and roll out (whatever that means for you), and other work to do. You aren’t alone. We all have a laundry list of important things to grow and improve our businesses.

When I look back on my year, I can think of two fairly major things and a longer list of less-substantial efforts. Probably forgotten is a laundry list of things that took less than a day or perhaps less than a week. I’m pondering this without looking at the system I use to manage such things. I’m sure I have forgotten medium sized projects that I now take for granted. The little things aren’t unimportant, but they aren’t the subject of this discussion. Still, there’s a massive pile of things I haven’t touched.

Sure and I have work to do

Rather than being disappointed about what you didn’t get done, appreciate what you did get done. It starts with looking at what you really can get done next year and how you’ll stay on the path.

I have 786 items in my project manager. Some small, some large. They won’t all be completed next year. Obviously, only a few are worked on at a time.

I prioritize the big things on my list on a weekly basis. The rest get reviewed monthly. Priorities / needs change for all of us. Something that was important six months ago might be irrelevant (or super critical) now. It’s rare that the most important things to complete in the next year will change, but it happens.

Your cycle of review / prioritize might be different, but it’s still needed. Imagine if next year you complete the three (or six) biggest items on your list. Today, that might seem crazy (“Crud, I have 780 to go”), but what impact will the six biggest items have? Only you know.

Yeah, but the Jones’

You may see other businesses getting a ton of new things done or perhaps more big changes than you could possibly do. Don’t think you don’t stack up, or that you aren’t as good as them. They may have more time, free capital, staff, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. Don’t get trapped in the comparison thing. Remember that what you see is only part of the story. You have no idea if they’ve made unsustainable decisions to accomplish what you see them doing.

Your ToDo list will live a long time. It will grow and shrink repeatedly. There will be big things and little things. They’re important in their own context, but they aren’t the biggest thing.

While getting it all done, remember to prioritize being a better you next year than you were this year. If you need a daily reminder in your calendar to do the things that make this happen, so be it.

Challenge your team to do the same and help them get there. Show them what you’re doing to improve, even if they need to do something else. Share your struggles and successes so that they know the path isn’t without challenges. Some will need some help figuring out what that means, what to do first / next, and how to get started again after tripping up. Be a leader in that respect, whether you’re the owner or not.

Photo by Mauricio Fanfa on Unsplash

Categories
Management

What's the right pace of change?

I’ve seen your ToDo lists. They’re a mile long (and 1.6 kilometers long if you’re outside the US). There’s a lot to get done when running a business. Some of the things on that todo list are “just work”, but a number of them involve change – some substantial. We’re talking about the kind of change that’ll be hard for you, and likely for your team as well. With the new year coming soon, you’ll be tempted to make a lot of big changes quickly, or make many happen at once. Sometimes it’ll work. Sometimes you need to resist that temptation. Let’s talk about it.

Slow or fast?

It’s important to know what your team can take. Rapid change is great if your team can handle it. If they can’t, the price is likely that your change fails or is poorly executed.

It’s OK to make changes quickly – even multiple changes at once. However, if your team isn’t built for speed, or at least not for speedy change, there’s usually a reason. Sometimes the work doesn’t lend itself to rapid implementation.

Even if your team is used to moving fast, some changes demand a slower pace. Changes that are richly detailed might need a different speed than you’re used to. Don’t get trapped in trying to make a change at your normal pace (regardless of the pace) if the work doesn’t fit that speed.

Thing is, slow and steady isn’t the only way. Dan Kennedy has said “Money loves speed” more times than I can count. He’s not wrong, however not all teams are built for speed and not every change can be made quickly.

First mover advantage is one reason money loves speed. Fixing problems quickly is another, as is being able to quickly respond to industry and market changes.

You want to be careful about avoiding the creation of more chaos than your team is used to handling. It’s not that chaos is bad – some teams feel like they’re always in flux. If your team is used to it and their work isn’t negatively impacted by it, more chaos is just another day at work. In fact, the fast pace may be how they love to work.

An alternative to increased pace – if that’s what you seek – is the parallel implementation of changes. This works well for multiple department changes that get handed off as progress is made. You can organize changes in a way that makes it easier for your departments to work together to get far more work done even if departments can’t yet increase their speed.

Do what works for your team

Ultimately, you’re going to find that you need to set the pace at what your team can handle and what the work demands. The key to making the changes that you have planned isn’t necessarily that you make them at warp speed or that you make them slow and steady. The key is that you and your team implement the changes successfully and make them stick.

For some teams and some types of work, the wrong pace of change can cause an unproductive spin that results in mistakes. It’s critical to know your team, their capabilities, and what they can and can’t handle. You don’t want them rushing detail work, and you don’t want them getting bored and possibly inattentive.

Processes help increase the pace of change

You know the pace of change that your team can currently handle. If you want to increase that pace, it’ll need to be intentional and deliberate. Talk about what has to happen to make sure mistakes aren’t made as the pace increases. Everyone needs to understand their roles and responsibilities. This is not the place for surprises unless they absolutely cannot be helped. Start by accelerating the pace of changes your team is used to making.

Well-defined processes with good feedback loops are a critical component of high-quality work that happens at a rapid pace. Processes provide frequent feedback and “rules of engagement” for your work. The earlier you can detect success or failure, the more likely the mistakes and failures can be caught and corrected so you can stay on plan.

Expect continued refinement of your process over time. A feedback loop that improves the process of making change will allow you to improve the quality of change, and perhaps increase the pace as well.

Categories
Management

Short term focus creates long term pain

If business were simple, everyone would have one of those Easy buttons on their desk. Your short term focus each day would be to remember to push the button. All that’d be left would be to head home for dinner, or maybe out to the lake or golf course.

The next morning, everything would be taken care of. If you had any employees that you were thinking of letting go, they would’ve left resignation letters on your desk. If you had any openings, there’d be twice as many great applicants as openings. Customers would be lined up out the door, throwing money at your website, etc. All your accounts receivables would be at zero. No one would complain about anything. Vendors would do everything you asked on budget and on time.

Thing is, business isn’t simple, much less the fairytale I described. Yet it’s still easy to find people with a short term focus, which usually leads to poor decisions.

Short term focus? How?

When I say short term focus leads to poor decisions, you might ask “Why?”, even though the evidence is consistent and overwhelming.

Even when we exclude an apparent flood of unethical behavior, big companies and governments find themselves in bad (yet largely preventable) situations due to decisions made with a short term focus.

If you need examples, Google any large company name associated with a large layoff: Wells Fargo, Verizon, Deutsche Bank, GM.

Other than contractors affected by a government shutdown, it’s difficult to find a situation where 30,000 employees that you needed on Friday suddenly became unnecessary on Monday.

Companies keep thousands of employees past the end of a quarter to avoid hurting their stock price, or to avoid having to talk about a layoff (and its backstory) on a call with Wall Street. It can be as simple as an upper level manager delaying action on a situation they know they need to fix because their bonus is tied to end of quarter stock price.

On the government side of things, look at any large infrastructure project (say, US highway bridges) where ongoing maintenance has been delayed for years because the funding was “borrowed” for pork barrel projects. A decade or two later, someone discovers that thousands of bridges are structurally unsound.

Anything to make a sale?

In your business, the numbers might be smaller but the pressures are no less severe. Making payroll can cause business owners to do things they’d avoid otherwise. Almost every business has faced a cash crunch as payroll day approached, even if you were the only one on the payroll at the time. It’s tempting to make what seems like a good decision at the time. That’s the kind of short term decision I’m talking about.

For example, have any of your larger customers told you (not asked, mind you) that to do business with them, they’ll require 90 or 120 day terms because of “business pressures”? Some will reject that business, but many won’t because they need the revenue.

It seems like saying OK to such things is a good decision. We got a new big customer. Let’s tell everyone. We’re sure to get a bunch of business from other people when they see that GiantCorp uses us, so it’ll be OK to deal with undesirable terms for a while.

Long term pain

Trouble is, that rarely happens and those terms are rarely temporary. More often than not, accepting such ridiculous and downright abusive terms is a bad long term decision for a small company.

Short term mindset: “It’s OK to borrow a little to make payroll.” Problem is, even if you don’t borrow to make that payroll, there’s risk in this short term “win”.

Imagine your surprise, when a few weeks later that nice young man from GiantCorp advises you that their new payables policy is 180 day terms (hint: you can say no). If you don’t make a fuss (a short term focus decision), it means you won’t see a check for another 30 to 90 days – even then you might have to badger them to get paid.

Now, you have a payroll funded by debt and another coming in a couple weeks. Oh and GiantCorp just placed another big order today.

This is but one example of why you have to think and act long term, even if it slows you down a little.

Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

Categories
Business culture Employees Management

Self-healing teams

Last week we talked about applying self-healing tactics to the tools, systems, and infrastructure that are a critical path to a productive business day. We also discussed ways to make downtime less of a factor for the tools, systems, and infrastructure that can’t self-heal.

While these efforts are useful, creating resiliency and the ability to “take a punch” aren’t limited to tools, systems, and infrastructure. Your team can also benefit from self-healing approaches.

Preemptive self-healing

While self-healing is a valuable tactic for saving time & money, and improving productivity regarding your tools, systems, and infrastructure, people are a bit more complex. People are a bit harder to heal, plus the capacity for self-healing varies a good bit between individuals.

Teams, on the other hand, benefit a great deal from preemptive self-healing. Most of this comes out of extreme care taken when hiring. The same level of care is needed when making team assignments. If you look back over time at the problems you’ve discovered on your teams, you’ll likely find some consistency in the ingredients of the turmoil you dealt with.

You might have someone who simply isn’t a culture fit. Or they could’ve been a jerk. Maybe both.

You might have inadvertently mixed personality types that simply don’t work well together. There’s some value to “You folks need to figure it out”, but it’s still on you to monitor the situation and make sure the effort is being made. It’s not all that unusual to have two people on a team who are solid, qualified people who don’t jell well with one another for whatever reason.

Whatever drama that creates is not likely worth whatever you think you’re going to gain by forcing them to work together. Sometimes, one of them just has to go. These decisions aren’t easy. It’s not unusual to find that a top performer is also the one who doesn’t jell with the rest of the team.

Toxic top performers

To that end, if you have top performers who are creating problems with the rest of the team, and the problems aren’t something you’ve been able to resolve – sometimes that top performer has to be the one to leave.

We’ve all seen someone who is great at what they do – and lousy at teamwork, or arrogant, or disrespectful, etc. Remember how you felt when they did whatever they did and management did nothing because they were a “top performer”. Now that you’re in charge, are you going to be that manager, or that owner?

No one is irreplaceable.

Read that again. No one is irreplaceable. That doesn’t mean losing them will be a pain-free experience. It may not be. Even so, the damage these people can cause often negates their performance. They can drag down the rest of your team, destroy morale, and prevent others with similar (or even better) skills from blooming because those people simply don’t want to deal with your top performer.

They reveal management’s true self. When the top performer (at least metrics-wise) does things no one else could get away with, it sends a message about what’s important to the company’s ownership: “It’s more important to bring x to the table than it is to adhere to the company’s culture, rules, whatever.

Similarly, it also sends the message that if you can do X better than anyone else, you can get away with anything. Is that really what you want to represent as a manager / owner?

Self-healing performance

A real top performer doesn’t bring a bunch of baggage to work and spray it all over their peers. They don’t aggravate, emasculate, or reduce the performance of the rest of the team. Just the opposite, in fact. A true top performer not only produces like no one else on your team, but they also make the team better by making each individual better.

They teach. They mentor. Their behavior makes people want to work with (or for) them. People trust them.

On teams where this isn’t how you’d describe your top performers, you’ll often find people and/or teams pulling in different directions – even when trying to achieve the same goal. At some point, your company is going to pay the price for that.

Be very careful who you hire and how you build teams. Don’t forget to be the kind of top performer every team member wants to work with.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Categories
Leadership Management

Entrepreneur, self-heal thyself

Have you ever gotten to the office in the morning and found a tool missing that you were planning on using that day? It creates some frustration borne in the inability to do what you’d been planning all along. For some, it might make your work more difficult to do, or delay the finish time. For others, the inability to use a certain tool might turn your day upside down.

Time is more than money

“Time is money”, you might think. “The inability to use this tool is costing me money”, you continue, and you’d be right. Now consider the cost when your entire team is unable to work. In some businesses, you might simply send the team home. While your team isn’t getting anything done, at least they aren’t racking up hourly pay. Small victories, I suppose – but every hour they’re down (even when off the clock), your backlog is growing. Customers who are depending on an on-time delivery based on work you intended to have done today might also find themselves in a pinch. It might be a pretty big deal.

It’s possible that the inability to use a tool in your business today could cost your customer(s) business. They might lose a strategic moment, a customer, or a valuable employee who simply decides they’ve had enough of the frustrating inability to do the work they love.

Do you want to be the vendor putting customers in that situation?

Customers aren’t the only ones

It feels like it might be worse if you do this to a customer. If the impact is solely internal and isn’t detectable by your customers, your team will just have to deal with it. Still, it has a cost. In frustration. In time. In “Really? this machine / tool / system is down AGAIN?”.

At some point, your team is going to lose patience. If the problem is bad enough or happens with enough frequency, you could lose key staff members. The folks you depend on most are likely to be the ones frustrated first. They’re the ones who may have the least tolerance for the working conditions caused by outages or downtime. They’ll perceive these issues as a lack of professionalism, or a lack of concern for their career or ability to make differential pay, or whatever. They simply won’t put up with it at some point.

Dial tones

Remember when you never doubted that when you picked up the phone, you’d hear a dial tone. If you’ve never had a landline, think of it as you do your expectation for electricity or running water. While those things do occasionally have problems, your expectation is that they will always be there.

That’s where notification of problems is helpful, but notification doesn’t make things significantly better. Imagine if you got a text message at 6:45am telling you that all the roads in and out of your town would be closed for 72 hours. Or a text that says “Sorry, no electricity until next Thursday“. Sure, it’s nice to know, but without a correction on the way, your day just got turned upside down.

If your internet is down too often and the vendors available to you are limited, are you going to choose one and simply tolerate the cost of downtime? Why not choose two or more who aren’t dependent on the same infrastructure? It may cost a bit more, but so does a few hours (or worse, days) of downtime.

Self-healing

Notification is old news. If a system can monitor systems, assets, working conditions (etc) and notify you of availability problems, why stop there? Why not enable these systems to correct the problem? Can your systems be setup to repair a failing systems, restart it, automatically dispatch service people, etc?

These issues should be part of your risk assessment. If power outages are a frequent thing, you’re need to weigh the cost / benefit of uninterruptible power supplies, a generator, or some other solution. If machinery / tool breakdowns are a significant impact, should you have spares on site? Can you work out an arrangement to have temporary replacements provided / rented? If there is a possibility of contention for rented resources, can you pay extra to make sure your needs take priority, get delivered first, etc?

Your team, your business partners, and your customers see your systems, equipment, & infrastructure as an extension of you. If they can’t depend on those things to be in place and working, they can’t depend on you.

Photo by Saad Salim on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Sales

Give your sales team a chance

Late last week I attended a pre-sales webinar for a major SAAS vendor. As a prospect, I’m somewhere in the “lead curation” stage. I need to learn more about the tool and the company. The presenter is reading the slides. They’re clearly unfamiliar with the presentation notes. You can tell when someone is reading text they haven’t read before, much as you can tell when they aren’t familiar with the material. They sound exasperated about it all – and I suspect they’re right to feel that way. I wondered if the presenter had been “pushed out on stage”.

Sales preparation matters

I felt sorry for the presenter because it seemed as if they’d been allowed (or forced) to present without sufficient preparation. Everyone involved was affected by this. The company lost out because the quality of the presentation distracted from the product’s content. The value of the webinar to the attendees was reduced because the presenter was stumbling over their words and speaking in a manner that didn’t convey their (presumed) expertise. Hopefully there was a post-presentation review with the presenter so they could practice, get more familiar with the notes / slides, and take the bumps out of their next effort.

While I’m not certain this was the presenter’s first time giving this presentation, we all have to have a first time. The importance of practice and presenting with others who can provide feedback is critical. As a manager / leader, you should be making sure that these practices happen, that constructive feedback loops exist, and that they are done in a way that helps everyone get better. These efforts benefit everyone involved, including the prospective customer.

We’ve all been injected into a situation on short notice. Thing is, we have to take it upon ourselves to make sure we’re well prepared. Perhaps the presenter was asked to do this at the last minute to replace someone who couldn’t be there, but that’s no excuse. It’s on management to make sure replacements are prepared to step in and keep things moving. Maybe your best presenter won’t be there, but you should be able to assure that a well-prepared presenter is available to represent the company. Likewise, it’s on professionals to be prepared for their time in the spotlight, particularly if they know that their responsibilities include taking on someone else’s role on short notice.

It’s just a neighbor calling.

A well-prepared salesperson from the webinar vendor called me a couple of weeks ago. They’re a Silicon Valley company, yet they chose to pretend they were from Somers. (For those reading this outside of Montana, Somers is a small lakeside town in NW Montana.)

The same thing happened a few weeks ago when I received a return call from an insurance guy in Nashville. Caller ID said he was calling from Billings (MT). Yes, this has been going on forever, but it puts your sales team at a terrible disadvantage. When I see a call coming from the Nashville area and I am expecting a return call from there (as I was this time), I’d pick up. If I’m not expecting a call from there, I’ll always let it go to voicemail because I handle almost all calls by appointment. When the insurance company called back, I ignored it because I wasn’t expecting a call from Billings. 

When I finally ended up speaking with the salesperson from Silicon Valley, I asked them point blank if they were from Somers. “No, I’m at the main office in San Jose.” Which of course prompted me to ask them why they fake their numbers and make it look like they’re from a place they’re unlikely to be from. He handwaved it off (nicely) by saying it’s just what the company does to try to get folks to pick up. What they don’t realize is that the reverse reaction is what they’re getting. In addition, the conversation starts with a topic like “Why are you faking who/where you are” rather than their product. 

Don’t set the tone for your interaction with a prospect with a lie. Prospects don’t need to be comforted by a local caller ID number, if that’s what you’re trying to do. It’s simply unbelievable that anyone thinks this is a good idea at time when robocalls are doing exactly the same thing. Is that the crowd you want to be associated with?

Photo by Epicurrence on Unsplash