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Apple Box stores Business culture Buy Local Competition Creativity Customer relationships customer retention Customer service ECommerce Retail Small Business Strategy websites

Showrooming and the sales prevention department

Last time, we discussed the often forgotten reason for showrooming that happens after price shopping: convenience and time/fuel savings.

Remember Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief? If you’ve forgotten, they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

When applied to showrooming, it isn’t much different. Acceptance and the clarity that accompanies it are where the sales live. Even big retail is figuring it out.

Big retail embraces showrooming

Big retailers are starting to embrace showrooming because they’ve realized that reacting to and/or punishing it has proven ineffective. Learn from their mistakes, research and investments. Customers who showroom are likely to be better informed shoppers that you don’t want to lose. Their phone might help them decide that your store is the right place to buy.

Retailers that welcome the smartphone shopper in their stores with mobile applications and wi-fi access — rather than fearing showrooming — can be better positioned to accelerate their in-store sales – particularly with the holiday shopping season approaching.

Shoppers armed with smartphones are 14 percent more likely to make a purchase in the store than those who do not use a smartphone as part of their in-store journey. – Deloitte study for Saks Fifth Avenue

Most small businesses don’t have the resources to embrace showrooming with a smartphone app, or don’t think they do. If that’s the case, what do you do?

The simplest answer is to side with the customer. Do this by making the in-store experience so much better than anything anyone can provide online. That’s where it pays to visit an Apple store – where nothing is like retail as you typically see it.

The last Apple store I visited was in Portland. In an average-sized mall store, there were 28 employees on the sales floor – and all of them were with customers. I thought this was odd, so I tried another Apple store.

Same thing.  There were over 100 shoppers in the store. Almost all of them were in groups engaged in a conversation while they used an Apple device. Many of those conversations included an Apple staffer.

The sales prevention department

Compare that to the shopping experience in a typical consumer electronics store.

Try to test drive a Kindle. It’s locked in demo mode. You can’t pick it up and hold it because of the security device and short “don’t steal me” cable attached to it.

The display of the device is focused on theft prevention. Why is this a bad thing? Because theft prevention becomes sales prevention.

In an Apple store, nothing’s locked down. Sure, there are lots of people around to make sure you don’t walk out the door with that fancy MacBook – but the products are presented in a way that is clearly designed to encourage you to pick them up and try them out.

Unlike most stores that sell laptops and tablets, the devices aren’t cabled down, nor is there a password protected screensaver that prevents you from doing any real examination of the machine.

They make this happen because no matter what you do to the device, at the end of the day, they have systems in place to “wipe” them and reset them to out-of-the-box new condition, software-wise. This assures that the next day’s sales aren’t impacted by what someone might have done to a device. They can also reset them during the day if someone went really crazy.

It’s almost unfair to sell against a setup like that. Perhaps that’s why Apple’s retail sales per square foot are higher than anyone else’s – over $6000 per foot.

What’s different?

If you’ve ever visited an Apple store, you’ve never seen a dead machine, much less one with a message that tells you it needs attention from a technical person. You won’t see a locked screensaver.

Now think about other electronics retailers. Their sales floor machines are locked down that you can’t do anything and there’s almost always one that’s off in never-never land, waiting for some tech help.

Step back a few paces. This isn’t just about Apple, laptops or tablets. It’s about encouraging someone to engage with your product, thus *enabling* a purchase.

No matter what you sell, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Are your displays focused making it easy to fall in love with a product and buy it?
    OR
  • Are your displays focused on controlling the sales process and preventing theft?

Making it easier to buy is something every one of us can do. It’s price-based showrooming’s Kryptonite.

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Automation Box stores Business culture Competition Customer relationships customer retention Customer service ECommerce Retail Setting Expectations Small Business websites

Forgotten: What happens after they showroom?

Plastic supermarket carts.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Polycart

The last time we talked about showrooming, I referred to a Harris Poll that exposed a conflicting behavior among shoppers.

The behavior? “Most” people (70%) say they showroom because of price, yet they often buy locally even if it means having to pay a slightly higher price.

That’s right, 70% didn’t choose solely on price. Once again, buyers say one thing, but when convenience and access to local expertise enter the picture, they often behave differently at purchase time.

The survey’s findings echo my buying tendencies – which surprised me a little. Shopping is not an endorphin releasing event for me. I’ll *always* buy from a store that is easier to get in, find what I need and get out of, even if it’s a little more expensive than a competitor whose shopping experience is cumbersome, time-consuming or just plain difficult.

Do you feel the same way about the brick and mortar stores you visit? If so, why would you expect your customers to feel any different when they compare shopping locally to shopping online?

In the last piece, I didn’t mention that the WalMart moving boxes were cheaper. What I did tell you was that they couldn’t tell me if they had them in stock unless I placed an order and waited “a few hours” for an email or a text message. Not convenient.

Claiming that price is the sole or dominant cause of showrooming appears to align with how people shop early on, but it seems research “forgets” to follow behavior all the way to the actual purchase. Recent research is showing that showrooming starts because of price but continues for convenience – so be careful about discouraging it.

That good shopping experience

Can shoppers have a “good shopping experience” at your online store? Can they buy and have it delivered? Can they have it reserved and ready to pick up?

You might be thinking “What a hassle. I never had to do this before. Why should I start now?“ While you’re probably right, that’s exactly what big box online stores hope you’re thinking.

Have you asked your customers if they have a smartphone? Have you asked them if they use it to visit your store? Have they ever walked into your store to buy something and found you didn’t have it in stock?

What seed does that plant in their mind? What will they think about coming to your place the next time?

These things matter everywhere, not just in urban locales. Fuel and time are costs people like to avoid. When your store or website causes them to waste either one, it doesn’t help you to become (or remain) the main place they shop.

The moving boxes again

Remember that cumbersome moving box shopping experience I mentioned earlier? What happened *before* I drove to Home Depot?

  • I ran out of boxes…but it was more complex than that.
  • I ran out of boxes in the evening when my local stores were closed.
  • I ran out of boxes on a holiday weekend when the local UHaul stores were closed.
  • I shopped at another big retailer’s site that couldn’t tell me if they had boxes in stock.
  • I shopped at Home Depot’s site, which told me exactly what they had (and didn’t).

My experience online reflects some of the complexities and frustrations of your customers’ lives when they shop in your store.

That frustration is also what drives people online – where they are often frustrated by your web store.

Take everything away that a local store can provide that online shopping rarely provides – and you’re left with the local equivalent of Amazon.com, without reviews and (probably) with a slightly higher price.

Is that what shoppers want? What aren’t they getting *prior* to making a buying decision?

Just looking

Think about why we say “Just looking” when we enter a store. Sometimes it might be because we’re just looking, but we often say it by reflex. If you really are there to buy something, I’ll bet “Just looking” pops out for one of these reasons:

  • Because most of the floor employees know less about what we came there to buy than we do.
  • Because you’ve already done your research and made up your mind.
  • Because you don’t want someone following you all over the store.

Is that why your customers say it?

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attitude Business culture Customer relationships Customer service Employees Hospitality Leadership service The Slight Edge

The most important little thing we do

When you’re on the road, little things matter. In fact, they matter all the time. Every. Single. Day.

That extra comment or tip from the lady at check-in. The friendly suggestion from the dude who drives the shuttle. A restaurant recommendation from the parking/cab attendant that turns out to be amazing and a good bargain all in one.

When delivered consistently, they can grow well beyond the sum of each act.

Think about the little things your people do and how your business handles them.

They matter, but they’re almost impossible to put into place with a training program. More often than not, you get them when you hire.

Hire well. It’s the most important little thing you do.

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Business culture Creativity Entrepreneurs Improvement Influence Leadership Personal development Resources Small Business strategic planning Strategy The Slight Edge

Who needs a mentor? Not me!

Note: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. See full disclosure at the bottom of this post.

Thanks to the kindness of a few people and a good mix of intent and luck, I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of people that I consider mentors or significant influencers.

In several cases, I’ve managed to work with them in person, via email or phone calls.

More often than not, I meet them at conferences – but not at conferences related to the industries I work (or have worked) in. That’s where the intent and luck take over.

Who are mine?

For me, the list is easy: Jim Rohn, Dan Kennedy, Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Dan Sullivan and Chet Holmes.

Each of them have something in common: Without hesitation, they can name a mentor who was instrumental in getting them on the right path in their earlier years. They all struggled, and in some cases, did so mightily and more than once in their lives.

At their level of achievement, the fact that they can point to a mentor who was instrumental in their success is a critical lesson. It’s one each of us should take away from observing what makes high-achieving people tick.

None of them claim to “figure it out” on their own – even though they specialize in a particular area of business and have substantially raised the level of “play” in their respective specialty.

If these people managed to find and learn from mentors, shouldn’t all of us?

Why do entrepreneurs need mentors?

You might be wondering why you even need a mentor.

A few reasons…

  • We can all use a dose of clarity now and then. Sometimes more often.
  • We need to hear a perspective that we don’t have about our challenges .
  • We need a fresh set of eyes on something we’re about to do, already doing or failed at doing.
  • We need someone to be honest with us when no one else will.
  • We need advice from someone whose experience and knowledge is far beyond on own.
  • We need to be asked the question that will transform what we do.
  • We need the counsel of someone who will provide a stern correction before we make a ridiculous mistake.

Where do you get these things now?

How do I choose mine?

I’ve found that you don’t often choose them. In fact, sometimes they happen to you or someone brings them to you. There’s a lot of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” going on when it comes to mentors.

It can take serious effort to find a mentor. You might have to pay them. Don’t cheat yourself on this – the results from working with the right mentor can (and should) be worth at least 10 times your investment – hopefully more.

Here’s the things I look for:

  • A history of success that’s 10-100 times beyond where I’ve been – in any field. Recurring success, preferably.
  • Someone who can see through me and isn’t shy about doing it.
  • An ability to ask simple questions or make simple suggestions that floor me or make me rethink my angle on something. You can find this most often through their writing (books, blogs, etc).
  • Someone who asks questions about myself or my work that I can’t immediately answer.

What would you look for?

What about other influences?

Other influencers come from outside the business world, or their influence has little (if anything) to do with business. For example, Hildy Gottlieb has a habit of making comments that provoke me to think differently and before long, that thought bubbles up and provokes some of my sharpest clarity in discussions that end up helping her. While our relationship is not at all about business, business tends to be the context where I process our conversations – at least initially.

What about you?

You might think you don’t have any business mentoring someone, but that just isn’t true. There are always people who need advice, a little wisdom, some clarity and an occasional poke in the ribs. Make yourself available to someone – it’s likely to improve far more than their life. More often than not, it’ll make you reconsider some of your own struggles, even if they are worlds apart from the person you’re mentoring.

Mentorship and influence isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s about dollars and sense – and a lot more.

 

DISCLOSURE: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business.

The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently.

Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

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Box stores Buy Local Competition Customer relationships Getting new customers Retail Small Business strategic planning Strategy Wal-Mart

The big showrooming lie: “It’s all about price.”

Last time, we talked about how showrooming is impacting the retailer, briefly discussed what causes it and covered how a home store’s effective website selling experience helped me save time by avoiding a trip to a store that couldn’t decide whether it could help me.

All the retailers say it’s about price and the research agrees.

Since everyone’s in agreement, let’s dive in.

What makes people showroom?

Piles of research make it hard to argue that showrooming is about price. A recent Harris poll indicated that 96 percent of showrooming was at least “somewhat about price”, while 82% said price was “very” or “extremely important”.

Ask anyone why they showroom and they will almost always say “price”. What reason do they have to lie? It must be about price.

So how should retailers react? Let’s look at a few real-world reactions.

What Best Buy did

Two years ago, showrooming was hammering Best Buy and their financial performance showed it. While it might not have been the sole cause, it’s tough to argue that it wasn’t a factor – particularly since their stores are reported as “most often showroomed”.

They first took an “us vs. the customer” stance. They blocked out shelf barcodes so customers couldn’t scan them. They required that manufacturers provide Best Buy specific product codes (SKUs). These SKUs appear in package and shelf barcodes. Since they’re unique to Best Buy, consumers couldn’t easily price check an item vs. prices at Amazon.com.

These strategies weren’t particularly effective, nor did they improve customer relations.

Since then, they’ve had success using these strategies:

  • Price matching vs. Amazon.com
  • Improving their website shopping experience
  • Offering more in-store promotions and discounts
  • Improving their on-floor knowledge about new products.

Half of these strategies rely on price. For now, Best Buy has the resources and buying power to price match Amazon and WalMart, but I think you’ll see this backfire in the long term.

Using discounting to make a sale breeds a relationship that’s easily broken. All it takes is someone else’s lower price to “steal” your customer.

I’m not saying price isn’t important, it’s simply a poor long-term relationship builder. The easiest customer to lose is a customer you gained solely by having the lowest price – so that better not be your only edge.

What WalMart did

Rather than fighting the price checking that built them, WalMart leverages having the customer in store – even when there to showroom.

They have an app that produces a list of items that are on sale that day, which is displayed on your phone when you enter the store. The app also lets you scan barcodes and keep track of what you’ve decided to buy.

They embraced their customers’ behavior to their advantage. While people might enter the store to showroom, they’re likely to buy something else they need if they’re made aware of on-sale items while in the store.

So why the “selling by price is bad” conversation for Best Buy and “selling by price is good” for WalMart? Simple. Their business models are much different. Unlike Best Buy, WalMart’s business model is designed around “Lowest price. Always.” and driven by world-class logistics.

The takeaway from WalMart’s showrooming strategy? Taking advantage of customer behavior you can’t change is much easier than fighting it.

What an Aussie retailer did

Earlier this year, a Consumerist story told of an Australian retailer who battled showrooming with a “Just Looking” fee.

Their strategy? Charge everyone who enters the store a five dollar “Just looking” fee and refund it when a purchase is made.

Is this really how you want to make a first impression with a prospect, much less engage a customer? I think not.

Consumers: “It’s about price, but it isn’t.”

So…what’s the big lie?

Remember the 82% of consumers who told Harris Polls that price was “very/extremely important” and the 96% who said it was “somewhat” important?

Despite those big numbers, 70% of the same respondents said that if they had a good shopping experience at an online store, they would be less likely to buy the item elsewhere, even if it was cheaper.

The same goes for local retail.

Showrooming is more complex than just price. A small retailer can address the problem in ways big retail can’t or won’t.

Next time, we’ll drill down on what’s really behind “It’s about price, but it isn’t”.

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Amazon Automation Box stores Buy Local Getting new customers Marketing Positioning Retail Small Business Strategy systems Technology Wal-Mart

Are you being showroomed?

Multi-Touch
Creative Commons License photo credit: DaveLawler

If you have a retail store, you’ve almost certainly had people showrooming in your store.

If you haven’t heard the term,”showrooming” can be summarized as “shopping at local stores to check out an item before buying online.”

Showrooming takes different forms and includes:

  • Price checking items on the internet while walking through a store. That bottle of foo-foo shampoo is $28.99 at the local grocery. Maybe it’s cheaper online, so people use the barcode to find a price at Amazon. A showroomer might even order right there in aisle five before they forget.
  • Going to a local store to check out a product you plan to buy online.

Electronics stores and retailers who sell complex, expensive items like cameras are most often showroomed.  Seems harmless until you consider that the local retailer is paying rent, salaries and other expenses to provide you with a free way to make sure that thing you want is really what you want – so you can leave their store and buy it at Amazon or B&H.

Internet-ready smartphones didn’t create showrooming. It’s just easier now. The same thing happened to retailers during the catalog mail order era.

Rather than complaining about it, let’s take a different tack.

One antidote to showrooming: A decent website

Showrooming isn’t just about checking out products and then going home to order them. The good kind happens too – meaning your website shows what you have in stock that’s ready to pick up today or when you can deliver it.

I’m in the process of moving to a new place. One of the unbridled joys of moving is packing your stuff. With the long weekend in front of me, I figured I’d knock out a bunch of packing. Silly me – even though I started the day with 40 boxes, I ran out Saturday evening.

Thus began the battle. U-Haul places are closed because of the long weekend. Most home stores and some box stores carry moving boxes, but it was after six, so that meant I was out of luck locally and would have to drive to town. I don’t “drive to town” for giggles, so I started surfing in hopes that someone had them in stock. If not, then my weekend plans will change (yes, a little of me was hoping I’d come up empty.)

Call it reverse showrooming, but I want to find what I need before I go chasing all over the valley for no reason.

The first box store site shows that their stock is online-order only unless I want to wait a few hours to find out what they *do* have – and then only after placing a “pick up and wait for a call/email/text” order – which felt more like betting on horses.

Some sites make searches like this easy.

For example, Home Depot has a filter on their website that eliminates anything that isn’t in stock at my “home store” (the store that I’ve told the site is closest to me). That works well, since I want immediate gratification – if you can call a shopping trip for boxes “gratification” (doubtful). Anyhow, if I can see what’s in stock, then I don’t have to take a chance at a 36 mile round trip for no reason. Finding up to date store inventory info on their site means they help me avoid wasting time and money – even at full price.

In Home Depot’s case, they also have tabs showing “All products”, “In-Store”, or “Online” – plus the filter I mentioned above.

I drove the 40 minutes and spent the 40 bucks because my local retailer was closed (which is OK) and because Home Depot’s site had enough information to allow me to make a solid decision.

Why do people showroom?

One reason is price, but for many products, the online merchant has done a poor job of selling the item. As a result, the prospect has to invest additional time to find the product and make sure it’s really what they want/need.

Why can’t your store site do that?

TIP: Big corporate stores often use automatically collected product data pulled from manufacturer data feeds (I’ve worked on these systems). Want some evidence? Look at a nationally-sold item at several large retail websites. Is the description identical? Is the picture?

You can do better. Next time, we’ll dig deeper on the causes of showrooming and discuss some solutions.

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Business model Getting new customers Improvement Lead generation Marketing Positioning Small Business strategic planning Strategy

Should your business grow horizontally or vertically?

When I see a business focused solely on a horizontal or vertical market, it’s hard not to wonder if that focus is what’s really best for them.

What do I mean by “vertical” and “horizontal” markets?

A vertical market serves a certain type of customer, even if the work performed for them is of broad use across many types of customers.

Welding isn’t really a vertical market, but underwater or aluminum welding could be. Narrowing that further might identify a business that specializes in aluminum component welding for recreational boat manufacturers.

A horizontal market is one where “every business” could be your customer. Their needs include technology, accounting, legal, taxes, insurance services and public relations, among others.

A horizontally-focused public relations firm might serve businesses in retail, hospitality, legal, manufacturing and other sectors, while a vertical PR firm might focus on a single type of client, like PR for the outdoor recreation equipment market.

A combination of horizontal and vertical might result in a firm that offers PR services to many types of customers, but only for a certain type of media, such as periodicals (magazines and newspapers).

Whether you’re positioned horizontally or vertically, you’d better be focused on your core customer.

What’s a core customer?

A core customer is one whose needs fit your business’ sweet spot – the customer that’s ideal for what your business does. Revenue from customers like these usually make up the majority of your revenue, perhaps 80% or more.

A law firm who specializes in transactional business might see their core customer as “local business owners with five to 20 employees”. These customers generate transactional legal work related to real estate, employment, business transfer and related activity.

It’s easy to identify them because of the nature of their business structure and activity. They hire and fire, they buy and sell business assets, and they build, buy, sell and update facilities as they grow or change what they do.

How you identify your core customer is critical if you’re going to continue to improve how well you’re serving them, how many you retain over time and how many new ones you acquire.

Expanding your market with a question

Ask yourself this: “Could a little adjustment radically expand what you accomplish – without abandoning your core customer?”

Looking back at the transactional law firm… many of their clients could’ve started out with one person doing everything. If the transactional law firm looking for new customers ignored those solos, they’d miss a fair number of future core customers who matured from a solo into that desirable employer/client of five to 20 staffers.

One of the things business owners tend to avoid is change, unless we can’t avoid it. If your attorney has served you well as you’ve grown, you’re unlikely to switch firms unless they really mess up.  That makes it even tougher to get new clients who are already perfect for you. Without significant differentiation, a special “mojo” or something that screams “You have to use US!”, where are your new “ideal customers” coming from?

Given the tendency to avoid change and the thought process that some solos are future five-to-20 employee businesses, the natural thing to do is get more of those solos and do what it takes to keep them as they grow into the core customers you wanted all along.

Your challenge is to figure out (at least) three things:

  • What the solo needs and wants NOW
  • How you can serve them as they grow
  • How to tell which solos will become an ideal customer.

This isn’t just about law firms – they’re just today’s example. “The question” applies to your business as well…I promise.

Everything or nothing?

Many vendors sell the same products and services in the same packaging (real or virtual) to everyone. Being everything to everyone usually means you’re special to no one.

Horizontal vendors can stand out by customizing what they do for a certain vertical market – rather than selling the same “box of stuff” to everyone.

Vertically focused businesses can seek out customers whose needs are similar to their core customers’. Dentists and energy companies couldn’t be more different, yet they both use scanning technologies to find correctable defects. Is there a sweet spot there?

Whether horizontal or vertical, you can grow without abandoning what you do and how you do it.

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Advertising Competition Customer relationships Direct Mail Direct Marketing Email marketing Getting new customers Improvement Internet marketing Lead generation marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Sales Small Business Social Media strategic planning The Slight Edge

How to segment your customer list

Have you heard that you should “segment” your customers before marketing to them?

Ever wondered what that means, much less how you’d do that?

We’re going to talk about that today in simple terms, but before we do that, you might be wondering …

Why should I segment my customers?

Good question.

You want to segment your marketing is to achieve something called “Message-to-market match“.

Let me explain with an example. Let’s say your company sells women’s underwear.

Would you advertise the same underwear in the same way with the same photos and the same messaging to each of these groups?

  • Single women
  • Pregnant women
  • Newlyweds
  • Moms of girls approaching puberty
  • Dads of girls approaching puberty
  • 50-plus women
  • 80-plus women
  • Women under 5′ 6″ tall
  • “Plus sized” women
  • “Tiny” women
  • Very curvy women
  • Not-so-curvy women
  • Women who have survived breast cancer
  • Significant others

I’ll assume you answered “No”.

Message-to-market match” means your message is refined for a specific group of recipients so that it’s welcome and in-context, rather than annoying and out of left field.

A lack of message-to-market match is why people tune out ads and pitch so much mail – the message isn’t truly for them. If it happens enough times, everything you send them is ignored. Ouch.

Like the recycling bin

When recycling different materials, the processes required to break down cardboard (shredding, pulping, etc) will differ from the process that prepares glass, plastic or animal manure for reuse.

Think of your messages in the same way. If the message a customer receives doesn’t make any sense because it’s out of context, it’s like recycling something with the wrong process. The money, time and energy invested in creating and delivering the wrong message will be wasted. Worse yet, the wrong message can alienate your customer and/or make your business look clueless.

Ever received an offer “for new customers only” from a business that you’ve worked with for months or years? How does that make you feel?

You might think a generic piece of news is received the same way by everyone – when in fact that news might excite some customers and annoy the rest. The time spent considering this and segmenting your announcement can save a lot of pain.

Your First Oil Change

Look at the groups listed for the underwear business. That’s customer segmentation.

If you sent “The Single Dad’s guide to helping your daughter pick out her first bra” to the entire customer list, how many would think “This is exactly what I need”? Only the single dads group. Most others would hit delete, unsubscribe, click the “Spam” button or just think you’re not too swift.

The smart folks sending the “first bra” piece would break it down further by sending a different guide to the moms than they send to the dads.

Need a simpler version? Chevy vs. Ford vs. Dodge. Harley vs. every other bike. You shouldn’t have the same conversation with these groups, even if you sell something common to all of them, like motor oil.

Think that list is broken down too much? Don’t. I just scratched the surface.

Why people think they can’t segment

– They don’t have or “get” technology.

Whether you use a yellow pad or a fancy customer relationship management (CRM) system, you can make this work. If not, consider a better way to keep track of things.

Long before computers, savvy business people would sort customers into the “blue pile, red pile, yellow pile” before putting together a marketing piece. No technology is no excuse.

– Their media doesn’t offer segmenting.

What if your chosen media doesn’t provide a way to target a specific segment? They don’t deliver special Yellow Page books to single people, retired people, CPAs or car dealers – so how do you segment your message?

You can segment those media buys by message since many vendors are unable to deliver a different book, newspaper, magazine or radio/TV ad to different types of customer – which should also improve ad ROI.

You might be getting pressure from internet-savvy staff (or vendors) to drop old-school media. If it works now (do you know?), dropping them makes no sense.

– They don’t have a customer list

Start creating one today, even if it’s on a yellow pad. Figure out what differences are important to you and record them.

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attitude Business culture Competition Consumer Advocacy Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Small Business Software business The Best Code Wins

Things a software vendor should never say

Are you damaging the relationship with your customers when you respond to their requests for help?

If the staff receiving feedback reacts to bug reports and questions as if they’re a personal insult, you probably are.

Snarky remarks, veiled insults and/or disdain have no place in the feedback loop, yet they happen far too often.

Here are a few ways you might be sabotaging your business when handling customer feedback and how to improve each of them:

“You’re the first one to report this.”

Even if I’m a beta tester, it’s an irrelevant piece of information unless the word “Thanks” is at either end of the sentence.

The implication is that if you’re the first to report it, it must not be a legitimate problem.

Better: Investigate the why and the what, rather than prosecute the who. Even if you tell your customer they’re the first to report the problem, at least one thing is necessary: Thank them. A lot depends on your attitude when sharing that fact. Even more depends on what happens next.

The alternative is that they give up on reporting things because your company takes an attitude with them. If they don’t report things they’ve encountered, what opportunity cost does that have? What does it say about your relationship with them?

“It works fine on my machine.” aka “WOMM”

This one makes me think “Well, I’ll be right over, so be sure to have my favorite coffee ready. Oh, and make me a sandwich because I’ll likely be at your desk for a while.

Seriously, telling the customer it works on your machine is fine, but only it’s said without the “You’re an idiot user” attitude. It’s not a bad thing to let them know that the problem is not well-known. Treating as if they’re an idiot is.

Better: It’s OK to let the customer know it works for you, but do so in context – while letting them know that this probably means there’s a simple solution.

“You’re using it wrong.”

While this could be another parallel to WOMM and a statement that the product’s usability isn’t what it should be – it’s really focused on blaming the customer. Keep in mind that if your UI, UX, error management and such are bad enough that the user could do something that would provoke such a remark – you should be focused on something other than blaming them.

Better:  Try “You’re doing something we didn’t consider during our design and testing. Can you tell me more about what you want to happen?” If the customer is doing something the system isn’t designed to support – this isn’t the time for criminal prosecution. It’s time for advocacy for both your development team and the customer. They may be about to describe a new market for a slightly altered version of your software – if you’re willing to listen for it.

“Why would you want to do THAT?”

This response to a request for new or altered functionality is usually spoken in a tone that gives you the impression that the vendor thinks you’re an idiot. You’ve set the wrong tone for a conversation that could have revealed a new market, a new segment of your existing market or more.

Better: This response needs to parallel “You’re doing it wrong”, as it can indicate UI and UX issues. However, this reaction is most often connected with opportunity. Market opportunities are lost when the user is about to describe something that would benefit them, but before they can, they’re insulted with “…THAT?“.

Benefits sell products. More benefits sell more products and help retain customers. Listen…you might actually hear something.

“It works fine on Windows XP”

This one is a close parallel to “It works fine on my machine”, but it also tends to send the message that your vendor, their support people or their developers are worst case stuck in 2001 when XP was released and best case in 2008 when Windows XP SP3 was released.

Supporting XP is OK if your market demands it for whatever reason. Ignoring the fact that there have been three releases of Windows since that time – sorry, can’t apologize for you there. Is this the kind of message you want to send to new customers? To prospects (yes, your comments will get out).

Better: If you haven’t completed tested on the OS release that your customer is using, try “We’re still testing on that version. Can you describe how it acts for you? I’d like to report this to our (install / development / testing / QA / management) team(s), so it would help to have as much information as possible.” Of course, if you can come up with a workaround until your OS support is more complete, do so.

As OS vendor development cycles shrink and they move to smaller and more frequent iterations, these situations are going to increase…unless you dedicate yourself to being ready for them. It’s simply a part of leading your market. Last week’s Build conference made it clear that Microsoft is serious about decreasing the time lag between OS releases. You can treat this change in speed as the enemy or as a competitive advantage.

The bottom line

It only takes one snarky comment to become an adversary at a time when the customer is asking for help.

They didn’t contact you to have a more negative experience than they’re already having – they asked for help. Customers are hard enough to keep without your staff running them off with remarks that tend to come off mean or snarky.

React with courtesy, intelligence and understanding even when things aren’t going well. Customers notice and remember.

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Entrepreneurs Small Business startups

The most expensive minute of your life

Starting over in business
Sometimes you just have to know when it’s time to move on.

To that end, a quote from James Altucher:

My first business I sold for $15 million. We built websites for entertainment companies. Bad Boy Records, Miramax, Time Warner, HBO, Sony, Disney, Loud Records, Interscope, on and on. Oh, and Con Edison. Mobb Deep would hang out in my office. Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails would stop by. RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan would want to play chess.

Then I saw that kids in junior high school were learning HTML. So I sold the business.

Are you ready (much less willing) to get out of the game you’re in?

More importantly, are you ready to start over?

Starting over is hard. It tends to take longer than you expect. It will probably cost more than you expect. But…if you see the handwriting on the wall, every minute you wait is even more expensive and painful than the last.