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On Unicorns and Clouds

Our clients are so stupid!

Is that your company’s vibe?

If you aren’t sure, ask the people who staff your front desk, sales department and/or customer support/service positions.

At one time, the majority of my software customers were studio photographers.

Their industry was making the massive shift from film to digital. Prior to that, many (if not most) of them had a love/hate relationship with computers. Digital *forced* them to deal with computers and business growth pushed them there as well.

It wasn’t at all unusual for a photographer to apologize for being “stupid” (their words) when asking for help, because they weren’t “experts on computers”.

I reminded them that we’re all stupid about something, noting that I’d look pretty stupid if they started asking me questions about posing, lighting and other technical things about their business. Photographers back then (late 1990s – early 2000s) usually weren’t computer experts and didn’t need to be. Today, technical expertise is a necessity in their business thanks to digital photography and videography.

Unicorns and Clouds

One of my first duties in the technology business was “dealing with users”. I was trained early on that the people on the other end of the phone paid the bills.

Fast forward a few years… A small handful of people are discussing various technology topics and one says “How does one explain to a customer that there is no ‘cloud’? There is only someone else’s remote server. There are also no unicorns.”

Naturally, the wiseguys call this person out for claiming that there are no unicorns, but soon the conversation resumes in technoworld.

At first, this person was reminded that, technically at least, a remote server isn’t the same thing as a cloud.

One tried to keep the conversation civil, wondering aloud if the easiest way to explain it was to ask the customer to “define the word ‘cloud’ as if you could find it in Webster’s dictionary.” He continued noting that a cloud is a group of servers and that the number and location of those servers could vary.

The original questioner remained in “my customer is stupid” mode by commenting that the customer’s data “lives” somewhere and that it isn’t just floating in space, following that with a comment that perhaps a cloud is a “server with blue spray paint and cotton balls.”

It was noted to this person that a cloud and a server are far from the same thing, offering that “a cloud is multiple redundant servers with the ability to fail over, load balance, etc. not just one box in granny’s house out of state”.

That got nowhere and was quickly rebuked by “This customer isn’t that smart. Says he doesn’t want his data on a server, he wants it “in the cloud”. I think he’s watching too many television commercials.” followed by “As I sit here at home backing up my entire website via FTP before updating our shopping cart software, bored silly while it takes forever. Considering how long it’s taking me to back up my website, I can’t imagine why this guy wants ‘cloud’ storage”

Enough!

At this point, I’d heard enough and said this situation shows why he needed to have established a position as the “expert” in his market. His response: “That’s what I like about my other business. The customers don’t presume to know anything about it.”

It was painfully clear at that point that he wasn’t interested in hearing legitimate reasons on his customer’s behalf. He just wanted to whine about a customer others would be glad to have, but I wasn’t done. I noted that his customer’s business might require travel and thus need access from anywhere.

He didn’t care.

I then suggested (with a touch of sarcasm) that his customers might have picked up an airline magazine (which often discuss business topics, given their market) and that he could have defused the whole thing by educating his customers with a pre-emptive “This is a cloud and why you might (or might not) want to use one” blog post.

Your customers want your leadership, not your disdainful, disrespectful scorn. Be their expert, but never underestimate them.

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Did You Know…That You Should Follow Up?

misty
Creative Commons License photo credit: antaean

If you look at the path a prospect follows on the way to becoming a customer and then, at their path as a new customer; youâ??ll see plenty of places where it would be valuable for them to receive an occasional tap on the shoulder.

With that tap comes just a little bit of info, but it won’t/shouldn’t always be a sales message, at least not explicitly.

Consider these 3 little words: â??Did you know?â?

They start sentences like these:

  • Did you knowâ?¦ that if you get stuck, we have 24 x 7 customer support lines?
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that 90% of businesses fail after a fire destroys their business – and much of that is because they are underinsured. Those who might have made it often donâ??t because they donâ??t have their current customer/order data backed up, which means that on fire day + 1, they have no idea who needs a follow up, who placed an order yesterday, etc. Using the automated backup feature in our software can save your business. Weâ??ll be happy to show you how it works.
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that many of our customers find our software’s dashboard feature motivational to them and their staff? Here’s a link to a video showing you how to turn it on.
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that we offer a 180 day money back guarantee? Thereâ??s simply no risk to putting our product/service to work for you.
  • Did you knowâ?¦ that we offer free online training videos that are broken down by function and only last 2-3 minutes? You can take a brief break, learn what you need to know right now and get back to work.

You get the idea.

Look at the typical timeline for a prospect.

Where do YOUR prospects need a little bit of assistance, a hand on the shoulder or a Did You Know?

After theyâ??ve bought, when do they need a little help? For customers youâ??ve had for months or years, are there new features or new things you do for your customers? Put each of these items in your follow up system and let them know when it is appropriate for each customer.

They can be emailed and blogged, but they should also go out in your printed newsletter.

You *do* have a printed monthly customers-only newsletter, right? 4 pages is enough. Seems like a little thing but itâ??ll never get ignored if itâ??s good.

All of these things put together will start to build a follow up system that no competitor will duplicate. And thatâ??s exactly what we want.

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Pushing You Starts The Whispering

Whispering Grass
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rob Gallop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Never underestimate the “little nobodies”

Today’s guest post comes from Amber Karnes, who did a great job of analyzing the rise and fall of Urban Outfitters most recent product thievery and how social media played a role in the fall.

One of the messages small businesses should get from this is buried deep within this quote from Amber:

When I worked as the webmaster (and often-shouted-down social media champion) at Fortune 500 railroad Norfolk Southern, I had a hard time explaining this concept. Their PR heads would say, â??Why should a big corporation worry about cultivating a relationship with some railfan who only has 600 followers? Shouldnâ??t we go after the big ones? These little nobodies canâ??t do us any damage.â? Well, today proved the opposite.

Take care of your fans and they will take care of you.

Need evidence? There is now a 3 or 4 week backlog at the Etsy store of the business that UO ripped off.

PS: Thanks for the heads up, AG.

Follow up: “Nobodies as Influencers”

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Taking Care

One of the lessons my dad impressed on me when I was old enough to begin to “get it” (or so I thought) was “Be a good listener.”

Naturally, the meaning of that phrase changed for me over the years.

  • As a teenager, it had a rather obvious meaning, “Pay attention and you might learn something.”
  • As a college student, the meaning changed a bit, but the fundamentals were the same.
  • As a newly married guy and later as a dad, I fine-tuned it a bit for the roles I found myself in.

Ultimately, it was about listening before speaking or acting. A handy business lesson if there ever was one.

At work, it became far more complex as it became about listening…really listening to customers (including other people’s customers) about the detective work necessary to create and retain customer loyalty, and sometimes, about figuring out what wasn’t being said while the words still flowed.

Sometimes the most important words from a customer are the ones they fail to say.

Despite the complexity that lesson has taken on at times, the core message is still the important one – a message of listening to learn, one of the most valuable lessons my father taught me.

What level of care do you deliver?

My current context for the most personal level of service was set by Hospice of Cumberland County (Tenn.), but the who and what isn’t really the context I’m trying to get at. The level itself is what I want you to arrive at, regardless of what you do.

Consider the level of care that you’d give to a sick family member. It’s likely to always exceed that given during the course of business, but it’s a standard of care that you can consider when designing different levels of service in your business.

A level of care we’re speaking of is very personal. It isn’t suited for just any business and perhaps not for just any customer, but that isn’t my decision to make about your business. Fact is, it might be perfect for a subset of your customers…or perhaps all of them.

As personal as the end of life care you’d provide for a family member? Isn’t that a bit much? Sure it is.

I suggest that because it brings a level of personal touch to what you deliver that you might not ever have considered. While you still might not deliver something that’s of the same class as end of life care for a family member, it might just provoke a thought that transforms your high end business. That which transforms your high end business quite often transforms the rest of it as well.

What level of care have you failed to offer to your clients? Beyond levels of care, what care itself are you failing to deliver to your clientele?

Doing it right

The other lesson I remember most is “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” The unspoken second part of that is “That doesn’t mean that you should do less.”

You might wonder if there is a conflict there, but I don’t believe so. Doing the job the best you can, each time, doesn’t mean perfect. It just means best for you given the skills you possess at that time *and* with a commitment to continuous improvement.

Not starting a project (or a piece of work) because the outcome can’t be perfect is far worse than finishing it with your best, yet imperfect effort. What have you not started because you felt you couldn’t deliver perfect?

Oh and the third part…focus. Doing things right requires focus on those things. Doing 100 things poorly serves no one well, least of all you. What efforts are you making to get and stay focused? To deflect, destroy or defer distractions?

The undercurrent

Over the last seven weeks, I had many opportunities to learn while caring for my dad. Whether from him, my mom or their friends, the lessons were almost always about taking care.

Are you truly taking care of your clientele? Is there a level of care that you’ve neglected, ignored or simply failed to design?

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What *finally* tripped your trigger?

During a recent mastermind session, the gang was talking about motivation and decision-making.

While that was stirring around in my head, I managed to stumble across CC Chapman’s insightful post about inspiration.

Stir in the TED Behind the Scenes video included in CC’s post, which I’ve included above. I strongly suggest you read CC’s comments even though the video is included above.

A few takeaways from the video:

  • Everyone fears failure. Even Sir Ken and the other TED speakers.
  • None of these people are perfect.
  • They all seem to have a very clear vision of what they want to accomplish and what’s really, truly important to them.
  • Watch what Raghava KK says to Ken Robinson after Raghava’s talk – and how Ken responds.

Little Things

A takeaway from the mastermind chat was recognizing the importance of the little wins that happen when you’re just starting toward a big goal. These little wins are, at first, what fuel us to become what everyone else eventually sees as an overnight success.

A friend who has lost almost 100 lbs over the last 2 years reminded me of this when saying (paraphrased) “No one sees me doing the hard stuff. The sweat. The celery. They only see the result, and they have no idea how hard it was to get here.”

That friend didn’t say that angrily, but was recognizing that few see the bulk of the effort we make on the way to our goals. The people who didn’t see the loss 500 calories at a time after an hour on the treadmill almost every day for 2 years know better, but some still have the impression that it disappeared overnight.

Little successes. A mile in 15 minutes today. A mile in 14 minutes after 2 weeks of effort.

Doesn’t seem like much unless you’re the one having those successes.

Translating that elsewhere

Those small victories fuel the confidence to keep going, regardless of the goal you’re chasing.

I remember a sale to the Wyoming Red Cross and having the X-Prize folks use my software back when almost no one had heard of them (much less me). Those events were a couple of the small victories I look back on that were essential to building the confidence that helped me move forward.

Remembering those got me to wondering about the small victories that encouraged you. I’d like to hear about them.

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Ask them to tell your story

Once it has been pointed out, most people understand that benefits / tangible results do a better job of generating interest in your products / solutions than a dry corporate list of bullet items.

It’s easy for you to say “If you use this, <something> will result.”

Some people will believe you.

More people will believe it when it comes from your customers in their own words, even if you have to prompt them to answer a question.

Give your customers a chance to tell your story.

They’ll often say it better than you do, especially when sharing what they gained from working with you.

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Be indispensable

Sossusvlei Landscape
Are you indispensable to your customers?

The question that you have to ask yourself – daily, rather than once – is “What can you do to make yourself indispensable to your customers?”

A few examples to get the juices flowing:

  • If you sell coffee, how can you help your customers wade through the coffee buzzword maze and enjoy *better* coffee? What’s fair trade? Is it really fair trade, or is it just another marketing buzzword?
  • If you sell cars, how can you help your customers make better decisions, get more from their investment, and save time and money on repairs? How can you help them remember to perform the regular maintenance that allows them to depend on their vehicle regardless of the weather?
  • If you repair lawn mowers, how can you help your customers get a better looking yard, without injury, cheaper, safer and faster? How can you save them time and money on upkeep and repairs? How can you help them remember to change their oil, sharpen their blades and make their mower perform better and longer?
  • If you help people deal with (and prevent) legal problems, how can you help your customers avoid rushing into your office with a problem that has to be solved NOW? Ounce of prevention, pound of cure kinda stuff. Be their lawyer every day or every week, just a little vs. being their rescue squad every 5 years.
  • If you treat people’s injuries and diseases, how can you help them be safer at home and at work? How can you help them by advising them on nutrition and other preventative care, without becoming a nag? Knowing that these things require lifestyle / habit changes, how can you help your customers/patients make that happen? How can you help your patients make sense of the constant flow of health, nutrition and prescription information placed in front of them each day? How can you help them prevent injuries and disease, rather than waiting until they occur so you can treat them?
  • If you sell building materials to professional contractors, how can you help them find more business so they can buy more building materials? Can you help keep them informed about industry promos, tax incentives and other things to help them be more competitive?
  • If you sell advertising (better sit down), how can you help your clients track the effectiveness of all their advertising? How can you help them calculate the ROI on the advertising? Not guesswork, but real numbers based on the foot/internet traffic, revenue and profit each advertising source generates. Who is indispensable, the ad salesperson or the ad salesperson who is also a partner in profitability?
  • If you sell computers, ANSWER YOUR PHONE. Those people on the other end of the phone who don’t know as much as you’ve forgotten about a computer are the ones with all the money. They’d like to give it to you, if only you’ll help them. Yes, to be indispensable in the computer business, quite often it’s as simple as answering your phone and helping them with their problem without being arrogant. In fact, just answering your phone will be a huge first step.

If I didn’t mention the business you’re in, use these things as inspiration to do what makes your business indispensable to your customers. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that because your specific type of business wasn’t mentioned, it won’t work for you. Likewise, if you’re thinking to yourself that “my business is different, it won’t work for me”, you’re right. If you don’t do these things – they won’t work for you.

The goal in doing all of these things is to position yourself and your business as the only place that your clients will consider doing business. Arrive at that position by doing this kind of stuff and both your checkbook and your customers will thank you.

Take care of them like no one else is willing to.

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Hungry?

Photo by Leroy Schulz

My friend Leroy Schulz is a photographer, graphic artist, programmer, green car fanatic and mountain scrambler in Edmonton.

One of the projects he uses to keep the creative juices flowing is his POTD (Photo of the Day).

He takes at least one photo every day, no matter where he is or what’s going on.

A few months ago, he visited a friend of ours and while clowning around with his dogs, took the shot above.

To really get the impact of the photo, click on the version above. It’ll open in a lightbox.

Study their eyes

Are you working hard enough to get your customers to get that look when discussing how you’ll solve their problems?

Are your products THAT compelling?

And do you have their undivided attention?

Check the picture again. Look at those stares.

Some of your customers are probably more enthusiastic than others, like the dog in the background (note the tongue). Do your best customers feel that way about your products/services and customer service?

It’s possible, if you work hard enough.

How would it feel?

How would it feel if your customers were as interested and focused on you as these 3 guys are?

More importantly, how would your customers feel if you were that focused on them?