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attitude Business culture Competition customer retention Customer service Disney Employees Good Examples Improvement Leadership Management Marketing Positioning quality Restaurants Retail service Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Grab a Bounty and wipe it up. NOW.

Today’s guest post comes from the legendary Tom Peters.

Tom’s comments relate well to a post here at Business is Personal about a famous Donald Trump restroom maintenance story – and probably to a Leona Helmsley story or two.

Details. Details. Details.

Can you find 10 little details today?

Imagine how much better your business will be if these 10 items are better, cleaner, sharper or faster tomorrow, much less next week.

Those 10 little details are marketing – and the best part of that is that most competitors will never see it that way.

Yet Disney does.

Here’s another detail for you: If you aren’t reading Tom’s blog, you should be. I could be more blunt about it, but I shouldn’t have to be.

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attitude Business culture Competition Improvement Leadership Motivation Personal development Positioning Productivity quality service Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Are you dead weight in a “Man Overboard” Economy?

What gets thrown overboard before a ship sinks?

What gets thrown out of a plane that is struggling to stay in the air, or that appears to have less fuel than it needs to reach land?

Answer: Dead weight. IE: Everything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

If you’re an employee, what are you doing to make sure you are invaluable to the success of your boat (ie: your employer)?

If you own a business, what are you doing to make sure that the products and services you provide are invaluable, must-have items for your clients and prospects?

You can either be the one that stays onboard, or the one who doesn’t.

The choice is ultimately yours. Yes, YOURS.

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Competition Consumer Advocacy CPSIA Creativity customer retention Homemade products Hospitality Improvement Leadership Management Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women podcast Positioning quality Restaurants Retail service Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Warm chocolate chip cookies and the big difference between you and them

[audio:https://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/WarmChocolateChipCookies.mp3]

Almost every day, I stumble upon someone looking for a way to differentiate their business from their competitors’.

Far too often, they try to compete almost solely on price.

Since I’ve beat the dont-compete-solely-on-price drum in the past (eg: all those WalMart posts), so today we’re going to take a different tack.

Is it the steak or the sizzle? Or maybe something else?

Ever been to Sizzler, Western Sizzlin’ or Ryan’s Steak House?

Likewise, have you been to Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Charley’s, Shula’s or Chicago Chop House?

Which would you prefer if you had a coupon for a free meal, or if someone else was buying?

My money is on Charley’s (followed very closely by Ruth’s) – though I have to admit I haven’t made it to Shula’s as yet.

Why? Because everything about the place is simply amazing. The steak, the experience, the service, and so on.

One of the best moments I’ve had with my dad was after a photography trade show (yeah, back in the software company days), where we found ourselves sitting at the bar in Charley’s near the Tampa airport.

If you eat at the bar (almost no one seems to), you get to watch the chefs fire the steak – away from the quiet luxury of the dining room – and you still get incredible service, quite possibly more attentive than the service in the dining room if that’s possible.

What about retail?

Over the last several months, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the CPSIA situation.

Despite widespread knowledge of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act by some store owners, I see very few of them using it as a competitive advantage.

Maybe they’ve been too busy spending time trying to get their Congressional reps/Senators to change the bill. OK, maybe that’s a reason, but it isn’t an excuse. You know the difference, right?

Here’s an example: If you have a newborn and you walk into an upscale handmade baby clothing store and see a sign that says “All of our fashions for babies are tested and certified safe according to the CPSIA”, isn’t it obvious that it plants a seed in the mind of the persnickety shopper?

IE: “Shouldn’t everyone’s stuff be tested and certified safe?” Hmmm. Remember, in a store like that – the persnickety shopper is absolutely the one you *want* in your store.

If you wanted to get really aggressive about it, add “…Do the other stores you frequent care as much about your baby’s safety as we do? Ask them about the CPSIA and their testing and safety certification of the fashions they offer for your child.”

Fresh from the oven

If you have a choice, do you want warm, soft chocolate chip cookies made from scratch that are fresh out of Grandma’s oven, or do you want generic store-brand “chocolate” chip cookies that you know might have been baked a month ago?

I’d bet that you’d prefer the warm cookies from Grandma’s oven.

What about your business, product and service can create a chasm that wide, making it *that* easy to make a decision between your product/service and theirs?

Make a point of focusing on it. Educate your clientele to call attention to it so that they expect exactly what you do/sell if they find themselves elsewhere. You want to be the standard that everyone else has to meet.

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Banking Corporate America customer retention Customer service Management podcast Public Relations quality service Small Business Telemarketing

Pity the fool who doesn’t communicate

Over the last week or so, I’ve hunkered down in the perfect storm of communications.

Bresnan

I get a card in the mail asking me if the recent visit by a Bresnan Cable tech took care of the problem and if I was happy with the service. It’s the same guy who always comes to work on my cable issues. Treats you like a relative, even if he does sometimes have to come back more than once now and then. I wonder if they intentionally send the same guy. Smart if done on purpose (assuming the guy isn’t a bozo<g>).

Usually when I see him more than once in a week – it’s because cable boxes in general are just poorly made hardware commodities that fixing one thing exposes another thing (but later, of course<g>). But…that isn’t his fault.

Movie Gallery

During Thanksgiving week, my kids went up to Movie Gallery to pick up a DVD. My account was in lockdown. That was their terminology for it – ushers up nice images of Shawshank, doesn’t it?

Lockdown apparently occurs when you don’t return a movie for 3 weeks, I guess.

So my kids use their own account instead of mine and I later go up there – after finding the movie – to ask what the deal is. Turns out I’ve had the movie for 26 days (yes, it was a 3 day rental<g>).

Ok, my bad. However, I wondered where the reminder postcard was. Where’s the phone call asking where the heck I put the video?

NOT ONE WORD.

I’d had the movie for a month – without a single call, email, postcard, carrier pigeon, etc.

Folks, as we talked in role reversal last week – look at things from your customer’s point of view. Late fees are not good. Why else would people agree to wait for movies by mail?

Before I left, I asked the clerk what the deal is with no notifications. They don’t mail anymore. Costs too much (what she was told – vs “Earns too much in late fees”?).

I ask why I wasn’t called. For years, they’ve been good about calling, even if it is after the movie is late.

Why don’t they send text messages 2-3-4 hours before they close in order to remind people about the almost-late movie that’s . Seems obvious that they want them to be late. “Late” might be legit / intentional, so why not let it slide.

Because it isn’t in the best interest of the CUSTOMER. “Pity the fools”, as Mr. T would say.

Her reply regarding the calls. “We can’t make the calls anymore. Corporate does that now, they have some kind of automated system…. but some people never get called. It doesn’t work too well.”

Repeat after me…Business is Personal. Think like the customer.

Wells Fargo

We’ll close with a little bit of good news.

I use Wells Fargo for a bunch of stuff.

I got a live call from a lady working for Wells 2 weeks ago. She called simply to “make sure we were doing ok”.

I said “Sure, why do you ask?”

She says (paraphrased, it’s been a week or so), “Well, a lot of people are struggling with their mortgages and stuff, so we’re calling all of our customers to check on them even if they aren’t late. If they’re having some problems and they haven’t told us yet, it gives us a chance to help them figure out a solution before things get worse for them.”

Out-frickin’-standing.

They may be a big lumbering megalith, but someone there really gets it. Yeah, I know. It’s a little self-serving on their part, but the positioning of the call is smart.

Making the call before it has to be made (even if it might never have to be made), that’s the brilliant part.

[audio:https://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/PityTheFoolWhoDoesntCommunicate.mp3]
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affluence Competition Corporate America customer retention Customer service Management Marketing marketing to the affluent podcast Positioning Pricing quality Retail service Small Business Strategy Wal-Mart

Stampedes and shootings: Just another Black Friday

It’s hard to imagine why big national retailers continue to play the fools game, thinking that by discounting their prices 40-50% or more they’ll increase their profit.

Perhaps they think they’ll make it up on volume.

When you cut prices, the first thing that you give up is a piece (or all) of your profit.

Retailers who spent the weekend falling all over themselves catering to an upscale clientele don’t have this problem, especially if they’ve cultivated and groomed the relationship with that clientele all year long.

They didn’t have to go to the home of an employee and explain how a young employee was trampled to death, simply by having the misfortune of being the guy who unlocked the front door to his employer’s store.

When price is the only way you have to differentiate yourself from your competition, you deserve any pain you feel on your financial statement at the end of the quarter.

Is that the only competitive edge that you can find? If so, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Is there a Wal-Mart in Pamplona?

Another “competitive edge” – one that contributed directly to last weekend’s trampling death and injuries at a Long Island WalMart – is the special sale that starts at 0-dark-thirty in the morning and offers limited items at the special pricing. 2010 update about stampede.

Our store is better because we can get our people to the store before yours. Woooo, impressive.

If your competitors’ move their start time to an hour before yours, when does it end? Do you start a Cold War over who can open their doors first? In an ultra-competitive environment, is that really how you want your clientele to choose who their vendor is?

Do you really have to stir up a frenzy over one (or 10, whatever) $299 plasma screen TV to get people into your store? Is that the only edge you have?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve told you to read Cialdini and will again. We’ve discussed scarcity and will again. However, we’ve also discussed common sense. Hopefully, we don’t have to discuss making sure your staff and clients leave the store alive.

Is it really worth having 300-400 people stampede over your staff and each other as if their survival depends on it? This isn’t the first time it has happened. Human behavior is not a surprise in these circumstances.

Yeah, sure. You can blame a small percentage of morons for this ridiculous behavior, but it isn’t just the customers in that store who were in the wrong. But… big retail, in their typical lazy way – they continue to confuse the customer with the sale as the most valuable part of their business.

All this focus on creating temporary insanity among your prospects for one transaction on one day illustrates the lousy, if not non-existent, relationship that most large US retailers have with the buying public.

That’s where the problems really lie. When you commoditize your marketplace by competing solely on price, you’re one of two things: Wal-Mart or crazy.

Wal-Mart can afford to do these things. Their entire business – and the systems that drive it – is built around that premise. They have the logistics, automation, buying power and mammoth size to make it happen.

If you aren’t Wal-Mart or crazy, you have to do something different and better. I don’t mean to suggest that you can just double your prices, do nothing else and expect all to go right with the world.

You can’t.

Remember, Business is Personal. Build the relationship. Deliver the value. When nothing else matters, they’ll shop on price.

Make other things matter.

[audio:https://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/StampedesAndShootingsBlackFriday.mp3]
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Customer service Entrepreneurs Leadership Management Marketing podcast Productivity quality service Small Business startups Strategy Time management

How to be a business burnout. Or not.

Just the other day, I was talking with a client about the long term future of their business, and after being quizzed a bit, reflecting with them on what provoked me to sell my software biz several years ago.

This client has a small business people-wise, but its quite successful. Remarkably, that is the problem.

Been there, seen that, done it as well. Lived it again during that conversation.

Nothing else I’ve ever said in this blog is as important as what I’m about to discuss with you.

Simple Simon was a pie man

Growth happens.

Unless you’re rude, a dope, someone who thinks they know it all, unlucky, or someone seriously in the wrong line of work, if you are paying close attention to your customers and their needs (and knocking them out of the park) – your business is pretty likely to grow.

At some point in that growth, many business owners find themselves in the situation that Lucy and Ethel find themselves in below: (2m58s video)

While Lucy and Ethel are employees in the video, the point is the same for business owners.

It’s the classic problem covered in the E-Myth – the pie baker who gets overwhelmed with the business of making pies – but really it’s much more than that.

It’s a big reason I push you to document all your business processes.

It’s the reason I made it easier for clients to document their processes – by creating a simple app for them and their staffs to document, catalog, print and view the procedures.

It certainly isn’t the <ahem> millions in royalties I receive because of all the links in this blog to the E-Myth book at Amazon.com. You’ll have to trust me on that one:)

Pinch point

If you are the technician in your business, whatever that means – your business has a single, huge limitation. A pinch point.

It doesn’t matter whether you are making pies, doing heart surgery through a microscope, negotiating complex international commerce agreements between countries; programming complicated, real-time rocket fuel calculations for the next generation of space shuttles or carving bear figurines out of logs using a chainsaw – you’re a technician.

If you’re the owner AND technician, your business is limited by one thing.

You.

Unless you are very, very lucky (sort of), you are likely to work harder and longer than anyone you hire.

Delta 331 heavy, ascend to cruising altitude

2007_08_15_bos-lax-sba_009.JPG
Creative Commons License photo credit: dsearls

If you are working 14-16-18 hour days to get your dream off the ground, it’s a thrilling time (business-wise, at least). Everything is exciting.

Imagine an airline pilot on their first heavy takeoff. An astronaut on their first shuttle trip. Ok, maybe your biz isn’t as exciting as the shuttle ride, but its as close as you might get.

As for the effort you put in, that’s like a Boeing 777 taking off from your local airport, or the shuttle launching into orbit. The 777 burns LOTS more fuel per mile getting to its cruising altitude than it does once it levels off.

Likewise, the shuttle and its boosters burn thousands of pounds of fuel getting to escape velocity, only to have essentially effortless flight in space until its return to Earth.

You, however, are not like the Boeing 777 or the space shuttle. Fast forward a few years. Perhaps your business has reached cruising altitude.

Despite reaching cruising altitude, you’re still working 12-14 hour days 5-6-7 days a week, burning the same amount of fuel it took to reach escape velocity. That’s ok for a while, but didn’t you start your business to get freedom as well as the money?

(at this point, I’m assuming you’re nodding “yes”)

Those 12-14 hour days still exist because you’re still the owner and technician. Even if you have gathered some staff members to swat the skeeters away so you can focus on the real work, you’ve probably found that the real work (Yes, I mean the technician work) will expand to fill the container you give it.

The difference between you and Mark Cuban

You don’t see serial entrepreneurs in that position. They still have time to run a fistful of multi-million dollar businesses and a NBA basketball franchise, and have enough time left over to annoy the SEC (the government agency, not the athletic conference).

For many entrepreneurs, the startup phase is the only phase they can tolerate.

Everything else bores them and their business easily lives without them. They build businesses with the intention of selling them as soon as the business reaches cruising altitude.

Right at the end of the most expensive, most exciting phase of the business’ lifespan, they can leave or replace themselves with another qualified CEO/owner in short order.

What would that do to your business as it is currently structured?

Imagine if you walked out the door, handed the keys to the new owner and never came back. Would your business thrive? Would it be likely to survive?

Serial entrepreneurs might take a serious bag of management savvy and leadership skills out the door with them, but walking out the door still doesn’t kill their business. Likewise, they often start other businesses, still without having to work 120 hours a week.

The important distinction between most small business owners and most serial entrepreneurs? The serial entrepreneurs aren’t technicians.

Before you make an assumption about the small business owners I’m talking about… we aren’t talking about being smart or not being smart.

It isn’t just small business people sharpening mower blades, making pies, frying donuts and changing oil. The same issue arises for chiropractors, dentists, attorneys, physicians and others in technician roles.

Be careful what you wish for

Here’s another way of looking at it: If your largest competitor had a serious problem such as health, health of a parent, car accident, bailout related issues – and ALL of their business came to you starting tomorrow… Could you handle it?

If you suddenly found the Holy Grail of marketing for your niche and people flocked to do business with you, could you triple the number of clients you serve in a month?

Same issue.

Becoming easily replaceable isn’t easy

Consider that you have figured out that if your business is to grow (perhaps massively), you have to hire someone to do the technical work you do so that you can manage the firm.

If you plan to have the time to actually manage this growing firm instead of getting pulled back into the technical end of things, you can’t afford to hire someone brand new to the field.

Likewise, you can’t afford someone who has to be babysat, so this person (2 persons, more likely) will need to have a similar degree and depth of experience.

Result: It might take 2 or 3 new staff members to replace you to the point that would allow you to spend your time on the right things (marketing and management), much less to go home at a normal time without working into the evening from your La-Z-Boy or rising at 4am so that you can have some form of family life in the evenings without doing that La-Z-Boy thing.

At your current cash flow and revenue levels, can you afford to hire 2 people with your degree and depth of experience? If not, will hiring those two people allow you to make enough deals to pay them?

If the answer is no, or if the answer is “yes, but I really don’t want to do that”, then you have 2 choices.

Decide to grow, or decide to find a business model/strategy that works with you as the technician.

Either way, your business has to be structured so that the world doesn’t come to an end if your cell battery dies while you walk the beach on Maui at sunset with your spouse.

Meh. You old guys are grumpy.

If you’re 25ish, single and reading this, you might be thinking – “Meh. That old guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about“.

Things that might change your mind:

  • When a spouse, kids, a surprise set of triplets, a house, dogs, cats, kid sports leagues and that dust behind the fridge comes calling – and your business suddenly can’t get as much as you as it used to, and neither can your family.
  • When a friend takes off to the Caribbean for 3 weeks without a cell phone or laptop, and you can’t go because the business can’t deal with you being gone that long.
  • When a competitor’s business is up for sale and buying it would allow you to totally dominate the market – but you don’t know how you’d possibly handle doubling or tripling the number of customers you have – overnight.
  • On April 28, 1998, I had 213 new customers that I didn’t have on April 27th. With a staff of 2, of which I was one. On May 1, 1999 I had 269 new customers that I didn’t have on April 30, 1999 with a staff of 4, again including myself. Trust me when I say that these kinds of changes alter your life even if you think you’ve seriously prepared for them.
  • When an opportunity you’ve wished for all your life is suddenly right in front of you, and you have to choose between it and billing hours that you know you need in order to pay next month’s bills (and the baby comes next month).

Desperately Seeking Susan (er, I mean Clarity)

How you structure your business for the future is one of the most important things you’ll ever do for your business, yourself and your family.

If after 3 or 4 years you haven’t structured your business so that you can walk away for a week without total chaos taking over – you haven’t created a business. You’ve created a job.

Just because it’s built that way now doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

So how do you change your business so that it’ll fit a lifestyle you’d actually want to live long term – while it remains a raging success?

What do you do? Where do you start?

Stay tuned…

[audio:https://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/HowToBeABusinessBurnout.mp3]
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Competition customer retention Marketing quality Small Business The Slight Edge

Teach your clients to be smarter, better educated buyers

We’ve talked about this topic a few times in the past, but today I have an example that you can learn from.

First, take a look at the “Consumer Checklist” at FancyFortuneCookies.com. Don’t be distracted by the aging look of their site. That page is worth major dollars to you if you get the right message from it and use it.

Since they let you customize the message inside the cookie, they have to make them fresh just for you. I know  because I’ve ordered fortune cookies from these guys to use as business cards from time to time.

So not only do my fortune cookie business cards stand out from the yawners that everyone else hands out, but they are tasty as well.

How tasty are those imported fortune cookies from your favorite Asian restaurant? They probably buy them after they are mass-produced, sit on a dock in a container for a week or two, then on a cargo ship for a week or two, then on a dock for another week, then on a train or truck for another few days before they were warehoused and then eventually shipped to the restaurant.

Notice that I just taught you an important difference between good fortune cookies and bad or at least unnoticeable ones? And I didn’t do it while screaming BUY! BUY! BUY!

How can you teach your clients to be better educated, choosier buyers? Even Jif does it with their “Choosy moms choose Jif” line.

Why?…

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Guarantees Management Marketing Positioning quality Restaurants Retail Small Business

3 guarantees that will grow your business

One of the places where you don’t see a lot of creativity in is guarantees. Yet they are one of the least expensive ways to market your products and service.

In a world where it sometimes seems that there are only two guarantees (that death and taxes thing), it’s a great way to stand way out in front of the dont-get-its in your market.

A guarantee serves one purpose to the client: it eliminates the risk that holds a buyer back just before they purchase. The expense of providing an incredible guarantee is extremely cost effective. Yeah, cheap.

Why? Because a small minority of people will use them – and more importantly, if you are really doing your job – they’ll rarely be used.

Your goal: To perform so consistently that your guarantee rarely gets used.

Not getting used is the real focus of a guarantee, but you may not be thinking of the reason why: it’s a great motivator to get your business to reach the levels of performance that you want to attain.

No good customer really wants to use your guarantee. It simply serves to protect them in case your service and products don’t match what you promised. 

So here are 3 guarantee ideas to use as seeds for your new guarantee:

Guarantee #1: For big ticket items (a fridge, furniture, and similar), guarantee that delivery will be on time, within a 1 hour window, or their delivery is free (assuming it isn’t already) plus you’ll buy the customer dinner for 2 at a nice local restaurant as an apology.

Result: Forces you to organize and streamline your delivery scheduling and execution. Tells the customer that they aren’t going to get that “sometime between 8 am and 5 pm on Tuesday” delivery promise.

How you turn it into more than a guarantee: Talk the local restaurant into co-oping the dinner expense. They want customers. They can get 2 dinner customers one time, split the cost of the dinner with you, and if they do things right – they have customers for life. You save a little money, the restaurant gets 2 new customers. Win-win.

Guarantee #2: The big audacious one year money back guarantee on something that no one else guarantees for a year. Yeah, I know. That little guy sitting on the left shoulder. He says they’ll never return it in a year, so what’s the point.

The point is that they can return it for a year, not that they will. It doesn’t matter that 98% of those asking for a refund will do so within 30 days. 

Result: More sales due to less risk. This guarantee is particularly effective on products and services that are normally guaranteed for 30 days but might see the bulk of their return for 60. If you raise yours to 60 days, your competitor would probably follow suit. If you raise it to a year, they’ll think you’re nuts and they’ll never realize what happened

Guarantee #3: Guarantee the intangible thing that no one else will: Peace of mind. “If you don’t feel that our product has made your family/life/business more comfortable, more pleasant, more successful and less hassle-filled, we want it back.” Your wording will probably need to be different than that, but that should  get the idea across.

Result: Forces you to remember what you are really selling. You aren’t selling a will or estate planning, you’re selling peace of mind, knowing your clients’ kids will be . You aren’t selling tax preparation services, you’re selling peace of mind, knowing that the IRS isn’t going to catch you goofing up your return because a real pro prepared it. Remember Michelin and the baby. They aren’t selling tires. They’re selling safety for that family and their baby. The sooner you remember that, the better off your business will be.

I’m curious to hear from you about this: What’s the best guarantee you’ve seen? Why did it motivate you to trust and buy from whoever offered it?

Categories
Competition Leadership Management Marketing planning Positioning quality Small Business Strategy

Leading your market: Not an opportunity you wait for.

Finding the opportunity to lead your market is something that some businesses wait for years to take advantage of…and then they pounce. Well, at least some do.

Hold on there, Trigger: Did I say “Wait for?”

Leading your market isn’t something you wait for, it’s something you must make happen through explicit, planned actions.

In what ways are you the leader in your market?

  • Do you offer the fastest or best service?
  • Do you offer the most value for the dollar?
  • Does your business have the most knowledgeable staff with the best, most up-to-date training?
  • Do you offer the highest quality products – and regularly discover and begin to offer better ones?
  • Do you offer the best selection of only high-quality products?

How do your clients know these things to be true? How do they learn to care about the difference?

Do you educate your clients so they will learn to appreciate the difference between so-so and outstanding?

Are you executing a well-planned effort to transform your clients into experts and connoisseurs of what you sell?

If not…Why not?

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air travel airlines Competition Customer service Employees Management Motivation Personal development quality Small Business The Slight Edge

More on the expanse of mediocrity

As we discussed recently, all you have to do to find mediocre anything is jump on an airplane – with a few rare exceptions – to encounter the worst of everything, including your expectations.

In today’s guest post, Chris talks about the culture of mediocrity that many of us have come to expect.