Unintended consequences – European style

As we discussed during a Montana rep’s brief-but-misguided Do-Not-Mail campaign, unintended consequences have a nasty habit of being rather expensive.

Today’s unintended consequences come all the way from the UK, where news surfaced about 2 weeks ago that Chris Davies, a British member of the European Union Parliament, has decided that cars that travel over 160kph (about 100 mph) should be outlawed due to their excessive hydrocarbon emissions.

His contention is that cars that can go fast must be made heavier and thus give off more emissions. Anyone with the slightest bit of engineering or automobile knowledge knows that these 2 things are not always directly connected, but let’s ignore reality for a few minutes and look at the numbers.

As usual, the little guy is the one who will pay for this, so let’s examine the fallout of the proposal.

Management Retail Uncategorized

Restaurant Euthanasia

Lately, I’ve had a few interesting conversations with restaurant management and heard of a couple other conversations from those experiencing what I’ll call “restaurant euthanasia”.

The most bizarre conversations seem to occur with quality employees who can’t fathom what is going on at their store, so I’ll share those rather than private conversations (even though they are meatier<g>).

The common theme: It’s as if management is trying to off their store.

Marketing Uncategorized

What can you learn from a spammer?

What can you learn from a spammer?

Easy. You can learn what NOT to do.

Let’s take a look at a slimy email I received this morning.

Entrepreneurs Uncategorized

Hunger, and advice about giving advice

One of the things I spend a lot of time doing is giving advice to business owners and entrepreneurs of various flavors.

A few observations about that:

Smart people listen and take action. Not necessarily doing exactly what I suggest, but SOME sort of action on the problem that they asked about. They dont get themselves bound up in thoughts like “well, you said that worked for the carpet cleaning company, but I write software, so it wont work for me”. There are any number of reasons you can find not to try something. How about this: What if it gets you 1 life-long customer per week? Per month? What’s that worth over time? Presumably that’s a number you know already.

Free advice is almost always worth what you pay for it. Not necessarily because it’s bad advice, but because human nature seems to indicate that if it’s free, we don’t value it as much as “real” advice that we paid for. If we don’t value it, we tend to not heed it.

It’s one of the reasons why I price my work the way I do, and it’s also one of the reasons I am very careful about giving out free advice. It’s not that I don’t want to help people, but the unseen consequences are out there. If I give someone advice and they don’t use it, that hurts no one but them. On the other hand, if they tell someone else “well, Mark suggested I do this, but I didn’t do it” or “…but it didn’t work” (because they didn’t do it), then that reflects on me.

It’s easy to slough off free advice. When you have a skin in the game, suddenly there’s some mysterious reason why you want a positive ROI:) It’s one of the reasons you should think hard about what and how you charge for what you do. On that note: No one asks for the cheapest brain surgeon. No one asks who the cheapest cancer doctor (oncologist) is. They want the best. They want someone who has swooped in and made “miracles” happen. How do you make miracles?

Speaking of miracles..I think back to a couple of chiropractors that I know. I’ve never been to one professionally, but a good many of them talk about fixing back pain. I’ve had a few periods in my life where I had some back pain (actually back muscle spasms). Quite frankly, I’d almost rather spend the night in Mike Tyson’s jail cell than deal with that stuff again. NOTE: I said “ALMOST”, Mike.

I’m guessing that very few, if any, chiropractors have ever experienced back pain, because if they did, their marketing would be far more emotional and personal. And a heck of a lot more effective. Again…what miracles do you create?

Excuses abound.  “A close relative died” is an excuse (well, really more of a reason). “My brakes squeak”, “I have a stuffy nose today” or “I didn’t have time” are not. Choices.

Be prolific. One of Dan’s common comments is “A buyer is a buyer is a buyer”. What he means is that there is a small portion of your clientèle that will invest in everything you offer simply because they believe in you and the impact you have on their business or personal life (depending on what you do). That portion of your clientèle actually EXPECTS more products and services from you.  That doesn’t mean “Make up new crap to sell people”. It means you must be constantly innovating. That “slight edge” thing I talk about isn’t just claptrap to get you to read the next post. It’s something you should expect of yourself because your buyer-buyer-buyers expect “what’s next”. Doesn’t matter whether you sell advice or lawn mowers.

Be selective about the destination of your advice. One of the comments I make to people is that “I don’t save souls.” What I mean by that is that I help those who want to be helped. There is little reward for me in helping someone who is just going to sit there in the puddle and complain about sitting in the puddle, so to speak. Those who ask, those who listen, those who take action – those are the ones I enjoy helping. I really do mean enjoy. It’s very rewarding (and I don’t mean solely from a financial point of view) to help a business owner who WANTS help.

On the other hand, I really avoid spending time and effort offering advice to business owners who never take any action, heed any advice, etc. The hungry business owner who wants to see improvement might be making $100 a month or $100,000 a month, but they’re still hungry and seeking ways to make themselves and their business better every day.

Are you hungry?

Automation The Slight Edge Uncategorized Wal-Mart

Is your business, or some part of it, on autopilot?

As you read this, or at least, as WordPress posted it on Saturday morning, I’m out in the woods on a campout with my Scout troop.

I’m not bragging, but I am trying to make a point: Have you taken steps to automate the parts of your business that shouldn’t require manual attention? The parts that should happen when you aren’t there.

No, its not a big deal that I can set the publish date for a blog post – its a big deal that you can do it for weeks at a time. You can write your posts when you get in the zone, schedule them (in most blog software) and they will show up on your blog when you indicate.

Now, think a little bigger.

How many things in your business should (or could) happen automatically?
Some examples:

  • Leads entered on your web site automatically end up in your back office systems and become a part of the marketing funnel that all other leads are in.
  • Sales entered on your website by internet clients end up in the same database as the sales by your local retail store.
  • Inventory changes affected by online sales are automatically reflected in local retail store or warehouse inventory.
  • Online inventory counts in your web store are automatically updated when a local retail store sale occurs.

Or you can do all of that stuff by hand. There are lots of examples. These are the kinds of edges that Wal-Mart has over most retailers. There’s no reason why your business cant do the same – on a lot simpler scale than Wal-Mart has to deal with.

Corporate America Uncategorized

SeaTac DoubleTree & Livingston’s Comfort Inn – service with more than a smile

I’m waiting for someone to walk up and ask if they can iron my socks.

The service at the SeaTac DoubleTree is outstanding so far. For those who havent been over this way, “SeaTac” means Seattle-Tacoma. It’s also the name of the airport, as I recall (which we are right next door to).

When you walk up to registration, if anyone is in line and not being waited on, someone magically appears until all the registers are full. Before you step away from the counter, a small paper bag with a warm Ghiradelli chocolate chip cookie is offered as a little piece of welcome comfort food.

If you happen to pause in the lobby area and have any sort of quizzical look on your face (“thinking” counts), one of the bellmen will slide over and make sure you are ok and don’t need help, directions or what not.

Even in the coffeeshop (yes, a Seattle area hotel with a coffee shop, whodathunkit?), the service is friendly, and the staff smiles and makes eye contact like they should. You know, as opposed to a scowl or a blank “is anyone home?” look on their face.

Refreshing vs the surly, non-descript, corporate blank stare service I get from so many other places that does more to annoy me than anything else.

Just now, the manager of the hotel strolled by and was straightening chairs in the coffee shop and lighting little candle deals on the tables. He was just dotting i’s and crossing t’s on his way to somewhere else. A few ladies walked up and stopped about 40 feet away where a hallway beckoned. They were looking around as if they were lost, or at least trying to decide if they were in the right place. Looking for maybe 5 seconds, that is. He immediately stopped what he was doing, walked over and introduced himself and asked “Ladies, is there anything I can do to assist you?” Didnt have to do that. Many wouldnt. He did.

A few minutes later, an assistant mgr came by and straightened all the chairs that had been moved around since the manager strolled through a while ago. Every chair, just so. Every candle moved back to the middle of the table.

Speaking of, week before last I was in Livingston MT’s Comfort Inn, which is right outside the original northern entrance to Yellowstone. Livingston is a small, sleepy little town in the winter and a metropolis of tourists in the summer. The Comfort Inn in the middle of winter in a little hibernating town is not exactly the type of place that I expect “extra” service, but I got it.

It just happened to be the week that the high school state basketball tournament was 20 miles down the road in Bozeman (whose rooms were all full). result: Girls, coaches and buses are everywhere. Thankfully, I had a reservation and for some reason, the computer put my room smack dab in the middle of a slew of high school girls basketball players’ rooms. IE: Expect noise and possibly late hours.

The manager noticed this when I checked in and moved me away from them, after noting to me that she thought it would be a good idea from a noise perspective. Since my teenage sons weren’t with me, I agreed:)

Not something that she had to do or notice, but she did. Attention to details.

Corporate America Uncategorized

Is your coffee shop someone’s office? Want to keep it that way?

Coffee shop owners… Just a little tip for you this morning.

Look around your shop mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Is there a slew of laptops and little business meetings going on?

If so, think about how you can make your business friendlier to those using your shop as an office. Don’t look at them as dust bunnies using up a table. They’re customers who get into a groove in your shop and use it repeatedly.

Until you run them off.

In the last month I’ve been on the road (air, whatever) quite a bit and have been run out of a few coffee shops because they don’t seem to want me working there.

There seem to be a few common issues, at least recently.

$10/day wireless. Borders and Barnes & Noble just don’t get this. I know, they don’t want to deal with administering it. Still, there has to be a solution. These places are like a ghost town mid morning and mid afternoon for this reason. You very rarely see anyone working there. This is a really dumb way to “cheap out”. Yeah, some people will come in, use the internet, buy nothing and leave. Guess what…they aren’t customers anyhow. Maybe they’ll buy someday, maybe they wont. Charging $10 a day for internet access just ticks off all your REAL customers.

No sound-proofer doodads on the frappe machine (that super noisy blender thing that creams the ice). You know how loud they are, though you may not notice anymore because you are used to it. This is one thing that Borders (usually) has over other shops. They actually USE theirs. Most independents that I visit don’t have em or the staff doesn’t use em. City Brew, a chain here in MT doesn’t have or use em. Why does this matter? Take a seat somewhere in the shop. Call your spouse from your cell phone. Signal a barista to hit the frappe machine and start making an ice drink. Now try having a conversation. Ouch. Remember, you’re not in the coffee business.

Electricity. Laptops suck the life out of batteries, even today’s. Clearly, its difficult to have a plug at every table, so just keep this in mind when you place tables in your shop. Do the best you can. When there’s no power available, the laptop crew will either not stay long or will not stay at all.

Firewalls. City Brew (no, I’m not picking on them – in fact, the local area manager of the stores in the Flathead is a really sharp guy who truly gets it). Recently, they put new routers or a new firewall in all their shops in northwest Montana. Result: NO ONE can use the internet anymore because they didn’t take the time to test them, configure them, or something. It has been going on so long that there are signs about it on the cash register. Very un-CityBrew-esque. In 1 (Whitefish), I can get browser access. No other ports work (think cpanel, ftp, any custom application, ODBC). In the rest that I’ve tried (Kalispell), it doesnt work at all. The last time I was in one in Kalispell, no less than 5 people approached me asking if mine was working (I was writing and didnt need the internet). Suddenly, the laptop crowd is gone from City Brew. They come in, they try to connect, figure out it isnt working and they are gone. Notice the routine of your business clientele. They come in, they setup their laptop, they get hooked up and hit the check mail button and then order coffee and whatever else. If they never get connected, you just lost a sale.

Train your staff to be aware of their surroundings. Today I’m sitting in a coffee shop in a small town. I know the owners aren’t dense, as they have 4-5 shops in this area. However, the entire staff of this shop is in the office, watching video on the internet at a volume level that *I* can hear 40-50 ft away, and the staff is giggling and carrying on so loud that you cant hear yourself think. The only customers in the shop at the moment are working, several on laptops, another interviewing an potential employee, another doing paperwork of some kind. Not a good first impression.
That’s enough for now.

By the way…you should be blogging too.


Cell phones in the urinal and other business insanity

Years ago, when I first met Dan, he used to talk about seeing people in the men’s room, standing at the urinal, phone in one hand, you know what in the other. Talking BUSINESS.

I never believed it. Just thought it was one of Dan’s colorful stories.

Then about a year ago, I saw someone actually doing it at a Kennedy event. When the rest of the gang heard the guy, they all started giving him grief. Later that same weekend, another guy, talking business in the STALL while making all sorts of noises that you’d find typical in a stall. Again, talking BUSINESS.

I have no idea what possesses someone to exhibit stupid behavior like this. If Im talking to my boss (ok, in my case, it would be my wife) or a client, the last sounds I want on the call are:

  • men using the urinal
  • flushing
  • assorted bathroom discussion
  • grief from the guys standing next to me
  • other assorted bathroom sounds

Despite this, when I’m at conferences, I repeatedly see this behavior – and the calls are almost always talking business to a client or with the office. At the urinal, with their um, equipment, in the other hand.
Today, the insanity got even more stupid.

I’m in a small group meeting with Dan, a 2 day meeting that was rather expensive (5 figures) and during one of the most valuable discussions of the day, a guy sitting just in front of me is messing around on his laptop (the only one in the room).

During one somewhat involved, yet very important discussion that could clearly have a six figure impact on someone’s business (again – during a VERY expensive meeting), and still this guy is checking email, getting driving directions from MapQuest, looking up a list of restaurants, and sending emails. On a SUNDAY (ie: not a high priority business communications day).

I can see all this because his laptop is directly between Dan and I – all of us are sitting. At least he wasnt playing solitaire.

I dont know about you, but when I spend major $ to be in a room with someone that I expect to get some critical business info from, I want every piece of info that person has to offer. I dont need to be shopping, checking my mail, knitting or instant messaging with my golf buddies.


Corporate America The Slight Edge Uncategorized

What first impression does your business give people?

Today I spent the better part of the day flying across the country. 6am flights, yummy. Spending a few days with Dan Kennedy in DC.

When Dan has meetings in DC, he typically has them at a particular Hilton. Most of the experiences at that Hilton are very good, if not outstanding. The staff is typically right on top of everything, every time.

But there are always first impressions that a business gives to clients, some they never think about, or just dont realize if they don’t secret shop their own business by following the same path that their clients follow.

Here are the first impressions that I had from a few businesses today.

Arrived at Dulles. Noisiest airport ever on the INSIDE, particularly down by the shuttle area (again, INSIDE). I go to the courtesy phones, which are difficult to hear with because there’s a muzak speaker right above the phone (not an ideal design, of course). Add to that, the phone’s earpiece is too quiet and there’s no volume control like there typically is on these setups. I’m not hard of hearing (at least not since I was a teenager<g>). Anyone who is hard of hearing will find these phones very difficult to use.

I call the Hilton from the courtesy phone. A couple dozen rings, I get the switchboard (who I can barely hear). While all of this is going on, its a very noisy luggage roller fest next to me (again, not Hilton’s fault). I get reservations, they cant find me.

I call back, ask for the front desk, note to the girl that I cant hear her, she does something and I can finally hear someone and carry on a conversation. We speak for a minute, she starts taking care of my stay details and we get disconnected.

I call back and it takes 3 minutes of rings to get the switchboard (I know this because I have to keep hitting the “more time” button on the phone screen) and then it takes 3 more minutes before the front desk picks up (very unusual for them). Anyhow, I get the same pleasant woman, she says she’s gotten it taken care of and tells me about the shuttle.

It arrives every 15 minutes. I’ve been standing outside for 30 minutes already, which is why I came in and called. A British-sounding gentleman was there when I first went outside, he’s come back in, called and gone back out.

Finally, I go back out and the Hilton van is sitting there in the same place I’d left about 10 minutes earlier. No driver. 20 degrees out, wind blowing. Its colder in DC than it was in Montana at 5am when I left for the airport. I start to walk around to van to find a driver and a head pops up. He’s taking a NAP in the van, in the pickup lane.

I open the door, he is somewhat startled, pulls on his shoes and ties them, I sit down. He gets my suitcase. We rumble about 100 yds and he finds the British sounding guy, who is fairly annoyed by now but only makes a brief comment to me about it. He tells me he’s been waiting for an hour. 45 minutes for me.

We take off for the Hilton. Driver is in a rush, dodging left and right, van is lurching around, making “Im your universal joint or main bearing grinding and Im going to explode at any second” noises. Not a Hiltonesque experience.

Driver is going way too fast for this van, not unsafe, just too fast for a vehicle driving clients around and making the van continue to lurch about. Imagine if your grandmother was being brought to the Hilton, she’d be freaked. Not what Conrad would have wanted. Probably not even what Paris would want:)

Of course, once I’m inside the Hilton, their well-trained, competent staff takes over and all is well. Its a very well run place once you’re inside and the HHonors rooms are fantastic. Giant marble showers, plasma screen on the wall above the desk, etc.

But my first impression is of the napping van driver, our lurching trip from the airport, and the wait in the cold.

I’m guessing that shuttle drivers are hard to find and retain, and as such, Hilton pays less than ideal attention to that function when they train, analyze their quality processes, do customer service checkups, and so on. But that’s just a guess.

What first impression customer contact are you forgetting about? Icy sidewalk? Mario Andretti driving the van? Male flight attendants talking about “getting some” while female passengers just a few feet away are getting settled into their seats? (that happened on Delta this am on the SLC to IAD leg).

The slight edge. Keep looking for it. The investment makes big payoffs. First impressions last.


“All you have to do is go where the customers are…”

My oldest (17) came home from school the other day with an empty box of chocolate. He felt like he was the king of sales, which was cool, but that wasnt the best part.

Apparently SOMETHING is sinking in when I talk to him and his brother.

He said “I dont know why the other kids go door to door, all you have to do is be where the customers are when they are hungry. I took a box to school and then stopped by the Eagles Club with the other box. That one was gone in 5 minutes.”

Isn’t it odd how many businesses don’t understand that concept?