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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.

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The High Art of Paying Attention

Most of you probably saw a brief mention here in the blog that I became a grandpa for the first time a mere three weeks ago today.

This is one response that shows me someone is mastering the fine art of paying attention. It arrived in my mail on Saturday with a letter, and was wrapped in a pastel tissue paper.

In part, the letter said “This latest blend only gets produced with love on a rare and special occasion….Sit back; enjoy a great cup of coffee while watching your new grandchild discover all that life has to offer. Congratulations!!!”

That is the high art of paying attention.

Were you paying attention? Let’s see.

How many of you put that date in your Outlook, phone or customer database? Yes, I’m assuming I’m there for what should be obvious reasons.

Why would you do such a thing?

  • Not because you’re going to send her a card next year.
  • Not because you’re driving to Missoula next summer to attend the 1st birthday party.

Nope, if you did it, it’s because it’s smart business.

Next summer in mid or late July, your reminder system should tell you to mention her 1 year birthday to me.

Not because she’d recognize you at the party, but because you know its important to me.

If you’ve been reading for a year, you should know my birthday (or at least the week), and anniversary months. You should know quite a lot IF you’re paying attention.

And your clients… What do you know about them?

If you are paying attention, you should know their spouse’s name if they are married. You might know their anniversary, birthday month (or the date itself). You might know what college they went to, or what town they grew up in, and what their favorite sports teams are.

You might know that their spouse is a scratch golfer and volunteers at the food bank on Tuesdays. And each one of those things is something your lazy competitor wont pay attention to, much less remember or do anything about.

Likewise, each one of them gives you a chance to do something inexpensive, but special, whenever it makes sense. It gives you something to talk about with them that they’re interested in and will start them talking in earnest about something important to them.

Paying attention isn’t being nosy. It helps you make the relationship you have with your client MORE personal, without going through their medicine cabinet.

Suggested reading on this topic: Harvey Mackay’s Swim with the Sharks (without being eaten alive)

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The fine line between personal and business

A little while back, someone asked me:

If business is personal, and I think it is, cause I don’t leave myself (my person) at home when I come to work, then how do I NOT take it personal when the business relationship I worked hard to create with my clients goes sour?

It’s an easy thing to fall into.

While your goal is to make the relationship as personal as possible with to your client, and perhaps even to you, you still have to keep in mind that when the relationship goes sour, it’s the business relationship that went sour first in most cases.

If there wasn’t a personal relationship – even perceived – the rest of the relationship likely wouldn’t have lasted long enough for you to feel it was valuable enough to take <whatever> personally.

It’s one of the reasons I’m constantly banging on the need to find more ways to strengthen the relationships with your clients by personalizing your business. The stronger those relationships are, the more likely they are to survive a business issue that would break an impersonal business relationship.

To be sure, there is a fine line that you have to find when not getting too close, but I can’t tell you what that is for you. What I can tell you is that the better the personal side is, the more likely that the business side will last as long as you want it to.

When the personal relationship goes south, the business relationship can easily become personal. What else is left?