Competition Customer service Employees Management Marketing Motivation

The Pope and Seth Godin

photo credit: keela84

Today’s guest post is from Seth Godin, who as usual, hits the nail on the head about how to deliver quality to your clients – while talking about the Pope’s visit to your place of business. Or not.

Amazon Competition ECommerce Ethics Management Media Public Relations Word of mouth marketing

Amazon launches their weapon of mass destruction, steps on the long tail of independent authors

No Known Restrictions: President Woodrow Wilson Addresses Congress, 1917 (LOC)
photo credit:

People continue to have this idea that companies like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Starbucks and Microsoft are bulletproof.

Folks, it just isn’t so. You might also have thought that UCLA was bulletproof Thursday night against Western Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, except that no one told WKU about it. Top-seeded UCLA pulled it out in the last 4 minutes, after leading 12th seeded WKU by only 4 points with 5 minutes remaining.

David and Goliath plays out every day, if David is clever enough.

These big companies that small business owners love to complain about are great at building giant customer lists and then turning right around and crapping in their corn flakes. They do it everyday. All you have to do is look around (one of the reasons I mentioned the Google Alerts thing yesterday).

It’s Amazon’s turn. They just got punched in the word of mouth.

What am I talking about?

The Amazon print on demand (POD) story at

And the Wall Street Journal, TechDirt, Washington Post, TechCrunch, Computerworld and Publisher’s Weekly. And so on.

Before you think that this only affects big print on demand publishers, don’t forget that little (and some not so little) independent authors sometimes see the bulk of their sales via Amazon and POD.

If there are fewer authors able to sell on Amazon (because of their demands), what happens? Does the record industry try to do this next? They’ve already lost control, but there is leverage out there if they want to use it (movies, for one).

What about your ISP? Perhaps they will require that all websites updated from your DSL account must be hosted with their web hosting services. They can easily control this.

The upside is that the market always has a way of sorting this stuff out. Somewhere out there, there’s a little print on demand house just rubbing their hands together.

Oh yeah, and I just realized that my Google Alerts are not covering enough bases.

Competition Customer service Management Marketing Public Relations

Cheesesteak Wars in South Philly

Last week Joe Vento, the owner of a famous South Philly sub shop (cheesesteaks, dude!), won a surprising verdict from the city’s Commission on Human Relations.

Sometime in the past, his Geno’s Steaks sub shop put up a sign in their business that said “This is America, when ordering, speak English.”, noting that the owner says he has never refused service to anyone who couldn’t speak English.

Someone at the city’s Commission on Human Relations received a complaint about the sign, which hung just above a “The management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone” sign, and the case went to a 3 member panel.

Last week, the panel voted 2-1 that the sign didn’t violate the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, so the sign stays.

This blog is not about politics, immigration policy and similar issues. It’s about business.

If you are Pat’s King of Steaks, right across the street, in a neighborhood whose population is increasingly Asian and Latin American, what do you do?

A few things to saute your decision in:

  • You’re the son (or grandson, depending on who we’re talking about) of Italian immigrants.
  • You’re in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed.
  • Your arch rival is across the street.
  • Your family has run this business (and others like it) since 1930.

Complexity is fun, isn’t it?

PS: The last paragraph in a Fortune Small Business story about the cheesesteak rivalry leaves a little hint to Pat’s competitive nature. What a great comment about what he’d do if Geno’s closed.

Competition Marketing Strategy

A competitor went out of business. What do you do first?

old style phone

What’s the first thing you do?

Crack open a cold one and party down? Nah. Save that for later.

How about putting up a sign that welcomes all of their customers and start working on an ad piece that does the same thing? Good idea, but not the first thing.

Raise your prices, since there’s less competition? Maybe, but not the first thing.

OK, so what IS the first thing?

Call the owner and ask if you can drop by to visit with them. Even though you’re a competitor, be a friend at a time when they need someone who understands what it means to make payroll.

Offer your condolences. Let them tell their story. Don’t be a buttinski and interrupt them. As my dad often told me, “Be a good listener”.

Offer to purchase any product stock they have. Whatever $ they get out of it will be appreciated. Don’t be a weasel. Be nice when you make an offer.

Ask them if they’d recommend any of their staff for your business. I mean, you do live in the same area, and they do probably have at least one person who knows the business well, can sell, can service, or something. It’s your way of helping that owner feel a little better about their failure. It’s also your way of getting a trained employee who likely knows the strengths and weaknesses of a product line that you might not know enough about.

But before you do all that, crack open the Yellow Pages, or look at your competitor’s last advertisement. You’re looking for a phone number.

Call the phone company and add a forwarding service for that business’ old phone numbers to your main number.

Sometimes they will make you wait a while. The old business’ phone service may not be disconnected yet. If you have to ask the old owner to sign a form to transfer the number to your account, suck it up and ask. Remember, they don’t really want their old customers to be left out in the cold. Getting their number will help their existing customers find a replacement service and you want to be sure their customers are taken care of, right?

As part of this process, ask the owner if they had any toll-free (800, 866, 888, etc) numbers. If they did, find out who their long distance company is and ask them for a RESPORG change form. Have them fax it to you. You’ll may need the old owner to sign it. Fax it to your long distance service and get the process going. You’re moving the failed business’ toll-free numbers to your account.

Don’t be cheap here. Point EVERY ONE of the old toll-free numbers at your current destination. It won’t cost much.

Why are we doing all of this? Because those phone numbers are on their products, their paperwork, their refrigerator magnets, ball caps, tshirts, their Yellow Page ad, every brochure and business card, and so on.

When that phone number gets called, you want it to ring YOUR phone. I suggest you have a phone script ready and train your people on it so they don’t stumble through the explanation when that guy’s customers call. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Pssst. When you buy a business, do the same thing. Every number. You don’t want to lose any of those calls.

Blogging Competition Management Marketing Media Web 2.0

Competitors: How to easily keep an eye on them. Free.

When I was in the software business, I didn’t watch our competitors too much.

For one thing, I really didn’t consider them competitors. Sure, we lost a sale to them once in a while, but more often than not, it was due to (I kid you not) lies and deception, or a misplaced idea about what was important in the systems we do (yeah, call that a sales or marketing stumble – because better marketing should have eliminated those reasons). Sure, I recognized that they were in our market, but in many ways, they just didn’t get it.

We were the leaders in the market. I watched the competition to see what they had copied of ours, but only on one occasion do I recall that we felt the need to copy something someone else did (a visual sales tool – we were the last to do this).

As such, I focused on innovation, on interacting with customers to figure out what they needed etc. It worked for us. Everyone else was watching and copying us, and we simply kept innovating. It’s a tough position to be in, but it beats the heck out of being #2, where you’re always trying to catch up.

And of course, because the tool I use now didn’t exist.

Google Alerts.

Google Alerts lets you setup a permanent Google search of one or more of these areas: news, blogs, video, web sites (ie: search engine results) and Google Groups (Google’s NNTP newsgroups mirror).

For example, one of my clients owns a coffee shop (you may have picked up on that by now<g>), so I have a Google Alert that once a day does a search for new results on Starbucks. Blogs, news, web sites, etc.

I also have searches on my name (I strongly recommend you do this as well – but for your name<g>), the town where I live, social and political issues or personalities important to me, prospective clients, clients and a few other groups I won’t divulge.

I can either get these notifications as soon as Google finds them, or I can get them scheduled to appear once a day.

They come to my email.

Simple as pie, and extremely valuable. Not only is it easier to know what’s going on in my niche (and my clients’ niches), but it takes a lot less time and I see things that I might not ordinarily see.

Try it, I think you’ll find it quite useful.

Last but not least, don’t forget about what happened to Kryptonite, the bike lock people. In 2004, they ignored a blog about their locks being picked by a Bic pen. They knew about the blog post, but did nothing to address it.

After the story appeared in the New York Times – at which point they could no longer ignore it – Kryptonite found themselves replacing 380,000 locks worth over $10 million, and their attitude through the whole affair didn’t exactly endear them to their customers. Pay attention.

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