Competition Management Marketing Positioning Sales Small Business Strategy

Does your business have a ladder?

Sometimes the simplest question is the one that causes the most scowls. Or at least, the most hand-wringing.

I’m talking about what later seems like an incredibly insightful question that forces you to think hard about your business, despite the fact that it was annoyingly simple. You don’t get off the hook with a “I dunno” and a shrug to one of those questions.

One such example is… “What’s next?”

It’s not a specific question and might mean different things to different people.

To some, it might mean “What are you doing next for your clients?”, to others “What are you doing next to raise the bar?”, “What else are you going to do to get more clients” or “What are you start doing to keep your clients even more loyal?”

People don’t think about this sort of thing often enough. Many just think about getting the client. Once they have them, THEN what do they do with them after that first sale?

In many cases, nothing. Or at least, nothing special.

People are conditioned to follow a sequence of steps. If they see a ladder, they know they’re supposed to climb it. Are you placing one in front of them?

If there isn’t a next thing in your sales process, how do they know what to buy/do/invest in/service?

Or do they go somewhere else?

What’s next?

Marketing Sales Small Business Strategy

Are most cold callers lazy? Absolutely.

While I really don’t have anything against cold calling from a pure marketing perspective, more often than not, it’s a really poor use of time and people. This is especially true when it is done by the lazy.

More often than not, it is done in a carpet bombing fashion, where everyone in the phone book (or everyone on a particular exchange) is called. That’s lazy. Really lazy.

If people used it wisely according to prospect demographics and psychographics, I’d mind it a lot less and it’ll waste a lot fewer hours – much less being far more effective.


Because if I’m the right prospect for that cold call, I might actually be interested. Assuming, of course, that you didn’t interrupt me at the worst possible time. If I do happen to pick up the phone (rare), once in a while I might actually be interested – especially if you put even a little bit of effort into market research before you made the call.

There is more to this than just choosing the right group of people to call. There’s that whole permission marketing thing that Seth Godin talks about. In other words, the Do Not Call list. Twice in the last 3 days, the same vendor has called two of my numbers that are on the Do-Not-Call list.

I understand that registering to use the Do-Not-Call list is expensive for a business that wants to make telemarketing calls. However, it isn’t as expensive as dealing with the FTC when they slap you around for violating the Do-Not-Call law.

Another problem with cold calling is that you haven’t done *anything* to begin to create a relationship when you make that call. Many people detest telemarketing calls, so you risk ticking off that person with your first overt act to contact them.

Some people swear by cold calling, and make no bones about it, in some markets it is very effective. But you won’t catch me doing it. I think it’s idiotic when done poorly. Maybe I just don’t appreciate the lack of effort most businesses put into finding the right people to call.

Cold calling done poorly is harder than selling a comb to a bald guy. If you’re going to do it, at least be smart about it.

I think you can do better.

Marketing Positioning Pricing Sales Small Business Strategy

Comcast: Choosing the wrong way

Comcast appears to feel that it’s a problem that their customers actually use their service. OK, that’s a little vague.

More accurately, they have a problem with that small percentage who use their service *a lot* despite doing so within their (current) terms.

Their new solution to this “problem” is to cut off that customer and probably motivate them to avoid being a Comcast customer forever. I don’t imagine that this sort of action will contribute to good word of mouth marketing by former Comcast customers.

While their bandwidth limits seem rational, history has proven that customer needs will expand beyond that – and quite often more quickly than Comcast would respond with policy changes or additional billing options.

In contrast, Time-Warner is testing tiered pricing. The more you use, the more you pay. That makes sense, particularly beyond a certain level.

In every group of customers, there’s a percentage of high-use customers.

You have two choices

  • Cut them off. Tick them off. Run them (and probably their friends) off.
  • Find a way to bill them that reflects their use and the value you’re delivering.

Think about that for your business. There’s probably a small percentage of high profit customers (or potential high profit customers) who might benefit from an additional level of service.

Running off the customers who need your products and services the most seems a little crazy, doesn’t it?

Competition Management Marketing Positioning Restaurants Retail Small Business The Slight Edge

Does your store or restaurant give people the urge to splurge?

Today’s guest post comes from what you might think is an unlikely source – Psychology Today.

On the other hand, as many times as we’ve talked about Cialdini and your own mindset, maybe it isn’t a surprise.

The Urge to Splurge – things to think about for retailers, restaurants, service businesses and others with public-facing business locations.

Marketing Positioning Sales Small Business

The last deviled egg

Ever notice how deviled eggs disappear at a potluck dinner? Doesn’t seem to matter how many there are – they just disappear.

And if there’s just one left, people can’t let it be. Someone just has to run off with it.

Despite the apparent popularity, I’ve never seen them on a restaurant menu. I have seen them in a truck stop cold food cooler case, but that’s it.

Is scarcity part of the reason they disappear?

Whether it is or not, how can you make your product or service that popular? That much in demand?

PS: This week I’m out circumnavigating Hungry Horse Reservoir by canoe with the guys from Troop 41. No cell service, no email. The blog is on autopilot, so there won’t be any comments approved till Aug 18.

Competition Entrepreneurs Ethics Leadership Management Marketing Positioning Pricing Public Relations Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Would you buy $34MM for $5MM?

One of the industry-specific discussion groups that I belong to was recently discussing a $5 million fee (for three years of effort) paid in exchange for bringing $34 million worth of value to an organization.

Just so there’s no mistaking the result: we’re talking about the receipt of $34 million dollars in funds.

Oddly enough, it was felt by some that this fee was out of line, and several considered this fee patently unethical simply because of the amount, regardless of the circumstances.

If you own a business and have employees, you probably pay them by the hour. If so, I suspect you are aware that “paid by the hour” thinking is not the road to success, though it can get the bills paid.

Most people don’t start a career with a big audacious goal of “I want to get the bills paid”, or “I want to make $17 an hour”.

That kind of thinking will get you nowhere financially in the long term.

Generally speaking:

  • Successful people get paid substantially more than whatever is “normal” for their expertise, training, investment in themselves, experience, ability to deliver and value delivered.

That’s a major reason why we talk about stepping way beyond the value delivered by anyone else in your business by thinking harder and being creative and innovating in how you think about what you do for other people or their businesses.

You want people to believe – in fact, KNOW in their hearts – that you can deliver that $34 million (because you have in the past, repeatedly) and as a result, they’ll gladly line up to pay the $5 million to get it, and they’ll feel like they got a deal in the process because they were confident of your ability to deliver value that (possibly) no one else can.

Likewise, if you know you can deliver that sort of value more often than not, you’ll fully guarantee the fee and charge nothing if you don’t deliver.

That’s positioning you – and your clients – can take to the bank.

If I told you I could deliver $34 million in sales to your business, what’s that worth to you?

$50 or $75 or $125 an hour is the wrong answer.

Competition Customer service E-myth Management Positioning Sales Small Business systems

The value of follow up

Previously, we’ve talked about how my old software company did every-30-day follow ups with clients and why it was so valuable. If nothing else, it made up for things that we maybe didn’t do so well.

When I have conversations with business owners about following up, it often comes up that these things are a lot of work. They don’t mean the follow up itself, but the act of getting their staff to actually do it, much less getting them to remember to do it, and so on.

First of all, a follow up system has to become part of your system for doing business, just like the bubble wrap that you insist must be wrapped around that expensive English bone china egg coddler before shipment.

Your staff wouldn’t dream of shipping a fragile piece of china without bubble wrap, and if you train them properly and make it part of the way you do business – they also won’t dream of blowing off the follow up.

The other side of this is that it isn’t rocket science. You don’t need an expensive system to make this stuff happen. A system could be an extra, documented, managed step that you insert into your paper-driven process.

So what about the value?

As I mentioned yesterday, I had some suspension work done on the Suburban. This is the same place where I bought the tires that are on it.

In the 13 months since I bought those tires, I have yet to receive a phone call, postcard or email offering to check those tires for uneven wear (a sure sign that something else needs to be repaired, or that I’m too stupid to inflate my tires properly).

Likewise, I have yet to receive any sort of contact to check alignment, brakes, or even to rotate my tires.

I don’t receive a contact in the early winter when lots of car owners change out regular tires for studded ones (I don’t, but many people do). I don’t receive a contact in the spring when the studded ones come off and are replaced by regular ones.

Not only are these things that naturally bring people to that store, but they also are ideal inspection times. Swap out time is an ideal time to determine that the other tires you are switching to might need to be replaced.

All this non-contact despite the fact that this store rotates and does flat fixes for free (they appear to understand Cialdini). It’s fairly clear to me (because of other things they do and how they do them) that they want me to come back and buy tires there again.

There is a pile of opportunity to offer a little care for those tires, and while showing they are trying to help me get the most from them, possibly earn a little extra cash by finding something during various inspections. And maybe sell me new ones.

Doing the math

For my rig, new tires are a $500+ expense. If you have 1000 customers (and they probably do), at any one time, research shows that about 3% of them have an immediate need for whatever you sell.

That’s 30 sets of tires waiting to be bought any any one time. $15 grand. Is that worth a little follow up effort?

We also talked yesterday about the batteries and how a free inspection routine for ANY vehicle would increase sales as well as improve the relationship. You see this in quick lube shops, sometimes to the wrong extreme. That isn’t what I’m proposing.

If you see 12 people an hour in a 10 hour day, that’s 720 clients through the door per 6 day work week (remember, it’s a tire store). If only 1 client per day needs a new battery (for example), and they buy a $45 battery, the free inspection will result in $14,040 in battery sales.

And that’s just batteries. Who knows what other sales you’ll make and what safety issues you’ll find.

Sure, maybe most of those people will buy a battery from you anyhow, but your inspections will have them buying before they are stranded somewhere, late for work, late for an appointment, stuck in bad winter weather, unable to drive their pregnant wife to the hospital and so on.

And you were the one who caught the fact that the battery was about to fail.

Look at your numbers like we did here and put a value on them. I suspect you’ll find a nice green reason to make it a part of your way of doing business.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t sell tires and batteries. You can use this too.

Customer service E-myth Employees Management Marketing Scouting Small Business systems The Slight Edge

Two simple keys to easy revenue and better service

Upsell and follow up.

Simple, right?  You already know this. But are you actually doing it?

Two of the easiest things to do to increase sales without spending even a dime to chase new customers, something you shouldn’t need to do if you are doing things right, are asking for the upsell and following up.

Before you change the channel, note that when I say upsell, I dont mean badger the crud out of your client with mindless “Do you want fries with that?” list of questions.

Instead, I mean ask smart questions that provoke your client to ask for more help, and do smart things that helps keep them out of trouble.

One local example is a nearby Chevy dealer’s Customer Appreciation Day, which just happens to include a bumper to bumper vehicle check.

On a nice 80 degree summer day, you don’t think much about being stranded. In the middle of a cold Montana winter, it’s on your radar anytime you’re out in the boonies.

In the middle of the coldest part of our Montana winters, which also happens to be their slowest time of the year, the dealer examines their clients’ vehicles for problems.

That vehicle check is done at no cost, plus you get breakfast or lunch and a bunch of chances to win door prizes.

They also have extra salespeople around in case clients have questions, but it isn’t a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel sales event.

It’s a service/safety event that even includes a bunch of folks in the heated detail bays washing every car before the client takes it home.

The client goes home with a laundry list of stuff to keep get fixed or just keep an eye on, without any sales pressure. It truly is a courtesy check.

And of course, it’s a gold mine too.

Why? Because people see a bunch of stuff that they know might strand them on the side of a remote rural road at the worst possible time, so they either get it fixed at the dealer, or they take the list elsewhere (or home).

Even for those clients who don’t get a bunch of work done at the dealer, this serves a purpose: It gets that owner and their vehicle into the store once a year no matter what. It gets the service people an opportunity to check over the vehicle for potentially dangerous problems at least once a year. It gives the sales folks an opportunity to chat with former customers (there’s a reason why I call them that), offering them the chance to re-fire the connection with them.

While it would be a great idea for you if you are in any sort of service business, you don’t have to put on a big production like this every year.

You simply have to pay attention and take the opportunities presented.

When I bring my mower in for a new blade like I did earlier this week, you might take an extra 30 seconds to check the oil and see if it is low, or dirty.

You might check the air filter and see if it needs to be cleaned, or re-oiled. Even if those services only cost $5 to perform (plus the oil), that’s $10+ in incremental revenue, PLUS you make the point that you are trying to lengthen the life of my machines.

Trust me, if it burns gas, uses oil and I own it, it’s probably begging for help.

And I guarantee you, I’m not alone.

In many ways, your goal is their goal: Make sure that the client is as prepared to go into tomorrow, much less the rest of today, with as few detours as possible.

Yesterday, I had a pitman and idler arm replaced on my Suburban aka the Scoutmobile. I couldn’t pick them out of a box of parts but I do know they are part of the front end suspension and messed up ones like to ruin tires.

Meanwhile, another lady walked in to get a tire repaired. She was happy to find that the tire repair was free, but had to ask if someone would check her battery.

She shouldn’t have had to ask.

When her vehicle was taken in to fix the tire, it should have been part of their procedure to check the battery, tire pressures, fluid levels, wipers, brakes, shocks and tire tread.

Not just to upsell, but to make sure the client’s vehicle is safe to operate. And of course, to give yourself the opportunity to show the client that you are looking out for them and their vehicle.

But that didn’t happen, even though we were in a place that’s known for offering good service. You can tell they are trained, but they could be doing even more.

By the way, it turned out that the lady needed a new battery. The well-trained car guy offered her choices, let her make a decision and made the sale. But if she hadn’t asked…no sale.

Could you and your staff be doing more, all while being more helpful?

Competition Customer service ECommerce Employees Management Retail Sales Small Business Software Strategy systems Technology

Don’t make it hard for people to give you money

Emergencies of all forms seem to come at the worst possible times.

How your business manages day to day transactions quite often makes the emergency worse for your clients.

Bear with me, this story – and the lesson that goes with it – requires a bit of background discussion.

Last week was crazy for me. On Friday night, I drove my son to Plains for a swim meet. The next day, we had a baby shower to attend before taking off for a week of Scout camp early on Sunday morning.

The camp is located a few miles from Harvard Idaho, which isn’t what anyone would call a metropolis, and that’s a good thing. See, the more remote a Scout camp is, the better. If the internet doesnt work and cell phones get no signal, it makes for a better week of camp for everyone. And that’s one more reason why Inland Northwest Council’s Camp Grizzly shines.

However, this post isn’t about camp, it’s about an experience I had with Hy-Tek, Ltd., a (if not the) leading swim meet management software vendor, while I was at camp.

When I arrived in Plains for the swim meet, the guy in charge of the touchpad timing system for that team asked me to take a look at the system for them. Each of the teams in our league use a setup owned by the league, and each town has someone who gets to set it up and run it that weekend.

Out of 23 towns, there are 2 geeky people like me who are involved. Me and a guy about 400 miles east of here. Everyone else in the other 21 towns drew the short straw.

Here’s what happened: Recently, Hy-Tek required that we upgrade the meet management software due to a licensing conflict (another story for another time).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t involved in that transaction, which might possibly have avoided this. Turns out that the sales-prevention-department at Hy-Tek didn’t do their research when selling $7000+ worth of meet software to the 23 teams (who buy as a group).

They neglected to look at prior purchases by the same organization and observe that the league purchased a version of the meet software that supported the scoring console that drives the digital scoreboard and collects athlete swim times from the touchpads at the end of the lane.

Bottom line, that means that when I got to Plains, they couldn’t get the meet software to talk to the timing console, the touchpads or the scoreboard. So I dig around a little and find that the licenses sold to each team did not include the ability to use the scoring console – something that should have been part of the sales script / checklist or whatever when any of this software is sold.

At 11pm on Friday night, this isn’t going to get fixed.

I call Hy-Tek on Saturday morning and get voice mail for someone’s cell phone.

Not long after leaving my message, a friendly guy named Bob calls back (Hy-Tek’s support Bob is universally appreciated from what I hear) and tells me that he cant fix it and I have to deal with sales because he isn’t allow to use the software that creates the license file that resolves the problem, much less take our money.

So we use manual timers for this meet, which isn’t the end of the world.

I tell my MotoQ to remind me on Monday morning (when I will be at camp, where there is no cell service) to call the swim league big cheese, explain the situation and then call Hy-Tek sales and get this resolved.

So Monday comes and I manage to drive 30 minutes to find about half a bar of cell service and reach the swim guy, who isn’t home and thus doesnt have the info for the sales call in front of him. We decide to talk on Tuesday so he can get the info from his home and then I can call Hy-Tek.

My call on Tuesday goes off as planned (after another 30 minute drive to get cell service) and shortly after gathering the necessary info, I reach someone in Hy-Tek sales.

I explain the situation and almost get the impression that I am interrupting someone’s day. But we move on, because I have to get this done and return to camp (thankfully, I have 2 other adults in camp to help the boys in my absence).

After explaining the situation to the salesperson, I am told that I should go online to order the upgrade. Isn’t that what a toll-free sales number is for?

Sales 101 – When a customer tries to hand you money for something they clearly want or need, do not tell them to go somewhere else.

I explain that I am in the middle of rural Idaho, have no internet access (not even with my phone, which is rapidly burning battery talk time due to the analog connection) and cannot do so. She tells me they are not setup to take phone orders.

Say what?

Anyhow, she says that she can take my order by entering it for me on their website (credit card merchants everywhere are cringing by now) as I read it over the phone. As I have no choice, we do that and the order is placed.

When delivery is discussed, I ask for email delivery of the license file (which is small enough to email) due to the urgency of getting this fix to the team hosting the meet next weekend, particularly given my limited ability to call/no ability to email this week.

I am told company policy forbids it because teams change computer people and coaches too often and they would have to re-email the software. Even downloading it from a secured area on the site is too much trouble, apparently.

Is it 1988 or 2008? Hmm.

IE: they wont allow email delivery of license files because they dont like issuing license files too often and more likely, because there is no process for doing so – since there are never emergencies in the swimming business, I suppose.

I begin to wonder to myself if they dont like taking money, but I know better than that:) I should note that I’ve been the swim team’s geek for 8 years and will be for at least 3 more. That is of no concern to the salesperson, because her hands are tied by company policy.

Clearly, there is no process in place to email this small file in an emergency.

If there isn’t a process, so be it, but blaming this on the *standard behavior of clients* is dumb.

Thankfully, the CD goes out as promised, gets picked up by the right person and installs without incident, all without me being around:) This is a good thing, since I arrived at the meet at 130am between days 1 and 2 of the meet.

So why this long, wordy bluster?

Simply to ask you to re-examine a few things:

  • Take a look at how you are setup to accelerate the delivery of your product in the event of a client emergency. Is your sales and support staff trained and enabled to make things work for the client, or simply hamstrung by policy and process issues, and thus forced to make your clients sit around and wait?
  • As you know, I’ll be the first to suggest automating what can be, but make sure that your processes allow for emergencies.
  • Take a look at how your sales and support team communicate company policies (smart ones and dumb ones) to your clients. It isn’t their fault your policies and processes are what they are, but they have to communicate and implement them, presumably without torquing your clients.
  • Check your sales process and make sure that your salespeople are not sending clients somewhere else to complete a sale. Obviously, creating work for clients when they are handing you money is not wise.
Customer service Employees Management Positioning Retail Small Business

Do you send the wrong unspoken messages to clients?

What message do you send to clients when you have a live sales chat feature on your website, but no live support chat?

It says to me that I am not as important after the sale as I am before the sale, which is exactly how I felt today when visiting a website whose service I use.

On Wednesday, I was in the Post Office sending some Rotary International grant money via Express Mail.

During our conversation, the agent behind the counter made a comment that “It isn’t Express Mail without tracking.”

As I was stuffing $23,000+ of someone else’s money into the envelope, I was thinking “That’s not the desired result.”

The desired result is that our envelope gets there tomorrow.

The agent made it clear that the importance to the Post Office was not the delivery, but was the process. The paperwork. Not the message that the customer wants to hear – even if they’re filling out the paperwork.

Ask yourself:

  • What unspoken messages do my procedures and business processes send?
  • What written or spoken messages do we send that detract from our reputation, our products/services and our company?

Next – work on correcting, or removing them from your scripts, pitches, company lingo, training, printed materials, websites and most importantly – the silent messages you send.