customer retention Getting new customers Setting Expectations Small Business

What would they do to put you out of business?

When I asked “What would they do to put you out of business?“, you probably wondered who “they” are. “They” might be someone whose expertise in another market tells them yours is ripe for the taking. “They” might be a competitor you already have, or someone new to the market who doesn’t know any better. Remember when you didn’t know any better? You’re still here.

Who they are really doesn’t matter. What they do & why… that’s what matters. How would they price, market, sell, deliver, service, & communicate?


You might expect that they’d come in with lower pricing. While it depends a good deal on your market, I wouldn’t be surprised to find them going higher and establishing a market segment above yours, leaving you with what remains.

The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” – Ben Franklin

Companies with plenty of margin can afford to spend more on marketing, delivery and service. If you were starting over today, would you price the same way, or differently? Why? Why not?


Ultimately, marketing is about exchanging cash for a (hopefully predictable  and consistent) number of leads who turn into customers. If your marketing efforts spend $27.50 to get a lead, would you rather your leads turn into customers who spend $2750 or $27500 over their lifetime as your customer?

Thinking back to what you do now, can you make that choice? Can a new entrant to your market? (and if so, again… can you make that choice?)

Looking at it a different way…. If your new competitor can afford to pay two or three or ten times what you can afford for leads, who will likely end up with more leads and more ability to choose select the best leads?

If you were starting over, how would you market differently? Would you choose a different customer to focus on?


Thinking about how you and your market peers sell now, how would an upstart in your market do it differently… and better? What steps would they add, subtract, or embellish? Would they listen more and talk less? Would they speak of the needs, wants, concerns and worries of their prospects? Would they parrot features and speak in bullet points, while lamenting about the need to meet their quota?

If you were starting over, would you sell differently? How so? If not, why not?


Do you deliver and/or deploy for your customers today? What would a noob to your market do? Would they prepare differently? Tool up differently? Deploy differently? Train the customer’s team differently, more, or less? Would they follow up more or differently than they do now after delivery and deployment is complete? What would someone do differently than you if they come from a high attention to details market?

If you were starting over, how would delivery and deployment look?


Almost everyone brags about their service. It’s rarely as good, unique or unusual as they think. People talk about under-commit and over-deliver, but finding it in the wild is rare. Your service rarely feels like you’d want it to feel if you were in that client’s situation.

If you were starting over, how would your client’s service experience look and feel?


Through every step of sales, marketing, delivery and service, there are opportunities to set expectations and over-communicate. There are opportunities every day to take away the doubt, lack of clarity, wonder about what’s going to happen next. There are opportunities to pick up the phone instead of sending an email, or to drop by instead of picking up the phone.

If you were starting over, how would you communicate?

What would “they” do?

They’d do what you refuse to do. What you’re afraid to do or haven’t thought of. They’ll do what you don’t feel like doing or don’t think is necessary. They’d do what turns customers into clients who wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else.

More than likely, you know what these things are. Knowing isn’t enough. Answers are easy to come by. Execution of it is another thing entirely.

Will you wait until the new kid on the block forces you to mimic their behavior, or will your behavior set the bar so high that no one will dare enter your market? All those things you’d do if you were starting over can be started when you decide to do them.

The choice is yours.

Photo by MDGovpics

Customer relationships Setting Expectations Small Business

Where’s the Maitre’ D?

When a new client arrives at your store and/or on your website, do they know exactly where everything is? Probably not.

If not, are there clear introductions to where things are, what the rules of the road are, how (and where) to get help, what the buying process looks like, where to find service help and so on?

Guidance needed

In a retail store, these things are somewhat common – at least the basics. You’ll probably see signs that say things like Parts, Service, Lawnmowers, Chainsaws, and whatever the other departments of your store are. Even so, is there guidance in any form that helps people figure out where they can get warranty, financing or delivery information?

Think of it like a website that you’ve never visited before. When you first get on a retailer’s web site, you often have to dig around a little to find policies and procedures, or how they handle refunds, delivery/shipping, etc.

You have two choices when onboarding a new visitor who will presumably become a client:

1) Guide them step by step in a logical manner and provide them with the tools they need to have exactly the experience you want them to have, and position them to be the ideal buyer.

2) Let them figure it out for themselves and explain where they went wrong when they find themselves painted into a corner, or stuck trying to figure out how to get service, delivery, refunds, exchanges, on-site help, upgrades / updates / improvements, financing and repairs.

Think of it like a restaurant

At some restaurants, you are greeted at the door, guided to your seat, provided with a menu, and introduced to your wait staff (or advised of their name). You might then have your expectations set regarding the arrival of someone to take your drink order, explain the menu, share the night’s special entrees and desserts, as well as any other information you might need. Later, you might be asked additional details about how you want your order, whether or not you want dessert, coffee, etc.

Obviously, this varies a bit depending on the type of restaurant, but I suspect you’ve experienced this level of guidance – all to do something you do every day: Eat.

The alternative, even in the same restaurant, might be to provided none of that guidance, have menus on the table, be expected to place your order at the counter, pick up your food at the counter and pay on your way out the door.

Neither of these is wrong, but both types of guidance are designed to fit the type of restaurant you’re in. Generally, you probably know what to expect when you enter the first restaurant vs. the second. If the experience is not in sync with the type of restaurant you’re in, the “system” seems out of place or the experience feels broken. When I experienced things like this with my dad, he would say “This would be a great place for a restaurant” – noting of course that we were in a restaurant at the time.

Restaurantize your business?

Now overlay those restaurant experiences onto your business. Think about each step of the dining experience (in both types of restaurants). Which one of these experiences is a better fit for a new visitor to your business (or your website)? Which is a better fit to a long-time client?

Before you decide which experience is best for an experienced client vs a new one, let’s back up a step… even when you go to a restaurant with a highly guided experience, does the maitre’d recognize that you’ve eaten there before? If so, do they hand you a menu and point at the dining room and leave you to figure out the rest, or are you guided through the process in a similar manner to every other visit?

Which of those experiences makes sense for visits to your store? Which experience makes sense for visitors to your site? Which experience creates a new client who is more prepared to purchase what they really need vs. what they think they need? Which experience produces the client retention you want? Is there a difference? How do you know? Testing helps.

Fine tune the experience for each stage of your client lifecycle in a way that creates an optimum client experience for them while producing the ideal client for you.

attitude Customer relationships customer retention Getting new customers Improvement Leadership market research Setting Expectations Small Business

Desperate for business?

Recently, I drove past a local shop advertising everything they sell at 50% off. While I don’t like to assume, it’s hard not to wonder if such a radical price cut is anything else but a desperate move to make sales that aren’t happening for the “normal” reasons.

When an owner is desperate for business, (at least) two things often take place in an effort to turn things around:

First, an assumption is frequently made that price is the reason they aren’t selling as much as they need or want to sell. While that is possible, it’s a situation that is easy to research online, much less by listening and asking your clientele. You have to word these questions carefully, since the answer to “Would you like to pay less for what we sell?” will almost always be met with a “Yes!” If you haven’t done this work, then thinking that your sales problems are caused by prices that are too high is an unproven and dangerous assumption. Regarding the store in question… I’ve been in there and price is definitely not their problem.

Second, desperate circumstances manifest themselves in the behavior of sales and marketing. The most common symptom of this is focusing on “everyone with a heartbeat” rather than everyone whose heart beats faster when they see, talk about or think about what you sell.

The latter group is already bought in to the idea of what you sell, so they don’t have to be sold on the idea, but they will need a compelling reason to purchase this product/service from you, as opposed to someone else.

When you focus on everyone, many of them have yet to develop an interest in what you sell (if they ever will). Some portion of them still must be sold on the idea, much less the specific product/service you’re selling and then they must be sold on your ability to deliver it. Selling the idea is often the steepest part of the climb and requires the most energy. Unfortunately, the energy you expend trying to sell disinterested people in what you sell is wasted, leaving less energy for the prospects who actually care about your products and services.

So what’s a business owner to do when sales take a tumble? Ask a few questions.

How’s your value proposition?

Price often comes up first when value proposition is discussed. We’ve talked quite a bit about pricing in the past and the importance of not assuming that your prices have to drop simply because they’re higher than Amazon’s or Wal-Mart’s.

Thing is, pricing is just a part of the value proposition. The ability to provide immediate gratification, convenience, service, delivery, installation, faster delivery than anyone else, financing, access to product / service / industry experts, consulting and better-than-typical guarantees / warranty coverage all have value.

The difference in value prop between the vendor with the best price and the vendor who can roll out delivery, financing, on-site expertise, installation and follow that up with a fair price and solid warranty is massive.

These things take an investment in time, labor, materials and/or people. It’ll be tough to roll them out all at once. Talk to your ideal clients and find out which of these things are most important. Move on those things first. Keep the conversations going.

Why did they leave?

Everyone has clients who have left them, including me. One of the best things you can do for yourself, your business, your next client, and your existing clients is to ask the ones who left what made them unhappy enough to leave.

A few questions to get you started… How did we disappoint you? What promises did we break? What was the turning point for you that told you it was time to leave us and find another vendor? What product didn’t live up to our promises? How did we fail to meet your expectations? What told that you could no longer depend on us? Was price the reason you left? What would have kept you as a client even if our price was higher? What did we fail to offer you that you wanted or needed from us?

The key to all of this is that it isn’t about you. It’s about what they want and need from you. If stuff isn’t selling, there’s a reason. Cutting the price in half isn’t going to find it.

Business culture Hospitality Positioning Restaurants Setting Expectations Small Business

Hooters, standards and politics


No matter how you feel about Hooters restaurants, it’s clear that at least one of them doesn’t appreciate the behavior that San Diego’s mayor is accused of.

While I think it’s a smart use of the news – particularly in Filner’s San Diego, it will be interesting to see how their customers react. What do you think?

Hat tip to @FrancisBarraza for the photo.

Business culture Habits Hospitality Improvement Leadership quality Restaurants Setting Expectations Small Business

Can you find the quality in this kitchen? It isn’t the bacon.

Baconfest Chicago Chef Rose
Photo credit: Chicago Serious Eats

People send me bacon links and/or bacon photos on Facebook almost every day.

I’m not sure what started it. You’d think they see me around town with a fistful of bacon all the time (they don’t, I rarely have any) but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

Today, I found my own link about Baconfest Chicago and it’s all business (OK, there is a little bit of bacon too).

Check out the slideshow illustrating how Chef Rose cooks his Baconfest winning dish and look for ways he’s managing the quality of the food his kitchen produces.

Hint: One of my favorite quotes is from Chef Gordon Ramsey: “Without a leader, there are no standards. Without standards, there is no consistency.”

Where do you see Chef Rose managing quality?

Competition customer retention Hospitality marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Positioning Restaurants Sales Small Business Strategy Word of mouth marketing

Try Norma’s Chowder

Clam Chowder
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ron Diggity

The night before junior’s college registration, we decided to hit the beach in the evening and while there, get some dinner.

We’d been on the road all day and probably had a little white line fever, so a nice, relaxing sit-down dinner was just what the doctor ordered.

We wandered all over downtown Seaside OR trying to find just the right spot. A couple of places we decided to try on future visits.

Norma’s caught our eye with outstanding reviews and a series of wins in the local clam chowder contest.

In fact, they left the impression that you’d be nuts not to order the chowder.

I grew up in a rural-ish valley on the east coast, and my parents were into seafood so they took us crabbing and to the beach and we had seafood fairly often. I’ve had my fair share of good and not-so-good clam chowder. It’s not a dish you find as a featured menu item in Montana, so it stood out when Norma’s featured it.

When it arrived, it looked pretty good. While it wasn’t as hot as I’d like, the chowder was pretty good. Yet I was left a little disappointed because of the build up they’d given it as the to-die-for chowder.

I expected amazing.

Taste aside, what they had wisely done (knowing their market) was sell 3 cups of chowder, adding almost $10 to the ticket. I suspect that this was not unusual and raised their ticket average nicely. The chowder wasn’t a disappointment and I didn’t feel ripped off. I just expected amazing after their build up.

What are you doing to make that extra $ happen on each ticket at your business?


The rest of the meal was good but not wow. With all the review kudos on the outside wall (and not just for the chowder), I expected more than good enough to come back (it was). I expected that this would be the sort of place that would provoke me to drive 100 miles round trip during visits to see my son at college. It didn’t quite get there.

Don’t get me wrong, Norma’s was good. But it wasn’t wow, and that’s the expectation they set as you entered.

What expectation is your business setting? What is it delivering?

Apple Corporate America Customer relationships customer retention Customer service service Small Business Technology

What is reasonable?

Good question.

The answer? Depends on who answers the question.

Slide over to Scott McKain’s blog for one company’s answer.

Hey, you’re back.

To give AT&T a little bit of credit, you have to admit that trying to predict what was going to happen (and plan infrastructure) for the iPhone release was just about impossible. Especially, as Andrew G says, if you weren’t expecting the runaway freak hit that the phone has become (and continues down that path. He has a point.

Time will tell what seems reasonable in urban areas affected by this issue. Regardless of what’s reasonable, there are a lot of folks out there in these areas that are pretty grumpy about the service they’re getting.

What’s this got to do with you?

What do your customers think is reasonable of your business’ behavior? Maybe you should ask (you should know, but asking beats guessing).

Business culture Competition customer retention Customer service Feedback Management Positioning Public Relations quality Scouting service Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge Word of mouth marketing

The wisdom of setting expectations from a 17 year old bacon lover

Best sign ever
Creative Commons License photo credit: miss_rogue

Last week I was at summer camp with the Scout troop so things were a bit quiet here.

Normally I would have posted a series of posts written in advance, but I thought both of us needed a break. Break time is over, so let’s get back at it.

As always, there are lessons in business to bring home from camp, often from unexpected places.

Like a 17 year old in the dining hall.

Before I get to that, the story requires a few facts to get you into the proper context:

  • Boy Scouts would eat bacon at every meal for a week if you’d let them. No, I am not kidding.
  • Bacon is a sneaky way of getting the boys to learn that cooking sometimes requires patience and that a camp stove’s burners have settings other than “Off” and “Blast furnace”. When a boy sees a perfectly cooked strip of bacon, they can respect the care that was taken to prepare it (right before they inhale it, that is).
  • At Scout camp, two things are essential: Good food and a great staff. If either one is bad, that camp will not be fondly remembered.

Now that you are properly educated, here’s the story.

Real Bacon? Are you nuts???

One morning at breakfast, the camp offered bacon to the 200+ campers and staff in attendance.

If you’ve been to Scout summer camp before, you know this is rare because of the expense and because it is difficult to cook bacon for 200+ people while having it anywhere close to hot when served and most importantly – in that situation, it is rarely cooked right.

Typically you find summer camp bacon limp and undercooked or charred and/or some combination of both – sometimes with all those conditions occurring on the same piece (again, not kidding – would I kid about bacon?).

Add to that, summer camp bacon is not normally what Mom and Dad would serve, instead it’s often some tiny strip of paper-thin re-cooked bacon. Pfft.

As folks head through the line on this fine morning, people are seen coming back to their seats with 3 strips of bacon – a rather unheard of serving size at summer camp.

Not only are they giving out 3 strips, but these strips are monstrous (OK, maybe they’re normal – but that’s shocking enough) *and* they are perfectly cooked.

Then the worst happens: They run out of bacon.

Folks, this is like running out of beer and pork products at an LSU home football game. Riots are possible.

The Great Bacon Fiasco

At our table, the event already has a name: “The Great Bacon Fiasco”. And you thought I wasn’t kidding about Scouts taking bacon seriously…

People are coming back to their seats with zero bacon and they are watching someone at the next table munch gleefully on 3 strips of porcine heaven.

Apparently some miscommunication occurred with the servers, who gave out 3 strips vs 2, thereby blowing the bacon budget.

The only thing stopping the second coming of the South Central Riots is that the head chef can be seen (through the service window) at the back of the kitchen where she has the entire griddle covered with cooking bacon.

Calmer heads prevail and eventually, 2 strip servings begin to go out to those who were previously left out.

Naturally, those in the Two Strip Club are grumbling – mostly because they know those other lucky dudes got 3 pieces.


Not long after everyone is served, the crazy dude announcing the meal (trust me, gotta be there) announces that seconds will be served and he goes around table by table releasing folks to the seconds line so they can “get their pork on”.

Upon returning from the seconds line, my senior patrol leader (ie: the youth in charge of the troop) sits down with 1 strip of bacon. Perfectly cooked, but terribly lonesome. Everyone who went up for seconds got 1 more slice – which makes perfect sense so that the maximum number of people get seconds.

Problem is, a kid who would normally be happy to have received a 3rd, perfectly-cooked strip of bacon is instead mildly annoyed, or disappointed, or something along those lines.

His bacon-inspired wisdom: He remarks that everyone who only got 2 strips would be far less grumpy if they had given everyone 2 strips from the outset and then given out that same 1 strip second serving to anyone who wanted seconds.

Wiser than his years might reveal, the young man understands how setting expectations works – whether it’s with bacon, product delivery, service, follow up or what not.

What kind of expectations does your business set? Do they meet or exceed what is delivered?  Would altering one impact the reception of the other?

Pass the bacon.

PS: If the bacon thing doesn’t resonate with you, substitute latkes. Same fervor, different food.