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Are you going out of business…intentionally?

Last week, I wrote about the most expensive minute of your life.

This slideshow should provoke a similar discussion. How does it make you feel about what you’re doing now?

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What makes an entrepreneur tick?

Lots of nuggets here for small business owners in this panel video from Stanford Business.

There isn’t much need to watch this, but certainly worth a listen for you as well as perhaps family members, managers and yes, even your line employees.

I like the diversity of the panel, from a guy who quit high school and sold his business for $40MM before he was 18, to an engineer, to a woman twice denied partnership.

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Pay attention to the smallest things

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I had an experience at our Scout meeting this past week that reminded me once again that the smallest things can really change someone’s experience or perception of your business.

A young Scout took me aside near the end of our meeting and asked me to tell one of our older boys not put his hand on the Scout’s shoulder.

The older boy wasn’t hurting the young Scout, was doing this in full view of everyone at the meeting and was just being friendly as he asked the younger boy to help with a task during a meeting. For reasons I won’t discuss here (other than to assure you that it was not sexual abuse related), the older boy’s actions bothered the young man. He assured me that the older boy didn’t hurt or scare him and that there were no other issues between them.

As I told the older boy later, you just never know what the smallest thing means to someone, or what memory it brings back, and as such he needed to make a point of not using that technique in conversation with that particular boy.

Elijah brings it home with the tweet shown above.

Think really hard about the things you introduce into your customers’ experience. You never know what you are reminding someone of.

“What is your mother’s maiden name?” could be an incredibly difficult subject for someone.

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Opening eyes with a slider

I spend a lot of time working with/talking with programmers.

If you spend time discussing software, websites, or life in general with them, you might get the idea that they are serial complainers.

While a few might live up to that, a substantial part of a programmer’s work is to find bugs – the ones someone *else* created, of course (sarcasm, anyone?). That penchant for bug detection, along with an investment in good design, is what makes things better.

It’s natural for programmers to point out the faults, just like it is for a woodworker to run their hand along a freshly sanded wood surface feeling for rough spots.


That brings us to the slider feature the NYTimes used to make it easy to compare before/after tsunami images from Japan.

This simple feature demonstrates why a strong user interface, whether for software, devices or websites, is so important.

Comparing the images side to side like we would in the past is one thing. No one would say that the photos aren’t impactful, unsettling, disturbing, etc.

They’re hard to wrap your head around. Doing so using the slider brings it even closer.

The point?

The slider allows the photos – which haven’t changed – to really bring home the impact of the tsunami.

You might not have thought that was possible after seeing video and photos on the news and online for several days, yet there it is.

An innocuous little feature whose importance you might have a difficult time justifying in a meeting about possible new product features has suddenly changed everything about those images.

Imagine trying to place a value on this via email message to a vendor or client.

Yet the benefit is obvious, once demonstrated.

What can you do differently to open the eyes of others to the things you find seriously impactful?

While you’re mulling that over, please help Japan.

PS: Kudos to the NY Times and GeoEye for sharing this.

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Service before the no-sale

This is what can happen when a legitimate customer hits an artificial wall within your business.

It’s made worse when customer service is setup to fail. Clearly the service person has no power to do anything positive to seal the deal and help / retain this customer.

The guy is standing there with money in his hand and she is forced to tell him they can’t take it unless he’s willing to buy an old, backdated version of the product.

What’s worse is that the rep has been trained to say something like “I understand why you would be concerned.”, which is code speak for “Yeah, it stinks but I can’t do anything about it, sorry.”

Don’t put up artificial walls.

Don’t make customer service (much less your website) into a “sales prevention department”.

Make it easy to buy.

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Ignore customers at your peril

Creative Commons License photo credit: WTL photos

On a recent 737-based flight, I got to tinker with Delta Airlines’ updated seat back video system, which includes TV, movies, games, flight information and music.

I was impressed when the first prompt that came up was for a language.

Impressed because it showed that they were thinking about all of their customers, not just the North American-based ones. Think “sources of growth”

I chose English.

One of the things I like to watch during flight is the GPS-driven aerial map with rotating altitude / airspeed / head wind, temperature indicators. I guess it’s the geek in me:)

Having chose English, I assumed I would get an English map. After all, I am a programmer by training.

Silly me.

Instead I got a map that rotated between English (with miles/mph etc) , English with meters/metres, Spanish with miles/mph and Spanish with meters/metres.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t care, but the insertion of 3 additional translations (regardless of which one I wanted) delayed the delivery of information since it had to be presented in 4 different formats.

Why again did they ask me which language to use?

Little things mean a lot

The flight arrived on time (though a later one did not, prompting re-enactments of OJ Simpson running through airports as a spokesman for Hertz). The landing in Atlanta was perfect.

Yet several days later that map application still sticks in my mind.

Just as a test, I switched the panel’s language to Dutch. Some words in the menu were translated, some were not.

The “moving map” with altitude, air temperature etc? It didn’t change at all, still rotating through 2 sets of English and 2 sets of Spanish info.

The same nugget of paying attention easily translates into other businesses.

Little details sometimes make the biggest difference, especially when you set the expectation (which you should) with things like a language prompt.

Congruency. Setting an expectation by doing one thing creates the expectation in other areas.

More airline related posts coming, as is always the case after I travel…just setting the expectation, you know.

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How to provoke a sea change

Seldom do I ask you to read extensive articles about large corporations. Usually, those corporations are the ones giving me blog post seedlings through their often inane behavior. 

Today is no different, but the behavior is.

Our guest post today comes from Wired Magazine, which talks about the impact of Ray Ozzie and his vision on processes and the future of Microsoft.

I’ll warn you right now. It’s a long article, but worth the time. 

There are a ton of takeaways from it, many of which are also advice or suggestions you’ve heard from me or read elsewhere. What’s important is that when influential parts of large companies like Microsoft start to realize the truth in these things, it’s hard not to ask who will be next. 

Perhaps your competition. 

On another level, it’s more provocational. 

Are you asking yourself and your staff tough, might-makeover-the-business questions?

Even if you’re afraid of the answers, you’d better be asking the questions every now and then.

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Building a Better Mousetrap

Younger readers of Business is Personal might not remember this old Tareyton cigarette ad, but it reminds me of one of the hardest sales jobs around: Selling a “Me Too” product.

A “Me Too product” is a replacement product for one already on the market and (presumably) successful.

I say “presumably” because you really don’t even know for a fact that it is successful unless you do serious market research. Yet the research to make a wise decision about a “Me Too” rarely gets done.

Let’s assume that you’re an accounting expert and a programmer and you just can’t stand Intuit QuickBooks and it just makes you nuts thinking about having to use it even one more day. The natural thing for a programmer to do in this situation to (not so) simply: create their own “perfect” product from scratch and wave goodbye to the old product forever.

But that emotional response ignores a critical thing required to make a business success out of that project…

Do you offer a compelling reason to switch?

Think about it for a moment: What would it take to get you to stop using QuickBooks, or Microsoft Office, or some other software that is entrenched in your business. Think about the time and money you’ve invested in knowledge and training.

If you’re having difficulty with that thought process, think about what it would take to get you to stop eating meat, stop drinking, become celibate by choice, or switch from a Western religion to an Eastern one. Or vice versa in each case.

In each of those cases, the requirement is “a compelling reason”.

There has to be a seriously compelling reason to get people to change from “Tolerable Product A” to “Your New Baby – aka Totally Awesome Product B”, particularly when Product A is embedded in the business processes of the entire company and has been in use for years. Worse so when the quirks of Product A have actually infected the business processes of the company.

Elected officials aside, people have proven for centuries that they detest change. To management, change often means sunk costs, lowered productivity and bad morale.

If your compelling reason is so easy to understand and so obvious that everyone from the CEO to the mail room clerk gets it, change seems like a good idea and most everyone gets on board or is easy to convince. If the only people who get it are at the boardroom level, you might have a challenge on your hands.

Do yourself a favor: Before you write a line of code, before you design a screen or a database, answer a simple question: What is the compelling reason that will cause people to line up for a chance to switch to your software?

At that point in the process, you should already have a conceptual model of what your new product will do, so this shouldn’t be difficult or expensive. In fact, it should roll off your tongue in a heartbeat. It might even be your Unique Selling Proposition or Unique Sales Position (different folks call USP different things).

It isn’t just the programmers. You can find it everywhere, even in cafes and pizza shops.

Believe it or not, people drank coffee before Starbucks existed. When they opened, Starbucks wasn’t just another coffee shop like all the rest. They created a compelling reason to go there. In fact, they created several different compelling reasons, attracting different groups of people.

Today, smart coffee shops fighting for market share create compelling reasons to go to their place instead of boring old Starbucks. They offer gourmet beans, live roastings, live music, readings, art exhibits, networking events, free internet access, gourmet foods, online ordering, delivery, party catering, gift packaging and so on.

What’s the compelling reason you give people that’ll make them want to line up for a chance to switch?

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Green is about saving money – and your business

Earlier this year, Safeway “went green” with their entire fleet of trucks.

Way back in January, this seemed like a good idea with a decent ROI (return on investment).

The Rack
photo credit: mattieb

Given the increase in fuel prices in the last 2 weeks – I suspect they are thrilled with the decision now, a mere 60 days or so later.

Over a decade ago, when 3M implemented some green projects – for what they would admit was experimental or even political reasons – they were surprised to find that the waste eliminated from their manufacturing processes actually resulted in a net cost savings. I mean, it does make sense.

Think back to your grandparents. They “made do”. They were recycling before there was a word for it, because they had to.

With the change in fuel prices and no end in sight for those changes, think a bit about how your business may change and how (as I spoke of earlier this week) your customers’ behavior may change.

You can see hints of it in the quarterly results coming out of some businesses. You can probably see other hints in your own behavior. For example, Amazon just announced – in the middle of what the media says is a recession – earnings that are up 30 percent.

Not all of that is people shopping online instead of driving to their local bookstore, but you know the thought process is there.

Yesterday, I was meeting with a client who has 1000 local customers (a lot for our rural area). He wanted to work on getting more business from the 80% who buy infrequently. His business delivers “stuff” to his clients and drives right past the businesses of occasional purchasers of his goods.

Imagine the results his outside sales force will have when they combine the occasional purchaser address list with the regular delivery route in some mapping software, and have it light up the businesses that don’t even require an extra 1/4 mile of driving by the delivery crew. That gives the outside sales force a finite list of people to talk to – where they can offer free delivery AND save them time since they won’t have to go out to another business to buy consumer-grade products at the same or higher price.

That is the kind of “green thinking” that will not only improve your bottom line, but protect you from the impact of next year’s fuel prices and altered customer behavior.

So…how can you “green up” your business?

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Your blog can show your clients “How to”

Today’s guest post is from The Brain. No, not your brain, The Brain.

photo credit: moujemouje

The Brain is a software product that allows you to organize, relate and search info to other info. Typically, we’re talking about things that don’t make this easy – especially across media and thought processes.

Showing your clients how to get more value out of your products is a very good use for a blog. I got several ideas from this post, even though I’ve used the Brain for years.

How can you use this technique in your blog, for your products?