YOUR PROMISE?

It started because my twin 16-year-old sons had outgrown the length of their twin beds. They needed a longer, larger mattress and box spring set. We thought we needed a full mattress, but we did our research and discovered that while a full mattress is wider than a twin, it is not longer. A queen size, on the other hand, is wider and longer. Therefore, we needed two queen-sized beds.

Free Delivery and Set Up

We checked local ads and found a place that made this promise: “We will deliver, set up, and take away your old mattress.” Sounds good to us. So we went to the retail store and settled on a set that was not too hard and not too soft and, thankfully, on sale. In other words: just right for both of us.

We placed our order with the salesperson and were informed that they would be by between 5:00 and 5:30 pm on the following Friday to deliver the new beds.

We cleared a path to their upstairs rooms, removing mirrors and pictures on the stairway wall. My sons managed to rake away enough of their teenage “stuff” to allow a bed-sized footprint for the delivery crew.

On Friday, the delivery truck arrived (on time) as promised. We showed them the path up to their rooms. One guy carried up the boxes containing the metal frames. Then they brought in the mattresses. It was a tight squeeze between the stairway railing and the first landing, but mattresses bend. They got them into their rooms and went back for the box springs. The problem with box springs, by their nature, is that they are designed not to bend. And in fact, no matter how the workmen tipped, repositioned or approached the problem, the box spring just could not be made to clear the gap between the ceiling, landing and railing.

After 10 minutes of trial and error, it became clear that the box springs would not make it up the stairs unless the railing was removed. They stared at me, then exchanging a glance passed between themselves. Then, they carefully set the box springs down on its’ edge against the living room couch. The driver handed me the receipt and the warranty . . . and left! They left!! They left me with two queen-sized box spring sets leaning against my couch in my living room, two mattresses leaning against the wall in their bedrooms, and two metal frame assembly sitting in its’ box … all waiting for ME!

Set Up?

I suppose you could say that the store kept its promise: “We will deliver, set up, and take away your old mattress.” They did take away the old mattress. They did deliver the parts. And, they left me feeling . . . Set Up! Three hours later, with a collection of all the wrong tools, and the twin’s help, we had the railing off. A neighbor helped me wrestle the bed upstairs. Then, my twins assembled their frames.

We were still very heated about this entire experience, and we concluded that the delivery guys were a reflection of the culture of the store. In the end, the owner made some lame excuses, and pointed out some fine print in the agreement.  The bottom line was . . . What was the level of customer satisfaction?

As we teach in our Executive Mentoring Programs, every complaint is an opportunity for improvement, and in this case the owner really missed this opportunity. The bottom line was that I just didn’t care if they improved or not. They had their one and only chance to make me a satisfied customer instead of just a sale, and they blew this opportunity.

Four Areas of Focus in Client Fulfillment

There are really four areas to consider in bringing maximum value to your customer.

1- Product Design and Strategy: Do your products do what you promise they’ll do? Are they designed with your customers’ needs in mind?

2- Production Process: No matter what you produce: beds, donuts, career counseling, financial services, accounting, remodeled kitchens, or tai chi training–it must be of the highest quality and orchestrated to minimize cost.

3- Delivery Process: Your delivery process is equally the physical transfer of your product or service to the customer and the experience your customer has at the time of this transfer. This is more than a hand-off and a signature. This is the critical point at which your customer must feel the BEST about the decision that’s been made.

4- Customer Service: This is free. This enhances the main offer. This is where you have your most critical competitive advantage. It could be additional information, follow-up assistance, advice, upgrades, credit assistance or a hyper-responsive complaints department.

Conclusion 

The only way to assure that your clients are getting exactly what it is they need each and every time, is to create a system to deliver it. No promise is more important to keep than the one you make to your customers about your products or services. If you don’t deliver on this promise, no marketing strategy or sales technique will keep your customers coming back. You have to prove that you’re paying attention to their needs and that they can expect you to give them what they want.

 

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7 DEADLY SIGNS

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.” 

 – Captain Edward J. Smith, HMS Titanic

When navigating through dangerous waters a wise captain keeps an eye on certain signs. But what if you had never charted your way through rough stretches before? It’s been said that a smart man/woman is one that learns from his/her mistakes–a wise man/woman learns from other people’s mistakes.  A truly wise man surrounds himself/ herself with a business mentor and coach to give them:  focus, clarity, results and growth.  There are a few certain things every business owner must be diligently aware of.

Don’t be a Captain Smith

On April 15, 1912 the HMS Titanic sank in the early morning darkness after having struck an iceberg two and half hours prior. Tragically, 1,517 people perished.  Unfortunately, very few lifeboats were filled to maximum capacity when they were lowered from the Titanic into the icy water. This caused the death toll to rise dramatically. When the order came from Captain Smith to commence loading the lifeboats, the Titanic’s officers were probably unaware of the magnitude of the situation. Their apparent complacency did not instill a sense of urgency in the passengers and therefore caused many of them to balk at the opportunity to get into a lifeboat.

In retrospect it has been easy to see that many signs were ignored, dismissed, or simply regarded with a cursory acknowledgment. While your business certainly does not compare with an ocean liner, the same unfortunate results could occur from a combination of ill-preparedness, complacency and the inability to recognize and appreciate the danger signs.

The twin dangers evident in the Titanic disaster were ignorance (or lack of knowledge) and presumptuousness. Key players in charge of the ship were either woefully ill-equipped to see and recognize the danger signs, or were overly confident that nothing of that magnitude could happen to “their” ship. While we trust that most business owners are wise enough to know that their “ships” are not unsinkable, not every owner is necessarily aware or knowledgeable of what danger signs to watch for.

The Seven Deadly Signs

1- You don’t know where your next sale is coming from.

Having a consistent and reliable flow of customers and sales is essential for the health and growth of any business. Marketing and lead generation must be effective and on-going in order to provide the flow of sales, current and future, needed for planning and for implementing strategy.

2- Your employees are unhappy or demoralized.

The culture, environment and atmosphere of your business will have a direct impact on your customers by way of client fulfillment, customer service, and overall productivity and quality. Unhappy and demoralized staff will not perform to the standards you want and this will have a tangible effect.

3- You feel like you can never be away or take a vacation.

If the functioning of your business is wholly dependent on you and your presence, it will never grow further than that. You must have an effective management component in place to free you from your business enough to have a life outside of the business.

4- You are losing more customers than you are gaining.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that if you are consistently losing more customers than you are making it is simply a matter of time before you have less customers than you need to break even. And if that trend continues you will be taking on water – or red ink!

5- The company’s objectives are not clearly defined to your employees.

This is a bit more insidious but still critical sign of trouble. Imagine a soccer team where none of the players know what the team was trying to accomplish. It’s not enough to simply “do your job” – everyone needs to know the vision, the strategy for getting there, and how they fit in with it all.

6- Your business is constantly in a “survival” mode.

This can actually be a combination of signs and symptoms, but the general sense of it is easily recognized and can be deadly for a business owner. The daily onslaught of unpaid vendors, outstanding receivables and lack of sales can grind away at you and take the wind out of your sails.

7- The passion is gone and you dread going to work every day.

A loss of passion can be attributed to any number of things, but is usually a result of the combined toll of many of the signs listed above. It could be argued that a business owner who has no passion for what he or she is doing is on a fast-track to “jumping ship”.

IS BIGGER REALLY BETTER?

“All growth is good.”

“Bigger is better.”

“All businesses must either grow or die.”

If you’re a business owner all these mantras are true, because this is what you have always been taught. And in fact, these popular business mantras are routinely published in the Wall Street, at business schools, and by some of the most well-respected business consultants. But according to Professor Ed Hess, these “truths” are anything but.

“At best those beliefs are half-truths and at worst they’re pure fiction,” says Hess, author of the new book Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses. “Growth can be good and growth can be bad. Bigger can be good and bigger can be bad.”

Grow or Die is a belief that has no basis in business reality. In fact when not carefully managed, growth can destroy value as it outstrips a company’s managerial capacity, processes, quality, and financial controls, financial resources (cash flow), or dilutes your customer value proposition.

The best example of this was between 2005 and 2007, when Starbucks aggressively opened new store locations and made several operational changes that diluted its customer value proposition, diluted its high employee engagement culture, violated its real estate site selection controls, and weakened its’ high value-added ‘experience’ business model.

Improve or Die

Instead of grow or die, the mantra should be changed to: Improve or Die. Every business and business owner must continually improve its’ customer value proposition (or Unique Sales Proposition) better than the competition in order to stay viable.  Understand that this is where truly successful and profitable business operate.

Understand that growth is change (and change isn’t always easy). However, there are limits to an individual’s and an organization’s ability to process change. Growth requires the entrepreneur to install more processes, procedures, controls, and measurement systems. The right processes and controls must be put in place and taught to employees. In addition, the right information needs to reach the manager regarding variances from processes and controls so mistakes can be fixed quickly and do not escalate into a larger problem.

Evolution

Growth requires the evolution of the entrepreneur and the management team and more sophisticated processes and controls. Often, if not always, the business model and customer value proposition evolve, too. Furthermore, this evolution is continuous, and anticipating and responding to it can require making some fairly dramatic (and difficult) changes.

“One surprising finding of my research was that companies frequently had to upgrade their management teams as they grew,” explains Hess. “Often managers who operated effectively at one revenue level of the business were unable to manage effectively at a much higher revenue level. The jobs simply outgrew their skills.”

Learning

Therefore, growth also requires continuous learning and constant improvement. The entrepreneur and employees must be constantly open to learning and adapting and improving in an incremental manner. No matter how big you get or want to get, continuous improvement is required.

Resources

Every entrepreneur has limited resources and time, to be successful, therefore businesses must prioritize their focus. This is critical because any growing business has resource constraints: limited people, time, and capital. So it is critical that the entrepreneur spend his or her time focused on the most important areas that can drive success.

Control

Growth requires implementing processes, which include controls. Processes are like recipes for baking a cake. They are the step-by-step instructions for how to do a task. Processes are necessary to hire employees and train them, to minimize mistakes and institutionalize quality standards, and to deliver products and services on time, 99 percent defect-free. Controls are necessary to set boundaries on allowable behavior and also alert management to deviations from processes.

Space

To get a better handle on growth risks, consider how your strategic space will change as you get bigger. You will probably enter a new competitive space, facing bigger and better competitors than you previously faced. Those new competitors may be better capitalized than you and be able to engage in price competition, driving down your margins.

Conclusion

Respect growth, carefully consider the timing and whether you have the right people, processes, and controls in place to manage the growth. When you approach growth carefully, you can take your business to greater and greater heights.

DEFINING FREEDOM IN YOUR BUSINESS

When I asked Robin what she felt was missing from her life, what she finds herself wishing for – she replied, “Time. I really feel fortunate that I have most of what I want in life, but time is the missing link.”

Then I asked her what she wanted to achieve as her ‘Impossible Dream’. Her response was, “I would like to have a self-sustaining business that operates without me.”

The interesting aspect of this conversation was that Robin and her husband have been in business for over 18 years. But after all that time, she still found herself trapped in a business that relied on her daily management of all critical and non-critical aspects of the business.

Robin and her husband built a thriving business that gave them the freedom to pursue other interests and enjoy the fruits of their labor. But, they could only dream of the day when they no longer had to put in six and seven day work weeks. To this day, family vacations are rare and full of anxiety over the daily business operations when they try to enjoy a few days away.  In fact, even though they were on ‘vacation’ they never went anywhere without their iPhones and laptops.

For Robin, gaining more freedom from her business today is her priority, this being a familiar desire for many business owners. Business owners often feel trapped like Robin and want to find a few strategies to wean themselves from their daily involvement.

Freedom today and freedom at some point in the future, starts today with changing a few key behaviors.  However, to create viable options, first understand what greater freedom is, how it is created, and what needs to happen first.

Define Freedom

For a business owner, the idea of freedom changes throughout the growth cycle of the business. First, there was the freedom of being one’s own “boss”. This is often a driving motivator when an individual experiences, in the book E-Myth, Michael Gerber calls, “an entrepreneurial seizure”, that is the desire to declare freedom from a boss.

Next, there is the freedom that being a business owner brings in creating a vehicle for your life and incorporates your own vision and core values. To a large extent you can determine what your life will be and to live your life based upon your primary focus. Along with this is the freedom to build a business that manifests your values and vision as the framework that makes everything else possible.

Finally, there is the freedom to choose how and when you will exit your business and start a new chapter in your life. This is commonly referred to as an exit strategy. True freedom means having options like:  Selling your business; Handing reins to the business to your children; Or, transitioning the business to your key executives. The problem here is that many business owners find themselves with limited or no options.

Foundations of Freedom

When Robin pointed out that she desired to have a “self-sustaining business that operates without me [her]”, she unknowingly struck the common chord of all business owners. This chord should define a business as  . . .A Commercial, Profitable, Enterprise, that works while the Owners are on Vacation.

The ability to create and build a business that can function effectively, grow and achieve planned objectives, without the hands-on participation of the owner is an expression of freedom. This requires a clearly focused Strategic Plan for ultimately replacing the business owner. Until such time as the business owner becomes dispensable, or redundant (on a functional and operational level), the business is still dependent on the business owner.

This also requires sufficient documentation of the essential functions, systems and processes that enables the business to do what it needs to do each day, every day, correctly and consistently. Roles and accountabilities need to be clarified and well-communicated. Reporting structure and operational structure must be clearly established and supported. The “founding documents” of the business – the Strategic Plan, the Purpose and Mission Statements, and the key metrics by which you will evaluate your progress – need to be articulated and shared with your management and staff.

Planning With the End in Sight

It is safe to say that unless the owner has a clear purpose and objective in mind, and takes the strategic steps needed TODAY to create a business that can run without him or her, it will probably never happen.

Many baby-boomer business owners are finding that can’t afford to sell, transition or leave their business because it doesn’t have enough value to fund their retirement. Furthermore, they are not sure what they need to do to increase its’ value within the next 3 to 5 years.  The problem, for most business owners, is that nothing changes and the owner keeps looking “five years” from now. Without a clear plan to increase the market value of a business, the owner risks being taken out (boots first), and is still five years away from being ‘ready’ to sell.

WHICH IS BETTER . . . SEO OR PPC?

Here’s a question I’m often asked, “Which is better, doing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on my site and get “free” search engine rankings, paying for clicks on Google Ad Words or buying a Facebook ad?

My answer is always the same, if you can profitably generate website traffic in all three venues, then it is best to do all three to generate maximum ROI (Return on Investment).  But, you should also keep in mind that free search engines and paid search engines are very different animals.

Let’s look a little deeper to understanding the pros and cons of SEO for the “free” search engines and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) optimization on paid search engines.

SEO vs PPC

1- PPC is fast and an effective way to generate highly focused and relevant traffic – you can generate significant traffic to your website literally within 10 minutes. When compared to SEO, SEO takes much, much  longer to see tangible results.

2- You can easily decide where to send each visitor, for example, if a visitor searches on “blue widgets”, you can direct them to your “blue widgets” product page. With SEO, the search engines decide for you.

3- You can easily test multiple headlines/ content/offerings by testing ads in Google Ad Words or Facebook.  It is very difficult to test these same features in your SEO, due to the length of time it takes to properly test and measure your traffic.

4- PPC allows you to drive traffic for a broad range of keywords. With SEO, you are wise to focus on just a few keywords.

5- Your website does not have to be “search engine friendly” for PPC to work.  Be aware that if your website was built with “Flash”, you will find that search engines are notoriously un-friendly, but conversely they don’t necessarily impact PPC traffic.

6- Changes in “the rules” for PPC search engines tend to be smaller and less frequent than changes to the SEO rules.

Common SEO myths:

Myth #1: You need to submit your site to the search engines. The more frequently the better.

The Truth: search engines have been using their own “spiders” to find new websites for over 5 years now. Re-submitting your website to a search engine is like sending a change of address postcard to the Post Office to remind them where you live…again.

Myth #2: You’ve got the right keywords in your website “Metatags”.

The Truth: “Metatags” are bits of your website code that used to be important for SEO about 10 years ago. But you still need them, however they are have limited uselessness.

Myth #3: Your SEO results will be helped/hindered by how much you spend on paid search.

The Truth: So, if I spend a lot of money on Google Ad Words, will Google also increase the rank of my site in the “free” search engines?.  NO.  Paid search and “free” search engine optimization are entirely separate.  Results in one will not impact the other.

Myth #4: You need to update your site frequently to get better rankings.

The Truth: More frequent updates to your website may increase the frequency at which search engine spiders come back to check on your site (crawl rate), but won’t necessarily increase your rankings.

Myth #5: Ads often read . . .“Get your site to #1 in Google by adding your site to 14 million directories for only $49.95!”

The Truth: Services that claim to “submit your site” to multiple directories are notoriously unreliable,  and not effective as an key SEO strategy. If they were, everyone would be using them.

Myth #6: SEO success is all about being #1 for the “killer” keyword in my industry.

The Truth: Being #1 for the “killer” keyword in your industry (for example- if you’re a plumber, the most obvious killer keyword might be “plumbers”) may not necessarily produce enough results to justify your efforts. There may be other keywords that are less competitive and convert into sales better, meaning that they produce a superior ROI for you.

Myth #7: I’m already doing well at SEO. My company name is already #1 in the search engines.

The Truth: If people are searching for your company name, they already know you. The best strategy for adding NEW visitors to your online lead generation funnel is to go for “unbranded” keywords (e.g. “plumbers Denver” as opposed to “XYZ plumbers”). That’s where the highest potential remains.  Additional thought .  . business owners often forget to brand their personal names to the company name – make certain you optimize your company and personal name.

Conclusion

SEO and PPC both have their place in a lead generation strategy for your business. However, be careful not to blow your entire budget and become frustrated and broke.  Therefore, continually test and measure everything, with a key eye towards the ROI for each strategy.