Saturday, December 10, 2011

Can't Live Without You

I received my Ravens playoff tickets invoice in the mail the other day.  Of course, this isn't the best month to shell out $500, but there's no way in the world I'm not paying that invoice.

What is it about certain "luxury" products that become necessities?

It's always about the emotional attachment you have for that product, never the logical reason or justification.

Do your customers feel that attachment to your company or products or are you something that an accountant can prove is good for them?
If your not selling your products in a way that connects emotionally with your customers, you're one good salesperson or one low-ball deal away from losing your customer.

Do you customers tell stories about your great service to others?
Do your customers pay a premium for your products that have a lower-priced equivalent?
If yes, than that's emotional attachment.

Additionally, don't make the mistake that your emotional attachment to a tired, old business model or less-than-perfect product is shared by your customers.  Your customers can live without you -- unless you give them a good reason to feel differently.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Check Is In The Mail

Was the news that the U.S. Postal Service lost $5.1B last year really surprising to anyone? If you're like me, you're sending less mail and you're doing everything you can to make sure less mail shows up in your mailbox.

Unfortunately, the USPS is still holding on to hope that they can find that magic marketing campaign that gets people and businesses licking stamps again.

That bird has flown.  Just like we don't long for the days of three television channels or rotary telephones, we're not going back to sending more mail.

So when your mission statement becomes irrelevant, what do you do next?
You either throw in the towel, or leverage your remaining strengths to transform your business.

The USPS does have some interesting assets including a footprint that covers almost 100% of the metropolitan areas and a large percentage of the rest of the populated U.S.
What about all those trucks driving thousands of miles everyday?

The USPS should immediately find ways to get advertising revenue from those vehicles in front of millions of eyeballs, and to subcontract services to companies who could benefit from the constant driving.  (Google Maps street view?)

Just like the USPS, your business may be declining due to market conditions or new technology.  You need to take those existing strengths and transform (at least start the planning) into something that is relevant now and tomorrow.

Hoping that the good old days will return is not usually the strategy of an enduring company.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Let Me In or Let Me Go

As a salesperson, you may know this customer: decent amount of business with you, long term relationship, but still keeps you guessing and at arms length.
It can be maddening dealing with customers like this.  They help you reach your quota every month, but you would drop them in a minute if you could replace their business.

As a customer, you may identify with this: You like the power of having "hand" over your supplier.  Its your prerogative to keep the vendor relationship at a "need to know basis".  Salespeople come and go, but only you know what's best for your business.

Why are you doing this, customer?
If its because I never took the time to understand your business and learn what keeps you up at night, then I don't blame you.
But if its about being in control, being the smartest guy in the room, just keeping me off balance, then you're only hurting yourself and your company.

A good salesperson helps you uncover the unrealized potential of your business, helps to proof-read your processes, and ultimately helps you make more money.
You can't possibly have every answer, and you can't possibly have heard about every industry trend and new revenue opportunity.
Let me in or let me go.  I've got other customers who actually want me along for the ride  They also have the successful business to show for it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Body at Rest

Is the health and success of your company based on inertia and momentum, or is it based on actual innovation and growth?

Large, mature companies sometimes get trapped into "feeling" like progress is being made and buzz is being created, but often it is just the underlying staying power of a healthy business.

Yes, you're profitable and you have money in the bank -- but what does next year look like?  Or your next five years?
Are you planting the seeds for great ideas and removing the obstacles to innovation so that your customers keep coming back and your competition stays in the rear view mirror?

You need to be constantly accelerating and expanding your business.  Yes, a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  But these days, you're either capturing new market share or your shrinking.  Customers have too many choices, and your competition has access to more data about your weaknesses and knows more of your customers.

Cruising in the right lane at 55 just isn't good enough anymore.  Your customers and your competition are passing on the left.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Your To-Do List

I've never been the best at keeping a to-do list.  Over the years, I've found that I don't get a lot of satisfaction crossing off tasks written on a piece of paper.
I usually end up getting things done that matter.

I guess I have swirling to-do list in my head all the time (in no particular order):
Get to work in time to at least read a couple e-mails and prepare for the day before folks start walking up to my cubicle
Try something new that gets me out of my comfort zone
Provide an environment for my employees that gives them the greatest chance of success
Make sure someone who works for me knows I appreciate them
Connect with another customer
Build a bridge to person in another department
Complete another project or goal that adds to my "indispensability"

I don't expect the people that work for me to either have a concrete list on a piece of paper or a swirling mental list like me, but I can tell when you don't have any list at all.

You arrive exactly when you are supposed to, and don't have any planning before "game time"
You've done the exact same job, the exact same way for years
You wait for my permission to make connections with folks that could help you be successful
You wait for me to ask you "where you see yourself in five years"
You complain about not having enough time to do things

Your to-do list (no matter what the form) should be about controlling your agenda, instead of letting the day, week, month, year, or lifetime happen to you.

When you work for me, you should expect that I help you ship whatever is on your agenda.  If you don't have one, that leaves both of us in an awkward position.
Most of all, it messes up my to-do list.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Are You a Company Expert or an Industry Expert?

Many people are known as experts at navigating the systems and hierarchy within a company.  You may be one of those people.  Perhaps you are successful within your company because of this.

Make sure you are not confusing this expertise with skills that are relevant outside your company.

You may be the best at using that proprietary home-made CRM or knowing who the best person is to get an order out of the warehouse, but can you put those skills on a resume?

There may come a time when you will be looking at opportunities outside your company.  Have you taken the time to become an industry expert, to build your brand, and to gain new skills that are relevant outside the vacuum of your company?

Don't find out you've been institutionalized when you sit down to update your resume.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why are you compliant?

While many bosses ask  "Why aren't you doing what I told you to do?", you should be asking yourself "Why am I so compliant?"

Is it because you want to fly under the radar, keep your head down, and just do your protect what you have?
You should be pushing the envelope, questioning, and initiating debate.

If your goal is to not rock the boat and not get noticed, be careful what you wish for: an forgettable, vanilla employee rarely achieves anything remarkable.  Try to think about an interesting book, story, movie or song about someone who did exactly what they were supposed to do.  Now think about the opposite.  I bet the titles start flowing.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who Runs Your Sales Organization?

You may work for a sales company who has an identity crisis. 

We all usally agree that sales is the heart of any organization that has external customers.  However, in practice, we often find these companies are actually run by the operations folks.  Why is that?

Usually, the excuse is that Sales "would give away the farm" if left unchecked or that the only way to protect the company assets is to have logical, left-brained decisions being made.

The problem is that Sales is usually about "Yes" and Operations is usually about "No".  Its much easier to say no to bringing in more inventory or to extend that credit line than to do the work to get to yes.  Why would they do more work?  In the short term, people in operations get paid the same whether they say yes or no -- and no is much easier.

A company interested in having long term success and loyal customers should be saying "Yes" more.  "Yes"
opens you open to new opportunities, helps you fail at more things (so you get to success quicker), and creates a better story.

Your sales organization needs more folks stepping out on that ledge and saying yes to customers -- you can program a robot to say no to protect assets and minimize risk. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Surprising Customer Service...The Gift That Exponentially Keeps On Giving

Recently, a co-worker of mine told me a story about her surprising experience returning a top to Kohl's.  After one washing, she found the garment coming apart.  Five weeks after purchase, with no receipt, she brought the item into the store, expecting very little. Instead, she walked out of the store with $27 in cash for the return.

The employee at Kohl's explained that they value making customers happy because they usually come back to shop, and tell others about it -- and that's exactly what happened.

There appears to be a conscious choice at Kohl's: to create a happy customer experience and reject the idea that most customers are "trying to take advantage of us."  There was no obligation for that employee to give $27 back to that customer.  Just the fact that she didn't have a receipt would have stopped most retailers in their tracks.

The rub is that $27 decision has kept a customer happy and buying more (she purchased other items that day), and now has created a compelling story that is now marketing their message for free.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Your Corporate Culture: Is it in service of these two things?

We all know of the constant conflict between sales and operations. Sales feels that by dealing with the moment of truth with customers, that their needs should be prioritized. Operations feels they need to protect the assets of the company, acting as a balance to sales when they over-promise customers. Both groups have valid reasons for their behavior and their rules.

Unless your organization is set up with someone who specifically arbitrates these two attitudes, you will constantly find yourself and your company in this vicious cycle.

I argue that their should be two questions for both sides that drive the corporate culture, behavior, a sales approach:
1) Is our culture fostering a positive or negative story among our customers?
2) Is our culture making us better or worse than our competition?

Think of these questions the next time you use your corporate rules to explain why a customer's order has not arrived on time, why you don't have inventory available for a strategic project, why your prices are higher (or lower), or why your company doesn't have a clear sales channel.

There may be valid reasons based on your internal processes, but how does the outside world view these? More importantly, what are your customers telling others about your company when they perceive these processes have failed them?