Monday, April 30, 2007

Don't Try To Please Everyone

In week 30 I talked about the fact that not all customers are created equal; in fact, there are many types of customers you probably don't want! I saw a great quote today which captures this much better than I did.

"I cannot give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody."

--Herbert B. Swope, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Be Anything You Want, Except Fake

Back in Week 15 I posted this great quote from Naomi Klein of No Logo and Fences and Windows fame:

In her book, Fences and Windows, Naomi Klein discusses those big multi-national companies who, with the help of a PR agency, decide that they “want to be your friend”. She describes those businesses which spend so much time and money trying to convince consumers that they really care about them while at the same time, behaving in a manner anything but! To use Klein’s words, do you have a “communications problem” or a “reality problem?”
Innovation, service and marketing are not about spin, they are about a genuine commitment to turning your business into a productive part of society.

This month Fast Company magazine has a great article on “authenticity” which really hammers home the point above - to resonate with your customers don’t spend energy on spin; rather spend it on creating genuine solutions to your customer’s problems. Or as they put it in the article “...the story a brand tells through its actions...”. Love it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What's This All About?

If you are reading my blog for the first time Week 33 is probably not the best place to start. As a quick refresher, let me summarize how we got this far, giving you the context that will help you change you business.

Change Your Business, Change Your Life is a collection of ideas, techniques and advice with a single goal; get your business from wherever it is today, to a place where it is delivering the life that you seek. Many business owners end up being defined and controlled by the businesses they create – which is just fine for some folks. For others however, spare time with the family, travel and philanthropy (as just a few examples) become more important but because of the business, are often neglected.

Changing your business begins with you – what do you want? Once you have this figured out, it really comes down to two things, effective marketing and systems. Sprinkle in some advice on actually being nice to your customers and making it easy for them to keep buying and you get a blueprint or at least an interactive map for starting your journey. The graphic above captures this best and I suggest you start with Week 1 back in August of 2006 to ensure you get all you can from this process.

PS - in the graphic are the words SAY + LOOK + DO = REPUTATION. This is not original, it is from CC Tung, CEO of OOCL, one of the least known (but my most admired) companies - until you realize that you see their shipping container logo nearly every day!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Week 33 – Licensing; Getting All You Can

I like to think of licensing as squeezing every last bit of juice from an orange. Earlier we learnt that getting the most leverage from your advertising can give you much greater results for the same cost. Licensing your method of doing business is the same thing. You will get maximum leverage of your efforts, meaning minimal effort to multiply your income.

Licensing is a key method for geographically constrained businesses to increase their turnover and spread their tentacles. For example, if you are a supplier of steel products, it is unlikely you can be competitive with another steel supplier 1500 miles away. The freight costs would eat any margin and ensure that the local supplier was always able to beat you on price. But what if you could license your method of doing business or method of steel production to all the competitors outside your competitive area?

For a real world example, look at world famous Rockpool Restaurant. The team runs two restaurants, a cooking consultancy business for the airline Qantas, two television programmes which the company co-produces, as well as a product line for the supermarket chain Woolworths. Now that is a great example of leverage through licensing. It all started with the restaurant. Running a top class restaurant is obviously tough but the recipes and concepts and flair can be leveraged through the other initiatives and product lines, without the founders having to work 2 or 3 or 4 times harder.

You have to think outside of your industry. At first glance a restaurant and TV show might not seem like a logical mix, but think how amazing it is that they now get paid to be filmed doing what they would have been doing anyway. You can see the leverage concept in action all around you, Starbucks leverage their core coffee product, super models leverage their beauty and professional sporting teams leverage their players.

Justin Herald, founder of the clothing brand Attitude® operates in this way but he warns that it was not as easy as it sounds. “People come up with concepts all the time, but you can’t just expect someone to offer you money for your unproven concept. You have to get out there, build your brand and sales before you can expect any level of interest in this sort of arrangement.”

How do you get started?

  1. Perform an intellectual property audit on your business. Write down all that is unique about your business. This could be your production methods or customer service technique or the selling system that works better than any competitors.
  2. How could you offer others training on your method of achieving a result? The point is that if your business is successful, it is because you have devised a system which is working, week in, week out. Parts of, or the entire system can be licensed, after all who wouldn’t want your success? You have to have your methods documented. Follow the guidelines we will discuss over the coming weeks.
  3. What other products or services can you offer? Could you add other company’s products and services to your offering but under your own name? Spend an entire day with your team brainstorming new product or service ideas that could grow out of your core offering. Put everything on the board - what looks silly now might seem like a good idea 5 hours later.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Week 32 - In It For the Long Term

Try signing your customers to a longer term agreement, for exampl, rather than a dozen bottles of wine once off, the program becomes a dozen bottles every six months. This becomes a recurring agreement until the customer cancels. Terms work very well for people in a seasonal business (pool cleaners, gardeners) who instead of servicing a customer once and walking away, signs them to a 6 month service program. You may give a discount for this commitment but the main benefit to you is the introduction of stability to your cash flow and therefore ability to forward plan.

Could you ask your customers for a longer term agreement? If you are a tax accountant you could sell your customers a 12 month package of financial checkups, tax planning and ultimately the tax return. What about a window cleaner or personal fitness trainer? Of course, these businesses naturally lend themselves to this type of program. Even a bookstore can offer to send the book of the month to their customers, or what about a dentist that sells an annual package of check-ups, 2 cleaning sessions and a tooth whitening program?

Stop now and write down all the ways you could get your customers to purchase in volume or sign them to a longer term agreement. Don’t get stuck focusing on what your industry is currently doing - look outside and borrow ideas from other industries. For example, I don’t think I have seen a dry cleaner offering a frequent cleaner discount card just as the coffee houses do. Nor have I ever received a call from a dry cleaner asking if I was satisfied, as car servicing businesses do.

Implement a reminder system

Because you now know that you must have your customers’ names and contact details, you will be in a position to implement a reminder system. Dentist and doctors do this very well but what about toner cartridge suppliers, clothing stores or fine restaurants for example? Some products such as a lawn mower are bought only once or twice in a lifetime, but in general most businesses can find a way to remind their customer base that it could be time for another visit. Spend some time thinking about how you could condition your clients to receiving your regular updates including how and why they should come back to see you.

Actively work your customer list, but remember the golden rules:

  1. Communicate with genuine interest in your customer’s well being.
  2. Offer real value in every communication, rather than just asking for more business (for example, a shoe store might include the latest European fashion in a small booklet, a car servicing business might send a city map, or a free test drive offer. At that point, you can ask for their repeat business, but not beforehand.)
  3. Keep your customer database “clean”. In other words, don’t send your clients the same offer three times and don’t continue mailing people who have passed away or moved from the city.

Most of the methods I have described over the past few weeks give you the tools to generate far more leads in a more efficient manner. Let’s review;

  1. By making contact with people who have purchased a complementary product or service before or after yours, you can pinpoint those most disposed to your offering.
  2. Using your systematic referral program you will be training your own indirect sales force to spread a consistent message.
  3. Finally, actively ensure you sell to each customer as frequently as possible.

Combination of effort in these three areas virtually guarantees you an increase in profits.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Week 31 - Fears are BAD, Repeat Offers are Good

There are certain types of businesses or organizations out there that can refer the perfect customer to you. The type of business will be different depending on your industry, but your goal is to establish the criteria around the perfect customer referral. Take some time to decide just what type of customer you want and then list all of the businesses that have these people as customers. Remember that even though a business may appear to have your ideal customers this does not automatically mean they will be a good source of referrals. Once you have your “ideal” list, eliminate all those you feel would not be in a position to influence the customer, then call on the businesses that remain.

There is a golden rule to making these relationships work: address fears up front.

Sit down with the business owner, explain how your product or service could benefit the customers they already have. Once you have covered their initial questions, ask them what their remaining fears may be! You might not want to be that direct, but the point is everyone has fears, fears you might give their clients bad advice, fears you make lure away their client and many more. Get them out on the table and be sure you are in a position to allay the fears. If you do not ask this crucial question your referral program will more than likely fail.

You can get really creative with referral programs. McGrath Real Estate is one of the most successful real estate brokers in Australia; they were constantly sending new leads to a well established and trusted furniture removals company. Instead of getting nothing in return or even a small payment (which wouldn’t have felt right in this instance) the removals company dedicated the sides of their removal trucks to advertising the McGrath business. Given the amount of time these trucks spend out on the road this truly is a deal that works for all parties.

How repeat offers can ignite your bottom line

Earlier I highlighted that your employees need to see your customers for their lifetime value rather than their single transaction value. The best way to ensure that the average customer does actually spend what you expect over their lifetime is to offer them an on-going “no-brainer” method to buy your product or service. Magazine and newspaper publishers already do this instinctively via subscriptions, but how many other industries can apply this method?

You may already be signed up to these services yourself. You know, the ones where your credit card is charged until you decide to cancel? Getting your customers onto such a program will dramatically increase your revenue. Inertia is a powerful thing – what I mean by that is than once your customers have subscribed to your product or service, they are likely to take a lot longer to actually make the call and cancel if they decide they no longer have a use for you (we will save this for another week, but do you have a program for those customers that do try and cancel the services you provide? You need to hold onto them so line up an impressive list of offers to turn around the conversation).