Monday, April 27, 2009

Build Your Marketing Machine

A lot of companies don't understand that in order to excel in business, they can't just be the company that they are. They also can't simply be a company that does marketing as a part of business. For a company to excel - NO - for it to dominate in business, it must transform itself into a MARKETING MACHINE. The marketing machine exists to generate an over-abundance of new customers. Everything that it does serves the singular purpose of creating new customers. All of its working parts need new customers in order to continue moving. New customers are the very fuel that powers the machine. The marketing machine doesn't care what industry it is in. It doesn't care what kind of widget it makes or which services it provides. It only cares about doing it in a way that creates new customers and keeps them coming back for more.

Companies who want to be marketing machines must completely change the way they view themselves and the way that they do business. These companies can no longer see themselves simply as the company that they are. Instead, they must become a marketing machine that does _____________. For example, a medical office can not simply view itself as a doctor's office. Instead, it must become a marketing machine that sales medical services. Hair salons are no longer just hair salons. They must become marketing machines that sale beauty. If you look at the top companies in any industry, you will likely find a tremendous marketing machine. Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Gatorade, McDonalds, NFL, NBA - just to name a few.

As you read this list of top-tier companies, you're probably thinking, "sure, but these companies spend millions marketing their products. I can't spend that kind of money." Agreed. Maybe you can't spend that kind of money. So, let's make an agreement about spending right here. You decide how much you can afford to spend on marketing your product or service. Then, think about how much you can afford NOT to spend money on marketing. Once you have spent adequate time on the money, get past it. Marketing is not ONLY about spending money. That's small thinking. MARKETING IS ABOUT EVERYTHING THAT YOU DO. That's why you're a marketing machine.

You market your company by the way you treat customers. You do it with the packaging of your product. Your pricing structure is part of your total marketing presentation. The neatness of your uniforms and the cleanliness of your business location markets the company. The way you say things markets your company. Your company name markets your company. Your colors, designs, and logos market your company. The quality of your personnel markets your company. Marketing must be built into everything that you do in your business. In fact a marketing machine never makes a move without considering the impact on the customer, especially how it will effect the inflow of new customers.

The marketing machine has certain internal rules that it never violates:

1. Everything it does has a purpose - to create a new customer.
2. Every single piece of written (marketing) material has a killer, customer-focused headline.
3. It always answers the customer's question, "What's In It For Me?" (WIIFM)
4. It never spends money on anything that is not working to generate new customers.
5. When budget cuts must be made, it NEVER cuts the marketing budget.
6. It always knows how customers heard about it and why they chose it over the competition.
7. It always does more of everything that works to generate new customers.
8. All of its working parts (employees) are a vital part of the sales team.
9. It never forgets its historical numbers and its current targets and benchmarks.
10.It unconditionally loves its customers.

Because it is a machine, the marketing machine makes everything automatic, only auto-drive happens in over-drive. Policies have a built-in customer focus. Procedures are created in a way that saves the customer time and encourages the customer to buy from you more often, and certainly instead of the supposed competition. Training is done fanatically so that customers receive a consistently excellent experience and consistently excellent products. Customer service is more important than dollars and cents. Therefore, employees are taught and encouraged that customer satisfaction is the minimum acceptable outcome - that customer enthusiasm is the pinnacle of the customer service plan. That's right - the customer service plan because in the marketing machine, everything is written up and standardized - especially the expected enthusiastic customer experience. When the marketing machine senses or is alerted to a potential dissatisfied customer, it takes immediate action to turn that customer into a source of future fuel that will enthusiastically tell others about their excellent experience.

Finally, once the marketing machine builds up a full head of steam, it becomes a locomotive that is ready to treat illnesses, give hair cuts, repair broken pipes, replace roofs, personal train clients, make hamburgers, or whatever else it does along with marketing. The marketing machine will dominate its industry because it is first and foremost a marketing machine that exists to do just that.

Is your company a marketing machine?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Are you a Time Cyclist?

One of the hidden costs of business is the cost of doing something inefficiently. You may have a process that gets the job done, and getting the job done feels good. Most people love to complete tasks, but a successfully completed task is not the ultimate measurement for good work. No, the ultimate measurement of good work is when the task is done right with the least amount of steps, people, and other resources needed to do the job. For the purposes of this article, we will refer to efficiency as just that - using the least amount of steps, people, and other resources necessary to do the job right.

So, what is a time cyclist? This is someone who is concerned with doing everything as efficiently as possible. When a task can be done with fewer steps, it just make sense that it will take less time. Just the same, when fewer people need to be involved in any process, the total process time will be reduced because one person is more efficient that two or more. Finally - fewer other resources. These could be office supplies and other materials, software programs, computers, documents, as well as a number of other resources, depending on the particular task. If a new customer can fill out one form to obtain credit instead of two or more, wouldn't it make sense that the total time of filling out a credit application would be reduced? Doesn't it also seem to take less time by using Microsoft Outlook to send email, maintain calendar items, and organize important tasks instead of using your ISP for email, a desk calendar, and a paper to-do list?

Minimizing all of these categories of efficiency reduces the total Cycle Time of all of your company's tasks. And, considering the old adage that "time is money," doesn't it make sense that you would want to reduce the time of everything that you and everyone in your company does? Of course it does! If you're able to help more customers in a shorter amount of time, you make more money. If you're able to do more work with less employees, you make more money. If you're able to get more work done with fewer materials, you make more money. That's the idea of being a time cyclist - to make more money for your company by doing things better (more efficiently).

You should evaluate all of the processes in your organization or business unit for inefficiencies. Your aim is to reduce the total number of steps needed to do each task as well as the total number of people that need to be involved with each task. Everywhere possible, you need to consolidate tasks, remove wasteful steps, and eliminate unnecessary resources. Look at each step from the customer's perspective. How will those steps effect your customers? When your customers see you getting more efficient, they will be WOW'd because they will appreciate you taking less of their time at the same time that you are earning more of their money.

When evaluating processes, write up all of the steps, with great detail, and include the name of the job title who does each step. It's very important that each step goes in order of the person doing the task. In other words, it is very inefficient to go from one person, to another, and then back to the first person, and then to a third person, and then back to the second person, and so on. The most efficient way to do any job is to not only minimize the number of people involved with the task, but the number of times each person has to handle something as well.

Imagine that you're a customer who is calling your bank to inquire about your current savings account balance (because you haven't figured out yet that you can do this online) and the person who answers the phone transfers you to someone else, and then that person transfers you to their manager who can't access their computer, so the manager transfers you back to the original person who answered the phone because he can view his computer fine. Don't you feel like a frustrated pin ball. Wouldn't it have been so much better if the first person that answered the phone would have just answered your question? Absolutely!

And this is the job of the time cyclist - to find inefficient processes and fix them so that customers are happy and the company reduces wasteful costs that lead to greater profits. But, like I said, these are often the hidden costs of business. Don't count on employees to tell you when something can be made easier - especially if that means making their position obsolete. Also, don't expect them to take the time to speak up when something isn't working right, because they are spending too much time working around the problems (insert the "Sharpen the Saw" story here. Google "sharpen the saw" and you can read this story on efficiency.).

So, become a great Time Cyclist and you will save your company a tremendous load of money. This could even be the difference between an overall profit or loss to some companies, and it certainly will set you on a path to breaking records.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Get Promoted!

If you are the top manager in your organization, then share this information with everyone that works under you. However, if you are someone who strives to move up the organizational chain, then this article is for you. You may not be know this, but your managers want you to know this information (unless they're not doing their job effectively and they are worried about you taking it). Bad managers aside, your manager wants and needs you to work at a higher level - a level that makes their job easier and one that fits well inside of the organization. To get yourself promoted, you have to stand out from the rest of your co-workers and do what most of them will not do. You have to get noticed and make yourself known for being innovative, making good decisions, and for being someone who really cares about the business. You can do this by following these directives.

Set Personal Targets for Yourself
Many companies don't set targets for each individual position in the organization. You will though, and it will pay off. Figure out what your average production / performance has been in the past - daily, weekly, and monthly. Then, set yourself a high but attainable target and post that target at your workstation. You already know about business tracking systems, so you need to set one up for yourself. Create a graph of your production and track it weekly and monthly, at least. Your co-workers may be happy to show up to work and collect a pay check, but not you. You're going to set targets, track them, and work like crazy to reach them.

Recommend New or Modified Policies and Procedures
Everyone else does their job without really going the extra mile for the company. You will get promoted if you recognize outdated or flawed policies and procedures and you recommend a better way to do them. These kinds of policies and procedures exist in EVERY organization. You just have to keep a close eye out for them and don't hesitate to make suggestions to your manager.

Dress to Impress
If your company has a strict dress code, then it's important that you always adhere to that policy. However, if your company allows you to dress in any kind of business attire, then always dress to impress. A good rule-of-thumb is to be the best dressed person you meet each day. You're not dressing to intimidate or because you think there's a fashion show in town. Instead, you dress well enough to show your managers and the company that you care about your job and you respect your managers enough to show it. As part of this, always maintain a very neat and well-groomed appearance. Dressing to impress and being neatly groomed will get you noticed.

Stay Out of the Gossip and Rumor Mill
All companies have employees who spend far too much of their time and energy with gossip and rumors. Good managers hate this and you must avoid it. You need to be known as someone who rises above such things. If a co-worker wants to talk to you about rumors or gossip, don't hesitate to tell them that you would rather not get into it. Just stay out of it.

Write up Your Post
The best way to move up in the organization is by writing up your current job so that it can easily be given to someone else. With a clearly written job description that includes all of the steps that you take to do all of your daily tasks, you can even train your replacement. This makes your manager's job easier because she won't have to spend time in training. It also shows your managers that you think about the business as a whole and not just about your business unit. They will know that whatever position you hold, it will be a high-performing and efficient position, that will be a success for the organization. Writing up positions is the job of the manager, so show your company that you are willing and able to take on that role.

Always Follow Policy
The surest way to not get promoted is to not follow policy. Having to be warned and written up will stick with you. So much of company policy is just common sense. Get to work on time, clock out for lunch breaks, don't falsify time-keeping and other records, etc, etc, etc. Policy exists so that managers can focus on the core functions of the business and not have to waste time baby sitting the staff. As a person who wants a promotion, you won't need baby sitting, but in spite of the common sense nature of policy, others surely will and you will be their boss someday.

Be a Super-Nice Person
Speaking of common sense, you need to be aware that people want to be around those who they find to be interesting, fun, and nice. Like it or not, it really does matter if people don't like you. When you're not likable, your probably also not promotable. This is quite simple. Smile a lot. Give professional compliments to others. Shake peoples' hands. Tell people when their doing a good job. Say nice things about your co-workers to their managers and say nice things about your managers to their managers. Being likable is a common sense principle of influence, so use this to your advantage and be a nice person.

If you do these things, you deserve a promotion. If you do it and you find that it's not working, it's probably because you forgot one simple thing - be sure your managers know these things about you. Show them your graph. Give them the write-up of your post. Submit a summary of policy you recommended at your next performance review. If you've done these things, you're dressing to impress, you're a super-nice person, and you clearly follow all company policies, then all that's left is to ASK. Remember: you have to ask for the things that you want, so ask for the promotion. If you don't get it right then, you will surely plant the seed in the minds of your managers and that seed will grow until you do get promoted.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Qualities of Great Leaders

Great leaders have many qualities - so many that I can't possibly list them all here. You will likely think of others. Regardless, I want you to read this list and evaluate yourself on each one. Be brutally honest with yourself and work on the areas where you are not as strong. Most importantly, build on your current strengths. These are the things that probably come naturally to you. Finally, if you find that you are the exact opposite of any of these, consider how being so detracts from your overall leadership ability.

Leaders are skillful and persuasive speakers.
Leaders have a positive attitude that is contagious.
Leaders motivate others.
Leaders have a vision of greatness.
Leaders are compassionate.
Leaders are trustworthy.
Leaders persuade rather than coerce.
Leaders empower others to make good and innovative decisions.
Leaders are ethical.
Leaders are honest.
Leaders have unyielding drive.
Leaders never show pettiness, spite or vengeance.
Leaders encourage innovative thinking.
Leaders control their temper.
Leaders are consistent.
Leaders make tough decisions.
Leaders set and reach goals.
Leaders are self-confident.
Leaders are dynamic and energetic.
Leaders frequently praise others.
Leaders plan ahead.
Leaders treat others as equals.
Leaders show respect.
Leaders never gossip.
Leaders never speak badly of others.
Leaders delegate to accomplish more.
Leaders know that good people are the key to success.
Leaders care about their staff.
Leaders identify and build on each person’s unique talents.
Leaders place strengths ahead of weaknesses.
Leaders instill confidence in others.
Leaders want to inspire others.
Leaders reject average.
Leaders listen at least as much as they talk.
Leaders give credit to others, even when it sometimes belongs to themselves.
Leaders take responsibility for problems.
Leaders focus on solutions more than problems.
Leaders solve problems before they get out-of-hand.
Leaders set consistent expectations for everyone.
Leaders use resources efficiently.
Leaders take and learn from constructive criticism.
Leaders criticize without insults or degradation.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Decision Making is Not a Popularity Contest

"When I've heard all I need to make a decision, I don't take a vote. I make a decision."
- Ronald Reagan

As a manager, when a decision you make doesn't work out quite the way you planned, who's going to be held responsible for it? You are. If you only make decisions based on others' approval, do you think those other people are going to be around if the decision turns out badly? Of course not. So, why should your decisions be a popularity contest? So often, I've seen managers who don't want to make decisions without the approval of others around them. This is because they aren't confident in their decision-making ability, they fall to the pressure of other strong-minded individuals, and/or they just don't want to take risks that are part of big decisions. Management exists because someone has to take the lead in business. So lead. Don't let your decision making be part of a popularity contest. Here's how it's done.

1. Identify the problem or the area of opportunity that a decision must be made on.

2. Talk to those who are involved in this specific area. The purpose of these discussions are to gather all of the available information from the perspective of staff - not to gain approval.

3. Review any other available data that could be helpful in making your decision.

4. Measure the potential financial impact of the decision - positive or negative.

5. Decide and put the plan into action.

The point is simple: all you need to make your decisions is relevant information. Once you have all of the available relevant information, you then must decide, act, and don't look back. All of your decisions will not be popular with everyone that you work with and they don't need to be. They just need to be good decisions based on relevant data. Don't get lost in popularity contests and don't get bogged down in the fear of big decisions. To be certain, important decisions bring with them various levels of risk. That's part of the deal, but you are in a position to lead by making these decisions. So, don't leave them up to the consensus of others who won't be around if the deal goes bad.

I want to note that I'm not suggesting that managers should ignore the good advice of others around them. Good advice is part of the information-gathering process. I'm just saying that it's up to you how you use it. Never ignore good information.

Finally - when you make smart decisions based on relevant data and the deal goes as planned, who do you think should get credit? This is a 2-way street. A leader who is able to make tough decisions, based on all of the available, relevant data, deserves all the credit - especially considering that you'll take all the blame if it goes bad. And, if you allow your decisions to be part of some group consensus, expect to be lonely when the group was wrong. Be strong and lead with good decisions.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Paint the Portrait of Pain

It is well studied that most people will go to great lengths to avoid pain. In this case, I don't necessarily mean "pain" literally. Pain could be a problem that people would want to avoid. It could be a significant loss that would result from a specific action or inaction. It could be financial and it could be social. For now, we'll use "pain" to mean anything that a person would like to avoid in order to avoid a negative consequence.

In sales, the idea of pain avoidance is a powerful tool. Currently, gold dealers are promoting the pain of a falling dollar because gold will not likely ever lose its value. Put your money in gold, they say, and not only will you get a great return, but your money will not be worthless when things get worse. Who wants their money to be worthless? Nobody. And these companies tell you to buy gold in order to avoid the pain of a worthless dollar (they may be right by the way).

Doctors know all about this principle too. When you're seeing the doctor and all you have to pay is your copay, what do you think you would say if the doctor asked you, "would you like to get blood work to rule out a life-threatening illness?" Hmm. . . let me think about it. OK - go ahead since it could save my life.

What pain do your customers suffer when they don't buy from you? What pain do they suffer when they go to your competition. In my medical office, when an injured worker goes to the competition, he finds himself back at work with an injured back. That's literal pain. Some of them go to doctors who don't understand workers comp rules, so they don't get their forms filled out correctly and they get fired from their jobs. When I tell them how we solve these problems, they wouldn't consider going to the competition and I don't blame them.

Personal trainers have a captive audience of gym members who experience various levels of pain - from being overweight and unhealthy to being almost as strong as the next guy. When they paint the picture of an ineffective workout being performed in a gym that they are paying a monthly fee to belong to, and show prospects the success of their past clients, they not only paint the portrait of pain, but they paint the portrait of solution at the same time. Powerful.

You have to figure out how your customers experience pain if you want to be able to solve their problems and promote those solutions to future prospects. Customers who want economic cars likely have the pain of a long, expensive drive to work. So, hybrid dealers sell them an inexpensive car that gets 40 or more miles to the gallon. Problem solved. Lawn care guys go door-to-door leaving business cards at the houses with the worst yards. They assume that the home-owner doesn't enjoy doing his own yard or it would look nice like the neighbors. They fix the pain by offering a service that other people want to avoid. During "tax season," firms promote the avoidance of scary IRS audits. Who wants that kind of pain? Nobody, so these companies make a ton of money by using (at least partially) fear avoidance.

To attract more customers and prevent your existing customers from going to the competition, you must identify their areas of pain, solve their problems, and promote the ways in which you solve their problems. Paint the portrait of pain and then paint the solution through advertising and promotions.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Covert Customer Loss

Smart companies budget their marketing, advertising, and sales costs, and these costs can be significant, but even greater when they don't produce the desired results. Take the following example into consideration.

Say you spend $15,000 per month in total marketing, advertising, and sales costs. For this, you expect to get 100 new customers per month. That's $150 per new customer (assume this is a great deal with a high return-on-investment). What if you only attract 80 new customers? Now your cost is almost $188 per customer. Many companies have relatively low profit margins which means when your cost per new customer increases by $38, like in this example, your margins are swallowed up in the new customer loss. Incidentally, another way to look at this is that with only 80 new customers, you lost $3,000 in advertising costs (because they were ineffective) plus all of the sales revenue that you hoped to receive from those lost 20 new customers. Assuming a 10% margin, each of the 20 lost new customers would have brought the company $165, for a total of $3,300. That's a total loss of $6,300 per month, and over $75,000 per year if this continues. Wait just a minute!

$75,000? We should probably take a deeper look into why our marketing, advertising, and sales budget was so ineffective. So, you go back and find that your ads are perfectly designed and perfectly located in the perfect geographic areas and media to make a perfect impact. Your sales team is doing a perfect job attracting new customers and your marketing plan was written perfectly to maximize the company's tools in each of the promotional areas.

Really? Then what happened? All of this perfect effort achieved a 20% loss in new customers. I'll tell you what happened. Your receptionist turned away new customers when they called because she didn't understand how valuable that call was. Your on-site staff wanted to leave early a few nights so they weren't available to help the new customers. Your phone was busy when the new customers called, so they just called the next number listed in the yellow pages. Your staff underwhelmed new customers by their lack of customer focus or by their lack of product knowledge. You had some crazy policy or procedure that unknowingly limited new customers and nobody told you about the problem. When the customer called, your phone sales staff wasn't trained well enough to close the deal.

And. . . all of this stuff happened right under your nose. It happened in the evening when you were no longer in the office. It happened during the afternoon when you were really busy working in the business. It happened because you and your management team didn't have or make time to ensure that it did not happen. This is one other very important reason for you to spend more time working ON the business than IN the business. It's another reason that you must focus your effort on training, not only your staff, but their managers as well. You need to set up "secret shopper" phone calls to find out what's being said on the phone. Send "secret shoppers" into the office / store to find out how the on-site sales team operates. You must find all of the areas of covert customer loss that kill your business right under your nose.

When you don't know that all of these things are happening (and believe me, they are happening), you spend more time on advertising. You fire your sales team, you re-work your otherwise effective marketing plan. You spend valuable time and money on all of the wrong things and then as a result, you continue to get the same poor returns.

Be aware of your company's areas of covert customer loss. Find them, and you will see the result of your otherwise excellent plan, people, and marketing materials.