Entrepreneur Best Practices: #20 Exercise Your Power of Choice in Choosing Your Role on the Team…If Your Gift is Being a Duck….Be a Duck!

 duck

As the entrepreneurial leader you have natural gifts. Market leading entrepreneurs understand a key principle; you have the power of choice…chose to exercise your power of choice in choosing the role you will play on YOUR team. Market losers focus on what they are not, and try to become experts in all the areas of business and thus dilute their personal giftedness and ultimately their contribution to the team’s bottom line. Market leaders know what they know as well as what they don’t know.

Our Pastor at church has started a series on how we have a role to play in adding value based on the spiritual gifts we were born with coupled with those skills we developed over our life time. This message resonated with me both personally as well as made me think about a meeting last week.

When I meet with business owners and leaders the first thing I do is perform a triage of sorts. I ask a number of questions. I identify first if this is someone and a business I want to help. For example, I was asked to meet with a local entrepreneur about two years ago and when I discovered he wanted my help launching a smokeless cigarette that could help more consumers get addicted to nicotine and caffeine,..I chose to pass.

 

Secondly is the problem this business experiencing one I can solve? If not I refer them to one of my trusted network partners. I have a number of questions I use to identify what is and is not happening in the organization. Often the owner’s inability to answer some of my questions are answers in and of themselves. One area I need to focus on early is the owner’s objectives and motivations. Once I understand the true goals I can serve their team and provide the maximum value in the shortest time.

One of my questions that consistently creates a “pause” with entrepreneurial leaders is;

What are your dreams, your goals for this business and what do you personally want to do, and where do your gifts add the most value? ( not what you like to do…but what are you good at?)

 

What is often the case the entrepreneur started their business based on their personal gifts and seeing how their gifts can solve a particular market problem. They launch and realize success. Their desire to serve the market grows into a business and things begin to change. They start hiring team members, dealing with vendors, promoting the business, funding the business….and as time passes they move into a role of running versus doing their business. The shame is they focus so much energy on areas they are not naturally gifted in and they end up moving farther and farther away from their personal giftedness. When this occurs the owners stress increases, she feels like she is being pulled in 100 directions and nothing is getting done. The joy they once experienced when they first launched their business is gone…and now their business has become a job and no longer is a passionate quest.

I often shock business owners and leaders in this first meeting when I say;

There is a big difference between “making” widgets, and “running “a business that makes widgets…where are your gifts best used?

 

We are all uniquely wired with blessings we are to use to serve others. As that business consulting expert Jimmy Buffet shares…

“A blessing can become a curse if you keep it to yourself”

 

Our Pastor shared a story Sunday that I have heard before but this time resonated in a new way. It seems at the time of creation all the animals got together and decided they needed to focus on specific gifts as a group ; running, swimming, climbing and flying.

So the duck was an excellent swimmer but struggled with running. Not wanting to let the other animals down, he decided to focus on becoming a better runner. He trained to run faster and in the process got marginally better but tore the webbing in his feet. When he returned to the water he found he could not swim with the same expertise and speed he once had.

The rabbit was an amazing runner, but had difficulty swimming. So he focused on improving his swimming. In the process of doing so the muscles that made him a swift runner atrophied and when he tried to run, he could not run as fast as he once ran.

The squirrel was an amazing climber, but no matter how hard he tried he as not good at flying. After multiple attempts that ended in crashing to the forest floor he permanently injured his legs and this hampered his ability to climb with the same speed and efficiency he once had.

The eagle was amazing and the best at flying high above the earth and then quickly swooping down to capture her prey. He could catch the currents and seemly soar and dive without effort, but he was not efficient as a climber. He worked tirelessly to be a more effective climber, but in the process his wings became weak and he could not catch the updrafts he once could and could no longer soar to the heights he once exclusively owned.

 

Market leaders understand their gifts and use their gifts to serve their internal and external customers.

 

Market losers spend time trying to perfect areas that are not within their natural giftedness and ultimately reduce the value they provide their team and their market.

 

How about you…do you know your natural gifts and are you using them?

 

Are you in a role on your team that uses your gifts?

 

What should we do if we are in a role that does not use our natural giftedness?

 

As a business leader, entrepreneurial owner do you feel comfortable returning to your giftedness and hiring someone to run your business that is gifted in growing businesses?…why or why not?

 

 

I am not saying don’t learn about the other skills that can add value to your business. What I am saying is stay focused on serving your team and your market with your gifts. As the leader you will want to become aware of other skills , but do not try to become an expert in these areas as it will only dilute your gift’s contribution to the bottom line

 

I find one of the quickest ways to help businesses grow is to identify the various team members’ gifts, starting with  the leader and or owner, and making sure the role they play on the team is in alignment with their gifts. What is often he case is I give the owner a pink slip in running the business and I help find someone skilled at running businesses so the founder can return to their gift. They often express a sense of ….”am I allowed to do this…or is it OK for me to have fun again? “and my answer is always Yes! ( after all it is still your business)

If you are a duck…be a duck! You will swim much faster than those other ducks that are spending hours of frustration trying to become faster runners. While they dilute their gift you will remain focused on adding the maximum value by exercising your gifts.

 

Entrepreneur Best Practices: #19 Interview those who Exit and identify Roadblocks to Achieving Your Strategic Objectives…

exit sign

Market leading entrepreneurs value data and feedback. They seek and are constantly sensing the changing needs of their internal and external customers. When an account or employee exits your team, make the time for an exit interview with the mission of identifying roadblocks that are standing in the way of your team’s performance execution and success.

I shouldn’t be surprised, as it happens so often… a key account leaves an organization and very quickly the team moves into “good ridden mode” with comments like; well they were slow pay anyway. Or “they were a pain since the day we signed them” …or “they were not all that profitable anyway”…and so on. Team members assume they know why the customer left and often quickly close the file, and or arrogantly say …” they will be back, our competitor sucks and is not as good as us…”

Market leading organizations understand the value in interviewing customers who chose to leave to improve the overall experience of the customers that stay and future targeted new clients.

When you contact a client that has chosen to leave your organization the key thing to remember is the goal of your call; gain insights into why they left and not try to sell them or win them back. I have often been the one to make those calls as the salesperson who served the account can not help but try to win them back. Your mission is to understand, from the client’s perspective why they chose to leave, take detailed notes without “defending the fort” and reflect on that information. As you review what you learn look for roadblocks and “no-see-ums” in the overall customer service experience. Your team will be “assuming” it was price. However I have found price is rarely the true wedge that drove the relationship apart.

road block

Just as you interview clients that leave, you must also conduct exit interviews with your team members that voluntarily or involuntarily leave. In this interview you are trying to gain insights into roadblocks and or disconnects in initiatives in relation to your teams flight plan or roadmap. You will need the emotional intelligence to handle the often harsh criticism particularly if the separation was not voluntary. However the leaving team member has no incentive to play politics and their raw feedback is actually something market leaders value as it is can be acted upon once verified. For example you may learn you have dysfunctional “kingdoms”, silos within your organization that are more about the silo than achieving the strategic plan. You may learn that a perception senior management has is a significant disconnect with the market reality of today.

Team members who leave have information that others who may be busy blame storming are not articulating.

Interview team members who are leaving before they leave and you may be shocked that a key assumption or two the senior management team has is a significant disconnect with the reality of the market today.

 

How about your organization…..

 

 

Does your team have a procedure to interview clients who chose to leave you?

 

Do you interview employees who are leaving your team?

 

When you conduct those interviews do you have the emotional intelligence to listen and later validate or do you defend the fort?

 

 

Market leaders value feedback. Market losers believe the only view that matters are theirs…what kind of a team do you serve?

 

Entrepreneur Best Practices: #18 You will Receive Your Best Tips To Grow Your Company From Prospects Who Do Not Buy From You…

blog pics, tyler apt,kecia riely 004

For as long as I can remember I have heard “your customer is always right”. The spirit behind this statement was to make sure market leading organizations do not try to “overcome customer objections” and listen…as failing to listen is the #1 reason buyers do not buy from a salesperson.

However you will receive the best tips to grow your business from prospects who do not buy.

alpha security 1

I remember a time, back in the day, when I was serving a plastics company, Alpha Enterprises, which made mechanical security devices to stop consumers from stealing music. The record labels announced they were eliminating the “long box” cardboard package in 12 months and CD’s would now be sold in just the Jewel case (as they are today). The national retailers were concerned. So we designed a perfect security solution to house the CD that complemented the current line of audio and video products we sold them …it fit in the current fixtures, had a area inside the device to house the security tag so consumers could not peal them off, it was quick to remove at the checkout counter, used the same key as our other devices, and we even made some of them out of Lexan so the package was crystal clear so as not to deter from the graphics on the CD package. We were kicking but and taking names. It was my job to present our solutions to the various record chains and mass merchant music retailers and book preorders so we could grow our capacity to meet the market need.

And then I presented our various solutions to a Boarders Books

We had never sold Boarders before. We did not have a relationship with them, and the buyer politely said…”no thank you…we will pass”. I was taken aback…doesn’t he know how awesome we are? Did I forget to tell him how all the other chains are lining up to buy? I was always taught, back in my Frito-Lay Selling Skills training; the sale starts when the buyer says “no”… so I couldn’t let this one go. As I said we were on a roll…we were at about $38 million in sales and based on preorders alone we were forecasted to surpass $76 million in 12 months. We could have just kept trying to sell people who already knew us…but we wanted to know more about why Boarders did not buy.

So we flew up to Ann Arbor Michigan again and this time had a meeting in which we asked a lot of questions and did not try to sell. The buyer shared they were going to have a large roll out of music in their current and future stores, but they chose to merchandise the music as retailers did in Europe so our current products were not the perfect solution.

 

cd tray

We listened to his needs, visited his prototype store and based on his feedback as well as other clients in Europe developed a new line of security packages. The Sentry line quickly grew to include audio, video, video game and DVD. The Sentry line of security products provided a greater gross profit per unit than our current line of security products. We eventually won Boarders business and presented our new line in Europe, and it turned out this was the perfect solution for Libraries.

alpha security

Prospects who do not buy often give you the key tips to cause your organization to experience “explosive growth”.

 

Why?

  • they have no relationship with you, so they share the raw truth
  • they are intimately connected to their problems and are looking for solutions to solve them
  • current customers have a relationship with you, and therefore don’t feel comfortable telling you your current or “new product baby” is ugly

 

As you focus on growing your organization make sure and capture customer feedback and more importantly tips from those who do not buy from you.

 

Over time our current customers also experimented with merchandising like Boarders Books and thankfully we listened to that buyer who did not buy at Boarders. When our key current customers needed as new solution we already had a proven design.

 

Your best new product solutions and services for current products often come from prospects who do not buy from you.

 

 

 

How about your organization…

 

Are you capturing customer feedback?

 

Are you capturing feedback from prospects who do not buy from you?

 

What are you doing with this information?

 

Are your salespeople trained to listen when a prospect says no, or are they supposed to “overcome objections”?

 

Market leaders understand some of the best tips to explode their sales and profits come from prospects who do not buy.

 

 

Entrepreneur Best Practices: #15 Beware of “Smores”…Social Media Whores

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As I meet with entrepreneurs I am amazed at the number of people professing to be experts that are preying upon entrepreneurs struggling to grow their businesses. I discussed “marketing tools “in my previous post; who they are and how to quickly spot one so you don’t get burned. A new entrepreneurial predator has emerged that is referred to as “smores” or social media whores. In this post I plan to share how social media, social marketing, is a key component of any businesses overall integrated marketing, and how to quickly spot the smores so you do not get burned.

Last week I had lunch with David Barnhart a local thought leader in the social media space here in Arizona and we were discussing my post about the amount of “marketing tools” that are out there preying upon trusting entrepreneurs. David shared with me the new predator he sees is what he called a smore”. I did not want to show my ignorance as I had not heard this term before so I let David keep discussing this topic that was obviously a subject he was deeply passionate about.

What he described as “smores” are self professed social media experts who take large retainers from unsuspecting clients, they over promise and under deliver. They chase shiny social media objects but lack business acumen.They are familiar with the tools of social media, but they are not master craftsmen in marketing and business growth.He went on to say how this new marketing tool gives others who practice social media with a focus on helping clients achieved desired outcomes a bad name. Guy Kawasaki refers to smores as opinion leaders so I am a bit confused.Eventually I had to ask….why do you call them “smores”? He explained, “Oh that’s easy,… it’s because they are social media whores”. So for this post smores are social media whores who understand social media tools but lack an understanding of how to apply these tools to solve the business problems of entrepreneurs.

So what can an entrepreneur do to add social media to their integrated marketing and not fall prey to smores? Most of the entrepreneurs I work with value the benefits social marketing can provide, however they lack a clear plan and a desired goal for this tool and do not know how to determine the marketing tool smores from the strategic social media partners who will add value to your business.

 

So I thought I would create a post, based on my admitted limited knowledge in hopes of starting a discussion on this growing problem.

 

You may be dealing with a smore if…

 

 

 

 

Knowledge

If you are going to make the investment in social media do some research first. I am shocked how quick some entrepreneurs are to cut checks but not crack open a book, read a few blogs, or do a little googling. I am not a social marketing expert but there are expert’s readily available, thought leaders in the space. Before you start investing in social media I recommend you read David Meerman Scotts two books : The new rules of marketing and PR, The World Wide Rave, and spend some time on his blog Webink and watch the following free webinar.

 

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In addition I recommend you read the book Groundswell by thought leader Charlene Li, and the book by Seth Godin tiled : Tribes to gain a baseline understanding of this thing everyone is calling “social media” and learn how you can use it for your “social marketing” efforts.

 

In my view, social marketing is about creating relationships and leveraging those relationships that ultimately results in revenue.

 

 

If someone in the social media space does not know who Guy Kawasaki, Charlene Li, David Meerman Scott or Seth Godin is…you may be dealing with a social media whore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cost

I hear smores saying social media is free…They are often correct in that you may not be cutting checks to ad firms for creative or media buys, and you may not be paying a $5,000 PR monthly retainer, however one common challenge all the entrepreneurs I work with have is time. Your time, the time of your team members has a cost. You may capture it as a fixed cost, or variable for outsourced contractors, but there is a cost. Often the biggest cost is not the hourly rate your time is worth, but the opportunity cost. When you engage in an activity you have strategically decided this activity ranks higher and will produce greater outcomes than other activities you could be doing.

If someone in the social media space tells you that social media is “free” you may be dealing with a Smore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goals

Everything you do should have an objective, a goal that is in alignment with the flight plan for your business. I think it was Einstein who said “if you can’t explain something to a six year old you probably do not know it yourself”. Before you invest, your time or hard costs with a social marketing out sourced partner make sure you have a clear set of objectives and goals in mind that you can clearly explain. Do not invest until you can explain what you are about to do , or have a social marketing partner explain what you are about to do, so that a six year old can understand it.

If you meet with someone in the social media space and they want to talk about “putting you out there” without discussing goals and some measurement of those goals… you may be dealing with a smore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Location

Social Marketing is about marketing you, your business in areas that build relationships that offer the optimum return. Social Marketing strategic leaders like Elizabeth Hannan will discuss with you the creation of “outposts” in which you strategically plant yourself and begin building relationships. Each of these outposts has specific demographic patterns and their own educate. You will also want to cross pollinate your outposts once they are established.

For example, I chose Linked In, Twitter, Facebook and Freindfeed and my blog as my initial outposts that I wanted to develop based on targeting entrepreneurial leaders. The location of the outpost you choose is based on those who participate in those communities. You will want to have your strategic partner clearly explain with the use of techno graphic data how your buyer personas use technology and this will guide you to the right social marketing tools.

If you meet with someone in the social marketing space and they talk about putting you “everywhere” as opposed to strategically placing you in outposts based on your market and buyer persona’s…you may be dealing with a smore.

 

 

 

 

 

Your Brand

Before you begin your efforts in social marketing you must clearly understand your brand, your brand promise, and the problems you are promising to solve for your market. Decide the voice you wish to have that would resonate most with your buyer personas.

For example, back in the day …one of the market’s I opened for the plastic packaging company I was serving was libraries. Librarians are highly educated amazing underutilized resources for entrepreneurs in the area of research by the way. They are proficient at finding and researching areas of interest for themselves and those they serve. The voice we chose to use for this buyer was a very detailed explanation of our products and how they specifically solved issues for librarians like the protection of their VHS movies being returned in drop boxes that also has large books falling thought the trap door. We listened to their pain points, and we clearly explained how we solved them, and provided additional data on the type of resin we used, the molding process, and so on.

Our brand promise was “video packaging designed for libraries” when our competitors focused on the other industries they supported and their message was…”if it’s good enough for Hollywood video it would work for you”. Within 24 months we dominated the library packaging space and this new adjacent market produced over $4 million dollars in incremental revenue and profits 20% higher than our primary market.

If you meet with someone in the social marketing space and they do not spend the time on the upfront to understand your brand and your brand promise….you may be dealing with a smore.

 

 

 

 

 

Establish Key Performance indicators

As market leading entrepreneurs you know the value of inspect what you expect, and “a goal that is not written down is a dream”. So establish clear measurable indicators that you want as outcomes for your social marketing efforts. These objectives will be different that typical goals like sales by region, by client.

For example you may want to measure the number of followers of your blog. You will want to connect with Google analytics and quantcast so that over time you can gain insight into who is visiting you, what is their demographic, key words searched for , how they came to find you and your bounce rate. I attended a workshop recently by Jennifer Maggorrie who is an obvious key strategic partner in the social marketing space and she discussed some other goals may include; the frequency of repeat business, number of new prospects by month, number of new inquires, and establishing things like Yacktrack.com and Google Alerts to see what people are saying about you, your business and your other team members.

Social marketing is about establishing and leveraging relationships. A key component of any relationship is trust. Your social marketing efforts help to establish trust much earlier in the relationship and therefore it is my theory (and I may get blasted by David Meerman Scott for saying this) but I believe a strong social marketing effort will reduce the selling cycle for your products. So determine the current cycle and measure the cycle over time after the implementation of your social marketing initiatives. With every engagement ask your prospects and clients how they found you and increase you efforts in the areas that rise to the top and reduce or eliminate your investments that do not bear fruit in relation to your objectives.

If you meet with someone in the social media space who says you can’t expect a return on your social marketing investment …you may be dealing with a smore.

 

 

So back to Jennifer Maggorie… not only has she been recently recognized in the business community, but in her workshop she clearly articulated a six step process on how she serves her clients with social marketing. (Even an old sales guy like me could understand it)

 

I have listed a few of the strategic social marketing thought leaders that I have gained knowledge from but in no way am I an expert in this space. I am someone who helps entrepreneurial leaders reach and exceed explosive growth in revenue and profits and I recommend the use of social marketing as a key component of a team’s overall marketing strategy. I have a strong respect for social marketing.

 

 

 

 

love sale

 

 

 

How about your organization….

 

 

Have you decided to make an investment in social marketing?

 

 

 

How did you pick your outposts? Strategically with an appreciation for techno graphic data or did you just jump in and hope?

 

 

 

How do you feel about establishing goals for your social media efforts? Do you feel it’s unrealistic to have an ROI expectation? If so let me know why…

 

 

 

Do you have a smore preying upon you right now? Was this post any help?

 

 

 

As entrepreneurs we have enough to keep us busy and we cannot afford to engage with self proposed experts who we learn after months of paying retainers are actually marketing tools and whores.

 

Entrepreneur Best Practices: #14 Customers will Stiff you…But Don’t Let Them Burn you…

money burning

The majority of customers are honest hard working people, like you, looking for someone to help them solve their problems. They do not have a problem paying for the value exchange they receive from you. There are however those low life’s out there who will engage with you and have no intention of paying you. I included this in my eBook: 50 ugly truths about starting your own business…and why you should do it anyway, as it often shocks and infuriates new entrepreneurs. Although these low life’s will attempt to stiff you, you don’t have to let them burn you.

I can still remember the first person who failed to pay me. Although it was many years ago, it was one of those tough leadership muscle building lessons during bootstrapping. I was asked by an investor to engage with one of his portfolio companies to figure out what was wrong and turn it around. I have played this role a number of times serving VC’s and Angel investors and I enjoy the assessment and turnaround of entrepreneurial teams.

When I first met the young CEO at the helm of this organization my gut said run away. He was an arrogant young man who was irritated that I was even asked to help fix his team’s poor performance. He was irritated the board and the investors did not seem to buy his explanation that the reason for his shortfall to goals was: a poor economy. He was concerned that I would share what I find with the investor who brought me in to serve his team, and for the first two months he instructed his team to run their answers to all my questions by him prior to answering me. (Another sign I should have run away)

I tried to build trust and I advised this young CEO the issues I discovered and made recommendations. One recommendation was the need to explain the problems he solves for his clients with an aggressive messaging plan targeting his optimum buyer personas. His response was one I have heard by CEO founders before…” we do not need marketing…the market clearly understands what we have…I just need hungrier salespeople.” (So he cut their base pay to make them hungrier) He could not have been more wrong. Since he instructed his team to not openly share information with me I went into his market and interviewed his past, current, and targeted new customers. I found the market was in fact aware of his business, but they consistently did not understand how this business could solve their problems…the market branded his business by default.

After a number of months the retainer payments were paid later and later and eventually they stopped. While he told me and his team the business was really struggling, he personally leased a Hummer, bought himself an expensive laptop and went on a trip internationally with his wife. (But that’s another post)

I was so connected to helping this team and investor; this company properly brand the business in the market I failed to pay attention to his not paying me. What started out as “ I will pay you next week…turned to next month…and after two months I was informed he can not pay, and he was actually shocked I would ask for the payment of my small retainer given the difficulties the business was having as he shared at a recent board meeting I was asked to attend”.

There are two schools of thought with customers who do not pay you. The first says write it off as bad debt and move on. In this case this young CEO went on to say “you don’t want to be known as someone who sues his clients do you?” (I later found he had said many times before, and had I done my homework on him this could have been prevented)

The only thing worst than not having customers is selling customers who do not pay.

The second thought is you have provided a value and you should expect payment. Customers who fail to pay will be sent to collections and or sued. I actually do want to have the reputation of suing clients who do not pay as this will help weed out the low life’s who become time vampires sucking the life out of you with no intent on paying. So I went to the courthouse filled out the proper paperwork and we went to court. The judge provided a judgment in my favor and as we left the courthouse this young CEO went on to say …” good luck collecting you @# hole” Sure enough after multiple attempts to collect he failed to pay . The next phase of this process required an attorney and we won that judgment as well with interest.

 

 

This young CEO stiffed me. However where I blew it was I became angry, I allowed it to stick to me.

 

Anger is an acid that only burns the container that tries to hold it.

 

beliefs

 

I let this young man’s poor ethics personally affect me. Anger left unchecked can turn to depression and leaves us feeling bitter. As I worked with new clients I built processes and procedures for the less than 1% of business owners out there who are the low life’s like this young CEO. That unchecked bitterness stayed with me and became a frequent thought; small business owners will stiff you if you fail to protect yourself. This thought repeated over and over again became a belief, stemming from one unethical young man. It failed to recognize a sea of very prosperous relationships I have enjoyed with past customers over the past 25 years, and it tainted my outlook. My coach eventually brought this bitterness to my attention and explained I needed to forgive this young man and move on… Not for his sake, but for mine.

 

 

What should you do if a customer stiffs you?

  1. Seek first to understand
  2. determine if this a deadbeat with a history of treating partners like this or someone who needs you to work with them
  3. cut bait early, with the first missed payment, services must stop
  4. if they refuse to pay, start collections proceeding immediately
  5. ask yourself what lesson ( often expensive lesson) can you learn for this experience to insure it does not occur again
  6. forgive their unethical behavior for your sake, not theirs
  7. move on, as the Bible says, “dust off your sandals and move on” As 99% of customers are ethical people
  8. do not allow this bad experience to taint how you treat current and new customers

 

Anger if left unchecked is like acid, and it only damages the container that tries to keep it contained.

 

As an Entrepreneur customers will stiff you but they need not burn you. One of the best ways to prevent serving someone that does not pay you occurs at the beginning of the relationship. Just as your customers are qualifying you early on, you too must qualify them.

 

Ask yourself…

 

 

Is this someone I want to work with?

 

What does the market say about this company? This person?

 

 

Do I trust this person with my money?

 

 

If you gut says “no” to any of the above move on to others who would truly value your product or service.

 

 

 

How about you and your organization….

 

 

How do you deal with deadbeats who try to stiff you?

 

 

Do they just stiff you…or do they also burn you?

 

 

Have you established processes and procedures that screams your lack of trust in new clients based on your bitterness?

 

 

Do your current processes and procedure cater to the 99% of ethical customers or the 1% who are the low life’s?

 

 

If a deadbeat makes it through your pre engagement qualification process, and if they do stiff you I recommend you engage the various collections procedures within the law, and you personally forgive them and move on to serving the 99% of those in the market who will value your product or service.

 

As an aside I bumped into the investor who asked me to help this young CEO and now the list of vendors he has stiffed is very long and his business continues to suffer missing key performance indicators and has high turnover. I call it “Business Karma”; others say “what comes around goes around.”

 

Markets. like people, trust or do not trust businesses. When markets hear often enough that someone in their community of service providers is a deadbeat, the market ostracizes that owner, that business, which only further accelerates their death spiral into personal and business bankruptcy.

 

Entrepreneur Best Practices: #13 Hire Strategic Partners… Not “Marketing Tools”

tool acc backgrounbd

 

 

As an entrepreneur you will have a number of people approach you to “help you grow” your company. Far too often these local “experts” are really “marketing tools” who are like the terrible boy friends on the popular show Tool Academy focused on themselves and not aligning to your objectives and are not trying to solve your problems. So how do you know if you are dealing with a strategic partner or a tool? In this post I will share how to discern the “marketing tools” from strategic partners.

I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop reading before my first appointment and off to my left, …the pitch was on. First of all the meeting I was listening to should have occurred in private and not in a public place, this young entrepreneur needs to learn to… police his rounds.

It was painful for me to listen and not walk over to the table and tell this young entrepreneur to quickly dismiss this person posing as a thought leader and strategic partner but who was obviously a marketing tool. Some of the lessons we must learn in the bootstrapping phase build our future leadership muscles, so I hoped this experience would not be a too expensive lesson.

How did I quickly know this guy pitching was a marketing tool and not a key strategic partner? Maybe it’s from personally being taken advantage of by fast talking marketing tools early in my career, or maybe it’s a by product of what my daughter used to call “ sparkly’s” in my hair now. Maybe it’s from knowing what I know as well as what I do not know?

As an entrepreneur cash management should be your top priority. Investments must accelerate the achievement of your objectives and align with your flight plan. They should be tied closely to a measurable goal that is in alignment with one of your key initiatives.

Back to the conversation…the pitch was on. From what I gathered the entrepreneur’s sales were down over 30% and felt his problem was marketing or the lack there of. The person pitching worked for a marketing firm, and from what I could gather the only tool they had any real experience with was print ads and direct mail. Therefore the solution to this entrepreneur’s problem was direct mail and print ads. I have lived this “marketing play “many times over the past 25 years with various actors (vendors) pitching me and the companies I was serving. Sometimes it’s a new website, search engine optimization, PR, social media, media buys, email marketing,  new brochures…and the list goes on.

 

tool acc

 

 

How do I discern the “marketing tools” from strategic outsource partners?

 

 

Below are the things I look for to quickly dismiss tools

 

 

Tools talk more than they listen

 

Tools talk about their solution as a “cure all” for all my needs

 

Tools can not produce a list of past customer referrals as they often only have one transaction with clients and move on

 

Tools argue with you and keep coming back to their solution as if it were the only way to solve your problem

 

Tools lack an understanding for integrated marketing and dismiss other strategies they do not understand ( but as proposed thought leaders, marketing experts,… they should)

 

Tools cloud the discussion with industry terminology they do not explain (they try to baffle you with BS)

 

 

Tools do not listen to your goals; they are focused on their goal: getting your money

 

Tools do not ask a lot of questions

 

Tools do not share the downside, the risk, or the expected return on investing in their tool(s)

 

Tools take cell phone calls and text messages when they are supposed to be focused on your needs during your meeting

 

Tools avoid ROI discussions, and when you bring it up, they change the subject

 

Tools do not ask about how your buyers buy, nor have an intimate understanding of this process themselves

 

When (if) Tools follow up, they will be connected to getting your money and not in alignment with your goals ( they can’t because they were not listening)

 

 

 

It was pretty easy to make the above list as I sit here listening to the pitch as within 20 minutes this marketing tool violated most of them. I hear the tool discussing; the need to “merge, purge and perform list hygiene” as well as the need for a 12 month commitment for various ads they will test, and how the 12 month commitment will help the entrepreneur with the media buy… What is the problem the entrepreneur has? Shouldn’t you know this prior to pitching your solution?

 

It makes me want to scream: RUN AWAY!

 

 

 

As an entrepreneur your main focus is now on building your business and not working in it.

 

 

 

A proven strategy to grow your business is to align yourself with market leading strategic partners who are thought leaders in their space.

 

 

Too often entrepreneurs try to become experts in areas that are far from their core competency and instead of growing their business they dilute their effectiveness.

 

 

I am a big advocate of strategically aligning yourself with outsourced partners that provide solutions that align with your objectives. I am not an advocate of hiring marketing tools with one tool that fixes everything they feel is broken.

 

 

When you look for a strategic partner with knowledge and skills to compliment your core competencies, you must quickly dismiss the marketing tools as their work will only deplete your cash and not produce your desired ROI.

 

 

How about your organization….

 

 

 

 

Do you want to share any experiences you have had with tools?

 

 

 

 

Has your organization ever hired a tool? How did that work for you?

 

 

 

 

What are some other ways to quickly discern tools from strategic partners who can help you achieve your objectives?

 

 

Entrepreneur best practices: #12 An “Idea” is not a product…and it’s definitely not a business

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At any given time 6 out of 10 US adults are thinking about starting their own business. Half of those will attempt to launch their own business. As I discuss in my eBook; 50 Ugly truths about starting your own business …and why you should do it anyway, they often enter into their own business with a false set of expectations. One of these false expectations is their “idea” is a product and even more disturbing is when they start investing to support their idea as a business. Recognizing the majority of those who launch a new business will fail within 18 months, one of the common contributors to their demise is not asking the right questions.

Before you ask friends and family for start up money, before you tap into your home equity and 401k, and definitely before you quit your day job…you need to play “20 questions”.

You must verify your “idea” can be monetized into a viable business before you launch.

 

20 questions to ask before you invest;

#1 what problem does your product or service solve?

 

#2 how big of a market is there for this problem? This pain and or need?

 

#3 how are those who have this problem solving it now?

 

#4 clearly articulates your secret sauce, other words what is your unique selling proposition?

 

#5 is there replacement products in existence that could solve the problem?

 

#6 who is the market leader in the space you plan to enter?

 

#7 how many other competitors are there in this space?

 

#8 what is your level of understanding of this market?

 

#9 is your idea a product or IP that can be patented?

 

#10 what stage is this market in terms of its lifecycle? Infancy, growth, mature..?

 

#11 what level of support will be required to serve this market? Do you personally have expertise in running a business?

 

#12 what are the distribution channels of this market?

 

#13 what is the buying cycle?

 

#14 what is the common payment terms for this market?

 

#15 Do the potential buyers of your new product have the ability to pay for it?

 

#16 is there any legal and or compliance issues this product must pass prior to launch?

 

#17 what do you estimate is the total costs per unit of sale, transaction

 

#18 what is the anticipated number of units sold in year one? What % of the market opportunity does this represent?

 

#19 what is the number of units needed to break even with your upfront investment?

 

#20 How much cash will you need, based on the buying cycle, the costs, payment terms and distribution channels to launch this product or service?

 

Once you have answers to the above we can start to have a good discussion about your new idea and how you may be able to monetize it. Unfortunately however far too often entrepreneurs get that rush, that “buck fever” and they stop asking rational , needed , questions and they attach their focus on the days when…

 

When they become millionaires…

When they are recognized in their community…

When they sell their business for millions and retire without a care in the world

All of these When’s can become a reality if you spend the time upfront understanding the market, its buyers and their needs.

Entrepreneurs must understand: You are not your market.

Although this idea you have may be so obvious to you, you can not assume nor extrapolate that assumption across the market without real market data.

If you have an idea, that may be the next iPod, do yourself a favor and play 20 questions before you invest one dime in making your idea a product or service.

How about your organization….

Do you launch new products or services because one of your Hippo’s says so, without market data?

Have you launched products that failed to meet ROI targets?

If you are in sales, how did it make you feel when you were given a goal, and told to make it happen …only to find out your marketing needed to “create a need for it”?

If you are the president or CEO, what processes and procedures do you have in place to insure your teams are asking at least 20 questions?

Market leaders understand the importance of building new products and services from the market need up, versus the ivory tower down.

Market losers have a; ready – fire – aim launch process.

Entrepreneur Best Practice: # 8 When Sales Get Rough…Look for Diamonds

 

Entrepreneurs often spend so much time in their businesses they fail to look closely at their business. Market leaders understand the value of analyzing their customer and sales pipeline to find diamonds in the rough.

 

diamod

I heard a story about a farmer in Africa who farmed land that was in his family for generations. One day he decided he wanted to sell his farm and move to city and make his fortune. The new land owner was out exploring his new property and his son found a beautiful shinny rock in the riverbed. His son brought the rock home and displayed it with pride on the fireplace mantle. As the story goes a friend came to visit and saw the “rock” on the mantel and asked the new owner if he was aware of what they had? If the story is true it was one of the largest uncut diamonds ever found.

All those years, for generations the family members walked by that same stream and did not see nor appreciate the shiny rocks in the stream. Eventually they sold their farm and went in a new direction unfamiliar to them to “make their fortune.

I see the same story with Entrepreneurs, and leaders in both large and small companies. They are so busy chopping the trees; they fail to see trends in the forest of sales data. When you look at your sales data;

Segment sales into groups and rank them

Compare and contrast sales and profits to prior

Review new sales over the past six months, do they have any common elements…

Map trends that emerge objectively

Far too often entrepreneurs have diamonds in the rough they can only identify once they take the time to analyze and trend map their data.

boston market

A quick example; It is a difficult time for most restaurants. I have heard sales decreases as high as 70%. However, I frequently buy lunch at Boston Market. I often see the same people each day and they are all, like me eating the same thing; a meat protein and two servings of vegetables. One guy has lost over 100lbs on their tortilla soup.

I was joking with the employees today as they know me by name. They asked how much weight I have lost, and what was my secret. I shared that I joined the Medifast program, a light workout each day, and I eat one healthy meal per day. Boston Market offers food choices for consumers like me.

mainSide

If the leaders at Boston Market would survey customers, group the data, they would find a revenue diamond in the rough.( and they may have) Once they identify that diamond, they need to share that they have it with others who are trying to loose weight by eating healthy. Their lunches are slightly more expensive than other lunch choices; however their meals are perfect solutions for dieters who need to eat 6-7 ounces of protein and two cups of green vegetables carbs.

Once they verify this trend, Boston Market may even choose to partner with weight loss programs like Medifast, local fitness centers and so on.They may provide other food choices to serve this customer segment and help them share the benefits of eating at Boston Market with other’s in their community dieting. If the segment is verified  be large enough they may even adjust their media buys to include shows like the Biggest Loser.

How about your company…

 

  

Do you have any diamonds waiting to be found in your data?

 

…You sure?

 

  

Has one of your competitors ever discovered a trend and launched positioning for an existing product that made you scratch your head thinking…why didn’t we come up with that?

 

  

Are you taking the time to see the big picture? Or are you too busy chopping down trees?

 

  

What other trend can you track to find your diamonds when sales get rough?

 

Market leaders understand the value in looking at the big picture and identifying trends.

Entrepreneur Best Practices; #4 Remember “The Law of the Locker Room”… it truly is a small world after all

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“The Law of the Locker room”: after your work (out) is done, there is a high probability others too have seen this pain point the buyers in your market have that you set out to solve and will want to share that space. It does not mean you should quit, it just means; As an Entrepreneur never assume you are the only one who saw the problem and set out to make the pain go away.

As I have mentioned before, I like to work out first thing in the morning. If I wake up before the alarm as if often the case I can workout at my gym Mountainside Fitness at 4:30 am. What I like about working out so early is you pretty much have the gym to yourself. There are a few other crazy people there, but unlike Friday nights at 6:00 pm you can get your work done, without waiting on machines, and you are off to start your day.

What never ceases to amaze me is; “The Law of the Locker room”. Simply stated it goes something like this; no matter what time of day, or how little the number of the cars in the parking lot, nor how many lockers they have in the locker room, when your workout is done and you return to your locker…someone will have the locker right next to you, and you will have to share your space.

So what’s the relevance to entrepreneurs you might say? Well just last week I had lunch with two partners of a start up venture who asked for my help. They shared (an awesome product I plan to blog about after we launch) and I put a bit of a damper on their enthusiasm when I asked one simple question;

“Have you researched to see if others have seen the problem you are setting out to solve, and if so does any of them have patents that your new product violates?”

Entrepreneurs who see problems and set out to solve them must never assume they are the only one who sees this problem.

Entrepreneurs must never assume they are the only one who sees the market problem and they are the only one setting out to solve it.

Like the Disney ride my daughter loved when she was young that’s song still echo’s in my mind “it’s a small world after all…it’s a small, small, world.”

 

disney small world

I recommend my clients: assume others are trying to solve this problem, have solved this pain, and ask yourself why a buyer should choose you over the others?

How do you know if others have or are setting out to solve this problem?

Google

Google your product as if it already was in the market. Google the problem you are setting out to solve. You definitely want to Google the name you plan to call your product. For example I will be launching a seminar to help entrepreneurs late this year. When I Goggled what I had planned to call “my” seminar there were 989,000 entries in Google. As I reviewed them further I found one person pretty much owns what I had planned to call my seminar. I could boldly launch as like most entrepreneurs as I am convinced the other content out there can’t be as good as mine…or I need a new name for my seminar that I can own.

The Market

If the need, the pain, you are trying to solve is big enough, ask people in the market how they make the pain go away today. Find out if what others in the space are doing completely solves your market’s pain, or is a just an incremental solution. What you will often find is most people, if presented with something can poke holes in it. If you are an entrepreneur you have learned what most people can not do it create solutions…that is your gift. So listen to your market, let them share their gifts and apply yours.

Patent Search

This part scares most start ups and seasoned pro’s alike but it is a must if you feel you have a unique product or service. What scares most are the perceived fees, and yes this can get expensive. But let me ask you a question;

What is more expensive in the long run, a Patent search before you launch…or finding out after you launch (and you invest your 401k, loans from family and friends, and use your home equity) that you violate someone else’s patent?

Remember “The Law of the Locker room”: after your work (out) is done, there is a high probability others too have seen this pain point the buyers in your market have. It does not mean you should quit, it just means;

As an Entrepreneur never assume you are the only one who saw the problem and set out to make the pain go away.

How about your organization…..

Has your team launched something only to find many others in that space…after you launched?

How did that make your sales guys feel?

How do you think it made you look in the eyes of your current customers and the market that you did not know?

Have you ever designed-built-launched a perfect solution to your buyer’s pain only to be shut down by a patent violation? (I have, when I did not have grey hair and it sucked!)

The good news is you have the “Entrepreneurial DNA Gene”; you too have a spider sense to see and want to solve pains your buyers have.

They say “reasonable people if given accurate information make reasonable decisions” so please take a few extra steps before you invest and launch your product or service.

And if you do, you can thank me by forwarding a link of this post to your other 9 entrepreneur buddies who may not know the law of the locker room…it’s a small small world after all

Entrepreneur best practice #3; If Sales are Scary, You Can NOT Afford to NOT get Creative..

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Market leaders act different. They understand it’s about more than taking your customer’s money. They go out of their way to teach their clients about their products and they show their clients creative new ways to use their products or services .

 

Market leaders focus on the buying experience.

 

 

The net result is they deepen the bond, the trust, with their clients and their sales increase.

 

I needed some chlorine tablets for my pool floater so I went to Paddock Pools. I have tried a number of pool supply stores over the last eight years, but I always come back to Paddock. I could buy my tablets at Home Depot, or even Big Lots if I time running out correctly, but I prefer to pay a little more and buy my chemicals from someone who knows pools.

 

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As I entered the store I could not help but notice a mini Haunted house to my right. I thought how cool…just like they create amazing Christmas tree displays to offset their down season sales, they also have Halloween decorations.

How smart…they created a merchandising customer experience.

As I checked out with my new bucket of chorine tablets I was asked …” Did you go inside?” I admitted the young boy still inside me wanted to, and she encouraged me to go inside and check it out. So I ducked my head and went through the cray paper streamers and went inside.

 

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Inside there where all kinds of products merchandised to illustrate how to use them, even a spooky fireplace in the back of the room. Everything in this mini Haunted house were product’s the store sells and they showed how to use them with a little creativity.

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I just had to ask the cashier how long this took to build and the cost. She said with a smile…” well we argues about how to do it for an hour, …we planned it for another, then it took two hours do when the store was slow.” I asked; “was it expensive?” …she said “no, not really.. I think we spent about $75”, (and my gut said they spent their own money and did not expense it.) I asked if I could take pictures of their handiwork and their faces just lit up with smiles.

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When business is tough you must be creative. As I discussed in my post about leveraging what you have, you must assess what you have instead of doing what most struggling entrepreneurs do and that is make a list of what they need to be successful…”if we only had….we could hit our revenue numbers”.

This store, this organization, did a number of things right…

 

They leveraged what they had.

 

They stuck to their “flight plan

 

Created an experience and not just a floor display

 

They “showed” their clients how to use their products

 

They “taught”their clients

 

They empowered their associates to be a part of the solution

 

They recommended I check it out

 

Once inside they had a create Halloween Christmas tree, reinforcing their other seasonal products

 

If I had young children, I promise you this display would spread in their network of friends and parents would be visiting this store, or junior would make their lives miserable until they did.

 

Market leaders act differently.

 

They understand it’s about more than taking your customer’s money. They go out of their way to teach and show ( versus tell and sell) their clients creative new ways to use their products or services and they focus on the buying experience. The net result is they deepen the bond, the trust, with their clients and their sales increase.

 

 

How about your business….

What can you do today that is creative, but is not expensive?

How can you create a customer experience instead?

 

 

When sales are scary you must leverage what you have and get creative to; “create sales velocity”.

 

 

I plan to circle back with this Paddock store and hopefully their manager will share with me the sales this year compared to last year as a % as my guess is their seasonal Halloween merchandise sales will see an increase AND their other products will as well.

 

Great Job to those at Paddock Pools who built this display in the store on Shea near the 101 freeway,… if you live nearby , bring the kids and check it out!