Tag Archives: Small Business Success

Do you know how customers are finding you?

In the old days, when someone would call or come in the door of your business for the first time, you would ask them how they found you. And since it’s not your customer’s job to catalog such things for future retrieval, you probably had to help them a little by reciting examples of where you might have spent your marketing budget: an ad on the radio, TV, newspaper, Yellow Pages, a Little League uniform, etc.

Here in the second decade of the 21st century, asking how customers find you is still important, but with one new element: For the past 10-15 years, you should also include, “or did you find us online?”

CustomerSearchingNot too long ago, saying “our website” instead of “online” would have been appropriate. Today, online is best because customers can find you in other places on the Internet, including the social media and customer review platforms, even if, Heaven forbid, you don’t have a website.

The question is not whether your company is “out there” online today, but rather to what degree and – this is so important it will be on the test – what is being said about your business.

We wanted to know how much small businesses are attributing sales performance to the Internet, so recently we asked our radio and online audience this question: “How much of your 2011 sales do you think will result from some kind of Internet activity, even as simple as people just finding your business mentioned online?” The results made me very happy. About 90% of our respondents said they would be able to attribute some sales in 2011 from the Internet.

Breaking the numbers down, over 50% said less than half of 2011 sales would be attributed to online activity. The next number is really exciting: About one-fourth said they would see more than half of their sales from the Internet. And finally, the bookends: Those who said all of their sales would come from the Internet were almost the same – around 10% – as those who recorded a goose egg because (read this with a nasal whine), “We don’t have a website.”

As the Age of the Customer™ becomes the marketplace norm, your customers are increasingly demanding more connection and support from you with online resources. Any company that is not making at least some effort to meet the growing online support demand will experience the painful death of irrelevancy.

Write this on a rock … You don’t have to win the online race to be successful, but you do have to show up and compete.

 

Plan for success while operating for survival

Blasingame’s 2nd Law of Small Business states: It’s redundant to say “under-capitalized small business.”

Growing small businesses operate in the narrow danger zone between the leading edge and the bleeding edge of the marketplace. And since our capital reserves and options are limited, every small business CEO makes decisions every day that are at once as much about survival as success.

CashIsKing

Photo courtesy of KSU

Here are four “operate for survival” things to do that will serve you well this year, followed by four “plan for success” ideas.

  1. Cash used to be King, today it’s the Emperor. Ask employees to find and cut waste. Get them involved in reviewing operational processes and eliminate or tighten up inefficient ones. What’s their motivation? How about job security? Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.
  2. Stay close to accounts receivables and cash management. Many tasks can and should be delegated, but in a small business, whether you’re growing or just holding on, cash management is not one of them.
  3. Declare war on excess inventory. Inventory is cash you can’t spend until a customer pays for it. Practice Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory management, not just-in-case.
  4. Stay close to customers. This isn’t complicated: Ask customers what they want and then give it to them. We’re in the Age of the Customer – know your customers’ expectations.

Since opportunities will present themselves over the next year, here are four “plan for success” thoughts to consider as you take risks:

  1. Eyes wide open. The marketplace we’re entering is going to look different than last year. That means opportunities – and threats – will look different, too.
  2. Measure twice, cut once. Before taking a big growth step, apply the carpenter’s rule. Don’t scrimp on due diligence: check your assumptions, recheck your assumptions and then proceed with the best information you have, which might tell you to stop.
  3. Mistakes are expensive. Can your capital picture support inevitable mistakes and/or surprises? Remember, there is a very fine line separating opportunity at the leading edge and the cash-eating bleeding edge.
  4. Make your banker your partner. Keep him or her informed whether the news is good or bad – especially the bad. Remember this: An uninformed banker is a scared banker and no one ever got any help out of a scared banker.

Write this on a rock –Successful small business CEOs operate for survival while planning for success.

 

Small business success through life-long learning

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s a popular phrase, but in the Age of the Customer small businesses are learning the hard way that their old dogs need to learn some new tricks — and quickly.

In the second century B.C., the Roman statesman, Cato, began learning Greek at the age of 75. When asked why he was undertaking such a challenging educational enterprise at his advanced age, he replied, “This is the youngest age I have.”

BusinessLearningNo matter what we do, no matter where we go, owner or employee, we must continue to study, train and learn. Everyone in your organization. Everyone, every day, needs life-long learning. And in the age of globalism and interconnectivity, it is more important than ever before.

Are you feeling threatened, maybe even frightened these days with all of the economic challenges, plus the changes brought on by the advent of the information age? Me, too. Sometimes it seems we’re like Alice – running as hard as we can just to stay in one place. And in our Wonderland, everything is changing so fast that what we learned today may be obsolete tomorrow.

The irony is the thing creating so much potential for anxiety is also the thing that can help you stay competitive. That thing is called technology. Specifically, the unprecedented wealth of information available on the Internet.

When I feel threatened by all of the new knowledge and capability that’s emerging, I just make a point to learn something new every day, with emphasis on social media and e-commerce, or how my industry is adapting to the virtual marketplace. When I acquire that new understanding or capability, I smile like Alice’s Cheshire Cat because learning makes me feel stronger, as if I’ve gained a little ground in the marketplace. Maybe today I put the heat on a competitor.

Advantage: Me.

Give it a try. The only thing better than your garden variety smile is one that comes from knowing you just got a little smarter.

Remember the wisdom of the statesman: This is the youngest age you have.

It’s your moment of relevance. Take advantage of it.

Don’t be stupid — eliminate barriers of customers to your small business

A while back, I needed to reach an acquaintance who worked in a local branch of one of the national banks. When I looked for the local number in the phone book, all I found was a toll-free number that connected me to a computer answering system. That’s right – a local business didn’t publish a local number in the phone book, and here’s the stupid part: The answering system didn’t offer an option to connect to any branch or person.

Brilliance, Stupidity Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.From this one encounter stemmed a powerful story and four equally powerful lessons I thought worth sharing to big and small businesses out there.

Lesson 1 - Don’t create barriers to customers and prospects.

If you have any, take them down NOW! I know you think you don’t, but in the name of efficiency and the advent of new technology, you might.

Undaunted, I called a local board member of that bank who gave me the local number (yes, they had one). When I called, I was told that my acquaintance, a loan officer, had recently been laid off.

“Why was he laid off?” I asked. Since the bank was losing money and, for the sake of the stock price the CEO needed to impress the stock analysts with his guidance on the next quarterly conference call. So an edict came down that almost 2,000 employees across the company would have to hit the bricks. Never mind how valuable they were, or what such cuts would ultimately do to the bank’s long-term ability to compete, “We’ve got to cut costs and the quickest way is to cut payroll.”

Lesson 2 - Quarterly goals are important for planning.

For a publicly traded company, quarterly guidance to stock analysts is a counter-intuitive and dangerous practice for long-term success. Small businesses have to remember that customers don’t buy based on quarterly schedules, so don’t let your quarterly pressure on sales people cost you lost business and, worse, lost relationships.

I learned later that even though my acquaintance was the top loan producer, he was the last one hired, and also the first to go. Now he’s no longer a payroll drain on this bank, but he is now kicking the backside of his former employer as a high-producer with a competitor.

 Lesson 3 - In the 21st century, seniority doesn’t trump productivity.

Today, this bank is one of those that had to be bailed out by the government. The bank CEO, who allowed blind devotion to stock price undermine the tried-and-true management practices of building a strong team and taking care of customers, is now no longer a drag on that bank’s payroll.

How much business did this bank lose because of that phone answering strategy? What would have happened if this bank CEO had simply installed an answering system that made sure anyone who wanted to call a local branch could not only find that number easily, but quickly connect to a local person? The answer might be that the CEO would still have his job, and so would my friend and several hundred other former employees. Who knows? By simply adopting a customer-friendly phone system, this bank might have actually needed to hire more employees to handle all of the new business.

Lesson 4 -  If you need more sales revenue, make sure your organization’s people, systems, and policies aren’t getting in the way

Recently, on my small business radio program The Small Business Advocate Show I talked about the potential dangers of quarterly policies with sales management expert and Brain Trust member, Skip Miller (m3learning.com), author of The Ultimate Sales Tool Kit. Take a few minutes to listen to what this smart guy has to say and be sure to leave your smart thoughts.

Blasingame’s Law of Sales Pipelines…for businesses

Selling is a numbers game.

A maxim is a generally accepted truth. Calling is selling a “numbers game” is a maxim for two reasons.

1. There are hundreds – if not thousands – of things that can cause a fully qualified prospect to not complete a transaction, at least not on your preferred schedule.

2. Regardless of all of the bumps on the path to a signed contract, it’s still your job to produce enough sales revenue to stay in business.

Photo courtesy of EOS WorldWide

Photo courtesy of EOS WorldWide

Enter the sales pipeline, and it’ll all tie together.

A sales pipeline is a planning concept that helps managers and salespeople forecast sales for any given period – week, month, quarter or year. Think of your sales pipeline as overhead plumbing with faucets positioned at the calendar intervals your business requires. From these faucets you draw the mother’s milk of any business – sales revenue.

Pipeline faucets come with screens that only allow a sale to pass through so into the pipeline you load only those prospects you have qualified. That means the prospects that have answered enough questions to allow you to determine that what they want, and your ability to deliver, will combine to produce a faucet-conforming sale within the timeframe or your forecast. Once in the pipeline, a prospect is either on track to become a sale or a forecasting mistake to be removed.

As you record a prospect’s entry into the pipeline you must include what you know about their stage of decision-making, plus what you have to do to move them to customer status. Identifying what’s left to be done with each prospect – demo, trial, proposal, final close, etc. – will help you forecast which faucet –you can expect a sale to pour out of, whether next week or next month.

At this point, let’s refer to The Bard. In Act I, Scene III, of Hamlet, Polonius famously says, “This above all, to thine own self be true.” If you aren’t honest about a prospect’s progress to faucet-conformity, you’re setting yourself up for forecasting failure.

How much revenue you draw from your sales pipeline depends on the twin standards of sales success: quantity and quality.

Here’s Blasingame’s Law of Sales Pipelines: Load the pipeline with enough prospects on Monday (quantity) to have enough qualified prospects to close on Wednesday (quality) so that you can draw the sales you need from your pipeline on Friday (success).

Forecast sales successfully with quantity, quality and to thine own self be true.

 

Businesses should plan for success while operating for survival

Blasingame’s 2nd Law of Small Business states: It’s redundant to say “under-capitalized small business.”

Growing small businesses operate in the narrow danger zone between the leading edge and the bleeding edge of the marketplace, and since our capital reserves and options are limited, every small business CEO makes decisions every day that are at once as much about survival as success.

Small business survival

 

Operate for Survival
Here are four “operate for survival” objectives to do that will serve you well this year, followed by four “plan for success” ideas.

1. Cash used to be King, today it’s the Emperor. Ask employees to find and cut waste. Get them involved in reviewing operational processes and eliminate or tighten up inefficient ones. What’s their motivation? How about job security? Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

2. Stay close to accounts receivables and cash management. Many tasks can and should be delegated, but in a small business, whether you’re growing or just holding on, cash management is not one of them.

3. Declare war on excess inventory. Inventory is cash you can’t spend until a customer pays for it. Practice Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory management, not just-in-case.

4. Stay close to customers. This isn’t complicated: Ask customers what they want and then give it to them. We’re in the Age of the Customer – know your customers’ expectations.

 

Plan for Success
Since opportunities will present themselves over the next year, here are four “plan for success” thoughts to consider as you take risks:

1. Eyes wide open. The marketplace we’re entering is going to look different than last year. That means opportunities – and threats – will look different, too.

2. Measure twice, cut once. Before taking a big growth step, apply the carpenter’s rule. Don’t scrimp on due diligence: check your assumptions, recheck your assumptions and then proceed with the best information you have, which might tell you to stop.

3. Mistakes are expensive. Can your capital picture support inevitable mistakes and/or surprises? Remember, there is a very fine line separating opportunity at the leading edge and the cash-eating bleeding edge.

4. Make your banker your partner. Keep him or her informed whether the news is good or bad – especially the bad. Remember this: An uninformed banker is a scared banker and no one ever got any help out of a scared banker.

Successful small business CEOs operate for survival while planning for success.

Differentiating between users and customers

Social media platforms have rocked the online world in just a few frenzied years by introducing new community building possibilities for people and customer connection opportunities for business.

These are heady times for social media visionaries who have created a wave of viral excitement. This is the realm of entrepreneurs who worship at the throne of possibilities, where mistakes successfully identify what doesn’t work and fun is a best practice.

Photo courtesy of GetSatisfaction.com

Photo courtesy of GetSatisfaction.com

Now, like Gates and Jobs before them, social media entrepreneurs are following the path of past high-growth enterprises by hitching their wagons to Wall Street’s star through an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. But in doing so, companies like Facebook enter the world of very sharp pencils.

This is the realm of fish-eyed bankers and fickle fund managers who worship at the throne of results. They demand fealty, and an audience every 90 days to explain why actual operating numbers from the real marketplace missed – by one cent – what green-eye-shade analysts had divined with their theoretical financial models. And faster than you can “Like” a photo on Facebook, it becomes clear that mistakes in this realm come at a high cost, possibilities are not possible and fun isn’t in the budget.

Unlike Microsoft and Apple, which actually create products customers pay for, social media patrons aren’t paying customers, but users. And the only thing more fickle than a fund manager is an Internet user, which is why so many jaundiced eyes are being cast on social media IPOs.

We wanted to know what our small business audience thought about Facebook’s impending IPO, so we asked: “As Facebook makes plans to go public, do you think its stock will be a good investment?” Here’s what you told us.

On one end, less than one-in-ten of respondents said, “Facebook stock will do well short and long-term,” while at the other end, 16% believe, “Like other social media stocks, Facebook stock will be a loser.” The big group in the middle, 75%, allowed that “Facebook stock may do well for a year or so, but not long-term.”

Such skepticism isn’t about social media activity itself. Because what individuals and businesses are really doing on these platforms is creating communities, and online communities are here to stay.

But small business owners, like Wall Street, know there’s a difference in projecting the value of a customer and that of a user. One pays you money and the other pays you a visit.

Monetizing a user is not the same as monetizing a customer.