Posts Tagged ‘small business’

Truly Priceless, The First Customer Service Experience

In relocating from NW Indiana to NW Arizona, we have had to outreach to several businesses.  Once again I realized how truly priceless the first customer service experience really is.

first-customer-service-experience

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Must Have Internet

My business depends on the Internet.  Having a reputable Internet firm is essential. I did my research and discovered Data-Max Wireless. The frontline person who opened the account and scheduled the service call was incredibly friendly and competent.  Then the service technicians also demonstrated outstanding professionalism from being on time and making recommendations for a better wireless router.

Must Have Working Oven

When we purchased our new home, we knew the built in oven was not working.  Again, doing Internet research product and reviews, I called Attwoods Appliance and scheduled a service call.  The serviceman was on time and again very professional. He only reaffirmed my first customer service experience with the Repair Department at Attwoods.

Unfortunately, the part needed for the 35 year old Tappan built in oven was no longer made.  So based upon our first customer service experience, my husband and I visited the store and ordered not only a replacement oven but a freezer as well. So a $75 service call turned into an over $2,000 sale. This is why the experience is priceless.

Must Have Working Plumbing

One of the challenges in buying a 35 year old home is there will be unforeseen problems.  We had an outside sillcock that would not shut off on a Sunday afternoon.  My husband did a temporary fix and  I called our realtor, Elise Harron of Dirt Road Real Estate for a recommendation. She recommended Truelove Plumbing.

Again, the first customer experience of scheduling the appointment and the subsequent actual service was exceptional.  Having 22 plus years in the plumbing industry, I recognized someone who understood plumbing.  The plumber also reviewed our pump and pressure tank (water storage system) and made some significant recommendations.  We took those to heart and he is coming back to install a new pump and pressure tank along with the necessary cut off value and pressure gauge.

Each of these local small businesses made that first customer service experience delightful and then backed up that experience with competent service personnel.  Unless these firms demonstrate some significant negative behavior, they have earned my customer loyalty and hence my business as long as we live here.

So far we have infused thousands of dollars into the local small business economy.  And these expenditures have all been fostered by that priceless first customer service experience.

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How to Be One of the Few to Avoid Small Business Failure

Why do small businesses fail? The Small Business Administration (SBA) has researched small business failure extensively. Back in 2004, the SBA identified the launch of 580,900 new employer businesses and the closing of 576,200. This report suggests that every minute one business is closing while one is opening.

small-business-failure

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More current research suggests this small business failure rate is in decline. Yet with over 70% of all businesses here in the US being non-employed (meaning having no employees) and these small businesses included as both full and part time, determining the actual small businesses failure rate today is difficult.

Many business writers to business coaches attribute business failure to a lack of strategic planning, a lack of leadership, a lack of vision, a lack of processes, the list is endless. Dan Kennedy, a renowned marketing and sales expert said that there is no business success or failure, but rather people success and people failure. However, the problem with identifying one reason for small business failure is the problem.

Businesses are complex by their very nature even the SOHO. To believe that only one factor will either make or break a business is foolhardy and contributes to the silo solution mentality. This approach is simply stated like this: If I fix this one problem, then everything else is OK.

Successful businesses harness what I call the dynamic forces of performance – strategic planning, execution and measurement. These forces, much like the forces in nature, act upon each performance field such as profitability, customer service, growth and innovation just to name a few. When all 3 forces are in alignment, the field experiences tremendous energy and improved performance happens. The processes of People, Goal Achievement and Quality unite the forces and close any performance gaps between the forces.

All of these forces and processes operate within the eye of leadership. Effective leadership is necessary to manage each of the forces as well as the processes. If leadership is not present, then the forces fail to maximize their impact upon the field and business failure is the ultimate result.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leadership in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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The Intersection of Sales Failure & the Entrepreneurial Success Ego

Have you ever witnessed those entrepreneurial businesses that seem golden.  They start one small business and then jump to an entirely different industry with equal success.  Eventually as you watch them, something happens and usually around their third to fifth venture sales failure begins to take over.

sales-failureDuring the last 30 plus years within the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana regions I have personally seen this intersection of sales failure and success ego. My sense is these entrepreneurs are suffering from “success ego syndrome” and believe sales failure is not possible.

Just in the last six months, two very successful local entrepreneurs have allowed their success egos to overrule common sense.  One small business has already experienced sales failure and the other is well on its way.

In the first instance, the entrepreneur had two successful businesses in entirely different industries.  The executive leadership team ventured forth into a third different industry.  They rushed in and made dramatic changes to the building as well as the services being offered.

In that process, loyal customers began to go elsewhere and sales failure happened.  Additionally, the well known established brand had been extremely weakened.  Before experiencing total financial ruin, they sold this formerly successful business to another entrepreneur with an equally if not stronger success ego.

The new entrepreneurs came in and decided to totally eliminate the established brand by forcing a new solution onto existing loyal customers by removing both the name and established brand.  A real world example would be McDonald’s removing hamburgers from all of their stores and changing their name to something like “The Busy Bee Bistro.”

The reasoning of the new owners appears to be their approach had already worked in three successful businesses (all in the same industry) and it would work here.  Maybe they possibly subconsciously thought they were too successful to fail? This success ego syndrome may also explain the sales failure in second to fourth family owned businesses.

As I observed these changes, I remembered the quote about “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” What appears to be rushing in is the success ego turning these entrepreneurs into fools.  The end result is sales failure not too mention some backlash to current established brands.

Lesson Learned

The lesson to be learned is even the most forward thinking leaders can be doomed to sales failure when they allow their success egos to override common sense as well as basic understanding of human nature when it comes to customer loyalty and established business branding.  True and sustainable forward thinking leaders make change in small steps to ensure the change will stick and be well received by their customers especially when there is already an established brand with loyal customers.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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The US vs THEM SMB Sales Mindset

For mid-size to small businesses (SMB), there is a very real US (those not in sales) vs THEM (the salespeople) sales mindset.  Since in many instances, the salespeople are the greater salary earners, there is a resentment by some of the non-sales employees.

sales-mindset

Credit www.gratisography.com

This resentment happens because executive leadership allows it. Instead of creating a collaborative workplace culture where everyone shares the same vision and values (business ethics), executive leadership fails to actually take the necessary actions to ensure everyone is united.  Their inactivity creates a void that is filled with distrust and envy.

Having word in a SMB, I experienced this US vs THEM sales mindset. Rush or emergency sales orders would come in near closing and the warehouse manager would decide these sales orders could wait until morning or the salesperson of record could make the delivery.  He could care less if the salesperson was two (2) hours away.  What happened in many instances is I would take the sales order to the customer on my way home.

Then there was the watercooler gossip about this salesperson earning so much or that salesperson earning so much.  Of course all this watercooler gossip was speculation, but that still did not stop the gossip. Even the inside salespeople would sometimes engage in this gossip because they had salary resentment.

Those who resented and gossiped did not realize or understand our salespeople were 100% commissioned.  The salespeople were responsible for all their own marketing costs including entertainment to donations for golf outings.

Now working as a small business coach, I continue to observe the US vs THEM sales mindset within the larger context of workplace culture.  What is so unfortunate is the US do not understand how the THEM as well as the SMB makes and keeps money.

Workplace culture is very much like a picture puzzle. Each piece is shaped by the beliefs, emotions and experiences of everyone present as well as those no longer present.  The US vs THEM sales mindset can be one or more than one pieces of the overall workplace culture puzzle.

If you are a SMB owner or sales manager, it is your leadership responsibility to eliminate the US vs THEM sales mindset.  By taking this proactive action, you will not only make the overall workplace culture better, you will increase sales as well as profitability.

Take this affordable workplace culture assessment to determine where there are gaps draining your productivity and profitability.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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Business Growth Is More Than the Number of Pickles

How many pickles does a Whopper have?  According to a presentation I heard this week, the answer is exactly four.   However Burger King did not significant experience business growth because each Whopper had exactly four pickles.

business-growthBurger King grew because of its brand “have it you way.” This brand was a promise to its customers they could have the Whopper and any other hamburger, the way the customers wanted it.

So often when mid-size to small businesses look for business growth, they tend to focus on the minutiae and fail to realize why their customers buy from them. Customers buy because of your brand.  In many instances, that brand is probably not the brand envisioned by the small business owners.

Brand is simple yet illusive.  As Gus Olympidis CEO and Founder of Family Express recently shared, “brand is not your logo, … not something tangible.” 

“No, your brand is your promise.”

Olympidis should know as his Midwest convenience stores focus on finding people to demonstrate its brand every time a customer enters a store. On each door is this signage “Our Family Serving Yours.” For every person who applies for a position at Family Express, only one is hired.

For those mid-size to small businesses seeking business growth, consider rethinking what your brand really is.  As Burger King and Family Express realized, your brand is what you deliver to your customers.  This is why strategic plans begin with a base strategy to help solidify brand through a competitive advantage of:

  • Commodity Driven Focus
  • Technology Driven Focus
  • Quality Driven Focus
  • Service Driven Focus
  • Customer Driven Focus

Today your challenge the status quo and change it is to rethink what your brand really is.  Look beyond your probably expensive logo or positioning statement.  Think about what promises you make to your customers or clients.  Then think what promises you keep to your customers or clients.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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The Economic Collision of Customer Service and Social Media

customer-serviceThe customer has evolved from being King or Queen to being an Internet socially connected King or Queen.  No longer must he or she hang on for minutes to speak to your customer service department. Today, social media has expanded communication and has created a very loud and significant economic collision with customer service.

Sprout Social Index recently released some customer service research that suggests seven out of eight messages on social media are ignored within the first 72 hours.  Add this research to other research that suggests bad customer service costs US businesses $41 billion annually (New Voice Media) and one can almost hear this economic collision.

This past week I reached out to a local small business through a website that advertised handyman services.  I then received an automated message from this small business about being contacted by this firm’s office person and asking if there was anything else the firm could do.  First I was never contacted by the office person and second the email I sent has remained unanswered for well past 72 hours.

Additionally this study revealed that four out of 10 messages required an immediate response from the business.  Better customer service is a motivation for switching brands or businesses for 40% of customers as reported by Zendesk.

From all the data, social media is not only another marketing channel, it has become an economic customer service channel. Failure to recognize the importance of this evolution will cost small business sales leads as well as customer loyalty.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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Eating Workplace Culture One Bite at a Time – Part 09

Today’s workplace culture is changing and part of that is due to the continued emphasis on sustainability.  Being green has always been prevalent far more in the operations of mid-size to small businesses that had far less resources than the big firms.

workplace-culture

Credit www.gratisography.com

To not only survive, but thrive, small businesses had to maximize all resources.  For many this meant reusing paper, carbon paper, file folders, adding machine tape, etc. before technology came into the picture. Today the emphasis is still on not wasting resources from printing emails to recycling paper and other such products. The shift is younger employees within the workplace culture want to be involved in setting the policies and being part of that overall process.

Now with millennials entering the workplace culture, they appear to be even more concerned about sustainability specific to the business operations’ impact to the environment. They believe according to many surveys including one by Deloitte in being employed by those firms that have high sustainability practices along with high business ethics.

These young entries into the marketplace want to be part of the sustainability activities within the organization. This involvement extends to understanding the specifics of any pro-environment policies.

Now for some older employees within the workplace culture, many look at sustainability to mean will we have employment until we retire? Sustainability is about longevity in the market place and not necessarily around recycling or reusing.

Both viewpoints can be embraced within any workplace culture as both contribute to sustainable profitability.  Actions from turning off lights to recycling paper refuse not only are good for the bottom line, they are good for the environment and do reflect the values (business ethics) of the organization.

If your small business employs those under 40 or will be shifting its workforce in the short term to more under 40 employees, now is the time to identify how your small business reacts to sustainability.  Your workplace culture is changing and this is a change executive leadership must understand to be sustainable in the future.

Please feel free to check out this holistic cultural assessment tool that allows even the smallest firms to start identifying the barriers to effective execution of current business growth strategies including sustainability.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn

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How to Boost Residential Real Estate Sales – Part 3

Over nine years have passed since I wrote this article “7 Tips for Real Estate Agents’ Success.”  The very first tip was those who are in residential real estate sales are small business owners. Yet, the statistics of failure to limited success by realtors appears this critical increase sales tip continues to be ignored.

residential-real-estate-salesThe Danger Report commissioned by the National Association of Realtors identifies probably the key reason for so many realtors not embracing this reality of being small business owners – Masses of Marginal Agents Destroy Reputation.  This key danger finding is essential to the livelihood of the residential real estate industry.

Since we have placed our home under the For Sale By Owner banner, I have personally witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to real estate agents.  Of the nearly dozen or so who have reached out to us, only two have made repeated calls just to stay in contact. The majority have either made one call or sent up to three direct mail pieces and then quit.  Follow-up is a critical sales skill for any successful small business.

Read Part 2 – How to Boost Residential Real Estate Sales

Successful small business owners stay ahead of the market flow. They look for changes in the economy, the community and their own industries.  Additionally, these forward thinking leaders look to continually hone their knowledge and expertise.   Marginal professionalism will not cut it in any small business less alone one that is people driven and involves the most costly investment people will ever make.

When those in residential real estate sales embrace the attitude of being small business owners, this will help to close the delta between “great real estate service and poor real estate service.” (The Danger Report).   Until that attitude shift happens, the delta between great and poor will probably only increase instead of decrease.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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Time to Stop Missing the Mark with Sales Training

This morning I just received an email request from an almost complete stranger who asked my feedback on a 41 page book on all one needs to know about sales training.  As I glanced through the various chapters, I realized once again another missed target.

sales-training

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What is missing in the majority of sales training is this one word – leadership.  The type of leadership I am referring to is self leadership – the ability to lead oneself before leading others.

Years ago I associated myself with a small company, Resource Associates Corporation, that embedded a leadership development process in all of its training curriculum including sales.  What the founder of this firm realized that human behavior must be changed and that change must start within the mind of each individual for it is our beliefs (attitudes) that drive our actions (behaviors) which generated our results.

Within all of the Resource Associates Corporation curriculum, key elements of self-leadership are consistently present:

  • Attitudes
  • Communication
  • Goal Setting
  • Planning
  • Time Management

What individual leader who lacks any of the above elements is thought to be worthy of being followed?

For mid-size to small businesses, these basic elements are either missing from sales training or just briefly discussed because the focus is on specific sales skills.  Of course mid-size to small businesses, do not have the same number of complex sales nor multiple decision makers.  Many of the sales skills offered by these sales training firms are not employed with great frequency after leaving the usually expensive learning engagements.

Yet if leadership and more importantly self-leadership is the foundation of any sales training, what would that mean to the mid-size and small businesses?  When people are given the necessary knowledge and then developed using many of their own natural talents, amazing results are possible.

What I know to be true over 95% of all people do not know what they do well. The numbers of missed opportunities because of this lack of knowledge is incalculable. Note: This knowledge is based upon delivering over 500 Attribute Index assessments.

Imagine if your salespeople knew what they did well and then were developed and supported to better execute their own self-leadership skills, what results your mid-size to small business would achieve?

Maybe now is the time to consider the Attribute Index before you invest in any sales training to reveal what your people do well and to provide great insight as to their capacity to be top sales performers.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn

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Marketing Minions Start Distrust

Just call me old fashioned because I believe in permission based email marketing. Today I received an email from some local marketing minion promoting some noted sales expert who recently died. Of course the email suggested this sales expert was still alive.

marketingIn unsubscribing I noticed that I had allegedly signed up for this email list within the last several days.  Of course that was not true as my email was bought, stolen or given away under false pretenses.

What bothers me is all of these marketing minions by not engaging in permission based email marketing through a double opt in list display questionable business ethics.  Even though email is still a primary attraction getting mainstay according to Direct Marketing News, my sense is for educated buyers many of the opened emails turn off more ideal customers than turn them on.

People buy from people they know and trust. When my email address is used for this type of unrequested email promotion, I immediately distrust the individual being promoted and the one doing the promoting.. Personally I do not care how much money he or she has made for his or her clients.  All their information on their LinkedIn profiles or websites from my perspective are now  full blown lies or half truths.

Positive ethics in all business operations is essential.  The last thing any small business wants is a potential ideal customer telling the entire world, this small business or representative for someone else is unethical or engaged in unethical business practices.

Creating distrust takes just a moment and becomes at least one lost sales opportunity. If the targeted individual has any market presence or influence, he or she may spread that distrust even further creating many more lost sales opportunities.

Rebuilding trust takes years if it ever even happens. 

As more and more buyers become educated, the distrust factor will probably reach epic numbers. Those small businesses that engaged in permission based email marketing will only continue to build trust leaving all those other minions behind the current market flow.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is THE People and Process Problem Solver. She supports forward thinking leaders in bridging the gaps between the two problems restricting strategic business growth – people and processes. Leanne can be reached at 219.508.2859 central time USA.  Follow her on Twitter or check out her profile on LinkedIn

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