Tuesday, December 22, 2009

7 New Year's Resolutions for Business Owners

If “The Most Wonderful Time of Year” is behind us, what does January bring? For some, there are those nasty post-holiday blues. But for many, we design our New Year’s Resolution chart to plaster around the house.
For small business, you can do the same thing, too. Let’s take 7 of the most common resolutions and apply them to your business. Even as we face a long road ahead, we find renewed vision to start off right!

1. EXERCISE

The most successful weight-loss strategies typically involve muscle building. Businesses engage in strength training by first assessing their talent base. Look for ways to rotate some employees to various positions in your company. Give them exposure to new areas of responsibility. It’s easier to let everyone stick to what they do best, but by strengthening across the board, you eliminate the vacuum that remains if one employee leaves her post or if one guy just happens to be sick for a week. Learning other jobs also broadens the employee’s perspective and usually improves morale as employees learn to walk in one another’s shoes. A team with greater diversity of understanding and experience makes for a strong force when times are lean.

2. EAT BETTER

Small business must consume healthier options. The most demoralizing product your employees consume is the feast of silence from the top. Our human nature gravitates to boss-bashing, quarreling with other co-workers, and griping about wages. This is a buffet of disaster and makes businesses sluggish. Feed your employees praise and positive reinforcement. Acknowledge the good efforts and don’t just criticize the mistakes. Provide opportunities to learn new skills. There are many low-cost webinars that can empower and encourage. Don’t forget the power of surprise rewards, the unexpected financial recognition that every employee loves. Even year-end bonuses over time become expected and lose their intended purpose (just ask Clark Griswold of “Christmas Vacation”).

3. STOP HARMFUL HABITS

Many commit personally to quit smoking or stop excessive drinking. But what about those harmful habits destructive to our business? One of the grossest areas of abuse is in the area of self-promotion. Yes, that’s right, quit promoting your services and products! The most common marketing error is saying, “if they only knew more about X, they’d buy it!” People don’t care about your products, but they do care about how those products will benefit them. Consumers are self-focused - that’s why they dispense their hard-earned dollar to whichever company offers the better price. Spend your marketing words on talking about the consumer - speak in their language and in ways that benefit them. Harley-Davidson has long been recognized for not selling motorcycles, but for the way it makes their loyal customers feel.

4. SMARTER FINANCIAL DECISIONS

Small business must make better financial choices. In your marketing, look for ways to stop putting down alot of money for little ROI. Make sure you have strong measurables for that ad you’ve kept placing in your local yellow directory. Reduce your advertising space in the local paper and direct them to your website where you have unlimited space to tell about all the benefits. Quit sending out those same direct mail pieces if you can’t account for its success (TIP: set up unique phone numbers and web landing pages for each venue in which you advertise - this helps quantify the leads).

5. ORGANIZATION

I started my year already by cleaning the garage, our bedroom closet and my office (well, it’s a work-in-progress!) But we also decided as a family to make some family goals, plans and intentional efforts toward what results we really didn’t see last year. Don’t even begin to think of squeaking quietly through 1Q09 without a comprehensive yet simple marketing plan.

6. CONNECTING

Plenty of people start the new year committing to joining a networking group, signing up for their local Lion’s or Rotary Club, or even attending and volunteering more in your local church. We satisfy our desire to connect with those whom we can help and from whom we receive benefit as well. Your business has got to break down the impersonal barrier and connect with your customers and prospects. The web is ridding the world of formalities, walls, and sales pitches. People need to know your values, the things that are important to you. They must hear your story, your journey of challenge and reward. Again, social media tools like Facebook and Twitter may be a way to allow your target market to become aware of you, have more likeability toward your business, and ultimately trust you enough to become your advocates and champions in the community.

7. GIVING MORE

I believe that most of you in small business are not in it just for the money. If so, in a recession, you’d walk out in a heartbeat. No, most of us went down the entrepreneurial path because we wanted a better quality of life: more time with the family, control over vacation schedules, ability to influence the community and world through charitable giving, and putting us in the driver’s seat of our own destiny. I call them “greater things” - the often intangible, but clearly identifiable when you ask a small business owner why they continue to endure daily challenges and hardships. Charitable giving needs to be an essential element of how you present yourself to the community. This passion for influence and involvement is something often robbed of people sitting in a corporate cubicle. Rediscover your passion and recommit to making 2010 all about the greater things!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Listening Part 2

I told you things to consider about good listening in "Listening Part 1" so here are four more items to consider about being a good listener and how it can play into providing better service for your client/customer.

Illustration: Did you ever have an experience where someone was trying to persuade you rather than just listen to you? What did that do for you?
Persuading comes from a place of judgment, and individuals need to train and shift themselves from persuading to learning. The listener has to shift to a learning stance. Or better yet a stance of curiosity.

How curious are you about your client? What do you think of when you hear the word curious? Curious meaning: You are partnering in that quest of understanding and learning with and about your client/customer.

Now, the most obvious benefit of listening is learning about the other person.
And listening involves asking questions and acknowledgement of the other.
In communications training, you will hear about active listening and you will learn about what you should do to be a good listener. And what you hear is relatively quite common and similar – ask questions, paraphrase back, acknowledge, be present, be attentive, if you re face to face you look at them eye to eye – all good advice.

You emerge from these training sessions, eager to try out your skills, only to become discouraged or confused when someone says you sound phony or mechanical.
“Don’t use that active listening on me” they might say…often hear this after couples go to couples seminar – and they teach on active listening.

The problem is this: you are taught what to say, how to sit, posture, what to do – but the heart of good listening is authenticity. People are “reading” not only your words and posture etc… But they are asking themselves what is going on inside of you. If your “stance” is not genuine, the words will not matter. What will be communicated is whether you are genuinely curious, whether you genuinely care about the other person.

If your intentions are false, no amount of careful wording or good posture will help.
If your intentions are good, even clumsy language will not hinder the communications process.

Listening is only powerful and effective when it is authentic. Authenticity means that you are listening because you are curious and because you care, not just because you are supposed to. The issue then is this: are you curious?
There is only one sure fire way to understand your client/customer and that is by being curious.

Being curious begins with “I wonder…” Instead of asking yourself… “How can they think that”? ask yourself “I wonder what information they have that I don’t”?
It might be asking “I wonder how might I see the world as such that their view makes sense”? Certainty locks us out of understanding, curiosity lets us in.


5. LISTENING AND QUESTIONING TECHNIQUES

Difference between Conventional questioning and Curious questioning.

• Conventional Questioning – provides a source for information
How much exercise do you need each week?
What is an advanced coach

• Curious Questioning – provides a source of self exploration.
What would “being fit” mean to you? What you need to be able to call yourself an effective listener?

6. LISTENING AND SAFTEY

Quote - “Truth comes as safe as the environment is to accept it” agree/disagree?

What can we do to create an environment that is safe enough for others to be truthful? Make it safe not to answer.

Sometimes even the mist skillful question can provoke defensiveness.

You can ask a question out of genuine caring toward the other person and a genuine desire to learn, and they may react by shutting down.

You can respond by saying, you are there to help and continue to press for an answer, but that may lead them to feel you are trying to control them – and you will get further resistance.
It is best to make your curious questioning an invitation rather than a demand.

The difference is that an invitation can be declined without penalty.

This offers a greater sense of safety and, especially if the client declines to respond….and your reaction makes that okay, it build trust between you.

Giving the client a choice to respond increases the chances that he or she will respond honestly.

Even if they do not know they answer now, they may later, after they think about it.

Knowing it is their choice underscores your caring intent and frees them to think about the question.

7. LISTENING AND EMPATHY

The deepest form of understanding and learning about your client is empathy.

Empathy involves a shift from my observing how a client seems on the outside, to imagining what it feels like for them on the inside.

As an empathetic listener, you are on a journey with a direction without necessarily a destination.

You will not “arrive”. You may not be able to fully say “I truly understand you”.

We are all to complex for that.

What psychologist have taught us is clients are more interested in just the act of knowing someone is seeking to empathize with them – that we as a coach are willing to struggle to understand how they feel and see how they see…means more than actually accomplishing it itself.

My challenge is to encourage you to enter into that fascinating struggle and complexity and/of communication of learning with your client.





8. LISTENING AUTHENTICALLY

There are specific strategies that are regularly employed in authentic listening. Do not underestimate the simplicity, the significance and the excellence of these techniques.

1. Close your mouth. Authentic listening and talking are mutually exclusive.

2. Don't predict or judge the outcome, or argue with the speaker mentally. Get out of your head and get into his or hers.

3. Watch your body language: does your posture indicate you're interested? Are you maintaining eye contact? Are you nodding when appropriate, smiling or otherwise physically communicating your attention to what he or she is saying?

4. Ask questions when you do not understand something or need clarification.

5. Put on his or her shoes. Put yourself in the other person's place mentally so that you can better relate to their point(s) of view.

6. Control your emotions. Better yet, leave them behind. Your worries, fears, problems and emotions prevent you from listening authentically.

7. Listen to what is not being said.

8. Listen to how something is said. Inflection, intonation and tone of the voice may tell you more about the person’s personality and values than mere words.

9. React to the ideas, not to him or her, specifically. Remember, you don't have to like someone to learn from them. But you cannot learn from them without listening to them authentically.

10. Be consistent. Practice these techniques in every communication. Ask the client if he or she felt that you "heard" what he or she was trying to communicate.

So Where’s the Competition Right Now?

So Where’s the Competition Right Now? There is much said these days about paying very close attention to your competition and about not paying such close attention. It seems like every other day some marketing guru gets up and makes some bold proclamation either way and the average business person who just wants to stay competitive in the first place is left in a quandary as to “what to do.” I myself ascribe to the common sense theory.

Here’s the first point of view:

The more time you spend on your competition, the less time you are spending on your company. While it is important to know who your competitors are and what they are doing, it is more important for you to constantly improve on what your customers want and need and that data can be gathered only from your customers, not from your competition. The idea is simple:

1) Create/Define the Market 2) Be First
3) Be the Best 4) Never Look Back

The second point of view is you have to evaluate your competitors for several important reasons. I genuinely take issue with those who say you don't; anymore than you can drive by ignoring other drivers. You reach your destination with your own route and your own map. But you're aware or hopefully you should be aware of ways in which your competitors' plans can interfere with your...that is to say, get in your way...and cut you off. You don't win races by being the fastest car or fastest runner. You drive a smart race. You take advantage of your tactical opportunities. You win baseball games not by being the best hitter or the fastest pitcher, but by finding ways to neutralize your opponent's advantages, and get the most from your own skills and opportunities. You ask yourself DEEPER competitive questions.

- How can my competitor change the game on me?
- How can I change the game on them?
- How can I have better market insight than my competitor?
- What does he see that I'm missing? What is he missing that I can use?
- What difference will it make if he does THIS?
- Are there market developments I need to be prepared for?

It's exactly like defensive driving. You make sure THEIR actions don't cause YOU to miss your exit or have an accident. The best way to describe it is to say its like driving with your eyes wide open and your mind fully active. So let’s be careful out there and have a safe drive, to a successful business.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hard Times Survival Guide

Here are some straight forward, hard core suggestions for surviving the hard times in your business. These along with savvy marketing and selling will mean the difference between being around in the good times or not.

● If you can’t survive hard times, sell out early. Once you are in financial distress, you will have no bargaining power at all.

● In hard times, save the core at the expense of the periphery. When times improve, recapture the periphery if it is still worthwhile.

● Any stable source of good profits—any competitive advantage—attracts overhead, clutter, and cross-subsidies in good times. You can survive this kind of waste in such times. In hard times you can’t and must cut it.

● If hard times have a good side, it’s the pressure to cut expenses and find new efficiencies. Cuts and changes that raised interpersonal hackles in good times can be made in hard ones.

● Use hard times to concentrate on and strengthen your competitive advantage. If you are confused about this concept, hard times will clarify it. Competitive advantage has two branches, both growing from the same root. You have a competitive advantage when you can take business away from another company at a profit and when your cash costs of doing business are low enough that you can survive in hard times.

● Take advantage of hard times to buy the assets of distressed competitors at bargain-basement prices. The best assets are competitive advantages unwisely encumbered with debt and clutter.

● In hard times, many suppliers are willing to renegotiate terms. Don’t be shy.

● In hard times, your buyers will want better terms. They might settle for rapid, reliable payments.

● Focus on the employees and communities you will keep through the hard times. Good relations with people you have retained and helped will be repaid many times over when the good times return.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

LISTENING PART 1

1. LISTENING TRANSFORMS

I believe nearly every person/client that you and I come in contact with is asking a question:

Do I matter to you? Do I matter to others?
Do I have any worth in your estimation?
Do you in any way honor, esteem, or respect, who I am?
Do you care?

As we begin this time together I would like to ask you some questions for self reflection:

Do people feel better or worse after they’ve been with you?
Do they feel worse, diminished, unappreciated?
Or, do they feel better, inspired, valued, respected?

Are you a good listener?

Would people around you say you are a good listener?

Do people feel like you’re fully present with them whenever they’re with you?

Or is there anybody in your world, who might just be whispering under their breath,
“Would you please stop talking?”
“Would you please stop advising?”
“Stop rambling.”
“Would you just stop and listen.”

The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them. — Ralph Nichols

We all have a deep desire to feel heard and to know others care enough to listen.

One of the things I learned early on is that coaching is 80% listening and 20% talking.

To be a good coach one has to be a good listener.

Listening is one of the most powerful skills a coach can bring to the coaching relationship.

And, listening is one of the most powerful forms of acknowledgement.

In short, listening TRANSFORMS.

2. LISTENING AND MEANING (International Listening Association Statistics)
In a spoken conversation,
55% of the meaning is translated non-verbally,
38% is indicated by the tone of voice,
while only 7% is conveyed by the words used (Mehrabian, 1981).
Spoken words only account for 30 -35% of the meaning.

The rest is transmitted through nonverbal communication that only can be detected through visual and auditory listening (Birdwhistell, 1970).

What is it that most of us listen for:

1. For what we already know
2. For what we agree with
3. For what we disagree with
4. To await for our turn to speak
5. To interrupt
6. To look or sound good
7. For the answer
8. For the formula
9. For the flaw in the argument

Problem is…we do not listen authentically.

3. LISTENING BARRIERS

The most frequently reported listening barriers among people are:
1) Personal disinterest in the topic,
2) Personal and internal distractions, such as hunger, headache, or preoccupation with something else.
3) Inattentiveness such as daydreaming.


4. PURPOSE OF AUTHENTIC LISTENING

The purpose of authentic listening is to understand the thoughts, opinions, ideas and feelings of others by focusing on their agenda rather than one’s own.

Authentic listening is a skill that requires practice and concentration.
Authentic listening occurs when you respond to the speaker in ways which indicate to him that you care about what he's saying and give him every opportunity to complete his train of thought.

Authentic and empathic listening is wrapped in the same cloak. The idea is to let the speaker know without a doubt that you are focusing your attention on his words and feelings with the specific intent to understand his point.

We all have a deep desire to feel heard and to know others care enough to listen.

Listening not only helps you understand someone, it also helps that person understand themselves.
• They get a chance to talk “out loud”, work it through.
• But also you can pick up on, and highlight patterns they are repeating that he or she is not hearing themselves.


In short, listening TRANSFORMS.

Wouldn’t you agree with me that listening goes way beyond just hearing the words that another person says?

It’s seeing what’s in their eyes.
It’s feeling what’s in their heart.
It’s reading between the lines.
It’s listening in the moments of silence.

Listening Part II will be in the next installment of Coach Roland’s Blog post.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Designer Business, Designer Life"

I love this quote from Oprah Winfrey; “Every time you suppress some part of yourself or allow others to play you small, you are in essence ignoring the owner’s manual your creator gave you and destroying your design”. So what does this have to do with my Business you ask? Great question! The reality is most Business challenges are personal challenges in disguise. OK, let’s pretend your Business looks and feels something like the following version.

You have this money machine you call your Business that makes significant money whether you show up or not. It is fun and exciting to own and your associates love coming to work everyday. You are the talk of the town, the one to watch and are respected and admired by your peers, even your competition. When your opinion is asked, everyone stops what they are doing and listens intently. You are the E.F. Hutton of your industry. Your advertising speaks directly to your target market, identifying their needs and wants and also that you provide the solution. The response to your ads is always good and the revenues generated are quite significant. Your customers are your friends and love sending you referrals because they know how well you take care of everyone. You are now in such a unique and profitable position you donate a sizeable amount of money every month to several of your favourite charities.

Does this sound like your Business or are you wondering what’s really in my water bottle? With all the design and makeover shows on the tube today perhaps it’s time to implement a strategy for an extreme makeover of your Business. Perhaps the mindset you need for this to be effective would be similar to the one you need when you are going to ruthlessly clean out your closet. You might start tossing or donating anything you haven’t worn in the last year and further pair that down to the last six months. Maybe it’s the garage or basement you must tackle for this to resonate for you. Perhaps it’s a complete renovation of your home right down to the framework. Isn’t it a great feeling when you get rid of the clutter in your life and have a new and stimulating project to tackle? You feel like a burden has been lifted, you can think with more clarity and get on with the more important things in your life.

So let’s apply this process to your Business and see if we can create the same revitalizing sensation. A good place to start a review is with your vision. Is the business you are in what you envisioned it would be when you started? If not, you might want to either change your vision or reevaluate why you haven’t achieved that vision. Along with the vision review what isyour target market. What have you learned about your target market now that you have been selling to them for awhile? Is it time to narrow your market or expand it? Sometimes an effective marketing strategy is to be an expert in a narrow field. Master one domain and you will be able to do just about anything you choose. When people observe your mastery in one area it is often perceived you do everything that way. As T. Harv Eckert likes to say, “How you do anything is how you do everything”. I hope that inspires and motivates you and doesn’t terrify you.

Sometimes stepping back and reviewing each area of your Business from Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, Employee Hiring and Retention, Financial Management and Systemization can reveal where complacency has crept in.

Often times it is only minor adjustments in each area that can produce major improvements to your bottom line.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Up Front Contracts

Before I get into the details, let me just note that this is a key component to the Sandler Sales System. There are seven major components. The first is Bonding & Rapport, which is probably self-explanatory - it’s the first part of a sales call, where you establish a relationship with the prospect. Sandler has some interesting things to say about Bonding & Rapport, but nothing really earth-shaking, so I won’t bore you with that.

Up Front Contracts is the second component. So what is an Up Front Contract? It’s just a verbal agreement between you and the prospect on exactly what will happen next, even if that next step is for the prospect to tell you “no.” Let me outline a couple of scenarios where this is useful:

Scenario 1
You talk to an interested prospect on the phone and he agrees to schedule a meeting. You decide on next Thursday at 10.

PROBLEM: Have you ever shown up for a meeting and a) found that the prospect is not there or b) had the prospect either show up late or rush you through the meeting because he inadvertently scheduled something else for 30 minutes after your meeting?

This may not happen often, but it’s frustrating when it does. In particular, being forced to rush through a meeting puts you in a pressured, get-to-the-point mode, so it’s tempting to try to shove all your features and benefits into a quick presentation. The net effect is you spend too much time talking and not enough listening to the prospect. And the end result is that the prospect does not truly get engaged in the problem you’re helping them solve. Instead, he is looking at the clock and/or getting bored while you try to wow him with features and benefits.

SOLUTION: Establish an Up Front Contact with the prospect committing him to show up and give you his full attention. It doesn’t have to be confrontational, just assertive. An easy way to pin them down on the date and time is simply to ask, “should I write this down with a pen or a pencil?” If the answer is pencil, suggest another date and time. If the answer is pen, say “are you sure? You don’t have anything that might bump this off the calendar?” Get them to commit!
Also, during this stage make it clear that you really need a full hour so you can fully understand their business before you can determine whether you’re a fit for each other. Ask them to commit to that. If they resist, suggest another time or (and this takes guts, but it could save you a lot of wasted time), say “Mr. Prospect, it sounds like you’re not really interested in solving this problem. Which is fine, maybe it’s not a big enough issue for you right now. So should we just hang up now and call it quits?” If the answer is yes, be thankful that you saved yourself a couple of hours trying to convince someone who is not going to buy. If the answer is no, ask the prospect “So what should we do?” And SHUT UP! Don’t rescue the prospect. He will realize that he has to make a commitment or you’re not showing up. Once he makes that commitment, his ego is on the line, so he’s much less likely to blow you off.

Scenario 2
You go to the meeting and the prospect is there. You spend an hour doing your whole dog and pony show. At the end, you ask for the business. He may raise some objections, which you handle, but then he says he wants to think it over and to please call him next week.

PROBLEM: You go home, wait a few days and make the call. Voice mail. “Hi, this is Joe Salesman. Just wanted to touch base and discuss next steps. Please give me a call. Blah blah blah.” He doesn’t call back, so you try again a few days later. Same result. Eventually (or maybe not), you reach him and he tells you they’re still thinking it over, or there’s some other decision maker involved or any one of a hundred other excuses. He doesn’t say “no,” so you continue following up every now and then, knowing in your heart that he’s probably avoiding you. But hey, persistence pays off, right?

SOLUTION: Wrong! Persistence pays off maybe 1% of the time, but the other 99% of the time it’s just a giant time sinkhole that has the awful side-effect of undermining your confidence. The key to avoiding this is to gain control of the sales process with Up Front Contracts. Earlier I talked about how to do them when scheduling the meeting, so now let’s talk about how to use them in the meeting itself.

It’s really pretty simple. Just remember the acronym TTAP (pronounced “t-tap”).
The first T is for “Thank you for inviting me in today.” Not letting you in, but inviting you in. Salespeople have rights. Do not beg for anything. If the prospect treats you like crap, don’t accept it. Period. But I digress… The second T is for Time. Ask the prospect how much time you have for the meeting. If they don’t give you enough time, cancel the meeting. Yes, you heard me right: cancel it! Explain that you need to ask the prospect a lot of questions to determine whether you’re a fit.
If the prospect resists, don’t wimp out! Ask him this: “Mr. Prospect, how long have you worked for your company?” He’ll say something like 5 years or 10 years or whatever. Then ask him, “If I were to ask you to explain everything you’ve learned about your company, industry and current situation in the past X years in 20 minutes, would I come away with a thorough understanding of everything necessary to solve your problem?” He will say no, so you then say “So do you really think I’ll be able to understand your situation and give you a thorough understanding of my solution in that time?”

If he still resists, another tactic is to apologize. That’s right: apologize! Don’t get into an argument with the prospect. Instead, “fall on your sword” as a way to gain empathy. Say “Mr. Prospect, I’m sorry. I’ve done you a disservice. I’ve given you the impression that I can come in here and give you a good presentation in 30 minutes. I’m sorry for doing that, but I just can’t in good conscience try to shoehorn this in. So what should we do?” The prospect will probably cave in and reschedule by now.

If not, just take it away from him. “I’m sorry, but it looks like we’re not a fit. Good luck finding a solution to your problem” and leave. The prospect may come after you and tell you he’s changed his mind. If so, great! If not, great! You do not want to work with a prospect who cannot even commit to an hour. Believe me, it’s not worth all the uncertainty that will surround the situation.

And you know what? Wishy washy prospects are almost impossible to close unless you confront them. Start doing it at the beginning of the process, not at the end. And by the way, if you’re concerned about losing the sale, just remember: you can’t lose something you never had.

A is for Agenda. This is a great one because the prospect so rarely gets this from other salespeople. Simply ask “Mr. Prospect, what do you need to see, hear or get a feel for in order to make this a successful meeting?” By doing this, you will quickly get a sense of how the sales process is going to evolve, what you should focus on, and how they want it presented. The “see, hear or get a feel for” is a tactic to get them to reveal how they think: visual, auditory or kinesthetic. I won’t spend time on that point now, but suffice it to say that it can be useful in determining how you present your solution.

There may be several things they want to achieve in the meeting, so make sure you write them down and parrot them back. Make sure you understand exactly what he wants and don’t make any assumptions. So if he says something vague like “I want to learn more about your product,” drill down into that by saying. “That makes sense, but could you give me a better sense of what that means?” A better answer is “I want to understand how your Foo integrates with our Bar.”

One more thing with Agenda. Once you’ve established the prospects goals, get an Up Front Contract as to what will happen next. “Mr. Prospect, this is very helpful. I’ll make sure to focus on X, Y and Z. Pretend for a moment that we’ve done that and the meeting is finished. What would happen next?” As with above, don’t accept wishy washy answers. Nail down the exact next step. An reasonable answer is, “we’ll schedule a due diligence meeting with our IT department.” A bad answer is “I’ll think it over and show it to my boss.” Which leads to…

P is for Permission to say no. What? You heard me. You give the prospect permission to say no. This helps you avoid wasting your time on someone who’s decided not to buy. Here’s how you do it. “Mr. Prospect, you said the agenda is X, Y and Z. Let’s pretend for a moment that we’re on the other side of this meeting. Can I ask you a favor? If for whatever reason you decide we’re not a fit, are you comfortable telling me no? I think some prospects are embarrassed or don’t want to hurt my feelings, so instead of saying no, they say they want to think it over, when what they really mean is no.” The prospect will almost invariably say something like “Absolutely. I’m real straightforward about that.” Not to be blunt, but he’s lying. Most prospects hate to say no because they’re afraid of confrontation or, even worse, that you’ll try to sell them even harder. If you make them feel okay about saying no, perhaps even saying “and by the way, I won’t try to sell you again after you say no, because I don’t want to waste your time or mine,” it takes the pressure off the prospect and usually leads to a more open, honest discussion.

“No” is good, because then you don’t waste time chasing a prospect who is not going to buy. Of course, “yes” is best. But do not accept “think it over” for an answer. This doesn’t mean they have to sign the contract in the same call - some sales cycles are complex and take multiple calls - but it does mean they have to tell you at the end of the call whether they are serious about moving forward or just blowing smoke.

This is pretty different from traditional sales training, which generally revolves around convincing the prospect that he should buy from you. By contrast, Sandler is about helping the prospect discover why he should buy from you. Convincing is very difficult, time-consuming and energy intensive. Discover is fun, enlightening and relaxed. To compare it to the web, discovering is like surfing web sites about a topic that interests you, whereas convincing is like getting hit with a blizzard of popup ads. Which do you prefer?

Just yesterday I had a great sales call in which the prospect talked probably 80% of the time. I asked him a lot of open ended questions that got him to understand the pain he is in and envision a solution provided by me. At the end of the meeting he thanked me profusely and said I was very different from the other vendors he had talked to. This despite the fact that he did most of the talking!

And that’s another key point about the Sandler System - you don’t look like every other salesperson that walks through the prospect’s door every day, so the prospect doesn’t treat you like the stereotypical lying salesman. Let’s face it, the prospect assumes salespeople are liars. What image pops into your mind when you hear the word “salesperson?”

So, use Up Front Contracts to get control of the sales process and understand exactly how it will evolve. Prospects don’t usually have a systematic buying process, so you’re doing them a service by bringing clarity to the process. In truth, the only things the prospect is concerned about are a) solving their problem and b) not getting cheated by a lying salesperson. Done well, Up Front Contracts ease the pressure on both of you and makes for a much more manageable process.

Friday, September 25, 2009

So, What's the Price?

Many clients are losing ground simply because they may be charging too little for their product or service. In this price conscious economy that might sound a little weird but it’s true. Lots of businesses will go under this year because they will discount their widgets to the point where they no longer can keep their doors open. Here are some things to consider before you get that big red pencil out.

Basing your prices on costs, not customers’ perceptions of value Does a Rolex watch really cost between $3000 to $6000 to make? It would have to since they retail for between $6000 and the moon. Prices based on costs invariably lead to one of two scenarios: (1) if the price is higher than customers’ perceived value, the cost of sales goes up, sales cycles are prolonged and profits suffer; (2) if the price is lower, sales are brisk, but companies are leaving money on the table, and therefore not maximizing their profit.

Basing your prices on “the marketplace” Well that’s what they are charging across the street. The marketplace is often cited as the “wisdom of the crowds”—the collective judgment of a product’s value. But by resorting to marketplace pricing, companies accept the commoditization of their product or service. Instead, business owners must find ways to differentiate their products or services so as to create additional value for specific market segments. Is your product or service a commodity?

Attempting to achieve the same profit margin across different product lines
Cost accountants sometimes get stuck on this one. Some financial strategies support a drive for uniformity, and businesses try to achieve identical profit margins for disparate product lines. The iron law of pricing is that different customers assign different values to identical products. For any single product, profit is optimized when the price reflects the customer’s willingness to pay.

Failing to segment their customers
A cord of wood costs a helluva lot more in New York City than it does in Watertown New York. Customer segments are differentiated by the customers’ different requirements for your product. The value proposition for any product or service varies in different market segments, and price strategy must reflect that difference. Your price strategy should include options that tailor your product, packaging, delivery options, marketing message and your pricing structure to particular customer segments, in order to capture the additional value created for these segments.

RETAINING MORE CLIENTS: 9 STEPS TO GOOD CLIENT RELATIONS

In tough economic times, it’s more important than ever to ensure good client renewal rates as new business can become harder to find and close. So I thought I’d share my top 9 tips on how to create and maintain good client relations, which in turn can help you renew more existing contracts.

1. Be on time! I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met with in the past that actually show up LATE for meetings — consistently! Be on time. Be on time for calls, meetings, everything. Being late all of the time tells others that your time is more important than theirs — and you NEVER want to send that message to a client. Clients are typically understanding if there are unique, one-time situations (traffic, etc.), but call ahead if you know you’ll be late! It’s OK for the client to be late, but not the vendor — EVER.

2 Be a “solutions provider”, not just another vendor. What is your client’s main goal? - likely to sell more products/services. So help your client by being a solutions provider — not just another vendor. If your client is looking for a web designer, do you have one you’d be comfortable recommending? If you see an opportunity that might fit your client, do you pass it on to him/her? The little solutions you help provide show your client you WANT them to succeed — not just with your efforts but overall.

3. Get contracts up front — don’t begin work without having one. Seems like you’d be doing a nice thing to start work without the contract finalized, right? Wrong! Without a document stating everyone’s expectations and responsibilities, the waters can get murky quickly. What expectations does the client have? That you’ll do this service with the product for this price while you’re planning on just selling a product? It’s important to get everyone on the same page from the beginning so that there are no questions about the direction you’re taking, right from the start. It keeps everyone happy in the end.

4. The customer may not always be right, but tread lightly here. In our world, the customer can’t always be right. There are times when a fact about how a product or service works outweighs a client’s desire for the truth to be different. (Example: AJAX is not indexable. You have to have a workaround. That’s just the way it is!) Be sure that while you speak to your client as the “expert”, you don’t make the client feel that his/her concern is unimportant. You are both working towards the same goal, so be sure to structure your conversation in that way and be a “solutions provider”.

5. Schedule recurring calls (weekly, monthly, etc.) The recurring client call allows the client to express his/her feelings about how your relationship with them is going and to interject information you may not know — such as an upcoming event, announcement, etc. that may also help you provide better service. Be sure to touch base with clients regularly. I find that a scheduled call monthly allows clients time to get their thoughts together and is accepted as a regular calendar item. If you miss a month and the call has been productive for the clients/customers they may begin wondering why you didn’t call.

6. Visit in person when you can. Nothing beats face to face interaction. It allows you to gauge your client’s body language. Does the client’s body language say one thing while they are saying something entirely different?

7. Send a small gift. One thing you should always be doing with clients is showing them how thankful you are for their business. A small gift at the holidays, on a client’s birthday, etc. is a great way to show your appreciation.

8. Write Thank You notes. More than a gift, however, a HANDWRITTEN thank you note is even better. It tells the client that you took the time to make it personal. People really appreciate the time and thought, so take the time!

9. If you’re upset, sleep on it. I’ve written many an angry e-mail that I’ve never sent. There are always times that clients frustrate us, but instead of firing off an angry email, sleep on it. I’ve found this works well not just for my personal life, but also my business. You need to work with clients with a level-headed approach — let yourself cool off before responding. Don’t lose a client if you don’t have to!

Friday, September 11, 2009

How to Screw Up a Sure Thing

Problem: Jim, a software sales rep, had been having a rough day. He’d been bombarded with questions from several customers and had gotten behind on a proposal that he needed to finish before the end of the day. Then he got a call from Dave, a prospect who introduced himself by saying, “I’ve heard great things about your accounting software package. I saw a demo about a year ago, and was not in a position to purchase it at the time, but since then it’s become very apparent that I need to integrate it immediately into my system.”
“Wow”, thought Tim. “This will be easy. It’s about time something went right today.”
Then Dave said, “I need to know about pricing and availability. And tech support is important, too. Tell me how that works.”
Tim went into his pitch. He discussed tech support in detail, covered availability and other options, and explained that the price was $8000 with 30-day terms.
Dave’s response was unexpected. He said that $8000 was quite a hefty price tag and he needed a couple of days to consider the purchase more carefully. He’d call Jim back next week.
Jim did a double take. “What just happened?” he thought. “This sale was in the bag, a sure thing, and now he’s thinking it over? He said he needed the software right away.” And that was the end of the call.
Analysis: Jim got lazy, plain and simple. He thought Dave was sold. All he had to do was give Dave the info he needed, then write it up. He got conned into doing a presentation without getting Dave to demonstrate why he was so excited about buying the software. The entire transaction was conducted at the intellectual level.
Solution: Don’t be lured into taking shortcuts. Don’t mistake the prospect’s enthusiasm for your product or service as a sure sale. Take the time to qualify the prospect and make sure he’s real before you make your presentation. In Jim’s case, a couple of quick questions would have made a world of difference. He might have said, “Before we discuss pricing, help me understand why this software is so important. I want to make sure the application is correct for you. Mind if I ask you a couple of questions?” Of course, you’re probing for pain and one of the most important things to find out is the financial impact of not implementing a solution. Having discovered the financial impact and, assuming it was significant, you will find that the cost of the solution disappears as an objection.
Don’t take shortcuts! Don’t assume anything. Get the prospect involved at an emotional, not an intellectual, level. Use your system to qualify completely and get the sale.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Character Traits of Successful People

I had a conversation with a client recently that made me stop and think
about my own performance and attitude. Our conversation centered on
why some people seem so much more successful than others do.

What we discussed was a few simple character traits that seemed to
contribute to their overall success:

Drive Hard: a sense of urgency. They seemed to have a very high
commitment to achieving their goals. It was more than just not accepting
NO for an answer. These people seem to have an internal vision or
knowledge. Something that drives them. It is not fear — it is the pursuit
of the idea and a healthy dose of faith. They have the faith to believe or
know that somehow things will work.

Work Hard: these people also seem to posses a compulsive drive. They
see the goal - a vision, sense of what can be achieved. They are so
focused and committed to the goal that it seems they will let nothing
stop, hinder or interfere. Truth is they are so committed to achieving the
goal they see nothing else.

Play Hard: having fun while doing business is good. After working hard,
they take time to look after themselves, enjoy life and have some fun. It is
a sign of good mental health and indicates balance.

Finish Well: anyone can start well or sprint. These people finish what they
start. They leave nothing left undone. They have endurance. They might
appear to be perfectionists - actually they just want to finish what they
started. And finish it well!

The difference between success and failure is often just a short distance
away - the finish line! When you run a race, why quit 10 feet from the
finish line? The truth is you need endurance to finish the race. All you
might need is a little encouragement to finish well.

Surround yourself with driven, focused and passionate people. Ask them
to mentor, coach and keep you accountable. Because, you are going to
work hard and put in the time - why not maximize the results?

Carpe Diem! Seize the day!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play by Arthur Miller and is considered a classic of American theater. Viewed by many as a caustic attack on the American Dream of achieving wealth and success without regard for principle, Death of a Salesman made both Arthur Miller and the character Willy Loman household names. The play is a characterization of a tragedy of the downfall of a great man, whether through a flaw in his character or a mistake he has squandered, depending on your viewpoint.
It was greeted with enthusiastic reviews, received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1949, the 1949 Tony Award for Best Play, as well as the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. Death of a Salesman was the first play to win these three major awards, helping to establish Miller as an internationally known playwright.
Do you remember how the story begins? Willy Loman returns to his home in Brooklyn one night, exhausted from a failed sales trip. His wife, Linda, tries to persuade him to ask his boss, Howard Wagner, to let him work in New York so that he won’t have to travel. Willy says that he will talk to Howard the next day. Willy complains that Biff, his older son who has come back home to visit, has yet to make something of himself. Linda scolds Willy for being so critical. As the story unfolds it is one failure and one disappointment after another. It’s a downward spiral for poor Willy and if you recall it doesn’t have the happiest of endings.

Are there days in your Business when you wonder if you will ever make another sale? Do you sometimes feel that the selling process is a mystery with no rhyme or reason to the process? Are you and your sales team well liked and good at building relationships with your prospects? As we have come to learn, the sales process doesn’t have to be hard and the results can be predicted when you have a system. Imagine, if Willy Loman had a coach, someone that held him accountable for his actions, there could have been a much happier ending.

With that thought in mind I'd like to give you our "Top Ten" checklist where you can determine and rate the overall health of your sales effectiveness and performance. Rate each of the following questions on a scale of 1-10. 10's are good and 1's, not so much!

1. We use scripts in all of our initial contacts with customers (phone, face to face, walk in, internet, etc.) Score____
2. We measure all of the variables of our sales process, including such things as the average number of appointments before the sale, the conversion rate (prospect to client), sales cycle etc. Score____
3. We have a proven, defined and written sales system. Score ____
4. We provide our sales team with effective tools to help them to convert prospects more effectively (demonstrations, samples, etc.) Score____
5. Our sales staff has regular, formal training on both product knowledge and sales skills. Score____
6. We use the most current technology to track the sales team’s activity, such as appointments, prospect lists, etc. Score___
7. We motivate our sales team effectively using time tested motivational techniques. Score____
8. We follow up with prospects that didn’t buy from us to find out why. Score____
9. We have regular sales meetings. Score____
10. Our sales team has a terrific relationship with all of the other departments. Score____

So how did you do? If you scored 80-100 points, you could be seriously considered as the new lead in the play called “The Life of a Salesman”. 60-79 points, you are in the running for the part. 40-59 points, you need to spend a little more time on your scripts and refining your style. Less than 40 points, it's time to turn off the TV, take some classes in the evening and get up early to start writing the scripts for the parts of your sales system. More importantly, it might be time to hire a coach to help you through the inevitable ups & downs you will experience! The decision is yours, is it time to create or refine your sales process and live the life of abundance you deserve? Will you continue to explain and blame others for your poor results? It’s time to tell the world you mean Business! Start a plan today to Put some “life into your salesman” and give yourself the chance to score 100 points. Maybe, just maybe someone will even write a story or a play about you. A Pulitzer Prize? Who knows! Imagine that!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Lost Art of the Personal Touch

When was the last time someone sent you a card to say, “thanks”, I really appreciate you or I want to thank you for a job well done. Maybe someone was thinking of you and just wanted to say they miss you and sent you a note to tell you that. Perhaps a family member that lives across the country wanted to say they were thinking of you and look forward to their next visit. There are countless examples of cards or letters you could receive for a variety of reasons aren’t there? Conversely there are numerous reasons you could send a card or letter to brighten someone else’s day. So how come you don’t anymore? I think we are generally a well intentioned society, it simply seems that we are overloaded and overwhelmed with so much to do that this little gesture has been pushed aside.

Oh, there are those cute e-mail cards you can send that open and do some very cool things. Especially at Christmas, there is a variety of talking animal’s, playful children, snowmen, angels and well, you know the ones. Somehow it isn’t quite the same as when someone takes the time to send a very personal note to you, specific to your relationship to let you know they care. Those e-mails are usually deleted soon after, whereas a card has a way of ending up on your bulletin board and kept for a longer period of time. It seems a little more authentic and personal doesn’t it?

The interesting thing about all the technology we have today is that the human element has almost been removed from the way we interact and do Business with people. A few years ago when the internet started to become popular, there were many companies that announced this was the way they were going to do Business, totally automated, totally electronic and very efficient. What many have learned is that loyalty and relationships aren’t built in an environment devoid of human interaction.

The pendulum has swung back again to actions that are referred to as, online and offline marketing strategies. Let’s face it, people want to do Business with people that they know, like and trust. The more you can create an environment of caring and appreciation of your clients, the more stable and secure your Business will become. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for using every bit of technology we now have at our fingertips to grow our Business as I’m sure you are. After all, today we can reach a larger and better targeted audience who is actually looking specifically for our products or services online. There is a much different dynamic in the sales process when a client comes to you ready to buy because they like what they have seen and read about you and your Business on the internet. The difference lies in whose decision it is to buy. When you try to sell something to someone, it’s your decision being forced on them. When someone wants to buy something, it’s their decision!

The savvy companies that are marketing online today are finding a way to obtain your mailing address in addition to your e-mail as a way to keep in touch and let you know how much they value your Business. On the flip side of the online coin there are also companies that have not embraced any form of internet or database management strategies. I recently had an experience with a local Business that didn’t keep track of their customer list or what they purchased and wasn’t planning to implement anything in the near future either, hmmm!

The whole point of my discussion today, which I hope comes through, is that whatever you do online or offline, it needs to be related to building a relationship with your client of trust, appreciation and caring. Hey, maybe give them a call or send them a card or something out of the ordinary. Surprise them with a personal touch and that alone will have them think of you over everyone else you might perceive as your competition. One simple rule you must understand about all good sales and marketing is that it begins with putting other people first. Dale Carnegie said, “When dealing with people, remember, you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion”. Reach out and touch someone and find a balance between online and offline strategies and I believe the lifetime value of your clients will increase dramatically.

Entrepreneurs: How do You Empower Your Employees?

“The vision is really about empowering workers, giving them all the information about what’s going on so they can do a lot more than they’ve done in the past.”

Bill Gates, Co-Founder of Microsoft


A Business owner is often lamenting about how much time they spend working in their business and wondering how they can find more time for their family and friends or just to take a vacation away from the day-to-day worries. Have you ever thought about empowering your employees so you don’t have to be the “answer man” in your organization?

What’s empowering? Webster’s New World Dictionary defines empower as “1. to give power or authority to; authorize 2. to give ability to; enable; permit.” So why is empowering your employees important? Timothy Ferriss, author of “The 4 – Hour Workweek” said it best in his book; “If you are a micromanaging entrepreneur, realize that even if you can do something better than the rest of the world, it doesn’t mean that’s what you should be doing if it’s part of the minutiae.” Business owners who are interested in growing their business can become stagnated and growth plateaus, not to mention the 50 to 70 hours each week they are working to keep the business viable when they are the focal for solving any issues that may arise during a business day. By enabling, permitting or authorizing employees to solve problems that are normally solved by the business owner you free yourself to work on the business and not in it.

How do you empower your employees to act in your best interests? Here are several ways to ensure employees understand your philosophy of how to run your business, maintain the spirit of the company mission and ensure financial viability.

■ Share your vision and mission with your employees

■ Maintain an employee handbook (aka Policies and Procedures Manual)

■ Improve your communication skills

■ Learn motivational factors

■ Acknowledge people’s intelligence

■ Catch people doing things right

■ Be honest with everyone

■ Establish conflict resolution procedures

■ Educate on responsibilities and accountability

Creating a vision and mission enables your employees to understand your aspirations for future business and expectations for serving the marketplace today. Maintaining an employees’ handbook provides clear guidance for what is expected of them in support of the vision and mission while conducting day-to-day business and dealing with various circumstances.

Communication is probably the single biggest problem business owners have in empowering their employees and acquiring more time for themselves. Quality communication is critical in any organization, but it is crucial to an entrepreneur’s business success. If you can’t tell the story to your employees, vendors and customers of why your business should be successful, you will fail to take them on the journey toward that success you envisioned when you started your business. Learn to communicate well, in various medium, to gain the confidence of your employees and to convince them of their contribution to the success of the business.

Learn what motivates your employees to achieve the vision and goals you’ve established for your organization and then use it to inspire your workers to great things. It’s amazing how someone’s IQ seems to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate you trust them. If you believe they can achieve great things and communicate it to them, you will develop incredibly motivated employees. Part of motivation is to catch people doing things right and acknowledging it. Acknowledging success breeds more success.

Another critical element of empowering people is being honest with them. If you don’t feel you can tell them the naked truth you will lose their respect and devotion. Some business owners believe by not being honest about bad business news they are sparing their employees from anxiety and stress when all they develop is mistrust and fear of the unknown. Always be honest in your business dealings and truthful with everyone and your employees will stand by you like no other group can.

When you enable or authorize employees to conduct business on your behalf it is often prudent to establish conflict resolution procedures so employees can have consistent guidance in resolving customer, vendor and employee disagreements. Never assume that what you know is right for correcting disagreements is what everyone within your organization knows is right. Take the attitude that if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist as a policy. It will save you a great deal of discomfort when trying to resolve customer service issues.

Finally educating on responsibilities and accountability will help an employee to know the boundaries within which they are allowed to work for the benefit of your business. Timothy Ferris demonstrated empowerment when he wrote to his outside vendor customer service representatives in an e-mail after he realized he was becoming overwhelmed with requests for decisions on how to satisfy customer concerns or requirements as his business grew.

“Hi All,

I would like to establish a new policy for my account that overrides all others.

Keep the customer happy. If it is a problem that takes less than $100 to fix, use your judgment and fix it yourself.

This is official written permission and a request to fix all problems that cost under $100 without contacting me. I am no longer your customer; my customers are your customers. Don’t ask me for permission. Do what you think is right, and we’ll make adjustments as we go along.

Thank You

Tim”

After the e-mail was sent, his e-mails requesting decisions went from 200 each day to 20 each week and customer returns reduced to 3% when the industry average is between 10 – 15%.

If that is not the epitome of empowering the people that work for you, I don’t know what is.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

BUSINESS LIFECYCLE STAGES

Just like phases of life, all businesses, and in particular small businesses go through various stages of growth and decline. By recognizing and understanding the stages of their business, the small business owner is better equipped to employ strategies that will maximize the capital required for the business; the human resources needed to achieve the business goals; and most importantly, the equity growth for the owner and shareholders.

There are five fundamental stages to every business:

STAGE 1-START UP

Key Issues:
Need for working capital
Tight financial controls
Ill-defined administrative systems
“Crisis management” mode
Choosing the correct type of entity (Corporation, S Corporation, LLC, etc.)
Tax issues related to becoming self-employed
Strategies:Personal Protection Plans
Liability Coverage
Operational Plan
Contingency Planning


STAGE 2-GROWTH

Key Issues:
Focus on sales
Lack of financial planning
Inadequate organizational systems
Delegation of important functions
Proper tax planning
Strategies:
Employee Benefits
Group Retirement Plans
Formal Business Plan
Create Marketing Engine
Branding
Key Performance Indicators

STAGE 3-DELEGATION

Key Issues:Increasing profitability
Capital investment
Emergence of key employees
Formalized administrative functions
Strategies:
Employee retention-Elevated Employee Benefits
Estate Planning
Tax Management Plans
Enterprise Requirements Planning
5-Year Strategic Plan


STAGE 4-EVOLUTION

Key Issues:Increasing bureaucracy
Standardized compensation
Changing culture
Focus on profitability
Strategies:
Wealth Protection Plans
Wealth Distribution Plans
C.I.P. Continuous Improvement Planning
Team Building
Proper attention to Tax Planning


STAGE 5-TRANSITION

Key Issues:
New resources of growth
New direction
Stagnation
Exit plans
Should you actually wait until the end of the lifecycle to think about Transition and Succession Planning? Should it be considered back in the Delegation stage?
Strategies:
Wealth Protection Plans
Wealth Distribution Plans
Income Management Plans
Succession Planning, including the tax efficiency of the plan

Many times successful business owners remain in stage 4 or stage 5 because they become comfortable in their industry or their niche. Stage 4 and 5 can also be called the declining stages. If a business is not growing, it’s declining and mature companies can plateau in stage 4 and 5 and begin the spiraling decline into non-existence because of comfort and complacency.

If a business is not cycling between stage 2 and 3 throughout its life, it’s time to reevaluate their vision, mission, goals and strategies to maintain relevancy in an ever changing marketplace.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cash Flow: The Pulse of Your Business

Cash flow is the life-blood of every business. A healthy cash flow is as important as (if not more than) your business’s ability to deliver its goods and services. If you fail to satisfy a customer and lose their business, you can make modifications to better deal with future customers. But, if you fail to have enough cash to pay your suppliers, creditors, or your employees, you’re out of business.

Cash flow is concerned with the timing of the movement of money. Inflows occur when you make a cash sale, collect on receivables, have investment income, or borrow money. etc. Outflows are generally the result of paying expenses such as payroll, inventory, taxes, purchasing fixed assets, etc. Cash Flow is not the same as “profit”, which is a snapshot of income and expenses at an event or over a certain period of time. You can make great profits, but if it’s all in accounts receivable, you have no cash to pay your daily expenses.

Four basic but important components to examine:
1. Accounts Receivable Collections: The longer it takes for your customers to pay on their accounts receivable, the more negative your cash flows will be. Stay on top of your collection efforts.
2. Credit policy and terms form the blueprint you use when deciding to extend credit to a customer. The correct credit policy is necessary to ensure that your cash flow doesn't fall victim to a credit policy that is too strict or to one that is too generous.
3. Inventory: An excessive amount of inventory hurts your cash flow by using up money that could be used for other cash outflows.
4. Accounts payable and cash flow: Without payables and trade credit you'd have to pay for all goods and services at the time you purchase them. For optimum cash flow management, you'll need to examine your payables schedule.

Four tips on managing your cash flows:
1. Contingency plans. You should keep three plans at hand. (1) Cash flows requirements when business is going according to plans (2) when business is slightly lagging (3) when business is hit hard (such as during these economic times).
2. Cash Forecasting. Forecast, make a budget, stick to it. Modify your budget only after thorough ongoing reviews of your cash flows and remember to include expenses that may not be due each month, such as annual insurance premiums.
3. Spending Controls: Make sure you carefully negotiate leases and solicit price quotes. Frequently analyze operations.

4. Add Employees cautiously: Actively seek ways to maximize your and your employee’s productivity. You may also want to remember to consider alternatives such as outsourcing .

Cash Flow is the lifeblood of every business. The concept is much broader than that of profit, alone. Close monitoring is critical to success. Just as you need to maintain a healthy heartbeat by eating right, exercising and consulting your physician, you must have a firm grasp on carefully monitoring and managing the cash-flow pulse of your business.

4 Steps to Powerful Networking

For those who are not familiar with networking meetings or one-on-one (sometimes called face-to-face) meetings networking is a formalized effort to connect individuals interested in obtaining referrals from other individuals also wanting to get business referrals while one-on-one meetings are intended for getting to know each other’s business thus providing a more qualified referral to each person.

During the time I have been networking I’ve seen a number of techniques demonstrated during the meetings and while conducting one-on-ones. Some individuals will spend time flying around the room handing out business cards and spewing all sorts of information out to anyone that will listen. Others will hold back and not engage anyone unless they are recognized first and then proceed to spew out information and provide a business card because they believe that is the reason for networking. During one-on-ones they’re primed to maximize the time together so they can’t wait to start talking to tell you all about the great things their product or service will provide you or your customer/client.

If you want to maximize your networking effort and get people to know, like and trust you enough to give you referrals then you should get to know the etiquette of networking. Yes, that’s right, there is certain etiquette you should observe when networking. Before you can have any success at networking you should understand what occurs during a networking process, instead of what generally happens.

Current Approach vs. New Approach

Common Approach: Go into the event with the intention of finding someone who will buy your product or service. Result? You might as well try to win the lottery.

New Approach: Go into the event with the intention of bringing abundance to everyone you meet by getting them connected to the individuals and groups that will give them what they need now, or set them on the path that will result in manifesting their dream. THEN, after effectively doing this, tell them what you do and ask who they know who could use your product or service. Result: A wide open door of willingness to buy your product or service, or connect you with someone who will.

There are two ways to approach networking:

One: "I am going to be SO INTERESTING by what I say, how I look, how well I talk about my product or service, and exude so much charisma that people will be so impressed that they will want my product or service NOW and will tell everyone they know about it! I will just get better and better and better at this and inevitably become rich and successful.

Two: "I will be SO INTERESTED in everyone I talk to, in what they do, in what they need now, in their dream, that I will inevitably create abundance for everyone I meet by connecting them to the people and groups that will contribute to their success. I will get better and better and better at this and inevitably help others become rich and successful. I will not expect anything directly back from anyone I help. But as I am wise enough to see that this path will surely guarantee my business, financial and personal success, I will become fulfilled in all areas of life.

Interest Levels Other People Have in What You Do:
What goes through an individuals mind when you first meet them for the ultimate purpose of getting quality referrals? The success you have in converting a person into a referral partner may have to do with what interest level they have for your business offering. Let’s look at how this interest level might be scaled.

0) I do not know anything about you or your business and am not interested.

1) I know I will have no interest and I don't want to start a conversation or want this conversation to end ASAP.

2) I will listen long enough to get the opportunity to tell you what I do.

3) I will listen long enough to scan my memory to see if anyone I know can use your product or service and tell you I will let you know if I think of anyone.

4) I will listen because maybe if I do you will help me or buy my product or service.

5) I think there is a good chance you can help me so I will focus on our conversation. You are a key person that can and probably will help me in my business.

7) You have definitely helped me and I want to stay connected with you because I can expect more help from you and I want the opportunity to help you.

8) I see you have helped many others and me so I will bring other people to you.

It is your responsibility to get as many people as possible up to levels 5 - 8. To have success networking you have to talk to people at levels 5 - 8. You will get everyone you meet up to levels 5 - 8 when you conduct the 4 Steps to Powerful Networking.

4 Steps to Powerful Networking

1. FIND OUT WHAT PEOPLE DO.
First, greet them and ask for their business card. Have a pen so you can immediately start taking notes on their business card, starting with the date and location you are meeting them. (Have some blank business cards with you in case their card is shiny and you can't write on it.) Date and venue are important because this will help jog your memory about them later as your network expands and you connect people to your network. At first you may believe it is obvious what someone does. You can often look at their business card and get a general idea. This is not sufficient. Find out what makes them, unique. Expect to ask them ten questions or more.

2. HAVE A NETWORK.

Have you ever heard that everyone knows 250 people? This includes YOU! Even though you may know 250 people it is unlikely you will always think of the right people at the right time. Probably your network (of 250 people) will be too vague to be useful while networking.

Don't ever feel embarrassed if you can't immediately give someone a contact and don't ever feel you don't really deserve a lead. Just create a REAL NETWORK.

3. FIND OUT WHAT THEY NEED NOW.
SO now you know exactly what makes them unique and have defined their ideal client. Now you need to find out what they need to take their business or dream to the next level. Again, expect to ask ten or more questions to get this clarified. They won't be expecting these questions and this much continuing interest. Most people they talk to don't really care. You might have to work at finding out exactly what they need now. And as they are not used to going into much detail, it is often not very clear to them. Find out!

4. CONNECT THEM TO YOUR NETWORK and ADD THEM TO YOUR NETWORK.

Remember, don’t feel obligated to give someone a referral, but if you are carrying your business card binder and you feel comfortable connecting them with your network you can pull out the cards and give them to this person right now or follow up with them in the next couple of days. Ideally you want to collect four business cards for each contact in your binder, so you don't run out. But if you have only one card, just fill in the information on an extra blank business card if you are handing it to them. Blank business cards are also good if someone doesn't have a business card. You can give them one to write down their information.

This person will remember you.

You are in a completely different category, when you conduct the 4 Steps to Powerful Networking, than everyone else who is "just there to sell their product or service." You have helped the most important person in the world (them) achieve what their attention is absorbed in: "How can I sell more of my service or product?"

If you focus on being INTERESTING you will actually be mostly unseen and unheard. If you focus on being INTERESTED and deliver valuable help, the door will swing wide open to being seen and heard.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"I Caught One, Now What?"

Okay, so this week it's a bit of a rant with a rave chaser. Hope that keeps you riveted to my topic and glued to your chair. One of the things that I find most fascinating is how hard some Businesses work to attract customers and then practically chase them out the door once they arrive. Unlike the various ways you can fish, acquiring a customer is not a "catch and release program".


What is often misunderstood by many Business owners is that the relationship with the customer is just beginning with the first transaction. It actually seems quite bizarre to go to all the effort of identifying your target market, design and create effective marketing campaigns, then only to have a mediocre experience when they make first contact with your organization. Probably one of my biggest pet peeves is to encounter a poorly trained and less than enthusiastic employee. I don't blame the employee either, the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of management for abdicating an essential part of their Business development and training process.

Oh, Oh, I feel another metaphor coming on. Imagine if you treated each customer like it was a first date and you were looking for that perfect soul mate, a partner for life. How might you treat them now? Would you be thinking about the next time you would see them? Would you maybe put your best foot forward and be on your best behavior? Would you call the next day to ask if they enjoyed their experience with you? Would you be thinking of more ways you could impress them with your expertise, caring and various talents? Or must I use the most obvious dating metaphor as to how most customers are treated? I will resist the urge to go there. Just imagine a world where customers loved and appreciated all that you do. A world where customers would tell all their friends and associates about you and would look forward to their next visit with excitement and anticipation. You on the other hand, would constantly be working on ways to WOW your customers and would always be letting them know how much you value and appreciate them. Sounds like the perfect match, wouldn't you say?

So what seems to be so difficult with this seemingly simple concept of following up with your customer to find out if they are pleased with your products or service? I remember asking one client why he didn't follow up with his customer's with a letter or a call and his answer surprised me. He said, "what if they didn't like the work and wanted it redone"? , "AND"? Which means, why wouldn't you want to make them happy rather than have them ranting to others about your poor service? Often times an unhappy customer can be turned into a raving fan by how well you deal with the challenge they had.

Please keep this one very important thing in mind. You don't have to stand on your head to be different than your competition. Often it's only the little things that make you unique. I consistently get a call from our car dealership, next day, after having our automobile serviced to ask how we enjoyed the total experience with them. Twenty years later and hundreds, possibly thousands of other car maintenance experiences they are still the only one that calls. Start to brainstorm some ideas today about the things you could do that would please and impress your customer in such a way that they would feel compelled to tell someone. Remember, it costs five times more to find a new customer than to keep the one you have.

One last thought around the future of your Business. The main reason for starting a Business for most people is to create a lifestyle that the Business can support, provide financial freedom and the ability to be in control of your life, right? Then one day you hope to sell your successful and profitable enterprise for a significant amount of money, enough to retire in comfort, sound about right? So hold that thought during your next customer transaction and thank your most valuable asset as they walk out the door. Oh, and call or write them a thank you card the very next day too!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Good Help is Hard to Find

You hear it all the time from business owners… “Good help is hard to find.” Sure – it has its variations, such as “I work harder now that I own my own business than I did before as an employee,” or “in today’s economy, people don’t stay at the same company very long,” but it all means the same thing.

Is there an answer… of course! With a little preparation, you CAN find a great employee. First of all, have a prepared job description, including duties performed, education, experience, and ability requirements for the position ready before you start. Secondly, rather than a standard ad, try this - ask for EXACTLY what you want! Thirdly, take your time in the interview process to find the exact person. If you look for someone with the right attitude toward being a team member and they are reasonably intelligent you can always train someone to your standards. In fact, training someone to your standards generally insures they won’t have any bad habits picked up along the way in other jobs. Also, using analysis tools such as DISC during an interview process can improve your chances of putting new employees into the correct job.

Finally, once they’re hired, rather than a pat on the back and a hearty “good luck” when they start, take some time to review the position, set goals for them, provide a mentor (you’ve heard of them, they help employees learn the ropes in the organization) and train them.

Remember the maxim, “Slow to hire and quick to fire.” Stop doing the opposite!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What is a Professional Business Coach?

A professional business coach is an expert in various areas and processes of business. In practice, a coach takes the time to understand the owner’s business completely and provides systematic development strategies that help the owner reach his or her goals. A business coach works to develop the whole business on a continuous basis, in contrast to a consulting engagement where expertise is typically focused on a specific stand-alone issue. A good business coach is a skilled mentor in the development of areas such as leadership skills, marketing, sales training systems, development of customer service systems and human resources, as well as financial analysis and intelligence.

Business coaches engage with, among others, new ventures and businesses having difficulties. A coach can prove highly effective in proprietary businesses, especially when the management is planning to expand, achieve yearly objectives, or sort out day-to-day problems. They also work extensively with business owners who are quite successful. These owners invest in coaches to help them achieve and maintain even greater successes. Many well established businesses find working with a business coach to be a highly profitable investment with an incredible Return on Investment. In fact, a study conducted by Michigan-based Triad Performance Technologies, Inc. cites an average 10:1 return on investment in less than one year!

As well, fast growing businesses need to constantly recruit new employees and acquire sufficient capital to support this expansion. Very often, expansion creates problems related to workforce management, resource allocation, and delegation of authority and responsibility. Over time, these problems can escalate and start to seriously affect productivity and profits along with the competitive advantage the business had in the first place. The owners of these fast growing enterprises often have little time to manage the recurring, daily problems. A business coach can address these issues as well as work with the owners to enable them to prioritize their objectives and allocate time and resources to each component of productivity in proportion to their relative contributions.

Businesses that have failed in the past and are starting out fresh can also greatly benefit from professional business coaches. These trusted advisors can assist in identifying and breaking free from inefficient management practices, and create positive new ones. A business coach can also offer a fresh point of view and an unbiased opinion about the business as well as provide competent strategies and tools. In fact, many failed ventures occur because the owner, such as an electrician or IT specialist, has great technical skills related to the product or service they sell, but limited business and financial skills. A business coach works with these owners to assure they have the requisite knowledge and savvy for sustained success.

Working with a coach is challenging, exciting and focused. A professional coach’s goal of fostering dynamic, continuous progress creates incredible business momentum. Combined exhilaration and remarkable success!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Top 10 Easiest Ways to Increase Your Referral Business

Turning to your current and/or past clients for their referral business is not only a smart and practical way to build your business, it's EASY!

1. See your clients NOT just as mere 'business', but as a budding friendship.

Friends help friends.

2. Tell your clients just how important their referral support is to your success.
People love to know when they are doing good and when they have been a key player in something successful.

3. Ask for them!
I know, obvious, but so many people are afraid to simply ask. Here is some sample dialogue for you to try: Address one of your clients/customers today and simply ask - "Of all the people in your office (or of all of your closest friends) which person do you think would be the most interested in the product/service I offer?"

4. Begin at the beginning.
Instead of waiting later in a client/customer relationship to ASK for referral support....(which for some can be uncomfortable) begin TELLING your prospects/new clients at the very beginning that receiving referral support from your clients is HOW you do business.

5. Express yourself!
Let your clients know ALL that you do. Most will think the only thing you do or offer is what they get from you. Explain through stories, examples, and other offers the FULL RANGE of what you are able to offer.

6. Keep improving - go for mastery.
The better you become at what you do or know, the more confident you naturally come off to others - thereby creating more confidence in THEM to easily refer you to the people in their life as "THE ONE to go to."

7. Shift the burden.
Many business owners are afraid that asking for referrals from their customers/clients puts an unwanted burden on them. (They feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for 'help.') So, shift your belief or understanding. When you ask your clients to refer their friends or colleagues to you, YOU (once again) are HELPING MORE PEOPLE. (The burden stays on you and off of them!)

8. Create Exclusivity!
Create an experience for your customers/clients that feels (and is) exclusively just for them. HOW you do business should definitely stand out (and apart) from your competition. It doesn't have to be a lot. Keep it simple - yet clearly beneficial to your clients/customers.

9. Go Long (think Life long relationship)

Let your clients/customers know you are interested in serving them for the long haul. Sometimes it won't occur to a client/customer to return to you for your product or service. Let them know you would like to serve them as long as they need the product or service you are exchanging with them.

10. Keep it Easy - Keep it Simple.

People love easy and simple (isn't that why you are reading this top ten?). Whatever your product or service, make the experience of working with you as easy and simple for your customer/client as possible.

This piece was originally submitted by Laura Burkey, Founder/Creator Coach Master Skill Group, Career and Life Coach

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Debunking Myths about Consumer Behavior in a Recession

I thought everyone might find this article that I read interesting because it helps to quell the fear mongering about our economy. Enjoy!

June 2, 2009 - The number of 'facts' circulating about how consumers behave during a recession appears to be correlated to the number of self-appointed experts desperately searching for those elusive green shoots of recovery.
Here, we attempt to debunk some of these widely held beliefs.
Myth one:people turn to drinking at home in recessionary times
The pub trade's problems are well documented. The combined effects of the smoking ban, increases in alcohol duty and the recession have hit its takings hard.
However, the latest sales figures, for the first quarter of this year, compiled by the British Beer & Pub Association, reveal that the slump is not confined to the on-trade. Sales of beer in supermarkets and off-licences were down 11% compared with the same quarter in 2008 - the biggest three-month decline since 1997.
Richard Brown, managing partner of strategy firm Cognosis Consulting, claims consumers are cutting back on drinking partly because of health concerns, but also because the scale of this recession is becoming more clear.
"The drinks industry is on a far more slippery slope than it thought it was going to be,' says Brown. He adds that, while in previous recessions drinkers traded down, this time, they are simply trading out.
Myth two: women still buy lipstick as an affordable treat
The 'Lipstick Effect' - the idea that women purchase lipstick as a 'pick-me-up' during hard times - had proved a resilient concept over the decades. Last week, however, Mintel research revealed that only 3% of female consumers said they had bought a lipstick to make themselves feel better during the current downtown.
The same research found that 60% of women are instead spending the same or more on foundations and 'essential products' such as shampoo and cleansers.
'In this recession, "austerity chic" - or looking good for less - is replacing the Lipstick Effect,' says Nica Lewis, head consultant at Mintel Beauty Innovation. 'Beauty is now marketed as a necessity rather than a luxury. This means women are investing in moisturisers, body lotion and haircare, rather than lipstick.'
Myth three: all charities will suffer from declininq donations
The public is still willing to donate to charity despite the hard times. Last month's London Marathon raised a record Pounds 22.4m for charities, according to donations website Justgiving.
Interestingly, the average donation fell from Pounds 32 to Pounds 29.50, but an increase in the overall number of donors resulted in a 7% rise on the 2008 total.
The site will continue to process marathon sponsorships for three months, and the final figure raised is expected to be about Pounds 25m.
Meanwhile, in March, the biennial Comic Relief/Red Nose Day fundraiser also bucked expectations by bringing in Pounds 57m on the night, an increase of Pounds 17m on the previous event in 2007 - when the economy was still in rude health. The total has since risen to more than Pounds 65m.
Myth four: shoppers will abandon brands for own-label products
Many a branded-goods marketer must have shuddered when the big supermarkets began to promote their ownlabel value ranges in earnest. Last September Teseo launched its Discount Brands range, while Sainsbury's has pulled no punches in telling consumers to 'Switch and Save' to its Basics range.
Yet TNS figures for the 12 weeks to 22 February show that brands' value sales are growing faster than those of own-label goods; the former were up 7.3% on the same period last year compared with 6.6% for own-label.
David Iddiols, senior partner at research company HPI, says his firm's latest 'Crunchometer' poll revealed that 51% of consumers said they were buying more own-label goods and cheaper brands than they used to, but he notes that 'a lot of counter-balancing goes on'. In other words, most consumers do not trade down across the board. ? suspect consumers find solace in some of their favourite trusted brands during hard times,' adds Iddiols.
Myth five: stayinq in is the new going out
While it is true that consumers are staying in more, there are still some activities that can tempt them off the sofa and out of the house.
Despite gloomy predictions from industry-watchers on how cinema would suffer at the start of the downturn, the medium is flourishing.
In January, cinema admissions hit a five-year high - 14,504,588, up 7.7% year on year, according to the Cinema Advertising Association. Figures for February showed that this was not a blip, as admissions rose further still, up 16.4% year on year.

Copyright Haymarket Business Publications Ltd. May 6, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How Sharp is Your Saw?

Remember Albert Einstein, he is known for some really great quotes among his many scientific achievements. One of my favorites is: “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. Well, that ought to stir things up a bit. Let me ask you a few questions. Do you find yourself struggling with the same kind of Business challenges on a regular basis? Do you find you have consistent challenges dealing with people? Is technology constantly testing you and frustrating you? Do you regularly find there’s not enough time in the day to get things done? Do you think things will eventually change in all these areas of concern to better suit your style? Einstein also said; “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” So with that, let’s have a look at some ideas that might inspire you to lead a better quality of life and move past some of the barriers that may be holding you back.

Take a moment and think about one thing that you do very well. Maybe it’s a particular sport that you have mastered. Perhaps it’s a musical instrument that you spent years studying and are now quite accomplished. Possibly a hobby like racing cars, piloting your yacht in coastal waters, gourmet cooking, anything that people who know you would say you are great at doing. Got it? Good. Now, how long did it take to become so skillful and masterful at your particular craft? Why did you take the time to learn and become so proficient in this area of interest? You will likely start to notice in this discovery that the things you enjoy doing are tied to what you value. Further, the things you value are much easier to become passionate about than the things you don’t. Do you think there is some significance to being passionate about anything you do in order to achieve a masterful status? Hmmm!

Let’s draw the connection to your Business. When you started your Business, what was the purpose, (your why) the primary reason for doing so and is that still true for you today? Were you going to fill a void in the marketplace or were you simply determined to provide better value and service than what was currently being offered in your industry? Did it get the juices flowing just thinking how you could own your market or at the very least carve out a disproportionate share? Was there a goal or a vision you started with that would stretch and challenge you with its accomplishment? Is there any skill, competency or knowledge that you lack that could move your Business to that next level you desire? Okay, here comes the big one. Is there anyone holding you accountable to what you set out to do? Do you have a mentor that can listen to you and critique your ideas and plans? I’m going to recommend that you find and meet with someone you can trust or a small group you can mastermind with at least once per month.

I have talked about this in the past and know the value of working through this. Remember Einstein’s quote and the value of advanced thinking. Re-examine your big picture goal (your vision) and take a forensic look at where you are (your current reality) in relationship to that goal. Are you stuck in a rut with no clear direction or instructions on how to get out? When establishing your current reality it’s important to list all of the things you currently possess in terms of skills, competencies and knowledge. Also state what you have accomplished in relation to your goals so you are clear of the distance between the two. What’s important next is not to be too concerned if your goal or vision is seemingly far away or not even in the picture of realization. What is imperative is to determine what skill, competency or knowledge you must learn and apply that to move you one step closer to your goal. Is it time to hire a Coach, attend that seminar, read that book or enroll in an online webinar? In the beginning of this exercise there is usually a fair amount of tension between where you are and where you want to go, this is a good thing. With each subsequent step of learning and development the tension begins to relax and the target begins to move closer. You will find this exercise can be applied to any new endeavor, skill or competency you want to master.

Think about it, even Tiger Woods has a trainer, a coach and a support team to stay at the top of his game. Would you agree that Tiger is a pretty fair golfer? He’s such a great metaphor for success because while others would be happy to be the “Tiger Woods” of their particular market, he continues to raise the bar on himself. Why not start to raise your bar. After all, the only restrictions to what we can achieve and accomplish are allowed by our own self limiting beliefs. In the prophetic words of another great mentor of mine, Napoleon Hill, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve”. It’s time to kick that “gremlin” off your shoulder that’s telling you aren’t good or smart enough. Get out the grinder or the file and sharpen your saw, life’s going to get allot more fun and interesting. Stay positive and strong, you have much to be grateful for!