Friday, October 18, 2013

What Happens After Success?

Many think that success is the destination. I urge you to consider that it is a layover. 

Not to rain on anyone's parade who has (finally) achieved success in their business, but I want you to avoid a potential devastating reality that I have seen sneak up on too many "successful" entrepreneurs. Too many times to list, I have been asked to help bring life back into a business that peaked with immense success and then (sometimes slowly) diminished into declining sales and profits. 

How does this happen? 

I have written before about how this happens and although it is important to know the pitfalls, I think it is critical to understand that once you attain success, the game is not over. Therefore, I offer to you what I know to be important to understand early in the life of your business so that you can maneuver through success to sustained success and continued growth. 

A few questions to ask yourself…

  • Do you want to continue to grow? 
  • Do you have an exit strategy?
  • Do you intend on selling your business (at any time)?
  • Does your passion run hot for new markets or is your vision myopic?

The above questions were really breadcrumbs to lead you to the answers. Trick move —sorry. 

If you don't continue to grow your business, it drastically effects your ability to sell your business when you are ready to leave (retire, move onto other things, et al). It will also eventually effect market share. (Yes. Someone else will come into your space and do it better, faster or cheaper — or just with more attention!) Therefore, you must add new markets, new channels, new products, new exposure (entrance) points and new marketing strategies to move past the success phase and to continue to thrive.  

This isn't to say that you shouldn't enjoy your success. We all set goals to achieve them. Be proud of what you have done. But please, do not take this achievement as the end game. To use an old phrase, it is a marathon – not just a sprint. Another way to look at it is that it is continuous entrepreneurship. It is not a permanent destination. Success is just a layover onto the excitement of more growth!

So, once you have attained your goals, celebrate! Then, get excited about the future. Don't stop! Build new products. Find new ways to promote. Seek new markets. Develop partnerships and consider prudent, well-suited acquisitions. With a solid understanding that there is a "post success" phase you will be ready for it. You will be ahead of most who believe that success is the destination. Enjoy your layover there, but get back on the cruise ship and take the rest of the journey. When you are ready to move on, you will reap the rewards of being a serial entrepreneur with a sale worthy business that possesses a innate culture of continued growth. Sound life a journey? It is...enjoy it!

Fore reading on the pitfalls that many encounter, here are a couple of past posts to take a look at:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Are You in Business … or Enjoying a Hobby?

I’ve been helping businesses attain challenging goals for years. Often the challenge is to orchestrate and accomplish a “turn-around” because the business is declining or has stalled. At other times, it is to implement a new program, product or deploy a new channel or “make rain” for a new start up.

Although there are themes in all businesses that cross industry, size and locale, there is a definite trend in SMBs that I saw 20 years ago and unfortunately, I still see today.

We have all heard of the glorious stories of idea–folk who start in their garage and end up with a multi-billion dollar corporation. There are also some SMBs that started this way and appear to look successful…

·      A competitor comes in and takes away customers
·      A cash flow issue “appears”
·      The tax person comes calling and the business is in arrears
·      One disgruntled (or justified) employee files a lawsuit and puts the business in danger
·      The “tried and true” form of gaining customers dries up or a new way of attracting customers comes along and you missed the early boat – but your competitor didn’t
·      The founder of the business is the business and s/he is getting older, ill or ready to retire so sales are declining
·      Focusing on providing superior product or service has always worked for the business before but now the “numbers” are declining
·      Technology has moved ahead of your business processes and costs are degrading margins or the business is not readied for the technology changes

These are just a few of the trends that I have seen but they are real and they happen all the time. And, this is when a business either asks for help or eventually declares defeat. I urge you, even if the above “untils” loosely describe your situation to ask for help. A good business and marketing consultant can help you and your business to get ahead of the issues but you cannot wait until the problems are dire. One too many businesses I have tried to help, waited too long. It saddens me terribly to see people’s dreams crumble, especially when they could have been saved.

If any of the “untils” are in your business you are a hobbyist and that is a wonderful thing. However, most of you wanted to run a business so get an advisor/business couch/consultant to help identify and resolve these “fixable” issues for you and learn the nuts and bolts on running a business not a hobby.

Happy Marketing!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What Can You Learn from the Housewives Franchise?

Whether you are hooked on reality TV or not, you have to respect the empire rendered by the Housewives franchise.

Why is that?

This very popular TV franchise has struck a chord with viewers. It manages to take you on a journey and allows you to feel an array of emotion; everything from luxurious fantasy to vile loathing.

This is important for marketers to pay attention to. Not just for the obvious reasons regarding popular pop culture and its impact on consumer behavior, but the subtleties of why these shows are so popular and subscribed to across the offerings.

Emotion. These shows make you feel. As said earlier, the ‘feelings’ range and are varied, but each episode is usually a roller coaster ride, taking the viewer along to love and hate and fear and protect all in one episode.

Good marketing does the same thing. But I caution that just evoking emotion is not enough. There must be content and branding.

I am certain that you can all cite examples of commercials you recall or remember but do not know who or what the Product or Company is associated with the spot. This is poor marketing.

Good branding is like the Housewives franchise. Each episode, across the various versions, evokes emotion, provides an experiential ride and continuously delivers consistent branding in imaging, format and content. While flipping channels and landing on one of these shows, you know it right away and you know the ‘real’ Housewives shows versus those that are spin offs or replicas. That’s good marketing.

So as the characters … um real people… in NY, OC, NJ or BH are sharing their lives with you, pay attention to the consistent display of emotion,  format, branding and content. Then ask yourself how you can inject this consistency into your marketing across channels, venues, media, etc.

Happy Marketing!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Big Data…Where to Start?

I have recently been discussing “Big Data” with savvy technology professionals who amaze me more and more with the fascinating realities of what we can do now, what we are so close to doing and what we will do in the very near future.

As a marketer and operations professional, I have utilized data to look for patterns of what was going right, wrong and trending for a very long time. (I once developed an entire inventory, transfer, buyer data and reconciliation system from an old 10 key cash register that had 7 “department” numbers and the ability to randomly enter numbers – which I used for SKUs!) Fortunately, I have also held positions where I managed unbelievable marketing and technology talent and we did some very sophisticated loyalty, affinity, acquisition, share of wallet, launches and target market development. So, for me data has been the breadcrumbs that have lead me to implement some very successful strategies.

What I seem to sense in marketers is a misunderstanding about “Big Data”. I recently attended a seminar on the issue and folks asked questions like, “what is it?” It is not something new. It is just more data from additional sources such as social media, additional transaction and web browsing data and the like. I look at it like just more toys in the toy box! These bright shiny new toys, along with the old ones, are great tools that can help lead to educated decisions on consumers’ and business’ propensity to behave or purchase or donate, or whatever your goal or question is.

And this brings me to where to start. Start with your biggest questions or challenge the embedded beliefs about your market. Don’t be afraid to start with an old exercise of a quadrant analysis and then match all existing data to each record. Once you have done this, what conclusions can you draw about your market? Are your best customers who and what you thought they were? Do you see opportunities in your Q2 data that suggest that if you market to Q2 in new areas or ways, they are very likely to shift into Q1? Test it and find out.

As you begin to actually see what data (big and small) you have to work with, you can begin to develop new theories, see new patterns and receive direction from the data that will lead you on a journey to devouring data to help you succeed and make ‘wins’ faster and with higher ROI than ever before.

With this, I close with Happy and Fun Marketing! Enjoy your new toys!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Has Your CRM Failed You…Or Are You Failing It?

There are many flavors of CRM and many uses, but for our purposes today, let’s start with a simple united definition.

As a goal oriented person, I’ll cut to the chase and define it like this:

 A method by which one can improve customer service and increase revenue.

 Sounds like great stuff, right? Who doesn’t want to achieve those two goals?

Are you achieving those goals with the CRM tools that you use?

·      Or, has your tool become a chore to you and/or your employees, so it goes unused?
·      Or, is your tool used sporadically and therefore does not reflect the level of detail that allows you to provide exceptional customer insight?
·      Or, are you too “busy” to use the tool when you are engaging with your customers?
·      Or, do you or your employees not really understand how to utilize the CRM tool so it feels like a waste of money?
·      Or, are you pretty savvy with your CRM (Or hired someone to do it for you) and you have pre-set triggers that send emails, reminders and offers to customers? (This one can be the MOST dangerous if you have done something wrong to a customer and then they receive a reminder to come visit you again, or a ‘canned’ 10% offer on their next visit. This is a HUGE turn off to customers. You have probably lost them if you do this without precautions in place.)

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you are failing to properly use CRM within your organization and should immediately seek help to develop a strategy to solve this harmful problem.

Why is this so urgent?  Competition has never been greater. If you are a brick and mortar company, you are literally dying a slow death (sometimes, not so slow). If you are an Internet based company, your customer is only one click away from using someone else. This is reality.

There is such great opportunity available for you. If you are in a leadership role in your company, you must engage with your customers by using your CRM tool properly – or don’t use it at all.  

How do you do this? Here are three basic actions to take that will make a vast improvement in your Customer Satisfaction:

·      Be certain every employee is trained thoroughly on the system.
·      Ensure there is a mechanism to send unique and special apologies, offers of SPIFs, etc. when you have had a bad transaction with a customer. Be certain that the ‘canned’ reminders and offers do not reach your customers before you have completely reinstated and repaired your relationship to their satisfaction.
·      Demand that your employees use the system. This is especially important if you have a Call Center environment or Customer Service staff. Nothing frustrates customers more than trying to repeat the problem they are trying to remedy over and over again. In contrast, a customer likes to hear, “Thank you for calling Ms. Smith. I’d like to review your notes on the problem that you reported so that I can assist you properly. Is that ok?” Then confirm the problem and get the customer’s confirmation that you understand – and then solve their problem! The potent thing about CRM is that if used correctly, you have the data to view your most reported problems and then fix the issue before the problem occurs. You also have the data to see what resolutions pleased the customer most times and empower and train your staff to resolve the issue with the most likely remedy. (This requires integration of your CRM and your Script Writing Team in your Customer Relations / Call Center Department. It is critical!)

CRM is an extremely powerful aid when used properly. (I had a client who increased share of wallet 4X over in less than 9 months!) However, it can also be extremely harmful or a waste of money if not used properly. And the best advice I can give to those who are administering the tool themselves is to implement the features one by one, test results (seed your CRM database just as you would a DM list), make adjustments as necessary and then implement the next best feature for your customers, repeat.

Most importantly, do not flood your customers with emails, newsletters, offers, etc. This will get you on a junk folder status before you can say CRM!

Good luck! Feel free to write in more questions and as always…Happy Marketing!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Are You Getting ROI From Your Marketing Strategy?

A recent conversation with a business owner proved to be very interesting. When I asked the owner what the marketing approach was for the business, he returned a blank stare.

Our conversation was initiated because the owner had expanded products and services and the new offerings were not producing as expected.

The business had been operating with primarily price point marketing strategy that was appropriate for his industry. The new products and services were higher price points and his operational approach and “selling” and promoting approach to these items was the same as the price point product. The well-known approach was resulting in disappointing sales for the new offerings. What went wrong?

Let me back up…..When you use a price point marketing strategy, the process is simple. Keep operational prices low and prominently advertise your low prices. This is a good approach for commodity type items. As an example, grocery stores use this approach and a lot of retailers utilize it on “specials” to get attention and traffic and then rely on other tactics to upsell. It is a tried and true strategy but it doesn’t work in all situations or industries.

In the case of the business owner I met with, the price point strategy was not the winning approach for their expanded service and product line. It was failing, so in came a “consultant” (not me at this juncture). The consultant went full throttle with the price point model and began slashing operating expense to make each item sold more profitable. Not a bad approach in some cases, but the wrong one in this case.

The items being sold were high quality, specialized and leant themselves towards customization. Reducing costs and customization rarely go together and in this instance, cost reductions eliminated customization. Sure, there was more profit in each item sold but the number of items drastically dropped, rendering net profits to almost null. What to do?

I explained to the owner that although he had been very successful with price point marketing in his primary business, the new items required a different approach. They required relational marketing.

Relational marketing requires you to build relationships with your buyers and to cater to them. This is one of the most solid differentiators in marketing. As an example, if you sell coffee to commuters, what makes people buy from you over the plethora of other providers? In most cases, it is because of how you treat them. You allow them to feel special, make special requests and if you are good, you know their name and have loyalty programs. This will keep your customer coming back and it will make them choose you over price point almost every time.
For this business owner, he is now in the process of repairing those relationships with lost customers and building new relationships with new ones. It is an uphill battle, once you have lost customers, but it will work if you can act swiftly and are persistent. It is important to note that sometimes your marketing strategy is not a one size fits all. You may have several strategies needed for your company. Choose wisely!

When all else fails, consult a professional with years of experience who knows the correct strategy, tactics and tools required to make your business thrive.

Happy Marketing!  

Monday, April 15, 2013

Marketing and Squirrels – Do they have anything in common?

Certainly you’ve heard the statement, “S/He is like a squirrel hunting for nuts”. This is usually meant as a derogatory comment about someone. However, I propose and have seen that a marketer who isn’t really trained or knowledgeable about analytics and /or database marketing, may start their search for a nugget of information that will improve their marketing ROI in the same way a squirrel hunts for nuts.

Unfortunately a lot of companies, even large ones, do not have the data collection or resources devoted to analysis of the available marketing data that could help a marketer analyze data to easily find the nuggets (and sometimes gems) that will enlighten them to alter their marketing strategy and dramatically improve results.

What do you do if you are in this position? Think like a squirrel! Look, hunt, ask everyone questions (especially the seasoned sales people as well as the operations folks).

Here’s a short list of what basic questions to answer/define:
1.     Who is my customer?
a.     Define as many characteristics as you can: What is the demographic information? What are the best customers and how often do they buy? Why do they buy? What method do they use to buy? What is the return rate of these customers? What anecdotal information (psychographic, personality, etc.) can you get from the people closest to the customer? (This is where the info from sales and ops can really help.) If you have support and budget, get your best customer list appended with psychographic data. This will most definitely provide you with invaluable insight into your best customer.
2.     Who are my other customers?
a.     Do a quadrant analysis on your customer list and divide them into four groups: Best, Next Best, Third Best and Fourth Best.  (I suggest that there is a fifth group and that is people who routinely interact with your marketing tactics but don’t buy from you. Then, test to see if you can convert these folks into customers or make them evangelists – but that is your last step in this process.) Repeat the process above for each quadrant.
b.     Compare your results and percentages, with each quadrant’s characteristics, against your potential market (geographic, market size/share of market, demographic indicators in your market, etc.) Determine how you are doing in comparison to what is there for the taking. Define your saturation level and look for the opportunities and develop a strategy to capture as much as you can.    
3.     What are your customers buying?
a.     Look at the quadrants separately. Are there any significant trends of what is purchased and how it is purchased across the board or do your quadrants respond differently? Some of my clients have found that they are spending a lot of their time and money marketing to people that really just routinely buy the same thing/s, at the same time and by doing this exercise, they realize that a lot of the marketing could be redirected to increasing share of wallet or bumping the 2nd quadrant up into the 1st and the best customer could be communicated to with a loyalty strategy.
4.     What does this data tell you?
a.     Now that you have the data (even if it is raw) look for the patterns and look for the opportunities. Look for how these groups like to buy from you and look at how they have responded to your current marketing. As an example, it might be fascinating for you to see that your strategy is heavy on digital marketing but your customer tends to buy via telephone orders. (*Hint: this may tell you it is the personal touch that your customer likes and your customer may or may not be responding to your digital efforts.)
What do you do next?
1.     Develop a strategy to gain customers where there is room for growth. Develop it based upon how your customer interacts with you not based on what you have always done.
2.     Test your strategy (A/B is standard) and define your winner.
3.     Once you have your winner, develop a campaign and implement it.
4.     Use this strategy for all of the quadrants where you see potential. Change your strategy to loyalty where you have saturation.

Is this the end of marketing analytics or database marketing? Absolutely not! This is a very good starting point though. I have used this approach with many, many clients with unbelievable results. Try it in your organization and with success, perhaps you will be able to justify the investment of tools that will help you to continuously perform such analysis and even develop a strategy to acquire a full- blown database marketing strategic environment. I strongly believe that once you realize what amazing results you attain by implementing a “smart” approach to marketing strategy, you will never go back to a think tank or top down marketing approach ever again.

Happy Marketing!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Does Familiarity Breed in Your Business?

I am often placed in a position as a consultant to be the “outsider looking in”. In fact, I take this approach with every position I under take. What I generally find is that there is a gross illusion of the customer’s understanding of a business’s processes, purpose and services.

A recent example of this was at a seminar for small – medium sized businesses. Upon entering the foyer to the conference room, there were tables set up with functional signs at each one. One said Marketing and Sales and another said Finance and so on. At each post was a person who could provide help on their topic. Having some insight into the seminar series, I knew that these tables were set up for business owners to drop by and ask questions or inquire about setting up free counseling services for their business. Had I not been an insider in this case, I would have had no idea what these people or tables were. Being the continuous process improvement and customer behavioral modeler that I am, I watched to see what the incoming attendees did. Yup, just as I suspected they would,  they signed in at the entry desk, looked at the tables with a gaze and walked straight into the conference room and waited for the first speaker to begin. What a missed opportunity – for everyone!

This was a perfect example of the seminar producers being too familiar with what their process and services were. They forgot to look at the experience from the attendees’ point of view. If only someone at the sign in table either told the attendees about the tables or even handed out a flyer explaining the tables, I am certain that many business owners would have utilized this free service to get specific questions answered and/or set up time with a counselor to get help later. But with no direction, the attendees walked right past the tables and into the conference room and waited for the speaker to begin.   

The first speaker this particular night was quite vibrant and covered the topic of Social Media at a high level, opening the door for many follow up questions and very possibly some consulting work. The room was packed, so quite realistically, the topic of SM was something that these business owners needed/wanted to learn about. I was quite impressed with the speaker’s presentation as it offered a valuable overview but by no means left anyone new to SM with the ability to sit down at their computer and start their Social Media Program. Bravo, I thought. Great job of leading the horse to water…now tell them how they can get help in actually starting SM and how to learn what it can do for their business. Nothing. The presentation ended and intermission was called.   

The missed opportunities were killing me! The room was ripe with prospective consulting clients and no one told them how to get it! In fact, four people seated near me asked what I did and all respectively asked if I could help them with Social Media. Of the four, I am working with three of them now on how to use SM effectively for their businesses. I don’t know what the other 200 attendees are doing now, but I know they didn’t get the detailed help on Social Media that they need to start utilizing SM for their businesses.  

After intermission another speaker droned on about a topic that I am still unclear of to this day. I suppose that I would classify it as personal empowerment or organizational structure. Regardless, this speaker cleared the room. By the end of the seminar, the room was 2/3 empty. Since I had been asked to assist by providing suggestions on how to get more people to sign up for counseling, I sat in my seat after the seminar ended making notes. Then, a man handed me a card – no explanation – just handed me a card. As I looked at it, the card was a form to fill out to request consulting services. Finally!  There was the offering – but there wasn’t any information or signage on where to submit the card once I filled it out. Oh no –not again – more missed opportunity!

These are small examples but painful for the organization that held the seminar. They highlight the organizer’s over-familiarity with what they do and their lack of familiarity or even recognition that a new attendee has no idea what the process is and the details of “how to” are just as important as content.

This was a sad illustration of how easy it is for an organization to be so familiar with their process that they forget to explain it to their customer. I urge you to take a fresh look at your customer interactions and look at where you are missing opportunities.

Aesop is quoted as saying that Familiarity Breeds Contempt. I offer to you that familiarity leads to confusion, missed opportunities and bad service. A simple but good example of remembering the small stuff that makes a difference is the ticket taker at the movie theatre. As s/he rips the ticket s/he tells you what theatre you are in and which direction (left or right) it is located. Could we find the theatre without this? Yes, but this small gesture provides a feeling of service, attention to details and comfort. After all, if I know where my theatre is, I will most likely not waste time looking for it and I will use that time to hit the concession stand on my way to my movie ;)

The theatre example is a basic and practical understanding of consumer behavior. Some companies have very sophisticated modeling protocols. Others, like a very famous amusement park, require their theme park engineers and designers to observe people interact with the park's offerings to see what customers want to have as an interaction and to learn to anticipate what attendees want to experience. Why don’t you take the time to look at your business interactions from an outsider’s point of view? You just might find that you gain more customers, sell more candy or retain your customer’s loyalty as they feel that you take the time to care about the small stuff and their overall experience.
Happy Marketing!

As always, if I can help, please don’t hesitate to contact me at