Growing and Measuring Growth

Frustrated by your own declining sales?

Earlier this week we talked about the client who told me, by way of dismissing my instant read of his business, “But my customers love it.”

(To that dear client: If you are reading this—and we both know you are not—but if you are reading this, this post is not for you. Seriously.)

Well, what if your customers do love it, and what if they’re right?

You’ve read Tuesday’s post. You know that you’re focused. You’re polished and professional and the go-to guy, girl, or multinational firm   ;)  for what you offer. Your customers do love it, and you don’t smell like fish.

Particularly pike. I have recently added to my infinitesimal knowledge of fish, the fact that pike are losers, and I couldn’t wait to share this strange lesson with you. So don’t smell like pike.

But I digress…

What’s going on if your customers love you, but your business is still on the decline? Below, my top ten sight-unseen instant reads for your business, in no particular order. See if you recognize your company:

1. Your hard-won customer base is aging. Your Ideal Customer, of course, does not. But you’re still talking to all those folks who are getting too old for what you offer, and neglecting to bring in the Ideal Customer, because those folks who don’t need what you have anymore are like friends and family to you. They love you, but hey, at 37 they don’t get on skateboards that much anymore.

2. Your neighborhood is on the decline. The folks who’ll brave the area—or who come in every day and don’t notice the gradual changes, like you—still love you. But every day fewer people are will to make your place a destination in the middle of all that yuck, no matter what kind of wonderland your store is.

3. You’ve stopped reaching out. This can be marketing activities like networking, real old-fashioned ads, or various online activities like, say, blogging. It happens to almost everyone at some point—they forget to stay hungry, and they stop prospecting for new business, coasting on their old customers instead. Are you becoming a contented cat?

4. You aren’t actively encouraging word-of-mouth. While coasting on old customers will lead to a decline, not having the sunshine-y faith in your company to ask customers if they know someone else you can help can be just as bad. People who love you best, should love to share your goodness with others.

5. You or your staff is undermining your mission. You’ve got great stuff. Man, the customers love it. But they feel like they’re intruding on you or on your employees by asking for help—or worse yet, they feel unwanted. This can be as subtle as making phone calls look more important than a live human being right in front of you, or as obvious as rude or undertrained staff. If your stuff is really awesome, some customers will retreat to your website. Some customers will find someone else’s website on their way…

6. Your heart’s not in it. I see this way, way too often. The customers do love what you have to offer, but it’s clear that you don’t love offering it anymore. They don’t stop coming in, they just stop coming in as often.

7. They love it but they can’t find it. The clients we were discussing earlier in the week had a mishmosh of products, haphazardly arranged in his store, so that no one could get a feel for what he was best at, but you could be well-known for your Pinpoint focus, selling flavored massage oils and manuals on how best to use them and still make walking around such a disaster that only the very determined will pick anything out. (Don’t ask me how I know that.) This happens on the web as often as it happens in bricks-and-mortars, so take a look at your website, as well.

8. Your hours no longer make sense. The world is moving on. Forty years ago you could have “housewife’s hours.” The gent of the house will find out about the new appliance choices from the brochures the wife brings home. This doesn’t apply to a lot of today’s businesses, but if you’ve been around a long time, you may be expecting your customers to work around your very old-fashioned idea of proper hours. There are a lot fewer of them now, but even stay-at-home mothers and fathers are (a) very busy by day and (b) interested in their partner’s input, so insisting people twist themselves around for your limited schedule is a way to guarantee that your business declines, year after year.

9. Related to #8: You’re refusing to meet people where they start their search, on the web. Think of it as the first door to doing business with you. It doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles, but you’ve got to be here, or many people won’t find their way in. ‘Nuff said.

10. You aren’t delivering delight. Sure, your customers love you, but folks, love can get stale without work. If you aren’t wooing anymore—going beyond their expectations to serve up Maximum Customer Experience—don’t be surprised if your customers stop swooning. When was the last time you did something so delightful that you heard a laugh from a customer, or a simple “I wasn’t expecting that” or a “No, really, you don’t have to”? Make it a point to create a little customer glee on a regular basis. You will be as energized by hearing it as they will by experiencing it—and that’s what customer love is all about.

Did I miss any?

Can you think of a company whose products or services you love, where you find yourself buying less and less often—is it because of one of these reasons, or is something else missing in their customer experience? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Owning successes, owning errors

If you always, only do what you are already good at, you will not get better. Because you’re refusing to fail, you’re also not giving yourself a chance to succeed—just to stay so-so.

There’s plenty of so-so in the world, and if that’s all you want to be, I can get so-so anywhere. I don’t have to go out of my way to get your so-so service. I don’t need to stand in a line to purchase your so-so product. Guaranteed mediocrity is one certainty I can live without.

Make sense?

Stretch yourself.

This was a conversation I had yesterday with a new client…

then I read this post by Seth Godin.

Darn, I think he’s poaching my clients.

;)

There was a little more to the conversation with my client. In many companies, staff seem to be looking for someone else to blame. Joe didn’t show up for work. Sandra didn’t proofread the copy. Ted told the customer we couldn’t…

Truth is, almost always, “it” didn’t happen (whatever it was). Fred could have made “it” happen, but it was more important to Fred to make Joe-Sandra-Ted look bad than to make the company look good to the customer.

(Maybe Fred is you.)

A shame, that. So I think part of giving yourself a chance to succeed—as a company—is telling Fred you don’t want to listen to him hand off failure. Own it, and Fred can own the successes, too.

There’ll be more success to own if everyone knows that going beyond so-so is expected, and so is going beyond looking for someplace else to lay the blame.

Ready to try—even if you might fail—and own the consequences in 2010? I wish you a year of 99 failures and 1 fabulous success!

 

Screw up! and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Weathering Transitions

The air has cooled wildly here in north Delaware. Trees now come in two colors: deep emerald and tired emerald. The deep emeralds are the optimists & I’m cheering for them.

The Kid went back to school this week.

My phone began to ring again, after a late-summer lull which I had planned to worry about (though I never got around to that).

All summer I’ve been thinking about transitions, meaning to write this very post. Many businesses experience a slow season in summer or winter, but lately we’ve all transitioned from winner-take-all boom times to if-it-ain’t-broke-it-will-be-soon bust.

Now some of us are transitioning again, to planning stages and cautious growth. My favorite part of this business is hearing about new clients’ plans for growth.

Maybe it’s the sun warming my back poolside, as I write. Maybe, as Bob Seger says, it’s autumn closing in. Whatever the cause, I’m feeling a bit of an ache for the many businesses that haven’t weathered the latest transitions too well. I’m reminiscing about the deep-discount sales that were going to fix everything, the last-ditch efforts to bombard social media, the branching out in “fresh” directions that doomed already diluted brand messages.

I don’t have all the answers and who knows? maybe I’ll contradict myself tomorrow. But today I’m wondering whether lowering (revenue) expectations, rather than trying to hold on to a boom that had gone by with a new scheme every week, could have helped some companies concentrate on exceeding customer expectations.

You’ve made it through the worst of the recession now. Oh, I know, you feel the chill and you wonder, but I’m telling you. You’ve lived through this.

If you’ve got a seasonal lull coming this winter—or if you’ll see another next summer—what do you think? Is there value in throwing-fifteen-things-out-and-seeing-what-sticks? Or can pulling back, concentrating on the core of your business, sometimes be the key to weathering transitions?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

or, Why Is It So Hard to Make Changes on Your Own?

I know this sh*t. I understand the rules and I know we’ve needed to do this forever. Why is it so hard to do it myself?
—Client conversation, 2009

It comes on you hard, just as you decide you need outside help to grow your business the way you really want to. Right around the second or third conversation I have with you, my new client.

The guilt.

The feeling that because great Customer Experience is what you’ve always aimed for, Maximum Customer Experience should have been easy to plot out and implement on your own.

Like feeling guilty when you hire a personal trainer to help shed those last stubborn pounds. I wanted it, I was nearly at my goal, why couldn’t I do it alone? (I’ve been there, too. But I digress.)

Your business needs to grow and you know your Customer Experience is holding you back. So we start the project with you and everything’s going great. You’re happy, relieved even, but you send me an email in mock frustration and real curiosity: “Why is this so hard for me?”

I hear it a lot. The straight-shooting quote you see at the start of this post is from this spring, but it could have been from a half-dozen conversations and emails this year alone. The latest one, just a few days ago, made me realize it’s a real pain point for you, and I wanted to share what I say to clients when they ask me for my thoughts.

I’d love to explain that it’s hard for you because I’m an expert in what I do and you’re an expert in what you do. So my work had better be hard for you to do. But I don’t say that.

I’d also like to remind you that you’re very busy (thank goodness! Do you hear the economy starting to roar, just a little?), running your business. Switching gears to analyze and improve customer-facing business processes and design means neglecting what’s most critical—doing an awesome job for your customers and prospects. But I don’t say that.

Not because these things aren’t true, but because they aren’t the answer to your question. It’s far more basic than that.

This is so hard for you because this is your baby. Your pride and joy. Your source of laughter, your source of tears, and your source of income! You created it, you raised it, you invested soul, sweat, and dollars in it (why isn’t there a reasonable synonym for “dollars” that begins with an “s”?). Nobody understands your business like you do. You love it flaws and all, and right there…

Right there it is.

You love your baby, flaws and all. As I said to one client recently, You physically can’t even clip a fingernail without feeling guilty for the changes you’re making. So you’re not alone in having a hard time at some stage in a revamp.

That’s why it’s so hard for you—and that’s why you and I, and every other business owner need outside help from time to time. It’s not that you don’t “get” Maximum Customer Experience—it’s simply that seeing the problems of your own business with fresh eyes is something you can’t do when it’s your baby, and that you won’t make the big changes you need without a push from the outside. The expertise and the singular focus on your big-picture goals are only the bonus answers to Why Is This So Hard?

Don’t be so tough on yourself. Friends, family, devoted customers, suppliers, and yes, trusted advisors from lawyers and accountants to Experience Designers are all part of your business community. Dear reader, it takes a village to raise a business. They can all help you take good care of your baby.

To grow your company and get the help you need:

  • Read all you can, so you do “get it.” Play an active part in shaping your plan for growth. To me, there’s nothing worse than a business drifting aimlessly to its inevitable end.
  • Put systems in place to track key points in your sales process now. Objective pre-change benchmarks will help you measure your future growth.
  • Know the difference between things only you can do, and things that take away from things only you can do. Y’know?
  • Get outside help. And though professional pushes are great, you know what I always say: even your mom can provide a fresh Perspective.
  • Don’t feel guilty. I know you know your sh*t.   ;)

Are you all wrapped up in your business “baby”? How do you get past the guilt of wanting to do it all, so you can get started with projects that truly need doing?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Extra! Extra! Future-Customer Needs Exposed—by You!

Dear reader, you’re feeling good today about the Experience you provide to current customers, and sure, you’ve got some hot prospects, but you need to know how to help them get ready to buy, right?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I go through it, and so do my clients. Today I’d like to bring you five power verbs so you can jump into action, speak to those future-customers’ needs, and convert more fence-sitters to sales!

Strategic Planning 5-a-Day:

Identify current best customers’ true needs and wants.

Ask— “When you purchased from us:

Why did you need what we offer?

Why did you want it right then?

How did you hear about us?

Who or what else did you consider?

What brought you to Yes?”

Think you know the answers, right? Ask them all. Try this once and you will be so surprised you’ll become a believer. This strategy alone could boost your sales so much you might not need the others, but keep going…

Set up a system for doing “post-mortems” on lost sales.

Not as much fun as #1, but if they’ve already said No what’s the worst that can happen?

Some clients who’ve tried this have made sales they only thought were dead, just by their sincere interest in the customer.

Your real objective is to find out how not to lose the next sale, by asking one simple question:

What could we have done better?

You’ll learn about your sales tactics, your website, your pricing, the nature of your sales cycle, and your true competition with this very under-the-radar strategy.

Eliminate choices on your website.

Sounds crazy, but you heard me right. Most websites offer too many ways to get lost, to forget what you came for, or even to wind up off on someone else’s site.

Every time you consider tweaking your site, look for more places you can remove choice. In an ideal world, you want to direct visitors’ eyeballs toward ONE next step, that leads to ONE choice, that inevitably leads ONLY to the site’s objective: contacting you or making a purchase.

Websites don’t exist in this utopia, but keep that ideal at the top of your mind. What ONE thing should the visitor do while they’re on this page? Make the push to do that ONE thing irresistible, and let all other choices fall away.

Assemble a list of competitors’ blogs and websites for you to research stalk.

Yes. Stalk. Learn what they do right, wrong, and what they leave out.

When you know what they leave out, go for that.

And keep stalking them—this is very much an ongoing strategy that too many folks treat as a once-and-done. Not you, not anymore.

Track mentions of hot-button phrases from your customer’s point of view with Google alerts and Twitter searches.

You sell radiant flooring, but no one talks warm boards. They talk heating bills, or cold feet, or home improvement, or resale value of improvements. See?

Know what sets their hearts, minds, and their wallets on fire so you can help customers with their needs in terms they already relate to.

 

From current customers, you find out how you got to yes. From past prospects, you find *gasp* there’s room for improvement—and now you know where. Both of them give you the words and thoughts on real buyers’ minds. From there you can tighten your web Experience, and expand your understanding of the customer’s needs even further.

When the next hot prospect wanders in to your store or office, calls for information, or visits your website, you’re armed with the best verb of all: you Understand the problem he or she has come to you to solve.

Bonus strategy:

Begin today.

 

Have you tried any of these strategies to plan for your future sales? How did they help your business?

What power verbs would you add to this list?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

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9 Jun 2009

Statement released by Barclay’s “Airlines Analyst” Gary Chase regarding investing in airline stocks. Pardon me, but I seem to have a need to keep interrupting him.

“Over the last several months, the airline industry has been subject to more than its fair share of challenges.”

No. Its fair share. What’s unfair is that the industry cares about revenues, not the humans who buy the tickets and create the revenues. The heck with the people who pay the bills, eh?

Ask the auto industry if that’s a good “business model.”

Note to big airlines. Give us something. Anything. An Experience worth smiling about.

“The only up side to such a series of challenges is that expectations are low,”

PAINFULLY SO.

“and in our view, the risk-reward in the equities skews heavily to the upside.”

So once you completely tank, then you’re finally attractive to somebody. To Gary Chase, at least.

Or you could just do it right?

Then Gary and I would be able to agree. Skew the Experience heavily to the upside and everybody wins, not just the buy-painfully-low sell-not-quite-so-pitifully-low crowd.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

The Author of When Growth Stalls on small biz stalls, writing his first book, the economy, (and Blogger!)

We’ve talked about it here before: One of the small business owner’s biggest pain points is “Why aren’t we making more money?” When I ran into an author who writes on that subject at the When Growth Stalls blog, naturally I hung around for a while, soaking up his perspective.

From Wow, he’s got a gorgeous landing page, to blasting through a blog and a book to prepare an interview! Sometimes when you shout about a great find, an interesting opportunity comes up, and today I’m pleased to introduce Steve McKee, author of the blog and the new book, When Growth Stalls: How It Happens, Why You’re Stuck, & What To Do About It.

In the book’s introduction and first chapter, Steve tells the riveting story of his company’s star-kissed rise to prominence, and near-disastrous stall several years ago. Most critical to the stall, and a point we discuss here at Maximum Customer Experience frequently, was the crisis of not knowing their Ideal Customer. Their company’s research, conducted to interest prospective clients,

… reflected real insight into the mistakes growth companies make and the money (either in foregone sales or in marketing inefficiencies) that they leave on the table. But these are not the problems that growing companies are preoccupied with as long as their growth remains strong.

The leaders of the growth companies we were targeting were struggling with [other] things…. Marketing was simply not an acute enough pain point to get their attention.

From his own ad agency’s devastating stall, Steve was inspired to spend several years doing intensive research on the anatomy of a stalled company. He peeks inside many of the Big Boys who’ve gone from great to also-ran to see what’s going on, and backs it up with the results of his studies. Best of all, you can put his insights on how to recover from a stall to work for you right away. (Chapters 11 to 13 alone are worth the price of the book, dear reader.)

Steve’s graciously agreed to answer my most pressing questions, and some of yours, as well. Thanks very much to my friends who took the time to email with their own questions about When Growth Stalls!

———

Steve, first off I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk with us. The blog and the book are both great finds for me and for the readers of Maximum Customer Experience. Your timing couldn’t be better: When you began writing you couldn’t possibly have known it, but here we are in mid-2009 and there’s hardly a company around that hasn’t spent some portion of the last year in a stall. You look like a clairvoyant! How has the economy changed the reception the book’s receiving?

When I started this project I knew it would appeal to a wide variety of companies, as my research showed that about fifty percent of all companies stall over the course of a normal decade. What I couldn’t have known is how abnormal 2009 was going to be—I’ve seen research that suggests sixty percent or more of all companies are going to stall this year alone. That has certainly heightened interest in the book. While I hate the state of the economy, from that perspective I can’t complain.

What was the hardest part of writing the book?

The hardest part was everything I had to do other than write, a sensibility with which I’m sure most authors would agree. There are a great many details that need taking care of, from research to securing reviewers to (increasingly) ensuring the book has a solid online presence (website, blog, social networks, etc.) That said, the economy started to crater just as I was finishing the manuscript, and I was somewhat nervous that some of my examples would be dated on the day of publication. Who would have thought in November that huge companies like GM and Chrysler might not even exist in March? I’m pleased to say that as of March 10 (launch day), all of my case studies were current. Phew.

What gave you the most joy?

As you know I have a full time job running McKee Wallwork Cleveland, so I had to schedule full days offsite to write. I have to say, those days were pure joy. OK, maybe not pure joy, but for the most part I really enjoyed them. No phone calls, no email, no meetings, no interruptions—just pure focus. My wife can tell you that on those evenings I came home with an extra spring in my step. I don’t know if I could write full time, but it sure was a nice change of pace for me.

Market tectonics is the uncontrollable element of stalled growth. We’re all familiar with how the market can play games with our revenues at this point. (Leading question…) Do you think businesses today are giving too much of the blame for their stalls to the big economic picture?

Sure, and it’s perfectly understandable. After all, like plate tectonics, market tectonics affect us all. It’s natural to blame the shaky economic ground when your plaster starts to cracks and ceiling tiles begin to fall. But it’s also dangerous, because my research suggests that it’s the aftershocks which companies really need to watch out for. Most of them have no idea what might be headed their way.

You describe four controllable elements of a stall in the book: lack of consensus, loss of focus, loss of nerve, and inconsistency. Please give us a quick rundown of these concepts.

These are the internal, psychological factors that tend to plague struggling companies. Often they’re lurking within even during good times, but as long as the company is growing they tend to go unnoticed. When growth stalls, however, it often results in management disagreements over strategy, confusion about what the company should do, fear in doing something about it, and sometimes herky-jerky reactions in search of a silver bullet. In many cases companies find themselves struggling with more than one or even all of these factors.

When growth stalls, what needs fixing first: Vision or execution?

The old saying is that if you aim at nothing you’ll hit it, so vision must absolutely come first. But a lot of companies don’t take the time to re-examine their vision and simply try to execute their way out of a stall. That’s fine if your fundamental strategy is solid, but in many cases it’s not. If you’re pursuing a strategy that is off by just a few degrees, over time that can take you pretty far off course.

Graham Strong asks: When a company does stall, is it a signal that they should go back to what they had been doing, or an opportunity to re-position and/or re-invent themselves?

It depends on the company’s circumstances. To continue the earthquake metaphor, if a company’s brand platform is built on a solid foundation, once the shaking stops it will probably be OK. But if the tremor causes (or reveals) cracks in the foundation that need to be addressed, some reconstruction will need to be done. Sometimes it’s a minor touch up, and other times it’s major remodeling. One of the aims I had in writing the book was to help companies gain insight into which was true in their specific case.

Do large companies stall for different reasons than small businesses? [Graham Strong]

I wouldn’t say they stall for different reasons, but they may be more susceptible to different complicating factors. For example, it can be more difficult to achieve and maintain strategic consensus at a larger company, while a smaller, closely-held company might suffer more easily from a loss of nerve. In both cases, however, the internal factors tend to play off one another and can create a type of destructive spiral. That’s what I discuss in chapter 8 of the book, the Vicious Cycle.

Can a company stall even if they are giving the customer everything they need or want? [Graham Strong]

I don’t think any company ever gives the customer everything they need or want. And even if one did, customer desires are continually evolving. There was a time when I was happy with a fifteen-pound laptop with a monochrome monitor and 386 processor. Today the only place you’d find that machine is in the Smithsonian.

Karen Swim asks: One of my own struggles recently has been innovation. I understand the absolute necessity for innovation but am struggling to come up with new approaches and ideas. When everything feels like it has been done, where does a small business turn for new ideas?

They should turn to When Growth Stalls. I say that, of course, with tongue in cheek, but I do offer an approach in the “what to do about it” section on how to brainstorm new approaches. The famous quote from Charles Duell, commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, is “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” That was in 1899. If nothing else you should let fear motivate you to develop new ideas. If you don’t, your competitors will.

While I know this answer, I realize it is missed by many small business owners – the evidence validating consistency, choosing a market and serving the heck out of it are inarguable but how does a small business truly identify its champions, that sweet spot in the niche of buyers who seem tailor made for your products/services? [Karen Swim]

Not to be cute, but the buyers who seem tailor-made for your products or services are those who have decided for themselves that your products and services are tailor-made for them. In other words, somehow your most loyal customers found you and became loyal; find a way to identify what it is about them that makes them unique and then go find more people like them. Unless you have 100% brand awareness that can always be done.

And here’s a hint: their key characteristics are probably not tied to demographics like age, income or gender. There are usually fascinating attitudinal and perceptual characteristics about groups of people that lead them to choose one brand over another.

Your book’s tone and advice focuses so well on your clients and potential clients, at medium to large sized firms. I bookmarked dozens of pages with ideas I could translate to my business and my clients’ businesses, but we’d appreciate your personal translation.

Alex Fayle asks: How can small business owners and solopreneurs get the most out of your ideas at the blog and in When Growth Stalls?

I actually think the smaller the company the greater the advantage. Small business owners and especially solopreneurs don’t have to push decisions up the chain, seek anyone’s permission, or deal with naysayers (except in their own heads).

True, they may need some outside expertise to give them perspective, as it’s easy to get so close to the business that they can’t see the forest for the trees. But they’re the forest rangers, as it were, and they can decide where to plant new seedlings and where to do controlled burns.

There’s a great story in the book about Vera Wang’s recent branching out from couture to Kohl’s discount department store, discussing whether that brand extension is too extreme. “Whether she is trying to stretch her ‘I’ [Ideal Customer, in Maximum Customer Experience-talk] a little further than the customers are willing to go is something only time will tell,” you write.

I get this question a lot (in fact I recently wrote a post on the subject) and I’d love your take. *Is* it something only time will tell? Or should we folks in the business of helping businesses grow, be able to look into our marketing crystal ball and say with some degree of certainty, “Vera, you’ve done a dumb thing here, and this brand extension is going to bite you in the behind”? How much of a business’ success do you think is up to some unknowable Fate-Factor?

I think Vera Wang might have overstretched her brand’s bounds, which is why I included a disclaimer of sorts on the description. Obviously, much more lies outside a business leader’s control than within it, and that’s a healthy source of humility. Still, there are a number of fundamental principles we can follow to get things mostly right, and as long as external events don’t conspire against us we have a pretty good chance of success. That said, I firmly believe that God rules in the affairs of men. Our job is simply to do our best.

I mentioned in my intro that I was riveted by your own company’s story of stalled growth. You briefly described getting your groove back in that chapter, as well. Still, I waited on the edge of my seat… For me (my only criticism!) the book’s a cliffhanger because you don’t return to the subject of McKee Wallwork Cleveland in depth. So open up for us, if you will. How does the rest of the story go? How did the research, the insights, the incredible amount of reaching out you did to write the book (and the incredible amount of looking inward that caused you to write it), help you find your “I” and get back in growth mode? In other words, what did you learn that you were personally able to apply to getting your company un-stalled?

Well, we actually failed our way to success, if that makes sense. We were somewhat stuck in that destructive cycle and lost a lot of our staff and ultimately a partner in the process.

When we sought the new “third leg” of our three-partner stool, we had learned the importance of all of these principles, particularly the vital need for consensus. So strategic alignment became a key criterion of the search, and we found a terrific new partner with whom we were more naturally in synch. That enabled us to begin to find our focus, have the nerve to execute it, and start down a path of consistency. In many ways this book project is a natural outgrowth of that. I’m pleased to say that we’ve had four very good years since we started on our way back up. Still, we’re taking nothing for granted.

If you had it to write again, would you change anything about When Growth Stalls?

Not really. I would have like to have seen it released three or four months earlier, just as the economic crisis was hitting and before a number of other titles hit the market. But considering that when we embarked on this project we had no way of knowing the market conditions in which it would be launched, the timing was pretty good.

Please share a little of what you’re doing now at McKee Wallwork Cleveland. Has the book changed the company in any way?

The principles that animate the book are put to constant test here at MWC. We often look at ourselves as we’re considering how to respond to current events in terms of how we’re doing at maintaining strategic consensus, keeping our focus, stepping out with courage, and being consistent. In that sense it’s been a great guide and governor for our behavior.

For example, we just wrestled with a big decision whether or not to invest in innovation by launching a new division. The timing isn’t exactly ideal in an economic sense, but it is from a competitive perspective. We studied and debated it quite a bit, but ultimately came to the consensus that we needed to do it. So we did it.

Last, so many of my readers are also bloggers, we want to know: What’s the future for the blog? How long do you see yourself writing it, and what’s your focus going forward? And for my readers who are vocal fans of user-friendly blogs, I have to ask: Why Blogger—and how soon can we get you to over to WordPress, Steve?

I started the blog as an outlet to provide continuing commentary on decisions companies that are stalled (or may become stalled) are making. There’s certainly no lack of raw material these days. It’s a terrific way to stay in touch with people who like to follow the topic, as well as keep my senses sharp. I think it may play a role in the next book, assuming there is one.

As for blogging platforms, I’m afraid I wouldn’t know my WordPress from my Blogger. Hey, you have to delegate some things.   :)

Steve, thanks once again for your insights. I loved picking your brain today.

———

Dear reader, Steve’s promised to hang out with us in the comments if we’ve got even more questions for him, so please ask the tough ones now. It would be great to have you peppering Steve with questions from the Maximum Customer Experience perspective!

As always, if you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll subscribe by email or by RSS (it’s free!), and link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Are You Struggling to Make the Sale?

Take a cue from the birds and the bees—stop working so hard and use what nature gave you!

 

Nobody wants to be hit on, but everybody wants to be in love.

How’s that?

I said, nobody wants to be sold to, but everybody loves to buy.

So stop running your business like you’re a pickup artist. It ain’t that artistic. Use these three steps to build relationships that lead to what nature intended—fabulous, ongoing interludes between you and your customers, who love you wildly.

First Step: Playing the Field

… Or if you insist, Lead Gathering.

You know you’ve got to market to make it, and you desperately want to shorten that cycle and get some sales in the sack. Take a cue from the birds, the bees, and The Open Box:

Put it on display

Entice, tease, beckon

Stir the senses

Be available

Be easy

Whatever you do, don’t be cheap!

Second Step: Nookie

… Sold!

Do I have to say it? You overpromised when you were dating. Tonight’s the Night, babe.

Overdeliver

It’s all about the other person’s needs—give him what he wants, and he’ll find a dozen ways to pay you back

Overdeliver

Talk about the future. It only feels funny for a minute, and then it’s the most natural thing in the world

Be sincere, or go home

Follow up—surprise him all over again

Third Step: Keeping the Fire Alive

… Ahh, the honeymoon. You love the customer, she raves about you… times are great. And without the real work, all-too-brief.

Why, oh why is it the post-sale effort that’s most often neglected? Do you really want to start dating every prospect in town again when it’s so much easier… cheaper… and, um… more convenient, to hold on to the good thing you’ve got?

Continue servicing with the same energy

Take it to the next level

Show off your flexibility/ versatility

Spice things up periodically

Keep in touch constantly

The birds and the bees don’t struggle. They don’t read books on how to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I like books—but sometimes you just have to remember these are people you’re trying to entice, and you’re a person, and well…

You can do this. Act naturally. Romancing the customer shouldn’t be such a chore.

Tip of the Week:

Give your honey a quick… kiss this morning and get to work keeping your customers’ fires burning. And yes, consider this your early Valentine’s Day present, my beloved Maximum Customer Experience readers, as I’ll be off tomorrow being wildly romantic. I wish you smiles.

Today, let’s talk about making sales sizzle: How can a company capture your heart so completely, it’s almost better than nookie?

Can you do that in your own company?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Someone, please help me with this…

Faced with the choice of two similarly-qualified, bright, eager new hires, he went with the one with no ambition.

Interviewed quite a few folks to narrow it down to these candidates, actually. Explained the choice like this:

“It took forever to find these guys. They’ve both got everything I want and need.

“One says he’d love the job forever, but he’s too damned good to stay for long. He knows every technical aspect of the job backwards and forwards, and says he loves being part of a team. He’s got to say that for the interview! He’ll learn as much as he can from us, wait out the economy, and go out on his own in 3 or 4 years.

“The other hates drumming up business. He knows all the same stuff and has been out on his own. He wants no part of managing, marketing, or directing, ever again.”

Well, the pain of driving sales is soon forgotten, so that’s no selling point to me. And the average tenure in one job for a U.S. worker between 25 and 34, as of January 2008? 2.7 years.* NOBODY’s going to be around forever, and certainly not this young staffer, no matter how he claims to want someone else to do all the dirty work.

Before I knew what the choice was, I said, “Wow! I’d jump on the ambitious one! Sure, they might know the same stuff, but he wants to know more—and you’ll get twice the work out of him while he’s around, if he’s as thirsty to learn as you say.”

I began today with the end, so you know how he answered me:

“You’re kidding, right? I want someone I can count on for the long haul. The second one starts in a week.”

No matter where you are on the totem pole, folks, even you janitors out there reading, your number one job is doing your part to create Maximum Customer Experience, and if you’re doing that right, then you’ll be drumming up business every day. So to all you business owners:

You want to grow your business!

Hire the ambitious one. He or she will drum up business for you now. Which is when you’re hiring. Now.

Don’t worry about him moving on in 3 or 4 years. Maybe he will. That would be longer than most 20-somethings stick around.

Maybe he’ll like working with you more than you think, and he’ll stay. You’re not so bad.

Would you hire Mr. Ambition? Or the guy who wants no part of making your business grow and thrive?

Does it have anything to do with who you are?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employee Tenure News Release

Or, How Small Businesses Live and Die, Predicting the Future

You saw it coming.

You’re my friends, my clients, my business contacts, and I know you saw it long before the Big Boys began to tumble off their high horses.

You’re small, and you sense small changes in the atmosphere like the poor canary in the mine shaft.

The canary knew problems were afoot long before anyone else.

If miners paid close attention, the canary looked sick. Even without that much attention, they’d hear the warning: he stopped singing.

You began calling and writing to VisionPoints with plans and concerns almost a year ago. That’s a heck of an early warning system. Was anyone listening, in the wider world?

Then you got quiet. You stopped calling and emailing with plans and concerns.

Because my small business helps other small businesses grow, we’re pretty sensitive to changes in your business’ health. When things got quiet, we knew what you feared.

When the atmosphere really got toxic, the canary sometimes died.

Big businesses have big budgets to mask big problems, but small businesses cut it close every day. Many stopped trying to grow, when they first sensed small changes in the atmosphere.

Some will survive because they saw the recession coming and tightened their budgets. Maybe not thrive, but survive.

The sad part is, some died because they saw it coming—they tightened the belt too much, and died because they stopped trying to grow.

By the time the big, strong miners are getting sick it’s far too late. Coal miners knew this, and they started acting long before that.

Governments, apparently, don’t.

There’s good news. Now that so many Big Boys are sick, governments around the world are acting.

When this is over there will be fewer Big Boys—and a lot more small businesses.

More canaries to sing when the air is clear and fresh. The ones who survive will be battle-hardened, and the new ones will be fresh and raring to go.

Lately, you’ve been calling and writing to VisionPoints again, making plans for growth. You sense small changes all around. Little birdies, trying to tell us the air is clearing. That’s a heck of an early indicator.

Are you ready to sing?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson