Selling

Are you Thinking About Starting a Business?

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The last post on Starting a Business was popular so I thought that I would share a very key lesson learned and then provide links to previous posts that will provide insights as you move forward with launching your own business. If you have any questions just post them as comments and I would be happy to reply.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of uncertainty and opportunity. For many, now is the ideal time to explore their dream of starting a business and jumping into the waters of entrepreneurship. That can be exciting, fun, stressful, financially rewarding, and financially challenging, all within the same short period of time. 

Being prepared for that roller coaster ride and having the ability and strength to continue pushing forward is important. Something to understand is that “Things don’t happen to you. They are the Direct Result of your own Actions and Inactions.” That may sound harsh, but here is a prime example:

When I was closing my consulting business down I trusted my Accountant and Payroll company to handle all of the required filings for Federal, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Colorado – something they stated they would handle and I accepted at face value. Both companies had done a great job before so why would I expect any less this time?

About nine months later I started receiving letters from Ohio and Colorado about filings due, so I forwarded them along to the Accountant and Payroll company. In my mind, this was “old business” and was being handled, plus I had moved on. It was probably just a timing error, something easy enough to explain away.

Skipping forward nearly three years, I had been threatened by the IRS and the Revenue Departments from both Ohio and Colorado. I started with a combined total of nearly $500K in assessments. Slowly that dropped to $50K, and then to $10K. I spent countless hours on the phone and writing letters trying to explain the misunderstanding. It wasn’t until I finally found a helpful person in each department that was willing to listen and told me specifically what needed to be done to resolve that situation. My final cost was around $1,000. I was relieved that this fiasco was finally over.

For the longest time, I blamed both the Accountant and Payroll Service for these problems. Ultimately I realized that it was my business and therefore my responsibility to understand the shutdown process – regardless of who did the actual work. I would have saved hundreds of hours of my time and several hundred dollars by simply gaining that understanding in the beginning.

I was not a victim of anything – this situation was the direct result of my own inaction. At the time it just did not seem very important, but my understanding of the situation and its importance was incorrect and I paid the price. Lesson learned. It was my business so it was still my responsibility to the very end.

Below are the other links. You don’t have to read them all at once, but it would be worth bookmarking them and reading one per day. Every new perspective, idea, and lesson learned could be the thing that helps you achieve your goal a day, week, or month sooner than expected. Every day and every dollar matters, so make the most of both!

Perspective and Expectations Establish your Starting Point

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It appears that we may have seen the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and now I am seeing more and more articles about the “New Normal” and “Next Normal.” Interestingly enough, I have also been seeing a few articles over the past two weeks about this being an opportunity. Once the fear, uncertainty, and doubt (aka “FUD”) began to diminish, people finally began to look for a silver lining.

Picture of the Toronto City Hall taken from ground level.

Fear is a powerful demotivator, which is why I find it interesting that some managers and executives use it as a tool to help achieve their goals. There may be short-term gains, but the long-term effects can be devastating. In times of chaos (real or perceived), one of the best things that a leader can do is be genuine and concerned for the welfare of their team, communicate in an honest and timely manner, and display confidence as a way to help shift emotions from a negative state towards a positive state. Fear holds you and your team back.

What I find interesting is that two months ago I posted about this unfortunate time being an opportunity – something that led to several negative comments at the time. Three weeks ago I posted about changes that would be coming as part of the “New Normal.” I believe that this is simply insight coming into play, which is one reason why Consultants, great Salespeople, and new Executives are often able to add immediate value to an organization.

As an aside, diversity of backgrounds, experiences, knowledge, expertise, and opinions lead to a variety of perspectives – and that fosters creativity. A best practice in team building is to find people whose strengths help cover your weaknesses.

Picture of the Toronto City Hall taken from a much higher vantage point.

So, perspective and expectations determine where you begin, and not where you will end. The benefit of having a better starting point is that you should be in a much better position to win. The best part is that you can teach yourself to become better at identifying different perspectives. You may find that it is much easier to understand the big picture of whatever problem you are facing with that new skill.

From time-to-time, we are all faced with situations that we know will suck. Avoidance may be an option but usually isn’t the best option. The military has a saying, “Embrace the Suck,” that essentially boils down to “just deal with it.” Focusing on “the gain” (rather than “the suck”), identifying the small wins along the way, and visualizing success is part of the process that I have personally found helpful to maintaining a positive attitude and an open mind. This simple process helps maintain the balance of optimism with realism, and most importantly creates high expectations.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you want to lead or follow? There is nothing wrong with following, especially when you are contributing to the success of the team. Perspective and Expectations are two tools that can help in any role.

What are you doing to improve CX today?

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In challenging times, small frustrations may result in harmful long-term negative sentiment. During this current pandemic crisis your approach to Customer Experience (CX) matters more than ever. Your business needs to protect relationship capital and see this as an opportunity to appeal to your next generation of loyal customers.

picture of the question mark symbol.

Recently I sold a few things on an auction website. The transactions were great and concluded quickly. But, the payment arm of this organization seems to have a bug in their tracking system related to USPS Registered Mail. Their status of the transaction displayed “shipped,” but when you pressed the “Tracking” button it was clear that the package had been delivered a few weeks earlier. Still, they were holding a significant amount of money and there was no clear release date.

While that was a little frustrating, what happened next changed how I feel about this company. I sent email to Support and received canned responses. I used their chat option and spoke to a couple of “people” who were either chatbots or who should be replaced by chatbots because no matter what information I provided the response was always the same, and it was not helpful at all. Interactions that are positive and consistent matter!

Now, think about tens, hundreds, or even thousands of customers or prospects having problems getting information about your products and services, getting assistance with questions or support for problems, and working with your company in general. In this time of increased stress and uncertainty it is important that the customer experience for each anticipated archetype be as ideal as possible in order to increase engagement and loyalty. BTW, those things lead to increases in lifetime customer value, repeat business, and overall business growth.

I’ve always told my teams that, “People buy easy” so as a group or organization our goal is to make conducting business with us as easy and frictionless as possible. By doing that, being fair, and acting with integrity we are rewarded with loyal customers that help our business grow.

Relationships develop over time, and each interaction helps determine the eventual outcome. Understanding what differentiates your company and products in the eyes of your customers and prospects can help you create more meaningful, consistent, and useful interactions. People appreciate a positive customer experience so those efforts may ultimately lead to the creation of Customers for Life.

Now is the time to evaluate your processes, procedures, guidelines, and interfaces. Be extremely critical as you ask yourself, “Is this how I would like to be treated as a customer?” By setting CX as a strategic priority, your business or organization will be focused on ways to eliminate friction and ensure that your customers are treated well. Moreover, by supporting the activities that comprise the customer’s journey you are building a more loyal install base.

Investments in CX today have the potential for an immediate payback as well as increased long-term growth.

Continuous Improvement, Growth Mindset, and an “Attitude of Better”

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This was originally posted on LinkedIn.com/in/chipn

When I had my own company our focus was on providing the absolute best services in a few niche areas. Our goal was to succeed in the spaces that were important yet underserved. We identified those areas, validated the need, evaluated the competition and our competitive positioning, determined the market potential, and then made an informed decision based on that data.

Continuous Improvement. An image of stairs moving upwards with a man standing on a wall near the stairs and overlooking a city scene.

But, this was not a plan for winning. It was a roadmap to places that we could win, but nothing more.What would our strategy be? What specific problems would we solve? How would we create awareness around the potential impact of those problems? And, how would we position ourselves as being the best candidates to address those business needs? In short, what was our real purpose or raison d’etre?

Recognizing that void led to a couple of powerful revelations –

1.    It is great to have a goal of being the best at something, but don’t use that as an excuse to procrastinate. Learning and improving is an iterative process, so that goal by itself was not good enough.

2.    Adopting an “Attitude of Better” turned out to be a game-changer. We set our focus on continuous improvement and winning. We became customer-obsessed, driven to provide a better service and better results for each and every customer. We gauged our success by customer satisfaction, repeat engagements, and referrals.

3.    But, it wasn’t until we adopted an intentional Growth Mindset that our business really started to evolve and improve.

·      We leveraged each and every win to help us find and create the next win.

·      Our team was constantly pushing each other to raise the bar of knowledge, expertise, and performance.

·      Just as important was what occurred next. They became a safety net for each other. Failure for one meant failure for all and nobody wanted that. They became a high-performance team.

·      We created standard processes and procedures to ensure consistency and maintain the highest levels of quality. This applied to everything we did – from working on a task to writing trip reports, status reports, and proposals. It also reduced our risks when we chose an outsourcing partner to help us take on more concurrent projects.

·      Whenever possible we automated processes to maintain consistency while increasing efficiency, repeatability, scalability, and profitability.

·      We measured and tracked everything, analyzed that data, captured lessons learned, and continuously worked on improving (and documenting) every aspect of the business.

·      A byproduct of this approach was that we could offer leaner pricing based on accurate estimates having very small margins of error. Our pricing was competitive, we could fix price much of what we did, and our profit margins were very good. This allowed us to invest in further growth.

Our “attitude of better” also came across as confidence when selling to and working with new customers. Not only could we tell them stories of our success that included tangible metrics, most of our customers became references willing to talk about the value we added. Their stories included discussions about how much better things became as a result of our work.

Better became the foundation of what we did as well as the basis of those customer success stories.

Could a New Channel Model Lead to Sales Amplification?

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Over the years I have helped both successful companies and start-ups improve and strengthen their Channel and Strategic Alliances programs. Those companies do a great job closing deals but usually have concerns about not generating or receiving enough new business leads. Or, they develop strong relationships with one or two vendors, only to find later that a key vendor has been sending deals to a competitor. You may not have experienced this yourself, but if you have please read on.

Word cloud for strategic thinking.

Most traditional channel models support Distributors, Resellers, OEMs, and ISVs. Business mainly flows upwards to the main vendor. If that vendor has popular and widely used products then business can be good because there is sufficient demand. But when that is not the case your sales pipeline usually suffers.

Doing something the same way as everyone else may not be a bad approach when there is enough business for everyone and your growth goals and aspirations are aligned with your competition.

Sales Channel business is usually not the main source of revenue for most companies, but it does have the potential to become the largest and most scalable revenue source for nearly any business. Just think about the money that is being left on the table by not adopting a growth mindset and executing a new and better strategy.

In the summer of 2016 I attended the “Sage Summit” in Chicago. It was impressive to see the Sage Group’s efforts to build, strengthen, and protect their community of Customers and Channel Partners. They made the effort to foster higher levels of collaboration between the various types of partners – implementation services, consulting and staff augmentation services, complementary product vendors, etc. They had created their own highly successful Business Ecosystem, which is an excellent proof point.

When designing a channel partner program my personal focus has always been on finding the balance between promoting and protecting the business of partners with helping ensure that the end customers have the best experience possible (and have some recourse when things do not work out as expected). There are a variety of methods I have used to accomplish those goals, but the missing component has always been the inclusion of a systematic approach to seed relationships between those partners and facilitate an even greater amount of business activity.

Nearly a year ago I began working with a management consultancy run by Robert Kim Wilson, which has a business vision based on his book, “They Will Be Giants.” I will provide links at the bottom of the post for this book and other relevant resources. Kim asserts that Entrepreneurs with a Purpose-Driven Business Ecosystem (PDBE) are more successful than those without one and provides examples to prove his point. Having experienced Kim’s own PDBE I see how purpose fosters trust and collaboration.

As I did more research I have found that, especially over the past two years, there has been a lot of focus placed on Business Ecosystems and Business Ecosystem Organizers (such as Sage in the earlier example). Those findings reinforced the PDBE approach, and external validation is always a good thing.

Just as important from my perspective is that this concept applies to businesses of any size, and it is especially helpful to small to midsize businesses. The fun part for me is exploring a specific business, analyzing what they do today, and quantifying the benefits of adopting this new strategy.

So, how does this new type of Business Ecosystem work?

  • The Business Ecosystem Organizer expands the overall network, vets new “Business Ecopartners,” and provides a framework or infrastructure for the various Business Ecopartners to get to know one another, exchange ideas, and discuss opportunities.
    • This can become an incredible source of sustainable revenue for companies willing to invest in the necessary components to grow and support their own Business Ecosystem.
  • Business Ecopartners will have access to trusted resources that can augment existing business and take-on new, bigger projects by leveraging the available expertise.
    • Suppose that you have products or services that work with commercial CRM (Customer Relationship Management), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), or SCM (Supply Chain Management).
    • You have seen a growing demand for functionality that relies on highly specialized technologies like:
      • Cryptocurrency support.
      • Blockchain for both financial transactions and things like traceability in your supply chain or IoT data.
      • AI (artificial intelligence), ML (machine learning) to detect patterns and anomalies – such as with fraud detection, Deep Learning/Neural Networks for image recognition or other complex pattern recognition.
      • Graph databases to better understand a business and infer new ways to improve it.
      • Knowledge Graph/Semantic databases to assist with Transfer Learning and deeper understanding.
    • It would not be practical or cost-effective for most businesses to build these practices in-house so partnering becomes very attractive to your company.
      • This type of business can also be very attractive to a Business Ecopartner because someone else is handling sales, billings, account management, etc.
  • Other Business Ecopartners could leverage your products or services for their projects and engagements, thus becoming another source of revenue.
  • By leveraging this network your business can essentially compete on imagination and innovation – something that could become a huge source of differentiation from your competition.

Value realized from this New Business Ecosystem model:

  1. These new sources of business and talent can become a real competitive advantages for your business.
  2. This becomes the source for Sales Amplification because your business is extending its reach and expanding its growth potential – directly and indirectly.
  3. The weighted (based on capabilities, capacity, responsiveness, and Ecopartner feedback) Business Ecopartner network model could lead to exponential business growth over time – and that is a winning strategy for any business.

References: