Are You Playing Russian Roulette With your Brand by Keeping Obsolete Products in your Mix?

 

Our focus in business is to identify buyer problems and solve them in ways that create positive buying experiences. When we accomplish this we make the sale, and we build positive word of mouth. A poor buying experience and or an obsolete product that no longer reinforces your brand promise can quickly create negative word of mouth.

 

Keeping obsolete products in your mix is like playing Russian Roulette with your customers buying experience and ultimately your Brand.

 

As I have discussed I travel quite a bit. Some call it old school, but I need to be in the markets I serve. This requires air travel, rental cars, and a number of hotel stays. I was recently working with a customer in Indianapolis Indiana and needed a hotel room for the night. I booked a room with an airport hotel, however the Google maps instructions were not accurate and the person at the front desk of my hotel could not provide me directions. (Another post that needs to happen, but I will let it go for now). After two attempts to find my airport hotel I gave up, and pulled off the next exit to find a room. As I exited the highway I saw a number of hotels and one of which I recognized and had a good feeling about was the Ramada. I pulled into the Ramada as their brand has always meant; clean rooms at an affordable price. They often lack the frills of larger hotels but my understanding of their brand was clean, safe rooms at a completive price. Seeing as how I maybe was going to have seven hours of sleep, I thought the Ramada would be just fine.

What I experienced was the worst hotel stay I have experienced in the past 26 years of business travel.

 

It turns out a road rally was coming through town and they had a number of tired drivers checking in. Understaffed (although they had reservations) I waited over 20 minutes just to check in. I kept telling myself to lighten up, it’s just one night, and now for just 6 ½ hours. As I walked to my room I noticed the carpet in the hall was dirty and had little collections of food and dust in corners. Just as the restroom of a restaurant will tell you about the cleanliness of a food establishment, I have always found public areas of a hotel are a good indication of the cleanliness of your room.

I found my way to my room and as the door opened I was surprised how old and run down this room seemed. Again, self talk said…” it’s only one night and now only 6 hours…” I showered to calm down so I could fall asleep. I found the shower tub disgusting with stains. I found the towels were old and stained as well. As I brushed my teeth I was greeted with an old scratched sink with a rusted water stopper…” it’s only 5 ½ hours”…

As I walked to the bed my feet felt like they were sticking to the old dirty carpet. I turned down the covers and found the sheets too were stained and hopefully clean, but just stained. The pillow felt like someone bought a square piece of foam and cut pillow sized squares out of it. As I lay there, disgusted, my mind raced to the recent Animal planet I watched with my children about parasites and bed bugs.

I tried to relax but I could swear something was crawling on me. I turned on the light and could not find anything, .must just be in my mind. I tried to relax and eventually I must have fallen asleep. My alarm went off and still tired I quickly got ready and went to the lobby to check out.

What I found was a long line of people wanting to be checked in and checked out. I could tell one employee was experienced and one must have been new. Each time the new employee confirmed someone into a room, he would check with the experienced employee to see if it was a “good room”. Interesting, so they must have some old rooms like the one I slept in and others that were “good rooms”. Unfortunately you had to be an experienced employee to know which rooms were good or bad. New employees had no way of knowing with the tools provided what kind of a room they were checking guests into.

When it was my turn to check out, someone who checked in earlier returned to the desk demanding a better room. His room was quickly changed.

As I checked out the young lady did not ask how my stay was, but instead asked if I needed directions. Had she asked about my stayI would have said “disgusting and disappointing” but since they did not ask I felt they just did not care and were anxious to get me on my way.

So on to the next city and I checked into an amazing Comfort inn in Louisville KY that was clean, the person checking me in made me feel like I was his only guest. I went to my room that was very clean and Googled the Ramada to see if perhaps my understanding of their brand was wrong.

If you visit the Ramada web site, Mark F. Young promises;

 

You can rest easy knowing that we are expertly equipped to “create caring experiences for every person, every time.” We are committed to delivering excellent service. All of our properties feature modern amenities such as high speed Internet connectivity.

 

Tell ya what Mark F Young; I have a challenge for you. Visit your hotel on Thompson Ave in Indianapolis and stay in room 219 and tell me if you are living up to your brand promise…. NOT!

The more I thought about this the more convinced I became that businesses who keep products in their mix that are obsolete and do not reflect their brand promise are playing Russian Roulette with their customers’ buying experience, and their brand.

Bad products always seem to find their way to someone.

 

Your team members who have been around a while will know not to sell them, however new employees do not know any better. Negative word of mouth seems to travel much faster than positive feedback particularly with social media. Very quickly one bad customer experience can be heard by over 2,000 people.

In today’s competitive economic times can any of our businesses risk playing customer Russian Roulette with obsolete products?

 

Do you have any products in your mix you do not want customers to ever experience? If so, why are they still there?

 

Does your company have a formal process to audit the quality of your product and your customers’ overall buying experience? If so who reads this data?

 

Have you asked any of your people if there are products you have that should never be sold to customers?

 

When was the last time, as a leader in your organization you bought (shopped) what you sell?

 

When was the last time you inspected what you expected?

 

When was the last time you called someone who just purchased your product or service and asked them about their overall experience?

 

I know I was hard on my terrible experience with Ramada. I guess what bothered me most is I felt they broke my trust. So now I will avoid Ramada hotels even though I had great experiences in the past.

Are any of your current or new customers buying one of your “bad products” this week? You sure?

Here’s a Banana For Your Baby… (your business)

 

 

One of the most difficult parts of serving entrepreneurial leaders is telling them a part or their entire baby (their business) is ugly.  Some self proposed consulting experts say; “focus on the positives, build on successes” and not to risk their monthly retainers. I choose to ignore the obvious politically correct answers and add value by presenting market truths.

If your baby is ugly I prefer to tell you so we can develop a plan based on current truths to help lead you and your organization to a position of market leadership.

The quickest way for your baby to become ugly is to stop focusing on understanding your market, its buyers and their problems and start focusing on your growth objectives.

 

Last week I had dinner with my friend Graeme from the UK and he told me a joke that made me laugh, and also reflect on what it is often like to serve some organizations and their leaders.

 

 

So this guy is walking through the park and comes upon a woman with a baby stroller and she is crying. Trying to console her asks what is wrong… The young mother goes on to say that everyone says her baby is ugly and it really hurts her feelings. The stranger goes on to assure her that babies are cute and he was sure her baby was no different. The woman stopped crying and thanked him for his kind words. As he started to leave he said “Once again, I am sure your baby is not ugly…and oh, here’s a banana for your monkey”.

Having served a number of teams over the past 26 years I have experienced these integrity moments when I must share market driven truths with aggressive, entrepreneurial leaders. Often discovered truths are ugly. If the leader and his or her team is truly focused on authentically, passionately serving their market and increasing shareholder value they hear the market truths and ask me to guide them in developing a corrective roadmap.

If the leader and or their team however lack the emotional intelligence to hear constructive market driven feedback…I loose a client, and once again I am labeled a Heretic ( the person who stands up against group-think)  as Art Petty discusses in his recent blog post.

I am curious…if your baby needs a banana do you want me to tell you?

Are you sure?

 

Do members of your team have the moral courage to give you a banana when they need to?

 

Have you fostered a culture that welcomes bananas?

What goal is more important to you…your ego or becoming a market leader and increasing shareholder value?

 

One of the first stages of a fall from market leadership that Jim Collins discusses in his book: How the Might fall is; Hubris born of success.

Does this describe your senior leadership team? Your owner?

 

When asked to serve a team that is struggling or just suck, I prefer to gather current market driven data and present the current reality. My clients pay me to help get them back on course and I must be a good steward of their investment and present market truths.

Would this approach work with your senior leadership team? Why or why not?

”V” is for “Velocity of Message In New Cadillac Commercial”…without any words

 

 Cadillac Performance Team!

The burden of clearly communicating your message is on you as the manufacturer and or supplier. Recognizing this you must develop a concise message that reflects the problems your product or service solves for your buyers. Given the amount of messages the average consumer receives each day, you have a “minute to win it” …their attention that is.

Messages that are clear based on a thorough understanding of your buyers, buyer unresolved problems, and buying criteria instantly connect.

 

Messages that require an interpreter result in: Big-Money-Wasted as I shared in my post about a BMW message that literally made a theater of consumers grown when it came on.

 

Below is a good example of understanding what your buyers want and communicating your message…even without words. Cadillac has “Velocity of Message” which will result in sales velocity. (Sales that have direction, growth, and create momentum)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nz0jCTJ2sys

What do you think Cadillac was trying to communicate in this ad?

As consumers do you miss the “feature and benefit BINGO” approach or do you value companies that have a clear message…even without words?

 

If your buyers were to view your creative, your message, without copy, would they understand your message?

 

Hey Delta, …Buyers Make Decisions in “their timeframe” Not Yours!Your Goals do not Matter to your Buyers

 

Organizations that create objectives based on their needs and timelines and not their buyers miss key indicators and create frustration for their internal and external customers. Why do so many organizations create goals and key performance indicators from high within their organizations and not from the market and buyers in market?

Most organizations lack an intimate knowledge of their buyers, their problems, and buying process so they operate in “gut and intuition  mode.”

 

When organizations start building market driven goals with an understanding of the problems their products and services solve, key indicators and EBITDA objectives are met and exceeded.

If you have not gathered it from previous posts, I fly a great deal. Domestic travel has become more of a necessary evil experience (with the exception of South West). I have traveled on  business now for over 25 years, so I remember when air travel felt like the airlines valued me and my business.

International travel has become even more challenging. I traveled  from Phoenix to Manchester England recently on Delta. I had a long layover in Atlanta and  then 7 1/2 hour flight over the pond and I was in business. The first leg of my flight left Phoenix at 6:10 AM. so based on the rules for international travel I had to check in at the airport by 4:00 AM. Luckily I do not live too far from the airport so I set my alarm at 2:45 AM.  I arrived, parked the car, took the parking bus to the terminal, went through security and arrived at my departure gate.

I settled in with a book I have wanted to read  by Jim Collins and I was not looking forward to my 5 hour layover in Atlanta,… but you have to do what you have to do.

The gate agent announced;

We are overbooked on this flight and we are looking for 4 volunteers willing to take the later flight and we will give a voucher to be used for future travel…

I went up to the check in counter, and found I could indeed take the later flight and still have a hour to make my connection in Atlanta. However, since I was already at the airport, I decided to decline.

In about 15 minutes another announcement needing volunteers and her voice seemed more desperate. ( don’t customers know how important it is to Delta to get volenteers now?)

 As the boarding  time approached we heard additional announcements and eventually they found their volunteers who had “flexible” flight plans and they received later flights and cash vouchers. ( while our take off was delayed)

 

Hey Delta…when did your system know you were oversold?

Is this the ideal buyer experience for your service? …I think not.

 

If your system knew within 24 hours of the flight it was over sold, it sounds like you have an unresolved problem you need to solve that may actually turn into a service your customers rave about and save your bottom-line profits…Interested?

 

If you have the technology to remind me to check in 24 hours prior to the flight, …can you leverage that technology to request volunteers for overbooked flights 24 ours ahead of check in? If so I would have volunteered for free to have a few more hours of shut eye!

How about your organization?

 

Do you set sales goals and timelines based on your needs versus the markets? How’s that working for you?

Are your sales objectives and timelines created by internal Hippos who have a dated understanding of your market?

 

Or are your goals developed with a clear understanding of your buyers, their buying process and criteria?

Let me ask you a key question….

What % of your sales team met or exceeded their sales goals last year? If you are like most organizations as high as 70% of your team missed their sales objectives last year.

 

While on this topic let me ask you another question:

What % of your salespeople received a goal increase this year?…( that many huh?)

 

So let me get this straight, 70% of your team missed their sales objectives in 2009, and 100% received a goal increase in 2010? Am I the only one who has heard Einstein’s definition of insanity? [Hell, chances are you have used it in meetings with your team, why not look in the mirror when setting goals?] So your employees also suffer whn goals are made wiout an understanding of your buyers?

So what happens next?

 

Objectives are missed

 

Goals are adjusted down or inventory far exceeds actual sales, and EBITDA objectives are missed…again

And / or you discount your product or service so buyers react to your goals and timelines

Market leaders understand goals should not be a shell game, and they must be created from a clear understanding of your markets and how (when) your buyers buy.

Market losers create objectives in their Hippo watering holes called boardrooms with little or no understanding of their buyers, buying timelines, and buying process.They focus on their needs and not those of their buyers. They demand buyers to buy on thier timeline. 

 

Market Losers get frustrated because objectives and key timelines are being missed, and they try to “manage” their way to bottom-line objectives.

 

What kind of company do you work for?

What kind of a leader are you?

 

If you are a Hippo, when is the last time you left “the watering hole”?

 

When was the last time you bought or used your product or service?

 

When was the last time you talked to a potential buyer for your product?

Are you dictating when buyers must buy?

 

The solution is obvious….

Get out in your market and get to know your customers and potential customers today. When you do you will discover market problems and see opportunities for your team to solve those problems.

Who knows, you may also create raving fans who value a few extra hours a shut eye more than a $400 travel voucher.

You Got a Minute to Win It…Your Buyers’ Attention

When you are shopping for a new item where do you start? If you are buying a snack or Diet Coke you find the nearest source. However, when you set out to buy more substantial products most of us start shopping with an internet search. Information once only available through a salesperson is now available on web sites, in chat rooms and blogs. Where most organizations’ web sites fail is their message is about them, how great they are, how many years they have been in business, who some of their key customers are, and awards…blah …blah….blah.

Market leaders know their web site needs a concise message that clearly states the problem they solve for their buyers because today you have less than a minute to win it…your buyers’ attention that is.

 

 Featured Content

Have you seen the new game show on Sunday nights titled; “You’ve got a minute to win it.” I predict this show will not only be a huge success but it will have entrepreneurs creating home minute to win it games and consumers will be making their own contests based on what they have seen on television.

 

As our family watched this new game show we found ourselves cheering for the contestants as they attempted challenges of varying difficulty. I thought how similar these contests are with the environment most marketers face when trying to capture consumer interest on line.

Your web site should not require practice for consumers to win (find answers to their unresolved problems)

 

The contestants on this show have all practiced their challenges at home prior to appearing on the show. So they practiced balancing bolts strung on a chop stick and bouncing a ping pong ball over three consecutive plates and into a fish bowl. What we as business people can learn for this includes;

  • your potential customers do not want to learn how to win , practice finding, the problems your product and or service solves for them

  • It is your responsibility to test and keep testing your web site and adjust it so potential buyers “get it in a minute.”

 

The moral of this blog post is;

*when your marketing team knows they have a minute to win it in terms of customer attention they will boil your message down and clearly explain the problem your product or service solves for buyers in your market. When done properly you receive more traffic, more page views, a reduced bounce rate, more inquires that turn into more leads, and ultimately more sales.

 

So how about your web site and your message…if you asked a potential customer to view your site would they understand the problem you solve for them?

 

Does the imagery on your site also clearly show the problems you solve for buyers in your market? Not sure?

Print your home page and give it to potential customers. Potential customers are buyers in your market that could use your product but you have not sold them in the past. Set your timer for a minute and ask them to quickly read and view your web page. [Warning; if you are a C level executive and chose to try this you will not like the answers you receive if you are like 90% of companies] If you are a market leader clearly explaining the problems you solve and not playing “feature and benefit bingo” hoping your buyers figure out what you do, you will enjoy this exercise.

You have a minute to win it in terms of customer attention when they are shopping on the internet.

Your web site must clearly state the problems you solve for your buyers in your market, ideally in the voice of your market. If you fail to do so they will be gone in a click to other sites until they find one that does not require practice to master.

 

 

How about your companies’ web site?

 

Do you understand the problems you solve in less than a minute? (If your answer is no you are really in trouble as you have more product knowledge than your buyers just starting their buying process)

 

Do you have the courage to ask potential customers to take the win it in a minute challenge on your web site?

 

Is your current web site a virtual brochure that requires customers to play feature and benefit Bingo to understand your message and the problems your product or service solves?

 

You have a minute to win it with buyers shopping on line for solutions to solve their problems. Your website must clearly state the problems you solve for your buyers in less than a minute or you loose the game.

Start-up’s….Like Wiring a House With The Power On…and getting zapped

The start-up phase is often one of the most difficult phases for entrepreneur as they often try to gain market knowledge while trying to meet sales goals. You know you should gather market data, but you often have limited cash, you are the chief cook and bottle washer, and you need to make sales to fund your future growth.

Start-up leaders need a strong emotional intelligence as many days you feel like you are; wiring a house with the power on and you keep getting emotionally zapped.

 

A number of years ago my wife was redesigning our upstairs bathroom and asked I change the electrical outlets from a cream color to a solid white. So we turned the lights on in the bathroom and I went to the fuse box and flipped switches until the bathroom light went out. I started to remove the outlet and saw a small spark. I thought to myself…”That’s odd as I know the electric power was off…” (My perceived truth) so I continued removing the old outlet. Zap! Next thing I knew I received a shock that sent me up against the wall and I fell into the bathtub. I latter found a new truth…the lights were on a separate circuit than the outlets so I was trying to change the outlet with the power on.

One of the most exhilarating as well as frustrating things you can do is launch a start-up company. Like I discussed in a previous post you feel like a plate spinner with more to-do’s than hours in a day. I go on to discuss how we can’t let the most important plates drop. I have discussed in earlier blogs how 2/3 of start-ups fail within 18 months. The main reasons we are all aware of for start-up failure include;

  • run out of cash
  • lack of a market driven plan
  • if you have a plan, your sales expectation is too high, too soon
  • if you have a plan, you have an unrealistic understanding of the buying process and cycle
  • trying to sell the need for a product you launched because you could and not because you should
  • market is not large enough
  • customers do not want to pay to solve the problem you solve
  • stress

 

Assuming your product and or service solves an unmet need, and you have a large enough market who are willing to pay you to solve their problem, the real danger for entrepreneurs is getting zapped by stress during the start-up season of your business..

To keep you from getting emotionally zapped from stress during the often hectic start-up phase, there are five key Biblical lessons I learned from a sermon recently.

1. Don’t wear yourself out – build the discipline to determine what is important, urgent, and focus on what is :urgent and important

2. Don’t shut out others – the reality is you can’t do it alone. Now more than ever you need your network, family, and friends

3. Don’t just focus on Negatives – that’s what market losers do. Keep your eyes on the prize and look for bright lights of opportunity as you launch.

4. Focus on your physical and Spiritual health – far too often those mounting to-do’s make us drop or delay other key areas of our lives. If necessary put time on your calendar for your fitness and faith.

5. Anxiety and fear are the product of looking back or too far into the future , focus on what is in front of you now, and leverage what you have. The quickest way to stop creatively solving roadblocks is to become fearful.

 

 

What about you? Have you experienced stress during the start-up phase?
What advice do you recommend to entrepreneurs in the start-up phase of their business?
What zapped you most in your start-up?

Choose to be a Builder in 2010….not a Wrecker

 

I enjoyed a recent column in our Scottsdale Republic by Michael Ryan. He published a poem tiled; “Which am I? “ He was not sure who the author was but the message lives even stronger today than it did seven years ago when he first shared it.

When times get tough we usually see one of two behaviors in organizations;

 

Teams begin infighting and blame-storming

 

Teams unite, grow stronger, and emerge as market leaders

 

Ryan goes on to discuss how “Instead of working together to solve problems, some people seemed more willing to battle one another.” I see this far too often with large clients in which managers retreat to their silos and start shooting missiles at each other instead of competitors.

So I have to ask… 

what kind of a team do you work for?….

A market leading team that discusses real issues and works together to solve them?

Or…

A market loosing team of managers so concerned with covering their own rear ends they wouldn’t know an unresolved market problem or a roadblock to providing a positive customer experience if it bit them?

No matter how others in your organization may be acting under the pressure you have a choice.

Chose to be a Builder.

  ( less than 10% of your team will choose to be builders) 

I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I did.

Which am I?

 

I watched them tearing a building down.

 

A gang of men in a busy town.

 

With a ho-heave –ho and a lusty yell,

 

They swung a beam and the sidewall fell.

 

I asked the foreman, “Are those men skilled.

 

And the kind you would hire if you had to build?”

 

He gave me a laugh and said “No indeed,

 

Just common labor is all I need.

 

I can easily wreck in a day or two

 

What other builders have taken a year to do.”

 

I thought to myself as I went my way,

 

“Which of these roles have I tried to play?”

 

Am I a builder that works with care,

 

Measuring life by the rule and the square?

 

Am I shaping my deeds to a well-made plan,

 

Patiently doing the best I can?

 

Or am I a wrecker who walks the town,

 

Content with the labor of tearing down?”

 

unknown author

 

 

I would like to add a few lines….

If you have played the role of wrecker you should not despair,

As wrecking is easy for those who do not care.

 

To add value, now that is the to pass through the camels eye,

It is there leaders are born solving problems that arise.

 

Having the courage to often stand alone, to be a part of the solution,

 

When their peers partake in political pollution.

Ok, so I wasn’t meant to be a poet. But I have worked within a number of organizations that lack leaders willing to be a part of the solution. When we focus on the problem and not attacking the person we are often called “heretics”.

The best way to add value to the team is to be a builder and not a wrecker.

( there are far too few builders these days)

Builders identify and solve problems. They flip what is perceived by most to be a problem and turn them into opportunities to add value.

 

Wreckers take the easy route quickly criticizing and tearing down creative new ideas and they often overlooking roadblocks and broken processes for perceived personal safety.

 

So who will you choose to be in 2010?

 

Thanks again to Michael Ryan for the above Poem.