Fishing for Customers? Find the Right Lure.

The fly-fisherman wades into the fast-moving stream casting hand-tied lures towards wary trout. He tries one fly after another to find “what they are biting on today.”  When a fish rises to the bait and strikes, after he hauls it in, he keeps casting the same lure until it stops attracting his quarry.  

Why does that lure stop being irresistible to the trout?  It could be that a cloud covers or uncovers the sun, changing light conditions.  It could be that the wind picks up, causing ripples and changing the water conditions.  Maybe the trout got a note from its doctor to change its diet (ok that’s a stretch, but the reason that fish are attracted to different lures at different times is probably equally as far-fetched).

The marketer also wades into fast-moving waters, and just like the fisherman, the marketer keeps changing lures.  The marketer does it by changing marketing programs, headlines, media, copy, offers, graphics, prices, stories, etc.  Lures that bring success are kept and used until environmental or competitive conditions change.  

  • A change of seasons alerts buying triggers and needs for the new season, replacing the needs of the current one.
  • A change of tastes in the marketplace you are competing in.  
  • A change in the need for more – more speed, more production capacity, more quality, more information.

When you hit upon the right lure, it can almost be like the fish are standing in line to bite into the lure.  When the marketer hits it right, it can be a feeding frenzy, and customers compete with others to buy, so it is certainly worth experimenting to find the hot lure.

Good marketers know that whatever works today won’t work tomorrow, so they go one step further by continuing to test new ideas, new marketing messages, new promotions, and new offers and compare results against today’s successful marketing.  When marketing conditions change, and the previously successful messages / promotions start losing steam, it’s time to change lures.  

If you have a constant testing program, you will have the next messages and promotions ready to take over and keep the sales momentum going.  Fishing for trout or customers is much the same.  Both take experimentation, patience, and an investment in time, money, and effort to gain results.

Successful fishing enthusiasts mount their trophies on the wall, but successful marketers can’t stuff and hang their catches for display; they stuff their bank accounts instead.

Question or comment to Larry:

This Roller Coaster is Not Fun

Today we go to the amusement park of business.  It’s not the tilt-a-whirl or dodgem cars.  Not the funhouse or the 
Ferris Wheel.  We’re not going to throw a ball at bowling pins to win a stuffed panda.  We’re going on the ride that strikes terror in the hearts of businesspeople in all segments of management from CEO to marketers to production people… the Roller Coaster (gasp!).

You’ve probably been on it a time or two and gotten off a little dizzy and queasy, but for those who have yet to take the ride, it goes something like this.  Sales increase because of a brilliant marketing and advertising campaign (or maybe just dumb luck) until capacity to produce becomes strained.  Advertising is cut back and production is ramped up.  About the time production capacity has increased, sales shut off because there is no advertising driving up demand.  So you crank up the advertising again to increase sales to increase cash flow to pay for the increase in capacity until capacity is again strained.  You’re going faster and faster on the roller coaster and starting to scream.

Screaming is good.  Every peak and valley on the roller coaster becomes steeper and steeper until you run the risk of flying off the tracks.  So how do you avoid the roller coaster and go to the funhouse instead?

Planning is the key.  A well-conceived plan will include advance warnings to indicate when marketing, capacity, inventory levels, financing, staffing levels, etc. will need to be adjusted – either increased or diminished.  The warnings should allow time to adjust and balance marketing and capacity to keep you off that dangerous ride.

Many successful businesses create dashboards – lists of critical information that will guide and drive decisions for the near future.  These decisions will lower purchases when inventory levels creep up, increase staff levels when there is need to increase production, and prepare for near-future seasonal changes in buying and selling opportunities.

Expect the Best then Co-Create It!

staff brainstormingLots of businesses this time of year are working at improving processes to better compete in the marketplace.  The goal might be to increase quality, decrease cost, increase safety, better satisfy the customer, or a combination of these worthy goals. 

I was in a meeting recently where we were planning to change and improve a process in the way a certain task was to be done.  One of the people said with a sigh, “we’ll explain the new procedure and hope for the best.”  Suddenly alarms started going off in my head. I heard bells and sirens.  I saw big flashing red lights.  Then, inside my head, a booming voice yelled, “Hoping for the best won’t work… make it a process designed for success and get help from those who will actually be doing the work!”

So, I offered a different approach.  Start with telling those doing the task what the expected outcome would be, tell them why the change was being instituted, tell them how and when the results would be measured, and then once the new procedure was in place for a short while, ask for further input to make the procedure better.

That’s the “Managing by Intention” model.  Start with what you “intend” the outcome to be and then figure out what you need to do to get that outcome.  There is a much higher possibility of success this way than if you dictate a change and hope.  Why?  Because the people who are actually putting the change into practice will know and understand the background for the change – the who, what, where, and why.  This way, you’ve answered their questions before they’ve formulated them.  You’ve eliminated, or at least diminished, negativity.  When it’s all explained, it isn’t as if the change is being instituted as an arbitrary whim or “change for the sake of change.”

One of the goals of every change is to get the people who the change affects to embrace it, or at the very least, to embrace it enough to give it a try.  Then, if you ask them to go one step further to co-create it by evaluating and tweaking it to make it stronger and more productive, you will have a much better chance of success than ifyou force it on them and cross your fingers and hope.

When engaged people are confronted with a challenge, chances are they will use their creativity to create a positive outcome.

Question or comment to Larry:

The Lover, The Rose… A Wedding? The significance of an insignificant sale

Perfect roseThe young man went into a flower shop to purchase one beautiful rose for his girlfriend.  The florist seemed to take extra time selecting the flower.  After the lover left the store, wrapped rose in hand, the new employee asked the florist whether there was some difficulty selecting one rose from a container that held a few dozen similar, if not identical blooms.

The owner of the flower shop took his new employee aside, cleared his throat, and delivered his “Lecture of the Lover’s Experience” speech.

“Did you see the rose I selected for that young man?  It was perfect!  It was just about to burst into full, glorious bloom.  I picked the best rose for him to give to that special someone.  Why?  I’m sure that is the only rose that young lady is going to get today.  We want her and our customer to remember the experience with fondness.  We florists may see 1000 roses today, but they will see only one.  Our reputation stands on that one rose, so it better be perfect.  If that rose makes a good impression and that young man makes a good impression on the young lady, who knows, if things go well, maybe we’ll get their wedding business!” 

“And, if that happens, we will get orders for anniversaries and babies and when their babies grow up and get married, we’ll do those wedding flowers also, all because of one, perfect rose.  Of course, odds are that none of this might happen, but, if we have this long-term mindset every time we select an exceptional flower for a customer, it will be well worth those few moments I took to select that one rose because some customers will remember the extra care and service we give them.”

His point was that the buyer’s experience is different from the seller’s experience.  The buyer, in this case, is making a “unique” purchase, one he may remember for many years.  The seller is making an “ordinary” sale, one of many in the day, and from a sales volume standpoint it is a minor sale, yet there is potential for much more business.  To get the big sale and the long-term loyalty of the customer, the florist must insure the quality and service in this otherwise insignificant sale and in every other sale whether it is one rose or a whole greenhouse of roses.

Question or comment to Larry:

Your New Project…No Limits!

Brainstorming sticky notesI’ll bet you have a project coming up that will be meaningful to your company.  It could be a new product, a “special sale,” a change in computer systems, a move to a new location, an expansion, the creation of a new department, a downsizing or anything else that is beyond “business as usual.”  Decisions will have to be made about goals, budgets, deployment of assets, etc.  How can you get what you need for the least possible outlay of money, time, and effort? 

Taking on a project you’ve never done before can be a difficult, daunting experience fraught with fears, unknowns, and challenges yet, if it makes business sense, it will hopefully take you and your business to new heights.  You will want it to go smoothly with few complications, minimized chaos, and as little risk as possible.  So, before taking that first big step, it’s important to plan what you need to do, how to do it, and who you will employ to work with.

Before embarking on a new project, hold a three-step “No Limits” mind exercise by creating an environment conducive to creative thinking.  Turn off the phones, don’t allow interruptions.  Just you and those working on the project.

Step One – Ask one question: “If we can have everything needed or wanted for this project – all the money, all the people, all the time, all the talent, how can we make this project brilliant, successful, smooth and easy?”  Yes, it’s a fantasy, but it is a “clean sheet of paper” starting point.

Step Two – Once you know what the fantasy project looks like, list the limitations… the harsh realities of the real world and the marketplace.  The limitations might be time, money, facilities, competition, number of people required, physical or environmental limitations, regulations, landlords, vendors, etc.

Step Three – Compare the fantasy and real-world models to discover where you could have difficulties or challenges you will need to overcome if this project is to be successful.  Use this comparison to develop alternative methods, work-a-rounds, and changes in concept.  Redesign strategies and tactics to make the real-world evaluation deliver the fantasy-world benefits without coming up short and having expensive errors as you work your way through to a successful project.

This three-step approach allows you to model various scenarios while investing a minimum amount of valuable resources.  You might find that you are heading in the wrong direction, but the probability is that you will discover the best way of accomplishing your goals.

Question or comment to Larry:

Prepare for VoiceMail… BEFORE You Dial!

You have 392 messages, voice machineIn this age of communications overwhelm, where we send and receive seemingly hundreds of texts, emails, and phone calls each day (gosh I even got a hand-written letter last week!), we’ve got to work at it if we are going to be effective at communicating with the people we need to keep in touch with.

It seems that many people hide behind the wall of Voice Mail. When the phone rings, they let the call go to Voice Mail to screen their calls. They call back those they need to talk to, ignoring the rest and ignoring the possibility of taking advantage of opportunities.

Voice Mail makes a salesperson’s life particularly difficult. Do you leave a message? Do you hang up again and again when that dreaded, “I’m either on the phone or away from my desk” message is triggered? Do you try some other means of communication – text? Hand-written letter (gasp!)? Carrier pigeon?

Most people, when they hear the Voice Mail message, freeze. They aren’t prepared, and their message sounds like a bad imitation of a stammering and befuddled Elmer Fudd. Voice Mail can be effective if you leave an intriguing, curiosity evoking, benefit-laden message.

The best strategy is preparation. Know what you will do if your calls go to the purgatory of Voice Mail… before you dial. Prepare your message and practice it so, when you hear the recorded Voice Mail message, you don’t start your message with “Uhhhhh”, sounding like an amateur. If you are cold-calling or prospecting, the first message might be a short intro, the second an intriguing benefit statement, the third a qualifying question.

If you are past the prospecting stage, and this call is to follow-up a previous conversation, your statement should be based upon the wants or needs of your prospect. “Judy, I just found a solution to your problem…” “George, I found how you can save more on those widgets you want.”

The key to getting the prospect to call back (finally!) is to make them want to know more… and you can only do that if you are prepared with statements that will capture their curiosity and make them want to talk to you.

Your favorite TV or movie actors don’t get famous because they “wing it.” They get there because they learn their lines, memorize and practice them, have others critique their performance, and only then they are prepared enough to go in front of the cameras. Prepare for Voice Mail the same way and you might win an Oscar!

Question or comment to Larry:

“Oops Sorry” Isn’t Enough

waiter about to spillThe restaurant was busy, and the waitstaff was moving fast when a waiter hurrying past a table stumbled while carrying a bowl of barbecue sauce, spilling on a beautiful leather jacket draped over a chair, though thankfully missing the woman sitting there.

The waiter apologized, wiped the sauce off the jacket, and excused himself returning with the manager. The manager apologized again, asked the customer to get the garment cleaned, and gave the customer a note that guaranteed payment for the cleaning. NOTE: There was no attempt to weasel out of their responsibility!

The customer, while not happy, knows that accidents will happen occasionally. Both the waiter and the manager were considerate and handled the situation with consideration and dignity, so the problem was solved.

That is how all the seminars in customer service say it should happen, but it rarely does.

When barbecue sauce goes flying through the air, or some other unexpected thing happens, companies that value having a high-quality reputation recognize that this is a “Moment of Truth.” It’s the time to make good on all those quality and service brags that are posted on your website, advertising, sales scripts, and other marketing material. It’s an opportunity to shine and prove that your reputation is more than just some marketing copy.

Even in the very best of companies, bad stuff happens for any number of reasons. High-quality companies work hard to right the few wrongs that pop up because they have worked hard to create their reputation, and they know that it can be lost with one spill of barbecue sauce or another misstep.

“Oops, Sorry” is just not good enough!

Too often the person in a responsible position tries to weasel out of it, and an observer can watch the customer’s blood pressure rise. Voices grow louder and shriller, no one wins, and a customer is forever lost. It used to be said that a customer who feels mistreated would tell eleven people about a bad experience. Today, they can post a negative review on any number of internet sites and can shout their dissatisfaction to the world.

It’s up to you to create a win-win culture that solves problems before they escalate and make that culture an effective management tool that keeps customers coming back so I challenge you to look at your satisfaction policies to see how you can make things right before they turn wrong.

Question or comment to Larry:

Buyer and Seller are in Different Time Zones

The salesperson had exactly what the prospect said he wanted.  Yet she couldn’t close the sale.  She called the prospect over and over and sent a series of emails, all to no avail.  But the prospect was indifferent and seemed curt in the last conversation, so the salesperson became frustrated, then angry, then took the prospect out of her “active prospect tickler file” with a deep sigh and ultimately forgot about him.
Months later the phone rang.  It was that long-forgotten prospect who now wanted to make that purchase.  After filling out the paperwork and getting the purchase order signed, the salesperson asked the customer why he seemed so indifferent back when she was actively pursuing him to buy.  The answer was simple and enlightening, “I wasn’t ready to buy yet.”  
There’s a classic difference between the salesperson and buyer.  They are both working under different needs and different timetables.  The salesperson wants and needs to make the sale immediately.  The buyer purchases when it is in his best interest, not when the salesperson wants to make the sale.
The problem or challenge for salespeople is that typically, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to get an accurate understanding of the buyer’s timing needs.  The buyer might be on a “fishing trip”, just discovering what is available in the market and has zero immediate need, but isn’t willing to tell that to the salesperson.  It’s just as possible that the buyer is in the middle of a “hair-on-fire” emergency and needs to make a purchase as close to yesterday as possible. 
Yes, the salesperson can ask those questions, but buyers often hedge because they don’t want to divulge information that might put them at a negotiating disadvantage, so accurate answers are rarely forthcoming. 
When she inquired about his timing of the purchase, he told her that he had to search through his notes to find her name and phone number.  Upon hearing this, the salesperson took out her “inactive prospect” file and started calling all those people she dropped while wondering how often she had lost sales because of the differences in priorities between the buyer and the seller.  Is it happening to you too?
I often preach the strategy of using “polite persistence” to keep in touch with prospects who seem to have the need but don’t have the current commitment to buy because, at some time in the future, when it is in their best interest to make the move, you want to be the one on the top of the list who will get the call.

Question or comment to Larry:

Do All Your Job

Welcome Back stars and swirlsOK, the prospect purchased it, you delivered it and got paid so you did your job… and you feel good about the transaction… but there might be (and should be) a nagging feeling deep down in your gut… will your customer come back and refer others?   Doing your job (what the customer paid for) is really doing only part of your job.  If you are to succeed you have to do more.  You have to do your entire job.
Every business has three primary functions:

  1. Getting the business
  2. Delivering whatever the client bought
  3. Administering the backroom business functions

A big part of #1 (Getting the Business) after you’ve gotten the first sale is to demonstrate your uniqueness, your commitment to service, your ability and desire to provide future products and services to your customers and inducements, appropriate to your industry and relationship, to make them want to return to you instead of seeking a better deal elsewhere.
It’s called, in marketing terms, a Customer Retention Strategy, and just delivering what they paid for isn’t enough.  Your competitors are always trying to seduce your clients away, so you are in an ongoing battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of the valuable people and businesses that buy your products and services.
If you don’t regularly remind them about who you are, what you did for them, and why they should come back, then you did not complete your job.  The other part of your job is impressing your customer enough, so they remember to come back to you the next time they are in the market.  If you don’t constantly work at strengthening your relationship with them, while others are plying them with plenty of offers and promises, you are not doing all of your job.
Your customers have to deal with a complex world, beset with conflicting priorities, schedules, and budgets.  It isn’t their obligation to remember you when they next need your product or service, even though you fulfilled your side of the contract to their satisfaction.  It is your obligation to do more, to capture and retain part of their memory.
Doing your job, doing it well, and retaining your customer for next time is your whole job.  Intentionally build a Customer Relationship Strategy to ensure your clients remain your clients.  Do all of it well and they will come back again and again… That’s your whole job!

Question or comment to Larry:

Watch the Film Again to Win

The coaching staff of every football team starts preparing for the next game by looking at game-films of their next opponent.

  • Does their fullback prefer to turn right or left?
  • Is their kicker accurate from 50 yards?
  • Is their star blocker still injured?

Over and over they review the film, looking for strengths they will need, strategies to defend against, and weaknesses they can exploit.  In marketing terms, they prepare both a “Competitive Analysis” and an “Action Plan” which they call a “Game Plan.”

Of course, this competitive analysis isn’t limited to football; it exists in all sports at just about every level, political campaigns, and in just about every other competitive situation including in every type of business.

Your business, like the football team, competes against an opponent, and today, with the almost universal ability of your customers and prospects to search the internet, you are competing against businesses world-wide.  To succeed, you must perform the same type of analysis; develop the same type of plan:

  • If they can deliver in three weeks, can you deliver in two?
  • If they offer a 90-day warranty, can you offer one for six months?
  • If their price includes assembly, can yours include assembly and delivery?
  • If their price is $X, can you offer a lower price or savings of some kind?
  • If they have a well-trained, friendly and knowledgeable staff, can your staff be better?

Gaining a competitive edge requires knowing what the competition offers, and that requires a little sleuthing.  Read their advertising to see what they are offering, look at their website and measure their site’s ease of navigation, become a customer and see how you are treated. 

Start exploiting your strengths and pound home your messages of superiorities.  Start identifying your weaknesses and institute strategies of turning weaknesses into strengths (lemonade from lemons?).  Start working to upgrade your staff’s friendliness, knowledge, and helpfulness.  Then start monitoring the effectiveness of your efforts to become more competitive and tweak those that are working and modify those that still are not having the desired effect.  That’s what the football team does in the locker room at halftime to turn momentum onto their side, and you can also do it.

If you use a “Competitive Analysis” you can develop a winning “Game Plan” just like the Pros in the NFL, but realize that the companies you compete against are doing the same thing. So, add the option of flexibility into your Plan.

Question or comment to Larry:

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