I DEMAND Your Best Value

When making a purchase we all want the best value.  That’s very normal and should be obvious to every businessperson.  It sounds like a simple statement, but it really isn’t because “best value” means different things to different people at different times.  We all have different needs, different goals, and different factors that add up to “value.”.

  • For some, it is the lowest price and price is a major component of “value.”
  • For others, it is the lowest long-term cost of ownership (even if there is a higher initial cost perhaps offset by greater durability or less expensive maintenance)
  • It could be convenience where a higher cost could be offset by a lower transportation cost making the total cost lower.
  • It could be technical superiority or technical flexibility or a package of future technical updates.
  • It could be the fastest delivery, or extended payment terms, or greater status / or style, or packaging, or just about anything a customer might think will add to the “value” to your product or service.

The definition of “best value” becomes even more complicated because we often have changing needs depending on changing circumstances so the key to giving the customer your best value is to actually discover what is important to your customer at the time of inquiry.  It is sort of like that old joke where a customer is given three choices – High Quality, Low Price, and Speed of Delivery, then told they can “Pick two.”

Some companies conduct extensive surveys or focus groups, others have salespeople ask customers about the factors important to them during the sales process and some, sadly just guess and hope for the best.  The goal is to discover what the prospect prefers, with the understanding that their preference can change depending on circumstances.  

Knowing how the customer defines “best value” allows the seller to design a product or service or quotation or a presentation that will be based on the needs or “wants” of the customer.  Once you understand the criteria upon which you will be judged, becoming “best value” will be a whole lot simpler and easier to close the sale.

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com

Table for One?

It was 1:30, past my normal time for lunch.  I was hungry and alone, downtown in a community I was not familiar with.  I found a parking space and saw there were two attractive restaurants about 100 feet apart.  I had no preference between them, so I walked into the one that was closest and asked for a table for one.  

I was taken to a very small table.  Since I planned to do a little work reviewing some notes while eating, I brought in a notepad, so I asked the host for a larger, more comfortable table.  He told me that their policy was to seat only parties of three or more at the larger tables.  Looking around at the half-empty room, I reminded my host that it was well past the lunch-hour and it was unlikely that they would need the larger table at this time of day.  The host told me that he couldn’t go against policy.  I replied, “fair enough, but it is my policy to dine where I can comfortably work and enjoy my meal” and then left.  

The server apologized as I left.  I told her that I knew it wasn’t her fault and perhaps she should bring up this issue to the owner / manager. suggesting they be more flexible.

I certainly could understand their policy if the place was full and people were standing in line waiting for tables, but the chance they would need the larger table at that time of day was slim to none.  I’m sure the host was just doing his job and following a rigid policy, but there is a reason food service is part of the hospitality industry and this use of policy was not being hospitable. 

At the second restaurant, I was also taken to a small table but, when I made my wishes known, was given a larger one without having to enter into negotiations.  I sat down and, after making a selection from the menu, then promptly opened my notepad.  A few moments later a server came to me and said, “I see this is a working-lunch, would you like a table in a quieter section?”  Perfect!

This experience reminded me to suggest that you review your companies’ policies to see if they are getting in the way of satisfying the customer and if you have rigid policies, consider how you can introduce flexibility into your policies to increase customer satisfaction.  This will obviously require some thought and training but, if it was easy anyone could do it.  

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com

Ambiguity Breeds Conflict! Be Specific!!!

Have you ever told a customer: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it” and then later you find yourself in trouble because you both thought “it” had different definitions?  When one is talking about satisfying expectations, ambiguity breeds conflict.  The more something is left to chance, the higher the possibility there will be disagreement because “it” wasn’t spelled out in enough detail.  If I remember correctly one of our former presidents had a problem defining what “it” is.

Most business people will say they want to exceed the customers’ expectations, or at very least satisfy those expectations.  We’ve all nodded our heads when hearing the oft-used (perhaps overused) phrase, “Underpromise and overdeliver.”  Yes, it’s great when you can do that, but unless you know what your customer is expecting, you can’t overdeliver.  In fact, you may not even be able to deliver “it” at all because you haven’t properly defined “it” and they are expecting one thing while you are delivering something completely different.  That’s when you hear a client sadly say, “I was expecting something different!”

Managing your customers’ expectation is a crucial element of satisfying those expectations.  The more specific you can be when offering or proposing your services, the lower the possibility of conflict which then increases the possibility of satisfaction.  

  • The house painter gets in trouble when the customer sells him to paint the walls white and he goes ahead and paints the walls with the white paint he often uses.  But if he shows her the paint chip chart with fifty shades of “white” to pick from, chances are the color will meet expectations, avoiding conflict because he used the exact shade of “white” she specified.
  • Order your steak “medium-rare” in one steakhouse where the menu defines medium-rare as “pink -warm center” and your steak will be to that specific degree of doneness or you would be perfectly within your rights to send it back.
  • Tell your client “I’ll have it done next week” leaves a range five days of possible completion days, but your client won’t be wondering when you say, “I’ll get it back to you next week, Friday at the latest.” 

Before you can over deliver you first have to well understand what your customer’s expectations are.  The more specific you can be defining those expectations the easier it will be to manage them and to deliver or even over-deliver them.  So, work hard to be specific when promising “it.”

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com

A Mission for Every Project

Every business has projects underway and everyone has had projects that didn’t work out.  Some go astray and sometimes they go horribly wrong, expensively wrong.  Looking back at failed projects over time one wonders, “what could we have been thinking?”  20/20 hindsight is amazingly accurate, especially when projects start by looking forward through rose-tinted glasses.

We have all heard about creating a mission statement for a business.  All businesses should have one and many actually do.  The mission statement focuses energies and defines the reason for existence in a way that all can understand.  A mission works for projects in the same manner.

When creating a new project within the business, if a little time is spent creating, defining, and agreeing on the mission of the project, those working on it will better understand it and be better focused on the intended outcome(s).  They will see their contribution to this project and to the company as a whole.  A mission statement should explain the reason for the project, the desired outcome(s), and the benefits of creating and implementing it.

Once the mission is defined it is important to determine whether the project and expected outcome are congruent with the mission of the business, if not, then either modify the project or leave it and go on to another one.  This step ferrets out waste of time and waste of enthusiasm dead-ends (time and enthusiasm are terrible things to waste).

As a project wends its way from concept to outline to prototyping, testing, modification, retesting, then finished design and implementation, it’s very important to frequently check at each step to ensure the project remains on target and focused on the mission.  It is easy to stray off course, missing the intended outcome so a “mid-course correction” should be planned and then instituted so the project returns the desired outcomes instead of eventually ending up on the trash heap of well-intentioned but failed attempts.

So start every new project with the following statements: “The mission of this project is (fill in the blanks).” “The expected outcome of this project is: (fill in the blanks).”  “The anticipated benefits of this project are: (fill in the blanks).” If you define your projects this way everyone involved in the project will know why you / they are undertaking it and what the expected or desired outcomes are.  Everyone will remain better focused and the outcomes will fit your business, not harm it.

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com

Are You an Expert? Shout it Out!

The history of business has shown that even the biggest and best companies, as hard as they try, can’t be “everything to everybody.”  If they could, they would completely dominate commerce and there would never be competitors. But, let’s face it, competitors sprout up and grow like weeds.  Even the largest of enterprises must carve out their niche and attract customers to their core competencies and competitive superiority, otherwise they lose customers to others who figure out what the customer wants and is willing to pay for.

This, however, is not exclusive to large, well known national and international companies.  It is even truer in smaller regional or local businesses.  Clearly, becoming known as an expert in your core competency is of utmost importance.  Successful niche marketers become very good at something but then they need to shout it out to the world (or at least their portion of the world) over and over.  

I’ve heard so many businesspeople say, “We’re the best-kept secret,” but whose fault is that?

Unless you, or your business, is expert at something, there is very little reason for anyone to come to your location or discover your website or phone you.  And if you are expert at something you must somehow get the word out that you have unique reasons for your prospects to find you and your customers to buy from you.

And when you “get the word out” about your expertise, don’t whisper it!  Shout it!  Develop your unique selling proposition (USP), turn it into your branding message, make it catchy, make it specific to your marketplace, use powerful language to make it memorable, make it easy to say and remember, then shout it over and over so it hits your prospects right between the eyes.  Remember… you want them to sit up and take notice, not nod their head while rolling their eyes!   

What is your company expert at?  Define it.  What is your company or your product(s) better at than your competition?  Why do your customers choose you?  What do they want?  Figure it out, then determine how to exploit your expertise by shouting it out to those who will enjoy or profit from your expertise and excellence.  Hone your message and repeat it again and again.  Those who are attracted to your niche or expertise will come once, return, and, if the message you use is specific, benefit-laden, and easily repeated, they will tell others.

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com

Your Market is a Moving Target! Your Marketing Needs to Move Also!

One of the first tasks of marketing is to define your targeted market.  Unless you have a good description and understanding of the market(s) you want to attract, your marketing efforts will not hit the target… because you don’t know who or what the target is.

I’m sure almost all businesses have gone through this process and written out their definitions.  They design and compose their marketing messages, events, products and services to fit that demographic and / or geographic market.  If it hits the target’s bullseye they go on to other projects and then slowly, little by little, and almost imperceptibly, those messages become stale, ceasing to hit the target.  

Years ago, the hamburger chain Wendy’s had a very successful advertising campaign, “Where’s the Beef?”  They ran it for years but eventually, it stopped attracting new customers so Wendy’s replaced it with different campaign messages. 

All marketers eventually notice a slow erosion of their marketing campaign’s effectiveness.  The problem is that their marketplace changes over time just as yesterday’s “young-marrieds” became “matures” and then “seniors” over time and, as they age, the wants and needs of these prospects change while following groups have still-different wants and needs.  

Sure, the marketers are still targeting the same groups but often don’t realize that the targeted group has changed.  As an extreme example (because it changes so rapidly) let’s say that you are targeted market is early teenagers.  From a marketing perspective, there is a new generation who become early teenagers every two or three years.  These kids have different experiences, different pop-star idols (soon today’s icons will be so last generation!).  They will be attracted to different products, different messages, different colors and typefaces because they have had different experiences.  To keep being relevant, marketers need to change their message to meet the needs and wants of future generations.  The same process of change happens in all markets, but usually at a slower pace than the teenage market.

So, I challenge you to review your targeted market to see if your message is still relevant.  Redefine your “ideal client” and see if your marketing material has meaning to those you want to attract.  If your message has not changed much in the past few years, it might be ready for a makeover so you can again aim for the bull’s eye and hit it instead of being off target.

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com

Is an Insincere Smile Better than a Sincere Frown?

I walk into one local store about two or three times a month.    Every time I walk in, a “company-shirted” clerk at the counter mumbles, “hullo” in a dull monotone without ever looking in my direction.  Every time it happens I bristle because of the obvious show of insincerity.  I cringe in expectation as I approach the door yet, because of the convenience I continue to shop there.  If they had a nearby competitor I’d drop them in a second.

Obviously, someone at headquarters decreed, “every customer will be greeted upon entering!”  Just as obviously, nobody trained the front-line troops to understand the reasons why a warm greeting can be good for business and what a warm greeting looks and sounds like.  Can’t you just imagine the clerks plotting to figure how to obey the “the greeting decree” while doing it in the most offensive manner possible?  It sure looks the “customer elimination department” has been hard at work there.

As a refreshing contrast, I frequent another establishment where I am always welcomed with a smile and a warm, “hi there!”  Yes, I know the greeting is company imposed but, because of the way it is delivered, my impression is that the company wants me to know my business is valued and if I need assistance or have a question, I will be waited upon with courtesy.  Someone in management has figured out that customers would prefer to be waited on by a person who acts as if they enjoyed satisfying customers.

I hope no one sends me an email grousing about “the attitude of young people today” or “you can’t get good help today.”  Clerks at both businesses are about the same age so it’s not “young people.”  

The finger of blame points squarely at management – top-level management creates the culture and the way customers should be treated.  Mid-level management implements and supports the culture.  The blame for terrible customer is due to either or both groups of management.

It comes down to expectation, execution and education.  The customer-warmth tactic comes from top management, it is taught by mid-level management.  I’ve heard people being trained say, “If I don’t feel good, I don’t want to be a phony and act like I do.”  The answer is that “even if you are in a grumpy mood, pretend you are happy to see a customer because an insincere smile is better than a sincere frown.”

Is your place filled with sincere grumps?  “Have a nice day!”

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com

Study Election and Learn Marketing Techniques

From now until the elections in November, you and I will become inundated with campaign 2018 from candidates for local, regional, state, and national offices (from U.S. Senator to local school boards).  We will be receiving many thousands of marketing messages to attract votes and funding.  Our mailboxes will start overflowing with campaign literature.  Our inboxes will get clogged with emails from candidates and their supporters.  Social media will be filled with “Likes” from our “Friends.”  News stories on TV, radio, and newspapers will crowd out less important news.  Media advertising will explode.  Observing the process is like taking a master’s class on business strategy and tactics.

Political campaigns don’t miss a trick.  They speak of mission and vision.  They appeal to our core fears, concerns, ambitions, and beliefs.  They study opponents to create differentiated positions and attempt to extol the virtues of fundamentally unique viewpoints.  They personalize their messages to meet the needs of their audiences.  They “wordsmith” speeches and ads to gain votes in their favor.

To enhance their image, their message, and their attractiveness to the electorate, candidates employ many marketing professionals.  Speechwriters, copywriters, voice coaches, acting coaches, advertising and public relations agencies, social media experts, media advisors, wardrobe consultants, makeup artists, hair stylists, demographers, statisticians, and consultants make up the marketing army that work to get out the winning word to the right people at the right time.  After all, the candidates are selling a product (themselves) and a service (governing from a particular point of view) and need to attract more votes than their opponent to win.

Is this any different than marketing a business, the products and services a business sells?  Of course not.  

From an academic standpoint it’s much the same strategy and tactics – appeal to those who aren’t aware, get them to see, hear, listen to your message, stimulate them to understand and embrace, then evangelize for you.    A campaign is the point where image, message, vision, differentiation converge and are just as important in commerce as in an election.  

As citizens, we vote at our polling place with our ballot just as when we shop at a store or online as customers we vote with our wallets.  No matter, when voting or making a purchase we are responding consciously or subconsciously to the marketing that has been sent to us and we’ve absorbed.  The message is clear.  No matter what you are selling, market better to win!

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com

You’re Different? How So?

Often when I talk to an owner of a small business I hear them exclaim that they are different from those they compete against.  Upon hearing that phrase, I ask, “How so?”

The answer is usually a list of generalities like, “We give better service” or “We’re friendlier” or “We care more.”  These points of differentiation are nice, but not easily measured and compared.  Furthermore, it is very difficult to get the prospect to see, feel, and want these general differentiators.

I almost never hear them speak in measurable specifics; points of differentiation that can be quantified and compared such as, ”Our service staff is the only one that is 100% certified in our geographic area” or “Our customers can choose more delivery options than anyplace else” or “Our backorder rate is better than 98% of companies in our industry.”                                          

Take a look your competitor’s websites and other advertising.  What do they say about themselves?  How do you compare?  What points can you make that can illustrate and demonstrate your “betterness?”

It’s not good enough to say, “we’re different” because everyone can say that and does.  No one pays attention to that sort of boasting.   People do listen when a point of differentiation is specific and measurable.  It gives them something to compare to help make purchasing decisions.

I challenge you to write a list of specific and measurable points of differentiation for your company or product.  Compare them to your competition and see where you come out on top.  Determine a talking point, slogan, or phrase you can use to drive home your advantages to your customers, your staff and your prospects and prosper on your “difference” and “betterness.”

The second part of this challenge is to determine how you will use it to promote your business and / or your products and services.

  • Use these differentiating statements in your advertising of course.
  • Insert them into your sales presentation scripts
  • Answer the phone with a statement like: “Thanks for calling XYZ company where we guarantee orders placed by 2 pm will be shipped the same day!”
  • Teach these points of differentiation to all of your staff, even those who never act in a marketing or sales situation, because it builds pride in their work also.

Once you start using measurable, specific, demonstratable points of differentiation, you will have a series of statements to separate your company and the products / services you sell from your competition instead of some tired cliché or generality.

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com

Why is a Headline like a Police Siren?

We all know the alarming shock of seeing the flashing lights and hearing the piercing scream of a police car, fire truck, or ambulance, and we all know what to do when one of these vehicles comes into our hearing and visual range.  We pull over to the curb and stop quickly.

That’s exactly the reaction we, as marketers, want to create when writing headlines for our marketing material.

Every copywriter will tell you that the headline is the most important part of a newsletter, print ad, article, website, brochure, or flyer. The writer works hard to write well-crafted headlines to stop the eye, grab it, and arrest it from straying.  Police cars have sirens and flashing lights to stop the bad guys, grab and arrest them.  Both headlines and sirens work to grab attention.

Headlines have the power to focus the eye and the brain on a provocative, curiosity evoking statement or question.  If you don’t arrest the eye at the headline you will never get the reader to look at the body copy, so your audience will never bother to see the rest of your creative effort where you are extolling the features, the benefits, and the offer.

But writing headlines isn’t easy.  Unfortunately, headlines rarely just show up on the writer’s blank page in a “flash-of-brilliance.”  Like most creative endeavors, there is a process to writing vivid, eye-stopping headlines.  It becomes easier if there is aprocess or system used repetitively so it becomes a natural part of the work.

Often, when writing advertising copy, a press release, or a business letter, the process many professional copy writers use is to write the body copy first then write at least ten possible headlines and sometimes as many as twenty-five.  At times, this can be painstakingly difficult, but it is necessary to discover the best way to attract attention.  Unless you are on a very tight deadline, it’s best to put the list aside for a few hours and review it later.

This “time out” allows the writer’s subconscious to add its own creativity to the effort.  After the writing exercise and the “rest period,” the selection of the best, most evocative headline usually becomes evident.  The next time you need to stop a reader’s eyes, try this arresting process and your headline will be just like a police car with siren howling and flashing lights.  That will stop them from turning the page or clicking off your website.  

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com