Landmark Case with TripAdvisor, Makes Businesses Think Twice About Reviews

It was announced on Wednesday, September 13th of 2018 that an Italian man would be jailed for nine months for running a business tied to fake TripAdvisor reviews.

Reviews, especially for consumer-based businesses, mean everything… and unfortunately there are too many businesses that are more than willing to circumvent systems to provide fake reviews for products and services. We always highly recommended against using these services, as at the end of the day, it will negatively affect your business. Not only do real customers eventually catch on, but organizations such as TripAdvisor, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Yelp are all working on solutions to combat such practices. This means that those reviews will eventually fall off, and there could be other ramifications such as fines or banning from platforms completely.

Reviews are increasingly becoming a primary tool for consumers to make daily decisions on what to buy and eat, naturally leading to increased business for businesses with a plethora of positive reviews. Instead of risking long-term gains for short-term with providers offing fake reviews, 3SixtySMB recommends developing a strategy to interact with your customers and work towards getting real, credible customer reviews for the various platforms out there. Strategies can be anything from simply asking customers to post reviews, or offering incentives such as discounts for their honest take on your business.

Real reviews are also an insight into the soul of your business. We find that many disregard reviews with the belief that the customer doesn’t know what they are talking about, or that they as a “business owner” know what is best for the business. However, real reviews are the consumer’s perception of your business (good or bad), and insights like reviews can truly help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the business in the eyes of your customers. Making adjustments to your business model as you learn about them through your reviews will help increase your overall customer experience and lead to increased revenue over time. We wrote a related article about this not too long ago (There’s A Problem, Stop What You Are Doing).

Finally, ensuring that you are monitoring these reviews in real time also gives a clear line of communication directly to your consumers. As an example, if a consumer had an issue with your business and you did not respond, you could lose a customer for life. Furthermore, they will tell their friends, and their review is now visible for the world to see. This means that one bad review left unaddressed can lead to multiple lost customers down the road. If you have a few bad reviews, you are now taking a significant hit to your business. Addressing issues in a professional and courteous manner can not only change the perception of a customer with a bad experience, but it also shows the world that you take your customer experiences seriously. Furthermore, positive reviews are not to be ignored. Take the time to thank someone that posted a positive review for their business, possibly even offer them a discount on their next trip in. Actions like this create loyal customers, and again, show the workers what type of business you run.

Reviews are truly an inside view to the soul of your business, both for your customers and your organization. Treat customers horribly, and everyone will know! Treat customers well, and everyone will know! Which do you think is better for your business? And when it comes to “paid reviews”, steer clear of them; they could be a path to short-term gains, however they will catch up to you in the long run… Finally, there are many platforms out there (TripAdvisor, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Yelp), so do not make the mistake of only focusing on one. Where your customers are, you should be there as well!

 

Sales Is A Numbers Game, How To Increase Sales Without Increasing Pipeline

Sales Is A Numbers Game, How To Increase Sales Without Increasing PipelineSales is a numbers game, right? In sales, this is something you are constantly told, typically followed by the need to get more opportunities into the pipeline. This roughly translates to the more opportunities that are in the pipeline, the more business that is likely to close. We do not disagree–sales is a numbers game, but there is another way that game can be played, and that is increasing the close ratio. Here’s the thing, we disagree that the numbers game should always be pushing for bigger pipelines, as it eventually leads to employee burnout and puts unnecessary stresses on your account base. Working to increase the overall close ratio actually creates a more efficient sales team and leads to happier sales reps in the long term. It also has an interesting side effect. It gives organizations the ability to grow their teams in order to grow the pipeline, and it lowers the stresses due to employee turnover as a result of burning out. In this article we’ll share some simple tips that can easily increase your sales close ratio.

To create a more effective team, the first action many companies take is to go directly to organized sales training processes such as Sandler, Miller Heiman, Dale Carnegie, and others. Not a bad route to go, however they all have their special focuses along with their own strengths and weaknesses, and in some cases create an almost robotic workforce (which no one wants, Following The “Sales Taught” Process Isn’t Always A Good Thing). We’ve actually learned, over time, that a combination of the different sales methods works best and gives a team the ability to be more agile and think on their own. Also, these types of structured training tend to be one-time events, and we always encourage continuous learning and development, regardless of how senior the rep (or manager).

Sales is a game of numbers, and at times it truly is the small details that matter, as there are several opposing forces working against each and every deal. Anything from competition, budget, busy schedules, and competing priorities can sideline a deal at any moment, and they do (all the time). When it comes to increasing a close ratio, it is important to focus on the details, as it is the details that truly matter and will get those few extra deals to close. With all of the said, here are a few tips for a more effective sales process:

92% of sales is done via the phone, so it is important to have proper phone etiquette as there is nothing that can turn off a prospective customer more than a call that was painful to have.

  • Avoid speakerphone – Unless you are hosting a call with multiple people on the line, do not use the speakerphone. We find a few issues with use of speakerphones. Typically, speakerphones create an echo or can make voices too loud (or too quite), ultimately leading to difficult-to-hear discussions. Also, speaker phones are usually structured where you can either talk or hear, and not both at the same time. This leads to constantly talking over your prospect or missing important cues that they want to ask a question.
  • Do not talk over people – Unless absolutely necessary, do not talk over anyone on a phone call. It is not only considered rude, but you can miss critical information that your prospect might be trying to share. If done enough times, it will ultimately turn off your prospect.
  • Always use the 70/30 rule – This means your prospect should be doing 70% of the talking, and you should be doing 30% (yes, even in demos). If you find that you are doing most of the talking, stop immediately.

Almost all sales are a result of at least one meeting (and in some cases, several). This essentially means that the way you and your team represent yourselves during those meetings will directly impact your ability to close more business:

  • Send a proper meeting invite – One of the most overlooked items of any meeting is the actual invite itself. Think about how people typically view their calendars and you’ll realize the subject line is the only thing they see. Believe it or not, there are still people that will set up meeting invites with a one-word subject line that means nothing to the prospect. Instead, we recommend a subject line that looks like this: 3SixtySMB | Client Name Review and Feedback of Proposal – Friday 9/8 @ 3pm Eastern… This clearly shows the prospect who they are speaking with, why they are speaking to them, and when. Also, if sharing with internal team members, it serves the same purpose. The invite body is just as important, as you want to clearly state the agenda for the meeting along with dial-in or WebEx information and copy any relevant documentation. This all makes it super simple for your prospects to organize themselves as they hop from meeting to meeting.
  • Do your homework – Never go into a meeting blind… Take time before a meeting to review relevant information such as website, social media pages, individual LinkedIn pages, financial reports, presses, notes, and any other applicable information.
  • Join the meeting 3-5 minutes early  – Always dial in early. Not only does it show you have respect for your client’s time, but it also allows you to address any issues with a dial-in or WebEx which always happens to pop up at the most inconvenient times.
  • Do not book back-to-back meetings – Meetings always run over, and you are just asking for trouble when booking back-to-back meetings. Always allow for at least a 15-minute buffer if possible. If a back-to-back meeting is unavoidable, use a different dial-in for the second call. That way if a call goes late, you don’t have people popping in as you are trying to end your call.
  • Use group chat   When possible, use a group chat with your internal team members. It allows for back-end strategization on the fly during discussions, keeping everyone on the same page.
  • Start with a proper agenda – Take care of roll call, introductions, meeting summary, and open questions before getting started.
    • The most important part of the meeting is how you set the stage, ensuring that everyone is on the same page on the reasoning of the meeting. Too many times people skip this part, only to find out 30 minutes into a meeting that the reasoning behind the meeting changed on the client side or they had a piece of critical information missing that changes everything.
    • Also, if it’s a smaller meeting, try building a bit of a rapport before hopping right into things. A little bonding goes a long way!
  • Actively listen – There is a difference between listening and actively listening because there is a big difference between “what people say” and “how they say it”. Sometimes the nuances are in the way something is said, and those small nuances can be the difference between a won or lost deal.
  • Be present/listen – Seriously, too many people forget the simple concept of being present and listening. Some believe they are listening, but they’re too involved in jotting down notes, or thinking of their next question and are really not present. As a result, they miss things… and nothing will annoy a prospect more than someone that isn’t paying attention to what is being said and they end up asking questions that were answered previously in the conversation.
  • Take detailed notes – Part of listening is taking notes, lots of them… Many believe they can simply remember the fine details. However, after a few hours, those details can be forgotten. These are the details that can make the difference between winning and losing a deal. And of course, don’t be afraid to share these notes with co-workers. This goes back to doing your homework; note-taking and sharing are extremely important to ensure everyone has the most relevant information and is on the same page.
  • Never make assumptions – Too many make assumptions, and those assumptions lead to lost deals. These are assumptions such as believing you know what the client wants, the right people are on the call, budget, and decision-making process… the list goes on. Never make assumptions, and always ask questions to understand unanswered details. Your prospect will respect that you are trying to understand their process, and if they are dodging questions, be wary as that is a sign something is not quite right.
  • Clear next steps – This is a big one… Never, ever end a call without clear next steps and a scheduled call! Nothing kills the momentum of an opportunity more than not having a scheduled next step. People are busy, and your sales opportunity, unfortunately, is not their top priority–almost anything can happen once a call ends. Without a scheduled next step, there is no guarantee you’ll get them on the phone again.  
  • Summarize – Do not forget to summarize what was discussed in the meeting and ask for confirmation. We all hear different things at times, and it is critical to make sure everyone is on the same page before leaving.

Proposal and Contracts:

  • Timing is everything – Don’t sit on the paperwork; get it out the door as soon as humanly possible. During the call, if they give you a deadline of Friday, you get it to them by Tuesday morning. Getting the paperwork out the door early shows that you are on top of your game, but it also combats other outside sources such as buyer’s remorse, competition, or just shifting priorities. Many deals have been lost by one day, just because someone changed their minds due to budget cuts, someone quitting, or a change that was made in corporate priorities.
  • Get their information right – Ensure the company name, logo, address, and their name are all written correctly.
  • Proofread – Typos or mistakes happen, however, ensure you do everything possible to send out paperwork that is clear, consistent, and typo free.
  • File name – Do not just use the file name “proposal” or “contract”–believe me, people do it! Instead, similar to the meeting invite, make the file name something that is self-explanatory. As an example: 3SixtySMB-ClientName-ProjectNameProposal-9-8-2018v2…. This example is very coherent, searchable, and gives a clear understanding of the version.
  • Email subject lines – Again, we have seen people send along agreements and proposals with one-word subject lines. Be clear and concise. Example: 3SixtySMB | Client Name – Proposal for review and signature. With a subject line like this, there is no mistake to what this email is for and it also makes it searchable within an inbox. (searchability is important as, in some cases, people get 100’s of emails and files in a week, so you want your information found easily).
  • Email body – Keep it simple, but do not make it a one-liner… Now is not the time to write a novel, but do spend time explaining the content of the attached paperwork in a summarized fashion, always thanking them for their time, and detailing next steps. We also highly suggest asking for a confirmation of receipt… If they confirm, there is no question that they received it, but if they do not confirm, it gives you another non-salesy follow-up item with them.

Follow-ups:

  • Timeliness – Whether you are following up on a simple request or something from a meeting, it is extremely important that items are sent in a timely manner. Again, similar to what we mentioned around paperwork, timeliness of follow-up items shows that you are on top of your business. No one wants to work with someone that takes days to get out simple items in the opportunity phase. If this is how you treat your prospects, how are you going to treat your customers?
  • Be respectful of their time – When you’re selling, you are on the client’s time, period. As much as we would all like to think that clients need “us”, at the end of the day, they don’t! There are countless other ways of solving their problems such as competition or DIY. This is a serious infraction most management make as they push their sales teams. We’ve seen, in some cases, management pushing their reps for daily or hourly updates on contract signature, and as a result, you have a rep reaching out to their prospects almost hourly. Nothing will piss off a client more! Instead, during your meetings with the prospect, work to get a clear understanding of their approval process, as they typically will share timing and other details with you. Again, if they do not, there could be something up!  
  • Do not follow a dead deal – Too many reps get stuck on that one deal that should have closed, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t. Always do your best to get a yes or a no answer. Too much time can be wasted on a deal that will never close… A great trick if you haven’t heard from a prospect in a while is a “Break up email”–8 out of 10 times, you’ll get some type of response.
  • 4 of 5 touches should be non-sales related – Pretty much no one likes to be sold to; they find sales people too pushy and typically tune them out. A way to break the cycle is to ensure you are finding other ways to add value to your prospects. We typically suggest sending something educational on the space, updates on the industry, or a congrats on a recent award. Anything to help make a stronger connection and add value.
  • Social connections – This goes along the lines of the 4 of 5 touches rule: ensure that you are connecting with your prospects on all social channels. It gives you another level to connect with your prospects and can help get more education and brand awareness to them in a non-direct way. We recently published an article on this: What is Social Selling Really, Six Tips to Social Selling.

General Tips:

  • Constantly keep in contact – Always work to keep in contact with your prospects… it goes along the lines of the 4 of 5 touch rule. As at the end of the day, if you are not top of mind and educating your prospects, someone else is! And when they are ready to pull the trigger, guess who they are going to move forward with?
  • Create a follow-up process – Many deals are lost simply because the rep didn’t follow up after sending the paperwork. Ensure you are respecting their time, but ensure you are staying on top of the prospect and process… Also, if a prospect “tables” a project for a few months, don’t forget about it. Keep in constant contact with them (4 of 5 touch rule applies), and in the timeframe they recommended, ask about the project.
  • Respect the prospect – There have been many times, after finishing up a call, where I’ve heard someone disrespecting a prospect… What is even crazier (I’ve personally seen it happen), is when they start disrespecting a prospect while forgetting to mute their line or hang up properly. Regardless of whether they can hear you or not, your emotions come through in your communications. Treat every prospect as if they are an absolute must win!
  • Fire your prospect – Yes, we did just say treat every prospect as if they are an absolute must win. However, there are occasions where a prospect can and will waste your time. You’ve tried almost every angle and you’re still getting nowhere with a prospect, but they continuously demand more of you. Eventually, it is time to cut bait and move on as some people will always waste time and never buy.
  • Lose gracefully – Just because you lost a deal, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost them forever. Amazingly enough, they can and will come back at some point down the road. We recently published on this: Take A Sales Loss Gracefully
  • Multi-task – No, we do not mean sitting on a conference call while sending emails. We mean ensuring you are working multiple opportunities at once, always following up with prospects, and always staying in contact with your prospects. Too many reps get lost in that one big deal, or sending out as many proposals as possible, and as a result, something falls to the side. You truly need to be working all fronts, all the time.
  • Always treat clients like prospects – There are some fantastic closers out there, and they can close anyone, anywhere. But, unfortunately, they absolutely suck at dealing with clients, and as result, the client leaves shortly after the sale. This cannot only result in a loss of revenue, but it can also damage an opportunity to further upsell or get new clients down the road. The average time someone stays in a role these days is just about three years. Impress your client, and when they move to a new role, you could have another new logo on your hands. Also, people talk… If they have a bad experience with you, you bet they are talking about it with others!

There is a true art/science to the sales process. You are never guaranteed to win a deal, but you can always guarantee that you put your best foot forward, ensuring “you” are not the reason they say no. Every little detail matters! As an exercise, take a look at last year’s closed opportunities and total them up–it typically turns out to be a fairly large number. Now imagine if you could have brought in 10 or 20% of those and what it could have done to your number for the year! In some cases, it is the difference of hitting vs missing a number! To increase sales, you don’t always have to increase pipeline, you only have to do a better job with the deals you have already.

 

Digital Document Management for Small Businesses

Digital Document Management for Small BusinessesYou would not believe how many small businesses still have no true way of managing their documents besides folders, file cabinets, or saving files directly to their computers. If you are reading this and that is how you currently manage your documents, we are truly sorry…. Reasons vary, but still, all too often we come across organizations that have file cabinets full of old sales agreements, invoices, and legal documents. Now, there was a time where paper documents were the most efficient means of storage, but those times are long gone. The cost of digital storage has dropped significantly over the years, and technology has caught up to a point where the ease of use makes the user experience straightforward and easy. Typically, when we run across organizations that are stuck in the world of paper document management, we find there is no real fundamental reason to why they have not shifted to digital, and it more or less just hasn’t been top of mind. In this article we’ll cover some basic strategies for document management in small businesses.

In case you need a justification for moving to a digital document management solution, here are a few points of consideration:

  • Increased file redundancy – Unfortunately when dealing with paper documentation or electronic files, they can get lost or damaged; natural disasters can strike out of nowhere and when this happens, these files are gone forever… We also find in today’s market that there are more remote employees than ever before, and with a paper document management solution in play, these remote employees have essentially zero access to critical documentation. Whether it is a need for file protection or access, almost all digital document management solutions have sophisticated disaster protection and recovery solutions in play, along with robust file access solutions as well. This essentially makes it impossible for files to get lost or destroyed while giving remote employees the access to critical documents.
  • Increased security – When it comes to file storage, your security is only as strong as the file cabinets your documents are stored in, and that’s if you even lock them. Most small businesses take employee trust a little too far and at times leave cabinets to some of the most sensitive corporate information unlocked. With fraud and lawsuits at an all-time high, quite honestly, this is just a vulnerability that should not be overlooked. Today’s solution providers have some of the most strict physical and digital security protocols known to man, ensuring that no one has access to your files unless they are allowed to have access.
  • Document editing – If you manage your company reports via Excel, raise your hand. If you have more than one person working on an Excel, Word Document or PowerPoint, raise your other hand… Almost every company has Excels, Word Documents, and PowerPoints being worked on by multiple people at any given time. Inherently, the way those products are designed, only one person can modify a document at any given time… However, most Content Management Solutions today have created solutions that allow for multiple editors to work on the same document at the same time with full visibility to who is doing what.   
  • Version controls – Similarly, when multiple people are working on the same document, whether printed or in digital format, it is almost impossible to know who made what changes and went or if the document is even the latest version. Again, most solution providers have built in version controls within their solutions to know who made changes and when.
  • Process control – A majority of documents created have a process they must follow. As an example, sales agreements must be created, edited, approved, sent for signature and so on… Typically this is a completely manual process. Typically, sales creates the agreement, forwards to their management for review and approval, management sends the contract back to sales, and sales sends the agreement to their contact. These processes and others are extremely manual, time consuming, and prone to errors… Errors such as someone opening an email, but forgetting to process the document. There are some Content Management solutions that have process controls built directly into them allowing for a more automated and error-free process.

The above are just a few reasons why a digital document management system makes sense, and again, the cost of storage and technology offerings now make a solution more cost effective and easier than ever. As an example, companies such as Microsoft, Google, Dropbox, and others give away storage for free, and most free solutions fit the needs of Small Businesses perfectly. There is also the real risk of documents getting lost or damaged, which when these events happen, means those documents are lost forever! Furthermore, with remote workers becoming more predominant in the industry, there is a real need to give them access to critical documentation at anytime and anywhere.

Setting up a digital content management solution is not rocket science, as again, most solution providers have made solutions extremely user friendly. However, when looking into a digital document solution for a small business, there are a few things an organization needs to consider:

  • Existing paper document digitization – Digitizing file cabinets stuffed with documents going back decades, in some cases, is no small task for any organization. With that in mind, the first thing to consider when going digital is which documents will be digitized and how far back those documents should go, as not all documents need to be digitized. Once a decision has been made, you can either look into a company that provides digitization (which can get costly), or look into another option like hiring a few interns or temp employees to take on the task for you.
  • Folder and file name structure – At the surface, file structure doesn’t seem that important. However, folder and file name structure are most likely two of the most important items to consider up front; a lack of consistency across both can lead to a cumbersome folder and file structure, making it impossible to find documents. This means every department should have a clearly defined folder name and subfolder structure. File names need to be straight forward as well… As an example, a sale contract should be named something such as ClientName-Product-agreement-date.pdf. A folder and file structure should be set up in a way that is completely self-explanatory, leaving nothing to question.
  • Document access controls – This simply means who should have access to what folders and files. Free solutions typically do not have access controls built in, however others do… If going this route, there should be a lot of thought around which departments or employees have access to what documents upfront.
  • Process definition – There needs to be a defined process around who has responsibility for what action, and this process should clearly be communicated with the team. As without a clear process, people will assume someone else is responsible for the process of uploading documents and nothing will get done. As an example, when sales gets in a new signed agreement, who is going to be responsible for uploading the agreement? Sales, Finance, Sales Ops?
  • Signatures – Are they still inked or digital? This is not something organizations think of when first looking into content management, however increasingly, digital signatures are becoming a more efficient way of executing agreements and authorizing paperwork. Digital signature solutions are now extremely cost effective, and if you are moving to a digital content solution, this should be a natural solution to implement at the same time.  

Again, setting up a digital content management solution is not rocket science. However, if proper thought is not put into the planning around the structure and access, things can get out of control quickly, and it is hard to fix once in place. It is also important to keep things as simple as possible and resist the urge to over-complicate the folder and file structure; over-complicating can lead to confusion and difficulty of finding documents when needed and reduce the value of efficiency of a digital content management solution. Some organizations, to save cost, may opt not to use a prepackaged solution and go with a DIY central server and mapped drive solution . This is something we highly recommend against. Although the upfront cost may be lower than a paid solution, the long term risk should outweigh the cost. For instance, there are costs to maintaining the server, the VPN for secured connections, and data backup. But, there are also other risks, such as loss of power or natural disasters that wipe out access to these servers.

Going digital should be a top priority for organizations, as the longer you wait to implement the solution, the more risk you are putting your business in….

 

The Fundamental Change In Today’s Buying Process

Buying CommitteeThe way people buy and sell in today’s B2B market segment is significantly different than the way things were done 10+ years ago. Even though it has been that long, both buyers and sellers continue to struggle with the change… If you’ve been part of the process for longer than 10 years, then you remember the times when someone would commit to a signature, and later that day, a signature would show up on the fax machine. Setting the stage, ten years ago, budgets were assigned to business units and there really was no scrutinization on the way those funds were spent. Meaning, if a CIO wanted to authorize a purchase for new software or hardware, they had the authorization to make that purchase as long as it fit within the budget. Department heads also had their own budget that would fit within their own signature authority, typically requiring little to no oversight for their budget spend. This all translated to one-on-one relationships that could seamlessly conduct purchasing transactions in lightning fast timing… Buying and selling was literally easier back then.

Fast forward to today—the process is drastically different and slower… and the larger the business, the more complex and painful the process has become. No longer do business unit or department heads have the ability to sign off on their own budgets; there are now several new processes and approvals that have been put into place in order to execute a purchase. As an example, budget approval has now shifted from the head of a business unit or department, to the office of the CFO. This means that every purchase not only has to be approved by a business unit or department head, but someone within the office of the CFO must also approve that budget spend. However, the changes haven’t stopped there… Remembering back to times of yesteryear, when a business unit or department head wanted to sign a contract for a purchase, they were usually the ones reviewing agreements for possible legal ramifications. Not surprisingly, receiving redline edits was fairly rare, and in some cases, almost nonexistent back then. Again, fast forwarding to today, essentially 100% of all agreements must now be reviewed and approved by someone within the legal team before execution… Finally, executives that were never part of a decision-making process unless it was of significant size, are also now part of the overview review and decision-making process.

Adding to the new challenge of having multiple people as part of the decision-making process, there are two major issues that come into play: knowledge and timing… Typically, most people within the approval process know little to nothing about what is being purchased. Take for an example a purchase for new marketing software by a CMO within an organization. Now, the CMO knows exactly why they are buying this software and the impact to their business unit, but the reviewers with the CFO, legal, and executive oversight committees most likely no nothing about the software or impact to the business. In a way, they really do not care. The financial reviewer is trying to find out how this purchase fits within the overall budgeting plan for the organization, what the overall ROI /& TCO is, and whether they got the best competitive bid for the solution. Legal wants to understand what type of corporate liabilities live within the use of the software and agreement, and executive oversight is working to juggle this decision with the dozens of others that fall on their plate at any given time… and each one of these oversight committees needs their own time within the process review that can typically take “weeks” per reviewer…

Here is what a typical purchase process looks like today:

  • Manager / Director level initiates buy process
    • Timing: within a few days
  • Head of Line of Business, conditionally approves purchase
    • Timing: few days to a week
  • Finance department reviews and approves purchase
    • Timing: a week to two weeks
  • Legal then reviews / redlines agreement and eventually approves
    • Timing: a few weeks
  • Executive sponsors reviews and approves purchase
    • Timing: a few weeks
  • Signatures
    • Timing: few days to weeks

It is easy to see how a process that once took hours, now has translated into weeks or months… Fundamentally, this is still not fully understood on both the buyer and seller side of the process, creating significant frustration in the buying process for both. Furthermore, each of the individual approvers can and will stop a buying process if they feel like there is a need. As an example, we had been working with an HCM organization that was selling a solution to a major grocer and a verbal agreement for $350,000+ had been made by the head of HR within this grocer. As the agreement made its way through the process, it finally made its way to the CFO… The CFO had no true understanding of this HCM Software, its capabilities and impact to the business, and all they truly wanted to understand was whether they received any competitive bids. In short, the answer was no, and the CFO demanded for additional vendors to be brought in on the process. They had no cares on the prior processes, relationships, and why the organization needed this solution and stopped the approval process dead in its tracks.

This new approval process is the number one reason why a majority of contracts never receive final signature and die… How does one combat this new elongated process and get a purchase approved? First, there needs to be acceptance that the process has changed, and one must do their homework prior to submitting a purchase. Again, it is important to remember that each reviewer in the process has their own criteria they are looking to review. With this is in mind, it is essential to understand what the approval process is, who is part of it, and what criteria they will be reviewing to build a business case addressing each approver. A business case is essentially a collection of information that directly addresses specific criteria each department will be reviewing as part of their approval process. For example, a financial reviewer is going to want to understand things like whether there was a competitive bid, if the price is the lowest available, and what the ROI / TCO is. In short, there needs to be a clear business case that addresses questions such as:

  • Why is this solution needed?
  • What departments are affected by the purchase?
  • How much more efficient will these departments be?
  • What other vendors were considered?
  • What are the legal ramifications? (data ownership, insurance, etc)
  • Was is the total TCO / ROI?
  • With regards to ROI, is there an investment payback period?

Continuing with the major grocer example from above, neither the buyer nor seller had created a business case for the purchase, which ended up not giving the CFO the confidence to move forward and causing a stop of purchase… However, there was a clear business case for the solution, but it just had not been properly communicated up the approval chain. In this case, the buyer brought us into the opportunity as an independent nonbiased 3rd party to speak with the CFO… During our discussions, we were able to properly articulate the business case for the solution along with the overall organizational and financial impact to the business (relating directly to the CFO’s concerns)… Because we spoke the language of the CFO and gave a clear-cut understanding of the value in a language they knew, it allowed them to fully approve the purchase without a need for a competitive bid…

Organizations can continue to struggle through these new organizational approval processes, or they can accept these changes. A strong business case is now required in order for a purchase to move more swiftly through the process and to ensure someone in the approval process cannot kill it… Again, this important for both the buy and sell side, as both parties have something to gain by a smoother approval process.

On a side note, it is also important for sales leadership and executives to understand that the days of pushing for a signature are long gone. Still to this day, we see sales leadership pushing customers needlessly hard for approvals and signatures thinking it will move the ball forward, when in fact, they’re only pissing off both the employees and buyers. Instead, sales leadership should be focused more on helping their team understand this new purchasing process and how to build a proper business case ensuring there is a bulletproof plan in place… Doing this will not only show the professionalism of your organizations, but ensure your agreements move faster through the system and become more likely to get approved. For better for worse, there is a new buying process, and the more understanding of the process there is, the more likely you are to get approval.

 

My How Times Have Changed.. Or Have They Really – The Rebirth Of Small Businesses

Small town shippingSomething interesting has been happening over the past 10 years and it is reminiscent of the “good old days”…  The 80s, 90s, and early 2000s saw a shift from family owned small businesses and restaurants to big box retailers, chain restaurants, and malls across America. There was also the likes of Walmart moving into small towns and becoming the center of commerce, putting family owned general stores that stood for decades out of business almost overnight. Then there was Sears, a pioneer in catalog sales, shifting away from their core of catalogs and into malls. Those decades were profit years for these giants of industry as they dominated the consumer market. But then in the mid-2000s, something happened: huge revenue gains turned to single-digit growth, or worse—flat revenue.

Now in the world of small business, slight growth to even flat revenue numbers isn’t a bad thing; typically, that means the bills are still being paid, employees are receiving paychecks, and owners are still getting money in their back pockets. However, these giants of industry are public organizations with shareholders demanding for ever-increasing profits, not single-digit growth or flat revenue projections. So, what did they do? The only thing they really knew how to do at the time: they began to cut cost. At first, these cost cutting tactics were barely even noticeable to your everyday consumer; typically, it meant a few less employees on the store floor, slightly reduced inventory, and maintenance items that were overlooked… But these tactics were not enough and revenues continued to flatten out, and for some, even drop a bit. So the cycle continued. Management continued cost cutting metrics to protect profits. This led to even less employees on the store floor, even less inventory, and maintenance items that continued to take a hit. Overtime, consumers started to notice these changes… Stores that once had just about anything they ever needed ended up not having their sizes anymore, help was becoming a little more difficult to find, checkout lines were growing longer, and stores started to look dated and in disrepair. Sears is almost a classic case detailed in this great article. Sure, if there had been no competition for consumer dollars, these industry giants could have possibly held on to consumers a bit longer, but there was more competition.

Enter ecommerce and Amazon… While big box retail was focused on cutting cost; smaller dot.com businesses were focusing on customer needs. Consumers were beginning to find that instead of dealing with long lines, increasingly clueless employees, and struggling to find exactly what they were looking for, they could now find exactly what they need and have it shipped to their front door in days, all from the comfort of their own homes. We also saw the rebirth of locally owned boutique shops that boasted quality and customized products with great customer service and experiences.

Restaurants were no different. When the major chains moved into new locations, they offered great food, settings, and bargain prices. Just like the boom of retail, consumers flocked to these new eateries. Business was booming and thousands of chain restaurants were popping up in clusters across the country almost overnight. What these chain restaurants didn’t realize at the time, is that this rapid opening of locations was the very thing that was going to kill them… Certain geographic regions typically only have so much disposable revenue that goes into the economy. However, at the time, that did not factor into these organizations’ business plans. Essentially, where competition was making revenue, others would follow suit. Shortly in each geographic hotspot, instead of having one or two major restaurants, there was an explosion of chains fighting for the same consumer dollar. It didn’t take long for this heavy competition to take its toll on these chains, and revenues began to slow or flatten out. Similar to big box retail, these major chains had shareholders to keep happy… As a result, this led to cost cutting metrics similar to what was happening to retail. Establishments had reduced staff, food quality took a hit, and certain locations started to look dated and in disrepair and consumers started to notice… Again, similar to retail, had there been no competition, these chain restaurants might have held on a little longer—but there was. Just as major chains were struggling, locally owned craft restaurants began to pop up. These craft restaurants offered tailored menus to the community, high quality food, and drinks with an atmosphere to match. Slowly but surely, consumers began finding these new craft eateries and abandoning once-popular chains.

Fast-forward to today’s market… Big box retailers and chain restaurants are failing left and right. Sears, JC Penny, Macy’s, Staples and others are closing hundreds of locations monthly, and restaurants like Applebee’s, Chili’s, Outback, and Bertucci’s are struggling to stay open. The likes of Walmart that once took over small towns shuttering locally owned general stores, are shutting down themselves. Once-flooded malls are closing their doors or struggling to stay open as attendance continues to wane… All of these changes are giving rebirth to the locally owned small businesses across the country. Once-struggling cities and towns are now being built as hubs around these locally owned boutique shops and craft restaurants. Consumers have grown tired of cost cutting metrics that lead to lower quality products and experiences that big box retailers and chain restaurants continue to offer. What we’re beginning to see is almost reminiscent of times before big box retail and chain restaurants took over the country! Now, let’s be real for a minute. The concept is not lost on us that major retailers and big box stores will always be around. Organizations such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Best Buy have seen some real turnarounds as of late. However, a focus on cost cutting and the lack of innovation within these industries are going to continue to take a toll in the long run. Only when these once-giants of industry focus on true innovation and focus more on the customer, will they overcome the huge challenge that lies ahead of them.

One last thought: in a way, we can point back to times being similar to the early 1900s. In the early 1900s, Sears launched their Catalog, and at the time, it was a true game-changer for retail.  If you’ve never looked at one, take a look (1918 Catalog) at the similarities to the Amazon of today; they had essentially anything you could imagine and delivered directly to your front door. Sears was extremely innovative for its time! Then in 1993, they closed the doors to the catalog due to rising cost, and they never looked back. Interesting to think that in July of 1994, Amazon was created; they became an online catalog of virtually anything you could want, delivered right to your door. If only all the manpower and knowledge of Sears’s executive team had focused on ways to innovate vs. cut cost, their history could have been written very differently…. While things may change, in a way they still stay the same… The Sears catalog and Amazon are essentially the same business model 100 years apart.

Take A Sales Loss Gracefully

Take a loss with graceYou’ve worked tirelessly for weeks or months on end regarding an opportunity—an opportunity that could make or break your bookings number for the month, quarter, or year. Then, when everything is all said and done, they decide to hold off, or worse, to go with another vendor. Unfortunately, if you are in anyway connected to sales, it is something you’ll hear all too often. Even when you put your best foot forward and execute the proposal absolutely flawlessly, there are going to be times when you get a no, no matter the situation.  However, all is not lost… how you react during this time will have direct ramifications for future business down the road.

When it comes to a deciding factor for whether someone moves forward with you or not, we find that there are many elements that play into the decision, and it may be impossible to understand the true meaning behind a decision. With that said, all too often when one has invested so much time and effort into an opportunity, they take things personally.  As a result, they tend to lash out towards the prospect for taking up so much time and for being the bearer of bad news. We’ve witnessed anything from the simple and sarcastic good-luck-with-that-statement to things that we wished to never witness again. Small Businesses seem to take the noes the hardest. And unlike larger enterprises, small businesses tend to have more on the line when opportunities decide not to move forward.

Whatever the reason, when you get the bad news from a prospect, take the loss gracefully. Not only does it show that you have some class, but there is a strong potential that the same prospect will come back in the future. Again, when a prospect comes to a decision, we may never know why. However, when they have a good experience with you, regardless of the outcome, they may end up coming back. More times than none, we find prospects who have told us no, overtime, end up doing business with us. The reasons range from various causes like their selected firm for the project dropping the ball, them changing their minds, or a new project surfacing that they feel is a better fit. Again, it’s not always a guarantee a prospect will come back, but leaving a negative will guarantee they never will!

Ensure that you take every loss with grace, and you’ll be surprised how many come back..

 

There’s A Problem, Stop What You Are Doing!

http://blog.toyota.co.uk/toyota-manufacturing-25-objects-andon-cordThere is a fundamental problem in businesses today that is absolutely crippling organizations of all shapes and sizes. What is that problem, you ask? It is simply the failure to address critical business problems in a timely and strategic fashion. Most either continue on as if the problem isn’t there, or as we call it “whistling past the graveyard”, or make snap decisions without truly understanding the issue at hand. Sure, it is an over-generalized statement, but it is not far off from the truth of what is happening daily in business. Just look at the retail and restaurant industries, for example. Businesses that have been around for decades, once pillars of industry, are crumbling around us daily. But why? They blame Amazon or millennials, but it ultimately comes down to the fact that these organizations are ignoring critical issues at hand and continuing with their own agendas with the belief they know what is best.

Organizations need to learn how to stop turning blind eyes to these fundamental business model problems while resisting the urge to make snap decisions. Instead, when a critical failure is identified, we suggest something that that is drastically different: stopping everything dead in its tracks. Stopping the process is not an entirely new concept as large manufacturers have emergency production line stops at every station. This allows anyone in the production line (not just management) that spots an issue to immediately stop the production line in its tracks. This then allows the manufacturer to properly analyze an issue and take critical actions preventing large amounts of products to be discarded due to defect, or worse, a defective product making its way to customers. It costs time and money to shut down large production lines, but some manufacturers recognize that quality products and happy customers are more important than the minimal amount of money lost to the down time.

In business, we need to have very similar approaches. Instead of ignoring issues or making snap decisions without analyzing the situation, allow anyone to bring up critical issues and “stop” the process if the situation permits. Then take the real needed time to truly understand the issue at hand and create a strategic approach to a solution. As an example, we look back to one organization we worked with that happened to have quarter over quarter growth, until they didn’t. Quarter over quarter success was met with declining numbers that were starting to add up to significant losses.  At this point in time where most organizations would have put increased pressure on the sales and marketing team to increase their numbers, we did the opposite. We stopped business completely for a few days to understand what the real root cause of the problem was, and we worked to identify solutions. It was found that just before the change in growth direction, this organization had made a number of key leadership new-hires that happened to make seemingly small changes within their teams—changes that had drastic downstream effects. The effect was so significant downstream that it was throwing off the rhythm of production and other organization items. Once we identified the issues at hand, it was easier to create a new strategy for success moving forward and leading to a faster increase of revenue and production once again. Stopping the business at that time was a difficult decision to make, and some disagreed with the decision. However, it allowed the organization to spot the issue and pivot quickly with a new strategy. Ultimately they could have struggled along, pushing harder on sales and marketing for more activity; this could have possibly increased sales slightly, but they would have never addressed the real issue and continued to struggle long-term,

When something is going wrong, think of your business like a manufacturing plant that is continuously churning out bad product. The longer it takes to address an issue, the longer your plant will continue to churn out bad product which will lead to disappointed customers and loss of business money. Stopping a business or a process in its tracks to make adjustments is a very difficult decision to make, but thinking of how much bad product a company is producing should help put into perspective on how stopping process is actually beneficial to the business. History has proven that making snap decisions or turning blind eyes to issues almost never works out—just look at what is happening to the retail and restaurant industries.

 

Bertucci’s Files For Bankruptcy

The restaurant industry has faced another blow with Bertucci’s filing for bankruptcy, citing changing climate along with cheaper and faster alternatives as the main reasons for the failing business. But is that really the case? We recently published on strategic innovation and the changing retail environments as organizations focus more on cost reduction vs innovation; this, unfortunately, is another case to add to the long list of failures. Bertucci’s has self-identified faster and less expensive competition as the primary drivers of revenue loss; however, their only noted attempt at remedying the situation was to add a 15-minute lunch option. Is that really innovation, or is it just adding a band aid to cover up the root issue? Both retail and the restaurant industries have been crying foul and claiming new competition and millennial behaviors as the primary drivers of revenue loss. 3SixtySMB believes that it really comes down to true lack of strategic innovation, cost-cutting, and mismanagement at an executive level as the true drivers of revenue loss for both of these industries… With all of this said, it presents a clear advantage for smaller and more nimble startup organizations to break into markets where, for once, giants are failing to serve consumers. However, it has become apparent that it cannot be business as usual, and once a core value proposition is defined, strategic innovation needs a top strategy in order to continuously move the business forward.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2018/bertuccis-brick-and-mortar-bankruptcy/

The Importance Of Strategic Innovation

Why are icons of yesteryear failing at alarming rates? Some say that it is the introduction of Amazon and Netflix, or Millennial’s becoming more predominant consumers; others say it’s old leadership or old business models. Sure, you can easily point to those as a cause for the decline, but is that really the reason? We believe that there is a fundamental underlying reason these organizations are failing: Strategic Innovations. We wrote not too long ago about how the retail organization has become so calculator driven, and cutting as much cost as possible while completely losing sight of innovation. Looking across some of the most successful organizations today such as, Amazon, Google, Apple, Tesla and others, what they all have in common is that they are all constantly innovating and pushing the ball forward.

Tony Robbins says it best in this great Podcast on strategic innovation: https://open.spotify.com/episode/71sqZXDJQF2C8Wjz7Ec2rN?si=nOCB3pHOS_C9vuKoxzKTWw

When Terminating An Employee Is Necessary

termination of an employeeFiring an employee is a difficult and sensitive subject for most. It is something to never be taken lightly as personal ramifications always go much further than we may know. With that said, it is a necessary evil in the business world; employees that are left to their own accords while not carrying their own weight can have significant negative impacts on the business. Unfortunately in today’s age, we see many employers holding on to employees much longer than they should, and their businesses suffer as a result. Now, if your business is doing well and/or you have no aspirations to aggressively grow your business, this article is not for you… However, if your business has been flat or struggling to grow over the past few years, it could be a result of a bad egg or two. In this article, we’ll cover common scenarios of when a business should consider terminating an employee.

Even the best employees can have slumps, family situations, or other situations that affect their work productivity. Before an employee is even considered for termination, there needs to be multiple attempts to work with the employee to help get them on track. Start with having a real one-on-one with the employee to understand their situation. To help make it personal, take the discussion out of the office and make it more informal (maybe over a cup of coffee, a walk, or just sitting outside). The goal is to help break down the formal barriers and truly attempt to understand the situation at hand… The hope is to uncover a root cause and help develop steps to help improve the employee’s ability to be successful.

Hopefully, understanding the employee’s situation and putting a plan in place will be exactly what is needed to get them back on track. However, if not, we suggest some type of performance plan that aligns goals to success. Everyone knows of these types of plans, but unfortunately, many get them wrong by making goals impossible to obtain. This is setting the employee up for failure, and worse, all of the other employees know this. This situation can really hurt organizational morale. Instead, goals should be fair and manageable, with a timetable to match. This gives the employee actual obtainable goals and an opportunity to turn themselves around. It is also a clear indicator that if they cannot turn themselves around in a situation set up to give them every opportunity to be successful, it’s time to let them go.

Here are some cases that may cause you to consider the possible termination of an employee:

Poor Performance

This happens to be the most obvious of reasons to let someone go, however, it is not as cut and dry as you think. Like mentioned earlier, before it comes to termination, first you need to truly assess the situation to understand what is causing the poor performance. At times, one may discover that the employee is not the root cause of the problem and that there are outside factors that need to be addressed. However, if it is uncovered that the employee is the root cause and they show no improvement, it’s time to begin the transitioning process.

Negative Nancies

Negativity breeds negativity—there is no way around it. In every organization, there is always at least one aggressively negative person that is not only negative about their situations, but directly imposes their negativity on others. We’re not talking about the person that tends to get frustrated from time to time, but the person that is negative toward just about everything and not afraid to speak their mind (all the time). Again, it’s important to explore any underlying issues that can be causing such negativity in the employee and find ways to fix. However, we find that in most situations these people are just programmed that way, and unfortunately, nothing can be done to improve the situation at hand—they just do more harm than good.

Ivory Tower Employee

These are some of the hardest of all situations. We all have that one former all-star employee that had their glory years many years ago, however, progressively over time, their performance continues a downward spiral. But it doesn’t stop there. Because of their prior success, they find most tasks beneath them or treat coworkers as peasants that should kiss the ring in order to get them to do their jobs. This is always a difficult situation as they have street credit from their prior successes and may have been a model employee at one point in time, but at the end of the day, there is a lot to be said about humbleness. If their performance is subpar and they refuse to work in a professional manner with co-workers, it’s time to move on.

Busy Body

There is always that one person that is so “busy” that they never have time to take on new work, and they struggle to complete the work that has already been assigned. Much like in the case of poor performing employees, there needs to be an assessment of what exactly is causing the issue. Are they truly overworked? Is there an outside factor causing things to be backed up? Is there a broken process somewhere? There is a case where the issue of workload (aka busyness) can be fixed. However, if the employee is the root cause, it’s time to transition them out.

The Example

Boy, is this is a tough one. In some cases, you may have an entire team underperforming, but it would be impossible to terminate an entire team. In this case, it may make sense to find the worst of the bunch to terminate as an example to the rest of the team of what fate lies ahead should their performance not change. This one is a tough one, as it may not always have the desired effect. However, some action is better than no action when an entire team is making mistakes.

The Fumbler

There are some people out there that have a great heart and mean well, but no matter how many times they try, they always tend to royally screw things up. This is another hard situation, as they really may be a great person. If their fumbles are having significant negative impacts on the business, it’s time to either find a role where they will have a smaller impact on the business, or remove them completely

A few additional tips:

Never terminate an employee out of anger. Let’s face it, we spend more time with our employees than our own families and closest friends; you are not always going to agree. At times, an employee can anger you to a point where you want to terminate them on the spot. Instead, take a breath and remove yourself from the equation and have another manager or executive step in to review the situation. There may be a time where emotions get the best of you, and after a cool down period, you’ll be happy that the employee is still with you.

Once an employee is identified as “questionable”, begin documenting everything. One of the key reasons why employers are holding on to employees longer than they should these days, is the fear of litigation. What is worse, is we are finding terminated employees (rightfully or not) are more often seeking litigation for termination. The best thing for yourself and the business is to ensure you have everything you need to back up the decision.

Whether you terminate an employee or they leave on their own, once they leave, there is a gap left in their wake. Recruiting is hard at times, and it can take weeks or months to fill an open position. This can have significant impacts on the business. We recommend to be “always recruiting”. This means always talking to possible candidates for the business. This allows both you and the candidate to get to know each other longer, helping both parties feel more comfortable when it comes to bringing them on to the business. This strategy can significantly reduce the downtime when you find yourself in need of filling a position.

We may sound harsh with what we shared in this article, however when it comes to your business, these hard decisions need to be made in order to be successful. Now, we always look at termination as being the last resort in the employee journey. We are strongly suggesting that employees are given every fair opportunity to turn their situations around, but some just can’t. Good luck, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.