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.

Dine Brands / IHOP Announces Name Change to IHOb

Dine Brands / IHOP recently announced that they will be changing their name to IHOb, and we have two theories for this recent announcement. The first being that this could all be a marketing gimmick that will be followed by a change in their menu or business model which, depending on the change, might be beneficial to the brand. The other could be more serious—where they are actually moving forward with the name change. IHOP, owned by Dine Brands which also owns Applebee’s, has been relatively flat from a revenue perspective over the past years…. Recently, Dine Brands attempted a bold marketing strategy with Millennials, and ended up failing greatly due to their misunderstanding of the age group. The name change could be a very similar attempt by Dine to break from the struggling numbers they have been seeing over the past few years to satisfy investors.

Unfortunately, if Dine moves forward with a permanent name change of IHOP to IHOb, we believe it will be a truly wasted effort on their part. Anyone that has been to either establishment owned by Dine lately has noticed a drop in overall quality of the restaurants—a direct result of focusing more on cost cutting metrics instead of finding ways to truly be innovative to increase revenue.  Regardless of what you call IHOP, at the end of the day, they are still going to have an overall brand perception issue with the general public, and they will continue to see flat or declining numbers in the upcoming years. For their sake, let’s hope it is just a marketing gimmick. Again, this all sums up another educational lesson at someone else’s expense: to not rely on gimmicks, such as name changes, without a true fundamental change to the business model. A name change is just that—a name change—and it doesn’t fix a true underlying issue.

Target Uses Local Retail Stores As Virtual Warehouses

Over the past few years, Target has become increasingly more innovative to compete against other local brick and mortar stores and Amazon alike… As an example, back in December, they announced a new mobile payments system called “Wallet” that allows customers to quickly pay for items via the mobile application, skipping lines and speeding up the checkout process. Yesterday, Target announced Restock, a nationwide next-day delivery service targeted directly at Amazon Prime Pantry—this is pretty interesting, but not innovative in itself (more of a copycat). What is innovative is that they are essentially using their local stores as a warehouse, and choosing to ship items directly from the store vs. a main warehouse… This method should allow for faster and more cost-effective shipping to consumers, along with taking advantage of millions of dollars of inventory sitting on retail store shelves. As consumers are increasingly shifting to online and more convenient shopping, this shift from Target will allow them to continue to maintain and open new local retail settings while not worrying as much about the impact of in-store food traffic that is causing major retailers such as Sears and JC Penney to close doors at an alarming rate.

This also poses an opportunity for small businesses to think about the way they conduct business as well. Many small businesses struggle with keeping warehouses and retail stores open, as they both typically come with high overhead cost. A strategy similar to what Target has launched, shifting ecommerce delivery from your traditional warehouses to retail shops, may be a more cost-effective path for small businesses that are struggling to keep warehouses open and costs down.

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.

 

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.

Busy Isn’t Always Productive – 10 Tips To Becoming More Productive

busy-vs-productive-peopleBusy isn’t always productive… Let that sink in a bit.

How many times has someone told you about how busy they are, or how they can’t complete a new task because they have so much on their plates? We hear it all the time, but being busy doesn’t always equate to being productive. It is extremely easy for someone to have the appearance of being busy, but it is actually hard to be productive. In this article, I wanted to share a few tips for converting busy into productive.

Let us first say that there are some people out there that are always going to be “busy” and completely unproductive. No amount of training, education, and guidance will fix their habits; it is their way of life. In these cases, it really comes down to analyzing their work output to understand if they are net positive or negative to the business as a whole. If they are net positive to the business, then great, let them continue to add to the business in their own way. However, if they are net negative to the business, it might be time to remove them from the equation.

With all of that said, there are absolutely some easy steps to becoming productive:

Make a to-do list – A running list of items to do is an absolute must in today’s work environment. It is very rare that someone is working on only one task at any given time; for most, the amount of items needed to be completed is endless. By having a list of items, it allows for a visualization of what needs to be accomplished. This helps with movement from different tasks without taking up additional cycles figuring out what needs to be done next. As an added bonus, it always feels nice to strikeout completed items.

Prioritize – Hate to say it, but not all to-do items are created equal. As a list is created, assign a prioritization to each item as you go along. This will allow for identification of which items to tackle first.

Plan ahead – Use the final minutes of a day to plan the day ahead. Typically, towards the end of the day is when things tend to wind down. Use this time to reflect on the day’s activities of what was accomplished vs items that still need to be completed. Then, work to create a plan of action for the next day for tackling tasks that still need to be completed. This allows for structure in the early morning and helps get a jump start on the daily activities.

Start calendaring – Use your calendar like a daily planner and block out time for accomplishing tasks throughout the day. This allows for structure around items that need the most attention, while giving yourself a virtual timeline for completing each item. One tip: I’ve seen people attempt to do this a month (or months) ahead of time. This almost never works out the way it is intended. Because other priorities come into play over time, only look a day or so in advance.

Group related tasks – It seems like commonsense, but sometimes without taking a step back, you may not recognize the pattern of items in front of you. Grouping similar items together will allow your brain to take advantage of the patterns that begin to emerge, and you will accomplish tasks in a shorter amount of time.

STOP – We’ve all been stuck on a difficult task or something where the answer may not be coming to us. In these cases, instead of banging your head against the wall, stop, move on to another task, and come back to it later. The mind works in mysterious ways, and it will continue to work on the issue subconsciously while you move on to other items.

Limit distractions – Even the best of us can become distracted with e-mails, IM, phone calls, etc. when working on a task that is either time intensive or requires concentration. Turn distractions off: this means close down email, turn off IM, flip your phone over, and close the office door. Distractions cannot always be taken completely out of the picture, but they can absolutely be mitigated.

Work from home – This goes in line with distractions, but sometimes the office in general is distracting, especially with many organizations moving to open concept. When struggling with tasks, sometimes you’re best-served to work from home. Keep in mind that when working from home, you have to be self-motivated, and the home needs to be distraction-free as well.

Keep tabs on breaks – Breaks are a good thing but can quickly become a bad habit. Some people find themselves getting up from their desk to talk to a co-worker, hit the kitchen, or whatever else they can find to take their mind off the task at hand. Taking a break from a project is always recommended, but if you’re taking a break every 15 – 20 minutes, that could be more of a distraction than productive.

Delegate – It’s okay to delegate. Some people attempt to take on tasks that are completely foreign to them, or they overload their plates with too many projects at once. It’s okay to delegate tasks to people that may be better suited for them. At the end of the day, how productive is it taking three hours to complete a task that someone else can do in one?

Busy isn’t always productive, and over time, it can lead to burnout… Furthermore, employees and coworkers can always tell when someone is always “busy” but never really gets anything done. No one wants to get burnt out at their jobs or be known as the person that never gets anything accomplished. The tips we shared above have been proven many times over to help people become more productive… It only takes a few small steps. Have tips of your own, we would love to hear them!

 

How To Make CRM Play A More Important Role In Your Small Business

How To Make CRM Play A More Important Role In Your Small BusinessMost CRM systems these days such as: Salesfore.com, Zoho, SugarCRM, Infusionsoft, and HubSpot are highly customizable, yet, even at their bases, they have enough capability to have significant impact on your business and efficiencies within it. In spite of this, you wouldn’t believe how many small businesses still run their firms with a piece of paper or Excel spreadsheet! What is even more unbelievable is that most small businesses have some type of CRM within their organization, but it sits to the side like some leftover desktop computer from the 90’s collecting dust. When used properly, CRMs can be one of the most useful and time saving tools within your business. In this article, we will cover how a CRM can be used to optimize your small business, and we’ll cover one of the most challenging topics when it comes to CRM in any organization—usage.

While CRM implies a tool for the sales team, when properly implemented, a CRM can be used as a single point of reference throughout the organization. However, at its base, a CRM is only as effective as how it’s being used and the data quality inputted. When it comes to CRMs, the expression that I like to refer to the most is “garbage in, garbage out,” and a CRM is pretty much useless without the various teams using it properly. Before we get into the mechanics and usefulness of a CRM, we need to first talk about usage.

When it comes to CRM implementation, especially when first being implemented into an organization, usage is typically the biggest hurdle. Most people see it as an additional step to their already busy and packed daily schedules as they are not aware of the downstream effects of a system like a CRM. The first step to usage is to implement a system that measures the team utilizing the reporting capabilities of the system and keeping the mindset of “what gets measured, gets done”. This means that essentially every team connected to the CRM needs to have some type of measurement: sales – pipeline and connections, marketing – lead counts, customer service – call resolution count, etc.

However, it doesn’t stop there; management needs to adapt a policy of then tracking these metrics on a consistent basis and using them for corporate reporting & meetings (not Excel Spreadsheets). Too many times, we see leadership defaulting to Excel spreadsheets, emails, or a piece of paper for tracking details, and this will frustrate employees. The question of why take the time to input information into a system that is not even being used by management always gets asked. Furthermore, another fix to ensure usage of a CRM is to directly tie compensation to stats and usage. As an example, no sales rep should ever receive commission if an opportunity is not in the system and doesn’t have proper documentation. Similarly, if your Customer Service team has a call resolution quota attached to their bonus, this information should be pulled via the CRM and not by other methods like Excel. At the end of the day, to ensure proper CRM usage throughout the organization, it truly does need a top down approach reflecting on the actions of management in what gets measured, gets done. As a tip, we have a habit of pulling up our CRM reporting in meetings and forcing the team to talk to their stats based on the reporting in the system.

As mentioned earlier, CRM is not just for sales. A properly implemented CRM can be incorporated throughout an organization making it a single point of reference for the organizations and improving efficiencies across the board. Remember, at its base, CRM is not meant for “oversight”, it’s just a byproduct of proper usage. Below we’ll review some of the departments and use cases for proper CRM implementation.

Sales

The sales department is clearly the best use case for a CRM; however, to ensure you are getting the most out of the system, do not limit usage to just sales opportunities or contacts. Sales should be using their CRM as the sole system of record and ensuring that they are transcribing all conversations, connections, and actions in the system. This will allow sales to ensure that they have a working knowledge of all their activities within each account—and most important of all, a proper pipeline. With so many conversations happening within a sales person’s day, it is fairly easy to forget conversations that happen earlier in the morning or throughout the week. With proper usage, they can use a CRM as that system of record, which allows them to keep tabs on past conversations and actions needed. Furthermore, as other departments interact with these same accounts, the sales notes become equally important to understanding the history of an account.

Marketing

Marketing has changed over the years from being completely independent from sales, tending now to being fully integrated with sales, and in some cases, having the same leadership teams. Years ago, Sales had their CRM, and Marketing had their Marketing Automation Platform where they were two completely separate systems. However, as an example with Salesforce’s purchase of Pardot, marketing capabilities are now being built directly into CRMs. Especially with small businesses, this means that there is no need to purchase expensive marketing automation software anymore. This integration also allows sales to have a complete view of prospect and account activities leading to more efficient sales cycles.

Customer Service / Tech Support

Most organizations look to deploy separate systems for these departments, which might work for larger enterprise type organizations, but in small businesses, it is a key mistake. Small Businesses should look to take advantage of their existing CRM which may already have these capabilities out of the box. As an example, Saleforce.com has “Cases”, a complete section built out of the box for Customer Service or Tech Support. A few key advantages of using your CRM for these teams starts at simplicity, where there is no need to duplicate information across multiple systems. Not having to purchase a separate system keeps software and software management costs down as well. However, another advantage is that these teams now have access to critical sales notes to understand more about the history of an account. This leads to faster and higher quality closed calls ratios, as well as an overall better customer experience. Also, as sales is interacting with these notes, it gives them the ability to see call history which also leads to better customer experience from a sales perspective.

Product Development

Most likely, one of the most overlooked departments from a CRM perspective is Product Development. However, companies like HubSpot have fully integrated their product teams into their CRM. Why? It’s simple: within their CRM, they actively track each and every customer’s usage and apply a score to that usage. This score can then measure how active or inactive each client is; this allows for sales and support teams to take actionable steps within each account to improve customer experience as it relates to their software. The overall effect is more customer usage and happier customers. There is also another byproduct; this view gives HubSpot’s entire product team access to usage data allowing them to pivot and make changes within the software. Although this information can be pulled from the software itself, the benefit of having it tied to the CRM is that they can have visibility into the specific accounts and history, giving them a more holistic view.

Finance

Finance is another overlooked department for CRM usage. Typically, like Customer Services and Support, organizations will deploy additional financial software. However, within a Small Business, it is not necessary. Although most out-of-the-box CRMs are not built for the financial department, small customization or plugins can offer solutions. For example, FinancialForce will give most financial teams the full capabilities needed in order to do their jobs. Again, this leads to a single system of record and decreased software cost.

Executive & Leadership

Executives are hit and miss when it comes to CRM usage, however, most are unfortunately a miss. Typically, you’ll find CEOs and Leadership running around at the end of the quarter with a piece of paper or some type of Excel spreadsheet looking for “real time” updates from their teams on opportunities to close or other stats. However, with a properly motivated team, a CRM can be updated in real time along with reporting functionality displaying real time updates directly to the CRM. Some areas included, but not limited to, are total pipeline, pipeline age, average close time, average deal size, average collections outstanding, call resolution times, etc. Many executives believe there is a need for an expensive EPM system in order to obtain cross-organizational insight, however with a properly set up CRM, a Small Business can get all this information and more in one spot.

Again, it is staggering the amount of businesses that do not have a CRM, and the ones that do barely scratch the surface of functionality. With a small amount of customization, a CRM can become an extremely powerful tool to optimize the performance of a business and get everyone on the same page. Most importantly, remember that “what gets measured, gets done”; your CRM should not be a set-and-forget system. Finally, management, once your system is set up, drop the Excel spreadsheets!

 

Top 10 Tips To Run Your Business Like The Patriots to Win

Bill Belichick "Do Your Jo

If you live in New England, you’re most likely a Patriots fan. And if you live outside of New England, most likely you’re not. Whether you’re a Patriots fan or not, the Patriots’ ability to constantly win and execute almost flawless comebacks has essentially been unseen in football, or any other professional sport for that matter. They’ve triumphed over injuries, player trades and suspensions—and somehow over the past 18 years, they continue to win. Much of this winning tradition is founded off of some key principals of Bill Belichick with support from Tom Brady, Robert Kraft and others. What I find more interesting is that the same key principals can be applied to business to create a winning tradition as well. In this article we will cover the top 10 key principals the Patriots use to be successful that can also be applied in a business setting:

  • Attention to Detail – The Patriots have a strong eye for attention to detail. Whether it’s on the field, training, or during press conferences, the Patriots pay attention to every little detail. Why is this important? In sports or business, the competition is constantly training and strategizing to find ways of winning in the field of competition just as hard as you. The small details are what will give your team a winning edge over the others, much like the Patriots.
  • The Playbook – Every professional sports team has a playbook. However, the way the Patriots train and execute against it is at times almost flawless. What is a playbook? It’s essentially a set of plays based on foreseen scenarios on the playing field, typically put together based on past experiences. Much like in sports, business can benefit from a playbook as well—especially where most scenarios in business are not completely new. Creating and training your team to execute against a playbook will allow them to be more nimble and execute faster to achieve better results.
  • Continuous Improvement – The Patriots may have a playbook, but it is not the be-all and end-all of their strategy. Bill Belichick and his coaching staff are always finding ways to improve upon their playbooks which allows them to continuously improve on their situations. As an example, the Patriots have an impeccable record coming into the second half of a game to overcome extreme deficits. How have they been able to do this? As the gameplay goes on, they do not focus on what went well; instead, they look at what went wrong, and during half-time, they strategize on improvements. Both coaching staff and team are attuned to this and able to pivot allowing them to come back to the field with a better strategy than they left. Business needs to have the same type of mentality. As your team progresses through a strategy or develops a business plan, they should always be looking to find faults and for ways of continuous improvement. Then the most important part: execution.
  • Every Little Bit Counts – The Patriots are always working on ways to gain a few extra yards, and these extra yards, although small in nature, add up when the game is all said and done. Business is the same. Many organizations are always going for the long ball, when short gains will do. As an example, a $100,000 contract is a decent size, but how much effort can go into winning $100k? Now reflect upon how much easier it is to win $15,000 or $20,000. Start winning some of those $20,000 deals, and by year’s end, you find that you’ve earned yourself an additional $150k – $200k.
  • Never Give Up – The Patriots, especially over the past year (or so), have found themselves seriously behind in games. Most famous of these situations was last year’s super bowl when they came back from a 25-point deficit to win with seconds to spare. Where most teams shut down, the Patriots persevere; through following the playbook and continuously improving, they never stop. They know that with a few small changes in their game, there is always a chance to move the ball forward. In business, your team needs to have the same mentality to always find ways to win. As an example, I’ve seen organizations behind in their Q4 numbers absolutely fall apart. However, I’ve also seen some come together, strategize, and push as a team to meet and exceed their numbers.
  • Team – Quite simply, the team is everything when it comes to the Patriots. They have set up the organization in a way that there isn’t any one single point of fault and everyone works together. Since Bill Belichick has taken over the Patriots, with the exception of Tom Brady, he has seen his fair share of “star” players come and go from the organization, but he always somehow figures out a way to win. This is because he ensures that when he comes up with his playbook, everyone has a part and everyone knows it. This also means that anyone is replaceable at any time. In business, you need to have the same mentality; too many organizations have a single point of failure. When that person goes on vacation, gets sick, or leaves your organization, there is a huge hole left in their wake. When setting up your organization and playbook, ensure you have a team effort in place with no existing single points of failure (including yourself). It’s a harsh term, but make it so that “everyone is replaceable”.
  • Keep Your Cards to Yourself – Bill Belichick has been famous at press conferences for his stone-faced emotions and dry nonspecific answers. This is not because he hates press conferences (well maybe he does), but it is a key part of his strategy. When a player is hurt for example, he doesn’t outright share that the player is hurt during these conferences. He typically waits until the last minute to release this information. Why? It’s because he wants to keep the competition on their toes regarding what scenarios they should be planning for as they move into the next game. Businesses need to think the same way in order to keep a strategic competitive advantage. As an example in today’s market, “time to market” has significantly decreased, and companies can launch new services and/or products in days instead of years or months. Keeping new releases closer to your chest until launch allows for a greater amount of time between when your competition finds out and when they can launch a competitive service.
  • Dedication – There has been no question of Tom Brady’s dedication to the team and sport. He is typically known to be one of the first players to show up for practices and even more well known for his eating and training habits. This is how number 199 of the draft pick has made himself one of the best sports players of all time as a 40-year old. As individuals, if you want to be top of your games, there needs to be dedication to your craft beyond the hours of 8 – 5. Always find ways to educate and keep yourself mentally sharp, and always hire someone with the same attitude. I’ll personally take someone with heart and dedication over someone with raw talent any day of the week.
  • Zero Tolerance – Bill Belichick has been known for his zero tolerance attitude. Miss practice, and you’re benched for the next game. Speak negatively towards the team, and you’re benched for the next game. Too many organizations tolerate employees with harshly negative attitudes and poor work performance for too long of a time. Negativity breeds more negativity.
  • Block Out the Noise – Almost at every turn through the season, there is a new article bubbling up in the news about something controversial with the Patriots. However, they do an impeccable job in blocking that noise out to focus on their jobs. As an example, the Patriots are infamous for their press conferences for frustrating the media by refusing to address or answer questions as it relates to the current issue at hand. Business can learn from these lessons of cutting out outside noise to focus on the task at hand. There are only so many cycles in a day to complete what needs to be done, so why focus on something you have no control over?

At the end of the day, it’s important to have strategy in order to be successful in sports and business. The Patriots have one of the most well-rounded strategies we’ve ever seen: a strategy that can easily be translated to business. As a word of caution, many of the items above seem easy at their base, but they take discipline and time for them to truly help you be successful. However, if you put in the effort and focus on the small details, your team will see success. And remember—if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!

Why A Free Trial Should Be Part of Your Business Strategy Today

Why A Free Trial Should Be Part Of Your Business Strategy TodayWhat do Netflix, DropBox, Salesforce.com, HubSpot, Hulu, and Spotify all have in common?

They all offer up their services for free either as a free trial or as a free service alternative to their premium paid service; they rely heavily on their free services to drive revenue for their organizations. Most of these organizations even used a free version of their services as a launching pad for the business.  Case in point, there was a time when you could not buy a DVD player without getting a free 30 day trial Netflix coupon inside the box. At this point, Netflix did not have the name recognition they currently have, and it was their free trial that truly helped them become the household name they are today.

If you run either a software or a services based organization, it is in your best interest to establish a free trial or a free version of your service. Not too long ago, I made this recommendation to an organization. Their CEO’s instant reaction was, “No, offering free trials will give people the ability to sign up for the trial and download our entire library. As a result, they will have all our content for free, and no one will pay for our service”. Sure, that was a valid statement as some people will sign up for a trial, use it for all its worth, and never become a paying customer. However, the first thing we say to that is when it comes to free trials, there will be some people that will take advantage of the free trial and never become a paid customer. At the end of the day, these people will never become a paying customer, regardless of the free trial’s availability. A free trial of a software or service must have a delicate balance between showcasing enough of your solution to allow a buyer “to want” to become a paying customer, and not giving away too much for free. When it comes to free trials, there are a few stopgaps that should be put into place to ensure you’re providing enough value, but not letting people take advantage of your service. In this article, I’ll review some of the basic steps your organization can put into place to launch a successful free version of your solution.

Stopgaps:

  • Time Limits: Most services offer a 7 or 30-day trial. Choose what is best for your organization; 7 days may not be enough, but 30 could be too much.
  • Qualification: Some free trials do not need much qualification beyond an e-mail address. However, if you believe your service is valuable enough, set up a qualification process where a prospect must be qualified by an actual person on your team before being allowed into the trial.
  • Limits & Gates: Do not offer up everything for free. Allow a prospect enough access to your solution to see the value, but limit access to premium items. This gives them more of a reason to purchase a solution. However, do not limit the trial to an extent that no value can be extracted.
  • Cut-offs: Repeat offenders should be cut off when trying to sign up for another trial.
  • Training & Communication: Many organizations fall short on training and communication. Assuming that the prospect knows exactly how to use your service is a surefire way to have an unsuccessful trial. Ensure that you offer training, guidance, and other communications with your prospects throughout the process as many prospects will abandon a trial when they are lost or not seeing the value they were expecting.

A free trial, although simple in nature and can generate customers on its own, must also have some structure in order to generate the highest numbers of conversions to paying customers. Here are a few things that you should look at when deploying a free trial.

  • Trial Tracking: Whether it’s a piece of software or a service, it’s important to understand exactly how prospects are utilizing a free trial. Tracking trial usage can provide valuable insights to where prospects are getting hung up, tools that are used most often, and other actions that will help you understand the overall experience prospects are having. Armed with this information, your sales team can build a tighter bond with your prospects giving them actionable insight to progress successfully through the trial. Also, the data collected can be invaluable for improving your solution in future revisions.
  • Training & Consulting: As mentioned above, do not assume that your prospect has the best understanding of your solution, or even the best use case. There should be several methods of communication, training, and assistance throughout the trial process. This will allow your prospect to extract the maximum value from a trial increasing the likelihood they will purchase.
  • Customer Contact: Ensure that there is always an easy path for your prospects to reach technical support, sales, or any other relevant department whenever they have troubles, questions, or just want to learn more. Responsiveness is key in this situation, as your prospect can be evaluating other solutions at the same time.
  • Ease of use: You would not believe how many free trials are out on the market today where you need a Doctorate in Astrophysics in order to figure them out. Prospects have extremely short attention spans and if they cannot figure out how to use your service in a few short minutes, they will most likely abandon your trial.
  • Marketing: Many originations will hide their trial or make it extremely difficult to sign up. Instead, like the organizations mentioned earlier, put it front and center. Again, trials convert to paid customers at an exponentially higher rate than most lead generation sources.

Adding a free trial to a portfolio is not enough; take the time to think about how your trial is set up and executed for maximum benefit. Properly executed trials will increase an organization’s lead to customer ratio, shorten sales cycles, and ultimately lead to increased revenue. In conclusion, do not be afraid of the prospects that use your trial and never purchase—they were never going to buy in the first place. Instead, focus on the prospects that show genuine interest in your solution!

Account Management Strategy 101

where-to-startOne of the biggest mistakes organizations make today is not having a “real” account management plan in place. Whether it is at the executive, marketing, or sales rep level, we’ve uncovered that once you peel back the layers of the onion, you find the strategy is nothing more than a bunch of names on a napkin defining a territory. Most organizations will define that account territory based on a list of accounts that match what “they sell,” starting with the largest or most recognizable accounts, and in some cases, every possible buying account in a given region. Once a territory is defined, it is then up to sales to start calling down the list and do their “sales” thing. Separately, marketing is on the other side of the wall doing their “marketing” thing. Sure it’s an okay place to start, but if an organization really wants to be successful, it has to take the account management strategy to the next level. In this article, we’ve defined a few strategies to tighten your account management strategy.

As a first step, you’ve identified your ideal account territory as it relates to the products you sell. It’s a start, but in order to be successful, more layers need to be put into place to identify where to start. A list of accounts is nothing more than a list of accounts; a lot of time can be lost before you find the ideal buying accounts within that group. However, there is a methodology that can be applied to that list of accounts that will allow your team to identify who they should be targeting first, and how much time they should be spending with each account. This is called the account tiering process. When you tier an account base, you are essentially grouping them into buckets in a fashion that gives focus to your account management strategy.

Factors in reviewing accounts:

There are multiple factors that should be reviewed when starting to tier the individual accounts. Here are a few:

  • Website – Is it clean and does it look like they spend money on marketing? Or does it look like it was coded in someone’s basement back in 1999? This is important as an indicating factor of whether they spend money on marketing and technology. If they spend in these areas, it means they could likely have available budget in others as well.
  • Employee size – Are they a one or two-person shop, a business of a few hundred, or an organization of tens of thousands of employees? Typically, you want to shoot for targets that fit in the middle. Midsize firm decision makers are easier to obtain direct access to, and the decision-making process is usually simpler. Stay away from smaller firms as they commonly have little to no budget and can easily turn into time sucks. Larger firms, although they provide great logos for the company overview deck, are usually extremely difficult to turn into buyers, take longer to pay, and typically have long vendor approval processes.
  • Tenure – How long have they been around? Are they a startup that just received funding, or are they someone who has been around for a while? Although first round start-ups spend money, they are someone to steer clear of until they get more established. Even if you get a startup to buy, you will most likely take up most of their available budget, and their likelihood to purchase again is low. On the other hand, an established firm will have a firmer budget and be more likely to spend again.
  • Pricing – How much do they charge for their product, and how much do you charge for yours? Are they selling high ticket items and can recoup their investment in one or two sales? Or is their sales price significantly lower, and if so, do they have the volume to recoup the investment? If you’re selling something worth $100,000 and their average sale price is $8 a month with a small customer base, you are guaranteed not to get a sale (unless they have huge funding).
  • Prior spend – Have they spent with your organization before? Prior spend is a great indication that they could spend again. Getting someone to buy for the first time is the hardest part.
  • Annual Reports and 10k’s – These are untapped resources for many companies. They will typically list key organization priorities, changes, and in most cases, budget for certain departments. Do their priorities fit yours?

Account Tiering:

All of these factors come into play with tiering your account territory as it all plays into ease of sale and their likelihood to purchase from your organization again. Once you’ve evaluated your account territory across the factors above, the next process is to begin to tier each account.

  • Tier 1 – These should be the accounts that are 100% in alignment to what you are selling without question, along with checking every box in the criteria above. These accounts are a direct home run fit, and the very first place to start. They should be the focus of 60% – 70 % of all activity.
  • Tier 2 – Although you cannot check all boxes from above, you can check most of them. And overall, they are in great alignment to your products & solutions. These accounts should be about 10% – 20% of your focus from an account management perspective.
  • Tier 3 – They fit less than 50% of the boxes above, but are still interesting. They should be about 5% – 10% of your focus.
  • Tier 4 – They fit one or maybe two of the boxes above. Focus 0% of your time on these accounts and figure out a nurture marketing campaign to target them. Let marketing automation do the hard work for you, as it will take too much effort to get a sale, and they will most likely not be a repeat buyer.
  • Global Accounts – Finally, the F500 or above. These organizations hit every one of the attributes above, but are historically the hardest accounts to crack. Most organizations make the mistake of targeting these establishments first, but so is everyone else. Not only are these accounts hard to crack, there is also an extreme amount of competition in the mix. Focus around 20% – 25% of your effort into these accounts. If you do things right, you will get them to buy over time, and they will be your greatest accounts without you having to sacrifice your short term gains by working on other accounts.

Name Development:

You’ve taken your account territory, and you now have an organized list tiering out each target. What’s next? Name development! Both sales and marketing need to know who to target within each account. When it comes to name development, do not make the mistake of only finding one or two names within each account—it’s a losing battle. In order to set yourself up for success, you must target a minimum of five to ten names per account across multiple departments. Each account is a little different, and you never know who could be a key influencer, a core decision maker, or who left their position and didn’t update LinkedIn. Furthermore, as you begin to target these accounts, you should constantly add new names to grow out the list. With each new connection, you should go beyond your typical email and title, and ensure that you are connecting with them on social media profiles like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Sales & Marketing Alignment:

Finally, once you’ve identified your account tiers and key contacts within each account, you can now start the planning with marketing. In most organizations, marketing and sales couldn’t be further apart; instead, bring these two departments together and develop a strategy. Marketing should know who your most important accounts, contacts, and opportunities are in order to develop marketing campaigns targeting these accounts and contacts. The sales and marketing strategy should be updated each week to include new weekly targets.

As marketing and sales get together to develop a strategy, there are just a few things that should be covered:

  • Social Media
    • Have these key targets been followed on individual and corporate social platforms?
    • How do we get these key targets mentioned in social media posts?
    • Are they posting any content that can be commented on, liked, or shared?
  • Content
    • Has there been any content that mentions these key targets directly?
    • Has any content published that they would be interested in?
    • Do they have a key strategy or use case that can be covered in a blog?
  • Email
    • Have these key targets been added to the newsletter?
    • Have they been targeted as part of an email marketing campaign recently?
    • Can a special campaign be created for them?
    • Are there any analytics that show they have been reading these emails?
  • Others
    • Do you know if they visited the website?
    • What pages have they viewed?
    • Does anyone have personal knowledge of these organizations?
    • Has executive leadership reached out to them personally?

Many of the items above, can help create marketing air cover for sales as they are making direct contact with your key targets. These activities show your key targets that your organization has taken genuine interest in them, while giving them educational material to help progress them forward in the sales process.

A proper account management strategy does not develop overnight and does not only include sales. Knowing who to target and how to target individual accounts will increase an organization’s efficiency from both a sales and a marketing perspective. This will lead to a faster sales cycle and increase overall deal sizes. Just because you have a list of accounts to call, it doesn’t actually mean you have an account management strategy in place.