Staff Beat Downs And Other Lessons On Losing Your Customers

customer serviceI just witnessed firsthand how an organization should build a company culture where great customer service can blossom.

Once a year, we go to the Ritz-Carlton Lodge in Reynolds Plantation, Georgia. Being a Ritz property, you should expect, and we do, receive exemplary customer service.

If I had a dollar for every time we’re told “My pleasure…”

When we were last there in 2011, we had a “chiminea” dinner, which is when you are given a private piece of land on the bank of Lake Oconee, and Ritz staff bring out to you a three-course meal in front of a campfire. As you can see from the photograph, it is a glorious, peaceful, enriching experience.

Back in 2011, we stayed during the off-season, so there were not as many guests on property, and so, we were not rushed, and could take as much time as we wanted between courses.

Forward to this past weekend, when the Lodge was full, the chiminea situation was different. Having to move people through the process a little faster, we were not prepared to be as rushed as we were.

And we mentioned it to our “butler” who was taking care of us.

As you would almost expect, within minutes, a manager was at our site apologizing, and making right the situation. In the end, we still had a GLORIOUS time and would continue to recommend this experience to anyone.

But here is the thing I want you to remember:

We were not impressed with the manager and his fast handling of our minor complaint. Any manager worth his or her salt would do this.

I was impressed with the butler. He didn’t have to mention this to his management team. For as you would expect in some organizations, saying something to his boss might get him in trouble.

But he said something. And fast.

And instead of berating him, I bet management said something to the effect of “Thanks for letting me know, what can we do to improve this experience, and make the experience even better.”

Too many managers beat down, yell at, berate, and might as well back hand employees who perform subpar customer service. It is the American way.

This only results in bitter employees, who in turn, are hardly incentivized to provide better customer service.

Our butler continued to treat us with extreme courtesy and respect, and with a smile on his face. Not coldly as you would expect someone who might have gotten in trouble for not performing at his best.

If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times on the blog… Build a culture where your co-workers are teammates, and staff are ENCOURAGED to do what is necessary to make the customer experience a meaningful one.

Don’t smack employees for making a mistake. Reward them for coming to you to address a poor customer experience, and then together, work on making the experience a better one.

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Derek Sivers’ Anything You Want

Just finished reading Derek SiversAnything You Want. This book is a must-read for anyone in business, for anyone who serves customers.

There isn’t much for me to say about the power of this book, so I will simply share some passages I highlighted whilst reading on the iPad:

“Don’t be on your deathbed someday, having squandered your one chance at life, full of regret because you pursued little distractions instead of big dreams.”

“Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently promoting what’s not working.”

“When you make it a dream come true for yourself, it’ll be a dream come true for someone else, too.”

“A business plan should never take more than a few hours of work. Hopefully no more than a few minutes. The best plans start simple. A quick glance and common sense should tell you if the numbers will work. The rest are details.”

“If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no.””

“Anytime you think you know what your business will be doing, remember this quote from Steve Blank: No plan survives first contact with customers.”

“Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision – even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone – according to what’s best for your customers.”

“You need to confidently exclude people, and proudly say what you’re not. By doing so, you will win the hearts of the people you want.”

“Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn’t that enough?”

“When someone’s doing something for love, being generous instead of stingy, trusting instead of fearful, it triggers this law: We want to give to those who give.”

“Please know that it’s often the tiny details that really thrill people enough to make them tell all their friends about you.”

“Even if you want to be big someday, remember that you never need to act like a big boring company.”

“There’s a benefit to being naive about the norms of the world – deciding from scratch what seems like the right thing to do, instead of just doing what others do.”

“In the end, it’s about what you want to be, not what you want to have.”

“You can’t just live someone else’s expectation of a traditional business. You have to just do whatever you love the most, or you’ll lose interest in the whole thing.”

“Lesson learned too late: Delegate, but don’t abdicate.”

“Business is as creative as the fine arts. You can be as unconventional, unique, and quirky as you want. A business is a reflection of the creator.”

The book came out this past week. I’ve already read it twice. You can purchase the book here (affiliate link):

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[Todd Schnick is a marketing strategist, helping entrepreneurs become intrepid marketers...]
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Don’t Take Sales + Marketing For Granted: A Tiger’s Tale

Three things I never thought I’d witness, while Tiger Woods was still in his thirties:

1. Tiger dropping out of the Top Ten in the world rankings;

2. Him being replaced as the next big thing;

3. And someone proclaiming, “Tiger Who?”

U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy

Well, it has all happened. Now, you might say the distractions from Tiger’s personal life, and a series of injuries are to blame, sure. And 22 year-old golf phenom Rory McIlroy winning the U.S. Open this past weekend has pushed a few to say Tiger’s day has passed.

But the fact remains, not long ago we were saying Tiger would be the all-time greatest player. Ever. We aren’t saying that anymore. In fact, I would have bet my left arm Tiger would blow away Jack Nicklaus’ Major victories record. We aren’t saying that anymore either.

What does this mean to you?

The world can change. In an instant. You might be on top of your game on one day, and forgotten the next. If it can happen to Tiger…it can happen to any one of us. And therein lies the thought for today.

Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t take your innovative product for granted. Someone will make something better tomorrow. Someone out there is innovating…

Don’t take your customer for granted. They may shop elsewhere tomorrow.

Don’t take your existing strategy (even if it works) for granted. Because the environment might change tomorrow, and the strategy will no longer work.

Don’t take your sales process (even if it works) for granted. Because your prospects will have different priorities tomorrow.

Tiger Woods may very well come back, and come back to dominate. That’s what true champions do. And I wouldn’t put it past him. Or he may fade away forever, and we’ll talk fondly about the days when that young man, for a while anyway, dominated.

Life happens. And that can upset the balance. Prepare for any possible outcome, because it will likely happen. And never stop innovating, never stop improving, because that’s how you survive.

Because just when you think Tiger will never be supplanted, life and Rory McIlroy happen…

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[photo from nbc sports]

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99 Ways To Be An Intrepid Marketer [2011 Edition]

I started my company, and write this blog, to help business people become intrepid marketers.

But what does an intrepid marketer actually look like? Here are 99 suggested ways:

  1. Intrepid marketers take decisive action.
  2. They are bold.
  3. They are fearless.
  4. They do not fear making important decisions.
  5. They create a serious marketing plan…
  6. …but aren’t afraid to make mid-course corrections on their plan.
  7. They read voraciously.
  8. They have a blog.
  9. Their web presence engages. It is NOT static.
  10. They embrace the social web.
  11. The celebrate transparency.
  12. They give back to their community.
  13. They serve others…
  14. …and they even serve their competition.
  15. They don’t hide behind traditional media.
  16. They teach.
  17. They tell stories.
  18. They listen.
  19. They embrace new technology…
  20. …but only new technology that advances their goals.
  21. They don’t tear down others…
  22. …but they learn lessons from the mistakes of others.
  23. They love joint venturing.
  24. They love collaborating.
  25. They love learning. And never stop learning.
  26. They engage with others…
  27. …even with people they disagree with.
  28. They focus only on the customer experience.
  29. They recognize that every employee is in the marketing department. From the CEO to the cleaning crew.
  30. They see every conceivable customer interaction as something that can and should be continuously improved.
  31. They know you can’t automate human interaction.
  32. They worry about communicating well.
  33. They welcome customer feedback…
  34. …especially negative customer feedback. It helps them improve.
  35. They thoughtfully comment on the blogs of others.
  36. They share. Freely.
  37. They only upsell if they are truly benefiting the customer.
  38. They ask a lot of questions…
  39. …but only to really hear and learn from the answers.
  40. They don’t gloat or show-off.
  41. They believe in quality over quantity.
  42. They admire courage.
  43. They know that marketing is a two-way conversation, not a one-way push.
  44. They sense that interruption marketing is evil, and should be mercilessly destroyed.
  45. They don’t compete on price…
  46. …and they won’t. Ever.
  47. They have no fear walking away from prospects who aren’t the right fit.
  48. They love what they do.
  49. They don’t “work.”
  50. They don’t take credit. For anything.
  51. They demonstrate value. With ease.
  52. They know you earn your brand. Not hire a consultant to “create” your brand.
  53. They test and measure. Everything.
  54. They are always improving. Everything.
  55. They understand the power of video, even if the medium isn’t right for them.
  56. They understand the power of podcasts, even if the medium isn’t right for them.
  57. They love networking…
  58. …by which I mean they love learning how to help others.
  59. The relish the chance to connect people.
  60. They know what they don’t know.
  61. They understand the power of images.
  62. They respect differing opinions.
  63. They push themselves, even when there are obstacles.
  64. They aren’t afraid of improvisation.
  65. They know there is no such thing as an overnight success.
  66. When they identify a problem, they fix it. They don’t wait and let it fester.
  67. They don’t spam.
  68. They are creative.
  69. They have patience…
  70. …but they don’t sit around and wait.
  71. They respect the A-listers…
  72. …but they help and push the little guys.
  73. They are innovative…
  74. …and actually know what innovation really means.
  75. They don’t have too many products or services. They focus only on what they do very well.
  76. They are continually trying to improve themselves in every way. Personal development never ends.
  77. They are good problem solvers.
  78. They are NOT afraid to adapt to an ever-changing environment.
  79. They don’t multi-task. They focus.
  80. They are in the moment.
  81. They are deep thinkers. And they make time to do serious thinking.
  82. They sweat the small stuff.
  83. …but spend time focusing on the big stuff.
  84. They know how to apply the 80/20 principle to their situation.
  85. They honor and celebrate referral partners.
  86. They are not conformists.
  87. They aren’t afraid of sharing what they know. They aren’t held back by this notion of “people need to pay me for my knowledge…”
  88. …but they charge a premium for their services.
  89. They embrace relationships.
  90. They live by “serving first, selling second.”
  91. They don’t “sell,” but rather, they co-create solutions by engaging in creative sessions with their prospects.
  92. They don’t have time management problems, because they are always focused on the important stuff.
  93. They have balance, and enjoy things outside of business that drive them.
  94. There is nothing fake about them. They are real. And authentic.
  95. They apologize when they need to. And work hard to fix the problem.
  96. And they are honest. Always.
  97. They love generating content. And know that meaningful content matters to the market.
  98. They have a keen understanding of business acumen, and know how their work moves the revenue needle.
  99. They embrace and welcome failure.

What would you add to this list?

[Note: I published my original list last year. And as time passes, the world changes. And this list will evolve with it.]

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[cartoons by hugh macleod]

j j j

Look This Customer In The Eye, And Tell Me You Haven’t Done This

Lack Of Eye Contact Hurts Your Business

We’ve all been there.

We find ourself in a retail store, with a question about an item we want to purchase. And for the next ten minutes, an amazing 12 staffers will pass by but somehow NOT make eye contact with you…

“How is it possible that he can walk by and stare at the damn ceiling,” you mumble to yourself.

Managers: Coach your people to actively seek eye contact with your customers!

Here are the likely responses you will have to make upon interacting with that customer:
“Oh, my pleasure. Glad to help.”
“Sure, you can find them over there.”
“Hmmm, I am not sure, but let me find the answer!”
“Yes, the bathrooms are right over there.”

Of course, there are times when you don’t want to be bothered. You want to be left alone to explore. Learn. Study. Research. Assess. And it is here that TODD doesn’t make eye contact. This means –> LEAVE ME ALONE. I am contemplating. And I might buy something…

But this notion of avoiding eye contact when I need you has to stop. When we notice this, here is what you are saying to the customer:
“I have no interest in talking to you. You are a pain in my ass. There are only 23 minutes until I can go home. I want to hide in the broom closet so I can text my significant other. So, how can I avoid interacting with you?”

Have you ever been out of wine when dining out, and you sit there, giving your waitress the vulture look from afar, waving your hands, and making the gutteral noises that are designed to attract attention of the waitress (who seems to be admiring the floor boards) without being noticed by the kind people one table over?

Yeah, I look and sound like a dork at that moment too…

Spend a weekend at a Ritz-Carlton property. You can bet those folks don’t avoid eye contact. Heck, if you aren’t careful, they might even give you a glass of champagne…

But seriously folks… Why is it so hard to interact with customers? Are we that bad? Are there enough bad apples that make you want to strain your neck looking the other way that in the end, you negatively impact my customer experience?

I believe this is something that has to be taught. Coached. Rewarded. But they also say hiring is a strategic marketing move, in that you can hire people who will do this, love this, find joy in interacting with customers.

Yeah, yeah, we are always talking about the little things here. But, avoiding me when I need you isn’t really a little thing now, is it? Keep it up, and I will start buying all of my crap online…

What do you think?

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[photo from flickr]

j j j

Does Your Customer Really Care?

Life is busy. Is Your Customer Paying Attention?

So you have a new idea. A new product. A new offering. Some new innovation that you are convinced will change the way your market, your customers, and your prospects will think of you and your organization. Maybe it is the spark that brings new energy and vigor to get you up in the morning.

And that’s important.

But does your customer really care?

Is this something that excites you? Or is this something that really will affect positive change on the life of your customer?

Honestly, the latest idea, the latest shiny object, the latest application may have you all hot and bothered…

But does your customer really care?

Remember this: your customer isn’t sitting around the phone or the laptop waiting to hear about your latest wild idea. Instead, they have a nervous stomach worried about paying the mortgage, meeting payroll, getting Sally to school on time, or perhaps dreaming about doing something more meaningful with their life…

Does your customer really care about your latest idea?

Maybe…maybe not. But instead of just unleashing a flurry of ideas and content on the “next best thing” to change your customer’s lives, involve them in the creation. Seek feedback. Co-create with them. In fact, a smart business person will gauge interest in the new idea before it hatches, to see if the marketplace is even interested.

And even then I can’t promise they will suddenly embrace your new idea. But you have a fighting chance now.

All I am asking is to just be cognizant of the fact that people have busy, distracted lives. So don’t get discouraged when you unveil the big idea and it falls on deaf ears. The world is a big place, with lots going on. And you are competing for mind share against the stack of bills on your customer’s table…

Be aware. And takes steps accordingly!

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[photo by mugley]

j j j

30 Questions To Ask Yourself When Drafting Your 2011 Marketing Plan

It is 2011. Do you know where your marketing plan is? Here are 30 questions to ask yourself as you mull over the process of drafting or modifying your marketing plan.

This isn’t one of those posts you can blast through in sixty seconds. This requires a cup of coffee (or a cocktail), a moleskine notebook, and a lot of careful, thorough deep thinking. Let’s get started:

1. What are you really selling? Can you articulate simply – and exactly – what you sell? Or do you offer too much stuff? Does your market know what you sell? Does your market need what you sell? Is it obvious to the people who might buy from you? I mean OBVIOUS? Don’t EVER assume that your market knows exactly what you do, and how you can help them. They don’t lay awake at night wondering how to buy from you…

2. Have you solved your prospecting problem? Who are you selling to? Do you really know? Or are you just casting a large net hoping to snag a few hopefuls?

Is your marketing effort making it easy to capture new prospects? Is it easy for them to take action to inform you they are interested? Or have you neglected to really think carefully about how you identify — and capture — your business prospects?

And are you finding enough prospects to ultimately meet your profit goals?

3. What is your market niche? Yesterday, I asked if you are getting enough prospects to run a profitable business. The more important question is “are you getting enough QUALIFIED prospects?” If you are not, you might need to narrow your market niche. (And yes, narrowing your niche will provide MORE prospects…)

Classic case of the auto mechanic asking for referrals from anyone you know who owns a car… This is too broad, there is no way to help this guy. But if he asks for names of Jaguar owners to reach out to, this request is much easier to handle, and you probably know a few of those…

4. Is Your Sales Process Nailed Down Tight? Hopefully you’re thinking through how to solve your prospecting problem, and can find enough qualified prospects. But can you close ‘em?

If your sales process sucks, it will just suck faster if you simply feed more prospects into it.

How do you track and monitor your prospects? How do you communicate value? How do you answer objections? How do you foster trust and grow the opportunity in your sales incubator? How do you move them to make the final buying decision?

5. What Is Your Marketing Story? So, what do you do? How do you help people? What makes you different? Why are you memorable? Is your story transferable…meaning is it easy for others to share your story with others?

And do you have one simple story/message? Instead of multiple, conflicting, confusing stories that result in the market place not really sure what it is that you do?

6. Do you have an actual strategy behind all your marketing tactics? We’ve talked about what you sell, how you sell, to whom you sell, and what story you tell when you are selling. Now, how do you deliver that message? What tactics are you employing to deliver that message? Social media? Direct mail? Email marketing? Networking? Advertising? Trade shows?

Do you chase the latest shiny “tactical” object? Or do you know what message delivery vehicle works? Is there an actual strategy behind what you do? Or do you throw the proverbial spaghetti against the wall?

7. Is Social Media Right For You? The answer is yes.

Problem is, most people don’t do it right.

They blast messaging one-way. They don’t engage. They don’t build relationships. They don’t educate. And most importantly, most don’t give the process time to take root, and give up before the time investment bears fruit.

Have you identified where your prospects/referral sources are spending time (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)? Have you grasped the concept of using the tools to make meaningful connections? Are you helping others?

8. Is Blogging Right For You? I have yet to find an organization that couldn’t benefit from blogging. None. But I am becoming more careful in recommending it to people, because most people I know aren’t good bloggers.

Blogging is necessary because it educates your market, demonstrates skill and knowledge, strengthens SEO for your online presence, and is a great sales tool.

But most people fail because they struggle to generate meaningful content, and quit after not closing a big deal even though they published two whole posts… [sarcasm intended] In other words, they quit too soon.

9. Is Your Website Converting? You blog. You’ve invested in fancy schmancy design. You try to focus on keywords. You try your hand at – or invest in – search engine optimization…

And you don’t get many website conversations – which means people aren’t taking the action on the website you want (not signing up for newsletters, not buying products or your services, not subscribing to your RSS feeds…

Are you doing enough to focus on why? What can you change? Is it too hard for the visitor to do? Is your content not compelling? Do you plan to figure it out?

10. Is Your Collateral Working For You? You have tri-fold brochures. Various sell sheets on products and services. Rack cards. Company calendars. Business cards.

But is any of this stuff really working for you? I mean, can’t most business prospects get what they need from your website and/or social web presence? Do you really need to spend the money on this print stuff?

That’s what you need to find out. Maybe your target market NEEDS printed material. But you’ve got to know…

And how important is design? Are using Word templates and printing at home hurting your business?

11. What is your networking strategy? How significant a role does networking play in your prospecting efforts? Attend too many events? Attend too few events? Attend all the wrong events? Go to the same groups week after week, seeing the same people?

Are you going to events that are populated with your actual target market? And how effective is your follow-up strategy?

And how do you see social media playing a role in your online networking? Are you employing the same “networking” tactics on Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn?

12. Will geolocation move the needle? Do geolocation applications like Foursquare and Gowalla make sense for your business? To be honest, if you are a retail establishment, and you are not experimenting with these apps, then you are potentially missing a big opportunity…sort of the modern day loyalty card. And an OBVIOUS way to more deeply connect with real customers…

But what about B2B sales? What about large organizations? What about selling consulting services? Does it make sense for you?

Foursquare just passed 5 million users. Now while that doesn’t compare to Twitter’s 160 million or Facebook’s 600 million, it is still worth reviewing.

13. Will QR codes matter? You might first ask, what the heck is a QR code?

Although these quick response codes have been around a while, they are only beginning to seep into daily conversation. You simply scan the code with some type of reader, usually on your smart phone. This present bits of information, which hopefully results in someone taking action.

How does this relate to you? You can place QR codes in magazine advertisements, on collateral, promotional items – the code could offer a specialized discount for the people who take the time to scan the code.

You’ve got to ask…is there a place for this unique message delivery method in my marketing?

14. Are hosting events worth your while? Is there marketing utility for you – or your company – to bring people together by hosting events? Should you create your own networking group? Should you organize large events around product launches or new service offerings? Can the effort increase your brand awareness?

Hosting an event gives you an easy excuse to reach out to people, provides content and story lines for your social web apps and website, and can give your PR a boost.

15. Is your bounce rate too high? Do you even know what the hell I am talking about?

A “bounce rate” is essentially the percentage of initial visitors to a site who “bounce” away to a different site, rather than continue on to other pages within the same site (Wikipedia).

In other words, you need to know what the bounce rate is for the common landing pages on your site. A landing page bounce rate over 50% is cause for concern. You want visitors to check out other pages.

E-commerce sites need LOW bounce rates. Blogs and other informational sites have higher bounce rates. You need to get a sense for what your industry standard is to measure and compare, so that you can make appropriate adjustments.

16. Is e-mail marketing working for you? If done right, e-mail marketing remains one of the most powerful ways to go to market…

Problem is, most of us are doing it wrong. Not a day passes that some organization sends me their e-newsletter…UNSOLICITED.

I wish people understood how poorly this reflects on their brand…

You really need to rethink how you build your lists. Don’t buy them…and just because you met someone at a function and they give you a business card doesn’t mean they want your newsletter.

And careful on your message. Make it unique – not just regurgitated blog posts. And it must provide value to people!

17. Is your SEO strategy working? Search engine optimization, the process of optimizing search results when people search certain keywords and phrases…in order that your content is more likely found on search engines like Google.

Is your strategy working? Do you have a strategy?

Are you optimizing your keywords? Do you know what your keywords are?

Is your SEO vendor producing results? Do you even need one?

Is your website properly optimized for search? Do you even know?

Are you tracking the numbers via Google Analytics? Do you know what those even mean?

Are you aware that this SEO “science” is constantly evolving?

18. Will cause marketing work for you? We admire people/organizations that go above and beyond to give back to the community.

I’ve always believed that “giving back” is good marketing. Our society allows us freedom to live the lives we want, to achieve the things we want. It certainly can strengthen your brand to align you and your company with causes and organizations doing good things for those in need, and making the community a better place.

Not to mention (selfishly), doing this will expose you and your brand to a whole new reach of people. Good networking!

What will you do?

19. Do you practice blazespotting? If you follow this blog, you’ve seen me write a lot about “shining a light.” I am now in the process of evolving my thinking on this concept – and taking it to the next level. I now call it “Blazespotting.”

I take it from trainspotting, which is defined as the hobby of watching trains and noting their serial numbers, usually for long periods of time. In our case, “Blaze” is defined as “flash of light.”

Blazespotting – the hobby and discipline of watching people + organizations and noting/broadcasting their good works, usually for long periods of time.

Proactively showcasing the good works/good deeds/thought leadership/innovation of others reflects strongly on your own brand, builds trust with you, and strengthens your position in the marketplace.

The social web makes this process even easier. But it all comes down to making a conscious decision to showcase others!

20. Are you focused on your customer experience? Running a business, we are tasked with a lot of day-to-day responsibilities, but I sometimes wonder, do we focus too much on all but the one thing that truly matters…how our customer interacts with our business??

I recently wrote a post called 33 Questions To Ask Customers. The purpose here was to help us ask the right questions to better understand if we are providing a meaningful experience for our customers…

Are you doing enough of that? Do you understand how EVERY employee in your organization interacts with customers? Do you study how your customers interface with every facet of your business…from the telephone, to the website, to your twitter handle?

21. Is Your Company Culture Fostering Success?

Do you foster a work environment where people can be creative?
Do you empower your people to creatively solve customer problems?
Do you reward your people for making mistakes?
Do you encourage innovative thinking?
Do you waste their time in pointless meetings?
Do you encourage continuous learning?
Do you seek employee input on all things?
Do you engage them in discussions about the company culture too?
Do you make it clear that ALL employees are a part of the marketing team?

And do you recognize that you never stop improving these elements in your business?

22. Are you providing enough value to your readers? And by value, I mean more than just distributing good, helpful content, I also mean engaging with them too…

If all you are doing is broadcasting one-way messaging about how good you and your products are via email, blogging, social media, and print…then you are wasting my time and your prospects time.

You need to not only put out educational and engaging content that provides solutions to your audience – you need to connect with that audience and engage in conversation about these topics too…

Is your content conversational and helpful? Or are you just broadcasting and telling?

23. Do you do the little things? Like NOT charging me for air at the gas station…

Like bringing me a FULL, LARGE coffee to-go cup when I get my check…

These little gems happened to me…just in the last 24 hours… And the real power in them? Not expecting them…

And that’s what you have to think about. Analyze all the little elements of how your customer interfaces with your business, and identify where you can implement little memorable gems.

Sometimes you just need to listen to your existing customers, because they will give you plenty of ideas if you let them…

And sometimes you need to empower your own employees to create their own little gems…let them create their own meaningful experiences… DON’T make them follow a strict script where little gems die in the ether…

24. Are you doing enough learning? Most people are not. And that is why they fail, or labor in a job they detest, or wonder why they have no creativity.

And it is your own fault.

Why aren’t you focused on learning all that you can? Why don’t you dedicate time to this process? Why aren’t you encouraging your employees to keep learning, or at least providing them with material they can learn from?

I believe continuing education is the most important thing you can do to become better…

Better at life, better at creativity, better at marketing, better at business, etc…

Why aren’t you living in bookstores, searching the internet, talking to mentors – to become better?

25. Does your workspace work? Is your working environment conducive to productive work? Creative work? Interruption-free work?

I am amazed at how many people are forced to work (or try to work) in places they HATE to be in. And you can imagine what that does for their work ethic, morale, and not to mention creativity!

You must create a workspace for yourself or your company that allows you – and your people – to be at their best. And the hard part? It is different for each employee.

Workspace design is something that is often overlooked, or designed in such a way to minimize office expenses, with NO consideration for the employees.

26. Is day-to-day admin dragging you down? If you are like me, you lose dramatic amounts of time fiddling with the day-to-day admin of your business. Invoicing, chasing down accounts receivable, inventory, paying bills, payroll, health insurance paperwork, etc.

Marketing, selling, and doing the creative work you are hired to do in the first place gets put aside because the “running the actual business” stuff gets in the way…

But yet, this is vital to the operation of the business, right?

Have you thought about adopting new processes? Thought about buying software that makes your life much easier? Or have you thought about biting the bullet and hiring professional help to get this work done?

It may be time to shake things up.

27. What are your revenue goals? Do you even know?

Seriously.

A lot of the small business people I speak with don’t really know. Which boggles my mind. To be honest, without this goal, you CANNOT create a marketing plan. And without a marketing plan, you are far more likely to not have a good year with your business.

What are your revenue goals? Do you even know what you made in 2010? 2009? Are you growing? Are you declining? Are you all over the place?

Until you determine what your revenue goal is for 2011, you can’t do a thing to draft a plan, or make proper strategic marketing and business decisions for the coming year…

28. Do you have cash flow? Unlike the last question (Day 27), you probably know the answer to this one. And yeah, you either have cash flow…or you do not.

You can’t operate a business without it. You just can’t. To put it simply, you need it to do stuff: Marketing. Prospecting. Equipment. Experimenting. Learning, etc.

Cash flow helps determine a company’s value, liquidity, risk factors, and can judge past or future prospects of the business. But yet, most small business people don’t think enough about it, or don’t have any cash flow (however you define it, whatever your context).

At the end of the day, your cash flow must remain net positive for your business to remain solvent!

29. Do you have a big enough marketing budget? I think the answer is no, since most people tell me “I am marketing on a shoestring” or “Business has been slow, so I cut my marketing” or “How much did you say?”

So how in the hell are you going to build your business? Or get new members? Or get people to vote for you? Or get people to support your cause?

Follow along here: You need to make enough sales to meet your revenue goals. You sell to your prospects. You have to have enough prospects to close enough deals, assuming you won’t close every opportunity. Thus, you need to spend enough on your marketing budget to talk to enough prospects.

Simple.

I ask again: do you have a big enough marketing budget?

30. Have you created your seven-step marketing plan yet? So here we are on Day 30 of this marketing plan development post series. How is your progress coming along?

Your marketing plan should consist of basically seven components:

1. Understand market and competition – is there a need for what you sell?

2. Understand your customer – who are they, where are they, why will they buy, how do they buy?

3. Determine your precise target market / your niche. Where is your focus?

4. Develop your message. What’s your story?

5. How will you deliver the message? Networking? Direct mail? Paid advertising? Social media? Blogging? Others?

6. Goals – How many prospects do you need to touch? What is your close rate? How many sales do you need to meet your financial goals?

7. How will you pay for it? Setting your marketing budget high enough to reach enough viable prospects…

Pretty simple, yeah? Don’t over think your marketing plan. And the key to success? Process the plan in order from number one to seven. This is critical. One steps builds on the former…

What about you? Get started now.

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[cartoon by @gapingvoid]

Note: This article is based on a month long series of marketing plan posts that can be found here.

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Your 2011 Marketing Plan: Are You Focused On Your Customer Experience?

Day 20 (of 31):

Question To Ask Yourself: Are you focused on your customer experience?

Running a business, we are tasked with a lot of day-to-day responsibilities, but I sometimes wonder, do we focus too much on all but the one thing that truly matters…how our customer interacts with our business??

I recently wrote a post called 33 Questions To Ask Customers. The purpose here was to help us ask the right questions to better understand if we are providing a meaningful experience for our customers…

Are you doing enough of that? Do you understand how EVERY employee in your organization interacts with customers? Do you study how your customers interface with every facet of your business…from the telephone, to the website, to your twitter handle?

What I am doing: Being a small business, I interact with a small network of ongoing clientele. But I worry that I am not doing enough. Not communicating enough.

I worry that I’ve been too scatterbrained with all my projects that I am not focusing enough on the most important part of my business…my customers. That changes in 2011.

What about you?

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Todd is planning his 2011 marketing attack. He is asking himself a series of hard questions, questions that will fine tune his go-to-market strategy. This December, Todd will share one question per day, hoping these questions help you too…

Click HERE to follow the entire series on what questions to ask as you draft your 2011 marketing plan!

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56th Check-In | The Publix Foursquare Watch, And Maybe A Little Starbucks Too…

Using Foursquare, Todd has checked-in to his local Publix 56 times, without hearing so much as a peep. He will blog after every check-in until he gets recognized as a loyal customer. In the meantime, he will offer some ideas free of charge on how they might use Foursquare. Join the Watch!

[Read the entire twelve-piece series!]

Two things happened this week that have frustrated me…

One, early in the week, I lost my Publix Mayoralty. Again. This time, to a new individual. Her name is Jen M… But then, a few days later, I reclaimed the title…

So I am obviously in a battle with a few folks for this title at my local store…this is GREAT for Publix. Sadly, they apparently have NO idea. But THREE people have been the Foursquare Mayor of Publix over the last two weeks. I don’t think they have ANY idea how great this is for them.

The possibilities for this store are ENDLESS…. But we’ll get into that down the road…

The second thing that bothered me was this. After I left Publix, I walked into my local Starbucks (which is connected to the Publix), checked-in, and claimed the title of Mayor! Yay! I then proceeded to ask the lady what that actually meant…

She looked at me as if I was smoking something. She’d never even heard of it. Which, I must say, isn’t all that surprising. And yet, as I recall, at one point Starbucks has offered some benefits to their Mayors.

She kindly went to see her manager, and when she came back, she said “well, it means, like, well, you’re king of the mountain, or something…”

Hmmm. The manager knew what I was talking about. Clearly, and described it to this staffer in such a way that communicated “I don’t care what he’s asking you, tell that pain in the ass to get out of our way…”

Or at least that’s how I interpreted it…

Todd’s FREE Publix Starbucks Foursquare Tip: Even if you are NOT – at that exact moment in time – offering a specific Foursquare check-in special…when a guy claims to have just been ordained as the new Mayor, and a FRICKIN’ MANAGER is asked about it…

As the manager, I would walk out to the guy, shake his hand, thank him for his business, and offer the poor dude a small coffee or something… Or ask him if he wants a free sample of a food item… Or at least say, “Hey! We are really glad to see you!”

That kind of message would sustain me for days… And Lord knows I would tell someone about it.

But at least open your mind to the possibilities… You were SPOON FED a chance to recognize a good customer (by definition, your Foursquare Mayor has BEEN THERE BEFORE and will LIKELY COME BACK AGAIN…), and to express your appreciation… And. They. Blew. It.

What other Foursquare/geolocation ideas do YOU have for Publix? Or Starbucks? Sigh…

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Don’t Care About Your Customer? Please Press “0″

Yesterday I published a post about the dangers of making your customers wait. Read it here.

My dear friend, and loyal reader, Mark Walker of Integrity Solutions, wrote me back on this with his thoughts. His full note is published below (with his permission).

Here is a pet peeve of mine regarding “waiting.” Ever try to call someone to see if they might be a prospect for your goods or services? You get their automated attendant. After listening to the menu (one minute+) you don’t hear a suitable option. So you press “0” and the automated attendant starts all over. You get into a “loop” which will never end. All options lead back to the automated attendant system, not a live person.

What is the message here? “If you don’t know the phone or extension number of the person you want, buzz off! Quit bothering us.”

I always recommend that every CEO in the world call his company about once every two months, as if he is a prospective customer or supplier. Try to reach someone who 1) is alive and 2) is genuinely helpful. Today I pressed “0” after hearing the empty promise of my target that he “would return my call promptly.” (He has not done so.) A nice woman answered. I asked her if this person was out of the office, or if there was a time of day it was best to try to reach him. She did not know, but attempted to find out. She was respectful and courteous, and she came back on the line and admitted that she was also unsuccessful.

While I still don’t respect my target person’s “promise” to return my call, I know that his employer cares enough to hire someone as a receptionist who is interested in helping people who call their organization. And here’s the key idea. While I am not a prospective customer, I can feel comfortable suggesting to someone that this company could be a reliable supplier of their appropriate goods and services.

You never want people to think poorly of you, unnecessarily. That sales person trying to reach your purchasing department might be the daughter of a potential major account CEO.

Right on Mark. Thanks for taking the time to write me back on this.

What do you think?

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[cartoon by @gapingvoid]

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