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]

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]

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]

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…

My Customer Gospel

I run a business. Thus, I have customers. And as a human being, I am a customer myself. Here are the things we (I) need to keep in mind when it comes to understanding CUSTOMERS:

1. Some customers are people who are in desperate need. They have problems. They are stressed. And as such, they aren’t always thinking clearly or rationally. If your business serves customers in need, treat them like human beings. Recognize they have a lot on their mind. Treating them with respect does two things: One, they will remember you and how you treated them right. They will tell others about you. Two, treating them respectfully will get them to be better, more responsive customers. As in, paying bills on time, or getting paperwork in on time, etc…

2. They are not experts. Don’t make any assumptions that they know what you think they should know. A big part of what you do is education. Help them learn, it makes for a deeper relationship.

3. They are busy people. They have crazy lives. Mortgages to pay. Children to care for. Work to do. Groceries to buy. Baseball practice to get kids too. Customers have the same burdens you do – so remember that.

4. Just because they say I “understand” and I will get right on it, they probably won’t. You need to be patient and teach them what they need to know. Guide them. Help them. Encourage them. It takes time. In the end, they will be better customers, and you will be serving them better.

5. A customer who makes A LOT of noise about a bad experience is generally got problems on their own. The world recognizes that too, and won’t always hold you accountable. Just be patient, deal with the problem, sincerely try to fix it, be responsive, and move on. One loud customer (who is probably having a bad day) won’t ruin your business…

6. Customers expect you to keep your promises and deadlines. Customers don’t always meet your deadlines. But not because they are bad people, it is because they have life going on. Be patient and help them along as best you can.

7. Big ticket purchases are scary. Customers don’t always move at the pace we want on expensive deals. I catch myself all the time frustrated that a prospect isn’t making a faster buying decision. Especially when I realize I am the same way. Make them feel good about the purchase, if it is the right move for both of you, the deal will happen.

8. Although customers often try to communicate that they have knowledge and understanding of what you are bringing to the table, remember this: they need – want – expect your counsel and instruction. Give it.

9. Do not be afraid to speak your mind when your customer is going down the wrong path. Handle that communication respectfully, obviously, but at least make the attempt to communicate that you think there is a better way. You owe them that. If they don’t like it, they probably are not a good fit for you and your business…

10. It is ALL about trust. The customer is trusting you to help them, provide good service, reliable products, problem solving when necessary, being there when needed. You trust your customer to pay you on time, do the things you need, provide the information you need to make the best decisions, and execute on things you ask them to do and they agree to do. Without trust, the customer relationship will not work, both personally or monetarily.

What do you think? What else am I missing here?

[cartoon by @gapingvoid]

What Has Social Media Meant To Me, Or, How You Can Do This Too!

I still run across people who do not see value in investing time into social media. They say things like:

“I just don’t see any value in it.”

“It is not worth my time.”

“I started a blog yesterday. But I haven’t gotten any business yet. It clearly doesn’t work.”

“I need to focus on REAL marketing.”

“I don’t have time for fads.”

“My market doesn’t spend time in that space, so I don’t need to…”

In fact, the percentage of sales and small business folks NOT using social media is still pretty staggering. And I will continue to do my part to help educate these good folks on the possibilities. Before I continue that mission, here are a few things that have happened to me, ONLY because of my participation in blogging and the social web:

1. I’ve been approached about writing a book.

2. I’ve been asked to contribute bits to other’s books.

3. I’ve had my blog posts picked up by other blogs, exposing me and my writing to thousands of new readers.

4. I’ve met some amazing people, people I would not have met otherwise.

5. I’ve learned so much. Each day, I get exposed to new blogs, opening up a whole new world and opportunity for learning.

6. I have reconnected with old friends, people that I had thought were lost forever.

7. It enabled me to co-host a TweetUp that had 200 people in attendance, including people from five states and Canada! I’ve always been a connector – social media scaled it big time.

8. It has allowed me to connect with someone like Tom Peters.

9. I have been asked to guest blog. Often.

10. I have been able to strengthen my personal brand. Because in addition to my business writing, it has also given me an outlet to write about things I am passionate about, such at this and this.

11. And most importantly, from a business perspective, I have found and engaged new clients.

Key takeaway from this post: If I can do this, ANYONE can do this.

Seriously. Here is how it happened for me:

> I am not a particularly good writer, but I have been a pretty steady blogger since 2008. As a result, I do think my writing has improved.

> I make a real effort to share the work of others. And I plan to get better at this.

> I make an effort, by monitoring blogs I care about on my RSS reader, to comment on the published posts of others. I can do better at this too. And not a day passes where someone doesn’t express sincere gratitude for this, which, I don’t have to tell you, deepens the relationship…

> I am not worried about the raw numbers of followers. I used to worry about this, but I have forced myself to focus on the actual relationships. The impact of this change in thinking has been powerful.

> I am NO guru. Or expert. Or Jedi Master. I am still learning. Every day. And realize, every day, that I have MUCH more to learn.

> I have become a much better listener.

> I have been able to help A LOT more people.

> My sphere of influence is small compared to many others. But, the point is, I have a sphere of influence.

> This whole world of the social web is evolving. Constantly. The sooner you recognize this, the faster you will evolve with it. What works today, probably won’t work tomorrow.

> But that said, the importance of building relationships will NEVER change. Just the means of doing so. As soon as you understand this? I mean, really understand this? Social media will make sense to you.

I am just a guy, working from home, with a manageable book of clients, running a small little business. If someone like me can see real results from this investment, anyone can!

Agree? Disagree? Let me know…

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[cartoon by @gapingvoid]

31st Check-In | The Publix Foursquare Watch

So, I am going to play a little game…

I wrote the other day about my 30th Foursquare check-in at my local Publix supermarket. Comments I’ve received ranged from “I can’t believe a man has actually checked-in to a grocery store 30 times” to “you sure go to the store a lot.”

So, anyway… I am the Foursquare Mayor there. Which means, well, I can do and say anything I want [not really].

But I will be honest. I cannot believe there is a public, transparent online record that someone has been to a store 31 times – and this person has never been contacted. Even to say a simple “Thanks!”

So here is what I am going to do. I will write a short post for every Publix check-in of mine, until I finally get acknowledged. This isn’t meant to be mean-spirited. Rather, it is meant to educate and teach people about the possibilities with geolocation apps like Foursquare. As a demonstration of my goodwill, I will offer a free tip about how an enterprise like Publix can use Foursquare. I welcome input from the community about other ideas they may have.

This might be fun. We should learn a lot. And, well, I may be writing a lot of blog posts on this project… ;-)

Todd’s Publix Tip of the Day: One thing a store like Publix can do, is drive traffic to purchase a certain type of inventory. Let’s say you want to help people eat more healthy. For instance, you could offer people who check-in to Publix for the FIRST time on Foursquare, a free piece of fruit….

The Store: Publix Supermarket
[Store # 00033]
3605 Sandy Plains Road
Suite 200
Marietta GA 30066
770.578.6000

The Crickets Are Chirping At The Local Publix…

What prompted this post? I am the Mayor of my local Publix on Foursquare. Last night was my 30th check-in. 30th. Yes, 30 of them. But have I heard from them? No. In fact, it is so silent, you can hear the crickets chirping.

If you had a customer walk in the doors of your joint 30 times, wouldn’t you want to at least acknowledge them? [Answer: you better.] Hell, at this point, I’d love a message from the Publix manager saying, well, how about “thanks for your business – we appreciate you!”

I am spending time exploring Foursquare. I see value in it for my clients. And that’s largely why I spend time on the app, so that I can learn how to execute a geolocation strategy on their behalf.

For those still unsure about the personal value of this technology? Here is Todd’s preliminary list:

1. You can see what others have said about a place you are about to check-in to. Is the restaurant good? Is the service good? What should you buy? What should you avoid? What staffer should you ask for?

2. And obviously, more and more places are offering discounts and specials for their foursquared fans…

3. If you are lost in the middle of nowhere, or a visitor to a new town, you can initiate the check-in process on your smart phone, and see what’s nearby (then use #1 above and see what the locals are saying about it).

4. For me, the most important use of Foursquare is that it serves as an easy conversation starter. For instance, I also checked-in last night at the non-profit where I serve on the Board of Directors. Now, if someone wants to do business with me, they would go a long way towards establishing trust with me if they inquired and asked about my non-profit.

5. And lastly? I will admit, I like knowing what the people in my network are doing. It helps me keep a pulse on what’s happening in my community. And I like knowing what my friends are doing, and what they are interested in.

I say this is my preliminary list. Because I am sure I will uncover others.

But let’s get back to my local Publix. It boggles my mind that they wouldn’t acknowledge someone who has checked-in 30 times. And, honestly, I am not looking for some special or discount [hint: wine specials please!]

What I do think is important is some outreach –> “Thanks for your business! How can we serve you better? What are other ways to make this store more valuable to you? How can we win people over who are currently shopping at the Kroger across the street?”

That said, I do think rewarding loyal customers is important. Stripped down, Foursquare is a game. You compete for points, for badges, and for the title of Mayor. This spirit of competition could and should be fun. And memorable. And something to talk about…

And also, an important driver of business.

But you may ask, “well, since you have been there 30 times recently, do they really need to work to keep you coming back? You have already proven to be a good customer.” If I have to really answer that question…

“But there are only a million people on Foursquare…” Yes, and it is growing much faster than Twitter was at this stage of their development…so like Twitter, this geolocation concept is going to change the game.

“But not everyone has a smartphone…” Yeah, and nobody thought cars would sell, or motion pictures, or planes (who would want to fly across the country?), or televisions (and who on earth would ever have more than one television), or websites would be for everyone, or that email would be used as THE communication tool, and thank God I have all those long-playing records, cassettes, and compact discs in a box in my basement…

The point is, technology like geolocation is changing the game. Slowly perhaps, but surely. It is time to get in the game and figure out how to use it…

…or those crickets will be chirping permanently at your place of business.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

[cartoon by @gapingvoid]

5 Complacency Killers

You don’t need another damn blog post about…

…focusing on the little things.

…being remarkable.

…making your customers say “wow!”

Oh sure, I got inspired to write this post because of a “little thing that was a big deal” kinda thing at my local Starbucks. And true enough, it was the kind of little thing that shouldn’t be a big thing, but because OUTSTANDING customer service is so rare, it became a big thing…and a blog post.

Thinking on this topic, I realized just how complacent most employees in joints like a coffee shop can get. Just people, doing their job, watching the clock. They aren’t responsible for the marketing, you see, so they don’t really care.

That’s not to say they aren’t nice people, who I am sure, more often than not, put in a good, hard day’s work. But they are complacent. They are prematurely satisfied. Just because.

And this is what leads to mediocrity. This is what separates most small businesses from the truly great, remarkable, “talked about by everyone” kind of enterprises…

So, I put together a short list of 5 things every business should do, every day, to fight off and kill complacency dead, dead, dead:

1. Ask at least one customer, each day, what you can do to make the customer experience better.

2. Thank a customer in a public way, each day. Do this on Twitter, your Facebook fan page, your blog…just do it somewhere public.

3. Over the course of any given day, you perform a multitude of administrative tasks. As you are doing them, examine them closely, and determine if there are ways to do them better, do them more efficiently, and do them faster, to save time…time that now can be focused on improving the customer experience.

4. Walk around your place of business. Is it presentable and clean? It is one thing to be unorganized to the point of charming. It is quite another to be dirty. New places are clean and shiny. Remarkable places STAY clean and shiny. Complacent places get dirty and run down…

5. Empower employees to do surprising things for customers. This, of course, makes the customer’s day. This also, of course, makes the employee’s day…

5.5. Don’t know any innovative ways to empower your employees? Let them come up with ideas. And reward them for being creative. And if they do something on the spot to wow a customer and haven’t necessarily cleared it with you beforehand? Don’t punish them. You will kill their spirit.

Just a few ideas. To be executed daily. What do you think? What did I miss?

[image by @gapingvoid]