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Listen with FOCUS April 30, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Bronder On People.
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rbronder1.jpgMost people think they know what active listening is. But the Big Dogz know how to do it. The key skill in high performance management is listening. It is easy to apply the principles of CLEAR communication; it not so easy to listen while someone else is talking. We tend to get distracted with our own thoughts and sometimes we are crafting our rebuttals while the other person is speaking. Although almost everyone would say the goal of active listening is to understand what the other person is saying, I want you to think of it this way:

Goal: allow and encourage a person to freely communicate their needs and opinions

To accomplish this goal requires us to listen with FOCUS.

Facilitate a dialogue — acknowledge emotion and demonstrate empathy. Address emotion before you let the speaker move on. A good technique is to use the exact word or phrase the speaker uses, especially if they are excited. If you have experienced what they are talking about sincerely express your empathy. “I know how you feel.” “I’d be upset if that happened to me.”

Open — be receptive to other perspectives, seek the other person’s perspective. Be careful of focusing on your rebuttal or position while the speaker is talking. Let them go first, it allows you to identify where you agree and where there are differences.

Concentrate — pay physical attention to the speaker. Make eye contact, nod your head and set aside what you are doing. Pay mental attention to what the speaker is saying. Be alert for non verbal signals that may be contradicting the words the speaker is using. Concentration is especially important in face to face communication. Studies have shown that the words we say make up only 7% of the message; the other 93% of the message is carried in the tone and non-verbal signals.

Understand — ask questions if you do not understand. Request the speaker to use a different analogy or example. Ask clarification questions to demonstrate understanding. Relate what the speaker has said to you own experiences. Insure you understand the speaker’s point of view before expressing yours.

Summarize — use paraphrasing to summarize what the speaker has said. Do a periodic summary to indicate you are listening and understand. Verify with the speaker that you understand correctly.

Try experimenting with active listening with FOCUS over the next 30 days. I am sure you will see less misunderstanding in your communication process. Things will get done more efficiently and you will reap both the profit of improved relationships and the increased profit of increased income to your business.

About this thing called Innovation April 24, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz.
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dirksphoto.jpgThe current hot word in the world of Big Dogz is ‘innovation’. Not that innovation is new. Man has been innovating since life began. In his March 5, 2007 column, BusinessWeek columnist Dan Saffer (www.businessweek.com) noted that the Big Dogz are suffering from a “cult of innovation”. Innovation is now done for the sake of…innovation.

His point is well taken. Saffer took the word ‘innovation’ to task. He points out that creating purple ketchup is not innovation. Nor is Crystal Pepsi. Nor is ‘new and improved Tide’. What, the Tide you told me was great now sucks? Never cleaned very well? Oh, but this is supposed to be better? Didn’t they tell me that in the last ad?

Webster’s defines innovation as ‘something new or different introduced’. Well, that’s not too helpful. Does that mean that purple ketchup is innovative? I can’t get myself to think so. It tastes the same as RED ketchup.

Saffer’s point is well taken: today, many companies innovate for the sake of innovation. They sometimes take a perfectly good product or service and add some ingredient or other items and then call it “new”.

Innovation is not creating “products no one needs and few actually desire”, says Saffer. It’s just the opposite.

What is innovation to small business? It can be the difference that makes your ‘word of mouth’ marketing campaign easier to execute on. Creating the next purple ketchup isn’t going to do it for you.

Ask your self these questions:

1. What can I do to enhance my products or services (including things like pricing, ordering, customization, personalization, delivery, etc.) to make them more desirable to my customers?

2. What do my customers need/want/desire in my products & services that would make them continue to buy from me and spread the good word? Have I ever seriously asked them?

3. When was the last time I provided real innovation for my customers? What was it?

I like the idea of creating a small business that provides a level of real innovation that customers really value and want.

Use the Mouth to Grow Profits April 19, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Buzz Marketing: Lowest Cost/Highest Payoff.
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dirksphoto.jpgToday, you’ll hear a lot about the latest thing call “word of mouth advertising”. Wow. If I’m not mistaken, ‘word of mouth advertising’ is as old as it is new. Back before radio, TV, or computers, there was just plain newsprint advertising. But even before that, there was ‘word of mouth advertising’.

The best businesses, I don’t care what business you’re in, get most of their customers, and sometimes all of them, through word of mouth. Who doesn’t want that? Word of mouth advertising, when one customer tells another potential customer how great your business is, is cheap. It doesn’t cost you anything out of your cash flow. You don’t have to take a second mortgage to do ‘word of mouth advertising’.

It seems easy enough. Just get your customers to brag on you and your business. One tells another, then another, then another…you get the point. Oh, and therein lies the rub. How do you get your customers to brag on you and tell everyone they know?

I like the way Andy Sernovitz, CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WWW.WOMMA.ORG) describes how to do it:

Says Andy, “First, give people a reason to talk about you. If your business is merely fine, no one is going to care. You will have to do little special things (my emphasis) that people will go home and tell their friends about. The Carnegie Deli in New York gives you the best corned-beef sandwiches in the world—and they pile it up 7 inches high. If it were only 2 inches, it would still be the best, but you wouldn’t run home and tell your friends.”

You can probably think of a time when you went to some store, or received some type of service and were so WOW’d that you told everyone you knew about it. I’d bet that when the subject comes up…that store or service provider is probably the first one that pops into your head.

That’s word of mouth advertising. What special things could you do that would WOW your customers into advertising for you? If you can’t think of anything, you haven’t thought hard enough. Think again and then do it.

CLEAR Communications April 14, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Bronder On People, Management.
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rbronder1.jpgThe Big Dogz know how to communicate. Effective managers use specific techniques to help themselves to be understood as well as to understand others. There are a lot less problems and consequently more profits when we communicate effectively and efficiently. This article will provide some guidelines on how to be effectively understood. The Big Dogz use the mnemonic CLEAR to help remember the principles of being understood when they communicate.

Clarify — give the listener enough information so they have a reasonable chance of understanding. Do not use jargon or confusing language. Most people in the work place have a vocabulary at the eighth grade level. Do not try to impress people with your vocabulary at work. Keep it simple.

Link — link your message to something they already know. Using analogies is an effective method of explaining how things are to be done. When outlining a task process, referring to previous experiences as a baseline for instructions works wonders.

Engage — get them involved in the communication. Encourage them to ask questions. Ask them to paraphrase what you have told them. When an employee says they have no questions and they understand, then you are heading for trouble!

Anticipate — think about what concerns or questions they should have. Include the answers to these questions in your communication. You can even say “You might be wondering about this.” Then answer your own question. Anticipate portions of your communication that may be troublesome for them to understand; be prepared to repeat this information in different approaches to insure understanding.

Respond — especially respond to questions with dignity and respect. Encourage them to ask questions by thanking them for asking the clarification question. Paraphrase the question before you answer it and verify you understand the question. Once you think you have answered the question, get verification from the employee that you have answered their question adequately. Be sure to ask for a paraphrase to check that what they heard was what you said.

If you will follow these simple techniques, you will see a significant reduction in the misunderstandings in your communications to employees. And, you will see a corresponding rise in profits!

Approaching perfection April 9, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Management.
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rbronder1.jpgWe have all heard that practice makes perfect. This is not true — practice makes permanent, it is feedback that makes perfect. The Big Dogz know how to give feedback. Here are some general principles about feedback and a specific process to use when giving feedback to employees.

Link feedback to a result — how does the person get better results.
Be specific — feedback is about an action, it is not about a judgment.
Balance — do not always give corrective or always positive feedback, have a balance
Do it frequently — this is customized to the employee’s performance, once a quarter is a good guideline.
Recognize significant shifts in performance — provide immediate feedback if an employee begins to slide or starts to soar.

Here is the process:

  • State the objective
  • Get agreement from them that is the objective
  • Ask for their observation on how they are doing
  • Give your observation
  • Ask them “What are you going to do?”
  • Ask them “What help do you need from me?”
  • Offer suggestions
  • Review their action plan
  • Set follow up session
  • Ask is there anything else they need to know
  • Encourage them

Make giving feedback a priority if you want your employees to approach perfection in their jobs.

3×5 Customer Information: Basics April 9, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Keeping Your Customers, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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dirksphoto.jpgIf you understand that a 3×5 card of information on your customers buying habits is worth it’s weight in gold, then you’re ready for increasing profitability for your business. Letting any customer walk out of your door without you learning more about them is self-destructive to your long-term business health.

Sure, you can stay in business for a long time and not care much about learning more about your customers. Plenty of small businesses (and many big dogz too) do just that but leave a lot of profitability on the table.

The big dogz clamor and get all excited about the calculations that tell them what the ‘lifetime value’ of their customer is. They can tell you what it costs for them to acquire a new customer and how much it costs to retain a customer.

Here’s a dirty little secret: Few businesses (large or small) are able to execute and really harness what they know about their customers to make it tangible on the sales and profit end of the business. Fewer still even take the time to create ways that allows them to gather valuable customer information.

Basic information you should be collecting about your customers:

1. Name, address, phone number

2. Email address

3. Kinds of products they buy regularly from you

4. How much they spend with you (annually)

5. Which brands do they prefer

6. Which services do they purchase regularly

7. Current product or service needs

8. Future product or service needs

9. Ways they prefer to be sold (website, store, in-home, phone, etc.)

10. Preferred payment methods (invoice, credit, cash, check)

Is that all? No, of course not. There are lots of other pieces of information that would help you do a better job of selling more to your customers. However, let’s keep this basic given that most businesses don’t bother to even ask their customer for their first name.

Ask yourself: What kinds of information about my customers would help me to gain a great ‘share of their wallet’ (the big dogz use the phrase ‘share of wallet)? Or help me to identify and find NEW customers?

More on ‘gathering customer info’ in my next blog (or two).

3 x 5 Customers April 7, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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dirksphoto.jpgWhen I was a teenager, I recall a local shopkeeper who had a healthy and stable business. He had a little general store which, that many years ago, might as well have been the center of the universe for our little hamlet.

This was a time when shopping centers were entering their zenith in customer pulling power. These were, in the mid-to-late seventies, the forerunners of what we call ‘big box’ stores today. And yet, despite all their marketing and S&H Green stamps (remember those?), this man and his business stood firm.

It wasn’t until I had graduated high school that I mustered the courage to ask him how he managed against this large, looming competition. He reached behind the counter and pulled out a box. In that box were 3×5 note cards, with handwritten scribble on both sides. He took one out and held it up and said, “This is what keeps me ahead of those people.”

I had no clue what he was talking about. I just stared at his aged hand and the card that it held. “It’s not what I do that helps me to stay in business, it’s what I know about your mom that does.” Now he had my attention. My mother? Something he knows? What did she do?

He handed me the card. As I tried to read his scribble, it slowly became clear what he really meant. On this 3×5 card were notes on things my mother would buy on a regular basis. Like Kent cigarettes or Pepsi. He new the brand of bread she preferred. He knew that she had four scrapping, candy-loving boys (in the day when a nickel really bought you some candy). He had our phone number. He had our address.

I looked up and was still somewhat bewildered by this 3×5 card. So, I thought, you know what cigarettes she likes…so what?

Then he showed me a few other cards. He also knew the kinds of things that our neighbors would buy from his story and their preferences. He knew what to stock and when to stock it.

His secret for thriving and profiting during a time when shopping centers were eating up mom & pop stores was simple. He knew his customers. He knew what they wanted, when they wanted it, and didn’t waste profits on items they didn’t want.

The big dogz have plenty of money and technology. Some of them do a masterful job of understanding what, why, when, where, and how their customers buy from them. There are many big dogz who have huge amounts of technological power and have no clue how to harness it.

Want to kick the pants out of ANY competitor, large or small? Think 3×5.