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Beating a Recession – 7 November 28, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Keeping Your Customers, Local Brand Development, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksHere’s a question for you:  When you made your last major purchase (car, truck, appliances, etc.) from a retailer/vendor (local or otherwise), how often have you heard from them since?  I’m willing to bet that it’s about zilch.  Zero.  None of the above.  Perhaps you have received some form of communication from a local retailer (phone, email, direct mail, etc.) on a fairly regular basis but that would be the exception and not the rule.  The rule for most locally owned businesses is, “yes, we communicate with our customer’s when they come into our store.”

Really?  Well good for you but not good when you’re trying to create more sales from your existing customer base and create new customers at the same time.  The failure to create even a simple communication strategy that provides some level of ‘touch’ to your customer base is a prescription for going out of business in time.

This concept is one that almost universally is met with applause.  Everyone can ‘get’ this concept on an intellectual level.  It makes perfectly good sense.  The truth though, again, is that few do it at all and even fewer get it right when they at least attempt to do it.

Here are my thoughts on this subject of reaching out to customers on a regular basis.  This is the stuff which Big Dogz do and do well.

  • This is a low budget item that offers high-payoff results.  You don’t need a huge marketing budget to create a simple and basic customer communication plan.  Email, direct mail, and the old-fashioned telephone offer a great way to stay in touch with customers.
  • Set some basic goals for your customer communication plan.  Helping customers get the most out of their purchases; educating them on how to do things that create value from the products or services you sell them; advising them on special buying opportunities that are exclusive to them, are just a few basic goals.
  • Once your start, don’t stop.  If you and I can agree that most businesses don’t have a customer communications plan, then we can probably also agree that the few that are willing to try, don’t stick with it long enough to see results.  Executing on your communications plan when you can remember to do it is like not doing it at all.
  • Get their contact information on every sale.  You should sell every customer on the idea that by giving you their contact info, (address, phone, and email), you can help them beyond the immediate sale.  If your communications strategy for your customers creates more value (i.e. teaches, educates, informs, and in some way creates real value for them that they will appreciate) and keeps the sales pitch to a minimum, it’s not a tough sell.  Just be sure to ask every customer or even those who come in to comparison shop, to join the list.  If your pitch sounds hollow, they’ll say no.
  • Results are long term. Yes, I know.  You’re in the fight for your life to keep sales and profits moving along through this current economic debacle (what else can you call this?  ‘recession’ seems too light a term).  You need sales to stabilize NOW.  Today.  This minute.  However, that’s no excuse for not creating a customer communications plan and implementing TODAY.
  • Ok.  There are some short term benefits.  For one, if you implement a customer communications plan and are consistent with it, you will see some uptick in sales from your current and devoted customer base.  For customers who have been buying your products and/or services over time (loyal base), you always want to be looking to expand their purchases (getting a greater share of their wallet).  If an existing customer purchases an average of $50.00 per month, you want to set the goal high, say to $65.00 per month.  Incremental increases of a share of your customers wallet is what wins the day.  Don’t expect customers to go from $50.00 to $100.00 overnight.
  • This process will cost you in terms of your TIME.  It doesn’t cost much money to create and implement a regular plan for communicating with your customer base.  However, it will cost you in terms of the time you will need to invest to create and implement it.  I believe that this is the one point that holds people back from either doing it or keep doing it.  When you where multiple hats in a business or resources are just tight, it’s tough.  However, the cost of NOT doing it is the most painful price to pay of all.  Find the time.  Keep yourself organized and on a regular schedule when implementing your plan.
  • Another immediate benefit:  word-of-mouth customer referrals.  Customers who receive the royal treatment with a solid array of customer communication vehicles are usually so positively stunned, that they just have to tell others about it.  Creating a customer experience beyond the sale is so rare these days that you’ll benefit from the effort as the word about your business gets out.
  • Timing is everything.  How often should you communicate with your customers?  Good question.  First, you need to decide what the goals of your communications plan are.  Second, you need to create the pieces (newsletter, phone calls, direct mail, email, blogs, website, etc.) and decide what the frequency of each piece is within the framework of your customer communications plan.  For instance, your newsletter might be quarterly.  Your phone check in might be twice a year.  Your email might be bi-monthly.  You can set the tone and pace of your communications plan and tweek it as you learn more about your customers needs and wants.  For example, you may find that your customers enjoy getting your newsletter that your increase the frequency to bi-monthly or monthly.  Test different formats and try new tools.

Want to survive a recession and build a business that has deep and healthy roots for longevity?  Then do this.  Trust me, chances are that your competition, large or small, isn’t.  The opportunity is all yours.

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Manage your manager for more effectiveness November 28, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Getting what you want, Management, Managing up, Relationship, Uncategorized.
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p5130012.jpg After you, the most important person to your success is your manager. The Big Dogz know that having a good relationship with your manager is a key to harmonious, stress free and highly productive days. Let’s look at one of the elements essential to your relationship with your manager.

 

Know them as a person.

  1. What are their professional goals? Your manager is managing other managers or people. What are they doing? How can you help? Be on the lookout for opportunities that can help your manager in areas other than your assigned responsibilities.
  2. What are your manager’s strengths and areas for improvement? Give your manager an opportunity to help you by utilizing a strength they have. Look for opportunities to provide services in areas where your manager needs improvement. A personal example of this was my own weakness in doing budgets. I really appreciated when one of my direct reports would volunteer to do this odious task for me.
  3. How does your manager like to communicate? Are they a visual person, do they like lists, charts, graphs or text? Are they email oriented or do they appreciate face-to-face interactions? Do they like lots of detail or prefer summary information? Find out how they like to communicate, and then communicate that way. Just being aware of your manager’s communication will make your relationship stronger.
  4. What questions does your manager ask? We have discussed the customized “need to know” profile for your people. This concept also applies to your manager. Whenever your manager asks you a question, write it down. When you do this over a short period of time, you will see a pattern with the topic your manager is interested in. now use that topic as the lead in to your communication with your manager.
  5. When does your manager perform most effectively? Some people are morning people; others are afternoon or evening people. Watch your manager for signs that give away when they are most effective. Optimize your engagements around these times. It is an excellent time to ask for coaching — they will be at peak performance. This knowledge also lets you avoid times when your manager is not as receptive.
  6. What irritates your manager? We all give off signals when we are irritated. Observe your managers reactions when you or others deliver news. When you have news that may irritate your manager, frame it around some particular goal they may have. Wait until they are at peak performance to deliver the news. Be on the look out for ways to circumvent these types of events.
  7. What pleases your manager? This is the opposite of above. Being the bearer of good news has its value.
  8. What kind of solutions do they like? Whenever you need to approach your manager with a problem, always provide a suggested solution. I always tried to come up with three possible alternatives and a recommendation. Coming to your manager with no solutions is worse than coming with wrong solutions. Your manager may prefer solving problems with money, or people, or reduction in scope or whatever. Pay attention to the solutions your manager proposes or accepts. Recommend these types of solutions to problems.
  9. What are your manager’s personal interests? People like to talk about what interests them. Your manager is no exception. Find out in daily conversations what their hobbies are, what sports teams they like, what shows they watch on TV, and any other personal information you can. The best way to get this kind of information about people is to tell them something about yourself first, and they will generally tell you something about themselves.

 

The Big Dogz know that paying attention to your manager as a person yields high dividends. Make a plan on how you will get to know more about your manager, and how you will use that information to be more effective.

Beating a Recession – 6 November 17, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksThe title of this blog entry gives away a powerful (and seemingly obvious) way to battle your way to success in a time of great economic uncertainty.  But what is obvious is sometimes the most difficult to do.  If you are finding your business slowly falling into lower sales, revenues, and profits, it’s time to take inventory of your current line up of products and/or services.

When money gets tight and your customers measure every purchase carefully, you need to make sure you have the right mix of products and services they will still be eager to consider and purchase.  Here are a few things you can do to insure you have a recession-proof product & service mix:

•    Get rid of slow selling inventory or service packages now.  I’d swear that some business owners have an emotional attachment to products or services they personally.  They keep them because THEY like them, in spite of how well t hey sell.  If they aren’t selling and taking up space, it might be time to get rid of them.  Make sure you’re not getting rid of products or services that just need to be positioned more effectively so that your customers see the value of spending recessionary money on them.
•    Good financial metrics and reporting are the keys to understanding what product and service lines are produce the best return in a time when people are highly critical of any and all purchases.
•    Ask yourself:  In my business, what products and services will customers still NEED to buy regardless of the economic times?  Am I offering those products/services now?
•    Have you asked your customers what products or services they would find most valuable in hard economic times?  If you haven’t, you should.  Obvious but not usually done.
•    Bundled products and services together whenever possible.  When customers get tight with their purchases, nothing speaks VALUE FOR THE BUCK than a bundle of products and services together.
•    Make sure you check out your competition on a regular basis to monitor how they are (or aren’t) changing up their products and services. What are they doing well that you might not be doing?

Creating products and services that customers NEED and VALUE during tight times is one way to make sure your business survives through all business cycles.  Yes, I know, sounds like a no-brainer but find a business that conducts a rigorous review of their products and services on a 24/7 basis.  Your customer will pay for products that they feel are essential and hold the most value for the money they have to allocate to those purchases.

Exercising control November 14, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Achieving goals, Bronder On People, Getting what you want, Management, Performance issues, Self reflection.
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p5130012.jpg  It is difficult to be in charge. There are responsibilities and pressures to control. The Big Dogz know that if we push the control lever too far we become Domineering and the result is reduced productivity, increased costs and more stress. On the other hand, if we do not control what is going on, we will often fail to accomplish our goals.

 

I propose we look at two ends of the control continuum — Domineering and Dominant.  These words mean different things to different people, so I want to make this distinction for this discussion:

 

Domineering means pushing your personal agenda and wanting to control every action of others.

 

Dominant means exercising influence or control, usually through leadership.

 

Domineering managers rarely succeed. Of course, there are exceptions to this statement, but in general, if you use a Domineering style, you will always achieve less. What are some of the signs that you may be a Domineering manager?

 

  1. You are working excessive hours.
  2. You personally do the most critical jobs.
  3. You have frequent stressful conflicts (outbursts) during the day.
  4. You use micro-management as a way to make sure things get done.
  5. Morale in your group is low.
  6. You believe your people are “not up to the challenge.”
  7. You have to make all the decisions.

 

You get the picture. There are many things going wrong. There are only a few people you can count on to help you achieve your goals.

 

Dominant managers rarely fail! Again, there are exceptions to this statement, but in general, if you use a Dominant style, you will always achieve more. Besides the opposite of the Domineering manager signs, what are some other signs you may be a Dominant manager?

 

  1. People give you feedback on your performance as the manager.
  2. Your people are getting awards, recognition and promotions.
  3. People in your department are proactive in solving problems.
  4. People make suggestions to you on how the department can be more efficient or effective.
  5. Your people know exactly what result you expect of them.
  6. People are exercising creativity in developing processes that are streamlined.
  7. There is a waiting list of people wanting to join your department.

 

You get the picture. There are many things going right. There are many people you can count on to help you achieve your goals.

 

The signs are clear. The choice is yours.

 

Sometimes we do not achieve the results we want and we find someone or something to excuse it away. The problem may be in your style. I have created an assessment to help you determine if you are more Domineering or more Dominant. Please download it and take it yourself, then get three people to validate your self-assessment.

 

When you have a validated assessment, use it to create an action plan on how you can be more effective as a manager. If you send me your action plan, I will include your actions into a future blog on how to become a more Dominant manager.

 

rbronder@gmail.com

 

domineering-vs-dominant-style-continuum-assessment

Reduce misunderstanding November 8, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Getting requests completed, Management Principle.
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p5130012.jpg  Do people frequently misunderstand you? Do you find yourself saying or thinking, “That is not want I wanted?” With all that we have to do, we do not take the time to make sure we are understood. We usually end our communication with one of these two questions:

  1. Do you have any questions? (They reply ‘No”.)
  2. Do you understand what I need? (They reply “Yes”.)

 

Once we hear one of these responses, we go blithely on our way thinking they actually understood us! The Big Dogz know that these two questions are dangerous and the answers they provide leave us vulnerable to disappointment.  The Big Dogz ask a different question. They ask for a paraphrase!

 

We frequently don’t ask for a paraphrase because we are in a hurry and do not have the time. On the other hand, perhaps we think the other person may be insulted by us asking for a paraphrase. Sometimes we believe we were so clear, it would be impossible to misunderstand what we said. All these reasons are just excuses. Asking for a paraphrase doesn’t cause any of these things. In fact, it reduces the probability of misunderstanding.

 

Here are some effective phrases you can use to get a paraphrase when you are finished communicating:

  1. Please describe to me what you think I said.
  2. What have I asked you to do?
  3. I am working on my communications skills and want to be sure that I told you everything you need to know. Can you please tell me what you heard?
  4. This information is critical and we need to be sure I communicated everything about it. Please tell me what you heard.
  5. I think I may have left something out, but I am not sure. Can you summarize what you heard?

 

You will be amazed at the results you get! It is possible they have no clue what you said. It may be that they got 90% of what you said. An even more surprising result would be that they actually understood what you said. Now, this is the result you are after.

 

Asking for a paraphrase may cause surprise in some people, especially if you haven’t done it before. If you want to check this out for yourself, check how many times you see people not asking for a paraphrase in key communication situations. Asking for a paraphrase is what distinguishes the Big Dogz from the rest of the pack.

 

Once you make it a practice to ask for a paraphrase, people will automatically give you one because they know you will ask for it. Asking for a paraphrase does take more time, but it is a wise investment. It helps to build solid relationships and insures that you get the result you asked for.

If you asked people to paraphrase everything you said, it would get annoying. So here are 5 situations when it is imperative for you to ask for that paraphrase:

  1. You are explaining a complex issue
  2. You are asking someone to do a task for you
  3. The results are critical
  4. You make a commitment to someone
  5. You will not be available for follow up questions

 

Asking for a paraphrase will take some getting used to. Experiment with this technique over the next thirty days to see if using it gets you running with the Big Dogz.  Send me an email to let me know how it works for you: rbronder@gmail.com

 

Push decisions lower using the Decision Making Matrix (DDM) November 1, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Decison making, Delegating decisions, Management.
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p5130012.jpg Are you spending too much time making decisions for others? Are people making decisions that you should make? Many people consider the opportunity to make decisions a motivating factor. The Big Dogz know how to balance decision making down to the right level. They use a Decision Making Matrix (DMM) to facilitate the decision making of their direct reports.

 

Customize a DMM for each direct report. It is simple to construct and will show you how much decision making you are letting the person make. The DMM has four columns:

 

Column 1 — The Decision Making Opportunity (DMO)

These are the key opportunities for making a decision in a person’s job. You do not need to include all the DMO’s, but rather focus on the key DMO’s.

 

Examples of DMO’s

Select an approach for solving a problem

Reimburse a customer for a faulty product

Create a new product within a current product line

Design a new process for achieving a cross functional goal

Respond to a custom quote request from a customer

 

Column 2 to 4 — Who gets to make the decision?

  1. Decision made by you, you do not need to inform me
  2. Decision made by you after consulting with me
  3. Decision not made by you, see me

 

Place a check in the appropriate column for each DMO. Even people at the same level will start with a different DMM. With the focus on moving decision making to the optimum column, you can identify the most effective DMM for a position.

 

The DMM is an effective tool to help you identify when your direct reports can already make decisions and where you need to coach them in how to make decisions. This coaching is an opportunity for you to provide a motivation factor for your people.

 

Once you have identified the DMM for a specific person; review it with them and get agreement on where the checks are. When they come to you for a decision for something that is in their responsibility, remind them of the DMM. Ask them to make the decision. If they come to you with requests for decisions in column B, ask them what they would decide. If it is correct, do it and consider moving that DMO to column A.

 

Periodically review the DMM for effectiveness. Ask your direct reports to provide their perspective on the DMM.

 

The Big Dogz know that having a DMM for their direct reports helps develop the staff’s decision making skill and frees up time for the manager. Think about creating a DMM for each of your direct reports in the next 30 days. Oh, and by the way, create one for yourself and review it with you manager.