small business

Driving (or Losing) Revenue Through Customer Experience

by Karen Jackson | on Oct 29, 2015 | No Comments

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz famously said the company’s success was not about its coffee, but rather, “It’s about the experience.” These simple words are profound. People (whether in the form of an individual consumer or a business) buy from companies that create a delightful experience. Schultz knew that in any given town or city there was little demand for another coffee shop. But he understood there was a demand for creating a community experience that involved coffee.

The recipe for Starbucks phenomenal growth was in large part due to its focus on the ingredients needed for delight: well-trained and personable staff, wi-fi, music, comfy chairs, attractive display cabinets with fresh food, consistent quality and seasonal menu offerings. Customers came, returned, and increased their spend across product lines – and bought gift cards for friends and family, increasing the number of delighted customers in the most organic way possible.

This experience-centric approach is not exclusive to the B2C world; B2B companies such as Salesforce.com, American Express and Constant Contact leverage customer experience for competitive advantage. They understand that robots aren’t making purchasing decisions in B2B, people are. The context of the company doesn’t eliminate the fact that emotion is a key buying factor.

But too few companies understand the importance of customer experience and its correlation to revenue generation. Companies focus on their sales team’s impact, but not on the myriad of other touch points their firms have with the customer, both pre- and post-sale. And often, when sales people bring back experience issues to operations, they’re met with deaf ears. Ignorance is not bliss, for when the customer experience is ho-hum, difficult, or blatantly negative, there is no incentive for their loyalty, much less to rave to their colleagues or friends about their experience. The door is open to a competitor who offers delight. As Gary Vaynerchuk drives home in his book The Thank You Economy, business leaders better “care – about your customers, about your employees, about your brand – with everything you’ve got.”

A few of my own recent vendor interactions illustrate what goes wrong when leadership forgets (or doesn’t care about) the customer experience:

  • Landscape company’s voice mail greeting: “Your call is very important to us but we’re not in the office right now, so please call back tomorrow.”
  • Empty restaurant at lunch time where the host seated me and my guest at a small table next to the wait staff’s station.
  • Doctor’s office A/R voice mail greeting: “Sorry, the person who takes payment information is out this afternoon; please call back tomorrow.” That was after the invoice instructed me to, “Call the office to pay by credit card” instead of providing an easy mail in form or web payment option.
  • Letter from my credit card company’s fraud department asked me to call but provided the wrong department’s phone number. For good measure, the person I reached gave me the correct number but couldn’t transfer me and said I must re-dial.
  • Countless supplier websites where it’s difficult to find the information I seek.

These experiences send a variety of subliminal messages, among them:

  • “You’re just not that important to us.”
  • “We’re super sloppy about our work.”
  • “Our financials are shaky and we had to cut back on staff.”
  • “We run our business based on our needs not yours.”

A customer who experiences this lack of caring may stay on, but with few recurring transactions and no referrals. At worst, and more often, they run screaming to another provider who understands the power of customer experience.

CEO’s should be up at night with the fear that their customers and prospects are having these experiences. Excluded are companies with rock bottom pricing as their value proposition; the customer consented to give up service in exchange for price performance. But few businesses operate on that model and probably not yours. More likely, you couldn’t afford to sell your product at a price low enough for the customer to forgo the experience. The damage shows up as an inability to convert prospects, low customer retention, inability to upsell and negative reviews. It’s not too hard to find a new landscape company, doctor, restaurant or credit card provider. Or, accountant, cloud services provider, architect, IT consultant, etc. There’s always another game in town.

How do you solve? Begin with an audit of your organization, all departments included, not just those that are customer facing. After all, incorrect invoices reduce the quality of the customer experience. Scrutinize processes and systems to understand their impact on the customer. Review practices and scripts for all customer facing positions. Identify the customer experience you provide before the buyer has even converted from prospect to customer. Ask these questions:

  • In what ways are we hard to do business with?
  • How complicated is it to engage with our people, processes and materials (website, shopping carts, marketing collaterals, forms, etc.)?
  • How closely do we fulfill on our promises? Are we saying we’re one thing but being another?
  • Have we created a culture of caring and are we hiring people with the DNA to act accordingly?
  • Is the customer experience integrated into our values statement?
  • Does everyone in the organization understand their impact on the customer?
  • Have we established and trained everyone in standards of performance?
  • Does everyone that touches the customer have the training and the authority to solve a problem?

Get your entire workforce involved in this inquiry. Empower (and reward) teams to find the issues and solutions. Ask your customers for their perspectives. Make Schultz’s mantra, “It’s about the experience” a core element of your business strategy. You can close the gap between customer fail and customer delight. Revenue growth depends on it.

 

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Dragging Your Feet on Process Stymies Sales Success

by Karen Jackson | on Nov 12, 2014 | No Comments

I’ve wondered why so many CEO’s of small and lower middle market B2B companies insist on buttoned-down processes throughout their businesses, but not in the sales department. They’d never dream of running finance or operations without process. How would they know if their P&L is accurate, receivables contained, billing error-free, service delivery optimized, or cost of goods under control? But when it comes to sales process, there’s a tendency to abdicate control and allow sales personnel to approach their jobs in an ad hoc way. “Go forth and sell” is the strategy.

So, I decided to ask. Three rationales CEO’s repeatedly shared with me were:

  • “I pay these people lots of money; they should know how to do their job.”
  • “We’re struggling right now so how would we know what process to use?”
  •  “Each sales person has a personal style; I don’t want them to read scripts.”

Let’s debunk these arguments and get clarity around the opportunities presented when sales process is implemented and subscribed to.

Truths

At its most basic level, sales process is a methodology for sales people to organize themselves, manage their prospect & customer pipelines, and follow best practices that take a prospect through the sales cycle to deal close.  The old adage “what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed” also applies. Even the most senior sales person benefits – process streamlines their work, provides a set of best practices to leverage, and ensures they don’t forget any steps known to secure deals. Equally important, it prevents folks from spending their time on the wrong things. The idea that a successful, highly paid sales person can do without process is as erroneous as the idea that a CFO can govern finance on the fly. What’s true is that successful sales people rigorously follow their own process, but it’s a usually a well-kept secret and not capitalized on by the entire organization.

Second, when organizations are struggling to drive revenue, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know the ingredients for sales success; more often it means there is a highly ad hoc approach to execution. I’ve yet to work with a company where the best practices of how to successfully move through the sales cycle, the “playbook” if you will, don’t already exist. It’s just that they’ve not been identified, articulated, and institutionalized.

The most fruitful approach is to build your sales process internally, with all sales personnel (including sales support & leadership) participating in its development. If you have a marketing department, include them as well. You’ll harness everyone’s knowledge and perspective, gain buy in for execution, and identify what tools are missing for successful implementation. An experienced sales consultant can facilitate, bringing form and efficiency to the process along with insights from how other companies attack the problem. Just beware the consultant who wants to bolt on a process they’ve invented externally. It likely won’t fit your business model and you’ll never get buy in from the team to execute. Wisdom exists on the front line.  It’s just too infrequently tapped.

As for the argument about personal style, process in no way inhibits individuals from showing up as their most authentic selves. Think instead of sales process as a toolkit. It provides a proven methodology for moving through the sales cycle along with the supporting tools needed to make it happen: email templates, case studies, prospect scoring matrices, deal evaluation criteria, etc. Scripts should be included for training purposes, though not to follow word for word when talking with a customer.

Your process shouldn’t be rigid or pedantic, but rather a set of guidelines flexible enough to stray from when a situation warrants. Instead of fumbling around and searching for the way forward with each new prospect, your reps are free to express their personalities, develop relationships, collaborate with customers, and earn trust.

Big Pay-offs

It takes energy and discipline to build, implement and adhere to process. But the pay-offs are many and big. Here are my top 5:

  • Accelerated on-boarding, training and ramping of new sales people
  • Best practices employed by everyone, not just your “A” reps
  • Spotlight shines on where in the sales cycle your reps struggle, making diagnosis and solution possible
  • Individual training needs are identified
  • Improved alignment between sales, support, management and marketing

The sum of these benefits is what every CEO covets: scaled revenue growth.

Top-performing sales organizations utilize well-structured and repeatable sales processes. Not to stifle individualism nor to baby-sit, though it’s true process helps each of us stay focused, disciplined and accountable. Rather, it’s because process identifies, codifies and institutionalizes best practices for sales success, elevating the performance of not just one sales person but the entire sales organization.

What rationales are you falling back on? Take a hard look; they’re standing in the way of scaled revenue growth.

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Investment or Expense?

by Karen Jackson | on Aug 07, 2012 | No Comments

It’s a tough smallbiz climate right now. The economy is sputtering; the media is stoking recession fears; uncertainty about the impact of the presidential election is giving everyone dyspepsia; and accessing capital is as hard as ever. So, many CEO’s are clenching their fists around the cash on their balance sheets and not spending money. One might argue that hunkering down with cash is the only prudent behavior under these circumstances.

I’d argue it’s not. The trouble is, when we get tight-fisted with our cash, we stop making investments. When we stop making investments, our companies stop growing. The old adage “it takes money to make money” is as relevant as ever. Investing in people, processes, and systems is both essential to growth and to not being left in the dust by the competition. And the reality is many of those investments can’t be afforded through monthly cash flow.

So how does a CEO decide whether s/he can really afford to let go of some of that cash on the balance sheet? I’ve found it revealing to run both big and small financial decisions through this 2 question test:

1)      Is the expenditure truly an expense or is it actually an investment?

2)      Can we afford NOT to spend the money?

Here are a few examples, with my answers were I sitting in the CEO’s seat.

Example 1:  The company’s marketing materials are junk and it will cost real dollars to hire a marketing consultant to rehabilitate.

1)  It’s an investment 2) We can’t NOT spend the money

Example 2: The sales force is on the road a lot but can’t easily access their corporate systems because they don’t have wireless cards for their computers. The cost to purchase card / plan is out of budget.

1)      It’s an investment  2) We can’t NOT spend the money

Example 3: There’s an opportunity to purchase furniture at a good price from the company down the hall that’s moving. It’s in great shape, clearly an upgrade, and would make our office more attractive.

1)      It’s an expense  2) We CAN not spend the money.

See where I’m headed? I’m suggesting that CEO’s upend their view of expenses – a very now-based way of thinking – and reconsider them relative to the future.  It takes some practice, and sometimes the answers seem counterintuitive, as in Example #2. Clearly wireless cards are an expense, yes? For me, no. They’re investments  – investments in efficiency, real-time information, and employee morale. We can’t NOT have any of those things, so I would write the check.

The tendency to over-scrutinize the P & L for money saving opportunities is fear based rather than growth based. By reframing an expenditure as an investment vs. an expense, and questioning not whether the businesses can afford something but whether it can afford NOT to have / do something, the answers become focused on a future of growth.  By all means, keep a leash on expenses – get downright stingy if you want – but routinely make investments. After all, if you don’t believe enough in your business to take those risks, why should your customers believe in you?

How do you make sure you’re not too tight fisted with your cash? What litmus tests do you use when deciding how to spend?  We’d like to hear your ideas.

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B2B Sales Management Mistakes That Might Prove Fatal

by Karen Jackson | on Jul 10, 2012 | 4 Comments

Small business B2B sales management is a tough, tough task. (It’s not so easy in big business either.  According to consulting firm Sales Benchmark Index, the average tenure of a new sales leader is just 19 months.) In part, it’s tough because small businesses don’t typically have an experienced sales manager. Often that task is left to the CEO, whose expertise lies in their product or service subject matter, not in sales.

Whether you’re the sales manager or the CEO wearing that hat reluctantly, the challenge is surmountable. Get outside help, subscribe to sales management blogs, and don’t make any of these 9 mistakes:

1.    Hire The Wrong Title.  This may seem obvious but it’s a common set-up for failure. Desiring to lure a big producer, you hire someone with the title “VP of Sales” even though it’s a direct sales role. I’ve yet to see a VP of Sales worth their salt go back to carrying a bag – unless they’re getting a big equity position. (Even then, they may no longer have the stomach for it.) They’ll collect their check from you and wait for permission to hire, you guessed it, a sales person. Instead, get clear about your needs, what makes your opportunity compelling, and go find a compatible person for your organization. He or she is out there; you don’t have to settle.

2.    Fail to Define a Go-to-Market Sales Plan.  “Go sell something” is a poor directive but it’s a pretty standard marching order. Writing a clear sales plan is hard, but essential, work. How else will your reps clearly understand their target markets, ideal customer profile, value proposition, positioning? How can they create smart tactics when they don’t clearly understand the goal? How will you decide where their energy is best spent, which opportunities to seize and which to pass on? Without a clearly defined plan, you’re guaranteed inconsistency at best; chaos at worst.

3.    Ignore Sales Process.  Without process companies fail to capitalize on best practices or manage their resources in the most productive way. By understanding the customer’s buying cycles and creating a related sales cycle with stage specific activities and milestones, you’re able to analyze sales activities and outcomes, take actions that influence buyer behavior, and uncover where sales people need additional support and training. Without process, forget about a realistic forecast; you’re left with lots of wishing and hoping.

4.    Neglect Metrics or Accountability Structures.  The adage “what gets measured gets managed” couldn’t be more true in sales. First identify key performance indicators, then create sales metrics that better influence outcomes, motivate individuals, and make forecasting more predictable. Include your team in developing these to gain buy-in. They’ll understand that by managing to those metrics their success is far more likely than without them. It’s not baby-sitting, it’s management. Big difference.

5.    Treat Your Reps The Same.  The sales manager is a coach. Like any team, the players need different levels and type of attention. Does s/he need help with skills, mind-set, time-management?  You won’t know unless you meet them where they are as individuals, and respond accordingly. Applying the same management techniques to everyone will not create equality; it will create frustration and missed opportunities to grow your team members. Keith Rosen’s book Coaching Salepeople Into Sales Champions offers some excellent guidance.

6.    Substitute Your Comp Plan for Management.  Slashing pay for a poor performer doesn’t solve your performance problem. It simply lures you into a false sense that the individual isn’t costing you too much. You’re kidding yourself. They’re costing you dearly through unexploited territory, wasted energy by support staff, and team morale. If you can’t manage a rep to better performance, release them. Quickly.

7.    Saddle Your Reps with Non-Sales Activities.  Every position has a certain amount of administrative work, but it’s mind-boggling how much non-sales activity small business reps get saddled with. If you want reps to sell, give them time to do so. Look at your processes and identify what activities could be off-loaded to a less skilled, lower paid headcount.

8.    Skimp on Tools.  Are your reps on the road but they’ve no access to your servers through their mobile devices? Are they travelling regularly but don’t have a wireless card to access 3G networks when no wi-fi is available? Are Post-Its, lists, and disconnected spreadsheets substituting for a CRM tool? Don’t think of these items as nice-to-haves. They are keys to productivity, sanity and morale, which make them investments, not expenses.

9.    Undervalue Continuous Recruiting.  It’s really hard to hire good sales reps, and it doesn’t get easier when the pressure is on to fill a spot. When territory is open there’s a tendency for management to settle on a sub-optimal candidate. Be disciplined to continually interview and recruit for the role. Put the word out with business partners and maintain an on-going search through LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Target individuals who work in your industry and court them. They may not be ready to move today, but when something changes, they’ll call you first. Equally important, you’ll learn tons about what the competition is doing and what others perceive as risks / opportunities in the market.

B2B sales management is hard, but essential in an organization’s ability to drive revenue. Without customers, there’s no reason for a company to exist. I can’t think of a better motivation to improve sales management skills.

Please share mistakes you’ve made, suffered, or witnessed so we all can learn.

 

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Build It to Sell It

by Karen Jackson | on Apr 09, 2012 | 7 Comments

Build your company to sell it. Seriously. Build it so that it’s worth more than your competition, so that suitors are lining up, so that you can sell at an enviable multiple and never work again. Now that I have your attention, which group of CEO’s are you in? continue reading »

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6 Places To Look When Your Business is Stuck

by Karen Jackson | on Feb 21, 2012 | 8 Comments

Each day I have the privilege of working with business owners who’ve decided they want something more. Something more than that feeling like they’re running on a treadmill, expending a ton of energy, muscling their way through the hard parts, but not exactly arriving at the destination in mind. And it really is a privilege, because it’s not easy for CEO’s to ask for help, to set aside ego, to reveal that perhaps we don’t have all the answers, or have gotten too close to the issues to see them objectively. I know. I’ve been there myself, and confess that there were days I’d gladly swap jobs with the UPS guy. continue reading »

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The Paradoxical Commandments

by Karen Jackson | on Jan 16, 2012 | 19 Comments

 

Yes, this is a business blog. But hang in with me – you’ll see why it’s relevant. continue reading »

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