Posts Tagged ‘Product Management’


Does Business Etiquette Still Matter?

?????????????In recent years, business has become very casual. Gone are the work days of suits, stationary, big titles, corner offices, secretaries, and power lunches. Small business is now done through email, video chats, texting, meet ups, social media and casual attire.

However, etiquette still matters in business and can be a competitive advantage for you. Here is how:

Attire: How you look still matters. While John T. Molloy’s classic “Dress for Success” maybe outdated, someone who is dressed too sloppy or casual will still not be trusted as a person that is dressed as well as their customer. Appropriate attire choices also must made for video chats unless you want to show your customer your workout outfit.

Writing: Since so much of communication is done in short informal manner, there is greater chance of miscommunication. Being able to write effective email communications is still an important skill and requires increased practice. This can be done by sending an email to a customer and then following up immediately by phone to make sure that they understood exactly what you wrote.

Dining: A lot can be learned by having a meal with a business associate. People can win or lose a deal, promotion or job based on their table manners. This doesn’t necessarily mean using the right fork, but still includes RSVPs, keeping your napkin on your lap, elbows off the table, and chewing with your mouth closed. Not sure of your habits? Have a friend take note at your next lunch.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): More companies are not issuing smart phones, but instead are having employees bring their own smart phones.  As a result, personal and business data are mixing on the same device. It is critical to set the rules in advance as to what type of access the employer has for inspection of that device and whether it can be wiped cleaned when that employee leaves.

Travel: More small companies are doing business in different countries.  They need to be aware of various business and dining customs, business hierarchies, displays of affection and alcohol use. Important customs vary by country and culture.

Social Networking: Many small business owners and employees have separate social media sites for business and personal use. However, their brand image on both sites need to be consistent since customers will do a web search that will cover all of them. Personal and professional lives can no longer be practically separated.

Also remember that different generations will prefer different etiquette so this will add to its overall complexity. A great guide for the small business owner is the 2014 version of Emily Post’s “The Etiquette Business Advantage

What business etiquette is most important to you?


Think Like a Doctor to Cure Your Customers’ Problems

????????????????????????????????????????????Greg House, M.D. was a brilliant (if fictitious) diagnostician who based his success on the premise that “everybody lies.”  I can imagine a number of reasons why patients may lie outright to their doctors — even if those lies send them to the brink of death until the last few minutes of the episode.  But your business customers seldom try to misdirect you.  They just don’t know how to accurately tell you about the issues that they want to resolve with your goods or services. 

If you find yourself constantly tweaking and re-tweaking your business solutions, or if customers seem to return your products too frequently, you may be a victim of the dreaded customer-service disease known as problem solving by deduction.  However, by playing doctor and recognizing certain symptoms, you can find effective cures your customers’ needs.

Symptom 1: Requesting a Cure without Describing the Ailment

How many patients stroll into their doctors’ offices just to ask for an antibiotic?  Did they conduct their own testing before the visit to verify that they have a bacterial infection that antibiotics actually cure?  Unless your clients have your level of expertise, their requested solutions may not guarantee a cure for their ills, and it can even create a new disease.

When a first-time customer came to my friend’s flower shop looking for a bouquet of lilies to bring as a hostess gift, my friend initiated a conversation about the gift-giving occasion.  Once she learned that the flowers were intended for a dinner party being held by a first-generation German family, she quickly suggested alternative flowers because in Germany, lilies are used at funerals.  A few minutes of conversation saved the customer from embarrassment — and it earned my friend many future flower orders for the customer’s frequent business events.

Symptom 2: Providing Vague Explanations of the Ailment

You probably wouldn’t spend money on a doctor visit to report that you just don’t feel right.  Just as you might bring a list of specific complaints like loss of appetite or exhaustion, your clients need to describe their issues as specifically as possible. 

Think of the months of wasted effort you would put in if you were to build a Model A Ford from original parts, only to learn later than the customer wanted a ’65 Mustang when he asked you to “build a classic car.”  Business people can fall into this trap, often because they don’t want to appear ignorant.  But, if you don’t ask questions to get to the specifics, you will not find the right solutions to your customers’ business needs.

Symptom 3: Defining Issues by Elimination

When your doctor asks you where it hurts, you wouldn’t respond with, “I’ll tell you where it doesn’t hurt.”  Yet, some consulting customers expect you to come up with solutions based solely on what they do not want.  This is an extreme example of customer service by deduction, and you have to carefully nip it in the bud.

One report designer quickly learned this lesson when she was called in to modify a series of reports used to analyze product sales within a company.  The client provided her with a printout of each report and then, proceeded to point out what was wrong with each one.

Recognizing that this type of information would lead to a trial-and-error approach that would never solve the problem, the designer refused to end the meeting.  She kept digging until she got the client to clearly explain the intended use for each report and identify the missing information that prevented the report from meeting its goals.  With clear answers, she could solve the real issues.  Her clients were delighted when she returned with new reports that met or exceeded their expectations.

Recognize the Symptoms to Heal Your Customers’ Ailments

Your customers come to you because you have knowledge that they do not have.  But just as patients do not clearly express their medical concerns, your clients can easily lead you down the wrong path.  Of course, you probably want to act more like Marcus Welby than Greg House, but you need to keep asking questions until you can hone in on the issues and apply the healing touch that they really need.


Selling Your Customers What They Need — Not What They Want

Posted on by Carol Roth

Stocksy_txp0272139ak36000_Small_169040The Rolling Stones said it best, “You can't always get what you want.  But if you try…you might find you get what you need.”  Regardless of what kind of business you own, you may find yourself in the unwelcome disconnect between providing what your customer needs to be successful versus what they think that they want.  So, how do you guide them toward the right path without losing the sale?

Outright Refusal is Not an Option

Even though you may want to do it (and sometimes, I really want to do it), the quickest way to walk away without the sale is to flatly tell prospective customers that their visions are two levels short of insanity and then, proceed to explain what they really need.  Even if you’re a rocket scientist in your field, you need to recognize and respect that they not only believe that they know what they need, they also have some important information about their objectives.  Their vision on how to accomplish their goals may take them in the wrong direction, but there may be significant value in what they have to say.  Your job is to guide them in the right direction without rolling over their dreams (or at least doing so without their clear knowledge).

Unless you decide that you do not want the customer, your first response should affirm that you understand their objectives.  Then, tell them how you can meet or exceed expectations while saving time, money or effort, even if it’s with a different product, service or strategy.

Identify Specific Issues

Once you understand the customer’s desired outcome, you can begin pointing out the issues that may prevent clients from meeting their goals.  In many cases, they may be asking for more than they need.  For example, if they want three manuals for a new software system, you can explain how a single well-designed manual can meet or exceed the requirements at a fraction of the cost.  How many people do you know who will insist on paying too much for a project?

There will also be times when customer visions simply will not meet their expressed goals.  In other cases, the entire goal may be unrealistic or even severely misdirected.  A customer who comes to your candy store in August asking you to ship a gift of chocolate-covered cherries to a close friend in Arizona might better maintain that friendship if you suggest a less perishable confection.  But logic alone might not be enough to sway that customer.  If you can tell a story about how people react when they open the box, smell the heavenly aroma and then, realize that the melted chocolaty mess is not safe to eat, you can really drive the point home.

When Offering Alternatives, Focus on the Benefits

As early as the beginning of the 20th century, “The customer is always right” has been the motto that great businesses live by, but that doesn’t mean that you should take it literally.  Customers need to feel that you respect their goals and visions.  But a great way to open their minds to change is to focus on what’s in it for them.  In other words, when you propose changes, lead with the benefits. 

You can’t always convince customers to buy your goods or services just because you know best.  Customers want to hear, “You can double sales and long-term brand loyalty with just a ten percent increase in the quality of the base materials that you use to build your product.”  When you present the advantages up-front, they will listen more closely to solutions that they may have never considered.  With the right incentive, they may choose to pay slightly more to improve their product quality, rather than just modernize the packaging, as they originally requested.

By Remaining True to Your Principles, You Instill Customer Confidence and Boost the Success of Your Business

Here’s a story that illustrates how sticking with your convictions can make a major difference to your customers — and to your own business.  Five years ago, a new customer came to a full service print shop seeking a new supply of the black and white leaflets that he periodically distributed in neighborhoods to sell his lawn services.  The printer advised that people are less likely to toss well-designed color brochures, which convey a more professional image.  The customer recognized the value of this advice and even used the printer’s in-house designer to upgrade the look of his advertising.  He spent more on his new brochures, but that increase was more than offset by the significant increase of new business those brochures generated over the response rate generated by his leaflets during the same period in the prior year. From that point on, he became a loyal customer, turning to the printer for all of his marketing material needs.  And to this day, he continues to send many new customers to the printer. 

Your customers may need convincing, but they rely on your knowledge and experience to get the greatest value from your goods and services, even if you sell them something vastly different from what they initially wanted.  The printer addressed his customer’s wants by focusing on what he really needed.  When you take this approach with your customers, you will not have to rely on a hard sell approach to develop a loyal customer base.


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Hire a Manufacturer

If you have invented a product, how do you go about finding a manufacturing partner? Here are some tips from the Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Types of Loyalty Programs and How to Make Them Work

Does your small business use a loyalty program to keep customers engaged and spur them to buy? The Boston Consulting Group recently published a report on loyalty programs and what it takes to make them profitable and effective for businesses.

According to BCG, there are three main types of loyalty programs:

  1. Earn-and-Burn. The classic punch-card program (Buy 10, get one free) is an example of earn-and-burn, in which customers benefit from their purchases by earning rewards at specific thresholds. Other types of earn-and-burn loyalty programs include points programs (in which customers earn points they can redeem for free products) and discount programs (in which members get discounts).
  2. Recognition. In a recognition program, repeat customers get special perks or services only for them, based on the total amount they spend or the total number of points they accumulate. Airline rewards points are an example of a recognition program; customers who accumulate a certain number of points earn special perks and upgrades. 
  3. Customer Relationship Management. CRM programs are the most sophisticated type of loyalty program. They typically use loyalty software to capture purchase data, then use that data to develop targeted special offers for loyalty members. Examples include members-only promotions or targeted communications such as newsletters, emails or even website content.

According to BCG, each type of program has its pros and cons. The cost of an earn-and-burn program can eliminate any gains, while recognition programs by their nature limit the number of members, and CRM programs can have both of these flaws.

Ideally, you’ll want to find a loyalty program that enables you to prompt more spending from customers, increasing your margins rather than cutting into them. BCG uses the example of a company with a 35 percent gross profit margin. In this case, a customer who spends $100 annually generates $35 in profit. If the customer joins the loyalty program and increases spending by 10 percent, to $110 annually, the company makes an additional $3.50 in profit. However, the cost of the loyalty program ($3.30) eats up most of that; essentially, the business is breaking even. But if the customer spends 20 percent more, the company makes $7 in profit, or $3.70 minus the cost of the loyalty program. At this point, profit begins to grow rapidly.

According to the study, the most profitable loyalty programs invest more in the customers who spend the most. Typically they do so by using a tiered rewards system: As customers meet increasingly higher thresholds of spending, they qualify for bigger and better rewards.

Ideally, you’ll also want to use rewards that are inexpensive for your business to give, but have high value to the customer. For example, a hotel that has an expensive room sitting unused can score points by upgrading a loyalty customer to that room. It doesn’t cost the hotel anything, but it earns greater loyalty from the customer.

Stocksy_txp4654bbe0k26000_Small_171174 (1)


Mondays with Mike: Why You Should Ignore Your Business Plan

Several years ago, I attended a seminar at MIT.  It was geared toward entrepreneurs, and I was in illustrious company – I was in the audience along with the founders of Burt’s Bees, TicketCity, and 1-800-GOT-JUNK, among others.  The speaker – a venture capitalist – asked everyone to stand up.  Then he asked those of us who’d used outside financing to start our business to sit down.  Not a single person did!  Finally, he asked us to sit down if we’d actually followed our business plan to guide our decisions.  Again, not a soul sat down.

Now don’t get me wrong, many of us had developed and written specific business plans, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea, especially if you’re trying to get financing from a bank.  But what’s so telling is that once these plans were written, they were largely useless to us – the entrepreneurs.  Why is that?

  1. Irrelevant Financials.  Let’s face it, if I could accurately predict exactly where my business will be in the future, I’d probably be sitting in the Cayman Islands, trading stock and making millions.  The fact of the matter is that our company’s revenue and expenses can vary because of significant factors we have no way of predicting.  Now that’s not to say that you shouldn’t make an attempt to follow a budget (a completely different animal,) but I am saying that you can’t necessarily rely on the figures that fill out your business plan.
  2. Your Dream Team.  A portion of your business plan is devoted to the people who plan to help you along your way to brilliant success.  Here’s the trouble:  not a single member of your dream team matters as much as you do.  You’re all in; they’re not.  I’m not discounting the importance of having a great management team or looking for sage advisors.  What I’m saying is that relying too heavily on your supporters can be your downfall.
  3. Defining Your Niche.   Finding your niche is key to the success of your business, but the problem is that truly finding that niche – your ideal customer – often relies on real-world selling, rather than trying to predict the future.  If you pigeon-hole yourself too early, you can waste a lot of resources trying to appeal to a market that might not be best for you.  You’re much better off letting that organic niche create itself, rather than chasing an idea just because it’s what your business plan predicts.

The exercise of creating a business plan can be extraordinarily useful in terms of helping you crystallize and articulate your vision, but it’s a mistake to let a document meant to start a business turn into a manual that you continue to use even after it’s outdated.  Entrepreneurship relies on innovation and a willingness to capitalize on opportunity, even if – or especially if – that opportunity didn’t exist when you started the business.  Don’t let yourself or the growth of your company be limited by your business plan. 

?????????????????????????????????????


How to Survive the Business Triangle of Fast, Good & Cheap

Posted on by Carol Roth

Stocksy_txpdb49d990KT5000_Small_125569When was the last time a customer told you that money is no object as long as you produce a good-enough product or service whenever it is convenient?  OK, you have a right to laugh because these situations only happen in the dream world.  In the real world, customers make unreasonable demands every day.  It is your job to find realistic ways to make your customers’ dreams come true.

A Quick Lesson on Project Management

Any certified project manager (or even someone who plays one on TV) can tell you about the triple constraint that affects every project without exception.  Also known as the “business triangle”, this rule says that projects involve three basic components: time, quality and cost.  You can skimp on any two of these components, but not all three.  This triangle is indisputable, but unlike the Bermuda Triangle, you can in fact get around it.

So, what do you do when a prospective customer wants to pay standard costs for you to create custom order tracking software for their business in two weeks?  Sure, you can turn down the job, recognizing that you’ll have to throw profits out the window to bring a high-quality project in on time.  But, I often advise companies to figure out ways to deliver everything that the customer needs on time and within budget — and sell it to the customer.

Different Levels of Quality

Obviously, every product or service must work properly and deliver the results that your customer needs.  But in the project management world, a major part of quality is scope, so now is the time to figure out what that customer truly needs to track orders easily and accurately.  This can involve eliminating unnecessary bells and whistles or even finding reasonable ways to develop most features that your customers want, even if they don’t absolutely need them.

For example, you have to customize the data entry screens to suit the customer’s requirements.  But, rather than developing the mountains of reports that they requested, plug in a third party report generator.  You’ll probably want to create the most important reports for them, but they might be thrilled when you sell them on the idea that they can easily create any report that they want on a whim.

At a minimum, if your client is hyper focused on speed and/or cost, then you need to sell them on the idea that version 1.0 with less features is appropriate for now and, if applicable, that they can upgrade in the future.

The Need for Speed

If your clients are like Veruca Salt from the Willy Wonka movies, once they decide that they want something, they want it now.  Your customers may understand that developing that order tracking system to spec takes time.  Unfortunately, they still want it faster than you can produce a custom software system from scratch.

It’s an entrepreneurs job to channel McGyver when necessary, so think about ways to get around “recreating the wheel” from scratch.  You have many opportunities to build efficiencies into your process and your options increase with every project.  Maybe you can save time by starting with an earlier program that tracked widgets for another customer.  Or, if you need to create custom widgets, can you customize an existing mold that you have created earlier?  By looking at your company’s big picture, you can shave time off of many projects.

Of course, you can also throw more workers at the project to get more done in less time, but this solution adds more expenses to your bottom line.

Think Not Cheap, but Value-Oriented….

By now, you’re probably recognizing that you can often tweak one element of the business triangle to get more mileage out of the others.  Project costs are no exception. 

If you cannot escape the need to bring in more programmers for that order tracking system, you might consider bringing in a talented intern from the local technical college.  Interns can handle the more repetitious tasks under the direction of your own trusted staff while adding valuable experience to their resumes.  Or, rather than bringing in more quality assurance testers, your customer may welcome the opportunity to get a sneak peek at an early version of their system while doing their own testing.  In addition to notifying you of any inaccuracies, they may even be delighted to get a jump start on data entry.

Naturally, you want to look at the cost of materials as well.  Any place that you can save is a win. While it’s nice to provide user documentation on 22-pound bright white paper, less bright 20-pound stock serves the purpose just as well.  In fact, you can avoid paper costs entirely with online documentation, just like the major players in the software industry.

There’s always a way around at least one constraint. View each customer demand as a fun puzzle that you need to solve.  Take a step back and let your natural dedication and creativity put the puzzle together, so that it fits customer needs while advancing your business.


7 Lies Entrepreneurs Tell Themselves

Posted on by Barry Moltz

Stocksy_txpd72b69c8tH5000_Small_100354In order to stay positive, entrepreneurs need to lie to themselves a lot. Unfortunately, this can get them in trouble when they have improbable expectations and surprising outcomes. Here are the 7 biggest lies and the truth about what to do instead:

  1. Sales will be better next month. Many entrepreneurs believe that sales will always increase in the future. They reason that with more revenue, there will be more profit. The truth is that they don't change their sales and marketing efforts to give their company a better chance actually increasing sales. To boost revenue, companies need to be there when customers want to buy. Only a systematic sales and marketing effort will accomplish this.
  2. The next big customer (or product or employee) will change their company forever. The belief is that the next big break will take their company to the next level. The truth is that progress in companies typically build slowly and success doesn't usually have a tipping point. Think about the essentially building blocks that will grow the company step by step.
  3. Big money means taking big risks. They read the urban folklore of the few who took big risks and made billions. The truth is that most people fail. The success in business comes from taking small steps, evaluating the results, and taking the next action.
  4. Competitors are slow. Many entrepreneurs think that their competitors are not innovative and can't react quickly. Tell that to Blockbuster and Borders. The truth is that there will always be a competitor thinking up a better mousetrap. The entrepreneur needs to know what their competitive advantage will be when that day comes.
  5. Keeping the financials in their head. Many entrepreneurs believe that they do not need to review their company financial statements. The truth is that most of the time  their expectations do not match what is actually going on. This is why it's important to read and understand these statements every month.
  6. Getting paid last in their business. They reason that they are investing in their company and this is how they justify living off of savings while running a start up. The truth is that if an entrepreneur does not draw a livable wage from their company, they have a hobby, not a business. Always include the owner's salary in the monthly budget.
  7. Being busy means being productive. Many entrepreneurs believe if they are busy at work then they must be adding to the value of the company. The truth is that with all the distractions and interruptions that can enter an entrepreneur's daily life, they need to be very disciplined that they focus on projects that will make a deep impact on the company. Pick the two things that need to get done today and complete them before starting any other task.

What lies do you tell yourself?  


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Ways to Conduct Focus Groups for Your Business

Have you ever conducted a focus group for your small business? Focus groups are a great way to find out what customers—and potential customers—think about your business, your customer service, new products or services you’re considering launching. The list of questions you can ask is pretty much endless.

Technology has greatly expanded your options for doing focus groups. Here are three alternatives:

  1. Hold an in-person focus group. In this method, you bring a small group of people who fit your customer profile together to discuss questions about your business. Because this option requires someone to record the conversation, someone to lead it, and getting people physically to your location, it can be costly and inefficient.
  2. Hold a virtual focus group. You can use conference calling or video conferencing technology to hold a virtual focus group. Videoconferencing can make it a bit easier to identify who’s talking and for people to feel comfortable with each other. The benefits of the virtual alternative are many: It’s cheaper and faster than bringing people to your location, and enables you to bring in potential customers from around the country or even around the globe. Typically, videoconferencing or conference call technology is set up to record your interaction, so you don’t need someone to tape or take notes.
  3. Hold a focus group on social media. Go beyond the basics—like just asking poll questions on your Facebook Page—to dig a little deeper. Technology is available to help you create more in-depth surveys on social media. For instance, you can use SurveyMonkey to create a free survey you can embed into your business’s Facebook Page. Or you can use Napkin Labs’ Brainstorm app with Facebook to make it easier to engage with your focus group. When doing a social media focus group, choose the social network where your customers interact with you the most. And keep in mind that people probably don’t want to spend a ton of time on a social media focus group—so consider breaking it down into small parts. For example, you could ask your focus group five questions a day for a week, or one question a day for a month.

Whichever venue you choose for your focus group:

  • Narrow your focus. Have a detailed list of questions drilling down into a specific topic, such as your online customer service, your in-store customer service or your product mix. Don’t try to cover every possible subject.
  • Reward participants. Whether focus group members give up five hours of their day to come to an in-person session or five minutes a day to answer social media questions, they deserve some reward for participating. This could range from money to coupons, discounts or free products. If you’re on a really tight budget and can’t reward everyone, draw one person’s name to win a prize.
  • Act on what you learn. Let participants—and all your customers—know what changes you’re making as a result of their input. It will make them feel that your business truly listens and cares about their opinions. 

?????????????????????????????????????????????????




 
Nextiva Logo

phone-icon(800) 799-0600 Sales phone-icon(800) 285-7995 Support
Nextiva is the leader in Business VoIP Services. Copyright 2014 Nextiva, All Rights Reserved,
Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, Patents, Sitemap