Posts Tagged ‘Startup’


Should salespeople be doing customer service?

Prosser BlogThis is a question of great importance to companies with 20 to 50 employees. While there are exceptions, companies with only a few employees don’t have the resources to allocate separate people to sales and customer service. Larger companies tend to divide up these roles, providing different training and compensation plans for employees that do sales and customer service. But, there is not necessarily a clear path for companies in the 20 to 50 employee range. Here is why my former company decided not to separate these functions at first, and then went with a hybrid solution in which certain types of support were done by specialists.

My former company was in an industry with a really bad reputation (ten years ago). The industry was known for high-pressure sales tactics and shady practices. Our company was different.  We wanted to create a reputation for outstanding customer service, instead of pushy sales people.

We believed that having the sales professionals handle responsibilities for both closing the sale and dealing with any communications that occurred afterwards would dramatically change the way they approached selling. It would encourage them to do a good job setting expectations and educating customers prior to closing the sale. If they didn’t, the salespeople might have to deal with unhappy customers later on.

This approach was “mostly” successful, however, it did create some problems:

  1. Great salespeople tended to dislike this system and felt they were undercompensated. Some left the company, because they could make more in a “pure” sales job where they wouldn’t have to devote time to customer service.
  2. Many of our customer service oriented salespeople did not make any effort to close sales.
  3. Resolving certain types of customer service issues like a hard technical support question, sometimes took a while.

Before I discuss how we dealt with these challenges, I would like to emphasize that combining these functions did achieve the intended goal. Our company received very high marks for customer service, and established a reputation as having more integrity than our competitors.

Great salespeople want to both be recognized and rewarded for their skills. The key to both is tracking their performance. We heavily relied on our CRM system to see how different salespeople were performing.  We measured both their performance on the sales side (new leads that opened accounts) and customer service side (how many interactions they had with existing customers, and how frequently they were able to resolve the customer’s issue).  This information was used both for performance reviews and in making decisions regarding bonuses. While salespeople may not have been able to devote all their time to closing, they received praise and financial compensation for bringing new business.

It should be stated that we did not pay salespeople a commission, but a base salary and a quarterly bonus based on both the company’s and their personal performance. We believed that providing commission based compensation would lead to poor customer service.

We did lose some good salespeople, but many good salespeople liked the customer friendly environment.

The bigger problem was getting customer service focused employees to close sales. Surprisingly, the solution to this problem turned out to be “social” pressure. While these employees earned 0 or smaller bonuses, this did not seem to motivate them.  After a few warnings about putting more effort into sales, the company had to let a few of them go. However, there was a better solution that we found only years later. When we put the sales numbers of each employee on public whiteboards, there was a dramatic cultural change, and we saw an improvement in their performance. Because bonuses were based on personal and group performance, the weaker salespeople and their colleagues were suddenly aware of how these people were hurting their own compensation.

As the company grew, we did start separating certain customer support functions. The first area was technical support. Instead of having a general salesperson be the client’s point of contact in handling difficult tech issues, the company created technical support specialists which only dealt with technology related issues. This enabled tech support issues to be resolved more quickly.

Bottom Line: Keeping sales and customer support together sends a message to employees that customer support is not a second class job, but integral to the company’s success. On the other hand, it makes it harder to keep sales stars happy, and can create motivational issues for less sales driven employees. Combining sales and customer services puts more pressure on management and in the short-run can hurt sales.

Marc Prosser is the publisher of Fit Small Business.


Mondays with Mike: Make Micro Employment Work For You

Gone are the days of offices packed wall-to-wall with full-time employees pretending to be busy when the boss walks by.  It’s too expensive to keep a staff waiting around for your busy times, and savvy entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to micro employment to handle their fluctuating needs for staff.

Micro employment is employing contractors on an as-needed basis, and it works best for companies who have varying needs, based either on fluctuations in work load or based on shifting expertise requirements.  IT services is the perfect example:  from time to time, every single company is going to have technical difficulties and need the services of an IT professional.  But think about it … do you need one every day?  Every week?  If your needs are occasional, then you may be better off outsourcing your tech support.

Your first step is assessing your needs.  Do you need occasional articles written for your blog (and spend three days dreading the writing and another half day slogging through it?)  Find yourself a freelance writer.  If you’re an accountant and need additional help during tax time, you can find freelance help to help you get through the busy time.  Is your customer service department overwhelmed at the end of every month?  Find a temp to help ease that crunch. 

One important tip:  always, always try out your new contractor with a small sample job.  Hire your writer for a single article before you commit to a larger project, or bring your temp in during your slow time so that you can assess their abilities.  The point is to line up your freelancers before you need them so that you know you can count on them in a pinch.

It’s a big old world, and you may find that the contractor who best suits your needs lives on the other side of the planet.  While you can find good folks without having to meet them in person, I strongly advocate a virtual face-to-face via Skype.  There’s no substitute for spending a few minutes getting a feel for your micro employee.  You create a connection that’s impossible to forge via email.

Stocksy_txp28c9325ayB7000_Small_210944The key to finding – and keeping – good contractors at the ready is to pay them well.  The rule of thumb is that you’ll always pay more per hour for a good contractor than you would for a full-time staff person, but in the long run, it’ll almost always save you money.  How?  You only pay for the hours that your contractor is actually working, and you save on the benefits package as well.  I’m not advocating that you strip benefits from deserving staff, but I am suggesting that you have a responsibility to your company to staff it according to your needs.  In the long run, if you’re paying a highly hourly wage to a skilled contractor, they end up with the flexibility to work when they choose, and you end up with high quality work at a relative value.  Another tip:  always, always pay your contractors promptly.  You want them eagerly anticipating your next call, rather than looking for excuses not to work with you again.

At the end of the day, micro employment provides both you and your contractor with flexibility; you have the option to scale your staff up rapidly, as needed, and your contractors earn a higher hourly wage than they would if they were full-time, and they can schedule their work to suit themselves.  Micro employment works for everyone.


How to Find a Mentor for Your Small Business

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????Have you ever considered finding a mentor in your industry to ask for advice on running your small business? Having a mentor can help you avoid mistakes they’ve made and guide you to finding a faster path to profit and prosperity. And it’s also great to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Here are some suggestions for how to find the right mentor for your company.

First, Figure Out What You Need

Are you looking for a mentor who can advise you on running a business just like yours? Or someone who can help you in a particular area, like marketing, sales, or product development? Knowing what area you want to improve in can help you figure out where to start your hunt.

Look Around Your Industry

There are likely people who have worked in your field for years that are willing to help you along the same path. If you don’t know many people in your area, attend industry networking events to meet them. Ideally, you want to find someone who’s a little further down the path than you are so he can help guide you based on his experience.

Visit Local Small Business Resources

You’ve probably got a SCORE chapter or Small Business Development Center near you, so take advantage of the free access to business professionals. If they can’t help you, they may be able to connect you with willing folks to serve as mentors. The best thing about SCORE is that you can find a mentor online as well as in person. Also look for a Women’s Business Development Center, they offer great resources as well for men or women.

Check Your Online Network

Don’t overlook your online contacts in your search. While you might not be able to meet face-to-face, having a virtual mentor you can connect with on Twitter or LinkedIn can still provide the benefits you’re looking for. Pay attention to who you interact with on social media, or search for someone you think has the experience you need.

How to Approach a Potential Mentor

Finding a mentor is all about relationship-building, so be prepared for the long haul. Start by simply getting on this person’s radar so he or she knows who you are and what you do. Support him in any way you can, such as by sharing his blog articles or responding to his status updates online.

If the person you’re considering is local, invite him to coffee to get to know one another. If it feels right, mention that you’re looking for a mentor and see where the conversation goes. Be sure to highlight what the other person will get from the relationship. Many people might not even consider that you’d want them as a mentor, so don’t be afraid to ask flat out once you’ve built up the relationship. They’ll likely be flattered.

Lay out your expectations for the relationship:

  • How often you’d like to meet, and how (phone, email, in person)
  • What you’d like to learn from him
  • How you can reciprocate (offer business referrals, etc.)

Your potential mentor may have other ideas about how you can work together, so be open to hearing them.

As you build your mentor/mentee relationship, be grateful for the time he gives you, and find ways to show your appreciation. A heartfelt thank you note can go a long way, as can a thoughtful gift during the holidays.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Declare Your Employees’ Independence

???????????????????????????????The best thing the owner of a growing business can do is give his or her employees their independence. No, I’m not talking about firing your employees; I’m talking about giving them the freedom to make their own decisions about how to get their work done.

As you undoubtedly know by now, it’s pretty much impossible for a small business owner to single-handedly do everything that needs to be done. That’s why you hire employees, right? Then why do so many of us refuse to let employees do their jobs, instead micromanaging them until they (and we) are miserable?

Here are four steps to giving your employees their independence.

  1. Provide training. Of course, you don’t want employees to totally wing it. Provide training in how to do the job, and give them direction in terms of what you want the results to be and what the overall goal is.
  2. Step back. Once employees know what you want and how to get there, step back and let them get from Point A to Point Z without offering your help (unless, of course, they ask). Who knows? Your employees might figure out a better way of getting things done.
  3. Empower decision-making. Customers hate it when employees have to “ask a manager” about every little thing. Provide parameters within which employees can make their own decisions about customer service, such as offering $X amount of comped food in your restaurant or refunding a certain amount of money with no questions asked. When employees feel trusted, they feel valued.
  4. Plan for the future. Discuss with your employees where they want to go in your company and how they can get there. When employees feel you have a stake in their future, they’ll give the business their all.

By giving your employees their independence, you’ll also gain freedom—the freedom to focus on what really matters in your business instead of sweating the small stuff. 


Mondays with Mike: Improve Your Client Relationships With Social Media

In the olden days – you know, before Facebook – the success of a marketing campaign was often simply a measure of how much money you had to spend.  After all, we know that if you repeat something often enough, then people will believe it. 

My, how times have changed.

People consume information so differently now, that the weight of a single television commercial or magazine ad is often diluted by all of the impressions that we get from other forms of media, and that’s a huge opportunity for small businesses.  You can build your brand without investing tons of money, if you’re willing to invest a little time.  Consumers are looking for a genuine connection and a way to interact with a company, and you can give them what they want by using social media.

There are lots of serious minded folks who dismiss Facebook and Twitter as frivolous fads – wasters of time and energy.  What those folks don’t know is that their company is most likely already being discussed on social media.  Whether you run a restaurant or a carpet cleaning service, chances are good that there are online reviews of your business.  If that doesn’t scare you, it should.  The conversation is happening.  The only question is whether you want to participate and start to shape that conversation into one that presents your company in its best light.

Responding to reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor is a great opportunity to thank happy patrons for their business, and it’s also a chance for you to see what your customers didn’t like about their experience.  If it’s appropriate, a public acknowledgement of their complaint and a promise to make it right shows that you value your customers and are invested in providing excellent service.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Social media also gives you a chance to invite prospective customers in for a virtual visit.  You can post pictures of your daily special at the restaurant, or you can write a quick blog post about why you’ve chosen a particular brand of environmentally safe cleaners for use in your customers’ homes.  You can run silly little contests on your Facebook page, inviting folks to provide suggestions for your newest drink creation or offering a freebie for the 1000th person who likes your Facebook page.  The idea is to get your customers involved on your social media platforms.  Invite them to share pictures of your business on Instagram, and make sure you monitor all of the possible sites that might have reviews of your business.  It’s possible that you’ll luck into some great, unsolicited free advertising, but if you carefully cultivate your social media presence, you’ll end up interacting with far more consumers.

Your company’s reputation depends on your relationship with your customers, and you can manage that relationship – in part, anyway – by using the free social media tools available to you.  Whether you’re in love with Facebook or not, you’re missing out if you don’t acknowledge the powerful opportunities that it provides you.


10 Pieces of Advice to Ignore

Entrepreneurs get advice every day from their professional advisors and information they read. A lot of it needs to be ignored. Pay close attention to disregarding these platitudes and what to do instead:

  1. It takes money to make money. Many entrepreneurs spend too much money getting their company off the ground. In fact, having a lot of money can lead to being wasteful. Use small investments to test ideas and get paying customers. Based on this success or failure, spend alittle more money to test the next action.
  2. Do what you love and the money will follow. This principle has the entrepreneur focus on what they want to do instead of what the customer wants. Building a company is about finding the pain a buyer has, not what the entrepreneur wants to provide. Instead, do what you love and if you solve a customer’s pain, the money will always follow.
  3. Failure is required for success. This is what many entrepreneurs tell themselves when they fail. While failure is not required for success, ultimately it is part of every entrepreneur’s experience. Never fear failure. When it comes, acknowledge it, learn what you can, then take another action to give you another chance at success.
  4. Failure is not an option. Not only is it an option, it is the most likely outcome. Get comfortable with the fact that you will fail some of the time and not knowing exactly what will happen next.
  5. A penny saved is a penny earned. This is short term thinking. While it is important to be carefully frugal with your money, not every transaction needs to yield the maximum profit. Successful business owners invest in long term relationships.
  6. Good things come to those that wait. Waiting is typically not in an owners DNA. As another platitude says “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it”. Being proactive rather than reactive will typically win the day.
  7. A penny for your thoughts. Be careful not to give away your value to customers for free. Entrepreneurs typically undervalue their products and services since they are uncomfortable asking customers to buy.
  8. The customer is always right. If the customer was always right, most entrepreneurs would be out of business! When the customer has a concern, the most important thing is to listen and show empathy. They don’t need to be right, but always need to be heard.
  9. Another day, another dollar. Making money is not a linear process. Successful small business owners look for the leverage in profitability and this typically is not in the form of working harder or longer hours. Look for the financial leverage points in hiring other people, intellectual property or a dedicated distribution channel.
  10. Money doesn’t grow on trees. While this is literally true, there is ways to make money all around any entrepreneur. Follow the customers that have the money to solve their pain and the money will follow. 

​?????????????????????????????????????????????


6 Best Apps to Manage Your Business Finances

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????These days, the idea of spending 40 hours a week in the office is foreign for most small business owners. We’re more likely to be traveling to business meetings and conferences, or out in the field with clients. And with the technology we have currently available, it’s easier than ever to manage our businesses, no matter where we are, especially by leveraging mobile apps.

Keeping on top of your finances is imperative for your small business. Take advantage of apps provide to manage your money from any mobile device. Here are my suggestions of the 6 best apps to manage your business finances.

1. Freshbooks

If you’re a Freshbooks user, you’ll appreciate the features of its mobile app. In addition to providing access to your accounts, you can also snap photos of paper receipts and log them as expenses, send invoices on the go, and use the time tracking tool to account for hours spent on a given project.

The details: The Freshbooks app is free for users, and is available for both Apple and Android devices.

2. Expensify

If you keep track of your business expenses and hate paper receipts, you’ll love Expensify. This mobile app helps you take photos of receipts, categorize the expenses, and send expense reports right from your phone or tablet.

The details: The app is free and available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows phones.

3. Square

For retailers and restaurants, credit and debit card payments usually make up a large part of their revenue. In fact, by 2017, it is predicted that only 23% of transactions will be cash-based.

But sometimes those bulky merchant card processing machines are overkill, and many charge more than you want to pay. And what if you want to sell products at a farmer’s market or community fair? Try the right tool for the job: Square is a card reader you can affix to your phone to swipe cards for payments. It’s handy on the go and in your physical location.

The details: The app and card reader are free, and credit card processing fees are either 2.75% per swipe (based on the transaction cost) or 3.5% + $.15 per transaction, depending on the plan you choose.

4. inDinero

If you’re looking for a mobile app that offers multiple financial functions, try inDinero. Both its website and mobile version offer services related to accounting, taxes, payroll, 1099s, bill payment, and compliance. Users even get access to accountants for difficult questions.

The details: The tool is “invite only.” The company looks for businesses with high-growth potential.

5. SurePayroll

If you have employees, use mobile app SurePayroll to pay your staff and contractors, manage employee information, and view payroll reports. This frees you up from having to physically be at your desktop to take care of employee needs.

The details: The app is available for iPhone and Android, and is free for SurePayroll users.

6. FreeAgent

For freelancers and independent contractors, it’s essential to stay on top of proposals, invoices, and time tracking. The FreeAgent app provides all these features, as well as expense tracking and reports.

The details: The services is $24 a month and available for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones.

There are many other financial mobile apps in the marketplace, so find the ones that fulfill the needs your small business has.


How to Define & Refine Your Elevator Pitch

Stocksy_txpb08fd375357000_Small_170332First impressions really do matter. Think back to the last time you attended a networking mixer. Did you have a quick and smooth response to the question, “What do you do?” Or did you stutter and stumble over your words, finding it difficult to explain your business? If it was the latter, it’s time to define or refine your elevator pitch.

First, What Is an Elevator Pitch?

Consider it your verbal commercial; it’s how you explain what your business does and how it can benefit the person you’re talking to. Typically you can get it all out in 30 to 60 seconds. Any longer, and you will bore your audience.

What’s Wrong With Your Current Pitch

Think about the response you get with your current elevator pitch. Do people look confounded when you try to explain what your business does? Do they look around the room, bored and ready to escape? These are clues that can help you understand what needs to be fixed with your current spiel.

Your audience doesn’t care what you think is great about your company. They care about how it can help them. So if your current pitch is focused on the features of your business and not the benefits to your audience, you’re not succeeding in connecting with your audience the way you need to.

Perfecting Your Pitch

Now that you know what’s wrong with your old pitch, toss it aside and start brainstorming on your new one. Essentially, your elevator pitch should have these three components;

  1. The problem you solve for people
  2. How you solve it
  3. What makes you unique

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to be boring in addressing each point. Some of the most successful elevator pitches begin with a thought-provoking question, like:

Could you stand to make more money?

Tip: make the question an automatic yes to get your audience in a receptive frame of mind. Make it an obvious question to answer; who would answer no to the question above?

Next, look at where your audience is coming from. If you’re at a small business networking meeting, probably every small business owner is there to find potential customers.  Knowing this, you can move on to that pain point:

I’m Melinda Emerson, the “SmallBizLady,” and I help small businesses like yours bring in more money.

Now you’ve really got their attention. You’ve latched on to a problem they have, and now you’ve told them you can fix it. Now they want to know how.

I do that by looking at what’s not working in your business, helping you fix it, and guiding you to find new customers.

Now, I could have said that I offer marketing consultation services, product development, and marketing analysis, but I didn’t want my audience’s eyes to glaze over. They want the big picture: I can help them make money. How I do it is a conversation we can have one-on-one if they’re interested.

If you’re speaking to a crowd, you can also tell people how to find you. Typically mentioning your website is sufficient.

Don’t be afraid to have several versions of your elevator speech, especially if you meet with different groups. Tailor it to fit your audience.

How to Find Out if It’s Working

The best way to measure the success of your elevator speech is to gauge reactions. If people are engaged when you speak, you’re doing a good job. If they come up afterward to ask questions, even better. You want your elevator speech to be a teaser that makes people want to exchange business cards and learn more about what you do.

Armed with your new elevator speech, you’ll be ready to knock ‘em dead at your next networking event!


Mondays with Mike: Entrepreneur As Warrior – Business Advice From Military Leaders

????????????Whether we realize it or not, business and war have a lot in common.  The same strategies that win battles, create success in business as well.  In addition to reading brilliant books by authors like yours truly, you can also learn from the sage advice of military leaders as well.  Some of my favorites quotes:

  1. “No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.”  George S. Patton, Jr.   One of the greatest generals in American history gives us this reminder that we must get out from behind our desks.  The most successful business owners command respect because they understand every aspect of their company.  They can…and have…and will perform every task that’s necessary.  Get in the trenches!
  2. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.” Sun Tzu.   We must be willing to disengage from our egos if we want to be successful leaders.  Setting the example of making decisions in the company’s best interest inspires selflessness and a devotion to the greater good in our employees as well.
  3. “I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.”  Geronimo.   Thought leaders explore beyond the boundaries of where other people live and work.  They push into unexplored, uncharted territory, and the result is creativity and innovation that inspires the people around them.  Growth and inspiration come from the willingness to free yourself from conventions.
  4. The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.” Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr   You started your business because you had a dream, a vision.  You should run that business by living in accordance with your code, your values, and your vision.  Be consistent, and learn to trust your instincts.
  5. “Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter.” Winston Churchill.    I see it everyday:  entrepreneurs working themselves into an early grave, pouring their raw energy into their business, as if that energy were limitless.  Working toward efficiency – strategic deployment of resources for maximum long-term gain should be your goal.
  6. My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty… it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein. “  George Washington.   Finger-pointing, inefficiency, blame shifting … all signs that there’s an accountability issue.  Even though much of business requires collaboration, it’s essential that you assign a single person to be the responsible, accountable party for ensuring that a job gets done.
  7. “I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”  Douglas MacArthurWhile it’s important to know what your competition is up to, you must also keep an eye on what’s going on inside your own company.  Lousy morale is contagious and can kill a company from within, much quicker than you’d expect.  

Wars aren’t just won by violent encounters.  They’re won by preparation, vigilance, and the willingness to do what must be done, even if it’s unpleasant.  Taking a lesson from these military leaders helps you prepare yourself to win the battle for your company’s success.




 
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