SBM #61 Training Your Team

Training Your Team

Reading Time: 5 mins

We all have our own definitions of training for our team, but in all honesty, most of it sucks. Sure, for customer facing team members, we do the mandatory, how to acknowledge a customer stuff, with all the expected please and thank you’s.

It also goes without saying that we spend time teaching them “the system”, whether that be a retail POS or other software necessary to capture and order or process payment. Add to that the mandatory workplace safety and theft prevention training, we usually feel pretty good about our efforts.

This whole area of training, has been a sore point for me for quite some time and two situations minutes apart has made me want to revisit this topic. The extreme difference in the size of these two retailers served to reinforce how deficient product knowledge training is compared to the above mentioned items. One is a local franchise retailer whereas the other is part of a global department store chain.

Let’s begin with the local retailer. This is a specialty store whose main business is selling coffee pods and teas. Judging by the inventory, it would appear that the majority of their sales are Keurig pods. As we were looking for a specific brand of coffee we found on a recent trip, I used the opportunity to ask a couple questions regarding the availability, compatibility and difference between the original Keurig machine and the 2.0 machine. Theses are machines that they sell along with the coffee.

One in three

After and few hums and haws, the answer I received, and I paraphrase, was “I think so”. What made this so noteworthy was that another gentleman was in the store ahead of us and was asking some, what I thought, basic questions and the clerk was only able to answer one of his three questions.

Seriously, this is a specialty store and people were asking about the products in the store. Aside from basic pricing information and availability of some products, the individual had limited knowledge. As a specialty store, the staff should well versed on all products in the store. Why should a customer even bother to make a special trip to this store, when many of the brands they offer are available at the local grocery store?

The thing is, people usually frequent smaller stores in anticipation of receiving something, whether that be service or knowledge, not available at mass merchants and most will pay a small premium for it.

The sad part is, this is a store that I had been meaning to visit more than once and frankly I had expected more. Future trips, if any, will be very infrequent. What a missed opportunity.

Within 30 minutes of the previous experience, I headed to a major department store in search of some new luggage. My current bags had been run over once too often by airport baggage handling equipment and in dire need of replacement.

After spending 20 minutes in the department checking out their offerings a staff member finally showed up. With such a wide assortment of brands available, it’s difficult to determine which ones are quality versus value.

Looking for answers

As my interest was in purchasing a quality product that would last, I proceeded to ask the clerk which were the best brands for durability. She responded by saying Samsonite and Travelpro. So I asked why Travelpro? The answer I got was that they invented the roller wheels and that an airline pilot came up with the idea. It’s one of those replies that leaves you thinking, so?

My next question, was what makes them, Samsonite and Travelpro so good? Is the construction better? To which the respondent said they have a better warranty and yes, they’re better made. Again, it left me wondering how are they better made?

What I had expected was a little more indepth answer along the lines of, they use a higher quality of materials or maybe they have greater structural support. This would have been an ideal time to show me the difference by opening comparable size items and point out the differences. But no, I was told that if I had any more questions that she would be right back!?

Clearly, this person had no idea what the product differentiators were and no doubt only sells based on price, or worse what the customer brought to the counter to purchase. The point is, I was fully prepared to purchase had I received the information I needed, but unfortunately, they were ill prepared.

Training should be mandatory and ongoing

Acquiring product knowledge is not difficult. The internet is a treasure trove of information on individual products and services. Better still, reach out to your suppliers and find out what they can do to help. Lunch and learn by manufacturer reps is just one way to get free training. Maybe the manufacturer has in-house data that they can share?

The point of all this is to say, that product knowledge training should carry, at minimum, equal weighting as processes. Taking the time to prioritize product knowledge and encouraging employees to do so on their own, will positively impact sales. The reality is that there are just too many alternatives in our hyper competitive environment, not to do so.

Yes, there has always been and always will be “tire kickers” who research products everywhere they can and then buy online or from a lower priced competitor. But that’s nothing new.

To counter that point, people are also very busy. Many just want to be served in a professional manner, by knowledgeable individuals. They are more than willing to buy from a company that will provide them the help and information they need to make an informed decision.

Training can be formal or informal, but it should be a priority, made mandatory and of course ongoing. Part of that training is to instill with the individual the desire to learn and explain the benefits of expanded knowledge, not just for the company but for the individual as well. People need to understand “what’s in it for them” and once they do, they’ll become self-motivated and everybody wins.

It’s no wonder the Amazon’s of the world are shipping more and more product everyday. Businesses of all sizes must realize that training is paramount, if they’re going to survive in this new age.

This has been your Small Business Minute

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018

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SBM #60 Be Visible for More Sales

Be Visible

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Be visible is really nothing more than the opportunity to get in front of the customer in some meaningful way. Unfortunately, it is proving far more difficult to do so. B to C or B to B businesses are equally challenged in getting through to their customers, because there are just many more roadblocks.

In the time before voicemail, a phone call to a customer’s home resulted in one of three outcomes; no answer, a busy signal or someone actually answered, pretty predictable outcomes. Along comes voicemail and call display, so now people could just ignore the call. Voicemail was supposed to be a tool to communicate information in one’s absence, however it morphed into a call screening tool when call display arrived on the scene.

The voicemail call display duo

Calls to a business customer pretty much followed the same path, however businesses usually had an additional layer of screening in place, namely the receptionist. As telephony automation increased, direct dial to customers was initially more productive, however with the advent of the voicemail call display duo, making contact quickly became more difficult.

Email on the other hand,quickly replaced the telephone as a primary communication device between business and customer. And why not? It was an easy way to send your thoughts or proposals to a client at any time of the day and unlike voicemail, you retained a written copy. Although this did create a challenge for some individuals to up their writing skills as, until this point, even the smallest companies had admin personnel who edited and finalized the final correspondence.

A response was expected

The initial upside to email was that it was a novelty and individuals promptly responded to any item that hit their inboxes. Maybe it was the novelty of this wonderful, empowering communication tool, but times have changed. Once upon a time, proper etiquette wouldn’t allow you to ignore personally addressed correspondence, but today it’s common practice. No, it didn’t matter, if the former was hand written and sent via a postal service and the latter sent digitally. In both cases someone took the time to compose the communication and therefore a response was expected

The problem today is mostly driven by the bombardment of unnecessary CYA’s or cover your ass, cc’s, bcc’s emails and let’s not forget the biggest culprit of them all, spam! It’s overloading peoples inboxes.

Average office worker receives 121 emails per day

It’s no wonder, when it is estimated that the average office worker receives 121 emails per day and sends out 40 per day. At that rate, they would easily fall a month behind within 10 days if they had to reply to every one they received.

With every technological advancement, we drift farther and farther apart from our customers. Social media and SMS are all being layered on and hyped as customer connectors, but they’re not. Just imagine what will happen when AI (Artificial Intelligence) goes mainstream? We’ll never have to talk, correspond or meet again. It’ll all be done for us. I am hopeful that the combination of Alternative and Virtual Reality might right the ship, but I won’t hold my breath.

Maybe I’m old school, but I’ve always pushed for a face to face meetings. No matter how far I had to travel or how inconvenient it was, getting in front of new or existing clients was a major sales and marketing tactic for me. Nothing beats face to face customer interaction. It allows you to see the customers reaction to your comments, thoughts or proposal. It gives you the opportunity to be in the moment to correct any misunderstandings or expand on key points. You can’t do that effectively via email.

Stickiness

The other added benefit of to be visible, was stickiness. It’s a term I have used for years in support of my need to get in front of clients. This approach is directly responsible for more than a few million dollars of revenue that I generated.

In a nutshell, stickiness is the art of being visible within client’s businesses. I’m not suggesting setting up a desk in your clients premises, although not a bad idea if the client is big enough! Being visible within a client requires effort and patience. Effort, because with all the built in screens I mentioned earlier, it’s a challenge to get a client to respond to your requests. Patience, because with everyone running flat out, meetings are now scheduled weeks in advance and not days.

The payoff though, is the more frequent you are in a clients place of business, the more people will come to recognize you. The more they see you, the greater the odds that you’ll have the opportunity to talk with them. Of course, the more you talk with them, the more you have a chance to let them know what you do.

Opportunities to be visible

A typical scenario, for me was to arrange a meeting with a client and as time went on, I got to know or at least recognize other people in the business. As we made our way to the meeting room or the person’s office, I’d make a point of saying hi to anyone I knew. It was more of an opportunity for me to let them know I was in the building.

Over time this little acknowledgement led to someone telling me to stop by when my meeting was over as they either had a question or wanted to talk with me about something and that something was usually a potential opportunity. My estimate is that this happened 50% of the time. Again, the size of your clients will impact these numbers but don’t underestimate the potential of even in the smallest of companies.

Another opportunity to be visible is upon completion of a project. Make an appointment with the customer to review the engagement. Too often, I see owners just send off the summary report and an invoice and that’s the end of it. What a missed opportunity! This is exactly when you need to be visible. Generally speaking, the client is happy with the results and are open to other suggestions you may have.

On those occasions when it’s just physically impossible to be visible on a client’s premises, there are other ways to stay front and center. For instance, the client has asked for a quote. Far too many owners email the quote and hope for the best. Instead, once the email has been sent, call them to let them know you sent it, especially with the number of emails that end up in the junk folder. Alternatively, finish your cover email with a statement, such as “I’ll call you tomorrow to discuss”. Then make sure you call.

Looking for ways to be visible to your customers pays greater dividends to the small business owner than most of their social media activity.

I’m Greg Weatherdon and this has been your Small Business Minute.

You may also enjoy The Fear Of Decisions

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018

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SBM #59 Quit Digging!

Quit Digging

Read Time: 3:58 minutes

I often get approached by entrepreneurs who are facing significant challenges in their businesses. By significant I mean – They’ve dug themselves into a hole so deep that they’re going to go out of business if something doesn’t change! So, my first piece of advice courtesy of Will Rogers , the American humourist is, “When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging!

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been the person called upon to help fix a situation. For the less urgent ones, I’m more of a troubleshooter, as I usually had some time to assess the problem or problems and then sketch out a game plan.

On the other hand, when I’m approached by an owner with an urgent challenge, I usually take on the role of a firefighter. This is because the situation is critical and there is no time for naval gazing and strategizing. It’s a time for action. It’s more akin to a scorched earth approach, whereby nothing is sacred.

Got the t-shirt

It has been my experience, that in these situations to do anything less is not an option and speed is of the essence. These situations are usually long in the making but typically ignored until they become a full blown crisis. To an outside observer, you would wonder how it could have gotten so bad? But until you are in the thick of it, you’ll never really understand how these things happen. Been there, done that and I’ve got the t-shirt!

Of course, we’ve all read those inspirational books or articles that tell you to stick to it and persevere no matter how hard it is. Or, that suffering is the price you pay to be an entrepreneur. So, I want to tell you that there’s a limit to how much misery, you must put up with.

Unfortunately, when many of us are faced with business destroying crises, we tend to develop a bit of tunnel vision that limits our ability to see all the options available. Couple that with our desire to succeed, plus a little pride and ego, we don’t even consider any of the negative options that can effectively gut your company and your dream.

Strangely enough, when talking with these clients many already know what they “should” do. They just can’t bring themselves to do it, preferring to carry on hoping and praying that the situation will improve. Regrettably, it rarely does.

5 Survival Tips

If survival is your goal, then you must make the hard calls. The first of which is to reduce all your expenses, regardless of how uncomfortable you are. We’re talking survival here. The following list can get you thinking of some of the drastic measures you must take:

1. Move your business. Relocate to your residence or some other free or less expensive space.
2. Cut staff. Payroll is usually the largest expense a company has. Not a fun exercise but a necessary one.
3. Cut all non-core expenses. I mean everything. Nothing is sacred. Cell phone, copiers, coffee service, cleaning services. No more client lunches. Absolutely everything gets scrutinized.
4. Dump unprofitable clients. If you don’t know who they are, figure it out immediately. Deal only with those clients that are profitable now and pay promptly.
5. Streamline your product or service offerings to those items that are profitable. With reduced staffing, you probably won’t be able to support more than a couple of core services. So, do the stuff that makes you money.

Yes, I can state categorically, this is an painful and humbling process. But if you think the business and your sanity is worth saving then you have absolutely no choice. Once completed though, it’ll feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders.

Quit Digging

Many who have gone through this and survived have felt rejuvenated. It’s like they’re in start-up mode all over again and what they discover is that this is their happy place.

So, if you ever find yourself in a hole, quit digging!

I’m Greg Weatherdon and this has been your Small Business Minute.

You may also enjoy The Fear Of Decisions

Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018

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