In my last post I spoke about how Lew Kornfeld, while he was President of Radio Shack, created two category disrupting products. I have received some positive feedback and questions about how you would go about creating a disruptive product or service. With that in mind, I thought I would share my ideas with you. By the way, you can now get a copy of all of Lew Kornfelds “Messages from the President and Flyer Side Chats” on Amazon.com. This book is a must read for anyone that wants to know the how’s and why’s of the greatest retail electronics company ever created. Many of the principals that Lew and his team used are still very much relevant today. And, as Lew would say, "for only $14.95 I don’t know how they can afford to print it"
If you look at Uber and Google, you get a great view of two of the biggest disrupters in today’s business world. While neither of these two companies created their service (advertising in the case of Google and Taxi service in the case of Uber) they both saw inefficient markets that had fallen into the “because that’s how we always did it” trap. In the case of Google, both newspapers and electronic media were run by just a few organizations that had owned their properties for generations. These companies felt like there was an opportunity to better service the consumer by forgetting the rules and just concentrating on the goal of better serving the market they defined. So, let’s go about doing that for your business.
Step 1 - Define your goal
First define what you are trying to achieve. That is much easier said than done. Too narrow and you are a one trick pony, too broad and you will try and be all things to all people, that has never worked so far. So answer this question and you will be well on your way. What Makes You Unique? In other words, what do you want your customers to be saying about you to their friends once they learn about you?
With Google it was their superior search engine. Remember, they did not have the first search engine; they just had the best one. So, by people using that search engine, they could let them see ads. Their other customer (advertisers) would have superior information about the consumer and could reach them more efficiently and in a more targeted way than ever before. Unique and powerful information for their customer to use. So, what makes you unique? Why should the customer choose you to give their hard earned money to? What will they get that will make their life better.
Step 2 - Determine your customers activities outside of your store
Once you have defined your goal (and if you take it seriously it will take more than just a bit of time; perhaps a couple of days) it is on to your second step. Determine what your customer does with his time or money when not spending them in your store. For instance, when Toys R Us customers are not spending time in their store what else are they doing? I would venture to say they are spending time and money on family vacations, team sports activities, car trips, health insurance, electronic hobbies, religious activities, family meals and many other activities. By understanding the use of time and money by your customer you can now start to understand where there is an opening for you.
Step 3 - Look for your opening
Have an open discussion as a group. You will find that you feed off each other by working in a group. There should be a time when anyone in the group can say anything. Can you put yourself in the room with the Uber team and hear someone say “let’s just bypass the Taxi authority and lower the costs of operating a Taxi by not having our drivers pay for a shield!” I wonder what we would hear if we were sitting in the room with the folks from Bitcoin. Now there is a discussion. I can hear three people (probably all lawyers) say, "you can’t do that." What would happen to the worlds banking system? In the first part of this session there should be no “you can’t do that!” Remember, you are looking for big unique opportunities. Anything goes, because after this session we are going to move on to step 4.
Step 4 - Build your list of real possibilities
Work on each of the items you have discussed in Step 3. Let’s say you were in the travel business. You determined your customers like to travel and you would like to help them. They don’t like traveling in groups but like all of the information you can get in group travel. One of the “solves” on the board might be to make individual travel machines with built in geo-based “site” talks. Ask yourselves the following questions: 1- Would the customer like the idea? 2- Is it plausible in today's world? 3- Would the customer pay us a profit for the service 4- How big is the market? And 5- Whose market is going to be disrupted?
You may find that for your market you just don’t have a disrupting product. My sense is that if this happens you have not opened your mind to the possibilities. Think about the pet industry. When someone really understood that pets were simply an object for you to share love, they came up with the Pet Rock. You didn’t have to clean up after it, it didn’t get old, and you didn’t have to worry about your Pet Rock biting someone. It was a perfect Pet.
Step 5 - The gold is in the details
This is where the gold is…the details of the execution. Now that you have determined your disrupting product or service you have to determine how to best bring it to market. When Lew Kornfeld and his team decided to bring a personal computer to the market, there were no significant retail companies offering anything close to it. There was no way to determine how many of these computers would sell. It wasn’t a kit, it was the first fully functional computer ever sold in a national retail chain. Lew came up with an execution plan; he and his team decided that they would order 5,000 units because Radio Shack had 5,000 locations. If the product was a total flop they could use it for their POS system because, at that time they were using wooden drawers. (It was not a flop and it changed the Consumer Electronics business forever.)
With both Uber and Google they could have a pretty good guess at how big the market was that they were going to disrupt, and it was huge. At Axcelora, when we were building our model we knew there were more than 10,000 B2B companies that wanted to sell into the retail and restaurant markets. If each of these companies made 10 appointments per year (a low number) than we knew there would be 100,000 appointments made per year at a minimum. We made the assumption that we could gain 2% of that market over time. We then determine the cost of making an appointment (all in) for a B2B company and that influenced our pricing. All of that put together made us realize that we had a real opportunity for a new business. There would be hurdles to jump, of course, just like there is in any new business. But there was reasonable opportunity.
So, step 5 is to dive into the details. Look at this like a newspaper reporter and investigate without your emotional hat on. Is there a market? Who are the dominant players I am going to disrupt? How long have they been in the market? Are they willing to kill their current business to defeat you? (In the case of the Taxi business with Uber, would they be willing to devalue the cost of their licenses to work with the city to create their own Uber?) Is their culture bureaucratic or are they still flexible? What will the cost be to you if you fail? Do you have to bet the company or can you step into this gradually? How will your own team take to this new product or service? What will your customers think when you introduce your disruption to the store? Can you sample this on line to get feedback? What happens if you have a hit, can you replenish quickly? Do you have the right people on the team to make this happen? Are they resourceful enough or are they so steeped in tradition that they won’t be able to react to huge problems?
There are lots and lots of questions. My STRONG advice here is to write it all down. All problems are more solvable when they are written down. And if you get stuck, just drop me a line, I would be more than happy to help you out.
So, to recap:
1. Define your goal
2. Determine your customers activities outside of your store
3. Look for your opening
4. Build your list of real possibilities
5. The gold is in the details, mine for it
Think broadly and be open minded. That is the key to this exercise. Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen for you right now, you will get much out of the exercise. Good luck and enjoy the disruption.
There are few feelings more exciting than landing a big sale. If it does not get you pumped up then you are in the wrong business; it's as simple as that. The months and perhaps years of work that goes into a significant sale are an investment of your time, money and most importantly ego. Even if the sale is worth only $250,000 in revenue you most likely have worked between 200 and 400 work hours to land the sale. You have put it all out there for the world and your colleagues to see. If the sale is really significant than you have an opportunity to not win, so when you win it is a really big deal. Your adrenaline is going crazy, you want to jump up on the desk and shout out to the world that you are a winner! And you should. Enjoy the win. Go out to dinner and celebrate with your family and/or colleagues. This is a win.
But what do you do next? It has been my observation that you take one of two paths over the next week or two that will determine if you are a professional in your field or if you are just a bag carrying salesperson.
Regardless of which path you take, after your celebration the first thing to do is make sure your operations team is fully aware of what you promised the client. Put it all down on paper. If it is not on paper it is just a wish. You have to deliver, so be a professional and get it down on paper immediately. Tell the ops team the who, what, where, when, why and how much for the entire project. Leave nothing out. No detail is too small for this exercise. I know how difficult it is for sales people to write, but take the time to do it and do it completely, you will soon see why this is important.
Again, the documentation you write should be done no matter which of the two paths you take. But, taking the right path will lead to much more success than taking the wrong path.
The Wrong Path. When I first came to work at Buxton I sat next to the most professional sales person in our organization. He had worked at Xerox and taken their sales course. He knew the course inside and out. He knew when to ask a closing question and what do to if the answer was no. He knew how to deliver a presentation and keep the client involved in the discussion. He was likable and friendly. He had it all going on. Our operations team voted him the salesperson they liked the most.
About two months after I started, this sales person closed a big sale; the biggest sale in the history of our company. And here is where the paths split. He stopped working on earning new clients. Just stopped. He had just landed the biggest sale in the history of the company, why should he have to continue to prospect? Wouldn’t the world come to him? Over the next six months our best trained sales person did not make a single sale or outgoing call looking for a new client, not one. In fact, he let his sales pipeline run completely dry.
I got to observe this and learn a big lesson. In the retail world, you really do have to wait for customers to come into your store. There are small things you can do every day to stack the odds in your favor that they will come in, but that is one of the few things that you really don’t control. In the B2B world, that is not true.
So, while our best person was celebrating his big sale I was making smaller sales; but I never stopped prospecting. At the end of the year my pipeline was full, I had made more sales, and I was his boss.
So, what are the 5 things you should do after you make the sale to make sure you are successful?
1. Realize that the lead for your next sale is the customer you just signed. Your customer wants to brag to his friends about the new product or service he/she just bought. Find out who those friends are and ask for an introduction. Do it at the appropriate time, but don’t forget to do it. And now that you made the sale take the client out to lunch or dinner to thank them for their business. If you think about the six degrees of separation, your newest client will know other companies that need your service that are not a conflict.
2. Determine if there is somewhere else in the company might need a part of your service that your newest client did not purchase. If you think about your product or service as a prism, you can turn it around to see different opportunities sitting within a company. Make it a point not to get siloed within a company. You want to be seen as the leader of a team which can answer many questions.
3. Set the tone the client should expect from your company on a go forward basis. The answer is not always yes and right now. You have to be reasonable to both your client and your team that is doing the work. If your client needs a part of the project done quicker, find out why. If it is just curiosity than the client is better off waiting until the entire project is complete. However, if there is a legitimate reason for their request then go back to your ops team and work on a solution. If you set a cooperative tone at the beginning of the project then you are most likely to get cooperation throughout the project which will lead to you delivering a better product.
4. Get permission to send out a news release. This release is important for both you and your client. It tells the world that your client is forward thinking because they hired your company. It also tells the world that both the client and your company are growing and moving forward. And, it will get your name in front of your next client, because they all read about their competitors. Sam Walton used to always tell the world what he was doing, he just executed it better. Sam built the most sophisticated retail distribution system the world had ever seen. He was simply smarter about execution than his competitors.
5. Tell everyone in your company. When you make a sale it is a BIG deal. Without sales there will be no one working at your company, no one. So they should all celebrate with you. Because without the team behind you there would be nothing for you to sell, nothing. Celebrate together. It can be fancy or it can be simple. Bring in a cake, cookies, champagne, ice cream cones, product from your newest account (we actually had some of the new accounts give us merchandise to share with our team, including Ben & Jerry’s and New Balance - we could get chubby and work it off). But do celebrate. That celebration will gain the buy in of the entire company. Instead of only you making the sale, your entire team will feel like they all have made the sale. It is a much better feeling.
So, which path are you going to take? Are you going to celebrate and wait for the next sale to come to you or are you going to be the person that enjoys the sale and continues to work on the next sale for your team.
If you have been following the postings I have been making you know that by being Pleasantly Persistent you will have a success rate much higher than other people in our profession. There are also some other benefits to your Pleasantly Persistent efforts. First, if you take the time to study the client each time you make a call, by the time you actually get through to the client you will know much about their business. Secondly, they will respect your tenacity. And thirdly, they will probably have built a positive image about both you and your company.
However, there are just some people and companies that you cannot get to respond to your cold calling efforts. This, however, does not lessen your responsibility to get in front of the prospect and make them a client. So, what are you supposed to do to put yourself in the room with the decision makers?
1. Pray. This is the method that most people use if their cold calling efforts don’t work. While the power of prayer is all around us, I could venture to say that this is not the best use of prayer. Prayer should be used for something much more important. Find a different catalyst that will get you doing something, almost anything. While I was in a retail store I would change a display. While I worked in the B2B business I would go to the kitchen and cook something for someone else. Just create activity, you will get better results and your mind will be clear to follow the suggestions below.
2. Work your various networks. See which of your contacts knows someone at your target company. One of our top sales people at Buxton created a process out of this that he worked every day. He would tell people that he never cold called, but he constantly worked on his personal contacts and spent a lot of effort learning and logging who was working with who and their job movements. This master of networking also made many new friends along the way. A year after he began this method he had more than doubled his income. If this is your plan be diligent and don’t try to fool yourself, it never works.
3. Use a cold call service. There are hundreds of them available. You have to determine what image you want to leave with the prospect to determine which service you want to use. Some of them are located here in the US and some are operating out of the country. Some of them use robo-calling techniques and some of them use actors. You will most likely get decent results at the beginning of your program. But, unfortunately, these results are normally short lived.
4. Increase your efforts at Trade Shows. For most companies trade shows are a huge use of resources and the ROI for shows are never measured. The reason for this is pre-show lack of preparation. To make a Trade Show worthwhile, you have to do all of the pre-show preparation.
5. Keep your company in front of the prospect. Make a schedule to send an article about something the prospect should be interested in. Make a rhythm of your efforts. Monday is a bad day to send anything to a prospect as it will get overshadowed by everything else Monday brings. But any other day is just fine. Make the article about growth or problem solving. And make it real, academic articles, while interesting, will not get read by most retail executives.
6. Explore Axcelora. Axcelora is a new service that is being offered to B2B companies that are looking to gain traction in both the retail and restaurant industry. What makes this company unique is the way they go about setting appointments for their clients. Through their network of veteran retail and restaurant executives, Axcelora Partners call their colleagues and make personal introductions and appointments. They take the time to learn enough about your business to be able to set the appointment without trying to make the sale. At this point, Axcelora is the only company that has built this type of network and offers this service
In December of 2000 I made a significant career change. Prior to that time I had worked for only two companies, Radio Shack/Tandy Corporation and Cash America. I had either been responsible for the entire operations of the business unit or I ran store operations. While handling those responsibilities I never had the need to call a company and sell our services; I was the one that companies called upon. At Tandy, we had a non-written rule that all phone calls were returned before you went home that night. Mr. Tandy did it, and so would the rest of us. It was just the right thing to do, and I assumed that everyone followed that practice as well.
When I joined Buxton, I quickly learned an important lesson.
When I joined I asked Tom Buxton if I could just sell. I had had all the leading and supervising of people that I thought I wanted for the rest of my life. Tom was happy to oblige me. At that time at Buxton we did not have territories, industries, or even companies that we were assigned. We actually had many people calling on the same company, so whoever could get in the door would get the business.
So I found one of our databases on retail and quickly picked out retailers within Texas that I wanted to call on. It did not look like anyone else in the company was calling on them so I got to work. I figured this was going to be easy. I would call the proper executive (it was in the database and that had to be up to date :) ) tell them my background, they would meet with me and we would help them with their business. All very logical. But there was one fly in the ointment, one chink in the armor, one bump in the road, one hitch in the giddy up. No one returned my call. No one cared that I actually knew about their business, much less had actually been in one of their stores. They did not know how we could help them profitably grow their business because they NEVER returned my call. NEVER. I did not get it. And, if by chance, I reached an admin (the evil gate keepers), I would get the polite, but none the less fatal, “I will have them call you back.” It never happened. If I did not get to speak with the right person right then, I was not going to get a call back. Did these people not get the memo, didn’t they know they were supposed to call back everyone every day.
I will admit that it took me a month or so to stop being angry with these executives. It took me time to realize they lived in a different culture than we did at Tandy and that I was not going to change their culture. However, I still had a responsibility to my friend and family to be successful and if people did not call me back, I had to devise a different tactic to gain access to them. Thus was born the new campaign for access to decision makers. Now, before I tell you this secret that works, I will tell you that, even with the secret spelled out, most of you will not follow it. It will work 80% of the time. I proved it my last year and a half at Buxton by defining 100 companies that we wanted to penetrate with an appointment with a decision maker. Within the next 18 months we were in front of 80 of those decision makers. In the B2B world that is great success. So, it works, it is simple, and I know that the largest part of you will not follow the advice I am about to give you. You won’t follow the advice because you have to park your ego at the curb, and most sales people forget the objective of the exercise is to make sales and can’t park their ego.
The secret is Pleasant Persistence. That is it in a nutshell. You have to be Pleasantly Persistent. I cannot tell you how many customers have told me that they took my call because I always left a pleasant message and I always continued to call back, even without getting a call back. So, how can you stay Pleasantly Persistent when you are being ignored?
1. Realize that it your job to get in front of them, it is not their job to have a meeting with you. (Although I think it is their job to meet with you but that is a subject for another discussion).
2. On average it takes 7 calls to get to speak with someone. Most people stop at 2. If you keep going you are going to stand out just because people admire persistence.
3. There is no other option than being pleasant. You can’t call up a prospect and leave a message berating them for their lack of calling you back. You can’t be sarcastic to them; you don’t know them well enough to do that. You can’t threaten them by going up the ladder; that will certainly kill the possibility of a sale even if you do get to see them. So, you might as well be pleasant.
4. Constantly think about how you can help THEIR company with your product or service. I promise you that will come across as you leave your 7th voice mail.
5. Use your CRM tools to politely remind you that it is time to call people. If it is on your To Do List you are more likely to get it done.
6. Rejoice when you do get to talk with someone and let them hear it in your voice. People love to be around a winner and you just won where 90%+ of people would have given up.
So, it is a pretty big secret, but don’t worry about getting it stolen, because no one else is going to use it. They just won’t. If you become an advocate of our Pleasantly Persistent approach you will be leading the parade.
Now if you don’t want to be Pleasantly Persistent but still need to get in front of decision maker reach out to Axcelora as we can do the job for you.
I think you have all heard of the movie Pollyanna starring Haley Millis (1960). This positive movie about overcoming obstacles that are put in your way by life and circumstances has always had a special place in my heart. You see, although I was a hard core electronics retailer of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, I always thought that things could get better if you could keep a positive attitude. That mind set has served me well in overcoming the challenges that are simply part of life. I have always looked for that silver lining that Pollyanna looked for in her Glad books.
When we started discussion about Axcelora one of the things we determined was that we were going to be a Pollyanna Company. We were going to be that great place to work that people often talk about but never quite get there. In my mind that did not necessarily mean a place with lavish perks (after all, we had not sold anything yet) like Nap Rooms (that would be my first perk), massages every Friday, endless snacks, or free travel. It also did not mean that we would have to walk around the office singing Kumbaya and hugging each other. And, oh yes, it did not mean we would have to be politically correct.
What it did mean was we were going to completely tolerate and respect each other- gender, preferences, religion and all of the things that get folks excited would be accepted and respected at Axcelora. We would be able to talk politics, religion, world events, even work because we would be building a culture of knowledge and respect. To me these are the principals of Pollyanna.
What are they key principals to building this Pollyanna culture? I have thought long and hard about this and have come up with the three things that are working for us right now.
1) Have mutual respect with the people you associate with. I have known the people in the core of our company, the people that have come up with the ideas that are powering Axcelora, for many years. And, we have all come together in this venture/adventure because we respect each other. We come from all different backgrounds but we all have one thing in common; we are accepting and respectful of each other. Our values are all similar even though we may have differing religious and political backgrounds. We have three women and four men on our original team, giving us different points of view on varying subjects.
2) Communicate well. If one of us has done something that is dumb (usually me) the rest of the group is very comfortable expressing their opinion on the subject. This can be written (email, text, note), verbal, or just a look that usually says it all. We communicate well because we respect each other. This has allowed us to eliminate silos. It was established early that everyone could play in each other's sandboxes. We are trying to build a company and build it right. If we see something wrong, we stop and fix it. No one’s feelings get hurt because we respect each other's intelligence, commitment and attitude.
3) Only bring nice people to the party. We established, from the start, that the Axcelora brand is unique and has unique attributes. Since our only assets are the connections our Partners have, we knew we had to have only Partners that are nice. While there are many people that can bring connections to our project, some of them we cannot afford simply because they might think less of our Pollyanna culture. So we have vetted every single new Partner to our group (30 and counting).) We called references to insure our new Partners were nice. We know they are well connected, but we want to insure they are well thought of in their work and will fit in with what we are building. By making this a keystone to our strategy we are confident that Pollyanna will live in our culture.
So far, our plan seems to be working. The team we are building is helpful to me and to each other. The effort they have made in fulfilling our customer needs is more than I ever thought would happen. Time will tell how well this Pollyanna idea plays out, but we are off to a good start.
If you want the business world to take on this Pollyanna type of culture share our post with your friends.
Without a doubt, Home Office is a significant trend in America that is here to stay. This trend started more than 25 years ago and has consistently grown from year to year. And, while most people that DON’T office from the house think this is nirvana, there is much more to it than that. I have been Officing at home for the last 5 years and thought I would share some tips on how I make it work for me.
Here are the 7 things you must to do to successfully Office At Home.
1.Get dressed for work. That’s right, don’t go to work in your PJs, gym shorts, tennis shorts, sweat pants or anything else you would not wear if you were going to an office outside of home. Getting dressed for work changes your attitude of what you are doing in your Home. For the next 8 hours (or whatever period of time you are going to work) you are at work. If you are dressed for work you are much more likely to be productive.
2. Go To Work! While this sounds like an obvious piece of advice many people that office at home don’t…”Go to Work”. You should have a set time that you plan to be at your desk and a set time when you are home. Both getting to the office and leaving the office are important. If you just kind of wander into the office your attitude will be sort of lackadaisical just like it would be if you merely just wandered into your office outside of your home. To successfully Office at Home you MUST get your attitude correct. You must not think of yourself as being at home, but that you are in your place of work. This leads us to rule number 3.
3. While you are in your Home Office be at Work, not at home. When you are in your home office don’t answer the home phone or the front door. Don’t do the little things like taking out the trash, running errands, taking the kids to school, or community events. You are at work. If you were in your other office you wouldn’t do any of these interruptions, don’t do them at your home office. Explain to your family that, while you are at home, you are actually at work. Be tough minded about this because it is important. It will be difficult at first but make the commitment. Your output with jump.
4. Create a work space. Find a space in your house that is just yours. A desk and a chair are preferable, but each home is different. The best place is an office with a door. It should be a place that can be isolated from the rest of the house. You are at work and this space should help you be at work.
5. Set goals. Your day will be much more productive than if you were at the office so you will need to create new more aggressive goals for yourself. You won’t have the distractions of the office environment so you will have more time than ever. If you set reasonable goals for yourself you will see your success rate climb. Make sure you look at your goals daily. Put them up on your office wall so you can keep them handy.
6. Avoid Isolation. One of the biggest traps of working from home is Isolation. Every couple of hours take a bit of time and reach out to a colleague that is also officing at home. Put together a list of people from work that you can take a break with. Don’t talk about work with them. Talk about sports, family, politics, world events, or food. Work to create an office environment with your work partners. Isolation is perhaps the biggest threat to your successful home office. Fight it with the same tenacity you use with all of your other business problems.
7. Communicate. When you office at home you are not in view of the company. You have to make a special effort to let your team know what you are doing. Make a weekly report to your direct supervisor. If you are leading a team of people that work from home make sure to have them communicate their weekly activity and share it with the office. If you or your team has a win, make sure it is communicated to the company. You are not in the office, so if you don’t take the time to do this you will be forgotten by some. If the company is sponsoring an event, make every effort to attend the event. If you cannot attend the event figure out another way to get involved. Send a note to the team in the office to let them know you are thinking of them.
Officing from your home gives you incredible flexibility. You don’t have to spend time in your car commuting. You don’t have to disrupt your family and move to a new community for a new job. You can have flexible hours that can give you a better work/life balance.
So if you can follow just seven simple suggestions you can increase your chance of success. To increase your chances of sales success give us a call and see how we are helping B2B sales organizations achieve their goals.
There is a difference between training and educating and the good retailers and restaurants are paying attention to that difference.
To think of this business problem in the simplest terms, you train a dog and you teach a person. Pretty simple to understand, but there is a lot behind this simple thought process.
Why would you simply train a dog instead of teach them? Well, and I am sorry dog lovers, but we don’t expect dogs to reason and figure out what the proper thing to do is in a particular situation. However we do expect dogs to be able to repeat a behavior given the proper reward; love, food, toys, affection. For instance, when we had a Cocker Spaniel we were able to teach him to sit, stay, lie down, shake hands, and roll over if we had a pancake in our hands. (Perhaps he trained us to have pancakes in our hands). We repeated this behavioral training with Joey every Sunday because that is when we made pancakes. He got to be very good at all of his commands, and eating pancakes. However, Joey never learned why we did these commands, how to make pancakes, or what ultimately the family unit was trying to get from him doing these commands. He was trained but he was not taught.
We taught our children the importance of looking both left and right before they crossed the street. We told them the positive consequences of looking around and the negative consequences of not looking around. We then talked about how we could apply this same lesson to other parts of life and LISTENED to how they responded. We corrected their course if they made a mistake and continued to ask them questions about their answers so they could teach themselves the why. Our kids have grown to be productive thoughtful adults and seem to be making good decisions because we (mostly my wife) realized the importance of teaching our children and not just training them.
Well, how many retailer and restaurants have training departments today and how many have education departments? When I started in retail the best education programs were with the department stores. They took the time to teach their buyers by putting them on the sales floor. These are the people that, today, are the merchants of all of the great retailers in the US. They got an education by listening to both the customers and the buyers. They understood the “whys” of how things were done before they actually had to do them.
But I continue to hear that retailers are putting in this new training program or that new training program. And these programs work for what they are designed to do. They train people to run the new POS system. They train people to put together a new “set” in a store. People are “trained” on how to make a sandwich, cup of espresso, or how to answer the phone. (Lewis Kornfeld TAUGHT us how to answer the phone in one of his Flyer Side chats in the 1970’s and I have never forgotten the lesson!)
Take the time to teach the “Y.” If all you want to do is train, and then train the same thing again, don’t bother with the Y. You will have full time employment because you will get to teach the next group of new hires and the next one after that ad infinitum. However, if you understand the importance of your employees learning to think through a problem with a good base of knowledge, then take the time to Teach The Y.
My second year as a Regional Manager I had about 150 stores and 6 District Managers I was responsible for. We were all paid on the financial success of the stores with no limit on the up side. So, with each DM in tow, we went and visited each and every store with a P&L and a voided blank check. At the first store in each district I sat down with the DM and the store manager and worked with them to project their sales for the upcoming year. We also worked on the expenses of the store because the store manager got paid on the net profit of the store. We taught the store manager how he could affect his net pay through increased sales and good expense control. And at the end of the session we had the store manager write his bonus check and pin it on his bulletin board. Riding from the first store to the second store the DM and I discussed what had just happened and how the DM could use that experience in the future. At the next store the DM ran the show with the store manager and me standing in the background. This was then done in every store in the district and every store in the region. While certainly not perfect, our group of store managers came to LEARN how P&L’s worked and how they could personally benefit from running THEIR business. Which was the purpose of the lesson? If, through knowledge, we could intellectually transfer ownership of the store to the store manager, then we would have an optimally running operation for years to come. It worked, by the way, as the region was the top region in the US earning store managers, DM’s, and RM’s record profits and earnings.
So Take The Time To Teach The Y in everything you are doing. It will build your profits, improve morale, and deliver to you a sense of satisfaction you will cherish the rest of your life.
As I have said in my previous blogs, if you are a professional sales person you should be making cold calls every day. I don’t care if you have been in the business for 1 day or 30 years; if you are a professional you should always be prospecting-and that requires cold calling. Making warm calls is very beneficial as it brings you close to people you already know or people you have been introduced to. But if you are a pro you have to practice your selling skills every day and nothing is better for that than cold calling. (Ask any sports professional how often they practice and they will each tell you they practice every day. They practice their skill set everyday because they know if they don’t, someone else will be and they will soon lose their edge.) And, you have to expand your universe of potential buyers past your base customers because, believe it or not, your current universe is on the way to retirement or dying.
Alright, let’s say that you have bought into my premise (if you have not, go a week without cold calling and tell me how hard it is to get back into the swing of things). You have just made your first cold call for the day. You prepared for the call by reading up about both the company and the person you are calling just before you picked up the phone. You have no food in your mouth and no distractions. And you made your call and you got all the way to the ever present and evil "Gate Keeper". Ever polite, the gate keeper told you that your target would call you back as soon as time was available. While probably truthful, time won’t be available until the Cubs win the World Series. It just is not going to happen, and if it does happen you won’t know what to do because you will be in shock.
So, what should you do to insure you get the appointment AFTER that initial call?
1. Keep good notes. What was the name of the gate keeper? When you spoke with the gate keeper what did you learn about the gate keeper’s background. How did you relate to the gate keeper? Will the decision maker be at any conventions that you will be attending? Did you get a specific call back time?
2. Set a time that you will call the prospect back. Regardless of what the prospect said to you, you should set a time to call back. I normally wait a week to call the client back, but never more than two weeks. They have an obligation to speak to you. It is their JOB. They are responsible to their company to constantly know what is going on in the marketplace. If you have an idea or product worth an hour of their time (and if you don’t you are working in the wrong place) then they have an obligation to speak with you. Waiting for the client to call you back is like waiting for paint to dry; it is fun for the first few moments but pretty soon the fumes will get to you.
3. Think about other ways to get in to see the customer. Your initial call is just that, initial. It is the first step in your quest to make the prospect's business life more successful. So, if for whatever reason the prospect does not call back, you still have an obligation to help them with your product. Who do you know that knows the prospect? What interesting articles about the prospect's company can you send? Where did the prospect go to school, and how can you relate to that? Be creative in this area. The competition that is PLOM (poor little old me) is spending their time complaining about the prospect not calling back. They are never going to be given the chance to help the prospect be more successful, but you will.
4. Make sure you know specifically why you can help the prospect with their business. There are only two reasons a business should take their time to spend with you. Either you can increase their sales or you can decrease their expense. If you want to sell them a product or service that you cannot relate to one of those two business problems you should stay at home. Be specific on the business problem you want to solve. At Axcelora, our premise is that we can increase sales by getting our clients to retail decision makers, thus increasing sales. We also believe we can lower costs by lowering travel and payroll expense on wasted trips to see people that are not decision makers. At your company you have to be just as specific. If you can’t then you are wasting the prospect's time.
5. Practice your presentation. You are going to get the meeting because you will get to chat with the prospect eventually. Our “Pleasantly Persistent” program will make sure of that at an 85% rate. So you should be practicing your presentation. Make sure your slides are simply points of reference not something for you to read from. Images with few words will work the best. Write down what you want to convey to the client during your presentation. Don’t just say it; write it down. This will make all of the difference in the world. Anticipate the questions the prospect is going to ask. Write those down. This is what professionals do. I have always said the answers are not the problem, the questions are the problem. Because if the questions are well enough defined, the answers become obvious.
6. Develop a list of additional prospects. To some extent, sales is a numbers game. That is, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince. You have to talk to many people to make a sale. I have yet to find a successful salesperson that closes every sale. People that have a high percentage of opportunities that close often have a low sales amount.
So while you are waiting, work on your next group of prospects. Ask yourself some of the following questions: Where does the product have the most use? Who are the prospects that look most like my current list of clients? How can I group these by geography? What size company is my best prospect?
So now you know the six things you should do while waiting for the prospect to call back. If you get tired of waiting and want to get to the decision maker fast, and with a personal introduction, go to www.axcelora.com and learn how this unique company can speed your sales process.
Over the past 15 years I have had the opportunity to visit the corporate office of hundreds of national retail and restaurant companies. During these visits I always took the time to look around the lobby of the office. There were usually articles that would highlight the culture of the company. In one office I noticed they spoke about their employees and their value, in another office they talked about the drive to find new products or foods to satisfy the needs of the consumer. I have also seen many companies talk about their history; some even putting them into book form. All of these tactics of reinforcing the culture of the company are worthwhile exercises. It is when there is disagreement in the agenda of the company that things start to fall apart.
The easiest example of opposing agendas in the retail arena is the battle between brick and mortar and ecommerce. You can certainly understand how this happens; the brick and mortar is threatened by the high percentage sales gain (shiny new object) being constantly thrown in their face by management. They can see the numbers daily and become fixated by them instead of worrying about the real competition. The pay plans of each division are not designed to reward the overall gain of the company in a way significant enough to change behavior. While some management thinks this type of strife within an organization is a healthy way to grow the business, they are simply wrong. These two groups are fighting so hard for resources and attention within the organization they often forget about the threats from outside the organization.
Another area where there can be opposing agendas is in the area of inventory control. The merchant and the store team are often on the same side of the duel; they never want to be out of stock. They want extra inventory to mark down so they can drive sales during traditional soft periods in retail. On the other side of the discussion is the CFO. He wants to have inventory magically appear just as the customer reaches for it on the shelf. He does not understand the value of a full store to paint a merchandise picture for the customer.
In the franchise world of restaurants there exists another big area of opposing agendas. While a franchisee normally purchases a franchise partly because of his reputation, and that reputation is built on the back of a number of stores, he does not want another location anywhere nearby. The franchisor is normally paid on the gross sales of the entire franchise system; so the more sales the more they make. On one side of the discussion you have a party that wants exclusivity and on the other side you have a party that wants total coverage. So, what is the solution?
The solution to all three of these problems is simply respect. If you respect the other party to the discussion you will listen to what they have to say in the context of your opinion. The Brick and Mortar retailers should realize that the consumer likes to shop both on line and in the store. The e-retailer should understand that working with the Brick and Mortar part of the business gives the consumer a better shopping experience. They should stop worrying about protecting their turf and start worrying about working together. If this can be accomplished there is no reason the e-tailers like Zappos.com should even exist. Because omni-channel retailers have a huge strategic advantage over pure play e-tailers.
Respect is also the key to the inventory problem. When central planners realize that individual stores, given the right tools and pay plan, can do a much better job at the store level than central units can, they will be given back both the authority and responsibility to keep the store in stock. Store managers, in both specialty and big box retailing, can change the direction of the merchandise mix because of their personal preference. They will sell more of a product if they are excited about that product. This will also be the same for each department within a big box store. But, you cannot simply give the store team authority, you have to give them responsibility and hold them financially accountable. When you ask people to fly, give them the proper tools and explain how rewarding it will be, you will be surprised how high Orville and Wilbur will go.
I have observed many different franchise organizations. There seems to be an incredible amount of friction in so many of them. This friction comes from a lack of respect. From the moment the franchisee purchases a franchise he forgets the reason that he agreed to pay a lump sum of money and a percentage of all revenue that his/her franchise could generate. He goes from “I am so grateful you wonderful people allowed me to be part of this wonderful team” to “You are stealing my money and I am not getting anything for it.” He forgets all of the effort that went into developing and growing the business. And, he forgets that he agreed to the terms without any gun being involved. And the franchisor is no better. Rather than looking at the overall health of the business, the franchisor forgets about the hard work that the franchisee does each and every day. Work that he agreed he would support with store visits, advertising to drive traffic, and continued product development to keep the franchisee competitive.
All of these opposing agendas can be fixed with respect. I was at the Restaurant Leadership conference two years ago and a group of franchisees came to my booth. They were accompanied by a member of the franchise leadership team. It was like the pied piper leading around his flock. You could tell that this group was all on the same page. They looked toward each other for continued success. And, during the past 5 years this franchise has had outstanding success. It wasn’t an accident.
So, how do you fix opposing agendas within an organization? By respectfully listening to each other. If you put your own individual success ahead of that of the organization then you are just waiting for your next job. When you start caring about the success of others you will realize that their success will make you even more successful in your life.
Let’s start out by saying that I am a Baby Boomer. Now, for those of you who don’t know, the Baby Boomer generation are the people that were born to the Greatest Generation. This is the group of Americans who survived the Great Depression, went off and won World War II, and came back and rebuilt America. When they came back to America they got married, started careers, and had children…lots of children. Remember, they had been off to war so there was this huge void of children being born until the men and women got back to America. Hence, the Baby Boomer generation. Much like the media likes to put names on the various generations of today, we got a name.
For the next 60 years everything we touched became huge. When we started going to school, there were not enough schools for us so our parents built more schools, lots more schools. When we got to high school, they wanted us to stay in school and get a better education than they did so they went and built more colleges. Lots more colleges and even Junior Colleges (later called Community Colleges). Then we fought our own war and came back from that, but not to cheering parades like our parents. So we used our education and went to work.
While we didn’t start Silicon Valley and Silicon Prairie and all of the other places where you could use a transistor, we sure put the fire in their growth. Because our parents insured we had every opportunity we took advantage the ones that make sense to us. We did well in our lives.
President Kennedy had us involved in physical fitness so we played sports, exercised, and traveled more than any other generation before us. He also ignited our technology leadership when we began to lag behind Russia in the space race by declaring we would be first to the moon. This effort might in fact be responsible for our current technology leadership decades later.
As adults we got to be part of the beginnings of the computer as a tool usable throughout business, not just in the IT department. We got to enjoy the easy access to cellular phones (yes, we used the entire word) and cable TV (not sure what ever happened to the outside antennas and rabbit ears. Remember when you would yell at your brother for walking in front of the rabbit ears and messing up the signal?)
And, as a whole, we did well financially. While not everyone became rich, we did more than OK. The Baby Boomer generation today is the wealthiest generation in the history of the world. We can, as a group, buy what we want, eat well, and travel to see our grand children.
But, there is no store for us. Shocking if you asked me and if you didn’t you should have. How can the entire retail community and their collective minds have forgotten about the Baby Boomers? We fueled them through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and now we have been kicked to the curb. No one cares that we have more disposable income than Gen X, Y or whatever letters they come up with. We are simply not paid attention to. Our parents are certainly catered to with all of the special services being offered by Senior communities and health organizations, but we are not ready for that. While we are in our 60’s now, we are not an old 60 thanks to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and the goals we had. We are, for the most part, pretty young for 60.
So, someone pay attention. There should be a clothing store for us. For women Chico’s and Talbot’s do a good job. Stylish clothing that fits the body that you have when you are 60, not 16.
But, what about the men? Where do we go for similar options that women have? In the specialty arena there is simply not a store aimed at the male end of the Baby Boomer Generation. While we don’t get dressed to go out to dinner like our parents did, we sometimes want something nicer than a golf shirt and shorts. And, we want to be able to chat with employees that knows what he or she is talking about. Chico’s has this and so does Talbots. Why not men? If you were to walk through a mall and look at the stores you would quickly come to the conclusion that American women are well dressed and men walk around naked. I have seen men naked before, this is not a sight we should want to share with anyone.
Next let’s go onto electronics. The Baby Boomer generation is more informed about electronics than our parents, but much less informed than our children. We have the money to make our life more enjoyable as well as a basic understanding that things can get done, we just don’t get excited about the next app that can bring us nirvana. We had nirvana in the 60’s and it was not nearly as good as we thought it was going to be.
The problem with electronics in general is the opposing pull of two different forces. One the one hand is the constant pressure of lowering prices of products. In 1972 a four function calculator cost $119.95 and we could not keep them in stock. Today they are $2 or less. In 2005 a 50 inch Plasma TV cost $3,500, today that TV is all but blister packed and cost $299 or less. So the manufacturers add more features to the product to keep the retail price up. So, instead of a four function calculator you get a calculator that is functions you wanted in 1972. And that TV now is 4X HD with features that no one can explain, and if they could you still would not know why you needed them.
And on the other had you have consumers that simply don’t need to have 2,000,000 apps on their phone, 200 features on their SLR, and a refrigerator that will order food for you.
We need our own store.This EASY Electronics store would be for Baby Boomers. It would have “not so smart” phones. Phones that would have big buttons already installed with extra loud speakers that could be compatible with our hearing aids. There would be just a few features already installed that would make sense. Perhaps a program that would allow our kids to know where we are…if we wanted to let them know. It would have just a few SLR cameras. The software attached with this would be easy. Perhaps an RF product built in that would allow this camera to talk with our computer. It would have easy-to-use computers without most of the features that gamers are looking for, but basic communications software. It would have electronic health equipment that would make our lives easier. And if we bought a product like a Fit Bit, we would be asked to bring our laptop to the store and we would load the app for you. Because this store would not be the cheapest store in town, it would be the smartest. The employees would be trained to speak to Boomers. We don’t mind paying for things that we need to make our life better. Easy Electronics would also have products that would make our travel life better. EE would be happy to insure your GPS worked and would show you the easiest and most economical way to use it in the country you are traveling to. We would also set up your phone so that it worked in that country.
And finally in EE we would have a “grandchildren’s” section. This would be the place where you could find smart electronics. Our smart electronics would be products that would prepare grandchildren for the future. Not just computers projects, but robotic projects as well. Our customers would be known as the cool grandparents who think about their grandchildren’s intellectual growth without making it boring.
So, someone build us a store. We promise to come and visit and buy if you have done it right. We need our own store. We all promise to give you free “consulting” on this store for the first 10 hours of questions you have, but build us a store. Whoever does it first will have a winner.
Rich Hollander is a retail expert with over 40 years in the industry.