Who’s the Boss?

Business to consumer (B2C) relationships can be one of the most complex relationships to have. Unlike personal relationships which have a foundation of emotional attachment, history and mutual understanding, B2C relationships are very temperamental and customers can easily find other “fish in the sea”.
In business, you should always try your best to accommodate the customers’ needs. In fact, this is a critical step in business relationship building. However, accommodating customers has its boundaries. You shouldn’t do anything that would compromise the integrity, security or financial strength of your company. So although you may occasionally bend the rules to accommodate a customer, you should never break the rules completely.
Sometimes you have to show a customer who’s the boss in a very polite, yet assertive way.  Your primary goal is to maintain a successful business while helping your customers understand, that although you want their business, they have to respect yours. Here are a few tips for showing your customers who’s the boss:
1. Create policies and procedures then publicize them and enforce them: Taking the time to create guidelines for how your business will be operated is not only a good practice, but it will save you a lot of hassle when it’s time to apply the rules to a situation. If a customer is well-informed of the guidelines in doing business with you, they are more likely to stay within certain boundaries and respect your decision to enforce the rules.
2. Don’t negotiate too much: Sometimes when you give a customer an inch, they’ll take a mile, which means that if you give them a little wiggle room with the rules, they tend to bend those rules consistently. Remind customers of your terms and conditions when negotiating a deal. Make sure they understand that although you may be negotiating or making an exception this one time, your policies remain in tact and the exception can not be applied to all transactions.
3. Be friendly and firm: Always apply rules of customer service to every business dealing or interaction. However, don’t be so courteous that you are taken advantage of, or worse, you aren’t taken seriously. Customers should respect and appreciate your service at all times– regardless if there are rules they don’t like. So although you may share a laugh, open up a bit or get to know your customer, remember business rules come first!
4. Don’t let a customer’s concerns fall on deaf ears: Being the boss doesn’t mean you shouldn’t empathize with your customers. In fact, simply listening to your customers gives them a feeling of appreciation. Hear their concerns regarding your business because their points may be valuable to your continued success. Additionally, if a customer is having difficulty adhering to your policies and procedures, listen to their explanations. Sometimes customers need to vent before they accept the rules.
5. Make an executive decision: You know what’s best when it comes to your business. You know when to bend the rules, when to enforce them or even when to change them altogether. Remember this is a business relationship, not a dictatorship. So although you may be compelled to make a big decision that impacts customer relationships, keep in mind that rules or processes which are too stringent could backfire and cause additional problems.

These are just a few tips on letting a customer know who’s the boss. For additional tips, please contact me. Do you have tips of your own? Share them! I’d like to hear your feedback.

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The Art of Bartering

Bartering is an age old solution for people to get what they need, but also offer something of value in return. When bartering is effective, two sets of people are pleased with what they receive and are equally as pleased to offer their goods.
In business, bartering is one of the quickest ways to make solid connections, build relationships and decrease your expenditures. A business can barter services, products or even time– all depending on what its needs are.

Solid bartering relationships are based on two key factors. First, you should only barter for things you actually want or need. And secondly, the exchanges should be of equal value and importance. Thus, bartering a vacation to Europe for a year’s worth of basic office supplies may not be a favorable barter.
Here are a few strategies for creating a solid bartering strategy:
1. Know what your needs and wants are— Create a list of your regular business needs and wants which you wouldn’t mind bartering for. Avoid listing services or items that are critical to your productivity or general success because those things should never be bartered. Instead, list things such as courier services, meeting space or vouchers for entertainment activities that you can pass along to clients. Knowing what your business can actually benefit from allows you to make better decisions on whether or not to accept a barter proposal.
2. Understand the real value of your barter— When you’re entering into a barter agreement, one of the most important things to consider is the value of the services or products rendered or received. It’s very easy to assign a price to an item, but it doesn’t make it of value to you or the other bartering party. Know the value of the exchange. Will bartering this item save you time or money? Will it create better opportunities? Will it improve a situation? These are things you should give hefty evaluation to before entering into a bartering agreement.
3. State your contingency plan— It’s dreadful when you’ve entered into a bartering agreement and the other party doesn’t fulfill their role–especially when you’ve fulfilled yours. Make the other person aware of the contingency of your bartering agreement with clear outputs for each party. Perhaps you’d state that for every 5 restaurant vouchers you receive from the other party, you’d provide 5 hours of event space in your facility. The contingency in this agreement is that 5 hours of space would be scheduled in advance, but can not be confirmed until the vouchers are received at least 48 hours before the event takes place. This contingency option gives both of the parties the option of canceling or rearranging their offerings without compromising the agreement.
4. Keep accurate records--Barter agreements should be treated like a regular payment transaction or business deal. Keep receipts of your activity within the agreement to ensure that both parties are receiving a fair exchange.
5. Put your money where your barter is— If you have a concern with a full barter agreement, consider a partial barter agreement. Offer certain products, services or phases of a project under a barter and then agree to exchange cash for the rest. In this method, neither party overextends their resources, whether it’s time, money, space or otherwise. Just make sure to state those terms at the beginning of the barter agreement and clearly state what is covered under the exchange and when financial payment should be expected.

These are just a few tips on creating a successful barter agreement. For more tips, please contact me. Do you have a few tips of your own? Please share them. I’d like to have your feedback.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

There will be countless times in your professional relationships that you will be required to convey a message to a group of people. It will be critical that your message is detailed, clear and to the point so that your message is comprehensive and well-received.
Equally as important, you want your audience to make a decision on what to do with the information you share with them. In order to do this effectively, you must convey your messages properly.
A strong message creates a call to action for the reader or listener. They should feel compelled to make a decision based on the information you’ve presented and the energy behind that message.
Whether written or verbal, your statements should help shape the actions of your audience. Your message should be easily understood and have the ability to be correctly interpreted and shared with others. Here are a few tips on conveying your messages:
1)Know what you’re talking about: Clear messages are delivered when the speaker is knowledgeable about their topic. This instills confidence in the speaker and brings a level of confidence in their delivery of the message. Additionally, if the speaker is also passionate about what they’re saying, the message is informative AND and energetic. Make sure before you deliver any message, whether written or verbal, that you not only know what you’re discussing, but that you care about it as well. This step will help produce better audience engagement.
2) Written and verbal outlines are key: Sticking to the point and being concise is critical in delivering comprehensive messages. Resist your urge to create multiple anecdotes, over explain or toggle between topics by creating an outline. Know the most important points you want to discuss and then decide what information must be discussed within those topics (most likely the 5 W’s– who, what, when, where and why). This method will ensure that your message, whether verbal or written, will make sense, stay on topic and produce a productive conversation.
3) Test the level of engagement during the conversation: A true measure of determining if your audience is receptive of your message is to test their engagement. In verbal conversations, asking questions at certain points will help you determine who’s listening and the general tone of the audience. Head nods, smiles, or other reaffirming body language shows that your message is understood. Uncomfortable movements, folded shoulders or the resting of a chin on the hand can indicate that tour audience is bored, unresponsive or not pleased with tour message or its delivery. When writing your message, check engagement in the same manner by asking questions. However, since you obviously can’t read body language, substitute it with call-to-action phrases. Ask your reader to try something, visit a website or some other tangible measure which allows you to test track their engagement.
4) Get the audience involved: Although audience participation can be uncomfortable, it generally breaks the ice and makes people pay attention. If you can get people in the audience to play a role in your message such as taking notes on an easel, distributing literature during your delivery, taking requests for questions or feedback, assembling teams, etc., it puts the audience in charge of their engagement and making sure they understand your message. Think of it this way, if your message is clear, your audience members will be able to follow instructions regarding their participation and actively become involved in making sure others understand the message as well.
5) Follow up effectively: Performing all of the above steps will definitely produce an outcome. But how do you know if the outcome is favorable? Follow up! Ask questions via surveys, polls, one-on-one meetings or any other method which allows you to solicit feedback. You won’t know how clear your message was or how engaged your audience was unless you ask. Try to do this within 24 hours of delivering a message, otherwise you could have fewer response results because your audience has moved on.

These are just a few tips for delivering clear messages. For more detailed tips, contact me. Do you have tips of your own? Share them! I’d like to hear your feedback.

There’s no “I” in Team

 

We’ve heard it all before– there’s no “I” in team. But how should business owners and professionals apply this cliché to their staff? It’s essential to understand that business is about collaboration- whether it’s B2B, B2C or internal. If you can’t create a solid team that is unified with one mission and a strategy to meet it, then how much success can you realistically expect?

Sometimes it seems easier to let one person carry the load or assign a task to one exceptional staffer. However, taking this route not only creates a sense of “favoritism” or isolation, but it also impedes the progress for growth within an organization. Utilizing your staff’s strengths and abilities is a great way to complete projects more accurately, prevent overwhelming your staff members and learn more about who can contribute in a time of need. Although you hire people to fulfill specific roles, allowing them to be a part of a team and work in a different capacity can build morale and open doors to new opportunities for you and your employees. So, although you may be tempted to delegate to one person, or even manage the task on your own, use your team to get the job done.  Here are a few tips on building a team and delegating responsibly:

1) Add variety in your team— A good team should have people that come from different professional backgrounds. This way, everyone can contribute to the team with their own expertise and strengths. Ask each person on your team to list their top strengths and their top weaknesses. Match this information to the requirements of your project to determine which person should handle a specific responsibility.
2) Make collaboration mandatory— If your team doesn’t know that they are required to work together, chances are they just won’t work together. Make it known that each team member is required to pull their own weight, but they’re also required to build project-based relationships with others. Just make sure you find the right balance between being an enforcer and wanting team spirit.  As a courtesy, have an open-door policy for people who don’t want to be a part of the team to feel comfortable expressing why. Their hesitation to play a role in the team’s success could be valid, in which case, re-evaluating a team member’s contribution may be necessary.
3) Create benchmarks for individual members: How will you know if every member is playing their part? Benchmarks! Establish a few deliverables at different intervals of the project that require your team members to prove that they are contributing towards the project’s success. The benchmarks don’t have to be huge, but it should be a recognizable effort or output that shows collaboration and progress.
4) Set rules: The most successful path from Point A to Point B involves adherence to some rules. Projects can get messy. You have egos, and slackers, deadlines, budgets and frustrations. The best way to get through any of this is with rules that promote motivation to get through the project. Create rules that enforce respect and togetherness, but also promote creativity, a comfortable environment, group activities and breaks.
5) Reward the team and the individuals— No matter if the project succeeds or fails, multiple people tried their hardest to get it off of the drawing board and they should be appreciated for their effort. Reward your team with an early dismissal, treat them to lunch, give them awards or something that lets them know that you appreciate their hard work and you would like to work with them again.

These are just a few tips on getting people to collaborate respectively in teams. For more tips, please contact me. Do you have tips of your own? Share them! I’d like to hear your feedback.

Turn a Compliment into a Customer

As a business owner, you know that customer satisfaction is an essential part of keeping your doors open. Compliments on your product, service or general operation mean that you are meeting the needs of your market and you’ve probably got customers spreading the word for you. However, an abundance of compliments does not necessarily create an abundance of sales. In which case, a gold star for effort may not pay for your expenses.
It’s important that business owners take charge of a compliment and don’t treat it passively. Compliments are direct, qualified leads for a new opportunity to  create revenue. Here are some tips for turning a compliment into a sale:
1) Acknowledge the compliment beyond “Thank You”: Every compliment deserves a polite response, but it shouldn’t stop there. This is the beginning of  transitioning to a sale. Discuss details about the compliment such as what the ingredients are, how it’s made, where it comes from or a brief history about its concept. This will engage the lead and identify any pain points, which is critical in closing a sale.
2) Reverse the compliment:  Reversing the compliment means noticing a pain point, tying it to the compliment and identifying a value in using the product or service. For instance, if you make shirts and a woman compliments you, reversing the compliment would mean: “Thanks for noticing! It’s handmade from organic cotton and non-toxic dye. In fact, those jeans you’re wearing would look amazing with this shirt.” This is a tricky step. But if it’s done correctly, it’ll decrease the gap between a compliment and a sale.

3) Discuss other products or services that are related to the compliment: If you’ve got a full offering of inventory, the person who is complimenting you should be made aware of it. Don’t be cold about it and pull out brochures, refer them to a website or leave them with a business card (just yet). Transitioning a compliment is about building rapport. In the above example of the shirt maker, talk about the dresses, pants or accessories you make as well. Give your potential customer an option of “yesses” to pique their interest and open up about what they may be looking for. If you don’t offer the product or service now, perhaps you could customize an order for them or at least maintain a warm lead for the future.

4) Do some undercover research: When a customer or a lead compliments you, ask them why they like it. You’re looking for details about the product or service that could help you develop new strategies for advertising, sales, production and customer support. Of course, you shouldn’t divulge why you’re asking. Remember, this is a conversation, not a focus group. Keep the questions light and simple. In the instance of the shirt maker, you may ask, “So are you into organically made clothing?”

5) KIT: Keep in Touch– If you can’t close the sale directly after a compliment, make sure you follow-up with the lead. Exchange business cards and tentatively schedule a follow-up or invite them to an upcoming event regarding your company. Maintain a warm lead  by keeping them actively interested in what you offer. Exchanging email or business cards is not enough because those methods can become stale. The compliment is the bait and the effective follow-up is the hook.

These are just a few tips on turning a compliment into a sale. For more tips, please contact me. Do you have tips of your own? Share them. I’d love to have your feedback.

Test before you Invest

Tips to determine if your new business could actually be a good idea
As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had my fair share of late-night business ideas. I’ve gone to sleep thinking about a problem and when I awaken, not only do I have a solution, but I also reserve a domain name to go with it. The gift of being innovative is that you are eager to take a risk and start a new venture. The curse of being innovative, is that you come up with so many “good” ideas that you rarely see them through.
However, how would you know if the idea in your head is the next big thing if you don’t pursue it? Trust me, I’ve gone through this dilemma several times. And because of that, I’ve developed these tips for internally testing your new idea before you invest in it.

1) Build a quick and FREE website: If your new business is actually a good idea, you should be able to build a 5 page website overnight. The concept behind this idea is that a website usually displays general but critical information about a product or service for a potential customer. Your 5-page website should tell:
–what the product is
–how it solves a problem
–who benefits
–how much it costs
–how to purchase the product or service
Label each page: Product/Service Description, How it Works, Benefits, Pricing, Customers. Don’t launch the website, but you can pay for a domain if you’d like. Don’t worry about the technical aspects such as quality stock photos and a content strategy just yet. You’re simply visualizing an idea. If you’re able to fill these 5 pages with good information relatively easily, it might be a good indication to pursue the idea a little more in-depth.

2) Develop an objective FAQ: Pretend you are a customer who is just hearing about this idea. You think you may like it, but you have a few concerns. What would those questions be? Write a list of questions about the product such as description questions, customer service related questions, billing questions, ordering questions, deadlines/delivery questions, technical specs questions, contact questions, etc. Think of anything you, “the customer”, would like to know about the business and try to address it.

3) Google (or Bing) your competitors: Compare your business to theirs. What are they lacking? What do you like about them? Jot a few notes about the top 5 competitors that appear in your search engine’s results. A pro’s & con’s list is a decent way to gage whether or not a similar service would address what you feel your competitors lack and where you can fill the void.

4) Be your first customer: There’s no better way to see if something works than to try it on yourself first. Before you spend money on inventory or land a client, you should know how the business will work and IF it will really work in general. So, take it for a whirl!  Use your product/service as if you were a paying customer. Take note about the changes you’d like to make or features you’d like to add, especially when it comes to delivery. Make sure you’re objective or else you wont see the major flaws (yes, there will be flaws) that are in front of your face.

5) Pitch it! Share a general idea about the business with a trusted person. Your pitch should provide enough information to either sway or repel the person you’re talking to. Take note of their questions, concerns, comments and enthusiasm. Make sure to ask what you can do to improve the idea.

These are just a few tips on what you can do to determine if one of your many ideas should be pursued. For more detailed strategies, please contact me. Do you have tips of your own? Share them! I’d appreciate your feedback.