noah's tuesday tidbits


My Favorite Thing About Business (Isn’t What You Think)

It’s almost embarrassing to write this, but do you know what one of my absolut favorite things about business is?

The cliche answer would be that there's "always a new challenge." That it’s unpredictable. That it’s exciting. That it’s a thrill to see a new problem and be able to find a way to solve it for the first time.

And those answers would be dead wrong.

My favorite thing about business is how staggeringly predictable it can be. My favorite thing is knowing that when I walk into a company that’s having problems with sales or customer service, there is a certainty that they are missing one of five key elements that I can help them fix. Once those areas are fixed, sales and profits start to rise immediately.

The reason the whole thing is predictable is because of processes. There are the processes that I use in diagnosing and prescribing changes for my clients, and there are the processes (or lack thereof) that are already being used within the company.

If you’ve been following my work for any length of time, you’ve heard me talk plenty about the importance of clearly-defined processes for sales, marketing, customer service, and just about every other customer-facing aspect of your business.

In the past year alone, I’ve worked with clients who are doing just a little over

$10M in revenue, and clients who are healthily over $3B in revenue, and I’ve seen many of the same issues with both groups.

Even with the best of intentions, we often have organizations with either clearly-defined processes that aren’t being followed or a total lack of process in the most critical areas of growth.

In the graphic below, I sum up the four states that companies can be in when it comes to process utilization. Knowing where you are on this is the first step to being able to create predictable success within your company (in almost any growth area.)

The most common problem we encounter is passing fads as depicted by the lower right corner. This is where we introduce new tools, systems, and processes (all of which are desperately needed) but we get minimal adoption or follow-through from those impacted by the new changes. You’ve heard me refer to this before as the “This too shall pass” phenomenon. This is almost always because they’ve "seen it before." Consultants come and go. New tools come and go. And management often refuses to turn “an ask,” into a “requirement.”

I often tell my clients that when we start doing what we need to do, they’re going to face pushback. They’re going to have people who don’t think they need to change anything. And that’s going to require management to make some tough decisions. It’s not always easy, but it’s one of the main reasons we see companies get stuck.

In the lower left, there’s a lack of process, and even if there were, their people would be unlikely to implement. It's a state of anarchy.

In the upper left, we have the blind leading the blind. These are companies where people are willing to follow processes, but there are no formal processes in place. This leads to a situation where everybody is trained differently, or everybody creates their own way of doing things, which they may or may not follow meticulously.

Of course, the problem with this approach is that there is no standardization or oversight. Of the three “bad” quadrants, this is the best one to be in, because it is the most likely that you’ll be able to actually get adoption of your formalized processes once you put them into place.

And finally, in the upper right, you have a company that has clearly-defined processes with high adoption. These companies run like a well-oiled machine. Helping clients who are already in the upper right quadrant is about finding areas where they haven’t yet created processes, or helping them to put experimentation into place in order to ensure they are always leaving room to improve their processes.

It’s very fun (and profitable) work, but the truth is that these companies have already done the hard work of creating a culture that understands and

celebrates the importance of processes. Think about it this way.

For those in sales, it’s all about the process before, during, and after the sale. Do you have and follow a clearly-defined sales process?

For customer loyalty, it’s about when happens after the sale is made. It’s about the hand-off from sales to customer success. Do you have a clearly-defined onboarding process?

For customer service, it’s about knowing how to deal with the most common customer-related challenges, and knowing how to handle the less-common ones.

In retail, it’s about what happens when the customer enters your establishment, inquiries an about a product, or visits the store to return a product. It’s about the marketing your e-commerce customers get, and the regular/consistent updates that go out to your distributors or retailers.

In service and hospitality, it’s about the entire experience and how you choreograph the guest's experience.

You get the idea…

The question to consider is this: What quadrant are you in? If you’re not in the upper right quadrant, what’s stopping you from getting there?

Your Challenge For This Week: Consider the area that you most want to improve in your company (sales revenue, customer service, customer loyalty, etc.), and ask how many processes you have in place to achieve those goals. For each process, ask how well it’s being adhered to within your company. If the answers are “none” or “not very well,” then you know where to start working!

If The Glove Doesn't Fit

I recently told you the story how my Fitbit helped me lose 20lb so far this year and many inches from my waistline. With that, came the added benefit that a lot of my clothes no longer fit as well as they did before.

I was in Toronto last week to meet with a new client–a luxury global fashion brand–and I came home feeling like it was time to seriously upgrade my wardrobe. Thanks to that pesky Fitbit, my favorite suites were about 20 lbs out of date. I bought some nice fitting clothes, but also visited a few tailors to talk about getting fitted for a bespoke suit.

As one website wrote, “Unlike an off-the-rack or made-to-measure suit, every material, cut and detail used to construct a bespoke suit is decided upon multiple consultations and fittings with a trusted tailor.” The whole idea behind bespoke-made clothing[ got me thinking about the work I do with my best clients.

Now consider this….

If I gave you a pair of gloves with only two fingers on each hand, you wouldn’t chop off your other fingers to fit the gloves, right? Of course not. You’d just get new gloves, and blame me for giving you a bad pair.

Why then, do so many companies try to change the way they do business to fit the processes /software/tools they’ve bought to “help” them?

Over the past couple of years we’ve continuously seen companies say, “I’d love to do what you’re saying, but our database doesn’t work that way”, or, “I’d love to be able to get that type of reporting, but our software doesn’t work that way”, or, “Our CRM doesn’t do things that way….But it sure would be helpful if it did!”

The answer in all of these examples isn’t to just shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well...nothing we can do about it, here’s hoping we survive this year!”, but rather to find or build the tools that let you do what you need to do better.

For example, If you have the authority to spend money in your organization, then you can find the right tools or processes have them built specifically for your needs.

If you don’t have the budget, then put together a compelling business case to bring to your leaders and show them why you need them. If you have internal resources, you can create them yourself. And of course, you can utilize outside resources to help you define exactly what it is you do need, so you’re not just sold something expensive, shiny, and new.

Over the past year, we’ve been engaged in the development of some tools and systems for our clients to help them do just this.

The interesting thing to me is that they usually aren’t fancy. They aren’t nearly pretty as some of the stuff on the market, and they’re usually more expensive at the outset, but they’re almost always far more valuable (generating a greater ROI) because they’re built for a custom fit. They’re made-to-order, specifically customized to our client’s needs and can easily morph, and change with slight alterations.

We can all continue wearing poorly fitted suits because we might save a few bucks here and there. Sometimes, you might grab one off the rack and get lucky. It fits just right. But most of the time, it’s like trying to put five fingers into a two-fingered glove.

Your Challenge For This Week:

Think of an idea you’ve seen over the past three months where you’ve said ‘I wish we could do that!’, or, 'We can't do that with our current tools and systems,' and candidly ask yourself–Why can’t you?

Find New Growth Opportunities Quickly!

Last year, I started writing quite a bit about the Pick-3 process, an intervention that I bring to almost every one of my clients with great success. Since sharing the details of the Pick-3 process, I’ve received hundreds of emails from companies around the world telling me about how they’re using and adapting it to stay in better contact with their clients, and I’ve heard some incredible success stories from it. From the ones I've worked with personally, we've had even greater results.

This week, I want to introduce another tool from the Evergreen toolkit that’s had a huge impact on companies where I’ve introduced it. I call this one the “Evergreen Forest.” Much like the Pick-3, there is a tremendous value to using it even in its simplest forms, and we have developed more powerful and sophisticated versions of it for our use in client engagements.

Here’s the basic version of the Evergreen Forest (as seen in the image below), in just three steps:

Step 1: List all of your products and services vertically;

Step 2: List all of your customers across the horizontal axis

Step 3: Put a tree in any square where you have sold that product or service, to that client; If you haven’t sold that product to that client, put a watering pail.

(These are the instructions for the “give it a try at home, kids!” version. We’ve crafted a much more powerful tool for companies that involves looking at every sale to every customer, multiple criteria for what gets a tree vs. watering pail, and many other features that make it more applicable for day-to-day use. That

being said, this is still an incredibly powerful exercise to go through even with just the three steps above!)

This gives us an instant, visual representation of where our forests are lush and vibrant–represented by which customers have purchased what. Often, more importantly, it also shows exactly where we’re in lacking and what opportunities exist with which customers.

Let’s look at how we’d use this information:

As we can see here, customer #1 is currently buying all of our products and services that we offer. This is fantastic, and it shows us that Customer 1 is really a “True Believer!”

But we can also see that customer #4 has only purchased one of products or services. This might be because they’re a new customer–or it might represent a bigger opportunity–we won’t know until we dig deeper, but without a simple visual these opportunities might be hard to define.

Even in companies with very sophisticated ERPs and sales/CRM systems, we’ve watched Sales and Marketing managers struggle to find and create these types

of opportunities for their people.

We’ve seen other clients doing it manually with excel sheets, but we’ve found the visual representation with the ability to drill down–even if we’re talking about thousands of customers and products–being an insanely powerful growth tool. The other cool thing about our tool is we can equip every sales person in your organization with it, and they instantly see which opportunities they should be exploiting and where they might be falling short.

Think of the other uses here as well. For example, we can define criteria and find products and services that are underperforming. For example:

A hospitality business might decide to jettison specific menu items based on forest growth.

A retail company might find customers who need more of a personal touch, and the customers are instantly identifiable.

A manufacturer might see huge opportunities growth. This works remarkably well when we’re comparing ancillary products right next to each other. For example, we might quickly see that most clients who buy products 3 and four almost always way products 5 and 6. With the forest, we instantly find these opportunities.

A multi-brand retailer with distributors and resellers might look at which resellers are carrying which of your brands, and which ones they aren't.

Finally, it can also help you curb attrition much more effectively. I’ve often written that the core challenge with attrition is determining when you’ve “lost” a client. By limiting the Evergreen Forest to look at purchases over a certain time frame, you can see which clients haven’t purchased from you in all the areas you’d expect, and have your sales team contact them to find out why. (This is also useful for companies with only one core product or service)


Your Weekly Challenge:

Spend some time today with your sales manager or top people and create your

own version of the forest. Or think about your top 3-5 customers and which of your products and services they've bought, and which ones they haven't.

Download a blank PDF copy of the forest HERE. Put a few products and services (or, if you have more than a few dozen, then put the product categories instead) on the left and a few customers and clients along the bottom. Review your sales/marketing data and see if you can quickly spot an opportunity for growth.

The next part of the challenge is simple - do something with what you learn.

Send me an email to let me know two very specific things.

1) What have you learned that you didn’t know before the exercise?

2) what steps you’re taking with that information?

This Too Shall Pass

As my consulting practice continues to grow, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with privately-held mid-market firms doing a few million in annual revenues, to larger companies doing over $2-5BN annual. I’ve also been lucky to work with a number of publicly traded companies and massive global brands over the past couple of years. One of the common themes I’ve had to deal with in many of these organizations–regardless of size–is the sentiment that “This too, shall pass.”

You see, a lot of people within these companies have seen new initiatives come and go over the years, so there’s often a natural reluctance when somebody new arrives advocating an approach that’s different than, “The way things have always been done.”

We’re also usually asking those same people to do more work, and engage in new activities. That’s not always fun when you’ve become comfortable with doing things one way over the past ten years and in some cases many more. Not everyone likes it when a calm boat changes direction into unchartered waters. So we’ll often find people who will give new initiatives some excitement at face value, but under the guise that, “This too, shall pass.

How do we combat such a feeling? You’ve likely made investments that have passed. If it's happened more than once, then it’s no wonder your people think this way. The challenge is that we’re often talking about initiatives, engagements, and interventions that are required–or that are desperately needed to meet the desired outcomes and reach new levels of success.

This is the reason why I often tell my clients up front that people are going to complain. Some will fight the change tooth and nail. Some will just choose not to comply. Some may try and dissuade others, and there will be a natural tendency

to allows things to fizzle out and flow back to status quo. But we can’t allow this to happen. We have to be ready for this and have consequences for noncompliance. We have to be ready to deal with dissent quickly. And sometimes, this means things are going to get harder, and tougher decisions will need to be made before things get any easier.

If something new isn’t working, then, by all means, be ready to pivot, and pivot quickly, but allowing your people to dictate strategic direction is a recipe for failure–especially if you’ve made an investment in that direction.

You also need to be willing give new efforts the time of day. I once had a client that two months into a twelve-month project expressed concerns that things weren’t moving fast enough–but then I politely explained how far we had come in 60 days. We had reversed about ten years of inertia and had seen great results in that short time. He got the point (and is still a happy client.) That’s because what we put into place wasn’t allowed to pass, and it was eventually embraced.

Stay the course.

Don’t stop.

Keep moving.

Because it’s up to you to show your people that the necessary and required initiatives are here to stay.

And all those naysayers, the ones not taking part, the people treating this as a short exercise, well they too shall pass…..through the doors, on the way out, when they see times have changed.

The best way to combat this is to be crystal clear with your team about what the expectations on them are for the new initiative, and to monitor them and provide feedback on their adoption (or lack thereof) as frequently as possible.

I’ve seen clients do weekly status updates, and in many places, I recommend a daily check-in for the first two months of any new initiative.

Whether it’s picking up the phone to call three past clients a day, or doing three new role-play exercises a week, communicating expectations of activity and

expressing praise or displeasure as needed is incredibly important.

Your Challenge This Week

Ask yourself the following questions: 

Can you think of an important initiative that isn’t being treated with the level of importance you think it should have? 

Are you leaders doing enough to get your people to commit and follow through?

What steps could you take to improve activity and the expectations of activity?

What steps do you need to take to show your people that you mean business, and effort in new areas isn’t a choice–but a requirement?

Your Leads are Leaking

You all know how much I believe in putting less of your focus on generating leads and new customers, and putting more of your efforts towards building and nurturing strong relationships with your existing clients.

However, when I work with clients on lead/new customer acquisition strategies, I am often dismayed to find that even there, in the area where they are focusing a lot of time and attention, there are still too many holes in the bucket. Time after time, I see high-quality leads and new customers falling through the cracks.

I can think of at least four recent examples to illustrate this point.

I remember one recent client event where they had secret shopped their company by recording phone calls to their receptionists. When someone answered, they asked very general questions about the company’s products and services.

For example, the caller would say, “I’m just curious, but does your business do X?” For 90% of the calls, the response was incorrectly given. “No, we don’t do that,” and “No, we don’t offer that.” When in fact, 9/10 times the response was blatantly wrong. This illustrative example offered attendees a fun, lighthearted moment during the event, but when I got up to speak, I told the CEO and President that I would have been shaking in my boots hearing those calls. After all, these were the recordings from a two-week period! What happened over the past six months or the last six years? This was a billion dollar+ organization!

There was another experience recently, where new leads were coming into a business, but they weren’t being captured. Meaning, there was no data capture at all–short of the cash register physically being rung. This left the company with no opportunity to retain, develop, or build a relationship with that customer.

Remember, everyone loves up selling, down selling, cross selling and everything else in between, but they weren’t focused on reselling–meaning, physically getting the customer back in the doors to buy again. I’ve often quibbled about the hospitality industry. If a restaurant doesn’t at least attempt to capture my information after I’ve finished my meal, then they’ve left money on the table.

(Remember the classic tidbit about the kitchen that taught me everything I know about customer loyalty.)

At another business, I enquired about a product and the in-store experience was otherwise fantastic, but I left feeling the company missed an opportunity to at least make an attempt to capture my information–or to entice me to learn more or to hear more about the product I was inquiring about. I gave the store employee an excuse that I’d be back with my wife, but I never returned.

I ended up purchasing from their online store later, but this company will have no idea that most of my purchase decision was made because of the visit to this store first. If they’d captured my contact information, not only could they continue to market to me and entice me back, they would also know that their retail efforts had this marketing impact–especially important to measure today, when we’re constantly being told that retail is dying and that retail stores are fast becoming only expenses, rarely profit centres.

In another example, a CEO client assured me that a new client onboarding process was happening every single time the company brought on a new client when in reality it was happening only a small fraction of the time. You’ve heard me rail over and over again on quote follow-up and sales people dropping the ball on hot opportunities. But these are just simple holes in the bucket–the areas where water is seeping out of our bucket and with relatively simple changes we can fix.

For example, we can train receptionists and test them regularly on how they respond to your most frequent requests. We can make it a policy that every customer gets a card and we request his/her information. We can change our in-store experience and language to ask customers who express interest in a product if we can contact them with additional information, product updates, or potential promotions. Finally, we can create checklists, and processes that are expected to be followed and completed every time. None of this is rocket

science, but it’s critical if you want to have a shot at getting to know the customer.

Your Weekly Challenge: How confident are you that leads and opportunities aren’t falling through the cracks?

For example, if you called your organization's service/sales line, how confident are you they would pass the simple, “Do you ….(sell this, do that),” test? Would they only pass 20% of the time or 90% of the time?

If you need some help conducting these tests for your people, reach out, and we’ll suggest a few ideas that make sense for your line of business.