Grow Your Business with Customer Knowledge

If you want to grow your business start by taking a close look at your customers. Not only are they the key to your growth what you don’t know about your customers is putting your business at risk. Why? Because market trends and customer needs are changing more rapidly than ever before. If you don’t know who your ideal customers are, as well as how, when and why they are motivated to buy, you can’t position your solution to uniquely satisfy their needs. 

When your customers’ needs shift how quickly can you re-align your company to serve those needs? If you don’t take care of your customer someone else will.  Just a few years ago BlackBerry was the Smartphone industry leader with 43% market share. Today they trail both Android and Apple with a market share of  less than 10% and dropping.

Borders failed to recognize the importance of selling books on line and paid the steep price of going out of business leaving 11,000 employees without jobs.

Knowing who your customer is and being close to them isn’t enough in the New Economy. Companies like ITW have emerged successfully from the Great Recession because of their understanding of their customers. As Bob Hamilton, Group President for ITW explained,” The most important thing for us regardless of what market we’re in is we need to know our customer better then he knows himself. And we need to not only be close to that customer we need to be able to predict what he’s going to do.”

To survive many businesses have resorted to discounting, coupons and promotions to attract customers. What they found the customers left as soon as the promotion ended or the coupons expired. They didn’t gain customers they merely leased them. This is not a long-term sustainable strategy. Because you can’t grow your business with leased customers.

Sometimes the best way to grow profitably is to know who you are and who you’re not. Irwin Steinberg has steadily grown his CPA firm Steinberg Advisors by focusing on what his ideal clients want and need — business advice. Steinberg explains his firm’s business model,” …a lot of CPA firms have a lot of product lines. We don’t have the same product lines that they do. We have business consulting, valuation, accounting and tax. We’re not in the IT business. We’re not in investment banking. We don’t manage money for our clients.” Instead of dissipating his firm’s resources by offering services his ideal customers don’t value and don’t want, Steinberg focuses on what they do value and his firm can deliver. What are you relying to grow your business?

If you want a road map to grow your business  identify your ideal customers, make sure you know them well enough to predict their behavior and then give them what they want better than anyone else.





Grow Your Business with a Superior Customer Experience

Grow Your BusinessDo you want to grow your business? Then deliver a  superior customer experience.

Customer experience is defined as the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. This means every touch impacts that experience positively or negatively. Your ability to deliver an experience that sets you apart in the eyes of your customers serves to increase how much they spend with you and, optimally, inspire loyalty to your brand.

To create a superior customer experience requires you to first understand the customer’s point of view. Only by standing in your customer’s shoes can you appreciate the full impact of the day-to-day customer experience that your company delivers.

In the New Economy it’s becoming more challenging to grow your business. Products are becoming commoditized, price differentiation is no longer sustainable and customers are demanding more. To compete, companies are focusing on delivering superior customer experiences. A study of over 860 corporate executives revealed that companies that have increased their investment in customer experience management over the past three years report higher customer referral rates and customer satisfaction (Strativity Group, 2009). Many experts feel that the customer experience has emerged as the single most important aspect in achieving success for companies across all industries.

As evidenced by the number of business casualties over the past few years most companies talk about becoming customer focused, but few actually do it. Doing customer satisfaction surveys is one thing, changing the company’s culture based on what was learned from the surveys in something totally different. If you want to grow your business in today’s marketplace you’ll need to get serious about the customer experience you deliver.

Some companies have learned that being customer focused can give them a competitive advantage that helps them grow. Customers choose Disney World and Zappos because of their experience with them.

Here are a couple of examples of how successful CEOs are using their customer experience to grow their businesses.

Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel uses hand written notes as a way to show customers appreciation. Hess says. ” I know it’s kind of old fashioned, but I think in today’s digital world customers notice and appreciate that we take time to write letters to them.” The idea came about when an employee and his team started writing customers thanking them based on their longevity. Since they did it every Thursday,  it’s become “thank you Thursdays” company-wide.

As companies add more technology they make doing business with them more complex. Improving the customer experience means they must help customers manage the complexity they face. Successful companies are finding ways to simplify products and services while making them easier to use. As Steve Hennigan CEO of San Antonio Credit Union explains, “Customers must have a seamless experience with our organization no matter which channel they choose.”

Hennigan uses the process of purchasing a mortgage as an example of how his organization must tame the complexity monster for his customers and deliver a seamless experience.

“In the mortgage space we’ve got to allow you the opportunity to make a loan via the phone, via the Web, via the call center, or via one of our branch interfaces. And we’ve got to do it so that it’s as if you’re in one channel. Say for example you’re doing research in one channel and you start an application process on-line, but then you get stuck and you want to talk to somebody You ought to be able to seamlessly jump into another channel without us making you do the extra work as the consumer… the technology must seem simple to the user although it may be very complex on the back to provide a simple solution, which is: I start on-line and then when I get stuck I can go get a face-to-face and I don’t have to start from the very beginning again.”

Both of these CEOs know that growth starts and ends with the customer experience and it’s up to them to constantly innovate ways to improve it.

Is the customer experience you deliver helping you grow your business?  What ways can you improve your customer experience so that you can grow your business? I suggest that business owners and CEOs take one area of customer experience each month and improve it. By the end of the year they will improve twelve ares. Plus improving one area often has a compounding effect on other areas. This is a simple and straight forward approach to grow your business one customer experience at a time.

Is the American Dream Dead or Just on Life Support?

The American Dream is different for every person. To some it’s the opportunity to own their own home; to others it’s to work hard, save and live their golden years in comfort; to others it’s the opportunity to start a business and use it to build security and wealth for themselves and their families. So how is the American Dream working for you. For many today the American Dream is still very much alive to others its dead or at least on life support. Just consider the following:

Home ownership-One of the cornerstones of the American Dream

  • 11 million homeowners are upside down on their mortgage and have little hope on the horizon that their situation will change.
  • The value of the average American home has decreased 23.7% since the peak of May 2007 according to Zillow.
  • Foreclosures activity will increase this year as RealtyTrac expects 1 million homes to be repossessed by banks versus 804,000 in 2011.

Jobs Creation/Unemployment

  • Although 1 million jobs have been created in the last six months we’ve only replaced 43% of the 8.3 jobs that were lost in the Great Recession
  • Civilian labor participation is 63.6% which is the lowest since 1981. This means that in addition to high unemployment many people who can work are choosing not to for many reasons including: Baby Boomers retiring rather than continuing to work at unsatisfying jobs, second earners who find little incentive to rejoining the work force, student who stay in college because of limited employment opportunities and people on public assistance programs (food stamps, Medicare etc) who can’t afford to give up the benefits they receive if they become employed.
  • Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unemployment rate is moving down towards 8% much of the improvement is created by workers who are still unemployed but aren’t counted anymore. Up to 500,000 workers have run out of benefits and have given up on looking for work so they are no longer considered “unemployed” by the Bureau of Labor statistics. If we added all people who are actually unemployed with people who are working part-time but who want full time work the number would be 16-20%. Adding people who have accepted jobs that pay less than the ones they lost about 1 in 4 Americans have been impacted by the New Economy.

Debt Crisis

  • The United States now owes more than it produces. Our national debt is $15.5 trillion and our GDP is $15 trillion. Unfortunately there is no plan in place to address this issue and probably won’t be addressed until after the November elections. Given how the two parties have behaved in the past there is little evidence to support that a viable long term solution will be worked out any time soon.
  • Taxes are needed to run government programs and reduce the debt. However only 50% of Americans pay taxes. This means that the half who does pay taxes must carry the full burden.
  • Export sales are slumping. After a two good years of selling American products to a global market exports are softening due to economic problems in Europe and a deceleration in economic growth in India and China. With this decline in global demand our ability to grow our export business is limited.

The American Spirit-We as Americans have always faced adversity with optimism and a belief in our collective ability to surmount any challenge. This is part of our DNA. Two Gallop statistics suggest that our spirit is still strong but may be wavering a little.

  • 53% describe themselves a s thriving (This is the silver lining and reason for optimism)but 44% say they are struggling (This means close to half of Americans have been impacted by the New Economy)
  • Last year 65% of those polled by Gallop said they made enough to live comfortably but that figure dropped to 60% this year. That’s a trend that is going in the wrong direction.

So what’s the solution for resurrecting the American Dream?

I’ll give you a clue. It won’t come from Washington, it won’t have government strings attached to it and it won’t happen without innovation, courage and hard work.

The simple and unavoidable truth is that job creation is the fuel for the nation’s economic growth. When more people have jobs, more consumers have money to spend — and consumer spending drives about 70% of the economy. Economic growth is the driver of the American Dream.

This means that the road to recovery and restoration of the American Dream must be paved with an entrepreneurial spirit and the growth of small businesses! Why small businesses and not corporate giants?

  • Large corporations tend to be slow to adapt in a changing marketplace (Sears, Black Berry, Kodak, and Boarders Etc).
  • Large corporations are often driven by quarterly results and investors looking for short term profits.
  • Many corporate CEOs are charged with maintaining the status quo rather than igniting the passion that originally drove the business to success.
  • Many of our current economic problems can be traced to corporate leaders who were corrupted by power and greed (AIG, MF Global etc)

Although current data from Intuit and ADP shows small businesses are adding jobs at a faster rate than larger companies, many experts still project the end of 2013 before small business employment reaches where it was in 2007. This of course is dependent on the global economy remaining relatively stable during that period of time.

What has to happen to accelerate small business growth?

According to a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business (here):

“The two principal impediments to current small-business growth are business uncertainty and weak sales… The single most important indicator that would renew small-business owner confidence in business conditions is increased sales in their businesses.”

So how do small businesses increase sales and gain confidence?

Based on the research I’ve done for my book “Leadership in the New Economy”, there are two ways business leaders look at these challenges.

  • The first and easiest way is to say it’s a demand issue. These businesses feel that business will improve when the economy picks up. Unfortunately, those who are waiting for demand to “knock on their door “are struggling (and will continue to do so IMHO).
  • The second way is to look at these challenges as marketing and business operations issues. I’ve found that businesses who are thriving now are effectively market themselves and adding greater value for their customers.

If you own a small business don’t wait for the economy to carry you. Have the courage and conviction in your own business to market yourself more effectively and find ways to create more value for your customers. Create a customer experience that not only creates customer satisfaction but inspires loyalty as well. Improve your business operations by engaging your employees in ways that taps into their knowledge and passion for your business.

Leadership matters more now than any time in our nation’s history. I’m not just talking about the leaders we elect I’m talking about the leaders who will lead the small business revolution that will restore the American Dream for generations to come. To borrow form Shakespeare, the question is no longer “to be or not to be” the question for American small business owners is, “To become a leader or be forgotten.”

If you’re interested in learning how to increase sales and profits in your marketplace get FREE access to the Growth Positioning Survey by clicking here. You’ll get a strategic snapshot of your business that maps out what you need to do to grow your business.

Customer Experience Management in the New Economy

How would you rate your customer experience management? If you have a customer experience that satisfies but doesn’t WOW you’re in BIG trouble.

Customer experience is defined as the sum of all experiences a customer has with a you and your business over the duration of the business relationship. This means every touch impacts that experience positively or negatively. Your customer experience management reflects your ability to deliver an experience that sets you apart in the eyes of your customers serves to increase how much they spend with you and, optimally, inspire loyalty to your brand.

Creating  a superior customer experience requires you to first understand the customer’s point of view. Only by standing in the customer’s shoes can a company appreciate the full impact of the day-to-day customer experience that the company delivers.

In the New Economy products are becoming commoditized, price differentiation is no longer sustainable and customers are demanding more. To compete, companies are focusing on delivering superior customer experiences. A study of over 860 corporate executives revealed that companies that have increased their investment in customer experience management over the past three years report higher customer referral rates and customer satisfaction (Strativity Group, 2009).

Many experts feel that the customer experience has emerged as the single most important aspect in achieving success for companies across all industries.

As evidenced by the number of business casualties over the past few years most companies talk about becoming customer focused, but few actually do it. Doing customer satisfaction surveys is one thing, changing the company’s culture based on what was learned from the surveys in something totally different.

Some companies have learned that being customer focused can give them a competitive advantage. Customers choose Disney World and Zappos because of their experience with them.

Let’s clarify the difference between companies that aim for customer satisfaction and those that seek to WOW their customers:

  • Because most, if not all, of the “bad” companies are out of business customer satisfaction is the minimal requirement to keep your doors open. Customer-focused companies strive to delight their customers.
  •  Most companies ask their customers about their needs. Customer-focused companies understand their customers’ needs so well that they can anticipate them and even surface unrecognized needs.
  •  Most organizations strive to meet their customers’ expectations. Customer-focused companies deliver more than what the customer imagined.
  •  Most organizations try to keep complaints to a minimum. Customer-focused companies encourage feedback from their customers so that they can learn from it.

A great example of creating a customer-focused culture is Zappos. A review of their number-one core value below speaks volumes about how they operate.

Deliver WOW through service, is Zappos’ founding principle. It’s not something written down and forgotten. It’s part of who Zappos is and every employee is immersed in it starting on day one.

Zappos lives their founding principle and it has served them well. How does your customer experience management stack up? Ask yourself this question:

If you didn’t answer with a resounding “YES” then you need to take a hard look at every customer touch and improve your customer experience management or pay the price for not doing so.

To learn how well your business is positioned to succeed in the New Economy take the Growth Positioning Survey now.

Build Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty with Social Motives

customer satisfaction amd loyaltyCustomer satisfaction and loyalty are key ingredients for every business. If you want to create a legion of satisfied and loyal customers you’ll need to learn what I learned on one of my first sales jobs.

 As a college stu­dent, I spent one summer selling encyclope­dias door to door. After a week of training I was sent out into the field where my initial day in the field was a picture in con­trasts. My first pre­sen­tation resulted in a sale, but I was almost physically thrown out on the second. Somewhat perplexed, I sought advice from my father, who spent his career in sales and sales management.  “Dad,” I said, “I can’t figure it out. I made the same presentation to both customers and got entirely different results.” My father asked, “Was every­thing the same?” “Of course it was,” I an­swered. “I’ve been practicing my presentation for a week.” My father asked, “Was everything on both calls exactly the same?” I thought for a moment. “Ev­erything was the same,” I said, “except the custom­er.” My father smiled and then congratu­lat­ed me on discovering one of the most important keys to sales success: People are different. If you want to sell them, you must do it the way they want to buy, not how you like to sell. Mastering this skill will go a long way towards helping you build customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Most salespeople intuitively treat each custom­er differently; however, they usually relate better to some customers than others. When you experience a good relationship with a customer from the start, you are most likely selling in your comfort zone; that is, your natural style of selling “fits” the approach that the customer appreciates when buying. These customers are likely to be both satisfied and loyal because of how you sell them.

On the other hand, when it’s difficult to establish rapport or make progress with a cus­tom­er, you are probably selling outside of your comfort zone. The customer wants to buy in a way that is in conflict with your natural style.  In these situations, you have two choices: adapt your style or find another customer who likes the way you sell. Unfortunately, this approach will not help you build customer satisfaction and loyalty. Therefore , you probably only have one choice, because if you don’t adapt, you’ll have to find another customer anyway.

One way to improve your ability to adapt is to recognize and respond to your customer’s motiva­tional needs. Motivational needs are internal desires that cause people to respond in a particular way.  Although we can’t look inside of people and see their needs, we can observe their behavior.  People do things for a purpose. If we recognize their behavioral patterns and trends, we can anticipate what it takes to meet their needs. When people’s needs are met they reward you with customer satisfaction and loyalty.

 How people respond in certain situations gives clues to their motivational needs. The more frequent and consistent a behavior is the stronger the motivational need. For example, if you ask a customer what type of food she would like for lunch Chinese, Italian, or French and she always prefers Italian, you can reasonably be sure she has a strong desire (e.g., need) for Italian food. Fur­thermore, taking her to an Italian restaurant will do more to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty than taking her to your favorite Chinese restau­rant.

A simple, practical, and reliable ap­proach for recognizing and understanding motivational needs is called Social Motives. The concept of Social Motives was developed by David McClelland[i], a professor of psychology at Harvard University. In his research, McCle­lland found that we learn these needs from our experi­ences growing up, from how others react to our behavior, and from the successes, rewards, frustra­tions, and anxieties of our current experi­ences. The Social Motives consist of three basic motives:

  • Achievement, or the need to excel
  • Affiliation, or the need to belong or relate to others
  • Power, or the need to influence and control others

 Each of these three motivational patterns exists to some varying degree in each of us, according to McClelland’s research. We are, however, primari­ly motivated by one pattern. When we interact with others, our primary pattern affects the way in which relationships develop, sometimes producing fulfillment, some­times significant stress. The inter­action between our pattern and that of others makes some situa­tions stimulating, others frustrat­ing or boring, thereby affecting our personal effectiveness, often in dramatic ways.

 When you understand the dynamics of each Social Motive, then analyze your own motiva­tion and that of your prospects and cus­tomers, you can improve your sales performance in significant ways. This understanding includes fully recognizing what Social Motives are not.

They are not a system of stereotyping or pi­geonholing people.

  • They are not a replacement for others selling skills and strategies.
  • They are not a method of manipulating people.

Social Motives should be used to help you under­stand people, not judge them. When used effective­ly, Social Motives allow you to adapt your selling style so that customers view what you say in the best light possible. This increases customer satisfaction and loyalty because your approach to selling will match how your customers like to buy.


 [i]. The Achieving Society: Van Nastrand, 1961

Stop Customer Churn by Managing Moments of Truth

Is customer churn draining the energy, profits and brand equity out of your company? If it is then you need to stop the customer customer churnchurn immediately. Committing your company’s resources to acquiring customers only to see them leave during the next buying cycle is a prescription for failure. Stopping churn requires you to examine you relationship with your customers throughout the customer experience.

In any relationship, whether it is a marriage, a frien­dship, or a sales relation­ship, there are phases when problems or conflicts are apt to arise. If such dilem­mas are not confronted and resolved early on, the pre­mature dissolution of a partnership may result. In the case of a customer part­nership, there are phases when the buyer’s expecta­tions of your prod­uct or service are tested. During these times you must prove to your customers that your product or ser­vice is their best alternative. Such confron­tations are called Mo­ments of Truth, and how you handle them will deter­mine the longevi­ty of the rela­tionship.

Moments of Truth are the real acid tests of long-term part­nerships. If your product or service per­f­orms as intend­ed and de­livers the benefits the cus­tomer is seek­ing, ev­ery­one is happy and the rela­tion­ship is se­cure. On the other hand, if the product or service fails to per­form or deliver the expected benefits, the custom­er is unhappy and the rela­tion­ship is in jeopar­dy. This is the starting point for customer churn.

A Moment of Truth can occur at any time, in a vari­ety of situa­tions. However, to best under­stand these mo­ments, it is helpful to focus on the six most common sales situations that constitute Moments of Truth. Because of their frequency and potential impact on the sales relationship you must master the skills demanded by each of these six Mo­ments of Truth:

  1. When you’re making the sale.
  2. When the product is delivered or the service begins.
  3. When you discover a problem.
  4. When the customer complains.
  5. When the competition puts on the pressure.
  6. When you make your regular customer retention contacts.

To ensure that you handle each Moment of Truth successfully you’ll need to develop a specific plan for each one. Having a well developed plan increases your chances of solidifying the customer relationship and in stopping the cause of customer churn.

How to Retain Customers When You Discover a Problem

How to retain customers when you discover a problem with your product or service is important because it sets the tone for the customer relationship.Even the best products and services occasion­ally have prob­lems. When they do, you should look upon the situation as an opportu­nity to earn customer confidence. Why? For two good rea­sons:how to retain customers

  • Some customers never know how good a product or service is until they experience a problem.
  • Solving that problem can strengthen the relationship by physically and emotionally demonstrating your concern, integrity and commitment.

If you discover a problem, you have two op­tions:

1.  Hope the customer doesn’t discover it.

2.  Bring the problem and a solution to the customer’s attention.

Taking the first option is like hiding your new golf clubs in the basement or standing in front of the big dent in the car: eventually, someone will find out. Eventually, your customer will discover the problem. The cover-up may only worsen matters because customers will not only question the quality of your product but your integrity as well. The second approach is not without its risks, but the potential reward of a satisfied customer is generally worth the draw­backs. Learning how to retain customers when this situation arises is a “moment of truth” that ultimately will shape the customer experience you deliver.

The inherent risks of bringing a problem to the customer’s attention can be eliminated or mini­mized by these factors:

  • Your presentation manner. Are you able to connect with the customer on an emotional level?
  • Quality of the solution. Does your solution address the customer does stated and implied concerns?
  • Effectiveness of the implementation. Do you deliver what you promise?
  • Follow-through. Do you confirm that the customer’s concerns were met?

In a technology-driven  business environment it’s easy to use email, voice mail etc to deliver your message. Don’t fall into that trap. Retaining customers is your goal so it’s important to address product problems with a personal touch. This means connecting personally with the customer whenever and wherever possible.To effectively handle this type of moment of truth take the follow­ing steps:

  • Explain the problem. Avoid trying to fix blame. Accept personal responsibility.
  • Acknowledge and listen to the customer’s concerns. Listening to and observing the custom­er’s “words and music” will help you gauge how to present your solution.
  • Address the problem with a course of action.  Your solution should address the cause of the problem as well as your cust­omer’s concerns.
  • Maintain the customer’s confidence in the product or service. This is usually accom­plished after you have imple­ment­ed the solution to the customer’s satisfaction. It requires conscientious fol­low-up on your part.

Problems will occur with your products and services. How you retain customers when they do should be an integral part of how you conduct business. Be pro-active and keep the customer’s needs and emotions in mind when you respond. Your actions will help define the quality of the customer experience as well as the longevity of the customer relationship.

Want to learn how your customer relationship strategies stack up? Take the Grow Positioning Survey now.


The Secret to Solidifying the Customer Relationship

Solidifying the customer relationship is essential for sustainable sales, profits and customer loyalty. This means you must manage the  relationship through the entire customer experience. From first encounter to asolidifying the customer relationship customer becoming a raving fan every customer touch either adds to a positive experience or detracts from it. How you handle each touch determines the direction of the relationship. We call  these touches moments of truth.

The Problem

One of the essential moments of truth in solidifying the customer relationship is when the product arrives or service begins.  When people make a purchase decision, they are, in effect, buying a promise that the product or service will deliver certain benefits.  If the product or service does deliver on its promise, the relationship is enhanced.  However, if the product doesn’t deliver, the relationship is in jeopardy.  Consider the impact if you had to wait an hour for your food at McDonald’s, or you were totally ignored at Nordstrom’s department store.  You would be disappointed because your expectations weren’t met.  This rarely (if ever) happens at these two companies because they train their people to successfully manage this moment of truth.  Many salespeople miss the opportunity to solidify the customer relationship because they are off to the next sale.

 The Solution

Personally delivering the product or contacting the customer when service starts is essential for building long and productive sales relationships.  To maximize the success of this approach be sure to do the following:

  • Reinforce the original reasons why the customer decided to buy.  This will support the customer’s original decision, preventing buyer’s remorse.
  • Identify issues or concerns.  If there is a problem, use it as an opportunity to demonstrate responsiveness and commitment to customer satisfaction.

Establish positive, realistic expectations for the product or service.  Make sure the customer is properly educated so that he or she can take full advantage of the purchase.  Address potential problems immediately.

Following these simple but powerful steps will go a long way towards solidifying customer relationships and enhancing your sales success.