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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

4 Ways that help a business standout

Can you pick out the more expensive bird?

Attend any major business conference and chances are you will find competitors to your business.  Observing show rooms or speaking with other entrepreneurs helps one learn about how other businesses market their offerings.  The exhibit designs attract prospective clients or customers by their lighting, placement, artistry, free stuff, attractive sales people, and more.  The companies hosting each exhibit intentionally desire that their offerings standout to the crowds. 

As an attendee, exhibits catch your eye and savvy entrepreneurs will also be looking for network contacts as well as any competition.  People wear name badges with a company affiliation and sometimes a title.  A person working for a certain company or having a managerial title walks by and you spring into action.  Your goal is meeting this person in hopes of developing an important contact for your business.  It is also important to speak to those you already know in order to maintain your network and avoid offending someone by ignoring them. Yes, something made these people standout to you! 

Diversity is important in business for many reasons.  Products and offerings that are identical to others may sell, but differentiation and promotion of the product is more complex.  Developing unique product offerings with advantages over the competition improve chances of greater sales.  Even recognizing this fact, many startups tend to go down the path of having a business that is very similar to another business in the sector.  When entrepreneurs fail to explore how to differentiate their business from the others, they may end up with a much lower revenue model than anticipated.  It is possible to develop a successful look-alike business, but creating an improved business model or product increases the chances for the success.

Why look the same as everyone else?  Your business is something you create and should have your imprint and designs.  You have the ability to make superior offerings by directing your company along that path.  At least consider the differentiation of the business and products before spending your time building the business.  The following areas are worth your consideration as you proceed with your company development.


1.         Strive for uniqueness:  Identify those areas that make your offerings standout and be unique; a superior design, improved performance, and superior service are just a few.  If you are lucky, you may be the first product in the area and no competition exists.  Knowing why you are special allows you to develop better promotion that drives customers to use your products.


2.         Customer preference:   Customers have many other products to choose from if your product is in a competitive space.  It is important to identify those factors that will encourage the customer to purchase your offering.    Sometimes, products are a use once and customers do not return.  This requires continually attracting new customers because return visits are limited.  It also helpful to have a greater delineation between your offering and that of the competition.  Knowing customer preferences allow for your development team to design offerings that fit the preferences, are more attractive, and easier to promote.


3.         Attract repeat business: People eventually replace most items they purchase.  This factor is important to the sales cycle.  Their experience with your offering will influence their return to replace a product in the future.  Identifying the key factors that will encourage return visits will help your future sales.  You may also gain word of mouth advertising if they love your product enough.   


4.         Premium price:  Premium products can be premium priced.  The sales will be greater and your earnings may be greater if you have great margins.  The willingness to pay more goes along with the customer believing the greater value exists and the product is worth more.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

3 Considerations that may improve customer experience

Yes, this is the call center!  No one here knows how to help you; Good Bye!
Learning what not to do is one essential part of any entrepreneurial learning experience.  Finding examples of what not to do come from everyday life because problems frequently occur.  Recent interactions with three different service providers provide are a few examples of businesses not working in the best interest of their customers.  The businesses claim to be customer centric and desire to please their clientele, yet their services and service departments fail to measure up.  

The ability to think ahead and anticipate unexpected events is part of the Think Agile concept.  Good service and agile thinking involves more than limited customer surveys, designing new offerings, or project development.  Business leaders must consider what comes next.  They also must evaluate whether unexpected events might affect a business positively or negatively.  

It is great to redesign an internet service to make it easier to navigate, but what about the long time users that hate the new version and are unable to obtain the same perceived value.   Contracting multiple call centers may reduce time on the phone for some, but what happens when the service representatives know less than the customer and are not able to make decisions or resolve a problem.   It is essential that leaders consider how to deliver the best service and products.  They must also learn to anticipate problems and find a means of quick resolution.  A few specific real examples are:

Investment service:  This well-known service changed their web design making it visually more appealing. In doing so, they eliminated the ability to find data critical for long time users that contracted with the service.  The consideration of whether some customers would dislike the new offerings was not apparent.  The same business created 4 call centers for different types of problems.  However, none of the agents at any of the 4 centers work as direct employees for the company.  Making the problem worse they were not knowledgeable about the produce and they had no ability to make decisions or provide the correct information.  Finally and most troubling, it was impossible to find any representative (contractor or employee) that was familiar with the old website or printed products.  Explaining the issues and trying to find a resolution simply fell on deaf ears due to a complete lack of knowledge.  How can anyone help when they know nothing about the product!

Bank:  A local bank offered a free service.  They later changed the service to charge monthly and deduct a fee from an account.  They notified customers by a letter requiring the customer to call to cancel or be charged.  The automated system questions leading to gaining access to a real person were numerous followed by 5 minutes on hold.  Then, the representative spent 10 minutes trying to convince people to retain the service.  Calling in to cancel a service you do not want and never signed up for should be less complicated!

Cable:  Appointments for installation involve two parties, the business and the customer.  On the day of install, a homeowner called to determine why the service person failed to show.  The company rescheduled the install without notifying the customer.  Then when the representative came two days later, no install could be performed without changes to the connections that had to occur at the street level.  Knowing the needs for service in an area should be something the business is aware of!  Oh, and they continued to run advertisements for services the firm did not yet provide.  It does not take common sense to investigate what is required to ensure a good service call and having the correct people show up at a defined time!

Every growing company will experience changes in products, personnel, and services.  Planning for these changes should consider ways to minimize the negatives and enhance the positives.  Great companies want people to perceive their product and services in the best possible manner.  There will always be unhappy people with any change, but by thinking ahead, it may be possible to minimize negatively affected customers. Here are just a few areas that could result in improvements generating a more positive customer impact.  Think more globally as you read these as they are examples.  The real exercise for your business is to find similar problems that may affect your business and fix them before they negatively affect your customers.

1)     Product changes:  Changing an offering to make the product easier to use may cause the loss of utility for some customers.  Once long term clients are familiar with the product the complexity is less a concern.  Changing the product may result in their inability to use the product in a manner that was important to them.  Try to identify ways to help new and old users of the product have better experiences with the new design and still get what they want.  Make sure your staff understands both the older products and new products before you have them engage with customers having issues!


2)     Customer Service:  Call centers should have people that fully understand products and offerings.  It helps if they can make decisions.  Increasing the number of service centers reduces wait times and allows for specialized help, but only if the people know what their products and services.  Customers do not like making multiple calls to address the same issue and they hate it more when no one is able to make a decision or provide real help.   It is even worse when the customer must explain the product to the service center because they do not understand it.  Remember, people want to know how they can get the help they need.  Try to hire and train the service center personnel appropriately!


3)     System awareness & scheduling:  Providing some services over a wide area requires significant infrastructure.  A service center may be the correct place to make appointments, however if the appointment must be changed, the service should contact the customer prior to the scheduled time and workout a new appointment time.  It also helps if the center is more familiar with the locale and specific needs for that area.  It is hard to hear that the install will be weeks away because certain equipment is not located nearby.  Try to understand the needs and requirements in advance and schedule events to occur more timely! 


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

3 Areas where finding a business solution trumps the alternative

Sometimes the best plans require extra thought and difficult decisions!

Startups are filled with many twists and turns.  Regardless of how well planned or lucky you are, situations occur that will stress your skills and patients.  It is difficult to recognize every problem in advance or to develop alternatives that reduce the harm your company.  Unexpected events require careful thought and a great deal of patients in order to create viable alternatives.


Issues that elevate stress levels may result in less logical actions and reduced care in planning.  For example, a staff member becomes overly challenging by undermining your authority or finding a way to ditch work assignments that are critical to a team project.  A capital raise slows down as a result of market conditions or delays in meeting defined milestones.  Manufacturing partners fail to meet deadlines and delays start to mount up as well costs.  Nothing prepares you to manage these events and in many cases they can be totally unexpected occurrences. 


Agile thinking and a calm disposition are greatly needed when events shift to really bad or very good.  Agility is also important in order to recognize and capitalize on a key event that can take your company to the next level.  Learning to think and react quickly often reduces further pain and this skill also helps in capitalizing on a lucky break that may enhance your chances of success.  A few examples of difficult issues and possible considerations are provided below to help stimulate agile thinking.


·       Personnel issues:  Employees that act badly or perform poorly hurt your business by destroying morale, reducing team project performance, and sucking valuable time while you deal with the issues.  It is important to keep a record of activity, but finding a way to connect with the offending party often helps identify a route to solve the problem.  Perhaps retaining a consultant to pick up the slack or to provide training for a poor performer would improve the situation.  In the end, the decision to remove the individual is always an option, but finding a way to improve performance is often better and less stressful.


·       Funding issues:  Startups can’t have too many friends or too much money, however, they can have too little of both.  Your network is important because they can help you find funding or other needed resources.  Financial raises do not always go as expected.  It is possible to have no prospects thus forcing the company to become more developed in order to attract investment capital.  Alternatively, many investors may want in on the deal and you must choose who to accept and turn away the rest.  It is always helpful to find ways to enhance the business before trying to launch or relaunch a financing.  It may take more than one attempt to get the needed funds needed. 


·       Development or marketing failures:  It is possible that product development is halted by unexpected event or slowed by high barrier to project completion.  The inability to launch the product on time hurts revenues while failing to meet projections causes concern with investors.  Market assessments are sometimes incorrect and sales are grossly lower than projections.  Either of these causes an unexpected financial burden on the business.  Attempting to have an excess of cash from a capital raise or partnership investment may tide the company over until the problem is solved.  It may be necessary to reduce spending if extra financial resources are not available.


These are just a few places you may have problems in your startup.  Try to remain calm and develop alternate plans to minimize damage and get back on track.  The greatest places requiring effort are controlling your own emotions and maintaining the confidence needed to address the difficulties.  The key is to remain calm and use your agile thinking skills to find a solution.


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 


Thursday, October 29, 2015

5 Actions improve decision making

Rational decisions should move you closer to that light at the end of a tunnel!

Making decisions can often be hampered by fear and by complexity of a corporate structure.  The wrong decision may get you fired or cost the loss of your business.  Fear of negative events reduces the care and consideration of rational thought processes to take decisive action.  Decisions become even more difficult when the entire business is on the line, because the decision maker knows that a poor decision may result in a business being forced to shut down or make the status worse than before. 

The stresses of a failing business causes some to go into a survival mode.  Their thinking shifts wildly among potential alternatives while they attempt to keep a business operational. They may fear changing course because of unknown consequences of a decision, so they keep doing what is not working hoping it will improve. Sometimes it helps to reduce the number of options to a more manageable set before maximal effort is focused on the activities that may yield the greatest payoff.  In any event, finding a way to reduce the fear, anxiety, an stress is important to rational planning.

In larger corporations, the manager may be removed from the group tasked with examining a change or new direction.  This results in the team having limited feedback along the way and the manager having to review the data from the team before finalizing a decision.  If this decision requires approval several layers up the chain, the team may fear looking bad and be far too cautious in providing the best input for the final decision makers.  It is very hard in such situations for the team to make the bold recommendation that may really catapult the business to new heights.  

It is clear that stress, anxiety, and fear will complicate decisions.  No matter what decision one makes there is always a feeling of what may have happened if an alternative path was taken.  One way to help improve the process is to take the most rational approach possible that works in the time frame required for the decision.  Keep in mind that a decision required in 1 hour forces movement through the process faster than a decision that may take a month! Consider follow the flow listed below and see if it helps you next time.

  1. Take a deep breath:  Recognize that whatever you are feeling is only going to complicate the process.  Stepping back and taking time to compose yourself and reduce any fear, anxiety, and stress will allow you to approach the issues in a more rational manner.  You are not the first person to be in a difficult place nor will you be the last.  The better the plan you create, the better the chances of coming away with a winning scenario. 

  1. Make a list:  Listing out all the issues and possible steps to resolve them is an important step.  Remember to consider the time required and cost to complete each step.  This information will help assign importance and likelihood of completing the steps. 

  1. Rank according to potential impact:  This is where you decide if task completion will be a game changer or not.  The greater the impact, the higher it should be on the list.

  1. Review time and costs:  A review of the time is not simply the time to complete the task; it includes the time you have left.  For example, a business with 6 months of funding left taking should not work on a high value task that takes 1 year to complete, nor should it work on a task that cost more than the business can afford.  Adjust tasks not you are unlikely to complete due to money or time downward on the list.  The top tier tasks be those you can complete in the remaining time with the dollars available. 

  1. Limit the number of tasks:  The listing, ranking and review will create an optimal order of those items you can complete in the remaining time with the resources available.  It is often better to select one or two of the top items and focus the remaining attention and resources to completing those tasks.  The goal is to get the greatest impact that will help the company survive and grow again.

The process helps reduce the anxiety in any decision making and it improves the selection of just enough from the list to gain the best impact with remaining resources.  As someone told me recently, when standing on the edge of a cliff, you can jump or go a different direction.  Both are decisions, but the analysis of the situation will tell you which has the best chances of yielding a positive result.  It is important to remain AGILE in Thinking, because most decisions may be altered along the way.  Monitoring the results and adjusting is essential to getting to a WIN!


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group.