How Your Dog Food Tastes

I saw something in an article this morning that had me nodding my head in agreement and I thought it was something that all of us should think about. It was a piece about how the growth of marketing technology companies has stalled and it gave as a reason this:

There is a long list of sales and marketing tech vendors that have had their growth stalled for a number of reasons: failure to find a use case with broad market appeal, product based on a feature, or quite simply couldn’t execute.While these companies might have received more funding two or three years ago, in today’s climate VCs are not replenishing their offers. Today, there are big rounds for those with momentum and a big story, or no funding for those that don’t.

In other words, many of these companies have been able to attract a client base but the results those clients were expecting haven’t been there. That’s a critical thought when you’re making promises, isn’t it? I can’t begin to count the number of tech companies I’ve spoken with over the years that made huge promises but failed to deliver.

I wrote about this several years ago. Way back in 2011, I wrote:

I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve sat through for companies that were going to grow my revenues 10x but wouldn’t take 90% of the first year’s incremental revenues as a fee.  Big red flag.  Then there were the companies who promised great service but wouldn’t sign service level agreements that legally obligated them to provide that great service.

So at the risk of repeating myself, I’m going to repeat myself (this time from 2016):

Nothing like eating your own dog food, right? But that’s a critical part of serving our customers well and each of us needs to do that on a regular basis. When was the last time you tried to go through checkout on your own online store? How was the experience? How about trying to return what you purchased or put in a call to your customer service department? My guess is that none of your top managers have done any of those things in a while.

You can only grow so big if the results aren’t there. If you haven’t explored those results with your customers along with the time, effort, and expense it took them to achieve those results, you’re not doing your job. More importantly, you’re setting your growth curve on a downward course because nothing in business happens in a vacuum these days. People talk.

One thing I’ve learned in consulting on franchises is the importance of what we call validating the franchise. It’s when a prospective owner speaks with current owners to find out if the representations made by the franchisor are accurate and complete. It’s kind of like checking references when you hire except the FTC requires the franchisors to disclose the names and phone numbers of all their current franchisees so you can’t control with whom a candidate speaks. That means the results have to be there, pretty much across the board.

When was the last time you spoke to your customers about their results from using your product or service? If you have to think about it, it has probably been too long. Food for thought?

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The Right Stuff

It’s Foodie Friday and this week it’s tool time. As I mentioned in some previous posts, I’m in the process of moving, which means that a lot of stuff is packed up and not readily available for cooking. You never think that you’ll use some kitchen-related item (I won’t be ricing potatoes any time soon, will I? Pack the ricer!) right up until you need it. Then comes the internal debate assessing whether to unpack it (assuming you can find it), try to make do with some similar tool, or cook something else altogether.

One of my absolute mantras is that one needs to have the right tool for a job. You might think that throwing a smoothie into a food processor will work (because you packed the blender), but you’re wrong. Not only does it not yield a respectable smoothie but it makes a horrible mess. Then there is trying to make a roux with a fork instead of a whisk because, well you know where the whisk is, and it’s not in the kitchen.

Another non-food example. I just spent a day and a half trying to wire cat5 plugs around the new house. A buddy of mine had most of the tools to do this save for a punch tool to seat the wires properly. We tried to punch them down using everything from a tiny screwdriver to a pen. None of the connections were solid. An hour back and forth to buy the right tool and suddenly we were flying through the job. The right tool makes all the difference. Was $50 expensive to get it? Not in light of what it would have cost to hire someone to do the job.

You should remember that when you’re running your business. The right tools – and I include the right people in that category – makes all the difference. Spend the extra buck on software that works for you and don’t try to shoehorn your business into some freeware that really isn’t right. Sure, there are a lot of very good free tools out there but most of them begin to charge you as you reach the enterprise level. Make sure they’re worth paying for before you get too embedded in their platform.

Finally, spend more on good people that are right for your company and right for the job. Having a fantastic free design tool is great but you need someone that knows how to use it or the results will look amateurish.

Having the right tool makes an excellent finished product much easier to obtain. Using a shoe to drive a nail rarely works, don’t you think?

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TheYear Of You

So here we are again at the start of a new year. If you haven’t already started to implement your resolutions for the year, let me humbly offer a suggestion that should be a part of them. Make this the year of “you.” To be clear, I’m not suggesting that it be a year of self-centered egomania. In fact, I’m suggesting quite the opposite, and I’m doing so because it will improve your business. As a bonus, it may also improve your non-work life.

How does one go about making it the year of “you?” Start by this: quit saying “I.” Stop thinking about your business’ bottom line and focus on solving your customers’ problems. Don’t put out messages about what people can buy from you. That’s selfish. Focus on how what you’re selling helps. Ask “how can I help you” and not “how can you help my bottom line.”

Let me show you how the “you” focus works because it is something I try to practice here in this space. My focus is on what I hope is important to you. I try to have an outward focus. If all I did was blabber on about what’s important to me, we’d be indulging in a discussion of the new rules of golf or my incompetence at beating certain video games. That doesn’t help you at all and I suspect after 10 years of that my readership would be down to just me. By writing this, which takes time and effort, I’m hoping to grow both the audience and my credibility and I don’t ask for anything in return. OK, once in a while I will remind you that I consult and if you want to look at franchise opportunities, I want to help you do that, but that’s about as far as it goes.

It goes beyond a customer focus. Suppose you’re going after a new job or a new client. Your best strategy is to focus on the needs of your potential employer and client instead of plugging your own skills. Nobody cares about your craft if you fail to make it relevant to them.  You have to change your pitch to suit your audience. I can’t tell you how many pitch meetings I’ve sat through that were generic and which failed to address MY problem as a potential customer or partner. Generally, no sale.

Don’t talk about what you do. Ask yourself if you were your potential client or listener how your service is relevant to them. Don’t be the one at the party who talks only about themselves. Don’t ask “how do YOU like MY outfit?” Ask “how can I help YOU?” If we all do that this year, it will be quite a good year indeed don’t you think?

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When You Don’t Know What Business You’re In

I started 2019 by buying a new home. When I say new, I mean brand spanking new as in “just built.” As I’m preparing to move in, I did what most folks would do first these days and called my local Cable TV/ISP to come set up the house. The builder did a good job of preparing the house for both cable TV and for wired internet and phone. There is a large junction box in a closet with both coax and Cat 6 wire running to most rooms. The living room and master bedroom both have conduit running into the crawl space for wires to be run easily. Frankly, I thought the hardest part of getting everything set up would be joining the coax and network wires that were hanging out of the side of the house to the main feeder lines. I was so wrong, and the reason why I was is quite instructional for any of us in business.

Hooking the house to the main lines was easy. Then, the tech set up the cable modem and router for my high speed (400MB+) wifi network. So far, so good, The problem came when I asked about connecting the wires that were in the closet to a switch or the router. None of them have caps – the little plugs – on them. “I don’t do that,” he said. But how can I connect the rooms to the network? What about putting the coax wires into a splitter for cable in the various rooms? At least that would help me identify which wires ran to which rooms. No help there either, even though he is the cable installer.

The final bit of laziness came when he informed me that he couldn’t run any cable through the conduits. He said he couldn’t find the conduit opening in the crawl space even though he pushed a long rod down the conduit and then went to look for it in the crawl space. I went down the next morning and found the openings in about 2 minutes. Yes, it was late (4p) on a Friday afternoon and I’m sure he wanted to get out of there, but still.

So here are some things we can all take away. First, the fact that the tech had no idea how to run wired internet tells me that the cable TV companies still think they’re in the cable TV business. Any look at the numbers will show you that people care far more about broadband and their ability to stream than they do traditional cable TV. If you are an Internet Service Provider, that you need to provide the damn service, and that includes wiring houses. I want my smart TV’s wired in, along with my game console. It’s a much better experience than via wifi, even high-speed wifi.

Second, the techs are customer service people along with being technicians. This guy was very nice but did nothing to solve my problem. To make matters worse he never left any paperwork so I have no way to know what exactly he did do. I can’t even tell you what my VOIP phone number is. Any company representative that deals with customers in any way should be trained to do so properly. They must have a focus on solving problems, not on creating them. And they certainly should never lie.

My ISP doesn’t know what business it’s in. They still think they are proving cable TV. They also still don’t understand how the power in all businesses has shifted to the customer. Let’s all agree to start 2019 by rethinking what businesses we’re really in and how we provide it to our customers, shall we?

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My Top Post Of 2018

It’s New Year’s Eve, and we’ll end the year with the most-read post I wrote this past year. I’m not sure many of you read all 65, 532 words I wrote in 2108, but even if you only read a few, thank you. If you did read a few posts, the odds are that you saw this one from early in October. It’s the day I wrote about how I added a new line of consulting to my 10-year-old practice. Since then, I’ve worked with dozens of people on changing their lives as they explore opportunities with franchised businesses. If 2019 is the year when you’re looking to do something different with your business life and own your own business, please reach out.  Happy New Year to you all!

A little self-indulgence today, and I promise not to make it a habit.

As you probably know if you’ve read this blog over the years, much of my consulting has evolved to a focus on startup businesses. That’s why, in addition to running my own practice, I’m a partner in a global venture catalyst that helps commercialization of startups post the idea validation stage through to sustainable profitability or a liquidity event. I also advise startups through my work at the First Flight Venture Center.

Two of the things I’ve noticed as I worked with some folks who thought they wanted to build and run a startup were that their as yet unvalidated ideas were often not really scalable businesses nor did they have a clue as to how running a startup business was different from life in the corporate world where many of them had spent their careers thus far. Quite a few of the budding entrepreneurs I’ve met were in their late 40’s to late 50’s. They had some money to invest in their startup but not enough to retire on. Besides, they were too young to play golf all day, as lovely as that sounds.

OK, so what’s the big announcement? What I realized is that rather than doing a startup many of these people needed a business in a box – something into which they could buy and, if they followed the plan, be successful. In short, a franchise. Because of this insight, I’ve expanded my consulting practice into franchise consulting. I will operate under the name of Franchise-Source and I’ve linked to the website (this is a temporary site – a newer, nicer one will be up soon). I’ve hooked up with a wonderful organization that represents over 500 different brands in over 70 different industries. My new entity has pages on Facebook and LinkedIn (those are direct links) as well. I hope you’ll check them out.

I’ll be continuing my other consulting as well and of course, the screed will continue although I’ll veer into the franchising world from time to time. I hope if you’re considering owning your own business or franchise and aren’t sure where to start that you’ll call or email me. As with a realtor, the buyers don’t pay for my services. The sellers – or franchisors – do. The work has been gratifying so far in that I’ve already spoken with a number of people who are looking to change their lives and rather than taking a chance on an unproven idea they’ve worked with me to investigate a solution that works for their goals, their budgets, and their lifestyle.

Thanks for reading. I’d appreciate you letting anyone you know who might have an interest in a franchise that I’m here to help. Back to our regularly scheduled blog programming next time.

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Top Foodie Friday Post Of 2018

The most-read Foodie Friday post that I wrote this year was written in October. I can’t recall what prompted the thought behind it although I suspect it had to do with some unappetizing takeout food. As the new year approaches, some of you might be making up lists of thing you will do differently and, hopefully, better. I’d urge you to put your best steak forward, which was the original title of this piece. Enjoy!

It’s Foodie Friday and we’re back to our regular nonsense here on the screed. Today I want you to think back to that time when you ordered takeout and it was not very good. I’m sure you’ve had such an instance: we all have. Maybe you ordered some fried dumplings that showed up as soggy as your recently washed laundry. Maybe the pasta dish you ordered had aggregated itself into a small object better suited for football than eating. Maybe you ordered a steak frites to go and it didn’t travel well. No one likes soggy fries and a cool steak doused in cooling, congealing butter.

For many restaurants, takeout has become a critical part of their business. Life today often leaves little time for cooking at home, especially during the week. Think about how many places you know that have only a few tables but do a ton of takeout. The growth of delivery services and apps has accelerated the trend while actually decreasing profitability (the services take a cut of the bill and in many cases, it’s close to the entire margin on the order). I’m not sure, however, that many restaurateurs put enough thought into putting their best products out there for takeout. Why sell something that you know won’t travel well?

Putting your best steak forward, so to speak, is something that every business should do. The most customer-friendly takeout situations have a separate counter to speed customer service. They might have a menu that’s priced a little differently since the costs of servicing a customer are different. They pack hot foods apart from cold foods and they take care to make sure that condensation in the hot food doesn’t make it soggy (vent holes, people). As with any customer encounter, how you present your brand matters. I wouldn’t even offer to sell a customer a product that I know won’t travel well. If they’ve enjoyed it before in my place, they’ll be disappointed. If it’s their first time, they won’t be back. We see this in businesses that take on jobs for which they’re ill-suited. I’ve turned down many opportunities over the years to build people websites since my ability to design and to code is not up to my ability to perform other tasks. That’s not my best steak.

Is that something your business is doing? Are you gathering data and keeping records of every customer interaction? Are you constantly looking for feedback so you can adjust your menu? Are you putting your best steak forward each and every time?

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Top Posts Of 2018 #2

This is the second most-read post written in 2018. I wrote it following the passing of my uncle, the husband of my only aunt and my godmother. The post is about being willing to be surprised and to be wrong. What I found out about him changed a view I had held for many years. Since then, I’ve reminded myself constantly that what you think you know today might be completely wrong tomorrow and I try to behave accordingly as I run my business and consult with clients. Enjoy!

My uncle passed away last week. He was married to my mother’s sister and, obviously, wasn’t a young man. Still, a loved one’s death is never easy and due to a lengthy illness, this one was especially hard. I flew to Florida to attend his funeral and to offer love and support to my aunt and cousins. If you’ve ever sat with folks who’ve experienced a loss, maybe you’ve had a similar experience to what went on. There was much talking and reminiscing about my uncle and many old family memories were shared with a mixture of laughter and sadness.

My uncle was a man I’d known my entire life and yet during the time spent chatting I learned something I’d never known. There was a book on my aunt’s table. In it were poems that my uncle had written over the years, mostly to her. It turned out he had also written a play. I was very surprised by this since my uncle was a rather vocal prognosticator on whatever topic happened to be at hand. Sports, in particular, was something about which he was never at a loss for an opinion. He was in an odd way a less knowledgeable Howard Cosell and although he was frequently wrong he was never deterred from speaking his mind. The fact that he had written love poetry to his wife was not exactly something that I thought he’d be doing.

The point of this is to remind each of us that no matter how well we think we know a topic or a person we need to keep an open mind and a readiness to be surprised. If someone had told me that my uncle was a playwright I’d have thought they were joking. That fact that I saw his poetry reminded me how little I really knew or understood about him.

Be willing to be wrong. Accept that there are things you don’t know and seek them out. Get as many facts as you can. Oddly, my uncle would often opine without having some key facts at hand. Even so, it’s his last message to me as expressed through the existence of his poetry that was probably the best thing he ever said to me. Does it resonate with you too?

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