What Does Your Business Stand For

Most business owners/executives are rightly concerned about the customers’ perception of their business.  They work very hard at trying to manage that perception through their marketing program.  The really successful ones have a very clear vision of what their business is about and what it stands for.  From there, they make sure that all communication and customer interaction reflects that vision.  Now, being human, mistakes are made in this endeavor.  The key is to get back on track immediately.

In order to do this in your business, answer this one question:  “What do you stand for?”  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  It really takes a lot of self examination, especially for a leader of a small business like me.  This is because every step you take has a direct reflection on you.  Plus, if you actually stand for something, there may be potential customers that aren’t comfortable with that and decide not to patronize your business.  It’s tough self-love and can be risky, but critical to identifying what your business stands for.

When I purchased my auto repair business two years ago, I thought long and hard about the experience I wanted to provide for our clients with respect to what I wanted our image to be; what I personally stood for.  Believing firmly that God put me in this place at this time, I believed that the business was my opportunity to do His work through this business.  I made that clear by putting the Christian Fish symbol on our company’s sign and a reference to my faith on our business cards.

Clearly, there will be people that don’t come to our shop because they don’t believe what I believe.  So be it.  That’s their right.  I can look in the mirror and know that we stand for something good and right AND our clients know that.  That gives us a baseline from which to operate and makes it clear What We Stand For.

It Starts With Integrity

The longer I am in business (regardless of the industry), the more I am convinced that the organization’s success starts with the integrity of the Leadership Team.  There has to be boundaries that they will not cross and all the employees need to understand these boundaries.  Hiring the right people becomes even more critical when you add this complication.  Skills are nice and industry experience is good to get.  But if you don’t have rock-solid integrity, nothing else really matters.

It boils down to this:  Integrity leads to trust.  Trust leads to relationships.  Relationships lead to repeat clients.  Repeat clients give word-of-mouth recommendations.   You can’t buy that type of advertising.

This is one of the issues my industry (auto repair) really struggles with.  The generally held belief is that you need to sell every possible service when a client comes in because you don’t know if they will come back to complete the recommended service if you don’t sell it NOW.  It’s a common theme in our trade publications.  I’ll bet you’ve been on the receiving end of a $1,000 up-sell list.  I was before I got into this business

In our business….we know that they will be back.  How?  We take the time to build relationships with them.  I know of other shops that do the same thing with similar results.  The relationships won’t last, though, if they aren’t backed by integrity.

It’s not too late to start making integrity your starting place.

Improve or Die

You’ve either worked for, read about or know someone who worked at a company that made a ton of money for a long time doing the same things they’d always done. Then, all of the sudden, the market/industry changed. Now, efficiency and higher levels of customer service and speed are what it takes to compete. Unfortunately, the company didn’t have some or all of those attributes. This was mostly because they spent years or even decades without any quantum changes in their processes. Now what?

It’s time to get on the process improvement band wagon. You know; the stuff you’ve been reading about for years. It doesn’t matter what set of tools you use. My personal preference is to embrace Lean Enterprise because of its common sense thought process regarding waste elimination. I’ve found that every person in the organization can grasp its concepts. There’s also Six Sigma, TQM and a number of hi-bred programs. Get to learning and get improving. Not doing so will seal the fate of your organization.

More to come on this topic.

Integrity

As I watch, with my mouth likely hanging open, at the lies, vitriol, closed mindedness and overall lack of character going on in Washington, I find my self hoping this does not pour over as normal behavior into the rest of society. Now, Washington’s behavior shouldn’t surprise me. They continue to under-perform and fail to meet already low expectations on a daily basis (just look at their approval rating). However, I’m still amazed by the behavior of people who are supposedly adults; supposedly leaders.

As you look to set the course of your business, use the Washington example of what NOT to do. Whether you are the CEO, VP or the Mail room Manager:

DO treat people with respect and dignity.
DO communicate frequently and clearly with your team and your customers (internal and external).
DO maintain calm in tough situations. Your team is looking to be led.
DO lead by example.
DO involve your team in decisions that affect their day to day activities.
DO have something else in your life more important than work (your team probably does).
DO say please and thank you.
DO have open and honest dialog.
DO be a person of good character.
DO insist on absolute integrity from your team.

Let Washington be Washington. Emulate someone better.

The Three P’s

People, Processes and Products.

Simply put, if you have excellence  in all three of these areas, your organization is bound to be successful.  If you have been around business for any length of time, this isn’t exactly a revelation.  However, it keeps it simple (a common theme of mine).   When you are wondering why your results aren’t quite what you want them to be, come back to the three P’s to re-center yourself as a leader.  Analyze each of the P’s and find out where the weakness(s) lie.

People – We all want to hire the best people.  While it’s not easy and we do make mistakes from time to time, having a thorough and systematic hiring process will limit those errors.  Beyond hiring, we have to be aware that our business is changing.  Are our people keeping up with the changes?  Can they still handle the new environment?  Has the business outgrown them?  These are some of the things to consider to ensure that the three P’s stay in balance.

Processes – If you have great people, but the processes within which they work are not up to snuff, the opportunities for failure increase significantly.  Conversely, you can be successful with air-tight procedures and some average people.  Now, I wouldn’t recommend a whole staff of mediocrity because that’s asking for trouble.  However, the power of an excellent process multiplies every team member’s ability to succeed.

Products – This is where the rubber meets the road.   Do you have products/services that customers actually want to purchase?  Do they see enough value in your offerings that they will pay a profitable price or are you selling a commodity?  You can make money either way, but a commodity product requires a low-cost operation with a much smaller margin for error.  In my experience, a high-value product is a lot more fun.  You can afford a few more key people and the helps prevent your team from burning out.  Again, this is something that needs to be monitored.  What used to be a high-value product, my become commoditized one day.  It’s important to recognize this and be ready with new high-value offerings or be prepared to adjust your cost structure rapidly.

Our mothers used to tell us to mind our P’s and Q’s.  Keep it simple and just focus on the P’s.

Is Your Sales Team Really Selling?

Like any business leader, you probably watch your sales figures like a hawk.  You know full well that sales are your company’s life blood.  Undoubtedly there have been times when you have been unhappy with the sales figures.  You’ve probably wondered what in the heck your sales team is doing!  And why not; you have a great product, great service and you are competitively priced.

Have you and/or your Sales Manager ever spent the time to understand how your sales team is spending their day?  Are they really out there filling their pipelines or are they serving their existing business?  Worse, are they dealing with administrative issues or scrambling to cover for poor service?

Think about this:  In the rest of your operation, do you have people who specialize in what they do?    You have manufacturing, maintenance and shipping departments (if you are in a manufacturing business).  Do your shipping people go and run the production equipment?  Do your manufacturing people go into the office to do accounting?  Of course not.  Why?  That would be incredibly inefficient.  So, why does your sales team sell, serve and trouble shoot?  If you think that’s inefficient, you are right.

Take heart, however.  You are not alone.  This is a common problem throughout multiple industries.  Sales people work hard early in their tenure to build their book of business; selling and serving along the way.  Eventually, they become order takers and stop generating new business.  Now, I am not telling you to ignore your existing customers.  They are way too expensive to replace.  By all means, make them happy and loyal!  However, you don’t need to use your sales team to do that.

Take a good look at your sales team and how they spend their day.  Look, also, at their skill sets.  Are they hunters or farmers?  If they still can hunt, let them hunt.   Set up the sales organization so it feeds the service side of the business.  Let the service oriented farmers take outstanding care of existing customers.  In other words, use each person’s best and highest purpose.

This change won’t be easy.  There are compensation issues and you may even lose someone.  However, you’ve got to utilize your team the best way possible and keep the pipeline full.  Even before doing this, you can probably find a lot of administrative busy work that can be eliminated, streamlined or re-located in order to let your sales team sell.

Dig in and sort it out.  Make sure that Sales is what they are really doing.

Let’s Be Clear

If you are a business leader, how well are your team members aligned with your vision?

Are you sure?  When was the last time you asked them about their overall reason for being employed there?  If you are like most, it’s been a while.  When was the last time you actually stood in front of your team and specifically and succinctly explained to them why they are there with you?  Probably as long, if not longer.

This is a very common problem in the businesses that I’ve work in and been associated with from the outside.  Oddly, it’s one of the easiest things to correct.   Get your team together for 15 minutes next week and tell them what your vision is.  You should know that like the back of your hand; after all, it’s your vision.  Then talk about it every chance you get.  Leave no doubt as to what the company is trying to accomplish.  You and only you can do this.  Don’t leave it to your direct reports (you probably haven’t been clear with them either).  Don’t leave it to the line managers.  They are usually trying to get today’s orders out the door.  You must own this one.  It cannot be delegated.

Once you’ve done it, don’t turn around and change it.  You will confuse everyone and make the business more complex than it needs to be.  Anything you add to the business needs to fit under your big picture vision.  That’s how you keep it clear and avoid constant changes.

Keep your team moving in the same direction with a consistent, clear message.   And do it now.