Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Don’t Wait To Catch Up Until Your Customers Hate You

customers-hate-your-businessAfter working in business at all levels, and consulting to entrepreneurs for years, I’m still surprised to see so many situations where things that should be easy are painful to customers, and lead to customers hating your business. How could any rational employee or executive fail to do his or her job, not realize there is a problem, or not care enough to even try to do the right thing?

For example, I recently picked up my phone to call a well-advertised local company for a TV repair. After several iterations of not answering their phone, forgetting a promised callback, to admitting they couldn’t help me, I had no interest in trying them ever again. They don’t realize that their image of incompetence will likely get shared with twenty or more other potential customers.

Of course, every business owner I know will loudly proclaim that could never happen on their watch, but secretly they are not so sure, and would like to know how to prevent it. If you are in that category, you should take a hard look at a new book, “Nincompoopery: Why Your Customers Hate You--and How to Fix It” by John R Brandt, who has some real insight on this problem.

He defines “nincompoopery” as the ill-planned, outdated, or ludicrous organizational structures that turn even the most eager employee into a nincompoop, or at least force him or her to seem like one. He outlines six key macro-trends in business today which makes that make this an ever-growing challenge for leaders, and offers some real guidance on how to mitigate the impact:

  1. Leaders still reeling from competition and recession. Accelerating worldwide competition and financial upheavals are undermining established market positions. You can’t wait, look the other way, and hope things return to normal. Every business leader needs to focus on continuous learning, adapting, and being the role model for the team.

    For example, it’s time to regain your optimism, based on new global opportunities now open, healthcare changes, and the power of new technologies, including the Internet-of-Things (IoT). Get out and meet your customers to learn what turns them on these days.

  2. Data-fueled automation requires big skill changes. Connectivity and the ability to mine insights from a data-rich environment can be a huge boon to productivity and profits, or a barrier that will drag you and your team into nincompoopery. Start now looking for and providing advanced training and tools for all team members.

  3. Workforce demographics quickly changing. Remaining baby boomers are making the entire workforce older, while the percentage of women and the mix of ethnic diversity is increasing. Leaders who want the best results must rethink and change now how they find, train, compensate, and retain the best talent – regardless of age, color, or gender.

  4. Different employee work balance expectations. The new generation of workers expects to work more flexible hours and to connect from anywhere. They demand to be empowered to make life tradeoffs, such as vacation scheduling and benefit options, as well as business decisions. Employee engagement is keyed to these expectations.

  5. Economic/social trends demand new employee contract. We now live in a gig economy, where both employers and employees want additional flexibility. The days of working hard and expecting lifetime employment with a retirement plan are gone. You must become the employer of choice, based on incentive and employee-perceived ROI.

  6. Worldwide government regulations complicate process. Customers are demanding more from their public governing units, as well as the businesses that serve them. For example, they want environmental sustainability, safe labor practices, and social responsibility. You need to set these priorities high in your strategic planning focus today.

Ignoring them until later leads to nincompoopery, and recovery is much more difficult than getting it right the first time. Start today in modeling the activities of recognized leaders in this area, including Whole Foods, Toms Shoes, Warby Parker, and Patagonia.

Don’t wait until your current customers hate you, to start reacting to these trends, and trying to build new processes, a smarter team, and more innovative solutions to fend off the curses of nincompoopery.

These real requirements for business success haven’t changed in a long time. Don’t let the challenges we all face today distract you from delivering a positive and memorable experience to all your customers.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/17/2019 ***



Monday, July 29, 2019

9 Success Inhibitors To Overcome For Rapid Growth

graph-rapid-growthA common complaint I hear from my startup clients and many entrepreneurs is that rapid growth is more difficult than ever anticipated. The assumption usually is that more money is needed for marketing, or another round of new development is needed on the product. Yet I find in digging deeper, the challenge is just as often getting the right people and culture, rather than money.

Recently I found a new book, “The Success Cadence,” by David Mattson, Tom Schodorf, and Bart Fanelli, which summarized well the people and culture challenges, and how to overcome them. Although their focus was primarily on the sales team, I believe that many of their key success inhibitors, including the following, apply equally well to all functional areas of your team:

  1. Some team members have an entitlement mindset. The entitlement mindset is a failure of accountability. If this is left unchecked, the concept of we-first is destroyed, where too many are looking out for number one, and too few are looking out for your business. Rapid business growth requires that everyone pulls together.

    The solution is more focus on rewarding accountability, and parting company gracefully with those who insist on being me-first. Set clear standards and expectations during team meetings, and set a personal example through your own leadership behavior.

  2. Inconsistent messages from top leadership. Sometimes top leaders send messages, by their actions and emotions, that are inconsistent with published goals and priorities. For example, a “quality first” message is negated if you minimize testing to reduce product costs. Ask for feedback from the team to confirm key messages are consistent.

  3. Increasing evidence of organizational silos. Teams that don’t interact effectively decrease productivity, impede communication, and make rapid growth impossible. Your solution is to make sure every group is pursuing the same objectives and strategy, implement consistent measurements, and make leadership changes as required.

  4. Assume a better product is the primary key to growth. Some company founders believe a stronger product will solve all growth problems, including silos and lack of marketing. The solution is to listen carefully to all constituents and customers, and build a balanced action plan, eliminating hubris, and strengthening all business soft spots.

  5. Evidence of ineffective hiring and recruiting. The reality is that bad hires are a huge constraint to growth, and they are expensive and time consuming to fix. The solution is to always be hiring and developing people, including diversity of thought, background, and operating style. Existing mistakes need to be acknowledged, and off-boarded tactfully.

  6. Trying to operate with too much or not enough process. Teams bogged down by slow growth are usually stuck in one of these extremes, typically as a result of founder inattention or lack of experience. Audit each group to look for processes that everyone agrees can be improved. Prioritize process improvements and quantify results.

  7. Making decisions without discipline and analytics. What you need to manage growth is real data and tools, aligned with your targeted goals and objectives. Define an inclusive decision-making process, become the role model for discipline, and teach direct reports to follow your example. Making gut instinct decisions in today’s complex world is folly.

  8. Not measuring outcomes that tie to business objectives. Counting trade shows or opportunities typically doesn’t relate to bottom-line growth. Focus your efforts first on identifying the perfect target customer, and then define and track the activities required to close. Find your leading indicators of growth, rather than measuring lagging indicators.

  9. Lack of training and misaligned training initiatives. Companies trying to sustain rapid growth, with normal business crises, often forget that training must remain aligned and a priority. Unless you invest in, initiate, and sustain a learning growth culture, your people will be de-motivated, and not be equipped to lead when their engagement is most critical.

As your new business ramps up, anticipating rapid growth, even an existing strong workplace culture and team spirit can get lost in the fray, just when their value is most needed. Cash flow is critical, deadlines loom, and stakeholders are watching. Your challenge is to build and unleash the power of your team to exponentially multiply your own commitment to business growth.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/15/2019 ***



Friday, July 26, 2019

10 Elements of a Coaching Culture and Why You Need It

coach-culture-businessEvery entrepreneur and business person I know wishes he had more time for coaching all the members of his team. I often hear the excuse that coaching takes more time than simply diving in and doing the job for the other person, but is that really true? In fact, studies have shown that the long-term value of coaching has a return of at least 2x to more than 100x times the cost.

Of course, that assumes that you or someone you trust knows how to do it right, has the right attitude, and has the trust of the person who needs the coaching. These things don’t happen automatically, and require you as a business leader to build a company culture of coaching at all levels from the very beginning. The key elements of this culture should include the following:

  1. Be the role model for providing coaching and assistance. If you don’t take the time to provide coaching to people, versus issuing orders, you will never establish a coaching culture, no mature what your policies state. Every successful entrepreneur needs to spend more time developing people, as the business grows. Expect it and plan for it.

  2. Exceptional communication is a prerequisite to coaching. A business with a coaching culture needs to start with well-defined and documented roadmap, and leaders who are able to communicate these goals clearly and often. Coaches must also be able to give direct feedback regularly, reinforce key messages, and acknowledge success.

  3. Reward team members who take the time and effort to share. These are your natural coaches, as well as your best performers. They need to know that helping is appreciated and beneficial to their career and performance feedback. Effective rewards include public recognition for their efforts, special development assignments, as well as compensation.

  4. Seek out people who are not afraid to confront issues. People who seek to avoid all conflict or never disagree, do not make good coaches. You need healthy conflict to get people to face their limitations, and to fully understand customer and operational issues. That’s why I recommend that you as a leader always seek opposing views of reality.

  5. Look for evidence of a willingness to learn and change. Great coaches typically have a continuing need to learn, from self-development courses, reading, and getting coaching themselves from people in areas unfamiliar to them. They will inspire team members to look outside the box and try new things for the development of their own potential.

  6. Focus on team members that are the emotionally mature. There is no place in coaching for emotional outbursts and petty biases. Good coaches are able to easily build sustainable relationships with others, both at work and outside. They need to possess uncommon empathy and compassion for others, in order to really help them.

  7. A coaching culture thrives on agility and resilience. Both good coaches and good businesses are strong enough to change course quickly as the needs change and the market changes. People need coaching to weather setbacks and surprises which can dilute their confidence, and take away their ability to experience their full potential.

  8. Good coaches prepare for each session and follow up. Coaching is not casual conversation, or for off-the-cuff comments. Coaching sessions should be scheduled in advance, and the coach should be organized for each session to address specific topics. Be prepared with information, examples, feedback, and ready for discussion.

  9. Find people who actively listen before responding to input. You can’t coach someone if you don’t understand their point of view, and you can’t get that point of view without listening first. People who pre-plan their response are prone to miscommunication or misunderstanding. A coaching culture requires real dialogue rather than pontification.

  10. Only hire and partner with people who have a positive outlook. Experience levels for a role in a resume don’t tell you everything. Use your interviews to find people who are perpetually optimistic, thereby coachable, as you can be certain that roles will change over time. Negativity is really coaching in the wrong direction, and you don’t need that.

People often ask me about the difference between coaching and mentoring. I see these as two different disciplines - a business mentor helps to fill an experience gap, while a business coach helps fill a skill gap. Both may be required, but a coaching culture is required for either to work.

A mentor’s aim is to teach you by using specific examples of what to do and how, unlike a coach who helps you develop your generic skills for deciding what to do and when. Neither is about job titles, or what your expertise is, but is more about who you are.

Thus a coaching culture is well worth the investment in time and effort. In fact, in today’s digital age, with a rapid movement to new generations of workers, and equally rapid changes in technology and market demands, your business may not survive without it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 07/11/2019 ***



Monday, July 22, 2019

9 Ways to Use Pull Marketing When Push Doesn’t Work

Push-pull-marketingMore and more customers these days are doing their own marketing research, scanning internet reviews and feedback from friends, rather than trusting messages that you push out through advertising. This is called inbound marketing, where customers are pulled to you, rather than feeling accosted at every turn by your brand messages via email, newspapers and television.

Inbound marketing is all building two-way virtual relationships, which are the norm for today’s generation via social media, mobile apps, recommendations from “friends” and influencers, modern websites with customer-focused content, friendly forums, and chat bots. If you have yet to get started, here are some key steps that I recommend to my advisory business clients:

  1. Actively engage customers via top social media sites. Recently I was surprised to find that up to 25 percent of businesses still don’t use social media at all, and many more only monitor it, but rarely engage. I recommend that you experiment to find the best sites for your business, with the majors including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

  2. Update your website to make it totally customer-focused. A quick scan of the Internet today will convince you that many sites are still product-centric, technology focused, and haven’t been updated for years. Today people want to see customer needs highlighted, mobile friendly, recommendations from prior customers, and interactive help channels.

  3. Provide mobile device apps and interactive support. As American customers with smartphones now exceed 80 percent, and adults spending more time on mobile than watching TV, the advantages of mobile device support continue to increase. Inbound marketing requires that you be where your customers are, or they won’t find you or care.

  4. Highlight and practice a commitment to a higher purpose. Customers are pulled to companies that are role models for saving the environment, fostering social change, and giving back to the less advantaged. For example, Whole Foods pulls in customers by highlighting their efforts to sustain the environment and ensure humane animal treatment.

  5. Become a thought leader and influencer in your domain. Be creative and add value to what you offer your target audience, without calling it marketing. Adding value builds influence and subsequently can build your business, as well as your Klout score. Customers love to learn from leaders and innovators, and this pulls them in for sales.

  6. Provide memorable total customer experience relationships. Customers are pulled in by differentiators that go well beyond the product, including ease of shopping, ordering, delivery, customer reviews, and personalization. Your overall customer experience will trump product features every time, in terms of loyalty, trust, and return visits.

  7. Establish partnerships with recognized pull businesses. Pursue collaborations with local and national organizations and businesses who are good at inbound marketing, to pull in their customers and followers. Develop and learn from shared marketing efforts, trade-show booths, co-branding promotional products, and referral agreements.

  8. Implement marketing metrics based on inbound data. Inbound marketing data, including site page visits, blog reads, inbound links, and e-commerce orders linked to content are much more relatable to return-on-investment (ROI) than email blasts, banner-ad views, and TV show ratings. Take advantage of new automated tools in this area.

  9. Consistently deliver updated and valuable content. Companies that haven’t updated their website for years, or publish a new blog only sporadically, won’t be followed or pull in new customers. The key is consistency. In this context, content is like advertising, unless customers want to see you every day, they won’t remember anything about you.

In fact, I believe that inbound or pull marketing is just the first of several waves of change in the world of digital marketing, where customers are in charge. Customers now feel immune to most marketing influences, except the ones they initiate. Your challenge is to deliver your message in the context of customer value, and build relationships, without anyone feeling a push.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/08/2019 ***



Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Use Key Strategic Elements To Avoid Business Plateaus

Business-growth-plateauOne of the biggest challenges I find for new business owners is for them to move from working in the business to working on the business. You are so engaged in building and selling your product or service, that you “don’t have time” to focus on strategy and the next round of changes for the business to survive and grow. The result is a business plateau that hits you like a ton of bricks.

As a business advisor, when I bring this up, at best I will hear the defense that you are focused on the strategy of the moment, such as such as how to increase sales, or reach a new market. I have to admit that I have struggled with this myself many times, trying to understand all the dimensions of strategy, which has always seemed like an amorphous and overwhelming subject.

I was happy to see some good guidance on this subject in a new book, “Outsizing: Strategies to Grow Your Business, Profits, and Potential,” by Steve Coughran, who is a thought leader and consultant in this area. He outlines six dimensions of a winning business strategy, with some practical, research-based steps that I like, to focus on in achieving extraordinary results:

  1. Above all, deliver an exceptional total customer experience. The most successful companies today build a strategy to proactively anticipate the needs of their customers, as a group and individually, and totally delight them with all aspects of the shopping experience, value, delivery, and help with any follow-on questions or problems.

    For example, Apple has been a master at this, developing products like the iPod and iPhone before customers even knew they needed them, creating Apple stores with a whole new shopping and support experience, and intuitive usage needing no manuals.

  2. Highlight your competitive value, not your technology. This may sound obvious, but I still see too many companies with a strategy of highlighting technology improvements and features, rather than their value compared to competitors. This requires constant study of what your customers value, what competitors offer, and your target market.

    Converting customer-centric advantages into business value requires a deep understanding of all the financial elements of your business, as well as customer drivers. It starts with continually optimizing your business model, using analytics on all the data, and creating and using metrics to measure your performance and progress to date.

  3. Seek out and capitalize on emerging opportunities. We all wish we could “see around corners,” and are envious of people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, who seem to have this ability. With a little hard work at projecting market and technology turns, as well as the courage to make bold decisions, any of us can move further in this direction.

    For example, it doesn’t take a genius to see opportunities today due to the massive changes in healthcare, environmental concerns, social changes around the world, and the new generations of consumers. But it does take effort to weave these into a strategy.

  4. Unleash the potential of your team and talent. Strong leaders continually work on a strategy of hiring, developing, and retaining the best and the brightest. Too many business owners I know push these efforts to the bottom of their priority list, in favor of the operational crisis of the moment, or until they feel gaping holes in their team.

    Most successful CEOs now recognize motivated teams and a strong culture as one of the greatest sources of competitive advantage and long-term growth. A strategy of empowering people will produce near-term as well as lasting results for your business.

  5. Turn value creation (revenue) into value capture (profit). Strategy is more than hashing out mission, vision, and value statements. It’s making sure that these statements are financially grounded with specifics to assure an adequate return on investment for all constituents. Focus on user counts, or revenue alone, won’t make a long-term business.

    Smart growth and value capture strategies usually include selling more to existing customers and your current market, and selling current products in a new market. before developing new products or carving out a new and untested space for your business.

  6. Internalize the strategy process keyed to the bottom line. Strategy can’t be a one-time effort. Customers and the market don’t stand still, so your strategy can’t either. Efficiency is achieved through consistency and innovation, based on the bottom line results of your business. Establish a strategic cycle of initiatives, actions, and results.

With each of these dimensions, you can see that strategy is actually about working on the business, as well as in it. It’s hard work, and requires that you learn from your mistakes. Yet I’m convinced that we are operating at an exciting time, standing on the edge of new and exciting opportunities. Success won’t come from a random walk – build a strategy now for your future.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/03/2019 ***



Sunday, July 7, 2019

6 Keys To Growing Your Career Through The Gig Economy

Gig-economy-careerWhile everyone agrees that the “gig economy” is really here, the practical realities, other than not counting on long-term employment, are not so obvious. In my role as a mentor to many business professionals, I still see some who have no idea how to adapt to the new realities. The simple answer is that we all have to start thinking like entrepreneurs, rather than entitled employees.

To me, that means treating your career more like a business than a job – with a continual and global focus on keeping up with competition, finding customers, preparing for changes ahead, and taking responsibility for your own finances. With entrepreneurial thinking, this can be a win-win, with you getting more control, and good for companies, who want the more flexible staffing.

On the other hand, if you expect your employer to push you into future training required, always have a growth opportunity waiting, and set all your work parameters, then you may find a difficult road ahead. My recommendation is that you must start today preparing yourself for the future, by thinking of your current employer as a customer, and focusing on the following specifics:

  1. Quantify your value to your employer, compared to alternatives. I’m not looking for a personal guess, but some real homework done via networking and the Internet to see what other companies pay for the same role. Then look ahead to assess the likelihood that your job could be eliminated with new technology, artificial intelligence, or robots.

    This may seem scary, but it’s the reality, and what every entrepreneur has to do at every stage of survival and success. The good news is that this exercise, if done well, will be the best evidence to support your next raise request, as well as showing your readiness for the new gig economy.

  2. Assess your intellectual capital and how to increase it. It’s time to take a hard look at your breadth of experience, relevant relationships, connections, and skill depth, compared to your peers in that role. More intellectual capital means that you are worth more today in the marketplace.

    Take advantage of any and all current opportunities, such as industry conferences and special projects, to increase your intellectual capital for current roles and gigs in the future. Entrepreneurial thinking is all about being proactive, rather than wait to be pushed.

  3. Start tracking your costs as well as income elements. Most employees I know have no idea what their business life costs, since they have never had to worry about costs as employees. These costs include travel, training, supplies, office space, bookkeeping, and many others. You need to understand your real income requirements to survive on gigs.

    You will find it pays big dividends, even in your personal life, to track and manage expenses with a simple business platform, like QuickBooks or Apptivo, for work and family. With one of these, the step into the gig economy will be much less painful.

  4. Build your reputation and visibility beyond your company. Every employee or entrepreneur needs to build a competitive reputation on the Internet, through a website, blog, LinkedIn profile, and social media. Don’t let Facebook party pictures be the only way people see you when looking for a professional. Market your business expertise.

    In today’s gig economy, your professional reputation, references, and your ability to market yourself are the keys to success. All of these can be built and will serve you well while still an employee, looking for your next promotion or your first gig.

  5. Explore small gig opportunities without quitting your day job. Just as I recommend that aspiring entrepreneurs get their startup going before leaving a regular job, you should start competing for small gigs that can be done in the evenings or on weekends, to test your fit and needs, before you get forced into this world full time.

    In the current vernacular, these are often called “side hustles.” They make sense if you just want to pad your savings by creating additional income sources, as well as for testing the waters for your ability to thrive in the solo entrepreneur world of the gig economy.

  6. Regularly scan the marketplace for potential anchor clients. Before you get pushed out into the gig economy, you need to be looking for a few key clients that would likely select you and give you recurring business. There are already multiple gig platforms, including UpWork and TaskRabbit, that you can freely explore through the Internet.

You may think that gigs are relevant only to the low end of the skill spectrum, such as data entry and social media monitoring, but I see more and more highly qualified marketing and development people choosing the gig route rather than long-term employment for higher returns and more challenging work. Don’t wait for your next company layoff to get you started.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 06/21/2019 ***



Friday, July 5, 2019

6 Ways To Help Others At Work And Still Save Yourself

Mistakes-to-avoid-managing-timeDon’t you wish you were better at saying “no” to all those extraneous requests for a bit of help at work? Every business owner and professional I know is struggling with their own workload, yet they let themselves get signed up for other people’s work, either out of frustration that things aren’t getting done, or guilt, or just plain sympathy. It’s time to stop jeopardizing your own future.

For example, as a software executive, I once had a talented engineer working for me who was always helping others, to the extent that he consistently missed his own project deadlines, and was ruining his health through lack of sleep. After some tough love by me, he admitted that he just couldn’t say no to all the people around him asking for help.

He didn’t realize that he had become part of the problem, rather than the solution. I found him a coach, and we suggested the following steps that may help you as well in declining requests from peers, without leading with the “no” that you find hard to express:

  1. Ask for a small delay, to give you time to think. Even though your first reaction is that this request will only take a second, it always pays to assess your own workload and deadlines before jumping into another commitment. A good approach is to buy some time with a small delay, such as “Let me just finish this task, and I’ll stop by to see you.”

    After some thought, you may realize that you are already overloaded, and this new request is not so easy. Also there may be someone, or additional homework, that you can suggest quickly. Always be sure to stop by as promised, to maintain your credibility.

  2. Offer one-minute mentoring up front, and stick to it. Have you ever noticed how many “Do you have a minute?” requests turn into an hour or two of your time? Without saying no, and without a major impact on you, most people will appreciate a quick pointer or two to get started. Ask them to come back with specific results, and don’t accept less.

    One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to actually take over and do the job for the requestor, rather than make sure they do the work themselves. If you do their job, they don’t learn anything, and you can bet they will be back again soon. Both of you suffer.

  3. Positively point out a better alternative source for answers. Now is not the time to complain about being over-loaded or mistreated. A better approach is offer the loan of a guide book or documentation that you would have to review first anyway, or point out an expert in the department or outside who might be able to answer the question directly.

    For people who are inexperienced or new to the job, this is the best help you can give them. For slackers and people just looking for a shortcut, you need to stand firm or you will find yourself slipping to their level. Doing many things poorly won’t help anyone.

  4. Ask the requestor for help in making your help time available. Look for a win-win approach. For example, you both might visit a supervisor to re-prioritize your work, or you may even trade assignments. At minimum, you need to make sure that you get credit for your time and contribution, since most help requests tend to get forgotten by requestors.

    Ideally, a requestor will be happy to point out to a supervisor the need for additional training or resources, or will think twice before admitting that they can’t accomplish a task without help. You should be happy to now be recognized as a frequent requestee.

  5. Avoid using the word “no,” but humbly decline the request. Without emotion or a long-winded reply, a direct reply is the most effective – “I’d love to help you, but my time is already over-committed, so I can’t help you on this one.” It always helps to suggest a specific later time, such as come back tomorrow or give me another chance on Monday.

  6. Soften any delay or decline with a “thanks for asking.” Research shows that people pay more attention to how your conversation ends, rather than how it starts. Keep the conversation positive, and give the requestor your full attention, including body language. Showing frustration or anger may get you out of this request, but will hurt you later.

Remember, your first obligation is always to deliver your own work. Being viewed as a “yes” person does not make you a leader. As you look around you, the most respected leaders are most highly focused on their own goals and priorities, and are more productive in the long run. Taking on other people’s work won’t increase your job satisfaction or your productivity. Don’t do it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 06/18/2019 ***