Saturday, April 25, 2009

What My Dog Taught Me About Life & Business

On April 24, 2009, Cumberland University's Delta Mu Delta Honor Society inducted me as an Honorary Member. I was asked to address the inductees and their guests - this is my speech...

In just a few short years being a first-time pet parent to a lab named Chocolate Chip, I learned more about life, career and entrepreneurship than I ever expected to learn!
First, there are overarching attributes a dog displays that we humans could learn from:

There is always an Alpha Dog – the Alpha Dog is the pack leader. And even when you think you’re it, someone will challenge you. We learn from leaders. Hopefully, we learn to lead someday. Get to know your “Alpha Dog”. Watch their actions, their decision-making process, watch how they handle challenges thrown their way.

Loyalty – a dog is always loyal to his/her master. This loyalty is unwavering – he/she doesn’t hesitate for a second to decide, “do I like my momma enough today to do what she wants?” I’ve heard complaints that loyalty no longer exists – but, I don’t believe it… I see loyalty between companies and employees –it seems to be lacking but that’s because most people don’t want to stay in a position for 20+ years. So, I encourage you to be loyal – even if you’re only there for 2 years. Be loyal to the hand that feeds you.

Exuberance for life – have you ever noticed that a dog meets every situation with sheer joy and exuberance? The first trip to the dog park was unnerving for me, but my dog had the time of his life! Meet the challenges of your life and career with exuberance. Have no fear! Just dive right in and enjoy the journey. Because at the end of the day – that’s what this is… a journey.

Enjoy the moment – We get so caught up in the rat-race that we forget to enjoy the moment. Not a dog… he finds sheer pleasure in sniffing the grass! He finds elation in that fleeting pat on the head. Oh, and Dear God… if you give him a Kong filled with peanut butter and a cookie… well, he can make that moment last for hours! We need to find more moments throughout our life to enjoy. Celebrate your “wins”! Take a moment to “smell the flowers.” Find pleasure in that moment of recognition, or the determination it took to solve a problem … breathe deeply and enjoy the moment.

Never meet a stranger – Over my 18 year career, I have amassed quite a database of people I’ve met and known. Don’t be afraid to talk to the person next to you waiting for the plane. Don’t be afraid to get to know your co-worker and your clients. Those contacts will serve you well down the road. Don’t forget them.
And, now that we’ve enjoyed a silly analogy, onto the more serious elements of starting your career. My five favorite quips are:

You will learn more from failure than any success you enjoy.
If no one’s mad at you, then you’re probably not doing enough.
Become a student of life – never stop learning.
Work hard, play harder.
And, the Nike motto… Just do it!

I share these thoughts with you today in hopes they help you as much as they’ve helped shaped my outlook on success and career.

The first one taught me that it’s okay to fail, so long as I learn from my mistakes. And, boy do I learn – I dissect and autopsy everything that doesn’t end in success – whether it’s a marketing strategy, a potential sale or something in my personal life. So, when the first 3 businesses I was involved in didn’t succeed, I didn’t get down… I got back on the horse. I learned from the mistakes I made and today I am enjoying the fruits of those labors with a business that is winning. Each start-up business I was involved in taught me a little more that has helped me achieve more success in the next venture.

The second thought has gotten me through the past 2 and half years. We can never please everyone all the time. There will be people who don’t like what you’re doing or how you do it – don’t worry about that. If what you’re doing is right, there will be folks sitting in judgment. The fact that they are talking about it tells you that you’re doing something! If you’re making things happen, people are going to talk about it – good and bad! I have learned to enjoy the positives and assess the negatives – is there any merit? Can thinking about this make me better? If not – I throw it away and press on.

Never stop learning – learn from anyone and everyone you come in contact with, learn from mistakes – yours and the mistakes of others and most importantly expect to learn something from everyone – everyday. If we’re really open to learning – it’s amazing how much we can improve… what can a 2-year old teach me? How about my grandmother, my superior, my subordinate and my peer? What can your dog teach you? There are lessons all around us – listen for them!

I work hard, so I can justify playtime! Enjoy your life. Find and keep the balance between work and play. Never let one become more important than the other – it’s the balance that allows you to achieve success. The biggest mistake I’ve ever made was to stop exercising. Creativity diminished, tolerance was reduced and the ability to dissect and solve a problem was lost. When I balance my health (mind, body and spirit) with my career – I’m happier and I accomplish more.

And, when all else fails – Just do it! Don’t wait for someone else to do what needs to be done – just do it! Don’t wait to see what tomorrow brings – just do it! Don’t wait to see if others approve – just do it! I have learned that it’s always better to ask for forgiveness than to wait for permission – our superiors are busy… what’s hot on your plate, is not even on their radar. So… sweep the floor, clean the bathroom, buy a ream of paper, make the coffee and when you are called to lead – just do it!

In today’s competitive business landscape the big question is “what can you do for me?” Solve the problem, be the answer! I wish for you a path that’s challenging, because I’ve learned that the easy path bears no reward. Work hard, play hard and just do it!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Creating a Community

How do some businesses make it look so easy? You know what I mean… that sense of community that keeps customers coming back, over and over and over. It’s not hard, you just have to build it and they will come.

But, how do you create a sense of community when your company sells plastic molding to distributors? Or, when you sell website development services to other businesses? Or, when your business sells clothing to women, men or children?

It’s easier than you think… but it requires stepping outside the box. You have to get out of your business and look into it from the customer’s perspective. Think of it as a “team” from your past – whether the high school or college football team, cheerleading squad or marching band. Consider carefully the following questions and you’ll figure it out.

1. Consider the team mascot… Do we have a brand that our customers identify with?

2. Consider why people came out to watch… What draws our customers back?

3. Consider how the spectators connected to the team… How can we connect our customers to each other, not just our business?

4. Consider how the team gives back… What place does our business hold in the community (local or nationally)?

5. There is no “I” in team… How can you demonstrate cohesiveness?

6. High-fives… What can you do to communicate to your employees that you value them?

7. Hats off to our fans… How do you show those customers who support your business that you value them?

The answers may vary some from business to business – and will change based on whether or not your end customer is another businesses or consumers at large. But, the process is exactly the same. If you need help developing your community, please call on me! If you've already developed a community... please tell us about it!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Can Your Customers Be As Loyal As A Big Brown Dog?

First, I must start by defining the word "customer". A customer is that person or business who has already purchased from you or your business at least one time. Money has exchanged hands. Now, I know in many industries, your Sales Manager is likely to tell you to consider everyone you meet "a customer"... but reality is, if they haven't bought from you or your business, ever, then they are NOT a customer. The blogs that I write discuss ways to retain those customers you've already won and should not be confused with strategies to acquire new customers.

Why is it important to delineate between a Prospect and a Customer? Because the model you will follow to win business the first time has different tasks associated than the model you will use to retain the business you've already won. Just as you follow a Sales Cycle Model, you should create and follow a Customer Retention Model. A model is a series of steps executed the same way every time to arrive at the same result.

One statement that I hear over and over that I know is not true... "Customers are not loyal anymore". The truth is this... businesses have gotten lazy. Business owners, both large and small, often EXPECT their customer to be loyal, "just because". "If we sell them right, they will stay forever." There is value in this statement and it certainly helps if your salesforce is selling the customer correctly, but even if they don't, a customer can develop loyalty through effort on the part of the business. Creating loyalty takes effort on the part of the one expecting loyalty - take for instance, the loyalty of a big brown dog...

When I brought my chocolate lab home (he was already 4.5 years old), he was quite the independent mug. I did everything I could think of to make him like me and want to stay. The most critical period I was told by the Rescue Group was the first 30 days. If he didn't run away in the first 30 days, he would bond and become my best friend, and most loyal friend.

So... for the first week, I hugged on him, kissed his nose, took him for walks, fed him, gave him treats, bought him toys, played with him, I made funny faces, we played fetch, we danced, we snuggled, and I talked to him, constantly, like he could understand what I was saying... are you starting to see a pattern here? It took effort on my part to foster loyalty from him. But, once I got it - it was mine for life. He lived with me for nearly 6 years before he passed away... and, at the end, his eyes told me "I want to be with you even if it means living in pain". That's some pretty amazing loyalty! Cute story you say, but really Carol, how does this relate to my customers?

It's easy. Research shows that if you can build a bond and create a connection with your customer within the first 30 days, they are 78% more likely to stay your customer for life. But, it takes effort on your part... You have to "hug" them, "kiss" them, take them for walks, feed them, reward them with toys, treats and playtime and you have to talk to them! If you don't, they will find someone else who does...

Enter the Customer Relationship Management Strategy, often referred to as simply, Customer Retention. It is more than smiling pretty and calling your customers "darlin". Customer Retention is a strategy, an over-arching philosophy, that can be executed through individual contact as well as through automated means (technology).

Just like fostering the loyalty of your dog, you must foster loyalty with your customers. One thing is for certain, when it comes to whether or not your customers are loyal - YOU are in control. If you are reaching out to each and every one, and letting them know that they are important to your business and that you appreciate the money they spend with you - they will respond with loyalty, and quite possibly... a big slobbery puppy kiss! 8-)