Thursday, August 24, 2006

Call your customer

I just talked with a fabulous Canadian entrepreneur in technology who shared with me one of his top growth tactics: going back to prospective customers to find out why they didn’t buy from you.

He says he picked it up from a mentor in sales who used to say that “Good salespeople know why they should get the deal. Great salespeople know why they don’t get the deal.”

When his company doesn't make an expected sale, he or his people go back to clients to ask three basic questions:
* “What did you buy instead?”
* "What did you like about it?”
* “If you don't mind, what could we have done better?”

The most worrisome thing, he says, is when they haven't bought anything else. That means whatever you're selling is not sufficiently compelling – and should make you take a second look at what you're selling and why.

I asked if he borrowed this system from someplace else, or came up with it himself. His answer: “It’s something I invented from constantly getting my teeth kicked in.”

Mark this down as another of those tactics that’s so easy to do – almost textbook – but almost never done.

The entrepreneur suggests many people don't do it because their entrepreneurial egos couldn’t take the negative feedback. As he says, “Humility is a learned trait.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

Trust, but verify

I was asked today by email to provide some "startup hints" to a complete stranger.

This is what I replied:

"I hope your new business is doing well. If I could offer you any advice it would be to enjoy what you do, delegate as much as you can, and don't trust anyone. (Get everything in writing. Have clients sign contracts. Collect deposits where possible.)

"You'll meet many wonderful people in business. Unfortunately, you have to protect yourself from the others, because they're out there too."

So what do you think of my answer?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Glue Horizons

I've been having some interesting discussons about leadership recently for a project I'm working on.

One of the best concepts of entrepreneurial leadership I've come across came from a middle manager whose first language is not English.

He described the job of the entrepreneurial CEO as "gluing people together." That put some pretty weird images into my mind, so I asked what he meant.

He meant that the CEO (or president, or whatever) should focus on aligning people: getting them to share values, beliefs and direction. In an organization that has good managers who know their jobs, CEOs shouldn't be getting involved in management, but in making sure everyone else knew what they were suposed to be doing and that they had the motivation and the resources to get it right.

And then he said something equally interesting. In his business and others, a lot of future opportunities are going to come from outside the business's traditional markets. The job of the CEO, he said, is to make a point of getting to know other CEOs, outside of their own industry, to scout out possible collaborations and create the relationships that may lead to successful new opportunities, products and services down the road.

Good advice, I think. As our markets become more competitive and crowded, it's clear that the best opportunities will not be found in old spaces, but in the intersection points. And it's the people actively exploring those frontiers that will see them first.

Sure, we've heard stuff like this before.

But what did you spend your day doing?

Never let a cab driver open the door for you

I was feeling pretty special yesterday when a taxi driver in downtown Toronto rushed out to open the door for me as I got in the cab.

He was just so eager to help that he shut the door before I had my foot inside.

Ouch.

Still hurts, too.

(Hey, if I can't gripe in my own blog, where can I?)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Do you have principles like these?

Tech Data Corp. is barely 30 years old, but the Florida-based IT products distributor is now ranked No. 107 on the Fortune 500.

On the assumption that they know something about successful growth, I went trolling their website and came across the following Guiding Principles. I doubt the company's success stems from them directly, but I admire any organization that can express its values and expectations so clearly and openly.

Wouldn't your company benefit by coming up with a similar list of what matters most to you?

Tech Data's Guiding Principles

* Hiring the right people is the most important decision we make. We hire and retain smart people who are passionate team players.
* We honor commitments and respect our team members by being on time, responding to requests in a timely fashion and delivering quality work.
* We are part of the solution – not part of the problem. We continually seek to improve our individual skills.
* We are driven to deliver results by setting priorities and achieving aggressive goals.
* We treat the dollars we spend as if they were our own.
* We recognize and reward team members for achievement.
* Relentless continuous improvement for every business process is a key to our success.

(Click here for more on Tech Data's mission and principles)

Of course, every organization has to act on its principles, and learn to execute on fine-sounding words such as these.

But surely the first step is identifying your principles, and then making sure that people inside and outside your organization know what they are.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Dragon's Lair

What has lots of money, high expectation, sheer contempt for evasion and prevarication, and knows 100 ways to say “No”?

That would be the panel of 5 “dragons” (self-made entrepreneurs) assembled for this week’s taping of Dragon’s Den, the new CBC reality show that depicts ordinary entrepreneurs trying to convince high-rolling angel investors to put money into their businesses.

I attended the final taping Thursday morning and it was a real hoot. The “Dragons” are funny, they're wise, and they’ve mastered the art of the one-liner. There were some good presentations today, but most of the pitchers, as usual, were sent away empty handed. (One went home in a really foul mood after being told the dragons weren’t likely to do business with him because all he did was argue with them!)

I think it will make good television.

It might even teach Canadians something useful about business. There were several apt comments from the Dragons to the effect that, “You have a perfectly good small business. But it’s not an investment.”

I think that’s a wonderful way to remind entrepreneurs that equity investors don't want to invest in small businesses; they want to invest in big businesses, only before they get big. (They’re also looking for 10x returns, which comes as a surprise to many entrepreneurs who just hope their business will make enough money to carry them through to retirement).

If this show, which airs in October, gets this one message across – that most small businesses deserve to be financed only with debt (loans), not equity – I think the CBC will be doing business (and a lot of starry-eyed entrepreneurs) a huge favour.

For more information on Dragon’s Den, see the official CBC site.
Or better still, visit Sean Wise’s daily blog from the set.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Money, Management, Marketing--mmm mmm good

A few more worthwhile links from the Visa Small Business Conference website.

The speakers at the Small Business Big Thinking conference on June 12 were divided into four streams: Marketing, Money, Management and E-Commerce (even though it doesn't start with 'M'). For your edification, here's one of each.

(We summarized each presentation in about 200 words, so don't hesitate to click through. It'll only take a minute to read each one.)

Michel Neray of The Essential Message had breezy, useful advice about postioning statements. Read the summary here.

Margaret Butteriss, author of several books on HR issues, looked at the how-tos (and the rewards) of employee retention. Read the summary here, or click here for a copy of her slides.

Doug Robbins of Hamilton-based Robbinex offered some great advice on buying a business. Read the summary here, or check out his slides as a PDF.

And Internet expert Rick Broadhead shared the results of his research into how to boost your online sales. Click here for the summary.

Please send me an email or leave a comment here (or write to Visa) if you find these summaries useful. Some conferences circulate CDs or DVDs of speakers' presentations, but not many people ever listen to them. Visa went to the expense of hiring business journalists to produce professional summations of this entire conference. If your feedback is positive, maybe they'll do it again next time.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

You missed the conference, now you can read it

You may remember me blogging about the Small Business Big Thinking conference that Visa Canada sponsored on June 12. It featured inspiring speakers and useful panels and workshops on everything from sales marketing to cash flow and the Internet.

Visa has just posted a ton of content from the conference on its website at http://www.visa.ca/bigthinking/. You can watch a video of the opening keynote with superspeaker Donald Cooper (“Hands up if you've ever worn my name on a part of your body”). You can see the original PowerPoint presentations of many of the speakers or read executive summaries of every presentation.

(Full disclosure: I helped put the speaker program together, so it’s only natural that I think the information will be of tremendous value to any current or prospective business owner.)

As far as I know, this is the first time a conference like this has made short summaries of all its proceedings freely available, so be sure to bookmark the site.
Congrats to the writers: Susanne Ruder, Kara Kuryllowicz, Laura Pratt and Deena Waisberg for doing a terrific job. And to the agency, Arc Worldwide, for pulling it all together.

Self-serving links:

Here’s the summary of the cash flow panel, chaired by yours truly after a participant bowed out due to a serious toe injury.

And click here to read the summary of my presentation on "Lessons from Leaders": growth tactics for every business.

I’ll link to other summaries later on, to save you the trouble of hunting them down.