Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How To Increase Your Sales Success

shutterstock_46908313I have been teaching consultative sales for the past 20 years and in my opinion three of the most critical skills necessary to be superb as a salesperson are: asking highly focused and thoughtful questions, being an intense listener and then taking excellent notes. Great questions allow you to gather the essential information needed to understand the customer’s problems, create the exact right solution and close the deal. However, if you ask great questions and don’t listen carefully and write superb notes, you might as well not ask any questions at all.

Let me help you understand how important listening is. Think about the average value of one of your larger sales, then determine how much time (in minutes) you actually spend in front of the key decision-maker during the sales process. Then divide the total value of the sale by the number of minutes and it will give you how much money is on the line for every 60 seconds you’re talking to the key decision-maker. For some of my clients that number has been in the thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute. The number might be much smaller for you, or it might be quite large, but either way it is essential that you be incredibly focused on your customer during the brief amount of time you get to spend with them. One of the best ways to demonstrate that you are paying attention and truly care about what they are saying is to be absolutely fantastic at taking notes. Again, if you ask a great question and they give you an in-depth and detailed answer – and you don’t write any notes – you are telling the customer not to answer any more of your questions because it will be a waste of their time. (**As someone who has owned several businesses I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve had a salesperson sit in front of me while I explained my problem or need in detail – and they didn’t write a single note – nothing. Which is exactly what they got from me, nothing. No sale, no deal, and no invitation for a follow-up appointment).

Here are some of the things I recommend to increase your listening and note-taking effectiveness and clearly demonstrate that you are focused solely on your customer.

  1. Turn off all electronic equipment that you do not plan to actually use in the meeting. No phone, no iPad, no computer – nothing that can distract you.
  2. Bring a professional notebook such as a Moleskine to write your notes in. Unless you are a phenomenal typist and can keep great eye contact while typing notes, it is better to use a pen and paper and transfer the notes over later.
  3. Bring an extra pen.
  4. As you are listening and taking notes use good body language and eye contact to show your customer you are fully engaged in the conversation. If you are selling over the phone use of verbal cues to let the customer know your listening and encourage them to continue talking.
  5. As the customer is talking repeat what they are saying over and over again in your head as you are taking notes. This will shut out any mind chatter you have and help you remember what your prospect is telling you because even though they have said it only once, you have heard it several times in your own mind which makes your memory and recall dramatically better.
  6. I have created a number of special icons that I use to help me focus in on the most important information in my notes. For example, I put a # next to where the customer gives me numbers, and a $ next to where those numbers represent money. I draw small set of clock hands next to anything that deals with time. When a client emphasizes a specific point I put a big star next to it, if they mention it again I put another star – and another if they talk about it even more. I write a ? when there is something I need to come back and ask for more detail on. Then, at the end of the meeting (or phone call) after the client has shared a significant amount of information with me, I can quickly go back over my notes and say something like:

“I’ve listened to you very carefully and from what you have shared with me it looks like you have three major concerns: 1, 2 and 3 (the three items that I put several big stars next to) that are costing you about XX dollars (based on everyplace I have written a $) and are causing you to waste about XX hours a week (based on where I drew little clocks) and you’d like to try to get this fixed by XX day (based on where I put the #’s). Does that sound about right to you?

Typically the client is overwhelmed by the quality of the notes I’ve taken and the information I can summarize and give back to them. I have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that I am listening, paying attention, interested in what they are telling me and because I’ve written it down in such great detail I will be able to remember it and develop the exact right solution based on my understanding and analysis.

  1. Then as soon as I get out of the meeting or end the phone call I immediately take out my notes and dictate (I use the voice recognition software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking) a clean and thoughtful summary of everything that was discussed and agreed to during the meeting.
  2. I then send a copy of that summary/call recap to my client to confirm that I’m on target, that I have not missed anything important and that we are in full agreement on next steps.
  3. Lastly, I post my call recap/summary into my client’s file so that I will have it to review days, weeks, months or years in the future. I still have notes from phone calls I had with clients more than 10 years ago and they are amazed that I can go back and share with them key things we discussed a decade ago.

I will tell you from experience that if you use the tools and recommendations I have listed above it will have a significant positive impact on your sales success. Everything I’ve mentioned is common knowledge, every salesperson knows that they should do this, but very, very few actually do. When you conduct a professional sales meeting, asking superb questions, being a highly focused listener and taking incredibly thorough and detailed notes – you clearly differentiate yourself from all of the other salespeople your customer is meeting and create a level of trust and professional respect that is difficult, if not impossible, for your competition to copy.

I hope you find these ideas of value and that they help you close more big deals!

 

Sales Advice in 60 Seconds

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Three Great Books and a Fantastic (Free) Sales Webinar

The Sales Webinar has already passed — it was earlier in the year.

 

My Best Sales Advice for 2016

My best sales advice for 2016 (or any year for that matter) is to make this the year of extreme curiosity. If you are selling a product that requires some level of understanding your customer, then you need to stop thinking of yourself as a salesperson and truly get into the mindset of a consultant. So, here is a simple four-step process for you to be much more successful in 2016.

ONE:  Practice the art of asking superb questions. Think deeply about the specific information you need to obtain in order to offer the perfect solution to your customer. Reflect on the information you want to receive from your customer when they answer your question, what do you want them to say, what specifically do you want them to tell you? Remember, that you don’t have an unlimited number of questions, so make sure that every question counts and helps you collect the critical information that will allow you understand the customer’s real needs and move the sale forward. To help you with this, I suggest you create a list of the key information you need to gather from almost every client. For example, in a business-to-business sale you might need to know:

  • What is the timeframe to make this decision?
  • Who will be involved in the decision-making process?
  • What is your budget for this project?
  • What are your selection criteria?
  • What other companies are you looking at to help you with this project?
  • What are the top issues that you hope that we can help you with?
  • What are the financial implications if you can’t find the exact right solution?
  • What would the financial upside be if we can deliver the exact right solution?
  • What would the exact right solution look like to you?

These are just a few examples, but take some time to sit down and write out the 10 most important pieces of information you have to get from every client and then write an elegant and focused question to get the client to give you the specific information you need.

TWO: Once you ask an excellent question, you must then be an intense listener. Make the person you’re talking to the most important person on the face of the earth while you are sitting there talking to them. Forget about your cell phone, forget about your next appointment, forget about your quota,  forget about your golf game this weekend – give them your total and undivided attention.

THREE: As you are listening intently, take highly detailed notes. Put a star next all important ideas, list out their buying criteria, and underline key budget numbers. Take notes that allow you to perfectly summarize and paraphrase what the client has shared with you to demonstrate that you have listened very carefully to them and understand their needs, wants, wishes, desires and concerns.

FOUR: Now, and only now, have you earned the right to start talking about your product or service!!!

I have met so many salespeople that do the opposite of what I am recommending here. They come in and immediately pitch their product, ask very few if any questions, and don’t write any notes. This is why 88% of senior executives say that the number one reason they won’t see a salesperson is: They waste my time!

If you follow the four steps I have listed above, you will be seen as a consultant and peer that is there to learn as much as they possibly can about their client so that they can deliver a true value-added solution at a reasonable (not lowest) price.

I hope you found these suggestions helpful, I very much look forward to your comments. – John

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The Top 4 Business Trends of 2015

Last day of 2015I have literally just walked off the stage from my last presentation/workshop for 2015. It’s been an extremely busy year with more than 200 days on the road, zigzagging across the United States and Canada and delivering programs in Australia, New Zealand and most recently Poland. As I look back over the year here are a few big takeaways that I think you might find of interest.

 

  1. Culture and talent are critical. In most of the businesses I worked in this year the single biggest place where they could reduce waste, reduce costs and increase revenues and profits was in the quality of the people on their team and the culture in the organization. I believe that companies need to put more focus on hiring, growing and retaining top talent – and building a winning culture of engaged, satisfied and loyal employees who are highly results driven, customer focused and accountable. To me, these should be major strategic objectives in almost every business.

 

  1. Lack of accountability and disciplined execution are the biggest problems I see in almost every organization worldwide. There is no shortage of bright, sharp, talented people who can develop highly innovative strategies and ideas – but there is a huge shortage of people that can take those ideas and effectively turn them into results in the marketplace. Again, another place to see major revenue growth and profitability in many companies is focusing more on execution.

 

  1. As I look at the programs I was asked to deliver, there is a clear pattern of a handful of workshops and keynote speeches that the majority of my clients asked me to focus on:
Advanced leadership, especially leading organizations through change

I delivered this program for a number of companies whose industries were undergoing massive change and were challenged to get their employees not just to embrace change, but to drive change.

Winning culture

Many of my clients requested that I help their organizations learn more about how to create higher levels of engagement, commitment, teamwork and collaboration – what I have come to call creating and “ownership mentality” throughout the organization.

Business excellence/strategic thinking

I spent a good bit of time this year helping companies take a hard look at their current operations, benchmark against best practices and fine-tune their strategies to be successful in the future.

Consultative sales

Although I started my career doing high-level sales training, I stepped away from it for a few years, but now many of my clients are asking me to help their entire organization become a sales organization focused on being trusted advisers to their customers.

My recommendation would be to look closely at your organization and make sure that none of these are areas that you are neglecting.

 

  1. Lastly, I am becoming more and more aware that building a strong network of people that want to help and support you (because you are helping and supporting them) and then using that network to generate strong positive word-of-mouth… should also be one of your major strategic objectives. It has become obvious to me that social media, combined with social proof, are the future of referrals and word-of-mouth marketing. But all effective networking and word-of-mouth marketing is based on, delivering massive value and being so incredibly remarkable at what you do…that people want to remark about you, that is, tell other people about how great you are. Just trying to build up your email list or the number of contacts you have on LinkedIn is not an effective strategy, it only works when the connections are created through trust and strongly demonstrated competence.

So those are some of the major things I noticed about 2015, which means they will probably continue to be big issues in 2016. Are you seeing anything different?

I very much look forward to your thoughts – John

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My Top 10 Business Success Tips

untitled10In November of this year, I will be the guest of the American Consulate in Poland in order to deliver a number of classes on entrepreneurship and business excellence at several universities in Kraków. Today, I received an email from a contact in Russia that is interested in possibly hosting a few business seminars in Moscow, and in that email, he asked me for a “bullet point” list of business tips to put in their newsletter to promote the events. So I sat down and tried to come up with the ten most important things I could offer, and I thought the list turned out pretty cool, so here it is.

John Spence’s Top 10 Ideas for Business Success

  1. The quality of the people that you can get, grow, and keep on your team will determine the success of your business in the long run. Other companies can copy your products, distribution, and marketing and beat you on price, but if you have top talent that is loyal, engaged, and excited about working for your company, then you have a huge market advantage.
  2. Whoever owns the “Voice Of the Customer” owns the marketplace. The company that listens to the customer the best and understands their needs, wants, fears, desires, and wishes – this company will be able to create a massive competitive advantage for itself.
  3. The formula for business excellence is: (Talent + Culture + Extreme Customer Focus) x Disciplined Execution = Business Excellence
  4. One of the keys to success in any organization is having a clear, compelling, tightly focused and well-communicated vision and strategy for growth.
  5. Culture = Cash. The number one factor for having highly engaged, satisfied, and loyal customers is having highly engaged, satisfied, and loyal employees. Remember this: the customer’s experience will never exceed the employee’s experience.
  6. Ambiguity Breeds Mediocrity. If you want to create a culture with high levels of both personal and mutual accountability, it is essential that you establish clear, specific, measurable, and binary goals.
  7. In every business, there are a handful of Moments Of Truth. These are the three, four, or five MOST important interactions with your customer on which you must deliver flawlessly, every single time for every single customer, if you want to grow a successful business.
  8. To be successful in the future, the rate of internal innovation must exceed the rate of external innovation (II>EI). As a business, you have to innovate, create, strategize, and implement better than anyone you compete against in the marketplace. As an individual, this also means that you have to continuously improve every single day in order to out-innovate the people with whom you directly compete.
  9. Don’t worry about the competition; instead, worry constantly about being better than you were yesterday and about absolutely delighting your customers. This is how you win in business.
  10. You become what you focus on and like the people you spend time with. Whatever you fill your brain with and whomever you choose to spend your time with will determine what your life will look like a decade from now.

I truly welcome your additions to this list. It would be fun to get this list up to fifty or even one hundred business tips.

Grow Your Business With This Master Key to Success

In one of the greatest self-help books ever written, Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich,” the author states that one of the Universal Master Keys to Success is creating mastermind groups, which are small groups of experts, advisers, and mentors that focus on assisting you with your business, career, and life. I could not agree more, as I’ve stated many times that the most important thing I’ve ever learned is this: you become what you focus on and like the people with whom you spend time. Along those same lines, it is also my firm belief that another Universal Master Keys to Success that will absolutely grow your business is obtaining referrals.

The Power of Referrals

In his wonderful book, “The Referral Engine”, my good friend John Jantsch points out that nearly 80% of all NEW clients and NEW business brought into most companies come directly from referrals. However, only about 23% of businesses have any kind of organized referral system. Do you, like me, see the huge opportunity here to grow your business?

According to Jantsch, the power of glitzy advertising and elaborate marketing campaigns is on the wane; instead, word-of-mouth referrals are what drive business today. People trust the recommendation of a friend, family member, colleague, or even stranger with similar tastes over anything thrust at them by a faceless company. Therefore, the goal must be to harness the power of referrals in order to ensure that steady flow of new customers that will grow your business, and then to keep those customers happy, loyal, and engaged so that they refer your business to even more customers. This is the very definition of a virtuous cycle.

The Referral Engine

Some of John’s recommendations for how to build the referral engine that will grow your business include:

  • Talk with your customers, not at them. Thanks to social networking sites, companies of any size have the opportunity to engage with their customers on their home turf as never before, but the key to engagement is listening.
  • The sales team is the most important part of your marketing team. Sales people are the company’s main link to customers, and customers are the main source of referrals. Therefore, getting your sales team on board with your referral strategy is critical.
  • Educate your customers. Referrals are only helpful if they are given to the right people. Educate your customers about to whom they should be talking.

The Referral Cycle

The secret to generating referrals to grow your business lies in understanding what Jantsch calls the “Customer Referral Cycle”: the way customers refer others to your company who, in turn, generate even more referrals. Businesses can ensure a healthy referral cycle by moving customers and prospects along this path of action: Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat, and Refer. If everyone in an organization keeps this sequence in mind and focuses on it daily, with every customer and prospect, then your business will generate referrals like a well-oiled machine, and that well-oiled machine will grow your business.

Let me give you an example from my own business. When a new client hires me to do a workshop or deliver a speech, at the beginning of the process, I say to them:

I am totally going to work my butt off to deliver the highest quality program I possibly can for your attendees. So, if I deliver something that significantly exceeds your expectations, then I’m going to ask you to send a strong personal referral to a minimum of ten of your colleagues, letting them know about what a wonderful job I’ve done for you and suggesting that they consider hiring me for their next workshop or speech. If I absolutely earn that, will you agree to send the referrals for me?”

I have never had a client say no to this request, especially since it is all based on me first delivering a truly superb speech or workshop. So, if I hit it out of the park, they are willing to send my name along to 10, 20 or 100 of their business associates, knowing that if any one of them hire me, I would work just as hard for them. It makes the client feel good to refer business my way and confident that if one of their friends takes their advice, I will make sure that they are 100% satisfied, which is a true win-win for all involved.

The Referral Technique

I also have another referral technique that works extremely well. If a client or even an attendee of one of my speeches or workshops approaches me after I have just finished my presentation and says, “Wow John, that was a fantastic speech. Thanks for all of the great ideas and information”, then I immediately say to them:

Thank you so much for that very kind compliment: I appreciate that a great deal. Actually, the best way you can thank me would be to tell a whole bunch of people you know about how much you enjoyed my program and how much value you took away from it. In eighteen years of doing this for a living, I have learned that 99.9% of all of my new business comes directly from happy customers telling their friends and business colleagues about the work I do. It would be great if you could take five minutes to send out a handful of emails to anyone you feel would enjoy the sort of presentation you just saw.”

Having a set response like this, that is well thought out, professional, and honest, has been one of the most powerful referral tools I have ever used. Do you have something like this for your business? How do you currently ask your best customers, in a professional, clear, focused and comfortable way (NOT a memorized script!), for them to please send you several dozen targeted referrals?

The Referral Template

These questions bring me to my next point, which is: it also helps if you make it really, really easy for people to send a great referral your way. As John pointed out, the first step in this process is to help your customers clearly understand WHO is a good referral for you and who represents the kind of clients you want to gather. After that, you need to make it almost effortless for them to refer you to lots and lots of the right people so that they can help you grow your business. For example, if you have a client who is enthusiastic about sending referrals to you, you might simply type out a short note that they can use as a template. Here is an example of what I send to my customers when they agree to send out an email on my behalf:

Dear ________,

I hope this note finds you doing very well. I recently listened to a really fantastic speaker who said that if he hit a total homerun, we should thank him by telling 15 to 20 of our colleagues about his work. Well, because he did such an awesome job, I wanted to honor his request. I am writing this note to highly recommend John Spence. His session was fast-paced, engaging, fun, and full of truly useful information. Here’s a link to his website so you can take a look and see what sort of programs he presents. He does a really super job: www.johnspence.com

I simply send this template to my client and ask them to look over, customize, or change it in any way that makes them comfortable, and then e-mail it to anyone they feel would find value in the work I do. Some clients don’t send any emails; some clients send a handful; and a few very special clients send it on to dozens and dozens of people. I promise you, there is no advertising or marketing program in the world as powerful as a happy client sending several dozen emails to their clients and colleagues to strongly recommend your services – it is absolutely pure gold!

The Growth of Referrals

So there you have it. Obtaining referrals is a Universal Master Key of Success that will grow your business. However, you can’t just sit back and “hope” that your clients will refer you: you need to turn your business into referral engine! And how you do that? By following these steps:

  • Talk with your customers. Use social networks to engage your customers and generate referrals.
  • Get everyone in your business involved in asking for referrals.
  • Help your customer understand WHO is a good referral for you.
  • Make it incredibly easy for your customers to give you referrals.
  • Ask for referrals ALL the time.
  • And most important – do such amazingly awesome work that you truly EARN tons of referrals!!!

I hope you found this article helpful and that you put these ideas that will grow your business to good use!

Wishing you every possible happiness and success,

John Spence

How To Get More Customers

Small-Business-Owner-Regrets-and-DifficultiesRecently I’ve had several friends who own small businesses ask me how to get more customers. Since this is an issue that nearly every small business owner struggles with I decided to grab an article I wrote several years ago about “How to Win in a Local Market,” and updated with some new ideas and suggestions.

1. Figure out exactly who your key target customers are – the part of the market you want to own. The best way to do this is to look at your current customer base and identify the customers that you absolutely love, the ones that are easy to deal with, really like your products and services a lot, see value what you offer, are glad to pay the full price – the ones you wish you had lots and lots of more customers exactly like them. Then take the time to write down everything you can possibly think of that clearly identifies this specific target group or groups of customers. What is their age range? What kind of car do they drive? What do they buy from you now? What is their education level? Where do they get their information – magazines, TV shows, social media platforms, and websites? What groups do they belong to? What are their hobbies? Do they have kids? What sort of jobs do they have? (if you run a B2B company you’d want to learn everything you can about their business, who there customers are, how they are positioning their business in the market and who are their top competitors).The more you can understand about your specific target market and what motivates them – the better job you can do of serving them and capturing more customers just like them.

2. Another great way to understand what motivates your target audience – is to ask them! Again, identify a group of your very best current customers then send them a brief survey with these questions:

• What, specifically, are the top three or four reasons you chose to do business with us?

• How did you find out about our business?

• Is there anything we could do to improve your experience in doing business with our company?

You might want to add a few other questions, but the goal is to look over all of the replies and see if there is a clear pattern. If there is (and there almost always is), the answer to question number one is your brand. Your customers have just told you exactly why they buy from you, which is likely the reason that other customers like them would buy from you too, so make this the main focus of all of your advertising and marketing. The answer to question number two tells you where to invest your advertising and marketing dollars – these are the places where your target customers are looking to find out about businesses like yours. Question number three tells you exactly what you need to go back and fix right away to increase the loyalty and engagement of your current and future customers. This is extremely powerful information and unfortunately very few businesses ever take the time to actually ask their best current customers why they are customers and what they could do to increase their loyalty. It is always been one of my top business mantras: Whoever owns the voice of the customer owns the marketplace. Take this to heart!

3. Once you get all this information back, create a very detailed “Ideal Customer Profile” to help you understand and stay focused on the people who will make your business successful. Clearly describe exactly who your target customers are, why they do business with you, how they found out about you, and what you can do to continuously delight and surprise them – and then make sure everybody in your company understands that critical information and uses it to guide their daily actions and behaviors when interacting with your customers — and you use it to build your business and branding strategies.

4. Determine who your top competitors will be for those specific target customers, who is already servicing them right now? Then study those top competitors to deeply understand how they position themselves – what services they offer – what promises they make – what sort of value proposition they are currently bringing to the marketplace that is, for some important reason, winning over the customers that you want to win way from them!

5. Figure out how to clearly differentiate yourself from your competitors in a way that will raise the bar and recalibrate the customer’s expectations, and be sure that the way you differentiate yourself is of true value to your customer, as defined by the customer, not by you. Understand this: All effective strategy is just Valued Differentiation multiplied by Disciplined Execution. In other words, to win in the marketplace you must offer something that is unique, exciting and compelling – that is differentiated from all of your competitor’s offerings, hopefully in a way that is defendable so it is not easy to copy – that your customers truly value and are willing to pay money for… and then you must execute on that flawlessly each and every day for each and every customer. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward idea that is exceedingly hard to do successfully. This will be one of your biggest challenges in gaining new customers and running a sustainably successful business.

6. Create strategic alliances with people who, by the nature of the business they are in, can become wonderful sources of referrals to you. You want to get as many people like this on your team as possible… but you especially want to identify the top four or five “Opinion Leaders” who are the most influential sources of referrals for you so that you can get these very important individuals on your team and creating a constant stream of high-quality, targeted referrals that represent your Ideal Customer Profile. The best way to do this is typically to define the people who have the same general customer base as you and that you feel do an absolutely fantastic job at delivering something to these target customers – that is not in competition with what you do – or even better is a complement to what you do. For example, if you are an expert in building high quality pools, you can easily partner with many of the local builders in your area. If you make custom clothing, partner with your local dry cleaners and high-end shoe dealers. If you own an accounting firm, you want to be connected with the top bankers and financial advisors in your area. If you owned a boat dealership that sells high-end boats – partner with a local Mercedes-Benz dealer. These sort of symbiotic relationships with people who are highly connected to your target customers is priceless.

7. Also determine people that are in your direct area of competition – but that you do not want to compete against, and try to form strategic alliances with them so you can work together and be in co-opition instead of competition. For example, you own a great Italian restaurant but there is a fantastic Chinese restaurant on the other side of town, why not share gift certificates to share customers. No one is going to eat Italian or Chinese every single time they go out, so rather than competing, why not share the top customers and help each other be more successful. This is why you often see five or six furniture shops or restaurants in the same mall, they are all attracting more customers to their “destination” and thereby everybody gets more business. Can you do this with some of your friendly competitors?

8. Identify your key “Moments Of Truth” — the handful of key things that absolutely have to go right in order for you to be able to meet and exceed your customer’s expectation —  and create processes to make sure that they are delivered flawlessly — flawlessly – – – every single time. For example, although there are hundreds of interactions every time you go out to have a meal, pretty much every restaurant on the face of the word only has 4 moments of truth:

• Food quality

• Service quality

• Price / value

• Cleanliness

If a restaurant does lots and lots of other things right but messes up any one of these four items badly, they will go out of business. On the flip side, if they do these four things exceedingly well every single time, customers will overlook failures in a few other minor places. So here is the BIG question: What are the moments of truth for your business? The three, four or five things that you must do exceedingly well in order to create highly satisfied, loyal and engaged customers. Figure out those key moments of truth and make sure that everybody in your company works tirelessly to deliver them perfectly all of the time. (This is one of the most powerful business success ideas I know – if you can determine what your key moments of truth are and deliver them flawlessly you will build a strong foundation for a highly successful and profitable company. Make sure you work on this).

9. Position yourself as an expert, trusted advisor, partner and peer to your customers by continuously delivering them REAL value. If you are in a B2B Sales, add real value and assistance to your customers by helping to make them look really good and delivering massive value to their customers. The key idea here is the only person that can decide what is valuable… is the customer. It does not matter what you think is cool, exciting, fun, unique or valuable – it only matters what the customer thinks. So invest the time and energy necessary to get as close to your customers you possibly can and thoroughly understand exactly why they think that what you offer is special, unique, differentiated and valuable to them.

10. Be sure that every single time you do a superior job – and your customers tell you that you are fantastic – follow up instantly with a request for referrals. If they say “You’re awesome, thank you, thank you, thank you”… tell them that the very best way they can thank you is to tell 10 other people about how fantastic you are and recommend that they do business with you. Positive word-of-mouth referrals, are the single most valuable advertising/marketing vehicle there is on the face of the earth. A significant amount of new research indicates that 43% to 78% (that is basically half to three-quarters) of all purchasing decisions today are made by referral – word-of-mouth, social media, texting, email – people ask their friends and colleagues who they should do business with and basically “crowd source” even major purchasing decisions. You can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy ads in every magazine in the world – but a handful of strong personal referrals from key opinion leaders will drive much more business than those as ever could. (By the way you still need to market and advertise – but word-of-mouth referrals, especially through social media, is incredibly powerful and will only get more so).

11. Keep close to your best customers. Check in with them regularly – talk with them – ask questions and LISTEN. Learn everything you can about why your best customers are loyal, and make sure you give them what they want, while them, delight them and consistently exceed their expectations (just slightly – you do not want to erode your profit margin by delivering more value than the customer actually wants). Then gently began to ask these fanatical “customer evangelists” to help you spread the word about how great your business is. If they love you and the products and services you deliver, they will be happy to tell their friends, family and colleagues about how awesome your business is. Turning your best customers into your marketing department is an incredibly powerful strategy, because no matter how good your advertising and marketing is, people will immediately believe their friends recommendations far above even your very best ad. Happy customers who tell everyone they know about how great you are can completely change the future of your business. This is another area you should focus on intently.

**I think this is a good place to make important point: For most of you reading this article the future success of your business will depend very, very, very heavily on the quality of the people that you can get, grow and keep on your team. Great products with terrible customer service = bankruptcy. Hire the best talent you can, train them constantly, treat them fairly, pay them fairly (10% above or below what they would make to do the same job at another company) and empower them to go out and take care superb of your customers. Here is an extremely important point: The customer’s experience one never exceed the employee’s experience. 

“Hire top talent – create a winning culture that engages and empowers them – focus them intently on delivering superior customer service – then hold them accountable for executing on your moments of truth every single day for every single customer.”

12. Become a student of every other business you interact with. What are they doing well that you can adapt to your business? What are they doing poorly that you want to make sure you’re not doing to your customers? Every time you buy something, go out to dinner, order something online, interact with a vendor – it should be a lesson on things that you can steal and apply in your business – or things to avoid at all costs in your business.

13. Track everything I just told you about. Don’t go on instinct or gut feelings, collect data and facts on what is working and what is not – as measured by customer satisfaction scores, profitability and other key metrics. It does not matter what you “think” is working, it only matters if your target customers think is valuable and are willing to pay money for!

14. Once you figure out what works best for you – what truly leads to gaining real market share and significantly increasing profitability – focus like crazy on that area and get better and better at it every day.

15. Lastly, never stop doing everything on this list. Markets exchange, new competitors enter the market, customer’s requirements change – and you have to be able to change with them. Things move really, really fast so agility, adaptability, continuous improvement and ALWAYS listening to your customers is essential to the long-term success of your business. What makes customer’s super happy today, might very well make them very angry next month – so you have to stay on the very cutting edge by knowing more about your customers and your market than anyone else you compete against. Although extremely difficult to do – this is not optional!

I hope you found some of these ideas helpful and that you will share them with anyone you can think of in your network that you feel would find value in them too.

As always, I look forward to your feedback, ideas, comments and suggestions. Thanks so much — John