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I recently did a podcast interview with John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur On Fire (listen to the interview here). It was extremely well received and I got a lot of people that sent me great questions. Here are a few of those questions with my answers, I hope you find this of value…
Q. I currently do a lot of different things. I have a full-time job and run a small business with my spouse, I hold several board volunteer positions, recently directed a non-profit, and am working on other charity projects in my community. These all make sense for me in terms of my “why”, but I worry about being sub-par at a lot of things, versus being excellent in one. Is it possible to be great in a lot of areas, or do you suggest someone narrow their scope? If someone’s attentions are split in a lot of ways, how can they be most successful?
A. To become truly world-class at anything – you must have a great deal of focus. It is an old cliché, because it is true: If you try to be all things to all people you will end up be nothing to anyone. It is possible to do a handful of things well, but if you are too scattered there is no way to do any one thing exceedingly well. The hard part is figuring out what to say “NO” to. To me, the best way to do this is to be very clear about your core values, exactly what you hope your life will look like five years from today, and what you want to accomplish with your life – and then have the courage to remove anything that does not directly add to that goal. You can stay involved in everything you’re doing, but it’s my opinion that you will likely not achieve a high level of success in any one of them.
Q. What do you with your time? With all of the books, presentations, mentees, traveling, etc. you do, it seems like you have more hours in the day than most people. How do you maximize your free time? How do you create balance? How do you work smarter versus harder?
A. First, I don’t have kids. That was a specific career choice because I thought it was unfair to have children and travel as much as I do. Luckily, my wife did not want to have kids either, so it wasn’t a big sacrifice for us. Also, I do not watch TV, movies, go to the mall, cut my lawn, do my own laundry, wash my own car or any other activities that do not directly align with what I’m trying to achieve – or – where I can hire someone else to do them for a few dollars an hour while I either enjoy myself, spend time with my wife, or work on projects that will make me a significant amount of money – which allows me to invest a small amount of it back into getting other people to do my chores. It’s all about the time/value of money. Figure out what an hour of your time is actually worth and then pay other people to do the things that are dramatically below that level. It is hard to do this in the early stages of being an entrepreneur, but once you start reaching a level of financial success this practice allows you to focus only in the areas where you can generate the most value and revenue.
Q3. In some of my ventures, I work a lot with professionals who are in a different generation than me, the “baby boomers”. In your opinion, what actions and attitudes most impress you when working with a “millennial”?
The thing that works the best with all generations is to ask great questions and and be an intense listener – AND – be so incredibly competent at what you do that people can’t ignore you. I took over as CEO of a multinational company when I was 26 years old and most of the people on my board were billionaires and in their late 50s or 60s. I simply worked extra hard to listen to them and be so exceedingly well prepared and well-studied that they had no choice but to trust that I would get my job done superbly. There are definitely generational differences, but being open, flexible and curious will allow you to understand those differences and determine how to work best with people older or younger than you.
Q. Like many entrepreneurs I have tons of ideas about different products and services I’d like to bring to the market. How do you choose which ones to actually pursue?
A. The answer to this is really quite simple, but difficult for some people to implement because they get so attached to their idea and the vision of selling their company for $10 billion to Google next week. For any business to be highly successful it must meet these three criteria:
A. It has to be something you are extremely passionate about and have fun working on, because you will never become truly great at something you don’t enjoy.
B. It has to be in an area where you have an exceedingly high level of competence, or you have surrounded yourself with insanely competent people and you have Uber-strong leadership skills and solid business experience.
C. This is the one that most entrepreneurs miss…
If it does not meet all of these criteria you might be able to build a good business, but you will never build a sustainably successful enterprise that generates significant revenues and profit.
Those are just a few of the questions I’ve gotten this week, if you have a question you’d like me to answer please send it along and I will give you my very best advice.
I wish you every happiness and success – John
**** By the way, I just developed a Consultative Sales training program to help sales people be much more successful. If you are interested click on the link below and there is a short video that will explain to you exactly what I cover in the series. If it turns out that you want to go through the course, here is a special promotional code that will give you a 45% discount. The code is: 45OFF
I hope you’ll take a minute to watch the video and see if this program might be right for you or some of the people on your sales team. Thanks so much – John
At the beginning of each year a lot of us look for inspiration on how to take our business to the next level over the coming 12 months. In past years I put together special videos outlining what I believed it would take to make the next year in your business one of the best years ever. This year, I simply want to reiterate what I believe are some of the most powerful business success ideas I have ever learned. Below is my video on the “The Five Fundamentals of Business Success,” this is a class I have taught all over the world to every type of business from mom-and-pop shops and startups to companies in the Fortune 10. I created this particular video in December of 2014 after a speaking tour of the Netherlands with the Entrepreneurs Organization. I truly believe that if you will watch this video and apply the ideas I share with you, it will have a dramatic positive impact on your business success in 2016.
*** If you found value in the video please send it to everyone in your network so we can help them too! Thank very, very much – John
I have just returned from a trip to Kraków, Poland where I was invited by the US Consulate to be the keynote speaker at the Polish American Innovation Bridge event. I also had the opportunity to give a speech at the Polytechnic Institute. I found the Polish entrepreneurs I met to be very energetic, enthusiastic and passionate about building businesses. However, there was one theme that ran through all of the comments and questions which was, “What happens if I fail?” There seemed to be an overwhelming fear of failure across the groups I spoke with. The event organizers asked me to focus on two special areas, how to handle failure and how to successfully network with other entrepreneurs and business people. It also seems that the current Polish entrepreneurial culture does not support the idea of win/win networking. Many of the students and entrepreneurs I talked to were very worried about sharing their ideas with anyone else and did not believe that other entrepreneurs in their community would be willing to help them, so in large part they decided to go it alone.
Earlier this year I spent a good deal of time in Australia and New Zealand working with business people and entrepreneurs there. I find it fascinating that they had almost the opposite fear: the fear of success. There is a saying that they have in Australia and New Zealand, “The tall poppy syndrome.” If you, as a poppy, grow too tall compared to the rest of the poppies, they cut you down to size. In these cultures if you are too successful it agitates the people around you who are not as successful and you are put under a great deal of peer pressure to conform to the societal norms of not sticking out. The question I kept getting in Australia and New Zealand was, “How do you think so big in America?” They just couldn’t understand the idea of wanting to grow a billion-dollar company or the desire to be hugely successful, and said that in their business culture colleagues often tried to keep you in a more “reasonable” frame of mind when talking about business growth.
Let me be very clear, I was extremely impressed in Poland, Australia and New Zealand with the very bright and talented entrepreneurs I met. They were curious and wanted to find out how to improve themselves and their businesses. And not everyone I met fits in the categories I mentioned above, but I did find it interesting to see the stark differences in the different cultures. What’s even more fascinating is that I have run into all of the same issues working with entrepreneurs in America. They are fearful of failure, afraid to be too successful and reluctant to share their ideas and ask for help from the other entrepreneurs and business owners around them.
I look forward to your thoughts – John
It can be very challenging for a business owner to finally admit that it’s time to…
Let me be very clear here, the truth of the matter is that not every customer is a good customer and if you allow a bad client/customer to stick around too long, they may just run you out of business. Of course you want to take absolutely spectacular care of your best customers and turn them into customer evangelists, but when you end up with a customer terrorist the best course of action is to politely send them to your biggest competitor! (I’m only half kidding here)
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen businesses almost go bankrupt trying to please difficult customers that drive them crazy, use of tons of resources, always complain, pay late and argue about the price. When I sit down with the business owner and make them take a good hard look at the relationship with a customer like that it usually becomes pretty obvious that they are actually losing money every time they deal with that customer. So how do you avoid getting into that kind of a situation? Here are a few ideas…
Set Clear Expectations
At the beginning of the business relationship take the time to sit down with your new client and be exceedingly clear about how the relationship will work. Explain to them specifically what you promise to deliver, how your pricing is structured, the best ways for you to communicate with each other, what to do if there’s a problem – and exactly what you expect from them as well. Put it all on the table, leave nothing to chance, don’t assume anything. It’s one of my absolute favorite business quotes as it relates to accountability inside of an organization – and creating accountability with your clients:
If you failed to do this at the beginning of the relationship, try to have this conversation the minute you start to feel uncomfortable and think that the relationship might be headed south. If at all possible you want to have this conversation while there is no emotion or dysfunction in the client relationship. If you try to have this conversation after something big has gone wrong, it will just deteriorate into finger-pointing, excuses and blaming.
Develop Red Flags
Go back and look carefully at every time in the past that a client relationship has imploded, what was the pattern? What were the warning signs that things were getting off track? Did they start to become overly demanding? Did they start paying late? Did they start asking for you to do extra work and not want to pay for it? Did they call up one of your employees and scream at them? Did they make a mistake on their end and then turn around and blame you for it? These are the sort of things I’ve seen in the businesses I’ve owned and when one of these red flags popped up I immediately started examining the client relationship to either improve it or terminate it.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got about hiring people was:
In other words, be really tough in the interviewing process, push hard to make sure the person really is a good fit and truly wants to work in your company, be aggressive in explaining exactly what the job will entail so that the candidate knows precisely what they are getting into, what will be expected of them and what it will be like to work in your company. If they still want to work with you after this sort of an interview, then you likely have a good candidate. However, if things go wrong and they don’t turn out to be a superstar, be very kind, generous and fair when letting them go so that you can help to avoid ill-feelings, nasty rumors or even a lawsuit. To me, it’s exactly the same when accepting a new client. Be tough in the interviewing process (that’s right, you interview new customers just as much as they interview you as someone they want to do business with) to make sure that this potential new customer meets your “Ideal Customer Profile.” Are they the kind of person that you want to do business with? Will they be a good partner? Are they the kind of client who can bring you new customers and more business? Do they have the financial resources to pay on time and in full? Are they nice people that you would enjoy working with? If the answers to a lot of these questions are no – you are better off to recommend that they go to your top competitor and let them deal with a potentially disruptive customer.
Now I understand that sometimes you need every customer because you need cash flow, but when your business is stabilized and you’re not scrambling to bring in every single dollar you can, then I highly recommend you backup and start to pursue and accept only the best customers. I also highly recommend that as soon as a customer starts to trip a few of the red flags, you either fix it right away, or fire that customer!
I hope you found this helpful – John
Recently 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
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.
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
During the past 20 years I have done hundreds of strategic planning retreats and often times when crafting a vision statement my clients will decide that they should set their BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to become number one in the world in their field. This sounds really nice, and for a very few organizations it is attainable, but most organizations will never, ever be number one in the world at what they do. And to me, that is absolutely fine.
Yes, you just heard a guy who teaches excellence for living say that it is perfectly acceptable to be slightly above average. The hard truth is, it is insanely difficult to become the world leader at just about anything. It takes massive amounts of work, huge sacrifice, incredible focus and a truckload of grit and persistence. Just take a look at anyone who has achieved the top slot in the world at what they do and you will see someone who has dedicated their entire life to the attainment of true excellence in their field.
A great example that has been used a lot lately is the United States Navy SEALs. I have seen countless articles in recent months about SEAL discipline, SEAL leadership, SEAL dedication and all of the other factors it takes to be an elite Special Operations soldier. Here’s the deal, the reason they call these people “elite” is because very, very, very few people are willing to pay the price necessary to become a Navy SEAL… and the same goes for an organization that wants to become, as one of my clients said in their vision statement, “The intergalactic expert on_______.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I think excellence is, well, excellent. I think that every organization should strive to be the very best they can be. But I also think running an above average business, that is highly profitable, takes great care of their employees, delivers real value to their customers and contributes to their community – is just as excellent.
So don’t stress so much. You don’t have to be the biggest or best in the world, you just need to run a good, solid and sustainably successful business. That is a major accomplishment in and of itself, so be very proud of it.
For nearly a decade I’ve been jumping up and down at almost every seminar I teach shouting, “Whoever owns the voice of the customer – owns the marketplace.” Yet I am still absolutely flabbergasted by how few companies truly do even an average job of listening to the people who pay all the bills – their customers. Because I’ve built my entire career around making complex things simple, here are four very simple questions to ask as many of your customers as possible:
If you ask lots and lots of your customers this question, and a clear pattern emerges, they have just told you your value proposition and given you incredible insight into how to build your brand. I will quickly use myself as an example; I asked several dozen of my top clients around the world specifically why they hired me and the answer came back exceedingly clear,
“John, we don’t know any other speaker who reads and studies as much as you do, you been reading more than 100 business books a year for 20 years, teaching for some of the top companies and business schools in the world and you are a top 100 business thought leader – you are a complete freak for learning about business. You’ve also been the owner or CEO of 10 companies, and was the CEO of a Rockefeller foundation at the age of 26, so this is not just about theory – you actually know what it’s like when you’re having a hard time making payroll. Lastly, is easy to see that you are deeply interested in and knowledgeable about business, every time you present you are focused and passionate about what you’re teaching– and because of those three things we always get a high ROI when we engage you.”
So my brand is: Research + Real-Life + Passion = ROI
I challenge you to do the same thing with your customers, ask a large number of your best customers specifically why they chose to do business with you and they will give you information that will be invaluable in your marketing and branding going forward.
Again, if you ask a significant number of your top clients this question there will likely be a clear pattern and then it’s very simple: immediately change the stuff they want you to change if at all possible. Be warned, if you ask this question and do not heed their advice it would be worse than never asking the question at all, so you have to be prepared to make the changes they suggest.
When you get quality feedback on this question you have essentially been given your growth strategy directly from your customers. It has been my experience in working with dozens of clients on this exercise that your top customers will give you the same three or four answers, which should then be turned into key strategic objectives. I cannot possibly think of a better way to grow your business then ask the people who are already spending money with you specifically what you would need to do to get them to give you more money. Yes, it is just that simple.
Typically you get several very clear and straightforward answers here around breach of confidentiality, unprofessional behavior, substandard work, missed deadlines, scope creep and things of that nature. Once you collect these answers make a list of the pattern and then make sure that everyone in your business understands that they must never do any of these things!
You can change the questions around a little in order to match your industry and your customers, but at the end of the day if you’ll just pick up the phone and call a handful of your best customers and ask them questions like the ones above, you will be overwhelmed by the quality and value of the answers you get and how significantly this information can impact your business. I know this suggestion is so obvious and simple as to almost be offensive, but I can also tell you that less than 10% of businesses ever do this exercise. So get on the phone or send out a survey and let me know how things turn out for you – I very much look forward to your feedback!
I just taught a series of business success seminars to about 300 entrepreneurs in Amsterdam and wanted to send a super special “Thank You” video to my hosts and the attendees on what I felt were a few of the MOST important things to focus on in order to run a highly successful organization. Once I finished the video I thought the information was so powerful that I decided to post it here on my blog for all of my followers to benefit from. I truly hope you find this video of great value and I challenge you to take at least one or two key ideas and begin implementing them right away.