Using Science to Make Business Decisions

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Using Science to Make Business Decisions

Many small business owners base decisions on their gut feelings which are comprised of their intuition and experience. However, using gut feelings to make business decisions may not be the best decision-making technique. Many companies are now using analytics and science to make judgment calls. With modern electronics and online tracking, analytics are often available to gather metrics on a myriad of topics. However, you can take business decision-making a step further and design scientific experiments to discover answers to your questions. Here are some suggestions on how you can use the scientific method to learn what decision to make.

Why Use Trial and Error?

Even in our current modern age of computers and mobile technology, too many businesses use trial and error or other decision-making techniques without any evidence of potential results before they get started. Keeping in mind the adage of what happens to people who make assumptions, there are better ways to decide on business matters.

Using the Scientific Method

If you think back to your high school days, you may remember learning about the scientific method. Like many high school students, if you didn’t pursue a career in science, it is likely that you have not thought about the scientific method in recent years. However, business is more like science than you might expect. You can prove and disprove many theories with factual evidence before risking time and money on a new project or campaign. Why should you risk your company income and employees’ paychecks when you can test theories before you take the plunge? If you could predict behavior, you would be able to achieve much more reliable results.

Let’s see how much you remember about the scientific method. The basic method is to create a theory and then set up a scientific experiment to test your theory. You need a test group equally divided into control and experimental subjects.

Setting Up the Experiment

Google is a prime example of a company that tests its theories on a regular basis. They are constantly running tests to see how people react to various changes in their search engine. When they find a particular change that nets the results they want, they then implement the successful change over a larger group of search parameters.

Tests have been run by various companies to answer questions such as these:

Do lobster tanks increase lobster sales at Food Lion supermarkets?

Do eBay users bid higher in auctions when they can pay by credit card?

Do Subway promotions on low-fat sandwiches increase sandwich sales?

Does a Toronto-Dominion branch get significantly more deposits when open 60 hours a week compared with 40? (fromhttps://hbr.org/2009/02/how-to-design-smart-business-experiments)

When Tests Do Not Work

Testing does not work in all situations. You have to have a large enough collection of data to learn anything significant. However, when you do have enough data to create a test, testing will give you measurable and repeatable results. According to the Harvard Business Review,

"Whether in marketing, store or branch location analysis, or website design, the most reliable insights relate to the potential impact and value of tactical changes: a new store format, for example, or marketing promotion or service process."

If you have a situation with specific, measurable results, instead of guessing the outcome and taking the risk, create a test that will give you a valid answer and confidence in your investment.

Assumptions are Bad for Business

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Assumptions are Bad for Business

Most of us create a framework for our world through assumptions about how the world works. Our assumptions are based on past experiences and what we have been taught. However, in today’s mobile-friendly world, assumptions can be dangerous. At the very least, relying on our assumptions can lead to losing business.

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
― Isaac Asimov

Assumptions are a Poor Way to Doing Business

With the ability to work from practically anywhere due to the internet and Wi-Fi, people from many careers often work from home. Working from home means that they may work in their grungiest clothes or even their pajamas. Depending on how eccentric they are, you may even find people shopping in their pjs.

It is amazing how many assumptions people make based on how other people dress. These assumptions can lead to insulting the wrong customer and losing business that you need.

Working from Home

Working from home is not a new invention. In fact, there are several careers that have traditionally been pursued from home or a studio, namely writing, photography, music, art and invention. It is notable that all of these careers are creative endeavors, often pursued by unusual people. The question is, when a famous writer comes into your shop to have their work printed or the next Picasso comes along to have a print made of their artwork, how do you differentiate them from everyone else wearing raggedy jeans and a t-shirt? You can’t.

In fact, if a top executive from a corporation works at home, it is extremely likely that he will work in his most comfortable clothing. Therefore, when he walks into your store, you will see a man in jeans and a t-shirt, someone who looks like they are a college student or an average Joe.

Treating Every Customer like Your Best Customer

This situation is exactly why assumptions are bad for business. With mobile technology, any traveler can be your biggest customer. A paint-covered customer might be a famous artist instead of the house painter next door. And even if they aren’t your biggest client, they might refer her to you if they like how you do business.

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” ― Walt Disney

Kissmetrics notes in an article about customer service (https://blog.kissmetrics.com/true-love-with-customers/) that the best thing you can do to make your customer fall in love with your business is to genuinely interact with them. In other words, make every customer interaction a relationship-building one. Develop your customer by how you work with them each time they come in. Even if they are just a college student needing their final paper printed, they could be starting a career that will bring you the best customer you have ever had.

Don’t make assumptions. They are bad for business.

The Courage of Success

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The Courage of Success

Setting goals to drive revenues and profits is part of doing business. We all strive to be successful in business and in life. When we are young, we look for careers that will make us successful to get the things we want such as a beautiful house, cars, and money. Most people define success as the ultimate goal.

However, there are other ways to look at success.

"Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts." ~ Winston Churchill

Churchill defined success and failure as a journey instead of the end goal. How do you define success? If you look at success and failure as part of a journey instead of an end goal, life looks very different. Instead of always striving to seek the end, you are marking points along the pathway as measures of success and failure. None of these points is the ultimate goal, but rather, destinations that you can reach and surpass.

When you define success in this manner, it takes much of the stress away as you pursue your goals. While still working to create success, whether that is a monetary target or achieving other goals such as graduating from school, gaining particular skills, or training an employee successfully, you know that each point is not an end. In fact, each time you achieve success, it is a beginning of the next segment of your journey.

On the flip side, defining success as part of the path means that failure is also part of the path, and not a crushing blow. While no one likes to fail, you can take your failure as a learning opportunity to improve the next time you journey in the same direction. Breaking down the road to success into smaller, doable achievements can help you gain strength to pursue your goals and succeed multiple times.

Churchill said, "It is the courage to continue that counts." Sometimes, we wake up in the morning and want to be anywhere except at work. However, a successful business person is the one who continues to work day after day whether they want to or not. It takes courage to persevere during the good times and bad, especially when you are not sure if you will be successful that day. When the economy is tough, and business is hard to find, it takes courage to keep looking for new customers.

It also takes courage to change with the times. No matter how long you have been in business, change is inevitable. These days it seems to come faster than ever. However, success means the courage to make the changes that will help you continue to grow in business. In fact, your successful business influences the world around you. As your business continues to flourish, you add to the economy and help bolster the lives of everyone that you touch.

Your courage to continue along a successful pathway creates a ripple effect. By setting an example for your employees, your customers, your vendors, and your family and friends, you show everyone the true meaning of success. You have the courage to continue moving forward.

The Art of the Learning Opportunity: How to Recover From a Public Relations Nightmare

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The Art of the Learning Opportunity: How to Recover From a Public Relations Nightmare

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when operating a business in today’s digital age is that EVERY interaction you have with a customer, regardless of how private you think it may be, is a public relations disaster waiting to happen. The internet has brought us together as a society like never before, and this brings with it both its positives and its negatives for organizations everywhere. If someone has a great interaction with your business on the internet, they can easily tell all their friends and family members about it with a quick tweet or Facebook post. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true – even a negative interaction with your customer service department on the telephone can quickly balloon into a PR nightmare in a matter of hours if you’re not careful.

Because of this, it’s best just to assume that EVERY conversation you have with a customer is under public scrutiny at all times (because it probably is). Even responding to what you believe to be an invalid negative review of your business has the potential to turn quickly into a lightning rod of controversy depending on where it falls in the news cycle.

The Lessons Learned

For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve found yourself in the middle of a PR nightmare due to a conversation with a client that quickly went south. Maybe one of your customer service reps let emotions get the best of them and what started as a routine call quickly turned hostile, Now, the whole world seems to know about it. You can’t take back what has already happened, but you CAN use the lessons that you’re about to learn as the foundation of every decision you make moving forward.

For starters, examine the situation to find out what you did right and, most importantly, what you did wrong. The fact that you’re in the midst of a public relations crisis itself is not something you did "wrong" since popular opinion isn’t necessarily something you can control. However, look at the steps you had to take as a group to get there. What problem did the customer call about in the first place? Why did the conversation with your rep turn so negative so quickly? Why does this single interaction seem to be capturing the attention of so many people at this particular moment?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can then get started making it right. Note that this does not mean "fix the problem" as in "make it go away." It means to do what you can to course correct and get back on the path you want to be. Take the steps to educate your reps on how to avoid these situations in the future. Take a look at the original problem that the customer had with your product or service and, if valid, do something to fix it. If the client took the conversation public on Facebook or Twitter, respond the same way. Remember – all eyes are on you and customers who see a business that is willing to own up to its "mistakes" and make them right are more likely to show sympathy and compassion than if you try to take care of everything behind closed doors.

For many businesses, a public relations nightmare is not a question of "if" but "when." The key thing to take away from this situation is that you have a unique opportunity that you can use to improve your operations across the board. Even if you think you’re in the right, there are likely things that you could have done better, or you wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. If you DON’T take this as a chance to learn some very valuable lessons, you’re wasting an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade from a business perspective.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

Customer service is sometimes the part of the job that we dread due to the range of customer complaints that ensue. However, if we look at customer service as an opportunity, we can create a lot of positive energy from it. While not all stories are as entertaining as this one, the fact that the customer service response became a boon for the company is evident.

Giraffe Bread

Lily Robinson, 3 and 1/2 years old, wanted to know why the Tiger Bread from Sainsbury’s (a British convenience store) wasn’t called Giraffe Bread. After all, it looked like giraffe skin. She wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s and her mother mailed it to their customer service department. (https://www.helpscout.net/10-customer-service-stories/)

In an incredible customer service response, Chris King, 27 and 1/3 years old, responded to Lily with another letter and a gift card. That response in itself would have been an incredible customer service moment, but the story continues.

Sainsbury’s decided to change the name of the bread to Giraffe Bread and created signage explaining the story. Lily’s mom was so impressed that she wrote about the story on her blog. (https://jamandgiraffes.com/2011/06/15/our-careline/) The story then got picked up by BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-16812545) and became a marketing tale that has returned goodwill to Sainsbury’s many times more than what the first gesture from Chris King cost them. While this return doesn’t happen every time you offer excellent customer service, your actions and response to customer complaints are opportunities to cement relationships with customers. Often, it is the customer service assistance that creates the most indelible mark in a customer’s memory.

Customer Service as an Opportunity

There are many similar instances that companies never find out about that affect their bottom line. Not every customer calls or writes to a company because of a good or bad customer service experience. However, they may tell all of their friends about it. Positive or negative, word of mouth goes far and can create a bundle of good or bad press for a company.

Because most of us are dealing with automated phone systems and customer service reps that speak other languages and barely know English, a lot us have become numb to the massive amount of poor customer service. When we do come across good customer service, sometimes it is a shock to our system. We crave good customer service, and most people will return and refer others to any company that treats them well.

Examples of good customer service opportunities abound:

*The mechanic that takes the time to explain what is wrong and why it needs to be fixed, but won’t fix anything that is unnecessary.
*The patio furniture sales person who brings out a ladder to get the last display model from the ceiling-high display shelf.
*The jeweler who walks the customer through the options of repair for their cherished, but cheap, pearl necklace.

These types of customer service experiences are appreciated by the customer and remembered.

By treating every customer service issue as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with a customer, you can build the loyalty that every business needs. Loyal customers are your bread and butter, the customers who pay your monthly bills month in and month out.
Being a small business can give you more of these opportunities because you know your customers personally, so use these moments as a chance to shine.

Mutual Respect: The Secret Ingredient When It Comes to Managing Employees

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Mutual Respect: The Secret Ingredient When It Comes to Managing Employees

Many business leaders are still operating under the mistaken impression that the key ingredient to managing employees involves learning how to delegate responsibility. So long as you tell the right people to complete the right tasks, your business should pretty much run itself, right?

Wrong.

You can’t just demand that your employees dedicate a huge part of their waking days to helping you accomplish your own professional goals. They have to want it. You can’t buy it, either – high salaries and competitive benefits help, but they’ll only ultimately carry you so far.

So how do you make not only managing employees easier than ever, but also turn them into true, loyal team members instead of passive subordinates at the same time?

The answer is simple: mutual respect.

What is Mutual Respect?

The most important idea to understand about mutual respect is that you’re dealing with a two-way street. You can’t force someone to respect you just because you happen to be their boss or because your name is on the door. You have to earn it. You have to show them that you’re worthy of it.

However, generating mutual respect isn’t as easy as flipping a light switch. It involves a lot of small things that eventually add up to a pretty significant whole. It’s about being genuine in your interactions with employees. It’s about going out of your way to do the right thing and recognize a job well done. It’s about making sure that all employees, regardless of position, have an equal voice in all decisions that affect them. It’s about taking the time to show an employee that those eight hours they spend in the office on a Sunday didn’t go unnoticed. That they were appreciated. That you wouldn’t be where you are without them.

What Mutual Respect Means in the Long Run

If you’re able to foster an environment where mutual respect occurs organically, you’ll begin to feel a wide range of different benefits almost immediately. Mutual respect means that an employee is willing to put in a little extra effort and work harder because they know that you appreciate what they do and that you would be willing to do the same if the situation was reversed. Mutual respect means that if you do make a mistake, an employee is going to give you the benefit of the doubt because it’s the same courtesy you’ve afforded them in the past.

Mutual respect also means that all employees understand and even believe that they have an equal voice. They don’t feel like they work FOR you, they feel like they work WITH you – because you feel the exact same way. Even when a conflict does arise, it never gets heated or even contentious because people who respect each other don’t argue and fight over issues, they discuss them like civilized adults.

These are some of the many reasons why mutual respect is the secret ingredient when it comes to managing employees. Creating a workplace where mutual respect is encouraged creates a "trickle down" effect almost immediately – conflict management is easier, collaboration is more efficient, and even the types of personality or cultural differences that stood to divide employees in the past only work to bring them together.

Mutual respect allows everyone to come to the simple yet important realization that at the end of the day, you’re all part of the same team.

4 Trends Affecting Small Businesses This Year

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4 Trends Affecting Small Businesses This Year

Business owners tend to spend a lot of time searching the magic oracle (a.k.a. the internet) for answers to business growth questions. How do I get new customers? How do I get existing customers to come back? Why doesn’t my cat like me?

Ok, maybe business owners don’t have issues with their cats, though the other questions are probably crowding their brain space right now. Fear not, we’ve identified 4 business trends you should be paying attention to this year.

– JOBS Act Crowdfunding Investment Opportunities

Not everything in business is free. It may be all well and good to max out credit cards or drain your savings to start and grow your business, but now there’s a better way. The JOBS Act: Title III was recently released and what that means for you is that your business can raise investments through crowdfunding, even from non-accredited investors. If you’re in the market to increase your market share, consider checking out sites like Crowdfunder.com or Equitynet.com.

– Rapid Delivery Systems

You’ve probably heard by now of rapid delivery and logistics systems like AmazonFlex and UberRUSH. Society is moving rapidly to an on-demand world, capitalizing on an economy of shut-ins, or more likely, extremely busy people. If you are in the business of selling products, you can now easily integrate an entire network of delivery drivers to hand- deliver your goods to your customers’ doorsteps.

– Cyber Security

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the world is moving to the cloud. The rise of SaaS (Software as a Service) companies and the increasing value of information have turned the web into a hackers dream. They’re becoming more creative as well. Imagine coming into the office one day and finding that all of your files have been encrypted and a ransom note is in your inbox for the key. Your business could easily come to a crashing halt.

If you’ve never thought about cyber security or don’t know where to start, head over to the Federal Communications Commission and create a custom Small Business Cyber Planner.

– Social Responsibility

Today’s consumer is becoming more socially aware and more socially active. They care about the world they live in and they expect the same from the businesses they patronize. Earn their respect and you will have dedicated clients for life. We’re talking more than just going green, though, although it’s always a great first start. The next step is to imagine ways in which your product or service could help reduce suffering, poverty, or climate change. Find an issue that resonates with you and your clientele and that finds a way to effect a little social change from within your company.

When it Comes to Your Marketing Goals, Don’t Forget About Consumer Education

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When it Comes to Your Marketing Goals, Don’t Forget About Consumer Education

Whenever you begin to execute a marketing campaign, you’re usually trying to service a few key goals at the same time. One of your top priorities is most likely brand awareness – you don’t just want to get the word out about a product or service, but you’re also trying to position your company as an authority on a particular topic. You may also want to help inform your target audience about the product in question. One of the most important marketing goals that far too many people overlook until it’s too late, however, is consumer education. When it comes to your objectives, consumer education must ALWAYS be a top priority for a number of key reasons.

The Benefits of the Consumer Education Push

For marketers themselves, an increased emphasis on consumer education brings with it a host of different benefits that can’t be ignored. For starters, it allows you to take a deeper level of control over the narrative that you’re trying to tell than ever before. You’re essentially reframing the information that consumers are actively looking for in a much more positive way. Instead of making a declarative statement with your campaign like, "Here are all of the amazing and incredible features that my product or service has," you get to instead take a decidedly less sales-oriented approach and offer advice like, "Here are the problems you have, here is why you have them, and here is how my product or service is the answer you’ve been looking for."

Perhaps the biggest benefit of all to taking a consumer education approach to marketing, however, is that you’re no longer trying to convince your customers that your product or service is necessary. Instead, you get to essentially PROVE that it’s necessary and let your customer base come to the same conclusion on their own. This helps to deepen the sense of confidence that consumers get from your company, which almost always leads to loyalty sooner rather than later.

Transforming the Landscape

Another key thing to keep in mind about making consumer education one of your core marketing objectives has to do with the subtle ways in which you change the relationship between company and customer. With consumer education, marketing is no longer a passive approach. Instead, it’s decidedly active – consumers are no longer HEARING about your product or READING about it, they’re LEARNING about it. They’re engaged with your materials in a whole new way. It officially transforms the marketing experience into a two-way street by way of empowerment. Consumers will WANT to keep learning about what you have to say and what you have to offer, helping to increase penetration rates at the same time. The more satisfied with the marketing experience a consumer is, the more confident they ultimately are with the ways in which they spend your money. If you can turn the tide of the conversation in your direction through consumer education, you’re looking at a powerful opportunity that you can no longer afford to ignore.

These are just a few of the reasons why consumer education NEEDS to be one of your marketing goals at all times. Not only does it bring with it the added benefit of affecting consumer behavior in a positive way, but it also helps establish you and your organization as the authority on a particular topic that people are actively looking for.

Crafting Your Brand to Communicate Your Unique Sales Proposition

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Crafting Your Brand to Communicate Your Unique Sales Proposition

Simply being the best is no longer the key to improving your bottom line. Not only is it a somewhat nebulous concept that isn’t easily quantifiable, it’s become more the status quo than anything else. Everyone selling something claims to be the best. Have you ever seen someone claim to be “second-best” in their marketing?

Identifying your unique sales proposition is by far the most effective thing you can do to make your company a success. Creating a memorable image that will grab people’s attention and make them feel like they want you to be their best friend goes a lot farther these days than claims at superiority.

But maybe you already know this and maybe you’ve already identified how your company is different from the rest of the companies that sell computers/shoes/lamps, etc. Fabulous! One question: Do your customers know what makes you unique? (Cue head scratching and cricket chorus.)

If your brand doesn’t scream, “I’m a unique snowflake” to everyone that sees it, you can do better. You must do better! You owe it to your company to be as unique as you are. So, how do you go about communicating how your company is one of a kind? It’s all in the brand!

One of the best ways to figure out how to craft your brand to communicate your unique sales proposition is to carefully analyze how other companies are doing it. Let’s take a look at two companies that have really done the work to make sure their brand conveys their unique sales proposition…

– Saddleback Leather – This company makes leather bags and accessories, and…so do hundreds of other companies. However, Saddleback has distinguished itself by selling “excessively high-quality leather designs” that are overbuilt and backed by a 100-year warranty. Their logo: a thick, letter tag embossed with their name, with obvious stitching and three big rivets at the top. Their tagline: "They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.” Their ideal customer is someone who works hard and wants their bags and accessories to work harder and last longer.

– Timbuk2 – Yes, another company that makes bags…but guess what? This one is…wait for it…different! By its’ name alone, we know that they are about travel and adventure. If you don’t want to wander out into the wild, brave the unknown, or at least have all your stuff clean and dry when you get to wherever you’re going, you may not be their target customer. Their current tagline is “Drive the bus” which, let’s be honest, doesn’t necessarily convey a specific unique sales proposition, but the story behind it is compelling and reinforces their mission: “To inspire urban mobility, enable individuality, & promote responsibility.” They do this through their adherence to their values, which include statements like “Be Fearless. Deliver. Be Nimble. Engage. Lighten Up.” Timbuk2 is a fantastic example of infusing your company with personality.

These two companies, while selling many overlapping products, have gone out of their way to distinguish themselves from their competitors. They truly love their products and want their clients to love them too. What’s interesting about both of these companies is that they were started by people who couldn’t find what they were looking for in the bags of the world, so they set out to make them. In doing this, they were able to:

– Put themselves in their customers’ shoes
– Understand what motivates their customers’ behavior and buying decisions
– Uncover the real reasons customers will buy their product instead of a competitor’s

These are three critical factors in identifying your unique sales position. Basically, they were the customers, so it wasn’t a big leap to get into their heads and create the experience that would drive consumers to love and buy their products.

It’s easy to get a little lazy and fall into the trap of “it’s good enough for now” and throw something out there, never to be improved upon again. If you love your company, you’ll take the time now to make sure your brand conveys exactly what you want it to convey to your ideal client.

Assembling the Team: How to Get the Right People Into the Right Roles in Your Business

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Assembling the Team: How to Get the Right People Into the Right Roles in Your Business

One of the most important things to do BEFORE you start assembling a team to work on a particular project for your business is to gain a better understanding of your options. In particular, you’ll want to take a long, hard look at each employee and see what they bring to the table in a way that nobody else quite matches.

Every one of your employees has a strength – something they do better than anyone else. Assembling a team requires you to temporarily think less about who they are as a whole and more about how you can use their particular, unique strength as a tool to service a much larger goal. Take marketing, for example. A standard promotional flyer essentially has two core elements: the visual design and the language being used. If your team consists of two people and both of them are expert graphic designers, you will likely end up with something that LOOKS fantastic but that isn’t actually as effective as you need it to be when communicating a message. If you match up your best graphic designer with someone who truly has a way with words, on the other hand, now you’re cooking with gas.

Is this a gross oversimplification of the situation? Sure, but the underlying truth is incredibly relevant – you need to identify what is truly unique about a person and put them in an environment where that talent can shine.

Putting the Pieces Together

Once you’ve identified some of the unique talents that your employees possess, the next step invariably becomes putting all of those disparate elements together to form a more cohesive whole. It can be helpful to think of this process a bit like putting together a baseball team. Even though everyone loves a good home-run hitter, not every single person in a lineup is a power slugger. A few batters are known for their home runs, while others are known for dependability. Sometimes you don’t want a home run at all – sometimes you need someone who you know is going to get to first base nine times out of ten. Other times you need speed – after all, those bases aren’t going to steal themselves.

The point is that you’re trying to put together employees who aren’t JUST high quality, meaning they not only bring something unique to the table, but their skills also compliment everyone else’s. In the context of your business, a team needs to be exactly that – a collection of people who are great on their own, but when they all focus their talents together on the same goal are practically unstoppable. Making sure that you understand how these talents not only work, but work TOGETHER, is one of the biggest things to focus on in this regard.

At the end of the day, assembling the perfect team for your business and getting the right people into the right roles is less about the people themselves and more about your own perspective on the situation. Provided that you enter into the situation from the right angle, know how to identify and bring out the core qualities of these employees, and understand how they all fit together to form a cohesive whole, you’ll be creating the type of situation where success isn’t a matter of "if," but "when."

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