Tuesday, 22 December 2009

What's The problem? What's The Hurt?

For many of us the problem with marketing and strategy is that it just doesn’t seem to be working as well as it could. Typically our clients say things like:

  • ‘We don’t have a clear view of the future…’
  • ‘Our pricing is easily matched/bettered by our competitors who seem to surpass and outflank us…’
  • ‘Too much time and money is spent on sales promotion and we don’t know how effective it is…’
  • ‘Our so-called ‘innovative’ projects often don’t look much different from those of our competitors…’
  • ‘A lot is being given away…’

What is to be done?

  1. Throw away the textbooks.
  2. Dig deep to understand why people should bother to buy from you. If you are the same as the competition then there is no reason why they should buy from you… so what makes you different from the rest?
  3. Talk to your customers
    a. What do they love about you?
    b. What do they hate?
    c. What do you need to get more business?
  4. Don’t tolerate contented or satisfied customers – they will leave you. Seek to get customers who love what you do – what would ‘raving fans’ look like for your business?
  5. Categorise your clients by profitability – 80% of profits come from 20% of your clients (the law of the vital few)… where can you find more clients with the characteristics of the top 20%? What would happen if you sacked, say, the bottom 20 or 30% of your clients?
  6. Create a focus on client benefits – tell them what they will get if they buy from you and tell them about the benefits (how will it make them feel happier or better off?)

Directors' Centre Business Club now available at www.directorscentre.co.uk

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Business Club Update

Quick update here on the Business Club.

Firstly, thank you to all of you who signed up for the ‘trial period’ on the Business Club – it has been great to see so many old and so many new names.

The first ‘Open Day’ (“book in a time to speak to me”) was a great success – I had the MDs of small, medium and large companies calling in. The main theme was how to drive more and better customers to the businesses although there were some rather more specific discussions. Also a healthy mix of IT, consulting, and manufacturing businesses – all based in the UK. Call Trish on 01225 851044 for further dates. Your feedback – most of your initial feedback has been very generous but we can always do with even more!

As a ‘proof of concept’ the pre-launch has been a great success. The December bulletin used a fair amount of ‘existing materials’ and this will not be quite so pronounced once the Club is fully launched and focusing more on members’ specific needs.

Next Steps – the Club will see more exclusive materials (how to’s, articles and video) and would like to introduce teleseminars for ‘members only’. A discussion forum is also being debated although the demand doesn’t seem so strong. Maybe a LinkedIn group would suffice.

We have had several expressions of interest from potential sponsors; while politely declined at this stage, no sponsorship will be considered if it might compromise editorial independence.

Next month, the topic is ‘Just How Good Are You?’. Featured materials will include The Directors’ Centre workbook, a Video ThoughtBubble and an Article of the Month on the subject. Also there will be Part Two of the "Beating The Credit Crunch" Webinar.

As well as all the other features (case studies, tips of the month, how to’s, etc), there will also be an audio interview and further Open Days for you to call and speak with us.

We are really excited about how the Club is developing. With full launch and a paying membership we will be able to start planning future events (both online and live/face-to-face).

Looking forward to your feedback.



PS You can still use the free trial (for the rest of the month) at www.directorscentre.co.uk by using the promo code dec09. Let your friends know.

PPS gremlin spotted when we tried to send this as an email via the Club's platform - apologies if you received the weirdly formatted email!! RC

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Nine Sales and Customer Care Facts

  1. If your customers are not listening it is not their fault! It is your fault… you are not communicating in a way that they can hear your message.

  2. Your sales presentations/offers and so forth are probably all wrong. Read on...

  3. People have problems/hurts/needs that they want sorted out. You need to know what they are. Ask questions, shut up and listen to the answers.

  4. Customers are only interested in how you can help them relieve the pain or get more pleasure.

  5. People will buy from you if you are able to cut to the chase. Tell them what they will get… Don’t bore them. Be precise.

  6. People don’t buy from you for what you do but for what your product or service will do for them (probably after you are gone). How will they be better off after you have gone?

  7. Customers want you to make it absolutely clear what they will get by buying from you. Tell them how you will make things better for them.

  8. Customers love it when you make it clear that you can deliver. So tell them: “We can do that” and give them some brief proofs or examples.

  9. Customers love it when you shut up.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Ritz Carlton Update

An up-to-date interview on Ritz Carlton supports our earlier blog posts - How Ritz Carlton Stay at the Top (Forbes.com)

Ritz-Carlton has become a leading brand in luxury lodging by rigorously adhering to its own standards.

It is the only service company in America that has won the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award twice, and Training Magazine has called it the best company in the nation for employee training.

Its unique culture starts with a motto: "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." 

One of its remarkable policies is to permit every employee to spend up to $2,000 making any single guest satisfied.

Ritz-Carlton codifies its expectations regarding service in 

  • "The 12 Service Values" 
  • "The Credo" 
  • "The Three Steps of Service" 
  • "The 6th Diamond" 
  • and other proprietary statements that are taught to all 38,000 employees.

The Ritz Carlton Experience - blog posted in 2007
Customer Is King - the book

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Dixons Selling On Price!!!

As Dixons say, they should be the last place you visit. See John Lewis and Dixons in Spat Over Ad

There are several ads that read like the following:

"Step into middle England’s best loved department store, stroll though haberdashery to the audiovisual department where an awfully well brought up man will bend over backwards to find the right TV for you."

Then the font changes into Dixon’s red and white lettering and adds:

"Then go to Dixons.co.uk and buy it". It ends with the tagline: "Dixons.co.uk - the last place you want to go".

Is this really clever or really dumb...?

Yes, it appeals to those buying on price but it also alienates the long-term middle-England John Lewis buyer. Maybe Dixons would never appeal to Mr/Ms JL.... maybe this is just a red herring designed to make Dixons look ubercool (=dumb) or maybe Dixons thought it was saying "we have the best prices so if you buy on price then come to us"

Yes, it has got the marketing fraternity talking but has it created more sales in the short term? (Maybe...) Has it created more Dixons customer loyalty in the long run? (I doubt it...)

Check out The Directors' Centre Business Club before its formal launch, promo code 'dec09' for free access this month.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Spend LESS and Spend MORE

Rajesh Setty has a nice spin on the "money in faster: money out slower" ratio I use when looking at businesses in recession. See his book Upbeat.

He argues that we need to continue spending on "investments" and continue cutting on "non-critical expenses".

So his list looks as follows:
  1. What expenses can you knock off starting tomorrow?
  2. With the money saved, what new investments can you make in yourself?
  3. Even if you can't cut any expenses, what new investments should you make in yourself today so that you are prepared for tomorrow?


Rajesh Setty - Upbeat
Check out The Directors' Centre Business Club before its formal launch, promo code 'dec09' for free access this month.

Friday, 4 December 2009

New Business Club from The Directors' Centre

We are delighted to announce the launch of the full preview version of The Directors' Centre's new Business Club.

The full service will go on-line mid-January.

In the meantime, we have a preview version that you can sign up for. It is our full test version to make sure that all the technology works and to make sure that we have got the right formula.

In return for the free month's subscription we are simply asking for feedback. (Only at the end of the free month will we ask if you wish to subscribe and start taking about credit card details etc.)

We could shout about the 'high value features', 'incredible once-in-a-lifetime free extras' and 'killer benefits' of subscribing but that is not really our style.

At its simplest..., the Business Club is a monthly bulletin full of tools, tips and techniques that will help you to make the decisions and take the actions to grow your business. At £25 per month it will cost you the price of a decent cappuccino and a coffee per week!

To find out more click here, click the 'Join Now' button and use the promotional code "dec09" and you will get free use of the the bulletin

The Directors' Centre new Business Club -
use the promotional code "dec09"

Friday, 27 November 2009

Sir Alan in The Sunday Times (if you missed it)

If you have the patience then this Sunday Times interview (from a few weeks ago) Alan Sugar: I'll fire myself - that'll learn you gives a slightly skewed but interesting insight into the man (if you believe what the papers say).

Monday, 23 November 2009

An Experiment In Successful Sales Copy

Why does everyone use totally effusive, exuberant, effervescent language to sell their products?

All it does is make you question the trustworthiness of the seller.

You ask yourself, “Why are they trying so hard? Why are they treating me like a moron? Are they desperate?”

80% of people don’t believe what advertisers say to them. Yet advertisers end up trying even harder to separate us from our money. Surely it is all counter-productive. Or maybe it does work otherwise why should so many people do it?

I have been involved in more than several product launches over the last few years. We always look at how similar businesses promote and sell their products and services. Competitors nearly always run the effusive copy:

  • “Only 147 seats left – almost sold out”

  • “Special Bonus valued at £500”

  • “Buy now before it is too late”

  • “Free… Free…. ”

  • “Special discount price”
Is this the most effective way to get people to buy from you?

If you run two parallel campaigns, one effusive/moronic and one talking to people like they are human beings, then you start to see interesting results.

The results and feedback are consistent:

  • Most folk distrust over-hyped claims

  • With higher ticket prices, trust and reputation become more important than outrageous benefit statements.

In fact, the hyperbole is often counter-productive. It turns people off.

So look at how you are selling your products and services. (As an example, we have done this with our new Business Club.) By talking straight and honestly, most readers will recognise that you haven’t fallen into the trap of writing marketing nonsense, will trust you more and buy more from you. Try it. It works.

Unless you only want morons for customers, in which case…

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Customers Fight Back (on YouTube) - a guitar (or anti-airline) anorak special

Here is a wonderful example of the customer fighting back (over 6 million views of the original video).

I am a bit of a guitar geek. Good guitars cost several thousand pounds and have tremendous sentimental value. So if they are mishandled you get a little up tight.

United (and many other companies) just don't seem to get how poor customer service can make us wild with anger. And then they respond 'with too little too late'.
(And the song's not bad either.

see the video below

and of course there's a public statement from Dave Carroll

who got some kind of 'result' because United did make a reply.

and then the next video, Song #2


Customer Is King - the book

Friday, 20 November 2009

Fed Up With Your Job?

Here's some random thoughts if you feel trapped in your job and want to jazz it up. Some variations on a theme.

  1. Redesign where you do the job – disappear to the internet cafe

    Show the company how you can give them what they want faster or cheaper but doing it your way,
    eg working from home or an internet cafe or getting someone else to do the paperwork.
    Keep the company’s best interests at heart. Create a business case for doing it your way. Demonstrate the upside and minimal downside for the company. You work when you want to. The company gets better value for money.

  2. Redesign Your Life – Become the Outsource – disappear to Thailand

    Create a proposal to automate your job (using Virtual PAs, better computer systems and email autoresponders) so that you don’t have to physically be present. Move to somewhere cheap,
    eg Thailand, and work UK hours via Skype phone and conferencing, email and the web to deliver the same service.
    You get to live like a millionaire, sit by the sea and go scuba diving. They get the same if not better service from you.

  3. Go freelance – jump ship

    Make yourself indispensable. Create a niche or centre of expertise. Offer to go freelance and deliver the same product/service (in half the time at twice the hourly rate). You end up getting all that free time; they still get your expertise. Spend the other half of your time doing other work or practicing your golf swing.

  4. Mini-Retirement – you won’t get it unless you ask for it…

    Propose that you were thinking of leaving but would like to suggest an alternative: a mini-retirement with a return to work guaranteed. Take, say, 12 or 16 weeks to do that trip you always wanted to do.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Getting Gold Star Service For A Bronze Price - little things...

Thursday 09:00:
see the computer I want on the Misco website and phone
up to get a RAM upgrade added to the pack.

“No problem” the man says, "but it will take up to three days to be fitted and tested what with the weekend on the way etc”. Fair enough I say to myself.

The next discussion is about delivery. Do I want ‘standard’ which is 4-5 days or ‘super express’ for the extra ten pounds? Not being in a rush I was happy to wait the extra few days.

“Fine” says Andy, “in which case your computer should be with you in 8 working days, maybe less, maybe more”.

I hand over my credit card details and pop a note in my diary to chase up the machine if it hasn’t arrived in the next fortnight. Because I am a past customer they have all the correct delivery details already. Excellent. It is now 10.00am.

Friday 08:45:
The doorbell rings and there’s the postman standing there with
my new computer in his hands!

How did that happen? It is a tad under 23 hours since I put the phone down
in which time they have found the obscure Toshiba model I had ordered, fitted and tested the extra RAM, reboxed it and sent it off so that it was with me for breakfast the next day.

Talk about under-promise and over-deliver. Talk about exceeding customer expectations. Talk about blowing the customer away. So, Misco, to quote Eminem, “I’m your biggest fan!”

How to play your own game and ignore the big dogs!

Here's a lovely 12 minute video (below) about John Nese at Galco in LA - a soda store. Yes 12 minutes! It covers so many key themes:

  • working a niche
  • playing your own game
  • passion about your product (he sells 500 varieties)
  • passion about customers
  • passion about your suppliers
  • sticking your fingers up at the big dogs (Pepsi Cola in this instance)
  • focusing on the people who want your product and ignoring the rest
  • becoming the expert in your field
  • selling the product and the benefits and not selling on price

I wonder, how much soda can you sell?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

HOW DO I... ensure my supply chain is flexible...?

Jerry mentioned the
Director article which is not available online so here it is (my piece) in a nutshell:

HOW DO I... ensure my supply chain is flexible enough to cope with changes in demand?

Wine merchant Edward Parker says margins in his sector are not generous and so 'cash flow management is absolutely key'. So too is seamless operations strategy. Parker sources wine for private individuals from producers globally and delivers across the UK...

Robert Craven, founder,
The Directors' Centre

You are right to be sensitive to the situation. Your long-term financial performance will be related to your ability to get the right product to the right person at the right time.

To manage the unforeseeable is a contradiction. You must keep involved and engaged in every stage of the supply chain. To manage customer expectations, you need to know what is happening.

One option would be to offer gold, silver and bronze guaranteed delivery dates to accommodate different customer expectations with prices to match.

Clients will tolerate late delivery if they are kept in the loop or offered alternatives. Ironically, the ambiguous delivery time could be used to his advantage and built into the story. You say “most of your suppliers are in France”. You could state: “Our wines are sourced from small family businesses so our delivery schedules may appear a little erratic”. This adds to the mystique, builds in some slippage and early delivery will be an extra surprise.

The full article can be read at this scanned pdf.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Robert Craven - Entrepreneur Guru - What would you do if you were in his shoes?

This was posted at the Business Support blog and I have taken a few lines from it.

"....Finally, I come to the aspect of what I would do if I were Robert Craven.

What could Craven do, occupying as he does the position of a leader in his marketplace (Consultancy).

Anyone involved in assisting SMEs wishes to help raise the standards and expertise of small business management.

As a market leader in UK Business advice and assistance Craven also needs to protect himself from business consultants trying to use or cheapen his business material.

So what’s my suggestion?

It is simple. Robert Craven (RC) already does a fantastic business presentation for UK SMEs in his business series: “Lets talk, More profit”. Market himself/rebrand himself as a business guru ‘celebrity’, increasing his ‘reach’.

He is already known as an author but he would benefit from raising of his profile. Creating top quality DVDs of his material (e.g. More Profit and Bright Marketing) and, with the help of the best PR in the business, he can try to -reposition himself as the celebrity business guru, such as the like of Alan Sugar.

Does this need TV to achieve it? I suspect it does, but that is where professionals come in.

The point is to rebrand Craven as a celebrity (i) is achievable and (ii) which bring him all the rewards he deserves (increased prominence, respect for his materials, financial return etc)."

Your thoughts?

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Why 'DIY' When You Can Outsource?

I am slightly alarmed at the proliferation of so-called DIY solutions for small businesses.

A quick look at the internet sees people offering DIY solutions for
- accounting
- search engine optimisation
- promotional materials
- PR
- web design
- market research
- creating a brand
- ‘any marketing material’!!
- payroll
- health and safety
- employment law
- company formation
- business planning
- legal solutions
- IT networking
- ISO9000 and so on

I bang on about business owners being control freaks, never letting go... the main thing holding the business back is the owner/manager–director. There is no way that any person could deliver a half-decent result from trying to do almost any of these DIY solutions. You cannot do it yourself! You cannot be an expert in that many fields. And why would you want to?

You should be doing what you are best at. You should be employing the people who are best at function x to do function x. I would not want to look at a DIY manual to consider whether to perform my own heart surgery; I would not look at a DIY solution to figure out how to do my accounts. There are other people far better equipped to do these things.

Anyone who has seen the IKEA shelves I once attempted to put up will understand where I am coming from – reading instructions is not my strong point!

It feels like a no-brainer to outsource most of your non-core operations. Neither I nor my people have the time to be 100% bang up-to-date on payroll legislation and its application, the latest google algorithms, top tax techniques etc. That is why we employ/outsource experts to do the job.

The expert outsourcer can be local; they are an expert in their field, they bring years of their experience to your business but you only pay for the skill as and when you need it. No full-time Finance or HR Director, just an FD or HR Director when you really need one.

On the cost side this is incredibly effective; on the benefit side you get heavy-weight/blue-chip assistance for your less than blue chip business.

Here are a couple of examples of businesses I have recently met who are ‘doing what it says on the tin...’

James Benson – The FD Centre

Sue Tumelty – HR Dept

Peter Prater – QTAC Payroll Systems

Anthony Sherry – Chorus IT

Jason Flintner – Flint Design

(And of course I must add Paul Jobin - The Directors' Centre)

Friday, 30 October 2009

Marketing to Businesses at the Royal Mail - bad timing

According to the BBC, the second day of the second wave of postal strikes has begun at Royal Mail.

Ironically, the Royal Mail have been sending me stuff to help me grow my business!

Two links you should look at are:
The quote I like is the one that says "No matter what your size of business,we've got the answers to all your questions."

Meanwhile we are desperately waiting for an item sent to us by a client on Saturday!


Marketing to Independent Small Businesses - blog entry

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Small Businesses Eye Growth with New, Free Seminars

From Insider Money Talks:

With around half of small business poised to expand in the next 12 months Barclays is offering an additional 26 free business seminars around the country to support the renewed interest in business growth.

Barclays business seminars, with backing from ACCA and Business Link, are presented by a range of business gurus including Rene Carayol.

The Let's Talk Preparing for Growth is a series of nine new seminars from Barclays focusing on business growth.

In addition, Barclays is offering 17 Let's Talk Bright Marketing and More Profit seminars during the second half of the year.

"The focus for many companies has shifted towards growth," said Steve Cooper, Managing Director for Barclays Local Business.

"Expansion can be a positive move for a company, and there are always opportunities for growth, but the reality is that it's also difficult.

This is a chance for businesses to hear experts speak about growing successfully, and also to ask the questions they need to ask."

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said: "This is an important initiative by Barclays which I hope helps small businesses get the support they need to grow.

"Small firms depend on bank lending to fulfil their potential and any move like this by lenders to help businesses deal with new challenges is encouraging.

"There is plenty of free advice available for small firms to help them succeed, including from Business Link, and it is important that they take advantage of the full range of support on offer."

The Let's Talk seminar programme is developed by Barclays and delivered by leading business gurus who have worked with organisations across diverse sectors and size, helping companies face the challenges of business by implementing strategies and processes that focus on customers and profitability.

Let's Talk Preparing for Growth will help companies to think about whether their business is in the right shape to look at expanding and how to go about it.

Let's Talk Bright Marketing makes businesses re-think how they get and keep customers, helping them focus their marketing activities more effectively and profitably, see their business and products through their customers' eyes, to take control of their sales and marketing activity.

Let's Talk More Profit makes businesses re-think how they make their money giving them tools and techniques to improve profits in their business, improve cashflow and how to make it all happen by getting more customers, more sales, more profits and more cash.

Insider Money Talks: - the original article
Let's Talk Preparing for Growth - Barclays webpage
Let's Talk Bright Marketing and More Profit - Directors' Centre webpage
Let's Talk Bright Marketing - webpage
Let's Talk More Profit - webpage

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

PRESS RELEASE: Kiki Maurey's Let's Talk... Events "get businesses going..."

Kiki Maurey, the keynote speaker for The Directors' Centre, is delivering four Let's Talk events for Barclays.

The 'Bright Marketing' and 'More Profit' events are participative and challenging events that make you think about what is best for your business. With a focus on action and results the events now have a special time set aside for participants to network and create business for themselves.

Recent comments about the events include: "challenging, inspiring and motivational", "made me step back and consider what I need to do" and "the push I needed to make the tough decisions". Kiki is an excellent speaker.

The events are always over-subscribed but some tickets are still available via The Directors' Centre.
3rd Nov - Let's Talk... More Profit - Wakefield
4th Nov - Let's Talk... Bright Marketing - Croydon
5th Nov - Let's Talk... Bright Marketing - Heathrow
12th Nov - Let's Talk... More Profit - Newport

Kiki Maurey - find out more about Kiki
The Directors' Centre - homepage
The Directors' Centre Let's Talk Events - webpage for the Let's Talk events
What do people get from attending? - see the blog entry and comments

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Punters Deserve Honest Suppliers

Being dishonest must be bad for business in the long run!

This posting could apply to most industries (I suspect) but the following has been brought to my attention this week.

This is not intended as a 'pop' at certain organisations (I will not name them). However, this behaviour is being talked about (good news: "all publicity is good publicity..."?) but not very positively.

One is a well-known company that was caught red-handed, at two events, removing competitors' business cards on the open business card table and replacing them with their own. The then distributed leaflets 'under-cutting' the event organisers. I worry about their ethics (and their ability to deliver real value to clients) when they are so obsessed with 'getting/stealing the business'.

Does this make business sense? Do people trust people that behave in this way?

The other is a curious happening.

Four different 'renowned' people have sent me so-called personal emails about their unique one-off relationship with a guru (four different ones!) who is doing a free, special, unique, exclusive, matchless, rare, once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-repeated, special, most important event that I cannot afford to miss.

Again the cries of desperation resound. Surely the punters soon realise that it, the 'event of the year', is not quite so unique. All the usual spiel: "time-sensitive offer, nearly fully booked blah, blah".

Does this make business sense? Do people trust people who behave in this way?

The first tactic is unforgivable. The second gives the tag 'all marketers are liars' a ring of truth and may reflect badly on a whole industry.

Maybe these 'tactics' work when appealing to certain audiences?

My feeling is that the whole persistent 'interruption marketing' piece with endless empty breathless promises has been spotted for what it is. Or maybe I am wrong

Monday, 19 October 2009

Accountants - You Have Been Warned

Accountants need to recognise that they won't be remembered as they slip into the blur of 'much of a muchness', 'me too' providers.

More Effective Marketing article from ACCA's In Practice Magazine.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Better to work with more (but shallow) or work with less (but more intensively)

I have come across an interesting challenge.

Is it better to work with more businesses (in a relatively shallow way) or is it better to work with fewer but in a more intense way (and therefore more long-term benefit)?

When working in certain countries I felt sure that the broad but shallow effect wasn't really that effective; my preference was to work longer and deeper with fewer people - by handing over the tools I would be able see more benefit and by creating 'champions' I would see the legacy of locally-owned and adapted toolkits being used.

But does this theory (better to go narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow) hold in the UK?

Applied to your own business (and specifically to your marketing) is it better to narrow your focus and look for deep knowledge in a narrow field (niche) or is it better to go broader and shallower?

Case Study One: the business coach who only sells to dentists charges four times the going rate because of his narrow focus/niche expertise.

Case Study Two: the 'tart with a heart' business will sell anything to anyone and does make sales but she gets known for what she does and becomes known as a 'jack of all trades'... Gets lots of work but at low rates. "Jump!" the clients say. "How high?" she says...

Do you have the bottle to go narrower and deeper in your niche or is the recession making you more of a tart? How do you think this is perceived in the marketplace?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

What does one person in the audience see and hear?

It is always useful to see what other people get out of attending an event. Eilidh Milnes got the following from this week's Let's Talk... More Profit in Crewe.

"Here's a selection of notes I jotted down in his comprehensive course brochure:

1. Hope is not an option (when linked to future profits)
2. Many businesses neglect marketing
3. Practical common sense profitability tactics
4. The Law of the vital few
5. The Law of the trivial many
6. Win the battle of the mind of the customer
7. 78% of people trust recommendations"

Eilidh Milnes - her blog
Let's Talk... More Profit - 12 more events in the current series

Friday, 9 October 2009

National Customer Service Week - Lousy Hotels: when will I Iearn?

I have just come across a blog that suggests that it might be NATIONAL CUSTOMER SERVICE WEEK right now.

As an obsessive (of brilliant and dreadful) customer service I was surprised not to know about it. I googled and found National Customer Service Week (good old google) but can't quite tell when it is from the home page!!!


One Irish town. All the B&Bs looked a bit dodgy.

I wished
“If only there were a named/branded cheap and cheerful travel hotel/lodge/inn nearby”. As I uttered the words the place came into sight. Too much synchronicity to deny. Against my better judgement we booked in.

The receptionist was economic with her use of the English language: “100 Euros for bed only”, “Don’t do breakfast. Go to restaurant next door!”, “Paying cash, we’ll need credit card as deposit.” [in case I trash the room?]. I suggest we leave then and there.

Hen night in the first corridor. Pics of the hen on all the doors. Humourously I suggest we leave.

Our corridor had the familiar odour of human urine; you could see the stain on the floor. Again I suggest we leave.

Our bedroom had lost a bedside table; it had been ripped off the wall. The plumbing creaked; the whole system rattled every time anyone in the corridor went to the loo. It is too late; I am too tired and give up trying to leave.
The website doesn’t have a FAQ covering complaints [seriously]. We complained three times at reception, wrote a note, sent a letter and still no reply.

Cheap? No.

Cheerful? No.

They have got away with it again. Or have they?

Long live Trip Advisor... The URL for I-Hate-XXX- hotel.com is available.
I now have a reason to get up in the morning. Or will complacency get the better of me?

Customer Is King - the book

Thursday, 8 October 2009

What Is The Message?

This one question has focused me on what it is that I am trying to say: "What is the message?"

And the answer is: "Stop p***ing around!" I apologise for the language but that’s it in a nutshell.

Point one: It is all your fault.

You charge too little for your product because you haven’t got the bottle to charge realistic prices. You put up with slow paying customers because you are frightened of losing them. You tolerate sloppy performance from team members to avoid confrontation, You...you...you... It is all about you. There’s no-one else to blame. I am sorry the only person I am talking about is you.

So what's going on? Well, at its simplest we blame everyone else for what’s going on: the government, the bank, the customers, the competitors, the staff, the product. Like a spoilt four year old who has had a rotten day facing the reality that is life, you need to come to terms with the fact that you are the problem. No-one else; just you. It is because of your decisions and your ideas that you are where you are today. Or are you just going to blame someone else (again!).

Point two: Stop procrastinating

Your business is like a rabbit frozen in the headlights, incapable of making a move or a decision, unable to move in one direction or another. Or you will die.

Point three: Speed is of the essence

You need to unfreeze, relax, take stock and weigh up the choices. With great speed you need to take the bold decision: left or right, up or down. Speed is of the essence. The consequences of making no decision are there for all to see. Do you want to be one more piece of roadkill for the statistics book?

Point four: Decide which side of the fence you're going to sit on

The world seems to be dividing into two camps and living in the middle ground is purgatory – similar to choosing the wrong side in the first place. So, are you going to be a) decisive or b) indecisive? Bold or meek? Strong or weak? Grown-up or child-like? Responsible or irresponsible? Bright or stupid? Clever or dumb? Fast or slow?

Point five: Just do it - now

Action has a great power to it. The mere act of taking action opens up possibilities, energy and choice. Without action everything fades into a mediocre dull blob of emptiness.

Point six: Take massive action

Enough or just about enough really is not good enough. Not for anyone. So don’t mess around. If you are going to do something, anything, then do it properly. Or just don’t bother.

Point seven: DIY my foot!

Do you really believe you can create an effective quick fix DIY solution to what you are doing? Remember you are where you are now because of your actions. A word to the wise: try bringing in some experts to help you out. Do that unless you really believe that you are cleverer, smarter, more experienced and wiser than they are. Buyer beware: not all people who claim to be experts will be cleverer, smarter, more experienced and wiser than you. Make sure that they can also get you and your business to move on up to the next level. It is all about results.

So, now is the time to grow up and take responsibility for the successes and failures of your business. Stop blaming other people and take on the challenge as an adult.

It is the classic epic hero story: our hero feels OK then realizes that things aren’t so good. The hero goes on some journey and has to face his/her demons and comes out the other end a stronger and better human being. Lion King, Aladdin, Star Wars, Goonies, James Bond, Pulp Fiction, The Yes Man, Ace Ventura Pet Detective, Batman, and King Lear.

I am not sure if Shakespeare would approve of King Lear being summarised as "Stop p***ing around!". But I am sure you get my point. Anyhow, now it’s your turn!

Go for it!

Directors' Centre - the consultancy for business people who want to stop p***ing about!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Seeing The Bright Side

If I take a few quotes from Oliver Horton's article Seeing The Bright Side you get the gist of my argument about surviving the recession:

“Take action now,” advises business consultant Robert Craven from consultancy firm Directors' Centre. “Our experience is that the world divides into those who step up and those who step down."Those who step up, says Craven, decide to work even harder. Those who step down tend to whinge and moan. They don’t want to work harder so their first action is to cut costs.

“If one group of businesses is working 20% harder and the other group is working 20% less hard, that creates a huge gap. Those businesses able to step up have a big advantage,” says Craven.The recession offers an opportunity to steal market share, to focus your business, to go one step ahead of the other guy.

Craven expects to see as many businesses fail after the recession as during it. “It’s a long game, not a sprint,” he says. Craven says business owners need to ask themselves, clearly and honestly, if their business is viable in the short term. And if it is viable in the short term, is it viable in the long term? “If it’s not, then you’re beating your head against a brick wall. Hope is not a method,” he insists.

If you do choose to stay in business, Craven believes you must focus on the basics. Put prices up if possible. Instigate clear marketing. Deliver jaw-dropping service and product. Go the extra mile. Get rid of clients that don’t pay or are just time-wasters. Fix credit terms and a system for collecting the money you’ve earned. Make it easier for people to buy. Talk to clients. Step up sales initiatives. Keep the business moving, keep it alive.

Easier said than done. Or is it? It takes a massive amount of energy to make these things happen.

The consultancy part of our business at The Directors' Centre has started putting in place 'devices' and 'processes' to enable MDs to deliver on the mantra above. Read the case studies posted on the website or call/email Lesley, Paul or myself on +44 (0)1225 851044 to find our more.

Directors' Centre - consultancy for growing businesses

Thursday, 1 October 2009


The Free vs not free argument rages (see the blog entries I want to be free and Expensive is the new free). I say "put your prices up" and they say "offer BOGOF deals" (Buy One Get One Free). The Times Online has very kindly put a whole bunch of special deals all in one place:

Here Times Money lists 10 of the best discounts available on the web this week, with thanks to Vouchercodes.co.uk, MyVouchercodes.co.uk and MoneySavingExpert.co.uk.

Shopping and Groceries


The food delivery service Ocado is offering 20 per cent off all orders worth more than £60 until October 5. Enter the code VOU9397362 in the space for a promotional code at the checkout.

Abel & Cole

The organic vegetable service is offering new customers £10 off when they spend £30 online. At the checkout, enter the code TELESUMMER09. The code is valid until October 31.

La Redoute

The French fashion catalogue is offering £15 off all orders over £20. Simply enter the code 8401 at the checkout. It is only available on full priced items in the current season collection.


The outdoor store will cut 10 per cent from your online bill if you add the code next10 at the checkout.


You can get 8 per cent off all compact cameras when shopping online at Jessops until October 9. Simply enter the code CAMERAS8 at the checkout.



The Italian chain is running a buy one, get one for a £1 offer until Sunday October 11. You'll need to register and print out the voucher here.

Pizza Hut

A half price voucher which applies to food but excludes the ever-popular lunch time buffet, happy hour and delivery, among other terms and conditions. It is only available Sunday to Thursday until October 8.


Two for one on all main meals with this voucher until October 4, although not valid at certain restaurants so check for details. Click here to register and print the voucher.

Ha Ha

Another two for one offer at the chain of bar-restaurants. This one is also for main meals. Offer ends on October 12. Only one voucher per party, per day. Click here to register, print the voucher and read the terms and conditions.


Yep, another two for one. Register and print a voucher for the less expensive dish free at breakfast, lunch or dinner until October 4th, not available on Friday or Saturday.


I want to be free - blog entry
Expensive is the new free - blog entry
Times Online

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Watching Sales Increase by 150%

As people feel the full bite of the recession, the quest to survive puts more pressure on the need to find more and better clients. One key problem, poor sales performance, is simply more visible in difficult trading conditions.

CASE STUDY (Real Life – Accounting Firm: Jan - June 20XX)

The Background:
Profits and sales were slipping.
Using a number of fairly sophisticated marketing techniques, potential clients were invited to presentations, exhibitions, updates and seminars as opportunities for face-to-face contact. Yet sales conversion rates were disappointing. The practice was simply letting new business slide through its fingers.

The Problem:
Poor sales performance despite having a decent product.

The Reason:
Poorly trained staff and lousy systems.

The Solution:
A few simple changes that will have a massive impact on your bottom line.

It was identified that staff had been expertly trained on the technical side of their job but were lacking the more subtle inter-personal skills that are so important. Accountants are great at doing accounts but not so great at talking to potential clients about why they should be appointed.

Director level support brought the issue out into the open.

Your sales performance will improve if you focus on the following 'crunch questions':
  • Who is the ideal/target customer? What are their problems? Why do they buy your product?
  • Do you really understand what it is that the customer is buying? Are you selling the benefits rather than the features?
  • Why should people buy from you when they can buy from the competition
  • What makes you different from the rest?
  • How to start and finish a conversation?
  • Do you deliver a credible and compelling Audio Logo/Elevator Pitch/One-Minute Intro
  • Can/Do you ask for the business? Can you ask for referrals?
  • Are you able to close the sale?

For any sales professional this is the stuff that Session One from Day One of a Sales Course should cover (Spookily this is very similar to the programme we take business through on the Bright Marketing courses that I run for Barclays).

The reality was far from the truth.

Your sales people need to be taken through a process like the one outlined above. Add decent measurement systems to your soft skills (targets, some decent prospect data, metrics, and conversion ratios) and selling becomes a simple game: you know how many conversations create an appointment create a new client.

In the six months we worked with our client we saw their competitors going bust and the industry lose its confidence. However our client saw client sales rocket. Compare the numbers (which lose their formatting on most machines - sorry!)

6m to 31 Dec 20XX
  • Leads 300
  • Conversations 140
  • Proposals 50
  • New Clients 20

6m to 30 June 20XX

  • Leads 350
  • Conversations 180
  • Proposals 95
  • New Clients 50

Leaving out any complicated/sophisticated explanations, the incredible thing was that new clients had increased by a remarkable 150%.

What does this say to you?
Well, small changes in how you go about the sales process have a massive impact. Many trainers use Micky Mouse numbers to impress their audience but here is an example where the numbers speak for themselves. 


  • of course you can't write a blog entry like this without pointing out where people can find out how to get their own 150%...
  • The Directors' Centre - talk to The DC if you want these benefits
  • Read Grow Your Service Firm

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers - the story of success

Just finished 'Outliers - the story of success' by Malcolm Gladwell.

While writing the book, Gladwell noted that "the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work."

On page 285, he sums it all up:
“Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky - but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”

His style does meander even if he does use some interesting case studies and even if the conclusions are self-evident . Quite a 'nice' read but a bit disappointing. Maybe it was more auto-biographical and self-referencing than intended - it was his journey he was analysing. Gladwell has created his own brand and followers and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Launching A Business With A Cause - Quick Update

Last year I reported about Launching A Business with a Cause and I thought that we should have a quick look to see what's happening to Madécasse, the business I featured. The answer is that they are still going strong as reported in the New York Times Tasteful Company/Madecasse:

"These days my favorite chocolate isn’t U.S.D.A. organic certified and it’s not Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance stamped. It’s Madécasse, made from cacao grown in Madagascar’s naturally organic forests. It’s traded fairly and is environmentally friendly."

One rave review however does not make a business.

At the end of the day Madécasse may need to literally break into the Vanilla and/or Chocolate markets and that will cost money. As said before, success is not about having the best product. Marketing is not a battle for the product but a battle for the mind of the customer.

This may be a traditional conundrum of just how much money will they need to make an impact on well developed markets. With chocolate they are competing against the big boys and in vanilla their product is competing with 'industrial' alternatives.

So how easy is it to be the next Green and Blacks/Ben & Jerry/Innocent Drinks 'successful' high-quality offering and what are the odds of breaking through?

Will the success of this business boil down to the depth of their pockets? Or the quality of how they market their product (= money, again)?

Is it possible that, ironically, the business's success may be more about their ability to raise capital than the quality of their product and ethics!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Compulsory Retirement Age - A Good Thing?

SW (a regular commenter to this blog) has suggested that we look at and discuss the BBC's UK Retirement Age Challenge Fails news piece.

SW asked "Robert, what is your opinion on the Federation of Small Businesses lobbying and supporting for the compulsory retirement age being kept at 65?"

(At least) Two things to discuss

1) Should the FSB hold such a view (to represent its members)?
2) Should there be compulsory retirement age at 65?

This really is a can of worms.