Be Accountable for Your Business Success in a Down Economy

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It is chaos out there.  The stock market is like a yoyo, banks are struggling and small businesses are feeling the affects.  Companies are closing left and right.  Unless you are the largest insurance company in the United States and Congress decides to give you eighty-one billion dollars as a bailout you are going to have to be accountable for your own business success.

Economic trends are just that, trends.  Good economies move down and down economic trends move up.  The big question is always, when?  A down economy is like a magnifying lens.  It takes any small imperfection in your business and turns it into a major issue.  The companies that are run right in good times are usually best positioned to succeed in bad times. 

As you lead your business in a down economy, consider these five critical accountability tactics.

Be accountable to cut costs

One of the keys to business success in a down economy is to “get your ship right.”  In other words it is critical to get your costs under control.  You must know the difference between fixed and variable costs.  Lower your fixed costs as low as you can and still offer the service and support you need to offer your clients.  By lowering your fixed costs it will be easier each month to “cover your nut” and keep your doors open.

It is also good to lower your variable expenses.  This will enable you to create additional profits or be more competitive on new business.  Go to your suppliers and see what types of concessions you can get from them.  Ask for lower prices or better terms.  Maybe you can get an additional discount for cash.  Maybe you can get price concessions by combining your purchases with one supplier.  Ask for the moon.  You just never know what someone will say agree to.

Be accountable to get new business

Your competitors may not be as savvy as you are.  Use your lower overhead and lower variable costs to offer better pricing to those customers you’ve always wanted to acquire.  Go after your competitors best customers and be aggressive.  These potential clients are hurting too and may be responsive to your aggressive offers.  This is a great time to pick up clients who may not be getting the best service from their current supplier.  Be sure and do your due diligence if you are expected to issue credit to these accounts.  Some times companies just change suppliers because they have used up their line of credit at their current source.

Be accountable to conserve cash

Cash is king in a down economy.  Don’t spend money for anything you don’t have to.  Put off all expansion risks.  The goal here is to survive and position your company to flourish when the economy does turn around.  If you are in a very good financial position and a great opportunity presents itself then consider it, but always keep your risk at a minimum in a down economy.

Be accountable to secure financing

Many times business owners look for additional financing when they need the money.  The problem is that when you need the money many times it is too late to acquire the financing.  Set up a line of credit and keep it active.  I use a line of credit in my business to help with cash flow.  I may go months without tapping into it but I always keep the account active.  When you need money you want to have access to it.

Be accountable to maintain key relationships

Maintaining a great relationship with your banker in good times will help when the tough times are here.  Having great relationships with your clients will help keep them loyal when you really need them.  Paying your bills promptly and nurturing  your relationships with your suppliers may put you in a more competitive position either with pricing or service.  When I owned a window company there was a glass shortage.  It is hard to make a window without glass.  We always discounted our bills and had close personal relationships  with our suppliers and when glass was hard to get we always had just enough to meet our needs.


Economic issues will affect your business.  You cannot control what happens in our economy but you can be accountable for your choices and how you prepare and handle economic downturns.  Proactive accountability always is more effective then reactive accountability.  Keep your business viable and position it for success in a down economy.  Accountability counts!

Be Accountable for your Goals

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Last weekend I took my wife and two of my children to see the show South Pacific.  It was a wonderful experience for my younger daughters.  They enjoyed the beautiful costumes and stage setting.

One of the songs had a stanza that caught my attention.  It went like this:

You have to have a goal,
Because if you don’t have a goal,
How is your goal going to come true?

Wow, very profound.  When I coach clients one of the things we talk about is their personal and professional goals.  I find that most people’s goals are vague and ambiguous.  Individuals may think they have goals, but what they really have are wishes and wants.  There is a big difference between well thought out goals and a thrown together wish list.

You should have specific goals in both your personal and professional life.  These goals should drive your thoughts and your actions.  What you think about you become.  What you do today leads you to your results tomorrow.  Goals don’t just happen.  We must take accountability and be responsible for both setting and managing our goals.

Think about these five things when you put your goals together:


1.  Define Your Values

Before you can look at your goals, it is critical to understand your values.  Your values are like the foundation of your home.  If you build a house on a solid foundation it can stand for decades, if not centuries.  If you understand your values and your goals are true to those values, then you have a greater chance of achieving them.

If your goals do not align themselves with your values, then the lack of truth that they initiate will keep you from achieving them.  That would be a terrible waste of time.

If you value strong customer relationships, then a goal to increase sales will naturally sit solidly on top of that foundation.  If your base is in sand then your house will sink.


2.  State Your Goals

So what are your goals?  State them out loud.  Think about all of the different aspects of your business, and then go back and do the same thing for your personal life.

Many times people achieve their goals only to find out that they really don’t have what they desire.  They err in choosing the wrong item to measure or maximize.  It is not only important to set goals but to set goals that are measurable and relate to what you really want to achieve.

I often work with people who say they want to double sales.  Doubling sales is fine, but what about the bottom-line?  If you only look at sales, you may be overlooking other elements of your business that lead to losses.  I can drive the sales of any company through the roof, but if you are not able to maintain profits, then what good is it?

In business we all look at sales, but I want you to also look at net profit.  Look at setting goals around client retention, new clients, closing ratio, customer satisfaction index, employee satisfaction index, inventory turnover, new product development, and other critical core business functions that impact your business.

Be very specific with your goals.  It’s not enough to say, “I want to retire early.”  What is early?  What age?  How much passive income will you need?  Where will you live?  What will you do with your time?  What will it look and feel like?

When you are very specific with your goals you create a clear target.  Clearly defined targets are much easier to hit!

Dig deep and find the core elements of your business that really drive both sales and the bottom line.  Then, set goals around these elements.


3.  Write Your Goals Down

A goal that isn’t written on paper is a wish.  It’s tough to make it come true.  If you really want to achieve your goals, it is important that you put all of them in writing.

All of my children have journals.  Each year on their birthday we go out to breakfast.  Together we look at the goals that they had set the prior year and evaluate the progress that they’ve made.  Then I challenge them to create goals for the upcoming year.

One day I noticed that my oldest daughter, Sara, was looking all over the house for something.  I asked what it was she was missing.  Sara told me that she was missing a key to her diary.

Later that day I saw Sara curled up in her favorite chair writing in her diary.  I asked Sara how she found the key so quickly.  Sara told me, “I wrote in my journal that I wanted to find my key.  If I write something in my journal it always comes true!”

I was amazed!  Sara learned very early on that goals should be written.  When you write your goals down, you are committing yourself to them.  They become real, and you feel responsible for their completion.


4.  Give Yourself Time Guidelines

When you set your goals look at the calendar.  Give yourself some time guidelines.  I call them guidelines because it is difficult to know exactly how long it will take to achieve some of your goals.

Looking at dates will help you clear your thinking.  You will gain a sense of urgency, and you will begin looking for ways to achieve your goals.  Having a deadline or a time goal can help motivate you to take action and move you forward.

But, a timeline isn’t the bottom line determination of your success.  I don’t want time to determine if you succeed or fail.  I don’t believe you have failed unless you quit.  Success sometimes just takes a little more time.


5.  Access Your Progress

As you pursue your goals, be sure and take time to access your progress.  Are you moving forward?  Is something holding you back?  Is there additional education that you need in order to achieve your goals?

By assessing your progress you can see if you are moving forward appropriately, or decide if you need to make course adjustments.

Some days it will seem that you are moving full speed ahead.  Other days you will feel like every step you take forward, you take two steps back.


I once had lunch with a successful business man.  I asked him what was the key to his success.  He said, “I do the right things consistently.”  He had analyzed his business and figured out what he needed to do on a regular basis in order to be the best he could.

If you are doing the “right things” consistently, monitoring your progress, and making course corrections when necessary, then you will move towards the completion of your goals.

Goal setting is critical for building your business and your life.  Spend the time to fully understand and define your values.  Then, set out to write down a well-defined set of goals.  You are now being accountable for your goals and you’re on the way to Building a Better Biz!

Ask Better Questions…Close More Sales

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Get a piece of string that is approximately six inches long.  Sit down at a table and lay the string out in a straight line starting at the edge of the table in front of you and running towards the opposite side of the table.

Grab the closest end of the piece of string between your thumb and first finger and push it across the table making sure to maintain the straight line.  Can you do it?  I can’t.

Put the string back in a straight line.  Go around to the other side of the table.  Grab the closest end of the string between your thumb and your first finger and pull it across the table.  Can you keep it in a straight line?

Just like you need to pull a piece of string to keep the line straight, you need to pull customers in the right direction to close the sale.  When you make statements you are pushing customers.  When you ask questions you are pulling them.  It is difficult to push a customer to a sale.  It is easier, and better long term, to pull them to the sale.

Great sales professionals develop great sales questions.  Your questions will deal with three time periods; the past, the present, and the future.


Questions about the past allow you to uncover valuable information.  You get to find out what has worked, what hasn’t, what someone likes, and what someone doesn’t like.  Questions about the past will give you clues about what to avoid and what to look for as a possible direction to guide your prospect.  They say the past predicts the future, and many times this is true.

Possible questions about the past that you could ask are:

What product/service have you used in the past?
What did you like about that product?
What did you not like about that product?
What did you like about the vendor?
What did you dislike about the vendor?
How did this product help your company prosper?
Have you encountered any problems because of past products you’ve used?
What has prompted you to change suppliers in the past?


Questions about the present will disclose a prospect’s most immediate needs and pains.  These questions will give you information about the situation that you need to solve in order to make the sale.  Where the past will show trends and events that will influence a buyer, the present is where the problem must be discovered and solved.

Possible questions about the present that you could ask are:

What is your most pressing issue?
What is the best thing about your current supplier?
What is your biggest challenge you face with your supplier?
Does your supplier bring added value to your company?
What would prompt you to consider a change at this time?


Questions about the future deal with the dreams and aspirations of your prospect.  You will discover the client’s goals and uncover the direction that they want to move forward to.  Future oriented questions bring emotion into play.  They allow the prospect to think big and create the ultimate opportunity for themselves or their business.

Possible questions about the future that you could ask are:

If this were a perfect world, what additional value would your supplier bring to you, or to your company?
Where do you see your company in five years, and how could a vendor help you get there?
If you had the perfect product what would it look like?
How can I help you reach your goals?
If we were doing business, and in one year we met to review the year together, what would have to have happened for you to feel good about that year?


By asking more questions you will be able to lead the person sitting across the table to the destination you desire.  Maybe you are closing the sale for a big order.  Maybe you are closing the sale of having another meeting.  Maybe you are closing on an initiative that you want your colleagues to buy in on.  Life is full of selling opportunities.

Develop an inventory of great questions.  The more you use them the more you will become comfortable with them.  Use perception to see what your customer is experiencing, and then ask questions designed to help solve their problems.  Remember, it is never about your product or service.  It is always about the benefits owning your product or service brings your client.  Use your questions to get the information you need to help your client own your product or service.

Asking better questions, and asking the right questions will lead you to success and help you Build a Better Biz! 

Managing the Experience

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I took my family out to dinner last night.  It was my oldest daughter’s birthday, and my wife and I wanted to take her someplace special.  We went to Tony’s.  Tony’s is the only five star restaurant in St. Louis, and they work hard to earn that designation.

Upon arrival the valet takes your car and you enter the restaurant.  The maitre’ d asks your name and checks you in.  He had previously noted in his records that we were celebrating Sara’s birthday and immediately wished her a happy birthday.  Boy was Sara surprised!

We were seated at a round table in the corner, and then the headwaiter and his team of three came over to introduce themselves. They would be working together to serve us that evening.

The table was set with square frosted plates.  We would never eat off of them.  Our water glasses were filled, and bread was placed on the table.  We were offered drinks, and then the wine steward arrived with the wine menu.

Having three people to fill water glasses, pour wine, make sure we had sufficient bread, and answer any questions we had about the items on the menu was a sight to behold.

After we ordered, the square frosted plates were removed and our silverware was “modified.”  If you ordered salad then the proper fork was placed in front of you.  When you were finished the appetizers and salad, the table was cleaned of any crumbs and again the silverware was changed.  If you ordered fish, then you were given a special fork and knife.

The main course was prepared in the kitchen but finished tableside.  My dover sole was filleted as I watched, and to make sure that the server didn’t miss any bones he lit a candle and placed it next to the plate before he began his delicate procedure.  There were five people “finishing off” the entrees for the six of us.

After dinner the table was again cleaned of any crumbs.  Our water glasses were removed and replaced with new fresh ones.  We ordered dessert and coffee.  Before the deserts arrived, one server placed a plate on the table with several small sweets to enjoy with our coffee.

As we walked outside after dinner it was raining.  One gentleman pulled up the car and two others held umbrellas to keep us dry as we entered the car.  What an evening!

I’m not going to tell you what our bill was, but I will tell you that you would be hard pressed to go to Tony’s and get out for less then $125 per person.

How does Tony’s stay so busy?  How are they able to charge the prices they do?  What keeps people coming back?

It is very simple.  It is not about the delicious food.  It is not about the fantastic wine.  The location really isn’t that good.  Ultimately, it is the experience that people are paying for.

It is an unbelievable dining experience when so many proficient people wait on you.  The food was delicious, and the service was fantastic.  But, it goes beyond the service.  The experience we enjoyed will be remembered long after we’ve burned off the calories from dinner.

Good service is the price of admission if you are going to stay in business.  However, when you can deliver a unique experience to your clients, then you have the opportunity of charging more and keeping customers coming back.

Products are commodities.  So many companies just perform at the industry norm.  You need to stand out.  People are willing to pay more for a unique and rewarding experience.

When you go to Disney World you aren’t paying for the rides.  You are paying for the experience.  You pay hundreds of dollars a day to see the look on your children when they see Mickey Mouse for the first time.

I’ve been fortunate to dine at Le Jules Vern restaurant on the Eiffel Tower.  Yes the food was good, but you can get good food at many restaurants in Paris.  The experience of dining on the Eiffel Tower and being able to look out over the city of Paris is unforgettable!  It’s worth the price of admission to experience that just once.  I don’t remember what I ate that day, but I remember the experience, and I would be willing to pay to experience it again.

What is the experience that you offer your clients?  Is doing business with you the same as doing business with your competitor?  Do your clients talk about you with their friends and send you an endless stream of referral business?

Here are three critical business functions you should analyze in order to evaluate the quality of experience your customers are having:


1. Evaluate Your Sales Process

Look at every step in your sales process.  What is your client experiencing?  Do all steps add value for your client?

No one likes busy work or to be made to jump through hoops.  Every form you use should be evaluated.  Each method of contacting a client should be looked at.  Are you valuing their time?  Does each step of your sales process move you closer to a decision?

How are you helping educate your clients?  Are you making it easy or difficult for your clients to buy?

Nordstrom’s keeps records of all your purchases.  If you are in a hotel in San Francisco and you need a shirt, they know your size and the colors you like.  You can call them, and they will deliver a shirt to your hotel in your size and in your favorite color.  This system makes the buying process very easy for the customer!


2. Evaluate How Your Client Receives Your Goods or Services

After the purchase is made, what does your client experience?

My uncle is an incredible car salesperson.  He has sold over 20,000 automobiles in his career.  When he delivered a car his customer received the red carpet treatment.  Whether he sold Chevrolets or Jaguars, his customers were made to feel like royalty.

He always offered a beverage upon arrival at the dealership.  Then, he went through the entire automobile and showed how all the systems worked.  Next, he would introduce the customer to the Service Manager.  Not only did the customer feel important, but my uncle was almost guaranteeing that any future service on that vehicle would be performed at the dealership.

I purchased some clothes the other day.  The pants were placed on nice wooden hangers and put into a zippered garment bag.  The sales person gave me her card and told me to call her with any questions or concerns.  That is a first class delivery experience.

It is not enough to have a great sales experience.  You must deliver your product or service in unique and interesting ways.


3. Evaluate What Your Customer Experiences After the Sale is Completed.

The sale is made, and the product or service has been delivered.  Now what experience does your customer have?  Do you stay in touch?  How do you accomplish this?  Maybe you send out birthday cards.  Maybe you call from time to time.  Is your correspondence unique or the same as everyone else’s?

My uncle would call his customers four months before the automobile lease expired, because he knew that they would be starting the shopping process.

If your client refers someone, what do you do to say “thank you.”


There are thousands of people out there who are trying to be successful.  They work hard, just like you do.  They study their products and services, just like you do.  They have nice offices, just like you do.  They offer good quality, just like you do.  The true real way to differentiate yourself and the only real value a customer wants to pay for is the experience they have.

Take the accountability to create an experience your customer and clients will brag about.  Manage your customer’s experience.  Make it fun, exciting, and memorable, and you will be on your way to Building a Better Biz.

Being Accountable For Excellence

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In 2003 Martina Navratilova was 46 years old.  That is considered ancient in the world of professional sports.  Heck, that is considered ancient in some cultures.

On the professional tennis circuit, Martina was considered nothing less then amazing.  That year Martina has won Grand Slam mixed doubles titles at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon.  When great tennis players are retiring in their earlier thirties, how and why was Martina able to go on?

In the late seventies and all through the eighties, Martina and Chris Evert slugged it out, jockeying back and forth for the title of greatest female professional tennis player.  Evert finished the year ranked first six times, Navratilova seven.  Each won 18 Grand Slam singles titles.  Evert, at the age of 44, retired in 1989.

Evert built her game with impeccable ground shots.  Playing against her was like hitting a ball off the side of your house, it was always going to come back.

Martina on the other hand, forever changed the way women played tennis.  Her personal attributes served her well on the tennis court and they can serve you well in the world of business.

Here are a few of Martina’s success secrets:


Redefined Greatness

Martina redefined what women’s tennis is all about.  Instead of spending all day every day on the court practicing, Martina created an entirely different training schedule.

Of course she spent hours on the tennis court, but she hired a trainer and worked out extensively in the weight room.  She ran.  Martina even played basketball.

Next Martina hired a nutritionist.  It wasn’t enough to just train better, she also wanted to eat better.

Martina became a strong athlete, and left her competition behind.  She hit the ball harder, ran faster, and had quicker hands.  Late in a match when her opponent was tiring, she was still strong and winning points.

By redefining what it meant to be a success in tennis, the world was forced to play by her rules.  She had a higher standard, and she dominated.  Martina took accountability to define her own set of physical fitness standards and then lived to those higher standards.

Who takes the accountability to define what the rules of success are in your business?  Is it your competition or is it you?  If you’re playing by everyone else’s rules, you can only be as good as they are.  If you are accountable to write new rules and play to a higher standard, then you have a head start and a distinct competitive advantage.



When Martina started in professional tennis she showed glimpses of greatness, but she lost far more times then she won.  There were issues holding her back.  She was unpolished as a player and somewhat emotional.

Martina believed in herself and was willing to stick with it.  She worked hard on her game and her mindset.  She started winning and became well recognized as a professional tennis player.

Martina was born in Prague which is in the Czech Republic.  Early on she realized that she would not have the opportunities for success there as she would outside of the Iron Curtain.

As an American she flourished.  She was able to create her incredible training program and blossom.

It wasn’t easy at first but Martina was persistent.  She stuck with it.  When she fails Martina didn’t make excuses.  She retained her personal accountability.  She was willing to do what she had to do to until she got to do what she wanted to do.  How willing are you?

Do you stick with projects?  Are you willing to do anything to reach your goals?  Can you work past short-term failures to get to long-term successes?

That’s what persistence is all about, and all of the great business professionals I know have it.  Do you?


Commitment To Winning

Martina was good enough to play professional tennis, but that wasn’t good enough for her.  She wanted to win.  It wasn’t just about playing the sport.  If this was an event worthy of her time, then this was an event worthy of winning.

Persistence isn’t enough.  I‘ve seen plenty of persistently average people.  They plow along at the same pace year after year.  They are dependable.  You can count on them being there.  But, they are never in the winner’s circle.

A commitment to winning is what separates the champions from the field.  It’s what keeps the great professionals driving year after year.

Martina practically owns every record in professional tennis.  Why does she still compete?  First, she says it’s her commitment to winning.  She was trained to win.  If you said, “Let’s go to the mailbox,” I bet she would want to race!

By winning the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon in 2003, Martina tied the record of 20 titles at Wimbledon held by Billie Jean King.  Do you think Martina wanted to come back to England next year and break that record?

Count on it!


Are you committed to the game or to winning?  Are you accountable for your results?  Will you do whatever you must to not just compete but to win?  It’s an attitude, a mind set that all the great business professionals I know have.  They play to win and win at what they do.  You don’t have to be mean or cruel or play dirty to win.  What you have to be is committed.

By redefining greatness for yourself, being persistent, and being committed to success you will be on the way to Building a Better Biz!


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What do Apple, Inc., Nordstrom and Whole Foods all have in common?  All three companies are accountable for their actions, choices and results.  Accountability for these three organizations is a cornerstone of their operations.  They realize that you must be accountable first and then business will follow.

Apple, Inc. recently rolled out their new 3G iPhone and their MobileMe website.  Customers immediately reported problems with the web service.  While Apple moved quickly to solve the problems, they also stepped up and gave everyone an additional 30 days service for free.  And if that wasn’t enough to show how accountable they are, when the problems persisted they threw in an additional 60 days free service.  Only 2% of Apple’s customers were affected but Apple moved quickly to show that they are accountable for their products and accountable to their clients.  Maybe this display of accountability is one of the reasons that Apple, Inc. has the highest consumer satisfaction rating of all time in their industry.

Nordstom has a long history of accountability to their customers.  From the legendary story of a Nordstrom representative taking back a set of tires from a disgruntled customer (Nordstrom doesn’t even sell tires) to their policy of having associates come out from behind the counter to hand you your purchase, make eye contact and thank you by name, Nordstrom continues to live a philosophy of accountability and of service.

Whole Foods takes a totally different approach to being accountable, and their accountability touches our lives in many ways.  Whole Foods continuously shows that they are accountable to the world in which we live.  They no longer use plastic bags which piled high in our landfills, and they buy a significant amount of power from wind mill farms.  And, that doesn’t even count the organic criterion they adhere to with their food, ensuring more purely natural products.

Each of these three companies has recognized the value of accountability and taken conscious steps in order to attain it.

There are four phases to accountability:

The accountability we hold ourselves to ourselves.
The accountability we hold ourselves to others.
The accountability we hold others to ourselves.
The accountability we help others hold to themselves.

As these companies have demonstrated, by being accountable in our lives and our businesses we build the foundation for success and achievement.  Whether you are trying to be a great leader or a great team member, accountability is the key.  People look up to others who live by example and show they are accountable for their actions, choices and results.  These are the people and organizations that make great things happen.

Adapt Your Business For Success

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The temperature spiked almost 15 degrees this past week.  My two youngest daughters are avid soccer players.  They train three times a week while preparing for their upcoming fall season.  Before leaving for practice, I changed their water bottles to insulated coolers that were twice the size.  The girls voiced their disdain of the large heavy coolers, but I pressed on.  After practice I checked their coolers, and they were both practically empty.

When the heat goes up, you need more water.  As the environment changes, we must change or adapt in order to remain healthy and survive.  Business is the same way.  Your business is facing changes that you must adapt to in order to survive and flourish.

Lets look at four of the major changes you may be facing.


1. The Economy

We are all affected by economic climate changes.  As the economy slows down, there are fewer dollars chasing products and services.  Additionally, people read the newspaper and panic when they see negative headlines.  All of this can mean less business for you.  What do you do to deal with this situation?

Cost containment is always smart business.  Watching where your money goes is important in a good economy, but it is imperative in a weaker economy.  Evaluate all purchasing decisions.  Are they necessary or luxury expenditures?

All to often I see business people cut out advertising, education and training, or marketing expenses.  These are the lifeblood of your business.  Before you eliminate something, be sure that you fully understand the consequences.   Short-term savings and long-term losses are not the goal here.

When other companies are cutting back, some successful organizations actually increase their advertising efforts in order to get a larger market share.  Adapt your spending to manage changes in the economy, but make sure you are not undermining your long-term business plans.

When the economy is expanding, you may need to adapt your spending in order to take advantage of broader opportunities.  It is important to grow your business when markets are strong so that you are in a position to weather the weaker economic conditions.


2. The Competition

If your competitors are aggressive, they will constantly be trying to improve their position in the market.  They will change their product and service offerings, the packaging or bundling of products and services, pricing, and even their branding efforts.

Everything your competition does can have an impact on your business.  I don’t believe in running scared or just reacting to the competition, but it is important to be aware of what they are doing, and strategically think about how it may affect your market positioning and business plans.

Are there product and service bundles that are creating competitive advantages for others?  How does your warranty compare to what your competitor is offering?  Is your competition changing the way that they price their products and services?  All of these factors can and will affect your business.

Monitor the changes that your competition is making, then decide if you need to react and what the most effective adaptations would be.


3. Your Clients

It’s hard to believe, but your clients also change.  Their needs can change as individuals.  As a group, customers can become more educated and require different sales information or, need to be handled differently.

Stay up-to-date with your clients.  Know their needs and anticipate future changes in those needs.  In some industries clients have predictable life cycles.  In the life insurance industry, for example, the needs of a single person are predictably different from a newly married couple.  The needs of a middle aged couple with children out on their own are predictable as compared with others in that same age group and economic situation.

If you are in real estate, you may be able to anticipate the need for an elderly couple to move from a high maintenance home into an easy-to-care-for condominium.  By anticipating that need and contacting your client with a suggested solution you would have the chance to make the sale.

Don’t wait for your clients to come to you with changes, or worse yet, go to your competitor because they better anticipate the client’s needs.  Communicate with and plan ahead on your client’s behalf, so you can adapt as they do.


4. The Market Place

You may have to deal with changes that a single competitor makes, or you may have to deal with entire market shifts.

When I started out in the window and door manufacturing business, the standard industry insulated glass warranty was five years.  The industry standard went to ten years, and a few years later moved to a lifetime warranty.  These were changes taking place across the entire market and we had to adapt.

Your market may shift because of the internal influences of your competitors, or because of external forces such as new technology being readily available to everyone.  Certainly, the internet has impacted most industries today.  You must adapt to changes like this.

Market shifts may mean that you need to think about offering new products and services.  You may be forced to adapt your business in such a way that it looks totally different next year then it looked last year.  Someone in the horse and buggy business would have had to adapt to the advent of the proliferation of the automobile, or they would have been put out of business in a very short time.


Sometimes, people are afraid to change.  They hold onto old successes and old habits.  When the forces that are external to your business change, your survival and success may very well be tied to your ability to adapt.

For centuries, human beings have adapted to changes in climate, science, technology, and medicine.  Be accountable for your proactive thoughts, actions and results.  Keep your business growing and prospering by adapting when necessary, and you will be on the road to Building a Better Biz!

Be Accountable for Your Continuing Education

Sam Articles 0 Comments

I just returned from the annual convention of the National Speakers Association.  This is always a special time for me.  I get to meet with my friends and peers and discuss trends and issues that we all face.  This year is very special because I return as the President of the National Speakers Association.

Walking in the halls you never know whom you’ll run into.  Maybe you’ll sit next to Zig Ziglar at breakfast, chat with Mark Victor Hanson of Chicken Soup For The Soul fame, or be in a break out session with Bob Danzig the former publisher of the Hurst Newspapers.

Everyone comes together to share, learn, and grow.  There is time for fellowship and education.  In the end we go back home to our families and businesses rejuvenated in mind and spirit.

Each year after my convention I come home and review my business plan.  I look for holes.  I also look for ways to incorporate ideas I’ve learned, so I can expand my business.  When I look back at the people that I have met and the ideas that they have shared with me, I can add up tens of thousands of dollars that I have earned as a result.

Vicarious learning is the least expensive and fastest way to learn anything.  Learning from others is what accelerated achievers do best. Japanese companies use ideas they learn from companies in other countries to greatly shorten their learning curve.  You can too.

Many times business professionals make business plans that include growth projections but don’t take the time to calculate the added knowledge they will need to meet these new goals.  Ultimately we are each accountable to gain the mental as well as the financial resources necessary to achieve what we desire.

Goals are great, but expertise and continuing education will help you build your business.

Are you accountable for your continuing education?  What steps are you taking to further your career?  Do you have a continuing education program?  Do you budget money each year to further your education, expose yourself to new ideas, and add to your networking circle?

Below are four steps you can take this year to grow your expertise and expand your network of professional peers:


1. Join Your Trade Association and Attend the Meetings

This is a must.  All industries have trade associations.  Some industries have more than one.  Join your trade association, but don’t stop there.  Go to the meetings and get involved.

Joining on a local level is good, but it’s imperative to also join nationally.  When you are an active member of a national association you will meet people from all over the country that have the same challenges, pains, and business issues as you.

Many of the people will share their successes with you, and you can share with them.  National meetings are great for networking within your industry and building relationships.  Once you build relationships you will have other people you can turn to when you are faced with challenges.

Surveys show that the two main reasons people attend meetings is for education and networking opportunities.  What is the value of one new idea?  What would it be worth to you to be able to turn to an expert in your field with questions and issues you’re facing?

I estimate that it costs about $1,200.00 to attend an annual meeting.  The cost of attending an association meeting varies.  You can get the exact data from your trade association.


2. Create A Mastermind Group

I’m big on Mastermind Groups.  My Mastermind has been meeting every month for the past nine years.  All of the members are people I met in my trade association.  We get together once a month and share our victories and our challenges.

We help each other market, deal with personnel problems, and build our businesses.  Over time we have become accountable to each other.  No one wants to show up at a meeting and not have completed what he/she has committed to the month before.

In our Mastermind Group we review each other’s financial statements and look for areas of concern.  We share our strategic thinking and planning.  If someone needs help writing copy for a sales letter or brochure we chip in.

I know of Mastermind Groups that have members from around the country.  Each month they meet on a conference call.  The call lasts about two hours.  During the conference call they deal with many of the same issues I deal with in my Mastermind Group.

Whether you are local or spread out all over the country, a Mastermind Group is the most powerful way of putting your business in the fast lane for growth and prosperity.


3. Take a Course at a Local College

Maybe there is one area of business that you need a little help with.  Some business people are not as strong with the financial areas of their business and might consider taking an accounting course.  Many people would make better sales professionals if they could be a more effective presenter.  A communications course would be great for them.  If you have employees, maybe there are some management issues you could bone up on.

When we’re done with school we think that it’s time to make it in the “real” world.  The reality is that school never ends.  We must continue to be educated and grow.

My father is 87 years old and he still takes a course at the community college on a regular basis.

Do you have a weakness?  Is there a course that would be of help for you?  What additional education would help you move your career or business successfully into the future?


4. Read Six Books In Your Area of Expertise Each Year

Expertise is developed over time.  Experience, knowledge, and competency all add to creating expertise, and increased expertise leads to superior results.

Ninety-five percent of all the people in the United States have not read another non-fiction book since their last day of formal education. Professionals who want to get to or remain at the top of their field must continue to read and study in their area of expertise.

What are you reading?  Do you spend time researching in your field?  If you want to build your business and your bank account, then you have to be build your expertise.


Networking and continuing education are essential for business professionals who want to excel.  If you’re looking to be average, then just do average things.  If you are looking to be at the top of your industry then don’t settle for average.

Be patient, consistently work at your knowledge base, and develop relationships.  Now you’re on the road to Building a Better Biz!

Be Accountable and Grow Your Business

Sam Articles 0 Comments

The Phone Call

It was 8:00 on a Monday morning and my phone was already ringing.  The call was from Bob, a distributor of mine in Kalamazoo.  Bob was frustrated.  He had just received a call from an upset customer.  Bob’s customer was tired of waiting for their replacement windows.  It had been seven weeks since the homeowner had placed the original order.

“I’ve been buying windows from you for the past two years,” Bob said.  “You guys make a great product.  It’s the best window on the market.  Our customers love those windows.”

I cringed as I continued listening.  There was a “but” coming, and I knew it.

Bob continued with, “But they don’t like waiting eight weeks to have them installed.  My customers get upset, and we’re not getting the referrals from them like we used to.  The delivery times are costing us business.”

I’ve heard this all too often, I thought to myself.  For the past two years we had constantly improved our products.  We attracted many new customers, but our production just hadn’t kept up with sales.  We were upsetting customers as fast as we were acquiring them!

Bob ended the conversation with a statement that I had hoped he wouldn’t use.  “Sam, get the delivery time down or you are going to force me to look for another supplier.”

 My frustration level had grown to the same high level as Bob’s.  We work too hard to get new accounts to just lose them, or our valued older accounts, because of poor production habits.  I called a meeting.


The Meeting

 The shiny new table that sits in my screened-in porch was jammed with people.  There wasn’t an empty seat in the house.  My two business partners were there along with the plant manager, the sales manager, three of our sales people, two line managers, the shipping clerk, and our newly hired director of operations.

 A small cooler was on the floor in the corner.  It was filled with refreshments, and there were some munchies on the table.  This was not going to be a short meeting, and I wanted everyone to be comfortable.

  I opened the meeting with a welcome.  Then, I recanted the phone conversation that I had the day before with Bob.  I ended my welcome and introduction by stating, “We have a challenge at hand, and if we are going to survive in this business, then we need to come up with a solution.”

  There was silence around the table.  One of my partners broke the silence by stating, “We have to have two week turn around times.  We must make our windows in two weeks!”  He was the partner in charge of production.  I was in charge of sales and marketing.

 “We’ve been hearing that for the past two years,” I stated.  “I’m not as concerned with the what, I want to know how.”

  I turned to Gary our sales manager and asked him, “What are you hearing from the other customers?  What do they want?”

  Gary said, “Well, our customers love the windows and doors.  The quality is great, and the tremendous variety of options helps them make the sale.  They just hate our delivery times.  And, it’s getting harder and harder to walk in the customer’s door.  They’re just so mad sometimes!  It doesn’t pay to go out and get new customers and sell more, because we only create more problems when we do that.”

 I did not like that last thought.  We’re not selling because we don’t want the headache of poor delivery, is what Gary was saying.  The three sales people also relayed the same message.

 The plant manager just sat there with his head down, and so did the two line managers.  Then my partner again reiterated, “We need a two week turn around time.”

 I’d had it with that comment.  Everyone in the room knew what we needed, but no one was willing to stand up and say how they thought we could get it done.  I turned to my partner and asked a series of questions.

 “When an order comes into the office how long does it take to enter it into the computer and check it?”

“One day,” he responded.“How long does it take to schedule and make the insulated glass for the windows?”

“That also takes one day,” he replied.

“What’s involved in production from that point?” I asked.

 “We have to schedule the windows, cut the parts, assemble the parts, and then wrap the completed unit,” he said.  He went on to say, “That whole process takes about a day and a half.”

 The shipping clerk piped up and stated, “I can stage and pack the trucks in less then a day.”

  I was writing everything down.  Then I added up the times.  “Four and a half days,” I stated.  Then I turned to my partner and asked, “You feel that we need two week turn around, right?”

“Right!” He stated.

 “So what you’re saying is that the orders should sit in the office for one week and then we should make the orders the next week?” I asked.

 He paused but then reluctantly said, “Yes.”

 So I asked, “Why do the orders need to sit for a week?  Why don’t we just get the orders in and make them in a week?”

  Then I turned to our new director of operations and asked, “What if we had a Friday cutoff for all orders.  Any orders received by 4:00 on Friday afternoon would be entered and checked on Monday, the glass would be made on Tuesday, window parts would be cut and assembled on Wednesday and Thursday, and the completed windows packed on the truck and shipped on Friday?”

He rubbed his chin, thought philosophically, and said, “We could do that.”

  My partner said, “Let’s get to two weeks first and then worry about one week.  Right now one week is impossible.”

 I asked the plant manager, “How long would it take to get this type of production system created and implemented?”

 “We’re getting to the slow season.  We could clean up our backlog and be ready to go in four weeks.”

 I said, “Do whatever you feel is necessary to get the job done.  If there is any way I can help just let me know.”

  Everyone sat up.  There was an energy level in the room that I hadn’t seen in a long time.  Questions were flying, and thoughts were being shared.  We had a goal.  We believed.  We had breathed new life into the company.


The Changes

The next day the director of operations went to the factory workers and shared with them the outcome of our meeting.  Then, he turned to them and said, “You’re the ones closet to the job.  Do whatever you need to do to get your production lines running as efficiently as possible.”

 The factory workers were excited.  They had always been told what to do.  No one had ever enlisted their input.  The workers were even given special incentives like company lunches, and getting off early on Friday if the goals were met.  They were on a mission.  I was beginning to really like the new director of operations.

The workers changed the layout of their production lines and suggested changes in some of the ways work was scheduled.  Over the next four weeks we cleaned up our backlog and made the suggested changes in the plant.

The big day came.  We closed our orders out on Friday and began our new system.  The next Friday our first truckload of windows went out.  They were on time and everyone in the plant was excited.


Another Phone Call

Six weeks after we had made the dramatic changes and had proven ourselves my phone rang.  It was a Monday at 8:00 AM.  Bob from Kalamazoo was on the line.

“Good morning Sam,” he said.  “I have a favor to ask of you.  Could you delay our shipment this week?

“What’s that?”  I asked.

He paused and then spoke, “Could you delay this weeks’ shipment?”

Concerned, I asked, “What’s wrong?  Is there a problem with our quality?  Did we make something incorrectly?

“No, No,” Bob replied.  “It’s just that you guys are shipping windows and doors to us so fast that we can’t keep up, and our warehouse is full to the rafters.  Our installers can’t get the windows installed as fast as you can ship them!”

 “Bob,” I stated, “It sounds like you have a production problem.  Maybe it’s related to your installation goals.  You know Bob, the faster you get those windows installed the more referrals you’ll get.”  I sorta chuckled inside.

“Bob, most successful companies isolate their biggest problems and then tackle them one at a time.  You started us on that journey almost three months ago and look at the great job we’re doing today.  Why don’t I come up and look at your production system?  Together I’m sure we can figure out how to get the windows installed faster, boost referrals, make your company even more profitable, and you’ll be on your way to Building a Better Biz!”

Close The Sale … Give Them a Choice

Sam Articles 0 Comments

The US Open tennis tournament is being played this week. Of all the sporting events I enjoy watching, being at one of the four major tennis tournaments has to be my favorite.

Your ticket will get you into the event, and it is good for a reserved seat in the main stadium. Now, this is where it gets interesting. There can be up to eighteen matches being played at the same time throughout the day.

You get to move around and see whom you would like to see at any given point in time. You can sit in your seat in Arthur Ashe Stadium and watch a featured women’s singles match, or you can walk out to court sixteen and watch a mixed doubles match with some of your favorite players. 

You get to choose whom, when, and where you watch. Some people like the outlying courts, because the bleachers are so close you can almost touch the stars. Some people only like to sit at the stadium or grandstand courts, because they like the comfort of the seatbacks. The bottom line is that you get to move around. You get to choose how you will experience the event. That is the big selling point of a major tennis tournament.

In business and in sales it can be the same way. It is far easier to sell something if you give your prospect a choice. There are three major reasons why you should give your customer choices as part of your closing system.


1. Choice allows the customer to tailor many of the aspects of your product or service to fit their specific needs.

Not everyone is the same. We all have different needs. The first automobiles were only available in black. Today, car colors and trim packages are many and varied. It is not unusual for a car company to sell a particular model just because it is available in a unique color or accessory package.

When you go to the grocery store, you can find fruit packaged in different sized containers. A family of two might only need a pint of strawberries, a medium family could want a quart, and a large family or someone having a party may buy an entire flat of strawberries!

Choice provides the customer the ability to get just what they need. By giving your customer a choice, they feel that you are catering to their specific needs, and they appreciate that.


2. Choice allows your customer to better control how they experience the sale and the ownership of your product or service after the sale is made.

Offering a choice as to how you do business, the warranty you provide, and the different service plans available allows your customer to shape and control how they experience doing business with you before, during, and after the sale.

Allowing the customer to choose where the transaction is made can be very powerful. Do you go to them, or do you have them come to you.

Warranties have an associated cost for you. The more extensive the warranty is that you offer, the greater your costs will be. Some clients want a lot of coverage. Others want or need less. By providing a choice, the client gets the level of security that they need in order to invest in your product or service and not feel like they are paying for something they will not use.

Customer service or ongoing customer support are other areas that you can create choices for your customer. Different levels of support programs can be made available. Many times, you can charge them differently based upon what is offered.

Software companies do this a lot. You may receive limited support with the purchase of a particular product. Then, you can purchase additional support either on a per incident basis, or for a larger fee you can receive unlimited support.

These choices not only allow you to tailor the experience for your client, but they also allow you to generate more revenue.


3. Choice allows you to assume the sale and let the customer determine the details.

Maybe the most powerful reason to offer them a choice is that it allows you to assume the sale first. Then, all you and the customer have to do is work out the details of ownership.

When my children were younger, my wife and I would ask them if they wanted to wear the blue shirt or the white one. The fact that they need to get dressed now is assumed. The only decision to make is which shirt they will wear.

Also, in this example we are limiting choices. I don’t care which shirt they choose. They both look nice, and either way they will be dressed. I have eliminated choices that I don’t find acceptable before they ever arise.

With your customers it can be the same way. You may ask a customer, “Would you like to close on the property next week, or will the end of the month work best for you?”

This popular closing technique is called Alternative of Choice. Either choice is good for you. The question is not whether they are going to buy, the question is only when they will close.

A clothing store associate may ask their customer, “Do you need a belt to go with that outfit, or would you like to look at a coordinating shirt?” Here, the sales associate is assuming both the sale of the outfit and an add-on purchase.

Providing choice offers dialog for you and your customer. You show them that you are interested and are working to best fit their needs. People buy from people who they like and trust. Make it easy for your clients to own your products and services by offering them a choice and you will be on the road to Building a Better Biz.