Your Business is Tanking; Wanna Know WHY?

Several years ago I was brought in by a friend to consult on a new product being offered by a new company. My partner and I helped the new entrepreneur set up his marketing department and sales scripting/messaging, and off to the stars he went with his new product. Fast forward to the present, his company now offers 50 products aimed at a high-demand market with average competition. His product is outstanding, has brand-recognition, fair prices, and a market that wants his product. The company has been very successful and on the surface, still appears to be so.

I ran into my former client and his new partner/investor at CES this past January and was disappointed to find that their sales are tanking. He invited me to lunch and we discussed what was going on. Several flags began waving the moment we sat down with our trade-show sandwiches and Gatorade.

red-Flag“Sales are so bad, we’re planning to lay off a couple of sales people.”
WHAT?? Do they really suck? Are they stealing? Are you grossly overpaying them?
“No, but we need to cut overhead. We’ve contracted some athletes connected with an energy drink to help raise our profile, and I think they probably sell more than our sales guys.”

I held my tongue until more information was shared.

red-FlagWhat are you doing on the social media front?
We have a Facebook page, we tweet about our new products, and we share our press releases through a few social media outlets.”
How are you engaging end users to bring them into the dealer stores? What kind of marketing opportunities are you providing your dealers?
“We can’t really afford to do much, so we provide them with sales literature and they can always use our YouTube videos.

By now, I’m almost speechless.

red-FlagHow are you tying marketing to sales promotions?

“We’re really not doing anything, what the dealers do is up to them so long as they observe our MAP (Minimum Advertised Price).”

What are your sales people doing to generate new channels, bring on more dealers?
“Our dealer network is great, we don’t want to water down the product by selling it to just anyone, we like the concept of remaining the big name, available only through prime retailers. We feel the exclusivity inspires dealers to sell our product first.”

I kept peppering the partners with questions, but one thing became apparent; in the process of having a great product, a great brand, and a great opportunity, the concept of great sales has escaped them. Instead of reaching outwardly, their ego has allowed them to reach a point where they expect business to come to them. That concept worked really well in the 90′s, but let’s face it, the world of Amazon and iTunes, 3D printing and overnight delivery have changed our world. The internet has both broadened and narrowed our customer base. But the attitudes that many business owners have hasn’t changed with technology or innovations in communication/messaging. This is a recipe for corporate death.

Many companies suffer from what I’ve long called the “Field of Dreams-itis.” If you build it, they will come” doesn’t hold true in the shifting world of sales. Engaging customers, whether direct sales, dealership support, B-to-B, or indirect sales has never been easier yet is very frequently ignored for a variety of reasons.

Another problem this company is facing is that they’re relying on “industry experts/athletes” to draw attention to the products. This simply isn’t enough.  Putting up a Facebook page that remains static simply isn’t enough. It’s like hiring a clerk to stand at the door and wave, vs directing customers to wherever their needs will be satisfied.
Add in that the sales staff are “clerking” (taking orders vs actually selling) and it’s no wonder sales are diminishing.  Sales is an art form, and expecting non-sales people to sell is like expecting a non-mechanic to know how to change the gaskets in your car. Industry experts are great, but if they can’t sell, they’re useless in a rough economy. They’re more about the ego of the business owners to be associated with big names and their big-name sports drink than they are about creating a profitable environment in which the business can grow. The first priority of any business is to sell. Whether it’s selling an intangible service, a physical product, or a method of operation, sales is always first because sales generates the revenue that drives the rest of the company. If the company is struggling, bolster the sales and marketing team instead of diminishing them. They are the next most important investment after the cost of goods.
Many business owners forget that one may have a trailer load of gold bullion in the middle of the desert, yet without a tractor to pull it, the bullion is of no use to any one and is as valuable as a trailer load of lead.

However, all is not lost for this company. Perhaps some of their problems are yours, too. Their hope is what spawned this article. 

  • We laid out some very basic sales strategies.
  • We laid out some very basic customer/end-user and dealer support scripting and practices.
  • We laid out how to monitor this process without using expensive CRM software.

It’s only been about 50 days, yet there is already a discernible difference in both the result and workforce. Of course there is the initial surge of energy and re-vitalization that occurs after any significant shift in how sales people and customer relations are managed, yet the excitement is sustainable when results are measured and realized.
None of the basic strategies laid out over lunch will save this company, but have so far offered up a slower decline and one salesperson has improved their numbers using elementary 101 techniques coupled with appropriate sales management strategies.
Fear is not a motivator. It destroys morale, generates concern for “will I have a job tomorrow?” and overall is destructive to a comfortable atmosphere.

With this in mind my friends, I’d urge you to use the revitalizing spring season to your advantage.

MOTIVATE!! INSPIRE!!

Offer your sales people new sales strategies.
Show them how their lives, their jobs, their work experience can be more positive and exciting if they meet their goals.
Inspire them to dig into your product and learn more about how it works. Create an environment of trust. If your product is a physical product, encourage sales staff to take the product home (when possible) to learn how to use it. One of my clients held a contest for his sales staff; “Who can make the best 3 minute video using our POV camera product?” The winner received a small award, tradeshow swag, bragging rights, and 2 tickets to a Lakers game. The cost of exciting the staff (which resulted in staff training), was minimal but the impact was massive.

BETTER OPTIONS

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Listen to your sales and marketing team. They are boots on the ground. They are your soldiers. A good general and executive staff stays in tune with the man on the street through his infantry and forward operating base.

Incentivize. Support. Foster a fun environment. Recognize achievements.
Show your staff how their efforts improve the lives and well-being of your customers, and in turn, your customers will improve the lives and well-being of the sales staff. Employees will be more engaged when they truly believe that their work has a positive impact not only on the company they work for, but for themselves as individuals.
Keep symbols of success out in the open. Share letters, phone calls, or other instruments of communication that praise your staff. If there aren’t such instruments, create them through goal-setting and milestones of achievement.
NEVER stop training your salespeople. Even the best of the best of the best know this and implement fresh information. Zig Ziglar, Tommy Hopkins, even the ancient antiquated J. Douglas Edwards material is timeless and relevant to the modern world of sales.
While you are training them, listen to what they tell you they need for training, tools, techniques. Invest in your staff and they’ll pay you dividends in both attitude and revenue.

coaching

STRATEGIZE!

A good sales and marketing operational strategy similar to a battle campaign. A good battle campaign requires a smart leader, a general. A good general stays in touch with his Forward Operating Base, or the “boots on the ground.” Remember that at the end of the day a good general can win a skirmish with only soldiers and himself. Support staff is valuable, but not vital to short-term success. Good soldiers should be able to rapidly assess their customer needs, and the general and his executive staff (buyers, marketing, warehousing, etc) are all there for one sole reason; to win the battle that the soldiers are waging, fighting for every last dollar available within your industry.

Although this should go without saying, your business is ENTIRELY about the customer/client, and those that are the face of your business need to be empowered, supported, respected, and rewarded when they properly face your business and messaging.  It’s entirely about serving your customer’s wants, needs, and desires at a profit to the company, and the people best equipped to accomplish this task are your front line and messaging teams. Energy drink athletes are terrific marketing tools when properly matched with a sales team strategy, but these ‘industry experts’ are not ‘sales people.’

Make no mistake. The sales and marketing team is by far the most important component of, and investment in,  to any successful organization. When losing the battle, the last thing a smart general would ever do is pull his infantry from the field and attempt to support the campaign via non-soldiers fighting the war.  In other words, lose HR, accounting, buyers, operations personnel, even janitors while leaving an effective sales and marketing team in place. If the sales and marketing teams aren’t effective partners then either inspire them to be so or replace them with people that are. A product-dumb sales pro is far more desirable than a product expert who cannot sell. A marketer that can execute co-opted campaigns with the sales staff and advertising staff is far more desirable than a PR person who can whip up fluffy, feel-good quips. Use what you have. Find intelligent ways to direct the staff to do more with less. Use community resources, develop video sales tools, use tools like YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, etc to keep your messaging consistent and constant.
Sales and marketing=peanut butter and jelly. They go together. They are the front line. They are the rainmakers. Give them whatever tools necessary, even if it means cutting the company lunch budget or not being part of the next Warrior Dash event sponsorship.

Otherwise, one might as well just hire 16 year-old clerks to take orders, the same kid that thinks “Closes” are something they put on their body in the morning, one arm and leg at a time.

Check back in 90 days for an update on my friend’s company.

The Return of the Knot (Simple Pleasures)

25 years ago, my first solo album hit the Billboard charts. At the time, I was signed with Sound of America Records, and I was the second artist signed to the label. This was an exciting time, and both the label and I were thrilled to celebrate.
To commemorate the moment, the president, A&R guy, and chief janitor (all the same guy) and I went to dinner and at the dinner, he gave me a sterling bracelet, one of a kind, that he’d had from the early days of XIT (Google them, they were huge in the 70′s). Tom Bee’s gift rarely left my wrist. There are many photographs of me in concert, wearing this highly-prized bit of jewelry.

911 brought new airport security measures, requiring jewelry to be removed at the security checkpoint.

12 years ago, when going through the security line at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, my bracelet disappeared between where it went into the machine and where it came out of the machine. It turned into a nightmare when I was arrested for yelling at a TSA officer, because I was quite certain it was in his pocket. It occurred just before a shift change, and the supervisor was loathe to ask her officers on that line to empty their pockets.

Regardless, my prized silver bracelet was gone and I’ve missed it ever since.

The original idea was to simply re-create it from photographs, and this should have been a fairly straightforward, easy task. This wasn’t the case. Custom jewelry artist after another tried and either failed, or admitted it wasn’t so easy to do.  Eventually, I gave up.

Given some recent circumstances and changes in my life, I picked up the sword again and decided I would not give up.

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This is the concept piece, since we didn’t have the original for creating a mold.

Burning up the cell phone, Google, and word of mouth eventually brought me to Charles Freshman of Freshman’s in Salt Lake City, UT. He seemed enthusiastic, although he cautioned me that this simple appearance was actually quite complex in the making, especially in sterling.
So, we set out to make a bracelet together and voila!

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Warmed wax knots up nicely (after several practice runs)

Since we didn’t have the original bracelet from which to create the mold,  I used a small bit of cord to create the concept in size.  Everyone else had wanted to actually heat silver and attempt tying the knot. Molding created a special problem, as the size didn’t really lend itself to the molding process. Charles came up with the idea of creating a long, thin mold that would later allow for the long ‘arms’ of silver to be re-formed into the ‘horns’ of the bracelet. The biggest challenge was keeping the wax cool enough to form,  while warm enough to properly allow for a knot to be tied in it. Several feet of wax was destroyed in the process of tying knots in it.

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The initial castings were quite different, based on the various knots we tied.

Next up came the casting process. Due to the way the mold pours, it was much harder than expected.

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The finished product

At the end of the day, I’m very pleased with the final product. Although this has been a long process, I’m reminded of how important some material things may be in our lives, not so much for what they are, but rather for what they represent.

The experiences with SOAR Records, Tom Bee, and the subsequent opportunities that first album led to,  will never be forgotten, but wearing a daily reminder of just that one experience alone meant to me at the time, is priceless to me.

Although it is a small thing, I’m grateful and happy that the reminder itself is replaceable, and that my memory of this special memento is no longer tied up in the pocket of a TSA officer in Las Vegas.

Small and simple, indeed. At the same time, isn’t life best a journey of small, simple pleasant experiences that culminate in a happy life?

Handling Hump Day

ImageYep, another Wednesday…and in the pre-sunrise hours a moment for reflection is called for (even though I’m running late).
Taking a second or two before rushing out the door doesn’t cost me anything, not really. Yet it sets the tone for the rest of the day.  It’s kind of like a good intro to a great song. Today feels like a good song coming on. Probably not a hit, but one I can tap toes to all day, and certainly a great hook (the recurring theme of any great song).
Flyin with friends on this beautiful morning…
Fear Zero,, take on the day with a determined smile.

 

Wingsuits and Instructor Ratings in a Post War World

Woody n Steph

Proper training sets the stage for safe wingsuiting on any dropzone. There are no downsides to standardized, consistent training methods and practices.

No one can argue that the topic of wingsuit instruction raises ire. There are those that want it, and those that don’t. In a recent survey conducted by USPA, 80% of DZO’s, 87% of S&TA’s, and 60% of skydivers polled (contrasting 82% of wingsuiters polled earlier in the year) indicated that change in how wingsuiting is taught, is a necessary step the evolution of our discipline.

Still very much in it’s adolescence, the stage is set for wingsuiting in the future, and at the moment, it doesn’t look great.  Compared to five years ago, wingsuiting has found 1700% growth in dropzones that have banned the discipline across the world.

The fatalities we’ve seen in the past four years may be directly correlated to lacking information from a coach or intentional ignorance of information that every coach/instructor should be providing.

USPA fielded a proposal that at minimum, anyone teaching First Flight Courses must possess a current USPA Coach or Instructor rating. There is minimal pushback to this minimal requirement, and I’d like to explore why this is at the least, the bare minimum we should be requiring for wingsuit instruction on USPA dropzones.

There are many wingsuiters that call themselves “INSTRUCTOR.” Some of them, even many of them are very good wingsuiters, but are terrible instructors. Rather than teaching what NEEDS to be known, what is frequently taught is what they think is ‘important.’

For example, rather than helping a student focus on a safe exit, navigation, and deployment, instructional time is spent on “dude, here’s how you’re gonna fly farther/longer.”  Instead of focusing on emergency recovery skills/techniques, a First Flight student might be told “I’m gonna dock on you once you’re stable.

A First Flight is a first glimpse into the world of wingsuiting. Properly taught, it sets the stage for conscientious wingsuiters understanding the issues before them. Improperly taught, we’re setting ourselves up for further tragedy,  bad community relations, and bad attitudes towards “those fucking prom dress queens with all the drama.”

If coaches/instructors possess at the least, a USPA Coach rating, they have been taught the very basics of instruction, and hopefully understand the Whole/Part/Whole concept of proper instruction.  Having witnessed dozens of FFCs taught by USPA Coaches, rest assured this unfortunately isn’t the case.

A proper First Flight course should include and emphasize the following:
~Exit
~Navigation
~Deployment
~Emergency Procedures (InStability Recovery aka ISR)
~Clearing the Suit

A first flight should not have any emphasis on flying skills, acrobatics, time aloft, distance flown, or speed. The idea is to be comfortable and have instilled enough muscle memory that the First Flight is merely a test of the skills taught on the ground.

The importance of these elements was driven home this morning when I received an email from a very well-known, highly-experienced wingsuit pilot, asking me about ISR. I was a little surprised to know that not only did he not possess this information, but that he’s been teaching wingsuiting at a large dropzone for a couple of years, and does not teach this as part of  his ‘course.’  Conversely, he doesn’t understand why our courses “take so long.” His course is 20 mins, ours is nearly two hours.

With any luck, instructors that have demonstrated the most basic teaching abilities should be better wingsuit coaches than the high rate of drivel we see currently teaching. One “instructor”  (possessing no USPA ratings) has a track record of landing students in the ocean, trees, and off the DZ on a consistent basis, not to mention multiple in-air collisions.  Applying a new BSR regarding who can/can’t teach wingsuiting probably won’t prevent this sort of idiot from bringing people into the sky, but it does put USPA Examiner eyeballs on those that want to teach wingsuiting.

A USPA Coach is trained in the importance of muscle memory, breaking tasks down into parts and then assembling parts as a whole. I believe these basic instructional tenets, combined with dedication are a significant part of why we’ve been able to train more than 700 logged First Flight Students and over 5000 training jumps without incident.  Our safety record eclipses even AFF safety records, and the culture we’ve inspired to the region has made an impact for all dropzones in the area.

Hopefully the USPA board can this time put aside politics and do the right thing.

The Philosophy of Monday…

For some, Monday is the end of great times.
Others suggest Monday begins greatness.
For me, this Monday was unique in that for the first time in 50 years, I had lunch with my older, much wiser brother.
Our last personal interaction occurred when he was still a drug enforcement cop in the 80s, and I was underage in a bar. I pushed the issue just a bit hard, and his ASP Enforcer baton was on my neck no differently than if I’d been unrelated to the man.
He’s grown up a little, and so have I.

My brother is a man of men. Frequently on Anderson Cooper, defending police dogs, quoted in the novels of famous crime writers.

Yet he’s also my brother, dressed in Harley leather on his ElectraGlide, traveling the nation teaching young lawyers to be better people.

It was an honor to be at a table with him and watch the looks as folks recognized his well-known face, yet he retains a humble dignity through it all.
And, he’s my brother.

From him, I’ve learned to be less quick to judge, more quick to look into the root of a problem instead of seeing the surface. He taught me from very young to protect our sister, to protect that which is ours. He fought against bullies for me (although he bullied me himself).

I’d say he’s taken the tools given to him by his parents, and honed them from swords into plowshares. I’ve witnessed first hand how he has raised his family in a more logical, compassionate place than either he or I had the opportunity to experience.

Today he showed me that in spite of his many books used as text books at colleges such as Yale, Harvard, Stanford…he’s just a guy with all the same hopes and dreams most of us have.

This first experience (lunching with my brother) was simple, humble, and remarkably profound for me, as I discovered that while he is the man I boast of to so many, he’s also just a guy  with the same fears, desires, and ambitions, and in this Monday meeting, a new philosophy of brother to brother relations is born between us.
Thanks for the afternoon, K. I love you big brother.

Apple UP!

Today is the day for experimenting with apples. Although as a child I brought a few apples to teachers, I’ve not been a fan. 
Having tried Gala apples today, I can probably get used to this. Granny apples, not so much. Fuji and Honey Crisp coming up. 
I’ve been told apples are good for dipping, too.
I appreciate the emails wondering about my 180 degree switch on eating fruits and veggies. Those that know me are aware that veggies have always been “what food eats”  in my lexicon. 
For a variety of reasons, I’m experimenting with my diet. 
However, if you know me well, you also know that one of my monthly goals is to try *something* new. July happens to be “everything food,” and a lot of it. 
It’s a challenge, stepping out of your comfort zone once a month and trying something new. It might be a weird hairstyle, odd fingernail color, going to church if you’re an atheist, or eating salads if you’re a carnivore. Perhaps it’s deeper and you’ll volunteer for a soup line or challenge yourself to do 5 mitzvah’s in a day. 
Whatever it is, I’d like to challenge my friends and readers to do SOMETHING new each month. For me, it’s been a broadening experience.
If nothing else, I no longer have to be annoyed if my burger comes with lettuce on it; I’ll eat it.

The Salad Chronicles Day 9

On the ninth day, new adventures were in the air….

ImageToday was another day of many ‘firsts.’
This morning, I tackled bananas and learned about the flavor of slightly browning bananas vs slightly still-green bananas, and the filmy texture either kind leaves on the teeth and tongue.
I prefer grapes.

Next up was the Bear Naked Fit Vanilla Crunch Almond granola. Not a huge shift from the granola trail bars that I really like, except it is significantly more expensive, but also tastes better.

Sydney suggested arugula lettuce, and so I gave that a shot (found I liked it) Perhaps one of the best parts of the day was standing in the supermarket and surreptitiously sampling all the leafy stuff that has been taboo for the past 5 decades. The Mustard Greens were my favorite but damn!! Why doesn’t the supermarket have drinking water near the produce section? I also discovered that while I really dislike the taste of cooked Kale, I very much like the raw taste. And then there were the leeks, they were good. Spinach tastes better than it s PopEye reputation, but I do lean towards cabbage and fresh Romaine, with the final/least choice being Iceberg.

Tonight, I choose a Korean BBQ restaurant. They have a vegetarian meal (several choices) along with pork, chicken, and beef. Figured I’d splurge and get the pork, which came as chicken instead.
So…new things for the meal were Dried Seaweed, White potatoes cooked in brown sugar, Kimchi, Bean Sprouts, Broccoli, spiced Cucumbers, and brown paddy rice.  Each side was placed in its own little bowl (see the picture above).

Pretty good stuff, except for the cucumbers; they incite my gag reflex.  Price was great for this  not-so-modest but small meal, 17 bucks plus change and a tip.Image

I discovered I really like seaweed, and the beansprouts were quite good too. The Kimchi tastes very different from what I samped in Korea years ago. The Clear Soup was boiling when it came out, but after it cooled, the potatoes were pretty decent, boiling them in the water. I wasn’t fond of the cukes nor the Kimchi. However, I’m committed, so I’ll be doing this again.  The spice of the Kimchi had an aftertaste I’d like to experience again on something.

Tomorrow, I’m going to try to tackle Avocado with fake bacon, fake eggwhites in it. Very grateful to D.K. for the suggestion on how to better eat bananas. I need the potassium.  Also looking forward to the next leafy challenge.
If you’ve read this far, god bless you. It’s pathetic that a man of my age and experience has never eaten a salad.
And in 38 days, I hope to never eat another one again.

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All in all, it’s not as difficult a changeup as I have always thought it would be. Still not a fan of this style of eating, but as mentioned earlier, I’ll have learned a lot by the time I’m through. So far, it’s already worth the effort.

More than that, I’m exceptionally grateful to have a lifestyle where I can experiment and try new things for a while.
Grateful for my friends, my place of retirement/work, and sure hope that whichever diety or science will collide long enough to generate more rain showers out this way .

Thank you for reading this far.

~dse