Andrew Birol

Tuesday, 22 June 2004 12:25

Great expectations

Last month, I discussed the importance of understanding whether your company is event- or anniversary-driven, and how that plays into your management style and ability to sell to customers and grow your business. This month, the focus is anniversary-driven businesses.

You are an anniversary-driven business when your customers buy around a predictable, recurring date. The sale goes to the company that knows which customers will buy on a given date.

To grow your anniversary-driven business, know the exact date, and where and how the decision-maker will recommit. If you are selling building maintenance contracts, know when the contract expires, if the renewal decision is made by corporate or at the location, and whether it's by bid or negotiation. If you are selling to specialty retailers, understand when their customers commit, which department buys your products and what it takes to displace the current provider.

Know the client's expectations, sequence for re-engagement or disengagement, and trigger events that lead to repurchase. To take business away from another on-demand courier service, understand what its response times are, if it will try a new vendor on "problem routes" before giving it its "milk runs," and which problems will get its vendor replaced.

If your customers are anniversary-driven, be extra responsive to customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction around their commitment date. Don't sell to them during the rest of the year. Instead, confirm if and how their expectations are being met. Understand your competitors' mistakes and their customers' reactions.

The fact that most businesses are anniversary- or event-driven is obvious, and knowing which business you are in is just a start. How well does your company conform to one or the other?

Think of how well we respond to signals for anniversary- and event-driven activities. From renting a tuxedo for a friend's wedding to renewing our driver's licenses, we are all ingrained in how to handle these events and anniversaries.

Finally, ask yourself how well you have ingrained your customers in doing business with you. Taking full advantage of all the tricks in your trade will maximize your results, investment and returns. Andrew J. Birol (abirol@andybirol.com) is president of Birol Growth Consulting. He helps owners grow their businesses by growing their best and highest use. Reach him at (440) 349-1970 or www.andybirol.com.

Wednesday, 26 May 2004 12:32

Event or anniversary?

Where were you when JFK died? Which summer was your happiest?

The first stands out alone, while the second is a choice among options. You can group every upcoming activity or appointment into two categories - event or anniversary

Events are one-time occurrences -- a weekend trip, the birth of a child, a marriage, baptism. Anniversaries are recurring activities that follow an event, such as a birthday, wedding or the celebration of Passover.

Events and anniversaries can teach a lot about selling to customers and growing your businesses. Every business can be broken down into events and anniversaries. This month, we'll look at event-driven businesses, next month at anniversary-driven businesses.

You know you're in an event-driven business when your customers buy only after a random occurrence in their world provokes them to commit to taking action. This could be a window replacement, building construction or the hiring of a trial lawyer. You must build awareness among those who might need your products or services some day, and be accessible to anyone who needs you today.

To grow your event-driven business, define the event that drives your sale and educate your marketplace to look for it. If you are a manufacturer with strong R & D, remind customers about new product development. If you're a real estate appraiser, remind prospects about buying or selling their buildings.

Articulate the consequence of the event on your customer's business. If you are in the windshield replacement business, describe how hard it is to see oncoming cars around cracks.

Link your solution to the consequence of the event. Tell customers how you will eliminate their pain or assure their opportunity. If you are a reseller of telecom or servers, tell growing companies you can assure they receive and process all the new calls and orders they get.

If your customers are event-driven, work to capture and communicate with 100 percent of your prospects who might need you one day. Pounce on anyone who signals interest. Track your success with every prospect whose event date you knew and determine why you may have won or lost each case.

The fact that most businesses are either anniversary- or event-driven is obvious, and knowing which business you are in is just a start. Learning how to take full advantage of it is the true key to success. Andrew J. Birol (abirol@andybirol.com) is president of Birol Growth Consulting. He helps owners grow their businesses by growing their best and highest use. Reach him at (440) 349-1970 or at www.andybirol.com.

Friday, 30 January 2004 07:35

Life in the fast lane

In Olympic track and field, the world's best runners compete individually and then, on the last day, race together as members of their nation's relay teams. Regardless of raw speed, victory usually goes to the quartet most practiced in the intricate ballet of a flawless handoff.

Since the baton must change hands at top speed inside a congested "fly zone," mistakes are spectacular and costly. Many world record holders have left the track in defeat after they dropped the baton or collided with each other because they did not practice their handoffs.

Although business succession usually involves just two players, the parallels to a relay race are striking. In both cases, the forerunner and successor must jointly prepare for the handoff or face joint defeat.

With so much already in place and even more at stake, even well-planned management successions can run off track unless leaders remain vigilant. Three common flaws are usually behind a bad handoff.

* If either parent or child uses business position and power for personal gain during a transition, trust is usually the first casualty, followed quickly by declining business performance. This is no time for grandstanding. Keep your attention focused on the transition, and take your prize home later.

* Most businesses face changes during the changing of the guard. When two leaders accomplish nothing more meaningful than getting new business cards, the successor is missing an opportunity to implement new ideas. Just as great runners accelerate as they grasp the baton from their teammate, new leaders should make quick and decisive moves to right wrongs and put their business back in the lead.

* Incumbent and emerging leaders often lose perspective during succession. While no one wants to lose momentum in the short run, any business that lasts more than a generation is in it for the long run.

Neither the outgoing nor the incoming leader should attempt to cash out or goose results by sacrificing the firm's brand or future. Every new leader, especially those inheriting sick companies, comes in with a clean personal slate. Those who think in terms of years rather than months do better.

Racing through the succession fly zone is just as harrowing as watching a leading Olympic runner pass the baton. As the crowd holds its collective breath, the next portion of the race is all up to those two runners.

For your business, the spectators for your succession are your employees, vendors and customers. They are all anticipating a successful outcome. Andrew Birol is President of Birol Growth Consulting, a Solon-based firm that helps grow businesses by growing their best and highest uses. Reach him at (440) 349-1970 www.andybirol.com.

Monday, 22 September 2003 13:19

Small business and government

In a recent interview, I was asked whether small businesses will be hurt by the federal tax bill's elimination of direct aid to ailing cities, and why many communities are crying foul.

My first reaction was, "What does this have to do with my marketplace of business owners?" Then I decided there is some impact.

Small businesses fall into two categories: those which pursue growth by selling to private customers, and those which pursue money by obtaining funding from private sources or government grants.

For those that pursue customers to grow their businesses, the direct impact of grant dollars drying up is minimal. Perhaps some of their customers will not purchase as much as if they were relying on grants, but the small business owner who stays adept at reducing the pain or increasing the opportunity of his customers is seldom impacted by government cuts.

For the few small businesses whose main customer or funding source is a governmental agency, the impact will be larger. I hope such firms don't have all their sales eggs in a single government agency or program. Just as in serving commercial customers, it is critical to build broad and deep relationships within one's governmental customer so as not be reliant on a single buyer or program that may leave, disappear or grow fickle.

Probably the bigger impact of cuts in local aid to cities is the negative contribution to the psyche of the business owner. Every day, he or she must take more risks, make a bigger payroll and decide to keep trying. For those with less confidence and more ambivalence, any bad news, including government cuts, provides one more reason not to try, grow or compete.

As the external distractions multiply and small business owners allow the general economic malaise to infect their resolve, the outcomes cannot be constructive.

My advice is to focus on your best and highest use, and spend all your energy on finding, keeping and growing customers. Even if your small business is wholly dependent on a government or tax grant to survive, my advice still stands.

Delight those you serve, and often your funding will remain, while other suppliers see theirs go away. Andrew Birol is president of Birol Growth Consulting, a Solon-based firm that helps grow businesses by growing their best and highest uses. Reach him at (440) 349-1970 or at www.birolgrowthconsulting.com.

Friday, 28 March 2003 06:22

Know your prospects

In The Pink Panther, Inspector Clousseau asks a lady walking a dog, "Does your dog bite?" When she says, "No," the Inspector pets the dog, and is bitten. Shocked, he cries out, "I thought your dog doesn't bite." The lady utters her famous response, "Yes, but that's not my dog."

How many times do you take sales action without knowing what job your prospects have in their organization? A classic mistake is assuming you know your prospect's real position, and therefore his motivations in doing business.

Companies do not buy, people do, so it's important to know how your services or products can enhance your customer's personal success -- whether he or she is a C-level executive or an owner-entrepreneur.

C-level executives

Executives are responsible for setting the direction of their organization and achieving results. Helping them to show results and increase corporate wealth will win them over. Here's what to do when selling to corporate leaders:

* Sell strategic solutions that let them achieve their company's visions.

* Sell peer-to-peer. They have enough subordinates and sycophants.

* Create heft and credibility in all you say and do.

* Build deep, multiple relationships throughout the organization to help clients create the consensus needed for their decisions to succeed.

Owners

First, owners dread failing, particularly if it makes them miss a payroll or ultimately results in having to work for someone else. Second, once the fear of failure is past, their focus is on increasing their company's wealth by producing quality products.

Finally, owners turn to creating their legacy, first as a successful business owner and thereafter as a creator of greater social good.

Those most successful at selling to owners can tell which step prospects are at. When selling to entrepreneurs:

* Sell to your prospect owner-to-owner.

* Sell as much to the person across the table as to his or her company; they are indivisible.

* Appeal first to their business needs to gain their attention, but understand their egos and personalities.

* Display empathy and the ability to lead them to success.

Make it your sales goal to only make new mistakes. That way, every sales opportunity presents a lesson , even if you do not close. As Inspector Clousseau learned, next time you will know to ask if the dog you pet belongs to the owner walking it. Andrew J. Birol is president of Birol Growth Consulting. He helps owners grow their businesses by growing their best and highest use. Reach him at (440) 349-1970, birol@andybirol.com or at www.andybirol.com.

Thursday, 27 February 2003 06:57

What's your business?

You go to a restaurant, and your server bombards you with questions and specials when all you wanted was food and peace and quiet.

Or you drop off clothes at your regular dry cleaner, and they still ask your name, starch preference and pick-up date.

It is no different when your business sells to or buys from other businesses.

To "provide better service" when checking on a delivery, you must enter the shipment number, ZIP code or account number, then repeat this information when customer service finally picks up.

Or your landscaper agrees to design your building's grounds, promising you excellent service for his premium price, then fails to deliver. You fire him not only from the project but also from his long-term service contract.

In each pair of scenes, the first is a transaction business attempting a relationship and the second is a relationship business hellbent on making every transaction stick.

Is yours a relationship business or a transaction business? Each demands different approaches to sales, marketing, manufacturing, service and billing.

You run a relationship business when your average customers' sales grow over time. If your ongoing dialog results in you and your clients learning, trusting and doing more business together, take these steps:

* Sales efforts and reps must continually ask questions, learn about clients' problems and create custom solutions.

* Marketing efforts should provide expertise, exchange information and offer low-risk opportunities for trial purchases.

* Manufacturing and service operations must meet customers' perception of total customization at the undifferentiated cost your CFO demands.

* Customer service efforts must ensure your product meets the real and perceived needs of the customer.

* Bills should charge for the outcome, rather than for hours spent, activities performed or units produced.

You run a transaction business when every customer sale is the first and last you will likely make. When you have to resell customers each time you do business together, take these steps.

* Salespeople need to focus on meeting customers' acute needs, closing them fast when the time is right.

* Generate hot customer leads by making your offers simple, complete and irrefutable.

* Manufacturing efforts and processes must be efficient and continuous, creating as much value in delivery as in the product itself.

* Billing must be itemized.

There is no clear line between relationship and transaction businesses. Transactions don't occur without a trusting relationship, and relationships don't grow without interactions or transactions.

So decide what kind of a business you're running. Too many businesses confuse themselves into blowing relationships, transactions, and ultimately, profits.

Friday, 30 August 2002 06:46

Defying seduction

 

A prime prospect calls to say he's interested in doing business and wants to meet ASAP.

What do you do? Most people would offer this prospect anything and everything to land the deal.

That's a mistake. When a marquee prospect calls, it's likely because of your growing reputation for quality work. It's imperative to sell your services and products just as you would to any other client. Consider these steps:

* Never arbitrarily compromise your price to close a deal. If anybody can pay full fare, it's a large client. Besides, large clients often require extra service and more support after the sale. Price your offer to cover costs and provide a profit.

* Define the account's value in terms of free publicity. If you do cut your price in return for the buzz of landing this client, ensure you receive what you expect. Marquee clients are invaluable if they agree to be a reference, but do not assume they can or will be. Build into your agreement their commitment to endorse your service and recommend your company.

* Understand your clients' corporate culture and how they manage their corporate image and protect their brand. Large companies with famous brands are risk-averse when purchasing anything that could affect their reputation. Should they have a problem with your performance, chances are they'll cut your deal rather than jeopardize their image.

* Recognize when the client is buying from you to learn how you do it. Large companies often pay smaller ones to show them the ropes. If you agree to be a test kitchen, price your product to make a profit on your first order or decline the business if you'd be giving away secrets.

As you conduct business with a marquee client, don't get caught with your pants down. If you pay attention, not only will your sales grow, but they'll do so in a profitable and respectable manner.

Famous clients are just like anyone else -- they've achieved success by doing the right things for the right people. And they were paid properly for doing them. Andrew Birol (abirol@andybirol.com) is president of Birol Growth Consulting, a Solon-based firm that helps grow businesses by growing their best and highest uses. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970
Wednesday, 31 July 2002 10:59

Owners, manage thyselves

Last month I discussed the three roles you must play as a business owner and how to tie what you accomplish to what you earn. As noble as this sounds, it's hard enough just to tie daily activities to your goals.

This month I'll discuss how to best spend your time to make the greatest impact.

As owner, leader and product No. 1, what can you do to make progress toward your goals every day? Regardless of whether you are running a service, manufacturing, retail or distribution business, you can distill all of your day-to-day efforts into three areas: selling, delivering and developing your business.

The big three

Selling starts and keeps your company rolling. Even if you know exactly what you want the customer to buy, the sales activity moves your product off the shelf or gets your people hired.

Therefore, the most important short-term activity is learning to sell what your company makes. By learning to uncover customer pain and prospect opportunity, you drive your company's business forward.

Deliver what you like making and have succeeded at producing to the satisfaction of others. Link this to exactly what you sell. To do this, determine your best and highest use and assure it meets your clients' needs. Hone it, codify it and make it distinctive.

Develop your company's long-term ability to perform at higher levels. Understand what it takes to develop prospects and build the top half of your sales funnel. Brand what you sell. As you do this, narrow your target market and pursue greater opportunities to resolve customer pain and lead them to greater opportunities to grow your customers business.

By focusing on selling, delivering and developing your company, you will be successfully spending every moment of your business life focusing on the right company goals.

Selling solves your short-term revenue needs. Delivering ensures you exchange value for money. Development means you continually build and fortify your growing brand.

But all three must be done together. If you sell and deliver, your business will always live no greater than hand-to-mouth. Sell and develop, and your poor value will drive customers away. Develop and deliver, and you'll go out of business because no customers will ever get sold.

While you are undoubtedly thinking about all the things you must get done every day, think first about the big three. If you are making equal and balanced progress in each area, you are helping your business thrive both in the short term and the long term.

In doing so, your daily activities can always stay on track and give you confidence your goals will be achieved. Andrew Birol (abirol@birolgrowthconsulting.com) is president of Birol Growth Consulting, a Solon-based firm that helps grow businesses by growing their best and highest uses. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970 or at www.birolgrowthconsulting.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:52

Acquiring minds

(Part 2 of a 6-part series)

  1. Define your prospect’s buying process.

    Determine how your prospective buyer will display interest, build desire and take steps to do business with you. Clarify your understanding of a prospect’s behavior until you have it down cold. Then, by examining your previous successes with your best customers, a pattern will emerge.

  2. Outline your company’s best way to close new customers.

    From the first time you target a prospect, exactly what happens as you proceed to close them? When do you use direct mail, advertising, telemarketing and face-to-face selling? Is there a best way for your business to do this, or is it always a random act?

    Identify the three most likely sequences that result in closing business. Once you have these scenarios down, take time to understand how you qualify your prospects. Remember that time is valuable, and all prospects are not created equal.

  3. Create definitions for your funnel.

    With this wealth of raw data, now it is time to bring structure to the picture. Using the funnel below, define each stage of the funnel for your business — from your suspect to your closed customer.

    • A suspect is every company in your entire target market.

    • A prospect is an identifiable decision maker in a company.

    • A qualified prospect is a decision maker who has time, need, authority and money for your product or service.

    • A developed prospect is someone you send a proposal, quote or sample.

  4. Determine how many new prospects you need at each step of the funnel.

    To start, divide your average sale from a first time buyer into your new customer sales goal. This gives you the number of first time buyers you must land. Then, move up the funnel and decide how many prospects you need at each step.

    If you need to qualify 10 prospects for each buyer you close, then plan to do so. Similarly, if you need to contact 1,000 suspects to identify a qualified prospect, then identify enough names and dedicate the resources to do the job.

  5. Understand what your prospects are worth and what you can spend to get them.

    Now that you know how many new customers you need to meet your goal, decide what your prospects are worth to you.

    • Divide the number of prospects it takes to close a sale into the value of the sale. For example, if a sale is worth $1,000 and you need 10 prospects to close one sale, then a prospect generates $100 of revenue.

    • If you must spend $100 to create those 10 prospects, then each prospect costs $10.

    • By subtracting the cost of a prospect, $10, from the revenue of a prospect $100, you have $90, the real value of a prospect.

    This exercise is critical as it gives you a benchmark of what to invest in a prospect and what to expect in return. You now have a budget and confidence to spend just enough to obtain your new customers.

  6. Find great new customers effectively.

    With financial guidelines for finding new customers in place, choose your tactics. Pick your sales, marketing and customer service activities for each step of the funnel. You may want to use face-to-face sales to close business, but may choose to emphasize direct mail over telemarketing or advertising to qualify prospects. Evaluate your activities, tools and programs based on how cost effectively they deliver the number of prospects you need. Your choices will be easier and less risky than ever, because they will be based on meeting your goals you have set.

In closing, remember that finding customers efficiently and profitably is easier if you:

  • Focus on your goal of converting prospects, not creating sales and marketing programs.

  • Monitor the quality and quantity of the prospects you process through your sales funnel.

  • Always ensure your efforts to find new prospects pay off. Andy Birol is president of PACER Associates Inc. (www.pacerassociates.com), a Cleveland-based business-to-business consulting firm that works with owners to help them focus on the best way to find, keep and grow customers. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970 or by e-mail at pacerassociates@worldnet.att.net.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

Lessons from the bleeding edge

You run a healthy business with a consistent track record, but you still aren’t enjoying the benefits of being online.

As a small business owner managing three online efforts and acting as a consultant to six clients with eight Web strategies, I can safely say it’s not from a lack of trying.

Over the past two years — with some misgivings — many business owners have set up Web sites on promises of greater sales, more leads and reduced promotional costs. They were warned that the world would leave them behind if they didn’t invest now. But neither the promises nor the fears have come true. So what went wrong?

The mistakes fall into six categories:

I can be Just like Mike. Don’t assume your smaller, local/regional business can build even a proportional level of Internet awareness, transaction or credibility of that of larger firms.

If I spend money, I’ll make money. Don’t be convinced that spending large sums building and promoting your Web site will work.

Business on the Internet is different. If your business is not successful offline, it probably won’t succeed online.

My Web page is my online strategy. A Web site is not an online business.

Everyone likes visiting my Web site. Look at all the free information I give away. Just providing valuable information doesn’t ensure return visits.

Of course I have a Web strategy. Look at all I have invested in graphics and technology. A clear business plan is necessary. It has nothing to do with graphics or technology.

One common thread emerges — we must reconcile what we’ve learned on the Internet with our years of common business sense. What is right for your business? Should you cut your losses and decide the Internet isn’t the answer? Or should you learn from the mistakes?

Here is a simple thought to guide your renewed efforts: “With a plan, the Internet can help me to better reach, sell and help all those who are or should be connected to my business.”

It’s a simple mantra, but it can help you focus on how to make the Internet work for you. Try this six-step process to reinforce that message:

Identify your business constituents. Make a list of all the suppliers, employees, prospects, customers and partners in your business world.

Determine the information each constituent needs. Understand the valuable, recurring information they must get from you and what you must give them.

Identify where they get the information now. List where and from whom they obtain this knowledge today.

Determine how good their current information is. Assess and ask them whether it meets their needs.

Decide how the Internet will improve and expand this information, making it and your site “sticky.” Learn which competitors have successful online businesses and how they continuously provide and deliver this information to their constituents.

Create an e-business strategy based on exchanging information of value with your constituents. Decide which of your business objectives can be met online and how you will achieve these.

As easy as it is to be distracted by the technology and the graphics of the Internet, the basics of effectively communicating with your constituents hold as true online as they do offline. The Internet is far more than a brochure or a billboard for your business. But it is also far less than a new solution to offline problems.

Start your e-strategy today by understanding what you need to say and who needs to hear it, then determine your return on investment in doing this. Once you have this down in writing, hiring Internet technologists and designers can make sense.

What doesn’t make sense is hiring them before you know. Just as you wouldn’t delegate responsibility to outsiders for signing your checks, don’t leave strategic decisions to others. After all, this is both good traditional and Internet business sense.

Andy Birol (abirol@pacerassociates.com) is president of PACER Associates Inc., a Solon-based consulting firm working with companies to focus on the best ways to find, keep and grow customers. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970 or www.pacerassociates.com.