Superhero Business: Know Your Customers

As business owners, we can’t delight all potential customers. Businesses who try to please everyone end up pleasing no one. It’s a direct path to mediocrity. A Superhero Business, on the other hand, is laser-focused on its best customers. A Superhero Business knows it can’t delight everyone, so it strives to delight its core customer base. In addition to knowing the demographic profile of its top customers, it also understands its customers at an emotional level: their hopes, dreams, wants, frustrations, and fears. It’s relentless in its obsession to deliver more value for these customers. Incorporating this knowledge into the design of products and services gives these Superhero Businesses a powerful, sustainable competitive advantage. The approach below applies for large businesses and micro businesses, product-based and service-based, for design teams and for sole proprietors trying to improve.

Here are 5 steps to know your customers:

  1. Start by identifying your best customers. These are the customers whom you’d love to build your business around. Typically, they appreciate the value that your business provides. They are profitable customers (oftentimes your most profitable customers). They’re huge fans of your business, and of you.
  2. Be “the friendly, neighborhood” superhero. Much like “your friendly, neighborhood” superhero, the owner of a Superhero Business gets to know its best customers by meeting them face to face. Identify your top customers (Top 10, 20, 50, or 100) and meet them all within the next 12 months; the sooner the better. The size of your business doesn’t matter. When I was an executive at a global multi-national company with over 70,000 employees, our new CEO met with our top 100 customers in his first year. When I ran a smaller business unit with $5 million in sales, I met all of my customers each year.
  3. Give your best customers a voice in your business. Encourage ALL your employees to know these customers, and give them opportunities to do so. With today’s technology it’s easier than ever to have all of your employees connect with customers. One of the most powerful motivational moments is when the employees hear how they have impacted a customer’s life, directly from the customer. Whether it’s a talk or a produced video, the power of seeing and hearing from a customer has a powerful impact on the every employee.
  4. Focus on adding value to these customers. Focus your business improvement and product design efforts on adding more value for these customers. How can your business more effectively address their hopes/wants/fears/frustrations? One tried and true way to do this is to incorporate “avatars” or “personas” into your design process.
  5. Be careful with customer feedback. Often times, customers have insights into how you can improve your business. We are tempted to simply do what our best customers want us to do. The risk with this approach is that it can trap the business into incremental improvements. As Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” By all means listen to your customers, but don’t be afraid to create something new that’s even better than they can imagine.

To your success,

Alay

Superhero Alerts: How to Build Your Business Dashboard

It’s critical for superheroes to be in the right place at the right time. The same holds true for business owners.

As a business owner, there are so many demands on your time. Even if you have a strong team, you probably wish one of your superpowers was the ability to be in two places at once! Superheroes have help with this: the author writes the script so it works out (unless they use “wrong place, wrong time” to propel the plot e.g. the Dark Knight or Superman: The Movie). Sometimes authors even resort to time travel! Unfortunately, business owners do not have the advantage of a script nor do they have access to time traveling technology.

What if you had a “bat signal” for your business? Just like Batman is alerted when he is needed, you could be directed to exactly the right place at exactly the right time. In this post, we’re going to discuss the business equivalent of a “bat signal”: your Business Dashboard, and it’s an integral piece of a Superhero Business.

A business dashboard helps you run your business in the same way that the instrument cluster in your car helps you drive. The dashboard is a set of indicators that tells you how your business is doing, and what areas require attention. These indicators are also called metrics, analytics, key performance indicators (KPI), etc. Terminology aside, it’s a set of measures that tells you how the business is doing. Usually, this information is updated weekly or monthly.

If you’re not using a business dashboard, you’re operating business by instinct. This might be OK when you’re focused…but what if you have a bad day? Or something really unusual happens? Or if you just want to take a vacation and let someone else mind the business for a couple of weeks? You need something consistent, objective, and clear. You need a business dashboard.

Here is the 4-Step process to create your business dashboard:

Step 1. Pick one key metric from each of the following categories:
1. Sales / Revenue
2. Cost
3. Cash Flow

Step 2. Determine how often you want to measure them: weekly or monthly.

Step 3. Choose trigger values for each metric. When the metric hits this value, you need to focus on it.

Step 4. Put the systems and processes in place to report the metrics. This can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as complex as specialized business software. What’s most important is that you implement something quickly, and it continues to work. You will improve it over time.

Once you have this basic dashboard in place and it’s working for you, you can add other metrics (be careful not too add too many). Metrics can also come from other areas of the business, such as:

Employee Engagement
Throughput
Quality
Customer Loyalty

A good business dashboard is easy to update, provides clear direction, and is easy to understand. It’s a powerful asset in your Superhero Business.

Now I want to hear from you: what are the benefits of dashboards in your business? What are the challenges? What metrics do you use (or would like to measure)?

Assemble a Superhero Team: “Hire Heroes”

“You can’t create something special, distinctive, and compelling in the marketplace unless you build something special, distinctive, and compelling in the workplace.” – Bill Taylor

As a Superhero owner, you’ve decided to put customers first. But not even Superman can be everywhere at once. The obvious answer is to hire an amazing team to deliver a Superhero experience when you’re in a meeting, with another customer, or simply taking a well-deserved vacation. Unfortunately, many business owners fail to build a Superhero team. As a result, they can’t effectively grow their business, and their quality of life suffers as well.

If you take nothing else from this article, remember this: your business will be as good as your team.
A Superhero Team can give you a Superhero Business. A mediocre team will give you a mediocre business.

So the question becomes, “How do I build a Superhero Team?”
One way to answer this question is by talking about what NOT to do. Here are the three most common mistakes I’ve seen in my years of work with small business owners:

Mistake #1: They hire cheap

“A” players cost a lot…sometimes as much as two of their peers. This may take the form of money, traditional benefits, or other non-standard benefits such as flexible work hours, working from home, more time off, etc. Here’s the thing: they’re completely worth it. In this case, quality trumps quantity. If you’re a Superhero Business, you need the best you can find. The people who have a great attitude, fit with your company’s core values, and are great at what they do. Yes, they cost more. But your customers will value the difference, and so will you. Remember, you’re a professional enterprise. Model yourself after the great professional sports teams, and hire the very best.

Mistake #2: They hire fast

Oftentimes, owners are so desperate for help that they jump at the first qualified candidate. They end up with mediocre role players instead of Superheroes, which means the owners end up doing the heavy lifting. When you find them, superhero team members will ramp up faster, perform better, and contribute more to the business than you thought possible. But building a heroic team requires two things from you: discipline and patience. It also requires a hiring plan and an interviewing process. At the very least, write down the characteristics of your perfect candidate, particularly in terms of attitude and values…and keep looking until you find them. And when you do, make sure they are a great long-term fit.

Mistake #3: They hire with no references

How many people can come up with 10 references? How many people can name 3 references who were their supervisors? Could you? References help take the risk out of the hiring process. Many owners, however, don’t check references. Many don’t even ask for them. Then they are shocked when they discover their new employee has “issues”. And it’s back to the drawing board. For entry level positions, ask for 3 references. For more seasoned roles, 5 is better. For senior leadership roles, ask for 10 references with at least 3 from supervisors and 3 from direct reports. And then call every single one of them, and talk for 30 minutes about the candidate. It’s amazing what you’ll learn.

To your success,
Alay

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Be a Superhero: “Customers First”

“Customer satisfaction is worthless. Customer loyalty is priceless” – Jeffrey Gitomer

A business can grow and win by creating loyal customers, even if the business does nothing else. On the other hand, without loyal customers a business cannot survive. Customer loyalty is the only universal requirement for business success. And it is more important yet more difficult to achieve than ever before. Customers have more choices today. And it’s easier for customers to switch their patronage. Customers also have higher expectations, and their loyalty is harder to win and harder to keep.

And here’s the thing: As a business owner, customer loyalty starts with YOU. So I’m going to ask you to make a choice right now. Will you put customers first, or not?

This is a yes/no question. Make your choice now.

If your answer is “no”, stop reading because this isn’t for you.

For those of you who are putting customers first, congratulations! You’ve chosen to become a superhero for your customers. Being a superhero can’t be delegated. It can’t be a lower priority. And it can’t be superficial. It will force you to make difficult choices and sacrifices. It’s not easy being a superhero, but the rewards are worth the journey.

That being said, customer loyalty is the most powerful tool in your Superhero Business toolbox. Loyal customers tell their connections about you, resulting in high quality referrals (better clients, lower cost of acquisition, larger profits) with no competitive pressure. A business built on customer loyalty is resistant to recessions and price shopping. A business built on customer loyalty is resistant to the competition. A business built on customer loyalty has lower expenses. A business built on customer loyalty is a Superhero Business, and it is unstoppable.

The next several posts will give you, the Superhero owner, several tools and techniques that you can put into practice as you build your Superhero business.

To your success,
Alay

P.S. Click Here to receive all the Superhero Business articles as they are released