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About the blog

Just saying whatever happens to come into my head that might help or inspire someone to do something better.

Telling it as it is…

On my mind Posted on Thu, August 30, 2018 11:29:51

Telling it as it is…

I had to smile when I walked past a showroom recently that was displaying a sign that read – “We look terrible as they measured the new windows wrong”.

It looked like the company had been in the process of a re-fit and were planning updated window displays, but they had been left bare after it all went wrong.

They could have just done nothing, but they choose to send out a message and explain to customers and people passing why the premises were looking less attractive than they would have wished.

It reminded me of one of the most important things that a business can do, but one that many simply forget to do or just never get around to doing as they are too busy.

It’s letting your customers know exactly what’s going on.

The classic case is when there is some sort of problem, with maybe an order or a delivery for example. How many times has someone you have been dealing with told you that they would call back and then haven’t got in touch so eventually you end up calling them again to find out what’s going on?

The answer is probably quite a few times. More often than not, people will tell you that they haven’t called you back when they said that they would as there was nothing new to tell you. Of course, the clever thing and the right thing to do is to call back to tell the customer that there is nothing new to tell them at the moment!

Ensuring that a customer doesn’t start to feel that they are being ignored is crucial. Every call into a business that is chasing something, when a customer feels aggrieved that they are having to make the call, is like the slow drip, drip of customer loyalty ebbing away. Staying on top of all the ‘issues’ and making sure that you are not making your customers do all the work is a sensible way to spend time.

Putting customers in the picture with the right information to make sure they don’t come to their own conclusions is something that should be constantly monitored, particularly if and when you do find yourself with an issue that is likely to impact on the business.

Not too many companies are very good at doing this, which means that if you can create an environment in your own business where keeping the customer well and truly updated and getting the message to the customers is seen as a real priority, then you are going to stand out from the crowd and that can only be good for business.

At last…a TV advert that actually has a message you can understand!

On my mind Posted on Tue, June 26, 2018 09:11:56

At last…a
TV advert that actually has a message you can understand!

I don’t
know about you, but a lot of TV advertising passes me by these days. Not just
because, more than often, I’m watching a programme that has been recorded and
just skip through the ads, but also because many of them just seem to have been
produced with the aim of winning an award rather than to drive home important
messages or even, who would have thought – sell something.

Like me,
you may be getting tired of having to guess what the advert is all about until
it is revealed right at the end.

And so,
it was very refreshing to see an advert pop up that has a very simple but
effective message.

Nationwide advert about ‘Mortgage Number One’ tells a great story – the first
mortgage being sold and who it helped buy a house at 29 Morrison Street. It was
in 1884 and it was arranged for Elizabeth and Alfred Idle, who had nine
children and who paid ‘6 bob a week’.

It tells
us that Nationwide has been around a very long time and that the business has
provided a lot of mortgages (73,543 last year).

A simple
but interesting message, produced very well too.

talked about promoting your history before, but here’s another question..

What was
the first product your business sold and who was it sold to?

If you
can remember, or find out, you may well have a little snippet that you can use
to give your own potential customers a warm and fuzzy feeling.

also a little bit of history that all your staff should know too. On many
occasions people join an established company and they never get to know or
understand how the business started. Everyone in a business should have an idea
of where it came from and why it started – it’s important.

you are producing a multi-million advert for TV or promoting in a small local
area, getting the message right with clarity can be easy, as long as you aren’t
just looking to win an award!

How to make a lot of bread out of milk and eggs

On my mind Posted on Fri, June 08, 2018 13:46:13

How to make a lot of bread out of milk and eggs

I had an interesting conversation over dinner recently with someone who reminded me just how easy it can be to differentiate yourself from the crowd without spending a great deal of money – something that many small businesses are rightly keen to do.

After spending many years in local government in a senior management role, he took early retirement and after a short time decided that he really wanted to do something else. The ‘something else’ turned out to be a taxi service which he set up ‘just to keep busy’.

He started to get more and more business picking up customers and taking them to Southampton to meet a cruise ship and then picking them up after the holiday and taking them home and so he decided to specialise in that service. There were a number of companies fighting for the business and so he thought about what he could do to offer something a little different which would make him stand out from the crowd.

As we all know, when you return from holiday one of the things you usually find is an empty fridge and so he decided to give each customer a small hamper which included the basic essentials such as milk, eggs and bread.

It cost very little, but it brought him a great deal of business. He became known as the guy who gave you a ‘welcome home pack’ and the give-away generated him a lot of new customers and repeat business too as word spread and recommendations increased.

It’s a great example of adding value for the customer without having to spend more than you need.

The result – the business grew into one that had a number of vehicles on the road when he sold it, giving him the opportunity to visit Southampton just as often – this time to get on the ships himself!

The question is…what do you do for your customers which is unexpected and which would encourage them to talk to their friends about you?

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

The first order is great, but it’s really about a lot more than that

On my mind Posted on Wed, May 30, 2018 10:51:31

The first order is great, but it’s really about a lot more than that

A few weeks ago a new Lidl store opened in our area. The opening is just one of 60 new shops that the company is looking to open in the UK in a year an ambitious £1.5bn UK expansion plan.

Big business indeed, but much smaller businesses can still learn from them by watching what they do to attract customers.

And so we received an offer for a ‘Welcome Card’ with the opportunity to save money over a 6 week period designed, of course, to get us into the routine of shopping with them.

The marketing team at Lidl know that although it’s great to get the first sale, it’s the ongoing visits and repeat sales that will make the real difference to the bottom line.

It begs the question – How do you lock a customer into your business?

Making sure that a new customer stays with you for as long as possible is one of the keys to building a business quickly and cost-effectively. There’s little point in spending time and money attracting a customer, only to see them wander off to your competitor the next time they are looking to buy something else.

One of the questions I always ask a business is – how many customers have bought just one product from you? If there are quite a few, then it’s very possible that a good percentage of them are really not your customers any longer and have moved on to a new supplier.

But can you build customer loyalty these days? Years ago you definitely could and many businesses would enjoy a customer’s business for many, many years. It’s not so easy today, but not trying to build some sort of loyalty is a pretty defeatist position to take.

The good news is that, in the healthcare marketplace you maybe stand more of chance of keeping someone with you for a longer period.

A study a few years ago suggested that elderly consumers are not only more likely to repurchase but also actively resist switching brands once they have established a favourite brand.

With that in mind, the question is….what are you doing to keep the customers you already have?

If you haven’t been in touch with them for a while, then maybe now is the time to put that right.

If you haven’t tempted them to buy the next product from you, then maybe you should be looking to do that too.

Bring new customers through the front door, while all the time existing customers are leaving by the back door is an expensive way to run a business. Spending time working on strategies that could increase your customer retention rate would be a good use of time and money.

Playing the numbers game and getting it wrong…badly wrong

On my mind Posted on Thu, February 22, 2018 12:30:41

Here’s an article I produced for the recent issue of THIIS Magazine

Playing the numbers game and getting it wrong…badly wrong

If you are bidding for business that comes with wafer thin margins, then you better know what you are doing.

The demise of Carillion is, without doubt, one of the biggest business news stories for some years and there are sure to be a number of lessons learnt after the dust has settled.

The facts and figures are pretty impressive. Carillion was the UK’s second-largest construction company and in 2016, it had sales of £5.2bn. However, it also had a whopping £1.5bn debt pile too and ran out of cash owing more than £1.3bn to its banks.

The company employed 43,000 people worldwide, 20,000 in the UK, and had 450 contracts with the UK government. There are an estimated 30,000 smaller firms which have been working on Carillion projects in the private sector.

So, what went so badly wrong?

One of the suggested reasons for the collapse has been that the company took on too many risky contracts that proved unprofitable.

Taking on contracts that generate very small margins is clearly a risky business. Some companies are very good at it. They are super-efficient, extremely good at what they do, know all the tricks of the trade to run an incredibly lean machine and they do well. In short, they understand fully the risks but back themselves to deliver the contract and still make money.

For others, it’s not the same story. Get the numbers wrong, even a little bit wrong and it can make a massive difference. It’s a sobering thought for any company looking at pitching for a big contract right now.

It seems that some businesses are taking a more realistic look at what they are committed to. For example, in the care sector, we are seeing a trend of companies deciding that they just cannot continue to struggle on tiny margins.

A BBC Panorama programme recently highlighted the fact that 95 UK councils have had home care contracts cancelled by private companies struggling to deliver services on the funding offered. It suggested that, as a result, a quarter of the UK’s 2,500 home care providers were at risk of insolvency, with some 70 closing down in a three month period.

Putting pressure on companies to bid at levels which isn’t sustainable will only result in one thing and it isn’t very pretty.

Whether you are a one-man band, a growing outfit or one that has been around for years and with a sizeable workforce, playing the numbers game when there isn’t a great deal of meat on the bone needs to be done very carefully indeed.

For retailers, the online marketplace is probably the greatest challenge. When you see some of the prices posted online, you do wonder whether some of the margins are going to be enough to make it work long-term.

Customers have always wanted to get the best deal of course – it’s only natural. There’s really no difference than sitting across the table from someone responsible for awarding a multi-million pound contract to sitting with a customer looking to buy a product in the showroom. They both want to pay you less than you would like them to.

A salesman I used to work with had a standard response when he was asked for a discount by a customer. He would simply ask them, “Which part of my service don’t you want me to give you?” They would look at him bemused and he would add, “Would you prefer me not to check the product properly before we deliver it, not deliver it properly, not set it up properly or not get back to you if you need me in the future?”

They would usually get the point and he would usually protect his margins.

Many years ago I sat and listened to someone in our industry speak at a conference and warn that discounting your product and service to a level where you couldn’t actually do the job properly was a one-way street to disaster. His message to the people who were handing out the big contracts was simply that you get what you pay for.

It’s a simple message, but it doesn’t seem to be getting through.

Excuse me, but can I ask you something really personal?

On my mind Posted on Thu, January 18, 2018 09:51:41

Every year, a few days after Xmas, we find ourselves in celebratory mode again in the Russell household. My other half’s birthday and our wedding anniversary are on the same day in early January. The advantage is that it’s quite difficult to forget the date. The disadvantage is that if I ever did, then I would be in very serious trouble!

It’s a challenge to come up with gifts for Xmas, birthday and anniversary all within a few days and this year we ended up at a very nice National Trust owned hotel for a short stay.

That leads me to the question, which is….just how personal are you getting with your customers?

When we walked into the room at the hotel, an envelope in the bedroom contained a hand-written note, wishing us a happy anniversary and birthday. It was a nice touch and one that you don’t see that often these days.

You may well have experienced something similar and, if you have, then my bet is that you definitely remember it. And that’s the point; it’s memorable because it isn’t something that happens all the time.

I remember a few other examples of businesses doing something a little different to say thanks, such as a bunch of flowers on the back seat of a car we bought and if you have bought items from eBay, quite a few ‘sellers’ will add a little note of thanks in the package too.

No matter what business you are in, you will have opportunities to ‘spring a surprise’ and thank someone for doing business with you. The question is…are you doing anything about it?

If someone has spent a considerable amount of money with you, then a simple hand-written note thanking them shouldn’t be too much trouble. You’ll be amazed how long it sticks around and who gets to see it.

Of course, there is another set of people who would appreciate a little note of thanks too and that’s your team members. Simply popping a card on a desk recognising a special effort or achievement can mean an awful lot.

It’s worth-while having ‘thank you’ cards readily available just in case you get the opportunity to give someone a ‘pat on the back’. The next time you are out and about shopping, why not pick up a pack – they could end up being one of the most effective things you buy.

Of course, if you really want to get a momentum going, you could have your own company cards printed too and make it even more personal.

Taking just a minute or two to write a note of thanks or congratulations is almost always going to be a very good use of your time.

Oh, and thank you very much for reading this!!

Who eat all the Xmas pies…..and why?

On my mind Posted on Tue, January 02, 2018 16:49:51

How was your Christmas? I don’t mean whether you un-wrapped that brand new gizmo you wanted on the big day, I mean from a business perspective?

Did you see a surge in sales because of something you created, produced or marketed in a different way or did you let one of the busiest selling periods of the year pass you by?

Christmas is a very important time for many businesses, but, even if you aren’t selling the sort of products that find themselves in the Xmas stockings, there are plenty of opportunities to give your own business a boost.

Let’s take, for example, pies. Award winning pie producer Pieminister did what a lot of businesses do during the festive season and styled products around the celebrations, introducing a range of tasty delights such as the ‘Deer Santa’, ‘Mistle Moo’ and ‘The Cracker’. And they were good, very good indeed!

The reason I know that is that some of them found themselves into our shopping trolley and the reason that happened was purely because of the creativity of the packaging. Up until that point, we hadn’t bought or tasted a Pieminister product before. The eye-catching boxes were enough to get them onto our till receipt.

So what relevance would any of this have for your own business, bearing in mind that it’s very likely that what you do is a long way removed from the fast moving consumer goods marketplace?

Well, it’s all about using the promotional opportunities that pop up throughout the year to the best advantage – and there are lots of them. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Easter, New Year, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, National Grandparents Days (Sunday October 8th in 2018), to name but a few. Then you have all the other ‘days, weeks and months’ that are linked with campaigns that you might want to associate your company with.

Blimey, this year we even have a Royal Wedding too – the possibilities are endless!

That’s the good news. The not so good news is that if you want to run an effective promotion next Christmas, then you need to be planning time to put something together as soon as you have put away the suncream from the summer holidays, so give yourself time to get it right.

A little twist, something that raises a smile, a different approach that takes potential customers by surprise – these are all ways to tap into increased sales throughout the year when the time is right.

If you want some help putting together a promotion linked to a diary date, or you would like some ideas about what you might be able to produce, then why not get in touch

You’ve got to make it exciting boy!

On my mind Posted on Tue, November 28, 2017 17:54:38

You’ve got to make it exciting boy!

“You’ve got to make it exciting boy”. That was what a Sales Director told me nearly 40 years ago now. He was well into in his 60’s at the time and had been in the sales game all his career and was very anti new- fangled ‘marketing techniques’. He didn’t have much time for marketing people (like me), but he definitely knew how to sell and so I listened. Turns out he was right.

‘Making it exciting’ is something you need to keep in mind whenever you are in front of a potential customer and there’s no better example of that than at an exhibition. It could be a national exhibition at the NEC, it could be a small local exhibition with just a handful of companies or it could be just you, on your own with a bit of space, a few products and people passing by.

After you have booked your space and paid your money, you have two choices. You can either pitch up and blend in with the other 10, 50, 100 or 500 exhibitors, or you can do something to stand out and grab visitors attention.

The first option is the easy option and that, of course, is why so many companies choose it. The second option takes a little bit of time, a bit of creativity and maybe even a little bit of money, but, if you get it right, it can pay handsome dividends.

Creating a buzz on your stand will do a number of things. It will stop people as they walk past and bring many of them onto ‘your space’. It will keep them on your space longer and, if you get it right, it will create the engagement you need to start the sales process.

Depending on the type of promotion you are running, it can also generate you important contact details you need to develop a relationship with a potential customer.

And it will also have a positive impact on your team too, giving them something to use to make the all-important first connection with passers-by and providing a level of energy and interest on the stand that will ensure you have a more effective time.

Even before the exhibition opens, it can provide you with all the marketing ammunition you need to generate interest pre-show, get yourself on the ‘must-see’ list and start the process of creating a momentum. During the exhibition it can provide you with ongoing content for all your social media platforms and don’t forget after the exhibition too as there could be plenty of positive messages to push out into the marketplace on the back of a successful time.

So, what to do to create that interest? Well, here are three examples from the recent OT Show.

The first is from Mangar International. You can’t go far wrong with chocolate and the company produced something a bit special as you can see. It’s not easy to pass something like that on a stand and not take a second look and that’s exactly what you are hoping for. That second look can then become a comment which can be the thing that starts the conversation. Before long you are talking products and hey presto, you have engagement.

The second example is from The Frontier Medical Group with a very simple but effective ‘Pump It’ promotion with a Top Gear style leaderboard as a very visual and fun way to both attract the visitors and to get them to have a go. The company had some great images to use on social media throughout the show and anything that involves action on a stand will stop the aisle traffic and create a crowd.

The final example is from Repose Furniture. The company has used the ‘selfie’ as the basis of a promotion for a couple of years after introducing Sid the pen. This time they decided to go further with a clever ‘selfie mirror’. It created a fun element on the stand and plenty of visitors took time out to get involved.

Lisa Wardley of Repose explained that, when the company decided to exhibit at the OT for the first year, they wanted to were looking to use something attractive for the OTs. “We wanted something that the OTs could take away, give us a talking point at the event and make them stop and engage with us.”

“The Selfie Sid Pen was born, with us engaging with the OTs by asking them to take a picture with their Selfie Sid pens in various locations and posting on Facebook as part of a competition.”

“From there we thought why not use the unique Selfie Mirror on the stand. This went down a treat and we had OTs queuing on the stand. They had copies of their Selfies on the day to take back to the office with our company information which will hopefully stay on the office with a talking point and memory of us!”

“It definitely gave the OTs something to talk about and remember us by, and gave us additional time engaging with them on all aspects of seating. Totally successful!”

Putting an effective promotion together to use at an event doesn’t have to take a great deal of time or a great deal of money. However, it does take some planning and it isn’t something that you can just put together a day or two before you are in front of your audience.

It’s not cheap to buy space at exhibitions and so you need to use very trick you can to make sure that you are going to make it work for you. Having something on the stand that sets you apart and gets people to give you a second look is one of the ways in which you can be more confident of spending your time wisely.