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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

5 Types of Customers

We cannot survive without customers.  So why then have 3 different business owners in the last week told me they wish they could fire some of their customers?  Because there IS such a thing as a bad customer.

In my experience, there are 5 types of customers:

No one breaks into a new account without a Champion. You try multiple ways to get into an account and FINALLY, one day you pique someone's interest and they give you a shot.  THAT is your Champion.  If you do a good job, they pass your name around, introduce you to colleagues and you are in that account. I can pinpoint my Champion at absolutely every major corporation I ever called on, and am still LinkedIn to those people today, whether or not we have worked together in the last 10+ years. Take good care of your Champion.  They'll take you along when they change companies and will be happy to refer you when they hear of anyone that can use your product or service.  Let them know you appreciate them.

For every Champion, there is a User. This is the one who will be very friendly, attend your events, go to lunch, request and accept your samples, ask you for ideas, hand your ideas to your competitor and NEVER buy anything from you. The problem with Users is that it takes a long time to figure out whether they are a real customer and you just haven't hit the right options for them yet, or whether they're a User who will continue taking advantage of you.

Generalizations are dangerous, but I have yet to meet a female poser - in my experience, they are exclusively male. This is a customer that either has an inflated view of his influence, or wants you to THINK he's more influential than he is. He will throw his weight around, demand things of you that either cross the line or are too close to the line for comfort, act like he's in complete charge of your fate but will go completely limp when you need political help later. Like the User, it can take awhile to discern whether the Poser really has the juice he pretends to have; try small tests first to see if he will be able to help when you need him.

Without exception, every time someone tells me they'd like to fire a customer, they are describing a high-maintenance client. This is not a client who simply demands perfection (who doesn't?); this is the client who changes their mind after it's too late, doesn't want to pay for expensive changes, blames you when they don't like the product delivered exactly as ordered, doesn't pay bills on time, insists upon discounts from the agreed-upon price, is late for appointments or cancels at the last minute and generally doesn't respect your time. These are very expensive clients; the minute you can fire one of these - do it and don't look back.

Thankfully, the majority of customers! These are people who expect great things from you, know that you'll deliver as promised (or more than promised), trust you to meet deadlines, look forward to great ideas and especially, expect you to solve their problems. If you are a good supplier, they will reward you with their business.  This is the basis for most B2B relationships, and the lifeblood of most businesses. You trust each other and many of these clients become friends.

Most of my clients were in Sales and Marketing, so they had their share of experience with Users, Posers and High Maintenance clients in their own businesses as well. Hopefully exposure to these people make us all better customers.

Thank you to my Champions and the many Valued Clients that I've enjoyed working with over the years!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hospice is not a Death Sentence

I'm taking a little departure from the promised subject matter...  In the last few weeks I've encountered too many family and friends for whom this is relevant.  (Although care for elderly parents or relatives DOES usually fall to "girls", to pretend that this post relates to business tips is a stretch. Whatever - it's my blog!)

As many of you know, I have served on the board of the local non-profit Angela Hospice for the past 5 years.  During that time, I've learned enough to be dangerous, and certainly enough to know that there is a great need for education about what hospice is...and what it isn't.

Most people are terrified of the word "hospice".  To many it means "the end" and "giving up" - this couldn't be farther from the truth.  Entering hospice care does not change your diagnosis or shorten your life expectancy in any way.  It's true that you must have a terminal diagnosis to qualify for hospice care, but experience shows that those who go into hospice care actually live longer than those with similar diagnoses who don't - and there's no question that the quality of life is better.

When a "terminal" diagnosis is given, it often means that the condition is no longer treatable - or it is treatable but not "curable".  Doctors necessarily prescribe treatments that will prolong life: they have taken an oath to extend life by any means necessary.  "Any means necessary" is just not always pleasant or even effective for the patient.  When patients decide to refuse treatment or try alternative therapies, families and friends get nervous.  Many people believe that refusing treatment means giving up. On the contrary - it simply means that the patient is taking control of the situation and is deciding to live out the time s/he has left on her/his own terms. That's exactly the opportunity that hospice provides.

Hospice is for those who necessarily have a terminal illness, but either have a condition that is not treatable, or they have decided that they do not want to endure further treatement.  They want to live the remainder of their life as pain-free as possible, at the highest quality possible.  They are deciding to proactively manage the last phase of their lives.  Hospice makes no attempt to prolong life or hasten death:  it simply enables patients to live as comfortably as possible, surrounded by the ones they love.

Once a person starts working with the hospice team, they frequently relax and set about putting their lives in order - physically, emotionally and often spiritually.  There is a peace associated with this that may very well contribute to a longer life.

A hospice team can include a physician, social worker, nurse and nurse practicioner, therapists and spiritual care providers as well as volunteers.  The hospice team can provide extensive resources for the family in addition to caring for the patient.  Bereavement counseling for the entire family is also available (Angela Hospice goes above and beyond in offering a variety of counseling services, memorials and workshops, provided at no charge to anyone in the community even if you have never used their hospice services).

The #1 comment of family members who have experienced hospice is, "I wish we had done this sooner".  There is no obligation or commitment implied by meeting with someone to ask questions and learn more about hospice care.  In the unfortunate event that you have a loved one who receives a terminal diagnosis, I can't urge you strongly enough to contact a local hospice and find out about all of the resources they offer - sooner rather than later.

Finally:  click on this link and buy this book today:  Being Mortal: - Medicine and What Matters in The End, by Atul Gawande.  This is an interesting look into the mindset of physicians and why so many are uncomfortable with the end-of-life decisions that their patients must make.  It's also a wake-up call for any of us who mistakenly assume that the way we would choose to treat a terminal illness or live out the rest of our days is what others would choose.

A terminal illness is usually accompanied by a free-for-all of emotions and unresolved issues all around.  Hospice teams are prepared for this, experienced in working families through it and can provide a world of comfort and clarity. 

Commercial over!  Next month, back to snarky business tips.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Girl Groups

Every time my Posse meets, I am inspired with new material.  Yesterday we met for one of our every-other-month lunches and, as usual, did our "check in" (what we are doing, what projects we're working on, business or personal news) and then, as is also becoming usual, a digression into topics around staying healthy.  (Although I'm one of the oldest in the group, after a lengthy discussion of enzymes, Silver Water, vitamins, GMO's, organic food and cleanses, I commented that I needed to find a younger group of friends...).  I don't pretend to comprehend everything that they're talking about, but I'm thrilled that I have Posse sisters who research alternative therapies and preventative protocols and are proactively sharing this knowledge with others.

We also discussed a number of other revelations.  The oldest of us (in the back half of our 50's), are feeling an unexpected freedom. 
  • Freedom to change careers and focus on work that makes us happy (whether that work is profitable or not!)
  • Freedom to really clean out that closet:  give up the formal business clothes that aren't likely to be worn again, get rid of anything that doesn't bring us joy when we wear it
  • Freedom to see the people that we want to see and feel no guilt when we decline an invitation. (A favorite old TV line that I think came from Phoebe on Friends is: "I would, but I don't want to".)
  • Freedom from judgment.  Not that we're not being judged...just that we don't care.  This means freedom to have those injections or cosmetic surgery if it makes us happy - but just as free to let our hair go gray, go off the diet and accept who we've become.
Although we're not wearing Red Hats yet, we can see the benefit of such an organization.  A group of older women who are unabashadly enjoying each other and experiencing new things while playing a grown-up version of Dress Up.  Why the hell not?

A few of my Posse sisters are still fully embroiled in their first businesses.   For them, the revelation was more business related:  we feel sorry for men who don't have an equivalent of the Girl Group.  Groups like the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), Center for Empowerment & Economic Development (CEED), Women President's Organization (WPO), Enterprising Women, The Woman's Advantage and similar groups are all places that women share experiences and expertise, ask and give advice in a safe environment.  Most of us have firm support from our husbands, families and friends, but there is no substitute for someone who is exactly in your situation:  feeling the pressures of running the company, feeling responsible for employees, trying to do your best in your work and personal or family life.  Girl Groups do not have to be formal organizations; it's perfectly acceptable to form your own.

Of course, there are some men that are comfortable sharing, and there are a number of general business organizations that are also very valuable like Entrepreneur's Organization (EO), Chambers of Commerce and industry associations. Our biased observation is that men just don't share like women do.  For whatever reason (let's don't try to speculate...), many men still hesitate to ask for directions.

So.  If you are not yet in your 50's, take heart!  You may mourn for your previous body, jawline or metabolism, but you're about to experience an invigorating freedom.  And if you are a female and do not have a Girl Group - go find (or form) one now!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Customers with Balls

If you are in sales or just about any other kind of business for any length of time, chances are good that you have some excellent examples of customers with more gall than the average bear. 

Full disclosure: a couple of stories are mine; a couple are from colleagues. Two are from the 70's/80's before corporations had rules against this stuff (the 70's and 80's are THE REASON those rules were established....).  You'll be able to tell which took place "back then" right away.

Sales to automotive companies and other major corporations in the Good Old Days was challenging, and few ethical lines were drawn.  I was fortunate enough to learn from a great boss who occasionally (grudgingly) crossed the line into his own gray area, but never considered doing anything remotely illegal or unethical.  The stories here are not about suppliers who offer "consideration", but about customers who demand it. You'll see that even without breaking laws, that gray area can be mighty wide:

  • Supplier calls to invite Customer to lunch.  Customer requests lunch at a topless bar, followed by an afternoon of adult movie entertainment.  (This was the 70's when many Gentlemen's Clubs had regular lunch specials and alcohol at lunch was expected.  Because he's now deceased, I will reveal that this was my old boss who was most often described as a "gentleman".  He obliged this customer but said that there is nothing that makes you feel sleazier than exiting an adult movie theatre into the bright sunshine at 2 in the afternoon...).

  • Customer is one of many contacts within a corporation that Supplier calls on.  Customer A is pleasant and sets meetings, but takes Supplier's ideas and buys them from Crony B.  Years later, Customer A is "downsized" and contacts Supplier to "catch up".  Customer A acts like they were Supplier's best customer and actually says the words, "I always enjoyed working with you".  Not how Supplier remembers it.

  • Customer and Supplier are in Las Vegas at a trade show; it's expected that the supplier will pay for any entertainment that is enjoyed in the evening.  This particular customer requested a limo, a table and bottle service for their group at a current hot spot (this means that greasing the door man will be required).  Expected customer entertainment; nothing strange here until the customer requested a hooker (or cash to procure a hooker).  Gray area breached.

  • Supplier quotes Customer a price on a project based on the required specs.  Supplier and Customer go back and forth for many days where the Customer asks the same question in a variety of ways: Customer wants all of the required elements but for half the quoted price.  Supplier politely declines the project (several times).  A couple of weeks later, Customer contacts Supplier and reiterates how impressed they were with Supplier, but cannot afford them at this time.  Would Supplier please answer the following questions and help Customer to craft the project contract with the supplier that they chose?  Seriously.

  • Customer calls Supplier for help with Christmas Gift for his wife (frequently purchased merchandise for customers at corporate/wholesale pricing; regular perk of business relationship) - and help with Christmas gift for his mistress?
Not nearly as provocative as the Kwame saga that we've experienced here in Detroit, but still noteworthy.  So what to do when you get these types of requests?  I'm happy to report that 3-martini lunches at strip clubs are not common practice anymore.  I'd like to think that the proliferation of women into the workforce is partly responsible for this. 

Everyone finds their own tolerance for gray area.  Consensus seems to be:  strip club/maybe, hooker/no, connecting bad customer with someone on LinkedIn/probably (why hold grudges?), helping a non-customer to write their contract with another supplier/I don't think so. Christmas gift for wife & mistress/send 2 things to Customer and let him sort it out.

I've heard MANY other stories over the years and would love to hear yours! Comment here or send me a private email and I'll include your story in Customers with Balls Part 2!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Not Marriage Advice (a non-business-related post)

Our first-born son gets married next week (12-13-14).  While I don't think anyone is qualified to give marriage advice, there are some observations that those married for many years have made that can be helpful.  (And there's no danger that my son will regard this as unsolicited advice since he never reads my blog....).  Readers, please feel free to add your own observations through the comments!

Why make your own mistakes if you can learn from other's cautionary tales?  These tips are offered by those who have been married over 25 years and still appear to like each other!:
  • Go ahead and go to bed angry.  Most do not subscribe to the never-go-to-bed-angry theory. Arguing late into the night when you're both tired and annoyed does not provide a good outcome.  Sleep on it, hit it fresh the next day when you've both had time to calm down. Better yet, schedule a time to discuss the subject when you are free from distractions.
  • Be as nice to each other as you are to your friends.  When our kids were little, we noticed that they often saved their worst behavior for us.  Babysitters and Grandparents would report that they were polite and played well together; it was like someone switched children in the car on the way home.  Before you neglect to say "please" and "thank you" to a spouse, think about how you would speak to one of your friends.  It's okay to be on your best behavior at home.
  • Honesty is overrated.  Your spouse doesn't need to know every thought in your head.  Before you over-share or give an honest response to a no-win question, think about whether it will help or hurt the relationship.  (Example, "does this dress make my butt look big?"....)
  • Learn to fight constructively.  Many studies have found that couples who fight well have happier marriages. There are healthy alternatives to screaming, guilt and the Silent Treatment.
  • Think before you speak.  Take a breath before you say something you can't take back.  You can't un-hear things.
  • Being/staying in love is a decision.  The heart wants what the heart wants; we can't control who we love:  many call bullshit on this.  Studies have shown that there are scientific reasons why we love who we love.  While there are no definitive answers as to whether being in love is a decision rather than a compulsion, we can certainly choose to behave lovingly toward our spouse.  Choose to focus on the positive rather than the negative.
  • You can't change anyone.  The same things that piss you off while you're dating will piss you off 30 years later.  Make sure these things are not deal breakers.
Marriage is not for amateurs.  People often debate whether marriage is work, whether marriage shouldn't feel like work and what makes a marriage work or not work.  There does not appear to be a magic bullet. Every year will not be a great year - the secret seems to be in knowing how to course-correct or how long to wait for things get better. One of my favorite quotes about perseverance is, "Winners never quit and quitters never win...but those who never win AND never quit are idiots".  Even those who are amicably divorced describe it as the worst thing they ever experienced.  How do you decide whether you should stick with it?  The truth is that there are some couples that really shouldn't stay married. Above all, it's abundantly clear that no one can know what's going on in anyone else's there's no way to judge, even if you're so inclined.

I believe that our son and his fiancĂ© are well-suited to each other and wish them a lifetime of happiness - even while knowing that every moment will not be bliss.  In that case, I wish them a version of serenity:  patience to accept the things that they'll find out they cannot change about each other, courage to change what they can change in their own behavior or situation and wisdom to always give each other the benefit of the doubt - and to know that their families love them very much and are here to support them (emotionally, not financially.  Let's not get crazy.)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

More Advantages to being in your 50's

I'm just kidding, there's absolutely NO advantage to being in your 50's (well, I guess if you count being happy that you're not yet in your 60's....maybe).

The reality is that I AM in my 50's, as are many of my friends.  I am noticing a trend and some of us are actually having more fun than ever:

  • The Manufacturing Company Owner who sold the company, sort-of still works on commission, but on her own schedule and is basically retired.  She doesn't want to "do" anything - is happy to keep the house, visit with friends and pursue hobbies.

  • The Charter School owner who has also sold the company, kept some real estate interests but is avidly involved in Spiritual pursuits, writing a book with her husband and a lot of other stuff I don't really understand - but she's enjoying life!

  • The Banker who spent 30+ years in Commercial Lending who can now work part-time as a VP for a much smaller bank, and has time to spend on non-profit boards to share some of what she's learned, take care of aging parents (not so much fun), and spend time with grandchildren (FUN!).

  • The ex-Automotive Company Employee who jumped out of the cubicle and into the massage/health/wellness business, trying a lot of different things until she decides on a clear direction.

  • And then there's me:  sold the promotional marketing company so I'm no longer calling on major corporations.  Now I can finally spent time writing (blog posts, social media posts, website copy, eNewsletters for myself and others, etc.).  I'm in a position to help small-medium-size businesses, take projects that I like, work with people that I like, and still get my "business challenge" fix serving on non-profit boards.

The common denominator is not just that we're old, that our kids are off the payroll or that we've got a lot of room in our homes for offices:  the key is MONEY.  You need to save your money while you're making it (or sell your company for a lot more than I did...or send your kids to Community College instead of expensive private schools...but I digress).  Only when you've got money in the bank or are willing to drastically simplify your lifestyle (or had the forethought to earn passive income from other investments) can you afford to do something that you love that may not pay as well.  If you are lucky enough to do something you love in your next career that DOES make a ton of money - bravo for you!

There's another phenomenon among 50-something women:  higher divorce rates.  As kids are grown and living elsewhere, women are re-examining their lives and in increasing numbers, shedding those guys that won't get off the couch (you know who you are!)  The divorce rate is also rising as the economy improves and people can afford divorce again (one more reason to save your money, perhaps in a secret bank account somewhere....)

I'm tired of the Reinvention word, but that's exactly what it is.  This is a time where we can look at our lives, evaluate what we have (or haven't) accomplished and set new goals while we still have productive years left.

Finally:  eat better and reduce stress where ever you can so that you don't have to spend all that money you saved on health care or nursing homes.  Have more fun!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Do you Speak "Corporate"?

True or False?:  Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.

SO False!  Words can hurt feelings, start wars, motivate and inspire - words can actually heal.  And, in the corporate world, words can either win or lose you business.

In many writing and communication classes in the academic world, we're told to write the way we would speak – to use simple words to clearly convey our message.  In the real business world, if we don’t use the expected jargon and buzz phrases, we may not win the bid or be awarded the project.  Words matter here on a financial level.

Here’s another one: If you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance…baffle ‘em with bullshit.  This one is true.  Welcome to Bullshit 101.

Over 25 years as a supplier to major corporations has shown me that corporate clients insist on being baffled, and also spend a fair amount of energy baffling each other. The cynical side of me believes that if they can immediately decipher your message, they may feel that you don't grasp the scope of the project, or may not have the level of experience they require. 

For instance, the key to global growth is to efficiently operationalize client-centric solutions and monetize our assets.  Our brand trajectory is based on proven methodology holistically developed with a strong commitment to quality and world-class customer service.  When we're aligned with our core values we are positioned for exponential gains which will advance our market share and grow our business infrastructure.  By visualizing experiential opportunities for our customer base, we create initiatives that achieve synergy with the next generation of cross-platform innovations.  When management philosophy addresses mission-critical deliverables, we're able to diversify and capitalize our reputation.  The metrics will show that we can gain traction by incentivizing our sales organization to achieve viability and realize the seamless integration that will make our day-to-day operations robust and scalable.  Networking, crafting a clear brand identity and bringing a strong corporate culture to the table will take us to the next level, incorporating the necessary paradigm shift.  The bottom line is that, at the end of the day, we need to leverage our core competencies to think outside the box and reimagine our value proposition.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt (or help) me? I call bullshit. 

Words matter:  use yours responsibly!