Category Archive: The Sense of a Business

 My Platform Speaking Professor at Texas was sloppily dressed but knew what he was talking about….

In listening to my professor, I learned that my hopes of being a Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy did not follow my rendition(s) in high school of yelling “Friends, Romans, Countrymen….lend me your ears!”

Standing there before us, pipe in hand, he said:  “no 3 x 5 cards, no memorized speeches, no attempts to be funny (you aren’t good enough to pull that off!)…simply carry on a conversation.”

My friends, you have to learn to “talk to people” if you are going to be successful (if you are not comfortable in front of people . . . take a speaking/communications course or hire a coach). 

Over time, I learned these speaking/presentation skills that I want to share with you:

1.  My name is….there is nothing more personal than someone’s first name.  When in business meetings with people you don’t know, prepare name tags.  You can be high-ended with professionally prepared name tags or you can buy stick-ons, but, remember to use name tags.  It makes it easy for everyone to know someone’s name.  Whenever I hear “Tom”, a little voice inside says “they are talking to me!”

2.  Using someone’s name and following it with eye contact is very personable.  Looking at someone is one of the most effective communication tools one can use (they say that Robert Kennedy could stare a hole through you and, in doing so, he had your undivided attention because you felt that you were the only person he was talking to).  In that speech course, the Professor insisted that we look at each person for seven seconds and then move to the next person…try it some time.

 3.  Talk to them…don’t read to them…don’t lecture them…don’t recite to them.   To come across as “genuine,” first name, eye contact and conversation is what it’s all about.  Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were masters at the “sound bytes.”  A lot said in a few words. 

4.  Make sure that you have been cordial:  Have you asked your audience if they want something to drink?  Do they need time to use the rest room?  Do they need time to be acclimated to the conference room environment?  Are they comfortable with others in the room?  Are the visual aids placed where everyone can see?  Is the lighting adequate? 

5.  Express appreciation for the opportunity to share.  And, then explain what you have to say and why it is important.  Also, present a roadmap (not a handout!) of the conversation that is about to take place:  Everyone always likes to know where they are going and how long it will take to get there.

In summary:

  • Refer to everyone by their name, if appropriate
  • Look them in the eye
  • Talk to them as if they were sitting next to you in a coffee shop
  • Make sure you have acknowledged their needs (including their ability to see/understand your visual aids)
  • Let them know where they are going and how long it will take 

Good luck!

 Mission statements are corny, corny, corny….

Every time I walk into a business office and see a “mission statement” proudly displayed on the wall behind a receptionist’s desk…I listen for the music, the violins and the harps.

I often wonder who wrote it.  Was there collaboration or was it an officer of the company sitting in his office with a legal pad, or, worst, a consultant asking “now, who are you . . . or who do you want people to think you are?”

I would recommend another business view:  “what are you willing to promise and take responsibility for to your customers, prospective customers and your employees?”

I often encourage clients to develop a “Promises Made and Promises  Kept” statement and display it in their sales kits, professional presentations and collateral.  This statement should spell out what one can expect from the company and what they are willing to “put on the line” as promises to their valued relationships.

I recommend that you rely on case studies.   Document your “legacy” with stories.  After all, it’s what you’ve done, not what you say you’ve done, isn’t it?

If you need help developing a meaningful mission statement, I will be glad to collaborate with your key staff, gain feedback from your customers and input from your employees.  You can then develop a promises and accountability statement that truly represents your business and mission.

 “For the love of a dog”….yes, Marketing 101 does work!

Yesterday, I went to Petco to buy dog food .  My income has been down and I decided to talk to a sales assistant about reducing “my investment” in premium priced dog food (for Casey, my dachshund).

Several years ago, I had bought a premium priced dog food during one of their sales promotions; in fact, I bought four bags because they were only $5.00 for each 7.5 pound bag of “premium, holistic, all natural dog food.”  Well, several months later, I went back to Petco, and, sure enough, the same promotion was going on.  So, I bought four more bags; and, then, guess what happened?

The next time I went in to Petco to buy “that dog food that Casey loves” and…whoa…it is now $19.00 for the same bag of “premium, holistic, all natural dog food.”  Well, I bought two bags and so for two years, I have been buying two bags at a time for $19.00 each (instead of $5.00 each).

Yesterday, I went back to Petco (Casey was almost out of dog food) and I asked to speak to a sales assistant.  I admitted that my income was down and I needed to switch to a less expensive dog food.  I told him the brand and he said, “oh, now…do you want to stay in the all natural food category?”  I said, “yes, but I need to find some that is not so expensive.”  Well, we walked around and I finally said, thank you, let me just look.  I could not find any “all natural or almost all natural dog food” for less than $17.00 to $20.00 for a similar size bag. 

I then found the “same brand” was running another promotion….for a 2.5 pound bag and it was only $2.50 a bag…wow.  So, I picked up five bags and was saving $12.00 and Casey was getting her same dog food.  Hurray!  When I got to the cash register, the sales attendant said, “now, you normally buy the chicken and oats, this is trout and oats.”  I said, “you had the chicken and oats” in the location with the promotion for $2.50 a bag.”  He said, “that is true…but the promotion is only for the trout and oats.”

So, I was back to where I was when I entered the store…trying to reduce “my investment in premium priced dog food…”  So, I started walking around the store again.  And, the sales assistant came up and said, “didn’t you say you have a dachshund?” and I nodded my head; and, he then said, “we have some dog specific dog food and you may want to look at it.”  I went over and sure enough, there was a dog food specifically created for dachshunds…”Breed Health Nutrition….Dachshund 28” Teckel 28” (whatever that means).  It shows an illustration of the skeleton of a dachshund and red spots highlighting their back bone and joints (you know, dachshunds are prone to have back problems and a vet gave Casey a steroid shot once because she couldn’t walk without crying).  I read the information and thought, “gee…Casey is nine years old now…and I should do what I can to reduce the risk of her having back problems.”  Well, guess what…this is a 2.5 pound bag for $19.00 (instead of a 7.5 pound bad for $19.00).  I am now considering spending THREE TIMES as much as when I came in.  I put the bag down and started walking away; and, a little voice in my head (my conscience?) said to me, “Tom…you may look back someday and realize that you did not do everything you could to help Casey.”

Guess what I did?  Yep…Marketing 101 does work.

Have a good weekend.

 When I saw his eyes tear up…I knew that I had finally uncovered the defining question.

I was in Houston, meeting with a new client, taking notes on my legal pad.  I looked at him and said,

 “you know, you have been very successful…but let me ask:  “Why haven’t you been more successful?”

He immediately “teared up” and got quiet:  “Tom, I feel like, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get to the next level.”

I now regularly ask that question…and often, the client becomes silent and looks down.  It is almost always the same answer:  “I never got to the next level.”

One client who achieved over forty million dollars in billings, when asked the question, got up, walked over to the window and said, “I got to forty million dollars but I was never invited to the next level of client…it was almost like there was a glass ceiling.”

In my years as a consultant, I feel that there are various reasons for not getting to the next level.  Perhaps, someday, we can go over my list and see if you can identify one (or two) reasons that might apply to you.

 Don’t blame it on the CPA or even the Ritz!

In hindsight, entrepreneurs should hold their accountants and/or CPA’s responsible for poor business advice….

I have often become involved with a small business owner who literally pulls all the money out of his/her company every year end.  The company becomes undercapitalized and if billings slow down or clients slow pay, the company either borrows money from the bank or slow pays their vendors.  Often the financial statements reflect favorable earnings, year after year…but there is no money.

And, I hear, over and over again:  “my cpa told me to pull all the money out so that I wouldn’t have to pay  any taxes.”  I then ask:  “where is the money?” and the answer is “oh, I spent it.”

I agree that reducing one’s tax liability is a prudent business practice, but, at the same time “cash flow” is the single most critical element in a business’s ability to survive.  Many of you know that (already).

Why not “pull the money out” and loan it back to the company?

 “Why did you close your notebook half way through the meeting?”

I had a new client who was very unhappy with his #2 person and wanted to terminate him.  I encouraged him to meet with me and Terry, an HR consultant I knew.  We met two days later at 8:00 (at night) and half way through the meeting, she quit asking questions and closed her notebook.  Here I was, “into it”, still asking a bunch of questions and taking notes.  She finally turned to me and said, “Tom, we have a lot to think about, why don’t we let your client go home…I’m sure he’s tired”.

As we walked down the hall, I said, “Terry…why did you close your notebook half way through the meeting?”  She laughed and said, “well, you didn’t see what I wrote in my notebook, did you?  Would you like to see?”  I said “of course” and she showed me a sheet of paper that had only two words on it and a bunch of circles. The two words were “Yes….but.”

“Tom…he’s not going to do anything.  I’ve learned a long time ago to read “yes….but” and I then know that they are ambivalent, have dissonance and will not make a decision.  They will stay frustrated and they will just keep going until something external happens that forces a decision.”

I learned from that experience.  Once having been retained by a group in Michigan, I felt the strong sense of “yes…but” and called my new client and talked to him about my intuitive feelings related to the “yes…but.”  He got quiet and then admitted that he was so “conflicted” that working together might not lead to any meaningful change in the way he managed his business.”

Ten years later, the Michigan group was “still stuck” and twenty years later, the original story ended unhappily.  The #2 person eventually left and took my client’s business with him.

As a business person making decisions, work through the “yes…but’s” and make a decision!

Maybe I can help.

 “If I were to write only one blog, I would title it “Dark Water”

I pride myself in being a confidante to small business owners, commonly thought of as “entrepreneurs,” some are thought of as dysfunctional!

The intent of my blogs will be to share insight, stories and my real frustrations with dealing with the problems that my clients face, and I face, on an everyday basis.  My clients generally have limited staff and most often limited capital and they struggle to succeed.  I always encourage them to think in terms of reaching the next level (that is why I used climbing a mountain as the theme to my Website).

I encourage them to re-invent themselves, to build a strong middle management staff and drill down to gain more business from their current clients as well as coach them on how to compete for business.  It is very hard to do.

Whenever I become involved with a new client and his/her managment staff, I search for an inner spirit that resonates from their managment style and how they conduct business.  I am sensitive to what I perceive to be the spirit of their company.  What is the underlying philosophy of the owner or the managment group?  Are they even aware of having a spirit?  Day-to-day, are they mindful of a business spirit that emanates a sense of purpose or good business logic?

When my mother passed away, I discovered a little green book (written in the 1920″s), about  3″  x  4″      (which I have now lost).  In the book is one of my favorite parables, a snippet titled “Dark Water”: 

“An older lady walked up to a steamboat captain on the Mississippi river and said,                                “Captain…I just marvel at how you miss all those sand bars…I just don’t know how you do it.”                       The Captain simply replied:  “Ma’am…it’s not that hard…..I just look for dark water.”

What spirit underlies your business practices?  Are you staying in the dark water?