Archive for the ‘Owning your own business’ Category
Over the past several months, I have written a couple of articles talking about drilling down into your customer data. No matter what tool you are using (and I hope you are using something), keeping track of daily interactions with your customers is crucial to knowing what they need, what they are asking for, and what is trending in your world. It allows you to be nimble and responsive if there is a sudden downturn in the economy. This is an election year – we always see businesses put projects on hold while they wait to see what is going to happen in November. Factor into that an already shaky economy and you start seeing drops in sales.
You can try to stay ahead of this downturn by looking back at data and finding opportunities. We get caught up in the day to day minutia and cannot see the forest for the trees. It is important for you, as a business person, to step back and look at your customer base from 50,000 feet. That is where data analysis can help.
You can either do this yourself, with some tips on what to look for or you can find a CRM Analyst. I have not used that term in any of my blogs, but more and more that is what we are becoming. We do tend to focus on one product, SAGE ACT, but what we do works for any application used to keep track of customer interactions. In fact, I just spent a few days building a really slick Excel “reporting engine” for lack of a better term. It goes out and pulls in data from ACT into Excel where pivot tables allow the end user to slice and dice the data any way they like. Pivot tables can show interesting things very quickly. It’s that 50,000 foot syndrome. Instead of looking at a single contact record, you can now look at it from a higher level. You can do year to year comparisons. You can quickly spot trends or notice areas where you are missing contacts. I call this mining for data gems.
Examples of trends and things to watch for are:
Finding customers likely to buy again – have they bought in the last 2 years?
Which customers generated the most closed sales?
Why were opportunties lost? Is it a trend in price, quality, competition?
Which customers have not been contacted in 6 months?
Do you have customers who have reached a certain dollar level?
Do you sell more in certain months? If so, what can be done for the lower months?
Which customers have not been contacted in 6 months?
Do you have customers who have reached a certain dollar level?
Recently we are helping customers set up drip marketing campaigns. Those are important but equally important is going back and analyzing the results of the campaigns. Were some more effective than others? If so, why? Was it the right subject matter? Did the subject line entice them enough to open the email? That’s why we love using the eMarketing aspect in Sage ACT – it will tell us open rates, and even how often they opened the emails. That’s very telling all by itself. They were interested enough to open the email more than once. But you need to be able to see that quickly so you can react quickly. It’s all about looking for the data
Data analysis is an ongoing effort. You don’t do this once and stop. The economy changes, peoples requirements shift and in the technology space, it’s a rapidly moving target. Constant review is necessary to ensure you are ahead of a downward trend.
CRM Analysis doesn’t have to be rocket science. For example, using Excel is a very good and inexpensive way to find data gems. You will either need to spend a little money with a CRM analyst to set this up for you or take a stab at it yourself. Everybody has that “Excel” or numbers guru in their organization. You know who they are. And YOU know your business, so you will work with the Analyst to advise them of what you sell, and where you want to be. The Analyst will know how to go look for the data based on your requirements. If they are really good, they will have ideas of their own and recommendations and approaches on looking for data trends that you may not have even thought of.
As we do more and more of this type of work, I am realizing it’s not just ACT that is the driver. It’s the data. It’s the interactions with the customer and how to turn that into increased revenue. I want Patricia Egen Consulting to become known as people to trust for doing data analysis. We really like watching companies succeed by doing simple things like watching their data and reacting correctly. Stay tuned for more articles on how to find data gems.
I’ve had an iPad since Christmas and have been going thru growing pains and plugging my way thru figuring out what I like/don’t like and thought I’d share some things I’ve learned along the way.
Recently I upgraded my iPad (version 1 – no 3G) to IOS 5 and found the multi-tasking feature. You grab the screen with all fingers and slide up. Presto – you have a multi-tasking bar where you can switch around to other programs running or close them. Ok, that’s cool.
I was typing an email and accidentally hit the space bar twice and up shows a period and my sentence ended. Not exactly what I wanted, but cool enough to make me go, hm, ok, that’s cool.
Reading books on my iPad has become one of my favorite things to do (other than the Angry Birds game – “hi, I’m Pat, and I play Angry Birds.”). When I hit the screen to move a page sometimes I hit too long and the circle comes up. So that led me to find out what that meant and it’s to copy text. Or go even further and look up the meaning of the word. That sort of takes reading to another whole level. Can you imagine what it would have been like when you read a book in school – you clicked on a word – and a dictionary popped up. Besides jumping clear across the room from fright, you have to admit it would have been pretty cool.
Delving even further, tapping and holding a key on the keyboard brought up other ways the key can be represented. That was cool.
Tapping and holding an icon make it start shaking and wiggling. I finally figured out that it meant I could move things around. What I do is move things down to the bottom so I can then slide over a page and move the item to that page. I’m sure there is a better way, but for now that works for me.
Coming soon to my postal mailbox is an adapter for VGA that I will use with KeyNote. I can take my Powerpoint presentations, and put them into Keynote, then using my new adapter, plus into an overhead projector, and show my presentation. Like how cool is that.
Finally, and this is what really brought this device home to me, I was attending a conference in July. I had the Instant Messenger app, Twitter, Facebook, my Gmail into the email and my Keynote app. A message would pop up when one of my staff sent me an IM. A box would also pop up if a Facebook or Twitter message came in, I could move over and read my emails on the mail app, and then type up notes in the Notes app. I could upload the notes into Dropbox so the rest of my staff could read them later. Using Safari, I went online to Sage ACT Connect to look at my ACT details – I’m liking that more and more. Oh, and I could play Angry Birds if I got bored. With a device that weighed a lot less than my laptop. And used a lot less battery. And was cool.
Ok, I’m hooked. Now, I just need to go find out what other apps I need to download from the Apple store. All this from a died in the wool PC-holic. My friends at Apple must be laughing their hearts out.
Moral of the story…iPad’s can really make a difference in a business person’s life. Don’t discredit them. Tablets are here to stay.
I travel a lot and recently had a horrible travel adventure. Weather can make life miserable and interesting but I totally understand that. The adventure I had, though, wasn’t caused by weather but rather by a series of unfortunate events. Or more bluntly, bad management.
On a trip back from South Dakota, I had three flights. Flight to Minneapolis, no problem. Flight to Atlanta, no problem. In Atlanta, things fell apart. First we were told nothing. Then we were told the flight was delayed due to maintenance. Ok. They failed to mention it was the incoming flight. Around this time, several people (like around 40 or so) showed up at our gate because their flight was now delayed many more hours than ours – again for maintenance issues. We all sat and waited and waited and then a gate agent says “go to the customer service desk this flight has been cancelled due to lack of crew.” Now, there were 100 people or so shuffling off to a counter, at the end of a very long day (by this time we’d been waiting 6 hours).
The customer service desk was an exercise in futility and frustration. It rapidly became apparent there were no more seats to be had. After the first 30 people, The reps were basically saying “you are on your own.” They all cornered themselves and slowly started disappearing. The line wasn’t getting shorter but the number of reps was. Dinnertime appeared to be the solution to the problem. It’s like the all said “We’ll just leave and someone else will figure it out.”
The rep I got told me to call the Super shuttle equivalent and then have them call to get a reimbursement. Ok. No dinner voucher was offered and this was not a weather delay so they should have offered it. Ok, I can handle that. Off I went to call Groome Transport (the Shuttle) and was told by the very nice rep that they weren’t allowed to call Delta. It was Delta’s responsibility to give me a travel voucher.
Grr. Ok. So, since the shuttle wasn’t coming for an hour, I got back and line, marched back up to the remaining rep who happened to be the one who gave me incorrect information which as it turns out was the easier one. I didn’t even give her a chance to argue with me – I simply stated I wanted a travel voucher, thank you mam. And I got one. But why did I have to stand in line twice for over 30 minutes when it could have been handled correctly the first time?
Why did it take the gate agent so long to tell us what they knew 30 minutes before – that we were doomed to not get out of town that day. And why did they let crew lapse? Why, for the last three series of flights has there been maintenance issues? Is this company in trouble?
And that made me think this would be a good blog article about how to kill customer allegiance with bad customer support. I am not sure I trust Delta anymore. This is happening so often that I question whether they are a safe airline to fly. Writing letters doesn’t do anything. It used to help. I’ve gotten free travel vouchers because of particularly bad flight situations. Those days are gone. It’s like Delta and it’s staff no longer care. But they should. They are not the only game in town. Are they getting complacent and believing they are? Is this a mistake a company can make – thinking they are the best or the only game in town therefore they don’t have to have the best support?
The business world is one of supply and demand. I don’t want to switch to another carrier. My airport is a limited market. But nothing stops me from driving or taking a shuttle to Atlanta where there are numerous other choices. Is that the move I make? Do I say no thanks to Delta even though I’m close to a million miles of flight time? Would they even miss me?
Even if you have the very best product if your customer support stinks, people will leave. They won’t buy your product. They want to know they are valuable to you as a customer even after they have spent their money.
The lesson here is don’t forget about the customer. Companies need to ask “what is the price of bad customer support.” People expect their issues to be dealt with quickly – at least my customers do. Our customers are more than willing to take their business elsewhere if they are unhappy with the service being provided.
I read somewhere and darn if I can remember where, that the average cost of a lost business relationship is $289 per year. If the 100 people on this plane are any indication, Delta lost $28,900 during that one day. That’s hemorrhaging money. Granted, $289 doesn’t sound like much, but that’s an average. For some companies, it’s more. I don’t know about you but I don’t like losing business. At all.
It’s sad what happened to me because I’ve had really good customer support from Delta in other locations. The Atlanta airport is just not one of those places. And it’s been happening much more frequently. It is very obvious the support personnel don’t care. They have upset people’s days and possibly lives because of their lack of caring. Delta needs to be careful or they can end up in the same situation they were in a few years ago – only this time it won’t be caused by the energy crisis – it will be public apathy.
I sent out a tweet the other day while I sat watching a squirrel aim/jump/miss/drop/repeat trying to get to my bird feeder. It was comical to see this creature’s tenacity. It just kept on trying but making the same mistake, over and over again. A friend tweeted back and said ” I think that squirrel might inspire a blog article. Something about making the same biz mistakes over and over again. hm.” She was right. And here’s my blog article in response.
First off, my inner soul likes to think there are no mistakes. Rather, I like to think of them as taking a wrong road, and then finding a better one. That’s what they said in Jonathan Living Seagull. Richard Bach wrote “There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go.” Sound squishy, feely good? Yep.
Ok, now for a reality check. We do indeed make mistakes. Lots of them. It’s how we respond to them and move forward and grow that makes us better business owners.
Thinking about some of the mistakes I’ve made, I came up with five that I keep making all the time. Some of them I’m getting better at and fixing them so they don’t happen again. Your list might be different. Here’s mine.
1. Forgetting what you do best. Gosh, if I had a nickle for how many times I’ve made this mistake, I’d be quite rich. Times get tough, you figure you need to try something new to bring in new dollars. Poof, next thing you know you’re out in left field where you have no business being. You’ve forgotten what you do best. Regroup. Pick up the pieces and go back where you belong – doing what you know best. Ah, but can you recover fast enough?
2. Going after new and leaving current customers in the dust – this ties to what I said in point one. The economy was pretty tough last year. Many of us were scrounging around trying to get new customers and in the process, letting our existing customers languish forgotten by the wayside. Did we even call them to see how they were doing? Did we find out if there was something we could do to help them survive the crisis? Nope. Well, I fixed that and I’m doing exactly that. I work with ACT and ACT keeps track of customers. Right? So, why would I as a company want to go after new business, which costs more money, when, in fact, I should be going after my existing customer base. The right thing is to go back and look at who I haven’t talked to in several months and drop them a line, or make a call, or send a quick “how are you – hope all is well” note. This is what I’m helping my customers figure out – how to go mine the data in their ACT databases and find the people who have been forgotten and get back in touch.
3. Not learning from our mistakes and taking corrective actions – you would think this would be obvious, right? Wrong. We all come up with rationales as to why things didn’t work. Wrong time to roll out a product. Wrong time to hire new people. Economy was in the toilet. We didn’t put enough thought into the idea. You get the drift. If you find out you are going down the wrong path can you be nimble enough to stop the flow and move in the right direction? Can you even determine you are making a mistake before it’s too late? Boy, that’s a tough one. When you figure it out will you let me know?
4. Knowing when to say no – this again ties into number 1 and 2 in this list. Times are tough. Phones are not ringing. Call comes in about a project that you know in your heart of hearts you shouldn’t take on – but you say yes. You need the money. You need the work. You don’t want to say no. Sometimes, to make sure you stay alive and kicking as a business, you do indeed have to say no. No to the new process re-engineering effort. No to hiring a new person. No to changing the business model. No to the new client with unrealistic expectations. No to new work until you can manage what you already have on your plate. This one to me is probably the hardest mistake to handle, especially as a business owner.
5. Hiring the wrong people – been there done that. Fixed it when I hired my super star girl Friday who quickly became our top Level One support person and who rightfully should be promoted to Sr. Consultant. She keeps me on the straight and narrow. But, before her, I made one of the cardinal mistakes in business – I hired family. Not only once, but I did it twice. Bad mistake. The other mistake is hiring people who are looking for a step on their ladder to success – which will be somewhere else. Loyalty is something hard to find in people anymore. However, if you don’t make them feel that they are needed and trusted, why would they want to stay and be a loyal employee. So, in this case, you may have hired the right person, but didn’t give them the feedback they needed and it turned them into the wrong person. This whole number 5 could be a blog article all by itself. But I think you get the picture.
In summary, we will all make mistakes. Often, and many times the same one more than once. Our only hope is that we fall down, pick ourselves up, dust off our pants/skirts, and move on knowing that for sure, we won’t make that mistake again. Or if we do, we’ll be able to recover quickly. We hope.
Today I’m writing a blog entry that’s a departure from topics I normally write about. A while ago I wrote an article for a newsletter and I called it “Black holes and Boomerangs.” The article was about managing projects.
All of us at some point have either managed people or projects or have been the recipients of project assignments. And, we’ve all witnessed projects that fail or are delayed for a variety of reasons. What I’m going to talk about today are two types that can really be time drains or hurt a company.
Let me first explain what I mean by the title. We’ll start with Boomerangs. These are the projects that start out fine. For example, you give someone a project, you give them what you feel is enough information to manage the project, and two weeks later, the project ends up back on your desk, unfinished. Reasons for this are often “I couldn’t figure out what you wanted” or “I couldn’t make this work” or “I can’t do this project.” Two weeks have passed and you are no further along and you end up having to do the work or spend time figuring out what you need to do in order for the other person to handle the project. I’ll talk more about this a bit later.
On to Black holes. These are my least favorite of the two – if favorite is a proper word for this. Black hole projects are just what they sound like. These are projects or tasks that go out into a blackhole and are never heard from again. Ever. They are not completed. You hear no status reports. Nothing. Nada. Typically, a weekly status report or a staff meeting can handle this but in a busy office, there may not be time for those. So, these projects fall off the radar scope until you get irate phone calls from clients. Sigh.
So, how do you handle these black holes and boomerangs. Carefully. In some cases, depending on the person, I’ve discovered there is no solution. Well, there is one – you don’t assign projects to those people. But, to me, that’s giving in. My mission is to get the work done. And, I want that person to succeed as well. If that happens, it’s a win for everyone, and it’s especially gratifying to me to see this happen.
Here’s some tips I’ve uncovered over the course of trying to solve these project pitfalls.
Does the person who has been given the task have all the details they need. Do they have the authority to do what they need to do without coming back to you to ask questions. In particular, if something else comes up, can that person judge which project to work on first. Balancing workloads can be easy for some, but not for others. Some people simply cannot multi-task. When they discover they are behind one solution is to return the project saying they can’t work on it. If you know you have someone who falls into this category, then the right thing to do is only assign projects to them when you know they can devote time to the project. This may be tough in a small office, but it beats having the project languish and then reappear in two weeks no further along then when you started. This same person can often be guilty of the blackhole syndrome. It’s easier to just let it sit on the pile then say something. Hopefully, nobody will notice it’s not done and it will go away all by itself.
Another reason tasks go astray is because of not setting expectations. Does everyone understand the project and is everyone aware of the deadline? Did you actually say “this needs to be done by this date?” Projects with no deadline or priority end up being just that – low priority. If they have no deadline, it means “oh, I can work on this later” and no priority means “oh, this is not that important and I can wait a bit.” However, if a project is assigned, there has to be some kind of deadline or it didn’t need to be done at all. The message here is don’t assume anything. Make sure everyone involved is aware of the due dates and assign some level of priority to the project so you can then do load balancing of the work. I have a saying here – if it makes us money it comes first. That’s an over-generalization but it’s a start. We all get sucked into time draining wormholes like email, newsgroups, research, internet sites, and the list goes on. Now add Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin to the equation and you can see where it gets tough to balance your workschedule.
If you don’t have time for staff meetings, then put a reminder in your tickler file, calendar application or CRM system like ACT to ask about a project task. If you have a deadline set for 2 weeks, then have the reminder show up two or three days before the deadline. Send a quick email or IM and ask “how’s it going.” The trick here is to do what makes sense for you. If you are always in email, send yourself and the project owner an email asking for an update. Warning – this may become another black hole but at least you’re keeping on top of things. If you prefer instant messaging, send an IM. Do whatever you need to so that something pops up in your face saying “check on me.”
Bottom line – there will always be reasons projects and tasks don’t get completed. Do what you can to provide as much detail as possible to ensure you get the results you want. And make sure you ask – don’t get caught up in day to day minutia. Take the time to followup so things don’t go bump in the night or get so far gone as to be unrecoverable.
Ok, yes, I know I’m tardy again in posting to the blog. We’re busy, ergo my tardiness. That’s goodness I know. But keeping track of emails, of which I receive over 50 an hour – yes, 50 – keeping track of updates to my CRM software, answering phones, meeting clients, and then, on a whim, taking time to sleep takes up my day. Oh, and I forgot Instant Messages and reading online blogs and newsgroups. Sigh. So, the last thing I need is one more thing to do. Enter the topic of today’s blog. Twitter.
Yesterday, I attended a great session put on Julie Bestry, one of the members in my Women Business Owners group. She’s a Twitter-holic by choice and a professional organizer by necessity and to pay the bills. She’s very focused and goes to great lengths to make sure she is frugal with her time. So, it surprised me that she became so addicted to Twitter. The purpose of her presentation was to enlighten the rest of us on how to use the tool and the benefits. If you are on Twitter, her Twitter name is ProfOrganizer.
It is becoming more and more apparent that we live in a virtual world. Social networking is now an important part of our daily business and personal lives. Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instant Messaging, Texting on our phones, all are evidence of this growing phenomena. We won’t go into Second Life because that simply blows my mind.
As I watched Julie go through her demo I was at first stressed out by the fact this would become a “yet another thing to do” task to add to my already stressed out and busy day. And indeed it will. But I started to realize the value when she told us of how it had helped her in her life and her business.
The concept is simple. You get a Twitter id. You find people with whom you wish to “twitter”. You add them to your trusted network similar to LinkedIn and Facebook. You then post items to either your trusted network or to the entire Twitter world. In the Twitter nomenclature, these are called “tweets.” You are limited to 140 characters with the idea these short snippets are quick and easy to read. Well, sort of until you are realize there are thousands of tweets every 5 seconds. Ouch. Oops, stressed feeling coming on again. I can’t imagine reading through all the tweets out in the cyberspace but people do just that.
Julie continued on with her explanation of how this had helped her. She sent out a tweet about some organization tips. This then was forwarded on to someone else and it ended up being read by someone at a large plastic products company. They liked what they had read and called Julie for an interview. This is goodness for Julie is her business. The message here is it’s all about networking. Instead of spreading the word at a Chamber or BNI meeting, you spread it electronically via tweets.
To keep your life sane, you can choose to only tweet with a trusted network. That’s I believe what most people do. You can even tweet from your cell phone. Bloggers (yet another way of sharing information as I am doing here) use tweets to update their blogs automatically. Now that’s kind of nifty.
So, I guess what I am grappling with here today is “to twitter or not to twitter.” I’m going to give it a try. Maybe I’ll find 140 character snippetts easier to manage that daily updates to my blog. I’ll keep you posted.
Bye for now and Happy New Year.