Thursday, October 16, 2008

Small Business Lessons Played out on TV

My new favorite show is "We Mean Business," starring the winner of the first season of The Apprentice, Bill Rancic. But he's not the reason I love the show.

I love it because it features small businesses that are struggling - really struggling - and documents the show's three experts explaining to the owner(s) how to turn things around. Of course, not many owners actually want to make changes - they just want business to get better doing things THEIR way. Which is where it gets entertaining.

As a big fan of small business, I appreciate any media that is willing to shine the spotlight on brave entrepreneurs. And as a problem-solver and consultant myself, I also like seeing how others would approach the challenging situations they uncover. But as a drama junkie, it's also fun to see Bill's expression when the small business owner disagrees with the recommended solutions.

Tune in Saturday mornings at 10:00 am on A&E for some business entertainment.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Firing Clients

Sprint Nextel seems to be taking some flack for cancelling the contracts of about 1,000 of its wireless subscribers. Now while this would be no big deal if the contracts were cancelled due to non-payment, in this case Sprint decided they simply weren't customers they wanted anymore.

Their crime? They called customer service too frequently. Well, not just a little more frequently, but a lot more frequently - an average of 25 times per month, or 40 times more than the average Sprint customer. So Sprint elected to ask them to use a different phone service.

Although deciding to fire customers is a controversial move, it is also a smart one. Every customer is not necessarily going to be one you want to do business with, for a variety of reasons. They may demand too much of your time or attention, request discounts or special pricing, bad mouth you to others, or simply not appreciate all that you offer.

Savvy business owners regularly review their customer base and rate or grade their clientele based on factors that are key to the company's growth and success. Some entrepreneurs may put a premium on profitability while others may appreciate customers who refer others their way. You can create your own set of grading criteria to help you assess each customer's fit with your business and where it is headed - an A, B, C, and D scale works fairly well.

Once you've identified your lowest grade customers, the D group, the hard part comes next - firing them. Of course, you can simply make it less attractive for them to do business with you, by raising your prices, for example, or changing policies so that you don't have to spend as much time on them. Or you can send them a letter, as Sprint did, thanking them for their business and letting them know you will no longer be able to sell to them.

While you may be nervous about taking this step, no business owners - none! - I've spoken with have ever regretted jettisoning a bad customer. Your stress level with go down and your profitability up. So follow Sprint's lead and give your worst customers to your competition.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Need a Bigger Shopping Bag? Don't Go to the Gap

When you make a purchase at a clothing retailer, do you expect to receive a bag big enough to hold all your items? How about a bag that is slightly larger, so you can stash the bags containing merchandise you've purchased from other stores?

To me, asking for a slightly larger bag from a retailer is not a major request, especially when you've just handed over a decent sum of money for a boatload of polo shirts and shorts. But when I did today at The Gap, I was told the clerk "was not allowed" to give me a larger bag. Now, mind you, I was not asking for a gargantuan carry-all, just the next larger size bag so I could throw in some smaller bags I had been carrying around. But I was told "no."

So not only did they irritate a loyal customer with that response, but the store lost the opportunity to showcase its name on a larger bag. If I had been given a larger bag, I could have effectively helped promote The Gap to other shoppers in the mall, who would be able to see where I had been shopping, not to mention hiding the fact that I had just come out of Gymboree, Ralph Lauren, and Harry and David. (My plan had been to cram all the other bags into one from The Gap.)

Now you may be rolling your eyes, I know, but think about the marketing opportunity The Gap just lost, and make sure you don't do the same thing in the interest of saving a few pennies.

When a customer makes a reasonable request, especially after they've just made a decent-sized purchase, your goal should be to keep them happy. If they'd like a larger bag, you give it to them and suggest they put their other bags in it. Maybe you even give them two bags, so that all any other shoppers see is your store's name.

When shoppers see other people with several bags from a store, it suggests to them that there must be great merchandise at that particular store and they should go check it out. So be generous with your bags and watch your business grow.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Is Your Ezine Spam?

A few days ago I received an ezine from a computer company I've never done business with - we'll call it "Computers by Brent." I have no idea how I got onto this company's email distribution list, since I didn't request an ezine, and now I can't get off the list.

Despite new laws requiring that ezine publishers provide an Unsubscribe function somewhere in the ezine, this company does not. Nor has "Brent," the owner, agreed to my requests to remove my email address from his list - despite a back-and-forth exchange in which I politely asked for such removal. So now every few weeks I get an ezine from Computers by Brent, and I'm irritated all over again.

Do you think I'll ever do business with this company? Never. Will I ever recommend them to others? Hardly.

So why does the company insist on keeping me on its distribution list? Perhaps it wants to brag about the huge number of "subscribers?" I don't know. I do know that I'm probably not the only person who has been added to the subscriber list against their will.

Instead of building awareness for the company and promoting its services to potential customers, it is actually damaging its credibility and likelihood of getting business from anyone I know. Adding people to an ezine distribution list without their permission is dangerous.

Are you sure everyone on your email distribution list wants to be on it? Have you asked? Unless you're sure, because they had to sign up to receive one, you might just want to double-check that they still want to hear from you. Their needs may have changed since they signed up, they may have moved, or maybe their interests have shifted.

Make sure you're communicating with people who are glad to hear from you, rather than repeatedly irritating folks with your unwanted communiques.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Listen to My Marketing Podcast

A couple of weeks ago the folks at WebEx asked me to record a podcast with them on the subject of small business marketing, which I was very happy to do.

The podcast has just been released, so if you're interested, feel free to listen to it at:

The recording runs approximately 10 minutes.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Marketing Leftovers

Did you catch the story in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about the marketing strategy Major League Baseball parks are using to sell less popular, and frequently unsold, seats?

To fill its right-field bleachers, Dodger Stadium is now wooing fans with an offer of all-you-can-eat food. In fact, you don't even need to be a fan to enjoy the complimentary hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, popcorn, and soda - you just have to be hungry and pay the $20 to $40 entry fee. And at the St. Louis Cardinals' Busch Stadium, you can even get free-flowing beer, although the tickets there start at $60.

While I applaud the stadium's move to entice fans back to the park with a tactic that has worked well for cruise ships and casinos, my concern is whether money is really being made here.

The WSJ article reported that the Dodgers estimate the average fan who takes advantage of their all-you-can-eat offer eats 2.5 hot dogs, one bag of peanuts or popcorn, and one plate of nachos, on top of all the soda they can drink. Given the high cost of stadium food, I imagine that fans view this as a bargain, since they probably would spend more than $20 on food during a game anyway. With this deal, they get the food and a seat at the game for the same price.

Marketing is all about identifying potential fans and giving them a reason to attend more games. The Dodger's all-you-can-eat food strategy certainly does that well. But successful marketing strategies also generate a profit for the organization, and I question whether this offer qualifies. Is it a homerun or a foul ball? We'll have to wait and see, I guess.

But the core strategy is a good one - offer an enticement to help sell off less popular products. Retailers often have sales, consultants make a limited-time offer, and information product gurus bundle a bonus or two with their products to make them harder to resist. Think about what bonus you can offer to help increase demand - even short-term - for products that are languishing or services that have not been as hot lately.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Custom-branded Postage Stamps

With U.S. postage rates going up effective Tuesday, May 14th, I realized that I'm going to have to have some new stamps printed up. Yes, I have my own stamps printed featuring the cover of my book, The Unofficial Guide to Marketing Your Small Business, which I use on everything from bills to correspondence with editors.

You can have your own stamps printed up too, at Just scan or upload the image you want to use and edit it onscreen until you're happy with how the stamp looks.

I used my book cover, but you could just as easily feature your corporate logo, a product image, or a photo of your Employee of the Month. There is a fee for the service, but if the reactions I've received are any indication, the few pennies extra per stamp you're going to pay are totally worth it.