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The Leading Edge October 2013
Small Business Success
Taking Care of Business  

    Contents
In this Issue

10 Ways To Become Inspired (Part 1)

Why do we hate car salespeople? Part 1

Why do we hate car salespeople? Part 2

We All Suffer From Product Blindness

Cartoon

THE LEADING EDGE - your monthly link to groundbreaking ideas for entrepreneurs

Microsoft's new tablets: Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2


Small Business News:

Business Barometer®: Small business confidence continues to climb in August - Toronto, August 29, 2013 - Small business confidence continued to increase in August, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). The Business Barometer® index rose 1.7 points to 65.9, its highest mark since February. Read more...


Why Canada is becoming the place to launch a tech startup - Is Canada becoming the perfect North American launch location for a new technology business? Recent trends make it appear so. Read more...


RBC sets the record straight on small business myths - From job stability to financing and growth, Canadians hold many misconceptions about starting and running a small business. Read more...


Small businesses welcome decision to freeze EI premiums - Toronto, September 9, 2013 - The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is applauding today's decision by the federal government to freeze Employment Insurance premiums for both employers and employees for the next three years - 2014, 2015, and 2016. Read more...

 
    10 Ways To Become Inspired (Part 1)
 
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Have you ever noticed that some days you are simply more creative? Problems seem easier to solve, marketing ideas come along at a rapid rate, words flow like the flood gates have opened? But, at other times inspiration seems as far away as that lottery win you dream of when times are tough.

As entrepreneurs we all need to stimulate our creative juices from time to time - waken up the old brain cells and unblock our channel vision. Here are ten simple ways to encourage inspiration - as both a writer and an entrepreneur I have tried them all and guarantee they work.

  1. Switch off your work-brain - I'll get you started with an easy one - simply go for a long walk! That's right, even in the middle of a busy workday if you are feeling tired, your mind constrained by all that's going on around you, simply wander off for a while - let your brain reboot. Worried about lost productivity? Don't be, when you get back you will be amazed at how much you will get done - far more than you would have lost by kicking your heels while in a funk.
  2. Change your perspective - Spend some time with young children. If you have children of your own, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews spend a little quality time with them playing games; let go and enter their world for awhile. The change of perspective will be cathartic. Have fun and don't be afraid to look and act silly.
  3. Let your passion shine through - Deliver a workshop, or speech, to grade 11 and 12 students at your local high school, (volunteering with Junior Achievement can achieve this many times over!). Talk about entrepreneurship, your business, or your industry - let yourself become passionate about what you do, and what you sell. You will be surprised how young people, on the cusp of their careers, view the world. The questions they ask will allow you to expand on your business philosophy, and in so doing bring you back to a previous edition of yourself, uncluttered by years of negative experiences.
  4. Recognize what's important - Our creative juices get blocked when we develop tunnel vision. It comes from working in the same environment, with the same people, day after day. We begin to see things the way we expect to see them, not the way they could be. Not only that, we can often feel browbeaten, think nothing is going right and that the world is against. Spend some time volunteering with an association that helps the less fortunate in our society; this could be the homeless, the abused, the disenfranchised. Where you volunteer is less important than doing some good while getting a whole new perspective on what's important in life.
  5. See the other side of your business - On a more practical note, in terms of staying close to your business, spend a day working with one of your employees. Turn off your phone, and get your assistant to hold all your calls, and work alongside one of your staff. Learn everything about what they do and how they operate. Don't cheat; to make this work you have to NOT be the boss for a day - completely divorce yourself from your managerial role and see things entirely from their perspective. Have lunch with them, encourage them to open up to you about what they like/dislike about their job, let them tell you how they could do it better. Encourage them to gripe!

Next month we'll take a look at five more ways to become inspired about your business, take your creativity to the next level and ultimately increase profitability.

 
   
Why do we hate car salespeople? Part 1 Top

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I used to deliver a sales course to new entrepreneurs and one of the first questions I asked was, "how many people here like to sell?" Out of a class of twelve or so, one person might eagerly raise their hand and perhaps another one, or two, would tentatively do the same, while the rest would be shaking their heads or scowling. Now, it's a fact of life that if you are going to start a business you're going to have to sell something unless you have oodles of money to hire people to do the 'dirty' work for you. So hating, or dreading selling is not a good start.

Digging deeper I would discover that the reason for this reticence came down to the fact they hated being sold to; their past experiences had been unpleasant, they had disliked the salespeople and they didn't want people to dislike them. I would then ask them to describe a bad personal sales experience. In the vast majority of cases the stories centered on buying a car, and man did the invectives fly!

Now, do car salespeople get a bad rap? Maybe, maybe not. I know I'm hedging my bets here, but obviously not all people selling cars are evil slime-balls, there are a lot of honest people trying to do a good job. The problem is less with the salesperson and perhaps more with the process. Think about how you, or your sales team sell; are you prescriptive, or do you allow your salespeople freedom to sell the way they feel works for them?

Why many of us dread buying a new car is often less about the salesperson, and more about the process. Buying a car can take several stressful hours because once you step into a dealership you are placed on a conveyor belt which includes multiple pre-ordained steps. Control is taken away and you are shunted from person to person as you are 'processed." You may look at several vehicles, check out sticker prices, go on a test drive, get your trade-in assessed, fill in several forms that gauge your level of commitment and then go through the quote phase, before having to sit down with the finance person who will check your credit rating and try to up-sell you on a whole range of warranties and extras. By this time the best part of a day has gone by and you are tired and frustrated. And, you hate the sales person! But, is it really their fault? They are just doing their job - they are as trapped by the system as you are.

 
   
Why do we hate car salespeople? Part 2 Top
 

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A year or so ago, I decided to buy a car - a specific car. I'd done my research, I had arranged my own financing and I had my cheque book in hand. I walked into a dealership and a young salesperson ran to my aid, beating out several others who just weren't quite as alert to this wildebeest wandering into the middle of their pride. I smiled and pointed to the car of my choice, "I want that car - that actual vehicle - how much is it cash?" This floored the poor young woman who tried desperately to get me back on the conveyor belt and seemed upset that I wouldn't sit down and discuss options. I repeated my request and explained I had very little time, waved my cheque book and said "please go to your manager and give me the figure you would like me to write on this cheque please - and oh, by the way I've done my research and know what a good price is." Looking flustered she said, "Oh I can't do that you need to sit down with the finance manager and he's with someone else right now." I reiterated that she was in the unique position of having someone willing to sign a cheque right this minute for one of their vehicles - a sale was there for the taking; the wildebeest was lying down and looking in the wrong direction! To cut a longish story short, I walked away without my car - there seemed no way this "salesperson" could actually make a sale - the dealership's process just wouldn't allow it.

I have two people, who are very close to me, who became car salesmen for major dealerships; both left inside of six months because the system was too prescriptive. They couldn't be themselves, they couldn't be natural and they couldn't, in good faith, buy into the management's systems. Now, it's not just car dealerships that use what I call prescriptive selling; for instance those wonderful people trying to sell you life insurance are also guilty of this and that is why both these industries are constantly recruiting - if you ask anyone in these businesses how long they have been selling for the company the answer is likely to be in terms of months not years.

What does this mean to your company? The real question is how do you want people to feel about buying from you? Do you want them to consider it a necessary evil, a trial they have to endure? Or, do you want them to enjoy the experience and feel that you have their best interests at heart?

At issue here is prescriptive selling, a sales method by which you prescribe in great detail how a salesperson will sell to your customers, and demand adherence to the 'system' every step of the way. Don't confuse this with having a good sales 'process' - a strategy that you have developed to help your salespeople win more sales. When I refer to prescriptive, I am talking about making salespeople automatons, where they can no longer be themselves and have little to no control. My three golden rules for sales professionals have always been, sell yourself first, sell your company second and sell your product last. Empower your sales team to sell from the heart not from the rule book and you will see customers enjoying being sold to, not dreading it.

 
   
We All Suffer From Product Blindness Top

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How many times have you looked at a product and wished it could be different? I'm betting you do it all the time, I know I do. My television cable company recently 'improved' their PVR system amid much hype, and as I was threatening at the time to go to their competition for a better offer they upgraded me for free, and at the same time reduced the cost of my monthly plan. So, I got new fancy-dancy boxes, which as promised allowed me to record five programs at once instead of two. All should have been good, but the new interface is a pain - it is cumbersome and involves more steps to do simple things like delete a program than the old system. Every time I use it I curse the cable company - the 'improvement' has left me frustrated, angry and thinking of leaving them once again for their competition. So, they spent all that money, time and effort to make things better and instead made things worse.

This is not an uncommon occurrence - how often is the new software system full of glitches, and suddenly incompatible with other software and apps that it used to interact with? Why does this happen? Because companies rarely involve their customers when developing new products, new versions, or upgrades.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that at the end of the day you have to make your customers happy, after all they are the ones who will be using your products, not the techies. iOS7 for the iPhone has just been launched and the jury is out as to whether it is an improvement, but I can tell you right now that as soon as I saw it I thought, "nice new design - more white space - cleaner font - shame it's far harder to actually read." Perhaps I'm the only middle-age person with an iPhone who needs clearer, bolder, text - perhaps Apple only want young people to use their phone. If they did ask their customer base what they wanted in the new interface, I bet there weren't too many seniors involved.

When it comes to your business, who do you think knows best whether what you sell is good, bad or indifferent? Who knows best how it could be better? You? Your employees? Your design team? I submit that your customers can tell you a whole lot better what you could do to improve your product, or service.

Get a third party, perhaps your advertising agency, or communications company, to form a focus group of customers, and potential customers, and place your products in front of them. Have your agency simply ask them what they like and don't like about what is presented to them. You can do the same if you are in a service industry, by providing full details of the services you offer. It should be made clear to those taking part that the session is being hosted by a third party and that no one from the company in question is present - remember, you are looking for honesty. Ensure the entire proceedings are recorded, so you can review the session and experience an honest appraisal of your products and services.

Don't be offended by what is said; use the comments to improve what you sell. You may be surprised at some of the obvious things that are mentioned that could make what you sell more user-friendly, or saleable to a wider audience. If nothing else, you will gain a whole new perspective on, and insight into, your potential market.

 
   
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