I Love You, Man…

February 18th, 2010 by Editor

Recently a prospective client asked me to perform an assessment of his small business. I’m sure what he wanted to hear was that the economy was terrible and that he needed just to ‘hunker down’ and stay the course to survive until things got better. However, I pride myself in telling clients what they need to hear rather than what I think they want to hear.

When I was ready to present my findings, he began the meeting with an abrupt request for a short, to-the-point explanation of why his business was shrinking. I had planned to lead up to the reason by first citing my analysis. Caught off guard, I smiled and said, “It’s not your price; it’s not your quality; and it’s really not the economy. The core problem is that your customers are not feeling the love anymore so they are finding it elsewhere.” This was met with dead silence.

The content of my report clarified that his company had slowly been damaging relationships with customers by cutting back on the very things that had differentiated it from its competitors. Eliminating newsletters, personalized invoice notes, customer birthday cards, incentive promotions and even cutting back on Christmas gifts were collectively stripping the company of its character, thereby damaging relationships with customers. While some of these cut backs yielded a short-term improvement in profits, the changes didn’t go unnoticed.

The company had gone from “fun and unique” to “boring and robotic.” During the “fat” years, this company had lost touch with the very elements that had been its signature – the things that gave it character and made it memorable. Management got so caught up in cost cutting that employee attitudes soured and the overall corporate culture shifted to a quest for bottom line maximization at all costs.

Unfortunately this spilled over to the customers as well. Instead of “Hey, ‘Jim’ don’t worry, I’ll get that order to you right away,” it became “Well sir, you’re going to have to pay for the extra shipping.”

It was these cut backs that had been strangling the company more than the economy or the competition. They had become their own worst enemy because they had abandoned what had made them a great small company.

There’s a great lesson here about balancing the need for profit against the cost of stripping passion and fun from the workplace. In our business where there is so much product parity, often the only way to be better than your competition is to be more fun to do business with.

As we enter into another selling season, it’s time to take a closer look at how you plan to do business this year, specifically with regard to how you did business in your early years; those years when you had nowhere to go but up; when you had a smile on your face, enthusiasm in your voice, and were happy to have a chance to earn new business. Has your attitude changed since then?

Ask yourself if you are treating customers the same as you did during your growth years. One effective way to do this is to put yourself in your customers’ place and pretend you are a customer of your own business. Ask yourself if you are “feeling the love.” If customers don’t feel the love, it could be the very reason you are feeling the pain.

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  1. Great points Mark. I know of a company that is going through this same exact thing. They have ceased to do all of the things that made them great and their business is suffering. The economy has been tough the past couple of years, but much tougher on the companies that have lost their way. I work with one company that has grown significantly over the past 18 months in this tough economy. Why? As you stated above, their customers are feeling the love.

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